Last

August 31, 2011

I was the last person on the bus today.

Well, not the last person. The driver was the last person. I was the last paying passenger. I was on a wobbly seat and had been entertained for the whole journey by a barrage of Michael Jackson hits coming through tinny headphones. When the woman responsible for this entertainment originally got on the bus she’d lost her iPod. She accused everyone of stealing her iPod. And then found her iPod. I kind of wish it had stayed lost.

Anyway, I was the last person on the bus. And I discovered that I have a strange habit when I’m the last person on the bus.

I start to make a load of noise. Unnecessary noise.

It’s almost as if I’m saying, from whatever seat I happen to be sitting in, “Woohooo, Mr Driver, I’m here! Don’t forget me!” Although, I hope, in a less camp way than that sounded as I typed it.

So there I was, at the back of the bus, the last passenger. And I started coughing. I don’t have a cough. I’m fine. But you wouldn’t have known that a while ago, if you’d seen me. Although you seeing me would mean I wasn’t alone on the bus and would therefore negate my need to cough to make sure the driver knows I’m still there – Heisenberg’s Uncertainty theory in action. I was laying it on good and proper. Proper hacking coughs. Loud coughs. Coughs that went, “I’m still here.”

The the bus neared my stop. I stood up. Still coughing. I walked down the aisle of the bus. I rang the bell. I’m fairly sure the driver could see me at this point – the only passenger  on his bus – walking down the aisle to the doors and yet I felt the need to ring the bell. Again, I’m saying “Woohoo, I’m still here.” I was still coughing. Not as much as before, but just a cough every now and again to remind him I was there. All this makes it sound like it was a long bus. It wasn’t. I was doing all this in a relatively short distance.

But I hadn’t finished.

Oh no, I had the final weapon in my arsenal.

Yawning.

Fricking yawning.

So, there I am. I’ve been coughing. I’ve run the bell. I’ve walked to the front of the bus making as much noise as I can. There is no doubt in my mind that the driver knows I am there. He probably always knew I was there. I wasn’t hiding behind the seats. I was there, in plain view. There has probably never been any doubt that he wasn’t alone. And, I think, I’ve signalled my presence really, really well.

Now I’m standing next to the driver’s cab. Near that sign that says “Do not stand forward of this point or otherwise interrupt the driver because it gets on everyone else’s tits and it makes it really hard to get on and off the bus. Plus there’s the chance that if he has to suddenly apply the brakes you’ll slam into the windscreen like a human fly.” That sign. I could have reached out and touched the driver. Well, in the old days I could. Now he’s in a perspex cage after the spate of bus driver punchings during the late 90s.

And I start yawning. Loud, exaggerated yawning. Bagpuss yawning. Massive, unnecessarily loud yawning.

In my head I’m screaming at myself. What the hell am I doing? Why am I standing there making a tit out of myself? Why do I not just wait for the bus to stop. I’ve rung the bell. Even if it goes past the stop I could lean beyond the sign that says “Don’t talk to the driver” and talk to the driver. I could say, “Excuse me, my man, didn’t you see me standing adjacent to your good self? I did ring the bell which should indicate my desire to disembark from this vehicle. No, no, no need to apologise. I shall enjoy the leisurely stroll from this spot here.”

But no.

I stand there and yawn loudly. It was all I could do to fight the urge to put my arms up above my head.

But at least my cough had cleared up.

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Final Destination

August 30, 2011

I’m lucky to be here. I am. I’m lucky to be writing this blog at all. I nearly didn’t make it. And that’s just taking into account the things that have happened today. If I started to take into account the Earth’s exact positioning in the universe, making it ripe for the evolution of life, or for that evolutionary process to have forged a path through to the development of the humans, and my mum and dad’s attraction to each other and all the things that entails that I really don’t want to think about, at all, then I’m even luckier.

But I’m not talking about all that.

I’m talking about surviving what could have been one of the most horrific things ever. Tonight. Just a few short minutes ago. Okay, maybe an hour. Maybe more depending how long it takes me to write the rest of this. About half-past five, for those of you who read this later. Earlier this evening for people who prefer things in a vague timescale.

