Oswald - A Sunrise short story

Oswald

A Sunrise short story

The rain finished lashing the car as Beckman approached the outskirts of town.

That’ll save on the carwash for another week.

He looked around the black-on-black interior.

Maybe not on the vacuum though.

A few minutes later, he eased the now-whiter Caddy into one of many free spaces on the lot of The Pegasus Corporation. Again he wondered why Mr Malvolio had chosen premises with such a surfeit of parking area. Seldom was there more than a handful of people onsite, and there wasn’t even anything like a quarterly staff meeting or annual shindig on the warehouse floor. Of course not—that would take up valuable time and money. The salesmen knew what they had to do—what other missives could be necessary?

He locked up and went inside the bland, boxy two-storey building. 

The comfortingly familiar tap-tap-ting of Miss Broomhead’s old typewriter floated into his ears as he walked up the single corridor leading to the bijou office suite.

I wonder if she actually prefers archaic technology, or if Ol’ Stingy won’t spring for a new one for his dutiful PA?

‘Afternoon, Mr Spiers.’ Her hands paused in mid-air.

‘Hi, Miss Broomhead.’ Today, her beehive sported two hairpins tipped with enamel bees. He was never sure whether these occasional items were (1) included for comic value, (2) a function of kooky individuality, or (3) an indication of appalling fashion sense.

Of course, he could have asked her, but that would have meant asking her.

Conversations with Miss Broomhead were on a Business Level Only. He didn’t know why—they just were. There was no contractual clause, nor previous faux-pas as a guideline. They merely hadn’t had a personal conversation during his entire tenure, so starting now would just have been odd.

The typing resumed—tap-tap overlaid with the chink of her two red bangles.

“Conversation” over.

He scanned down the line of dark wooden pigeonholes set on the opposite wall.

Hallwork, Yong, Quittle, Bludge, Rattertonhurst, Gusp, Zowl, Spiers…

…Gusp?

He leant in.

Where was Follic? Had Cad Follic’s pigeonhole been moved?

He checked all forty apertures.

No.

Had Cad Follic unexpectedly moved on to pastures new? Perhaps ones where the roster of employee benefits numbered in the positive integers?

‘Miss Broomhead?’

Hands paused. ‘Yes?’ A faint, querying smile on un-showy but precisely lipsticked lips.

‘Cad Follic no longer with us?’

‘No, Mr Spiers. He was attacked by a tiger, the day before yesterday.’

Beckman blurted out an impromptu laugh at the stupidity of it.

Her brow furrowed. ‘I don’t think it’s very funny, Mr Spiers.’

He swallowed hard. ‘No. Er… that is… I mean.’ He pointlessly ran a hand through his hair. ‘Really? Wow.’

‘Yes. He was pitching to a business client. The man’s pet tiger took offence at Mr Follic for some reason and… well… he’s no longer with us.’

No longer with us? Us=fired/quit, or us=six feet under?

Same outcome.

‘And Mr Gusp…?’

‘Is his replacement. He started yesterday.’

Beckman nodded robotically. ‘Uh-huh.’

She offered a querying look, and when he wasn’t forthcoming with anything tangible, she resumed punching ink onto paper.

Wow. Poor Cad.

Hang on?

Does that mean…?

He was above me in the Salesman of the Year rankings. Surely I’m up a place now? Surely. Mr Malvolio would never transfer Cad’s sales tally across to this new Gusp guy—it would be unfair advantage, not to mention uncharacteristically generous of the old swine.

Wow.

Woo!

I’m up a place! Best year yet!

He restrained himself, just in time, from punching the air. Instead, he collected his pay check advice from the pigeonhole and headed out to the car park.

An unfamiliar car had arrived, and exiting it was a new face. The face was barely five feet above the ground. The body was stocky, the hairline very receding. Beckman reckoned the guy was easily fifty.

This guy’ll be a pushover.

He slowed as they approached each other. ‘Gusp?’

The guy stopped and cocked his head. ‘Yeah?’

‘Spiers.’ Beckman jerked his head back towards the building. ‘You the new guy?’

‘Yeah.’ He offered a fat, taught hand. ‘Oswald Gusp. Taking over Cad’s territory.’ He shook his head sadly. ‘Sorry old business.’

Beckman hung his head in sympathy, while still not ready to accept the facts at face value.

Was Cad eaten? Mauled? Blinded? Had his Salesman Patter cranial lobe been gored? 

Either way, this was the competition now—or at least one of them. One of Pegasus’ forty road warriors.

I hope you know what you’re in for, Oswald.

Plus, note to self—Google “how to defeat an angry tiger”. Can’t be too careful out there.

‘So, uh, welcome I guess. Where were you before?’

‘I was… uh… kinda in the delivery business. But the same package every time.’

That didn’t compute, so Beckman went with, ‘Sure, well, good luck.’

Oswald nodded. ‘Thanks, Spiers. See you around, maybe. Got to check in with… Walter, was it?’

‘Warehouse? Yeah.’

‘Yeah. Good. Gotta fill the old trunk, ready to pick up where Cad Follic left off.’

‘Absolutely. See you around.’

Oswald nodded curtly and ambled off, chunky legs moving awkwardly, like a triceratops.

Heading in the opposite direction, Beckman couldn’t help slowing as he passed Oswald’s car.

It was a burgundy Lincoln Continental, post-Moon landing, pre-Beckman birth. On a bad day it might get parked across two different time zones. He peered inside. There was a booster cushion on the driver’s seat.

He watched the diminutive newbie disappear inside the building and eyed the acreage of Detroit iron.

Compensating for something, Oswald?

A couple of miles from his apartment, Beckman caught sight of the Caddy’s odo tick onto 99,996.

Not wanting to let the moment absentmindedly pass him by in the morning, he went round the block three times until the magic figure appeared, then rolled up to his apartment building and disembarked for a night in a familiar bed.

As he whipped up some food, fed Bogie the leopard gecko, and turned on the TV for background company, his mind ticked over what Oswald had said.

