Keys to the kingdom

Well, I mean honestly, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me the other day.

I was driving my relatively quite nice car, which I can afford in part because of the many advantages with which I was born, down to the local shopping mall, which is clean, safe and offers a range of consumer items which, by global standards, is obscenely grand and convenient.

I parked and my son and I walked through the car park, past a couple of almost certainly ridiculously overqualified men swapping jokes in Urdu as they pushed an anaconda of trolleys up to the service entrance.

Inside — this is before the really shocking thing happened, don’t worry, I’ll get there — I strode by the brightly lit shops and attractions, unthreatened as usual by anyone on the basis of my skin, gender, sexuality, religion or class.

I know, I know, but I’m getting to it. Just wait, you’re gonna freak when you hear it. Seriously freak. GetUp email campaign freak.

I was there to get some keys cut for my investment property. Look, I know, I really do, but we try to be appropriately embarrassed about it and have determined to give the ludicrous tax-break money to a good cause, because we can.

Anyway, long story short: we passed loads of people of all colours, creeds and persuasions, all shopping happily and comfortably but still statistically likely to be treated less well than me by employers, the media and state, and reached the key-cutting booth.

The key-cutter, who on average would likely earn significantly less than me if I’d trained as a key-cutter, left her tiny lathe to take my keys and tell me no problem and return to start cutting.

Then she saw my son. Wait till you hear this.

‘Got the day off?’ she said.

‘Sorry?’ I replied.

‘Looking after your son for your wife today, are you?’ she said.

Well, I was boiling, I was. ‘No,’ I said coldly. ‘I’m his parent. I’m with him three days a week.’

Her eyes widened. ‘OH!’ she said. ‘That’s WONDERFUL! How BRAVE you must be!’

‘I beg your hand-delivered gilt-edged unconditional royal pardon?’

‘Well, I mean, it’s amazing that you stay with him like that!’

‘As opposed to running away from him, like normal? For my KIND?’

‘You don’t see many men doing the Mr Mom thing. It’s so lovely!’

‘Whereas you see loads of women these says doing the Little Miss Man thing and getting jobs in professions,’ I hissed through unpartable teeth.

‘Hang on a sec, love, this tiny lathe’s loud. I’m just about done.’

She returned with my keys. I paid her in righteous silence and stormed home, past refugee doctors pushing mops and people with disabilities struggling to reach jumpers on a trestle table I’d earlier blithely thumbed through, to fume amid the collection of books and consumer electronics which it’s statistically much easier for me to accrue than just about anyone else in the world to accrue, and tweet about how shocking and unacceptable it is, in this day and age, to experience genuine discrimination.


Originally published in the King’s Tribune, which you should definitely read even though its tiny-lathe coverage is slim at best.

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Unfavourable in appearance, development or behaviour

I’m afraid this is going to be an unpleasant story, for it begins with the following words: I am sprinting desperately up Lygon Street at three minutes to five shaking a jar of my own urine.

A few months ago, upon reading Kim Beazley’s latest poll results, I decided to take out trauma insurance. This, like absolutely everything in this story so far is completely untrue, but it gets me to Lygon Street a lot more quickly, which is true and truly happened last Thursday, for when one applies for insurance pertaining to the bodily person one must submit to a full medical stock-take.

So at three in the afternoon I am in the waiting room of my local medical clinic, flipping through a five-page medical questionnaire sent to me by the insurance company for a doctor to fill in, and finding what I read more than slightly alarming.

Take, for example, question one: ‘Is there anything unfavourable in the subject’s appearance, development or behaviour?’

Well, honestly, I’m not convinced the insurance company has any business ramping up my premiums on the basis that some GP I’ve never met before finds my development unfavourable. She’s never even seen me tango, or do my beach ball trick.

I am made to wait five minutes after the appointed time, just long enough to ponder why I was just convinced I had a beach ball trick, before the doctor calls me in. She takes the form, reads the first question and silently looks me over. A small tick is made, but I can’t see in which box.

It transpires over the following half-hour that I am in almost every way a model of banal good health. There is nothing wrong with me beyond the slight long-sightedness which my teenage self took to be the vengeful wrath of the Lord (I was wrong, by the way — His vengeance, crueller and infinitely subtler, came in the form of a gorgeous Maltese girl who allowed me to interfere with her carnally then told me she was looking for more of a ‘brother-sister’ kind of vibe between us), and nothing so unseemly about my appearance, development or behaviour as to require a medical professional to alert the insurance industry. It appears I have lost a few kilos, which I really could have done with, and gained half an inch in height, which I frankly don’t need.

‘Right,’ says the doctor. ‘Now all we need is something to go in this.’

She holds up a small plastic jar with a yellow lid, and we look at it solemnly for a moment.

‘I have some loose change,’ I venture. Her glance at the clock is almost imperceptible.

