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

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

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

     ‘I’m hungry,’ I say.

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

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

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

     ‘By purchasing actual food,’ I say.

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

     ‘Really? What?’

     ‘Diet.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

     ‘Enigmatic?’

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

     ‘What’s coy about quinoa?’

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *     

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

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

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

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

     ‘What is it?’

     ‘My husband’s cooking.’

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

* * * * * * * *

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

     ‘I made him cook,’ says Nat.

     ‘I volunteered,’ I say.

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

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

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

     ‘It’s a three,’ says Nat’s mum.

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

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

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

     ‘I’m sure it will be …’

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

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

     ‘I’m sure it will be …’

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

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

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

     Nobody responds.

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘I like my beaver,’ she says,’

     That makes two of us,’ I say.

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘The bigger part of what I am is what I’m not.’

Student:           Sir, with twins, yeah …

Me:                 … Yeah

Student:           … Twins?

Me:                  (Sigh) Yes, twins … Yeah?

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Well? Which one?’ he insists.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘That’s disappointing,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

Earlier today:

            Student:           Sir, about the twins …?

            Me:                  Really!? Go on …

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

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

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

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

            Student:           My what?

            Me:                 Never mind.

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

     ‘Shh!’ she says, lowering my hand.

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

     ‘Shh!’ she repeats.

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

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

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

     ‘What? Why?’

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

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

     I pretend not to care.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

          She looks up at me. ‘And …’

          ‘… Sorry?’ I say

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

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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Adrian Sturrock: Extract from ‘THE SAT NAV DIARIES’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte,’ she replies.

     ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘What? Why a B&B?’ I ask.

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

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

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

     ‘Why don’t you knock?’

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

     She looks blankly at me.

     ‘Well … it’s a start,’ I offer.

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

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

     Eerie.

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

     ‘Hallo.’

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

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

     ‘Wir haben eines reservierung für diesen abend.‘

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘What for?’ I ask.

     ‘For saying nothing during all of that.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

     Soon, we are back on the motorway.

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

     ‘Everything is fine,’ I said.

     ‘Then what are you afraid of?’

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

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

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

     ‘No.’

     ‘Do you find that at all strange?’

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

     ‘So this is …’

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘Marty McFly used a Delorean; whenever I wish to travel back in time, I simply step inside our local post office.’

‘Why are you texting in capitals?’ asks my wife, looking over my shoulder.

     ‘It’s my uncle,’ I say. ‘he’s a bit deaf.’

     She looks at me, then looks away, then looks at me again. ‘I, um … never mind.’

     We’ve been standing in this post office queue for over half an hour. We thought that we’d just ‘pop in’ quickly to get our International Driving Permits organised ready for an upcoming road trip, and then go for breakfast at a little country restaurant we know. At least this was the plan.

     WE’RE CURRENTLY FOURTH IN LINE, I text.

     Well, give my regards to Princess Margaret, pings the reply.

     ‘Isn’t Princess Margaret dead?’ asks Nat, continuing to read my phone over my shoulder.

     ‘I’ve no idea,’ I say, ‘I’ve only ever known her as a person off the TV, like … Ian Beale or Homer Simpson.

     ‘Ian Beale and Homer Simpson are fictional characters,’ she says.

     ‘Exactly my point,’ I say. ‘… It’s complicated, isn’t it.’

     I text my uncle back: I MEANT FOURTH IN LINE IN THE POST OFFICE QUEUE, NOT TO THE THRONE.

     A moment later, he responds with, Well, that’s far less impressive, and adds a sad emoji.

     Nat smiles. ‘I see where you get it from,’ she says.

     ‘Get what?’

     ‘… Nothing.’ She glances back along the queue that is deepening around us.

* * * * * * * *

The bad news is that we were fourth in line when we entered this queue. This is because the elderly lady at the front of the line, with an armful of individually wrapped brown paper parcels, is refusing to divulge to the counter staff what is in each package.

     ‘That’s my business, not yours,’ she keeps insisting.

     ‘Them’s the rules, I’m afraid,’ repeats Post Office lady.

     ‘I don’t ask you what’s in your parcels,’ demands the old lady.

