Downtime Stories

Short stories for when you have time for a short story.

In Two Weeks I Turn XX

In two weeks I turn XX.

I was thinking about being XX and was about to have a mini panic attack. My brain was rushing through all of the usual age related thoughts that lead to age related panic. You know the ones…

Am I where I thought I’d be? What am I doing with my life? Do I look old? Shit, do I look old while not knowing what I’m doing with my life? Will I be rich? Houses are expensive. Will I be successful? Cripes, what’s success? Fuck… I’m single…

After a short loop of these self-deprecating, spiralling thoughts of bunk-ness, I stopped myself, and shook the feeling of wanting to simultaneously cry and laugh hysterically at the same time.

Another thought popped into my head. “Hey, guy, you have these thoughts every year before your birthday.”

I had the same crisis 1, 2, 3, 4 years ago, and am most likely going to continue to have it at the same point every year until I don’t have any more birthdays. And then the birthday happens, and you forget about it all, and just crack on having a generally good time.

Because the rest of the time you’re not trying to benchmark yourself against an age. It’s impossible to benchmark yourself against anything really, unless you have an identical twin in both looks and personality. And all the identical twins I’ve seen spend most of their time trying to be as different as possible to each other, and would tell a benchmark where to go and stick it.

It’s a comforting thought to think that there is no benchmark, or no definitive answer to “Am I where I need to be?” Because as it would seem, it’s quite difficult to be anywhere else other than where you are.

Like, currently I’m in a park. In London. I have a job in London, is it the right job? I have no fucking idea. Is it the right park? Well I don’t see why not. There is grass, a fountain and quite nice trees so that’s something.

The thing is I’m the one that has to live with where I am, no one else, so as long as I’m happy for more time than I’m not then yeah why not? Stick with it guy. You have good hours, and good minutes. And it’s the sum of all of these that mean you’re happy or you’re not.

And if that changes, and the bad starts to even be considered, then that’s when you go somewhere else where the good outweighs the bad again.

So fine. Turn XX, it’s all going to be OK. And then two weeks before my birthday next year I’ll read this again.

P.s You’re turning 26, you look old, you’re single, you’re not rich, and you’re not successful. You make me sick.

mid-life-crisis

A Completely Accurate And Well Researched Book Review Of ‘Pensions And Wealth In Retirement’ by John Greenwood.

Today in London it is raining a little bit more than usual. In an attempt to make the most of it all, I decided it would be a good idea to head to the library to increase my knowledge or something, before I decreased it later on.

What kind of knowledge? I asked myself.  And the first thing that popped into my head was alligators. Why? I have no idea, but somewhere in my sub conscious I must have a desire to learn more about alligators, and who am I to deny myself what I want.

I got a bit of pep in my step. I had a plan. I walked through the rain, hopped on the over ground, had some coffee, juice and smashed avocado and entered the Dalston Library.

This is where the mood changes. Libraries are not what I remember. They almost feel like hospitals. They smell a bit funny, the people in there seem a little bit sad, and the books feel like they have been forgotten about. It’s also very difficult to find a book about alligators.

To say I searched high and low would be completely un-true.  I gave the shelves a thirty second sweep, came up empty handed and decided to select the first book that jumped out at me, and write a review on it, and this is what I’ve done.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the review of ‘Pensions & Wealth in Retirement’ by John Greenwood.

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To begin at the beginning, John Greenwood is not the sort of man you would invite to your dinner party. He has a chip on his shoulder. He comes from a long line of Greenwoods who for generations have been Park Rangers. For years, Greenwood fathers have passed on their knowledge of the forests to their sons. The centaurs, the fauns, what berries to eat, which fairies you should avoid, but this was not the life that John wanted.

John wanted to write. Upon telling his father this he was banished from the forest and cut off from his family. This did nothing to quell his determination and for 20 years he worked and researched until finally he finished his book. It was his magnum opus. It was Pensions & Wealth in Retirement and to him it was perfect.

