Monday, July 06, 2009

'They can try'

Gloucester Road and a plump, pale, middle-aged man, his shirt bleeding the hungry sweat of a late Thursday afternoon pulls over his weathered BMW sharply and parks on one of those damn yellow lines with a sign above that said you really don’t want to be parking here at this time of the day.

On my walk to the shops to get a few essentials, I passed two traffic wardens aggressively pumping tickets at any car that dared to so much as whisper. They'd quickly be upon this BMW, sloshing their foamy penalties over its dirty dirty windscreen.

To all intents and purposes the driver appeared to have the arrogance and badly worn aggression that is prevalent in those that choose BMWs. He walked up towards me; nose high in the air allowing the nostril creatures to see the smug cloudless sky. My emotions should have been swaying to satisfaction - this bluster of paunch was to have the nasty shock of a sixty pound fine waiting for him when he got back. But for some reason, just as he was about to pass, a little fountain of virtue started sprinkling raw compassion all over my insides. I decided that it should be me to reach out the olive branch; to try and bring BMW and non-BMW owners to, if not friendship, at least an understanding. To break the chains of hate with the…

‘You don’t want to park it there mate,’ I said, my voice lowering in tone, my words littered with the word ‘mate’ (two things that always happen when I am forced to have any discussion involving cars), ‘wardens just up their mate’ I added.

‘And?’ he replied, stomach wobbling in sympathy to his incredulity.

‘Well they’ll give you a parking ticket mate’ I replied, stating the obvious to the oblivious. I thought that perhaps he hadn’t realised what traffic wardens did. BMW drivers do seem to have huge gaps in their knowledge; most look upon traffic lights are some pointless roadside lightshow they're not invited to and see ‘giving way’ ss some strange religious ritual practiced by non-German cars.

‘They can try!’ he countered, as if a traffic warden’s attempt to place a parking ticket on a stationary unoccupied car had a ridiculously low percentage chance of success.

Into Somerfield I went. Into the heart of maverick convenience store eccentricity. I emerged twenty minutes later with a bag in each hand and started to walk back down the road noticing the BMW still parked. Its owner stood next to it on his mobile gesticulating, poking the parking ticket in his right hand skywards – telling whoever it might be how unfair it is that he should have received a parking ticket for parking illegally, for parking illegally.

Could I dampen the smile that is forming on my face? Could I halt its inevitable progress into bearing teeth? I tried, I really did. I looked away from him as I approached but he clocked me and said, ‘just a minute’ into his phone before covering the mouthpiece. ‘Did you do this?’ he shouted nodding towards the ticket in his sweaty stupid hand. I came to a stand still. Me, the single person in the entire fucking universe that had tried to stop this happening now stood accused. ‘Well?’ he continued, eyes widening, body rigid in flab.

There is no common ground, there can be no understanding. We’re two distinct groups, always
destined to exist separately. Me trying to bring us together is as unnatural as cross-breeding a pig with a wooden spoon. They have a BMW, we don’t; there’s no middle-ground in which we can all go for a picnic.

‘Yes’ I said, ‘It was me.’

Friday, July 03, 2009

I shopped at Waitrose

Yes me, myself did so last night, just to see what it was like. I’m normally a Tesco man (or for laugh Sommerfield), so in effect I’d jumped straight over the orangey head of Sainsbury’s into the arms of this John Lewis off-shoot.

The first thing I noticed is that you had to be quite near to any of the women to tell how old they are. All alone, painfully thin, with skirts just above knee height, whispering angrily at rows of expensive canned food. In fact that seems to an unwritten rule at Waitrose – you must not under any circumstances shop with anyone else. This is solitary shopping, the quiet area in the library where the slightest beep from a mobile phone could mean someone challenging you to a duel.

This silence does not spread to those that 'work' there: Unlike staff of lesser supermarkets, employees do not appear to see it as their responsibility to actually do any work. The students with name badges, stand in groups of two, unapologetically discussing in booming spooned voices about how smashed they got last night on Pimms whilst rotating a can of pees lazily with their non-gesticulating hand. Ask them politely to move so’s you can, I don’t know, maybe get something off the shelf, and they’ll shuffle along without acknowledging your existence, and continue their work-related chatter. ‘I fucking told Rachael he’d do that.’ she enthused at her best friend’s naivety.

