COLUMN: August 25, 2016

An exploding washing machine

It was not this bad

I CAME home from work to absolute silence. This should be normal as I live alone. I was not expecting a samba parade or a Beyonce concert or a Virgin East Coast coach.

Nevertheless, it was unusually quiet, and it took me a little while to put my finger on what was wrong. There was no whirring sound from my fridge, the background noise to my home life.

I walked into the kitchen to discover that one of the circuits in my flat had been tripped while my washing machine was mid-cycle.

Investigation the next morning revealed that the washing machine itself was the culprit. Further investigation revealed that broken washing machines do not drain themselves. Even further investigation revealed that sopping wet bed linen is quite heavy when you carry it a mile down the road to the nearest launderette.

I called my long-suffering lettings agent when I returned. “Washing machine broked. So sad. Please help,” I attempted to explain through the tears. She sighed and promised to send a man.

And so last Sunday morning a man appeared in my kitchen. “Is this it?” he said, pointing to the washing machine. I indicated that it was indeed my only washing machine, imagining a golden life in which people would refer to me as “Gary Two Washing Machines”.

 “And what’s wrong with it?” he asked.

I decided it was not a trick question. “It keeps tripping the circuit,” I said, pretending I knew what that meant. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “I’d better (Is that the kettle on? Black coffee, no milk, one sugar) pull it out and see what’s wrong with it.”

While I made a bad coffee, the man pulled the washing machine out and saw what was wrong with it. “Dear oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear,” he repeated for about eight minutes while shaking his head.

“This is what we call in the trade ‘beggared to feck’,” he said eventually, using some different vowels. “It must have been leaking for months. Didn’t you notice?”

“No!” I said, offended that he would imagine I could be so unobservant.

“I mean,” he said, “it must have been taking ages to wash. A couple of hours?”

“Oh,” I said. “I… I just thought it was a feature.”

“Dear oh dear oh dear,” he began again. “Well, there’s nothing I can do to fix this. It’s rusted to feck,” he said, using just one different vowel this time. “You’re going to have a new one. I’ll put the order in. Won’t be me, though, I’m off on my holidays.”

He began to put away his tools and drink his terrible coffee, while asking me a series of questions about my life, previous conduct, and personal ethics, which was so comprehensive it led me to conclude he was writing my definitive biography and was delighted to grab some time with the reclusive Gary Bainbridge.

Then, as he dropped the last screwdriver into his box he said: “What’s that noise?”

“Noise?” I said. “A train?”

“No, that whirring sound,” he said.

“Oh, that’s just my fridge,” I said.

“And how long has it been making that noise?”

“Dunno,” I said.

“Let me guess,” said the washing machine man. “You thought it was a feature.”

I shrugged, while he opened the cabinet which houses the fridge. “This fridge isn’t closing properly,” he said. “Hadn’t you noticed?”

“I don’t know!” I said. “I just close it. I’m not a… a fridge man.”

“Dear oh dear oh dear oh dear,” said the washing machine man. “This must be costing you a fortune in electricity. It’s going to have to come off.”

“What? No!” It was too late. He began jemmying off the cabinet door attached to the fridge door. Something fell at the back. “That’ll be a hinge,” he said. “What?” I said.

He lifted the cabinet door down and closed the fridge door. The whirring noise stopped.

“There you go,” the washing machine man said, handing me the door. “You’ll need to get that put back on again. I can’t see the hinge. They’ll have to pull the fridge out.” He looked me up and down. “It’s a two-man job,” he explained.

“Right, I’m off on holiday now. Bye,” he said, and he vanished in a puff of smoke.

It has been very quiet in my flat since then. Although my milk is colder than it’s ever been.

COLUMN: August 18, 2016

A plate of patatas bravas

Some brave potatoes

I FIND dining out to be something of an ordeal. It’s a thrill ride of anxiety during which so many things can go wrong, and I have little control over them, like a Labour leadership election.

This fear of a bad dining experience can strike at any establishment. It can strike at one of the Argos-like collection points at a big McDonald’s, where I am convinced somebody is going to filch my burger bag and abscond.

It can strike at the production line at Subway, in which I come under pressure to make so many rapid decisions about the constitution of my sandwich that I might as well have made my own at home.

