The main error I made, this morning, was in the car park. We pulled up and parked, and I went to pay for the ticket. Carole wanted a bit of a meander round the sprawling metropolis and it’d take about half an hour to have my eyes checked. Both of these things could be over and done in about the same amount of time so why did I feel it necessary to pay for four hours of Halifax fun time?

We didn’t need four hours, you’ll be surprised to hear. As I was sitting in the waiting room of the opticians, surveying their woeful array of magazines and children’s books about small dolphins, Carole was getting all the major sights of Halifax out of the way – by which I mean she went to the Piece Hall and then browsed the array of pound shops.

Meanwhile, I’m having my eye test. I love having my eyes tested because I love the way the opticians are with you.

“Are the spots darker on the red or the green?”
“The red.”
“Ok, and with this lens?”
“The red.”
“Ok, we’ll just have a look at the first lens again, are the spots darker on the red or the green?”
“Erm, the same?”
“Excellent, we shall move on.”

There much be a special class in Optometry school that teaches opticians to ask their questions in such a way that you, the testee, immediately thinks “oo, was that the wrong answer?” I’ve been going for an eye test regularly for the last 25 years or so and I’ve always felt a little bit unsure that the answers I’m giving are the answers I’m supposed to give. I’m worried that there are people out there who don’t stick to their guns and bow to this line of subtle questioning, answering in a way that will make the optician happy or, at the very least, less dubious as to the validity of your responses. I can only assume that if such people exist they can, currently, see cock-all.

I passed my test with flying colours. For the umpteenth time in a row there is no appreciable change in my eyesight and, as I told the optician, if I start walking into things I’d probably give him a call – I’d omitted to tell him that I already walk into things and that any change in my condition would be hard to spot due to this.

Having done that I set out to meet Carole in the streets of my hometown. What I’d never realised about Halifax while I lived there was the fact that if there’s anywhere where everyone appears to love a pint at half past ten on a Saturday morning it’s Halifax. We debated going to Wetherspoons for brunch, only to find it crammed to the gunnels with shorts-wearing bald men. We didn’t fare any better anywhere else, either.

We were, however, treated to the Parisienne feel of the place as we walked along the precinct past Cut Price Charlies and the pet shop that sells a large array of plants because, as a variety of beige clad elderly people say at the tables outside Caffe Nero supping their venti cups of “can I just have a tea, dear?” a busker was situated outside the door of Greggs playing an accordion. As the sun glinted off his squeezing bellows and we walked on towards the £1 bakery (I kid you not) it was hard not to be caught up in the glory of the town.

Unfortunately, we’d left by then.


Airer Of Uncertainty

I’ve done my best to avoid the Royal Wedding today. I’ve caught bits of it as I went on a couple of mercy dashes for a glass of water and my iPhone charger but, for the most part, I’ve escaped unscathed. That’s not bad going considering it was broadcast on almost every television channel known to man. You know in the movies when terrorists or aliens broadcast a message and a supporting character says “It’s being broadcast on everything, sir” and looks a bit worried? That was this morning. And then, when it’s all over and done with, there’s a selection of highlights of the thing that has only just happened, followed by news reports covering the thing that had just happened. And, sadly, I did see the bald guy that was wearing the translucent butcher’s hat criticising other people’s hats. I can only assume he lives in a glass house and has had all his stones taken away.

For part of my avoidance I went outside and watered the garden. As I stepped out of the door I noticed that we had a new addition to our garden. It wasn’t an animal, mineral or vegetable. It was the clothes airer from next door which had, at some point, toppled over, fallen down the steps and slid into our garden. I can only assume that it had been caught by a massive gust of wind or the cats in the neighbourhood are far more organised than I had previously considered.

As I went to do the neighbourly thing and pick up the airer and return it to where it started out I was struck with a thought. Our neighbours are going to come home and see the airer is erect and, more or less, where they left it. They probably wouldn’t notice any difference in the positioning – I mean, who pays attention to the exact location they place a clothes horse? What they would notice, however, is the incredibly cack-handed way I re-hung any articles of clothing which had fallen off.

And that, right there, was my problem. What I’d done was re-erected the airer but in such a way that it looked like someone had basically gone out there and rifled through all the clothes. I thought about leaving the ones that had fallen off strewn on the steps and in the bush by the fence, but then it would just look like someone had gone next door and thrown the clothes about (possibly after rifling through them).