A quick scan of the book confirmed my greatest fears. John Greenwood’s Pensions & Wealth in Retirement does not mention alligators once. Whether he has overlooked the importance of alligators to ones retirement or he simply has some kind of prejudice against these wonderful creatures, it reaffirms the original statement that John Greenwood is not the sort of man you would invite to your dinner party.

The opening sentence: “It is worth asking yourself what sort of retirement you visualise yourself having” is strong, but if one were really being true to ones audience, they would re-work the sentence to say “It is worth asking yourself what sort of alligator you see yourself retiring with,” a huge oversight by John and his editors.

Phrases like “Annuity Risk” and “Stakeholder Pensions” could have been improved ten fold simply by inserting the word alligator. “Alligator Risk” and “Stakeholder Alligator” just flow off the tongue. Am I right?

The book also foolishly does not feature one diagram of an alligator, which as we know improves a book at least 70%.

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The book comes to a crashing and wholly unremarkable conclusion, with a chapter on offshore pensions, which to me sound like they are illegal and downright reckless, and finishes with the sentence: “You should ask your advisor about the level of investor protection offered in the jurisdiction where the QPOPS arrangement is in place in the event that the provider goes bust,” in which it is clear that John has started making up words and is quite possibly drunk.

All in all the two sentences I read in this book have left me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied, like a hungry alligator with an empty lighter belly (see diagram above). I give John Greenwood’s ‘Pensions And Wealth In Retirement’ 7/80 alligator teeth and hope to see John returning to the forest and reuniting with the remaining Greenwoods where he can really make a difference.

Alligator. 

Dear Corporate World

Smile more.

It’s really not that bad.

Smile more when you’re commuting to work. Smile more when you’re sitting at your desk eating breakfast. Smile more when you’re in the elevator and someone else gets in.

The trick to smiling is to move the muscles either side of your mouth up slightly and lift your eyebrows a little bit. To help, in the beginning think about a time when you were happier. Perhaps when you dived into the ocean over summer, or when someone told you they liked you.

It can be quite a tricky thing to do, so maybe try a few in the mirror when you’re brushing your teeth, then start off with one on the way to work each day. And then build up from there. 

Be careful though, because there can be some consequences to smiling at people. Some people may think you are a little bit strange, but others may smile back at you. Some of these may, after a few smiles begin a conversation with you which could lead in to a friendship or romance. You may accidentally brighten someone’s morning, who then in turn may brighten someone else’s morning, and it could turn into a world-wide epidemic. So if you’re against this then keep doing what you’re doing.

But it’s really not that bad, and if it is, then you should go back to the place you imagined when you were happier and start there again.

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Image: A Sloth smiling whilst hard at work. Note the sides of his mouth are elevated and he seems warm and friendly. 

In News – Lego Mindstorms Robot CubeStormer3

It’s OK everyone, a man has built a robot out of Lego that can solve a Rubik’s cube in 3.253 seconds.

It was rumoured he spent the first 10 years of his career trying to provide clean drinking water to the 3rd world, but people really didn’t seem that interested.

“That’s when it hit me” his statement reads “People have built Rubik’s cube solving robots before, but never out of Lego, and none have ever solved it this fast. I mean, just think about all those colours.”

142 out of the 196 countries in the world have praised the achievement as the greatest yet for human kind to date, and the remaining 54’s only criticism was that he should have started sooner, rather than faffing around with the whole try to make the world a better place thing. 

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The Plight Of Howard

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Banana Co Phone Enquiry 4.4.2014 18:49– Based On Real Events

Banana Co, you’ve got Charles.

Hi Charles, this is Chris. What would the cost be for someone to come and sing Happy Birthday to a friend at his birthday lunch dressed as a Banana?

I’m sorry Chris but we are no longer trading, following a terrorist threat against our staff.

A terrorist threat?

Yes we get quite a few threats but this one was actually quite serious so we’re battening down the hatches until we can guarantee the security of all our staff. All bananas have been called in and we’re under siege conditions.

