Henry’s new mattress

What you’re about to read is based on real life events..

Henry was sick of his foam mattress.  In fact he was so sick that he decided to do something about it, rather than just moan inside his boggy, clogged-up head.  He was enduring a particularly stubborn cold which the mattress wasn’t helping.  Each morning he produced a peculiarly admirable ball of solid mucus.  To help his virus pass he needed to be upright, not sagging.  Besides, sprung mattresses were more comfortable than stolid, unmoving, ungiving foam, weren’t they?  He didn’t know why he’d endured it for so long.

Henry drove to the intimidating space station of Ikea in the outskirts of the city.  After clumsily parking he scaled the escalators and began pacing blearily down the endless corridors and different home sections, looking for beds and mattresses, intermittently blowing his nose.

Eventually he found them.  Yes, that was all the selection they had, confirmed a member of staff, but to buy one he’d have to go and select it from the Marketplace downstairs.  Henry thanked him, which sparked a sneezing fit.

The Marketplace had the feeling of a large warehouse, boxes stacked upon boxes, everything grey, cold and faintly nightmarish.  Pick a large insecurity from the rack, it appeared to goad the wide-eyed shoppers.  Bet you can’t assemble me.

Henry found his item and wrestled the mattress onto a metal trolley – a larger sibling of the ones you get in airports.  Even so, there was no way of neatly fitting it onto the trolley, so he dragged it by one handle and coaxed one corner of mattress carefully between obstacles and shoppers, towards the cash desks.

He paid a smiley teenage girl before steering his load into the industrially sized elevator, which eventually sunk into the car park.  The giant doors parted and it took Henry a few moments to remember where he had left his car, between a pair of white lines but at a sloppy diagonal he was too lazy to correct.  Following gradually more certain paces and several breaks to allow motorists to pass him and his trolley, he stopped at the rear door of his car.

Henry looked at the dimensions of the mattress, then looked at the dimensions of the car, then looked at the mattress again.

How is this going to fit?

Is this going to fit?

Might this all get rather embarrassing?

This is Ikea.  Surely they deal with things like this all the time, Henry reasoned.  There must be clever burly staff around.  One of them will see me being useless.  In the meantime, he unpeeled the protective plastic seal and withdrew supporting cardboard slats which lined the edges of the mattress and clearly made the whole package much bigger.  That would help.  He opened the rear door and tried squeezing…

It was ridiculous.  He felt idiotic, like an exceptionally hapless Tetris player.

A man appeared to his right.  A member of staff.  Praise be..  The ideal kind of simple – logical, practical; he was helping two women a few cars away.  You need to take out ALL the cardboard and fold it over on itself, he shouted over two vehicles to Henry.  Wait there.

Henry extracted all of the supporting cardboard and waited there.  Here was the man who knew what he was doing.  Henry would be saved.  Between the pair of them they folded and contorted and jammed the double mattress into his modestly sized car, then snared the beast by closing the door.  It was done.

Driving back, Henry wondered how he was going to transfer the mattress from his car, across the courtyard, up three flights of stairs and into his flat, entirely without help.  He wasn’t even sure he could carry it on his own.  It was large, heavy and cumbersome.  At a set of traffic lights he stopped worrying for a moment, turned on Classic FM and blew his tireless nose.

He parked in the usual way, reversing into his space to allow a quick exit.  On cutting the engine he realised that on this occasion he should have entered nose first, giving him more space to remove the mattress, and less distance to carry it to his building.  It didn’t occur to him at all that he could have parked as close to his building as possible and moved his car to his space afterwards.  Instead he unpopped the handbrake and let the car roll forwards a yard or two, giving more space in which to wrestle.  Then he went to pave the way by opening and leaving ajar doors to his building and flat.

Upon attempting to wiggle the mattress out of his car under falling rain, Henry realised that he still hadn’t devised any plan about how to carry the mattress.  He wasn’t even sure if he could.  He was also aware his nose was running and he wasn’t in a position to address it.  And it was raining so he was getting wet.  And he was beginning to sweat considerably, but would probably sweat much more before this was all done.

