The Greenishness

This story is probably true.

It happened to me when I was sixteen. My parents had gone out one summer night and I was home alone. It was hot, windy and cruelly moonless. I had rented the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet (that’s not the scary part).

As Paul Schofield rasped ‘horrible, horrible, most horrible,’ there was a powerful gust of wind outside, all three framed prints on the living room walls simultaneously crashed to the floor and the house and I were plunged together into silent, powerless darkness.

I don’t know how long I stood, watching a greenish retina-ghost of Paul Schofield drift under the darkness and melt, thaw and resolve itself into a gloom. The wind blew trees into the windows, I hoped. I turned away from the darkness — away from the darkness, because my dilating pupils told me there was, somewhere in our blacked out house, a light.

It was coming from behind me. From my bedroom door. There was a sickly, greenish glow coming from under my bedroom door. It flickered. And then … it moved. I felt my way to the kitchen, grabbed a bread knife and ten seconds later was standing, barefoot and adrenalin-drunk, out in the street.

I stood shivering in the heat. Time passed. I was a sixteen year-old boy standing in the street with a bread-knife handle sticking out of his pyjama bottoms. I was either going to have to go back in or explain this to my parents when they came home.

I’d locked myself out and the only open window was my bedroom window. It was brighter outside than in. I couldn’t see the … greenishness through the closed curtains. As I climbed in my lips peeled back from my gums in terror.

I fell in. The knife vanished. Green flashed. I stared straight into the display of my battery-powered clock radio, which had fallen upside-down onto its curved back in the wind. The time was 10:04. I’d like to think the upside-down numbers spelled ‘FOOL’. But it was more like …

‘hOOL’


This story was originally published, in audio form, as part of Tim Sterne’s 2012 Halloween podcast.

Of human Bondage

Originally published some time in 2007.

Oscar, The Evil Sulphura and I have gone to see the new Bond film, Casino Royale. The first ten minutes takes place in a men’s bathroom, in which a fight involving broken urinals and wildly spraying plumbing leads neatly into Bond’s iconic flip-around-and-shoot-the-cameraman move.

It is exciting and violent and it awakens an urge deep in my bladder.

I squint at my ticket in the darkness. ‘8.30 — 11.15’, it says. It is barely quarter to nine. I decide to rush out and back as quickly as possible, but by the time I build up the nerve to slink across my row the first thrilling action sequence starts and I’m locked anxiously into my seat.

The following 150 minutes pass in alternating stripes of exhilaration and lower abdominal distress. The film seems to pass in a deliberately provocative sequence of scenes in which people are variously emerging from, plummeting into, pouring, drinking and occasionally spurting from multiple bullet holes with, watery fluids.

‘Stop squirming,’ hisses Sulph.

‘I have to pee,’ I whisper.

‘Just go then!’ she says.

‘I can’t! I’ll miss an important bit of plot!’

Sulph glares at me. ‘It’s a Bond film. Bond good, bad guy evil, woman evil stroke sexy. You’re just making an excuse because you’re scared of public toilets.’

‘I am not scared of public toilets!’ I exclaim.

Oscar leans over. ‘Is there a situation?’ he asks.

‘He needs to pee, but he’s afraid to go,’ says Sulphura.

Oscar observes me. ‘You can’t go,’ he says. ‘You’ll miss an important bit of plot.’

I make an expression which weaves triumph into excruciating pain. Sulph presses her eyeballs with her fingers. We sit back to watch the film, which had just reached a scene in which Bond undergoes horrific genital torture. Mentally switching chairs with him brings only temporary relief.

The credits roll, and because of a very specific kind of bloody-mindedness I sit through the entire credits, including the model makers and the drivers of the catering vans. When I see the words JAMES BOND WILL RETURN, however, I’m off like a hare.

The cinema toilets are large and white and remarkably reminiscent of the bathroom from the Bond film. The last of the other filmgoers is leaving as I arrive, so I have my choice of urinals. As the dam bursts, I think as I always do of my favourite word for this process: micturate

Then it’s over, and I’m standing alone at the urinal in the Bond-bathroom, and behind me are the mirrors for the basins. It’s silent. I can’t hear anyone coming. I may not get another chance to do this. Should I? What if someone opens the door just as I’m doing it? I’d hear someone coming. Wouldn’t I?

