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 solute 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: ‘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, Champaign 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 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.

Adrian Sturrock: ‘Apparently, while I’m stuck at home, everybody’s out phishing’

I’m sitting in my office at home when the phone rings.

     ‘… Good afternoon, Sir, I’m phoning in relation to your recent accident.’

    Me: ‘What? Oh my God! I’ve had an accident …?’

     ‘… I’d just like to clarify a few details with you, if I may?’

    Me: ‘Am I OK? I mean … I had no idea …’

     ‘… I’m pleased to inform you that your claim has been successful and that we have now been authorised by our underwriters to deposit the agreed compensation directly into your bank account. This should only take a few moments so, if you could just confirm your account details for me, Sir, I can then ensure that the full amount is transferred to you today.’

     Me (pretending to shout across the house to my wife – who’s currently at work): ‘Nat! It’s the man from the accident shop … I don’t know … probably somewhere in India … or Nigeria … he didn’t say. Anyway, apparently, I’ve had an accident. But it’s OK because we’re now rich. Don’t bother with cooking this evening, we’re going out to eat!’

     Directing my attention back to the voice on the phone, I continue.  ‘Forgive me,’ I say, ‘it’s clear that I’m still suffering a little amnesia from the trip or fall at work. How bad was it?’

     ‘… Sorry, Sir?’

    ‘Well, between you and me, it occurs that none of my family has thought to discuss the accident with me, which leaves me wondering whether it’s more serious than you’re letting on. I mean, is it terminal? Just tell me that …?

     ‘I … um … I think you’re going to be OK, Sir. If you could just confirm your bank account details with me, I can transfer the full amount today.’

    ‘Are you sure you’re not just trying to be kind to me? If not even my wife can bring herself to talk about my accident, then things can’t be looking good.’

    ‘Sir, if you could just confirm your bank account details …’

     ‘There are so many things I still want to do; so many places I haven’t visited. How long have I got left? Can you at least tell me this?

   ‘Sir, please …’

    ‘Did you know that three percent of the ice in Antarctic glaciers is made up of penguin urine? I really hoped that, one day, I’d get to see that for myself.’

    ‘Sir …’

    ‘Yes, I know. And, apparently, ducks have regional accents. Did you know that? And I’ve only heard some of them. I have so much left to do … Hello? … Are you still there? …We seem to have been cut off … Hello?’

* * * * * * * *

A few hours later, Nat arrives home. ‘Hi,’ she calls, as she’s hanging up her coat in the hallway, ‘How’s your day been?’

     ‘Hi,’ I shout back. ‘I’ve had an accident.’

    ‘What!’ She’s now in the room with me. ‘What happened?’

    ‘I’m not sure. But a nice man from the telephone called to let me know that he’s going to pay me for it. Who knew that having accidents could be an actual job. If only my careers advisor at school had told me this, things might have been so different.’

    ‘And all he wanted was your bank details, right? So he could put the money straight in?’

     ‘No, I think my careers advisor just wanted to get through his day. To be honest, I don’t feel he was really committed to his job.

     ‘No, the guy on the phone.’

     ‘Oh, yes.’ I smile. ‘How did you know that?’

     ‘… You didn’t, did you?’ Nat seems to be frowning at me.

     ‘I might be stupid, Natalie, but I’m not stupid… And anyway, he rang off before I could give them to him.’

    ‘My dad usually just tells them that he has something boiling over on the cooker, and asks them to hang on for a moment while he goes to turn it down. Then he wanders off to read his paper.’

     ‘I like your dad,’ I say.

    ‘In some ways, I seem to have married him,’ she says.

    ‘I’ll take that as a slightly creepy compliment,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

The next morning, I find myself reading an online report about phishing scams in the UK. According to the police website, Actionfraud, there has been a 41% rise in telephone scam calls over the past year, amounting to £23.9m in losses. In my head, I compare this with a recent Guardian article I read that stated the current average UK salary to be £28,677. No wonder my careers teacher opted to leave ‘deception intended to result in financial or personal gain’off his list of possible career choices.

