Monday, 31 January 2011

Overheard Conversations #25

Location: a restaurant in a busy much unloved shopping centre.
Characters: A Banshee, an Idle Boy, a Saintly Ma.

Banshee: What were you doing in that shop?
S. Ma: I was having a consultation.
Idle Boy: Consultation?
S. Ma: With a Chinese doctor. I've been ill for weeks.
Idle Boy: Have you?
S. Ma: Thank you for noticing. (BEAT) Where are our drinks?
Banshee: Did you buy anything?
S. Ma: Some tablets -
Banshee: You bought tablets from a Chinese doctor in a shopping centre?
S. Ma: Chinese medicine has a very reputable, um, reputation.
Banshee: In a shopping centre?
Idle Boy: Was his name Doctor Snake Oil?
S. Ma: He didn't tell me his name. (BEAT) He didn't speak English.
Idle Boy: I've got some magic beans here. Would you like to buy them while you're at it?
S. Ma (TO PASSING WAITER): Excuse me, we ordered drinks - Oh. He's very busy.
Banshee: Herbal Medicine! Real medicine has used up all the bits that work. The rest is just twigs.
Idle Boy: Don't! You'll ruin the placebo affect.
S. Ma: I really need that drink.
Banshee: What did you buy?
S. Ma: I don't know. (TAKES BOX OUT OF PLASTIC BAG). It says here -
Banshee: You don't know what you bought? You didn't research it before you bought it?
Idle Boy: How much was it?
S. Ma: Thirty pounds (HASTILY) but that's for two weeks' supply.
Banshee: Thirty pounds?
Idle Boy (REACHING FOR BOX): It's here on the side. Cordyceps.
S. Ma: Yes, that's a very therapeutic herb.
Banshee (SCROLLING THROUGH PHONE): How do you spell that?
Idle Boy: C.O.R.D.Y.C.E.P.S.
Banshee: Hang on ... (READS SCREEN). Herb?
S. Ma: Yes, it's been used in Chinese medicine for centuries.
Banshee: It's a dead caterpillar.
Idle Boy: Urghh!
Banshee (READING): A microbe colonises caterpillars and mummifies them from the inside out.
Idle Boy: Cool.
Banshee: And then when the caterpillar is dead, a fungus -
Idle Boy: Fungus!
Banshee: Sprouts from the skull of the dead caterpillar.
Idle Boy: Let me see. (HE GRABS PHONE) Hey, it's been tested on castrated rats!
S. Ma: You're making that up.
Banshee: No, he's not. Look.
Idle Boy: About those beans, Mum ...?

Roll Credits

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Bring me sunshine

I am not known for my accuracy with numbers. (Posts passim.) I rarely feted for my excellent time-keeping. (I tend to be unfashionably late.) I am absolutely BOB at giving directions. For example:

After a while you will see a left hand turn. After a while you will see a sign for a motorway. After a while you will reach the coast of Spain.

(In this instance, after a while might be 10 yards, 10 miles, or 10 x 10 miles.)

But then I am a creative artist, an artistic creative. I'm not meant to know my fandangle from my elbow. It's in the job description.

But scientists? They're all facts, figures and accuracy to 0.0000000000000000000000001 of a percent - right?

announces a newspaper headline. Nothing to do with phone-taps or Me? I know nothing editors. No, scientists tell us that Betelgeuse, a star of which I've always been particularly fond, is due to explode. Its death throes will be so bright that there will be no night for two weeks. Darkness vanquished, we shall be bathed in eternal sunshine. In fact, during the real day, there will be two suns shining down upon us.

Gosh, how exciting, I thought. When's this going to kick off, then? I shall invest in sunglasses, suncream, sunhats. Quick, Stockbroker! Hawaiian Tropic! Buy! Buy! Buy!

O, I see ...

It could be this year. It could be next year.

Or it could be at any point in the next million years - also known as After A While.

Monday, 17 January 2011

How to Hang a Picture

A cut out and keep guide

You will need a hammer, a picture hook, a nail, a roll of wrapping paper and a biro.

O, and a picture.

All that is very basic and obvious, so we shall proceed immediately to Advanced Picture-Hanging for which you will need three pictures.

