Mind The Gap

Image result for string around finger elderly

Ever go upstairs and not remember why you did?
Or take the groceries out the car but then forget the kid?
Ever open up the fridge and find the teapot in it?
Forget to play the lottery then curse when others win it?
Lose your keys? Kill the grass? Return home to check the gas?
Fail to find your car though it’s right next to where you are
So then you verbally abuse it while more shoppers watch you lose it
Now if you were on the booze it might excuse it…
(let’s defuse it)
Scientists would say your frontal lobe is disengaged.
You won’t remember that, so write this down: you’re middle-aged

Aisle Stand By You

“I feel like a Stepford Wife.”

“That explains the outfit then.”

“No, I’m serious. I no longer feel comfortable buying just anything, only what’s needed,” Laverne complained, as she headed down the cookie aisle. “We’re being reprogrammed to become more altruistic which I guess isn’t a bad thing.”

“Toilet paper’s back there,” I gestured behind us.

“We’ve got over a hundred rolls in the garage, so don’t worry.”

“You’ve got a heart as big as your feet. Did you know that?”

“Call me in six months when you’re wiping your ass with a Shih Tzu,” she opened a pack of Oreos and placed it in her trolley. “And don’t look at me like that. Do you think the PM is cutting the Daily Telegraph into little squares in case he runs out? Is he, heck.”

“Not with an arse that size,” I was constructing a mental picture and it wasn’t pretty.

“The point is, we’re not in this together. I mean, we are but they’re not. It’s all a façade,” she bit into an Oreo, frowning. “Anyway I’m seriously thinking of moving to North Korea when this whole thing blows over. At least there you know where you stand.”

“Against a wall wearing a blindfold?”

“You Un Funny.”  

“What about their state-approved hairstyle: The Hair Helmet?

“Oh yeah, I forgot about that… don’t let me leave today without buying a hat.”

“And don’t let me forget laundry detergent. It’s top of my list.”

“We’ve got at least six months of that as well,” she put a finger to her lips.

“You know these eco-friendly washing machines?” I segued slightly. “Does yours use enough water because my clothes don’t even look wet when they’re being washed. They’re damp, at best.”

“I agree, they don’t use nearly enough water. I top mine up.”

“Me too. After all, we don’t shower using an atomiser.”

“That’s because we’re not from LA. Hey, did you read that Gwyneth Paltrow steam-cleans her noo-noo?”

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“Her website’s called goop so I’m thinking hygiene may be an issue,” I winced. “Sounds like a waste of water though. She needs to think about the whales.”

“To hell with the whales,” Laverne scoffed. “How much more water do they need? Maybe if they’d lose a few pounds there’d be less displacement.”

“Uh…”

“It’s true; it’s the fat ones who are causing the sea levels to rise. Whales are so selfish. I hate them,” she fished another Oreo out of the bag.

“I suppose you can’t argue with science. And while we’re on the subject… what do you think of Greta Thunberg?”

“Pippy Longstocking Meets Fire Starter.”

“She certainly hates us, that’s for sure. Anyone over 40 is in that little witch’s crosshairs.”

“If she could burn us, she would,” Laverne shuddered, “along with every member of ABBA if it helped her cause. Want an Oreo?”

“Will it make me as smart as you?”

“You’re asking the wrong person.”

“How so?”

“Because yesterday after reading The Guardian, for a moment I actually thought it had actually expanded my mind.”

“Why on earth would you think that?” I was intrigued.

“When I was out shopping I looked into one of those magnifying mirrors you do your eyebrows with.”

“Did you go Tesco yesterday?”

“We were low on toilet paper.”

Meandering through the aisles we found it increasingly difficult to maintain social distancing and not be overheard. While this rarely presented a problem, on this occasion it did, resulting in some blowback…

“How’s little Edward doing?” Laverne enquired after my 8 year-old cousin.

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“He’s enjoying being off school, if that’s what you mean, but it’s all about the Xbox with him. He gets up at 6am to do his schoolwork just so he can go on it right after. Don’t ask me when he last kicked a ball around.”

“A man with a plan,” she laughed. “When he visited last summer he was such a delight. I really think I got through to him.”

“He thinks you’re a dork,”

“What?”

“Don’t get me wrong; he liked you. He just thought you were a bit of a dork. Don’t take it personally.”

“But he’s autistic!” Laverne protested.

“So what? Autistic people are allowed to express opinions,” I reminded her.

“Yeah but not about normal people.”

“Don’t ever go into teaching.”

“Don’t worry.”