    ‘Typical of a state school education,’ I say to myself. ‘If only I’d gone to Eton.’

Adrian Sturrock: ‘We’re dreaming of a Skype Christmas.’

     ‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.’

     ‘That’s a strange way to start a conversation,’ I say.                    

     My wife tuts loudly and leaves the room.

     I’ve just done a twelve-hour shift. At the moment, I’m mostly thinking about murdering all of my colleagues, setting fire to the building, and disappearing to Bolivia to become a drugs lord. Failing that, can I afford to drop a few days and go part time?

     Some moments later, Nat re-enters the living room with a large glass of wine which she carefully places into my hand as she kneels in front of me and whispers, ‘I’m told that this magic potion enables the drinker to not give a single buggery about the world of work. Quick, drink it.’

     It takes a second glass for the magic to really kick in but, when it does, the result is absolute. ‘You’re right,’ I say, ‘I’m cured. I really don’t give a shit.’

     ‘Good. Now, can I please have your attention, just for a few moments? We need to talk about Christmas.’

     ‘Today, I learned that the Japanese for hedgehog translates as ‘needle mouse’, I say.

     ‘… What?’

     ‘Isn’t that great? I like a name that fully describes the object … like the Welsh word for microwave: ‘poppity ping’. Genius.’

     ‘I suppose the person who named the pullover totally nailed it for you, too?’

     ‘Exactly. It is what it does. Why would anybody call it a jumper? That’s just dishonest.’

     ‘… Is this your second or third wine?’ Nat takes the glass gently from my hand and places it at arm’s length behind her. ‘So, Christmas. What?’

     ‘Can we go somewhere sunny? I’m not a big fan of the UK in December; it’s merely tinsel and muddy puddles. And I’ve seen Love Actually too many times.’

     ‘We’ll need to see family too,’ she says. What are your thoughts on the best way to do this?

     ‘Skype,’ I suggest.

* * * * * * * *

As a child, Christmas just happens around you, while one is perfectly distracted by presents and shiny lights. I’ve attempted to drag this simplicity into adult life but more often than not the grown-up world doesn’t favour straightforwardness. To put this into more scientific terms, I’m told, nature likes to fill a vacuum. Where one might endeavour to remove a problem, therefore, nature will conspire to create new difficulties to take its place.

     At this time of year, nature’s usual weapon of choice is heavy use of the ‘F’ word: Family. Or more precisely, family politics.

     ‘Where did we spend Christmas last year?’ I ask

     ‘Last year, it was here,’ Nat reminds me. ‘The year before was in Somerset, with my parents.’

     ‘Then, logically, I guess this year will be at my mum’s, in Wales,’ I say. (I told you I like to keep things simple.)

     ‘Ah, thing is,’ Nat begins, ‘Rhys says he can’t get time off work, as he’s the newest member of staff. And I don’t want him spending Christmas alone.’ Rhys is Nat’s son; my step-son. ‘Any chance your mum could come to us?’

     And this is where grown-up life plots to make what should be a simple family get-together a social maze of dead ends. ‘The problem with that,’ I say, ‘is that she won’t leave the rest of the family. And we don’t have the space to invite them all.’

     So, there we have it: political stalemate. By the time the wine is all gone, Nat and I have taken this discussion around in circles more than once, with the apparent consensus being that, to please the majority, we are forced to spite ourselves – unlike Theresa May’s current Brexit plan, which aims to spite everybody, whilst pleasing nobody.

     The final decision seems … well … final: Christmas means Christmas. Apparently. Nat is to stay here, to ensure Rhys is not without company, and I am to spend this time in Wales, in order to represent us amongst the Welsh contingent.

     This feels neither a strong nor particularly stable decision, but it’s all that we have, unless we can re-negotiate our position and/or take the choice back to the people.

