COLUMN: February 16, 2017

travolta
A man who is unafraid of ‘product’

I WOULD not say I am a vain person, although I have used the word “I” four times in this sentence, so you can judge for yourself.

However, I will admit to using product on my hair. “Product” is a weirdly non-specific word to use, only one step up from “stuff”. It is one of the mysteries of our age that the word product is used to describe the various types of glop applied to men’s hair, when it could mean literally anything produced.

Anyway, my favoured form of product is gel. I have to use it because I have very strange hair. It is both thick and flyaway. Left untended it looks like Donald Trump’s would if he were suspended upside down by his ankles, which is a lovely image and one which often features in my daydreams.

For reasons which need not detain you, I have had to use a different gel from my usual brand, and I am unhappy with it. This is not because the gel is no good. Gel is gel. It sticks my hair down. I require no more of it than that.

But the problem with my current gel is the container in which it comes. It’s a standard squeezy tube, like my normal gel, but the lid is different, a screw cap, rather than a flip top.

“Bainbridge, you idiot,” you are now saying. “Is this going anywhere?” Yes, it is. You see, this is how you apply gel to hair. First, you squeeze the gel from the tube into your hand. This is a two-handed job. Then you rub the gel between your hands. This is a two-handed job. Then you rub the gel into your hair. This is a two-handed job.

Do you know what else is a two-handed job? Screwing the top back onto a tube of gel. But if one of your hands is now holding the gel, it is virtually impossible to do this without spilling the gel. And you can’t hold the tube in your hand while you gel your hair because you need two hands to do that job, as I have established at tedious length.

So you end up having to balance the tube on your bathroom sink while you hurriedly apply the “product” to your hair, because whoever designed the gel container did not give any thought to how gel is used. This is the sort of thing that gives designers a bad name.

And it was at another sink a couple of weeks ago that I cursed designers. I was out for a meal, living the swanky life like Rihanna, or the late Sir David Frost, and felt the need to powder my nose, or whatever men are supposed to say when they have to go to the toilet.

I was about to wash my hands, because I was not a barbarian like the other man who left the gents’ without visiting the sink, presumably on his way to put his feet up on a train seat, stopping only to dip his hand into a bowl of mint imperials. I examined the taps. They were those plunger taps.

I sighed and pressed the hot tap plunger, and put my hands under the flow. The flow trickled to a halt as my hands reached it. The only way I could sustain the flow was if I kept one hand on the plunger, which meant I could only wash one hand at a time.

You can’t wash one hand at a time. Washing hands, like gelling hair, is a two-handed job. I used to work in the NHS, believe me on this. I’ve seen notices.

The only way that I could obtain enough water would be to put the plug in and spend a minute leaning on the plunger.

So I examined the plug. It was one of those “clever” plugs which are lowered or raised by a little lever somewhere near the taps.

I wiggled the lever. I pushed it and pulled it. I yanked it. But nothing would shift the plug, not even loud swearing.

I understand why the designer had done what he did. Plunger taps save water, and plug chains break. But his money-saving solution had rendered the sink unfit for purpose. For what use is a sink unsuitable for washing hands? It’s as pointless as a tube of hair gel with a screw-cap.

I washed one hand at a time and went to the hot air hand dryer. Obviously it was broken.

COLUMN: February 9, 2017

susanna-reid
When I do not have a picture to illustrate my column I use a picture of a puppy, a kitten, an otter, or TV’s Susanna Reid. This is TV’s Susanna Reid
IT was my own fault. If I could find somebody else to blame, I’d be on it like UKIP on immigrants.

But the fact remains I was the one who decided there should be a reunion for the staff of the newspaper I worked for 20 years ago and I was the one who organised it, even though I was warned that reunions are invariably a terrible idea.

There’s a reason, my friend Tony told me, that you haven’t seen these people for 20 years. I scratched my chin and wondered what the reason was.

