You Can Call Me “Al…”?

Yes, I know it annoys me too that it's not in the centre of the square...
Yes, I know it annoys me too that it’s not in the centre of the square…

This is my four year Alcoholics Anonymous “sobriety chip”. I have one for each milestone, major and minor, since I quit the booze in 2012 – from 24 Hours on. At AA you receive these chips, usually from your sponsor, as reward and recognition of your sobriety milestones. And with the serenity prayer on the back, they serve as a constant reminder and morale giver – some even carry them around with them at all times.

Thing is. I don’t have a sponsor. I’m not “in” AA, and I buy these chips for myself. I love them, each one is an achievement, and they are a great reminder of what I’ve gained from not drinking (in addition to the obvious benefits such as still being alive).

But the chips tell a wider story, because not only do I not really “do” Alcoholics Anonymous, as the last four years have gone by I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with regarding myself as an alcoholic.

Alcoholic is a universally negative term. “Recovering alcoholic” or “Sober alcoholic” – well, they’re not much better are they. They make you sound like you’re teetering on the verge of a relapse and could go off at any moment.

In this post I want to talk about the term, the baggage it comes with, why it’s important to never forget a struggle with alcohol dependency, but also why it’s important to be able to move on from it.

I know my audience so I know it might be difficult getting you to stick with me through this, so I’m going to start off with a good old dating awkwardness to put everything else into perspective.

I’ve covered a few aspects of sobriety and the opposite sex in my post My First Sober Year but it wasn’t until my more recent year of fruitless eHarmony subscription that another issue arose.

I’d always been unsure as to whether I should mention on my dating profiles that I don’t drink. In theory you’d think it would be a boon for girls to date someone who doesn’t drink, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Anyway for a while I decided to point it out on my profile; it wasn’t the main selling point, but I mentioned it, and it had a rather awkward side effect. Turns out if you say you don’t drink on a dating profile it means one of two things. Either you are very religious and it’s prohibited; or you’re an alcoholic.

So I’m on the phone chatting to the seemingly lovely Carly, and she asks me if I’m really religious or something. Um, no, I tell her. In fact I was sure I’d said on my profile I wasn’t. She’s confused then why I don’t drink. I tell her that I used to but gave it up.

Her response generated a moment so awkward it proudly takes its place among the very best/worst moments of awkwardness with girls catalogued on this blog:

“Oh thank God for that, for a moment I thought you were an alcoholic!”

Is there a good answer to this?

What Carly got was a mangled and panicky rendition of a speech which I have by now pretty much mastered, and it covers the following points:

  1. Yes technically I am an alcoholic, and some people might describe me as such
  2. BUT (and the but is so big it deserves its own bullet point – Carly had a very similar butt)
  3. I haven’t drunk in years / I don’t have cravings for booze
  4. Alcohol doesn’t bother me, I can go to pubs, I can be with drunk friends, I can date girls who like a drink
  5. AND (as above)
  6. Even when I did drink I wasn’t a disgrace, I never slept in the gutter, I didn’t lose my job, I never drank in the morning, I never destroyed any relationships (in fact the only relationship I really destroyed was the one between me and the corner shop proprietor when I quit – sorry Iqbal)

Basically; even when I drank I wasn’t what you have in mind when you think alcoholic, and I’m certainly not what you have in mind as a recovering alcoholic.

I don’t feel there can be any recovering from this admission, no pun intended. People have very firm ideas about what an alcoholic is and what they do and that ultimately they are going to end up in a heap somewhere surrounded by whisky bottles and violence after some kind of relapse.

So why didn’t I say “Ha ha ha alcoholic!? Me!? HA HA HA HA HA. Not in a million years love. Anyway where were we…”

I admitted it, because I’m supposed to. Because it’s part of the whole recovery thing. Admitting you have a problem, Identifying yourself with that label is all part of it, whether you follow the AA regime or not, any recovery begins, whether you say it in a group or say it to yourself: “My name’s Alan and I’m an alcoholic.”

IT GRATES EVEN WRITING IT NOW.

Thing is, I have the utmost respect for the “programme”. I went to some AA meetings in the very early days, I could see how it could work. I even said those words above on several occasions as I spoke up in the meetings. Yes, it’s a little too tied to religion (and much as they try to get away from this, it is). Yes, there’s a lot of rock-bottom oneupmanship (“I got so drunk I vomited in my wife’s face”, “Oh I got so drunk one time I shat myself in a police car”, “Oh really, well one time…”). Yes, there’s a strange voyeurism, almost like Jeremy Kyle, where the recovering addicts gather to watch guest speakers who had it much worse than themselves. But for a lot of people, it works. And I fully support what they do. There’s a real fraternity, and a sense that dreary as the stories are, everyone is trying to help each other.

It just wasn’t for me. I wanted hope and optimism, not collective, reflective nostalgia for bad times. I wanted to see someone stand up and talk more about how they cope, what quitting drinking has done for them, not endless stories about the horrors of extreme alcohol abuse.

And it’s for this same reason that I came to dislike the term alcoholic, that admission and that label which were supposed to be an intrinsic part of recovery. For me, it’s backwards-looking. And looking to the future doesn’t mean forgetting the past, it just means moving on and not being hounded by those bad times. The idea of “always an alcoholic” suggests an inescapable hold the booze will always have on you, and I don’t feel it has.

There’s a little arrogance in this I know, and I’m always reminded of an older man who was in rehab with me. I’ll just call him R. R arrived at the clinic on crutches. He had recently had an accident at home and fallen through his roof. But this wasn’t the worst of it. In recovering from the accident he turned back to the drink.

R had been sober … a “recovering alcoholic” for FOURTEEN YEARS.

After all that time, it just took one slip up, literally and figuratively, for the drinkies to sink their claws back into him. It’s impossible to forget R’s story when I think about whether I “am an alcoholic” or I “was an alcoholic”. I feel like I want to move away from the label, to move on but never forget that the shadow is always there.

From 24 Hours (the biggie), then monthly and annually. I get the nice gold and red ones in the other photo for each year milestone.
From 24 Hours (the biggie), then monthly and annually. I get the nice gold and red ones in the other photo for each year milestone.

The chips help with this. Each milestone is a part of the ongoing story of recovery and progress. This is my way of keeping the past in mind, without being a slave to “that drinking problem”.

I’ve also been thinking maybe it’s time to get a little more involved in helping others; after all these little chips are all emblazoned with “unity, service, recovery”. Maybe I’ll start writing a bit more about the recovery process, maybe share more of my tips and insights for others. Don’t worry I have a another place lined up for this writing, I know you guys come here for fucking hilarious stories and only tolerate through gritted teeth the odd serious piece…

For now, I’m already looking forward to number 5, another chip for the board, and although I still have mixed feelings about the label, I guess you can still call me Al…

The Hotel Sextape

Sorry to disappoint my female fanbase but I must point out that the sextape mentioned in my title does not involve me, at least not in front of the camera. This does however mean that the rest of you, who read my blog for the humorous writings rather than grotesque sexual imagery, can enjoy this latest installment. But let’s just be clear, this is no clickbait headline, this story does involve a sextape, which I made, in my youth, in a hotel.

Disturbing...
Disturbing…

It was 2005, and I was making waves as a designer in Clapham, and occasionally making other shapes when required. Like many artistic types forced into the corporate world to pay the bills in the big city, I had a creative outlet in my spare time. And that was music.

For most people, this involves being “in a band”. Everyone’s in a band, right? I mean, why wouldn’t you be in a band – “Hey there extremely attractive girl, guess what I’m in. That’s right a band. A ba… hey hey slow down you’ve broken my zipper!” Girls love guys who are in bands, they go crazy for guys in bands, doesn’t matter what they’re doing in bands, they just fall at the feet of guys in bands.

I was not in a band.

There were a number of reasons for this. Lack of musical talent. Short hair. Bitterness over the failure of my Katrina & The Waves tribute act. Instead the closest I got was hanging around with people who were in bands. “Hey there extremely attractive girl, see that guy over there, he’s in the band… hey hey slow down, come back come back, let me finish. He’s in a band, but guess what I’m in? I’m in … that’s right, I’m in his circle of friends. Now, if you want to get with him tonight and jump to the front of the queue, I’d strongly suggest you spend some quality time with me. He’s not the kind of guy who values enormous breasts over the solid recommendation of a friend, even though he might seem like it and actually say that sometimes.”

Actually it would usually go better when the musician was a girl “Hey there extremely attractive girl, see that girl over there. Yeap. She’s in the band. Look at all those guys surrounding her. I mean she is so hot right, AND in a band. That’s a lot of attention she’s getting, wow I think that one guy just proposed to her. But you know what, I actually think you’re hotter than her. Yeah, definitely. So much hotter. I mean she’s my friend and all that, and obviously don’t tell her I said this, but you are just so much prettier. I mean you should see her without make-up oh my God. We should definitely get a drink together and chat given that I’m flattering you in this way. What’s that? Oh that guy? Yeah he’s the drummer. Hey hey come back, come back!!”

Hey, I said it went better I didn’t say it was necessarily successful.

So you’re probably wondering what I was doing if I wasn’t in the band. Well, I was working with a small management company, doing artist websites, running fan forums, online marketing. It was a sideline that was a million times more interesting than my day job, but that said it didn’t pay so the other job was still extremely important. As part of this, I got to know the fans well, especially the regulars who would travel to gigs, and I went to a lot myself. It was a big social thing, for me, the fans, the bands and the rest of our team, and all in all was a period of tremendous fun. Not least because I got to travel all round the country, to places like Leeds, Cardiff, Carlisle, Doncaster, and see live music at world-famous venues such as the Walkabout.

At this point in time, I was touring the UK with Dr Karl Kennedy from Neighbours. We had… hang on what? You want me to repeat that bit. OK. I was touring the UK with Dr Karl Kennedy from Neighbours. Yes, he has a band, yes he is very popular (with students), no I did not make this up. His real name is Alan Fletcher, and as a rare “celebrity Alan” he was for many years a role-model for me. And in turn I used to help him out when he needed CDs and photos signed for the merch stall but couldn’t be arsed. It was a real partnership.

(See, I told you everyone’s in a band.)

I'm in a band you know...
I’m in a band you know…

I had been stung by a particularly fiendish hotel prank some months before. This had involved a few groupies luring me out of my hotel room in the middle of the night, in my underwear, and then swiping and swapping my swipecard for one of theirs. I couldn’t get back in my room. The chief architect of this prank, Kate, even “called” reception for me to explain, and they “told her” I’d have to go down to get a new card. Bless her, she did at least offer to accompany me.

In the lift I went, on this Saturday night, in this busy central hotel in Leeds, in my fucking pants. The lift got to the ground, the doors opened to the foyer, a coachload of Asian businessmen with suitcases had just arrived, there was a huge queue at reception, I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath, shat myself and walked out of the lift.

Kate shouted after me, as best she could through the laughter. I turned around, and she had my swipecard in her hand. I don’t know what came first, me sprinting back in the lift or me shouting “fucking bitch” at the top of my voice, but I was soon back to safety and reunited with my card, my room and my clothes. It was probably best I skipped breakfast the next day though for fear of being recognised…

The Karl Kennedy tour had reached Sheffield, and I was on guard for any pranks from my groupie friends, and at the same time looking for an opportunity to play some of my own.

One of the regulars, Mark, had had a *lot* to drink and had a fairly early night. With the help of his roommate, we hatched a plan. To sneak into his room, and steal all his clothes. Revolutionary comedy this was not, but we were all very drunk. Fortunately Mark’s passed-out state meant it was relatively easy for us to get away with all his clothes without waking him. The next thing was to decide what to do with them.

My first idea, to make him go down to reception in his pants the next day, was a little too reminiscent of the prank that was played on me in Leeds. We went back to one of our rooms, and laid out Mark’s clothes on the floor exactly as they had appeared in his own room, and had an idea.

We would film a sextape and try to convince Mark that he had been so drunk he had managed to forget a torrid evening of sexual exertion.

I don’t recall if we actually had two people in the bed or just one, but I do remember we had Liz (the tallest of our group) in charge between the sheets as she was the most capable of making exaggerated movements with the duvet. It took a few takes to get it right, and by that I mean a few takes were wasted with laughter, but we got there in the end.

You can see the finished result below:

For all the spectacular production values, incredible acting and meticulous planning, Mark didn’t really believe us when we showed him the tape, although I do think he spent quite a lot of the next day trying to work out just how Liz jumped around in his bed without waking him up…

The Five Card Trick

So last year I sent 5 Valentine’s cards. I know what you’re thinking. What a nice guy, sharing joy and flattery throughout the female population. Oh, you’re not thinking that at all? You’re thinking I’m a desperate freak?

Not at all. If I were desperate I’d be using the targeted mass-mailing e-card system I developed in my twenties, but chose not to deploy, which was my own personal choice and nothing to do with European data protection laws.

