Hilary Fannin: Me and the affable stranger, lying in his bed with his dog

Edward had everything he needed in his life, he told me – his home, his remote job, his pet

In the ongoing saga of my new vacuum cleaner, I can report that the shagging thing is doubly busted.

In the ongoing saga of my new vacuum cleaner, I can report that the shagging thing is doubly busted.

 

It is possible, I understand, even in these limbolike days, to have a life filled with incident. Maybe you yourself are one of those active, accomplished people, furiously searching through your wardrobe for a belt to go with your Botox. Maybe you’re about to dash off to dine on a brace of innovative quesadillas with your magnetic, if somewhat malodorous, lover. Maybe you’ll be spending the muggy evening discussing the myriad ways in which you can spark each other’s joy. 

Knock yourself out, mate. Me, I’ll be sitting at the end of the mucky stairs, trying and failing to attach my nozzle to my swivel head.  

Yep, in the ongoing saga of my new vacuum cleaner, I can report that the shagging thing is doubly busted. (I was going to use a less demure adjective, but I restrained myself.) The brush attachment is now absolutely f***ed and the cylinder well and truly f***ed, and so, undeterred by my previous skirmish with the manufacturer’s lava-spitting customer-service team, I once again rang the helpline. 

Having been passed from person to person like a pilfered ancient artefact, I finally got chatting to a Bolton-based operative called Edward. A charming and mature-sounding individual, Edward spoke slowly and precisely, thanking me politely (after each and every digit, in fact) for reading out my account number, customer number, reference number, date of purchase, date of birth and telephone number. Then, while inputting my data to the system (“Bear with me, please” ), Edward asked, with absolute sincerity, if I was having a pleasant afternoon. 

It was on the tip of my furry tongue to tell Edward that spending many long hours on the telephone explaining my suction incompetence to people who, quite frankly, would rather be watching the footie or sticking pins in their eyes did not constitute a pleasant afternoon in anyone’s vocabulary. Indeed, the number of more alluring alternatives to hanging on a helpline were countless. (Swimming in an azure ocean, dozing on a pine-scented beach and wiping away the dew drops on a cold glass in a seaside bar were just some of the options that sprang to mind.) 

Edward input the numerical sequences and hoped for the best possible outcome in much the same way as we used to send intercessions to the saints, in the hope of a lost earring turning up or a carelessly mislaid virginity being restored

“Yes, thank you, Edward,” I replied. “I’m having a very pleasant afternoon. How about you?”

“Oh, I’m marvellous. I’m tucked up in bed with the dog. I do love working from home.”

We chatted about the weather, and about pets, and Edward asked after the health of my family, all the while inputting the appropriate numerical sequences and hoping for the best possible outcome. (In much the same way, I thought, as we used to send intercessions to the saints, in the hope of a lost earring turning up or a carelessly mislaid virginity being restored.)

“We may be lucky and find a replacement cylinder, and then again the system might say no.”

“It’s a bit of a roller coaster, Edward.”

“Indeed it is, Hilary.”

Edward wasn’t too bothered by the yo-yoing reopening plans for Bolton, or about getting back to the office or socialising again. He had everything he needed in his life, he told me – his home, his remote job, his dog. 

There’s a part of me that hopes the days of incautiously told stories are gone for good, that the detritus of casually remembered anecdotes, scattered across a table like sucked bones, are a thing of the past

I might have told Edward that, unlike him, I’m struggling in this half-light life. I might have told him that re-entering Earth’s atmosphere hasn’t been as easy as I’d imagined, and that recently I’ve found a strange, unfamiliar kind of exhaustion setting in. Almost midsentence I’ve been assaulted by a desire to lie down under my host’s outdoor table and close my eyes. 

I might have added that I’d lost patience with my social self, with the carelessness of my words, with my slapdash bandying-around of language. I just can’t seem to get the balance right between listening and speaking these days, Edward, I might have confided. I might even have gone on to tell that gentle operative, tucked  up with his pooch, that these days I needed some kind of Braille to read a room.  

There’s a part of me that hopes the days of incautiously told stories are gone for good, that the detritus of casually remembered anecdotes, scattered across a table like sucked bones, are a thing of the past. But I suspect that, like all good hangovers, these postpandemic urges for self-purification will be swiftly washed away. 

“Oh dear,” Edward sighed. “I’m terribly sorry, but there’s a two-month wait on a cylinder.” 

I didn’t mind. It had done me good to speak about nothing much with an affable stranger, lying in his Bolton bed, the wonders of the dust-busting world at his fingertips. 

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.