He cut the eyebrows by using a comb to pull them out and then slicing them off. Oh, so that’s how it’s done, I thought. I was so close to my grandfather and his face was in profile to me. There was something about carrying bags – to the car – which had a suitcase or bag in it. I thought, briefly about taking the bags back to the ‘place’ and then going to get the bag from the car afterwards and then, as I was already halfway back to the car, decided to carry on.
V was there – somewhere. Next I knew I was in the car; he was driving; we were going down Broad Street, in Hereford, the magnificent Cathedral ahead. It was dark but not black – like it was early evening. An old couple were crossing the road, some lady with a stick or one of those walking frames, crossing slowly. V didn’t slow down. I almost curled up as we passed her at some ridiculous speed. “Oh, don’t be so stupid”, V said – or something like that.
I woke up. The dream left me with some uneasy feeling which I couldn’t (and still can’t) put my finger on. The first city wasn’t Hereford but somewhere else I know or knew or, maybe, a mix of places. It had steep streets. I realised I had slept really deeply. I checked my phone which had been lying on the bed next to me. I had missed a call – I mean, the phone had rung about half an hour before and I had not woken up. It was a deep, deep sleep.
I must have needed that, I thought. I’ll just have another 5 minutes, I thought, setting my alarm for half an hour later. But I couldn’t get back to sleep because of the dream and so got up anyway, had a cup of tea and got ready to go to A’s place.
I had only gone to lie down for 5 minutes in the first place, almost 2 hours ago.
It had been quite a busy day. It had been quite a successful day, all in all. But that was only stage 1. Stage 2 is today, with me sitting here, writing this, instead of getting on with the things I should do, procrastinating about doing some things because there are other things to be done which are less unpleasant but, still, I write this instead of doing anything. I don’t know why I do that. I wish I didn’t. Yesterday was an example.
It’s so hard to explain. There’s a fear that I have. It’s a fear of people or something. It’s a fear of situations. Situations that might be a little bit difficult; people that I don’t understand. And, yet, when I actually do the things, it usually is OK and, although I know that, it doesn’t stop me feeling this fear. It’s stupid. I tell myself it’s stupid and I know that it’s stupid but it doesn’t stop me.
I had intended to get up by 8 and walk the dogs and start doing the things I needed to do.
I got up at 8.30 and decided to have coffee before I took the dogs out. I had two coffees, doing not much except surfing the net and playing games and reading the news. I had set reminders on my phone. I reset the reminders as they came up. Just another half an hour, I thought – the real reason being that I didn’t want to go out. I’m sure that, without the dogs, who MUST be walked, I would spend most of my time like a hermit. It’s like addictive things (smoking) – I know what I’m like.
I’m sure I’m only a step away from becoming crazy.
Eventually, I set my ‘final’ deadline to leave. I must go. I have no choice but there are things that worry me about the whole day. There are four things to do for today. A chatted to me on Facebook, yesterday, meaning that there’s a fifth – but I may lie to him about that and say it wasn’t on the way. I reset my deadline. I reset it again. But, I must be at the first place before 12.30. And so, at one point I do make the effort.
It’s a bit of a drive. I know the way except, at one point, I realise that I have taken the wrong road. Damn! But my sense of direction is good and so I end up on the right road in the end. I drive to the place and park the car. I had toyed with the idea that I wouldn’t question anything – having to do it in Italian (or, rather, Italian and a mix of hand signals and miming). It would be easier to say nothing. I berate myself for thinking this. We shall see.
There’s no one in reception. I walk round to where it says ‘Office’. There’s a couple of guys there. One asks me what I want – or rather – ‘Tell me’ or ‘Speak to me’ – “Dimi”. I explain, in my really crap Italian, that I’ve brought the car in for a check and to pick up the car ownership documents. We go to the office. He tries to find someone from reception. He suggests they are having coffee and, this being Italy, I resign myself to the fact that the coffee break, being so important, I shall not see anyone for another 10 minutes. It’s OK, siamo in Italia.
The lady comes. I, kind of, explain what I want. Another guy takes my keys. I go through the explaining of the two problems. It’s a mix of Italian, English, miming and gesticulating. However, he seems to understand. The lady searches to find my documents, which she does. I ask her about the MoT Test (revisione, here). In the UK this is done when a car is three years old and then every year. She explains that, here, it is after four years and then every two years. I am quite pleased with that. It won’t be due until the end of next year.
