Saturday 30 June 2012

Why always me?

The letter got miss-delivered by the postman. It clearly says on the envelope Number 1245 and we definitely are not Number 1245. I decide to walk up the street and deliver the letter to its rightful owner.

The old lady saw me approaching her house and opened the door.

“Oh, thank you” she said, “come in for a cup of tea!”

“I was just delivering …” I mumbled.

“Oh do come in …” she interrupted, “I often see you walking the dog to the park and back again. I’ve just put the kettle on …”

I looked at my watch and thought, she’s probably lonely, and just a few minutes won’t hurt!

I entered the living room and immediately noticed a large parrot standing on a perch in the corner, and two budgerigars on top of their open cage near the window. An old dog at least one hundred years old sat by the fire and a cat slept on the settee.

The old lady beckoned me to an armchair and went out to make some tea. 

As soon as she left, the large blue parrot moved his head left and right, as they do; looked at me and screeched “STUPID!”
I jumped out of the seat, not expecting him to talk.

He repeated again “STUPID … STUPID …” over and over every minute or so.

The old lady came in with a tray of tea and biscuits and cakes.

“Ah … Polly is being friendly” she said, “he often hears me talking to the dog and repeats what I say.”

At that point the parrot screeched “STUPID HAT … STUPID HAT …”

Let me tell you there is nothing stupid about my cowboy hat with a feather. It’s sartorial elegance in the extreme as I’ve been told by the man in the pub who sold it to me!

“I wonder what he means?” said the old lady trying to cover her faux pas. No doubt she’d seen me wearing the hat on my way to the park and had voiced her un-called for opinions to her pets.

She offered me a piece of cake. As soon as I held a small plate in one hand, and a tea cup in another, the geriatric dog got up ever so slowly from his mat, came towards me and started sniffing my groin.

What is it with dogs and sniffing people inappropriately? I’ll add, in case you’re wondering, that I had just had a shower that morning and had splashed Old Spice after-shave all over, even though I have a beard and don’t shave. So there was no need to sniff there or anywhere else.

“Oh … he’s being friendly” repeated the old lady, making no attempt whatsoever to take the dog away, “It’s his way of greeting you!”

Well … I’d rather not be greeted that way, thank you very much.

I mean … just imagine … what if we humans greeted each other that way? We meet someone for the first time, and instead of shaking hands, we drop on our knees and sniff to our heart’s delight.

Obviously, there should be a protocol as to who goes down first. Otherwise both people would kneel down together and end up bumping their heads.

One person should stay standing, and the other greets him … or her … and then …

OK … better change the subject.

I pushed the dog away … gently … yes … gently; although I must admit that was not what was on my mind when he started sniffing his welcome.

As soon as the dog went back on his mat the cat woke up from the settee and jumped on the arm of my armchair; and then started licking my hand.

I moved away slowly whilst the old lady, totally unaware of my discomfort, continued prattling on about her family and her children all grown up and living abroad. No doubt to escape from her lunatic menagerie.

The cat, still sitting next to me, having been denied the taste of my hand proceeded to lick himself in the most private of places.

Yet again … this is another annoying habit of the feline as well as canine species which, fortunately, we humans do not copy. The mind boggles at the contortions we’d have to make if we were to reach … OK … you get the point; let’s move on.

I moved surreptitiously towards the cat and nudged him gently. He dropped to the floor and walked out the room.

I listened to the old lady going on about her lonely life with no one to visit her; and how she often just goes out on the bus so that she can meet people, or stands at the window looking at people pass by and imagine what kind of life they lead. She said she plays a mind-game when she sees people. She looks carefully at what they wear and then guesses the sort of work they do. She also likes to name people in her head according to how they dress, the way they walk, and their general demeanour.

She said she’d been watching me take the dog for a walk for a very long time. “Do you realise” she said, “that whenever you stop by that tree to allow the dog to sniff at its roots, you always scratch the back of your head? Why do you do that?”

I’ll admit I never noticed that habit. And from being told, I’m sure I’ll resist that particular temptation in future. I’ll do all my scratching that’s needed before I leave home from now on.

She was about to tell me what nickname she had invented for me when suddenly there was a flutter of wings.

The parrot left its perch and made himself comfortable on my shoulder. I did not dare move an inch. Those creatures can be dangerous you know. Once they get hold of your nose in their beaks they will not let go.

“Oh … Polly likes you too!” said the old lady joyfully, “it must be your gentle and kind personality. Animals know when someone loves them. Do you like birds?” she asked.

I hesitated to tell her that the only birds I like are Kentucky Fried Chickens; although right now I would not mind tasting Kentucky Fried Parrot as well.

She didn’t wait for an answer and continued talking ignoring her feathered friend on my shoulder.

