Adrian Sturrock: ‘Next week’s blog will be sent telepathically, so if you think of something funny, that will probably be me’

Today, I received an email from an anonymous lady referring to herself only as Medium Theresa. In my mind, that makes her a size 12-14.

     Beyond displaying that she knows my first name (and, clearly, my email address) she wastes no time coming to the point of her message: “Between waking and sleeping,” she tells me, “I am susceptible to the visions that the Higher Powers want to share with me.” While I appreciate the candour of her confession, I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be talking to. On the other hand, though I’ve never been much of a drinker, I think I understand enough to empathise.

     “Last night I saw that you needed my help. I have rarely had such a powerful vision,” she informs me, before inviting me to “Click here and discover what I saw about you.” Not wishing to risk Medium Theresa harnessing the spirit of my entire laptop contents, I choose not to “click here” but, instead, continue reading. I’m only human; if someone, no matter what their dress size, tells me that I need their help, I am likely to draw up a quick audit of any bad stuff that might be currently occurring in my life.

     Other than the facts that I don’t like my day job, that I had to shave using shampoo this morning because I’d forgotten to buy shave gel, and that, occasionally, the water turns cold while I’m showering (I must remember to phone a plumber about this), I feel that everything is pretty much on point in my life at present.

     Theresa begs to differ. “You are struggling with certain important matters,” she corrects. “You know intuitively that if you did not have these problems, your life would look very different.’

     Are there any niggles that I’m subconsciously burying? All I can think of is the fact that I’m still a little jealous of the guy on the news who won £117 million on the Euro Lottery this week. With £117 million, I could quit the day job, get my shave gel delivered in bulk, and keep a plumber on retainer. I wonder, however, whether Medium Theresa is perhaps being a little over-sensitive on my behalf.

     “I know you have not always had it easy in your life …” she continues. I stop to consider this. I’ve been on the planet for 53 years; shit happens, but nothing so far of the magnitude of war, famine or Cadburys going out of business. In many ways, I consider myself quite lucky.

     “The Higher Powers have brought me on your path. I feel that I must help you,” she persists. ‘It’s not me who’s hearing voices,’ I find myself whispering as I scroll down the rest of her message. I instantly feel bad for saying this and find myself whispering, ‘I’m sorry,’ at my laptop screen, as way of apology.

     ‘Who are you talking to?’ asks Nat, entering the room behind me.

     ‘Medium Theresa,’ I say.

     ‘That would make her a size 12-14,’ says Nat.

     ‘That had occurred,’ I say.

     ‘That’s a 38-40 in European sizes.’

     ‘Or an 11-13 in Japan,’ I add.

     Nat stops what she’s doing and looks at me. ‘Why do you know this?’

     ‘We’ve all got a past,’ I say, smiling. ‘I used to work for the Geisha Secret Service … the GSS, if you will.’

     ‘… Anyway, who is Medium Theresa?’

     ‘She wants to save me from myself.’ I point at my screen.

     Nat scans down the email. ‘… You only have three days to make use of my message,’ She quotes. ‘Does her higher power buddy go on holiday after that?’

     ‘Well, I’m a little disappointed to find that her proposed friendship should come with conditions,’ I say, ‘but she does point out that I’m (I highlight the words), “a very special person.” And despite the glaring fact that she’s never met me, I’m going to let her have that one.’

     ‘Special can be a very loaded word,’ says Nat, smiling at me.

     Later, during dinner, something occurs to me. ‘Have you noticed that, of the people who have won the lottery over the years, none of them has claimed to be psychic?’

     ‘That’s probably because of insider-trading laws,’ says Nat. ‘Did you reply to Medium Theresa?’

     ‘I didn’t feel it necessary,’ I say. I think she could have foreseen that my response was going to be a lack of one.’

     ‘That won’t make her a very happy medium,’ says Nat.

     ‘I see what you did then,’ I say.

Adrian Sturrock: ‘I recently achieved the first item on my bucket list – I now have the bucket’

It’s 2007. I’m sitting in a country pub in Buckinghamshire with a new date. This is our first meeting together. We’re making small talk and enjoying the sunshine. To be honest, I’m starting to suffer from dating fatigue. I think I’ve been overdoing it. My record so far is two separate dates in the same evening. I’m probably not going to do that again.

     ‘You shouldn’t treat dating like shopping for shoes.’ says a friend of mine.

     ‘Most shoes on sale tend not to be to my taste,’ I say. ‘And being shoe shopping is so boring, I try to get around all the shops as quickly as possible.’

     ‘Maybe shoes is the wrong analogy,’ he says.

* * * * * * * *

By the time we’ve ordered our second drink and something to eat, small talk is already getting strained. How long does one have to sit through a date before one can leave without appearing rude, I wonder?

     ‘What are your ambitions?’ I ask, clutching for something to keep momentum going.

     ‘What?’

     ‘What would you most like to achieve in life?’ I persevere.

     ‘Well, I’d like a proper manicure,’ she says, ‘And I’d really like to kick a pigeon.’

     ‘Sorry?’ I’m clearly not hearing her correctly.

     ‘Well, look at them, they’re all cracked.’ She holds her fingers up at me.

     ‘No, the other one,’ I say.

     ‘I really want to kick a pigeon,’ she repeats. ‘You know, it’s difficult, isn’t it. They move so quickly.’

     I check my watch. Twenty more minutes should do it. I’ll just have to eat faster.

     ‘I feel that you’ve thought this through carefully,’ I say, smiling at her to test whether or not she’s actually just teasing me. She isn’t.

     ‘It’s been my ambition since I was a child,’ she tells me. ‘I’ve tried all sorts; sneaking up on them from behind, and to the side, but just as I go to take a swing at one of them, it’s like they’re psychic or something, like they know what I’m going to do and fly away. It’s so frustrating.’

     ‘Yes, it must be,’ I say, staring directly at her. I’m aware that this is the first thing that she’s talked animatedly about.

     Our meals arrive and I dig into mine as quickly as possible.

     ‘What about you?’ she asks.

