A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times



Delia liked to think that she was not a stupid woman, but what she had been was vulnerable. She was at her most vulnerable in 2001 when she first met Dave.

            Before then, she had been married to her first husband Tony, she'd had a good job in the city and through a course of natural progression, she gave up her job when her children came along - first a boy and then a girl and now she had a third on the way.

            Tony too, had a good job; they had a beautiful London home, two large cars and all the other perks that a large wage brought with it. The present was good for Delia and the future looked golden. But then, out of the blue, the couple split up. The divorce was bitter and she never felt so alone. With three little ones in tow, her life now revolved solely around her home and looking after them.

            It was then, in April 2001, that Dave introduced himself via a social networking site. They connected at once and began e-mailing each other, together they would communicate online straight through the passing nights, constantly laughing and chatting away. That was when Dave told Delia he was an international accounts manager, based in Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia. Just like Delia had once done, Dave had to travel a lot - Europe, Japan, and Australia. Delia was very impressed at the similarities between his high flyer status and that of her previous career.

            Delia wasn't too badly off financially. She'd kept the family home and Tony her ex paid the mortgage and gave her money for the kids - nearly £2000 a month. But Delia missed male company and wanted to share her life with someone again.

            Dave flew into London regularly. "Let’s meet for dinner," he suggested and in the May, he arranged to meet her at the London Hilton. Next they were to go off to see Simple Minds at the Royal Albert Hall, but at the last minute he cancelled, claiming that his grand-mother had died. Delia was somewhat disappointed to say the least, but she met with him again the following month. At this meeting, Dave showered her with all kinds of gifts including a diamond necklace he said he'd had imported from Riyadh.

            "It’s too much," Delia protested.

            "Anything for you," he smiled. And together, they had a wonderful time taking the kids to Brighton for the day... She felt she'd met someone very special.

But there was one very dark cloud on the horizon ... Cancer.

            "It’s in my pancreas," Dave said sadly. "But I'm getting treatment for it in Saudi. The very best that's available." He was so positive about it that Delia felt sure he could beat it. In the June, Dave returned home to Delia in London after his treatment. His head was shaved because his hair had fallen out in clumps, he'd told her but he still managed to take Delia and the kids away for the weekend to visit the steam railway at Sheffield Park in East Sussex.

            Brilliant! She thought dreamily, here was a man with a similar lifestyle to Delia's. He was a man who was extremely generous to her, and got on well with her children. What was there about him, not to love? She asked herself. Dave even proposed to her that same day, on bended knee too. Sure, it had been a whirlwind, but Delia felt positive he was a good man and he was very right for her.

            "Yes," she smiled.

            Dave had it all planned out for them, a diamond De Beers engagement ring, a dream wedding in the Caribbean, the works. He set about arranging it all. The children were thrilled, they wanted a father figure back in the family, and Dave was fast becoming just the man for the job.

            In August, Dave moved in with Delia. He'd quit his job in Saudi to be with her and the children. This was no longer a dream for Delia, it was actually happening. All her dreams were becoming a reality. He'd left all his stuff back at Saudi and arranged to have it all shipped over, it would be there within a couple of months. He was also due a lot of money, in bonuses and commissions from his company. That was coming too.

            He promised Delia he'd soon have another job lined up, after all, he had many skills he could call upon. For instance, he was also a qualified scuba diving instructor. In the meantime they'd just have to get by on her money but it would only be weeks at the worst.

            It was September now, and Dave had to fly off to America on business. No problem thought Delia, my ex used to take trips like that all the time. It was normal standard practice in their walk of life. But there was a nagging problem. Delia was worried about money. Between the cancer treatments and the trips abroad, Dave wasn't bringing in any money at all. But how can anyone pester a man with cancer about something as trivial as money? She was convinced he was good for it and it would all right itself in due course. That was when her headaches began.

            February brought more bad news. The dream wedding in the Caribbean had to be called off.

            "I'm so sorry," Dave said gently. It was all down to money again. Delia put on a brave face.

            "Its fine," she smiled somewhat disappointedly. But even worse was yet to follow...

            Dave had now been told he had problems with his legs. They were covered in bandages, the poor thing. Had the cancer spread? Delia thought. Her headaches, getting much stronger now.

            They married in early May at a registry office in Basingstoke. It was a surprisingly small affair for Delia and from Dave's side, only his mother came along. He pleaded with Delia not to mention the cancer for fear of upsetting her. Delia foolishly played along.

            It was a small but beautiful ceremony. An intimate affair with exquisite food and wine, all paid for by Delia of course. The only let down to the day, was that Dave's vintage Ferrari, somehow didn't make it to the wedding. The battery was flat she was told. He turned up in one of his other cars instead, it was only a battered Alfa Romeo. More headaches...

            Still the wedding was over now and it was time for the honeymoon. They were off to Disneyland in Paris. Although an official honeymoon, it was mainly for the kids. And once again the bill and further headaches came Delia's way.

            The kids were happy, and to a certain degree so was Delia, but she was getting more and more worried about the money. She'd already remortgaged the house, that's what they had been living off for the previous year and now the money had run out. She decided it was time to confront the situation.

