Thursday, 9 August 2018

Spewing and sprawling on the Ionian Sea








When the captain of a boat sits on his own in the corner, hands over his face, his bowed head shaking from side to side, it is reasonable to suspect that all is not well.



Such was the scene Mrs Jones and I witnessed while on a boat returning to the Greek island of Corfu after a day trip to Albania. We were ensconced, below deck, in the covered area of a pleasure cruiser along with around one hundred other tourists. The Ionian Sea had been choppy since we left the port. Ten minutes into the voyage, and the boat was swinging from side to side like a giant hammock in a gale. At first it was amusing to watch: unoccupied chairs and tables sliding around like a scene from Poltergeist; young men zig-zagging to the toilet, grasping the hands of seated fellow passengers to steady themselves; and an Italian beauty, wearing more makeup than clothing, sliding to the floor and unable to get back up, her long legs akimbo.



From the outset I’d been making eye-contact with an obese, disabled Romanian gentleman sitting directly opposite, leaning forward on his walking stick, our mutual nods and smiles showing smug acceptance of the situation. Two old sea dogs like us were not going to be phased by a bit of choppy water. White foam rendering the windows opaque, as if we were all entombed inside an iceberg, didn’t worry us. Real men, made of sturdy stuff, while lesser mortals floundered. Suddenly, the boat lurched violently to starboard catapulting the 17-stone Romanian towards me; he landed at my feet with a thud.  



I, and others, feigned to stand up to help him – if we had, the pendulous swing of the boat would have put us all on our arses – but the prostrate fella oozed calmness and rationality.



‘I’m fine on the floor,’ he said, palm of his hand raised with the authority of a traffic policeman. ‘It’s the best place for me’.



And then the vomiting started. The kids who’d been screeching and running amok on the outward journey were now sat in a line, motionless, their faces displaying various shades of green and yellow. In response to their communal retching, a number of plastic shopping bags had appeared and were now being used to catch the dribbling puke. Some adults with sea sickness – including the two holiday reps – had braved the wobbly walk to the outside deck and were now vomiting over the side, their white-knuckled hands clinging to the rails.



A young man who had been laid horizontal across three seats, apparently sleeping, roused himself. He sat upright, appearing confused. In an instant, perplexity was replaced by horror and he sprung to his feet and made a dash for the toilet, his cheeks puffed out like an inflatable toad. He stumbled, falling in my direction, and for a second we were almost nose-to-nose. I resigned myself to being peppered with a semi-digested Albanian buffet, but – and give the lad his due – like a skilled fighter-plane pilot, he pulled off a last-minute swerve to the right and vomited over my shoulder into a recess behind me.  



Mrs Jones and I had remained seated throughout, absorbing the chaos around us: upturned tables and chairs randomly sliding back and forth; a chorus of retching and gurgling; white froth slapping against the windows as if the sea had morphed into a fizzy drink; and a rotund east European lying on his side at our feet, his chin resting on his hand, nonchalantly perusing the mayhem. As the boat continued to veer like a giant swing at a funfair, we had focused on the behaviour of our Greek captain. Oblivious to the stumbling, vomiting passengers, the skipper continually ventured outside onto the exposed deck – the open door letting in a howling gale – returning wet and windswept, only to then repeat the action.



But now the captain had sat down in our midst. I – and I suspect many others – looked to him for reassurance that everything was under control. But we couldn’t see his features: he was slumped, hands over his face, shaking his head from side to side. There was only one conclusion to be drawn: the boat was sinking.



Mrs Jones began texting a farewell message to the kids.



I considered ringing my son to remind him of the cabinet drawer where our will was kept.



My hand started to grope under my seat in search of a life jacket.



And then the horizontal Romanian calmly asked the question we all wanted answered. ‘Captain, is there something wrong with the boat?’



As if wakened from a trance, the captain lifted his head and looked around, perplexed, trying to locate the source of the voice that had intruded into his inner world. It took a few seconds to notice the fixed stare from hulk on the floor and realise this was his interrogator.



