Adrian Sturrock: ‘If love is blind, how come lingerie is so popular?’

It’s Valentine’s Day AND my wedding anniversary this week. This means I have to prove my love for my wife twice. And both in the space of a few days. This isn’t going to be easy.

     ‘Don’t worry about buying gifts,’ she tells me, ‘we’re off to Spain in a few days, we can celebrate together then.’ She doesn’t, of course, mean a word of this. She once told me that she wasn’t into birthdays. That didn’t end well for me.

     I’m sat at work, scouring the internet for gift ideas. ‘If love is blind,’ I think to myself, as I roam aimlessly from website to website, ‘how come lingerie is so popular?’ Valentine’s Day really does bring out the cliché in people. I’m trying to come up with something that is simultaneously original yet not so costly that it gets me punched out by my bank manager. 

     Choosing a card is the easy bit, though I’m stuck between one that says, ‘You’re my favourite pain in the ass’ and another that puts things far more simply: ‘You’ll do’. Then I remember that I’m going to need two cards, so I buy them both.

* * * * * * * *

Nine years ago, we took our honeymoon in a small town on the southern Spanish coast. Every year since, we’ve returned there to celebrate our anniversary. So far, we’ve had ‘Anniversary Part 2’, ‘Anniversary 3D’, ‘Anniversary: The Revenge’, ‘Anniversary: And This Time It’s Personal,’ and a number of others in between. This year, we even returned in December and had ‘Anniversary: The Christmas Special’, with a guest appearance by a waiter who looked very much like Vladimir Putin but probably wasn’t.

     We tell friends that our yearly trips are designed as twelve-monthly marriage summits – a little like the annual Davos’ World Economic Forum, but with fewer elites and only one item on the agenda: a full audit of our marriage to date. We tell people that, at the end of each series of meetings, we sign off on an agreement regarding whether or not we should pursue our relationship further or merely call it a day and move on. It’s surprising how many people take us at our word:

                                                  ‘How was the trip? … You guys still OK?’

                                                   ‘Yeah, following a completed appraisal, we have decided to give it another
                                                   year and re-evaluate from that point onwards.’

                                                   ‘Oh, … OK. Well, I’m glad you’re both good for now.’

     In reality, we’ve usually just chilled on the beach and shared some nice food and drink at local restaurants, all shoe-horned between sunshine strolls and siestas. In the words of Tanita Tikaram, it has become a ‘good tradition’.

* * * * * * * *

I’m running out of days. I’ve not got much time left in which to choose the correct gifts. Should they be things that she wants or things that she needs? Would she prefer a physical object or an experience? Or both? And what is the accepted ‘spend-to-love’ ratio? These things aren’t taught in schools. Teachers were happy to relate to me how frogs have sex, but few were prepared to impart any real world wisdom. This is what our taxes are wasted on.

     I receive a text from Nat later in the day, telling me that she will have to work late on our anniversary, as she has to present at some kind of safety audit meeting. This lowers my options even further. I scratch off ‘Go out for meal’ from my list of maybes.

* * * * * * * *

On the morning of our anniversary, Nat wakes me up by sitting on me, which results in ‘Umph!’ being the first word I get to utter on our special day.

      ‘Ha-ppyyyyy Anniversaryyyy’, she sings, tapping me repeatedly on the forehead with the card she is holding. She is clearly more of a morning person than me. And possibly more of a sadist.

     ‘Happy Anniversary,’ I croak back at her, without feeling it necessary to open my eyes.

     ‘Nine years!’ she sings at me. ‘Nine years! You’ve put up with me for Nine. Whole. Years.

     ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘I have.’ I try to turn over.

     ‘Open your card,’ she tells me, tapping it on my forehead a few more times before pushing it into my hand and closing my fingers around it.

     I open the card and am obliged to read it, which requires having to open my eyes. It hurts but I do as I’m told. ‘Thank you,’ I say, and reach out to touch her face.

     ‘And your present,’ she says, ‘Open your present.’ She slips a small package into my hand.

     With my other hand, I reach into the bedside draw and pull out my card and gift for her. ‘Happy Anniversary back at ya,’ I say.

     I slowly sit up and we both open our gifts together.

     Turns out that my spend-to-love ratio is spot on. How do I know this? Because we’ve both bought each other exactly the same thing: perfume by Issy Miyake. We both like this stuff.

     ‘Thank you,’ she says, hugging me.’

     ‘And thank you,’ I say, hugging her back.

     We formally shake hands before jumping into action and racing each other to the shower. She wins, so I return to bed with a coffee. 

