To Eire Is Human

At 18, I spent the summer helping to rebuild a Southern Irish ruin that was suddenly inherited by someone who, unfortunately, wasn’t me.

A band of us travelled over the sea, through the soldiers, and into the madness that was Ireland.

The tools had been stolen on the ferry and under the noses of the anti-terrorist forces amassed at the only place where the vehicles were unattended.

So our first task was to buy tools, and this meant going into a pub, passing into the back, through a barbershop, and on into the hardware section.

There I weighed a claw-hammer in consideration, but there was no price, so I asked the chap.

“How much is this hammer?”

“Oh, er, eight punts.” He said in an accent so thick, I reckoned that I had better check.

“So, eight punts? That it?”

“Oh, well, er, seven punts.” He stammered.

“Seven punts.” I confirmed.

“Right, then five punts and I cannot go any more below that.” He insisted.

“Five punts!” I said incredulously.

“Four – and that’s us finished and done!” he cried.

“Four. Four punts!” I laughed now.

“Ah, you are a hard man for the bargaining, that you are. Look, as you’re all buying a lot, you can have the hammer with God’s blessing”

“The hammer’s FREE?” I said, amazed at my bartering powers.

He shot me a glance, and for a second I thought he was going to pay me to take this hammer home.

We filled the vehicles with the tools after we’d drunk the health of all the village’s inhabitants, found the house, and set camp for the night.

After two long days toil, we declared a milestone had been reached, and a night in the local pub was in order. We washed in cold water, combed hair, brushed teeth, and donned our going out togs.

The Blue Anchor was along the shoreline. We found it easily enough in the red glow of the setting sun. I was surprised to find that everyone in this place was a salty old sea dog type. Every face was roughly hewn, and etched with laughter lines, sharp winds and icy rains. All except for one.

She was not just gorgeous in comparison to these gentlemen, she was just gorgeous. Voluptuous, a female form alright, all curves and wiggles. A jaw-dropper.

This vision of beauty served us The Drink all night. There was music made, but a good time was nearly spoiled when I came out of “the gents” (a lane outside with a wall against which you could pee and lean), and slipped a coin in the fruit machine. I pulled the handle, and it whirled to life, flashing lights, spinning wheels, lots of noise – and I won the 200 Punt jackpot! The coins rattled out! I jumped and celebrated – but I knew something was wrong as I looked about and everyone was standing straight and holding their hearts.

How was I to know that tune was their National Anthem?

To calm it all down, I bought everyone two rounds of The Drink (even though the pub was now officially closed). The policeman who had looked in earlier to check last orders were called, now appeared without his uniform jacket, and was drinking away happily at the bar.

And so it went. So many adventures and stories in such a short space of time. The madness of this part of the world will forever live with me. I have too many tales for this post, so to finish on a low note:-

On my last day, we walked to the pub for breakfast, and the Great Beauty was there as usual – as perfect a vision as ever.

“Good morning!” I said.

“Ah well” She said, rolling her eyes.

“What’s the matter? Are you not well?” I enquired.

“Ah, I’m not quite right this morning” she admitted.

“I’m sorry to hear that”

“Oh, it’s nothing a Good Fart won’t sort” she said as she walked away, rubbing her belly.

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Who Do You Think You Are?

This relates an important life event, it’s an odd situation, so let me set the scene.

David L. was a client of mine. He asked me for help; a big client of his was demanding a big meeting regarding a climate control system he’d designed and installed for them. They reckoned it wasn’t up to scratch, and David was worried as he wasn’t a suit-wearing corporate type, and didn’t ‘do meetings’. David wore overalls everyday, even though he was the boss.

I was a tad put out that I was, to him, a suit-wearing corporate type, but I said I would come along and “hold his hand”.

“So what do I do?” He asked in worried tones as we drove to their place that sunny morning.

“The main thing,” I said, “Is to admit to nothing, agree to nothing, and offer up nothing.”

