Crazy Town (Part One)

               While I was on holiday, I got a message (which had been sent to all the managers in the company) asking if anyone was willing to help out at another rural pub, this time in the Scottish Borders. I sent a message back asking if there would be any accommodation available, then carried on with my holiday. Two days later I got an email from somebody at head office thanking me for agreeing to go to Scotland.

               During my time with the cruises, being moved from ship to ship with little notice was commonplace. They often overstaffed anywhere with spare cabins and then moved people elsewhere as vacancies arose due to visa problems, medical situations, missed flights or just changes of mind. It made sense for the company but for the crew members who had packed for Alaska and then found themselves in Fiji it was less convenient.

               At least this move gave me a few days of notice to pack and the move from Northern England to Southern Scotland was not such a culture shock. My line manager had agreed to drive me rather than take the risk of being stranded for hours at a train station nobody can find on a map. Plus, it was only for ten days… How bad could it be?

Well, the general manager was away. His assistant was new in the role and didn’t know I was arriving. The entire kitchen team had resigned at the same time and the whole place seemed to be staffed by people yelling in a wide variety of languages. It was like a really angry version of the UN.

               I have written before about the wonders of temporary staff, well at this place everyone (including me) seemed to be a temp. Luckily, all the systems were the same so I could get into the computers and work the tills, unlike most of my colleagues who seemed barely capable to work out what shoe goes on what foot.

On my first night, I refunded one meal that contained a metal screw and a salad that came with a dead wasp. I dealt with a waiter who didn’t understand the difference between starters and main courses (“its all just food, whats the big deal”) and persuaded the bar tender that it was his job to clean the mould from the bar fridges.

               My second day involved a major row in the kitchen involving a chef who refused to make desserts as he was too busy preparing his own dinner (for nearly an hour). I was asked to come and talk to him. He told me he wasn’t able to make desserts, even though customers were waiting, as he had fish on his hands. This caused more yelling in a variety of languages. Later I found out that the chef ate his dinner and then went home three hours early without telling anyone. All of this made for a very entertaining handover report (which I later found had been widely distributed around the company).

               The following morning the general manager, who had been away, turned up unexpectedly. From the reactions of the team, it seemed like this was a rare event. I went over to introduce myself to him but he said he was too busy to chat, asked why I hadn’t tested the fire alarm and then left again.

Oh well, eight days to go. What else could happen?

To be continued…


Travelling Tales

Something I find incredibly boring is people talking about their rubbish journeys. I am not interested that your thirty-minute commute took forty minutes, that your train spent half an hour sitting at Milton Keynes Central or your flight was an hour late boarding. These stories are dull because they are so common, they happen to all of us.

One thing I have noticed is that when the train is busy, coming across the ticket inspector is especially unlikely. The train station by the rural pub doesn’t have a ticket machine, neither do many of the other stations on the line. If the ticket inspector doesn’t inspect any tickets, it is not possible to buy one. Perhaps this is something the railway operators may want to consider…

Anyway, I will save you the monotony of explaining how late and how crowded the train was and instead start with the fact I had to stand for twenty minutes next to the toilet on a recent journey. One problem caused by standing by the toilet was that people kept thinking I was waiting to use the facilities and queuing up behind me. Eventually I moved and people queued up behind somebody else instead.

There were five of us standing in this section. My fellow travellers were a curious bunch. One man had a pair of the largest headphones I have ever seen. People digging up roads with large drills wear smaller headphones than these. Still if he was using them to drown out the sound of people moaning about how late the train was, I fully support him.

Another woman was eating a fruit corner. This is a product I have never understood the attraction of. Why would anyone want to mix their own yoghurt? Isn’t it better just to have a completed product? What is the difference between that, and a Gregg’s sausage roll where the sausage and pastry come in separate bags? Or a new car turning up with an engine you must add yourself?

Apart from that, the fruit corner is a weird choice of train food especially when standing. It seems fraught with potential risk of spillage. Particularly when (as this woman did) both sections of the fruit corner are tipped into a Tupperware box then muesli and a small box of raisins are added. She then stirred it all together. It was a sight to behold. If it was me, I would have prepared this before getting on the train. After about three mouthfuls, the train jolted, and the fruit corner/muesli/raisin combo fell on the floor and was promptly demolished by a nearby dog. The man with the headphones laughed out loud.

