Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Supermarket Sheep

When I blogged about bargain hunting in supermarkets a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I’d forgotten to include something quite important.

It was about the desire for a protocol around bumping into friends or acquaintances whilst doing your shop.

What are the rules around this?

Last week, I was clattering around the local Morrisons and found myself on the first aisle, amongst the fruit and veg. While trying to find apples that displayed the mutually exclusive characteristics of being cheap and looking tasty, I bumped into one of the other parents from my kids primary school. We had that moderately stilted conversation, that you have in supermarkets, when you’re aware that neither of you had really planned this chat, people are behind you trying to get to the apples and you’ve got other stuff you’ve got to get on with, as soon as the shop’s out of the way.

So you go through the motions, ask each other a couple of questions and not really listen to the answers. Eventually, one of you says,

“Right, better be getting on. See you later.”

Then you go your separate ways. This is where there should be a rule made. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve now had our conversation and that should be it. I should be free to completely ignore you for the rest of my shop. It’s not like we arranged to meet here, like going for a drink or something, so let’s agree to just crack on. Supermarkets are full of things I don’t care for, like rude kids and people who clip you with their trolleys and pretend it was an accident, even though they really meant it, because you’d dawdled for a microsecond too long near the beans. Therefore, I want to spend the least amount of time possible in them.

Instead, because we met in the first aisle, we now enter into some sort of synchronicity and have to have several more verbal transactions. My heart sinks further and further with each one, as the law of diminishing returns forces us both to endure those shit one-liners that were solely designed for this purpose.

“Ha ha, we’ll have to stop meeting like this!”

“Hey, I’m sure I met your twin brother a few minutes ago!”

“Still here then?”


“Are you stalking me?”


“Am I stalking you?”

“We’ll be working here, if we hang around much longer!”

All of the above are delivered almost apologetically, with a rolling of the eyes, as if to say,
“It wasn’t me that made these rules. I’m sorry, but we’re just locked into this. Let’s deliver the lines as best we can and hope to fuck that one of us is going to forget something a few aisles back and break this cycle.”

I have, on occasion, been that cheesed off with this panto, that I’ll invent a bargain on the other side of the shop and go there for a bit, till I’m sure there’s no chance of us bumping into each other again. This usually backfires. Chorlton’s a small place and I just meet someone else and have to start all over again.

The real hell of hells occurs, if you go through the complete circuit and then find yourselves paired in the queue at the checkout. You’ve already used all the ‘conversation’ that was available to you and are reduced to spending ten minutes saying,

“This queue’s not going down very quickly, eh?”

“Why does the other queue always move more quickly, eh?”

“This queue’s moving nice and quickly, eh?”

I have a real terror of this happening. It’s the perfect storm of supermarket synchronicity and to be avoided at all costs. I’ll happily join the massive queue for the cashier that I know will try and break my eggs and squash my tomatoes, if it means not having to feign interest in the price of the chewing gum on the impulse buy shelf, near the till.

There is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. On several occasions, without any conversation occurring, I’ve tacitly agreed with someone to just not enter into this modern dance. I’ve seen him and he’s seen me. We’re friends and are secure enough in our friendship to think simultaneously,

“I really can’t be arsed having a chat. I’ve got to get out of here before I throw a chicken at someone. I’m just going to avert my eyes and pretend to be looking at something else, whenever there’s the possibility of an encounter. When I get to the top of each aisle, I’ll have a quick look. If he’s down there, I’ll skip an aisle and double back. If we bump into each other in the car park after, we’ll continue with the charade and say something like, ‘Were you in there? Fancy that!,’ before nodding in collusion and legging it.”

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Getting Your Farts Out

After dropping the kids off at school last Friday, I nipped to the Barbakan (brilliant Chorlton deli), to have a brew and a read of the paper.

As I got there, I noticed one of my friends standing outside, by his car. He appeared to be dawdling for no particular reason, so I strolled up, said hello and asked him what he was waiting round for.

“I’m just getting all my farts out before I go in, Charlie.”

It made me laugh out loud, primarily because of his candour but also because I thought I was the only person who made sure they were entirely vented of noxious gases before entering social situations.

Not always of course, but if I’m ever unlucky enough to combine the following two elements;

1. Social or work situation involving people who've no idea that you fart.
2. Recent meal including volatile ingredients.

then due consideration needs to be given.

With regards to the first element, for most of us, this is people outside of our immediate families or very close friends. Though having found farting to be an unending source of hilarity for my entire life, i’ve been made painfully aware that not everyone thinks this way.

Element two is often present, because I like to consume things that are known as, ‘gifts that keep on giving.’

I regularly find myself hanging around outside buildings, hovering delicately until I’m certain that I’m completely clear of any contraband. Outside is the farter’s friend, but living in a city means that, even there, timing is everything. My technique is to walk up and down a bit, get rid, then do a bit of a turn, sometimes 270 degrees is enough to sever all ties, but Guinness or curry can sometimes necessitate a complete 360.

This allows me to conduct whatever business I need to do in the building, without the growing fear of a pressure build up. It feels very wrong to subdue a burgeoning guff. I always feel that the horrible bubbling feeling it creates inside, distracts me from my meeting/interview and is probably wreaking unseen damage on my immune system.

I thought I was the only one, until that chance encounter outside a Chorlton deli, but now I know I’m in good company.

