A Christmas Carol – 1

I haven’t seen much of Bob, recently.

To be fair to Bob, he’s been rather busy. But he came round to my house the other day. Well,  the other evening, really. He was carol singing. And it was only just December.

‘What on earth are you doing?’ I asked him. He look puzzled.

‘Carol singing, of course. Why?’

‘Why? It’s only just turned December, that’s why.’

‘Well, all the shops have their decorations up now.’

‘I suppose so.’

‘And some have had, for the last few months.’

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‘True, but…’

‘And they’re all playing Christmas songs.’

‘Unfortunately true…’

‘And half the kittens on social media are dressed in red and white and chasing Christmas baubles around on the floor and then batting them with their cute little paws…’

‘Stop it, Bob!’

‘So why can’t I go round carol singing?’

‘Because there’s only one of you and it sounds awful!’

‘Oh…sorr…eee!’

‘And what are you collecting for?’

‘Huh?’

‘That tin you’re rattling. What’s it in aid of?’

‘Our Christmas lunch.’

‘Bob! You can’t do that! You’re supposed to be collecting for charity!’

‘Am I? Who says so?’

‘I…er…I don’t know. You just are, that’s all.’

‘Well, I’m collecting for our Christmas lunch!’ He rattled the tin meaningfully towards me. ‘Silent Night…’ he began again, his voice rising suddenly about two and three sevenths octaves. I shuddered. The kittens left their baubles and ran for cover. ‘Holy Night!’

‘Shut your bloody racket!’ Came my neighbour’s voice – slightly muffled, but carrying a clear threat of violence.

Bob left quickly.

 

In other years, I’ve written a few short stories for Christmas, but not this year.

Bob has inspired me to re-imagine a few Christmas Carols for the twenty first century.

Here is the first one.

Strident night,

Angry night,

Down cheap booze,

Get into a fight.

Punch and scratch and kick and bite.

Tell the other bloke he’s just a shite.

Sleep in a prison cell…oh!

Sleep in a prison cell.

For those of my readers who do consider Christmas to be a holy festival, I must point out that these little offerings are intended as my rant against the excesses and the commercialisation of Christmas today. I hope you will not take any offence, for none is intended!

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Bob on Holiday

Just in case you were wondering where he was, Bob has been on holiday. He’s back now, though.

And actually, he’s rather cross.

Now, lot’s of people return from holiday having had a wonderful time and feeling a bit tetchy that they have to come back to the daily grind, but it’s not like that.

No, Bob thinks we’ve all been lied to.

He went away to a holiday enclave in a West African country – or so he says. Bob’s sense of geography being what it is, I wouldn’t be too certain of the destination without checking his passport stamps first. And I wouldn’t do that. So I’ll take his word for it for now.

‘Now, I’m no fool,’ he said, looking at me.

‘No, of course not, Bob,’ I replied. ‘Absolutely not. Anything but. In fact, anyone who says…’ My words died away as I heard Bob’s wife, Gina, laughing somewhere behind me. ‘Go on,’ I ended, lamely.

‘Well, we read all the time that this is one of the poorest countries in the world,’ he continued, ‘yet I’ve never been to a nicer place! The hotel was really luxurious! Food was brilliant. All the staff were wonderful – they were smartly dressed and they couldn’t do enough for you! There were masses of security men all around the perimeter, mind you, but I don’t know what they were there for. And the beach was fantastic!’

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‘Was it just you on the beach?’

‘No, there were dozens of us.’

‘Any local people?’

‘No, they don’t go there, apparently. They don’t like sitting around on the beach like we do.

‘Did you go outside the hotel grounds at all, Bob?’

‘Yeah, we went to a village to see local artists at work. I loved the village. It’s such a minimalist lifestyle. They don’t waste time or money on all those pointless things that we think are so essential in the west.’

‘Like what?’

‘All that rubbish we don’t need!’ he said, heatedly. ‘They live a simple, healthy, lifestyle, and what matters to them are the things that are really important.’

‘Like what?’ I repeated.

‘Well, simple food, for example. It’s much healthier, you know. You don’t come across any of the locals there who are overweight.’

‘What is this diet, then? Do you know?’

‘Well, mostly they make a sort of porridge out of some local grain, apparently.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Oh, no. Of course not! They usually have it with, er beans. And onions.’

‘It doesn’t sound very exciting.’

‘Food doesn’t need to be exciting! It’s there to keep you alive!