            "Dave," she asked, "where's all the bonus money, the cash from your business deals? We can't go on living off my borrowings forever..."

            Dave smiled and gave a hint of a shrug.

"Sailing close to the wind makes you feel so alive don't you think?" he replied. Whatever could he mean? Alarm bells started to ring for Delia. Even though Dave was everything that Delia could have ever wanted in a man, there was something now that just didn't feel right. Her head was constantly banging by now, harder than ever before.

            Things weren't looking good at all. Dave was trying to persuade Delia to hike the mortgage up again. When they'd first met, it was for £125,000 and early on in the relationship he'd asked her to up it to £175,000 so he would have money to spend on deals that he was trying to pull off. That money had all gone now and he was asking Delia to up it to £300,000. She couldn’t and wouldn't do it and he wasn't happy at all.

            His moods started to worsen. He was fast becoming a perpetual slob around the house and furniture was now getting thrown during their arguing. Delia tiptoed her way around him now, not wanting the kids to see the full extent of her relationship mistake. They'd only been married for six months and she was already thinking of divorce. And, almost as if by magic, Dave's cancer was practically becoming nonexistent , it was now becoming obvious that it had all been nothing more than a scam, and the banging in Delia's head was getting still louder and louder.

            The very last straw was when Dave went behind Delia's back and asked her mother to lend him £20,000 for a lucrative deal. A deal that would secure an instant £5,000 payback with an additional £120,000 to follow. Luckily, her mother refused Dave the loan and had the foresight to tell her daughter all about it. Delia knew she was heading fast for bankruptcy now and had to find a way to bring this man down. He was now pushing for a divorce himself, in a bid for his freedom from her debts and Delia would cry herself to sleep at night, worrying about how to get out of this awful mess.

            Knowing there must be some form of evidence of Dave’s past deals and overdue commissions on his computer, Delia logged herself in to track down the missing money. She was in no way prepared for what she found next – Dave had been trawling through numerous online dating sites. He had been searching for women. Women in their mid thirties, women that were in some way damaged and vulnerable after previous bad relationships. Wealthy, wounded women, just like Delia had been. He was obviously setting up another sucker to replace her. He was now showing his true colours, he was nothing more than a simple conman.

            It was November now and still nothing had got any better. The debts were still piling up. The tempers still flaring up and the headaches were almost crippling. Fresh demands for divorce were coming thick and fast but Delia held firm. There was no way this monster was getting away scot free, she thought. Becoming a free agent once again, moving steadfastly on, to his next victim. Delia still had no idea of how to sort things out, but she knew that whilst she was still married to him, he was trapped. That certificate of marriage ensured that her debt was still considered as his debt too and there was no getting away from it for him. But still, she knew that as things stood, it was only ever going to be a stalemate situation.

            All through that month, Delia contorted her aching brain for a solution to her problems. And every single night she drew a complete blank. It wasn’t until the 26th that that evil man Dave was finally brought down. The war was finally won, but even then it could only be classed as a somewhat shallow victory with a somewhat disappointing outcome.

That night, it was Delia's headaches that had scored the winning point, releasing her from all her troubles in one foul swoop, as her aching brain haemorrhaged during her sleep. Delia was dead now, and Dave was to inherit her full estate. The children would go back to Tony under the terms of her will. But more importantly, it was finally time for Dave to pay off his dues.



COST OF LOVINGSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



I have only ever given my children one piece of advice. Other parents I know talk solemnly about drugs, sex, pregnancy, work, manners and the importance of good A-level grades. But all I’ve ever told my kids is this: “No matter what, never salute a magpie.”

I don’t know when I got into the habit. Or even why. Maybe it was peer pressure. Maybe it was boredom. But one day, while driving along, I saw a lone magpie hopping about on the grass verge and I saluted it. And that was that. I was hooked. And now, I know for sure that if I fail to salute even a single one of them I will catch cancer within the hour.

This is a huge problem in Milton Keynes where, for reasons known only to Bill Oddie, there are one trillion magpies, all of which hang around by themselves on the endless sponsored roundabouts.

I’d love to know how many people die on the town’s roads each year because the driver was warding off bad luck. I bet it’s millions.

All superstition is mumbo jumbo. I know that. As a result, I will happily walk under a ladder, and I know that if some bees come to my house it will not burn down. I realise too that a black cat will give me just as much asthma as a brown one and that if my left ear feels warm it’s because it’s a sunny day. And yet I have this magpie thing going on. It makes me very angry as there is no methadone. There is no clinic. There is no cure.

Still, it could be worse. I could believe in the power of ley lines, the magic of dance and that I have the ability, through deep concentration, to become a dog or a cow, so that I may experience life from its point of view. In short, I’m awfully glad I’m not a druid.

Last June they were at Stonehenge again to mark the summer solstice. Apparently, 36,500 poor souls got up in the middle of the night and were dragged by their beliefs and their little Citro├źns to a field in Wiltshire where they were forced by custom to mark the disappointingly cloudy dawn by chanting and pretending to be King Arthur.

As a saluter of magpies, I have every sympathy with these people and I wish them well. I like having hippies in the world. They bring a richness and a calm, and while they like to wear hoods, they do not beat up old ladies.