     ‘Pressure off,’ I say to myself. ‘At least partly.’ I’m now fifty percent out of the water for another year. Only Valentine’s Day to go. Wish me luck.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘My wife wanted a cat, but I’m the master of this house. So we got a cat’

Last week, the cat took it upon itself to use our bed as a litter tray. Being we‘ve been forced to buy a new one, we’ve decided to go king size (bed, not cat). I’ve since been informed by my wife that our new mattress has a better memory than me. I feel I’m being attacked from both directions.

     ‘I couldn’t help noticing that he went on my side of the bed,’ I say, sulking.

     ‘You’re just being paranoid,’ Nat tells me. ‘Perhaps he’s not feeling well.’ She picks him up and cuddles him into her lap. The cat sits there, protected by its owner, giving me that glance that sits somewhere between disinterest and ‘Screw you’.

     ‘I don’t think I’m being paranoid,’ I say, ‘I think he was making a point.’

     ‘And what point would that be?’

     ‘That he doesn’t like me; the same point he was making whilst peeing into my shoe the other week. And that he feels he can do whatever he likes, as long as he has you to protect him.’

     ‘Does he need protecting?’

     ‘Not so much from me as from my laminator at work,’ I say.

     ‘Don’t be horrible,’ she says.

     I think about the cat, spread flat, laminated, starfish-shaped, framed and hung on the living room wall. ‘A homage to revenge and Damien Hirst,’ I think to myself. It’s the first time I’ve properly smiled since the bed incident.

     ‘I can hear what you’re thinking,’ she says.

     ‘I bet you can’t,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

Nat has volunteered to pay for the replacement bed, being Maurice is, after all, her cat. I consider this only fair being I’ve already paid in so many other ways for agreeing to have him.

     ‘I know the bed thing was unfortunate,’ she says,’ but isn’t he cute.’

     ‘You do realise that ‘cute’ isn’t so much an attribute as a weapon of choice,’ I say.

     ‘But look at his little button eyes,’ she coos.

     ‘Think about how different living forms have evolved and mutated over time in order to exploit their environment,’ I say. ‘Certain monkeys have developed strong tail grip for climbing … Other animals … well, I can’t think of another example right now, but that ‘cute’ cat face evolved with only one intention – to manipulate free board and lodging from gullible humans.’

     Maurice has moved off Nat’s lap and is now busying himself carefully draping layers of hair over my side of the sofa. I glare at him. He stops what he’s doing, looks directly at me and, without losing eye contact, proceeds to lick his bottom.

     ‘Well I’m not going to lower myself by reverting to your tactics,’ I tell him.

     ‘I don’t think your spine would allow you too,’ says Nat.

     ‘Fair point,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

 

When the new bed arrives, it takes me an age to drag the enormous mattress up the stairs. It hadn’t occurred to me that the frame would arrive flat-packed and that I’d have to put it together myself. I had also not anticipated how many individual pieces a bed frame could possibly be made of. Did Nat also order a book case or something?

     Being she won’t be home for another hour, I decide to surprise her by having the whole thing up and running by the time she walks in.

     The cat is sitting at the top of the stairs, watching my struggle with all the pieces.

     ‘You’re banned from the bedroom,’ I inform him, as I shuffle various bits of bed past him.

     ‘Meow,’ he says.

     ‘Don’t think that I don’t know what you’re saying,’ I reply.

     I pour the entire contents of the bed frame into the centre of the room and stand back to stare at it all. I’m holding the instructions (for what they’re worth) in my hand – a four-page onslaught of tableaud mimes, designed to avoid the manufacturer having to go to the expense of printing clear instructions in different languages. They’re basic and badly drawn – ‘just like Donald Trump,’ I mumble to myself. I smile as I consider the possibility that I may have said something funny.

     I’m hoping the instructions aren’t going to throw up the need for too many tools. Toolboxes are things that other people’s dads have. I’ve never actually owned one. My entire tool collection comprises of the back of my shoe (for hammering things into other things) and duct tape – a leftover from my gigging days, used to hold crates together and to tape down trip hazards on stage – and not, as my wife has suggested on occasion, to keep the audience from being able to leave.

     Luckily, the only tools needed turn out to be two Alan keys (thank god for Alan!) and something resembling a child’s home-made spanner – both of which the bed manufacturer has included in the small plastic bag that is taped to the leg of the headboard. So, here we go.

     After much swearing and two bruised fingers, the bed is … bed shaped. I’m quite proud of my work. I push at it, to see if it rocks. It doesn’t rock. Success.

     I bring in all the other furniture that I’d left out on the landing to give myself space to work, and make up the bed with the new duvet and bedding that the cat had made it necessary to buy. Finally, I place a vase of freshly cut flowers on the bedside table, on Nat’s side, and a silver tray with a bottle of wine and two glasses in the centre of the bed.

