What Would You Do?

In the queue for the counter in my little local shop, the nice girl at the till had it all sorted. She quickly and efficiently rang up the items belonging to the younger queue members and sent them on their way, back into their busy and fulfilling lives. For the older members of the queue, the nice girl reserved a kind word and/or a chatty retort. The old guy in front of me was deaf, so the nice girl had to repeat her sweetly customised platitude three times, each time at a considerably higher volume than the last, until the old geezer finally pretended to get it.

Then it was my turn.

I wondered where I would feature in the cohort. Would I be one of the young and restless, who only require a quick transaction so that their vivacious existence could continued unabated. Or would I be viewed as part of the geriatric crew, who patently required a little friendly banter to help them struggle on through until sundown.

I laid my milk and bananas on the counter.

“How are you? How are things with you today?”

I am old.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I am, after all, a mere notch off being sixty. My beard, this morning, was un-mowed and tatty. My eyebrows windswept and pillow ridden. My eyes glazed over from an abundance of Friday night slumber. Of course I was going to be chatted-to. Of course I was going to be old.

I confirmed that I was indeed as well as could be expected for a person in my condition and asked for a lottery ticket. A Quick pick (with the plus). I have a curious relationship with the lottery. Years ago, I cultivated six favourite numbers that I played every week. They were good numbers. Once, a full five of them came up and I collected a low four figure sum in cash at the post office, thank you very much. But the recurring six figures became just another small burden to lug around with me on my slow journey to the tomb so I gave them up. Instead, I started avoiding all lottery results in case, by abandoning my numerical travelling companions, I inadvertently discovered that I had made one of the worst mistakes of my life.

So now I just play once a week, with randomly chosen numbers picked by the machine behind the counter, which I ask for when I get my Saturday morning breakfast groceries at the local shop. Just another old gentleman in the queue, seeking fortune and some easily digestible fruit.

“Can I get a Quick pick, please. Six Euro with the Plus.”

The girl went to work on her machine.

“If you win,” she announced, “I’m coming with you.”

This shook me a tiny bit. I could just about bear the ‘old man’ categorisation, but I had no idea I had suddenly grown so very non-threatening. I wasn’t sure what to reply.

“Thanks,” I said, which, in retrospect, sounded quite wrong.

She handed me my ticket, having ascertained that last week’s ticket was, as usual, a complete dud. She looked at me rather intently as I filed the new ticket away in my back pocket.

“What would you do?” she asked.


“If you won. What would you do?”

The queue behind me shuffled. Either they were young and needed to rapidly restart their glamourous lives or else they were old, like me, and just shuffled naturally.

I thought about the question. Somehow it seemed more than one of those random old person banter-bytes. What would I do?

“I’d quit work,” I volunteered, “yes, I’d quit work.

“Oh, they all say that,” she replied and I figured she meant all the old folk she interviewed, because she clearly didn’t poll the young go-getting folk, “they all say they’d give up work…”

She leaned over the counter a little more. Her blue eyes were rather piercing. Perhaps she did intend to run away with me after all, if I ever assembled sufficient money.

“What would you really do?”

I am very rarely at a loss for a couple of words but, this time, I was at a loss. I really was. What would I do? Would I even want to give up work. I'm often restless after as little as a week off. 

The girl quickly saw that she had pressed the old geezer too hard. She had confused him and caused him to drift away in his mind, probably to memories of the Great War or Cowboy Times. She threw in a couple of suggestions, to try to kickstart my poor old brain.

“Would you go on a holiday, maybe? Buy a new car?”

I snapped out of it. I had to. There was a rising mutinous aura coming from the queue.

“Yes, yes,” I doddered, "I’d go on holiday and buy a car.”

She smiled.

“Good plan,” she said.

Then I gathered up my things and left, feeling twenty years older than when I came in.

As I walked to the car, I could feel the effect wearing off. I became young again. My steps got stronger and a dog, who was clearly thinking of messing with me, instead turned tail and slunk away. I was restored.

But the question lingered. It lingers still. What would I do? Give up work, take a holiday, buy a car. Yes, yes, yes… But what would I really do?

The only conclusion I have come to, as I sit and type this, is that I really don’t know what I’d do… but I’d sure as hell like to find out.

So watch this space. This week’s numbers look strangely promising.

All may yet be revealed.