It was then a young woman in her twenties made her presence known. She was sporting a blue surgical mask which perfectly matched the colour of her hair, half of which had been shaved off to reveal a tattooed verse written in Arabic. Both earlobes could have been budgie swings and her t-shirt declared This Is What A Feminist Looks Like.

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“Excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing what you just said,” she stated, earnestly.

“Oh here we go,” I muttered.

“Excuse me,” she persisted. “EXCUSE ME!”

“Listen, Sky or Goop or whatever your name is, can I just say that the cookie aisle is our safe space so we’d like you to respect boundaries,” I lobbed one over the net.

“Until I decide to give you rights, you have none,” I was duly informed, “and I don’t much appreciate what you said about people with autism,” she turned to Laverne. “It’s a very serious disease, sometimes fatal. I know because my friend has it.”

“Let’s try this again,” Laverne began. “First of all, it isn’t a disease, it’s a neurological disorder although even that’s disputed. Secondly, it’s none of your business what we talk about.”

“Well you made it my business when your words committed an act of violence against my friend,” her voice was quickly rising.

“Well, I don’t believe that for one moment,” Laverne replied, coolly.

“I’ve taken courses in it so I think I know what I’m talking about more than you do.”

“No, you misunderstand me,” Laverne stated calmly. “What I meant was I don’t believe you have any friends.”

Laverne put her hand behind her back and counted down with her fingers: 3…2…1…

“Could somebody please call the manager? There’s a hate crime here!” the woman began yelling. “Security! Somebody help me! Help!”

“Clean up in Aisle Ten!” I joined in. “Guts being spilled everywhere!”

“So you’re what a feminist looks like,” Laverne sized her up, as members of staff started arriving on the scene. “I feel so over-dressed but who was it again who said You can never have too many accessories.”

“Coco Chanel?” I wondered.

“Hitler, when he introduced the Box Clutch Field Phone for the gal on the go.”

After staff anxiously listened to both parties’ version of events, the young woman was asked to leave the store.

“She also came within 2m of me,” she complained. “That’s attempted murder!”

“You’re clutching at straws with that one,” Laverne warned her. “Now why don’t you go find a police car to urinate on because you don’t want to see Mommy angry.”

“No, you knew more than anybody what you were doing because you’re a nurse!” she pointed at her. “They let her jump the queue outside because she’s a nurse! Call the police! She’s a killer nurse!”

That’s when we started laughing.

“Don’t touch me or I’ll sue! I’ve streaming this! And I expect a taxi home!” she continued her rant all the way to the exit.

“From obnoxious busybody to demented hysteric in less than 30 seconds,” Laverne stopped laughing. “Makes you wonder what else is out there.”

“Can you imagine ten thousand of her?”

“Gives the rest of us a bad name, that’s the problem,” she was now watching her remonstrate with shoppers in the queue like a street corner evangelist.

“Laverne, ten o’clock. Here comes Round Two,” I gave a heads-up.

Making his way towards us was a tall, young man kitted out in black leather boots, matching leather trousers, a Black Sabbath World Tour t-shirt and a full-length, black leather coat.

“Good God, we’re in the Matrix!” Laverne whispered, as he made a beeline straight for her. “If he’s packing heat I want you to take him out.”

“Hold on, Cagney, I thought you’d brought your gun,” I glanced across at her.

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“I think you dropped this,” the man now stood before her, holding out a ten pound note.

We both smelled a set-up.

“I don’t think so,” she replied.

“It was before, over by the cereal when you were talking about how much money they’d have to pay you to be in a porno.”

“And that’s what you think it would take? TEN POUNDS?” she disarmed him in an instant.

Completely taken aback by the accusation, he struggled to find words.

“N-n-no,” he stammered. “You dropped this. It’s yours. I just picked it up.”

“Son, I’m joking,” Laverne smiled. “I’m joking. Thank you for your honesty. I didn’t know what to expect when you first walked up. I’m afraid I don’t meet many gentlemen these days.”

“That’s the porn industry for you,” I shrugged. “Hi, Johnny Salami.”

“Hi,” he shifted, nervously.

“That was so nice of you to return the money but I want you keep it. After what we’ve just witnessed you’ve more than earned it,” Laverne insisted. “Please allow your good deed to be rewarded by another.”

“Um…” he was still struggling. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

“I’ll tell you what,” she was ready to deal, “you tell me what you think I should be paid to appear in a porno and if I like what I hear you can keep the tenner.”

“Would you be playing a nurse?”

“Whoa!” I hollered. “How long have you been following us?”

“That girl was pretty loud,” he gestured to the lunatic staging a one-woman protest in the car park.

“Laverne!” she extended her hand but then withdrew it just as quickly. “Sorry… I keep forgetting about that 2m rule.”