Anyway, putting your judgement of me to one side for a moment, and on with the story.

Firstly I should point out, all of these cards were sent anonymously, because there’s nothing that ruins the elation of receiving a beautifully complimentary Valentine’s card quite like discovering that it’s from me.

I wanted to (rather philanthropically I might add) bring a smile to the face of some of my favourite girls, and it’s one of the reasons I actually look forward to Valentine’s Day. In fact, I purposefully try to be single around this time each year so I can, guilt-free, indulge in this festival of furtive flattery. Add to that a 6-month margin of error before and after February 14th and you can see how I’ve been single for so long.

hrYou’re probably wondering where I found so many lovely girls to woo. Easy. The workplace. But don’t worry, I’m not going to be getting myself into trouble for writing this post – all but one of the girls I sent a card to last year mysteriously left the company shortly after, and in some cases the country, but more on that later. You might also be thinking that writing this up on the internet would jeopardise my ability to send future workplace Valentines, but posting this is actually a very cunning plan by me to inspire copycat acts. Rather than giving the game away if someone receives a strangely anonymous Valentine’s card or flowers this year, I can simply blame one of my acolytes who saw it on McCannecdotes.

For financial reasons I’d whittled my shortlist down from about 30 or 40 to just 5. Other than the fact it felt strange to be doing something where a success rate of more than 20% could potentially cause major problems, I was ready to go.

Two challenges remained. 1) Acquire and write the cards. 2) Have them delivered with discretion.

The card shop

It was the day before my cards needed to be “posted” and I was up against it. I scrambled after work to the local card shop, a pokey little place at the best of times, but particularly congested when half of Westminster’s male population are in the same predicament as me. I strode in hoping the staff would recognise me from previous years, and reward my status as a bulk buyer with perhaps some VIP Personal Shopper-type experience. It was not to be.

I was stuck behind a crowd of dickheads three rows deep, all trying to “find the best card for their loved one on this special day”. Cunts. I had volume to get through. I peered between shoulders to get a look at the dwindling shelves and started to make some quick decisions.

Right, any card with small writing on it was ruled out – I literally couldn’t read it from this distance. Cards that had jokes about “jugs” on them, also out. I would be writing the messages in these cards using a pen that technically belonged to work; I didn’t want the HR department involved. Cards that were too mushy, also out. I was not in love with these women, nor seriously seeking a relationship with them (well, OK if one was offered I wouldn’t say no, but…)

You can’t give someone a card saying “I love you more than life itself, there will never be anyone else” and then leave it anonymous. She’ll be scouring the obituaries looking for poetic suicides for the rest of her life.

I just needed something that said “Hi, don’t mind me, compliments of the season and all that,  can I just say you’ve got a certainly above average level of attractiveness, and are of sufficient humility that I feel you can accept this compliment without it going to your head and turning you into some kind of egotistical maniac.” But in four words or less.

By this time people were nudging me out of the way as the shop filled up even more. Why do people leave everything till the last minute. Unbelievable…

I almost felt the urge to make an announcement, “Yeah excuse me, sorry I’m still deciding but I’ve got 5 cards to buy here for 5 very distinct and unique women with various thresholds of taste, decency and tolerance, plus I can hardly even see the shelf from here. That guy there, has been standing at the front since I got here. He can’t love her that much if it’s taken him ten minutes to pick a fucking card.”

A gap opened in the “looking queue”. I swooped in and grabbed a total of nine cards from the mental shortlist I’d built up.

Five recipients – nine cards. If anything I was taking a risk getting so few. There are many things to consider. Those of you not experienced in this kind of thing wouldn’t understand. I needed to match the cards up to the right girl, there will be some wastage. I also saw one really nice card so bought two of them; I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to send the same card to different women in the same building, but that was a risk assessment for later. Also there was bound to be one card which seemed cute in the shop but I later changed my mind about.

I got to the checkout, literally by just turning round – the shop really was that fucking small. I was flustered but now needed to focus on how to play this to the checkout lady. I had to avoid seeming like I was from a rival shop, bulk buying their quirky eye-catching cards for my own display. I also had to avoid suspicions that I was a desperate freak (you know, the kind you thought I was when you read at the top of the story that I sent 5 cards last year).

YES!
YES!

If anyone queried me, I was from the European Commission, investigating the environmental impact of printed greetings cards. These “samples” were to return with me to Strasbourg for thorough testing. I would then repeat this declaration in pidgin French and the lie would be sealed.

“Anything else sir?” she asked.

Anything else? I’ve just bought nine fucking Valentine’s Cards. What the fuck could I possibly want to add to my…. OOOH THEY HAVE LITTLE PACKS OF LOVEHEARTS!

I grabbed a 12-pack of mini Lovehearts and emptied my wallet on the counter.

What to write

It was Friday lunchtime; Valentine’s Day was the next day but I needed my cards delivered at work. Finding out the actual name of some of these girls was a big enough problem, never mind finding out their home address.

I was up against it, again. Eating lunch is for those already in a loving relationship. I had cards to write.

As I suspected there was one card which seemed cute in the shop but verged on creepy when I actually came to write in it.

It said “You’re lovely, can I keep you”; written in Fridge magnet letters. In the shop it seemed innocent and childlike. As I pictured someone receiving it from an anonymous admirer, I started to worry it sounded ghoulish, like I wanted to store them in my fridge, possibly in a dismembered state. Making it worse was that the little Spanish who was going to get this card was so small she’d probably have fitted quite comfortably in a fridge. Talk about “Netflix and chill”. I was halfway though writing a message and abandoned the card. It’s OK, I had 8 more.

I went cold on the idea...
I went cold on the idea…

I also abandoned the idea of sending the really nice card to two recipients. Too much danger of them finding out. To be on the safe side I was already planning to vary handwriting and pens used in case of some scenario where the cards were compared.

As usual, I then fucked up one of the cards while writing in it, messing up the name of the girl herself. I might as well have signed that card “Love, Spazimodo”. I binned it, and chose another, feeling smug that I had been prudent enough to buy so many contingency cards.

Soon enough, the cards were done, and ready to send.

The logistics

Of course I was not entrusting Royal Mail with these missives of love. 1) As mentioned I had no home addresses, and 2) I wanted them to arrive in 2015, in one piece, and not via Scarborough.

My plan had been meticulously thought out. I would use the internal post, but I would ensure the postman hand-delivered them – they had to arrive that afternoon so my lovelies could take them home at the weekend to show their … well, probably boyfriends and husbands knowing my luck. A key risk here was the postman blabbing about where they came from. This was where my stroke of genius came in.

I would not be giving them to the postman. I would use the services of an intermediary. That, coupled with the entirely different handwriting on each envelope, would make the cards untraceable. Remember, it wasn’t just important to conceal my identity, it was also important to ensure that each recipient didn’t realise that the person who sent them a card also sent one to 4 other girls.

My intermediary’s identity shall remain protected. I will call her Charlene. Some of you may remember I have used this pseudonym before to protect someone’s anonymity, the girl who punched me repeatedly in the face in a taxi during this hilarious McCannecdote. Don’t worry, there won’t be any confusion. It’s the same girl.

So Charlene agreed to help me by passing an envelope full of envelopes to the postman. Her cover story was that, since she’s so nice and lovely, she had offered to help various boys around the company get their cards into the hands of their sweethearts. What an angel.

The deed was done, and by mid-afternoon the envelopes had been hand-delivered to the lucky ladies. Since they were all anonymous, it’s not like I was really expecting anything to come of this, so I assumed I was done for another year.

The aftermath

It turned out I was right to have been skeptical about the postie’s discretion. It seems he buckled under intense questioning. By intense questioning I mean when he handed over the cards, the girls said “who’s this from?” and the postman said “Oh, Charlene”.

We found out about this when one of the girls went up to Charlene and thanked her for the card. Charlene was mortified, not only that her act of kindness had seen her portrayed as a serial lesbian in front of colleagues, but also because she had no fucking clue what I had written on these cards! (“Hi Charlene, thanks for the lovely card, and the vaginal questionnaire you enclosed…”)

I reassured her all my messages had been nice and wholesome. Nonetheless Charlene had to explain herself, that she was just a middleman, and the real sender of the card was still at large. Meanwhile we plotted the assassination of the loose-lipped postman.

So, you’re probably wondering if there’s a happy ending after all this. Actually on this occasion, there are lots of happy endings.

True love found its way. Mere weeks after receiving my card, one of the girls moved to another country and got married. Incredible outcome.

Another got pregnant. Almost instantly. Seriously, she had a bump the very next time I saw her. That is a drastic solution to escape my affections.

Two more left the company shortly after to pursue new opportunities in a McCann-free environment. Seems like getting a Valentine’s card from me opens a lot of doors. Just none of them to my bedroom.

And the one that’s still here? Well, I’ve still never spoken to her, but I’m looking forward to sending her a follow-up card next week. Just need to remember which handwriting I used…

Online Dating Is For Freaks…

…Or rather, that’s who it’s supposed to be for. That’s who it was always meant to be for. Online dating was invented for those who struggled to meet people in real life, weren’t shiny and good-looking and fashionable, lacked some inter-personal skills, didn’t go out to bars, in fact barely left the house and could only meet new people using the internet and computers. Basically people like me.

But something has happened, it’s become mainstream. At some point, all the people who were perfectly capable of meeting people during their busy social lives and active sporting activities and year-round globe-trotting, decided they just couldn’t be arsed anymore.

This occurred to me recently, as I was perusing profiles and some common threads were apparent. “I love travelling”, “I love meeting new people” “I love socialising in bars” “I love the outdoors”, “Here’s some pictures of me with my tonnes of friends”.

Fine, I thought. But what the fuck are you doing on here then? You love travelling? Hook up with a gypsy. You spend all your time in bars meeting new people with your friends? Shag one of them. Leave online dating for the freaks like me who HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE. I’ve never come across anyone, in my year of recent online dating, who says “you know what, I don’t really travel or go out much, I’m actually not that sociable, and – you know – that’s, well, that’s kind of why I’m here.” THAT’S WHO ONLINE DATING’S FOR!

I used to stand out on internet dating sites for the fact I was not a virgin and didn’t live with my parents. I now stand out for not being well-travelled, popular and cool enough. I come across as some kind of weirdo because nowhere on my profile does it say “I’ve been to 60 countries and want to make it to 100 before the end of the year”. There are no photos of me riding elephants, kissing tigers, participating in flashmobs or playing the flute on the international space station. And it’s getting worse, the dating sites are organising meet-up events in bars. “Hey come and chill out with single people like you, and have cocktails and flirt.” If us freaks could do that we wouldn’t be looking for dates on the fucking internet!

It has to stop. The internet was supposed to be a haven for normal life’s rejects. Now the normals have stormed in and think they own the place.

At this stage I just want to point out that this rant has nothing to do with the fact my 12-month subscription to eHarmony has just come to an end, and I haven’t been on a single date in that time. Not one date, in twelve months. At one stage, a learned colleague who is an expert in the field even rewrote my profile. It did not work, and suddenly my lack of dates was causing disappointment for two people.

I admit, to be fair on eHarmony, I did come very close to a date at one point. A very cute oriental girl called Steph e-mailed me, seemed very keen – it was a breath of fresh air after all the fruitless searching. She seemed genuinely into me, she was in my age group, was very eloquent, profile was nice. Incredibly exciting times. AND I’d recently been perfecting some nice homemade Chinese cooking. Everything was falling into place.

Thing is, she mailed me quite late, about a quarter to midnight, so I’d decided to get back to her in the morning with my usual introductory mail of “HEY HEY PLEASE DON’T GO ANYWHERE, YOU’LL LIKE ME HONEST.”

I went back on the site in the morning to find myself locked out and unable to look at her profile. My subscription had expired at midnight. This was last weekend.

What are the chances, eh, that 15 minutes before my  subscription was due to expire, a hot Asian girl messaged me. I think she might have been the only girl in those 12 months who made the first move and e-mailed me first. That really is a coincidence. I’m sure it is, although it could also be, now that I think about the sequence of events, more likely that eHarmony are a bunch of fucking scamming cunts.

But I guess I can’t really complain; for that bargain £120 I got to look at pictures of fully clothed women on the internet – unlimited times for no extra cost. And I’m not trying to make out that I got no attention at all. I did get attention from a couple of girls. One of whom bore a striking resemblance to Philip Seymour Hoffman – so much so that I genuinely thought that perhaps Hoffman had faked his own death and was now living a new life under the name Shirley from Dagenham.

Cross your eyes so the two faces converge, and that's her!
To be fair she had very slightly different glasses.

Then there was the Turkish girl who seemed too good to be true. And was. She was keen to arrange a date, then promptly disappeared into the ether.

