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Friday, 30 April 2010

Shooting Birds at the Airport

While walking to work today I was surprised to hear gunfire coming from the airport runway that I pass on my right.  Now, although "shooting birds at the airport" is not yet an official job description (although many list it as a dream occupation), shots are still fired on occasion to scare non-itinerant birds.  Here is a poem regarding what may happen if the birds fight back:

A solitary watchful crow on a stile,
Surveyed all around with a satisfied smile.
When a buck-toothed youth with malevolent charge,
Through a shotgun sight did the lone crow regard.
Yet his aim was as poor as his mind was opaque,
And with relative ease the lone crow escaped.
He sent out the word and fellow crows flocked,
And this murderous murder hatched a neat plot.

'We're being hunted down and we do not know why.'
'I know,' sounded one, 'it's those things in the sky,
The humans want none of us blocking its path.
If you get in the way then you've cawed your last!
But if we all flock together, attack it up there,
We can take this great bird out with speed and with flair!'
'It just might work' cawed the leader with scorn,
And the kamikaze crow squadron was formed.

So this doomed squad of heroes, all fuelled by vengeance
Flew alongside the plane then straight into the engines.
One engine clogged up and the rest followed suit,
'Mayday' screamed the Captain and looked for his 'chute.
And the plane started hurtling down to the ground
And soon all was silent, save for the sound
Of a solitary watchful crow on the stile,
Surveying the crash with a satisfied smile.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Liev Schreiber Met Justin Bieber

Liev Schreiber met Justin Bieber going to the fair.
Said Liev Schreiber to Justin Bieber 'what have you got there?'
Jeepers Schreiber! Brothel creepers! You see, they're back in fashion
I take my style tips seriously, you could say it was a passion.
'I see' said Schreiber pensively, 'then perhaps you'll answer this...
Is there a soul above the age of ten who knows that you exist?'
'Of course not' laughed the Bieber, 'I'm pure imagination!'
'Please keep it that way' grumbled Liev, 'you're nowt but irritation!'

Bowled Over by Duckworth & Lewis

Despatching a Yorker, off-stump to mid-wicket
These two men we grant our accord
Duckworth and Lewis' gay tales of cricket
Will storm the Novello awards

They'll beat Dizzee Rascal and Paolo Nutini
We'll joyfully drink to their health
With a toast of a Scotch or a large Martini
To the sound of Novello himself

The Button

So, it was suicide. We all knew it was suicide. To say John had been miserable this past month since Suzanne left him would be an understatement – he had become a wretched human being. He had lost his strut, that confident swagger; in its place the stooped gait of a geriatric. With this in mind, it’s a wonder he ever managed to climb to the top of the tower block in the first place.

I visited him last week, hoping to raise his spirits with a comedy DVD I knew we both liked. It took three knocks on the door and a rap at the window, before he materialised. He peered uneasily through heavy eyelids like battered roller blinds, and, after a couple of second’s thought, grunted and motioned me inside.

You could never have described John’s house as stately or opulent, but Suzanne’s Bohemian nature and near-obsession with mirrors and beads had always lent it great character. Robbed of haphazard flair, his living room seemed cold and austere: a stockade for melancholy. I had never realised, but I should have guessed, that nearly all the furniture displayed in their house had originally been Suzanne’s. Those wonderful, heavy oak cabinets and dressers that had dominated each room were now gone leaving only tell-tale indentations in the carpet where John’s hastily re-assembled flat-pack monstrosities could not cover them up.

John simply sat. Where once he would erupt with uproarious laughter, bent double and shaking with convulsive mirth when we watched comedy together, today not one smile could crack his inscrutable expression or one chuckle break his sorrowful trance. Paradoxically, our silence became one of comfort. The pressure to offer questions or pleasantries which neither involved his immediate break-up nor my own steady relationship became too great within minutes of my arrival. Besides, John was responding in grunts, sighs and only the odd syllable of clarity.