     ‘I can honestly say that I’ve never had the urge,’ I say, using my wine to wash down a large mouthful of pasta.

     ‘No, silly, I meant what are your ambitions?’

     ‘Oh. Well, I’d really like to one day earn a living as a travel writer,’ I say. ‘I’d also like to learn a new language and, at some point, perhaps retire into Europe. And, though it sounds silly (though not as utterly ridiculous as your pigeon thing, I think to myself), I’d like to get published in The Guardian.’

     ‘She looks at me with a degree of disappointment. ‘You’re a bit posh, aren’t you,’ she says.

     ‘Am I?’ I say. (I’m now most of the way through my meal. Eight or nine more minutes at most, I think to myself, surveying my plate.)

     ‘… Do you mind if I pop to the loo?’ she asks, after a short pause.

     ‘Of course not,’ I say.

     Five minutes later, she returns to the table, though doesn’t sit down. ‘I’m really sorry,’ she says, ‘but my friend just phoned me to say that she’s having a bit of bother with her boyfriend. I’m going to have to go and help her out. Hope you don’t mind, do you?’

     ‘Not at all,’ I answer, not believing a word she’s saying, ‘You’re clearly a good friend. Go do what you need to.’

     We do the obligatory not-quite-hug thing as she grabs her jacket and handbag and disappears out the door.

     I sit back down, unsure which is currently my dominant emotion – relief or disappointment that I didn’t get to escape first. I pour the rest of her wine into my glass and finish my meal at a more leisurely pace.

 

Not long after I get home, my phone rings. It’s my friend.

     ‘How did the date go?’ he asks.

     ‘I don’t think I really need a new pair of shoes at the moment,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

It’s 2019. Nat and I are out having breakfast.

     ‘A quoi penses-tu?’ she asks.

     I’m thinking about bucket lists,’ I say. ‘What’s on yours?’

     ‘I’d really like to go to the Galapagos islands.’ 

     ‘Interesting,’ I say. ‘Any form of birdlife you’d like to kick?’

     ‘What?’

     ‘Good answer,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘I’ve realised that my wife has been gaslighting me through the medium of food’

I’ve recently realised that my wife has been gaslighting me through the medium of food. It’s been going on for almost a year now; maybe longer. I felt that something wasn’t quite right but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

     ‘What’s wrong?’ she asks, as she passes me in the living room. (I’m clearly not looking my usual self.)

     ‘I’m hungry,’ I say.

     ‘Well, there’s plenty to eat in the kitchen.’

     ‘I’ve tried,’ I say. (There’s nothing worse than rummaging through cupboards in search of food and only finding ingredients.)

     She rolls her eyes. ‘How did you ever survive before me?’

     ‘By purchasing actual food,’ I say.

     ‘And what do you think is in those cupboards?’

     It’s a good question. Though she’s gone to the effort of labelling the various shades of dust that she keeps in the glass jars that sit where once there were recognisable sources of nutrients, I’m none the wiser. ‘I really have no idea,’ I say.

    She leaves the room and returns a moment later with a plate of homemade brown discs that I swear weren’t in the kitchen amongst the other fifty shades of beige a few moments ago. She places the plate into my hand. ‘Biscuits,’ she says.

     I look down at them. ‘A biscuit? Without chocolate? That’s pretty much a vegetable, isn’t it?’

* * * * * * * *

And there it is, the textbook definition of gaslighting: scratching away at my ability to feel I can look after myself, before coming to my rescue with biscuits. I’m onto her.

     A year or so ago, I happened to mention that I hadn’t seen my feet in a while. I had of course noticed them in the distance, occasionally stretched out on the other side of the sofa from me, but I’d been quite literally seeing less and less of them during my more vertical moments.

     ‘Well there’s an easy answer to that,’ she’d said.

     ‘Really? What?’

     ‘Diet.’

    She’d sounded all reasonable, explaining that diet did not necessarily involve eating less. ‘It’s more to do with what you eat,’ she’d said.

     ‘Will you help me get back in shape?’ I asked, naively.

     ‘I’ll try,’ she said, cunningly and opportunistically.

    And this is where I began to lose touch with my understanding of food.

     ‘What have you got in your lunchbox?’ ask my work colleagues.

     ‘No idea,’ I say, pushing around the elements beneath the lid with my fork. ‘I think that may be a piece of lettuce?’

    There’s a saying that goes something like, Hang around the barbershop long enough and sooner or later you’re going to get a haircut. Having spent over a decade with Nat, I guess it’s inevitable that I’d fall into some form of hybrid-veganism at some point. I’m not against the idea, I’m just wishing that it came with some form of instructions.

     ‘Nat, what did I eat for lunch today?’

     ‘A butternut squash salad, with arugula and walnuts.’

     ‘Are you sure that Arugula isn’t a Greek island?’

     ‘Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable,’ she informs me, as if I should know this.’

     ‘ … Nope, didn’t get a word of that,’ I say.

    Mine wasn’t an enlightened childhood when it came to food. Most of the meals I was given were covered in breadcrumbs and accompanied by baked beans and some form of fried potato shapes. It’s unlikely I received the recommended daily intake of nutrients as set out by the World Health Organisation, and as far as my ‘five-a-day‘ fruit intake was concerned … well, I came from a family that kept replica plastic fruit in the fruit bowl. Who knows, with a better diet during my formative years, I might have grown to be six feet four, as opposed to my current height of not six feet four.

* * * * * * * *

Nat tells me that my lack of ability to feed myself is purely my own fault, for being too lazy to take the time to educate myself.

     ‘Cheap shot,’ I say. ‘You only buy enigmatic ingredients.’

     ‘Enigmatic?’

     ‘Yes, vague ones. Ones that don’t easily give away their purpose. Enigmatic like the smile in that painting where you don’t get to know whether Mona Lisa is giving you a coy come-on or whether she’s quietly thinking you’re an idiot.’

     ‘What’s coy about quinoa?’

     ‘See, there you go again, getting all Waitrose on me!’

