Sending Out an SMS…

Those lovely people at Comium were kind enough to give me four free text messages when I bought my new SIM card from them. Time I used one, I think…

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D-e-a… Deaf Millimetre

(What the – “Deaf millimetre”? Stupid predictive text! Let’s start this again…)

Dear Minister,

Many thanks for your reassuring SMS message of 29 April. It certainly made me feel welcome to receive a personal text message from the Government – not to mention just a tiny bit paranoid, as I hadn’t given my number to anyone. Still, it’s not like you’re a reporter for one of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers or anything like that, so I guess I’ve got nothing to fear…

But here’s the thing that’s bothering me. You’ve gone to great lengths to assure us that there’s no fuel shortage; that Sierra Leone has enough fuel to last three months, and that the queues I’ve been seeing at petrol stations everywhere I go are “created by unscrupulous people to create confusion.”  Someone really needs to pass that information on to the proprietors of the country’s petrol stations – that is, unless they are the “unscrupulous people” you were referring to in your text message. The other day, the car I was in had to completely change its route home because half the road was taken up by stationary cars lined up outside a station whose entrances had been sealed off.

But that’s not the worst thing. I saw someone drive into a petrol station and ask for fuel, only for someone who worked at the station to instruct him to drive a few doors down the road away from the station… where he proceeded to sell him a plastic container full of petrol at an inflated price. I’m not mentioning any names or locations here. But if you guys and your mad espionage skills were sharp enough to obtain my mobile number before I’d even given it to my mum, I’m sure you’re on the case and have probably already apprehended the guilty parties.

All I’m saying here is, the more I walk around Freetown (and I’m having to walk a lot, because flippin’ heck, those petrol queues are causing some serious traffic jams!), the harder I find it to believe your text message. I’m not accusing you of lying or anything like that; after all, you’re the boss round here and I’m just a mere JC, so what do I know? In fact, I’m so much of a JC that yesterday, a white man with an accent from the place English people call “Oop North, like” introduced me to his boss with the words, “This is George. He’s a JC.” So maybe I should just mind my own business…

Kind regards,

George Luke 

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Sorry, but your SMS message has not been sent as it exceeds the maximum length. SMS messages must be 150 characters or less.

Oh, crap. Well, at least I tried…

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NEWSFLASH: God tells music award nominees, “Leave me out of it.”

HEAVEN, 6 December, 2009: With the Brits and Grammies just a couple of months away (and a handful of even more insignificant awards ceremonies due to follow), the music awards industry has been shaken to its core by an enormous snub from the Almighty himself.

Yesterday God took the unconventional move of calling a press conference to disassociate himself from every mediocre musician who has ever thanked him on receiving an award, and formally asked all present and future music award nominees not to mention him in their acceptance speeches, should they win.

“For decades, I have wondered why the myth that the devil has all the good music  persists,” God said. “I have now come to the realisation that constantly being associated with naff music the way I am at music awards ceremonies has done my brand image a great deal of harm.

“It’s not just the fact that terrible musicians blame me for their lack of imagination that hurts. There’s also the fact that members of the public validate this by voting for their music to win awards. I suppose they blame me for their lack of good taste too. As the Almighty, I simply cannot have that.

“Besides, as a God of truth and honesty, I cannot take credit that’s not due to me. We all know the real person most of these artists should be thanking is (AutoTune inventor) Andy Hildebrand.”

God added: “I don’t normally deliver personal messages. But Michael says that’s enough tributes, thank you very much.”

News of the divine diss sent shockwaves through the music community. Hip Hop artists in particular were uncharacteristically speechless. MC Kill Murder Dawg is expected to win several awards next year with his hit single ‘Bitch Slap’. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve seen all my heroes at the Source Awards or the Grammies, or the MTV Awards, up there with their champagne and their hoes, thanking God for it all,” he said. “That’s all I ever wanted to do – and now I can’t! I’ve got to thank somebody! Maybe I’ll join the Scientologists and thank Xenu.”

The snub has created a big dilemma for the organisers of Gospel music awards, as God’s statement says “all music awards ceremonies” and he has refused to make any exceptions. “This is just going to kick up that old debate about whether old hymns are better than modern ones,” said a gospel music spokesperson.

However, there is one group of people for whom the snub from God is good news.

