Warning: May cause irritation

Is it just me or do these things cause irritation to you too?

When I kiss my wife goodbye as she leaves for work it is wholly appropriate for her to say, “See you later” because, notwithstanding any catastrophic natural disaster, this is the place she will return to after work and this is the place where I will be awaiting her return. It kind of makes sense. What does not make sense is when the checkout lady in the supermarket tells me she will see me later when she has absolutely no idea who I am or what my plans are for the rest of the day. The odds of our paths crossing later that day seem extremely remote to me unless she knows that the milk she just sold me is off, or she is planning on following me home and surprising me with flowers and a bottle of merlot. It seems much more likely to me that she will most certainly not see me later so what is the point of saying it? It’s not as if there aren’t alternative ways of terminating the transaction. What’s wrong with ‘good bye’ or ‘cheerio’? I would even settle for ‘see you’ on the basis that it doesn’t really mean anything at all and definitely isn’t a declaration of an intended rendezvous at some point later in the day. Who are these people that seem to be able to look into my soul and predict my immediate future? I always leave the situation muttering under my breath; “Oh yes and how will that work exactly? I mean you don’t know me and I don’t know you. I presume you don’t know where I live and since I have no intention of coming back to this shop today how can you be so confident that you will ‘see me later’? One of these days I’m going to try that conversation just to see what reaction I get.

Here’s another one that really gets my goat. (That saying is probably worth further investigation in the future too.) When you get to the end of a telephone conversation with just about anybody but your mother these days and the person at the other end says; “Is there anything else that I can help you with today?” NO THERE IS NOT! There is not because we have done precisely what I phoned up to achieve and I made it clear to you what the purpose of the call was right at the beginning. It was less than two minutes ago so I thought you might recall it! I mean I thought we had things covered pretty well. I told you I wanted to change the address on my car insurance policy because I have moved house. After asking me for my old address, policy number, date of birth, inside leg measurement and the cat’s middle name we established that I am who I said I am and I gave you the new address. You read it back to me and I confirmed that it was correct. I think we are done here are we not? I mean what do they expect me to say? Oh yes of course I almost forgot, I drove the car off the Thelwall Viaduct in the rain yesterday and it’s at the bottom of the Manchester Ship Canal. Silly me.

Thelwall Viaduct

Thelwall Viaduct over The Manchester Ship Canal

Last but by no means least, and easily the most irritating of all, is when you wait patiently in the checkout queue with a bunch of flowers and a packet of paracetamol while the person in front of you has enough stuff on the conveyor to start a food bank in every town in Lancashire (because they didn’t bring a shopping list) and when you finally get to your turn, the assistant looks at you, looks at your pathetic excuse for a shop and says, “would you like any help with your packing today sir?”

Could you put them in a box please.

Could you put them in a box please.

“Well”, I reply, “since you ask yes I would actually. Please summon a member of your fine team of supermarket operatives and ask them if they could possibly furnish me with a suitable container for a bunch of flowers and a packet of pain killers. I would prefer the flowers not to be crushed but to be contained entirely within the selected box and please ensure that the small packet is safely confined and doesn’t rattle about or fall out. Furthermore I would prefer the chosen receptacle not to carry any logos or advertising referring to anything of an alcoholic nature lest I should be mistaken for a drunkard on my way to the car”.  I don’t really of course. I just say, “No thank you” through gritted teeth and wonder at what the training sessions for these poor souls must be like.

That’s all for today. See you later.

Armed with nothing more than a shopping list.

This article on Radio 5 Live will hardly come as news to most people but it reminded me of my relationship with supermarkets and for that matter, just about any organisation that wants to sell me something. I don’t know about you but when I walk into a supermarket I feel a bit like a gladiator entering the lion’s den. Armed with nothing more than a sharp shopping list I am expected to take on the mighty power of the marketing psychologists that have laid out the store and set up the offers in such a way that my demise would seem inevitable. My carefully written note feels like a poor defence against the deadly sharp teeth and claws that I am faced with. I hesitate momentarily before entering the store and create a positive mental image of victory to boost my confidence before launching myself at the hungry beasts. Let battle commence.

Once in there I really quite like the challenge. It’s a battle of wits and wills. I like to think of it as two mighty intellects locked in mortal combat. My quest is to leave the building with nothing that isn’t on my list whilst theirs is to have me wheeling a trolley to the car that looks like somebody has just announced that there is a red warning for snow in Lancashire tomorrow and the government has just announced a 200% increase in wine tax from Monday.

If it wasn’t for this overpowering feeling that I am at war, engaged in a fierce fire-fight and seriously out-gunned, I might actually like going shopping. I might enjoy meandering along the aisles, browsing the products and selecting exotic new produce that I haven’t tried before. I might get ideas for tasty new meals from the delicatessen or the world food shelves. I could even wander into the clothing or footwear departments and treat myself to a new pair of slippers; but unfortunately it’s just too dangerous.

Buy one get one free?

Buy one get one free?