Presently he began to tell me, slowly, of his attempts to reconcile the relationship. I nodded in sympathy, simultaneously recalling the fervent manner in which, five years previously, he had first related this budding romance to me. We had arranged to meet, as we did every Thursday night, in the Pig & Whistle for a drink and perhaps to enter the weekly pub quiz. John was uncommonly late - my pint of bitter being nearly drained - and blundered over to my table carrying a carrier bag brimming, almost choking, with a variety of used buttons. He explained that he'd picked them up from the market that afternoon for his new lady who was "creative" and "liked making weird things". It mattered not as I had never seen John more effervescent: the pile of buttons reflecting vivaciously in his sparkling eyes, his broad grin never wavering even when his enthusiastic hand gestures knocked the bag over forcing a tide of buttons across the floor.

We hugged briefly before I left. Just outside his front door I stooped to pick up a solitary, cheerless button - washed colourless by unseasonal rain.

Milquetoast

Gerald Tomkins is blessed, nay cursed, with a name so mundane, so vapid it practically predisposes his nature to all that meet him long before he proffers his signature limp handshake of welcome.  It is then fortunate that he still excels in his professional disposition as a middling salesperson for highly functional yet decidedly uninteresting software.  A moleish, middle-aged man in a budget suit standing five foot four in generously-heeled hush puppies may look out of place in a techno club or an inner-city skate park, but at a software sales conference it is practically uniform.

    Attending the annual Softmart conference at the less than stately Slough Manor is both Gerald's business highlight and personal lowlight each year.  The future of his small software house practically depends on him returning with a number of new contracts but the process leaves him feeling spiritually drained.  Nobody, he says, can ever connect with him as a person.
   
This year Gerald stands nervously behind a trestle table clearly last hired by a somewhat unruly youth group.  Only by strategically placing piles of brochures is he able to cover up their crude yet inventive graffiti.  Humming the melody to ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, he sheepishly tries to make eye contact with the gathered representatives.  Those who do make this visual pact, however, are surprised by the knowledgeable, professional pitch they become party to – just as surprised as they are by the same curt refusal Gerald gives anyone who suggests ‘a drink to seal the deal’.

      ‘Hey! That’s Blue Monday, right?’ sounds a voice.

    Gerald looks up from a stack of brochures he had been repositioning.  His slate grey eyes meet another pair of sparkling azure, lightly obscured by overhanging curls of dyed red hair and accompanied by a grin of pure lipstick.

    ‘Oh...yes, yes it was.  Look, are you interested in software?’ replies Gerald quickly changing the subject and gingerly offering the topmost brochure.
    ‘
    ‘Sure!’ she beams.  ‘It's just that I love New Order and it’s always nice to meet another fan.  I’m Angela Smith, I work for Vasco.  We’ve actually heard quite a lot about your workflow management software – event-driven notifications, polling sources for redundant content...’

    ‘Well, er, it’s all there on the brochure,’ stammers Gerald.  ‘I...I think the electronic stuff’s their best.’

    ‘Electronic stuff?  You mean the software?’ replies Angela quizzically.

    Gerald feels his cheeks redden and his legs begin to shake.  ‘No...no, I – I’m talking about New Order.’ he gurgles.

    Angela smiles and studies the brochure, picking out various parts for extrapolation, Gerald doing his best to expand on them while simultaneously preventing his paper piles from being swept away by the breeze from the rusted ajar window behind him.

    ‘It sounds just like what we’re looking for,’ she says presently before laughing, ‘of course, your excellent taste in music swings it!  No, seriously, we would like you to visit the office to install a demonstration next week if you’re available.’

    Gerald takes a deep breath. ‘I will be delighted to,’ he squeaks before bravely adding, ‘I think the bar is open, would you like a drink to seal the deal?’

