Sunday, 24 August 2014

Let me die a young man's death.
Not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death.
Not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death.

When I'm 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an all night party.

Or when I'm 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber's chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides.

Or when I'm 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one.

Let me die a youngman's death.
Not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death.
Not a curtains drawn by angels borne
'what a nice way to go' death.

Roger McGough

Thursday, 12 June 2014

A kiss with a fist is better than none.

Florence and the Machine

Monday, 6 August 2012

Warrior Gene

Boys with their toys are all the same. Usually they’re sweet, if annoying, and that’s doubly the case if they get all flustered about getting caught playing with them.

Usually, but not always. I worked hard, damn hard, to get this job, and I almost lost it when I caught the Colonel polishing his rocket in front of a screen that had all kinds of coordinates, but none of them DOD approved.

As it turned out, he flushed and bellowed but didn’t quite have the nerve to call my bluff about the union and get me fired. Like there’s a union in this place anyway. So it all turned out for the best. I didn’t mention anything, he put a lock on his cubicle door, and if the taxpayer had a problem paying for an extra couple of screen wipes then I never heard about it.

Not that a few cents, or a few billion, would have sent even the slightest ripple across the ocean of funding this place got, although you wouldn’t have thought it given the ’competitive pay rates and perks’ the company I worked for could manage.

It was a nice job, though. I’ve sweated in some lousy places and cleaned up some nasty things, and compared to them this cool, clean, air conditioned sprawl of boxes was a breeze. We even had a nice little canteen. It was cheap and clean, and we used to flirt with the guys who worked there, and sometimes they would give us the food they were going to waste because the barcodes were wrong.

Yes, a good job. The people we cleaned for were generally nice, too. Pink eared and clean shaven and, if they were a little arrogant, it was only because they were a bit afraid. I know that they were just boys really, but even so I never understood that. They all had snazzy uniforms and military ranks, and they were all fighting a war, but really. Three thousand miles behind a front line and twiddling with buttons all day. What did they know about fear?

Had they ever delivered a breach birth on a cold floor, or seen a cough get more and more chesty, or wondered quite how much the drink was doing of their husbands and brothers’ talking? I don’t think so.

Even so, they were afraid. You could see it in the things they put up on the walls, silly posters of dead guys from history and billowing flags and all that sort of nonsense. You could see it in the way they looked shifty before they started bragging about the exploits of other guys in far off lands, too. Guys who they enabled. Supported. Weren’t.

They were afraid, I think, because they were trying to be something they weren’t. Warriors. Stone cold killers. Soldiers. If they would have had any sense, or if their families had, they would have realised that not being these terrible things was something they should have been pleased about. But they didn’t, so they sat in clean air conditioned cubicles and sweated over screens and wished they were Conan the terminator, or whatever.

I was sorry. Even when I was doing it, I was. But I had the keys and the codes from the guys in the canteen, and I knew what chemicals to mix in what proportions and, hell, I had only taken this job for this reason anyway. Even so, when I set the timer and locked them in, I did feel sorry.

Now, three months later, I’m over it. Truth be told, I’m getting sick and tired of hearing about them on the news. They wanted to be warriors, after all. I just gave them the opportunity. And now, with a different name and a different passport and a different face (all healed now) I’m about ready to give another bunch the same gift.

Because it isn’t about bombs and planes and targeting matrixes. It’s about will. And what do boys with toys know about that compared to a widow whose sons they’ve murdered?


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Acts 20:35
If it doesn't hurt, it isn't real.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A designer knows that he has achieved perfection, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.


Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Monday, 15 November 2010

“Excuse me, I want to speak to your manager.”

I looked at her. Mouth like a dog’s arse. Nasty little eyes, probably sharpened by years of reading the Daily Mail. The tense, nervous look of a woman who hasn’t had an orgasm for decades. Or maybe ever.

“Did you hear me? I want to speak to your manager.”

I know that I should have pretended to give a fuck about what she wanted, but to I was going back to college at the end of next week so I sighed instead.

“Why?” I asked, breaking customer service guidelines for shop floor colleagues one, three and probably six.

Those nasty little eyes narrowed even more and I foun myself thinking about pissholes in snow. Decided not to mention it though. Not yet, anyway.

“I want to complain” of course she did “about this.”

So saying she thrust a can of something under my nose. I didn’t deign to glance down at it. Like Poirot I’m a man who knows the fucking score.

“It’s a can,” I said, and if she didn’t catch the bored contempt in my voice than it was only because that rat’s nest of a hairdo deafened her.

“I know it’s a can,” she snapped, loud enough to attract interested glances from some of her fellow shoppers. “Look what’s on it.”

She thrust it towards me as vigorously as a paratrooper with a bayonet. I rolled my eyes up before looking down. When I did I suddenly forgot all about how much I hated this job. Forgot about everything really. I was too surprised.

“Shit,” I said, and I meant it.

“Yes well,” the complainant said, obviously torn between joy at this fresh outrage and gratification that she was being taken seriously. “I don’t think that this is very funny, do you?”