     This is only a step away from the nicotine patch trick where one waits for one’s partner to fall asleep before gently covering their entire body in nicotine patches, and then slowly peeling them off again before they wake, thus ensuring that the withdrawal they experience throughout their day is confused with dependency on you. (Yes, I’ve thought this one through.)

     I’ve recently realised that my wife has been gaslighting me through the medium of food.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘There’s more to the monocle than meets the eye’

I’m currently sitting in my living room, wondering whether there has recently been some kind of break in the space/time continuum. First, Jacob Rees-Mogg turns up in the actual 21stCentury, and now I’m starting to get adverts for monocles on my social media feeds. Monocles! The advert claims in (ironically) large letters that “The One-eyed Man is King”, but I think that’s a matter of perspective.

     ‘Surely the monocle would have gone into the same ‘flawed-innovations’ draw as the Victorian stained-glass parachute,’ I say to Nat, turning my laptop to show her the latest ad to pop up.

     ‘I hope the latter doesn’t make a comeback too,’ she says, ‘We’d soon see a mortality spike within the steam punk community.

     The advert currently staring up at us claims that, “The key to the success of the monocle is its portability … Like putting a watch on in a morning.” I already have two of these monocles, though mine are artfully joined together by a frame cunningly wrought from plastic and metal screws. ‘People frequently stop me in the street: “Loving your twin monocles!” they gush.’

     ‘Perhaps we should have taken the warning that was Chris Eubank more seriously,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * * *

Thing is, I’m already fighting against my need for reading glasses; I’m not convinced that I could any more adequately hide my age behind a monocle. What decade I was born in would soon be superceded by questions regarding in which century I was conceived. And anyway, my preference is for ‘twenty-twenty’ vision, not merely … well, ‘twenty’.

    These ads work hard to re-brand the monocle, pulling away as absolutely as possible from the Victorian children’s nightmare image of Rees-Mogg, and more towards the tattooed, bearded masculinity of the Hoxton Hipster. I’m still not convinced.

     ‘How might you respond if I was to come home one evening sporting the latest in contemporary monocle?’ I ask Nat.

     ‘After politely requesting that you garage your Penny Farthing carefully, I’d probably respond by asking, ‘Who are you, and what have you done with my husband?’ she says. ‘And then I’d probably phone the police … and an exorcist.’

* * * * * * * *

Perhaps this is what the government means when it tells us to get ready for Brexit. I’d originally assumed that ‘getting ready’ merely meant stocking up on baked beans and lyric sheets for war-time singalongs. I didn’t realise that it meant preparing to be hurtled backwards into a Dickensian dystopia – though I guess all the signs were there.

    Why are monocles so traditionally tied up with the image of the ruling classes, I wonder? Perhaps it’s because holding a monocle in place requires one to maintain a constant one-sided sneer. Also, should their sensibilities be compromised by someone questioning their authority, a surprised expression has the monocle drop from the face, for added emphasis.

     I’m beginning to think that there’s more to the monocle than meets the eye.

* * * * * * * *

 

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IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING IT ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY TOO.  (Even us poor writers have to eat!)

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘This summer, I travelled through eleven European countries and from this I can tell you one thing: Nobody gives a damn about Brexit except the British.’

If there was ever further proof needed as to why the European Union remains the most successful and humane project on this continent, meet me right here, right now, and I’ll show you.

     It’s a warm Tuesday morning. Nat and I are standing on the Oder Bridge, which crosses the river between Frankfurt, Germany and Slubice, Poland. The bridge acts as a border between the two countries, except that there is no border to be seen.

     The bridge itself is vibrant with the sounds of cars and trucks and cyclists and pedestrians, all going about their business, crossing and re-crossing its length. An elderly couple smile at us as they pass by on their way back from the polish farmers market on the other side of the river. We smile back at them. They are pulling a fabric shopping trolley behind them which is brim-full with fruits and vegetables. A few metres further on, a young couple in their mid-twenties approach each other from opposite sides of the water and embrace. This is daily life, except that it wasn’t always the case here.

     Today, there is nothing to indicate that we are straddling two countries other than our knowledge of the fact. Borders are human constructs, they are lines drawn on a map, created by greed and legitimised by fear. If you were to watch a sped-up history of mainland Europe from space, and if you could see each territory’s borders as real, physical things, you would witness a continual movement of these lines, ebbing and flowing like ocean tides, shimmering reflections against rock, as armies temporarily gain or forfeit each other’s land. What you wouldn’t see is the body count hidden in each of these incremental shifts, the human cost of these temporary ripples.

     Within the lifespan of people still with us, the biggest body count inflicted on any one European country by another was that inflicted on Poland by Nazi Germany, resulting in six million Polish murders on the grounds of territory and ethnic cleansing. How could these nations ever face each other again? And yet, if you were to meet me today, right here, right now, you would find it impossible to tell that there was ever a conflict. What you would witness is a warm Tuesday morning, and people going about their daily lives. And this has been achieved without borders.  

     The genius of the European Union project is in its pragmatic ability to recognise human nature for what it is. It has redirected basic human greed into financial interdependence amongst its Member States, a simple idea really, that has converted some of the darker aspects of humanity into nearly seventy years of prolonged peace. It’s no coincidence that borders that have never stayed still have been static within Member State countries since the first manifestation of the EU, back in 1950. There are people who will tell you otherwise but, frankly, they are wrong.

* * * * * * * *     

As I write this, the word proroguing is entering the British vernacular, as Boris Johnson petitions the Queen to withhold that same Parliamentary Sovereignty that so many Brexit supporters believed they were voting in favour of. The Queen, for her part, has been politically boxed in, and has no choice other than to comply. Johnson is doing this in order to force an undefined Brexit on the British people. He is fresh in office and already is destined to go down in history, though I’m doubtful that history will speak kindly of him.

     Britain is living through perhaps the only time in its own history when so many of its people have used their collective muscle to deliberately strip themselves of so many of their liberties and rights. ‘Taking back control’ was never written on the side of a bus, but its integrity is proving to be equally misleading. The British media certainly has ink on its hands every bit as indelible as that which can bring down a Shakespearean wife, and though so many of us have grown aware of the lies it perpetually spins, the newspapers march on with equal arrogance and certainty: ‘What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account.’ Lady Macbeth didn’t make it to the final Act, and nor did she deserve to. I’m sincerely hoping that Johnson’s Government won’t either.

