Adrian Sturrock: ‘Next week’s blog will be sent telepathically, so if you think of something funny, that will probably be me’

Today, I received an email from an anonymous lady referring to herself only as Medium Theresa. In my mind, that makes her a size 12-14.

     Beyond displaying that she knows my first name (and, clearly, my email address) she wastes no time coming to the point of her message: “Between waking and sleeping,” she tells me, “I am susceptible to the visions that the Higher Powers want to share with me.” While I appreciate the candour of her confession, I’m not sure that I’m the right person to be talking to. On the other hand, though I’ve never been much of a drinker, I think I understand enough to empathise.

     “Last night I saw that you needed my help. I have rarely had such a powerful vision,” she informs me, before inviting me to “Click here and discover what I saw about you.” Not wishing to risk Medium Theresa harnessing the spirit of my entire laptop contents, I choose not to “click here” but, instead, continue reading. I’m only human; if someone, no matter what their dress size, tells me that I need their help, I am likely to draw up a quick audit of any bad stuff that might be currently occurring in my life.

     Other than the facts that I don’t like my day job, that I had to shave using shampoo this morning because I’d forgotten to buy shave gel, and that, occasionally, the water turns cold while I’m showering (I must remember to phone a plumber about this), I feel that everything is pretty much on point in my life at present.

     Theresa begs to differ. “You are struggling with certain important matters,” she corrects. “You know intuitively that if you did not have these problems, your life would look very different.’

     Are there any niggles that I’m subconsciously burying? All I can think of is the fact that I’m still a little jealous of the guy on the news who won £117 million on the Euro Lottery this week. With £117 million, I could quit the day job, get my shave gel delivered in bulk, and keep a plumber on retainer. I wonder, however, whether Medium Theresa is perhaps being a little over-sensitive on my behalf.

     “I know you have not always had it easy in your life …” she continues. I stop to consider this. I’ve been on the planet for 53 years; shit happens, but nothing so far of the magnitude of war, famine or Cadburys going out of business. In many ways, I consider myself quite lucky.

     “The Higher Powers have brought me on your path. I feel that I must help you,” she persists. ‘It’s not me who’s hearing voices,’ I find myself whispering as I scroll down the rest of her message. I instantly feel bad for saying this and find myself whispering, ‘I’m sorry,’ at my laptop screen, as way of apology.

     ‘Who are you talking to?’ asks Nat, entering the room behind me.

     ‘Medium Theresa,’ I say.

     ‘That would make her a size 12-14,’ says Nat.

     ‘That had occurred,’ I say.

     ‘That’s a 38-40 in European sizes.’

     ‘Or an 11-13 in Japan,’ I add.

     Nat stops what she’s doing and looks at me. ‘Why do you know this?’

     ‘We’ve all got a past,’ I say, smiling. ‘I used to work for the Geisha Secret Service … the GSS, if you will.’

     ‘… Anyway, who is Medium Theresa?’

     ‘She wants to save me from myself.’ I point at my screen.

     Nat scans down the email. ‘… You only have three days to make use of my message,’ She quotes. ‘Does her higher power buddy go on holiday after that?’

     ‘Well, I’m a little disappointed to find that her proposed friendship should come with conditions,’ I say, ‘but she does point out that I’m (I highlight the words), “a very special person.” And despite the glaring fact that she’s never met me, I’m going to let her have that one.’

     ‘Special can be a very loaded word,’ says Nat, smiling at me.

     Later, during dinner, something occurs to me. ‘Have you noticed that, of the people who have won the lottery over the years, none of them has claimed to be psychic?’

     ‘That’s probably because of insider-trading laws,’ says Nat. ‘Did you reply to Medium Theresa?’

     ‘I didn’t feel it necessary,’ I say. I think she could have foreseen that my response was going to be a lack of one.’

     ‘That won’t make her a very happy medium,’ says Nat.

     ‘I see what you did then,’ I say.

Adrian Sturrock: ‘The bigger part of what I am is what I’m not.’

Student:           Sir, with twins, yeah …

Me:                 … Yeah

Student:           … Twins?

Me:                  (Sigh) Yes, twins … Yeah?

Student:          How do you know which one to tell that they weren’t planned?

This isn’t a question that I would have anticipated from one of my students – mostly because I teach Business.

     ‘Why would you tell either of them?’ I ask.

     ‘Well, it’s about honesty, isn’t it,’ he says. ‘You shouldn’t lie to your children.’

     ‘Fair point,’ I say. I’m buffering a little here.

     ‘Well? Which one?’ he insists.

     ‘The ugly one, obviously,’ I say. (Hey, I’m already riffing on a ridiculous conversation!)

     ‘But what if they’re both ugly,’ he persists. ‘What if they’re identically ugly twins?’ (This boy knows how to bounce back!)

     ‘Then we’d have to have a dance-off,’ I say.

     ‘A minger dance-off? That’s gross.’

     ‘That’s life, I’m afraid,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

     ‘They’re lucky to have you at that school,’ says Nat, as she pours another drink.

