A FRIEND suggested that I get into minor scrapes intentionally, just so that I will have something to write about every week. I know this revelation will shock you. “You have a friend, Gary?” you will say.
My friend, who definitely exists, and is not just a narrative device, went on to clarify the belief that this was not a conscious act, but my subconscious becoming aware that I would soon have 750 words to write and no subject matter, and then leaping into action to force me into a poor decision which would backfire on me, providing me with column fodder.
It gave me food for thought. I mean, I am generally competent in most everyday matters. I am maintained and clean and mostly solvent. How can I really be so accident-prone?
But then I realised it was nonsense. I have only been writing a weekly newspaper column since the end of 2009, but for 37 years before that I was regularly self-sabotaging for absolutely no benefit.
For example, when I was 12, my Auntie Edna gave me a book by the humorist Richard Boston, called The C.O. Jones Compendium of Practical Jokes. It explained the concept of the apple pie bed. An apple pie bed is made in such a way that victims, when they climb into bed, cannot get their feet down.
This is a confusing explanation, and the explanation in the book was equally confusing, so I tried the method outlined by the author on my own bed. I laid down the bottom sheet and tucked it in as normal.
Then I put the top sheet over it, and tucked that in only at the top of the bed. I put the pillows in place, then folded the top sheet in half, back over the pillows.
Then I arranged my blankets in the usual formation, folded the top sheet back over the blankets – it helps to imagine the top sheet now looking like a Z shape from the side – and tucked in the sheet and blankets as usual.
I stepped back, proud of myself, a new arrow in my quiver. Anybody who crossed me would risk being slightly inconvenienced at bedtime, assuming I had five minutes’ access to this person’s bedroom. Then my mum called me for my tea, and I think we can all guess what happened when I went to bed that night.
It was the 1984 equivalent of emailing an important document to oneself, and then immediately seeing an email notification on one’s phone, and thinking, “Ooh, somebody’s emailed me. I wonder what it is,” and opening it. I am only grateful that everybody has duvets these days, so I am unlikely to inflict another apple pie bed on myself again.
These days I have to inflict apple pie beds on myself in other ways. You might remember a few weeks ago I missed a bus because I became too engrossed in the book I was taking back to the library.
What I did not mention at the time is that I renewed the book. Why should I? You don’t need to know everything. Stop hassling me.
And so it became due again. I left it on my coffee table to remind me to take it back, but still somehow kept forgetting. Until I read about somebody going to the library, just as I was getting ready to leave my flat for work.
My brain made a quick calculation. There was a train due at the station near my house in five minutes’ time, and that train stops near the library. If I scooted, I would be able to take my slightly overdue book back – and pay my fine – before work.
I tore around my flat, made sure everything was switched off, pulled on my boots, made sure everything was switched off again, and ran to the station, buying my ticket on my phone as I sprinted.
I ran down the long ramp to the platform just as the train doors were opening, flung myself onto the carriage in a cloud of sweat, and fell into a seat, panting, opposite two seven-year-old boys screaming and hitting each other with McDonald’s Happy Meal balloons on sticks, while their mother, sitting behind them, kept telling them what good boys they were being.
And eleven minutes later, when I disembarked, dishevelled and nerves shot, I realised my book was still on the coffee table.