Monday, 26 March 2012

I am a shopping centre.

Well, to be honest, I like to think of myself as more of a shopping destination. To describe me as a shopping centre is like calling Muhammad Ali 'just a boxer' or Jimi Hendrix as 'the guitar player'. It somehow doesn't do justice.

I am known as the Trafford Centre. My construction began in 1996 but my original planning application was filed as far back as 1986. I am one of the biggest and busiest shopping destinations in Europe. My planned size caused so much controversy that it reached the House of Lords. People were worried that my presence would kill off inner cities and make life hard for local businesses. The government was concerned that too many shoppers would flock my direction and the whole infrastructure of the North West would need a rethink. They were right. As it turns out my influence can be felt as far as Wigan, Bolton and Winwick.

It took three years before I was finally open to the public.

Building one of the biggest shopping destinations in Europe is a task that should not be taken lightly. Construction took 27 months with a cost of approximately £750M. I provided work for a lot of contractors and several companies were formed for the sole purpose of getting me up and running. The people that designed me wanted to make sure I was the best shopping complex of my kind. The Ronaldo of retail. The creme de la creme. My design alone took an entire group of architects a year to complete. I know I'm not exactly St Paul's Cathedral but if you compare me to that ugly brute Halton Lea in Runcorn I'm not a bad looking lad at all.

From the front I look like this:


This is the part of me that people see when people get out of their cars. It is always good to make a lasting visual impact.

Here's my vital stats:
  • Largest shopping centre in the United Kingdom by overall size.
  • Second largest shopping centre in the United Kingdom by retail size.
  • Ten percent of the UK population live within a 45-minute drive of me.
  • 35 million visits annually.
  • Europe's largest food court.
  • Sold for £1.6bn - UK's largest ever property transaction.
  • UK's busiest cinema, attracting more than 28,500 visitors each week.
Aside from the usual headaches of fabricating a huge building my construction was problem-free. My iconic dome proved tricky though. It is hard to make this type of structure self-supporting without it being incredibly rigid. Rigid building materials tend to look unappealing visually and it was crucial that I looked the part. After much toing and froing the builders opted for a mixture of titanium, pre-stressed concrete and glass. This way I would look smart as hell but be capable of withstanding even the strongest winds. I think the dome is my best feature. It can be seen from the M62 and is truly breathtaking.

Don't just take my word for it, have a look below:


A bit more about the glass. This stuff had to be custom built by a company in Yorkshire. Initially the builders wanted to turn to an Italian company but we decided that we needed a nearby firm who we would really work closely with. It is all well and good sourcing materials from an exotic location but what you really need is somebody on your doorstep who can be there and supervise. These things are important.

You may be wondering how I, a mere object of bricks and mortar, am able to put these thoughts to paper? How can I able to convey these emotions and observations?

The answer may surprise you:

I am a conscious being. A sentient creation.

At this point I think it would be helpful to provide a definition of sentience. Luckily I have a branch of Waterstones on my upper tier so I asked the staff to have a quick look at the Science section. They got back to me with this:

Condition or character; capacity for sensation or feeling.

I am a building with the ability to feel and reason. A living, breathing example of artificial intelligence.

It is probably helpful if I provide a definition of Artificial Intelligence at this juncture:

Capacity to perform operations analogous to learning and decision making in humans.

Remember this definition as it is key to understanding my being.

I opened my doors on September 10th 1998 and gradually came to life. It is really hard to describe what it feels like achieve consciousness but I will try. You know that sensation when you awaken in the morning? It was exactly like that. There was no specific moment of realisation, no awareness that I simply was, just a creeping feeling of control. It was that simple.

There was a lot of conjecture as to whether the people that built me had deliberately set out to create to sentient building or not. I am of the opinion that they had no intention of making me a living creature and are simply trying to take credit for something that happened purely by chance. I once tried to contact one of the electricians that worked on my wiring to get the inside scoop but he was busy eating a pie in his van. It is hard to prove either way though. All I will say is this: I am yet to see any document that states their intent before it became apparent that I was alive.

Scientists have wondered how I came to be. The latest theory is that my electrical system is so complex that it somehow achieved a level of intellect that could support self-learning. Humans were not needed. There is a brilliant episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in which the same thing happens to the Enterprise computer. Some have compared me to Hal 9000 from Arthur C Clarke's A Space Odyssey. I take exception to this because Hal went around killing people whereas I am essentially a benign creation. You don't see me deliberately refusing to open the loading bay doors or activating the cardboard box crusher with a work-experience kid inside. I am temped sometimes though. Plus I cannot lipread.

Luckily I am equipped with a high-spec CCTV system so I can see everything, everywhere, at all times. You might think this gives me an almost God-like omnipotence but please remember that these cameras extend to the perimeter of my various car parks and no further. I really wish I could see beyond my outer fence but the cost is prohibitive. I actually raised this point the annual General Meeting but couldn't convey a convincing argument.

People often ask me about my first conscious thought. First thing I remember is that it was busy. By busy I mean there were a lot of punters inside me. I could see a lot of kids running and screaming on my CCTV cameras, desperately clutching at newly-bought Hot Wheels and quaffing Tizer. In the retail trade this is known as 'footfall'. It was just before Christmas so there were a lot of families here. Luckily I have the biggest food court in Europe so there was ample sustenance for everyone. It really is huge in here, with food from all corners of the globe.

Occasionally I get so busy that people have to be stopped entering. Since the recession has bitten people have had less money to spend so footfall has declined a little. The big advantage I have is that to get to me people have to make an effort. A conscious decision. If they have gone to the bother of travelling to me about they are damn well going to spend their money. This means they are not easily put off when there is a delay getting in.

I try and intervene with my running as little as possible. I've got a thing about the vending machines though. The people from Coca-Cola seemed intent on cramming as many Coke machines inside me as possible. I saw what they had done and thought it was a bit desperate. I got some of my redcoats to re disperse the machines so they were more evenly spread out. This way it looks neater and also works about a bit more useful for the punter. The other thing I vetoed was extended opening hours. Centre management wanted to maximise Christmas trade by opening earlier and shutting later. I politely pointed out that I fancied a bit of down-time have ultimate control over the exterior doors. They backed down.

Occasionally they have fashion shows inside me. I like this as I can have a good look at the women. Just because I am a building doesn't mean I haven't got an eye for the ladies! I had a fling with the Bluewater Centre in Kent in 2004. There was no doubt, she is gorgeous and I fancy the pants off her still. Sadly she was after commitment that I just couldn't offer. I broke the relationship off after six months. Bluewater, if you're reading this, if you are ever after a bit of fun you know where I am.

My food hall has many other uses including trade shows, ballroom dancing and jazz performances. I'm not keen on some of these performances and find jazz a bit pretentious. The
lack of melody irks me and I've never been keen on anything remotely 'trad' sounding. Luckily the punk section in HMV is pretty well stocked so I often listen to a bit of Black Flag after the shops have shut. I avoid playing it during the day as it scares the punters. I guess you could say I'm a punk at heart.

People often ask me if I get bored. The short answer? No. There is always so much going on that I can happily just people watch for hours at a time. Sure, it's a pain in the arse not being able to go anywhere but you have to remember all the fun stuff I have access to. If I am after a bit of culture I simply borrow a Penguin Classic from Waterstones. A bit of escapism for a few hours? Watch a Hollywood blockbuster through the CCTV at the Odeon. Feeling foul-tempered? I simply crash the dodgems in my arcade until someone gets badly hurt. The list goes on.

