Scammers, Slammers and Sponge Cake Ninjas

I have difficult news.  This week, I received multiple phone calls from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered, there was a recorded message declaring that Australian Border Force had intercepted a package addressed to me and had, as a result, issued a warrant for my arrest.  I don’t have anything on order currently and, despite the impending threat to my liberty, my first reaction was to feel a flush of excitement and to wonder what the package was.  Which is probably not what they were aiming for. After the initial excitement at the prospect of getting mail, it then occurred to me that this could be a scam.

I feel I can be forthright here without fear of offending anyone – scammers are Olympic-grade idiots. What kind of moron tries to scam people during a pandemic?  Ignoring the fact it’s totally unconscionable, telling someone they’re at risk of being incarcerated and may lose the freedom to move about as they wish really lacks punch in the middle of a lockdown.  It sounds more like the status quo with a change of view. And, on the upside, you no longer have to worry about cooking and laundry.

Secondly, I doubt very much that law enforcement agencies are prone to announcing their intention to arrest by way of a voicemail message.  They’re far more likely to ‘DM’ you on Instagram.  It’s not my area of expertise, but I always assumed those kinds of agencies placed a significant premium on the element of surprise.  In my mind, they’re more likely to kick the gate in when you least expect it instead of calling to make an appointment. That said, I don’t have a front gate to speak of; more a driveway.  Maybe leaving a message is what you do when there’s no gate available to kick.

This brings me to my next point.  There’s no point trying to scam people if your central message is so terrifying that those receiving it hang up instantly and bury the phone in the backyard.  I, for one, am having real difficulties remembering precisely where I buried mine in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy.  I’d call myself to try and find it, save that I have made the fundamental strategic error of always keeping my phone on ‘silent’, meaning that I can only rely on it vibrating to have any idea where it is.  Worse still, I don’t have another phone to call it from, meaning I’d have to use a pay phone which is about eight hundred metres away.  I could call my mobile and race home, but there’s little chance that it’d still be shaking by the time I arrived.

Whilst I’m ninety nine percent certain that these messages are the work of scammers, I find myself unable to round up and put doubt entirely out of my mind.  What package are they referring to?  Has my on-line shopping history resulted in unwanted attention from the authorities?  The last thing I bought was a jar opener.  Or, to be more specific, I bought three jar openers.

I can see why this would provoke suspicion.  A jar opener is innocent enough, but what would anyone want with threejar openers?  Many’s the international crime cartel that has been founded on less.  Decades from now, when my intelligence file is finally declassified, I’ll discover all the top-level meetings that were prompted by my seemingly perverse decision to get three jar openers.  In truth, I thought I’d buy spares for members of my family.  But Amazon, who otherwise read your thoughts and go through your bins, isn’t interested in that level of detail.

But beyond my own checkered purchasing past, there’s the issue of the current package to consider. What could it contain that would result in a warrant for my arrest?  There’s little I need.  So I searched my thoughts and decided there was just one thing I longed for from overseas – sponge cake.  That’s because I have a serious sponge cake deficit in my life right now.

Once, sponge cake was the centre of my Universe.  It was, without doubt, the centerpiece of every major family event growing up. My grandmother and all her sisters were total sponge-masters; baking ninjas who took great pride in being able to produce a high-quality sponge for any occasion.  I’ve long aspired to be a sponge black belt in my own right, but am yet to do anything about it.  But it’s made me think that I no longer have those people to rely on.  Perhaps one of the overseas relatives intuited my needs and baked me a sponge, never dreaming it would be intercepted at sea and taken in for questioning.

I’ve noticed my father has, over the past few years, returned to sponge cake.  Like any family, we flirted with cheesecake, mud cake and everything in between, but more recently he’s been buying sponge from the supermarket in half-acre quantities.  Whilst big on volume, it’s simply not the same.

To Australian Border Force; if, indeed, you have issued a warrant for my arrest, I’ve already handcuffed myself to save you the trouble.  Mind you, I’ll admit I’m finding it difficult to unload the dishwasher, so if you could get a wriggle on, I’d appreciate it.  And for those who might be concerned for my welfare, feel free to send me something whilst I’m stuck in the Big House.  A sponge would do nicely. 

