TSP070: Of cats and men

November 5, 2013

It was a cold, cold night in Oxfordshire, and as the clock struck midnight a little man peeked out of my coat pocket and surveyed the room in front of him.  Rarely had he ever beheld such a glitteringly decorated room: mirrors sparkled in the light of passing cars, chandeliers gleamed and shiny worktop surfaces glimmered.  With a cry of joy he cast wide open the pocket flap and hauled himself out onto the adjacent chair.  Shimmying down the chair leg, his pink and green-striped bobble hat wobbling pleasantly from side to side, he reached the floor with sheer delight, excited to have ended up in such a dazzling location after what had been a really rather rotten day, hopelessly lost in the garden centre.  Brimming over with glee he gave a little hop, clicked his heels together and was promptly eaten by the cat.

In the morning I awoke to find a tiny little head, about the size of a potato, presented to me at the end of the bed by a very self-satisfied and proud-looking mog.  Normally I wouldn’t have minded and after tossing the head casually into the bathroom bin I’d have just got on with my day – had my shower, eaten my breakfast, got dressed (yes, in that order), brushed my teeth, tousled the cat’s head and left for work at a canter.  But not today.  Today, this was the last straw.  It’s happened 40 days in a row.  FORTY.  On the spin; consecutively; without a gap.

I don’t actually know where he finds them.  In my head I give them all a back story.  I assume they must be in the house already because I lock him in at night.  The thought that there might be an infestation of little men somewhere under the stairs, or in the laundry room, or up the chimney, makes me shiver a little, so I prefer to imagine that they come in on my clothes.

This one looked like a Norman.  You’d think it was pretty hard to tell anything at all from just the disembodied head of a tiny little man who’s been mauled by a cat with a salivary gland problem, but I think you can read a lot about their personality.  Norman would have played cribbage, and smoked a pipe, and howled at the moon when lonely or sad.  But although he would have been an introvert he would still have had more friends than Dennis.

Dennis’ head was the meanest looking one I’ve ever seen roll past my bedroom door at six in the morning; gave me quite a turn.  Day 23.  I’d only got up to nip to the loo, when that scampering animal went zooming by in pursuit of its latest plaything.  A great scowling face, purple bloodshot eyes, one huge solitary fang and an Iron Maiden tattoo right across his nose.  And the little man’s head looked pretty grim too.  Probably spent most of his life on the run from the authorities.

I’ve never kept a head, but I’ve been tempted to take one in to work and show the guys.  More for a diagnosis rather than to brag.  I wonder if anybody else has seen anything like them, or if they know what they are.  Gnomes, elves, Borrowers – whatever they are I’m pretty positive they’ve never been documented on the TV; there’s probably a show in this for Attenborough or Packham.  I’ve started to keep a diary of my first impressions just in case it comes in handy when they set up base camp in my front garden to start the filming.  I do sketches and everything – nothing special, just little pencil drawings to try and capture the essence of their personalities.  Stick men, really.  And I don’t draw the facial features – just the shape of their head on a stick body.  A friend of mine is a nephrologist – he says you can tell a lot about someone just by feeling their scalp.  So the drawings should be adequate.

One day I plan to stay up all night and watch the cat to see what he does, where he goes, where he finds the little men.  It’s hard because I’ve got a medical condition that means I have to take strong sedatives and so it’s almost impossible for me to stay awake through the small hours.  I expect you’ll ask why I don’t just set up a camera – but I have, on numerous occasions.  And every time the cat makes a beeline for it and puts the lens cap back on, so all I get is hour after hour of sheet black.  That in itself is probably impressive behaviour enough to submit to the wildlife people – or You’ve Been Framed.  Even when I’ve mounted the camera close to the ceiling to get it out of his reach, he manages to reach it.  He runs right up the wall – you can see the claw marks in the morning.  I’ve repapered the hallway twice in the last month.  If he does it again I’m putting subway tiles up – they seem to be all the rage on the DIY shows right now, so it should look bang on trend and also be much easier to wipe clean.

If it happens again tonight (which I expect it will, given recent performance) I’ll post a picture on this blog – if the cat lets me, of course.  Right now I’m off to Sainsbury’s for a spot of late-night shopping.  I’m all out of potatoes again.  I buy a whole load every other week it seems, but they just all disappear.  I reckon it’s the little men – they climb out of my discarded overalls, leave the odd bit of earth here and there on the carpet as they wander into the larder, munch their way through a spud or two and then get got by Dougal.  It’s a sad way to go, sitting quietly, eating a potato.  Nothing noble or impressive about it.  But such is life.

Phrenologist, sorry – my friend is a phrenologist.  Heads, not kidneys.

