25 July 2013

Why I avoid orchards

My uncle was one of those accountant types who manage to achieve an aura of officialdom beyond their station so that, on meeting him for the first time, you might have wondered if he was the Minister for Packed Lunches, or perhaps a whipcracker in the local council's Road Gritting Department. Somehow he did bring this off with a slight edge of charisma. He evidently thought he was Eastbourne's answer to James Stewart, albeit a James Stewart less interested in broads and conspiracies and more in hole punchers, ring binders and other essential tools of his trade. It was an edge sufficient enough for him to have bagged a wife.

One afternoon I found myself alone at the foot of the accountant's back garden, where it transpired I had been lured to have instilled in me an unfathomable fear of the future and to have shattered any self-belief I might have been harbouring. I was thirteen years old and he wanted to know what my plans were for the next seventy years. As I had yet to publish a formal business strategy with financial goals and career pathways plotted in graphs, I was unsure how to respond. The problem was, I had little interest in anything, a conclusion that would not have been acceptable to Jimmy 'the paper perforator' Stewart here, who suddenly had enthusiasm for all things. "Look at these apples," he said, waving a hand at one of the many apple trees in his garden, "apples, apples, apples". I wondered if he was going to articulate the word apple for every one of the things that existed. "Apples," he continued, "I love an apple, do you like apples? Of course you do. L–'s made an apple crumble for dessert, I prefer rhubarb but don't tell her…" I was beginning to dislike this man, even before the question arose of how I intended to make my way through the world. "So, what are you going to do when you leave school?"

I had been staring blankly at an apple for four minutes when a plane flew overhead. I had an idea. "Pilot," I announced, "I'd like to be a pilot." The Perforator, who had been staring at me in silence the whole time I was staring at the apple, came to. "A pilot, a good job," he said, "commercial or military?" I returned my attention to the apple; I'm not sure if it was the same apple as before, they all looked the same. It dawned on me that each answer I gave would be followed immediately by another question as The Perforator sought more detailed information about why God had put me on the earth. The apples were no help, hanging stoutly and wordlessly in barely perceptible variations of red and green. I began to resent the apples. I caught myself smirking at a pile of the buggers that had abandoned all hope and now lay going soft and brown at the foot of a tree. So I said nothing: for a full ten minutes or more we stood there in complete silence – me, staring at the apples, The Perforator staring at the side of my face. Then: "Lunch is ready," L– called from the kitchen door.

For the first time I wondered how wonderful was a wife. At that moment, anyway, it was wonderful for me that my uncle had one.

24 July 2013

Why I avoid DIY

My father was obsessed with order and everything being in its right place, which it rarely was if he hadn't put it there himself. The first thing he did on entering a hotel room was to rearrange the furniture and straighten the pictures on the walls; it was like going abroad with some kind of feng shui fanatic drunk on rice wine. Anybody in the next room joking that the randy newcomers must be moving furniture about would have got a shock – we were actually moving furniture about.

He must have been bored the afternoon he ripped up the carpet on the landing and noticed – no one else alive would have noticed – that each floorboard was nailed down in four places, two nails at each extremity, except for one, which had only the three nails. He spent a considerable time contemplating this problem, pressing down on the miscreant board with his shoe and expressing dissatisfaction as it gave beneath the pressure. 'It's the only one with three nails,' he exclaimed. 'All the others have four.' Then, a bit later, he added: 'Look. Three nails. Only three.'

There was only one thing for it. He abandoned his vigil on the landing and retired to the shed, from which he emerged a while later with a determined look on his face and a two-inch nail in his hand. When he got to the landing, he said: 'I forgot the hammer.' Soon, though, the nail was in, the head resting just where it should have done so thirty years previously had the men who built the house known what they were about.

My parents rarely swore. That afternoon, however, was an exception. Mother said 'shit' at least seven times, and father said 'bollocks' – the only time he has ever said 'bollocks' in his entire life. There was a flood in the downstairs airing cupboard, and one did not need an industry-rated qualification in plumbing to ascertain the source of the leak. There was, it transpired, a perfectly sound reason for that floorboard missing a nail, concealing as it did the water pipe connecting bathroom and immersion heater. 'Bloody stupid place to put a pipe,' father commented, before freestyling on the merits of keeping one's household insurance policy up to date.

19 March 2013

Review: the Pumpkin Café at Haywards Heath station

It was not the fault of the Pumpkin Café that my train arrived at Haywards Heath more than half an hour late; this was due to the unfortunate combination of malevolent weather conditions, a person being hit by a previous train, and a small dog escaping the train I was on while it idled at Gatwick Airport. Only the Pumpkin Café, however, could be blamed for the lack of chemistry between the two members of staff behind the counter.

Working the coffee machine was a short, dishevelled man of Hispanic appearance. He loaded the capsules and filters in desperate haste, as though suffering from the burden of great harassment (there were, after all, at least two customers to be served). All the while he spat barely concealed venom at his colleague, a meek and probably pleasant enough woman whose lack of definite features created an instantaneous crisis of confidence within all those who set eyes on her. She looked like a marshmallow.

They were a poor man's Al Pacino and a destitute man's Michelle Pfeiffer, starring in some awful remake of 90s diner-set romance Frankie and Johnny, which for some reason was being staged at the Pumpkin Café at Haywards Heath station last Monday evening.

"You get more milk!" he barked charmlessly over his shoulder. There were now at least four customers to be served, so Pacino couldn't leave his machine for one second.

"God I need some milk!" he hissed at the ceiling of the Pumpkin Café at Haywards Heath station, obviously believing it to be a direct conduit to the Holy Father.

Alas, He in His great wisdom did not hear Pacino's prayer; and neither did the marshmallow Pfeiffer.