And it can strike too at one of those very posh restaurants where they have plates and cutlery, where you order while sitting down, and where they only ask you to pay AFTER you’ve finished your meal.

As a result, I find that the less time I have to spend in the restaurant, the better, which is probably why I pop up out of my seat like a meerkat as soon as I have finished eating, waving frantically at the waiting staff, and miming the writing of a cheque in an attempt to obtain the bill at the earliest opportunity. This is despite the fact nobody who waits in the sort of restaurants I visit even remembers cheques.

Essentially, nobody has ever wanted me to leave the restaurant quickly more than me. Or so I thought…

I went with a friend some time ago to one of those small plates restaurants. It was not exactly tapas because not all of the food was Spanish, but you understand the sort of establishment to which I refer. I am yet to be convinced that small plates restaurants are not some sort of scam to fool us into buying simultaneously too much food and not enough food, but that is by the by.

I was not sure how much to order, but I was told the advice was that I should order one more plate than I thought I would need.

“But what if the amount I think I need is the amount that I actually need?” I asked.

“Just… Just order,” my friend said.

Nevertheless, the food was sufficiently tasty, and our waitress was sufficiently friendly, and for a moment I was able to forget that I hate dining out. Obviously then we had to ask for a glass of Coke three times because nothing ever goes completely right.

Anyway, as the meal progressed, I speared the next to last wedge of patatas bravas with my fork. Was that a patata brava? And why should a potato be brave? I didn’t know. I didn’t do Spanish, I did Ancient Greek in case I ever went to Ancient Greece. I dipped the spud in some garlic mayonnaise, and bit off half of it.

I approved very strongly, and put the rest in my mouth. And as I went for the last one, the waitress reappeared and whisked the plate away.

“What?” I said, when my mouth was no longer full. “She just took the last patata brava.”

“Did she? I wasn’t looking,” my friend said. “She must have thought we were finished.”

“There was one left! How can that be finished? That’s the opposite of finished.”

The waitress returned. She made a grab for the plate with the last croquette. My friend was ready for her. “We haven’t finished with that.” The waitress was shocked to the point of insult.

And so for the next 10 minutes she kept returning to the table. “Have you finished with that? How about that one?” she would say. I am not sure why. Maybe I had ordered so many things they had run out of small plates. My nerves were shredded. It was like playing a restaurant version of Operation.

“Shall we have pudding?” my friend said.

“I don’t think we dare.” I said. I did my meerkat impression. “Can we have the b…” I started. The waitress shoved it under my nose before I finished the sentence.

We paid, and then we slid off the banquettes. We turned back to pick up our bags from the seats, but we could not reach them. The waitress had already started cleaning the table.

“Can we just…?” I said.

“I’ve just got to do this bit,” the waitress said. “Can you wait a second?”

COLUMN: August 11, 2016


A pull-along suitcase

The enemy

IT is not likely that in the next 10 years I will become Prime Minister as I am neither A) an MP; nor B) a member of the Conservative Party.

But if it did happen, owing to some sort of administrative mix-up, or my standing in the wrong queue, the second thing I would do, after moving Boris Johnson to the Ministry of Agriculture, would be to set up a public inquiry into who is responsible for pull-along suitcases with wheels.

I work in a part of town where it is impossible to walk more than a couple of metres without falling over one. It is not just the fact that there are a couple of swanky hotels nearby, but that the various legal functionaries at the local law courts use them to haul their books and papers about the place.

They are basically pensioners’ tartan shopping trolleys for the sort of young people who can afford to buy houses, and I, for one, am tired of them.

For firstly, when you do see them, for example, from across the road, they look ridiculous. The moment it occurs to you that the person using a pull-along suitcase looks exactly like an owner taking a very reluctant dog out for a walk you become incapable of seeing them any other way.

I know of which I speak. I am a man who owned a dog so lazy he preferred to dream of chasing rabbits than actually chase rabbits, and I sort of understand from where he was coming.

Secondly, it is impossible to see that somebody walking towards you is dragging a suitcase behind them. Oh, sure you can hear the suitcase (of which more later), but you cannot see them because they are not wider than the human body.

And so if you are in a hurry, racing down the pavement to catch a bus, say, and have to cross the road, and if there is somebody walking towards you, and it is rude to cut in front of them, and you wait for them to pass before dashing behind them, well…

I am not saying that I have fallen over two pull-along suitcases in such circumstances, separated by only a couple of months. That would make me look like a clumsy idiot incapable of learning from his mistakes.