It was a side of Bob I’d never seen before, and, to be honest, it was a bit scary. I never realised he could be so evangelical. At least, not about things like that. I’m used to him banging on about how wonderful a new beer is that he has discovered, or about his favourite pizza topping (which I’m not going to talk about here, but…pineapple on pizza…how could you?), but now he had all the fervour of a fresh convert to some extreme religion.

‘And then there are the houses they live in,’ he continued.

‘The houses?’

‘Yes. Gloriously simple and uncomplicated!’

‘As in small and built of odd pieces of driftwood and plastic sheeting?’

‘Exactly!’ He smiled warmly. ‘I love the way they make use of what’s locally available to build with. It keeps the costs down, and reduces the environmental impact of transporting thinks like bricks from far away. Simple.’

‘But would you want to live in one of those?’

‘I wouldn’t mind. I mean, what else do you need? Just some sort of bed in there and, oh, a table, I suppose. And a couple of chairs.’

‘But you just told me how luxurious the hotel was, and how much you enjoyed it.’

‘Well, I wasn’t going to turn it down, was I? But apparently it’s because us Westerners are all just so soft and pampered. The native people don’t live like that at all.’

‘So you say. Does this mean you’re going to change how you live, then, Bob?’

‘Well, I don’t think it’s particularly practical in the West.

‘I suppose not. Tell me about the artists you went to visit, then.’

‘Ah, yes. Mainly carvers. Lovely wood; mainly animals and masks. I bought a couple. Look, that’s one of them.’ He pointed to a beautifully carved and polished elephant in black wood, standing on the mantelpiece. ‘It cost the equivalent of about two pounds in our money.’

‘That seems very cheap.’

‘I know, but it’s a lot to them. And it’s putting money into the local economy.’

‘Who did you give the money to? The chap who carved it?’

‘No, there was a bloke who showed us round. Nice guy in a suit. Looked very smart. We paid him.’

‘I don’t suppose the carver was in a suit.’

‘Of course not! You wouldn’t wear one of those while you were working, would you?’

‘Describe him, then.’

‘Well, he was wearing a pair of shorts.’

‘What else?’

‘Nothing else. That was it. they could have done with a wash, though, I must admit.’ He put his head to one side and stared into the distance. ‘And a bit of sewing.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘Really, he could have done with a new pair of shorts. They were pretty ghastly.’

‘Maybe the nice man in the suit will buy him a pair.’ Bob smiled happily.

‘I’m sure he will!’

How to Swear

Strangely, I was inspired to write this post after my virtual trip to Nepal with Bob, although ever since the unfortunate and divisive events in the US and the UK, I have been inundated with a request from my follower to produce this guide.

This guide, then, is intended for those who find themselves in situations of such extreme frustration that a safety valve needs to be opened before anything useful and practical can be done about the problem. Or, indeed, before a physical injury is sustained unnecessarily.

I feel your pain, I truly do.

And so I humbly offer you, the reader, this handy cut-out-and-keep Guide to Swearing.

Swearing loyalty, swearing allegiance to something, swearing to tell the truth…that’s not what this is about, even though it’s a related subject.

No, this is about swearing!

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The swearing we might indulge in when someone or something irritates us beyond simply acknowledging that fact.

The swearing we might indulge in to demonstrate to others, or even just ourselves, how remarkably annoyed by that situation or person we are.

Something along the lines of ‘Blistering barnacles!’ for readers of a certain age. Or the mutterings of Mutley in ‘Wacky Races’ for other readers of a certain age. I’m afraid these cultural references will be lost on some…you’ll just have to swear at me for using them.

Firstly, and most importantly, one should choose the correct moment. I would not advocate swearing at any random time, for it is unlikely to have the desired restorative effect and, indeed, leaves the unwary user merely looking like a pillock.

Examples of bad moments might be during a marriage proposal, or an important meeting with your boss.

Whereas an example of a good moment might be, for the English cricket supporter, the following. Let us say that after losing an early wicket, in comes number 3, a contentious choice in any case, given his recent form, and promptly gives away his wicket with an ill-advised and airy shot to the first ball he faces. That would be an excellent time.

I used to find that a really good occasion would sometimes arise when I worked night shifts. Being awoken in the middle of the day, when I had just managed to get to sleep, by an insistent caller at the front door who demanded to know whether I had invited Jesus into my life, invariably worked.

