COLUMN: December 27, 2012

I WAS slightly bleary of eye on Boxing Day morning. I was even more bleary of brain. Like people on the tills in Next and some train drivers, journalists generally have to work on Boxing Day.

This is so that you can sit where you are now reading this, probably complaining that there isn’t much on the television and wondering why you have eaten so many satsumas over the past three days, bearing in mind that this is nearly 2013 and satsumas are available at pretty much any time of the year. If I sound bitter about that, then that is because I am.

I stumbled into the living room and fumbled with the Christmas tree lights. It was about half an hour before I had to get up, but a couple of younger members of the household had inexplicably woken me early.

Then a small girl of my close acquaintance shoved a package into my face and made it clear, in a sweet but insistent way, that I was expected to open this package. It was a box containing four Disney Princesses. And I quailed.

Normally I perform this task with a clear head and sharp focus. But I was bleary of eye and brain, as I think I mentioned. This was going to be trickier than usual.

First, the lid was stuck tight with a form of sticky tape. I am full of nervous energy – it is the only energy I have – and I squander it on biting my nails. This makes peeling Sellotape a difficult and onerous task. It is like trying to scrape ice off a windscreen using a piece of fruit cake.

If all people were like me, those pieces of tape would be enough to protect the contents from shoplifters. But very few people are like me, which is how our society is able to have electricity and roads and houses.

This is why, after I had struggled to remove not one but three pieces of tape, I had to move onto the next level – the twisty wire.

Each of the four dolls was attached to a cardboard backing by two or three pieces of twisty wire and some other devices, the likes of which I had not seen before.

I decided I’d worry about them later. I would have a go on the twisty wire first. I did the due diligence, ascertained it would need a clockwise action, and started untwisting the first one

About a minute later, I was still untwisting it, and realised I had untwisted it so much that I had twisted it in the opposite direction.

I cursed softly under my breath, and carefully unwound the wire until I realised it was going to happen again. At no point did the wire come free. I was baffled.

I do not know why cyclists bother with expensive chains and padlocks – all they need is to attach the bike to some railings using toy packaging-grade twisty wire.

Eventually, I realised the wire had been tied in a simple knot before being twisted and I was able to release the first doll. I imagine this is how Hillary felt upon reaching the summit of Everest.

I handed the doll to the small girl, who correctly remarked that it had taken me some time.

The next two dolls were released relatively easily. The twisty wire was no longer an obstacle, and the clear plastic strands holding the necks sinisterly in place were despatched with a snip of scissors.

But the last one, Sleeping Beauty, was to prove more tricky. Her twisty wire was around her waist, but I couldn’t see where, meaning she stayed resolutely attached to the cardboard. The only way I could remove the wire was to remove her dress.

I feel uncomfortable enough about removing clothes from a Barbie – which I am sometimes called upon to do – and she seems quite a game lass. But then I generally feel uncomfortable performing any sort of task about which another adult could reasonably ask: “What on earth are you doing?”

Anyway, it felt downright sordid doing it to a Disney Princess. Not even the prince had to do that to release Sleeping Beauty from her trap.

As I finished, the alarm on my phone went off, telling me it was time to get up. It had taken me half an hour from being given the box to handing over the last doll. It appears the children knew exactly what they were doing.

COLUMN: December 20, 2012

THE night rain splashed onto the pavement as the yellow cab pulled up outside the club. The reflection of its brake lights glowed an ominous crimson in the puddle, before being shattered by a shiny black boot, as the old man climbed out.

He stopped for a moment, his green-gloved hand resting on a fire hydrant, which was next to a Walk/Don’t Walk sign, which was next to a baseball player, who was next to a cowboy on a horse. Then he walked to the head of the queue and addressed the doorman.

“I’m here to see Red,” he said.

The doorman snorted and asked the old man’s name.

The old man answered, fixing the doorman with his steely blue eyes.

The doorman snorted again. Perhaps he had a cold. “Look, buddy, you ain’t coming in. I got a list, and your name ain’t on it…”

“Is that so?” said the old man, pulling the red fur-lined hood back off his face. “Well, I’ve got TWO lists. Your name’s on one of them. I could move it to the other…”

The doorman blanched. And snorted. It was definitely a cold.

