Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Not a morning person

I didn’t mean to stay up late last night, but the storm was so spectacular I had to watch it crashing about in the heavens, like a stumbling drunk with a welding torch, trying to find the bathroom.

Then the BF came round and forced me to watch him eating his current favourite snack food – savoury cornflakes. I don’t know why I find it so revolting, but the sight of him grinding a hefty helping of salt and pepper onto his bowl of milk-sodden breakfast cereal makes me nauseous.

And this morning, just as I was about to roll out of my beloved’s gently slumbering embrace, my flatmate got up and spent the next 25 minutes in the bathroom, leaving me 7 minutes to get up, get washed, get dressed, have breakfast and leave the house.

I wish to god I knew what he did in there. Actually, I don’t. But I’ve never known a man spend so much time on ablutions with the accompaniment of so many varied and interesting noises.

So I’ll just imagine that he is secretly hiding a large family of monkeys behind the side panel of the bath.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Friends like these...

My phone rings.
“Hello?”
“Rachie, you slapper, have I seen you lately?”
“No, but we’re meeting up tomorrow night. What do you want to do?”
“Oh. Well, we’re going to that Thai place, and then we’re going to the cinema. Fancy it?”
I’m taken aback at this uncharacteristic organisation, and then I realise he’s invited someone else. No matter. I like all his friends, and they’re all very good looking.
“Sounds good. Who else is coming?”
“Oh, good point. Yes. Hmmm. They just got engaged actually.”
“That’s lovely. Who did?”

My friend, who has completely forgotten that we had arranged to go out, has invited me along on a cosy tête-à-tête with my ex-boyfriend, and his fiancée. Because of some rather murky timing, just after they met, I tried to get him back (the two events being unrelated, and not churlishness or bitchiness on my part, I’d like to add). Understandably, she hates my guts. I can just hear that conversation:

“Hey, look, sorry about that time I tried to steal your boyfriend. Have some more green curry/popcorn/bile.”

Still, I try not to be too upset. These things happen. We arrange to go out the following Tuesday instead.

My phone rings.
“Hello?”
“Rachie, what are you doing on Wednesday?”
“Well, I have a date with my boyfriend. We’re meeting up tomorrow though, aren’t we?”

No, apparently not. He forgot again. Admittedly, going to see Coldplay is a fair alternative to my delightful company, but it would have been nice if he’d bloody remembered.

A similar thing happened last summer. We had been talking about going to the Big Chill festival for weeks. Thanks to the fact that I had to work, I went down on the train, and was going to meet him and his friends there. On the very morning of these events, we discussed this in some detail. He was supposed to call me to tell me where they’d pitched their tents.

I wandered, alone and worried, around the festival site for almost four hours, trying intermittently to get through to his mobile, which was switched off. Eventually, by wondrous coincidence, seeing as there were 27,000 people there, I stumbled over him and his friends, in the dark, in a field.

“Rachie! You’re here!” he shouted joyfully. I mistakenly thought he shared my profound relief at the fact that we had finally found each other. It warmed my heart to know that he’d been so worried about me. He gave me a big hug.

“I forgot you were coming!”

Monday, June 27, 2005

Magic Books

I’m reading the most wonderful book at the moment. I’m so engrossed, I can’t think about anything else. I can’t wait to get some time to myself, so that I can curl up and dive into it, devour it with my eyes, savouring each perfect sentence.

The last thing I enjoyed even half as much was the Time Traveller’s Wife, which I avoided buying for ages because it was on Richard and Judy’s Book Club list, and Richard Madeleymakes me want to throw rotten fruit at the TV.

Some books just grab you by the guts and hang on - I always know when I’ve found something special because I start to feel churned up. When I sit down and open the pages, my heart starts to beat a little faster. I’m oblivious to everything.

Once I ended up with a large, ugly bruise on my forehead because I walked into a lamp-post while reading The God of Small Things – I remember it clearly, because Estha was coming out of The Sound of Music when ‘bam’, the world intruded painfully and I remembered I was in Battersea, not Kerala. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except the guy at the bus stop nearby nearly wet himself.

And then, when the story is done, it leaves behind an atmosphere that lingers, like the fragment of a holiday memory, or the remembered smell of crayons in empty school corridors.

I read books like this with an equal mixture of awe and envy. I dream of being able to write so well, of being able to inspire such passionate emotion in someone else. To be able to create a world so gloriously peopled in your head, and describe it so beautifully is a gift I’ve yearned for since I was six, and wrote rubbish stories about a family of sentient raspberries.