This is something I practically never do. I never write about the same thing that everyone else is writing about. If there’s a massive thunderstorm and the whole world is talking about it, I’ll most likely be here prattling on about my ingrown toenail or why the cat isn’t currently talking to me.

That’s the norm, that’s the general rule-of-thumb.

But this old blog of mine has the loosest agenda in history, and it’s one of the reasons that it’s still chundering on, fourteen long years down the line. In my weekly bit I write about something that’s in my head in the particular week I’m writing. I don’t write them in advance, I don’t save them up. Whatever’s in my head goes on the screen. Unless it some current affair. Like I said already, I try to avoid that because everybody else will be doing it.

But this week... well, what can I tell you? It’s same thing in my head as seems to be in most everybody else’s so I figure I’d best jot something down about it, though heaven knows what that will turn out to be.

Yes, it’s about the queue. Actually, no, wait, it’s not actually about the queue. It’s about the end of the queue, the lying in state, the public file past. All the people, all the hours, all the days.

It’s like in that old song, ‘Uptown Up-Tempo Woman’ (no, I’m not trying to be funny, why would you think that?). The song says‘It started out in innocence, the way that most things do.’ And that's just what happened. I saw somewhere that the lying in state, all five days of it, was going to be live streamed on the Red Button on the BBC. A small techie voice in my head wondered if that would be available in Ireland so I went to the Red Button channel to see. We don’t get a Red Button per se over here any more but you can tune the channel in via the ‘add extra channels’ facility, if you know the frequency information (that’s enough tech stuff now, techie voice, just shut up). So, anyway, I went on the Red Button and there it was, a compelling setting to behold. A wondrous ancient room, a coffin draped in finery on a tall pedestal which doubtless has its own special name, and a collective of various guardsmen manning every corner of the sad centrepiece. Poised yet somehow in repose, all at the same time.

And then there was the people. Down the stairs they came, divided towards each side of the space, and then guided slowly, steadily, past the casket to perform their respectful obeisance of choice and then onward and back out of the room. A steady stream of people. Hours and days of them, on and on and on.

And, yeah, I got a bit caught up in it.

So, over the last four days, or whatever it’s been, I’ve watched quite a lot of the people filing-past on the Red Button channel. I’ve got pretty good at predicting who will salute, who will bow and who will stay a second-or-two longer than the norm, to make the moment last. I’ve got know the rhythm of the guards boots as they are called down the steps and up to the podium to replace their comrades. The dry pounding of the metal staff calling them, sending them back, and alerting them to come to attention. I’ve grown accustomed to the coughs, baby-cries, and shuffles as the people move past. I’m not a great royal person and neither am I any great fan of funerals, yet here I am, sprawled on the couch, watching the people go by. The intervals of guard changes run into each other and the time ticks away.

But why?

Why am I here, what on earth am I doing?

I don’t think it’s anything too sinister or anything to be concerned about. I’ve always liked slow TV and I’ve always liked live TV. There’s a ‘window on the world’ feeling to it and, even though the pictures are clearly on a two-minute delay (the guards start their change at two minutes past the hour on my telly) there’s still the clear impression that you are looking in on something that is happening right now.

Mostly, though, it’s the people that draw me. I just like looking at people, I guess. Old, young, rigid, loose, the grieved and the curious. On they come, the stream occasionally pausing but never really stopping. So many people. It’s hard not to look at them.

And I wonder why they have all come and, deep down, like the rest of us, I know, really, why it is. It’s a lot of different things for a lot of different people. It’s to pay respect and to say thanks, it’s to honour their own lost loved ones, it’s to be part of a vast and undeniable public acknowledgement of a lifetime of constancy. But, perhaps most of all, it’s history.

Most of us would like to be remembered but the fact of the matter is, we won’t be. My relatives of a hundred years ago are just elusive shadows now. I may know that Johnny was a pioneer electrician or that Edward went to War, but it is hard for us to leave an indelible mark behind. Love it or loath it, the upcoming funeral and, by extension, this queue will leave some mark on history. I think there is a drive in many of us to touch history, to become even the smallest part of it and, in doing so, become a piece of history itself.

Here's a silly example. Whenever Live Aid comes on the telly, I tell people that I was there. I don’t fool myself that it will go down very far in history but it is a moment that has proven to have some longevity and to have been there seems to put me in the world in some strange and intangible way.