     As irritating as standing in this queue is, I’m quite entertained by the old woman’s totally irrational, though quite understandable, stance.

     ‘It’s only for security purposes,’ says Post Office lady, ‘I’m not looking to pry.’

     ‘To be honest,’ I say loudly, across the queue, ‘those packages do look a little bit bomb-shaped to me.’

     The old lady turns around abruptly and stares at me. ‘Since when did a few cardigans and books look like bombs?’ she protests.

     I smile at Post Office lady. ‘I believe my job here is done,’ I say, curtseying coyly to her.

     ‘Job done, indeed,’ says Post Office lady, smiling back at me.

     Nat leans into me and whispers, ‘Who says that bombers vests can’t come as cardigans?’

     ‘Hmm. Good point,’ I say. I consider the idea of the first terrorist device to arrive on the market with a ‘Don’t boil wash’ label attached.

     ‘And don’t be fooled by appearances,’ whispers Nat, ‘that seemingly defenceless old lady might actually be knitting a whole military as we speak.’

‘What? Like a slightly more pastoral version of the Terracotta Army?’

‘Exactly.

I consider the scene: ‘Is that a boiled sweet in your pocket, grandad?’ ‘No, it’s the detonator! Back off!

     ‘Ssh! Lower your voice,’ says Nat, looking around us. ‘But, yes, I think you’ve got the gist.’

     ‘I read the other day,’ I say, ‘that the UK spent close to £50 billion, last year, on its military. If this old lady can produce an entire militia on a pension, someone should consider putting her in charge of our defence budget. Look at her demanding that all of her parcels go as second-class post – put her in charge of Defence and we’d probably still have change left over for custard creams and the bus ride home.’

     The old lady has finished haggling with the Post Office staff now and stares right at me as she walks past. ‘Bombs, indeed!’ she says at me.

     ‘Come the revolution, sister!’ I say, raising my fist up in a ‘power to the people’ pose.

     She doesn’t respond.

* * * * * * * *

Processing our International Driving Permits is a new thing for the two ladies behind the counter. ‘Bear with me,’ says the older woman, ‘this is only the second one of these I’ve done. In fact, this Post Office has only been doing them for the past two weeks; it’s still quite new to me.’

     ‘No worries,’ I say, handing my passport picture to her.

     ‘Is that you?’ she asks, turning it around to take a closer look.

     ‘Um, yes,’ I say, confused by the question.

     ‘My passport picture is horrible,’ she says.

     ‘This one was my third attempt,’ I say ‘I was going to do this last week, but it rained and my hair went silly. And then I got a spot here.’ I point to an area just under my lower lip. ‘And just as I was …’

     ‘… Shall we just get on with it?’ says Nat.

     I hand the lady my driving licence, and she starts to copy the information from my UK licence into my new old-looking international licence, in her best, slowest handwriting. ‘I’d best not make a mistake,’ she tells me, looking up in order to get my full attention, ‘or I’ll have to start all over again.’

     ‘OK,’ I say, ‘Best concentrate then.’

     She asks where I’m travelling to and I reel off the countries while she hunts for each of the country names on her A4 crib sheet. ‘You’ll need the 1968 version,’ she tells me.

     ‘Ok,’ I say.

     ‘Do you know why it’s called the 1968 version?’ she asks.

     ‘Because it alludes to the 1968 Treaty?’

     ‘Because it alludes … Oh, you know that.’

     ‘I do,’ I say. I smile to show no hard feelings.

     ‘If you were to go to some of the countries further away, you might need the …’

     ‘1949 version?’

     ‘Oh …yes … the 1949 version. That’s because those countries were agreed in a Treaty in …’

     ‘In 1949?’ (I must stop doing this, I think to myself.)

     ‘Stop doing that,’ Nat whispers into the back of my ear.

     Eventually, Mrs Post Office has finished copying all of my details from my UK licence over to the International Permit in her best, slowest handwriting.

     ‘How much is that?’ I ask.

     ‘Oh, I’m not finished yet,’ she says. ‘Jenny, do you have the glue stick?’

     ‘I thought you had it,’ says Jenny.

     I look at Nat in confusion as Mrs Post Office and the young Jenny rummage through drawers and shelves for their communal glue stick.