A little bit of research might be helpful, here. Since you are unlikely to be the only person indulging in a bit of swearing (unless you live in a convent, or somesuch…and maybe not even then), you could stand out from the crowd by using some of the less-commonly heard swearwords. You might derive a certain amount of satisfaction, for example, by comparing your unfeeling relative to the intimate parts of a mammal, but how much more interesting for both spectators and participants to employ some rarely heard Viking term for the feeling one gets when an unusually cold gust of wind catches one unexpectedly just as one begins to perform on the privy?

That’s class, that is.

A few key words:

Adjectives. A careful use of adjectives will enable the Swearer to not only modify and enhance the power and meaning of the chosen epithets, but also, with a certain amount of skill, extend the outburst for up to a minute without the need to introduce a new noun, keeping those in reserve in case a second assault is required.

Breathing. Remember to breathe while swearing. Running out of breath suggests that not only have you not given due thought to the composition of your swear, but, worse still, perhaps have also lost control of the entire situation.

Cursing. Now, this is another thing entirely, and outside the remit of this post. Rather than simple (or complex) swearing, cursing implies the actual placing of a curse upon another person, with the aim of causing them injury, sickness or death. I shall deal with this more fully in my up-coming post ‘Getting Promotion at Work and Dealing With Troublesome In-laws’. There are those who hold that the two are interchangeable (cursing and swearing, I mean, not promotion and troublesome in-laws), and that the person who, in a moment of great stress and deep personal antipathy shouts something along the lines of ‘Trip over a nasty lump in the ground and hurt yourself, you frightfully horrid person!‘ is merely swearing, yet all they are doing is actually attempting to curse the recipient, albeit in an amateur and rather un-thought out way, and then tacking onto the end something that is technically a mere insult, which should only be used in other, carefully defined, situations (see ‘Using insults in carefully defined situations‘).

Happy ****ing swearing.

Virtually at Everest – part 3

Our guide was waiting for us on the edge of the airfield, with a porter who would load our bags into a large basket on his back.

‘Let’s go to our hotel and settle in,’ said Bob. ‘Then we can go and look at some sights, maybe after lunch.’

‘I’m afraid not, Bob. We’re not staying here. Tonight we’re staying in a little place about six or seven miles up the trail.’

‘Oh, alright.’ He looked a little miffed, but then brightened as a thought seemed to strike him. ‘We could have a second breakfast when we get there.’

‘We won’t be there until mid afternoon.’

‘Huh? Why on earth not?’

‘The paths are pretty steep in places, it makes for a long walk.’

‘Walk?!!?!’

‘Yes, walk. We’re trekking, Bob, remember?’

‘Yes…but…I…’

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Walking up the path with Bob was a pleasure I can only compare to dancing in a deep sea diving suit. Every few steps I took I would hear a plaintive ‘Mick…wait for me…’ from behind.

By lunchtime we had covered approximately half a mile and could still see the buildings of Lukla. Our guide, the impassive Pasang, calmly directed us to a nearby teahouse, and then left us as we ordered.

Bob wasn’t terribly impressed with the menu, though.

‘Do they have pizza?’

‘Is it on the menu?’

‘I can’t see it.’

‘Then, no.’

‘What are momos?’

‘Tibetan dumplings.’

‘Yuk. Dahl baht?’

‘Rice and lentils.’

‘Oh, God!’

We had fried vegetables. At first, I thought Bob wouldn’t eat his, from the face he made when it arrived, but walking half a mile that morning had clearly given him an appetite, and he managed to force it down.

As we ate, Pasang reappeared with another Nepali. They stood in the doorway for a while, looking at us and talking in low voices. The other man seemed a little upset and kept shaking his head, then they both left again. After about ten minutes, Pasang was back, this time with a much larger man. Again, they talked in low voices, with a lot of head shaking from the stranger, but they eventually shook hands, although neither looked particularly happy, and went back outside.

After we had finished lunch, Pasang took us outside where our porter was waiting, as was the large stranger, who also had one of those huge baskets on his back.

‘You will sit in his basket,’ he said to Bob.

‘What? No fear!’ He looked horrified. Pasang was clearly struggling to keep up his ‘impassive’ image.

‘If you do not,’ he said, sharply, it will be midnight before we reach the guest house. And,’ he looked at Bob meaningfully, ‘you will miss supper.’

Reluctantly, Bob did as he was told. I may have mentioned this already, but Bob is not a slightly built chap. His love of pizza and his fear of exercise combine to produce a body guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any fitness instructor.

I looked at the stranger with a deep respect.