“Now look again,” said the old man. “According to the array of cultural signifiers I have encountered since the beginning of this story, I am definitely in America, so I might be down under Santa Claus.”

The doorman checked. And snorted. He needed a tissue. “Oh, sorry, Santa.”

“Father Christmas to you,” said the old man, as he swept past him into the club. He stepped into a cavernous room. It was just like his grotto, except instead of elves making toys, it was full of people disporting themselves in a louche and immoderate manner best suited to a documentary on BBC Three.

All the club was lit red, and the source of the light was a plush booth in the far corner. Christmas picked his way through the sunglasses-wearing throng towards the booth. Sitting at the table was a reindeer with diffuse beams streaming from his nose, painting the club scarlet. He was sipping a cocktail through a straw, and surrounded by three women with morals as loose as their dresses were tight.

“Ho, ho, ho,” said Father Christmas.

“That’s not very nice,” said the reindeer. “Actually, it’s downright misogynistic.” The women took their handbags and left.

“So, ‘Red’, huh?”

“What do you want, old man?”

“I want you back on point,” said Father Christmas. “It was foggy last Christmas Eve and I didn’t have a clue where I was going.”

“So what happened to your sat-nav?”

“That’s not important. Look, come back, please? It was nothing personal,” said the old man.

The reindeer gave a bitter laugh. “Nothing personal? You genetically modified me so I would have a massive red glowing hooter. I was mocked by my peers. You weren’t interested until I became useful to you, and then you dropped me at the first opportunity. No wonder I went on a laser beam-based rampage and ran away.”

“Where did you go?”

The reindeer drew on his straw. He needed it because you can’t pick up a glass if you are a reindeer. “I tried to live within the normal reindeer community, but it’s difficult for a flying reindeer with a laser nose to integrate, though I did have some early success as a super-hero.

“I drifted for awhile, got a job as the red light for a house of ill-repute, and ended up here. This is my joint.”

“Please come back.”

The reindeer eyed the old man suspiciously. “What’s in it for me?”

“All the carrots you want.”

“So you’re saying your carrot is a carrot?”

“And a song!” the old man floundered. “You can have a song about you.”

“I like the sound of that…”

“You’ll go down in history, Rudolph… We’ll just airbrush out the rampage and the brothel.”

“All right,” said Rudolph. “I will come back. I don’t like it here. They have Fox News and they don’t know how to spell the word colour.”

The old man and the reindeer walked out of the club together.

“So what did happen to the sat-nav?” asked the reindeer.

“Upgraded to Apple Maps, didn’t I?” said Father Christmas. “I was still making deliveries in July.”

COLUMN: December 13, 2012

I AM enjoying the Traditional Christmas Markets which have popped up in our cities of late. Admittedly these traditions are only a couple of years old, but all traditions have to start somewhere.

Actually, I am not sure how many times something has to happen before it becomes a tradition. Once is clearly not a tradition. Twice could be a coincidence. It is probably three times. By that bare criterion, I suppose Traditional Christmas Markets make the cut, but the paella is pushing it.

I had to visit Chester this week for a meeting. There’s no need for me to go into detail, but I didn’t want to be late so I overcompensated, and arrived far earlier than I intended. This led me to wander the streets of that ancient city like an unusually well-dressed vagrant, stopping only to note the plaque commemorating the unveiling of the railway station’s refurbishment in 1994 by the town’s former MP, Gyles Brandreth.

Younger readers might find it hard to imagine Gyles Brandreth as an MP, but it was a different world back then. We didn’t have the internet, massive coffees, or common sense.

Also, I had committed the classic office worker error of bringing my lunch to work, not flinging it away to pacify an aggressive stray dog, and eating it at 10.30am, so I was a bit peckish.

So when my wanderings deposited me at the city’s Traditional Christmas Market, and I smelled the waft of barbecuing food, I was like a soon-to-be butterflied and marinated lamb to the slaughter.

The Traditional Christmas Market in Chester is not the same as the Traditional Christmas Market in Liverpool. Liverpool has a Continental Market. I am not sure to which continent the market refers, but it appears to include China and the Indian subcontinent.

