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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

31 January 2006
A wriggling portrait of Kesh (left) and Bobby (right). Behind them sit little sister edel(left) and me (right), desperately trying to keep them still, and failing miserably. This was taken on Christmas Eve.

I can’t decide which one I like better, because in both of them, you can tell that Kesh’s protests at being held up in such an ungainly and undignified manner are really only quite half hearted – she’s well used to this kind of humiliating treatment, and tends to be philosophical about the whole things. Bobby, on the other hand, by the second photograph, is desperately trying to escape, and decides that thrashing his head around, followed immediately by thrashing the rest of his body around, is the best route

Moments after this photograph was taken, Kesh sat back down on little sister edel’s knee and continued to stare at food on the table until it was given to her, and Bobby threw himself to the ground, ran straight at a window and then barked furiously for no reason until he believed his dignity and manliness to be fully reasserted.

28 January 2006
Pottering around the bedroom this morning, I had a thought. The thought ran something along the lines of this: my camera no longer works - I spent good money on that camera - I should check to see if it's working again yet - where did I put the camera?

I found the camera in the pile of "Things To Be Dealt With" that has been gathering at the side of my bed since we moved into the new Flat O'Love'N'That. The Things To Be Dealt With pile includes miscellaneous picture hooks and photographs that need framing and hanging; bank statements; OU forms to fill in and send off; letters to respond to; recipes to ignore; OU feedback forms to ignore; various other important pieces of papers to file away and ignore; some pens. My camera was at the top of pile, and the instruction booklet that came with the camera was at the bottom.

On the happy off chance that it would spell out to me what to do if, by some strange chance, my camera ever went fizz, bang, pop and turned itself off, I turned to the trouble shooting page. "My camera keeps turning off", the complaint read. The offered responses included changing the batteries and checking that it was plugged in properly. I scoffed and rolled my eyes, because OF COURSE I'd done that... um... hadn't it?

No. I hadn't checked the freakish batteries.

I dashed into the adjoining room, grabbed the rechargeable batteries from the wall, dashed back into the bedroom and breathlessly rammed them into the camera. I then turned the camera over and gently pressed the on button.

Camera works. Perfectly.

I'm such an idiot.

27 January 2006
The month of denial has finally come to an end. The suffering is over. The sobriety has passed. All is right and the world once more is lurching and spinning around us. The alcohol has passed over our lips and Lo, we are grateful.

The grin that was plastered across He Who Only...'s face as he approached me holding two pints of The Rose and Crown's finest, was the physical definition of delayed gratification. I have never seen anyone look as pleased with themselves or the hand that life dealt them. Right here in these two pint glasses, the grin said, right here is the secret to happiness, the meaning of life, the point of existence. Right here is distilled love, pure joy, the essence of delight.

He placed the glasses reverentially down on the table. He took off his jacket. He put that on the chair beside him. He pulled out his chair. He sat down. He looked at me. He looked at the glasses. We both looked at each other again. We both looked at the glasses. I reached out and touched the side of my pint, the Guinness settling nice and steadily, forming a perfect line at the top. We looked back at each other. We looked back at the glasses.

We drank.

Oh, how we drank. And then, giddy with the sheer joy of it all, we giggled.

After a month of sobriety, of mature reflection, of DIY and early nights, of fizzy water and herbal tea, of long walks and cinema trips with bags of sweets, a month of cranberry juice and football on the radio, a month of reading the papers from cover to cover and frequenting Starbucks at the weekends, a full month of no public houses, no off licences, no late night corner shops. A month of proper, polite conversation, of observations about the weather, talking of plans for the following weeks and months, serious discussions on politics and media and culture. After a month of steadied and considered conversation, we giggled. I talked inappropriately about ex-boyfriends and marriage, he became impassioned about the campaign for real ale, we made plans for building a colony on Mars and ruling the world with our new race of robots. We moved seats when the corner we were sitting in became overrun by a large group, and went to a window seat to watch the cars go by, and I made a rule that we must kiss every time a bus went past. Throughout my ensuing rant about I honestly can't remember what - all I know is that it was very important and very heart-felt - He Who Only... kept leaning across to me to plant kisses, which never once slowed or interrupted my flow.

After three pints, I was on my ear, which is not that unusual, but still a little light-weight in comparison to the levels of tolerance I had spent the previous six months building up. We wound our way home, stopping only to pick up some cans in a corner shop - THE JOY, THE SHEER JOY OF IT! - and some bread in the bakers. New habits die hard, and I still made myself a cup of herbal tea before retiring to the bedroom. I woke up, once, that night, with the room spinning, my hands shaking and my entire body suffering from a total absence of moisture. It's good to be back off the wagon.

26 January 2006
Only two nights left without alcohol, and the DIY illness that has been lurking around our gills has developed into a full blown fever that can no longer be denied. Last night, without a care in the world, He Who Only... grabbed his tool in his hand, mounted a chair and began to insert it right into the plaster work. I like nothing more than a man who is unafraid to wield a massive tool. You'll understand how much I enjoyed looking on in awe as He Who Only... channelled his alpha instinct and started to Do It Himself all over our flat.