The wretched bird, still sitting by my left ear, eyed the big feather in my hat for a few moments, and then, to my horror, jumped at it and attempted to mate with it. I held the hat tightly on my head with my right hand for fear that it might be dislodged and end up matrimonially united with a myopic parrot.

I mean … how short-sighted can he get? It’s only a feather for crying out loud. Who’s STUPID now? Can’t tell the difference between a beautiful lady parrot and a feather in an cowboy hat!

The old lady laughed, not understanding the situation, and said that he was welcoming me into his domain. Whatever that means!

I had absolutely no wish to be welcomed anywhere belonging to that stupid creature, and my hat and feather certainly shared this opinion.

The parrot struggled vainly with his amorous advances at my hat and started to flutter his wings wildly and squawking loudly, no doubt upset at being snubbed by his new-found lady friend.  

Eventually the old lady realised that I was somewhat uneasy, to put it mildly. She got up slowly from her chair and removed the parrot from its clutches on my hat and replaced him back on his perch.

She then turned to me and asked whether I’d like to meet the budgerigars still sitting on their cage preening themselves.

I made an excuse about having a meeting somewhere or other and left hurriedly.

And that’s another cowboy hat with a feather totally ruined!

Friday 29 June 2012

Focus on God

Once again Father Ignatius was taking the Catechism class at the local Catholic school. The fifteen year olds were often quite challenging and their questions certainly merited careful consideration and were always answered honestly; no matter the subject under discussion.

This particular day was known by the class as “Free Day”. They could ask the priest any question on any subject and he attempted his best to answer them.

A cheeky young lady put her hand up eagerly and Father Ignatius motioned her to speak up.

“It must be difficult being a priest Father,” she started hesitantly, “I mean … you can’t do what you want. You can’t go on a date like …”

The whole class laughed.

Another girl sitting next to her chirped in “Or go in the woods in the park with your girl friend”.

“Oooohhh!!!” said some girls.

“That’s right,” interrupted a boy, “priests can’t go riding motorbikes fast, or have tattoos and all these things we do. They always have to be saintly and walk around like angels.”

Father Ignatius remained silent and tapped the ruler gently on the desk to attract their attention and get them to settle down.

He then said, “A man goes to the doctor's and complained that his whole body hurts wherever he touches it.

"The doctor frowns and replies ‘That is not possible! Show me.’

“The man pushed gently his left shoulder with his finger and then screamed in agony. He then pressed on his elbow with his finger and cried even more in terrible pain. He touched his knee and cried even louder. And then again he touched his ankle and the pain was just as excruciating.

“Everywhere he touched made him cry in great pain. ‘It hurts all over, doctor,’ he said, ‘is it serious?’

“The doctor replied, ‘Not really, your finger is broken.’ ”

The whole class laughed in unison.

Father Ignatius waited until they’d settled down and then continued in his gentle voice.

“Sometimes we get too fixated on the wrong things. Just like the man in the joke.

”That’s when we fail to focus on the right priorities in life. We allow our outlook and our earthly vision to be blurred by the many distractions which this world has to offer.

”Life becomes a series of goals set, targets to be met and achievements aimed for. And we miss the obvious point.

”Set your hearts on the things that are in Heaven, where Christ sits on His throne at the right-hand side of God. Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth.”

 Colossians 3:1-2.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

For whom the cock crows

Sunday Mass was over and everyone had left. Father Ignatius was clearing up in the Sacristy when Arthur, a young Altar Boy, came in sheepishly.

“Are you still here?” asked the priest.

“Yes Father … can I ask you something please?” replied the young teenager.

“Fire away …” encouraged the priest as he sat down.

“I think I committed a sin yesterday … and I took Communion today.”

“You think … are you not sure? What did you do?” asked Father Ignatius gently.

“I was at the Karate Club yesterday. I go every Saturday. During break some of the boys were talking about Jesus and they were mocking and laughing. They were telling jokes about Him and saying bad things!”

“I see … and what did you do?”

“That’s it …” hesitated the young lad, “I did nothing. I didn’t want to tell them about Jesus in case they laughed at me. I just kept quiet and smiled.”

“I understand …” said Father Ignatius pausing slightly, “have you told Peter about this?”

“Peter Marsden?”

“No … not Peter Marsden! Who is he anyway?” asked the priest frowning a little.

“He is our Karate Instructor … we call him Sensei …” replied young Arthur.

Father Ignatius smiled.

“I meant St Peter …” he continued, “you know him? We have a large statue of him at the back of the church.”

The boy nodded.

“What do you know about him?”

“He was a disciple of Jesus,” said Arthur.

“That’s right … and like you he was a little hesitant when asked about Jesus. When Jesus was arrested Peter denied knowing Him three times. And then the cock crew and reminded Peter of what Jesus had said … do you know the story?” asked Father Ignatius.

Arthur nodded again.