Chester, however, has plumped for an Olde English Market, as they would have had in Tudor times. The way it distinguishes itself from a modern English market is by having mock-Tudor cabins instead of flapping tarpaulin, and by putting the letter E at the end of several words. There are more unnecessary Es in Chester at the moment than there would be at a disco for ADHD sufferers.

I decided to enter into the spirit of the occasion by buying an Olde English hotdog, as Henry VIII would have done. I decided not to go for the Olde English Thai chilli hotdog because there is only so much authentic Tudor spirit one can take.

The sausages were on a rack suspended over a barbecue. I have never barbecued anything, for a variety of reasons mostly to do with a keen sense of my limitations, but I’ve seen enough cookery programmes to know that barbecues work best when the flames have died down and the coals are white hot.

This barbecue was like something out of Dante. Flames leapt from the pit, like flares from the sun. An ambitious low-budget film director could have made a disaster movie about it.

“Onions?” asked the man serving me. He was dressed as a Dickensian chimney sweep. This was clearly some sort of Tudor/Victorian/21st century mash-up, like Tory social policy. “Yes, let’s go mad,” I replied, as I watched him pick up my sausage with melting metal tongs.

I handed over four actual pounds for a single sausage in a bread roll and looked around for condiments. There was a squeezy bottle of American mustard, so I picked it up and squeezed it.

Two minutes later I had managed to extract enough from the bottle to make the effort almost worthwhile. It is an incredibly bland substance – Americans are the only race which can add mustard to a dish to cool it down. They should call it American yellow stuff.

In any case, taking the delay and the cooling properties of American mustard into account, I decided that my hotdog would be ready to eat. I was quite wrong.

I bit into the sausage and yelped. I took a layer off the roof of my mouth. Even a few days later, the act of eating muesli this morning was like consuming sharp gravel.

The shock of the volcanic heat made me spill my mustard-smeared onions. I leapt backwards to avoid a mustard-smeared suit, mindful, even in my agitated state that I had a meeting, and the sausage fell out of its bready vessel. I was left with a £4 extended barmcake, an oral injury, and the pitying stares of passers-by.

Once again, I had humiliated myself in public. It has become a tradition.

COLUMN: December 6, 2012

I WAS halfway up the road before I remembered my lunch. “Fiddlesticks,” I said, or words to that effect.

I pivoted on the spot, turning a smooth 180 degrees. I did not mean to pivot quite so smoothly on the spot. A combination of shoes with an ineffective tread and the slime of long-fallen leaves helped me on my way. I was lucky I didn’t do a triple axle.

I was pushing my luck anyway. My bus was due at any moment. But my wife had kindly made me a ham roll for my lunch, and I do like a ham roll.

So I dashed back, picked up my sandwich, threw it into my shoulder bag, and tore back out again.

And, with my mind concentrated on the task of walking without landing on my backside, I only vaguely noted the cat prowling along the wall just ahead.

So it was only when I was a few feet away that I realised it was not a cat. It was a Staffordshire bull terrier.

I do not know much about dogs. In fact, I basically know three things about dogs: 1) that we don’t call some dogs Alsatians these days as they have been re-branded German Shepherds, presumably for the same reason Marathon became Snickers, with an eye for the international market; 2) that the original Lassie was actually a male; and 3) that Staffordshire bull terriers have a grip that is best described as tenacious and persistent.

And this particular Staffordshire bull terrier was within sniffing distance of my throat. That unsettled me somewhat. It occurred to me that a stray dog is often a hungry dog, and that I am made primarily of meat, so I crossed the road.

But I am inexplicably fascinating to stray dogs, and this dog – let us call him Rocky – decided I was worthy of closer inspection. I am generally uncomfortable around unfamiliar dogs, but if anything Rocky was over-familiar, and I was equally uncomfortable.

“Walk,” I thought. “He will lose interest and go away. As long as I don’t antagonise him.”

It was at that point that my heavy bag slipped from my shoulder and clouted Rocky on the nose.

The dog was singularly unimpressed. He started to growl and bare his teeth. Somehow I managed to use my bag as a shield and grab hold of his collar. Rocky was prevented from attacking me, but it was a little like holding a dead man’s trigger. At some point I was going to have to let go, and then there would be a reckoning.

