A kind short-haired man called Geoff recently offered me a table.
I realise this is strange way to start a story but it was that simple. Somebody he knows with a high-end audio boutique was flogging a solid wood TV stand for £50. It had been used to display audio equipment but was now surplus to requirements.
In other words, they just wanted rid of the bloody thing and were happy to take a knock-down price.
Geoff knows I am keen on wooden objects, especially decent bits of furniture, so gave me a shout. Naturally I was interested as hell.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: Alright G-Unit (I sometimes call him G-Unit depending on what mood I am in)
Geoff: Hello Sir. Is it fair to say you like wooden things?
Me: Well that depends Geoff. I'm keen on nice bits of furniture but I'm not as keen on, say, gallows or crucifixes.
Geoff: Well, lucky for you Paul, I know someone who is selling neither gallows or crucifixes. They are, however, trying to offload a solid wood corner TV stand for £50. Are you interested?
Me: I might be Geoff. Can you tell me more?
Geoff sent me a picture of this TV stand via. Facebook and, let me tell you, it was a BEAUTY. The Angelina Jolie of furniture. I estimated it would have cost up to £3000 brand new and yet was being flogged by these nutters for £50. Clearly they were not aware of the value of what they had. Either that or some other mistake had been made.
Was I interested? Yes.
It was shop soiled but how much wear could have occurred in an audio boutique? Surely it would have just had the odd £500 sub woofer propped up on the top? I carefully examined the photo and realised that it was in pristine condition.
I ruminated on my fortune and it felt good. Almost too good. Then Geoff explained that there was a catch. I had to collect it from the shop myself.
Geoff told me that the hi-fi shop was in central Manchester. I had to find a way to get there to pick up this table. Like most people, I made the assumption that merely travelling to a major city to pick up a table would be easy. I would set off at, say, 10am, be there by 11am, load it into the boot of my wife's car, £50 would change hands and then I would simply nip off for a lunch of baked eggs and coffee. I like baked eggs. Alas it was not to be.
What follows is a brutal account of events that day.
I dropped off my wife at work and set off for Manchester. I immediately hit traffic so severe that people were doing that thing where they get out of their cars and aimlessly look up the road. Businessmen in Audis were stood around talking and smoking Marlboro Lights. I sat in the Mazda and admired the cabin for a bit. I noted the quality feel of the plastics, running my finger along the centre console and admired the panel fit. It felt good. Certainly on a par with luxury German vehicles and definitely a class about what we had paid.
I soon tired of this and asked my sat-nav to redirect me along B-roads. I got this sat-nav as a birthday present from my wife in 2006 and it has helped me out in many sticky situations. It's small and the battery empties faster than a shattered toilet but it's perfectly good enough
All was going well.
Then I ended up somewhere I have never been before.
I like to think that I am fairly au fait with most of the North West but it became clear that the sat-nav had directed me into some kind of foggy field with waltzers, haunted houses, halls of mirrors and small roller coasters. There was candyfloss and iced-cream stalls. I could hear the sound of organ music in the distance and the air smelled of decay.
Utterly confused I crept along the field in second gear.
People. Where were all the people? Normally these places are jam packed with kids in tracksuits and tattooed men carrying cans of lager. But there was nobody.
It became clear that this was an abandoned fairground.
My immediate observation was that there were ghosts. Many, many ghosts. Numerous ghosts. They were clearly from varying eras as some were dressed in vaguely Napoleonic clothing and others had chosen to don Superdry hoodies. Some were even speaking into ghostly Iphones. Clearly these people had been freshly killed, possibly whilst indulging in a bit of retail therapy. I swear at one point I saw the apparition of Mother Teresa aggressively riding a motorcycle smoking.
I realised this abandoned fairground was clearly not where I was supposed to be so urged my sat-nav to have a rethink. I checked that I hadn't got it set to 'abandoned fairground mode' by accident but it wasn't. I have made this mistake before.
After briefly getting stuck in the mud I exited along an unfamiliar road. I popped some chewing gum in my mouth and put my foot down. It wasn't a road I knew but it would do. After all, surely any road is better than no road at all?
