Monthly Archives: October 2015

Correspondence #1: Virgin Mobile

The other morning after a particularly heavyweight and exhaustive conversation with Laura regarding the merits of using kitchen roll as toilet paper and how difficult it would potentially be to flush away, the discussion turned to mobile phone upgrades. This was a natural conversational progression because at least 40% of our dialogue is conducted from the lavatory via our phones given Laura’s propensity for fleeing there in order to grab five minutes’ peace and quiet from her adorably destructive son, and my creepy fascination with all things toilet.

We both agreed that in order to maintain our obvious high-quality conflab it was time to bring Laura into the 21st century by removing part of her soul and replacing it with the ubiquitous iPhone. Applying all due respect to Laura’s previous choice of communicative devices, her current mobile phone is basically a slight upgrade from two yoghurt pots and a connective piece of string. We’d already acquiesced about me offloading my current iPhone to Laura thus saving her from becoming trapped in another abusive 24 month relationship with her network provider.

Having spent the previous 72 hours live chatting on the 02 website to what appeared to be a 97 year old adviser with severely arthritic fingers in order to secure my own upgrade, it was decided that my recent experience haggling with automaton-like human beings in Cyberland would stand me in good stead to wangle the same discounted tariff for my beloved. Three live chat advisors and a phone call later we were still no further forward from ‘Good morning, human being, you’re chatting with pseudo-human being, I can’t help you at all but how can I help you this morning?’ 

I can’t help but worry that we’re whole lifetimes away from artificial intelligence assuming full control of human affairs and this is an uncomfortably depressing thought.

(Click the screen grabs below to read the transcript with Andy, our virgin Virgin Mobile advisor)
Hi, I'm Andy!

Hi, I’m Andy! Hi, I’m Laura!

Glory be!

Andrew is my friend

Disclaimer: Though it states on the transcript of the live chat that it’s Laura corresponding with Andrew, it was in fact me. This must be distinctly understood as Laura was at pains to inform me to ‘make it clear you wrote it, or people will think I’m unhinged’.

On The Road Again


So despite being 35 years old and very aware of that fact, I recently took it upon myself to begin driving lessons having spent the last 18 years steadfastly avoiding it, and being self-righteously part of the solution and not the problem.

There were several reasons as to why I’ve decided to learn to move a car from A to B, one being because my created-from-the-essence-of-evil girlfriend, Laura, had shrewdly employed a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts and strong-armed me into learning. Not physically strong-arming me, you understand, but more of a subtle psychological warfare in the form of aggressive sighing, and insinuating by way of pursing her lips and raising her eyebrows disapprovingly that all future plans together will be irreparably destroyed if I don’t pull my finger out and get behind the wheel of a car. Like the expressive facial equivalent of saying, ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’. She’s completely right, of course. I’ve put this off for far too long and given that we plan on embarking on a Bonnie & Clyde-esque future together as career criminals, it makes sense that I learn. That’s true love that is.

It should be noted here that I genuinely don’t have any interest in cars. Or engines. Or wheels, cup holders, drive-by shootings, gearboxes, boy racing, roadkill, 15-car pile ups or lollipop ladies. If any conversation I was unfortunate enough to be a part of would lead towards a discussion about horsepower, miles to the gallon or hastily leaving the scene of an accident, my eyes would glaze over, and I’d loll about distantly as if I was in the process of being euthanised, or listening to the Zumba instructor at work barge her way into my office to loudly talk at me about the scientific merit of her latest pair of fluorescent leggings. When I booked my first lesson and my friends and family asked what car I would be using I said a small, black one. They all laughed as if I wasn’t being serious. I really don’t understand the importance of what model car it is. They all do exactly the same thing except the more expensive ones tend to be filled with people with ill-fitting clothes and severe emotional problems.



Anyway, it turns out that driving lessons are pretty expensive. Not to overburden my finances, I initially booked one lesson with the option of taking another lesson if that lesson had minimal casualties, then another lesson after that – providing I hadn’t abandoned the whole idea of driving and returned to my daily routine of getting on the bus to work carrying extra bags filled with old shoes that I use to put on the seat next to me to discourage other passengers from sitting down. (Just this morning I laid out my Official DVSA Theory Test quiz book, bag and Transformer pencil-case on the seat next to me in order to look like I care about my automobile study, and to put off any potential seat hijackers. Unfortunately this didn’t work and a rotund fellow with garlic-scented aftershave sat next to me as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I was appalled, especially after I reached into my pocket to get my phone and he adjusted his seat position, pinning my hand to my leg and the upper side of his left buttock. I remained this way for 20 minutes until it was my stop and only regained full feeling in my hand when I got to work and I accidentally trapped it in the vending machine door after I’d spent the morning forlornly trying to steal Milky Bar Buttons using the droppy bit at the bottom).

But I digress. The point I’m making is that driving lessons cost a fair whack of hard-earned. Those initial three lessons were emphatically pricey enough for me to have to stop paying for other stuff like food and rent. The food I could live without but I was distraught when I had to skip paying my house fees. Currently, I’m six lessons in which is twelve hours in real time and the sky-rocketing price has become so astronomical that I’m seriously concerned about where my next pair of pants are coming from, or how I’m going to afford to buy my 13 cups of coffee a day from Costa. Case in point being a conversation I had on WhatsApp the other day with Laura, who, perhaps more than anyone, understands my current plight and offers endearingly constructive ways to get around it, especially when it comes to nutrition:

Pasta & Jam

My current diet of pasta and jam may go some way to explain why the actual driving lessons instil a sense of desperate fatigue, fear and a threat to lives on a number of levels. Despite being twelve hours of lessons in, I still need prompting to change gear, then an explanation on how to change gear, then when I fail to perform the gear change resulting in the car doing a kind of death rattle before shuddering onwards accompanied by a vicious glare from my disapproving instructor, there follows a conversation that occurs approximately 90 times throughout the lesson:

Instructor: ‘Now, why did you do that?’

