Monthly Archives: October 2009

No. 15: Become a ‘Curtain Twitcher’

Other people’s business is always interesting. But when you’re a flancer at home, without friends, self-esteem or any empathy for another living soul left,  it doesn’t even have to be a turgid affair-based argument or actual, front garden homicide to have your nose welded to the Double-Glazing. When all you have for company is the postman and Radio 4, the sound of an unrecognisable car pulling up outside is enough to have you out of your seat and yanking the nets aside for a good old look before you can say: ‘mind your own f-ing business’. Fact:  flancers have the ability to distinguish between fifteen types of car door slamming: ‘oooh, a Subaru! I don’t know anyone with a Subaru!’ Leaps out of chair, grabs nets, etc.

Hearing anything go on outside your window becomes your body’s equivalent to being smacked with that small rubber hammer the doctor uses on your knee. What’s most embarrassing is forgetting not to do it when you have company. There’s something incontrovertibly cold about jumping up to the window for a snout,  just as your heartbroken friend is explaining how they walked in on their husband lustily brandishing a courgette at the woman from the cul-de-sac up the road. (Can I just add that it’s also really bad form to ‘shush’ them at this point – even if your neighbours are having a slanging match of Jeremy Kyle proportions.)

Beware: The feel of curtain between fingertips becomes so deliciously addictive, you may feel you wish to move your desk closer to the window. This is borderline nuts and can quickly escalate into you turning the lights off on purpose when dusk falls and sitting like a member of the KGB in a straight-backed chair with a note-book in one hand and a shot-gun across your lap, chain-smoking cigarettes until sunrise.  If you were in any doubt, perhaps a call to The Samaritans would be quite a good idea round about now.

But anything is more interesting than not having any work – even the landscape gardeners discussing Kelly Brook over a fag within earshot at 7.30am. And who knows, if you’re lucky, you may even snatch a glimpse of the woman from <your> cul-de-sac popping into next door when you know for a fact your neighbour’s out but  her hubby is in (because the sound of his Ford Mondeo brought you sprinting in from the loo about twenty minutes ago.) 

So you can sell that one to <Take a Break> and end your work dry spell.*

TODAY’S FOOTNOTES

*I am not recommending anybody do this.  At the very least, ask permission first.

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No. 14: Accept the Commission from Hell

When all hope is lost: ie the bailiffs have been round, your coffee tab at the local caffeinerie has been revoked and the next <House> box set isn’t out for another two months – you do it. You type ‘yes’, click ‘send’ and in seconds your soul belongs to somebody on a Weekly desk for the next 4 months. You have accepted The Commission From Hell. 

Nights become sleepless, none of your friends (who have all been shafted royally in previous case-study forays) want anything to do with you, however much you cajole them by bombarding them with teary-sounding emails.  Your pyjama bottoms will become genetically fused to your lower body.  You didn’t want to do it, but you needed the money. You soon realise that you would rather have handed over your Dell/a pound of flesh/your mother to Mister bailiff, than agree to this.

It will require ‘case studies’. Lots of them. Photogenic ones (read: ‘real’ people who look like catwalk models.) Between the ages of 26 and 27. It requires said CS to talk ‘candidly’ (ie with lots of grot and embarrassing detail) about their sex life (usually) whilst being photographed smiling next to their (equally breathtakingly photogenic) partner they have just ‘candidly’ revealed is ‘shit in bed’ or ‘has a very unsatisfactory penis.’  You also generally have about 24 hours to find these people, convince them they really want to do this  and get them to London for absolutely no incentive at all – apart from maybe ‘a day out in London’ and possibly a bottle of £3.99 Merlot (bought by you out of your earnings for this nightmare). An ask that would have even Anneka Rice weeping and clinging frantically to the helicopter passenger seat.

Undoubtably all your delicately precarious plans will fall through the day before the shoot and you will have to hassle every single person you know via a round-robin email (your twelfth) to find some last-minute cannon fodder with which to fill the breach. By this time you have cried every day, all your friends hit ‘Delete’ as soon as the merest whiff of you appears in their inbox, you have lost at least 4 and a half stone and if you didn’t smoke before, you’re now chuffing away on anything that will fit between your lips and stay alight for long enough.

On the day, everyone will be late. You will run up a phone bill to rival that of a local MP candidates head office trying to co-ordinate everything. The ‘case-studies’ will not play ball – at least one will get angry/cry/walk out. The words, ‘you didn’t say we’d have to be photographed’ will be uttered. But finally, at eleven pm when you wish you were dead (and half the case studies too) you’re done and your cheque for £125 (minus Merlot and phone bill costs) is in the mail.

…After you’ve finished the 8  complete re-writes.

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No.13: Google your Illnesses

Irrational fear over new and unusual lumps/rashes/coughs/tongue patterning is a common affliction for the work-from-home flancer. And what a stroke of luck it is that the World Wide Web is sitting there in front of us, 24/7 so that we may enjoy full, unlimited access to the sort of information that can turn gentle puzzlement into paranoia and terror of epic proportions within seconds*. Combine that with a caffeine to blood ratio of 78-22 and only a <Gray’s Anatomy> box set for company and voila! it’s highly likely you have 13 days to live.

Googling one’s ailments is a double-edged sword. One massive plus is that it saves you from having to do any work  – but it ALSO omits the need for a visit to a GP.  Now, to all of you that have inhaled sharply at the notion that anyone in their right mind would choose www.haveyougotlurg.com over a bona fide health consultant, it is suggested that you go and hang out with some student doctors quite soon.  If you had ever had this dubious pleasure you would realise that placing yourself in any GP’s  hands is an almighty gamble – especially if you’re having your appendix popped out by the doctor who – the night before his Appendix Removal Class at college – likely sunk fifteen pints of gin at All Bar One.  Indeed, those very hands which are taking your temperature today were, only a few years ago, shaky, DT-ridden mitts, trying desperately to clutch at a scalpel and dreaming of a lunchtime pint.

Food for thought indeed.