And that brings me on to the point of this morning’s blog entry. What in the name of whatever god you hold dear were the police doing using an unmanned spy drone to fly around, taking pictures of these people as they swayed gently in stillness of morning?

Can you imagine the hullabaloo if Dixon of Dock Green used similar tactics during a Catholic Church service?  If the smells and bells were drowned out by the relentless buzz of a spy plane? And let’s be honest, shall we? On the crime-o-meter, Johnny Pope’s merry little gang of bachelors is far more likely to be involved in serious wrongdoing than some dizzy druid bird with flowers in her hair.

I can see why the army might need a spy drone in Afghanistan. But how on earth could the Wiltshire constabulary justify the purchase of such a thing? To catch crop circlists? It’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.

And why were revellers limited to taking just four cans of beer each onto the site? This means there must have been a meeting at which a busybody in a trouser suit will have said “two” and then a fat man will have said “five”, and much discussion will have taken place, at our expense, before the figure of four was arrived at.

This is even more absurd, come to think of it, than the police spy plane. Certainly I feel sure that early man would not have embarked on the road to civilisation if he had thought that, one day, humankind would arrive at a point where one man has the right to determine how much beer another man may take into a field in the middle of the night.

Then there’s the drugs business. Now, I’m not going to come here and defend the use of narcotics. But we learnt last week that there are now 1m cocaine users in Britain. Statistically then we can be assured that marching powder is being used in the House of Commons, in village halls, in business meetings, at dinner parties and even, perhaps, by pop stars.

So why pick on the druids? Why send sniffer dogs to their annual summer get-together? We know there will have been some dope and we know, because they’d stayed up all night, that some of the Morris men will have got some marching powder up their schnozzers. But if it’s busts they’re after, Plod would probably have had a higher success rate if they’d had a snout about in their own locker rooms.

The fact is that despite the massive, and extremely costly, operation the police made only 37 arrests, mostly for minor public order offences. That’s 37 from a crowd of 36,500. One in a thousand, or thereabouts.

I’m not suggesting that the police ignore large gatherings of people.

Whether it’s a football match or a bunch of Tamils in Parliament Square, the forces of law and order need to be on hand to give people directions to the nearest bus stop and break up whatever fights may occur.

But I simply cannot understand why such large numbers were used to monitor a group of people who, by their very nature, pose about as much threat to the world as a flock of budgerigars. They hum. They make love to one another. They speak in Welsh. And they go home.

Certainly I can assure you that driving along while under the influence of a silly scare story about magpies is much more of a threat to the nation’s peace and tranquillity.



STONEHENGESocialTwist Tell-a-Friend






Have you ever wanted to really fool a Traffic Warden? Then go jack up the side of your car, take a wheel off, lock it in the boot and go do the business...

            Dane Brooks is a member of the notorious Rossendale County Bachelors Drinking and Mayhem Club. Bragging one evening about how easy it would be to hoodwink a Traffic Warden, he found himself on the wrong end of a silly bet.

            Loosing face is a sin worse than losing one's pants to a County Bachelor, so Dane duly set out to honour - and win - the bet.

            The task before him was to stage a breakdown in his local High Street, on double yellow lines, for two hours during a peak shopping Saturday, without being lent assistance, towed away or told to get the Hell out of there by a Traffic Warden or anyone else. The twist was that his chosen vehicle should stand alone, no human being in attendance, during the whole of the two hours - and the entire proceedings had to be videoed for playback at the next CB party night.

            Dane set about his project with the dedication and detailed planning of an SAS commander. A beat up Transit van was selected for the event, borrowed from a local parcels carrier. Equipment included a professional garage trolley jack with pump handle, two tool boxes full of spanners, various greasy mechanical parts from underneath a similar Transit van, two pairs of matching, greasy blue mechanics overalls, two pairs of size eleven cheap, oily black boots, socks to match, a portable, battery driven cassette player with auto reverse, an old fashioned hearing aid, complete with lead and ear piece, two plastic red and white cones - and the bottom half of a male tailor's dummy.

            8:45am, one cold, wet Saturday morning (Dane had checked the weather forecasts. A warm, sunny day was not to be part of the plan). Transit and Dane drove into position in the High Street. Opposite, the proprietor of a TV shop, himself a County Bachelor, set up in his shop window a video camera, focusing on the van and locking the camera in position, a VCR unit inside the shop began recording the scene.

            Shoppers were not yet out and about. Zero minus 15 minutes!

            Dane hauled the trolley jack out of the van, positioned it under the front engine mounting and jacked up the front of the van about a foot into the air. Next he pulled the tailor's dummy out from the van, already dressed in the greasy mechanic's overalls, oily boots, etc. and slid the dummy under the side of the van, so that the boots and half a foot or so of the dummy's legs could be seen, roadside. Zero minus ten minutes.

            Next the cassette player was placed under the van, adjacent to the torso end of the dummy, and switched on. Dane had spent a happy half hour recording the tape in his garage the weekend before.

            The two tool boxes came out next. One was positioned next to the booted feet sticking out the off-side of the van. The other was positioned in front of the van, next to the jack handle. A few spanners were laid onto the road, along with the various greasy mechanical parts from underneath a similar Transit van. Zero minus five minutes.

