Gas Mask

My son, Craig, used to play for the local junior cricket team. His slightly younger sister, Loren, was taking part in a school project researching the Second World War. Apart from the fact that these two events were taking part at the same point in their childhood, you might not think these facts are connected, but let me tell you a little story.

One day, during the early part of summer, Craig came home from school and unusually found Loren playing in his bedroom. She had located a hand-sized plastic object and had it over her mouth and nose deeply breathing in and out. He said, “Oi, what are you doing in here?”

Loren replied, “Never mind that, what are you doing with a gas mask in your bedroom?”

Craig said, “That’s not a gas mask, it’s a cricket box!”

This apparently meant nothing to Loren until Craig explained about the part of the male anatomy protected by a cricket box while batting. I do believe that this was the first time Loren had voluntarily dashed to the bathroom to scrub her face and to clean her teeth.

Here are two images for you, the first to explain what Loren thought she was doing and the second to illustrate what she was actually doing.

Razzle-Dazzle

As a 14-year-old, I remember captaining my school cricket team. One evening, we played a cup game at Great Horton CC in Bradford. I can’t recall which school we played against, but I remember the match for two different reasons. Our team bowled first, and it was the only time I ever took a hat-trick. All three wickets were caught by the same player fielding at deep mid-off, so I’m not sure if I can claim a significant amount of credit as a feat of bowling knowing that I had been whacked to the edge of the field on three separate occasions. That is not, however, the main reason why I remembered this match.

Thin Cricketer

I was one of the two opening batsmen, and I played a wild shot that resulted in my dismissal for a very low score. I trudged back to the clubhouse where the rest of the team were sitting outside watching the match. There was no applause, no words of consolation and barely even an acknowledgement of my short-lived innings. As I walked past my teammates and headed for the changing room, the teacher in charge said, “Where do you think you’re going?” I replied that I was just going to take my pads off and change my shoes.

Feeling rather dejected and a little embarrassed at my poor performance with the bat, I sat myself down in an empty changing room. Something caught my eye. Underneath the bench opposite me, I saw a rolled up magazine. I wandered over to investigate further and unfurled it to reveal the title “Razzle”. Yes, it was the first time I had ever encountered a ‘porno’ magazine. I had honestly never seen any images like those I saw that evening. This was already starting to feel like a more exciting world. My eyes opened ever-wider in wonderment as I (literally) peeled open each page in the magazine.

Goggle Eyes

It’s amazing how quickly 20 minutes go by, and I quickly came to my senses. I rolled the magazine up and returned it exactly where I had found it before leaving the clubhouse and joining my teammates outside. The teacher shouted across, “What have you been doing?” I shouted back, “Taking my pads off!” He replied, and I quote, “You’re still fuckin’ wearing ‘em!!”

Beetroot Face

The last day of the cricket season had arrived. The under-17’s Bankfoot cricket team in the Bradford League had completed a less than moderate campaign finishing just three places from the bottom of the table. Winning or losing the last game of the season would have made no difference to the finishing position, but with hindsight, that is no reason for my despicable unsportsmanlike behaviour that day.

I opened the batting for that team along with a good friend of mine, Richard. We had privately battled all year to end the season with the best batting average to the point where, to us, the contest had become more important than the fortunes of the team. Before that final match started, I led Richard with a batting average of 20.5 runs per innings compared to his 20.1. We went out to bat together and even shook hands before we started; I guess the opposition must have thought that a bit odd!

Within just a few overs, Richard had smashed the ball around and had already scored 30 runs before I had even scored 5. This was a disaster; at this rate, he was going to overtake me in the averages. As a team player, I really should not have become so excited when he was caught by the slip fielder. Richard walked over to me before leaving the field and said in a desperate act of reverse-psychology mind games, “Well, it’s all yours.”

I mentally worked out what I needed to do to claim the best batting average for the season, I either needed to score more than 30 runs or score 10 runs but not lose my wicket. It is shameful to admit that I opted for the latter option and defended my way through the next 15 overs, attempting to make sure that whoever was at the other end of the wicket took most of the strike. In short, I played in the style of the great Geoffrey Boycott for the entire 20-over match and scored 15 runs, thereby winning our contest. Of course, the team ended up losing the game because we barely scored any runs, but at the time, that didn’t really matter to me.

Boycott

The end-of-season club awards ceremony took place a few weeks later, not just for the under 17’s but for all the age brackets and teams that played for Bankfoot CC. That year, it was an organised fish and chip supper for all the players, both junior and senior, and some family members. The club chairman started his speech while people were still eating and shortly afterwards, he announced the winners of the various awards. My turn came around, I was called up to receive a small trophy for the highest batting average for the under 17’s. I was given a round of applause, walked over to the chairman, shook hands, received my award and returned to my seat.

