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Top Ten Obscure Things That Occurred In Other Countries

In Top Ten, Travel on June 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm

I often consider myself to have had a very boring life. Then I started thinking about moderately out-of-the-ordinary things that have ever happened to me, or that I’ve ever done, and realised that most of these took place outside of the confines of this dear United Kingdom. I don’t make a habit of travelling outside the country very often so certain countries appear in this list more than once, but a lot of weird things can happen on the same holiday. Carry on reading for just ten separate instances of obscure happenings within my life personally. I should warn you though, it’s mighty long.

10: Made A Dolphin Statuette In Woodwork Class [Germany]

I was twelve when I first went away without my parents. It was all part of an exchange trip set up by my high school. My hometown of Ellesmere Port is twinned with the small town of Reutlingen in south-west Germany and so, naturally, that’s where we had the deal with. My German pen-pal was a quiet lad named Christian and it was with him and his family whom I stayed for the longest week-and-a-half of my childhood. Once I had arrived at their house, been shown to my room and left alone with a complimentary tray of a giant bottle of apple juice, a glass and probably some biscuits or something (I can’t remember), I broke down in a state of frenzied hysteria and bawling like a lost child in a supermarket who proclaims “I want my mummy”.

I had to make do, so with my mood as relentlessly stoic as it was, I had to accompany Christian during his day-to-day school life. I don’t remember much about German school other than the first of Christian’s lessons I attended – a maths lesson where, upon realising he had an English exchange student in the class today, the lecturer decided to deliver the entire lesson in English for my benefit, much to the dismay of my Deutsch counterparts – and sitting around in a woodwork lesson watching the other kids continue with their projects. Rather than stare forlornly into the middle distance for an hour, I rummaged through some of the scrap pieces of wood people had discarded over time and found one piece which looked to resemble a leaping dolphin making a small arch shape. I took another plain piece of wood, coloured it in with blue pencil crayon and blu-tacked the lowermost points of the ‘dolphin’ – the nose and the tail flipper – to this ocean-like podium. Of this, I took immense pride.

Years later, I took Woodwork for my A-Levels and barely just scraped a pass.

09: Free Entrance To The Guinness Storehouse [Ireland]

This summer, my University Archery team went on a pre-packaged Tour holiday to Dublin. I say Tour because that’s what many University sports teams deem it to be. I say holiday because that’s how it actually turned out. The company in charge of organising our sport-themed trip were a little lacklustre in their approach to the underdog sport of Archery. It also didn’t help that we were the only Archery team in attendance so it’s safe to assume that we finished somewhere near the bottom of the “Priorities” pile. As a result, our sporting session of a sport-themed week turned out rather unsportly. We ended up facing a good few days of nothing but sight-seeing ahead of us and we felt justified in demanding to be compensated.

So huzzah! The company’s representatives worked their magic and our team-planned trip to the Guinness Storehouse in the heart of Dublin was given to us for free as a gesture of good will. By that, I of course mean that they had to pay for our entry and we didn’t have to pay ourselves. It’s just as well, really. I’m not a massive fan of the black stuff. I managed a whole three sips in the tasting room (which honestly has to be some kind of record for me) before passing the rest of my glass over to one of my Guinness-downing cohorts. As I say, the rest of the week essentially became a holiday starting with that day, which I must say was rather nice getting to socialise with Uni friends.

Pretty much makes the whole trip worthwhile.

08: Bus Ride In Massive Rainfall [Mexico]

We, the family and friends and I, went to Cancún for a couple of weeks to attend the wedding of said friends. It took place towards the end of 2005 and the timing of our holiday could not have been luckier if we’d eaten four-leaf clovers, de-shoed horses and amputated rabbits while we were at it. We went during hurricane season, arriving on the back of one hurricane and leaving just in time to miss another. For a while it was uncertain that we’d actually make it home when we’d planned to because of the forecast. When we returned home, news reports showed of dozens of international families and holidaymakers stranded in the very area we had been. People were taken to temporary shelters which came across like refugee camps and lived off rationed water. It’s fair to say that we well and truly dodged a bullet. And a hurricane.

