dubiously true stories and cartoons

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


Throughout their long and painful marriage Kurt and Amelia Schwartzkopf never really got on with each other. They didn’t even like each other that much on their wedding day, but they felt that they should go through with the ceremony rather than let the few friends and relatives they had down by cancelling the biggest party any of them would ever likely to have in their entire lives. There was one other reason why they decided to tie the knot and that was because they were both old-fashioned with old-fashioned values (apart from the old-fashioned value that stated that people shouldn’t have sex before they got married) and consequently, Geraldine (who eventually became known as Gerry) was already growing in Amelia’s womb when she and Kurt walked down the aisle.

They got on with each other when they first met, of course, but as their relationship developed they began to dislike each other, not intensely at first – that would come later after they had been married a few years – but just a little bit at a time.

Kurt and Amelia’s relationship was described by Gerry in her terrible autobiography, published earlier this year, A Child Called Blackhead as being “like falling in love, only in reverse”.

A Child Called Blackhead was so bad that it became an international bestseller, filling the remainder bins of airports worldwide. Not only that, it was entered into an annual competition that is held every six months to find a book worse than Fifty Shades of Grey. Unfortunately A Child Called Blackhead was up against a book so impressively bad that it made scholars of English Literature throw themselves off tall buildings in protest against its lack of any plot or story, its scant regard to logic of any kind, its (barely) one-dimensional characters and its relentless use of adjectives. The top prize was of course awarded to Dan Brown’s thinly disguised travelogue for idiots Inferno. Spurred on by her failure Gerry continued to write badly and just six months later her lack of any literary merit paid off when she walked away with the coveted annual award with her highly controversial autobiographical biography My Parents And Other Fuckwits (A Dan Brown book was not entered as the computer program used to recycle and rearrange the events, characters and plots of his previous books had crashed).

In My Parents And Other Fuckwits Gerry describes when she foolishly decided to spend Christmas at home during her first year at university. What follows is an extract from the first chapter of her book (obviously the punctuation in the original has had to be edited for clarity and whole passages have had to be rewritten – it seems that during the six months she spent writing her book she also attended a creative writing course run by Dan Brown and as a result her pages were littered with unnecessary adjectives – which I’m glad to inform you have all been removed).