30 seconds later, a lady approached the opposite side of my table and held her open hand out to me. I smiled, stood up and shook her hand. She said to me, “Very nice, well done and all that, now will you pass me your dirty plate?” Sweet Lord, she was only trying to tidy up. Deep embarrassment took over, and I’m convinced my face went a dark shade of beetroot red as all my mates laughed their bloody heads off.

As an epilogue to the story, the team sheets and scorecards for the first five matches of the following season looked something like this:

Cricket scoresheet

Nine Lives

Something recently reminded me of a short story I wrote over 20 years ago. It was handwritten on a long lost scrappy piece of paper but using the same idea I decided to rewrite it for this blog. I hope you enjoy it.

 


Nine Lives

The year was 2424. All wars between countries and religions had virtually ceased; the human race had to act collectively to combat a mass, worldwide alien invasion. For centuries, there had been increased sightings of alien craft for the governments of the world to accept the threat could not be ignored. They pulled together, agreed on peaceful settlements and combined all efforts to a global defence strategy.

The alien beings were desperate to colonise our planet due to the exhaustion of their own natural resources; the already overpopulated Earth had insufficient assets to sustain multiple lifeforms. After weak attempts to negotiate settlements, the foreign lifeforms had no option but to endeavour to wipe out humanity and take over the Earth for the survival of their species.

The human race appeared to have little to fear. While the aliens had sophisticated spacecraft, the living beings were small, slow-moving lifeforms with limited intelligence; they were no match for a human being if it ever came to 1 to 1 combat and their versions of weapons were the equivalent of peashooters in comparison to the more advanced Earth defence artilleries. They did, however, have two advantages: firstly, they could breed very quickly, resulting in huge numbers already adapting to life in the Earth’s atmosphere; and secondly, they were disease-ridden, harbouring infections which had no impact on their own lifeform but were deadly to humans.

The aliens had to be controlled, ideally eliminated altogether. Humans lived in vast controlled zones, protected by giant magnetic shields which were virtually impenetrable. With ever-increasing extra-terrestrial numbers, there was a danger that those shields might not last forever. As a consequence, daily efforts were made across the globe to cull the invaders and keep the numbers to manageable proportions.

Surveillance vehicles called “Thundercats” were sent on patrol, leaving the safety of the controlled zones to seek out the intruders and kill on sight. The Thundercats were fast-moving, multi-terrain armoured tanks with their own mobile magnetic defence shields capable of withstanding a small atomic bomb. The aliens were not difficult to find, they would plod towards the tanks with a single-tracked, zombie-like dedication and no plan of how to attack. They could be killed with a single shot, and their bodies would decompose within days. The patrol missions were more like cleaning-up exercises than acts of war.

 

Spencer Invictus was a much-decorated and highly respected Captain in charge of a small specialist team managing the patrols. He was the youngest man ever to be assigned the position of Captain, and his operational knowledge of the Thundercat surveillance tanks was second to none. On February 1, 2424, he turned up for his usual working day at the “Station”, the simple name given to the depot which was the home to hundreds of war machines. He said goodbye to his 13-year-old brother who loved to be in his company and entered his Thundercat for a two-hour shift.

Gliding effortlessly across the barren terrain outside the human zone, he successfully sought out dozens of cumbersome alien land vehicles and even more of the sluggish creatures. He felt no remorse as he blew them all to smithereens with the minimum of effort. In his eyes, it was simply a job to be carried out. He used to say that he very much enjoyed his job; there was something therapeutic about eliminating evil and ridding the world of these dangerous creatures.

He had just started his return journey back to the Station when something odd caught his eye. The skies rapidly darkened and his dashboard control panel began to flicker. Unconcerned, he opened the communication channels back to the main Station switchboard. “Delta, Alpha, Gamma, over.” No answer. “Delta, Alpha, Gamma. Come in, over”. No answer. The override amber alert setting was activated on his dashboard, but still, the skies darkened.

Additional attempts to communicate with the Station or indeed other surveillance vehicles met with similar failure. He still did not know what was happening but was sufficiently concerned to set the override red alert setting and then accelerated the Thundercat to its maximum speed. Shortly afterwards, the cause of the darkened skies became apparent; an alien Mothership, the size of 14 football pitches, arrived directly overhead turning daylight into virtual night-time.

Spencer weaved his vehicle as fast as he could towards base when he noticed the eight super drones hatching from the Mothership. They completely surrounded the Thundercat, and in an instant, before Spencer had a chance to re-adjust his vehicle missiles to point to the air, each super drone, in turn, unleashed cutting-edge laser weaponry. According to the monitor, the attacks depleted the shield’s defences by 12½% each time. Within 30 seconds, all the drones had unleashed their maximum destruction.  The Thundercat’s first eight lives had been cruelly taken, it was left to the Mothership to deliver the final ninth blow to a terminally weakened vehicle. It seemed to delay the inevitable, almost savouring the moment.

