Fight the power!

A complaint letter to East Coast Trains after a recent rail journey…

From: Robbie Thomson [mailto:rob.thomson87@gmail.com]
Sent:
05 November 2013 16:02
To:
customers@eastcoast.co.uk
Subject:
Fight the power!
 
Good afternoon,
 
I’m emailing regarding the pretty poor service I received on East Coast Trains on Friday 1st November when I travelled from Aberdeen to Newcastle.
 
I am not a frequent train user. I want to say that at the outset. I use my car because I don’t like strangers and I can sing the female bits of “Endless love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie without having anyone staring at me. But when you work up in Aberdeen and need to get to Newcastle the fastest way, invariably is by train. Not only was I using the train, but for this journey I was travelling first class. The main reason for this was that it was only £1 to upgrade but also being able to turn my nose up at people in cattle class was an added benefit. Another benefit of first class was that I had a boatload of work to do and you can’t do that in standard class when a child is vomiting on your shoes or an old lady is constantly asking you if this is her stop.
 
I boarded the train, hot and sweaty after lugging my bags and my rather cumbersome figure around all day, took my seat and got my laptop out to get cracking with my work. I plugged it in and – nothing. No power. Changed sockets – nothing. Changed sockets – nothing. After the third or fourth time of leaning over seats and giving the rest of the carriage a perfect view of my arse crack I knew this was a problem that extended much further than me. I sat, watching as my battery drained, hopeful that at any moment the power would kick in and the crisis would be averted.  
 
I spoke to the attendant straight away and asked her to look into it. She said she would speak to the guard and get it working again. She winked at me which I thought was nice, but judging by my hot and sweaty face and the fact that I’m positive she got the best view of my rotund posterior, I attributed it to her having a dodgy eye.
 
Half an hour went by and nothing had happened. I caught the attention of another attendant (the one without a dodgy eye) and asked her if anything had been done about the power. She said “they” were working on it. The problem was obviously more serious than I thought – “they” had been drafted in. I checked every 15-20 minutes after that, but as we thundered down towards Edinburgh my laptop remained temporarily comatose.
 
When we arrived in Edinburgh about 45 minutes later I had a flat phone battery to add to my flat laptop battery. The crew changed around at Edinburgh and when we left the station I was under some sort of false hope assumption that because we had been standing still for 15 minutes someone would have sorted the power issue out. But no, we were left powerless and with now an entirely new crew to try and sort out the problem. As the attendants came round (as far as I was aware, none had dodgy eyes) I asked them to look into the power problem only to be told again that “they” were trying to sort it out. I don’t know who “they” are, a shadowy cabal of railway plug socket engineers, but either this was a gargantuan problem that it had taken over two hours to try and fix or “they” are largely useless at their jobs or “they” don’t exist. I think it’s the latter.
 
It was now 22:15, half an hour before my train was due to arrive in Newcastle. I had completed zero work, missed countless phone calls and due to the cessation of my contact without the outside world I couldn’t even tweet my frustrations or play angry birds. The situation was, however, made slightly better by a steady supply of beer and crisps that I was afforded due to me travelling in first class. But as 22:15 came round and I’d finally become bored of staring out of the window into blackness I overheard the attendant saying to another passenger that the power was off indefinitely. Brilliant. The small army of workers that had been tirelessly pulling out all the stops to fix the problem since Aberdeen had finally called it a day. This problem had beaten them! The attendant went on to explain that they can only reset the power when the train is stopped for longer than five minutes. Obviously no-one had thought of this at Edinburgh WHEN WE WERE STOPPED FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!
 
I endured the last 30 minutes of my trip accompanied by one final beer and thought about how even though my upgrade had only cost me a pound, I expected things to be working and they weren’t. Just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it needs to be rubbish.
 
You might be asking “what does he want?”, “Is he going to ask for a free trip?”. Well the answer to that is that I want absolutely nothing. I travel by train so infrequently that any voucher to travel on a train would be about as much use as a power socket on one of your trains. I just wanted to let you know that I left your first class train on Friday night feeling as if I’d been ripped off.
 