‘No, no, the ship’s fine,’ he said. ‘I’ve just banged my head on one of the rails outside’.  



Ten minutes later, the sea calmed and we arrived safely in Corfu town.



‘That was horrendous,’ said Mrs Jones as we got off the boat. ‘I thought we were doomed’.



‘Just a bit of choppy sea,’ I said. ‘I don’t know what all the fuss was about.’      





 



Image courtesy of bplanet et FreeDigitalPhotos.net





 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Five things that make me angry






I like to see myself as an easy-going fella who can smile at adversity and not take life too seriously. Yet, over the last few weeks, a number of situations succeeded in triggering annoyance, even rage. Here are five of my most snarl-inducing experiences.



  1. Telephone helplines where the person reads from a script

Information technology is awesome, enabling us to access the answer to any question at the touch of a button. In contrast, when it goes awry, it can cause such teeth-grinding frustration. Recently, my Internet connection ceased to function so I rang the provider to speak to an expert technician. The subsequent telephone conversation went something like this:



ME: Hi there. I can’t get an Internet connection. I’ve checked that the cables are all plugged in correctly and I’ve tried switching my router on and off, but I still can’t get online. So could I talk to a technician please?



HELPER: OK – what I’d like you to do first is to switch your router off, leave it for 10 seconds, and then switch it back …



ME: I’ve already done that – can you just put me through to one of your techy people



*Pause*



*Shuffling of papers*



HELPER: Would you now check the cable leading from your computer to the router and ensure that it …



Give me strength! If I was more compassionate I’d recognise what a shit, poorly-paid job it is working in a call centre but, at this particular moment, I want to put my fist through the telephone line and punch him in the face.





2.      People who believe they are transparent

There’s a football match I’m eager to watch so I’ve arrived at the pub early in order to obtain a seat with a full view of the television. I’m enjoying my third pint of cask ale when the game starts, and then … some bloke stands directly in my eye line, totally obscuring my view. I wait a while, expecting him to soon realise the error of his ways, but no, he remains oblivious.



After a few seconds of staring at the fella’s back, I shout, ‘Excuse me; could you move to the side so I can see the TV.’



He turns and looks at me with disdain – like he’s just seen me shit on his dining table – and, grudgingly, moves a few millimetres. If I wasn’t such a wimp – and he wasn’t four-foot wide with neck scarring and tattoos – I’d have stood up and confronted him.

Instead, I seethe in silence, muttering into the froth of my beer.     





3.      Pedestrians who don’t give way

I’m walking along the pavement/sidewalk with Mrs Jones when I notice three people, side-by-side, walking towards me. While my lady and I make some effort to make space for them, by turning to the side or adopting a one-in-front-of-the-other formation, they march on, three abreast, brushing us away from their flight path. Did they not notice us? Did they see us but thought, ‘Fuck you – we’re much more important?’



I vow that when I next meet such blinkered on comers I will stand my ground and shoulder them into the oncoming traffic (that is as long as they are not four-foot wide with neck scars and tattoos).





4.      When restaurants run out of your favoured menu choice

Following a detailed inspection of the restaurant’s menu, enticingly displayed in the front window, we enter and are shown to our seats. While the internal hunger monster forces saliva out of the corner of our mouths, we eagerly order our favoured dishes, only for the waiter to say,



‘Sorry sir, but we’ve run out of the goat’s cheese starter and the salmon main.’



Perhaps because he’s noticed my disappointment, he adds, ‘We’ve been really busy today.’



OK, so it’s the previous customers at fault for woofing down my cheese and salmon; the no-shows in the menu have nothing at all to do with the incompetence of the restaurant manager and in-house chef. After all, how could they know that demand might increase a bit on a bank holiday? 





5.      The blanket coverage of the royal wedding    

I have zero interest in the royal family. All that pomp, tradition and elitism leave me cold. So when Prince Harry recently hooked up with some wench called Megan Markle this royal wedding held the same allure for me as hearing about the marriage of a couple of strangers – that is, no interest at all.



