There’s a mole catcher who’s well known around these parts of Somerset and he has the most amazing advert printed on the back of his van. I’d never managed to get a photo of it before, but the other day he happened to be in front of us and so I summoned up all of my steady-handedness in order to take a clear picture:
No Mole No Fee.
Surely it has to be one of the best slogans of any business in the UK? I mean it’s just so…niche. There’s something so casually presumptive about it – as though having a no-show mole is an everyday occurrence. Or, indeed, that having a mole at all is just a mundane everyday occurrence.
What fascinates me the most is the criteria for this particular offer. No Mole No Fee. What are the T&Cs at play here? Is it like with lawyers, with no win no fee, and there are certain caveats and exclusions? Do you get charged, for example, if the mole is caught and then escapes again? And what constitutes “no mole”? Can someone call out Mole Catcher knowing full well that there’s no mole to be seen? Just for japes? I suppose that you’d be a strange person if you actually did that, but it would make for a terrible business plan for the Catcher if they were constantly popping in at people’s houses for absolutely no reason.
“Morning! Got a mole needs catching then?”
“OK no worries: no mole no fee! You have a good day now.”
Obviously after a few minutes (sixty) of pondering this I realised that it simply meant there’d be no fee if Mole Catcher failed to catch the mole. Which made me then ponder something else: does a Mole Catcher promising no mole no fee work harder to catch a mole than a Mole Catcher who charges regardless? In my mind, the No Mole No Fee catcher would try absolutely anything to catch that sharp-nailed little creature – I have no idea how mole catchers catch moles (I’m hesitant to open that particular Pandora’s Box of potentially upsetting information) but I envisage an Acme Studios kind of set-up, with sticks of cartoon dynamite and a man running around in army fatigues playing the Benny Hill theme tune on a small bugle.
I can only imagine the Mole Catcher’s look of solemn disappointment when, after blowing up half an acre of garden, he comes away empty handed, with no new mole addition for his re-homed mole sanctuary.
“Drat that pesky mole!”
Would he one day knock on the back door and scare the life out of you, after three weeks of hiding out in the undergrowth in full camo, twigs in his hair, gaunt from lack of food and sleep?
“No mole I’m afraid, Mrs Cardigan-Wolsley. I’ve tried my damndest, we’ve even become quite good friends, Moley and I, but I simply can’t coax him out.”
Dedication to the cause.
I wonder which other businesses might have a “No [Insert Random Thing] No Fee” policy. It’s really rather a good deal for the customer isn’t it? Imagine if Yodel had it – they’d go bust within a week. No Parcel, No Fee. Maybe it would stop them throwing packages into wheely bins and other frankly absurd outdoor spots.
“Your parcel is: under the clapped-out red Fiat Panda on Church Street SW3“
“Sorry you weren’t home, although you most probably were: we have thrown your fragile package on top of the flat-roof garages in the next town. You know, the ones next to the cinema. It seemed easier than ringing your doorbell.”
No Answer No Fee. Now that would be a good one wouldn’t it? For the appalling customer services that seem to front every sector from luxury memberships to carpet sales, from telephone companies to insurance firms. Imagine if you got some money back every time you had to wait for more than twenty minutes in a telephone queue? Or, if you waited for more than twenty minutes and then got cut off, you got some money back and a month’s free whatever service it was. OR, if you waited for more than twenty minutes and then had to tell the operator all of the details you’d given twenty minutes ago, including full address and postcode, mother’s maiden name, first and ninth digit of your twenty digit PIN and answer to your “memorable question”, you got back all of the money you’d ever paid the useless sods in your whole lifetime and a fifty quid M&S voucher.
I’ve had my fill of terrible customer service in the past fortnight: real hive-inducing stuff that has made me crunch my back teeth together so hard I thought they’d crumble. So No Service, No Fee is presenting itself as a particularly good idea – even Shit Service, No Fee sounds pretty fair!
We’re having another heatwave here in the UK – in September! Honestly, this year must be breaking some kind of hours-of-sunshine record. It feels as though we’ve had the longest summer in history, starting in March and running all the way through into the autumn – we’ll be Trick or Treating wearing shorts and flip-flops at this rate. Imagine Mr AMR leading the kids about the dark streets in full beach regalia.
“Trick or Treat!”
“Sod off you chancer – what are you supposed to be then? You’re not even scary.”
“I’ve come as a British holiday-maker trying to successfully go abroad somewhere hot!”
“Oh yeah, I get it. Nightmare mate. Have some Haribo.”
It’s a good job we’ve had some lengthy sunny spells, because holidays to exotic places haven’t really been on the cards, have they? Even if you managed to book one, the likelihood was that it would be cancelled by the time you flew out, or else you’d get there and all of the Covid rules would change and you’d have to hurry back in the dead of night, racing along the autoroutes like a compromised secret agent, albeit a compromised secret agent driving a Volvo estate with a yellow roofbox and two bikes tied to the back.
So thank God for the UK weather! A sentence I never thought I’d write. I’d like to celebrate summer 2020, if you don’t mind, because despite its shortcomings (you know, horrendous deaths, mass unemployment and serious political and social unrest, no biggies) it feels as though it has been, for many people I’ve spoken to, quite a unique time. Without sounding as though I’m about to chime some miniature cymbals above your heads and gently blow incense at your chakras, it seems that many have found the time to reflect and reset over the past six months. Reconnect with family members, examine the way they’ve been living and whether they want to continue with the same routine.