“The important thing to remember Arthur,” continued Father Ignatius gently, “is that Peter was sorry at what he had done; and Jesus forgave him. And Peter went on to become head of the Church.

“I quite understand that you felt a little intimidated yesterday. Jesus understands it too, and He forgives you just as He forgave Peter.

“But remember this Arthur … as you grow up there will be other occasions when you’ll be faced with the same situation. People will mock Jesus, God or your religion. This is the way of the world I’m afraid. Jesus has many enemies in this world, despite all He has done for us.

“It’s at those times when I pray and hope that you’ll have the courage to stand up for Jesus and for your beliefs.

“What happened yesterday is understandable in the life of someone so young as yourself.

“The sad tragedy Arthur is that grown-ups often deny knowing and loving Jesus for fear of what others might say. In a free society as we enjoy these days, compared to the times of Peter, grown-ups still shy away from knowing and loving the Lord. They keep their heads down in embarrassment.”

Father Ignatius looked at the child in the eye and asked.

“You’re learning Karate you say?”

Arthur nodded.

“Good …” said the priest, “that’s a defensive martial art. Isn’t it?

“You should remember always to defend the Lord, Arthur. Not with your fighting skills, but with your wisdom, your pure soul and by the way you live.

“The Good Lord will help you to know what to say and when to say it.

“You’re the Karate Altar Boy … defending the Lord with your soul!”

Arthur smiled broadly.

“Now you’d better hurry home before your parents start worrying about you.”

As the young boy turned to leave Father Ignatius added, “and don’t forget to pray for me … I need prayers too you know!”

Friday 22 June 2012


I did not mean be my friend on Facebook, or follow Me on Blogger or Twitter. 

I meant do it in real life.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Le chien

This is our dog. I suppose he has learnt to pray and be thankful for all that is good in his life. We got him from a dog shelter some years ago where apparently he was found roaming the streets.

He is difficult to live with but with patience we’ll all learn to adjust. At least he is not as vicious and calculating as my demon cat.

The thing about this dog is that he has learnt French. Yes … you heard me right. He has learnt French.

We have one of those teach yourself French DVD Video which we play over and again on TV to learn various phrases. As we sit there repeating what is said on TV the dog sits on the carpet watching intently.

I’m sure he’s listening carefully and getting the different intonations and accents which so enrich the French language. You can see his ears twitching when certain words are pronounced slowly by the woman on TV.

“Bonjour Monsieur Dupont. Ou est l’hôtel Majestueux?”

Which I’m sure is very helpful and reassuring in case our dog ever gets lost in Paris and needs to find his way back to the hotel.

The thing is … I don’t know whether, in his head, the dog is pronouncing the words correctly, because, he has actually never said them out loud.

It could be that in his head the words are all distorted and garbled up because he pronounces them with a doggy accent. You know … it’s just like you or me trying to speak a foreign language. Our English, American or Australian accents would not pronounce the French, Italian or whatever language words as a native of those countries would. It takes a special skill to speak a foreign language just as a local does.

So how do I know if in his head our dog is pronouncing the French words properly if he never says them out loud like you’re supposed to on the Video?

But one thing I’ve noticed since he joined us in learning French by DVD. His bark has taken a distinctively French timbre as of late.

He no longer goes “Woof Woof” to scare cats away from our garden. His bark is a more elongated “Hein hein hein woooof woooof” as if to say “Oh zut alors! Qu’est ce que c’est ca?”

I’m not sure the itinerant cats roaming our garden understand him anymore.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

If not now when

Once upon a time there was an elderly lady who had a bone china tea set. She had a teapot, a milk jug, a container for sugar, twelve cups and saucers and side plates for biscuits and cakes. The individually hand-made items where white in color with beautiful red roses hand-painted as decorations and gold plating on the rims of the cups and plates. Although the set was quite old it was in pristine condition as if it had just left the factory; now long closed and out of business.

She loved that tea set and displayed it proudly in a glass-fronted cupboard in her living room.

She never used it because it was reserved for very special occasions. You know, just in case the Pope or the Queen might visit. Which of course they never did; nor were they likely to ever do. The old lady was very concerned in case an item would break or be chipped in use and the set would be incomplete and the damaged item irreplaceable

The tea set remained in the glass-fronted cupboard, admired by everyone who visited the old lady, and proudly loved by her whenever she looked at it.

One day the old lady died and her distant relatives, who never visited her when alive, sold all her belongings and used the money towards a holiday abroad.

When the old lady met St Peter at the Gates of Heaven, for that is where she was destined, the old Saint, who was used to drinking from an old clay cup when on earth, remarked casually “You never did get to use that lovely tea set, did you?”

“No!” she replied forlornly, “I saved it for a special occasion which never arrived!”

“Hmmm …” thought the Saint stroking his beard, “You also never got round to planting aubergines and courgettes in your garden. You always wanted to do that. But never did!”