Do you know what you have to do on a train when you don’t bring any books and all your electrical devices run out of power? NOTHING. You sit and do nothing. You daren’t stare out of the window for fear of not having anything to do in fifteen minutes time and any attempt to start up a conversation will fall flat due to the fact you’ve shown your fat arse to the whole carriage. When you have nothing to do on a train, it is unbearable. Waiting for the attendant to come and offer you a drink so you finally have someone to talk to, rearranging your debit cards in your wallet and reading all your old receipts are not ways to entertain yourself on a journey.
 
I am asking for absolutely nothing. But what might be an idea is to tell your staff that if they communicate bad news properly, people will understand. I don’t actually give two hoots that the power wasn’t working. It was an inconvenience that meant I had to arrange my pick up from Newcastle station via telepathy but I’m still alive. It wasn’t the world’s worst problem – but your staff acted as if every time they were talking about it was some sort of national secret.
 
Come out and say “look, there’s plugs there next to your seats, but they’ve broken. I don’t know why they’ve broken, no-one knows why they’ve broken, but they don’t work. We’re sorry – here’s a slice of cake that’s gone slightly dry round the edges.” People will understand but I guarantee you will have more pissed off people if you dance around the problem and never give them a straight answer.
 
Teach your staff to look at people as people and not just another seat to serve. Most of the staff looked like they didn’t want to be there on Friday night. Admittedly, that may have been due to my arse-in-the-air repertoire but still, act as if you like your job. Be positive, smiley, happy, eager to help and eager to serve people.
 
In case you’re wondering I had a lovely weekend in Newcastle.
 
And just to prove that my email isn’t entirely accusatory, the beer and the crisps were spot on. And the toilets were clean! For once on a train I didn’t need to wade through urine to take a dump – much appreciated!
 
Robbie Thomson
 
P.s. In our collective bid to be more positive and respectful of people, I’d appreciate a reply (and not an automated one – just a few words, even if all it says is “Thanks for your email – we don’t care”) 

Spiderman, Shaka Hislop and a comfortable breast…

If I were to utter the words “school exchange trip”, I would be very curious to find out what thoughts first go through your head. Some of you who have had positive experiences will regale family and friends with whimsical tales of taking a short walk across the cobbles of some rural French town and popping into “le patisserie” for “un baguette”. Others of you with less positive experiences will shudder at the prospect of revisiting the memories of strange food, stranger people and the altogether disturbing fashion sense of our continental cousins.

For me, my foreign exchange trips were largely a positive experience. Having preferred German as a subject and a language rather than what I thought was a nasally and over complicated language in French, I signed up for various exchange trips. Upon signing up for exchange trips there is always the anxious and nail biting wait to find out who you are to be paired with. This pot luck decision will ultimately determine whether you’ll have a good summer playing football, hanging out with girls and learning foreign swear words or whether your summer will be largely spent indoors watching a 14 year old German boy, adorned in full microphone-air-traffic-controller headset play computer games with his next door neighbour over the internet.

I was very fortunate with my allocation of exchange partner for my first trip in 2004. His name was Karim  Wolfsteller and he was a year older than I was. He came to visit in the October of 2003 and we hit it off like you wouldn’t believe. He stepped off the coach at our school on a cold and brisk October morning and as soon as he greeted me with what is now considered the normal hand-shake-slap-grab-and-pull-into-the-chest-almost-like-a-half-hug type embrace I knew he was quite possibly the coolest person I had ever met. This was definitely saying something as the list of cool people I had previously met/saw had included ex Newcastle goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop. The one slight downside to Karim was that he did have a very stereotypical German hairstyle. The only comparison I can find that seems fair and accurate is to say that he had hair very much like the Russian bad guy boxer in Rocky IV, Ivan Drago. The similarities stop there. As far as I’m aware he wasn’t into boxing, has never been hooked on anabolic steroids and has never met, let alone had a 12 round brawl with Sylvester Stallone.

Karim’s week in England flew by and it ended with one of my school’s trademark “lunchtime discos”. This essentially consisted of drawing the curtains and playing medium volume music so we didn’t disturb the surrounding classes. They were largely dire affairs, but the German contingent lapped it up, primarily after the “DJ” had played “99 Red Balloons” for a fourth time.