     We’re sat in the garden enjoying sunshine and squirrels. In a few days, the summer holidays will have started and I can pretend that I’m unemployed for the next six weeks. This is by far my favourite part of my job – the not going to it.

     ‘What are your plans for the holidays? Nat asks.

     ‘When we get back from our trip, it’s back to office hours for me,’ I say, ‘until I finish the book.’  

     ‘You’re the only person I know who works harder during their time off than they do during their day job,’ she says.

     It’s not the idea of work itself that I hate, it’s the lack of opportunity to be myself that I resent. I love my ‘not-the-day-job’– my writing life.

     ‘Once I get to sell the film rights to the novel I haven’t yet written, I can give up the day job and become a tax exile,’ I say. ‘Alternatively, I could try selling superfluous bits of myself. How many kidneys do I have?’

     ‘Two – but you’ll need to keep at least one.’

     ‘That’s disappointing,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

The best thing about keeping ‘office hours’ as a writer is that the ‘office’ is wherever one choose it to be – it’s just me and a laptop. I have a shortlist of cafes, restaurants and bars that I alternate between and, in summer, I might add the odd park, riverside or, occasionally, a beach to the list. This comfortable detachment from the world makes me ridiculously happy. It’s all about this and travel; everything else can go to hell.

     ‘But how do you deal with writers’ block,’ asks my friend, Jason.

     ‘By denying its existence,’ I tell him. ‘I’m always either in the driver’s seat or the passenger seat – either way, It’s all about moving forwards. If I know what I’m writing about, I drive the experience; if my mind is blank, I’ll riff off whatever comes out of my pen. Me and my pen swap driving duties a lot.’

     My ‘Not-the-day-job’ does, however, come with a very tough boss who reviews my work on a regular basis, and with brutal honesty. I generally refer to this boss as my wife, though Grammar Nazi fits her equally well.

     ‘I learned from the best,’ she tells me. ‘As a child, I remember walking past a butcher’s shop in Somerset with my grandmother, when she suddenly picks up the chalkboard that’s pitched outside, takes it into the store and demands of the butcher, ‘Tell me what’s wrong with this sign’. That’s how I learned to spot whether an apostrophe was in the wrong place. She was the same grandmother who would mark my ‘Thank You’ cards with red pen and send them back to me. She was very cool!’

     Turns out she was also the person who taught Nat basic French. At the same age, I was still in Wales, nursing the psychological damage brought on by my bowl haircut, and bouncing tennis balls off passing cars. Our beginnings were not similar.

 

 

* * * * * * * *

If I can’t yet give up the day job, I can at least find ways to lessen its impact on me, on my time, and on my writing. I’ve recently been having discussions with my current day job boss, which has resulted in me leaving work today with a big smile and a touch of the Geldorfs about me. Roof down, I found myself revving my way out of the school premises while singing at the top of my voice: ‘I don’t do Mondays, I don’t do Mon-da-ays’. (I had requested Fridays off – but it’s a start.)

     ‘All I have to do now is make enough money from Mondays to afford to give up Tuesdays … and so on,’ I say to my ‘not-yet-the-day-job’ boss, Nat.

     ‘Well, you’d better not be rubbish then,’ she says.

     This is the start of my freedom … and my paranoia. But at least I have my Grammar Nazi to keep me focussed.

* * * * * * * *

Earlier today:

            Student:           Sir, about the twins …?

            Me:                  Really!? Go on …

            Student:          My aunt didn’t really like the idea of a dance-off.

            Me:                  Tell her it was me and I’ll deny everything.

            Student:          That’s not fair, sir; that’s dishonest.

            Me:                  And, right there, another invaluable life lesson for you. It’s quite
                                     an education, coming here, isn’t it. Think of me as your personal
                                     guru.

            Student:           My what?

            Me:                 Never mind.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: Extract from ‘THE SAT NAV DIARIES’

Chapter 5 – Feeling Jung in Kesswil – (Kesswil, Switzerland)

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 Today we enter Switzerland, home to watchmaking, chocolate and assisted suicide. I’m wondering what to take back for the relatives.

     Having left Strasbourg relatively early this morning and having now crossed into Germany, we enjoy a far too brief scenic drive through the edges of the stunningly imposing Black Forest. I’m wishing I’d uploaded some equally imposing Wagner onto my iPod as an apt soundtrack to this section of road. Instead, I am destined to listen to my wife repeating the German for ‘black forest gateaux’ over and over again—she tells me she learned the phrase at school and likes the sound of it, apparently.

     Eventually the terrain flattens out a little—as does her enthusiasm for orating the name of said dessert—which she’s been doing in a variety of voices—and we arrive at the Swiss border. Our next job is to buy a vignette, a compulsory road-tax display disc for driving on main Swiss highways. I enter the official roadside building and approach the desk to pay my forty Euros but am instantly made to feel like a child as an officious sounding man in a military hat tells me off for queuing at the wrong desk.

     ‘This is the desk for people leaving Switzerland,’ he barks. ‘Go to that desk.’ He points, equally officiously, to another desk behind me.

     This seems strange. Surely, if I were driving from Switzerland into Germany, I would now be on the other side of the motorway and ‘this desk’ would be on the wrong side of the road.

