Talk to me

I’ve grown tired of all of the kind words and fantastic offers sent to me by computers. If nothing else when I look at the site stats it makes me look much more popular than I really am. So I’ve turned off the comments, for now at least. Except for this post.

Because I do still want to hear from you, the actual person who is really reading this sentence.

Talk to me.

A Lunchtime Discovery

At lunchtime yesterday I was forced to conclude that I did not have anything in my kitchen or food storage areas that I wanted for lunch. This was because I did not have any fish and chips from the chip shop.

And I’m glad because my trip to the chip shop was not only an opportunity to get a bit of exercise and see what was going on “on the street”, but also resulted in me learning something.

I had to wait for the chip shop people to cook the fish and chips for me. I didn’t mind as this meant that my dinner would be fresh, so I sat down at one of the metal table and chairs. A man was in the shop, but he was not buying fish and chips, or waiting, or considering his purchase. He was a tall man, with very straight fair hair, and he was wearing a suit, a white t-shirt (which was also being used as a sunglasses hanger) and quite pointy shoes. He was slowly and carefully, you could say laboriously, putting blobs of Blu-tack on the backs of laminated posters and sticking them to the wall. The posters were of all the different sorts of kebab that you could buy in the shop.

As I watched, he re-affixed a laminated photocopy of an article from the local paper which said that the fish and chip shop was, on balance, quite good. This article has been on the wall for a few months – this was not my first visit and I had read it before – and so the man must have taken it down to make room for the big kebab posters, and then put it back in a different place. There was also a postcard which was an advert for people who wanted to earn more money selling make-up round the houses. The man turned this over in his hand suspiciously a few times before sticking one big blob of Blu-tack in the middle and pushing it to the wall, neatly, underneath the article.

His job, I concluded, was going round fish and chip shops and rearranging their wall displays to accommodate newer and larger photographs of assorted kebab meat. He went about his work in a thorough, courteous and professional manner. Modern life has many folds and crenellations. I was not afraid.

All Present and Correct

One of the supermarkets where I sometimes buy my grapes sells them in plastic bags with a zip. This is so that none of the grapes can escape.

Go On Tim

A little while ago I wrote about a short performance piece by Search Party involving a hula hoop and some nicely done text. I liked it. When they invited submissions for a Wimbledon follow-up I expressed an interest. Despite the lovely typewritten letter they sent me with instructions, I was far too busy being a damn fool to do anything. Inspired by the damp weather yesterday, however, I did manage to produce an image which I think captures something of the season.

Continue reading Go On Tim

The whole sorry predicament

On this particular Sunday morning he was eating Cornflakes while reading, the book held precariously open by a jar of marmalade on the thick right-hand to-be-read side, and an empty wine bottle on the thin left-hand having-been-read side, offering him satisfactory hands free operation, but at the same time threatening at any moment to eject the improvised paperweights and flip shut, the bungled attempts to prevent this violent loss of place inevitably resulting in flapping and mess.

He had recently become disproportionately exercised by the problem of the limpness of the flakes in the latter stages of any regular serving of Cornflakes. As he preferred his Cornflakes both crunchy and well-milked (the contrast in textures generated, along with the subtle flavour, was to him the very point of the product), the fact that the closing stages of his breakfast experience were so unsatisfactory seemed unjust and wrong. He had then settled upon the not altogether complicated idea of simply having two half portions, ensuring crunch and taste to the last bowl-tilted, catch-that-flake spoonful.

The problem, and he was himself all too aware of how tragically typical this was of him, how this so neatly summed him – and indeed the whole sorry predicament that was his life – up, was that he was incapable of executing even this most simple of strategies, always and without fail over-flaking the first bowl, and then pathetically trying to compensate by adding a tiny amount of milk. It was not so much this common ineptitude that aroused in him such self-loathing, but rather the doublethink by which he allowed himself to carry the delusion that the breakfast bowl was adequately prepared all the way to the table. Only once he had sat himself down and begun comforting himself with televised drivel or newsprint or spring-loaded literature would he stop, usually on about the third or fourth dessicated mouthful, and confront the reality that his breakfast cereal was, again, moronically undermilked, and that something would have to be done.

And there, at that exact point, he would feel the abdominal sink of the new dilemma: to bring the milk to the bowl, or the bowl to the milk? And always the futile calculation of each strategy. The milk-to-bowl option entailed a frustrating double round-trip, one to fetch the milk from the fridge and apply it to the flakes, and the second to return it to the fridge (pride ruling out the option of simply leaving it on the table: the bottle standing over the bowl, looking on scornfully, mockingly aloof, like Matron, as the increasingly soggy breakfast is consumed: can’t you even put milk in a bowl?. Futile because it was always the short-term attraction of the single round-trip that won, no matter how predictable the result.