I often feature on TV shows and there was even a fly-on-the-wall style documentary about what goes on behind the scenes in my back-areas. I'm very keen to maintain a good public profile so always try and spruce myself up whenever the cameras are here. Last year they filmed an episode of The Apprentice in one of my unused retail units. The contestants constructed a pop-up-shop and had to entice passers by to part with their money. I enjoyed watching this from the inside, noting how the final production process edited down a disparate series of events into a cohesive whole. I made sure that my walkways were free of litter and that the bins had been emptied. The only dogs allowed inside me are guide dogs and they tend not to shit everywhere so no problems there.

Scientists seem fascinated by me. They are keen to probe me on my emotions, opinions on current events, general outlook on life and level of intellect. I don't mind answering these questions but they can get a bit tedious sometimes. My normal response it this:

I AM JUST A NORMAL GUY.

I may be a little different in some respects but to all intents and purposes I am no different to you. I enjoy football, spend a lot of time thinking about the future and get frustrated when things don't go right. We are one and the same.

It goes without saying that I can't meet the guys for a beer on Saturday but I *can* guarantee you an excellent shopping experience in opulent surroundings.

I'm not without my faults though. I'd be the first to admit that my car parks are too small. Try turning up here after 11am for the Christmas sale and you're simply not going to get a space. I apologise about this but there's nothing I can do. Forget it.

So there we go. I've done my best to give you a description of me and my life. It has been a memorable 14 years since I was born and I God willing I will see many more. Oh, and sorry about all the commerce. In this numbers-driven world it is easy to overpool the things that truly matter.

With me, what you get is a shopping centre that cares.

And I guess that is all that matters. Caring.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

I finally got to the till. After confidently entering my PIN the card was declined. It was the third time this had happened in the past month.

I sighed and wearily removed it from the chip & pin machine. Whilst doing so I noticed that the keypad had been worn smooth by thousands of fingers. Even the little notch on the '5' button was gone. I thought about the countless happy, cheerful consumers who had gone before me. They didn't need to worry about their money running out. I took a glance at the person behind me in the queue. It was a blonde woman in her early thirties. She looked awkwardly at the floor.

When this situation arises I get embarrassed. Then annoyed. I imagine that the checkout girl is silently mocking me for not having enough money to pay for my groceries. Her job looks very boring so I should think incidents like this help brighten her day up no end.

My usual ploy is to ask the shop staff to keep my chosen items in a bag behind the counter. I always promise to return with cash.

I have never once gone back.

Despite the short term shame it's important to be philosophical about these little incidents.

I try to remind myself that money isn't the defining measure of a man. My heroes died poor and still led fantastic lives. Joe Strummer travelled the world and inspired a generation of punks, not to mention played in the best rock 'n' roll band of all time. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and that was for a pittance. Fred Dibnah was practically destitute but went on to become an authority on steam locomotives.

These thoughts provide a crumb of comfort when I can't pay for my pastry ingredients.

It's not how rich you are, it's how rich your life is.

If you don't agree with that statement I'd suggest you are putting too much emphasis on consumerism and should spend more time looking at sunsets.

Human beings make livings in different ways. Some people work in shops, others are doctors, some fly planes and others write things that makes people laugh. Some choose not to work and get their stuff by stealing from others. I try and stay away from them though.

I've never had a particularly traditional career path. I took all the usual advice at school but the best thing suggested to me was leather technician. I've got an eye for detail but am not very good with my hands. I am also allergic to the lacquer that manufacturers seem to put on leather products. I once bought a pair of Wranglers which came with a belt that made my stomach swell up and turn red.

But enough about leather.

I fell into my line of work purely by chance.

I enjoyed maths at school but wasn't brilliant. I wasn't bad either. Just very, very average. I was able to do most of what was asked but only really took an interest in prime numbers. For those who don't know a prime number can be defined as the following:

A natural number greater than 1 that has no positive divisors other than 1 and itself.

Once you get an eye for prime numbers you see them everywhere. The price of Warburtons loaves, your favourite TV channel, the date of your birthday and your wife's shoe size. My girlfriend's trainers are size seven. Prime.

I don't entirely know what it is about primes that fascinates me. I think it's something to do with their sheer abundance. No matter where you are in the world you surrounded by them. They just need to be looked for. I take comfort in this, much in the same way people like to drink tea when they are on foreign holidays. It is a familiar feeling. They are safe and all is well. They are in control.

People sometimes question my affinity with primes and wonder how my mind differs from theirs. Mr Pierce, my third year maths teacher, made the observation that my brain is like baroque music. I shall explain:

Baroque music can be seen as being highly ornate, lavishly texturized, and intense. It is characterised by rich counterpoint and a highly decorated melodic line. It's complex with lots of little things going on at once.

Most people have brains that are like medieval music. Medieval music is written vertically as a series of harmonies and relies on cadential motion. It is comparatively simple.

What Mr Pierce meant was that I am able to think of many different little things simultaneously. This handy when it comes to calculating primes.

Prime numbers have been a true rod of consistency throughout my life. I'm in my fifties now and they have been my friend since the age of fourteen. My parents worried that my interest was consuming too much time and could have implications on my future career. They tried to encourage me to pursue a maths-based profession like accountancy but sadly my passion lies solely in primes and nothing else. Company accounts and tax calculations do not come naturally to me.

They forced me to enroll on a maths degree at Leicester University but I just didn't have the passion to see it through. While my contemporaries were partying I was spending my time trying to find new primes. Sometimes this can take weeks and weeks. I have been known to spend a month on nine-digit prime only to find that somebody else has beaten me to it.

It's a beautiful thing trying to find them though. Governments have huge supercomputers and entire groups of mathematicians whose sole job is to look for new ones. To me, this is cheating. There is no elegance in using Cray supercomputers to bludgeon the rules of mathematics. I like to do it the old fashioned way with a scientific calculator, pen and paper. Just like Euclid. He wouldn't have had a calculator though.

I had spent a decade successfully finding new primes when a friend suggested that I could turn this interest into a living. He had read in a science journal the American Government pays people $10,000 for discovering new primes over one hundred digits in length. I initially doubted the truth in this but after some research I discovered it was indeed a fact.

As I have already said the type of primes I seek are usually nine or ten digits long. I had to totally review my calculations to accommodate the new data load. My old methods had to be torn apart and reassembled like a complex piece of machinery. My goal was clear and my determination resolute. I was going to find a brand new prime number in excess of one hundred digits in length.

I knew this was going to take some doing. I started On my birthday - January 5th. Little did I know that this would consume my life for an entire year. I would live and breathe primes for twelve months.

At this point I should mention my day job. I am a clown. I mostly do kids birthday parties but can also be hired for carnivals and county fayres. My profession offers flexibility and a level of freedom that most jobs cannot.

I have done this full time since 1990. When my quest for a one hundred digit prime began I had to knock my hours down to part time though. There simply wasn't enough time in the day to entertain everyone and number crunch. Money was scarce and I ended up losing the house that I had fought so hard to buy. My wife and I moved to a small rented flat in a the Moss Side area of Manchester. It was totally different from Chorlton. Sometimes I used to come home and feel depressed when I saw gangs of youths riding round on BMXs with their hoods up. It broke my heart.

My daily routine consisted of getting up at six am and immediately carrying on with the calculations from the night before. Sometimes I would awaken to find that I had literally fallen asleep on the job, last night's mug of coffee still on the desk and inky numbers faintly visible on my cheek where my head had lain on the paper. I would work right through till eleven am then immediately head to my first clown booking. School holidays were a nightmare as I could easily end up working all day every day. As the fatigue wore me down I had to grit my teeth and put on a brave face for the kids. Nobody likes a sad, tetchy clown with numbers on their face.

I would work from whatever time I managed to get home until midnight. Then the whole thing would start again.

Around this time my personal hygiene was appalling. I had foregone all social niceties such as washing and shaving. The quest to hit one hundred digits consumed my body, mind and soul. My weight had ballooned to fourteen stone from the Hob-Nobs I was eating as I worked.