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They carry large loads, although not usually as large as Bob.

We set off. Pasang led, the two porters walked just behind him, with Bob peering unhappily over the top of the basket, and reminding me strangely of a cat in a basket going to the vets.

Which led to a few unkind thoughts, I’m afraid.

However, two hours later we were at the tea house where we were to spend the night, with no further mishaps. The afternoon had been lovely, and I had wandered along happily at the back of our little group, taking a few photographs but mainly just enjoying being there.

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Bob clambered out of his basket and looked around. Then he whipped his phone out of his pocket. ‘We’ve done really well, haven’t we? Let’s take a couple of selfies!’

The following morning we were woken at six o’clock for an early start, but Bob wasn’t feeling well.

‘I think I’ve caught pneumonia,’ he moaned hoarsely.

‘Oh, it doesn’t look that bad,’ I replied, brightly. ‘Probably just a bit of a sore throat due to the altitude. Let’s see how you are after breakfast.’ He dragged himself out of bed and shuffled wearily to the dining room, where he managed a light breakfast of porridge and banana, omelette, bread, toast, jam and coffee.

‘What do you think?’ I asked Pasang.

‘It is definitely best he stays here until we return,’said Pasang firmly. ‘We should not take the risk of him getting any worse.’ I was about to say that it was only a slight cold, but I saw the wisdom in what he was saying, and so I agreed.

So, it was a shame, but we had to do the rest of the trek without Bob.

Silver linings and all that…

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Everest is the one in the middle!

Virtually at Everest – part 2

Part 2 of my virtual trek to Virtual Everest Base Camp, undertaken while my foot is all sympathy-inducing-poorly. Part 1 can be found here

It was interesting watching Bob haggle with our taxi driver, but annoying to have to spend so long finding another taxi. Still, we reached Swayambunath eventually, and began the long climb up the steps towards the temple complex. As usual, we were surrounded by monkeys hoping for tidbits and just generally getting in everyone’s way.

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‘Oh, aren’t they cute!’ exclaimed Bob, reaching out to stroke one.

‘I wouldn’t,’ I warned him.

‘Oh, why not?’

‘Well, possibly rabies, for a start.’

We were seated in a taxi heading back towards Thamel inside half a minute.

‘For the last time,’ I said, exasperated, if you just leave them alone they won’t be a problem.’

‘But you said they had rabies!’

‘I only said possibly. It’s fairly unlikely, actually. You just have to be…careful.’

‘Well, you said!’ He folded his arms and stared sulkily out of the window. ‘I don’t think I want to do any more sightseeing!’

He brightened up when we got to the hotel and it was time to pay for the taxi. The driver had asked for 200 rupees when he picked us up, and I had just nodded at him, while Bob crammed himself into the back of the taxi, casting nervous looks outside all the time.

But now Bob decided it was time to haggle. I watched them for a moment, then went to get a drink in the garden. Bob joined me about ten minutes later.

‘What did you pay?’

‘Three hundred,’ he said, triumphantly.

I left him at the hotel and went off for a couple of hours, wandering around the backstreets taking a few photos, visiting shops and cafes, and generally building up my strength for an evening of Bob’s company.

But, in the event, he wasn’t too bad. He seemed to take a liking to the Nepalese beer, and was delighted to find he could get pizza in the hotel restaurant. We had quite a pleasant evening, and turned in early since the following day would be busy.

After breakfast, we walked out into Thamel. I had planned to indulge myself by taking the bus up to Jiri, a trip of one day, and then walking from there, which adds an extra week onto the trek, but is very much off the beaten track as far as regular trekkers go, but since I now had Bob with me, I supposed we’d have to fly into Lukla like everyone else, and leave the Jiri leg of it until another virtual time.

The first thing to do, though, was get him kitted up. Fearing the worst, I asked him what clothes he’d brought with him.

‘T-shirts, shorts, sandals.’

‘Is that it?’

‘Oh, I’ve also got a sunhat!’

‘Right, you’ll need quite a bit, then.’ There are scores of shops selling all sorts of outdoor clothing in Thamel, and I wasn’t worried about being able to find what we wanted. What did worry me slightly, was that Bob is quite tall, and he is also somewhat overweight. The average Nepali is neither, and my fears that the clothing could be a little on the small side for Bob were soon borne out. By lunchtime Bob was the proud owner of some very smart looking trekking trousers that came down no lower than his shins, and a couple of jackets that came down just to the top of his trousers, and the sleeves of which were a good six inches too short.

