In December 2011, I bought a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It was the best Android phone on the market, I like having the pure Google version of Android and until recently I thought it was the best phone I’d ever owned. I did not get it free on contract, I bought it outright and it cost £550.
Three weeks ago, it developed a fault. Whilst using it, it started kicking me back to the lock screen, dropping mobile web which required restarts, and sometimes it kicked me right out to the SIM lock screen. It’s clearly quite a deep fault with the handset, not just a dodgy connection to the SIM, nor was it just software because reflashing the software would solve it. It then lost any contact with the SIM at all, failing to acknowledge it was there and not even requesting the PIN.
I requested a repair. It took a few days to arrange, then over a week for the returns packaging to get to me. It then took a few days to get it to the repair centre, and a week for them to fix it and send it back to me. From noticing the fault to receiving the handset back was almost four weeks. That’s a long time to be without my primary communication tool. I had to buy a crappy basic handset to keep in contact with anyone, as I don’t have a landline.
The phone arrived back on Monday. Despite them saying they’d put the ‘latest’ software on it, they’d actually sent it back with a version of Android over 18 months old. I had to install all the latest updates, then spend hours downloading all my data and apps.
Yesterday, three days after getting the phone back, I noticed it was doing exactly the same thing. The fault wasn’t fixed. I suspect the fault wasn’t even diagnosed properly – because a few minutes using the device and it’s clear there’s something wrong. It was behaving in exactly the same way, locking itself, kicking me out to the SIM lock and being unable to keep a mobile internet signal for more than a few minutes. I know how repair centres work. They’ll have fixed the connection to the SIM, reflashed the software and sent it back out. I guarantee they won’t have had the phone switched on for more than two or three minutes.
This is unacceptable, and Samsung have had their chance to repair the phone. They failed and wasted over a week of my time in not bothering. Samsung tell me they have a “repair only” warranty. Fair enough, and they failed to repair it.
What I want, what I think is perfectly reasonable, and what I think they should offer to avoid wasting any more of my time is this: they should send a courier with a refurbished (note – not new, but fully working and tested) phone. The courier gives me the phone and I give him my faulty one. Simple. But they won’t.
It’s never really over between me and wife. It never has been.
We met in 2003 and had a romantic relationship instantly. But I wasn’t keen on getting too involved and she was really obviously keen on me, so I kept her at arms length. The second-worst thing I’ve ever done to someone was the night I’d decided I should dump her. I’d been ill and she turned up to my flat with a huge bag of Fruit Salad and Blackjack sweets, which I’d happened to mention I liked. It was, by far, one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me, before or since.
But I dumped her anyway. I felt awful as I did it, I’d never dumped anyone before, and I knew that I really, really liked her. She starting sobbing immediately, and I wanted to take it back. But she went home in tears.
The split didn’t last long. We kept in touch, kept seeing each other, kept ending up together. We both tried to see other people, but always ended up back with each other claiming we were just friends. We were best friends, who constantly flirted by email or text or in person, and invariably ended up kissing. It was never really over between us.
She moved in later as my flatmate, but it wasn’t long before we moved beyond a platonic relationship. The first-worst thing I ever did, incidentally, was after I got dumped by someone else I’d been seeing and was keen on. This other person had seen how my future wife looked at me and how I looked at her. She said she wasn’t going to get involved with that. I rang my future wife, who was my housemate at the time, and told her to move out. She was gone by the time I got home, and I sobbed myself to sleep that night knowing I’d done something awful.
It’s fair to say that she pursued me between our periods of being together, telling me she loved me when we weren’t together and I reciprocated by flirting, emailing and always, always being available for her.
I love my wife. I always have, even before I realised it, and I always will. I love her sense of adventure, her sexiness, her childlike wonder at the world, her vulnerability and her strength. She is utterly beautiful to me. I love her when she’s happy or sad, I love her positive attributes and her failings. She is, without a doubt, the most flawed and perfect person I’ve ever known.
I love the way we could switch between any of those things and more in an instant, coupley in-jokes, stupid dances and nicknames, little gifts, a perfect lover and confidant with the uniquely deep support and security of having your best friend right there. I know her inside out, I know her better than she does. She claimed to have ‘changed’, except there is nothing I don’t recognise. The problem is I recognise it from when she was a confused and insecure teenager, not a smart, balanced and happy adult.
