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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘… Sorry, Sir?’

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

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

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

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

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

   ‘Sir, please …’

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

    ‘Sir …’

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘No, the guy on the phone.’

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

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

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

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

     ‘I like your dad,’ I say.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

     My wife tuts loudly and leaves the room.

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘… What?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Skype,’ I suggest.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

     ‘Well done,’ she says.

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

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

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

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

    I prefer orangutans,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

     ‘Not very,’ I say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Ok, you win,’ I say.

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

      ‘It’s getting cloudy,’ Nat says.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

     ‘Yep.’

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

     ‘What have you chosen,’ she asks.

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

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

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

     ‘No, it’s not.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘And this is your actual perception of me?’

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

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

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

This is my all-time favourite movie.

* * * * * * * *

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

 

Student : How do you spell enquirement?

Me: Spell what?

Student: Enquirement.

Me: Do you mean enquiry?

Student: No, Enquirement.

Me: There’s no such word.

Student: Yes there is.

Me: … There really isn’t.

Student: Yeah, but there is though.

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

Student: Ok, thanks

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

     ‘What?’

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

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

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

     ‘Criminals?’

    ‘Politicians.

     ‘Oh,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Are you comparing yourself to Jesus?’

     ‘No … Maybe.’

* * * * * * * *

The next day, I’m back at work.

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

Me: Really? How would hespell it?

Student: E…N…

Me: Stop. Just stop.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: ‘You’d make a lousy junkie,’ my wife informs me as I’m busy whiting-out on the sofa.

     ‘You’d make a lousy junkie,’ my wife informs me as I’m busy whiting-out on the sofa.

     ‘Must … try … harder,’ I mumble, in my semi-conscious state. And then I pass out.

* * * * * * * *

    When I come round, I’m in the recovery position. She has set a bowl down beside me. ‘Just in case,’ she tells me. She has also placed a cold drink at what she wrongly considers to be within my reach; at a distance that, to be fair, I would easily manage on a normal day. Today, however, is not a normal day. Today, I am injured. Twice.

     Injury One is a torn shoulder muscle. Injury Two is the alarmingly adverse effects of the drugs my GP has prescribed me for my torn shoulder muscle. I stare at the glass for a while before daring to strain my body in its general direction.

     Injury One is the result of a climbing accident that occurred last night. This, I’d like to think, makes me sound far more interesting than I actually am – or feel. I’d like people to imagine me hanging precariously from a frayed climbing rope, having fallen into a deep crevasse on some infamous Nepalese mountain. Perhaps I’d been left for dead by my team mates who couldn’t possibly believe that anyone would have survived the unprecedented avalanche that landed me here. I’d like people to imagine that I’d managed to survive the night, and somehow climbed out of this deep gully before orientating myself back to safety, thus surprising both locals and fellow climbers and rendering me somewhat of a local climbing legend.

     In reality, however, I’ve torn my shoulder through sheer stupidity, on an indoor climbing wall attached to a leisure centre about twelve miles from Watford. My arm still hurts though.

     I am at mid-strain towards my drink when I notice my wife sitting on the sofa adjacent to mine. She has stopped reading her book in order to muse over my inadequate movements. She is wearing that expression that she sometimes puts on, the one that doesn’t let on whether it’s a smirk or a pondering. I offer a half-smile back, ‘just in case.’

    ‘Mmph!’ I whimper, as my arm involuntarily flinches, reminding me that I really shouldn’t be attempting to use it in any way whatsoever. I recoil slowly and refold it back under myself.

     This evening’s pain is somehow different to this morning’s. This, I’m guessing, is due to the heavy-duty anti-inflammatories and opium-infused cocktail suggested by my GP, which has rendered me a less than cheap imitation of who I used to be. Just a few hours ago, the only thing wrong with me was the torn muscle which, though totally incapacitating in a sheer, toothache-like agony sort of way, was at least a localised affair.

    ‘Go see your doctor,’ a friend had said. ‘They’ll make you better,’ he’d said.