Still, tropical rainfall season didn’t completely subside whilst we were there. On one of the few days when we actually ventured outside of the all-expenses-paid resort, we ended up catching a bus to an indoor mall just a short way away. It’s only recently that I’ve managed to get my head around public transport in this country, so using foreign transport at a time when I didn’t understand it felt bizarre. Firstly, the awful weather just cast gloom deep within me and secondly, the lack of free seats meant I was one of the lucky ones who got to stand and hold onto the rail handles. And when I say hold onto, I mean hold onto for dear life. Mexican buses travel at approximately 73mph (maybe I’m exaggerating, maybe I’m actually quite close). The fact that I was standing in an insanely fast moving vehicle in torrential tropical rain whilst clinging onto life as I knew it thrust the fear of God well and truly into me. Still, what do you expect for 12 Pesos? (50p for the bus is mighty cheap, no?)

That, coupled with the news that we may not be able to travel home for fear of a forecast hurricane genuinely made me think my life would end in that country.

07: Thanksgiving In (what I believe to have been) Denny’s [United States]

Over time, I’ve come to realise that Thanksgiving in America is practically on the same celebratory level as Christmas in the UK. Upon my sole visit to the States at the ages of twelve (some six months before my German exchange hell), my understanding of this American holiday was akin to that of our St. George’s Day, i.e. you sort of know it’s a pseudo-special day, you sort of make a slight reference to it once, you forget about it and deduce that it’s essentially “just another day”. Our two week stint in Florida came to an end on that particular Thursday of November which just so happened to be Thanksgiving Day. Naturally, my father, mother, sister and I were more concerned with the fact that we had to check out of our hotel fairly early and somehow kill time and eat something before our flight home later that night.

We happened upon a restaurant which I believe was a branch of Denny’s. It might not’ve been since I don’t remember this in its entirety; all I have to go on this are fragmented memories, popular culture references and the loyalty of a magic eight-ball. The restaurant was fairly large, accentuated by the fact that we were virtually the only people in there. There might’ve been one other family over at the far side but, as I say, I don’t remember too well. Staff were limited and we were served by what seemed to be one of only two waitresses. Pleasantries were exchanged, food was brought and hopefully she was charmed enough by our obvious out-of-town-ness (screw it, out-of-country-ness) that she didn’t completely resent us for giving her reason to work on this holiday. As far as I remember it, towards the end of the meal, my mother struck up a conversation with the waitress about whether it’s normal to get people in during a holiday occasion like this and whether this particular diner in this particular state in this particular country has some sort of minimum wage policy. I can’t remember if the girl was paid a decent wage but the conversation compelled my mother to leave a substantial tip when the bill came. In my head, our tip to her was twice as large as what she would’ve earned for the day, but my twelve-year-old brain was mighty gullible and that might not’ve been entirely true.

Also I only found out about Thanksgiving that morning when a hotel maid doing the rounds cheerily wished me and my sister a “Happy Thanksgiving”, to which we nervously, feebly and very Englishly replied with a half-hearted and quizzical “thank you”.

06: Learned To Eat With Chopsticks For The First Time [Germany]

Part of the reason my school-organised exchange trip to Germany shook me up so much was that, not only did I feel such a fish out of water without my family around me, but also the fact that I had only been learning the language for some seven months. Now that my sister lives there (but in a different part, it’s a big country ya know), visits don’t seem as daunting as that first time, mostly because I’m with relatives but also because my German language skills are slightly more advanced at the age of 22 than they were when I was 12. I’m not claiming to be an expert or remotely fluent in the language, but at least now if I were to get lost in a German supermarket, I’d be able to cry out some form of “I want my mummy” in the relevant linguistic fashion.

We went over last summer as part of a “visit the relatives, slash, have a bloody holiday” kind of trip. If you want me to be a bit more topical about this, it was during the whole hoo-hah over a contaminated crop of beansprouts grown somewhere in the country being widely distributed and hospitalising many Europeans with food poisoning. We ate out one night at a local Chinese restaurant; a bit trippy if you’re English (you know, in a bit of a “what, you mean they have Chinese people here too?” kind of way). During my scouting of the all-you-can-eat buffet trays full of Eastern delicacies, I inwardly expressed my frustration at the lack of beansprouts in this Chinese restaurant, before angrily telling myself “you moron, of course there aren’t any right now, you’re in Germany and there’s practically a countrywide beansprout quarantine going on”. I went back to the table with whatever food I had and ate in shame.