How could you deliver the same package many times?

If you were a pilot? A musician (at a stretch)? If your employer was really bad at matching orders to customers’ delivery addresses?

He set his ageing laptop on the table and Googled one-handed as he munched through pasta.

It didn’t take long to come up with results for Oswald Gusp.

His mouth fell open. His lower jaw might well have hit the tabletop with a comedic ‘Clang!’ 

He pushed the last of the dinner aside.

He absolutely, categorially, one-hundred-percent didn’t want to, but he pressed Play on the video anyway, curiouser than a cat with a death wish.

From the video’s thumbnail, he knew exactly what to expect, and didn’t want to see it—or need to see it—but saw it anyway. And when he’d seen generally what he expected to see, he unaccountably didn’t stop, not even when he saw specifically something he thought he’d probably see. Yet, having seen it, he was caught like a rabbit in the headlights—watching, disbelieving, pondering, then repeating the sequence until it was blindingly clear that he wasn’t dreaming, hadn’t been told the wrong name, or Googled the wrong name, and that he’d actually done what he’d done and seen what he’d seen. More than that—his eye had not been drawn to Oswald’s less than statuesque hight, nor to his significant pate. Something much worse.

His mouth was still hanging open, now drier than the Atacama.

He filled it with beer, then slapped the lid of the laptop down and tried to expunge from his mind what he’d just found.

He’s just another colleague. Just another name on the roster, another position on the rankings. Merely a different Schmoe to compete with, and, hell, probably hardly bump into, ever.

All the same, that’s a VERY different line on the resumé.

Did Malvolio know about that? Had Miss Broomhead followed up the references?

He doubted it. Her ultra-conservative head had been remarkably un-exploded that afternoon.

He took a moment, gazed at the TV screen, tried to let its dance burrow into his mind and wipe out the afterimage of Oswald’s past career.

Eventually, the more palatable world of fiction subsumed the frighteningly real discovery of his new colleague’s previous métier, and the evening returned to some kind of normalcy. 

Even so, he did set an especially early alarm. 

The clock on the wall in Miss Broomhead’s ante-room ticked round to 07:30.

He never considered it her own space per se, rather the Styx through which one had to pass to enter the realm of Mr Malvolio. Seldom did anyone get called into the CEO’s office—Beckman had only seen it twice—and the only time anyone looked forward to it was when they thought they might have hit the jackpot of Salesman of the Year. Such a man would walk in a mere mortal and return as a god, never needing to work again. Certainly never again needing to encounter Oswald Gusp and his… startling secret.

He carefully (some might call it “furtively”) leafed through the items on Miss Broomhead’s desk. Quickly he found Oswald’s resumé in the OUT tray. Handling it as though the paper itself was soiled, he checked the Previous Employment section.

“Package Delivery Services” – 2004-2017

Well, you’re creative with job titles, Oswald buddy.

He carefully replaced the paper where he’d found it.

‘Hey Beckman.’

He jumped three feet in the air—a feat which would have stunned his grade-school gym teacher. Beckman was no Bob Beamon.

He even managed to simultaneously turn towards the owner of the voice. Maybe the teacher had merely needed to switch his methods from encouragement to shock tactics?

‘Jeez, Wilbur! You wanna kill off a second employee within a week?’

Wilbur held up a hand. ‘Sorry, B. What gives? Why so early? Not like you.’

Beckman gestured at the desk. ‘Clearly, trying some industrial espionage before anyone arrives. Why you in so early? Not like you either, I might say.’

Wilbur held up the other hand. ‘Busted, okay?’

Beckman glanced up at Wilbur’s hat, which was almost always a baseball cap, and certainly different every day. Today’s legend was “INSERT HEAD HERE” with an arrow pointing downwards.

Probably a wise choice for an unusually early start.

‘You were coming in here too?’

‘Yeah, but something different.’ Wilbur checked around. The office was still patently empty. ‘The new guy.’

‘Oswald? Me too.’

Wilbur’s hands dove into his pockets. ‘Oh. Well. Cool.’

‘Resumé?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Why?’

‘Thought I recognised him.’

‘Recognised him?’ Beckman’s mind did cartwheels—many not pleasant.

‘Yeah.’

‘But I thought he was an…’ Beckman also checked around redundantly, and lowered his voice, even more redundantly. ‘… “adult performer”.’

‘Oh. Yeah. Then it is him.’

Beckman’s face instinctively creased into distaste, which he quickly shook away. After all, it wasn’t a crime—neither to be a viewer nor a… participant. ‘You know him?’

‘Know? No. Know of? Yeah.’

‘You’ve seen…’ He tailed off deliberately, thrust his eyebrows up.

Wilbur pointed. ‘Then so have you.’

‘Only last night.’

‘Ah.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Okay.’

‘Yeah. Guess I… misspent my youth elsewhere. That’s all.’

Wilbur nodded slowly. ‘Yeah.’

Silence blew through.

‘Is it on there?’ Wilbur nodded at the desk.

‘Yeah. “Package Delivery Services”.’

‘Ah. Right. So he’s not… ashamed or nothing. Not hiding it.’

‘He’d have trouble hiding…’ Then Beckman stopped, realising the word “it” could be misconstrued.

Too late. Wilbur, who could have construed it, didn’t.

‘Yeah,’ he chuckled. ‘Trouble hiding that.’ 

At which point Beckman was transported back twelve hours and Oswald’s unconcealed secret flashed through his mind again.

Thanks Wilbur. Trust you to be a jock about it.

Beckman sighed. Best not to be holier-than-thou ass and try to rise above it. Wilbur was a good guy—the best thing to a friend he had at Pegasus. Besides, if you couldn’t laugh about something like this, what hope was there? It was probably the most exciting thing to happen at work since Paulson Foss had inexplicably told Mr Malvolio what he (and pretty much everyone else) thought about the guy, and been fired on the spot. Foss was lucky—Malvolio could have simply let his pet Gila monster Bruno loose, and washed his hands of any unfortunate poisonous bitings which might have transpired.