The months between October and July were spent looking forward to the return leg of the trip. The day arrived and after some warnings from my parents to take care crossing the road as “the traffic comes from the other way over there”, I sarcastically reminded them that I was 16 and we headed off down the motorway on the coach.

In previous coach trips to Europe my trip-to-vomit ratio hadn’t been massively in my favour. On a trip to France a few years earlier I had managed to projectile vomit all over the aisle of the coach before we had even lost sight of the school. However this time I was older and my stomach had become the rigid and sturdy food tank that it is today.

My fellow exchangees were a diverse and peculiar bunch. There was Christian, a younger, rotund lad who had a penchant for eating coins. On a 32 hour coach trip this certainly managed to keep us entertained yet slightly puzzled as to what happened when he decided to make a withdrawal from his gastric bank account. There was a girl whose name I can’t remember, whose sole mission on the trip was to see how many German boys she could “get off with”, and finally there was the usual bunch of degenerates whose idea of a good trip to continental Europe was draping the bus windows with the cross of St George, singing anti-German football songs and sticking their hands down the front of their pants to play with their testicles – mid conversation.

After a largely vomit free journey (at Calais Christian did vomit up about £1.35), we arrived in the Black Forest town of Karlsruhe, a town famous for its rich architecture, national importance and pretzels. Having spent the best part of 36 hours awake on a coach, I had planned to be very courteous and polite to my host family but then in my best German explain that I was very tired and I would love to get a bit of sleep.

However, before I could even utter the word “ich”, I was given a schedule for the week, including a vast amount of activities scheduled for that day. As I didn’t know the words to say “You must be having a laugh” and to keep in line with my polite and genial manner, I smiled and went along with the plan for the day.  

The day was spent traipsing around town, stopping every so often to soak up some of the culture of the little food stalls and try local delicacies like the aforementioned pretzels and the world famous bratwurst.

Morning slowly led into afternoon and afternoon staggered into evening. The day culminated in a trip to “das Kino” to see the latest blockbuster “Spiderman”. Having already seen this film in English and been largely unimpressed by it, I was of the opinion that this would be a completely pointless and futile exercise. However, my host family paid for my ticket and along with Karim and his family we were joined by Karim’s girlfriend, her friend, her boyfriend and a few others. The 12 of us occupied a whole row somewhere near the centre of the cinema and I settled in for the upcoming pointless two hours.

As with every dubbed foreign film, the novelty of someone else speaking the lines in a different language wore off after about 30-40 seconds.  After that, boredom and an increasing sense of tiredness crept in, to the point that I was feeling my eyes drawing shut on a regular basis. This was the last thing I can remember.

I awoke approximately two hours later, groggy and drowsy but aware that something wasn’t quite as it should be. The house lighting was on and where there should be the backs of people’s heads, there were six or seven sniggering German youths stood in front of me, cameras in hand.

It appears that what had transpired in the two hours leading up to this point is that I had fallen into a coma-like sleep that despite the best attempts of those around me, I had not been able to be woken from. This in itself was an embarrassment, as the cinema was now completely empty apart from our party and a team of cleaners. However, more embarrassing than this was the position I had taken to sleep in.

Instead of adopting the head back, airplane style sleeping position I had decided to opt for the arms round the waist, snuggle in for the night, holding on for dear life arrangement. This was an embarrassment only intensified by the fact that I was sitting next to Karim’s mum. As I came to, I was in said position; head nestled up nicely between her shoulder and her left breast. It was probably a testament to Frau Wolfsteller’s comfortable chest that I managed to get such a protracted and satisfying nap time. As soon as I gained a semblance of reality, I jolted upright in my seat leaving a zip wire of saliva from my mouth down to the now increasingly annoyed German woman’s chest. I had managed to leave copious amounts of dribble down the front of her shirt to the point that if you weren’t aware of the situation, you could have been led to believe that she had sprung a leak.