And lastly, the comedy promoter. Yes, she was a comedy promoter. This was going to be the beginnings of one of these celebrity partnerships, where I’d become an internationally famous comedian and my partner, in business and pleasure (oo-er) would be the driving force behind my success. Louis Theroux would one day spend a weekend with us and make one of his shows where the two of us come across as a bit eccentric and wacky, but at the same time amiable and solid as a rock.

We were all set to meet up but I had to cancel because … I had mysteriously gone deaf. I had gone almost completely deaf in both ears. Rotten luck double whammy buy-one-get-one-free ear infection. I had the choice to 1) cancel, 2) go along to the date, pretend nothing was wrong and try to wing it using gestures and shouting, 3) tell her all about it and have her think the whole thing about the ear infection is a ruse, and that I am actually deaf and I just didn’t want to tell her. (1) was the only option, and as I suspected, she didn’t take the blow-out well, probably thought I made it up (and have a very vivid imagination) and I never heard from her again. To be honest, I’ve had a couple of dates in the past where I would have quite liked to have been completely deaf, but not this time and there ended my dreams of a comedy partnership and stardom. And maybe sex.

But anyway, I must stop being bitter about the 12-months, no dates experience. After all, I only spent £120. Oh hang on, PLUS the £7000 I spend last year on getting my teeth straightened and various genetic dental problems fixed, so I could be more confident on dates. Mustn’t forget the seven grand.

Looking back, there was one true highlight of the past year of barren loveless rejection. I logged in last summer, quite early on in my subscription, to find a vaguely familiar face among my matches.

It was bugging me all day, where had I seen her before. Had I met her, was she a friend of a friend, did she look like someone I knew, did she have a passing resemblance to a celebrity, did she just have one of those generic everyday faces? I couldn’t figure it out. I’m normally good with faces. I’m normally flawlessly OCD-like with cute girls’ faces. Where did I recognise this girl from? After a day of racking my brains I figured it out.

She was in rehab with me!

I toyed with the idea of sending her a message. “Hey, remember me? You probably don’t because of the, well you know, the medication and stuff… Fancy hanging out and reminiscing about the time you went totally apeshit at me and everyone for absolutely no reason because of, well you know, the medication and stuff?” Decided against it in the end. Probably best to let sleeping dogs lie – dogs that are sleeping because of the, well you know, the medication and stuff.

So anyway, you’re probably wondering where all this leaves my online dating status, and when you’re going to start getting “hilarious” dating stories from me again. I know it’s the only reason people read this blog, and you’re all torn by the idea that whilst a small part of you wants me to be happily settled with a soul mate, a bigger part of you wants every date to be nightmarish fucking disaster so you can read all about it in one of my incredulous rants.

Well, naturally I wasn’t going to let a year of eDisharmony faze me, so I’m back on Match.com again, and so the endless ping pong of dating site disappointment is set to continue.

In fact, I’ve already made contact with my first paramour. Someone, who, just like me is more concerned with the spiritual and the emotional connection than with “how hot someone is”. She went on at length about how a guy’s looks are not important, and these things don’t impress her. And about how attracted she was to intelligent, witty men. And she had a cracking pair of boobs too.

In the opening to her profile she says “the sexiest part of a man is his brain.” And then at the end of her profile she says “Must be at least 5 foot 10”.

I messaged her saying that I found her profile really refreshing and it was nice to see someone less concerned with physical appearance and more on the intelligence and personality, but I didn’t think it would work out between us because my brain is 2 inches too close to the ground for her.

I took a wise lesson from this encounter and vowed to remember, true love is not about physical traits, it’s about the person inside, and how tall that person is…

My adventures continue…

Who Wants To Date A Bosnian

My dating videos have generally been pretty successful, this is the story of one that bucked the trend, and made the girl in question … well, run away quickly. There are some similarities here with The Last Date I Never Had in that despite making great progress in the e-mailing and phone chatting stakes, the girl had a remarkably swift change of heart at the very last minute when presented with more footage of what I actually look like. On this occasion, a slightly misguided choice of video topic, probably designed more to amuse myself than impress her, also contributed to her disappearance, and meant that I will have to be ‘amusing myself’ for the foreseeable future.

I decided to run some analysis for this story on the success of my videos. After crunching some numbers in a pretty advanced Excel spreadsheet, and poring over the results for hours, I discovered that 80% of the times I made a video for a potential date, it resulted in me actually getting the date and meeting the actual woman in real life. An impressive 60% of my videos resulted in me seeing the girl more than once, and a respectable 40% resulted in intimate relations / physical conjoining. Only 20% of all videos made resulted in a relationship, and so far 0% have resulted in co-habitation, marriage, children, the meeting of parents, or to be honest, a relationship lasting more than six months.

All looks clear enough, right? Good, let's move on. Under no circumstances should you consider the fact the pie chart makes no sense because the categories are subsets of one another... I'm better at this shit at work OK!
All looks clear enough, right? Good, let’s move on. Under no circumstances should you consider the fact the pie chart makes no sense because the categories are subsets of one another… I’m better at this shit at work OK!

You can see the full stats and a chart which was created when I pressed shiny buttons on the Excel toolbar, on the left.

For this story, let’s focus on the one that got (ran) away.

My fleeting relationship with Alice had fizzled out after we realised we both wanted different things. For example, she wanted an adult relationship with a responsible adult, doing adult things and having adult conversations, and I was so busy thinking about LEGO I zoned out of most of these conversations. I was soon back on eHarmony, not because I desperately wanted to be with someone again, but more that I missed the banter of the “early dating” stage. And also they had a special offer on which gave me 2/3 off membership.

The discounted membership appeared to be reflected in the choice of women I was presented with. It was as if they had creamed off the top 2/3 of the members and left me with the remnants.

Cross your eyes so the two faces converge, and that's her!
Cross your eyes so the two faces converge, and that’s her!

Pick of the bunch, and for a while the only one who contacted me was a rugby player who looked like a cross between Clare Balding and Bob Mills. I have learned from telling this story to friends that NO-ONE knows who Bob Mills is, which is a great shame. I have not yet sunk to the low moral depths of posting photos of people from eHarmony on here without their permission, but seriously, the image here is all you need to get an exact mental picture of what she looked like.

Bizarrely, there was a toddler sitting with her in her profile photo.

I immediately thought she had a kid, and I would rather not date someone with kids (since I can barely look after myself). But the kid was wearing a t-shirt that said “I <3 MY AUNT”. Right… so as her PROFILE picture on a dating site, she has herself pictured with a small child, who is not her own, and then to clear up any ambiguity she has dressed the child in a t-shirt which explicitly explains that it’s not her kid. Would have been easier just to not have a child in her photo.

The weeks drew on and Balding/Mills had so far been the only woman sparked by my profile. I was starting to think I’m getting too old for this shit, and then I got this message from an absolutely vision of a girl. I immediately assumed it was a mistake, “out of my league” didn’t even begin to describe it – almost to the point that I wasn’t even going to reply, because a technical error on eHarmony was actually a more plausible explanation for this message than her sending it deliberately.

I checked out her profile, we had so many of the same interests, she also wrote a blog, liked karaoke, she even played piano, we had the same outlook on various things. She even had a cute name: Carly.

We e-mailed each other back and forth for a few days, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Banter was top-notch, and I had even managed to keep up with her during conversations about “the game about the football”. E-mailing however soon became awkward. We established early on that she was typing on mobile, and I was typing on my PC. I’m a pretty fast typist (I did A-level in Secretarial Studies at high school. I know what you’re thinking, “gay”… au contraire, the class was full of nice girls, it was a remarkably astute idea and a very pleasant way to spend my educational time. And I got a qualification out of it).

Anyway, so I’m a fast typist, and I like writing anecdotes as you may have noticed, so my e-mails to her were always massive, and out of politeness her replies tried to be equally as long, but it was frustrating for her as she was typing on a phone. I suggested we move on to the next stage of our budding nothing-can-go-wrong relationship and actually talk on the phone. Crazy times ahead for sure.

After a few false alarms due to her being out watching World Cup games, which I pretended to be watching too (“come on united, ref are you blind, go on the football”, etc), it was finally time. We’d had a running gag over e-mail about our accents so this was to be exciting. She had spent a lot of time in the US when she was younger, and various other places, so she’d warned me her accent was … full of character. I in turn had told her my incomprehensible-to-outsiders West of Scotland dialect had been tamed and/or bastardised by my time in Birmingham and now London. It was great because if there was no interesting conversation to be had when we chatted on the phone we’d have the fallback of being able to talk about our voices – fiendish.

We chatted for nearly two hours, the banter was great and we covered all kinds of topics, everything was so promising. On the subject of our accents I even told her the story of The Bosnian Hoax. In case you haven’t read it and you have your mind set on finishing this one before reading another, the jist of this was: I was out with guys from work and this guy in another department was convinced I had an Eastern European accent (not Scottish) – he was very adamant about this and at one point said I sounded “Bosnian or something”. I know a lot about Yugoslav history because it’s kind of my pet topic, and I ran with it, to the point that still to this day he thinks I’m Bosnian.

Much hilarity was had and the whole accent confusion and the Bosnian story became a running theme of our banter. By the end of the two hours I was vocally exhausted and thoroughly keen to meet Carly, and she was too. But… I was conscious of the fact she was a bit of a fitness girl (and she certainly looked it from all her pics) and my single head and shoulders shot on the site perhaps didn’t show her the full range of me. Hey, it’s a singles website, surely it’s appropriate to have a single photo…

My anxiety crept in that she had got it into her head, from my masculine vocal tones (minus occasionally girly/gay giggle) that I was perhaps a hunkier specimen that she had extrapolated from my picture. I didn’t want a repeat of Shallow Suzy who ran away after seeing a second photo of me. I decided, given we seemed to be in tune on humour and banter, I’d send her a little video.

Now… the video I sent her is about ten minutes of completely improvised nonsense, I had no notes or script or ideas of any kind till I switched on the camera, except one. I decided I would carry on the Bosnian banter, and try to pretend that the Scottish thing really was a joke and I actually was Bosnian. I would reinforce this with my ample collection of books on Southern Slavic history, my Bosnian flag, and generally anything else I had lying around. As a twist I would act as if I hadn’t actually read the books and all I knew was what it said on the cover (almost as if I’d gone to the effort of shipping all this stuff in for a gag, it’s the kind of thing I’d do). It would crack her up, and she’d then ask me where I got the stuff, she’d praise my ability to make a gag run and run, and ha ha ha etc and we’d arrange a date.

She had also mentioned in some texts that she didn’t think a video can really give a sense of a person, mentioned posture and presence and various things, which I lampooned in the video. I was pretty confident we’d definitely at least meet up after this. Watch the video below, and then I’ll tell you how misplaced my confidence was.

So I was awaiting her feedback, and was watching the video back laughing at in-jokes only I would fucking understand (this should have been a warning sign). Eventually I got a text:

“When I’m wrong I say I’m wrong. A video actually can convey compatibility, and I don’t think we’d be compatible relationship-wise.”

Now I took this to mean “you were not what I expected from the photo”. (yes eagle-eyed fans will remember that I did Photoshop that photo on my profile, but anyway…) OK, so I’d had my first video fail. But more surprisingly, I seem to have given her the impression that I WAS BOSNIAN. This baffled me, because of things like my blatant Scottish accent, but with hindsight, what other kind of person has shelf after shelf of books on Bosnia and a Bosnian flag.

I also got stick for the books featured in the close-up at the end, I got told that men should never wear short-sleeved shirts, and apparently her MacBook died on her (completely and unfixably) after watching my video. Which she took as another sign we were not meant to be. She didn’t mention anything about the fact at the end I’d suggested she send me a nudey video in return, but I’m sure this was also a factor.

I showed my boss the video the next day, as he was taking a keen interest on how I was getting on with this incredibly hot prospect. He seemed to see immediately why it might have come across as a total mindfuck for her.

He said to me, “You know what kind of girl would be just right for you?”

I was expecting him to say something like, you know, someone who appreciates me for who I am, someone who is not too shallow, someone who shares my sense of humour, something like that.

No. “A Bosnian,” he said.

Rules For Complimenting A Lady

Women love compliments. FACT. Women hate compliments. Bizarrely, also FACT. The incompatibility of these two statements has vexed me since I first uttered the phrase “that’s a smashing blouse you have on” and was met with “why is this stalker talking to me?”

I’m generally someone who likes to say nice things to people. I soon learned that saying nice things to male friends was misconstrued as “a bit gay” and so I now limit my conversations with men to things like “Oi dickhead”, or something even nicer like “You’re a prick but not as much of a prick as him” and if I really want to be complimentary to a male friend I will push the boat out with “I’d shag your sister” – truly the highest tribute that can be paid from one man to another.

Sadly, complimenting ladies is not so simple – it’s a total minefield, but a minefield where the mines never kill – they only maim, and you have to live with the consequences for the rest of your life. (I should point out that is just a metaphor, I have never actually been wheelchair-bound as a result of a mistimed or misjudged compliment, although I have been threatened with it many times).