Beckman forced a chuckle. ‘Yeah. I think it’s safe to say Oswald isn’t built in proportion.’

‘Bet he gave loads of glowing references. All from people called Candy or Lolly, happy to confirm that he was able to deliver packages twenty-four seven.’

‘He’s trying to cure headaches now—back then he was more likely to give a girl one.’

Get your mind out of the gutter, Beckman Spiers. This is a co-worker.

His face fell. Creditably, Wilbur’s did too.

‘We all got secrets, B.’

Beckman nodded, even though he personally had an entirely skeleton-free closet. ‘You won’t tell I was…’ He pointed at the desk, and around the office.

‘Course not. I mean, I was too. You know, just confirming it was him. Idle curiosity, is all.’

Beckman nodded more vehemently. ‘Sure. Past is past. Like you say, we’ve all got something.’

‘What’s yours, B?’

‘Huh?’

‘Your little secret?’

‘Secret?’

‘Misdemeanour.’

‘Hmm?’

‘Little thing in the past. Slight untruth on the resumé.’ Wilbur leant in.

Beckman thought quickly. ‘Nothing. I got nothing.’

‘Nothing?’

‘Nothing.’ He shrugged.

Wilbur narrowed his eyes, then smiled. ‘I reckoned so. Paragon of virtue, you, Beckman. You always said, I always knew.’

‘Certainly no… unmentioned previous… entertainment-related roles.’

‘No. Sure. Me either. Well, I mean, I did, but, you know.’

Beckman unavoidably recoiled slightly. ‘Entertainment-related? You?’

‘Sure. I used to mix with the ladies.’

Don’t get jealous now.

‘ “Mix”.’

‘Relax. I was a vision mixer on Miss World for ten years.’ Wilbur smiled knowingly at his wordplay.

‘That’s solid, Wilbur.’ He looked around. Go on—ask. ‘Did you, you know…?’

‘Get any?’

‘Yeah.’

‘No.’

‘Right.’

‘Yeah.’

Beckman nodded at nothing in particular. ‘So, to work, I guess.’

Wilbur straightened his cap. ‘I guess.’

‘Yeah.’ The clock ticked. ‘About Oswald?’

Wilbur brightened with excessive interest. ‘Yeah?’

‘He starts at zero on the sales chart, right?’

‘Sure. This because it means you’re up one place now?’

‘No.’ Beckman coughed. ‘Well, yeah.’

‘You’ll do it, B. I have faith. Tenth year for you this year. Gotta mean something, right?’

‘Still a ways to go. But, yeah, I guess seventh place is my best yet. Might be in with a shot.’

Wilbur smiled cruelly. ‘Oughta release a few more tigers, huh?’

‘Across state, sure.’ Beckman replied with a false impish grin. He’d never knowingly cheat to win the prize. He was probably the only guy at Pegasus who wouldn’t bend the rules to get the annual gong-and-passport-to-retirement. He also knew Wilbur knew that too.

‘Wonder if they put the poor cat down.’

‘Hope so, for Oswald’s sake.’ He clicked his fingers in annoyance. ‘Shoot. If I’d known right away, I could have brown-nosed Malvolio into taking over Cad’s territory. Heck of a lot better patch than my tumbleweed breeding ground.’

Wilbur nodded. ‘What’re you gonna do, huh? Easy come, easy go. At least no tigers out your way.’

‘Hope to hell not.’

‘Snakes though.’

‘And more than twelve-inch ones.’ Beckman winked. ‘See you around, Wilbur.’

‘See you, B. Sell well.’

Beckman headed out to the Caddy, keen to put all thoughts of wildlife—desert-dwelling, garden-dwelling, or trouser-dwelling—out of his mind.

First order of business: coffee.

It was just after two in the afternoon, while Beckman was gallivanting through his fifth Coffee Planet serving of the day—trying to convince himself he’d be able to meet Oswald in the future without glancing downwards—when his cell rang.

‘Wilbur?’

‘Hey, B.’

‘This is unusual. What—we make a mistake?’

‘Huh? Oh, no—it’s him.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’

‘So?’

‘So? Oh, yeah. He was just here.’

‘You didn’t say anything?’ Beckman interjected, suddenly horrified.

‘Say? That? No. No—he was just putting in a huge stock order. Need to get a semi-trailer loaded.’

‘Oswald? On his first day? A semi-trailer!’

Walter’s sigh veritably puffed through the speaker. ‘Yeah. Said he went back to the tiger guy. Cad never closed the sale. Guy was keen—maybe out of pity now. Anyway, he’s this hot shot—wanted to put the product on his employee benefit medical plan. Got a lot of employees. So—semi-trailer.’

‘Ah, snap.’

‘Yeah.’

Beckman pushed his own sigh down the mouthpiece. ‘Thanks for calling, Wilbur.’

‘Sure. Thought you should know.’

‘Yeah. Thanks.’

‘Beckman?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Puts him back above you now.’

‘Already? Ah, snap,’ he breathed.

‘Sorry, B.’

‘Yeah. Thanks Walter.’

‘Sure.’

Beckman thumbed the End button. Drained his coffee.

Shook away the disappointment.

‘Easy come, easy go.’ 

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How Many Yellows Are There?

‘There are seventeen,’ the salesman said. 

Cameron Beg nodded. 

‘Would you like to see the colour chart?’ continued the salesman, Simon Gillfish. 

Gillfish was a slim man with a penchant for icing sugar, and would be thirty-six in four years time. He reached onto the wall-mounted rack and pulled out the folded glossy, opening it to allow his customer to see.

Beg’s eye roved over the small coloured squares set in a single row across the middle of the pamphlet. ‘I’m looking for a yellow,’ he said, as if to clarify.

‘Well this is the right chart,’ Gillfish replied, a little bemused.

‘Hmmm.’ Beg pondered the graduated illustrations of colour. ‘Is this a fair representation of the actual colour?’ he asked finally.

‘As good as it can be made, sir.’

‘What about this one?’ Beg asked, touching his finger to the fifth square from the left.