I didn’t want to go home at Christmas but I decided to go for two reasons. The first was that all my friends had gone home and the second was to sponge off my parents for two weeks.
My father was a second generation Ukrainian whose father had been forced to fight for the German army during the Second World War and had surrendered to the British at the earliest opportunity. My grandfather, whose name was Sven Schwartzkopf (he was a second generation German), was shipped off to England where he was held in a Prisoner of War camp in Norfolk and it was there that he met my grandmother, Doris, a local land girl. After the war Sven explained to Doris that if he was sent back to Kiev he would most likely be shot for being an enemy of the people or at the very least incarcerated for the rest of his life in a gulag somewhere in Northern Siberia. Doris agreed to marry him and in 1946 they had their only child, Kurt, my father.
Sven was faithful to my grandmother to the end of his days because she had, quite literally, saved his life. He died in 1989, just two months short of the Berlin Wall coming down and it was a few months after that that Doris received a large envelope postmarked from Kiev. Inside the envelope were two letters, one from Werner Schwarzkopf and the other from his son Ivan, and a slightly creased, dog-eared black-and white photograph. When Doris looked at the photograph she was shocked to see a younger version of her dead husband looking back at her with what appeared to be a carbon copy of him by his side. It turned out that Sven had a twin brother called Werner that he had not told anyone about. Werner (who was still very much alive) had been a member of the Secret Police in Kiev and had kept Sven’s existence a secret from the Secret Police for fear that he might be taken out and shot or at the very least shipped off to a gulag in Northern Siberia.
During his time in the Secret Police he had taken courses in English under the guise that if ever they needed to use him as an undercover agent in the West then he would be an asset. In reality it was so that he could talk fluently to his brother and the family he had as he felt sure that one day they would be reunited. Werner’s wife had died recently and now that the spirit of Glasnost had reached Ukraine, he thought it would be a rather good idea if the family all got together once a year at Christmas.
Werner and Ivan were two of the reasons why I never wanted to go home at Christmas. They were like peas in a pod. Whenever either of them went to the toilet they would always come back into the room with the dot of shame, a two inch diameter circle of piss due to insufficient shaking that had soaked through their underpants and into the denim of their matching jeans. There it would remain for an hour or so before it disappeared, by which time it was time for them to go for another piss.
They were disgusting.
I had used what money I had to buy presents for the family and I packed them in a suitcase, together with some warm clothes and caught a train to Norwich.
Werner and Ivan had already arrived when I turned up at the house on Christmas Eve and they were already drunk, as were my parents. Mum and Dad had also been arguing with each other. Arguments were a tradition in our house at Christmas and they would sometimes go on for days. This would be followed by a period known as The Silent Treatment, where my parents would spend days (sometimes weeks) not talking to each other and they would relay messages to each other via a third party, usually me (but not necessarily) until one of them cracked and broke the silence. I would have said that things returned to normal but in reality arguments and The Silent Treatment were usually the norm.
Another tradition on Christmas Eve was to open one present each. When I was small this was carried out before I went to bed, but since I’ve grown up this is now done before Dad, Werner and Ivan went to the pub. Mum never went to the pub because by Christmas Eve she was giving Dad The Silent Treatment.
I noticed under the tree that there was only one present for me, so if I opened it I would have nothing to open the next day. I was about to say that I would rather wait until the morning when Mum said, “Pass us Gerry’s game will you, Ivan.”
Right so that was it. I’d got a game for Christmas. I unwrapped the present and held the game (Monopoly) up and gave my relatives a forced smile. “Thanks,” I said morosely.
“Right,” said Mum, “I’m off to bed. Werner, Ivan – goodnight.” She gave Dad The Silent Treatment and then went upstairs.
Werner, Ivan and Dad waited for a few minutes and then went to the pub, where they stayed until Betty the Landlady forcibly threw them out at the end of the evening.
I was left on my own on Christmas Eve. Brilliant. I made up the bed settee (Werner and Ivan were in my old room and the spare room), but before I went to sleep I thought I’d get my parents back for every miserable Christmas I’d spent with them down the years.
I took a black marker pen from my handbag and on the wrapping paper I wrote exactly what each present was that I had bought them. Then I carefully opened all the other presents and wrote what they were before sealing them back up again.
You have no idea how good it made me feel. I undressed and put on my nightie and crawled into the lumpy bed settee. Sleep came easy but it was short lived and I was woken by Dad, Werner and Ivan crashing into the house. They were trying to be quiet and, like all drunks, were making a really bad job of it. I could hear them shushing each other louder than normal people held a conversation with each other and they began giggling uncontrollably when they realised what they were doing and then they began shushing each other again, etc.
Dad broke the cycle of shushing and giggling by ordering Werner and Ivan upstairs to bed and to use the toilet now rather than wander around naked in the middle of the night searching for the toilet door as they had done in previous years.
Mum had not been impressed.
I could see Dad in the kitchen from where I was lying on the bed settee. He was stood on his tip-toes hunched over the sink and at first I wondered what he was doing. And then I realised – he was having a piss in the kitchen in the kitchen sink, although he had thoughtfully taken the washing up bowl out of the sink before he started.
“Da-ad!” I said in disgust.
It was what he said in reply that made me forgive him and provided the highlight of an otherwise awful Christmas. He turned in mid-piss, and with his head doing the drunken nod, he looked at me and treated me to a broad smile.
“Don’t tell your mum,” he said.
It was priceless. And besides, seeing Dad pissing in the sink on Christmas Eve Night was just another tradition I had to look forward to each year.
The End.

Merry Christmas to all the people who have read and supported my blog over the last year – you know who you are.

