Iwas trying to glean some information from Southern Rail’s website the other day,
after yet another disastrous journey
home, when I found myself being
shunted, like a broken-down train
in The Wivelsfield Area (in railway
speak, anywhere something bad is
happening is an “Area”), inexorably
towards the FAQs page.
Every website has one. It’s meant
to be comforting. “See—it’s not
just you having problems!” But in
reality, I suspect it’s just another
way the company, or the council, or whomever, can avoid dealing with
you directly, and—as a bonus—maybe even get you to solve your own
pickle. “Have a look at this great long screed of woe…anything sound
familiar?” Anyway, while I was scrolling through Southern’s most
frequently asked questions—many of which, unsurprisingly, were variations on the “How do I get a refund?” theme—I began wondering, idly,
about our own family FAQs. What would they be…?
Has anyone seen my phone?
A: Unlikely, unless you happen to work at Waitrose. In which case,
yes; you have seen it—twice—after it fell out of my coat pocket in the
fruit and veg aisle. (“I think we’ve had this one before,” the Customer
Services girl said, eyeing it suspiciously.) Outside of the supermarket,
the correct answer, offered calmly, in a voice that does not suggest your
mother/wife is going crazy, is: No, but have you checked your handbag/
Is the dog eating something?
A: Yes. The real question, though, is what is he eating? The answer could
be: a sock, a glove, cat litter (I’ve switched brands so he’s slightly less keen
on it than he was), one of those balls from the drier that stops your clothes
tangling, wood, an ice cube, a cuttlefish, Kleenex. The dog is rarely seen
eating actual dog food because, despite having a bowl that’s designed to stop
“bolting,” his record for polishing off his dinner is nine seconds.
What’s the worst that could happen?
A: Again, this is usually uttered in connection with the dog. As in:
“If I leave these bagels on the chopping block, what’s the worst that
could happen?” or “If I fail to put my mittens away, what’s the worst
that could happen?” The answer to this FAQ is: a trip to the vet’s and a
Has my son been using my razor?
A: Almost certainly, yes. Usually spoken just after my husband has
trimmed half his beard and realised that somebody has switched the
setting from “light beard” to “de-
Has anyone seen the remote
A: Which one? We have such a
bewildering array—for the TV, sat-
ellite, brand-new and totally terri-
fying “Sound Bar,” and don’t forget
the DVD player—that I have given
up trying to figure out which one
works what. And it doesn’t help
that they all look alike. Why, for
I remember those happy days when we laughed, as my mother-in-law
struggled to figure out which of our two remotes worked the TV. No
one’s laughing now. I fear that, in my case, it is just a teeny, faltering
step until I, like Nana (who at least has an excuse, in that she’s 83), start
referring to the internet as The Google and using my mobile phone to
try to turn on the toaster.
Why is there no hot water?
A: Because our daughter has run a bath the size of Harrington Sound
and used it all up.
What is a seven-letter word, using only the letters E, I, G, R and T,
that I can use to halt Grandma’s relentless march to world domination in Online Scrabble?
A: Tergite. Look it up.
Does this sweater smell of cat pee?
A: Probably. And there is nothing you can do about it until spring
returns to this godforsaken northern land and you can hang the offending item on the line, spray it liberally with Febreze and hope the sun
will do his bit.
Would you like me to make you a little Old Fashioned?
A: Just so we’re clear, this refers to cocktails and not a state of mind.
So the right response is: Yes, please! Particularly when the person
volunteering to do the making is my father. The correct recipe is: One
scant teaspoon of sugar, muddled with a couple of dashes of bitters.
Add a finger of water, and stir till sugar dissolves; then ice cubes, a slice
of orange and a maraschino cherry with a dribble of juice (this last bit is
important). Top with Canadian Club (never rye, or at least not in this
I hope you’ve found these helpful. Any complaints can be sent to
The FAQs of Life
That’s Life! A Letter from London | WRITTEN BY WINIFRED BLACKMORE