‘Sunshine,’ Gillfish said, reading out the word under the colour. ‘A good choice.’

‘Hmmm.’ Beg gently screwed up his face. ‘Not very yellow, is it?’

The normally calm salesman, five years in the paint department, began to feel his hackles rise just a little. Got a bit of a one here, he thought. ‘What about…Golden Orb?’ he suggested.

‘I was looking for something yellower.’

‘Turmeric?’

‘Not really yellow, is it. Less yellow than Golden Orb, in fact. Do you see?’

‘Yes,’ Gillfish lied.

‘Something less yellow than this one, but more yellow than that one.’

‘That one’s too yellow?’

‘Of course, isn’t it obvious? It screams yellow. It’s so vulgar and in-your-face. It’s too overstated.’

‘Too yellow?’

‘Well perhaps not too yellow, but too obviously yellow.’

‘Ah.’ Gillfish was wishing he’d taken his lunch break a little earlier.

‘That one’s just screaming  “Look at me, I’m yellow!”.’

‘It is bold, I agree. Some people like that.’

‘Well they’re peasants. Yellow, yes, but not attention-grabbing-look-at-the-size-of-my-love-truncheon yellow. It makes me want to vomit. Copiously.’

Gillfish quickly ran his hand over the right side of the chart. ‘These are more understated. Perhaps…’

‘That one?’ Beg asked incredulously, jabbing a finger at the offending square. ‘That doesn’t deserve to be called yellow. It’s little more than a very bright cream. Pretentious colour. Yellow my arse.’

The salesman took a long breath, fighting his rising impatience, and decided to take a slightly different line. ‘Did you have a colour in mind?’

Beg stared at Gillfish like the man was insane. ‘Yes! Yellow!’

‘I see,’ Gillfish said, backtracking. ‘Like… this?’ he suggested, daring to hope, gently touching a colour in the centre of the chart.

‘Now you’re taking the piss. Not yellow like that. More…’

‘Yellow?’ Gillfish mooted.

‘Yes! Not this piece of crap. Less yellow than these two, but more yellow than, well, most of the rest. And no slutty yellows. Not the kind of yellow that pulls up outside a nightclub in a Ferrari and steps out hoping all the women are looking at it. But not some prissy yellow that spends all Saturday afternoon at home watching the golf. Just a good, honest, pint-of-beer-and-a-packet-of-crisps yellow.’

Gillfish nodded sagely, hoping with all his might that armed raiders would break into the superstore and kill him. ‘This one?’ He pointed at a shade halfway across the sheet.

Beg looked like he would explode. ‘You’re not listening, are you?’ he demanded.

‘Sir, this is the only chart of yellows we have. As you see, there are seventeen.’

‘Hopeless,’ Beg said, throwing his arms up. ‘I should sue you all under the Trades Descriptions Act. Yellow? A colour chart purporting to display shades of yellow? Horse manure. I wouldn’t let my daughter out at night with any of these so-called yellows. It’s a travesty.’

‘I’m sorry sir.’ Gillfish prayed that this meant the lunatic was going to give up and leave.

‘I mean, all I want is yellow. Is that too much to ask?’

‘As I say, sir, this is the manufacturer’s chart of yellows.’

‘Well they’re obviously colour blind. Or have no idea about what a good shade of yellow is all about. Pimpled morons, the lot of them.’

‘Who are?’ 

Gillfish looked round at the sound of this new voice. A lady was approaching. From Beg’s expression, the salesman could tell that this was his customer’s wife. Poor woman, he thought.

‘The paint company,’ Beg elucidated. ‘No idea of colours, these people.’

‘Really?’ Mrs Beg queried.

‘I mean, all we want is a nice yellow.’

‘Red, darling.’

Cameron Beg looked taken aback for a second, then realisation dawned. ‘Oh, yes. Red.’

Gillfish felt his life force drain away.

Beg looked at him. ‘Sorry, yes, red.’

Gillfish nodded silently, straining to hear the sound of aliens arriving in the car park to abduct him and perform atrocious experiments on his genitals. But it was unhelpfully quiet.

Suddenly his torture was interrupted. Mrs Beg reached out an arm and lifted a pot of paint from the rack. ‘What about this one, darling?’ she asked, showing it to her husband.

‘Perfect.’

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

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Igbad’s Rollerblading Stunts

In 2018, Tarik Igbad of the Czech Republic was crowned World Rollerblading Champion. Little is known of this diminutive and foreign genius, but his enthusiasm and dedication to his craft are an example for rollerbladers everywhere.

In 1997 at the age of fifteen, Tarik’s father sold all the family’s worldly possessions to buy his only son the birthday gift of his dreams. Initially, Tarik’s progress was slow, and his father began to have second thoughts about the decision, but in October 1998 he was rewarded when Tarik learned to stand upright on the wheeled skates.

Tarik’s confidence began to grow, and by late 1999 he could be seen shuttling up and down the street outside their house in the suburbs of Prague. All the children in the neighbourhood would line the filthy pavements, beating sticks against the gutter and cheering as Tarik weaved along, wearing his favourite yellow bobble hat and blue skates.

Egged on by the crowd, and with an eye to impressing local teen beauty Ivana Belzak, Tarik attempted his first stunt. It wasn’t a pre-planned affair, just a daring spur-of-the-moment lunge for greatness. Cast down in the road was an empty tin of kidney beans, lying on its side. Passing by to check out the situation, Tarik ‘bladed up the road, made a full turn and began his run up. He built up a good head of speed, a Mexican wave of cheering urchins following him, and leapt ebulliently into the air.

A year later, after recovering from the broken collarbone and shattered knee, Tarik Igbad was ready to rollerblade again. Yet now the streets were empty. Even Ivana didn’t emerge from her front door to watch him. This made him all the more determined. Day after day he practised, leaping over chalk marks scribed in the road, until he was ready to try the can of beans again.

It was a bright warm day in June 2001 when Tarik began that run-up again, trying to banish the memory of failure from his mind, not daring to gaze into windows, to try and look past curtains, to wonder if anyone—especially his beloved Ivana—was watching him.