An announcement was made informing us that the train shop was about to close although how anyone was supposed to get there when the train was so busy remained unclear. It was also explained that there were no sandwiches left, the coffee machine was broken, they couldn’t take cash, but they “accepted most major credit cards but not American Express”. It was little wonder the shop was about to close.

Even odder than this was a man who changed his clothes while standing on the train. I feel like most people would have done this in the nearby toilet cubical, although knowing the state of cleanliness of train toilets maybe he didn’t want to risk catching some deadly disease. First, he took off his shirt and replaced it with a t-shirt, then tied a jacket around his waist, removed his trousers and put on a pair of shorts. Fortunately, there was no jolt at this point. He did this so nonchalantly, it made me think he must do it all the time. Then he put on a pair of trainers, got off at the next stop and begun jogging. Remarkable behaviour.

We eventually got to our destination too late to make the connection and were met with a cheery pre-recorded announcement thanking us all for travelling and hoping we enjoyed our journey (we hadn’t). Luckily since there was no ticket inspector or working ticket machine, I hadn’t been able to pay. Although if I had, I don’t think I would have asked for a refund. The entertainment value of the woman with the yoghurt had been worth the price of the ticket alone.

A Little Respect

One stereotypical trait of autism is a lack of understanding of the feelings of others meaning inappropriate behaviour and a failure to ‘read the room’. Perhaps this goes part of the way to explaining what happened at Grandad’s funeral.

We are not really a close family. Its not that we have fallen out over a swarded affair or financial squabble, its more that we all live separate lives and never get round to calling each other. As a result, when we do get together at a wedding or christening, we never really progress past the small talk stage. This, plus a general dislike of social situations, noise & crowds means I don’t deal well with family occasions.

We all knew Grandad was about to pass away, so when the call came it didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, I just carried on as normal and went to work without really thinking. After all it was quiz night, I had to go and find out who remembered the capital city of Argentina. What came next week was a bigger surprise, I was asked to go to the funeral. It was on the other side of the country, needing three different trains. Honestly, my feeling was that it was such a pain to go, I’d rather not.

Then came a question that changed my mind. “Do you want to say a few words at the service?” The correct answer should have been no, however with no thought at all I said yes. I stand up in front of people all the time reading out quiz questions, calling bingo and making announcements. A funeral speech will be no problem. The next week I got a call asking what the subject of my speech would be as they needed to put it in the service sheet. I hadn’t really thought about it, so I said to call it “a few words”. That would do.

Fast forward a few weeks and I was on the train (three trains) to the funeral with still no real idea what I was going to say ‘never mind, something will come, it will be fine’ I told myself. In fact, I spent most of the train journey thinking how sad it was that one of my favourite singers, Aretha Franklyn, had died the previous day and trying to download her greatest hits via the dodgy rail Wi-Fi.

In the car between the train station and the crematorium I made my decision. If I had thought to ask anyone, it would have become very clear that the content of my speech would be a bad idea, but I didn’t ask. Also, nobody asked me what I was going to talk about either.

I got to the podium and fished a newspaper cutting out of my bag. I then read out most of the obituary to Aretha Franklyn to my baffled family members. I talked about her grammy awards, how many albums she sold and her activism. Then at the end (I was so pleased with myself when I thought of it), I said “but unlike Aretha, Grandad didn’t need to THINK about RESPECT, he just showed it”. I made sure to particularly emphasise think & respect so everyone realised it was a clever reference.

Quite rightly, my family was baffled. Nobody even mentioned the speech (at least not in my presence) and it wasn’t until months later it occurred to me quite how ridiculous it was to just read out a newspaper obituary for a civil rights activist who didn’t really have much in common with the deceased we were there to mourn.

What I have learned is that next time I am asked if I want to make a speech at a family occasion, it would be better to just say no.

More Celebrity Guests

The rural pub attracts a certain level of celebrity guest. The level you have to look up on the internet to remind yourself what they were famous for.

