On the run from Andi Peters following a misunderstanding about cruises, Melissa begrudgingly agrees to follow her friend Joanne (and Joanne’s 17th century throwback ‘life partner’ Fax) to the Edinburgh Fringe. While leafleting for Fax’s dreadful stand up show about faith healing and vegans, Melissa endures the highs and lows of pretentious student plays, ‘street typing’, and the knowledge that her shop has been left in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand tills…

Crap Comedy is the follow up to the 2018 novel Crap Holiday. Read it here.

1: Alans

If the phone rings again I’m going to steal a car and run myself over with it.

The phone rings. I’m too much of a coward to run myself over with a car, so I answer it.

‘Hello, Co-op?’

‘I’m ringing about the wires.’

Oh Christ not this again. ‘What?’

‘The speaker wires. Have you still got the 16-inch jacks?’

This has been happening all bastard day. The phone’s been ringing off its tits and it’s never once been about anything to do with the Co-op. Clearly some knob has put our number on an advert by mistake, and now men called Alan keep phoning to ask about the wires for sale.

Even when I answer by saying it’s the fucking Co-op, the Alans never twig that they might have the wrong number. No, fuck that, because Alan dialled the number, and Alan would never dial a wrong number. Also, it was an Alan who put the advert up, and Alan would never do something as foolish and homosexual as getting his OWN PHONE NUMBER WRONG.

‘Sorry you’ve got the wrong number.’

‘Can I speak to your husband love? He’s selling some wires.’

‘No, this is the Co-op, I–’

‘–16-inch jacks love. Is he there?’

What? Who? 16-inch Jack? If I knew someone called 16-inch Jack I wouldn’t be wasting my time here.

‘No you’ve got the wrong number. This is the Co-op.’

‘…’

‘…’

‘… Well can you tell him Stan phoned about the wires? Thank you.’

He hangs up. And anyway, no I will not tell him that Stan phoned, I will tell him that Alan phoned, because you are an Alan. What am I talking about? I’m not going to tell anyone that anyone’s phoned.

Maybe I should put Saif behind the counter for a bit? Let him answer the phone. This is why I have an assistant after all, so he can do all the shit I don’t want to do, while I supervise. This is why Karen always made me answer the phone, while she went in the back room to ovulate or whatever it was she did.

‘Mel?’

Speak of the shelf-stacking devil. ‘What?’

‘You know ice cream?’

‘Yes…’

‘Does it go in the freezer bit?’

No Saif it goes with the fucking newspapers. Why did I employ someone who’s never visited this fucking planet before.

‘Yes, it’s frozen. It goes with the frozen stuff.’

‘Oh right OK. I thought it might go with the milk.’

Somehow, I’ve managed to employ someone who’s never been in a shop, doesn’t know what a shop is, and in fact has never heard the word ‘shop’. So far he’s said the following things to me:

‘They put bleach on red apples to make green apples don’t they? That’s why you pay more for green ones.’

‘Do we sell Bitcoin?’

‘I always used to think Toilet Duck was for cleaning your toilets.’

It’s my own fault for giving him a job. In my defence, when I met him I was run off my feet and I had a stinking hangover. I was trying to serve 7,000 people while at the same time trying not to let last night’s gin leak out of my eyeballs and arse. A relatively normal young man in a suit walks in and joins the queue.

When I get to him, he says ‘Excuse me, do you have any vacancies?’

‘What? Yeah loads’ I reply, trying desperately to restock the till with coins.

‘Oh excellent, shall I leave my CV with you?’

‘What? Oh yeah thanks, I’ll get in touch.’

I didn’t really think twice before hiring Saif. He had all his limbs, he hadn’t tried to murder me or ask me out, and he was enthusiastic enough to put a suit on and carry a CV around, and that’s more than anyone needs to work at the Co-op.

I should have thought twice before hiring Saif. Always think twice. Always think at least eight times, and each time come to the conclusion that you shouldn’t hire Saif.

He was alright at first. He told me he was a business student and he wanted part time hours but that he could do extra. He told me some other stuff but I wasn’t listening properly because I really needed a piss, and I had stuff on my mind. For one thing, Joanne had threatened to come and see me at work. In the end she didn’t because she had to ‘clear out her emotional matrix with nutmeg oil’, but still.

So I said ‘When can you start?’ to Saif, and I’m finding out now that the real answer is ‘as soon as I learn your Earth ways’.

I decide against putting Saif on the till. Baby steps. Let him figure out that frozen food is frozen first.

The phone rings again. This time it’s a toss-up between answering the phone or packing my job in and trying my luck as a prostitute. I did try that once, but only for half an hour and I was really pissed. In my defence it was the end of the night and I didn’t have enough money for a pizza. Half an hour later, I still didn’t have enough money for a pizza, so I resigned. Looking back, I might have got some customers had I not been sat in my living room, but oh well.

‘Hello, Co-op?’

‘Alright, I’m ringing about the advert. Have you got any 4mm banana plugs?’

I’m fucking sick of this. It’s only half 4 but I’m going to unplug the phone and lock the bastard doors and refuse to sell anyone any milk or any fucking speaker wires.

‘This is the Co-op.’

‘Oh right. But I’m phoning about the advert. I just need some 4mm–’

‘YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG NUMBER YOU FUCKING ALAN! I’M NOT FUCKING TANDY!’ I put the phone down.

Saif looks up. The old lady browsing the peas looks up. For want of anything better to do, I crouch down behind the counter and hide. I’ll get back up when my face has stopped burning. Maybe the old lady will have gone. With any luck she’ll just shoplift the peas and leave me alone.

