Achtung! Imprint does not mean Impressum

Impressum is a fabulous German word that appears in the footer of most websites in the .de domain, the loose translation of which is a combination of  ‘legal notice‘ and ‘site information‘. Its literal twin in English is ‘imprint‘, which of course means ‘a mark made by pressure’.

Now, comrades, we all know that translating literally from one language to another is dangerous and can cause everything from mild embarrassment to the cataclysmic destruction of the known universe – that’s pretty much why we who work with funny foreign words tend to avoid it. Idioms are of course the easiest to make fun of. Take for example the following:

Es fällt mir nichts ein.

This literally means ‘nothing falls into me’ and represents the idea that you cannot think of anything or nothing occurs to you. Perhaps this example reveals too much of my personality, but it illustrates a point – the same people who would have us place ‘Imprint‘ at the end of the English version of a website , when what they really mean is ‘Impressum‘, would also insist on the absence of things falling into them, when they really can’t think of anything at all! “The more meaningless it is to a native speaker of the target language the better!” they exclaim and busy themselves with other solipsismal nonsense. Confused? You wouldn’t be if everyone translated words into intelligible sentences.

Have your cake and eat it… thermometer

When a word is used out of context or just plain incorrectly, it grabs the reader’s attention. The reader thinks: “Hey, that doesn’t belong there. What could the writer possibly mean?” This tool can be effectively used in fiction:

Terence reached into his tackle box and clawed through the tangled mass of old sinkers and wire. He was looking for strawberries.

Nevertheless, inserting ‘Imprint‘ at the bottom of your website, when you really mean something else (and legally have to), is a clear case of stupid laziness, of which the only consequence is to generate confusion in and mockery of you by every native speaker of English who happens to land on your Webseite. We know it, even the Germans know it, so why does it persist?

Frodo you twat!

You pine for mounds of green that stew in friendly morning mists,
the furrows worried frantic turn asunder with the twists,
and turns of dodging trolls and dousing dange’rous breakfast coals,
your furry foot does blight you as another mountain calls.

Scurry down and up and round in asperous, aqueous loops,
chased by beasts with blackened blood (or other ethnic groups),
you spout reproof and peck under the gentle gardner’s wing,
dimiss him with the claim that you’re a captive to the ring.

You’ve friends from many worlds and say you speak the elven tongue,
and at climactic intervals been stabbed and bit and strung,
Yet o’er and o’er again a sceptic mind must call it quits,
‘Cause in all of Middle Earth are you the whiniest of shits.

The Convenient Dog

The convenient dogIt was one of those summer days during which the heat pushed and spread and swarmed across the land. Serghei Patrescu and his cousin Corneliu were returning to camp after a taxing day spent crawling up and down rows of fruit bushes in the fields. They had consumed the larger part of an unlabelled bottle of vodka and were about to open their second when Corneliu fell into a terrible state of agitation.

“Tell me I am a fool!”

“You’re a fool, Corneliu Patrescu, but you don’t need me to tell you that. What is it this time?”

“I have fallen in love.”

“Again? What about that doctor from Budapest?”

“And what a stuck up one she was!”

“She helped you through a panic attack because you missed your station.”

“A false diagnosis! I had merely eaten too many cabbage rolls; you know how sensitive my organs are. No, this time it is different. I am in love with the category of female that comes but once in a generation. She is called Nella and she is the prettiest, most intelligent creature ever to know and say my name. All I can do is think of her face, her chocolate hair and her eyes, which are like the darkest of cherries-”

“And don’t forget her skin, which looks like whipped cream!” Serghei laughed. “Tell me more, I’m getting hungry.”

“If you were to see her, cousin, you would understand,” Corneliu said. “I say this in all seriousness, she is nothing other than gorgeous and unique and sincere combined in way that arrests your heart and mind, certainly not shaped from the same mold as the women we are used to.”

“Have you told her of your love?”

“Well, no, not exactly. I have tried to reveal my feelings, but on each occasion my attempts were thwarted by an insufferable dog. Can you believe it? I wish to kill it and hang its matted hide over the front of my van.”

“You mean she’s got a guard dog?”