All I am saying is that if somebody, say, a man in his increasingly less early 40s with glasses, fell over a suitcase like that, he would scratch his palms on the Tarmac of the road between two parked cars, and helplessly watch – blurred – as his glasses flew off and into the middle of the road, as passing cars somehow managed to miss them with their wheels. Nobody wants that to happen. Again.

And thirdly, pull-along suitcases make that noise, a sort of rumbly, rattly, scrapey noise, an empty thud-thud-thud-thud-thud as the wheels hit every flipping paving stone, because the designers of pull-along suitcases did not anticipate that anybody would ever take them out of the house.

It will come as no surprise to long-time readers that I own such a suitcase, bequeathed to me by my late mother, presumably as some sort of post mortem practical joke.

I have had a few trips in the past year which have necessitated its use.

One trip was to London. It was in London I discovered the alley oop wrist twist. This is a trick one has to learn quickly, and named after the similar skateboard move.

It is pulled off when one of the wheels of your suitcase hits a slightly raised paving stone and catapults the suitcase into the air. In order to stop it flipping over, you have to twist your hand while the case is airborne, and somehow right its position. The trick is customarily accompanied by lavish swearing and a degree of wrist pain.

Another was to Edinburgh at the end of last August, for the Edinburgh Pull-along Suitcase Festival, in which tens of thousands of pull-along suitcase enthusiasts gather to bash into each others’ shins while ignoring jugglers and Australian mimes. You might think it would be difficult to tell if a mime is Australian, but you just can.

And if you are wondering what the third thing I would do as Prime Minister is, that would be to resign. There’s nothing else I could do to make the country better.

Why Being Famous Does Not Necessarily Mean People Know Who You Are


I HAVE no idea who is number one in the charts right now. I am going to have to look.

OK, it’s Cold Water by Major Lazer (feat. Justin Bieber and MØ). I don’t know who Major Lazer is, but he sounds like me at 11.16 on a Sunday. Maybe it’s a band name. I have no idea. I know who Justin Bieber is, but I don’t think I could pick him out in an identity parade. I have not a single clue how MØ is pronounced.

Similarly, ask me to draw a picture of Drake and I would be baffled. Drake is huge. Drake dislodged Bryan Adams’ record for longest-running UK number one. He may even have succeeded him as number one for all I know. Drake could sit next to me on the bus and I would just tut and think, “Now I have to put my bag on my lap.”

It’s because Top Of The Pops is not on the television any more. Thirty years ago, everybody knew who Robert Palmer was. Your nan would say, “Ooh, I saw that Ronnie Barker on Pebble Mill. He’s a well-turned out young man.”

But famouses are not what they were. The media are fragmented. When we had three or four TV channels, if you were famous everybody knew who you were. Now you can be incredibly famous and beloved among a small sector of the public, and virtually anonymous outside it.

A couple of weeks ago I walked past Waterstones in Liverpool. There was a LONG queue outside, with more young women than there are in the Guiding movement. They were waiting for a signing by Tanya Burr.

No, me neither. But my nine-year-old daughter knows who she is. Tanya Burr does a lot of baking. She is a British YouTube star with three and a half million subscribers. To put that in some sort of perspective, that hated rag which still employs Kelvin Mackenzie, and which sells close to zero copies on Merseyside, has a UK circulation of around one and a half million.

Drop Tanya Burr into a room of pre-teen and early teen girls, and you would be able to hear the squeals on Jupiter. However take her into the Jumper and Ferret on Barnsley high street and you wouldn’t be able to hear the shrugging anywhere because shrugging is silent, but there would be a lot of it, even though Yorkshire people are not very demonstrative.

Drop Tanya Burr into a large square in front of a public building and she would draw a very big crowd, jam-packed with people who think she is the best thing since sliced bread, which would be ironic given her specialism. They would be bashing about saying, “Isn’t Tanya Burr great? Everybody here thinks she is great and there are thousands of us, so we must be right. It is literally INCONCEIVABLE to me that this gathering of people here is not representative of society at large.”

And if you were say to them, “Well, actually, popular as she is among people like you, she is actually not popular out there. I mean, she seems very nice and everything, but there is no way I would vote for her as Prime Minister,” they would be baffled.