“That’s right …” remembered the old lady, “Somehow I never got round to it. You know how it is … I was busy cleaning the house and things …”

St Peter chuckled quietly and added “Buon giorno!”

The old lady looked up at the tall man in total confusion.

He laughed and said, “Remember that winter when you promised yourself to learn Italian? You even bought a book and a dictionary, but never got to enroll at the local college for evening classes.”

“Yes … that’s right …” she replied shyly, “I wish I’d done that. Somehow the time was never right to start those classes. I would have enjoyed them too!”

An ominous silence followed and she wondered frightfully whether her omissions had somehow prejudiced her chances of entering Paradise.
“Do come in, my dear!” said the kindly Saint, “you know …” he added as he scratched his head, “it grieves me when I look down on earth and see so many people procrastinating and postponing doing something they set their hearts on.

“I watch and think … if not now, when?

“Somehow, people always have a reason for not doing something. When the Big Boss created the world for us He meant us to enjoy His creations, not postpone them and endure life!”

As she was led to her room in Paradise she discovered by her bedside the porcelain tea-set she once owned, two packets of aubergine and courgette seeds and an Italian dictionary.

The kindly Saint had given her a second chance to fulfill her dreams.

Monday 18 June 2012

Not Waltzing Matilda

I’ve met some very strange people in my life. Some don’t even live on this planet and are lost in their own little world. But none come stranger than Matilda. 

She’s Australian and no, she does not waltz. In fact she’s as bad a dancer as I am.

The fact that I mention she’s Australian will become apparent a little later on.

Matilda is about sixty-four years old and is an old friend of the family. She lives alone in a secluded farm deep in the countryside in Northern England. She’s self-sufficient with a few chickens, ducks, pigs, a cow, a goat and an old horse which takes her and her cart to a nearby town whenever she needs to buy anything; and let's not forget her many cats and dogs. She lives on her pension and is happy in her own world.

Much happier than the rest of us I suppose working all hours to make ends meet.

We don’t visit Matilda often, but we correspond from time to time.

A few months ago I had reason to make a business trip to a city not far from where Matilda lives. It was on a Friday so I decided to call on Matilda and spend the weekend with the old lady.

I arrived at about five in the evening and after a nice cup of tea she asked me to help her feed her animals.

We started with the chickens, and then the ducks and whilst reminiscing happily whilst feeding the cow Matilda realized that time was getting on and she had to go to town for her weekly game of poker with other old folks in the Church club she attended.

She gave me her cell-phone number, just in case, and asked me to make myself at home until her return.

“Don’t forget to feed the pigs!” she yelled, as she galloped away on her cart out of the farm drive.

The pigs were a recent addition to her menagerie; all six of them. I got some feed and gingerly entered their enclosure and started spreading the food for them to eat. One of the pigs came eagerly at me to feed and managed to trip me head over heels into the mud. My immaculate work suit was totally ruined and I was soaking wet with dripping black liquid all over me. I suppose it was my fault being with animals in my best work suit, but Matilda had asked me to help and I didn’t have time to get changed. Luckily, my feathered cowboy hat survived the muddy onslaught and was not damaged in any way. That at least cheered me up no end.

I left the pigs to their devices and entered the house, leaving my dirty shoes at the door, and headed for the bathroom.

I ran a hot bath and settled in for a long soak whilst contemplating what to do with the ruined suit. Best to throw it away, I thought.

I was there for a few minutes thinking what color suit I would buy when it happened …

Oh … the memory keeps coming back like a recurring nightmare …

I’ve had sleepless nights about this, I tell you.

There I was in the bath soaking away my relatively minor worries about a ruined suit when …

You’ll never believe this … I assure you.

You too would have nightmares all your life if it happened to you.

The door slowly opened.

I could see the door handle move ever so slowly and then the door was pushed open with an ominous creaking sound as you get in horror movies.

My blood ran cold down my spine in a hot bath!

And then … a kangaroo got in and walked casually towards me and jumped in the bath with me splashing water all over the place.

I was terrified.

Can you imagine?

There I was sharing a bath with an animal native of Australia. Matilda had never mentioned a kangaroo as part of her farm cum zoo.

What else has she got in this house? A koala bear, or a platypus?

What was I to do? I did not dare make any sudden movement in case … I don’t know … in case the kangaroo did something which I’d regret.

I became somewhat protective all of a sudden.

He looked at me suspiciously and made un-approving tutting noises like kangaroos make.

I slowly reached for my cell-phone and managed to find Matilda’s number and phoned her.

“Matilda …” I said in a semi-whisper so as not to alarm my bathing companion, “there’s a kangaroo in the bath with me!”

Now there’s a sentence I never dreamed I would ever say.

She laughed raucously down the phone.