The bookshelf had been the easiest of all the furniture to build, but was the last to be put in use, since our entire flat sits on a slope. No matter where we tried to place it, it wouldn't sit flush against the wall, preferring instead to lean dangerously forward, and wobble ever so slightly whenever anyone (me, He Who Only..., a ladybird) walked across the floor in front of it. We decided that, since the flatpack superstore had furnished us with a bracket to fix it to the wall, we would take them up on their kind offer and not die a horrible death crushed by books about comedians, war and being fat (the three overriding themes of our combined book collection).

And so there he was, standing on a chair, a look of incredible concentration of his face, drilling slowly and steadily through the wall. It looked to me as if the whole thing went without a hitch from beginning to end, as I only arrived at the point in proceedings where everything was done and in the process of being dusted - He Who Only... spent the rest of the night walking past the bookshelf and hitting it or tugging it or pushing it or pulling it to see if it would budge. It didn't and it still doesn't. It is my favourite thing in the world now, that book shelf, a testament to the fact that we two can be trusted with electrical tools and dangerous equipment, that we are able to go to grown up stores, buy grown up furniture, make it ourselves and then attach it to plaster covered walls.

The effect has not been diminished, but greatened, by the admission later that night that He Who Only... at one stage thought he had drilled right through the wall and into the neighbours the other side.

25 January 2006
It seemed like a good idea to join the end of the queue that stood shivering outside the restaurant. It would only, we were assured, take about 5 to 10 minutes to clear, and when I've got a craving for Yasi Yaki Soba there isn't much you can do to talk me out of it. We were handed menus by the lady with the strange haircut who had served us the week before (one side of her head is trimmed to perfection, the other side of it seems to have been completely forgotten and left to run wild, as if both she and her hairdresser had some kind of left-sided blindness that nobody else has since had the heart to address). As we stomped our feet in the cold and perused the menu that we both at this stage know off by heart, I decided as an extra treat I'd go crazy and get the raw salad to start off, since that's guaranteed to arrive before the main dishes.

Five to ten minutes later, as good as their word, we were shown to our section of table, and then left alone again to stare some more at the menu. Five minutes after that another couple from the queue were seated beside us. Five minutes after that, their food arrived and they began to tuck in. We hadn't even managed to place our order yet.

This is the way of our world. I know this is a universal experience, the feeling that you are always the last ones to place your order, always the last people to receive your meal, the last people presented with the bill, the ones unable to get top ups for their drinks or order additional side dishes or risk a dessert. However, you have to believe me when I press upon you that this ALWAYS happens to us.

Although we go to the same places more often than not, we aren't always cursed with the same waiting staff - we get a different server every week. We sit in different places, we arrive at different times, we order different dishes (although always the same drinks) and we have the same low expectations, which are always met. We never get served in a timely manner. Our food is cooked to perfection, and then left to sit steaming on the shelf as the waitressing staff forget to pick it up and deliver it. One memorable evening, He Who Only...'s drink was sitting at the bar beside us for a full ten minutes before the waiter, returning from his fag break, remembered to pick it up (we didn't have the nerve to go over ourselves, not wanting to appear rude).

The best thing of all is when we'd like to get our bill and get out of there - if we thought that getting food was difficult it is as NOTHING compared to trying to get people to take our money. We ask, beg, plead, cry, scream, try singing on occasion, and still nothing works to attract the attention of anyone around us when we'd like to settle our account. This is a major difficulty for me, as I'm a wholeheartedly dishonest person deep down, and I see leaving a restaurant without paying the bill as a challenge to be faced down, whereas it didn't even occur to He Who Only... until I started actually suggesting it in a rather too serious manner. I think he thought initially that I was joking. Thank God he's here to preserve my moral decency.

And in case you were wondering, the side salad came 15 minutes after the main courses had arrived. Having sat on a shelf for half an hour.

24 January 2006
We were out and about a couple of weekends ago, He Who Only... striding briskly ahead taking deep lungfuls of fresh air, while I stumbled along behind him, framing photographs of trees and leaves on the screen of my digital camera, constantly pausing to click and then delete photographs as too boring, too blurred, too focus-less, too cliched, and altogether forgetting that life outside the tiny LCD screen existed if it wasn't captured in a timeless second to last forever in obscurity on the screen of my laptop. At the top point of one hill, I spotted a lonely bench standing on the horizon, surrounded by trees and wide expanses of grass, but facing directly into the London city skyline, all tall buildings, landing airplanes and flashing lights. Ah, I thought, this photograph will say something about modern Britain, the cut and thrust of London society, the irrepressable loneliness of existence. I stopped again, pointed, and clicked.

I checked the screen. A man had jogged into my photograph, pushing his child ahead of him in a jogging buggy, and had ruined the composition of my photograph, which was intended to capture the starkness of a harsh and uncaring city, not a portrait of modern family life. I deleted the photograph, and tried again. Framed. Pointed. Clicked.

