Why does a stork stand on one leg?

I can’t count the number of times I have been asked what it’s like to have a missing limb. You’d think the answer would roll off my tongue considering how often I’ve been asked the question but sometimes I sense my stock answer isn’t satisfying enough; quite often people will want to know more.

Usually I’ll say, “Well, most of the time it’s not too bad although I must say I do struggle a bit when I’m showering; it’s difficult to wash my feet”, and that checks the box. Sometimes, but only if I’m very lucky, I get asked why.

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Daily warm-up

The most difficult thing to do, as a writer, is to write!

As weird as that sounds it’s true.

Imagine if you were a comedian! Even if you’re the best comedian in the world you’re not going to be in the mood to be funny all the time and that’s the first problem. The next problem is inspiration! Imagine having to come up with new funny material every single day!

Daily, as a warm-up, I write 100 words. This always focuses me, usually gets me into the right mood and, more often than not, inspires me.

Welcome to my warm up.

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Liam and the recalcitrant poo

A postgraduate from Bristol met a girl on Tinder, they went for a meal at Nandos and then back to his place for some wine and to watch a Louis Theroux documentary on Scientology.

 

The evening ended with the postgraduate, Liam, setting up a go-fund me page so he could cover the cost of the damages incurred when the date went wrong. You can read Liam’s story by clicking here. It was too good an opportunity for me to pass up so I wrote this poem which I have, as usual, recorded for those of you who would rather listen to poetry than read it.

 

All that remains for me to say is thanks to Liam and his good sport date (Jane Doe) for sharing their very amusing misadventure, as well as to wish both of them the very best of luck.

 

 

Young Liam was a clever bloke, academically he excelled

He went to university and did very very well

He wanted female company so he used the tinder app

And met a girl whose preference was a hairy, bearded chap.

—-

We’ll call the girl Jane Doe for now, to keep her anonymous

Revealing her true name to all would be cruel and rather callous.

So Liam and Jane chose Nandos as the place for their first date

They synchronised their watches and agreed to meet at eight.

—-

Bang on time the two arrived and both liked what they saw

Jane smiled in appreciation when Liam held the door

“I’ll have wings”, said Jane to him, and he chose chicken thighs

And both of them had spicy chips and coleslaw for their sides.

—-

Everything went swimmingly, they cut right to the chase

And when their meal was finished they set off for his place

They drank some wine and watched a film; a documentary

Louis Theroux : Director; Subject : Scientology.

—-

One hour of the movie’d passed when Jane said, “Liam dear,

Please will you pause the video, I need the loo I fear”.

“Gladly Jane”, he said to her, no need to ask me twice.

I’ll soon be back”, she said to him, “more wine would be so nice”.

—-

Jane’s stomach was quite bloated now from chicken, chips and wine

She sat down on the lavatory just in the nick of time.

With huge relief she let it out, Liam had no clue

That she was really in there for a great big number two.

—-

A sense of dread came over her as she realised

That this was not a normal poo – it was more than twice the size

It stretched her bum, it made her sweat, it made her squeak with pain

But finally the job was done and she could breathe again.

—-

She flushed the loo and sprayed the room with a spray that smelt of apple

Then noticed that her turd still lurked like a misshapen frightened turtle

She flushed again and then again but that bodger wouldn’t budge

And that’s when Janey’s brain switched off and turned itself to fudge.

—-

Now Liam was a bachelor so Janey could not find

The plunger every loo should have; her panic made her blind.

She racked her brain in terror and wondered what to do

“I cannot leave it sitting there or he will see my poo!”

—-

“I know”, she then thought to herself, “I have a cunning plan,

 I’ll throw it out the window”, and reached into the pan.

She eased the bobbing jobby into wadded toilet roll

Then, moving very carefully she lifted it out whole.

—-

Gingerly she carried it across the little room

To the fan-light window she erroneously assumed,

Opened to the outside world so she could safely toss it

That stinky, stubborn chocolate log, that malodorous arse-biscuit.

—-

Standing on her tippy toes she reached up to the top

She flicked her wrist and, with relief, she let the parcel drop.

The feeling when it left her hand was one of great relief

That lasted only fleetingly for to her disbelief

—-

It hit the neighbour’s window cill, the one she had not seen

And landed in a messy heap in the no-man’s land between

It sat there on the window cill for everyone to view

There may as well have been a sign saying “I am Janey’s Poo.”

—-

She stared in horror at the crud that Liam had to know

She had put there; without doubt, there was nowhere else to go.

So common sense at last kicked in and made her realise

There was only one thing she could do, her mouth went very dry.

—-

Liam’s face, when she got back, was relaxed and very calm

She went and sat back next to him and gently stroked his arm

“Liam dear”, she softly said, her heart was all a flutter

“I have to tell you something now, please don’t think that I’m a nutter!”

—-

But Liam said, “Oh Jane my dear, you do not have to fret

I feel I’ve known you ages, so it’s not like we’ve just met.”

He looked into her soulful eyes, his heart thumped in his chest

He knew something was badly wrong; she seemed extremely stressed.

—-

“You know I left to do a wee, just now?” she said to him

“Yes”, he said, “of course I do, I’m really not that dim”.

“Well dear”, she said, “I cannot lie, that’s not entirely true,

I did a wee, yes indeed, but I also did a poo.”

—-

At first our Liam looked at her and thought she had been right

“Total loony” came to mind, and so did “not too bright!”

 But then he saw the stricken look, the fear inside her eyes

“What is it Jane?” he gently asked, avuncular and wise.

—-

So Janey told her woeful tale, holding nothing back

Describing every painful step that took her down the track

Starting from the time she saw that floater wouldn’t flush

And ending with her cunning plan to throw it in the bush.

—-

Our Liam was a likely lad, not very quick to judge

He said “hey don’t you worry babe” and gave her ribs a nudge.

“Let’s go and see what can be done to fix this little mess”

And took her gently by the hand to alleviate her stress

—-

What Liam saw there on the cill, shocked him to the core

The poo was so much bigger than ones he’d seen before

But secretly he was impressed that such a little lass

Had somehow managed to produce that giant ugly mass

—-

Liam, being practical, and good with D I Y

Said, “wait here babe, I’ll be right back, on me you can rely

I’ll go and fetch a hammer and I’ll break the toughened glass”

Inside he was still wondering how that thing came from her arse.

—-

But Janey, feeling bad enough, for doing what she’d done

Said, “I am quite a gymnast, I learned the art for fun.

How about you hold my legs and lower me inside

I’ll pass the poo back up to you, we won’t know till we’ve tried”.

—-

Liam knew to break the glass would cost him lots of loot

Ahh haa”, he thought, “she does have brains as well as being cute.”

“Alright”, he said, so that is what the two of them agreed

And everything went swimmingly until she’d done the deed.

—-

Alas the plan was slightly flawed; they had not realised

That going out was easier than getting back inside.

He tugged and pulled and strained and heaved to get poor Janey out

But finally he had to say, “I’m totally worn out”

—-

The Bristol Fire crew took his call and got there quick as quick

Fortunately, at that late hour, there was not a lot of traffic

Liam met the burly lads and led them up the stairs

He told them what had happened and their laughter turned to tears.

—-

“Oh dear oh dear, this is a mess” one fireman opined.

“You’ve gone and got yourself into a rather awful bind”.

Janey’s muffled answer brought them once more to their knees

“No shit Sherlock,” she had said, “now get me out boys, please!”

© Delta Bravo 7.9.2017

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The London Bridge Experience – In Rhyme

My sister Pat came to the south to visit me one time

She used to live up in the north in colder, wetter climes

Making jams and moulding candles with a special gel

She loved the isolation there; thought city life was hell.

Adolescent Nick, her son, came with her on the trip

they cast aside their country garb and dressed a bit more hip

—-

What can you do to entertain a laid-back pair like this?

Every idea that came along one of them dismissed.

A walk along the river Thames did not motivate the duo

Nor the changing of the guards, nor an East End music show.

They rejected every thought we had; I started to despair

But finally they settled on a good old fashioned scare.

—-

London Dungeon is the place we really ought to be

If terror is the thrill you seek, with a dose of history.

But wake up early, do not dawdle, we really can’t be slow

We’ll need to catch the first train; we’ve a long long way to go”.

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men will often go awry

Particularly if you have a family like mine.

—-

I do not wish to dwell too much on the holdups and delays

that caused us to be very late before we’d found our way

to the London city block where the dungeon is emplaced,

suffice to say I was not surprised to see the queue we faced.

We stood and pondered long and hard, “are we in or out?”

When suddenly, out of the blue, appeared a ghoulish tout.

—-

He cleared his throat behind me, “ahem” I heard him say

“It’s likely you’ll be standing here, in this queue all day.

“They say these dungeons”, he continued, “are all occupied

by ghosts and spirits (good and bad) of all the ones who died.

One thousand years of bygone times are preserved down below

But London Bridge is older still, by a thousand years you know.”

—-

“A special deal I have for you”, my eyes lit up with glee;

“Go to the bridge with this note admit six for the price of three.

You will not have to queue for long; no more than half an hour

Which means there will be time for tea after you’ve had your tour”.

So that is how it came to be that we took our absence

From The Dungeon to see instead, the London Bridge Experience.

—-

The first ten minutes was a let down for our little little group

We were forced to stand and watch a video playing on a loop

of the history of the London Bridge and a spooky song,

over and over and over again, for far too flaming long.

Then at last, as I was wishing that we’d made a different choice

an actor appeared and welcomed us in his most theatric voice.

—-

“My name is Brownlow”, the fellow told us, “welcome one and all.

If you’d be so kind, please follow me” – then vanished through the door.

So we left the first room as we’d found it for the next unwary group

and dutifully followed him in our little troupe.

We gathered on a stage set next, that was a library

and Adam volunteered himself to stand as Brownlow’s proxy.

—-

The next set was a monastery with an angry monk ensconced,

who threatened one of us with death if we spoke again just once.

He said it like it was a joke but he clearly really meant it;

All the actors in that place seemed bored and discontented

I imagined what it must be like to do a job like that,

with no respite from the boredom, no time to have a chat.

—-

The next stage was a better one; a real revelation

The actor shared his knowledge with flair and imagination.

“Welcome to Boudicca’s land, the queen of the Iceni

who challenged all of Rome’s great power, and claimed the lives of many.