“Impossible! No sane person would keep such a monster. He is the ghastliest kind of mongrel you have ever seen with fangs like rusted nails and a growl like it is gargling gravel. No, his sole purpose is to torment me it seems. It all started last week during afternoon rest; Nella was at the water, standing before me, barefoot and arched over the tap like a stem that could not bear the weight of a magnificent flower. She was drinking and cleaning her feet and I watched her as the wet hem of her crimson dress stuck to her calves. I stood paralysed. I am fortunate that she did not witness my abject leering, for my tongue was without doubt waving about loosely over my jaw. And then, just at that moment, as she rose to face me, the sun came out and shone down on us.”

“A sign from heaven.”


“And what about these wet calves?”

“I told her my name and she told me hers. She asked me why I wasn’t in the field with the others and I told her I had taken ill, that the weather in this country does not agree with me so. Well, she placed her hand on my stomach and gave me a look that sent the acids frothing in my gut. I had a septic case of gastritis she said, and a tonic of cardamon and peppermint would help, if only I would come back with her to her caravan, she had plenty in supply.”

“Tell me you didn’t go with her!”

“I said yes and do not dare call it ungentlemanly and say that you would not.”

“But Corneliu,” Serghei cocked his head. “I would’ve at least asked the price beforehand.”

“Oh, how clever of you. This is not a woman who needs to sell herself, and indeed not to people of your portly composition, for there is no price which can be set on her except love. I agreed and without a lewd thought in my mind. We were leaving when the beast came careening out from behind a bush and drove a hairy wedge between us. Nella screamed and fled towards the camp. I undertook to pursue her, to protect her from this evil thing, but I fell and found myself right under his nose. It still makes me nauseous to think of the foulness of his breath. Be gone! I shouted, but he moved not a whit and held me there for what seemed like an hour, staring at me with those yellowed, dog eyes. I was too petrified to move.”

“What did it want from you? A kiss?”

“How should I know? The devil didn’t reveal his plot to me. He must have decided eventually that I was no sport as he removed his paw from my breast and trotted off back from where he came. I was too traumatised to give chase. After work I looked for Nella everywhere, asked the Romani and even bothered the poor Bulgarians with the search, without result. I started to wonder if she did in fact exist, or if she was part of some dream. But the feeling was real: I was left with an emptiness I’d never experienced before, like someone had cut a piece of me and stolen away with it.”

“Perhaps the dog took a piece of your brain without you noticing, cousin.”

Corneliu didn’t reply. They reached the tent and dropped their gear. Serghei kicked an overturned trolley that had served as their barbecue and, satisfied that it was still full of burning coals, began collecting leaves and sticks to build a fire. Seeing that his cousin had more to recount, he prompted: “But it was real or you wouldn’t have seen them again, the girl and her pet.”

“Oh yes, she is real and so is the beast, unfortunately. A day later I woke earlier than usual and went to the Romani camp to look for her. I waited under a tree, pretending to repair my boots – but I was really inspecting the women who were already awake. They were hanging out washing and filling up water bottles, as they do at that hour. But none of them was my Nella. The men woke shortly after and there was much commotion around the camp. Still, no one noticed me sitting there with my head down. Eventually they all filed out into the fields. I too was about to leave when suddenly I heard the singing of bells. A caravan door opened and-”

“There she was, like an angel floating out of the clouds. Am I right?”

“I am beginning to think that you are not taking me seriously.”

“That statement is not wholly right, cousin. It’s true that I’m not taking you seriously but I wouldn’t say that you have at all begun to think.” Corneliu lit a cigarette and handed it to Serghei. “Those our last?” Serghei asked. Corneliu nodded and continued:

“She came forth from the red vardo. You have probably seen it already – it is an exquisite house with modern accessories and truly the only caravan in the whole camp fitting for Nella. She was wearing a creme skirt and t-shirt, which was so tight around her chest I almost tripped over. She was weighed down by a load of laundry, so I ran to help her and we set it on the line together. We talked and talked. I told her how we were stopped at the border, that they found the three cartons of cigarettes under the seat but not those down your pants. Oh, how she laughed! I discovered she is from a place not too far from our village, but that she was taken to the capital when she was very young. She wanted to know how I was after the incident with the dog and was very sorry for having ran away. When I recounted to her how the beast had attacked me, she dropped everything, touched me gently on the shoulder and thanked me. You should have seen her eyes, cousin – so full of concern and gratefulness.”