I know neither of us will ever find that again with someone else. It’ll be different, it might be equal, it’ll never be better.
I hate how she’s with someone else, but not doing anything she couldn’t have done with me. Just doing the same thing, excluding me for no reason other than “I don’t know what else I’m missing out on” (her only reason for leaving). I know what she’s missing out on, and it’s just the same but without her best friend and soulmate. The grass may be equally green, but there’s lush, green, grass here too.
I don’t want to divorce her. She doesn’t seem to want to divorce me either, hence her outrage when I told her I was starting the process; she tweeted her followers with “You think you’re having a bad day, I’ve just been told I’m getting divorced”. Since she was the one who left me, who’s had a string of relationships since, and has consistently said she doesn’t want me, why would that be a bad day? Surely that’s the freedom she wanted?
All I want is for us to put our arms around each other and make everything better. She always said I could magic away problems, and she could do that for me now. I want her back. But I know I’d be a complete idiot to trust her again. Here’s why…
When I worked in Galapagos in the Autumn, I taught a fantastic 15 year old girl called Katherine. She was incredibly bright, very good at languages, keen to learn, and above all lovely. If she was in a secondary school here, she would be top of the class. Without a doubt, she was one of the best students I have ever taught.
For example, one day the Danish teacher and I were mucking about with the class. He was confusing them with Danish words (which she picked up easily and wanted to learn more of) and I was confusing them with Welsh. Katherine was interested and quickly learnt to say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Not bad for someone who has rarely left the island.
Katherine’s family are pretty poor. It wasn’t the done thing to pry too much, but there appeared to be little more income than raised by her mum’s fried chicken stand, which she manned 6 evenings a week selling chicken and chips for $2.50 (and delicious it was, too).
Every year, the organisation (New Era) try to send a couple of kids to the UK to attend a summer language camp. They meet youngsters from all over the world, pick up better English skills by using it in real situations, and they get to travel around to Oxford, London and Brighton etc.
Last year, Katherine was chosen to attend. However, she couldn’t and I heard that this was because her father wasn’t keen, and they were unable to pay the few hundred dollars contribution to the costs.
If anyone deserved the chance, it was Katherine. It’s literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for her to visit Europe. International travel is off-limits to all but the very richest Ecuadorians, and she is by no means even the richest on a poor island. It costs about $300 just to get to the mainland.
Two more students are being given that chance this year, paid for from the charitable foundation.
Because of pressure from volunteers like me who were upset that she’d missed out, Katherine has the chance to join them. But only if I, and hopefully you, can help. It costs about $1200 for a young person to come to the UK, including flights and visas etc. It’s not very much to us. Two volunteers have already pledged to help me pay the costs, but I really need to spread it amongst as many people as I can.
At this stage, I’m just asking for pledges – a promise to give however much you can. I can then add it up and let New Era know that we can make it happen.
I’d be really grateful for anything you can do to help me out. When she gets here, I hope that I’ll be able to meet her again – I told the guy in charge that it might help convince her father if he could say there was a teacher she knew and liked at this end. It seems to have worked.
Thanks for reading, if there’s anything you can do please drop me an email, tweet me or send me a message here.
I’d been living in Brighton for about 7 months. I’d always lived with a cat and it was time to find one to keep me company in my new home.
I looked in Friday Ad and went to see a lady in Patcham who looks after cats who need new homes. She told me about a brother and sister cat, who were best off separated. Their owner had them since kittens, but was dying of cancer and wanted them to go to new homes. They were about 4 years old.
The brother was very overweight and quite boisterous and needed special care to get him and his weight under control. The sister was Becky. She told me that Becky was very timid and shy. Although they’d had the run of a garden and could’ve wandered as far as they liked, she said that Becky had never left the safety of the fences.
I went over to her hutch and opened the door. A pair of pale yellow eyes peered back at me, then Becky – a slender black cat – came out. She sniffed my hand then rubbed her cheek against it. Within a couple of minutes, Becky was purring loudly and rubbing her head joyfully over my hand. You could say that we hit it off straight away.
My grandfather (always called father) died when I was a teenager. He was good man. The best. A pacifist after his war experiences, he never talked about his time except in general terms. He never attended ‘poppy day’ type occasions, his war record remained hidden in a cupboard until their house was emptied two years ago. He always said that he would go to prison to prevent any of us ever having to go to war. He was a working man, mostly at the Pilkington’s glass factories; now a multinational leader in glassmaking, they began in my home town. Father fought, went on strike, suffered, argued and battled as a union man, to set up the Labour party and to give workers the rights they deserve. He would be very angry at the world since his death.
