The key(s) to happiness

Just because you MOSTLY only write about Christmas music doesn’t mean you are ONLY allowed to write about Christmas music. I was going to tweet this, but it’s a complex and many-layered story which won’t work in 140 character-bursts, so here we are.

It did start out on Twitter, though, when last night I tweeted this from a train that had just left Brighton:

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 12.03.06

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I mean, everyone knows that tempting fate is a terrible idea, and tempting fate when you’re super-tired and relying on Southern Rail to get you home is an even worse idea. But here’s the thing: all my connections worked! I got to East Croydon in time for the 23.32 to London Bridge and I got to London Bridge in time for the 23.56 to Victoria via Crystal Palace, and I caught a bus from New Cross Gate and I was home not much after midnight. And as the lift stopped on my floor I thought, I am SO HAPPY that I’ll be in bed in five minutes, and then I fumbled my keys and dropped them down the lift shaft.

Have you ever done a proper, filmic gasp? I don’t think I had until that moment. There followed ten minutes of going up and down in the lift, trying to see whether the keys had got caught on something or were hiding on a ledge somewhere. No luck, so I went outside to the concierge and asked if he had a torch I could borrow to shine into the spaces and see whether I could spot them. He didn’t, but he pointed out that I probably had one on my phone. And he was right! I went back and had another look, and managed to see that the space underneath the lift is deeper than I expected, six feet or so, but there, just within the corner of my vision, I could see the glint of what could only be my keys.

So I went back to the concierge and asked whether he had some string and a magnet. Astonishingly he didn’t (you can’t get the staff) but he did have a long pole and some sellotape, so I fashioned a sort of makeshift fishing rod and went back to the lift (my block is across the courtyard from where the concierge lives, so all of this involved a certain amount of back-and-forth in the rain).

Shining my torch into the void whilst being careful not to send my phone the way of the keys, I slid my sticky-ended pole downwards towards the glinting object. The pole caught on something at the bottom – I couldn’t really see at this point – and I ever-so-gently lifted it out, only to discover that the a glittering treasure on the floor of the shaft was actually a piece of plastic wrapper.

I mean, what do you even do in a situation like this? Like, what do you even do? I shone the torch around a bit more but nothing was visible, so I slowly packed up my makeshift fishing rod and headed back out to the concierge, thinking that I’d have to check into the hotel opposite my block and try again in the morning, when I’d be able to retrieve my spare set of keys, which live too far away for a late-night raid and anyway, I didn’t want to call anyone up at that time of night. Fine. Except that I have deliveries coming today, and one of them has a starting window of 7am. Fine, I’ll leave a note asking them to call me when they get there and I can run down and let them i – no, hang on.

Just as I was on the point of giving up I remembered about emergency locksmiths. I Googled. The first result said “£59, we’ll be with you in twenty minutes”. That sounds OK, I thought. I mean, I don’t really have any spare cash this week but I can stick it on the credit card and it’s cheaper than the £89 it’ll cost to stay in the Premier Inn.

I called them up. “£59,” said the man. “He’ll be with you in half an hour.” I waited. After ten minutes I got a phonecall from a different man. “I’ll be with you in half an hour.” I waited a bit more. Eventually a very polite and smiley locksmith showed up, introduced himself and shook my hand. We went inside. “Ah, two locks,” he said. “You know it’s £69 for each one?”

I made a vague, tired attempt at arguing for the extra tenner (the per-lock price, while a nasty surprise, seemed fair enough) and we agreed to disagree for the time being. “I’ll have to drill,” he said. He drilled. It was LOUD. I think my neighbours were all out, because there’s no way the sound wouldn’t have woken them. Either that or they thought there was a monster outside and were wisely ignoring it.

I have no idea how long it all took; I wasn’t paying attention, which is why it came as even more of a surprise when he asked me whether I wanted the cheap lock or the expensive one.

Say what?

“Ah, the price we quote is just for busting your lock open; if you want it replaced that’s more. Do you want it replaced?”

Now, my block is pretty safe, which is one of the reasons I live there. But even so I’m not keen to leave my front door open for anyone who takes the fancy to wander in and out while I’m sleeping. So YES PLEASE I’D LIKE IT REPLACED.

“OK, what kind of locks do you want?”

I don’t know! I’m not supposed to know about locks, you’re supposed to know about locks!

He tapped away into a calculator. “OK, total is £252.”

At this point I was resigned to spending more than I could afford just so I could go to bed, but even then this seemed a bit steep. I protested.

“£200 if you pay cash.”

“I don’t have £200 cash!”

“You can go to a cashpoint.”

