Digital Ischemia

24/08/2019

A Manifesto, by the Omphaloskeptic Party

As we were waiting on the stair,
For a chance that wasn’t there,
We saw a wolf and then a bear,
And third a pregnant mountain hare.

These things have disappeared from our biotically denuded, cartridge case-littered isle. Also apparently under threat is the pregnant human. The honourable member for Waitrose Helensburgh raised the concern that Britain is shrivelling – that is, the human population thereof. Not himself personally, of course, for he is deliberately concentrating all his energy into the head end, ahem, and what becomes of the rest is unimportant. But if the falling reproductive rate of females – currently around 1.8 children per female – continues, ultimately the British will cease to exist as a race. This is not a personal exhortation, of course; all tacitly accept that my eggs are quite addled.

The Party’s broad sweep over social issues includes views on abortion. Although there are strong arguments pro, the venerable patron of Paisley Podiatrix would not like to ‘undertake’ the procedure himself. This is just as well, since his current inventory of surgical implements comprises a dazzling array of sugar-encrusted kitchen utensils and a pair of pliers for stubborn fastenings.

Next the Marks & Spencer-moccasined member asserted that single parents are on the rise. This is simple statistics: as a nation we are losing interest in breeding. Completely missing the point, I countered that people will not stop having sex; life is hard enough. Opinions have changed little since the 60s, when any of Hrabal’s young beauties would tell you you might as well be buried alive if the man in your life has a faulty fandangle, which sounds even more, er, galvanising in Czech.

We swivelled our bradawl-like intellects to the ethics of childminders. Mothers are under pressure from the backwash of the suffragette movement to exercise every single one of their hard-won rights. They must return to work full-time as soon as possible. No matter that gender parity is a hormonal beast. Women are entitled to work as long as men, just not for the same pay.

However, women are currently entitled to longer maternity leave. And to wrangle to their heart’s delight with the Dostoyevskian dilemma of flexible working patterns. Anything less than full-time remains an admission of inferiority. A lack of professional commitment. So they grasp ‘compressed hours’ – full-time hours over fewer days. Leaving them a longer ‘weekend’ to engage in ‘compressed hours’ full-time parenting. Because if you’re working in order to pay somebody to look after your children, like every stage in any process of value conversion, something gets lost.

Consequently, with unanimous support, we propose to introduce both parity of paternity leave, and parity of pressure on fathers to reduce their working hours commensurate with their partners to at most seventy-five percent. Thus, by equally sharing the professional shame of being a parent, we can accelerate the depopulation of Britain, and allow its recolonisation by more intelligent mammals.

Quoth Beethaven “Leonore!”, lightning to strike thrice, and that concludes this manifesto on behalf of the Omphaloskeptic Party, brought to you in dysfunction with powdered fresh ginkgo biloba leaves.

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18/08/2019

To Mount

I received a USB flash drive through the post. That was a fraught first sentence. I received a flash through my letterbox. An unexpected portable insertable. Trying to avoid proprietary labelling as well as euphemism. Thankfully I handle far fewer floppies these days. Lately I have been too close to the nerds again. Nerds are riddled with smut. And fantasy fiction. You have only to glance at the names of open source file types. Anyway, USB flash drive is the most universal, generic, non-proprietary, inoffensive name for those portable mini memories.

No return address, no post mark, no message, no branding. Immediately perturbed by the threat of unsolicited files carrying viruses, I left it in porch quarantine. After a few days curiosity got the better of me – Fool! – so I tentatively began researching how to virus check a flash drive before accessing any of its files. Surely you do this as a matter of course, using your up-to-date anti-virus software? I hear you cry. Ah, no, recall my first revelation about the open source fantasy netherworld. Things behave differently here.

I suppose open source software isn’t worth hacking because its users are few and usually more deviant than the hackers. She said, rustling a greedy paper bag of fate-candy. Paradoxically, open source users are also more paranoid. Accordingly I have set this post to auto-publish, lest the Fossoway area should be electronically sterilised by rogue agents or one temerarious idiot. This also serves as an inbuilt excuse for substandard writing.

All this time I was of course wondering what might be on the unsolicited infernal device apart from diabolical code: text document? Images? Audio? Video? Cutting edge writer’s software? Legal or not? Was I actually the intended recipient – yes, my name and address are on the box – but had this been put in the wrong box?

Could it actually be something positive? Pleasant surprise from someone I know? But they would know better than to send something so suspicious. Or would they? They might be being amusing. Or clandestine. Perhaps there was to be a clue sent via another route – yet to arrive or already missed. Maybe it’s not storage but a USB travel toothbrush, or something similarly insertable but more entertaining.

Perhaps I have a stalker. Somebody trying to be overly-intimate. Unlikely. Cryptic and creepy don’t usually go together. Really, if it’s something I would want, the sender would have made it more apparent. First rule of resisting marketing. Better to leave it as an enigma. More fun. Perhaps something will turn up that will explain it. And destroy all my hopes and dreams.

Eventually, the opportunity of a failing PC became irresistible. I backed up everything and disconnected all my hard drives. I mean I pulled out all the cables, wrapped them in lead, or cardboard, which was lighter, removed them to the other end of the house, and closed the door. Not taking any chances. Full force neurosis.

There was little of any importance on the PC. Apart from the archaeological history of my snacks over eight years. Not connected to anything, if it got infected or corrupted or liquidated it was getting wiped anyway. Or surrendered to the great acme magnet in the sky.

But there is a problem with old PCs: not always compatible with newer technology. After all, that is how the manufacturers keep you rabidly gobbling at that endless consumer conveyor belt. What an exquisite irony that a new machine could connect but could also be vulnerable to it.

Unable to mount USB flash drive error dialog box listing unintelligible error codes

So often my problem: unable to mount.

21/06/2019

Parathought

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 12:00

A very short, timeless fantasy

Come and sit beside me. Look at the water. Just look at the water until it stops moving. Now we’re in what I call 5D, because I’m aware of only four other dimensions: space and time.

It feels strange not to be able to move, doesn’t it? Don’t worry about it. It makes sense if you think about it: if we’re in zero time, movement in zero time – how fast is that? It’s infinite. You’d experience a lot of friction. That’s what’s stopping you from moving. If you did have enough force to move, you would evaporate with the intense heat, so you probably don’t want to try it.

I’ve been able to do this for – who knows? But I’ve been doing it for a while. I find any physical or mental effort in too little time leads to exhaustion. So I thought: what if I could remove the time component altogether?

Thought doesn’t need any movement. Thought in this form isn’t even electrical; there isn’t any movement of subatomic particles; there isn’t a transfer of energy. It’s para-thought – beyond thought. It is an instantaneous conceptualising and communicating. How does that work? I don’t know. Even if I did, I couldn’t possibly put it into any linear language. Annoying, isn’t it?

How do I do it? It’s a kind of intensity of thought that becomes a detachment. When it’s available to me, I feel this sensation in my forehead, right in the middle. It’s like a pressure a few millimetres inside my skull. Not like something is pressing on my forehead from the outside or inside, it’s just a sensation, not something I usually feel. At first I thought it was my brain getting tired. When I feel it, I can pay attention to it, really focus on it. It becomes increasingly intense and after what seems like a few seconds, but probably is no time at all, everything stops. There is this perfect stillness and quiet.