     ‘Somebody should tell that guy that he’s on the wrong side of the road, then,’ I reply, pointing to Desk One. ‘Though let him down gently,’I add, leaning in a little and lowering my voice, I’m sure he’ll feel quite silly when he realises.’

     I leave Mr Military Man glaring at me as I turn and approach the other desk.

     I buy my vignette and return to the car. I now feel very European with my shiny red Swiss tax disc adorning my windscreen. I am happy and excited. I’ve never been to Switzerland before.

     ‘The man in the traffic shop wasn’t very nice,’ I tell Nat.

     ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte,’ she replies.

     ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’

     I reach for my iPod. It’s playing ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. We merge into the traffic and make our way to our first Swiss destination.

* * * * * * * *

It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Kesswil. I’m not impressed. It’s bland and grey and nothing like the Swiss movie that has been playing in my head all day.

     ‘So, where’s the friggin’ cow bells?’

     Nat is currently failing to convince me that Switzerland is beautiful.

     In guidebook speak, Kesswil is a municipality in the district of Arbon in the canton of Thurgau. In road trip speak, it is an almost adequately placed rest stop for the night, before the new excitements of tomorrow. All I really know about it as we enter the town is that it is the birthplace of Karl Jung. And it has a lake.

     As Bernice (our sat nav—keep up!) takes us along the final road to our destination for the evening, we are slightly confused to see only residential houses. No hotel.

     ‘Ah, yes,’ says Nat, ‘maybe this one is the B&B I booked.’

     ‘What? Why a B&B?’ I ask.

     ‘It was cheaper,’ she says. ‘You said keep it cheap so that we could have two nights in St Moritz.’

     Damn, I did say that, though I was thinking cheaper hotel. I don’t reply, as we have now arrived on somebody’s driveway.

     ‘Okay, you knock on the door while I grab the bags,’ I say, as I switch the engine off.

     ‘Why don’t you knock?’

     ‘Because you know the German for black forest gateaux?’

     She looks blankly at me.

     ‘Well … it’s a start,’ I offer.

     I hand her the paperwork and move to get out of the car, my gesture intended to imply both conclusion and agreement on this matter.

     By the time I’ve retrieved our bags from the boot, locked the car and started to walk towards the front of the house, Nat has managed to drag her feet just far enough to reach the door alongside me. She rings the doorbell, but even before she has time to take her finger from the button, the door is opened by a tall, elderly man with an implausibly fixed smile.

     Eerie.

     We look at each other, and then turn our attention back to who we assume to be our new host.

     ‘Hallo.’

     ‘Hello,’ replies Nat, ‘we have a reservation for this evening?’

     Behind his smile, he clearly doesn’t understand much English. I move to step in when, suddenly …. No, not suddenly. What happens next is too weird for a mere suddenly. What happens next is that Nat, my wife—whom I have lived with for six years, been married to for nearly five—inexplicably bursts into fluent German. As if this is the most natural thing to do when in a German speaking country.

     ‘Wir haben eines reservierung für diesen abend.‘

     I have no idea what is taking place now. My mind has just pressed pause on the day, and I’m watching a random scene unfold in front of me—as though I’m watching television. But my wife is on this show. And she’s been dubbed into German. And I don’t understand a thing. When the hell did my wife learn to speak German?

     ’When the hell did you learn to speak German?’ I spit out.

     ‘Shh!’ she says and continues to discuss our documentation with Mr B&B.

     Once they have concluded their commerce, the man’s smile turns to me. I decide to sidestep the language barrier by offering a very safe ‘Hi’ and holding out my right hand for a friendly handshake. It is at this point that Mr B&B holds out his left hand. This is because, I quickly realise, he has no right hand. Or right arm. I take a step forward to distract from my slight of hand as I quickly swap, um, hands. And voilà(French, you know!), no harm is done. We have successfully greeted. Sometimes, I am very proud of my quick thinking.

     ‘I think that went well,’ I whisper to Nat as we are led indoors to be greeted by Mrs B&B, who is approaching us along the passageway. She now takes over and efficiently introduces us to the dog and the television—in that order.

     We follow Mrs B&B upstairs as Mr B&B returns to the living room where, presumably, he had come from. She is turning to speak to me at almost every step. I have absolutely no idea what she is saying but she is smiling and laughing a lot so I assume they are happy things. On the other hand, I quickly begin to irritate myself by repeating the word ‘Cool’ to everything she says. I try to answer with other things but my default setting appears to be stuck.

     ‘Cool … yeah, cool … Ha! Cool …’ God, I need a new strategy for these kinds of situations.

     I’m a little relieved when Nat whispers to me that she doesn’t understand Mrs B&B either.

     ‘She’s talking too fast,’ she whispers, ‘and I’m not sure of her dialect.’

     It puts me at ease to have someone on this side of the confusion again.

     Mrs B&B is, however, picking up on the language barrier. But where she could simply have handed us the keys to the door and wished us good luck (as I would have preferred), she chooses instead to persevere through the medium of mime.

