This weekend exhausted me but – for a pleasant change – not because of emotional problems. It was down to working (and playing) hard. I worked the bar Friday night during a 21st birthday party – it was a sensory maelstrom with loud music, flashing coloured disco lights and plenty of people shouting. I handle it by focusing on serving the customers, getting into the rhythm of taking orders, pouring drinks and working the till. It’s so familiar and I enjoy it so after about ten minutes I just flow. I can block out everything else pretty successfully – so much so that I don’t even notice much of what’s going on more than a few feet beyond the counter – and I lose most sense of the passage of time.
However at one point it got really loud – several people whistling – and I overloaded for a brief time. I have little idea how long it was – nobody else appeared to notice. I just stood there with my back to the room, holding on to the back bar counter to keep myself upright, with two half-poured vodkas in front of me. I couldn’t think – the noise had suddenly become painful as it breached the mental blocks on my senses and flooded in. All I was aware of was this glaring, intense, piercing whistle – everything else ceased to exist as my other senses were drowned out.
The whistling stopped and it was like waking up – that short period while my brain orients itself before I remember where I am and what I’m doing. Somehow I remembered the order I was in the middle of pouring, and – slightly unsteadily at first – carried on. It took a couple of minutes to get myself together before I was back to business as usual.
Saturday morning I had to go shopping. It wasn’t a long list I had to pick up but I needed to visit several shops to get everything. I hate having to shop on a Saturday morning – it’s so busy and people get in my way, encroaching on my personal space. It started fine. I got parked where I wanted and even had enough change for the car park ticket machine – a definite result because I usually forget to check I’ve got enough before leaving home. There weren’t many people around yet so I was feeling reasonably comfortable. And then I got into the mall and there was music playing too loudly – it was distracting and put me off balance a bit and I thought about fetching my earphones from the car but decided to persevere.
My first destination was a department store to look for a shirt. To get to the menswear department I had to get through the perfume department. I don’t know why but nearly every department store I’ve every been into puts the perfume department just inside the front doors so you have no choice but to endure the overwhelming smells and eye irritation from all the solvents in the air to get to any other part of the store. It turned out they didn’t have what I was looking for after all: I’m very particular about my shirts – the material has to feel right, the colour has to be right (usually black) and the arrangement of buttons and pockets has to be right. Ideally I would be able to pick up exact replicas of the shirts I already have but it doesn’t work that way. They change things. So I ran the gauntlet of the perfume department again to get out of there and went on to the next store. That one was thankfully simple – straight to the single item I was after, on to the checkout and out of there. Then back to the car, enduring the intrusive mall music on the way, and on to phase two: the supermarket.
Up to now I’d managed to avoid the crowds – it must have been because they were already at the supermarket, waiting for me to arrive so they could block the aisles and bump into me and run over my feet with their trolleys. In the midst of all this I ran into the first obstacle: my wife had put “nail varnish and lipstick amethyst” on the list. Now I’m not very familiar with these kinds of products but I did know which area of the store would have them. So I headed there and there were about six different brands, each with at least two or three different kinds of lip and nail colouring stuff. I examined them all and not one had the word amethyst on it! Any number of different, almost-descriptive colour names but not what my wife had written on the list. I was getting stressed so I decided to phone home and ask for clarification. Then I discover there’s no phone signal in that part of the store. Aargh!
I moved around until I got a signal and made the call. On my third attempt it didn’t drop out and I asked my wife what colour she meant by amethyst – she said “purple”. I asked was it a blue or red purple and she seemed confused – I explained that purple is a mix of red and blue with some being more blue than red and vice versa. I think I managed to make myself understood, but she said any shade of purple would do. (So why write amethyst then? I wondered.) So that was sorted. I went back to the shelves of cosmetics and looked for something that was unambiguously purple-ish. I found a nail varnish and then just had to locate a matching lipstick. Because naturally they would have matching colours, wouldn’t they? Hah! That would be far too easy. So I just picked up something that purported to be a kind of purple lipstick and high-tailed it out of that section of the store to go look for the next thing on the list.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that they are reorganizing the layout of that store. Even the staff are not sure where to find some products. What hope have I with my out-of-date mental map? It took me about an hour to pick up eight or ten items and by the end of it I was about ready to throw a tantrum right in the middle of the place – like most of the children in there appeared to be doing. That’s one thing I struggle to understand – why do people persist in dragging their children round busy shops when they clearly get bored by it, hate the experience and don’t want to be there? I can completely understand a child finding it all too much and having a screaming fit because they have no other way to communicate their frustration. I don’t like to hear children crying and screaming – I find the sound unsettling and uncomfortable, even painful to hear.
I managed to get hold of every one of the dozen or so items on the list and was back home about two and a half hours after leaving – it was about a six mile round-trip. Boy was I worn out! But there’s no rest for the wicked – not even the very wicked – and I had to get changed, ready to go out to a wedding. Which meant I couldn’t wear my usual comfortable clothes. Suit and tie. In temperatures above 80 degrees, and humid with it. Unusual weather for this time of year in southern England. I’ve never enjoyed hot weather – I feel too hot and sweaty and my clothes cling to me in a most uncomfortable, irritating way. But I wasn’t about to let anybody down – it was somebody else’s big day and I was determined to show my support, relax and enjoy myself. And I did.
It was rather warm inside the reception venue – the local pub – even with the doors wide open but I just popped outside for a bit of fresh air every now and then to cool off. And to get a bit of a break from the disco lights, loud music and too much movement from people dancing close in front of me. I struggled a few times with the levels of sensory stimulation but got through it. And I did enjoy myself – it was a good night and the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly – although it was very tiring coping with the heat, noise, lights and people.
As a result I was kind of hoping for a quiet Sunday afternoon shift at the pub. I turned up a little early in case there was any setting up to do. Just as well as it turned out – even though a group of volunteers were helping, the place wasn’t nearly ship-shape by opening time. It was a moderately busy shift as well, with two soccer matches on the TV that brought a number of customers in. But I like it like that – as I said before I find my rhythm and it just flows. (I still dislike the food – table-waiting – side of the job because it disrupts that flow, but that’s only a small part of the whole.) I didn’t notice I was getting a bit dehydrated – I forgot to make sure I had a drink of water every now and again. Sometimes I’m not that good at taking care of myself! I think I surprised the boss a bit when I readily agreed to take a break the first time I was asked and grabbed a glass of water – I’m normally reluctant to take a break because I find it a distraction but that afternoon I was feeling drained and needed a short break.
I was pretty exhausted by the end of the shift – we seemed to go through an inordinate number of glasses given the moderate level of trade, and I’d also moved a number of barrels around the cellar. The 22 Imperial gallon kegs aren’t light when full – they weigh more than I do – but there’s a technique to moving them so you don’t have to lift the whole weight. In a way I was happy to finish the shift. I enjoyed it but I was so worn out and drained by the end. It had been a long, physically- and mentally-demanding but ultimately very satisfying weekend and I was very glad when I got home to retire to bed for a well-earned rest. Recharge the batteries ready for Monday morning and the return to my main “paid hobby”, software development.