He was intelligent and softly spoken. One of my fond memories of childhood is of watching Countdown and 15-to-1 with him. If he’d been born in a different time and place, he’d have been unstoppable. As it was, he was a normal, working family man in an industrial northern town – and proud of it.
I like to think that I get my calmness and empathy, my honesty, my sense of justice and fair play from him. It is to my great, great regret that he died when I was just 15. I was too young for him to have moved from ‘grandfather’ to ‘friend’ and I feel that I didn’t really know the man behind the slightly awe-inspiring figure that grandparents present to children. But I hope I’d make him proud of who I am. It’s father that I hope to grow up to become, though I know I will fall far short.
My nan died in October 2010. She was 96 years old, and had been slowly slipping away for a couple of years. She wasn’t ill, she died of old age and was happy and looked after right until the end. She’d needed round the clock care for a long time, provided by a 24 hour rota of her 4 daughters (my mum and aunts). Toward the end she also got daily help from district nurses. She had dignity and love.
She loved us all very much and would defend us to the death. She’d worked part time in her younger days but had mostly been the matriarch of the extended family. She was the opposite of father. She could have a quick temper and could have a vicious tongue, the latter something which lives on through me when the patience I inherited from father runs out (which thankfully takes a very long time). She was stubborn too. Her knitting was phenomenal. I had many jumpers as a child and she once spent an entire year knitting to give everyone an aran sweater as a Christmas present.
Their home was a second home to me and my cousins and we were very well fed by my nan. Proper, stodgy war-time fare. When I was too young to be in my empty house, I went there every day after school. We spent school holidays there. Through my teenage years, I went for tea every Monday – usually a full roast or huge bowl of broth served at 4pm, then I’d be put in the armchair next to the radiator, with a blanket over my legs, where I’d slowly pass out from the food and the heat, watching Countdown and The Late Late Show on Channel 4.
Thursdays were wonderful – everyone popped through for lunch, to be served the overriding meal of my childhood from a seemingly bottomless frying pan and never-ending teapot.
Until the great-grandchildren came along when I was in my early teens, I was the baby of the family and enjoyed the privileges that came with that position.
My wife was the only girl I ever introduced to my nan. There hadn’t been anyone that important before. I took her to meet my nan shortly after we got engaged, and we both visited a couple more times during trips up north.
In the week before my nan died, my wife and I were in town. We’d already planned to visit, but everyone knew nan was reaching the end and all the cousins were called to pay a visit asap.
Nan was bedridden and weak. Her bed had been moved downstairs. I went in to see her. I held her hand and talked to her. She told me that she loved us all. I said that we all knew how much, that she’d cared for us all her life. Her memory was failing her. She’d forgotten I was married and thought it was wonderful when I told her. I said that my wife was in the kitchen and nan’s eyes lit up when I said she could meet her. I brought my wife in and to my eternal, joyful pride I got to introduce them all over again.
At that moment, my wife became something really special. No longer an addition to the family, but an integral part of it. She had been there by my nan’s deathbed, making my nan proud of me in her final days. I don’t remember what was said, but I’m sure it was along the lines of “look after him”. That room was an inner sanctum for only the most important and loved members of the family.
My nan died shortly after our visit on 29th October 2010, 3 days before my 2nd wedding anniversary. We spent that weekend on the Isle of Wight, and though tinged with sadness from the death of my nan it was a wonderful break. My nan died knowing that I was loved and being looked after. That I was happier than I’d ever been.
A week later, we returned to St Helens for the funeral. I knew then that this trip was the end of an era. Although my parents and aunts are still there, it felt like my last main tie to the town was gone. My parents came to me in Brighton more often than I went to them, and the telephone and email made relationships with others easier. Everyone understood that everyone’s lives were elsewhere now. So although I knew I’d be back up from time to time, there was a big change inside me.
I decided around then that the answer to the question “Where are you from?” would no longer include “St Helens”. I was now completely and solely from Brighton.
We were in town for a few days and I took my wife to a couple of childhood places. It was bitterly cold, but we went for a walk around the fields I used to play in, to the tree I used to climb and the dirt paths (now overgrown marshes) I used to ride my bike along at dangerously high speeds. I showed my wife the last parts of my childhood she hadn’t seen, then let go of them forever.
