MEL SMITH and Griff Rhys-Jones once parodied the Angry Young Men of the 1950's. Their own, bathetic version of this phenomenon was "the mildly irritable young men" who were forever sullenly muttering, "What bloody time do you call this then?"

The pair captured very well the indignity of the irritable man, the way in which he is ashamed of and actually irritated by his own irritation. For irritation gets you nowhere, unlike rage; it also lacks the dignity of rage.

And it is a very male phenomenon. Most women that I know are not irritable at all (they're irritating, yes, but that's another matter). Men, however, have this atavistic idea that they're engaged upon an important agenda that ought not to be undermined by, for example, those occasions when the two layers of toilet paper come off the roll incorrectly aligned. (Although I notice the makers have started supplying instructions on how to correct this).

Some of my own irritations are aesthetic. I can't stand my wife's singing, for instance, and I get very crabby hearing the arch and pseudo-streetwise use of the word "up" as in "next up we have...", or "he's really up for it'. But most of my irritations arise from being delayed or physically inconvenienced in some way. Here, in reverse order, are my current Top Five:

At number five... I go into a cafe and ask the man at the counter for "a small white coffee', at which he calls out to the person working the beverage machines behind him, "Short white latte!" Now that's pretty irritating in itself, but worse is to come, for the person thus addressed hasn't heard what the man at the counter has said. I know he hasn't heard, but feel unable to point it out until ten coffee-less minutes later.

Number four... I write out a postcard, take it to the Post Office, and ask for a stamp, only to be given one of those extra large commemorative stamps with a picture of Princess Di on it. This blots out half the address on the card.

Number three... I phone someone up, and their four-year-old child answers the phone. "Can I speak to your daddy?", I enquire. "Naw!" squawks the brat. Stalemate. I'm not allowed to be rude to this kid: it's not mine, and to hang up would be intolerably rude. Meanwhile, over the sound of childish heavy breathing, I can hear the parents chortling in the background at the charming precocity of their child.

Number two... I buy a carton of juice with straw attached. I thrust the straw into the designated hole and then, as a result of a phenomenon first observed by Archimedes over 2000 years ago, the juice spurts out of the top of the straw and all over my hand.

And finally, at number one for the 'n'th week in a row... I'm watching some irritating rubbish on TV (The Big Breakfast, say, with Johnny Vaughan chirping, "Next up we have..."), and I want to turn it over, but can't find the TV remote. This is entirely my fault, as is the fact that I don't know how to change channels on my TV without my remote. But that, of course, only makes it even more irritating.

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