Poet on a Hill

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Adrift in 2017 AD

Adrift in 2017 AD

I stopped writing stuff for my blog 2 or 3 years ago because anyone with the slightest interest has either gone over the wall, heading into whatever they’ve lined up for themselves, or they’re no longer capable of making head nor tail of it. I’m writing this to try and make sense of the world as it affects me. Therapy, if you like. I know that some of the stuff I say winds people up. But they’d get wound up anyway so it doesn’t matter. Anyway, let’s wind them up first and get rid of them. Then I’ll get on with the monologue.

First, to make things crystal clear, as far as I’m concerned anyone can do what they want with their own bodies. They can cut off their nose if they like. Don’t ask me to say it looks beautiful, that’s all. And don’t force me to do it. That’s bullying. I can’t stand bullies. That said, I have pet hates, like computers and full time offendees... i.e. people who take offence when none was offered.

So, let’s go to my latest hate target - unisex toilets. For those of you who don’t get about much, this is a phenomenon foisted on the wider world by the recently arrived Alphabet People. The first time I came across this idea was in the Senedd Building in Cardiff Bay. Liz and I had parked the car in Penarth and strolled across the barrier to the bay. Once there we went for a coffee in the Senedd. Inside, as is my wont, I headed for the, “gents,” which I know of old. If you’re not familiar with the toilets in the Senedd, I must tell you that they’re tucked away in a remote corner of the cafe, hidden from view. But now, instead of the “gents,” I was confronted by a notice that said, “This is a Unisex toilet.” I pulled up dead. “What’s a unisex?” I wondered. “I know that a unicorn is a cross between a donkey and a rhinoceros. But that’s mythical. So what goes with a unisex? Do I qualify?” I ask myself. “What if I go marching in and get met by screams and abuse? What if I get turfed out? What do I tell Liz?” Like I say, I’m in a remote corner of the building – and I’m of a nervous disposition – completely out of my depth. I push the door timidly. “My God it’s locked. There’s... somebody in there!” I have visions of an arm shooting out and dragging me inside. I lose my nerve, turn tail and scurry back to the table. “I’ll go to the proper toilet on the barrier.” I tell myself.

Like all stories this has two sides. To start with, some of us need urinals – me for starters. Let me explain... We have two toilets in our house. And I realise now that long before Johnny-come-lately arrived with his fancy labels, these were unisex toilets. Liz and I, man and woman, tend to nip into whichever one we fancy – so long as it’s the one in the bathroom which is by far the cosiest. But... and it’s a big BUT, more years ago than I care to remember, Liz went one step further and emasculated me. She made me sit down to pee, under the pretext that I’m a rotten shot. Deprived of my manhood, I was, for a while, defeated and devastated. Say news leaked out to the boys in the pub, how would I explain? But, like the French during the war, I fought back and formed a secret underground movement that she still doesn’t know about to this day... Between you and me, whenever we go out I make an excuse and go into every “gent’s” toilet that we pass. If we go into a building that sports a “gents” I’m in there as we enter and again as we leave. Liz falls for this, as women do, and puts it down to the fact that my prostate is in tatters and beyond repair. Little does she know that I go in there to stand proudly in front of a urinal and show the male population, “See, I’m not a sissy. In spite of the rumours I’m a bloke who stands up to pee.”

On a different tack, we passed the first of the year’s milestones in March when Liz woke me up at 5 in the morning and said she couldn’t breathe. This was particularly worrying because she had a stroke 2 years ago. Mind you, I suppose she would still want to breathe even if she hadn’t had a stroke. So that was a 999 job, paramedics, and 3 days in hospital with her heart doing a magnificent 140 beats a minute. It turned out that one of her stroke medications was too high. Once they sorted that out she was back to normal. Two days later we spent a full day at the races at Ffoss Llass. Liz was just fine so we declared her fully recovered. I came away with a small profit – though none of my gee-gees went half the speed of Liz’s ticker.

Still in March, on Mothering Sunday we clocked-up another milestone when our grandson’s jazz band was performing at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. All three younger branches of the family made the pilgrimage to see Mam. That’s three generations in each case. Family bonds are priceless.

