The two days I didn’t have internet

Tuesday evening was one like any other.  I arrived home from work in the same way I do every night – by foot – and unloaded my bag of groceries onto the kitchen counter.  A lemon, a net of oranges, two chicken breasts, a packet of venison grillsteaks, a mango, blueberries and a little gem lettuce.  I removed my long black coat from my person, one arm at a time, and hung it on the hook on the back of the bedroom door before I slipped a blue sleeveless v neck jumper over my lilac shirt.  Suitably changed into my loungewear I returned to the kitchen and considered preparing my lunchtime salads for the next couple of days.  I thumbed through my phone for the Sonos app, hoping for the backing track of Absolute Classic Rock whilst I fried the chicken for my salad; because nothing goes with pepper and thyme like some rhythm and rhyme.

I stood in the cold kitchen oiling my breasts and began to wonder why I wasn’t hearing Heart or ZZ Top or Boston blasting out of the living room.  I cleansed my hands and examined the screen of my mobile, finding that it was experiencing some reluctance to communicate with the Sonos speaker.  I summoned all of the wisdom in the field of technology that I have gathered over the years and concluded that the best thing I could do would be to disconnect from the WiFi and then re-establish the connection.  When this had no effect I was dumbfounded and out of ideas.  I walked into the hallway and crouched down to look curiously at the router.  The ‘power’ and ‘wireless’ lights were illuminated in the correct fashion, but the ‘internet’ light was like a Smiths song with the Morrissey lyrics but without the Johnny Marr guitar riff – despairingly dark.

There are only a few things I truly fear in life.  I dread the idea of going through my entire morning routine – shave, shower, facial cleanse –  only to find that I have run out of moisturiser.  Until recently I had a deep-rooted suspicion of seafood and could only really tolerate anything that was once contained within a shell, such as prawn, lobster or shrimp.  For a while I couldn’t help but feel that the need to draw something out of its shell said something about me sexually, but I have since learned that seasoning a salmon with sea salt and black peppercorns and lemon juice hides almost all of its fishiness and I have become welcome to the idea of other types of seafood.  Though despite this foray into culinary adulthood I still find myself checking that my fly is fully zipped up before I enter a room – any room, every time – and it is my gravest fear that I should walk into a bar or an office full of colleagues or the self-service checkouts at Lidl with my modesty threatening the decorum of the situation.  Perhaps the only thing I worry about more is losing internet connection, with my daily reliance upon streaming music and television services, and that is exactly the troubling scenario I found myself embroiled in on Tuesday evening.

There seemed to be some kind of a taunting irony in the fact that I should lose my internet connection in the days after I started watching the 1996 set Netflix comedy drama Everything Sucks, and not the unorthodox brand of irony in the Alanis Morissette song which sees a hapless cutlery drawer organisation come back to haunt the protagonist when she can’t find a knife amongst ten thousand spoons.  Such a sequence of events is all the more difficult for me to understand these days when I have a cutlery drawer that can hardly hold ten spoons.

With no internet and without access to Spotify and Netflix for my usual evening entertainment fix I was unsure of how to fill the void once I had finished preparing my salad and dining on deer.  I sat in the agitating silence of my living room – save for the occasional creak from upstairs or the sound of the air freshener bursting into life every 36 minutes in the bathroom – and reckoned this must have been how life was all the time in the 1990s before we had all of these things to distract us.  After some time I decided that this would be the perfect opportunity for me to delve into my bookcase and read Ulysses by James Joyce for the first time, having had my interest in the novel piqued on trip to Dublin last summer.  I took a can of Guinness from the top shelf of my fridge – not out of any stereotypical need to supplement Irish literature with an Irish tipple, but simply because Guinness was the only beer I had a supply of – and sat on my brown leather sofa with this classic book in hand.  I leafed through the introduction and settled on the first page, where I was met with a description of plump Buck Mulligan’s yellow dressing gown.  I read further, briefly, and found my mind wandering to Google.  If only I could search:  is the tone of Ulysses so difficult to read all the way through?  I drank from the can of Guinness.  Another query I was unable to make to Google:  Why does Guinness not taste as good out of the can?  I couldn’t even ask Alexa, the one person I am usually able to talk to in my flat.