After a long time using the fork, I decided to give chopsticks a go even though I’d never gotten the hang of using them to eat. Miraculously, I somehow managed it with some degree of success and since then, eating Chinese food is now just an excuse to get the chopsticks out again.

05: Shot Archery Whilst Dressed As A Panda [Ireland]

As I mentioned earlier, I recently went to Dublin along with my University’s Archery team (cos I’m, like, so cool, yah?) Even though most of the week involved us having to entertain ourselves by way of museums, shopping and getting free samples of the nation’s drink, the catalyst for it came from the fact that our prospected two days worth of shooting (which is, like, proper Archery speak for firing arrows from bows, you get me?) actually turned out to be about three hours long, in a very small space, with excruciatingly sub-par equipment. The equipment needed for such an event is actually quite intensive when you get down to it. We, naturally, provided our own bows and arrows and other miscellaneous accessories for personal use; all we needed the Tour company to provide us with were a few large targets and stands set up in an area surrounded by safety netting. This we did not get, thus our moaning and subsequent free day out. Equipment was indeed provided, but to a less than desirable quality and of a less than desirable quantity.

Before we left for the venue on the day, however, the team collectively decided – sort of on the spur of the moment – to shoot whilst in fancy dress, namely Robin Hood and his Merry Men and other various Medieval-style peasant-wear. My particular fancy dress in this area was pretty lacklustre; essentially I had an oversized tan coloured shirt to be tied around my waist with a rope and green combat trousers, which many historians reading this might frown upon. Over the course of the morning, the Robin Hood theme became somewhat relaxed and we decided to shoot in whatever attire we wanted provided dress was still “fancy”. Two of us in the group came equipped with oversized character onesies (mighty comfortable to sleep in, by the way) which pretty much meant that we were sorted. It worked out especially for me since I’d slept in mine the night before and, this way, didn’t really need to change. My onesie took the form of a giant panda by the way, just in case you didn’t get it from the sub-title of this event.

Admittedly, it’s not that great when you consider that my costume was outdone by a life-size Pikachu.

04: Made Friends With Kids I Didn’t Understand [France]

For the life of me, I honestly cannot remember how long ago this was. On second thought, I might’ve been ten. Anyway, for a large part of my childhood, we owned a mobile caravan. At least one weekend a month, the family would pack up the essentials, hitch it up to the back of the car and off we’d go for a weekend with the aptly named Caravan Club (it’s a real organisation, check it if you don’t believe me) where we’d meet up with other caravan enthusiasts and enjoy one another’s company. Imagine Brookside meets The Waltons, but with caravans. Some of the family friends we made whilst caravanning joined us on a trip to the West coast of France… in caravans. That meant driving from Wirral to Dover, ferrying from Dover to Calais, then more driving from Calais to wherever the bloody hell it was we ended up (and then back again a week or two later).

Our plotted space of field in the camp-site was directly next to some other holiday-goers, only these people didn’t travel across international borders. The British grown-ups bonded with the French grown-ups over barbeques and tequila, whilst the French children showed off their proficiency with the English language through mimicking the current mainstream pop hits of the day. During the whole holiday, I’d see the French kids at various points around the site: in the swimming pool, in the miniature games room, buying ice creams, playing boules on the gravel. We essentially became friends by default, despite barely being able to communicate coherently with each other. One day I remember them pointing to a motorbike then pointing to me accompanied with the appropriate words “moto” and “you”. I assumed they wanted to know if I owned a motorbike or if I could ride one, or if I wanted to hijack this one. I replied with “no” and they all rolled their eyes as if I’d misunderstood. As I understand it, they were telling me the French word for the vehicle and weren’t satisfied until I told them English people call it “motorbike”. On the final evening, contact details were swapped; God only knows why. At this point in my life I’d never heard of the internet so the only form of keeping in touch was really the telephone. We swapped numbers, along with international dialling codes, and I showed off my proficiency with French numbers which I’d learned from the PC Genius series of educational software. Me and one of the French girls went through my phone number digit by digit: “zéro, zéro, quatre, quatre, un, cinq, un….”

I never did get a call from them. Might’ve been a bit awkward if I had though.

