dubiously true stories and cartoons

Sunday, September 30, 2012


AUTHOR'S NOTE: I would like to think that I am a very different person to the one that I was back in 1964 - unfortunately, owing to the fact that almost fifty years later I still find this incident amusing, I must therefore conclude that I am not.

Maureen Lazenberry wore an orange plastic patch over her right eye that concealed an empty socket which, when the days were warm enough, would exude a pale green puss that seeped out from behind the patch and ran down her cheek like a tiny river of toxic waste. A mass of swollen spots covered her face and seemed to shift around like an army of red ants. Extreme myopia forced her to wear spectacles so thick her right eye look like it belonged to a bush baby. Her teeth appeared to belong to someone four times her size, sprouting from her gums like the rocks of Stonehenge and setting her mouth into a permanent grimace. Her hair hung limply and greasily from her head, making it resemble a rugby ball adorned with a thousand strands of thin oily string.

The unfortunate Miss Lazenberry

Not to put too fine a point on it, Maureen Lazenberry was hideous.

Even her name, when spoken slowly enough (Lllllll-aaaaay-zzzzz-ennnn-berrrrry), sounded ugly.
I was eleven-years old at the time and a few months away from taking the Eleven-Plus exam. This exam was designed to separate the wheat from the chaff and, depending on your results, it determined if you were grammar school material or one of the thickies who were to be consigned to a secondary modern education.

Underachievement came naturally to me, and I fell easily into the second category. As far back as I can remember school and myself had very little in common – in fact, after completing my first day at Rosehaven Primary School, I was met at the gates by my grandma, who gave me a beaming smile and a hug and then asked if I had enjoyed myself. “Yes,” I replied, smiling back at her, “but I don’t think I’ll go again.”

During school hours Maureen was avoided like the plague but if, by chance, she happened to touch you, you were deemed to have Lazenberry Germs and the only way of getting rid of them was to pass them quickly onto someone else. 

Two rules had to be observed when passing on Lazenberry Germs.

The rules concerning the passing on of Lazenberry Germs

Only by strictly adhering to these two tried-and-tested rules could Lazenberry Germs be successfully passed on from one person to another.

By far the most terrible thing about Maureen was that her hideousness was absolutely impossible not to look at. She was so ugly eyes would be instinctively drawn to her, and new boys would stare at her, transfixed by her unbelievable ugliness.

One morning, when Maureen's good eye caught me staring at her in class, she gave me a little smile and waved her fingers coyly at me. I immediately looked away but found it extremely difficult not to look back. I could see that she was still looking at me with a doe-eyed (in the singular sense) expression. My classmates were sniggering behind their hands and I knew I was in trouble.
During morning playtime Maureen followed me around like a love sick puppy. Everywhere I went she seemed to be two steps behind. I couldn't get rid of her. I even ducked into the toilets and hung around in there for a few minutes hoping she'd get bored and wander off, but when I came out I found her outside waiting patiently for me.

Lunch break was even worse. I had to endure a whole hour of her following me around and grinning at me with her hideously toothy smile. She sat opposite me at the dinner table and grinned at me throughout the meal and, when my appetite had completely deserted me, she moved right up to me, smiled and said in her deep, gruff, almost manly voice, "I fancy you, Steve."

Oh God, I thought, she’s got a deeper voice than my Uncle John!

The word uncle became a regular part of my vocabulary after my mother was divorced. As far as I was aware I only had one uncle, my mother’s brother Charles, but after she moved back in with her parents the number of uncles I was introduced to increased exponentially. Some I only met once, others two or three times. Uncle John was the latest and had been around for about six months. He wasn’t as good-looking as the other uncles I’d met – he was bald and his nose had been broken at some point in his life, but what separated him from the rest of the pack was simple – he had a car. Mum didn’t drive and had never expressed any interest in learning how to, but she was quite content to be chauffeured around by Uncle John.


I liked him when he was mum’s boyfriend and, although my opinion of him changed after they were married, at the time when Maureen Lazenberry was making advances towards me he listened intently, before roaring with laughter at my predicament.    
I didn't say anything to Maureen after she told me that she liked me. I was terrified and all I could do was grunt at her and move away, hoping this rebuke might have the desired effect and put her off, but it only served to make her more determined. My lack of any kind of response (grunting excepted) had appeared to convince her that I was playing hard to get. They say that beauty is only skin deep and, underneath the veil of unbearable ugliness, Maureen was probably a really nice girl with a fascinating and pleasant personality. That, however, didn’t alter the fact that I wouldn’t have been seen dead with her under any circumstances.