“Really? So we don’t have to come to a conclusion or anything?”

“No; we’re there to listen – to their fears, complaints, grievances, suggestions, demands – whatever they’ve got on their collective mind.” I continued.

“So we are not defending or attacking or…”

“Oh no – and the shorter the meeting, the better.”

“Right-o, keep it short and sweet.”

“David, the less we say, the better. Saying things drags things out; it refreshes the discussion and leads to other things, remember that we just want to gather information and get out – so we can figure out what to do about it all in private.”

“OK, you do all the talking,” he nervously said, and we parked up and went in to the lions’ den.

After the round of handshakes, we were presented with coats, shower-caps, and shoe covers. I regretted wearing my ‘power suit’. I hadn’t known that we were attending a meeting in an atmosphere controlled and graded-air facility. It added a sense of surreality to the proceedings. I wondered if this was to put us on the back foot; they would be used to this, and this was their domain. Hmmm.

So. There we all were, sitting around a big boardroom table. Not a single suit and tie was visible, not a distinguished greying temple, not a shined brogue.

But boy, they had brought in their Big Guns – chaps had flown up from head office – it was a lynch mob of TEN to us two. A Multi-National against an SME. David & Goliath? This. Was. Not. Looking. Good.

During the pre-meeting chattering, I leaned over to David, and whispered through clenched teeth, “This is Not Good – say absolutely nothing, no matter what happens.” I knew he was a hot-head, and I knew he was (like me) feeling like a cornered animal.

The meeting got under-way by a chap who was comfortable, relaxed and confident in public speaking and chairing meetings.

We gave them nothing in the pauses, I scribbled in my pad.

The next speaker was more direct, more of an attacker. Still we held sway.

I saw from the corner of my eye that David wanted to butt in and fix some ‘wrong’, but I managed to kick him under the table, and he broke off and shot me a look of suddenly remembering the Game Plan.

We were giving them nothing, so they interrupted themselves, soon everyone had got their knife in.

At times, we both dearly wanted to take the bait and engage them, it was hard, but we kept ourselves in check. I badly wanted to do some body language display, but having to be near David for a kick or hand on the wrist, meant that I was sitting too attentively.

Not just that, but I needed to change to a more comfortable position, so I decided to heck with it, and sat back, crossed my leg, and jotted on the pad propped on my knee.

This move coincided with the first time I had to speak; we’d been asked a direct question. My answer was monosyllabic. And so it went on – minimalist answers, long pauses, the dissipation of the curve.

We could see that they had used up their ammo, and I had politely acknowledged everything they had said, taking care to repeat it back to assure them that we had a full grasp of their point. I had agreed to look into it quickly, thoroughly, and professionally, and I smiled as I promised that we would work with them to find a satisfactory solution to all their problems. I think it helped that I had no idea about this project, and so I did not have all the ins and outs at my fingertips to distract me.

When enough was enough, I used the body language codes of shutting my book, standing up, and offering a handshake, as a sign that this meeting was over.

David was beside himself all the way back to the office! He was excited and thrilled! It went exactly as we’d planned, and he admitted that he was nearly ‘sucked in’ a few times. He called his wife, his people, everyone. I think it was relief and nervous exhaustion more than anything else – he’d lost a lot of sleep in the days before this meeting. A lot was at stake for him.

Now, I did nothing very special, to my mind. I followed the simplest rules regarding politeness, fairness, and the customer has to be happy at the end of the day.

For me it’s not about winning, losing, bullying, dog-eat-dog, personalities, career moves, postulating, aggression, ladder-climbing, or whatever – it’s not an arena, a bullring, a gladiatorial contest. But I know that some think it is, or should be. Stuff them; we won’t play that game – small businesses just can’t afford to.

To this day, David says I saved his company. I’m flattered, of course, but it’s an exaggeration.