     ‘Just in time,’ I say to myself, as I hear the front door open. ‘Hello’, I shout down to Nat.

     ‘Hello. Where are you?’ she shouts back.

     ‘I’m up here.’

     I hear Nat’s steps on the stairs and prepare myself for her admiration of my handiwork.

     ‘Hello,’ she says, as she enters the bedroom. ‘Ooh, I see you’ve …. Oh!’

     ‘It’s the new bed,’ I say. ‘I’ve put our new bed together.’

     ‘Yes, you’ve … that’s a very short headboard … compared with the …’

     I follow her line of vision. ‘It’s … it’s back to front, isn’t it,’ I say.

     ‘I think it might be,’ she says.

     I look around me. With all of the rest of the furniture now back in the room, there’s no space to rotate the bed the full one hundred and eighty degrees it needs in order for it to face the right way. Nat closes the bedroom window in order for the neighbours not to hear how proficient I have become at swearing over the last hour or so. She moves across the room and hugs me. ‘You’re my favourite idiot,’ she tells me, and holds me close.

    From over her shoulder, I see the cat sitting by the bedroom door. I swear I’ve never seen a cat actually smirk before.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘If you find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, perhaps you could pick up a bottle of wine?’

My wife is hoping that it’s not going to snow tonight, in case she can’t get to work in the morning. I, on the other hand, am hoping that it’s going to snow tonight, in order to ensure that I can’t get to work in the morning. This isn’t because I’m lazy; it’s because I have a low boredom threshold – and because I like snow.

     There’s a word for people who don’t like snow (besides ‘boring’); it’s ‘chionophobia’. ‘Chion is, apparently, Greek for snow. My first reaction when I heard this was, ‘But it doesn’t snow in Greece. Why would they have a word for it?’ But then a friend of mine, who is Greek, pointed out that Greece has its own ski resorts. The subtext to this heads-up was, ‘I can’t believe you’re so ignorant.’ His words were kind; it was his face that gave him away.

     I went on to question how much protection the toga offers in sub-zero temperatures, though I have since found that the average Greek person does not wander around in a toga. I feel cheated and lied to by Hollywood.

* * * * * * * *

Nat keeps alternating between checking online weather reports and peeking through the curtains to see if there is any snow on the ground outside. According to the world of ‘online’, we are currently on Amber Alert; according to the real world, it’s all rather normal out there.

     It’s a strange tradition, this need to guess the weather. It’s like a weird form of gambling addiction, without the opportunity to win cash. If I was the Met Office, I think I’d simplify things by recording one basic message to play on loop: ‘It’s January, you’re in the UK, the weather is likely to be crap. Don’t forget your coat and your scrapie thing for the car.’ There really isn’t much else to it.

     ‘Should I take some extra warm clothes with me in the morning,’ Nat asks, ‘in case I get stranded?’

     I’m guessing this question is mostly rhetorical and that she is merely thinking aloud.

     I pull out a selection of my mountain gear from the back of the wardrobe while she’s in the shower and place it in a pile on her side of the bed.

     ‘Thanks,’ she says, as she returns to the bedroom and packs them into her small rucksack. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks, smiling at me across the room.

     I look up from behind my laptop. ‘I’m researching,’ I say.

     ‘Researching? Researching what?’

     ‘I’m researching at what temperature the human eye freezes.’

     ‘What? Why?’

     ‘I’m curious. It’s quite cold out there.’

     Nat seems to be waiting for a fuller explanation than I’m currently giving.

     ‘It says here that … Oh, that’s disappointing …’

     ‘What is?’

     ‘It says here that our eyes can’t freeze while inside our living body, no matter how low the temperature gets.  Apparently, they’re protected by a series of warm blood vessels and the heat from inside our heads.’

     ‘And this is disappointing because …?’

     ‘Because I was looking for a dramatic fact about cold weather,’ I say. ‘Sometimes, one would just like to believe in at least one good urban myth,’

     ‘Remind me again,’ she says, ‘I married you because …?’

     ‘… I’m lovely. Keep up.’

    She looks at me with her very specific frown. ‘If human eyes don’t freeze because they’re packed tightly against a warm brain, I suggest you don’t venture out until at least spring.’

     ‘Not even your tears would freeze,’ I continue, ignoring her, ‘because of the salt in them.’

     ‘Oh, there’s no worries there,’ she says, ‘there’s no tears in my cold black heart.’

     ‘That was my guess too,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

I’ve always had a thing about snow. I’ve also always had a thing about chilling at home while everyone else is at work. This could be my lucky week.