Nonetheless, in the days leading up to the ceremony I was forced to endure blanket coverage by the media. Newspapers devoted page after page to the ‘happy event’. The TV news channels dedicated hour after hour to such riveting stuff as who would walk Meg down the aisle, what her wedding dress would look like, and whether Harry would opt for a pre-ceremony bowel movement or wait until after the service – OK, I made that last one up; but now I think about it, his colonic activity would have been more interesting than all the other guff.  



On the wedding day itself, Mrs Jones and I decided to escape the frenzy and hysteria by taking a very long walk in the hills that overlook our town. The solitude of the countryside was bliss. But when we opted for a pit stop in a rural village tavern, over the top of the bar was a small TV showing – you’ve guessed it – the royal wedding. Behind us, a group of middle-aged ladies excitedly discussed the wonders of the current queen, princes and princesses. Give me strength!



The sooner the UK morphs into a republic the better.




Photo courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

                                             







      



  






Tuesday, 17 April 2018

How to never write a novel







It is often said that each of us carries a book inside us. I don’t mean an actual oblong chunk of paper swishing around in one’s intestine, but a story – somewhere in the multi-corridors of the mind - that is clamouring to get out and is sufficiently interesting to comprise a saleable novel. Sadly, as I approach my 60th birthday, I’ve yet to find my potential blockbuster.



Instead of producing the next Harry Potter bestseller, what I have discovered is that I’m an expert in procrastination. When I sit down with the intention of crafting my masterpiece, I soon manage to distract myself onto another activity. It seems I have developed a deft range of strategies to impede and sabotage the creative writing process.  



Here are my wonderfully effective ways of putting off until tomorrow what you should be doing today:



1st-level strategies: (before sitting down in front of the laptop)

  1. Convince myself I need to use the toilet – it is amazing how paying attention to the bladder or bowel can evoke activity therein.
  2. Long for the smell of cocoa beans until there is no choice but to go and make myself another cup of coffee.
  3. Prod the flesh above my trouser belt to the point where vanity kicks in and I decide to go and engage in 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise on my static bike.
  4. Wonder if Mrs Jones is in the mood for love.



2nd-level strategies: (once I’ve opened the file titled ‘novel’)

  1. Decide that much more preparation is required before starting my story.
  2. Opt to research the history of World War II on the basis that the father of one of my peripheral characters fought in it.
  3. Reread my multiple ‘how-to-write-a-novel’ books.
  4. Succumb to the pull of ‘Naughty America’.



3rd – level strategies (Once I’ve started writing)

  1. Agonise over the third word of the first sentence and dedicate the next half-hour to flicking through a Thesaurus.
  2. Re-read book on punctuation to decide whether to use a semicolon, dash or comma in 1st sentence.
  3. Carry out a word count every 60 seconds.
  4. Succumb to the pull of ‘Naughty America’.    



4th – level strategies (Once I’ve written a couple of pages)

  1. Imagine a potential reader peeing her pants with laughter at what I’ve written (despite my novel being a crime/thriller).
  2. Decide it’s crap, and press ‘delete’ button.
  3. Reflect on the possibility that the fact that I loathe anything written by Ernest Hemmingway might indicate I’m clueless as to what makes a decent writer.
  4. Google how to access treatment for my sex addiction.



   

  Photo courtesy of freeimages.co.uk   

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The things my elderly mother shouts




My father had a fall last week and I accompanied him to the hospital, along with my 87-year-old mother. The old fella spent 4 hours in the resuscitation area of the Accident and Emergency Department - part of it in a cubicle, most of the time on a trolley in the corridor. My mother and I sat with him, perched on plastic chairs. Contrary to what you might expect, this extended period of waiting was rarely dull.