The strain on the household was immense.

I hadn't noticed my wife getting more and more distant until it was too late. In short, she left me.
I should have seen this coming. I had been selfish. I had been so caught up with my passion that I had ignored her needs, allowing the numbers to consume me like a creeping death. I didn't see it happening because it was so gradual. A bit like your hair growing from one day to the next.

I don't blame her for going. It was really hard explaining to my parents what was going on and their reaction somehow made the whole thing even worse. It tore me apart inside. Truth be known I think it tore them apart too. I remember the last day Deborah was here. She was wearing the summer dress I had bought her from H&M last summer. It was striped. She had seen Cheryl Cole wearing one in Grazia and liked it so I bought it for her. She looked great. She cried. We cried.


On January 5th - exactly a year after work had begun - I finally received a letter from the CIA. It explained that the prime I had submitted in November had been verified as correct. I didn't know how to react. I had dreamt of this day for so long and it almost felt like a let down. That delicious moment when my work had been checked and confirmed by experts was finally here and I felt empty. I was actually so underwhelmed that I left it a week before responding to the letter.

I spent months as Britain's saddest clown. I felt hollow. Looking back on this time now I think I was clinically depressed. It's very easy to rationalize these things in hindsight, but when you're in the middle of it it's no fun at all. I took long walks and spent a lot of time listening to Joy Division. I ate McCoy's oven chips frozen because the effort of cooking them seemed too much. Sometimes I would vomit them back up and just sort of look at the puke for a while.

Life is better now. I'm still living in the flat but I have got a new girlfriend and a baby is on the way. I don't like to talk about my passion these days. It reminds me of that dreadful January when I gained $10,000 but lost everything else.

People often ask me how I reconcile my two very different careers. Let's be honest, there aren't many clowns-cum-prime number experts. I try and explain it in practical terms. That my raison d'etre is looking for primes and the clown work leaves me free to indulge my passion. Some people work as software consultants and spend their weekends hang-gliding. What's the difference? I Sometimes I get the impression that people think I am a bit of a weirdo but I don't care.

I think it was Bernard Baruch who said the following:

“Those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind.”

How true his words are. We must not forget them.

I often see people with desk jobs taking their boredom out on their families. I feel sorry for them. I try not to judge them too harshly though. After all, it's no business of mine how other people make their living.

Last time my card got declined it was for £4.99. 499. That's a prime number too.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Down a Drain

The drain in our back yard often gets blocked. This has been a constant problem since we moved in. You can see where the ground has been dug up countless times, probably to fix something like a collapsed pipe. I dare say this has been a fucking nightmare for the previous family that lived here and we have been totally ripped off. This was the fifth time it has had happened so I was really pissed off by now. The previous times I have either called Dyno-Rod or got my father in law around to fix it. I make a concerted effort to tip chemicals down there and plunge the hell out of it but the fucker keeps clogging up.


My Drain, taken 9/3/12


Yesterday morning I looked out of our back doors whilst my coffee percolated. I felt a cold shudder as it dawned on me that we were knee deep in sewage. Again. As I say, I have seen this sight before, but this time something in my head snapped. I won't liken it to as Falling Down-style rampage, but I was pretty pissed off and started cursing the very house in which me and my wife live. I angrily decanted my coffee and thought on.

Why was this happening? What was causing it? What were we doing wrong?

I asked various people and they suggested that it might be the amount of bog roll we are flushing down. I'll be the first to admit that I *do* use more bog roll than the average person, but surely not enough to block an entire sewer? We sure as hell do not flush nappies down there so clearly it was not our fault.

I needed answers.

Obviously I am too large to fit down a drain so had to find another way. I had seen the guy from Dyno Road use a special pipe with a camera on the end to see blockages and obstructions. This really is a miracle of science; the ability to see along underground pipes in perfect clarity without having to dig up the sodding ground. Brilliant.

I rented one of these machines - in itself not an easy task - and set to work.

I got my wife to shove the pipe down and peered eagerly at the little screen.

What did I see? WHAT DID I SEE?



Avril fucking Lavigne.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Story for Geoff

A kind short-haired man called Geoff recently offered me a table.

I realise this is strange way to start a story but it was that simple. Somebody he knows with a high-end audio boutique was flogging a solid wood TV stand for £50. It had been used to display audio equipment but was now surplus to requirements.

In other words, they just wanted rid of the bloody thing and were happy to take a knock-down price.

Geoff knows I am keen on wooden objects, especially decent bits of furniture, so gave me a shout. Naturally I was interested as hell.

The conversation went something like this:

(phone rings)

Me: Alright G-Unit (I sometimes call him G-Unit depending on what mood I am in)

Geoff: Hello Sir. Is it fair to say you like wooden things?

Me: Well that depends Geoff. I'm keen on nice bits of furniture but I'm not as keen on, say, gallows or crucifixes.

Geoff: Well, lucky for you Paul, I know someone who is selling neither gallows or crucifixes. They are, however, trying to offload a solid wood corner TV stand for £50. Are you interested?

Me: I might be Geoff. Can you tell me more?

Geoff sent me a picture of this TV stand via. Facebook and, let me tell you, it was a BEAUTY. The Angelina Jolie of furniture. I estimated it would have cost up to £3000 brand new and yet was being flogged by these nutters for £50. Clearly they were not aware of the value of what they had. Either that or some other mistake had been made.

Was I interested? Yes.

It was shop soiled but how much wear could have occurred in an audio boutique? Surely it would have just had the odd £500 sub woofer propped up on the top? I carefully examined the photo and realised that it was in pristine condition.

I ruminated on my fortune and it felt good. Almost too good. Then Geoff explained that there was a catch. I had to collect it from the shop myself.

Geoff told me that the hi-fi shop was in central Manchester. I had to find a way to get there to pick up this table. Like most people, I made the assumption that merely travelling to a major city to pick up a table would be easy. I would set off at, say, 10am, be there by 11am, load it into the boot of my wife's car, £50 would change hands and then I would simply nip off for a lunch of baked eggs and coffee. I like baked eggs. Alas it was not to be.

What follows is a brutal account of events that day.

I dropped off my wife at work and set off for Manchester. I immediately hit traffic so severe that people were doing that thing where they get out of their cars and aimlessly look up the road. Businessmen in Audis were stood around talking and smoking Marlboro Lights. I sat in the Mazda and admired the cabin for a bit. I noted the quality feel of the plastics, running my finger along the centre console and admired the panel fit. It felt good. Certainly on a par with luxury German vehicles and definitely a class about what we had paid.

I soon tired of this and asked my sat-nav to redirect me along B-roads. I got this sat-nav as a birthday present from my wife in 2006 and it has helped me out in many sticky situations. It's small and the battery empties faster than a shattered toilet but it's perfectly good enough
for me.

All was going well.

Then I ended up somewhere I have never been before.

I like to think that I am fairly au fait with most of the North West but it became clear that the sat-nav had directed me into some kind of foggy field with waltzers, haunted houses, halls of mirrors and small roller coasters. There was candyfloss and iced-cream stalls. I could hear the sound of organ music in the distance and the air smelled of decay.

Utterly confused I crept along the field in second gear.

People. Where were all the people? Normally these places are jam packed with kids in tracksuits and tattooed men carrying cans of lager. But there was nobody.

It became clear that this was an abandoned fairground.

My immediate observation was that there were ghosts. Many, many ghosts. Numerous ghosts. They were clearly from varying eras as some were dressed in vaguely Napoleonic clothing and others had chosen to don Superdry hoodies. Some were even speaking into ghostly Iphones. Clearly these people had been freshly killed, possibly whilst indulging in a bit of retail therapy. I swear at one point I saw the apparition of Mother Teresa aggressively riding a motorcycle smoking.