     I’ve even gone as far as to make a quick post-it note list of things I’d like to get done during my possible snow-day tomorrow. Why mess around with weather predictions when wishful thinking will do just as well.

     Meanwhile, Nat has trudged down to the shed at the bottom of our garden, in her pyjamas, to fetch our garden spade. ‘In case I’ll need to dig the car out,’ she says, pre-empting my question.

     ‘OK,’ I say.

     She stands the spade up in the hallway, next to her rucksack of emergency clothing. Later, I wander past her Shrine to Winter, and place my mountain trekking boots neatly next to her bag.

     ‘Thank you,’ she says, ‘but I probably won’t need those.’

     ‘Take them anyway,’ I say, ‘And if you do find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, perhaps you could pick up a bottle of wine?’

* * * * * * * *

The next morning, we both get out of bed together and rush over to the window to squint between the blinds.

     ‘Thank god’ says Nat. ‘No snow.’

     ‘Bugger!’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

UPDATE: twenty-four hours later:

SNOWMAGEDDON!!!

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘Nothing messes with your Friday more than finding out it’s Tuesday’

We’ve both had exhausting days in the land of work and noise. We’re now at home, beached on the sofa, too tired to move anything other than our finely tuned wine-pouring limbs. It’s a lazy evening. Nat has clicked her way through every TV channel we have before tutting loudly, conceding defeat and handing the buttons to me in the hope that I might find something that she’s missed. ‘Not even the idiot’s lantern is coming to my rescue this evening,’ she complains.

     I’m pleased to find that we are both able to agree that The One Show deserves an even faster click-past than the majority of cheap shots that currently fill our screens. We have both, at different times, described The One Show as ‘the place where journalism goes to die’.

     I can’t find anything interesting either; it’s mostly programs about other people doing their day jobs, which neither of us considers an acceptable proposition upon which to base a television programme – or an argument for the continued existence of a TV license … or a TV. ‘Whoever would have guessed that a documentary series about an environmental health inspector would one day make it to prime time television?’ I say. ‘Can you imagine the discussion at the scheduling meeting:

                        ‘So, what have you got for us?’

                        ‘Well, we’ve got a series on wheel clamping, a six part season based around 
                        two women cleaning other people’s houses, and a fly-on-the-wall, mostly
                        camcorder, thing about a guy who works for the council and catches vermin
                        …’

                        ‘Really? Is that it? We need something to slot between the news and Jeremy
                        Kyle’s ‘My uncle slept with my dog’ episode.’

                        ‘Umm, we do have this thing based in a tent where questionable celebrities
                        make cakes for no valid reason? I know what you’re going to say but we ran
                        out of budget after ‘Britain’s fattest People, and …’

                        ‘(Sighs) … My God! … Well, desperate times and all that … OK, let’s do the cake
                        thing, and … that thing about vermin – I loved Ratatouille when I took my
                        niece to the cinema that time. Rats can be rather cute … when they’re not
                        popping up from inside your toilet bowl, of course.’

                       ‘Well, this guy’s job is to kill them …’

                       ‘Oh. Well … throw it in the mix; I’m sure it ends well.’’

     Nat’s not listening.

     I continue clicking the remote. I’m on my second cycle of the thing now. Eventually, I give up; ‘Ah! What’s the point?’ I say, switching the TV off.

     ‘Is there anything interesting on our ‘saved’ list?’ she asks.

     ‘We’ve watched them all.’ I say. ‘Some of them twice.

     She picks up a magazine while I switch on the music system.

     I don’t like it when we don’t chat.  ‘… My gran used to knit for the mafia,’ I say.

     ‘No. Please don’t …’

     ‘She was known as scarf face.’

     Nat reaches across me for the TV buttons. ‘… There must be something on.’

* * * * * * * *

Do you ever get to that point where you’re too tired to actually make your own entertainment, but your overactive mind still needs something to occupy it? It’s a harsh realisation when it dawns on you that you’re this exhausted and the week isn’t even fully underway yet. Nothing messes with your Friday more than finding out it’s Tuesday.

     I’m bored, but even conversation is appearing a struggle this evening. We sit in silence for a few minutes longer …

      ‘… Turns out that humans can only distinguish between around 30 shades of grey,’ I say.

     ‘Uh-huh,’ says Nat. (I can tell that she’s not listening.)

     ‘That means that up to 20 shades are wasted every time.’

     ‘OK,’ she says. 

     ‘… I guess the trick is to figure out which twenty. I mean, I wouldn’t want to discard the wrong ones … you know, run out of stamina before I get to the shades that matter …?’

     Silence.