In the end, I settled for putting the fallen garments on the airer in a somewhat higgledy-piggledy fashion. It really looked like someone had rummaged through all the clothes, and then put them back. But I can’t say anything. I can’t go round, or catch them in the garden, and say “Hi, so, erm, I didn’t have a good old rummage through your washing. Your, erm, your airer had fallen over somewhat inexplicably as there was no wind or anything and, erm, all your clothes were, erm, in our garden.” I can’t say that because there’s a chance that they’ll not have noticed (it’s a slim one, I’ll be honest) but also there’s a chance that they’ll just think it must have fallen over and someone’s picked it up. While that’s great that they’ve worked it out, if the next door neighbour goes round and says that he didn’t rummage through their washing they’re going to have doubts. After all, why admit to something you haven’t done unless you’re trying to cover up for doing it in the first place.

The other problem is that they catch me while I’m outside and say something about the airer, maybe enquiring if it fell over or something and I’d say “yes, yes it did fall over.” That, again, would be great except that I know that my brain would cause my mouth to go “I didn’t rummage through your clothes!” in a kind of blurty way and I’d have to run away and hide.

Possibly never to go out of the house while they’re outside ever again.

The Fast and The Furious

So, we’ve been to the cinema tonight to see The Fast and The Furious 5 and, I have to say, it was a pretty good rollicking film. There was so much testosterone flying around when Vin Diesel and The Rock had a bit of a scrap that my existing chest hair has grown hair.

We arrived at the cinema at about ten to six, there was a showing of the film at half five. When it was my turn to be served, I asked for two tickets to see Fast and Furious at half past six. Half past six. The words definately left my mouth. The half five showing wasn’t even on the board when I bought the tickets. To be honest, I should have been suspicious when the woman selling me the tickets asked if I wanted adult tickets. Anyway, she gave us tickets for the half five showing which was nice of her, and required us to go back to the ticket desk and talk to a very nice man called Andrew (favourite movie: Twilight – I didn’t ask, it was on his badge) to change the tickets.

“Oh it’s a card payment. We’ll need to do a refund to your card.”
“Can’t you just, you know, write the new screen and time on the ticket and we can just use them,” says Carole, ever open to an opportunity to chat to a fellow Twilight fan.
A short radio call later and yes, apparently you can just alter your cinema tickets with a biro to be whichever showing you want.
“I’m signing this though,” said Andrew “You can’t just change it, you see.”
We all laughed like the end of a sitcom before the credits rolled, he handed over the tickets and we headed off. As we did so he just looked at us and said, in an insanely camp voice, “naughty!”

The film was really enjoyable and sent Carole into a bit of an overload – Vin Diesel, The Rock and Paul Walker all apparently floating her boat. I tell you, I was a shoe-in to be going out with her if that’s the only competition I’m up against. The film also brought back a load of characters from earlier films – including Han, who died in Tokyo Drift (sorry sweetie, spoilers!) but, it turns out, Tokyo Drift hasn’t actually happened yet as far as the film’s chronology goes – despite the fact that it was two films ago now. This was something which was explained away in this film with a couple of throw away lines towards the end, after you’ve spent the whole thing thinking “I’ve seen you die”.

 But before the film, and just after the trailers was an awesome little treat. We got an Odeon exclusive, a scene from the upcoming film Brides Maids. Now, this was one of the funniest five minutes I’ve ever seen and Carole was roaring. We were both laughing so much we were crying. On the subject of excellent short things before films, Cars 2 has a Toy Story short at the beginning of it where Woody, Buzz and the gang recreate a Hawaiian island for Barbie and Ken after their holiday is cancelled. Should be awesome.

Then we made a fatal mistake. We went to Asda. If nothing else, it reaffirmed the reasons we do an online shop. We bought far more than we intended to and spent a good while having an argument with the self-checkout.

“Please place the item in the bagging area”
“The item is in the bagging area!”
“Please place the item in the bagging area or press Skip Bagging”
“The item is in the bagging area. I don’t want to skip the bag. I have put the item in the bag.”
“Please place the item…”
“I f***ing hate coming to the supermarket.”

You’re nicked

As a follow on from this blog, I’ve started pulling together things I’ve written in the past to build up a bit of a portfolio and, in some cases, to rework things with the benefit of a fresh eye.

