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Yes, it was me.

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» Break-up Stories

Pride and Plastering
I met a very nice girl once, well she seemed that way. She had a cute smile, a flippy fringe, nice legs and a charming ground-floor flat in London. The first couple of dates I was very gentlemanly but after a while nature took its course and I stayed over at her flat.

"Your bathroom light switch," I said. "Needs fixing." It was, to my trained feel, a bit spongy, and required quite a sharp jerk to come on, so to speak.

"You're a boy," said she, ever hopeful. "Fix it." She seemed to be saying it to shut me up rather than actually expecting me to do anything. I immediately, and fatefully, resolved to show her who was the new DIY expert in her life.

The next time I stayed over I woke up extra early, scuttled off to the nearest hardware emporium (via the local bakery) and returned in time to wake her up with the doorbell, bearing the necessaries for a romantic breakfast and (so I thought) an even more romantic bathroom-fixing session.

Unfortunately for our hero pineapplecharm, the bastard who'd installed the old switch had done so before plastering the ceiling, meaning said switch was deeply sunk into the hardened surface and wasn't going to come off easily. Not wanting to make too much mess, I rather hopefully held up the switch part of the new unit to the wall-mount part of the old.. but sadly the new screws didn't bite the old thread, and the old screws were too big for the new holes. So I took it home again.

The next time I stayed over I brought the new switch back but, in the meantime, had drilled out the screw holes so it would mate up to the old 'heel' so securely cemented into the fabric of the room. Alas, I then discovered that the switch had been sufficiently weakened by my drilling that the screws crushed it to the point of cracking in two.

A third visit was required. Now bear in mind, gentlemen, that each of these occasions was predicated on a sufficiently seductive date to secure an invite back to her flat. This is no easy feat when your motivation is merely to have vigorous carnal relations; when you also have a secondary agenda of bathroom light repair it becomes a masterwork of deception and cunning.

It was shortly after visit four, during which I resorted to chipping a large chunk of her ceiling out with a screwdriver, that I suddenly realised that, to put it gently, I wasn't quite as keen on the old girl as I had been a month or two before when we'd met. All she ever talked about was her sister's kid, and her rich ex who had taken her travelling. And she wasn't nearly as pretty as I'd thought. It was a time to move on. And this left me with something of a dilemma: the bathroom ceiling was now a half-destroyed eyesore. Would I man up and realise that lying to her was much worse than leaving her with a minor repair outstanding? Would I bollocks.

Yes, folks, I continued to date a girl I'd completely gone off - conniving my way into staying over three more times (replastering, undercoat, topcoat) before, finally, announcing the job was done, cadging a lift back to Berkshire and then, during a meaningful chat in the park, ditching her as bluntly as I could.

I must say, it was a pretty good job, even if it took a while.

The switch, I mean, not the relationship. I fucking suck at those.
(Fri 13th Sep 2013, 0:40, More)

» Travel

Watch who you cross the border with
In 2002 I found myself living in a backpacker hostel in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland with a mad rasta. Let's call him Jamal. Jamal was a crusty bastard with dreadlocks down to his waist, a dark Caribbean-emigrant complexion and the broadest cockney accent you've heard this side of Brixton, for that was where he was from. To say he "ran" the hostel would be doing his laissez faire attitude a disservice. It was more that he did nothing to stop people staying, and if they occasionally gave him beer money he gratefully spent it.

When the beer money was in short supply his backup vice was weed. Living in a country where decent weed literally pops up out of the ground meant that it was a very reasonably priced habit to have. He knew everyone who grew the herb within an easy stumble of the hostel and, when they had all run out (or got annoyed with him coming round sponging freebies) he would totter off to the park to score a matchbox for E10 (under a quid back then). The hostel was awash with the stuff and had cemented a legendary reputation which, ten years after its closure, still lives on in the memories of backpackers passing through the area. But I digress.

Jamal, somehow, had at some point got his shit together enough to acquire a Land Rover, which sat permanently in the driveway "waiting for parts". One day he announced that the parts - piston rings if I recall - had arrived in Johannesburg and that I was going to drive him there to collect them.

"I'm not driving a 700km round trip just for piston rings."

"Well obviously we're also going out on the razz, innit. I've got some cash off a deal I done in town and it's time we hit the big city lights, geezer!"

He had a point. Mbabane had pretty much no form of casual entertainment beyond drinking large bottles of local lager in dingy pubs with cages over the bar to discourage more enthusiastic patrons from serving themselves. Even the lone cinema had closed some years previously and I couldn't remember the last time I'd held a bowling ball. If Jamal did actually have some cash it might be a good way to get a cut-price weekend away.

"Alright, but you're buying the first tank of fuel this time, you slippery bastard."

