Monday, February 18, 2008

Breaking the Circle

If all those over-paid Astologers are to be believed, you're supposed to have an improvement in luck as your birthday gets nearer. Mine is turning turtle at the moment and it's my birthday in two days' time.

I was in the canteen last week and queuing with a tray in hand. There are two checkouts parallel to each other. If one side of the queue gets busy, or one of the staff has to go get more change, or replenish mugs, or answer a call (of nature or otherwise), the lady on the other side will double-up temporarily. Likewise, if food has to be weighed before purchase. Our canteen caterers sell stuff like salads or breakfast cereals by weight.

So two girls in the queue in front of me were yapping happily away and taking their time putting change into purses and such. Christine, on the checkout nearest me sat impassively waiting for the next customer, me.

Across from her, the girl on the other checkout craned her neck to see what I'd chosen, punched it into the register, twisted the readout my way so I could see that €5 was the price, took my tenner and gave me back a €5 note in change.

Christine, meanwhile, punched a couple of buttons. I supposed she was taking for the meal of the person behind me. I picked up the tray and went and sat down.

"They're saying you didn't pay, Willie," said a colleague, passing by, grinning.

"I paid the other girl!" I said to the universe at large. I got up and went to tell Christine of the mistake. On the way, I bumped into the assistant canteen manager.

"Are you stealing food?" she asked. I presume she was trying to be funny. I ignored her, but I could feel the niggle starting.

I plucked Christine's elbow.

"I paid the other girl," I said, pointing.

A few minutes later, Christine appeared beside me, red-faced. She must have checked with the other girl.

"I'm very sorry," she said. "I didn't see you paying. I really must apologise."

"If I'd been stealing food," I said, trying unsuccessfully to be non-chalant and humourous "You wouldn't have seen me do it!"

We both chuckled a little self-consciously.

Christine apologised again. I said:

"I hope that manager one knows I paid." I pointed over my shoulder at her.

"Oh, don't mind her," said Christine, and scuttled off back to her register.

I did mind. The more I thought about it.... ("Are you stealing food? Ha Ha Ha!")... the more annoyed I felt. Most of the dinner went uneaten.

At quitting time, I walked over towards my bus stop. Here was the canteen assistant manager coming the other way on foot.

"Hello!" I said. I stopped.

I said: "Tell us. Are we all square about that thing earlier?"

She smiled and laughed and went on walking. I stood looking after her, now fuming! Why the fuck wouldn't she put my mind at ease and just say everything was fine? I went home in very bad humour.

There's now a definite atmosphere in our canteen up at the checkouts when I queue there. No-one asks me any more how my day is going, or how my colleagues are that aren't with me today, or if I have any holidays planned. They just take the money in silence. Not quite a stony silence, but silence nonetheless.

If I could afford it, I'd take my business elsewhere. But the job subsidises the food prices in the canteen, making up for how little they pay us otherwise. I'm stuck.

This morning, kick in the pants Number Two.

I got on my usual bus and travelled up to The Square on my way to work. I usually get off the bus a bit before The Square, but this morning I wanted to get some cash from the ATM to see me through the week. The bus pulled in and the driver switched off the engine. I thanked him and stepped off. There was a smallish man of about 50 in front of me, moving along the footpath. He stopped and turned towards me.

"Excuse me," he said.

I thought maybe he was going to ask for directions. I stopped and said:

"Yes, sir?"

He said: "I was sitting at the back of the bus." He pointed. "You got on and looked at me. I don't like people looking at me..."

I blinked.


"I was on the bus. You looked at me..."

"I did not! This is the first time I've seen you today...!" I laughed.

He stood looking at me. I realised he was serious and now that I looked at him he did seem a little familiar. But I had clambered onto the bus this morning without a thought for anything other than my usual twin goals of not falling over as the bus pulled away from the bus stop and finding a seat upstairs.

"Where you sitting behind me or what...? I asked, puzzled. I was trying to get my head around what he was saying. It wasn't sinking in at all.

"I don't like people looking at me."

I thought: "Little wonder, you ugly little fucker."

I said: "I absolutely swear, I did not look at you in any way whatsoever!"

He walked off, mumbling.

Jesus Christ! I went into The Square, mindful that he was walking in front of me by a few yards. All I need now, I figured, is for him to tell a security man I'm following him or something. That would really put the tin hat on the whole business!

Around five o'clock I remembered how he looked familiar. The little bollix lives in Firhouse and.... wait for it.... is often at the bus stop I use every single morning! On his way to see a psychiatrist, I have no doubt, but fuck it! He'll probably be standing at the bus stop tomorrow morning.

"I'm getting a car," I said to myself on the five o'clock bus. I had found myself looking around at the other passengers suspiciously. Who was going to pop out of a bag or a box and twist my noodle this time? Would the other little bollix turn up again? What would I do if he said something?

At home, the third piece of what I hope is the end of this circle of the most bizarre luck there's been around here in ages happened. Herself came home without her much-loved, mobile phone. Surely that broke the charm?

I was so sympathetic on hearing the phone had been left in work. Among unknown cleaners. With keys to the office.

"Oh, that's terrible," I purred. "There, there. I'm sure it will be just sitting there when you go into work in the morning."

So tomorrow, the day before my birthday, I'll have an angry Firhouse gnome gunning for me on the bus to work. My tea will be served by people afraid to smile or joke in any manner. And I shall probably not receive any texts to brighten my day.

Roll on next year.

Happy Birthday to me.... Happy Birthday to me....


Fitz said...

Today I thought I'd try figuring out a way to get *out* of my car.

I added up that it would take about 20 minutes to get to the local train station, another 20 to get from here to Tara Street station then another 20 to walk to Stephen's Green plus a 10 minute wait for a Las. Add another 25 minutes out to Sandyford and then another 20 minutes walking to the office.... it's quicker to drive to work even with the M50 looking like something from a Mad Max movie.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Willie, have a great day. Hold yer head up in that canteen and say out loud, "Hey, who wants to buy me lunch, tis my Birthday" XX Joan

Angharod said...

Happy Birthday hon...I sent an e-card...hope it didn't go awry.

Hope you've had a NICE DAY.

NH said...

A belated happy birthday, I saw you last Thursday trundling from the council offices towards the square for the first time in years, you mustn't have recognised the voice calling after you from the direction of M&S. Anyway since I've become broadband enabled I've started my own blog and would be obliged if you could link to it. Long way to go before I hit you 10,000+ hits.

Nigel Hughes - contact details on the blog!

Willie_W said...

Reminds me of the line from the movie version of 'The Snapper':

"Did you not see me over by the vegetables?"

Nice to see you, Nigel! I'll go right away and check out the new blog.