Life Style

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With a mug of supposedly ‘artisan’ coffee (at least according to the packaging from which he had extracted the pod) in one hand and his brand new, state of the art, smartphone in the other, Ronald opened up the supermarket app and attempted to complete his weekly grocery shop from the comfort of his cream leather sofa. In the background, a digital ‘box set’ was playing on his 4K Ultra HD TV. He couldn’t really give the show his full attention, but he rarely gave any one thing his full attention these days and he needed groceries fairly urgently. Well, perhaps ‘urgently’ was overstating the case. He had a fridge full of perfectly edible food, but none of it much complied with the new diet regime that he was fully committed to starting immediately.  He’d read about it online while he had been working out on his, recently acquired, top of the line elliptical crosstrainer, (with integrated table holder) that morning and it seemed like just the thing he needed to kickstart his new lifestyle change.

Once the app was open, he clicked on his ‘favourites’ tab, and scrolled down, sadly shaking his head. He couldn’t believe he had been filling his body with this filth for all these years. But not any more. Now he was going to do things the right way. Searching for the products he needed, as none of these were listed in amongst his usual purchases, he began to fill his virtual shopping basket. He selected a delivery time of first thing the following morning, and clicked through the screens to the payment page. The shopping basket came in at just under the minimum price required for ‘free delivery’ (it wasn’t actually free of course, he paid a monthly subscription for the privilege of being able to choose any delivery slot he wanted). The relatively small price of his grocery bill was, to Ronald, confirmation that he was doing the right thing, and he was certain that the financial savings was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of  the benefit he was going to feel one his new diet had become established. But he still needed to hit the minimum order value, so he added in some of his favourite biscuits to make up the amount, After all, he reasoned, even under his new healthy regime, he would still need the occasional treat.

He clicked through the remaining screen to confirm his order and turned his attention to the TV. It looked as though he might have missed a significant plot point so he ‘rewound’ the show a few minutes to enable him to make sense of what he was watching.

There was the sound of post hitting the mat. It amazed Ronald that he still received letters. He knew most of it would be junk-mail, but he couldn’t relax fully knowing that it was there, so he went to collect it from the front door. It was, as expect, mostly promotional literature from companies who either had not worked out how to use the internet for their marketing, or had but still wanted to cover all their bases. Ronald sifted through it to see if there was anything of interest. There was something from a wine shop he sometimes used, which he thought might be worth a look. There was also something from his bank. It was marked ‘URGENT’ in bold red on the envelope, but Ronald was less than convinced that this was the case. He was close to his overdraft limit, he knew, but his credit card was far from maxed out.

Availing himself of another coffee, he returned to his box-set and considered whether he needed to purchase a case of reasonably-priced Merlot.

It’s All In A Good Cause

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“It’s for charity though,” said Kevin.

“I couldn’t care less,” said Toby, “I’m not bloody doing it.”

“C’mon mate, don’t be such a curmudgeon.” said Dave.

“I don’t think I’m being the slightest bit curmudgeonly,” protested Toby, “I’m just exercising my free will. I don’t want to do it. So I’m not going to do it.”

“But we need you,” said Kevin, “We can’t do it without you!”

“I don’t care,” said Toby, “It’s stupid and pointless and I’m not doing it.”

“But it’s for charity mate,” said Dave, “It’s a really good cause.”

“Fine, I’ll make a donation,” said Toby, fishing a ten pound note out of his wallet, and then hastily returning it to his wallet when he realised he could ill-afford to part with that much money just to prove a point.

“Don’t be so boring!” said Kevin, “C’mon, it’ll be a laugh.”

“I fail to see how losing my dignity in front of other people is, in any way, ‘a laugh’” argued Toby. “Look, I’m not doing it and that’s final. Now if you don’t mind, I’ve actually got some work to do and I’d be very surprised if you two don’t also have things you need to get on with.”

He turned back to his monitor and continued the largely mundane task of entering information into a database.

Kevin and Dave, who both did indeed have plenty of their own application forms to enter onto the system, continued to ignore their work, but did at least move away from Toby, presumably to try and find some other poor sap to try and coerce into their ridiculous scheme.

