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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Uri Geller,’ she says.

     ‘What?’

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Delusions of grandeur,’ she would conclude.

     ‘It’s all I’ve got,’ I‘d say.

 

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

     ‘I know,’ I say.

     ‘I like it,’ she says.

     ‘So do I,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

     ‘Hm?’ she stirs slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Where you going?’ she asks.

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

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

     ‘You are indeed welcome,’ I say.

     She sniffs the milk.

                                                                                                                          ‘Pervert!’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                ‘Not really, Sir.’

                                                ‘Tell him, Jim …’

                                                ‘Shut up, Ron.’

                                                ‘Tell me what, Jim?’

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

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

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

     ‘Sorry,’ I say.

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

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

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

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

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

 

* * * * * * * *

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

     ‘Looking like crap,’ she says.

     ‘Feeling like crap,’ I say.

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

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

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

     I think she might mean it this time.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘If you find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, perhaps you could pick up a bottle of wine?’

My wife is hoping that it’s not going to snow tonight, in case she can’t get to work in the morning. I, on the other hand, am hoping that it’s going to snow tonight, in order to ensure that I can’t get to work in the morning. This isn’t because I’m lazy; it’s because I have a low boredom threshold – and because I like snow.

     There’s a word for people who don’t like snow (besides ‘boring’); it’s ‘chionophobia’. ‘Chion is, apparently, Greek for snow. My first reaction when I heard this was, ‘But it doesn’t snow in Greece. Why would they have a word for it?’ But then a friend of mine, who is Greek, pointed out that Greece has its own ski resorts. The subtext to this heads-up was, ‘I can’t believe you’re so ignorant.’ His words were kind; it was his face that gave him away.

     I went on to question how much protection the toga offers in sub-zero temperatures, though I have since found that the average Greek person does not wander around in a toga. I feel cheated and lied to by Hollywood.

* * * * * * * *

Nat keeps alternating between checking online weather reports and peeking through the curtains to see if there is any snow on the ground outside. According to the world of ‘online’, we are currently on Amber Alert; according to the real world, it’s all rather normal out there.

     It’s a strange tradition, this need to guess the weather. It’s like a weird form of gambling addiction, without the opportunity to win cash. If I was the Met Office, I think I’d simplify things by recording one basic message to play on loop: ‘It’s January, you’re in the UK, the weather is likely to be crap. Don’t forget your coat and your scrapie thing for the car.’ There really isn’t much else to it.

     ‘Should I take some extra warm clothes with me in the morning,’ Nat asks, ‘in case I get stranded?’

     I’m guessing this question is mostly rhetorical and that she is merely thinking aloud.

     I pull out a selection of my mountain gear from the back of the wardrobe while she’s in the shower and place it in a pile on her side of the bed.

     ‘Thanks,’ she says, as she returns to the bedroom and packs them into her small rucksack. ‘What are you doing?’ she asks, smiling at me across the room.

     I look up from behind my laptop. ‘I’m researching,’ I say.

     ‘Researching? Researching what?’

     ‘I’m researching at what temperature the human eye freezes.’

     ‘What? Why?’

     ‘I’m curious. It’s quite cold out there.’

     Nat seems to be waiting for a fuller explanation than I’m currently giving.

     ‘It says here that … Oh, that’s disappointing …’

     ‘What is?’

     ‘It says here that our eyes can’t freeze while inside our living body, no matter how low the temperature gets.  Apparently, they’re protected by a series of warm blood vessels and the heat from inside our heads.’

     ‘And this is disappointing because …?’

     ‘Because I was looking for a dramatic fact about cold weather,’ I say. ‘Sometimes, one would just like to believe in at least one good urban myth,’

     ‘Remind me again,’ she says, ‘I married you because …?’

     ‘… I’m lovely. Keep up.’

    She looks at me with her very specific frown. ‘If human eyes don’t freeze because they’re packed tightly against a warm brain, I suggest you don’t venture out until at least spring.’

     ‘Not even your tears would freeze,’ I continue, ignoring her, ‘because of the salt in them.’

     ‘Oh, there’s no worries there,’ she says, ‘there’s no tears in my cold black heart.’

     ‘That was my guess too,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

I’ve always had a thing about snow. I’ve also always had a thing about chilling at home while everyone else is at work. This could be my lucky week.

