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  • Philip Bryer

The A-Z Guide to Life - Part 15

Updated: Sep 3, 2021

Letter O


Specifically, how people sustain themselves in the workplace, and mark their precious tubs of yellow-grease-like-butter-spread and oddball milk with thick felt pens permanently set to upper case:


The exclamation marks alone are usually enough to deter the random fridge raider.

There was a stink at a previous workplace when someone found out that a lowlife had pinched a money-off voucher which had been in their pack of cornflakes or porridge. Well, it’s shocking behaviour, of course, and I condemn it unreservedly. However, I may not be so sympathetic if the cereal person was one of those who splashes the office milk on their breakfast (for which surely the obligation to pay rests upon no-one but the recipient of said breakfast mush) so liberally that it means that there’s none left when I want a cup of tea at 3 p.m.

Years ago, I started a last-minute assignment at a well-known London landmark (alright then, you’ve beaten it out of me, it was the Natural History Museum) and was informed that, “We buy our own tea, coffee and milk here.” Which was fine, except, I’d just arrived, there were no shops on the premises, and I was gasping. Thankfully someone was on hand to lend me a teabag and a splash of milk. They were also on hand the following day to make sure I repaid the debt.

Oh Dear

As you get older, you’ll say these words with increasing regularity. I’m told that the other night I broke off my snoring to turn over and say, “Oh dear, oh dear,” and then started snoring again. Since writing this we have established a system of fines for saying, “Oh dear” in our house. £1 a go. If early indications are anything to go by, it looks like we’ll have enough for a month on Richard Branson’s Necker Island at Xmas.


Eating fish and chips at a Test Match at Lord’s cricket ground, and the 2 blokes next to us are talking:

“Cor, this fish and chips is so hot, it’s like it’s been, you know, boiled in oil.”

Conclusion – Oil is a tricksy beggar, and sports fans are not necessarily the brightest.

Old People

You’ll be one, one day. God willing. So any moaning you do about them clogging up the aisles in Sainsbury’s will surely come back to bite you. Also, it won’t be long before you’re in the doctor’s waiting room in October hanging around for the ‘flu jab, casting your gaze around and establishing that you are, without doubt, the youngest person in the room.


The surgical kind. Everyone should have one, and the more serious and invasive the better. What kind of stupid statement is this, and why do I make it? Because undergoing surgery for life-threatening conditions gives one a tremendous sense of perspective.

If you don’t actually need an operation, it might be worth asking if they would consider doing one on you anyway. Like when the hairdresser offers free haircuts so as to give the trainees some experience of the live head. Get yourself down to your local NHS One Stop Shop and insist they slice you open. You'll thank me afterwards.


Generally a bugger to peel, and if they’ve been kept in a controlled supermarket warehouse environment for 6 months, in the middle they’re likely to be as black as a yard up a chimney (© Damon Runyon). Also, don’t attempt one unless you have easy access to fresh running water or your fingers and hands will be annoyingly sticky for hours.

However, tangerines, mandarins, satsumas, and something called easy-peelers are compulsory at Xmas. There’s no getting away from it. I just don’t know what to call them anymore.


See the section on Lord of the Rings. Alternatively, seek out stock footage of the fundamentalist wing of the followers of the England football team when on one of their overseas diplomatic missions.

Organic Food

Fine. I grow my own veg, as much as I can – space and seasons permitting, and we buy free-range meat, responsibly sourced, free to roam, and all that malarkey.

Now, I see that some hipster-types without the threat of National Service to divert them from such fripperies, have invented organic food for dogs and cats. Plainly these people know little of our four-legged pals. Creatures who will quite happily eat each other’s organic material when they come across it in the park, gratis and for free.


Nothing wrong with the occasional tasteful little keepsake or souvenir dotted about the place, you know. They take some dusting, mind, and – cautionary note – always be aware of Tennessee Williams’s play, The Glass Menagerie, and take note of the likely pitfalls involved in locking yourself away in your own little trinket-inhabited world to avoid your barmy family. (Although speaking from personal experience, it’s possible that this is not a pitfall, but a smart strategy.)

What have we learned? Tennessee Williams is the only playwright to be named after a US state. Apart from Georgia Bernard Shaw.


The Australian Outback is full of things that bite and sting and will most likely kill you within seconds of your arrival. In fact, in the unlikely event of your surviving snake or spider bite or crocodile attack (and remember all of these Creatures of Terror roam unchallenged throughout the major cities too), your next problem is the Aussies themselves.

Fierce gangs of feral, bearded, squint-eyed, cocky, sun-scorched, chippy alcoholics in budgie-smugglers and stinky sandals, who have but one thing in mind – a fate worse than death for the unwary traveller. The latest official advice from the U.K. Foreign Office is to holiday on the Isle of Wight instead.

Outdoor Types

Are you an outdoor type? Good. Good for you. If that’s your thing, I’m not about to criticise. After all, if stomping around in the driving rain while howling gales and plunging temperatures put your extremities under threat for interminable hours on end, and the nearest pub is nowhere in sight or even on the page of the map you’re holding, or on the next page, well, I must respect your choices.

If you’d rather walk across open ground, and in full view of the curious public, to toilet and washing facilities (not forgetting your bag of 50p pieces), that you have to, ahem, share with other people rather than enjoying the comforts of a luxury en-suite bathroom, that’s down to you. It’s not for the likes of me to sit there on squashy sofas, in a fluffy complimentary bathrobe, giving off the subtle aroma of designer toiletries and artisan gin, and cavil at your preferences.

A slowly deflating lilo or a thin and lumpy bedroll instead of a £5K mattress and a money-back hotel guarantee of the best night’s sleep of your life under a goose-down duvet, on a squidgy mattress topper, while resting your weary bonce amongst Raquel-Welch-inspired pillows? So comfortable that it’s like sleeping enwrapped in an angel’s wings within a feathery white cloud while having your cheeks stroked by Grecian nymphs? Alright then. Your choice.

A leaky portable stove that’s a bugger to light, stale bread, rancid butter, cereal the mice have got at, and whoops-there-goes-the-milk! vs. room service and a luxurious mile-wide breakfast buffet? I won’t be the one to stand in the way of you and your fun.

While you’re out there communing with Ma Nature (and nobody ever asks her what she thinks about all of these unannounced visitors, do they?), cold, wet, bitten, burnt, starving hungry, exhausted, parched, uncomfortable, longing for home, and hanging by a thread from a crumbling rock face, I’m sure you’re convinced that you’re having the best of times.

You know best. I think I’ll have the chateaubriand.

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