I soon found myself in a dim, dingy city. This place had a feel of depression that one often gets with seaside towns in the winter. It reminded me of trips to Great Yarmouth as a child. The place was not familiar to me though. I heard snippets of music. It was rock and roll. It sounded familiar. Words found their way into the cabin of the car:
"she was just seventeen....you know.....I fell i love with her"
I knew this song. It took me a few seconds to figure it out but what I was hearing but it was clearly the voice of John Lennon. I checked the stereo, it was off. I opened the window and the music got louder. I looked out of the passenger wide and saw the word 'Reeperbahn' painted above the entrance to a building. Christ. I had somehow travelled back in time to Hamburg circa 1960 and was hearing the Beatles cut their stage teeth. Sailors were fighting on the street and everyone seemed to be drunk.
I parked up, got out of the car and had a look around. The air smelled of beer and vomit. I thought to myself : "no, this is not the time to get distracted. You have a table to pick up Paul." I got back in the car, turned on the sat-nav and tried again. I'm sure a 22 year old John Lennon would have understood.
By this time I was getting hungry. I found one of those BP mini-marts and bought a Scotch egg and some Marmite. I don't know why I bought the Marmite as I had nothing to spread it with or on. I would have been much better with a Curly-Wurly.
I stared at the Marmite and had a think.
By this time I was getting worried. I really wanted this table more than anything in the world. I've had my share of horrible car journeys but this was getting worse and worse. I had ended up being surrounded by ghosts and seeing the Beatles play live in Hamburg. Not to mention the traffic.
I phoned Geoff and explained that I might be a tad late picking up the table. I thought best not to bore him with the reasons and simply told him that I was waiting for the washing machine to finish. I *hate* leaving stuff in the machine because it goes all smelly and sometimes needs washing again. Our washing machine is broken and doesn't get hot so it's important to get the clothes out as soon as it has finished the cycle. Geoff knows this.
I had lost all confidence in my sat-nav so decided to go it alone. If this machine couldn't get me there then fuck it, I would do it myself. Besides I had my Blackberry with me so could always use the maps on that if I was really stuck.
I found myself getting nearer to Manchester and was elated. I recognised that huge bluey dome thing at the Trafford Centre and carried on along the dual carriageway towards Salford. Then, yet again, things changed. I found myself being funneled into a large, grey building and soon was actually driving INSIDE. It had suddenly become humid has hell and people were milling around. I was making my way down a corridor with what seemed like doors either side of me. Some were open, some were shut. I crept down with inches to spare either side.
I saw two boxers, one tall, black and handsome. He was shouting and surrounded by a huge entourage. There was another slightly shorter mean-looking man pounding a punch bag while people took photos. I thought it best not to stop and carried on. Within seconds I was surrounded by thousands of people and the noise was unbearable. I dropped down to first gear and maintained a walking pace. I could see some kind of platform in front of me. As I got closer I could see it was not a platform as such but more a ring. A BOXING RING. I heard a nearby TV reporter saying something about the 'rumble in the jungle' and the incredible temperature in Zaire. Thousands of camera flashes went off around me.
The crowd roared and I looked in the rear-view mirror. The tall, handsome boxer was making his way to the ring and the crowd were going mental. He seemed annoyed that I was blocking his path I did my best to manoeuvre to the side to allow him to pass. The turning circle of my
wife's Mazda is poor at best so it took several attempts. The reversing sensors made life a little easier.
I managed to find a decent parking space in the arena and intended to watch the fight but again there were time constraints. I needed the table. Besides, everyone knows that Ali won anyway.
I carefully reversed back up the gangway.This was a tricky manoeuvre as the visibility out of my wife's Mazda is poor at best. Plus I have got a dodgy neck and it hurts when I turn round.I eventually made it outside and hit the dual carriageway.
This was getting spooky. No matter how careful I was I was ending up in unusual, unexpected situations. First the traffic, then the sinister fairground, the Beatles debut gig in Hamburg and now the most famous boxing match of all time. What the hell was going on? Was I being punished? Had I somehow pissed off God? Was I losing my mind? Had I been drugged? Questions, questions questions questions. However the most important question of all was HOW WAS I GOING TO GET THE BLOODY TABLE?