I’ve not brought anyone with me before. I had intended not to force it on anyone else. I never say never, but, then, you made it rather difficult. You’re too observant of the little incongruities in my behaviour. And I can’t have you thinking I’m psychotic.
You’re the first person I brought. I have met some others who can do it. There’s something in their faces that I recognise. I suppose it’s the same thing that you saw in me.

As daylight stops stretching and begins shrinking, as daytime makes that imperceptible tilt from extending to contracting, at that moment of suspended change… I thought you might like a new trick to play with.

You need some time to think about it? No you don’t.

21/02/2019

Pigs

My daughter acquired a piglet. On her way home from school, there was a commotion: a livestock transporter had taken a wrong turn and jackknifed around the mini roundabout at the bottom of our hill. With the precarious leaning and the altercation with a lamppost, one of the doors had swung open and some disoriented captives had spilled out. Piglets make an attention-grabbing noise at the best of times and one in particular was stumbling in a circle and squealing its distress most querulously. My daughter couldn’t resist trying to comfort the poor creature. Assessing the scene, she decided that the lorry was destined for the abattoir. Fired with a passion of injustice, she took the executive decision to liberate the piglet by stuffing it up her jumper.

I peered around the door frame of the back kitchen, wondering about the source of the splashing and squeaking. Molly gazed back with the frozen terror of anticipated parental diatribe. Actually my only injunctions were that she could not move it from one place of captivity to another, i.e. it was not going to live in a cage, and that unfortunately she could not release it into the wild, it not being wild. Here she pointed out that ‘it’ was actually ‘she’, because of the neat array of studs across her belly.

Not knowing what stage of weaning the piglet was at, we could only offer water, but that seemed welcome, along with an old towel for comfort. Whatever exactly had happened to her, she must have been traumatised having been separated from whomever and whatever she had been familiar with. The distressed squealing only subsided while Molly was with her so we found ourselves at that impasse. 

My best advice was that she contact the farmer whose land abuts our wilderness garden. Angus Strachan has a gait you can recognise literally a kilometre away. You can’t stride across heather moor and machair. Consequently he has achieved this efficient pumping effort, so that he appears like a tweed-upholstered steam engine: pistons at the bottom, whistle at the top.

Less than an hour after Molly called in our predicament, Angus scissored over the back fence, dragging an empty plastic bin and bearing a huge sack over his shoulder. Apparently this feed would cover all the basics, and could be supplemented with a wide range of kitchen scraps.

By this time Molly had named her new companion Penelope. Recognising that Penelope sharing her bedroom would not be an option, she plotted and presented me with an irrefutable plan. She would set up her brother’s sleeping bag in the back kitchen and the pair of them would magically and hygienically bond.

While we pondered what would be required for a longer term solution, with Angus contributing his invaluable knowledge, Bill Janney, our community policeman, rang the bell. He was trying so hard to stifle a smirk that he appeared, quite misleadingly, to be winking at me. He carefully explained about the navigational incident, the wandering livestock, the chagrined driver, the irate farmer, and asked if I’d seen any unattended farm animals. He seemed less concerned about welfare and more about the repercussions of transport stupidity. I stifled my own smirk and equally carefully responded that, notwithstanding my personal philosophy that one creature cannot be owned by another, I had not seen any domesticated animals owned by any local livestock farmers wandering about unattended. There was no comedically-timed oinking off-stage, but I feel it would not have changed anything. Still smirking, Bill issued the standard advice to call him rather than approach any such individuals, and set off back down the hill, to visit the houses on the other side.

I returned to the back kitchen conference, where Angus had just been struck by inspiration. A land owner over towards the Cairngorms had recently established a herd – if that is the correct collective noun – of pigs to roam about certain areas of his estate, performing land management functions such as thinning out scrub and saplings from the wooded areas and churning the boggier soil to increase the diversity of wild flowers.

Fairly soon we met Trish, the land owner, approved her livestock-conservation experiment, shared ethics and thankfully found Penelope would be welcomed as the member of that herd. Several visits ensued to acclimatise Penelope and gradually leave her with her new family for longer periods of time.

For a couple of weeks Penelope settled in fine. Molly visited her at weekends by charming Angus into giving her a lift on a series of pretexts. We were all happy that she was squealing less and gaining weight.

Then. The third weekend my son Nicky and I happened to go along too. I delayed the outing by some tedious domestic admin. When we arrived Jim the herd was just coming into view, so Molly was excited to greet Penelope on her return from foraging. However, Penelope was missing. Jim tried to cover his concerns. Standard procedure in these circumstances: settle the rest of the herd in their quarters safely, then head back out to search.

Penelope, bless her, we could hear from some distance. With Molly echoing, we reached a crescendo of cacophony. Jim and Nicky triangulated Penelope’s squeals to a drainage gulley surrounded by a few ancient pines. She was standing in the base of the gulley, among long grass, beside a pile of scrub trimmings, quivering with terror. The gulley wasn’t especially deep or enclosed, and Penelope didn’t appear injured, so we were baffled why she hadn’t rejoined the herd.

Molly rushed up to try to comfort Penelope. Jim and I wandered around looking for any indication of the cause. I didn’t know what I was looking for and Jim was similarly non-plussed. For once, being lifted and petted made Penelope even noisier. Any attempt to take her away produced unbearable squeals. Nicky ranged through the scrub clicking his camera compulsively and somehow the lens saw what we didn’t. Hiding, cowering under a thick bush was a smaller piglet with a darker complexion.

Molly’s eyebrows lowered just like her father’s. The obvious accusation was that Jim couldn’t count or didn’t count carefully enough. He tactfully, and with relief, pointed out that this piglet was not one of the herd.

Leaving Nicky circling Molly and the two piglets, in a kind of camera corral, Jim and I searched further. We were so thankful that we had left Molly behind when we discovered the carnage. A sow with mutilated head and limbs lay at the side of a small clearing. Several similarly eviscerated piglets were strewn nearby. I was overcome with nausea and had to walk away. Jim had a stronger constitution and could make a detailed visual assessment.

Jim told me that this massacre was not wild animals: no fox or wild cat would do such damage and leave the meat. Realising what he meant brought me another wave of nausea. The only animal that tortures other animals for amusement is humans.

We would need a vet to confirm with autopsies and we would need a trailer to recover the bodies. We collected Molly; the two piglets seemed less distressed so long as they were together. Jim quietly asked Nicky if he felt able to chronicle the massacre.

In the dazzle of shock, I found myself standing inside the fence around the pig pen, staring out across the moor. The fence wood felt less comforting than I needed; it hadn’t been enough protection. Some of the herd wandered around oblivious. Molly had taken the two piglets somewhere dark and cosy to try to soothe them. My mind homed in on one incongruity: how did a pregnant or nursing sow end up there?