“Where is Brownlow?”, the new guy asked, “will you please come here”.

So Adam, who’d been expecting it, said, “yes, that’s me – I am here!”

—-

The next eight minutes spent with him were highly entertaining.

Young Brownlow was his mannequin; he gave him a sword to swing.

He adorned him with old clothes and jewels, explaining all the while

How they dressed themselves in Iceni days for comfort and for style.

But he held his best back till the last, his epic grand finale;

“There was”, he said, “an evil way to wound your enemy badly!”

—-

He reached into his box of tricks and lifted out a shield.

“Made of oak and steel”, he said, “go on, have a feel!”

He handed it to his associate who weighed it on his arm,

acknowledging its sturdiness and just how it could do harm.

But then he took us by surprise, threw caution to the wind

He said to Brownlow (pointing at me) “go smash it in his shins!”

—-

I have to say, in my defence, that you’d have done the same

if such an opportunity had also come your way.

Adam knew me well of course and I could read him like a book

He raised an eyebrow and I nodded – that was all it took.

He ran towards me, as instructed, with his shield raised high

Shouting as he came along, “Die you Roman, Die!”

—-

He smashed that shield down on my leg and I felt not a thing

The actor completely unaware that my leg’s titanium.

I acted, though, like I’d been struck a gruesome crippling blow

The sickening thud of steel meets bone let everybody know

That an error had been made; a gross miscalculation

The actor’s face turned white, then puce, then deepest, darkest crimson.

—-

“YOU IDIOT!” he yelled aghast, “YOU FLAMING, HALF-WIT FOOL!

“I’m sorry sir”, he said to me, “that really wasn’t cool”

He snatched the shield from the grinning lad who was trying his very best

not to laugh and spill the beans but the actor was very stressed.

He shouted at at him angrily, “I SIMPLY CAN’T CONCEIVE

THAT YOU COULD BE SO STUPID. THIS IS ONLY MAKE BELIEVE!”

—-

Just after that our time was up our party shuffled out,

some of them were grinning broad whilst others were aghast.

I felt quite badly for the actor, the game we’d played was cruel

but knew it best to tell him that we’d played him for a fool.

So after everyone had left I showed him my prosthetic

“No harm was done”, I said to him, “it was a harmless trick”.

—-

He looked at Adam then at me, he was clearly still distraught,

His face was quite expressionless processing his thoughts.

At last, when it had all sunk in and he knew he had been pranked

he jumped up angrily to his feet and, without a word of thanks,

Shouted to the world in general, as he turned on his heels to flee,

“Why on earth are things like this always happening to me?”

—-

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The London Bridge Experience experience

Nephew Nick, who was present when it happened, asked me to tell this story. He and his mum, (my sister Pat) had travelled down from Scotland and were staying with us.  We decided to take them into the city one day to do some touristy stuff and, looking back on it now, I have to say it’s remarkable that the events unfolded as they did because, if it had not been for a series of coincidences, this story would never have been told. I’ll explain as I go along.

Coincidence one was the fact that Pat and Nick had come to visit in the first place! At the time Pat lived out in the wilderness on the Black Isle, north of Inverness and she’s never liked towns. I don’t remember the reason that convinced her to discard her country tweed and don her city finery, but it would have to have been momentous or she’d have remained on the Black Isle making jam and candles and swatting midges.

The second coincidence was the family’s decision to go and do something touristy in London; a place that none of us would deliberately choose to go – ON PURPOSE! (We hadn’t always felt that way about the city, it was simply a natural reaction to the experiences we’d had in the umpteen times we’d been there). We’re all small-town hicks, unused to crowds and the masses of people who are endemic to big cities, where the souls one encounters are either rude,  I-left-my-manners-at-home-and-I-don’t-care-if-you-think-badly-of-me-for-behaving-like-a-baboon tourists or just-shut-up-give-me-your-money-and-go-wait-in-the-queue-until-you’re-called tour operators / coffee shop, restaurant, shop staff who are sick to death of the people they are paid to serve behaving like baboons.

I’m generalising of course; not every tourist is a baboon and not every server is an obnoxious jobsworth, but there are enough of them to absolutely ruin your day if you happen to have a run of bad luck and meet too many of them in a short period.

Nevertheless, we made the decision to go into London, specifically to the London Dungeon, on that day largely because my children (who weren’t children any more, and hadn’t been for a several years) harboured a resentment over the fact that years before – when they were children and we were visiting London (as tourists) for the very first time – I had promised to take them to the London Dungeon but ended up taking them to the Imperial War Museum instead.

If your family is anything like mine, you will also have experienced the frustration of getting a medium-sized group of people out of the door in a halfway decent time. You’ll understand the exasperation of finding out that someone,who should have bathed hours ago hasn’t (so everybody else’s ablutions are delayed) and then, when you finally think you’re there and you can leave, you can’t because someone suddenly realises they have to go to the toilet – that sort of thing! Needless to say, by the time we finally stood before the city block where the London Dungeon is located, the queue for it went around that block eleventy seven times. Given that it was well past ten o’clock by then, it was highly likely we would be spending the entire day in the queue and it was as likely that we wouldn’t even reach the entrance by the end of the day.

Enter coincidence number three; an angel appeared!

We were beholding this award-winning queue, wondering what we were going to do with ourselves (now that we’d made the journey) and just as I was about to suggest a repeat visit to the Imperial War Museum (more for Tish and Nick’s benefit that anyone else’s – one visit there in a lifetime is really quite enough) divine intervention saved the day.

The cherubim (who was actually a young mortal male dressed and made up to look like a ghoul – so it wasn’t immediately obviously that he was an angel) made his presence known by politely clearing his throat just behind me and saying, “excuse me, are you thinking about joining the queue to see the London Dungeon”?

ME: (No, we’ve come here to look at the queue) “Well, we were thinking about it but we will probably go and do something else instead”. (He’s clearly a tout for something or other. Is that a sheet he’s wearing? Hmmm, he can see we’re about to leave and he’s going to try to persuade us to stay)

TOUT: “The London Dungeon is said to be haunted”.

ME: (What’s his angle?) “Really? Well, none of us believes in that sort of thing”.

TOUT: “The dungeons are about a thousand years old and the ghosts of some really evil people are said to haunt them – Jack the Ripper, Sweeney Todd and, of course, The Torturer himself.”

ME: (Mmmm hmmm, yeah right. Unless the next words out of your mouth are “sir, it’s your lucky day you and your entire party have won a prize to be fast-tracked to the front of the queue”, this conversation is over) “A thousand years you say?” (nonchalantly) “I visited a Roman town in Italy that’s a lot older than that”. (that makeup he has around his eyes is actually quite cleverly applied. It makes him look genuinely ghoulish)

TOUT: (Looking suitably impressed) “You’re clearly a man who likes history”.

ME: (This young man is going to go far) “Well, it so happens that I do”.

By now, the family had drawn around, curious to know what we were talking about.

TOUT: “Well sir, how well do you know the history of the London Bridge?”

ME: (What has this guy been smoking?) “Well, I know the old one was sold to an American!” (and I’m no American buddy so don’t even think of trying to sell me the current bridge. Why on earth is he talking about London Bridge?)

TOUT: (Looking surprised) “That’s quite right sir; very good, but did you know there has been a London Bridge for more than two thousand years?”

ME: (Wow, I didn’t know that but, thinking about it now, that’s pretty logical. London’s a very old city. But why the hell is he telling me about London Bridge?) “Wow!”

TOUT: “Yes. And a lot of people have died on that bridge so it’s even more haunted than the dungeon.” (Looked pointedly at the queue) “this queue is very long. You’ll be standing in it all day and it’s unlikely you’ll ever get to the front.”

ME: (Tell me something I don’t know buddy. I wonder how far we will have to walk to get to the Imperial War Museum? I’d rather be visiting the dentist today than doing this!) “Yeah, you’re probably right mate!” (I’ll suggest the War Museum to Pat. I’ll tell her they used to make their own jam and candles during the blitz. If I have her on board the rest of them will be easier)

TOUT: “…. queue for half an hour.”

ME: (Eh? What did he say?) “Sorry mate, what did you say?”

TOUT: “I said, if you want to experience a very interesting historical adventure you should try The London Bridge Experience. You won’t have to queue for more than half an hour.

ME: (Half an hour? That’s amazing. It’s probably miles away and costs the earth!) “How far away from here?”

TOUT: “About a minute – it’s just over there” (Points over there)

ME: “How much is entry?”

TOUT: “Well, if you use this voucher …. how many in your party, six?” (scribbles something on the voucher and hands it to me) “you can take advantage of a special offer and get a bulk discount and……blah blah blah”

ME: (This guy is heaven-sent. This is going to work out half the price of the Dungeon tickets and we won’t have to queue all day and we won’t have to go to the war museum again and it’s only over there. He’s an angel.)

We followed the directions he gave us and found our way quite easily to the correct place where we joined the back of a queue that had formed just underneath the A3 (the approach to the London Bridge), which was less than thirty metres long. The entrance to the exhibition was clearly visible just ahead on our left. NOTE: I believe the London Dungeon has now relocated and is now a little further away.

After about ten minutes of static immobility some doors opened just ahead of us and a group of people emerged then, soon afterwards, the entrance doors at the head of the queue opened and we shuffled forward quite rapidly as people started disappearing inside. But, just as suddenly, the doors closed again and we stood for another ten minutes before the exit doors opened again and the process repeated itself.

It was an hour (still way better than the time we’d have needed to wait for entrance to the dungeon) before we at last found ourselves passing, with massive anticipation, over the threshold into THE LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE.

****SPOILER ALERT ****

On the off-chance that you may one day want to visit the exhibition for yourself you probably shouldn’t read any further. I’m not going to tell you every detail of the experience but, for the story to make sense, it’s necessary for me to give some details that may spoil the experience for you. Bear in mind this did happen a few years ago so things may have changed now. Be warned though,

****SPOILER ALERT ****

Firstly, the Experience is billed as being an immersive theatrical experience bringing together history and horror, education and fun which, in layman terms, means actors are employed to teach you the history of the bridge. The tout we’d met had been only one of a great number of freelance thespians that existed outside the exhibition itself. They wandered up and down the queue whipping up the crowd and telling us to prepare to be scared out of our wits, “because” they said, “not everyone has what it takes to survive the experience”! By the time the double doors opened to admit us we were in a fairly animated state of anticipation and excitement.