Still, he seemed happy enough.

‘How are the shoes, Bob?’

‘Well, a little tight, but they’ll do. It’ll only be for a few days, anyway. It was a good idea of yours to cut the holes in the toes.’

‘Um. Well, no one seemed to have anything your size, Bob. Think of them as a type of, er, mountain sandal. And…a few days? No, the trek takes a couple of weeks.’

‘Weeks? I need to get back for work!’

‘Oh, that’s okay. You needn’t come with me. You can stay here at the hotel and then get your flight home.’ He stared at me in a way that made me feel wretched. ‘Look, I’ll change your flight,’ I said at last.

‘Can you do that?’

‘Yes, it’s my virtual trip, this, so I suppose I can.’

I changed his flight, and then booked us both on a flight up to Lukla. The next morning, we were at the airport ready to fly up into the mountains.

‘Is that what we’re flying on?’

Personally, I love the little twin engine planes that do this journey, and hundreds like it all around the Himalaya, but Bob declared he’d only feel safe on a ‘proper aircraft’ – in other words a jet liner.

‘They can’t land in the tiny airfield where we’re going, Bob.’

‘Why not?’

‘Well, it’s, as I said, tiny.’

‘Oh.’

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He was airsick all the way.

Thank heavens it was virtual sick.

Virtually at Everest – part 1

I’ve not commented much on anyone’s blogs, recently, as I’ve rather gone into my shell for a bit. I do this at times, I’m afraid…engagement feels difficult…

And I’m fed up with having to sit around all the time with my foot in plaster and bandages. Even reading and writing is becoming a bit boring. Probably those two things are connected.

For my previous post, I revived my spirits somewhat by taking a virtual train journey in Sri lanka, so perhaps I should try something a little more adventurous this time, and put my virtually healed foot to a bit of a virtual test.

What about a trek up to Everest base Camp, then? That’d certainly test it out. And since I’ve got all of this virtual time at my disposal, perhaps I’ll do it the hard way.

But to start with, I’ll have a few days in Kathmandu; I always feel better for that. Just walking around Thamel and browsing in the shops there, stopping occasionally for tea or a snack or a beer at the Rum Doodle, ending up with armfuls of books I didn’t really intend to buy, handmade paper to paint on, handmade notebooks with beautiful cloth covers, some wood carvings…

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Luckily, this is a virtual journey, so I don’t have to carry them around with me. I’ll send them back home in a virtual package. But before I do that, I’ll just nip into this inviting looking restaurant for some lunch.

Oh, hell’s bells! Here’s Bob! ‘What on earth are you doing here, Bob?’

‘I heard you were a bit bored, so I thought I’d come along to cheer you up.’

‘Oh, that’s most, er, kind of you, Bob. Where are you staying?’

‘Kathmandu Guest House, Mick. Same place as you. In fact, I got the room next to yours.’

‘Ah. How…nice. Um, have you eaten, yet?’

‘I was just going to order. Oh, they don’t seem to have pizza here.’

‘No, they don’t. there’s a restaurant nearby where you can get one, though. Would you like me to show you where it is?’

‘No, that’s okay. Tell you what, I’ll try whatever you’re having. I’ll have the same.’

‘Really?’ Bob is probably the last person I’d describe as adventurous. I’ve never known him try anything new, and I just can’t believe he’s actually come to Nepal. I’ll ask him why once we’ve ordered some lunch. ‘I’m having the thugpa*, Bob. And a lemon and ginger tea.’

‘Sounds good.’

I order, still slightly shocked, then turn back to Bob.

‘What on earth brought you to Nepal, Bob?’ He looks down at the tablecloth, and seems a little embarrassed by my question.

‘Ah, there was a little, um, confusion, there.’ I wait, but he seems reluctant to continue.

‘And?’

‘I was planning to go to Naples. I think the travel agent must have misheard me.’ He looks up. ‘But it was great to bump into you. We’re going to have a brilliant time!’

‘So it was nothing to do with me being bored, then.’ He looks hurt.

‘Oh, it was! I just thought you’d gone to Naples, too. That’s where your wife told me you’d gone.’ My wife is, indeed, under strict instructions not to tell Bob where I am, and Naples must have been the first place she thought of.

Such is life, though. We chat a little, and the food arrives. Bob looks down at his with an expression best described as ‘disappointed’.

‘They’ve brought us soup.’

‘It’s thugpa, Bob. What we ordered.’