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TSP045: Let’s play…

January 24, 2012

The sweat rolled off Mr Gabbidon’s knees; his brow turned purple and all the hair on his right arm fell out.  This was stress like he’d never felt before (even more terrifying than that time he’d dropped his watch in the deep fat fryer and looked on helpless as the Borrowers leapt in selflessly in a futile and tragic attempt to salvage it).  The quizmaster gaped at him with a television grin astride his cheeks and time seemed to move in slow motion as he read out his next teleprompted line…

“For one million pounds, Leslie Gabbidon, you only need to give me the correct answer to the following question…”

The studio audience were on tenterhooks (the stage crew had forgotten the chairs), the viewers at home were biting their limbs off in fear for the under pressure and overweight contestant – what if he had a heart attack?  Or an embolism?  Or a phone call from Noel Edmonds saying that the banker had died and he was invited to his funeral?  It would be too much – too much for Leslie, too much for everyone, too much even for the Spice Girls, who would have to re-write the lyrics to their past hits in order to express their innermost feelings.

“What is the capital of Brunei?”

8,000 miles away, Nelson Mandela put down his magnifying glass and abandoned the 14th century Tibetan manuscript he had been attempting to interpret, fearful to his core for Leslie.  2,000 miles away Lech Walesa paused midway through administering a blood transfusion to a tearful Lebanese hyena, aware that the situation arising in front of the TV cameras was just as important to the survival of the planet as the task in hand.  20,000 miles away Richard Branson put down his crossword puzzle, gazed out of the porthole of his time machine’s lavatory, and pinpointed Leslie Gabbidon’s distress using only the power of his mind; it shook him a little, but he was still able to answer “Flabbergast” to 5 across (the correct answer was ‘Rennie’).

“A) Kuala Belait B) Bandar Seri Begawan C) Jerudong or D) Worzel Gummidge?”

The growing tension was becoming unbearable.  Leslie had been to Brunei once in the past and three times in the future but couldn’t remember which of the settlements was the correct answer.  He’d visited Kuala Belait and he’d heard of B and C, and for some reason D was sounding familiar.  Worzel Gummidge…  Where had he heard of it before…?  A type of aeroplane maybe, or a variant of Mah Jong.  Or was it the capital city of Brunei?  It could be – it could very well be; it sounded very Bruneian.  His dry lips parted and his voice found its way through to the forefront of his mouth to make public these thoughts.

“I’m in a quandary Andre.”

The world gasped.  Up until this point Leslie Gabbidon had been positive of the answer of every question in the game, even the ones that hadn’t come up.  He hadn’t used any of his lifelines at all.  Just the thought that the 37 year-old 14 year-old might be forced to deign to relinquish his hold on one of them was sufficient for three members of the audience to spontaneously combust and for another twelve to write to the council on a monthly basis for the next 257 years (on a shift basis, obviously).

“I’d like to ask the audience please Andre.”

The world winced.  The audience didn’t know anything – they never did unless it was the first question of the game and involved Bob Monkhouse.  Plus today the audience had been especially selected from a visiting posse of Bissau-Guinean mannequin manufacturers, and their demograph had finished last in Philip Schofield’s latest interactive IQ test on the BBC.  The host invited the audience to press the button corresponding to the option they thought best; all of them pressed ‘Off’.  The results came back as 0% for every answer on the board; it wasn’t particularly helpful.

Leslie Gabbidon assessed the situation.  Using the brain he had found in a back alley on Gibraltar to supplement his own thought processes he decided it would be best to take a risk and phone a friend.  Leslie hadn’t phoned a friend since 1995; he was forbidden by the courts after that incident with the matchbook and the foster family.  As the technician made the connection through to Rufus Scrimgeour, the former Minister of Magic from the Harry Potter series, a stern voice could be heard down the line: “This is an illegal action.  Your phone line will now be disconnected.”  Somehow the police knew, and they’d moved to shut things down before they got too out of hand or jumped up and turned into muesli.  It was unfortunate.

Leslie had only one option remaining.  “I’ll take 100-0 please Andre.”  “Computer, take away no wrong answers and leave the right answer and all the other wrong answers.”  The noise happened (you know the one) and the options remained unchanged.  “Does that help?  Have you got any ideas?” the presenter enquired.  Leslie looked happy: “Yes, it did exactly what I was hoping…”

The whole population of Albania stopped doing whatever they were doing to watch Mr Gabbidon’s decision; the list of casualties included 17 Albanian lollipop ladies, 3 Albanian parachutists mid-ripcord, and 1 man who had just been sitting quietly and breathing.  Croatia and Slovenia too were likewise entranced.  Most of South America waited, agog.  Syria just carried on stamping on postcard pictures of basic human rights in action.  Leslie’s wife, entombed in resin for a bet, whispered to herself, “Please Leslie, don’t proclaim your love for Janet Jackson.”

Leslie Gabbidon, man of the hour, rose to his feet.  All eyes followed his every motion.  With a great beaming smile and a little belch he summoned up his courage and announced to the world, “I know what I’m going to do.”

Silence.  Nobody moved a muscle, no one daring to take a breath.  And as a result everybody in the world died, starved of oxygen.

Except in Syria.  Proving that (even with basic human rights) gameshows retain the capacity to destroy us all.