masterchef 2k99

Mother Hen — Audiobooks

Across the kitchen, the red team is already hard at work. Four small men are gathered around a small sink, taking turns to fill a small pan with cold water. This is then carried to a large pot on the iron hob behind them and slowly poured in, save for a small puddle of grainy water in the bottom of the pan. Each man then raises the pan to his lips and slurps the murky liquid before handing it to the next. One after the other, they repeat the process. A pile of potato skin lies next to the sink and with each slurp of the water, they begin to grab handfuls of the skin, which are thrown into the pot.

All four men are short and fat. The first in line has thick black sideburns and a bald head; the second has short blonde hair and an auburn goatee; the third has a bushy grey moustache and a thin combover masking eight irregular sized liver spots on his scalp; the fourth and final man is wearing a top hat pulled down to the brow of his small eyes.

After six minutes, the blue team grow tired of watching their rivals. They begin to clean down their workstation; eighteen large knives are plunged into a sinkful of hot soapy water, six glass bowls flaked with crusty flour and melted chocolate are stacked adjacent, three red plastic chopping boards stained red-wine red from cherry juices, and two large copper pans caked with brown mousse.

The two women fight for dominance at the sink. The short brunette elbows her teammate sharply in the ribs, the teammate kicks her in the shin. They scowl and hiss at each other. The short woman gets the upper hand when she pulls the long blonde hair of her rival and is quick to plunge both hands into the sink. She screams as her hands come out streaked in cherry juice.

A siren shrieks through the kitchen. The teams have thirty seconds left.

Both red and blue leap into action; the men huddle close, interweaving chef’s whites and red aprons around a may pole barber pole; the women straddle the oven and face each other down with the whites of their teeth; each open their ovens and plumes of grey and brown smoke fizz out and fill the kitchen; the fourth man’s top hat slides perilously down his sweaty nose; the men use their bare hands in unison to grab the peeled and roasted potatoes one at a time, grimacing from the heat, blisters forming on their palms; the women wrap their hands in tea-towels and reach for their individual trays of cherry chocolate puff pastry molten mousse.

A frail, thin child enters the kitchen. The teams gasp and hurry to the black marble countertop in front of him. Neither have used a plate, the food sits directly on the dusty surface. The smell of singed damp fabric hangs in the air. The child, his gaunt face pale and hollow, leans in to inhale the aromas. His lank hair falls onto his forehead and his nose wrinkles up pulling his lips with it – there are dark red stains on his gums.

Silence falls in the kitchen.

skiing

Terrible Voices — Cream with a K

sun snow blue board ice powder foam plastic cloud coat orange grey red thick thick puffy and thick keeps warm as pine breeze needles sting fleshy cheeks lips nose withered forehead soggy hair only eyes shielded by yellow plastic tear in bottom left scratches out blurry vision white into grey fluff cotton candy cotton wool cotton gloves tiny globes buzz past fingers curled on rubber rudders flimsy brittle matchstick poles guide flimsy brittle matchstick legs heart racing heart pounding heart bumping pumping thrumping tongue heavy thin air difficult to swallow teeth cracking wooden splints flimsy brittle matchstick pearls chattering chattering chattering

Jason flew off the edge of the cliff. His ski instructor had warned him against taking the Black slope this early – it had only been three months since Les Arcs after all – but he had insisted, and now here he was, flying through the sky with no parachute and just a pair of skis on his feet. It was poetic justice really; the sort of irony that Alanis Morisette would sing about. If his stomach wasn’t freefalling through his cavernous body, he probably would have laughed.