As if those two idiots even remotely cared about raising money for charity, reflected Toby. This was all about wasting time at work, showing off to their colleagues and no doubt trying to hit on some of the more impressionable new-starters at the inevitable Friday night piss-up that would surely follow.

Not that they were the only two at it. For some reason the office had turned into a bizarre homage to the worst kind of TV talent show in the last week or so. It was nothing new, unfortunately. It seemed every well-publicised fundraising campaign caused this kind of lunacy, and if it was inspired by a viral YouTube video, then all the better. Apparently that was why someone had assaulted him with a bucket of freezing cold water eighteen months ago. In spite of his vociferous protests, no disciplinary action had been taken against the offender, indeed they had been congratulated for their actions and it was he – Toby – who had been told to stop being so tetchy.

When had work stopped being just about, you know, doing work? Why was there any need for all this stupidity? It wasn’t as if any charities even benefited. For all the supposed ‘fundraising’ that went on, there was no indication that any funds were actually raised. Perhaps he was being overly cynical, but to Toby’s mind it all seemed to be far more about ‘having a giggle’ than supporting any good causes.

Out of the corner of his eye, he became aware that Kevin and Dave had begun chatting to Samantha. This unsettled Toby greatly. There was no way they would be trying to convince Samantha to partake in their ill-advised scheme, which probably meant they were up to something far less palatable. The frequent glances in his direction more or less confirmed his worst fears, but it wasn’t until Samatha made her way over to his desk that his misgivings were confirmed.

“Hi Toby,” she said.

Toby managed an incoherent grunt in response. It was always this way with Samantha. He could never seem to manage to articulate any actual words.

“Kev and Dave have just been telling me what you guys are up to on Friday,” she said, “I must say I think you’re being very brave.”

Toby shot the two conspirators a look of sheer hatred, which merely served to cause them to collapse in silent laughter. He looked at Samantha, and tried to find the right words

What he wanted to say was, “I’m sorry Samantha, but you’re mistaken. There’s absolutely no way that I would ever participate in anything so insane as this. I’m really not that kind of person. I said as much to those two clowns a few moments ago, and now, in an act so unscrupulous and vile as to be beyond description, they are using the fact that I am clearly attracted to you, to manipulate me into going along with their stupid plan. But I’m not going to Samantha, I’m better than that. Instead, what I’m going to do, is take this opportunity to finally ask you to go out for a drink with me some time, which is something I really should have done a long time ago.”

Toby wanted to say all this to Samantha, but he couldn’t.

Instead all he could manage was to utter, in a barely audible mumble, “it’s all in a good cause.”


A Commuted Commute

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There was a narrow window between the earliest time that Stan could legitimately leave work and the point at which navigating the evening traffic became unfeasible. He had got it down to a fine art in recent weeks, but his decision to field an unexpectedly long call that afternoon had somewhat scuppered his plans to avoid the gruesome gridlock of rush hour.

Consequently he found himself sitting in a near-stationary queue, waiting to join the equally static dual carriageway, that would in turn lead to the Old Cross Roundabout, a veritable disc of despair that could render even the most cool-headed of motorists a seething sack of primordial rage.

The radio was playing an irreverent and satirical review of the week in politics. Stan found it vaguely entertaining, though its inevitable association with a gruelling commute, given that he only caught it on the occasions he found himself in this driver’s dystopia, muted the comedy value somewhat.

Still, the radio did provide some small relief as his little runabout crawled down the slip road towards the next stage of his purgatory. It was approaching the midway point of the show when he finally managed to navigate his way into the left-hand lane of the dual carriageway, though in some ways this did serve to slightly elevate his stress levels, as he now needed to achieve the more challenging feat of manoeuvring his car into the other lane, so that when he eventually did make it to the Old Cross Roundabout, he would be able to affect a right turn.

This was easier said than done, the traffic in the right-hand lane was moving a touch quicker than the lane he was currently sitting in, and he was rather dependent on the kindness of others in order to make his move. He flipped on his right indicator to alert other motorists to his desired outcome. It did not seem to serve as much of an incentive for the right lane motorists to let him in however, so he continued to crawl slowly forwards in the left lane, hoping in vain for a gap to open up.