Our expectations were still high when the doors closed behind us and sealed us off from the outside world. Our group, about twenty-five strong, was in a large antechamber with television sets mounted on the walls loudly broadcasting a video on a loop that alternately played a spooky rendition of London Bridge Is Falling Down, welcomed us to the London Bridge Experience and a documentary about the history of the bridge and then started again at the beginning. It was a little underwhelming! We were in that ante-chamber for about ten minutes and, by the end of it I knew the video backwards and I wanted to go home.

Finally, just as the group was getting restless (someone suggested, in a slightly panicked tone, that we’d been forgotten) the doors were flung open and a bloke in costume dramatically welcomed us, once more, to THE LONDON BRIDGE EXPERIENCE, then asked us to follow him before turning on his heels and exiting from whence he’d come.

We followed him into a set that was decked out to look like a library. We all huddled together while the actor, who introduced himself as Mr. Brownlow, stood behind a lectern on a low podium. When everyone had settled down he started talking, rather theatrically, about what adventures we had in store for us. Just before he finished he sadly declared that he would be unable to join us on our tour (his duties wouldn’t allow it) so he would need a volunteer to act on his behalf; a proxy Mr. Brownlow.

Coincidence number four. My family was standing very close to his lectern which is how it came to pass that Adam became, for the purpose of our tour, Mr. Brownlow. When the doors on the other side of the library opened to admit our group, real Brownlow told all of us to follow proxy Brownlow, who’d been given instructions, to the next stage. Thereafter, upon arriving at a stage the resident thespian would ask our Brownlow to identify himself and when we departed it was he we would have to follow.

Brownlow’s role, as well as being our unpaid tour group leader, was to be the designated scapegoat for every demonstration along the tour. So, if someone had to be beheaded for example, Brownlow was our guy.

There’s one last observation I have to make before I get to the nitty-gritty of the story; the actors were never going to qualify for acting awards in any way shape or form. They were so appallingly bad that I was kicking myself for allowing myself to be lured here and was actually yearning for the dungeon queue, which I could at least leave if I wanted to. Having stated that however, it’s only fair to remind you how awful it must be for those actors to do that job. Imagine having to speak the same lines, over and over, day-in-day-out, every ten minutes or so. Seeing brand new faces every ten minutes yet unable to interact with anybody beyond the limitations of their roles. Groundhog Day! I did not blame them at all for their lack of enthusiasm; I felt sorry for them.

Eventually Brownlow led us from a set made up to look like a medieval monastery (where the actor threatened one of our group with death if he spoke again without being invited to do so – he wasn’t joking either; I could see in his eyes that he meant it) into a set that was made up to look like an Iceni/Roman battlefield where our group was welcomed by a very enthusiastic actor, who seemed genuinely delighted to see us. I surmised it was his first day on the job.

ENTHUSIASTIC ACTOR: (Welcoming smile, arms outstretched, dressed in Celtic battle garb) “Welcome everybody, welcome to the world of fierce Queen Boudicca, who dares to challenge the might of the Roman Empire. Where is Brownlow?

ADAM: (Standing next to me at the front of the group because he was accustomed to being singled out and having to make his way to the front) “Yeah, that’s me.”

ENTHUSIASTIC ACTOR: “Well come on up here sir, your services are needed.” (Gestures encouragingly)

ADAM: (Takes a couple of steps forward where E.A. places his hands on his shoulders and spins him around to face the group)

E.A. (Proceeds to give history lesson using Adam Brownlow as a mannequin) “’The way they dress is astonishing: they wear brightly coloured and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These cloaks are striped or checkered in design, with the separate checks close together and in various colours” (Drapes Adam Brownlow in Iceni clothing) “The wool cloth material made on the loom is then sewn together using a bone or metal needle and wool thread.” (Hands Adam Brownlow a bone needle) “The Celts also love to wear jewellery made from bronze, gold, tin, silver, coral and enamel.” (Drapes costume jewellery over Adam Brownlow) “Celtic warriors carry long, or oval-shaped shields, spears, daggers and long slashing swords made of iron. The Celtic warrior’s deadliest weapon is his long sword, which he whirls around his head and brings crashing down on the enemy.” (Takes the bone needle from Adam Brownlow and hands him a sword) “Go on, wave that around your head”

ADAM: (Hoists sword and waves it awkwardly around his head)
E.A. “Celtic shields are made of oak, covered in hide or felt, and have a central strip of iron. They are very heavy.” (Hands Adam Brownlow a shield) “These shields are not only for protection; they are also deadly weapons which are used to disable the enemy. A heavy shield smashed down on an enemy’s leg will break the bone for sure, and once that has  happened the warrior can no longer fight.”

Enter last coincidence!

I very rarely wear long trousers but, coincidentally I was that day. If I had been attired, as I usually am, in a pair of shorts it would have been obvious that I was wearing a prosthetic leg and, had that been the case, things might have turned out differently.

E.A. (To Adam Brownlow, gesturing towards me) “Go on, there’s your enemy, go and smash that shield down on his leg and break it.”

ADAM: (Caught my eye and tossed it back to me)

I: (Caught Adam’s eye and tossed it back to him. Adjusted my stance so my betrousered leg was easily accessible)

ADAM: (Hoists heavy shield and runs towards me) “Aaaaaaaggggggh. Die you Roman dog!” (Smashes shield into proffered leg)

ME: (Dramatically, as if in great pain) “Aaaaaaaggggghhh” (Bravely remain standing and say nothing)

HALF OF OUR GROUP: (Ignorant of my prosthesis) *GASP*

OTHER HALF: (Also ignorant) “Hehehe”

E.A. “YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER IDIOT! WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU THINKING? (Snatches the shield from Adam and simultaneously murders him with his look. Turns to me) “Are you alright sir? I’m so sorry” (Turns back to Adam) “YOU IDIOT. I DON’T BELIEVE YOU JUST DID THAT!” (Turns back to me) “Are you alright?”

ME: (Wincing and grunting through the pain) “Yes, I’m okay”

ADAM: (Grinning from ear to ear, finding it very difficult to contain his mirth)

I always feel a bit sorry for my victims when I’ve played a practical joke on them and this unsuspecting actor was certainly no exception. The poor guy was undoubtedly thinking about a massive lawsuit that was about to come down on his head and he was probably wondering which one of his colleagues was responsible for choosing that BABOON to be Brownlow.

When the ten minutes was up (fortunately for him, quite soon) and everybody shuffled out, Adam and I (again by mutual unspoken agreement) remained behind to let the poor fellow know he had just been pranked.

He didn’t take it well at all. “Why does this sort of thing always happen to me?” he shouted to no-one in particular as he stormed out of the room.

 

EPILOGUE

I like to think our victim will one day be a truly great, internationally acclaimed actor and that one day, when he’s asked what the most memorable moment of his career has been he will relate this story and be laughing about it. I’d hate to think that our practical joke made him give up acting to become an accountant or something as boring. That’s the beauty of life though isn’t it? You never know what’s waiting for you just around the corner.

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Ndakanzwa Jongwe Richichema (I Heard A Rooster Crow)

When I was young and life was simple, years before cellphones,

I had to find somewhere to live, a place to call my home.

So I made a deal, with my good mate, Jem John was his name

He was an avid gardener and I felt just the same.

The place we took needed some work to spruce it up a bit,

The house was fair to middling the land a garbage pit.

—-

A rocky, barren patch of earth where nothing had survived,

But paper thorns and blackjacks, which had found a way to thrive.

Jem John and Heidi (bless her heart) were childless in those days,

Unmarried, so they lived in sin, as grandma used to say.

Lynda and I had one small child, a bouncing baby boy,

But the two of us were married so we were the real McCoy.

—-

One summer day old Alfred (which was Heidi’s other name)

Brought home with her a box of chicks of fluffy bantam fame.

“They’ll lay us eggs, and scratch for worms and fertilize the soil

We’ll have freshly picked tomatoes and it’s home grown veg we’ll boil!”

She gushed and cooed and fawned a lot over the feather balls

That ran around the lounge rug and in and out of doors.

—-

Till at last old Jem John put his foot down with a firm hand.

“They cannot stay inside”, he said, and henceforth they were banned.

She cried a bit, to see them go, did Heidi when they went,

but cheered up grandly when she saw what Jeremy had meant

when he’d said to her he’d make for them a palace fit for kings

he’d clearly meant it, every word, it had lights and slides and swings

—-

And there they lived, those little birds, out there in the shed,

safe from harm and sheltered while they ran about and fed.

Then one day stockman Jem declared, “There oughtn’t be a plight

if they go outside at day time and come back in at night”.

So that’s how things went on a while and all was fine and good

We went to work and back each day while the chickens scrounged for food.

—-

Then one night, when fast asleep, I was wakened by a sound

I knew not then, from whence it came, my heart was all apound.

I sat there quietly in the dark and listened with all my might

Not knowing what on earth it was that made me wake in fright.

No logical solution came to me out of the dark;

no owl did hoot, no car backfired, no noisy dog did bark.

—-

‘til at last I told myself there was nothing there to fear

and started drifting off again, to where there are no cares!

But as I reached that no-man’s land, ‘tween wakefulness and sleep

I was startled to my very core by an awful, ghostly shriek!

The sound of it was inhumane, I sat bolt up in bed.

“Could it have been a murderer removing someone’s head?”

—-

At last the noise I heard again, this time it made me chuckle

I realised just what it was; a trainee bantam cockerel.

The sounds he made as he tried to crow were really quite amusing

Even though the little chap had pulled me from my snoozing.

“Poor Heidi’s hen is not a hen, she’s going to be so cross”,

Was the last thought in my mind, before I nodded off.

—-

The next day, before she left, I asked of Alf E Neuman

“Did you hear your cock last night, making sounds inhuman?”

“What cock?” she asked, her eyebrows raised, all puzzled and distraught;

“Oh Jelly-tot, my dear, my love, what does he talk about”?

Old Jem John Victor, sage as sage, replied as a stockman does

“Just calm yourself my dear”, he said, “there’s no need for a fuss”

—-

“Sexing birds”, he intoned, “is not as easy as it looks

You’d know this if, like me, you  knew of soil and sheaf and crook.”

He stood and waxed quite lyrical, that morning on the lawn.