 Saying that, online health info is about a million times more scaremongeringly evil than a GP who, despite possibly having spent a lot of his university life trying to climb onto the roof  of the Ents office whilst dressed in a sequinned mini-dress and wig would rarely – if ever – hoike out technicolour photographs of a gigantic weeping sore, explaining in a cold detatched manner that this is how your unidentifiable spot could look within weeks.  Online doctoring also loves a bit of worst-case-scenario. Google ‘Headache’ and you will find out everything you need to know about brain stem tumours. Google ‘Rash’ and ringworm will haunt your dreams. Google ‘Dizziness’ and The Brain and Spine Organisation of Hull will present you with a questionnaire to discover whether or not you will lose the use of your limbs within the next 48 hours. (Probably)

And so if you happen to stumble across a flancer gazing in dread at a laptop screen you can make an educated guess that they have  just Googled ‘Mole’** and are now looking at a page full of words like : ‘spread’, ‘malignant’ and ‘nodular’ and other unpronounceable horrors that look like the Countdown Conundrum before it’s solved***.

But at least it stops you worrying about your overdraft for a bit.

TODAY’S FOOTNOTES

*depending on whether or not you have Broadband.

**NEVER google this word.

**Either that or they’ve just FB-ed an old boy/girlfriend and  are looking at their wedding photos.

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No.12:Consider Pregnancy

The minute a flancer celebrates their 26th birthday*, suddenly everyone they know assumes they want to end their miserable, workless existence by getting pregnant at once.  If you are already over 30, they also automatically assume that you spend all your time – when not out in public – weeping for your barren womb and secretly put you on 24-hour Tescos-baby-snatching watch.

However, most flancers split into two camps concerning motherhood: Camp (a) the ones who are so bored of not working that they decide ‘what-the-hey’ I’m going to have a baby and will therefore never be bored again. And Camp (b) the ones who  have colleagues from Camp (a), have hung out with them and have consequently decided that if they ever even consider reproducing they must have gone mental.

Arguably, both camps have much in common that they can chat about endlessly: you both spend half the night awake worrying about money, you’re both obsessively checking something in another room (whether it be computer  inbox or newborn**), you both spend hours watching daytime telly in soft clothes and both dedicate countless hours to wondering if you will ever get back into those  jeans that you bought about 9 months ago.

If you fall into Camp (b), visiting old colleagues from Camp (a) is both a blessing and a curse. On the minus side, is there anything more boring than  hearing smug Camp (a) mummies twitter on about how ‘their priorities have changed’, how they are ‘much happier now they are out of flancing world’ how little Jonas is ‘into everything’ and how pretty much all of their child’s actions, minute-by-minute are mind-bogglingly fascinating?  A primary plus however, is that be-infanted friends are always free for coffee. Camp (a) mummies also provide guilty gloating pleasure for Camp (b)s because we know that deep-down, for ex-flancer mums, old habits die hard.  We know that in reality they shriek like haridans when little Jonas empties Ribena into their Right Louboutin.  Or when he prises the Tab key out of their new Dell Laptop. We know that their soul dies just a teeny bit when they spend a fortune that once would have gone to TopShop coffers, on plastic things to put on coffee table corners.  We Camp (b)s know they secretly dream about drinking coffee, going to the pub at half four in the afternoon and watching back to back Gray’s when they are yet again panicking in the car park down the A&E  having just seen Daisy-May-Loulou eat a Tescos receipt or the batteries out of the TV remote control.

For Camp (a)s of course, come all the joys of motherhood (arguably one of the finest feelings in the world), life is never boring, never again will you have to take a commission with a 4 day deadline, requiring 18 individual case studies that all need ‘to be attractive’, ‘are willing to be photographed’ and ‘will talk openly about their sex lives for a weekly magazine feature’.  And you have a much better excuse than flancers do for sitting about wearing tracksuit bottoms covered in crusty soup stains whilst eating Quavers  and falling alseep on the sofa at three in the afternoon.

Hmm. Tough one.

TODAY’S FOOTNOTES

*This is assuming you are female of course. If you are male and feel this way, you should sell your story to Chat and stop being a bored flancer.

**and so I have resorted to buying a baby monitor – one device sits next to my laptop, the other is with me at all times so I can hear the ‘New Mail’ ‘ping’ even if I am in the loo.

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A Fine Day Out. A Short Story

 

‘Cancelled?!’

‘I’m sorry sir but –‘

‘Fucking cancelled?!’

‘There’s no need for bad language, Mister Purvis. As my colleague explained, this is totally out of our hands. The current financial downturn has meant that we’ve had to scale back our –‘

‘Bollocks to downturns. What about my nan? Hang on – what about my <money?>’

‘Again, as my colleague informed you, Mister Purvis, every trip with <Adventure Days for the Aged> already paid for in full will be completely refunded within thirty days. You needn’t worry –‘

‘Well, you see I <am> worried, you little be-suited twat. Because it’s my nan’s birthday – eighty seven years no less – this Monday. That’s eighty seven years of not having had an <Adventure Day for the Aged> which, incidentally, I promised her six weeks ago. She hasn’t been this excited since Tesco’s on the high street got wheelchair access –‘

‘- with respect sir, I’m not wearing a suit – ‘

‘Are you taking the piss?‘

‘Matthew?’

Matt Purvis spun round, nearly ripping the phone cable out of the wall, shoving his hand over the mouthpiece. ‘Yes nan?’

Nanna Purvis stuck her grey head round the door of the hallway.  ‘The Lord Jesus doesn’t like to hear young men swear.’

‘Sorry nan. Just a bit of bother on the phone I’m having to sort out. You needing something?’

‘No dear. I just wondered if you fancied a tea.  I’ll be in the front room watching Lorraine.’

‘Right-oh,’ Matt waited until she had likely wheeled herself out of earshot and removed his hand from the phone to continue where he’d left off and was greeting by a dialling tone.

‘Bastard!’

‘I may wear an aid, but I heard that Matthew.’

 

 

Name: Matthew Lesley Purvis.   Age: 25.  Sex: Male.  Occupation: Petty thief.  Motto: ‘Even if it <is> nailed down, prise it loose and have it away. And the nails.’ 

Matthew Purvis Senior had been a furniture removals man for some twenty years, and if he had genetically bequeathed his son anything, it was the ability to efficiently remove things from people’s homes via a lorry. The only difference being that his son chose to execute <his> removals without the client’s prior knowledge or request and preferred windows to doors when making his entrance.