And they would say, “Hang on a second. Have you been using this example of a massive gathering of like-minded Tanya Burr fans as a way of explaining to Corbyn supporters that just because they have big rallies full of people who really like Jeremy Corbyn it doesn’t mean that there are millions and millions of people out there who agree with them?”

And you would say to them, “Yes. I am sorry for tricking you into reading this.”

And they would say, “Yes, but I saw a thing on The Canary that said Tanya Burr invented unsliced bread 30 years ago but neoliberal Big Baker suppressed her invention, and it’s only now that bread in its natural form is being allowed to flourish.”

And you would say, “Was that ‘flour-ish’ a play on words?”

And they would say, “No.”

And you would say, “Look, a) bread has to exist in its unsliced form FOR it to be sliced. And b) Tanya Burr is only 27 years old.”

And they would say, “Typical MSM twisting the truth by relying on provable facts. Look around you. Look at all these people. Are you saying Tanya Burr is not popular?”

And you would say, “No, I am saying she is very popular indeed, but only among the sort of people who like Tanya Burr, i.e. pre-teen girls, who are not representative of society as a whole.”

And they would say, “Well, we will see, won’t we?”

And you would say, “Yes. But I am right.”

COLUMN: August 4, 2016


ONE of the many sacrifices I make to ensure that the general public is well informed by its press is that I often work late shifts.

Because I start at lunchtime, and get home long after Huw Edwards has put his slippers on, it means I regularly go for a week without having a hot meal. And it means that I am now approximately 37% sandwich.

Now sandwiches are tremendous things and it is hard to imagine where we would be without them. We would have to scoop up egg mayonnaise with our hands for a start, and our lunchboxes would be in a terrible state, with bits of cheese stuck to our bananas and our Capri-Suns covered in Branston pickle.

In fact, if John Montagu, Earl of Sandwich, creator of the sandwich, were to introduce himself to me I would shake him by the clean hand and say, “Thank you for all the chip butties. Hang on, I thought you died hundreds of years ago. Argh! It’s a ghost!”

But a diet of sandwiches does begin to pall after a while. Perhaps it is that predictable bread-filling-bread pattern. Perhaps it is the fact that while virtually anything edible can be slapped between pieces of bread, the same fillings keep cropping up – usually mayonnaise with things in.

But the other day I sat in front of my work computer, passively taking in sandwich calories as I ensured democracy could thrive through knowledge of the world as it is. And I thought, “This is total bobbins. Eating should be a pleasure. Tomorrow, Bainbridge, you will have a nice tea, one not surrounded by bread and sponsored by the mayonnaise industry.”

And so the next day, I stood before the chiller cabinet in Britain’s Favourite Struggling Retailer, trying to ignore the rallying call of the bread-wrapped battalions in front of me. I scanned the shelves, looking for something not slathered in mayonnaise, or, worse, yoghurt.

I know that lots of people like yoghurt. But I do not like milk very much, and cream even less, so the thought that a sort of slightly-off thick milk might enhance my eating experience does not convince me.

Then it appeared, bathed in golden light, the answer to every food problem. It had a long name, and you might need to have a cup of tea in the middle of reading the name. It was “Seared Chicken With A Moroccan Inspired Cauliflower Couscous Salad”.

I snapped it up. Who could resist that, apart from vegetarians or people who do not like cauliflower? I fit into neither of those two categories. In fact, I am a big fan of cauliflower, although I could not tell you who invented it. It’s so versatile – you can roast it, you can boil it and serve it with cheese sauce, you can… I don’t know, there are probably other things you can do with it.

It turns out that one thing you cannot do with it is make it into couscous.

Now, even couscous at its best is underwhelmingly flavourful, a sort of pasta for ants. But this somehow had negative flavour. It prevented other things around it from having any taste.

I understand that some people have bowel illnesses or gluten intolerance which mean they cannot eat ordinary couscous, but whatever the answer to that is, it is not cauliflower couscous.

Desperate measures were called for. A hunt through the salad for something which tasted of anything at all took place. I had a bite of what I thought was apricot. I cannot be sure it was apricot. It tasted indeterminate.

I was reduced to picking out the chickpeas which were dotted among the polystyrene-like cauliflower fragments. I do not know if you are familiar with the chickpea, but it is a crumbly pulse that tastes of not very much.