Here are some of the things I’ve noted down about Now That’s What I Call Summer! 2020 and why it may have been the best ever season of my life. Despite often wanting to stick a very long kebab skewer through one ear and push it out of the other side, mainly on the days that my kids got up pre-6am and then proceeded to scream about the fact that the special Cheerios bowls were still in the dishwasher.
Anything good, at all, has been twenty times better than it has ever been. It must be a coping mechanism in bad times – cling on to any shred of joy and amplify it. A bit like when you were in your early teens and you’d arrive at the shittest holiday Gite known to man, that had rats in the roof and a toilet inside an armoire like the lavatory version of Narnia, and your Mum (God bless her forever) would say “well this is nice isn’t it? Look! Someone left a brand new packet of biscuits next to the back door!”
Thus any short spell of intense sunshine has been met in our house with the exclamation, “we could be in Greece!” Any pop-in by a neighbour or short, socially distanced catch-up with a friend has been followed by a sappy look between us all and a “well that was lovely, wasn’t it? Isn’t it amazing to have lovely friends?” Even a quick exchange grabbed over a garden wall on our daily walk has filled us all with immense but OTT pleasure, like we’ve had all of our mental markers for enjoyment completely removed and replaced with the lowest possible benchmarks. “OH! LOOK! A butterfly, A BUTTERFLY! God isn’t the earth beautiful!”
So it goes without saying that the – quite lengthy – runs of heatwave have sent the pleasure sensors into absolute overdrive. First in Spring, for – well, almost the entire season – then again in summer proper, weeks and weeks of uninterrupted, baking hot sun that threatened to kill off everyone’s gardens that they’d spent all of their going out money doing up, but did we care? No we did not. We thanked the weather Gods that at least something in 2020 was going our way.
Time has passed more slowly. Especially for those who had to shield for health reasons. Or those with dependents. Or people who have been wondering, painfully, day after day whether or not they still have a job. Or people who have a business that was slowly, tick by tock, going down the pan. Even for those with no immediate life concern, time went slowly, I’d imagine, because they were taking things day by day. No idea of the future, suddenly thrown into the tumultuous world of Covid uncertainty (unprecedented times!) and just tentatively edging forward, shuffle by shuffle, into the new normal. Nothing like Covid to make you stop in your tracks and take stock of things.
But with this slower pace comes the welcome opportunity to take stock of things – the fact that you eat the same three meals on rotation, perhaps, or that you would love to work with animals or that you absolutely detest your flatmate. All useful realisations, even if they can’t immediately be put right. Unless you start working at a zoo, ticking off your career goals, bring home a lion to maul your flatmate to death, thus taking care of the space-sharing problem and then… no. Too far. Nobody wants that meal added to their culinary repertoire.
We’ve spent more time outside. As lockdown started, we all became avid joggers, dog-walkers and cyclists. Going outside for exercise became the nation’s favourite pastime, “doing up the garden” was a close second. It’s no wonder we’ve noticed the weather more and appreciated the sunshine hours. I suppose it’s also been easier for people to get outside because many haven’t been at work or have been working from home and not shuttered in their usual house-car-office-car-house routine. There are few better ways of lifting the spirits, I’ve found – even sitting on your doorstep for a few minutes in the sun can have a restorative effect, so imagine a whole summer spent outside!
And so, Summer 2020, I award you with the weirdest-yet-nicest season of my lifetime award. You’ve been the backdrop to the most frightening and frustrating world events, yet you showed up with the sunshine and made the bleak days more bearable. If you could just pass the memo to Winter 2020 then that would be great…
Last week I found myself unexpectedly perving over King Triton’s torso whilst watching The Little Mermaid II with my kids. Which was something of a surprise, even to myself. A cartoon character – who knew? As he waggled his way into shot, I was taken aback by the broadness of his chest, the abs definition, the slenderness of a waist that tantalisingly led the eye down to his thick, smooth…
Is it weird to wonder about sex with a merman, and a cartoon one at that? It feels odd to have (very minor) levels of arousal over someone who’s half fish and I’m annoyed at Disney for putting me in this position in the first place. Why did they have to draw him with the most buff upper body the cartoon world has ever seen? It’s just not on. Don’t make fantastical part-animals sexy is what I say. I never had this hot-under-the-collar problem with Mr Tumnus from Narnia.
Morally it feels a bit off, because surely sex with a half-animal is (trying to follow logic, here) a sort of half bestiality? Or even full bestiality, because really the part you’re “engaging with” most is the non-human part. You can very well kiss King Triton, and King Triton can very well honk your boobs with his human hands (this is how I imagine he shags – all whilst bellowing out a sea shanty), but when it comes down to it, you’re going to be shagging a fish.
I also feel bad because (in The Little Mermaid II) Triton is a white-bearded, protective and loving grandad, and so it’s a bit like fancying Santa. Except Santa with the body of Jason Momoa.
How did King Triton even get that ripped? I can imagine that upper body strength for a merman would have to be phenomenal, because effectively your legs have been replaced with a giant flipper, but still. There’s upper body strength and there’s the torso of a man who’s been lifting articulated lorries for the past ten years. And there ain’t any articulated lorries on the bottom of the ocean, I can tell you that for free.
(Actually there might be. It could have slipped off a sunken freight ship. And I suppose the mermaid community would only need one articulated lorry in their workout area. The MerGym. They could lift oil drums or boulders whilst waiting for the lorry lift, or use the resistance bands. Which would be made from those thick, shiny strips of seaweed.)
