Archive for September 2007

Automotive Anxiety

September 23, 2007


The other day, Mrs H and I were pootling along in our little car, when the unthinkable happened (or rather, came to our attention). The unthinkable was portended by the ever-observant Mrs H.

‘Why is the car making a funny noise?’

She was right. There was something indefinably funny reaching my ears. Not hilarious, mind, since it required that she (as the passenger) get out to ‘take a look’. Luckily, the problem was immediately apparent. We had a flat tyre.

I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve often wondered what I would do in this situation. I knew that there was a spare in the boot, as well as the requisite tools to substitute it for the deflated one, but somehow, it all seemed beyond me. And it was raining. I convened a pow-wow with Mrs H.

‘You know,’ I said, ‘one shouldn’t really attempt to change a tyre by the side of the road. It isn’t safe’. I’d heard this somewhere, but suspected that it was more applicable on the motorway than a deserted South Gyle byway on a Sunday morning. Thus it was we decided to get the AA to prove themselves deserving of our annual subscription, which (delightfully) they were.

Mrs H graciously volunteered to wait in the car while I walked home. We were only a few minutes away, but naturally she didn’t emphasise this point to the AA man.

Anyway, we were quickly sorted, and the issue arose as to what would need to happen next. The AA man had outlined the necessary steps on a yellow bit of paper: ‘REPLACE PUNCTURED TYRE ASAP’. I got a sinking feeling, knowing that I was, that very afternoon, to deal with crew-cutted chaps with dirty hands. Spiffing.

There has been something quite emasculating about each and every encounter with automotive maintenance, and this was to be no exception. I made an appointment at Kwik-Fit, changed my intellectual, slim-fitting shirt for a tatty, begrimed hoodie, and set off. Once there, and after struggling momentarily with the push-pull arrangement of the entrance door, I minced in.

I was attended by a kindly-enough-looking chap (equipped with the requisite crew cut and dirty hands) and attempted to make my needs clear. I tried to convey the advice of the AA man (that we should have the steering alignment checked) and pretended I knew what that was all about. He seemed to get the hang of it quite quickly, and I was banished to the seating area while they got on with it. I had a sift through the magazines on the table: Prima, Heat and Marie Claire. I averted my eyes from such effeminate pleasures just until their backs were turned, and then got stuck in to a very interesting article called How To Get What You Want By Flirting. I wish I’d taken notes.

In time, my dedicated mechanic returned to tell me that the problem was fully rectified. I piped up cheerfully:

‘And how was that ol’ steering alignment?’

‘It was off by two.’

I wasn’t sure what he meant. Two degrees? Two minutes? Who knew?

‘Ah, that would explain the way the tyres were worn irregularly.’ We got this from the AA man. ‘Did you manage to get it…’ I groped for an appropriate verb. ‘…Recalibrated?’

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure that ‘recalibration’ best described the process of rectifying the ‘off by two’ issue, but it sounded reasonable.

‘Yep. You’re all set now.’


And that was us, I thought. And it was only when I was on the drive home that I realised the indicators were now wonky. The right one wouldn’t stay on, and the left one wouldn’t switch off.

On a brief return to Kwik-Fit, I was told that the problem had only arisen during their machinations only through sheer coincidence, and that they couldn’t fix it anyway. I was left realising that I’d have to go through all this again, with a whole new set of crew-cutted dirty-handers.

What a treat.


Problems With Delivery

September 5, 2007

mobile.jpgNow that Mrs H is carrying a child, thoughts inevitably turn to the various items of equipment that might ensure his or her safe passage through the gauntlet of infancy. Assorted bits and pieces have been acquired in dribs and drabs, to the extent that even a rather premature arrival might stand a fair-to-middling chance of a modestly comfortable existence for their first few weeks.

Over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve been picking the bones of the internet bare of infant-relevant bargains, and have been rather pleased with the haul so far. However, the one inevitable bug-bear with this approach is the constant need to deal with delivery companies.

Parcelforce is one such company. Phone them up to arrange a delivery, and you’ll find yourself speaking to a pleasant (but nonetheless utterly synthetic) robot. They have this voice-recognition arrangement set up, whereby you have to try and persuade said robot to comprehend your really-not-very-difficult requirements. It’s a gas. PLEASE STATE YOUR SURNAME. THANK YOU. THAT SOUNDED LIKE MATHESON. IS THAT CORRECT? One could imagine it going on all night.

Business Post is another company with which we have had unavoidable dealings. Having received the slip, I duly phoned to arrange another delivery, but they’d seemingly all gone home for the night. However, I managed to speak to them in the morning, and was told that the parcel was once again winging its way to my unoccupied house. Obligingly, the chap initiated attempt #3 for the following Monday. It never came. I phoned up to be told that yes, I definitely had phoned, and yes, the delivery had been set up as planned but that, no, these tantalising strands had not quite come together in the form of a received parcel. I expressed my mild disapproval, upon which I was told that, actually, the first chap had done me a favour by setting up delivery #3, since most people only get two goes, and no, they would ‘no way’ be able to hold onto it until I was next home for the day. He concluded that I should stop being so lazy and drive out to the depot myself, which I did, via a labyrinthine industrial estate that, incidently, looked like the sort of habitat ideally suited to gangland executions.

