Adrian Sturrock: ‘I’m a strong advocate of the health benefits of being ill.’

I’ve been ill this week. Yesterday, I remained unconscious through pretty much everything that Richard Curtis has ever done only to wake up to the fact that, while I was asleep, the world lost a TV chef, an Australian journalist/presenter, and a British writer/stage director. And these were just the celebrity deaths. Shit! What have I contracted?!

     On the other hand, having spent the last three days consuming only water and rich tea biscuits, my stomach is now completely flat. I think I can work with this.

* * * * * * * *

I’m a strong advocate of the health benefits of being ill. It cuts down on stress, for a start. Since Monday, there has been an acknowledgement by pretty much everybody that not only can I not be expected to take up my usual responsibilities, but that I must not, under any circumstances, take up my usual responsibilities. This in itself makes projectile vomiting worthwhile. In fact, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

     Then there’s the detox value of not being able to keep anything down (or in). Apparently, fasting has all kinds of medical benefits, from moderating sugar and cholesterol levels, to improving brain function.

     ‘That’s the last time I’ll be leaving my car keys in the microwave, then’ I say to Nat.

     She appears less confident, however. ‘We’ll see,’ she says.

     What makes vomiting so intrinsically valuable, however, is that it totally legitimises not going to work.

     ‘Yes, I understand,’ says the cover supervisor, when I phone in to explain, ‘but we’re already a teacher down in your department …’

     Thing is, diarrhoea …’ I say.

     ‘Definitely don’t come in,’ she says, and hangs up.

     Who knew that abracadabra and diarrhoea were synonyms? Two words that work like magic.

     This get-out-of-work-free card is, itself, worth a vast amount of health points and quite probably contributes to both prolonged life expectancy and anti-wrinkling. I’m only 53 but this retirement-lite taster session is bloody lovely. Imagine how much lovelier it would be if I wasn’t so regularly having to hug a toilet.

* * * * * * * *

A further advantage of being unwell is that I’m currently the sole beneficiary of Nat’s maternal instinct (which she denies having but for which I have the lolly wrappers as proof). I’m receiving regular texts from her while she’s at work, to check how I’m doing, and a phone call at the end of each day to see if there’s anything I need from the shops on her way home. This is actually quite nice, and makes me feel cared for. I don’t generally need anything but I always request something, just to see if she means it.

     The cat, on the other hand, is watching me cautiously, no doubt sizing me up in my new horizontal state. I’m maintaining eye contact with it, just to remind it that I’m still the dominant male around here. It has already decided to test this theory by throwing up in the hallway. I’ve ignored him, so he’s thrown up again. We are now laying at opposite sides of the room, silently plotting against each other. I feel obliged to keep the eye contact up, but I’m getting sleepy. This might not end well.

* * * * * * * *

The only real disadvantage with being ill is from Nat’s point of view. She has to share a bed with me. Being I’ve been asleep for most of the day, I’m probably less sleepy than her right now. This, together with the fact that my body temperature rises at night, has made me a little more wriggly than usual. This isn’t good when she has to get up at 5.45am to catch a train into Birmingham for a conference.

     ‘Will you stay still!’

     ‘Sorry … Ouch!’

     ‘What now?’

     ‘I just accidentally punched myself in the face while trying to pull the duvet up.’

     ‘Well, that saves me a job.’

     I think maybe I should drag myself and my pillows into the spare room.

* * * * * * * *

I made the mistake of thinking I was better this morning, so I had a shower and ate grapes. Lots of grapes. I’m not feeling as better as I did.

Outside my window, it’s currently sunny but zero degrees. I can hear people scraping ice off their windshields. I, on the other hand, am sat up on my bed, bathed in warm, ambient lighting, clutching a hot drink while trying to decide which movie to watch. Life doesn’t get much bet… Oh, excuse me a moment …

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.’

It’s cold outside. And wet. And grey. Did I mention grey? The decaying corpse of my lawn that scrubbed up so well last summer is now partially hidden, like a rushed burial, beneath the mouldering litter of late autumn, and sticks to my shoes like putrefying road kill whenever I make the mistake of swapping cabin fever for a breath of fresh air. I think I may have also stood in fox crap. That means there’s foxes out there. And they’re crapping on my lawn.

     ‘Bastards!’ I shout from the patio, as I hop in one shoe while trying to take off the other before re-entering the house. ‘Oh, not you,’ I add, noticing my next-door neighbour hovering near our fence.