I tried my best, but it was hard, to stifle all my yawns.

I do recall though, through the fog, despite my deep fatigue

that, statistically, they get it wrong as oft as once in three.

—-

Africa lay dark and still – the continent a-slumber

But once again that bastard bird tore the peace asunder.

“That idiot”, I told myself, “there he goes again

Does that little bastard know it’s two A-fucking-M?”

I lay abed and gnashed my teeth and thought unpleasant thoughts

of the methods I could use to kill the chooks that Heidi’d bought!

—-

Next morning when I said to Alfred, “did you hear your bird?”

She laughed out loud and just rushed off as if she hadn’t heard.

“Well fancy that”, I thought to myself, as she vanished in the dust,

“If you cannot count upon your friends then who is there to trust?”

Torn between a friendship long and some grotty little chicks

I hoped it wouldn’t come to that, I didn’t want to pick.

—-

The day was long my eyes were sore, I yearned for a warm soft bed

to get some badly needed sleep with the pillow on my head.

In Moscow you get pardoned when an accident occurs,

you even get forgiven for the second time you err,

but to do it thrice is a call to draw the battle lines;

that’s what Sir Ian Fleming wrote in 1959!

—-

Next day, again at two am, that cockerel crowed once more

leaving very little doubt that he was declaring war.

I wanted him to die that night, knowing fear and pain;

I wanted to end his useless life – again and again and again!

I lay in bed and gnashed my teeth and listened to that racket,

That endlessly went on and on driving me off my bracket.

—-

That stupid bird could not crow and someone should have told him

but all his mates just egged him on making him get bolder.

The problem was, the sounds he made impressed them all no end;

they hailed him as a hero on account he set the trend.

His crow, if you could call it that, imprinted on my brain

my hate for him was strong and pure, I wished upon him pain.

—-

I went into the shed next day, to see if I could see

which one of the little bastard birds was my enemy.

But nothing gave his game away, his camouflage was good,

the little guys were unconcerned, just pecked there at their food.

“I hate you all” I said to them, “I will truly make you die.

Have you heard of coq au vin, or bantam and mushroom pie?”

—-

Heidi got upset this time when I asked her impolitely,

“Did you hear that bastard crow in the middle of the night then”?

“Oh Jelly-tot my love”, she simpered, “it really isn’t fair,

I want to hear my baby talk”, and she wiped away a tear.

I could not understand her mind right then, her crappy attitude;

she acted like the birds were kids when all they were was food!

—-

At work I felt like death warmed up, my eyes were sore and crusty.

At tea time, when I told my mates, they all laughed loud and lusty.

I must admit though, that it calmed that dangerous resentment

so when I left for home that night I felt peaceful and contented.

I went to bed without a care only half expecting

that over zealous barnyard fowl to practice crow-perfecting!

—-

But sure enough, he did just that, disturbing my sound slumber

and once again I was forced to hear his one and only number

that went on and on without curcease, frustratingly unfinished;

the cockalorum sang his heart out with gusto undiminished.

it fried my brain and stretched my nerves and jangled in my head,

but just when things could not get worse they well and truly did!

—-

At first I did not trust my ears when, as if to mock my rage,

a second cockerel started up on that selfsame page.

And if that fact alone was not quite enough derision

a third bird, then a fourth, stepped forward for the mission,

which was to drive me quite insane, to make me lose my grip

and I felt it slipping till at last, something inside me tripped.

—-

In a rage I flung the blanket off, while cursing loud and clear

till Lynda, bless her gentle heart said, “what is wrong my dear?”

“I cannot sleep”, I said to her, “those chickens have to die!”

“Come back to bed”, she ordered me, “or you’ll make Heidi cry!”

I heard the words she spoke of course, but to them paid no heed;

the birds had got my dander up so I went to do the deed.

Outside the world was cool and still, the stars were shining bright,

the cockerels were not calling now, no sound disturbed the night.

I came back to my senses then and that is when I knew

that I could never kill those birds, I could not follow through.

I also knew though, in my mind, that if I went to bed

They’d start their game up once again to drive me off my head.

—-

I looked around me and I thought, “now what will I do?

If I just go back to my bed they’ll start again anew.”

I saw friend Heidi’s washer there and I got inspiration

how to rid myself, right then, of this maddening affliction.

So I went inside the chicken shed for my evil plan to start,

but they all just sat and looked at me so I almost lost all heart.

—-

“I’m here”, I said, “to kill you all” (for my sake more than theirs)

but I was answered, by all six of them, with nothing more than stares.

I took a step into the room, still unsure what I’d do

and felt my naked foot sink down into some chicken poo.

That’s when I lost it all, for sure, that’s when my anger rose

there’s nothing quite as motivating as shit between the toes.

—-

I roared with rage, I was so cross, they flapped and squawked in fright

“they should have thought about that when they started up this fight”.

I caught the creatures, one by one, and carried them outside

then shoved them ignominiously, one bird at a time,

into Heidi’s pride and joy, that stood shiny and pristine;

Her brand new slimline, metallic red, top-load wash machine.

—-

By the time I’d done the deed my anger was all spent

I closed the flap on the last bird exhausted but content.

Then Jem John Victor  walked around the corner with a stick

and scared the hell right out of me, that sneaky bloody prick.

“What goes on here?” our stockman asked, scratching his tousled head.

So I pointed at the wash machine and took myself to bed.

If you want to read the story, click here

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Mater

(Thursday morning)

Mum was so much better when I saw her yesterday. She has responded well to the reduced-strength pain killers evidenced by the fact that, while I was there, her physio team came in (three of them) and got her up out of her chair. She walked about five yards, holding a zimmer, before turning around and walking back again.

The antibiotic seems to have worked too; she was alert, chatty and responsive

Despite there being a vast improvement after the service to her hearing aids Mum is still very hard of hearing. Tish came down from her office to visit at lunch time and the two of them had a conversation, which ended with Tish crying with laughter and Mum wondering what was so funny. The conversation is transcribed below.

TISH: Hi Mum, how did you sleep?
MUM: Yes thanks.
TISH: Haha, (slightly louder) I asked how you’re feeling
MUM: (puzzled expression) Only the top. The bottom ones keep falling out
TISH: (looking extremely confused) What on earth are you talking about?
MUM: (opens mouth to display top row of dentures and toothless bottom jaw) I have to speak to the dentist about them
TISH (almost shouting) I ASKED HOW YOU’RE FEEE-LING?
MUM: Ahhh, sorry, I thought you were asking if I had my teeth in. I’m much better thanks
TISH: How is the pain?
MUM: (puzzled expression) How is the rain?
TISH: (louder) Watch my lips. HOW….IS….THE….PAIN?
MUM: What?
TISH: (shouting) HOW IS YOUR PAIN?
MUM: Bed??

At that point two things happened; there was a power cut and a male nurse, armed with a sheaf of papers and a pencil, appeared at mater’s bedside. The power cut was obvious to everybody except mother (probably because, from where she was lying, she couldn’t see the lights go off in the corridor and she definitely didn’t hear the dramatic changes to the background sounds) but that didn’t occur to us. The outage caused a monitor, attached to an elderly patient opposite mum,  to emit regular beeps. 

MALE NURSE:  (in heavily accented English) Goo’ af’ernoo’ Mrs. Eilertsen, wha’ you like for breakfuss tomorrow?
MUM: Oh hello Carlos. These are my children, David and Tish.
CARLOS: ‘ello. I em please to mit you. I am Giorgio
TISH & ME: Hello Giorgio. It’s nice to meet you
GIORGIO: Very goo’. Mrs. Eilertsen, wha’ you like for breakfuss
MUM: I will have porridge with sugar and cream
GIORGIO: (makes his notes) Hokay, very goo’. Goo’-bye
MUM: Goodbye Carlos
GIORGIO: I am Giorgio
MUM: I prefer to call you Carlos.
GIORGIO: Hokay, goo’-bye (withdraws)
TISH: Mum, why do you call him Carlos:
MUM: Because he looks like a Carlos. Can you hear that mouse squeaking?
TISH & ME: (listen intently for a while, hear nothing)
MUM: There it is again

I realised she could hear the intermittent beeping of the monitor opposite her and her hearing aid was translating the sound incorrectly

ME: It’s not a mouse mum, it’s an electronic sound you’re hearing
MUM: (puzzled) Red Jelly?

It was at this point that Tish started laughing.

When Tish left to go back to her day job, Mum’s second cousin Suzie, whom I’d never had the pleasure of meeting, arrived to visit. They’d just got through the greetings and I’d been formally introduced when Leanne, naturally anxious for news of her beloved grandmother, facetime called me.  I handed my phone to Mum who, despite countless tutorials and demonstrations on the functions of the app, held my phone up to her ear and shouted, “HELLO”

LEANNE: (clearly audible) Hi Nainie, how are you feeling?
MUM: HI MOUSE (that’s what we all call Leanne) WHAT A NICE SURPRISE
LEANNE: HOW ARE YOU FEELING?
MUM: SUZIE’S HERE. REMEMBER SUZIE?
LEANNE: (who had never met Suzie either) No, I don’t think I’ve ever met her.
MUM: HOLD ON. I’LL PASS THE PHONE TO SUZIE SO YOU CAN SAY HELLO (passes the phone to Suzie)
SUZIE: (holding the phone correctly, looking into the screen) Hello Leanne, it’s nice to meet you
LEANNE: (laughing self-consciously) Hello Suzie, it’s nice to meet you too.
SUZIE: I’ll pass you back to your grandmother
MUM: (phone returned to her ear) THANK YOU FOR CALLING MOUSIE. I’LL HAND YOU BACK TO YOUR DAD

While Mum and Suzie chatted Leanne brought me up to date with her latest news. She told me a rather funny story which she’s transcribed so I can share it with you. I’ve added [some comments] to provide clarity.

Leanne writes:

The Narambeen CRC (Community Resource Centre), [which Leanne heads up], held a multi-cultural event at the Café and afterwards, when I got home, I reflected on how smoothly the night had gone. I had no trouble going to sleep.

At exactly 1:09am my eyes flew open with sudden terror; “was the oven turned off? Of course it was”, I said to myself, “there were two other responsible adults with me, helping me to keep an eye on things. There’s no way we would have left it on. Would we?”.