And so he carried the bowl, now with the correct milk to flake ratio, but due to the initial overflaking dangerously full, through the swing door of his kitchen and turned, sidestepping the kitchen door as it swung back out into the hallway, his momentum carrying him through into the living room, and as he entered he caught his arm just above the left elbow against the frame of the living-room door, jolting him slightly, and with him the bowl, causing a small amount of milk and three individual Cornflakes to squirt and fall with a quiet splat on the laminated floor. He swore, at his misfortune and stupidity in equal measure, put down the bowl, the bottom of which would leave an opaque ring on the table when he lifted it later, and returned to deal with the slick, pausing only briefly to decide whether to save trees and use the dishcloth, before baulking at the hygiene implications of the floor-to-dish contact, and using 2 sheets of kitchen paper on what was clearly a three-sheet spill.

The Love Boat

As well as receiving paper items through my door most days, I am also in frequent receipt of messages from complete strangers in my Thunderbird Inbox. Most of these messages I have some difficulty in understanding, and I move them to a special folder that I think of as a computer version of the large plastic box that the Council gives me for all of the paper items that come through my door.

The other day though I received a message from somebody and it attracted my attention. It started off like this:

If you do not want to loose your money and to talk to girls who does not even exist there is new wonderful opportunity

and it went on to talk about a cruise ship with fifty “Russian beauties who want to meet a foreigner in order to make a family”. Perhaps the Chernobyl disaster has had an adverse effect on former-Soviet men’s fertility organs. I wouldn’t be surprised. In any case, I continued reading.

All their pictures are placed on the website. On the ship will be created such an atmosphere that will help to start romantic relations. There will be invited only 30 foreign men on that cruise. And you can be one of them!

So fifty homemake-hungry ladies and thirty lady-hungry men. That’s one and two thirds lady to every one man.

On the website there are pictures of the ship and cross-section diagrams so you can see how many rooms it has and how they are laid out, and there are photos of the rooms, and it says:

Then you get into the restaurant. Our chef will offer you heavenly cuisine and the waitresses will serve you quickly.

There’s even a photo of the chef. They were lucky to get that one I think because you only have to watch television to see what busy people chefs are, and that they can have quite a temper if you annoy them, and this one looks like he might be getting a bit impatient when the photo was taken. He probably wanted to get off to shell some prawns and make a Marie Rose sauce. Maybe he had something on the boil.

There’s a beauty pageant judging beauty and intelligence:

Girls write essays about different foreign countries. They pick the country themselves.

There is information about the on-board entertainments:

We have only qualified stuff. There is a nice surprise for our guests. The point is that all stuff except safeguards and the captain consists of pretty girls who are ready for everything to make your cruise fun and comfortable.

And there’s a guestbook with messages from potential passengers.

There’s one from a man who likes what he sees. There’s one from the captain’s cousin who’s going for a second time. There are men who have fallen in love with Russian women over the Internet in the past and lost their money. There’s a divorced man who is tired of American emancipated women. He wants a normal family. He wants his wife to take good care of him. He hopes this cruise will make him happy.

Then when you click on the link to “Girls” you get to a page with fifty small photos, one of each Russian beauty. When you click on the photo you get to see a bigger version of the photo. Even though the link calls the page “Girls”, I don’t think any of them are actually girls – I don’t think that would be allowed, even on a special boat in the Black Sea.

The photos are laid out very neatly on the page and each one has the first name of the woman underneath so you can understand who you are looking at and make a note for when you meet her on the cruise. Some of them also have an email address, so you can maybe write to her first and introduce yourself to give you a bit of a head start over the other twenty-nine men.

But the interesting thing is that there are so many different types of photo. They are all different sizes and some of them are holiday snaps with the woman sunbathing, and others are a little more hair-tossed-back you-know-why-you’re-here, and there’s at least one glossy studio portrait which probably cost a lot of money. There’s even a photo booth one with a pleated brown curtain behind and she’s not looking at the camera, as if she couldn’t use it for her passport so she thought “that’s OK, it’ll do for that website”.

At the top of the email about this cruise it says “Thunderbird thinks this message might be an email scam.” I don’t know if the email is trying to steal my money or not. The pictures of the ship and the fifty beauties look quite real. Maybe they just want me to give them a lot of money to go on the cruise and meet the women and enjoy the heavenly cuisine and efficient service. The only thing that is a bit unusual is that none of the fifty women have the same name. There is one Alena and one Alexandra and one Alina and one Alisa and so on in alphabetical order right the way to Yulia and Yuliya. What are the chances of that?

Maybe they have lots of cruises through the year, and at the end of the cruise the ones that haven’t been chosen can try again next time, unless they get fed up talking to the sort of men who would pay to go on this sort of cruise, and decide to take their chances back on dry land. But this would mean that up to thirty vacancies would open up for more Russian beauties to take the plunge. There would probably be a waiting list to make it onto the ship, and so the organisers could pick only those applicants with names that are different from the ones they’ve already got. All of the women would be queuing up in lines, with one line for each name, and when the one at the front is taken they all shuffle forward, like an enormous wife vending machine.

