24 January 2016

Gloves or Panties?

A young man wanted to purchase a gift for his new sweetheart's Christmas present. As they had not been dating for very long, after careful consideration, he decided that a pair of gloves would strike the right note, not too romantic and not too personal. Accompanied by his sweetheart's sister he went to Harrods and bought a dainty pair of white gloves. The sister purchased a pair of panties for herself at the same time. During the wrapping the shop assistant mixed up the two items and the sister got the gloves and the sweetheart the panties. Without checking the contents the young man sealed the package and sent it to this sweetheart with the following note:
Sweetheart, I chose these because I noticed that you are not in the habit of wearing any when we go out in the evening. If it had not been for your sister I would have chosen the long ones with the buttons, but she wears the short ones that are easier to remove.
These are a delicate shade, but the lady I bought them from showed me the pair that she had been wearing for the past three weeks and they were hardly soiled at all. I had her try yours on for me and she looked really smart in them even though they were a little tight on her. She also told me that her pair rubs on her ring, which helps keep it clean and shiny, in fact she had not needed to wash it since she had begun wearing them.
I wish I were there to put them on for you for the first time, as no doubt many other hands will touch them before I have a chance to see you again. When you take them off remember to blow into them before putting them away as they will naturally be a little damp from wearing. Just think how many lips will kiss them during the coming years. I hope that you will wear them for me on Friday night.
All my love
P.S The latest style is to wear them folded down with a little fur showing.

(I believe this joke was first attributed to JRR Tolkien in his college days.)

16 January 2016

The Life We Bury - Allen Eskens

I lost the compulsion to write reviews of every book I read but this one I will make an exception for. 2014's The Life We Bury was the first offering from Eskens, a Defence Attorney turned writer, and it's a cracking good read.
College student Joe Talbert has an English assignment: to write a biography of a stranger. He finds a man in a nursing home with an interesting history, Carl, a Vietnam Veteran and a convicted murderer, paroled from jail now that he is dying from cancer. The two make a seemingly unlikely connection and Carl maintains that his conviction was wrong - he did not rape and murder, nor burn the body of a teenage girl.
While researching his assignment Joe turns amateur detective and follows a trail which leads to spectacular findings. On the way he learns a lot about Carl's past and is forced to confront buried issues of his own. We learn about his grandfather's mysterious death, his mother's sorry life, his brother's autism and follow the subtle growth of his relationship with a female neighbour. The tale gathers pace and becomes a real page turner.
Characters are quite well drawn, some likeable, some detestable, all with pasts which weigh with varying degrees of heaviness on their presents. The writing is smooth and flawless; plenty of showing rather than telling. My one criticism is that the people Joe meets seem happy to open up immediately as if he were a long lost friend rather than a stranger. Some realism is lost this way but the tale's excitement is irrepressible.
Like many debuts, Eskens has had this work in mind for some time, distilling it, letting it ferment and grow, adding sub plots and themes, and refining his characters, making for a most entertaining read. 8/10

13 January 2016

The Incident of the Cakes

Office workers In England will know about the cake tradition. If it's your birthday you buy cakes for everyone. And not just simple tarts or squares but lavish cream cakes. This is how the ceremony might unfold:

The young lad returned from the cake shop laden with goodies. He placed bags on a central desk and carefully began to unpack them. Even as he arranged the square white boxes, eyes swivelled in sockets and heads nodded purposefully across desks. Helpfully he lifted the box lids and stood back to admire his work. The first gluttons were already out of their seats.

Birthday boy was back at his post, repositioning his telephone headset and mumbling, 'cakes guys' to his colleagues but scouts were already cruising the area, like sharks scenting blood. The first two lunged instinctively at their quarry, reaching, cramming, chewing. Other diners joined the throng, fist over flailing, grabbing fist. The desk was slick with cream smears and a box was tossed to the floor. The feeding frenzy reached fever pitch.

The larger beasts sank back from the feast now, gorged on cream, on cake, on chocolate and icing. Smaller, more timid feeders crept up to select dainty fondant fancies and pecked nervously over the remaining crumbs.
The office was noisy with the hum of conversation mumbled through stuffed cheeks. Birthday boy ended his phone call and walked over to the cake table. "Is there one left for me?" He ventured, his bottom lip trembling.

It's a cruel world out there. Eat or be eaten.

08 January 2016


English has an adjectival structure for comparisons: positive, comparative, superlative. As in good, better, best. We qualify these with: very good, slightly better etc. But many people find those expressions inadequate to the point where even best, the superlative, has lost its meaning in some circles and hyperbole has insinuated itself into everyday language diluting the strength of vocabulary.
It seems good, lovely or even great are no longer sufficient to indicate something's value. Instead we hear awesome, amazing, incredible. Such words were once reserved for the truly remarkable, the arresting. Did we say Alexander the Awesome? No, he was Great because great means great. Extremes have been hijacked, and thus devalued, so that we are in a position where we have nowhere to go when we want to express the highest of sentiments. Excellent has become lame whereas it should be the pinnacle of description.
No one gets upset any more, they declare themselves freaked out. And if that isn't deemed suitably exceptional then the adverb totally is employed. If something is one-of-a-kind we may hear it described as very unique. Unique has a complete meaning by itself. It does not require qualification any more then the word pregnant. Is insecurity at the root of this? Is there a fear of being accused of understatement, of not being sufficiently moved?
Popular news reporting has probably played a hand. Stock markets no longer rise and fall, they plunge and soar. As does our daily temperature. So when a true plunge occurs we have no way of distinguishing it from an ordinary plunge! Even mundane articles are peppered with adjectives such as horrendous, shocking, hilarious, stunning. Now when a truly terrible world event occurs the appropriate words have already been used up.
Nothing stands still, not least language, but our ability to communicate in rational terms is dwindling. Wild exaggeration abounds. In these days of thumbs on touch screens, even the simple smiley has been trumped by extravagant emojis. Language is starting its steady return to the age of the pictogram.
Long live the simple word!