“Dale,” he extended his hand. “You really had me going there.”

“Dale?” I checked I’d heard correctly. “Dale? You walk around dressed like that and you’re called Dale?”

“Afraid so,” he shrugged.

For the next few minutes the three of us chatted and snacked on Oreos in the cookie aisle. Dale was polite and well spoken, a local lad who still lived at home but hoped to buy his own place soon. The more we got to know him, the more uneasy I felt about prejudging him.

“He’s quite good looking,” Laverne admitted. “Lovely blue eyes and that thick, black hair. Kind of Irishy. Plus, I like ‘em tall.”

“I read him completely wrong,” I reflected. “I know it was in the heat of battle but still, I should have known better.”

“Hey, you read her right which was more important so cut yourself some slack. That’s a survival skill we’re needing more and more these days.”

After making our purchases the three of us said our goodbyes in the car park.

“Dale, it was nice meeting you. All the best, buddy,” I gave him a thumbs-up.

“You too, Mr Salami,” he delivered with a straight face.

“Dale, I’m sure we’ll meet again,” Laverne told him. “Don’t know where, don’t know when but this is a small town. You run into people eventually.”

“Yeah but in your case it’s usually because of your driving,” I reminded her. “She has her own cubicle in A&E.”

“We’ll definitely be seeing each other then,” Dale brightened, pulling out his wallet.

“Why? You’re not a personal injury lawyer, are you?” Laverne asked.

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“Not exactly,” Dale pulled out his work I.D. “I’m a nurse.”

Thank Queue

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“I’m watching you,” the voice came down the phone.
“Where are you?” I asked, pulling into the car park.
“Drive straight on until you see a yellow Smart Car. I’m just past it on the right.”
“Did you say yellow Smart Car?”
“I know, don’t even…”
“Who in their right mind drives around in a yellow Smart Car?”
“Banana Man.”
“Who’s Banana Man?”
“I don’t know.”
“Maybe Big Bird’s in town.”
“Big Bird couldn’t drive a Smart Car with those huge toes. They’re the size of fire extinguishers.”
“Maybe it’s an automatic.”
“Again, with feet that size, I’d say: still too dangerous.”
“Yet it’s perfectly okay for a banana to get behind the wheel?” I queried. “I’m appalled and yet intrigued.”
“Ah, well… bananas are good for you.”
“I don’t know what’s real anymore.”
“Good because I need you to shut up anyway.”
“Why?”
“Because our little yellow friend has a bumper sticker.”
“NO!”
“Oh, yes. Would you like to know what it says?”
“More than I need toilet paper.”
“It’s contains an axiom for all of humanity,” I was baited further, “written in glitter.”
I slammed on the brakes.
“I’m ready to learn! Give me the knowledge!”
“Kittens are angels with whiskers.”

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“So are grannies,” I argued, as the vehicle in question came into view. “Jesus, they’re driving a two-door lemon!”
“Dog-hating weirdos,” Laverne muttered, watching me park. “Long time, no see. How are you?”
“Fine,” I started walking over.
“Stop right there or I’ll activate my Social Distancing Alarm!” she stretched out her arm like a traffic cop.
“Sorry, I’m still getting used to all that,” I raised my arms and backed away slowly.
“Luckily, I’ve been practising social distancing since kindergarten,” she scoffed. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”

We’d arranged to meet at ASDA because our respective households were running low on essentials, plus, we wanted to catch up with each other in person. Crossing the supermarket car park, we noticed that the queue curled out of the entrance and along the entire storefront before disappearing around a corner.
“Good God!” Laverne stopped dead in her tracks. “They’re lining up the infected and shooting them!”
“More toilet paper for us then.”
“Quite right,” she pressed onward. “Every cloud and all that.”

As we were making our way past countless, evenly-spaced shoppers the Queue Coordinator spotted me. Jean usually worked the cigarette counter but had been commandeered to keep customers orderly outside. We knew one another through her daughter, Tracy, a neighbour.
“John, what are you doing in the queue?” she asked. “You’re an essential worker. You can go straight in. Who’s this?”
“I’m the help,” Laverne winked.
“Not with that ring, you’re not,” Jean laughed. “Go on then, if you’re together.”
“These two are essential workers!” she hollered to a colleague guarding the entrance and, as if pre-rehearsed, the queue burst into spontaneous applause.
“What the-”
“You’re the new Harry & Meghan,” Jean cackled. “Work that red carpet!”