That was, if he could get it all done.

Was he able to do this?  Or was it conceivable that in a couple of minutes he’d be sitting on his new mattress in the middle of the residential car park, crying; snot, rain and tears rolling down his face?  Just try it, Henry, he told himself.  See what happens.  You’re on your own.  Nobody else is going to help you.

Keeping the mattress folded in half, he wrapped his arms around its sides, hugged it to himself and waddled quickly across the car park, propping himself up against a bush at halfway to get a tighter grip.  He was red and sweating and not feeling very well.

Henry made it through his front door and breathed out.  Not much further.  The stairs though.  They did present a considerable challenge.  Help would have been nice.  Had none of his neighbours seen his brave struggle?  Were they staying in, surreptitiously peering around their curtains, laughing at him?  So much for Neighbourhood bloody watch.

Henry dragged and tugged and hauled and rolled the mattress up the stairs, frequently pausing to rest.  Where was everyone?  Anyone?  H-E-L-P me!  He felt his life-force dimming, his head pounding, the waterfall in his nose unrelenting.  He felt like he’d been climbing the stairs for several weeks, and still not a soul..


Away with the self-doubt now, Henry, he told himself.  You’ve come this far.  You CAN do this!  One last push.  With a growl-charged exertion, a sweat-drenched and beetroot coloured Henry yanked the mattress up the final step, and tugged, pulled and tumbled it through the doorway of his flat.


my first blog – aged 10 and ¾

..sort of.  Found a folder of old writings and a couple of disks at the parents’ house this weekend. Must have typed this out around ten years ago. Only minorly tweaked.  One of those things which might only have entertainment value exclusively for me.  Thought I’d lob it into the internet anyway..

Monday June 17th 1991

I got on a posh coach at 8.01 to hear Lufton girls awfully singing the shoop-shoop song by Cher.  It’s a terrible song but they made it even worse.  Then I let one of the Lufton boys have a go on my electronic Donkey Kong game and I think he’s better at it than me because he’s had it for quite a while.  I’ve tried to draw a picture of the view from my seat on the coach but failed miserably.  I just had a go on Chad’s racing game but only got one point.  Everybody keeps asking me what time it is for their diary because I’m the only one with a watch.  It’s 9.18 now and a posh Jaguar car has just passed us.

We stopped at a Granada service station at 10:45 and I bought a Mars bar and a football magazine.  Our coach driver for the week is called Shirley.  They put the film ‘Big’ on the coach television but I didn’t watch it because I was reading my magazine.

At about 12:20 we arrived in York and saw a squirrel hopping around a lawn.  Then we sat down to eat our lunch and there were loads of pigeons around.  When we went to look round York Minster we went down to the crypt and saw statues, and a Prince William was buried down there.  Not Princess Di’s son, obviously.  I tried to take some photos but I couldn’t get the flash to work on my camera.  We saw interesting stained glass windows of people’s life stories and in the gift shop I bought a yo-yo.

We arrived in Scarborough at about 4:45.  The girls went in the hotel first and then we went in.  It wasn’t hard to find our room because it was room Number 1.  I was sharing with Robert Griffin from our school, and Richard Thorn and James Chander from Lufton.  The others at our school were jealous of me because Robert is popular and can be quite funny, even if he is not very well behaved.  He is in the year above and is probably sharing with me because the teachers are worried he might cause trouble if he is with his usual friends.  I get on alright with him but don’t know him very well.  We discovered our room and unpacked, then wrote a letter home.

I forgot what we had for dinner but remember having two choc-ices for afters because one of the teachers didn’t want theirs.   After dinner we went for a walk on the beach, and to the end of the pier.  When we got back James Frenshall bought me a lemonade because I had run out of money.

Tuesday June 18th

Woke up at 8.00 and went for a walk on the beach where we saw massive breakers crashing against the harbour walls.  It was brilliant, not much like the brook in our village.

When we got back to the hotel we had breakfast of Weetabix, toast, sausage and baked beans.  Not all on the same plate, obviously.