‘But I…’

‘You said you’d have what I’m having,’ I say, firmly. ‘I’m having thugpa.’

‘Oh, okay.’ He watches me eat for a few moments, then asks ‘Can I have bread with it?’

‘You can ask.’

He asks. The waiter shakes his head. Bob argues. He doesn’t want rolls. He doesn’t want brown bread. The waiter disappears, and moments later a boy dashes out of the kitchen and out of the front door of the cafe. A few minutes later he is back with a small package wrapped in newspaper. He runs into the kitchen. After another minute the waiter is out again with a plate, holding two slices of white bread, a knife, and a small mountain of oily butter, which he places down in front of Bob. Then he gives Bob a look that I can only describe as ‘withering’ and returns to the kitchen.

‘See, I knew they’d have it,’ Bob says, triumphantly.

Afterwards, he suggests we go sightseeing. ‘Let’s go to Swayambunath,’ I say, ‘You’ll find that interesting, I’m sure.’

‘Oh, what’s that, is it a castle?’

‘They don’t have any castles here, Bob.’

‘None?’ Sightseeing for Bob means castles. Or gardens. ‘I’ve got my phone with me. Let me take a look.’

‘Oh, I was rather hoping you’d have left that at home.’

‘No fear! I don’t want to get lost in a strange place! Now, what was that name again?’

‘Don’t worry about that, Bob. We’ll get a taxi.’

‘Oh, great!’ His eyes seemed to light up at the thought. ‘I know all about that! You have to haggle, right? For everything. I’ll do that, Mick. leave it to me!’

Well, although I seem to be saddled with a virtual Bob, I’m not going to let that put me off. Although I am painfully aware of the potential for him to offend people left, right, and centre, and possibly cause an international incident.

I suppose we’d better find a taxi.

*thugpa is a Tibetan dish, usually a clear soup of noodles and vegetables

Advice to New Bloggers (from Bob)

Bob has decided to go into journalism. Did I have any hints, he asked me? How should he go about it? In the end, I suggested he write a guest post for me.

‘What on?’ he asked.

Oh, I don’t know, I replied, possibly a little too casually. How about blogging?

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘I’ll do that.’

Over to you, Bob:

‘Right, so…why do we follow blogs? Obviously, it is so we can read the pearls of wisdom they scatter before us mere mortals. And if every post is a literary delight, then how much better would it be if we could get twice as many? Or three times? Or more? Everyone wants to read 20 new posts a day from their favourite blogger, all the more so if they receive email notifications of each one, as they get the added frisson of a ‘ping’ every few minutes as another notification arrives; an anticipation of the huge pleasure they will get when they read the new post!

‘Black print on a white background is so yesterday! Experiment with colours – green on blue, perhaps, or if you must use black, try it against a dark grey background. This ensures the reader gives your post the attention it deserves, rather than perhaps just scanning it quickly and moving on to something else.

‘But don’t stop there! Times New Roman and all that ilk are boring, boring, boring! Fonts such as Blackadder or Edwardian Script make it so much more fun! Again, your reader must work hard to prove how much they adore your posts if they are going to get to the point of posting any sort of relevant reply.

‘Size is everything. there is nothing better than a 4,000 word post to read because, let’s face it, your readers have nothing better to do with their time than read your post. After all, it’s probably the highlight of their day, so why skimp on their reading pleasure? Especially so if you have employed fonts and background colours similar to those mentioned above!

‘Is that okay, Mick?’

‘It’s a bit short, Bob. I thought you were in favour of long posts?’

‘Um…I ran out of stuff.’

Thanks, Bob. I’ll let you know.

Bob’s New Hobby

Bob’s wife has been urging him to do more work around the house.

I don’t mean things like the washing up or vacuuming the carpets – God knows, she tried that before, and it ended with her drinking an entire bottle of gin in one sitting – no, I mean the ‘little’ tasks such as putting up shelves or fitting new internal doors or hanging pictures.

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Just why anyone would encourage someone like Bob to engage in activities that involve sharp edges, high speed motors, cutting blades, heavy blunt instruments or pointy pieces of metal is totally beyond my comprehension, but who am I to judge these things?

I had occasion to go round to their house recently, and was startled when Bob proudly showed me the shelves he had recently put up in the alcove in the living room. Now, I am certainly not someone who regards himself as a handyman in that respect, and my opinion of DIY is that it is something to be avoided at all costs, but even I could have made a far better fist of it than Bob did.

