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Old Timer

It had been a long dusty trip from Jerusalem to Samarrah, and so I stopped at an inn for a cup of wine. There was just one other customer, an old man whose eyes lit up at seeing someone to talk to, a victim to reminisce at. I sighed as I sat at the counter with my drink.

“I remember when around here was all desert,” was his opening gambit.

“Really,” I countered, as unenthusiastically as I could.

“Yes. That was before the Flood, of course.”

“Yes, I suppose that would have watered the area pretty – hang on, you can remember before the Flood?”

“Sure can.”

“But that was over six hundred years ago,” I said. “Just how old are you?”

“Nine hundred,” he said. He held out an old, gnarled hand, like those you find on bog people, or at least will do at some time in the future. I shook it, feeling like a water-diviner waving a stick over a hidden well. “Methuselah,” he said.

“Ezekiel,” I said.

“Bless you,” he said.

“No, that’s my name,” I said. “So you’re nine hundred years old?”

“Yes, I’ve had a good innings, I suppose.”

“What’s an innings?”

“Um, don’t know, actually, but whatever it is I’ve had a good one.”

“And you say you were around at the time of the Flood. What did you do, sneak onto the ark in a giraffe costume?”

“No, I went to Switzerland, where the rain fell as snow. Spent six weeks skiing. I don’t know why more people didn’t think of it.”

“You must have done all sorts of things in all that time,” I said, now hooked firmly into the conversation. You must have seen lots.”

“Lot’s what?”

“No, I didn’t mean Lot the person.”

“Oh. Mind you, I knew his wife.”

“You mean -”

“No, not that way. I mean we were at school together.”

“In Sodom-and-Gomorrah?”

“That’s right.”

“And how did you survive that?”

“Wasn’t there. I’d gone to Jericho for the weekend. I was trying to sell this new drink I’d invented – the Methuselah of champagne.”

“How did that go?”

“Not too well. It was so shaken after the camel-ride there that the cork, which was the size of a boulder, shot out. It knocked down a wall.”

“Wow.”

“Yes. That was the first of a long string of jobs – for a while I was a barber. I used to cut Samson’s hair.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I had to give it up after I made an awful balls of one of his haircuts.”

“I’d say Samson wasn’t too happy,” I said. “I heard he was very proud of his hair.”

“Oh, he went mental. Absolutely wrecked the place. After that I ran away to sea. It was me who rescued Jonah from the whale.”

“How?”

“Smacked the whale straight in the face with an oar, and Jonah got blown out through the blow-hole.”

“Well,” I said, “you’ve certainly lived a full life.”

“In every way,” he said. “I’ve been married sixty-two times.”

“So you’ve outlived sixty-two wives?”

“Well, sixty-one, actually. My current wife is still alive. In fact,” he went on, “here she is now. She works here as a waitress.” I looked up and saw a young blonde girl with huge jugs, which she was carrying on a tray. She looked oddly familiar.

“Hang on,“ I said. “Isn’t that Jezebel?”

“Sure is,” he said proudly.

“As in “The Dirty Jezebel”?”

“She doesn’t like to be called that anymore, not now that she’s respectably married.”

“But why would she marry a guy who’s nine hundred?” I said. “Er, no offence.”

“None taken,” he said. “Some girls go for older men.”

“Yes, but that phrase usually means about twenty years older. It doesn’t tend to refer to someone who remembers you from three re-incarnations back.”

“Well, I’m still quite a catch, you know,” he said defiantly. “I work out at the gym.” I just stared at him, one eyebrow raised, and the facade crumpled. “Ok,” he admitted. “I work, out at the gym. I sit and take the registrations. I know that she really married me just because I’m fabulously rich.”

“How come? You don’t seem to have done very well in any of your jobs.”

“No, but when you’ve been collecting the old-age pension for eight hundred and thirty-four years, it’s amazing how much money you can put by.”

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As the readership of my modest blog (it’s the blog that’s modest, not me, I’m brilliant) grows slowly larger, more and more of my friends and my family have discovered and are reading it. This is great, but has one disadvantage. I’m less likely to vent about the mental issues (I typed “metal issues” there by mistake, which if I’d not noticed it would have given the impression that my pacemaker was beginning to rust) that occasionally plague me if I know that it’s going to be read by people who think I’m a calm, cheerful ray of sunshine, a slightly less annoying version of Pollyanna.

I can’t write, for example, about the reasons why my posts are appearing at the moment less frequently than Halley’s Comet. I can’t use the excuse that it’s because I’m depressed again, more so than I have been for a couple of years now. I can’t write that I am massively stressed about work, even though there is nothing going on there to be massively stressed about.