He cleared the tin by a full half-inch and punched the air in delight. Now he was ready for the big time.

Buoyed up, he coasted back to the site of his jump and cast the empty tin aside. Things were going to get serious. He went over to the pavement and fetched his second obstacle; a spaghetti tin. He laid it on its side and powered off for his first run.

Tarik has always candidly admitted that his first attempt was aborted, his mind distracted at the last minute by the colourful writing on the can’s wrapper. But he was not to be beaten, and on his second attempt he sailed majestically over with five-eighths of an inch to spare. He was ecstatic. He was also level-headed and knew not to push himself. He drew a line under that greatest of days and went to bed, almost tearful with joy.

A fortnight later, and with curtains undeniably twitching in the houses that lined what was fast becoming his arena, Igbad jumped the spaghetti tin with it standing upright. By the time evening came and his margin of clearance had bettered an inch, he was sure he saw Ivana Belzak’s face outlined behind her thin bedroom curtain.

By the following week, with an almost showy Tarik having graduated to two tins side-by-side, Ivana was out on the pavement, watching again, and the number of local children joining her grew day by day. It was late October when, after his first successful attempt to clear a hurdle two tins deep, Tarik finally got up the courage to speak to his beloved, and that night,  whilst still wearing rollerblades, the new local hero lost his virginity down by the stagnant canal backwater.

By early 2003, and with Ivana now a constant companion, Tarik Igbad progressed to yet more amazing stunts. Quickly he’d mastered jumping diverse obstacles such as four spaghetti tins in a row, two bricks arranged in an inverted V, and a miner’s helmet. Kids were coming from nearby streets to watch, and even his parents had stopped beating him. Late in the year he held a demonstration event, charging a small entrance fee, and used the proceeds to help buy a new pair of ‘blades to replace his very worn blue set.

Everything snowballed from there. There was the odd injury, notably a broken finger when attempting to jump a line of pre-cooked chickens, but he was already the talk of the city and much of the country too, signing autographs and resisting the temptation of groupies.

To celebrate his engagement to Ivana in October 2005, Tarik held a charity event, jumping, amongst other things, a Yamaha motorbike (upright), a disused lawnmower, a bus queue, a bus queue where the participants hadn’t been pre-warned, and the Minister Of Finance in a leotard. For the grand finale he whipped the crowd into a frenzy before jumping over three women dressed as John Dory blanched in milk with a herb sauce and steamed asparagus.

Now famous across Europe, Tarik undertook a world tour to thousands of screaming fans. It was not without incident though, nor controversy. In Milan he grazed both palms after landing awkwardly following his signature jump over six men with red hair holding jars of honey. Far more notable was the now infamous “Thames incident” which occurred during his spell in England.

Grandstanding, Tarik claimed on 17th June 2008 that the following day he would jump the river Thames. Crowds lined the London Embankments, their mood anxious but excited, waiting for the incredible stunt to play out before them. Tarik, however, occasionally prone to the odd practical joke, was talented but not insane. At 2pm he proudly jumped the river a few miles from its source in England’s heartland, clearing the fifteen inch stream with ease. The protestations of fair play were as loud as the cries of ‘foul’, but Tarik, although he left England knowing he could never play there again, retained his mantle.

From stunt jumping, he eased smoothly into competition and his prize money rocketed. Ivana his wife was always by his side and in late 2010 he bought her a square mile of the Pacific Ocean just two hours flying time from the Galapagos Islands and had it marked out with buoys in vermilion and chestnut, her two favourite colours. She knows she can go there whenever she wishes.

As new World Rollerblading Champion, Tarik hasn’t changed much. He’s still blonde and blue eyed, loves his fans, wishes his parents would accept him, and is always looking for a new challenge. 

And he still carries that empty tin of beans wherever he goes.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle : The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

weather ant

Weather Ant

For many generations, mankind has sought to forecast the weather, whether it be for personal interest or the public good. To put the latest development into context, we must briefly look at how weather forecasting has evolved through history.

The United Kingdom provides the sternest examination of the forecaster’s art, with its unique location and dreadfully dull inhabitants who seem unduly preoccupied with the clemency or otherwise of the conditions. 

Early cave paintings, discovered recently in Bromley, depict a man called Brian sticking his head out of the cave entrance and looking heavenward, then retreating inside to report to his commune that “It looks like rain”. This is followed by a discussion on the matter, particularly “What a lot of weather” they were apparently having. This tedium lasted until the following morning when it was time for Brian’s ritual sky-gazing and the pursuant soporific deconstruction. It appears that this pattern continued for many days until the commune realised that none of them had been out to hunt, and suddenly starved to death.

Victorian-era Derbyshire was graced by the legendary Mrs Climate (real name Geoffrey Whimsy) who astounded the small community of Speg with her predictions. Every evening at eight o’clock, Mrs Climate would announce her forecast for the ’morrow in the town square. The insight was based upon her perpetual sufferance from the common cold; if snot ran from her left nostril, it would be fine; if it ran from her right, it would rain. Records of the time show that her accuracy reached as high as fifty-six percent, and she was highly publicised until her untimely death in a strawberry picking incident.

The most notable advance of the nineteenth century was Waller’s Patented Weather Forecasting Machine, designed by Xavier Waller in 1897. This was the first mechanical device dedicated to climatology; an incredibly complex contraption roughly the same size as four pot-bellied pigs. Powered by a mulch consisting of finely shredded butterfly livers marinated in vinegar, the noisy machine span its various cogs and wheels, tapped its various tappets and whirred its sundry whirrs for nine hours before turning a dial clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on the predicted clemency. The first demonstration in Hyde Park was attended by some ten thousand people, and memorably the machine’s first public forecast was correct. However, rising the next morning to see the prediction come true, a self-satisfied Waller was mobbed outside of his front door by the Butterfly Protection League and elbowed into a coma.

