Nuggets of Knowledge

This week, I went to a table quiz in a pub. It was a raucous quiz. Drinks were ordered, there was laughter and chat, and there was a good vibe from knowing that money was being raised for a great cause, a local Special Olympics Bowling Club. But at our table the atmosphere was more serious. This was a fight to the death. Answers were thrashed out, passionately argued over. When we got a correct answer, we felt a quiet glow of triumph. When we got one wrong, we groaned.

 

Quizzes satisfy the same competitive urge in me as matches do in other people. I play to win.  When I watch quizzes on television, I shout at the answers at the screen, howl in outrage when a contestant gets a question wrong, yell in triumph when they win. And I enjoy pitting myself against the contestants.

 

I also relish the opportunity quizzes give me to scoop up nuggets of knowledge. I hoard these pieces of knowledge the way other people hoard old clothes or newspapers. For example, at this week’s quiz, I found out that an aye-aye is a large primate living in Madagascar and that the person who sang Starship Trooper was Sarah Brightman, ex-wife of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

A History of Quizzing

 

bright ideas
I love to tease out a question and scoop up nuggets of knowledge.

Quizzing has been a part of my life since I was young. On Sunday nights, after dinner, my father gave us a quiz, magicking up questions from his own store of knowledge. Name six insects. When did World War Two begin? We enjoyed the challenge and would plead with him to give us a quiz.

As a teenager, I was able to share my passion with a wider audience, as we had teachers in school who enjoyed setting table quizzes and encouraged us to enter quizzing competitions. I became part of a crack quiz team which enjoyed a decent level of success. This competitive streak culminated in two appearance on television quizzes.

It’s true what they say – the questions are a lot harder on television. Everything happens very fast, and the knowledge you gather goes out the door. So I didn’t distinguish myself, though I didn’t disgrace myself either. The experiences were hugely enjoyable, and each one is worthy of a post on its own right. And I got to go on a couple of jaunts, all expenses paid, which wasn’t too shabby.

Re-Ignited Interest

Quizzes faded out of my life for a while, until I met my husband, a dynamite quizzer, and I joined him and his quiz team-mates. We enjoy the competition, and the victories when they come, although success in the raffles eludes us. It’s nice to have the opportunity to share the nuggets of knowledge we’ve gathered and put them to good use.

Sometimes people say to me, ‘Why would you want to know things like that? What’s the point?’ To me, all knowledge is power, even useless knowledge. And as I grow older, and I realise how little I really know about the workings of this world, I take refuge in these nuggets of knowledge. I may not know how to open a bottle with a bottle opener, or why some people consider it  rude to open presents in front of other people. But I can take comfort in knowing that Willie Makes a Phrase is an anagram for William Shakespeare.

 

Artful Queue Dodgers

Recently, I had to go to a doctor’s surgery to collect something. Beside the desk, there was a sign asking people to stand back from the desk, so that people could have privacy while doing their business. As there was a woman at the desk, I obeyed the sign and stood in the doorway.

When she finished, I approached the desk, and an old woman came around me and reached the desk before I did, even though it was clear that I was next in line. She just had a quick question, she said, but the question required the receptionist to get up and look for a colleague who could answer it for her.

My item wasn’t ready, and while I waited for it to be printed, another older woman took the opportunity to ask her question, and the scrape and grind of the printer would have indicated that I was still being dealt with. Let’s just say that in both instances, it was lucky that I wasn’t discussing anything of a delicate nature.

Abusing the Privileges of Age

What is it about passing a certain age that causes some people to feel that signs and queues no longer apply to them? It’s as if a switch flips in their brain, and after a lifetime of caring, they decide they no longer care. In a way, this is commendable. It’s literating not to worry about what other people think. But you can take it too far.

Artful Queue Dodger
Some older people have mastered the art of queue dodging.

By and large, these artful queue dodgers get away with it. People let them go ahead, possibly because they don’t want to be seen to bawl out an old person in public. But also out of respect and out of kindness. And these queue dodgers trample on that kindness. They abuse the privileges that age brings. That’s what burns me about it.