When Jim reappeared, he looked horribly haggard, and was thinking along the same line: he’d contacted the three neighbouring farms and enquired carefully if they were missing a piglet. Farmers value livestock, even if only financially, and none of them were missing anything. Jim had made a joke of it, as if it was as likely, as Molly had silently accused him, that he had simply miscounted. The fact that he hadn’t mentioned multiple piglets or the sow confirmed my fears. He wasn’t ready to announce the find yet.

Livestock owners don’t misplace sows. I thought of the livestock transporter: was it possible that this sow had escaped from there? Jim thought it hugely unlikely that any pig would walk thirty miles. I called Bill Janney, the policeman, and used the same line about a possible extra piglet. Like the farmers, he had no claim. The contents of the transporter had been accounted for, apparently notwithstanding Penelope.

Whoever ‘owned’ this terribly unfortunate creature didn’t care. It appeared that the sow had been released by someone who didn’t know or didn’t care about her condition; not that her treatment was any more acceptable had she not been pregnant or nursing. We stared at each other, trying to penetrate a mindset that was entirely alien to us.

Jim surprised me by asking me what we should do. It wasn’t deference; I didn’t employ him. I think he was genuinely bewildered. All I could think was “get them, get them, get them.” I asked him if there was such a thing as a forensic pathologist vet. He knew someone at the University, and she was on her way over. She could advise who else ought to be notified, but despite the glaring wrongness of the situation, we couldn’t assess which crime might have been committed.

Jim took Helen, the specialist vet, over to the discovery site. The three of us made to go home. I expected Molly to make undeniable demands for Penelope and Peter, the new orphan, to return home with us. However, without having seen the full horror, she seemed to accept that they were in the least worst place, on condition we came back the next day.

When my husband saw Molly’s face he feared the worst. I had to elaborate some sign language until I could get him out of her hearing and explain the full details: the truth was even worse than that.

As promised, the following day we all went, lugging kilos of bruised apples from the garden, as if that could somehow make up for the trauma. Molly introduced Peter to her father, and I could see his brain forming a pun about Parma, and thinking better of it. We were so horribly nervous, trying not to anthropomorphise, yet still hearing echoes of Penelope’s cries.

Penelope and Peter have settled in together. Inseparably. It’s hard to say how well as they are both clearly different from the rest of the herd, but not isolated.

Reports were made, appropriate officials notified, investigations launched. Jim gave me sight of Helen’s report: impressively technical – I didn’t know science was so advanced in this area, but then I wouldn’t – and a straightforward conclusion. Many of the incision marks on the pig flesh were caused by dogs, most likely terriers.

The local newspaper picked up the story from the police. Right on cue local game shooting estates spluttered their umbrage at implications and bleated that they mostly used spaniels or labradors, apparently the classier hunters’ dogs. Their shrill defensiveness, rather than sharing our horror at the atrocity, said a lot. The only animal that tortures other animals for amusement is humans. And some of them train dogs to assist.

Jim is being interviewed by local radio. He has hinted that he may overstate the case in the hopes of putting the wind up somebody. Perhaps it is easier than you’d think to track the buying and selling of pigs. Perhaps the perpetrators were not local, although moving a pig is not easy. Ask that livestock transporter driver.

Ask yourself: when is butchery business and when is it barbaric?

01/02/2019

Father Episodes

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:00

The perils of parental cohabitation: vignettes of eccentricity

Ten years ago, my father arrived for a few months. He stayed five years. He found the place comfortable? Oh no, it was “tolerable”.

——

My concern was always aroused on returning home to find my father sitting in the hall. More so if both front and back doors were fully open allowing a

30mph wind to flow unimpeded through the house, and windows ditto. He was inevitably monitoring some disaster recovery operation / resting during a more active course of same / awaiting my return to explain some destruction / awaiting same to register his dissatisfaction with my substandard domestic furnishings or appliances.

If he was sitting in the hall with the doors closed, he was awaiting the postman.

As soon as I reached the threshold, he would pronounce a well rehearsed summary.

“A blue smoke episode!” This coinage described the regular occurrence where he had commenced frying a slab of meat, become bored with waiting, wandered off, and returned to heavy smog and charcoal. This was attributed to my hob being “peculiar”.

A frequent alternate was: “your washing machine has added a tissue to my laundry, shredded it and deposited it evenly throughout the load. Consequently, in carrying the finished load through to my room, I have scattered a fine layer of bits of tissue along the full length of the hall. I have been picking them up for twenty minutes now. I’m exhausted.”

——

One time I had spent a good hour shovelling snow to clear the drive. I found kneeling more comfortable for my back as it meant less bending and lifting. When I re-entered the house after this practical but style-unconscious exercise, Father was in position in the hall, having well mulled his commentary in anticipation.

“Bad genes. … Your mother’s.” Chuckle. Exit.

Notwithstanding that pragmatism coupled with utter disregard for appearance was closer to his mode and the antithesis of other parent, the highlight was the midway pivot as he realised that the mulling had failed to anticipate the elephant trap.

——

On my return from work I was greeted by the old boy standing in the doorway with the bottom half of his trousers sopping wet.

“The showerhead got away from me.”

What he was doing in the cubicle fully clothed was never explained. (It wasn’t cleaning; such meniality was outwith his purview. In any case, his shower wasn’t dirty. The “black bits” arrived in the water, just as the layer of grey dust that rapidly accumulated on his piles of everything derived from lorries and came in through the windows. The fact that these symptoms were not expressed anywhere else in the house was ignored. More of windows anon.)

——

Early one summer morning I noticed a shimmering on the kitchen counter at Father’s end. My kitchen had been combined with a utility room by replacing the dividing wall with a ‘breakfast bar’. This allowed dual use and served as a convenient demarcation between zones: mine being relatively clean and organised; his being a total clutter of packets and jars and spills. The most frequently used were at the front ranging back to those entirely forgotten, pressed against the wall. The cupboards were already stuffed full of unused crockery and groceries he had brought with him and also forgotten about. I usually avoided looking at that end because I felt like the walls were coming in at me.

On this occasion the counter surface was moving. Among the sticky jam jars, stained cutlery, spilled sugar, splashed juice, biscuit crumbs and residual chocolate powder were ants. I peered in.

The ants were fascinating. They were actively surveying and collecting crumbs and sugar granules. Once loaded, each set off along the counter over the cupboards, around the wall, in front of the sink, under Father’s fridge, diagonally down the bin cupboard door and into the skirting by the back door. This was a well established highway in both directions, connecting somewhere beyond the door to some hidden metropolis under the slabs.

ants on kitchen counter

I felt a curious mixture of concern and elation. I was fascinated and revolted. I carefully checked my end and with relief found it all clear. Amusement recommenced. Before leaving for work I wrote Father a short warning note. I imagined him stumbling in for breakfast, his bleary eyes failing to detect small legs and antennae until they were well up his spoon arm.

Sadly there followed a chemical genocide as we were past the point of tools of dissuasion. The pied piper himself became weary of crushing them individually with a paper towel as they encroached, following their irresistible urge to climb the sugar vapour gradient. Plus I had spotted one or two intrepid explorers in the vicinity of my cupboards. Unacceptable. Still, I’m impressed by their foraging capability.

——

“The bathroom light shade has disintegrated.”

