The Shallows of the Now

He should have waited ’til tomorrow

But as he rowed away into the tide

Nobody else could ever follow

In the wake of his imaginary bride

And so he fought to be  a hero

That was the only way he could have died

However much he multiplied by zero

The answer gnawed away into his pride

But in the fathoms of the then

And the crashing waves of the when

No-one can show you how

He should have never left the shallows of the now


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Eat this.

I’m not often stirred to play the role of irate consumer, but my lunchtime dining experience today drove me to new limits.

This is what I left in the comments box on this website:

Dear Sir or Madam,

At lunchtime today, some colleagues and I visited The Phoenix on Oxford Road, Manchester. Most of my group were there specifically to take advantage of the “2 for 1” offers on certain meals, most of which seemed to be unavailable. Unimpressed with the selection, I opted for a burger – The Stilton and Worcester Sauce, at £5.75.

Admittedly, I was a little worse for wear after a night out, and had been looking forward to a quality burger and a pint for the last hour or two.

After being informed that I was unable to pay by card, I had to borrow some cash from a friend. I noted with interest the in-house cash machine that was charging for withdrawals, but dismissed this as a co-incidence.

After five or ten minutes (an unsettlingly short amount of time), the assistant brought me something.

I’m still unsure if what I was served up was an insult or an apology.

I had ordered what I expected to be an appetising and delicious Stilton and Worcester Sauce Burger with chips, and had been delivered what I can only describe as an offensive, inedible pile of unidentifiable biomatter.

To describe the skimpy, frozen economy “burger” as “over-cooked” would be like saying that on August 9th, 1945, the inhabitants of Nagasaki experienced an unusually hot day.

As I chewed on my first and only bite of this satanic abomination, I noticed your institution’s considerate and friendly information board, informing me that the staff were perfoming “stink checks” every fifteen minutes in the toilet:

“Poo! The toilets are stinky!” The sensory experience of having the image of faeces implanted in my mind while I chowed down on the unholy muck in my mouth was one of the most scintillating I can conjour. Exsquisite!

What do the staff do if the toilet smells when they walk in? Say “Yep, that stinks” and walk out again? I didn’t go in the toilet, but just in case – you know, there are these air freshening devices that pump out air freshener AUTOMATICALLY (WOW!), and you can buy them, and put them in your pub toilets!

The burger appeared to have transcended its carnal origins, and become an altogether more biscuit-like entity, a mouth-watering shade of black.

Any semblance of moisture had long since left its miserable form, as it mocked me from the plate, laughing evilly. Its cohort, the “bun”, was an ersatz, snivelling affair, similarly without moisture, appeal or molecular motion.

Between the two was a pathetic slathering of what can only be summed up as anomalous scunge, masquerading as cheese.

Some disconcertingly identical, and uniformly anaemic chips looked on from the side of the plate, daring me to complain.

I ordered a refund and finished my drink. My colleagues, more forgiving souls than I, luckily, were marginally but imperceptibly more satisfied with their meals, although I should point out our shared hilarity at receiving mechanically reclaimed fish “sausages” in place of the fish and chips on the menu.

Side-splittingly, another sign informed us of “Free cuddles with every pudding!”.

What, pray, is the incentive for buying your burgers? An insulting, overpriced, overcooked, ill-conceived, low quality punch in the genitals?

Seriously, Mitchells and Butlers – two hundred yards in either direction, at Kro Bar or Deaf Institute, for about the same price, I could have bought a delicious, tender, juicy, inch-and-a-half thick home-made burger, with all the trimmings, and ordered a quality lager to boot.

I’m aware of your “student oriented” branding in your Scream chain, but the quality of food you are serving at that price, in that location, is genuinely offensive, disgusting and more over an insult. I sat and wasted my lunch hour and had to sit and watch my colleagues eat, and reiterate that they were none too impressed with the food either.

In fairness, the two female staff members were polite and very apologetic, one of them handing me some flyers and pointing me in the direction of your website, which I duly ignored and came to this one.

