17 December 2009

The Curse of Christmas

Never, ever try to do your shopping in a supermarket a week before Christmas. If you do, you will seriously consider murder, suicide, or murder followed by suicide.

My local Sainsbury's have gone the whole hog this year; jolly decorations in the most festive of reds and golds; cholesterol-laden cakes at prices so low you'll be haunted by visions of starving children for weeks afterwards unless you've already succumbed to a heart-attack so severe it feels like someone's applied a jack-hammer to your chest; intrusively joyous music so aggravating that you'd rather cut your ears off, eat them, vomit them into your cupped hands and smear them on your face than listen to another nanosecond of Slade, and dead-eyed staff with red felt hats jammed onto their heads in a display of enforced jollity so pernicious that you feel it could only be topped by Hitler making the Waffen SS attach glitterballs to the ceiling in Auschwitz in a bid to raise morale amongst the Juden.

Throw several hundred dull-witted imbeciles into the mix, all pushing trolleys piled eight-feet high with shit they can't possibly need, and you've just created my own personal hell, thank you.

None of this was helped by the dawning realisation that I seem to be the only human being on the face of the planet with the vaguest understanding of 'spatial awareness'. They dawdle about in a fucking dreamworld, screeching to a halt without a single moments thought, glaring at me when I smash into the backs of their legs. Here's a handy tip - treat your shopping trolley like you would a car. Look around. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre. Don't blindly swerve about like Stevie Wonder at the dodgems with a ferret in his undercrackers, USE YOUR BASTARD EYES!

Fortunately, I was only buying a reasonably small selection of delicious breakfast items, so didn't have to stick around too long. Within ten minutes I was on my way to the tills.

Side Note: When I go to Sainsbury's, I write a list. This alone has earned me the opprobrium of certain friends who prefer instead to just browse and pick up what they fancy as the mood takes them. To me, that is insanity. If you don't have a list, how on Earth can you be sure you've purchased everything you require? Imagine wading through the river of faeces that is a supermarket in Southend only to discover when you burst through your front door, tears of hatred in your eyes, that you've neglected to pick up eggs. It doesn't bear thinking about.

Side Note 2: I also write my shopping list in order of where the items are in the supermarket. This, I will concede, is a bit mental. However, in my defence, there's nothing worse than getting all the way to other end of the store only to realise you didn't pick up the button mushrooms in aisle 1. My method is as follows:

1) Make a shopping list.
This is where you sit, gazing into space, jotting down tasty items of nommage as each one springs into your mind. "Home-made meatballs? OK, I'll need fresh beef mince, onions, Parmesan, garlic and eggs." Those items then go on the list, in the order you think of them.

2) Pick up a fresh sheet of paper and lick the end of your pencil.

3) Make a second list.
This is where you take the items from list one and put them in order of location. The fruit and veg aisle is first in the shop, so onions and garlic take pride of place at the top. The meat aisle comes next, so you write down 'minced beef x 1'. And so on.

In this manner, you avoid unnecessary buggering about and have a shopping experience that doesn't so closely resemble rubbing Scotch Bonnet peppers onto your cornea until you scream your lungs up so they hang down the front of your shirt like the ends of a particularly bulbous scarf.

Arriving at the tills, it appeared that in their rush to foist Christmas upon me whether I wanted it or not, Sainsbury's had neglected to address the reasonably important measure of actually hiring any staff. The queues were ridiculous.

In a moment of insanity, I ended up queuing behind a woman and her husband. The woman was one of those strange creatures who, in her younger years, was probably slightly eccentric in a way that was both amusing and very attractive. I could imagine the man, dark of hair and lean of stomach, looking at her and shaking his head, tears of mirth rolling down his cheeks, chuckling "you're mad!" and giving her a hug, convinced that she was the loveliest thing he'd ever laid his eyes upon. Fast forward thirty years and he clearly wanted to kill her. Fast forward thirty seconds and I wanted to kill her too.

Now, I should point out that when I'm unloading my trolley, I have a bit of a system. This involves placing items for refrigeration in a general heap and everything else can then be scattered around and about. Bread and eggs have to be placed at the end of the conveyor belt, obviously, or you end up with a loaf of wholemeal the size of a house brick and a fine smearing of albumen on your Coco Pops.

This insane woman in front of me, however, took the biscuit. Not only was she taking the items out one at a time, she was telling a little story about each one.
Broccoli - "Oh, we'll need this for dinner tomorrow. That can go next to the chops."
Paracetamol - "Right, I've got two of these, just in case. They need to go here."
Jelly - "Now, Mr. Jelly, you need to be over here, next to the evaporated milk."

Minute by painful minute, she cradled each item in her crazy hands, told a tiny story about it's history, what meal it was required for, or what bizarre scenario it might become an integral part of later, then reverently placed it on the conveyor before returning her gaze to the trolley, tapping her bottom lip, deep in thought, and picking up something else that she could have a conversation with.

Her husband stood at the far end of the till, desperately wishing he was somewhere else, like Baghdad for example, and failing rather spectacularly to do anything about the old witch.