Adrian Sturrock: ‘According to the in-laws, the Swiss flag has been a real plus this week.’

     ‘It might not taste very nice but it is  
      good for you,’ says Nat.

     ‘What is it?’

     ‘My husband’s cooking.’

     ‘I’m still in the room,’ I remind her.

* * * * * * * *

We currently have the in-laws staying with us. Well, technically, they’re my in-laws; Nat would most probably refer to them as her actual parents. They’re staying with us for a few days, having just arrived back in the country from Switzerland.

     ‘I made him cook,’ says Nat.

     ‘I volunteered,’ I say.

     ‘I set it all out for him,’ she says, ‘so that he couldn’t mess it up.’

     ‘I’m sure it’ll be lovely,’ says Nat’s mum.

     ‘It would probably have turned out even better if Nat had learned to write properly.’ I say. I reach behind me to pick up the written instructions that Nat had left for me this morning. ‘Would you say that this says three teaspoons full or five?’ I ask, pointing.

     ‘It’s a three,’ says Nat’s mum.

     ‘I look back at the note. ‘… Still looks like a five to me,’ I say. ‘I hope that everyone is a huge – and I do mean a HUGE – fan of paprika.’   

     ‘I’m sure it will be lovely,’ Nat’s mum repeats.

     ‘She also didn’t say whether the teaspoon measurements should be level ones or piled ones so, good luck with your meal!’ I hand my in-laws the serving utensils. ‘I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you’d like to say Grace or merely move on to The Last Rites.’

     ‘I’m sure it will be …’

     ‘… Best to reserve judgement,’ interrupts Nat, smiling at me.

     ‘I refer you to my previous ‘I’m still in the room’,’ I say.

     ‘I’m sure it will be …’

     ‘… As am I,’ I say. I raise my wine glass. ‘To paprika.’

     ‘Paprika,’ says everyone, as we clink glasses.

     We all tuck in. Ten minutes and no deaths later, people are still eating. I consider this a success. ‘I’m thinking of starting up my own cookery programme,’ I say. ‘Cooking without Boundaries.’

     Nobody responds.

     I take the fact that nobody responds negatively as, well, a positive.

* * * * * * * *

Over desert (which I didn’t make), Nat’s Mum pulls out a package from her bag. ‘I saw this while we were away, and thought of you,’ she says.

     ‘What is it?’ asks Nat, looking over at my gift. Her mum is smiling as she watches me tear open the layers of wrapping.

     As soon as I’ve removed the final paper, Nat’s mum leans across the table and quickly squeezes my gift. ‘Touché,’ she shouts, as it bursts into song. ‘Now, you too have a yodelling beaver, just like mine.’

     As I write this, it occurs that it is not a sentence that I would have ever expected from my mother-in-law. Indeed, this is not a sentence that I would ever expect from anybody’s mother-in-law.

     ‘Thank you,’ I say, and smile at her. I glance over at Nat’s dad but he’s busy studying the wine bottles. ‘How is your beaver?’ I enquire, looking back at her.

     ‘It still makes those funny sounds,’ she says, ‘though I have to keep it out of the way of the grandchildren; tiny hands and all that.’

     ‘Absolutely I say. ‘You’re welcome.’

     ‘I like my beaver,’ she says,’

     That makes two of us,’ I say.

     ‘More vegetables?’ asks Nat. ‘MORE VEGETABLES?’

* * * * * * * *

 

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IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING IT ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY TOO.  (Even us poor writers have to eat!)

YOU CAN ALSO FIND MY TWO CURRENT BOOKS, *Random* AND *The Sat Nav Diaries*  ON AMAZON: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adrian-Sturrock/e/B07QQDZMKQ?ref=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000
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Adrian Sturrock: ‘The bigger part of what I am is what I’m not.’

Student:           Sir, with twins, yeah …

Me:                 … Yeah

Student:           … Twins?

Me:                  (Sigh) Yes, twins … Yeah?

Student:          How do you know which one to tell that they weren’t planned?

This isn’t a question that I would have anticipated from one of my students – mostly because I teach Business.

     ‘Why would you tell either of them?’ I ask.

     ‘Well, it’s about honesty, isn’t it,’ he says. ‘You shouldn’t lie to your children.’

     ‘Fair point,’ I say. I’m buffering a little here.

     ‘Well? Which one?’ he insists.

     ‘The ugly one, obviously,’ I say. (Hey, I’m already riffing on a ridiculous conversation!)

     ‘But what if they’re both ugly,’ he persists. ‘What if they’re identically ugly twins?’ (This boy knows how to bounce back!)

     ‘Then we’d have to have a dance-off,’ I say.

     ‘A minger dance-off? That’s gross.’

     ‘That’s life, I’m afraid,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

     ‘They’re lucky to have you at that school,’ says Nat, as she pours another drink.

     We’re sat in the garden enjoying sunshine and squirrels. In a few days, the summer holidays will have started and I can pretend that I’m unemployed for the next six weeks. This is by far my favourite part of my job – the not going to it.

     ‘What are your plans for the holidays? Nat asks.

     ‘When we get back from our trip, it’s back to office hours for me,’ I say, ‘until I finish the book.’  

     ‘You’re the only person I know who works harder during their time off than they do during their day job,’ she says.

     It’s not the idea of work itself that I hate, it’s the lack of opportunity to be myself that I resent. I love my ‘not-the-day-job’– my writing life.

     ‘Once I get to sell the film rights to the novel I haven’t yet written, I can give up the day job and become a tax exile,’ I say. ‘Alternatively, I could try selling superfluous bits of myself. How many kidneys do I have?’

     ‘Two – but you’ll need to keep at least one.’