Coincidentally, he was the one who put the idea in my mind. He had posted a decades-old picture of a group of us on Facebook. If you do not know what Facebook is, it is a special website which allows you to find out which of your relatives and friends cannot spell properly while being harassed to sign up to games you do not want to play.

I looked at me on the picture. I was apple-cheeked, with round glasses, like a young Benny Hill. I did not want those people to think I had turned into a middle-aged Benny Hill, so I suggested that there should be a reunion.

“Yes, Gary,” one of my former colleagues, Mike, typed, “this is an excellent idea. You organise it.”

“But nobody will come,” I said.

“If you build it, they will come,” Mike retorted, like the ghost of a long-dead American baseball player. “But don’t do it on a Saturday night, do it on a Friday just after work.”

“Fine,” I said. And so I organised a reunion. Mike was right, I thought. Lots of former colleagues and their own former colleagues were either definitely or possibly coming. Tony is an idiot, I thought. Look at all the people who are definitely coming.

And then I realised that if all the people who were definitely coming were joined by half the people who were possibly coming, there was not going to be enough room in the pub I had suggested. I needed to book a place big enough for 40 people. Boo to those, like idiot Tony, who suggested that reunions are invariably a terrible idea. This was going to be amazing…

Five of us met at a bar before the reunion. “How many are coming, Gary?” asked Mike, one of the five. “Oh, dozens,” I said. “Even if a load drop out, we’re still talking about 30 people.”

We fetched up at reception at the reunion venue. I leant suavely on the desk, like James Bond. “Good evening, mish, I have booked an area for the evening. The name’sh Bainbridge. Gary Bainbridge.”

The receptionist took us through into the bar, where an area roughly the size of a tennis court had been roped off for us. A young couple, gazing into each other’s eyes, sitting inside the reserved area were approached by the receptionist and told to sling their hook. They glared at me as they were bundled out into the main bar.

And so it was for the next hour, five of us, in one corner of this reserved area, like a single Tic-Tac in an otherwise empty box of Tic-Tacs, while drinkers standing in the rest of the bar plotted our deaths. They need not have bothered killing me. I was already dying.

Tony arrived. He was not the crest of a wave of latecomers. “This it?” he asked. I nodded, morosely. We chatted about old times and tried to look like a crowd, but while three might be a crowd six is definitely not.

Then the cavalry arrived – a group of women from advertising sales who had taken their pre-reunion drinks more seriously than us. I might have whooped. I cannot swear that I did not. In total 17 or 18 former colleagues turned up, not all of whom I knew.

But in the end, it didn’t matter. Because it was lovely to feel responsible for old friends meeting each other again. And that’s why those people who say reunions are a terrible idea are wrong.

Because the reason you don’t see people for 20 years is because your life moves on, and you have to concentrate on the people you are with right now.

But occasionally it’s good to remove those old friends from their boxes on the shelves of your memory and appreciate what you once shared.

As long as they flipping well turn up.

COLUMN: February 2, 2017

newquay
Newquay. Picture by Giuseppe Milo (via Creative Commons)

I HAVE spent most of the past week arguing with people about the issues raised in last week’s column, in which I described going to a rally against Donald Trump.

Much of that time was taken up in conversation on Twitter with white men of a certain bearing absolutely incensed that I had called them racist for asserting that all Muslims are rapists, terrorists, or both, and for saying that Sir Mo Farah is not really British because he is black.

It is an odd symptom of the time that there are some people who very much object to being called racist, while at the same time are not prepared to put in the hard work of actually not being racist.

How strange it must be to hold a position that you know is wrong. It must be like knowing you should eat salad if you want to lose weight, but fancying a bag of chips and a dandelion & burdock.

“Gah!” they must think. “I know that racism is wrong and the thin end of a wedge which has genocide at the other end, but I REALLY enjoy the feeling of superiority I get from having this colour of skin – the best colour – rather than that colour of skin.”