  1. Select wall. Hold up picture and admire position. Bang picture hook in wall. Hang picture. Realise that one has forgotten the picture wire on back of picture frame and said frame now hangs 4" lower than originally intended.
  2. Measure distance between apex of wire and edge of frame using the handle of the hammer.
  3. Hammer picture hook into new!improved! position using guesswork as one cannot use the hammer as a measuring aid and as a hammer simultaneously.
  4. Hang picture.
  5. Nod.
  6. Measure up next picture. Achieve level by placing roll of wrapping paper atop first successfully hanged (hung?) frame.
  7. Curse when roll of wrapping paper rolls off frame. Wonder if this is where the word 'roll' comes from?
  8. Try again, holding wrapping paper in position with one hand and a hammer, a picture hook, a nail and another picture with the other hand. Realise one has left biro on kitchen table.
  9. Attempt to reach kitchen table. Knock first picture off wall, drop picture hook, nail and hammer.
  10. Watch nail roll between gap in floorboards and disappear. Curse.
  11. Reposition first picture. Sellotape roll of wrapping paper to top of frame. Line up second picture. Hammer in new nail. Hang picture.
  12. Realise one has forgotten about bloody picture wire again. Take picture down. Reposition picture hook again. Hammer in nail. Rehang picture.
  13. Repeat five times until picture finally hangs in right position. Offer up a little prayer that no-one will ever take down picture and find out what a mess one has made of the plasterwork.
  14. Step back. Nod.
  15. Retrieve third picture. Realise one must now measure the space between pictures as well as the level in order to achieve an effect pleasing to the eye.
  16. Sellotape roll of wrapping paper to the top of second picture.
  17. Consider that only a fool would use the handle of a hammer as a measuring device!
  18. Use ones forefinger as a measuring device. Use biro to mark finger so that the precise distance between pictures can be ascertained.
  19. Hammer in picture hook. Narrowly miss measuring finger. Hang picture.
  20. Repeat Step 12.
  21. Repeat Step 13.
  22. Repeat Step 14.
  23. Affix notice informing all visitors that these pictures are best viewed when leaning slightly to the left.
  24. Affix second notice informing all visitors that first notice is best viewed when leaning slightly to the right.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Banned List #6

An occasional list of far too frequent crimes against writing

As I crept into the house, I didn't see the moonlight pouring in like a silver stream through the recently washed and polished windows. Nor did I observe that the faded burgundy velvet curtains, much in need of dry-cleaning, had not been drawn.

'That's odd,' I would have thought (if I'd clocked it in the first place). 'Shelagh never leaves the curtains open like that.'

A crystal goblet, sparkling in the light of the dying fire, its facets diamond bright, stood ungazed upon; the lingering, oily, pungent scent of gin ignored as a solitary ice-cube melted within its glass prison.

I didn't hear the menacing whine of the rusty door hinges as the bedroom door opened, nor the creaking heavily ponderous footsteps on the staircase. I failed to acknowledge the sinister click of the white plastic light switch.

So the sudden explosion of electric light came as a total surprise. (Once I'd noticed it).

Shelagh, her brows knitted, her mouth tight, her eyes like cross little currants, glowered with the force of a dark thundercloud. I found her expression hard to read.

'What time do you call this, eh?'

I was oblivious to the sharp tone of her voice; the clipped consonants, the elongated vowels which howled like an icy wind across a Russian steppe.

'It's time I stopped describing in intricate and exact detail all of the things which my 1st and 3rd person point of view characters allegedly - and I use that word advisedly - allegedly never blimmin' see, hear, touch, taste or smell,' I said crossly.

The End

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Today's Menu

Today I shall be mostly eating -

- but before I tell you, I'd like to mention the important subject of Afternoon Tea which is v. good at The Midland Hotel in Morecambe, and which I ate yesterday. Look, I'll prove it:

Whilst one is deciding which cake to eat first, the sky and sea meld in a blue-grey sweep of bay, shimmering beyond the plate glass windows of the sun terrace. Eric Gill designed a glorious medallion for the hotel's entrance. I was entranced.

Earlier, my companion and I (hem, hem - note how effortlessly I slipped into restaurant criticese - Giles Coren, watch your back) had been lost in a second-hand book shop with a stuffed goose, and had met the chap who tracked down the Carnforth Station clock to a garden shed in Hammersmith. It has a tick - no, more of a thud - like a steady heartbeat as the nails that weight it fall when the pendulum swings. (The clock, you fool, not the garden shed.) We also met the horologist who had revived the clock after its shed sojourn, and a characterful buffet barman. You will agree that our afternoon tea had been well earned.

Tea at The Midland is the title of a prize-winning short story by David Constantine. You can listen to a little of it here. Though I'm not sure I believe that the vast plate glass windows shook; they looked far too steadfast.

As local bowling champion, Tinker Pulford, will attest, in the North people talk - whether one wants them to or not. I am glad. Silent types would never have encouraged us to stand under a vast Victorian clock listening for a heartbeat.

But that's enough of yesterday. Today I shall be mostly eating ...

Breakfast: carrot juice with fresh ginger
Lunch: carrot and orange soup.
Afternoon tea: carrot cake
Dinner: carrot loaf with carrot purée, carrot julienne and carrot salad.
Supper: boiled carrots.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will spot a theme. It could be worse. Eric Gill did dreadful things to his dog. I am merely planning to do dreadful things to the characterful buffet barman.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Two Heads Are Better Than ...