And for the first time it occurred to me that bugger me rigid but the customer might be right after all. It wasn’t funny. Not ha ha funny anyway. Not funny like Chris Rock or Viz or the time that prick of a manger went over on his arse whilst discovering the spill on aisle seven. No, not funny like that at all.

More funny like the way bad things come in threes, or funny in the way that a light might switch itself on when there is nobody else in the room, or funny like the extra lump you suddenly find beneath your skin.

Which thought made me look down at the can again. She offered it to me and I hesitated. Then, reasoning that whatever was inside I’d only be touching paper and aluminium, I reached out and took it.

“So as I say, I would like to see your manger. I don’t know if this is supposed to be some kind of marketing, but it’s sick. Sick, I tell you.”

Her voice was getting shriller, much to the delight of the bored queue at the Lotto counter. I held the can up and examined the label more clearly. It had the store’s own brand logo on it. Had the monochromatic packaging that said cheap and cheerful and the nutritional information that said nah, you don’t want to read this. It looked like just one more can full of crap in a cut price supermarket.

Except, written upon the front in big bold letters, was the word cancer.

“My husband . . . “ the customer said, then stopped. She was scowling even more, and for the first time I realised that there was something behind that mean spirited facade. Something which had been hurt and hadn’t been able to find a way to heal.

I felt suddenly and horribly ashamed. Then I felt angry. Very angry. My grip tightened on the can, white knuckles as hard as the metal beneath, and I wanted to hit somebody with it.

I hit the intercom instead and, making an effort to keep my voice just as disinterested as always as I said “Manager to customer complaints, please. Manager to customer complaints.”

Then we waited, me and the customer and the can of cancer.

“Where was it stacked?” I asked more to break the silence than anything.

“In the tinned fruit section,” she said. “There is a whole shelf of them, between the pie filling and the peaches.”

I was relieved to see that the pain I’d glimpsed in her was gone, once more hidden behind shutters of pursed lips and hard eyes. I still felt guilty, though. And angry. Not sure where one ended and the ohter began, to be honest.

As the manager trotted busily up I think he sensed my mood. Or perhaps it was just that he saw the can. Either way he slowed, licked his lips and glanced around as if looking for an escape route.

“Manager to customer services” I barked into the intercom even as I caught his eye. “If you don’t mind, of course.”

I was hoping that it would annoy him but for once the officious little prick didn’t take the bait. Instead, looking as shifty as a shoplifter with one too many bottles of gin under his jumper, he came over to us.

“This lady has a complaint to make,” I said and held out the can. He was as hesitant to touch it as I had been, but I didn’t give him the chance to refuse. Instead I pushed the metal into his hands. He almost dropped it and I realised that his palms were slicked with sweat.

“Oh yes?” he said and looked at me. Not at the customer. No, not at her. Not one little bit.

That was weird. What was weirder was that he was looking at me with something close to pleading. He looked like a puppy that has been caught in a puddle of its own pee.

I didn’t enjoy his discomfort as much as I supposed I would.

“Yes, I have a complaint to make” the customer snapped. “And I would be grateful if you would have the common courtesy to look at me when I’m speaking to you.”

The manager swallowed and looked. For the first time I realised that he was blushing.

“I am sorry madam,” he said, and to my amazement he actually sounded as though he was. “Can I help you?”

“What do you mean by putting this vile . . . this vile joke I suppose you will call it . . . on your shelves?”

His mouth worked and he looked at me. I can’t remember ever seeing a man look so helpless.

“Well?” the complainant snapped, her voice a well practiced whip lash.

“We have to,” the manager whined. “The company decides what we stock and where . . .”

“But look what it says!” This time her voice wasn’t a whiplash so much as a sledgehammer “C-a-n-c-e-r. It’s just disgusting. What’s it even supposed to be?”

“I’m sorry,” the manager said. Then he did the impossible. He managed to do something which made me respect him even less. “I have to go, but young Michael here will explain it to you.”

Then he turned and, if he didn’t run, he walked in a way which was pretty close to it.

“Well!’ the customer said, and I had to agree with her.

“You know what?” I told her, making an executive decision. “I don’t know what this is supposed to be but you’re right. It’s sick. I’m going to take these off the shelves and put them in the dumpster. In fact I’m going to do it now.”

And I did.


That was six months ago.

There were almost a pallet full of the cans on the shelves and I got rid of them all. As far as I know they were never restocked, and nor were there any enquiries as to where they had gone. I left not so long after that to come up here to college.

Although of course I didn’t get rid of them all. I kept one. This one here. Somehow I could never bring myself to throw it away, and not being able to throw it away has turned into not being able to resist opening it.

I know that I shouldn’t. I mean, what could possibly come of it but something bad?

But I just have to. It’s the curiosity that’s doing it to me. The curiosity and the hurt I saw in that woman's eyes.

I don't know what's going to happen when I pop this lid but I've got a litre of acid, a litre of petrol and a lighter and if it doesn't kill me I'm going to kill it.

Wish me luck.