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot recently, as I was doing some serious research into the viability of the “honest compliment”. Compliments are often so wildly exaggerated that they can lack credibility; I wondered if there was way to give a realistic compliment which would be more believable and yet also flattering as intended.

An opportunity to try this out came along recently. I was standing having a cigarette in my usual place. A pretty young thing came out of the wi-fi hotspot across the road (I think it also serves coffee or something, but I’ve never seen someone go in there without a laptop, iPad and a shivering hunger for network connectivity). She approached me. I was sure she was primed to say “hey, I couldn’t help but notice you while I was checking Facebook in there. I’ve actually got a real fetish for guys who are simultaneously fat AND skinny. I’ve got some nudey photos on my phone I can Bluetooth to you, AND I explicitly authorise you to show them to your friends in the bar tonight.” Either that or she wanted a cigarette off me.

Much to my surprise and excitement, she did not want a cigarette, so it was obvious that my original fantasy was going to come true. I mean, what else could she want.

“Do you have a lighter?” Fuck’s sake. OK, well at least it was a conversation with a woman. I reached into my back pocket. It wasn’t there. I cursed myself for putting it in my front pocket yet again. I reached in the front pocket, it wasn’t there. I stood confused for a few seconds, and then felt something trickling down my leg.

My immediate thought was I’d wet myself. But surely not; I’d had an actual girlfriend mere months ago, usually it’s a drought of years before the sight of a pretty girl would get such a panicked reaction. There was a rattling by my foot, and I looked down, there was my lighter. The reason I have to keep reminding myself not to put my lighter in my front pocket, is that my front pocket of those jeans has a hole in it.

She took it and then started rummaging around in her bag looking for her smokes. There was an awkward silence. I had wondered in the past if this was maybe a good kind of opportunity to talk to girls. I mean, she’s indebted to me for the lighter, so if I start chatting to her she’s far less likely to call the police. And if she screams and runs away I can justifiably chase after her to get my lighter back. Maybe this was the ideal time to try out one of my new realistic compliments.

At first I thought to say to her, “You know, you’re definitely the cutest girl I’ve seen while I’ve been smoking this cigarette.” Blistering realism. It was definitely true. But I doubted whether she’d be flattered, my cigarette was only half done. OK, how about “You know, you’re probably the cutest girl I’ve seen all day.” A very genuine statement (as long as the “probably” was included, I didn’t have time to run through in my head all the girls from the Tube). Problem was it was only 11am…

She continued to fumble around and I started to think I would finish my cigarette before she’d found hers, and have to ask her to post the lighter back to me.

It gave me thinking time though. How about “You know, you’ve got quite an average face, but you’re probably in the top 10% in terms of legs.” Again, I couldn’t be sure this would come across as flattering as it sounded to me. “You know, I’ve seen 10, maximum 20 girls in the past 3 days that were more attractive than you.”

She finally found her cigarettes and lit one up. I didn’t have confidence that any of my realistic compliments would be taken well. I abandoned the idea and put my hand out to take my lighter back.

“Hang on, one second,” she said. She put her bag down and lifted up one side of her short and tightly-fitting dress.

I didn’t even have time to say “You know, you’ve got the second best thighs I’ve…” before she put my lighter to the bottom of her dress. As the flame appeared, I realised this was definitely the first time a girl had ever set fire to herself after talking to me.

OK, you are the hottest girl ever, can I have my lighter back now.
OK, you are the hottest girl ever, can I have my lighter back now.

She let go of the lighter after a second or so, handed it back, and with a thank you made off. I can only imagine she had a thread or something dangling off the bottom off the dress that she wanted to get rid of. I was too busy looking at her silver trophy winning thighs to really notice.

It was back to the drawing board, but my experience had led me to formulate my first definitive rule about complimenting women.

1) Realistic compliments are not flattering

“Out of the 3 billion women in the world, you are definitely in the top million.” Now that sounds like a fantastic compliment. If I was told I was in the top 0.03% of the male population, I would be fucking ecstatic. It is not the way with women. You tell a girl there are over 900,000 hotter girls out there, you’re asking for trouble.

And I soon discovered that there are even more rules about these things, passed down to women from an early age. You remember at school when the girls all went off to a special class and refused to talk about what it was. This had nothing to do with periods; they were being coached in the ‘rules’.

2) The value of your compliment is directly related to how attractive you are to the girl

If the girl think you’re hot, your compliment will generally go down well. She’s hearing what she wants to hear from a person she wants to hear it from. If she doesn’t think you’re hot, you will come across like a recently-released sex pest. When the non-hot guy says “You’re really pretty” he might as well be saying “I usually only masturbate over you in the evenings but I’m sorely tempted to just start doing it right here.”

3) Your compliment is taken in the context of your perceived taste in women

Put simply, if you’ve previously heaped high praise on slutty looking girls with their business hanging out, or spoken highly of girls going for the high-class escort look, then when you tell the pretty English Rose type “you look amazing today” she’s immediately going to think she’s accidentally walked out of the house wearing only half her outfit.

But it’s actually more complicated than this. I am known to like curvier girls, and I don’t discriminate against a girl who has some substantial holdings in the arse department. So, when I compliment a girl’s figure the mental process goes like this: he likes girls who have an arse = he likes really fat girls + he likes me = I must look really fat, and the response is “Oh. Thanks Alan. That’s sweet. No no, I was finished my salad anyway, I’m full, and expect I won’t need to eat ever again.”

4) You can’t compliment multiple women

“You’re really hot, and so is your friend, and so is your sister.” This is a no no. It gives the impression that having the required number of limbs means automatic enrolment into your roster of honeys. This can be frustrating as often hot girls hang around together and hotness can run in the family. Nevertheless this should be avoided.

Even being heard to compliment other girls sporadically can be a negative. Over a five year period you might publically describe many girls as hot. Your compliment will then be met with “yeah but you like everyone.” Women don’t seem to understand that there actually are a lot of attractive girls out there, and being one of them is a good thing.

No, she has to be only one. She must be the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen and the only girl you’ve ever been attracted to.

5) Never tell someone she is the most beautiful girl you have ever seen and the only girl you’ve ever been attracted to

She will think you are a stalker. You see how complicated this business is.

6) Words must be chosen carefully

“Hey, cute shoes” is OK. “Oh my God, you are fucking breathtaking, how did you even get that face the way it is?” is not OK.

Wording can also be misconstrued once they have passed through the neurosis filter in women’s brains. I went through a phase of really liking girls with chubby cheeks (known as my Judd period), and this is absolutely not a phrase you want to use to compliment a lady. I discovered at university that “Hey I love your chubby cheeks” is generally answered with “Are you saying I’ve got a fat face”. You might as well say “Hey moon-face, are you made of cheese?”

Nine times out of ten a well-meaning compliment will be twisted into an accusation of obesity, so guys have to be very careful. Note that women can perceive any of the following words as meaning “fat”: “curvy”, “shapely”, “well-rounded”, “feminine”, “demure”, “natural”. And in some extreme cases also the following words: “nice”, “pretty”, “hot”, “beautiful”, “cute”. And sometimes even these words: “slim”, “skinny”, “petite”. That last group is translated as “fat” when the woman’s built-in neurosis filter combines with a defective sarcasm receptor.

7) Some areas are off-limits

I was dating a girl last year and I wrote a song about her vagina. Words and music. You could say it was a flower ballad. It did not go down well, which was a little ironic.

8) Comparing girls positively to their friends is off-limits

OK, so she has a really hot friend, and you might think it’s a great idea to say “Hey, you’re so much hotter than your friend!”

“How can you say that?! She is super-hot, I mean look how hot she is, let me show you 47 other pictures of her looking hot, she so hot, everyone thinks she’s the hottest and I’m totally OK with it, I mean look at her waist, and she’s got the most amazing boobs, she’s so hot, I WISH I was that hot.”

Likewise, don’t ever say “Yeah, your friend is hotter than you.”

“Oh. OK then, I’ll just crawl back under my fucking bridge then. Anyway, she’s got cellulite, you do not want to see her in a bikini. Let me show you a pic of her in a bikini. See! And look how drunk she is in this one, she’d just thrown up. But, fair enough, if that’s what guys are into.”

The only way to address this is to maintain that any girl is exactly as attractive as every one of her female friends and siblings.

Finally the golden rule:

9) Never, ever, no matter how much they beg … never ever compliment a girl’s personality

You are basically saying they are ugly. And fat.

If you mess up with any of these rules, whatever you do, don’t try to wriggle free of the situation. Just feign illness, or set off a fire alarm, and leave the area. I will leave you with the tale of how much worse you can make things if you stick around and try to dig your way out.

I was on my third date with Alice, who you may remember from this story and this one; we were in a pub together killing time before going to the cinema. I had been heaping compliments on Alice’s visage and was trying to convince her that she was very photogenic, something she had refuted since the earliest times I’d known her. I took out my phone and asked if I could take a picture of her. She flat-out refused.

I tried to persuade her, but it wasn’t just her aversion to photos that was the problem.

She said “I don’t want you looking at my photo later on and having all kinds of ‘dirty thoughts’…”

Ouch. OK… Without really thinking it through I knew exactly what to say to put her at ease. “Oh, no no no, don’t worry about that. I promise I wouldn’t have any such thoughts looking at your photo.” Surely this was what she wanted to hear. “In fact, whenever I’m having such thoughts I would never think about one person anyway. It would be a mixture of people. Like the face would be maybe some horsey girl that I like, with maybe a bigger nose, because I like Jewish girls, and the arse would be from someone off television, and the boobs would be the girl from the Tube who looks like Kelly Brook, and then there would be various other bits from people from films and some girls I used to work with, and a couple of my friends’ friends, and they would all be merged together into one really weird looking girl who has all the bits I like rolled into one.”

And then I said the word that I came to regret most, the word which summed up this creature I would think of INSTEAD OF THE GIRL I WAS SEEING, AS PER HER REQUEST, “Basically like some kind of ‘Frankenhorse'”.

“Did you just say ‘Frankenhorse’?”

“Um, yeah well she’d be quite horsey and with all bits from all the other women… I mean I’d just be cherrypicking all the best bits from various women.”

Alice didn’t look too flattered by this cast-iron reassurance that I would not be fantasising over the photo. “And what parts of me would you cherrypick, dare I ask? If any…”

“Um, well it’s entirely up to you, I can maybe swap out the boobs and you can supply those, any part you like really? Hang on, mere moments ago I was being accused of using a potential photo of you for nefarious solitary purposes, and now you want IN on my Frankenhorse?”

The mood became frosty, inexplicably, all of a sudden. Thankfully, it was nearly time to head off to see the film.

I never got my photo, but I learned an important lesson – that sometimes it’s better to just shut the fuck up.

The Fishy Paypacket

I’ve had a varied career; games marketing, music management, publishing, web design, icing doughnuts, labouring, gutting fish. I guess for some reason I don’t really talk about the last few much, so I thought it was about time I took you on a little tour of my first working experiences.

For school work experience I managed to get a week in Boots. Rather than spending my time learning how to sell make-up to the locals (which would have given me a vocational qualification in turd-polishing), I would be at their factory in the nearby town of Airdrie. They didn’t trust me with the actual manufacturing of things like medicines, baby shampoo or the orange paint that passes for sun tan lotion in the West of Scotland, so I was to be learning the ropes in the accounts department. I’m not sure how this came about, possibly because I excelled at school at accounting and finance (albeit in a class of just two), or perhaps that throughout my life people have taken one look at me and thought “account”.

I spent the week gaining valuable insights into the financial workings of this huge organisation, particularly the use of “WordArt” to make signs to hang around the office, and how spreadsheets can be used to record how many sugars each member of staff had in their tea, cross-referenced with milk preferences, and tracked across multiple financial years.

"The green ones are this financial year, the slightly lighter green ones are last financial year."
“The green ones are this financial year, the slightly lighter green ones are last financial year.”

But what was really an eye-opener was when they took me down to see their ‘mainframe’. Essentially like a big arcade machine but without the graphics and the coin slot, the mainframe computer processed all the ordering information coming from different parts of the company all over the UK, and had to be left on 24 hours a day. The problem with this was that the built-in monitor with its grainy bright green text didn’t have it’s own power switch so had to be left on all night too. This meant with each passing day, the previous days’ numbers were quite literally burned onto the screen. When I saw it, the latest text on the screen was so hard to distinguish from the texts from the last couple of years, that I’m amazed the business managed to function. “OK we need 100 bottles of body lotion. No wait, I think it’s 8 bottles, no hang on, make that 63,944 bottles. No no, forget that, Martin’s just sneezed on the screen.”