“I’m not surprised. You beat the creature back with your bare fists, practically saving her life.”

“Yes, but poor Nella received a far greater fright than I. Oh, how I wanted to comfort and protect her. I would have stood guard by her door every day should she have wished it. But I thought that offer too advancing.”

“That is one word-”

“Instead I asked her if she cared to share dinner with us. But no sooner had the question left my lips than we were struck in the face by a shower of mud. It landed over the white sheets and all over Nella’s t-shirt. It was that blasted dog again. He had obviously been at the lake and had come to dry himself right where we were standing. Nella squealed and I threw a sheet over the brute’s head hoping he would become confused and retreat. But it charged through the camp wrenching one of her clean sheets with it. Nella was beside herself. I ran after the mutt in an effort to retrieve the linen. I chased it through the camp, under cars and over ropes; the sheet meanwhile had coiled itself around the dog’s black fur and had become horribly stained. He was fast I tell you – big and fast and he sped ahead of me like a comet. I kept him in my sight though and chased him to the lake, where he launched himself from the bank and into the water. There was an enormous splash and the sheet flew free. The dog had gone but I managed to collect the sheet from the water and ran back to the camp, but Nella too had disappeared. Curse my luck! I knocked on her door, waited a while but to no avail. What an infernal animal to have come between us again.”

“But it wasn’t all a waste. You know where she lives and can pester her for the rest of the season if you want.”

“That was exactly my intention, although not to pester her of course, but to be close to her, to reveal my feelings. That evening before anyone had returned from the fields I returned to give her a kilo of berries that I had picked for her.They were the biggest and juiciest you have ever seen and cost me at least half a day of work. I even wrapped them in the silver paper that Domnul Petru had given me and rested the parcel on the front step of the vardo with a note attached, inviting her to meet me later by the lake for a picnic. For humour I added that if she would like to eat meat, I would also bring a hunting knife should our friend the dog turn up. Well, that I had that knife right there and then as I had not walked ten metres when the loathsome thing skipped out from under the caravan, ripped open the package with its claws and proceeded to eat the contents, note and all. I was livid and cried after him, stomping and rushing to scare him off but do you think he paid any interest to my protests?”

“Does anyone?”

“He didn’t growl at me and not once did he look up from the berries before he had taken his fill. Then he regarded me once more as if to report on the mediocrity of the meal and vanished. I left the camp and have not returned since, nor have I seen poor Nella. I wonder if the beast will ever leave us in peace.”

While Serghei prepared minced pork for the fire, massaging salt into the meat and shaping it into long batons, Corneliu opened a second bottle and they each drew a long dose.

“Maybe it’s destiny telling you that you and the girl are not meant to be,” Serghei said. “What a shame! This Nella lives in the best caravan in the entire camp, she’s probably rich and, stranger still, might even be interested in you.”

“I didn’t take you for a fatalist, cousin. You know it yourself, love in itself is no miracle, it is merely a signal – like the call of a trumpet that we have to follow until we find from where the music has come. Whether we follow it is up to us. A stray dog may have foiled me but it will not outsmart me.” Corneliu wiped his chin. Then a thought stirred him and he leapt to his feet. “Perhaps I shall go right there now and tell her plainly in front of everyone how she has stolen my heart!”

“Wait until we finish eating, that’s something that I don’t want to miss.”

The two men fried their meat in silence and then sat in the grass to dine. As they were finishing off a dessert of stale bread and berries, a man paced towards them from the direction of the camp. He was a large man with thick legs compacted into grey trousers and tattooed fists each as big as melons, which swung low as he walked.

“Cousin! Is that Domnul Nica?” Corneliu whispered when he saw the man.

“I think it is.”

“What is he doing here?”

“I don’t know. Do you owe money?”

“Of course not. Quiet! Here he comes.”

“Domnul Nica,” Serghei said and stood up. “Come, share a drink with us.”