The guy explains that the braking ‘problem’ is normal. He explains that the ‘pinking’ problem is because of some cheap fuel that contains water. I don’t believe him but say nothing. He suggests using different garages. We shall see. I never believe mechanics. But I can’t argue because I don’t really understand. It’s a bit like doctors. Still, I am quite pleased with myself. I asked about everything and got an answer on everything and I understood, which is always an achievement.
My next stop is equally ‘harrowing’. But it has to be done. And I have checked and double-checked what I am going for. I also checked the way since, to go directly from the garage would incur some stupid couple of euros in tolls and for the sake of a few kilometers, I have found an alternative route.
The alternative route takes me past the ‘fifth’ place. I decide that I will stop, after all. Looking costs nothing. I walk towards the back of the ‘store’. I know where they will be, more or less. I see ones that are done in the old style but are actually reproductions. €1000 or more – and that’s with the discount. No way! Anyway, they don’t look that good. I walk on to the second-hand stuff. There’s nothing like the one I found and that, after procrastinating for so long, missed it – it being scrapped as it had been there too long. But, wait! There is one that doesn’t look so bad. Nice size but covered with other stuff. I look underneath and can’t work out how it works although it is obviously extendible. I look at the price. I can’t work out the discount price. It looks like €200. It has four chairs around it. The chairs are not necessarily with the table but they do go with it, sort of. I wish I had someone else with me. I don’t like doing this stuff on my own.
Still, I remember the last time I was here and missing out on one which was, probably, Art Noveau and, so, I decide to bite the bullet.
I go the the front cash desk and ask the lady for help. My Italian is crap but, somehow, I manage. I amaze myself sometimes. She finds a guy for me and we walk to the table. He struggles with it but suggests that it is €200 as I suspected. I ask if I could see how the table was extended as it’s not possible to see without taking all the stuff off.
He gets someone to take the stuff off and pull it out so as to extend it. It is badly scratched in the centre – but nothing that can’t be fixed or, rather, nothing that can’t be fixed eventually. It’s a solid table. I’m not sure what period. Maybe fifties or, even, sixties but it’s solid and a good table. Not quite what I wanted but better than this bloody horrible IKEA desk that I’m sitting at now and making the lounge look so terrible (in my eyes). I think about waiting until F gets back from London and getting him to come with me and look but decide that, in doing that, I am just procrastinating and, who knows, maybe it will be gone in a week – just like the other one.
I ask about the chairs since I can’t find a price on them. The guy finds the price. They are €80. They are good, solid chairs. The seats are soft. The colour of their wood is almost that of the table. If I don’t get these then I would have to get some less comfortable ones that are new and cost €35 each. I phone A to ask if he can help me. I need a van to get them all to my place. I will have to hire one – but it will be cheaper than paying €200 for delivery by the people here (which is a crazy price and would mean taking a day off work, etc.). I explain about the €200 and the fact that it will be cheaper to hire a van for a day and do it that way. He agrees and says we can look later, when I go round for dinner. He asks if I want him to negotiate a discount. I say that I’m OK and I can do it myself (to be honest I hadn’t even thought about it). We discuss about doing it tomorrow and I ask them if they are open – which they are. We finish the conversation. I ask the guy for a discount. He says he has to go and find someone else. The first guy comes back and I suggest a price of €250 all in – making a point of the scratches on the top. He thinks about it and then goes away. He comes back and the deal is done.
So I pay the deposit and, feeling even more pleased with myself, get in the car for the next place which was, in fact, place 2. As I said before, I had selected the route to avoid the toll on the motorway. I picture the ‘map’ in my head. I go to the place. I hate this place with passion. It is full of cheap crap – but it’s cheap crap that does the job even if most of it won’t last like my new ‘old’ table. It is full of people that, I am sure, spend their whole weekend just walking around it, they are so slow and seemingly admiring the ‘set rooms’ that are there to show you how wonderful your home could be – if only you bought all your furniture from them. But they do cupboards and I want cupboards for the bathroom. I want to move towels out of the bedroom and I want my huge pack of toilet rolls to be not on show and not on the floor. Perhaps F is rubbing off on me?
I walk round the store, since I need to find the cupboards I want and note the code number and place to find them in the warehouse section. I also need to check which doors I want.