The camera whirred, captured the picture for a moment, and then the screen went fuzzy, blinked, and went black.

What? An eclipse? What's going on? I looked up from the camera screen. No, everything seemed normal - the jogger was jogging away to my left and out of sight, the lonely bench still stood out in front of me, and to my right He Who Only... was standing with an air of practised patience and just a hint of seething, drumming his foot and looking pointedly at his watch. I tried again, switching the camera on, and pointing. It whirred, went out of focus, went fuzzy, blinked and went black again, this time without even pulling in the lense on its way out.


I put the camera back into my bag, and we carried on with our day. But even the thrill of a weekend Starbucks treat didn't take the edge off my fear that, having reached the end of the three month warranty for my camera ON THAT VERY DAY my new toy was already dead. God damn it all.

23 January 2006
Swearing off the booze for a full month has opened up so many possibilities, in terms of how to spend evenings and weekends. I must confess that I didn’t truly recognise the extent of the time we spent in pubs, how routine it had become to have dinner and then jaunt off down to the local for a lovely relaxing evening of talking crap and drinking crap before falling homeward.

Our January weekends have involved excursions to the great parks and galleries of London’s fair city, as these attractions have the outstanding appeal of being absolutely free and kind on a pocket still suffering from Christmas and house moves and Ikea splurges. We’ve also wandered around a market or three, looked up and down some side street shops and generally had a window of a time staring at things we can’t quite afford. However, the evenings are the most trying times, and weekend evenings doubly so.

Last weekend, we made the mistake of switching our usual Sunday evening cinema excursion to a Saturday night instead, in order to entertain ourselves on the one day of the week most guaranteed to broadcast absolutely nothing of interest on the five television channels that we can pick up. The pickings on terrestrial television can’t be described as “slim”, since that is being too generous to the amount of absolute dross being shown these days. I had no idea, having been spoilt by cable up until now.

Apparently most of Islington felt the same way as us, as the queue for the cinema snaked out the door and around the corner, along with the queue for the Waggamamas across the street. So much for our well laid plans. Fortunately, everyone seemed to be trying to get tickets for Bare-Arse Cowboys, and we were able to get tickets for the seemingly less popular Jarhead instead. The things you discover when you veer out of your usual routine.

We’ve seen a lot of cinema this month, and I think the pick of the bunch so far has to be Cock & Bull Story, simply for the reaction that the scene in which Steve Coogan drops a hot chestnut down his trousers caused in He Who Only… I have never seen anyone lose their reason and faculties quite as much or as repeatedly as He Who Only… did, as Coogan leapt about, fell over and begged for relief as he struggled to remove the roasting chestnut from his man’s personal area. He was, in fact, still laughing about it over four hours later, as we lay in bed trying to sleep.

19 January 2006
It being the bleakest middle of the bleak mid-winter, a group of us decided that what we needed, as trendy young 21st century beings, was some light box therapy. Not vitamin C, not a good early night, not some fresh air and fresh fruit and veg and perhaps drinking some water rather than dosing up on coffee and stimulants – we needed light box therapy. It’s the way forward. Plus, it was free for a limited time only, due to something I didn’t quite gather and wasn’t about to argue against that.

So, off we trotted, through the winter evening of a Friday night, all of us shivering against the bitter cold and stamping our feet, comparing ailments, aches and illnesses – one of us had a heavy cold that had been malingering for the best part of a month, and she was singing the virtues of Day Nurse, as it apparently produces for her the magic combination of cold-symptom relief and appetite suppressant, so she was able to lose weight while suffering.

We arrived at the centre, we queued, we found that our booking had been confused and there wasn’t enough room for all of us to get lit up at the same time. The acknowledged leader of us, the one with the loudest voice, strongest opinions and cut-glass accent of authority that sounds remarkably like she’s spent most of her adulthood shouting at hounds and horses, barked orders at the blinking assistant. He became so disorientated that at one point – and this isn’t a word of a lie – he excused himself, stepped back from our group into the light tent, rubbed his forehead for a moment and then, gathering himself, stepped back towards us, unaware that I could see the whole process. In the end, we split into two groups, one lot heading towards the light box and the other lot sitting downstairs in the closed cafeteria to wait 20 minutes until our turn arrived.

We sat and speculated about what we thought – and hoped – that a concentrated dose of lightbox therapy would bring us. The girl with the constant cold thought it would bring her immediate relief. Another person thought that it would be like a buzz from a strong dose of caffeine. A third person speculated that we would all come out suntanned and blissed up, as if we’d spent a week on the beach.

Finally, our turn arrived, and the little blinking assistant showed us into the brightly lit tent, in the centre of which lay a circular white sofa generously supplied with white throw pillows, and surrounded on all corners by fluffy white bean bags. All around the walls hung bright rectangular lights, which gave off no discernable heat, and were easy to look straight into. I law down on the sofa and immediately began to stare straight into the light, all the better to get as much out of the experience as possible. The blinking assistant, catching my train of thought, warned us not to look directly at the lights at any point.