Me: ‘Do what?’

Instructor: ‘You put the car from fifth into reverse while driving at 50mph.’

Me: ‘Did I? I thought that was second?’

Instructor: ‘Look at your mirror. See that metal thing back there in the middle of the road? That’s half of the engine.’

Me: ‘Is that not supposed to be there?’

Instructor: ‘You’re overthinking when you go to change gear. Why do you think so much?’

Me: ‘So I can function, usually. If I didn’t think I suspect there’d be more of our blood on the dashboard.’

Instructor: ‘You know what you’re doing. You’re just thinking too much. Stop thinking and just drive.’

Me: ‘But I can’t drive if I don’t know how to drive. That’s like saying to someone having a heart attack to stop having a heart attack and just live. It’s tricky.’

It’s not exactly quote for quote but the basic gist is that I don’t know what I’m doing but my instructor thinks I do and I’m just worrying about it. By far the easiest lesson was the first one where I started the car, pulled away and merrily drove around in circles like I’d been driving for 30 years. Since then I’ve slowly but surely been regressing to the point that if cars required them, I’d need stabilisers. And a stiff drink but apparently that’s not allowed despite my repeated protestations to my instructor to let me just this once.

Nothing at all like this...

Nothing at all like this…

I genuinely fear my driving lessons, and approach them with that sense of impending doom that you have when your manager emails you saying you need to have a meeting without specifying what it’s about. It’s, frankly, horrifying. Added to this was my driving instructor’s casual confession that he’d not long recovered from heart failure and wasn’t in ‘what I would call ship shape’; news, which, when he told me, surprised me enough that it caused me to veer the car on a brief but exciting sojourn into a lane of oncoming traffic.

My friends and family have all repeatedly informed me that one day everything will just ‘click’. While this seems like kind but ultimately redundant reassurance, I can’t shake the feeling that when I do eventually ‘click’, the ‘click’ will be the sound of a physician switching off my life support machine at the culmination of a five year stint in a coma caused by my sheer obliviousness when behind the wheel of a car. Given how long I expect these lessons to continue, I’ll be posting yearly updates with my lack of progress. Thanks are not required.

Much like my inability to engage the brakes when trundling down a hill, I fear this one will roll and roll…

National Poetry Day

As anyone who knows me should proudly attest, I’m a right miserable bastard. In general, I basically hate almost all of the things around me simply because they exist. Which isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions to that rule. There are but I’m still in denial about that. Like those idiots who are convinced that human beings didn’t land on Mars in 1969. My close friends tend to act as mediators between me and the living. Even the things I like I find tiresome or irritating. Case in point being my iPhone. I love having an iPhone and being able to do everything on it like juggle or play fetch with the dog with it but I only really enjoy using it while I’m sitting on the toilet as it distracts me from the terror. If I’m doing something of mild importance such as staring into the middle distance or dancing in front of the mirror and I receive a phone call I become agitated, throw things that break easily and end up having to drink 11 cans of lager. I don’t go on about it though. (Fun fact: human beings landed on Mars in 1969 with less technology in their spaceships than what was in their iPhones.)

Like everyone else on earth, I have a history of depression which is a brilliant topic to bring up during job interviews or over dinner with people you’ve just met. Usually I drop it into conversation when a stranger whom I didn’t know existed until mere minutes ago asks me what I do for a living. For some reason being asked what my job is riles me up more than someone sitting next to me on the bus. Talking about work is the most tedious thing a fully developed homosapien can do so why this has become socially acceptable is completely flummoxing. I was once asked where I worked by someone during the wake at a funeral and I said I was a part time Grim Reaper and they better watch out. To this day I’ve still no idea why they took so much offence by it. If I’d told them where I really worked we would have ended up discussing cliques in job centre waiting areas or extreme poverty. But, you know, I don’t go on about it.

I have a lot of friends and acquaintances who suffer from this disease and while it’s something we can all joke about, it’s not something that should be joked about. As we all know, depression is massively, appallingly, disgustingly, stigmatised and a lot of people simply don’t seek help because of that fact. And, despite my dislike of all things that exist in the universe, this saddens me. In fact it fucks me right off. And not because I was once one of these fearful individuals. I won’t go on about this though.

With that in mind, and with today being National Poetry Day and the theme of the day being light, here’s a villanelle I wrote about this wonderful affliction. There’s an uncharacteristic amount of positivity in it as well so don’t overly concern yourself. I’m still the bringer of all things negative. 

By the bye, this post is exactly 666 words long. So now you know.

Lighter Lands

The time is right for helping hands.
Before the dying of the day,
The mind must strive for lighter lands.

The darkness in the room expands,
And blessed sun in sky is grey;
The time is right for helping hands.

Your idle thoughts are reprimands –
While rolls of mist and fog hold sway,
The mind must strive for lighter lands,

Not furrow deep with grave demands
That pressure you to stop and say:
‘The time is right for helping hands’.

You know no soul who understands
This air of camouflaged decay;
The mind must strive for lighter lands.

Lay siege, it will, its coarse commands
Leave little room to disobey.
The time is right for helping hands,
The mind must strive for lighter lands.