(Sorry, I’ve got an image in my head now, of all of the fitness fanatic merpeople hanging about in their outdoor gym, an underwater version of Muscle Beach. They’re all side-eyeing one another and drinking green protein shakes out of conch shells. Although: do merpeople drink? How could you drink liquid when you are quite literally surrounded by liquid? You’d open your mouth and all of the seawater would pour in – how would you selectively imbibe a particular liquid? I suppose you’d just have to use a straw.)
Anyway, sex with King Triton: it would be totally inappropriate. Even on a practical note, things aren’t plain sailing. Where is his willy? Could it be hidden beneath the scales of his tail, like a pop-up surprise? Or do merpeople have no reproductive organs? How do merpeople mate?
Wait. Google is my friend here.
There are a LOT of theories. It’s mindblowing. People do know that mermaids aren’t real…don’t they? Because there seem to be thousands of mer-believers out there. Anyway, the two most popular theories (and I suppose only feasible theories when you think about it) are that the mermaid lays a mer-egg and the merman comes along and basically spunks over it, OR that they mate like a human, with the merman’s penis concealed in a sort of sheath, like a dolphin’s.
I feel queasy, for some reason. I think it’s the idea of being penetrated by a sheathed dolphinesque penis. Would it have scales on the actual shaft? Would the scales feel like sequins? Risky! You’d be absolutely in tatters down there. Unless your own vaginal passage was also scaled, in which case it might be somewhat protected, but then would the scales clash and catch on one another as the penis was withdrawn? What if the sequinned penis became trapped inside the sequinned tunnel? There’d be trouble then!
Do you think there’s an A&E for mermaids? I like to think that Disney would have that all drawn out – the octopus receptionist with her many telephones, the swordfish surgeon with his scalpel nose.
“Ah, King Triton! What can I do for you this time, Your Royal Highness? Sequin penis stuck inside a sequin vagina again? You need to be more careful! Nurse Pufferfish, just roll them over this way, that’s right, easy does it – and fetch the KY jelly!”
Oh, I’ve gone off on a real tangent with this post. I only meant to ask around and see who else thought King Triton was hot. Which, incidentally, I have already done on Instagram but with slightly disappointing results; King Triton was not top of the hot-cartoons charts. Aladdin cropped up quite a bit, and also the general from Mulan, but I think that the most popular cartoon crush was Robin Hood from Disney’s Robin Hood. Who happens to be – get this – a fox!
What is it about anthropomorphised animals? A few people also said “adolescent Simba” from The Lion King, but more people willingly and enthusiastically aired their fancies for the beast from Beauty and the Beast. But only AS the beast, mind; he seems to lose his sex appeal when he becomes human again. Apparently.
Giving it some (extended) thought, the beast is pretty broad across the chest. Nice and stocky. I kind of get the attraction. Moody, damaged, good head of hair, massive castle with full staff including a wardrobe that talks. But Robin Hood the fox? He of the smug smile and overly-confident swagger? Nah, sorry. I’m lost on that one…
I was going to order some little vintage side tables last week but the delivery time, from the Netherlands, was estimated at 4-5 weeks. Considering that the tables are already made – they are secondhand – what in heaven’s name mode of transport could possible take 4-5 weeks? I could construct my own tables in 4-5 weeks, whittling the frames from wood that I have painstakingly collected from the garden and dried out in the airing cupboard. In 4-5 weeks I could do a crash course in glass blowing and make the bloody tabletop!
At the very least I could hire a van and drive over to the Netherlands myself, and back, and that would only take two days. In fact: Google Maps informs me that it’s about eight hours one way and so I could feasibly do it in a day if I mainlined Coca Cola and didn’t stop for a wee.
What transport method could possibly take 4-5 weeks then? I’m finding this hard to fathom. Let’s say it goes by boat, which I’m guessing is the slowest way, how long could a crossing from the Netherlands possibly take? Is it going by rowing boat? Canoe? Pedalo? Is the boat the sort of boat that goes around the houses (or the coastline), picking up other bits and pieces from other ports before finally, thankfully, sliding wearily into the harbour at its final destination? Is it a bit like when you agree to share a minibus to go home from a wedding and a ten minute journey ends up taking three hours because you have to go to Leytonstone via Putney, Notting Hill, Maida Vale and then Putney again because Jeffrey and Toni passed out drunk and missed their stop? Is it like that? Does the boat go all the way up to the east coast of Scotland to pick up some huge crates of frozen organic salmon, and while it’s in the harbour all of the furniture from the Netherlands can be heard grumbling from below deck?
‘Fuck’s sake, Coffeetable. I told you we should have gone in the van with the bedstead and the floor lamps. Sideboard Bob will be officially an antique by the time we get to Shoreditch.’
‘It was cheaper this way, Brass Barcart, I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to say…’
More Google Map research shows that I could actually walk to Amsterdam in 79 hours. How mad is that? I’m guessing that with two solid brass side tables strapped to my back it might take just a bit longer to walk back again, but still, I reckon I’d do the whole thing in less than two weeks. For free. There is actually a collect in person option, so maybe I’ll surprise them.
‘Hi there, I’m here to collect the brass and glass Jean Charles side tables?’
‘Oh hi, yeah, they’re right here ready to go. Can I help you with them into your van?’