I thought about speaking to the “chef”, but then I thought “ah, what’s the point, he’s probably asleep”. I realise your facilities have no need for actual chefs, and no food is made or prepared on the premises. Even so, I would hope you might be more vigilant in employing staff who are capable of judging when an item of food has become a nauseating mess during its reheating process, and are able to deploy their judgement accordingly.

Your brand represents everything that is depressing and cynical about the modern world in which we live, embodying outrageous mark up and poor product, casually tossed at the customer with unbelievable audacity and indifference.

Very, very poor indeed.

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Hi-Vis and Hummus

Hi-vis and hummus
For Daisy and Thomas
Children of Chorlton
The time is upon us

Falafel for lunch
With an organic peach
Jump on a wave
Let’s head for The Beech

Talk about property
Prices and such
Your garden’s amazing
Well ta very much

Holiday this year
Is Thailand again
Or just a few days
At our chalet in Rennes

A pint of the same
For me if you please
I had no idea
It was made by Chinese

Immigrant slaves
At a factory in Crewe
That’s just an outrage
A terrible do

Which brings me to Andy’s
Soirée last weekend
I wanted to go
But couldn’t attend

Too tired from yoga
And work during the day
Was all he could play

On acoustic guitar
At the end of the night
Everyone stifling yawns
So polite

Anyway Graham
How the hell’s Moira?
Julian said
He was trying to avoid her

Probably drugs
She did back in the sixties
Are why she still sits
On the green with the pixies

Raving on how
She read Socialist Worker
Went on some marches
And dated a Ghurka

Speaking of which
We’re now in the noughties
How did we get to be
Here in our forties

With Birkenstock babies
All brought up on Brie
And carrot batons
In a drizzle of ghee

Cuckolded the left
Of your student plight
For the come to bed eyes
Of the comfortable right

C-list celebs
Now and then on the street
You’re going home pissed
After football defeat

Ruddy and catholic
In need of a fight
But The Guardian goes
In the Aga at night

Your hippy hot air
Balloon’s fallen apart
So stay in your bubble
You right-on old fart

Happy and fat
In an ivory tower
A faux-ho twat
Made of Fairtrade flour

No end to the arseholes
It seems to emit
Oh go back to Chorlton
You Shabby-Chic shit

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Planet of the Gimps.

So you moved in with your ‘significant other’. Or you’re thinking about doing it. Or maybe you’ve run it through your head as an option. Or maybe, maybe, you’re thinking about leaving that significant other, because maybe you’re cheesed off with them for whatever reason.

Now, be honest. I won’t tell anyone.

You thought about money, didn’t you? More than anything else.

Of course you did, why wouldn’t you? How much cheaper would it be to live together? It certainly makes financial sense. And in the case of the leaving scenario, you probably decided against it, well, at least for now, as you couldn’t afford to live on your own. At least not in the style to which you’ve become accustomed.

For instance, if I co-habited, I’d gain around £400 a month – for me, that’s the difference between being rich and poor, I should imagine it’s a very similar case for many other people.

What I’m coming to, I think, is that I’m finding myself making the choice to be single and broke, over the choice to play the relationship game, and potentially gain some received sense of stability. Moreover, it seems to me that a lot of other people are too, more so than ever before.

Ok, it could be a symptom of the thirty-something finally getting some kind of perspective, or it could be the onset of mid-life crisis, but I think there might be something to all that collective conciousness hokum after all. People are waking up to the truth about lumbering old institutions like marriage, happiness and ‘love’ (whatever the hell that is), and seem to be finally starting to question things for themselves.

Most couples who have lived together through the honeymoon period appear to be unhappy with each other and themselves, to some degree.  This might vary from constant arguing, to boredom, to jealousy, through paranoia, to spending too much on the credit card, through getting a cat, and out the other side to just not having sex anymore, in which case, it’s usually irreparably over.  I’ve been there myself, many times. Without the cat bit. How do we get there? We imagine that “this time, it will be different”. And why? Because it’s with a different person?  Ok, you could argue that people are always dissatisfied with themselves to some degree, but the point I’m trying to make here is that I can’t see how that dissatisfaction can be tackled and to any extent overcome unless the individual in some way takes responsibility for themselves, without the emotional context of another, in a ‘conventional’ way. So when the same set of results occurs again and again, over and over, we must look at the constants. The first being ourselves.

