Alison McQueen


The mystery of the missing postman

Posted: May 9th, 2013

I haven’t had any post this week. Not a sausage. And it’s Thursday. This is a mystery. We always get post, every day, without fail. For one thing, there are two young women living here who have no fear of internet shopping. There are also the daily bills that have a habit of finding their way no matter the weather, and the incessant stream of junk that gets stuffed through the letterbox offering everything from cut-priza pizza to fresh horse manure.

I can only conclude that Paul The Postie is missing in action. Paul is lovely, and has been our postman for the past fifteen years. He looks exactly like Lofty from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. In the summer months, he even wears the same shorts. I hope he’s alright. When he goes off for his holidays, he is replaced by a chap I refer to as Bob Marley Postie, a laid back character who usually knocks on the door with a handful of mail rather than putting it in the box.

Bob Marley Postie quite likes a little chat on the doorstep. The post usually rocks up around 11am and I’m never dressed. Well, not in proper clothes anyway. I wear the kind of things that make my daughters put their heads in their hands. Last time Bob Marley Postie knocked on the door, I seem to recall having to actually apologise for my appearance because it really was that bad, (involving some of my husband’s clothes), and explained to him that I had actually been up and working since 4.30am. He looked me up and down a bit and said, “I want your job.” (I should point out here that Bob Marley Postie doesn’t know what I do. I never tell people what I do.)

Going back to Lofty for a moment, I guess that one would have to be of a certain age to remember It Ain’t Half Hot Mum – a 1970s British sitcom about a Royal Artillery Concert Party stationed out in India during the war. There were a couple of Indian characters who would talk in Hindi, and I remember that my mother used to fall about laughing and would refuse to translate what they had said. Happy days.

Here’s the moment when Sergeant Major “Shut Up” Williams discovered that “La-de-dah Gunner Graham” might be his son…

Let’s not take any nonsense

Posted: May 9th, 2013

An interesting item floating out of the television last night while I was attempting to buy a satnav on the internet. (More of that later.) So I’m trying to work out whether or not I need Eastern European maps, when Anne Robinson’s voice comes striding out saying something to do with delayed flight compensation.

This is very interesting, as I am currently in the throes of suing Thomson over a 24 hour fiasco while trying to get to India last December. I’ve never used Thomson before, and I’ve never gone to India on a package deal before either. First (and last) time for everything, they say. I thought it would be the simplest thing to do seeing as I was going with my husband, which is a rarity, and we were only going for a week. Or so we thought.

Four hours after boarding the flight it became pretty clear that this plane was going nowhere. What followed, I can only describe as a bunfight. By this time it was almost midnight, everything was closed, and we were sent off to spend the night in a Gatwick hotel, armed with a food voucher to the value of about a fiver. There was also the small issue of waiting well over an hour for the luggage to be off-loaded and sent up the chute.

There was no customer service at all – not a single person in sight – and this went on until the flight reboarded the following evening, even though by that time my husband and I had decided that we really couldn’t be bothered to go all the way to India for six days, and we’d much rather poddle off home and abandon the trip, which we were quite entitled to do under the circumstances. Only we couldn’t find anyone to speak to, and the one person I managed to raise on the phone at Thomson was polite, but useless.

Thomson ignored all correspondence and refused to return my calls, so after a very reasonable three month wait, I decided to sue. The whole thing can be done on the internet these days, through the ministry of justice’s service called Money Claim Online. It’s an absolute doddle. You’ll need to register yourself for a government Gateway number, which is also a piece of cake and is very useful. (With a Gateway number, you can get a new passport and things like that, without bothering with paperwork.) My local court issued proceedings against Thomson at the beginning of March, and I am currently waiting for a court date to come through.

I have absolutely no problem with the concept of confrontation, because I firmly believe that you can say anything you want to say politely and without getting your knickers in a twist. Just get your facts straight first, decide what it is that you want, and present your case in a nice calm fashion. I’ve never sued anyone before, so I’m very interested to see how this will pan out, and I will of course keep you posted.

Incidentally – if you’re interested to know about the EU regulations on delayed flight compensation, here is the Watchdog page, and here’s a link to the full ruling and regulation.

Going Anywhere Nice?

Posted: May 9th, 2013

Short stories are a devilishly difficult form. Here’s one I wrote for The Sunday Express magazine in an attempt to stick to the brief of short, modern, and absolutely nothing dark or depressing…

Going Anywhere Nice?