Wherever Matt was, other people’s things suddenly weren’t; his mother’s jewellery box contents (pre-school), other people’s lunchbox contents (primary school) fellow students’ locker contents (high school) and the entire of the IT department’s contents (college).  If his mother received flowers, chances were that if she drove past the roundabout on her way to the high street, there’d be a massive hole in the middle of the council-sponsored daffodils.  Matthew Purvis would probably have been clinically diagnosed as kleptomaniacal if he hadn’t already been banned from the local GP’s office for being caught with a box of ‘Could you have Thrush?’ leaflets and 250 condoms concealed in his jacket.

Matthew Purvis liked taking stuff that wasn’t his.  He didn’t really have a greedy streak. He didn’t think the world owed him a living. Because – well – the world and it’s un-nailed down electrical goods <were> his living so it would be churlish to complain about it. Basically, if his hands were anything less than cuffed, they’d be busy accumulating items he would then sell either to his fence or now and again, from his nan’s car boot stall.

 

‘I have bit of bad news nan.’ Matt slouched into the living room and dropped onto the sofa.

‘Oh dear. Not the police planting more condoms on you so that they could meet their arrest percentages like before? I still can’t believe that unGodly behaviour from our local constabulary…’

Matt scratched his ear.  ‘Er, no.  Actually, it’s about your birthday –‘

‘Ooh yes! I am <so> excited!’ replied  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=”replied “>nanna Purvis, whilst trying to change TV channels with her glasses case. ‘An Adventure day out with the Aged. I have to say, I don’t really like the aged. They keep interrupting everything, constantly insisting on having a toilet.  What’s wrong with this thingy? Matthew will you have a look?’ 

Matthew stood up and exchanged the glasses case for the remote, pocketing the case out of sheer habit.   ‘I’m afraid there’s a problem with the day out.’ 

Nanna Purvis looked up. ‘A problem? Did one of the other ageds die? Because if they have to make the numbers up, I’m sure Shelia from bingo would come. She hasn’t been outside for eight weeks since she got her <Bag>. I said to Marlene the other day, I said – ‘

‘No, it’s gotta be cancelled. Something financial …sorry nan. I know how much you were looking forward to it.’

Nanna Purvis looked up and Matthew was surprised to see her looking teary.

‘Oh, never mind sweetheart. We’ll just have to leave it for this year. There’s plenty of crosswords left here for me to do…’

Matthew Purvis may have been a thieving toe-rag, but if nothing else, he loved his Nanna. The old girl had looked after him since he was fifteen years old, as his parents – having had a gutful of his thieving ways – left him with her one night to go to the social club and hadn’t returned a decade later.

‘Hang on…look, hang on a minute..’ And Matt Purvis had an idea. It might not go down well with the lads but – oh, bugger it.  ‘I have <another> surprise day out booked for you. You’ll still get your Friday outing, and there won’t be any other Ageds there at all!’

Nanna Purvis’ creased face lit up. ‘Ah my boy you’re such a dear! I am <so> excited!’

Matthew chewed his lip – this was going to be dangerous enough as it was. But, well, the lads would just have to work round it.  ‘Right. Do you need a top up in that brew there?’ But nanna Purvis had already gone back to her word-search, which she was valiantly trying to complete with a knitting needle.

 

‘So, the car will wait here, Dave behind the wheel.  Lewis will be collecting the kosher package. He knows where to drop it once we’ve taken the decoy down Phipps street.’

‘Won’t anyone spot the exchange?’

‘Nah – Benny will have been outside the day before, setting up road signs and erecting barriers around that part of the road. I’ll dodge <behind> those, drop the cash and pick up the decoy which will be waiting there. Benny will slip the real stash into his workman’s tent until Lewis walks by to – disguised – to collect and bring it back here.’

Three weeks ago, Lewis Cork, Dave Alder, Benny Silver, Jonny Hunt and Matt were hunched round the coffee table at Jonny’s mum’s house. After being petty criminals for getting on for four years now, Jonny, the group’s unofficial ‘leader’ (on account of having an NVQ) had decided that it was time to upgrade to ‘career’ criminals. Jonny wasn’t wholly confident about the details this shift entailed, only that it meant you stole enough money to form a pile big enough to lounge on whilst smoking cigars.  This executive career decision had come hard on the heels of Jonny’s rental of <The Italian Job>, after which he promptly went out and bought a polo neck, because he couldn’t afford a mini and decided that this movie was to become the blueprint of his new employment game-plan.  A game-plan which culminated in him and his mates robbing the local mini mart as soon as possible. 

 ‘But surely we need a hacker,’ pointed out Benny. ‘Every gang has one. To, erm, hack and shit. Interfere with the security systems and that.’ Jonny’s response opened with a certain amount of speculation as to Benny’s birth (which apparently resulted from his mother’s unfortunate sexual encounter with a stuffed dog) following up with the more relevant point that the Timperdale branch of Easybuys was about as tech-savvy as Matt’s nan and that he knew for a fact that they never banked the takings till Friday afternoon.  ‘But I watch <Spooks>,’ insisted Benny. ‘Honestly, you have to have someone with a computer to block the security alarms and stuff. And ear pieces…’  ‘I have a computer,’ offered Dave who, being the only one allowed to borrow his parent’s car after was designated getaway driver.  After being told in no uncertain terms and with a certain amount of speculation as to the size, location and efficacy of Dave’s brain that a Nintendo Wii wasn’t the right <sort> of computer, Jonny felt that the boys had lost focus and called a break.

Robbing a minimart. How hard could it be? You run in, wave a toy gun about, take the cash, escape in a Mini (ok, Fiat Panda) and hey presto – you’re Michael Caine. The plan, after weeks of squabbling and getting too drunk to remember what it was they were supposed to be doing when, had been scheduled: Friday, October the ninth.

The same day as nanna Purvis’ eighty-seventh birthday.

 

The plan was simple, of course, in that way plans always seem to be in retrospect from a remand centre.  Wait in the car until the shop is virtually empty and the owner hasn’t yet banked the week’s takings. Jonny and Matt would walk in, ‘disguised as customers,’ (as Dave put it), Jonny would whip out the gun, and the shop keeper would hand over the cash. In theory, they would run out, through the decoy ‘road works’  area where Benny would be waiting in a hard hat (stolen from the Wimpey homes plot last week), drop the cash, pick up the <decoy> bag and exit via Phipps street where the getaway car – driven by Dave – would be waiting. In theory, Lewis (dressed as a copper – a stroke of genius plagiarised from an episode of Murder She Wrote) – then appears to question ‘Benny the builder’ whilst actually picking up the real cash which would then be taken to The Safe House: AKA Jonny’s mum’s.  In theory, the <real> plod would chase the fake bag which would then be dropped, so the police would halt up the chase a tad,  Jonny and Matt would get away and they would all go to Rio.