There is one saving grace about this place (other than it’s cheapness for cupboards) and that is the meatballs. Swedish meatballs with gravy and redcurrant sauce and chips. But, I am on my own and it’s another thing to fear (the mass of people, the sitting on one’s own, the having no one to talk to, the mass of people (yes, I know I mentioned it twice but I really do dislike being around all these people – these kind of people)). I find the cupboards and the doors and make notes with the conveniently supplied pencil on the conveniently supplied checklist. It’s all very convenient – except for the mass of people who, quite obviously, are here to wander and, generally, get in my way. Of course, I am much later here than I had originally intended to be – but only through my own fault.
I go, as fast as I can, dodging the fat people who, walking as fast as snails and three abreast or more, block the pathways. I am irritated but not so much as usual because I have, after all, already accomplished a lot (in my head, anyway). I reach the end of the ‘showroom’ and I see the restaurant. It is mid-day. I decide that I will treat myself to the meatballs. The queue is long. There are so many children. The man in front of me, when we reach the place to pick up the trays, is on the telephone. Obviously he has ‘gone ahead’ to get the stuff whilst his family or friends (or both) trail behind. Now he is here, having to make selections and the others are not. He is reading out what is available. The person on the other end is obviously passing it to the other people and then relaying it back to him. I find this annoying since it means he is taking too long to decide. But I cannot be angry – I am too fearful. I concentrate on anything other than him. The children are, in general, bored. I can’t say I blame them. Me too!
I decide on 15 meatballs. You have the choice of 10, 15 or 20 – all conveniently priced. 15 seems the right choice. Not greedy but enough. It seems that I don’t get my proper portion of chips but I’m not complaining. It will be enough. I grab a beer and a glass and queue up to pay. It’s less than 10 Euro so reasonable value for money. The place is bursting. People have ‘bagged’ their table by dumping coats and bags on seats. I toy with picking a table with a ‘spare’ seat, knowing that it will probably annoy them but decide not to. Who needs the hassle? I find a woman sitting on her own at a table of four. I ask if the seat diagonally opposite is free. It is. I sit and eat and enjoy my meatballs. Perhaps I shouldn’t eat them as I’m going to dinner later but, what the heck!
I go down to the warehouse part, through the kitchen stuff and the storage boxes, etc. I go to the warehouse. People now have big trolleys which they can’t steer and there’s even less consideration of others. I steer mine to the place I want. I pick up the flat-pack boxes containing the cupboards. I move on and pick up the boxes containing the doors. I worry that I haven’t picked up the right stuff so check the codes again and the colours again, marked on the edge of the shelves. It should be OK but I have no one with me to confirm – like everything today. I go to the check out. They have the ‘do-it-yourself’ ones. I’m happier with those. After all, It means speaking to less people. There is one free and the helpful assistant sees me hesitate before waving me through. I check out. It’s all the price it is supposed to be.
I load it into the car. There is someone waiting to have my place and the man has got out to safeguard the place. I unload my stuff but then have to take the trolley to one of the trolley areas. Instead of saying that he will do it for me or do it after they have parked he just stands there. I decide to make my own little protest. Having got in the car I spend a few moments organising myself and not rushing as I would have done if he had offered to take the trolley. There! That’ll show ‘em!
I drive home, more pleased with myself at having done everything I meant to (and more – now that I have the table) and it is still only about 1 o’clock. I unload everything and get it home.
But, still I haven’t finished. I have to go out again to the ‘3rd’ place. Again, not only venturing out of the flat but also having to put up with lots of people. I make myself tea. But I have to go and do this thing. Well, I don’t HAVE to but I want to. It’s for F. Of course, this has the added ‘fear’ in that, this is the first time I will do this and is it the right thing to do? I mean to say, it’s a risk. If it had been V there would be no risk but F is different and I don’t know him that well or, rather, not well enough. Still, as we walked past the shop the other night, he said that he really liked them.
I go. I have to get on the tube. Every move I make is hard. I just want to go home and do …. nothing but at least I wouldn’t be here, with all these people around. I get on the tube train. I feel self-conscious. I stare straight ahead, seeing myself in the reflection of the window. I am an old man. Do other people see that too? I am slightly shocked when I look. The wrinkles, the sagging face, the flappy neck. I don’t feel like this but know I am like this. But what do others see? It’s like the liver spots. They have appeared, on my hands and arms, in the last year or so. Mostly faint and only a few. It’s not really a problem, just a reminder. And, yet, I’m not ready for it. It’s not like I really care it’s just that, it seems to creep up on me and I can’t see myself in the way that I see others and, so, I am curious as to what others see.