It took almost twenty seconds before he collided with the mountain beneath him. The intensity of the breeze that had stung his lips had increased to feel like tiny knives slicing his pink skin, he gulped for air with tiny fish lips blowing hollow bubbles, his heart was beating at a thousand beats per minute. The skis had stopped him capsizing in the air and so his feet were the first to make contact – the bone of his heel crunched and folded up into his shin, which burst out through his kneecap. The back of his skis were shattered instantly and shards of plastic-coated-wood pierced his buttocks. His tailbone thudded into the snow and the impact compressed every disc in his spine, severing the nerve endings and wiring his jaw shut. His body, limp and crushed, fell forwards and the momentum of his flight rolled him down the snowy gravel into a thick redwood pine tree. The front of his left ski was lodged in his cheek and his left eye socket was filled with blood. Snow fell from the pine tree and birds fluttered into the sky.

Seconds later he woke up and the memory of the pain caused him to scream in agony, it came out as a childish gargle. His head was wet and sticky. He smelt antiseptic, sweat and urine. A bright light blinded his eyes as they opened for the first time. A latex hand grabbed his ankles and he felt the familiar pull of gravity as he was lifted into the air – at least this time he was in a hospital.

c’est l’été

Fred Nicolas — C’est la Vie

It’s different when the sun is shining. Everything feels easier – unfinished tasks seem finished, looming deadlines are blown away, smiling takes less effort and laughter pours out of people like sweat. Plans for the evening unravel and evolve and expand and collapse, but who needs plans when it’s a London summer (city in the sunner). You can walk across Blackfriars bridge and even cyclists don’t seem like pricks. Cigarette smoke hangs in the air like a mist and the streets smell of beer – just avoid the central line.

There’s no point looking good if there’s no-one around to appreciate it; people don’t wear tuxedos to have breakfast above the kitchen sink. There’s no point to a summer evening if you’re going to spend it indoors. And that’s exactly what our lucky couple have planned. Not even just indoors, but actually underground, in the basement of a Japanese restaurant near Saint Pauls, a time warp complete with faux-geishas and wall hanging scriptures and china saké cups and tiny booths to mask yakuza deals. Bowls of broth are carried on wicker trays and chopsticks arrive pre-split, halogen bulbs are masked behind crinkled paper sheathes.

She’s wearing a floral playsuit (navy burgundy pink violet blue) and the flowers make her breasts look full. He’s wearing a racing green shirt with a button down collar and chinos with cuffs rolled up like sleeves. They’ve both spent some time adding volume to their hair. He enters first and holds the door open for her – it’s glass framed in black metal with elliptical handles – to appear gentlemanly but mostly to avoid engaging with the maître d(‘hotel). A tiny Japanese woman hurries to a pine altar to take their name. The staircase swallows them whole.

Opposite the restaurant is a pub called The Viaduct Tavern. It’s an old fashioned pub with watercolours on the walls and unknown bitters on tap, in this heat the fat red lipstick doors have been pinned open and punters fill the mouth like teeth. A sweaty businessman in a thick suit struggles to weave through the crowd on the pavement and sends an empty pint glass flying into the road, a cyclist swerves to avoid it but the black cab is too late, glass crunches under rubber like treacle, thick shards splinter into the grooves of the tyre searching for a way to slit it open, the cabbie drives on oblivious and pint glass gravel rolls down the road. Gingerbreadcrumbs.

Distracted, I didn’t notice the chewing gum and stepped right in it. Brilliant.

A desk of bricks.

Mr. Tillman — Father John Misty

Steven had no real idea what he was doing here and he was starting to think that the impatient blinking of the cursor was taunting him. His situation was exacerbated by the cacophony of keystrokes that surrounded him; dull thuds of young men venting their aggression on their keyboards, click clacking rat-tat-tats of old women’s manicured fingernails. It was as if the sound was getting louder, the taunt of the cursor punctuating each increase in volume, the white empty space of his desktop emitting a high pitched hum; he was drowning under the noise of shuffling feet and murmuring voices and glugging water coolers and droning fans.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

His phone rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

It rang again. His phone never rang.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

He was a back office worker. Nobody had his phone number. He didn’t even know what his number was.

TRRRRRRRRRRRRING.