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Ice Cream Pirates

It was a Tuesday afternoon when I lost my first tooth.  I know it was a Tuesday because Granny always takes my sister Annie and I to the chip shop for lunch on a Tuesday and I could still taste fried haddock with chips.  I also know it was summer because bigger boys were all around the seafront playing pirates near the harbour.  They were using headscarves as pirate hats and Darren from up our street had one with a Jolly Roger on it and a smart eye-patch.

‘Granny, when can I start playing at pirates?’ I asked.

‘Next year I expect,’ she replied.  ‘When you’ve started school and made some new friends.  Those boys are a bit too old for you.’

We left Granny’s house and were about to go to the bus stop to take us home when another bigger boy ran down from the high street shouting ‘Van crash!  Free ice cream!’ at the top of his voice.  Darren and the pirate boys started to run up the side street to where the other boy stood.  There they stopped and cheered and ran off again up to the high street.

Annie smiled.  ‘Come on!’ she cried, ‘Or there won’t be any left for us!’

We hurried after the boys.  When we got to the high street we stopped and gasped; Mr Rossi’s ice cream van was on its side and everywhere we looked were ice lollies, fizzy drinks, chew bars and cold, lovely ice cream.  Mr Rossi was not hurt and was shouting at another man a few feet away, waving his arms in the air while local children helped themselves to what had landed on the ground.  We checked to see Mr Rossi was not looking and picked up an ice lolly each and crammed several handfuls of treacle toffees into our pockets.

Darren had picked up a huge vat of ice cream the same size as himself from the van and was hobbling around trying to balance it.  Mr Rossi suddenly turned round.

‘You boy!  Get yer hands off that ice cream!’ he shouted running back to his van.

Mr Rossi grabbed Darren by the arm causing him to topple over and the vat fell to the ground, opening and covering them both in vanilla whip.  Everybody laughed and I did too, but I hid mine behind my hands because Annie says that if Darren ever sees someone smaller than him laughing at him he will deck them.

‘We’d better catch our bus’ said Annie taking my hand.  So we walked back down to the seafront unwrapping our ice lollies.  It was very sunny and I couldn’t wait to taste the delicious, cold orange flavour so I bit hard on the corner.  My tooth, which had been wobbly for the past week, broke loose in my mouth and I nearly swallowed it thinking it was a hard piece of lolly.  Annie told me to keep it safe and place it under my pillow that night for the tooth fairy always rewards you if you do.

Monday, 19 April 2010

A Winter Meeting

Carefully pulling on his tatty leather jacket, making sure to fasten only the three well-affixed of six dull buttons, Tristram departed his dusty basement flat and thirstily sniffed in the crisp tonic of early Winter air.  Although he hated the clich├ęd phraseology of ‘exercise your body, exercise your mind’, he had little to lose by it; a good walk and time away from the computer – besides, he had run out of milk.

Around the corner, a hundred yards from the local Middle School, he happened upon a chattering of local schoolkids bustling, whirling and roaring their way along a highly-polished ice slide.  Tristram watched enviously as one hapless, pudgy boy with thick ginger hair and a permanent cowlick toppled unceremoniously mid-slide only to receive the thick, leather sole of a boot squarely on his backside as an unsympathetic classmate deliberately crashed into him.

“Makes you wish we were young again, don’t it?” said a voice.  Tristram turned, meeting the kindly, wrinkled face of an elderly gentleman.  He recognised a nostalgic sparkle in the old man’s eyes as if looking in a mirror.  Vivid memories of snowy schooldays flooded his mind.  For a second he was the pudgy, downtrodden schoolboy scrambling precariously along the ice.  He was one of a hundred unremarkable children sitting in uniform rows at Christmas assembly and laughing as their good-natured Headmaster Mr Jenkins told  them, with a certain inevitability, to be careful not to suffer from ‘tinsel-itis’ during the holidays.  Now, thirty years later, he found himself reminiscing obliviously for a time when winter and especially Christmas brought him excitement, hope and warmth and not the frosty, unsympathetic smugness of the satirical 'festive' radio special he was supposed to have finished writing.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Volcanic Panic