In theory.

 

 

‘Look mate, no disrespect to the old girl but what the FUCK is your nanna doing here?’

Friday, 10.30 am (two hours ‘till go).  Location: Jonny’s mum’s garage.  Lewis, in full constable get up, shifted nervously, utterly confused by Matty’s nan’s tirade about condoms, Thrush and miscarriages of justice.  Benny smoked his roll-ups trying to become invisible. 

‘It’s her birthday, man. I had this Aged Adventure thing all worked out for her but it got frikkin cancelled. Financial downturn – y’know…’

‘And you planned to do <what> with her exactly?!’

‘I thought we could pop her in the car with Dave…she wouldn’t be any trouble. Look she’s eighty-<seven>. She bought soup…’

Jonny was staring at Matt as if he had just turned into Angelina Jolie wearing nothing but the national flag of Trinidad and Tobago.

At that moment, Dave stuck his head round the door. ‘Alright boys? I got the balaclavas…oh, morning Mrs. P.’ Life generally confused Dave. This is because he wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box.  In fact, if all the tools in all the boxes in the world were entered into a sharpness contest, he wouldn’t even make the qualifiers. However, Dave  was eighty percent certain  that Matt’s nanna should <not> have been sitting in Jonny’s mum’s garage clutching a handbag and a thermos on the day they were meant to be doing something illegal.

Jonny ran his hands over his head and suppressed a word he knew would be at odds with the religious views of a woman in her eighties and scavenged his brain for inspiration. What would Michael Caine do?  He pulled Matt to one side as Dave started discussing the best way to darn balaclava with Nanna Purvis.  ‘Ok, look we’ve got two hours. Stick her in the back. Seat-belt her in. And make sure she doesn’t <move>.  Oh Christ, what if she mentions anything to anyone? Will she talk?

‘God man, no – look she <hates> the police.’

True enough, thought Jonny.  The woman had been laying into Lewis about Thrush since she arrived. ‘But doesn’t she know, y’know, suspect what you get up to? What’ we’re doing here? Has she never come to see you in prison?’ 

‘Fuck no – I always tell her I’m off to Butlins for a couple of months to deal with the stress of police harassment. What with them turning up on her doorstep nearly every other week looking for me, I have to tell her something.  I can’t tell her I’m banged up. It’d kill her – <after> she’d killed me. Look, sorry man, but I promised her an Adventure day – and for anyone that spends days on end with only Lorraine Kelly and Eamon Holmes for company, taking a different route to the kitchen constitutes an adventure. She’ll be no trouble. She can’t really get about without help, so she won’t go walkies. And as soon as we’ve got the cash, I’ll whisk her off to the coast for the rest of the afternoon. Yeah?

Jonny shook his head and blew out his cheeks. ‘Alright. Alright! Fine, Jesus – ‘

‘Oh, and we’re going to have to tell the lads not to take the Lord’s name in vain today as well. Nanna loves God almost as much as she hates policemen.’

Friday, 11.40am.  Location:  class=”hiddenSpellError” pre=””>EasyBuys minimart. Timperdale.  Dil Singh was re-arranging the weekly celebrity magazines. Bloody kids coming in, having a read and buggering off without paying <or> putting them back with the car magazines afterwards, messing up his displays. He checked his watch. Maybe he’d close a bit earlier today and bank the takings before twelve.  Yes…take a sandwich and have a sit outside. It was still a lovely day despite being October, and that was rare in a country where every day was greyer than the complexion of 95 percent of its habitants.  Humming to himself, Dil wandered out the back and popped the kettle on to make tea.  Remembering that there were road-works outside, he walked back through the shop and crossed the street to the young man he’d seen erecting signs yesterday.

‘Hello young man – thought you might like this.’

Benny – who was mid-way through texting a status report to the awaiting Jonny and signalling the ‘go’ –promptly dropped his mobile in surprise and let out a not-particularly manly yelp. The mobile plopped straight into the tin of red paint he had left open to enhance his workman cover story and he let out yet another strangled sound before spinning round to see a man in a turban – in fact, the man they were going to rob in about 20 minutes – smiling at him clutching a steaming mug. Benny clutched his head as the surreal moment made a home in his panicking brain.

‘Er …’ Benny took the tea and after the confusion had passed started in alarm and plunged his hand into the tin of <Letter Box Scarlet>.

‘Oh dear,’ remarked Di, as Benny’s hand emerged dripping. ‘Did you need to make a call? You can come into the shop and use my phone if you like?’

Benny bemusedly rubbed his forehead again, before belatedly remembering where his hand had just been. 

‘Shit!’

‘Oh dear.  Look, come,’ coaxed Dil.

At a loss as to what to do – and <very> aware that a status report had to come in before the lads would move – Benny followed him into the shop.

 

Meanwhile, in Dave’s mum’s Fiat Panda, Jonny was getting impatient.

‘Why hasn’t he texted the go?’ Fuck’s sake…’

‘I’m sorry young man, but I’m sure it’s not good company policy to use such language in the presence of the aged,’ remarked Nanna Purvis, clearly convinced that she was still on an organised day trip for old people. No one had disabused her of the notion as she seemed to be enjoying herself. ‘I’m sorry that your day out doesn’t look particularly well booked – and I have to say, it’s usually a coach that’s hired for these sorts of things…’ she gazed critically round the Panda’s interior, ‘but I know about the financial cuts. An on- board toilet is a good idea though – some might say a necessity for such trips, given the unpredictable bladders of most people my age…  Still at least you look very smart, all in black there. But all said and done, bad language offends Jesus.  Are we off yet, Matthew?’ 

Jonny stared at nanna Purvis opened his mouth and then closed it again as his phone rang.

 ‘Benny!’

‘Yeah it’s me. Um, there’s a bit of a glitch.’

‘Glitch?’

Benny looked up as Dil Singh turned the ‘Open’ sign to read ‘Closed’ and opened the till. Which was full of money.

‘Feck.  Erm, there was cock up. I’m calling from – ‘

‘Do you want more tea, my friend?’