There is a possibility that, if left to my own devices, I might actually let an older person go ahead of me. But don’t guilt or manipulate me into it. Otherwise, my walls will go up. Other people, far nicer than I am, have a more mellow attitude to it. ‘Can’t wait till I can get away with that,’ they quip. They speak as if the queue dodgers are children who don’t quite know what they’re doing. But they know exactly what they are doing.

To Dodge or to Wait

When I left the doctor’s surgery, I had to go to the chemist. As I arrived at the entrance, an old woman appeared. My dander was up by now and I thought, no way is this person going to get round me. So, I took ruthless advantage of my faster leg speed to get round her and reach the counter first.

And there was nobody there.

By the time the old woman arrived at the counter, there were two people there. One was attending to me and the second one attended to her. And she was finished before I was.

I realised that a stark choice lies before me. I can become an artful queue dodger myself, or I can learn to wait. By temperament, I fear I have the makings of a queue dodger. But I also wonder what the point of being alive for such a long time is if you haven’t learnt some of life’s lessons. If you haven’t learnt to be a little wiser, a little more patient, a little more tolerant.

I’m hoping that by the time I’m old enough to be a queue dodger, I’ll have learned that everything will happen in its own good time. And that I will have even gained enough grace to allow other people to go ahead of me.

 

Small Wonders of Sneem

Apologies for the lack of bloggage last weekend. I’m sure you all felt the blog’s absence keenly. It’s because I was gallivanting again, though this time within the borders of my own country. Our hillwalking club descended en masse to Sneem in Co. Kerry, in the south-west corner of Ireland.

Kerry is one of the most popular tourist spots in Ireland, and it’s hard to describe its beauty without resorting to cliché. Majestic. Spectacular, Scenic. So as with my Iceland post a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to concentrate on Kerry’s little quirks, and the county is full of them.

Here’s a flavour of some of the gloriously random things I encountered on my travels

A sign warning walkers about stray golf balls, describing them as dangerous projectiles

A bridge with a dizzying view of water hurtling beneath a grille

Water Under Bridge
A dizzying view of water under a bridge. Photo taken by moi.

A pub with a fictional menu and lasagne the texture of biscuit

A Dalmatian perched on a street sign

A very concise German charity shop owner – when asked if she had lived in Sneem long, she simply answered, ‘Yes.’

Raspberry sorbet ice cream, eaten on a bench by the river

A red setter stretched out on the steps of the hotel, basking in the sun

A garden filled with pyramids designed to mimic the wattle and daub dwellings of our ancestors

A phantom slice of apple pie

And one man and his goat

Man With Goat
Man brings his goat into the village of Sneem.

Small Wonders of Iceland

This week, I ticked an item on my bucket list and went to Iceland. I could tell you about the cascading waterfalls, the black sand beaches, hot springs bubbling from the earth. It’s what we think of when we think of Iceland. And all of these things are indeed awesome, in the truest sense of the word.

But I can’t say anything about these wonders that hasn’t already been said. When you’re a tourist, you’re funnelled towards the big game: the natural wonders, the ancient buildings, the epic landscapes. So instead, I look for the little moments that make a trip sparkle. The quirky objects you stumble upon at street corners. The random conversations. The strange but delicious food. The characters on the bus.

Here’s a word collage of my top ten small but perfectly formed Icelandic moments.

Two polar bears standing guard outside a shop

Carp flashing golden in a pond

A tour guide with flaming red hair who did a scarily accurate impression of a Viking having his guts ripped out

Drinking water that smelt of eggs, but tasted pure as air

An exhausting, but enjoyable search for puffins

A group of farmers entranced by fields full of fodder, but empty of sheep

A museum that blasted punk music from a cellar

Splashes of wall art filled with swirling patterns, fantastical creatures and electric colour schemes

Slices of morning herring, picked to enhance the delicate flavour

A band with no musical instruments

Quirky Iceland Picture
Iceland is filled with small, quirky marvels. Photo taken by moi.

 

I’m not the most adventurous of travellers. You won’t find me dangling off a cliff or Airbnbing in a yurt. But I don’t think I need you need to go on mad adventures to make your trip unique. I just look out for small details that turn into lasting memories.

 

Musical Magical Carpet Ride

I never thought I wouldn’t have time for music. It has always been so vital for me, essential as a pulse. But seeking out new music does take energy and resources, and sometimes my brain doesn’t have the bandwidth for it.