Aeroplanes grounded, the sky deepest slate
A nation at standstill, no food on our plates?
We'll be back to the ration books, one egg a time
Inferior tea bags and foul British wine
With volcanic ash still filling the skies
Frozen good stores will get a surprise
As customers double they'll soon understand
It's won't just be Mums who go to Iceland

Friday, 16 April 2010

Gone Fishing

“Fill your boots Lads!” I cheerfully choked as young Brian and Terry helped me sort through Alan’s old things.  I’d been dreading this moment, but life goes on as they say and his hoard of teenage effects has been littering his old room, and with it my mind, for far too long now.

Terry held up a shabby, misshapen hat, “What about this Mr Pearson?  This’d be good for my next fishing trip.”

My eyes welled up.  You’d never think of him as the shrewdest mind, but young Terry Jones really does have one of the worst cases of foot-in-mouth disease I’ve ever known.

“Terry, put that back!” snapped Brian, Terry’s older and wiser brother, who had been absent-mindedly leafing through a pile of Loaded magazines.  “Think about what you’re saying.  He’s sorry Mr Pearson.”

“It’s fine lads.” I eventually reciprocated.  “But no, I-I’d rather like to hang on to that if you don’t mind.”

To most people this hat would appear unremarkable: made of once fine Harris Tweed and covered in hand-tied fishing flies.  It had been my father’s and, as I grew up, there was barely a Sunday afternoon when I would not see him leave the house wearing it, his rod and tackle bag clutched in either hand.  It had long been his ambition to share these stolen afternoons at the waterside with me, but the gentle pastime of angling and a Kevin Keegan-obsessed, highly-strung ten year old really do not mix awfully well.  On the two occasions we did venture to his favourite spot by the river near Cambury Manor, he snapped angrily at my attempts to break my “keepy-uppy” record with an empty bottle of Dandelion and Burdock and erupted with apoplectic rage when I dared skim a flat stone across the water’s surface.

“For the love of Pete, you silly young tyke!” he bawled, convulsing with ire. “You’ll scare away the fish with your blessed tomfoolery!”

“But father, we’ve barely seen a stickleback all day.  Besides, aren’t you scaring them off now by shouting at me?” I demurred.

No, fishing trips with my father never did turn out to be happy occasions.  The closest we came to bonding was as we “legged it” together from the Cambury Manor Squire – who’d clearly been alerted by my father’s clamorous protestations – like a couple of apple-scrumping schoolboys, my father trying carefully not to drop his catch – that elusive stickleback.

But my father’s fishing legacy sat rather better on the shoulders of my son Alan – a keen angler from the day he could hold a rod without losing his balance - and, some years before his death, my father passed down his treasured hat and tackle bag to him.  Initially proud to wear the hat, Alan bowed to teenage fashion sensibilities and replaced it with a black Nike baseball cap a year after my father passed away.  I doubt either would have given much cushioning against his tragic fall by the riverside when a loose bank of earth gave way causing him to strike his head on a large rock and be carried unconscious down the River Aire.   I’d lost a son...and finally gained a hat.

“Thanks Mr Pearson!” shouted the two boys, their arms laden with various records, magazines and posters as they shuffled down the path through my front garden.  I looked hard at the hat.  After wiping it free of dust and re-affixing two my father’s hand-made flies, I placed it on my head and looked sternly at myself in the mirror.  Without switching my glance, I reached for Alan’s old rod and my father’s tackle bag which had sat mocking by the hatstand these last three months.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Turn of the Scrooge

‘Scrooge!  A moment of your time if you please.’ boomed Fezziwig.

Ebenezer Scrooge carefully placed the battered, weather-worn crate he had been carrying on the table outside the office of his portly employer.  He adjusted his bow tie, straightened his lapels, whetted his lips and raised his right hand to knock.