We had, he explained, a twenty minute session here in the light box. In that time, we were to sit down, relax, and look only occasionally in the direction of the light. We were to keep our eyes open at all times, though, otherwise the light box would have no effect. To our dismay, he went on to explain that one twenty minute session with the light box would have no real effects on our health or state of mind as being in the light box for 20 minutes is the equivalent of being outdoors on a sunny day for 40 minutes. The sunny day, he went on to elaborate, need not be a warm day, but even just a bright winter’s day, much like today. If we had been outside for about 40 minutes today, he said, we would have had the same benefits.

Everyone else groaned. Having schlepped their way across town for this miracle cure, we now found out that eating a sandwich in the park in our lunch hour would have been just as good for us. However, as I hadn’t been outdoors all day, I felt that at least I had something, however small, to gain from the experience. We lay down, and chatted for our allocated 20 minutes. We felt cheated, wishing he had lied to us, told us that all our woes would be undone and all our enemies punished and miserable. We wished he had told us that we would leave the light box with a new spring in our steps, a renewed libido and lust for life, a healthier appetite, reduced blood pressure, all malignant cells zapped away and old wounds healed. The man, after all, had been wearing a white coat, and holding a clipboard. We would have believed everything he said.

Once our 20 minutes were up, we filed out of the lightbox, blinking in the sudden darkness of our ordinarily lit surroundings, and feeling resentful to have been denied our miracle cure. The light box experience did nothing for me, other than leaving me with the sense that I had been cheated out of something, something that hadn’t been mine to expect to begin with.

17 January 2006
I’m about to start my next course for the Open University, and therefore had a minor panic attack last night sitting on the floor in front of our book collection, trying to choose carefully what would probably be one of the last books I read for the next eight months without terrible feelings of guilt.

Studying means that any time you have free, you feel obliged to spend it poring over psychology text books and papers, or drafting new and more confusing versions of essays or assignments, or coming up with ever more rigorous experiments to compile the most basic and boring data possible (because they don’t set us anything interesting to investigate, for fear that we stare deep into the soul of human existence and become slightly dispirited).

I have, for the past three months, been reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, an excellent book, and also an excellent door stop, and also something you could probably use as a foundation stone for the building of your new home or for clubbing your neighbour to death with. It took me that long to read simply because every now and again I didn’t have the strength or energy to drag it to work and back with me, or to Dublin and back with me, and so in between times I read six other books. I was almost drawn into a conversation by someone who read up to the last 200 pages of JSandMN and then gave up. I couldn’t understand why he’d schlepped through over 600 pages to get that far, only to fall at the last hurdle, and at the point of the book where all your hard work is steadily and generously rewarded, and I would have asked him his reasoning behind this insane decision, only at the moment he had to run out and perform a comedy show in which he read extracts from Jodie Marsh’s autobiography (which turns out to be a lot less interesting than you would imagine it to be), so that question remains unanswered.

I decided, in light of the weight I had been carrying around with me all those months, to choose a lovely little book to get me back into the swing of things. He Who Only... helped in the selection process as I pointed out all the books I’d bought in the past four months that I hadn’t got around to reading yet, and he chose what he felt to be two suitable candidates, and also one from his own collection which I had been thumbing through just the week before. Completely ignoring him, I chose the smallest, pinkest book in my collection, and embrace the fact that I don’t need to carry two bags to work with me just to keep my reading up to date everyday. Well, at least not for another two weeks, after which I’ll be dragging text book from home to the office and then back home again, without actually once cracking the spine, for the next eight months.

I decided half way through the course last year that I was, finally, in my fourth year, going to learn from all my previous mistakes. I was going to start the required reading the day the books arrived, I was going to keep up with the study calendar, I wasn’t going to be beginning work on the essays two days before they were due in, I was going to be organised, I was going to be level headed, I was going to be a wonderful saintly student type with a study plan, highlighted notes, flow charts and everything.

Instead, I’m choosing to read my bright pink book entitled “The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life” instead. And I feel I’ve made the right decision.

16 January 2006
We’re now two steady weeks into the enforced sobriety, and it’s astonishing how much free time you suddenly have on your hands over the weekend if you’re not able to spend most of it huddled in a corner clutching big pint glasses and wondering where your youth has gone. Yesterday was a case in point: we had an entire day that held no football to entertain He Who Only…, no cleaning to entertain me, we neither of us had study or work or writing or furniture making, and we’d spent Saturday lying around in our pants, so that had already been well covered.

What to do? We decided some outdoor exercise would be exactly what was called for, and so off we marched to beautiful Dalston, and from there a short train ride to Camden brought us to a quick bus ride up a hill until – lo and behold –there stood Hamstead Heath.

I love the Heath. It seems madness that in the middle of over-built, over-crowded, over-worked and over-paid London there can be slap bang in the middle such an enormous and expansive space filled with trees that stand boldly silhouetted against the skyline, hills that stand towering arrogantly over the tallest buildings, and something approaching fresh air and a feeling of space and the glorious opposite of claustrophobia.