     Firstly, she introduces us to the bed, the bathroom, the balcony and the wardrobe (with its open-and-close doors), all of which we can clearly see from where we are standing in the room. I want to inform her that we now have bathrooms and wardrobes in the UK, but I consider that Nat would probably tell me off, so I stay silent. There is also the fact that I don’t speak German, of course—unlike my wife, the MI6 spy. (I will clearly need to discuss this with her later.)

     I think that Mrs B&B is now going to leave, but she hasn’t finished yet. In her attempt to make us feel at home, she has switched on the TV and is kindly—and rather frantically—flipping buttons, eagerly trying to find us an English-speaking channel. She is getting visibly frustrated by this search. So am I.

     Eventually landing on an American music channel, she smiles and puts the handset down in order to next introduce us to her A4 wipe-clean breakfast menu.

     And this is my next out-of-body experience of this trip. I can hardly hear her over the volume of the rap channel she has chosen for us and as she points to pictures of various sausages on the menu, her words are drowned out by the Afro-Caribbean gentleman on the television warning me about how he is going to ‘fuck up my hoe’ (though I believe other gardening tools are available).

     My mind is flitting between feigned interest in what Mrs B&B is failing to communicate to me and a clutch (I shall use this collective term) of black ‘booty’ being enthusiastically wobbled at me—presumably for my pleasure—on the screen beside her.

     Mrs B&B is fast becoming Mrs R&B, I feel.

     And then yet another out-of-body experience kicks in. While I have been having my previous WTF experience, her conversation has clearly moved on (to the shower temperature, Nat later tells me), and while Mr Rapper off of the TV goes into detail about which way up he prefers his ‘bitches’, Mrs B&B is standing in this same room that I am meant to be sleeping in this evening, with one hand raised above her head and the other rubbing her chest as she wriggles (seemingly to the music) while repeating ‘douche … douche …’ I am making a mental note to sleep with the light on tonight.

     By the time we have completed our full induction to our stay and finalised breakfast arrangements, Nat has found Treasure Hunt on TV. I resign myself to retrieving the final suitcase from the car.

     ‘Well done,’ she says, as we settle down to a coffee on the little sofas by the window.

     ‘What for?’ I ask.

     ‘For saying nothing during all of that.’

     ‘How do you know I had anything to say?’

     She smiles as though she has been reading my mind the whole time. ‘Well done,’ she repeats.

     ‘So, just out of interest,’ I add, ‘of all the serial killer couples you have ever heard of/met (delete as appropriate), which couple did we just meet?’

     ‘Fred and Rose West,’ she says, without even slight hesitation.

     ‘I think Jung had something when he talked about collective consciousness,’ I reply.

     ‘I don’t want to frighten you,’ she says, but did you notice that the balcony is shared by both our patio doors and Fred and Rose’s?’ She points.

     ‘Luckily, we have been blessed by that screamingly loud freight train track just a twenty foot suicide jump from the balcony. I feel this will probably remind us to shut—and lock—the patio doors before we sleep.’

     I suggest we beat Fred and Rose at their own game by appearing silhouetted against their glass doors at 3am, dressed as The Shining twins. We both like this idea, but it is now raining outside and so, instead, decide to venture out to the small lakeside restaurant we’d passed earlier.

     Despite a great view of sunset over the lake, all foods at the restaurant taste of vinegar. So we settle back down at Fred and Rose’s, excited about the coolday we have planned for tomorrow.

* * * * * * * *

Breakfast is conducted totally in German. It is here that we meet the only other couple presently staying at the B&B. They seem nice. Nat dips in and out of the conversation (using her sudden fluency in German) while helping me along as she might a special needs child she has been put in charge of. The actual child in me is quite pleased when the guy from the other couple suddenly explodes his boiled egg over himself as he tries to cut into it. I don’t know, somehow this helps level the field a little.

     I notice that yesterday’s wipe-clean breakfast menu was more of a survey than an order, as there is little relationship between what I’d previously ticked and what is now laying on my plate. I’m not overly bothered though, as I’m excited about getting back on the road. Today, we are heading into the Alps.

* * * * * * * *

I finish packing up the car while Nat settles the bill with our hosts. As I re-enter the house to say goodbye, I find that she and Rose are engaged in some kind of mutual disagreement. I’m not too sure what the issue is. I look over at Fred. He is still sat at the breakfast table where we’d left him, though now he is waving a pastry at me.

     I eventually get the gist of the situation. Rose is asserting that we had not pre-paid 30% of the total charge. However, the printed details that Nat is waving at her asserts (unfortunately in English only) that we have.

     We conclude that being the difference isn’t a lot in terms of Sterling, and being that the language barrier is evidently too large to allow clear establishment of business understanding here—and, as I quietly assert to my wife while nodding in the direction of the living room, one should never fuck with a one-armed Swiss pensioner wielding a croissant—we duly pay the difference, and I start the car.

     Nat offers to drive this next section of the journey, and so I’m free to settle into the passenger seat, check the music, and start to enjoy the slowly evolving scenery.

     Soon, we are back on the motorway.