After breakfast we went to the town and did a sketch of the seafront or the town.  I did one of the town and took a picture of my view so I could put them together and see if they looked the same.  They didn’t really.

Then we went for a walk around the town and it rained so heavily that we went in an amusement arcade.  I bought an ice-cream and watched Chad play an Italia 90 football game.  When I finished my ice-cream Chad and I had a game and he beat me 2-1 – but I had been winning 1-0.  Then we went back to the same place where we had sketched earlier for lunch.

We went back to the hotel to get ready to go to Filey beach.  When we got there some people went in the sea.  I thought they were nuts.  We had a game of football on the beach which ended in a 7-7 draw, but I swear one team (not mine) won 7-6 and the teachers were just being careful nobody was upset.  Then nearly everybody bought a sugar dummy, including me.  I sold mine to Tim Marsh for 22p because it wasn’t as nice as I thought it would be.

When we got back to the hotel, we went to our rooms to write our diaries, and shower because it had been pouring down while we were playing football.

In our room just now Robert was swinging his sugar dummy round on its ribbon, like he was a cowboy with a lasso.  He swung it hard onto James’s head on purpose and it smashed everywhere.  James went very red, got angry and upset and ran off.  Robert knows he will get in trouble but he laughed anyway.  What he did was wrong but I don’t think he meant to smash it into James’s head quite so hard.  If that had just happened in the playground at lunchtime there would have probably been a fight but because we have to share a room together nobody really knew what to do.  The other Lufton boy in our room, Richard, was annoyed with Robert, but didn’t say anything.  I’m sure James has gone to tell on him now anyway and it’ll get sorted out.

Sir just called Robert out of our room for a talking to.  Sir can be quite scary when he properly bollocks you.  I’m still finding small bits of sugary red dummy everywhere.

In the evening we went on a boat trip and there was a disco on it which I didn’t like.  They kept playing Obla-di Obla-da by the Beatles, which I didn’t like, even though I normally like the Beatles songs Dad plays in the car.  Everybody did the conga but I escaped down to the toilet for some quiet.

Three, it’s a tragic number

It’s annoying how friendships get exponentially harder the older you get.  When you’re a kid and you want to round to play at your friend’s house tomorrow after school, even if that friend’s house is a good drive away, it can be sorted.  Mums can fix that sort of thing, no problem.

When you get older, even a fair distance into your twenties, you can easily enough arrange to go for a few beers pretty impulsively, on a whim.

Past that point, when relationships get more secure, when weddings start happening, when the iron grip of partners and employment rule ever more firm, then it gets harder.  Arranging to meet up with a mate can mean planning two months in advance.

Two fucking months?!  I think, acting cool and reasonable.  Yeah, I have, like, other things going on between too so that’s.. uhm.  Yeah, that’s fine.

(I’ll give you “around the middle of November,” you look-how-busy-and-important-I-am PRICK!  All I wanted was a bloody drink).

Nah mate.  Yeah, that’s cool.  Look forward to it.

It’s increasingly standard though.  I’ve always counted myself as a time-rich person, never having had any huge commitments or time-demands, and being lazy.  Time is something I’ve simply always had enough of.  Way more than enough of.  Alright, frankly, far too much of.

Being self-employed, like doing a fairly simple English Literature degree, if you’re organised to a decent level, it’s not all that difficult.  Just get done what you need to get done.  There might be heavier pressures now and again, but you can usually wing it ok and get away without putting yourself under any undue stress.

Because when you do challenge yourself and put yourself under undue stress, the net result isn’t usually worth it anyway.  Best case: a person of supposed authority pats you on the back.  You are recognised.


Three is a tragic number

Added to this is frustration at the awkward social dynamic of ‘three’ – the tragic number.

It’s much harder for a single person to be good friends with a couple, than it is for a couple to be good friends with a couple.  The single person will, by definition, forever be the other.  You’ll possibly also project your own notions of being pitied if they do deign to spend time with you as a pair, but more often they don’t go out of their way because they have everything they need.  So the onus falls on you, particularly when you’re bored and navelgazy and think you should make some effort to stoke the friendship fire.