I had been promised an afternoon of dog spotting, and I was not let down – they were there, many and varied, some of them carrying balls, some sticks, some frisbys, some the bodies of unattended toddlers, and more of them than you would imagine answering to them name of Bobby. I tried to steal one or two of them, hiding them in my bag and keeping them for later, but He Who Only… kept taking them off me and returning them to their wild owners, which I protested against in the strongest terms.

To try to avoid a scene, He Who Only… decided that leaving the beaten, muddy and occasionally slippery track was probably for the best, and we left behind the best of civilisation to walk under the cover of the trees, stepping into a huge collection of golden brown leaves carpeting the forest floor, both of us feeling soothed and reassured by the never ending cycle of nature. I stopped and took some photographs. We gazed across the horizon. We breathed deep and we breathed easy, and then decided to go get some caffeine-induced frenzy in the nearest Starbucks.

And that’s when the fun really started. Wandering off the beaten track is of course to be recommended – taking the path less travelled can sometimes make all the difference, as someone once observed – but the path more travelled, the designated path, that one has gravel, controlled slopes, steps, sometimes even tarmac in order to help you along your way. The path less travelled? Is an obstacle course.

I watched as He Who Only… stepped carefully and gallantly in front of me, finding the safest route. Three times I saw him stumble and slip, regain his footing and turn around to help me. Three times I carefully and deliberately stepped right into the exact spot he had walked, and three times I, too, stumbled and slipped. Three times he caught me just in time, and three times I stood clutching on to him for dear life, paralysed by hysterical laughter that threatened to tip us both over.

We got safely out the other side, me with a pain in my ribs thanks to the force of my panicked laughter, and him with the strongest impression yet that his girlfriend is a total idiot.

12 January 2006
I have just started my new job, and –

[SIDE NOTE - Don’t panic people. Don’t think I’ve forgotten the gospel according to Dooce. I won’t be blogging about my workplace, the people I work with (heavily disguised or otherwise) or even mentioning my workplace itself in another single breath again after this entry.]

I have just started my new job, and it is sincerely a joy and a breath of fresh air. The most difficult thing so far has been the constant introductions to people. This is a big problem, I think, for most people, but particularly for me, since I never manage to remember either names or faces for any longer than it takes me to say “hello, nice to meet you” (and that doesn’t take me long, because when I’m meeting new people I tend to mumble).

Yesterday, though, I reached a new personal low in terms of my social retardation. Two of the people I will be working with have just joined the firm, and had been in induction training until yesterday, when they were finally allowed on to the shop floor. They were therefore being shown around by the HR lady, who was swanning about telling them who different people were. She very kindly then left them standing in front of me, having briefly introduced us, so that we could “get to know each other”. Oh, the humanity.

Small talk is not my forte. Talk itself isn’t particularly a forte of mine either, but the smaller it gets the more difficult I find it. I can talk nonsense for hours with people I know – indeed, have proved that to myself constantly in the wee hours of the night as I torment He Who Only… with nonsense designed to keep him from sleeping – but I can’t pass the time of day with people I don’t know.

Therefore I found myself not once, but twice, staring at someone as they stared back at me. Once we had confirmed each other’s names, and the fact that we were both new to the firm, we were plunged into an awkward silence that stretched from my desk to the end of the earth. We then both did that kind of half-laugh that implies camaraderie but really is the first sign of panic as the brain starts screaming I’VE GOT NOTHING TO SAY TO YOU! and both parties start looking for the emergency exit. They looked around the office for a safety net, and I started flailing about for something to do. On both occasions, I then picked up some pieces of paper and started fiddling with them in an empty but important gesture that said LEAVE NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN! and both times they took up the social cue and ran away, without once looking back.

I’m going to have to start working on that giant hole beneath my desk that I will soon need, in order to jump into so the earth can swallow me up.

10 January 2006
Yesterday I was feeling slightly under the weather, and it being a Monday (and me being still dedicatedly off the booze) I decided that I must definitely have some strain of bird flu, Ebola or SARS, or one of the many things that are definitely going to kill us all. The only thing for it, I reasoned on the bus on the way to work (and I had a lot of time to reason, what with the traffic and the tube strike), was to go to a doctor and get some yummy scrummy antibiotics.

I’m not registered with a doctor in the UK yet, being as I am a fantastically healthy person who doesn’t usually succumb to anything worse than a cold or an occasional bout of the rampaging vomits. Therefore, up until yesterday I had never felt the need to register with a doctor, because I hate those questionnaires you have to fill out, and the resulting monthly reminders for smear tests that the UK health system is so totally obsessed by.

I thought the easiest thing to do would be to register with the surgery He Who Only… already attends, and so I got the number off him and rang the kindly ladies, who asked for my postcode, and then sharply informed me I wasn’t in their catchment area before immediately hanging up. I’m not one easily put off, so the next business I did was to google my postcode with the word “GP” before it, and I found another number, this one even closer to our Nest O’Love. I called them, was put on hold, held on for five minutes, asked to register and was then sharply informed that they weren’t taking new patients and told to call the Find A Doctor Service, with the number barked at me once before they immediately hung up.