I have never had a ‘proper job’, as I have always worked for myself in one capacity or another; I like it that way. I cannot imagine being on a career path or corporate ladder, living in fear of my job, or of not-getting promoted, or of the younger man. I usually speak just for myself; I usually have only myself to worry about. This was different in that I was with someone else, I was representing someone, but then, I’ve been at business meetings of all kinds and levels pretty much all my adult life.  What was really different about this one was that I learned something profound.

Yes, it was not a simple case of following the rules and doing the job (‘the usual’), this was the one time in my life that I’ve received performance feedback.

Because, for weeks and months after this meeting, David provided me with a stream of feedback about myself, and I was astounded. When you work on your own, you cannot get this. Because we were double-handed at the meeting, I got a new perspective, a new angle on what happened.

It must have been just as unusual for David too. Bosses are alone and lonely creatures. There’re no friends with which you can share – he was loving this!

He gleefully reported that one chap he’d spoken with on the telephone shortly after the meeting, found me ‘slick’, and he congratulated David on bringing in a high powered consultant – Huh?

Another report was that I was ‘too laid back’ – and that I did him no favours. I was also reported as being ‘too aggressive’, ‘too legalistic’, ‘nippy, sniping and picky’, ‘obviously dumb and mentally slow’, ‘a lightweight’, ‘not aggressive enough’, and everything in-between.

I was described as ‘a bit young’, ‘seasoned’, and even  ‘that old lawyer David brought along’!

What went on here? How can I be all those things? Remember – I said as little as possible, we did not chat before or after either. We were wearing shower-caps and coats. They had few clues, so perhaps it was just the body language – but that seems to have been interpreted in many ways.

So I have to say that this short meeting has taught me that I am not in control of what ‘I am’ – and what ‘I am’ is filtered through the imaginations of others.

I am not what I think I am. I am not what I want to be. What I want to be changes every five minutes anyway. I am not what I was. What I was changes when I see an old photograph, read an old diary entry or hear about myself from someone else.

Robert Burns’s famous “To see yourself as others see you” is not even half the story.

Descartes famously said (in translation), “I think therefore I am”. This ought to be “I think therefore I am – whatever that is.”

TL;DR – In summary, I went to a meeting and found out that the impression I made was ridiculously varied. As a result of which, I suddenly understood that I have no idea who I am, that who I am is not a fixed concept, and that who I am is not really in my control.

But you have the right to your opinion of you as much as other people have the right to their opinion of you.

What to do about this knowledge? This realisation? – well, I would suggest that you stop worrying about it; it’s not something you can control, so let it go.

The Biscuit Tormentor

My mother usually ended her supermarket shopping trips with a tea break at the supermarket’s café.

She would park her trolley after removing her newspaper and digestive biscuits. On ordering a cup of tea, she’d relax with the crossword, dunking her biscuits in her tea.

On this particular day, a lady slipped into the booth to share the table. My mother glanced up and gave an acquiescent nod to indicate that the seat was not taken. Mother was engrossed in her crossword and the teacups arrived.

She then became aware that the woman opposite had taken a biscuit and was dunking! So she cleared her throat, and made something of a display of taking the next biscuit and dunking. That ought to do the trick she thought.

Mother was astonished to notice that the woman had the bare-faced cheek to reach into the pack and remove another digestive!

Well, this just won’t do, mother thought. She moved the packet from the centre of the table into her side, and she took her next biscuit while tutting and slightly shaking her head.

This woman paused in her reading of her paper, looked up at mother – and pulled the pack back to the centre of the table, removed another one, and dunked!

Well, that was that! Mother couldn’t concentrate on her crossword anymore. She finished her tea, got up with an “how dare she” attitude, and left, thinking that this woman was welcome to the rest of the pack.

biscuitdual

She put her groceries in the car, returned the trolley, and drove home in a fluster.

When she arrived, she sat for a minute in the car, trying to calm down.

“What is the world coming to?” she wondered.