‘Nah, no worries. I’m on foot.’
‘Yeah, it was only ten days delivery time rather than your 28-35 days and I thought I’d save on postage. If you can just hoist them up onto my back there and pull this dubious-looking abseiling strap around to secure them, that’d be great.’
The only transport method I can think of, where it would legitimately take that long to send something from the Netherlands to Somerset, is this: sparrows. It’s a bit of a James and the Giant Peach scenario, but bear with. You tie a load of sparrows onto the tables using fine pieces of thread and when you have enough sparrows the tables lift into the air. They all fly, ever so ever so slowly, across land and sea and land again, but they don’t know where the hell Somerset is and end up in Barcelona. By then, some of the sparrows have perished and so the Spanish branch of Overpriced MidCentury Classics has to catch the tables using a man with a hand glider, attach more sparrows whilst in mid-air and send them off again in the right direction.
Another method slow enough to take 4-5 weeks would be by magical van. A van that can do all sorts of amazing things – turn into a musical fairground carousel, become a submarine, change anyone who drives it into a talking squirrel – but can’t drive in a straight line. Magic van can only drive in ever-widening circles, which means that the end destination has to be carefully calculated using the on-board Spirolometer and extra time has to be allowed for all of the pissing about the van has to do before actually getting to the place it needs to go. It wastes the first week driving around and around the bicycle lanes of Amsterdam, much to everyone’s annoyance, and once it gets to the UK the magic bus spends a good while doing both the North Circular and then the M25. Clockwise.
Give me strength. Literally. I’m setting off to get the tables tomorrow and the last time I walked more than ten miles I twisted my ankle…
I’m offline for a couple of weeks after this post – I’m working on something magnificent and it requires my full concentration. I’m sure that you can all survive a fortnight without my ridiculous posts on nipples, orifices and social distancing problems, but as a parting shot to see you through, here I am on video, cutting my own hair with (completely inappropriate) paper scissors.
Some will have seen this on IGTV but I am well aware that many of you don’t use Instagram or Facebook (sensible probably – they are the biggest time-suckers!) and so I’ve uploaded the whole thing to Youtube and embedded it below.
See you all later, alligator: if you need me urgently then ring my Mum! But don’t knock for me, I’m not allowed out. Hohoho…
Remember the absolute mortification when a friend called for you but your Mum wouldn’t let you out because tea was nearly ready? And you’d hear your Mum say
“No, Sean/Lee/Nat/Jamie, she can’t come out now, her tea’s nearly on the table.”
“Oh OK,” they’d answer, “can she come out after?”
“Maybe,” your Mum would say, “depends.”
“What time’ll she be finished?”
“Not sure yet, Sean/Lee/Nat/Jamie, maybe you go and play and if she’s finished she’ll come and find you.”
“How will she know where I am though?” Sean/Lee/Nat/Jamie would say.
From your position at the top of the stairs you’d just about be able to see their bike lying on its side in the front garden, the wheels still spinning. And you’d be thinking bloody hell Sean/Lee/Nat/Jamie, you’re pushing your luck with all of these questions! Back away from the door and save yourself!
To be fair, my Mum was a very patient Mum. Maybe because she was a teacher. She could deal with a whole barrage of pointless questions and she always managed to keep her voice steady and kind. I’d lose the plot if people kept knocking on my door now. Not least because the dog goes crackers anytime anyone approaches and then someone else has to shout at the dog to stop him from barking and someone else always has to say “he’s only guarding!”: it’s a right old performance. So if I had been a mother in the eighties, with no Great Uncle iPad and only three telly channels, then I’m sure I’d have been a very short-tempered and highly-stressed sort of mother. I’d have been leaning on that doorframe with a Benson & Hedges dangling from my lower lip. Smudged eyeliner, hair wrapped in a handkerchief, glass of 3pm sherry in my hand.
“I said she’d be out after tea, didn’t I? NOW PISS OFF YOU LITTLE GITS!”
On that note, here I am massacring my own hair. It was actually looking rather nice before I chopped it – let this be a lesson to you!
After twelve weeks of complete isolation I decided to go to the post office to do some urgent returns. (I actually had to send back some clothes I had ordered and never unboxed. Because who needs clothes in a lockdown? Not I, apparently. Apart from a few special occasions, I’ve almost worn the same two outfits on rotation; the first a dress that looks like a sack, the second a pair of shorts that have taken on the actual shape of my arse, so that when I remove them they stand up proud upon the rug, and an old t-shirt that has holes in the armpits. For chillier moments, both outfits have been worn beneath the world’s ugliest cardigan.)
So I went to the post office, which is buried deep within a village shop so tiny, and so crammed full with shelves and carousels and whatnot, that it’s almost impossible to walk through it without touching anything. Which doesn’t bode well for social distancing compliance. And I have to admit I was concerned about my visit, having heard tales of people completely ignoring all distancing guidelines now that we’re allowed to fire up the BBQ and – er – play golf; what would I be confronted with? In my mind, the world had gone rogue whilst I was locked inside – it would be a Mad Max scenario, with modified sand buggies revving around the country lanes, rams’ horns stuck to the bumpers and post-apocalyptic flesh-eating zombies hanging out of the open windows.
It was fine though. At the start, at least. There was a “queueing system” outside of the shop door, so I casually merged myself into it, trying desperately to look like someone who had been outside of their house before. For some reason my legs didn’t quite work properly – they felt like cotton reels threaded onto pieces of elastic, which I think was nerves, but nevertheless made me look like a newly-born Pinocchio.