My lovely mum is hard of hearing and this long-term affliction, together with some short-term-memory loss, can cause confusion and disorientation. When she speaks she tend to shout, presumably as a consequence of her deafness. Also, as she gets older, she seems to be less inhibited about sharing what’s on her mind. While sitting in the crowded Accident and Emergency Department - surrounded by bleeping equipment, suction machines and the night’s ill and bleeding casualties - she announced the following:



  1. ‘LOOKING AT ALL THESE POOR SODS, WE DON’T KNOW HOW LUCKY WE ARE.’



  1. (When an obese nurse walked past and smiled in our direction) ‘GOODNESS, SHE’S A FAT LASS’.



  1. ‘I HOPE THESE CLICKS AND SQUISHING NOISES AREN’T GOING TO CONTINUE ALL NIGHT.’

I inform her that these noises are from emergency equipment that is keeping people alive. On hearing this, she expresses remorse, and says the Holy Trinity while making the sign of the cross.



(Thirty seconds later)  ‘THIS RACKET ISN’T GOING TO GO ON ALL NIGHT, IS IT? WHY DON'T THEY JUST TURN THEM OFF?’




  1. ‘SORRY, I’VE JUST TRUMPED – IT DOESN’T SMELL THOUGH’


5. (On being told that dad hasn't broken any bones and we can all go home, mum stands over dad and says) PICK YOUR FEET UP NEXT TIME, FAT ARSE - WE'RE NOT BRINGING YOU HERE AGAIN'.
    








Photo courtesy of PaulR at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Friday, 19 January 2018

Life's too short




On the tenth day of a fortnight’s holiday in Tenerife, Mrs Jones and I were flagging. A combination of Spanish sunshine, overeating, hefty consumption of San Miguel lager and late-night revelling at the local Irish bars had left us feeling weary. At 58 years old, we don’t possess the same level of stamina as in our young adulthood. We decided on an early night – not with any intention of rumpy-pumpy, as we were too tired for that nonsense; a sustained 30-seconds of pelvic thrusting was way beyond our capabilities. The (smallish) rational parts of our brains insisted that less alcohol and more sleep would re-energise us for the remainder of the holiday.



So at 8.30pm, rather than bouncing into town, we opted for a quiet drink in our hotel bar as a prelude to bed. Perched on a leather settee, we observed our spacious and opulent surroundings: sparkling chandeliers, sturdy-oak coffee tables, mirrored walls, a bar displaying endless varieties of liqueurs and spirits, and bow-tied waitresses - in white blouses and black skirts - attentive to the needs of their guests. And oh so quiet. People spoke in whispers, as if mindful to not corrupt the sumptuous surrounds. The most noticeable sound was the clicking of stiletto on tile, as a waitress scurried to replenish a glass. Mrs Jones and I sat in silence, sipping our lager nightcaps; the heaviness of our lethargy made speech feel too much of an effort.



But then something remarkable happened.



Very gradually, we grew aware of another noise. An intermittent growling could be heard behind us, and we turned to discover the source. A bald headed man, maybe in his 70s, was slumped in his armchair, a half-full glass of stout on the table in front of him. His eyes were closed, his hands clasped in his lap. At the same table were three vacant chairs, the empty glasses in front of them suggesting recent occupation by his companions prior to their desertion.



We watched him closely. He’d clearly been there a while, as evidenced by the viscous spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. Each inward breath evoked a rasping snore followed by a silent pause, this soundless phase extending over several seconds, sufficiently long to evoke our concerns that the old fella may have expired. It was clear that the waitresses’ thoughts were along similar lines, each covertly monitoring him for signs of life as they cleared neighbouring tables. When the outbreath arrived, we could detect a collective sense of relief in the room.  



I squeezed Mrs Jones’ hand and we turned to face each other. It seemed our minds were reaching a common conclusion.



‘Life’s too short,’ I said.



***



Four hours later we could both be found in Paddy’s Bar, each holding a pint of Caffrey’s, screeching a tuneless rendition of ‘The Wild Rover’.  




Photograph courtesy of Samandale at FreeDigitalPhotos.net