Sunday, October 29, 2006


A Senior Moment

If you’ve ever boarded a plane and wondered why, after the usual half hour’s feverish activity of seat finding, stuffing of overhead lockers and fastening of seat belts, the plane still doesn’t take off and when the pilot explains that the reason for the delay is that a couple of passengers have failed to show up for the flight so their luggage has to be unloaded, you’ve then wondered what sort of idiots could be so stupid and irresponsible, I can tell you. It’s people like me – apparently sensible, responsible citizens, who arrive at the airport in plenty of time, check the board regularly for information, but who, for some unknown reason, believe their flight is the one that leaves an hour later than the one they have tickets for and so remain blissfully unaware that a couple of hundred passengers are sitting on the runway wishing them all sorts of mischief and when they present themselves at the departure gate for the flight they think they’re on, stare gormlessly in disbelief at being told they’ve missed their flight. You have to hand it to British Airways though, they let us on the flight and even put our luggage on a later one and delivered it to the apartment the next day.

Friday, October 20, 2006


still on the change

About that change of car I mentioned – we’d just concluded the deal when up steps a guy who wants to sell us extended warranty and insurance to cover the insurance, but he starts the conversation with “congratulations”. I ring our own insurance company to amend the policy details and the customer service lady begins with “congratulations”. Hang on a minute, we haven’t won the car, all we did was part with hard earned cash – if congratulations are in order at all, it’s ours to them for getting us to part with more money than we intended.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Demonic Mnemonics

Had another one of those sleepless nights when the mind hosts open house for anything that cares to drop by and like the guest who just won’t leave, what dropped by also outstayed its welcome. And all because a change of car prompted a search for a mnemonic for the number plate MKU.

men’s kinky underwear
marriage knot untied
my kleptomaniac uncle
man’s known universe
meningitis kills us
mouldy kitchen unit
manic knife user
mad king usurper
my kitchen’s unclean
no no, Madge’s kitchen’s unclean
money’s kinda useful
memory’s kinda useless
magic kid’s umbrella
Mr Kipling understands
minty kit-kats underwhelm
midget killer unmasked
monkey keeper unhinged
mangled kitty’s urt

That's not much to show for a shift that lasted from 4 til 7am but I'm sure it's enough for you and I hope it'll be enough for me to remember the number plate, so don’t feel you have to send in more suggestions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Oh for a re-wind button

It’s reassuring when you confess to a particularly neurotic habit or complex and someone says “oh yeah, I do that”. But one I rarely admit to because it sounds just too paranoid, is the pointless exercise of lying in bed and reliving a recent conversation that I’ve made a mess of. But it seems I’m not alone. I read recently that a newspaper columnist suffers from the same syndrome and she described her disastrous chance encounter with her boss at an opening of an exhibition when, with an orchard full of juicy fruit topics to choose from to impress or charm him, she picked the crab apple. She was mortified that she wasted her precious five minutes with the boss, not on the subject of work or his tennis injury, even though she played tennis and knew loads about it, but blurted out “have you ever heard of Wegener’s disease?”. But worse was that even noting his confusion and subsequent glazing over of his eyes, she simply couldn’t stop but became ever more determined to save the situation. But none of mine have been as hilariously awful as the conversation I had last week at the funeral parlour that dealt with Rob’s death. My daughter and I were chatting to the assistant who’d washed Rob’s hair and she told us how she’d got into the job and why she enjoyed it: “well the thing is, you can’t mess it up can you? I mean, nothing worse can happen to them can it?” My daughter and I looked at each and fell about laughing but, just like the journalist, the more the poor woman tried to dig herself out of the hole, the deeper she got. Now I’ve got enough of my own conversations to re-hash, so why am I still squirming with embarrassment at someone else’s?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Jury service

For the second time in 8 years, I’ve been summoned for jury service, much to the envy of both a friend, who suspects he and his wife have been deprived of this ‘privilege’ because earlier political activities have got them onto some sort of trouble makers list, and my loved one, who’s sorely miffed at never having had the chance to reprise the Henry Fonda role in Twelve Angry Men. The last time filled me with dread and I was desperate to find an exemption category that I qualified for. I considered ticking the box that said my boss couldn’t do without me, but what would that do for my confidence if he said he could easily spare me, or the one declaring I was suffering from mental health problems, but freaking out when the saucepans are put back in the wrong place probably wouldn’t count either, so as a last resort, maybe a defendant would successfully challenge my inclusion. Nothing doing, but to my amazement, I loved the experience, although that bit about the democratic selection of a foreman didn’t happen. I popped out to the loo and when I came back they’d already chosen one - so they’d spotted my lack of leadership qualities that soon eh? And rumours of the apathy of jurors, more concerned with a quick getaway on a Friday afternoon than seeing justice done, weren’t true either, though the defence lawyer did have to use her frostiest glare when noting someone in the back row nodding off during her summing up, with the suggestion that, difficult though it might be, we should try to give this little matter our full attention. But in weighing up the facts, every jury member seemed anxious to reach a just verdict based only on admissible evidence. It wasn’t exactly a juicy case - two young guys charged with small time forgery, nor did it have the drama of the Henry Fonda film where lone man doggedly sets about converting the rest of the jury. Opinion on ours was divided roughly equally and persuasive arguments on both sides won a few converts but we finally had to admit defeat and inform the judge that there was no hope of us reaching the required majority verdict and we were discharged. Now I can’t wait for another chance and maybe hit the big time with a salacious crime of passion trial, but sod’s law says that it’ll be one of those tedious fraud trials that are so complicated even the police don’t understand it, or this time the defendants will decide they don’t like the look of me and I’ll be left hanging around in the corridor like the unpicked swat for the netball team. January 8th is the big day – see you in court.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Coming to a town near you

Christmas is coming, what treats there are in store
Ten hour family visits, not just the usual four
If you haven’t got the money, a credit card will do
If you haven’t got a credit card, God bless you

Christmas is coming, how lavishly we’ll dine
Turkey, sausage, trifle, and special offer wine
If you haven’t got the know-how, a supermart will do
If you haven’t got a supermart, God bless you

Christmas is coming, it’s present time again
What to give our loved ones, especially the men
If you haven’t got an inkling, a catalogue will do
If you haven’t got a catalogue, God bless you.

