Sunday, 30 June 2013

Mistaken Identity.

On Wednesday, I received a call on my mobile from an unknown number. Nothing unusual about that perhaps. I'd normally refrain from answering, as it's inevitably someone trying to sell me something, or hassle me about something I've already purchased. However, I was expecting a call from an airline about some flights I've booked for a wedding this month, so I picked up. Almost instantly, I regretted this decision.

"Is that Mr. Martin?"


"Oh, hello, this is Louise calling from [a bank]. I spoke to your wife earlier about taking out a loan with us for some home improvements."

Alarm bells started to ring. Partly because Louise wasn't an employee of the bank that I use, but mainly because I have neither a wife, nor a home. Well, one that I own at least. And yes, I mean the home rather than the wife. Although the idea of renting a wife may seem appealing to some. 

"I'm not sure you have the right Mr. Martin."

"This is definitely the number we have to reach you on. You did say you were Mr. Martin?"

At this point, I was unsure what to think. It could have been a simple administrative error, but equally Louise (if that was even her real name) could be a confidence trickster, trying to steal my identity, and/or my money. It might be too late already. She had my mobile number and my surname, which would surely be enough to track me down - suddenly, being bundled into the back of a van, and waking up in an ice bath, missing my kidneys seemed a very real possibility.

"Well, yes, but it's a common name. I'm not even the only one in my family."

"Right. Could you confirm your address for me, please?"

Oh, sure 'Louise', so you can dispatch a mob of heavily-set thugs with a very rudimentary grasp of renal surgery to my exact location, to part me with two key components of my urinary system? I've seen Taken, I know how these things work - You'll have to do better than that.

"I'd rather that my internal organs didn't end up on eBay, thank you very much!"

"I'm sorry?!"

I then realised that Louise hadn't been involved in my inner monologue, which I appreciate could have made my outburst seem a little odd. Thankfully, I managed to style it out.

"Sorry, it's a topical reference. I'd rather not give out my address over the phone, if that's okay?"

"I see. It sounds like now might be a bad moment. Is there a better time to talk?"

She could clearly sense I was a nut that wouldn't crack easily. Like the few pistachios in every bag, which simply won't open, at least not without destroying a few fingernails in the process. Pistachio trumps manicure, Louise.

At this point, I probably should have told the truth about my lack of spouse, or home ownership, but it was too late. Had I mentioned this immediately, I'm sure the whole thing would have been laughed off, and Louise and I would have parted ways permanently. But now I was Liam Neeson: I would look for her, I would find her, and I would kill her. Well, maybe not kill, but at least force her to update her contact records. 

"How about tomorrow lunchtime?"

"Sure. When do you normally have lunch? Does 12.30 suit you?"

I assume this was some sort of ploy to find out when my inner workings would be at their 'cleanest' for the Butcher of Bucharest to whip out, and pack into an M&S picnic cooler, bound for the black market. 

"12.30 is perfect. I'll speak to you then."

Louise didn't ring back. I like to think she sensed that I was not a man to mess with. In reality, she probably realised there had been a basic data-entry error, or was simply terrified by my online auction outburst. 

Either way, I still have my fictitious wife, my fake family home, and my very real kidneys. We're thinking of having an imaginary conservatory built.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Bad Ideas.

"Remember, there's no such thing as a bad idea."

This is a phrase that I hear with alarming regularity, particularly at work, and often in Brainstorms, or whatever political correctness dictates we now call them. 'Thinkdrizzles' or something, I expect. 

It's a piece of idiom that I've never fully understood; Clearly there is such a thing as a bad idea. I can think of three right now:

1. Inflatable shoes for cats.
2. Toasters for kids' paddling pools.
3. Justin Bieber's parents foregoing contraception.

And the list goes on. Obviously, the principle is that even a poor suggestion may prompt a better one. This is fine, but I'm certain that there would be a better way to express it, rather than providing a caveat for completely abandoning the filter of common sense before speaking. 

"Shall I wear a condom, darling?"

"No, don't worry, a child would be great for our relationship, and it's not as if two normal Canadians like us are likely to produce one of the world's most hateful and precocious teenage megastars, is it?"

"Well, I don't know, there was that blood pact we made with Satan."

"I guess... but what the heck - you only live once."

I don't have the precise transcript from that conversation in 1993, but I can only imagine it ran more or less along those lines. 