When I was at school I nearly died in a car crash. I say nearly because I didn’t die. There wasn’t even a crash. There was what, if this were the aviation industry, would be called a near miss. We were crossing a junction. A car barreled towards us at breakneck speed (which sounds dangerous on its own), saw us and skidded to a halt inches from the car we were in. There were three of us in the car at the time. We all made this noise. But out loud and not written down.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGHHHH!

And then, when it was over, we drove back to school and had our afternoon lessons. Walking into town after school that night, I passed the driver of the car who nearly killed us. He was walking along the pavement, he stopped dead in his tracks and went white as a sheet. I resisted the temptation to go “wha-ha-ha” at him as though I was some kind of spirit. I just screamed “You’re the man who tried to kill us”, pointed at him and ran away.

Ok, I didn’t. I just walked past. But he did stop and go pale.

Anyway, tonight a similar thing happened.

We were in a car park. We drove into the car park and there, heading towards us was another car. On our side of the road. Paying us no attention. If it hadn’t been for Carole’s lightning fast reflexes we’d have been goners.

Well, maybe not goners. Can you die from what would have been the world’s slowest car crash? I think people on dodgem cars would suffer more injuries than we would have got had the slowest game of chicken not come to an end when Carole pulled round the car heading towards us. And not just pulled round. Not swerved frantically out of the way. She actually indicated.

She had the time, as this drama unfolded, to mirror, signal and maneuver.

I’ve been told off for not being supportive. For not being there for her in a situation in which we “could have died”. Normally, as a non-driver, I am not allowed to pass comments on driving but, it seems, when our lives are in mortal jeopardy I’m allowed to pipe up. I don’t know what I was supposed to do. Normally people say things like, “everything happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to think.”

Well, everything happened so slowly I had loads of time to think.

But I couldn’t think of a single thing I could do. You can tell everything happened slowly because Carole didn’t do that thing she does with the horn. The thing where she makes hand gestures and shouts “what are you doing?!?”, flaps her arms around for a bit and then, when the danger has passed, sounds the horn and it goes “eep”. She did none of that. She didn’t even press the horn. That’s how close to death we were.

I’m not sure if I’ll sleep tonight.


Get Lost

August 29, 2011

We went back to the Maize Maze at Cawthorne today. It’s the fourth or fifth year we’ve been – and it’s become something of a summer weekend tradition. Not usually on a Bank Holiday, though, as I am one of those people who has a loathing for going anywhere on a Bank Holiday because Bank Holidays are the day when people who aren’t used to going to places go to places and get in the way.

I think we’ve been once before on a Bank Holiday. I remember us going up the hill to Cannon Hall with a spring in our step and a song in our heart, excited that we’d be off round the farm to look at pigs and have various articles of clothing chewed on by small goats. We spotted the queue from quite a way away, said sod it and came home. By the time we’d have got in all the baby animals would have grown up and, thinking about it, it was probably around the time they introduced the “No, sorry, you can’t feed the animals in case you lick all the goat spit off your hand immediately afterwards and then die of goatspititis. Yeah, we’ve have a risk assessment done. Sorry, it came back as ‘fun’ so we’ve had to stop it” rule. So it would have been pap.

At the Maize Maze though there are no such rules. You’re free to roam as you see fit. You can’t cut through between paths because that’s cheating and, to be honest, what’s the point of going to a maze if you’re just going to run through all the maizey barriers in the first place? So there we were in the maze, flag in hand, about to implement the most technical piece of maze solving ever.

“Let’s go right,” says Carole, “because those people have gone left.”

She was right, they had gone left. So we went the other way. It doesn’t really matter which way you go when you enter the maze as there’s generally an outer loop which leads off, at some point, into the next bit. You can, if you’re unlucky – or just us, almost every year – spend a good amount of time just going around the outside of the maze struggling to find your way into the next section.

Yes. There is a map. You’re given a map as part of your clues leaflet. But looking at the map is cheating. You can’t look at the map. You can’t walk into the maze and immediately look at the ap. Not straight away. The map is something to call on later. After an hour or so of traipsing around looking for clues. Then you can get the map out. Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m a bloke, maybe that’s why I’m so anti-map. I’m also anti-asking for help from the maze masters. No. That’s cheating. We’ll struggle on, on our own.