Unfortunately, abiding by the two metres rule meant that I had to position myself almost in the middle of the road, for there was no place to stand to the left or right of the queue that was prominent or obvious enough to signal my presence to queue newcomers. Queuecomers. And that’s important, isn’t it? In a country where we are borderline obsessed with queue etiquette, it’s essential that everybody – everybody – knows that you are, in fact, in said queue. This is usually conveyed with a nod and a smile and a small, pointless, forwards or backwards movement, just a very slight one, to draw attention to your presence.
In this case, there was nobody in line after me – yet! – but still, I had to stand my ground. There’s an art to queuing, after all, and one of the finest skills is ensuring that everyone who joins the queue after you knows exactly where you rank. But here was my first testing quandary/moral dilemma: to stand in the road, or risk weakening my queue presence by tucking myself into the nook-in-the-wall where the drainpipe runs down? To lose queue-face, or to be flattened by a DPD van?
The choice is yours!
In the end I opted for a bit of a compromise, darting in and out of the road like a demented badger. It was confusing for the drivers. I had more than one beep. A few motorists tried to wave me across, which meant I had to do the universal sign language for “NO! I’M NOT CROSSING!”
One mimed exchange was so painful that I just gave in and crossed the road, only to almost be hit by a fast-moving bike when I did an about to turn and crossed back again, such was my haste not to lose my earned place in the queue.
I lived to tell the tale, thankfully: it was inside the shop that everything went to pieces. I just didn’t have any experience in this social distancing thing – quite literally no experience at all. I hadn’t built up any etiquette, I hadn’t seen social distancing techniques in action: it was all entirely foreign to me. A new language. And so I entered the shop almost apologetically, creeping in an exaggerated, comedy burglar knee-lift knee-lift toe-point hop! kind of way. Bear in mind I was wearing a silk kerchief as a face mask and eyeshadow on only one eye and that I hadn’t properly arranged my nipples beneath my top so that one was about four inches higher than the other: I was quite the picture.
(Does anyone else now have to arrange their nipples to ensure levelness? It’s a right faff! If I just juggle them into position, you can guarantee that one nip will be far higher than the other, looking like a peanut has been stowed away for safe keeping. Gone are the days when they both just fell into place, like delicately-balanced teardrops.)
So in I went, my tote containing the parcels slung over my back like a swag bag, trying to greet the shopkeeper and post office man with just the joy in my eyes. Difficult to do. And then I got to the counter and it was as though a giant stopper had been removed from my brain, because the talking started. It started and I just couldn’t stop.
“I have some parcel returns! How are you? This is weird isn’t it? What happens to the protective screen once you don’t need it anymore, it would make great secondary glazing hahaha! So how many people a day come in do you think, I just need proof of postage for that one, thankfully they pay for the returns otherwise I’d be bankrupt because I pretty much do all my shopping online now, I expect most people do, which is good in some ways but not great in others. Alexa Chung was in here the other day wasn’t she? Did you serve her or do you know who she is, what is she doing here, everyone says you’re the man to ask because you know all the gossip!”
Honestly. The phrase verbal diarrhoea doesn’t even cover it. It was dysentery. Thank God for the protective screens, that’s all I can say. Even with the perspex barrier in place the shop volunteers (yes, they volunteer to serve morons like me, the mind boggles) were ducking beneath the counter, such was the ferocity of my stream of absolute crap.
“Please pop the parcel on the scales,” said the post office volunteer, which put an end to my impromptu monologue. There was a moment of awkward silence as he printed out the labels and busied himself with sticking them to the jiffy bag but then, scandal, a second customer entered the shop! Ignoring the queueing system and the one-in-one-out rule! They just marched straight up to the counter beside me and plonked down a loaf of bread.
How could I have been prepared for such a flouting of the guidelines? I’d prepared myself so well. Tied a silken scarf around my face like a luxury goods version of Butch Cassidy, queued outside on the road, to my absolute peril, and now – just as casual as you like – I was faced with a potential super-spreader. What’s the protocol for that then?
My parcel-returning finished, I was presented with the challenge of exiting the shop without going closer to the perpetrator than the prescribed two metres. Seeing as though the entire shop is around four metres square, I saw that it was impossible. It was like one of those Mensa puzzles they give to particularly bright children at primary school (just me? Oh lol! Sorry!) where you have to move the pieces about to get the square to the exit. Or something.
Anyway, the woman with the bread wasn’t bothered about distancing herself whatsoever and had started a conversation about deer hounds, so I was forced to plan my escape around her. But then the worst thing of all happened: she decided to use the post office counter! WHERE I WAS ALREADY STANDING!
“Excuse me,” she smiled. “If you’ve finished, I’ll just slide on over.”
Well this was a conundrum. The sliding over part sounded vaguely terrifying, but the bigger problem was where to put my body. I couldn’t very well disappear myself and there was no clear path past the super-sliding spreader – even without social distancing the passing of the two ships would have been tight.
She began her slide. What to do? Crash backwards through the bank of freshly baked goods? Send the Bakewells scattering, the sausage rolls tumbling from their pastry pyramid? Or should I Klinsmann-dive sideways over the tower of eggs and the boxes of potatoes? Neither option was favourable – it was the sort of evasive action you’d take if you were about to be steamrollered by an out of control lorry. Overkill, it could be labelled.