I wasn’t playing hard to get. I was playing impossible to get.
Whatever designs Maureen had on me needed to be quickly crushed and so, during afternoon playtime, I focused my mind on the difficult task of breaking the bad news to her in a subtle but firm way.

After summoning up the courage, I strode purposefully across the playground to confront her and tell her, in no uncertain terms, that any relationship she had in mind that involved me was completely out of the question and, as I advanced towards her, I saw her eye light up in dreamy anticipation.
"Hello," she said when I reached her, "I’ve been waiting for you.
"Piss off, you ugly cow!" I screamed in a subtle, but firm voice, "Stop following me around! I don't fancy you, and I never bloody will!"
Maureen's looked at me in horror and her lip started to quiver. "B...but you sent me a note," she sobbed.

“What? I . . . what?”

She reached under her v-neck sweater and pulled out a folded piece of lined paper from the pocket of her school blouse. “Here,” she said, unfolding it and handing it over to me, “I found it on my desk this morning.”

I read through the declaration of love written on the note and immediately recognised the handwriting.
Apparently, Pete Webster, my best friend, thought that it would be extremely funny to fool Maureen into thinking that I fancied her. He also thought, judging from the smirk that had been plastered across his face all day, it would be rather amusing to watch her following me around like a love-sick puppy.
I smiled at Maureen and placed my hand on her shoulder. "This note’s not from me, Maureen,” I said. “It’s from Pete Webster. He's the one that fancies you. He’s always talking to me about you."
Her manner changed suddenly. 

"Really?" she asked.

"Honestly – he'd never admit it to you – it’s probably the reason why he sent you this note and signed it with my name. He just wants to worship you from afar. Haven’t you noticed him looking at you in class? He’s always doing it."
Maureen glanced over at Pete. "Mmmmm, he's quite nice isn't he." she said.
"Yeah. See you later Maureen."
I strolled over to the other side of the playground to where Pete was smoking a cigarette behind the bike sheds. The smile dropped from his face and he gave me a look of panic as I rubbed him once with the back of my hand and once with the flat of my hand before saying with a grimace, "Yeeerrrch, you've got Lllllll-aaaaay-zzzzz-ennnn-berrrrry Gerrrmmms!"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


In the closing months of 1989, and an advertisement, placed by a well-known firm of nationwide house builders, appeared in the national press. It was part of a campaign to lure the wealthy, go-getters from the city into buying second homes throughout the rural communities of England.

The cleverly worded slogan, probably dreamt up by some overpaid, cocaine-addicted advertising executive, read thus:  

IT MUST BE . . .

. . . where?

I could think of three places straight off the top of my head – a log cabin in the middle of the Canadian wilderness; a villa overlooking the sea in the South of France; a luxury home on a tropical island paradise – and you can be forgiven for not being surprised that it was none of these homely and luxurious places.

But where could this utopia be?

It was a village and civil parish near King’s Lynn in the county of Norfolk covering an area of 5.73 square miles called . . . Marham.

Beneath the slogan there was a tranquil, chocolate-box picture of Marham’s historic Holy Trinity Church. It looked (and sounded) like the perfect getaway for a well-heeled, stress-filled, hunting, shooting and riding couple who were keen to escape the pressures of city life. They could spend two quality days in their homely and luxurious second property, enjoying the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the English countryside, before returning to the city feeling refreshed, eager to spend another ball-breaking week wheeling and dealing on the stock-market.

However, one vitally important piece of information was missing from the advertisement, and that was the proximity of a rather large and extremely busy Royal Air Force Station, located less than a mile away from the properties that were up for sale.

At the time RAF Marham was home to two Panavia Tornado fighter squadrons and one Handley Page Victor K2 tanker squadron, as well as the Victor Major Maintenance Unit and 232 Operational Conversion Unit that prepared aircrew for operations on particular types of aircraft and roles. It was a front-line jet fighter unit that operated almost round-the-clock  exercises, so calling it a quiet and peaceful place to live was like handing someone an angry rattlesnake and then saying to them, “Don’t worry, it won’t bite.”

Apart from the much quieter Fenland Gliding Club that was also housed there, the noise that emanated day and night from RAF Marham was deafening.

The RAF personnel who were stationed there (of which I was one) were used to the constant high levels of noise as they had spent their entire careers travelling around the world from one noisy operational unit to another. In fact, I found it difficult to sleep at night when there wasn’t any noise. 

During the 1980s a rare but highly prevalent illness affected almost all of the Tornado pilots at RAF Marham. The first signs of the illness, now officially recognised as Elves and Shoemaker Syndrome, were feelings of superiority; this was quickly followed by a misguided belief that any snags on their aircraft would be magically fixed overnight by elves and an inability to recognise the importance, or indeed existence, of any RAF profession other than fast-jet pilot. Unjustified delusions of grandeur were the final stage of the illness.

