Sunday, 17 November 2013

Technological Rage: Revenge is Mine

Don't try to deny it; sometimes, technology is actively malevolent. I know, I know, that the printer understands my request. And what's more, the printer knows that I know. The printer, in fact, is enjoying sincere, perverse pleasure in my knowing that it knows that I know that it BLOODY WELL UNDERSTANDS MY REQUEST. Its persistence in refusing to honour my request serves, extremely effectively, to send me into the throws of a technological rage. Meanwhile, the printer kicks back and enjoys the show. Two hours later, after I have given up and am sitting forlornly amidst the ruins of my pride and patience, the printer has one final laugh by unexpectedly, and very noisily, turning itself off. I live alone, so loud, unanticipated noises tend to freak me out in quite a big way. Then I get angry all over again. Don't tell me the printer didn't foresee that exact result. It was planning it. Waiting for the exact moment when I was about to relax. See? Malevolent.

Once, in a technological rage, I threw a printer cartridge at the wall. This was a mistake. A big, messy, splattery mistake. Since then, I have effectively been afraid of exacting physical revenge on technology, no matter how much it angers me. I have been conditioned to fear technology, and to bow hopelessly to its will. If the GPS tells me to turn right, I turn right, even if I know for sure that my destination is left. Basically, I am technology's bitch.

Or, at least, I was.

Not so long ago, I purchased a running watch. I wanted this watch to perform a few, relatively simple, tasks. I wanted it to tell me for how long I had been running, in terms of time. I wanted it to inform me of the distance I had covered, in either kilometres or miles - you choose, watch, I'm not fussy. It would also have been nice to know how fast or (more likely) slowly I had performed individual laps. That was about it. I don't think it was asking all that much, especially not for an investment of a cool hundred pounds. Would the watch perform? It would not. Time after time I put the watch on, headed out for a run, and came back utterly clueless as to any of the above pieces of data. I won't bore you with the whys and wherefores, it just so happens that I chose a particularly perverse, unuserfriendly  piece of technology. It UNDERSTOOD what I wanted, it just didn't want to give it to me.

After a particularly stressful workday, I came home intent on having another attempt at going for a run. This time, watch, I said, without much conviction, it must be noted, you are going to work. We are going to go for a run, and you are going to tell me what I wish to know about this run. Afterwards, we will both be happy. See how it works? I run, you work, everyone happy. Bon?

Pas bon. I started fiddling with the watch, endeavouring to reach the basic set up page and, well, set it up. No good. I then decided to try pitting technology against itself, and searched YouTube, using some variation of the words: 'how the effing hell does my effing watch work?' I found a video, I watched a video, I was none the wiser. So I decided to try an old tactic, namely, pleading with the watch. Please watch, I whimpered. Please, I really just need you to work. I really want to go for a run. Only a little run. Please watch. Pleeeeeeeeease.

No good. I started crying. I didn't think that this was going to make the watch work, but I was at the end of my tether. I was tired, infuriated, frustrated, with myself, the watch and the world. I was lonely. I was fed up with trying to make things work on my own, with having no help. My rage and self-pity were reaching tipping point. I'd spent £100 on this stupid bloody thing that wouldn't do what it was supposed to. I'd chosen badly, AGAIN. Another crappy life decision, bought to you by me. Another piece of technology picking on me, taking me for a fool. I was so furious I think I remember actually BITING the watch. The run was a write off and I cried myself out, utterly defeated.

Then, suddenly, magically, I was overtaken by a profound sense of calm and determination. My rage was gone, replaced with a cold, calculating understanding of what I had to do. It was time for technology to learn a lesson. Sod the £100. I went to the tool cupboard and collected the hammer.

I was slightly disappointed by how little of a fight the watch put up. Within a very few seconds it had been comprehensively smashed to smithereens. I was still finding pieces of it in the garden weeks later. Now, I'm not generally an advocate of violence, but in this instance it was exactly the right call. By taking decisive action I saved myself from future frustration at the hands of that particular piece of technology. Interestingly, the printer has since behaved itself immaculately.

Oh, and someone I love very much bought me a new running watch. So maybe I'm not quite as alone as I thought.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Bonkers Tree

I've been going around in circles with this blog post for a few days now. I've been worrying that readers are going to misunderstand, and think I'm being flippant about a subject that is not only serious, but that I take very seriously. 

So I guess I just want to say that yes, maybe I do seem flippant, but what I actually believe is that sometimes it's OK to poke fun at even the most awful, painful things. That, sometimes, poking fun might be the exact right thing to do. Here goes:

I'm not ashamed to say that 90% of the people I love the most in this world are at least a little bit bonkers. Bonkers people make my world funnier, richer, stranger, quirkier and all round better. I like to think I'm a good bit bonkers myself. But the trouble with bonkers people is that, well, they're bonkers. Bonkers people do all sorts of bonkers things, not all of them good. Over the years, I have loved - and still love - people who occasionally hang out under the following branches of the bonkers tree: depression (in several forms), drug addiction, alcoholism, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia and bulimia.