This seemed unlikely. It had been recently installed by an electrician to replace two spotlight fittings which were restricted to 60 watts each, and thus apparently insufficient for Father’s shaving activity.

The electrician had been introduced because the fusebox had blown, and continued to blow despite being reset. The fuse culprit was traced to … the lights circuit. Father had ignored the warning sticker and pushed in two 100 watt bulbs. Being incandescent, the fittings had quickly overheated, the wires in the ceiling had melted into each other, and we were lucky the loft hadn’t caught ‘light’.

I think he was after a theatre dressing room style mirror, framed by two dozen 40 watt bulbs. He made similar demands of his adjustable reading lamp and became incensed when the weight of the galactic strength bulb caused it to constantly droop.

You can understand, then, his disappointment when this new bathroom installation provided only one diffuse 60 watt equivalent CFL bulb, further obscured by a clear glass cover. He decided to ‘upgrade forthwith’ to a 100 watt equivalent bulb. Frustratingly this new bulb was larger and prevented the glass dome from reaching its holder clips. He had carefully wrestled and shoved until it shattered over the bathroom floor. Ideal place for broken glass.

——

Things became a little less humorous with the heating. This was required to be on 24 hours per day just in case the temperature should dip below 22°C. I had turned off the radiators in my rooms as the infrared radiation from his quarters was plenty. Simultaneously, and counter-intuitively, windows fore and aft were required to be ajar to allow a gentle, fresh breeze to flow through at all times. This arrangement came to my attention early on when a repeatedly creaking door kept me awake. He was unmoved by my ‘hyperbolae’ about heating the entire neighbourhood and the remarkable 80% increase in oil consumption.

In the height of summer, during a rare heatwave, from the garden I was astonished to hear the boiler fire up. I swiftly came indoors to query with himself.

“Yes. As I usually do before my shower.” And he would not budge despite persistent argument around the fact that it was actually very warm and he would be complaining about it later, a portable heater could heat just the bathroom if that was necessary, towels could be warmed elsewhere, etc. It was a habit and not to be interfered with.

——

Father was sitting at the kitchen counter scrabbling with a plastic bag of bananas. I wondered if he was having trouble opening it. But no, he liked to keep his bananas in the bag, so they could sweat for several days in the bowl. He would then notice they were brown, complain with disgust about their lack of longevity, and throw them neatly away, still in the bag.

On this occasion it was the bag itself that was cause for concern. He looked up.

“Where do your bananas come from?”

I’m interested in the provenance of my produce, and anticipated a new nugget of ethical consideration. My bananas were loose and helpfully stickered, so I reported back immediately.

“Costa Rica.”

Still scrabbling, with increasing frustration, he explained, “avoid Colombian bananas. Laced with cocaine.”

——

As usual I reversed at full tilt into the drive, stopping just short of crushing a gutter down-pipe. This cathartically expunged my last vestiges of my office tension. I noticed with alarm that Father’s parked car was occupied and its engine running. A few seconds later and our similar reckless reversing habits could have collided. Moving swiftly on, I waved to the coated and hatted phizog in the wing mirror but zero response. He seemed to be concentrating.

After about 25 minutes I noticed his car was again sitting in the drive, chugging away. Shortly thereafter himself entered the hall, removed coat and hat, and expressed surprise that I had snuck past him.

“Entertaining trip?” I enquired, imaging perhaps he’d whistled along to the post box or other local destination that took longer by car than on foot.

“I was tuning the radio.”

——

Unfortunately the entertainment value of the episodes increasingly soured. First there were several occasions when I found the freezer door had been open all night. The compressor had been powering away to no avail. The fridge was tepid. The freezer contents were soft and damp. Father had been the last to visit the kitchen for his statutory sugar-laden ‘supper’. J’accuse!

Having found the fridge at his end of the kitchen insufficient, he had commandeered the top half of mine too, and a reasonable two-thirds of the freezer. Sometimes, when lifting things out, he fumbled the fridge door and slammed it with his elbow en pirouette. This created enough air pressure within the fridge compartment to reverse the flow of chilled air from the freezer below, and, on particularly vigorous occasions, force the freezer door open. When I pointed this out, he naturally countered with “poor design”.

There were also several instances which conclusively revealed his freezer drawer jutting out and preventing the door closing. He denied any awareness. Mind on higher things.

I became tired of trying to consume all my carefully baked and frozen cakes, assorted produce and leftovers in one day. I installed a temperature alarm. The problem didn’t recur, but Father frequently swore at the continual beeping while he stood for 20 minutes with the door wide open, restocking his provisions.

——

He perpetuated an irrational war on insect invaders. He was usually more successful with stealth tactics, picking them off individually, as with the ants. Yet they had their revenge. Swatting flies often resulted in disorder and destruction around the battlefield, and many distant expletives.

The crushing of large spiders was the greatest folly, however. He would leap out of bed late at night and fall into a crouch, poised over the skirting with a carefully funnelled paper towel to absorb the blood—rather like gravy actually—and collect the carcass.

This sudden rush of activity and change of attitude from the horizontal unfortunately upset his balance. With the spider looking on, Father slowly somersaulted backward across the carpet and came to rest against the bed, woefully disoriented. Defeat was admitted pro tem until his blood pressure and proprioception returned to operational levels.

——

One morning I was surprised to find him at breakfast before me. He was already chuckling at his prepared report.

“Upon waking, I looked at the clock, which said 8AM, so I leapt out of bed. Having been through my bathroom routine, I returned to collect my supper plate, and saw that it was in fact 6AM. I shall be ahead of myself all day!”

——

Meanwhile Father’s stock control methodology became extreme ‘just-in-case’. This was ironic at the same time that mine became conversely extreme ‘just-in-time’ to reduce wastage during Father episodes or power-cuts. As my space requirement diminished, he filled any additional available fridge space. However, like the counter tops, unused packets inevitably migrated backward and coalesced like a layer of sediment beginning its geological phase.

Sometimes prompted by my complaints of noxious drippage, sometimes just from an eery sense of losing storage capacity, Father would investigate the deeper recesses of the fridge. He would find cucumbers liquified in their plastic bags, potatoes having valiantly sprouted, withered and returned to primeval slime, cheese that was no longer hospitable to mould and had desiccated to pumice. He found these discoveries hilarious.

——

If I was not present to be regaled, and he grew tired at his post in the hall, he would pen a memo. Another of his habits, retained for its perceived professional prestige, was illegible script, even in capitals. “HALL LIGHT BUSTICATED.” Appended to this was either a small alien emoticon, his self-identified caricature, or his initials, if his timeframe had lapsed and he found himself joyously revisiting the 1950s, dictating to his secretary.

Sometimes the original message would be overlaid with a different colour of scribble to the triumphant effect that he had resolved the problem. When the second colour was the grey of one of my handy pencils, this would involve considerable scratching and scoring of the paper, culminating in a barely visible complaint about the quality of my writing instruments.

——

When snow was swirling but the lights were still on, I would work from home. This included telephone conversations with colleagues. Often, in the middle of a desperately dull discussion of business process revision to ensure the capture of… by which point my forehead was resting on the keyboard with demotivation, we would be interrupted: a click, a series of beeps, and a pause with heavy breathing as the expected dialling noises failed to sound.

