Sunday, 28 February 2010

Six little numbers

It is 9:40 on a Sunday evening and I am potentially a millionaire. Riches beyond my wildest dreams are but a moment away. My life could be about to change immeasurably.

I haven’t inherited this money. And, if you ask anyone who’s worked alongside me, I certainly haven’t earned it through the fruit of my labours. Indeed, if my labours were in any way fruit-based, they’d probably be a pineapple. Not easy to come by, tricky to penetrate and unloved by most sane-minded people.

It is 9:45pm and I’m still on my way to serious wealth. For all I know, the numbers on a slip of paper in my wallet could match with those drawn by a machine operated by a pretty-low-down-the-alphabet-list-celebrity yesterday evening.

So I’m only a potential millionaire. Schrodinger’s Millionaire, if you like. But, until we open the lid of the box, or in my case, get the pink slip of paper out and look at the National Lottery website, that potentiality is unrealised.

It is 9:50pm and I’m wondering what I’m going to do if the numbers have fallen the way I would like. ‘Doing good things for charity’ and ‘travelling the world’. Those two seem to be the front-runners when past winners have been asked about their future intentions. Both of which seem fair enough, if a little too close to Miss World territory for my liking. Still, each to his own, I suppose.

Another thing we always hear from winners is “It won’t change me,” as if being enriched by several million quid overnight is going to mean everything stays the same. No, they tell us straight-faced, they will resume their soulless existence on Monday morning, clocking on with their colleagues and spending eight hours a day worrying about the completion of form RT56-12 until retirement or the merciful release of premature death. We look upon these people as paragons of virtue. But why? I wouldn't trust them with scissors.

Me? I’ve got websites for estate agents in several locations saved on my computer, dependent upon whether we’re talking £1million, £5million, £10 million or over. Unfortunately I haven’t got one in line for a £10 win, but if property prices continue their current freefall, that’s a distinct possibility. I’ve calculated the precise level of winnings at which I can stop going to work. I like my job; the people I work with are great friends, but if I could choose, I might select something else to for which get up at 6:25 every morning. I don’t quite know what this ‘something’ might be, but that’s the thing with money. It might not buy me happiness, but it would put me into a much better bargaining position at the Happiness Shop.

It’s 9.55pm and I’m deciding whether I’d go for ‘no publicity’ or not. How would I cope if everyone knew I was suddenly rich? How would I deal with people? What about the begging letters?

I suppose I’d carry on writing them.

It’s 10.00pm. Deep breath. Let’s see what these numbers have to say, then.

Oh. Bugger. Better set the alarm clock for 6.25am.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Beige is this year's mauve. Or something like that.

I have a bit of a problem when it comes to matters sartorial. Someone once said that "clothes maketh the man," but it makes no difference, whatever I wear I tend to looketh like a pillock.

Other people - men, even - seem to be able to cope with dressing themselves. They somehow know instinctively what to put together to make themselves look the part. The best I can hope for from clothing is the avoidance of nudity. And somewhere to put loose change.

It's hard enough getting stuff to fit. Being the wrong side of big-boned (seriously, how large can bones get?) means that I'm not catered for in most stores. Actually, while we're on the subject, I have a question. Why do stores put the smaller sizes in front, hiding the fatboy sizes at the back of the rail? They're really hard to reach. They should reverse things; I'd have thought someone who can fit into 30 inch jeans would have been far more flexible.

That's me in the corner. That's me at the clothes rail, losing my rag and hunting around at the back for the XXL shirts that inevitably aren't there. OK, it doesn't scan but if Michael Stipe weighed 250 pounds he'd have made it work somehow.

But, regardless of the size issue, I just don't help myself. Katie often despairs as I trudge downstairs after dressing. "Come into the light, let me take a look at you," she'll say, before wincing at the latest combo. "At what point," she'll sigh, "did you think an orange pullover would work with brown jeans?"

"Does it not look...autumnal?" I'll ask hopefully.

"What are you, Willy Wonka? Get changed."