Whizzed with oil and garlic, the chickpea makes houmous, which is excellent. But in the wild it is nothing more than disappointment and heartbreak. And it was still the best thing about this salad. Even the “seared chicken” was a sort of dry cotton wool sitting on top of the bowl and hoping for escape.

I was brought up in the 1970s and still eat all my dinner in case Mrs Savage from the school canteen is watching. But this ended up in the bin. It was better to go hungry.

It was a sacrifice too far. I am having a sandwich today. I have learnt my lesson.

COLUMN: July 28, 2016


I HAVE come to the conclusion that we have gone mad with regard to straws in drinks for grown-ups.

For reasons which need not concern you, I have spent more time than usual in the sort of establishment where there is a menu for drinks on the bar.

These places are great if you are one of those people who like spending £12 on a deceptively large ice-filled drink called something like a Squiffy Belgian or a Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, which contains 26 different ingredients, which takes the bartender 18 minutes to prepare, and which is gone in four slurps.

These are establishments which believe that the bit that everybody likes most about going out for a drink is the waiting by the bar rather than the actual drinking part.

Perhaps it is my ingrained lack of sophistication which makes me unsure about such places. When I was growing up, and when I first attempted to obtain alcohol from a public house, things were much simpler. You knew where you were with a vodka and tonic, or a cider and black. Basically the recipes for drinks were exactly the same as their name.

But I do not let such considerations stop me, for these days I consider myself a kind of David Niven figure, the sort of man who knows which fork to use without being told, and owns socks which need those little shin suspenders, and claims ladies’ farts.

And so I found myself in a cocktail lounge recently. I sidled up to the bar, eased onto a stool, perused the menu coolly, and caught the barman’s eye. With practised savoir-faire, I leant forward. “A Sexy Dog Explosion, please,” I said.

I was sceptical, I admit, about the barman’s ability to deliver a definitive Sexy Dog Explosion, as Rihanna or the late Sir David Frost might have enjoyed. The list of ingredients was long and obscure, and apparently involved a degree of muddling, whatever that is.

I watched him busy himself with ice and cups and swizzle sticks while I read a couple of chapters of my book, and eventually, long after I had forgotten that I had ordered a drink, he presented me with my Sexy Dog Explosion with a flourish.

First he placed a small black napkin on the bar, then he plonked the plonk on top of the napkin, and then he put two thin black straws in the glass. And I wondered, not for the first time, why do bartenders in these places give you two straws?

It is difficult to understand why it would be considered necessary to give an adult even one straw. Granted, when you are a child it is true that using a straw introduces a small element of fun into the practice of drinking. And I would never attempt to drink a Capri-Sun without a straw.

But I would suggest that there is already an element of fun in the practice of drinking for adults, namely alcohol. So unless you have no hands, you should not really require a straw as an adult.

And if you are going to stick straws in adults’ drinks, would it not make more sense to buy straws that are wide enough for the purpose of drinking, instead of having to double up?

Apart from anything else, those straws are sharp, and damned dangerous, especially as the evening wears on, and the effects of a succession of cocktails begin to be felt.

I have lost count of the times I have forgotten about the other straw, picked up my glass, and scraped the roof of my mouth, much as I did that time I popped an entire one of those tiny slider hamburgers into my mouth without realising that it was held together with a cocktail stick. I did not have to go to hospital on that occasion, but it did leave me with a greater appreciation of the art of sword swallowers at circuses.

And I cannot tell you how many times I have given thanks for my glasses as I have picked up my drink and watched a straw I have missed slide around and bounce off one of my lenses.

So I fished the straws out of my Sexy Dog Explosion and resolved to drink like a grown-up. I lifted the glass to my mouth and took a sip.

The twist of orange fell out, in my surprise I jerked my elbow, and roughly £5.38 of my cocktail ended up in my lap.

COLUMN: July 21, 2016


OWING to a series of unlikely, unavoidable, and yet entirely in character, events I was cutting it fine if I was to catch my train on time.

And so I arrived at the station in a blur, the heat of the day and the stress of the taxi journey through roadworks combining to turn me into a sort of sculpture of myself made entirely of sweat.

My train was already at the platform, tapping its watch, and asking what time I called this. I did not have time to explain to it, I had to pick up my tickets from one of those machines because I had booked online.