“I was going to be a nurse,” Laverne whispered, before addressing the queue. “Remember, 2m apart! Social distancing means more nurses on the job and fewer ill at home.”
“Would you shut the hell up?” I whispered back.
“Not a chance,” she smiled and waved to her subjects. “Look at how happy they are. Anyway, it could have been worse: your friend could have said we were the new Donald & Melanoma.”
“You mean Melania.”
“What’s the difference?”
“You’d know if you were a nurse.”
“Hey, I’ve got a husband and three teenaged sons which means I’ve been on call since 1978,” Laverne said, blowing a well-wisher a kiss.
“Five minutes ago you were passing yourself off as my housekeeper.”
“And now look at me. John, my mere presence is filling the great void within these peoples’ lives. If there’s one thing I learned in school it’s that nature abhors a vacuum.”
True, indeed, just not as much as my housekeeper.

In Emergency: Break Class

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We sent the students home today
And then wrote off the year
Agreeing we would all downplay
The panic and the fear.
The younger ones all whooped and cheered
As soon as they were told
Then out the door they disappeared
To watch events unfold.
The seniors nervously dispersed
First, shell-shocked, then resigned
This endgame they had not rehearsed
Would leave some friends behind.
Worse still, I had no lesson plan
No academic text
No clever quote from some wise man
To say what might come next.

Image result for last day of secondary school shirt sign

I struggled with this year’s goodbyes
But didn’t let it show
Instead I joked and signed their ties
And let them call me Bro!
Throughout the revelry we knew
The world was not the same
Our balanced lives were now askew
And we were not to blame.
But you can’t keep a good kid down
When they’re up for the fight
And as I watched them rally round
I knew they’d be alright.
The proof came when I reached my car
That’s when my vision blurred
In foam they’d written Au revoir!
Then What’s the French for NERD???

Suture Self

Image result for Mary Pat Gleason Friends

Last month I received a letter from my doctor reminding me it was time for my annual health check. The fact it was addressed Dear Sir/Madam did ring a few alarm bells, given he’s taken at least three selfies with my prostate, but with no offence taken I followed doctor’s orders and booked an appointment at my local Code Blue Health Centre.

“That’s quite a number of steps,” I told the receptionist, stooping to catch my breath. “What happened to the ramp?”

“Gone,” I was informed. “Health & Safety.”

“Aren’t ramps for Health & Safety?”

“Too many Four-by-Fours were slamming into cars when they reached the bottom. When I made a claim my car insurance went up because they had to invent a new category.”

Four-by-Fours?” I wasn’t following.

“Wheelchair users.”

“Are we allowed to call them that?”

“I am, you’re not,” her reproval hung in the air, while a bejewelled talon gestured lazily towards a certificate propped up against a pink thermos. “I’ve had training.”

“What do people in wheelchairs do now?”

“They have to go around the back and enter through the…” she stopped texting then casually pulled her hair across her name badge. “Uh, you’re not a reporter, are you?”

“No, I’m checking-in for my appointment with Dr Shapiro.”

“Check-in is by touchscreen on the wall opposite,” I was duly despatched, as if telling me where to find the straws and napkins.

Throughout the check-in process, the Automated National User Service referred to me more than once as a customer without offering any form of cashback facility. This was not only misleading but highly inconvenient as I had an extortion payment due at noon and knew only too well that the Yakuza didn’t accept cheques. Even more worryingly, I was unable to recall exactly when the UK Government had reduced my role from citizen to that of ‘customer’. In my previous school the Head Teacher had once tried referring to the students as customers, explaining that we were delivering a service to them and, if they weren’t satisfied, they could file a complaint.

“There’s only one problem with that,” I spoke up.

“Go ahead, Mr Ormsby,” she readied herself.

“If the customer is always right then why do I have two hours of marking every night?”

“To support learning,” came the stock reply.

“So am I now Customer Support?”

“Well… in a way, yes,” she was on shaky ground and she knew it.

“Which would make you Sales.”

“Uh…”

“I just want to get this straight: Sales sells the dream and Customer Support services the nightmare,” I articulated for her benefit. “And will we be running any kind of customer loyalty scheme because I’ve just thought of one: students could redeem their SAT scores for Pot Noodles and spray paints.”

They were back to being students by lunchtime.

Having successfully checked in, I then retired to The Wellness Hub (that’s a Waiting Room to you and me) where I was faced with that age-old dilemma: where to sit so that no one would disturb or infect me while I tried to guess their affliction. We all play it, if not in a doctor’s office, then certainly in car parks whenever we observe what appear to be able-bodied drivers emerging from vehicles displaying a Disabled Parking Permit. My friend, Laverne, is ace at it.

“What do we think of this one?” she asked me last week.

“COPD?” I ventured.

“No, walking too fast.”