In the end we solved the maze. It took us a couple of hours – and some map consultation, and some asking of the Maze Masters – to find all the clues. But we did okay. And even though there were plenty of people in the maze – we kept coming across people consulting their maps, or we could see flags above the corn in the distance – it was still quite nice and just us-y. Which was great.

Apart from that kid. The one that insisted on running around the maze. Running. And running. And running. Always running. He ran into my elbow at one point. He actually did. I was looking at the map, or filling in a clue and he ran straight into my elbow. Straight into it. We spent the next five minutes or so walking round the maze expecting to see him slumped over, unconscious, in the maize. But he wasn’t. He was fine. He ran past us a bit later on.

As we left, though, he and his family were still trying to find his brother…

… who was somewhere in the maze.

 


All White On The Night

August 28, 2011

I’ve earned a reputation for being capable of spilling anything down me. I’d like to say it’s a bit of an unfair reputation, but it’s not. If it’s possible to cover myself or what I’m wearing in something I will, somehow, manage to pull it off.

Part of this comes from my insane clumsiness. A couple of years ago, during a game of golf after work one night I managed to slip of the slightly wet grass between one hole and the next. This resulted in my trousers absorbing most of the surrounding ground water and the indignity of having to be driven home by my friend, after our round was finished, while sitting on a carrier bag so as not to dirty his car seats.

We went to the cinema to see Wall-E. We got ice cream to enjoy during the film. When the lights went back up at the end of the movie there was me, somehow covered in ice cream. That’s the problem with eating in the dark, you apparently don’t know what you’ve poured down yourself.

I’ve learnt over the years, though. Now, when out in public I’ll tend to steer clear of anything that could be sloshed or spilt over myself. Gravy? I like gravy but it’s too risky. I have to suffer a dry roast, rather than risk having gravy on my meal and – by the end of it – all down the front of my t-shirt. Even beans are to be avoided, just incase the tomato sauce falls from a fork and makes a new home on my top.

And, should I make it through a meal without throwing half of it down my front, I generally don’t get away with it. Carole will point out that I’ve done well, congratulating me on the fact that I’ve managed to eat some food without finding myself wearing some of it. And then everyone knows – then everyone is aware that I am seemingly incapable of controlling the liquid component of most foodstuffs.

That’s probably why, one christmas, I was the recipient of a bespoke, homemade bib. Yes. A bib. A grown adult with a big blue bib sporting a massive ice cream motif. It’s just as well I have a sense of humour about it all otherwise I could end up quite traumatised and lying on a psychiatrists couch explaining how my habit of spilling food is linked, in some way, to the way my mum once looked at me in 1983.

So, knowing all that – as you do now, and I have for quite some time. And knowing, as you’re about to find out and I already knew, that we were having spaghetti bolognese for tea this evening can you explain why I came to be wearing a plain white top? Spaghetti bolognese is a traditionally messy food anyway – the strands of pasta acting as sauce covered whips flinging specks of bolognese sauce far and wide. So if you combine that with my propensity for throwing sauces down myself, it absolutely beggars belief that I would choose to wear a completely white top.

But I did.

And now it’s no longer a completely white top. In fact, somehow, there’s a line of sauce flecks down the right hand side of my t-shirt, like I was carrying out some sort of statistical analysis and I’m just about to decide on the line of best fit.

Maybe that bib wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.

 


What? An Ouef?

August 27, 2011

There’s an old joke about how you know if an elephant’s been in your fridge. You just look for footprints in the butter. Like all good “How do you know if an elephant…” jokes it’s not particularly funny. But at least you’d know if an elephant had been in your fridge, and you would be faced with the mystery we have.

If you’d taken a look in our amazingly empty fridge just a few hours ago, this is what you would have found:

Milk – not enough to be useful beyond a couple of cups of tea but – and this will come up a lot – too much to throw away.
A Bottle of Vodka – Purchased last Christmas, Carole unscrewed the top and was drunk from the smell of it.
A can of Pimms – I’m not sure how long this has been in there, but tins last for ages.
A packet of carrot and swede mash – Mmmm. Mash. It was bought for something specific. I’m not sure what that was.
Two jars of jam – both strawberry. One a lot newer than the other. The older jar contains all but the scrapings from the side of the jar but is too much to throw away. My mother would be appalled. She got get eight or ten sandwiches out of what’s left.
A jar of Ploughman’s Pickle – this has an indeterminate opening date. It’s probably best left alone.
Some mini-packs of Philadelphia spread – Just the right size for sandwiches. Makes more sense than buying a big packet, having some and then returning to the fridge a few days later to find that it has grown fur and developed intelligence.