I zip up. Listen. Silent. I’ll never get the chance again. Do it.

The soundtrack begins in my head: twangy guitar first, then the towering brass. I spin around, fingers cocked like a .38 Special, and shoot the mirror.

‘Bang!’ I yell joyously at the top of my voice. For a microsecond, I am as happy as it is possible for a freshly-relieved man who has just seen a Bond film to be.

Then I notice that one of the cubicles is not vacant. Under the door, a pair of shoes is keeping perfectly still.

‘Oh, um, sorry,’ I say, ‘I—’

Then every urinal in the room simultaneously begins its automatic flush cycle and the secret agent in the mirror leaps in three directions at once and yelps a G above high C.

Oscar walks in. He looks at me. I am standing in the middle of the public toilet, shaking, my fingers cocked like a gun.

‘ I’m not doing anything,’ I say reflexively.

There is a short silence.

‘It’s alright,’ says Oscar mildly. ‘Public toilets can be scary.’

When we get home, I admit to Oscar that I’ve never read anything by Ian Fleming. He sighs, reaches into his bookcase and hands me a slim volume.

A hundred pages in at two the next morning I begin to get frustrated at how long it’s taking for Bond to make his first appearance. Frowning at the cover, I try to remember who played Bond in the movie of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I decide it must have been George Lazenby.

Thinking about you

In the bathroom at work, I encounter a colleague who is hand-washing after exiting the toilet. ‘Hey!’ he says. ‘I was just thinking about you a second ago!’

There is a short silence.

‘I mean,’ he says, ‘like 20 minutes ago. Not …’ He glances at the loo door. There is a longer silence. We are trapped by his embarrassment.

‘I’m just going to get a cup of tea,’ I say, as gently as I can. I’m not, but only I can free us from this. I walk away. He is still washing his hands.

Unfavourable in appearance, development or behaviour

I’m afraid this is going to be an unpleasant story, for it begins with the following words: I am sprinting desperately up Lygon Street at three minutes to five shaking a jar of my own urine.

A few months ago, upon reading Kim Beazley’s latest poll results, I decided to take out trauma insurance. This, like absolutely everything in this story so far is completely untrue, but it gets me to Lygon Street a lot more quickly, which is true and truly happened last Thursday, for when one applies for insurance pertaining to the bodily person one must submit to a full medical stock-take.

So at three in the afternoon I am in the waiting room of my local medical clinic, flipping through a five-page medical questionnaire sent to me by the insurance company for a doctor to fill in, and finding what I read more than slightly alarming.

Take, for example, question one: ‘Is there anything unfavourable in the subject’s appearance, development or behaviour?’

Well, honestly, I’m not convinced the insurance company has any business ramping up my premiums on the basis that some GP I’ve never met before finds my development unfavourable. She’s never even seen me tango, or do my beach ball trick.

I am made to wait five minutes after the appointed time, just long enough to ponder why I was just convinced I had a beach ball trick, before the doctor calls me in. She takes the form, reads the first question and silently looks me over. A small tick is made, but I can’t see in which box.

It transpires over the following half-hour that I am in almost every way a model of banal good health. There is nothing wrong with me beyond the slight long-sightedness which my teenage self took to be the vengeful wrath of the Lord (I was wrong, by the way — His vengeance, crueller and infinitely subtler, came in the form of a gorgeous Maltese girl who allowed me to interfere with her carnally then told me she was looking for more of a ‘brother-sister’ kind of vibe between us), and nothing so unseemly about my appearance, development or behaviour as to require a medical professional to alert the insurance industry. It appears I have lost a few kilos, which I really could have done with, and gained half an inch in height, which I frankly don’t need.

‘Right,’ says the doctor. ‘Now all we need is something to go in this.’

She holds up a small plastic jar with a yellow lid, and we look at it solemnly for a moment.

‘I have some loose change,’ I venture. Her glance at the clock is almost imperceptible.