     ‘I’m just white noise to you, aren’t I,’ I say.

     ‘Uh-huh,’ she says, turning the page of her magazine.

     ‘… Of course, with this grey thing, the amount of nuances experienced can change, depending on things like lighting conditions and surface texture …’

     ‘Ask me what my favourite letter is,’ she says, not looking up from what she’s reading.

     ‘Why?’

     ‘Go on.’

     I ask her.

     ‘Tea.’ She says. ‘It’s tea.’

     I sigh to myself. ‘Would you like a cup of …’

     ‘Ooh. Yes please.’ She continues to not look up but points to the cup she’d earlier left on the side.

     I leave the room. ‘Every time,’ I say to myself. ‘I fall for it every time.’

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘I’m not stupid, I know who the master race is in this house.’

‘Is there something you’d like to share with me?’

     My wife has followed me into the kitchen where I’m sat with my coffee cup and my magazine. Without looking up, I reach over to grab a cup for her too. She is holding a clutch of letters which moments earlier I had heard tumbling through our letterbox and onto the wooden floor where, predictably, the cat would have been waiting to scatter them further along the hallway.

     Already audited, those pieces of mail that my wife has identified as junk are efficiently poured into the recycling bin. These same companies that boast targets to lower their carbon footprints are, it seems, the same companies that continue to post the dead remains of murdered trees over our hallway floor, on a daily basis.

     ‘And good morning to you, too,’ I say. I watch the postman through the window as he wanders out of our drive and crosses the road to deliver an interesting looking package to number 33. ‘Why is it I don’t get interesting packages delivered to me anymore, apart from the ones I send myself?’ I ask.

     ‘Well?’ she persists.

     (Sometimes, I’m left wondering whether the words I speak are indeed articulated out loud, or whether I’ve merely thought them in my head.) ‘Well, what?’ I ask.

     ‘Is there something you’d like to share with me? Anything I need to be worried about?’

     ‘Always. Always be worried,’ I say, looking back down into my magazine. (I’m not trying to be dismissive, I’m just not sure what’s coming next.)

     She slips one of the letters that she has been holding under my nose, letting it flop onto the page that I’m reading. It’s from one of our utility providers. ‘I refer you to my previous question.’

     I look up at her. She is busy fixing me with one of her more ‘enigmatic’ expressions – one of the ones she keeps for what she considers to be ‘enigmatic’ times.

     I look back down at the envelope and glance more closely at the name in the address window. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I’ll leave it for you to decide whether ‘Arian Sturrock’ does indeed illustrate a more sinister change in my political leanings, or whether it merely reflects the overall illiteracy of our current electricity provider.

     Nat takes the letter back. ‘It could be either, to be fair.’

     I look back up at her. ‘… Yes. Yes, it could be either. Oh, and … um … Heil Thingy.’ I throw her a limp salute while looking back down into my magazine.

     ‘I knew it!’ she says, sticking her index finger into my coffee cup before wiping it across my cheek and quickly nipping out of the room again.

     ‘Oh, very grown up!’ I say, mostly to the now empty silence … and the cat.

* * * * * * * *

While she’s upstairs, I reach across the table for my laptop and quickly Google Arian Nations, mainly to find out exactly what my electricity company is accusing me of. According to Wikipedia, Aryan Nations (with a ‘y’) is an anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist terrorist organisation, based in Idaho, USA. ‘Well, that’s rude,’ I say. I research further but they don’t seem to have a presence on Linkedin.

     ‘Who were you talking to?’ asks Nat, as she re-enters the room.

     ‘Did you know that Aryan Nations is …’

     ‘Yes, I did,’ she interrupts. ‘They were also the United States’ first nationwide terrorist organisation.’

     ‘… You really do know too much to just be an office manager,’ I say. ‘Is there something you’d like to share with me?’

     ‘Not without either having to shoot you or make you sign the Official Secrets Act,’ she says, and kisses my head before leaning across me to search for something in the fridge. ‘So what was your letter about?’

     ‘Nothing interesting,’ I say. ‘Usual end of contract thing where the provider attempts to encourage the customer to stay loyal through the medium of hiking the monthly direct debit up to an excessive amount. Hardly a sweetener. In ten days’ time, we’ll receive a follow-up letter claiming that they are sorry to see us go. Same shit every year – just different provider. They spend millions on recruiting new customers and blow it all on failing to develop a retention strategy. They’re all the same; I can’t see the logic in it.’

     ‘A bit like the average marriage,’ says Nat. ‘Money and effort poured into the initial courting ritual, followed by an irrational cocktail of complacency and inertia for the next forty years.’