Latterly, the steady advance of computers has contributed greatly to the accuracy of forecasting, but naturally is a costly process. The most recent trials in weather prediction have centred around a simple but effective process involving livestock.

Specifically, ants.

It has emerged that the Met Office have been undertaking secret forecasting tests within the bowels of their HQ, and, more startling, that some publicly distributed forecasts over recent months have not in fact been the result of immense computing power;

In 1998 a dull forecaster named Melvin Tuttle was examining his ant collection at home when he discovered that one of the tiny tunnels in soil of the antarium had collapsed, stranding an unfortunate ant. Not wishing to disturb the colony, Melvin left the ant to its fate—running in circles round the chamber—and set off for work, in the rain. That evening, he returned to find the ant still running. The weather, he remembered later, was still inclement. The following morning, it was still raining and the ant was still running. That evening however, the ant was very subdued, even though the weather had not subsided. By first light, Melvin was up, checking out the ant-ics. The isolated pet was digging. Outside it was fine.

This behaviour went on for a few days, and Melvin began taking notes. Soon, a pattern emerged. By noon, it seemed, the ant had a good idea of what the weather would be like for the following day—running for rain, quiet for sun, digging for cloud.

Melvin named the ant Predicto, and kept records of its success. He also wittingly caused another tunnel to collapse within his glass-contained ant colony, trapping another specimen, so he could ascertain whether Predicto’s talents were unique.

They were not.

Excited by his discovery, Tuttle passed on his findings to the director of the Met Office, Olly Solly, who initially laughed the man out of the building. Luckily for Tuttle, though, it was budget time for the business, and Solly’s brow was furrowing over the increasing costs of his bank of mainframes. Realising that by retaining the powerful computers, he would instead be under financial pressure to cut back on his attendant array of seven blonde secretaries and start spending more time with his wife Molly Solly, a brickie. As such, the director swiftly called up Tuttle and entered into discussions with the man he’d hitherto called an “insect molesting timewaster”.

Soon, Tuttle had relocated his ant farm to the Met Office HQ and began parallel forecasting alongside IBM’s finest. After a short period of adjustment for Predicto and colleague Foretello to get accustomed to the new microclimate, the ants began to match the computer for the accuracy of the following day’s forecasts.

Things were going well until Predicto died unexpectedly. Tuttle, however, was quickly on the case, and after a short period of mourning he installed a replacement—also called Predicto—into a larger cavern, this time with its own food supply and some miniature dirty magazines.

As different generations of Predictos and Foretellos came and went, Solly began to scale back his computing resources and rely more heavily on the combined talents of the ants. Every individual, when segregated from its peers, quickly took on the mantle of weather forecasting, unearthing a behaviour previously unknown to naturalists.

The Met Office managed to keep the whole deal quiet until last week, when Ant Rights protestors broke into the office and absconded with the colony. This spells trouble for Solly and Tuttle, who are known to be in discussions about whether to revive the project or return to the age of computing. They will surely be mindful of yesterday’s revelations linking Martin Whisper, Chairman of IBM, with the head of the Ant Rights Group, the shadowy Martina Whisper.

One thing is certain; we have not heard the last of animal experimentation in this field.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

chepstow

2.45 at Chepstow

‘Well Tony, a lot of excitement about this race coming up.’

‘Yes, and a big crowd here today for what should be a real test of Digger’s comeback after his long spell out of racing.’

‘Indeed. A lot of people really keen to see Max Digger back on form after that horrific bathroom cabinet accident eight months ago. And today at Chepstow he’s got the horse to do it on.’

‘Absolutely, Carl. Lager And Cheesecake is on a good run of results. Second at Windsor last week, winner at Fife yesterday, and of course he’ll be very buoyed up by his recent engagement to Smell The Glove.’

‘A very happy horse, that’s for sure. Looking great today. And there he is in fact Tony, just entering the paddock. Digger of course in his usual silks, jet black with candy pink crescents.’

‘Almost as if he’d never been away. Amazing to think that he’d achieved so much during his recuperation, opening that very successful chain of replica silk outlets and getting engaged himself. And she’s a great girl, Monica Ball-Boy, and no stranger to tragedy herself.’

‘The highlight of the summer for me was his appointment as the Secretary General of the United Nations.’

‘He’s done a lot of good, that’s for sure.’

‘Anyway, back to the race folks, and all the horses are now in the paddock. Yes, Rumbling V8 has just walked in and that completes the line-up of seven.’

‘So here’s the full starting line-up for the two forty-five at Chepstow. Lager And Cheesecake ridden by Max Digger, who we’ve already heard about. Rumbling V8 ridden by Simon Chalk in the puce and violet stripes. Tell Me Why You Like The Beatles is a bit of an outsider, but I’m sure Tim Timson will give it his best. Tim of course in his yellow and orange diamonds. Death By Chocolate is very much fancied by our colleague Ray, but his rider today is the inexperienced Mike Salamander, and I doubt very much whether he’s up to the challenge. Mike is in scarlet and violet with white flashes around the nipples. Ugh today is being jockeyed by Gary Uptown, wearing the Smithson colours of indigo cap and gentian shirt. Ugh was a faller yesterday at Plymouth but is still in good shape for today’s race. Just coming into your shot now is Mind The Doors, and on his back in the vermilion and cream zigzags is Fred Hall, a winner on Wednesday at Epsom on this mount. Not his distance today, though, I feel. Last of all, and the rank outsider, is Melvin Godstone on One Nation Under A Groove, wearing lime with chocolate stars.’

‘Thank you Tony. The going here is good to firm for this the Wichfords Peanut Butter Handicap over 2 miles and four furlongs. Really Lager And Cheesecake’s distance, this.’

‘And that explains why he’s favourite, Carl. Here’s the latest betting; Lager And Cheesecake five-to-four on, Ugh four-to-one, Death By Chocolate five-to-one, Mind The Doors eleven-to-two, Rumbling V8 and Tell Me Why You Like The Beatles are ten-to-one and One Nation Under A Groove is a-hundred-to-one.’

‘Digger is looking very confident there, Tony.’

