Adrian Sturrock: ‘If I’ve got to have problems, let them all be first world ones.’

Nat is annoyed because, apparently, I disturbed her while she was applying moisturiser for bed.

     ‘Now look what you’ve done,’ she says, ‘I’ve gone and put day cream on instead of night cream.’

     ‘Really?’ I pick up both jars and study them closely. I can’t really tell the difference between the two. ‘Are you worried that your face might suffer some kind of jet lag by the morning?’ I ask.

     ‘Very funny,’ she says, sliding a dollop of day (or night – who knows!) cream across my cheek with her fingers.

     ‘To be fair,’ I say, ‘my face hasn’t fully recovered from the clocks going forward … in 1998.’

     ‘So you haven’t always looked this bewildered?’

     ‘Very funny right back at you,’ I say, rubbing my cream-smeared face across hers.

* * * * * * * *

First world problems, of course, take a number of shapes. I realise that there are many people without food in the world but, earlier this evening, I heard myself complaining that my pizza box wouldn’t fit in the fridge.

     ‘It’s all a matter of perspective,’ Nat tells me.

     ‘Well, I tried standing further away from it,’ I say, ‘but, annoyingly, the fridge gets smaller too. And at some point I still have to get close enough to both in order to attempt wedging the one into the other. Bloody physics.’

     ‘That’s not what I … never mind!’ She gets into bed and switches off the light.

    I stumble around a bit longer, stub my toe, then give up on my day altogether and get into bed too.

* * * * * * * *

I lay here, thinking about the things that annoy me on a daily basis, turning each one over in my mind, assessing to what extent any of them really matter in the scheme of things. After considering the hair that the cat fastidiously lays over the sofas each day, in preparation for my return from work, and the fact that we live in a hard water area and so we’re reduced to having to buy bottled water in order to stop the kettle furring up, my mind inevitably moves to the biggest irritation in my life – the fact that I’m employed. This, in turn, directs me to the words of that great philosopher and social commentator, Morrissey: ‘I was looking for a job and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now.’

     I have always understood his dilemma, and I continue to feel his pain – my pain – on a daily basis. But I’ve only now considered how very first-world this actually is, as problems go. I blame Durkheim. If it wasn’t for him, spending his time being all French and inventing the ‘insatiable appetite’, I’d probably be happy with what I’ve got, would stop striving for things that I can’t attain, and would spend more time comparing myself to those who have less, rather than to those with more. Who knows, this might even lead me to performing more charitable acts.

     But such is life (or ‘c’est la vie’, as Durkheim and his mates would have one believe), I am destined to continue complaining about having to buy bottled water to supplement my clean tap water, while watching African street children on television drinking from polluted streams.

     Like it or not, I am part of the great Western problem. I might offer up my £3 per month to WaterAid but, as Joey from Friends points out, ‘there’s no such thing as an unselfish act– I do this to salve my conscience, in order to give myself the mental space to thirst for other unnecessary things that I don’t have in my life.

* * * * * * * *

I’m jolted out of my thoughts by Nat, who suddenly turns over and knees me in the spine.

     ‘We need a King sized bed,’ I huff to myself.

     ‘We’ve already got one,’ whispers Nat, in response.

     ‘I thought you were asleep, I say.’

     ‘I am,’ she says, ‘this is merely the voice of your conscience.’

     ‘My conscience sounds remarkably similar to you,’ I say.

     ‘I can’t help that,’ says my conscience, before turning over again and going back to sleep.

* * * * * * * *

I lay here a few moments longer, irritated by the purgatory being inflicted on me by my pillows, as they imprison me within my current ‘one pillow is too low, but two pillows is too high’ conundrum. Finally, I turn over sharply, take hold of the top pillow, and frisbee it across the room.

    Immediately, I feel a second knee connecting with my back, as a voice behind my right ear whispers up closely, ‘Hello, it’s your conscience again. Just a quickie to say that If you don’t lay still and go to sleep, I’m likely to stab you to death with your own bedside lamp,’

    ‘My bedside lamp isn’t very sharp,’ I whisper back.

    ‘Exactly! It’ll hurt more.’

    ‘… Point taken,’ I whisper, and resign myself to laying still.

* * * * * * * *

I suppose that being stabbed with my very own table lamp would be considered a first world problem in some corners of the world, with the fact that I’m rich enough to own one being the clincher.  I think this to myself, quietly … in my head … with as little movement as possible.

    (It is quite a nice lamp.)

* * * * * * * *








Adrian Sturrock: ‘If these were meant to be the best days of our lives, then I’m clearly doing something wrong.’

I wake up from a horrible dream in which I’m eight again, it’s a Monday morning, a school day, and I’m dreading bumping into the school bully – or Mr Thomas, as he likes to be called.

     As I come downstairs for breakfast, Ziggy, our dog, passes me on the landing. ‘I’ve eaten your homework,’ he says, ‘and no one is going to believe you. No one.’

     Suddenly, I’m in my classroom and Mr Thomas is bearing down on me. I’m trying to explain my situation to him.

     ‘And how do you know your dog ate it?’ he snarls.

     ‘Because he … told … me?’ I whimper, knowing that Ziggy has totally out-manoeuvred me.

     I look up at Mr Thomas, then down at my feet. One of my shoes is missing.

* * * * * * * *

And this pretty much sums up the trauma that my school days have left me with.

     To be fair, it wasn’t so much a school that I was forced to attend, as a slightly sadistic day centre. If you liked rugby or cricket, Mr Thomas liked you. If, like me, you were interested in neither, and were just biding your time until you would discover skiing, in your mid-teens, then he really didn’t. Mr Thomas wasn’t a large man, but I was eight, and when you’re eight, most men are large-ish.