     ‘What are you eating?’ she asks, after a few moments.

     I’m about to answer but she cuts me off …

     ‘That’s Fred’s croissant, isn’t it.’ There is an accusatory tone in her voice.

     ‘Well I wasn’t sure if he was threatening me with it or just offering me something for the journey. I didn’t want to offend him so …’

     I tail off as Nat’s face starts to turn to a warm smile. Next stop is Davos.

* * * * * * * *

 

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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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Adrian Sturrock: ‘Marty McFly used a Delorean; whenever I wish to travel back in time, I simply step inside our local post office.’

‘Why are you texting in capitals?’ asks my wife, looking over my shoulder.

     ‘It’s my uncle,’ I say. ‘he’s a bit deaf.’

     She looks at me, then looks away, then looks at me again. ‘I, um … never mind.’

     We’ve been standing in this post office queue for over half an hour. We thought that we’d just ‘pop in’ quickly to get our International Driving Permits organised ready for an upcoming road trip, and then go for breakfast at a little country restaurant we know. At least this was the plan.

     WE’RE CURRENTLY FOURTH IN LINE, I text.

     Well, give my regards to Princess Margaret, pings the reply.

     ‘Isn’t Princess Margaret dead?’ asks Nat, continuing to read my phone over my shoulder.

     ‘I’ve no idea,’ I say, ‘I’ve only ever known her as a person off the TV, like … Ian Beale or Homer Simpson.

     ‘Ian Beale and Homer Simpson are fictional characters,’ she says.

     ‘Exactly my point,’ I say. ‘… It’s complicated, isn’t it.’

     I text my uncle back: I MEANT FOURTH IN LINE IN THE POST OFFICE QUEUE, NOT TO THE THRONE.

     A moment later, he responds with, Well, that’s far less impressive, and adds a sad emoji.

     Nat smiles. ‘I see where you get it from,’ she says.

     ‘Get what?’

     ‘… Nothing.’ She glances back along the queue that is deepening around us.

* * * * * * * *

The bad news is that we were fourth in line when we entered this queue. This is because the elderly lady at the front of the line, with an armful of individually wrapped brown paper parcels, is refusing to divulge to the counter staff what is in each package.

     ‘That’s my business, not yours,’ she keeps insisting.

     ‘Them’s the rules, I’m afraid,’ repeats Post Office lady.

     ‘I don’t ask you what’s in your parcels,’ demands the old lady.

     As irritating as standing in this queue is, I’m quite entertained by the old woman’s totally irrational, though quite understandable, stance.

     ‘It’s only for security purposes,’ says Post Office lady, ‘I’m not looking to pry.’

     ‘To be honest,’ I say loudly, across the queue, ‘those packages do look a little bit bomb-shaped to me.’

     The old lady turns around abruptly and stares at me. ‘Since when did a few cardigans and books look like bombs?’ she protests.

     I smile at Post Office lady. ‘I believe my job here is done,’ I say, curtseying coyly to her.

     ‘Job done, indeed,’ says Post Office lady, smiling back at me.

     Nat leans into me and whispers, ‘Who says that bombers vests can’t come as cardigans?’

     ‘Hmm. Good point,’ I say. I consider the idea of the first terrorist device to arrive on the market with a ‘Don’t boil wash’ label attached.

     ‘And don’t be fooled by appearances,’ whispers Nat, ‘that seemingly defenceless old lady might actually be knitting a whole military as we speak.’

‘What? Like a slightly more pastoral version of the Terracotta Army?’

‘Exactly.

I consider the scene: ‘Is that a boiled sweet in your pocket, grandad?’ ‘No, it’s the detonator! Back off!

     ‘Ssh! Lower your voice,’ says Nat, looking around us. ‘But, yes, I think you’ve got the gist.’

     ‘I read the other day,’ I say, ‘that the UK spent close to £50 billion, last year, on its military. If this old lady can produce an entire militia on a pension, someone should consider putting her in charge of our defence budget. Look at her demanding that all of her parcels go as second-class post – put her in charge of Defence and we’d probably still have change left over for custard creams and the bus ride home.’

     The old lady has finished haggling with the Post Office staff now and stares right at me as she walks past. ‘Bombs, indeed!’ she says at me.

     ‘Come the revolution, sister!’ I say, raising my fist up in a ‘power to the people’ pose.

     She doesn’t respond.

* * * * * * * *

Processing our International Driving Permits is a new thing for the two ladies behind the counter. ‘Bear with me,’ says the older woman, ‘this is only the second one of these I’ve done. In fact, this Post Office has only been doing them for the past two weeks; it’s still quite new to me.’

     ‘No worries,’ I say, handing my passport picture to her.

     ‘Is that you?’ she asks, turning it around to take a closer look.

     ‘Um, yes,’ I say, confused by the question.

     ‘My passport picture is horrible,’ she says.

     ‘This one was my third attempt,’ I say ‘I was going to do this last week, but it rained and my hair went silly. And then I got a spot here.’ I point to an area just under my lower lip. ‘And just as I was …’

     ‘… Shall we just get on with it?’ says Nat.