I can’t write that all of this is affecting my sleep again, that I wake at ludicrous times and lie for hours thinking about work, about things that I can’t exactly fix while in bed at three o’clock in the morning and many of which don’t really need fixing anyway.

I can’t write that I woke on Saturday at three am and lay there until five, fell asleep for a while and then got up at seven-thirty. I can’t write that yesterday – Sunday – morning I woke at four and lay there until I eventually got up at six. Yes, six o’clock on a Sunday morning, a time that I had previously believed to be mythical, like the Wonder Years, Sheffield Wednesday and the Age of Aquarius.

I can’t write that I am writing this on the six o’clock train (the buses haven’t even started running yet) because I got up at five this morning.

When it comes to my sleep pattern you could set your clock by me at the moment, if by that you mean that you could get your clock set by me, since I’m always awake to do it for you.

And I can’t write that I am tired, so, so tired, so, so exhausted. I take out my computer each morning and evening on the bus, write about ten words of blather and then put it away again, defeated by the fact that I can’t remember how to spell cat, let alone write about one (the fact that I don’t have a cat is, of course, another drawback in this particular example).

I can’t write about the fact that I can’t write.

So I won’t.

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above

Tinman’s weekly camera-less attempt at the WordPress Photo Challenge…

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It came from above, descending at tremendous speed through the Earth’s atmosphere.

It would have hit the ground with force had it not instead hit Newton, who was asleep under the tree from which it had fallen, straight on the top of the head.

He sat up with a start and stared at the apple, now rocking gently beside him on the grass.

“Gravity!” he said, which is an Olde English word meaning “bloody hell, that hurt.”

He went to see his friend James Watt, who was absent-mindedly watching a kettle boil.

“I’ve invented gravity!” shouted Newton.

“What’s gravity?” asked Watt.

“It’s what makes all things fall to earth.”

“Um, you may not have actually invented that,” said Watt. “I rather think that God did.”

“Really?” said Newton. “Well, I discovered it.”

“Don’t think you can even claim that,” said Watt. “I think that anyone who has, for example, dropped their toast buttered side down, or dropped a hammer onto their foot, or even been very heavily rained upon, would feel that they already know all about gravity. Or downfall, as we call it.”

“Er, I think your downfall means something else,” said Newton. “It’s something to do with meeting your doom.”

“Ever dropped a hammer onto your foot?” asked Watt.

“Ok, ok, I didn’t invent it and didn’t discover it,” said Newton, in the same grudging manner in which Hillary would later have to admit that he had neither invented nor discovered Everest, “but I’ve been developing theories about it.”

“Such as?”

“Well, I believe that if you dropped a ton of lead and a ton of feathers off a building, they would both hit the ground at the same time.”

“A ton of feathers? The bag would have to be the size of a hot-air balloon. You’d never get it up the stairs to the top of the building.”

“Yes, well that’s not the point, the point is -”

“I’d rather be hit by the ton of feathers, that’s all I can say,” said Watt.

“No, you wouldn’t,” said Newton. “The important part of the phrase is the word “ton”. You’re going to be squashed flat either way.”

“Where are we going to get all this, anyway?”

“All of what?”

“Well, the lead, for example,” said Watt. “We’d have to strip the roof of every church in England. And as for the ton of feathers, we’d be plucking chickens for the next four thousand years.”

“Look, we wouldn’t actually -”

“And we’d be left with thousands of chickens. Perhaps we could open a chain of fried-chicken restaurants.”

“Wouldn’t work,” said Newton. “Who’d go to a place with only one choice on the menu?”

“I suppose so,” said Watt. “Perhaps we could drop the chickens off the building as well.”

“They wouldn’t be dead,” said Newton, “so they’d just fly off.”

“Ah, so your gravity doesn’t work on live things,” said Watt. “That’s good news. If I ever fall off a cliff it will be a great comfort to know that whatever is causing me to plummet to my downfall is not gravity.”

“Look,” said Newton, aware that the conversation had wandered, “there is no lead, nor feathers, nor chickens. None of it’s actually going to happen. It’s a theory.”

“Ah, good idea,” said Watt. “Theories are great, no-one can tell if they’re true or not. Like Einstein’s one about Relativity.”

“What’s that?” asked Newton.

“I think it’s something to do with meeting all of your relatives if you travel at the speed of light.”

“I’d say you have that the wrong way round,” said Newton. “It’s probably that if you hear that your relatives are coming to visit you run away at the speed of light.”

“Maybe so,” admitted Watt. He was still staring at the kettle, from which a cone of steam was now  spouting. “Do you know,” he said, “I reckon I could run a train on that.”

“Mmm,” said Newton. “If you used all the boiling water to run the train you wouldn’t be able to make tea for the passengers.“

“Ever tasted the tea on trains? It’s not made with boiling water.”