Two road cones were then placed fore and aft of the van. Finally, the most important piece of equipment of all, the hearing aid, was laid out, carefully and conspicuously, on top of the tool box at the front of the van.

            Zero minus one minute. Dane took a final, careful look round his set, rubbed his hands with undisguised glee, and sauntered over to the TV shop to his observation post and a hot cup of coffee.

            Saturday shoppers began to bustle. Soon the High Street became a hive of activity, congested with people and with traffic. No one took the slightest notice of the broken down van under repair.

            At 9:21am, Dane's nerve was tested as a police car drove past the van. The two uniformed occupants looked across at the van, saw the mechanic at work and drove on without stopping. Dane could breathe once again.

            At 9:43am a Traffic Warden appeared, but she was on the TV shop side of the road. Female, already cold and damp from the morning rain, she stopped and looked across at the van. All appeared in order; road cones in place and a professional on the job. The Traffic Warden kept walking along the TV shop side of the High Street.

            10:37am. The Traffic Warden re-appeared, her usual half hour circuit had increased to nearly an hour because of the inclement weather. Again she stopped and looked across at the van. "Obviously a difficult job. Wonder if he needs assistance." She thought. She waited for a break in the traffic and crossed the High Street to the van side pavement. Dane began to worry, beads of sweat forming on his forehead.

            In accordance with standard practice, the Traffic Warden made a complete circuit of the van. She observed that the van belonged to a local carrier. She inspected the jack handle and the tool box at the front of the van. She wondered how a hearing aid could possibly help a mechanic repair a vehicle. She looked down at the size 11 oily black boots and the greasy overall legs sticking out from under the van, road side. As she made her inspection she heard the normal kind of spanner noises, clanks and mild swearing coming from beneath the van, intermingling with the humming of one of the County Bachelor's favourite war chants.

            Dane's pre-recorded tape was performing well.

            The Traffic Warden grimaced at the sight of the greasy mechanical parts which the mechanic had obviously stripped from the van's belly. Clearly this was going to be a long job. She raised her voice to compete against the traffic. "Need any help?" No response came from under the van. The spanner noises, swearing and humming continued. "NEED ANY HELP DOWN THERE?" The Traffic Warden shouted.

            Still no response. Across the High Street, Dane crossed his fingers. This was the weakest link in his plan. Would the Traffic Warden put two and two together and come up with five? Would she throw away months of rigid training and stoop down to look under the van? He prayed for a below average intelligence level and an above average ego. His prayer was soon answered.

            Shouting in the High Street was definitely beneath the dignity of a Traffic Warden. Standard procedure took over. Hands clasped behind her back she made another complete circuit of the van. At the front, her eyes once more made contact with the hearing aid on top of the tool box. "Of course," she exclaimed silently, "The man's deaf. That's why he didn't answer me."

            Across the High Street, Dane saw the Traffic Warden's head nod twice as she looked at the hearing aid. He hugged himself. It was going to work.

The traffic Warden made a third circuit of the van, trying to decide what best to do, paused on the pavement, looked hard at her watch, looked up at the rain filled sky, thought to herself, "Who needs this aggro?" and continued on her rounds.

            Much hilarity ensued in the TV shop. Dane looked at his watch. "Twelve minutes to go. We're practically in the clear."

            At 11:05am, Dane, dressed just like his dummy left the TV shop and crossed over to his van. First item to go back inside was the tailor's dummy - as fast as it could go. Then the greasy mechanical parts, equally as fast. No point in taking any chances this close to success.

            And a precaution well worthwhile, for, as Dane was straightening up from under the van, having retrieved and turned off his cassette player, he saw walking towards him the Traffic Warden, this time accompanied by a police constable.

            Dane just had time to put the cassette player into the back of the van and make sure the doors were firmly shut before they were upon him.

            "Sorted out the trouble?" the Traffic Warden asked warmly.

            Dane was thinking fast on his feet. He turned round to face the Traffic Warden and the policeman, and faked a "you startled me" expression.

            "SORTED OUT THE TROUBLE?" the Traffic Warden shouted, smiling, six inches from his left ear.

            Dane held up a finger, walked round to the front of the van, picked up the hearing aid, plugged the earpiece into his ear, made as if he was turning the aid on, gave it a tap and faced the two officials.

 "Sorry, can't hear without this. No good wearing it under the van. Get's in the way. Been here since a quarter to nine. Hell of a job, but it’s all okay now. Thanks for letting me get on with the job."

            "That's life." said the copper. "This weather, I reckon you've been in the driest place under there." And he and the Traffic Warden walked on.

            Dane had triumphed in his dare. The bet was won and his dignity was still intact unlike that of the Traffic Warden, who would be diligently torn apart at the next CB party. 