The girl at the checkout smiled as she rhythmically swept the goods across the bar-code reader, launching them into her own clouds dreaming of a better place to be. Maybe Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Sommerfield, Aldi, that shop on the corner that smells funny.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

More Door Hardcore

I’ve already previously covered the social goat spoon of how far behind a stranger has to be before there is no need to hold a door open for them. This point was SO well made by me even Jesus took time out from being back alive to tap my head and tell me what a good little creation I was. His dad thought it was shit though – miserable bearded…

The whole door thing came back into my thoughts again today whilst following a stranger through a large office block. I was troubled as to how many times I should thank the person for briefly holding each door open for me to grab after they went through first. Every door? A selection?

Obviously the first door is a given. You have to say thank-you. This person has put himself out for 1.4 seconds, which could have been used being 2.8 metres closer to his final destination. But then the second door, a brief almost embarrassed ‘cheers’? The third, the fourth? Try not saying anything and the dead air starts to twist its bony fingers around your ungrateful neck.

I think the trick is to say something new every door:

1st Door: ‘Thank you’
2nd Door ‘Cheers’
3rd Door ‘Got it.’
4th Door ‘ahhhh’
5th Door (OK you can keep this one silent but make sure your extra proactive in grabbing that door as quickly possible)
6th Door to the car-park ‘THANK YOU’ (Give it large on this one – it’s a kind of summary thank-you, one that fills in the gaps for any slips on the previous five.)

Once you’ve been following strangers through doors for a while, you may even like to experiment with saying nothing until the final door. Yes, the door holder may be a little peeved before you come to hit your one line, but if you append your ‘Thank-you’ with a ‘very-much’ (with the ‘very much’ executed with a tone of suprise and delight normally reserved for someone buying you a bike) then they will go away possibly more satisfied than if you’ve struggled through all six separately. But don’t try this one thank-you technique until you really have had lots of experience in following people.

I know what some of you are thinking: ‘I’m not up to it Matt – it’s ok for a social God like yourself - but I just can’t face wading through this social stew. Well OK, I’d reply looking at you sympathetically/contemptibly before I chucked up my kebab of problem-solving. Try this: Get in front of the target as soon as possible. Put them on the back foot, make them face the minefield of following you. Please be aware this can end in dirty back-fire, I’ve seen two social inadequates simultaneously attempt to use this technique, thus creating a door-social-discomfort-race-condition. I’ve seen two gingers literally sprint past, hitting each other with floppy-disks in an attempt to reach the door first.

As in all cases of walking towards doors, let common sense guide you and the voices in your head tell you that it’s ok if you do THAT!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Shut-it sunshine with your big ideas and stupid shine

I’m looking at the sun out of the office window. I can hear it chuckling, barbing ‘Look what I’m doing out here with ‘heat’ and ’light’ whilst you’re stuck in there typing various combinations of keys in vain attempts to produce words on your television.

‘It’s a monitor’ I argue but the sun isn’t listening anymore. It’s laughing with the kids playing football, with jumpers for goalposts and a football for football. It’s studiously serving the slaves to sunburn who lie static along sandy beaches reading novels written by Jade Goody, stuffing greasy chips up their cracks. It’s playing peak-a-boo with the pale, who hide under parasols outside cafes, sucking then end of their beer bottles, re-hydrating their indifference to the rest of the world.

I wonder outside at lunch for a walk and the sun notices me again. ‘Ah, there you are, decided to join us again have you?’

‘Just for half an hour.’

‘See that’s the problem with people like you,’ the sun says flashing angry hot claws only visible to Hubble, ‘you complain when I’m not here, and then when I put in the effort you hide away in shirts and ties doing ‘work’’.

‘I have to earn a living,’ I argue half-heartedly but the sun doesn’t buy it. He’s sceptical about everything I say because I never look him in the eye. The fear of him burning through my retinas, into the darkest recesses, means I stare downwards defeated at the ugly pavement as I walk back.