03: Crouched In Back Of Car On The Autobahn [Germany]

I’ve already mentioned my sister living in Germany. A few days before the Chinese restaurant at which I bemoaned the lack of beansprouts, my sister wanted to refurnish the flat. This involved a trip to the Ikea store some thirty minutes drive away. It’s nice to know that my first ever Ikea experience was also the real deal, by the way: signs written in another language, prices given in Euro, food somewhat different and all European-y. Anyway, she ended up getting enough flat-pack living room miscellanea to warrant two trips in the car. This involved her and dad taking the bulk of stuff in the first journey, leaving me, mum and infant nephew with the rest of it, in a foreign superstore, for an hour.

By the time the second journey came around, there was panic that the rest of the stuff wouldn’t all fit in the car as well as the five of us; someone would surely have to stay behind again. But we prevailed and managed to fit it so that sister was comfortable in the driving seat, mum was comfortable in the passenger seat, dad comfortable on the back and nephew comfortable in his booster seat. Lengthy boxes blocked off the remaining back seat meaning that I’d have to stay behind and my sister would have to come back for me in another hour. Being impatient souls that we are though, me and her, I was made to improvise by somewhat crouching in that space in the back seat where your feet go. Face down into the floor of the car, arse up at the window, I was stuck, wedged into the car, trying my best to not moon fellow drivers by keeping my rear end low and suffering the pointy wrath of the window-winder-downer-thing because of it. If ever one had a list of obscure things to do before you die with “Travel 80km/h on the German Autobahn in an uncomfortably crouched position” I could well and truly check that one off.

Also, “Exit car by backwards roll”.

02: Suffering A Migraine In A Swiss Science Museum [Switzerland]

Quite possibly the most surreal of all on this list, probably because I’d almost blanked it from memory all these years, only to dig it up again for use in this. I’ve only ever spent one day in Switzerland. It was with Christian and my German exchange family. Living in the south of Germany, the Swiss border was only a couple of hours drive away, and when you’ve got a foreign guest to entertain, an interactive science museum just over the border seems like a nice day out, so I can’t fault them for taking me there. Forgive me, this day’s a bit sketchy in my head, but from what I remember it was a fairly pleasant day, not least for the fact that science museums are so much fun!

The incident in question occurred after I’d played about on a certain experiment thing. I’d eaten almost a whole bag of Werther’s Originals on the day too. I’m not actually sure if they’re relevant to the story or not but I like to think that they played a part in my suffering if only because of the sheer gluttonous fact that I’d practically wolfed them down. The experiment involved two exercise bikes on opposite ends of a giant room. Connecting them was a Perspex tube that ran up the wall and along the ceiling. Inside the tube was a canister. Next to each bicycle was a pad of paper and pencils and the idea went thus: you write your message on the paper, you put the paper in the canister, pop the canister in the tube, hop on the bike and pedal a hell of a lot. What transpired was a very low-tech version of message delivery you see in that episode of Futurama where bureaucratic files are popped in a tube and instantly whisked away at high speed. I assume the bicycles powered some sort of vacuum mechanism inside the tube which caused the canister to travel. It is because of this that the bikes required a lot of power to pedal, like deliberately switching to a harder gear when approaching treacle. Ultimately, I think I overstayed my welcome on the bike since I was cycling so hard the veins in my head were probably becoming prominent extrusions. I don’t believe I got a migraine as such but it was, without doubt, the worst, most pounding headache I’ve ever experienced in life this far. Coupled with the fact that I didn’t know what was going on, barely understood the language and didn’t know how to explain the situation to my German guardians without knowing the word “kopfschmerz”, I lay down, clutching both sides of my head, moaning and groaning like a dying hippo because I didn’t know what else I could do.

I didn’t pass out, I remained conscious for the rest of the day, although I don’t remember a bloody thing that happened after that.

01: The First Time I Was Mistaken For Rupert Grint [United States]

I’m ginger, therefore I must, by law, be likened to him who played Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films.  Now I’ll be the first one to admit that when the first movie came out, my eleven-year-old self bore a striking resemblance to an eleven-year-old Rupert Grint, but ever since then we’ve grown in different directions. His hair is longer, often slightly greasy and he’s able to grow facial hair at an alarming rate. I wear glasses to correct myopia and take about two-and-a-half weeks to sprout sideburns. Not much of a surprise, then, when my eleven-year-old self was spotted in Florida and mistaken for a movie star. After all, we even shared the same nationality.