I will just say that if your response to hearing that a Muslim or group of Muslims have committed a crime is to call for a ban on people from Muslim countries, then you already did not trust Muslims before – “because they’re not like us” – and you are using this to justify your prejudices.

White English-speaking people commit crimes all the time. Come back to me when you want to ban people from New Zealand.

Anyway, there is quite enough division in this world at the moment, and it is time that we looked at something Donald Trump and I have in common – an inability to wear fake tan convincingly.

I am a very white person. Most racists are jealous of how white I am. Cameramen can use my skin – and have done – to check their white balance. I make milk look like caramel. I don’t need to wear reflective clothing when I am running at night, in fact oncoming runners tend to scream when they see my disembodied ghostly head.

But when I was 15 I went on summer holiday with family to Newquay in Cornwall. The beaches were filled with golden people, the colour the Orange Don believes he is in his head, while I looked like an animated sheet of foolscap.

And then one morning I saw her – a raven-haired vision, sitting at breakfast with her parents, looking about as bored as a 15-year-old girl on a seaside holiday with her parents as you might expect. She would have stood out anyway to me in a Newquay hotel dining room in which the occupants’ average age was 48, but she was genuinely very pretty.

How could a pasty youth like me compete, I wondered, with the bronzed beach gods? Expose me to sunlight and I shrivel like a crisp packet under the grill.

But that evening, I was in the bathroom, and I noticed a bottle on the shelf. I expect it belonged to my uncle or auntie, who had taken me on the holiday, and it was an artificial tanning product, I presume, in retrospect, for fading out tan lines.

However, I was 15 and stupid. This was the answer to my problem. I “borrowed” some and smeared it all over my face. I looked in the mirror and saw no effect.

“I probably need more,” I thought. And I smeared more on. Still no effect. I shrugged and went down to the hotel’s “disco”, where somehow I managed to dance with the girl, who told me her name was Christina.

The next morning I woke and examined my white hotel pillow. It looked as if I had engaged in a dirty protest.

Horrified, I dashed to a mirror. My body was as radiantly white as ever. But my face… Oh, my face! It was not so much golden-brown as conker brown. And it was white around my eyes, where, presumably, I had been wary of smearing the artificial tanning cream.

I spent the rest of the holiday wearing long sleeves and sunglasses, with my hands in my pockets, avoiding Christina. It was the only time in my life I believed that being white was superior.

COLUMN: January 26, 2017

trumprally
A number of people who think Donald Trump is bad

I AM not really one for protesting. I complain and moan quite bitterly after the event, but at the time, I keep my mouth shut, like the good Brit I am.

That is not strictly true. Recently I complained about a poached egg in a restaurant. The waiter actually looked surprised by my actions, almost as surprised as me.

But, in fairness, it was so undercooked it was more an unpleasant hangover cure than a breakfast. It looked as if the chef had broken the egg straight onto the plate without going to the trouble of putting it in some simmering water first.

The point is that even I have my limit, a red border of tolerance beyond which I cannot be pushed meekly. An ineptly poached egg is where I draw the line – that, and Donald Trump as the leader of the free world.

Which is how I found myself, entirely out of character, in the middle of one of the women’s rallies around the world protesting the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America.

At this juncture, I wish to clarify that I am not a woman, but I know a number of women and wished to support them.

I also know there are some readers who are saying: “Oh, for the love of Pete, get a grip, you bumbling idiot. So a democratic vote didn’t go your way. You lost, get over it, you Remoaner.”

And I have some sympathy with that point, specifically the bit where they called me a bumbling idiot, which is cruel, but not something I could fight in court.

But arguments are not settled with a vote, not even referendums. For example, we had a referendum in 1975 on whether we should stay in the Common Market. An overwhelming majority said yes. It did not stop opponents of being in the EEC/EU from banging on about it for 40 years until Easy Life Cameron decided to give us another referendum.