I was optimistic now. I was only three miles from Manchester city centre and there was no signs of any weird shit going on. I hit Oxford Road and parked up near the Student's Union. I had actually got to Manchester. I was over three hours late but at least I was there.
I parked up somewhere at the roadside, consulted the directions I had carefully scribbled down on a piece of paper and set off on foot. I lived in Manchester for a number of years in the late 1990s so I am reasonably confident negotiating my way round. Or so I thought.
I was pounding down the street and found myself walking through the doors of a lecture theatre. I don't know why but I saw the doors and felt compelled to go through. I wondered if Derren Brown had been messing with my head.
The lecture theatre was large, and it was jam packed with students. An elderly grey-haired man stood at the grand wooden podium orating. It was a really nice podium.
His words sounded familiar:
"My purpose here is to offer a defence of existentialism against several reproaches that have been laid against it."
For those of us not familiar with Existentialism I will give a potted history:
Existentialism is a term applied to a school of 20th-century philosophers who, despite profound doctrinal differences, shared the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject—not merely the thinking subject, but the acting, feeling, living human individual. In existentialism, the individual's starting point is characterized by what has been called "the existential attitude", or a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world. Many existentialists have also regarded traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.
This was clearly Jean Paul Sartre's seminal lecture from 1970. It pretty much defined Existentialism and influenced an entire generation of people. I cannot overstate its importance.I have been a massive fan of this school of thought for many years and was slightly miffed that I couldn't stop and take it all in.
I listen for a three minutes forty seconds and then tried to exit with the minimum of fuss. It's really hard to leave a lecture theatre without feeling self-conscious but I just had to grin and bear it. I crept past everyone trying not to spoil their enjoyment and left.
I was back on the street. The audio shop was in sight. Top banana.
I was by this time experiencing a strange detachment, a sort of disbelief at the world going on around me. I often get this when my blood sugar level is too high or I am stressed. I had stopped off at Spa on the way and eaten some Curly Wurlies which explains why my blood sugar was such a mess. I accidentally slipped on some dog shit outside Betfred but carried on unperturbed.
I marched in through the heavy glass doors and immediately asked about the table. It was still there. I felt relief knowing that I was finally in possession of the damn thing. It had been a long day and lots had gone wrong, but like the eternal trier I had finally got there and achieved my goal.
I was ushered into a small room and there it was. But there was a problem.
The table was fucking massive. Seriously fucking massive. The top of it was level with my chest and it was the length of a small car. I gave it a quick shove but it wouldn't budge. I estimate it would have taken four strong men just to get it from the demo room to the street.
I asked for an explanation and it turns out that the table had been custom built for Mike Tyson. He owned a huge TV and had popped in one Sunday in 2010 to have a corner unit built. He never collected it and here we are. It also had the words 'greatest ever' engraved on the front which put me off slightly.
I asked Geoff why he hadn't warned me about the size and he explained that he had put a potted plant in the original photo to provide some scale. I pointed out that the plant too was enormous and provided no real way to gauge the size of the table. He agreed.
Clearly this wasn't going to fit in my car or house so the deal was off.
I tetchily left the shop with £50 of crisp notes still in my wallet. I spent some of it on baked eggs and coffee, bringing my cash down to £44.30 when you factor in the Curly Wurlies.
I was annoyed.
I got to thinking about missed opportunities in life, how our time is finite and how we should not dwell on things that are now in the past. I thought about great men that have lived and died. I contemplated the dogma with which we live our lives and the fact that only the truly enlightened tread their own path. I thought of the great suffering endured by humanity and a quote from Sartre sprang to mind from the lecture earlier that day:
"life begins on the other side of despair."
Yes I was disappointed but this provided a crumb of comfort.
I thought further:
It is a fact that one day we will be dead. All embarrassment, shame, regret and fear of failure melts away in the face of death. We must live each day like it is our last and NEVER regret anything.
I took a bite of Curly Wurly and set off home. I got there in record time.
Note: this story is based on truth. I was offered a TV stand by Geoff but I still have not collected it.