Steven finally snapped out of the maelstrom of office boredom and reached out for the handset. It was an old phone, made of cheap charcoal plastic complete with fat number buttons, a faded blue display bordered by thin buttons that Steven had never figured out how to use, and light-up flashing glass boxes for each line. Line 1 flashed at twice the rate of the frequency of the rings. He picked up the receiver and the light fixed on.

“Hello?”

These were the first words he had spoken since greeting the security guard upon his arrival to the office at 8.25am that morning and his voice was thick and croaky.

“Mr Tillman, Good morning, my name is -”

Static interfered with the line for a few seconds. Steven was about to speak when the voice returned.

“- you’ll forgive the intrusion I’m sure. I thought it best to reach you right away given the circumstances.”

“Sorry – the line dropped out there. What did you say your name was? What circumstances?”

“Yes it’s a bad connection here I’m afraid. We are quite remote so the service is pretty unreliable. As I was saying, my name is Doctor -”

Static. Three, Two, One.

“-we tried you at home but managed to find this number in her next of kin information.”

“Doctor? Are you from a hospital?”

“Oh my it is bad today isn’t it? Not exactly Mr Tillman – we specialise in ongoing care for our residents, making them comfortable. Unfortunately there’s not much even hospitals can do for those that end up here.”

“And where is that?”

“As I said, -”

Static. The longest one yet, must have been five seconds this time. Steven was stammering politely into the receiver when the voice returned.

“-you are listed as her next of kin in her entry file. She was brought to us almost five years ago now and, to be honest, we were all amazed she made it through the first week the state she was in, but now here we are. So we thought you should know.”

“Sorry – doctor – the line keeps on cutting out. Who are you calling about? I don’t know anyone in…well, wherever you are. Where are you calling from?”

“Mr Tillman I’m afraid it’s not that simple to explain. Think of us less as a where, more of a-”

Thankfully this pause was brief.

“-as I said, it’s a bit complicated to explain over the phone. I think it’s best if you came in to see her yourself before we have to begin the next steps.”

Steven racked his brains. Even though the line was poor it was obvious this was a doctor calling from a hospice or similar facility, to inform him of the death of a female patient. This woman had spent five years in their care and when she arrived, in a poor condition, had listed him as her next of kin. Five years ago he was twenty-two and living in Clapham with his university housemates; the most traumatic thing that happened to him in that period was when he got barred from Inferno’s for being caught with a gram of coke in the gents’. He really had no idea what this doctor was calling about, and was sure it must have been a wrong number, only with the freak coincidence of having the right surname.

“Mr Tillman? Are you still there?”

“Yes – sorry. It’s a bad line. I’m afraid I don’t know who you are talking about. I really think you must have got the wrong number. I’m very sorry, but really, I really don’t know how I can help.”

“Oh. Oh I do apologise. This is Steven Tillman?”

First name too – can’t be.

“Well yes, but I think you must have logged the numbers incorrectly or something, because I don’t know a-”

The man on the other end hung up.

An Open Letter to James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem

Dear James,

It has been a while, old friend. I won’t pretend to ask how you are as I know all too well – and I am glad. You deserved it, you really did.

As I sit here writing I realise that I don’t know whether I am writing to thank you or to blame you. My hope is that, as the words come out of my fingers, my thoughts will take form and, by the time this letter has come to an end, we will both know one way or the other.

I was 15 when we first met. My parents had just bought a desktop computer, thereby marking the end of our working class roots, and I was beginning to lose interest in school. I was hopelessly in love with a girl from Park Side Comprehensive and we were going on a date at the weekend to watch Meet The Fockers. I decided that I needed to impress her and so I sat down at the large cream box and connected to the internet.

[Reader, just to clarify, this letter is not about to take a sinister turn; feel free to read on and loosen the knot in your stomach.]

