Adrian Sturrock: ‘If it is a ghost messing with the volume on my kitchen radio, I wish she’d stop it.’

Every year, a Christmas card comes through our letter box addressed to the same former occupant. It includes no return address so that we might pass it back. The name on the envelope is not the name of the person we bought the house from.

      The handwriting gives the sender away as probably quite elderly. The names of the sender, Gwen, and recipient, Florence, also suggest this. The message inside is always the same: ‘Thinking of you and your children at this time of year’.

      This is our tenth Christmas at this address. In all of these years, the sender has remained unfaltering in their commitment to ensuring a card arrives here in time. It seems that the sender has no contact with the recipient – otherwise they would know not to send a card here. I think there is something both positive and really quite sad in this gesture; it encapsulates love, loss, sadness, and optimism. It is its own Christmas story.

* * * * * * * *

      ‘I wonder how long these cards have been coming, prior to us moving in here,’ says Nat. She holds this year’s up for me to see, before opening it. We have both grown to recognise the ornately shaky handwriting on the outer covering and have learned its contents by heart. Nat places the opened card on the windowsill, a make-shift shrine – a reminder to keep ones’ loved ones close. She hugs me and pours us a wine.

* * * * * * * *

I have had daydreams in which Gwen turns up at our front door: ‘Hello, is Florence at home?’ Or, more likely, ‘Who are you, and what are you doing in Florence’s house?’ I would have to give the bad news, but at least I could offer some kindness.

      ‘Do you think it was a falling out or a losing track that led to their breakdown in communication?’ I ask.

      ‘Perhaps Florence just died and there was no one to pass on the news,’ Nat suggests.

      ‘Perhaps,’ I say. I think about this for a moment longer and then add, ‘Perhaps they’re ghosts.’ I like this idea. ‘Maybe Florence still lives here with us, in a parallel time, and the card is a physical manifestation of this.’

      ‘As in, ‘I see dead cards’?’ says Nat.


      ‘Well if it is her messing with the volume on my kitchen radio, I wish she’d stop it.’ Nat shares out the rest of the Christmas cards, which have accompanied Florence’s through our letter box this morning, and we sit at the kitchen table to open them together.

      ‘To Papa Bear,’ Nat reads out. ‘This one’s for you.’

      Stacey, my son, will be coming to stay in a few days, this time bringing his girlfriend from Zurich. It’s nice to meet new family members, as we begin to lose our older ones.   

      One of the things that opening these cards reminds us of is the distances that the 21st Century’s ‘global community’ casts between modern family and friends. We consider how far the senders of each of our Christmas cards currently live from us, and from each other. This thought leads us to look at our own situation – neither Nat nor I come from this town in which we live. She’s West Country; I’m Welsh.

      Soon, we’ll be meeting up with family and friends for Christmas. I look across to the card on the windowsill. ‘I hope Gwen is OK’, I say.

      ‘And also, Florence,’ says Nat, raising her glass into the room. ‘Just in case,’ she whispers to me.

Adrian Sturrock: ‘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.


     ‘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?’

Her 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: 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.


     ‘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.