“Still, you’d need a really big kettle.”

“True,” said Watt. “Perhaps I could buy it in the shop where you buy your bag for the feathers.”

Swing When You’re Spinnin’

Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “swings and roundabouts”…..

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Something would have to be done about the Green Glade junction.

Each morning a line of apes would swing through the tress in a North-South direction, heading for the water-hole. At the same time a group heading to the banana-trees to the East would arrive from the West. There would be delays, grid-lock, and sometimes vine-rage.

Each evening the same thing would happen in the opposite direction.

Tarzan and Jane had decided to do something about it.

They made an odd couple. Tarzan, discovered as a baby in airplane wreckage by apes who then raised him, was not the sophisticated, clean-shaven, modestly loin-clothed creature we see in films. He was as naked as his foster-parents, walked as if he was carrying two invisible bowling-balls and continually rooted in his hair for fleas.

When he had first met Jane at the watering-hole he had beaten upon his chest, made that ape-noise that sounds like someone stepping into too cold a shower and then shown her his arse.

Jane too had been found in airplane wreckage, but by a herd of elephants, so she had replied by taking a huge mouthful of water and then blowing it down her nostrils into his face.

They had realised, though, that they were different, and this had drawn them together. And now, as they watched the daily traffic-jam at Green Glade junction they had come up with a plan.

“It’s called a roundabout,” said Tarzan, showing the apes the diagram that he had drawn on a huge leaf, with a stick. This tree here is the focal point. As you approach it, if there is an ape swinging towards you from the right you let him go first. When it’s your turn you swing around the tree and then off in the direction you want to go.”

“The two things to remember,” said Jane, flicking a bun up with a twitch of her nose and into her mouth, “is that you must indicate when you are leaving the roundabout, and that you must go around it in a clockwise direction.”

The apes looked doubtful, but they agreed, since they more than once seen Tarzan wrestle a crocodile, so generally tried not to piss him off.

The plan started from the following morning. Jane arrived in a traffic-cop outfit that she had made out of some old rags (Tarzan found himself oddly turned on the by the sight of her in a uniform and also, though he had no idea what they were, had to keep fighting off the urge to ask if she had made handcuffs). She blew her whistle, and the morning rush-hour began.

In the beginning all went well. The first ape to arrive grabbed a vine in his right hand, swung half-way round the tree, then grabbed another vine in his left and swung off in the desired direction.

As I say, the beginning went well. But that was the end of the beginning. What happened next was the beginning of the end.

As that first ape passed though the ape approaching from his left made the discovery that while yielding to traffic might be simple on paper (or leaf), on a vine travelling at speed it is no easy matter, since there is no known way of stopping it in mid-swing. His only answer was to let go, dropping onto a branch below like a schoolboy slipping off his bike-saddle and onto a crossbar, then sliding off to crash onto the jungle floor.

The next ape was doing fine as he went round the tree till he met an ape coming the other way, because if you don’t have clocks, then of course the word “clockwise” means nothing to you. The pair collided head-on, then dropped like stones, clinging to one another, onto the jungle floor.

The next ape remembered at the last second that he was supposed to indicate, and did so with the wrong hand, the one holding his vine. He joined the others on a jungle-floor that was increasingly being peppered by ape-droppings, in every meaning of that phrase.

The next ape lost his bearings as he swing around the roundabout, couldn’t figure out which was his exit and just continued to rotate around the tree, with his vine getting shorter and shorter, until he crashed face-first into it. He then dropped, not onto the jungle floor, but onto Jane’s Mum, who was passing by underneath. Enraged by this Jane’s Dad grabbed the ape in his trunk and, just when the ape had been thinking that he couldn’t possibly get any dizzier, swung him round and round before propelling him into a bush.

Within less than two minutes it was over and, in fairness, there was no traffic jam. Down below on the jungle floor, however, there were over thirty apes, in a huge heap of pain, dizziness and even flatter noses than usual.

Tarzan and Jane stared down at them.

“Now that,” said Tarzan, “is possibly the most literal use ever of the phrase “traffic pile-up”.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Culture

Tinman’s weekly camera-less attempt at the WordPress Photo Challenge…

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“We can’t sell bacteria.”

“Well obviously we can’t sell bacteria,” said Sheila, Head of Marketing. “We’re going to sell yogurt.”

“What’s that?” said Dr Jones, Head of Research and Product Development.

“It’s an Arabic word.”

“Meaning what?” asked Jones suspiciously.

“Bacteria.”

“We’re going to have a very small market,” said Jones. “The only people who’ll buy it will be Bond villains.”

“No, everybody will buy it,” said Sheila. “Because we’re going to call it Good Bacteria.”