It was the same trip that ended with Thanksgiving. Twas the November of 2001 if you’re after some specific context; a trip to Disney capital Orlando somewhat overshadowed by concerns of fundamental extremism after the New York skyline was aerially attacked some two months previously. It was also the time that the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone if you’re American and don’t understand what a philosopher is) was released unto the world. I was with the family, waiting in line for a ride at one of Disneyland’s many theme parks; I believe this particular one was in the Epcot Centre. Just as we made it to the front of the line, the security guard making sure people went through in a calm and orderly fashion must’ve heard our small group speaking with English accents. She was a large African-American woman, very much in line with the stereotype that Family Guy might pick up on, depicting her as holding up one finger as if to say “no, no” but shifting her head side-to-side saying “mm-hm”. As I moved to pass her and board the ride we’d waited for, she stopped me and in her most obvious, Americanest tones she belted out “oh ma God, ain’t you the boy from Harry Potter?” I’d never been remotely interested in the books and not known anything of its characters. As far as I was concerned, this woman had mistaken a somewhat chubby, pale-faced, ginger English kid with a black-haired, head-scarred, bespectacled English kid. I forgave her her arrogance that all English kids look exactly the same and thought nothing of it for a considerable while.

Once Harry Potter fever gripped the entire planet and its surrounding matter, I was subjected to daily shouts in public of “Ron! It’s Ron! Look, he’s Ron! Look, you’re Ron!” and the relentless pointing, as if everyone believed that they were the first people in existence to have stumbled across this vague similarity and to have possessed fingers.

Just to think, if only I’d known that Harry Potter had a ginger friend who’d go on to make millions from this franchise, I could’ve auditioned, my life could’ve been considerably different, and a relative unknown by the name of Rupert would be recounting stories of his past in a blog post like this in the vain attempt that somebody notices him.

By Jamie Walsh

Jamie Walsh is an undergraduate Creative Writing student at MMU Cheshire, currently based in Crewe. He often lets his brain loose at a computer keyboard, the results of such efforts often appear at hardlyamazing.blogspot.com He also owns the Twitter name @Jimadee and mainly uses it to promote the aforementioned blog and keep track of how many followers he has; currently resembling the population of an abandoned train station.

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Top Ten discarded shopping lists

In shopping lists, Top Ten on January 15, 2012 at 11:47 am

10. Graham

MATALAN BOXERS LARGE. MAIL. MKT SYNCONOGEL. CAR WASH MON? RENT ON-LINE. NEW HEMAROID CREAM. GRAHAM 2PM. P.O. CREDIT CARD. CHECK BUG ZAPPER.

This rather specific inventory was found about five years ago on the pavement outside Matalan in Stockport. Written entirely in upper case on neat lined paper, this intriguing multi-tasking shopping-cum-to-do list is responsible for kick-starting my now bulging discarded shopping list collection. I’ve always wondered what Graham at 2pm would make of being itemised immediately after “new hemaroid [sic] cream” and why checking the bug zapper was of such paramount importance.

9. Mustafed

61/2 SKINLESS BEEF. FLYSPRAY. 3 TINS HEINZ BEANS. 4 CANS SMOOTH.

This succinct list appears on the back of a William Hill betting slip, supplied to me by my friend Ben, who works in a bookies. I’m pleased to see the person is brand aware, though I’d love to know what the blazes skinless beef is and why flyspray appears between foodstuffs. Minds work in mysterious ways, I suppose. The bets, incidentally, were on A Stone’s Throw, 2pm, Market Rasen, Enjoy Your Life, 2.30pm, Market Rasen, and Mustafed, 2.45pm, Newbury. 50p win patent and 50p each way treble. I have no idea what that means. This whole list is an enigma to me.

8. ♥

SLICED BREAD. SKITTLES. LURPAK. BAGUETTE. NEWSPAPER.

Looking at these items, I’d say this is a last-minute local-shop shopping list. It’s scrawled on a piece of paper which bears the URL of Sainsbury’s To You, so I’m also guessing Sainsbury’s were out of Lurpak that week. I have the same trouble procuring President. The paper itself is rather expensive: heavy-grade with a vertical stripe watermark. The list is written in smudgy slanted writing, in what looks to be 2B pencil. Using my Marplesque powers of deduction, I’m thinking “artist”. At the end of the list is a hand-drawn heart in the style of a teenager from the 80s and the words “love ya”. I’m not thinking artist any more.