My bladder is shy and I don’t care who knows it, as long as they don’t know it while standing next to me at a urinal. I have always found the prospect of micturating in company disquieting, right back to the first time I was asked to fill a jar at about seven years of age, for reasons now lost in fog. On that day, a nurse actually accompanied me into the toilet and stood to watch at what she clearly believed to be a sensitive remove. I couldn’t understand why she had followed me in and in my panic I pulled my trousers right down instead of merely unzipping and struggled to wee while my exposed bottom burned with shame.

Back at the insurance test, it is over before I reach the cubicle. Some muscle contractions are voluntary, others are none of your business, and at moments of great stress the brain can turn the former into the latter without your consent. My prostate, upon hearing the news of my flashback to buttock-flashing shame, flicks on the auto-pilot quicker than if someone had said ‘crowded pub-toilet’, and will admit of no inducement to relent, its ideas of my self-preservation being both very different to and apparently more strident than mine.

I return the shamefully empty jar to the doctor and apologise in a small voice. She kindly offers to send me home with the jar and wait until five that evening for me to return, when she will analyse the contents, but I must return by five, no later. I promise to be as good as my bladder and race home to brew a pot of strong tea, neck a tallie of tap water and sit down to wait.

At ten to five, with the clinic ten minutes walk away, I am straining over the jar in a way which would undoubtedly constitute an unfavourable appearance. Then at seven minutes to five, success — in fact predictably too much success, which keeps me until four fifty-five.

The problem is then one of transport: there is no way I am going to stride confidently up Lygon Street with the warm jar there in my hand like an overdue copy of Pirates of the Caribbean. At four minutes to five there is no paper bag, old envelope or empty bean tin available, so it is with a semi-transparent Coles shopping bag that I tear out of the door and begin my sprint.

An immediate problem arises, beyond the obvious one of semi-transparency, which I am dealing with by palming the jar like an amateur magician. Why I think the populace will be less concerned if the man running up the street with a jar of piss in his hand is an amateur magician is a question for the ages, because the problem which arises is the sloshing.

As I run, the contents of the jar are making a rhythmic plap-plap noise against the lid in a way which I find disturbingly redolent of the holiday I spent on the shores of the Adriatic. As the adrenaline floods through me and pedestrians scatter I am picturing handing my warm, bulging, semi-transparent bag to the attractive medical receptionist to have it burst expansively, spraying terrible waves over her, me, the waiting room patients and innocent residents of surrounding suburbs. There is nothing for it but to trust the diligence of the designers of little plastic jars with yellow lids and, as it were, piss-bolt.

I hurdle the fence of the cricket ground and streak across the field, baulking around an elderly Red Setter as I charge into the goal square. The jar rattles like a cocktail shaker.

It is four minutes past five when I stagger into the clinic and collapse, gasping and groaning, against the counter. The receptionist reaches calmly for a rubber glove.

‘Let me take that for you,’ she says and reaches into the bag.

‘… no … don’t — danger …’ I gasp, but it is too late.

She takes out the jar and pauses. My urine has a head on it. We agree I should sit down.

Burglar by appointment

My friend Iris is emigrating to China, and I have agreed to take some of her things to save her storage costs. In her living room, as I browse her possessions and make my choices, I feel awkward. What does it say that I chose to take her DVD player and her blender that can crush ice, but not her steel lamp or wicker rocking chair? Does she think I think her lamp is ugly? That I mock her set of red shelves with hand-painted pink spots? I decide to overcompensate.

‘Everything is so beautiful!’ I say. ‘I wish I could take everything!’

‘Take the shelves then,’ says Iris. ‘An ex-boyfriend made them for me, and frankly I hate them. Why don’t you take them?’

‘Everything’s so beautiful!’ I say, gazing in wonder around Iris’ flat so I don’t have to look her in the eye. I feel like a burglar by appointment.

I leave with the blender but not the shelves. Neither of us says anything.

At home, there’s someone parked in front of the house, so I have to park across the street. I open up the house and return to the car to start unloading the boot, but find that Paul has got there ahead of me.

Paul is my next-door neighbour, a peculiar man who is always loitering in the street and who I am convinced throws his peach-pits over our fence. When he sees me, he lights a hand-rolled cigarette and intercepts me at my car boot.

‘Here’s a story for you,’ he says before I can say hello. I put my key in the boot.

‘Some friends of ours, just up the street, got burgled last night,’ says Paul. The key freezes in my hand.