  • The Eurovision Contestant

The Eurovision contestant visited with their parents. It was another customer who alerted us to their presence (we had all forgotten who they are). The parents had normal pub favourites, pie & mash and fish & chips with two pints of beer. However the Eurovision contestant wanted a vegan Caesar salad. I went over to double check this but it was clear. No chicken / bacon / egg / anchovy / cheese / sauce. It was at this point they told me not to put the croutons on either. I said that because of the way the till is set up, we won’t be able to take any money off because of all these modifications, they said it was fine. So, one bowl of mixed lettuce was dispatched for £12.95. Half the bowl was left uneaten as it “wasn’t what I was expecting”. From the weary looks given by the Eurovision contestant’s parents, it seemed like this was standard behaviour.

  • The TV Talent Show Winner

Despite winning the TV show decades ago, this person was holding a meet and greet session in a nearby town. For £48.50 you could meet them, get a photograph taken with them and ask one question. It seemed to be little more than that. Their website also stated that questions will be one per ticket holder due to reasons of time, it also stated that tickets were still available. I am not sure I would pay £1 for that package. Anyway, before the show, the talent show winner came for lunch on their way to the venue. I completely failed to recognise them and since they hadn’t got a reservation, I sat them on a terrible table at the back which didn’t go down well. Within 10 minutes of the food arriving, they had left. I would have asked if the food was ok but was worried that I would be charged £48.50.

  • The Soap Actor’s Wife

We were aware that the soap actor was not just eating but coming to stay the night too. This was because his wife had phoned several times to tell us. She wanted upgrades, free drinks and a private dining area and in every call took considerable time to remind us who the soap actor was. On the morning of their arrival, the soap actor’s wife called four times. Apparently, she had chosen our pub for his birthday party (which was news to us) and told us to be ready for them at 10:30pm that night. Our duty manager deliberately closed the bar at 10pm before they arrived.

  • The 80s popstar

The 80s popstar arrived in dark glasses and a baseball cap. Her manager checked her in, and she scuttled off upstairs. As many famous people appreciate their privacy, we didn’t think anything of it. It was a surprize then when she descended in the staircase in a ballgown and very high heels (like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard). I wasn’t sure if she was expecting applause. She came to the bar and made a show of how many gold credit cards she had. This is not normal behaviour in a rural pub (or anywhere else really). She then went on to decline all requests for photos or autographs, which was weird considering her general attention seeking behaviour. Over the course of the evening, her and her friend got through a bottle of whiskey (and a packet of crisps to share). At one point another guest tried to take a photo of her from across the room and she screamed, “no photos” at such a volume everyone stopped and stared. She also left a cash tip of £160. The next day she was back in the dark glasses and baseball cap.

They say celebrities are just the same as the rest of us… I am not so sure.

Mystic Meg

               I can never remember my star sign, perhaps because I don’t really care enough. For the purposes of this blog, I looked it up and it turns out I am a Scorpio (tomorrow I will have forgotten this piece of information). Apparently, this means,

“You can have a sharp edge, but this isn’t always a negative quality. It gives you an appreciation for authenticity and a strong sense of independence. However, you’re not always as tough as you appear. Once you let people into your life, you’re a bit of a softy”.

This is not a long way off true although I would be interested to meet somebody who doesn’t appreciate authenticity. Anyway, I read the other 11 and they could also all apply to me. I have trouble understanding why anyone would think an oil millionaire from Texas would have the same character traits as a two-year-old in Sub-Saharan Africa just because they share a birthday.

               This brings me to Mystic Meg. Famous people, like all the rest of us are prone to death. Not a week goes by without the sad news of a Hollywood star or beloved singer passing away. Many of them are names we recognise but can’t remember anything they did, while others it comes as a surprise that they didn’t die years ago.

               However, reports of the death of Mystic Meg touched me much more than I expected. I hadn’t really thought about Meg in twenty years and had no idea she wrote for the Sun newspaper until very recently but I was always strangely fascinated by this TV astrologer who interrupted the National Lottery every week throughout the 90s. She was a middle-aged cape wearing woman who held a crystal ball and was surrounded by fake smoke. Her predictions were mad…

Picture Source:

               “People who wear flip flops on holiday, like watching The Bill or have ever seen a peacock will be celebrating toooooooo”.