“That’s not a kangaroo sport!” she said in her distinct Australian accent which she has not lost despite her years in the UK, “it’s a wallaby. He’s Joey, my recently acquired pet! Do you like him?”

Well, it was not a question of liking him or not; and the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby did not particularly concern me that much at the time.

It was more a matter of sharing a private moment with a wild animal which showed signs of becoming suddenly agitated; much to my detriment, may I add!

“Oh, he’s being playful,” Matilda re-assured me, “he probably thinks it’s me in the bath. He often has a bath with me!”

I must admit I didn’t know what to make of that.

Am I in such a physical state in my prime of life to be mistaken for a woman in her sixties?

Can this Joey creature really not tell the difference between Matilda and I?

I mean … the difference between me and her is so obvious and plain to see.

How could he miss that?

I’m wearing my cowboy hat with the feather on. When’s the last time this stupid animal saw Matilda wearing such a hat?

“Are you all-right?” said the jovial voice down the phone interrupting my concentration, “are you playing with Joey?”

“I certainly am not!” I replied as masculinely as I could. I put the phone down and slowly, very slowly, got out of the bath and out of the room as quickly … but slowly … as I could, so as not to disturb Joey who followed my every movement with his eyes and smiled as he tutt tutted his disapproval of me!

Sunday 10 June 2012

Believing with eyes closed

Sister Georgina came to see Father Ignatius in his office. She was a nun living in the Convent nearby and whilst it was not unusual for the nuns to visit the Parish House from time to time this visit was somewhat formal. The nun had phoned the priest that morning and asked him for an appointment.

“Hello Sister … come in … come in …” said the kindly priest, “would you like some coffee … or some tea perhaps!”

“No thank you Father …” she said somewhat shyly as she sat down.

“You know you don’t need to phone to make an appointment …” he said as he closed the door and sat at his desk, “just pop in anytime …”

“Well Father … I wanted to make sure you were available … and we would not be disturbed.” She said. “The thing is … I’m finding it very hard believing …”

“Are you having doubts about your Faith Sister?” Father Ignatius asked gently and soothingly.

“No … no … it’s not that. I believe in God and Jesus and the Trinity …” she hesitated, “Can someone be selective in their beliefs?”

“Well Georgina …” he smiled, “it depends on what one is selective about … I do have my doubts about some of the changes we’re making as a Church … What is troubling you exactly?”

“Well Father …”

“Let’s dispense with the formalities for now …” he interrupted.

“Well …” she hesitated again, “for some time now I’ve had great difficulty in believing in the true presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist.

“I can’t quite explain it. Did Christ in the Last Supper ask us to celebrate Communion in His memory … or is it really His flesh and blood? And why would He want us to eat and drink His very Being?”

“It is one of our fundamental beliefs as a Church,” said the priest calmly, “one that has been tested and debated for centuries. You’ve no doubt heard of the Eucharistic Miracle at Lanciano?”

“Yes Father … but how can I make myself believe?” she replied, “I could shut my eyes tightly and convince myself to believe … but at the end of the day my mind says differently.

“I have no difficulty in believing the existence of God … I accept that as fact. I believe in Christ’s Virgin birth, His resurrection, the Holy Spirit and so on … Somehow these beliefs cause me no difficulties and they are part of my being … they are me and have been me for sometime.

“And I suppose that at some stage I must have believed in the Eucharist too. How could I not have?

“I became a nun … studied for years and took on my vocation … and all was well … Yet now, it’s this one aspect of my Faith that I find difficulty with.”

The priest paused for a while and said a silent prayer before going on.

“We’ve all had our moments of doubts and our little stumbles every now and then …” he said.

“It’s our human nature coming to the fore. We’re programmed to think, to analyze … to ask questions and yes … to doubt too.

“It’s what some people call Free Will … and I’m sure you’ve heard the many debates about that and God’s pre-destination of our lives!”

She smiled as he continued.

“God does not want us to work hard at our beliefs. He does not want us to shut our eyes tightly and convince ourselves to believe in this or in that.

“He understands our struggles between total acceptance and the natural desire to examine and evaluate what we’re told to believe.

“He did make us after all … so He knows what makes us tick and how the cogs in our heads constantly turn.

“What God asks of us is to believe like a child. A child never questions the veracity of what he’s told … he just accepts it.

“There’s no need to believe with eyes tightly shut.

“Just accept … like a child. Trust him … like a child. Love Him … like a child.

“And when your mind questions … as it certainly will … just say … Get behind me Satan.

“Look up at God and pray … I believe, Lord; help my unbelief.”

She left with a much lighter heart and a heavy weight off her shoulders.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Ambitions quashed

Two things I’ve always wanted to do in life are cartooning and playing the guitar. And I failed in both.

