This blog entry actually refers to an incident that happened some time ago, however I’m reproducing it as if it were a current diary entry because, frankly, I can’t be arsed going through it and changing all the tenses. So sue me.
I am about to reveal something that could bring about a veritable plummet in my PAF. Indeed, I was seriously considering whether to reveal it at all, my PAF already being somewhere in the deep lower basement. However, since this is a blog, and with the need to unburden myself about my day at work, I have decided to take the plunge. Imagine me, if you will, stripped to my Calvins and about to leap into an ice cold pool of uncertainty. If that mental imagery isn’t horrific enough, you might further care to imagine that I have a large tattoo of Geronimo and the words “I Love Grandma” etched across my lilywhite chest. I don’t, obviously, but I’m just getting the hang of this unburdening thing and I think I may be over-dosing.
For the uninitiated, PAF stands for Putative Attractiveness Factor, a scale which exercises all men, but which only the serially vain are prepared to talk about amongst themselves. The scale itself is too complicated to explain, and is very much a personal view. In my time I have rated my PAF as low as 3 (“as attractive to the opposite sex as snot in a sandwich, but not as unattractive as Piers Morgan”). In good times I rate myself as high as six: “more attractive than cowpats”. (Don’t mock. If attractiveness were measured by visitor numbers, a cowpat could officially be the universe’s most popular object of desire.)
Anyway, the point is, and I suppose I have to bring myself to admit it, even if the PAF slips to 2 (“as popular as the Taxman”): I think I may have a bunion on my left foot.
I say “I think” because some helpful advisors have pointed out that it might be the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, a broken toe, or possibly gout. Given those alternatives I have to say that a bunion begins to appear positively appealing. Either way, I have been reduced, when walking, to an ungainly hobble, a sort of cross between Orry Maine and a Weeble. The overall effect is accentuated by the fact that, these past weeks, I am rarely seen without either a heavy briefcase, a heavy suiter, or, more often than not, both. Trying to second guess gravity with a hobble exacerbated by the inertia of heavy baggage is a problem at which even Sir Isaac Newton might have baulked. Without putting too fine a point on it, it may well be that the displacement caused by heavy baggage contributed to my bunion-like affliction in the first place.
I should confess, at this stage, to a further blot on my PAF landscape: I don’t drive. Never have. Probably never will. Let’s face it, if it were going to happen it probably would have by now. I am, by choice, one of life’s walkers, or, at the very least, one of life’s inveterate taxi-takers. As you can imagine, I am feeling pretty smug these days about my carbon footprint. If the global climate tips into unmitigated chaos – death, destruction and intermittent showers – I, for one, can claim the moral high ground, whilst pretty much simultaneously making a determined dash for the actual high ground.
It is only on days like today that I regret my chosen path.
“So what happened today?” I hear you ask.
You’re only asking out of politeness, but I’ll tell you anyway. You knew I would; that’s why you feigned the politeness.
This morning I woke up in yet another strange hotel and hobbled to the shower, which dispensed a cursory trickle, in that off-hand way that hotel showers so frequently do. Had it been a cursory hot trickle I might have overlooked the slight. Had it been even a marginally warm trickle I might have been prepared to negotiate. As an icy trickle, I awarded it “nul points” and wrote a terse note on my Customer Satisfaction Card. I am expecting better things tomorrow, but I won’t hold my breath.
I dried, dressed, endured the painful process of sliding my be-bunioned foot into my slip-on shoe, then hobbled down the three – count ’em! – sets of rickety stairs to the hotel restaurant, where I enjoyed a brief breakfast, before returning to my room to pick up the burdensome briefcase. Those of you with a sharp eye for detail will doubtless have noted the ergonomic deficiency in that last sentence, and I offer no excuses. Had I been under less of an illusion as to my next task, I might have thought about it a bit more.