7. Rosemary

ALMOND ESSENCE. VANILLA ESSENCE. MARMALADE. APPLES. WHITE SHEET – FLAT. MARMALADE. CHICKEN BREAST (4). ONIONS. 61/2OZ CAN FROZEN ORANGE JUICE. DRIED TARRAGON. 5OZ SOURED CREAM.

My friend Jo, who lives in St Albans, picked this up in M&S and sent it to me in the old-fashioned postal system with a proper letter written in purple spangly ink. It’s a very detailed list, with a choice of bizarre provisioning items, and an obvious marmalade compulsion. Judging by the use of imperial and the spidery handwriting, I imagine it was scribbled by a lady of a certain age. Turn it over and the lady appears to be called Rosemary: a note to her, in a completely different hand, describes how a cat got trapped in her garage while she was away and caused all kinds of chaos. Crivens!

6. Barrie & Steve

WATER BUTT 100 LTR. STAND. ATTACHMENTS. DOOR BELL. DRAUGHT EXCLUDER. BLINDS. VANILLA & ALMOND ESSENCE. WHITE SINGLE SHEET.

Written on a piece of paper with an unexplained gummed edge, this is a companion piece to Rosemary, found at the same time and bearing the same script. Vanilla and almond essences and white sheets are also common factors. As well as the provisions, there is a rundown of meals for Friday and Saturday (cake and tea at 4pm on Friday, no less), and also the details of Barrie, who is going to cost £750ish and has a digi camera, and Steve, who is a digger and will be calling at the end of next week to say which day he’s coming round. For some reason, the words “low-budget porn movie” spring to mind.

5. Julie-Anne

BREAD. SUGAR PUFF. BACON. DOG FOOD. SPAGEHITTI. POP. PASTA SAUCE. NOODLES. TOMATES. STEW PACKETS. BARMCAKES. HAM. BEEF. PORK PIES. BURGER. COOKIES. DOUGHUNT. STEAK PIES. CHIPS. MIX VEG. FISH FINGERS. VEG. 2 CHICKENS.

Julie-Anne’s mum left her a note about library books, and on the back Julie-Anne wrote her shopping list for Asda in Fulwood, squeezed between the north Preston sprawl and the M6. Looking at her huge blobby handwriting and the various purchases she intended to get, I imagine that J-A is probably one of those people described as being larger than life. Mommy dearest signs off with “love you x”, although if she knew the crap that Jules eats and how bad her spelling is, perhaps she’d wish she’d gotten round to reading Caring For Children: A Foundation Course by Penny Tassoni (ISBN: 0435401653) a little sooner.

4. Christine

CURTAINS FOR CHRISTINE. TROLLEY FROM GARAGE. MUM – SWEETS. CARD FOR J BAKER. RING HARRISON ETC. WINE – BARB. RING AUDREY RE THURSDAY. SODAS. POT POURRI, PIMMS. COMPOTE. BOOK RAIL. MOVE BARBIE. SWEEEP FRONT. BOOK BOUCHON. HANG WASHING. REFUNDS IN HEXHAM. TUES IN N/C: DUVET COVER – FENWICKS. LOOK AT BARBIE HANDLE (DRAW DIAGRAMME).

With dedicated list notepaper embellished by a picture of Rupert the Bear talking to a black cat wearing a red ribbon round its neck, this is another fantastic shopping/to-do composite, discovered in the Northumbrian market town of Hexham. This is an example of top-level list-writing with special codes and abbreviations, specific lists for specific days, some great spelling mistakes and a particular obsession with barbeques. My favourite entry, however, is “curtains for Christine”. Poor Christine, she didn’t deserve that.

3. xxxx

600ML DRY CIDRE. GLACE CHERRIES. SULTANAS 500G. MIXED PEEL. DRIED PRUNES. 2 LEMONS. 2 ORANGES. BUTTER. BLANCHED ALMONDS. PLAIN FLOUR. EGGS.

Proper pre-produced list paper is quite the rage, and this one is split into four columns: things to do; telephone; letter/email/web; out and about. The list-writer here, however, has ignored all those conventions and written their list of boozy cake-baking ingredients on the other side, along with a note to whoever has been sent to the shops in their absence. The note reads: “Please transfer washing to dry as you may need knickers. xxxx.” You can make up your own sign-off for that.