     I hand the lady my driving licence, and she starts to copy the information from my UK licence into my new old-looking international licence, in her best, slowest handwriting. ‘I’d best not make a mistake,’ she tells me, looking up in order to get my full attention, ‘or I’ll have to start all over again.’

     ‘OK,’ I say, ‘Best concentrate then.’

     She asks where I’m travelling to and I reel off the countries while she hunts for each of the country names on her A4 crib sheet. ‘You’ll need the 1968 version,’ she tells me.

     ‘Ok,’ I say.

     ‘Do you know why it’s called the 1968 version?’ she asks.

     ‘Because it alludes to the 1968 Treaty?’

     ‘Because it alludes … Oh, you know that.’

     ‘I do,’ I say. I smile to show no hard feelings.

     ‘If you were to go to some of the countries further away, you might need the …’

     ‘1949 version?’

     ‘Oh …yes … the 1949 version. That’s because those countries were agreed in a Treaty in …’

     ‘In 1949?’ (I must stop doing this, I think to myself.)

     ‘Stop doing that,’ Nat whispers into the back of my ear.

     Eventually, Mrs Post Office has finished copying all of my details from my UK licence over to the International Permit in her best, slowest handwriting.

     ‘How much is that?’ I ask.

     ‘Oh, I’m not finished yet,’ she says. ‘Jenny, do you have the glue stick?’

     ‘I thought you had it,’ says Jenny.

     I look at Nat in confusion as Mrs Post Office and the young Jenny rummage through drawers and shelves for their communal glue stick.

     ‘Ah, here it is,’ says Mrs Post Office, eventually waving her glue stick at me. ‘We can’t carry on without this.’

     ‘I should hope not,’ I say, wondering what the hell she’s talking about, but smiling anyway.’

     She takes my photo and glue-sticks it to the driving permit, before taking her special ink stamper and pressing it half onto my picture and half to the buff-coloured cardboard page. She then holds my driving permit at arms-length, to admire her handy work. ‘There you go,’ she says, ‘Nobody can forge your licence now.’ She smiles at me and hands me my completed document for me to check through and sign, as she pushes the lid back onto her glue stick.

     ‘What? No glitter?’ I ask, thinking that the document looks so out of keeping with modern technology, with its handwritten details, glued-on photo, and its numerous ink stamps to illustrate what types of vehicles I can and cannot drive while abroad.

     Post Office lady looks seriously at me before deciding that I’m joking and relaxes. ‘It would cheer the card up a little, wouldn’t it,’ she says.

     I turn the document over in my hand. ‘I think it might,’ I say, ‘It does look a little like a ration card; the sort that one might rock up with at a soviet bread queue.’

     I’m guessing that Mrs Post Office is having trouble accessing this image, so we both say our thank yous and goodbyes, and Nat and I leave the counter.

     ‘Why do we even need one of these?’ I ask Nat, as we get out into the sunshine.

     ‘Because of men in hats,’ she says. ‘And you know how men like to wear hats, it makes them feel …’

     ‘Taller?’

     ‘Yes, probably,’ says Nat.

     My phone pings. It’s my uncle. What are you doing in the post office?He texts.

     TRAVELLING BACK IN TIME, I text.

     Then I refer you to my previous message, he texts, Give my regards to Princess Margaret.

     I think back to the lady with the secretive packages. I THINK I ALREADY MIGHT HAVE, I text.

     Jolly good, he texts.

     Nat looks at her watch. ‘We’ve missed breakfast,’ she says, ‘Shall we just call it…’

     ‘… Brunch?’ (I wish I could stop doing that, I think to myself.)

     ‘I wish you’d stop doing that,’ says Nat.

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘It’s the easier jobs that I tend to be most rubbish at.’

‘You know why birds sing in the morning?’ I say to Nat, utilising the sandpaper tones of the amateur drunk, ‘Because they don’t have to go to work after only 4 hours sleep and three bottles of Pinot Grigio.’

     ‘Well, you did it to yourself,’ she says, dismissively.

     I hate all that you’ve-only-yourself-to-blame nonsense. There’s no satisfaction in blaming oneself. ‘No,’ I say, standing my ground, albeit while hunched over the bedroom chest of drawers with my head in my hands, ‘YOU did this to me. It wasn’t me who picked up a caseload of wine on their way home from work.’

     ‘And it wasn’t me who made you drink it,’ she says, eyeing me in the mirror while applying her lipstick. ‘don’t have a hangover.’

     I’m not a fan of smug, either (unless, of course, it’s coming from me). ‘But you laid them all out in front of me,’ I say, miming her pulling bottles from the box and setting them in a row. ‘What was I supposed to do?’

     ‘How about … I don’t know … exercise judgement?’

     ‘Enabler!’

     ‘Freeloader!’