     One thing we don’t have to compromise on, however, is our decision to meet up – just the two of us – to see the New Year in, in Europe – thus stretching this current Brexit analogy to breaking point.  ‘I like the sunshine too,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * * *

In the meantime, the best that Nat and I can dream of is a Skype Christmas, complete with festive pullovers (not jumpers!), and the usual barrage of Christmas TV repeats where, no matter how you spin it, Two Ronnies do not make a right.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘Drinking wine, and not straight from the bottle, raises us to at least ‘council-estate-chic’’

We’re sitting on the doorstep with a glass of wine each. It’s dark and Nat is in her pajamas. But being we’re drinking a not too shabby pinot grigio from proper glasses (and not the bottle), we’ve decided that this raises us above ‘trailer trash’ to at least ‘council-estate-chic’.

     We’ve come out here to look at the moon. To me, it’s simply ‘pretty’, but according to the pretentious eight-year-old whose mum parked next to me at my local supermarket this evening, it’s in its ‘waxing crescent’ phase. FFS! Apparently, he’d been doing a ‘project’ at school on the various phases of the moon and was feeling the need to reel them off at the top of his voice, amongst the parked cars, like some kind of school nerd on tour.

     ‘I didn’t trip him,’ I say to Nat.

     ‘Well done,’ she says.

     ‘Sometimes, the moon looks nice, and sometimes … it’s just the moon,’ I add. ‘In my day, we made do with a ‘full moon’, a ‘half moon’, a ‘bit of a moon’, and a ‘where is the moon?’

     ‘Would that last one be during the cloudier evenings?’ Nat asks.

     ‘Don’t know, it was generally quite dark … But there really is no need for a ‘waxing crescent’. That just makes me think of plumbers.’

    ‘What’s your thoughts on a waning gibbous?’ she asks me.

    I prefer orangutans,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

Drinking wine under a brightly lit moon sounds romantic, and it might be if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re doing it on a residential street, with the woman from across the road looking disdainfully down on us from behind her curtains.

     ‘Not very subtle, is she,’ Nat says.

     ‘Not very,’ I say.

     It’s quite mild for a November evening and so I pop indoors to fetch the rest of the bottle. As I pour, I ask, ‘What are your weirdest memories of the different jobs you’ve done?’

     ‘That’s a bit of a random question,’ she says.

     ‘I took a six week career job once, at the Inland Revenue in Basingstoke, mainly so that I could pay off a loan before going to university.’

     ‘You worked for the enemy?’ she says, accusingly, She’s looking at me as if I’m suddenly a stranger to her.

     ‘I know, I say, I was young; I needed the money. I was just following orders.’

     ‘That was the most over-used line during the Nuremberg Trials.’ She says, raising her tone.

     ‘I’m not proud of it’ I say. ‘If it helps, I have no memories of the actual job whatsoever. I just remember that it was summer and I’d always eat my lunch out on the grassy verge opposite the building, so that I could feel the sun on my face. The only thing I really remember is that there was a Turkish man who worked in the offices next door who used to smile and say Hi each day as he passed. And the reason I remember him is because he’d always turn his head slightly to acknowledge me, and the breeze that constantly blew along that road, between the office blocks, would lift his comb-over to a ninety-degree angle, like a lid on a hinge. It was like he was politely raising his hat, except he wasn’t.’

      ‘It’s weird the things that rattle around inside your tiny little mind,’ Nat informs me.

      ‘So, what do you remember about your jobs?’ I ask.

      ‘I worked at some riding stables when I was a teen,’ she says. ‘I remember always being surprised by the number of holidaying city people who would rock up for riding lessons in stilettoes, and then complain about getting mud on them. It was like they’d never seen countryside before.’

     ‘I worked at a sheet metal-cutting place once. I was the guy who’d sit on a piece of rubber at the back end of the industrial guillotines. My job was to catch and stack the cut-to-size pieces as the sheets were fed into the machine. You had to get the catch-rhythm right or you’d risk injury to your hands or wrists as the machine spat out little razor sharp sections. After my first week, I was known as ‘The Mummy’.