Domnul Nica’s bald head and dark eyes gyrated for several seconds, taking in the men’s camp, examining their clothes, their torn sneakers hanging from ropes, and ripped newspapers that served as the threshold to their tents. “I have not come to drink. I have come about my wife.”

“Your wife?” Serghei asked looking at Corneliu. “I didn’t know you were married, Domnul Nica.”

“A Buzescu girl. I’ve heard that your cousin here has become acquainted with her.”

Serghei’s shoulders fell and he started blinking as if some bug had flown into his eye. “What is it, Domnul Nica? Has something happened?”

Domnul Nica lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. “Yes, something has happened,” the giant man said and reached around his back and withdrew an object from his pocket which he threw at Corneliu. Corneliu held his arms over his head as if to prevent an attack, however the defence proved ineffective as the carton of cigarettes hit him in the face and bounced off his knee.

“Nella was attacked by a rabid dog, ” Domnul Nica said. “And she tells me that you fought it off so that she could escape. The cigarettes are for your trouble. Much better than the cheap stuff you people smuggle in.”

“Thank you, Domnul Nica,” Serghei sighed and smiled at Corneliu who was in shock. “But there’s no need for such generosity. Both I and Corneliu would’ve done it for anyone.”

“I am not anyone. I found the dog and killed it with a shovel. Thank you and goodbye.” Domnul Nica turned and left. As he strode away, Serghei and Corneliu caught a glimpse of a tattoo on his back of  a woman holding a rose with the words ‘Love is fear’ written in cursive underneath.

“Goodbye, Domnul Nica! You can get up from the ground now, cousin. He’s gone.”

“Oh, Serghei! I was sure he had come to break all of my fingers, tear off my legs and bite my ears. And if he had hurt you as a result of my imprudence… but how could I know?”

Serghei closed his eyes and drew the palms of his hands to his face. “Corneliu, you wanted to know if you were a fool, well here is your confirmation. If I ever find the carcass of that blessed animal I will kiss it ten times and then force you to take it home and place it in the garden a reminder of your derangement.”

“I’m sorry, cousin. But now you believe me, don’t you. Now you believe that my love for her was real.”

Serghei paused and looked into the distance. “Give me a cigarette,” he said.

The two men unwrapped the carton and shared the cigarettes equally between them. It wasn’t such a bad life, each of them thought, not knowing tha the other was thinking the same. Not a bad life at all, they thought as they sat in the grass and smoked and watched the sky turn from light to dark.

Trout the existence of cod

A man enters the only restaurant in town on a Sunday evening.  It is not a fine restaurant, the varnish on the chairs and tables is faded and the menus are covered in plastic film, but he finds the atmosphere congenial and the food accessible. As he takes his regular seat in the corner, underneath the print of The Siesta, the waiter approaches him.

“Good evening, sir. Would sir like to see the specials this evening?”

“No, thank you. I’ll have the usual please, a half-litre of merlot and the cod.”

“I’m afraid there is no cod.”

“Since when? I ate here, why, last week on Tuesday. There was cod then. And the week before. And the week before that.”

“The chef, you see, has taken rather a sudden aversion to the whole idea of cod and only yesterday struck it from the menu. Here, you can see the red ink, right through ‘Fried cod and potatoes’.”

“An aversion to cod? Who ever heard of such a thing? Why, this is a cod-loving town, has been for ages. Don’t tell me he’s suddenly become one of those meat-dodging salad grazers, has he? Every time I turn my head, there seems to be someone preaching on high from a crate of bean sprouts the evils of flesh and how our digestive systems are in some way so fragile that we can’t even so much as touch a pork sausage without causing intestinal cancer.”

“Yes, sir. He was unfortunately rather adamant about it.”

“Eh? And what , pray, is his reasoning? Why did he feel it necessary and appropriate to change the menu in such a radical fashion?”

“He says that cod has had its run and that it is time for something new. We have a new fish-based dish however, fresh trout from the river. It looks delicious, I must say. The chef says he has never seen such a good and healthy eating fish; that it’s beyond.”

“Beyond what?”

“Beyond trout, of course.”

“That’s the most ridiculous statement I think I’ve ever heard. Here we are in cod country, we are cod people! What makes him think that cod is suddenly out of fashion?”