I tried to apologise at the time in my best German that I hadn’t intended to rest my head on Frau Wolfsteller’s breasts, however as this wasn’t a topic regularly covered in GCSE language classes my attempt was feeble and grammatically awful.

Once I had returned home, I lost all contact with Karim and his family which is probably for the best.

I hope in time they will be able to look back and laugh at that evening and find it in their hearts to forgive me. German’s have a good sense of humour right?

 

 

 

Right in the sick of it…

At the time of writing this there are over seven billion people living on earth. Having never had an ability to accurately work out statistical equivalence, I gather that this amount of people would easily fill an Olympic sized swimming pool and would comprehensively cover the surface area of a football pitch.

The world is moving faster than ever (a superlative, not a scientific fact). It appears to me that to stand out from the masses, you need to be one of three things: a) attractive, 2) naked or d) attractive and naked. People are simply too busy to notice anyone who doesn’t make an impact.

I’d like to recount a tale of myself as a ten year old lad, when, inadvertently and without any pre-planning I managed to grab the attention of every person that cast eyes on me. And it was all thanks to a bowl of Corn Flakes.

The day started as any other day. Having been an avid sleep walker as a child I found myself in a room of the house that wasn’t my bedroom and subsequently panicked. Once the panic had subsided, I attempted to dress myself only for my mother to tell me that as we were travelling to Scotland to see family, other clothes were more appropriate. It was spring time so the probability of my mother dressing me in some hideous dungaree and polo shirt combination was quite high. An idea that, even to this day I have never quite grasped is, why on earth anyone would ever deem it necessary to wear dungarees. Bob the builder, Billy Piper and people with a pencil behind the ear are the only people that should wear dungarees.

We were catching the train from Newcastle: a two hour drive from our house. I seem to remember we were running late, so rather hurriedly I inhaled my breakfast and sat in the car ready to leave. The journey, for the large part was uneventful. As usually happened with car journeys lasting longer than five minutes, my brother and I squabbled, hit each other then sat refusing to talk to each other.

The time passed and we entered Newcastle in time to catch our train. We were no more than five minutes from the station when I began to regret the rapid dispatching of my breakfast earlier in the day. However, before I could lean forward and tell my parents, it happened.

A stream of warm, brown, speckled vomit gushed from my mouth and covered everything in the surrounding area. The back of the passenger seat, the floor, the car door and my precious dungarees were now all dripping in the contents of my stomach. My dad let out what could be described as a combination of annoyance and resignation. (I must explain – this was not the first public outpouring of my stomach. I had suitably embarrassed my parents countless times before. This event was merely the next occurrence.)

As with all events that lead to my embarrassment, my brother laughed throughout its duration. This was in no way helpful to me or my mother who was now charged with the task of cleaning me up.

We exited the car and waved goodbye to my dad whilst inadvertently covering a bystander in regurgitated corn flakes before making our way into the station. As it was the school holidays, unfortunately for me, the station was full of people. I waddled through them trying my best to go unnoticed. When you are covered head to toe in vomit, this is an absolute impossibility. Not only was I there for everyone to see, but the stench that was emanating from me was unbearable.

My mother, probably overcome with more embarrassment than me, managed to track down a station worker patrolling the platform. I remember he looked me up and down before hearing my mother’s story. I didn’t listen to the conversation as I had become preoccupied with what had quickly grown to be my favourite vomit related game: identify the chunks. This involved identifying, through touch, sight and smells the different foods that together made up my new stylish pelt.

My game was interrupted by the station worker radioing over to his colleague who apparently had the keys to the refuge of the disabled toilet where we could clean this mess up. By this time the sick had become cold and my clothes had begun sticking to my chest and legs. His colleague radioed back querying how, on a busy day he would be able to recognise me amongst the multitudes descending on his side of the station. The man replied bluntly and rather loudly for everyone within 20 metres to hear, “GARY, HE’S THE LAD WHO IS COVERED IN SICK!”

Head hung low, I shuffled over the bridge to the opposite platform leaving a trail of slime and chunks in my trundled wake. It was unerringly silent apart from the ever-present soundtrack of my brother’s continuous and incessant laughter.