     I didn’t really learn very much at junior school, other than how to keep out of trouble. Sometimes, I even managed this. It was the school psychopath, Jason, who taught me Biology. He was in the year above me and was made to sit next to me by Mr Thomas, as punishment for Jason’s intimidation of other children in the playground, though I’m still not sure whether the punishment was aimed at Jason or me.

     What I was convinced about, however, was that it wasn’t completely fair to punish Jason like this. He was the kind of kid who could intimidate you just by existing. In retrospect, I don’t think Jason had any choice in the matter, mostly because of the way his words and his face worked out of synch with each other. He could be offering to share his sweets with you, but his face would look at you in the way a sinister stranger might stare you out while threatening to kill your entire family.

     One morning, Jason trapped me in a corner of the classroom in order to instruct me on how babies were made. He even drew me pictures to illustrate his points.

     ‘Um … ok,’ I said, feeling slightly freaked out. I didn’t believe him, mostly due to my own scepticism over whether my parents would ever involve themselves in such things. To be honest, I was still grappling with the existence of Santa at the time. ‘First thing’s first,’ I thought.

     This kid, who took it upon himself to suddenly be my best friend, followed me around for weeks, which resulted in my real friends being too scared to hang out with me at all. He’d sometimes impress me with his brilliance, and sometimes surprise me with how dumb he could be, like when he asked me whether I thought all Australians were marsupial. Some days, you could feel the IQ of the entire room shooting up merely because he’d been granted permission to go to the toilet. I instinctively knew that he would one day grow up to be the sort of person who would give out unsolicited advice while playing a fruit machine.

     Sometimes, Jason would come out with the most random things, often at the most random times. He once turned and whispered to me, as he was being manhandled out of the classroom by the Headteacher for filling the classroom door locks with purple play dough, ‘You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.’ He winked at me as he said this, as though he was passing on a special secret to me. I still wonder whether this was an insanely brilliant piece of cryptic philosophical metaphor that even my middle-aged self continues to have difficulty unravelling or whether he was, in fact, merely insane.

* * * * * * * *

A few days ago. I discovered a friend request from Jason on my social media page.

     ‘This is what has probably prompted my schooldays dreams,’ I say to Nat.

     ‘It could be worse,’ she says, ‘it could have been a friend request from Mr Thomas.’

     I feel my left eye twitch slightly as she says this.

     ‘So, what was Jason like?’ she asks. 

     ‘He had a habit of walking into things – shops mostly. He was a prolific shoplifter.’

     ‘Ok,’ says Nat. ‘Maybe that’s why you haven’t heard from him in a while. I’m not sure they allow social media in prisons.’

     ‘Fair point,’ I say to myself, as I move to decline his invitation, block his profile, and, just for a moment, consider officially changing my name.

* * * * * * * *

As I reflect on my dream of last night, I think to myself that perhaps he really was just a guy with an overly inquisitive mind, a total lack of self-awareness, and an inability to empathise … but these are still not acceptable credentials for a school teacher.

* * * * * * * * 





Adrian Sturrock: ‘There’s nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise looking like your passport photo.’

‘Did you sort out your passport, today,’ Nat asks, as she comes in from work.

     ‘Turns out you can do it all online,’ I say.

     ‘I know,’ she says. ‘So, did you do it?’

     ‘I made a start.’

     ‘A start?’

     ‘I got as far as the bit where they ask you to take a picture of yourself.’

     ‘Did you have difficulty uploading it?’ she asks. ‘The site was being a bit temperamental when I was renewing mine.’

     ‘I didn’t get that far.’

     ‘Why not?’

     ‘It was my face,’ I say. ‘My face was being temperamental.’

     Nat stops what she’s doing and looks at me. ‘What?’

     ‘My face has been stuck on ugly today … I’ll try it again tomorrow.’

     ‘Why will it be different tomorrow?’

     ‘… I don’t think I like your tone,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

There are a lot of rules to taking a passport photo. You have to look straight in at the camera, no smiling, must use clear light only, no sunglasses or hats. I’m guessing Photoshop is out of the question, then.

    ‘Whatever I submit I’m going to be stuck with for the next ten years,’ I say. ‘Like last time.’ I hold up my present passport picture to remind her. ‘I don’t think that sniggering is a very supportive gesture,’ I say.

     ‘Nobody looks great in their passport photo,’ says Nat, ‘I think the deal is that you’re meant to look a bit like a dishevelled criminal caught in the act, it saves the police and the media time and effort later, should you ever have reason to go on the run. Then, it’s just a quick copy and paste for them, for the “This man is dangerous and should not be approached” posters.

     ‘Well, I’m not dangerous,’ I complain.

     ‘You have been,’ she says.

     ‘I don’t think leaving the hairdryer plugged in all day constitutes ‘dangerous’,’ I say.

     ‘I think we should leave that up to the insurance company to decide,’ says Nat.

     ‘One time,’ I say. ‘One bloody time.’

     ‘ … Twice,’ she says, then quickly ducks out of the room before I can argue further.

* * * * * * * *

This morning I get up early. As soon as Nat leaves for work, I reach into the bedside drawer and take out the home hair-dye kit I bought yesterday.

     While I’m in the shower, I think back to when my friend, Jon, got mistakenly arrested for a robbery he didn’t do. They let him keep a copy of his arrest photograph.

     ‘You look like your own photofit,’ I said, looking down into the pic he brought to the pub with him.

     ‘I was in there a long time before they took it,’ he said, ‘I fell asleep on my hand.’

