Friday, 16 August 2013
Cretinous though they often are in return, it's good to know you've done all you can to brighten the mundanity of an exchange at the coffee counter, or the trauma of collecting a parcel with one of those sodding red cards.
Why not fight the system with a little smile?
It sure beats the approach of the gentleman outside the co-op yesterday, hurling abuse at anyone who passed him by. According to him I'm a "f***ing little blonde p**k", and let me tell you - as a man who's getting bigger and balder every day, and who's not as sharp as he once was -frankly, I'll take it.
But a smile back would have done.
People are generally so miserable these days that they respond to a smile with a look of horror. Try smiling at someone in the street today and see what you get. When you bother to preface a shop transaction with a "hello" nowadays, the cashier will either go red and sink down behind the till while they consider their response, or retort with "Oh! Aren't you cheerful?!", as if you've got some sort of social problem. You happy weirdo freak.
To be honest, I'm generally not that cheerful inside. I'm just as pissed off at having received "We called while you were out" as everyone else. But I do try to amuse myself.
Don't get me wrong, I can't bear those people who are perennially cheerful either, those from the "Vesperal Salutations, Bar Keep - a pint of your finest ale" school of over the top bonhomie. The kind of people who love Monday mornings because they can ask about your weekend before you've taken off your coat. Nor do I endorse the approach of the over-enthusiastic, corporately trained boy in Rymans who practically offered me dinner with my plastic document wallets on Tuesday. Have a nice day yourself.
There's a half way.
And look, he whispers - if you need a reason to be nice to strangers, here it is. Every day since I moved to Exeter, the cost of my breakfast has been going down, down, down. Bothering to actually speak to the lady behind the counter has so far earned me 15 extra sachets of brown sauce, 6 extra rashers of bacon, a daily upgrade from a medium to a large Americano, and 22 unwarranted stamps on my loyalty card.
No wonder I'm smiling...
(Of course, I may be racking up some terrible sexual debt, in which case, smile no more.)
Sunday, 26 May 2013
Dear NHS Direct,
I've just spent the past 35 minutes trying to input symptoms of a chest and back pain I developed this evening. I've been repeatedly sent back to previous questions and told that my answers were invalid. One such example was my gender (the usual two options were given - I picked the most appropriate); another was my date of birth, which I usually get right.
Suffice to say, I've now given up because I've been round in circles three times and have still come nowhere near to receiving a diagnosis. Either this service is completely incompatible with the iPhone I'm using - or it's more miraculous than I could ever have expected:
The pain has long since gone.
By the way, my postcode seemed to be of particular fascination. I was asked for it three times. Clearly that was a fault; nonetheless, when in pain, it's very frustrating to have to spend time answering questions for data monitoring purposes. Perhaps you'd consider making this the final question rather than the first (although I appreciate, for a variety of reasons, not all your patients will make it that far).
I won't think twice about using NHS Direct again.
Wednesday, 24 October 2012
Within half an hour I’d counted 38 cliches – thirty eight!
Saturday, 20 October 2012
If you enjoyed the tale of Tap Water Man the other week, here’s another one for the bank.
Twice in the last two months it’s been my misfortune to be on a train in the immediate aftermath of a suicide. First time around there was plenty of warning. Our train spent a suspiciously long time waiting at Newton Abbot station, just ahead of the main road bridge towards which all eyes on the platform were turned.
"Ladies and Gentlemen… we apologise for the delay to this service”, came the call. “There’s somebody on the bridge up ahead… and it looks like they’re about to throw themselves off.”
Refreshingly honest, if alarming.
But more alarming was the spontaneous cheer that came from at least two of the tables in my carriage – all normal looking people, and not at all the kind you’d expect to be egging on a suicide candidate as if he were in goal…
Then came the tears. One woman stood up and shrieked in front of her crowd, and made an exit to the vestibule that was worthy of the bust of Olivier.
Others in the carriage were quick to make this their tragedy, too. Friends and partners were actually called, not texted, to let them know the terrible situation their loved one was suffering – oh, and that they needn’t rush to collect them from the station.
"Just to keep you posted, Ladies and Gentlemen, we are awaiting news from up ahead, where a man is about to jump from the bridge in front of the… we think… oh… he just has… Ladies and Gentlemen, the man has now jumped.”
Another cheer. Another one!
Elizabeth Taylor sprung into action, and delivered a sermon.
"How dare you!” she demanded. “I can’t believe how insensitive you’re being… towards me. Can’t you see that I’m upset”…
Today’s suicide should have been less dramatic for the people on my train – a man had been hit, but it was the train in front of ours which had done the deed – and yet…
There would be a long delay because, as our Train Manager tactfully put it, these matters “can take a while to… deal with”.
"My plane!” shrieked a woman. (I couldn’t decide whether she was due to catch one sometime soon, or attempting a Zelda-like command to launch some kind of rescue jet from her handbag. If it was the latter, it didn’t work.
"It’s okay” barked a woman in the male voice of Judith Furse. “We’ll march to the Guard’s office and demand a fleet of taxis to meet us”. Good idea! Most cab companies these days keep 160 spare cars and drivers for exactly this scenario. Let’s ring double-two double-two double-two…
The Train Manager explained that we’d need to return to the previous station.
"I suppose that means the buffet won’t be opening?” asked the fat man opposite me, in all sincerity. Dear God.
As we glided into the station, plane woman was behind me in the vestibule. She shook her hand at me in a gesture to hurry up and open the door.
"We’re still moving, madam – and the door is still locked”.
"But I’m short of time!”
Do you know, I’m full of nothing but admiration for the men and women of our railways who have to deal with situations like this most days. I don’t know how they do it. It’s one thing to watch somebody end their life in front of your machine, perhaps even play an uncontrollable part in their demise. But at least there’s good counselling for that. There’s surely nothing that can prepare you for dealing with the self-absorbed, senseless cretins who remain alive inside your train.
If it had been up to me, there would have been a few more deaths on the railway today…
Friday, 12 October 2012
"We expect the world, and end up disappointed when all we get is a delicious birthday cake."
So said I in my last outpouring.
I thought I'd share a beautiful example of just how disappointing modern life can be down here on Earth - especially when expectations are somewhere up there with the fairies...
A young gentleman - early 20s, wax not gel - has just returned to his seat a few places from mine on the train.
"That woman should be sacked" he barked to his friend, gesturing to the buffet car from whence he came.
"She said they don't do tap water..."
If I were him, I'd take back my birth certificate and ask for a refund.
Friday, 28 September 2012
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
I’m also delighted that I’m now apparently old and wise enough to be asked for advice about these specialist dilemmas. On the one hand he’s spotted someone who, in owning an old bus, can provide a few cautionary tales about the implications of such a rash and bizarre purchase.
He’s probably also spotted that I’d also be the last person to say it’s a bad idea...
It’s strange that I'm capable of making such a rash and bizarre decisions myself. In daily life I tend to be relentlessly sensible in everything I do – from agonising over cheap street parking, to calculating which special offers give me the most ham per pence in the supermarket. In weight, not slices.
And yet in December 2009 I bought a bus; an old bus that wasn’t running, and which hadn’t run properly since before I was born. But because of my interest in such things, because it was the bus I’d always wanted to own, there was really no question I wouldn’t buy it when the opportunity arose.
If more people spent their nights worrying about whether or not they should buy a train, the world would be a more soulful place. That’s another good reason why my friend shouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.
If you’re blessed with an interest, you’re one of the lucky few; you have a responsibility to indulge it, and if you can, pass it on.