Well, wow. What a shame, I had my sights set on getting one of your bananas out there for a birthday song. I know my friend would enjoy it, and it would make it more of a memorable birthday you know?

I hear you Chris, I really do and we’d love to help but as I’m sure you can understand Banana Co takes terrorists threats very seriously. I mean, the odd drive by heckle comes with the territory, but terrorist threats against the whole organisation? We draw the line there. It’s quite a shame really. We’re just here to put a smile on people’s faces at their birthday’s, bar mitzvahs or the odd frat party but someone seems to really have it out for us.

It certainly seems that way Charles. Well, good luck with it all, hope it blows over and all that. Perhaps we’ll just try a stripper.

Thanks Chris, and have faith, we’ll bounce back from this. Good luck with the birthday lunch. God’s speed from all of us here at Banana Co. 

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The UK Wide Campaign For Happiness

“Folks, we are living in dark times”

The nation had stopped. On every screen around the country the British Prime Minister was addressing the country.

“Statistically speaking we’re at our lowest. Not since the great depression has our nation been so greatly depressed. We’ve stopped doing the little things. Smiling at each other. Greeting eachother on the street. Knowing our neighbour. We have our blinkers on like a horse racing for a finish line, but we my dear people, have no finish line.”

“And we don’t understand why…I mean. We tried to make you smile. Look at how we dressed the police. Their hats are the size of camel’s humps. Large camels humps, their top heavy for goodness sake!”

“I suppose so,” the nation collectively thought. “But we’re just so glum”

“So that’s it. We’re launching a UK wide campaign for  happiness. What does this mean to you?”

“We’ve brought over some Australian’s. Picked at random to form a committee. Because we love committees, they make us happy. They’ve come up with some initiatives, because initiatives are a good thing.”

“We’re raising footpaths so there are more things to trip on. Nothing brings people together more than when they see someone trip slightly while walking. That awkward look around they do to see if anyone saw. That raises daily morale 2% each time for those lucky enough to see.”

“We’re also encouraging people to spill things on themselves. From now on 1 in 10 cans of fizzy drink sold will be shaken up in the hope that upon exploding will bring laughter and  bonding to those around it.”

“We see it working like this. Can explodes on middle aged man on the tube.”

Man: Oh this is funny, that man’s can has exploded

Woman: Oh, I’m laughing in public, so is that man over there, we’ve just made eye contact

Man: Oh, a woman is laughing and smiling at me, perhaps I’ll take her for dinner “Would you like to go for dinner?”

Woman: Yes

Friendship achieved, statistics on the rise!

“And we’ve got a new scheme that everyone should be given scotch eggs. Scotch eggs are now free in the United Kingdom. At all official buildings, starting with Buckingham Palace. The palace will now solely be dedicated to the creation and transportation of scotch eggs around the country. For I like scotch eggs.”

He really had the people’s attention now. Their glumness was already shifting. Free scotch eggs and people falling over. Perhaps this could counter the grey skies and cold weather. Perhaps it may out way the hundreds of years of reserved politeness. The Prime Minister just might be on to something here.

“And lastly, as in the old days when our jails were full and we had to ship convicts out to Australia, so we will with the most un-happy. Using a triage system the 100,000 most depressed people from Britain are being sent to the New, New World where the sun shines and the people are kind, to be injected with Australian positivity and given a new hope. There they will be mended with avocado breakfasts and good coffee. Invited on beach holidays and smiled at in public.”

“In response the Australian government have only asked that we give Peter Andre back.”

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Meetings

Let’s have a meeting. Four words that send fear down the spine of anyone silly enough to be doing something that requires there to be meetings. Particularly when these meetings are about meetings.  

“Now, before we start today’s weekly catch up, can we please make sure that everyone is extremely hungry… Is everyone hungry?”