Anyway, this book is called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon.

I advise you to read it as soon as possible, if you haven’t already.

Off you go. Go on.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rubber Soul

Update: The link should work now. Bloody Blogger keeps removing them. Gah.

Nice to see that Ozzy Osborne has launched his own charity wristband into the rubber jewellery melee. The things are absolutely all the rage over here – I bought my season ticket from a guy at the station who was adorned with about seven of them. They looked a bit tight, but I decided not to warn him that he might lose his arm if he didn’t re-establish normal circulation, as it’s all in the name of fashion charity.

Actually, I’m making fun – I have one, and anything that makes people give to causes like Make Poverty History and the anti bullying campaign, and raises awareness of important issues has got to be good*.

Anyway, check Ozzy’s out. Apparently, when asked why he chose the message, he said he’d rather have a wank than a bullet, but it did make me laugh, and the money’s going to good homes. The spokesman for Save the Children sounded very pleased, if a little surprised, particularly as they didn’t know anything about it.

I may order one before they run out.

*Except perhaps if it’s made by child-slaves in a Chinese sweat-shop.

Cattle Market Blues

My eyes are bleary and want to weep
I have not had my eight hours sleep
I haaaaaaave noooot haaaaaad mmyyyyyyy eight hours sleeeeeeep.

I spent a large proportion of last night humouring the BF who refused to take no for an answer when I said I didn’t want to go to a club because I had to get up in the morning. My flat is ten minutes from his office, so when I crawled out of bed at 7.15 this morning, after three and a half hours sleep, he lolled about with his eyes half shut complaining about the noise. He got to work at 10.30. The bastard.

The club was awful. I had to stand at the bar for 15 minutes before being charged the price of a small tropical island for two bottles of Sol.

The music was really bad R’n’B, and the DJ was uninspiring to say the least. Sample: “Come on ladies, let’s see that booty bonanza. Hey, hey! – security down here at the front!” I was amused to watch the resulting ruckus, during which two girls in unflattering skimpy tops were hauled, kicking and biting, out of the door and thrown into the street. Judging from the general quality of the dancing, they must have been doing something vile to deserve that punishment. It seemed to be a case of anything goes in the quest to dip your tongue in someone else’s stomach acid.

I sat there, open mouthed, as a posse of enormous, completely trolleyed, tattooed men in dirty string vests barrelled in and started trying to pull (successfully) the selection of pasty fashion clones in frilly mini skirts and boob tubes.

I wasn’t in a good mood anyway, because I didn’t want to be there, I couldn’t hear anything, and I had period pains. Also, in case you haven’t realised it by now I’m a totally unreconstructed snob. I do generally try not to judge people without meeting them, but I firmly believe that there are some things you don’t wear if your legs look like flesh coloured tights packed with week old tangerines, and you’re prepared to stand around in public with a guy’s hand inside your pants. And if you go down that route, you have only yourself to blame.

I haven’t been in a meat market like that for many years, and I have to say, thank Satan and all his evil minions for that.

Anyway, I got in a huff and left. This morning I have terrible PMT, and am feeling guilty for shouting at the BF, particularly when we only have a limited amount of time together.

On the other hand, he is still a bastard.

Chocolate now.

P.S. I don’t always moan about things, and heap scorn on unsuspecting people. Honest. Not even the really lovely American girl I met at a barbeque last night who thought I was serious when I said that my primary school in Wigan made us all leave at the age of seven to go into forced labour as chimney sweeps.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Conversations

From: kevin
Sent: 23 June 2005 10:02
To: rachie
Subject: .....and she's off

...not even half an hour into the day. Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

From: rachie
Sent: 23 June 2005 10:03
To: kevin
Subject: RE: .....and she's off

If it’s not the humming, it’s the air conditioning, or the lift. I’m beginning to think this office was designed by the people responsible for the Chinese water torture. In fact it’s not an office at all, but some other worldly dimension in which we are imprisoned thanks to heinous crimes committed in past lives.

So, go on - what was it you did?

From: kevin
Sent: 23 June 2005 10:09
To: rachie
Subject: RE: .....and she's off

Maybe it was the world record that I set for "stuffing the most puppies into my mouth in one go"; that was particularly memorable. Perhaps Gerty could try and beat that record, whilst humming.

