Last month, a combination of unfortunate occurrences resulted in me having to stay away from home for a couple of nights without packing. This resulted in my discovery of a complex new emotion the very existence of which I was previously unaware of. It's a feeling that combines insecurity and vulnerability, maybe with a dash of trepidation and a soupçon of anxiety, and involves a disconcerting self-awareness that arises from discovering yourself in a new, unfamiliar place.
With no clean pants.
Stay with me. This will be used as a focus for an emotional blockbuster next summer, believe me.
The hospital my daughter was in had very kindly provided an en suite parents' room near to the ward so, come night time, one of us could be with her whilst the other was just a few minutes away and easily available for helping with night time drug administration. This is where the father immobilises the wailing child's head as if holding a shot putt over a carton of eggs, while the mother and a nurse squirt syringes of anti-hot-baby medicine into her gullet. It was very welcome to be able to return to a private room to freshen up, removing the vomit, spittle, tears, claw marks, spilt medicine and feelings of being the cruelest parent in the world, just after that hamster you remember from middle school that ate it's own litter.
Following a shower, it is arguably acceptable to put on an already worn pair of trousers and shirt without feeling too gross. But socks and undercrackers are a different kettle of . . . er . . . fish.
My choices were limited. I could go commando, get some paper ones from maternity or buy some new pants. The latter seemed the most reasonable, although I did for a moment wish I was wearing a kilt and so might have knocked this problem on the head at the start. I don't wear a kilt because my family tartan is a type of purple polkerdot affair with a green fur trim. Quite intimidating in battle, apparently.
Not too far from the hospital is a giant budget supermarket which, for those uninitiated in the ways of urban Britain, specialises in selling everything. It's quite a specific specialisation, is selling everything, and they have adopted the pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap marketing ploy. This includes food, many plastic things and, crucially, booze.
So, necessity being the embarrassing uncle of attendance, I parked up outside the imaginatively designed cube and made my way cautiously through the automatic doors, like Indiana Jones entering a lost temple in search of clean grollies. I kept a wary distance from the pit-bulls tethered to the security desk with fraying clothes line, red eyes reflecting the flamelight from fiery braziers, and began looking for a local denizen to guide me through the tangled maze of toy golf clubs, pies and garden furniture.
People milled about, oozing almost without conscious effort in a vague directional flow through the aisles, like an amorphous parasite threading it's slow way through a host animal's well stocked and reasonably priced intestines. After a moment, I made my choice; a short, roundish chap in a faded shirt that came half-way down his front, belly separating it from his tracksuit bottoms like a referee between two reluctant duellists. He walked with a very determined gait so, like a stalker with the lowest standards in the world, I following him.
Sure enough, he soon led me past the clothing aisles, where I searched fervently for an acceptable packet of boxers. Eventually I found some which didn't have logos or hilarious groinal comments indicating I might be a porn star and swiped them before making my way to the checkouts via the mattress and onion-ring aisle.
My guide had also come back out from the shop with his groceries; eight tins of own-brand 3% lager. We paid for our our goods, and the checkout girl gave me the old "Why do you only need underpants?" look we're all so familiar.
Almost as soon as we exited, he cracked one of the lagers open and took a big, gulpy swig. He had to stop momentarily as simultaneous walking and drinking obviously didn't come easy to him, before making his way to his car.
To. His. Car.
The thought occurred to me that I should perhaps take his number and report him, but I don't think there's anything technically illegal about actually drinking a beer while driving, as long as you're still under the limit, and he looked in full control as he made his way through the fence and onto the dual carriageway. I also had other priorities at that point, so shook my head and made my way back to my own vehicle. Also, I thought, he's probably just pre-loading so it saves time getting absolutely rat-arsed when he gets home. Efficient really.
It also occurred to me that he might be Australian and therefore perfectly entitled, both culturally and genetically, to find a suitable driving beer. And anyway, who am I to judge? I'm not even a judge.
Clutching my brand new pack of emergency pants, I noticed a dented and battered ford Mondeo with a disconcertingly battered front end had parked up very close to the rear of my own Ford Parentmobile:
At least my drink-driving guide seemed to know roughly how long his car was. The driver of this one, apart from seeing white lines as something to be conquered rather than a handy spacing guide, also appeared to have thought that entering a parking space nose first had resulted in too many dents and scrapes, and so was trying reversing in as a new tactic.
It almost worked.
I considered hanging around to see if the owner knew how close they'd got to bending my precious tow-bar, but in the end concluded that a shower, clean pants and an ill child were all that mattered to me at that point, so I left.
I do wish I'd left a note suggesting they have a couple of beers before they drove home though. Might improve their driving a bit.