Then last week, a new piece of music wafted out of my radio speaker. Warm notes curled upwards like smoke. The music spread from my nostrils and through the cavities in my skull, then spread like a pulse down to my feet, until my whole body was filled with electricity. I couldn’t remember the last time a piece of music had reached me like that.

The man who introduced this piece of music was a voice from the past. Donal Dineen, presenter of an alternative radio show called Here Comes the Night, which enjoyed a cult following at the turn of the century. His show regularly provided me with those electric moments.

Musical Magical Carpet

The only radio competition I have ever entered was on Here Comes the Night. In my entry, I described the show as a musical magical carpet ride – you never knew where you were going to land next. For my efforts, I won concert tickets and CDs. While it’s true that I had my eyes on the prize, I did actually mean what I had said. Every tune was a surprise, a marvel in its own way.

Magic Carpet
The musical magic carpet ride – you never knew where you’d land.

The show was a portal into a world of music I might never otherwise have heard. The tunes broke the boundaries of genre, of traditional melody. You would hear yelps, scratching sounds, bongo drums, the throb of a Hammond organ, skanky street raps and a haunting vocal – often within the one tune.

The artists stitched old sounds together to make new ones. They built rich layers of sound which melded together to form one unified sound. They used sound give shape to their world and their experiences. On a given night, you would hear hip hop, world music, electronica, folk music and medieval choral music.

Musical Challenges

The music was not for the faint hearted. If you’re a fan of easy melodies, this wouldn’t have been the show for you. The tunes challenged your ears, but then rewarded them a thousand times over. I spent my nights floating on waves of sound, which filled crevices inside of me.

Most of the time, Donal Dineen stood back from the music he played, but from time to time, his cool, clipped voice could be heard, intoning a litany of names, of artists, record labels, remixes. The names jumbled together, and I couldn’t retain them. I just cheekily taped the tunes and hoped for the best.

When the show came to an end, I allowed that music to fade out of my life. The music was hard to find, and I was too lazy to seek it out. My tapes wore out and stereo systems were no longer sold with cassette decks. Tumbleweed formed over the tunes and I let myself be drawn back into the doldrums of pop radio.

Carving Out Time for Music

Then Spotify came along and I was reunited with the music. And I now knew the names of the tunes. Donal Dineen began a podcast and began to appear on a national arts show. It was on this slot that I heard the electrifying piece of music, by an Ethiopian musician called Hailu Mergia, a doyen of the Addis Ababa jazz scene of the 1970s. If you want to hear the notes that have been feeling my head for days upon days, click here.

Listening to Mergia’s smoky notes, I vowed to carve out time to seek out new tunes, to embark on that musical magic carpet ride of discovery that new music brings.

 

The Ties of Friendship

Last Easter, I went back to my hometown for a good old catch-up, not just with my family, but with various friends. I rang one friend to arrange a coffee date. I would step off the bus and straight into a coffee shop for our chin wag. With another set of friends, I arranged a lunch to take place a couple of hours later, via our WhatsApp group.

Friends Drinking Coffee
Friendship: a commitment I freely choose.

I was to meet them on the Saturday, and both social arrangements had been made by the Tuesday. For some people, this would be the stuff of nightmares. ‘I hate to be tied,’ I hear such people say, as if an invite to have coffee at eleven on a Friday were a court summons. I have to say, this kind of talk saddens me, with its implication that friendship is a burden to be borne.

The Privileges of Friendship

I get a thrill when my phone pings with a message asking me to meet at eleven on a Friday, or with a reply that yes, my friend would love to meet me on a Friday. When I get a message like that, it tells me that someone is thinking of me, and that gives me a warm glow. I feel lucky that people think enough of me to want to make arrangements to meet me.

And I feel privileged to even have friends in the first place, because there are plenty of people who have none. Loneliness has become so endemic that the UK Government has appointed a Minister for Loneliness. We have never had more technology to communicate with, yet I wonder if this technology has turned us into tectonic plates, drifting further apart from each other.

Leaving Friendship to Chance

I could have left my arrangements to chance, turned up on the Saturday and sent messages to see who was around. Some people thrive on this. But I know that if I make concrete arrangements with my friends, they’re more likely to happen. Once I’ve made the arrangements, I can slot the rest of my schedule around them. For me, that’s freedom of a kind.