No matter how much I try my cartoons just do not translate from what I can see clearly in my head to what is drawn on the paper. Somehow, between whatever straw and cobwebs are collected in my brain and the electro-muscular mechanism in my hand there’s a blockage somewhere that turns my every attempt at drawing into something a small child or Picasso would draw.

As for playing the guitar; that’s no better either.

Some years ago my wife and I took guitar playing lessons at our local college. We were both very enthusiastic and to be fair she progressed much better than I.

From the start, I could see disaster looming from the very first note ever played. There were about a dozen or so “beginners” in our class and the instructor started us on a simple exercise. Hold your fingers tight on these strings and press them against the “frets” and with the other hand run your fingers up and down on the string. Here … near the hole in the guitar.

Everyone managed this well; except me.

My fingers pressed on the frets so hard they almost started bleeding. But my other hand going up and down, up and down, was somehow a few millimeters away from the strings so no sound was coming out. I kept going up and down faster and faster, but speed is not the essence here when you’re too far away from the strings.

The instructor asked me to relax and try again. Slower but nearer … slower but nearer.

I did just that, and this time my fingers got entangled and caught in the guitar strings. TWANG … went the guitar and then everything stopped. My fingers got stuck there as everyone laughed and my wife got embarrassed.

Learning to tune the guitar was no better either.

I just could not differentiate between one note and another. They all sounded the same. You might as well been beating a big drum or have an elephant trumpeting under water it would have sounded the same as my guitar.

The instructor played two notes over and again to get me to appreciate the difference in timbre but they both sounded the same as when I accidentally sit on my cat sleeping in the armchair.

My wife must have thought she married a deaf husband. Although I must admit, like most husbands, I do have selective hearing when it suits.

The next exercise involved using a device called a plectrum or a pick. It’s a small triangular bit of plastic used to pluck the strings of the guitar.

It’s easy to use, according to my instructor. Hold the plectrum with your fingers and pluck the strings one at a time. He showed me how to use it and then asked me to try.

I wish I didn’t … and so did he.

I plucked the string so hard that the small piece of plastic flew out of my hand and hit the instructor in the eye.

What he said next could not be put into music no matter what instrument you use. It was a string of unrepeatable words, none rhyming nor musically melodic, and hardly likely to be ever used in any lyrics I can think of.

He left the room for First Aid treatment and we all decided after a few minutes to give up waiting in the classroom and we went home.

Neither my wife nor I returned to guitar lessons.

I’ve met the instructor in the street a few times since. He smiles and says nothing and walks away in a hurry.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Keep it under my hat.

The rules in our office are quite clear and strict. We should not bring any pets to work.

Why is it then that some people insist on “bending the rules” when in reality they are outright breaking them and risking severe disciplinary action; if not being fired from the job altogether.

For example someone brought a kitten in one of those carrying cases because the creature was not too well and its owner was on her way to the vet after work. Admittedly, the cat did not leave the carrying case or cage at any time, and was only in the office for a couple of hours, having been collected from home at lunch time. But if the boss had come in I’m sure that person would have been reprimanded or probably lost her job; especially since the boss is allergic to cats.

What if I had a hippopotamus as a pet, or a crocodile? Would it be OK for me to bring them to work on my way to the vet?

You think I’m exaggerating don’t you? Well, I’m not.

Last week someone brought in a chameleon or lizard type creature. I don’t know what it was. All I know is it was about three inches long and it was ugly; even though it was supposed to be a baby of the species.

Apparently some colleagues had been talking about unusual pets a few days earlier and one of them decided to bring this reptile to show the others. The animal was brought to work in a shoe box and taken out to show everyone. It jumped out of the owner’s hand and ran on the large conference table where we were supposed to have a meeting.

Yes … you’ve guessed it. The boss came to the meeting a few minutes earlier than expected.

Everyone panicked and froze … except Joe. He’s a quick thinker and a bit too clever for comfort.

He quickly grabbed my hat from the coat stand … yes, my expensive cowboy type hat with the long feather on the side … I call it a plume, not a feather … more stylish!

Anyway, Joe picked up my hat and as quick as a flash put it on the lizard trapping him underneath.

Everyone kept a straight face … or tried to. I noticed one or two badly concealed smirks and one person was literally going red in the face trying to hold back a guffaw of laughter as well as nature’s release mechanism.

I was furious of course. My expensive hat used as a cage and a subject of subterfuge. Can you imagine that? And it’s silk lined on the inside. I dread to think what that wretched creature is doing under there.

I said nothing of course. I could hardly risk someone else losing their job; even though my precious hat was the real victim here.

I sat at the place nearest to the hat and we all started the meeting.

The boss sat at the far end and did not seem to notice even though once or twice the hat moved on the table all on its own.

This led to the person nearest me to laugh quietly and then stifle a sneeze.

The boss said “Bless you” and for some stupid reason I replied “Thank you!”