     ‘Wow, that’s a bit deep/depressing – delete as appropriate,’ I say. ‘Is that how you see our marriage?’

     ‘When was the last time you bought me flowers?’

     ‘Friday, after work,’ I say.

     ‘So, there you go, perhaps we’re not the average married couple.’

     ‘And when was the last time you bought me any?’

     ‘Yesterday. Along with that bottle of wine you finished off.’

     I look over to my left, to the yellow roses in the glass vase and the empty pinot noir bottle on the side. ‘Good point,’ I say, smiling. ‘Your retention strategy appears to be working well – you’re stuck with me.’

     ‘Bugger!’ she says. ‘I didn’t think that though.’

* * * * * * * *

     Later that day, I find a note from Nat sitting on my laptop keyboard. It’s addressed to a Mr Arian Stomach: ‘I am writing to inform you that from February 1stthe unit cost of wife provision will be rising to 3 bottles of white (pref. Pinot Grigio) per week, and a meal out each weekend (at a time of our mutual choosing.) I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to use this service for all your spousal needs.’

     I turn the note over and write, ‘Dear Mrs Stomach – With regret, I write to inform you that from 1stFebruary, I will be securing the services of a cheaper provider. I would, however, like to thank you for the service you have delivered to date, and hope that  we can form a contract again in the future, when I am once more a new client and can therefore access less feudal terms from you. Yours unfaithfully …’

     Within minutes, I’ve lost my nerve and have removed my note. I’m not stupid, I know who the master race is in this house.

Adrian Sturrock: I’m very excited to say that my second book, ‘RANDOM’ is currently holidaying in Munich, where it’s being edited. Cover artwork is also about to begin in Greece, once I’ve finished having artistic differences with myself … More news, including release date, to come soon.

This book is
RANDOM 
… as is my life

“This is my life. It’s not an outstanding one; it’s probably much like yours – except with me in it.

* * * * * * * *

After forty days and forty nights of wandering through Europe in their Mazda MX5 Miata, Adrian and his wife, Natalie, are back home – mostly because that’s where they live. RANDOM explores their everyday life, and continues where THE SAT NAV DIARIES left off. Life must go on, it seems.

‘Is it just me or do my feet look further away to you?’ This is Adrian Sturrock’s first collection of unpublished articles, in which he fumbles his way through a number of vaguely irrelevant 21stCentury issues, including:

  • How to pull off a social media romance
  • Why you shouldn’t cheat on your hair stylist
  • How to ensure that speed cameras capture your best side
  • Why phishing no longer requires a rod
  • How come today’s DIY still means having to do it yourself

“You might learn a lot here, though this is highly unlikely.”
Alternatively, you might just have fun learning nothing at all.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘Travelling at a moderate pace along a mostly deserted coast road – this is my first clear vision of 2019’

We’re at a New Year’s Eve party with a group of people we don’t know, wondering at which bottle of wine this situation became a thing. We’ve been roped into playing one of those weird parlour games in which we have to take turns offering up a Christmas or New Year related fact about ourselves that our partner did not previously know.

     ‘Ok,’ I say, ‘at the age of eight, I played the Angel Gabriel in the school nativity play. I was handed two monologues and the opportunity to see the majority of my school friends looking up to me while on their knees, dressed as sheep. This was quite probably my introduction to narcissism, something that I have continued to cultivate since.’ 

     ‘And he’s not even joking,’ says my wife, mock-accusingly (leaving me to assume that the ‘mock’ bit is implied).  

     ‘Was this a pivotal point in your life?’ asks a guy sat to my left, dressed in a white tuxedo. (Note to self: never assume that anyone could ever look good in a white tuxedo.)

     ‘Well, the following year, I played one of Bob Cratchit’s daughters in A Christmas Carol,’ I add.

     Nat looks up at me: ‘Really?’

     ‘It was an all-boys school,’ I remind her, ‘so, needs must.’

     ‘And how did you feel about that?’ tuxedo man asks. There is something resembling concern in his expression.

     ‘Well, in retrospect, I wouldn’t choose that particular dress again, but at least I did learn to walk confidently in heels.’

    In my periphery vision, I see Nat quietly smirking into the distance.

     ‘And were you a particular fan of Dickens?’ asks tuxedo man’s wife, clearly trying to step away from any cross-dressing reference.

     Nat discreetly places her head into her hands.

     I glance at the lady, accusingly. ‘Look, I was a struggling young actor; I had to eat somehow. And, anyway, what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room.’

     ‘… And this is how a double entendre can be so easily fashioned into a single one,’ says Nat, to pretty much anybody who still wants to listen.

     This was the point at which the game seemed to fall apart a little.