As I was pondering my next move, I saw my bus sail past just ahead of me. If I hadn’t gone back for my sandwich…

The ham roll! I opened my bag, and pulled out the roll. I waved it under Rocky’s nose to pique his interest, then flung it as far away as I could. Then I ran, like the not-wanting-to-be-mauled coward I am.

I discovered later that it was a ham and English mustard roll. This probably explains why 10 seconds later Rocky was back at my legs in a state of confusion. He did not know what to make of the man who, on the one hand gave him food, but on the other gave him food which actually hurts.

He raced towards my bus stop, where a terrified teenage girl was standing alone. He sniffed around her legs. “I don’t like dogs,” said the girl, as calmly as she could.

And so, once again, I took Rocky by the collar. “Erm, you walk to the other bus stop,” I said. “I’ll keep him here.”

“Are you sure?” asked the girl. I wasn’t.

“Yes, go on,” I said, my eyes sweeping the area for Rocky’s no-doubt tattooed, bull-necked, and hostile owner.

But before she could walk away, the next bus arrived. The girl boarded it, and I pushed the dog away and jumped on.

“Shut the…” I said to the driver, but too late. Rocky also boarded the bus.

“Look, mate,” said the driver. “I can’t let you on if you haven’t got a lead.”

“It’s not my dog,” I whimpered. Once more I grabbed Rocky’s collar and wrestled him off the bus, virtually flinging him into the bus shelter. The driver was quicker this time, Rocky threw himself at the closed doors, and the bus sped away.

As I sat down, I remembered I now had no lunch. “Fiddlesticks,” I said, or words to that effect.

COLUMN: November 29, 2012

I HAVE been writing these columns for three years now. That’s roughly 150 columns detailing my various inadequacies in dealing with my environment, umbrellas, other people, and public transport.

All of these columns are freely available on the internet – a comprehensive body of work explaining beyond doubt that if you are in difficulty you might want to try a three-day-old infant or piece of cheese before approaching me.

So, if anything, it was the tourist who asked for my help who was to blame. It is not my fault she did not do the due diligence.

Where I work we get a lot of tourists snapping pictures. It is a consequence of living in the British Empire’s greatest port and the home of Sonia. “Look,” the visitors say, in a variety of languages. “That is the very spot where John Lennon was once unnecessarily waspish with regard to the jumper George Harrison’s mother knitted.”

I walked down Castle Street on my way home from work the other afternoon in an exaggeratedly higgledy-piggledy fashion. An observer might have thought that I was attempting to lose a tail, or to confuse a sniper. But the effort was to avoid appearing in the line of photographic sight of about a dozen different visitors dotted about.

I am not averse to having my photograph taken. I do not believe the camera traps one’s soul, although the example of Katie Price suggests there might be a cumulative effect. It is more the fact that I would hate to appear on somebody’s holiday snaps as “local colour”.

“And this is a drunken man,” the photographer would tell his bored friend in his native tongue. “I could tell he was drunk from the exaggeratedly higgledy-piggledy way he walked.” Liverpool has had a tough enough time clawing back its reputation. It doesn’t need me as a representative.

In any case, I had managed to avoid posterity on Castle Street, and had turned into South John Street, my zig-zag exertions fading from memory, when I was stopped.

“Sir!” said the young woman. “Could you please?”

“I’ve already bought one…” I said, instinctively.

“Could you help?”

I turned. She was waving her phone. Just beyond her, in front of a massive picture of the Beatles, were three of her friends. Before I knew it the phone was in my hand and the young female tourist had joined her comrades.

I was trapped between two elements of my nature: the one which does not want to take a picture of strangers because I will foul up, and the one which wants to take a really good picture because it will show I am a cut above the average man.

I organised the four friends using the medium of mime into the same poses as the Beatles behind them, framed the shot, and then…

Not a clue. I had no idea what to press. If it had been a camera, I would have been fine. Had it been that phone that everybody has, which I am not going to mention because it gets enough free advertising, I would have been fine.

“Erm, what do I press?” I asked. The woman who accosted me came across. “You touch there,” she indicated vaguely, and rushed back into her position.

I touched the button on the glass. The phone took me back to its home screen. “Erm, sorry,” I said, pointing at the phone.

The woman came back, fixed it, and pointed again at the screen, before returning to her position as Ringo.