Journey time

As the train whips through the sunlit countryside, I feel as if I’m in a movie. A mystery girl on a train, eyes hidden behind sunglasses, an unidentifiable tune playing through her earphones, foot softly tapping as the scenery blurs past the grimy window.

It’s a glorious, ecstatic summer morning, and everything we pass is touched by magic. Poppies shout scattered scarlet across the thick fields of corn and wheat. As the wind gently stirs the stalks, colours race up and down the fields, rippling silkily up into the trees. Smudged trails criss-cross the wedgewood sky; above them stretch wisps of fine high clouds, blown joyfully, carelessly, by the makers of the morning.

Occasionally the countryside is broken by malls, warehouses, carparks, stamped into the landscape; Carpet Right, Comet, PC World. Cars crawl along the roads, their shiny carapaces glinting, and then they are gone.

Allotments, jumbles of ramshackle sheds, lovingly crafted beds of vegetables, beans raspberry trellises, sunflowers. Green plastic watering cans lie side by side with hoes and rakes. A cat sits on a roof and stares as we rattle by. Faceless stations flicker past, part of the child’s scrawl of human habitation. The waiting passengers seem trapped in time, motionless on the platforms.

And then slowly we pull into the teeming, stinking, oblivious London station. The train opens its doors and abandons us to the city. My daydreams of a fateful assignation evaporate, and mingle with the petrol fumes, are drowned out by shouts and car horns. I want to spread my arms and spin round and round, until the city falls at my feet.

But instead, I smile, put my sunglasses back on, and head to work.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sweet Dreams

I don’t have recurring dreams, but there is a theme that crops up again and again in my nightmares. The so-called miracle of flight.

Way back when I mentioned that I am afraid of flying. The thought of it makes me break out in a cold sweat. Recently I’ve been fretting rather over the 9 hour jaunt to Johannesburg, and the three hour shuttle to Windhoek, which I will have to make in September, in the company of people with whom I will be in close contact for the next two years. I don’t particularly want to turn into a blubbery, blotchy mess as soon as the aircraft starts taxiing up for take-off, AND have deal with the subsequent embarrassment.

My subconscious has obviously been working overtime on this, and I have had plane crash dreams repeatedly, night after night, for the last two weeks.

The dreams tend to come in waves, anyway. Since I was about 20, before I was even afraid to fly, I’ve been through periods where things explode nightly, in both shocking and mundane detail, and then I’m safe for weeks.

They’re never the same. Sometimes I’m in them when they start to plummet; sometimes I’m watching from the ground. They can be anything from small fighter planes to Concorde – a particularly gory one that. It crashed into the railway cutting behind my old flat in New Cross, and I had to go and help drag out the bodies.

Occasionally everyone survives. There was an Air Canada one that I remember particularly well, because, to my relief, everyone started to get up and walk around.

Last week I even managed to incorporate the monster of all passenger aircraft, the Airbus 380, over which everyone is going crazy, and which I can promise you I will never set foot in unless I’m knocked over the head and thrown into the cargo hold. And I thought that even before it crashed inside my sleeping head, and charred everyone into smoking stumps. Yes, even the people in the jacuzzi.

Last night, however, was the last straw. Strapped to the pilot’s seat, the last thing I remember before I woke up screaming, was ascending crazily into a clear blue sky, and knowing that without a doubt, we were all going to die.

I am seriously considering hypnotherapy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Air conked

We have the most ridiculous air conditioning system in our office. It consists of about four overhead units that were built when Queen Victoria ascended the throne. Probably.

They belt out freezing cold air in indiscriminate directions, making the inhabitants of one end of the office feel like getting out their grass skirts and doing a hula dance on the tables, while the others are sitting there in a collection of hats and scarves and shivering like they’ve got St Vitus’ Dance.

On top of this, they’ve got some kind of strange internal cooling system which means that even when they’re turned off, they periodically purge themselves with a racket that sounds like they’re slowly expiring of a hideous choking disease. My next door neighbour in Malaysia used to clear out his phlegm in the shower with similar nosie.

And it goes on. And on. And on. It’s been gurgling and coughing for the best part of ten minutes, and it’s not showing any sign of letting up. I’m picturing myself turning into the incredible hulk, ripping it bodily from the ceiling and hefting it out into the midday traffic.

It is a pleasing image.

Weather forecast for today: Sunny! Very very sunny! General outlook: Summer. Yay!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Garden Party

The weekend was glorious. I am sunburnt. I didn’t mean to do it. I always laugh at the fact that everyone in this country goes out half-naked and turn themselves into day-glo lobsters the minute the sun comes out, but I have become one with them. Lobster me up, baby.