I finished at Boots and left with a goodie bag of lotions and feminine hygiene products by way of their appreciation. I can say with great certainty that in my short time there I made a long-lasting impression. After all, they’d allowed me to type something on the mainframe…

When the time came for university I only applied for two things, accounts degree and media degree. I chose media, and of course was kicking myself because I could have spent that work experience time instead with one of Coatbridge and Airdrie’s many multi-national media agencies. But the time would come again where I’d have the opportunity to sample life in the workplace and that’s when I was introduced to the idea of the summer job.

Summer job. Sounds great right? Walking along the beach, serving cocktails, collecting deckchair money. Driving an ice cream van. Walking around holding a parasol for a rich heiress. Those were the things that had come to mind. It was not to be. I was enrolled with a temp agency called Primetime, which I assumed meant I’d be working between 8-10pm each night.

I chatted on the phone to Eddie, the recruitment cuntsultant whose favourite phrase was “what it is is”. He’d call me about an ‘opportunity’.  “Tell you what it is, it’s like, what it is is, is it’s factory work, and where it is is quite easy for you to get to, but the important thing is when it is because when it is is, is through the night.”

“Nightshift? Well everyone always tells me I’m a night owl anyway so…”

“Nah it’s not birds, what it is is, is it’s fish.”

“Fish factory? Night-shift?”

“Yeah but we’ve guaranteed you £3 an hour.”

“The minimum wage then. I think you’ll find the government guaranteed me that.”

“When can you start?”

I was nothing if not flexible. “I can start tomorrow?”

“Great. That’s tonight. Be there by 11.30 and ask for Fiona.”

Finally, paid work, a real job, a sense of purpose, a place in society, and FINALLY my mum can’t moan at me for sleeping all day! It didn’t turn out that way, as I was incapable of sleeping for days without feverish nightmares (or daymares) about dismembered fish attacking me with fillet knives. Then there was the headache caused by the stench. The phobia about fish also probably didn’t help either. I think I lasted two nights before I was sliced up and tossed on the jobless pile once again.

My next assignment was something I was much more suited for. Labouring. Yes, with my weedy 45kg frame you could really tell I’d been approached about this one over the telephone. But it felt familiar that for the second time, I’d be working in boots. I turned up to find I was joined on site by someone who arguably had trouble even coming up to my level of expertise in the manual field. Me and the malnourished ginger bloke I was partnered with spent a few days pottering around a builder’s yard, doing odd jobs, generally carrying one brick between two.

We should have just built one.
We should have just built one.

Our biggest contribution to this project was basically urine. Let me explain…

We discovered a few hours into our first day at the yard that the ‘toilets’ were behind lock and key, and we had to ask for the key should we need to pay a visit to this high-security facility. This would have been fine – weird, but fine – if there was ever anyone around to ask. We seemed to be the ONLY PEOPLE WORKING THERE most of the day. As a result, whenever we needed to relieve ourselves, we were forced to go ’round the back of something’. We’d marked so much territory by the end of this job I’m surprised we didn’t own the place.

My newly discovered manual labour talent was put to further use when, due to a skills shortage of some bizarre kind, myself and a van load of others were shipped across to Edinburgh every day for a week to build marquees for the Royal Highland Show. A familiar face was part of my crew in the van – my schoolchum Rob, the suspected sheep-enthusiast from my story The Penis, the Pint Glass and the Photocopier.

Only strict health and safety practices by the actual professionals supervising us prevented me from ending up smashed to pieces by a falling metal pole on several occasions. What I took from this experience was that just as I was not cut out to slice fish, I was equally not robust and sturdy enough to construct and deconstruct scaffolding. I think the phrase “Alan, just stand over there and don’t touch anything” summed up my contribution.

I was back to the drawing board, and soon to be chopping board as I found myself working in food production, making salads and ready meals for one of M&S’ suppliers. I forget the name of the company but I think it had the word Scot in it. I think there was a time when if you had a company in Scotland, you were required by law to call it “Scot-” followed by a word related to the industry you were in. So it was probably called Scotmunch, Scotgrub, Scotfood, Scotfeast or something like that.

It’s amazing that I did not pick up more home catering skills during this time. I think instead this experience put me off preparing food at home for many years. Every time I would see certain vegetables, songs that were playing seemingly on repeat on the radio at the factory, like Hanson’s “MMMBop” would play in my head. It took many years to shake this. And now I’ve remembered it, and written it down, many more years again to come.

Hand-twisted by a guy who's been filleting fish all night long.
Hand-twisted by a guy who’s been filleting fish all night long.

Well, after a time making other people’s lunches at Scotpantry or whatever it was called, I found myself in a yum-yum factory. On my watch, thousands of yum-yums went from mere puffs of dough, through the machines and into fully iced bundles of joy. It was all going as well as could be expected. I hated it, like the other jobs, but at least I was getting paid and getting some money to keep me going through the summer till my next student grant. But working at the yum yum factory I had met someone whose inexplicable fucking stupidity threatened even the concept of a day’s pay for a day’s work.

His name was Alaisdhair, I don’t know how he fucking spelt it but it was something like that, and if he had been fortunate enough to have as many brain cells as he had superfluous letters in his name, we wouldn’t have had a problem. I called him Ally. He was my driver. That is, he picked me up at the motorway and we both went to the factory, and he dropped me off again on the way back. This saved the temp agency from having to organise transport to the far flung place we were working, and in return for this Ally was on a “driver’s wage” meaning he got an extra 25p or something per hour.

Being driven by him was like torture by smalltalk. I’d have probably preferred being tied to the back of his car and dragged along the motorway. If anything, *I* should have been getting paid extra for this ordeal. But at least he got me there and back. It was working out fine until the paypacket arrived for the first week of the yum yum job. It was only four days’ worth of money but we’d worked Monday to Friday. Great, just what I need, a fuck up. I called Eddie, “Eddie – I’m a day short, much as I really only do this job for the love of ovens and Ally’s driving banter, I really need to get paid as well. I’ve got mouths to feed. Mine, for example.”

“Well what it was was, you guys only worked there Tuesday to Friday. So it is what it is.”

This was bollocks. We were there a whole week. I remember going there with Ally for five LONG days. In fact, my mum had been away for the weekend, and specifically had to change plans and get back insanely early Monday morning to look after my little sister, because I was working that day. Eddie started to think maybe they’d made a mistake with the days, and said he would double-check with Ally what days we worked. So it would all be fine, Ally would also say we started Monday and we’d get paid.

No. Turned out Ally couldn’t remember what day we started or how many days we had been working there. This was the previous week. He couldn’t recall if he was chilling out at home, or if he had driven about 50 miles to a factory and spent the day listening to MMMBop on the radio watching yum yums come out of the oven. We didn’t get paid. That dumb fuck let us spend a day in the factory for fucking free.

I had just about enough money to scrape through the rest of the summer and pay my mum digs, so I called it a day with the temping, figuring it’s not really worth it if I’m not actually going to get paid. I managed to get by without doing it again for the remainder of my Uni time, opting instead to take out extra student loans. I think overall that was for the best, although now as I write this blog I can’t help but wonder if there could have been potential for a lot more anecdotes if I’d stuck at it.

The most enduring lesson I learned though was at the yum yum factory, but it wasn’t the experience with that thick fuck Ally. It was that in making those yum yums, I seemed to demonstrate a talent for taking something plain and adding something shiny to produce a particularly sweet end product – and I think this skill has stayed with me throughout the rest of my career…

The Cancer Charity

You may not know this but I actually run a small cancer charity in the Soho area. I stand outside round the corner from work and passers-by come up to me and ask me to donate cigarettes to them. It’s a noble endeavour, I receive no government funding; in fact quite the opposite. with the government taking about 80% from each pack of cigarettes I buy, it’s an expensive philanthropy but worth it for the smile on their little choked-up faces.

I’m just having a bit of a wheeze of course, this is not an official charity. The Charity Commission rejected my application, just as they did with my other idea, CuntAid – providing help and rehabilitation for people who just can’t help the way they behave. But sometimes it does feel that way.  I give out so many cigarettes to weary travellers in the area that Westminster Council have officially designated me an off-licence. I am thinking of expanding, and offering passers-by free Oyster top-ups, lottery tickets, week-old pasties and vodka miniatures as well.

I definitely have “one of those faces” that people find approachable. And when they approach me they usually want something. It is rarely sex. My experience is it is one of two things. They either want to know where No. 6 is, or they want to sponge a cigarette. No. 6 is a phantom address on the street by work where I smoke. It is made of glass and only appears during a half-moon. It drives couriers crazy.

My record for cigarette requests in one day stands at four. Four in one day is a lot. As I politely explained to number four, that’s £50 a month. People really should know that walking round Soho trying desperately to raise a few fags could have unexpected consequences. I don’t know if I’m just unlucky, or I give off this impression I am a tobacco oligarch, or I seem like a generous guy, or maybe they think I have a malleable will which is easily intimidated. Possibly the last one as I’m generally too polite to say no, and this has prompted me to come up with my ingenious solution to the problem, which I’ll come to later.

"Stop looking at me like I'm gratuitous."
“Stop looking at me like I’m gratuitous.”

Sometimes I’m happy to give a stranger a cigarette – an extremely hot girl for example, in fact I’ve been known to say “No please, have two, how about the whole pack, keep the lighter, come back when you run out, I’ll be right here. By the way, you’ve got really nice breasts.” Sometimes I’m just in a good mood and feeling charitable.

Generally though, when I do hand over one, it is begrudgingly, and like so many of my day-to-day actions it is borne out of social awkwardness. I then usually fume about it for the rest of the day, or until the next time. But I’m not the only one who feels compelled to comply. A few years ago, a colleague was smoking on her own outside, and a guy came up to her and said “do you have a spare cigarette?”. She said she didn’t and only brought one out with her (a clever strategy). He then said to her, as she was mid-puff, “can I have that one then?”. Dazed and giddy from the sheer fucking cheek of this bellend, she handed it over, and headed back into work.

I’ve also had the group of youths come by, barely old enough to legally smoke, and one asks for a ciggie. On this occasion I weighed up the odds, and there was a 90% likelihood that these youths were so full of pent-up anger over the fact their overworked parents hadn’t yet provided them with the absolute latest version of the iPhone, that they would happily stab or kill at a moment’s provocation. So I handed over a cigarette. As I was swearing under my breath at my ever-decreasing pack, I realised a fucking queue had formed, with each of the little runts expecting one. “Fuck off, share that one!” I said, surprisingly bravely. I’ll be stabbed before I hand over more than one cigarette in a single transaction.

One per group, that’s one of the rules. The other rule is, you’ve got to ask when I’m actually smoking. You can’t run after me after I’ve finished my own cigarette and left the area, calling “Mate, mate, MATE, you got a spare cigarette!” That actually happened to me once. Unbelievable.

I think the strangest was a no-necked tree trunk of a man, who dragged his knuckles on the ground as he approached me and asked, then decided to talk at me for five minutes as he smoked it. Right, so I’m supposed to give him a smoke, light it, and then stand and listen to this oaf’s smalltalk? He looked like he spent 23 hours a day in the gym, and the other hour pouring steroids into every orifice, and he was constantly checking himself out in the window opposite. I kept my distance afraid one of his nipples was going to give me a black eye, as he started giving me information I did not want about his life.

He grunted “Cheers mate, you ever have one of those days, you know, when you just need a cigarette?”

What the fuck was I, a smoker, supposed to say to that. Um no ‘mate’, never. The only reason I smoke is for the lower life expectancy, it’s basically a procrastinator’s way of committing suicide.

He checked himself out in the mirror a few more times, rotating his torso like a spring-waisted action figure, “I’m really stressed at the moment.” I could see that from the way the veins were bulging out of his skin. He looked like he was trying to shit out the Isle of Man. “I’m on my way to a job interview somewhere here. Covent Garden. It’s a phone interview.”

“Covent Garden?” I said, “That’s a bit of a walk away still, better get a move on, what time’s your … hang on. PHONE INTERVIEW? You’re going to a phone interview?”

“Yeah mate, security job, really stressful I hate interviews. I mean I’ve got the experience and the build you know, but we’ll see what happens.”

Yeah I was curious myself to see what happened when he got to this “phone interview”. Isn’t a phone interview in person a … you know, interview. Unless he was visiting the interviewer in prison maybe? I asked him “What time is it?”

He checked his watch, “Twenty to three.”

“No, what time is your interview?”

“Three o’clock. Should get there just in time.”

“Well at least if you’re going to be a bit late, you can always, you know, phone them to say.”

“Yeah.”

“…could probably do the interview at the same time.”

He didn’t really get my jibes, I mean my “subtle interrogation” regarding this phone interview he was attending in person. If anything he seemed generally confused when it wasn’t his turn to talk. I listened to him talk about himself for a while more as I frantically ingested my cigarette. I did wonder, if maybe the whole time he wasn’t talking to me at all, but was talking to the reflection of himself in the window opposite. I wished him luck and darted off.