A teacher friend was telling me that, as head of a particular department, it’s very important that she keeps up appearances and maintains a strict social protocol of never dropping one in front of a class. Prone as she is to bouts of flatulence, this causes great discomfort. She bungs herself up for the duration of the lesson, suffering greatly. As soon as the kids leave and she has the door shut, she dives into the stockroom and deflates herself, dislodging ceiling tiles and turning the corners of books up. She says that a disgruntled caretaker has had to tighten up the hinges on the door three times in the last year and has modified one of the Chemistry lab signs to let her know he’s on to her.

It led me to thinking that, if I do it, my teacher mate does it and the chap who you don’t know outside the Barbakan does it, then everyone does it, to a greater or lesser degree.
It would be great if some of the social stigma was removed and we could engage in this practice quite freely, leaving people to nonchalantly hang back before a meeting and say,

“I’ll be with you in a minute, everyone. I’m just going to despatch this air biscuit, as it’s been baking for quite a while now.”
Had the subject been less taboo a couple of well documented ‘accidents’ in history, could have been avoided.

On June 26, 1963, when President Kennedy gave his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech on the steps of the Rathaus Schöneberg, his Secret Service men rushed him to the podium. Kennedy had been planning to expunge the byproducts of a bratwurst and Herforder Pils lunch, but missed his opportunity. The photographic evidence is clear. Whilst President Kennedy concentrates on the correct pronunciation of the word ‘Berliner,’ he loses control for a crucial second, leaving the man to his rear thinking.

“Jesus Christ, that one could start a windmill on an old Dutch painting.”

But perhaps the most famous example occurred thirty-five years earlier, at Heston Aerodrome, when Neville Chamberlain triumphantly returned from the Munich Pact meeting to declare, ‘Peace for our time.’ Once again, the urgency with which the Prime Minister was ushered from his plane to deliver the speech, was his undoing. He had planned to hang about near one of the wings and disperse a particularly volatile hooberstank, resulting from the Scotch Eggs and Theakston’s Old Peculiar which he’d shared with Hitler earlier. Once again, the photographic evidence is conclusive.

The fortunate people to the right of Chamberlain have avoided injury, whereas the ones on the left are clearly affected. A no-mans-land has been instantly created, with a courageous policeman attempting to help the man to his front, who was directly downwind during the speech. Chamberlain’s attempts to waft it away and avoid blame were later explained away by claiming he was waving the agreement.

Monday, 12 March 2012

No Ball Games Allowed

Last Friday, I paid a visit to the vet with our male rabbit, Flapjack.

We got Flapjack last October, to give some company to our female rabbit, with the gender- confusing name of Flat Stanley. To begin with, Flat Stanley didn’t take too well to her new friend and took an unusual approach to welcoming him into the family, firstly by trying to beat him up whenever we weren’t looking and then to nibbling a chunk out of his ear whilst he wasn’t looking.

Time proved to be a great healer, both for Flapjack’s ear and Flat Stanley’s tolerance. By Christmas, they were rubbing along quite nicely together; Flapjack’s youthful exuberance being tempered by Flat Stanley’s habit of sitting around a lot.

Then Flapjack hit puberty and our lovely little back garden dynamic changed. Since January, he’s been hitting on Flat Stanley with all the subtlety of a Sid James chat up line.

He’s attempted to shag her from pretty much every angle, whilst Flat Stanley resists stoically. I’ve watched Flapjack’s mind working in an eternal circle that’s on a ten second loop.
‘Mmm this food is nice.

I think I’ll defecate a bit.


This is followed by a bit of a high speed chase that looks like a Benny Hill sketch. Eventually he gives up and goes back to eating, before realising:


Poor old Stan is beginning to look a bit frazzled by the whole situation. The fact that she’s neutered is no deterrent to Flapjack’s ardour.

I’ve been getting tired of knocking out rubbish excuses to the kids.

“Daddy, what’s Flapjack doing to Flat Stanley?”

“She’s a bit tired, Son, so Flapjack is helping to push her back to the hutch.’

It was time to get him done. On the Thursday, I let him have his last afternoon in the sun, oblivious to the coming storm. His sophisticated foreplay technique was interesting to watch. He’d stand close to Flat Stanley for a few seconds, then a bit closer, then a bit closer, then conduct a full frontal assault before being immediately rebuffed. It’s a technique that can be observed in nightclubs up and down the land, usually between 1.30 and 2.00am.

This was him before the op, looking pretty chilled out, a long afternoon of unrequited love behind him and an evening of eating food and dreaming of a repeat performance tomorrow.

When we got him to the vets, I bumped into our friend, Jon. He’d brought their dog Freddie in for the same op. There was the strange, but nevertheless present, feeling that we were betraying our two charges on some level. As the door closed behind Flapjack, with the nurse sizing him up, it took me back to my own gelding six years ago and I somehow managed to concoct some empathy with a small mammal.

I got him back at 6 o’clock and put him back in the hutch. This is what he looked like then.

To the untrained eye, he looks exactly the same. He might be sitting a bit delicately and some of the light is missing from his eyes, but he’s essentially unchanged.

To me, with my daft habit of projection, he’s very different and seems to be saying.

“What did you let them do to me, man? I can’t work it out (because I’m a rabbit) but I feel really weird. Why doesn’t that female rabbit look as good as she did this morning? What’s going on, Charlie? I thought you were looking after me.”

By the next morning, a bit of realisation had dawned on him and he had the look of Randle Mcmurphy after he’s been lobotomised in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I imagine that we’ll return to some normality now, with both rabbits cohabiting in an asexual spirit, similar to Morecambe and Wise or George and Mildred. Or perhaps, after a few days, Flat Stanley is going to start wondering why she’s not getting any of Flapjack’s attention any more. Look out for a blog about Stanley’s mid-life-crisis in the next couple of months.