The sun shone unstintingly all day Saturday, and then carried on into Sunday. It was hot. Summer seemed finally to have decided to perch, like a swallow on a telephone wire. I wish there was some way I could find to nail its metaphorical talons in place.

Anyway, the BF and I decided to do some ‘gardening’. His garden is a small patch of impenetrable jungle, situated in the middle of a suburban street. There is a disused car in the driveway, but it has all its wheels, so I can’t yet label him a chav.

“Shall I mow the grass?” I asked helpfully, fighting my way through the waist high front lawn before tripping over a mess of rusty metal, and nearly impaling myself on a piece of buried tree branch.

“What the hell is this?” I shrieked. “I’m moving it now. It’s an eyesore.”

The BF stood and watched as I pulled fruitlessly at the pile of twisted crap. It turned out to be one of his mother’s bizarre sculptures, which had rusted and fallen over. It was impossible to move because it is buried in concrete. I had to strim around it.

We attacked the overgrowth with vigour, and I think we achieved quite a lot really, before my arms swelled up in a giant itchy grass-induced rash, and I had to go and sit indoors with a packet of anti-histamines and a bottle of calamine lotion.

Sometimes even I find it hard to believe that I grew up in the countryside.

Weather report for today: Grey and overcast with periodic drizzle, and distant thunder. General outlook – sweaty.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Diversions

There is excitement in the office. Becky is stuck in the lift.

Our somewhat lethargic office has been galvanised into action. A few people are on talking duty, to make sure that she doesn’t get lonely in there. Some others have been dispatched to the roof to try and winch the lift up manually. Phone calls are frantically being made to the building manager, who has turned his mobile off. I’ve been charged with finding out how to save yourself if your lift plummets four storeys.

The only person who isn’t rushing around trying to prolong this interesting interlude is Gertrude, who, as usual, is playing solitaire and tunelessly humming Onward Christian Soldiers. And, for some unfathomable reason, wearing her cardigan upside-down.

We have another entertaining game in the office – Name That Tune. Gertrude hums, we guess. It’s usually Onward Christian Soldiers. Sometimes we discuss who will be responsible for giving her a swift whack to the back of the head when it all gets too much.

It’s a barrel of laughs in here.

Nurofen, O Nurofen

I’m very, very hungover.

It’s only thanks to a kind colleague offering me a spare bed for the night that I didn’t sleep on the sofa in the office. I’m not sure what my boss would have thought upon finding me laid out there at 8am, like some kind of vagrant.

I’m beginning to regret the decision to visit Chicken Cottage on the way out of the pub.

I have a large, unsightly spot on my cheek.

I’m also acutely aware that I haven’t washed my hair since Monday. It’s starting to look like I’ve been curling it with goose dripping.

I feel very seedy and slightly unsavoury.

Weather report for today: Grey and overcast. General outlook – humid.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

News flash

I have a new sidekick!

It’s purple, seems to have a cheerful outlook on life, and for a change I decided to go for a ‘ladies’ bike – one that you can wear skirts while riding.

Unfortunately, I realised last night that while it might be easier in terms of getting on and off the Beastette, as it shall henceforth be known, it doesn’t make any difference in terms of headwind.

I was wearing a lovely linen 50s style number yesterday because I thought it was summer, and it insisted on blowing up around my thighs, in the manner of Marilyn Monroe's white dress, except with rather less finesse, or indeed sex appeal. I scooted home, skirt billowing, knickers face out to the world, one hand trying desperately to hold everything down. At one point I got so confused about whether I was braking, indicating, or protecting the world from a view of Marks and Spencer's finest that I almost fell in the river.

I’m currently investigating a niche market for skirt based cycle clips, although I’m still unsure as to how they would work. Perhaps a staple to the leg? Some kind of elasticated netting? I’ll let you know after I’ve patented my design, made my fortune, and begun my take-over of the world. Mwahahahahaha.

Weather report for today: Grey, with insistent light rain and gusty winds. General outlook – chilly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rain, rain, go away

Did I ever mention the insane meteorological anomaly that exists in South East England?

How it works is this.

Cambridge. I wake up, the sunlight knocking cheerily on my window, shouting “Get up lady! It’s a beautiful day!” I reluctantly drag myself out of bed, have a shower, get dressed, and emerge blinking into the warm summer day. Feeling good about life, the Beast (RIP) and I trundle to the station and I get on the train, trying to ignore the signs of City Life that have begun to appear around me (grumpy looks, inane conversations about stock prices and the pros and cons of nasal spray, those little braces for socks that are visible under hitched up trouser legs).