      ‘I was a chambermaid for some holiday chalets in Somerset,’ Nat adds. ‘I remember that in one guest room I went into, someone had shat right in the middle of the bed and then meticulously made the bed back up over it. Funny, the things that stay in one’s memory.’

     ‘Ok, you win,’ I say.

      I pour the remnants of our wine bottle into our glasses and look back up towards the sky. ‘I think the moon has moved into its ‘where is the moon’phase,’ I say.

      ‘It’s getting cloudy,’ Nat says.

      We get up to return indoors, but not before raising our glasses to the woman across the street who still hasn’t realised that spying on people is best done with the lights off.

      ‘Look, it’s a partial eclipse of the room,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘That glove puppet won’t save up for itself, you know.’

     ‘Hello, you’re very lovely,’ my wife says to me, as I open my eyes and blink my way into the new day.

     She’s leaning on her pillow, looking down at me. I’m conscious only enough to be aware that I probably don’t look my best right now, feeling all bleary eyed and bed-headed.    

     ‘Thank you,’ I say. I smile up at her. ‘I like how you keep the bar so low.’

     ‘Yes, it’s recently been adapted for wheelchairs,’ she says, as she rolls out of bed and crosses the room. ‘I’ll leave you with that thought’, she adds, as she kisses me once on the head before disappearing downstairs.

     ‘ … So was that a compliment or … Hm. Probably not,’ I conclude, as I pull myself out from beneath the covers and am confronted with the same confused vagrant that I’m always confronted with at this time in the morning as I pass the bedroom mirror on the way to the bathroom.

     Downstairs, I can hear music playing. It’s reassuring; It’s homely. Upstairs, the vagrant in the mirror is willing me to call in sick, or, better still, fake my own death and be done with it, or at least get my stupid hair cut.

     I’m trying to think of a reason why I shouldn’t pull a sicky and jump on the next plane to somewhere warm; start a new adventure; do it now. I can’t really think of a reason not to – not one that I actually care about. But the thing is, some utter bastard, way back when I was a child, taught me the concept of deferred gratification. ‘That glove puppet won’t save up for itself, you know.’ It was the same utter bastard who taught me empathy. As Larkin pointed out, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’.

     Larkin also posed the question, ‘Why should I let the toad work squat on my life?’ Amongst these voices from the past, I’m left with both the question and the answer to my eternal morning dilemma. I’m seriously starting to consider organised crime as an antidote to the day job.

* * * * * * * *

     ‘You’d be no good at it,’ Nat informs me, as I offer her my latest criminal masterplan over a glass of wine, that evening.

     ‘Why not?’ I say. I’m intelligent. We’re intelligent people. We must be able to come up with some kind of cunning plan between us.

     ‘Thing is,’ she says, ‘I like my job … and my liberty.’

     ‘I guess I’m on my own with this one then,’ I say.

     ‘Yep.’

     ‘If something were to go wrong, though, and I get put in prison, would you take a day off to come rescue me?’

     ‘I’d have to check my diary,’ she says. ‘Wednesdays aren’t usually good for me; I’m generally quite busy on Wednesdays.’

     ‘Oh, then I’ll try to be put away over a weekend,’ I say, annoyed. ‘…Unbelievable. Just … unbelievable.’

* * * * * * * *

     She’s right, of course, I probably couldn’t pull off a successful white-collar crime. And I’m far too arrogant to commit a blue-collar one. White-collar crime is usually committed online these days. And I’m not very techy, if I’m honest. I can hardly retune the TV. I’ll need a techy friend. Someone I trust. But can you totally trust anyone. Another criminal on board would just add to the risk.

     A friend of mine once had the idea of ram-raiding a bank with a van full of baboons. ‘Reverse in and just let the back doors swing open,’ he said, ‘The baboons will pile into the bank and take out all the bank staff and any witnesses. They really are vicious creatures.’