Why do I do silly things like that? What possessed me to say “Thank you”?

Luckily the boss did not notice who had sneezed.

At the end of the meeting my boss suggested he and I visit one of our suppliers who is only half a mile away from our office.

I put on my coat and followed him when he said: “Put on your hat … it’s a little cold out there and we’re walking!”

Everyone froze again and fixed their eyes on my hat on the table.

I had to think and act quickly … very difficult when you can’t multi-task!

I picked up the hat in a scooping motion and put it on my head.

You should have seen everyone’s face when they saw nothing on the table where the hat once was. I was proud of myself and my magical sleight of hand.

My quick triumph quickly faded as I felt the lizard grappling tightly at my hair. I kept a straight face and left the room hurriedly after my boss.

On our way there, as we walked down the street, the silly creature tried to escape once or twice by raising my hat off my head. The boss didn’t see it, but a passerby thought I was saluting him by lifting my hat and he did the same with his.

I pushed the hat further down my head so that the brim was almost at eye level. That should trap him solid … I thought.

In response the vindictive reptile started pulling at my hair struggling to get out. The pain was agonizing but I could hardly do anything about it. How could I possibly explain the situation to my boss if he found out what’s under my hat?

He would hardly take me seriously after such an incident.

We walked side by side with him doing most of the talking about some budgetary situation or other and me making un-intelligent noises more as a response to pain than contribution to the discussion. At one point as I grunted he said “Well … I’m glad you agree with this. Perhaps you can go ahead and implement it.” I had no idea what I had agreed to.

As we approached the suppliers’ premises I felt a wet feeling under my hat as no doubt the lizard decided on a new plan of attack in order to get free.

We entered the building and a young lady offered to take my coat and hat. I gave her my coat and decided to crumple my hat and its content quickly into my briefcase.

She noticed my head and hair were wet and I said “It’s been raining …” as I wiped it off with my handkerchief.

Why did I say such a stupid thing? Does it often rain under peoples’ hats where you come from?

After the meeting with the suppliers I left my boss, went to a coffee bar where I rang the reptile’s owner and asked him to meet me there and collect his pet.

I am now looking for a new hat. The silk lining in mine has been torn to shreds.

Sunday 3 June 2012

Watch out ... you're on camera!

I’m sure you’ve seen those programs where they stop unsuspecting people in the street and film them in funny situations for showing on TV afterwards. Some of the situations can be quite hilarious and the victims usually laugh and agree to have the film shown on TV.

Years ago I worked as a junior with an independent film maker and we were assigned to do such a film.

As I speak French well, the idea was that I would stop people in the street and ask them directions to a particular place in a heavy French accent. As they spoke, I’d pretend not to understand and I’d keep changing the location where I wanted to go.

The camera was hidden well out of view and the sound engineer explained the technical bits.

“The director will speak to you through this ear-piece” he said, “listen to his every instructions.”

I nodded.

“This is the latest microphone model. Cutting edge engineering technology.” he continued, “It looks just like a £1 coin, just two centimeters in diameter. Yet it picks up sound from a great distance.”

I pretended to be impressed.

“It doesn’t have a clip!” I said, “How will I clip it to my shirt?”

“You don’t” he replied with a smile, “you put it straight on your chest under the shirt. It goes straight on your skin.”

“You mean it is glued on me?”

“Not glued … we use the very latest adhesive solution on the market. Totally invisible, just like water. A tiny drop and the microphone is in place and no one will suspect you’re wearing it”.

Moments later I was ready for my first victim. I stood in the street looking confusingly in a map book and pretending to be lost. A tall man in a white priest’s collar walked towards me from the left. The director said in my ear “Aha … a man of the cloth. He’s bound to be very helpful. Stop him and … ACTION!”

“Scuze moi Monsieur!” I said in my best French accent “I cannot find ze hotel … where iz eet?”

He looked at the map and then proceeded to give me directions.

“Excellent,” whispered the director in my ear, “keep him talking!”

“Tres bien …” I said “Zat is ze hotel … but ze restaurant … eet haz moved … where iz ze restaurant?”

At this point I felt the microphone slip a bit from my chest. Obviously the adhesive wasn’t as good as I was told. It stopped again on my stomach.

“The sound quality has deteriorated,” the voice in my ear said, “get closer to him.”

I moved closer to the priest and asked another question.

“No good,” said the voice “I hear rumbling as if we’re on a train.”

I hadn’t eaten that morning because of nervousness. This was my first live interview. My knees were trembling. I had butterflies in my stomach and their knees were trembling too. A symphony of hunger pangs and trapped wind played softly into the microphone much to the distress of the director and the sound engineer.

“What the **** is that?” cursed the director in my ear, “fix it quick.”

I surreptitiously pretended to scratch my stomach whilst continuing the conversation in broken English with the priest. I tried in vain to push the microphone up to its original position but it slipped down a further few inches and stopped below the waistline !!!