On arrival into London, a chill breeze will whip around my bare ankles. The rain will descend coldly and wetly onto my hair. Buses will spray dirty puddle water over the legs of unwary commuters. I come within a whisker of losing an eye to an umbrella*.

It works the other way round too. When it’s pissing down and cold in Cambridge, it’s balmy and pleasant in London. And you can imagine how often THAT happens.

Where is the summer?

Can we have it back please? We've had enough clouds, and rain, wind, cold, and greyness. I promise, if we can have some consecutive days of sunshine, in both London and Cambridge, I won’t complain any more on my blog, about anything.

I’ll be cheery.

Honest.

*By the way, a message to all those people standing at my bus stop this morning, who used their umbrellas while standing UNDER the shelter: your time will come. And then you’ll be sorry.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Brief Encounters I

I knew the encounter would be entertaining from the minute he sat down and introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Brad, and I’m from Ohio”, he said, extending a slab-like hand, and flashing his enormous white teeth at us. The BF looked up from the spliff he was rolling, and grinned. “Hey, shall we fire this one up first?” Brad held out a plastic tube in which nestled a fair approximation of the Camberwell Carrot.

I know from bitter experience that Americans don’t often pad out their draw with tobacco, and this thing was the size of an ice cream cone, so I was a bit wary. Fortunately he’d only recently learned from a European how to skin up, so we were all safe.

Our new friend was 19, on his first tour of Europe, very affable, and full to bursting with interesting opinions and insights.

“You guys, you know, I get so pissed when people go on about Americans not knowing history. Man, who cares about Napoleon? I came here to get high. Anyway, you Europeans are born knowing more history than us. We’re a new country you know? We’re only a coupla hunnerd years old. You guys have been around for centuries.”

I eyed the spliff that was slowly dying between his huge fingers. I felt I needed something to carry me through the utter impossibility of responding to his theory of congenital historical awareness in any way that might not be considered mocking, and our acquaintance was too newly formed for me to judge how he might take a bit of light hearted piss-taking.

His mate turned up then - another giant of a guy with a brown, weathered face, and legs like tree trunks. I think he was assigned as a chaperon, because he was a bit older, and obviously well travelled. His name was Mike. He was from Oregon.

A friendly silence descended over our little company. We sat and smiled at each other.

“Hey, do you guys believe in reincarnation?” Brad’s interjection, apropos of nothing, was unexpected and made me jump.

“Er…” said the BF and I simultaneously.

“Cos, you know,” he continued, no answer being necessary, “I believe in it. I believe that humans, you know, we’re higher beings. Man, and get this…” He was really getting into his stride now. “I think that if you don’t achieve your life’s ambition, your life’s true purpose, you get demoted. I mean, you have to put up with shit like giving birth, and blood and pain and shit.”

My mouth dropped open, and my eyebrows shot up. I snuck a look at Mike, who was looking at me with undisguised amusement. Looking back at Brad, I saw that he looked so pleased with himself that I couldn’t help but swallow a giggle.

“So,” I began carefully, “what you’re saying is that if you are a man, and you somehow become one of life’s failures, you come back as a woman?”

Brad looked briefly confused, as if this was an unfair representation of his comment.

The BF started cackling. He knows me too well. He asked, helpfully, what happened if you’re a woman and you don’t achieve your destiny.

“Man, you’d have to come back as a gay. Imagine taking it up the ass every day for your whole life. That sucks.”

“But what if you enjoy it?” The BF again, helping me out with my goldfish like inability to articulate.

Brad eyed him, aghast. “Shit. You’d be sick. Man, then you’d be in hell.”

They rather suddenly had to go off and get some food after that, so the BF and I were left supine and giggling in our corner as we watched our new friend being unceremoniously hustled out on to the street, still expounding his theory.

He is young. I hope he will learn.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

It's just not right

Amsterdam was great. We both got flu. More about that later.

I've just got home. It's late. My head is so full of snot there's no room left for my brain. I've got a temperature. My glands are like golf-balls. I'm feeling woeful and sorry for myself.