Saif’s head pokes over the counter. ‘You OK? Shall I tell that woman we’re closed?’

‘No don’t do that!’ I launch my carcass back up.

‘I think she wants to buy peas,’ he says, in a too loud voice.

I wonder what the least painful way of gouging my own eyes out would be.

‘Oh that reminds me, a woman came in earlier and said she wanted some tinned potatoes yeah, as in – potatoes in a tin!’

For some reason this is hilarious to Saif. I wait for him to explain the joke while I avoid the pea woman’s glare. Fuck her, she’s probably measuring the peas.

He’s properly laughing now. ‘Potatoes in a tin! Don’t worry I went along with it – I told her we must have run out, and then she left. Some people are proper tapped.’

The phone rings. I can probably manage one more ‘No Alan, we don’t do speaker wires you fucking serial killer’ before I quit my job and move to Fiji. I make a mental note to introduce Saif to the wonderful world of tinned potatoes, and I pick up the phone.

‘…Hello?’

‘Yo guess what?’

Oh fuck. I’d rather have the Alans phoning me.

‘Hi Jo. Sorry I thought you were Alan.’

‘Who’s Alan? Is that your boss?’

‘No it’s… yeah it’s my boss.’

There’s no point trying to explain to Joanne about the Alans. She’ll just accuse me of being a capitalist because I refused to sell them speaker wires.

‘Oh right. Guess what?’

‘What.’

‘Do you want to come round for dinner?’

I try to process that string of words in my head. ‘Guess what? Do you want to come round for dinner?’ That’s not a thing people say.

‘Dinner? What?’

‘Yeah, Fax is cooking!’

Oh Christ. The last time I saw Fax do any ‘cooking’, he was trying to boil an egg using Reiki. What’s he going to do this time, stare at a Pot Noodle until he decides it’s aligned properly?

I can’t cope with today. I need to go in the back room and drink vodka.

I find myself saying ‘When?’ I am going to punish myself for this later. I’ll poke myself in the face with a drawing pin until I learn not to agree to anything Joanne says. I’m still getting over it not being Alan on the phone to be fair, so I’m vulnerable.

‘How about Friday night? We always make love on a Friday because of the energies from the goddess Frigg, but we can do that later.’

Please do. Please do not do it while I’m trying to eat my raw Pot Noodle.

‘I don’t know, it’s kind of a bad time now Jo, I have a lot of work to do…’

This is a lie. I have the pea woman looking at me, and that’s about it. Apart from fending off all the Alans.

‘Well, I’ll put you down for Friday. I’ve got a surprise!’

My organs all deflate of their own accord. I do not want a surprise from Joanne. A surprise from Joanne is always something like ‘I’ve infused this bra with herbs for you!’ or ‘I aligned with Mars yesterday so now I can see red better!’ or some bollocks like that. What I really want is for the pea woman to decide on her fucking bag of peas and pay for them and fuck off, and for me not to work at the Co-op, and for me to get married to Andrew Lincoln.

‘It’s got Andrew Lincoln in it!’

Oh God can she read my mind now? She burnt some Crisp ‘n’ Dry on an altar and now she can actually read my thoughts. That’s the only explanation. The other explanation is that she’s a bitch and she knows that by mentioning Andrew Lincoln she can get me to agree to whatever nonsense she’s come up with.

‘Your surprise has got Andrew Lincoln in it?’

‘Yes, sort of.’

Ha, I knew it. It’s going to be something like ‘We’ve decided to start our own church, so we need your flat to do it in, oh by the way here’s a picture of Andrew Lincoln I Googled.’ The fucking lying cow.

Right. Say no. Say no and tell her to fuck off, then go in the back room and get hammered and let Saif figure out how shops work.

I look at Saif, trying desperately to convince myself that this is a viable plan. Saif is having a conversation with the pea woman, and she looks confused.

‘Sorry I’ve got to go, I’m at work.’

I don’t mention that I have to stop Saif telling pea woman that peas don’t exist.

‘Great, shall I put you down for Friday then? Come to ours.’

‘Yeah OK, I’ve really got to go, bye…’

I’m saying the last bit as I put the phone down. ‘Saif, have you got a minute?’

As he comes over, the pea woman hurries out of the shop.

I glare at the door. ‘What did you say to that woman?’

‘Nothing, I was just talking to her about Forex trading.’

‘About what?’

‘I was just saying she should come to the convention I’m going to.’

‘What the hell is a Forex?’

He looks at me like I just crawled out of an egg. ‘It’s trading! It’s Forex trading! I was just telling that woman that she should invest her money, and then I told her about that woman and the potato in a tin. I was building rapport with the customer, like you said…’

‘I never said that.’

‘Maybe I read it in a business book then. But I was still building rapport.’

‘You were scaring her away from the peas is what you were doing.’

‘I wasn’t! I was building rapport and getting her to invest in Forex! I­–’

‘–Stop saying fucking Forex! I don’t know what that is!’

I take a deep breath.

‘Right, I’m going to close the shop for half an hour. I need to do some… stocktaking. Can you finish the shelves off?’

‘I’m on it. Shall I answer the phone?’

‘No, I… wait, yeah, yes please. Answer the phone if it rings.’

‘Got it!’

‘OK!’

I do a half-arsed thumbs up to him before I fuck off. I don’t know why he makes me act all American. The thought of him answering the phone to the Alans has cheered me up already. With any luck, he’ll start talking to them about ‘Forex’, and they’ll start talking to him about ‘12-inch jacks’. I don’t know who I feel more sorry for. Apart from myself, obviously.

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