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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.