A NERVOUS BREAKDOWNSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



Recently, we heard in the news, about two neighbours fighting over a bit of lawn with a bush on it. And, at a cost of God knows how much, the case has ended up in the High Court in London. A court case. Over a shrub. It beggars belief.
Except it doesn’t any more. A friend told me yesterday about the dispute she’s been having. “The deeds to my house say people can drive cattle down the lane past my house but now my neighbour’s son has passed his driving test and he’s driving his car down there. So I’ve rebuilt the boundary wall, which means his car won’t fit any more. Ha ha ha.”
Then we have Griff Rhys Jones, who, a few Wednesdays ago, urged the nation’s canoeists — all four of them, I should imagine — to “disturb as many anglers as possible”. He claims that many stretches of river have been bought by private fishing clubs and are now therefore out of bounds to exponents of the eskimo roll.
I’m not immune to this either. All week, my partner has been at a public inquiry, started because some militant dog walkers in the Isle of Man wish to ramble through my kitchen and take YouTube footage of me on the lavatory. Or something like that.
And then there’s my friend, who moved house last year because the builder doing up the house next door took down a tree, or planted one. I can’t remember which, but I remember it being a hell of big deal. And, worse, it makes me wonder: are we perhaps starting to run out of space?
When you look at the figures, it’s hard to see why everyone is at one another’s throat. At present, only around 19% of the United Kingdom’s 95,000 square miles is built up, which doesn’t sound so bad. Certainly, if you look at the country on Google Earth, it appears to be a patchwork of nothing but fields with a smallish grey bit near the Thames estuary.
But plainly there is a problem. When you have Griff Rhys Jones and Jeremy Paxman actively wrestling with each other on the banks of the Kennet and Avon canal, and neighbours fighting in the High Court over a bloody bush, it’s very obvious the country is not just full. It’s actually starting to burst at the seams.
Plainly, the planning regulations are to blame. You aren’t allowed to build anything on Farmer Giles’s cabbages unless you join the freemasons. And since most people don’t wish to have their tongues pulled out for blabbing about the stupid handshake, developers are being forced to erect new dwellings in urban back yards. Which invariably causes even more friction with the neighbours whose view is about to be ruined.
So what’s to be done? Well, obviously, it would be stupid to relax the green-belt rules, partly because this would ruin the whole point of Britain and partly because we need all the space we can get for Ed Miliband’s plans to carpet-bomb every hillside in the land with his stupid and useless bird-mincing windmills.
And anyway, as the global population grows and farmland is built on, there will obviously come a time when we all have somewhere to live. But bugger all to eat.
The obvious solution is to spread out a bit. At present, the southeast of England has a greater population density than Puerto Rico. And it’s getting worse. Recent figures suggest that even a town such as Guildford in Surrey will need an extra 18,000 houses by 2050 to help to accommodate the national increase of 350,000 people a year.
The trouble is: where do we spread out to? Scotland is the obvious answer, but it can’t be a very nice place to live, or there wouldn’t be so many Scottish people living in London. Lincolnshire is a better bet in some ways but, from what I understand, it’s being eaten at an alarming rate by the North Sea, and Wales doesn’t really work either because it’s far too mountainous.
My gut reaction then, is that we must at least consider the possibility of conquering France. There are good reasons for this. First of all, we can be assured the French will not put up much of a fight — they never do — so casualties would be relatively small. And second, the simple fact is, they don’t need all that space. And we do. Certainly, I can’t see any reason why they don’t hand over Lesser Britain, or Brittany, as they insist on calling it.
I realise, of course, the United Nations would have something to say on the matter and that Britain might be ostracised internationally for a while, but I feel this could well be a price worth paying if it were to prevent Griff and Chris Tarrant from having an unedifying punch-up at the Cotswold Water Park.
Of course, I’m sure a lot of you reading this will be harbouring dark and dangerous thoughts about perhaps limiting the number of people who want to live in Britain. I’m thinking of the ... I-word.
We were told a few years ago by the Labour government that Britain needed many millions of Somalians and Estonians to fuel Mr Brown’s booming economy. But now what? The economy’s gone tits-up and I’m sure there are many people quietly harbouring a notion that perhaps Mr Mbutu and Mr Borat might like to go back home again.
I do not have these thoughts however. I’d far rather have Mr Mbutu round for tea than, say, John Prescott. But I can quite understand why some people do. And that worries me.
Because how long will it be before Griff Rhys Jones stops attacking Ian Botham and starts throwing bricks through the window of his local Indian restaurant? How long before the stockbrokers of Guildford decide they don’t want any more homes and that Mr Ng’s Chinese takeaway must be burnt to the ground? In short, how long before this pressure on space and the need to breathe out once in a while leads to all sorts of problems which are very ugly indeed?
Maybe, then, the government should consider asking Glaxo Smith Kline to perhaps slow down the development of its vaccine for swine flu. Just a thought.



SIZE MATTERSSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend



                Lurkers – that’s what they call people on the internet who don’t make any noise. Lurkers don’t register on the internet. Not even a blip do they leave. And there are tens if not hundreds of thousands of them, literally, the silent majority, peering in from the galleries.

          Lurking is considered a bit unsporting down in sunny cyberspace (this is after all, a theatre of flamboyant interactivity). But the number crunchers who crank out the quasi-Arbitron ratings of page visitors, estimate that lurkers outnumber their more ‘chatty’ counterparts by at least 50 to one. Even here on this blog, most people are content to be part of the grand, high-beamed woodwork. Virtual wallflowers.