After a deep breath, she composed herself and took in the grocery bags, and as she started putting the things away, she came across her packet of digestives, and the sudden, horrifying realisation that it was she who was scoffing that woman’s biscuits, and not the other way around. She was mortified with shame and embarrassment; what must that poor woman have thought of her as she sat opposite, openly stealing her biscuits from her, right in front of her face?

The Reason My Dad Hated Cats

We all knew father really didn’t like cats, but we didn’t know why – until, after his death, mother told us.

“He kept this a secret all of his life. I think I’m the only person he told it to while he was alive,” she began, intriguingly.

“One day, when he was a small child, he came across a pussy cat right outside his home.  It seemed to like him; it came to him and rubbed against his legs. He was enamoured of it, and cuddled it.

“But he had to leave, so he enticed the cat into the house, and placed it on the couch, where it purred. He said ‘stay there, and I’ll see you when I get back.’

“When he arrived home later, he found a crowd of neighbours at the house.

“‘A wild cat’s got in the house’ he was told. His father grabbed him and made him put on three jackets and two pairs of trousers. Together, wearing all these clothes, gloves, scarves and balaclavas, they entered the parlour…

“The room was wrecked, the curtains were shredded, the couch was ripped – as was the rug. The ornaments were smashed from the mantle, and the pictures broken on the floor below where they had hung on the wall. It was chaos!

“They worked together, approaching the wild-cat, which was liable to suddenly spring up and bounce off the walls. Eventually, they managed to get a thick army surplus blanket over the creature, and got it bundled into a Gladstone bag.

“The cat was removed by a family friend, and the family carefully picked through the room. What a mess.

“He was just a child, and he was sad to see his mother weeping. It affected him to see the mess the room was in, and that it was his doing. But most of all, the rigmarole of trying to capture a spitting, hissing, bouncing wild-cat gave him nightmares throughout his life. It really was traumatic, I think he may have got scratched, or his own father got hurt in some way.

“In the clean-up, he saw a neighbour helping, ‘How did the thing get in, that’s what I’d like to know’ she asked, ‘After all, the door was closed, and it looks like it had been trapped in for quite some time, poor thing.'”

“Father resolved never to speak of this. It was a deep, dark secret. He couldn’t so much as look at a cat, let alone contemplate taking one in for a pet.”

It’s peculiar how incidents in childhood can affect a person for the rest of their life.

B**ST OFF!

What possesses a dad to wear a “F**K OFF” Tee shirt to a children’s party?

I see this sort of thing all the time and everywhere too – in MacDonald’s, on the street, even on the school run. Children can read after a certain point, don’t these “adults” care? what is going on?

It forces parents like me to answer questions we’d rather put off until a bit later, when the kids are more “ready” to cope with the “truth”.

Although I just do not “get it”, I suppose we all just have to learn to live with this stuff, and graffiti too, but sometimes it goes too far.

graffiti outside nurseryOne day, for example, my son spotted the new graffiti right outside his nursery. It was a massive cock-and-balls spray painted on the wall.

“Mummy?” He enquired, pointing from his pram, “Mum – what’s that?”

“What’s what, darling?”

“THAT?” he shouted, pointing at the graffiti.

“OH, THAT? Well, it’s a rocket, isn’t it? A space rocket! Blasting off! Look at the clouds of smoke from the blast-off!” announced my quick-witted wife.

“Wow,” said the little voice from the pram, “Booo-ooo-ooom!”

However, later, when she called back to collect him, the nursery leadership asked if they could have “a word” about the boy’s behaviour. Apparently he had spent all that morning drawing and colouring in cock-and-balls, much to their horror.

My wife explained that it had been too early in the morning to get into a discussion about genitalia, graffiti, sex, and all that; she hadn’t had her coffee yet, and that it was all their fault for failing to cover-up, or remove, the graffiti outside. She shrugged, dismissively, and turned sharply to leave.

But as she walked through the class toward her son in his pram, she realised that it had really caught on, that all the other kids had copied him all morning, and the entire nursery was covered in dozens of garish cock-and-balls drawings, paintings and collages.