Once the departure from standard operating procedure had registered—the ongoing conversation not having registered—I would loudly insert my request.

“Could you possibly wait until I’ve finished?”

“Ah. Forgot you were here. Apologies.” Click.

Luckily this never happened while I was speaking to my manager, or it would have precipitated yet another discussion on business process revision to ensure that my home working environment was conducive to…

——

How he eventually came to depart is another tale of eccentric bafflement. He continues in much the same fashion elsewhere.

25/01/2019

Teeth, or How I Helped Fix Granny

Not my usual brand of caustic fairytale (Truthache series) but a wide-eyed innocent enchantment.

Part One

When I was two my Granny gave my Grandad a massive tooth. It was a whale’s tooth for their anniversary. It looked like an elephant’s tusk. We were sat on a park bench and I was fascinated so my Grandad let me touch it. It was too big for me to hold. My Granny told me a story about how she got it.

When she and Grandad were just married, they went on holiday to Norway. One day Grandad, my Dad and Aunty Marianne went skiing. Granny went with a man in his boat to see some whales. The man stopped his boat in the middle of a sea loch with white mountains all round. Granny leaned over the side and looked into the water through her goggles.

Granny could see surprisingly far into the water. Some shadows would swim across. Suddenly one of the shapes got much bigger. A huge whale whooshed out of the water and touched her nose to Granny’s nose. Granny showed me a photograph that the boat-man took of them nose-to-nose. She said the whale was showing how well she could swim.

Granny was quite excited. The whale swam around the boat on the surface of the water with her big black eye looking at Granny. Then she disappeared so Granny leaned further to look for her. The whale had gone around the other side of the boat and suddenly it tipped and Granny fell into the water!

Granny was surprised and cold and confused by the water rushing round and round her. She wasn’t scared though, because she had her wetsuit and life-jacket on. The whale came up to her and kept nudging her. Eventually she realised the whale wanted her to take off her life-jacket. The whale swam underneath her and blew some bubbles up to her face. Granny tried catching the bubbles in her mouth – they tasted revoltingly fishy – but she could breathe the air.

Granny held on to one of the whale’s fins and they swam away. She lost her grip a few times but got the hang of it. The whale was very patient. Granny thinks she should have been worrying about Grandad and the kids, but she was so amazed by the experience, there was nothing else in her head.

The whale swam with Granny for ages through all these different underwater landscapes. Granny says she can’t put most of it into words: it was so alien. The whale kept stopping and turning to blow air bubbles up to Granny.

Eventually they came to a big cave which was half full of water. The whale showed Granny things she had collected and kept on shelves of rock in the cave. Some were beautiful treasures – intricate shaped stones – but some were sad memories – plastic-wrapped bones.

The whale seemed to communicate with Granny by pulses of emotion. She doesn’t understand how – maybe it was sound that is too deep for us to hear – but she would suddenly feel a certain way. She felt the joy of the pretty shapes and colours. She also felt sadness as though the bones were from other whale people this whale had known.

The whale lifted with her lips this massive tooth. Granny felt it was associated with somebody with a big heart – as we would say it. The whale gave the tooth to Granny as a gift.

The whale brought Granny back through the water the same way, and although Granny tried to pay attention, she says the journey is mostly a blur. In a whoosh the whale pushed Granny in a big wave up on to the beach of the loch. The whale couldn’t come all the way up herself or she would get stranded. Granny said goodbye and held on to the tooth, then just sat there for a while feeling odd.

Granny remembered the boat-man and looked out across the loch. Eventually she got his attention and he brought his boat across. He had been really scared and had been looking all around where her life-jacket had bobbed up. He was very relieved to see her.

When Grandad and Dad and Aunty Marianne arrived, Granny told them her story. They all agreed it sounded daft, and none of them could explain about the tooth. But Granny said she knew she had to work to put some things right in the way we treat whales.

Part Two

When I was six, one day Granny said she was going to walk up the headland. My front tooth had just come out and I remembered her story about the whale tooth. I said I wanted to go with her but I didn’t say why because I felt a bit silly.

We wandered around the headland for a while. The wind was blustery and Granny got frustrated. She said it was the wrong place so we walked down to the beach. We watched the waves coming in until one had a whale in it. Granny seemed startled but I knew the whale had come for my tooth.

I showed Granny the tooth in my hand and she smiled. She said I wasn’t to go into the water because my wellies would fill up. She asked if she could take the tooth to the whale because her wellies were practically waders. The whale who was riding the waves was just a wee baby. He was small enough to get close to the beach. Granny went up to him and bent down to offer my tooth. He took it in his lips and Granny gave him a shove to get back to deeper water.

We couldn’t see the baby whale swimming out because he was under the water and the waves were quite choppy. Granny said to keep on looking though. Far out there was a big splash. Granny said that was just to get our attention; keep watching. A huge whale did a somersault right out of the water. I was so impressed. Granny was smiling too. She said she hoped that might be the same whale she met in Norway. I felt a weird fizzy pressure in my head but I didn’t say anything because I couldn’t put it into words. I thought it was excitement.

Part Three

Now I’m ten and Granny still isn’t very old. A few days ago she got quite unwell. There was nothing we could see wrong with her; she just felt really tired. We all sat about not knowing what to do.

The next morning I woke up wanting to go to see the whales. I have kept all my baby teeth that fell out. My Dad drilled tiny holes into them so we could put them on a wee bracelet. I wanted to give this to the whales so they would make Granny better.

I told my Mum and she wasn’t totally convinced, but she said she would chum me to the beach for the walk. We walked the usual way round the headland and saw lots of people on the beach. We walked down and Mum started speaking to them to find out what was going on.

I wandered away towards the rocks. I knew the kerfuffle was about sightings of whales but I wanted to be with the whales by myself. I remembered Granny saying they would be splashing to get attention, but I felt like it wasn’t for me, it was for all the other people, to distract them. I had on my big wellies and I picked up a stick on the way.

I wandered around near where Granny and I had met the baby whale before. Right at the edge of the rocks there is a big pool. I poked my stick into the water and felt something spongy. I peered in. There was a neat pile of leaves – huge thick leaves with big veins through them. On the top, in the middle, was my first tooth.

Mum had followed me and when she saw what was in the pool she called Aunty Marianne to come with a bucket. When Aunty Marianne arrived she filled her bucket with seawater and stacked the leaves in it. I kept that tooth but put the bracelet of my other teeth into the rock pool.

When we got home, I showed Granny my tooth and told her about the leaves. She reckoned the tooth meant we’re to eat them. Aunty Marianne said maybe but let’s check – she knows herbs but she didn’t know these.

While Granny was resting, we all sat round the kitchen table while Aunty Marianne checked through her encyclopaedia. Suddenly she said it’s a Caribbean sea palm. The leaves are used in native medicine – people who are unwell chew on a piece of leaf.

Grandad looked up startled. Aunty Marianne read that we should keep the leaves in fresh salty water then they would last for ages. Dad was asking did the whales bring the leaves all the way from the Caribbean or have they cultivated them locally? Aunty Marianne gave him a look and said that wasn’t in her encyclopaedia.