I was seriously worried. I tossed and turned, imagining a variety of possible Newspaper headlines the next day; Narembeen Community Resource Centre Burns Entire Town and CRC Manager Faces Angry Pitchfork Wielding Mob. It didn’t matter how illogical it was; the more I told myself to “stop being silly” the more I was convincing myself I HAD left the oven on and the more worked up I got. I had started to liken the events to the Great Fire of London in 1666, when my thoughts shifted to whether or not Insurance would cover such an enormous claim – how often had an entire town been burnt down by someone’s negligence?

Enough was enough and I had to go check. I stumbled around in the dark, muttering to myself about the Great Fire of Narembeen 2017 which in turn woke the not so happy Happy [his name is really Glen, and he’s quite tall] who tried to stop my ridiculous thoughts. He did not win the argument; I was on a mission to save the town from my mistake.

At 2:36 am (yes I had argued with myself for an hour and a half) I pulled up outside the CRC on the main street. My barely functioning brain convinced me to keep the lights off when I unlocked the door and went inside “because”, I told myself, “you don’t want to draw attention to yourself”.

Once I got into the Café and established that the oven was indeed OFF I sighed a big sigh of relief. My brain then started working overtime again and I imagined another headline – Barefoot Burglar Busted in Dressing Gown, so I made a speedy exit and went back home to my bed.

Sadly l didn’t get much sleep (even though I’d put my mind to rest by going to the CRC and checking) so I was feeling a little rough in the morning and, because my restlessness had also disturbed Happy, he wasn’t feeling too bright either. Breakfast time passed with the two of us communicating in caveman style grunts then, after Happy had left for work, I discovered that in my state the previous night I had somehow locked my keys in the car. How I managed to do this is a mystery because the keys were still in the ignition and it’s a button lock, so it should have been impossible. So there I was again, in a state of despair, trying to get into the locked car and in the midst of the drama my sweet, well-behaved dog decided to choke on a piece of wood. I ran to his aid, which he interpreted as a direct attack, and he ran away from me.

Imagine this, a woman dressed in office attire (including heeled boots), chasing a dying dog through the grass, stumbling over chairs, rocks and a washing line, screaming, “it’s ok Albert I’m trying to help you” (In hindsight don’t think the screaming helped). Eventually I managed to corner him and was able to pull the piece of bark from his esophagus. He didn’t thank me, he didn’t even stay by my side while I caught my breath, in fact he wandered off and picked up another piece of wood, so the last laugh was on me. My only consolation was that at least I found the spare key and was able to drive off with some of my dignity intact while Albert thought about his actions.

That, ladies and Gentlemen, is how I started my Wednesday. Let me leave you with a bit of advice. Check the oven before you leave or it will result in a wild night, key mysteries and a dog who isn’t grateful to you for saving his life.

FOOTNOTE:

(Thursday afternoon) I just got back from the hospital. Mum was very down in the dumps and completely fed-up with being in hospital. She was in pain but her care-team has assessed her and have decreed that she is fit enough to be discharged (yay) but there’s no way she’s strong enough to look after herself during the day while Tish is at work so she’s asked me to stay another week. Quite naturally I’ve agreed to do so.

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Jongwe

Jongwe 

Shona 

n, an adult male chicken

Example sentence:  Ndakanzwa jongwe richichema (I heard a rooster crow)

 

Starting out in life as a young couple can often be difficult – it doesn’t matter where in the world you are – with the biggest concern being where you’re going to live. Unless your parents are blessed with having lots of spare capital and you’re equally blessed by them being generously disposed towards you, the choice of accommodation is, more often than not, based on affordability and not aesthetics and location. This is how it came to pass that Lynda and I shared a house for a while with two good friends, Jeremy and Heidi.

The house, which was divided into two self-contained units connected by a door, was ideally suited to our arrangement. Lynda and I, blessed with a baby boy, were in the larger unit, whilst childless Jem and Heidi were content to occupy the smaller space. The massive two-and-a-half acre property, which was overgrown and messy – badly needing attention, was surrounded by a high diamond-mesh fence. Fortunately the four of us shared a common interest in gardening so any costs we incurred in that direction were shared. We also had the added bonus of being at the end of the municipal water reticulation network where, to prevent the pipes from silting up, the municipality would regularly have to bleed the pipes. Jeremy, an irrigation design engineer by profession, installed an irrigation system in the garden so when the municipality did their thing we would hook up Jem’s system and the entire garden would benefit. Everybody was happy.

Life is simpler when you’re young. When I think back on those times the word idyllic comes to mind. In essence the two families would live separate lives during the week – occasionally bumping into each other from time to time – and getting together to do things over the weekends. I can remember there being a lot of laughter.

One day all of that changed.

It’s an oft overlooked fact that introducing another element into an existing arrangement will inevitably impact on the dynamic. For example (and without going into the philosophy of it, because that’s not what this story is about) imagine a young couple living together quite happily. They have a routine, a rhythm, a balance and then, because for some reason that’s not enough, they get a puppy. The puppy comes bouncing cutely, happily into their lives and everybody loves it because, let’s face it, puppies are just adorable (so are kittens but I’m using puppies for this example). But puppies need attention. They make messes that need to be cleaned up; they need to be fed the right food at certain times so they grow healthy bones; they need pampering and discipline and love because that’s what happens in a pack. It’s irrelevant how willing the couple is to give all the care and attention necessary – that’s not the issue. The issue is that the dynamic has changed and adjustments have had to be made. Another example would be having a guest come and stay with you for a few days; it’s like having a fish. At first you don’t notice it’s there but after a while you can’t help but to notice it.

Anyway, this story is neither about puppies nor fish; it’s about chickens or, more specifically, bantams!

I know right! Bantams? What on earth could bantams possibly do to upset the even balance of things? Read on and you’ll find out.

Heidi, bless her, was enthralled by an advert she’d read that chickens are an asset to any suburban garden. Beguiled by evocative statements like, there’s nothing like a fresh tomato picked right off the vine and mmmmm! Fresh homegrown vegetables and herbs are healthier, contain more vitamins and minerals, and are tastier by far than anything you can purchase at the local market backed up with the promise that, by introducing chickens to the mix, she could say hello to dark, nutrient rich garden soil, a weedless wonderland of bounty, an insect free gardening zone, a rowdy soil mixing rally and vibrant delicious vegetables chock full of good-for-you vitamins and minerals! She became quite fervent in her quest to lead us all down the road to a healthier lifestyle, not to mention the massive amount of money that could be saved by eating home-grown chicken eggs.

I have to state here, for the record, that I was not really up for the idea [of keeping chickens] at all. I did not have anything against free-range chickens (I was quite for it actually) I just didn’t like the idea of having free-range, indiscriminately-crapping chickens in my garden. But, I would be lying if I said I objected strongly; in fact I would be lying if I said I even aired my objection at all. The sands of time have clouded my memory but I imagine I would have discounted the danger of standing in chicken crap against the sheer size of the property (and as I recall, that never became an issue) so when Heidi came home from work one day with a box containing six cute, tiny little balls of feathers I was not alarmed. Au contraire! Most baby animals are cute and baby bantams (yes, they were bantams, not chickens) rank right up there with puppies, kittens and baby rabbits so it was delightful to watch them as they cheep-cheeped about on the carpet in Heidi’s lounge.

The novelty wore off quite quickly for me, I must say, whilst Jeremy (who’d studied animal husbandry when he did his farming degree at Gwebi Agricultural College) was torn between the practicalities of rearing wild birds in captivity and his love for his girlfriend (she became his wife later); patiently enduring her wheedling attempts to make the chickens a permanent household fixture.

“No, they can’t sleep in the bed”, he’d tell her, “they aren’t house-trained”, or “Heidi, don’t even think about giving them a bath” and so on and so on until eventually he managed to convince her that the very best place for them would be outside.

He made up a nice little run for them on the floor of the garden shed with a light and plenty of food and water and for several weeks the cute little feather balls did nothing more than eat, drink and sleep until Jem, the nominated poultryman, deemed them mature enough to roam. Thereafter the little fowls, scraggly and moth-eaten and well past their cute-by date, had free run of the garden during the day. Every night-time they’d be shepherded back to the safety of the shed so no harm could come to them.

So far, so good.

Very early one morning and I mean REALLY early, around two am, I awoke from a deep dreamless sleep. I didn’t know why but my heart was pounding and my instinct alerted me to the fact that something was wrong. I lay awake in the darkness, listening intently, barely breathing, waiting for the danger to reveal itself. I listened and listened until finally I convinced myself that I was being paranoid and let my body relax. But as I was dozing off, just as I got to that no-man’s land between wake and sleep, I was jerked fully awake by the unmistakable sound of someone being throttled – just outside my bedroom window.

I sat bolt upright in bed with adrenaline coursing through my veins and my heart once again thumping furiously. I didn’t want to turn on my light for fear of alerting the strangler that I was awake (and a potential witness to his foul crime) so, in the darkness, I peeled the bed clothing off me and, moving very slowly so as not to make any sound, ever so carefully started getting out of bed. Then, just as my second foot touched the carpet, the sound came again only this time, because I was wide awake, I recognised it for what it really was – an immature cockerel’s crow.

I quietly chuckled self-consciously and felt a bit foolish yet, at the same time, pardoned myself for making the mistake. I was also chuckling over the fact that one of Heidi’s prize-winning layers was never going to lay eggs on account of it being the wrong gender. It was with that thought that I finally drifted back to sleep – despite the continued abortive, mildly irritating, attempts the apprentice fowl made to convert his strangled gasp into a full-fledged, something-to-be-proud-of crow.

I made a point of speaking to Jem and Heidi about the incident before they left for work in the morning, going as far as reproducing the sound the little rooster had made, which made all of us laugh but I must say, Heidi was a little disappointed (as well as a bit cross) to learn that one of her hens wasn’t a hen at all. Jem was able to mollify her though. Drawing upon his vast experience as a stock-man he was able to explain that sexing little chickens is complicated, “and sometimes”, he said, “they can get it wrong.”

At two o’clock the following morning, when the entire continent was tucked up in bed and fast asleep (quite right too) the little guy, who still hadn’t been taught how to tell the time, got a jump-start on every rooster in the world and started his weird strangled crow that, despite the fact that it didn’t scare me awake like it had the night before (this time I recognised the sound for what it was), was very irritating. The term “BIRD BRAIN with various connotations bounced around in my head as I yet again endured his pathetic attempts to crow properly before he finally gave up and I fell asleep.