2. Richard

FLOUR. TOOTHPASTE. SOAP. DISHWASHER. CLOTHES WASH. BBQ. WATER BOTTLES. MUSTARD/MAYO. MILKSHAKE. BEER. WINE. AJ. COKE. TEA. PASTA. RICE. PIZZAS. CHIPS. BUTTER. CHEESE. HAM. CHICKEN. MINCE. CREAM. ONIONS. POTS.

I came across Richard Gere in the street in the aforementioned St Albans while staying with the aforementioned Jo. Either St Albans is a magnet for gifted list-writers, or Jo is my special charm. The list itself is incredibly ordinary, but the paper upon which it appears is nothing if not extraordinary, being a fragment of a magazine feature about the Hollywood actor-stroke-hamster charmer. Never failing to make me laugh is a shot of Richard with a group of Tibetan men seemingly wearing chintzy lampshades on their heads. Verso, a caption explains that Rich is dancing with his mom, Doris, at the premiere of Yanks in 1979. The caption is in Serbian.

1. Anonymous

SUNFLOWER SEEDS. RYE FLAKES. PUMPKIN SEEDS 3K. BUCKWHEAT. CHICKPEA NOODLES. W-UP LIQUID. WASHING TABLETS (£3/12 PACK).

What I like about this list is that it totally sums up the suburb where I live. If you are at all familiar with Chorlton in Manchester, you will know that the inhabitants exist purely on a diet of houmous and mung beans and that our favourite pastimes are upcycling and justifying the environmental impact of going to India to realign our chakras. If you are au fait with Chorlton, you will probably have guessed that this list was lifted in the workers’ co-operative organic grocery Unicorn. What you wouldn’t have guessed is that it is written on a leaflet about genital warts. Sexy.

by Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a writer and editor based in Manchester. She is addicted to red lipstick and white wine, and is often found picking stuff up off the floor. Sometimes herself. She is dead highbrow and her award-winning blog Words & Fixtures is about art and that.

Top Ten Observations Regarding the Nest of Ladybirds in our Front Room.

In Animals, Top Ten on January 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm

1. The Ladybird Nest Occurs In Nature

There’s nothing unique about our ladybird nest. Ladybirds nest in groups to survive winter. I had no idea. Neither did my partner. At first, I thought it was something fungal, or perhaps something to do with spiders. They’re clustered in the corner of one of the bay windows.

2. The Ladybirds Are Not Exclusively Red

They’re brown as well. This is why we didn’t recognise them as ladybirds the first time we saw them. Because they’re asleep (to survive winter) they’re just glossy brown dots – about the size of the transparent plastic beads that you’d give to children to make bracelets. The wood of the window frame is white. The nest looks at once repulsively natural and curiously unnatural.

3. They’re Probably Damaging The Wood

I have the sense that they secrete something which will damage the wood. Possibly I’ve read that on the internet. Possibly they’re poisonous (as well). There must be something mucosal, viscous holding them to the wood of the window frame. I worry that when the nest isn’t there anymore, there’ll be a brown stain, and it’ll mean that we won’t get our deposit back. We don’t have a lot of money.

4. They Must Be Cold And Wet

Insects don’t care about that. That’s why they’re sleeping – that’s their method of dealing with the cold and wet. This is more a way for me to talk about my flat. It’s so cold that my partner is often wrapped in a blanket. I sleep a lot, although there are some other reasons for this. It’s so wet that sometimes there are puddles on the windowsills (we don’t have a lot of money). For a while, woodlice were coming in through a hole in the bedroom wall. Great, we thought, we’ve got ladybirds at one end of the flat and woodlice at the other.

5. It’s A Nice Flat Really

And the ladybird nest is a part of how nice it is. It’s run down, but the ceilings are high and we’ve filled it with our stuff. Bookshelves, giant plants, interesting chairs. It’s nice to live somewhere that insects nest (great, we thought, we’ve got ladybirds); it’s wonderful to live with someone who stops you killing nesting insects. I’d intended to vacuum them up.

6. The Nest Is Next To Our Christmas Lights

Which, at the time of writing, are still up, strung across the middle panes of the bay. I turned them on the other day. I told my partner that we’d ‘probably get a brick through the window: people don’t like it when you do things like this’. I’m seduced by the idea that people would be so enraged by Christmas lights still on after Christmas has finished that they’d brick in our window. That’s community (it’s wonderful to live with someone). If a brick happened, would the tightly-packed ladybirds stay, or would it wake them all up?