The shelves contained a few books and two or three very large ornaments which, I suppose, had been chosen due to their shape and mass being such that they were unlikely to slide off of the shelves, despite the unusual slope of those shelves.

‘What do you think?’ he asked, proudly. ‘Gina is very pleased with them.’ He indicated his wife who was standing in the doorway. As I glanced at her, she gave me a look that was nothing if not inscrutable.

‘I’m quite impressed, Bob,’ I said, which was true, since I was unaware of him even changing a fuse before. ‘Is this the first time you’ve put up a shelf?’

‘Oh, no,’ he said, looking slightly hurt. ‘I put a shelf up in the garage, last week.’ I raised my eyebrows.

‘You’ve found a new hobby, then.’

‘I can’t think why I haven’t done this before.’ His enthusiasm was obviously sincere. ‘There is so much to do around here. We’re getting a new kitchen cabinet next week, which will need putting up, and it would cost a fortune to pay some bloke to come and do it, so if I do it we’ll save that money.’ I stared at him, quite unsure what to reply. ‘And Gina wants me to cut the hedge this afternoon,’ he continued. ‘I’ve never really been into gardening, but I’m rather looking forward to it.’

From the living room there came a crash! and the sound of heavy objects hitting a carpeted floor fairly hard. ‘What was that?’

‘Nothing,’ said Gina, mildly. I looked at her sharply, aware that she was usually Bob’s fiercest critic, but she merely smiled at me and sipped her tea. A little later I went out to the garage with Bob.

‘This is the shelf I put up,’ he said, proudly, indicating a plank of wood somehow clinging to the wall just below the ceiling. To get anything down, Bob would clearly have to use a step-ladder.

‘Why so high up?’

‘Gina suggested that it would be a good place to put some of the bigger tools, so they weren’t in the way. I stared up at the shelf from the opposite side of the garage. I could make out a heavy hammer, an electric drill, and…

‘Is that a chainsaw, Bob?’

‘Yes. Gina wants me to take down that old tree at the bottom of the garden. It was a real bargain.’ I stood silently for a moment, as a thought struck me.

‘A bargain? Where did you get it?’

‘At the Saturday market in Umbridge.’ The market was notorious for selling cheap imported electrical goods from the far east, most of which had faulty wiring with no earth, and dubious import licenses, and other, heavier, tools that had been chucked out because they were no longer reliable.

‘Right. Your idea?’

‘No, Gina’s. A friend told her about them.

‘Right. Um. And the hedge this afternoon?’ He indicated a hedge-trimmer that lay on the workbench. It was big. Very big. I don’t really know about such things, but it looked as though it was designed for seriously heavy work. ‘Is that electrical?’

‘No, petrol driven. Same as the chainsaw.’ I scratched my chin thoughtfully, and as I did so I gradually became aware of a muffled sound that was not unlike that of an electric drill, coming through the wall from the house. Bob seemed not to notice it, and I decided not to mention it.

‘Bob, were there any instructions with that?’

‘No, but it’ll be easy enough to operate. These things are all quite similar to each other,’ he said, confidently.

‘Do me a favour,’ I pleaded. ‘At least get a book out of the library on this, and learn how to use it before you start.’ He shrugged.

‘If you think it important.’

‘I do, yes.’

We strolled around the garden, and Bob pointed out the jobs and ‘improvements’ that he had been asked to do. Eventually, and much against my better judgement, I have to say, I offered to come and help him, or to at least keep an eye on him. He smiled broadly at this.

‘Great! I’ll get a few beers!’

‘We can have them afterwards,’ I said, hastily.

We went back indoors. In the living room, the shelves were still up, and still filled with books and ornaments. In fact, Gina was in the process of adding more books as we came in. I stared at the shelves, and I stared at Gina, who returned my stare coolly.

The shelves were now perfectly level.

In Which Bob’s Wife Goes on Holiday for a Week.

Bob phoned me up.

‘Gina’s gone off on holiday and left me to look after Duncan.’ Duncan is not their pet, although you might assume that from the way he said it, but their son. Now, when I heard that, several questions popped up in my mind. Namely, why had Gina gone off without Bob? Why had she left Duncan with Bob? But mainly, how on earth was Bob going to survive a week looking after himself and Duncan?

009a

Some celeriac. Very nice but totally irrelevant.

There are husbands who are less capable than Bob, but there are not many of them. At least, I think there are.

‘That’s fine, Bob,’ I said, my voice oozing false conviction. ‘You two can have a great time bonding over boy things.’