“Did you hear your chicken last night?” I asked Heidi as she was climbing into her car the next morning.

HEIDI:    No I didn’t. Was he crowing again?

ME:        (Hmmm, it was really loud. Surely she heard it) Yes, he started at the same time – two o’clock.

HEIDI:    Hahaha. You look like you haven’t slept very well. Hahaha

ME:        (It’s not funny) Yes, I do feel tired. That’s two nights in a row and my eyes feel like they’ve got sand in them. I can’t wait till the guy learns how to tell the time. Ha

HEIDI:    Sorry, was there something else? I can’t be late for work today.

ME:        No, I’ll see you later. Bye

It was a fairly difficult day for me, what with the disturbed sleep and all, so I was glad when it came to an end and I was finally able to get into bed. I’m one of those lucky individuals who can fall asleep at the drop of a hat and the moment my head hit the pillow that night I was out for the count.

According to The Moscow Rules (and Sir Ian Fleming), once is an accident, twice is a coincidence but three times is an enemy action.

When that bloody chicken started its weird throat-gargle at exactly two o’clock the next morning I started having visions of pulling its head off with my bare hands. Being woken up was one thing but listening to that incomplete crow was, without a doubt, the most frustrating thing I’d ever had to endure in my life. It would start beautifully, with a robust OOOH-A-OOOH-A…. but fizzle out into a gasp that sounded, like I described before, someone being strangled and their last breath leaving their body…. uuuuhhhh. Time after time, over and over and over. I could imagine all of his little chicken mates sitting up there on the perch with him egging him on.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            Ahhh, nice one mate, you almost had it there

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, nice one.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A- uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            No, you lost it that time mate. Give it another go

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, give it another go

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-oUUuuhhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            Oh wow, that one was so close mate. Give it another go

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-UUuuhhhhh

…for ages and ages over and over. There was no earthly reason for the little bastard to carry on. He couldn’t do it for goodness sake. As rooster crows go his was, without a doubt, the most pathetic crow in the history of the entire world but the stubborn little FUCK just went on and on. There’d be silence for five minutes and I’d tell myself it was all over, that his voice box (which hadn’t been in a good way at the beginning of the exercise) had finally packed up and I could get some sleep. But then, almost as if he was telling himself that he couldn’t let the side down, off he’d go again, OOOH-A-OOOH-A, and I’d say to myself, “he’s going to do it right this time, it’s going to end in that triumphant OOOOOOH OOOOOOOOOOOOH and all his mates will pat him on the back and he’ll be chuffed with himself and he’ll go to sleep and I can bloody well go back to sleep”. But each time I was wrong, and aaagggghhhhhh – I wished that fucking chicken would just die.

My eyes, the next morning, felt as if they had been rubbed with sandpaper and the word exhausted did not come close to describing how tired I was. I bathed and dressed then made my way out to the shed hoping to identify the culprit. I suppose I thought that it would help if I put a face to the voice.

I was disappointed. They all looked the same, apart from the colour of their moth-eaten feathers, a mixture of black and brown, so my feeling of frustration intensified. The exasperation of not knowing which one of the little clucking bastards was to blame for my disturbed sleep was indescribable so, instead of directing my rage at just one of them I simply hated them all!

I restrained myself though. I recalled Heidi’s face when she’d brought her little charges home all those weeks ago. She’d been beaming from ear to ear as she set the box down on her lounge carpet and cooed and fussed over them when they’d cheep-cheeped and run around like little clockwork toys. She absolutely loved them.

“No”, I told myself, “let them be. Whichever one is the culprit he’ll grow out of it soon enough”.

Strangely, neither Jem NOR Heidi, who I saw outside before they left for work, had been disturbed which I found a little unfair; “they are their chickens after all”, I’d thought.

ME:        Hey guys, did you hear your chicken last night?

JEM:      No

HEIDI:    No. Aaaah Jelly Tot (that was her pet name for Jem) why can’t we hear the cute wikkle chicky-wicky crow.

JEM:      Animal husbandry doesn’t work like that darling

ME:        (YOU CAN’T BE FUCKING SERIOUS) Seriously? You didn’t hear the bastard thing starting its shit at bloody two am? Seriously?

JEM:      (Looking puzzled) No, not a thing

HEIDI:    (Eyes filling with tears) NO *sob*

Jem ended up driving Heidi to work because she was too upset to drive herself. I wasn’t sure whether it was because she hadn’t heard the damn thing crowing or because I’d called it a bastard.

I struggled to stay awake at work that day. I cannot recall ever being so tired before. At the tea station I told my colleagues about what was happening at home and they all found it highly amusing which, strangely, went a long way to lightening my mood. I somehow managed to see the day through without falling asleep at my desk and managed to drive home without nodding off at the wheel and causing rush-hour carnage. It was an early night for me.

Although I had expected it, when that fucking chicken did its pathetic death-rattle parody at two am, I was incensed. I lay awake shaking with rage, imagining the joy I would get by murdering the bastard thing as endured an encore from the previous three nights. So imagine, if you can, how I felt when, after listening to that unearthly sound for at least fifteen minutes, the scenario took a turn for the worse. Yes, it got worse. Instead of a single voice screeching out an ill-timed reveille, there was suddenly an entire cacophonic chorus.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            Ahhh, nice one mate, you almost had it there

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Yeah mate, nice one.

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A- uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #1:            No, you lost it that time mate. Give it another go

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Whaat? Who was that?

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           (Proudly) That was me

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Woooow. Duuuuude. That was so gooood. Do it again

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-oUUuuhhhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            I want to try, I want to try!

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Go for it dude.

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            A-oooouuuuuh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #2:            Hmmmm, not bad, try saying OOOH-A-uuuuhhh

LITTLE CHICKEN MATE #3:            A-oooouuuuuh

APPRENTICE ROOSTER:                 OOOH-A-OOOH-A-UUuuhhhhh

2nd APPRENTICE ROOSTER:           OOOH-A-uuuuhhhh

And on and on and on – driving me absolutely nuts until eventually, I simply couldn’t take any more. I took the pillow I was using to cover my head and flung it across the room then threw off the bed-clothes and leapt angrily to my feet swearing to commit bloody murder.

LYNDA:                 Where are you going

ME:                        I’m going to kill those bloody bantams

LYNDA:                 (Always the voice of reason) You can’t kill them. Heidi loves them.

ME:                        She’ll get over it (How can Lynda want anything other than death for those feathery little bastards)

LYNDA:                 (Shouting in a whisper because she didn’t want to wake the baby) David, get back in the bed now!

ME:                        (You’re not my father, you can’t tell me what to do) No, I’m going to kill those chickens.

LYNDA:                 If you harm a hair on their heads I will never speak to you again.

ME:                        (Ha, chickens don’t have hair. Is she being serious?) Those chickens are going to die. They have to die!

LYNDA:                 You’ve heard me. Touch those chickens and you’ll regret it.

ME:                        I’m going to kill them (Shit, I can’t kill them. She’ll make my life a living hell)

And with this I stormed angrily out of the bedroom, walked down the corridor and through the kitchen to the locked door. I took the key off the peg and unlocked it and stepped out into the star lit night.

The cool air had some sort of calming effect on me. I already knew I would not be able to kill those little creatures (despite the possibility that all of Heidi’s hens were, in fact, cockerels) but I still had to find a way to shut them up. I would not be able to take another night like this. Oddly I hadn’t heard a sound from the birds since I’d come outside and, because of that, I almost turned around and went back into the house. I knew, though, that if I did, they would start up again the moment my head touched that pillow.

Then I saw Heidi’s top-loading washing machine nestled in a little veranda alcove between their section of the house and ours and the answer came to me.

I went to the shed and flipped the light switch to be confronted by six very wide-awake bantams, sitting on a perch looking curiously at me. They didn’t flap, squawk, cluck or crow – they just looked at me. They looked quite cute. I felt my anger slip several notches so I said, “you fucking noisy little bastards, I came here to kill you” (to harden my resolve) but they still didn’t register any alarm – just carried on looking at me.

So I stepped into the shed and felt my bare foot squish in chicken shit. I yelled with renewed anger to be rewarded by the sextet leaping off their perch, to run around on the floor squawking and clucking and flapping in alarm – making one hell of a racket.

They were difficult to catch but I managed to round them up, one by one, then, one at a time, I carried them out of the shed, making sure to close the door behind me so the others couldn’t escape and create mayhem (stupid birds) and put them into the top-loader. As I put the last one in and closed the lid, muttering “now try to crow you fucking little bastard”, Jeremy came round the corner, which took me a little by surprise.

JEM:      What are you doing?

ME:        Aaaagggh, don’t sneak up on me like that.

JEM:      What the bloody hell are you doing? What’s all that racket?

ME:        (Aaaah, good – they’ve heard something) Jem, why are you carrying that knobkerrie?

JEM:      I heard the bantams squawking and thought a jackal might be prowling around. (Puzzled look) What are you doing?

ME:        (Feeling a little stupid now) I’m keeping these fucking, goddam chickens quiet.

JEM:      (Furrowed brow, even more puzzled – notices the shed door standing open) What are you talking about? (Walks to the shed and looks inside)

ME:        They’re not in there. They’re in here (pointing foolishly at the washing machine)

JEM:      (Face registering utter disbelief) They’re what?

I said nothing more. I pointed at the washing machine again and turned and walked into my house. I went back to bed, making sure to wash and dry my feet first.

I slept the whole night through.

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The Insomniac’s Lament

 This poem won't make proper sense unless you've read the story behind it. Go to The Bald Naked Guy In The Room Next Door

The Insomniac’s Lament

If I could live my life again and know what I know now

I would not do some of the things that brought me shame somehow

If I could turn the clock hands back and make all things come right

I would surely change the memory that was given me that night

When I, alone in a foreign land, did ponder how unsightly

it was to have, on full display, my private tidy whities!

As hotels go, mine was the best, I really could find no fault

That is to say, if you disregard the massive clothing vault

The room was clean, as clean could be, the linen white as white

The carpet plush and welcoming, the curtains dark as night

Indeed all things considered, I could not have asked for more

except for one tiny little thing – the cupboard had no door.