Unusual Milk

But the intercom just mumbled something short, and the door buzzed. He lurched for it, but as he pushed it, the buzzing stopped, and it wouldn’t move. He pulled, he pushed. Reluctantly he gave the intercom another, apologetic push, and just as he did so, the door buzzed again. He threw himself against it and it clicked and opened, and he staggered into a dark grey lobby. The door swung slowly shut behind him. The only way out of the lobby was a concrete staircase leading to the first floor.

At the top he peered through the glass in the door to what was clearly the main office and reception area. He could see desks and computers and people milling and tapping. He was about to knock on the door when a body appeared at the glass, there was a click, and the door opened.

“Can you wait in here?” she said, directing him into a kitchen and dining area. He sat down. “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?”

What now? Yes, he would love a cup of tea. Tea was good for people suffering from shock, which he supposed was similar to feeling acutely stressed, which is what he was now. But tea made by strangers, tea made by strangers in public kitchen facilities, possibly with unusual milk, which is to say UHT, unusual tea made by unusual people in unusual kitchens was rarely nice tea, tea that would sooth the drinker, relieving stress and enhancing performance. Plus he never received the correct amount of sugar despite the simple clarity of his instructions (imagine a level teaspoon of sugar, well just a little bit less than that, so you can see some of the spoon all the way around), and chose instead to make commentary (I don’t know why you bother with that amount, surely you can’t taste it, that’s just silly), failing to realise that it was of course precisely the smallness of the amount of sugar that made accuracy more important: a few grains either way in a builder’s four-teaspooned atrocity being neither here nor there, but at the low end of the sweetness spectrum, undue deference to the finely honed instructions, a failure to appreciate the curvature of the micro-heap, for example, could lead to catastrophic, irreversable oversweetening, or, worse, a bland beverage, equivalent to that which, yes, had no sugar at all, placing its drinker in the socially awkward situation of having to choose between downing the pleasureless liquid without comment, or risk offending the host by making a surruptitious move on the sugarbowl, to add a visibly countable number of extra grains, rendering the drink drinkable in the true sense of the word.

“No. Thankyou. Yes. A coffee, please. Thanks. No sugar, and a little bit of milk.” Coffee was a bitter drink, was his opinion, no point in denying the obvious and trying to alter it with sugar, and so, surely, a safer bet under the circumstances.

She moved to the filter machine, which appeared reassuringly full and steaming. Nothing quite as bad as cold stale coffee. Let’s not start on that.

But tomorrow, I will be witty

Winston Churchill is at a party and a woman comes up to him and says: “Mr Churchill, how marvellous to meet you. I am a huge fan.”

And Churchill, a little the worse for wear, looks at her for a few seconds and then says “Fuck off you ugly cow”.

A couple of days later Churchill is having lunch with a friend.

Churchill: I say [friend’s name], I made a bit of a hash of myself at that party at the weekend. Some old trout waddled over to me and started mouthing something ghastly, and I told her to “Fuck off you ugly cow.” I confess I had been drinking.
Friend: I say Winston, that’s rather rum. What did she do?
C: Ran off sobbing.
F: Oh dear oh dear. That doesn’t present you in the best light.
C: No, quite. Future generations will not be falling over themselves to vote me the Greatest Briton if I get a name for going about making women cry by telling them to fuck off you ugly cow.
F: To say nothing of the Nobel jury.
C: Oh Christ, this is a disaster. We’ve got to sort this out. Hang on hang on, here’s a thought,… What about something like “Never in the field of human ugliness have I seen anyone as ugly as you, you ugly cow.” Has a certain rhetorical feel to it, more statesmanlike, wouldn’t you say?
F: True, it’s an improvement, but… still, I think it needs something else. You’d been drinking you say?
C: Excessively.
F: Maybe you could use that. How about “My dear, you appear to be extremely ugly, but, then again, I am completely pissed.”
C: I like it, makes me sound manly. The people like a man who likes a drink. That’s something I’ve always had going for me. So, so, wait, let’s see, something like “So ugly are you and so drunk am I that it would be better that I should vomit on your face and…something blah blah…” Going for the rude charm vote. Treat them mean, and all that.
F: I think we’re veering away again. But the drunk line is good. Maybe if we introduced a dialogue element. Something Socratic, appeal to the intellectuals, the sort that like to regurgitate witty put-downs at dinner parties.
C: Right, of course, good, so I say, yes this is it I say “God you’re ugly” and she says “Who are you calling ugly you pissed old bastard” and I say “You, you ugly cow. Now fuck off, I’m going to bed.”
F: Winston, you are a genius.

History is, of course, written by the winners. Or, in Churchill’s case, people who write huge volumes of history.