Have a Happy New Year – I know I will – my first book, a novella entitled Permanent Moments was published on Friday 13th December, just in time for Christmas and is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Good Reads as a paperback. It will be released as a Kindle book in two or three weeks.

Thank you and have a nice day.

Travels with my Rodent will return in mid-January.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


When I was a loveable blonde-haired five year old and living at my grandparent’s house with my mother after she had left my biological father three years earlier, Father Christmas was still real and the thought of him visiting me was almost more excitement than I could bear. My presents – that had been kept hidden about the house – were stuffed into an old bolster cover and propped up in a corner of my grandparent’s bedroom. There it would stay until the following morning when, dancing with excitement, I would burst into their bedroom at some unearthly hour on Christmas morning. Mum would already be there and the three of them would lie on the bed and watch with adoration as I opened each of my presents with unadulterated glee, exclaiming to everything I opened: “A (insert present of your choice)! Just what I always wanted!”

They enjoyed every second of my moon-faced wonderment and they gave thanks that they had been blessed with such a beautiful and appreciative child.

But nine years later things were very different.

When I turned fourteen and became the archetypal teenager (argumentative and thoroughly dislikeable) my mother had already been married (to Mr Right) and divorced (he turned out to be Mr Wrong).

She had moved back in with her parents, but my presents were no longer lovingly bundled into a bolster but neatly arranged under the tree in the front room, where they would stay until everyone was up and out of bed, at which point I would be able to open them.

All houses had a font room and a back room. The back room was used as an everyday room whereas the front room was only used for special occasions. Special visitors were shepherded into the front room and, other than the absence of a television and the presence of doilies draped over the backs of chairs, the front room was the same as the back room. The strange thing about our front room was that it was at the back of the house – grandma preferred the view at the back and she also objected to 'the bloody nosy neighbours' peering in when they had guests.

Back in the 1950s this arrangement often bewildered guests who had never been to the house and they would start to walk to where the traditional front room would normally be located only to be directed to the totally alien ‘front room at the back of the house” location. Some guests found the experience so distressing and disorientating they had to excuse themselves and visit the toilet where they would be forced to vomit the incomprehension and perplexity from their bodies before they could continue.

By the end of the 1960s, however, the average person’s perception of what was acceptable in a house had changed and it was no longer considered strange or unconventional to have a front room at the back of the house. In the history of interior design my grandma, although way ahead of her time, went totally unrecognised.

Mum went out drinking on Christmas Eve with Aunty Sylvia and they would stagger home, giggling about the good night they had had and the terrible men they had met. At Christmas my mother tried to forget about my disagreeable behaviour whilst trying desperately to understand why she had been cursed with such a sullen and unappreciative child. A good night out, she soon discovered, that involved alcohol (and plenty of it) was the perfect formula required to induce memory loss and a sense of blissful indifference.

On Christmas morning I raced downstairs to find my presents arranged neatly under the tree and my grandparents and mum eventually emerged, looking tired and bleary-eyed, I dived in amongst them, my fingers probing the brightly coloured paper. Along with a wooden fort and several boxes of plastic soldiers, I found an Eagle annual, a pair of socks and a jumper, two Airfix model kits (a Spitfire and a Hurricane), a Painting-by-Numbers set, some crayons and a Batman colouring book, a pair of boxing gloves and a Chad Valley Bowl-A-Strike.

Also in this confusion of presents was something that I’d always wanted – a red and white Powerball.

A Powerball could bounce over three stories high, higher than any ball had ever bounced in recorded history and with practice an assortment of tricks could be performed as long as you had a handy wall nearby – or so the advert on the telly said. This was fortunate as there was an abundance of walls where I lived – and almost all the houses in our street had at least one.

The Powerball or Bouncy Ball was invented by Norman Stingley, a chemist from California who, in 1965, spent his spare time compressing various scraps of synthetic rubber together.