I shrugged, and dialled the number. It was out of service.

I shrugged again, and dialled the NHS Direct line. The man down the phone told me to call the Hackney Council services, as they would find me a doctor who would be forced to put me on their books, regardless of whether or not they were taking new patients. He gave me a number. I dialled it. It was out of service.

I returned to my good friend Google and tried again. This time I was searching for the right number for Hackney Council services. Their Find A Doctor site lists two phone numbers, but warns that these lines can be quite busy. I called one line. It was engaged. I called the other line. It was engaged.

I repeated this procedure for the next half an hour, almost non-stop. Once, I even got through, but accidentally hung up and redialled because once I’ve found a repetitious routine, it’s hard to break the habit. Eventually I spoke to a man who gave me the number of the surgery who had said they weren’t taking new patients. I told him this, heard him shrug, and he gave me two more numbers of other surgeries, telling me that if none of them would take me, I’d have to call him back again, and they’d put me on a list, which could take up to 10 working days.

I called the first surgery. They weren’t taking new patients.

I called the second surgery. They put me on hold. I held for 10 solid minutes before hanging up and redialling. They didn’t answer the phone. I redialled. They didn’t answer the phone. I redialled. They answered and put me on hold. Five minutes later I spoke to a lady, who gave me the hours for registering new patients – one hour blocked off on Monday to Thursday, with no weekend service and no time out of office hours. She also said that there was no way I could get an appointment with a doctor without registering first.

So the final conclusion of my telephone based adventure seems to be thus: I must take a half day off work in order to register with a doctor, who will then give me an appointment up to 7 working days (which don’t include Saturdays) following my registration. It’s a good thing I’m feeling so much better.

09 January 2006
New Years Resolutions, like promises, are things that I like to avoid making, and if I do accidentally make them, I love to break them as soon and as glamorously as possible. That said, this year we have started the year with a total lack of booze, and have resolved to continue to avoid the demon drink for the duration of the month of January. This is not a New Years Resolution, though. We just happen to have unintentionally resolved to not do something at the beginning of a New Year. Anything else is mere coincidence, and I reserve the right to beat you around the head and face with a cricket bat if you ever say otherwise. I hope that’s clear.

The reasons for our enforced sobriety are various and diverse, and indeed manifold. We’ve got no cash to spare on Mr Booze. Our livers are feeling the strain and have applied in writing for a break. Our house is new, and we are still unsure of the layout, and we thought it might be helpful to become accustomed to the structure and design before we begin bumbling about it and walking into walls. But the biggest reason is to prove to our good selves that we don’t need the drink, and we could give up any time we want to – it’s just that up until now, we have chosen not to.

He Who Only… has taken up this challenge on a number of years previously, delighting as he does in self sacrifice, suffering and whinging. As he’s now officially an “old hand” at this malarkey, he’s been enchanting me in the previous weeks with tales of how the first week is hell, the second week can be quite easy until you realise there are still over 20 days to go, and the third week is spent merely counting down the seconds until your best mate Uncle Alcohol returns while sobbing and rocking and rubbing your face with a security blanket steeped in valium.

And the most irritating thing about the first week of our alcoholic abstinence, is how flakingly easy he’s finding it, and how dreadfully difficult I’m being. Every time we’re out on the street, walking to anywhere from anywhere else, I can’t help but point out each and every public house we pass. When sitting at home of an evening, happily watching our brand new television and being constantly dumbstruck by how little there is to watch on terrestrial channels these days, I can’t help but remark on how nicely a cheeky G&T would slip down at that moment (even though I cannot stand gin and hate tonic with all my heart and soul).

I, my good people, seem to have a bigger problem than previously assumed. The Guinness that I’ve been cultivating a taste for is now haunting me in my waking dreams. The beer that I could have taken or left (but always took) in previous months now dances about just out of reach. The whisky and brandy that was available everywhere you looked over the Christmas season is now contraband and by God, it’s just not fair.

So, it’s only 18 days until I can make myself feel dizzy and nauseous, until the rooms start spinning and my liver starts liquefying, 18 days until I’m filled once more with toxins and sugars and hops and fizz and all that remarkable wonder that alcohol brings. Only 18 days. I can do it. It’ll be fine. I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’ll all be fine.

Oh god.

06 January 2006
I don’t think you need me to tell you that we went to bed that evening with heavy hearts. The true meaning of returning to Flat Pack Store From Hell was, I think, lost on He Who Only… who had only experienced it on New Years Eve, when the world and it’s chavvy husband and children were away vandalising a golf course, or whatever it is that these burberry people do on public holidays. As we camped out in our bedroom, lying on a mattress on the floor that was towered over by a bedframe with no Hamar to call its own, I (like Carrie Bradshaw before me) “couldn’t help but wonder” what would happen the following day. Would this be the end of what was once a beautiful relationship?