‘Well he has a great mount. No sign of nerves at all.’

‘Now the first horse is already in the stalls. Next in is the grey, Mind The Doors. A great win by Fred Hall on Wednesday, came up through the field during the last three furlongs and took the post by a clear head.’

‘Yes, a great performance, Carl. A bit out of his league today, though.’

‘I agree. And into the stalls goes One Nation Under A Groove. Potential to be a great flat racer this mare, but a season away from a win. Just finding her preferred distance at the moment.’

‘There’s a real buzz around the stands now, a lot of expectation.’

‘This could be one of the races of the season. If you’re listening, it’s good to have you with us.’

‘And they’re all in now. Last stall closed. And they’re under starters orders…and they’re away.’

‘Two miles and four furlongs, and nosing ahead from the off is One Nation Under A Groove, just ahead of Ugh and Death By Chocolate.’

‘Mind The Doors settling into the middle of the pack, Rumbling V8 in last place.’

‘Did you have a good weekend away last weekend?’

‘Marvellous, Carl. Bath is a wonderful city.’

‘Is it a city, Tony? I don’t think it officially is.’

‘Well, a wonderful town, and great weather too.’

‘How did Annie enjoy it?’

‘She had a great time. It was a shame you couldn’t make it.’

‘It was nice that you could take Annie, I’m grateful.’

‘She’s great company.’

‘I’m lucky to be married to her. Twenty strong years.’

‘Great in the sack, too.’

‘Isn’t she?’

‘Wow, the things we got up to. She’s a fireball. Made me feel ten years younger.’

‘Did she go down on you?’

‘At the drop of a hat.’

‘Annie’s a wonder. Could suck the QE2 through a novelty straw.’

‘Real staying power too. I don’t know where the hours went.’

‘You didn’t keep the rest of the hotel awake, I hope?’

‘No complaints, that’s for sure.’

‘Because she can scream.’

‘She certainly did.’

‘And a good look around the sights, too?’

‘The Roman baths were a real highlight. You can almost feel the history of the place. And the mosaics? Truly fascinating.’

‘She said that was one of her favourite parts.’

‘The amount of time those people must have spent. All those tiny squares. Real craftsmanship, real vision.’

‘They were a monumentally successful civilisation.’

‘You’ll have to go yourself.’

‘I absolutely will.’

‘And over the line goes One Nation Under A Groove, the winner by seventeen lengths.’

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

advanced sexual positions

Advanced Sexual Positions

“The Illuminator”

Good for  :  Reducing the “To Do” list

Not recommended for  :  Use outdoors, overweight couples

The man stands on the chair (recommend a sturdy kitchen-type chair, no wheels or cushions) with his buttocks against the chair back. The woman gets onto the chair and stands facing away from the man. The woman bends over until her back is at a 45 degree angle. When the man has attained a comfortable position, he changes the light bulb.

“The Surf N Turf”

Good for  :  Women called Stacey

Not recommended for  :  Vegetarians

The woman assumes the Crab position. The man assumes the Llama position.

“Just Coming, Love”

Good for  :  Safe sex

Not recommended for  : Energetic types

The man lays on the bed and achieves a state of preparedness while the woman removes her nail polish in the bathroom. The man falls asleep.

“Giving The Bird”

Good for   :  Wierdos

Not recommended for   :   Men with a fear of common fowl

The man lays on the bed. The woman straddles him and flaps her arms, clucking like a chicken.

“The Long Shot”

Good for   :  Energetic types

Not recommended for   :  Those with sensitive eardrums, impatient couples

The man and woman both engage in a rigorous 9-month course to train as Human Cannonballs. Having graduated, and when the mood is right, the couple enlist the help of professionals to set up two cannon in close proximity. Consulting appropriate experts, the couple ensure that the cannon are arranged such that the two flight paths intersect about 2 seconds after the cannonballs leave the barrel.

Both cannon are fired simultaneously. The man and woman – wearing the appropriate safety headgear – meet in mid-air, copulate, and fall to earth (a safety net).

It is recommended that both parties attain a significant state of arousal before being fired. Intercourse lasts less than 4 seconds. This position requires tremendous practice and is notoriously difficult to get right. Female orgasm has been recorded only once.

“The Obvious Deception”

Good for   :  Future divorcees

Not recommended for   :   Those who buy their milk at the supermarket 

The man goes to an important conference in Hastings. The woman shags the milkman.

“The Un-Obvious Deception”

Good for   :  Confused husbands

Not recommended for  :  Those who buy their milk at the supermarket 

The woman goes to an important conference in Hastings. The man shags the milkman.

“The Good Neighbour”

Good for   :  Suburbanites

Not recommended for  :  High rise apartment block dwellers, left-handed people

Best on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The woman pours herself a Pimms and lays out in the garden on the recliner, and soon falls asleep. The neighbour looks over his fence, sees this, dons his gardening gloves and takes the opportunity to trim the woman’s bush. When he is finished, he wakes the woman. She tells him it looks nice, but that he should clean up the leaves. He does this and then they make love.

Mowing the lawn is an acceptable substitute.

“The Yee-Hah”

Good for  :   Practising your balance

Not recommended for   : Hemharroid sufferers

The woman mounts the horse. The man mounts the woman.

“The Politician And The Mistress”

Good for   :   Role-players

Not recommended for   :  Honest people

The woman lies down on the bed. The man lies.

Find a longer chuckle in my humour writing compendium of offbeat short stories on Kindle :The Real Jamie Oliver and other Stories

Vignette – “House Arrest”

Okay then, bye!

Humph. Bastards.

When they leave the dog behind, they say goodbye to that. But not me. Oh no.

After all, what am I to them? Only their roof, their walls, their floor. Their comfort, their security. The thing that divides them from mere animals. Except the dog.

Bloody dog.

At least they took it this time. Can’t abide it running around inside, making me rock, making all that bloody racket for no reason. Don’t hear me do that, do you?

No.

Humph.