So, having had to listen to this pile of stodge give me his life story, along with the mounting financial burden of dishing out all these smokes, I needed a solution. But it wasn’t enough to do as my colleague had done and just take a single cigarette out with me. What if I actually wanted to give someone the cigarette, I needed that option. For example, there’s a rare breed of person who will come up to me cash-in-hand and ask to buy one, sometimes for as much as £1 (although I think I need to give 80p of that to the government). I always give to those who have the decency to offer to pay, although I never take the money – I think soon that will be the new scam, and everyone who asks will have a pound coin on an elastic band.

The solution also had to be foolproof, with no social awkwardness. And so my solution was this: I now carry around with me … an empty cigarette pack, in addition to my actual smokes. If a worthy cause approaches me, a cigarette can be given, if not, I just say “Sure mate, happy to help, here you go … oh WHAT! I don’t have any left. Oh well darn, now I’m screwed too. Neither of us has cigarettes; don’t suppose you know where the nearest shop is, because I definitely need to go there soon, HA HA HA HA HA!” I’ve tried it now several times, and it’s working a treat – I come across like the good guy who tried to help but they still don’t get a cigarette. I’m often surprised just how many I have left in my actual packet at the end of the day (before the government comes and takes 80% of them away).

But it’s not without it’s dangers. Recently, I was just finishing a smoke on my way into work, and one of Soho’s finest honeys came up to me with her best puppy eyes and pleaded with me. In my rush to please, I mistakenly pulled out my empty pack. I laughed, “Ha ha, don’t worry this is just a trick to foil sponging parasites.” I reached into my other pocket and pulled out my actual cigarettes. It was also empty. Fuck! The girl was confused, how many empty packs of cigarettes did I have in these jeans.

She said “it’s OK, it’s OK thanks for trying anyway.”

…a phrase I hear all too often in the bedroom, and so now my resolve hardened. I knew I had another pack somewhere. “Wait. Wait.” I rummaged around in my rucksack for a few minutes, as she became increasingly restless (and ironically, more in need of some nicotine). Finally, I found them, unwrapped them, whilst also holding two empty packs and a lighter in my hands. I’ve never seen such a happy customer, she was elated to finally get the cigarette, it had been a suspenseful triumph with a stunning climax.

And so now, I carry two empty packs around with me…

The Cash Machine Karma

I’m a big believer in Karma – the idea that your actions, good or bad, determine what’s coming to you. Of course, the fact that I am not a three-time multi-million-pound lottery winner suggests that over the years I have made some mistakes, insulted too many brutishly overweight ladies maybe or used the c-word far too liberally. Or it could simply be because I do not play the lottery.

Karma is a great thing to believe in, because it means when people are shits to you, you can rest easy knowing they’ll get theirs at some point. And it’s also great because the belief fulfills itself so readily. Someone pisses you off and then ten years later you see them walk into a lamppost or slip on some dog shit and you think “YES! KARMA’S REAL!”.

Yesterday, I made a questionable decision, with the very best intentions, and ultimately it was my karmic comeuppance that told me definitively whether I’d done a nice thing or a not-so-nice thing.

I was going to the theatre with Alice to see Twelve Angry Men. Let’s all pretend going to the theatre to see a play is something that I do all the time and this is a very normal thing for me, and let’s leave any accusations that I’d barely left the house for the last month to one side. It was at the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road, scene of many theatrical exploits in the past. I have in my eleven years in London been to the theatre quite a few times, but I think that almost every play I have gone to see has been at that same place. Oh well, at least I’d know how to get there… right?

I needed some cash, so I could buy all the souvenir tat they were selling in the interval, as is my way. And maybe an ice cream for the lady. So as I left work, in good time to meet Alice, I popped next door to Marks and Spencer where a cash machine is conveniently located right inside the entrance. Urban legend at work has it that we bartered the positioning of this cash machine, so perfect for PlayStation staff, in exchange for some co-operation on some utility matters between the two buildings. Yes, this is the kind of thing that constitutes “scurrilous gossip” in the games industry (I suppose there’s hard cash and a tight slot involved so…).

There is another cash machine in M&S downstairs in the food hall. At busy periods this is normally my go-to machine since very few people know it’s there. So there will be a big queue at the “obvious” machine by the entrance (mostly PlayStation staff of course) but usually no-one downstairs. I developed a formula for this after timing how long the trip down the escalator took. If there are two or more people conducting an average transaction at the main machine, it is technically quicker to go downstairs. Assuming the downstairs machine is free you will walk past the cashpoint by the entrance, cash in hand, just as the second person in the queue is drumming their fingers on the machine waiting for theirs to pop out.

I probably shouldn’t have posted that tip on the internet.

Anyway, so it’s about 6.30pm and I have nipped next door to get my monies. There were two people at the machine by the entrance, but on closer inspection, they were together and part of a single transaction. The formula kicked in and I was best to stand behind them and wait. Operating the machine was an elderly grandmother, and beside her, a heavy-set teenage lad, who appeared to have Downs’ Syndrome. They seemed confused. I monitored the situation carefully looking for opportunities to offer kind assistance. I’m nice like that.

The elderly lady’s frustration was clear, she said “it’s broken, it doesn’t seem to be giving out any money. We need to try somewhere else.”

I stepped in with sage advice. Told you, I’m nice like that. “Hey, there’s actually another cash machine downstairs, just down that escalator and turn right.” I was going to carry on and tell them the story of my formula and the urban legend about the utilities but time was tight.

“Oh thank you, that’s very kind,” she said, and the lad echoed this.

What I did next I did for the best reasons, but you might not think this when I tell you I sprinted off down the escalator so I could beat them to the downstairs cashpoint. Yes, I raced an elderly grandmother and a Downs’ Syndrome boy so I could cut ahead of them in the theoretical queue which had just formed at the downstairs machine.

I know this sounds bad, but my idea was, realistically they would have taken some time to get there, and I could be down there and gone by the time they arrived, and no harm would be done. I did have an actual woman to meet, and I was already on a written warning from this woman about my time-keeping. This seemed to me to be the perfect efficiency.

Meep meep. That's the sound the machine made when my cash came out.
Meep meep. That’s the sound the machine made when my cash came out.

As I got to the thankfully empty and functional machine and put my card in, some thoughts did cross my mind. Yes, so I guess in hindsight I might as well have said to the boy “there’s a cash machine downstairs and there’s a shiny sixpence in it for you if you can beat me there, woo-hoo!” and then disappeared off in the distance trailed by plumes of dust. Or it’s like I’d said “hey granny, on the plus side, there is an alternative machine, but on the downside, those rickety legs of yours just cost you your place in the queue” at which point I did a star jump and then somersaulted down the escalator.

I typed in my PIN as fast as I could, this whole thing would only work if I could be finished before they caught up with me. A few more taps and I was drumming my fingers on the machine waiting for my money to come. A few seconds later, it popped out and in a flash was in my wallet, and I turned round to make my escape….

…Only to be greeted by the sight of the pair from upstairs, who were queuing behind me, having seemingly used jet-packs to catch me.

I felt a bit bad. The boy looked at me and smiled, “Thanks again!”

The worst thing about this was … he was being SINCERE. If that was me I’d have said “Hey, thanks, really, thanks so much for jumping the queue just because you don’t have any genetic or age-related disabilities. No honestly, REALLY kind of you, sprinting off like that, practically elbowing a disadvantaged pair of strangers out of the way and muscling in. While you’re at it would you like to punch my grandmother in the face? Thanks again!”

But no, he was genuinely thanking me for tipping them off about the other machine, and seemed none the wiser that I had basically skipped (jumped and danced) ahead of them. I felt really bad now, and someone somewhere was saying “We have a Karmic Emergency in W1, code red, send a task force immediately.”

I left M&S torn about whether I had done the sensible thing by getting ahead of them, or if I’d been mean and should have hung back and waited on them. Believing in Karma means in situations like these I think you can tell if you did the right or wrong thing based on the reward or comeuppance you get in the hours to come. Based on this, Karma was in no doubt which direction on the moral compass I had been pointing.

I mentioned I had been to this theatre many times, and it’s just ten minutes walk from where I work. Somehow, perhaps due to the interventions of a higher power or merely guilt-addled confusion, I got lost. I got spectacularly lost. This isn’t even one of these occasions where a temptress with a nice arse walking ahead of me led me astray, I can not explain this other than karmic vengeance. In the diagram below, green was my original plan, red is how I detoured.

Women don't have to tell me to get lost...
Women don’t have to tell me to get lost…

When I realised my mistake of turning into Shaftesbury Avenue instead of Charing Cross Road, I cut along a side street which I thought would get me back on track. It didn’t and as I saw Covent Garden station in the distance, from the wrong side, the magnitude of my navigational error became clear. It was going to be a long way back. Really, I should have texted Alice to tell her I was going to be late, but how was I supposed to explain that a race for cash against a granny and a handicapped kid had caused me to get lost mere minutes from where I work every day.

Now, some of you might be thinking, why not check Google Maps on your phone? I have tried this in the past, and been completely incapable of getting anything but a map of my street in Tooting and the immediate vicinity. There was no time to be dicking around with a phone that is more lost and more flaky than I am.

It then started to rain. Right OK, I get the point, I shouldn’t have “jumped the queue”, now I’m lost and wet, surely this is all my punishment is going to be. I had a bit of a walk ahead of me, to basically get back to where I took the wrong turn. I reached for a cigarette and as I drew my lighter up, a huge blob of rainwater landed on top. The lighter was then useless, but it didn’t stop me trying for a few minutes as I clumsily jostled through the human traffic and actual traffic with one eye on the lighter and one on the way ahead. I had to be careful on the roads though, if this karmic vengeance continued there could be a bus out there with my name on it (and soon to be my face and guts).

I gave up and put my now soaking wet cigarette back in the pack, snapping it in the process. I uttered the words “fuck” and “sake” loudly and in quick succession, and focussed myself on getting to the theatre as quickly as possible. I finally got there, and as usual, whereas others normally make their excuses when they need to leave somewhere, I tend to make my excuses as I arrive.

Tickets were picked up and our seats were in the second row, soon we would be within spitting distance of acting royalty like Tom Conti and Robert Vaughn (Superman III, I know!!!). I had been looking forward to this for weeks. We took our seats, and I was sat between my lovely Alice, and an enormous titan of a woman, squished into her chair like a blue whale in a thimble. I did wonder for a moment if I had accidentally sat down in a ferry port, but I was in high spirits now and contrary to popular opinion I do not have a general problem with larger ladies (except that one time with the pies). We were all here to enjoy a good piece of drama, right?

The play began and it was only a matter of minutes before the woman on my right flipped open her phone case and the light from her phone flashed in my eyes. Presumably, she had forgotten to turn it off and was about to do so now. I shrugged it off, people forget things, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. A few minutes later, it was flipped open again and she’s reading messages on WhatsApp. Again, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she had received an extremely urgent message, about a relative passing away, or perhaps a bake sale nearby.

No, for the whole first half of the performance, she was fucking playing with that phone every few minutes. WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter. Unbelievable. Was she just here because there was the promise of fucking ice cream in the interval?!

"Hands up who distinctly remembers asking everyone to turn their phones off?"
“Hands up who distinctly remembers asking everyone to turn their phones off?”

Alice swapped places with me in the break and in the second half there were no such interruptions – possibly because the woman heard me muttering to Alice that I wanted to shove the phone up her arse. If it was possible to even find her arse without some heavy-duty mining equipment.

The play was amazing and even the ignorance of Karma’s fattest messenger didn’t manage to spoil things; me and Alice walked to the Tube, chatted a little bit outside and then went our separate ways. I had planned a stop at the new posh fish and chip (and battered sausage) shop in Tooting on the way home, and it looked like I’d just be in time before closing. That is, were it not for the fact my Tube line was suspended. Fuck’s sake, how much was I going to be punished for my earlier cash dash?!

I eventually got to Tooting, after an infuriating amount of delays; battered sausage was now off the menu for the day, so I thought I’d try my luck at McDonald’s. This was as close as I’d get to ending this day on a high. The place was also near closing, with only a few things coming out of the “kitchen”. The queue was long, and all the usual McDonald’s staples were there – a gang of youths by the tills making trouble out of nothing, and endless streams of people going back up to the counter to ask for sauce or to complain that they were short-changed on fries. I tried to keep my chin up as yet again, I waited and waited – everyone in front of me had some kind of problem with their order, or was just being difficult. I tried to be patient.

A chavette voice grated behind me “There’s one Big Mac left, it’ll take ages for them to make more. I’m just going to have that Big Mac. Nobody better fuckin’ take that Big Mac.”

She repeated this about ten times. Problem was, I had also spotted this solitary Big Mac and I was (internally and more politely) hoping that it would stay that way until it was my turn. I got to the front of the queue “Big Mac and large fries please.” The manchild behind the counter scooped up my goodies and handed them over. Behind me I just heard “Oh my God, Chanelle that guy just nicked your Big Mac. I can’t believe he took your Big Mac.”