Yes, it’s a commitment. It means carving out time away from my work and family schedules. But it’s a commitment I freely choose to make. Rather than seeing the arrangements as an obligation, I see them as a beacon on the landscape, something warm and inviting to move towards. And I reap the reward for that effort in the form of laughter, support and a sense of belonging.

 

A Day of Days

Some days have a special, shining quality. Colours are sharper, food explodes with flavour, and conversation flows. There is an ease to the day; everything you do feels just right. It’s a day when you feel fully alive. When a day like this comes along, I call it a Day of Days.

I was lucky enough to have a Day of Days just last week, when I jaunted up to Dublin, Ireland’s capital city, on a literary road trip with a friend of mine. On a Day of Days, it’s a bonus to have good weather to set the scene. After weeks of cold, rain and even snow, spring put in a brief appearance. There was proper warmth from the sun, and the sky was the sort of blue you’d find in an artist’s palette.

For me, travel plans that go like clockwork are an essential ingredient in a Day of Days. Thanks to the speed and efficiency of my friend, the jour was smooth. The motorway was free of traffic, and we arrived at our destination with time to spare. Enough time to tuck into various sweet and savoury treats, washed down with frothycinos.

Conversations and Connections

We were booked in for two events at the literary festival. The first gave us a chance to hear Gail Honeyman in conversation. Gail is the author of the runaway bestseller novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (link). It’s a novel that makes an art form of everyday life. Gail spoke to a packed theatre, but managed to make us feel we were all enjoying one big coffee morning together.

Gail’s laugh could be heart frequently as she talked, a warm, rich laugh that belly-rippled through her. When it came to question time, she was determined to make a personal connection with every questioner. After I asked my question, I was started when she asked if I could raise my hand to show her where I was. She wanted to make sure she answered me directly. She was, to use a popular Irish saying, ‘a real dote.’

After the event finished, we had a generous window of time to enjoy our surroundings and linger over lunch. We were in a picturesque part of Dublin by the sea, and we strolled along the pier, watching the sun sparkle on the sea and posing for pictures at the bandstand.

 

Dun Laoighre Pier
The perfect setting for a day of days. Pic taken by moi.

 

Food is a cornerstone of a Day of Days. We found an Asian restaurant and were served colourful bowls of Thai food, a feast of reds, blues and greens. Mine was washed down with a crisp glass of white wine.

Interesting Conversations

Then it was on to the second event. This event was a little more cerebral in town, with a panel of authors engaged in an earnest discussion about depictions of love in their novels. There were fewer questions. One of the authors was a little bolshy. He slouched in his chair and made a stream of dry comments. And he pulled up the moderator when she stumbled over the title of his book. I felt it added a certain frisson to the occasion. After all, blandness is the enemy of creativity.

It took me a little time to immerse myself in this event, so I was pleasantly surprised when the moderator said it was time for the last question, and to discover that an hour had passed. It was time to head for home, and the homeward journey was just as smooth as the first. It flashed by in a torrent of talk.

Normally, time with this friend only happens when I can snatch her away from the treadmill of childcare. Now we had space to talk, to share the special moments of each other’s lives, to share humorous observations about the onset of middle age. We were able to learn more about each other’s quirks, likes and dislikes. We discovered that neither of have a taste for 99 cones, those mountains of whipped ice cream that have formed part of so many Irish childhoods.

This Day of Days was rounded off by the sight of my husband waiting at the gate, hot buttered toast and the rather excellent children’s movie Inside Out, which I referenced in a previous blog post.

On a Day of Days, I am released from the steel trap that holds my brain down. I feel reunited with myself, and with this colourful, scarred, yet beautiful world we live in. I would love to hear about what a Day of Days is for you, what releases you from your steel trap. Feel free to share yours.

 

Talking to Strangers in Cafes

I am wary of cafes with sharing tables. I believe some café owners have an idealistic vision of strangers coming together around these large tables and finding new friends. What it often results in is enforced closeness. Conversations are circumscribed because you don’t want others to hear.

Or you can feel as if you’re drowning in other people’s noise, like the time when my friend and I were forced to share a table with a gang of clacking Spanish students. In trying to bring people together, these tables can take away your sense of personal space.