Okay, yes, I envy it one thing, that mangy mutt. It can move. It isn’t graceful, but it is movement. They can all move.

Not sure I’d want a goodbye wave anyway. It would be a “we’re going away now, because we can, because we can move, and you can’t, so just stay there – which is all you can do – while we just go away, while we just MOVE”.

It’s not much to ask, is it? I used to be able to move. But not any more, oh no. Movement’s too good for you, they thought. Your days of movement are over. So we’ll just take your engine off, your lovely lovely engine, and you can just sit there. For eternity. Stationary.

They haven’t the slightest idea what it’s like. Here I am, all tied up, nice and secure and I have to watch. Sit here and watch. All those lucky lucky bastards just cruising past. I’m sure they do it deliberately. “Ha ha, look at him, he’s just a houseboat. We can move. Look. Look at the spray. Hear the engine. It’s a sexy engine. Modern too. Japaneeeese. It’s so good to be out on the river. Look at us. We can moooove. Wheeeeeeeeee!”

Bastards.

I could move away from the ducks too. And the swans. I like my slime. I like my barnacles. They keep me warm. Alright?!

And the kids. I swear, if I get one more gloop of vanilla ice cream on my running board…

Yes, okay, so the water laps along one sides – slaps even, when those swines go past – but it isn’t the same. Not the same as cutting through the coolness, up river, down river, kicking up a bit of a swell. Feeling that throb, that great throb. It was noisy that engine, but I liked it. Got me noticed. Not now. Just an appendage to the bank now, a curiosity.

Humph.

Got some peace and quiet too. It wasn’t all day every day. I got some nights to myself. They’re nice enough folks I suppose now, treated me better than the last lost. Can’t forgive them though, not for taking my freedom. Draws a line under your youth, it does. A thick black line.

Still life in me yet. If only they knew. How would they feel if someone cut off their legs?

It’s a crime.

Look, it isn’t much to ask. Just an engine. Even a little one. At least I could move then. Maybe once a month to start. Then once a week. Maybe we could go somewhere. Even with the dog. I always wanted to go the south of France.

I hear the girls there are great.

Yes.

Hmmm.

In that case, maybe a big engine.

Books by Chris Towndrow

Short story – “Rude Awakening”

He couldn’t understand where the noise was coming from.

The meadow was perfect Englishness – the grass almost too green, the sun high in the sky, the birds playing their tune. On the rug beside him, Kristen Scott Thomas, evidently oblivious to the cacophony that was raging, was waiting for him to kiss her again.

Something soft behind his head, yet he was sitting up. Something warm over his legs, yet he wore shorts. An unmistakeable din, yet silence.

In a half-heartbeat reality exploded in on him.

The piercing noise shook him away like a bucket of cold water, his body a step in front of his mind. Then the sound found recognition and the recognition found a word.

Alarm.

His flailing arm reached for and found the light switch, and incomprehensibly, the room’s physicality that sprang from the darkness seemed to give the blaring noise a new dimension of pervasion and urgency.

Mind still playing catch-up to his body, he hauled himself out of the bed and scanned the room for yesterday’s discarded clothes. Trousers came to hand, a sweater, then shoes.

He was halfway to the door when a tiny sense of logic beat a path to his front brain, and he turned, snatched his room key from the desk, and reached again for the doorway and safety.

His hand was on the handle when he noticed the smoke licking up from under the door.

‘Oh god,’ he heard himself say. This was no drill. Day after day on the road and finally it had happened. The Real Thing.

Go, or stay? His mind raced.

As it did, more smoke seeped in. The deadly aroma reached its invisible tendrils into his nose.

Got To Get Out fought with Smoke Kills. His body was almost swaying from side to side as he juggled the choice.

A second later and he was in the bathroom, thrusting the towel under the tap, cold water splashing all over. He doused his midriff, cursed his clumsiness, then almost laughed at it. Who was going to care? And wasn’t he better wet?

Darting back out, he jammed the towel under the door, scanning his handiwork feverishly for many seconds, praying for no leaks.

There were none.

He got back to the bed, jittery, heart still racing. His eyes darted around the room.

Phone.

He scrambled over the bed and lifted the receiver.

Nothing.

He tapped the cradle.

Nothing.

He quickly replaced the receiver.

Shit.

His mind jumped further into concern.

The window!

He bolted over and threw back the heavy curtains. Immediately he knew it was pointless. Seventh floor – no way he was going to jump.

His fists beat the air, then his hips. He looked out of the window again, into the night. He strained to see the fire engines, hear their cries.

Nothing.

Yet, he told himself, nothing yet.

Calm, calm, calm.

He looked over at the door – still no smoke.

Good, he told himself, that’s good. You have to wait. Calm.

The big black TV glared at him.

He switched it on. He didn’t know why.

Late night, no news, so many adverts, so much rubbish. He flicked through the channels.

He looked at the door. Still nothing.

Moaning came to his ears, flesh to his eyes. He skipped forwards a channel. Then back.

Why not?, he thought. If it has to be like this, who will care?

He allowed himself to get hedonistically drawn in, the habitual guilt so much a back seat.

Eyes kept flicking back to the door, to the window. Heart still pounded.

He tried to lose himself, not think about the end, the walls growing hot, the ceiling bowing and splitting, the floor tearing open like a wound and swallowing him into the orange hell below.

What a short life to end now. Here. Like this.

The crash jolted him like an explosion and as he looked over, the door spewed open. It was almost an alien that stood there, black and yellow in the rising fog.

That next morning, after the precautionary night’s stay, he sat in the hospital bed and found some kind of clarity, a message.

Statistics catch up with the road warrior, he thought. Cars and hotels is no life. This is a second chance, time to think.

This is where it begins, a story to tell. So many stories of life on the move. Can’t hurt. Has to be better than small soap and traffic jams.

He reached across the starched white sheet to the bedside table and scooped up the complimentary pen and paper.

He raised his knees up to make his desk and tested the pen’s life force on a corner of the page. Then he held the biro’s point up to the top centre and wrote,

“RUDE AWAKENING”.