     I’ve left the dye on a little longer than I meant to. It’s gone too dark. I wiggle my hair around in the mirror – as if wiggling it will make it lighter again. I note that my skin now looks quite pale, in contrast to it.

     In an attempt to bring back a degree of balance between my hair and face, I reach into the bottom of my wardrobe and take out the spray tan I bought in preparation for our last foreign holiday, the one that I then forgot to pack, rendering me the number one most translucent body on the beach that year.

     By 2pm, I have a worryingly orange face to go with my overly darkened hair. I look in the mirror again and am instantly reminded of what despair feels like. I look around the room for any inspiration I can pull out of the air, to limit the damage already caused.

     I quickly realise that changing my shirt isn’t going to be the answer, and so am forced to pursue a more radical approach.

     ‘Where’s your mum’s make-up bag?’ I ask the cat, who has now entered the bedroom and is probably wondering who this total stranger standing in front of him is.

     I lean into the mirror. Maybe if I thin out my eyebrows a little with these tweezers it will detract from the heaviness of my hair colour.

     It’s 5.30pm when I hear Nat’s key in the door. What am I going to tell her? I avoid a final brave look into the mirror and, instead, opt for a different shirt. 

     ‘Hello,’ she shouts up the stairs.

     ‘Hello,’ I shout back.

     ‘It was a crazy day at work, today,’ I hear her say, as she takes off her coat and starts her way up the stairs. ‘First off, there was a traffic jam on the way in and then … (as she enters the bedroom, she catches sight of me and pauses) …Who are you?’ she says. ‘And what have you done with my husband?’

     ‘Your husband is temporarily unavailable,’ I say, as I look up from where I’m sat on the edge of the bed, where I’m fairly convinced that I’m looking like something resembling a dejected clown.

     She comes a little closer to take me all in. ‘…Oh, my …,’ she says, and places a hand over her, quite frankly, unsupportive smile.

     ‘I know,’ I say.

     ‘And did you sort out your passport?’

     ‘I sent in a picture,’ I say.

     ‘Really? … Oh, my’

* * * * * * * *

Three weeks later, I receive a letter from the Passport Office. It informs me that they were unable to process my application. 

     Alongside the letter, they have enclosed a leaflet outlining what is and isn’t acceptable as a passport photograph. The list includes the usual things:  I must look straight into the camera, no smiling, must use clear light only, no wearing of sunglasses or hats, etc. At the bottom of the page, someone at the passport office has run a highlighter pen over the words, ‘No use of Photoshop or similar’.

     ‘But it’s … How absolutely bloody rude!’ I say.


* * * * * * * *




Adrian Sturrock: ‘I try to live life spontaneously, but it never goes to plan’

‘I can’t be expected to make everyone happy, I’m not tequila,’ I say.

     I’m complaining about the fact that whenever I get time off work and start making plans for how best to spend that time, pretty much everybody I’ve ever met tries to fill in my diary for me, with suggestions of me visiting them or them visiting me.

     My wife tries to put this into perspective for me. ‘And this is a problem because …?’ She feels that I’m being unreasonable. And she’s right, I am. I know I am.

     ‘I’m not trying to be ungrateful,’ I say, ‘I recognise that the opposite would be to feel like nobody wants to hang out with me at all. And I do like spending time with people. All I’m saying is that I wish there was a happy medium.’

     ‘Uri Geller,’ she says.


     ‘Uri Geller. He’s a happy medium. At least he seems quite up-beat on television. Perhaps you could hang out with him.’

     ‘Then I’d have even less time to myself,’ I say, ‘I’d have yet another person to shoehorn into my limited social time, as well as having to rush around hiding all the cutlery every time he came over.’

     ‘I think you’d like him,’ says Nat.

     ‘I think you’re missing the point,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

The real issue isn’t about other people, it’s about me. It’s about the importance I place on my free time. Someone said to me years ago that the two most valuable commodities in life are space and time. This resonated with me then and remains with me now precisely because it articulated what I already subconsciously knew. Outside of people, the only important things in my life are creativity and travel. For the first thing, I need time, for the second, I need money. My day job finances the time it steals from me. It really is as frustrating as that.

     The fact that I rarely get much free time is why I’m constantly trying to force too much into it. I try to articulate this to Nat: ‘I know that this isn’t ideal, but I end my day feeling very frustrated if I haven’t had at least one good idea or not experienced at least one interesting place, even if that one place is only in my mind, in the planning of a trip.’

     ‘That’s understandable but not altogether normal,’ says Nat. ‘Most of us have to work.’

     Thing is, I’ve never counted myself as part of the ‘most of us’, despite the evidence.

     ‘So what makes you so special?’ my mum would ak me as a teenager, in her attempts to ground me a little.

     ‘There is no ‘special’,’ I’d tell her. ‘I don’t tend to compare myself with anybody else, which is why there’s also no ‘normal’. The fight is in the distance between where I want to be in life and where I currently am. The journey is the reward’

     ‘Delusions of grandeur,’ she would conclude.

     ‘It’s all I’ve got,’ I‘d say.


* * * * * * * *

When I first came across the movie, The Truman Show, I was shocked to find that there was someone else out there who saw things my way. As a child, my fantasy was that I was perennially on TV, that my whole life was being filmed for consumption by the general public. This meant that everything I ever did had to be like someone was looking in on me. Dance like nobody’s watching? Not me. Even the way I sat in a chair was designed for viewers. I’d watch chat shows and copy how the cool people sat. I’d learn their vocabulary, scruitinise their outlooks on life. It was like Oz was on television, populated by active and inspirational people, while I was trapped in Kansas without the shoes. My mentors were celebrities, were fakes. I was the biggest fake of all – I wasn’t even a celebrity. I liked being a fake, a walking art installation, wherever I happened to be. This gave me a sense of self, a feeling that I didn’t have to be weighed down by the insomnia-filled mundanity of my reality.

