COLUMN: November 23, 2017

bollards
A number of low bollards
A FEW months ago, I wrote a column about how I quite like assembling flat-pack furniture, and, contrary to all expectations, am actually not completely awful at doing it.

Following this revelation, I was swamped with requests and suggestions that I might like to help other people assemble bits of furniture, much as when you are washing your car somebody always tells you that you can do theirs too if you like.

I batted most of these requests back. I am not TV’s Tommy Walsh. I don’t even own a pair of dungarees.

But you cannot say no to everybody. An old friend needed some help with a dressing table, and my screwdrivers and Swiss army Allen key were laying idle, and guilt is a terrible thing.

So I went there on a Friday evening, and the advertised two-hour assembly job only took three hours, which was within my four-hour budget. And I only knelt on one bolt, which was surprisingly painful.

I finished the job, racked with the sort of pain that being hunched up on the ground while trying to screw in a table leg, with an Allen key that did not exactly fit, inflicts on a man in his mid-forties. And I was pleased with my work – I had assembled a dressing table and I had invented a number of new obscene words and phrases.

I was fed and sent on my way. My friend could not give me a lift home for a number of boring and/or spurious reasons, and so I had to walk home about two miles in the dark. And in the rain.

Now I am a slightly above-averagely tall man with a fairly purposeful stride usually. I don’t give off a “mug me, I am easy pickings” vibe. Admittedly my stride was less purposeful that night because of the knee/bolt incident, but, even so, I was limping with a certain force.

This is partly because it was raining, but mostly because my route home passed a graveyard and the street lighting was out. I am not a superstitious man, but this was just pushing my luck. I was one crack of lightning away from an episode of Scooby Doo and one crack of pavement away from a fall.

So I was not in the right frame of mind to appreciate the glowing grinning disembodied head that was floating towards me. Did I yelp? I cannot swear I did not.

Luckily, my brain reminded me that there is no such thing as ghosts and there had to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for the smiling skull approaching me. It was a bald man in dark clothing who was reading his phone, and the uplight from the phone had illuminated only his face in the way that we used to use a torch to give our faces that eerie look when we were camping with Cubs.

As he passed me, and I adopted the nonchalant look that one who does not want to appear as if he has just seen a ghost displays, I thought about how stupid this man was.

Our surroundings were blacker than an undertaker’s joke, and there he was, taking no care about where he was stepping. He was an accident waiting to happen, the big fool. One raised paving slab and he would swallow that phone.

I shook my head, sending drops of water flying everywhere like a cocker spaniel. Home was a mile away. On I limped, barely dodging a puddle. “Bet he stepped in it,” I thought, “the phone-reading idiot.”

I was dreaming of a nice hot cup of tea and half a mile from home when my pocket buzzed. I dried my hand and pulled my phone out. It was a message from the friend I had left one and a half miles before.

“U home yet?”

Grrr, I thought. “No, not quite,” I typed in the darkness. I pressed send, then walked into a knee-high bollard.

I don’t know if you know what it is like to knee a pebbledashed concrete bollard, but it is even more painful than kneeling on a bolt. Especially if, somehow, you do it with both knees at once.

Somehow it hurt even more than the irony. “Ooyah!” I said to an unimpressed cat, while trying not to fall.

My phone buzzed again as I bent double, wincing, blinking back tears. “OK, cool. Thanks again,” the message said.

“Don’t mention it,” I said, as I shuffled home.

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COLUMN: November 16, 2017

mustard
Perfectly normal trousers. Nothing to see here
IF YOU have a job, there will be days when you wish you could just pack it in.

Maybe it is when you’re on the last day of a holiday, drinking something cold somewhere hot. Maybe it is when it’s seven o’clock in the morning and you’ve just understood why people have duvets. Maybe it is when your boss asks you if you can “just” do a two-hour job five minutes before you’re meant to knock off.

The fact is, if you have a job, even if it is your dream job, sometimes you will want to leave. Because no matter how good your job is, your employer has to compensate you for your time and effort by paying you, otherwise it’s a hobby.

And a good rule is that if you have more days of hating your job than loving it, then you should definitely resign. Just shout loudly, “I quit!” like an American in a film, and walk out that door before your shift ends.

But you wouldn’t do that, would you? Because it’s irresponsible. Because you know you have bills to pay. Because you know you have to eat. Because you know that when you started that job you signed a legally-binding contract that you had to give a month’s notice.

What you would do is look around for another source of income, and, when you had found that, then you would hand in your notice.

Or maybe if you found your job so intolerable that you had to resign before you had found another job, you would spend the entire notice period looking for regular employment.