Now some would say, “Just let it go, it really doesn’t matter”

But tell that to an insomniac whose nerves are all a-shatter

I’d tossed and turned from ten pm, awake the whole night through

I’d watched the clock pass through the hours of twelve then one then two

Finally at three am when sleep had still not come

I found myself sitting on the throne lamenting my sore bum

I’d counted every ceramic tile upon the walls and floor

I’d calculated the distance from the bath tub to the door

I’d experimented with the sound control that piped the music through

And thought about using toilet paper to polish my dusty shoes

When it came to me out of nowhere, hit me like a well aimed brick

The panel wasn’t a panel at all; I really had been thick

Anxious to close that gaping cave I wiped my bum and flushed

No noise did stir the corridors the hotel was quiet and hushed

I stood before the looming frame to see if I was right

Then braced my legs on either side and pushed with all my might

It moved a bit, and then again and then again some more

But to my horror light shone through – it was a flaming door.

Oh no, oh no, it cannot be I’ve really done it now

I should have left it all alone, and sweat came from my brow

The neighbour’s going to wake for sure and scream till he’s fit to bust

I’ll be arrested and charged and I’ll be tried and in a gaol I’ll rust

But hang on there, don’t panic yet, perhaps not all is lost

Maybe you can push it closed without there being a cost

So I pushed and pushed and heaved and shoved as hard as hard could be

But it wouldn’t budge a tiny bit it felt just like a tree.

 So I paused a bit and thought about the plight that I was in

And told myself to think about the ways that I could win

It came to me quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly

There’s something blocking its path I said, that’s what it has to be

So I made my way to the neighbour’s door no longer being cautious

And as I stepped into the light I felt confident and joyous

But then all joy was cast aside and I shat myself fair quick

For there was the neighbour, fat and bald displaying his ugly prick

OH NOOOOO I screamed as I leaped from him in fear and mighty fright

Only to realise, as I did, it was I I’d seen that night

Now since that day I’ve thanked the stars that I was not undone

And I’ve taught myself to think things through, to walk before I run

And time will come and time will go but memory remains

Of the night I stood with all to bare and created that awful shame

And if I could, then I’d change things now to put my mind to rights

And nothing would ever make me think of the horror of that night


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The bald naked guy in the room next door

Have you ever been so embarrassed that you would give anything, ANYTHING for the ground to open and swallow you?

Of course you have! It happens to everybody at least once in their lives and if it hasn’t it’s going to happen to you one day – because that’s life.

It’s happened to me many times (and I like to think it’s because I have lived long enough for the fickle finger of fate to have found me and not the alternative; that I’m an idiot) and, whilst there are some incidents I would struggle to recall, there is one memory that is so clear that I still cringe inwardly when I think about it. It happened on that same trip to China – the one where I helped myself to a bean.

If I have learned anything from visiting China (apart from never touching your food with your fingers), it is that you must not compromise when it comes to hotel accommodation. You should always stay in a Five-Star hotel and, having stayed in a fair number of them, I can say with some authority that there can be big differences in quality between them. To account for these differences I surmise that there is considerable latitude permitted when examining the criteria governing the awarding of star grading between regions. To be fair though, it was usually the small items, the lack of attention to detail, that let the establishments down.

The story I’m about to tell you happened in a hotel whose staff could not be faulted when it came to service and responsiveness to my requests (not that I had many) and its facilities were, on the whole, excellent. However, when I was shown to my room, which was palatial in every sense, I noticed that the built-in cupboard, which took up the entire length of one wall didn’t have a door. It was odd but having become used to the unexpected and not wanting to make a fuss, I said nothing to the porter beyond thanking him and sending him on his way.

As I was unpacking and putting my belongings away (I was going to be there for three nights) I looked more closely at the cupboard, which appeared to have been constructed from an exotic dark wood. It was augmented with a huge panel on one side that was as wide as both of my outstretched arms and filled the entire space between floor and ceiling. It was very odd; it didn’t seem to serve any purpose whatsoever. Beyond that weird decoration the cupboard was appointed with enormous shelves, plenty of hanging space and, as one would expect, a safe for valuables. I must say though, that after I’d unpacked and squared everything neatly away it felt strange to have my belongings (including my tidy whities) on display. I didn’t dwell on it though. I deposited my passport and cash in the safe, set the combination, and went and did my thing.

I don’t handle jet-lag very well and on the second night of my stay in the hotel I was having trouble getting to sleep! I’d done everything I could think of to get my brain to shut down for its much-needed regeneration; counted sheep, watched Chinese TV (there’s only so much of that one can do in a lifetime), counted backwards from three hundred and twenty (umpteen times), meditated, stared at one spot and taken several showers but nothing had worked. It wasn’t helping that I had a slightly upset stomach and that is how it came to pass that I was feeling rather sorry for myself and sitting, yet again, in the bathroom, wide awake, at 3 o’clock in the morning. By then I had already counted every tile on the walls and floor several times and I was bored, very very bored!

I was looking through the bathroom door (it was open) and looking absent-mindedly at the now familiar sight of the doorless cupboard which was directly in my line of vision. I could see my shoes on the bottom shelf, my neatly folded ‘smalls’ on the next shelf up and, although I couldn’t see them from that angle, I knew that my socks were sitting, folded, on the shelf above that, below the shelf containing my briefcase. I could see, to the left of the shelves, my shirts and trousers hanging from a rail.  I half registered that, although the light in the bathroom was bright, it had nothing to reflect off beyond the door and it was as if it was being absorbed by that big, useless panel next to the cupboard. I was musing, yet again, on the inconsistencies of Chinese architecture and design when something went pop in my brain. It suddenly dawned on me that the panel probably wasn’t a panel at all; that it was actually, most probably, a sliding door!

I stared at it short-sightedly from where I was sitting, about ten feet away, and saw what appeared to be rails at the top and bottom of the open cupboard reveal. “Well roger me with a fish fork Blackadder”, I breathed to myself, “you’re right, that’s a bloody door!”

It’s a truly sad state of affairs when one finds oneself, thousands of miles away from home, in a foreign land, getting excited at 3 o’clock in the morning, over discovering a door when, moments earlier, there hadn’t been one.

I felt like Howard Carter must have felt in 1921 when he discovered the entrance to Tutankhamen’s tomb.

I abandoned my tile-counting mission and completed my primary task so I could go and check it out from close-up.

I stood in front of the door and stretched my arms out to either side and slightly forward so I could get a good grip on the sides of the thing. I looked down and saw no sliding mechanism so I looked up and… voila! The door was suspended from some strange rollers, one of which had come adrift from its slide. So, with a firm grip, I lifted the massive panel (that was now a door) upwards to move the roller into the slide. It was too heavy for me but it did budge slightly. I gave up any idea of trying to repair it myself but, because I was bothered by the fact my personal belongings were on display, I was absolutely determined to force the thing to close, right there, right then, on my own….! I spread my feet further apart to get better purchase and gave a bit of a lift and a shove and, sure enough, it slid a couple of inches. I was very pleased with myself, so I did it again and it moved a little more.

It was then that I noticed a light shining from beyond the cupboard door and I came to the horrible realisation that it wasn’t a cupboard door after all. It was, in actual fact, a sliding partition that opened into the room next door to mine. My heart started thumping in my chest and my head started spinning as I imagined, in absolute panic, the headlines in the next day’s newspaper

外国恶魔变态被抓住了

Foreign devil pervert caught in the act

OMG! I was expecting someone to waken at any minute and start screeching at the top of their voice that a Foreign Devil Pervert was breaking into their room. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared, even when I got caught stealing grapes from Mr Payne’s garden when I was at school – and that guy was crazy!

In desperation I tried to push the partition back but, to my horror, the effing thing, no matter how much effort I put into it, refused to budge! Thoughts of me ending up in a Chinese pervert-gaol were consuming me; my brain really was in a state of extreme agitation. It occurred to me that something was probably jamming it near the floor at the entrance to the other room so I stopped pushing and let go. I hadn’t yet heard any shouts of alarm from my neighbour’s room and I started to hope that perhaps he was out (maybe in the bar downstairs) so, if I was lucky, I could get the door closed again and he would be none the wiser.

I moved quietly towards the opening where the light was spilling onto the carpet in my room then, unable to see any obvious obstruction from where I was standing, I threw all caution to the wind and went directly to the opening between our two rooms.

I nearly died of fright!

The horror I felt when I looked up and saw a bald naked guy standing before me is indescribable.

I involuntarily jumped backwards and screamed – I literally screamed!

I can recall, as my brain raced at a million miles an hour, how aghast I was at being discovered in such a compromising position. I can remember thinking that no-one was ever going to believe my excuse that I had thought it was a cupboard door; who does DIY on a faulty cupboard door at 3 am? I can remember wanting the hands of some clock to turn back in time so I could be back in my bed albeit sleepless and I can remember hoping that somehow a big hole would open up and swallow me.

And as I said, “I’m really sorry”, fully expecting him to start screaming at the top of his voice, I realised I was looking at my own reflection in a huge, previously concealed, floor-to-ceiling mirror, which was also reflecting the bright light from the bathroom behind me.

Talk about being scared by your own shadow. True story!

 

The Insomniac’s Lament

If I could live my life again and know what I know now

I would not do some of the things that brought me shame somehow

If I could turn the clock hands back and make all things come right

I would surely change the memory that was given me that night

When I, alone in a foreign land, did ponder how unsightly

it was to have, on full display, my private tidy whities!

As hotels go, mine was the best, I really could find no fault

That is to say, if you disregard the massive clothing vault

The room was clean, as clean could be, the linen white as white

The carpet plush and welcoming, the curtains dark as night

Indeed all things considered, I could not have asked for more

except for one tiny little thing – the cupboard had no door.

Now some would say, “Just let it go, it really doesn’t matter”

But tell that to an insomniac whose nerves are all a-shatter

I’d tossed and turned from ten pm, awake the whole night through

I’d watched the clock pass through the hours of twelve then one then two

Finally at three am when sleep had still not come

I found myself sitting on the throne lamenting my sore bum

I’d counted every ceramic tile upon the walls and floor

I’d calculated the distance from the bath tub to the door

I’d experimented with the sound control that piped the music through

And thought about using toilet paper to polish my dusty shoes

When it came to me out of nowhere, hit me like a well aimed brick

The panel wasn’t a panel at all; I really had been thick

Anxious to close that gaping cave I wiped my bum and flushed

No noise did stir the corridors the hotel was quiet and hushed

I stood before the looming frame to see if I was right

Then braced my legs on either side and pushed with all my might

It moved a bit, and then again and then again some more

But to my horror light shone through – it was a flaming door.

