Merry Car Boot Sale

Every year we are obliged to attend our children’s school Christmas Fair. There is a definite Christmas feel to them, the hall packed with festive crafts and all sorts of ruses to snatch away your money for school funds. Everybody goes and you get caught up in a slow moving circular tide of people, orbiting stalls, taking off warm coats while dodging appealing kids. I try my best not to make eye contact with every one of the teachers manning them, or my pockets would be emptied on that first clockwise circuit.

My daughter left that school to begin high school in September, and so yesterday we attended her first Christmas fair there. What a contrast! It was like a sparsely attended, poor man’s flea market. An unattractive collection of second hand goods scattered across tables, a car boot sale without car boots.

I spotted this book for sale on one of the tables, and thought it quite succinctly summed things up:

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Alexa-When Will You Take Over The World?

My wife bought me one of those Echo Dot gadget thingies for my birthday. You know, one of those hands-free things you can instruct to perform various things for you, such as playing particular songs, tell you the time, etc.

Yes-that’s as far as I’ve got at the moment. Technology is not my forte.


All of a sudden, there’s another presence in the house. When my daughter is telling me how to address it, she turns her back on it, whispering, as though it is listening in to her. Does it watch us as we pass?

My son, James,  bellows at it like a sergeant major: “ALEXA, WHAT’S THE WEATHER LIKE IN MANCHESTER?” 

Of course, we live in Manchester. But perhaps Alexa knows better.

I feel all self-conscious when I hold a conversation with it, my manners kicking in. When it does what I’ve asked it to I can’t help but say thank you.

If you was to look on my daughter’s phone you’d see a video that she made, giggling and whispering upstairs on the landing. “I’m about to annoy my Dad.” She then shouts down the stairs: “Alexa, sing a song,” and you’d hear me shouting ” Piss off Millie!” in exasperation as Alexa starts singing a nursery rhyme during a crucial moment in the tv programme I’m watching.

This morning, while it was just the two of us, I thought I should try and make an acquaintance of him. Or her. It. Perhaps Alexa is gender fluid.

Even though we’d already had a formal introduction, we needed to familiarise ourselves with each other. My attempts fell on deaf ears. Or speakers.

Several times I was pointedly ignored, greeted by silence every time I requested The Beatles’ White Album.

Then James emerged, clutching his schoolbag, to witness my one-way conversation. “Dad-it’s not called Siri, it’s called Alexa.”

Siri is the name of another hands-free gadget thingie my friend has in his car. I’d been calling mine by the wrong name. It looked like it was quietly fuming. Siri; Alexa. Maybe they were cousins.

“Alexa,” the disc lit up in response, “do you know Siri?”

“Only by reputation.”

The reply was instant. I was sure I could detect a certain tone, a nuanced knowing.

 “Only by reputation.”  I think if Alexa came with eyebrows one of them would have been raised.

I’ve read enough sci-fi to know that we are on that road now. This is just the start. Next there will be Replicants. And Cyborgs. And toasters that know better than you just how you like your toast. Burning it black every time you get its name wrong. A technological wonder, but a very jealous mistress.

Writer In A Coffee Shop

from my poetry blog

Coronets For Ghosts

Writer In A Coffee Shop

Nobody sees as we do
— a conspiratorial attempt at flattery,
rising up from the books on the slanted shelves.

Vinyl albums are fixed to the ceiling,
you can get a stiff neck 
searching out the soundtrack to your life.

Upstairs the sound of a tattooist, 
reminds him of the dentist,
sets his teeth on edge,
running ravines
of mottled brown.

He hears it still, that night
as she lies with her face to the wall,

a tree brooding in the back garden;
across the rooftops thoughts dissipate
into silence,

yet still, that sound,
transmuted slowly
into goose flesh






©AndrewJamesMurray

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Shoplifters (Allegedly) Of The World Unite

Dialogue On A Train or Shoplifters Of The World Unite

It was as the train pulled into the station that I became aware of them. As I approached the end of the platform a male voice, nasal and northern, called out, “Hey, mate, does this train go Rochdale?”

The train was destined for Leeds, but it did indeed call at Rochdale, a few stops down the line. The lad that was asking looked like he was in his early twenties, thin, hooded and probably on something. A girl sat hunched against him, head on his shoulder, clutching a drawstring bag as she gazed blankly at me.

I nodded in reply to his question and he clicked his fingers. “Buzzin‘!”

I got onto the train, taking a seat and a book from my shoulder bag with an optimistic intention to read throughout my journey. The young couple took the seat in front of me. Or rather, she did, he remained stood in the aisle as she started to ferret around in the bag. He leant over to see the contents she spread across the table, pulling some of them towards him.

“Let’s divvy it up, babe,” he suggested.

Can I take some of those ankle socks with me?” she asked.

Here,” he said, no doubt divvying up the socks. I was wondering why they’d be sharing ankle socks. I couldn’t picture him wearing any.

Here’s me Gucci baby,” she said. “The box is well nice innit? Got me fake tan. You can put that on for me later.”

A woman carrying hand luggage approached the lad from behind. Suddenly aware of her presence he spun around. “Oh soz darlin‘” he moved out of her way, as the itemised list from his beau kept coming:

Here” she said, “you take the Ann Summers.”

Jesus.

And don’t forget your fags. What time do we leave?” she asked, looking through the window as though only just aware we were still in the station.

What’s it fuckin’ matter?” he replied. “We’ll get there. I’m gonna have a smoke. Stop drinkin‘.”

I wondered if he meant that when he got to Rochdale he was going to have a smoke and stop drinking. Or was he covertly drinking now? (Yes, by now I’d given up trying to read as this dialogue went on in front of me.)  But then he hopped through the open door onto the platform, turning his back against the breeze as he lit a cigarette. His life-changing rejection of alcohol was perhaps a spontaneous add on, past-present-future somehow morphing into one continuous muddle of conversation.

In his absence the girl went quiet, sighing deeply. I considered my book again. Would it be worth starting a chapter? I glanced up at the time on the electronic notice board on the platform just as 14.47 changed to 14.48-the time of our departure.

The lad, cutting it fine, flicked the cigarette away and jumped back on the train, the doors closing behind him. He entered the carriage just as the train began to move. “Babe-wake up! We’re goin’ to Rochdale!”

Off we moved into hell.