There is nothing like a bad back to make you feel your age. Mine’s been put through its paces over the years – I rarely miss an opportunity to slouch, slump or not lift things from my knees – but I never thought it would be plain sitting down that got me.
‘Do you do a lot of computer work?’ the doctor had asked.
‘Yeah, I guess I’m on Google Docs, Logic or Pornhub for most of the day,’ I said.
‘And does your seat have adjustable height’?
‘No,’ I said, put out at how readily he had accepted I might use Pornhub.
‘Not that I’m aware of.’
‘What sort of seat is it?’ he sighed.
‘A dining chair.’ I said. He didn’t look impressed. ‘I sometimes put a cushion on it,’ I added.
And so it was, when I went to have a seat last Sunday, I remembered I was under doctor’s orders to go and buy a proper chair. It sounded a bit dull and I would have preferred to stay in and watch Super Sunday, to be honest, but first up was Everton v Newcastle which, I thought, wouldn’t be up to much. So, after one more pot of tea I made my move.
I often wonder where everyone is going in their cars, particularly on a Sunday. In my case I was driving round and round Staples the ‘Office Superstore’ on Old Kent Road trying to find the entrance to the car park. The Old Kent Road is of course itself a notable urban corridor, but the area behind Staples and Carpetright is a fine example of post-industrial wasteland and the car park is its bleak apotheosis.
In a clearing between buildings – of which it is impossible to determine if they are actually falling down or being built – there lies an accretion of litter, girders, pallets, fag butts and buddleia, and it is here that people park their cars in order to buy printer tone or stair runner.
I breathed in the fetid air. These spaces are the city dweller’s wilderness, barely populated zones where deals may occasionally be done by men in Transit vans; unmanaged, unloved and quietly forgotten, especially on Sundays. But not by me. To me, more than bright lights and fine buildings, they are the essence of the city. If the wilderness is the natural wonder of the country, then the urban wilderness is the human wonder of the city. It speaks of man’s labour, of fallibility, of mortality. And maybe, if you’re lucky, of a transport caff.
This beats the football, I thought. I may be carrying an injury but I’m out and about in the big city. My mood lifted by a sense of adventure, I limped into Staples. Oh, but that tea was coursing through me.
‘Is there a toilet?’ I asked the security guard at the entrance.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Nearest one’s at the KFC.’
‘OK,’ I said and headed on into the giant office supplies wonderland. I was alone apart from two sales assistants and their team leader.
‘Got any chairs?’ I asked, absurdly, as not only were we surrounded by them, there was also advertised a ‘Big Chair Event’ at which ‘hundreds of pounds’ could be saved if you were prepared to buy chairs that a) no-one else had wanted and b) looked like they’d been assembled by monkeys, in the dark.
‘Ergonomic, mesh, posture or executive?’ asked the team leader. I’d barely stepped through the portal and I was already out of my depth.
I was directed to the office chair section and began my work of having a good sit down in every one of them. Maybe I could get a job as a chair tester, I thought. In a way, I’ve been training for it all my life.
I noticed the security guy had wandered over to keep an eye on me. Fair do’s. I looked at it from his point of view: A bedraggled, unshaven bloke in a cardigan and tracky bottoms had just shuffled into his shop asking if he could use the toilet and now he’s sitting in all the chairs, rocking backwards and forwards. To him, I was obviously mentally ill. His training had kicked in, was all.
‘Just testing the chairs,’ I told him. ‘I’m not having a piss.’
I immediately regretted bringing this up, though. It was no good. I could hold out no longer. I was obliged to pay a visit to the Colonel.
Back outside I walked past a man wheezing on a fag by Carpetright and followed my nose and a queue of cars to the very drive-thru KFC where Dirty South had taken his wives on their honeymoon, or something. In contrast to the cool quietude of the car park, the restaurant was loud and hot and filled with people having deep-fried Sunday treats.
I saw a sign for the toilets and, passing worryingly close to the kitchen, pushed open the door to the tiny Gents to find a guy leaning over the washbasin washing away blood that was pouring from, I hoped, his nose.
‘Alright?’ he said, brightly. I had to squeeze past him to the only cubicle, in which the toilet bowl was filled to the brim with swirling faeces.
‘Oh, Jesus,’ I said. ‘I can’t face it.’
‘Yeah, bit tight in ’ere, innit,’ said Blood Face, missing the point.
I beat a retreat and examined my environs. Nowhere else looked likely to have a pisser. In fact nowhere looked open. That’s often the problem with the urban wilderness.
Deserter associate, Spider, would just piss in the car park, I thought. He wouldn’t even think twice. He pisses anywhere, like a puppy. Though to be fair, he does get arrested for it.
In the car park the guy was still smoking his cigarette, but I could wait no longer. I positioned myself as out of sight as possible between my car and a Volvo and took a leak against my front tyre. Oh, sweet relief.
‘Excuse me,’ said a woman sitting in the Volvo, making me jump and causing me to momentarily piss on my own bonnet. ‘Is there nowhere else you can do that?’
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘I’ve got a bad back.’ She looked unconvinced. ‘And I’m mentally ill.’
That was enough excitement for one day. I drove home in the fading light, had a sit down on my dining chair and ordered the Giuseppe Executive Chair on the Internet. Apparently Everton v Newcastle had been an eight-goal thriller, but I didn’t mind – I’d had my own super Sunday.
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