* * * * * * * *

Nat and I have a code word for ‘Let’s get out of here’. I’m not going to tell you what it is, for obvious reasons, but it was designed to be notoriously difficult to slip into general conversation, thus adding a further level of fun to our escapes.

     Within minutes, we are out on the street, Nat having pretended to go to the loo, and me having made out that I was just popping into the next room to get ice.

     ‘How did that happen?’ I ask, as we zip around the corner and head for the beach area, where New Year’s fireworks are due to take place in just a few minutes.

     ‘Wrong place, wrong time?’ she suggests. ‘I think we were just taken by surprise while we were busy getting our drunk on.’

     ‘Well, I don’t know about you but, personally, I’m glad I had my drunk fully on. Imagine having to endure that party sober.’

     Down on the beach, crowds are congregating, Champagne bottles and flutes in hand, set to welcome in a better year. We have our 12 grapes to midnight ready, as is the Spanish custom.

     ‘Are you really going to eat a grape every time the church bell rings?’ Nat asks.

     ‘Or choke trying,’ I say. I hand her a small bag from my pocket. ‘And here’s yours.’

     ‘Oh,’ she says.

     No sooner have I passed her the bag than the bells begin to chime. Fireworks send colours into the sky, and the munching of grapes commences, followed by loud cheers and a band starting up on the staging area to our right.

     ‘Tomorrow’s going to hurt,’ I say.

     ‘It’s already tomorrow, today,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * *

I slowly come to inside a taxi that is taking us to the airport. We are travelling at a moderate pace along a mostly deserted coast road. The driver has the radio on low, presumably to keep himself awake at this early hour. The sun is rising over the Mediterranean, throwing off reds and golds across the horizon line. This is my first clear vision of 2019.

Adrian Sturrock: ‘If it is a ghost messing with the volume on my kitchen radio, I wish she’d stop it.’

Every year, a Christmas card comes through our letter box addressed to the same former occupant. It includes no return address so that we might pass it back. The name on the envelope is not the name of the person we bought the house from.

      The handwriting gives the sender away as probably quite elderly. The names of the sender, Gwen, and recipient, Florence, also suggest this. The message inside is always the same: ‘Thinking of you and your children at this time of year’.

      This is our tenth Christmas at this address. In all of these years, the sender has remained unfaltering in their commitment to ensuring a card arrives here in time. It seems that the sender has no contact with the recipient – otherwise they would know not to send a card here. I think there is something both positive and really quite sad in this gesture; it encapsulates love, loss, sadness, and optimism. It is its own Christmas story.

* * * * * * * *

      ‘I wonder how long these cards have been coming, prior to us moving in here,’ says Nat. She holds this year’s up for me to see, before opening it. We have both grown to recognise the ornately shaky handwriting on the outer covering and have learned its contents by heart. Nat places the opened card on the windowsill, a make-shift shrine – a reminder to keep ones’ loved ones close. She hugs me and pours us a wine.

* * * * * * * *

I have had daydreams in which Gwen turns up at our front door: ‘Hello, is Florence at home?’ Or, more likely, ‘Who are you, and what are you doing in Florence’s house?’ I would have to give the bad news, but at least I could offer some kindness.

      ‘Do you think it was a falling out or a losing track that led to their breakdown in communication?’ I ask.

      ‘Perhaps Florence just died and there was no one to pass on the news,’ Nat suggests.

      ‘Perhaps,’ I say. I think about this for a moment longer and then add, ‘Perhaps they’re ghosts.’ I like this idea. ‘Maybe Florence still lives here with us, in a parallel time, and the card is a physical manifestation of this.’

      ‘As in, ‘I see dead cards’?’ says Nat.

      ‘Exactly.’

      ‘Well if it is her messing with the volume on my kitchen radio, I wish she’d stop it.’ Nat shares out the rest of the Christmas cards, which have accompanied Florence’s through our letter box this morning, and we sit at the kitchen table to open them together.

      ‘To Papa Bear,’ Nat reads out. ‘This one’s for you.’

      Stacey, my son, will be coming to stay in a few days, this time bringing his girlfriend from Zurich. It’s nice to meet new family members, as we begin to lose our older ones.   

      One of the things that opening these cards reminds us of is the distances that the 21st Century’s ‘global community’ casts between modern family and friends. We consider how far the senders of each of our Christmas cards currently live from us, and from each other. This thought leads us to look at our own situation – neither Nat nor I come from this town in which we live. She’s West Country; I’m Welsh.

      Soon, we’ll be meeting up with family and friends for Christmas. I look across to the card on the windowsill. ‘I hope Gwen is OK’, I say.