               “People who eat toast cut into triangles, used to play the guitar or recently attended a family occasion will be celebrating tooooooooo”.

               “People who drive cars, live in a house number divisible by 72 or can spell the word halloumi will be celebrating tooooooo”.

               “People who pull Christmas crackers, occasionally stroke dogs or are Yorkshire pudding enthusiasts will be celebrating tooooooo”.

               How did she come up with this stuff? People all over the country were given hope simply because they enjoyed action films or had a relative in the civil service. To prove Meg’s accuracy we were introduced to lottery winners with giant cheques who (as Meg said the previous week) had once been on a train to Wales or had a parent who wore carpet slippers.

Now I wonder if it matters… I suspect deep down everyone knows this stuff is rubbish but if it gives people a welcome distraction or a slice of hope, does it really matter? After all, perhaps “people who have ever ridden a pony, use a funny voice to talk to babies or receive adverts in the post” should be celebrating tooooooo.

RIP MEG (I think she knew tooooooo….)

Summoned To Head Office (part two)

Following the exam, we all retreated to our hotel with an 86 page handbook we were asked to read before tomorrow’s day two of the training course at head office. Of course, that never happened. I did at least open the handbook, but it was so boring I put it down in just a few seconds and decided upon a nap instead.

When I woke up, I went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. This was all paid for by the company so having my normal evening meal (petrol station sandwiches) was forgotten. What I found was my classmates surrounded by a lot of empty glasses. Considering we had spent all day learning about beer, it was worth nothing that none of them were consuming lagers but had all gone for wine or spirits instead. It seems the tutor’s inspirational words had been discarded.

We swapped stories over a steak dinner, then the waiter came to take a dessert order. I went for a chocolate brownie. My colleague said she wasn’t hungry so would take a rose wine instead. ‘What size’ enquired the waiter, ‘bottle, actually make that two’ came the reply. I wonder if this is what the company had in mind when they agreed to pay for dinner.

Next morning we somehow managed to get back to the office without serious incident and even more fortunately, there were no team building exercises. I would happily never do another team building exercise ever again, the assumption that we all want to get to know each other better always appears misplaced.

Instead, we were straight into the course. I had remembered to bring the handbook so although I had failed to read it, I was doing better than many of my colleagues. The sighing tutor asked who had completed the book as asked. One person raised their hand, the tutor asked them a question about the final section ‘oh sorry, I thought you asked something else’ came the reply. The sighing tutor sighed again.

The topic of the course was the legal requirements affecting pubs. Licencing authorities, health & safety, insurance, operating schedules, child protection and the affects of alcohol on the body (something many of my colleagues were current case studies for). It was as dull as you imagine. The screen was still in the same place as yesterday so the interruptions of the people walking in front with their coffee cups continued although this was a welcome distraction from the tedium of what was actually on the screen.

Lunch was an identical platter from yesterday although this time people had brought their own food, mainly crisps, chocolate bars and free biscuits from the hotel rooms. This meant that there was a lot of food left over but at least there were no piles of egg scraped from sandwiches. It also gave the chance for one colleague to go back to his car to sleep.

The afternoon session was taken up by going through the handbook we were supposed to have completed in the hotel. Later I considered that as the sighing tutor had set aside so much time for this must have meant she knew nobody was going to do the homework. One interesting fact was that a binge drinking session is less than one bottle of wine. At this point my colleague with the two bottles of rose for dessert excused herself and ran to the toilet.

Then came the exam. At least we were aware it was happening this time. The desks were separated and the handbooks removed. We were each given a Mini Bounty bar ‘for luck’, the sighing tutor quickly realising the chance of success was falling by the moment. It was also stressed that we only needed 65% to pass and it was multiple choice. Just as we were about to begin, an invigilator turned up for a surprize visit. At this development, the sighing tutor made her most dramatic sigh of the day so far.