I would like to think that whilst my mother peeled my soggy clothes from me, I would have thought that someday I would be able to laugh about this unfortunate occurrence. However this thought didn’t cross my mind. Instead I remember standing partially naked in a disabled toilet, cold, miserable and having a little cry. All because of a bowl of corn flakes…

A dog, a football and a chubby thigh…

I recently read a story on the internet about a dog that had become trapped under his owners’ car and had been subsequently driven 60 miles across Northern Ireland clinging to the underside of the vehicle. I don’t know if this is true or even physically possible, but it made me chuckle. However, aside from the mild humour, the underlying feeling I experienced was that, this person should not be allowed to own a dog, or a car for that matter. I like to imagine that dog was furious. I like to think that he let them swarm him with affection, buy him new toys and fresh bones, and then when they left for work, he curled one off right on their pillow.

I have always had an affinity for dogs, although like every child I started off wary of them. When I was very young I thought every dog wanted to eat me which, as I looked like an oversized meatball is wholly understandable. It also seemed that dogs had a rather amorous affinity towards me. On two separate occasions before I was ten years old, two separate dogs had tried to have intercourse with my leg. From what I can gather, my leg doesn’t look like another dog, so the only thing I can deduce is that in some weird and peculiar way, I was somehow inviting this unwanted attention. I can honestly say hand on heart to anyone who is concerned (mother, wife, employer) this was not the case. As both dogs were reaching their pensioning age, I concluded that rather than anything sinister these two occasions were in fact cries for help.

I was four or five when we got our first dog as a family. She was a black labrador and she had been given to my Dad as a present, which I always thought was a bizarre gift. It’s the equivalent of winning a sports car that you have absolutely no financial ability to run, insure or repair. Likewise, being given a pedigree dog, lovely as it is, comes with a heck of a lot of associated costs. Well it would have, but you must remember it was given to my dad, who though sometimes frivolous in his older age, was, as a necessity as tight as a drum when he was younger. He spared no expense in fashioning a “kennel” from an oil drum and a few bricks. It wasn’t luxury but it was practical…and cheap.

Bess, as we had called her, loved life with us. Of course there is no way of substantiating that at all. She could have been desperately unhappy and always looking for a way out but from the outside she seemed like a happy, bouncy and fun loving dog. A bonus point for me as well was that, as excited as she became, because of her lack of male genitalia she couldn’t try it on with me.

At the time of owning Bess, we lived in Sunderland, a city in the North East of England. A town once known for its coal exportation and its ship building it is now synonymous with car factories, the Labour Party and teenage pregnancy. There are however some nicer parts of Sunderland. Just east of the city is the North Sea which is accompanied with some blue flag beaches. Not being well researched on the quality of beaches, I think blue flag means it is virtually free of all drug paraphernalia and excrement.    Bess used to love the beaches and the wide expansive cliffs situated just up the coast. For hours she would scamper around without a care in the world.

It is at this point that I must try and quash a commonly held belief. Dogs are not as intelligent as people believe them to be. If they possessed any sort of grey matter they wouldn’t run aimlessly after someone pretends to throw a stick. If they had basic perception skills they wouldn’t mistake a chubby thigh for an opportunity to repopulate the animal kingdom, and if Bess was remotely intelligent she wouldn’t have done what she did.

One spring afternoon we took Bess to the cliffs for a walk and as we always did, let her off the lead to chase the football my brother and I were kicking around. There was abundant space for us to have confidence that nothing would go awry. However, that confidence was built on the belief that our dog would succeed in a basic object perception activity.

I know and I’m sure you know that a seagull bears little or no resemblance to a football, apart from the fact it is white. But following the same logic, a jumbo jet would look like a seagull. Bess however, did not recognise the difference between the big ball of leather and a bird. This resulted in her galloping towards what she thought was a football perched delicately on the side of the cliff. As all sensible seagulls do when they see a larger animal bearing down on them, it flew away, at which point Bess, travelling with such gusto and acceleration realised that where there was once ground, there was now air, a feeling of weightlessness and an imminent and fast approaching impact with the North Sea.