"You," he spluttered (the poor woman's name appeared to be You), "you go home now. ¿Why not you go home? Go, go…"

Then, taking the back of a hand to his glistening brow, he mustered all the experience he had gained at drama school, the stage and Hollywood to add with great pathos, not at her but at his reflection in the coffee machine: "I will get the milk… I get the milk myself!"

I turned around. There had formed a queue of several people, many of who looked as though they had the word 'solutions' in their job title.

Al seemed to be deciding whether to die on the spot or say "hoo-ha!". Meanwhile, the marshmallow Pfeiffer was emerging from the back room, laden with milk cartons. She took my order and repeated it, reluctantly, to her evil lord. Finally, I could empathise with Jack when he gets to the top of the beanstalk and begs the giant's wife for soup.

Keeping in character, Al did not betray a flicker of emotion at the arrival of the cow juice. Pfeiffer noted this with a wry smile; this was evidently not the first time her labours had been spent without reward.

My connecting train was coming in. I enquired as to the delivery of my hot chocolate. Pfeiffer rotated 360 degrees while opening and shutting her mouth slowly. Pacino started thrusting at his machine like a stoker on the Titanic.

The train doors were opening, I had seconds to spare, but this was of no concern to Al Pacino at the Pumpkin Café at Haywards Heath station who worked at the mercy of his blasted contraption while harbouring an unspoken love of marshmallows.

Suddenly the beverage was ready; all that remained was for a lid to be secured onto the rim of the cup.

Tina Turner's Simply The Best was piping from the Pumpkin Café's sound system as Pfeiffer snatched my medium hot chocolate from her potential lover's clawed hand and attempted to apply a small lid, which floated down into the alarming gap between the liquid I had paid for and the summit of the cup. Shaking, she fished it out, and time stood still as she then plumped for a large lid and began a heroic effort to fit the thing. But the thing would not fit.

To my horror, I noticed that Pacino was now considering the three stacks of different-sized lids – small, medium and large – so as to determine which lid should be applied to my medium hot chocolate before taking the swooning marshmallow Pfeiffer into the back room for a good hard fuck.

I snapped them out of it by demanding that they forget about the lid.

Time stood still.

This was the first time in history that the Pumpkin Café at Haywards Heath station had served a beverage without a lid. It wasn't in the script; stunned, Al and his marshmallow muse stared dumbly at each other, at me, and then at the queue of solutions like a pair of cows contemplating unexpected ramblers.



Through the window of my departing train, I watched as Pacino burst from the Pumpkin Café and ran up and down the platform screaming: "Attica! Attica!"

01 February 2013

The Burrell Arms

Turn up wearing one of Princess Diana's dresses, and you get a free pint.

10 August 2012

coming soon…

Finger Lickin' God – The magazine for Catholic priests in America's southern states.

You Cannot Be Syrias – Former tennis champion John McEnroe analyses the socio-political situation in the Middle East.

Bisto Two Zero – When a troupe of ex-SAS servicemen are lured out of retirement to protect a gravy corporation's interests in Afghanistan, they are soon faced with more than they bargained for.

Fifty Shades of Gary – Football legend Gary Lineker recreates some of the world's most famous paintings, from Munch's Scream to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, in oil, water colour and charcoal.

Fifty Shades of Gray – Motor-mouthed football commentator Andy Gray provides a "man's man" view of sexual equality and women's rights.

Reggae Reggae Morse – Unseen footage of John Thaw filming an incomplete Christmas special of the detective series in Jamaica.

L Ron's Cupboard – Church of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard takes us on a tour of his houses, apartments and villas.

Magnum IDS – Suave minister turned private investigator Ian Duncan Smith uses his moustachioed charm and Whitehall contacts to bring benefits cheats to justice.

An Officer And Amelia Gentleman – Remake of the 1982 classic, with the Guardian columnist starring alongside Richard Gere [Quote: "I never learned to read!" "That's OK, I work for the Guardian."]

Batmanghelidjh Begins – Youth worker Camila Batmanghelidjh single-handedly takes on Botham City's criminal underworld and comes face to face with her nemesis, Ian 'Beefy Showers' Botham.

Hoy Meets World – Olympic gold medalist Sir Chris Hoy delivers a wry take on the people and places he encounters on the trip of a lifetime.

Holmes Under The Hammer
(genre: blaxploitation, romantic comedy) – In this sizzling will-they won't-they romcom, Dame Kelly Holmes tries to resist the indomitable advances of MC Hammer.

The Elephant Man – A biopic of British Olympian Rebecca Adlington.

Hocky II – The gloves are off as Rocky and Apollo Creed decide to settle old scores on the hockey field (DVD includes the out-takes feature "Motherpucker").

15 May 2012

the sandwich vendor's concern for my welfare is not genuine

Every day, the sandwich vendor asks me how I am. I am usually fine.

Today, I was feeling unwell.

"How are you today, are you well?" asked the sandwich vendor.


"What would you like today, chicken, falafel…"

03 May 2012

in search of nuts

I recently found asking for nuts in a supermarket a remarkably difficult affair.

Having wandered aimlessly up and down the aisles of the Sainsbury's Local with no lightly salted pistachios to my name, I approached a shelf-stacker with the aim to enquire of her as to the foodstuff's whereabouts. But then I was flummoxed, as no matter how I phrased the question in my head, it just didn't seem right somehow:

"Where are your nuts?"
"Do you have any nuts?"
"Take me to your nuts section."
"I am looking for the nuts."
"I want some nuts."
"I've been looking everywhere for your nuts but I just can't seem to find them."

I could not bring myself to ask the girl any such question, and instead regaled her with: "Excuse me. Ah, yes. So what it is is that I'm looking for um the er what um I'm wanting the er where would one find the aisle for nuts?"

She informed me that they were located by the checkout.