We can only imagine the sparkling conversations that must have rebounded around the Stingley household each evening. In fact I often imagine it as one of those dire American sitcoms from the 50s and 60s. I’d like to think that it would be called something like My Favorite Polymer.
Mr Stingley arrives home to the thunderous applause, cheers and whistling from a moronic audience who have no idea why they are doing what they are doing.
 All the characters have ridiculous American accents.
Mr Stingley:    Hi honey, I’m home.
Mrs Stingley:   Hello dear. Did you have a good day at the laboratory?
Mr Stingley:    Yes dear – I used 6000lbs of pressure to compact some rubber into a ball.
Mrs Stingley:   That’s nice dear. Myra next door has got some new curtains.
Mr Stingley:    That’s nice.
Mrs Stingley:   Yes dear, that is nice. Curtains are so much more useful than balls.
Mr Stingley:    That’s a matter of opinion.

Mr Stingley winks at the audience then grabs hold of his wife, bends her over the table and has dry sex with her as the audience whoop, cheer, whistle, cat-call, bark, applaud and then begin shooting each other for no apparent reason other than that they are too stupid to think of anything else to do.

Norman Stingley’s painstaking research did however result in the mass manufacture of polybutadiene rubber balls about the size of  ping-pong balls that rebounded proportionally to the amount of force used when they were thrown at a hard surface.

But I didn’t care about any of that and so I ripped off the card and plastic packaging like someone possessed and held the hard, glistening ball in my hand. I was in rapture as I charged outside in my pyjamas, ready to set my Powerball off on its maiden journey.

I drew my hand up and bounced the Powerball with all my strength and it shot up into the air – higher than I’d seen anything go. I watched, squealing with delight, as it started its descent, eager to have another go. But my delight quickly turned to despair as the Powerball hit the roof of the house and bounced off in another direction and I was left gazing helplessly as it disappeared over the neighbour’s house and vanished.

I never saw it again.

I stood in the garden in total and abject misery. I’d had my Powerball for less than a minute and it was gone.

I felt like crying.

When Mum, still in her dressing gown, stepped out of the house and into the garden she saw me standing in my pyjamas looking up into the air like a moron.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked.

“Playing,” I replied.

“What with?”


“What with?”

“My Powerball,” I said, after a moment’s hesitation.

“Give us a go of it, then,” she said.

I looked at my mother in disbelief. “I can’t – I’ve lost it.”

“What? Already?”

“I just bounced it and it went over the roof.”

My mother smiled in sweet triumph. “I knew that would happen,” she said. “I don’t know why you wanted the bloody stupid thing in the first place. Waste of money if you ask me.”

As she walked back to the house I stuck my tongue out at her. It didn’t get my Powerball back but it did at least give me some degree of satisfaction.

Unfortunately Mum saw me reflected in the kitchen window and she came back and gave me a clip round the ear.

“Parents aren’t allowed to hit children at Christmas,” I said.

She hit me again for good measure.

And then it started to rain. It wasn’t real rain – it was just drizzle – but it was the kind of drizzle that just made you feel unrelentingly depressed.

It was supposed to snow at Christmas.

I watched my mother as she turned to go back into the house and thought to myself: this is the worst bloody Christmas I’ve ever had.

I must have stood there for a good five minutes before the door opened again and Granddad stepped out wearing his overcoat over his pyjamas.

“You alright then?” he asked.

“Not really.”

“What's up with you?”

“Christmas,” I said, “is bloody rubbish.”

“I’ll let you into a little secret,” said Granddad, “it doesn’t get any better. The older you get the more rubbish it becomes. The way to make the most of it is to prepare to be disappointed. Only if you’re prepared for the disappointment of Christmas can you truly enjoy the warmth and good cheer of it.”

I stood there with Granddad, looking at the kitchen door wondering what he had meant when the door opened and Grandma popped her head out. “What are you two daft buggers up to? Get inside or you’ll catch your bloody deaths.”

She closed the door and Granddad and I looked at each other and started to laugh.

“You don't have a dirty old sweet in your pocket, do you Granddad?” I asked.

“I’m afraid not, lad,” he said. He fished around in his pocket and said, “But I have got one of these.”