‘Did they?’ I say. I am thinking of reasons I could be out here with a key in the boot that don’t involve me opening it. There are none.

‘Christine and Joe,’ he says. ‘Do you know them?’

Paul has put me off socialising with the neighbours. ‘No,’ I say.

‘Hm,’ says Paul. He looks at me. There is a short silence. He coughs and I jump, making the boot pop open to reveal a range of consumer durables and light furnishings.

We look into the boot. The silence extends. ‘Do you know anyone in the neighbourhood who eats peaches?’ I say.

‘The cops don’t have any leads,’ says Paul, gazing idly into the boot. ‘They say it could be anyone.’

I am trying to feel vindictive and confident, but I was raised Catholic. ‘I’ve just been helping a friend to move house,’ I begin to say, then stop when I realise that that is exactly what I would say if I was a burglar. Instead, I stare desperately into the boot, frowning in mock-consternation as though I too cannot fathom what all these appliances could be doing in my car.

‘Do you think,’ says Paul suddenly, ‘many of the houses around here have been done over?’

‘I don’t know!’ I exclaim, too loudly and too quickly. I feel close to panic, and start making up opinions. ‘I wouldn’t think so,’ I say. ‘I don’t think many have. Been done over.’

‘You’re wrong,’ says Paul. He takes a half-step towards me. ‘In the last ten years, every house in the street has been done. Except mine.’

He stamps on the butt of his cigarette, crushing it underfoot. ‘Except mine,’ he repeats. I have decided that if he advances on me I will get into the boot and close it behind me. From there I will call the police. I wonder if my boot has good reception.

‘Anyway,’ he suddenly says airily, ‘that’s just a little story for you.’ He gives me a wink. ‘I was just going round to the fish and chip shop.’ He walks away without saying goodbye, gets in his car and drives off. It was the car that was blocking my driveway.

I unload the car, wondering if forensics labs do freelance work on stone fruit.

Later that night, my editorial consultant has not come in on time for his dinner. I grab a torch and head for the vacant block on the other side of Paul’s house, where the stray consultants gather after dark. Mounting the temporary fence, I click on the torch and scan the long grass. I am about to start cooing my consultant’s name when a match flares to my left. Paul is loitering in the shadows of his front porch.

‘Good evening,’ he says with a wink.

I slink home without saying anything. He is the winner.

Girlie Grey, part two

… continued from Girlie Grey, part one.

‘Can I help you?’

‘Thanks but I don’t really like tea.’

It is Fitzroy, 2003 and the sales assistant at Tea Intersection shrugs.

‘Have you considered the possibility that you might be in the wrong place?’ she suggests.

‘All the time,’ I say. It was supposed to be flippant, but she checks the panic button.

The Evil Sulphura has brought me here. I married a career supervillain who apparently really didn’t know about my caffeine problem when she announced on our engagement that she was also a coffee connoisseur. Sometimes even a criminal mastermind gets lucky. Now she is across the street at Macchiatotalitarianism fondling plungers, and this is the only other shop in this part of Brunswick Street that doesn’t sell pornography.

’There is one I like,’ I venture.

‘Yes?’

I never drank tea before the 1998 Event. After two years of caffeine abstinence I discovered green tea, which has almost no caffeine, and after a handful of mildly exhilarating experiences in the safety of my own kitchen started to experiment with black tea, which I quickly determined was awful. In fact, experimentation proved that I loathed black tea universally.

With one exception.

‘It’s a bit embarrassing,’ I say, ‘but I can’t have coffee, and the only tea I like is Lady Grey.’

She bites her lip. I’m not the macho type, but it’s hard to avoid the feeling I’m being set up.

‘Lady Grey?’

‘Yes sir,’ says the maitre d’. ‘It’s a blend of black tea varieties flavoured with orange and lemon.’

Picasso is a fine restaurant, one of the finest in Las Vegas, and an excellent place to be a groomsman, but suddenly the entire wedding party is watching me expectantly and I don’t know why. I definitely didn’t order tea, but I was just loudly ranting about it. How loudly?

‘Lady Grey,’ I breathe.

‘Yes,’ says the maitre d’, his face a picture of condolence. ‘Sadly, sir, we have no Lady Grey tea.’