     He says nothing, just opens his patio door and disappears inside. He’s like that. I shrug and do the same. We’ve lived within feet of each other for over thirteen years and I still don’t know his name. I doubt very much that I could even pick him out of a police line-up. Hopefully, I’ll never have to, though it wouldn’t altogether surprise me if I did.

* * * * * * * *

There’s a lot to be said about Christmas – and most of it is far too positive. This season of obligatory fun and mandatory wallet-rape, all thinly wrapped up as ‘good will to all men’ (and, presumably, women), is just another poke in the face after they’ve gone and made night time turn up half way through the day by screwing with the clocks again.

     ‘Stop moaning!’ says Nat. She apparently likes what she so casually refers to as ‘the seasons.’

     I’m not ok with them. I’d much prefer one perpetual summer. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’d all probably float away, I’d suggest doing away with global rotation and just park the planet up nicely against a rational season. Like summer. There’s nothing cosy about the damp British coldness that clings to your bones and traps you indoors. And did I mention the perpetual grey? And just as you’ve worn yourself out coming to terms with ‘the seasons’, the threat of Christmas happens at you.

     ‘For goodness’ sake, where’s your festive spirit? The house down the road already has its Christmas tree up.’ I think Nat is getting tired of me following her around the house, whinging.

     I don’t feel that this even deserves an answer. On the other hand, I can’t help myself. ‘Take a look at your watch,’ I say. ‘It’s November. In fact, It’s barely half past November. Christmas might be a tradition, but do you know what tradition is? Do you?’

     ‘Go on …  and on … which I’m sure you’re about to.’

     ‘Tradition is merely peer pressure from dead people; that’s what tradition is.’

     ‘I think you’ll find that Christmas is all about the little baby Jesus,’ she says.

     “But why on Earth did they make him a Capricorn? Everybody knows that Leos make the most enigmatic leaders. Look at Mick Jagger.’

     ‘… Nope, I have nothing,’ she says, and leaves the room.

* * * * * * * *

The first hint of Christmas slapped me in the face the day after Bonfire Night, when I heard Paul Mc – shut the hell up – Cartney inviting me to have a ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ through the sound system of my local Next store. ‘You’re shitting me,’ I said to the shop assistant, as I pointed at the speaker in the ceiling. ‘I know,’ he said. Next lost a customer that afternoon.

     I’m told Christmas is ‘cosy-up’ time with family, but most of us know that trying to coordinate a family Christmas is like trying to drag a full drum kit up a car park stairwell. Ok, Christmas doesn’t smell of wee (we tend to get a real Christmas tree) but the point, along with the frustration, remains the same.

     And then there’s the usual festive racism: ‘We can’t even call it Christmas anymore, for fear of offending someone’ is now the annual Daily Mail reader’s chorus of choice, which has become every bit as traditional over recent years as ‘Good King Wenceslas’, as it pours into and bounces off every corner of social media. This claim isn’t remotely true, of course, but why let truth get in the way of perfectly good bigotry. Most disappointing in my opinion is that these people are still allowed to vote. But as Churchill is quoted as saying, ‘The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter’.

     To add insult, I’ve just received an email falsely describing me as ‘a valued customer of Christmas Letters from Santa’.

     ‘I think they might have mixed you up with a different idiot,’ says Nat, as she begins to read my email. ‘Hey, you can get a whole £1.00 off your Santa’s letter if you order before 18th November,’ she says. ‘“You can also include with your letter a token certificate for an extra 50p, which rewards your child for good behaviour and being kind to others. Another great keepsake from Santa Claus himself!”’

     ‘You mean I’ve got to pay Santa in order for him to write to me? It’s true what they say, absolute power really does corrupt absolutely.’

     ‘Poor Santa,’ says Nat, ‘Perhaps he’s suffering from the falling pound and the burden of corporation tax.’

     ‘Then perhaps he should register his business in the United Arab Emirates, and his domicile in Estonia, just like any other self-respecting tax exile, instead of reverting to charging for autographs.’

     ‘That reminds me,’ says Nat, reaching for a faded note that is sticking out of the back of the letter rack, ‘Remember this?’ She holds it up. ‘I found it stuck to the fridge door last Christmas morning when I got up.’

     I try to take it from her but she’s too quick. ‘And I quote,’ she says, ‘“Dear Santa, I’m writing to you to let you know that I’ve been naughty this year, and that it was worth it, you fat judgmental bastard”. Do you have anything to say about this?’

     ‘I think the note speaks for itself,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

In the meantime, my local supermarket has already moved the easy to grab wine from the front of the store to make room for Christmas cards and Twiglets.

     ‘Who on earth buys Twiglets?’ I ask.

     ‘Everybody,’ says Nat.