Two weeks later, a letter arrived. I had somehow managed to pass both courses and I have certificates to prove it. I suspect this was due to an admin error at the exam board, but I won’t query it. Instead I put them in a draw with the handbook which I am unlikely to ever look at again, in fact I can’t even remember which draw I put them in.

I notice that they are offering this course again in a couple of weeks, although with a different tutor. Upon investigation the accommodation being offered at the course is now ‘room only’. I wonder why?

A Mystery Package

Last month a parcel was left outside my door. The name on the package wasn’t one I recognised, and the house number was missing.

I took it into the flat so it was out of the rain hoping that the delivery driver had taken a photo of it by my door and the rightful owner would come and collect it.

Two weeks later… nothing.

Having worked in hotels, returning lost property has been part of my life for a long time. So often with low-cost items (half a bottle of shampoo, dented phone chargers, frayed pyjamas) the owners make a big fuss about and insist on them being returned as soon as possible, paying high charges in the process. Whereas entire suitcases remain unclaimed for years.

I always enjoy the annual reports from the London Underground of people who left a digeridoo, life size stuffed bear or false leg on the tube and never got round to getting it back. People who leave their leg behind are particularly curious to me…

Anyway, back to the parcel. I decided to contact Amazon (who delivered the parcel) to find out what to do with it. This was particularly challenging. They have an automated system meaning anything that didn’t meet one of their pre-determined options was virtually impossible to get information about. Every option I clicked on brought up a series of things related to items I had ordered and not received, however nothing related to things I had received but not ordered.

Whatever could it be?

Eventually I managed to get a message to something pretending to be a person (I think it was still a bot with a human sounding name). They struggled to understand what I was asking. Apparently, it is incredibly rare for people to admit receiving parcels they didn’t ask for….

One of the messages I got in the disjointed conversation informed me they “take security issues extremely seriously” and apologised for “compromising the safety of the household”. The possibility it ‘could’ have been a bomb wasn’t anything I had really considered and escalated the situation considerably. All I wanted to know was what to do with it. If they can find the right address, I have no problem with taking it over, also I have no problem with dropping it back in the post box… JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO.

Later on that evening I got an email saying that they will contact “the relevant department” but if I have heard nothing within 72 hours the contents of the parcel will be mine to keep or “donate to a charity of your choice” as opposed to a charity of somebody else’s choosing…

This became quite intriguing. A lost parcel from Amazon could contain anything. A quick google search told me the most expensive product on their website was an 1884 Morgan Dollar MS-67 Illinois set (a fancy name for old coin) worth £827,934.52. Just imagine if that would become mine… No more rural pub for me…

Over the next 72 hours, I found myself checking my watch more frequently, even setting an alarm to the minute the deadline would be passed.

The big moment arrived. I had heard nothing. I double checked my phone and email just to make sure then excitedly ripped the parcel open….

This is what it contained.

Maybe my retirement will have to wait….

People From ‘The Agency’

It is a well-documented phenomenon that there are more job vacancies than people looking for jobs. It seems that every business in the country is hiring and people are being given jobs they are clearly unsuitable for simply because the company is desperate and nobody else applied.

One solution for business owners is to use staff from ‘the agency’. The trouble with this is that they have no idea who will turn up and what skills they will possess. Sometimes the agency staff are highly skilled and are doing temporary work to supplement their income. Other people are doing it for the vastly inflated salaries (perhaps £18 per hour) knowing their performance is unimportant as tomorrow they will be working somewhere else.

The rural pub advertised for a chef for a busy Friday to cover staff illness. The position was accepted by somebody we were assured came with a lot of experience in food. Let’s call him David. The head chef needed David to make pasta and had gathered the ingredients ready for him to get started as soon as he arrived. Unfortunately, he was over an hour late which wasn’t a great start. Things went from bad to worse when it became clear David didn’t know how to make pasta, apparently his experience was working with Indian cuisine. So, a simple recipe was found for him to follow.