     ‘That’s disappointing,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

The best thing about keeping ‘office hours’ as a writer is that the ‘office’ is wherever one choose it to be – it’s just me and a laptop. I have a shortlist of cafes, restaurants and bars that I alternate between and, in summer, I might add the odd park, riverside or, occasionally, a beach to the list. This comfortable detachment from the world makes me ridiculously happy. It’s all about this and travel; everything else can go to hell.

     ‘But how do you deal with writers’ block,’ asks my friend, Jason.

     ‘By denying its existence,’ I tell him. ‘I’m always either in the driver’s seat or the passenger seat – either way, It’s all about moving forwards. If I know what I’m writing about, I drive the experience; if my mind is blank, I’ll riff off whatever comes out of my pen. Me and my pen swap driving duties a lot.’

     My ‘Not-the-day-job’ does, however, come with a very tough boss who reviews my work on a regular basis, and with brutal honesty. I generally refer to this boss as my wife, though Grammar Nazi fits her equally well.

     ‘I learned from the best,’ she tells me. ‘As a child, I remember walking past a butcher’s shop in Somerset with my grandmother, when she suddenly picks up the chalkboard that’s pitched outside, takes it into the store and demands of the butcher, ‘Tell me what’s wrong with this sign’. That’s how I learned to spot whether an apostrophe was in the wrong place. She was the same grandmother who would mark my ‘Thank You’ cards with red pen and send them back to me. She was very cool!’

     Turns out she was also the person who taught Nat basic French. At the same age, I was still in Wales, nursing the psychological damage brought on by my bowl haircut, and bouncing tennis balls off passing cars. Our beginnings were not similar.

 

 

* * * * * * * *

If I can’t yet give up the day job, I can at least find ways to lessen its impact on me, on my time, and on my writing. I’ve recently been having discussions with my current day job boss, which has resulted in me leaving work today with a big smile and a touch of the Geldorfs about me. Roof down, I found myself revving my way out of the school premises while singing at the top of my voice: ‘I don’t do Mondays, I don’t do Mon-da-ays’. (I had requested Fridays off – but it’s a start.)

     ‘All I have to do now is make enough money from Mondays to afford to give up Tuesdays … and so on,’ I say to my ‘not-yet-the-day-job’ boss, Nat.

     ‘Well, you’d better not be rubbish then,’ she says.

     This is the start of my freedom … and my paranoia. But at least I have my Grammar Nazi to keep me focussed.

* * * * * * * *

Earlier today:

            Student:           Sir, about the twins …?

            Me:                  Really!? Go on …

            Student:          My aunt didn’t really like the idea of a dance-off.

            Me:                  Tell her it was me and I’ll deny everything.

            Student:          That’s not fair, sir; that’s dishonest.

            Me:                  And, right there, another invaluable life lesson for you. It’s quite
                                     an education, coming here, isn’t it. Think of me as your personal
                                     guru.

            Student:           My what?

            Me:                 Never mind.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘On any other day, all my troubles seem so far away’

I was very disappointed earlier this week to find that I’d eaten the entire pack of Maltesers that I’d bought for the cinema before the main feature had even started.

     ‘I don’t think they put as many of them in the box as they used to,’ I say to Nat, shaking the empty container upside down to help illustrate my point. ‘I also think that the adverts go on far too long.’

     Nat seems to feel adequately justified in reducing this frankly chilling example of big business manipulation of us proletariat to simply referring to me as ‘a ravenous pig-child’.

     ‘That kind of attitude does little to stem the march against us by the larger corporations,’ I protest.

     She is clearly out of her depth on this issue and reverts instead to merely locking eyes with me while reaching into her handbag and taking out her own chocolates. ‘Mmmm!’ she says, slipping one into her mouth.

     ‘Today, it might be chocolate,’ I warn, salivating slightly, ‘but tomorrow it may very well be … whatever Orwell said.’

     I feel I have managed to retain the moral high ground here, even if I haven’t managed to retain my Maltesers. (I seem to have mixed feelings about this, however, and take one last look inside the empty box, just in case.)

* * * * * * * *

Eventually, the main feature starts. I’m rather glad that the lights have dimmed further, as my lips are currently bright blue from the raspberry flavoured iced drink that I’ve been guzzling to relieve myself of the overwhelming thirst that wolfing down an entire box of chocolates has left me with.

     I look at the empty plastic drinks cup. ‘Do you think that Mr Malteser also owns this drinks company?’ I whisper to Nat, holding the cup up in front of her.

     ‘Shh!’ she says, lowering my hand.

     ‘I wonder whether Maltesers are actually just a deliciously cynical ploy to get us to consume more of the company’s drinks products.’

     ‘Shh!’ she repeats.

     ‘Shh!’ says the lady sitting to my right.

     ‘Sorry, lady,’ I say. ‘Sorry,’ I whisper to Nat. I put my cup down and decide to concentrate on the film.

     After a few moments, I’m feeling a little confused. ‘Are we watching the right movie?’ I ask.

     ‘What? Why?’

     ‘Is this a Harry Potter film?’ I point to the character currently on screen.

     ‘No, that’s Ed Sheeran,’ Nat says, slapping my hand away from her chocolates which, I have noticed, are currently nestled invitingly on her lap. ‘Mmmm,’ she says, looking directly at me as she pops another one into her mouth.

     I pretend not to care.

* * * * * * * *

The film is quite good. It’s about how a band called Oasis wouldn’t have existed if an Indian guy in Suffolk hadn’t fallen off his bicycle. A novel premise, I consider, that is bound to appeal to any Liam Gallagher denier. So far, the movie has grossed over $57 million, which leads me to conclude that Liam must be disliked by an awful lot of people.

    I hear rustling on my right. The lady beside me is tearing open a large bag of peanut M&Ms. I smile at her but she doesn’t offer me any. ‘It’s ok,’ I whisper, ‘I’m full.’ She doesn’t smile back. I don’t think she heard me.

    To its credit, the film is well researched in that it also touches on the inspiration for Oasis: a black and white band called The Beatles who, apparently, want to hold your hand. The songs are mostly nice, and we sit through the end credits while most other people are leaving, so that we can hear more of them.