     ‘And did you ever have counselling for that,’ Nat asks, smiling.

     ‘If we could have afforded counselling,’ I say, ‘I could probably have afforded to live my life in a way that better reflected my interests, rather than fantasise that my world was bigger than it actually was.

     ‘Fair point,’ she says, ‘but you’re still rather odd.’

     ‘I know,’ I say.

     ‘I like it,’ she says.

     ‘So do I,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

Today, as I wake up, it’s sunny. Neither Nat nor I have to work today. Just for a moment, my instinct is to attempt to sidestep the vicious circle I have created for myself – to do something spontaneous – maybe drive to the beach – feel the sand beneath me, feel the breeze on my skin. Then I remember that I actually live in the most inland town in the country. I’m not really sure how this happened or why we live here. Work, I guess.

     I pick up my phone and turn to Google: Things to do in the southeast, I write. I scroll through the usual National Trust options, and galleries in London, most of which we’ve done to death in recent years.

     I look at the bedside clock. It’s still early. ‘Fancy a quick road trip to Bruges?’ I say, nudging Nat awake.

     ‘Hm?’ she stirs slightly.

     ‘It’s only a ninety-minute drive from Calais,’ I say, as I Google ferry crossing prices. ‘We might even make it in time for lunch.’

     ‘When did you renew your passport?’ Nat mumbles.

     ‘… Bugger!’ I throw my phone across the bed and wander downstairs to make coffee.

     Moments later, Nat has followed me into the kitchen. She hugs me.

     ‘We could drive to Oxford,’ I say. ‘Play on the boats? On the river?’

     She points to the calendar on the wall. ‘We have an appointment in Watford at 1.30pm today,’ she reminds me.

     I look at the calendar, then at her, before storming out of the room.

     ‘Where you going?’ she asks.

     ‘I’m off to make friends with Uri,’ I say. I pull three spoons from my back pocket. ‘He’s going to love these.’

* * * * * * * *





Adrian Sturrock: ‘You’re never too old to learn something stupid’

‘The guy who discovered milk … what exactly was he doing?’

      My wife looks up at me from her tea-making. She peers into the carton in her hand. ‘You’re the only person I know who can make the most mundane thing suddenly seem a little creepy,’ she says.

     ‘You are indeed welcome,’ I say.

     She sniffs the milk.

                                                                                                                          ‘Pervert!’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

I’m going through a phase of insomnia at the moment. It doesn’t happen often but when it does it can leave me for hours with only my mind for company. And when my mind and I are left together in the same room, unattended, chances are that I’m going to end up thinking things.

     It’s 2.34am. I’m wide awake and I have a full day of work ahead of me in the morning. I’m trying to ignore my mind, which is currently suggesting that I’d probably quite like to go for a drive right now. I find myself contemplating it: roof down, music on, minimal traffic, miles of fast road once I get out of town …

     ‘You’re going to feel like crap in the morning if you don’t get some sleep,’ my wife mumbles at me, as she is stirred by the brightness of my iPad.

     ‘Sorry,’ I say, tilting my tablet away from her.

     ‘Switch it off,’ she says, ‘get some sleep.’

     I stroke her head with every intention of ignoring her, as she falls back into her own sleep.

     I put my iPad down and lay on my back. ‘I wonder who first thought it was a good idea to lick a mushroom,’ I think to myself. Not only are they aesthetically unappealing in their natural state, but they are actually a fungus. More to the point, was there someone there to make comparative notes between the one the dead guy licked and the one the unaffected person decided was quite delicious. And did they take sketches back to the village – ‘this one good, this one … not so.’

     Someone must have been documenting it. I’m glad it wasn’t me, I’d probably have lost my notes on the way home and would have had to revert to tentative licking-then-waiting, to see how I felt. It must have been like winning the lottery for the guy who stumbled upon hallucinogenic ones. 

     ‘Seriously, the alarm will be going off in under four hours,’ says Nat.

     When I’m not trapped in the world of day-job, not being able to sleep isn’t a problem, I simply get up out of bed and go do things. It occurs to me as I consider this that what I’m currently experiencing is therefore not insomnia but merely my body rebelling against the curfew that the world of work places on it. It’s right that my body rebels, it means that my soul has not yet been totally crushed.

     I roll over onto my side and close my eyes. ‘Chickens are another ugly source of food,’ I think to myself. The odds of finding out that they are also delicious must have been a close call. I guess that came about by humans watching other animals eating each other, and copying them – ‘Wild fox eats chicken and doesn’t die … maybe I do same. Wow! Left it too near fire … actually, this tastes rather good, I can’t wait for somebody to invent a nice satay to go with it’.

     I click my iPad back on. It seems that a lot of discoveries and inventions were achieved by mistake: Post-it notes was a successful failure for a guy who was trying to invent a super-strong glue but only got as far as an easily peel-off-able adhesive and a quick marketing spin designed to cover his ass in front of his boss.

     It also says here that Viagra was originally known as UK92480, and was designed to combat angina. That must have been an interesting boardroom discussion:

                                                ‘Hey, Jim, how’s the research going on UK92480?’

                                                ‘Well, John, unfortunately, we seem to be getting rather      
                                                limited results with our angina subjects at present.’

                                                ‘That’s a shame, Jim. Is there anything I can put in my
                                                report here?’

                                                ‘Not really, Sir.’

                                                ‘Tell him, Jim …’

                                                ‘Shut up, Ron.’