It's come to the point where I'm not generally allowed to buy clothes for myself. It's just easier that way. What happens now is that I get items of clothing as a by-product from Katie's shopping expeditions. When she comes home laden with bags there will invariably be something for me, in the hope that I'll be distracted from the bank account decimation that has happened. I'll go from indignation to ooh-look-at-the-nice-shirt in 30 seconds flat. Works every time.

I'm not to be allowed in a clothes shop on my own. Typically, whenever I do shop as a solo project I bring things home with all the style and elegance of a fresh axe-wound. Katie just sighs and turns back to her Bejewelled Blitz. I'm not to be trusted.

However, I think I've encountered someone even more clueless than me. I was, despite best advice, in a store this very evening, a few hours ago. And as I watched, a man in his forties browsed the ties. He picked one up - a rather conservative design with blue and grey checks - zipped open his jacket and placed the tie against his shirt to see if they matched.

Seems reasonable, yes? You might think so. But he was wearing a plain white shirt.

Compared to this guy, I'm the next Tom Ford.

Friday, 19 February 2010

200-word story #2

The Goodbye

It was looking like the worst day of Anita’s life. “Things,” she said to herself as she reached for a fresh handkerchief, “will never be the same again.”

She could barely stand to watch him, as he walked slowly and uncertainly down the path. Don’t turn around. Don’t look back. It’s hard enough as it is, she thought, don’t make this even more difficult.

Four years. For four long years he’d been hers and hers alone. They had flown by in an instant. She remembered life at the beginning. Two hearts beating as one. Two souls, eager to learn about one another.

Deep down she’d thought it might not last. Hadn’t her friends warned her this day might come? “It’s inevitable,” they’d said. “You think it won’t affect you, but it always happens in the end.” She’d tried to ignore them. After all, what did they know? They were just jealous of what she had.

Anita’s focus returned to the path. Damn. He was looking back, an unspoken question on his face. The tears returned to her once more. Hot, salty, bitter. And she wondered. Does every woman feel like this, on her son’s first day at school?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Clumsy is as clumsy does

Every now and then there will be one of those stories published that shows the various mishaps that befall our countrymen. We'll read in wonderment about how 621 people were admitted to Accident & Emergency in 2008 due to trouser-press related incidents. Or perhaps we'll attempt to get our collective heads around the news that 24 Britons have been injured by turkey basters.

What amazes us in this household, though, is the fact that I haven't as yet joined the ranks of embarrassing hospital admittees. Because, it is true to say, I am more than a little clumsy.

Katie spends her days in perpetual flinch mode, just waiting for the next pratfall, dropped item or near-injury to occur. Asking me to do something simple like pick up an item from the kitchen worktop is almost guaranteed to provide comedy moments for the family to cherish. I will approach said item, grasp it meaningfully and lift vertically. Then I'll start the horizontal part of its journey, often without checking whether it's cleared the surrounding items. Before I know it, things have been tipped over and I'm standing in the middle of a rapidly-expanding circle of debris, a confused look on my face.

I'm responsible for the washing-up in this house. Accordingly, wine glasses have a life expectancy similar to that of World War 1 fighter pilots. We were given a lovely set by Katie's dad just before Christmas. Wine glasses, not fighter pilots. They're fabulous, yet ultimately doomed.

But it's not just inanimate objects that are the victims of my cack-handedness. I often come off second-best myself.

I have, more than once, damaged myself with a fridge door. I hear you asking: "How?" It's a good question, dear reader. I approach the fridge, I open its door, and in the excitement that comes with the impending delivery of chilled delights, I somehow manage to forget that the space currently occupied by my head is shortly to be encroached by the aforementioned door. I fail to take evasive action. There is a dull thud, underscored by the rattling of the egg tray.

You know what's most depressing about that last paragraph? The words "more than once". I have the word 'Samsung' imprinted on my forehead in reverse. Like a cat leaving its tail in an open fireplace, I never learn.