“Arthritis?”

“Carrying too many bags.”

“The Big C?”

“Too much hair.”

“Some disabilities are invisible,” Alison reminded us.

“I wish yours was,” Laverne scowled at her in the rear-view mirror. “Definitely upper respiratory… I’ve got it!” she smacked the dashboard in triumph. ”’Pneumothorax!”

“Oh, I loved her in Pulp Fiction,” Alison brightened, before frowning again. “I didn’t know she was disabled though.”

I negotiated my way towards the far corner of the seating area, avoiding eye contact all the way until I reached a cluster of empty seats. Surprised no one else had retreated to this refuge, I was just about to sit down when I noticed what appeared to be a small turn on one seat. Appalled that a Wellness Hubful of humans had watched me make my way towards an open latrine without so much as a warning left me cold inside.

“I tried Tangerine Dew on it but that’s not what they make it for,” one old dear explained, retrieving a bottle of Febreze from her shopping bag. “The one for pets maybe…”

My heart melted.

“No harm done,” I said, taking the seat next to her.

“It was an elderly gentleman,” she explained. “His daughter brought him in. We could all see the back of his trousers when he got up to go see the nurse. I told the receptionist.”

“Which receptionist?” my hackles were now up again.

“The sturdy girl… her, with the wig.”

(I love the way the older generation speaks)

“How do you know it’s a wig?” I suppressed a laugh.

“Because it looks like a bale of hay. I also told her it’s crooked.”

“And what did she say?”

“She told me check-in was behind me on the far wall. I thought it was a cash machine when I came in because I need to buy some stamps. Which doctor are you here to see? I’m here to see Dr Haslam.”

“Dr Shapiro,” I replied.

“Oh, Dr Shapiro’s not in today. It’s another, a Dr Fatwa.”

“Right,” I nodded, trying to guess the man’s actual name.

“I’ve seen him going back and forth. He’ll be better than Dr Raymond; I wouldn’t let him cut my toenails.”

I wanted to play the diagnostic game but I knew it would be a lot more fun talking with-

“-Enid,” she suddenly remembered. “Let me see if I can guess your name. I sometimes get it right… is it John?”

I almost fell off my chair.

“How did you know that?” I was stunned.

“You look like a John,” she patted my hand.

“I had you for a Keith,” a lad to the right of me said. “And I had you as a Lola,” he winked at Enid.

“No, Mary. You look like a Mary,” a woman with two toddlers chimed in. “And you’re probably a Jaden or a Tyler,” she said to him.

“And who are these two?” Enid asked, waving to her children.

“This one’s Thomas and this is little sister, Gracie. We’re here today because her liver’s acting up again.”

Everyone went quiet.

“It’s okay, we’re experts now. She’s missing an enzyme so it needs topping up,” she explained. “Thomas is just along for the ride. I’m Julie, by the way.”

“Robert,” the young man gave a slight wave to everyone. “How is she with it?”

“Sometimes she gets tired which frustrates her to no end. There’s no stopping her though,” Julie gave her daughter a hug. “My father’s a Robert.”

“What are we going to do if a Courteney and a Madison walk in?” I asked.

“Ring Child Services,” Robert replied.

“I went to school with a boy called Enzo and our Science teacher nicknamed him Enzyme,” I suddenly remembered. “And we had another kid called Nigel Sheepwash.”

“No way,” Robert sat up.

“I was at school with a girl called Mary Hammoth and the boys used to call her Hairy Mammoth,” Enid mused.

“I knew a Bobby Bibby,” Julie joined in. “No word of a lie: Bobby Bibby.”

“Did he have a sister Libby?” Robert asked.

“And I once went to the dancing with a boy called Ronald McDonald,” she rolled her eyes at Enid.

“No small feat,” I said.

“Oh my god,” Robert groaned aloud.

“Sorry,” I apologised, but not really.

“No, but funny thing: when I saw him the next week he was with another girl and I knew they were made for each other.”

“Why funny?” Enid asked.

“Because they came straight over and he said, “Meet Patty!”

Call it nervous tension. Call it peer contagion. Call it what you will but I’ll tell you something for nothing: people know a good punchline when they hear it and that one was so corny it was still on the cob. Everyone burst out laughing and when the receptionist told us off we laughed even harder.

After that, I don’t remember much else.

I can’t tell you which doctor I saw or what I told him or what he told me or where I went after that or how I got there because none of that mattered. What did matter was that for a few moments Julie was able to forget about liver enzymes, I forgot I was one year older, Robert forgot about the rod in his left arm and Enid forgot that she now spends most days on her own.

And you can’t get that on prescription.