On the subject of 'ideas', it's time for the (even more) self-indulgent bit of this post. I've been asked a few times of late where ideas for tweets come from. My response is usually that I have a sweat-shop in Bangalore, churning out vast swathes of 140 character combinations for me to review and post. It's a polarising answer, but the truth is that I don't really know. 

Often the seed of a joke will come from something I hear in conversation, or read in the paper (ok, so it's normally online, but there's something about reading actual newsprint which appeals to my desire to appear more cultured, and permissive of the wanton destruction of our planet's natural resources). 

However, I then regularly dedicate time to making it work in 140 characters to the best of my ability. Sometimes a minute, but often it will percolate for a few days, or even weeks in some cases. I think this is why I'm easily riled by responses of "surely it's better if...", or "would be funnier with...". They may well be right, but like a protective mother, it makes me want to attach electrodes to their genitals, and perform unspeakable acts of cruelty on their extended family and pets. I've often wondered whether the people I admire on twitter, or indeed as writers in general, have similar routines and habits, or perhaps just a complex algorithm. And where they get their electrodes from.

That said, Twitter itself is quite often the inspiration. If you haven't seen @MooseAllain talk about the 'Hive Mind' of Twitter (here), it's well worth a watch, as it describes something that I agree is unique to the platform in terms of stimulating creativity. It could be a half-mention of an Eighties TV show, an unusual turn of phrase, or even a picture of a Parisian bakery (note to self, do a 'French knickers made of bread/Boulingerie' gag), which sparks something else. And that's why I love it. Especially when you watch the process unfold in front of you. I'll often see a great tweet, and know exactly where the inspiration has come from. And it's a wonderful thing to observe.

Now, returning to the topic of bad ideas, I'm off to write a film adaptation, where a robot Arnie travels back in time to Ontario in the early Nineties to perform a vasectomy. The Sperminator.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

My longest ever tweet.

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
― Mark Twain

Always start with a quote, they say. Though I'm not entirely sure who 'they' are. 
Builders certainly. Although their quotes invariably start with a sharp intake of breath, a scratch of the head, and then an allusion to some sort of complication that will make even the most routine of tasks carry a price tag that edges some way towards the entire sum of Third World debt: "The thing is, mate, your flat is built on an ancient Celt burial ground, which adds another 15%".

But I digress.

I decided, after just under two and a half years on Twitter, that I should have a go at writing something a little longer than the seemingly arbitrary 140 characters allowed on my preferred social network. Interestingly (a word employed in this instance to add some figurative glitter to a literary turd), Twitter is often described as a 'microblogging site'. It's a term that I've always struggled with - whilst I know not technically accurate, I've always associated the word 'blog' with personal tales or experiences - a digital diary of sorts. Of course, there are many who use Twitter in this way, but in my experience they are almost without exception the dreariest of accounts. 

To be honest, unless you're James Bond or Zooey Deschanel's loofah, I'm unlikely to be interested in your every movement: "Meeting with M - got to save the world from a supervillain AGAIN. LOL" (Bond), "Vigorous scrubbing today - mainly the boob area" (Loofah), "Only met her once, and now we're showering together!" (Both). Bond certainly wouldn't post Instagram pictures of his Martini.

I very rarely tell the truth on Twitter. If everything I wrote were accurate, the last 29 months would have been rather eventful - I'd have married (at least twice), started several businesses, invented time travel, had myriad children, written a number of books, and carried out multiple assassinations. I haven't done any of those things. But I think that's part of the charm -  each tweet can be completely discrete from any of its predecessors. It allows us to create characters and events that don't even nearly mirror our real lives; The closest I've come to a contract killing was being paid 50p to eat a spider at primary school.

But the character limit forces us to be concise. I'm regularly amazed by how Tweeters are able to distil complex stories, witticisms, and philosophical meanderings into the allotted space. It's a challenge I enjoy. The trouble with anything longer, is that you have to work out a clear beginning, middle, and end, and more importantly choose a subject that is interesting enough to keep readers interested for more than the 6 seconds it takes to read a tweet. Which is why I've failed spectacularly here. Next time, I'll make sure I have something more riveting to discuss. 

However, if this experience has taught me one thing it's this: Mark Twain was a lying bastard.

I'm off to set up a 'Zooey Deschanel's Loofah' Twitter account.