    ‘What did you think?’ I ask, as the lights finally come up and we leave our seats.

    Nat opens her mouth to speak but only smiles at me before looking away.

    I’ve heard it said that behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes, and we are no exception. (Well, perhaps I am!) I think that the real reason why Nat is keeping a few paces behind me as we walk out through the foyer is because of the almost glow-in-the-dark blue lips that my stupid drink has left me with.

    ‘I’d forgotten about this,’ I say, catching my reflection and trying to wipe my mouth with my sleeve.

    ‘Sorry? Do I know you?’ says Nat, loudly, sidestepping me and walking on.

    ‘Harsh!’ I shout after her. ‘Very harsh!

* * * * * * * *

Back home, I’m making tea for us both to take up to bed. It’s not particularly late, it’s just that a cup of tea in bed strikes us as a much better alternative to a cup of tea on the sofa. I listen to Nat singing Yesterday to herself as she scans the fridge for a snack to accompany her drink.

    ‘I’d have quite liked to have been a rock star,’ I say to her, ‘Just for a while. Well, when I say while, I mean long enough to have earned us an island retreat somewhere nice.’

    ‘You’ve done ok for yourself,’ she says, kissing me as she passes me to get to the sink. ‘And you’ve also got a Me. No rock star has a Me.’

    ‘Are you happy to forfeit the island retreat though?’ I ask, pouring milk into the tea cups.

    ‘The island retreat I can go without,’ she says, ‘though I never thought I’d marry a blue-lipped husband.’

    ‘Ah, yes,’ I say, again rubbing my lips with my sleeve. ‘I guess there will always be ‘even-better-if’ moments in life.’

          She looks at me. ‘You’ll do,’ she says, kissing me again as she brushes past me to pick up her tea. ‘You know what they say, if your cup is only half full …’

          ‘… You’re going to need a smaller bra?’

          She looks up at me. ‘And …’

          ‘… Sorry?’ I say

          ‘Sorry, indeed,’ she says. ‘… You have such a blue mouth sometimes,’

          ‘I see what you did then,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: Extract from ‘THE SAT NAV DIARIES’

Chapter 5 – Feeling Jung in Kesswil – (Kesswil, Switzerland)

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 Today we enter Switzerland, home to watchmaking, chocolate and assisted suicide. I’m wondering what to take back for the relatives.

     Having left Strasbourg relatively early this morning and having now crossed into Germany, we enjoy a far too brief scenic drive through the edges of the stunningly imposing Black Forest. I’m wishing I’d uploaded some equally imposing Wagner onto my iPod as an apt soundtrack to this section of road. Instead, I am destined to listen to my wife repeating the German for ‘black forest gateaux’ over and over again—she tells me she learned the phrase at school and likes the sound of it, apparently.

     Eventually the terrain flattens out a little—as does her enthusiasm for orating the name of said dessert—which she’s been doing in a variety of voices—and we arrive at the Swiss border. Our next job is to buy a vignette, a compulsory road-tax display disc for driving on main Swiss highways. I enter the official roadside building and approach the desk to pay my forty Euros but am instantly made to feel like a child as an officious sounding man in a military hat tells me off for queuing at the wrong desk.

     ‘This is the desk for people leaving Switzerland,’ he barks. ‘Go to that desk.’ He points, equally officiously, to another desk behind me.

     This seems strange. Surely, if I were driving from Switzerland into Germany, I would now be on the other side of the motorway and ‘this desk’ would be on the wrong side of the road.

     ‘Somebody should tell that guy that he’s on the wrong side of the road, then,’ I reply, pointing to Desk One. ‘Though let him down gently,’I add, leaning in a little and lowering my voice, I’m sure he’ll feel quite silly when he realises.’

     I leave Mr Military Man glaring at me as I turn and approach the other desk.

     I buy my vignette and return to the car. I now feel very European with my shiny red Swiss tax disc adorning my windscreen. I am happy and excited. I’ve never been to Switzerland before.

     ‘The man in the traffic shop wasn’t very nice,’ I tell Nat.

     ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte,’ she replies.

     ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’

     I reach for my iPod. It’s playing ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. We merge into the traffic and make our way to our first Swiss destination.

* * * * * * * *

It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Kesswil. I’m not impressed. It’s bland and grey and nothing like the Swiss movie that has been playing in my head all day.

     ‘So, where’s the friggin’ cow bells?’

     Nat is currently failing to convince me that Switzerland is beautiful.

     In guidebook speak, Kesswil is a municipality in the district of Arbon in the canton of Thurgau. In road trip speak, it is an almost adequately placed rest stop for the night, before the new excitements of tomorrow. All I really know about it as we enter the town is that it is the birthplace of Karl Jung. And it has a lake.

     As Bernice (our sat nav—keep up!) takes us along the final road to our destination for the evening, we are slightly confused to see only residential houses. No hotel.

     ‘Ah, yes,’ says Nat, ‘maybe this one is the B&B I booked.’

     ‘What? Why a B&B?’ I ask.

     ‘It was cheaper,’ she says. ‘You said keep it cheap so that we could have two nights in St Moritz.’

     Damn, I did say that, though I was thinking cheaper hotel. I don’t reply, as we have now arrived on somebody’s driveway.

     ‘Okay, you knock on the door while I grab the bags,’ I say, as I switch the engine off.

     ‘Why don’t you knock?’

     ‘Because you know the German for black forest gateaux?’

     She looks blankly at me.

     ‘Well … it’s a start,’ I offer.

     I hand her the paperwork and move to get out of the car, my gesture intended to imply both conclusion and agreement on this matter.

     By the time I’ve retrieved our bags from the boot, locked the car and started to walk towards the front of the house, Nat has managed to drag her feet just far enough to reach the door alongside me. She rings the doorbell, but even before she has time to take her finger from the button, the door is opened by a tall, elderly man with an implausibly fixed smile.

     Eerie.

     We look at each other, and then turn our attention back to who we assume to be our new host.

     ‘Hallo.’