I pressed something else. And I accessed her gallery of photos. “Erm,” I said. She came back and gave me a funny look, the international code for “Why are you looking through my pictures, you pervert?” She reset the camera and returned to her friends, realisation slowly dawning on her.

I pressed a third button. Nothing happened. There was no way I could ask her a fourth time, so I told the women to huddle in for one more, framed the shot poorly, and pressed the button again.

I handed the phone back, and rushed away, reasoning that if the picture had not been taken it would not matter as it would have been terrible anyway.

Such is the exaggeratedly higgledy-piggledy nature of my thought processes.

COLUMN: November 22, 2012

I STOOD in the checkout queue, anxious, waiting for the return of my companion, who had remembered something she had forgotten.

My trolley was full and there were two people in front of me, but the checkout assistant was going at quite a lick.

I was glad I was in Costco, a no-go area for plastic bags. If this had been a conventional supermarket, there would have been no way that I would have been able to get the bags open fast enough to pack without causing a logjam.

I would have had to endure the spectacle of having the assistant open the bags for me, an experience only slightly less humiliating than having somebody fasten my shoelaces for me.

On the other hand, if this had been a conventional supermarket, there would have been a woman with a tabard. Like you, I implicitly trust anybody wearing a tabard. A woman with a tabard would have guided the people at the back of the queue to a different checkout. But I was exposed.

“Come on!” I thought. “It’s going to be my turn next.” I did not want to be placed in the difficult situation of deciding whether to unload my goods onto the conveyor belt, then to hold up the queue while I waited for the wanderer’s return, or to let the person behind me go before me.

This was a true dilemma. The first option would have caused maximum frustration to the people behind me in the queue, and I try to go through life without causing inconvenience to others. This is because I am more a lover than a fighter, which should give you some idea how bad at fighting I am.

The only time I have ever intentionally caused a hold-up in a queue was 10 years ago. The man behind me in the queue was Finland’s greatest ever footballer, Jari Litmanen, who was playing for Liverpool FC at the time.

Litmanen had recently frustrated my own team, Everton, in the derby and I wanted revenge. I had seven items, and spent five whole minutes transferring them from basket to conveyor belt to carrier bag. I appreciate this might appear petty, but that is because you did not see his face gradually assuming the shade of the kit he was not wearing.

The second option was also unsatisfactory. It’s often said that the British are exemplary queuers. But the etiquette of queues is not enshrined in the law of the land.

Basically, I am not sure if I step out of the queue to let the person behind me go next that I will not be lynched if I step back into the queue in front of the next person.

On the face of it, it seems fair enough. The people behind me don’t have to queue any longer. But I have stepped out of the queue, and have lost my moral authority. I am dependent on the goodwill of the people in the queue behind me.

I looked at the queue behind me. It was long. There were two burly men wearing football shirts, with their respective wives. They looked as if their patience was limited. They looked as if they could eat me for breakfast. They looked as if they had eaten somebody for breakfast.

As I vacillated, I realised that Zippy The Zealous Checkout Operator had cleared the decks. What to do? What to do?

My companion returned, dropping the item into my trolley. I was saved. “See you back at the car,” she said, and scarpered. I was safe.

Zippy picked up a packet of six muffins. “You know these are buy one, get one free?” he said. I didn’t. I winced inwardly.

“Yeah, it’s OK. I’ll never get through 12 in time,” I replied

“Seems a shame to lose out,” he said. “You could go back and get them . . .”

I looked back at the men in the queue. I couldn’t help thinking that Jari Litmanen, an actual footballer, didn’t wear a football strip while out shopping, so why should they?

“No, I only wanted six,” I lied. “This isn’t Man Vs Food.”

I don’t think he believed me. I wasn’t wearing a tabard.

COLUMN: November 15, 2012

REGULAR readers may remember that a few Friday nights ago somebody impaled a doughnut on my doorknob. I certainly will never forget it.

In the event, I never discovered who was behind this unusual gesture of (I assumed) appreciation, and I accepted that I would never know. It would just be one of those Front-door Doughnuts that one hears about from time to time.