No thank you, it’s 2am and raining. And I’m really tired, and as I continued to protest I realised he didn’t want to be here any more than I did, and he probably wouldn’t be seeing much of this money anyway, and I should probably stop being so graceless and just agree to pay. So I did, and we shook hands again, and he went home and I went to bed, and at 9am the next morning the daytime concierge called me and said “I’ve been down into the lift shaft and got your keys, do you want to come and get them?” and I couldn’t decide whether to be sad or glad, but on balance I think the night concierge is probably also not paid enough to be held responsible for solving my late-night problems, and after all I paid with the credit card so it’s not real money, and at least now I don’t have to ring the bank and ask for a replacement dongle-thingy, which was attached to the keys.

And what last night felt like an actually insurmountable problem (“what do you even do?”) went away with the application of (1) a small amount of clear thinking, (2) a credit card and (3) the passage of time, which I think is a lesson to remember, because although of course I am lucky to have had a credit card and been able to pay that much at short notice, it really wasn’t an insurmountable problem and now that it’s gone away my mood is lighter than it would have been if none of it had happened, because happiness is only ever relative.

That said, next time I think I’m an hour and three quarters from my bed I will remember the time I said that and turned out to be four hours and £252 from my bed, and I will keep my thoughts to myself.

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Carol for Christmas Day: O Come All Ye Faithful

Yes I know you can’t have an advent song on Christmas Day, but you can have a Christmas Day song, which is what this is, and you didn’t really think we were going to have a month of carols from King’s and not include O Come All Ye Faithful, did you?

What’s interesting about O Come All Ye Faithful is that nobody really knows who wrote it, or when. It’s just merged into the general consciousness over the years, which is what all the best carols do. And like all the best carols, this has an indeterminate number of verses depending on who is singing it and when, and very probably the best descant line of all (starting in this video at 02:20 and reaching its giddying climax at just after three minutes).

In Cambridge they all like to go home to their loved ones for Christmas so they have to sing this on Christmas Eve, but the internet has given us the luxury of listening to it whenever we like, and when we like to listen to it is today, because the last verse begins Yea Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning.

So have a happy morning, and see you back here in the new year.

Advent Carol for December 24: Hark The Herald Angels Sing

Well, they always finish with Hark The Herald, so we will too. I mean, you can’t not really, can you? It’s just clearly the biggest and best carol of all. No nuances or subtlety in this one; it starts big and stays big, and then gets bigger, and each time you think the descant has reached the dizziest height it can, it hits a higher one. Are you at work? Wherever you are, turn up the volume and sing along (but don’t break your voice on the descant).

Happy Christmas!

A Friday Fillip

So you know when something is super-funny, and you laugh till you cry, and then you go and have another look a day or a week later, and all it does is make you half-smile? And then you try to take yourself by surprise, to sneak up on yourself so that you can recreate your original reaction, but it doesn’t work and you end up feeling a bit dissatisfied?

But! You also know when something makes you laugh the first time you see it, and then you laugh even more each time? Today, we are talking about those things, the ones that are as funny now as they were when they first took you by surprise. Here’s my list, to brighten up my tired and hungover Friday, but I want to know yours too. To make it extra exciting, I am going to count them down in reverse order:

5. The restored Jesus fresco

4. The stuffed lion of Gripsholm’s Castle

3. This collection of autocorrect fails

2. The time that girl accidentally attached a photo of Nic Cage to her job application

1. This:

As a bonus, because it doesn’t make me laugh, exactly, but it does make me very happy indeed, I have also just watched the first Where The Hell Is Matt? video, and now I think you should watch it too:

Happy Friday, internet!

 

Lose some, win some

On the desk in front of me is a bottle of pills, labelled “digestive enzyme complex”. They are the only visible reminder of one of my less impressive moments: the time I went to a homeopath as a last, desperate resort when I was suffering from terrible heartburn that the usual meds didn’t seem to touch. He charged me £80 for the appointment, during which he wired me up to a machine which he said would pinpoint the cause of the problem, and I seem to recall having to pay another £15 for the tablets – tablets which, I discovered days afterwards, cost £6 at the health food shop on Farringdon Road. (The cause of the problem was apparently mobile phones, incidentally. I expect it usually is.)