“Oh no, oh no, it cannot be I’ve really done it now

I should have left it all alone”, and sweat came from my brow.

“The neighbour’s going to wake for sure and scream till he’s fit to bust

I’ll be arrested and charged and I’ll be tried and in a gaol I’ll rust.

But hang on there, don’t panic yet, perhaps not all is lost

Maybe you can push it closed without there being a cost?”

So I pushed and pushed and heaved and shoved as hard as hard could be

But it wouldn’t budge a tiny bit it felt just like a tree.

 So I paused a bit and thought about the plight that I was in

And told myself to think about the ways that I could win

It came to me quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly

“There’s something blocking its path”, I said, “that’s what it has to be”!

So I made my way to the neighbour’s door no longer being cautious

And as I stepped into the light I felt confident and joyous

But then all joy was cast aside and I shat myself fair quick

For there was the neighbour, fat and bald displaying his ugly prick

“OH NOOOOO”, I screamed as I leaped from him in fear and mighty fright

Only to realise, as I did, it was I I’d seen that night

Now since that day I’ve thanked the stars that I was not undone

And I’ve taught myself to think things through, to walk before I run

And time will come and time will go but memory remains

Of the night I stood with all to bare and created that awful shame

And if I could, then I’d change things now to put my mind to rights

And nothing would ever make me think of the horror of that night

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The fish-killer

Most of us make some sort of effort to get on with people we meet in our lives (I know there are exceptions) and the amount of effort is directly proportional to the importance and or nature of that relationship. So, for example, the effort we make to get along with our work colleagues is naturally going to be greater than the effort we’d make when sitting next to a random stranger on a train and the degree of effort put in to the latter would be proportional to the length of the journey. This is all well and good as long as you’re in control of the situation and every aspect of the situation, which is quite impossible if you own a cat like Gary. For me to tell the story it’s necessary for me to give you a bit of background but, by the end, you will see see what I mean.

When we first moved, ten years ago, to the house we now live in and call home our direct neighbours were, on one side, a youngish couple (couple A) with a child – a son, aged about seven or eight. On the other side was another young couple (couple B) who were childless. Within a few short weeks of us arriving couple A had a massive barney, split up and sold the house. Their problems were quite public and, because our windows look down into their garden, we were privy to a lot of the goings on during their acrimonious separation negotiations. Without going into details here, because that’s not the story I’m telling, let’s just say that some soap-operas left more to the imagination than those two did. Couple B who, it turned out, were a very nice couple from oop naath decided to sell their house and return to those foreign climes just as we had progressed from the nod-politely-to-each-other-on-the-street stage to you-must-come-round-and-have-a-cup-of-tea-with-us stage.

Couple A’s house was bought by a Lithuanian guy, Tomas, who is married with two daughters. We get on reasonably well – conversing from time to time over the wooden fence that divides our two properties – a bit like Tim Taylor and his neighbour Wilson in Home Improvement, but he’s a businessman and travels a fair bit so he’s often not around.

A self-proclaimed prophet (I kid you not) from Ghana bought Couple B’s house but we hardly ever see him or his family because they’re always off somewhere on some mission (prophesying I expect). The elderly guy who lives opposite them despises them. There’s no obvious reason for his dislike but it could have something to do with the fact that they keep strange hours and are quite noisy. The elderly gentleman likes the odd drink and keeps regular hours (from opening time till closing time daily) at the pub, which is a mere five minutes walk from his house (and about fifteen minutes back with all the weaving he does). I was invited to attend a child’s birthday party (at the prophet’s house) so I accepted in the spirit of if one is going to get to know one’s neighbour’s one really should make an effort. I didn’t really enjoy myself – the music was too loud and the food was strange. I later got diarrhoea which may or may not have been from something I ate at that child’s party.

Another elderly couple used to live in the house opposite us but we fell out soon after we moved here (before we’d even met them actually) when they put their excess garbage into our wheelie bin one day without so much as a by-your-leave. I suppose my reaction to it was a little extreme; perhaps I shouldn’t have taken their garbage bags and put them outside their front door. In my defence, where else was I going to put them? I couldn’t leave them in my bin or I wouldn’t have been able to fit own my garbage in it. About two years on he died and his wife sold up and left, which we didn’t know about until one night we were sitting watching TV when we heard someone banging frantically on our door, and ringing our door bell over and over. We muted the TV and heard someone shouting FIRE, FIIIIIRE! I ran downstairs and opened the door to be confronted by the short white-haired, wild-eyed old guy. He said, you had better get out of your house – there’s a fire next door. I stepped out and had a look where he was pointing and, sure enough, there was a fire next door – Tomas’s place.

I thanked him and went back inside, “FIRE”, I shouted “FIIIIIRE” (I had always wanted to say that) and in no time at all we were outside with our most important belongings – our passports and animals.

Tomas’s wife’s car – a brand new BMW X3, parked on his driveway, was ablaze (very suspicious) and I sat in my car with Adam (Lynda was in her car with Leanne and the animals) and we watched the fire-brigade bring it under control and contain it before signalling the all-clear.

It occurred to me, while I was watching the blaze, that I’d never seen the white-haired man before. I was grateful to him for raising the alarm and for coming to warn us (I suppose it was the least he could do) because the angle of our house prevents us from seeing Tomas’s driveway and there was always a possibility that the fire-brigade would not have been able to contain the blaze, meaning we may have been trapped inside and unable to get out. I went and thanked him when the dust had settled and it turned out he and his wife had bought the house from the widow. His name was Terry and he seemed like a nice guy, confirmed when he suggested we get together for a beer at some time in the future. The gesture took me completely by surprise – that was the first overture of its kind from any of our neighbours – including Tomas and the prophet (apart from the child’s birthday party) – since we’d moved in.

Give us some time to get settled”, said my new mate, “then we’ll get together for a pint”.

I went around to Tomas’s driveway the next day (he had been away at the time of the incident) to take a closer look at the burnt out wreck. I was astonished when I walked round the corner, to discover that TWO cars had burned – both of them new X3’s. I had to conclude that someone must have had it in for him. BMW’s don’t usually combust spontaneously.

A couple or three weeks later I got home from work and pulled up outside my house. I climbed out of my car (a Pepper Red Ford Focus, with stick-shift and alloys), locked it and started walking towards my house when, to my delight, Terry hailed me and quickly crossed the road to stand before me.

TERRY: ‘aw’right Mate (that’s the same in Essex as “Howzit china” in Zimbabwe or “G’day cobber” in Oz).
ME: Hello Terry (Cool, he’s come to make an arrangement for us to get together for a pint sometime)
TERRY: Do you have a minute? (these Poms can be ever so polite)
ME: Yes of course Terry, what can I do for you? (I wonder if Lynda will mind if I go for a pint this evening after supper?)
TERRY: Do you own a black and white cat?
ME: (Huh? What’s he on about?) Erm, yes, why do you ask?
TERRY: He’s been coming into my garden and killing my fish. I wouldn’t mind so much if he ate them, but he doesn’t; he just flicks them out of the water and watches them flopping around till they die.
ME: (He’s confusing Gary with that other black and white cat that hangs out near the vet. Bloody people who can’t keep an eye on their animals) There’s another black and white cat that’s been floating around impersonating my chap. My guy hardly ever leaves the property. There’s no way it’s my cat.
TERRY: (In a tone just a little too snippy for my liking) No, this is definitely your cat!
ME: (Who the hell did he think he was blighting my innocent lad’s good character) You want to be careful making accusations like that without any proof.

Terry pulled his cell phone (they call them mobiles over here) out of his pocket, fiddled with it for a bit in that awkward way that old people have when they use mobile devices, tapped the screen a couple of times, squinted myopically at it and handed it to me. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at because the video was shaking a bit but then it settled down and the evidence was indisputable. Gary! Crouching next to Terry’s fishpond watching a fish flopping helplessly on the pavement. There wasn’t another cat, dog, bird or human in sight.

ME: (Who in the hell would stand and take a video of a cat killing one of his prize Koi. Why doesn’t he go and put the fish back in the water instead of being so callous?) Gosh Terry, that certainly looks like Gary.

A moment later I saw Gary look up from the fish to stare at something and a split second after that Terry, clearly very angry, clad only in a pair of whiter-than-white Y-fronts, white holey vest and a pair of short black socks, entered the frame, waving a walking stick about furiously with one skinny arm and shaking his fist with the other. (Ahhh, it must be Terry’s wife taking the video from the upstairs window)

ME: (Bloody hell, he’s going to demand compensation. I want to kill that bloody cat)

And I carried on watching as Gary, who wasn’t the slightest bit concerned by Terry’s murderous intent, nonchalantly trotted over to the boundary wall jumped to the top and looked casually back at the enraged septuagenarian who had crouched next to his flopping Carp. He carried on watching, his face inscrutable, as Terry picked it up and lowered it gently into the water. Then Gary, who had clearly lost all interest by then, jumped off the wall and out of sight.

ME: (Dry-mouthed and extremely embarrassed) Erm, did the fish survive Terry?
TERRY: No. They’re all dead. I’m not going to keep fish any more. I’ve converted my fish pond into a water garden.
ME: I’m ever so sorry Terry, I’ll try to keep a closer eye on him. (Bloody cat. Bloody, bloody, bloody, bastard cat)
TERRY: Thank you. I’d not like to fall out with you over a cat.

There wasn’t a great deal to say after that. We exchanged a few polite words about the weather then I made my excuses and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Gary, the dickhead, then started bringing plants into our kitchen in the dead of night. Pond plants!

Terry and I don’t talk nowadays and we’ve never shared that pint.

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Run, run, run

Using an athletics track as an analogy; the starting pistol is fired and all but one of the runners sets off to run a circuit to get to the finish line. The last guy doesn’t see the point of going all the way round so he cuts directly across the field and get to the finish line way ahead of the pack and when they do eventually get there he’s bored and will want to go and do something else. Without medication it’s very difficult to control this behaviour.

Hyperactive Children with ADHD aren’t deliberately being naughty, they’re simply bored.

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