Last night, I read a wonderful collection of short stories by Canadian author, Barbara Gowdie.  We So Seldom Look on Love encompasses necrophilia, nymphomania, exhibitionism and voyeurism, auto-site parasites and a two-headed man - but not in a voyeuristic way. Yes, it is unusual to use two forms of voyeur twice in once sentence, but it had to be done. (For other paraphilias, click here.)

The Two-Headed Man (a story I shan't spoil for you by telling it - just read it) reminded me of the night The Banshee came crashing downstairs two hours after she'd gone to bed.
'I can't sleep,' she grumbled.
'Why?' asked her ever-solicitous ma, quickly stashing the Tanqueray under the sofa with an expert flick of the heel.
'I'm worrying about something.' She frowned.
'What is it, sweet child?' I adopted my un-frowning listening face.
'It's like this, like, if Siamese Twins - '
'Conjoined twins.'
'Yes, them, say, like, one of them murdered someone and was caught and was put in jail, does that infringe the human rights of the twin who hasn't, like, murdered anyone and shouldn't be in jail?'
'Ooh, it's a tricky one -' (Surreptitiously tries to nudge the Tanqueray back from under the sofa.)
'Because, like, the innocent twin hasn't committed a crime, has he? So why should he be in prison? But the murdering twin has committed a crime so it's not fair, like, if he is free, is it?'
'Erm -'
'Because the murderer should be in jail. And if there was capital punishment, he could be electrocuted which would proper kill the other twin which wouldn't be, like, fair, right?'
'Well -'
'I don't agree with capital punishment anyway, but say I did, right, and I was a Siam - sorry - conjoined twin then it would infringe my human rights to execute me when I hadn't done anything wrong, wouldn't it?'
'Yes, I mean, no. Er -'
'But it's not fair for a murderer to get away with a crime, like, just because he's attached to another person, is it?'
'Hmm -'
'And even if you made the murderer only serve half his sentence - that's if he wasn't executed - that still wouldn't be fair to the innocent twin, would it?
'Could I stop you for a moment, darling? You are infringing my basic human right to drink gin in peace when my children are in bed.'*

Disatisfied with her ma's poor show, The Banshee began a letter writing campaign to the great legal minds of the country. Mainly Marcel Berlins, it has to be said. Mr Berlins did not reply. I suspect he took out an injunction.

In the absence of any other great legal minds and because two heads are better than one, have you an answer to this conundrum?

* I would have said this. If I'd dared.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Dum-de-Dum-de-Dum-de-Dum ...

This post comes with a musical accompaniment. Click here.

I have listened to the long-running radio drama, The Archers, since 1985 when a former boyfriend introduced me to the pleasures of the Sunday morning omnibus. A roll in the hay and buttered crumpets - the programme has fond associations. For 25 years I have devoted minutes of my life to the soap operatic tale of pig-farmers, country hoteliers, organic yoghurt-makers and the painful annual village pantomime. Therefore, I feel perfectly entitled to ask ...

... Why, O why, O why, O why did the most boring character in the 60 year history of The Archers  - dull, dependable David Archer - insist that he and his brother-in-law, Nigel Pargeter, go clambering over the roof of Lower Loxley in the dark, in gusty blustery conditions when they'd both had a few drinks?

It was an accident waiting to happen.

And happen it did.

Nigel Pargeter fell off the roof with a blood-curdling scream - which has become a popular download for mobile phone ringtones - WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE? - and I am in pieces. Twice now between 7pm-7.15pm, I have had to stop what I was doing to give way to shoulder-shuddering sobs. This is very irritating because the whole point of The Archers is that one can listen to it whilst doing something else. In fact, if one isn't doing something else whilst listening to it, the programme is almost unbearable. And sobbing does not count as doing something else.

Now my friend, The Editor, is very cross about this falling off the roof fiasco. After weeks of teasers, rumours and frantic gossiping on Archers' Addicts forums across the world, the body count of one came as something of a disappointment.

'I don't mind so much the half-witted toff dying, but to have to listen to him be coaxed and goaded into clambering about on an icy roof in the pitch dark, and blowing a force 40 gale BY THE MOST ARSE-ACHINGLY SENSIBLE, MOST RISK-AVERSE CHARACTER who ever drew virtual breath in Ambridge is an insult to my intelligence and a waste of the little time I have left on this planet. That is all.'