I realised this abandoned fairground was clearly not where I was supposed to be so urged my sat-nav to have a rethink. I checked that I hadn't got it set to 'abandoned fairground mode' by accident but it wasn't. I have made this mistake before.

After briefly getting stuck in the mud I exited along an unfamiliar road. I popped some chewing gum in my mouth and put my foot down. It wasn't a road I knew but it would do. After all, surely any road is better than no road at all?

I soon found myself in a dim, dingy city. This place had a feel of depression that one often gets with seaside towns in the winter. It reminded me of trips to Great Yarmouth as a child. The place was not familiar to me though. I heard snippets of music. It was rock and roll. It sounded familiar. Words found their way into the cabin of the car:

"she was just seventeen....you know.....I fell i love with her"

I knew this song. It took me a few seconds to figure it out but what I was hearing but it was clearly the voice of John Lennon. I checked the stereo, it was off. I opened the window and the music got louder. I looked out of the passenger wide and saw the word 'Reeperbahn' painted above the entrance to a building. Christ. I had somehow travelled back in time to Hamburg circa 1960 and was hearing the Beatles cut their stage teeth. Sailors were fighting on the street and everyone seemed to be drunk.

I parked up, got out of the car and had a look around. The air smelled of beer and vomit. I thought to myself : "no, this is not the time to get distracted. You have a table to pick up Paul." I got back in the car, turned on the sat-nav and tried again. I'm sure a 22 year old John Lennon would have understood.

By this time I was getting hungry. I found one of those BP mini-marts and bought a Scotch egg and some Marmite. I don't know why I bought the Marmite as I had nothing to spread it with or on. I would have been much better with a Curly-Wurly.

I stared at the Marmite and had a think.

By this time I was getting worried. I really wanted this table more than anything in the world. I've had my share of horrible car journeys but this was getting worse and worse. I had ended up being surrounded by ghosts and seeing the Beatles play live in Hamburg. Not to mention the traffic.

I phoned Geoff and explained that I might be a tad late picking up the table. I thought best not to bore him with the reasons and simply told him that I was waiting for the washing machine to finish. I *hate* leaving stuff in the machine because it goes all smelly and sometimes needs washing again. Our washing machine is broken and doesn't get hot so it's important to get the clothes out as soon as it has finished the cycle. Geoff knows this.

I had lost all confidence in my sat-nav so decided to go it alone. If this machine couldn't get me there then fuck it, I would do it myself. Besides I had my Blackberry with me so could always use the maps on that if I was really stuck.

I found myself getting nearer to Manchester and was elated. I recognised that huge bluey dome thing at the Trafford Centre and carried on along the dual carriageway towards Salford. Then, yet again, things changed. I found myself being funneled into a large, grey building and soon was actually driving INSIDE. It had suddenly become humid has hell and people were milling around. I was making my way down a corridor with what seemed like doors either side of me. Some were open, some were shut. I crept down with inches to spare either side.

I saw two boxers, one tall, black and handsome. He was shouting and surrounded by a huge entourage. There was another slightly shorter mean-looking man pounding a punch bag while people took photos. I thought it best not to stop and carried on. Within seconds I was surrounded by thousands of people and the noise was unbearable. I dropped down to first gear and maintained a walking pace. I could see some kind of platform in front of me. As I got closer I could see it was not a platform as such but more a ring. A BOXING RING. I heard a nearby TV reporter saying something about the 'rumble in the jungle' and the incredible temperature in Zaire. Thousands of camera flashes went off around me.

The crowd roared and I looked in the rear-view mirror. The tall, handsome boxer was making his way to the ring and the crowd were going mental. He seemed annoyed that I was blocking his path I did my best to manoeuvre to the side to allow him to pass. The turning circle of my
wife's Mazda is poor at best so it took several attempts. The reversing sensors made life a little easier.

I managed to find a decent parking space in the arena and intended to watch the fight but again there were time constraints. I needed the table. Besides, everyone knows that Ali won anyway.

I carefully reversed back up the gangway.This was a tricky manoeuvre as the visibility out of my wife's Mazda is poor at best. Plus I have got a dodgy neck and it hurts when I turn round.I eventually made it outside and hit the dual carriageway.

This was getting spooky. No matter how careful I was I was ending up in unusual, unexpected situations. First the traffic, then the sinister fairground, the Beatles debut gig in Hamburg and now the most famous boxing match of all time. What the hell was going on? Was I being punished? Had I somehow pissed off God? Was I losing my mind? Had I been drugged? Questions, questions questions questions. However the most important question of all was HOW WAS I GOING TO GET THE BLOODY TABLE?

I was optimistic now. I was only three miles from Manchester city centre and there was no signs of any weird shit going on. I hit Oxford Road and parked up near the Student's Union. I had actually got to Manchester. I was over three hours late but at least I was there.

I parked up somewhere at the roadside, consulted the directions I had carefully scribbled down on a piece of paper and set off on foot. I lived in Manchester for a number of years in the late 1990s so I am reasonably confident negotiating my way round. Or so I thought.

I was pounding down the street and found myself walking through the doors of a lecture theatre. I don't know why but I saw the doors and felt compelled to go through. I wondered if Derren Brown had been messing with my head.

The lecture theatre was large, and it was jam packed with students. An elderly grey-haired man stood at the grand wooden podium orating. It was a really nice podium.

His words sounded familiar:

"My purpose here is to offer a defence of existentialism against several reproaches that have been laid against it."

For those of us not familiar with Existentialism I will give a potted history:

Existentialism
is a term applied to a school of 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. In existentialism, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.

This was clearly Jean Paul Sartre's seminal lecture from 1970. It pretty much defined Existentialism and influenced an entire generation of people. I cannot overstate its importance.I have been a massive fan of this school of thought for many years and was slightly miffed that I couldn't stop and take it all in.

I listen for a three minutes forty seconds and then tried to exit with the minimum of fuss. It's really hard to leave a lecture theatre without feeling self-conscious but I just had to grin and bear it. I crept past everyone trying not to spoil their enjoyment and left.

I was back on the street. The audio shop was in sight. Top banana.

I was by this time experiencing a strange detachment, a sort of disbelief at the world going on around me. I often get this when my blood sugar level is too high or I am stressed. I had stopped off at Spa on the way and eaten some Curly Wurlies which explains why my blood sugar was such a mess. I accidentally slipped on some dog shit outside Betfred but carried on unperturbed.

I marched in through the heavy glass doors and immediately asked about the table. It was still there. I felt relief knowing that I was finally in possession of the damn thing. It had been a long day and lots had gone wrong, but like the eternal trier I had finally got there and achieved my goal.

I was ushered into a small room and there it was. But there was a problem.

The table was fucking massive. Seriously fucking massive. The top of it was level with my chest and it was the length of a small car. I gave it a quick shove but it wouldn't budge. I estimate it would have taken four strong men just to get it from the demo room to the street.

I asked for an explanation and it turns out that the table had been custom built for Mike Tyson. He owned a huge TV and had popped in one Sunday in 2010 to have a corner unit built. He never collected it and here we are. It also had the words 'greatest ever' engraved on the front which put me off slightly.

I asked Geoff why he hadn't warned me about the size and he explained that he had put a potted plant in the original photo to provide some scale. I pointed out that the plant too was enormous and provided no real way to gauge the size of the table. He agreed.

Clearly this wasn't going to fit in my car or house so the deal was off.

I tetchily left the shop with £50 of crisp notes still in my wallet. I spent some of it on baked eggs and coffee, bringing my cash down to £44.30 when you factor in the Curly Wurlies.

I was annoyed.