The previous night I had asked the friendly hotel receptionist how long it would take me to reach today’s destination, a converted stable block in a National Park, the entrance of which was just across the road. “Oh,” said she, “it’s just ten minutes down the drive.” Once again, I suspect you have already spotted the fatal flaw in this advice that somehow eluded me. As a driver herself, she had no idea at all that she was conversing with someone who was transportationally challenged. Ten minutes in a car can take you a lot further than ten minutes in full-on hobble mode, as I was soon to discover.
Thus it was that, at eight-twenty this morning, I wandered between the wrought iron gates of the National Park, unaware of the horrors that awaited. Bear in mind that I was not exactly dressed for a day out in a National Park, the dress code de jour of my employers being the full whistle and flute, to which I had thoughtfully added a pink shirt and tie. (Lest my PAF fall to hitherto unimagined depths, let me just add here that, contrary to some unkind assertions, I have not come over all Dorothy of a sudden, but rather my wife had persuaded me that the scheme worked well with a blue pinstripe. Sartorially challenged as I am, I had not sought to confirm this viewpoint with anyone.)
So there I was, a pink-shirted buffoon in blue pinstripe, heavy briefcase in hand, proceeding down a narrow driveway, exhibiting the kind of rolling gait you might more reasonably expect to find amongst the crew of a fishing trawler in very heavy seas, whilst a succession of cars, transporting countryfolk suitably attired for their bucolic surroundings, passed me by with the occasional backward, disbelieving stare.
“I say, Cynthia,” I imagined them saying, “who was that strange city type in the pink tie, and do you think he knows exactly how long this drive is?”
“Drive on, Ronald! He is not of our kind…”
About ten minutes in I encountered the first cattle grid. Tricky. A cattle grid does not just pose problems for our cud-chewing friends; even for those who habitually rely on just the two feet, a means of safe passage is not immediately obvious. With one foot betrayed by a bunion, the whole scenario worsens exponentially. I solved the conundrum by throwing my heavy briefcase ahead, then, clasping the gatepost with both hands, edging somewhat daintily along the narrow iron ledge afforded by the grid. Three times in the next twenty minutes I encountered similar obstacles, and on the far side of the last of these I was just congratulating myself on this triumph of brains over cattle barriers when I noticed the little gateway that the kindly park wardens had provided especially for humans. I have to confess that brought me down a bit.
A few minutes later it became apparent to me why there were so many cattle grids. Once more, you may have anticipated this twist in the tale, the clue being implicit in the name of the grid. Up ahead loomed not one, not two, but a whole host of cattle. My initial reaction was not to be stressed. I was born in the country and I am well aware that cows are among Nature’s more docile creations. Bulls, now that is a different story, as endless rodeos have made abundantly clear, but, let’s face it, what were the chances that the herd ahead comprised even one bull?
As I drew closer, my sanguine outlook began to waver. It became increasingly apparent that these were cattle of a particularly long-horned variety. Worse, at least two of them were endowed in such a fashion as to render superfluous, had they been human, the services of the more common type of e-mail spammer. I began to severely regret my choice of pink shirt, being, as it was, uncomfortably close to the red rag mentioned so often in despatches alongside angry bulls. I began to wonder to what degree a bull might be expected to distinguish between the various shades of red. More importantly, would a rolling gait draw overmuch attention to itself? My chances of slipping by pretty well unnoticed were, of course, much undermined by the bloody bunion.
As I approached, the cattle stopped their conversation and turned to regard me with what I have to say seemed barely concealed dislike. Like a stranger wandering into the saloon bar of a frontier town, I ran the gauntlet of those damnably cold eyes and their relentless silence. Don’t look back, I told myself, even as the fear that one of them might well be snorting and dragging its front foot through the dust welled up inside my clammy soul. As I left them behind, I breathed a small sigh of relief and tried not to think of the fact that tomorrow I would have to do the same trek again, this time with the added challenge of the suiter, as well as the briefcase.
I later discovered that this particular breed of cattle are noted for their calm temperament. Some of them will even help out with map directions if you ask politely.
So there you have it. My PAF cannot possibly sink any lower, yet this has been a strangely cathartic blog entry. I can sleep the sleep of the unburdened.