An air of silence fell around the place as we collectively tried to grasp what had just happened. Being only young, I remember very little of what was said or done but to my lasting regret I do remember asking, “Where’s the football then?”

As the tide was in at the time we had little to no chance of finding her that day. I remember my dad returned a day later and having miraculously found her washed up on the beach, buried her in a pile of stones befitting a Viking or fallen warrior.

I miss Bess. She was a lovely dog, albeit a little bit stupid, however she never tried to impregnate me and for that I am eternally and completely grateful. 

R.I.P Bess – faithful dog – rubbish bird catcher

Stuck in the middle with you…and John Fashanu

For years my athletic ability has been called into question. It seems to be that at every turn and at every attempt to do something nimble and agile, people have looked me up and down with the self satisfying look that says, “I’m waiting for you to cock this up”. There have been occasions where I have triumphantly proved my doubters wrong, however there have also been times when their scepticism has been correctly placed.

Growing up, I was never too embarrassed with my lack of agility. Being overweight was something that had been a part of my childhood, like a favourite teddy bear, Sunny Delight or John Fashanu. I had been fairly content to muddle along, usually four or five steps behind everyone else.

This does not mean that being what is politely referred to as “rotund” is a barrel of laughs. There were some hard times. One of my earliest memories is of my brother, five at the time, trying to force me, his three year old brother through a cat flap. Credit where it’s due, he really tried to get me through and nearly succeeded. Nearly, being the operative word. He got my head and an arm through, then presumably upon discovering I wouldn’t go any further, left me to be retrieved by my mother.

Another such memory was when I was six or seven getting my head trapped in the climbing apparatus in the school gym. My teacher at the time, had an unusual affliction, in that he was 70-80% deaf. Therefore the first he knew of my plight was the sight of all my classmates standing round watching my face turn a deeper shade of red as I shrilled in a pre-pubescent yelp that I was going to die.

As embarrassing as this occasion was, it was an event that would not take me too many years to surpass. The humiliation of the following story was intensified for a plethora of reasons, namely; I was older and should have known better, I was in plain view of 50-60 complete strangers and because of the abrupt way the whole debacle came to a shuddering conclusion.

As an 11 year old, family days out were always a mixed bag. My mother, a woman of culture and my father, a man who does what my mother says would occasionally take us to a Roman fort or Viking centre in an effort to instil some semblance of civilization into me and my brother. This always ended the same way. My brother would assume the role of Roman or Viking, insist that I was his enemy and proceed to repeatedly punch me, kick me and hit me with sticks.

However this day was different. Instead of fort or folly, my brother and I had been treated to an afternoon in an old mining town, boasting nothing but a post office, tea room and an outdoor children’s play area. After we had exhausted the joys of the post office, we made our way to the tea room. My parents took a seat inside leaving me and my brother to make our way over to the play area.

Due to my size and mass, there were certain playground activities that were simply not worth attempting. See-saws were always an unfair fight unless there was a fully grown adult at the other end, due to the overwhelming pull of gravity monkey bars were absolutely out of the question and any of those awful motorbikes on a spring device just resulted in me slowly descending towards the floor. I therefore took my solace in the comfort of the swings. The swings were my friends. Or so I thought.

As both “older children” swings were being used, I convinced myself, mistakenly as it turns out, that I could fit into the children’s swing. I now know that these are designed for toddlers and not for portly 11 year old boys. The descent into the seat seemed to go swimmingly even if it did take a few seconds. My legs wedged through the holes at the front albeit hitching my trousers a significant way up my calves.  However after about a minute I realised I had a fairly desperate problem. The harsh rubber of the swing began chafing at my waist, the unforgiving chains nipped my sides at every turn and the bar placed in the middle for children’s safety had begun pressing rather painfully into the part of my body that would later go on to haunt my textiles teacher.

I writhed in anguish for a couple of minutes, trying desperately to free myself whilst also trying to not draw the attention of what could now be described as a very busy tea room and more importantly my parents. Any hope I had of this being a dignified and quietly concluded matter was shattered seconds later by the high pitched, continuous and deafening laughter of my brother. It was only a minute or so later that the whole tea room had turned to see what was so outrageously funny. From there the whole escapade went from bad to worse. My brother tried in vain to pull me out, only to make it worse by inadvertently pushing me deeper into the seat. I am yet to ask him whether this was deliberate. I suspect it was.