     Since visiting my local NHS pusher, my entire body has been reduced to rubble, and thinking actual thoughts has greatly diminished. I very much doubt that Sherlock Holmes really solved crimes while on opiates. I can hardly operate the TV remote control.

     ‘My arm isn’t hurting as much, now,’ I tell my wife, a little later.

    ‘That’s western medicine for you,’ she says. ‘As long as the chemicals solve the immediate issue, they’re considered a success. Any collateral damage they leave behind – in this case, [she’s pointing at me] the jibbering mess that used to be my husband – is considered merely ‘side effects’.

     ‘Is this how you see me?’ I mumble. ‘As a side effect?’

     She pauses to consider the question. ‘… At the moment, pretty much,’ she says, nodding and smiling.

     I think I agree with her; I’m just not really able to articulate this right now.

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: Right now, everything hurts, and I’m so full of snot that even my cheekbones ache.

It’s 7.35am. I’m sitting up in bed. My wife is rushing around the room, partly getting ready for work, partly packing for the few days she will be away in Somerset, looking after her sister’s children.

    I’m ill. Who’s going to look after me?

    As she turns to leave the room for the last time, she looks around, leans over the bed and kisses my head. ‘Look after yourself, and stay hydrated,’ she says, holding a cold hand against my forehead to check my temperature. ‘There’s some ice-lollies in the fridge. Try not to eat them all at once.’

    ‘I’ll try not to look like crap when you see me next,’ I reply. ‘Who knows, I may even shower.’

    ‘That would be nice.’ She smiles and kisses my head again. ‘Be good.’ She leaves the room and I listen to her descending the stairs, towards the front door.

    ‘Nat!’ I call, but it’s too late; the front door slams shut and I hear her heels echo on the driveway as she walks towards her car.

    ‘So close and yet so far away,’ I say to myself, thinking of the ice-lollies in the fridge. The mere idea of embarking on the monumental trek to the kitchen makes my skin hurt. Right now, everything hurts, and I’m so full of snot that even my cheekbones ache. On the other hand, I could be at work. I count my blessings.

    I reach for the TV handset that Nat has thoughtfully placed on the duvet beside me, but find myself trapped between Piers Morgan and old re-runs of The Waltons. I switch the TV off and decide an ice-lolly is an acceptable reward for the pain I am about to endure in the hunter-gathering of it.

* * * * * * * *

 
It’s 11.05am when I wake, face down on the sofa in the living room, lolly stick still in my hand, lolly wrapper stuck precariously to my left cheek.

     I reach upwards to catch my reflection in the mirror above the fireplace. Oh no, was that really the last visual memory that Nat had of me this morning as she left for Somerset? Three days of beard growth, hair matted to my head in the most bizarre fashion, and red, runny nose and eyes. At least she won’t be able to cite ‘irreconcilable differences’ in the divorce court – we both agree that I look like shit.

    A text pings up on my phone: ‘Whatcha doin?’ It’s Nat.

    ‘Contemplating cosmetic surgery,’ I write, but then erase it, sending her ‘Missing you,’ instead.

     ‘Don’t forget that the Ocado groceries delivery is due this evening between 7-8pm,’ she reminds me.

    ‘I can hardly wait!’ I reply, wishing that the text function offered some kind of sarcasm emoji option.

    ‘Just making sure you’ll be around,’ she texts.

    Where did she think I’d be? I’m dying here.

    ‘You looked very cute in bed this morning when I left,’ she adds

     ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right number,’ I reply.

    A moment later, her response is a selfie image, all cross-eyed and tongue out, holding her hair up in a crazy, messy pose.

    ‘One day, when I’ve consumed enough human flesh to bring myself back to life, I will hunt you down like a dog!’ I text back

    ‘You’re going to need a lot of human flesh to pull that one off,’ she replies. A moment later, her text is accompanied by ‘I’m just leaving the office, make sure you drink lots.’

    ‘This is no time for alcoholism,’ I respond, but the conversation is over and I return to the kitchen for a follow-up lolly.

     I open the freezer door and lift out the ice-lolly box. It’s empty. I am bereft.

