Adrian Sturrock: ‘I recently achieved the first item on my bucket list – I now have the bucket’

It’s 2007. I’m sitting in a country pub in Buckinghamshire with a new date. This is our first meeting together. We’re making small talk and enjoying the sunshine. To be honest, I’m starting to suffer from dating fatigue. I think I’ve been overdoing it. My record so far is two separate dates in the same evening. I’m probably not going to do that again.

     ‘You shouldn’t treat dating like shopping for shoes.’ says a friend of mine.

     ‘Most shoes on sale tend not to be to my taste,’ I say. ‘And being shoe shopping is so boring, I try to get around all the shops as quickly as possible.’

     ‘Maybe shoes is the wrong analogy,’ he says.

* * * * * * * *

By the time we’ve ordered our second drink and something to eat, small talk is already getting strained. How long does one have to sit through a date before one can leave without appearing rude, I wonder?

     ‘What are your ambitions?’ I ask, clutching for something to keep momentum going.

     ‘What?’

     ‘What would you most like to achieve in life?’ I persevere.

     ‘Well, I’d like a proper manicure,’ she says, ‘And I’d really like to kick a pigeon.’

     ‘Sorry?’ I’m clearly not hearing her correctly.

     ‘Well, look at them, they’re all cracked.’ She holds her fingers up at me.

     ‘No, the other one,’ I say.

     ‘I really want to kick a pigeon,’ she repeats. ‘You know, it’s difficult, isn’t it. They move so quickly.’

     I check my watch. Twenty more minutes should do it. I’ll just have to eat faster.

     ‘I feel that you’ve thought this through carefully,’ I say, smiling at her to test whether or not she’s actually just teasing me. She isn’t.

     ‘It’s been my ambition since I was a child,’ she tells me. ‘I’ve tried all sorts; sneaking up on them from behind, and to the side, but just as I go to take a swing at one of them, it’s like they’re psychic or something, like they know what I’m going to do and fly away. It’s so frustrating.’

     ‘Yes, it must be,’ I say, staring directly at her. I’m aware that this is the first thing that she’s talked animatedly about.

     Our meals arrive and I dig into mine as quickly as possible.

     ‘What about you?’ she asks.

     ‘I can honestly say that I’ve never had the urge,’ I say, using my wine to wash down a large mouthful of pasta.

     ‘No, silly, I meant what are your ambitions?’

     ‘Oh. Well, I’d really like to one day earn a living as a travel writer,’ I say. ‘I’d also like to learn a new language and, at some point, perhaps retire into Europe. And, though it sounds silly (though not as utterly ridiculous as your pigeon thing, I think to myself), I’d like to get published in The Guardian.’

     ‘She looks at me with a degree of disappointment. ‘You’re a bit posh, aren’t you,’ she says.

     ‘Am I?’ I say. (I’m now most of the way through my meal. Eight or nine more minutes at most, I think to myself, surveying my plate.)

     ‘… Do you mind if I pop to the loo?’ she asks, after a short pause.

     ‘Of course not,’ I say.

     Five minutes later, she returns to the table, though doesn’t sit down. ‘I’m really sorry,’ she says, ‘but my friend just phoned me to say that she’s having a bit of bother with her boyfriend. I’m going to have to go and help her out. Hope you don’t mind, do you?’

     ‘Not at all,’ I answer, not believing a word she’s saying, ‘You’re clearly a good friend. Go do what you need to.’

     We do the obligatory not-quite-hug thing as she grabs her jacket and handbag and disappears out the door.

     I sit back down, unsure which is currently my dominant emotion – relief or disappointment that I didn’t get to escape first. I pour the rest of her wine into my glass and finish my meal at a more leisurely pace.

 

Not long after I get home, my phone rings. It’s my friend.

     ‘How did the date go?’ he asks.

     ‘I don’t think I really need a new pair of shoes at the moment,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

It’s 2019. Nat and I are out having breakfast.

     ‘A quoi penses-tu?’ she asks.

     I’m thinking about bucket lists,’ I say. ‘What’s on yours?’

     ‘I’d really like to go to the Galapagos islands.’ 

     ‘Interesting,’ I say. ‘Any form of birdlife you’d like to kick?’

     ‘What?’

     ‘Good answer,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

 

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

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

     ‘Who’s congratulating you?’ asks Nat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘It’s a … it’s a credit card.’

     ‘Why do you want another credit card?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     ‘I’m just on it,’ I shout.

* * * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * *

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

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

     ‘Who?’

     I hand Nat Catherine’s earlier correspondence with me.

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

     ‘Yes,’ I say.

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

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

     ‘Uh-Huh,’ she says.

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

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

* * * * * * * *

 

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

YOU CAN ALSO FIND MY TWO CURRENT BOOKS, *Random* AND *The Sat Nav Diaries*  ON AMAZON: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adrian-Sturrock/e/B07QQDZMKQ?ref=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000
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