I very quickly lost interest in Ulysses when I remembered that as well as books I also own some DVDs.  This wasn’t so much the 1990s anymore as a whole new millennium.  My collection wasn’t as varied as I had thought and I was confronted with a choice of Annie Hall for the 128th time, Superman for the 97th occasion or an 85th viewing of a Nightmare on Elm Street.  I opted for the latter, because there is nothing like watching Johnny Depp being massacred to make a man feel better about himself.  Though this 80s slasher flick only raised a further series of queries I longed to put to Google.  Is Peppa Pig subliminally coercing toddlers into acts of mischief?  Are cats evil?  What is worse:  cats or Freddy Krueger?  Are cats and children able to secretly communicate and if so are they conspiring against the rest of us?

My second night without internet wasn’t any easier an experience.  After enjoying Batman for the 31st time I made a nine o’clock trip to Tesco where I bought masking tape, a 5M measuring tape and a packet of ten pencils, having decided that I would begin the task of placing a framed Jackson Pollock print on my wall.  I really only needed one pencil for the job, but they came with eraser tips and at the price on offer it seemed like it would have been a mistake not to build a stationery supply.  Besides, I suspected that finding the precise spot on my wall where a piece of art should be hung would be quite an arduous task which might require a lot of lead.  However, without an internet to guide me on the exercise of locating the middle of the wall behind my couch or to tell me the ideal height for eye level, I gave up on the idea of measuring the wall for a picture frame and instead passed the time by drinking an additional cup of Earl Grey tea to the single cup I often drink in the hour before bed.  How did anyone ever perform any DIY – or anything at all – without a wikiHow page?

By Thursday afternoon a BT engineer arrived to finally rescue me from my wireless woe and return me to the 21st century.  He tested my phone line and confirmed that the issue I had been suffering since Tuesday seemed to stem from the fact that I had been cut off at the exchange – and not for the first time.  He assured me that the problem would be easily fixed and that I would soon have access to the world wide web once again.  I felt relieved and asked him if it was possible that a ghost could have caused my internet fault.  His brows become furrowed and he asked me what I meant.  I shrugged it off and took his response to mean that it wasn’t entirely improbable.


The week I thought my flat might be haunted

After the best part of three weeks living in my flat I am gradually getting used to the different sounds that are heard in a new place.  Living in a block with five different neighbours and on a fairly busy street in the centre of town there are a variety of noises being made through any given day and it isn’t always easy to identify what they are or where they are coming from.  There is a creaking upstairs – at least presumably from upstairs, as I am on the ground floor – and a sort of groaning from the small cupboard in the kitchen housing the boiler.  The door in the close opens and it sounds as though someone has hammered seventeen nails into the bottom of it as it scrapes across the concrete.  Something clatters somewhere and it cannot be put into words.  I’m lying in bed at night, a street light shining through the curtains onto my white 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets like a spotlight – although the stage is empty and there hasn’t been a performance for some time – and I hear a muffled voice.  For a moment I wonder if it’s coming from the bathroom and I chastise myself for turning off the light.  Then I remember that I am alone and that it probably came from a passer-by on the street outside my window.

The bathroom door is the only one in my flat which behaves in the manner a functioning door ought to:  opening fully and closing tightly behind.  My building was constructed in the late 1890s and often it seems like that could be the last time the doors in the property were able to be closed firmly shut.  This has never troubled me in the time I have been living there since most of the doors were closing far enough to create the appearance of being completely shut.

I went to bed on Tuesday night – in much the same way as I do every night – with each of the doors pulled as far into the frame as they could go.  After around an hour of vague restlessness I got out of bed for a glass of water or some other reason – perhaps to reassure myself that I hadn’t turned out the light on a guest in the bathroom – and found the bedroom door to be ajar by approximately five inches.  It seemed a little curious to me, but I shrugged it off and got my glass of water and reminded myself that I was definitely alone in the flat before returning to bed and successfully falling asleep.

I woke up through the night – at probably something like three o’clock, though it is difficult to read the digits on my clock without my glasses – with the feeling that the glass of water was threatening to pass through me, and I got up to use the toilet.  Once again the bedroom door was open by around five to six inches and this time I was a little more perturbed by the discovery.  I lay amongst my cool bed sheets and considered how the door could have come to be open to such a degree.  I stared through the darkness at where I knew the door would be if I could see it and I wondered if it was still closed, or had it somehow crept open again.  The night air was calm on Tuesday and there was little or no breeze, while every other door in the flat remained in its nearly closed state.  Only the bedroom door was unclosed, and when I got up in the morning to see that it was once again sitting some distance from the latch there was only one conclusion I could logically reach:  my flat might be haunted.

I have no experience of ghosts or of establishing their sex, age or intentions, but it seemed certain to me that, on account of the fact that I got through the night unmolested and from the frequent opening of the bedroom door in an apparent attempt by a being to leave, this was a female spirit.