The kitchen was busy preparing for the night ahead so it took a while before it was noticed that no pasta has been produced. It turned out that David couldn’t follow the simple recipe either. By now it was 5pm and people would be arriving for dinner very soon. The chef decided the only thing to do was to cheat and just buy ready made pasta from the supermarket and hope nobody noticed. This should have been the end of the matter except David (with his years of experience) didn’t know you had to put water in the pan with the pasta and filled the kitchen with smoke setting off the alarms. It was at this point we learned the truth. David’s food experience was ‘distribution’ meaning he didn’t make food but simply delivered it to customers in his Vauxhall Corsa.

Then there was a waiter. Let’s call her Miriam. Unlike David, Miriam was honest about her lack of experience and arrived on time for her 4pm shift. We decided to give her the easy jobs such as wiping tables, collecting glasses and folding napkins to free up the rest of the team to deal with the whims of the public. Within ten minutes of arriving, Miriam needed to take a phone call, this lasted quarter of an hour. On her return she announced that she had to leave at 7pm as she needed to get back home to Hull on the train. Hull is more than three hours away from the rural pub but at £17 per hour, she can afford the ticket.

Miriam quickly became confused by the sauces. For context, the rural pub buys four-gallon tubs of sauces and then decant them into clear squeezy bottles for use by the customers.

“The labels have come off the bottles, how do I know which sauce is which?” she asked.

I took a deep breath “the ketchup is red and the mayo is white”

“How about mustard?” she interrupted.

“Well, that is yellow”. Luckily I work with the general public so am used to a certain level of stupid questions. Then came the moment I realised that Miriam wasn’t going to work out.

“What if somebody wants brown sauce?”

Summoned To Head Office (part one)

There is always a mythical feel to ‘head office’, the generic group of people who rule over every aspect of our working lives. Any mention that ‘head office’ are coming to visit leads to flurries of telephone calls, panicked messages and stressed duty managers. We are asked to hide away anything they won’t like, special lunches will need preparing and car parking spaces are blocked off in their honour.

Of course, the reality is either a) they are here for a meeting with the manager, leaving straight after so none of us actually see them or b) they are here for a free lunch (and free drink) so don’t care what any of us are doing. The risk of them finding any fault is remarkably low. Yet still we flap.

However, there is a whole new level of panic associated with having to go to head office. We imagine this is a magical Disneyland-style paradise but of course it is a dreary suburban office block with access to a major road and a large car park.

No matter what they do with it, an office will always look depressing
These buildings are almost designed to be depressing…

I was summoned to the head office of the rural pub when it was decided I should be enrolled on a two day ‘alcohol service’ course. Let me be honest, it was not a surprise that it was noticed I needed training. I couldn’t explain the difference between lager and ale, assumed cask and keg were two words for the same thing and my pint pulling was wildly varied (to the point my colleagues used to correct them without asking). However, two days? Head office?

My class mates were from a variety of locations around the country and (like me) seemed completely baffled by relatively simple things. The day started with a game of two facts and a lie where each person says three things about themselves and the rest of us guess which are correct. Many people were totally hopeless at this and said things like “I used to live in Massingham” a statement so specific/boring, that nobody knew/cared.

The classroom was essentially a large foyer between the call centre and staff canteen meaning there was a constant stream of people walking in front of the screen with cups of tea. It was also freezing cold.

The head of a beer should be the width of a human thumb (whose thumb remains unclear)
The head of a beer should be the width of a thumb. Whose thumb remains unclear.

We were taught beer and food pairings. My classmates struggled with this “do you eat the skin on the brie?”, “I don’t really like beer, do you have any blackcurrant squash?” and “can I drink their leftover pints?” (It was 9:30am).

Next came changing a barrel. We all got to have a go at this, one at a time, which involved standing outside in the cold for ages. Most people did fairly well, except me who was too slow and all the beer poured onto the ground as I fumbled around trying to plug the hole. Later, I spotted a caretaker with a hose grumpily clearing it up while muttering to himself. I don’t think I will get a Christmas card from him this year.

By then it was lunchtime. Rather than having us in the canteen with the ‘great and the good’ we had food brought in. This took the form of M & S sandwich platters, pork pies and plain crisps. I was very happy with this but my colleagues were less sure, suspiciously prodding the pork pies and scraping the egg out of sandwiches just eating the bread. Again, an enquiry was made about the leftover pints, the tutor had to explain they will all be warm and flat. My colleague looked crestfallen.

