Big Mug

It has occurred to me that I am missing a vital piece of equipment for my journey through life. I’m utterly perplexed as to how I have survived thus far without it, to be honest, and having made the discovery I know that I’m now going to be suffering from a weird, unsettled, jittery feeling until I have the opportunity to correct the problem.

I do not have a thermal travel mug.

I’m not sure how this is even possible, but there it is all the same. I am a caffeine addict without a thermal mug. It’s like being an alcoholic without a hip flask, or an Emo Kid without a scowl.

It’s not that I’ve never been previously aware of this gaping void; it’s more a case of never quite having grasped the enormity of the issue. “To Go” cups from Starbucks are an almost permanent feature in my car/house/hand. However, there comes a time when you have neither the time nor the spare money to purchase such delights, and so, when I lost track of time this morning and realised that I had five minutes in which to get dressed, defrost the car, and drink an entire pot of coffee, the distressing lack of a thermal mug in my life became glaringly obvious. What to do, what to do? I murmured in agitation as I struggled hastily into a badly-in-need-of-an-iron top and filled a Diet Coke bottle with warm water, staring all the while at the untouched coffee in the pot. For a mad moment, I considered returning to the house after defrosting the car, and refilling the bottle with coffee, but I thought that carrying a 2 litre bottle of extra-strong Americano to work might be just a little on the extreme side.

In the end, I downed one large mug in approximately 40 seconds, sending my brain into meltdown and scalding my tongue in the process, and poured some more into a glass – for none of my mugs, sadly, fit into Rio the Clio’s cup-holders – to accompany me on my journey. Not that I got to drink much of it. It is only when you’ve got a glass of hot coffee in the car that you become painfully aware of how many speed bumps and sharp corners there are in your housing estate…

6 Pigs on a Steam Train

Mum has purchased a Fireside Quiz.

It’s one of those numbers/letters ones (e.g. 49 N in TNL = 49 Numbers in The National Lottery), and after Sunday dinner today it provided us with entertainment of the “this family really isn’t normal, is it?” variety.

“240 Old People in a Picnic,” said The Sister, thoughtfully. “What about 21 D in a DR?”

“21 Dogs in a Dog Run,” I suggested. Mum looked quite irritated. “You’re not taking it seriously,” she complained, tapping her pen on her scrap paper and peering over her glasses at us as we sniggered in a very juvenile manner. “Course we are,” said Dad comfortingly, snatching the quiz sheet from The Sister. “Let me see that… 2 P on a B… hmm.”

“2 People on a Bike?” offered The Sister, trying to be helpful. Dad rolled his eyes. “Wait!” he exclaimed.  “To Pee… on a… Bridge!”

Disgusted, Mum tried to get the quiz sheet back. “If you’re not going to do it properly…” she said haughtily.

“2 Pigs on a Blanket!” I shouted excitedly. The Sister nodded enthusiastically, and The Parents looked suspiciously at us. “What?” I asked indignantly, “that’s a real thing!”. Dad stared accusingly at me. “Cocktail sausages wrapped in bacon,” said The Sister, defending me. “Like the ones we had with dinner.” Mum didn’t know whether or not to believe us. “Well,” she said dubiously, “why are there only two?”

“We ate them,” chorused Sister and I, happily.

“3 C of TL,” said Dad, studiously ignoring us. “3 Cans of… Tinned Lettuce,” replied The Sister.

 Silence descended upon the group as we came close to completing the quiz. “What else has dots, other than dice?” asked Mum, deep in thought.  “Hankerchief! Bikini!” I cried, getting slightly carried away, perhaps on a high from my “6 Sides on a Rubik’s Cube” stroke of genius.

“Err… that’s not quite what I meant,” said Mum, looking utterly bemused. “Are you just going to start naming every possible item of clothing that may or may not have spots in the design?”

Sister was in fits. Rather embarrassed, I tried to explain my thinking. “Well, but, you know – big spotty hankerchief… and the Timmy Mallett song…”

Dad returned from the bathroom to find The Sister and I performing an enthusiastic version of Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, with actions, in the middle of the living room.

“2 Total Lunatics in the House,” he grunted despairingly, turning to go outside for a smoke instead.

Forbidden Love

Kat the Cat has a stalker!

