Monday, 22 September 2008

The Vendetta List is Lengthened.

Following a two week trip to France and 18 consecutively alcofrolic days out on the town (ah, the stress surrounding relaxation), I have developed quite a penchant for drinking coffee of a morning.

Living in Brighton and working in London as I do, it is nigh on impossible not to wake up with a hangover every morning. Fact. Every morning I am up at 5.30am, and following a ricochet up the corridor to the shower there is the hour and a half train ride to get to on time at 7am. Needless to say, by the time I finally rock up at work with said hangover surrounded by stinking, selfish, foot-stamping commuters, I am feeling a special kind of hatred towards every other human being on the planet and probably desperate for a drink by 10am at the latest.

So begins the vicious cycle. I am hungover so I drink. Which of course follows suit to the next day, and the one after that - and by the time I finally coast through to the end of the week, private prayer sessions have been opened in a bid to save my liver from hell's soup.

And that is where the coffee idea came in. I have noticed that although a coffee will not entirely satisfy an aching head as much as a hair of the dog, it does in some way provide damage control - no excessive crying scenes, still-drunk activity, lengthy periods of space-staring, and so on.

In France of course, this is a straightforward purchase. Un cafe, s'il vous plait. You get a coffee. Un cafe au lait, s'il vous plait. You get a coffee with milk. What happens when you walk into a place like Costa coffee?

- Small, medium or large?
- Skinny or regular?
- Americano, mochachino, latte, frappawotsit, or mochachocachinolattewotsit?

And that's only scratching the surface, because frankly I ran away screaming before I could learn anything else.

Why they would have to complicate the act of getting a coffee to such extreme levels is beyond me. Especially when you consider why you're buying a coffee: you are hungover and want to sharpen your mind, because you can't think straight.

The particular icing on the cake for me was that the guy got my order wrong. I said I didn't mind and would have whatever he'd made, he said 'ok' before proceeding to throw the cup's contents down the drain.

Deep, cleansing breaths are the only thing that saved his life that day.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Girl's In Seine

This morning I came to wondering: what makes for the perfect holiday? Sun, sea and sand - for some. How about a little wine and fine food? No? Pigeon decapitation? Tunnels on fire? Total transport meltdown?

Well, let me tell you. If any of the latter struck a chord, I would recommend that you relive the past 48 hours in my shoes.

Yes, France. Sunny, bonny France. Yes please! came my response, when the idea that my friend and I might spend the first two weeks of September in the sunny South of France was formulated. When I let my mind wander to the notion of all that wine and bread and patisserie, I became transfixed with a romantic ideal - sipping a kir on the veranda, perhaps delighted by the soft playing of a Spanish guitar, dining for five hours at a time on luxuriously lengthy courses of non-stop delight.

Alas, unless this encompasses a soggy, packaged, plastic chicken sandwich accompanied by half a tomato and some slug slithered lettuce, it was not meant to be.

Pain came in a variety of forms. And just when you didn't think it could suck any more, it sucked harder still. These were dark days of flatulence, fear and luggage-related ferocity that I would not wish on any other soul. Very disturbing territory.

For the sake of ease (and my delicate nerves), I have chosen to list these disasters in bullet point format:

- The Trolley Bag from Hell. One thing I would recommend that you do for your walking/train travelling French holiday is take your wheelie suitcase, attach it to a piece of string, attach the piece of string to a massive rock and plunge it into the depths below. My trolley bag-related stress became so high at one point that I lost control of my senses on the mean streets of Paris, screamed like a petulent five year-old child and attempted to kick said trolly bag with all my might only to miss it and strop off in an embarrassing fashion whilst onlookers hung back tentatively.
- Dogs. On each train journey we completed around France (five in total), we were met by some form of yapping dog. Not large, loveable and obedient dogs, but shitty little yappy little nightmare-looking dogs with ignorant owners who do not deserve to live, let alone own an animal. Yes, the train journey I particularly enjoyed would have to be the one where just as I had settled myself down to a nice nap, I felt this little lick against my big toe, followed by an inevitable leg-humping routine. Doe-eyed though this shitsu might have been, I was prepared to shove all five of my toes plus foot, plus potentially ankle, right into its face. Doe-eyed? Huh! Not for long!
- Farting Grannies. Ah, the essential accompaniment to train travel. Grandmothers (no doubt adored by their grandchildren) leaning forward in their chair - perhaps to pour a bowl of water for their cutesy-wutesy little chihauha - and letting escape the loudest and wettest fart you have ever heard or smelt in your life. You just don't know a glass of wine until it's enjoyed with one of these.
- Pigeon Decapitation. Tree rats they may be, but I am the last person in the world who would wish any kind of creature a painful death (regardless of the above tirade launched on yappy little dogs and their owners), and the poor pigeon whose demise I witnessed in Nice is no different. Rest in peace, Cheepy (post-humous title, ceremony to be announced).
- Would You Like Fries With That? Our final resting place came to be Paris. After eleven arduous days of train travel from Bordeaux to Montepellier, Montpellier to Nice and back again, we had one final night of relaxation booked at a reasonable little hotel just minutes away from the Seine. My friend settled down to a book whilst I idley flicked to the BBC World News channel, preparing myself for my reintroduction into the world of England and everything it has to offer. Rolling green pastures, right hand drive vehicles and sane traffic light systems. Imagine my surprise, delight and terror when I learned that just hours earlier a freight train had scorched a gigantic hole in the channel tunnel, basically rendering us fucked. Utterly fucked. I mean real, horrible, terrible fucking here. First thing in the morning, we got on the phone to EuroStar...