On checking my emails, to make sure that my boss had confirmed the interview schedule for my replacement, due to begin at the eminently reasonable time of 10 tomorrow morning. I find that she has thoughtfully, although in the full knowledge that it takes me almost two hours to get to work, and that I don't have a bike right now, so it will take an extra half hour to get to the station, arranged an interview for 8.45 am. My first thought was that this was a joke in a style that only she can get away with. But no.

I will have to leave the house at 6.30am at the latest. And the last interview, she has just as thoughtfully confirmed at 4.45pm. It will take over an hour, which means I will miss my usual train home, which gives me an eta of 8.30pm. 12 hours spent on trains, and in my rather small, uninspiring little office, with its perpetual views of pissed off pigeons, and meeting rooms that after half an hour of incarceration, make you want to dive screaming from the nearest window, a la the bloody Bird Man of Alcatraz. Remind me again why I do this?

I shouldn't whinge. I chose to move to Cambridge. Many people have to work long hours, and I'm lucky that I don't. She doesn't know that I'm a death's door, and that she may have to cart me, sweating and delirious, to the nearest A&E.

Our head honcho is so bonkers about work that she leaves home at about 3am to get there, and doesn't leave until the pubs are chucking out, and I should, perhaps be following her example - something I have long been aware that I don't do. But regardless of the rights or wrongs, and the fact that I am throwing a hissy fit like Little Lord Fauntleroy, I'd just like to state for the record, that I'm not bloody happy.

Thank you and good night.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Ding Dong the Beast is dead

Alas.

The Beast is no more. I came out of Cambridge station last night, looking forward to a leisurely cycle ride to the BF’s but it was nowhere to be seen.

Either it got fed up with me slagging it off, and made a break for freedom, or it found someone new to treat it like crap care for it. I just hope that it’s happy in its new home.

It’s a bit of a pisser actually. I’m going to Amsterdam tomorrow, and I come back on Saturday. This leaves me Sunday to buy a new bike, but I don’t know yet if I will be able to, as the insurance peeps need to let me know whether or not I can purchase it somewhere other than Hellfords.

If you ever want to buy a bike in the UK, do NOT go to Halfords. The bike guys know what they’re on about, but they can’t be arsed to give you any advice. They’ll also try and flog you every expensive accessory they can lay their hands on in the assumption that you have “MUG” tattooed on your forehead, and a magic purse full of gold in your pocket.

Anyway, I shall mourn the passing of my trusty companion, with its expensive Kevlar tyre, and comfy gel saddle, that protected my buttocks from blisters.

RIP

Monday, June 06, 2005

Suspicion

Dull, black sequins reflected a dark light. The dress clung like a living thing to Kate’s body. It made her hair crackle with electricity, an object of desire.

She left the party early, the catch of the night trailing. Weeks later they found him, waterlogged, bloated, unrecognisable.

Kate was gone.

The Hoarder

Maria sighed as Dora painstakingly counted five pounds in pennies.
Under her grimy headscarf, Dora’s small eyes peered from thick glasses.
Shoving the money at Maria, she shambled off, her gait suggesting arthritic discomfort.
Something heavy rolled out of her grey woollen sock; a dull coin - gold.
Maria laughed.

Skint

Fallon flicked her blonde, tousled hair from her eyes. Critically she examined her new boobs. One was definitely lower than the other. She cursed her husband. He was such a fucking cheapskate.

Maybe the photographer would pay more for topless shots. She eyed his erection, and licked her lips.

Love

“It’s true”. The old lady’s face resembles a pale, hairy raisin, and she smiles, her eyes knowing and proud.
“My husband used to be the Angel Gabriel. But he got bored.”
An old man approaches and gently leads her away.
As they dwindle, gold lights glint in his sparse hair.

Indestructible

Delia carries her tea and moon cakes upstairs. Sun through teak shutters makes the dancing dust glow.

She sips while working, pastry crumbling gently on her chin.

The tea is foul. She flounces downstairs, petulant, jarred from her routine.

In the kettle, bursting yellow gunge, floats a twitching cockroach.

Another...

The toilet is haunted. My skin crawls when I shower.

Taps drip Chinese torture, and the plants all die. Toothpaste tubes clog. The mirror cracked.

I can’t bathe any more. I feel as if someone is trying to wash me, with filthy hands.

I’ve asked it, but it won’t leave.

And another

Gossamer webs itched across her face as she moved down the cellar stairs. Brushing them away, shuddering, she resisted the urge to run. Her foot caught a broom. It fell; paint cans crashed.

In the half-light, scurrying, skittering, noises of unseen vermin.