          Lurking is a larval phase in the Net-head’s life cycle. It’s that spooky, voyeuristic time when you haven’t got your bearings yet, but you’re fascinated enough to browse with a bovine contentment on the grassy pastures of online discourse. Concealed by anonymity, you can sit back and binge on colourful fonts of all shapes and sizes, guzzling at them faster than you have absorbed information ever before in your life. You inhale information for all that you’re worth. And all the while, you’re completely invisible. Lurking is like one of those Sunday-night movies on national television where a guy is struck by lightning or toxic waste and becomes Captain Undetectable, suddenly able to overhear boardroom conversations and sneak into the lingerie dressing rooms at Harrods in a single bound. People get into fights, yell and scream at each other, and they’re completely oblivious to you, in your front room seat. Transparency does have its advantages.
         
          But after a while, the novelty of eavesdropping wears off. The learning curve flattens out. You’re bloated with other people’s thoughts and actions, and you know enough of the lingo not to embarrass yourself. So you say something. Anything. On some obscure newsgroup. Any newsgroup, message board, forum and the like. Just a few sentences at first. Nothing major.

          And then you click on a button, and your words come out the other side of the pipe. All of a sudden, an offhand comment that lit up only your screen has twice circumnavigated the globe. One keystroke sends non decaying duplicates to the rest of the world. This takes but a few seconds.

          And then, a few hours later, you pick up a response from some church preacher in Cleveland, and – all of a sudden, another rabbit comes out of the magician’s hat – and you’re rolling. You have successfully evolved from larval lurker to the pupae Net-head phase: a novice poster, a newbie, (a creature with spindly, wriggly little legs but no wings). From there, it is just a matter of time, of picking up speed and justifying sporadic editorials at the expense of freedom of speech.

          That is not a problem; it allows one to avenge all those other frivolous uses of your education and relinquished tax payments. And in the midst of all of this internet surfing, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you have ever graduated or not. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are for that matter. You’re still on the internet, and it’s seamless. It is absolutely continuous. You are moved, but at the same time, you are still where you are. Parked behind your keyboard, just patiently waiting. Waiting to be a part of the next big episode. You are hooked, and you don’t even know it.

          Un-abated in your quest for higher levels of interactivity, you put up with all forms of negativity. The scamming, the spamming, the cyber-bullying and phishing. You experience the whole gamut of on-line ‘everythingness’. All the text, the images, the videos, the games, the groups, the forums. Instant messaging, e-mailing, blogging, researching, gambling, shopping, selling and publishing. The quest is endless as the drive for social intercourse takes over. You spend more and more time communing with myriads of unknown and unseen people whilst at the same time becoming further and further isolated from the real people around you, as you sit behind your workstation tapping merrily away at your keyboard. Never mind though, there’s even an answer for that with on-line dating or possibly a little cyber-sex. Why would you ever need to leave home again?

          Next you become the Web-master. Struggling to get your own personal opinions and pages aired. Spending more and more time networking to build traffic through your own site’s content. Adwords, keywords, meta-tags, traffic generators and on-line stats are now king in your mind as you struggle ever increasingly, to be seen amongst 50 or so billion competing treasured sites. Every waking hour is pushed towards finding that one extra elusive reader and all else pails into insignificance.

          Now you are at the top of the tree. Ruthlessly sticking to your objectives as you consciously force yourself to go that extra mile and stay with it. One day, your time will come. It may be tomorrow, it could be in years. But you plod on regardless, relentlessly chasing your dreams. Learning new languages to further your ambitions. There’s HTML, XML, CSS, PHP, JAVA, FLASH and FTP to mention but a few.

          You have to strike a defined balance between cyber-life and real world living, constantly cheating your body of the sleep it desperately desires as you stay glued to your screen for just a little while longer. Existing on snack foods, coke and caffeine, the diet of the cyber-geek.

          Eventually, it all becomes too much. Too many things to do, too many places to be. Your life has become a living library of screen names, profiles and passwords. E-mail addresses and web URLs. Your inbox takes hours to get through and everybody in the whole wide world wants to talk to you all at once.

          You’ve finally had enough. God I’m sick of this stuff, it’s all making me nauseous, you think whilst laughing because you remember how infatuated you once were with it all. You remember how you could never imagine ever wanting off. Now, it’s just like pure overdose. Three o’clock in the morning and you’re still at your computer, happily snacking on a bowl of co-co pops, when suddenly the internet stops looking like the digital playground it once was and starts to seem like some sort of Sartorial Hell. There are just too many voices, too many people in your face, each of them expressing an opinion, and you can hear them all. That crushing tide of voices is heavy in a way that a stadium roar never ever could be. You realise, in a way that you never have before, what “a whole lot of people” really means. It’s an absolute nightmare.

          “I feel crushed by the weight of this weird world. I have no idea why I bother with this whole Web existence. There’s just too bloody much of this stuff, all the time, and it never stops. All this information, it’s toxic. I can’t even think about messengers without getting queasy. Jesus, I just want to shut off the crush of all those voices, the endless chatter, and all the people that float right through me. I’m worn out with being a ghost. I feel myself starting to wear thin.

I’m sick of the overload. Sick of absorbing all this shit. Sick of cold coffee. Sick of the sleep deprivation. Sick of feeling strung out all the time. Sick of waking up in the morning with my brain ringing. And you know what? I really don’t care if I never pick up another piece of goddamned e-mail as long as I live. I just can’t DO this anymore. I am so fucking tired.