I thrashed in futile despair like a shower head dropped in the bath until my dad appeared. He was annoyed. I couldn’t work out whether it was because of my situation or because I had interrupted his lunch. It didn’t matter. My dad is a South African so he is naturally the quiet, unassuming type. He was an officer in the South African army in the 1970’s and his parenting style portrayed that. With a lack of fuss and without saying anything, he grabbed the bottom of the swing, extended his arms over his head and watched as his youngest son fell to the ground.

I lay there, initially euphoric to be free from my playground incarceration, only to be dragged to my feet by my courageous rescuer and marched off to the car, past the array of spectators that had assembled. Some of them stood wide-eyed in amazement at my obvious stupidity, others tried in vain to hide their amusement and to my lasting shame others shook their heads with that self satisfying look of “we knew you’d cock this up”.

How right they were…

Rip Van Winky

There comes a time in the life of a schoolboy where he must face up to the questioning of his mother when he returns from school with yet another rip in his school trousers. Depending on the child and the severity of the rip, his answers to the questioning would vary. If he was a timid child, he would cry and say someone pushed him. If he were a rebellious child, ripping his trousers would probably rank fairly low on his list of concerns, and if like me, he was an overweight and cumbersome child, he would accept that whilst at school his sole purpose in life was to rip his trousers.

I was forever skinning my knees after falling over in the yard, usually in a failed effort to keep up with the athletic children in football. I would always land with a rather hefty bang, assess the situation, ignore the laughs from my classmates and begin picking the gravel out of my knees and palms. I would constantly worry about telling my mother that “I’d done it again”. She tried valiantly to patch up holes in the knees but after applying six or seven patches to the same pair of trousers she must have begun to think it was a rather futile exercise.

That was until June 2004, when I managed to rip my trousers so substantially and so severely that the ensuing embarrassment meant I have never divulged this information to anyone.

In summer 2004, Newcastle was enjoying an unexpected burst of warm weather. I was in the lower sixth form and was clinically obese. I make this point, not to generate sympathy, but more to put the story into some sort of context and to possibly give some sort of an explanation as to how I found myself in this pickle.

You could always tell when it was hot at school as were allowed to remove our ties and undo our top buttons on our shirts. This always resulted in some of the less mature students either tying them to their heads like drunken relatives at a wedding or pretending to strangle each other. For more mature students like me, we lazed around on the grass outside the common room, basking in our new open collared sense of freedom.

On the day in question, it was nearing midday and we had come to a general consensus that we were going to walk down the hill to the corner shop for our lunch. To exit the common room the correct way, we would normally have to walk the maze of corridors around the school. This was a problem for a variety of reasons: 1) we were lazy, 2) we might bump into a teacher, whose class we had recently not gone to, or 3) we might bump into a teacher, whose lesson we were planning not to go to. We therefore decided to take a shortcut and jump a waist high fence into the staff car park. One by one my friends vaulted over the fence. I rather nonchalantly strode up to the fence and hauled myself up and over. I landed and we walked off.

It was about thirty seconds later that I realised something was wrong. I don’t know what first alerted me to it. Maybe it was the cool breeze I could now feel kissing the back of my legs or maybe, just maybe it was that every one of my friends was now literally rolling on the floor, struggling to breathe, hysterically laughing at me. I felt down my leg as if I was searching myself at an airport to find the feeling of skin where there was once material. What surprised even me was the sheer severity of this new found slash in my trousers. Ordinarily, I would rip my trousers and create a hole roughly the size of a squash ball, but upon inspection this rip carried on and on and on.

I soon established I had ripped my trousers from just below the zip at the front all the way up to the waistband at the back. Whichever way I write this story, it will never do that rip justice. My arse was literally just hanging out. Amidst the incessant laughter, I furiously tried to think of a plan. My friends were no use at all, to the point where they carried on walking to the shop, leaving me to fend for myself, helpless, with just a flimsy cotton layer of boxer shorts hiding my remaining dignity from the world.