At 15 my musical tastes were exclusively informed by the NME. They had recently reviewed your first full length album and awarded it a meaty 8 out of 10, well above my listening bar. Please forgive me for this next revelation (it is not one I am proud of), but once I was finally connected to the internet the first thing I did was find a torrent of your album and illegally download it. You have to understand that I was a broke 15 year-old kid who had access to a seemingly unlimited library of free music. We will discuss this later, but, for now, you should know that I would download anything that was rated above 6/10 by the NME, leave it to gather digital dust in my expansive iTunes library, and instead play a select few albums on constant repeat. Yours was not one of them.

No, I think it is safe to say that at 15 I was too early for LCD Soundsystem. Daft Punk is Playing at my House was the only song I saw any redeeming qualities in; the others were too long, devoid of guitar hooks with obtuse and inaccessible lyrics. Nonetheless you had been awarded a staggering 8 (stars?) and so I decided I would force a few listens. Sadly, my adolescent self hadn’t yet grasped the concept of a ‘grower’. My teenage id instead demanded instant gratification along the lines of The Fratellis, The Vines, and (worse) – Jet. I gave up halfway through the first spin.

Some years went past with my ill-gotten download of LCD Soundsystem slowly aging alongside stolen copies of Antics, Kid A and Agaetis Byrjun. I occasionally spotted your debut when scrolling from Bloc Party to Late of The Pier, but never gave it a listen. In fact, by the time 2007 rolled around, I had even turned my back on Daft Punk is Playing at my House; you were an antique, in the same category as the Kaiser Chiefs or Embrace. Another boring guitar band. And then you released Sound of Silver.

Some months ahead of its release I had upgraded my musical bar from the NME to Pitchfork (the >6/10 benchmark remained the same). Your sophomore won a staggering 9.2 (thumbs up?) out of 10! I couldn’t believe it – dad-rock band LCD Soundsystem? 9.2/10? Surely that was a mistake – I don’t think I had seen a score above 9.0 since I had started reading Pitchfork. I was excited. I opened the review. “As close to a perfect hybrid of dance and rock music’s values as you’re likely to ever hear” read the opening paragraph.

[Reader do not mistake me for an obsessive at this part of the story – the review is open in a tab next to this word document.]

James, I must apologise once again. Although I now had a job, and did occasionally spend my minimum wage on CDs, I was skeptical after my failure to appreciate your first album, and so I once again found a torrent to illegally download Sound of Silver. After a download time of roughly 45 minutes – which may sound long but bear in mind it was 2007, and I’d waited almost three hours for LCD Soundsystem in 2005 – I ripped it to a CD and took it to my room. You’re probably expecting this to be the tipping point in the letter, right? No. I didn’t like it. I think I made it through an entire listen and again only found one track with any redemptive qualities (you don’t need me to tell you what it was).

I could probably have ended my jaunt down memory lane after slating your first album, but I know that you yourself have been a critic of that record. Not that you are right to criticise LCD Soundsystem – far from it – but I felt it important to tell you that the seminal Sound of Silver also washed over me like tepid water. Several years passed and I carried on listening to it piecemeal; gradually Get Innocuous wormed its way onto my driving playlist, Someone Great sound-tracked a messy breakup, and talking about the happy-sad ratio of All My Friends was my mascot of indie-credibility; however, it was still a fair few years until we really got to know each other.

Everyone downloaded music in the 00s. Honestly. Paying for digital music just wasn’t a ‘thing’; CD purchases were acceptable but kids that paid for iTunes downloads had more money than sense. The tipping point came with In Rainbows when Radiohead validated the millions of hours of digital theft stored on hard drives around the world, by releasing an album for free. I am sure this is a debate we would enjoy over a beer some time, but it is not the point of my letter. It is, however, crucial to our next encounter.

[That’s 1000 words there, feel free to stop at any point dear reader.]