‘Only write in pencil’, ‘keep within the lines’

Then came a bombshell. We would be sitting an exam at the end of the day. Many of us had not realised that would be happening. We would be required to put our notes away (that didn’t really bother me as I hadn’t thought to make any in the first place). An intensive hour of preparation came where a variety of policies and laws were presented in a quickfire, scattergun technique as we all scrambled around trying to copy facts from the PowerPoint screen (that people were still walking in front of with their coffees).

As it happened the exam was multiple choice and we only needed 70%. We were all separated, and the tutor walked up and down with her heels clicking on the floor, sighing loudly at some of our answering. Sadly “can you eat the skin on a brie” wasn’t one of the questions.

I was the last to finish, I simply had no idea about 14 of the questions. So I just ticked A then B then C then D all the way down the page while the tutor continued the loud sighing.

That concluded day one.

To be continued…

In The Midnight Hour

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that my school was underwater and filled with fish. We had to swim between classrooms past coral reefs and friendly sharks. A dream dictionary says this meant I had repressed worry. Why don’t dream dictionaries ever say life is going well and there is nothing to worry about?

Many adults say they don’t remember their recent dreams, but I remember mine every night, not because they are terrifying or exciting but because they are always so tedious. I don’t know what it says about me, perhaps I lack imagination, but I have been afflicted by dull dreams for most of my adult life. Recent examples include;

  • Trying to load a new printer cartridge
  • Finding the right change in a shop
  • A biro running out
  • Choosing a toilet cleaner in the supermarket
  • Replacing the batteries in a remote control

Then when I do wake up, I wake up annoyed that, once again, my brain has failed to be more creative. I take it as a personal failing. I read that some people wake up angry, some wake up crying, some wake up laughing. I just wake up bored. I have found that Andrew Lloyd Webber is wrong. Any dream won’t do.

I frequently wake up in the night and find it tough to get back to sleep so I need to find something to occupy my brain, so it doesn’t start whirring on its own. I can check my emails once again (though, of course, nobody has emailed in the last 20 minutes, because it is 4:30am). It is because of this I discovered the wonders of overnight speech radio.

               On my wireless, pre-set one is 5Live. They have very long features overnight often including ‘What is your favourite song’ is one they seem to do almost every week complete with a very long discussion about the handful of inevitably obscure suggestions given.

                So I get up, turn off a dripping tap, open a window and go back to bed. It is at this point I am in danger of going over a conversation I had that went badly twenty years ago so perhaps I will try listening to LBC. The people who ring into LBC in the middle of the night are a very specific group of people. They very rarely seem to have a good grasp of the subject yet will never admit defeat when facts are presented and resort to shouting instead. The topic last night was disability inclusion which I imagined people would be in favour of, but no, the shouty people were back and bellowing. ‘Disabled people are so slow, they should move out of the way so the rest of us can move quicker’ one man yelled. I wonder if they sit by the phone trying to find things to be angry about, take it as a challenge. Perhaps they practise.

               All this shouting does not make me sleepy. I am up again, closing the window, refilling the water glass and I try switching to Talk Radio. Very few people ever call (particularly in the middle of the night) so the hapless host is forced to speak for 20 mins at a time uninterrupted, desperately hoping for a commercial break or a fire alarm. Saturday morning was a treat. A lady I hadn’t heard before was trying to get people to call in by asking ‘what is a corned beef hash?’ Clearly, she hadn’t got access to Google. She resorted to having a long conversation with ‘producer Olly’ but we couldn’t hear him, only her responses. Later, she asked us to ‘text in, if you have any thoughts about anything at all’ and most brilliantly ‘now we are joined by Julie from Darlington, what time is it there?’ Only to discover Julie wasn’t there and had actually just sent an email.

By this point the sun is rising, the dawn chorus has begun and my brain has given up with its spinning and I am falling asleep, ready to repeat the whole process and begin dreaming about fitting a new ironing board cover safe in the knowledge that I know about corned beef hash.