Sulph appears at my side. ‘What’s up?’

‘She says they don’t have Lady Grey tea.’

‘No, wait,’ says the Tea Intersection sales assistant. ‘We have that kind of tea, we just don’t call it that.’

I catch my breath. It’s always grated on me that, of all the Russian Caravans and Irish Breakfasts and even Earl Greys, the one I became addicted to is called Lady Grey. Why, I proclaimed loudly at every occasion before and since, couldn’t Lady Grey be called Monster Truck Killer Death Football Tea? It’s just tea after all, there’s nothing especially ladylike about it and anyway it’s not grey, it’s bloody orange!

Now here was someone telling me they called it something else. I followed her in a three-cup adrenalin rush to a shelf populated by silver tins with prim pink labels.

In Las Vegas, the groom and best man appear behind the maitre d’, who leans over me.

‘Here we are, sir,’ says the assistant. My mouth falls open.

A tiny mischievous smile flickers across his face.

‘We like this name much better.’ Sulph has to stuff a packet of coffee into her mouth. I read the label twice. A grim calm settles over me.

‘But we do have some …’

The world, I decide, will hear about this.

‘… Girlie Grey!’

The maitre d’ erupts into hysterics, followed closely by the rest of the party and random other diners. He shakes hands with the groom, who had evidently heard me complain once too often.

‘Dude!’ he says.

‘Dude!’ says the best man.

I carefully straighten my cravat and tip my chin up towards the art.

‘… oh dude …’ muses the groom. Tiny tears are forming in the corners of his eyes.

The world, I decide, will hear about this. I turn to the maitre d’.

‘I’d like a very large coffee, please.’

This true story was written with the assistance of four cups of Lady Grey, a quarter-caff espresso and an Orange Pekoe speedball.

Girlie Grey, part one

The maitre d’ is hovering over my shoulder. An original Picasso is hovering over his.

‘I’m terribly sorry sir,’ he says in an accent so fluid I can’t tell if it is French or Hispanic, ‘but there’s a problem.’

I begin to sweat under my cravat. It is Las Vegas, October 2005, and I am about to reap the whirlwind.

It is the Alsace, October 1998, and I am in the back of a Citroën 2CV going very quietly insane. The autobahn streetlights are following me. Twilight is closing in, and the trees bunched around the border crossing are screaming at each other across the Rhine. Astrid and Gabrielle are talking in the front, but I can’t make out the words. I think it’s about me. Petrified, I sink down in the seat as low as I can in expectation of the cramps.

In this state, there is no way for me to clearly remember the reluctance with which, two hours earlier, I had accepted an offer of a second café au lait.

Gabrielle and I are at the beginning of a three-month backpacking tour around western Europe which I am already concerned to find scattered with little hours of madness. Having flown into Stockholm three weeks earlier at the end of a thirty-one hour long day long to discover my backpack was enjoying an unexpected but exhilarating side-trip to Bangkok, having to first sleep in, then dry myself with paper bedsheets bought from the hostel which smelt — unfairly but convincingly — like urine, and then recovering the backpack three days later with a long-lost sibling hug and an inadvertently ardent moan which distanced me from the others in the hostel foyer, I was finding the traveller’s life a bit like coming over the crest of the rollercoaster to find the rails missing on the other side.

I made up for it by drinking a lot of coffee, and this, I reason in Astrid’s kitchen in Freiburg when I start to come down, was proving to be a tactical error. Something is going on with me and coffee.

‘Perhaps you should try drinking something else instead,’ Gabrielle suggests.

I switch to Coke.

Two days later, after a long and thirsty walk in the Black Forest, it takes an hour to persuade me, with admonishments that a entire nation is not trying to kill me just because its hostels offer marinated chicken wings for breakfast, out from under the blow-up lilo in Astrid’s spare room.

On the train to Florence, Gabrielle and I reason it out. It doesn’t take long.

‘Let’s face it,’ says Gab. ‘You’re tired, you’ve had a rough start and neither of us can afford to eat properly.’

‘Agreed.’

‘And every time you have a cup of coffee or a Coke, it makes you sick.’

‘Okay, yes.’

‘And — well, a pain in the arse.’