Black Friday 2015. I was living with a flat-mate and found myself a weird mix of jealous and scornful of his record collection: Bach, The Rolling Stones and Joe Bonamassa. I did not want to own these records. I wanted to improve them. And so, I bought a discounted turntable as an early Christmas present. Obviously a turntable is essential to a record collection, but it’s also useless without any records. I was employed now, earning more money than my parents’ joint income at its heights, and I felt it was time I repaid the community I had been stealing from for a decade. However, as a complete novice I had no idea where to look, and so clumsily typed ‘vinyl’ into Amazon. Guess what was suggested?

When I met my girlfriend I began to believe in serendipity. We met in our fourth year at university, the year after all of our three-year degree friends had graduated. The prospect of returning to a sleepy town with no friends and an uphill struggle to improve my grades was not particularly inviting, and I left it late to enroll. This resulted in a slim choice of accommodation and I was forced to take the most expensive hall on campus, with a rent bill equal to >90% of my entire student loan + grant. That year was a 2-meal-a-day struggle, but I met the love of my life, so clearly it was meant to be.

I have no idea why Amazon (where I was working at the time, I should add) suggested I buy This is Happening. It had been years since I had thought about you, but as soon as I saw you there in that black suit I got this weird premonition of anticipation. I added the vinyl to my shopping cart and checked out. Amazon has this great feature where a digital version of a physical music purchase is added automatically to your digital music library, however I resolved myself not to listen just yet. Instead I read the review of your final album on Pitchfork – another 9.2 – in which they featured a quote from an interview you gave to The Guardian: “I spent my whole life wanting to be cool… but I’ve come to realize that coolness doesn’t exist the way I once assumed.”

As soon as I read that I knew that we would have a very long relationship. I had also spent my entire life wanting to be cool; dressing in a certain way, liking certain things (or, rather, disliking other things), downloading music to impress girls on dates… you had summarized my entire young adult life and demolished it. What did it mean to be cool? James Murphy was what it meant to be cool.

I hope this letter does not come across as false-flattery. I can’t think of a way to express my feelings towards you other than through admiration and respect, and I’m sure being referred to as ‘cool’ will make you squirm in discomfort. I’ve seen you in interviews, I’ve seen your attempts to deflect any question about your role as a cultural icon, and it adds to the many reasons I admire you. Please believe me when I say that, for me, you are the epitome of cool.

Anyway I digress and we still have some ground to cover. The record arrived and I listened to your music the way you intended it to be listened to; analogue, retro and loud. Obviously I loved it. In the years between my flirtation with Sound of Silver and that first spin of This Is Happening I had taken my musical blinkers off; Antics, Kid A and Agaetis Byrjun were now among my favourite albums, and I had fully grasped the concept of a grower. [Ignore the phallic images that conjures, please.]

I spent months discovering your music. Something inside me had changed and suddenly it all made sense. I really, really lost myself in your work for a while and became a borderline obsessive. Don’t worry, I’m not about to send you a lock of my hair or a toenail or anything, I just want to paint a picture of a 26 year-old guy, who had grown up with some of the greatest music ever made around him, and he’d ignored it in favour of Franz Ferdinand’s third album. Seriously. What a fucking idiot.

By the way, at this point in writing I seem to be leaning towards thanking you. I feel like that’s where I’ll end up but, again, we are still not quite done, are we?

The fact I had become an LCD anorak is important. I’d gone through your entire library, including the running album 45:33 (small side note: thank you for the 5 kilos I lost, by the way), and I was wondering what to go to next.

“I was really a failure. Like really really really…really…really really really a failure.”

That’s the opening line of an interview you gave with SVT Play, available on YouTube. The clip is called Interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem about how to deal with Failure. If you haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend it strongly enough, even if it is a bit weird to watch yourself talk about…yourself. Honestly, man, this interview changed my life.