“I really don’t know, sir, I’m just the waiter.”

“Well you should know if you’re serving it! Or not serving it in this case. He probably heard it somewhere in the city. Ha! You know, this town is full of fine-upstanding citizens who run about, doing their upstanding business, contributing to our town’s well-being and what happens at the end of a hard day, just when a serving of cod would be most pleasing and adequate? They’re told to forget it because some city folk say it’s no longer in fashion! That … that … that only the sublimely ignorant and clay-eating peasants have any need for cod in their pathetic lives. Now it’s all about having some healthy trout!”

“Well it has been catching on, sir. It’s quite popular with those who have already tried it.”

“And what next? If someone in the city suddenly declares, say, milk to be the new evil, what then? Would we immediately ban the intake of whipped cream and start burning dairy cows in the fields? Oh, here: take this delicious tofu, it’s the latest thing, tastes fantastic and you will soon learn to love it as much as you loved all those cheeses! I mean, lactose intolerance is one thing, but this!”

“Would you like to order the trout then, sir?”

“I most certainly would not like to order the trout! If cod’s not on the menu then I will just have to starve to death!”

“And the half-litre of wine?”

“Oh go on. And bring me a loaf of bread too while you’re at it.”


Down and up in Brighton

of Brighton
lure me with romances
sand down my apprehensions where it counts
inhales me into its belly like a whale does a plankton.
Air rots my throat, I wait for open sun
with open umbrella,
why am I
man finds me
listless, down at a pub
along the Ship Street. Shakes my hand and smiles
his eyes and I smuggle hushed stories, of truth in beer and tea
he leans across the bar and points a while, nods as he orders my favourite whisky.

Shake your head infinitesimally

In the Eclipse novel two of the characters, Edward being one of them, shake their heads ‘infinitesimally’.

Particle physicists have strived for decades to unravel the mysteries behind the unmeasurable shake of the head, declaring it officially uncalculable or so close to zero, that sentence negation is sucked back into an affirmative vortex.

This however has not deterred our heros from putting this gesture into action, particularly in cases where senseless ambiguity and subtle incomprehension are called for. And let’s face it – there are many questions to which a boring yes or no answer will not suffice. Let’s take a simple conversation between two idiots:

Idiot 1: “Would you like a pancake?”

Idiot 2: Shakes head infinitesimally.

Idiot 1: “Would you like a pancake?”

So, how close to zero can you shake your head?

Outliving the Economic Crisis Part 1 – The Applicant

Conor arrived late even though he’d prepared his clothes and papers the night before, woken up at six o’clock and caught an early bus downtown. The bus burst a tyre crossing the bridge and, as public transit policy dictates, “… in the event of a break down commuter safety requires that all passengers remain seated on the bus until it can be moved to a safe set down point.” Since it could not be moved nor pushed, Conor and his fellow passengers had to endure thirty minutes trapped inside a cold bus in the middle of busy traffic until the tow truck arrived. When it finally did turn up, the drivers couldn’t decide between themselves which part of the road would be the safest. Should they pull it to one side of the bridge or tow the bus one hundred metres to the end of the bridge and park it next to the riverside? After much argument in which each driver purported to have spent more of his life driving than the other, they chose the latter because it was closer to the pub. And so from there Conor had to walk the rest of the way, four kilometres, to the administration building where he presented himself to reception, sweaty and dishevelled and announced that it was his first day on the job.

After being shown to the right elevator, then to the right floor, hall and finally to the office where he would be meeting Mr Duncan-Tweed, his new boss, Conor decided it would be a convenient time to skip off to the bathroom to relieve himself and readjust his clothing. There was no use in being uncomfortable during what could be a tortuously long induction ceremony. He’d not wanted a job in the public service at all but somehow ended up with one. A friend knew a friend and there was a late night with great deal of drinking and before he knew it he’d had an interview and received the letter of congratulation. The money was decent however and at thirty years, his extensive qualifications in the world of bartending and comicbook reading were not going to get him anything better, so why not?

Conor looked up and down the hall for a sign to the toilets but there was none. A man in a peach corduroy suit was stamping down the hall towards him.