‘No. Thanks Mr Singh. I’m fine.’

‘Who’s Mr Singh?’ Jonny frowned. Benny was supposed to be sitting in his workman’s tent right about now, eating sandwiches and deciding what to spend his share of the cash on, not sneaking off for take-aways.

‘The minimart manager…’ Benny watched as Dil wandered off to the back of the shop with the money in a bag in his fist.  Benny hesitated and took stock.  Despite being the ugliest of their group, fate had decided to give him a break and made him the quickest thinking, as a sort-of wooden spoon prize of personality traits.  ‘Look, I’m <in> the minimart. He made me tea, I lost the phone, long story. But the money is here and I’m going to delay him until you arrive and pretend I’m as surprised as he is by the raid. What do you think?’

Jonny swallowed. ‘But…  ‘Oh fuck it! Ok. We’re on our way.  Step on it Dave.’ Jonny pressed end call and, after apologising for his language to nanna Purvis, started dialling Lewis’s mobile.

 

11.55am. Location: EasyBuys minimart. Timperdale.  ‘This <is> fun!’ remarked nanna Purvis as the Panda screeched to a halt and Dave cut the engine.

‘Nan, stay here,’ Matt pulled out his balaclava as Jonnny checked that his phone and the fake gun were in place. ‘We’re just popping into the minimart to grab some, er, drinks and we’ll be back in a minute. Dave will drive you a little further down the road because you can’t park here, ok?’

Matt and Jonny exited the car. Dave turned the key. Then turned it again. Nothing.  He squinted out of the windscreen to see what was happening inside the minimart but the lights were off.   Sneaking a look back at Nanna Purvis who seemed absorbed in her soup flask, he quickly unbuckled his belt and ran round the front to open the bonnet.

 

‘This is a raid!  Hand over the money!’ snarled Jonny, firing off the toy gun into the air as Matt stepped forward brandishing his own fake firearm, momentarily glancing at Benny.

 ‘Fuck me – Jonny – you shot Benny!’

Jonny spun towards the counter and seeing Benny red from forehead to neck, let off another round by mistake. Dil and Matt dropped to the floor. ‘He’s covered in blood – Christ, I thought the gun was a dummy!’ shouted Matt from the linoleumed floor of the minimart.

‘Take what you want!’ exclaimed Dil. ‘Just don’t shoot me!’

‘He’s covered in blood, Jon!’ bellowed Matt. ‘Oh my God!’

Benny quickly twigged that his earlier gloss paint incident was responsible for the frenzy. And stood up.

At which point, the shop bell jangled.

 

Dave jumped back in the car and turned the key. The engine roared to life and he stepped on the accelerator, working his way as fast as he could through the early lunch traffic to the end of Phipps street. He pulled up kerbside and left out a sigh of relief. That bloody alternator was always working loose. He turned to check on nana Purvis.

‘Sorry Mrs P. Bit of a bumpy ride back there but – oh fuck!’

Nanna Purvis had vanished.

 

Lewis was in position. The street was relatively quiet as Benny had set up diversion signs at either end.  As he approached the builder’s tent, he permitted himself a short exhalation of temporary relief. The money should have been dropped by now and the boys on their way to Phipps street. He strolled up to the tent, looking as policeman-like as he could and took another swift glance about. His exhalation was immediately revoked as he saw someone standing outside the minimart. Shit! Had she seen anything?  Crossing the road, he quickly dialled Benny’s phone to see if the bag was ready.  And did a double take. What was Matty’s <nan> doing here, ie. not inside the Panda?   Lewis hurried over. ‘Er. Can I help you out Mrs P? Why aren’t you with the –er, other members of the day out?

Nanna Purvis started, dropping her flask and eyed him suspiciously, appearing not to recognise him from earlier this morning. ‘What business is it of yours constable? Can’t an old woman mind her own now without being harassed? See now I’ve dropped my soup, you having made me jump sneaking up on me like that.’

Lewis watched as a patch of cream of tomato oozed unfettered across the kerb.  What on earth was this woman’s problem with police? He had to get her out of here and pick up the money.  ‘Come along now, let’s grab you a seat across here where that workman’s tent is, you look like you need a sit down.’

Reluctantly, nanna Purvis let Lewis lead her across the road to the tent. After settling her on a collapsible stool, Lewis ducked inside. No money, no Benny. But strangely there was ringing can of paint just by the door. He stepped back outside and put his own phone to his ear. No answer, Benny wasn’t picking up wherever he was.

 

Dave sat panicking. He’d lost Matt’s granny.  He thought for a moment. If she’d have fallen out of an improperly closed door as he took that corner round York road he’d have heard, right? Shitshitshit. She must have gotten out when he was fiddling with the alternator. Matt would <kill> him. Dave turned the ignition and for once the alternator obeyed. And he sped off past the end of Phipps street, back to the minimart.

 

‘Caller said the shots came from Markam street, sir.  By the minimart.’ The call had come in about minutes ago and the police car was racing towards the scene with police officers  Clarys and James inside. A Fiat Panda overtook them at about  pre=”about “>80mph just past the end of Phipps street and Clarys swore. ‘Shall I pull him over sarge?’ he asked, making moves towards the accelerator himself.  Sergeant James shook his head.  ‘No, let him go Clarys – gunshots come first.’

 

 

 

On arrival, sergeant James radioed in. ‘Position outside the minimart from where shots allegedly fired’. He drew breath. ‘There’s blood outside – see there on the kerb, constable.’ Back into the radio: ‘Send the SWAT team. We could potentially have a fatality here.’ He ducked into the squad car and pulled out the loud hailer. ‘Clarys, check the area is cleared. Start with that building site. I’m going to talk to them.’  PC Clarys nodded and hastily crossed the street to the builder’s tent.

 

Lewis, on hearing the siren, glanced up and almost screamed. An actual real-life police car had pulled up and an actual real-life policeman was on his way towards him. He ducked into the tent.

PC Clarys approached nanna Purvis.  ‘Excuse me madam, but we are going to have to clear the area. Are you ok?’

‘First, you ruin my lunch, now you want to shift me off the chair you only just told me to sit down in!’ exclaimed nanna Purvis.

PC Clarys frowned.

‘Are you ok, madam? Do you feel confused?’

‘What are you on about – of course not! I’m waiting for my grandson. He’s in that shop over there,’ she pointed to the minimart.