Stairs are an occasional hazard, too. I've lost count of the times I've skated down them, with all the effortless grace of an untethered night storage heater, only for my trajectory to be retarded by an outstretched hand. These days it's actually an occasion of note for my feet to make solid contact with each stair.

When they ask who you'd have playing yourself in the movie of your life, it's always a tough question to answer. But in my case, it's even tougher; they'd need to be willing to do their own stunts.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

You had me at "Selection of Imported Cheeses"

Many years ago, when Katie and I were young and foolish, we travelled a little bit. We visited New York on a number of occasions and if we didn't quite paint the town red, we at least managed a vague mauve-ish tint.

On one of our last trips there we had a spectacular meal in a restaurant on West 54th Street. Everything was perfect; the food, the wine, the atmosphere. We were served by an imposing but friendly Italian-American chap from Long Island. ("What's your name?" "John." "No, really, what's your name?" "OK, then, it's actually Giovanni.") We ended up at the bar drinking with a bloke who arranges the um, 'background talent' for hip-hop videos. It was a great, if rather random, night.

For reasons that are lost to me right now the restaurant, or rather its parent company, have my email address. Every now and again they send me details of current offers, being blissfully aware that they're writing to someone 3,500 miles and one Atlantic Ocean away. They're a responsible outfit, so I could easily unsubscribe if I wanted to. But there's something about their invitations that I find quite...inviting. The latest, advertising a Tuscany-themed evening at one of their restaurants in a place called Syosset (seriously, I have no idea), is a case in point. Let's have a look at the sample menu:

Selection of imported Tuscan cheeses

Right. Sit me down and let me get down to business. This might not be pretty.

Mackerel Crudo, caper berries, Cerignola olives and lemon

I think I've dribbled onto my keyboard. is MY cAps Lock WoRKing?

Braised wild boar ragout open faced ravioli with shaved truffle pecorino

Seriously, I would want to marry this course. I think Katie would give her permission if it meant she could have leftovers.

Bone-in dry aged filet mignon, cannelini beans, Chianti wine reduction

Christ on a bike. I've gone all unnecessary. I didn't even make a smutty reference to the phrase "Bone in". I must have it bad.

Almond biscotti and fresh berries, with Frangelico Zabaione

Because if you're going to have a Zabaione, we might as well make it Frangelico-based. That's what I've always thought. (Goes off to Wikipedia. Realises that Zabaione is the same as Zabaglione. Ooh. Custard. Feels better about himself).

Let's be completely honest. The chances of us sitting down in this restaurant in the near future are remote. I should really just unsubscribe, so the good people responsible for their marketing can concentrate their efforts on someone who, well, actually knows where the heck Syosset is.

But I like getting these emails. They remind me of a less responsible, more indulgent time. And in these austere post-recessionary days that's no bad thing.

Now, if you don't mind, I really do have to fix this keyboarD.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sound and vision

The other week we were forced to replace our old, faithful TV with a new one. And I don't know about you, but a month or so after Christmas, when the bank account is hardly at its healthiest, is probably not the best time to be having to shell out a few hundred quid on consumer electronics.

In fact I'm certain there is a rule, or perhaps it's a law, about things like this. And it goes: "You will be most likely to be forced to spend a large amount of money on something when you are least likely to be able to afford it."

However, the old TV had been playing up for a while. Randomly it would switch itself off, wait a few seconds (normally giving us enough time to get up and start walking towards it) and then come back on again, as if to say: "Whoa there people! Sit back down again. Nothing to worry about." Then it would do it again a few minutes later.

For a while we accepted this. Or rather, we didn't accept it, but realised that replacing a TV was not an easy option. But matters came to a head when Katie was watching CSI: New York and had several shots of Carmine Giovinazzo with his shirt off interrupted by the cathode ray shenanigans.

This, she said, will not stand. Although if I remember correctly, other words may have been used at the time. You don't get in the way of her Danny Messer fantasies without coming off second-best. I know this to be true. The old TV was as good as toast.