7. One Day, In Spring…

They’ll wake up. I hope that they’ll wake up all at once, and we’ll come into the front room and there’ll be a modest swarm of them. We’ll pull back the nets and open the window and try and guide them out. People will see us through the window, dancing around wildly and laughing. They won’t be able to see the ladybirds, obviously (people don’t like it when you do things like this). For a week afterwards we’ll find lost ladybirds.

8. Sometimes A Solitary Ladybird Wakes Up.

And flies around the room lazily (dancing around wildly), like a trite and mechanical representation of hope. Or it lands on something and then we notice it. I keep waiting for one to drop itself in my cup of tea. I’m a mature student, therefore I drink litres and litres of tea.

9. I Have A Sudden Fear

I’m worried now that if I get up and walk across the floor to check that the ladybird nest looks the way I’ve described it, it will have gone. The ladybirds will have left (I keep waiting). I won’t check.

10. They’re Nice Enough.

…to survive winter as well.

We don’t have a lot of money. Great, we thought, we’ve got ladybirds.

It’s wonderful to live with someone.

People don’t like it when you do things like this, dancing around wildly.

I keep waiting.

by Aiden Clarkson

Aiden Clarkson lives in Manchester and on public transport. He has done so for a number of years. He’s on twitter (@aidenclarkson) and if you email him (ai_clarkson[at]hotmail.com) he’ll email you.

Top Ten Strangest Books I Own

In Books, Top Ten on January 7, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Books that are either weird in of themselves, or books where the ownership of them is odd. Presented with sample quotes and commentary.

10. The Twelfth Anniversary Playboy Reader by Various. An incredible compilation of short stories and interviews from the late sixties and early seventies. Includes fascinating conversations with Nabokov, Martin Luther King, short fiction from Matheson and Bradbury.

King: “I should have stayed in prison.”

9. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. No, I have no idea how or why I have this book. I don’t know where it came from. It just appeared one day. I think perhaps that’s how all households get hold of it.

“This is an example of what can happen when the wave and the rubber band occur around the same time.”

8. Short Stories by William Shakespeare. They are not by him. There is no real author credited. A neighbour gave this book to me. It features each of Shakespeares major dramas turned into short stories. As expected they are terrible.

“Katherine, the shrew, was the eldest daughter of Baptista.”

7. The New Unofficial X-Files Companion by N.E. Genge. An in depth analysis of the third season of the nineties sci-fi horror show. Features absolutely no information of any consequence. Is enough to make even me feel a little nerdy.

“EAT POPCORN

EAT POPCORN

EAT POPCORN”

6. Angel by Katie Price. An embarrasment of riches. Obviously. The result of an over enthusiastic neighbour learning that I owned books.

“She whispered in a voice full of emotion.”

5. The Science of Self Realisation by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Seriously, why don’t I own two of these?

“I never expressed nor felt disgust at the chanting of the name of Krsna.”

4. The True History of the Elephant Man by Peter Ford. Actually rather brilliant, the inspiration behind the David Lynch film and Alan Moore’s From Hell. Track it down, kill for it.

“As a specimin of humanity, Merrick was ignoble and repulsive; but the spirit of Merrick, if it could be seen in the form of the living, would assume the figure of an upstanding and heroic man, smooth browed and clean of limb, and with eyes that flashed undaunted courage.”

3. Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsey. Neighbour again. Contains arrogance and the following sentence.

“We were used to second hand shit.”

2. The Know by Martina Cole. A weighty tome, with a title that makes little to no sense. The cover has one of those strange photographed covers, with real actors. Possibly so that idiots purchase it thinking there’s a film of it out soon.

“Listen to me Mum, he’s a fucking nonce.”

1. World War 3: A military projection founded on today’s facts by Shelford Bidwell. Predictions from this ex Brigadier General include the idea of spaceships and light-weapons fighting wars for us.

“West Germany is the predestined battlefield of World War 3.”

by Daniel Carpenter

Daniel Carpenter is the current fiction editor for blankpages and one of the editors for Bad Language. He runs this blog. He once went to the future. You turn out alright.