Inside the ‘Cat’, there were no remaining weapons, no movement capabilities, no power apart from an emergency override to feed the computer, and no hope. As the cockpit temperature rose to critical proportions and a bright white light covered the whole area, Spencer screamed his final act of defiance, “Come on then, just do it”.

In the last moments of life, the first part of the brain to die controls all the day-to-day decision-making processes and body movements. After this, the middle part of the brain which stores all memories takes control; this is why people say your life flashes before you. In his last fleeting moments of life, Spencer thought , in reverse order, about when he set out on patrol, how he left his young brother playing in the Station, the day he started work and went out on his first patrol, a brief fight he had whilst at school and his first day at nursery. As his eyelids were about to shut for the very last time, he glanced at his monitor which fizzed, crackled, went black and then, for a split second, displayed two words…

..

..

..

..

..

..

..

 

“GAME OVER”

 

Tom put the PlayStation controller down on the coffee table and searched for the disc labelled, “Tomb Raider”.

Meanwhile, in another corner of the interconnected web-enabled virtual world, a Japanese teenager from Downtown Shibuya, Tokyo, who controlled a Mothership, took the option to save his game, another level successfully navigated.

..

..

..

 

 

Did you spot the subliminal clues?

  1. Spencer Invictus = “Space Invaders.”
  2. Delta, Alpha, Gamma, over = “Game over.”
  3. Spencer’s brother played in the Station = “PlayStation.”

 

 

Trash Talk

Some people say I can be a grumpy, old-fashioned, sarcastic technophobe who is out of touch with the youth of today. I completely refute that allegation; I am most definitely NOT a technophobe.

From time to time, I like to dumb myself down by taking a look at the online versions of The Sun and The Daily Star newspapers. Knowing that I was going to write this article, I have been monitoring some of the remarkable headlines but decided not to comment at the time and wait only for those published on my scheduled blog writing day, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. On a day of terrible terrorist activity outside Westminster and also in the days following the death of Martin McGuinness, the announcement of a date to begin the Brexit process and the re-emergence of another attempt at a Scottish referendum, these are samples of some of the headlines in today’s editions of those newspapers.

10

Chunk

Well, I found that when you go into the article, it turns out he just looks like an older version of Chunk from The Goonies.

9

Denise Fox

I have nothing against EastEnders, and I actually like the character, Denise Fox, but I have two issues with this article.

(a) That it is deemed to be newsworthy that a TV character is sad because she lost her job working in a corner shop.

(b) That word “Spoiler” infers that reading the article will in some way spoil your enjoyment of the programme, and also that the headline pretty much tells you what is going to happen without digging deeper.

8

parking space

Oh, the perils of first world problems. Now, what do you think the average UK citizen will make of this “war”? Which one of those people will they decide to support? Most of all, who cares?

7

Podolski

The most interesting thing about the fact that Germany play England at football in a friendly match would, according to the article, appear to be the German captain’s girlfriend… Oh, hang on a minute; they might of a point on this one.

6

chase

This is a story of a famous quiz show which just happened to have an attractive contestant. My issue with this is not that the article appears on the online page, more about viewers “swooning” and offering their hands in marriage. What is the matter with people?

5

Ryanair

This is a proper news article, but it looks more like an advert to me.

4

Marnie Simpson

Really! A girl famous for a reality TV show (more than one) has a bit of plastic surgery, and her “fans” appear to be criticising her through trolling techniques. I’m not sure who I feel sorry for most, Marnie, an already good-looking girl, for feeling that she needs to have surgery and then publicising the fact, or the people who deem it acceptable to publicly “backlash”.

3

hair freezing

“International Hair Freezing Contest”. Now that is just plain weird!

2

pliers

This one is just utterly ridiculous. Why would a man in a pub choose this method of tooth extraction? Why would a guy be prepared to use pliers to extract somebody else’s tooth? Did those industrial pliers just happen to be in the pub? And why would anybody want to watch a video clip of this happening?

1

Venus fly trap

I almost can’t believe I included this but having made the decision, it had to go straight to number one. I dare not even click on this article to see what it was all about but I do fear there may be some nightmares tonight.

 

This post is in no way a criticism of our national tabloid newspapers; they provide a service, a vehicle to access the topics that many people want to read about and for that I commend them. My comments are more a reflection on modern British culture that makes people want to be the subjects of these articles, to comment on them, or to have a desire to seek out this level of material. Anyway, that was my top 10, just for today. It is by no means the complete list; here is a collection of others which didn’t quite achieve the dizzy heights of my “top 10” but need no explanation from me.