There were passengers queuing for the ticket machines, which was not ideal. I looked across at my train. “Oh, don’t worry, mate, I can wait all day. It’s not as if I have to be anywhere,” it said.

Luckily, I remembered that there was a “secret” ticket machine, one not immediately apparent to passengers in a hurry. I scurried to it and discovered it was free. “Ha,” I thought about the passengers queuing at the other machines, “you massive chumps.”

I found the booking code and attempted to type it using the touch screen. Those of you with Apple devices will be aware that touch screen technology has improved markedly over the past few years, making it possible to type tweets, open letters, and death threats with ease.

Such advances had passed this machine by. The keyboard on the screen refused to recognise the jabbing of my fingers. I tried coaxing the screen, stroking it, all to no avail.

Eventually, I found that if I very gently but firmly touched the bit of screen just to the bottom left of a key it would fool the machine into thinking I had pressed that key. Painfully slowly I typed the eight-character code. Triumphant, I pressed the Enter key. And then I pressed the bit of screen just to the bottom left of the Enter key.

But I had clearly angered the machine. It began to print three documents: one outward-bound ticket, one return ticket, and one receipt.

However only two items appeared. The outward-bound ticket, and the receipt. My return ticket was stuck inside. Through the window I could see my train. It glared at me.

“Help!” I yelped at a passing customer-facing railway executive. “Bad machine done bad thing.” My ability to speak was compromised by my panic. My train was leaving in five minutes and it was only the first of four trains I had to catch that day. If I missed this train, I would arrive at my destination some time after I was due to come home. I calmed myself and explained my predicament.

“Dum-de-dum-de-dum”, he sang, like David Cameron, as he went to get a key for the machine in no discernible rush. My foot was tapping faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

He opened up the machine and looked painstakingly through the various channels and crannies inside for my ticket. “No, there’s no ticket in there,” he eventually said. “I’ll have to give you a chit.”

He took me over to the counter and put the keys away. “Now, where’s the pen?” he wondered out loud. “There! There! It’s there!” I said, pointing madly. “Oh, yes,” he chuckled.

I realised I was in the worst of all predicaments – I was the person who was in a hurry, who needs somebody else who is not in a hurry to hurry up, and knows that pointing out the urgency of the task is the surest way to slow down that other person.

“Now, what’s the name?” he asked me. “Bainbridge,” I replied. This was no time for dissembling.

“How are we spelling that?” he asked. “B…I…A! No, wait! B.A.I.N…Bridge. As in…erm…high up road thing goes over rivers.” That was what my brain had decided was a good description for a bridge at that point.

He licked his nib and wrote my name very slowly. “B…A…I…” he said. The train was still there. It was going to go in one minute.

“There you are,” he said, handing me the chit. “You just need to…”

“OK, thanks, bye!” I said, tearing out of the office. I ran through the station to the train. “Too late, mate, I’m off,” said the train, its doors closing.

And I leapt, flinging myself through the sliding doors like Indiana Jones, catching my foot on the step, and landing flat on the carriage floor.

COLUMN: July 14, 2016


FOR reasons which need not concern you it became clear to me that I needed a coffee table. Perhaps previously I had subconsciously considered I did not need one because I do not drink coffee.

But I think I decided a coffee table is one of those things adult people have and it would signify that I am a grown-up.

As is traditional, I went to a place and bought a flat pack coffee table, which I then transported home on the bus. As is also traditional, I had forgotten just how heavy flat pack furniture can be.

I am not saying it was a struggle, but it was one of the few warm days we have had this summer, and so by the time I got it home I looked as if I had been pacified by one of Boris Johnson’s German water cannons before being chased by a wolf.

I placed the flat pack box on the floor and changed my clothes into something cooler – a T-shirt and shorts – reasoning that I could get away with that as nobody else could see me. There was no point having a shower; I would only have to do it again afterwards.

During the third set of the men’s finals at Wimbledon, I put together an entire coffee table. I am not saying my achievement was greater than Andy Murray’s, but I will not stop you from saying that.

Then, as I stood up, I grazed my knee on my brand new coffee table, the fact of its existence apparently escaping me two seconds after I had spent 45 minutes constructing it.