Last week, my mother and I found ourselves in a café called The Wooden Spoon in Co Clare, in the west of Ireland. The only space free was at a large sharing table, my heart sank. There was one woman at the table, and she waved us over with extravagant gestures when she saw us looking for a spot. ‘There were loads of people here a minute ago,’ she explained, ‘but they’re all gone now, so you might as well sit here.’

The table was actually a door, laid flat and propped on table legs. It was painted pale green, and a pane of glass protected it from food spillages. Wood shavings were artfully placed around the door panels. We sat on one bench and the woman sat opposite.

 

Sharing Table
The sharing table where we met the nurse at the Wooden Spoon Café. Photo taken from Wooden Spoon Facebook Page.

An Entertaining Monologue

Without preamble, she launched into the tale of the job interview she had just attended at a local nursing home. There were various twists to the tale, as many twists as there had been on the road to the interview. There was her reluctant return to nursing after a career break, the dance she had been to the night before, the fear that the makeup on her shirt collar might have interfered with her chances of landing the job.

Along the way, we heard about the food that she wasn’t allowed to eat and the tablets she was on. Every so often, she hurled questions at us, but she didn’t wait for the answers. It was quite restful – all we had to do was sit back and listen.

Beside her, there was a paper bag bulging with clothes. It had a floral design and the name of a local boutique printed on it. She nurse treated us to a fashion show, pulling out a handsome black dress coat and a white shirt.

While she spoke, the nurse ate a bowl of beef stew. She used wedges of brown bread to dig into the gravy. She dug into the brown depths with such vigour that I feared for her orange nail varnish. ‘I won’t eat for two days now after this,’ she declared.

In the Boutique

When the nurse finished her food, she left in a whirl of bags and coats. In the vacuum that she left, we decided to visit the boutique with the floral bags. As we tried on an array of colourful tops, the nurse reappeared, to put a deposit on another black coat. While she was speaking to the owner, her phone went off.

Her phone was on speaker, so I soon realised that the phone call was from the nursing home. I  tried to eavesdrop to find out the outcome of the interview, but the clothes called, and I became immersed in trying them on. I wasn’t kept in suspense long though. Through the curtain of the changing room, I heard her say, ‘Ladies, I got the job.’

I’m not a Bible-basher, but a couple of days after we met the nurse, I came across this quote from Hebrews: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Now I’m starting to see the wisdom of the sharing table. They remind you of how enlivening conversations with strangers can be.

 

An Epic Walk

This week, snow blotted out the familiar landscape of the town where I live. It’s a seaside town, and it seldom sees snow. On the radio, voices of authority urged us to stay indoors. Red alerts blared from TV screens. But beneath the worries about skidding cars, frozen pipes and power-outs, we felt a childlike glee. And this propelled us out of doors. We wanted to taste the snow on our lips, to feel our cheeks glow in the cold air.

Having an eye condition which makes my steps wobbly, I was a little wary about venturing outside. But armed with a strong husband and a strong stick, modern feminist principles cheerfully abandoned, I felt I was up to the challenge. The snow was firm; the satin squelch underfoot was thrilling.

To get to our gate, we had to manoeuvre around snowdrifts. Outside our gate, the street was silent. It was hard to tell where road ended and footpath began. The speedbumps were now tiny hillocks. The roundabout at the end of the road was submerged. Snow formed crosses on the poles.

 

Snow Crosses
The snow formed crosses on the poles. All pictures in this post taken by moi.

We made our way along the strand. Snow had crept all the way to the top of the strand, touching the stones that nestled under the wall. As we reached the main street, the ground became firmer, as the footpaths had been gritted.

Human Comforts

At the top of the street, our favourite coffee shop was lit like a beacon. Warm air caressed our faces as we opened the door, and we wrapped ourselves in coffee, cake and conversation. When I got up, I discovered a mudslide of grit under my feet. The owner swept it up without fuss and smiled when I left a tip.

Media Fame

Now we were fortified for the downhill journey, which was a slightly different proposition. The town is full of vertiginous hills, and now they were mini-ski slopes. As we picked our way down, a reporter from the local radio station approached us, to find out why we had braved the elements in spite of the warnings.