A person suffering from Elves and Shoemaker Syndrome could be easily recognised at parties - from midnight onwards they would be consumed with a burning desire to drive cars into swimming pools or set fire to unprotected pianos. 

A page from 'Men in Blue Suits'. Written and pencilled by myself and inked by Andy Bunkle, this was part of 24 page comic book that Andy and I completed over a non-stop 24 hour period in 1989 at RAF Marham in order to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund.

After many years of laborious research by the medical profession a cure was eventually found. It was discovered purely by chance that Elves and Shoemaker Syndrome cured itself once the affected Tornado pilot had left the Royal Air Force and joined the real world.  

From there it was a long process of recovery but, given time, their clouded vision and unfounded high opinion of themselves eventually dissipated and they began to recognise that there were many other people in the world that were not fast-jet pilots.

Although some were prone to E&S flashbacks later on in life, the programme of recovery was generally considered a success and over the last twenty years many hundreds of ex-RAF fast-jet pilots have been reintroduced into society where they now lead reasonably normal lives, probably in a quiet and peaceful, homely and luxurious house somewhere in the country.

The local estate agents at Marham had the difficult task of finding a way for their clients to view the properties up for sale when it was, as advertised, quiet and peaceful.

Back in 1980s there was a level of dishonesty attached to the profession (if you could call it that) of estate agents that was not incumbent in any other walk of life. I was only basing this assumption on the estate agents that I myself had encountered when fruitlessly attempting to climb up the property ladder, something that I’d never been truly successful with. I always seemed to buy high and sell low and, in reality, I couldn’t really blame estate agents for that; but that didn’t stop me from believing that on the social ladder of life estate agents were just one rung up from serial killers and people who liked Cliff Richard.

By somehow illicitly obtaining a copy of RAF Marham’s flying programme the local estate agents were able to control when viewings of the properties could be held.

And so it was that Roger and Cynthia, along with hundreds of others like them, purchased their dream second home in the country, both blissfully unaware that they were forcing up the prices in the entire area so that young newly married couples had no chance of ever affording a house in the villages where they had grown up.

Roger and Cynthia would have been shown around their new home by a razor-faced estate agent called Janus, who would have ensured that the aircraft at RAF Marham were silent. He would also have given them assurances that the strange buildings that they passed on the way, the ones surrounded by barbed wire, were just for grain storage and that the gigantic aircraft parked outside them made very little noise when they flew over (failing to add the words ‘another county’ at the end of his sentence).

Once settled in for their first quiet and peaceful weekend, Roger and Cynthia would have taken their hot chocolate drinks upstairs and tucked themselves into bed under their goose-feather quilt encased in its Laura Ashley quilt cover. They would have consulted their filofaxes and then flicked through the pages of their copies of Horse and Hound and The Lady, before kissing each other goodnight, turning off the light and falling into a well-deserved sleep.

The quiet and peaceful, homely and luxurious village of Marham was silent except for the occasional hoot of an owl as it flew over in search of food . . . until, that is, the sirens began to wail at 3am, announcing the start of a major exercise at RAF Marham.

Roger would have sat bolt upright in bed, his silk pajama top wrapped ungainly around his scrawny neck and his head pounding from the sound of the sirens, a million times louder than anything he had heard in the city. The earth-trembling roar of three squadrons of aircraft that had just begun to generate would have reverberated through the foundations of their house quickly afterwards.

It would have sounded to Roger like the end of the world.

“Hell’s teeth!” he would have shouted. “What in God’s name is all that racket?”

Cynthia would not have been able to hear his desperate cries of anguish owing to the gigantic Handley Page Victor K2 thundering over the top of their house, shattering the bedroom windows, cracking the plaster on the walls, causing the chimney to collapse and turning her into a pillar of salt.

The estate agent had also failed to mention that their quiet and peaceful, homely and luxurious house just happened to be directly in line with RAF Marham’s runway.

Understandably, the Trade Description people became involved and the well-known nationwide house builders were ordered to either re-word their advertisement, removing the words ‘quiet and peaceful’, or withdraw it immediately.

They chose to withdraw it.

I, on the other hand, could see a way of re-wording the advertisement and keeping in the offending phrase. It was simple and I couldn’t see why they hadn’t thought of it themselves. Over the following few days I put my idea onto paper, popped it into an envelope and posted it to them by first class mail and eagerly awaited a reply.

My idea for the new advertising campaign

Sadly, they never responded.