I couldn’t believe it. In his hand was a Powerball. “I bought another one just in case and you can have it if you let me go first.”

“Go on! Go on!”

Granddad pulled his arm back and bounced it with all his strength on the pavement of the path.

We watched it shoot up into the air.

We watched it go higher than anything we’d ever seen.

We watched it hit the roof of the house and bounce out of our sight and out of lives.


"Bugger," said Granddad, placing a sympathetic arm around my shoulder, "I knew it would do that."

The end.

This is the first of two Christmas stories. The second "Christmas with the F*ckw*ts" will be posted on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I was watching the brilliant Stewart Lee’s stand-up DVD 90s Comedian the other evening and on it he talks about the time in 2005 when he received a ton of hate mail from born-again Christians after the BBC decided to show his controversial musical Jerry Springer: The Opera. A private court case brought against him by Christian Voice – a totalitarian organisation that had never seen the show – was rejected by a magistrate’s court because, as Lee claims in his stand-up act, “it was not 1508.”

It was during this section of his act that Stewart Lee asked the audience if any of them had ever been accused of blasphemy and as I watched in the comfort of my lounge I said to myself, “Yes, I have.”

Since my wife went back to the UK to study Fine Art at the University of Cumbria talking to myself has become a worryingly regular feature of my life. My neighbour has been largely absent owing to the fact that his wife has returned after spending three or four months in the UK handing over her business. The bromance that my neighbour and I had – those halcyon days where we talked about comic books, listened to loud obnoxious music, watched unnecessarily gory zombie films, cooked meals for each other (well, I cooked and he defrosted) and got drunk on a regular basis – is now a distant memory, a fleeting wonderful thing of the past. But, although I am on my own and talking to myself on a regular basis, at least I am not like my neighbour, who now, when he is at home, only listens to quiet music and talks exclusively about shopping, shoes, handbags and fluffy kittens.

Although my experience of being accused of blasphemy was nowhere near as stressful as what Stewart Lee underwent, it was still a strange thing to go through.

It was 1990 and I was in the Royal Air Force at RAF Marham in Norfolk. One of the secondary duties I had was working as deputy editor on the Station magazine The Marham News. The editor and I had resurrected a defunct magazine, writing virtually all the articles ourselves for the first couple of issues until we had enough contributors to ease off and concentrate on what we actually wanted to include. One of the things I wanted to appear in the magazine was a full-page comic strip that myself and a good friend of mine, Phil Gibbons, had created called They Came From Outer Space (But Spoke Our Language Perfectly). It was an homage to the black-and-white American science fiction movies of the 1940s and 50s that included frequent references to popular culture.

A (not very clear) panel from the original strip featuring the Geriatric Radioactive Narrow-Minded Tortoises.

Phil and I began writing and drawing the strip at RAF Hereford in 1987 and although we were both in our mid-thirties we were both avid readers of the weekly comic 2000AD and I would appreciate it if you don’t judge us on that. Lots of adults read comics – there is no shame in it.

They Came From Outer Space was about two aliens with pointy head and Mohican haircuts who are scouring the universe looking for the perfect hairdresser, which they eventually find on Earth. It consisted of three parts, of which the first part contained ten episodes. The tenth episode was due to appear in the October issue of the magazine and I didn’t want the second part to start until the New Year. So, rather than have readers lose interest I decided to fill the two month gap with two specially written episodes that explained the religion of the planet where the two main alien characters hailed from.

They Came From Outer Space was very popular and so it came as a bit of a surprise when I was contacted by the editor who told me that he had received a written complaint and that I should see him as soon as possible.

When I arrived at the editor’s office he handed me a letter that had been sent to the magazine by a Corporal who worked in the Electrical Supply Group (ESG) at Marham. I knew him vaguely, but didn’t make a point of spending much time with him because I thought he was a bit of a tosser.

I turned out to be absolutely correct about my opinion of him because nobody but a tosser would send a letter to an in-house Station magazine like the one I had just read.