I consider this. ‘I like me,’ I say.

‘Don’t get me wrong,’ Gabrielle says, ‘you’re charming enough, in your own way. It’s just that we’re going to be spending the next three months together, and you may never get to do this again. You’re going to have to stay away from caffeine.’

I let Verona and Bologna pass by in a funk of reluctance. I never much cared for cola drinks, but my love affair with coffee has been long, passionate and at times downright dirty. What will I do if I can’t have coffee?

The rolling fields of Tuscany roll by like giant rolls caught in the middle of the most satisfying roll of the season, and I glare at them for enjoying it so much. Sunflowers, I note sourly. Grapevines. Vegetables of some sort. More vines. Lots of vines. More sunflowers, then more vines. What the hell do they do with all these grap—

‘I’ve got a plan,’ I tell Gab.

‘Fantastic,’ she says.

In Florence, I switch to wine.

The maitre d’ is holding both my gaze and, I am very aware, the attention of everyone around me.

‘Is everything alright?’ I mumble.

He makes a well-trained sympathetic pout. From over his shoulder, a cubist woman’s eyes glower at me from one side of her head. ‘I am terribly sorry sir, but we have searched the kitchen and we have no Lady Grey tea.’

He watches me benignly. I didn’t order any tea. The tables around me have fallen silent.

Oh God. He has heard me.

… to be continued in Girlie Grey, part two.

That’s it, I’m texting 000

‘Tanya, don’t look now, but—’

‘Hang on Kylie, I’m just texting Steve.’

‘Oh.’

’s-t-a-r-d. Right, done, what’s your problem?’

‘Don’t look now, but there’s a weird guy behind you.’

‘Where—’

‘I said don’t look!’

‘Alright, alright, keep your top off. What’s he doing?’

‘He’s just off the bike path at the top of the beach, gasping and moaning and clawing at his helmet. I think he might be a sex pervert.’

‘Should I text 000?’

‘Oh God, he’s just taken off his helmet and his head’s all purple underneath.’

‘That’s it, I’m texting 000.’

‘What a sicko, coming down to the beach just to stare at the topless girls and turn purple. Look, his legs are wobbling, it’s horrible.’

‘It’s not working.’

‘He’s probably got a camera attached to that bike. I’ve seen it on the internet. Look, he’s gone a funny grey colour now.’

‘I’ll try again. “Pls cme tke awy sx prvrt frm StKlda bch lol. xxx, Tanya.”’

‘They ride all the way down here on their bikes on a hot day and they look at girls and then they lean on their bikes and clutch at their chests, and the next thing you know your boobs are pleasuring teenaged internet knob-jockeys all over the world.’

‘000 won’t take my text. Typical Howard Government bastards.’

‘I’ve a good mind to put my top on and tell him off.’

‘Screw them. I bet this is all Vanstone’s fault. Why are you putting your top back on, Kylie?’

‘I’m taking charge, Tanya.’

‘Which guy is he, anyway?’

‘That guy right there.’

‘Jesus, Kylie, he’s only ten feet away! He can hear everything we’re saying!’

‘Then he should know to go and be a wally somewhere else.’

‘Are you sure he’s a sex pervert? He looks just like a knackered cyclist having a mild cardiac event to me.’

‘With that physique?’

‘Good point. Well, I don’t care anyway, I’m stripping down to my bikini.’

‘Okay, but just — Tanya, you’re pulling your bikini bottoms off with your shorts!’

‘Shit! Did the weird guy see?’

‘It’s hard to tell — he’s acting like he’s passed out.’

‘Typical.’

‘What a pervert.’

Who the Arse Does Tim Brooke-Taylor Think He Is?

There’s a man coming to fix my TV, which tried to neck itself last week after inadvertently being left on for a whole episode of Threshold, and the repair company is only able to give me an appointment time accurate to the nearest geological epoch.

So I’m forced to spend a whole day stuck inside the house waiting for him to come, a job made much more difficult by the necessity to avoid the fact that it’s a normal work day and I should be inside the house anyway, actually working. Here’s how it goes:

07:25 Alarm. I hate everything in the entire universe and the package it comes in.

07:29 Let out the editorial consultant, let in a strange cloud of little flies that immediately adopt me as their god.