     ‘But who on earth eats them?’ I ask.

     ‘Nobody,’ she says.

 

Still, it could be worse, it could be … oh, it is. I reach for my umbrella.

 

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: For obvious reasons, I’m publishing this article on a Sunday.

There is a place called Hell in Norway. And every winter it freezes over. It’s a small village of only 1,589 people, which leads me to believe that all those threats I received at Sunday School as a child were mostly exaggeration, and that you have to do something pretty fucking extreme to be sent to Hell. To learn this in later life, I’m filled with both relief and the feeling that I’d been played all those years ago.

* * * * * * * * 

As one might expect, Hell has a retirement home (read ‘has’, not ‘is’), as well as a petrol station, a grocery store, and a fast food stand for passing truckers. There really isn’t a lot to do here! Most significant, however, is that Hell’s railway station is not an end-of-line stop. A sign on its outbuilding reads, ‘Gods-expedition’, an archaic spelling of the Norwegian, ‘goods handling’.

As temperatures can be as low as -25 degrees in winter, one might be forgiven for assuming that sitting in the waiting room of Hell’s station would amount to purgatory, but, as everybody knows, Purgatory is in the United States. Maine, to be precise. (According to TripHobo, there is ‘little to do in Purgatory. It is a small place which is generally used as a rest stop before moving on to better things.’ Pretty much text book then!)

Unsurprisingly – and as I’d already secretly suspected – they play the Blues in Hell. The ‘Hell Blues Festival’ started in 1992 before being changed to the ‘Hell Music Festival’ in 2006, in an attempt to attract a more eclectic crowd. The result of this, only one year later, was bankruptcy. (Not even Goths go to Hell, it seems.) The following year, ‘Blues in Hell’ was re-instated and success returned as Hell reconnected with its true demographic. Last year, British singer/songwriter Jo Harman headlined here. (Having been born in Luton, Hell must have been an almost ‘back-to-the-womb’ experience for her.)

Those who know me understand that I’m not a fan of Blues music. In fact, I place it alongside war crimes and Morris Dancing in my list of ‘Under-No-Circumstances’. However, at a squeeze, I’d still place Blues above the questionable genre of Church Hymns, which leaves me in somewhat of a dilemma regarding my preferred afterlife destination. (Have you noticed how AC/DC fans can instinctively sing along to the entire back catalogue, while church-goers who attend their event every single week still need the hymn books? There is definitely a point to be made here.)

* * * * * * * *

One of the benefits of living in the 21st Century is that one no longer has to rely on biblical supposition when it comes to the realities of Hell – not now that Hell has its own listing on Trip Advisor. A simple click of the computer mouse will tell you that Hell “wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be” and that “the train station […] is only serviced if you flag the train down.” This latter point, I feel, throws up its own existential questions.

The problem with Hell, of course, is fundamentally an ethical one: that its existence for the punishment of souls is inconsistent with a just, moral, and omnibenevolent God. On the other hand, according to lifeinnorway.com, “despite its proximity to the E6 motorway and an international airport, the village itself is remarkably peaceful. Typical Scandinavian wooden houses, well-kept gardens, lots of cyclists, kids playing in the streets: not what I expected at all!” As some schools of theological thought define Hell as specific to the individual (rather like Orwell’s Room 101), perhaps this particular town is set aside for those whose idea of torture is a recurring suburbia.

If this is not your Hell, however, don’t forget that there’s another one in Michigan, USA, another in California, another in Montana, and further Hells in Slovenia and Grand Cayman. They’ve even installed one on the moon, a lunar crater named after Maximillian Hell. Just like the song, Hell really is all around. (I am, of course, paraphrasing.)

I looked to see if Hell, Norway © has been internationally twinned with any other towns but, as yet, there haven’t been any takers despite the fact that the town can boast the honour of having produced the 1990 winner of both Miss Norway and Miss Universe (though I’m not sure how ‘The Beauty Queen from Hell’ reads on the world stage).

Hell doesn’t have a lake of fire but it does have a river and, until 1995, there was a highway to Hell, but it now goes around the village instead. And for those of you who have ever laid awake wondering, Hell is actually 14 metres above sea level. Now, that’s something the Apostles neglected to mention. 

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘It seems that it’s one rule for Johnny Depp and another for Captain Birdseye.’

     ‘Explain yourself,’ says Nat, taking off her coat as she closes the front door behind her.