To bolster our spirits on the drive home, Mrs H delved into the parcel to experiment with the rather appealing cot mobile within. She demonstrated the pleasing rotational motion of the various fluffy chaps hanging from it, which we thought a baby might find facilitative of restful sleep. What was more disturbing was the plinky-plonky rendition of the “Teddy Bears’ Picnic”: three musical phrases had been selected, seemingly at random, to be played in a loop and at approximately 240bpm. As mobiles go, it’ll probably prove as soothing as a double espresso.

I intend to go at it with a screwdriver as soon as I have a chance. Although, in its present form, it could certainly be put to use in helping us to get up the morning…

Going Under

September 3, 2007


This post arrives quite late in the day. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into now. Why don’t I just get on with it?

You’ll remember me talking a bit about going to see a stage hypnotist? You’ll also remember (possibly) that I never actually described the show, much to your undoubted frustration. Perhaps I’ll do that bit as a preface to the main meat of this post.

I thought this was a really interesting show. The guy started out with nine volunteers, who were duly hypnotised, and persuaded to do sundry wacky things. As things progressed, a couple of folk were asked to sit down again, presumably because they weren’t ‘getting into it’.

At one point, it was suggested that the volunteers try to hug as many of the audience as possible. A nice idea, I thought, which could superimpose a lovely little ‘feelgood’ layer onto the general bufoonery. I barely expected that, mid-hug with Your Humble Author, one volunteer would perceive herself to be stuck fast.

It was another one of those ‘competing social pressure’ moments. You see, when the hug was initiated, I did the appropriate thing and returned the gesture. But now it appeared that this poor girl was sprawled over yours truly against her better judgement, and I wondered what I should do. Should I just keep on a-hugging? Or just drop my hands back to my sides? A huggee (me) doesn’t want to appear like they are enjoying themselves long after the hugger (them) has ceased to do so, for risk  of appearing like some variety of pervert. Then again, neither does one wish to betray the sense that they are repulsed by physical human contact in general. It’s a poser.

Once the show was over, and gamely clutching my newly-won hypnotherapy weight-loss CD, we ventured outside, exchanged our respective opinions, and parted. But, at that moment, I vowed to return to The Old Scots Club and undergo The Process for myself.

And so, a few days later, and accompanied by my trusty documentarian Colin Eye, I once again took up my seat. This time, I sat in an aisle seat near the front, so that I could hop up onto the stage at a moment’s notice, without the indignity of actually running in public. I noticed a greater-than-average number of unspeakably posh people in the audience, the type for whom I would assume public indignity to be their bread and butter.

When the cry for volunteers went up, I was instantly in a seat centre-stage. It would almost qualify as teleportation, so swift was my transference from one chair to the other. I signed the little slip of paper which absolved the hypnotist of any responsibility in the event of my death (yes, it actually said it) and we were underway. And all the while, the Great Eye was ever watchful.

(Since drafting this post, it has come to my attention that Eye’s got a blog. Check it out here).

He did the normal relaxation procedures, introduced a bit of suggestion, and then came and tapped each person on the head, upon which they were encouraged to ‘go to sleep’, slumped convincingly on the person next to them. My right ear ended up on the (now horizontal) back of my neighbour. I remember thinking that her pulse was going like the clappers.

Before waking us up, we were given a post-hypnotic suggestion to become stuck in our respective positions. Eyes open, wide awake, and it was so. Except it wasn’t really. At least one volunteer pointed this out to the hypnotist, who quickly ejected them from the stage. As for me, I knew I wasn’t really stuck, but didn’t see any point in proving otherwise, so didn’t try to move. I looked at my arm lying on the chair, and felt pretty sure I could move it if I wanted to, but chose not to.

It wasn’t long before the pool of volunteers was whittled down. Soon, there were but four of on the stage. The other three were all girls, each of whom I remember vividly. At some point in the proceedings, it dawned on me that to stand up and say ‘actually, this isn’t really working for me’ would be far more embarrassing than whatever the hypnotist had in mind for me to do. And therein lies the active ingredient, I think. A context is provided in which you can behave more outrageously than normal, but in which people will not think you are an idiot. What people will object to, though, is people not getting ‘stuck in’. They’ve paid for their tickets after, and wish to be entertained.

Prior to the show, I was formulating a strategy with Eye. We said that I should have a secret signal to communicate that I was just playing along. Then we started talking about other things and forgot about it. It was only after I was stood next to him during the show, my right arm inconveniently stuck in the air, that it occurred to me to tip him a wink. But then, I thought, I’d spoil the show for anyone who happened to catch me. So I didn’t.

When the inevitable ‘show-stopper’ came around, it was with a feeling of tired resignation that I munched the onion, pretending it was an apple. Actually, I quite like onions. So much so that, when the true identity of the vegetable was revealed and I was invited to spit it out, I could only confess (a tad sheepishly) that I’d swallowed it. I gave a little pat of the tummy and an ‘mmm’ noise, which was the best I could think of in the circumstances.

And so, when all was said and done, I considered the fact-finding mission an interesting success. I suspect that I was not as ‘into it’ as some of the others, although the hypnotist (if he realised) never let on. I obligingly (and quite literally) danced to his tune for a little while, and then went home. I am left with a feeling that social pressure, rather than some bizarrely altered state of concsiousness is probably at the root of it.

Although, I’d be happy to have another go, just to be sure…