Postcards from the Fridge: How I Lost The Plot Before Finding It

This was the week.  The week I could no longer ignore the incontrovertible and mounting evidence that I had well and truly lost the plot.  There will be some who assert (somewhat unfairly) that I never had a tight grip on it to begin with, but the fact is that weeks of lockdown have finally loosened whatever grip I had and the plot has drifted off like a helium balloon.  Goodness knows where that thing will end up.

It happened on Sunday. I finished my run and wandered over to the local coffee shop, mask now firmly in place.  As I always do, I ordered a small skinny flat white with one.  I waited patiently as the barista weaved her particular magic until  my name was called and I stepped forward to collect my caffeinated prize.  It was then I made the mistake that I’d successfully avoided making the entire pandemic – I raised my take away coffee to my lips and attempted to drink it through the mask.

Skinny flat white immediately cascaded down my face and splashed across my chest.  Others turned their faces away in abject disgust as coffee began to land in big, dark drops on the footpath.  Even the barista looked horrified.  I did what any reasonable person would do under the circumstances – I continued trying to suck flat white through my mask.  For something thin enough to allow you to breathe, a mask is surprisingly resistant to liquid.  Soon, what had been droplets turned into a veritable waterfall as coffee tumbled down my front before splashing across the footpath.

I can’t have been the first. Surely others have experienced the ‘forgot I was wearing a mask and attempted to drink a coffee’ syndrome? There are many different types of mask.  I’ve stuck with orthodoxy and have been wearing surgical masks.  It makes me feel as though I fit in as well as suggesting I’m more qualified than I actually am.  However, a light blue surgical mask really highlights coffee stains around the mouth region.  Essentially, it ruins the mask forever.  It also makes you easy to spot – passersby are left in no doubt as to what’s happened.  

Possibly as a result of feeling humiliated, possibly because I was under-caffeinated,  I over-reacted by deciding to spend the day gardening. If, as I suspected, I had lost the plot; there was some chance I might find it buried somewhere in the back yard.  Those who consider gardening part of their routine probably can’t appreciate how bizarre it is for me to be in the garden.  Besides mowing, we’ve mostly left each other alone.  A respectful distance if you will.  But here was I, violating the very neutrality that had kept us all safe up to now.

I’ve not lived at this address for long.  To that extent, this particular garden is a mystery to me.  There are some raised garden beds completely overrun with grass and weeds, which seemed like a logical place to start.  Using the wonder-mattock I bought just before lockdown, I ripped up the garden beds and fished out as much of the grass as I could.  It was then that I started to discover more surprising artifacts.

In  an ideal world, this would be the part of the story where I told you about the gold doubloons, diamonds and other treasures I discovered. But if the past eighteen months has taught us anything, it’s that an ideal world doesn’t exist.  Instead, I found a menagerie of random household items.  A foam ball, a toy car, tinsel (leading me to speculate that previous occupants may have grown their own Christmas tree, decorating it ‘in situ’ rather than dragging it into the living room) and, somewhat alarmingly, bones.

The more I dug, the more bones I discovered.  There were moments when I thought I’d soon be calling in Forensics before it became obvious that these were animal bones.  In lockdown, you’re supposed to start new hobbies, and for an instant I considered trying to re-construct the skeleton into a museum display before deciding that skeletal modeling was not a skill I wanted to take into the post-pandemic world.

Then it struck me.  With all the force of a skinny flat white with one that you’ve inadvertently attempted to drink whilst still wearing a facemask.  These were, most likely, the remains of a cat.  In fact, these weren’t raised garden beds at all, but a shrine to a revered family feline that I had inadvertently managed to desecrate.  Other cats would be out for revenge.  I would have to go into hiding – which is hard to do when you’re already in lockdown.  I’m not sure how, precisely, but the cat-kingdom will exact its revenge.  I now live in fear that there’ll be a knock on the door and I’ll open it to find Mr. Mistoffelees standing on the porch before punching me in the nose and storming off.  

