Alison McQueen

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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.

The Inimitable Dorothy Parker

Posted: March 23rd, 2013

It’s a cruel March morning out there. Brutal easterly wind flinging sharp snow into the windows, and my car is nothing more than a white heap outside. On the upside, Waitrose are doing 33% off their rather decent prosecco, and I have all the ingredients in the fridge for spaghetti carbonara. What’s not to like? I vote pyjama day.

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If Were Not Supposed to Eat Animals Why Are They Made Out of Meat?

Posted: March 7th, 2013

There has been much amusement in my house about the horsemeat scandal. What’s the problem? Nothing wrong with a bit of horsemeat. I should know. I used to live in France. It also seemed a bit rich that people should start acting all outraged when their cheap, no-questions-asked, 7p per unit frozen beefburgers turned out not to be made of prime cuts of rib. What did they think they were eating?

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Now That’s What I Call Service

Posted: December 4th, 2012

Trying to sort out flights this morning on the internet and my brain eventually blew as gasket. I have come to the conclusion that I am just incapable of holding figures in my head. Anything involving numbers – dates, prices, time zones – it just doesn’t go in. The same goes for filling things in online. As soon as I get onto the next page, I can’t remember any of the numbers from the previous page. There is also the issue of airmiles, of which I have many, simply because I have never been able to work out how to use them. A couple of hours and several coffees later, I threw in the towel and picked up the phone.  Continue Reading »

The Last Typewriter

Posted: November 21st, 2012

The last typewriter to be made in the UK rolled off a production line in Wrexham this week and was boxed up and sent off to the Science Museum in London, where it will sit alongside the very first typewriter, a strange-looking contraption invented back in the reign of Queen Anne or someone like that. Continue Reading »

Daytime TV

Posted: November 20th, 2012

I’m not writing at the moment. My brain is completely empty and has demanded some serious downtime, which is fine by me, and a perfect excuse to catch up with reading books and watching films.  Continue Reading »

Clutter Curse

Posted: September 20th, 2012

I am not a hoarder. Never have been. There is nothing in our attics. Why box stuff up and shove it up there, never to see the light of day again? I don’t understand why people do that. When we moved here from our last house, we threw all the attic detritus into a skip without even looking at it. (Actually, that’s not entirely true: anything that was thought useful was taken to a charity shop.) Continue Reading »

The Last Mile

Posted: September 20th, 2012

Good news: Orion love the new book, or rather, the new manuscript. The bit in between, meaning the part of the process between a loved manuscript and a finished book, is the part where I start to get twitchy. Before a novel is finished, it belongs to me. I can do whatever I want with it; hack bits off, add a little here and there, wake up in the middle of the night and change that one word that’s been bugging me. Yet once it’s been handed in and signed off into production, that’s it. It is no longer mine. It’s out there on its own, grown up and gone, left to stand on its own two feet. Continue Reading »

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