No Chanelle, ‘that guy’ – who incidentally is about 6 inches away from you and can hear you – did not ‘steal’ ‘your’ Big Mac … I was in front of you and I ordered what I wanted from what was available, and if there’s one thing I have learned from this day it is the importance, and sanctity … of the queue.

The Date With The Drug Dealer

So despite a few minor hiccups along the way, and against the odds, my first date with Alice was a success and she wanted to see me again. The argument we had about whether or not she wanted to date me again was consigned to our list of “hilarious” early-days anecdotes to tell people at our wedding. Never let it be said I think too far ahead.

She had originally wanted to meet up the very next day but I had some important work to do around the house, namely taking down my Dirty Dancing and Flashdance posters and replacing them with some classy framed prints. The feedback I had received from my summer fling Claire on my bedroom had been damning, and the posters had been a key part of this along with my cuddly toys, South Park figures, Union Jack duvet cover, shoeboxes of loose change and my Eurovision DVDs. This criticism was fresh in my mind as I resumed dating, especially since Claire had been kind enough to record and present a video tour of my bedroom for posterity, as a constant reminder that things had to change if I was ever to get laid in my own bed again.

Me and Alice rescheduled for the following Friday. She was meeting a friend after work in South Kensington, and I had an invite-only work party to go to for a couple of hours, so I’d head over to meet her after both our engagements.

But there was a problem with the work party, my ticket had unexpectedly ended up in France.

That is, I wasn’t actually invited to this invite-only party. My plan had been to leech along with a colleague of authority, you know walk in beside him holding his briefcase or something, and I’d be in. Problem was he had gone to France on business unexpectedly. But hey, what did the party matter, I had a date with an actual woman, who had decided of her own free will to meet me. I texted Alice, told her I wasn’t in the mood for the party, was so keen to see her again, etc, and was it OK if I joined her early.

The Sampler in South Kensington, downstairs wine "bar".
The Sampler in South Kensington, downstairs wine “bar”.

It was and I headed to a place called The Sampler in South Kensington. From my internet research this was a wine shop which had a small seating area downstairs. Alice was still with her friend, Jill, but I was unfazed.

Meeting friends of people I’m dating is always a plus for me. As a general rule, they always like me. For women, it’s the smooching, going home with me, and being publically associated with me that they always have a problem with so when that’s off the cards, and the friend is secure in the knowledge that I am someone else’s problem, they always think I’m great.

I get this a lot; “Oh Alan, I don’t understand why you’re single, you’re so amazing, you will meet a great girl one day and she’ll be the luckiest girl in the world.”

“Oh, thanks. Well… you’re single aren’t you, how about you? I mean you’re not really my type but beggars can’t be choosers eh?”

“Um, well, I, um, well I can’t, because you know, um…”

“But I thought you said I was great and the girl who gets me would be so lucky? If I’m such a catch, how about you?”

“Um, that’s not really what I meant, I mean you can probably do better than me you know.”

“Nah I don’t think so, trust me I’ve tried. We should definitely go on a date then, given all the stuff you’ve said about how amazing I am, I mean why wouldn’t you want to?”

“Um, you see, I don’t date people from work, it’s sort of a rule.”

“Oh how very conven… I mean unfortunate. Such a shame for young love to be nipped in the bud like that eh?” And then I leave it, worried that if I press her her excuses will become more and more extreme, like she has a secret husband or is riddled with sexually transmitted diseases.

It’s the same as it is with other people’s kids. Out loud you say “Oh my god what little darlings, aw they’re so cute, you have the best kids in the world, and so clever and amazing, I’m so jealous,” but internally you’re thinking “Fuck me, if I had to put up with those little bastards I’d stick my face in a blender.”

So yeah, was very comfortable with the idea of meeting Alice’s friend Jill, and confident I would make a decent impression. And then I could use this as leverage to entice Alice to meet my friends somewhere down the line, a prospect she found daunting based on some stories I unwisely told her.

Even though I don’t drink anymore, I am fine with being in pubs and was not daunted by the idea of a wine shop, but oh my I had never seen so much alcohol in my life, there was barely room to move for bottles. I navigated my way to the room downstairs taking special care not to trash the place with my rucksack. I sat down with Alice and Jill at their table and made my introductions. Now, I had not seen any bar of any description to get myself a drink, so I just waited for the topic to come up. Alice and Jill finished their drinks and Alice went to get a round from upstairs or wherever this “bar” was. I gave her a list of options of non-alcoholic things I’d be happy with and “or just anything they have” as a back-up.

She returned with … a glass of tap water. It was all they had. Not just any glass of tap water. A wine glass. It was all they had.

I suddenly felt slightly uncomfortable, like a non-drinker was not supposed to be here. I felt like I’d turned up to a Nazi rally dressed as Groucho Marx. I checked with Alice that they’d given her nothing to accompany the glass of water, like a folded up piece of paper with “go home, scum” written on it.

It’s one of the few things about not drinking that makes me uncomfortable, and that’s when I’m in a place that has nothing for the non-drinker, it makes you feel a bit like you’re not welcome. But I was on a date, and getting along well with Alice and Jill so I decided to not let it get to me and power on.

So Alice decided to tell her friend the story about the Photoshopped profile picture I mentioned in my previous post; this would be interesting, and followed through from an argument we had regarding my eye colour over e-mail.

“What colour would you say Alan’s eyes are?” Alice asked.

Jill looked into my eyes, and possibly soul, and replied, “Kind of like a dull grey?”

Grey! WHAT THE FUCK! That’s not even a colour! I was pissed off enough that people tell me my eyes are green, now it’s grey! “Oh there’s nothing wrong with that” they both said. Yes there is. No-one says “oh it’s a lovely grey day outside shall we go to the beach?” Grey – the colour of John Major and Schindler’s List. And not just grey but “dull grey”. Who’s heard the story of Joseph And His Amazing Dull Grey Dreamcoat? Jill was adamant that she thought I have nice eyes and that’s it’s OK that they were grey, but although I really shouldn’t complain on the rare occasion a compliment is paid to me by a member of the opposite sex, I refused to accept my eyes are anything but blue … if you look close enough. Even the Match.com profile photo I had to alter was merely to correct bad photography and possible jaundice, and I’m sticking to that story. I even offered up my own explanation for this, simply that they were both colour blind, and expected that to end matters.

Yeah, like whines about what colour my eyes are...
Yeah, like whines about what colour my eyes are…

The debate raged for what seemed like hours, I’d almost finished my tap water. Then Jill thought of a way to settle the argument. She got up and approached the two young ladies sat at the table behind us. My heart sank. But not because I thought these girls would agree with Alice and Jill, rather because I could see from the look in their own eyes what they thought was about to happen.

When Jill said “excuse me”, they looked at her, looked at me, grimaced, and looked at each other awkwardly. I knew exactly what they were thinking, so I immediately reassured them before she even had a chance to say another word, “No no no no, don’t worry, she’s not going to try to set one of you up with me!”.

The sheer relief washed over their faces like, well like a wine glass of tap water. Jill simply asked them to settle an argument, and tell us what colour they thought my eyes were. They both said blue. YES! I did consider moving onto their table at this point as they seemed a very sensible pair compared to the whimsical duo I was drinking with, but instead I simply took out my pen, recorded the incident in my Book of Victories (for later reference), and got up to go for a cigarette.

Standing outside was particularly refreshing after the heated conversation and the overwhelming sense that the proprieters of the wine shop were secretly plotting that the tee-totaller shall never leave these premises… alive. A few puffs in, as I was still smiling to myself over my total and overwhelming victory in the eye colour debacle, a stocky bald ‘geezer’ approached me from outside the pub across the street.

“Excuse me mate, you got a light?” Interesting thing to ask, I thought, from a man who was holding an already lit cigarette by his side. Nice icebreaker.

“Sure,” I said, and he turned away and ‘lit’ his cigarette, just as his phone rang.

He barked into the phone “Yeah yeah, I’m outside, too many people in the pub. Too busy, know what I mean. I’ve got 3. Yeah I’m parked round the corner,” and then hung up. What was this that he had ‘3’ of? Was he collecting lighters? He turned to me again: “Whereabouts are you from mate?”

He clearly took this photo and was counting potential punters for later on.
He clearly took this photo and was counting potential punters for later on.

I wondered what he was up to, it’s not like I’d said “Ah’ll skelp you aboot the coupon ya wee bastard” and he was curious where my accent was from. All I’d said was “Sure.” I was suspicious of this man from the moment he asked me for fire that he did not need. I probably should have lied but I said “Glasgow.” Actually I’m not from Glasgow specifically so I guess that does technically count as a lie.

“Ahhhh yeah Glasgow, I’ve got some mates from up there yeah!” Interesting. Jock and Hamish by any chance? “What do you do for a living?”

Fuck’s sake what was the deal with this guy. “I work in the entertainment industry.” That’s my stock answer, because games is not seen as a cool business to be in, and because entertainment industry has that subtle suggestion that I might be a porn star.

His phone rang again. “Yeah, I’m still outside. Yeah I’ve got 4 now.”

Hang on, that thing he had 3 of before he started chatting to me, why does he now have 4? Am I number four? All I said was I was Scottish and in the entertainment industry.

Just as the penny dropped he asked me, “So I guess you’ll be looking for something to keep you going this evening?”

“Nah, not really. I’m actually on a date, so have to be on my best behaviour.” I told him this as I thought it was a polite way to get him to see I wasn’t in the market for the talcum powder or mashed up paracetamols he was no doubt peddling.

He leant a bit closer and in the seediest voice imaginable said “A date eh? Do you want a little something to help loosen her up later on?”

“OH DARN MY CIGARETTE IS FINISHED, BRRR IT’S COLD, CAN’T KEEP THE LADY WAITING, BYE!!!!!!!”

I got back inside and decided to use this experience to my advantage since Alice had said Tooting was a little rough. So we enjoyed the rest of the evening, and Jill left after one more drink and me and Alice went on somewhere, thankfully evading the drug dealer when we left the wine shop. It was all very nice and we ……. oh hang on what? You’re annoyed that the title of this post implied Alice was a drug dealer? And you feel cheated because I hinted at the end of the last story that you could find out more about Alice’s line of work in my next post The Date With The Drug Dealer?

Hmmm, now that I think about it that could be construed as being misleading. No, Alice is no drug dealer. But… I admit I thought I hit the jackpot when I saw on her Match.com profile that she is a reproductive biologist. That, in my ignorance, basically meant she was part of team of scientists creating genetically perfect vaginas. My friends and colleagues asked me about Alice and this misunderstanding sort of morphed into some kind of gynaecologist. All of which backfired on me when I was forced to reveal what I’d been telling people about her line of work.

But that was nothing compared to when she added me on Facebook, and discovered the adorable nickname I had given her on my various status updates about our meet-ups. A nickname which I naively thought was both factual and affectionate.

The nickname was … Dr Ladyflaps.

Where No McCann Has Gone Before

You’re probably surprised to see another dating story given that a couple of months ago I posted this scathing rant about the women on match.com. I pretty much considered myself done with online dating when I wrote that, and shortly after tested out some of my theories about the shallow women of Match by Photoshopping my profile picture to see if I got more views and messages.

Sadly, I did. Many many more. Just from a few subtle tweaks. See if you can spot them…

Magic away the signs of ageing and alcoholism...
Magic away the signs of ageing and alcoholism…

Nothing too drastic, so firstly the bags under my eyes had to go. In my defence, I had taken that selfie on a Friday night, but on the other hand I don’t drink so there’s no excuse for me looking like I’d been basecamping at the bottom of the vodka luge all night. Next I subtly tidied up my beard. I could have easily done this in real life with, you know, my razor, but I clearly decided that simply Photoshopping my beard in every photo taken of me from now on was less hassle than actually shaving. Next I did the wrinkles on my forehead, worry lines from back in May when I spent a whole day fretting that Bonnie Tyler was going to piss herself onstage at the Eurovision Song Contest and cause national embarrassment.

Some smoothing of the cheeks and nose, and then I was ready for the main task. Reverting my eye colour back to their natural blue hue and away from the pre-exorcism vomit green that they had become. I have always had blue eyes, and I blame this colour shift on extremely localised jaundice which mixed the natural blue with yellow to create mucus green; highly plausible as jaundice is a symptom of over-zealous drinking. See, even my vanity is backed by science.

After this subtle fakery I was inundated with attention from honeys. When I say “inundated” and “honeys” I mean those terms relatively of course. I had gone from 2 views of my profile per week by overweight undereducated elderly divorcees to as many as 20 views, and sometimes even “winks” and messages from average to above-average women close to my age. This was a revelation, but of course, I could never meet any of these and it was pointless even talking to them because not only had I Photoshopped my photo (and women had struggled in the past to mask their disappointment when I turned up in real life even after they’d seen real photos of me) but I’d also recently ranted about Match, about women, and about my unusual taste on my blog; there would be no dating once these two things were discovered.