Liz is into religion. And she’s always had a yen to go to Iona. So I set up a trip to the island in May. I did the booking on the internet, as you do. It was a bit traumatic at times, but nothing that a few injections of The Famous Grouse couldn’t cure. Have you noticed that all the hotels have clever little ploys for offering essential extras these days? The first one is, “Five pound cancellation cover.” That’s to insure against having a spat with the wife and calling the whole thing off. Next, they tell you that breakfast is an extra – a fifteen pound extra. In the old days you got a plateful of greasy bacon and a hard fried egg as part of the deal. Then, when you get there, they urge you to save the planet by never having your towels washed. I spend ages pacing up and down hotel rooms wrestling with my conscience. Then, guiltily, I tenderly lay this sodden rag on the bathroom floor as if it was a drowned cat I’d pulled from the toilet. When all seems quiet I sneak out of the room with my shirt pulled up around my head and scurry to the lift before the chambermaid identifies me and starts spreading gossip.

That said, I booked a hotel in Glasgow, followed by a hotel in Oban, ferry to Mull then B&B in Iona, and the same in reverse for the homeward journey. The whole trip was cemented together by a Flybe flight from Cardiff to Glasgow and a hire car when we got there. The reason any of this is worth mentioning is the fact that it leads me to another of my pet hates – big institutions that treat people like muck. Three weeks before the starting date, Flybe informed me that our flight was cancelled, no explanation given... not changed, altered, moved, shifted or any other such nicety, but cancelled. No flight that day – OK pal? Needless to say, Elizabeth and I have never been known to have a spat so I didn’t take hotel insurance against cancellation. I asked Flybe for compensation. “No chance,” came the reply, “if we give you more than 14 days notice it’s your problem. Full stop!” So, to shorten a long story, we got a flight for the next day and all the hotels etc juggled their bookings without charging us an extra penny. Thank you!

By the way, the B&B in Iona took us for £180 a night, which was more than twice the price of the hotels in Glasgow and Oban. As the island is one of the seats of British Christianity I couldn’t help thinking about Jesus doing his nut when he saw the money sharks on the steps of the temple. Fortunately we arrived on, and left Iona on exactly the days we had booked. Which was just as well, because the digs there stipulated that there were no cancellation safeguards – £180 per night, shit or bust.

To be fair, Iona is stunningly beautiful and historically unique. And from there we were able to take a trip to Fingal’s Cave, which is one of the planets wonders and more impressive than the Giant’s Causeway, nature at its most magnificent.

In June there was another impromptu clan gathering, this time springing from one of the same grandson’s orchestral concerts rather than jazz. This was followed by a three generation get together in an open air French restaurant in Mill Lane. These occasions are special and notch up precious memories. I will never stop counting my blessings.

In September Liz was off on a weekend course to Denman College in Oxfordshire. That’s a kind of bolt hole where WI members go to get away from their husbands. I don’t know what course she did but she seemed happy enough when she got back. And I lived unchallenged for a couple of days so it wasn’t all bad. Then Liz was off to Scotland again. This time it was with our daughter. They flew from Bristol to Inverness then hired a car, picked up Liz’s aunt in Wick and did a tour of the Northern Highlands.

That brings me to November and the last of my latest hates, tight car parks and sat-navs. Our eldest son is in the navy. He’s on a shore posting just now and volunteered to take part in the Armistice Parade on Plymouth Hoe on the 12th. That gave us an excuse for a short break. So I booked four days in a hotel that boasted a car park. When we got to the hotel I asked the receptionist if I could book a place in the car park. “You don’t need to book,” she tells me, “there’s plenty of room. Just drive in and pick your spot.” “Perfect,” I say, then go back to Liz who is sat in the car and whisk her round the block and in through the car park entrance.

My whole life is pockmarked by decisions I wish I hadn’t made. Going into that car-park was yet another. Talk about tight. I was on permanent hard lock on a desperately narrow track – this way, that way, this way... with Liz yelling, “You’re too close this side, that side... this side, that side.” Then I saw a space, a parking space. It was a clearly marked parking space. I’ve been going into car parks for years and I know a parking space when I see one. So does Liz. So we both agreed. “It’s a parking space. It’s marked out. Let’s go for it.” Easier said than done, “How do I get in,” I wondered. “Dunno,” said Liz. She can be very helpful. A manoeuvre of twenty-odd turns finally got us into the space with a car on either side – and just enough room for our wing mirrors. Now – my car is small, a Fiesta, they don’t come much smaller. “So how do we get out?” I wondered. “Dunno,” repeated Liz. After much deliberation, and irritability on my part, we came to the conclusion that there was no way out. And there never would be unless one of the other cars evaporated.