This post was inspired by a beautiful, bonkers, bulimic. For the first few years of our friendship, she was in recovery, and I didn't even really know that she was ill. There wasn't anything wrong with her, as far as I could see. She's drop dead gorgeous, inside and out. Now she's relapsed, in a pretty spectacular manner, but I only know that she's ill, that she's suffering the most horrendous distress, because she trusts me enough to tell me about it. From the outside, she still looks drop dead gorgeous. It is only very recently that I have started to really comprehend the bleak and stormy landscape in which she is living. She wrote this eloquent, elegant paragraph to me in an email last week:

I think in the last five years I've been able to grow a comfortable layer of denial over it, and because I was never hospitalised, and always appeared functional, in some ways it's easy to talk yourself out of being entitled to have any feelings of loss. It's not like I'm in a cast and can say 'look, it's broken!' and get people to write all over it. That would be cool. What would you write on my bulimia? 

What would you write on my bulimia? It is a beautiful, strange idea. What would you write, if faced with inescapable physical evidence of an illness that generally hides out deep in the mind? For me, it comes down to a realisation I have had over the past year or so, that the last thing you want to hear when you are suffering is a platitude. I may think that my friend is extraordinarily beautiful, and most definitely NOT FAT, but what the heck does she care about that? The point is not whether I think she's gorgeous or not, it's what she feels about herself. I'd rather look her straight in the eye and say, "yep, wow, that's TOTALLY BROKEN. Ouch. Here, let me write on that."

So, without further ado, behold my (very poor) visual representations of the things I'd like to say to the psychological bonkerosity of some of the people I love:

Drug addiction
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Looking at this now I see that it's really only the tiniest seed of an idea. Yet it's kind of an interesting idea, and an important one. Human beings can be broken in all sorts of different ways. It takes a lot of courage to admit to the outside world that something is broken inside you. People, lots of people, won't know what to say, what to think, what to do. I'm probably not saying or doing the right things for my friends, half the time. So I guess the point is, I SEE YOU. I can see that you've got a broken thing. I'm guessing it hurts. I'm sorry. Can I cover it in coloured pen? 

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Prank - or How I Almost Accidentally Caused a Heart Attack

Right after university, I worked a ski season as a chalet maid. It wouldn't usually have occurred to me to do such a thing, but I was madly in love with a boy whose family owned their own chalet in the French Alps, and he was going to spend six months skiing right after graduation. Not one to be left behind, I applied for a job with a tour operator and was promptly offered the glamorous role of 'all-purpose-cleaning-welcoming-waitressing-smiling-dogsbody'. Hooray, I thought! I can go and make zero money in the mountains whilst I decide what to do with my life! Yay! Plus I get to be with Tarquin! (His name wasn't actually Tarquin, but if you imagine a Tarquin, your mental image probably won't be too far off).

I would like to state here, for the record, that I was actually dating Tarquin. I wasn't indulging in any kind of international stalking, and there's no need to contact Interpol. The problem was, alas, that Tarquin did not love me. He broke it off a couple of months before we were due to head for the white stuff. Damn you, Tarquin. I did a lot of crying, and then I sat down and asked myself what to do. Should I contact the ski company and say that, unfortunately, heartbreak prevented me from honouring the contract I had already signed? OR, should I sod it, and go anyway? Screw Tarquin! I had nothing better to do, so I was off to France. One grey morning in mid-November I stood in the car park at South Mimms service station and waited for a large, uncomfortable bus to pick me up and take me, painfully slowly, to Courchevel.

There are lots of adventures associated with the five months that followed. These include the time my chalet was filled with Christians on a singles holiday, the time I set fire to all my clothes, and the time I won employee of the season. OK, that last one wasn't really an adventure, I just wanted to smugly get it in there. Screw you Tarquin, screw you. My family might never own their own chalet in the French Alps, but you can never take my Employee of the Season badge away from me. OK, there was no badge, but who cares? I care. There should have been a badge. Anyway.

This story is about a prank.

I was a few weeks in to my season, and already pretty comfortable with my job. I had a perma-smile, and just the right balance of cheekiness and deference with my guests. Nothing was too much trouble, and I was loving my afternoons on the slopes, learning how to ski. A new set of guests arrived; a large group of male friends in their late 60s. They were clearly up for a laugh, and I noticed when cleaning their rooms on the first day that each of them had a mask or costume of some kind. That evening, when they came back in from the cold, I asked them about it.