“For my industry, it’s a godsend – if you’ll excuse the pun,” said a representative of the Association of American Advertisers. “Those thank-you prayers used to take up a lot of time – which can now be freed up for us to fill with more adverts when the ceremonies are televised. Maybe I should be thanking God for that! Ker-ching!”

A TYPICAL SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN THE OLD TV AD CHARACTERS’ RETIREMENT HOME

Captain Birdseye, the Green Cross man and the Scotch Videocassette skeleton pulled up a chair each at the large oak table in the middle of the common room. The Green Cross man sorted out the chips; the skeleton opened a pack of cards and began to shuffle them.

“Hey, Hartley – you in?” said the skeleton to the old man sitting at the opposite side of the table to his. JR Hartley looked up from his copy of the Sunday Telegraph.
“Sorry – not today, old chap,” he replied, sadly. “I’m a bit skint. But if you could loan me some cash to play with, I’d be delighted to join you.”
“Skint?” said the Green Cross man. “Have you been taken to the cleaners again? I keep telling you – stay away from the Bear Enclosure! Those two will bleed you dry if you let them!”

‘The Bear Enclosure’ was the residents’ nickname for the corner of the common room where the pool table stood. Long ago, that would have been the spot where you’d find the old boys gathered on afternoons like this; flexing their cues, enjoying a pint and friendly banter. That is, until the bears arrived at the home. Cresta and Hoffmeister were the biggest pool hustlers known to man. Before long, the pool table became their turf. It wasn’t that other people weren’t allowed there (in fact, as far as they were concerned, the more mugs, the merrier); it was just that playing pool with those two was the quickest guaranteed way to lose all your money. Everyone was convinced that they cheated, but so far nobody had been able to prove it. Needless to say, both bears were barred from the old boys’ Sunday poker games.

JR Hartley blushed slightly. “Okay, so I lost a couple of games to the bears,” he said. “It’s really no big deal.”
“A couple?” Captain Birdseye quipped. “More like a dozen!”
“What you guys don’t get,” said JR Hartley defensively, “Is that this is just part of my strategy. I’m playing a long game here. As any good fisherman will tell you, patience is as essential in pool as it is in fly-fishing. I’m just letting the bears think they’re outsmarting me. I lose a few more games, they grow over-confident and let their guard down – and that’s when…”
“…you lose your shirt to them?” Captain Birdseye interjected.
“I give up,” JR Hartley sighed. “It’s pointless explaining it to you.”
“Oh, don’t take life so seriously!” said the skeleton. “And anyway, we’re not playing for money today. We’re playing for Werther’s Originals.”
“Lemme guess – his grandson’s been visiting again, has he?” Captain Birdseye said, waving at the elderly man in the far corner of the room.
“Well, at least his offspring care about him,” the skeleton snorted. “Look at our French friend over there. Poor sod hasn’t seen his daughter since she dumped him here last year.”
“Ah yes, Nicole,” said Captain Birdseye, not even bothering to hide the lust in his voice. “She was fit. I so would!”
“Birdseye, you’re a perv,” said the Green Cross man. “I honestly don’t know what all those parents were thinking, leaving their kids unattended with you.”
“You can talk!” Captain Birdseye spat back. “What were your lot thinking? One minute, ‘Kids – don’t talk to strangers!’ Then the next minute, ‘Kids – let this strange man with green leggings on help you cross the road!’ Talk about your mixed messages!”
“Oi! Children! Break it up!” said the skeleton. “Let’s play some poker! Hartley – you speak the lingo; ask him to join us, will you? I hate seeing him on his own, so depressed.”
JR Hartley turned round. “PAPA!” he shouted across the room. “MON ARMY! VOO-LAY-VOO JEW-EY LE POKER?’
“Mais oui!
” Papa replied, and headed towards the table.