Opposition to a vote does not end after the vote is cast. If we had a vote tomorrow on whether we should all put our hands in the fire – and I would not bet against Team Hands-In-Fire winning these days, especially if they started talking about the “cold-handed metropolitan elite” with their “privileged unscarred fingers” – I would protest about it.

Moreover, I would protest right up to the point at which I had to put my hands in the fire, and probably after it, although my argument then would be along the lines of “Ooyah! Ooyah! Hot! Hot!”

Which takes me back to the rally. I am not a rally person. If I wanted to stand still in a crowd for an hour while somebody gives instructions over a megaphone, I would go on the London Underground at rush hour.

I am told that by rally standards it was a very well attended event. Obviously it was in no way as well attended as the rally supporting Jeremy Corbyn on the same spot a few months before, but that is because women’s rights are not as important.

But it felt good to be there, among people with many of whom I would disagree on several subjects, but on this speaking with one voice. All of us were saying that Donald Trump is a bad choice for President.

All of us were saying he is a climate change denying, bullying manchild who dismisses inconvenient facts as from the “lying media”, who talks about grabbing women by their genitalia, who hasn’t released his tax returns, who, while not necessarily racist himself, uses racism as a weapon, and who follows Piers Morgan on Twitter. And he has his finger on the nuclear button. And that was just one chant.

And if I do not protest about this man being the leader of the free world, then I am saying that I am fine with this. And I am not fine with this.

Normally, I would dismiss rallies as useless. I watched hundreds of rallies against Thatcher in the 80s.

But Trump is a man obsessed with numbers and personal popularity. He may well be the only leader in recent history who could be dislodged by rallies.

While I was just one person in a crowd, the fact remains I was in a crowd. And he can ignore one leaf on his driveway, but he can’t ignore a tonne of leaves.

Though obviously he can protest about it.

COLUMN: January 19, 2017

yorkshire-terrier-photo
A small yappy dog

I HAVE mentioned before that my chosen form of exercise is running. Running is terrible. I chose it because the other options were out of the question.

Swimming, for instance, is not for me. I am not keen on putting my face in the water because I have heard that water makes you drown and I cannot trust myself to breathe at the right time.

As a result, I swim at roughly a 45-degree angle, which means I do not glide through the water like a porpoise. Rather, I drag myself through the water, like a man crawling through the desert.

So I can swim, but not for any sort of distance. I could probably save my own life if dumped 25 metres from land, but any further out I would need professional assistance or an undertaker.

The gym, equally, is not for me. I tried it for a couple of weeks, when I was a much younger man, and found it like an adventure playground in which every piece of equipment is designed to hurt you.

Team sports, also, are beyond me. I have poor depth perception, to go with my poor everything-else perception, which means I cannot catch, or hit a ball with any degree of accuracy. And my unwillingness to hurt people means my tackling is less bone-crushing and more gentle essential oil-scented massaging.

So that leaves me with running. I do not run because I like it. I run because it is the only thing that might keep me from dying before I qualify for a pension.

But the thing about running is that it is very boring. It is just putting one foot in front of the other over and over again until you stop – like life, only marginally faster.

Obviously, this has an effect on you. On your run you notice very mundane things, and your brain tricks you into thinking they are interesting just so that you do not die of boredom. “Oh, look,” you think, “the branch on that tree is a bit like that other branch I passed eight minutes ago,” or “Ooh, that jogger’s got a white earphone cable like mine, I wonder what sort of phone she has.”

It means your standards for what is interesting are lowered dramatically. This is why runners always tell you about how they are runners and how far they have run and post it on social media. They don’t know how boring that stuff is. Runners are basically the vegans of the exercise world.

So I am going to tell you about my run the other day because I am not sure if this is interesting or not. I am going to count on your good manners either way.

I went for my run through the nearby park while it rained. I judged that it would keep my interest levels high. I might have seen a remarkable branch or some well turned-out railings.

But the problem with running through parks is that it increases your chances of encountering the natural predator of the runner: the small yappy dog.