          And I am thinking; if I never log in again; if this whole cyber existence just vanished ... so fucking what? Internet death is starting to look pretty liberating from where I am sitting (to die, to sleep, perchance to dream ... Mmm REM cycles). Anyway, I could always return if I needed to”.

          God, it really is late, and my box of crunchy nut cornflakes is down to the final crumbs.  I think it is time I drafted a suicide note, announcing my impending Net-death.  8-)

          “Maybe I could become famous after all. Famous for helping out Net-a-holics. Helping them Net-kill themselves by ripping out that most vital of their organs, the modem. The ‘Kill-Net Virus’ has a nice ring to it. Muwahahahahahaha.”

          And just then, another idea has spawned itself and it demands of you, the full internet treatment. So, even more tapping onto the keyboard and a further delving into the internet through the wee small hours ensues. And on it goes for the fully fledged, cyber-living Net-heads.



          

CYBER LIVINGSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


 

            It was May 4th 1982, two days after the sinking of the Argentine cruiser - the General Belgrano. It was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Conquerer. 368 Argentine sailors were killed in that episode and Argentina, under the dictate of General Galtieri reacted with martial vigour. An Argentine warplane launched a French built Exocet air-to-sea missile at the British Destroyer HMS Sheffield where twenty men were killed. George Reynolds was part of the company of marines on board that ship. Part of the South Atlantic Task Force, sent to re-gain the Falkland Isles. It was a near miss for George and he now lay collapsed on the deck in great pain and drenched in blood.

            George had been trapped by falling debris wrought from the missile strike and such was the extent of his injuries, he was later to have his legs amputated. Just days after reaching the conflict zone, his participation was already over. He was whisked away for urgent medical treatment and returned home as soon as was possible. Surviving the whole ordeal, George now had the unenviable task of learning to live with his injuries. Being a strong and generally healthy man, he had a fairly fast recovery but had the added burden of having to cope with prosthetic limbs, learning to stand and learning to walk again from scratch. Undaunted and filled with enthusiasm for a somehow brighter future, George struggled through as the conflict in the Falklands continued without him. The Falkland conflict was finally settled on July 11th of that same year, but it took George a further six months before he could claim his own personal victory.

            It was now March 1983 and George was once again fully mobile and he had pensioned himself out of the Marines. He took the money and literally ran all the way back to Civvy Street, where he took up a new career, in sales. It wasn't long before he got the hang of his new job and within just a couple of months; he was fast breaking his targets and reaching for the heavens. He loved his new profession and vowed to invest all his time and efforts into it. Already breaking records, he applied himself more and more. His goal now: to be the best.

            George Reynalds was fast becoming a champion in his field, a real master of his craft and a winner through and through. He was a salesman with a brilliant history of beaten sales targets and untold earned commissions, but what made George different from all others, was his determination and an inability to be beaten by anything. Through all kinds of adversity he had already triumphed and now, having fully mastered his chosen profession, he was to become a true star of the sales community. Because of his record achievements through sales, he was later able to give training seminars and quickly became known as the 'Billy Graham' of all selling.

            One example of beating the competition, he would inform his trainees, was his having been blessed with a wooden leg (or two). Think about that for a while ... How would you cope? How would you turn this disadvantage to your advantage and still carry yourself through your ambitions? George had found a novel way of doing just that, and he pushed it as far as he could. Well how had George managed it? Not many people would reckon a wooden leg was anything to be blessed with, but then, not so many people could use a wooden leg to make as much money as George did.

            Its time now, to see how he did it. He was in a very competitive market that promised a lot of repeat business to the right salesman and George knew this full well. He had at the time, a dozen eager competitors fighting for the same business but undeterred by this, George got himself most of that business, purely because of his wooden leg, he would say.

            It wasn't sympathy business he was winning, and George being a true pro, wouldn't have accepted it if it was. No, all he did was use his wooden leg as a form of focuser and memory jogger for his clients. When he first met a new prospective customer, he sat with his wooden leg straight out to one side, so that the customer could see four inches of the polished teak between his deliberately short sock and his trouser turn-up. He'd turned down the offer of switching from polished teak to a skin coloured, contoured aluminium years before.

            The mere sight of those four inches of polished teak, he claimed, used to hypnotise his customers. They just couldn't take their eyes off it. Ten minutes later maximum, and the customer couldn't help himself but say: - "Excuse me asking: but is that REALLY wood?

            "Oh yes!" the salesman would reply, pulling his trouser leg up another six inches, flashing the timber prop and giving the polished teak a rap with his pen. "Copped for it big time during the Falklands."

            A few minutes were then spent talking about the leg, problems in damp weather, the "Arrr - Jim Lads", etc, but the key factor thereafter for business was that the salesman was never ever forgotten. Repeat business was thereby, as good as guaranteed. The other dozen competitors simply didn't stand a chance. Other than a mirrored personality, they offered nothing different for the customer to focus his attention on.