The door slammed. Darkness.

She screamed.

50 more

Romantic anticipation. She smiled in excitement.
He removed his hands. “Open your eyes!”
She had thought dinner, dancing, warm, sweet evening air.
A grey donkey eyeballed her, snorted. She imagined fleas partying in its ears.
Her saddle was an old blanket. No stirrups.
“A sunset ride!”
She flew home alone.

50 words

A friend at work alerted me to this competition. Can you write a story in 50 words or less?

Its addictive. I've done two so far, and my brain is fizzing with scenarios.


We stood in a circle around Jack’s front door, but he wouldn’t come out. Someone threw a stone. A curtain twitched.
“We saw you”, Manford shouted, scarlet faced. “Come out, nonce. Fucking pervert”
When it grew dark, we melted away - dinners on tables.
Quiet sobbing followed our retreat.

The corner of her eye, caught by a dogs-tooth coat. The hair, the same. Her stomach plunged. Her heart speeding, she stopped, short of breath, nauseous.
She dreaded him seeing her, speaking. What could he say after all this time?
Would apologies be enough?
He turned, glanced. A stranger.
Breathe.

Anyone else up for the challenge?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Are you going to Strawberry Fair?

It’s Strawberry Fair today. Midsummer Common is invisible under a covering of tents, shops and food stalls. The world seems to be gravitating towards it – the town is almost gridlocked. People are flocking towards it in unending streams. The site itself is full to bursting.

I don’t know what it is about Cambridge on a Saturday, and it seems to turn pedestrians into half-wits. They wander out into the traffic without a care in the world. Three times today I’ve nearly mown people down, through no fault of my own, and by the fourth I was itching for someone to step out just so that I could demonstrate the amount of damage the Beast and I could jointly do to foolhardy pavement-jockeys.

I’m not sure about going to the fair. It’s not the nicest day. It is going to rain. I’m deep into the comforting pages of Marian Keyes’ latest, which is like eating very, very good chocolate, and not making yourself sick. On top of this, I’ve developed a habit of writing long lists of words as they come into my head, in the hope that characters and a plot will magically sprout from them, like mushrooms from an underground fungus*. It’s habit forming, and strangely satisfying.

Also, the fair seems to be full of that particular breed of British male, who think that by exposing their shaven heads, tattoos and hairy, monstrous beer bellies to public view, they can fool themselves that it’s summer. And the Staffordshire bull terrier brigade are out in force, and the place is full of muzzled beasts just itching to make hotdog out of the pink legs of small children.

Aw. Shucks. Of course I exaggerate. There aren’t THAT many of them.

Strawberry Fair is also fun. And the BF is playing at the BigWam stage at 4.30. Maybe I’ll go down for a beer. Or three.

*Did you know that the largest living organism is, in fact, a mushroom? They spread out, slowly spreading into the undersoil of entire forests. Brilliant.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Crumbs

I couldn’t open my laptop because the pointless table on the train was in the way. I put it on the table, but it wobbled on the useless lip that will never stop any tea or coffee spilling, but is very inconvenient if you wanted to use the table to rest things on.

I really, really needed to do some work. A friend of mine is paying me to proofread his book, and it’s going very, very slowly. I need the money to pay off my credit card, and shore up my overdraft so that I don’t have to use my whole salary to pay them off while I’m in Namibia on a VSO allowance. The lack of progress is a worry.

The table was frustrating me. I leaned the laptop against it, but the angle was wrong. I couldn’t put it back on the table because the guy opposite had taken the opportunity to hog it with his inferior and more ugly machine. People on trains are so selfish.

I turned to the man next to me and disturbed him from his Dr Who book.

“Excuse me,” I said sweetly, smiling, “Would you mind swapping places with me?” This would give me a whole foot of space in which to let my iBook stretch out.

He agreed, bemused. I got up. He got up. We both looked at my chair. My croissant had flaked generously, in the manner of dandruff, and much of it appeared to be making itself at home amid the nylon fibres.

“Oops!”, I giggled, brushing the seat clean with vigour and enthusiasm. “There you are!” He sat, and immediately closed his eyes. I think he thought I was trying to chat him up.

I sat down and smiled at the man opposite. He blinked, and raised his eyebrows. Then he pointedly brushed a number of large flakes of pastry off his pristine pin-stripe trousers.

You can’t say I don’t have style and panache.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Harare

Please have a look here and here.

Computer Madness

I have now not had a computer to work at for three weeks. This is ok. I am hot desking, which is a pain, but not a major hardship.

