The bad luck fairy
The bad luck fairy was my companion today.
She was pretty laid-back. She didn’t make me lose my job or have my house bombed or anything. She just flitted along beside me, occasionally diving between my legs and snickering when I skipped and staggered to keep my balance.
I didn’t sleep terribly well. The doooomvet is long gone and I’ve got a new one that claims to be anti-allergy, and the ‘argh my chest is clogging up and I can’t breathe’ situation is much better, but there’s still something not quite right. It may just be that there’s still dust around from the move: I haven’t been able to clean and hoover thoroughly because some boxes and crates are still hanging around, as yet un-unpacked. I should probably go to the doctor, though, just to check I haven’t suddenly got asthma or consumption or something.
Anyway, having got back to sleep after a bit of early-morning coughing I managed to sleep through my alarm. I overslept by an hour and three quarters. And most days I can be fairly flexible about when I arrive at the office, but today I had a training course thing that was going to start at a specific time. A specific time that was 45 minutes away when I opened my eyes and saw what time it was. Yikes.
Thank goodness my morning routine is very leisurely and has a lot of faffing-around time built into it. So if I leap out of bed, have a shower in stead of a bath, shave roughly with an electric razor rather than neatly with a manual one, and comb my hair without worrying what it looks like; if I put on the first clothes that come to hand, skip breakfast, and don’t pop into the sitting-room to see whether either of my flatmates is around to say ‘good morning’ to; if I dash to the station and squeeze myself into a rush-hour tube carriage rather than waiting for the bus; if, in short, I waste not a single moment between waking up and swiping my pass at the office door, I can do the whole thing in about 50 minutes. It turns out.
So I was a bit late and felt rude and disrespectful and also probably looked fairly unkempt. But I didn’t miss too much.
Then it was lunch-time. Because of the training thing there were only 40 minutes for lunch. I had no cash. The café in the office doesn’t take credit cards, so I had to go out to get something for lunch. No problem. Also, unlike yesterday, getting cash wasn’t going to be difficult. Yesterday, you see, every cash machine in town had decided to turn up its mechanical nose at my cash-card. I’d gone into the building society and been told that some time ago I’d been sent a new cash-card that had various new bells and whistles, and that I should be using that. This had rung a bell — in fact, yes, I had received a new card, but it was around the time when I was moving house and I’d shelved it until I had more time to understand what the bells and whistles were about. Apparently this had not been cool, and my old card had been remotely euthanized a month before its expiry date to encourage me to face up to my responsibilities to this new shiny card. So, evidently blessed with some premonition that I wasn’t going to have time the next morning, I had that very night dug out the new card and put it in my wallet. So today I was equipped. I would get cash. I would exchange that cash for comestibles. I would lunch.
I put my new card into a cash machine. The cash machine smiled an automated smile. ‘Well done,’ it seemed to say. ‘This is the card I’ve been waiting for.’ It invited me to say whether I wanted a receipt or not. I did. It offered me a variety of sums of money. I asked for £30. It was happy to comply. This was all going swimmingly. The new card wasn’t scary at all. It was just like my old one. I quite liked it.
‘Here’s your card back,’ said the machine. There was a whirring sound and the end of the card became visible in the slot. It caught on the slightly jagged plastic. It didn’t come out any further. The machine made a frantic beeping noise. ‘Take your card! Please take your card! Where are you? Why aren’t you taking it? Have you gone off and forgotten it?’ I tried to push my fingers into the slot. ‘I’m here! I’m trying to take the card but it’s stuck! Push harder!’ The machine didn’t understand. It was only a simple clockwork money-box. ‘Why have you gone away?’ it beeped. ‘Don’t leave me alone with your card!’ By this time I had whipped out my pen-knife and was trying to get the blade into the slot and lever the card out. But it was too late. ‘What if someone else steals it?’ cried the machine, not realizing that this would be quite impossible. ‘I’d better keep it. I’ll look after it. Don’t worry!’ And it drew the card back inside itself. Completely gone. It stopped beeping. It seemed happier. It gave me a receipt. ‘Cash withdrawal,’ said the receipt. ‘Withdrawal: £0.00. Thank you for using our service.’