What about these popular relationship moans: I find the other person boring. We don’t talk anymore. We don’t have a laugh anymore. I don’t fancy them anymore. I don’t want to have sex with them anymore. We have sex, but it’s infrequent, and when we do, it’s just going through the motions. My partner was exciting and self-motivated when we met – now, they just stay in all the time.  I still love them, but I feel we’re just friends, or like brother and sister. I don’t like his friends. I don’t like her friends. I fancy other people.

There can’t really be any denying that some combination of these occurs, sooner or later, in any relationship.

So why do keep doing it? Surely, there’s something wrong with some part of the whole process. Certainly, these common feelings would point to the longevity of relationships as we know them being considerably less than convention would have us believe. Our repeated surprise at these developments is quite staggering, considering that all around us, they keep happening to other people.

But, the thing is, we’re not surprised, are we? We aren’t. We know these things will happen. But like some Pavlovian dog, we show the same patterns of behaviour, again and again, ignoring our instincts, and making the same mistakes ad infinitum. We trust our social programming more than we do ourselves.

Everyone should know by now that  the church is a form of social control, and from it, regardless of denomination, come so many of the institutions that are woven into our lives. Ideas of love, marriage, sex, death, childhood…you name it. They’ve all been hi-jacked to make us feel guilty, make us play nice and work harder, for less personal gain.

With these ideas as a background, like some yardstick in our subconscious, we bumble along thinking ourselves lucky when we get a shag or are paid an interest by another. We grab that shag with both hands (so to speak), and shag the shit out of it until we get bored, like old chewing gum. By this time, it’s already getting a bit shit, but we press on, on some perverse crusade, some grotesque pantomime, aping courtship and the rites of reproduction, despite the fact that neither party concerned actually wants a child. Yes yes, we fuck for pleasure, like chimps or whatever, I know, but why go to all the hassle of moving in and buying a fridge?

We don’t pick and choose our partners – they fall into our laps, we stumble over them, we accidentally fall into bed with them after a few drinks. And still, still, we talk romantically about ‘the one’, ‘that special someone’ and all that old twaddle. Those who make the effort to actually go and look, to sample the range, are thought of, even still, in this post-post-enlightened age, as less than virtuous, the old aspersions being replaced with social guilt regarding disease.

People still don’t think of themselves as good enough to get what they really want, not in a sexual or emotional way. I think it’s fair to say that even the most philosophical shagger will concede that you just can’t have everything though – great personal relationship and great sex are very, very rare indeed. You might disagree, but ‘great’ for you is only as great as you’ve ever had. Don’t you wonder if there’s greater? And when do you stop wondering?

What is it that makes people stay together these days? That desperate urge to co-habit, or even prod at a monogamous relationship from seperate houses is born out of fear. Fear of not having someone to bail us out when our parents die, and fear of everything going tits up and becoming a crack whore. Money, finance, wherewithal, wonga. At least eastern cultures make no bones about the fact that they see marriage as a functional mechanism, kind of like a baby factory with a sideline in life insurance.

It used to be just “what you did”, and guilt. Now, anything’s ok, so take away the guilt and the mandatory adherance to convention, and what are you left with? There’s very little point, unless through some lack of self exploration you’ve hit upon the erroneous aspiration of emulating the genteel, middle class ivory tower of your parental homestead, or milking the benefit system on a per-baby basis.

Is natural selection telling us to die? To just stop making so many of ourselves? Over-crowding is the root of all the Earth’s problems, I’m convinced of it, but hey, that’s a crack-pot ramble for another day.

So, in conclusion, if a lot of people’s motivation for getting together (or not splitting up) is money, and people are starting to secretly realise that what has been referred to as love is actually a ticking timebomb of old toss, what the heck is left?

We’ve been maneuvered by ‘the man’ over the last few centuries into some unholy, gimpish pose, ping pong ball in the mouth, arse stuck out, ready to receive… everyone knows we’re being fucked over, and no-one does a thing about it, because the method and execution of the manipulation is so perfect. It’s impossible to resist.