But I would just like to say that our IT guy is an unbelievably useless sack of shit, who keeps on promising results by a certain date, and them moving the goalposts. Not only is he not apologetic about it, he gets shirty when anyone dares to ask him what the ETA is.

And yet we won't sack him, because he is better than nothing. Well, excuse me if I disagree. We have no IT services to speak of anyway, because he so gigantically rubbish. What difference would it make to have none at all? All it would mean is that when someone needs a new computer, we'd be able to go to PC world or something, and buy one of the shelf for not much money, instead of having pay him a fortune to build one from scratch, which then breaks after a ridiculously short interval of already patchy functionality.

fffgggnnn. grrrr.....

Agressive Odiferousness

I stood on the train today with someone whose armpit vapours lingered in my nostrils in an unpleasant way.

Now I’m hot and sweaty. I worry that my own odours may be making themselves unwelcome in other people’s nasal space.

I may go and buy some body spray.

On Impulse.

Ha ha ha.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Flood

Today’s post has provoked a flood of memories.

One of the incongruous things about Lebanon is the mobile shopping. You can buy absolutely anything from the back of a cart.

I had to travel up to Bcharre from Tripoli on my own once, and the best way to do it is to get a cab. So, there I was, in the back of this taxi, with three ancient, toothless old men as my travelling companions. We were about to set off on what would be a hair-raising drive through the hills. The driver went agonisingly slowly until he hit the precipitous, winding mountain road, at which point he hared off at 100kmph, leaving smoking rubber on the gravel. I sat terrified and quaking while the old men slapped their thighs and cackled as if they were on some hilarious fairground ride.

Anyway, I digress. Just before we set off, the driver was reminded by passing cart that he’d forgotten to buy something essential. So he grabbed the guy, and conducted a hurried transaction – the result? One small brown bird in a cage to add to our merry little band.

Another occasion, we turned up in our bus at the national museum in Beirut to find our parking space blocked by a cart piled perilously high with glass bowls, each complete with a goldfish.

What could conceivably make you think “Oh, yes. Must quickly buy a goldfish in a bowl while I remember. I’ll just pop it in my handbag, because it’s such a convenient shape for carrying. Hope I don’t slosh too much on the crazy bus ride home!”

Anyone?

Vin du Liban

There was a bottle of Lebanese rose on the wine menu of the pub on Old Street. I hopped back to the table, waving the bottle at my friend and gabbling in excitement. Once I’d managed to distract her attention from the barman’s bum, I explained to her why I was so elated.

I used to work in the Lebanon. If you’ve never been there, please go. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, and people are unfailingly hospitable. As you wonder along Beirut’s crowded corniche of a soft and springlike Sunday morning, you can watch the old men fishing peacefully from the rocks below, or playing chess in the shade of a beach umbrella. Under the palms, the pretzel sellers push their carts, and couples walk arm in arm, a slow romantic promenade. Far off in the distance, above the rising blocks of flats, the mountains range, stately and snow capped. You can be up there in just a few hours, snowball fighting amongst the ancient cedars.

It’s a country of hidden idylls. Bcharre, the birthplace of Khalil Gibran, is a treasure trove of mind-boggling views, situated on the edge of a huge chasm, the terraced edges of which are a miracle of agricultural perseverance. Countless small streams and waterfalls reveal themselves within the wild vegetation. Small, whirling flocks of blue butterflies cluster around tiny flowers. Flock of goats graze under olive trees. There are even a couple of hermits hidden in the hills. The air is so fresh it hurts.

One of my favourite things was sitting on the castle walls in Tripoli, watching the boys train pigeons over the tiled roofs of the ottoman old town, and listening to the bustle of the market below. The pigeons wheel and turn on the tiniest flick of the red flags, eventually being brought into land.

Anyway, I used to take my groups wine-tasting on the edge of the Bekaa Valley. We’d troop down out of the mountains, and wander up to the vineyard. They never minded uncorking a few bottles, so we would sit getting gently drunk. Then we’d all go and spend a fortune in the shop. Especially if you were me, and had to look forward to a week of traipsing through the oenophile’s nightmare that is Syria.

It’s difficult enough to find Lebanese wine at the best of times, and to find one from my very own pet vineyard made me deeply happy with nostalgia.

So we drank it*, against the backdrop of a very fine looking barman. And it was good.

*Yes, yes I know. No more booze. Frankly, I failed.
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