PC Clarys felt of the two that he was now the confused one.  ‘Your grandson?’

‘Yes, he bought me on a day out and…oh look! There’s the Adventures for the Aged Car! David! Coo-ee! ‘

Dave screeched to a halt in the Fiat and jumped out before realising that the reason he’d had to pull up was because a police car was blocking the road. He spun round at the sound of his name and nanna Purvis waved.

‘Hello David! Come here and tell his policeman that I am waiting here for my grandson and his colleague. They went into the shop to buy drinks for us you see, that’s why I was outside. It’s my birthday. She leaned in conspiratorially ‘I’m eighty seven you know.  We might have to buy sandwiches as well, seeing as you made me drop my tomato soup.’

PC Clarys felt that if Jeremy Beadle wasn’t dead, this would be his cue. After a second he turned to Dave who was an odd shade of grey. ‘You. Wait here. ’ And he hurried over to his sergeant.

 

Lewis heard all this squatting in terror inside the workman’s tent. What was Dave doing <not> being at Phipps street?  There were police at the shop door and his mates were still nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, his mobile rang.

‘Lewis!’

‘Jonny!’ he hissed, ‘what’s going on!?’

‘We’re inside. The police are coming in! And Matt’s Nan was in here!’

‘Well, she’s with me now don’t worry. There are only two coppers right now so you could still get away.’ Suddenly Dave’s head appeared round the tent flap.

‘What’s going on?!’

‘Dave stay outside!’

‘What?’ Exclaimed Jonny from Lewis’s phone. ‘Dave’s there? Right, when the cops come in, get Dave to collect the panda and drive round the back of the shop and pick up me, Benny and Matt. You keep an eye on grandma.’

‘But why is Benny…’

‘Just do it Lewis!’

‘Right!’  Lewis turned to Dave. ‘Dave, go and get in the panda and drive it round the back of the shop and collect the boys.

‘But isn’t that a bit…’ started Dave.

 ‘Just get in the fucking panda and drive it, Dave!’ screeched Lewis

‘Ok, fine!’ Dave hurried off.

 

‘Are we sure there’s a raid going on in there, sarge?’

‘What?’

‘Well that old lady said she’s been out here all along waiting for her grandson who’s inside. Buying drinks.’

‘But there’s blood on the ground, man!’

PC Clarys shook his head, then strode across the street to the bloodstain, dipped his finger into it and licked the end. Sergeant James knew the job could get to some officers but had thought PC Clarys was stronger than most.  Obviously he had been mistaken. ‘What are you doing constable?’

‘Tomato!’ called back Clarys. ‘It’s not blood, sir – it’s the old lady’s soup!’

‘But the gun shots?’

‘I don’t know sir, but if she’s the one called the shots in – and it’s likely, seeing as there’s no one else here – I wouldn’t be so sure they ever actually happened.  She said she heard a can of paint ringing earlier…’ He picked up the discarded Thermos but couldn’t see the lid anywhere.

Sergeant James narrowed his eyes.  ‘Hmm. Right I’m calling a car to pull up round the back and cut them off – and I’m going in’.

‘I’m coming with you sir.’

Lewis let out a sigh and returned inside the builder’s tent. At least he’d be safe for now in his uniform and nanna Purvis seemed more than happy sitting outside. He’d use his disguise to delay things and deter newly arriving coppers if need be, then scarper. Hopefully the old dear was so confused she’d keep schtum. This could all turn out ok. He snuck a peek through the tent flap. Nanna Purvis was singing to herself and watching the police enter the minimart.  But it wasn’t that that freaked Lewis out so much as the sight of Dave climbing into their police car.

 

‘We’re coming in!’ called out Sergeant James as he pushed open the door. Then everything seemed to go nuts at once.

Dave screeched the panda car to a halt behind the shop. Jonny exited the backdoor first, saw the car did a double-take and started to retreat, bowling straight into Jonny and Benny who were speeding up behind him.  Sergeant James saw the back of Benny disappearing out of the doorway at the back of the shop, just as he was frustratedly pushing at the shop door which for some reason wouldn’t open.  It appeared to be wedged on something  that looked somewhat like the lid of a Thermos. Fortunately,  through the back window he spotted the panda car pull up and sighed with relief.

‘It’s me!’  yelled Dave though the panda car passenger window, flinging open the door. Jonny, Benny and Matt didn’t need to be told twice and bundled themselves in.

After clearing the obstructive Thermos lid and surveying the scene, PC Clarys helped Dil to his feet and pulled out his notebook whilst Sergeant James stepped back outside with the abandoned takings to inform control central that the thieves had been apprehended by back up whilst exiting the shop. Immediately, he spotted Lewis opening the door of the abandoned Fiat Panda

‘Ah! Constable!’

Lewis head shot up in surprise.

‘Thank you for responding so promptly. They picked up the miscreants by the back door.’

Lewis began a small internal freak out.

‘Now, what I need you to do is take this bag down to the station and get it processed,’ he handed the bag of money over to Lewis and pulled out his radio. ‘Hang on, where’s my squad car?’

‘A young man took it,’ piped up nanna Purvis.

‘What? Who?!’

‘I didn’t really get a look at his face, mind. Was that shop being robbed then? How terrible…’ nanna Purvis craned her neck to try and see inside the shop.

Lewis stood agape, holding the bag of money.

‘Holy Jesus! James pulled out his radio, ‘there were others? Which way did they go? Madam, do you remember anything about them at all?’

‘Oh, I can’t say’, replied Nanna Purvis pointedly. ‘Isn’t it your job to be on top of these things?  I’m not here to be your eyes. I’m eighty seven. Shame on you.  And mind your language.’

Sergeant James was rather taken aback.  In his experience, old women usually loved the police and made them tea and dished out cake rather than scorn.

‘Constable, can you escort this woman home? I must find that car…’

Nanna Purvis looked at the bag of money in Lewis’s hands. ‘One moment Sergeant,’ she tapped him on the shoulder.  ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea for a young policeman to be escorting an elderly lady with a large bag of money. It isn’t safe.’

Sergeant James, halfway through a heated debate with his radio, hesitated. ‘Ah, yes, quite right, madam. Constable, escort this lady home and then return to station to report.

Lewis looked at nanna Purvis and she eyed him back shrewdly. He hesitated.