      ‘And also, Florence,’ says Nat, raising her glass into the room. ‘Just in case,’ she whispers to me.

Adrian Sturrock: I am very pleased to share the news that two of my travel pieces have been selected for inclusion in the 2019 edition of Travel Stories and Highlights

 

This anthology showcases the talents of 55 authors, writers and poets. Among them are well-known travel memoirists, experienced travel writers and rising stars in the travel writing world.

A compilation of 66 short stories and 66 highlights, this collection will transport you around the globe from the comfort of your own home. It is a book you can pick up and enjoy whenever you have a spare minute.

See the world through the eyes of a Dominican man on his first trip abroad. Travel across the outback to the most remote roadhouse in Australia. Teeter on the edge of a cliff on the Adriatic coast as the bus loses control. Chill out on a Flotel in the remote Amazon tributaries of Bolivia. Find Christ in the high Andean passes between Chile and Argentina. Experience terror in the Egyptian desert at the hands of armed soldiers. Swim as nature intended with reef sharks in the warm waters of the Maldives.

Enjoy these and many more fascinating insights. They will stay in your thoughts long after you finish reading them.

This book will inspire your travel dreams.

Get your copy now. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Travel-Stories-Highlights-Robert-Fear-ebook/dp/B07LH764HF/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1545297313&sr=8-6&keywords=Robert+fear

 

Adrian Sturrock: “I once spent a year in Luton. I think it was a Thursday.”

     ‘I bought you these to show how much I care.’

     ‘I’m allergic to flowers,’ she said.

     ‘I know,’ I said.

     There are a number of ways to say goodbye to your boss. This was mine.

     It wasn’t her who was leaving; it was me. I’d been fired. Turns out there is a limit to the number of times you can tell a superior to go screw themselves, though, to be fair, this wasn’t something that was laid out clearly in the staff handbook.

     I was young back then, and what a more mature person might have described as impetuous. Would I react in the same way today, to the same type of boss? Absolutely.

     The leaving speech she gave at the end of my final day was at best a smattering of lukewarm nothings; arms-length corporate etiquette contrived with a very specific sub-plot that expressed to everyone present that she neither knew nor gave a damn about where I was moving on to next, and that she was pleased I was going.

     In honesty, so was I.    

     When protocol demanded that it was my turn to say a few words, I merely advised her not to forget her umbrella at the end of the day, as it looked like rain and I was concerned that her circuits might rust.

     In the car park, I was caught up to by an out-of-breath guy from I.T. who presented me with a book of poems that his daughter had written. ‘It’s sad to see you go,’ he said, ‘I would like you to have this gift. Thank you for always taking the time to talk with me. It was always a pleasure.’

    ‘Why wouldn’t I,’ I said. You’re one of the good guys.’

    ‘You’d be surprised how many people don’t,’ he said. ‘I’m generally just the man who sorts out people’s I.T. issues.’ And then he reminded me of the time that I emailed I.T. Support for help in undoing the lid on my water bottle.

    ‘You are indeed multi-talented,’ I said. I turned the book over in my hand and smiled at him. ‘And it seems that your daughter is talented too. Thank you.’

    Sajid was the first Muslim I ever met, and is the only face I still remember from those grey days in that grey job. I still have the copy of his daughter’s poetry. I also still have the Happy Eid card he’d given me a few months earlier. At the time, I had no idea what Eid was, and had to look it up when I got home. I felt privileged that he would have thought of me at Eid. This is why I still keep it.


* * * * * * * *

     ‘I think I’d be mortified if I was fired from my job,’ says Nat.

     ‘I was more mortified that I hadn’t fired myself,’ I say.

    ‘Technically, I think you did.’

     I smile. ‘It was the feeling of release that I experienced on my drive home that made me realise that being fired was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. I still remember the adrenalin rush I got as reality began to sink in, as I drove my way out of Luton for the last time.’

    ‘Now, that’s something I can empathise with,’ she says. ‘I once spent a year in Luton. I think it was a Thursday.’

     ‘They even requested that I write a formal letter of resignation,’ I say. ‘How screwed up is that?’

     ‘And how dangerous,’ says Nat. ‘If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the ten years we’ve been together, it’s to never let you get the last word.’

     ‘I’ve noticed that too,’ I say.

     ‘So, what did you write?’

     ‘Something along the lines of, ‘After much consideration, it is with regret that I must inform you that adulthood is not for me. Thank you for the opportunity…’’

     ‘Very grown up,’ says Nat.

     ‘Life’s too important to be taken seriously,’ I say.

     ‘That’s Oscar Wilde,’ says Nat.

     I stand up to answer the doorbell. ‘No, it’s probably just my mum,’ I say.