     ‘Hello,’ replies Nat, ‘we have a reservation for this evening?’

     Behind his smile, he clearly doesn’t understand much English. I move to step in when, suddenly …. No, not suddenly. What happens next is too weird for a mere suddenly. What happens next is that Nat, my wife—whom I have lived with for six years, been married to for nearly five—inexplicably bursts into fluent German. As if this is the most natural thing to do when in a German speaking country.

     ‘Wir haben eines reservierung für diesen abend.‘

     I have no idea what is taking place now. My mind has just pressed pause on the day, and I’m watching a random scene unfold in front of me—as though I’m watching television. But my wife is on this show. And she’s been dubbed into German. And I don’t understand a thing. When the hell did my wife learn to speak German?

     ’When the hell did you learn to speak German?’ I spit out.

     ‘Shh!’ she says and continues to discuss our documentation with Mr B&B.

     Once they have concluded their commerce, the man’s smile turns to me. I decide to sidestep the language barrier by offering a very safe ‘Hi’ and holding out my right hand for a friendly handshake. It is at this point that Mr B&B holds out his left hand. This is because, I quickly realise, he has no right hand. Or right arm. I take a step forward to distract from my slight of hand as I quickly swap, um, hands. And voilà(French, you know!), no harm is done. We have successfully greeted. Sometimes, I am very proud of my quick thinking.

     ‘I think that went well,’ I whisper to Nat as we are led indoors to be greeted by Mrs B&B, who is approaching us along the passageway. She now takes over and efficiently introduces us to the dog and the television—in that order.

     We follow Mrs B&B upstairs as Mr B&B returns to the living room where, presumably, he had come from. She is turning to speak to me at almost every step. I have absolutely no idea what she is saying but she is smiling and laughing a lot so I assume they are happy things. On the other hand, I quickly begin to irritate myself by repeating the word ‘Cool’ to everything she says. I try to answer with other things but my default setting appears to be stuck.

     ‘Cool … yeah, cool … Ha! Cool …’ God, I need a new strategy for these kinds of situations.

     I’m a little relieved when Nat whispers to me that she doesn’t understand Mrs B&B either.

     ‘She’s talking too fast,’ she whispers, ‘and I’m not sure of her dialect.’

     It puts me at ease to have someone on this side of the confusion again.

     Mrs B&B is, however, picking up on the language barrier. But where she could simply have handed us the keys to the door and wished us good luck (as I would have preferred), she chooses instead to persevere through the medium of mime.

     Firstly, she introduces us to the bed, the bathroom, the balcony and the wardrobe (with its open-and-close doors), all of which we can clearly see from where we are standing in the room. I want to inform her that we now have bathrooms and wardrobes in the UK, but I consider that Nat would probably tell me off, so I stay silent. There is also the fact that I don’t speak German, of course—unlike my wife, the MI6 spy. (I will clearly need to discuss this with her later.)

     I think that Mrs B&B is now going to leave, but she hasn’t finished yet. In her attempt to make us feel at home, she has switched on the TV and is kindly—and rather frantically—flipping buttons, eagerly trying to find us an English-speaking channel. She is getting visibly frustrated by this search. So am I.

     Eventually landing on an American music channel, she smiles and puts the handset down in order to next introduce us to her A4 wipe-clean breakfast menu.

     And this is my next out-of-body experience of this trip. I can hardly hear her over the volume of the rap channel she has chosen for us and as she points to pictures of various sausages on the menu, her words are drowned out by the Afro-Caribbean gentleman on the television warning me about how he is going to ‘fuck up my hoe’ (though I believe other gardening tools are available).

     My mind is flitting between feigned interest in what Mrs B&B is failing to communicate to me and a clutch (I shall use this collective term) of black ‘booty’ being enthusiastically wobbled at me—presumably for my pleasure—on the screen beside her.

     Mrs B&B is fast becoming Mrs R&B, I feel.

     And then yet another out-of-body experience kicks in. While I have been having my previous WTF experience, her conversation has clearly moved on (to the shower temperature, Nat later tells me), and while Mr Rapper off of the TV goes into detail about which way up he prefers his ‘bitches’, Mrs B&B is standing in this same room that I am meant to be sleeping in this evening, with one hand raised above her head and the other rubbing her chest as she wriggles (seemingly to the music) while repeating ‘douche … douche …’ I am making a mental note to sleep with the light on tonight.

     By the time we have completed our full induction to our stay and finalised breakfast arrangements, Nat has found Treasure Hunt on TV. I resign myself to retrieving the final suitcase from the car.

     ‘Well done,’ she says, as we settle down to a coffee on the little sofas by the window.

     ‘What for?’ I ask.

     ‘For saying nothing during all of that.’

     ‘How do you know I had anything to say?’

     She smiles as though she has been reading my mind the whole time. ‘Well done,’ she repeats.

     ‘So, just out of interest,’ I add, ‘of all the serial killer couples you have ever heard of/met (delete as appropriate), which couple did we just meet?’

     ‘Fred and Rose West,’ she says, without even slight hesitation.

     ‘I think Jung had something when he talked about collective consciousness,’ I reply.

     ‘I don’t want to frighten you,’ she says, but did you notice that the balcony is shared by both our patio doors and Fred and Rose’s?’ She points.

     ‘Luckily, we have been blessed by that screamingly loud freight train track just a twenty foot suicide jump from the balcony. I feel this will probably remind us to shut—and lock—the patio doors before we sleep.’

     I suggest we beat Fred and Rose at their own game by appearing silhouetted against their glass doors at 3am, dressed as The Shining twins. We both like this idea, but it is now raining outside and so, instead, decide to venture out to the small lakeside restaurant we’d passed earlier.

     Despite a great view of sunset over the lake, all foods at the restaurant taste of vinegar. So we settle back down at Fred and Rose’s, excited about the coolday we have planned for tomorrow.

* * * * * * * *

Breakfast is conducted totally in German. It is here that we meet the only other couple presently staying at the B&B. They seem nice. Nat dips in and out of the conversation (using her sudden fluency in German) while helping me along as she might a special needs child she has been put in charge of. The actual child in me is quite pleased when the guy from the other couple suddenly explodes his boiled egg over himself as he tries to cut into it. I don’t know, somehow this helps level the field a little.