There are any number of characters I'd have preferred  to have shuffled off their mortal coil. In joint first place: Shula, Helen and Susan. Horrid, judgemental, selfish harpies. Then, in no particular order: Kathy Perks, Will Archer, Lizzie Pargeter, Rooooooooooth Archer, Pip Archer, Tom Archer, Brian Aldridge, Tony Archer, Kate Aldridge, Brenda - that's thirteen characters who could have been dipped in batter and fried alive and listeners would have cheered.

Vanessa Witless, the programme's editor - insisted that she had to get rid of a popular character in order to have an impact. I cannot see the logic in that myself. Indeed, I tried to think of a political analogy to make my point, but couldn't. (For obvious reasons.)

My only hope now is that after a charity polo match organised in Nigel's memory, the mini-bus containing Kathy, Will, Lizzie, Rooooooooooth, Brian and the rest, will be run off the road by an out-of-control Mister Snowy van, and burst into flames. Then, and only then, shall I be soothed.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Overheard Conversation #24

This conversation hasn't actually happened yet. But it will. On Friday.

Two glamorous types (think Thelma and Louise) are heading North in a spotlessly clean, valeted and waxed automobile.

Artist: Tell me again, why are we going to Morecambe?
Driver: It is the hidden jewel of the North East.
Artist: That's Filey.
Driver: Because I'd rather go to Budapest but that wasn't probable.
Artist: Possible?
Driver: Everything's possible! (BEAT) Also Eric has a lovely statue, one and a half times life size. And he was a big man to start with.
Artist: Big?
Driver: Don't be Volga! Ha! Did you see what I did there?
Artist: Budapest is on the Danube.
Driver: Near enough.
Artist: I'd like to take a photograph of Eric, to add to my to add to my Towns With A Terrible Sculpture portfolio.
Driver: Okie-doke. (BEAT.) You haven't mentioned my eyebrows.
Artist: I didn't like to.
Driver: You always mention my eyebrows.
Artist: They're a distinguishing feature.
Driver: They are.
Artist: In a study, subjects were asked to identify celebrities with either their eyes or their eyebrows digitally edited out. The subjects were able to recognise the celebrity 46% of the time with their eyebrows edited out, compared to 60% of the time with their eyes edited out.
Driver: And?
Artist: The findings indicate the importance of eyebrows in providing cues to an individual's identity.
Driver: So if I put two Elastoplasts over my eyebrows, you'd not recognise me for 54% of the time?
Artist: I'm not sure just how many people walk around with Elastoplasts over their eyebrows. You may be fairly unique in that ...
Driver: Hmm. Fascinating though eyebrows are, I've bought you a present. (GESTURES AT GLOVE COMPARTMENT.)
Artist: A CD?
Driver: A relaxing CD.
Artist (READING): Drifting, Alone on the Shore, Voyage of Discovery, Rainforest Rhapsody, Rising Sun, Stillness?
Driver: And Daydreaming. (BEAT.) It's made in Hong Kong, you know. Without a single musician.
Artist: Erm ..?
Driver: For your insomnia. It will send you into a deep, comatose state.
Artist: I was relying on Morecambe for that.

Roll credits

Sunday, 2 January 2011

How to Make Small Talk

A cut out and keep guide

At this time of year, most of us have been afflicted with relatives, family gatherings, work dos, various social occasions and - let's face it - they are Hell.

So, over the course of this Festive Season, I have put rather a lot of effort into finding the perfect way to make small talk - in order to make the relatives et al less hellish.
There is the old maxim that in mixed company one must never discuss politics, religion or something else (I forget which). Having forgotten - or ignored -  (honestly, my thingummy is bobbins) that rule of late, I am at one with Mr. Twain:

'I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.'

Besides, this Coalition nonsense has muddied the waters somewhat. Are they Liberals? Are they - boo, hiss - Tories in Woolly Liberals' clothing?

One throwaway remark about Mick Clogg being a Dishonorable Gentleman and suddenly half the room is cutting one dead. (Which at Christmas Luncheon is not a Good Thing.)

Now to the tried and trusted methods  - all of which have been thoroughly tried by your - ahem - Small Talk Specialist (Patent Pending).

These are opening gambits, work excellently on an intimate level - à deux - or can be proclaimed with confidence to a room crowded with strangers.

Bourbon Biscuits? Why?
There is no need to add to this statement. The debate will rage for hours.

Is there ever a place for pineapple on a pizza?
As above. (N.B. This conversation can take a turn for the worse unless you manage it carefully.)

- and that was when she found out he'd been having an affair with a Brazilian prostitute!
Initially, there will be a shocked silence, but stay with it. After a moment or so, everyone will want to know the details.

Three snippets of speech - voilà! - all you will ever need to traverse the travails of the Social Gathering. Abandon any chatter about weather, TV talent shows, or recent books read. And please do let me know how you get on.

Note, there is no charge for my excellent advice - my being possessed of a kind and generous soul. (Mick Clogg excepted).