The comedy show ended and another light-hearted, though less intrinsically funny, show started. It was tolerable as radio emissions went , but rather less entertaining that its predecessor. Stan also became acutely aware of his bladder being fuller than he was comfortable with. He had eschewed the chance of a quick trip to the gents on his way out of the office in his haste to fulfil his ultimately doomed desire of beating the traffic.

As the car crept slowly closer to the roundabout, a left turn was looking like it might become an unfortunate  necessity. He could still get home by taking this route, but it would likely add another fifteen minutes to his journey and he’d rather avoid that given the increasing urgency of his need to relieve himself.

Still, there was no give in the right hand lane, and Stan was loathe to try and force his way across, as some other motorists were attempting to do. The dual carriageway was a notorious accident hot spot and he didn’t want to risk a collision on this most anger-inducing of roads. Someone was bound to let him in soon, he reasoned.

As he edged ever closer to the roundabout and his optimism began to fade, he became aware of flashing lights in his rear-view mirror and the sound of sirens. There was an ambulance trying to force its way through the gridlock. It was  progressing at a speed that would utterly belie the sense of urgency that the sight and sound of an emergency medical vehicle ought to engender. Still, cars were attempting to move out of the way, albeit in an ultimately futile manner. It was, however, very much in the lane that Stan wanted to be in, and so a plan began to form. Eventually the ambulance was alongside Stan’s own little chariot and he gripped his steering wheel in anticipation. As the emergency vehicle moved slowly past, Stan swerved into its wake, before other motorists had had time to react.

Stan had no idea how serious the medical emergency was that had necessitated the arrival of the paramedics and he genuinely hoped all would end well for the afflicted parties. However, as he made his coveted right turn at the roundabout, he couldn’t help but reflect that their misfortune was rather a stroke of luck for him.

 

Quality Of Life

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Neville rubbed his eyes wearily. It had been a long day of meetings. Meetings about progress, meetings about strategy, meetings about personnel, meetings about finance, meetings about data and at one point, Neville was fairly certain, there had been a meeting about meetings.

The majority of these gatherings had followed a similar format. They began with a review of the objectives set at the last meeting. Next came the acknowledgement that none of those objectives had been met. This was followed by a minor witch-hunt as individuals tried to pin the failure to meet their assigned objectives onto other people. This, in turn, led to some robust ‘conversations’ as the accused refuted the blame and tried to apportion the liability elsewhere. Ultimately there was a consensus that most of the failings were probably the fault of those reckless souls who hadn’t bothered to turn up to the meeting. Each conclave would end with a new set of objectives (or more accurately the re-stating of the last set of objectives) despite the near-certainty that none of these targets would be met by the time the next meeting rolled around.

But now the working day was finally over and Neville had a few hours of reprieve. He knew he probably should do some preparatory work for tomorrow’s meetings, but, as he was more than certain that no-one else would do so, he felt that any endeavours on his part to make the  following day’s assemblies anything more than a complete waste of time, would be an additional waste of his own time.

Neville had better things to do with his evening. There little enough of it, once his arduous commute home was taken into account, so he was certainly not inclined to spend it reading through the interminably dull, and predominantly out-of-date, reports that would be erroneously quoted by equally ill-informed colleagues in the various discussions he was due to partake in during the following day.

No, Neville’s time was his own and he planned to spend it, as he did every other night.

This entailed settling down on his sofa, sticking on a boxset, and consuming a moderately-priced Pinot Noir until he could see the bottom of the bottle or he passed out.

Whichever came first.

Distractions

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Tim looked longingly out of his window. The sky was blue, the sunlight was reflecting brightly off the white wall of the convenience store across the road and the trees that lined the more affluent streets at the far end of his own were swaying gently in the breeze. There was still something of a chill in the air, but the few visible clouds did not seem to be carrying any portent of rain. It was, in short, a lovely day and Tim longed to be outside, strolling along the river without a care in the world.

But the sad reality was that Tim did have a care in the world. Indeed, he had several. The pile of manila folders on his desk was testament to that. He had a mountain of paperwork to complete by Monday and it was not going particularly well. It wasn’t really that the work was hard, but there was a lot of it.