     I’ve even gone as far as to make a quick post-it note list of things I’d like to get done during my possible snow-day tomorrow. Why mess around with weather predictions when wishful thinking will do just as well.

     Meanwhile, Nat has trudged down to the shed at the bottom of our garden, in her pyjamas, to fetch our garden spade. ‘In case I’ll need to dig the car out,’ she says, pre-empting my question.

     ‘OK,’ I say.

     She stands the spade up in the hallway, next to her rucksack of emergency clothing. Later, I wander past her Shrine to Winter, and place my mountain trekking boots neatly next to her bag.

     ‘Thank you,’ she says, ‘but I probably won’t need those.’

     ‘Take them anyway,’ I say, ‘And if you do find yourself walking a mile in my shoes, perhaps you could pick up a bottle of wine?’

* * * * * * * *

The next morning, we both get out of bed together and rush over to the window to squint between the blinds.

     ‘Thank god’ says Nat. ‘No snow.’

     ‘Bugger!’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

UPDATE: twenty-four hours later:

SNOWMAGEDDON!!!

* * * * * * * *

Adrian Sturrock: “I once spent a year in Luton. I think it was a Thursday.”

     ‘I bought you these to show how much I care.’

     ‘I’m allergic to flowers,’ she said.

     ‘I know,’ I said.

     There are a number of ways to say goodbye to your boss. This was mine.

     It wasn’t her who was leaving; it was me. I’d been fired. Turns out there is a limit to the number of times you can tell a superior to go screw themselves, though, to be fair, this wasn’t something that was laid out clearly in the staff handbook.

     I was young back then, and what a more mature person might have described as impetuous. Would I react in the same way today, to the same type of boss? Absolutely.

     The leaving speech she gave at the end of my final day was at best a smattering of lukewarm nothings; arms-length corporate etiquette contrived with a very specific sub-plot that expressed to everyone present that she neither knew nor gave a damn about where I was moving on to next, and that she was pleased I was going.

     In honesty, so was I.    

     When protocol demanded that it was my turn to say a few words, I merely advised her not to forget her umbrella at the end of the day, as it looked like rain and I was concerned that her circuits might rust.

     In the car park, I was caught up to by an out-of-breath guy from I.T. who presented me with a book of poems that his daughter had written. ‘It’s sad to see you go,’ he said, ‘I would like you to have this gift. Thank you for always taking the time to talk with me. It was always a pleasure.’

    ‘Why wouldn’t I,’ I said. You’re one of the good guys.’

    ‘You’d be surprised how many people don’t,’ he said. ‘I’m generally just the man who sorts out people’s I.T. issues.’ And then he reminded me of the time that I emailed I.T. Support for help in undoing the lid on my water bottle.

    ‘You are indeed multi-talented,’ I said. I turned the book over in my hand and smiled at him. ‘And it seems that your daughter is talented too. Thank you.’

    Sajid was the first Muslim I ever met, and is the only face I still remember from those grey days in that grey job. I still have the copy of his daughter’s poetry. I also still have the Happy Eid card he’d given me a few months earlier. At the time, I had no idea what Eid was, and had to look it up when I got home. I felt privileged that he would have thought of me at Eid. This is why I still keep it.


* * * * * * * *

     ‘I think I’d be mortified if I was fired from my job,’ says Nat.

     ‘I was more mortified that I hadn’t fired myself,’ I say.

    ‘Technically, I think you did.’

     I smile. ‘It was the feeling of release that I experienced on my drive home that made me realise that being fired was actually the best thing that could have happened to me. I still remember the adrenalin rush I got as reality began to sink in, as I drove my way out of Luton for the last time.’

    ‘Now, that’s something I can empathise with,’ she says. ‘I once spent a year in Luton. I think it was a Thursday.’

     ‘They even requested that I write a formal letter of resignation,’ I say. ‘How screwed up is that?’

     ‘And how dangerous,’ says Nat. ‘If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the ten years we’ve been together, it’s to never let you get the last word.’

     ‘I’ve noticed that too,’ I say.

     ‘So, what did you write?’

     ‘Something along the lines of, ‘After much consideration, it is with regret that I must inform you that adulthood is not for me. Thank you for the opportunity…’’

     ‘Very grown up,’ says Nat.

     ‘Life’s too important to be taken seriously,’ I say.

     ‘That’s Oscar Wilde,’ says Nat.

     I stand up to answer the doorbell. ‘No, it’s probably just my mum,’ I say.