The next day Granny was feeling improved, as she says. As I was about to go to school, she called me to the sofa to thank me for listening to my big heart. I was puzzled. Granny explained that she had thought the first whale calling the tooth big heart meant it was for Grandad. Granny thought the whale she met in Norway had somehow recognised him from when they had stood on our headland and waved, before they were married. Not recognised visually; some other way whales use.

I suppose the whales were passing on their migration and used this sense they have to know granny was unwell. Maybe one day I can figure it out.

The next weekend I went back to check the rock pool. Aunty Marianne said obviously there have been several high tides since we found the leaves but anyway my teeth bracelet was gone. I hope it’s on some whale’s treasure shelf.

29/09/2018

Take and Give part 3/3

A surreal adventure through loose-wire interpretations of retinal blobs
continues from part 2

I have stumbled upon the Machiavelli behind the machinery, the stage manager, the master bungler. The Wizard of Oats. I have even challenged him. He wanted to be found.
“They were like spoor through the kitchen.”
“You had a lot.”
“Staple. Long life.”
“Yours or the oats’?” Smart. I like him. He puzzles me.

What to ask first? The exhumed prima donna? Obviously a mother metaphor. Father and the buns; enough said. The cancerous housing situation? Hackneyed satire on humanity’s avarice? Lost interest in that habitat. The illusion of reality? Who cares? Ah, but all my valued possessions are still unaccounted for.

While I’ve been metaphorically mulling, my host has brought us to another, much smaller, footbridge. He breaks into my thought maelstrom.
“I’ve decluttered you.”
“You’ve de…materialised me.”
“You still want them?”
“Yes!?” Is he going to try to buy me off with Turkish delight now?
“No.” He can read my thought maelstrom.
“You gave me a new phone, then you ate it.”
“A small lapse.”
“The giving or the guzzling?”
He moves on, ignoring my apparently amateur question. How about something more fundamental: what’s the point?

Tucked in beneath the footbridge, beside a pallet of firewood, Mr Oats wrestles a tarpaulin. I expect an indignant troll or other claimant to emerge at any moment. He triumphantly reveals the smallest vehicle I’ve seen. It could technically fit a person, rather like a kayak, but it won’t carry your groceries, let alone your lifetime’s hech. Of course: we’re living lightly now. Except. Smugly I point out its obvious flaw.
“They’ll spot that in about five satellite refreshes.” ‘They’ being the long overdue archetypal baddies. The small, mildly menacing ones, clad helpfully in black. The Marketeers of the Materialistic.

Mr Oats is disappointed—no, hurt at my distrust. At my not buying wholesale into his illusion. I don’t feel obligated to loyalty since he still hasn’t explained any of his tremendous liberties taken. I push on.
“You know how they scan the country: massive scale blocks then recursively finer resolution until they’re examining your tile grouting.” Hyperbolae always wins.
“They don’t know what they’re looking for.”
“No, but as soon as it moves they’ll lock on to it like any predator.” I’m right into my case now, regardless of destination. However, there’s one feature I haven’t given due attention, probably because he’s only just manifested it: he lovingly polishes its shiny red nose cone. How drearily phallic. But a point of sorts.
“Not if we’re above the satellite.”
Clever. Notwithstanding the directional ambiguity of such domains.

The pod—boarding feels rather like squirming into a broad bean pod—has a comfortingly stretch-to-fit interior as well as a furry lining. Take-off has the standard discomforting sudden loss of stability and, well, ground. We birl up into the air and take a final impression of terra firma, including the once again diminishing aspect of my house. The rapidly receding landscape features pass through aboriginal dot art stage in an instant then coalesce into smudge.

The ride smooths and my giddiness subsides. Satisfyingly we jump by the trumped satellite, mentally giving it two rods. Like the beans, we’re travelling in tandem: my benefactor’s legs are hugging my hips. I just begin to enjoy the sensation of animal warmth within the vegetable habitat before he begins a series of interstellar leaps and bounds, like the pronking of gazelles.

I feel oddly unconcerned by the loss of everything familiar to me. My wonder at the unfamiliar settles; analysis resumes.
“You’re showing me how small and insignificant my world is?”
“I’m showing you what you can do.”
If not limited by attachment to the familiar? Silence. That exquisite potential on the cusp of supreme wisdom. That moment of joyous expectation. That vacuum of answers which always precedes…

I wake reluctantly and disappointingly back in this mundane bed. With the nagging idea that spilled oats is some sort of ghastly smut.

END

Confession: three dreams bodged together like a cut-and-shut. Excellent image creativity—nice to see my porridge supper penetrating—but narratively utter nonsense. If I don’t get these scenes out of my head, and stretched into some loosely cohesive narrative shape, I fear descending into a tedious parody of Lewis Carroll.

28/09/2018

Take and Give part 2/3

A surreal adventure through loose-wire interpretations of retinal blobs
continues from part 1

A bigger problem looms: what is the number for non-emergency type police? I mean it’s definitely not an emergency. Even if there is stuff going on as I speak. Nefarious stuff. But no life is under threat. Actually, it all seems very amateur, but I need my documents, all the helpful notes I’ve made in the past for exactly this sort of… Well, not exactly; I didn’t foresee anything like this sort of half-baked theatre.

Just do something. I tap hopefully at the pristine screen and hear a solicitous voice, a not very distant voice. I launch in.
“Hello. I need the number for non-emergencies. A burglary. I can’t remember if it’s 111 or 101 or… All I know is it’s not 999, which isn’t 999 anymore either, because now it’s 911 or 211 or… No, apparently I don’t know that either.” I had all this stuff carefully noted, as I have already whinged. In my mobile, now missing, and beside the house phone, now severed.

But my rambling serves a dual purpose. I let the cheery chap fake away at his helpfulness as I prowl through my no-longer-my-own house. Who are all these extras? Where are they coming from? Where is the swelling space coming from? Seemingly the bungled burglary comes with gratis gratuitous extension into TV chat show set. In the greatly enlarged living room I round a freakishly smooth, new plasterboard curvature and literally bump into a rather short guy chattering into a black phone – an obvious sign that he’s one of the baddies. Actually having the very helpful unhelpful conversation I’ve been having.

With a frisson of delight I loom over him. He senses the shadow, looks up and squeaks. To his credit, he abandons the failed deception and stammers about there being no time to explain as ‘she’ is due on set. The set: that explains the giant toilet bowls that facilitated my slumber in the hall. Actually two enamelled hemispherical seating efforts – part of a nineteen-sixties white plastic delusion to facilitate the ‘star’ feeling less of a relic. Are we to be graced with the towering narcissistic ego of a wicked witch, clumsily ensorcelling all these drones?

Here indeed she is: descending an ostentatious and ego-flattering shiny white staircase from what used to be my neighbours’ conservatory. I wonder if they’ve noticed. I recognise the actor but don’t show it. She looks ravenous for recognition as she grasps at her ebbing celebrity. I’m allergic to obsequiousness. My eyes are intolerant to the shimmering albedo. I reverse out of the snow palace and skid through the kitchen. That floor really needs swept. The back door is the first available exit for fresh air to quell my nausea.