Behind all that was this.

Two hard-boiled eggs – Eggs. Hard-boiled. Two of then. But from when? This is the mystery. When did we boil eggs last, and why did we put them in the fridge and not eat them? We’ve boiled eggs this week, but we ate those. They went into some particularly nice egg mayonnaise sandwiches, so there weren’t any left to even think about putting some in the fridge.

It’s quite tricky to date an egg. Yes, every egg is lovingly caressed by a rubber-stamping machine when before it’s put into the egg box, so that you can tell when they’re about to go off. This is quite handy, and takes away all the need for trying to remember what characteristics an off egg has when it is spun or put in water or shaken vigorously or whatever it is you did to work out if your egg was off before they printed the dates on to tell you when your egg would be off.

Anyway, that was all academic because it would appear that the act of boiling your egg also boils off any trace of the date. I couldn’t even begin to backdate the eggs given the date that they were due to go off. And there was no point spinning them or whatever I’m supposed to do because they were hard-boiled. All I know is that they’re not from this week and, because there wasn’t a velociraptor hatching out of them, they’re not 65-million years old either.

All I’d managed to do, really, was lay down quite a large window of opportunity for someone to have put two hard-boiled eggs in our fridge.

They’re not in the fridge now. I’ve dealt with them.

I think it was quite nice really – considering all the noise they make and how troublesome the feral child can be – for me to make lunch for my neighbours.


Nippy Noodles

August 26, 2011

I’m writing this on the bus on the way home. There’s a frozen bag of chips sitting on my lap. Well, it started off frozen – now I think it’s just sucking all the heat out of my groin. It’s not a massively pleasant sensation. The cold is permeating the boundaries of the Sainsbury’s carrier bag, past the barrier provided by my teflon-coated stain-resistant fully-functioning-fly trousers and seeping into my very soul.

When I was at University, I spent my first year in University Halls. I shared a flat with four other people.

The guy in the room next to mine, I seem to remember, never saw daylight, choosing to remain in his room forever. I don’t remember ever seeing him in anything but his undercrackers. He tried to have his hair in dreadlocks as well.

Next to him came a guy who, no word of a lie, took a chair into the shower so he didn’t have to stand up.  If you’ve never been into a shower room with a chair in the middle of the showering area you probably won’t understand, but it was like a torture scene from a movie. It was hard not to imagine someone tied to the chair while water of varying temperatures and pressures (not by design, just by luck) assaulted them. That wasn’t the case, it was simply a laziness issue because, after all, standing up in the shower can be a chore. I once passed out in the shower, while having a shave, and managed to shave a patch of hair off my arm between losing consciousness and hitting the deck, so I know how hard standing in a shower can be.

Across the hall was a guy who fancied himself as a bit of a chef. He was always making insanely poncy meals for him and his girlfriend. And his tall friend who looked like a slightly albino Shaggy from Scooby Doo. Once some of us ordered a pizza and he dolloped a load of his la-di-dah food on it to teach us a lesson about cooking. We, having learnt a lot, proceeded to mix tea leaves in with his jars of herbs. We also made a frozen turd out of left-over bolognese and left it in a tea-towel on the windowsill. We totally showed him.

And then there was Richard. Richard was great. Richard would come home from a night out and make himself a nice bowl of Pasta’n’Sauce (the staple diet of many of us at Uni – although I did, later, have a hankering for Pot Noodles. Ever the stereotype). Richard would be hammered while making his nutritious post-club snack. It’s hard to think of anything scarier than watching a drunk man boil a kettle, then stagger around the kitchen spilling it on his feet. And then jumping around in pain, waving the still hot kettle around so that more water sloshed out until, eventually, the floor was wet, toes were burnt and the kettle was empty.

