Saturday 27 June 2020

Light relief, if not light at the end of the tunnel exactly...

Market Square at the height of lockdown
Undina of Undina's Looking Glass has a charming mini-series entitled "Small Things That Brighten Life", in which she has featured everything from ducklings to hummingbirds and sunsets to Christmas lights - in short, whatever catches her eye and lifts her spirits.

June has been a funny month here, with every kind of weather, lockdown rules evolving at a dizzying rate, and friends 'bubbling up' left and right with other households. People are returning to the town centre, some wearing masks, while the irrepressible charity chuggers in Market Square sport visors. They would bear a passing resemblance to riot police were it not for their cheery turquoise T-shirts. Queues spill out of every shop and bank, with gloved assistants hovering in doorways to conduct a triage of people's needs. "Is it to deposit a cheque? Right, so you can use the ATM outside." The familiar streets look like the set of a sci-fi film, and there is still an edge of unease that taints shopping trips. Once a go-to destination at the weekend to get my retail fix, I have long since lost my urge to visit T K Maxx recreationally, and am only shopping for food every fortnight, in a highly organised, surgical strike kind of a way. We are all unsure whether to remain 'alert' or relax, but on balance the virus is probably just on its break...Meanwhile, I have also had some house-related issues that don't really lend themselves to being spun in a humorous way - the prerequisite for content on Bonkers! - which explains the long hiatus. Quite a few are sorted now, and I am working on a workaround for the rest.

However, just this week I have had four unexpected conversations that were sufficiently left field and amusing to "brighten life" Undina-style, and which are the trigger for this post.

The reluctant salesman

I had a roofing company come to look at the gutter on my garage this week. I had unblocked it the other day in the pouring rain, as it was chock full of sludge, and overflowing and leaking in several places.

"That's not leaking, it was just overflowing."

"Really? Only I was sure I saw water coming out the bottom rather than going over the side."

"No, it would only leak at the joints. In that rain, everybody's gutters will have been overflowing. Why, mine were overflowing last week!"

I then asked tentatively about replacing the asbestos cement roof.

"Oh, you don't want to do that - it's a lot of work, and much too expensive."

And with that, he was gone. My kind of tradesman.

My gutter, post-unblocking!

The inadvertently louche cycle shop

I took my bike in for repair on Tuesday, as the wheel was bulging out and the brake blocks sticking. A couple of days later it was ready for collection, and I walked into town to collect it. The owner wheeled my bike slowly out of the back room, and pointed out its new tyre, before adding gloomily:

"You should know that someone who has had it in for repair before has interfered with a couple of nipples."

"Er...what's a nipple in bike terms?" I inquired, trying desperately to maintain a straight face.

"These little things inside the rim...d'you see? Someone's had a go at them and now they are..." - he paused for emphasis - "misshapen."

My bike in a friend's garden

The man who wanted to be thinner

Whilst in Boots queuing at the pharmacy counter, I happened to be level with a young man weighing himself on the 'speak your weight'-type scales. He had short, dyed black, face framing hair, with a very short fringe that few people suit, though he did, piercing blue eyes, lots of other piercings, including large metal discs inside his ears, not unlike the style of silicone ear plugs I had just bought(!), a dark fake tan, and was wearing a tight T-shirt and tartan trousers. His belt clanked with metal accoutrements, which must surely have weighed quite a bit on their own. The young man was so pleased with the reading that he started 'speaking his weight' himself, and as he looked towards anyone who could provide an audience, I was happy to step up.

"Ooh", he exclaimed gaily, "I've lost weight!"

"From the sound of your voice, I take it you wanted to?"

"Yes, I like to be between ten and a half and eleven stone, and I thought I wasn't."

"Well, for what it's worth, I'd have said you were more around the ten stone mark. You look pretty skinny to me."

"Oh, I will take that, thank you! You see, I want to look emaciated. I am trying to channel David Bowie."

"I get that, and maybe 10% Bay City Rollers, if you don't mind me saying so?"

"The tartan trousers, you mean? Yeah, fair enough."

"I remember them first time round."

"I don't, haha..."

And with that he wished me a good day and scampered off happily, before I could call after him:

"Not forgetting the 30% Paul Weller and 15% Dave Hill!"


The call centre operator who cared

Today I needed to call my phone company, for in the act of switching to a more cost-effective plan, I had inadvertently taken out a whole new contract as though I was migrating TO 3 from another provider. When I dialled the number, the recorded message explained that staff were working from home during the crisis, and that I might hear some background noise from children and pets. As I was put through, I was really hoping I would(!), but there was a disappointing lack of acoustic accompaniment. The Indian call handler went through all the steps he and I needed to take to undo my mistake, before breaking off to ask how my area of the UK was doing in terms of the virus. I replied that we were in a bit of a lull at the moment, and possibly erring on the side of complacency, as the virus might rear its spikes again at any time.

Suddenly the customer service chap launched into a long - and fascinating - account of the virus situation where he lived. He was indeed working from home, in a small town outside Mumbai. Because of the overcrowded housing in the city, infections were growing at an alarming rate, with hospitals not really geared up to deal with the exponential number of cases that may be about to hit them. He explained that he was happy to work remotely, and was trying to shield his mother by doing her shopping.

Earlier in the conversation, he had asked me my date of birth as one of the security questions, and suddenly came over all protective of me.

"You are of a similar age to my mother. I hope that you are taking good care of yourself. You shouldn't really be going out really. How are you managing for food?"

I explained my new, more targeted grocery shopping MO outlined above.

"Okay, well you should also do what you can to boost your immunity. Start the day with a cup of warm milk and a teaspoon of turmeric. You can add sugar if you want. Or make a tea with hot water, cinnamon - do you have cinammon? - ginger, and cardamom. That's good too. You could do with having both of those every day. You are of the age where you need to do all you can to protect yourself, starting with your immunity."

I thanked him for his concern, and the helpful tip, before we moved on to whether I had visited India (no, but I know people who have, and have a friend who is half Indian), and if so, where I would like to visit.

"Umm, maybe Kerala, to start with? Then some of the classic sights further north?"

"Very good, and there's also Goa. The food is excellent, and not all vegetarian. But please don't come now! This is a very bad time."

I assured him I wouldn't do anything of the sort, and we wrapped up the call with another recorded message stating the terms and conditions of my new plan. After I had come off the phone, I went to my pantry and found a sachet of turmeric, that expired in June 2018. I shall of course now google: "Can you use spices after their best before date has expired?"


Have you had any amusing encounters that have perked you up during the pandemic?