The next morning seemed like the right one for traipsing back out to Zone Three hell, and London transport, bless its heart, did everything in its power to block our route – cancelling trains, closing stations, delaying tubes and moving bus stops. In the end, we walked pretty much from where we live to the huge superstore, desperately trying to affect cheerfulness so that the other didn’t hurl themselves face first into Hackney marshes and try to drown in the frosty muck. In order to keep our spirits high, we set ourselves unreasonable challenges, like getting to the store before the free mini-bus that moves the proles from the main train station to the store. Astonishingly, thanks to the bank holiday traffic, we managed to beat the bus by quite a wide margin (approx 40 seconds) which seemed to help keep He Who Only… from noticing the sheer volume of shiny tracksuited, tiny ponytailed, screeching child dragging locals that were thronging their way around the store in order to find the elusive sale items.

We dashed through the complicated store lay out, completely shunning the show floor and running through the market place like things possessed, working out that if we kept heading for walls and walking at a 90 degree angle from the allocated pathways, we could get across the entire floor in about 40 seconds (plus time added for every overweight howling scumbag clutching soft furnishing we had to somehow avoid). We rugby tackled a little man in a yellow jumper, pinning him to the ground and demanding the location of the Hamar. We dashed to the aisle, found the Hamar, and then stared at the shelves in an intensity not before experienced to be sure we weren’t missing any more pieces. We picked up the two packages we needed, sprinted for the finish line, paid for our products (I didn’t buy the discount lights that kept yelling BUY ME! BUY ME! at me from the cardboard boxes surrounding the queues) and we were out the door in less than 7 minutes. SEVEN MINUTES IN AND OUT. I DARE YOU TO BEAT THAT.

A further nightmare journey home, which tempted us both to draft up some kind of suicide pact to put us out of our misery, and we were back on the floor, screwing those screws (no pun or euphemism intended) and close to tears as everything continued to appear to not fit. The little shoots that grow out of the Hamar refused to link up with the sides of the bedframe, no matter how often we looked at the instructions and compared them with the reality. The screws wouldn’t fit, the metal wouldn’t bend, the entire thing was a disaster, and we were going to go and live in a bin, that was all there was to it.

In the end, though, with some creative metal work thanks to the genius mind that is He Who Only…, we made a bed, and we lay in it. A bed in which neither of us, at least for the first night, felt remotely secure.

I’m not even going to talk about what happened when we tried to make the chest of drawers. That, quite frankly, is still a matter for our team of therapists. I’m only grateful that there is a law in this country that bans the use of handguns on furniture.

All I can say is: kids – don’t do it. The money that you save on the purchase of planks and nails and screws and allen keys is not worth the suffering, the lost hours of sleep, the tears, the tantrums and the crucifixion re-enactments in which you tack your nearest and dearest to the back of the Billy bookcase by their wrists and ankles. Just say No.

05 January 2006
The day after New Years Eve seemed to me to be the very best day, of all the days in the year, on which to be woken a mere 3 hours after going to bed, at 7 in the morning, by an impossibly cheerful voice telling me that my flat packed Swedish furniture would be being delivered between 9 and 12 that day. I may have croaked some response back. I may just have stared at the phone in disbelief, said nothing for a moment, and then hung up. I may have begun to weep. I can’t remember. All I do remember is that a short two hours later I was being gently but firmly hurled out of bed by He Who Only… who seemed to be accompanying his own shrieking with the ringing of a bell. All was chaos. What was going on? The delivery men. Ah yes. Furniture. That.

I threw on the most mismatched of items I could find, such was my panic, dressing entirely from my laundry basket rather than my suitcase full of clean clothes. By the time I had begun to consider what was happening, He Who Only… was back at our door grasping a lump of bed slats in his arms, a wild look in his eyes, and whispering in my face that he was going to hide in the bedroom. Rapidly following behind him was an inexpressibly limber and energetic gentleman who appeared to be carrying the frame for a king size bed on his back, and loving every moment of it. “Hello!” he screamed in my face as he passed, and deposited the boxes on the floor of our front room, which was still covered in glasses, sweet wrappers, beer cans and Styrofoam packaging from the night before. “How is the New Year going for you?”

I blinked at him.

He came back up the stairs four more times, the second to last time handing me a piece of paper that he asked me to sign, and the last time skipping through the door on the way back down the stairs. I was so grateful but bewildered by his good natured assistance that I wanted desperately to give him my Christmas selection box, but since the part of my brain that controls speech wasn’t going to be awake for another 2 hours at least, I didn’t manage to.

We had breakfast, we considered our position, we stared at the flatpack boxes, and then I bravely offered to go to the supermarket to get provisions while He Who Only… made a stab at starting the littlest of the lot – the bedside tables.