I only mention this because, one night, Richard fell asleep in the kitchen. In front of the freezer. With a big bag of chips in his lap. And the freezer door open. When he woke up he couldn’t feel his legs. He thought, as he slept, that he’d had a stroke. He hadn’t, of course. The freezing cold nature of the chips had caused his legs to go numb.

I never really believed it could have been that bad.

Until now.


Pigeon Street

August 25, 2011

It’s only a few short weeks until our office moves over to Leeds. Until we all up sticks and head out to pastures new, adding an extra couple of hours to our working day and reducing the time we get to spend with family and friends. I first mentioned, way back in April, that this was on the cards. Back then it was going to happen in Summer but, as with all great plans, this slipped further and further. But now it looks like it’s finally happening.

So, as with all things, I’ve started to look back – as well as forward. I’ve started to think of all the great memories that I’ve acquired while I’ve worked here. I’ve come up with one.

Up until a few years ago I had never met anyone who had been crapped on by a bird. I’d seen it on TV, laughing hilariously at the videos on You’ve Been Framed – ooo, there’s a parrot on your head. Ooo, what could happen. Oh it’s done a poo. Hahahahahahaha – but I’d never actually met anyone who’d been on the receiving end of some feathered defecation.

I , myself, was crapped on once. It hit the sleeve of my coat, right arm, around the elbow. I didn’t think anything of it, just went home and washed off my sleeve. That was all. I didn’t embrace the fact that having a bird poo on you as it flies along is lucky in any way. I didn’t rush out to buy a lottery ticket or try and pull a sword from a stone or any of that sort of thing. I just washed my coat and got on with it.

I was approached, once, by an old lady. She came into work, walking like a woman with a purpose. She walked right up to me and asked me if there was something in her hair.

“Is there something in my hair?” she asked, pointing – as you’d expect – at her hair.

I looked. I had never really studied an old lady’s hair before. I didn’t really know what was supposed to be in there and what wasn’t. Should there be bobby pins and things like that? It was a bit like playing the conveyor belt section of the Generation Game without having looked at the conveyor belt or listened to what was being said.

“Erm,” I said, looking in her hair. “There’s nothing that I can se… oh wait, yes it looks as though you have something in your hair.”
“I thought I did. I thought there was something in my hair. I was walking past your building and I felt something in my hair. Is it poo? I saw a bird. Is it poo?”

It was poo.

“It certainly looks like poo,” I said. “I have never really seen bird poo intermingled with the fine, grey hairs of an elderly lady such as yourself but if I was to make an educated guess I would have to say that yes, you have been crapped on.”

The woman fished around in her handbag and produced, as all old ladies are adept at doing, some tissues.

“Will you wipe it out?”

Sorry? Will I wipe the bird poo from your hair. You are a stranger to me, a complete stranger. You’re not even a passing acquaintance that I have seen at work. You’re a complete stranger and you’re asking me to wipe your hair with a tissue you’ve pulled from your bag.

“Okay,” I said, nervously. “Should I… should I spit on it first? Isn’t that what you do?”
“Just please wipe my hair… before it dries,” she begged.

And so I did. I stood there and I wiped bird poo out of an old lady’s hair. Something I had not done previously and something I had no cause to do since.

“It was on your building. The bird. It was on your building,” she said, as I wiped her silvery locks.

Hang on? You’re basically saying that because a bird – a creature capable of movement, of finding a perch anywhere in this great urban jungle we call Huddersfield – was on our building at the time when it was caught short, then we are in some way responsible. This is a whole level of “where’s there’s a blame, there’s a claim”-type shenanigans which has remained uptapped. Have you been shat on by a bird and it wasn’t your fault. Can you point the finger of blame towards some people who work in a building when the bird happened to have stopped for a dump? Then call “Dubious Lawyers For Poo”.

I didn’t really say much to her about the legality of it being our bird. There’s not really a lot you can say when you’re standing, in public, wiping a tiny old lady’s head with a tissue. It’s not even a situation you can prepare yourself for.

“It’s all gone,” I said, triumphantly. “I have cleaned your entire head of bird poop.”

“Thank you,” she said.

She snatched the tissue back and was gone.

I have never seen her since.

And I’m good at remembering feces.