When you get round to meeting there’s the common assumption that you always want ‘boys time’ to talk about ‘boys things.’  Sure, he was my friend first but I like you well enough too.  You’ve been together a good number of years, you’re smart and good conversation, we get on ok.  Can’t we just all be friends?  Or do you think I’m a nob?

It leads on to the assumption that you’ll always want to go to the pub and drink beer with your male friend.  Any other activity or pastime is eschewed with a single person, whereas couples can meet up with other couples and actually do things outside of going to the pub.  You’ll see pictures online of a jolly looking day out at the beach.  Single people aren’t usually invited to these things because, well, it’s a bit awkward.

*Big maudlin, self-regarding SIGH..

running races

Standing, stretching, waiting on that familiar city centre stretch of tarmac along with thousands of other people – though completely alone – I reassessed my motives.  Just curiosity to see what time I could run 10 kilometres in?

Notwithstanding the only recently eased head complaint, I was confident I could do it in a reasonable time.  But I wanted to really go at it, attack it, give everything I had and test myself.  It was a while since I’d been able to do that, not playing football any more.

Or did I just want to semi-legitimately stare at the lycra-clad bottoms of lots of girls?

No, that was merely a bonus.

An ageing local legend thanked and encouraged us over the tannoy as we shuffled over the starting line and began to jog like jostling sardines.  He was probably a singer, I couldn’t really remember.  Most famous, revered Welsh people of that age are singers.

Overtaking is the most basic forms of one-upmanship, getting ahead, surpassing.  There’s a frisson of excitement about it, the superiority achieved.  In the early stages of a race that’s forgettable because you’re moving within a tight space, zigzagging across lines, manoeuvring around clusters of people.

The cameras, photographers and clapping crowds were mildly unsettling at first, but gradually blended into the scenery, becoming just more people.  I concentrated on my music and the playlist which I’d put together the night before.

I overtook another cluster of heavy looking sloggers and mentally poked again at that possibly vaguely arrogant idea that many runners do running because they can’t do any other sport: a sport which requires some degree of skill or ability.  You don’t need much to be able to run.  Not even much coordination or guile.  And people will always encourage and tell you you’ve done well, whatever time you’ve done and however crap you are.  Because unless you’re an elite athlete you’re only ever really racing yourself.

In team sports you have direct competitors and you have to trust and be trusted by others.  There’s more judgement and transparency when you do something good and when you screw up – whether you’re credited or slated for it.  There’s something freeing in not having that dependency and accountability, though it makes for fundamentally less interesting sport.

But I guess it could suit me given that team-working doesn’t traditionally appear to have been much of a strength.  I’m well acclimatised to the company of me and me alone, for tediously considerable spells.  Conditioned to be the perfect distance runner, perhaps.

Stamina can feel like it’s as much to do with the mind stubbornly refusing the body; overriding any aches, channelling adrenalin above pain.  As I turned into the long final straight, I went to kick out again and eat up the ground.  In the pit of my stomach my small breakfast tipped me a nod.  Irritated, I eased off a little, not enticed by the idea of vomiting my way over the finish line.  The man ahead tried to whip the clapping tunnel into louder cheers, loving his moment as if he was a goalscoring footballer.  Cock.

I finished in around 42 minutes, two-thirds of my playlist untouched.

I took a proffered plastic bag of advertising fliers and a bottle of water, unpinned and binned my running number.  I could have stayed to sample the atmosphere, the good spirit, but it all felt limp, like it’d just underline my lack of a team.  Instead I paced back through town stopping to sit under a big screen showing the opening Wales match of the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

A clutch of two dozen Sunday morning shoppers – most middle aged to older aged gentlemen – sat on benches and leaned against trees and street decorations, fixated by the muted screen, willing Wales to cling on to an unexpected winning position over South Africa.  But they were pegged back, unable to withstand the South African pressure.

On the other side of the planet a full-time whistle was sounded, not that we could hear it.  It was greeted with deflation, disgruntled mutters, shaken heads, shrugs and dispersal.