I shirked off as covertly as I could back into school. My plan was to sweet talk the textiles teacher into fixing my trousers, walk triumphantly back into the common room and laugh it off as some hilarious and whimsical jape.

I wish I could tell you that this was what happened.

I successfully made it to the textiles room without too many second glances. Fortunately the teacher was there and after composing herself following a brief bout of frenzied laughter, she agreed to help me. I stood there, trouser-less, as she ran what would now be classified as two separate garments through the sewing machine.

She finished the job about thirty minutes later. I victoriously strode up to her, arms outstretched to take the finished product. The teachers face turned a deepish shade of red as I walked across the classroom. Unperturbed I continued until I was stood directly in front of her. It was only then that I realised that from beneath the flimsy layer of cotton, something that should never be seen was now directly on show. For those of you not blessed with the ability to read between the lines I shall explain it clearly; I was now stood in front of a teacher, willy out.

From there on in it didn’t really matter what I did or what I said. Once you expose yourself to a teacher, what else can you do? I did the dignified thing and ran.

Unsurprisingly, the teacher didn’t really speak to me much after that. I found any and every reason to never visit the textiles room again. I finished school just over a year later and had managed to keep this story hidden for eight years.

You may be wondering why I chose to eventually divulge this story online for everyone to see. Apart from hopefully making you chuckle slightly at my expense, it is my hope that by some twist of fate or circumstance the above mentioned teacher may someday read this.

If that is you, please know that for standing in front of you in June 2004 with my willy hanging out I am truly, deeply and sincerely sorry.

Robbie

Introduction

“Woefully Under-prepared: The Diary of a second rate Scout” is my attempt at an autobiography. I came up with this idea on Tuesday morning. It’s now Wednesday and I’m writing my introduction. I think this shows great efficiency, although on the other hand I may just be displaying the exact characteristic mentioned in the title.

My wife looked very concerned when I said I was writing a book. I see myself as spontaneous, witty and impulsive. However, Susie, my wife would prefer to stick with the terms flaky and reckless. I have been known to buy items on a whim, with no thought as to how, when or where I will ever use them; violins, exercise bikes and wheelbarrows are just a few examples.

My writing style follows suit. In my head, my writing seems as revolutionary and ground-breaking as the wheel, tipp-ex and fingerless gloves. However to an onlooker it may be the literary equivalent of Marmite: you either love it or you hate it, but smeared on a bit of paper it does look decidedly like faeces.

With this in mind I made the decision to make this an online autobiography. I am doing this for two reasons: 1) I currently don’t have enough money to self publish a book and 2) I don’t have the mental fortitude to have it continuously rejected by publishers.

Throughout the following posts, I will largely be retelling humourous, sometimes tragic yet 100% truthful accounts from my life thus far. There will be in no discernible order to them. I shall instead just rattle them out whenever I happen to remember them.

I can not say how many posts there will be. The truth is I honestly don’t know. I will continue posting as long as I feel it fits a purpose, or until either my wife or my mother persuades me I am seriously affecting future career opportunities by continuing.

If you feel like you would like to comment, please do. But be sensitive. Anyone correcting my grammar or spelling will be roundly shunned. Think of this not as a tight piece of literary work but rather a crayon drawing furiously scribbled by a ham fisted child.

I thought I would finish the introduction with an endorsement from someone prepared to write a foreword for my book. Unfortunately, no-one was forthcoming so I was forced to steal a foreword from a book. I haven’t edited it as I feel it fits both perfectly. It is from the book “Woodwork Joints” by “William Fairham”.

“To be successful in woodwork construction the possession of two secrets is essential–to know the right joint to use, and to know how to make that joint in the right way. The woodwork structure or the piece of cabinet-work that endures is the one on which skilful hands have combined to carry out what the constructive mind planned. And it is just here that the present Volume will help, not alone the beginner who wishes preliminary instruction, but also the expert who desires guidance overground hitherto unexplored by him.”

Happy Reading,

Robbie