Her cheeks coloured as she increased her pace to get away from this madness, imagining a lynch mob of parents arriving later in the night, waving pitchforks and garish, childish pictures of cock-and-ball space rockets.

Not Getting It

Wee Stewart got a contract with a client in England, he told me:

“I don’t think this job’s going to last.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, we don’t really see eye-to-eye; there’s a communication problem.”

“Is it an English-Scottish thing?”

“No, I don’t think so; I don’t know what it is exactly, they don’t even get my sense of humour.” He moaned,

“For instance, we all went out for a drink after work to this pub near the office which had a stripper pole-dancing on a podium – Well, I didn’t expect that, and didn’t know where to look, so I blurted out a wee joke.”

“Oh, right, so what did you say then, do tell.”

“All I said was, ‘Phew, that dancer’s getting me going – I can’t wait to get home and rip the wife’s knickers off… …they’re killing me!’ You know, that old joke, I thought it would do the trick, break the ice and all that, but they just gave me strange looks and started edging away.”

“So they thought you were not joking – and that you were wearing your wife’s knickers?”

“Aye.”

“Hahaha.”

He left that job soon after.

wife's knickers are killing me

I told this story myself today in the office, and could hardly believe it when one of them said she didn’t “get it”.

I recapped, with much emphasis.

“Phew, that stripper’s getting me all HOT and BOTHERED AND NOW I can’t wait to get home and r-r-r-rip my wife’s knickers off… (COMEDY PAUSE) …because they’re killing me – boom boom – Ta-dah!.” Jazz hands. Happy, expectant face. Nothing. Not even tumble-weed.

“I don’t get it – was he wearing the knickers or not?”

“Why is that funny?”

“Is that funny?”

“I don’t get it.”

Irony. Irony. Irony.

because they're killing me

Antisocial Media

When I moved from my parents’ into my own place, I got a telephone line, a cream-coloured Ericsson T1 and a teak effect answering machine. Despite taking ages to get the outgoing message just right, I got a LOT of hang-ups, silences, wrong numbers, and insane messages from my mother to “pick up; I know you’re there.”

I was disappointed that it was not chock-full of interesting messages from all my pals. Then again, none of my pals were very interesting, and I was only slightly interesting on certain days.

It took me years to realise that I was merely a pawn in the telephone company money-making machine. Where previously a call that was unanswered cost nobody a penny, connecting to the machine cost the caller money even if they heavy breathed and hung up. Heavy breathing was an expensive hobby, especially during the on peak periods.

I was reminded of all this years later when I got a smartphone.

After the initial excitement of setting it up and playing around with apps, it was pretty disappointing. I wanted, needed it to do more, to be more. This thing had to be invaluable and necessary.

But… I still get free calls on the land line, I still get answering machine and voicemail crap that makes money for someone. So what to do with this potentially brilliant thing?

At this point, I could have used the camera on the phone to take pictures of all my meals to share on-line, or I could have shared my cycling or walking routes, or my location on Foursquare. It would certainly make good use of the phone’s features, but in the end I thought I’d better not.

So I decided to try out some of the free sites and apps – stuff like gmail, keep, drive, on-line calendars, twitter, facebook, pinterest, thisismyjam, youtube, stumbleupon, reddit, flikr, and more – and I got them feeding to my phone. This would be fun surely?

After a year of giving it all a good go, I have to say that some of it has been the most anti-social stuff I have ever done!

Before I go on, I have to acknowledge that I realise that each of these “social media” sites can be used very differently; you’d think facebook or twitter would be the same experience for all, but it isn’t. They are what you make them to a large extent.

This maybe best explained with an example – the way I used twitter initially was to follow the stars, but general celebs soon became annoying, so I switched to comedians only, and that lasted for a short while as they are not as funny as I had hoped.

I then explored hashtags during live telly shows – and this was quite funny for a while, as it was like an add-on to the show itself, making the show better that it actually was.