We agreed we'd leave at lunchtime on Friday. One of the guests overheard our conversation and asked if she could hitch a lift, and I agreed. Kerry was a bubbly Californian girl who had just got back from researching the Lonely Planet guide to Namibia. As an aside, this sounds cushy as hell. Her budget was US$65 a day which was a fortune at the time and all she had to do every few days was make a tour of a random selection of hotels and ask to see the rooms so she could conjure up a credible sounding review. The rest of the time was "causal research" which basically meant doing whatever the hell she wanted and writing about it. Top travel tip there, I'm telling you.

Friday was hot, as usual, and my un-airconditioned Golf wheezed up to the border through a dry, dusty haze. We stopped to get our passports stamped and were delayed ten minutes while the immigration official interrogated Kerry about her tongue piercing.

"HOW! How do you eat?" she asked, goggling at Kerry's mouth as if she'd seen the shape of Jesus in her epiglottis.

"I put food in my mouth," she said mysteriously. "And I chew."

That revelation dispensed with we piled back into the little car and drove through South African customs. And that's where things came unstuck. After six months of living with the guy I'd forgotten what Jamal looked like to the uninitiated. Dreadlocked, wearing a stained t-shirt with a beer logo on it, tucking into his fifth can of said beer rather than putting on his seatbelt and loudly proclaiming, "well THESE cants are clearly going to give us uphill, look at that big fucker, his wife clearly got out of the wrong bed this morning" and so on didn't make him the least conspicuous person with whom to be driving through a border. Even less so when you're leaving... a country... that's famous for growing... ...oh shit.

I literally, don't laugh, hadn't thought about this. Was Jamal crazy enough to try and bring some stash for the journey? Definitely. Was he enough of a bastard to put me at risk by doing so in my car? Well, thought I; I suppose we'll find out. And find out we did as the enormous guard waved us over to the inspection area.

And here's the thing about southern Africa. It's all a big laugh - weed's a quid, everyone knows someone who grows it, the papers pad out any vaguely related story with patriotic asides about "tourists who flock to the kingdom of Swazi Gold" - but actually, in actual, real fact, it's completely illegal. And when you've got an African police force subsidized by American money with a specific remit to enforce marijuana prohibition, they don't mess around. You can find yourself in gaol in a heartbeat and African gaol is not somewhere for a skinny white Brit to find himself if he values, well, any kind of bodily integrity. I started, figuratively, to shit in my pants.

"Where are you going?" the guy barked while making a show of re-inspecting my passport.


"Open the bonnet."

I complied, and his mate radioed in the chassis number to check it wasn't stolen.

"You, get out," he said to me. "Show me the boot. And you," he stabbed at the others with a large finger, "you don't move." He walked round to the back of the car with an imperious and haughty look on his face. I'm onto you, his face said. I'm going to take great pleasure in watching you get bummed in the holding cells.

I knew the only way to proceed was to comply fully and not wind the bastard up but at the same time I had convinced myself that Jamal had brought a cheeky bud along somewhere in the car and was physically trembling. Jamal was smoking a fag and grinning like a loon.

"Go on mate, sort him out; I ain't got all day to sit at the border."

Did I mention I hate Jamal?

The boot had three bags. Mine, I knew, had nothing of any consequence in it and the guard rifled through a pair of jeans and some shampoo without a word. Next was Jamal's bag. Now I figured he wasn't dumb enough to have something significant in his bag but at the same time there was every chance he'd have a pipe, or some loose tinfoil or some bloody thing which would then make them search the car and that would definitely turn up whatever it was the dozy gimp had secreted in some painfully obvious hiding place.

The guard rooted through various items of unlaundered underwear with a look of mild distaste while I held my breath and tried to look casual.

He found nothing to upset him.

Oh, thank everything holy, I thought. And now only Kerry's bag - just a few bras and last year's Lonely Planet and OH MY JESUS GOD WHAT IS THAT???

The guard's meaty hands had stopped dead. Under a couple of layers of neatly packed clothing he'd found a small cuboid object, about six by four inches and brilliant white. It was clearly some kind of substance which had been roughly shaped and shrink-wrapped in clear plastic. My heart dropped through my ribcage and landed on my balls. In a single moment I knew that we weren't going bowling in Rosebank that evening; no, instead we were the ones that were going to have fingers shoved up us before being tossed down a corridor. I mean, Kerry? The sweet young American who'd told me my shirt looked cool? Kerry? The girl who wouldn't even try a joint the night before because she didn't want to fail her annual drugs test a month later? Oh, yeah, nice one pineapplecharm, really smooth; now we know the truth, you dumb mug. God, you think you know someone...

The guard slowly, agonisingly, savouring-the-momently, lifted the white package just high enough to reveal the label. "Tampax".

He physically recoiled, hands first and then his entire body in one massive snapping movement as if he'd spotted a snake. "Shit!" exclaimed the man who, half a second ago, had been the very picture of African machismo. Then he slammed the boot. "Okay! You go now! Go!"

So in the end I did come dangerously close to literally shitting in my pants, only it was from laughter. The sweet, sweet, relieved laughter of a man spared anal gang rape by a tampon.
(Fri 19th Apr 2013, 1:59, More)

» Funerals II

A lesson in business
At the time my maternal grandmother passed away I was working a fairly junior and not especially well-paid job in the midlands. I shared a house, I went out once a week, I couldn't afford a car.