At this point I decided to continue the search. I was disappointed. Two cars further along we ran out of track. There was a barrier and the street beyond. We’d reached the exit. “Is that all there is?” said Elizabeth. “Can’t be,” I assured her, “we must have missed the ramp that goes to another level. Hang on, I’ll go look for it.” There was no ramp. But as luck would have it I came across a man who was about to leave. “I’ll keep this place for you,” he promised. “How do I get back to it,” I wondered. “Go out the exit and come back round again,” he told me. “Great,” I said, “won’t be a tick.”

I got back in the car and edged it towards the barrier. The barrier didn’t rise. I got out and examined the mechanism. “You seem to have to put a coin in,” I told Liz. That seemed strange, seeing we were guests. At that point I saw another man. “How do I get out?” I asked. “Put a token in,” he told me. “Where do we get tokens?” I asked. “Reception,” he said. “Nobody told me,” I said. “They don’t,” he said. This began to wind me up. I had a chap waiting for me to come back and claim his space. I had no way of getting out and I was blocking the exit. “I’ve got a spare token,” said the man, taking pity on me. “Use that.”

Then it was back in the car park. This time I’m already at the end of my tether before I start. It gets worse as I go along. After a series of this way, that way, too close episodes, I lose the will to live. Then I spot the guy who’s waiting for me and swing in to leave room for him to come out and pass me. Crunch! I hit a pillar and scrape both doors along it. As we leave the car-park we see a woman parked by the barrier. “How do I get out?” she wonders...

I’m a map person. I scorn sat-navs. I’ve been taken-in too many times by that patronising female in the satellite, “You have now reached your destination,” she tells me, after plonking me in the middle of a farm when I’d asked for a hotel. And I certainly don’t need help between Cardiff and Plymouth. Though I must admit sat-navs are useful when you’re in a strange city. And Liz never tires of pointing out that it’s often bailed me out when the routes in my out-of-date map-book have been craftily altered. Now, on the way home we decided to call in at Street and have a look at the Designer Outlet. Liz sets the sat-nav on her phone and it takes us to the door.The sat-nav is still on when we get back in the car. Like a fool, I say, “Leave it on and it’ll take us the shortest route to the motorway.” It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I sense something wrong as we leave Wells. At the roundabout the woman says, “Take the second exit.” “I’d’ve taken that one,” I say, nodding at the first exit. Then I clamp my mouth shut. I don’t want Liz reciting the number of times I’ve argued with the sat-nav and ended up whizzing in ever decreasing circles. But now we find ourselves sailing along a country road. It’s a road with no signposts, villages or anything that gives a clue as to where we are. We go for miles and miles with – nothing. “What time does it give our eta home?” I ask at last. “Seventeen thirty,” says Liz. “My God,” I say, “I reckoned we’d be home before sixteen hundred. Is the Post Code correct?” She checks, “Yes,” she assures me.” “What does it say the distance is?” I ask. “A hundred and forty miles,” says Liz. “Eh?! The whole distance from Plymouth to the house is only a hundred and sixty and I’ve been driving for three hours. Which way is it taking us?” “I can’t tell,” she says, it doesn’t show the whole route.”

At long, long last we come to a little round-about. Like a gift from God there’s a fingerpost that points among the fields and says W Super Mare 19 miles. “Sod the sat-nav,” I say, “that’s the road for me. It’s heading to a name I know. There’s a motorway at Weston. And all motorways lead to home.”

The road is winding and scattered with villages. Progress is slow. Then I get cramp in my hand. Liz offers to drive but I refuse to stop. I’m determined to see this through. The cramp gets so severe I’m driving with one hand while wincing, cursing and waving the other in the air.

In retrospect I think I’d been gripping the wheel too hard, imagining I was throttling the hotel receptionist and sat-nav woman.

So that’s the year that was.

Bye. Have a lovely Christmas and peaceful New Year.