‘Hand it over constable. I think the fact that the young men have probably been caught is reward enough, eh? And,’ she added in an undertone, ‘we may find that they have been let off surprisingly lightly.’

Lewis still staring at her, handed the bag over to sergeant James who was already walking back towards the minimart.

‘And now you can take me home, Lewis,’ she smiled. ‘It wasn’t much of an adventure day for the aged but at least I’ve kept an eye on my errant grandson.’  She laughed. ‘He may be a nasty little criminal, but I can’t do without him. It’s so lonely when he’s off at ‘holiday camp’ for months at a time…’  she winked at Lewis whose eyebrows were currently making a bid to become part of his fringe. ‘I knew being involved in this little adventure could possibly mean another longer vacation for him this time,’ she sighed.  ‘But it all turned out for the best.  I know you all didn’t really want me tagging along, but surely an Adventure Day out with an Aged has got to be preferable to Butlins <again>, wouldn’t you say, constable?

No.11: Seek Food

Despite having hours and hours of free time in which to go to the supermarket, flancers never, ever have any food in the house.  After their email inbox, the fridge is the second most depressing thing a flancer can open due to lack of exciting content. It is difficult to describe the depression that descends when, after deciding to console yourself over another work-free morning with a coffee and a nice piece of cheese on toast you discover that you don’t have any bread, cheese, milk or coffee. Find the flancer that can console themselves with a steaming mug of boiled water and you will be in the presence of the happiest, richest flancer in the world.  But for the majority, all your cupboard has to offer is; Ryvita*, powdered milk, a jar of sweetner (which you momentarily consider adding to boiling water but then write this off as the most depressing thing in the world), assorted dried goods, a tin of flageolet beans and a Christmas Pudding** that has been there since 1990. 

If you are fortunate enough to flatshare, general practice is to then storm your flatty’s food-stores is search of  edible booty that’ll see you through this fuel crisis. However, one is rarely blessed with a house buddy that spends every other day at Tescos  (because she has a full-time job – unlike you) and so this sly comestible looting generally yields only half a tube of tomato puree, a rotting leek and an egg of dubious age. After cursing her name for being so disorganised, you then start getting desperate and tearfully poke right at the back of the cupboards to see if a packet of biscuits or some chocolates from last christmas got pushed down the back. Which there never is. And you should know this because you were in exactly this situation three days ago.

At this point, your blood sugar has hit rock bottom, all you have to eat is toothpaste and so you call a parent/guardian/older sibling***, sobbing about  how depressed you are that you have no career, no prospects and that you just ate a bowl of pasta with an oxo cube dissolved in it. Hopefully they will make reassuring noises, put some money in your bank account and mid-way through the conversation you will remember that there is *definitely* a packet of Malteasers in your handbag which you had forgotten about.

There is a God.

 

TODAY’S FOOTNOTES

*Nobody eats Ryvita. But everybody has a packet.

**You want it to be cake: and it so almost is, that it makes you even more depressed.

***Who, their secretary tells you, will have to call you back because they are in a meeting. At their full-time, salary paying job of work. Which makes you cry a little bit more.

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No.10: Feng Shui your work Space

Here’s a fact: Ideas are not like buses and when you haven’t had one for ages, three will not turn up at once.  And as many jaded, unwashed  flancers, wreaking of Java will vehemently point out (whether asked or no, at any opportunity) great ideas become increasingly harder  to pluck out of the air (if The Marlboro fug that constantly surrounds a flancer’s head like some sort of cancerous perm can be termed as such) the longer you are in the business.   Consequently, having exhausted every prosaic route of idea generation it isn’t uncommon for the flancer to have a sneaky dabble in the <esoteric>.

These days almost everyone has heard of  Feng Shui.   However, if you have been cruelly denied a life of daytime television, it is the Japanese practice of placing one’s domestic shiz in a certain mystical formation in order to allow Chi* to flow round the coffee table and into the ‘love quadrant’ or ‘money quadrant’ depending on what you feel needs some serious Chi-ing up. And of course, Feng Shui-ing your workspace in a certain way (ie. further away from the  toaster and coffee maker. Probably.) can increase your creative capacity so much that before long you’re be vomiting out novels like the love-child of Jilly Cooper and PD James. Publishing whispers have it that some ‘eccentric’ magazine editors are so dedicated to this idea of genius mystically springing up once a certain pot plant has been re-housed, that when starting in a new, un Feng Shuied** office, they create merry hell by having walls ripped out, doors boarded up and small mechanised fountains added to every stationary cupboard. One editor apparently gets her hair Feng Shuied in order to maximise Chi flow to the brain.***  

However, as most normal media types are desperately cynical when it comes to the creative process, they will never admit to having FS-ed anything. A good test is to,  when visiting their workspace, casually comment on the unusual placement of a small plastic aquarium by their laptop.  You could bet a whole pound that they will casually exclaim: ‘oh! Some friend of mine is into Feng Shui and put it there saying it would improve my income.’  Now deviously move said aquarium. You can bet a jade tortoise that they will surreptitiously  shift it back when you’re off trying to find where they’ve had the toilet moved to so that it’s now in the ‘career quadrant’.

 TODAY’S FOOTNOTES

*This is ‘Life Force’. The plural of Chi, might be Cheese. But probably isn’t.

 **Not the most comfortable of verbs, granted.

***But perhaps I made this up.

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No.9: Decide to do something else

There will be a day (usually around the three-week mark. Every month.)  That the flancer wakes up in a cold sweat. And not because they realise they drank a whole bottle of wine to themselves again yesterday.  They will sit up in their tousled sheets and realise, with a wave of nausea (not wine-related) that they MIGHT HAVE TO DO SOMETHING ELSE WITH THEIR LIVES. This is considered hitting rock bottom, as joining the Workforce Proper means full, Workforce Proper hours. Without deadline anxiety toast-scoffing.* Without unfettered social networking and television access.  Without smoking every half hour.  With other people they might hate!

However, on the plus side sits: not becoming borderline agoraphobic, getting dressed before 1.30 in the afternoon, actually having money in the bank without the letters ‘OD’ after them** and finally being able to repay their parents the loan they borrowed in 1995.