When I was at school I invented a load of characters called The Fluffs. I had, at one point, a ridiculous number of these things covering as many jobs as you could imagine, as well as more obscure (but at the time relevant) ones – there was, for example, a Terminator Fluff. I kid you not.

I wrote a few short children’s stories based around these characters and they have sat, largely undisturbed, in a bent and battered black ring binder for the last ten years or so. They have, on occasion, been released from the folder and sent off to publishers, only to come back unloved and unwanted. So, today, I’ve uncovered them, blown the dust off the ring binder and set to work looking them over and re-writing them.

What worries me, though, is that the central theme of at least three of the stories is theft. What the hell happened to me when I was younger that’s apparently made me pre-occupied with theft to the extent that it’s crept, unbidden, into a few children’s stories that I wrote at the turn of the millennium? Sure the thefts are minor – a snowman’s nose, all the rabbits in the forest and a king’s crown (ok, that last one’s not so minor) – but they’re still there. In another story, Bed Fluff’s Dream Job, he falls asleep while he’s working as a policeman and a thief steals his helmet. I’m definitely pre-occupied with having my stuff stolen.

I wonder if it’s connected to the fact that I, apparently, awarded myself the smaller of the two bedrooms in my parents house, allowing my sister to have the larger room. Maybe, in the darkest recesses of my mind, I consider that the larger room was stolen from me because I have no recollection of ever being asked which room I wanted and I certainly can’t understand why I would have chosen the smaller of the two rooms. Especially as I went all out to fill it up with as much crap as I could cram in there and still be able to sleep.

That’s all I can think of. It must be that. It obviously traumatised me in such a way that I include it in several stories as a recurring theme. It all works out well in the end though.

Apart from the police helmet – you never find out what happens to that.

Your call is important to us

A lot of my job involves the telephone. People phone me, I phone people. That’s about the gist of a general day at work. Along the way I come across many phone systems which require you to select the service that you want, like a kind of telephonic Choose Your Own Adventure Game – press 1 if you wish to slay the dragon, press 2 to steal the gold and run away, press 3 to be transferred to one of our highly skilled operators. That kind of thing.

Today, however, I think I have a place with no escape. The end of the line, if you want to make a pun based on the fact that this is about telephones. Which I do.

I called a number today and was presented with three options. I then called it back a couple more times because I wasn’t really paying attention to what was being said. Telephone option menus are a little bit like The Archers on Radio 4 – you know it’s coming but you don’t realise it’s been on until it’s finished and Front Row starts or, in this case, you’re left with that uncomfortable silence before a recorded voice says “I’m sorry, I didn’t recognise your request.”

Today I had something that went like this:

“Hello, welcome to the phone line you have just called. For assistance with something quite specific, press 1. For assistance with something else quite specific, press 2. For all other things you could possibly need assistance with, or if you don’t have a touch-tone phone, please hold to be connected to one of our highly skilled operatives.”

That was all well and good. I wanted the third option so I held. I had a touch-tone phone but, at that precise moment, I didn’t need its melodic number key beeps. I could just hold, much as someone without a touch-tone phone would do in this situation.

After a short while another message began.

“Press 1 for something quite specific. Press 2 for the rest of the things other than the quite specific thing you’d have chosen 1 for.”

That was it. Press 1 or press 2. Those were your choices. Two choices of what to do. A simple case of eenie-meenie and you’re there, hopefully getting the assistance that you so require.

But what if you’re one of those people, admittedly few and far between, who don’t have a touch-tone phone. You’ve followed the instructions on the previous message. They urged you to hold on, to wait for someone to assist you. And you’ve waited. You’ve done as they’ve said. But now you’re stuck. You’re trapped in a call loop of which there is no escape (apart from hanging up but I’m working on the tension here). You can’t get any specific or non-specific assistance because you can’t at that moment, press the buttons it wants you to press. Well, you can, but they won’t make any noise.

At that moment I wanted to spend some time imagining people at the end of the phone trying to mimic the sounds a touch-tone phone makes in a desperate bid to make contact with a human and tell them that their phone menu tree has, apparently, been designed by an idiot. I’ve seen it in films where people sing the note, whistle the note or play it on a nose flute. All those things could have been done to get out of this telephonic dead-end. I wanted to spend time thinking about that.

But I didn’t have time – I needed some information about something not as a specific as the first option.

So I pressed 2.