What you would not do is spend the first two weeks of that notice period on holiday, and then the next week insisting that your employer will give you the same salary and fringe benefits, even though you’re not working for them any more, on the basis that you might spend some of that money on your former employer’s products.

And then, when it became clear that the selfish employer was not going to give you all of that, you would then not threaten your employer by saying, “Fine, if you’re not going to give me everything I want, I am just going to walk away with no job. See how you like that.”

Now, I know what you would say if you were with me now. You would say, “Bainbridge, have you just used the best part of 400 words coming up with an ingenious metaphor about the government’s approach to Brexit?”

And I would say, “You are correct. You are probably one of my cleverer readers.”

And you would say, “Do you have any additions to your brilliant analogy?”

And I would say, “Oh, yes, although I am aware that all analogies break down in the end.”

And you would say, “Please continue, O wise one, to remove the scales from my eyes.”

And I would say, “OK.

“In this example, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the right-wing press, and all their frothing chums are your sozzled mates in the pub who encourage you to quit your job immediately, to just walk away. Because it’s easy for them. They’re not at risk of losing their salary.

“And when you say that you’re a bit worried about your future finances, they tell you you’re great and you shouldn’t talk yourself down. After all, you managed before you had that job, didn’t you? Even though your circumstances then and your circumstances now are completely different.

“Because it’s easy when you’re in a job you’re not enjoying – because, say, you don’t like how many foreign colleagues you have, or you don’t like the health and safety regulations imposed on you – to focus on all the things you hate about that job, and not appreciate the good things you’ve come to depend on, like a regular pay packet, and the security for your family that comes from that.

“And you have to take into account what you’re going to lose when you leave that job, and have a proper plan to ensure those losses are as minor as possible.

“Because doing that isn’t talking yourself down. It’s being realistic. It’s proof that you’re a mature, level-headed person, and that you should not talk yourself down.

“And what your sozzled mates in the pub, with their mustard-coloured trousers and their ‘common-sense-don’t-listen-to-experts’ approach, are doing is far worse than talking you down. They’re talking you out of a job and into the gutter.”

COLUMN: November 9, 2017

The Good Place
This is The Good Place, a programme I currently cannot watch, which is proof I am not in The Good Place

I AM currently working on a Super Secret Project that I cannot tell you about because I am the sort of person who likes telling half a story and then making you guess the rest.

But it means that I am spending quite a lot of time in my flat, with only the occasional foray for supplies or to go to work to do my actual job for eight hours.

I have been unusually productive because I have been without internet for 10 days. But this is not one of those digital detox columns people with children called Tamara and Hugo write.

The lack of internet is because my supplier is unable to get its story straight as to why my connection is down, and has a call centre in India with an impenetrable script and an aversion to straight answers.

If I asked them what day it was they would tell me, “I am appreciative that you wish to know what day it is and I am wishing to reassure you that I am immediately going to escalate your query. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Lack of internet, of course, means lack of Netflix, which means that my series obligations are mounting up. I am not sure I will ever catch up, or will be able to have a conversation in work ever again.

Lack of Netflix also means that I have to rely on Normal Telly. Normal Telly during the day is the worst thing. It is mostly cheap documentaries about people who have enough money to buy second houses doing them up. And then they rent them out to people who can’t afford to buy their own houses, because there aren’t enough houses, because people are out there buying second houses.

All of this is to say that I have mostly been spending the past week or so in my own company. And now I feel terrible for all those people who have previously had to spend time in my company, because it turns out I am dreadful.

Firstly, it appears that I talk to myself, pretty much constantly. Behaviour I would shun if somebody were doing it on the bus is apparently A-OK when I am doing it in my flat.

I noticed how much I was doing it a couple of days ago, when I embarked on a running commentary on emptying the washing machine and hanging up my pants and socks on a clothes horse.

“Right, just get these out of the machine. Where’s the little detergent bowl? Oh, inside this sock. How did it get in there? We’ll never know. Take them over here. Oops, dropped one. And another one. Just dump them here. Go back for the other two. Put these pants on the clothes horse. What? How is this a clothes ‘horse’? Who invented a standing rack for drying clothes and then said, ‘Hmmm, what shall I call it? You know, it reminds me of a horse, because this is a thing that exists and horses are also things that exist’. Hang on, I should have two brown socks…”

Secondly, it appears that I have become unapologetic about making involuntary noises. I had previously been conditioned to apologise after, for argument’s sake, burping, and did so even if nobody was around. But now I was doing it freely, lavishly, without embarrassment. This is bad because what if I brought this behaviour into the public arena?