Adrian Sturrock: It’s just a casual arrangement; it’s not as though we’ve been together for years.

     ‘Hi,’ she says, ‘I’m Melissa.’ She holds out her hand and smiles warmly.

    ‘Hi,’ I say, ‘I’m Adie.’ I extend my hand also, as I take the seat next to where she has been waiting for me.

    Scanning the room, I’m feeling a little anxious. What if Francesca is here? What if she sees me with Melissa? Oh God, why couldn’t I have arranged to do this somewhere else? It’s too late now, I guess.

    Melissa asks me about my day, while a young girl approaches to take a drinks order. I’m not really listening to either of them; I’m too concerned about being caught out by Francesca, and wondering why I’m doing this at all. Is Francesca really all that bad? What would she say if she saw me here? Would she confront me in front of everybody? Unlikely, I decide. But would she really be that hurt to find me going behind her back? I mean, it’s just a casual arrangement that we have, it’s not as though we’ve been together for years. In fact, it’s only been a few months.

     So why am I feeling so guilty?

* * * * * * * *

‘It always feels a little like you’re cheating on one with the other, when you change hairstylists in the same salon,’ my wife tells me, as we meet for lunch a little later. ‘Maybe you really should have gone somewhere else.’

     ‘I guess I should have,’ I say, smiling.

    ‘What made you book Melissa, anyway?’

    ‘Nothing, really,’ I say, ‘I just fancied a change.’ I check myself in the reflection of the restaurant window. ‘To be honest, I think I prefer Francesca.’

    Nat considers my new cut, taking my chin in her hand and turning my head from side to side. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘so do I … I think Melissa’s missed a bit.’

    ‘Oh,’ I say. ‘I feel even more self-conscious now.’

    ‘We can’t all look as good as me,’ she says, and leans over to kiss me.

    ‘What do you think salons do with all the hair they brush up,’ I ask, as I tip the remnants of our  wine bottle across our two glasses.

    ‘Well, I’d like to think that they have it drug tested in order to blackmail clients,’ she suggests.

    ‘Interesting,’ I say. ‘Personally, I think they use it to clone individual clients, so as to have the faux-clients commit crimes for them.’

    ‘They might even be using the hair en masse,’ Nat continues, ‘as the base ingredient with which to build a vast clone army, so as to one day take over the world.’

    ‘I’ve heard rumours,’ I say, lowering my voice and looking around furtively, ‘that they may even be making wigs from it.’

    ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ she says.

* * * * * * * *

Four weeks later, I’m back; this time with Francesca, whilst trying hard to avoid eye contact with Melissa.

    Forty or so minutes and a much better job later, Francesca and I are saying our goodbyes. She has her diary up on screen as I pay, and reminds me that I can get 10% off my next cut if we book the next appointment now.

     It’s while we are doing this that Melissa walks right by me. I know she’s seen me, though she’s pretending she hasn’t. This makes me pretend I haven’t seen her either … which only adds to my discomfort.

     ‘You’ll get a text the day before, to remind you,’ says Francesca, enthusiastically and, I feel, rather too loudly.

    ‘Thank you,’ I say, quietly and cowardly, while the ‘Screw You’ of Melissa’s silence continues to ricochet off the walls and around my head.

    ‘By the way,’ I whisper, as I turn to leave, ‘what does the shop do with all the dead hair it collects?

      ‘I think we just bag it and bin it,’ Francesca tells me.

    ‘Oh,’ I say. ‘That’s disappointing.’

Adrian Sturrock: If I’ve learned anything during my twenty-seven years on this planet, it’s that it’s OK to lie about your age.

I’m sat in the kitchen at home. There’s an article in The Telegraph: ‘Fifty ways to look younger’. It’s a disappointing read, filled with cosmetic advice and, no doubt, sponsored by the numerous high-street brands featured in it.

     Still, I’m intrigued by a suggestion that I ought to start wearing tinted moisturiser. Apparently, one appears younger if one’s complexion looks even in tone. There’s also a thing about light-tinting one’s nostrils, but this merely confuses me so I let that one go. I look at my reflection in the kettle before adding tinted moisturiser below where my wife has written tea bags, on the magnetic shopping list attached to the fridge.