It’s more than a little bit disturbing. Tom Cat has been staking out our humble home for the past week, and shows no signs of losing interest, while Kat has been displaying every sign that she is, underneath her cute and furry exterior, a bit cheap. The Sister is unamused that Tom feels the need to sit in the back garden every night directly beneath her bedroom window, howling mournfully, presumably out of love, passion and lust. Kat, meanwhile, has clearly lost her mind and is spending many, many hours staring obsessively out of the window, occasionally crying pitifully.

It may be cruel of me to stand in the way of true love like this, but I cannot bring myself to encourage this relationship. Tom is, in a word, manky. In more than a word, he is manky, scruffy, smelly, scary and potentially disease-ridden.

“You can do so much better than him, Kat,” said The Sister firmly last night as we tried to reason with our lovestruck feline housemate. “You can,” I added sadly, “he’s not good enough for you.” Kat said nothing, but very deliberately turned her back on us and gazed out into the night.

It’s a little spooky to be taking the rubbish out to the bin and realise, upon your return across the back yard, that you are being intently watched by your cat’s stalker, who is perched on the gatepost, staring angrily and unflinchingly at you. I backed nervously into the house and shut the door, fumbling with the key in the lock. The Sister came in as I was pressing my face up against the window, trying to see if he was still there. “What’s going on?” she asked in surprise.

“He’s out there,” I said flatly, locked in a stare-to-stare battle with Tom Cat. “Watching. Waiting.”

“I don’t feel safe here any more,” said The Sister, sadly.

“Miaow,” said Kat the Cat.

Return to Sender

“Hails, do me a favour and post this letter,” said The Sister the other morning as I was leaving for work.

“Hails, do me a favour and drop this key in to the estate agent on the way home,” said Zed the other evening as we were leaving work.

The Sister and Zed should really think about what they’re saying and who they’re saying it to. Why is it that the simplest of tasks inevitably sends me into a spin? I drove home from work, receiving a helpful text from Zed on the way, reminding me about the key. I found the building, parked, and went to the door with the envelope containing the key. No one answered, so I dropped it into the mail box on the wall and returned to Rio the Clio, where the sight of The Sister’s letter on the passenger seat reminded me I had to find a post box on the way home. Singing along to my CD, I drove on, congratulating myself on the surprising ease with which I found somewhere to post the letter just a few hundred yards along the road.

Still singing, I nipped out of the car, and was about to drop the envelope into the post box when I noticed that The Sister had rather annoyingly forgotten to affix a stamp. Not only that, but upon closer inspection it became clear that she hadn’t even had the presence of mind to address the envelope. Several pennies dropped slowly and alarmingly before I retreated to the car and drove hastily back to the estate agent’s to retrieve The Sister’s letter from their mail box and replace it with the envelope containing the key given to me by Zed.

Not that this was an easy task. You’d almost think that those things were designed to stop people reaching inside to remove the mail. It was highly unfortunate that a member of staff chose to exit the building at the precise moment when my hand became firmly lodged inside the mail box.

“Err, can I help you?” he asked in some surprise, as I pulled frantically at my trapped hand with my free hand.

“Umm… I hope so,” I replied, slightly embarrassed, my hand beginning to throb quite painfully. “My hand seems to be stuck in your mail box.”

He stared at me, perhaps wondering if he should call the police.

“Why?” he asked eventually, making, I noticed, no effort whatsoever to assist me in my plight.

“Because the slot is too small,” I told him wryly. He did not seem to be a fan of sarcastic humour, judging by the look on his face, so I quickly tried to minimise my craziness. Which was difficult, as I was trying to extract my hand from inside an estate agent’s mail box at the time. “I came to return your key for a showhouse,” I explained, flustered. I waved the envelope at him. “But I had a letter to post as well, and I accidentally put the wrong envelope in the mail box. And when I tried to swap them around, my hand got stuck. And then you came out and found me doing this.” I made one last frantic bid for freedom, and my hand emerged intact.

The man looked uncertainly at me, took the key envelope, and, without speaking, selected a key from the bunch in his hand. He opened the mail box and removed my letter, which I accepted with as much dignity and poise as I could fake. “Thank you,” I said humbly. “Have a nice night.” I could feel his eyes boring into my back as I walked in a most dignified manner back to the car.

I try so hard to lead a normal life.

Looking Up

A few months ago, I stumbled upon the blog of a young woman in Canada. She calls her site Finding Joy Every Day, and her delightful approach to life as a series of both simple and profound events containing joy, if only we choose to see them, has inspired this rather belated post in the middle of what I can only describe as a whirlwind few weeks of mixed emotions and occasional panic.