In the letter he complained about how my comic strip was an affront to God and Our Lord Jesus and all of his followers (him included). He stated that I would go to Hell for what I had written and that he was writing a separate letter to the Padre, requesting him to speak to the Station Commander in order to have me charged with blasphemy, punishable with, I can only assume, eternal damnation.

A panel from the offending strip.

Now, I’m an atheist and therefore don’t believe in God or the Devil. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell and I don’t believe that Jesus Christ ever existed. I think people who believe in these things are deluding themselves – if JRR Tolkein had written The Hobbit two thousand years ago these same people would in all probability be worshipping Bilbo Baggins today.

A few years ago my daughter attended a group run by the local Baptist church in the village where we were living at the time. They were fairly pleasant people individually, but collectively they were as mad as a box of frogs. They were, it turned out, a random collection of exes – ex-junkies, ex-pissheads, ex-wife beaters, etc. They had replaced one crutch of dependence with another and were now true believers.

Fossils are not facts in the world of the true believer, they are merely placed there by God to make us doubt. True believers are – what the rather marvellous Scottish writer Christopher Brookmyre alludes to – Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – people who still continue to believe in something despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I liked the people in Baptist group immensely. I liked them because they took me out for meals in order to convert me to their particular form of Christianity. They may have succeeded had it not been for the timely intervention of my wife who asked me if I could help her one day because she had invited five thousand of our friends round for dinner and we only had five loaves of bread and four fishes in the freezer.

I like to tell people that I had recognised the supreme silliness of believing in something that could never ever be proven, but in all honesty I have to admit that I rejected their religion because a system of belief that relates humanity to an order of existence intended to explain the meaning and origin of life in the Universe cannot be solely based on how good the Peshwari Naan and Chicken Balti is in The Golden Raj Indian Restaurant on the High Street.

But thinking about it, the real reason I didn’t buy into their religion was because of their irrational hatred for almost every other religious movement. They hated the Mormons, the Muslims, the Seventh Day Evangelists, the Lutherans, the Anglicans, the Anabaptists, the Pentecostalists, the Adventists, the Quakers, the Amish, the Methodists, the Calvinists, the Budhists, the Hindus, the Presbyterians and especially the Catholics. They even hated the other Baptist Church in the village because it didn’t follow their strict guidelines.

Now that is a lot of hate. As I said before I am an atheist, but I don’t hate any group of people because they have different ideals to mine. In fact there are only two things in life that I genuinely hate and they are gooseberries and tripe.

Three if you count Downton Abbey.

And there was me thinking that religion was all about love.

But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to that letter.

The editor of The Marham News took the letter from me and said “I’ll photocopy this idiot’s letter and give you a copy. I’m going to print it but I want you to write a reply, which I will publish alongside it in next month’s issue.”

“I’m not going to apologise,” I said.

“I don’t want you to apologise. I just want a balanced view.”


My reply went something like this,

Dear Cpl Wankstain,

I read your letter with interest and I have taken on board all of your comments about the episode of They Came From Outer Space that appeared in the December issue of The Marham News.

Whilst I sympathise with your views I can’t help thinking that if God does exist (as you believe he does) and He created us in His image then it must be logical to assume that He has a sense of humour and the ability to laugh at Himself.


Steve Mitchell

I never heard any more from him after my letter appeared next to his in the December issue of The Marham News.

Maybe – like a good Christian – he forgave me.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


 WARNING: This has nothing at all to do with the story that follows.

When I posted my last blog I put it on (as I usually do) the RAF Supplier's Past & Present page on facebook. The post, if you remember, was called A Creature of Habit and was advertised with two pairs of Converse trainers featuring Batman and Superman designs. This was because they were featured in the story. Someone, I don't know who, decided to report me to the Administrator of the page for reasons known only to him/herself.

Now, it was entirely possible that he/she reported the post because they thought that I may have been trying to sell something. If so, why not check the post out first? Maybe reading it would have convinced him/her that I wasn't trying to sell anything to anyone, but merely using the space I had to put a smile on their faces in these dark and depressing times of ours.