The reasons to queue are many and personal and entirely valid in every case. We do what we do and the current fashion to sit back and berate people for being who they wish to be, just because it’s not being who we wish to be… well, I have to time for it. I might not ever be in the queue but I respect your drive to be there, whoever and whyever you are.

And I see you there, on my telly, with your green/black/blue scarf and your grey/blue/black jacket, doing your thing. And I salute you. And now that my salute is over, I can hear my wife’s footsteps coming slowly up the hall. I rise from my couch. It is time to change the guard.

I think I’ll have some tea.

Absolute F****** Idiot

I drove back to work after lunch yesterday. I usually walk, so there’s something different for you already. There's always a surprise or two waiting around here for the travelling reader. I drove down to the junction with the main road and, although that main road is always busy, the junction is not. So I toddled down at my own pace, in no particular rush. I was, after all, going back to work.

Right near the junction, a dude walks right out in front of me. He had big headphones on and his nose was deep in his phone. He didn’t look up to see if I was coming at him, which I was, he just kept on crossing the road, impervious to any danger to his wellbeing. And, in fairness, there wasn’t any danger to his wellbeing because it was me who was driving and I was looking out for him and giving him space to cross the road in safety, even if he couldn’t bother his arse to look up and see if anybody was there.

I stopped the car and watched him mooch over. Not a clue had he that I was there. When he got across, I drove up to the junction he had just crossed and then, and only then, did he notice me. He did more than just notice me too. He stopped in his tracks, walked a couple of paces back, stooped and looked into the car at me and obviously mistook me for somebody else. He walked towards the car and suddenly realised that I wasn’t the droid he was looking for. So he stopped and waved me on.

Let me run that last sentence past you one more time. He waved me on.

‘You A**h**e,’ I said, ‘You P****, you F******g S***t. Who are you to wave me on, you D**kh**d, you G**sh**e, you absolute F*c***g Fl**e? Watch where you're B****** going, never mind waving me on!' Of course I didn’t say any of this to him, I just muttered it under my breath was I watched him amble on, safely back in his own personal oblivion.

I’ve written about it before. Hell, after fourteen years of this blogging lark, I’ve written about everything before. I complain a lot while driving in my car. I mean a lot. And I sometimes do so in the most extreme and unsanitary of language but only when I’m on my own. If somebody’s with me (Patricia) I will restrict my commentary style to a sarcasm-laden but family friendly-one. ‘Pick it up there, Sadie, we’ve all got places we need to be.’ Or ‘that’s right, Martin, don’t bother with that old indicator, I’m completely psychic back here.’ I always give my targets a name, just to maximise the bitter and condescending quality of my commentary. 

That may seem bad enough but, when I’m on my own, anything goes.

‘What are you playing at you ridiculous C******* Wa**e*?’

‘Go back and read the Rules of the Road, you daft F******. Go on, you B******, I’ll mind your car while you’re doing it.’

Summertime is more challenging because I often drive around town with the window open and I forget about it and let rip at some unsuspecting citizen. I got a standing ovation from a small crowd outside the courthouse last year for one of my little diatribes.

Being in a small town is also something of a hazard. You can be halfway through a soliloquy before you realise that it’s a friend’s dad or a relative’s grandmother you’re going off on.

The trouble is, I enjoy it too much to stop. I’m not really all that mad, I just like dropping the old Bon Mot on the inane pedestrians and super-inane motorists I see every day. Plus, on a slightly deeper level, I really wish they would all do better. Care more about their safety and the safety of others. I mean, I’m not the best driver or anything and Lord knows I’ve made my own mistakes out there. Perhaps it’s that I’ve learned something from my own experiences. I think that’s probably it. Your brief moments of inattention, carelessness, selfishness, and general A********** can come with a huge and terrible price if they come at the very wrong place and the very wrong time.

So, let’s do better out there, eh? Take a little pressure of an Old Man’s swear box. It doesn’t take much. Just wake up and look around you. Have a think about how that thing you’re about to do might impact on that other person who is right there in front of you.

If you can’t do that, well, rest assured, I’ll be out there somewhere, swearing at you and throwing one-liners at you from behind the tenuous and debatable safety of my windscreen. And I won’t be pulling any punches either, you sorry excuse for a F****** miserable P****.

Have a good day, whatever you get up to.

Stay dry.