“You know,” the Green Cross man said as he gathered up the chips he’d just won, “we’ve got some really good players in this little group of ours. If we went on one of those poker leagues on telly, we’d do really well.”
“Oh no, not that again,” said Captain Birdseye. “You say this every time we play. Be honest: this isn’t about wanting to play poker on TV. You know we’re nowhere near that good. You just want to be back on telly again!”
“Well maybe I do. What’s so wrong about that?”
“Look, I know you miss it; we all do. But face it, those days are over!”
“But who says they’re over?” JR Hartley chipped in. “I think Greeny has a point. Oldies come back all the time.”
“Exactly!” the Green Cross man said, happy for the support. “All I’m saying is, it’s possible. Look at Vera Lynn. She’s in the charts again, and she’s what – 150?”
“Well, it might happen again for you lot,” said the skeleton, “but I’m stuffed. People still eat fish fingers; they’ll still need to find a plumber’s phone number every now and then – but NOBODY USES VIDEOCASSETTES ANYMORE! I used to tell people that they could re-record on their videocassettes for 25 up to years. Boy did we get that wrong! Now it’s all DVD this and Blu-Ray that! Blu-Ray my bony…”
“Calm down, calm down!” said Captain Birdseye, doing his best Michael Winner impression (which, in reality, sounded more like Jimmy Saville). “Don’t get your ribs in a twist! They could bring you back for something else, like they did with that monk-”
“Shhhh!” the Green Cross man whispered, jabbing him in the ribs. “Don’t say the M-word when they’re in the room!” He jerked his thumb in the direction of the table to the left of theirs, where the PG Tips chimps were having their afternoon tea.
“Oh. Still a sore point, is it?”
“Yeah.”
“Thing is,” said JR Hartley, “The new talent’s really not up to much. You’ve got that panda who can’t even pronounce ‘biscuits’ properly. He’s dodgy, that one. I swear he makes those two look like amateurs.” He motioned towards the Bear Enclosure. “And as for that bloody bulldog – do I want to grab him by the neck and strangle him until he’s dead? Oh, yes!”
“The meerkat’s good, though,” said the skeleton.
“Hear, hear,” Captain Birdseye nodded. “Class act, that meerkat. Simples.”

Over on the other table, the chimps were having a similar conversation.

“Those Cadbury’s people need a slap,” Dad said angrily. “Anyone can tell that’s just a human in a gorilla suit. I mean, come on – he’s playing a Phil Collins song! PHIL COLLINS!! No self-respecting primate likes Phil Collins!”
“Speak for yourself!” Mum replied. “He’s made some good tunes in his time. Besides, I love that gorilla; he’s a real hunk! Top totty! And anyway, his drumming’s much better than your piano playing!”
“Ha ha! Got you there, dad!” one of the younger chimps chimed in.
“Shut it, you cheeky monkey!” Dad retorted.

Afternoon turned to evening, and as darkness drew in outside, the nurse arrived to give the Smash robots their nightly dose of WD-40. All the old boys fancied the nurse. It wasn’t hard to see why; she was delicate, serene and stunningly beautiful. It was just the taser gun she always carried in case Tango Man tried something stupid that shattered the ‘perfect angel’ illusion.

“I swear I know her from somewhere,” Captain Birdseye said.
“You say that every day,” said the Green Cross man.
“I just can’t place her. But it’ll come to me.” Captain Birdseye paused and racked his brains.

“Eureka!” he half-shouted. “The penny’s dropped. I know where I remember her from!”
“Come on, then!” said JR Hartley. “Tell us!”
“Here – watch this,” said Captain Birdseye. “Hey – Nurse?”
The nurse turned. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
Captain Birdseye reached into his pocket and pulled out a yellow packet. “Oh, nothing,” he replied. “I just wondered if you’d fancy a Flake.”

© George Luke, 2009

The Shed

THE SHED (A parody – well, sort of)

Muck stirred in bed, semi-awake as Morrissey’s voice whined Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now on the radio.

Half of him felt cheated that God had chosen half term to cover Camberwell in two feet of snow; the other half was just glad to have a break from the torture school had become. Either way, he had the whole house to himself today and was determined to spend it doing as little as possible.

The shower was quick and breakfast suitably unhealthy, as befitting a 14-year-old with free rein of the house. Muck entered the front room and was about to settle down in front of the telly when the plop-plop-plop of letters landing on the doormat signalled the postman’s arrival. He went to pick them up. In amongst the gas and phone bills was a blue envelope with his name on it. No stamp; no postmark; no return address; just his name.

Muck ripped the envelope open. Out fell a page torn from a ring-bound notebook, with handwriting that looked like a spider had tried to mark out its territory on the page.

“We need to talk. Meet me behind the bike shed. Signed, Your Daddy.”