‘Going anywhere nice for your holidays?’ asked the girl with the scissors.

David glanced at her in the mirror’s reflection. Of course he wasn’t going anywhere nice for his holidays. At this rate, there probably wouldn’t be a holiday at all. His girlfriend had gone off him. He could tell. He had caught her staring at him in a peculiar way during EastEnders on Sunday. She never used to look at him like that. She used to smile at him and drape her legs over his, feeding him popcorn, but now she chose to perch at the far end of the sofa instead, curling her legs beneath herself.

He couldn’t understand what the problem was. They loved each other, didn’t they? He always assumed that they would continue going out for another year or so and then maybe they would get married or have kids. Then last night they had gone out for a pizza and she had kept looking at that waiter with the messy haircut.

He’d been thinking about getting his hair chopped off anyway. Nobody really did the ponytail thing any more, as his girlfriend kept telling him. She’d been a bit off with him this morning too when she left for work, moaning at him for leaving a half drunk cup of coffee on the floor by the bed. She got like that sometimes, which usually meant that he would have to pull his socks up for a while and remember to be a bit tidier around the flat. He hoped the haircut would be a good move. He described it to the hairdresser in painful detail and she seemed to know what he was talking about as she ran her fingers through his hair, pushing it this way and that and saying uh-huh as he explained.

‘Not sure yet,’ he said. ‘Might go to Spain again.’

‘Uh-huh,’ said the girl with the scissors, her mind elsewhere. She was thinking about her boyfriend. They’d been going out for nearly three months and she was thinking that maybe she should cook them a nice dinner on Saturday and they could celebrate their three month anniversary. There was that meal deal on at the moment. Dine in for a tenner. With wine and everything. They could have a cosy night in. She might even say I Love You. She’d been thinking about it for a while, hoping that he would say it first, but he hadn’t. He was probably too embarrassed, or was waiting for her to say it. Blokes can be a bit funny like that.

‘Do you want a couple of magazines to look at?’ she asked.

‘Thanks,’ David said.

David didn’t really want a magazine. What he wanted was to know what was going on in his girlfriend’s head. Maybe they were stuck in a rut and what she really wanted was to get engaged. After all, that’s what every girlfriend wants eventually, isn’t it? To be on the receiving end of a surprise proposal, done with a big fanfare. She probably hoped to be whisked off to Paris or somewhere like that, him down on one knee up the Eiffel Tower.

‘Here you go.’ The girl plonked a handful of magazines on the vanity unit. Maybe she should get him a present from the card shop next door. A little teddy bear clutching a red felt heart that says I Love You on it. Then she can make out that it’s just a jokey gift if he doesn’t say it back.

‘Thanks,’ David said, picking up a GQ. He began flicking through the pages. Maybe he wouldn’t have to take her all the way to Paris. Maybe he could get away with cooking her a nice dinner with candles and everything. Girls like stuff like that. Maybe he should buy a ring, but then again, what if she said no? Can you get your money back on an engagement ring? He wasn’t sure. And then a thought crossed his mind. Maybe she was going to dump him. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked for messages.

‘Oh!’ said the girl with the scissors. ‘My boyfriend’s got one of those!’

‘Uh-huh,’ David mumbled.

‘I’m a Blackberry girl myself,’ she said. ‘BBM. I’m mad for it.’

‘Mmm.’ David scrolled through his texts, looking for a sign.

‘Just bend your head forward for me?’ Maybe the teddy would be a bit OTT. Maybe she should get it put on a cupcake instead. Then, if it went all wrong, she could just eat it, whereas a teddy would sit there looking at them awkwardly and make it ten times worse.

David looked down into his lap, thumbing a message into the screen. Big surprise for you later. Love you. xxx. A terrible thought suddenly occurred to him. What if she interpreted ‘big surprise’ as something else… something much bigger than a haircut? What if she thought he was going to pop the question tonight? He read it back and deleted two of the kisses.

Maybe he should ask the girl with the scissors what she thought. He could show her the text and make a joke out of it and say, what a stupid thing to do eh? And she would laugh and say no it’s not, it’s really sweet actually. Well, why not? Everybody knows that the only reason that hairdressers ask you if you’re going anywhere nice is because it’s a safe opener for a bit of conversation. He glanced at her in the mirror and saw the far-off look in her eyes. She’s probably miles away, he thought. She wouldn’t want to play counselor to him. It was time to make up his mind. He added the kisses back and hit send.