In the middle of the week, there was a knock.  Naturally, I was nervous.  But rather than finding an angry Mr. Mistoffelees bent on wreaking vengeance waiting for me, I found a box.  In that box I found food.  Coffee, milk, donuts, cheese and a pizza.  Sent by a family member for no reason at all other than to make me feel better.  I rummaged around the bottom of the box before pulling it out.  And there it was – the plot.  Just when I needed it most.  Thanks.#

Lockdown Five and a Half: Zeroing In

And so it is.  After coming through lockdown five, we find ourselves in lockdown six.  To be honest, I don’t think we can honestly say the curtain had fallen on lockdown five – if you can’t visit family, you’re still in lockdown, even if can get a flat white at a café.  Besides, using the ‘Police Academy Theory of Relativity’, this would put us in ‘City Under Siege’ territory that, although aptly named, holds a zero percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s no easy thing to get a ‘zero’ on Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s a rating reserved for pieces of cinematic filth for which no one on the entire planet could find a kind word to say.  Movies for which there is no redeeming feature whatsoever. Where critics could not bring themselves to say as much as ‘at least the on set catering was good – half a star’. In that sense, ‘Police Academy Six: City Under Siege’ joins an elite but diverse group of movies, bound together only by their sheer putrescence.  

‘Jaws: The Revenge’ worked hard for its zero rating.  It followed the spectacularly poor ‘Jaws: 3-D’ which, as the title not so much implies as it does boldly declare, was a three dimensional experience with the notable exception of the script.  Let me say right now that I accept that I am partly to blame for the existence of ‘Jaw: The Revenge’ as I am one of the unfortunate few who went and saw ‘Jaws: 3-D’ at the cinema.  Forgive me.

Amazingly, the film features Michael Caine.  Not just someone called ‘Michael Caine’ but the actual, ‘what’s-it’s-all-about-Alfie?’ Michael Caine.  He claims never to have seen the film but has, he says, seen the house it built which he describes as ‘terrific’.  It was an opportunity squandered.  It would have been better had bits of previous Michael Caine films had been incorporated into ‘Jaws: The Revenge’.  Had it featured a scene where Michael Caine flees the shark whilst driving a Mini Cooper, a huge, stinking ‘zero’ could have been avoided. If the shark had been blown up, as in the original film, it would have given Michael Caine the chance to say, ‘You’re only supposed to blow the bl&@dy doors off!’  That’s the kind of genius cross-promotion the members of the Academy love.

Also in this elite list is ‘Look Who’s Talking Now!’, which was the third, highly unnecessary installment so totally devoid of merit that it can only have been dreamed up for tax purposes.  Once more, I must take my share of the blame, having borne witness to the preceding ‘Look Who’s Talking Too’ at the cinema. Also in the list is ‘The Ridiculous 6’; an Adam Sandler picture.  I haven’t seen it, but I will say that Adam Sandler is capable of great things and I’ve seen lots of his earlier work.

There’s a pattern here.  One in which I have given creative succor to those who, perhaps, didn’t deserve it.  If nothing else, it tells me that I should start making better choices. My choices in lockdown, however, have mostly been pretty good.  I guess, in the end, whether this is lockdown five or six probably doesn’t matter that much.  Regardless, the question I ask myself is this: will this be the lockdown where the wheels officially come off?  

For me, there’s been no ‘quarantini’ at the end of the day, nor have I morphed into a ‘before’ picture.  With so much chaos, I’ve over-compensated with structure and stopped drinking altogether.  I’ve also gotten (properly) dressed every day, without fail.  Wearing pajamas only to slip on a jumper for conference calls doesn’t appeal to me at all.  Not one bit.  

I’m running sixty kilometres a week.  Which, with a five-kilometre limit in place, means I’m spending a lot of time running in circles.  So much so that it’s beginning to effect the way I walk.  I am spinning around whenever I move.  Say what you will, but it’s off-putting to see someone pirouette into a room, even if you’re watching them from the safety of Microsoft Teams.  

As well as I’ve done to now, everyone has their limit.  Will this be the lockdown where I let loose?  Having kept it together through structure, maybe I should treat this lockdown differently and, for want of a better way of putting it, let it all hang out.  When you spot me at the supermarket, don’t be surprised if all you see in my trolley is ice cream and potato chips.  It’s been a long time coming.

Having now purchased thirty litres of ‘Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food’ and my own body weight in salt and vinegar, I have barricaded myself indoors where I intend to stay for the rest of the lockdown.  Taking up position on the couch, I have just turned on the television.  

Netflix, in an attempt to be helpful, has selected a range of movies for me to watch based on my viewing preferences.  For some reason, these are the only programs I can currently access.  Scrolling through, the following movies are in my Netflix list: Police Academy Six: City Under Siege, Jaws: The Revenge, The Ridiculous 6 and Look Who’s Talking Now.  It’s official: the chances of me enjoying this latest lockdown are best described as follows – zero.