I settled, instead, for panic. I manically sidestepped one way and then the other, waving my hands in the air, looking for all the world like a crab on amphetamines. A bandit crab, complete with face mask, absolutely off its shellfishy tits, dancing to a song only it could hear.
The slider-spreader pressed herself closer to the counter, possibly out of sheer terror and I managed to side-crab my way past the baked goods and out towards the door. Another customer was about to enter, again flagrant disregard for the rules, but backed out with a look of surprise and horror as they saw the human bandit-crab side-lunging towards the exit. One eyeshadow’d, wonky-nipped, neckerchief slipping to reveal a mean, anxious mouth: small children wept, a border terrier whimpered, a man parking his bicycle stealthily hooked his leg back over the saddle and pedalled away to safety.
Haven’t been in to the shops again, obviously. You? How’s your lockdown going?
My children (three and a bit years old and almost five) have been learning to ride their bikes and it is at once a massively rewarding experience and a very new, very fresh hell. On the one hand, seeing them learn a new skill and become fully-functioning mini-people makes me brim with joy and pride; on the other, my nerves are shot to hell and I have more scratches on my lower legs than an intern at the Big Cat Sanctuary.
You have to wonder at the wisdom of putting very small humans in charge of what amounts to a welded-together collection of metal bars, sharp spikes and hard rivets. If you deconstructed a kid’s bike and threw all the pieces into a sack, it would be the sort of thing you’d have found being passed around the tavern before a medieval uprising. So you have to ask yourself whether it’s sensible to let a three year-old, who likes bashing pan lids into walls, sit astride this scaled-down weapon of destruction.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy that they’re racing along without a care in the world. Any milestone the kids reach makes me brim with joy and pride and seeing my only-just-stopped-being-babies careering away down a cycle path is somehow ridiculously liberating.
But at the same time I’m proudly watching them power away on their own steam, I’m usually pondering the new depths of pain and discomfort that I’ve managed to plunge myself into. It’s almost as though, as a parent, you have to give yourself something to make life more awkward. Sleeping through the night? Tick! Nobody biting on your nipple? Tick! Stopped having to wipe poo off the carpet? TICK!
What can we introduce now, I wonder?
I’ll tell you what: bike riding. The fear of them falling off and smashing something or other on the path, the fear that they will wobblingly meander into the path of a proper cyclist, like a drunken badger staggering into a dual carriageway. And then there’s the worry for your own wellbeing – the worry that you’ll trip over their back wheels as you jog along behind them, or get your shoelaces caught in their spokes, or have a nasty run-in with the stabilisers.
Oh, stabilisers. Stabilisers are terrifying, with their jagged metal hinges and their fast-moving wheels of certain laceration. Pushing along a child using stabilisers (this is the four year old, actually – the three year old has a balance bike) means taking the survival of your ankle bones into your own hands. You thought you were going for a pleasant Sunday jaunt to breathe in the scent of meadow flowers and look at the freshly mown fields, but really you’ve agreed to sacrifice the flesh on your shins, ankles and possible knees. But once you’re out there, with an enthusiastic cycle maniac, there’s no turning back. There’s no escape. It’s like finding yourself inside the Colosseum with one of those chariots that had the spikes sticking out of the wheels – if you’re taking a kid for a bike ride with stabilisers then you’re basically Gladiator.
And that’s not the only physical torture involved. Remember Quasimodo? That’s biking-expedition me, pushing a four year old up a hill when she’s too tired to pedal the bike. Bent double, shoulders hunched, face twisted into a terrible expression of pain and humiliation, staggering sideways in great, ungainly leaps.
“Here she comes everyone! The troll of the tow path! The bells, the bells!”
The three year old on the balance bike presents less of a problem, physically. He just races off, his little legs working away as though he’s powered by clockwork. But then his batteries run out and he gets tired and Mr AMR ends up with child on shoulders, child’s bike in one hand, dog lead (with dog attached) in the other. Like some sort of circus act.
And I’ll be bringing up the rear, huffing and puffing along, near-prostrate in the wake of the Queen of Sheba who is oblivious, upright on her cupcake bicycle and singing songs about how wonderful the world is.
“And I wake up, yeah, and the birds are amazing, the birds are great, the birds know my so-ong and the birds love my dolly, oh yeah, oh yeahhhh.”
Not a care in the world, just comfortably watching the hedgerows whizz by as I expend approximately the same amount of energy as a small shire horse ploughing a field, pushing with a gentle hand on the small of her back. She obviously has no idea how tiring the pushing is – she had the audacity, the other day, to actually yawn as I was navigating a particularly steep slope.
I fear, though, as with all things child-related, this phase will be fleeting and before I know it we’ll be onto the next level, where they race off without us, and another tie will be painfully cut. Another phase will be just a beautiful memory. I’d take lacerated ankles in exchange for a slowing down of time. Any day of the week….
I think I need a lawyer. Not because I’ve done anything illegal recently (unless plotting to kill the man who keeps strimming his bushes at night counts. Who the hell strims in the dark? Surely as an activity that presents so many dangers that it makes the whole endeavour entirely unfeasible? Decapitating badgers is one peril that comes immediately to mind. Slicing hedgehogs in two, like they’ve unwittingly volunteered themselves as participants in a magic trick with the world’s worst magician, is another. Then there’s obviously the danger to your own limbs. Although…the perfect murder seems to be developing in front of my very eyes!)