There was only one thing for it. I had to rejoin humanity. And where better than the cinema? The cinema is just like a big Netflix, except it shows films you might want to see rather than what was left in the video rack at the back of the off-licence.

I sat alone in the back row, but not for long. I was joined by a group of young men who had all come to the conclusions that Lynx was an adequate substitute for a shower, and that cinema etiquette – in essence, sit down and shut up – was a bourgeois convention from which we should all be freed. It was like sitting next to gibbons, but gibbons given to speculating what might happen next in the film.

It was the right thing to do. Because it made me feel so much better about my enforced solitude. I might be the sort of person to tease you with half a story, but at least I don’t want to punch me.

COLUMN: November 2, 2017

handdryer
A hand dryer designed for the purposes of drying hands and probably only hands
MY good friends were celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary – their tin wedding. I don’t think anybody is quite sure why 10 years is tin. It seems fairly stingy for double figures.

Perhaps somebody from New Zealand was asked for how many years they had been married and they replied “ten”, and there was some confusion.

The point is there was a party and I was invited. The invitation said “dancing shoes” which was encouraging as far as it goes, but is not an iron-clad dress code. So I decided to wear a suit, on the basis that it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed, unless you are an undercover detective infiltrating a family of Mafia naturists.

A suit requires a shirt, and I pulled my good white one out of the wardrobe, gave it a once-over with the iron, and slipped it on.

There is never a good time to discover that one has unusually sharp elbows, but this was a particularly bad time. I had somehow put my elbow through the shirt sleeve, as if I had started to transform into the Incredible Hulk, but then thought better of it.

The only suitable looking shirt that was not also in the wash was a light blue one. I do not know why I own a light blue shirt. Light blue shirts are accidents waiting to happen. Anyway, it was late October and quite chilly, so it was probably going to be fine.

I donned my suit and my dancing shoes – to be honest, they were just shoes, but any shoes can be dancing shoes if you have the right attitude – and headed out in the cold for the party…

The temperature was just right in the village hall. I was comfortable. I sipped a glass of wine and chatted to some old and new friends and it was all tremendous.

But it was a slow start on the dance floor, as is often the way at these things. Nobody wanted to be first, in the same way that nobody wants to be the first out of their seat for a standing ovation. I nodded at a fellow party-goer and gave her the “I suppose if nobody else is going to do this it had better be us” look.

And as we got up, we jostled others, who also stood up and headed to the dance floor, whereupon we all cut a rug.

It is hard to describe my dancing style, but I think the most accurate term would be “disturbingly enthusiastic”.

In fact, my exertions brought on a degree of perspiration, and my face glowed. In fact, I was glowing like a pig. I excused myself and headed for the Gents’, to splash some water on my face and cool down. I did this, and looked up at the mirror and saw that I had developed what I can only describe as a dark blue bib.

The light blue shirt had sprung its trap. I might as well have worn a neon sign saying, “This man’s sweat glands are in perfect working order. It’s a good job he had a shower before he left.”

Then I realised I had no way to dry my face following its splashing. There were no hand towels, and the only method of drying anything was a hot-air hand dryer.

I panicked and grabbed some toilet paper from one of the stalls to dab at my face. But it shredded and became trapped in my beard and I had to use more water to free it.

My face was soaked again. I couldn’t go back out like that – people would have thought I was having a cardiac arrest.

And then I had an idea. There was nobody else in the Gents’ and nothing else for it. I crouched down in front of the hand dryer. Maybe I could direct the air onto my face and chest.

But my face could not activate the sensor. I had to be lower…

Which is why the next man to enter the Gents’ discovered me on my knees, waving my hands in prayer to the hand dryer god.

“It’s my shirt,” I explained. I don’t think he believed me.

And it didn’t even work. I’ve expelled more hot air huffing onto my glasses in order to clean them.

So, next time I go to a party, I’m wearing a wetsuit. I should get away with it. As long as I’m wearing my dancing shoes.

COLUMN: October 26, 2017

walking-2620907_1920
A man walking, much as your writer did

I OCCASIONALLY have to travel by bus. It is possible I have already mentioned this in a previous column. By “occasionally”, I mean twice a day. It would be insane to travel by bus once a day, unless you wanted to go progressively further from home.

Unfortunately there was a bus strike. Now, I am all for the right of workers to withdraw labour in the event of a dispute, but this one affected me, and that is not on. Being forced to make alternative arrangements is easily the worst thing that can befall me because it just increases the number of events that could turn out badly.