* * * * * * * *

After a delicate morning and a full day at work, we are now to spend the next four hours driving to Wales in order to celebrate my mum’s birthday. There are three reasons why Nat is driving this evening (four, if one considers that I may still be drunk):

  1. We have agreed that taking my two-seater car would mean that either my mum or Nat would have to lay curled up in the boot if we were to go out for the day. (Neither of them is happy to do this – I’ve checked.)
  2. My mum hates being a passenger in my car. She says the seats are too low down and she can’t get back out of them. (You just can’t please some people.)
  3. The solution to ‘1’ and ‘2’ above is for us to take Nat’s car. But Nat doesn’t like me driving it; she alleges that I don’t have an acceptable grasp of gear change. (The truth is that I am actually a very good driver. And Nat is just not a very good passenger in her own car.)

     Anyway, this means that I am relegated to the position of commuter for the entirety of this journey, which is fine by me. My job is simple: I am to be DJ and conversationalist only. These two tasks are ones that, I feel, I can be trusted with.

     Fifteen minutes into the journey, I’m still trying to find something on Nat’s music system that I like.

     ‘I give you one job to do …,’ she says, smiling.

     ‘I’m trying to find something good,’ I say.

     ‘Rude!,’ she says. ‘And anyway, on this journey, you are the DJ and I am the audience. It’s not about you.’

     I set her music to random play and put the iPod down.

     ‘Ooh! That’s better,’ she says. ‘Good choice.’

     ‘I aim to please at least one of us,’ I say, grimacing at her.

     ‘Now talk to me,’ she says.

     ‘What?’

     ‘Talk to me. You’re meant to be my DJ and conversationalist. Tell me things.’

     I think hard, trying to push away the clouds of sleepiness that are gathering in my head. ‘Um … Indian police officers get paid more if they have moustaches,’ I say.

     ‘Moustaches?’

     ‘Well, just the one, I assume. Each, that is.’

     ‘Why would they get paid more for that?’

     ‘Something to do with a belief by bosses that underlining their noses gives them an added air of authority?’ I say, ‘Though I’m probably paraphrasing.’

     ‘That’s just silly,’ says Nat.

     ‘Added ‘hair’ of authority,’ I say, attempting to stretch a little more humour from my random fact. I search for proof of my claim on my phone, and stumble upon a Daily Telegraph article from 2005, entitled Indian police pay goes up by a whisker. ‘See,’ I say, waving my phone screen in front of her.

     Well, it’s still silly,’ she says.

* * * * * * * *

My mind drifts off into the online article and Nat and I fall silent as she drives, her iPod continuing my Dj-ing work for me. I’m considering how much money a job would need to pay me before I might agree to whoring facial hair for it. It’s bad enough that I have to wear a tie at work. ‘Archaic nonsense,’ I aside to myself.

     I’m in mid decision that such a price doesn’t exist, when Nat sounds up to remind me that I have again abandoned my car duties.

     ‘I’m sorry,’ I say, ‘The easiest jobs have always been the ones I’m most rubbish at. I think this is because I get bored so easily.’

    ‘I’m sorry I’m boring you,’ she says, in her best sarcastic tones.

     ‘You’re not,’ I say, ‘but when I’m bored – generally – I forget to pay attention. It’s the easier jobs that I’ve tended to get fired from.

     ‘Ok,’ she says.

     ‘I took a waitering job at a fish restaurant, once. I was terrible.’

     ‘So why did you do it?’

     ‘Money?’ I say. ‘There was a time when I could hardly afford to pay the electricity bill. Those were dark times.’ I leave a space for Nat to catch up with my amazing comedy.

     … Silence.

    I repeat, ‘They were dark … times?’

     Nothing …

     I sigh and move on. ‘I was so bad at waitering that I felt it was only a matter of time before the whole restaurant industry would add the word ‘syndrome’ to my surname when teaching new recruits how not to do stuff.’

     ‘You weren’t a natural, then?’

     ‘I got tipped well by the diners, but only for my entertainment quality, never for my waiting on them. I was probably the worst person for the actual job. Come to think of it, I was probably the worst mammal for it.’

* * * * * * * *

The two guys who ran the restaurant were a difficult pair to please, and an impossible combination to work for. I didn’t go to restaurants while I was growing up, we were too poor. The closest to eating out we experienced was my mum serving chips in rolled up copies of The Daily Mirror, and sitting us on the garden wall in the sunshine to eat them. So, when I took this job, which came with no induction or training, and was expected to decipher the ridiculously embellished menus – which changed weekly – I quickly found that I was out of my depth:

       Diner: ‘Crafted marrow balls with rice and activated butter? What is activated butter?’

       Me (speculating wildly): I believe the chef passes a small charge through it, sir.’

       Diner: ‘And the Frightened monkfish? Frightened? Really?’ (He points to the offending
                    word on the menu.)

       Me: If you were suddenly hauled out of the sea by a big-faced, gnarled-looking old
               fisherman, wouldn’t you be just a little panicky?’

       Diner: ‘Fair point. I’ll have the lobster.’

       Me: ‘With or without the crafted marrow balls, sir?’

       Diner: ‘Tch. You can’t beat this chef for his pretentiousness.’

       Me (leaning in closely and whispering): ‘You could with a long enough stick, sir.’

     During the shift in which I was fired, I pointed out to the owners, while waving their menu at them, that, ‘Just because nobody complains, that doesn’t mean that all parachutes are perfect.’