My temper was starting to deteriorate and I was in real danger of shouting something inappropriate like, "Oi, Rainman, get a fucking move on!" but, of course, I didn't for fear of her suddenly rounding on me and tearing at my face with her clawed fingers which, I'm convinced, had probably dissected a thousand steaming turds over the years and smeared them across the bedroom walls.

My furious gaze turned to her husband who was still milling around six feet away, suddenly fascinated with a speck of lint he'd discovered on the lapel of his tweed jacket. She gave you a blowjob, you gave her a wedding ring, and you've regretted it ever since. Just because you've ruined your own life, it doesn't mean you have to ruin mine as well. Take some responsibility for your eccentric, grocery-loving wife and move the bloody queue along a bit.

Eventually, after she spent 3 whole minutes (I'm really not exaggerating here) examining the plastic wrapping on a fruit cake (the irony was not lost upon me) their trolley was empty and I was able to start unloading my own purchases.

Once they'd moved on, the till-assistant (is that the right word? I didn't want to say 'monkey') adjusted his Santa hat, flashed me a half-smile and apologised for the delay.

I told him it wasn't his fault, smiled (although it was probably closer to a sneer) and started to pack.

4 December 2009

Thank you, world

For the last week, I've been suffering from headaches. Not constantly, just the occasional one that hits hard and sticks around for far too long.

On Monday, a headache hit me in the morning as soon as I woke up. Ah, those are the moments you cherish, when as you stir in your warm bed, the first early rays of sun creeping through the curtains, you're jolted into consciousness by raw, undulating pain beating ceaselessly through your cranium.

I stumbled in to work, vowing that I'd sort out some urgent business and then take the afternoon off to recuperate. Sadly, that particular dream was whisked away from me when my colleague snuck away from the office at noon never to return. Checking his calendar I found that he'd secretly booked the afternoon off without telling anyone. Being the dedicated little drone that I am, I decided it would be a bad idea for me to sneak off too, so I stuck with it, snapping grumpily at my co-workers if they so much as looked at me.

On Tuesday, headache still present, I crawled in to work and immediately booked the afternoon off before any other bastard could get in there. I viewed this, quite rightly, as a WIN.

I left work at 12.30, came home and went to bed, sleeping right through until 7. A little bit of internetting, several paracetamol and then back to bed until the following morning.

Wednesday - no headache.

Thursday - a bit of a headache. It passed.

Friday - 3 am. I woke up, head pounding like a kettle drum in a particularly violent production of Carmina Burana performed by the National Percussion Orchestra of Bolivia. Pills were scoffed, fruit juice was guzzled and I sat down in front of the laptop to try and fill my waking moments with some mindless entertainment in the vain hope it would take my mind off the agony. After a while, I went back to bed and watched a DVD. Then another one.

By this time, it was 8 am and there was no end in sight to my headache. I was, obviously, starting to wonder if I'd done something wrong in a previous life to explain the endless suffering that I'm experiencing in this one. I soon realised a startling universal truth - bad things happen to bad people. However, as I'm a wonderful person, this was clearly just some sort of blip and would soon pass.

I phoned work to let them know I wouldn't be in, which was a nightmare in its own right. The trouble with a headache is that you can't convey it over the phone. To all intents and purposes, it appears you're simply calling in because you can't be bothered to attend work. If you're fortunate enough to have the flu or a throat infection, you can cough, hack, bark and dribble down the line, leaving the person on the other end in no doubt that you're clearly very unwell. Headaches don't allow you that luxury. Additionally, it's a Friday so even if you're dying of consumption, your co-worker will simply nod at the other end of the phone, make unconvincing sympathetic noises and secretly curse you for your laziness. Fuck them, I say.

Soon, it was 11 am and I was in bed, just about fading into a much-needed sleep, the pain in my head subsiding slightly.

The doorbell rang and my eyes flickered open, rolling towards the ceiling. Can't I even die in peace now? I honestly think that one day I'll get hit by a truck, fly through the air like a rag doll, crumple to the ground in a flurry of broken limbs and, as my blood cools and congeals on the greasy tarmac, someone will tut and nudge me aside with their foot so they can get their shopping home before it defrosts.

Obviously, I ignored the doorbell. "Whoever it is, they can fuck off ", I thought.

Unfortunately, they obstinately refused to fuck off, preferring instead to ring the doorbell again. And again.

I crept out of bed and went to the living room, peering down from the window to see who it was. It turned out to be the elderly lady who lives in the flat below me, standing there with her niece.

Grumbling and whingeing, I shrugged on a shirt and went to open the door. I purposely didn't put any trousers on, deciding that the appropriate punishment for disturbing my peace and quiet was to be greeted by the sight of me in my shirt and pants. They'll think twice before ringing my doorbell again, I can tell you.

The niece took one look at me, resplendent in my shirt and pants combo and involuntarily shuddered - I saw the revulsion ripple through her body. She actually took two steps backwards, even though this meant her back was now pressed against the opposite wall. If she could have punched through the brickwork and crawled into the next room to be an extra two feet away, I'm sure she would have done so.