“Yes”

“Good, because the main thing is, we want everybody thinking about their stomachs during the meeting. Not just about how hungry they are, but also suffering from the general fear that someone may hear their stomach grumble, and as a result of this they will make awkward eye contact with someone.”

“Now good, everyone’s hungry. Has someone prepared the room? Is the temperature slightly too warm so that we feel sleepy as soon as we walk in?”

“Yes”

“Fine work everybody, fine work! Only the noblest and truest of heart will be able to stay awake in this meeting now. I want heads dropping, I want people pinching cheeks, I want Jenny from accounts to fall of her chair again.”

“And do we have we interstate dialing in off bad lines?”

Yes”

“Outstanding team, outstanding.  It’s 2014 for goodness sake. I want crackly lines, I want no Internet connection. I want people speaking on top of each other, and then for good measure I want them to do it again. If I so much as hear one sentence that interstate are saying, so help me you’ll all be coming in this weekend for a status meeting.”

“Now wonderful. We’re ready. We’ve achieved the perfect mix of near starvation and the kind of sleepiness that if it were to happen on the road would require a power nap. The lines are crackling, and Jenny from accounts is asleep with a post-it note on her face so let’s begin, because if we don’t have meetings like this then we might actually get things done and that would be VERY bad for myself and senior management, because then we wouldn’t be able to fill our day… Now JENNY wake up, you’re promoted”

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Dalston Train

It was 7.42 pm on the London over ground somewhere between Hoxton and God knows where when the Australian man noticed her get on the train. Not because she was doing anything extra special, it was just that he was in the habit of noticing attractive women. Anywhere.

Even when there were no attractive women, or indeed women anywhere he could find them. Older ones, larger ones, trees that vaguely resembled their shapes, he could find them.

In today’s case this wasn’t a problem. The London over ground and more so underground is swarming with them. It’s quite the wonderful problem for a city to have. An underground population of extremely attractive women that could at any point rise up and take over the world. Anyway, this one was particularly nice. She was wearing all black with bright red lipstick, large frames and a posh west London accent, and she was the prettiest contradiction he had ever seen. That day.

He watched her move through the crowd like a pretty missile and sat directly in front of him, which was an incredible stroke of luck.

Now one thing he had learnt in his time in London, which had reached a staggering full 5 days, was that people here were very good at looking at each other when the other isn’t looking. It’s an art form that he had not quite perfected yet, something that was causing some issues in Brixton where he lived with the often intimidating Brixtonian drug dealers, but in the cases of pretty girls meant that they knew instantly if he was interested, which if this story has so far taught you anything, he usually is.

It’s important to note three things now in the telling of this story.

1.)    As I write this in Brixton markets at a café, a ginger cat just strolled by casually which can be an extremely distracting thing, as its general cuteness and disregard for normal market conventions just basically shut the whole market down as everyone stopped what they were doing and stared. The point of this is it has thrown me and my writing may now suffer as a result of this distraction.

2.)    This particular cafe I’m sitting in is owned by Italians, or run by them. Who’s to say who pays the lease, but three of these fine folk have just sat at the table next to me to take a tart break. Yes,  they’re all sitting next to me eating tarts. Three Italians eating tarts at Brixton markets, who have just been distracted by a ginger cat, and their musical musings (assumedly talking about said cat, or the quality of their tarts) are incredibly distracting and wonderful. I’m just building the scene you know? Letting you know where I am, where it’s all coming from. I’m slightly in love with one of the Italian women, she has such interesting teeth.

3.)    And everything from this point on in the story is essentially made up. A few details are true like the following ‘small smile’ part which you will soon read about, but the rest is what occurred in my imagination, so in a way it’s true, but only to me.

So a part of what happened next that is true. When she sat down they did make eye contact and she did give him a little smile. And I can’t be bothered writing ‘he’ any more at this point in the story. Shock horror, the ‘he’, ‘Australian Man’ of which I write is actually me… I might change back to saying he at some point but for now I and me will do. What a useless paragraph, I promise the next ones are an improvement…

So, she was on the phone to a friend, confidently allowing her fancy west London accent to drown out the general murmurs of her Eastern compatriots, when I heard her say ‘’I was going to go to the gym but am a little bit tired now so don’t know what I feel like doing.’’