But the following Friday night, I took some rubbish out to the bin, and discovered that somebody had deposited a Granny Smith apple on my doorstep. One did not have to be housewives’ favourite Professor Brian Cox to recognise there was a pattern emerging.

Somebody was leaving progressively healthy treats by my front door. What would be next? A fruit generally consumed as a vegetable, say a tomato? Then what, a carrot, then some broccoli? Where was this going to end? Would I be fighting off birds trying to get at the sunflower seeds and edamame beans strewn on my step?

I decided I was going to have to stop this before it went any further. It was likely that the Progressively Healthy Treats Fairy was a benevolent creature, but you can’t just go around putting apples on people’s doorsteps.

What if I had been a pensioner who was afraid of slugs? I have an apple tree in my back garden, and the slugs are onto the windfall faster than Eric Pickles when the cling film comes off a wedding buffet.

It was time to take action. I was going to have to catch the Fairy in the act. But how?

The following Friday afternoon I watched the new James Bond film, and I suppose I found it vaguely inspirational. I explained my plan to my wife.

“You’re going to sit in the car on our drive for two hours?” she repeated.

“That’s the tenor of my argument, yes. Nobody will see me there and I can leap into action if somebody appears.”

“And what will you do if somebody does appear?”

“I don’t know…”

She walked away, shaking her head.

This was going to be quite easy, I thought. As a parent, I do a lot of sitting in cars and waiting. At least on my driveway if I wanted to go to the toilet I would have nearby facilities.

So when the appointed hour came, I donned dark clothing, as was appropriate, and opened the front door. There were no unsolicited foodstuffs there. Good, I thought. I’m in time.

I walked over to my car and sat in the driver’s seat. The light activated by the door opening was still on. “Fade!” I begged it, mindful of the need for concealment. Eventually it did and I sat in the darkness, watching the front door by the porch light.

I felt like I was on a stakeout in a movie. Yes, I was missing a grizzled black detective one week away from retirement, or a sparky Hispanic woman, but they are thin on the ground in Woolton. This was me, protecting my property, like a proper man for once.

Then it occurred to me that the back seat might be a better bet. The windows are tinted, and I would be much less conspicuous. I got out of the front and got in the back.

The lights went on again. Annoyed, I pressed the auto-lock button on my keys, and the lights went off immediately. I should have done that before, I thought.

And I watched again, waiting, pondering how the course of my life had brought me to the point where I was sitting freezing, on a Friday night, in a car on my own driveway, watching the windscreen mist up, on the off-chance somebody might place a fruit used as a vegetable on my step.

I was uncomfortable, mentally and physically, and moved my leg, thereby moving my entire body. That’s when I discovered that locking the doors of my car while the engine is off activates the motion sensor alarm, and that the alarm on my car is very loud.

I got out, and went back into the house. Besides, I needed the toilet. In any case, I think I scared the Fairy away, because there was nothing there the next morning.

But then the next Saturday morning, I opened the front door to find a pumpkin on my doorstep.

Incidentally, a pumpkin is a fruit generally consumed as a vegetable, so at least I can take comfort in being right.

COLUMN: November 8, 2012

I AM sure you watched the freshly-elected President of the United States (Barack Obama) celebrating his victory yesterday morning and had the same thought as me . . .

Who supplies all that confetti?

I know very little about the logistics of post-Presidential election victory celebrations, but it is probably safe to assume that the confetti cannons, or whatever they use, were loaded in advance of the result.

After all, you can’t do confetti last-minute, especially at that time of night. America may be the land of opportunity, but I’d be surprised if there is much demand for all-night confetti joints. I have had very few late nights where I have thought: “I am tuckered out and ready for a proper snooze, but, oh no, where is my confetti?” And I suspect I am not unusual in that respect.

So we will say that the confetti cannons were primed, waiting for the good news. But what if Mitt Romney had won?

It is not like the Champions’ League Final, where there is definitely going to be a winner on the premises, and the poor groundsman who has to Hoover all that stuff up is well aware that it is going to happen and has mentally prepared himself for weeks of finding bits of gold paper despoiling his lovely pitch.

If Romney had won, those cannons would have gone unfired. Obama’s concession speech would have been a bitter-sweet moment for the Chicago venue’s caretaker and his staff. “I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news,” the caretaker would no doubt have said.