It is not so much the fear of being bitten on the ankle – although that is a factor – it is more the fear of treading on the dog, as it is attracted to the trainers.

And small yappy dogs hunt in packs and are, it appears, invariably tethered to their owners by those retractable leads, which means that, as they run in front of you, they lay tripwires.

So when on my run I approached a fork in the path, and on the right-hand path there was a cluster of small yappy dogs. I naturally took the left, next to a bubbling stream.

And there I met a Rottweiler, off its lead, its owner texting away and not massively attentive. I am wary of Rottweilers, and before you write in and say, “Oh, I’ve got a Rottweiler, and he’s never attacked anybody”, remember that is like saying, “I have never been beaten in mortal combat.”

The fact is, if I am attacked by a small yappy dog, it is an inconvenience and a tetanus jab. If I am attacked by a Rottweiler, I am toast, and I don’t care how friendly your Tyson is.

I continued running, remembering that showing fear was probably a bad idea, but the Rottweiler decided I was scared anyway, and made a beeline for my crotch.

I dodged, and ran off the path onto the bank by the stream. But the rain had made the bank muddy, and I skidded. Somehow, I managed to fling my right leg onto the path again, staying upright while turning my ankle and running while the Rottweiler switched its attention to my rear end.

But the residual mud on my trainer made me slip again on the path and I bashed against a tree.

The dog, tired of my antics, ran off to its still-texting and oblivious owner. I, on the other hand, limped home bruised. Running is terrible.

COLUMN: January 12, 2017

kitten
A kitten – because I couldn’t find an appropriate illustration
I WOULD not want you to think I am accident-prone just because I write most weeks about the accident which has befallen me that week.

You probably have as many accidents happening to you in your day-to-day life, it is just that you do not have a newspaper column to tell people about them. Or perhaps you are ashamed of them. Or perhaps your need to earn money does not outweigh your sense of personal shame.

That is certainly what I tell myself, otherwise why would I ever get out of bed? Or, indeed, why would I be allowed out in public? A responsible government would have me locked away somewhere in the countryside, far from the nearest self-service checkout.

At least, that is what I did tell myself until last week, when an entirely preventable accident occurred, in my actual bedroom, while I was writing last week’s column. And just to be clear at this stage, this was not a “Donald Trump-style” bedroom accident.

Let me take you back first to a couple of days before Christmas, when I received an email from the lettings agent in charge of my flat.

The message informed me that some necessary maintenance would be undertaken on a particular date early in the new year and that the contractor concerned would need access to my flat, to which he had a key.

In an ideal world, readers, I would have made a note of that date in my diary. But this is not an ideal world. This is a world in which the purple ones in boxes of Roses have shrunk down so much that an alien would assume that Cadbury’s primary source of income is wrapping paper.

So, after the kerfuffle of Christmas and the New Year, the impending visit of a couple of workmen was the furthest thing from my mind. Face it, I only mentioned it two paragraphs ago and you had already forgotten they were coming.

It was the morning of the day I was due to submit last week’s column and I was writing it in bed – I live alone and work odd hours, I don’t have to justify myself to you – chuckling away at how clever I am. And, before I knew it, it was time to get myself ready for work.

I put a wash on, and prepared myself for my shower and it is probably best that we do not dwell upon this. I hung up my bathrobe in the bathroom, and then realised that I had not sent my column to the people who make it look nice on this page.

So I went back into my bedroom and sent the column over the internet. I did not put my bathrobe back on. As I said, I live alone, and it was a quick job, and it was not that cold.

That was when I heard the knock on the door. “Oh,” I thought, “that will be the workman from that email I haven’t thought about since before Christmas. This is suboptimal.”

I looked around for some clothes, but I had chucked everything that would have been easily to hand into the washing machine, and my suit was hanging up in my living room. And my bathrobe was hanging up in the bathroom.

I scrabbled about, but could not find trousers. A less panicked person might have called out to the workman to wait for a moment, but I had started down the wrong road and nothing was going to divert me.