The modest garden as was, now immodest grounds, has been somewhat remodelled. I head along a broad stone bridge’s parapet, which also seems to be a busy public walkway linking distant parts of the vast estate. A bench made from springy wood calls to me. I settle down to close my dazzled eyes, foutering with my fancy phone for an exact music track. Of course all my favourites are pre-loaded. I get the right track, but the wrong volume. As the sound quietens and my frazzled ears relax, I become aware of a nearby phone conversation.

A guy behind me is speaking to the ambulance service about some healthy eating campaign. I suppose ambulances like to be pre-empted, and I applaud the apparent promotion of oats, although I cynically doubt the usual ‘wonder panacea’ label.

He seems to be aiming for: “I always have sixty grams of porridge oats to start the day.” He tries to be brisk and businesslike in supplying his quote, but keeps being interrupted by the other party. I wonder what distinguishes him to contribute. I open my eyes hoping to identify him but focusing is hard work and I’m distracted by someone further away. Still so easily misdirected.

I believe I recognise a girl standing by a chemist about fifty metres away. That used to be my patio. Such amenities in my locale. She beckons me. As I approach she flattens to a cardboard cut-out, swaying in the light breeze. Another mere extra. Drat. My legs are already propelling me back to my perch.

I admit I’m curious about Mr Oats. Gratifyingly he hails me.
“Do you have a magnifying glass?”
Not the personal recognition I hoped for. Still, unperturbed by this unusual request, I expect my new swank multi-application phone device has one on the back. As I unfold what is actually a sheet of silver plastic foil with hexagonal wires through it, I quip about the overheard conversation.
“Will there be any more hilarious oat-related stories?”
He chuckles momentarily, takes my phone and its flapping foil strip, and puts the lot in his mouth.
I complain. “Hey! My phone does not contain any oats!” I know I can wear him down with persistent escalating wacky. “You could at least sort the kitchen cabinets. They’re disgraceful. I mean they were before, but this business has mangled them beautifully.”
He continues silently masticating my shiny new technology.

With a heroic gulp he swallows the device and peripherals and sheepishly admits. “It was the oats, wasn’t it?” The fluke-filled freight truck of figuring-out runs into my forehead.

…concludes at part 3

27/09/2018

Take and Give part 1/3

A surreal adventure through loose-wire interpretations of retinal blobs

I wake reluctantly and unusually close to the carpet. After the standard three seconds of empty innocence, my memory throws in a disturbance: I was awoken during the night by a noise, but I suppressed my irrational fears of gremlins. I’d come back late, but early: supposed to be away at a conference, which had been underwhelming so I’d left, so I’d arrived, tired. Apparently so tired that I fell asleep on the hall carpet between two giant’s fish farm wellies, or enormous toilet bowls, or plant pots. Unlikely.

I sense a movement beyond the window. Someone is darting around the house. I lurch up to investigate, peering through successive windows, and catch sight of a colleague emerging from a rose bush. Shaken not scarred. Has he been changing his clothes? Unlikely.

I stagger into the living room. Something not right. Everything not right. Empty. All my furniture, clutter, cables, all gone. Carpet and dust and disoriented woodlice still present. More of them than I usually see.

I step back in shock and into the hall. Father heaves into view, in familiar piqued-by-puzzlement mode.
“Why is my room empty?”
“Probably because you don’t live here anymore.” But that’s the wrong question and answer.

My next concern is the kitchen: similarly stripped of all moveables. Counters that have not been clear for fifteen years seem pitted with archaeological depressions. Cupboards suddenly unburdened have distorted horribly in trying to return to neutral shape and position.

Father is unusually astute: he draws my attention to the tiles behind one strip of counter. Some of it isn’t tiles: it’s vinyl printed as tiles, poorly stuck on and peeling off. He also points out the new horizontal, being ten degrees adrift from the old conventional. Its cause is below in the floorboards: also decidedly off course and diverging from their neighbours. The floor is strewn with sawdust or wood chips. Or breakfast cereal. He pronounces with deductive relish.
“Somebody’s had this whole thing out and put it back badly.”

With a delayed but inevitable anxiety spike, I realise that the absence of furniture and everything on it or in it means all my personal stuff too: my phone, my documents, my collection of toothbrushes designed for the dentally anxious. I reach into my pocket and in bafflement pull out a brand new mobile phone. Seriously future new. Advanced beyond shop new. Not mine. I turn back to Father with curious relief.
“This is not just a bungled burglary; someone is trying to give us something.”

A rustle emanates from the bathroom. Yes, what about the bathroom? En route, a hubbub in the living room attracts my eyes. An auditorium of chairs is arranged and an audience of strangers files in. All actors or strays off the street I’m sure. Two-dimensional figures.

The bathroom no longer has a ceiling. Murky figures scrabble in the rafters, pulling cables and curious twinkling electronicary into the gloom. All part of the deception, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ machinery. I manage momentary eye-contact with one goblin who acknowledges a shared conspiracy: we all know it; the veil is pretty tattered. We’re playing along just for… What?

With a jolt I realise that was merely a diversion. There are still people scurrying past the windows. I must investigate that as well, in due course. The living room is the key: the audience has swelled considerably, probably due to the gargantuan gluttony of pink-iced buns heaped upon a fairy table at one side. Father enquires after the flavour, slavering over the promise of cinnamon or vanilla.
I reply firmly, “pink,” declining to be drawn into complicity in this sideshow. But he is lost to my cause, weaving hypoglycaemically toward the bait.

Enough. I go to the phone on the kitchen wall. No longer on the kitchen wall. Still present, surprisingly, but no longer attached to anything. I bet I know where the cable is now: trailed along the loft for some mischievous purpose. Perhaps I can use my ultra-new mobile phone, assuming it has phone functions, if I can work them out. But it will be monitored by whoever gave me it, won’t it? Who did put it in my pocket? Have I been violated?!

…continues at part 2

08/07/2018

Chronic Creepiness and Complicity

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 17:00

“I didn’t think you’d remember little old me!”
This is how I imagine that affected vulnerable voice, out of that great dough-ball head, atop the massive balloon that just didn’t work as effeminate, let alone endearing.

This is not my #metoo moment. I wouldn’t elevate chronic creepiness to that level of trauma. But how do I make sense of socially inept people misreading one another, or simply drawing a blank in their repertoire of professional behaviour? Remember? How could I forget all those insinuations, false assumptions, unreciprocated intimacies?

How could I forget you saying ‘I just changed your password because I knew you wouldn’t mind’ and because you could, with your super-user privileges. I lay on my sickbed, mind whirling through personal files I had legitimately kept on there, alongside work files. Financial details, personal photos, things I should never have had to consider passwording individually as they were in my allocated private space. You could have looked at any of them. You could have copied the whole lot to some offline drive for your later investigation. I felt sick. I didn’t think you were malicious, just somehow you kept acting like we were close. We weren’t. No one thought so. I wasn’t giving mixed messages. Other colleagues volunteered that they found you weird. You were like a naïve stalker: constantly pushing boundaries under the misapprehension that I shared your ‘more than colleagues’ feeling.