                                                ‘Tell me what, Jim?’

                                                ‘Well, Sir, at first I thought it was just because of Debbie
                                                from accounts, but …’

     ‘GO TO SLEEP!’ Nat asserts, turning away from me with an exaggerated flump, before burying her head fully under the duvet. It’s always the scale of the flump that tells me how annoyed she is with me. I reckon this last one must have measured at least seven out of ten on the flumpometre. ‘That’s quite a severe one,’ I think to myself, so decide to switch off my iPad for the last time.

     A few moments later, Nat sits up. ‘Oh, it’s no good, now that you’ve woken me, I have to go pee.’

     ‘Sorry,’ I say.

     On her return, she gets back into bed and snuggles up to me. ‘What were you doing, anyway?’ she asks.

     ‘Nothing much, really,’ I say. And then my mind moves on. ‘When I was a kid,’ I tell her, ‘I spent almost every art lesson at school trying to invent a new colour, but all I ever achieved were various shades of brown. I hardly ever painted an actual picture.’

     ‘I’m not sure that ‘Various Shades of Brown’ would have made as good a movie title,’ she says.

     I consider it for a few seconds before conceding that it would probably have got a mixed response at the focus group sessions. ‘Sounds like a very niche type of adult movie,’ I say.

     ‘It’s ok to stop talking,’ says Nat.


* * * * * * * *

As soon as I eventually get off to sleep, the alarm goes off, or at least this is how it feels. I reach out to find Nat under the covers but she’s not there. I open my eyes to see her standing over me with a cup of coffee.

     ‘Looking like crap,’ she says.

     ‘Feeling like crap,’ I say.

     ‘Work is probably going to hurt a little, today.’

     ‘Today might be the day that I fake my own death,’ I say.

     ‘And tomorrow might be the day that I make that a reality,’ says Nat. 

     I think she might mean it this time.

* * * * * * * *



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Adrian Sturrock: ‘The best thing about the new 5p carrier bag charge is that the cupboard next to our sink is now worth £2,987.’

     ‘Stop!’ I shout, as my wife reaches into our kitchen cupboard and pulls out an old plastic Marks & Spencer bag to put rubbish into.


     ‘Don’t use that one.’

     She turns the bag over in her hand. ‘Why not?’

     ‘That could be a collector’s item, one day.’

     Nat looks at me, then back at the bag, before rolling her eyes and continuing to pour her rubbish into it.

     ‘You’ll regret it when our currency plummets and it’s only our carrier bags we have left to barter with.’

     ‘If we ever get to that stage,’ she says, ‘I’ll probably sell you for medical experiments and make up the shortfall that way.’

     Bag-for-life suddenly takes on a whole new meaning in my mind. ‘I see how it is,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

It’s all David Attenborough’s fault, of course. First it was plastic straws polluting the sea, then it was vast floating islands of carrier bags that could be seen from space, and now it’s the ocean of self-blame that I carry with me regarding how people I can’t control package my food.

     I care, but I’m frustrated. In fact, I’m frustrated because I care. We’ve just shopped, and the inside of our fridge has suddenly become a potential subject for a thesis on environmental morality. I open the door and the light comes on to display a vulgar grotto of plastic packaging reminiscent of a dystopian game show grand prize reveal. These days, I find that I eat to forget as much as to hide the evidence. You can actually measure my guilt in calories.

     ‘This is the downside of online shopping,’ says Nat, ‘You click the product but you don’t always see the wrapping until it’s too late. ‘

     She’s got a point, but why does every convenience in life have to come with a moral price-tag? It took me three years to get her to agree to trying internet shopping – mainly because she says she prefers to squeeze her own fruit before she buys it.

     ‘But what about when you send me to buy the fruit?’ I say. ‘You don’t get to squeeze it then.’

     ‘I trust your squeeze,’ she says.

     I suddenly feel a wave of pride from this statement, though I’m not altogether sure why.

     ‘But the shop people are professional squeezers,’ I say, ‘They squeeze for a living. I can’t even claim to squeeze as a hobby.’

     ‘Where is this conversation going?’ she asks me.

     ‘… I’m really not sure,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

A few days later, there’s a knock at the door.

     ‘Is that my package?’ I ask Nat, as she moves to answer it.

     She stops in her tracks. ‘… Hang on … nope, my telepathic ability doesn’t seem to be working at the moment, I’m going to have to actually answer the door, this time.’

     ‘Have you tried switching it off and switching it back on again?’ I ask.

     She leaves the room.

     She comes back with a large parcel. ‘What is this?’ she asks, handing it to me.

     ‘I found an online shop that sells paper carrier bags,’ I say. I thought we could split the package in half and keep a stash of them in the boots of our cars – a first step towards cutting down on our plastics consumption?’

     ‘Tree murderer!’ she says.

     ‘I can’t win!’ I say, smiling.

     The irony of the fact that this supply of ‘eco-friendly’ shopping bags comes rolled up in its own plastic packaging doesn’t pass us by. ‘Small steps,’ I say. ‘Small steps, if we are going to stay ahead of al-Qaeda.’

     ‘What? Al-Qaeda?’

     ‘Apparently,’ I say, tilting the news item on my iPad towards her. ‘Al-Shabaab, the Somali militant Islamic off-shoot of al-Qaeda has already banned single use plastic bags, citing them as a serious threat to humans, livestock and the environment – just like the group itself, allegedly. I guess this technically makes them the world’s first “eco-friendly” jihadist movement.’

     Nat just looks at me.

     ‘Yes, me too,’ I say. ‘These aren’t words that I had expected to have fall out of my mouth before 8am on a week day.’