In the kitchen I made myself a fresh cup of coffee as I tried to process the realisation that I could be living with a ghost.  I sliced a mango into bitesize chunks – because despite now probably cohabiting it seems I still have to take care of the mundane tasks – and happened to notice that the corkboard by the breakfast bar was hanging squint.  I knew that I had suspended the board exactly as any other capable person would have and so naturally suspected that this was the work of a paranormal prankster.  The same reasoning should surely also be applied to my ongoing experience of finding knives in the spoon compartment of the cutlery drawer.

The more I thought about these strange and unexplained occurences the more convinced I became that my flat is home to a spirit other than the six bottles of Jack Daniels in my kitchen cupboard.  I considered the leaves which keep appearing on corners of my wooden flooring and wondered if a ghostly presence had been responsible all along, some kind of demon dendrophiliac.  I pondered whether it would make me feel better knowing that the dry, rustic nuisances had been brought into my home by a ghost rather than not being at all sure of where they came from or how they got there.  And if a ghost is indeed present in my flat and bringing in leaves and tilting my corkboard off centre and leaving my bedroom door slightly open, how would I feel about living with a phantom?  If cinema and television have taught me one thing it would be that the supernatural is not to be trusted, and yet I could do with the company.

Wednesday progressed and I was becoming used to the idea of residing with an ethereal being.  I began to think of things I could do to make the experience more pleasant for this, until now, secretive specter and considered that I had probably angered her with my tendency to play classic rock all night and burn exceptionally fragrant incense.  It might be worthwhile attempting to seduce the benevolent beauty out of the shadows with some soothing soul music, maybe ease up on the herbed blends and perhaps even dress myself with the lights off, for no-one – dead or alive – needs to be subjected to the ordeal of witnessing me bend and stretch as I try to coax my feet into a pair of pink socks that don’t quite match my light coral pink tie.

As part of my effort to be a more considerate housemate to this haunting presence I decided that I would finally do something about scatter cushions.  I have never understood the need or use for additional cushions on the bed.  They don’t assist in the act of sleeping – which is the primary function of any bed – and whenever I have encountered them in hotel rooms it is usually the first thing I do to discard the scatter cushions onto the floor.  I have a friend who has recently been extolling the virtues of using scatter cushions and a matching throw rug to give a bedroom more character and make a bed appear more welcoming, and I always scoffed at such an idea.  But I have been developing a flair and a liking for home decor in my new flat and this seemed like an ideal opportunity to appease my apparition.  What better way to make this spook feel less spooked in my bedroom than to adorn the bed with a warm charcoal grey throw and similarly styled scatter cushions?

I have little hesitation in admitting that I felt a great sense of satisfaction the first time I stood back and gazed at my bed dressed in its white 200 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets with charcoal grey throw rug and scatter cushions.  It looks very much like a bed that has been made to look like a comfortable place to sleep.  My feeling of satisfaction was curbed somewhat when I arrived home from the bar in the early hours of Saturday morning, my senses dulled by a heady intake of beer, Jameson and Jack Daniels, and I experienced deep confusion when encountered by the scatter cushions on my bed.  I undressed from my brown tweed suit – in the dark – and collapsed onto my duvet in a disoriented and drunken heap and couldn’t fathom why there were cushions on my bed or where my pillows were.  Whose idea was it to put these cushions in front of my pillows?  I tried to push them aside, but they were in a strange formation and much bulkier than I remembered and didn’t go very far.  I flopped from the bed onto the floor and considered if it might be less hassle if I slept on the sheepskin rug, but somehow the idea felt disturbing.  I decided to tackle the scatter cushions one at a time, tossing them in all directions with all of the energy I could muster in my inebriation.

I awoke at some time on Saturday morning, my head in a fuzz and my eyes refusing to acknowledge the daylight streaming through the white curtains.  I looked around the room and saw scatter cushions in three different locations, a charcoal grey throw rug twisted into an unusual shape at the foot of my bed and the door sitting open by approximately six inches.  I sensed that the ghost could not have been happy.

The week I ate four hundred grams of spinach

In my thirty-four years out of the womb I have never looked forward to eating a box of salad as much as I did on Friday lunchtime.  My appetite wasn’t for the bright red cherry tomatoes which burst with a bite like a water balloon colliding with concrete, nor was it for the flavoursome spring onions which I’ve become quite fond of in recent weeks.  My taste buds weren’t even being tantalised by the mild and aromatic blue cheese I had decided to crumble into the salad, or by the Dijon dressing I had prepared earlier in the week.  What was truly enthusing me about this particular salad on Friday afternoon was that it was finally going to allow me to finish the last of the 450g bag of spinach I had bought more than a week previously.