Looking around the room, he could also see several DIY jobs that were outstanding, and this, his home office, was hardly the priority. A quick tour of the rest of the house would reveal significantly more jobs, of greater importance, that he had yet to tackle, some of which were now approaching a level of, not exactly urgency, but certainly precedency.

Elsewhere in his abode were smaller matters that needed to be tackled. He recalled a letter demanding that he renew his driver’s license, had he done that yet? There were unpaid bills that he was more than able to settle, but they had slipped down the list of importance. He wasn’t sure he could even locate them at the moment, although he was sure that his creditors would be in touch again if he didn’t get around to dealing with them soon.

But today Tim had resolved to get up-to-date with work stuff. After all, he needed to maintain his income in order to pay said bills and buy the paint needed to redecorate. Not that his job was in any particular danger, but the paperwork had got out of hand recently and it was matter of professional pride for Tim to be no more than four weeks behind on his admin.

He glanced out of the window again. It was an especially nice day.

Perhaps a quick stroll would be fine. It was looking like a long day of crossing ‘t’s and dotting ‘i’s was ahead of him, maybe it would do him good to clear his head first.

After all, he thought as he donned his jacket and laced up his shoes, the folders would still be there when he got back.

Targeting Success

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Red-faced and drenched in sweat, Ryan pumped out his final set of reps on the bench-press. With a grunt of relief he lowered the barbell for the last time and staggered to his feet. He glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was still only 6:30. Plenty of time before he had to start work, so he donned his gloves and took out his remaining aggression on the bag, demonstrating a power and ferocity that suggested he was more than capable of looking after himself.

In point of fact he was. Ryan’s physical prowess was a huge source of personal pride. A keen amateur pugilist, and certainly not a stranger to the odd bar brawl, Ryan’s skills for violence had recently resulted in a long overdue promotion.

As well as being handy with his fists, Ryan also knew his way around a firearm and this had not gone unnoticed by his superiors. Of course, maintaining security was, essentially, already a significant part of the role that he and his colleagues carried out on a daily basis, but a few months earlier, Dan, the head of the Elite Squad, had notified Ryan of a vacancy within the unit and suggested that he apply. There had been other applicants, but Ryan had blown them all away. Quite literally in one unfortunate incident, though Ryan had been vindicated of any wrongdoing – all the candidates had known the risks and willingly signed a waiver prior to the exercise.

In the end, Ryan’s physical fitness, alongside his substantial skill with a handgun, had made sure the job was his. Following his successful application, Ryan had enjoyed a lengthy holiday, so today was his first day in the role and he was rather looking  forward to getting stuck in.

After his workout, he showered and dressed in his new uniform. It was a sleek, black affair, with a badge on the shirtsleeve carrying the corporate logo, and an insignia which indicated his new rank.

He exited the gym and entered the courtyard. It was 7:20 and there was still some time to prepare before the new inmates arrived.

Of course, alongside the augmented security aspect to his role, he still had to perform a lot of his previous duties. It was something of a drag, he’d never been keen on the other bit of his job but, he supposed, it was still a necessary evil.

He went to the armory and checked out his weapon. He was pleased with his new equipment. Gone was his simple revolver and instead he was handed a more substantial semi-automatic. He checked his watch – he still had time to get in a few practice rounds before the day started properly so he went the range to try his new kit. After thirty pleasurable minutes it was time to get to work.

First he needed to attend a briefing with the rest of the team. The chief was in there giving his usual spiel about it being a big year, and raising standards. Nothing new or especially interesting on offer, but it was good to catch up with his colleagues. He saw Dan across the room, who gave him a solemn but friendly nod. Dan was never one to display too much emotion, but when you had as many kills to your name as he did then emotions were best left buried deep.

Briefing over, Ryan made his way to his room. He saw the buses, which carried the inmates pulling onto the site, through the security gate. In a few minutes he’d be coming into contact with his delegated group.

He got to his room, took a swig of coffee from his thermos and watched them trickle in and take their places.