     ‘It doesn’t seem to matter what day or time it is,’ says Nat.

     ‘I’d hate to think about how this group goes about enforcing its ban, though’ I say, ignoring her.

     ‘If you’re seen with a plastic bag, you’ll probably end up with your head in it,’ Nat suggests.

     ‘I like that you always manage to disturb me just a little,’ I say.

     ‘Thank you,’ she says, coyly.

* * * * * * * *

Later that day, I’m driving home when Nat calls to ask if I can pick up some things on my way. This is clearly a rhetorical question as she has already texted me with ‘a small list’.

     ‘Sure you still trust me to squeeze for you?’ I ask.

     ‘Always,’ she says, and hangs up.

     The car park at Tesco is full when I get there so I’m forced to park at the very end of it, far from the shop’s entrance. Just my luck, it’s a horrible day of high winds and rain. Apparently, someone at the Met Office who’s job it is to name the weather tells me that this is Hurricane Gareth. ‘Must be a strange day job to have,’ I think to myself as I run across the car park, narrowly missing two cars and a runaway trolley.

     As I emerge from the shop, the rain is coming down harder. I race myself and my shopping across the car park, soaking us both by the time I’ve reached the car, fumbled for my keys, and got inside.

     This panic is repeated at the other end of the journey, once I’ve parked outside the house. The heavens are now fully open and I can feel the heavy rain drops patting me forcefully on the head as I get out of the car. I grab the shopping bags, which are now getting quite soggy, and turn to make a dash for the front door.

     Suddenly, I hear a crash and one of my bags feels lighter. A neighbour walking his dog stops to look at me. I look at him and then down at my feet. One of my new paper carrier bags has got so rain-soaked that it has split and emptied itself across the pavement. I look back up at the man with a sad expression on my face. ‘’My wine,’ I say. ‘It’s my wine.’

     I pick up as much of the broken glass as I can and wrap it in the remains of my paper bag. ‘Dereliction of duty, that’s what this is!’ I shout at the soggy remnants of my pro-environmental attempt.

     The man with the dog clearly decides that this is the time to walk on.

     Later, I get a text from Nat: ‘Did you manage to get everything on the list?’

     ‘Bloody David Attenborough,’ I text back.

* * * * * * * *


* Image two from the collection, “Emotional Trash, by  Khalil Chishtee 


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Adrian Sturrock: ‘In the battleground of past relationships, ex marks the spot’

There are two very important things above all else that I have learned in this life. I don’t remember the first one but the second one is to always write stuff down.

     ‘I think I’ve mastered the skill of anti-stalking,’ I say to Nat, as I come in through the door.


     ‘Anti-stalking. It’s where you learn someone’s daily routine in order to avoid them. Look!’ I present her with a number of Post-it notes with a list of ‘places to not go’ written on them.

     Nat looks down at my brightly coloured notes then back up at me. ‘Stalking someone in order to keep your distance from them?’

     ‘I’m pretty sure we’ve all done it to some degree,’ I say.

     ‘Ok,’ she says, looking a little uncertain. ‘Who are you trying to avoid?’

     ‘One of my exes.’

     ’The one with the fat ankles?’

     This is how women work. There is an inbuilt imperative to identify at least one imperfection in any female that they feel may be a threat – an Achilles heel … or, in this instance, a whole ankle. Two of them, in fact.

     If Nat had asked, I could have offered a whole list of imperfections where this particular ex was concerned, though not exclusively physical ones. Instead, I just say, ‘Yes, that one.’

     ‘I thought you were over all of that,’ she says.

     ‘I am,’ I say, ‘I just don’t want to spoil my day by bumping into her.’

     ‘Then you’re not over her,’ she says.

     ‘I am,’ I assert. “I’m absolutely over her … I’m just not necessarily over my need for revenge over her.’

     ‘Ah, yes,’ she says, ‘that was a bit of a messy one. I guess some things aren’t so easy to get over.’

    ‘Well, you said I’d never get over Phil Collins,’ I say, ‘but take a look at me now.’ I wait for a smile. ‘Take a look at me … now?’

     If a face could morph itself into the perfect exclamation mark, this is exactly the point at which Nat’s would have done so.

     ‘Phil Collins? Take a … Humph! I’m here ‘til Friday,’ I say, as I quietly leave the room.’ 

* * * * * * * *

Most of us have at least one ‘awful ex’ story. I have a few. I eventually got to the point where I considered that as I was the only common denominator in them all, the fault must, therefore, somehow lay with me. But then a friend suggested that it was equally possible that I was just crap at choosing girlfriends. I liked his idea best.

     ‘Tell you what,’ I said to him, ‘how about next time I identify a potential partner you interview her first? Maybe run her through a short psychometric test? It can’t be worse than my method.’

     ‘I guess not, being your method seems to be to pick them at random out of the Annual Directory of Psychopathy,’ he said.

     ‘That’s a bit unfair,’ I said, trying to recall whether I had, in fact, inadvertently done just that.

     ‘How exactly do you filter for girlfriends?’ he asked.

     ‘It’s a simple list. Essentials include petite, nice eyes, nice bum, not homeless. Desirables are mainly that they might like me back … a bit. You know, something to work on. Oh, and whether they can ski.’

     ‘So, fairly rudimentary criteria, then?’

     ‘I guess so,’ I said.

* * * * * * * *

Both Nat and I have had our fair share of what we affectionately refer to as ‘whack-cases’, in our pasts. In fact, our individual stories would make a comprehensive set of ‘Whack-Case Top Trumps’, with an impressive list of trumping criteria to choose from, including ‘Reality distortion factor’, ‘Cheat factor’, ‘Gas-lighting ability’, and ‘Speed at which they lose their shit’.