Flancers are often accused of being job-shy. This monika often falls from the disapproving lips of a successful, aggressively encouraging parent or live-in partner who does something hideously unnatural, like wear a uniform.   But it’s hard for someone who gets to ‘clock off at the same time every day’ to ‘understand how those seemingly less numerous working hours are more than repaid in stress,’ and that‘ you can’t force the creative process you know. I have actually been <thinking> for the last two days about this piece.’ And that it may ‘appear I sleep in ’til eleven but more than likely I was  up working till 1 am on a deadline the night before.’ Or ‘Ok, I may be on topshop.com <now>, but I’ll be working 17 hours a day when it all floods in next week’.

It’s all relative. Proper-jobbers may protest to never having actually seen this speculative series of events manifest in reality.  But they very easily could.  There is always that risk and if those Doubting Thomases didn’t bugger off at the first sign that they’d be covering both halves of the rent again, they would see it.  Of course, there are flancers who do shift work and any fellow, self-employed creatives admire this sort of ‘coal-face-esque’ grafting. But as a shifting flancer (or ‘freelance scum’ as staffers call them.  To their face of course, as they’d be at home with their feet up watching Trisha in a matter of weeks anyway so why pretend?) the home-shaped light at the end of the office shaped tunnel is always in sight. And you always get paid more than everyone else anyway.

The prospect of giving up working amongst your own personal filth is great wrench for flancers*** , despite the silver lining that brainstorming job alternatives is another excuse to go out and buy stationary and write in it over a cappuccino. And hopefully someone will see you furiously scribbling notes and assume you are a very, high-pressured journalist, as  opposed to the reality which is that you are writing out the pros and cons of becoming a vet.  The biggest obstacle here is that despite a large chunk of flancers being incredibly talented  they can rarely do anything else.  Except perhaps become a GP **** given the hours spent Googling their own ailments.   

Then comes the epiphany that, even in attempting to flee the money-less, misery-fest of journalism, here they are drinking coffee and writing again! Perhaps this is a sign! They cannot escape what they were born to do!  Fighting nature is wrong! And decide to keep on with the glorious struggle, before heading off to the bank to ask for another extension on the overdraft.

 

*because you are not allowed to be seen eating in media offices. This is law.

** Putting through £350 pounds of coffee and sandwiches as ‘entertaining’ can make accountants suspicious. Believe me.

***just look at any staff journalist’s desk and you will see how much they miss it.

 ****Which actually worked for Emma Deeks.

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No.8: Indulge in ShadenFreude

Flancers hate being out of work alone. After a certain amount of time, they crave a fellow flancer who is as skint, miserable, jobless and single* as they are  with whom they can bemoan their lot and  (hopefully!) discover that maybe, just maybe, this flancer is even MORE skint, miserable, jobless and unshaggable than they are. They will meet up for coffee. And during this coffee, several things will  happen:

1. They will talk about another flancer who is not with them having coffee (because she is employed) and start off by being complimentary about her work. 

2.Once a certain level of good karma has been generated, they will redress the balance by tearing apart most of what this woman has recently had published.

3.  After this, one or the other will try not to, but will be unable to restrain themselves  from suddenly reeling off all the job opportunities and successes they have  recently experienced, ‘if they are being really honest.’

4. Their comrade will feel hurt (wasn’t this a mutual failure coffee?) and in attempt to claw back some self esteem, do likewise.

5. Flancer 1 will pull out a sudden, unexpected credibility coup, along the lines of they ‘have a meeting with an interested publisher next week’ or ‘admittedly I did have three pieces commissioned last month by [insert aspirational woman’s glossy here] did I tell you?’

6. Flancer2 will painfully pretend she’s right-old pleased and delighted yet inwardly fume and droop.

7. Flancer 1 will suddenly be all inspired and right-old perked up and pay for the coffees.

Cruel? Maybe, but rest assured this scenario will take place around the same time next week with flancer 2 in flancer 1’s role. And the universal yin and yang will have done it’s beautiful job once again.

Fortunately, this dog-eat-dog scenario is only rife amongst non-important, non-life threatening, self-important careerist, who are at the centre of their own universe.  

At least let us hope so…

….Scene: The life guards’ canteen. The local swimming baths.

Life Guard 1: Jen’s a great lifeguard. She’s up for promotion

Life Guard 2: Oh great.

LG1: Or at least she was until she let that old lady drown by mistake

LG2: I am sooooo <not> surprised. On the ball she ‘aint.

LG1: But I am going to get her job – so isn’t that great news?!

LG2: Oh…excellent.

LG1: Hey, I’ll get your spag bol today – my pleasure. I’m off to clean the plunge pool filters!

 TODAY’S FOOTNOTES:

*not strictly necessary, but it is impossible to seek true refuge in someone that is partnered up. Because what do they know about REAL MISERY?

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No. 7: Experiment with a new computer font

Experimenting with Font is a great way for a flancer to inject a day riddled with disappointing content and uninspiring raw material with excitement. The same old thing, jazzed up with new packaging. It must be how Louis Walsh feels every working day.

There’s nothing like a bit of Helvetica to get the juices flowing, because at least you can pretend that maybe the person who’s writing this drivel is someone other than you. Sure,  flancers can generate a small amount of personal consolatory enthusiasm by shifting to American Typewriter for an afternoon.  But  – and this is key – one must never, ever submit any work to an external body written in a ‘fun’ font in the hope that the excitement will rub off on the feature editor,  who will then suddenly think that another piece on ‘recessionistas who cut coupons’ would be an INSPIRED idea and commission you forthwith.   This is because there is nothing more guaranteed to make someone hate you, than inflicting your adventures into exuberant font  upon them. Just ask anyone that has ever received a CV written in ‘Lucinda Calligraphy’ on yellow paper, with a ribbon holding the pages together through a hole punched through the top left-hand corner and they will tell you. They’ve never even <met> the candidate and they wish they were dead.

Suspicion is also immediately aroused by people who sign the bottom of their email in a joined-up font (as if they really have ‘signed’ their email!)  Coloured font is also vaguely disturbing as is anyone that opts for ‘Broadway’ ( the 1920’s thick-and-thin style lettering which makes any press release look like  a playbill/ invitation to a murder mystery party/optician’s sight test.)

And so – even though it’s as dry, male and uninspiring as  a Tory conference – when writing for public consumption always stick with Times New Roman. At least no-one that reads it will want to punch you in the throat.

 

Tomorrow: No.8: Indulge in Schadenfreude

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