It wasn't a shock when she died but of course it was very sad and it was important to me to attend the funeral. Only problem was, it was to be in Lancashire. My options were to get a train or hire a car, either of which was going to cost around £100, money I really couldn't afford. It sucked; I didn't begrudge my gran the money but I was upset enough already and resented having to suffer additional hardship just because the train companies wanted their pound of flesh. I wearily started making mental notes, cancelling in my head social events and purchases I'd been planning for the month so I could reach next payday without breaking my overdraft.

The problem, I resolved, was that I was stuck in a shitty job that didn't pay enough. Other employees got paid more, I was sure of it, and many had company cars with the fuel all paid for. The fact that I lived walking distance from the office was irrelevant - they could whizz about to all the funerals they wanted for free and meanwhile I was stuck shelling out money I didn't have for journeys that were going to take all day, harrumph.

They probably won't even notice if I don't come in for the day, I grumbled to myself as I filled out the leave request form. I was underappreciated, underpaid and determined to get straight onto monster.com as soon as I handed the form in.

My boss was distracted when I went into her office.

"Sorry it's short notice," I said nervously. "But can I have Friday week off for my gran's funeral?"

"Of course," she said, turning to face me. "I'm sorry for your loss. There's no need for this," she said, handing back the form. "I won't take the day out of your allowance. Where is it, by the way?"

"Blackpool," I confessed.

"Take the pool car," she said.

And with four monosyllabic words, she bought an extra two years of loyalty from an employee who was planning to quit.


The funeral was lovely, by the way, and I felt extremely grown up arriving in a suit driving "my" company car. Which helped my ego a lot because the coffin was insanely heavy and I wobbled like a rheumatic OAP when we first lifted it!
(Thu 11th Apr 2013, 15:17, More)

» Brain Fade

I bought a convertible
Yeah, I know, in the UK ha ha. The interesting thing about it was the little differences. For example, to fold down the rear seats you needed the key, rather than just pulling a lever. Why? Well, if you park with the roof down you want the boot secure. For similar reasons the boot release button in the door only worked with the roof closed.

You can see where this is going.

Girlfriend and I, driving back from the countryside with the car in "millionaire" mode (at 70mph having the roof down meant dropping from 35mpg to more like 25 - ouch) decided to stop for a cheeky pub lunch in the sunshine. So, we pulled into a likely looking village, parked up in the square and set about securing various road-trip valuables (ipod, emergency biscuits etc) in the boot.

After tossing everything in and closing said boot, I felt for the keys in my pocket to set the immobiliser. Nothing. The enormity of what I'd just done hit me like a train: it wasn't just music and sustenance I'd managed to lock in the boot. There was, by design, no way in without the key and the spare was 150 miles away in Berkshire.

I looked skywards to let out a moan and noticed that, just to rub it in, an enormous raincloud had appeared above us. Fucksocks.

Once the lady had finished calling me every word for "idiot" she could muster, we embarked on an extended and hurried problem solving session. I had a small screwdriver in the door bin (you can take a boy out of the cub scouts..) so I investigated whether there were any interior fixings or panels that could be loosened to achieve boot access or to fold the seats without unlatching them. No dice. I looked at the fuse box and considered whether judicious shorting might fool the car into thinking the roof was up long enough to trigger the release button. Non-starter; I didn't know even nearly enough about the wiring of the car to pull that one off.

Eventually we decided there was nothing to be done but call the AA and hope that the rain held off long enough for them to show up. I know now how ridiculous that sounds but at the time I convinced myself this was not only likely, but the only possible sequence of events.

I dialled straight away. Brilliantly, my call was answered within seconds and was timed perfectly with my slamming the car door to reveal, dangling cheekily in the lock, the keys.

The Mrs delivered a barrage of insults without repetition, deviation or hesitation, right through lunch.
(Tue 26th Mar 2013, 15:28, More)

» Bullshit and Bullshitters

Incisive questioning
Not so long ago the company for which I work hired an outside company to do some work for us. It was all fine, except for one guy who would never, ever, under any circumstances admit he didn't know something. When faced with a situation where he felt he might show weakness by admitting ignorance, he would either bluster for Britain or (more usually) make up something or other that sounded credible to him. This works in some types of business but when you need a precise technical response to a query it's rather irritating to get vague and inaccurate nonsense instead.

It was a trying time and as it is no shock that I was bitching about this idiot in the pub one evening. Evidently, however, I was not doing a great job of explaining as one of my colleagues, an extremely sharp programmer from Romania, said she didn't follow what I meant by this "bullshitting".

"Okay," says I. "I'll give you an example through the medium of role play." I closed my eyes and, channelling Stanislavsky, assumed the part of the fantasist contractor. "Now, ask me a question to which I don't know the answer."

"Pineapplecharm," she said. "Are you gay?"
(Sat 15th Jan 2011, 0:51, More)
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