“What, like Good Sheep’s Piss?”

“Exactly. Or lager, as we decided to call it.”

“You don’t mean to say -” began Jones, then thought about the taste of lager. “Actually, that explains quite a lot,” he said.

“The bacteria – er, yogurt – was a brilliant idea,” said Sheila. “How did you invent it?”

“I didn’t invent it,” said Jones. “I was trying to develop a bleach that kills all germs on kitchen worktops, but that particular attempt kept eating holes in the worktop itself.”

“Well, it’s terrific,” said Sheila. “We’ll have different types, so that you have to take more than one each morning. We’ll give them names like Caseii Immunitas, which we’ll say helps your immune system, and Bifidus Digestivum, which helps your digestion.”

“And your bifid,” said Jones.

Sheila looked confused. “What’s your bifid?” she asked.

“No idea,” said Jones. “I thought we were playing at making up words.”

“Don’t be silly,” said Sheila. “No, we’ll tell people that that one prevents congestion and, er bloating.”

“Good idea. We could use the slogan ‘drink yogurt and have a massive dump’.”

“Of course not, we’ll say…” she thought for a moment….  “that it helps with your daily digestive transit.”

“That just sounds like someone driving to the shops to buy biscuits,” said Jones. “I still don’t see how you’ll get people to buy – and drink – bacteria every day. Live bacteria at that.”

“We prefer to think of it not as a bacteria, but as a culture,” said Sheila. “and people from our modern day culture won’t call the experience just drinking yogurt.”

“And what will they call it?” asked Jones.

“They’ll call it a lifestyle.”

Just Deserts

Sidey’s theme for last weekend was “sunshine”….

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It appeared on the horizon, a funnel above the shimmering water. As it got nearer, however, it emerged through the water, which was a mere mirage in the sun-baked haze, and the funnel revealed itself to be the head of a camel.

I suppose that’s why they call it the ship of the desert, thought Shafrid, watching from his juice-bar at the oasis. He continued to watch, waiting.

The camel reached the oasis and dipped his head forward thirstily into the pool. His rider shot over the camel’s head and into the water.

Shafrid grinned. Every time the camel did this, and every time Omar literally fell for it.

Shafrid went back behind his counter as Omar arrived, dripping, into the shop, swearing at camels, tent-like clothing that clung to you when wet, and life in general. He was the local postman, the one with longest route yet smallest number of houses on the planet.

Shafrid was his nearest customer within fifty miles. Shafrid had established his business for that very reason, figuring that he would have no competition. It hadn’t occurred to him that he would have no customers either.

He called his juice-bar the Showadi Wadi.

People had said he was mad. Many of those people were his wives, three of whom had simply left him. The rest sat around in their tents all day, bemoaning the lack of Wi-Fi and ordering catalogues from Victoria’s Secrets. This was how Omar was such a regular visitor.

The two sat in the cool shade of the juice-bar. It served a variety of drinks, if three can be called variety. Omar was drinking a Fig Surprise. The surprise would come in about an hour’s time, but that wouldn’t be a problem. You could look at the Gobi desert either as half-a-million square miles without a toilet, or as the biggest toilet in the world.

The other drinks on offer were the Cactus-Leaf Smoothie, despite the fact that there is little that is smooth about a drink full of spikes, and the Palm-frond Shake.

As regards food, Shafrid sold falafel. Most visitors bought this, although no-one knows what it is, since the only other item on the menu was Camel Nuggets, and people reckoned that this was not meant in a chicken nugget type of way.

They looked out of the bar. The sun was shining. It always did.

“Nice day,” said Shafrid.

“Piss off,” said Omar.

“What’s wrong?” asked Shafrid.

“It’s always a nice day, that’s what’s wrong,” said Omar. “Nothing but bloody sunshine, all day every day.”

“There’s the rainy season,” Shafrid pointed out.

“Oh yes,” said Omar. “Ten minutes in mid-July when the equivalent of Niagara Falls drops in a vertical sheet, falling so hard that it punches holes in the sand. Then the sun comes back out, and what water you’ve collected in buckets just evaporates as you’re looking at it. It’s as if it’s being drunk by an invisible genie.”

“I was reading the other day in one of the wives’ Cosmo,” began Shafrid. Omar looked at him. “The radio wasn’t working,” said Shafrid defensively. “Anyway, I was reading about a country called Ireland. Apparently their rainy season lasts from April to March.”

“What, no sunshine?” said Omar.

“No, sunshine,” replied Shafrid.

“No sun-tan?”

“Nope. It seems their skin is sun-resistant. They have something called freckles that fight it off.”

“Sounds like heaven,” said Omar. “I hope they know how lucky they are.”