“Ow,” I said out loud, “My word, this is quite an annoying turn of events.” I am paraphrasing. As Andy Murray kissed his trophy on my television, I hopped around the room for a bit, saying “Ooyah!” and similar things.

I went to the bathroom cabinet in search of a sticking plaster. I only had one left, which was about the size of a drinks coaster. I sighed, stuck it on my knee, pulled on some vaguely appropriate shoes, and went out to buy more plasters so that I would be prepared for my next minor accident.

I was uncomfortable in my skin. I do not want you to think I am a sort of David Niven character, immaculately dressed at all times, and whose bow ties do not have clips, but I would not like to go to a job interview dressed as I was on that trip, in T-shirt, shorts, and sockless shoes. I did not want anybody to think I was an Australian.

It would be OK, I told myself, just a quick trip to the shop around the corner. I would be home in five minutes. Only about four people would see me.

But when I reached the sliding doors of Little Tesco I found my way blocked. They did not swish open, even when I did my special Obi Wan Kenobi hand movement. I knocked desperately. An assistant appeared. “Sorry, the doors are broken. We’re closed. You’ll have to go to the one up the road.”

So I trudged up the road, beginning the one-mile journey to the only other nearby shop which both sold plasters and was open at that time on a Sunday.

I could not tell you if everybody walking past me was silently judging me, only because silent judging is silent. But I could feel their eyes on me. They looked at me as I look at people who go to the shop in their pyjamas.

All I know is that the journey from my Little Tesco to the other Little Tesco a mile away felt like one of those anxiety dreams people have about going to work in the nude. I expect it did not help that my beige shorts were roughly the same colour as my beige legs, so that from a distance I looked naked from the waist down.

And then I arrived at the shop and saw my reflection. I looked at myself in my T-shirt and shorts and sockless shoes, a big plaster over my left knee, and I realised that I had left the house dressed as an eight-year-old boy.

By the time I got home I was fraught. I showered, made a cup of tea, flopped on the sofa, and put my tea on the lamp table next to it. It was closer to me than the coffee table.

COLUMN: July 7, 2016


I WENT to the pub, an entirely rational decision based on the state of the country these days. I do not know if you have ever been to a pub, but it is a building full of men who drink ludicrous quantities of liquid and fail to wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Nevertheless, I thought a quiet pint would be in order. Perhaps I could read a book undisturbed. “Who’s that over there?” people might ask, indicating over their shoulders with their thumbs. “We call him The Professor,” the rosy-cheeked barmaid would say, “on account of his glasses and his book.”

I settled down at a table, put down my drink, and exhaled. I could hear the ticking of a clock that was not there. Yes, we might have recently chosen to break up the United Kingdom and plunge the country into recession just because we did not like people speaking foreign in Tesco, but the sun was shining outside, and it was quiet and cool in the pub.

I nodded at the two women sitting opposite, hoping it was enough to appear friendly while heading off any attempts at conversation. I am not a rude person but I was up to a good bit.

As I looked across at them I noticed something unusual about the bosom of the woman on the left. In it was nestling the tiniest dog I have ever seen.

It is hard to overstate how small this dog was. If dogs had pets and turned up with this dog on a lead, other dogs would laugh at how small their dog was. It would have to look up to address a sausage dog. I have seen more imposing hamsters.

I turned to my book and tried to put the size of this dog out of my mind, when one of the women addressed me. “We’re going out for a smoke, could you watch our shopping for us?”

I nodded, and they disappeared off to hasten their deaths along with Tiny The Smallest Dog In The World. Responsibility for their shopping weighed heavily on me. I closed my book and kept a watchful eye on the bags. Ah, well, I thought. At least it was quiet.

Five minutes later, the women had not returned. I started to worry that I had been pranked, or worse, that this was some sort of terrorist incident. Where were they?

Two men clattered in, accompanied by a normal-sized dog. It was starting to feel like Crufts. They pulled up chairs and switched on the television to watch the football, and began talking loudly and doing banter to each other. It was the logical extension of manspreading, that tendency of a certain type of man to sit with legs at ten to two on public transport, while people on either side are cramped.

The peace was shattered and so I continued to monitor the shopping bags. A third man joined the party carrying drinks and bringing some extra banter. They plonked one of them on the women’s table.

“Watch our shopping”, the women had said. That was my remit. I felt like a UN peacekeeper watching one country making an incursion on another, but with no direct orders to prevent it.