Us: What would you recommend we do in the face of this fire? How can we return to the UK?
Eurostar: Well, we are not offering any other alternative, and are basically going to do absolutely boot all for you. Best we can tell you is that you can get a boat, fly or swim back home and we may or may not refund your return journey fare when you get there.
Us: Right... so, is there any particular mode of transport you think would be best?
Eurostar: No.
Us: Ok then.

It transpired that we would have to travel by taxi, train, coach and donkey to Caen where we might get a boat to leave that Godforsaken country otherwise known as France some time after midnight, but our souls and sanity were not permissable to pass. Horror... pure horror... as we boarded (eventually, after being forced to allow a party of 39 on first), found our seats and settled down to the eight hour overnight ferry trip, a chorus of three snores came ringing across the room, and I knew, right then, that this is what hell is like. Solid gold nightmares.
- One Final PS. Just as we were about to make our ferry connection, we witnessed the knocking over of a man as he crossed the road, wrapping him in the foetal position around the front left tyre of the offending van. Although this did not directly involve us in any way, I'm sure you can grasp how this may have added to the tension and concern.

There you have it; our holiday. I hasten to add there were some good parts, but where's the fun in that? Enjoy your next trip to France at your peril. You have been warned.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Cutlery-related social faux pas: the living nightmare that is restaurant dining

I hate cutlery. I hate it with a venom reserved only for those objects in life that float under the radar with the pretence of being useful, when in actual fact what they are is just another opportunity to fall foul of the dating game.

Now, I know this view may be slightly contentious and some people may think ‘surely it’s bad manners not to if you’re halfway through your meal?’, while others will say ‘why do you even waste your time thinking about these things?’, but I don’t care. Under no circumstance should cutlery ever be crossed. No fork, no knife, no spoon should come in contact with any other utensil. Ever.

You see, bad things happen when you cross cutlery. Unspeakable things. And yes, you may very well be sat there laughing into your lunch at this suggestion, but woe betide those who deny the cutlery curse. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day you will regret all that crossed cutlery, mark my words.

The non-cutlery crossing routine is a relatively simple rule for me to follow at home, where I can correct accidental crossings with ease and without fear of rebuttal or ridicule. Where it all goes wrong is when I attempt to leave the house.

Imagine this: you are sat in a lovely Italian restaurant on a date with a lovely Italian man (or woman), sipping at fine wine and getting along famously. Then, just as your companion finishes their starter, you watch – perhaps in slow motion, like many of the bad things in life – as they place their knife and fork on their plate, deliberately crossing one over the other.

You are speechless. You feel sick. But the worst thing is you’re thinking: do I risk appearing to be an insane asylum escapee by requesting that they uncross their knife and fork? Do I do it for them? You can’t; it would be pure madness to reach over and meddle with their cutlery. So you sit there, suffering in silence, until the plate is taken away. But then your mind begins to wander: did the waiter uncross the knife and fork when they took the plate to the kitchen? Are the knife and fork still crossed right now?

…And the date is ruined.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be cutlery that throws you off your game; it applies to all things. Imagine seeing – for example – your ex on a neighbouring table. Then imagine them catching your eye and getting up to walk over, and you’ll be about where I am on the cutlery front. Sweating, nauseous and scanning the horizon for a quick exit.

There must be room in the market for a dating site along the lines of, where you can filter potential partners based on preferred behaviour, such as no cutlery crossing. But then the risk of ending up with a similar nutcase is very high, and I wouldn’t want to cross the streams…

Monday, 18 August 2008

Houston, we have a problem: the perils of an overactive imagination.

Following a rushed shower and an even speedier fifteen minute stroll to the train station, I scrambled aboard this morning’s 7am service from Brighton to Bedford with just a minute to spare, found my usual seat across from the guy who eats bananas (yuck) and next to the woman who wears red lipstick a shade too vibrant at that time of day, and shook open my morning copy of the Metro.

The usual stories are there: man milks seal, fuel prices up, house prices down, we’re all going to starve, die or burn. I read the horoscopes, the comic strips and a review of last night’s TV. The usual columnist appears to be on holiday; how dare he. By the time I’ve completed this morning ritual, I will have reached Three Bridges, the stop before… (insert scary music here or duh duh duuuuuhhhh! as appropriate) GATWICK AIRPORT.

Gatwick Airport. The Axis Of All Evil. The place where Satan will go to die. Horror incarnate.

If you haven’t guessed already, I have a minor fear of flying. Indeed, I long ago swore off the possibility that I could ever board a plane again. However, what I did not take into account when I took my poxy job in London a year ago was that I would encounter aeroplanes twice a day, five days a week, in crushingly close proximity by necessity.

As the train approaches the Gatwick Airport station stop I find myself peering out of the window at an oncoming plane, whose ability to stay in the sky is based entirely on theory alone, as it brushes inches above the carriage as it comes in to land.

What follows is, I’m sure, the result of an over-fertile imagination. I envisage the plane losing control at the last minute of its descent and then crashing nose first into the train, blowing bits of metal and body everywhere, shattering glass into the faces and arms and legs of the poor passengers as the plane carves the train carriage in half. Panic ensues. Those who have survived in the carriages on either end of the impact point begin to scream as it slowly dawns on them what has happened, and they wander, helpless, out onto the platform to survey the damage…

And so on and so forth. It’s amazing what your mind can cook up if you let it.

So, in a bid to stop the inevitable plane crash from occurring, I tap my head twice, cross my fingers and screw up my eyes until I can feel the train leaving the platform, and we are alive and well.

This is the way I deal with all bad thoughts: two taps to the head. In my mind, this prevents bad thoughts from becoming a reality, for example, massive train and plane collisions, television explosions, knife crime-related deaths, et cetera.

Is it normal for people with OCD to combat bad thoughts with routine to stop them from happening? Yes. Is this an utterly egotistical thought process that assumes you have control over yours, and everyone else’s, destiny? That’s a different story