“The rumbling has stopped” said the voice, “now we can’t hear a thing. Get even closer to him!”

How do I do that? I thought.

I can hardly ask him to bend down and address me down there so I can hear him better!

Can you imagine the conversation?

“Excuse me Father, I’ve had an ear transplant that went wrong and they put my ear down there. Can you speak a bit lower down so I can hear you more clearly?”

I ignored the director’s frantic screams and I tried to move the microphone again. But you can hardly scratch down there in public whilst conducting an interview with a priest … or with anyone else for that matter!

Perhaps if I pretended to get my handkerchief out of my trouser pocket, that should do it … Botheration!!! That didn’t work either. The microphone rolled down my trouser leg and fell on the ground.

“That’s better!” said the director’s voice “We can hear him but faintly. Get him a little closer”.

Easier said than done.

What do I do now? Do I lie down on the sidewalk and say “We French are very relaxed people. We don’t panic even when we’re lost. Why not join me down here so we can discuss directions?”

I gave up in sheer frustration.

In my best English accent I said “Thank you Father. You’ve been very kind to help me; I know my way from here!”

He smiled in total confusion at my sudden grasp of the English language. He shook my hand and then … looking down he said, “Someone has dropped a £1 coin. I’ll put it in the Sunday collection plate!”

He picked up the microphone and walked away!

Friday 1 June 2012

Too Heavy

Father Ignatius was not necessarily orthodox when it came to delivering a sermon. If there was something he could say or do to make his point forcibly he would certainly do so.

One Sunday before Mass started he left a suitcase by the lectern where he was to deliver his sermon.

At the appropriate time he looked at the children sitting up front in church and asked: “Who knows what it means to have a chip on your shoulder?”

A few hands were raised high. He pointed to a young girl who said: “It means moaning all the time and feeling hard done by.”

“Exactly …” said Father Ignatius, “how clever of you. It means feeling over-sensitive and badly treated. And some people I know don’t just have one solitary chip on their shoulder, but they have a whole super-sized packet of chips and a large hamburger and a milk-shake too!”

The congregation laughed.

“And that’s the problem you see …” continued the priest, “many people in this world live life carrying heavy baggage from the past rather than rejoice in what God is doing for them right now.”

Father Ignatius stopped for a moment and looked down at the suitcase by the lectern.

“Which brings me to this item here …” he said, “I need two strong men to help me please.”

He looked up and waited until two men left their pews and joined him by the lectern. He asked one of them to carry the suitcase a few paces down the center aisle. It was fairly heavy, but the man managed it. He then asked the second man to return the suitcase to him; which he did with some difficulty.

“I think we have shown here how difficult it is to carry such heavy baggage with you for the rest of your life,” said Father Ignatius as the two men returned to their seats.

“Imagine carrying this with you always. You’ll soon get tired and it will certainly slow you down. Wouldn’t it be great to get rid of it altogether?

“Let’s see what’s inside.”

He opened the suitcase and revealed a number of bricks. On each one he had stuck a label which he read out loud:

“Now these heavy bricks represent all the troubles and worries, or excuses even, which we may carry with us throughout our lives. Let’s see what they say …

“This one reads ‘it’s my up-bringing that holds me back, I grew up in a broken family when my parents divorced, it’s scarred me for life’

“And this one says ‘I left school with no education, my parents didn’t send me to a good school, what chance have I got?’

“Let’s see this brick here … ‘my health has always been poor, I can’t help it,’

“As for this one, I like this one, it says ‘I must have been born unlucky, nothing ever works out for me! I’m destined to fail.’

“There’s a few more bricks here,” continued Father Ignatius, “you can read them afterwards if you wish.”

He put the bricks down by the suitcase and looked gently at the congregation.

“Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not in any way making light of people’s difficulties. I do accept that some people have genuine and very difficult obstacles to overcome every day of their lives. And I am often inspired by their fortitude and great Faith as they go through life despite such hardship …

“The problem I’m addressing now is where people, for a variety of reasons, still cling to something in their past as a crutch or prop to explain away their present state in life.

“And they continue to carry this heavy weight, real or imagined, like this suitcase here beside me. Their issue could be their up-bringing, their education, their background … or a great hurt they suffered in the past, which still gnaws deep inside them and goes unforgiven.

“It could be anything … a heavy weight which they carry for ever because they just can’t let go.

“This heavy weight slows them down throughout life and hinders their progress towards God.

“Let us have the courage to let go the heavy baggage in our lives.

“Let us trust God to help us as we go on in life.

“Jesus carried a heavy Cross on His way to Calvary. He asked us to take up our Cross and follow Him.

“Let not the weight of your Cross crush you down; but instead use it to climb up to Heaven to Christ’s welcoming arms.”