Suddenly it felt OK to be living with a flatmate when my girlfriend had moved out of our home and back in with her parents. It felt OK to be trapped in a job on a career path I hated. It felt OK that I hadn’t written a best seller and that I wasn’t even fucking trying. The fear of failure at all of those things had paralysed me for years, and when you articulated those exact same feelings, the knot around my heart loosened. It was OK that I hadn’t tried yet. It was definitely OK that I hadn’t succeeded yet. When you have thoughts and feelings that aren’t shared by anyone around you, but one of your personal heroes admits to them – well, it’s remarkable. It’s like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face. I suddenly felt less alone.

[Dear reader, if you’re still with me – obviously I was not alone at this point in my life. Like I said earlier, I had found the love of my life. It’s a complicated feeling and it’s why I’m writing this letter. But dearest beloved, please don’t be offended.]

It’s cold and dark outside now. I’m listening to the fade out on Black Screen from your #1 billboard album American Dream. Congratulations again on that, by the way; when I said you deserved it I really, sincerely meant it. I won’t keep you for any longer and I was right about writing this, I feel a new sense of closure. Not that our relationship is over, James, far from it. No, I feel closure about the second to last paragraph. I don’t think I’ve ever articulated that before and it feels like I’ve worked out a splinter, a thick knot of something inside me, something dark and brooding that has now faded away.

Before you get too big-headed, unfortunately I should tell you that you are not the hero of this story. Music is a one-way dialogue from artist to listener; you talk to me but I can’t talk back, and this letter is the same thing. You have an opinion but frankly I’m not interested in it, in the same way you continued to make music when I was 15 and thought you were shit. I am not deluded into thinking you are a tangible part of my life, you don’t have any idea who I am. You should, however, know that it’s because of you that I took accountability for my life.

That discovery took place over a year ago. I would update you on the status of the things I was scared at failing at, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter, because it’s OK to try and it’s OK to not and it’s OK to succeed and it’s OK to not. There is only one thing that I should update you on.

I felt alone, I no longer feel alone.

Thank You.

[Reader, as a thank you for sticking with me, please enjoy the video I talked about earlier, it’s worth a watch. It might just change your life.]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYCz06bS380

The Idiot

Iggy Pop — Nightclubbing

There’s a story on the news aboutta guy who ate a dover sole whole, got it stuck down his throat til he couldn’t breathe no more, his friends called an ambulance when his face went blue; meanwhile I’m a fuckin’ idiot cos I don’t know the first thing about Tianaman square? Bullshit. Don’t even know how it’s spelt but I sure as shit can use a semi colon.

There’s a guy on the tube wearing a tweed blazer tryin’ to ignore the bead of sweat making its way from his neck to his back, he could take off the blazer an’ that bead of sweat would be no more, and yet I’m the fuckin’ idiot cos I didn’t know you’re s’posed to serve a latte with warm milk instead of boiling it first.

There’s a tune in my ear from Annie Clark about a monster hankerin’ for a sacred cow but everyone knows Hindus don’t eat cows, it’s the catholics that eat baby Jesus, and yet I’m the fuckin’ moron ‘cos it took me months to notice Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett aren’t the most famous Kurt & Courtney out there.

My yellow coat has a brown line along the neck ‘cos I wore it to a festival and never washed my neck, and when I got back I never washed the coat neither. I’ll admit that one’s pretty fuckin’ stupid.

I’m mindin’ my own business on my way to work, keeping my elbows sharp in case some prick next to me thinks the arm rest is single occupancy, realising it’s much faster to drop a few letters here an’ there when you’re talkin’ quickly but it’s a bitch to write, and then I look up from my phone and realise everybody on the tube is paused. It’s mega-weird, they’re not moving an inch.

I pause K&C halfway thru their continental breakfast and it’s like the tube-sounds have paused too. I take my headphones out and nothin’. It sounds like how I’d imagine space would sound, there sure as shit ain’t nobody screamin’, my ears have got that weird feelin’ where you need to chew somethin’ to get ‘em to pop.