     ‘And how will you get the baboons back in the truck, in order to collect up the money?’ I asked.

     ‘Food. Throw a large bunch of bananas into the back of the truck as soon as all the people have been taken out. Simple.’ His answer was so instant as to suggest that my question was just plain ridiculous.

     ‘And the bank’s safe?’, I asked. ‘How will you get the safe doors open?’

     ‘… I’m, um, I’m still working on that bit,’ he said.

     In the meantime, I’ve got work in the morning.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: This evening, I’m finding myself forced to defend both me and Leonardo Di Caprio

My wife has tasked me with choosing a movie to watch in bed this evening.

After a bit of a rummage, I return with a political romance thing. It’s an adaptation of a John Le Carre book that I’ve seen over a dozen times before but which I still enjoy. I slip it into the player.

     ‘What have you chosen,’ she asks.

     I hold up the case. ‘The Constant Gardener,’ I reply.

     ‘STOP GARDENING!’ she shouts from under the duvet. This is her stock response whenever this particular movie is mentioned.

     ‘This is probably my all-time favourite film,’ I say, ignoring her.

     ‘No, it’s not.’

     ‘What? Yes, it is.’ I’m surprised by her reaction.

     ‘What’s your real all-time favourite film?’ she asks. ‘This is just your posturing all-time favourite.’

      ‘What? Why do you say that?’ I’m instantly annoyed by her accusation, and feel the need to defend myself. ‘I’ve watched this movie hundreds of times,’ I remind her, ‘I’ve even got the book … and the soundtrack. It’s my favourite movie.’ My feelings on this matter are quickly turning from annoyed to affronted by the idea that I’m not allowed to choose my own all-time favourite film. ‘You were OK when my all-time favourite movie was Blood Diamond, just a few weeks ago,’ I say. ‘Why is Blood Diamond allowed to be my all-time favourite but this one isn’t?’ I’m standing my ground on this, albeit from a laying down position.

     ‘Is Blood Diamond the one with Leonardo Di Caprio not being able to do a South African accent?’ she asks.

     ‘Yes, I mean no. I think his accent was perfect in it.’ I’m now finding myself forced to defend both me and Leonardo.

    ‘There you go, Blood Diamond can’t be a posturing movie, not with terrible accents like that in it.’ She smiles at me.

I can’t really tell if this argument is still on trend or whether she’s just teasing me now.

While the trailers run, I think about the concept of ‘posturing movies’. Mainly, I’m thinking about what actually makes a movie a posturing movie, and is this movie one of them.

Being Nat is clearly the gate-keeper of her own arbitrary definitions, I put my question to her: ‘What else, in your mind, would be a posturing movie?’

He answer is surprisingly spontaneous, as though this is something universally understood by everybody except me: ‘Hotel RwandaLawrence of Arabia… and anything with Ben Kingsley in … except Sexy Beast, of course.

I own copies of both Hotel Rwanda and Lawrence of Arabia, but I consider it not in my interest to mention this right now. I’m not an idiot. ‘So, what do you imagine (I stress this word at her) is my actual (I stress this word too) all-time favourite movie?’ I’m wearing my accusing face as I direct this question (and my face) at her.

     ‘Probably something like Dude, Where’s my Car,’ she says, staring right back at me.

     ‘And this is your actual perception of me?’

The trailers end and I press the remote button to start the main feature. Within minutes, there is snoring coming from Nat’s side of the bed. I reach for the volume button, while gently nudging her.

‘Stop Gardening,’ she mumbles, from beneath the duvet.

The only posturing thing about The Constant Gardener, I consider, is the lead actor; it is the fact that Ralph Feinnes wants to be called ‘Raif’. Understandable, I guess. I mean, nobody other than a glove puppet should ever be called Ralph. But ‘Raif’ will always be Ralph to me … See, I’m not pretentious.