Where was I? Lawyer. Yes, I’ve decided that I need a lawyer and I need him or her to follow me around 24/7. Not for legal advice, you understand: merely to get me quickly and efficiently out of conversations that I don’t want to have and/or prevent me from doing my usual “nervous rambling on for twenty minutes at the end of meetings to the point where everyone else on the call/in the room can’t wait to get away from me” trick.
I don’t know whether it’s because I spend a lot of time alone, but as soon as I’m thrown into an intense conversational situation – whether work or social – I go into meltdown towards the end. The part where I know that someone – everyone – is going to have to say goodbye in an elegant and gracious manner.
I just can’t do it! Either I feel bad, as though I’m snubbing the other person by wanting to go, and so compensate by being overly nice for five minutes too long, or I begin to panic that I’ll be trapped for hours and hours and so say something stupid.
Which is why I need one of those shit-hot lawyers – preferably an American one – to extricate me. Whether it’s a meeting in person (you know, in the future) or an informal phone call, I want them there, smelling of Tom Ford Private Blend and writing stuff in their Smythson notebook with a golden pen.
And if all of this is confusing and you haven’t got the faintest clue what I’m on about then you need to watch more American crime series on the telly. Because if there’s one thing that you can rely on in an American crime series (and many of the British ones too) it’s that the lawyer will always know when to cut a meeting short. There’s no situation too tricksy for a Netflix/Amazon Prime attorney – if they want their client out of the room then they just utter three words:
“We’re done here”.
We’re done here is lawyer speak for “I know my client’s rights and we don’t have to say any more so there, we’re off matey!” but in television, it’s also code for “the writers have trickled out all of the tantalising evidence they want the viewer to see but are now too lazy to think of a good way to get to the next scene whilst retaining that nail-biting sense of mystery and suspense”.
“I think we’re done here.”
Ugh, so sauve. So assured. The cops never argue with it – the lawyer is usually scraping back their metal-framed chair as they say the magic sentence, standing up beneath the unflattering interview strip-light and gesturing to their client to follow them. It’s so brilliant! Just a few words and it stops everything. It’s like when you’re little and you wouldn’t go to sleep so your Mum would call your Dad and you’d hear him coming up the stairs and he’d say “that’s enough now, get to sleep” and that would be that. Eyes closed, no arguing, asleep in sixty seconds.
Bad analogy, possibly, but you know what I mean. There’s a sense of authority and “don’t mess with me f*ckhead” when the lawyer on the telly says “we’re done here”. Sometimes they get called out – we get double-bluffed and the detective has more damning evidence on the criminal/murderer/trickster than they initially let on – but not often.
Anyway, I digress. I want one of these lawyers to follow me about, to sit and listen to what I have to say (God, how boring!) and then, when they can see that it’s time that I shut the actual fcuk up they could just put a steady hand on my shoulder, look directly at the person I’m babbling to and say, confidently,
“I think we’re done here.”
To be fair, one hundred percent of the time at the moment that person would be my husband, so I’ll allow them to be a bit softer – maybe “I think we’re done here?” with a question mark – but if I’m honest, in lockdown the lawyer is needed more than ever. The number of conversations about bins, painting, hedges and grocery orders that should have been pretty straightforward but that have turned into full-scale wars could have all been avoided if we’d both had a sharp-suited LA attorney next to us.
“Oh that’s right, you always do the bloody bins don’t you and let’s not forget it! Well let me tell you sonny-Jim, doing the bins isn’t all that, because back in 2005 I did the bins for a week so I could -“
Weighty hand on my shoulder. Stern nod. “Ruth, I think we’re done here.”
Could have saved me a dozen arguments, nearly all my fault. Although, thinking about it, maybe I’d have won them more often if I’d had a shit-hot Bosch-style lawyer in a ten thousand dollar Chanel suit! And imagine all of the awkward questions that could have been avoided – all of those ones that tell you you’ve lost before you’ve even begun:
“Erm, did you actually remember to order the dog food when I said because he has none left and it takes a week to be delivered.”
Shit, shit shit.
“No….I think we’re done here.”
Ha. Wouldn’t it be great? I’d definitely my lawyer to sit in on all of my Zoom meetings, which seem to turn me even more random and rambling than usual, if that’s possible. I just can’t shut up! But sometimes it’s other people who can’t shut up, and in that case my attorney (I’m going to call her Barb Wire) would just raise an eyebrow and inch ever so slightly closer to the laptop camera:
“I think we’re done here.”
Bam! Goodbye. I’d never be the last one in the Zoom Room! I can never work out how to exit the bloody thing without looking like someone who has accidentally pressed the “change PIN” button on the cash machine. Fumble no more, my friends, Barb Wire Esq. is here to cut this meeting off at the knees! At the first inkling of anyone beginning to ask what everyone’s up to at the weekend,
“We’re done here.”
The entire group has started to talk about Love Island or I’m A Celebrity?
Oh! Here’s the best one. Barb can’t stand it when a pointless meeting is called – usually to “talk over” a presentation that has already been sent by email. She hates those meetings with lots of people on speakerphone, when one assigned representative reads out the presentation word. for. word. The presentation you’ve already read thoroughly the night before and now also see before you with your own eyes. This one calls for an early exit, if Barb is involved.