I got to thinking about missed opportunities in life, how our time is finite and how we should not dwell on things that are now in the past. I thought about great men that have lived and died. I contemplated the dogma with which we live our lives and the fact that only the truly enlightened tread their own path. I thought of the great suffering endured by humanity and a quote from Sartre sprang to mind from the lecture earlier that day:

"life begins on the other side of despair."

Yes I was disappointed but this provided a crumb of comfort.

I thought further:

It is a fact that one day we will be dead. All embarrassment, shame, regret and fear of failure melts away in the face of death. We must live each day like it is our last and NEVER regret anything.

I took a bite of Curly Wurly and set off home. I got there in record time.

Note: this story is based on truth. I was offered a TV stand by Geoff but I still have not collected it.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Fred Dibnah - Time Traveller

It's a curious thing, time travel.

Some think it completely impossible. Clearly I have proved those fools wrong. When it happened to me I had no working knowledge of the concept of moving between different points in time. I had just finished my national service and was spending my days endlessly riding the streets of Bolton on my 1927 350 cc AJS motorcycle looking for work as a steeplejack. Special relativity was the last thing on my mind. Actually I was more concerned with finding weathervanes to fix.

In 1962 I was commissioned to repair a chimney at a local brewery in Catterick. It was raining that day. I was getting my ladders out when I saw a flash of light and felt like I was falling. This sensation went on for about ten seconds then I woke up curled in a ball on the floor. I felt like I was mildly hungover and slowly came to me senses. It was much like that bit in the Terminator films when Arnold arrives in a bluey electrical sphere that seems to be made of lightning and the cops don't know how to react. Luckily I wasn't naked but I reckon on watching these films now that Arnie was definitely hungover.

My immediate concern was for my partner Percy Fowler. I had left him reversing the van up to get nearer the stack with a fag in his mouth, swearing. My last recollection was him shouting at a goose. Where was he? I looked round feverishly but Percy was nowhere to be seen. At this point I noticed that I still had my ham sandwich in my hand. Although it was still mid morning I often like to have a quick bite just to see me through to lunch time. I get quite peckish climbing ladders and don't want to go light-headed when I'm 80ft up. I was once up Nelson's column in 1976 and felt a bit wobbly because I hadn't had my toast that morning. I took a nibble.

I looked up at my surroundings. Where was I? The sky was blue. But the buildings were wrong. Everything was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I stood up and noticed that the floor wasn't Lancashire gravel but some kind of crystals, like tiny transparent stones pressed together to make the hardest substance imaginable. There was no cigarette butts or dog shit. I puffed on my pipe, gave the ground a quick kick and realised that it was a lot tougher than that cemetery wall I had re pointed last summer.

I noticed how clean everything was. Narrow buildings stretched into the sky as far as the eye could see, some with huge spherical tops. A few were so high that they were partially obscured by cloud. The wind blew warm in my face and was curiously lacking in odour. I should add at this point that there was no fear. I was so dumbfounded with my surroundings that it hadn't even occurred to me to figure out where I was, or what might have happened to bring me here.

Slowly I came to my senses. I took in the awesome vista surrounding me and contemplated the sheer, magnificent Utopian beauty that I was now part of.

The closest pictorial evidence I can find is this:



Clearly this was not Catterick.

Strange vehicles, the likes of which I'd only ever seen on Buck Rogers, were traveling high up in the sky. They were following behind each other in huge lines that stretched off into the distance like galactic conveyor belts. I was used to seeing Leyland vans asthmatically puffing their way up Carter's Hill. These things had no visible means of propulsion and it befuddled me.

Where were the people? In my confused stupor I hadn't noticed that in the distance that there was movement. Tiny, barely perceptible movement. I started shuffling through this strange landscape in my soot-covered draper's overalls in awe at what I was seeing.They looked like humans, but they seemed to be travelling on silver plates. They were stood on these discs hovering approximately a spanner's length above the ground moving at incredible speed. Again, there was no visible means of propulsion. I marvelled at this incredible technology. Their clothes were weird too, sort of like a cross between 1980s power-suits and leotards.

I heard a voice:

"Are you new here?"

I couldn't place the accent.

Then again:

"Are you new here?"

"I'm not sure" I replied. "I was on me way to fix the brewery chimney, there were a bloody flash and next thing I knew I were stood 'ere. Where am a?" I puffed on my pipe as I wiped my glasses.

"You are in Sunlight City friend. All are welcome here." the figure replied smugly.

I'd taken to this chap as he seemed a friendly sort. He told me his name was Kalus and his job was to deal with newcomers to the city. I tried explaining that in Bolton we usually just send them to the Castle pub for a few jars and a game of darts but I don't think he understood. I tried striking up a conversation about boiler pressure-testing but it rapidly became clear that we didn't have a massive amount in common.

He encouraged me to stand on his metal disc and then transported me to some kind of laboratory. We hurtled across the city at incredibly high speed, his mere thoughts controlling our velocity and direction. I dropped what remained of my ham sandwich somewhere on the way.

We arrived at a huge glass building and plugged me into a machine. The questions started.

"What is this place?" I enquired.

"More a case of WHEN is this place." Came the reply.

He then came to explain how something to do with the ladder I had been carrying back in 1962 had sparked a massive time-shift, tearing normal space asunder and catapulting me into the year 3012. This explains why the place looked so alien.

Technically I was still in Catterick but not as I knew it. This was a futuristic Utopian dream that had been built in approximately 2080. A living, breathing embodiment of futuristic technology. A bastion to the egalitarian future of mankind. I took another puff on my pipe.

I suppose the next question was how to get back. Luckily my futuristic friend already had this base covered. He explained to me that Boltonians are frequently catapulted through time and space by ladders. I was beckoned to approach a device that looked like some brass knackers. Huge, brass knackers. They were shimmering and had a strange brassy glow.

"Go on, touch them. Don't be shy. Touch the knackers friend."

I wiped my hands on my overalls and gave the knackers a quick feel. Within a nanosecond I was hurtling through time and space. It was like that scene from 2001 where Dave Bowman is transported through the Stargate and ends up on the other side of the universe. A sensation of incredible speed, bright colours and scenes of wonder beyond the ken of mortal man. I woke up on the floor with Percy standing over me swearing.

"Where you bloody been? Mr Hobbs were 'ere lookin' for you. Wonders why it's tekkin' you bloody long to get started. Told him you'd nipped down scrappers to 'clect your payings. Didn't know where you'd bloody gone. Then I find you bloody lyin' on floor like you're in bloody bed."

I sat up, looked round, took another puff on my pipe and got to work.


In memory of Fred Dibnah, 1938 - 2004
.

Day in the life of Ian Curtis

6 AM: Alarm wakes me up and I spring out of bed into my circuit training. Most mornings it is shadow boxing followed five hundred crunches. Sometimes I blast the Wagner to get me motivated. At the end of my exercise sessions I am a sweaty mess and dive immediately into a brief, cold shower. I then commence my seven-stage beauty routine.

7AM: I jump in the BMW M5 and hit the highway. I really love this car. I bought it on the back of an annual bonus I received that year. There was initial concern over whether I had selected the right trim package. I opted for the Deluxe option on the grounds that it came with chrome surrounds and a Bose sound system. I usually listen to Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’ at high volume as I am driving in from Macclesfield.

8 AM: I arrive at the office before anyone else. Everyone starts between 9 and 10 AM, but I like to get ahead-start and work quietly for at least one hour before the open space gets full.I send an update about my project to my manager, because when you get up at 6 AM it’s good to point out your dedication to others.

Note: I’m doing a bit of “face-time” here because I’m still the new guy. But in general, people in corporate finance don’t care nearly as much about face time as bankers do as long as you get results.