Of course, none of it made any difference, and eventually the original prescription of Omeprazole did the trick. But looking at that bottle of pills just now, I started to think “what’s the most money I’ve ever wasted on something I didn’t need, want or use?” That trip to the homeopath is up there, but other candidates include:

  • The Vivienne Westwood shoes which I imported from San Francisco two years ago. They are beautiful, but they don’t fit, so they sit in a box under the bed awaiting the day when I can bring myself to do something with them.
The shoes
The shoes
  • The trip to the hypnotist who was supposed to make me stop smoking. He didn’t. (Though I did do it myself a couple of years later.)
  • The holiday an ex and I had booked before we broke up, for which we couldn’t get a refund on anything – flights, villa, hire car. I tried to hawk it around my friends but nobody could go away for a week at a fortnight’s notice. I am still cross at having missed out on a week in the sun, even though it was technically my fault for running away.

Together they represent about a thousand pounds’ worth of waste. That’s terrible! Except that there is a converse phenomenon, which is things which I have bought that have turned out to be worth way more than I spent on them. Things like:

  • Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions, which I hold 100% responsible for landing me my current job as well as the last three, meaning the £9.99 it cost me was actually worth six years’ salary (and counting).
  • The winter coat I bought for £90 in 1999, which I have worn regularly every winter since. That’s fifteen winters and (conservatively) fifty wears per winter, giving an average cost per wear of 12 pence (and falling).
The coat, c. 2006
The coat, c. 2006
  • The Saturday Guardian. Specifically, the Saturday Guardian‘s cryptic crossword, which usually takes me most of Saturday and which – along with a leisurely breakfast and some football in the afternoon – is the high point of my weekend*. The Saturday Guardian costs £2.30, which is the price of half a pint of beer and it’s more fun and lasts longer and doesn’t, usually, give me a headache.
  • My digital piano, which didn’t cost me anything at all (thanks, Grandpa) but which was nonetheless quite expensive, except that I’ve had it twelve years and it’s more like a flatmate than a musical instrument, and if I am ever bored or sad half an hour on it will blow away the blues and set me fair for a new course. I am still not very good at playing the piano, and I’m definitely worse than I was when I used to play properly, but even busking away at a Beatles song is enough to lift me out of all but the darkest funk. (For the darkest funk I need Agatha Christie, but since all my Christies were acquired for 70p a time in the second-hand bookshops of Colchester in the mid-nineties, they also make the list.)

So overall, I think I’m in credit. Which means it’s time to buy some new shoes from Vivienne Westwood! Right?

*I know that makes me sound like a retired member of the clergy. It’s not that I NEVER have more fun at the weekend than when I do the crossword, it’s just that the rest of the weekend is variable, whereas the crossword is guaranteed.

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Daffodils

…or Happy St. David’s Day, if you don’t speak the language. St David’s is the best of the saints’ days that we take notice of in the UK (not counting St Nicholas), because he has daffodils and leeks, and daffodils and leeks are both brilliant. So in celebration, here are my five favourite Welsh things (not counting people I know):

5. Glamorgan sausages, which are the only vegetarian sausages nice enough that when you cook them, the meat eaters get jealous.

4. Bonnie Tyler (who narrowly won a close-fought battle with Shirley Bassey and really I love Charlotte Church the best, but I wanted an excuse to make you watch this again).

3. The Brecon Beacons. Every summer for ten years, from my early teens until my early twenties, I went camping in South Wales. We camped in the field of a farmhouse that belonged to friends, a farmhouse so remotely-located that its address wasn’t even a street name, but just the hopeful-sounding “Hillside”. We were so high up that clouds would often form below us in the green valley at the bottom of which nestled the village of Crickhowell, and across which loomed the Sugarloaf and Table mountains – not quite the height of their Brazilian or South African counterparts, but a sturdy day’s climb nonetheless. I think there’s a great deal to be said for being able to see mountains every day, and even more for being able to climb up them whenever it takes your fancy.

2. Second place is A TIE between David Edward Hughes, who invented the radio and is therefore directly responsible for both my favourite pastime and the way I make my living, and Little Johnny Williams (he isn’t particularly called that, but he is the same height as me, which for a boy I think is quite little). Johnny plays for Crystal Palace and we love him so much that we sing whenever he comes on the pitch. His song goes like this:

OHHHHH JOHNNY JOHNNY

JOHNNY JOHNNY JOHNNY JOHNNY WILLIAMS.

Maybe you have to be there.

1. This:

Getting Away With It

Ferris Bueller smiling

I’ve said this before (but it’s early in the morning so I’m expecting you not to notice that I’m repeating myself) but there is almost no better feeling than waking up feeling better, after you’ve been ill. A week ago, the day I was due to see Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine at Brixton Academy, I did the Brockwell Park 5K Parkrun and I should have guessed from the pain in my lungs right afterwards that all was not one hundred per cent tickety-boo. That evening, after the show (about which more soon, of course) I had a sore throat but I put it down to singing along and whooping and didn’t worry too much, except that it woke me up a few times in the night so that the next day, the day I had to travel up to Manchester for the Radio Festival, I woke up feeling pretty rotten.