I was happier in those old times, fifteen years ago, when the boss saying “I’m not here to make friends” was a sign of good management. Now the vogue is to appear to be super friendly with every colleague. Otherwise they won’t be motivated to do anything for you. Even if that’s their job. What price professionalism?

I let you visit my house four times, because it seemed that I ought too – I felt some bizarre workplace pressure to ‘bond’ with team-mates, especially ones based in other offices at the other end of the country. The first time I thought you might genuinely be interesting, someone I could get along with outside the workplace. At the door you greeted me with a kiss on the lips and a packet of melted chocolate as my partner sat in the living room. Neither was pleasant. I was stunned. You said you’d left it in the car not imagining the sun would be so warm. You’d already cut the corner and begun drinking it. I declined by making a joke of it. Did you think we were going to share it? I put it down to social clumsiness.

When I visited your office you invited me to your house for tea with your family. Again, not my choice as I like to recharge in the evening, especially after a long journey away from home. But it seemed antisocial to decline. It was awkward. Your family was friendly but slightly baffled why I was there; your wife seemed tired. You were peculiar, pouring me special local brews then pulling them out of my hand when I seemed to get too open about work. Insisting I see your personal library closet which you had created by partitioning one of your children’s already small rooms. Insisting I saw the full extent of your garden and the various engineering projects therein. I returned to my hotel feeling utterly unenriched. I didn’t repeat the experience.

After my partner and I had moved to a larger house, you appeared to have trouble getting overnight accommodation to attend a meeting at my office. I again felt workplace pressure to plug the gap. I had a spare room now. My boyfriend had no problem with you; he knew you slightly and was so wrapped up in his own workplace troubles he barely engaged. After tea, I tried to be sociable before washing and sleeping. As I sat on the sofa, trying to find an interesting conversation topic, you took the opportunity to kneel in the floor beside me and read poetry to me. You needed the brighter lamp, you said. I didn’t want a bright light on; I didn’t want poetry or your enthusings. I don’t read poetry, much less appreciate it. You seemed to expect me to relish your science fantasy word world. I just wanted to escape but already I felt too uncomfortable to leave you roaming my personal space unattended.

When one of your parents died, you took your family to the other end of the country for the funeral and the sad business of tidying up a person’s effects. The journey was long so a third time I felt some workplace pressure to oil the wheels between colleagues. I offered you a pitstop on your route home as you were travelling at the weekend. I made some snacks and hung about. Your family all trooped in, tired and awkward, some of whom I’d met once at your house. They weren’t hungry; they’d been eating crap from every service station. They didn’t want a seat; they’d been sitting tightly packed for hours. They didn’t want to speak to someone they had no connection with right after a funeral. I wasn’t surprised my lame jokey attitude fell flat. I didn’t know how else to behave.

In the midst of this awkwardness, you suddenly, clandestinely, asked if you could speak to me in private. I reeled in the wave of creepiness all over again. I had thought I was safe from that inappropriacy in the vicinity if your family. You clutched my upper arm, brought your face too close and whispered that you had noticed an absence of shoes in the porch – my partner’s were gone. I suppose you were trying to be tactful by not raising a painful subject in public. I fumbled that we had separated and I had imagined you had learned by some workplace osmosis. My subtle implication being: I didn’t want to specifically tell you for fear you would think it a personal intimation and my ‘availability’ applied to you somehow. Nor were you one of my trusted confidantes.

When I was off sick for a few weeks, you took it upon yourself to be my official team visitor, to bring me a thoughtful card from everyone else, a couple of genuine queries, and an extra long cable so I could use my laptop in bed. I found out later this wasn’t sanctioned by our manager; she wasn’t even aware. My housemate was puzzled by your behaviour: the way you just entered my bedroom, plonked everything on the bed, slumped on the carpet alongside me, and waffled on about the office and your home life. I was so fatigued I couldn’t even work out if my discomfort was reasonable, let alone form a coherent sentence to eject you. Your wittering seemed merely harmless, thoughtless, self-absorbed, right up until you suddenly noticed I wasn’t wearing my glasses. “I never noticed how big your eyes are,” you mused. My whole body clenched with energy I could ill afford.

After the chat waned, you began setting up the laptop for me, seemingly generously. I wasn’t interested; I didn’t want to use it at that moment; I didn’t need help in any case. You then casually notified me that I’d need to change my password. My exhausted, over-blathered-at, hypoglycaemic brain registered anxiety at this development but couldn’t simultaneously process implications. I just weakly acknowledged. You knelt expectantly beside my bed, as if for a pat on the head, but probably for reinforcement of your trusted status. I stared into space, willing you to go.

My housemate became agitated after an hour and a half; I hadn’t had any breakfast and the doctor was due. That thoughtful concern gave me a welcome chance to twist your overstay into overkindness and engineer your leaving. Yet you stood in the hall rambling on in your over-intimate fashion for another twenty minutes.

Over the following days, my panicked mind raced through what you had given yourself access to, for the spurious reason of copying over a work file you wanted access to. I pushed myself to log in before I felt up to it, just to see for myself if there was anything to see in my personal drive, any spoor of your presence. I checked last modified dates but didn’t see any since I’d been absent. If only there had been a last accessed date field. But even that wouldn’t be conclusive as, as I’ve said, you could’ve simply copied out the files.

During that convalescence I spent much time and energy contemplating whether to make a formal complaint about your abuse of privilege. I fought against upsetting the ‘team dynamic’, against giving more issues to our overburdened manager, against damaging your career disproportionately, against over-formalising an issue that had probably arisen from my own social ineptitude. I should have been more blunt with you. I didn’t have the energy for difficult conversations.

With increasing hindsight I recognise your social awkwardness, but yours seems paired with under-sensitivity to others’ reactions. My version has over-sensitivity; I blame myself and try to change my algorithm every time, when often it’s just someone having a bad day.

I resisted further hints about accommodation and visits, and kept emails and text messages strictly professional. I became frighteningly twisted in my wording, learning avidly from the business speak fashion of each month: I didn’t want to ‘mask your genuine need for business accommodation’ by putting you up.

The workplace got more stressful, a new manager exerted more pressure on all of us, my illness recurred. I felt my position too precarious to make any more waves. After an extended absence I had to resign my job and trust my colleagues to sort out my desk cabinet. I told my favourite desk buddy what was my personal stuff and what was for the company to retain. Unfortunately, inevitably, you involved yourself and several important items went astray. Some were delayed in reaching me by a few weeks, some disappeared altogether, some were delivered out of the blue three years later.

In the middle of a summer heatwave I found at the porch a company bag containing some of the missing items from my desk and some random financial documents which should never have left the office. Apparently you had also left the organisation and in the sorting out these had turned up. When I enquired of ex-colleagues, tact and unconcern covered any embarrassment and left the circumstances uncomfortably unexplained. The wave of anxiety rose again.

There were plenty of other little abuses of the working relationship, exacerbated by my failure to establish boundaries. I understand the desire to know more about someone, and the easy temptation to abuse professional privileges to gain that information, or just the frightening ease of internet research, in order to seem insightful and attractive. The boundary is no doubt different for different people. And we’re all inconsistent. And complicity creeps up on you.

I hope you don’t remember me.

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