My bladder is shy and I don’t care who knows it, as long as they don’t know it while standing next to me at a urinal. I have always found the prospect of micturating in company disquieting, right back to the first time I was asked to fill a jar at about seven years of age, for reasons now lost in fog. On that day, a nurse actually accompanied me into the toilet and stood to watch at what she clearly believed to be a sensitive remove. I couldn’t understand why she had followed me in and in my panic I pulled my trousers right down instead of merely unzipping and struggled to wee while my exposed bottom burned with shame.

Back at the insurance test, it is over before I reach the cubicle. Some muscle contractions are voluntary, others are none of your business, and at moments of great stress the brain can turn the former into the latter without your consent. My prostate, upon hearing the news of my flashback to buttock-flashing shame, flicks on the auto-pilot quicker than if someone had said ‘crowded pub-toilet’, and will admit of no inducement to relent, its ideas of my self-preservation being both very different to and apparently more strident than mine.

I return the shamefully empty jar to the doctor and apologise in a small voice. She kindly offers to send me home with the jar and wait until five that evening for me to return, when she will analyse the contents, but I must return by five, no later. I promise to be as good as my bladder and race home to brew a pot of strong tea, neck a tallie of tap water and sit down to wait.

At ten to five, with the clinic ten minutes walk away, I am straining over the jar in a way which would undoubtedly constitute an unfavourable appearance. Then at seven minutes to five, success — in fact predictably too much success, which keeps me until four fifty-five.

The problem is then one of transport: there is no way I am going to stride confidently up Lygon Street with the warm jar there in my hand like an overdue copy of Pirates of the Caribbean. At four minutes to five there is no paper bag, old envelope or empty bean tin available, so it is with a semi-transparent Coles shopping bag that I tear out of the door and begin my sprint.

An immediate problem arises, beyond the obvious one of semi-transparency, which I am dealing with by palming the jar like an amateur magician. Why I think the populace will be less concerned if the man running up the street with a jar of piss in his hand is an amateur magician is a question for the ages, because the problem which arises is the sloshing.

As I run, the contents of the jar are making a rhythmic plap-plap noise against the lid in a way which I find disturbingly redolent of the holiday I spent on the shores of the Adriatic. As the adrenaline floods through me and pedestrians scatter I am picturing handing my warm, bulging, semi-transparent bag to the attractive medical receptionist to have it burst expansively, spraying terrible waves over her, me, the waiting room patients and innocent residents of surrounding suburbs. There is nothing for it but to trust the diligence of the designers of little plastic jars with yellow lids and, as it were, piss-bolt.

I hurdle the fence of the cricket ground and streak across the field, baulking around an elderly Red Setter as I charge into the goal square. The jar rattles like a cocktail shaker.

It is four minutes past five when I stagger into the clinic and collapse, gasping and groaning, against the counter. The receptionist reaches calmly for a rubber glove.

‘Let me take that for you,’ she says and reaches into the bag.

‘… no … don’t — danger …’ I gasp, but it is too late.

She takes out the jar and pauses. My urine has a head on it. We agree I should sit down.

Who the Arse Does Tim Brooke-Taylor Think He Is?

There’s a man coming to fix my TV, which tried to neck itself last week after inadvertently being left on for a whole episode of Threshold, and the repair company is only able to give me an appointment time accurate to the nearest geological epoch.

So I’m forced to spend a whole day stuck inside the house waiting for him to come, a job made much more difficult by the necessity to avoid the fact that it’s a normal work day and I should be inside the house anyway, actually working. Here’s how it goes:

07:25 Alarm. I hate everything in the entire universe and the package it comes in.

07:29 Let out the editorial consultant, let in a strange cloud of little flies that immediately adopt me as their god.

07:49 That had better have been a fucking sultana in my oats.

08:37 Start up computer, look over various outstanding jobs.

08:38 Watching Goodies DVD on laptop. Filled with questions, which I spend forty minutes paring down to an essential three:

  1. Has anyone ever been convinced by a blue-screen special effect?
  2. Why are there so many tits in this children’s programme? Did someone in production mix up Bill Oddie’s ornithology notes with the script?
  3. If I dress more like Graeme Garden, will people respect me?

09:21 Stare at the wall for an hour or so. Thinking of Muppets. Bit confused.

10:21 Someone’s at the door. It’s a courier. Bollocks. He’s delivering a box filled with Christmas presents from interstate family, which I’m going to have to sit all day and look at and not open because I promised The Evil Sulphura I’d wait until she comes home. Double bollocks.

11:01 Q. How long does it take to teach yourself ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ from memory on the guitar?

11:18 A. 17 minutes.

13:12 That had better have been a fucking sultana in my chicken salad sandwich.

13:49 Sit down in front of the computer again, ready to go.

13:51 Just exactly who the arse does Tim Brooke-Taylor think he is?