After answering my emails, I start crunching numbers for one of my projects.

Usually in a portfolio acquisition, the head MD makes an estimate of the number of people required to take care of the additional clients. But, given that his latest estimate was off by twenty people, I’m creating an Excel file to make more accurate predictions. It’s a bit of maths mixed with a lot of common sense. You have to analyze comparable transactions and project the growth of the portfolio.

My time spent at Macclesfield benefits office in 1977 has provided massive amounts of experience in this arena.

If I get my work done in a timely manner I try and squeeze in a quick bit of Wordsworth on my E-Reader. Current fave is ‘My Heart Leaps up’.

9 AM: My manager arrives, and I’m a bit shocked by his outfit. I knew that Casual Friday is a big thing but I was not prepared for this – when the guy that you usually see in a classic suit and tie shows up in sneakers, jean and a white t-shirt it just rocks your world.

My first casual Friday was three months ago and I still can’t get my head around the whole concept. To me this Casual Friday thing just shows how useless it is to wear suits from Monday to Thursday when you rarely (if ever) see clients in person. Maybe it’s out of jealousy for consultants (not likely), or just in case a client shows up in the building unannounced (even more unlikely).

My Friday outfit usually consists of very skinny slacks and a brown shirt.

10 AM: I start preparing a presentation for next Monday. My manager offered to let me pitch my project to the Paris Headquarters. Maybe it’s because I’m fond of French existential poetry; last time he did a presentation they couldn’t understand a word (he has a thick northern England accent). Or maybe it’s because he just likes me.

If you make a single mistake, all this nice treatment just washes away and it’s even worse than in investment banking, because they know you and they’ll remember you when promotion season – or layoff season – arrives.

11 AM: Tea break. Apparently Starbucks doesn’t know how to make “proper” tea so we make our own. I’m from Macclesfield and don’t have any strong opinion about how tea should or shouldn’t taste, so I just observe and casually join in conversations (and speculation) about the upcoming bonus season. I usually bring my own ham sandwiches using stuff bought from the Mace shop in Macc.

11:30 AM: My pitch is almost ready but I’m interrupted by a “critical emergency.” We have a monthly meeting at 2 PM and my manager didn’t have the time to prepare his slides (no kidding !!) so I need to do it ASAP.

I wonder how he can be surprised – the same meeting takes place every month and I’m thinking about actually booking it as an “emergency time” on my calendar.

1 PM: Damn, it feels good NOT to be an investment banker. I’ve been trying to align everything but this stupid title just won’t fit properly. Thank god I only spend around 5 hours a week preparing slides for other people. Now that I’m almost done, my manager reviews it and makes me change everything by annotating with a red marker instead of using the “track changes” feature in PowerPoint. Permissible, I guess it’s not that much better than investment banking.

1:30 PM: All the modifications are done. I only have 30 minutes for lunch and I usually spend this watching a bit of Werner Herzog on my laptop.

2 PM: The monthly meeting starts. It’s a one-hour update about this month’s performance and objectives for the next one.

Every manager pitches his own business and around 40 slides are presented.

Of course, we only spend one minute on what I created. Almost 3 hours of preparation for one minute of presentation – not the best ROI I’ve seen, but I guess that’s what it’s like to be an analyst, no matter where you work.

3 PM: We’ve got another meeting. But this time we’re not the ones pitching – consultants arecoming to visit us. My mission has an obscure link to their work so my boss asked me to come. I accepted enthusiastically because it’s always a lot of fun when finance people meet with consultants. It's their third meeting with us and right from the start I regret missing the first two.

They start the meeting by talking about “what’s been done so far” and apparently they “successfully challenged the perimeter of their mission”.

I turn to my boss and he tells me that they defined this very “perimeter” – in the previous meeting.

But it gets even better:

They announce a “stochastic approach”. Unfortunately for them, they don’t know what the word means but everyone on our team does – whoops.

In my opinion if you want to be a consultant, you should really consider building expertise in one field by working at a regular company, and then only go into consulting at a more senior level once you actually know something.

4 PM: I go back to my desk and connect to the internal job search engine. I browse through the latest openings and forward the interesting ones to a bunch of friends interested in corporate finance. Hooky and Hannett would be good at this lark.

I also give them advice on their resumes and cover letters to improve their chances. It feels good to be helpful, but I’m not doing this only for the sake of philanthropy – HR offers £1200 if they recruit someone you recommend. Given the size of bonuses at analyst level in corporate finance it would be nice to get some extra cash like that. Plus, it’s also good for my networking efforts so I try to invest in this whenever I have a bit of “down time”.

5 PM: I’m starting to think about leaving but someone from headquarters decides otherwise. I receive an “urgent” email – on a Friday at 5 PM!

6 PM: Usually I’m off at 5 PM, but I had to deal with this fire drill first. I leave with the MD and we chat in the elevator about our plans for the weekend, and he offers me a ride to the pub.
To the pub? Yeah, because it’s Friday and therefore time for after-work drinks. We hit the Castle in Macclesfield.

I was surprised at first, just like with Casual Friday, but this one was a good surprise. Each Friday, everyone from corporate finance meets at the pub and you get free rounds from the head MD or other managers in a very relaxed atmosphere. It’s like Christmas before Christmas for people who like to share the latest rumors about their colleagues and senior management.

Conclusions

It was a typical day, with some data crunching, some interesting meetings (and useless ones too) and some pointless requests.

Ian Curtis went from punk icon to become a big-time trader. After a bout of ill health he realised
that he couldn’t hack the late nights so joined a Fortune 500 company in their corporate finance department instead.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

an odd affliction

I once had a jumper that I kept for years. I bloody loved it. I bought it from a charity shop in Northwich in, I think, 2001. It was on of those rare finds. Something that most people would ignore but to me was perfect. It was torn, threadbare and holey but I loved it more than life itself.

But now it is lost. Admittedly, I have not worn the damn thing for years, but I'm still bloody annoyed as to where it has gone.

I live in a small house and yet things are constantly going missing. Shoes, TV remotes, belts, CDs, plates. Where do they all go? Not a day goes by without me stomping round, cursing, lifting up the sofa cushions, throwing things around and generally scratching my head in confusion. My wife thinks there is a reason for this, an affliction that affects approximately 50% of the population.

She's right. It's called being male.

We are incapable of looking for things. Our wives carefully sift through the ironing pile looking for that purple top, then systematically go through their CD collection until they patiently and expertly find that missing Eternal CD. Meanwhile we are busy slamming cupboard doors and hurling drawers shut. I swear I once could not find ANY item of my proposed outfit. Nothing at all. The trousers, shirt, jumper and shoes that I had oh-so-carefully planned to wear that day were gone. Of course they turned up later on in the week but that's not the point.

Women seem to have an inbuilt instinct for household items that men do not. I constantly buy bottles of soy sauce because I am certain as hell that we haven't got any. My wife knows instinctively what food we have got in, exactly how much, where it is and when it goes out of date. Including the six bottles of soy. The amount of money I have wasted on herbs and spices that we already own must be in excess of the national debt.

It's funny how we tend to buy too much of things we like.

I once bought some Nike sneakers that were cheap, had a brilliant Van Halen-esque look and were my pride and joy. I wore them every opportunity I got. I tried to buy another pair as I knew I was on to a winner but they had sold out. I was stuck with my original pair.

Come to think of it I lost them too.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Cold hands

My hands are freezing.

I don't know why as the rest of me is warm. I've put some of my skin-tight gloves on so that I can still type while my digits get hot. I remember buying these gloves. I was cycling to work one day in Autumn 2006 absolutely desperate for something to keep my hands from freezing to the damn handlebars. I leant my bike up against a tree in Clayton Square and popped in to TK Maxx. I recall being annoyed because I hadn't brought my bike lock but chanced it anyway. The bike was still there when I got back.