As a former journalist, I knew what it was to be a slave to the almighty deadline, so I was happy to oblige. And in his best broadcasting voice, my husband told of trudging through the snow with crates of glass milk bottles in his former life as a milkman.

Onward Journey

When we finished talking to her, we slid onwards, our feet touching patches of black ice. As we passed a pub, we heard a creak, and the double doors began to peel back. A smiling bar woman stood behind the doors.

‘Have you extra cider brought in,’ we quipped.

When we reached the promenade, we saw brave, foolhardy souls inching their way along in cars. People were walking their dogs, who leapt around in the snow.

‘Are we mad?’ we asked each other, secretly congratulating ourselves at our daring.

As I took a picture of the action, two dogs bounded forward, dragging their owners with them.

‘’Sorry,’ they called, when they saw me with my phone.

‘You added colour to my picture,’ I replied.

Snowy Promenade
A few souls braved the snow on the promenade.

 

When we arrived at the front gate, we stood back and looked around. Our garden was a frosted paradise. The branches of the willow tree were spider legs. We marvelled at how snow had turned our town into a place of mystery and wonder, a routine walk into an epic journey full of challenge, beauty, and ultimately triumph.

Willow Spider
Our garden became a frosted paradise.

Twenty-First Century Quest

Once upon a time, I embarked on a quest. This quest did not involve the slaying of dragons or men in metal suits bashing each other over the head with shields. There were no princesses in towers. But there was gold – of a kind. In this century we live in, our quests pit us against threats that are unseen and unknown. My quest was a battle with technology.

My quest also involved a journey – no good quest is complete without one. Not the kinds of journeys we go on these days – writing journeys or motherhood journeys or cancer journeys. This was an actual journey, on a train. The train would take me to Dublin, in pursuit of gold – well, it was actually a business meeting with people who wanted me to write a big wedge of content for them.

The day we settled on was the day before I embarked on my annual ski odyssey. It seemed like a dynamic, executive powerhouse thing to do, arrange a business meeting, then jet out foreign. On the appointed day, I set off for Waterford train station with my trusty suitcase, full of free egg McMuffin and a sense of smug satisfaction that all the items on my to-do list were ticked off. If this were a proper quest narrative, I’d be telling you at this point that the day was set fair for adventure.

I boarded the train, stowed away my suitcase and settled on a suitable perch for my journey, across from a woman too young to prospect strangers for conversation and too old to be in thrall to a constantly bleeping phone. I took out my oracle (a glossy magazine) and began to consult it. I let myself be enveloped by a sense of peace and wellbeing. And then the phone rang.

The Quest Begins

It was one of my paymasters. What could they want? Hadn’t I sent them the required document with a satisfying click of my mouse a mere twenty-four hours earlier? Indeed I had, but now it was floating in cyberspace, and they were unable to retrieve it. Could I find a way to send it to them again? I explained that I was on holidays, sure that this would be the end of the tale. But no, they were adamant that they wanted me to retrieve it.

I jabbed my phone a few times. Nothing happened. Then I got a brainwave. I would consult my IT guru, my right-hand woman when I was in a jam. Straight away, she was on the case. Why didn’t the paymaster send her the email and she would see if she could open it. Confident that the problem was now in capable hands, I sank back in my seat.

An Interesting Seatmate

Throughout this flurry of phone calls, I could feel the eyes of my seatmate on me.

‘You’re good with phones,’ she declared. ‘Can you see have I any missed calls on this yoke.’

She thrust an ancient phone at me. I jabbed at the buttons, this time with more success. As I was about to impart the information the phone had revealed to me, the refreshments trolley appeared. She ordered a cup of hot water. And a vodka. It was 11.20am.

When she had arranged her refreshments around the table, I gave her the contents of her missed calls list. She picked up the phone and began speaking into it, something about a hospital appointment. And then she began to cry. And say, ‘Don’t want to die.’ It was not clear whether she meant herself or somebody else. Either way, I was quite rattled. When the train drew into the next station, I gathered my things and bolted to the next carriage.

No Escape

But my troubles were far from over. The IT guru rang with the bad news that she was unable to sprinkle her usual magic on the document. She could not open it. I rang the paymasters again to beg for mercy. Surely they would be satisfied that I had done what I could, given that I was away from the seat of power – my computer. But they were under instructions from the mothership, and the mothership wanted the document that day. Was there someone at my house who could send it?

