Why Did I Look?

I peep onto Twitter because some people have messaged with regards to the record player query.

I haven’t looked at Twitter for a while and I quickly regret it. It’s full of people talking absolute whazz in a deplorable tone. They’re not deplorable people (many of whom I know in real life and would gladly kiss on the mouth) but there’s something about social media that pumps up the blood pressure and the only way to stop it from bursting through the top of the cartoon thermometer is to tap out something horrible to the world and then to click “tweet.”

In response to my record player question, someone has said something like “fine, be a hipster if you like” and I see where he’s coming from but it’s the tone. Nobody has ever spoken to me like that at this blog or by email. I remember Tom Hodgkinson saying something about how newspapers with social media or comment sections have a responsibility to act as pub landlords, the publican being able to curate their clientele by barring the trouble-makers and designing a place that doesn’t actively attract unpleasantness. That’s ultimately what I’ve been trying to do with this website and New Escapologist.

Tomorrow I’ll send the newsletter version of this diary to 150 people, a microscopic number of eyeballs in Internet terms, but, thanks to today’s Twitter “experience”–if that doesn’t degrade the meaning of the word–I’ll be extra glad to do it. I think of Jaron Lanier saying “what if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?”

I suggest on Twitter that maybe it would be a safer and happier platform if people could opt out of the likes system. Those choosing to opt out would never again court popularity over quality, nor would they be made to feel inferior for not winning “enough” likes. Naturally, nobody likes or RTs or probably even notices my tweet, lost as it immediately is in the maelstrom.

When I’m done dirtying myself on Twitter (some of the tweets are perfectly helpful and friendly), I go for a walk. I notice that someone has moved the bricks, not out of the bin shed but at least into a position where some of the higgledy-piggledy bins can fit more properly into their nooks. More info when I have it, bin shed fans.

The bricks are back

Good Lord, the bricks are back. Someone must have seen them blocking the entrance a little and moved them. But instead of thinking “let’s get these out of our lives” and moving them to the bulk uplift area on the street, they’ve returned them to their previous place in the bin shed. They must have thought, “hey, that industrial rubble isn’t where it normally sits!”

The Bricks

I decide this morning that I will move the bricks.

Yes, “the bricks.”

For some time, there’s been a pile of bricks in the bin shed we share with neighbours. In fact, it’s five bricks cemented together to form a single chunk of hard-to-move brickwork.

In case you’re interested–and why wouldn’t you be?–this hunk of orphan masonry is a leftover from the fire last year that resulted in a wall falling down.

The bricks just sit there, taking up space and preventing our full complement (fleet?) of wheelie bins from fitting into the shed properly. This routinely means bins sitting in front of other bins, making it hard for our less agile and less determined neighbours to reach the ones on the back row. In turn this means bags of unprotected garbage piling up and various rancid messes.

But today I decide to act!

By hook or by crook, I think, I’ll move the bricks out of the bin shed so that the bins can fit properly at last. No more rubbish will pile up and everyone in our building will be safer and happier. Soon there will be a chain reaction of goodwill leading all the way, I daresay, to the revocation of Article 50.

All I have to do is move these bricks.

Lifting them is out of the question but I brace myself, marshal my energies, and I drag them out of their smelly nook and most of the way out of the bin shed. I pause when I meet the little slope that leads up to the street.

I wheel the excess bins to their rightful spots, mission somewhat accomplished.

As I ready myself again to drag the bricks up the final furlong, something has changed.

I realise that I have successfully pulled, not only these heavy old bricks, but also the muscles in my forearms. They have turned into useless jelly.

Worse, the bricks in their new position partially obscure the entrance to the bin shed. I wonder if there’s even room for the refuse collectors to get through when they turn up on Tuesday.

I’m uncertain what to do at first, but the correct course of action soon becomes clear.

I run away.

Tonight, I look down from our bedroom window at the bricks–still there, silent and brick-like in the night–and I wonder if my arms will recover before bin day in time for a second drag.

Oh, why did I have to intervene? Why did I drag the bricks? Why does the fate of the whole world have to rest with meeeeeee?

The Fireman

“It blotted out the sun,” is a rather dramatic phrase to attach to a fire in some wheelie bins, but that’s what happened. It did so.

I’d been flat on the chaise with a book as usual when I heard a sort of cracking noise, which I thought was Samara coming home and struggling to unlock the door for some reason. I got up to help and saw that the bin shed behind our building was AFLAME!

We live on an upper floor so I didn’t panic too quickly. There was a healthy distance between the fire and my flammable, flammable face. But a thrill rose in me as I peeped down and saw the flames swirling.

I’m not trying to be dramatic, madam, the flames were swirling. Yes, madam, like a maelstrom.

I quickly closed the windows and sealed up the ventilation slots. I’d already begun the dubious pleasure of breathing a bin.

As I watched the plastic blister and contort, I’ll confess to enjoying the experience (“chaos! glorious chaos!”) but when the sun-blotting business kicked in, it all got a bit scary. Phrases like “backdraft” and “charred remains” and “it started on Pudding Lane” began to occur.

I pulled on some shoes and (yes) trousers just in case escape should beckon and then I called 999. A neighbour had already called though — perhaps because she or he had been dialling neufs instead of shouting “chaos reigns!” and leaping up and down — and the fire brigade were on their way.

The fire engine came and the dousing began. One of the firefighters climbed onto the roof of the bin shed, which seemed a bit much, but he did’t roll anywhere and if he shouted, “Go! Go! Go!” I didn’t hear it.

A little while later, there was a knock at the door and I could tell from the fuzz of a walkie-talkie that it would be one of the firefighters.

I let him in and — it may have been his charisma or the fact that his badge identified him as having the silliest name in the world, ALAN, or the fact I’d just inhaled the best part of a municipal bin — but I began to understand why all those mad women are so keen on firemen.

“Hello Alan.”

He wasn’t especially handsome but he knew his stuff and he was tall. I mean, I’m considered tall, so he was tall. I’m not accustomed to looking up at dreamboats.

He began to explain what had happened to the bin and that we’d soon be hearing from the council and that he’d also like to “take this opportunity” to tell me about good evacuation procedures.

“I put my trousers on,” I said.

“Right,” he said, “That was a good start.”

He then went into some information about testing doors for heat before opening them and various other things that could “save my life one day” but I was lost in his fireman’s presence. They really should send uglier people out to explain these things, a sort of firemanuensis (come on!) with hairy ears or no head or something.

Samara suddenly arrived home, which was probably for the best really. Or was it? How do I know that our life together is better than the life I could have had with Alan?

“It blotted out the sun, Alan,” I said.

Samara gave me a funny look.

“Yes,” he said, “you’ve been a brave boy.”

Well, he didn’t actually say that but can you imagine? Swoon!

Alan had a burn on one of his arms.

Do the fire brigade give out lollipops to brave boys or is that just dentists?

I could go on.

What an exciting hour.

Three plastic green splodges — former wheelie bins — now adorn the pavement. Bits of our rubbish protrude from them. It looks like a teleportation accident in a cocktail bar.


If you enjoyed this story, (a) shame on you, and (b) please consider buying my books A Loose Egg and Stern Plastic Owl for countless other encounters with Earthlings.