     Apropos the girl with the ‘fat ankles’, I eventually turned to sticking Post-it note reminders on the bathroom mirror regarding why I should stay angry at her. For some people, holding a grudge comes easy; for others, we have to work a little harder at it.

     When I eventually met Nat, both of our bullshit-antennae were fully extended. What I think we found in each other was a mutual realisation that life’s too short for anything less than peace. Peace seemed a good start-point; that and the fact that we quite liked each other. (Ironically, it was peace that my ex eventually left behind when she last drove away with most of my possessions.)

     ‘But what left me most angry after that relationship,’ I say to Nat, ‘was not so much what the other person did or didn’t do, but the realisation of how much shit I accepted during my time with her, without even realising to question it.’

     ‘We’ve all broken our own rules for somebody,’ Nat says, hugging me.

* * * * * * * *

Several years later, I’ve forgotten where I put those Post-it notes. I probably should have left myself a note to remind myself. As it is, I can’t really remember very much about my ex at all, I’m not even sure I could pick her out of a line-up after all this time. The little I do remember about her, however, leads me to also wonder whether anyone else has ever had to pick her out of a line-up. It wouldn’t altogether surprise me.

     ‘As far as my exes are concerned, ‘says Nat, ‘I prefer to be absolutely sure of not bumping into them ever again.’ She looks intensely into my eyes.

     ‘I … um … I did notice that the patio at your old house was a bit bumpy,’ I say.

     ‘Shh!,’ she whispers, placing her finger to my lips.

     I know that she is probably referring to the fact that she now lives three counties away from her previous life, but I think I’ll stay on best behaviour … just in case.

Ex marks the spot?

* * * * * * * *





Adrian Sturrock: ‘I notice her knuckles whitening around her wine glass as she surveys the batter and flour wasteland that used to be our kitchen.’

I’ve managed to get home early from work so I’ve decided to use my time constructively by doing nothing productive whatsoever. I’m not very good at this so I’ve decided that some self-discipline is in order.

     I’ve chosen a movie, which is sitting in its case on the kitchen unit beside me, and am currently making a quick snack to go with the cup of tea that I’m about to put my feet up with. As I prepare this, I flip on the radio. The DJ is playing a retro montage of ‘70s songs. At the moment, ‘How deep is your love?’ is filling the room.

     After a few choruses, I feel compelled to confront this quite frankly disturbing line of questioning. ‘Mr Gibb,’ I say, turning to address the radio as I take the milk out of the fridge, ‘I really don’t know how to answer your question. And, more to the point, I’m really not sure I want to.’ I leave a space for the significance of my words to sink in before adding, ‘Oh, and … Hashtag: ‘Me-Too?’

     His response is not unexpected: ‘How deep is your love, your love, how deep is your love?

     I fear he’s taunting me. ‘Does your wife know that you go around pestering innocent people with your inappropriate questions?’ I ask this as I pour hot water onto the tea bag in my cup. I’ve decided that I’m not going to shy away from his harassment a moment longer.

     ‘Who are you talking to?’ asks a voice behind me.

     I jump and spin around, pouring hot water across the work surface and onto the floor. ‘I … um … I didn’t hear you come in,’ I say.

     Nat looks at me and then down at the mess I’ve made. ‘Could have been worse’, she says, ‘I could have phoned you while you were ironing.’

     I subconsciously touch my ear as I reach for a cloth to wipe up the mess.

     ‘Anyway, hello,’ she says, before repeating, ‘Who were you talking to just then?’

     ‘Barry,’ I say.


     ‘Gibb. Barry Gibb. Off of the Bee Gees. He seems to have taken it upon himself to start asking me unbefitting questions. Quite honestly, he was getting a little creepy just before you walked in on us. I was just letting him know that I’m not that kind of guy and that I don’t appreciate his approach.’

     Nat rolls her eyes. ‘His “approach?” You do know that it’s not all about you, right?’ She smiles at me as she takes off her shoes.

     ‘That’s the problem with celebrity,’ I whisper, covering the sides of the radio with the palms of my hands, ‘It so often goes to people’s heads. To be honest, I think he might be stalking me.’ I remove my hands and continue to dry off the last of the water on the floor.

     ‘I bet he’ll have forgotten all about you by tomorrow,’ says Nat.

     ‘I hope so,’ I say. Would you like a cup of tea?’

     ‘Did you just say wine?’ she corrects.

     ‘I think I might have,’ I say.

     Barry eventually desists, and we go into the lounge, in order to … lounge.

* * * * * * * *

‘Why are you home so early,’ I ask, realising that my movie-watching afternoon is now seriously in jeopardy.

     ‘I thought I’d take a few hours off,’ she says, ‘so that we can make pancakes together.’ She points to a small bag of ‘stuff’ that she has brought home with her.


      ‘It’s pancake day,’ she says. ‘Shrove … thingy.’


     ‘Why not.’ She replaces my tea with a glass of wine and a smile.

     ‘Thank you,’ I say, returning the smile but keeping the wine. ‘What’s a shrove?’

     ‘It’s the past tense of “to shrive”,’ she tells me.

     I pause. ‘Nope … I’ve got nothing from that,’ I say.

     ‘It’s old English. It means to confess.’

     ‘So, once a year, on a Tuesday, we all confess our … pancakes?’

     ‘Exactly that,’ she says. ‘It’s a crazy, mixed-up world, isn’t it? But, these days, the “mixed-up” comes in a handy-sized packet.’ She pulls out a batter mix sachet from her bag.