My nan had lain in her own home for the days leading up to her funeral, and that’s where the morning started. On driving to the church, I knew that I would never, ever set foot in that house – that warm, welcoming home that fills my childhood memories – ever again. My childhood was laid to rest that day too.
I was incredibly proud to be a pall-bearer. I stood next to my wife in church and, although an atheist, I sang the hymns loudly. It’s what my nan deserved and would have vociferously demanded. At the side of the grave, I helped lower my nan to her final resting place, then stood with my arm around my wife as we all said goodbye.
There can be no more intimate place in a family than there, at that grave side. Girlfriends, mates, acquaintances, flings don’t get to be there. Only those who’ve earned a place, who’ve committed to love and support you, those who’ve promised always to be there, to always be a part of who you are, are worthy.
There are many, many strands in my head that I have to try and reconcile now my wife has gone. But this is an important one. She was there at the most intimate and emotional time. She was there at my nan’s death.
I wonder if she knows just how important this time is to me? That she was only there because she was supposed to be a permanent member of the family? That she was the only person I can ever introduce to my nan? That no-one in my future can ever claim that place, share that time or even be taken around those last memories of growing up?
Even if I ever meet someone else, my wife has stolen that opportunity from them.
Sliding Doors is 1998 rom-com starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s reasonably entertaining. The plot concerns the one moment that can utterly change the course and outcome of your life. The moment on which the rest of your life hinges. In the film, that moment is Gwyneth missing (or catching) a train. From that moment onwards, the film splits in two. Two stories unfold: one where she caught the train, got talking to a sexy stranger and got home to catch her boyfriend cheating on her. The other, where she misses the train, gets home late and so doesn’t find her partner in bed with his ex. And so, we see the rest of her life playing out in one of two ways – all depending on whether she caught that train or not.
My Sliding Doors moment was in April 1999.
I’d been to the Student Union’s regular Saturday night out. It was unremarkable, really. I have no idea what happened that night except I was drunk off Blastaway (Castaway and Diamond White, lovely) and I danced to very bad 80s music. Afterwards I went into the union’s cafe-bar for a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea at 3am. While there, I got chatting to a beautiful Asian girl. I don’t remember her name. Having never pulled in the actual club night, remarkably I pulled over a bacon sandwich. We kissed and it was good. She gave me her number. She seemed pretty keen, she left saying that I should definitely call her that week.
I didn’t call.
I don’t know why. I probably lost my nerve, or failed to believe she would actually interested when sober, or just didn’t really get around to it. The reason is lost to time.
A week later one of my best friends, Vicky, revealed that she was in love with me and we got together. And that was the moment, already gone without me noticing. If I’d started seeing the Asian girl, then Vicky would never have revealed her feelings. She’d already been plucking up courage for weeks, and she wouldn’t have interfered with another relationship. She thought I was interested in someone else, and that had been enough to put her off for a while before. Only being sure I was single and there was no-one else around had given her the confidence to tell me.
The next decade and a half of my life swung on my decision, or simple lack of a decision, whether call the girl from the club night.
My relationship with Vicky was immediately very intense. We were inseparable and completely in love with each other. It became one of the best times of my life and dominated the last few months of university.
Vicky had been planning all along that she would spend the summer working in the US. She left shortly after we all graduated. I was incredibly sad, but we wrote letters to each other, we talked on the phone, we posted each other cards and gifts. Barely a day went by when one of us didn’t receive mail from the other. It was wonderful, despite the distance.
We started to make plans to move in together when she came home. After uni I’d moved back home to my parents and got my old part-time job back. I started looking for work around the North and getting interviews pretty quickly. I had a second interview, for which I was the only candidate, lined up in Manchester. But then Vicky and I talked. She said she’d always wanted to live in London, and in fact so had I. So, it was decided that instead of getting a job in Manchester I would relocate and start working down South.
I did, getting a crappy telesales job and renting a bedsit in Croydon. I didn’t mind, it was exciting and in a month I would be flying to South Carolina for a holiday, then on to New York and then we’d be back to begin life in London together.
It never happened. Vicky suddenly became distant, then called to say that I shouldn’t fly out there as she’d found someone else.
I was utterly devastated and after all the promises it took me a long time to get over her and to trust anyone again. I locked myself down and put up defences. But looking back it seems more like part of the chain from my Sliding Doors moment that leads to today.
