COLUMN: November 23, 2017

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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