I had no cash and no cash-card and no lunch and only half an hour of lunch-break left. I went to the building society and explained what had happened. The help-desk person was very sympathetic and asked me to talk to a cashier. I waited for a cashier to become available. Both were serving customers. One customer had an extremely complex problem. The other wanted to make sure she fully understood the implications of something or other. After about ten minutes it was my turn, and the cashier was very friendly and agreed, although I had no satisfactory identification, that on the strength of my possession of a credit card provided by that same building society she could risk giving me £50 to keep me going, and she’d send me a new card within ten working days. It would just take a little while to process the form.
Ten minutes to go. Out of the building society, across the street, into the supermarket (resisting the temptation to shout ‘DON’T USE THAT CASH MACHINE!’ as I passed). A fresh plain bagel and a pink lady apple, total £0.83. I paid by credit card, feeling ridiculous but determined not to squander any of the £50 that might have to last for the best part of a fortnight. Back to the office. Again only a couple of minutes late, but again I’m the guy coming in late, interrupting everyone; and on top of that I now have to eat my lunch while people are making presentations. I feel a total heel for making munching noises at the back of the room, but I’m really hungry so I do. I munch my lunch.
After the training thing I have a couple of hours to get some actual work done. It doesn’t go smoothly. People I need to talk to disappear into meetings. Information that should be easily discoverable is impossible to track down and things that you’d think everybody would know turn out to be things that nobody knows, though everybody always assumed they were the only one who didn’t. Eventually I get things done and get out.
It’s raining. I have no raincoat with me and I refuse to use an umbrella under any circumstances. I also have to buy a notebook this evening because tomorrow there may be no time and I need it for the first Revels rehearsal tomorrow evening. It’s going to be the Gag Book: a book for people to write down the one-liners or brief bits of repartee they’ve thought of but that don’t yet belong to any particular sketch. This is a new thing we’re doing this year. It’s very exciting. I’m in charge of it. And I need to actually get the book. But of course this is the City of London — and remember, folks who are not familiar with the UK, that this is not the same as the city that is called London: the City with a capital C is the small central district, the historic core of London, where streets are called bizarre magical things like ‘Cheapside’ and ‘The Poultry’ and where everybody is a lawyer or a financier and where nobody actually lives — a district that is populated only during working hours. Yes, this is the City, and it is six o’clock, which means that all the shops are closing. I get to the stationery shop: it closed five minutes ago. I walk the wet and miserable mile-and-a-quarter to Goodge Street to find Paperchase, the nearest stationers’ that will still be open. There are many many notebooks and it’s hard to choose: all the harder because my glasses are covered in drops of water and have also misted up as soon as I got indoors. But I choose one, I buy one, I pay by credit card (emergency £50 still intact!), I walk to the bus stop.
Thanks to the faffing-around of the tourists who are attempting to board the bus, I even managed to get to it before it pulls away. Thanks to the further faffing-around of the same tourists, I stand outside the door of the bus with rain dribbling down the back of my neck for several minutes while they block the doorway rummaging for their oyster cards which they know they’ve got somewhere or other. But this is a small hardship because soon I’m on the bus, and I even get a front seat on the top deck, and I’m heading home.
It’s only half an hour later that I realize the bad luck fairy is still with me — half an hour later when I peer out of the rain-streaked window and see that the bus has travelled no more than half a mile. There’s some kind of prodigious traffic event occurring, though it’s quite unfathomable from the splotches of electric light that are all I can see through the condensation on the windows. We soldier on. After Trafalgar Square we pick up speed, but a bit later we hit Victoria and again the traffic is only a couple of pegs down from what you get in disaster movies when the tidal wave is on the way and the entire population has decided to take to the highway. And at this point the bus has had enough. It’s no longer going to Pimlico. Victoria is the end of the line.
It’s at precisely this moment that I get a text message from my flatmate saying that the builders have been round to see what bits of work they left unfinished several months ago and they’ve declared that one of my hand-assembled and almost fully stocked book-cases will have to be moved so they can insert a panel behind it.
Victoria is fifteen minutes’ walk from my flat, and I’m pretty hungry by this point, so I can’t be bothered to wait for another bus. So I walk. I get wet. I get home. I dry out. I eat. I show my flatmate the history of the USSR as told through the medium of Tetris. We laugh. We move the book-case. We feed Banksy sunflower seeds. I go to bed. Everything is okay.
I’m quite fond of the bad luck fairy, in a way. I admire her inventiveness. And I don’t mind her visiting once in a while, because really, compared to a lot of people, I don’t see her very often. She won’t be here tomorrow.