     I notice that yesterday’s wipe-clean breakfast menu was more of a survey than an order, as there is little relationship between what I’d previously ticked and what is now laying on my plate. I’m not overly bothered though, as I’m excited about getting back on the road. Today, we are heading into the Alps.

* * * * * * * *

I finish packing up the car while Nat settles the bill with our hosts. As I re-enter the house to say goodbye, I find that she and Rose are engaged in some kind of mutual disagreement. I’m not too sure what the issue is. I look over at Fred. He is still sat at the breakfast table where we’d left him, though now he is waving a pastry at me.

     I eventually get the gist of the situation. Rose is asserting that we had not pre-paid 30% of the total charge. However, the printed details that Nat is waving at her asserts (unfortunately in English only) that we have.

     We conclude that being the difference isn’t a lot in terms of Sterling, and being that the language barrier is evidently too large to allow clear establishment of business understanding here—and, as I quietly assert to my wife while nodding in the direction of the living room, one should never fuck with a one-armed Swiss pensioner wielding a croissant—we duly pay the difference, and I start the car.

     Nat offers to drive this next section of the journey, and so I’m free to settle into the passenger seat, check the music, and start to enjoy the slowly evolving scenery.

     Soon, we are back on the motorway.

     ‘What are you eating?’ she asks, after a few moments.

     I’m about to answer but she cuts me off …

     ‘That’s Fred’s croissant, isn’t it.’ There is an accusatory tone in her voice.

     ‘Well I wasn’t sure if he was threatening me with it or just offering me something for the journey. I didn’t want to offend him so …’

     I tail off as Nat’s face starts to turn to a warm smile. Next stop is Davos.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘It turns out that when you donate blood, it has to be your own’

Nat passes me on the stairs as I’m about to leave for work. ‘You have beetroot risotto for dinner,’ she says.

     ‘In what way have I upset you?’ I ask.

     She stops to look at me. ‘You will like it and you will make sounds of ecstatic enjoyment,’ she informs me.

     ‘Will that be before or after dinner?’ I ask.

     She smiles at me as a parent might smile at a small child who doesn’t yet understand the ways of the world.

     ‘You are welcome,’ she says, kissing me before making her way upstairs, while I leave through the front door and head for my car.

* * * * * * * *

I’ve had a blood test. Worse than that, I’ve had the results of the blood test. I knew that agreeing to the test at all would be a mistake, and now, as confirmation of this, I’m destined to eat things like … beetroot risotto.

     It all started with one of those carefully worded letters that the surgery nurse sends out to ‘men of a certain age’, in which she tries to woo them with middle-aged-dad humour about it being time to ‘come in for your MOT’.

     I’d put it off for a while – two years, to be exact.

     ‘Just make the appointment,’ said Nat, after my third reminder, ‘if only to confirm that everything’s fine.’

     ‘Everything is fine,’ I said.

     ‘Then what are you afraid of?’

     ‘I’m not afraid of anything,’ I said, ‘I’m just bothered about being treated like an old person before I’m actually an old person. It’s the same reason why I don’t wear reading glasses even though I can’t see a bloody thing.’

     ‘Is that why you keep walking into books?’ she asks.

     ‘Has anybody ever used the words ‘devastatingly funny’ to describe you?’

     ‘No.’

     ‘Do you find that at all strange?’

* * * * * * * *

They don’t check your trouser parts any longer at the Well Man clinic. I needn’t have showered.

     The upshot is that while all of my other blood readings are fine, my (bad?!) cholesterol level is currently what I might describe to friends as ‘shot to shit’.

      That’s notably higher than my dad’s,’ says Nat, running her finger down my results letter. ’And he’s seventy-two.’

     And this is why dinner this evening will consist of beetroot risotto. It is why my entire diet has recently taken a severe sideways step. I’m told that the upside of beetroot risotto is that it will turn my wee bright pink. As excited as I am by the idea of glow-in-the-dark wee, I’d still gladly swap it for a steak sandwich dripping in soft French cheese.

     Over the past eleven years, Nat has cunningly de-skilled me in the cooking department, slowly chipping away any memory I might have had regarding how to fend for myself in the kitchen, until I’ve finally became her food hostage. It is only now that I’ve come to fully understand her objective – now that the house has become a cake-free zone and I’ve been banned from real butter. Out went dairy, in came rice milk; out went red meats, in came soya proteins. From a dietary point of view, I am officially ‘semi-vegan, with occasional lapses’ – or ‘vegan-lite’, as I now describe myself to friends.

     ‘There’s no such thing as vegan-lite,’ says my vegan friend.

     ‘Think of it as vegan without the conscience,’ I say, as I watch the muscles at the sides of his jaw flex a little.

     Nat likes to point to things like her recent discovery of empty packets of pork scratchings in the shower as reason for her food embargo on me. She claims this as the probable cause of my raised levels. I, on the other hand, put it down to a faulty reading at the clinic. We are currently no closer to reaching a consensus on this issue, but I am losing weight quite rapidly, as well as saving money on both our food bill and on shirt buttons.

* * * * * * * *

     ‘Trust me,’ she says, this evening, as she serves up the most clown-coloured dinner I’ve been handed since my seventh birthday party. ‘You’ll thank me when your next blood test reads better.’

     ‘So this is …’

     ‘… Yes, it’s beetroot risotto,’ she says. ‘You’d better like it, you’re having it again tomorrow – cold and in your lunchbox.’

* * * * * * * *

It’s now three hours since I ate my beetroot risotto. I quietly accept that it wasn’t horrible, though I’m still ignoring her. My trust in her has diminished considerably since my experiment, ten minutes ago, in the bathroom, when I switched off the light only to find that I’d been lied to … it doesn’t glow in the dark.

* * * * * * * *

 

____________________________________________________________________

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING IT ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY TOO.  (Even us poor writers have to eat!)

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