‘Bonding?’ he wailed. ‘He’s already said he wants me to take him to the football! And he’s hungry!’

Well, Bob does not like football. Basically, he does not understand football. But rather than pursue that line at that point, I said ‘Uh, hungry? When did Gina go?’

‘Monday morning.’ It was now Wednesday.

‘Monday?’ I asked, in genuine surprise. ‘What have you been eating?’

‘Well, we found enough stuff in the larder for lunch – you know, bread and stuff – and we ordered pizzas for supper. I had cereal this morning for breakfast, Duncan wouldn’t eat anything.’

‘Why not? What’s wrong with toast?’ There was a brief silence.

‘Well, actually, the toaster…um…you know…caught fire.’

‘Oh.’ A thought struck me. ‘And yesterday?’

‘Er, cereal, and, er, sandwiches…’

‘And supper?’

‘Oh, we both fancied pizza again, you know. Really fancied it. Um, they’re very good, those ones…’

‘Bob…’

‘Yes?’

‘Would you like one of us to go shopping with you?’

In the end, we both went round. The kitchen looked as though it belonged in a student squat. The draining board was temporary home to four pizza boxes, several bowls and plates and a host of dirty knives, forks and spoons. There were also three pieces of burnt toast and two pieces of very burnt toast.

The toaster was sticking out of the top of the bin, and the air was perfumed with the delicate scent of smoke.

There was no sign of Duncan.

For some reason, my wife never really seems to have taken to Bob. She narrowed her eyes and fixed him with what I can only describe as displeasure, and suggested that if he would like any help at all with the bloody shopping list, then he might clear up his bloody kitchen immediately, a tactic that actually proved most effective.

He had finished that, and the shopping list had been compiled (No, you can’t possibly live on pizza for a week!), when Duncan walked into the kitchen.

‘Oh, hi!’ he said to us, in a friendly, distracted way, before looking at Bob. Duncan is a perfectly affable fifteen year old, who unfortunately takes more after his father than his mother. He had an instruction book in his hand.

‘I’ve got it Dad, look!’ he said, pointing to the open page. ‘You can do toast under the grill – it’s that thing at the top. I’ve seen Mum using it for something or other – cheese on toast, I think.’

‘Well done!’ said Bob. ‘How does it work?’

‘Um…’ Duncan stared at the page for a moment, turned it over and looked at the other side, and then turned back. ‘Not sure. You’d better take a look.’

We slipped silently out of the house while they studied the booklet.

That week, Bob seemed to drop by our house an unusual amount, generally just for a chat – just to pass the time of day – but there was always an odd question somewhere in the conversation.

‘Where has Gina gone, Bob?’

‘She’s staying in Oxford. Wants to see lots of the churches around there, apparently.’

‘Pity about the weather.’ Outside it was bucketing down. ‘The forecast is for more of this all week.’

‘I know. I’m surprised she didn’t take her waterproofs. They’re still hanging up under the stairs.’

‘Perhaps she forgot.’

‘I expect so. Er, if you were Gina, where would you put spare batteries?’

The day before Gina was due to return, Bob decided to clear up the house. To be fair to him, we didn’t prompt him this time. I think it might have had a little more to do with fear of what Gina might say when she returned to something that resembled a municipal rubbish tip under her own roof. But it all seemed to go well and when he nervously asked us to have a look, clearly worried he might have missed something, we were surprised to see the house had even been vacuumed.

‘That was Duncan.’ The boy went up in my estimation.

‘The only thing that didn’t go right was the washing,’ Bob said reluctantly.

‘In what way?’

‘Well, I put the wash on (he seemed proud of having mastered the terminology), but something went wrong.’ There was a washing basket in the corner, the floor was covered in water, and the clothes it contained were clearly still soaking wet. My wife picked out a shirt and held it up.

Not only was it still dripping with water, but appeared to be for a small child.

‘How did you manage that? Those clothes are completely ruined!’ He looked hurt.

‘Don’t blame me, it was the damned washing machine! I left it on whatever setting it was that Gina last used, put the clothes and a washing tablet inside, and just switched it on.’ He pointed at the offending appliance.

‘Even I know that’s the dishwasher, Bob.’ I said. Inexplicably, he looked relieved.

‘Oh, that’s okay, then. I was worried it might have been on the wrong setting.’

Gina came back in the evening. Despite the week of heavy rain, it must be said that she had somehow managed to pick up a most impressive suntan.