Your Daddy. Muck had heard those words several times recently, always accompanied by something painful: a punch, a slap, a kick, the sound of his Musical Youth cassette being smashed to pieces… “Who’s your daddy?” was the Ladykiller’s catchphrase; taunting his victims with it seemed to enhance whatever twisted pleasure he derived from bullying.

Your Daddy. The words brought a bad taste to Muck’s mouth as they brought back memories of the worst day of his life. Sissy was a year behind him in school, but ever since the day he first saw her, he’d had a massive crush. When she agreed to go and see Return of the Jedi with him, he’d walked on a cloud all week. Ever since then, they’d been inseparable. School discos were heaven. And then came the Ladykiller.

“If you like a girl and he looks at her, forget it,” Muck’s best mate Billy said to him during Double Maths one Tuesday afternoon. Sure enough, Muck became the Ladykiller’s prime target. For a while, he toughed it out… until that Friday afternoon when he saw – through two black eyes – his beloved Sissy disappearing behind the bike shed hand-in-hand with his nemesis. The Great Misery descended upon Muck like a ton of bricks that day. It had hung around like a bad smell ever since.

But sending cryptic notes wasn’t the Ladykiller’s style. He was more your bog-standard, give-you-a-wedgie-then-knock-your-books-into-a-puddle type of bully. Not the kind who went in for psychological warfare – mainly because he didn’t believe in doing stuff he couldn’t spell.

Well, there’s only one way to find out what this is about, Muck reasoned with his saner side. All right then, commonsense replied resignedly. Off to the bike shed it is. But have a word with Billy first, and see if he knows anything about this. Billy’s house was on Muck’s route to school, just a five-minute bike ride away. It can’t hurt to show it to him, Muck thought. He might even know who wrote it.

“I haven’t a clue whose writing this is,” Billy said after examining the note. “And I really don’t think you should go.”
“I know,” Muck replied. “But I have to find out what this is all about.”
“Just be careful, mate.”

Billy disappeared for a few minutes. When he came back into the room, he had a shiny H-shaped object in his hand.

“Here,” he said. “My Dad uses this for DIY. Says it’s better than a hammer. It fires staples. If anyone tries anything, you can really hurt them with it.”

Muck took the staple gun hesitantly, and put it in his jacket pocket. “Cheers, Billy,” he said. “Sure you don’t want to come?”
“No, thanks. You be careful.”

Denmark Hill was a tough cycle, even without so much snow on the ground. Muck wheezed his way past King’s College Hospital, thinking how handy it was to have a Casualty department within spitting distance if he and his bike ended up under a bus. The way his wheels were slipping, that seemed extremely likely.

Eventually, Muck gave up trying to cycle and pushed the BMX the rest of the way to the schoolyard. Even when deserted, the place gave off bad vibes. Muck approached the bike shed with trepidation, wondering exactly how much real damage a staple gun could do at close quarters.

What the-?

It wasn’t a sound or a sight that had triggered Muck’s surprise; it was the sudden change in temperature of the air hitting the back of his neck. In a split second, it had morphed from an arctic wind into a pleasantly warm summer breeze. As he turned to look round, he noticed the place getting brighter. The snow under his feet melted quickly and disappeared. Young flower saplings burst through the already green grass. Suddenly it was summer in a tiny corner of south London, with Muck the only witness to it.

As the weather changed, the forbidding presence of the bike shed also appeared to be going through a transformation of its own, into a welcoming house with double-glazed windows and stone cladding on the front wall. It looked just like Muck’s grandmother’s house. Nan’s house had become a refuge for Muck since the Ladykiller’s terror campaign began. It was the one place he could escape to and just be… loved. But why was he imagining Nan’s house in the middle of school… and in the one place he’d come to hate so much?

The house’s front door creaked slightly ajar. Muck could hear raucous, warm laughter from within. “Here goes nothing,” he muttered under his breath as he ventured up the steps and pushed the door open. As he stepped in, a very loud Nigerian accent boomed out.

“Well, you took your time!”

Muck turned in the voice’s direction and found his eyes level with a massive bosom adorned in the most flowery fabric he’d ever seen. He tilted his head slowly upwards, taking in the sight of an enormous black woman in a voluminous flowing print dress.

Any minute now, he thought to himself, she’s going to whip out an umbrella and start singing ‘It’s Raining Men’.