Me: What's with all the masks and costumes, guys?
Guest: Every year, on our last day, we go out on the hill in costumes. It's a tradition that's been going for ten years.
Me: Nice. But who brought the Freddie Kruger-type mask with the fangs? It's horrible.
Guest: Oh, that's Bob's, don't you like it?
Me: No! It really gave me the creeps when I saw it today.
Guest: Haha. What's for dinner tonight? Can I have an extra pillow? What about another towel?

That was the end of that conversation. The next day, I went up to clean the big room first, since it always took the longest. A quick glance as I walked in told me that all of the beds were already made, so the guests got an extra tick in my good guests book. My loyal if somewhat ineffective companion, Henry the Hoover, traipsed around behind me, and we endeavoured together to remove some of the fluff from the carpet. I was just about to go and tackle the bathroom when a sudden, eerie feeling crept up the back of my neck. The sun was shining happily through the window, and yet the room felt cold and hostile. My palms became clammy and I fumbled Henry's off switch with my foot. Slowly, my heart thudding in my chest, I began to scan the room. Bunk beds? Check. Nothing unusual there. Bedside table? Check. Single bed? Check. Other single... HOLY CRAP! I dropped Henry's nozzle and leapt backwards. This is what was sleeping in the other single bed; had been sleeping there the whole time I was cleaning:

I'm not going to lie. They got me good. They pranked the living hell out of me. A few deep breaths later I regained my composure, cleaned the bathroom, and moved on to the rest of the chalet. Two hours later I was done. My little empire was clean from top to bottom and Henry was taking a well deserved rest in the storage cupboard. Normally, this would be my cue to eat a hasty cheese sandwich before hitting the slopes for the afternoon. But not today. No no. Non monsieur. Pas aujourd'hui. Today, I had other plans. Plans that I had been working on from room to room, as I scrubbed toilets, repaired hospital corners, and picked miscellaneous clothes off the floor. PLANS FOR REVENGE. MWAHAHAHAHA.

I returned to the scene of the crime, and removed Mr Freaky Face from the bed. On my way, I had gathered a small selection of props, including a pile of old newspaper, usually used for starting up the log fire in the lounge, and a fresh pair of rubber gloves. I ransacked the closet in the room, extracting all that was necessary to perfect my scheme. It wasn't easy. It took significant ingenuity. It took string. It took patience. But by jove, by jingo, mon dieu, it was magnificent.

I drew the shower curtain closed on my creation and, with an evil laugh and malevolent rubbing of my hands, descended back to my lair. I chuckled as I got changed into my snow stuff. I chuckled as I clomped down the road to the ski lift. I chuckled like a maniac up and down the slopes. And then, quite suddenly, just as I finished my last run, I stopped chuckling. It had occurred to me, quite out of the blue, that I had engineered a pretty effective scare for a group of OLD MEN. What was I thinking? There was a good chance that one of them might have a weak heart. I MIGHT HAVE JUST KILLED ONE OF MY GUESTS. I clomped relatively swiftly back to the chalet. As swiftly as one can manage in ski boots, anyway. No flashing blue lights outside. I opened the door cautiously, and could hear laughter from the lounge. OK. There probably wouldn't be laughing if someone had recently died from a heart attack induced by a sudden terrible fright. In a slightly cowardly manner, I retreated to my bedroom, whence I showered and dressed for the evening service.

When I arrived at dinner, I was greeted with a round of applause and a small bottle of whisky.
Here's what happened:

  • Guest number one returned to his room, approached the shower, suffered a moment of APPALLING TERROR, re-closed the shower curtain, and hastily got into bed, where he pretended to be deeply asleep. 
  • Guest number two entered the room, noticed his friend taking a nap, tip-toed to the bathroom, approached the shower, suffered a moment of EXTRAORDINARY PANIC, swore, noted his friend's strangled laughter from the bedroom, re-closed the shower curtain, returned to said bedroom, and, upon hearing Bob's footsteps on the stairs, also jumped, fully clothed, into his own bed.
  • Guests one and two buried their heads in their pillows, biting down hard on a serious case of the giggles, and pretended furiously to be asleep.
  • Bob, owner of the offending mask, entered the bedroom. It was not protocol to take a nap before dinner, but nonetheless, he kindly left his friends to it and entered the bathroom...
I have never, in my entire life, heard a grown man make a noise like that, guest number one told me, a broad smile on his face. It came from the very depths of hell, that noise that Bob made. It was classic. I thought he might have a heart attack. Brilliant. It'll go down in history, that one.

I'm actually not a prankster. In fact, I'm not sure I'd ever pranked anyone before that day, aside from tying mum's shoelaces together, which didn't work, since she saw me doing it under the table. I had certainly never used props in a prank before, and haven't since. I think it would be difficult to top that one. I think it was my crowning glory, as far as pranks go. I'm so glad I have photographic evidence of my creation. Do you know, I've just decided? I think I'll call him Tarquin. Good job, Tarquin. Nice prankin'.