Christmas is coming, shops are all a glitter
Frantic hunts for gifts can make us that much fitter
If you haven’t got the time though, the internet will do
If you haven’t got the internet, God bless you

Christmas is coming, the office party’s near
A glass or two of wine will make the bosses more sincere
If you haven’t got an office, a club or pub will do
If you haven’t got a club or pub, God bless you

Christmas is going, we’re stuffed and want no more
All those unloved presents stacked up behind the door
If you don’t know where to put them, a charity will do
If you haven’t got a charity, God bless you

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


Memorable words

Apologies to my few loyal readers, who may be thinking, correctly, that I’m obsessing about death at the moment, but our endless discussions do have a lighter side to them. Thinking about the last words people facing death have said gave us the idea of picking some for ourselves. Clearly a bit of rehearsal’s not a bad idea if you want to leave the more profound sort that Isaac Newton left "… to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me", rather than the funny, though probably apocryphal, ones of Oscar Wilde’s “either that wallpaper goes, or I do; or avoid your golden nugget of philosophy or wit drifting into the wasteword basket because you uttered them with your last gasp to the deaf side of your bedside confidant. My loved one felt that the most apt for him would be Cecil Rhodes’s “so little done, so much to do” while my own favourite is the French Grammarian’s “I am dying, or I am about to die, either is correct.” But since I could think of nothing inspiring, witty, profound or even bittersweet of my own, perhaps I’m destined to follow my Dad and whisper the bleedin’ obvious “I’m dying”. Rob had no last treasured words but he did leave behind some nice expressions, one of which was hidying up – meaning someone had tidied up something which he now couldn’t find.

And we also pondered the sorting out of your stuff if you were given a short time to live. Because Rob never accepted he was going to die, he did nothing – even his most intimate love letters, text messages and computer files remained for anyone who cared to look at them, as well as the mountains of electronic junk, personal possessions and vast collection of music bursting from his house. So apart from obvious ones like removing old cheese sandwiches from under the bed lest family and friends see what a slut you were, we had some fun listing what the other should throw out if we hadn't had time ourselves. Anyone want a collection of 'useful pots to put things in' or a garage full of vinyl records?

Friday, October 06, 2006


Picking up the Threads

Now that we’ve been made redundant from our night watchman’s job, we’re back in Villefranche preparing ourselves for re-entry into the real world. On the terrace watching the boats in the bay, we chew over all the issues that Rob’s dying and death have raised. Grief’s a bitch because there’s no recovery slope that takes you from the bottom to the top in a given timescale, just a constant see-saw– the heavy sack of anger, sadness and guilt weighing you down one day and the hot air balloon of fond memories and daily happenings swinging you up the next – it’s just a matter of waiting for that perfectly weighted balance of remembrance and grief that will rock you gently between the two. And there’s no knowing what will trigger the highs or lows, so out of the blue, a game of scrabble spells out the word sedation (and he even had the cheek to win 50 points extra for using up all his 7 letters), or eating my favourite food, immediately produces an image of a dying Rob – and tears.

I know it seems mad reading such a depressing book as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle at a time like this, but it’s the first chance I’ve had since I bought it a couple of months ago after hearing a radio programme on its importance. I’d never heard of it before then, although my loved one tells me he read it over 40 years ago. At the heart of the story is a Lithuanian family and it tells of the brutal conditions of exploitation, corruption and filth that eastern European immigrants worked in in the Chicago stockyards in 1905. Sinclair’s exposé of the meatpacking industry got results, although it’s a shame that it was the public’s fear of the chemicals, diseased meat and rodent excrement in their morning sausages that brought about the reforms, rather than sympathy for the working conditions of the immigrants. At the time Sinclair was writing, the genre was known as muck-raking and often given a pretty harsh reception, but the power of words can change our perception and now we call it whistle blowing and it earns praise for the brave person with a social conscience who’s maybe risked the loss of his job or his friends. Laws change too and thankfully there’ll never be such extreme conditions again in the civilised world. But what doesn’t change is the exploitation of those seeking a way out of poverty and a chance of a better life elsewhere. When we Brits emigrated in our thousands to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, we used terms like pioneers, adventurers, people with drive, but now that we’re on the receiving end, we use asylum seekers, economic migrants or other pejorative terms to describe the poor old eastern Europeans for doing the same thing. But is it their fault that there are people with vested interests in selling them the dream of golden opportunities and welcome that await them? And when they do arrive? You can hardly find a pub outside of London now that isn’t staffed by Eastern Europeans, who’re accused of taking our jobs and houses, but does anyone suppose they’re being employed for any other reason than that greedy business men and women can pay them less than they would have to pay the the rest of us?

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