“So glad you could join us.” Two other people had entered the front room to form a welcoming party for their shell-shocked guest. “This,” the woman said, motioning to the tall Latino man on her right hand side, “is Jesus. And over here…” pointing to the Oriental-looking woman on her left, “…we have Soraya.”

“And you are…?” Muck asked.
“Well, most people call me God – although that’s actually all three of us. I prefer Pops myself.”

Hmmm. The temperature outside just went from 0 to 60 in three seconds; the school’s bike shed has turned into my Nan’s house, and I’m inside it with a Puerto Rican bloke called Jesus, some strange Chinese bird and a fat African woman who says she’s God. That’s it – I am officially mental.

“What – you’re God?” Muck spluttered. “That’s impossible!”
“How so?” said Pops. “It’s the dress, isn’t it? Humans! You have no problems with men in frocks claiming to be my representatives on earth. But when I rock one myself, your minds can’t handle it!”
“No, it’s not the dress. It’s… it’s…”
“Is it cos I is black?”
“Er… um…”
“It is! The idea of me being – how can I put this – non-Caucasian – disturbs you! I blame George Burns for this. I can’t wait until Morgan has his turn!”
“Who’s Morgan? Have his turn at what?”
“Oh, you’ll find out soon enough.”

If the few occasions Muck had been to Sunday School had taught him anything, it was that the Wrath of God wasn’t the sort of event you wanted a front-row seat for. He decided humouring Pops might be the safest option all round.

“Don’t humour me,” said Pops.
Oh, sh-
“And don’t even think of swearing!”
“I – I – I’m sorry,” Muck managed to spit out. “I’m just not that used to God inviting me to hang out with her-him-them… I mean you. And certainly not in a bike shed.”
“Why wouldn’t I, child? What parent doesn’t want to spend some time with his boy?”

Something inside Muck snapped.

“No offence, but if you’re God and I’m ‘your boy’, why is my life so rubbish? What kind of mother – father – whatever you are – lets ‘their boy’ get all the crap I’ve been having? My life’s bloody awful!Yeah – I said ‘bloody’! Are you going to strike me with lightning?”
Pops hardly broke a sweat.
“No, son. But calm down. That’s exactly what we’re here to talk to you about.”
“Go on, then,” Muck said calmly.

Pops paused. Soraya put a reassuring arm on Muck’s shoulder and sat down with him, facing Pops. Jesus, who had briefly popped out of the room, came back in and took a seat on the sofa next to Muck and Soraya. Pops started to speak.

“Look, son. I know things have been rough for you. I hate it as much as you do, but that’s just what happens in a fallen world. But trust me, it won’t always be like this. It will get better. And all of us here are looking out for you – even if it doesn’t always feel that way.”
“And what about Sissy? What do I do about her?”
“You’ll get over her. I know it hurts now, Muck. But being dumped isn’t the end of the world. There will be other girls – girls who won’t leave you for the first thug who comes along. You’ve got a great future ahead of you – not just relationships, but every area of your life. See those computers you love playing with so much? The other kids give you so much stick about it now, but all the knowledge you’ve gained about them will be worth gold dust in the 90s. The meek – the geeks, if you like – will inherit the earth. I said it, and what I say goes.”
“And the Ladykiller?”
“Well, I don’t want to give too much of the future away. But let’s just say that next summer, he’s going to choose the wrong boy to pick on. Rajesh might be short and skinny and wears glasses, but he’s also his school’s junior kickboxing champion.”
Muck stifled a laugh.
“Don’t push it, lad. He may be the one making your life a misery, but vengeance is still mine.”

A loud ‘ding’ from the kitchen signalled that dinner was ready, and the four of them went into the dining room. Dinner was hot, delicious and loud. Muck had heard it said that God had a sense of humour. But now he was witnessing it up front over rice and peas and a wicked curry, topped with a tall glass of Um Bongo.

When dinner was over, Muck stood up to say his goodbyes, unable to stop the smile taking over his face. The Great Misery was still hovering away in the back of his mind. But its power was now considerably diminished. The fog was clearing, and Muck could sense it.

He turned round for one last look at his three new friends before setting off for home. Jesus threw an air high-five and shouted “Siempre contigo, hermano.” Soraya smiled and gave him a hug. Pops stood tall, arms akimbo, and flashed him a broad grin and a wink. Her warm voice boomed out again.

“Muck, we’ll always have your back. Never forget who your daddy really is.”

© George Luke, 2008.