Consequently, I hope that the confetti was supplied on a use-or-return basis, given that 50% of such confetti must never be cast. I have never been to a post-Presidential election commiseration rally, but I can only imagine that the last thing one would want after four years of unsuccessful campaigning is a load of colourful paper being dumped on one’s head, no matter how bright and cheery it might look.

That said, I am not entirely sure I would enjoy it very much at a celebration rally either. Balloons are fine – I could take a balloon home – but bits of paper are just a nuisance. If anything, it would make me less pleased about a victory, and that is not just because I would be thinking about the poor caretaker.

The more I think about it, the more bizarre the idea of confetti becomes. On one’s wedding day, one wears a nice morning suit or dress, depending on one’s gender/preference, one gets one’s hair done. Perhaps a gauze veil is involved – who knows? One is looking the best one will ever look, on the happiest day of one’s life.

And then some massive divvy empties a load of confetti over one’s head, and expects not to get his face kicked in. It is basically aggressive littering.

I wonder how the casting of confetti became accepted as perfectly acceptable. And here I am, wondering . . .

MD: Go on, Figgis . . .
FIGGIS: We’re dead in the water, MD. Television – and, I suspect, 40 years from now a thing called the internet – has destroyed the market for long strips of information-carrying paper.
MD: But all our production is geared towards making such strips of paper, hence the name of our company. What will we do?
FIGGIS: It’s a marketing challenge, but this just might work. We encourage people to throw our ticker-tape at astronauts, politicians, etc.
MD: Why?
FIGGIS: I have no justification. I just think it’ll work.
MD: But strips might be unwieldy. We could snip them into smaller bits.
FIGGIS: The only way I can see that working is if we made the smaller bits brightly-coloured, to distinguish them from large dandruff flakes.
MD: Cool.

I wonder what is going to happen to the confetti left un-blammed at Mitt Romney’s rally. I hope he can take it back to the shop.

If not, perhaps he can sell it on to friends of all the gay couples he didn’t want to be able to marry.

COLUMN: November 1, 2012

I HAVE always considered myself fairly average. Some might believe that I am “bigging myself up” undeservedly by stating that, and I think I understand that position.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I ever understood just how commonplace and unexceptional I was until I visited a “designer outlet village” last week in search of a charcoal grey suit.

You don’t really need to know why I required a new suit, but anybody who sat opposite me on the bus during the past three weeks would be able to enlighten you, assuming their shuddering had ceased.

In any case I found myself traipsing around the “designer outlet village” looking for a sartorial bargain. This was very difficult.

If you are not familiar with the “designer outlet village” you will require an explanation. It is jam-packed with various shops which sell end-of-line specials, slight seconds and stuff which, despite their best efforts, they have been unable to offload to discerning customers – the textile equivalent of me being picked to play football as a child.

The major retailers have such outlets here, but I always suspect that, at the Christmas party, the people who work for the high street branches look down on the people who work for the outlet stores, and would probably pretend they’re all going home, then wait for the outlet staff to leave, before heading off to a club together. I imagine they refer to the outlet staff as “red felt-tippers.” I do not condone this apartheid, I merely report it.

Incidentally, I have no idea why the set-up is called a “village.” It should, strictly, be known as a “designer outlet hamlet.” My understanding is that a village has to have a church. Or an idiot. Perhaps that was me.

In any case, I could not find a suit in the retail outlets, because, apparently, I have an incredibly common shape. I must be the most average man in the UK.

Every item of clothing in my size had been sold, probably in the non red felt-tip shops. The only items of clothing left were for men with either very fat bellies, or very long thin legs. If you are a man who looks precisely like a giant Chupa Chup, you will find a wealth of garments to suit you, so fill your size 14s.

Bargains being beyond me, I was forced to go to an actual suit shop. I walked in and started to look through the designer suits. I have no idea why. I’ve owned cheaper cars.

A man appeared behind me. He clearly worked there as he had a tape measure draped around his shoulders. “You might find these suits more to your liking, sir,” he said, and deftly he guided me to the very cheap suit section of the shop. He had sized me up quite correctly, but, it turned out, much more thoroughly than I had imagined.

I was wearing an overcoat. It was not my very big coat, Big Coat, but still a substantial garment. “You’re a 40 regular, sir, try this jacket. Charcoal grey, I think.”

