I Want You To Learn From My Mistakes. Lord Knows, I Seem Incapable Of Doing So.

Like Alan Partridge in the Linton Travel Tavern, or … um, thingy in Man In A Suitcase, my lovely wife and I spent the last week or so living out of a suitcase (well, a couple of them) in a hotel not far from our home.

In case you’re assuming that the accumulation of books and CDs and DVDs had reached the stage where it was easier for us to move out and leave the material possessions to take over the flat, fear not; this was a planned re-location while we had sturdy artisans in replacing the kitchen and bathroom (including tearing out the plumbing and re-plastering the ceilings), and we decided it was best to move elsewhere and keep out of their way.

Living within twenty minutes of home, but not actually at home, was a strange experience; kind of limbo-like, but pleasant enough (the hotel was nice, and had room service, so no complaints there), even if towards the end of it we were keen to get home.

Anyway, I learned various things from the experience, and I thought I’d share them with you. Hints ‘n’ tips, as it were.

If you’re staying away from home whilst renovation work’s being carried out, for pity’s sake, do not pop home to see how it’s going.

I can’t stress this enough. It’s always a bit weird to be away from home anyway, but if you then return to the location you’re feeling faintly disconnected from only to see it in a state of disrepair, it’s not going to cheer you up one bit.

The sight which confronted us on a halfway-through visit home was pretty horrifying – pipes sticking out of walls at scary angles, light fittings hanging from the ceiling like slabs of animal carcase in one of those refrigerated lorries, and so much dust it looked as if it had been snowing indoors. A scene of devastation, in short, not seen in London’s East End since the Blitz*.

I think it was Thomas Wolfe who wrote that you can never go home. As regards popping in to see how the work’s going, make that you shouldn’t go home.

Unaccustomed to hard graft? That makes two of us. Keep at least one eye on your surroundings.

For example, if you’re lifting a box of floor tiles onto a trolley, make sure that you don’t glance away long enough for the trolley to get bored of being an inanimate object, and suddenly go all animated.

In my experience, the trolley will roll towards you whilst your attention is elsewhere, hit the back of your leg, and cause you to fall onto the trolley. This fall will be assisted by the weight of the box of tiles, which you’ll need to keep clutched to you like a newborn for fear of them breaking. I’ve found that while all this is going on, your partner will be unable to do anything but watch… with eyes wide and barely-suppressed amusement. Their laughter begins when you land on your arse on the trolley. Hmph.

On being White Van Man, howsoever fleetingly

Driving a hired van to take unwanted furniture and rubble to the local tip – I’m sorry, I mean Re-use and Re-Cycle Centre – is, for the vast majority of men, a very exciting event.

Perched above the normal-sized vehicles, your lofty throne makes you look and feel like King of the dual carriageway. Enjoy it, but don’t get too blase about your new-found status, for pride comes before a fall (and you can easily fall out if you’re not careful when dismounting). Following what happened to me the other day, I make two recommendations about how to conduct yourself, so you don’t fall from grace even remotely as swiftly as I did.

Recommendation 1: When driving a transit van, don’t look in the rear view mirror. There isn’t one. Use the side mirrors instead. Mind you, when you’re reversing, pedestrians will probably take the opportunity to walk across the back of the van – that is, the blind spot between the mirrors’ visible spots. So, I recommend you stick the hazard lights on, and whenever you’re about to reverse, give it an extra 15 seconds’ wait to make sure it really is clear. I didn’t hit anyone, but from the way people were keen to leap behind the van every time I even thought about reversing, I can only assume there was a puddle behind my vehicle and pedestrians were intent on using their entire bodies to impersonate Sir Walter Raleigh’s cloak. So, look, and then wait. And then think about moving.

Recommendation 2: When you’re driving a rented van, take a moment to ascertain the height of the van before you go anywhere. This moment of research may seem like a waste of time, but it will in fact help you to avoid a close – some might even say intimate – encounter with a Maximum Headroom sign as you drive into a supermarket car park. If, however, you do what I did, and ask “hmm, are we going to get under that bar, do you think?” before hearing a very loud THUNK overhead, make sure you’ve paid for the full insurance cover on the van so you don’t have to pay the excess. God bless you, Mastercover Plus.

… and there endeth the lessons. Well, the lessons that can be learned from my recent experiences. On the basis of my past performance in relation to lessons – both those within the classroom and elsewhere – it’s debatable whether I’ll actually learn anything, but if nothing else, I like to think that this post shows that I’m at least aware of my mistakes.

All the better, of course, to repeat them, with added stupidity.

*There is, I appreciate, the possibility that this is overstating it a bit. But as my sister once said, “Oh, everyone always exaggerates everything”.


The Last Time I Saw Someone All Over BBC Continuing Drama Like This, It Was Slater Week


I Arrive Late For The Party Once Again, But Here’s Your Ticket To The Screening Room


  1. I see using the phrase “Oh, everyone always exaggerates everything” runs in the Soanes family: http://johnsoanes.blogspot.com/2006/10/oh-everyone-always-exaggerates.html

    Hee, hee.

  2. Ah, my sis started it – she said it about twenty years ago, and I remember thinking it was memorable then!
    More alarmed, though, by the idea that you might be reading the blog in such detail… or at least remembering it! I barely recall what I’ve said from one day to another, startled that someone else might.

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