I get out of the tube and walk up the road. The streets are thronged with people. Too many people. Strolling around on this Saturday afternoon. But not many bags. That’s the thing to look for. How many people have bags. There’s a crisis. The shops are full but not enough people buying; not enough consumers to pay of the debts or, rather, increase the debts to put more money in the system. I go to the shop. OK. I’ve picked the blue one. That’s the one I like most. I go in. First you have to find where they are. There are three or four floors. I go to each one. Eventually I find it – the blue one. They are on a shelf above me. I get them down. The sizes are L or XL – I want medium or small. I could ask. If only I knew, for certain, who were the assistants since, these days, people don’t wear uniforms. It’s to give everyone the feeling that we are all equal or something. It’s all casual. As if the assistants are supposed to be like your friends rather than someone there to assist you. I guess. I prefer not to speak to anyone. I decide that I won’t ask. Normally, these days, they’ll just say they only have what’s on the shelf anyway. I think I’ll go to the one on Corso Buenos Aires. I get back on the tube and go to Lima. I get out and walk up to the shop. I realise that I haven’t actually spoken to anyone in hours. Even if I am surrounded by so many people. In fact, I haven’t spoken to anyone since I did the deal with the table!
I go into the shop. They don’t have quite the same things as the other store. I wander round. I can’t see the blue one. But I find a grey one that seems similar. Grey and red. I try it on. It fits me so it should be OK. I take it and go to pay. I hand over the item. My credit card doesn’t work. The cashier explains. I ask him to try it again since I know that the card is OK – I used it in IKEA, after all. It still doesn’t work so I use the debit card. I leave. Now I worry about the purchase. What if it is too large? What if it isn’t one that he likes? I shall leave the price tags on in case he doesn’t like it. I have to try this the once, at least. If he doesn’t like it then I can always use it. It would be OK for work, if nothing else.
I realise that, as I am going to dinner tonight, I should go and get some wine from my ‘wine shop’. Now this is fine. For this I have no fear. I don’t know why this is. After all, this is another case of me having to rely on someone else. However, I quite like the guy and he always says ‘hello’ to me if I’m passing the shop and he’s outside. Also, I can trust him. I say what type of thing I want and he will tell me the different ones I can choose – and he’s never let me down yet! I tell him I want a white wine, not sparkling or fizzy and dry. He points me to some. Telling me how each one is good. I select one. I love his shop. On the counter are some bottles of beer and cider. One group is for Bulmer’s Original cider. I smile to myself. This is from home, after all and it’s funny to see that whilst being in a foreign country, there is a little bit of Herefordshire, even here. And no one knows – like it’s a secret between myself and, well, myself.
I need to go to the supermarket. I could go to Unes, round the corner, or go home, drop off these bags and then go to the local Carrefour. I don’t like Unes, really. Or, rather, I don’t like the assistants. And, more particularly, I prefer the milk from Carrefour. I walk home, down my street, which is long. I am struck (again, after all this time) how my street is like it’s own special place; it’s like a village in the centre of town. I love my street.
I get home and drop off the bags and go straight out to get the shopping I need. I have decided to get some DVDs and CDs – to copy some of the stuff I have on the computer to play in the car and stuff. The tills are almost empty. I pick the one with the woman that reminds me of the woman that used to work for my grandmother when she had the post office. She always seems so miserable though but she’s OK. I ask her about the CDs and DVDs. She says I have to get them from the desk (where the expensive or easily-stealable stuff is kept). I don’t fully understand at first and ask if I have to pay for them over there. She explains that I have to get them and then bring them to her. I do so and as I return she says “give me”. Smiling as she does so. I laugh and tell that she speaks perfect English. I say that in Italian, of course. It pleases me because I know she is another of the cashiers that I will like and will be OK in the future.
>I go home. I am so tired. I will just go and have a lie down for a bit.
I think of the day and know that making the effort was worth it. I did many things. I know that my fear isn’t right, nor logical but what can I do about it? Every step outside, on my own is such a big deal in my head. I worry that, one day, it will become too much. I worry that Best Mate and I have too much in common – have this in common and, one of these days, it will become a hurdle I can’t get over. For sure, it isn’t right, I know, but what can I do?