“Ahem, excuse me, could you tell me where the bathroom is please?”

The man stopped and looked up at Conor over rimless glasses. “Which one?”

“The closest, I guess.”

“Well, there is one on this floor, but it isn’t the closest. It’s usually faster to take the stairs down to level two, through the double doors and to your right. It’s just near the water fountain on the left past the notice board.” And with that he turned and began to walk off.

“Should I take the stairs near the elevator?” Conor called after him.

“Which other stairs are there? Tell me and we’ll both know,” the man said over his shoulder before disappearing around a corner.

“Sorry, first day. My fault,” Conor said under his breath.

“Don’t worry about Percy,” someone said behind him. Conor received a start and jumped to one side. “He’s a ripe old pot, but you’ll soon learn that we all tick a little off centre in the nuthouse.”

“Sorry, you scared me. I-”

“You must be Mr James, am I right? We’ve been expecting you, Mr James. I’m Terry, Terry Duncan-Tweed. At your service!” Mr Duncan-Tweed’s heels came together in a military attention, causing his enormous belly to wobble. He was clean-shaven, had a face the colour of off cream with small eyes and a grey moustache arranged clumsily in the middle. “What a day we’ve had so far! Rockets firing in every direction, what a din for a Monday. I suspect they gave you the pork and dill downstairs already, did they lad?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The drill! The drill of course. You know the banter, where the paper clips are kept, where to get the best coffee and where the best secretaries are. All on level three if you have to ask. Ha!”

“Not really, sir. Not yet at least. Actually I wanted to find the bathroom quickly before I came to see you. The bloody bus broke down on the way-”

“No, no, no that will never do. We can’t have that sort of trouble around here.”

“Well, you know how it is with public transport.”

“No, boy, the language. That filthy mouth of pottiness doesn’t rub well in my outfit. Yes, well, no matter, come through and I’ll introduce you to the family.”

Conor thought it useless to interject and tried to squeeze his bladder into submission, hoping that it would hold out for just another hour or two until he could slip off to try to find a toilet himself. He followed Mr Duncan-Tweed through to an open-plan office with large sash windows that looked out onto a school play yard.  There were twenty or thirty people sitting in the room, each sitting on plush ergomic chairs in front of large flat screened monitors.

“Heads up, people!” Mr Duncan-Tweed boomed. “Got some fresh meat for you today. Mr James here will be our new customer liaison officer and we want to give him a good impression, right? So we’d better not sit him next to Dora.” Everyone in the room turned their attention to a middle-aged lady at the far of the room and laughed politely. “Just a rub and a poke, Dora. We adore you unquestionably. So! We’ve got a shipload of new and splendidly interesting cases, so let’s just throw him in the deep end, shall we? Mr Jones?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Well?” Mr Duncan raised his bushy eyebrows and nodded towards the others.

“Hello everyone. I’m very … excited to be here and look forward to working with you and getting to know you all as the day goes on.” That wasn’t so bad, he thought to himself. A lady two desks away raised a thin arm. “Um, yes?”

The woman stood up. She had shoulder-length blonde hair  that looked as if it had never seen a comb nor brush or even water for years. “Hello, Mr Jones. My name is Marie and I’d just like to welcome you to the team and say that if there’s anything we can do to help you while you’re getting on your feet, then all you have to do is ask. Just ask us anything, “ Marie said and put her finger to her lips before she sat down.

“Ok, thanks,” Conor said and attempted a laugh to fit the occasion, but could only manage a whimper.

“Maybe we actually should shelve you in there next to Dora. She knows the ropes better than anyone. Any problems you come to see me, okay? Good. Then let’s meet up again at four before you hit the frog and toad, I’ll want to see how you’re getting along.” Mr Duncan-Tween strode out of the office into the hall leaving Conor standing in front of his co-workers, all of whom were still staring at him in silence.

“Ok, so where do I sit? Dora?” Conor asked as he took of his jacket. The sweat had already evaporated from his neck and arms but under the cheap fabric of his shirt he felt damp and uncomfortable. Marie, who still had a finger in her mouth,  pointed to the far end of the room with her unoccupied hand. The others slowly returned to their computer screens and resumed typing and drinking their coffees.