     ‘Ah, here it is,’ says Mrs Post Office, eventually waving her glue stick at me. ‘We can’t carry on without this.’

     ‘I should hope not,’ I say, wondering what the hell she’s talking about, but smiling anyway.’

     She takes my photo and glue-sticks it to the driving permit, before taking her special ink stamper and pressing it half onto my picture and half to the buff-coloured cardboard page. She then holds my driving permit at arms-length, to admire her handy work. ‘There you go,’ she says, ‘Nobody can forge your licence now.’ She smiles at me and hands me my completed document for me to check through and sign, as she pushes the lid back onto her glue stick.

     ‘What? No glitter?’ I ask, thinking that the document looks so out of keeping with modern technology, with its handwritten details, glued-on photo, and its numerous ink stamps to illustrate what types of vehicles I can and cannot drive while abroad.

     Post Office lady looks seriously at me before deciding that I’m joking and relaxes. ‘It would cheer the card up a little, wouldn’t it,’ she says.

     I turn the document over in my hand. ‘I think it might,’ I say, ‘It does look a little like a ration card; the sort that one might rock up with at a soviet bread queue.’

     I’m guessing that Mrs Post Office is having trouble accessing this image, so we both say our thank yous and goodbyes, and Nat and I leave the counter.

     ‘Why do we even need one of these?’ I ask Nat, as we get out into the sunshine.

     ‘Because of men in hats,’ she says. ‘And you know how men like to wear hats, it makes them feel …’

     ‘Taller?’

     ‘Yes, probably,’ says Nat.

     My phone pings. It’s my uncle. What are you doing in the post office?He texts.

     TRAVELLING BACK IN TIME, I text.

     Then I refer you to my previous message, he texts, Give my regards to Princess Margaret.

     I think back to the lady with the secretive packages. I THINK I ALREADY MIGHT HAVE, I text.

     Jolly good, he texts.

     Nat looks at her watch. ‘We’ve missed breakfast,’ she says, ‘Shall we just call it…’

     ‘… Brunch?’ (I wish I could stop doing that, I think to myself.)

     ‘I wish you’d stop doing that,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘If you want to know how stupid you’re perceived as by big business, check your junk mail.’

I’ve just been congratulated. By post. Apparently, I’ve been ‘pre-selected’ for congratulating. So, that’s nice.

     ‘Who’s congratulating you?’ asks Nat.

     I scan down to the bottom of my congratulations letter. ‘Catherine Lewis,’ I say.

     ‘Who’s Catherine Lewis,’ she asks, ‘And what’s she congratulating you for?’

     ‘Um,’ no idea, and … nope, no idea,’ I say. ‘She hasn’t really gone into detail about what I’ve done to deserve her congratulations, but the fact that she’s congratulating me is good enough for me.’

     ‘Give it here.’ Nat motions to take the letter from me, but I’m too quick for her (which is something I inwardly congratulate myself about).

     ‘The main point is, I say, ‘whatever I’ve done, Catherine – or Miss Lewis – has deemed it worthy of her praise. And she’s offering me a prize for it.’

     ‘Ok,’ says Nat, already visibly beginning to tire of our conversation, ‘What’s your prize?’

     ‘It’s a … it’s a credit card.’

     ‘Why do you want another credit card?’

     ‘I don’t’ I say, ‘but I don’t want to appear rude, especially as Catherine has gone to all that trouble to pre-select me.

     ‘I don’t think she actually ‘pre-selected’ you, herself,’ says Nat, wiggling her quotation fingers at me. ‘I think she might have used an algorithm generator for that.’

     ‘Don’t you disparage my pre-selection,’ I say.

     ‘You’re right,’ says Nat, ‘Congratulations on your achievement, and on the official recognition of your worthiness for such a prestigious prize. I shall look forward to seeing you on the front cover of Junk Mail Weekly, in the coming months. In fact, in the words of Yazz and her rather musical chart-topping backing combo, The Plastic Population, ‘The Only Way is Up!’’