So then we were plunged into a world of questions. Full HD or HD ready? What refresh rate do we need? Does 100hz do the trick? 1080p 16/9 display? HDMI input?

This made our eventual televisual purchase, made from Sainsburys of all places, while doing the weekly foodshop, or the more likely to make the techno-purists among you put your hands up to your faces like the figure in Munch's Scream painting. I know, but it was a brand I'd actually heard of. The numbers and letters on the box looked vaguely impressive. It was discounted by £250. And just think of the Nectar points.

So now I have this big, shiny black panel in my living room. At 40 inches, I have to admit it's a little over the top. If I'm honest, watching Deal or No Deal on the domestic equivalent of an Imax screen is not what I had in mind. But it's equally striking when switched off.

If I come downstairs at night to get a glass of water, I can't see it, but I can sense its presence. A large rectangle, starless and bible black. It's a little unnerving, this monolith; I feel like one of those apes in the opening sequences of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

All I need is for my computer to start talking to me and I will officially be freaked out.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Letter to myself aged seven

Dear you.

Well, actually, as you’re me, that should be “Dear me,” although I suspect that might make things a little confusing. Let’s keep it “you and me,” shall we?

So, 1977, then! I remember it well. Actually, some of the details are a little hazy, although I do recall fish fingers. Lots of fish fingers. You love fish fingers. However the volumes and frequency of fish fingers seem to reduce when you reach eight, for some reason. Shame, really.

Anyway, welcome from the future! 2010, to be exact. What’s that? Jetpacks and hovercars? Ah. Sorry, but I’m afraid the scale of change isn’t quite what you’re expecting. No, I haven’t been to any bases on the Moon. Although I did once spend six months working in Redditch, if that helps.

Actually, that’s what I’m contacting you about. No, not Redditch. Work. From about the age you are now, you start getting that question from relatives. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a bit of a poser, isn’t it?

Right now you’re probably answering from one of the standards for seven-year-olds. Fireman, policeman, pilot, soldier. For a while you think about being an astronaut. Remember, though, you’re British, so I’m afraid that’s just not going to happen.

Next year you’ll do that thing that most boys do. You’ll look at what Dad does for a living and go, “that’s for me.” With infinite patience he’ll sit you down and tell you that while there’s nothing wrong with being an offset print manager, you might want to set your sights a little higher.

In a few years time you’ll be going to Grammar School and that’s when the serious thinking starts. At about age 15 the Careers Officer will get you and your classmates to look through the Index Cards of Destiny – each one a different profession. In a fit of teenage pique you simply pick the last one in the box and spend the next few months thinking seriously about becoming a Zoologist. This causes your parents a mixture of puzzlement and faint pride, until it comes to light that you have a real problem with insects.

For about two weeks in 1986 you’ll be convinced that you will take up music and be a rock and roll drummer. However, the lack of any discernable talent causes you to re-think this career path. It’s for the best, as your next-door neighbours joyfully agree.

As an aside, at the age of 18 you get really interested in computers and think it would be nice to do something with them as a living. Well I’ve got news for you. You do end up using a computer. But then again, so does everyone else these days. I somehow don’t think spreadsheets and PowerPoint were quite what you had in mind, though.

In the following years the die is set as you sort of drift into something vaguely resembling a career. You’ll wonder what happened to the younger you, who had a whole raft of dreams and ambitions. After all, how many seven-year-olds actually decide that retail financial services is something to hanker after? Not many, I’d wager.

But here’s the thing. What you do isn’t necessarily who you are. And, whisper it quietly, there will be days when you actually quite enjoy bits of it, too. If it’s any help, I still can’t answer the “What will you be when you grow up?” question now, 33 years later. It’s not down to lack of ideas. I’m just not too certain I want to grow up yet.

So don’t get too hung up about it. You’re seven. Concentrate on the here and now. Or the ‘there and then,’ I suppose. It’s tea-time - Mom will be calling soon. I bet it’s fish fingers, too. Make the most of the opportunity while you can.


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