“Fine”, I thought, “bathrobe it is”. It would not have been hugely dignified, but it would have been several leagues better than greeting a contractor as nature intended.

Did you remember the bit a while back where I said the contractor had his own key? You had probably forgotten. I had too, until I stepped into my hallway and heard the key in the lock.

I yelped and grabbed the mortice lock handle so it could not turn. I heard him say, “It won’t turn”, to his colleague – of course there were two of them – and I used his confusion to dive into the bathroom and close the door, just as my front door opened.

I emerged, clad in my bathrobe, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “Oh, sorry,” I said, “I didn’t hear you. I was in the shower.” If the contractor noted the fact that the bath was bone dry, he did not say.

COLUMN: January 5, 2017

running1
A person of indeterminate gender jogging in special black running trousers
I DECIDED to make some New Year’s resolutions in an attempt to make myself more viable.

I have now reached the age where, if I were the equivalent in car years, my owner would worry about taking me for my MOT. Bits have started falling off, and there’s some rust around my trim.

Joint chief among my resolutions were “get fit (again)” and “eat less bread”. The second of this is because I work odd hours and eat too many sandwiches as a result. I am roughly 38% sandwich.

But the first of those was prompted by a trip a few days ago up five flights of stairs, which left me not so much out of breath as with my lungs trying to escape my body via my ears.

This time last year I would have been able to take those stairs with a bounce and then drop to the floor and do 50 press-ups, if it had not have been for the looks I would have got from the diners in Nando’s.

Back then I was running 4-5k three times a week and pondering the next step – registering for a 10k race. I even owned actual special running shoes and trousers, which just goes to show how serious I was, when you consider I eat a lot of bread but I don’t even own a toaster.

But I stopped running after a minor setback, and found it difficult to get started again. For once you have stopped running it is hard to get the motivation to start again, in the absence of a pursuing lion or a chugger with a clipboard.

So yesterday (as I write) I pulled on my special running trousers and shoes. My special running trousers are black and very, erm, form-fitting, so I look a little like a goth principal boy.

Luckily, I run without glasses, partly because they would steam up and/or fall off, but mostly so I cannot see the disgusted looks of people coming in the opposite direction.

Normally, I run in silence, listening only to my ragged breathing, my heartbeat, and the annoying jingling of a pound coin against my key.

But this was a new start, and I chose to listen as I ran to a running podcast, which plays blandly inspirational music, while a nice lady tells you when to run and when to rest. For when you start running again, you can’t just launch into a half-hour run. You have to ease into it.

And I was easing into it at first. My excursion was split into a three-minute run followed by a short walk, then a five-minute run followed by another short walk, all of which is then repeated.

That sounds sensible, but it does not take into account the fact that passers-by see you running and then stopping to walk, and assume you are a massive lazybones who can’t cut it as a runner.

My initial three-minute run – don’t laugh, you try running for three solid minutes when you haven’t broken into a jog since you were 15 – was not too taxing, and it was good when the lady told me I was doing really well and I only had 60 seconds to go.

By the time of the second five-minute run, the nice lady was really starting to get my dander up. I was seeing stars and could hear my blood whooshing around my head. Because she was telling me how well I was doing and I knew – I KNEW – that she was recording this motivational message in a warm studio with a tea and Kit-Kat on the go while she leafed through Take A Break.
“ARGH, SHUT UP, YOU IDIOT!” I cried.
And as I finished the run, an agonising stitch in my side, and began the warm-down walk, she told me that people often get a stitch during this run, so I should have a drink of water before I set off next time.

It was the last straw.

“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME THAT BEFORE, YOU SILLY MOO!” I yelled out in the deserted street.

If I had not been wearing earphones, I would not have been angered by the nice woman. And if I had not been wearing earphones I would have heard the pounding on the pavement of the two women running behind me, who passed me laughing.

I can only hope it was at my seemingly insane outbursts and not my special running trousers.