Dora had been on the job for thirty-three of her fifty-three years. She was a short, wide woman with greying blonde hair tied up in a bun and wore oversized plastic jewelry on her hands and fingers and neck. Her desk was covered in photos of herself  in various places around the world including the pyramids, the Las Vegas Strip, the Rialto bridge in Venice and the Sydney Opera house. Every photo was the same apart from the background scenery: Dora was standing by herself, with a squinting impatient expression, wearinga white pork-pie hat and  a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of the location she was visiting.

“Wow,” Connor said. “You’ve been almost everywhere.”

“I haven’t been to Cusco, Peru. I’m going there in August. I wanted to go to La Paz, that’s in Bolivia, but the Government is in civil war, so I decided not to.”

“Probably a wise decision, Dora. Hi, I’m Conor.” Conor extended his hand, which Dora stared at for several seconds before returning to her screen.

“First of all we need to get you introduced to the new cases. We deal primarily with citizens who wish to marry foreigners. They send their documentation to us and we review it. After we make sure everything is in order, we send it back to the Marriages Department, who then informs the applicant whether or not their application has been successful.”

“Ok, and what are the criteria?”

“The what?”

“How do you determine if everything is in order?”

“We follow the list. The list says that the primary applicant, that is the citizen, must be older than eighteen and have a birth certificate that is not older than four months to corroborate this. The citizen must also be legally single, that is, he or she must not be already married. The certificate of eligibility 301A has to accompany the application as proof of this claim. Everything must be of course in English. If the applicant was born overseas in a country where English is not the official language then they need a translation, to be performed by an official translator and also a copy of the original approved with a government seal. Thirdly there must be a copy of their national papers or passport, also with government seal, a copy of the notice of marriage in the relevant jurisdiction where they are registered and a postal order of fifty-three Euros.”

As Dora droned on, Conor did his best to appear interested but his mind wandered to and fro between his apartment, which he had to give up in June, to his parents’ anniversary, for which he was yet to buy a present and then to his growing need to visit the bathroom.  “Okay,” he interrupted Dora mid-sentence. “That’s a big list, Dora. I think I’ll need a copy of it.”

“You will get one.”

“I’ve just got to duck off to the bathroom. Can you tell me where the closet one is?”

“There’s one on this floor-”

“But it isn’t the closest, yes I know. Is it left or right out of the door?”

“The toilet on level two is closer.”

“I know, but I have a phobia of stairs. Left or right?”

“Right down the hall, past the new births desk, through the tea room, on your left.”

“Thanks. Be back in a jiffy.” Conor had to go so bad he almost jogged out of the room. He’d only officially been at work for an hour and he was already questioning whether he could last the whole day. His boss was clearly insane, his co-workers an army of the undead, except for Marie, who was just plain bizarre,  and there seemed to be no toilets in the entire building. He glided down the hall and found the new births desk. “Tea room?” he asked the woman at the desk and pointed in the direction he was heading. The woman nodded. He’d almost cleared the desk when he felt a hand clamp on his shoulder, causing something in his abdomen to squirm.

“Jones! Where the devil do you think you are off to? I haven’t introduced you to Harry in births yet.” Mr Duncan-Tweed chortled and steered Conor back towards the desk. He slammed down hard on a bell, causing the receptionist to jump in her seat. “Harry!” he boomed. “Harry, you old pike. Shuffle on. Come and meet the newling. Here, then. Jones, this is Harry De Coutre. Don’t worry, he’s not French, despite the continental name. On your grandmother’s side, that was the caper, eh?”

Harry, a stocky man sporting a crew cut, leapt forward, arms outstretched as if intending to welcome the new recruit with an embrace. Conor stepped back a pace and offered his right arm, which Harry shook with enthusiasm. “Mr Jones, wonderful to meet you and welcome to the department. You’re going to have a fantastic time. Terry runs a tight ship over at the records department.” Harry covered the side of his mouth and leaned towards Conor’s ear. “Despite what they say.”

“Tight ship, tight ship. I wouldn’t steer her any other way. Mind you, even with a handful of rats on board, we keep it afloat.”