Through sheer force of will she managed to curl her lips into something approximating a polite smile and said, "Sorry to disturb you, but my aunt has locked herself out."

It seemed appropriate to explain why I hadn't answered the door so I said "Sorry I didn't answer, I was in bed. I've got a really bad headache."

Except I didn't say that, did I? Oh no.

For reasons that I simply cannot fathom, those words left my brain, travelled down my neck, shot into my jaw, and something entirely different came out. What I actually said, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why, was this:

Me: Sorry I didn't answer the door, I was in bed. I've got a really bad hangover.
Niece: (smirk)
Me: No! No, I meant headache.
Niece: (small nod)
Me: I don't know why I just said hangover, I'm just...I can't really think straight at the moment.

It was too late. The damage was done. The forced smile had left and the knowing smirk was there to stay. I immediately wanted to knock it off her face with a length of four by two.

No amount of protestation on my part could cause those words to be sucked back into my stupid mouth like they'd never existed. As far as they were concerned, I'd clearly been a very silly boy and was paying the price for my lack of self-control.

It transpired that the elderly neighbour had managed to lock herself out. She'd gone shopping on her mobility scooter and accidentally left the front-door chain on. She'd also accidentally locked the back gate when she'd gone out, so couldn't get in that way either.

Quite what they expected me to do, I don't know, but I felt that I should assist in some way if for no other reason than I could then go back to bed.

"Let me put some trousers on and I'll see what I can do."

I trudged upstairs and donned jeans, shoes and a coat, remembering to pocket my keys so that I didn't get locked out. See? Not difficult is it, elderly neighbour?

I could have just charged the front door bellowing "Hulk smash!" and taken the chain off with sheer, bullish force, but it didn't really enter my head. In retrospect, I rather wish that's what I'd done. Instead, I thought I'd be crafty and clamber in through the back garden. This proved to be both effective and very harmful.

There's an alleyway at the side of the property with gates branching off from it into various back gardens. Elderly neighbour's is first, mine is second. I headed through my gate and, wading through the viciously barbed plants that have taken over my small plot of land, I approached the fence that divides our gardens. It's only about 4 feet high, but I had to scale it in now muddy shoes which slipped dangerously every time I tried to get my footing. After no small amount of struggling, I was now standing precariously on top of the 4 foot fence, a wild tangle of thorns behind me, a large bush in front of me. I couldn't climb down into elderly neighbour's garden - I was going to have to jump.

Through the exertion, my head was now once again pounding like the interior of a chav's Citreon Saxo and beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. I looked like the anti-Spiderman, all clumsy bumbling and grazed elbows.

Deciding that I'd reached the point of no return, I braced myself and leaped forwards with cat-like agility and grace, arcing over the bush and promptly plummeting to earth like a concrete slab, slamming into the ground with jarring force.

I hit the grass, slick with dew, and crumpled to my knees, leg suddenly screaming with pain, glasses flying off my face and skittering across the garden. I imagine the sound was not dissimilar to someone dropping a large bag of potatoes from a first floor window directly onto a patio.

The wind was knocked out of me completely and, wheezing like an asthmatic hyena, I scrabbled about in the damp grass, squinting myopically for my glasses. I found them, wiped off the mud, crammed them onto my face and limped over to the gate, unlocking it and swinging it open.

There, on the other side, stood elderly neighbour and her niece. I couldn't even look them in the eye.

They thanked me profusely as I waved a filth-encrusted hand and limped my way back upstairs, sore, breathless and thoroughly fucking miserable.

In the past you've probably read my blog and figured that I'm just a whining loser with an irrational hatred of everything and everyone. Perhaps you're finally starting to see that it's not my fault. This shit just happens to me, whether I want it to or not.

I can't even lay in bed with a throbbing migraine without the universe conspiring to propel me, unbidden, into perilous situations where I end up either a) hurt, b) humiliated, or c) hurt and humiliated.

The final icing on the cake is that, without fail, elderly neighbour always rewards me for my endeavours. Whenever she locks herself out, or electricity goes off, she knocks on my door and I rescue her. It usually only takes a few minutes, but she's eternally grateful and I find, a few hours later, a little carrier bag outside my flat door with a gift in it. The first time it was a bottle of wine, the time after that a six-pack of Stella Artois. Gradually, however, these gifts have decreased in value. A few months back, there were two bottles of Old Speckled Hen (vastly preferable to the Stella, truth be told) and then, on the most recent occasion, a 4-pack of Co-Op own brand bitter.

Christ knows what it'll be this time. A carton of Ribena perhaps, or a half-eaten ham sandwich. The mind boggles.

Anyway, my head's throbbing like a bastard and I'm feeling so grumpy I may implode, so fuck off the lot of you.

UPDATE - It is now 8 hours later. Time for an update.
Headache: Temporarily abated. This is good.
Leg: Hurting like a motherfucker. I can barely walk on it and have become convinced that it's broken.
Gift: No gift whatsoever. Not even a can of Special Brew. Ungrateful old cow.