     ‘Don’t you just love convenience,’ I say, admiring the wine bottle.

* * * * * * * *

Not everything is convenient, however. Apparently, the highest ever successful pancake toss was achieved in New York, in 2010, at 9.47 metres. Unlike New York, though, our kitchen has a ceiling. This ceiling comes in at just under 3 metres, which is why, as I explain to Nat, my pancake tossing doesn’t seem to be going so well.

     In her attempt to encourage me to take a full part in our ‘shrovery’ (I just made that word up), she says nothing, though I do notice her knuckles whitening a little around her wine glass as she surveys the mess I’m making.

      ‘Um … Not a problem,’ I say as I hand her the first of the pancakes that haven’t attached themselves to light fittings or kitchen appliances. ‘Fourth time lucky?’

     ‘Apparently, in medieval times, the first three pancakes cooked were sacred and were marked with the cross before being set aside to ward off evil.’

     ‘I’d clearly make a good Christian,’ I reply, ‘though other religions are available.’ I say this as another piece of pancake slips past us from above, and lands limply on the floor for the cat to survey. This is the point at which I realise that I will probably have to forego any idea of relaxing with a movie, in favour of cleaning up the batter and flour wasteland that used to be our kitchen.

     Behind us, through the radio, the familiar voice of Barry Gibb continues to harass me: ‘If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody, baby, If I can’t have you …’

    ‘See,’ I say, ‘Absolutely relentless. He just won’t take no for an answer.’

* * * * * * * *



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Adrian Sturrock: ‘My biggest shock was when I wiped away her tears … and her eyebrows followed.’

I’m relieved to say that I married one of those women whose eyebrows are already on when she wakes up in the morning.

     You may think that this is an odd thing to consider but it seems that twenty-first century brows are not something to be taken for granted. I lived with a previous partner for five years before I found out that hers were not what they pretended to be. I’m all for shaking up a relationship once in a while but ‘imposter-brows’ was never what I had in mind.

     Having said that, I’ve also met women whose eyebrows were not where I thought they were. It’s a strange thing, fashion. Women argue that it’s a misogynist society that forces females to strip themselves of their natural brows and then to paint them back on again – often in a different place – but I wonder whether this is an over-simplistic view.

     ‘You would do,’ says my wife, ‘you’re a man.’

     I’m offended. I have never in my life sided with the idea of macho, and the role of the white van driver is not something I’ll be applying for soon. In fact, my teen years were probably single-handedly responsible for keeping Boots’ Number 7 range in business. Mine was a music-related fashion, but there was undoubtedly more than a little of the anti-macho lurking in there somewhere – a two fingered solute dressed in ice-pink gloss.

     ‘I’m not suggesting that we don’t live in a society where gender politics creates unreasonable expectations and pressures,’ I offer, ‘but I’ve never heard a guy say, ‘Check out the eyebrows on her’… at least not until recently.’

       Nat decides that I’m currently not worth talking to and leaves the room.

* * * * * * * *

That afternoon, I’m sitting in my optician’s waiting room, wondering whether the recent deterioration in my eyesight is due to bad diet, late nights, or over-use of my mobile phone. The last thing I’m prepared to accept is that it might have something to do with age. (I’m going to ask my optometrist whether computerised implants is a thing yet, and whether I can afford them.)

     I’m skimming through the magazine selection stacked on the small table in the corner of the room. It’s almost all women’s reads. I’m tempted by a title that I’ve not heard of before – The Vagenda, but someone has stolen the inner pages, leaving only the outer cover behind. (I consider the metaphorical significance of this for a few seconds before confusing myself and letting the issue go.) I’m guessing that this is a feminist publication of some sort? Something for another time, perhaps. I settle instead for a safer title, covering lifestyle and fashion.

     A few pages in is a photo of the model, Cara Delevingne, sporting perfectly sexy, full eyebrows above ice blue eyes. I take a pic of her on my phone and send it to Nat with the words, ‘See, fake eyebrows not required!’

     ‘Stop perving at models in the eye shop,’ is all I get back.

     I put my phone away, but then take it back out again: ‘I used to keep fluffy caterpillars as pets when I was a kid,’ I write. ‘I collected them from the garden and kept them in jam jars filled with grass and twigs. Sometimes, I’d smuggle them into the house at night but other times my mum would catch me and make me take them back outside.’

     It takes a moment for Nat to reply: ‘Why are you telling me this?

     ‘I was thinking about eyebrows,’ I write.

     ‘!’ writes Nat.

     I persevere: ‘One time, when my mum made me take the jar back outside, it rained and the thing filled with water due to the air holes I’d made in the lid. By the time I got to check on my caterpillars, they were floaty.’

     ‘Sad,’ Nat replies.

     ‘I know. Poor things.’

     ‘I was referring to you,’ she texts.

     Soon, I’m called into the optometrist’s room. I ask about bionic eyes but I’m told they don’t do them yet.

     On my way out, I pass a young girl and her mum in the waiting room. The girl is around three years old and is drawing a big scribbly face on a large sheet of paper, using a variety of fat crayons that she is holding in her fists. I smile at her as she looks up at me. Her mum is sat beside her. I look from what the child has drawn on her paper to what her mum has drawn on her own face. ‘She has your talent,’ I say, as I pass them both.

     ‘Thank you,’ says the mum, smiling.

     ‘It’s not a compliment,’ I say to myself, in my head.

     That night, I dream of Nat taking her eyebrows off at bedtime and placing them into a glass of water beside her. I wake in a sweat and reach over in the darkness.

     ‘What are you doing?’ she says.

     I find myself touching her face, feeling for her brows. ‘Just checking,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *



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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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