     I put the newspaper down as I hear the front door open.

     ‘I got I.D’d for alcohol again, today,’ my wife shouts down the hallway, by way of a hello. Her tone is dressed up as annoyance, but I can sense the pleasure seeping through.

    ‘That’s nice,’ I say.

    ‘It’s so frustrating, though,’ she claims, ‘when all you want is a bottle of wine after a long day.’

    ‘Yes,’ I say, ‘it must be hell.’ I take two glasses down from the cupboard and place them on the table.

     I think the last time I was frustrated was around Christmas 1998. Though, I was thirty-two years old at the time, so I reckon that’s a fair innings in the I.D. stakes. And I might even have enjoyed the moment, had I not been trying to chat up a girl at the bar, at the time.

* * * * * * * *

There was a time when I’d have happily pretended that I was older than I was. I think that stopped around the age of twenty-one. After that, I was content to run with reality for a while. You can do that when reality is firmly on your side. But once ‘approaching thirty’ turned into a thing, volunteering my age became a more reticent affair. These days, I tend to just lie.

     I should point out that I wasn’t born a liar; society drove me to it. Let me take you back to 1994:

     ‘What do you mean I’m too old for the role? It’s acting. And I fooled you. Isn’t that what I’m here for?’

     ‘Sorry, I’ve had explicit instructions from the director regarding the age limit of the actor for this part.’

     ‘… Tell you what, ask me the question again, and I’ll tell you what you want to hear.’

     ‘Sorry, Sir.’

     ‘But I obviously looked the part during the audition. And I obviously gave a good enough audition, otherwise I wouldn’t be sat here filling out my details with you.’

     ‘I can only apologise, Sir.’

And that was the end of my acting career. There is, it seems, such a thing as too much truth.

* * * * * * * * 

     ‘That’s a shame,’ says Nat, as I relate this event to her over her I.D.-verified wine. ‘On the other hand, how would you have dealt with remembering all those lines? You can’t usually remember to put the bins out.’

     ‘Harsh,’ I say. ‘Very harsh.’

     Age: a number? An attitude? A countdown to death? Or merely a defining characteristic by which all of society judges you? My wife says that she wouldn’t want to live forever, to outlive everyone she loves.

     ‘I would,’ I tell her. ‘I’d like that a lot.

     ‘No, you wouldn’t,’ she informs me. ‘Not really.’

     ‘Look at it the other way around,’ I say, ‘The idea that, one day, the party will go on without me is something I find quite traumatising.’

     ‘I really don’t think you’re going to find a way around that particular inevitability,’ she says.

     ‘Apparently, lobsters don’t age,’ I say.

     ‘What?’

     ‘Apparently, ageing is not in their DNA. Perhaps there’s a university biology unit somewhere that I could attend, to have lobster DNA intertwined with my own. They must need volunteers.’

     ‘Really. So how does the lobster population balance itself?’ Nat asks.

     ‘They merely keep feeding until they grow to the point where they become too heavy to hunt … and then they … starve to death.’

     ‘Well, good luck with that one.’ she says, raising her glass to salute my suggestion.

     There’s a knock on the door. ‘I’ll get it,’ I say, happy to step away from my point, which I’m clearly failing to make.

     At the door, there’s a utilities salesman asking me if I’m aware that I can easily change my current provider, while saving on my monthly bills.

     ‘Uh-Huh!’ I say.

     He seems surprised that I’m not fighting back.

     ‘Life’s too short,’ I tell him.

     He quickly pulls out his paperwork and begins to fill it in on my behalf, presumably before I can change my mind. He asks me my name, my current provider, etc.

     ‘Can I ask you your age, sir?’ he asks.

     ‘Why do you need that?’

     ‘It’s just for our market research records.’

     ‘… Twenty-seven,’ I tell him.

     ‘And what would be your year of birth?’

     ‘Um … it’s, um … Are you testing me?’

     ‘A little, sir,’ he says, and smiles.

     I don’t smile back.