“Well, Jones,” Harry said. “You’ll have to drop by soon for a tour of the births department. Fascinating work we do. Did you know that we have to deal with over one thousand births every month? A thousand! It’s a wonder we get anything done at all around here, what, with all that baby making going on all around us. But we are proud of our work, Jones. Terry will tell you, we are proud of our contribution to the life, to the new generations of our nation. We’re making a difference in here, the unsung heros of our country!”

“I will certainly look forward to learning more about that, sir,” Conor said, his eyes moving in the direction of the tea room.

“Good! Then, we’ll be seeing each other shortly.” Harry said and winked at Mr Duncan-Tweed.

“Come then, Jones,” Conor’s boss said as he looked at his watch. “It may as well be spot on tea time. Let’s get ourselves a drop, what?”

“Oh, that would be great. I was actually just on my way to the tea room.”

“What? I wouldn’t let any of my own drink the unpalatable muck they pass as tea in that place. Besides, it’s miles away. No, I know where the best tea is in the whole building. I’ll show you if you promise to keep it a secret.”

Conor’s bladder told him that this time it couldn’t wait. “Mr Duncan-Tweed, I’m sorry, but I really need to go to the bathroom. I was just headed down to the tea room.”

“No need, my boy. There’s a bathroom on the way. And it’s closer. Just here down the stairs to level two. Come along.”

Conor followed Mr Duncan-Tweed down the stairs, through the double doors and then up the hall of level two. The urgency to pass water was now so great, he was having to contract the muscles of his bladdar as he walked and therefore found it difficult to keep up with his boss who was, with arms flaying out, striding in front of him.

“Mr Fitzpatrick, Fitzy we call him, he hates when we call him Fizty, always has formidable stock piles of the most exquisite teas. He is crazy about the stuff. I just wander in and help myself when I feel like it naturally. The old ship doesn’t mind. He is really a capital fellow.”

“Sir, perhaps I can meet you there? I just have to duck into the loo.” Just the thought of being next to a toilet made Conor’s abdomen relax a little.

“By all means, my boy. It’s just up the hall there, to the left. Come find me when you’re done, won’t you?” Mr Duncan-Tweed said and disappeared behind a door marked 203.

Conor looked up the hall for a sign of a toilet but couldn’t see one. Every door was either without label or seemed to be an office. 204. 205. 206. At the end of the corridor Conor noticed a door that was ajar, to which a handwritten A4 sheet reading “Cleaner’s room” had been taped. From the hall he could see a cleaning sink hanging low on the wall just inside. “What the hell,” he said and walked in shutting the door behind him.

The relief was immense. He couldn’t help but let out a sigh as he urinated, it was if his entire body and mind had been locked in a clamp and ,with every drop that flowed, it was being loosened. He tried to keep the stream running off to the side of the porcelain in order to minimise the noise but the pressure was so great he feared that the trickling sound could be heard from the hall. He flexed his stomach muscles in an attempt to force a faster flow.

Conor didn’t know if it was the sight of the woman or the sound she made that frightened him the most, but when the door creaked opened and he saw her standing in the doorway squealing – at what was an unusually low pitch for a woman – he panicked and fell backwards over a plastic bucket. He had been pushing too hard and it took him a second to stop himself urinating, but not before he’d sprayed a generous coat over the walls and floor. A few drops even landed on the white leather of the cleaning lady’s shoe. She watched him as he collapsed, his naked groin gesticulating over the front of his open trousers, and then let out another unnervingly bassy squeal.

“No, wait!” Conor cried and scrambled to find his footing. “Come back! I was looking for a toilet!” But the cleaning lady had already fled. Conor had just managed to pack his genitals away before the head of Mr Duncan-Tweed appeared followed closely by a tea and saucer which he held close to his portly frame.

“What’s going on in here? Jones! What in the Lord’s name? This will never do. I said up the hall to the left!”

“Sir, I’m terribly sorry, sir. I looked but I couldn’t find it. Oh God, please. This is so embarassing.”

“You’ll want to tidy yourself up a bit before going into Fitzy’s office. The man can become simply unreasonable when it comes to slovenly dress and manners. Come along, Jones!”