Why did they have to give me this level of responsibility, I thought? I only wanted a pint and a sit-down. I did not want to get involved in a demarcation dispute. I decided that if one more drink appeared on the women’s table I would step in.

The women returned. One of them shot me a look which clearly said, “You were supposed to be watching our table.” I shot one back which said, “Shopping, you clearly stated.”

The women explained to the men that it was their table and all five of them looked at me as if I had disappointed everybody. The new dog sniffed my crotch. I would have complained, but I had lost all moral authority. My nerves were jangling.

The dog then turned its attention to Tiny, regarding it as you or I would regard a jelly baby, an insubstantial but tasty snack appealing to our cannibalistic tendencies. It sniffed the tiny dog and licked its chops.

The stress was too great. I just wanted a pint, not to see a little dog gobbled up. I sank my drink and scarpered, preferring to take my chances in the chaos of Brexit Britain. It may be a dog-eat-dog world nowadays, but I don’t need to watch it.

COLUMN: June 30, 2016


I HAD to have one of those meals out to discuss a professional matter that people have, and I thought I had better do it quickly before the banks ran out of money and you could still buy olive oil in this country.

When I arrived, my dining companion was already there. I was late, owing to a complicated sequence of events which started with a broken shoelace, took in a drunken man trapped in the door of a bus, and ended with me being caught up in some sort of parade or protest march. It is hard to tell the difference these days.

I sat down and apologised, and I began to explain, but we both decided after a while it was best that I stop.

The table, I noted, was quite wobbly. This did concern me. I well remember the Birmingham Event of 2012, in which I forgot about a wobbly table in a well-known chicken restaurant, right up to the moment I leant on it in order to stand up, and landed in a pool of peri-peri, thereby inventing the term “a cheeky Nando’s”.

The waiter appeared. He told me his name and that he was going to be serving us and I immediately forgot his name because I do not think anybody has ever remembered a waiter’s name.

This is because nobody ever uses a waiter’s name. It would make you sound either over-familiar, or like a toff in pre-war India summoning a servant.

Anyway, I ordered roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and none of that foreign muck, thank you very much, because I know which way the wind is blowing, and my dining companion and I began to discuss professional matters of the highest national importance.

And when I was halfway down my glass – too early to ask for another, but not early enough that I would not be worried that I would run out during my meal – our waiter returned with the food. He placed it in front of me, and the reason I never order roast beef and Yorkshire pudding immediately became apparent.

There is no restaurant plate big enough to accommodate a catering-size Yorkshire pudding and all the other items one reasonably expects from a roast dinner. My table was going to look like the aftermath of a well-attended convention for peas.

I picked up my knife and set to work on the Yorkshire pudding. It was an excellent Yorkshire pudding, crisp on the outside, and meltingly soft on the inside.

But this meant it was a disaster, because it made cutting the thing virtually impossible. Too much pressure and the thing would explode, showering shards of super-hard shrapnel all over surrounding tables. Too little pressure and I might as well have had a knife made of cotton wool.

And even if I did exert the correct amount of pressure on the pudding – enough to break its super-strong shell without injuring fellow diners – it was far more than the wobbly table could bear.

The table shook, and I spilled some of my drink. Like lightning, I whipped the napkin off my lap and mopped it up. But now I had left myself at the mercy of accidental gravy. I sat with my legs at ten to two to split the risk.

“Are you OK?” my companion asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s just that you’re sweating,” she said.

“I’m fine,” I said. “It’s just warm.” She nodded and buttoned up her cardigan, and I continued.

I picked up my knife again, and began to saw away gently at the batter carapace, back and forth, little grains of Yorkshire pudding sawdust collecting in the gravy. After a couple of minutes I had made a decent incision.

I looked up. My companion was staring at me again. “What on earth are you doing?”

“I’m having a Yorkshire pudding,” I explained. “It’s not going as well as I’d hoped.”

She sighed. “Turn it upside down. The gravy will have softened it. That will make it easier to cut.”

I did as I was told. She was right. I made short work of the centre of the pudding, and it was a breeze to cut through the rest. “Thank you,” I told my companion. “You have changed my life.”

And I was so delighted that I stood up to shake her hand, leaning with my other hand on the wobbly table.

You can probably fill in the rest yourself.