Because I was alone in London, I didn’t have a great time. I never settled living there and found it hard to meet a lot of people. I did have work friends scattered around but the distance and time in seeing them made it hard to do anything other then well-planning meetings. I stayed in touch with some uni friends, one of whom was living in Brighton. In 2001, I visited him, fell in love with the city and decided that weekend that I wanted to live there.
By this time, I had a job that I loved and which paid well, and I was starting to think about buying a home. Brighton seemed the perfect place, and I found somewhere in the autumn of 2001. The purchase was finalised the following spring and I moved to Brighton on 25th May 2002.
Once in Brighton, I started to look for new friends. I found an online chat group of people in the area and joined in, meeting a lot of new people. In 2003, I met Penny. We’d met on the site but soon arranged to meet in real life. We started seeing each other, though had a fairly tempestuous couple of years. I wasn’t entirely ready for settling, still licking my wounds from Vicky.
But we were magnetically drawn to each other. We couldn’t keep away from each other. She became my housemate. Despite us trying to see other people, we always ended up together. She became my best friend. She often said she loved me, and I realised that I loved her. What on earth was I looking for in life, if it wasn’t a beautiful woman who adored me and who I also adored? She became my wife.
In May 2012, Penny and I celebrated a decade of me living in Brighton. It’s my adopted hometown, no longer do I say “I’m originally from…” or “I live in Brighton but…” – I’m just from Brighton. I have a life there, a flat I love and a person I love as much as ever. My decade was a celebration of having made the best decision of my life, in moving to the city where I soon found my soulmate.
So that’s my Sliding Doors story. A chain of events, leading from a single moment, a single choice that changed everything:
I didn’t call the girl.
So Vicky told me her feelings.
So we decided to move to London.
So I got a good job.
So I could afford a home.
So I could move to Brighton.
So I could meet Penny.
So I could get married.
One moment. A whole life.
In July 2012, shortly after celebrating the amazing, wonderful 10 years that directly led from my Sliding Doors moment, Penny left me. It was out of the blue and I still have no idea why. She hasn’t explained.
In the film, it’s clear that Gwyneth’s pivotal moment on the train leads one way to happiness and the other way to tragedy. I thought that my moment had given me the perfect life, more than I had ever imagined back in the dark days of winter 1999. I felt incredibly lucky, which is where the idea of this post originally came from. I meant to write it back in spring, at the time of my 10 year celebration. It was to be a reflection on how one seemingly inconsequential decision led inexorably toward all I ever dreamed of.
I don’t believe in fate – if I did, I’d be confident that Penny will come back. Fate implies pre-destined lives that we can’t control and so therefore have no need to engage with. Looking back at the sequence of events is more interesting. They weren’t planned and yet they all conspired. One small change would make everything different. What if I’d called the Asian girl? What if Vicky had never left me? What if I’d never visited Brighton? I don’t know, but I know that I couldn’t have ended up any happier than I did.
I never got round to writing this post in the spring. And in that time, the entire tone and timbre of the story has changed. It’s strange and tragic how things can shift so much in just a few short weeks, how the ending to this story became utterly unrecognisable overnight. Happiness to tragedy in the blink of an eye.
The chain which started back in 1999 has now ended. Whatever happens in the future no longer leads from that moment. I no longer know what the narrative of my life is, I don’t know how I ended up here in this moment. Nor do I want to be here.
Just as I had no idea of what I was embarking on that night, I have no way to know what events will unfold now. I just know what I wanted and what I lost. I just know that I love Penny. I just know that I’ll do anything to get her back.
9 floors up a tower, we have a pair of regular ninja squirrel visitors: Fat Tail and Skinny Tail. They get here by using the cable TV wires. I put nuts out for them. This morning, Fat Tail was happy to let me sit out with him. Not quite tame enough to hand feed, but I’m sure I could train him.
Apparently, I live in Tarner. This fact is brought home by the rather quaint Tarner Festival each summer. Mostly a collection of jumble stalls with a bouncy castle provided for the under 3s, the festival never fails to disappoint.
But I love the idea of it and I love the fact that it happens every year and only about 20 people go to it. In the last couple of years they’ve livened it up a tiny bit with a music stage.
Today, this Balkan-esque band were playing and were really rather good…
Apologies for wind noise, I was listening from up on my balcony.