This is where my imagination kicks in. In my imagination as she says this she looks up and gives me a suggestive look as if to say ‘’but if you asked me I would spend it with you’’ so let’s pretend that this is exactly what happened.  And go back to using ‘The Australian man.’’

The Australian man couldn’t help overhearing this sentence, which would normally mean very little if not combined with that short, although suggestive look that said ‘’But if you asked me, Australian man, I would spend it with you.’’ (Like that? Continuity, good!)

When her phone call finished up she went back to flicking aimlessly through her phone, as most people do when they are simply existing through transit. After a good five second internal debate that if written would probably fill a large book, he thought ‘to hell with it’ and jumped up, and with all the grace and smoothness of an old tractor managed to clunk over to the chair next to her. A move that didn’t go un-noticed by the rest of the train, but as said with their ability to not be caught staring at anyone managed to go un-noticed by the Australian man.

She looked up. He looked at her. He tried to get words out too quickly, and the only response she could muster without speaking back in whatever dialect of strange gypsy he was using was to ask ‘’pardon?’’

’Sorry’’ he recovered ‘’I couldn’t help over hearing that you have no plans this evening and well, it’s just, neither do I. I’m quite new here and was wondering if you’d like to have a drink with me. I know quite a cool place in…’’ he looked up at the next stop ‘’umm, Dalston and it might be fun.’’

‘’Well’’ she paused, the eavesdroppers on the carriage paused. The train itself came to a pause. ‘’OK, as long as it’s a cool place then I’m in.’’

The next station is Dalston, please mind the gap.

Now he had been to Dalston before. Once. At night, drunk, being lead around in a group lead by someone who knew much more about what to do there than he did. He had found the place generally dirty and smelly. The bars were quite good, if you could find them, which is the tough part. They are hidden under trap doors, inside fridges, and in rare cases inside homeless people’s coats. You just sort of, stand there, and he puts his coat over you and you drink beer from inside his coat pocket. The entry is over the top and there is always a huge line for this bar.

It’s also the kind of place where if you show any interest in anything, anyone, or yourself you are immediately evicted from the bar you’re in, and if you divert from being anything other than a zombie, dressed extremely uncomfortably and sedated you are immediately exiled from Dalston and asked kindly never to return.

Now the Australian man was no stranger to this kind of girl, and knew that perhaps her strive for coolness may just distract her from the fact that he had absolutely no idea where they were going or what he was doing, and if he acted confidently enough he could just walk into the next place they found and convince her that it was the next big thing, up and coming, and that if it was empty it’s because it was so new and hip that people were only just discovering it.

So he did this, and the next place was a kebab shop called Ali’s.

‘’This is it’’ he said confidently.

‘’Are you sure’’ she asked. ‘’I mean, it sort of just looks like a manky kebab shop… and that man is staring at me.’’

It was a manky kebab shop. Little plastic chairs, smelly old meat, and indeed Ali himself, standing there behind the counter in a dirty old, too small wife beater, with his finger inside his hairy, too large belly button leering at her.

’Yes’’ he replied ‘’It’s sort of, a metaphor for East London. It’s owned by James Blake’s manager and the bass player from Bloc Party. They are both often here actually.’’

‘’Wow’’ she said generally impressed.

They sat, they had a beer, they talked, she bought a kebab, she Instagramed it. They didn’t really hit it off and they went their separate ways, never to see each other again in the huge grey beast that is London.

A month later on a Friday night the Australian man was out in Dalston again, being lead around by someone who knew the place a lot better than he did, and was assuring him that they were heading to the next big thing  in East London, if they could get in as it was just that popular.

They got there, they saw the line, it was Ali’s kebab. Word had spread and he asked the leader.