You see I know that this is exactly what the enemy is hoping for and like a carefully obscured ambush squad; the buy-one-get-one-free offers are lurking in unexpected places just poised to attack the moment I let my guard down. But I’m ready for them.

Unlike the highly trained commando who’s eyes are everywhere, on the lookout for snipers, mine remain firmly fixed on the few carefully selected items I have written down, wavering only momentarily to take in the overhead produce indicators lest I should stray into enemy territory. You really don’t want to find yourself in the electronics aisle when everything on your list is edible, believe me. I see myself as a member of the elite special forces, not only able to move swiftly, dodging bullets and grenades, but also, at the same time able to make rapid calculations based on price per unit or pence per 100 grams. The Weetabix may well be ‘LESS THAN HALF PRICE’ but I happen to know that in Lidl’s they are only eight pence per biscuit and your “LESS THAN HALF PRICE” works out at nine pence. Ha, ha! Victory to me!!

I arrive home feeling battle weary but smug. Another day, another battle and despite a mild but temporary bout of PTSD I have survived another round. Everything on my list is ticked off and as I am putting the shopping away Gill comes home and says, “Did you get any of that really nice beer that’s on special offer at just £1 a bottle?” Bugger! It wasn’t on the list.

Desert Island Discs

A couple of people have asked the question, what has been the highlight of the trip so far or what was your favourite place? When I get asked that question I imagine what it must feel like to go on Desert Island Discs and have to select one piece of music to save in the event of a tsunami washing over the island. I can’t specifically identify one particular place or event but I am beginning to get a general feeling for what I like and what I don’t. With the exception of mountains and landscapes I have decided that I don’t like big and I don’t like busy.

As we moved up the west coast of England I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt a sense of urgency. A need to pack in the miles and get ‘up there’ as soon as possible. I suppose ‘up there’ meant somewhere I wasn’t familiar with already. Somewhere north of Carlisle. That feeling didn’t really disappear though until we sailed across to the Isle of Arran and everything except the views got smaller. The roads got narrower and less full of cars and the shops became a manageable size.

Empty roads

Empty roads

Even the supermarkets could be navigated alone and without a map. It was better still when we ran out of supermarket altogether and did all our shopping in tiny little village stores that sold a bit of everything and were run by people who wanted to know where we were from and what we were up to. Shopping became a social experience again and it was easy. It is so much simpler to choose a a packet of pasta when the choice is between large or small rather than twenty five different styles and brands.

Once into the Highlands proper complete strangers began to acknowledge us with a raised finger from the steering wheel and many even stopped to let us by. Yes, you did read that correctly. Cars stopped to give two people on bicycles priority. That took a bit of getting used to I can tell you. Navigation became much easier, as exemplified by the road sign that presented us with the choice if going north or south. More often than not we had no decisions to make at road junctions for tens of miles at a time and things like traffic lights and roundabouts were a distant memory. It was, quite simply, bliss. We stopped worrying about locking up the bikes most of the time and all our precious valuables would be left unattended in the tent for hours. There were far less people in the very far north west of Scotland but we spent a lot more time talking to them.


Change of scenery

As we headed south from John O’ Groats I first noticed things changing as we approached Inverness. Suddenly we were fighting four lane highways, looking for a safe way into the city and what seemed like enormous retail parks appeared with all the familiar brand names. Gill was keen to replace her failed waterproof jacket so we went to a huge branch of Tiso’s but they only had similar stuff to what had let her down already. We were tired and couldn’t be bothered looking further so we battled with the traffic and found our way out of the city only to find ourselves on the stupidly busy and fast A96. We got acknowledged by motorists here too but only to make it clear to us that they didn’t want us on their road. This whole world was about speed and we didn’t fit into it.

There have been some lovely quieter roads and peaceful little villages as we head south but every day we are reminded that we are now heading back to ‘civilisation’ and we become less and less visible other than as a nuisance getting in the way of people doing important stuff.

On the whole the east coast has been still been a delight but in a different way to the west and the north. The pace of life has gone up a notch or two and there seems to be more concern with making money and getting things done than there is with engaging and exchanging. The proximity of the North Sea oil and gas industry and large scale agri-business are ever present and it takes a peaceful forgotten little harbour in a small seaside village to restore the calm and inner peace that I found so easily in the more remote places we have been.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

So in answer to those earlier questions; the best bits so far have been the quieter, smaller, emptier places wherever they are to be found. They are everywhere in the remote north. Maybe you just have to look a little harder to find them where we are now and cherish them all the more when you come across them. Like just at this moment. We are sharing a small campsite with half a dozen other campers.

More talking than fishing really

More talking than fishing really

A gentleman in a floppy hat has just started fly fishing the river twenty feet from our tent and has caught (and thrown back) two fish in five minutes. Ducks and seagulls constantly bicker and squabble and the ever present sea rolls up onto the shore within earshot. I suppose this counts as one of those elusive ‘best bits so far’.

I hope that tsunami never comes.