He looked at their expectant, slightly fearful, faces. He knew he cut a formidable figure, but surely they realised he was there to protect them first and foremost.

Then again, they were only eleven, they still had a lot to learn. He smiled and began his usual ‘first day of term’ speech.

“Morning class, welcome to Broadacre High School,” he said, “I’m Mr Northcroft and I’ll be your form tutor this year.”

An Early Start

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As he navigated the narrow streets of the old town, Martin noted that the weather was a touch colder than he’d anticipated, and he slightly regretted leaving the warmer of his jackets in his hotel room. The hoodie he had grabbed in his hasty exit was slightly inadequate. It was, however, still quite early and he was optimistic that conditions would improve as the day went on.

Otherwise it would, he felt, be a long day.

He pulled the hoodie tighter and increased his walking pace, hopeful that intensifying his cardiovascular output would counteract the effects of the cold.

As he neared the old docklands, the absence of any kind of sustenance in his morning thus far also began to play on his mind. He checked his watch. He had about ten minutes, time enough for a coffee at least. It was, however, so early, that although there was a plethora of eateries in sight, not one of them was yet open.

There was no time to look further afield so he resigned himself to his hunger and paced along the quay, trying to maintain something approximating a tolerable body temperature.

There was no denying that, at this time of day, the wharf was charming. As the day went on, and tourist numbers increased, some of that charm would inevitably disappear, but at that moment it was a serenely quiet and prepossessing location. Still, Martin would have preferred to be in the warmth of his hotel room, happily dreaming or tucking into room-service scrambled eggs.

Instead he was here, waiting.

The time dragged, and ten minutes turned into fifteen, which turned into twenty. A van pulled into sight, Martin recalled seeing it on previous visits and knew it would eventually add to the numerous waterfront food retailers. He hoped that it would begin trading soon, but the proprietor appeared to be in no rush, seemingly seeing to his own refreshment needs first by way of a small thermos.

Another five minutes went by and still no sign of anyone else.

He checked his phone, and only then did he realise it was on set on silent. He noted three missed calls, all received in the last few minutes and all from the same number. He returned the call. It rang only once and then he heard a familiar and slightly irritated voice.

“Where are you,” asked Martin, struggling to mask his own irritation.

He listened to the reply

“But we said we’d meet by the harbor,” Martin argued, “I’ve been here for ages.”

Had there been any passers-by at that moment they would have struggled to make out the muffled words coming out of Martin’s phone but the frustrated tone would have been all too clear.

“Ok, I’ll see you in a few minutes,” said Martin, “I’m sorry.”

Hanging up, he looked hopefully  at the van and saw with relief that it had now opened for business.

After purchasing a bacon sandwich and much-needed americano, Martin began trudging back to the hotel, to what he already knew would be a reception so frosty that it would make the current temperature seem positively balmy.

 

A Change Of Pace

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Arnold liked routine. His working day followed a familiar pattern beginning with two medium-sized soft boiled eggs consumed with brown bread soldiers, each one cut with military precision to the same size and shape. Next came his thirty-three minute walk to work, for an 8:45am start, where he conducted his daily administrative duties with an efficiency that made his co-workers seethe with jealousy. He paused from these duties at 12:30pm to consume his regular ham and cheese sandwiches (the cheese was a mild cheddar – number 3 according to the supermarket classification.  He had once dared to opt for a slightly more mature variety, the number 4, but quickly regretted this dalliance and returned to the comfort of the number 3 with haste) before continuing with his duties until 4.45pm when he re-traced his morning commute, adding an additional seven minutes to purchase a microwaveable evening meal from the mini-market near his flat.  Upon his return home he would consume said meal at 5.45pm, washing it down with a glass of weak lemon squash and would then spend the evening ensconced in a video game of his choice. This Monday to Friday regime was nirvana to Arnold. The only issue that periodically threatened this state of bliss were the occasions when a well-meaning but misguided colleague elected to invite Arnold out with the rest of the team for a few post-work drinks on a Friday. Arnold would patiently explain that he didn’t like drinking and if that didn’t work he would further explain that he didn’t much care for people either. That usually worked.

Weekends were a touch more problematic.