‘’Where have you been’’ they replied ‘’Ali’s is the thing, it’s the place, it’s owned by James Blake’s manager and the bass player from Bloc Party. They’re both often here actually. Ali’s a living legend around these parts, he’s dating Mick Jagger’s daughter!’’

It’s again important to note that most of this didn’t actually happen, but hopefully somewhere out there, there is a little Kebab shop in Dalston who’s owner Ali’s life is about to change.

Alis

The Bright Gun of Perspective

A wholly un-revolutionary rant about what is surely common sense by David Toussaint, inspired by a quotation from Fiona Meldrum.

There is a theory that most people in the world can be wonderful, if caught in the right light.

This theory, like most theories is of course littered with outliers (in this case those that are un-wonderful, or as the commoners call it, purely fucking horrid). They flow through the pages of history listed as dictators or tyrants, but we are not talking about them. We are talking about your every day son-of-a-gun, your average Joe, your Milky Jan (for there should be a Milky Jan for every average Joe), but that is something for another time.

To the point.

It is important to keep this theory close to you at all times, because by doing this it may then shine that light on you, so that those around you can see your wonder. Keep the theory in a holster, like a little bright gun of perspective, and use it in situations where you feel it is most needed.

Like on public transport. Some are lucky enough to not have to use public transport. Some can walk through the marvellous parks of their cities from A to B, almost floating in the space they have, but others are less fortunate. Some have to catch trams, and trams let me tell you can be like a dictator – quite horrid. Trams you see, are natural shadows over peoples sunshine.

Why? People stand really close to you, they cough, they talk on their mobile phones, they smell like cigarettes, they have their heads down, and they only seem to smile at you if they are clinically insane. (Please note, that if one person is doing all of these things at the same time, then it is best to pretend you are a tree– instructions on how to do this are below.

When these people surround you it is quite easy to turn them into your public transport enemies. You jump to crazy conclusions, like, “I hate them, I hate them all so much that I wish they would just fall into a large hole, yes that’s it, a large hole. That would serve them right for being in my space, for not smiling, for smelling. A large ruddy hole. Where can I find a hole large enough? All the holes I’ve seen would only fit a couple of them, and they all deserve this. I wonder if they have holes big enough in foreign countries. Ahh foreign countries. Remember when you used to go to them? Now look at you! You’re on a tram going to work with all these fuddy duddys. You’re one of them now. And I hate them for that. I hope they fall into a hole. Etc. etc.”  

This is where it is time to pull out your bright gun of perspective.

Quick! Draw it out…. “Pew Pew” you just shot the man that smells like cigarettes. It turns out on his way to the tram an old lady dropped one of her shopping bags, and while everyone else kept walking he helped her pick it up.

“Pew, Wham” (For the bright gun of perspective never makes the same noise twice) you just shot the person standing really close to you. It turns out she is a wonderful player of the Maracas and has been known to bring people to tears with her incredible shake-a-shake solos.

“Pachow” you just shot the man with the cough. It turns out he is sick because he has been waking up early to go for jogs to get in shape for his wife to try and surprise her for their anniversary.

“Boing Ding” you just shot the yuppie on his mobile phone talking really loud. There’s no light here. There’s no excuse for that. He’s a dick, but it’s OK your gun is not faulty, there are outliers!

The tram is just one place, for there are many where the bright gun of perspective is required. Driving, work, restaurants, cinemas, – many places. Think of a place, it’s probably required there. Many many places. I thought I’d list them all but there are so many that it would take me a larger amount of time then I have to list them. So many places that you need your gun, so take it!

Take it and shoot everyone. But be careful of dictators. For the most part that is good advice.

Instructions on how to be a tree:

To pretend to be a tree, hold your arms out to each side of your body, not too rigid, and sort of sway like you’re a really slow metronome. Whilst doing this move your fingers like you are playing the piano (any song will do except Chopsticks). To add to the effect make a sort of “Vwhoooooo” noise like there is a pleasant breeze going past you.

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