“Okay everyone, thanks for joining! I hope you all got the email with the PDF of the presentation attached – if you haven’t seen it then it’s on the email titled PRESENTATION ATTACHED. What we’re going to do over the course of this call is a) talk about what we’re going to talk about on the call and b) talk through the presentation word for painful word until your eyes and ears are bleeding and c) any questions? Yes, Barb, fire away!”
“We’re done here.”
Four times in the past week my children, who are almost-five and three years old, have unknowingly grabbed onto one of my nipples to stop themselves toppling over. 75% of the time it has been when I’ve been putting their shoes on, which is always a precarious sport – and also explains why my nipples have been within grasping reach – but there was one particularly memorable case that saw my right nipple used as a sort of living climbing hold so that my youngest could scale my body like a mountain and sit on top of my head.
I’ll stress again that neither child has the faintest idea what they’re holding onto in these fleeting moments – for all the world it could be a button or the end of a zipper. On reflection, it took me a few seconds to work out what they were grasping in their little hands, mainly because after two solid years of being gummed and chewed at (referring to breastfeeding, obviously – Mr AMR isn’t some kind of low-key sexual deviant) my nipples tips have almost no feeling.
They may as well be steel-capped. If I was into body piercings, I’d have no qualms about getting some hoops through them – maybe then I could thread a dainty rope through the hoops and tie it around my neck, giving myself a free breast lift!
So anyway, the nips seem to have suddenly gained an extra practical use. And I’ve realised why it’s sudden and a brand new phenomenon: it’s because for much of the day I can’t be bothered to put a bra on. Previously my nips would be incased in a t-shirt bra, safely behind moulded cups. And now they are swinging free, a good four or five inches below me as I duck and dive to successfully complete the Crystal Maze Shoe Application challenge.
It’s a tricky old manoeuvre, isn’t it – putting small kids’ shoes on? There you stand, prone and vulnerable, your face necessarily next to the back of their head, which is for all intents and purposes a huge, solid, fast-moving canonball, ready to smash into your nose or eye socket at any given moment.
For it is impossible for a child to stand still whilst being shod; they toss their heads around, bob up and down, jig on one foot like a demented goblin. And the one time that you want them to move – “bend your leg! BEND YOUR LEG!” they stiffen every muscle like a board, knees locked out, so that you have to give up and plonk them on the table to get at their feet.
And even though you couldn’t be more clear which foot you’re tapping for them to raise – “THIS ONE” – they always lift the other one. And then they lose balance, because it’s all so overwhelmingly complicated, because their brains are (rightly!) wholly concerned with the mystery of “why bees don’t ride about in helicopters to stop their wings from getting tired”, and then a tiny hot hand shoots out and grabs onto the nearest convenient thing.
Pendulous, available, dangling right there like a welcome hand-strap from the ceiling of a packed London Routemaster. Topple, tipple, grab my nipple. It’s a wonder they’re still attached.
I’ve (perhaps unwisely) started testing out online exercise videos. There’s a whole other post to be written on the various hazards to be avoided when partaking in Youtube workout classes, but I have a pressing question about the fundamental essence of my being and that is this: do I, Ruth Crilly, have the emotional maturity of a fourteen year old boy?
Am I hopelessly, embarrassingly immature or do other people chortle their way through the workouts, smirking at the utter smut-fest that is the running commentary? It’s like innuendo bingo! I have to say, too, that it is almost always the videos from the US that have the richest array of double entendre – the instructors across the pond seem to have absolutely no clue that what they’re saying sounds like it has been lifted from a porno script.
Here are some choice cuts from the Youtube videos I’ve been testing out this week:
“OK, I’m really feeling that in my booty right now, guys. Wow, that is deep, I can feel it deep inside my butt.” (Glutes exercise.)
“Oooh, that is good in my butt right now!” (Plank with mountain-climbing legs. Don’t ask. It’s no wonder the majority of people give up exercise after January.)
“Mmmm, okay, now let’s pump it, pump it, pump it, PUMP!” (Sumo squats with a “pulse” at the bottom. We will talk about “pulses” in my next exercise post when I’ve thought up enough expletives.)
I’d like to add that all of these things are said quite breathlessly, by women wearing lycra so tight you can see every gynaecological peak and trough. Nothing remotely wrong with that in itself, obviously, but it’s more than a little off-putting having a visual as well as the soundtrack. Puts me right off my stride! It’s almost impossible to balance on one leg and outstretch your arms “like an aeroplane” when you’re shaking with barely-contained mirth.
I find the word “pump” amusing in almost all circumstances, to be truthful, irrespective of accent. Depending on where you’re from you’ll know that “pump” is an alternative word for trump, parp or – as I insist on it being called in this house – bottom burp.
Unfortunate, really, when “pump” is such a commonly used word for…loads of things. Petrol pump, air pump, pump up the volume. I can deal with all of those versions, it’s just when someone’s talking about the action of pumping. Oh, the number of adverts I’ve filmed with beauty brands where I’ve had to say something like
“do two or three pumps into the palm of your hand!”
“spray two pumps onto your face and breathe deeply to inhale the scent!”
Kills me every time.
Anyway, back to the “feel it deep inside your booty” gang: surely they know what they’re saying? Do they come out with things like this deliberately, in a wild stab at humour, to get you through the workout? Or do they just assume that 99% of viewers aren’t as immature as me?
Answers on a postcard please. And happy Easter. I did mean to do some sort of intelligent, heartfelt post about new starts and beautiful life and #thankfulness but this issue seemed more important.