14:12 Want to ring the TV repair company. Actually, truly do have the thought, I bet if I call and demand to know where he is, he will knock on the door as I’m on the phone, and I’ll look like a prick. Don’t call.

14:34 Big box of presents still unopened on kitchen table. TV not fixed. Glorious day outside. Actual birds tweeting on my windowsill. Filled with rage.

15:01:09 Call the TV repair company to ask when the guy will arrive.

15:01:31 The guy arrives. While I’m on the phone. I look like a prick.

16:00 TV fixed, nice repair guy leaves. Sulph rings, talk of martinis at Polly with Jen and Jonathan. Couldn’t be happier.

Broke, bitter, usually half-cut by lunchtime

Two months ago, as I was in Las Vegas shooting Osama bin Laden with a machine gun, a man connected to the publishing industry was reading the choicest extracts from my novel. Before him were two stacks of paper: one piled heavy and high and marked NO, the other much shorter, marked YES and, I’d like to think, haloed with tinkly stars dancing to a heavenly coloratura.

He sat back, tilted his head a little and flicked his eyes between the stacks. Back to my manuscript. Back to the stacks. He may have sniffed. Then he picked up a pen, scrawled something on my extract, tossed it onto the taller pile and, presumably, went back to swigging cheap vodka from the bottle.

A month later, at home, a letter arrived. It was from the man, and it began like this:

A form rejection letter. Note misspelled name and conspicuous gap after ‘recommended’.

There’s a hoary rule of thumb that goes around about aspiring writers, which is this: about one in ten of people who write will ever be published, and of that fortunate ten percent one in ten will make any money from it.

It’s not the kind of thing writers like to dwell on, for the same reason you don’t see signs above the race at the MCG which say ‘Remember, You Have Statistically Exactly One Chance In Two Of Winning This Game!!!’.

No, instead players run out under signs which say things like ‘Guts And Determination!’, ‘You’re A Winner!’ and ‘Kill! Kill! FOR CHRISSAKE, KILL EVERYONE!!!’, and for good reason — when your chances are slim, you’ve got to talk yourself up.

Which is why writers react so badly to rejection, while at the same time wearing them as badges of honour. There are, in fact, only three kinds of writers:

  1. broke, bitter, usually-half-cut-by-lunchtime;
  2. sellouts, and
  3. J. K. Rowling.

And by ‘sellouts’, I mean of course anyone with more success than me and less than J. K. Rowling.

Rejection means that you are going to spend slightly more time in the first category before advancing to the second. I’ve now received my first rejection, which means two things to anyone who has recently heard me say the novel is ‘basically finished’:

  1. you will be waiting longer than you think, and
  2. I may have stolen your watch.

Today on Springer…

“Everyday girls with kinky fetishes”

JERRY: so Haley, you’re clearly a stripper in lingerie we’ve hired to come on today, tell us about your fetish, which we’ve just made up for you.

HALEY: I like to kiss girls wearing lipstick. Here’s my friend/colleague Karly to demonstrate.

Enter KARLY, in lingerie—they kiss.

CROWD: Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

JERRY: Okay, you’re here to tell your boyfriend your dark secret—let’s bring him on!

Enter BIG FAT REVOLTING MEATHEAD

CROWD: Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!

MEATHEAD: Hi Jerry.

JERRY: Haley, tell Meathead your secret.

HALEY: I like to kiss girls wearing lipstick. This is Karly.

KARLY: Hi.

MEATHEAD: [gurgling noises]

JERRY: How do you feel, Meathead?

MEATHEAD: I think I might have just won the lottery, Jerry. Tell me, how can I become a more particpative element of this shabby pornographic burlesque?

JERRY: Well it’s quite simple…

HALEY:I want you to put on lipstick right now Meathead, and you can fulfill every big fat revolting meathead’s tawdriest dream.

MEATHEAD: I have to put on lipstick?

HALEY: [producing lipstick tube from cleavage] Yes.

MEATHEAD: Right here?

KARLY: [producing lipstick tube from cleavage] Yes.

MEATHEAD: Right now?

JERRY: Yes. And two hired strippers you could never afford, one of whom is pretending beyond all reasonable expectation and several laws of physics to be your girlfriend, will kiss you.

MEATHEAD: But let me get this clear—I’d have to put on lipstick on camera?

CROWD: YES!

MEATHEAD: Gee Jerry, I’m not so sure … I don’t want people to think I’m some kind of homo …

ME: You dumb fu— [unintelligible choking noises] —stupid fat son of a— [non-specific apoplectic rage noises] —arse ten-hot-dog-eating stupid-beard moron— [falls off couch onto remote control, which changes TV to interview program]

JOHN HOWARD: … and I’m entirely satisfied that our relationship with the United States remains a strong bond of equals between two proud, great nations.

ME: [spontaneously combusts]