One of the more challenging aspects of bachelorhood is shopping; specifically food shopping and the calculating of portions.  There is an ongoing assessment in my internal monologue as I stalk the supermarket aisles trying to conduct an economical solo shop.  Often if I am buying for one exact recipe I will have to think two or three meals into the future, like some culinary Marty McFly, because almost everything has been packaged for two or more people.  It is easy to freeze two chicken breasts from a pack of four, but a little less straightforward when you buy a bundle of six spring onions because you need one for a pasta dish.  This dilemma is made all the more difficult when I am trying to adapt a slow cooker recipe which “serves 6” to one which serves a single man.  How does anyone divide a teaspoon of paprika into a sixth?  And what else can you do with a 200g tin of chickpeas once you have meticulously weighed out 33.33 grams?

This issue came to a dramatic head recently when I required exactly 50g of spinach for a goats cheese and spinach pasta, which I had halved from the 100g needed to feed two people, although naturally I still used 150g of goats cheese because who wants to divide goats cheese?  The only size of package I could find anywhere was offering 450g and I was faced with the dilemma of figuring out how to use four hundred grams of spinach before it wilted in order for me to get bang for my bachelor buck.

Spinach is not a leafy flowering plant for which I typically have much fondness.  On the rare occasion that I have found it crossing my plate – usually unseen and unbeknownst to me, like some cruel game of hide and seek between vegetables (the most sneaky vegetable in this game is the parsnip, which cooked in a certain way can often resemble a chip, as I discovered to my eternal disappointment one Christmas dinner in my teenage years) – I thought the taste to be bitter and unpleasant.  I wouldn’t say that over the years I have developed a fear of eating spinach, but the very idea of having to eat 400g of the leaves to prevent myself from wasting pennies of my disposable income left me feeling a dread I haven’t experienced since the time Aulay’s bar ran out of Crème de menthe.

I knew that I had to face up to this apprehension if I was going to get value for money.  Despite my very real dismay I was simply going to have to find a way of consuming 400g of spinach in around a week or so.  I considered this situation to be something similar to a pilot who suffers a trepidation when he thinks about flying, or a vet who feels a bit of a dislike towards kittens.  They both put their concerns to the back of their mind because they have to; although it is without doubt that the potential consequences of eating so much spinach are more dire than in either of the scenarios I thought of.

I decided that the best way of disposing of large quantities of spinach would be to use it as the base in my lunchtime salads and layer it with enough tasty additions that might enable to me to forget what is lurking at the bottom of the box.  After three days of using brie and olives and croutons and homemade Dijon vinaigrette I quickly came to the conclusion that it is impossible to jazz up spinach.  It would be like wearing an impressive navy suit with a lovely pink shirt or tie and black socks in your brilliant tan shoes.  You are still wearing black socks, and at the bottom of the salad box it is always still spinach.

As the week progressed and I had been eating spinach salads for more than five days I was finding myself contemplating the ways in which such a diet might be affecting my body, in the manner of an article one might read in the weekend magazine in The Times, though my experience was with spinach and not something more middle class like kale or millennial hipster such as quinoa.  The ‘best before’ date of the 28th day of January 2018 passed and I still had close to a quarter of a bag of spinach left, though it was showing no signs of wilting and I knew I would be able to make a few more days use of it.  In total I got around eight lunches out of the leaves and the more I ate them the greater my suspicion become that I was gaining some kind of Popeye placebo effect.

There is no way of saying for sure, but the tremendous portions of spinach in my diet seemed to be having an empowering effect on the things my body, and even my mind, is capable of.  It was enhancing many aspects of my life.  On Thursday I assembled a shoe rack in under 40 minutes and with minimal exasperation.  My mind became concentrated enough for me to decide on the colour of scatter cushions I want for my bed, and I was able to source a sheepskin rug to warm the wooden floor of my bedroom.  Remarkably I even remembered to have my recycling in the blue bin by Tuesday night.

Despite the Popeye placebo I was glad when the remaining few grams of spinach were emptied into my salad box on Friday morning.  It had been an arduous luncheon process but I had finally managed to use all 400g of spinach and get my money’s worth.

In anticipation of a more exciting and stimulating lunch next week I went shopping on Saturday and picked up a box of king prawns which were on offer.  They seemed like they would be refreshing and tasty in some kind of Asian inspired salad.  I returned to my flat and asked Google to search for prawn based salad recipes for me.  The first and most appealing result required spinach for the leaves.