‘Come in man, there is no need to knock if I have already requested your presence before me.’ grunted Fezziwig as he tipped burnt tobacco from his malodorous pipe.  ‘Now, sit yourself down, we have much to discuss.’

Scrooge squatted on to a cheap footstool and faced Fezziwig’s desk.  Leaning furtively in the direction of the office's sole source of heat - a lonely candle - he pondered the connotations of the phrase “much to discuss”.  More so he pondered quite what mood the old blighter was in today.  Given the absence of a “yo ho” or “chirrup” from his curt request and the acidic stare that greeted him as he entered, it seemed more than apparent that his employer was enduring a low spell – and that meant nothing but hard, frank business talk.

He recalled warmly the old man's jovial performance that previous Christmas Day and, although it had occurred some six weeks ago, the image of Fezziwig and his entire company of workers dancing, drinking and making very merry together lived strong in both his mind and heart.   Mr Fezziwig was altogether different that night.  Granted, from Midday he had liberally supped mulled wine from the huge brass bowl  that Mrs Fezziwig had wheeled in, whooping and coughing theatrically before declaring it "the best batch of bishop yet".  Yes, whether insisting Scrooge and his equally bookish co-clerk Dick Wilkins drop their quills and join his family in an exhilarating square dance or leading all assembled through a chorus of The Wassail Song, the outgoing side of Fezziwig really appealed to Scrooge.  It was his Protean duplicity: this downcast, mirth-drained, hard to please misanthrope before him he feared.

‘Now,’ began Fezziwig, his wire-rim eyeglasses slipping as he looked down angrily at an open ledger. ‘Business recently has been frightful.  The lack of commerce during this perishing winter and various financial vagaries have left me with little choice.  Not to put too fine a point on it my fine fellow, either I dismiss you or I dismiss Dick.’

Scrooge shifted uncomfortably but tried to remain stoic.  Dick Wilkins was practically his younger brother.  The two were apprenticed by Fezziwig barely a month apart; they shared sleeping quarters above the warehouse; there was barely a living soul he felt closer to.  Scrooge smiled, then immediately felt a pang of guilt.  Perhaps there was one.

‘I’ve given it considerable thought,’ continued Fezziwig.  ‘My daughter Belle thinks very fondly of you and harbours a wish to become your wife.  I will give you my blessing, continued employment and a token promotion if you should espouse her.  Do we have an accord?’

Belle Fezziwig twirled enthusiastically, showing off an elegant, blue, deeply-flounced gown.  Scrooge stood several feet away, his eyebrows raised in admiration while his jaw loosened into a wide, yet not unattractive gawp.

'Yo ho Ebenezer!' called her father beckoning, 'I know you are friendly with my other daughters, but have you met my eldest, Belle?  As fresh a rose today when she stepped from the carriage as that which sadly departed us six months ago.'

'Really Father!' blushed Belle. 'Mr Scrooge, finally I make your acquaintance.  Descriptions in the letters of my sisters precede you, but I fear do not do you justice.  Will you walk with me awhile?'

'I would consider it a pleasure my lady'

Old Fezziwig brusquely repeated himself, 'Do we have an accord?'

'Sir, my love for your daughter is matched only by my love of my work here.  I graciously accept your offer.' replied Scrooge with a firm handshake.

'Good.  I shall inform Wilkins.  I shall be sad to see him go, but frugality dictates this course of action.  You should write to my daughter at once to inform her of my intentions.'

'Yes, sir.'

'One further word of advice Scrooge.  The world of business favours those with a hard nose and crushes the delicate of will like grain under pestle.  Your affability will see you well through life but to be successful you must cultivate a ruthless streak.  We shall discuss your affairs further in the near future.  Good day now.'

‘Good day Sir and God bless us, every one!’

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Prooper Nouns

In a bid to winover our wordless rabble
Proper nouns march their way towards Scrabble
So verbally-challenged nincompoops
Can score triple points by laying Greg Proops