But this bus strike was special, because it coincided with my local train station being out of action for three weeks. And the next nearest station was 20 minutes away. By bus. I can only assume that there had been an unusually productive meeting of the Inconveniencing Bainbridge Society (IBS, appropriately enough).

I don’t have a car, taxis were going to be as rare as taxis during a bus strike, and there were no lifts on offer. I had only one option left – Shanks’s pony. I was going to have to walk four and a half miles from home to my office.

So, the time came for going to work and I set off in the sunshine, like Hillary up Everest, and after about 10 minutes I walked down a hill and reached a bus stop. There was an elderly man waiting some distance from it, equidistant, it turned out from that stop and the opposite stop.

“Flipping buses, eh?” he said. “I’ve been waiting for ages.”

The poor man, I thought. “Oh, no, sorry! They’re on strike,” I said. “I’m walking to work because they’re off.”

He thanked me, and I went to go, when he said, “Hang on, is it all the operators?”

“No,” I said. “Just the one on this route.” At which point he explained that another bus would be along soon, operated by a different firm, and that would take me to a mile from my office.

This was a sort of victory, I thought. “When does it come?”

“Oh, in about five or 10 minutes.”

I did a tiny airpunch, and the man started to tell me the story of his life, with a level of detail that meant I now know more about his life than my own. Sometimes he would stop and ask me to explain my own poor life choices. It was like watching a very long episode of This Is Your Life, with no celebrities I had heard of, while occasionally experiencing a Chinese burn.

It was the longest 10 minutes I had ever spent in anybody’s company, and I sneaked a look at my watch. It had actually been 30 minutes. “Um, what time did you say that bus was due?” I asked.

“Ooh, any minute,” he said.

I walked over to the bus stop and looked at the schedule. Only one bus used that stop, and it was on strike. I returned to the man, my stomach sinking.
“Does… Does the bus I want stop over there?” I pointed at the bus stop opposite.

“No, lad,” he said. “It stops up there, up the hill. But sometimes it comes past this way and if you put your hand out sometimes the driver stops for you.”

“Excuse me,” I said, and ran back up the hill, to the bus stop I had apparently ignored earlier. The bus had been there 20 minutes previously, at roughly the time the old man had indicated.

Then I trudged back, past the old man, who is probably still there for all I care, and onwards to work, now at least half an hour late.

And about 30 minutes away from the office – precisely the time I had spent at the bus not-stop – the skies became a putty grey and parted to empty several swimming pools on me, and not especially gradually. I had no coat as it was sunny when I left.

And then, as I approached my office, dripping like a sponge, I saw a bus, run by a non-striking operator, which stops about five minutes’ walk from my home, and which it had not occurred to me I could catch.

So that day I only used the bus once – going home – proving that it really is the act of an insane person.

COLUMN: October 19, 2017

park
A park with a number of leaves on the ground

I DECIDED to go for a walk in an attempt to take advantage of the last bit of sun this year had to offer. An actual hurricane was on its way the following day, and I thought it would be nice to see where the trees were before they were blown over.

There was a destination in mind – a park I had last visited several years ago – but no route. All I had was a vague sense of the direction in which I would have to walk.

I pulled on a coat, looked in a mirror, and realised that I would have to do more to look less “prime suspect for any crimes that might have occurred in the vicinity”.

The trouble is that I have a shifty look about me. Even in the most benign of circumstances, I look as if I am scoping out the exits. If you combine that with the coat I was considering wearing, which is great if there is a sudden shower, but in every other circumstance looks designed for nefarious purposes, then you can see my difficulty.

I swapped my coat for something less practical. Yes, I might have been caught in the rain, but at least I would not look like “a lone man in a park”. If the past week has taught me anything, it is that women have enough trouble with actual sex pests; they don’t need me to make them uncomfortable too.

I started out on my journey, and immediately pulled out my phone in order to check the route. Then I told myself: “No, you are a human being who for the first 38 years of his life had nothing to direct him save an A-Z and some persistence.”

The persistence is important. Some people are born with a sense of direction. I need a map to get to my kitchen, and even then I’m probably holding it upside down. But if you persist, eventually you reach your destination. It just means that you visit quite a lot of locations beforehand.

And, besides, what if it took a long time? There was a pub/restaurant in the grounds of the park. I could get my tea there. This was going to be great.

It was not long before I was in territory I vaguely knew, and not long after that I was in alien territory. This is because whenever I visited this park, I approached it from my previous home. I’d have had to have got very lost indeed to have come this way. And now, coincidentally, that is what I was.