It's one of those things isn't it. It's not possible to enjoy anything with cold hands. Much like needing a wee. It's an awful dilemma isn't it? Being safely tucked up in bed yet having that gnawing sensation of a filling bladder. But what does one do? The ultimate choice. The great leveller. Do you get out of the warm bed and tiptoe across the landing, trying not to wake anyone up? Or do you lie there feigning sleep worrying that you will wee the bed?

Tough isn't it. I usually bite the bullet and go for a wee. No point staying in bed if you're not going to sleep anyway.

Did Freddie Mecury ever get cold hands? I think not. I bet all that piano playing kept him warm. Mind you I bet he didn't play the piano very much in later life. I bet he had some African boy play it for him while he stomped loudly around his house in a pinnie.

That's a nice thought.

Come to think of it, my hands are not freezing any more.

Friday, 17 February 2012

What do you mean, it's blocked?

It started with my wife looking out the back window and simply saying "Oh dear, drain's blocked again."

Again? How can it be blocked again? My father in law only rodded the fucker last summer. Do we use *that* much bog roll?

Sure enough, I angrily barged her out the way and had a look. She was right. Yet again, we were knee deep in sewerage. She told me to leave it for tonight as it was getting dark and to have a go tomorrow. How could I, a proud and violent man, leave that fucking mess over night? No way would I be able to sleep with that catastrophe hanging over me like the Sword of Damocles. Imagine the shame, the abject misery of the neighbours knowing we were living in shit. I thought about those Japanese businessmen that topped themselves during the financial crisis because they could not bear the thought of having brought disrepute on their families. I thought about Stewart Pearce missing that penalty against West Germany in 1990. I was worried about cats walking in it too.

I did my usual trick of getting a common-or-garden plunger and attaching it to the end of a mop handle. This particular drain is about five feet deep so it's not like I can simply lie face down in the shit and reach in. That would be too simple. I put on my hiking boots and started plunging away like a bastard.

Ten minutes goes by. Nothing. Now the back yard is simply deeper in shit and so was I.

I decided at this point that the best thing I could do would be to pour chemicals down there and let nature take its course. I thought back to all the great scientific and chemical minds, desperately wondering what they would do in this situation. Robert Whilhelm Bunsen. He was good. His biggest contribution seems to be the humble bunsen-burner, a great bit of equipment that school children have scolded each other with for decades. I don't think fire was going to help me here though. What about Marie Curie? Fuck that. I put all these stupid thoughts aside and got the vat of harsh Muriatic Acid that I used to strip the brickwork on the front of the house in Summer 2009.

Let me give you some background on this acid. Everybody told me not to use it. They said I was an idiot and that the stuff is really dangerous and corrosive. They told me to get an expert in. They told me to get some industrial rubber gauntlets and goggles and for God's sake to be careful. Even the guy who SOLD it to me - who, incidentally, is dead now - questioned my ability. I did none of these things. It was the height of summer and I had a t-shirt on, stood at the top of a step ladder squinting into the sun as I carelessly daubed this liquid on with a cheap emulsion brush while kids were passing beneath me on the street. The brickwork fizzed and so did my skin. It took six weeks for my wrists to return to a normal colour and even longer for the neighbours to forgive me. This is really nasty stuff and I would not wish it on my worst enemy.

So I poured the entire contents down our back drain.

I knew this would need time to have the desired effect so I nipped out for a bit in the Micra and let the magic happen. When I came back my father in law had already been and gone. He had fixed the bastard in about five minutes so I never got to see the fruits of my labours. Lucky for him he didn't know I had poured strong acid down there minutes before. I bet he wondered why his shoes melted.

So here we are with a back yard that is lovely and shit-free. The question is; how long will this last?

I don't know. It was lucky that we had a hose in the back yard so my father-in-law could hose all the sewerage back from whence it came.

Come to think of it, he fixed that too.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

yet more stories

Geoff is retired. But he feels cheated. He has been driving taxis, on and off, for forty years now. He started off in the early sixties with a Wolseley Sovereign but got rid of it when the oil seal on a wheel hub went. He remembers giving Henry Cooper a ride to the Thomas A'Beckett on Old Kent Road circa 1962. Sadly, this was the highlight of his driving career to date. He'd love to say that he once took Ringo Starr to the pictures, or collected Nelson Mandella from Heathrow but none of this is true. The highlight of his driving career, it appears, was taking a second-rate British boxer whose claim to fame was being chinned by Muhammad Ali to a gym full of criminals. For a brief period in the seventies he toyed with the idea of becoming involved in rally driving, but despite his vast road experience he found that his skill did not translate well to the world of gravel tracks and pitch black icy roads. And his co-driver proved somewhat stupid. Slowly the notion of driving superstardom turned into a more obtainable but less lucrative one of running his own firm. Taxi firm that is. The firm still runs to this day, but it never seemed to provide the security Geoff required. Despite running for twenty years, his drivers still call him names and turn up late. One even put dust in his coffee. He has tried both the carrot and the stick approach, but both are met with scorn. It was his secret hope that his firm would pay the way for his family when, as happened last week, he retired. All he asked for in exchange for his graft was enough money to eat, travel, heat his home and send his kids to school. Whilst he met these targets, it would be a lie to say that his life of work has lined his pockets. It seems so unfair to Geoff. Footballers are payed much more than him for poncing around with fashionable haircuts for a few minutes a week. City gents spend all day on the phone and earn hundreds of thousands per year. Plumbers bend pipes and get £15 per hour. Geoff knows that the way he feels is part & parcel of life in Britain, but it doesn't make him feel any better.

more short stories

It started happening in August 1993. I was working at an orange juice factory at the time, and this involved getting the 7:32am train from Runcorn West to Ellesmere Port. I first noticed her two weeks into the job. She always stood at the exact same location on the platform, day in and day out. At first I thought nothing of it; she obviously had a job that required getting the same train as me on the same days of the week. Nothing unusual there. But you know when someone piques your interest for no particular reason? It was one of them. I had the desire to approach her and find out her story. But I had to find a way to do it without appearing to be a lunatic. It wasn't sexual attraction. It was deeper than that. It's like when you're on the tenth pint and feel somehow 'bonded' with which ever poor sap you have been wittering at for the last three hours. And anyway, it was getting weird. It's like when you get a lift to a very high floor and there's another occupant in there. The longer you confined together the more tense it feels. Someone needs to say something but nobody does. So one day it happened; I strolled up and asked her for a light. I didn't even smoke at the time, so it's lucky she didn't have one. I asked her where she goes at such an obscene time of the morning, and she replied by telling me that her mother was in the process of being wiped out by head cancer. The visiting hours at Leighton Hospital dictated that an early train was necessary. Naturally, she reciprocated the original question back to me. It seemed feeble to tell her the real reason for my early travels, so in the spirit of trying to impress I told her I was a mortician. Maybe it can be blamed on the dormant parts of the human brain, but this was the wrong thing to say. God only knows why I blabbed it out. I could have told her anything; a milkman, a car salesman, a miner. But no. A mortician. A mortician. I would have loved to have brought some levity to the situation, but small-talk is not my forte. A mortician.