This is my all-time favourite movie.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘I’m not sure the world is ready for another leaked sex tape from me.’

 

Student : How do you spell enquirement?

Me: Spell what?

Student: Enquirement.

Me: Do you mean enquiry?

Student: No, Enquirement.

Me: There’s no such word.

Student: Yes there is.

Me: … There really isn’t.

Student: Yeah, but there is though.

Me: (sigh) OK. Spell it as you’d say it … Oh, and don’t forget that it has a silent ‘Q’

Student: Ok, thanks

* * * * * * * *

     ‘And this is my work day. Every day.’ I say this to my wife as we are sitting in the back garden, drinking wine and watching the sun go down over the trees at the far end.

     Nat doesn’t respond, she just smiles. She opted to take a job in which she manages actual grown ups, while I went for the thirteen weeks holiday per year approach and got into secondary school teaching. At least I had the foresight to quickly drop teaching English, in favour of teaching Business, which means that I don’t have to teach little people. Business isn’t taught lower down the school. A cunning move on my part, I thought.

     ‘At least you teach the more mature students,’ Nat offers.

     ‘Not that you’d notice,’ I say. ‘Last week I found myself in conversation with a fifteen year old who was speculating on how many months there may or may not be in a full calendar year.’

     ‘To be fair,’ says Nat, ‘it doesn’t get much easier managing adults.’She pours me another wine.  ‘I’ve had my fair share of staff for whom, in honesty, if brains were dynamite, their hats would remain firmly on.’

* * * * * * * *

After all is said, however, my wife enjoys her job. She says she would continue to do it no matter how rich we were. I don’t understand this, though I accept that she believes what she says. For me, the day job is the price I pay for not being clever enough to work for myself. I ponder this as the last streaks of red sky disappear behind the trees.

     ‘… Crime,’ I say, looking into my empty glass.

     ‘What?’

     ‘Crime. Criminals don’t have to pay tax. It’s a tax exempt profession.’

     ‘You could achieve the same by becoming a politician,’ Nat reminds me.

     ‘Good point,’ I say. ‘… I’d rather not dirty myself by mixing in such company.

     ‘Criminals?’

    ‘Politicians.

     ‘Oh,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * * *

 

Rolling Stones guitarist, Ronnie Wood, is about to publish a book of concert set lists that he’s written out in his best handwriting. He’s a fan of magic marker pens, apparently. When you’re a celebrity, this is all you need to do for a book deal.

     ‘Celebrity sells,’ Nat reminds me. ‘No matter what the product is.’

     She’s right, of course. I need to celebrify myself if I want to unchain myself from the day job. But how does one do this? I write books. They sell well enough, but not well enough to give me the kind of celebrity that would help me sell more books, which, in turn, would increase my celebrity status further … in order to sell more … and so on.

     ‘Think about how other celebrities get themselves publicity, and copy them,’ Nat suggests.

     ‘I’m not sure the world is ready for another leaked sex tape from me,’ I say.

‘I really wasn’t … Oh, never mind,’ she says, looking oddly at me.  ‘Perhaps you could shout your chapters from the rooftop of Apple Corporation, in Savile Row, just until the cops arrive, thus re-enacting The Beatles impromptu 1969 gig. Though choose a warm day if you want people to stick around.’

     ‘I don’t feel you’re taking this conversation seriously,’ I say. ‘Should I also consider floating a pig over Battersea Power Station?’

     ‘On the other hand, no matter how successful you become, you’d always just be Adie to me.’

     ‘Even Jesus was just ‘the carpenter’s kid’ in his home town,’ I say.

     ‘Are you comparing yourself to Jesus?’

     ‘No … Maybe.’

* * * * * * * *

The next day, I’m back at work.

Student: My dad says there isn’t a silent ‘Q’ in Enquirement

Me: Really? How would hespell it?

Student: E…N…

Me: Stop. Just stop.

* * * * * * * *