I thought about my phone again. “No,” I said. “You’re going to ask somebody for directions.” But there was nobody about. It was Sunday afternoon. I was on a road, but I hadn’t seen a pedestrian for ages. The only people I saw were occasional drivers, and jumping into the road to flag somebody down to ask where a park might be is not in my skill set.

And then, as I walked past the walled golf course, in the distance I saw him. A respectable looking man in his forties, a man who had also spent time finding an appropriate coat, walking with purpose. Surely he would know.

I quickened my pace towards him, more than ready for a nice tea. I noted a pile of three car tyres incongruously piled up against the wall of the golf course, but thought little of it.

He reached the tyres before me, but, instead of walking by them, he turned towards the wall, stepped on them, and tried to climb over the wall.

He dealt with the task much as I would, flailing, kicking away the top tyre into the road, presenting his bottom to spectators, as he tried to pull his body over. I briefly considered assisting him, but he was clearly up to no good, so I walked by, allowing him to be “prime suspect for any crimes that might have occurred in the vicinity”.

Persistence paid off. Five minutes later I was walking through the gates of the park. And the only other people there were dog walkers. I could totally blend in as Man Who Is Looking For His Dog. “Krypto!” I shouted. “Come on, boy!”

And so I headed finally to the pub. An aluminium fence surrounded it. “Closed For Refurbishment”, a sign said. “We Apologise For The Inconvenience.”

I suppose I would have known had I looked on my phone.

COLUMN: October 12, 2017

pound
A number of old-style pound coins

I HAVE spent a silly portion of the past week trying to get rid of my money. I am not dying, nor was this a Brewster’s Millions-type scenario.

It is just that I have a jar of change that I top up with the shrapnel I have in my pocket at the end of the day, and I realised there would be a few soon-to-be-worthless pound coins in there.

It will amaze those of you who see my byline picture at the top of this column that I remember the replacement of the pound note with the old pound coin. “But you are only a strip of a hint of a boy,” you say. “I bet you can’t remember a time when a JPEG was something you used to hang up your dishcloth. I bet you can’t remember when the Yellow Pages would hurt you if you dropped it on your foot.”

But in fact I can remember when Top Of The Pops was on a Thursday AND I can remember Top Of The Pops, so it feels odd to see something that was shiny and new and “the future” become defunct. And I work in the media.

So I had just a few days to get rid of the old-style pound coins still in my possession (four), and so I visited the vending machine in work to buy a can of fizzy pop. I dropped an old pound coin in the slot, but it fell through the mechanism, as these things occasionally do, and was spat out again.

I tried a second time, with the same result. But, instead of picking up the money and walking away, perhaps to visit a local shop in order to get rid of this coin, I was briefly confused by my mission.

I was standing in front of a vending machine, it had not accepted the coin I had proffered, and so I automatically found a coin of a different denomination – a £2 coin, put it in, and chose the drink before I could stop myself.

That one worked and the vending machine gave me a drink and my change – a 10p piece, a 20p piece, and an old-style pound coin. Now I had five almost-out-of-date pound coins, and a drink I didn’t really need.

Later that day I managed to exchange a couple of them in Greggs in an attempt to “keep it real” and also have a steak bake. I now had three nearly-useless pound coins, which was disappointing but at least some progress.

Even later that day I alighted from the bus and remembered I needed to buy a couple of items from my local small version of a large supermarket. They would take care of the last of my dangerously-close-to-pointless pound coins.

I was delighted. I was spending money as if it were going out of fashion, which, technically, it was. I picked up the items excitedly.

But then, just as in front of the vending machine, I was confused by my mission. I remembered I needed bleach, and kitchen roll, and, oh, some milk, and I picked them up and suddenly it cost more than the change I had on me. I would have to use my card.

“No,” I thought. “I will not be defeated now.” Instead I went to the cashpoint inside the shop and withdrew £10. And then I marched to the automated checkout, and put my plan into operation.

I fed £13 into the machine. It would be weird to have handed £13 to a cashier, but machines only judge you if you place an unexpected item in the bagging area, and all my items were completely expected. The worst thing that could happen would be that I got my three pounds back, and I was prepared for that…

The machine gave me change. Three pound coins – ALL NEW – and an odd amount of copper. This was a result. I punched the air. Now all I needed was a five-pound note.

I heard the whirr of the automatic change maker. But it did not give me the money. “Please, no,” I thought.

The machine had run out of fivers. It spat out five pound coins. Five old-style pound coins. Because everybody had been trying to get rid of their own before the deadline.

So now I have five beautiful round pounds, which would grace any collection of obsolete coins, and will accept any reasonable offer for them. Cash, obviously.