Life: a survival guide

Are the frustrations of everyday existence getting you down? You're not alone. As research shows the nation becoming grumpier than ever, Charles Nevin offers his tips for keeping cool
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The Independent Online

Good day. It's come to my attention that many of you, faced with the frustrations and irritations of life in this country today, are, not to beat around the bush, losing it. Stiff upper lips are unstiffening, sangfroid is turning, in the twinkling of a pavement cyclist or a list of the following options, to sang distinctly chaud. A survey has revealed that grumpiness abounds, and not just among the usual suspects, old men, old women, farmers, road hauliers, voters in marginal seats, newspaper columnists, Today presenters, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Ruth Kelly. You are, apparently, all at it.

Good day. It's come to my attention that many of you, faced with the frustrations and irritations of life in this country today, are, not to beat around the bush, losing it. Stiff upper lips are unstiffening, sangfroid is turning, in the twinkling of a pavement cyclist or a list of the following options, to sang distinctly chaud. A survey has revealed that grumpiness abounds, and not just among the usual suspects, old men, old women, farmers, road hauliers, voters in marginal seats, newspaper columnists, Today presenters, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Ruth Kelly. You are, apparently, all at it.

I say: calm down, dears. It'll do you no good, you know. Terribly bad for the blood pressure and that sort of thing. There is a middle way, a placid way, a way to turn an anger occasion into a smile opportunity. There is. Allow me to show you with the aid of various scenarios and facets of contemporary living which, up to now, have led you into the land of red mist and gnashed teeth.

THE COLD CALLER (TELEPHONE)

Yes, you could put a block on them, but that only magnifies the irritation when one gets through. This is what I tend to say: 1. "Are you calling from India? What a coincidence! I'm in Darjeeling!" 2. "Hang on, let me check with the bailiff." 3. "What a bit of luck. You'll know all about unbeatable offers. I've invented an engine that runs on wasp urine and you could be in on the ground floor!" 4. "Hello? I'm Charles Nevin, and, well, you're not going to believe this, but you've won an all-expenses paid holiday in Pristina!" 5. "Sir Alan Sugar speaking."

THE COLD CALLER (DOORSTEP)

Here are some of the key phrases I use to deter unwanted hawkers: 1. "Igor! We have a visitor!" 2. "Thank goodness! Do you have experience in restraining people?" 3. "Come in! Dr Carey's on sparkling form!" 4. "Big Issue?" 5. "I thought you'd never get here! The tarantula's on the banana." 6. "Guards!"

THE SPEED CAMERA

Yes, I concede it can be a little troubling, the envelope containing news that some time in the distant past you were exceeding the statutory limit by a few trifling miles an hour. Indignation will follow incredulity to be succeeded by kicked table leg, howl of pain, and full head-in-hands breakdown. But it doesn't have to be like that. Remember that these people are human, too. Pay your fine, enclosing your own photograph, of the family, and accompany it with one of those chatty round-robin Christmas card things. Then pay a visit to the offending camera, and, choosing a quiet moment, run past very quickly wearing a T-shirt saying, "I (name), driver of (number plate), love speed camera people!" It certainly worked for me.

THE PAVEMENT CYCLIST

Try the following. 1. Always carry a big magnet. 2. Shout after them: "Lance Armstrong's a sissy!" 3. "And Chris Boardman!" 4. "Lycra's so yesterday!" 5. Do you know those elastic luggage straps with the hooks? Tricky, I know, but I think you'll find that the long hours of practice with a lamp post will eventually pay off.

THE CALL CENTRE

The important thing, I find, is to take the initiative. So, when you eventually get through, have Vivaldi playing in the background, tell them that this call is being recorded for training purposes, and ask them for their mother's maiden name. Halfway through giving your credit card number, go off, make a cup of tea and change the tape to Andy Williams.

THE LOUD MOBILE PHONE USER

Wait for the call to finish, which it will, eventually, I promise you. Then go over and start talking to the user. But just mouth the words. Very satisfying.

THE CHATTING SHOP ASSISTANTS

Start a loud mobile phone user conversation (see previous point) into your hands-free mouthpiece, mentioning that you're "in the shop" and waiting to be served and continue it for a couple of minutes after they've finished their chat, maintaining eye contact throughout and discussing what you watched on television last night. Advanced middle-wayers sometimes seize the opportunity to surreptitiously kick something electronically tagged out through the door, but, again, that takes a lot of practice.

IN THE RESTAURANT

Main bugbear: slow service delivered by unimpressed staff. The way to improve things here, or to at least make you feel better about it. 1. Pretending to fall asleep. High-risk, as they're quite likely to call your bluff. 2. Male members of the party don long white beards to indicate passage of time. Danger of being a bit too subtle for the better restaurants, which don't have much of a sense of fun. 3. Ditto, loudly dictating your will. 4. A clockwork mouse often livens things up, though. 5. Or you can wait until you finally leave, when you should affix the following messages outside: "Coach Parties Welcome," "All You Can Manage For A Fiver", and "Topless Girls Eat Free".

THE CROWDED TRAIN

Seizing one of those four-seaters with a table, employ the method first popularised by, I think, the late Gerard Hoffnung, who used to sit alone in one of the old-fashioned compartments, smiling and beckoning people to come in. Never fails.

THE LATE TRAIN

Fuming will get you nowhere. Why not enjoy it? You'll be amazed how even the surliest carriage can be persuaded into community singing! "Show me the way to go home" is always a popular one, and, once they've really warmed up, "Oh, Mr Porter". Another winner is the raffle for the last burger, and "Hunt The Conductor" or, more properly, "Hunt Your Passenger Service Manager For Today", which can be combined with a lively conga through first class. I often take those rolled-up paper whistle thingies along especially for the purpose.

THE MOTORWAY TRAFFIC JAM

I strongly recommend anti-fuming measures here, too. 1. If you have passengers, racing the electric windows can be fun. 2. Always take a felt-tip pen and paper, as you can then play charades with the car in the next lane. 3. Or, pass the parcel. 4. Inviting the mother-in-law to stretch her legs always provokes a lively conversation. 5. If all else fails, I look at the cones, which remind me of Sir John Major, which reminds me of Edwina Currie, which always makes me smile, for some reason.

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