One wasted journey to a closed supermarket later, pausing only to stop in the local bakers to buy everything that they were selling, all at once, I returned to find He Who Only… crouched on the floor surrounded by pieces of wood and what did closely resemble an almost completed bedside table. I congratulated him on his speed and success, and also the manly way in which we was working with his hands, with hammers and wood the way that menly men do, and he confessed to having spent the previous ten minutes listing off the ten worst swearwords in his vocabularly over and over again while suppressing the urge to burn not just the furniture, not just the flat, but the entirety of North London. I passed him a Cornish pasty.

Two bedside tables and half a bed later, we were on a roll. There had been bruises, there had been incidents – such as the moment where I stuck a thing into a place where the thing wasn’t supposed to be stuck, and it got trapped there, and wouldn’t come out, and everything was ruined, until He Who Only… took a deep breath and some plyers and totally saved the day; and a couple of other occasions where both He Who Only… and myself managed to stick nails through things that didn’t need or want nails stuck through. But eventually, we seemed to have success lying at our feet, with its legs in the air, asking for its tummy to be scratched. All we needed, it seemed, was to attach the Hamar to the brackets, and we’d be on the home strait.

The Hamar.

Where the fuck was the Hamar?

The Hamar is a long metal thing that stretches end to end across the middle of the frame. It essentially holds the whole frame in place, along with giving the slats somewhere to rest, along with giving the mattress somewhere to lie. Without it, the bed frame is nothing. Nothing at all.

Well, you’ll all know, because you’re sensible, sensitive people, that certain Swedish flatpack furniture stores do not like to make things simple for you. When we had sensibly bought pack 1 and pack 2 and also 2 sets of slats, we thought we were good to go, bed frame wise, but obviously if you’re selling a gigantic bed frame, you should distribute the parts needed randomly around the store, and not tell any customers where or what they are, or even that they might well be overlooking an ESSENTIAL AND INTEGRAL PART.

This of course meant only one thing. We’d have to go back to Ikea. Tomorrow. On the 2nd of January. The day the Ikea sale started. Oh Christ.


04 January 2006
Good idea: move in to a beautiful new flat as smug couple.
Bad idea: decide to build, with own hands, furniture from smug Swedish furniture group.

Honestly, forget the fallacy that first year you live together is the challenge that makes or breaks a relationship. Completely fail to consider that it might be the sharing of bills, or lack of personal space. The biggest challenge is certainly not the lack of own room in which to store teddy bears, hair bleaching cream and posters of comedians/singers/assorted menfolk over which to dribble. Nope, the one thing you must wholly take into account before even beginning to contemplate moving in with the person closest to your heart would be this: are you prepared to make sweet, sweet furniture with them whenever the situation arises?

Walking with grim determination through Ikea on New Years Eve was barely the start of it. Most people seemed to have forgotten that it was open, and so I could trick He Who Only… into a false sense of security that this would be as bad as it gets. We did a crazed dash through the show floor, with me gazing longingly at each and every stick of furniture and in my minds eye working out where each and every stick of furniture would look best in our wonderful new Nest O’Love. He Who Only… was determined to keep his eye on the prize and completely and steadfastly (and quite rightly) refused to stop until we had reached the bedroom department (please note this is not, in this case, a euphemism). At said bedroom department, we considered two bedframes and picked the bigger of them. I pointed at bedside tables, and he looked a bit frightened when I asked him to express an opinion. I leaned on a book case, and he nodded. I started to look at chests of drawers, and he immediately grabbed my hand and dragged me bodily away from the show room moving directly with heads down through the children’s department (avoiding the shiny things that would distract) and ran for the happily entitled ‘market place’, otherwise known as The Best Place On Earth In Which To Needlessly Impulse Buy.

He Who Only… kept the momentum going, as I grasped wildly around trying to get coffee plungers, tea pots, saucepan holders, oven gloves, bath mats, tiny lamps, green plastic chairs and champagne flutes (all totally unnecessary) into our trolley. We reached the flat packed area with a mere £40 worth of faff in the trolley, which he viewed as a moral victory and I viewed as a great disappointment, quite frankly.

The bedframe we wanted was nowhere in sight, and so I left He Who Only… skidding up and down one aisle riding the furniture trolley like a skateboard, and went to find a man wearing a bright yellow jumper, who wore the expression of a person kept calm only by heavy sedative use. He explained something about slats and orders and numbers and frames, and I nodded and stopped listening when I realised he meant that my shiny new bed wasn’t anywhere nearby. I dashed back to He Who Only… and explained our two choices to him: we could wait up to two weeks for said bedframe to come back into stock, at which point we’d have to do all of this again, or we could take slightly too large frame home, and allow mattress to be slightly swamped by said frame, and we could pretend we didn’t notice. We, of course, went for Option Two: The Impractical Frame.

We picked up box one, noticed two boxes were needed for this frame, picked up box two, went to another aisle at the other end of the store to pick up the two sets of slats needed to complete the bed, congratulated ourselves on a job well done, paid for our many, many items, left the heavy stuff to be delivered the following day, and celebrated with hot dogs (him), diet cola (me) and chips (the both of us) from the Ikea kitchen.

The worst was over.

Or so we thought.