I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart the anonymous person who reported me to the Administrator of RAF Suppliers Past & Present. It was as a direct result of his/her cowardly action that my blog got more hits than ever before.

The picture below is of the gold reserve at Fort Knox and I am going to use this image to advertise my post on the RAF Suppliers Past & Present page. This does not mean that I am advertising a Closing Down Sale at Fort Knox and nor does it mean that I have any gold to sell myself. 

It's just a picture - and if you can't see that then you are a moron.


The Gold Reserve at Fort Knox
OK - so here we go - THE PAPERLESS OFFICE

I used to work in an office where my line manager would constantly send me emails, generally with attachments in them and most likely containing a single sentence that read: You may find something of interest in the attached document.

May find something of interest? By that rationale I could equally find something that was not of interest. You may find something of interest suggests that the sender had not actually read the attachment being sent. Perhaps a better way of wording the email would have been: You may or may not find something of interest in the attached document, so perhaps instead of reading it you would prefer to delete it as I am merely wasting your time sending it to you in the first place.

When I opened the attachment I’d more often than not find a ninety-five page document full of gobbledy-gook and management-speak that didn’t interest me at all.

I hate emails. I hate them because they are partly responsible for the lack of communication between people at work and after I had received a few of this type of email I decided that there was only one correct course of action to take and so, for a long period of time when I arrived at work in the morning my first action of the day was to delete all the emails my line manager had sent me without even opening them.

I felt an enormous sense of achievement when I did it, knowing full well that as I pressed that delete key I was achieving absolutely nothing. But it felt good to do it – in fact it felt so good that I started to randomly delete other emails that I received. After a while the urge to start work with a clean slate became so strong that I started to delete all my emails without reading a single one. For ages I didn’t open a single email; I would arrive at work and select all the emails and delete the lot without a single thought.

I’ve always had this theory that if something’s important enough someone will contact you if you haven’t done anything about it and so I sat at my desk and waited.

Nothing happened. Nobody contacted me about anything.

And that got me thinking; why stop at emails? Why not look at all the other stuff that had been littering my desk for such a long time and dispose of that? I went through the files in my in-tray and made a snap five-second decision on what I should do with each of them. Shredding them seemed like a good idea and so each day I would take a file into the Copy Room and run it through the shredder. Eventually I ran out of my own files to shred and therefore had to shred other people’s files. I came into work early to do this.

My colleague asked me if I’d seen a file of his that had disappeared, but I told him I hadn’t. At lunchtime that day he couldn’t find his daily newspaper.

The last time I’d had this much fun at work was in the summer of 1976.

I was in the RAF working as a Demands Clerk in West Germany. I was twenty-two years old and it was, without question, the most boring job I had ever done in my entire life. There were probably other jobs around that were arguably just as boring as an RAF Demands Clerk, but I couldn’t think of any at the time.

I worked alongside three other airmen with a Sergeant in charge of us and the only way of combatting the boredom was to find interesting things to do that occupied our young minds when the Sergeant was out of the office. During that hot summer of 1976 we spent the afternoons attempting to slice airborne wasps in two with steel rulers. It seemed a good idea at the time and was actually great fun until one of the guys had an allergic reaction after being stung in the neck by a particularly vindictive and persistent wasp. He was rushed to the Medical Centre and we didn’t see him at work again for six weeks. We closed the windows after that to prevent the wasps from getting in and the only time we opened them was to throw away Maria’s drinks.

Maria was employed as our tea lady. She was a short, dumpy Dutch widow with a small face who wore droopy surgical stockings and Deirdre Barlow spectacles that were far too big for her. You could tell her the worst joke in the world and she would laugh at it. Maria laughed at anything. She even laughed when I told her I was going on compassionate leave to attend my Grandmother’s funeral.

The sergeant told me that Maria laughed all the time because she was nervous.