07:49 That had better have been a fucking sultana in my oats.

08:37 Start up computer, look over various outstanding jobs.

08:38 Watching Goodies DVD on laptop. Filled with questions, which I spend forty minutes paring down to an essential three:

  1. Has anyone ever been convinced by a blue-screen special effect?
  2. Why are there so many tits in this children’s programme? Did someone in production mix up Bill Oddie’s ornithology notes with the script?
  3. If I dress more like Graeme Garden, will people respect me?

09:21 Stare at the wall for an hour or so. Thinking of Muppets. Bit confused.

10:21 Someone’s at the door. It’s a courier. Bollocks. He’s delivering a box filled with Christmas presents from interstate family, which I’m going to have to sit all day and look at and not open because I promised The Evil Sulphura I’d wait until she comes home. Double bollocks.

11:01 Q. How long does it take to teach yourself ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ from memory on the guitar?

11:18 A. 17 minutes.

13:12 That had better have been a fucking sultana in my chicken salad sandwich.

13:49 Sit down in front of the computer again, ready to go.

13:51 Just exactly who the arse does Tim Brooke-Taylor think he is?

14:12 Want to ring the TV repair company. Actually, truly do have the thought, I bet if I call and demand to know where he is, he will knock on the door as I’m on the phone, and I’ll look like a prick. Don’t call.

14:34 Big box of presents still unopened on kitchen table. TV not fixed. Glorious day outside. Actual birds tweeting on my windowsill. Filled with rage.

15:01:09 Call the TV repair company to ask when the guy will arrive.

15:01:31 The guy arrives. While I’m on the phone. I look like a prick.

16:00 TV fixed, nice repair guy leaves. Sulph rings, talk of martinis at Polly with Jen and Jonathan. Couldn’t be happier.

The other Georgia

There is a man looking in my study window from the back yard. I suddenly can’t remember where I keep the cricket bat. He’s swarthy, and he’s tapping on the glass and saying something which I can’t hear because I’m listening to some traditional Georgian choral music on my headphones and I’ve just turned up the volume as high as I can stand to get the full majestic effect.

He’s five feet away, banging on my window and I’m staring back at him, as lifeless as one of those ducks hanging in restaurant windows in Chinatown. The Georgians are giving it handful in my ears. Prickles are running through my blood. He’s yelling now, the man, and I want to run.

He’s pointing to his ears, and at me. He’s lifting something up for me to see. It’s the nozzle of a large vacuum cleaner.

I yank the headphones from my ears with a hand like a boxing glove, and the Georgian wail drops away to silence. At least, it should drop away to silence. Instead I find that outside the headphones the huge, mountainous harmonies are booming around the walls and, critically, out the windows. The headphones are still plugged in.

I jab at my laptop until it stops.

‘Sorry,’ the man is saying. ‘Only I’m steam cleaning the carpets of the place next door and I couldn’t tell if my machine was on or not.’

‘Sorry,’ I say numbly.

He goes to leave, then stops. ‘What is it, anyway? Muslim music or something?’

‘It’s Georgian,’ I say.

‘Oh,’ he says. ‘I thought that was all fiddles and banjos and Lucinda Williams.’

‘There’s another Georgia,’ I say. ‘It’s near Russia.’

‘Oh.’ He doesn’t sound convinced. ‘Good luck with it then.’ He leaves, presumably to call the Terror Hotline.

I investigate the headphones lead. I had plugged it into the microphone jack instead of the headphones jack, which apparently makes the music play at the requested volume through my headphones and deafeningly through the speakers. I plug it into the correct hole, close and lock the window, draw the blinds and make myself a settling cup of tea.

How lucky, I think as the kettle waits for me to look away, that this happened at home. I sometimes have to take the train during the day, and I’m always being told I should take my laptop to get some useful work done in transit. I never, ever do this, because I fear that one of the generation Naomi Robson refers to as Our Young People will take it off me and hurt me and run away.

Now it becomes clear what infinitely greater humiliations could have befallen me. I congratulate myself on my instinctive trust of fear as an evolutionary adaptation.

Back in the study I return to my laptop, put my headphones in, click Play and my eardrums touch in the middle.