     I don’t think they understood my meaning.

* * * * * * * *

     ‘What are we going to have for dinner this evening?’ Nat asks me, as we watch the sun set over the motorway.

     ‘Well, as my mum is organising our meal, it’s likely to be hand-selected artisan goujons of organic, free-range pollock, dusted in a light jacket of deconstructed ciabatta, and crisply sautéed, served on a bed of hand foraged potato julienne, and complimented by a foray of locally harvested pureed micro greens and, finally, served with an optional Pomodoro and vinaigrette reduction.

     ‘Sorry, you lost me at goujon,’ says Nat.

     ‘Fish and chips with mushy peas,’ I say.

     ‘I don’t like mushy peas.’

     ‘No,’ I say, ‘neither do I.’

* * * * * * * *

 

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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!)

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Adrian Sturrock: ‘If these were meant to be the best days of our lives, then I’m clearly doing something wrong.’

I wake up from a horrible dream in which I’m eight again, it’s a Monday morning, a school day, and I’m dreading bumping into the school bully – or Mr Thomas, as he likes to be called.

     As I come downstairs for breakfast, Ziggy, our dog, passes me on the landing. ‘I’ve eaten your homework,’ he says, ‘and no one is going to believe you. No one.’

     Suddenly, I’m in my classroom and Mr Thomas is bearing down on me. I’m trying to explain my situation to him.

     ‘And how do you know your dog ate it?’ he snarls.

     ‘Because he … told … me?’ I whimper, knowing that Ziggy has totally out-manoeuvred me.

     I look up at Mr Thomas, then down at my feet. One of my shoes is missing.

* * * * * * * *

And this pretty much sums up the trauma that my school days have left me with.

     To be fair, it wasn’t so much a school that I was forced to attend, as a slightly sadistic day centre. If you liked rugby or cricket, Mr Thomas liked you. If, like me, you were interested in neither, and were just biding your time until you would discover skiing, in your mid-teens, then he really didn’t. Mr Thomas wasn’t a large man, but I was eight, and when you’re eight, most men are large-ish.

     I didn’t really learn very much at junior school, other than how to keep out of trouble. Sometimes, I even managed this. It was the school psychopath, Jason, who taught me Biology. He was in the year above me and was made to sit next to me by Mr Thomas, as punishment for Jason’s intimidation of other children in the playground, though I’m still not sure whether the punishment was aimed at Jason or me.

     What I was convinced about, however, was that it wasn’t completely fair to punish Jason like this. He was the kind of kid who could intimidate you just by existing. In retrospect, I don’t think Jason had any choice in the matter, mostly because of the way his words and his face worked out of synch with each other. He could be offering to share his sweets with you, but his face would look at you in the way a sinister stranger might stare you out while threatening to kill your entire family.

     One morning, Jason trapped me in a corner of the classroom in order to instruct me on how babies were made. He even drew me pictures to illustrate his points.

     ‘Um … ok,’ I said, feeling slightly freaked out. I didn’t believe him, mostly due to my own scepticism over whether my parents would ever involve themselves in such things. To be honest, I was still grappling with the existence of Santa at the time. ‘First thing’s first,’ I thought.

     This kid, who took it upon himself to suddenly be my best friend, followed me around for weeks, which resulted in my real friends being too scared to hang out with me at all. He’d sometimes impress me with his brilliance, and sometimes surprise me with how dumb he could be, like when he asked me whether I thought all Australians were marsupial. Some days, you could feel the IQ of the entire room shooting up merely because he’d been granted permission to go to the toilet. I instinctively knew that he would one day grow up to be the sort of person who would give out unsolicited advice while playing a fruit machine.

     Sometimes, Jason would come out with the most random things, often at the most random times. He once turned and whispered to me, as he was being manhandled out of the classroom by the Headteacher for filling the classroom door locks with purple play dough, ‘You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.’ He winked at me as he said this, as though he was passing on a special secret to me. I still wonder whether this was an insanely brilliant piece of cryptic philosophical metaphor that even my middle-aged self continues to have difficulty unravelling or whether he was, in fact, merely insane.

* * * * * * * *

A few days ago. I discovered a friend request from Jason on my social media page.

     ‘This is what has probably prompted my schooldays dreams,’ I say to Nat.

     ‘It could be worse,’ she says, ‘it could have been a friend request from Mr Thomas.’

     I feel my left eye twitch slightly as she says this.

     ‘So, what was Jason like?’ she asks. 

     ‘He had a habit of walking into things – shops mostly. He was a prolific shoplifter.’

     ‘Ok,’ says Nat. ‘Maybe that’s why you haven’t heard from him in a while. I’m not sure they allow social media in prisons.’

     ‘Fair point,’ I say to myself, as I move to decline his invitation, block his profile, and, just for a moment, consider officially changing my name.

* * * * * * * *

As I reflect on my dream of last night, I think to myself that perhaps he really was just a guy with an overly inquisitive mind, a total lack of self-awareness, and an inability to empathise … but these are still not acceptable credentials for a school teacher.

* * * * * * * * 

 

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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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