The tube ain’t movin’ which is nuts ‘cos I never got that slanty slowdown you get when the tube driver hits the brakes. What were we smokin’ last night, man? That’s a line by the way, I gotta job in the city, I ain’t smokin’ nothin’ but Marlboros. There’s an old dude opposite me halfway through a page turn of his paper, if he’s havin’ me on he’s doin’ a bang up job; the other folks I can see are all starin’ into the distance or leanin’ against the pole, to be honest you wouldn’t notice anythin’ out the ordinary if it weren’t for Fred. That’s the old geezer’s name in case you weren’t payin’ attention.

I think about standin’ up but I hate standin’ up on tubes in case they jolt forwards and I fall onto an old, pregnant, blind, and black woman, so instead I sit still but get a good lean on. There’s a skinny bloke in front of me wearin’ skinny grey jeans round his skinny drainpipe legs with a skinny tie on a skinny shirt drinking what I expect is a full-fat latte and I lean forwards toward him to get a look down the tube; a real good lean, lean in so good that my hairspray quiff crunches against him and gets messed outta place. Normally I’d be fuckin’ pissed but judging from the freaky sci-fi time pause shit goin’ on I got bigger fish to fry.

 

 

strawberries

Fire — Dream Wife

 

Every Tuesday Alice changed her commute. She did this because she was worried that travelling the exact same journey everyday created a risk of identity fraud. She still threw away bank statements, credit card bills and payslips in the same recycling bag, but had decided that strange figures plotting her journey to work and home was the greater risk, and so every Tuesday she would change at Stockwell and hop on the Northern line. It added fifteen minutes to her journey time and even though every week she would arrive to the nine AM sales meeting out of breath and sweaty, she considered it time well spent. She had not yet considered the fact that this attempt to break routine had now become a routine, and as with all routines, after a few months she forgot why she was doing it at all.

On one of these Tuesdays a man was eating strawberries straight from the punnet in the seat next to her. He struggled to make his five-a-day recommended dietary requirement on the other six days of the week, and overcompensated by cramming a whopping ten portions of fruit into Tuesdays. His usual choice of morning-commute fruit – white grapes – was sold out in his local supermarket, and so he had panic purchased the strawberries. They were not in season, firm to chew and overly tart. As the train juddered to a halt at Oval he dropped one of the half eaten tips which bounced off his thigh and onto Alice’s. The juicy red flesh left a small thumbnail size blotch on her white jeans; the stain was not visible on his own black suit trousers.

Ordinarily this sort of event would not have riled Alice. She was clumsy and would often spend an afternoon with a blouse stained from that day’s lunch, or perhaps from even earlier in the day (she was a drink spiller, too); at a recent house party her friends had jokingly given her a glass of red wine served in a child’s plastic sippy cup, a joke they had all laughed at, but were then glad about when she accidentally kicked this across the cream carpet floor. Alice herself had shared the laughter and subsequent relief. No, on an ordinary day Alice would have let this slide – she would have accepted the apology with a ‘don’t worry about it’, or ‘these things happen’. However, today was not an ordinary day. Today was a Tuesday.

The man did not apologise, and instead delicately picked the strawberry tip off its resting place on Alice’s thigh. He was hopeful that the stain would go unnoticed until he got up and left the tube at Bank, off to spend a day committing worse deeds in his job as an assistant hedgefund portfolio manager, and he would forget about it as soon as he had thrown the empty punnet in a bin outside the station. His own designer suit was unscathed and he was every bit the stereotype of his job – he even had that grease-wax swept back hair typical of an eighties yuppie or comic book villain – so ruining the appearance of an inconsequential bit of skirt would not trouble him.

On Monday nights Alice listened to The Guilty Feminist podcast. She would do this in the kitchen, while cooking dinner for her boyfriend, through her female-voiced virtual assistant powered smart speaker. The irony was lost on her.