     ‘Well, I’m quite simple, really,’ I say, ‘albeit in a convoluted sort of way.’ I’m standing at the bottom of the stairs with an armful of laundry. ‘I’m the usual bag of delightful contradictions that one might associate with post-industrial man. Of course, I mostly put this down to having had to untangle myself psychically from the belief systems of the 1970s, which, in many ways, can be said to be the font of my general ineptitudes. Can you believe that we once thought that orange shirts with brown collars and cuffs were something we shouldn’t be put to death for …?’

     She’s standing there waiting for me to stop talking, her body language and expression confused in equal measure by what even I am realising to be my directionless monologue. ‘I was looking to be more specific,’ she says.

     ‘Go on.’

     She reaches into her bag. ‘You’re a man; explain this.’ She slaps a copy of today’s newspaper onto the hallway table.

     I read the headline looking up at me from the front page. ‘Paul Gascoigne?’ I say.

     ‘Yes. Paul Gascoigne. …Well?’

     I’m not sure how to respond. So, I don’t.

     Nat picks the newspaper back up and quotes at me: “The ex-England star, who denies sexual assault by touching, told police he had “kissed a fat lass” to give her a “confidence boost”, jurors were told.

     ‘Wow!’ I say.

     ‘Not good enough,’ says Nat, accusingly, ‘Explain yourself.’

     ‘What? Why me? What have I got to do with this?’

     ‘You’re the only man in the room, so you’ll have to do.’

     ‘Wow!’ I say again, but for very different reasons this time.

     ‘Any insights at all into why men are so batshit stupid?’

     And then it comes to me. ‘If I had any insight into this type of ridiculous male outlook and behaviour,’ I say, ‘I very much doubt you’d want to be with me.’

     With that, Nat’s expression softens and she leans over to kiss me. ‘I’m very lucky,’ she says.

     ‘Nailed it!’ I say. ‘Totally nailed it.’ But I only say this in my head. Only in my head.

* * * * * * * *

Later that evening, Nat and I are in the living room, watching TV. Or rather, she is watching Master Chef, while I’m busy ignoring it with a magazine.

     ‘Why do you have your fingers in your ears?’ she asks, looking over at me.

     I don’t want to say that I’m currently thinking something very loudly and don’t want anyone to hear. ‘Hmm?’ I ask.

     ‘Is there something wrong with your ears?’

     ‘Oh, them. Yes. Itchy.’ I take my fingers out and pretend to scratch them.

     ‘Are you thinking loud thoughts again?’ she asks.

     ‘No! … A bit!’ I say.

     ‘…And?’

     I think for a moment. ‘Well,’ I say, reluctantly, ‘that Paul Gascoigne story …’

     ‘Go on …’

     ‘If the woman in the article hadn’t been non-consensually kissed by a northern drunk but had instead been kissed by a proper celeb – say, David Beckham, or Matt Damon – might she still have considered it an assault?’

     Nat instantly turns down the volume on the TV, which is never a good sign. ‘Do you not understand the word consent?’ she asks.

    ‘Yes, but if, say, Johnny Depp walked across a room and kissed you? No ‘Hi, how/who are you?’ If he just kissed you because he thought you might like it, would you really be all ‘See you in court,’ about it?

     ‘Well that’s not a fair question,’ she says.

     ‘Why not?’

     ‘Because it’s Johnny Depp. The consent is implied.’

     ‘And right there is the slow puncture in your feminist stance,’ I say.

     ‘No, it’s not.’

     ‘Of course, it is. Same scenario, but if he happens to occasionally dress like a pirate, it’s suddenly not assault? It’s one rule for Johnny Depp and another for Captain Birdseye.’ (I’m not sure if my argument is technically still on point at this juncture, but I think my overall theme is still intact.)

     The pause that follows results in Nat turning the TV volume back up. I’m off the hook. Or ignored. Or both.

* * * * * * * *

A few days later, the BBC news informs us that randomly kissing strangers on trains is not actually sexual assault if you are a wealthy ex-footballer and can come across to a jury as adequately stupid.

     ‘And there you have it,’ I say, ‘a jury cannot prove the guilty mind element when the mind in question hardly exists at all.’

     ‘Disappointing,’ says Nat. ‘We’re clearly still living in the Middle Ages as far as women’s rights are concerned.’

     ‘I don’t think I’d have got away so easily with kissing women on trains,’ I say.

     ‘To be honest, I doubt your case would even get to court.’

     ‘Why not?’ I ask.

     ‘Because I wouldn’t be reckless enough to bury your body where it might be found.’

     Though the world outside my front door might still be considered a patriarchy in many ways, in here I’m happy to allow the matriarchy to continue. It just seems easier that way.

* * * * * * * *

 

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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: ‘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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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!)

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