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. ‘A biscuit? 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 work colleagues.

     ‘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 when 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 as set out 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 nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise looking like your passport photo.’

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

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

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

     ‘I made a start.’

     ‘A start?’

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

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

     ‘I didn’t get that far.’

     ‘Why not?’

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

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

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

     ‘Why will it be different tomorrow?’

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

     ‘You have been,’ she says.

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘Hello,’ she shouts up the stairs.

     ‘Hello,’ I shout back.

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

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

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

     ‘I know,’ I say.

     ‘And did you sort out your passport?’

     ‘I sent in a picture,’ I say.

     ‘Really? … Oh, my’

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

 

* * * * * * * *

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

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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.

      ‘Exactly.’

      ‘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: ‘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.

* * * * * * * *