     I consider the possibility that I may be detecting a degree of sarcasm in Nat’s voice, but I refuse to diminish my own achievement here by succumbing to it. ‘I think you’ll find that ‘The Only Way is Up!’ was a hit way back in 1988, and therefore has no specific relevance to this moment in time.’

     ‘Tell you what,’ says Nat, ‘I’ll leave you to enjoy your moment in time, while I take a shower. Oh, and don’t forget that it’s bin day, today. Can you put the bins out, please?’

     ‘To be honest,’ I say, ‘since receiving official confirmation of my personal selection … about twenty three minutes ago,’ (I check my watch), ‘I feel that putting the bins out is now a little below me.’

     ‘No worries,’ shouts Nat, from the bathroom, ‘You can always use your new credit card to pay for the pest control people to come round to curb the rat problem we’ll have when our rubbish mounts up.’

     ‘I’m just on it,’ I shout.

* * * * * * * *

I shall probably politely decline my prize, though I really should thank Catherine for taking the time to congratulate me, and, of course, for going out of her way to pre-select me. I might also enquire into what it was that I have done to deserve such pre-selection; what it is that puts me above the un-preselected, unwashed masses. Who knows, it might even be CV-worthy.

     I decide to draft my reply to Catherine while Nat is in the shower, so that Nat can’t continue mocking me. I pour myself the remnants of the coffee pot and settle down with my laptop: ‘Dear Catherine …’ No, best change that to ‘Dear Miss Lewis’. Nope, best not be presumptuous … ‘Dear Ms Lewis’ – better to keep things business-like, at least until we get to know each other better.

     I search for a return address, but it’s not obvious from her letter. Eventually, I find an address amongst some small-print at the bottom of her first page to me. Technically, the address provided is to be used in the event of my ‘not wanting to be contacted for marketing purposes’, but once they realise who I am, I’m sure that they will quickly let Ms Lewis know that it’s me, and pass my letter swiftly on to her.

     It’s only when I re-read her message that I realise my prize isn’t as automatic as I’d first thought. It turns out that what I have won is the right to apply for my credit card, though I note that Catherine has added a personalised password for me to use online (a secret code between us both, perhaps),  in order that my application can be fast-tracked. It’s almost as though she wants me to receive my credit card as soon as possible. I am already warming to her; I shall thank her for this, in due course.

     I admit that I’m a little disappointed to learn that Catherine has ‘already helped over 4 Million people in the UK get the credit they deserve.’ This somehow takes a little of the shine off my own sense of achievement here, as I find that I wasn’t in the absolute forefront of her mind when she put her initial list of names together. On reflection, however, I decide not to be precious about things, after all, she did come clean about this in her very first letter to me. This transparency deserves my respect, I conclude. It’s also nice to see that she has granted me 24/7 online access to her, though I do hope that she will have help with this, as being on-call all the time must be draining. (I resolve to only contact her during office hours – unless I have a real need to speak with her … or unless we get on really well.)

     ‘What are you doing?’ asks Nat, appearing behind me, draped in a towel and rubbing her wet hair.

     ‘Nothing,’ I say, and close my laptop.

* * * * * * * *

A few days have gone by since I began my reply to Ms Lewis. I find her initial letter in the back pocket of my jeans as I’m turning out the pockets ready to put them in the wash. I unfold the letter and glance at her name again. Beneath her signature are the words ‘Customer Service, Vanquis Bank’. Something doesn’t feel right. ‘YOU COULD BE APPROVED TODAY’ is written in big letters to the right of her main message to me.

     ‘Nat? Do you think that there might be something a little insincere about Catherine’s – I mean, Ms Lewis’s – letter to me?’

     ‘Who?’

     I hand Nat Catherine’s earlier correspondence with me.

     ‘Is this your ‘Congratulations’ letter from the other day?’ (She’s doing that ‘quote’ thing with her fingers, again.)

     ‘Yes,’ I say.

     She looks at the letter, then up at me, before crumpling the letter into a ball and bouncing it off the side of my head.

     ‘… Is that your final word on it?’ I ask.

     ‘Uh-Huh,’ she says.

     ‘… I think I see your point,’ I say.

     I’ve gone off Catherine a little. I bet she doesn’t even know what it was I was doing on the day she congratulated me.

* * * * * * * *

 

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