Could it be though, that the subjugation we feel and experience is actually necessary – good for us in some way? Our urges, impulses and needs cross-wired and re-wired, hi-jacked and subverted. Like a planet full of gimps, we welcome the humiliation and denigration foisted upon us by the media, the immediate controlling force in all our lives, even though some inner voice is telling us that all this is wrong. Like aged nine when your mates convinced you that you wouldn’t get into trouble for spray painting that dog. You believed in your front brain that you wouldn’t, hypnotised by the suggestion and the temptation. But inside, you knew you’d land up in the shit, and lo and behold, you did. Natural selection has you in it’s grip, and no matter what you think you want to do, you don’t. There probably isn’t a ‘you’ anyway – it’s just good old NS pulling the strings. The babbling of the universe, reciting it’s infinitely impersonal equation.

So, we’re all gimps. Masochistic, self-destructing gimps on a ghost train to destruction, all comparing our handbags and cable TV’s and cars and ping pong balls.

It’s difficult to find any other kind of answers when you accept the facts about your life.

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Oven Shame ™

Those clowns at Oven Pride ™ had obviously not seen my oven when they made claim to the optimistic, if not audacious selling point “DO NOT SCRUB”.

A day off work, waiting for the gas man, affords one a certain perspective, and no small amount of thumb twiddling. “I know, I’ll clean the oven” are not words one should utter, even inwardly on such an occasion. I could have engaged in any number of useful or enjoyable activities, but no. Not me. I’m cleaning the fucking oven. Because I think it’s a good idea.

And also because I had the notion to apply the stuff yesterday, and now I’ve got to get it off. Picture the scene:

Mocking me from the rear of the box,  the prosaic yet friendly voice of Oven Pride’s public entity more or less grows a mouth, head and rest of body, takes on physical form, and petulantly wrests the scourer from my girlish, be-Marigolded hands, like an overbearing father demonstrating how to hold a cricket bat.

“Simply sponge it on. Leave for four hours. For best results, leave over night. Then sponge off with warm, soapy water.” Right you are, Oven Pride. A casual breeze of a task, to be performed with gaiety, lightness of heart, and only the faintest, but necessary note of sensibleness, vis a vis COSHH guidelines.

Which is good of them to point out, because knowing me and my excitable nature, I might just have had a wank with it, or invited a friend over to sample it with Canada Dry or some other quality mixer (of which there are some examples in my fridge).

Cut back to the present, and a generous sixteen hours sees me on hands and knees, face to face, toe to toe with what can only be described as a black, leathery ectoplasm with the texture and consistency of distilled evil, and the ability to turn warm, soapy water into a mixture of soy sauce and dog shit, instantaneously. Satan gets his bondage gear made from this stuff. Probably because, and for the explicit reason that it makes him sweat more, and smells worse than a PVC gusset.

While reluctant to comply with my eviction requests, it would actually allow itself to be removed into the attendant basin, but only after scrubbing like Jody Marsh for around half an hour.

Now, this might just be me, noticing things, as I do (the brain is a difference engine, right?), but it was only as I was rinsing my racks (can I say that?) in the bath that I observed that Beelzebub himself appeared to have grouted my shower with exactly the same substance. How did this happen? I have no idea, but I’m sure it wasn’t there before. Or maybe I just never noticed. But now I do, oh yes, now I do.

In fact, I’m noticing, similar, black residue everywhere. Behind the taps. In the cracks where a strippy thing joins two surfacey things, down the side of the fridge, under the sink, on the base of the kettle, it’s fucking everywhere. It’s like that episode of Blake’s Seven where the Liberator starts oozing gunge and falls apart. Only I can’t teleport to safety and assured existence for the rest of the series. It’s me and the gunge, in a battle of wits and guile.

I’m not going out to a malevolent, proto-sentient shit-blancmange colony. No sir, not today. Gunge go home, and you can fuck off while you’re doing it.

Well, that’s my day mapped out. Should I be found dead in my flat by the gas man, I would like it known that I died honourably, scrubbing to the last, cigar between the teeth, making “ack-ack-ack” noises while spraying Mr Muscle, between otherwise continuous and unbroken swearing.

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