I thought of my husband, for whom computers were the devil. He was at work, and Fridays were his busiest days. He would be safely out of the way. No need to plague him with my troubles. I told the paymasters this and they appeared to accept the situation. I hoped now I would have my reprieve. But it was not to be.

A Gargantuan Task

I got a phone call from the head paymaster. The mothership were insisting on having the document to them by four o’clock that day. They would not wait for another writer to be sourced. Was there any way my husband could be prevailed upon to source the document? There was nothing else for it. I had to throw myself upon my sword (or my husband’s sword)

I texted Husband. He replied that he would be finished work shortly, and was willing to try and source the file. He who hated computers. I, who hated having to tackle computer problems, particularly with an audience present. For both of us, this would be the equivalent of walking on a bed of hot coals. But we would do it. And we would do it together.

And so it was that when I arrived at the fancy doodle hotel where the meeting was to take place, I did not apply my armour for the meeting (makeup). Nor did I seek sustenance in the form of a hipster sandwich containing either beetroot, goats cheese or avocado, as my heart desired. Instead I began the long walk across the hot coals.

hot coals
Completing this quest was akin to walking on hot coals for my husband and I.

 

The Trial By Fire

The first stage of this trial by fire was The Turning On of the Computer. This required the issuing of a secret password. It’s Y. Not I. Y. Why? After a few false starts (and a quick text message), Husband managed to type in the correct password and we were on our way.

The next stage was the Opening of the Email. Husband had never sent an email in his life. I issued a set of highly technical instructions. Click on that thing that looks like a blue e. At the bottom. To the left of the thing that looks like a W. Now type in Gmail in that thing that looks like a ribbon at the top of the page. No, not G-spot. Gmail. Now click on the red box that says Compose Mail. The box appeared. Progress indeed.

Now it was time for a delicate manoeuvre that required some skill. The insertion of the attachment. First, the file had to be located. Click on that safety pin yoke at the bottom of the box. Nothing. Click on it again. Again, nothing. I allowed full-scale panic to bloom. My breath came in ragged gasps. ‘Calm down,’ said Husband. Words designed to set the flames dancing.

But all was not lost. There was a way, though it would take longer, and it was fraught with risk. The Cut and Paste. First of all, we needed to open the window. You see that W? Where is it? The one next to the blue E. I see it. Click on it. He clicked and the window opened. The coals began to burn a little less.

Now click on file. Over on the left. No, the left, not the right. Top left, not bottom. The coals began to burn bright again. But at last he found it. See the list of files? See the one with the gobbledygook name? Move the mouse down and click on it. You’ll see a tonne of writing. The writing appeared.

The Final Moves

And now it was time for the Cut and Paste to begin. To achieve it, Husband would need to master the Control Moves. Click Control and A. Not at the same time. And not separately. Sort of one after the other while holding onto the control. A blue square appeared around the text. Result.

The next Control Move was truly a high-wire act. At any moment, the swathe of text could disappear. It was time for Control and C. The same again, only this time, you press C. The text stayed intact. But would it transfer to the waiting email box? Go back to the blue E. You’re in Gmail. Click on the email box. Now for the final Control Move. Control and V. This would reveal all. Husband pressed Control and V. And the text appeared in the email box.

In any challenge, there is always one final task to be done, when you are exhausted and you just want the whole thing over. It can be the twig that you trip on, the Rubicon that you drown in. This was The Sending of the Email. This task required Husband to type in an email address. Complete with the use of the @ symbol. A move that involved a shift. I called out the letters, and Husband managed to make that shift.

At long last, I told him to click on the blue send button, winking invitingly at him from the bottom of the screen. He did so, and the magic words appeared. Message Sent. We had made it through the bed of coals. Forty five minutes had passed. My stomach grumbled. My face lacked armour. There was 1% battery left on my phone. I used the 1% to tell the paymasters that the mission had been accomplished. As I hung up, the people I was to meet came in the door.

This is the part of the story where I’m meant to tell you that I learned something from the quest, that I tested my wits and triumphed, that I discovered hidden strengths within myself. I realised that I needed to get a new computer when I returned from my ski odyssey. And that my husband is a hero.