I resigned myself to a simple life of being single, and tutting loudly everytime my faked photo got attention on Match.com. And then someone piqued my curiosity in an e-mail and I decided to respond. I was just putting the finishing touches to this parody video about the stormy weather back in October, and mentioned it to her. For the purposes of McCannonymity I will call her Alice. I have run out of Ashley Judd film characters for my cloaked identities and so am now using Milla Jovovich screen roles in order of how hot she was in the film (Alice, Resident Evil, 2002).

I sent her the video and she still seemed interested in me. This was unusual since my actual unaltered face was used throughout the video. But as we continued to chat I noticed a spike in traffic on my blog, and this time not just from people Googling for nude beach erotica. There was a clear pattern, someone was rifling through all my dating and relationship posts. There could only be one explanation; having been given just one of my YouTube links, Alice had followed the trail through to my YouTube channel, my Twitter, Facebook and onto McCannecdotes. She was by now thoroughly internet-stalking me, and within hours she had read everything about me that would be incriminating and off-putting to a potential date.

But bizarrely she was still interested in meeting me – which in itself was an indicator to me that there must be something deeply psychologically wrong with Alice. I should surely have completely put off any normal woman by now, and yet she seemed perfectly normal. I was reminded of a comment my old friend Dave had made about girls running away when they read my blog, how I should consider it a test, and that if a girl likes it and accepts my occasionally-volatile internet outpourings then maybe she is a keeper. I even told her about the Photoshopped picture; she said the original pic was better. I had to be careful with this one, Alice was obviously a convincing liar. Confused and intrigued I set about arranging our first date, which I did by way of a special video.

This was originally just for her but she said it was OK to share, all you have to know is she likes Star Trek (which gave me the wonderful pun for the title) and her real name (which isn’t Alice) is a struggle for the layman to pronounce.


We met in a bar in Covent Garden, I was late, on account of the fact I got lost on the way there, despite it being about ten minutes from work. I turned up flustered and wearing a shirt so creased it looked like I had sewn it together by hand out of a thousand strips of polyester. I got myself a drink, sat down and got busy wooing.

All was going very well, although I was at a serious disadvantage given that she already knew everything about me from this blog; on top of that I was also under serious pressure to constantly provide new material during the evening, this was not like some of my other dates where I’ve been able to whip out a tried and tested McCannecdote if circumstances required it. It became apparent she had pretty much read everything I’ve posted on here, which is impressive given how much I’ve written over the past year, but somehow she hadn’t quite made it as far back as my infamous Polish story. This gave me a great opportunity to perform this classic live and in person, for the first time in many years. I got us some new drinks and began, “So I had this t-shirt….”

About half way through there was a hell of a commotion of shouting at the other end of the packed bar, I assumed a fight had broken out and was just about to rush off to the toilets to hide when I realised it was one of the staff trying to get everyone’s attention. He was standing in the middle of the bar with a giant beer keg. Me and Alice, along with everyone else, turned to listen to his booming cries, my curiosity taking away from the annoyance of “anecdotus interruptus”.

He explained they had this one keg of a new Czech beer, and once opened it had to be drunk tonight, so they were giving out free pint samples to anyone who wanted one. He did a pretty extensive sales pitch on this stuff and invited everyone to come up and form a disorderly queue to try some. He did warn that the first batch of pints might not be perfect as with a new keg, “there’s a lot of head early on.”

I turned to Alice and said “Sounds like a perfect first date to me…”

That went down well…

As did that…

I finished the Polish story and then Alice drilled me about past relationships and dates based on what she’d read on here (including of course Claire from the YouTube videos). All in all great fun was had and I thought it went really well. As well as these things can go when I put so much information about humiliating stories and embarrassing quirks on the internet for my dates to study beforehand. We left at closing time and I walked her to the Tube station, after a small incident outside the pub where Alice got letched on by some drunk old men.

We kissed goodbye and we both told each other we had a great time, and then Alice said “I’d really like to see you again, but maybe not in a dating way.”

My internal reaction was like *THIS*.

My vocal reaction was “It’s OK, I get this all the time…” I spent the whole trip home wondering what was wrong, and why this always happens, Alice clearly had a really good time with me, and at some points we certainly seemed to have chemistry, and the drunk old letches outside the pub had surely offered up a flattering vision of what the alternative to dating me could be. When I got home Alice had texted me, saying she was free again tomorrow to meet up.

Whaaaaaaaaaaat? Now usually, a girl saying she’d like to see me again as friends or something like that means “You were nice enough but I don’t want to see you again. I like the idea of you in principal which is why in theory we should be friends. We’re certainly not enemies, but as for being seen with you in public again, nah no thanks, I mean what if people saw us and got the wrong idea and thought I was dating you?” I know because I have experienced this MANY times. It’s never resulted in me actually ever seeing the person again as “friends”, and I’ve never heard of someone being so keen to see a guy again in a platonic way that she wanted to meet up less than 24 hours later…

I decided to sleep on it and ask her about it in the morning. By sleep I mean I decided to stay awake tossing and turning all night crying to myself “Why why why!” The next day I texted her “Sooooo… um, just to check, based on what you said last night, we’re meeting up just as mates right?”

She replied “What are you talking about?”

“You know, when we parted you said…”

“No I didn’t, why would I say that, I had a great time with you!”

And so began our first major argument. Alice refused to accept that she had said this, whether intentionally or accidentally, and it was after about half an hour of arguing that I discovered the greatest benefit there is to being tee-total. “Look,” I said, “You’d had a few glasses of wine, I was completely sober, if we’re having an argument about who remembers right who said what at the end of last night, I win every time.”

Of course, that should have ended the debate, but of course, it did not, on account of the fact that Alice is what is known as a WOMAN and refused to back down in the face of undeniable facts. Despite this – essentially us fighting over whether she wanted to date me again – we managed to make up and agreed to see each other again.

You can read more about our next date, and what Alice does for a living in my next post, The Date With The Drug Dealer…

The Condom Conundrum

Some things are supposed to be hard when comes to making love, buying condoms should not be one of them.

In the 1980s and 90s long before I knew what condoms were, believing them to be some kind of street drug given how hush-hush people seemed about mentioning them, I remember the TV adverts which tried to reassure you that it was OK to buy them. There’s the one above for example, and I also remember one with a checkout girl where the girl was busy thinking about the weekend and make-up and shoes and things and not paying any attention to what the young man was buying. These were supposed to tell you that there’s no embarrassment in buying these things, and you shouldn’t be put off. Thanks to the public information ads of that age I also learned that you couldn’t get a girl pregnant by sharing a toilet seat (unless you were on it at the same time).

Some years ago, in a Tesco Express in Chelsea, I was to learn that even all these decades later there can be a phenomenal amount of social awkwardness and embarrassment caused by this simple, functional purchase.

I’d taken the girl I was dating up the King’s Road, and this had given her the idea of inviting me back to hers. Because it was nearby. I soon realised I was ill-equipped for such intimacy. I didn’t have a change of clothes or toothbrush with me, so I’d have to go to work the next day looking like a scruff. I didn’t have my MP3 player with me so I could play my post-coital victory song on my headphones afterwards when she was asleep. And I wasn’t carrying any condoms.

Now I know there probably some lads reading this who have them sewn into every pair of pants they own, but it was quite practical for me not to be stuffing my wallet with this accessory which on 99% of days would be completely unnecessary. Based on my luck with women vs other things that I could prepare for, I’d have been more sensible carrying a fire extinguisher or a travelcard for the Hong Kong Metro around with me than bothering with condoms.

One of my friends used to buy them online in boxes of 50. I should point out this was a male friend. That would be overkill for me unless I had devised a way to carry them with me into the afterlife. That’s pretty much a lifetime supply for me, even if half of them were ripped and had to be thrown away.

No, what I really need is a pack of 12 with an incredibly long shelf life. The number of times I have thought I could rely on the pack I have in my bedside drawer and then realised they expired in 2004. You’d think something called Durex would be more durable. Some of us very carefully pick and choose our sexual partners and such special people are few and far between (by “special” I mean drunk enough to agree to it).

So, as always seems to be the case with anyone who has slept with me and does not want to be identified on the internet, I must invoke McCannonymity™ for this girl. You may remember the rules for fake girls’ names from a previous post – screen roles played by Ashley Judd in order of how chubby her cheeks are in the film. OK we’ve done Charlene and Carla, this time it’s… oh for fuck’s sake, we’re on Norma (Norma Jean, 1996). I’m not writing a story about dating a girl called Norma so I’m going to bend the rules slightly, in this case I can get away with Marilyn.

Every tickle helps...
Every tickle helps…

Me and Marilyn traipsed around the local Tesco Express looking for johnnies for about 20 minutes. I am not a patient shopper and any excitement that had built up for the evening’s festivities was being dampened by my fury at Tesco’s retarded  arse-backwards store merchandising. I tried in the toiletries section first, then alcohol section, then back to toiletries, then scouring the frozen food aisle, and even rummaging for rubbers through packs of chocolate biscuits. “WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY!?” As you might know from my torturous ordeal in the Swedish shop, I am not one for asking staff, even if I’m looking for something innocuous. I’m certainly even more reluctant to talk to shop staff about any purchase which is destined to touch my penis. I ended up back at the toiletries section, looking even for some sign that they had them but they’d sold out. Marilyn was getting bored.

“Just ask someone, just ask.”

“YOU fucking ask!” Yes, we’d reached the point in such evenings where I go nuts and almost destroy my chances of intimacy by having a row with my partner mere yards away from the love-making destination.

“I can’t believe this, you know where they’ll fucking be, they’ll be behind the counter! They WANT me to go up and have to ask for them. Haven’t they seen those ads in the 80s about how AWKWARD it is to have to ask someone for johnnies!”

We joined a long queue with our other purchases, including wine in case Marilyn sobered up and changed her mind. I looked ahead to the young black guy at the checkout – he probably hadn’t seen the ads I was talking about, he didn’t look like he was alive in the 80s. He barely looked old enough to remember the Spice Girls.

I waited impatiently, the other shoppers in the queue must have thought I had Tourette’s or something from the frequent mumblings and grunts of things like “fuck’s sake”, “bastard shop”. We got to the front of the queue and I tried to push Marilyn ahead and occupy myself with packing so when the manboy said “Is there anything else?” she would have to answer.

I had my head buried in the bags, reorganising them with intense OCD vigour to avoid having to deal any further with the transaction. The moment came and Marilyn was silent.

“Fuck’s sake,” I muttered and turned to the teen cashier, “Do you have any condoms?” It felt like I was asking him personally – “Here mate, help a guy out here, young strapping lad like you must have a few spare johnnies in your wallet, I’m pretty much in with this girl.”

He said “Sure,” and turned and pointed to a cabinet, ON THE FLOOR behind the counter, secured and protected from any would-be rubber robbers. “What kind do you want?”

Excuse me? Oh he wants a conversation about it. We’re not at John Lewis. Can I fucking try them on and see which one I prefer? I turned round in disbelief to the crowd of shoppers queuing behind me. He looked at Marilyn. Why are you looking at her, she hasn’t even seen it yet! “Um, what kind do you have?”

He opened the cabinet and gave me a look at their range of sheaths. I was only buying time, I had no idea what I was supposed to say here; come on the only acceptable response for any man in this situation is, in the loudest possible voice, “The biggest ones you’ve got please. You know those ones you might find in the green room at the Grand National. Have you got any specifically designed for African-American basketball players? Those please, naturally. I’ll take all you have, this pretty little thing next to me is in for a long night. Do you also sell wheelchairs? She’ll need to get to work tomorrow somehow.”

The truth is, I really wanted to ask him if they sold singles. Usually after the first time I never see the girl again, so I had no desire to waste rubber or cash on an optimistic pack of three.

I couldn’t even properly see the contents of the cabinet, and my priorities had completely changed from ensuring we had a nice night together to simply getting out of this fucking shop and somehow, anyhow, not getting Marilyn pregnant. He bent down and started to pick some up, so that – YES – he could show me the various offerings in his hand. I had to act quickly, I pointed “those ones please, yeah that box, yeah they’re fine.” I immediately started thinking what I’d do with the spares, they were a very pretty colour, maybe useful next time someone at work had a birthday and we needed some slippery balloons.

We paid and finally left and made our way back to Marilyn’s, and I vowed never to be caught short again. So, if you were walking behind me that time a couple of months back when I walked all the way from work to the Tube with the small back pocket of my rucksack accidentally open and nothing but a pair of (sealed) condoms in there, now you know why I carry them around.

Hang on, they’re probably the same ones, need to check the date…