            But the biggest bonus for George our one legged sales legend, was that thanks to our government, his car sported a disabled driver sticker. Purely because of this, diligent use of his DD privileges meant he could literally park up anywhere and dive in with his polished sales pitches whilst the competition were still driving aimlessly around the town, looking for somewhere to legally park. So now he could make more sales calls than his rivals, as well as win most times when he was face to face selling.

            And that's not where the story ends... It wasn't just one wooden leg for George; let me remind you it was two. He had lost both his legs during the conflict. But despite everything he had to contend with, he had always resolved to 'stand up' and be counted. He simply couldn't live the rest of his life just 'arse-ing' about (which is what you would normally do, with no legs), that's what made him so different.

            But wait...

            Unfortunately for George, twenty six years after the fateful day of that terrible wounding, he was violently sick after carelessly swallowing some varnish whilst renovating his legs. It poisoned him and he died more or less instantly. Not a happy ending for our story as such, but because of the varnish, it still had a lovely finish.

             Sorry about that final twist, I couldn't help it.




BEST FOOT FORWARDSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


 

            Roger blew into Jane’s ear, making her jump. “You’re miles away,” he said to her accusingly.

            Jane blinked, suddenly aware that she had been day dreaming. “I was just thinking about Chloe.” She made a face. “Well, worrying about Chloe.”

            She frowned at the thought of her baby-sitter and the mayhem she was probably wreaking. Jane pictured their front room littered with Coke cans and crisp packets, as music blared out from their CD player.

            It had been Roger’s idea to have Chloe babysit for them, after their usual sitter had let them down. Jane had reluctantly agreed because Roger was so looking forward to going out. But she wished they’d been able to find someone else – anyone else. Everywhere Chloe went, chaos followed.

            There was no doubting that Chloe had a heart of gold, but she was so – well, irresponsible. And there was the awful music she listened to, and the ridiculous clothes. And then there were the gormless boyfriends. The last one had been caught in the high street, doing wheelies on his bike. Jane told herself that Chloe was at a difficult age, that it would soon all pass but it didn’t help.

            Roger sighed and touched her arm. “I’m sure you’re worrying about nothing. Why not just ring home and check that it’s okay?”

            Jane shivered at the thought of it, and her hand trembled as she dialled the number. The phone rang for a long time, as Jane waited anxiously.

            Eventually, the line clicked and Chloe answered the phone.

            “Chloe! I’ve been ringing for ages,” Jane complained, “Why did you take so long to answer?”

            Chloe was evasive, “I ... I didn’t hear it.”

            “You had your music on too loud you mean!”

            “Maybe,” Chloe admitted, grudgingly.

            “Is Scott all right?

            “Oh yes, he’s fine. He wasn’t sleepy, so I let him stay up a while longer. We were having a dance. He’s in bed now, though.”

            Jane was about to ask if Scott had remembered to clean his teeth when she heard a laugh – a deep, male laugh. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.

            “Is that a man’s voice I can hear?”

            There was a long pause. “Er ... yes,” Chloe replied. “It’s just a friend. You know, Rick. He popped in on his way home from the youth club.”

            Jane fought to control her temper. How dare Chloe use her house as a rendezvous point for dropouts!

            “We’re going to have a serious talk when I get home,” she warned. “You’d better have some good excuses.”

            Jane slammed down the phone and stormed back to the table. She told Roger, but he seemed to find it all amusing. “Oh well, girls will be girls,” he said.

            “Not in my front room they won’t,” Jane replied. Heaven knows what they are doing.” She breathed in angrily. “That’s it. We’ll have to go back. Chloe can’t be trusted. I knew something like this would happen.”

            Her husband groaned. “But it will be midnight soon. We’ll miss the last dance.”

            Jane’s expression was like bottled thunder.

            “I’ll get our coats,” Roger instantly conceded.

            Jane fumed on the drive back. “I knew it was a mistake,” she snapped. I knew it. I told you we should have a responsible adult. Well, that’s positively the last time she baby-sits.”

            Roger knew what was good for him. He simply nodded and kept silent. He concentrated on the road and winced at the thought of what was to come. All too soon, he turned into their street and spotted Rick’s bike parked outside their door. Jane spotted it too, and muttered furiously.

            “He’s still there,” she said through gritted teeth.

            The wall of sound hit them as they entered the house. Jane marvelled that Scott could sleep through the racket. She also marvelled that the neighbours hadn’t called the police.

            They found Chloe and Rick in the front room, both looking sheepish. Chloe immediately leapt up and switched off the music.

            “Oh, I wasn’t expecting you home so soon,” she said.

            “That’s obvious,” Jane said, her tone icy. She glared at Rick. “Isn’t it time you were leaving?”

            The bespectacled male nodded timidly and grabbed his CD collection and his bicycle clips. Roger couldn’t hide a smile as the youth club leader hobbled away.

            Jane turned her attention to Chloe. “Why don’t you put your hearing aid in when you listen to music, instead of blasting it out?” she demanded.

            Chloe’s twinkling eyes misted under her grey hair. “I’m sorry, love,” she said, shoulders slumping. “I forgot.”

            Jane wanted to scream. She looked across pleadingly at Roger. “Can’t you talk to her? Try to explain things?”

            Roger glanced at the merry widow and shook his head.

            “I don’t think so,” he said. “I couldn’t really tell her off. After all, Chloe is my mother!”



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