And it didn’t get better! I pick up the occasional cold, but it usually lasts a day or two. This got steadily worse over the course of the week, so that I couldn’t go into a meeting or a talk without ensuring I was fully stocked up with water and Lockets and painkillers, otherwise I was liable to begin a coughing fit that wouldn’t end, or else find my head and face aching so badly that I wouldn’t listen to anything anybody was saying.

My body usually waits for me to stop being busy before it gets ill, for which I am grateful, but this time around it must have decided that since there was no sign of any imminent letup in my busy-ness, it was just going to go ahead. I did two days of the Radio Festival, two days in the office, drinks with an ex-boss, work drinks and dinner with two lovely friends, all in a state that would usually render me bedbound and miserable. I was a bit miserable, but I was also busy and interested in what I was doing, so I could ignore it, sometimes.

But yesterday it reached my sinuses and left me with an excruciating headache as well as no voice, so I decided I would work from home, which was a terrible mistake because it allowed me time to actually be ill. Yesterday was the worst day of all. I thought I might never be well again, and that I would have to cancel Christmas. And then this morning I woke up at 7.30 (instead of 2am and 4am and 6am) with a sore throat and a blocked nose, but only the last vestiges of a cough and no sinus pain, and honestly, it feels like the best gift anyone has ever given me. It’s grey outside and I have chores to do, but this is already an excellent Saturday.

Happy songs

I listened to Sleigh Ride this morning, because even though it’s not Christmas I was cold and tired and it is a song that never doesn’t cheer me up. It is also the most crazily complicated song in the world – if you are a musician, pick up your instrument of choice and try busking along with it and you’ll see what I mean:

But Dan says it’s too early to listen to Christmas music,  so I turned it off and listened to some show tunes instead, and found myself shivering with glee at the lyrics to Thoroughly Modern Millie. I can’t decide whether my favourite is

Men say it’s criminal/What women’ll do

What they’re forgetting/Is this is nineteen twenty two!

Or

What we think is chic, unique and quite adorable

They think is odd and Sodom and Gomorrable

Both are pretty perfect. What song lyrics make you happy?

Autumn!

Here’s one reason to live in Essex:

Sunset over the Colne estuary

Another is that it is the driest place in the UK. That distinction belongs specifically to St Osyth, just up the coast from where the photo above was taken, but all of North Essex is fairly dry. One of my clearest memories of university is that it never rained – which can’t be true, of course, but it certainly rained less than it does in, say, Sydenham.

My other main weather-related memory of Essex, not including the one with the bottles of wine and the icy slope (it was, at least, cheap wine, the Co-op’s Vin De Pays Catalan at £2.49 a bottle being our staple in those days) is that it was very windy. Partly that’s because we were close to the sea, and partly it’s because the original undergraduate accommodation at Essex University consisted of six tower blocks (the tallest unreinforced brick structures in the country, we were told, thrillingly – so high that, less thrillingly, there was no fire engine in Essex with a ladder long enough to reach the top storeys). Here they are looming over the landscape from a couple of miles’ distance:

The way the towers were arranged – especially the four north towers, where I lived – meant that as you walked between them you were constantly buffeted by the most extraordinary winds; winds so strong and unrelenting that just leaving the building was an adventure. I have vague memories of late-night experiments with raincoats stretched out to their fullest extent in an attempt to create sails that would lift us into the air, though why we thought that was a good idea I am no longer clear. It never worked as well as we hoped it would, fortunately.

Anyway, the wind was exciting, and even when it was cold and sharp you didn’t have to wear any protective clothing and as soon as you were inside you felt alright again. Wind is not like rain, which seeps inside everything and makes the whole day miserable, unless you go out in something waterproof, which means airproof, which means sweaty. I don’t ever remember as much rain as we had between April and July this year – I expect even Essex got wet – and rain is wretched.

In contrast, the sparkling September sunshine of the last few days has been glorious, carrying it does the slight chill which promises bonfires and fireworks and roast dinners and Sunday walks through piles of crunchy leaves. Autumn is the best season. Spring and autumn are both full of promises, but only autumn always delivers on them, because there is supposed to be rain in autumn and winter, so nobody minds when it happens. Best of all, autumn is when you buy new boots. I am currently lusting after these:

Grey suede ankle boots

If you spot a version which doesn’t cost £325, please let me know.