“People who are nervous don’t laugh all the time,” I said. “People who are mad do that.”

“Now, now,” he replied. “Just remember that it takes all kinds.”

“All kinds of what? Nutters?”

At that moment, Maria came into the office, pushing her tea trolley ahead of her.

“Are you alright this morning, Maria?” the sergeant asked.

She winked at him, laughed, and handed him his tea.

Maria made the worst tea and coffee anyone had ever tasted. I have no idea what she did to it but she was able to make even the most drinkable drinks undrinkable. When OC Supply Squadron held his monthly meeting with other heads of departments they would rush through the agenda in order to bring the meeting to an end once they realised it was getting dangerously close to tea-break. After their first visit people would actively avoid the tea room and would panic at the sound of Maria’s trolley. I once found two visitors who were close to tears hiding in the toilets.

“She knows we’re in here,” whimpered one of them. “It’s only a matter of time before she finds us.”

“Do us a favour,” the other one said to me, “Pop your head out the door and see if she’s still there. If we’re lucky we might be able to make a dash for it.”

“It’s no good,” said his friend, “I can hear her trolley jingling up and down the corridor. It’s like the theme tune from Jaws!”

We never drank Maria’s tea or coffee and instead opened the window of the office and poured it on the grass outside. Several weeks had passed by when my friend called me over to the window. There was some urgency in his voice and so I moved quickly to see what the problem was.

“Look,” he said, with a disgusted expression. He pointed in the direction of the grass underneath the window where we had been pouring Maria’s drinks.

It was horrible. It was disgusting. No wonder no-one liked her drinks. Underneath the window, where our unwanted teas and coffees had been soaking into the ground was a clump of the ugliest looking toadstools I’d ever seen.

When the sergeant asked Maria how her husband had died, she just smiled and said, “Poisoned,” before leaving the room with a roar of laughter.

The sergeant looked at his tea with a mixture of horror and disgust, before pushing it away from him. “Get rid of this for me, will you Steve,” he said.

I picked up his cup and took it over to the window, where I poured it onto the toadstools below. “It takes all kinds, Sarge,” I said to him, “it takes all kinds.”

The sergeant was decent bloke who insisted on a clear desk policy if we wanted to leave early on a Friday afternoon. This could be achieved in two ways:

1.     Work really hard all week so that your desk is clear by early Friday afternoon.
2.     Piss about for most of the week until Friday afternoon, whereupon you gather up all the paperwork on your desk, place it in a large envelope and address it yourself, then put that in the internal mail so that you to receive it on Monday morning.

I chose the second option and I used it for many years. I would have still been using it if it hadn’t been for the introduction of emails, which are difficult to hide.

Unless you delete them from your inbox and your deleted items tab.

My line manager was beginning to suspect that I wasn’t doing any work. She’d seen me wandering around with a clipboard in my hand, glancing every now and again at an out-of-date form that I had attached to it. My desk was always clear and I was always in early, but that was usually to shred files I had discovered in trays in the Admin Office.

“I sent you an email last week about training design. What do think?” she asked.

“I haven’t got a clue,” I said.

“What do you mean? You have received the email?”


“Probably? What do you mean probably?”

“I receive your emails but I don’t read any of them,” I told her honestly. “In fact I delete all your emails without even opening them.”

She looked at me flabbergasted. “Why?” she asked.

“Because you sit opposite me,” I said. “If you’ve got something important to say to me, say it to my face. Don’t just send an email and not say anything.”

I could tell she was about to berate me so I jumped in first, “That’s a nice dress you’re wearing. Is it new?”

“Well, yes . . . actually it is? How could you tell?”

“It’s just that I’ve never seen you in it before. Listen I’ve got to pop out for lunch – I’ll catch up with you this afternoon.”

“Oh . . . all right. See you later then,” she said, smiling at me.

As I left the office and headed for the shredder I heard her asking a colleague if she’d seen the Ryvita’s she had brought in for her lunch that day.

She was sure she’d left them in the top drawer of her desk.