Even so, I soon grew tired of this, and I thought I would start to build my own original content, and doing follow-backs. My wit and humour in 140 characters got me a fast growing following and an increasingly good influence rating – all in a couple of months… but it was time-consuming, and I couldn’t see why I should be an unpaid entertainer and agony aunt. I quit when my target of 600 was reached.

Have I been insulted, threatened or bullied on-line? Not really; I put a couple of facebook comments on that created blind fury, much to my amusement, and there was one attempt on twitter that was easily remedied (blocked),

I did see it happen to others, and I have read the threads, and I felt sad for Mary Beard and for the singer from CHVRCHES (and all the others), but then again, using your real name on the internet is the real problem. Maybe, if everyone went back to using a screen name like we did in the 90s, and I do now, then happiness would be possible.

The best sites, the least threatening, and the most fun, are the sites where screen names are used or can be used, especially thisismyjam, reddit and wordpress.  I think the biggest example of this is when google+ connected with YouTube; everything went to hell in a handbasket.

Facebook used to be for spying on colleagues and exes from failed relationships, but the addition of privacy settings means that it’s now just a type of therapy for the great unwashed masses, somewhere they can air and share their extreme political and religious views, and attempt to market their empty lives as aspirational lifestyles. And they take it very seriously indeed.

So, after my year of smartphoning with social media, the result is mixed. While I got a lot from some of them. I’d say the most antisocial media site would definitely be Facebook, and it’s the one app that cannot be deleted from phone memory.

TL;DR – Social Media can enrich, inform and entertain, but it’s better on a PC than a phone. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are great on phones, but can be used antisocially to bully and upset users, which is not what you spent all that money on, is it? My advice is to use them but do not contribute, and cull deep and often.

Unwanted Alien

My father in law told me today about when he visited expat friends in Canada and they decided to show him Niagara Falls on a day trip.

They asked the Canadian border guards if they all could nip over to the ‘states for a bit – even though they did not have any passports on them. The guards smiled and said it was fine, so they passed onto the bridge.

When they reached the American side, they explained that they were just having a wee look for a few minutes and that the Canadian side had said it was OK. The Americans did not take the same view. Instead they took the matter very seriously indeed.

The expats were allowed to return, but my father in law was detained for several hours. There was no way he was getting into the USA without a passport even for a 5 minute look at the falls. Eventually he was let out to return along the bridge, alone, and with a note pertaining to his being an “unwanted alien”.

At the Canadian side, the guards had changed hours before, and the new ones refused him entry to Canada without a passport. Yikes.

It looked like my father in law was going to have to remain in no man’s land for the rest of his life, when one of his expat pals reappeared. The guards suggested that they fetch my father in law’s passport and return with it.

The trouble was that it was in Vancouver, and it was now nightfall.

A sudden last minute change of heart allowed my father in law to cross back into Canada. He asked the guards if he could keep the note about him being an “unwanted alien”, but they refused, stating that they needed it for the records.

.oOo.

Later in the trip, complete with passport, he drove into the USA and underwent another border hold-up – this time by a large black female guard with infeasibly long fingernails and a big gun. He was fed up and snapped at her – and this seemed to help; she suddenly let him pass.

The punchline was that he returned to Canada fifteen years later – this time with his wife and daughters, and they again passed through into the USA at the very same checkpoint – and (believe it or not) were detained by the self same big black woman with the long fingernails.

My father in law lost it again, and shouted at her that he remembered that she did this to him last time – 15 years before!

And once again, she let them pass!

It’s pretty clear that the border controls between the USA and Canada are based on irrationality.

Baffling Life

A Polish woman was trying to chat to my wife yesterday.

“You like Poland?”

“I have never been, is it nice?”

“Ah yes, you go sometime!”

“Yes, maybe I’ll go one day…”

“Oh, no, but you must go for more than one day, maybe a week or two week.”

.oOo.

You can also get language barriers in English. One time I was in B&Q looking at their kitchen displays.