“What?” I thought. “How could he possibly know that?”

“And you’ll need the 34-in waist, with the 31-and-a-half-in inside leg.”

I was starting to feel very uncomfortable. Part of me was amazed by his skill, but mostly I was disturbed that he was quite so accurate with regard to my inside leg measurement.

“And how about a shirt, sir? A 16 neck, I think. For comfort, sir.” This was like being attended to by an inappropriately intimate Jeeves. He was right, of course, the swine.

“Perhaps some shoes, sir? We have…”

“What size?” I said. “Come on, then. What size shoes do I take?”

He looked down. He stroked his chin. “A nine, sir,” he ventured.

“Wrong!” I said, triumphantly. “Dead wrong. I’m a 10.”

He looked genuinely baffled as he bagged up the suit, shirt and shoes, as if something didn’t add up. And I walked out of the shop, yes, £40 over budget, but pleased that I had won.

Until I started to think about why he was so puzzled, and what had made him assume my feet were smaller than they are.

COLUMN: October 18, 2012

“HAVE you put a doughnut on the front door?”

I was sure I had never been asked that question before at 9pm on a Friday. I have an atrocious memory, but even I would remember that.

I have been asked a lot of questions in my 40 years, and admittedly most of these have been to ascertain if I have done something or other.

Normally I am forced to answer with a degree of obfuscation, because I haven’t carried out the action in question, and am keenly, if belatedly, aware that I should have done. But in this case I was able to answer positively, albeit negatively.

“No,” I replied. “Is there a doughnut on the front door?”

My wife nodded, and I walked into the hallway and opened the door.


There it was, impaled on the cool German-designed metal handle, illuminated by the security light, the world’s campest doughnut. Fat and swollen, with pink icing and covered in hundreds and thousands, this was a doughnut which would never have felt the need to have to come out. “We always knew,” its proud parents would have confided, at the ceremony celebrating its civil partnership with a Gregg’s yum-yum.

I can’t pretend I wasn’t briefly tempted by it. I knew it couldn’t have been there long. I’d only been out to the bin 10 minutes before and I am confident I would have noticed it. As I hope I have established, this was not a discreet doughnut.

But there was no way I could eat it. I could not be sure of the motive of the person or persons who placed the deep-fried delight on it.

I imagined the headline: “Man With Glasses Poisoned To Death By Front-door Doughnut.” That old chestnut.

I pulled it off and dropped it in the bin, just to be on the safe side, kept reminding myself not to lick the icing from my finger, and went into the kitchen to wash my hands. “You’ll have to see if there are any other houses with doughnuts on the front door,” I was informed.

This truly was a day of precedents. Not only had I been the unwilling recipient of a front-door doughnut, but now I was having to wander up and down my lamp-lit road, scrutinising the front doors of my neighbours for doughnuts. I am not sure how I would have explained myself if called upon to do so.

I pondered more upon the motives of the person responsible and came up with three possible explanations.

The first was that a passer-by who had never before eaten a doughnut had taken the plunge and bought one. And then he or she had looked at that doughnut, with its pink icing and hundreds and thousands, and thought: “I am running before I can walk. I should have gone for a sugar-coated or glazed doughnut. Essentially, this is too much doughnut for my first experience.

“What to do? I cannot just drop it. And I do not want anybody to see me with this very visible hoop-shaped yeast-based treat. Ooh, look at that gleaming metal door handle illuminated by a security light. Could that be Ger… Ah, a solution suggests itself…”

The second explanation is that the doughnut was an art installation and part of the Liverpool Biennial. I’m not sure what the message of the doughnut on the door would be, but it would probably be very profound or a bit suggestive. I don’t know, I am not that funny-looking man who explains the arts five minutes before the end of the news.

The third explanation is that somehow I had offended the local baking mafia and they wanted to send me a message. Maybe I had been too disparaging of some of the entries on the Great British Bake-Off. Paul Hollywood gets this all the time, I expect.

If that is the case, and the perpetrator is reading this, you ought to know that I am one-sixteenth Sicilian, and this is a vendetta now. If I find out who you are, you’re going to wake up one morning to find a custard tart nailed to your shed.