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?


Anonymous said...

Your posts always cheer me up! Certainly need amusing anecdotes as I am the eternal pessimist and I can't help thinking caution is being thrown out of the window, and that everyone is racing back to normality far too soon. Love your honest tradesman, and the happy young man in the chemist. As I am still "shielding" I don't have any encounters to relate and am quite happy to continue without contact (other than that with husband and the felines) for a bit longer!

Tara said...

This was really cheering V. Thank you!

It was strange at the start of the pandemic to have call centre staff telling me to stay safe but your guy and his level of concern is something else. How nice. Turmeric has been the super spice of choice for a while now. I'm surprised he didn't tell you to take vitamin D too. Guess there is less need of that in India.
I think skiiny guy really needs to drop the fake tan if he wants to channel the Thin White Duke :)

Sarah Waite said...

Hi Vanessa,
I rather miss lockdown. My school is going all guns blazing with all of us in work and half the kids back. It's a drastic move to not go bust, as have many independent schools. It feels very scary and I'm counting the days down to the end of term.
This week I've overdone the internet shopping in an attempt to 'reward' myself for being a big brave girl. There are some metallic silver Adidas trainers on their sparkly way to me. I'm very excited.
I have fond memories of being a thin teen. Being a rave addled dancing nut I was in the marvellous state of 'skinny but stacked', a description given to me by an emaciated boyfriend. I think the middle aged equivalent is now wobbly with the need for a Triumph Doreen!

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

Glad the post raised a smile - if I can't be lighthearted, I don't post at all, as my absence indicated. ;) Sorry you have to shield still, and I know what you mean about racing back to normality. The more reckless some people are, the more the shielders will have to keep their head down on an open-ended basis. At least you are in a groove and happy to carry on for now.

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

You are so funny! I forgot to tell the call handler that I do have capsules of turmeric / black pepper / ginger - not sure if they would be an acceptable subsitute for the milky drink in his eyes!

He absolutely should have mentioned Vitamin D, haha. And some also say Vitamins C and K, I gather?

And I also didn't think the fake tan was quite the look he should be aiming for(!). David Bowie was in fact the first grown man I saw naked (in the cinema, in The Man Who Fell to Earth). I remember being at least as disturbed by his deathly whiteness as his other distinguishing features. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Sarah,

Ooh, I hope you make it to the end of term in a 'Covid-secure' way. They do say children aren't very good at spreading the virus, but hey, the science changes every day...

Enjoy your silvery trainers when they come - they sound ace, and well deserved!

I am not sure I know what 'skinny but stacked' means, haha, but it has a definite ring to it. I am guessing Doreen is a bra, unless it is a somewhat staid form of motorised transport. ;)

Ines said...

Unfortunately, there were no interesting encounters for me during the pandemic - I almost lost my voice for not using it at all. :D I realized there were days when I didn't have to participate in a call, nor spoke to anyone on the phone. So I started singing out loud at home.

Undina said...

I read the story about your roof when you shared it on FB (it doesn’t happen often), but even the second time I loved it. And the last part - just amazing! These things not just brighten my day but somewhat restore faith in mankind.

If you were to add black tea to the suggested spices, you’ll get chai (love it!).

Thank you for the link :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Ines,

I am glad you flexed your vocal chords in the end. ;) My elderly friend complains of the very same thing ie nearly losing her voice. I regularly talk to the cat, and sometimes to myself. I have quite often had five days go by without human interaction - even before the pandemic, actually!

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Good tip on the chai, haha! Yes, I try not to repeat content across platforms, but because I had these other stories I thought it was starting to add up to a blog post. With photographs, I usually post different ones on Facebook vs Instagram, though I know the convention is to synch the two. I suppose I see Facebook more as a vehicle for words, and Instagram for pictures.

Anyway, glad you enjoyed the stories! There's another one on Facebook today that won't end up on the blog...

Undina said...

I wasn’t criticizing the “cross-posting” in any way! :) It was a pure chance that I saw that bit there - that’s why I mentioned it.

It’s funny: it seems like we both have some method to the madn... I mean, posting in different outlets: I always use a different picture to announced a post on Instagram compared to those on my blog (and automatically picked up by FB when I link to the blog).

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Oh, I didn't think for a minute that you were criticising the "cross-posting", but just wanted to explain my MO in that regard, and was interested to hear about yours. I think I may also have used a different photo on Instagram to illustrate a blog post, but in my case that may have been mainly due to one being a better shape than another for Instagram. I think it favours square compositions in the main. ;)