Star Sun collection

 

Celebrity Backscratcher

I recently read a fun article about some of the bizarre reasons why relationships fail, and couples split up. One, in particular, caught my eye; a young lady had dumped her boyfriend because she walked into the kitchen and found him scratching his back with a spaghetti ladle! “How gross”, “Disgusting” and “What a revolting man” were just some of the comments attracted by the article.

This is my spaghetti ladle, all the way from Sorrento on the Amalfi coast. It actually works very well, certainly better than trying to scoop the pasta out of the pan using a regular spoon.

Spagetti Spoon

Now, am I the only person right now thinking “Wow, that thing certainly would make a fantastic backscratcher”?

 

That was going to be the end of a very short blog post, but then, as usual, I proofread it back in my head, and it occurred to me that ‘spaghetti’ sounds like ‘celebrity’ and it gave me a fantastic idea. I hope the Director-General of Channel 4 gets to read this because I’ve devised a new TV programme which I call “Celebrity Backscratcher”. Let’s face it, there are programs for celebrities herding sheep, painting landscapes and even taking part in colonic irrigation. “Celebrity Backscratcher” – what could possibly go wrong?

I reckon the celebrities should be split into two teams, one for the “Backs” and one for the “Scratchers”. They could use the spaghetti back-scratchers in a game of ping-pong. They could be thrown as far as possible across a muddy field. They could be used to pick up copious quantities of spaghetti and run from one side of the sports hall to another. They could act as batons in a relay race. There could be a challenge to see who could get the most back-scratchers down their pants. The list is endless.

But of course we need some celebrities:

Back Team

  1. Captain – Burt Backarach
  2. Boris Backer
  3. Michael J Fox (from Back to the Future)
  4. Catherine Back (from the Dukes of Hazzard)
  5. Sue Backer (from A Question of Sport)

Scratcher Team

  1. Captains – Itchy and Scratchy (from The Simpsons)
  2. Scratchy Doo (Scooby’s nephew aka “Scrappy”)
  3. Scratchet Johansson

 

Actually, now I’m struggling. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Week Eight – “Epilogue.”

I lost one more pound in weight this week but, as you can probably tell from the tone of my more recent weekly postings, my heart is no longer in it. I would go as far as to say that writing these posts extended the length of the diet and helped me to focus on taking care of myself a little better. In that sense, the whole process has been a success. I did not, however, manage to lose the weight I had secretly targeted. Seeing my weight reach the largest amount it had ever been gave me the kick in the butt that I needed. In total, I did lose 10 lbs, but it took me eight weeks to achieve this. I’m still in the “overweight” category, but in all honesty, I do feel fitter – thanks to extended walks with my new dog – and I can say that my clothes fit just a little better.

My aim now is to continue with the generally healthier habits I have set for myself. I definitely eat less, I have stopped eating snacks and biscuits between meals just to “keep me going”, and Duke will guarantee that I at least burn off more calories than I did before starting the diet. There is a fear that I will drift into bad habits without really noticing but this is where the mental challenge kicks in.

This will be my last diet blog post so I will sign off on this subject with some random thoughts I built up over the last two months.


In an attempt to make my treadmill experiences more bearable, I started to play episodes of The Office (US Version) which I became a little addicted to. I realise I’m about 12 years late on this, but it’s as funny today as I’m sure it was then. They only made 12 episodes of the UK version, but there are about 3,422 of the US version which I have still to watch.


Someone once told me that when your stomach rumbles, you should think of it as a little monster eating away at the fat. Rejoice in the rumble!


While out for a pub meal with some friends this week I did fear that I would consume way too many calories. The duck in hoisin sauce with oriental vegetables and noodles sounded sweet and sticky and thoroughly appetising. From a diet perspective, I had nothing to worry about as it turned out to be some fatty duck in a weak and thin gravy with some Chinese five spice, overcooked small carrots and limp mangetout thrown in for good measure. It wasn’t hard not to eat too much. There was a ‘Family Fortunes’ style of pub quiz later in the evening. One question said to name the most popular thing that was “runny”. My answer was the gravy in the duck in hoisin sauce. No points were awarded for this.


During my diet, whenever there were chips in my immediate vicinity I used to sing in my head the words “Hey teacher, leave those chips alone” to the tune of the Pink Floyd track, Another Brick in the Wall. It didn’t really help.


In an attempt to counteract the Pink Floyd lyrics and to support my love of Indian cuisine, I also internally sing a version of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with the words “Curry on, curry on, it doesn’t really matter” and “I see a little skinny insect of a man; Scaramouche, Scaramouche will you eat the fiery mango”.


And finally, completely unrelated to my diet, you have not experienced life if you haven’t seen a 40kg 6-year-old Labrador chase his own tail, the great lummox.


Rumble Teacher Office Mashup