Arnold would gladly have spent the entirety of Saturday and Sunday playing video games, occasionally punctuated by trips to purchase more microwaveable meals. There had been a time when he might have ventured into town to purchase a new game, but online shopping had long since rendered that unnecessary.

Unfortunately Arnold was not permitted to keep his family at quite the same distance as his colleagues. For whatever reason (and it was a mystery to Arnold) his parents and sister demanded that he spend time in their company.

None of them had the slightest interest in video games and he had not the slightest interest in any of their hobbies. Indeed he had so little interest as to be largely unaware of what any of their hobbies were.

He was vaguely aware that his father liked sports of some kind. Ones involving teams of men and balls mostly. In his youth there had been an attempt of sorts to encourage Arnold to take an interest in both playing and watching these sports but his total antipathy had finally been accepted.

No there was very little common ground between Arnold and his family. He supposed, if he thought about it, he did quite like them. He was glad they existed. He just didn’t really see the need to actually spend any time with them.

Yet there was this insistence that he join them for a meal every weekend. Even more annoying, the time and day of that meal was subject to change. Sometimes it was lunch, sometimes tea, sometimes Saturday, other times Sunday. Sometimes it would be hosted by his parents, at other times by his sister and more recently by his sister and that other person that seemed to now live with his sister, whoever he was. There were even times when Arnold was expected to go and eat with them in a restaurant.

It was intolerable really.

But one Saturday things got immeasurably worse. He was sitting in his kitchen staring hard at his mobile phone, as he tended to do when awaiting the inevitable message from his mum, which would let him know his fate for that weekend, when there was a knock at his door.

Arnold was not accustomed to visitors and it took a second knock for him to realise that the person on the other side of the door expected him to answer.

With a sense of trepidation and extreme irritation at his routine being so flagrantly disregarded by the knocker, he made his way to the offending entrance and opened the door.

Stood there was a man who he had met multiple times. Nonetheless it would be a stretch to suggest he actually knew the man. Yes they had sat at the same dinner table for many a weekend now, but the man was his sister’s friend. Arnold had no reason to bother with him.

“Hi Arnold,” said the man, “how are you?”

“I’m ok,” replied Arnold with suspicion.

“Er, I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here?”

Arnold nodded his confirmation of that theory.

“Well, it’s just, what with me marrying your sister next June, I thought it might be nice if we got to know each other a bit better.”

Arnold took a deep breath. He could see it was going to take him some time to explain to the man why getting to know each other would not be ‘nice’ at all.

Then he noticed what the man was holding.

“Is that Bonecrusher 3,” he asked.

“Yes,” replied the man, “it’s just come out. Your sister said you might be up for playing a few levels with me.”

It was unorthodox to be sure. Arnold much preferred gaming alone. But pay day was still several weeks away and there was no way he was going to get a copy of Bonecrusher 3 before then.

“You’d better come in,” said Arnold.

 

The Dilemma

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Jeff emptied the contents of his right trouser pocket onto the cheap, faux-pine, laminate and chipboard, coffee table. Spread out before him were a battered  imitation-leather wallet, one he’d had since his late teens, and a handful of coins. There was a barely discernible logo on the front of the wallet, representing a brand that had been very much a-la-mode at the time of purchase, but one that was no longer particularly in vogue. The wallet, he knew, contained a debit card for an overdrawn bank account, a credit card that was alarmingly close to the overly-generous limit his bank had permitted and several supermarket loyalty cards, which demonstrated that Jeff was not, in fact, especially ‘loyal’ to any one particular provider when it came to grocery shopping.

What the wallet did not contain, sadly, was any actual money.

Continue reading The Dilemma

The Game

 

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Crispin looked at the board despairingly.

There was nothing he could do. He had played into Franklin’s hands, and it was now just a matter of a few moves before inevitable defeat. He could cede the game now, but that was not Crispin’s way. If his late father had taught him anything, it was never to surrender even when all seems to be lost.

Admittedly Crispin Senior had, perhaps, taken the philosophy a little too far, and the moral certitude over who actually had ‘the right of way’ was arguably a little redundant when cycling towards an articulated lorry. Continue reading The Game