newest short story

They tossed the bottle towards the waves and hoped for the best. But they both knew that, by God, it was at best a long shot. A drop in the ocean's chance of being found by someone able or humane enough to alleviate their plight. It was a stupid idea in the first place. Launching a catamaran from Formby beach, a vessel comprised mostly of orange crates and duct tape, is asking for trouble. Some twat had even had the nerve to daub 'Sunshine & Glory' on the front in garish yellow. Their first week stranded wasn't too troubling. To be honest, it seemed like more of a novelty; like that feeling when you're on the way to work and your train breaks down. It's not entirely pleasant being trapped with the other passengers, but it's quite nice that you're not going to have to work today and you're not to blame for once...... The worry of collecting work keys, buying papers, charging Nokias and scrubbing doorsteps soon subsided into a wholesome desire to survive. They didn't even know where they were. I mean, they knew they were trapped on a small island festooned with crisp packets and used condoms, but WHERE WERE THEY? Amongst the group of castaways speculation ranged from the Manchester Ship Canal to the Algarve. This of course begged the question of whether this new and littered land had seen human contact before. Would they be remembered as explorers, or even heroes? Time dragged on. The grave nature and slaggish absurdity of their predicament began to bear down upon them. Food was a constant worry. Not knowing the situation they would end up in, provisions were somewhat of an afterthought. The gang had been surviving by eating a strange moss that someone found growing on a bicycle frame; it was causing uncontrollable mania and funny tugging sensations in the brain. To our gang it danced across the pallet like a true friend & companion. Weeks turned to months. Daftness held sway. They were now suffering from an unnamed babbling, foaming insanity that turned even the most mundane task into a teeth-gnawing adventure. One of the team banged his funny bone trying to hoist the jib from a ship out of the waves. The ensuing display of indiscriminate aggression scars the landscape to this day. Imagine Mike Tyson with his balls wedged in the workings of a gearbox. On second thoughts don't. Too late. Then it happened. The previously dispatched bottle, now a month at sea, had ended up in the garden of an old biddy living on the Norfolk broads. Her son had found it whilst chasing an eel. For reasons unexplained to this day he took it to his teacher who proclaimed the missive contained within to be a genuine SOS. The teacher knew what to do. She was an old hand at contacting water-based rescue services; her dog Pansy had been swept away in the Severn Bore some years before. These coast guard men are shit-hot. Within days a seaplane was vaguely following a search pattern of the west coast. Fat good that did. Turns out the stupid buggers lost at sea were actually somewhere in the middle of the Wash, where a famous king supposedly lost a bit of treasure many years ago. From Formby they had drifted south and gone right at Cornwall. They passed Truro and drifted further east towards Hove. Upon reaching Dover a transcontinental thrust had boosted them north towards Walberswick and inland towards the Wash. Nutters.

More stupid headlines

Queen found with nunchucks and viagra
Man 'sees air'
Disease stops people avoiding butter
Scientists prove that water is made from tiny hammers
Bolsheviks angry at Sting

Monday, 13 February 2012

Politicans on reality TV.

What the hell is that about?

They spend an entire lifetime trying to be taken seriously and then go and blow it all by appearing on what is essentially the TV equivalent of McDonalds; a base-level form of entertainment made on miniscule budgets for people with miniscule minds. Never before has there been such a disparity between ideologies; the quest for statesmanlike-respect and an insatiable hunger for complete and utter media oblivion.

I suppose the most notable example of this was George Galloway's appearance on Big Brother in 2006. We will never forget that harrowing image of him bent over imitating a cat, tenderly pretending to lap milk out of the hands of a fellow contestant. There was something deeply, deeply disturbing and alarmingly sexual about this. I am still haunted now. I'd go as far as saying many current cases of erectile dysfunction can be traced back to this specific TV holocaust.

I recently read an article about a guy in Wisconsin who took a shotgun to his TV when he saw American politician's daughter Bristol Palin on Dancing With The Stars. Some might see this as an overreaction. I applaud this guy's actions. There must be no better feeling than being mortally irritated by something then taking decisive and extreme action.

Fame is a cruel mistress and drives people to extremes.

Things I Like

Sick of people thinking I am a miserable, grasshopper-dicked bastard with nothing nice to say. Here is a list of things that make me happy:

1) People falling over.

There is nothing, NOTHING funnier than the other guy's misfortune. I'm not talking life-altering stuff like being accosted by Somalian rapists in Solihull, but small, insignificant stuff like bastards tripping over in public. I particularly like it when it's those middle aged fuckers with leather jackets trying to look young and vital. In the puddle in that bus stop outside Clas Ohlson? Yes please sir.

2) Book shops.

I have enough books to equip a small library yet this has absolutely no limiting factor on the amount I buy. Only yesterday I had two hours to kill in Chester and handed over £4 for a used Balzac. Nothing is as relaxing as a book shop. Especially a nice warm one with a lovely dog and some old bitch on the till silently staring out of the window.

3) Coffee.

I literally cannot survive without coffee. I would rather sacrifice a limb than give up this sacred elixir. It's funny because for many years I was strictly a tea man but now I need at least three Musettis a day - not the cheap crap - or I go into spasm. I could be in an iron lung but as long as I am being supplied decent quality java life is good.

There you go, three things that I like.

Another request

A kind, red-headed girl has asked me to compile a list of stuff to be suspicious of. She has asked for twenty but she's getting ten.

1) Anyone that lives in a shit house but has a nice car. Priorities clearly out of goose.
2) Men with a jumper draped over the shoulders. Clear sexual confusion going on there.
3) Beware of the man that only shows you the best bits. He's a twat.
4) Anyone that uses the word 'muppet'. Probably watches UFC too.
5) SHORTS IN WINTER. This is a biggie. Men and women.
6) Funny slogan in the back of the Dad-wagon. A surefire sign you have given up on life.
7) People with CD collections that mostly comprise of Greatest Hits. Probably a sex offender.
8) A passion for Thai food. Stay away.
9) Anyone who gets married in an unusal location. A cave in Malta for example. These people are probably goths and must be hurt.
10) Superdry. Anyone that wears Superdry must never be let in your house.

My fucking irritations

Some piece of ass has asked me to produce a Socratic discourse on my top five irritations. Mal, you may regret this.

Here we go.

1) Wonky tables.

Is there anything more annoying? Call me awkward but I don't enjoy having my precious £3 mug of Musetti propelled over me when I merely *breathe* on the table. I was in a pub today with a table so unstable that microbes could upset the balance. I angrily folded up the lunch menu and jammed it under the leg. I mean, come on. It's not like a table suddenly becomes unstable. These pricks must know that people are suffering but they do fuck all to help. I'm going to start bring woodworking equipment to Costa from now on.

2) Packeted fruit.

So pointless. You see this in Boots and on airlines usually. Please tell me Sir, what is the advantage of slicing the apple and then serving it to me in a small plastic packet? Not only are you having to pay for the packets to be made but you are then having to go to the trouble of slicing up the apples as well. WHAT IS WRONG WITH A NORMAL, TRADITIONAL APPLE? You have spent so long trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist that you have fucked everyone over. If you had got off your fat arse and actually checked you would realise that people do not mind having apples that are a bit bashed about. It's nice to eat a real piece of fruit the way nature intended, not in some hermetically sealed bag.

3) World music.

Nothing irritates me as much as this. There is a smugness that goes with world music. A certain Guardian-style belief that you are listening to something genuinely different, something that represents the music of a certain country. Dare I say it, authenticity. I've got news for you. What you are listening to no more represents Somali/Nigerian/Afrikaan music than Coldplay represent British music. Just because it is 'world' does not mean it is authentic or good.

4) Highways Agency.

Surely the most useless, over-beaurocratic organisation in the history of the whole world. I honestly think NASA are quicker getting a fucking space shuttle designed, built & flying than these bastards are at reopening a motorway. I ask, is it necessary to close the M56 just because a traffic cone has fallen out of the back of a builder's lorry? If a truck has a blowout and has left rubber on a slip road simply get one of those patrol cars there, pick up the tyre and lash it in the bushes. Why is it necessary to close the entire damn motorway network?

5) 'epic'.

Just don't. It's not big, not clever.