Sometimes it’s too easy to focus on the negatives, because they have a nasty habit of roaring up to you like a winter wave from the Atlantic Ocean and crashing over your head with sufficient force to knock you off your feet and leave you gasping for breath. Trying to be positive when you’re sitting on the wet shingle spitting out seaweed, fighting off jellyfish and coughing up salty water is no easy task, and yet if you take a deep breath and get back on to your feet, you’ll always be able to see the calm beauty of the horizon.

 Of course, I realise that this is all too serious for a blog that generally concerns itself with nothing deeper than a bit of a gripe about people with No Taste Whatsoever in coffee, or an occasional bout of road rage, or a psychologically challenged cat. The fact that I haven’t written a post all week should suggest that I’m a little preoccupied, but as Coffee Helps has generally been a light-hearted look at daily life, I’m not about to start turning it into a counselling forum. And so I’ve set myself the challenge of finding the positives, in an effort to save my blog and be true to its nature, before the coffee pot becomes permanently and tragically half empty.

The most positive thing I have encountered during the flurry of negative feelings is, without a shadow of doubt, the Cadbury’s Creme Egg. Pessimism is impossible when you’ve just hollowed out the egg and, in the midst of the ensuing sugar rush, placed the chocolate shell in its entirety into your mouth. There are no words. Mainly because it’s difficult to speak with an entire Creme Egg in your mouth.

Joy can be found in the simplest places. It is the discovery of adult-sized Petits Filous pots* on special offer. It is having your photograph taken when you’re standing approximately two feet behind a sign that reads Strictly no access beyond this point. It is the discovery of Half Decent Coffee in Wetherspoons for only 49p a cup (no Starbucks, but drinkable, and a fifth of the price!). It is laughing with a friend whose attempt to say “were you crying?” in French combines an understanding nod with the words “Ah, alors… il pleut sur le visage de Hails…”. It’s watching an episode of Ally McBeal, it’s driving into the sunset, it’s wondering “what if…?”, it’s listening to a song that brings back memories, it’s that delicious “you’ve got mail” moment when you log into your email account. It is hanging out with friends on an average night and finding yourself listening to something like this:

 Life is uphill at times, my friends. But there’s always love, laughter, music and chocolate.

 And coffee most definitely helps.

*I mean, obviously, that the portions are intended for adults, and not that I have recently puchased an 8-pack of monstrous, 5′ 10″ fromage frais pots. 

Simple Selling

“Well, that’s a woman has put that ad in the paper,” says The Sister from behind the Ballymena Guardian.

“How so?” I ask distractedly, staring intently at the Scrabulous board as I try to figure out how to get my “Q” on to a triple letter and make it count twice.

Sister peers over the paper at me. “Peugeot 206. Taxed for 8 months. Good car. Red.”


Teddy Hospital

The Sister and I have taken to having late-night sleepover-type conversations.

“Look at the state of this Eeyore,” she said the other night as we were lying on my bed discussing The Future. She held up my bedraggled cuddly toy in some disgust.

“It’s fine,” I said somewhat defensively. “He’s seven years old and I’ve cuddled him every night of those seven years.”

“Hails,” said Sister sternly, “He has no hair, and his eyes are yellow.”

“I’m not washing him!” I exclaimed panickily. “Red put him in the washing machine once. I cried. I sat there for the entire duration of the wash, watching him go round and round, all scared and wet.”

“You should give him to Mum,” advised The Sister, seriously. “No, really,” she continued with great enthusiasm, “she’s magic. I don’t know what she does to them, but they come out looking better than brand new.”

I raised a suspicious eyebrow.

Sister was insistent. “I left Teddy there once,” she explained passionately. “He went in looking terrible. He didn’t even have both arms, and his fur was all matted. I came back the next day, and there he was, sitting on the sofa, upright and proud to be alive. Honestly, I don’t know how she did it. I think she even made him a new bib, but it looked exactly like the old one.”

“I don’t want Eeyore going in the washing machine!” I reiterated with some force. “He’ll fall to bits. He’s already lost his tail.”

“No, no,” said The Sister, eagerly, “you really can trust her. I mean, I had Teddy’s arm in a bag.”

“Good grief,” I murmured despairingly. Sister ignored me. “I’m telling you, they come out looking re-stuffed, fully-limbed, and completely re-fluffed! She’s, I dunno, some kind of teddy miracle worker.”

We pause for a moment in admiration of Mum.