“Can I help you, sir?” The salesman asked.

“I’m looking to put a small kitchen into a flat for renting out”

“Well, we do the best deals in flat-pack, but we don’t install – we just supply. Having said that, off the records and only between you and me and the gatepost, I know a good joiner who will fit the kitchen for you,” he winked.

“Is he reasonable?”

“Aye, and he does a crackin’ job.”

At this point, I tried to open a drawer, it was stiff and drew out in jerks. He said,

“Don’t worry about that, O’Connell will fix that easy as pie.”

We continued to chat and look round the display units. I opened a wall unit and the door fell off the hinges.

“I know, I know, O’Connell will be able to fix this easy as pie.” I grinned.

“Er – who?” he seemed puzzled.

“O’Connell.”

“Who’s that?”

“Isn’t that the name of your joiner?” I was confused.

“Nope, it’s John Wilson – where’d you get O’Connell from?”

“But you said O’Connell would be able to fix the drawer easy as pie…”

“Aha! I said A CANDLE!”

This is the trouble with Glaswegian – they pronounce candle as connell. Who knew.

.oOo.

I had a lodger once, who told me a story I didn’t understand for most of the time he was telling it. It seems he was looking to buy a tap and had tried quite a few shops.

In the USA taps are known as faucets, and this is what I had in mind throughout the telling of this story. However, it eventually became clear that I had the wrong end of the stick; he was talking in Glaswegian about a Football Strip – a “top” – or (as he pronounced it) a “tap”.

.oOo.

Another infamous tale concerns an angry US American tourist who was staying at an hotel. Every morning he would come to breakfast and bully the Scottish waiter. He would shout demands and order the man about.

It’s quite legendary that one morning he demanded a pitcher of water, and the disgruntled waiter took down a framed oil painting of Loch Lomond from the wall and delivered it to his table,

“There’s your picture of water,” he said before hanging up his apron and resigning.

Odd Birds

My neighbours think we’re most peculiar. It’s not that we’re odd, just that they think we are — due to bad timing and a series of incidents that are too complicated to explain (so we don’t bother). Heaven knows what theories they must imagine up to rationalise our behaviour.

Here’s a typical example.

One day, a few years ago, I was watching a Wimbledon match on my kitchen telly. I was annoyed to be so frequently distracted by a noisy bird outside in the rear courtyard of our apartment block of tenement flats.

I suddenly realised that there was a small bird in a tree getting bullied by a gang of aggressive biker-style magpies. I could hardly believe the behaviour, and called on my wife.

My daughter and wife were so upset about the little bird, and of the horrible behaviour of the magpie gang, that they called the RSPCB.

After a surreal conversation, it was decided that my wife and daughter would save the poor wee bird. The Bird Expert had suggested a plastic laundry basket would be a good way to get the bird caught and safe.

A laundry basket was sourced, and a cunning plan devised. My daughter hunted out some play walkie-talkies, the batteries still had charge, and the channels were set. I was kitted out with binoculars and posted to the window to guide their movements from above as they sneaked up on the scene.

Off they skulked, in soft-soled shoes, and dark clothes, with the other walkie-talkie and the plastic basket. They snuck down and out the back door and waved up at my window.

I whispered into the walkie-talkie for them to take it easy and slow, and to work round to the left. The birds were oblivious.

They bent double, and sneaked as directed, pausing behind some foliage to consider the next move when a neighbour suddenly (and loudly) appeared on the scene, carrying a refuse bag to the communal bin store.

She was quite startled to see my wife and daughter crouching with a walkie-talkie and a large plastic laundry basket.

She left her bin and returned to the building without saying a word, glancing and frowning up at the window as my binoculars glinted off the setting sun, but the game was up; the birds had taken fright and vanished. The two ninja bird hunters signed off and returned sheepishly to base.ninjabirdhunters

I was beside myself with laughter.

No wonder the neighbours think we’re odd.