edited: Friday, September 02, 2005
By Dave Field
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2002
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How wonderful it is to be annoying!
Predominantly, men do it. Some men are much more skilful than others, developing a finely-honed talent for which they become well known, and occasionally, even sought-after.
It's the practice of annoying people - for no reason other than the devilish enjoyment of it. I've been fascinated by this strange trait for years. My mother once remarked that, when I was barely a toddler, if she had annoyed me, I'd sneak up to her bedroom and viciously turn the ornaments on her dressing table upside down. I didn't even remember doing it until she told me about it. She thought it was funny, which annoyed me.
I inherited my skill from my father. He drives my mother to distraction by listening to her intently as she expresses her dissatisfaction concerning something he has or, more likely, has not done. When she's forced to pause for a breath, he'll catch her in his arms and murmur,
"You've a dainty little rosebud mouth and flashing eyes when you're angry, dearest!"
The family Christmas in our village is always a big event, with special traditions. In my immediate family, we never open Christmas gifts until the morning of the 25th. Uncle Denys is a cunning devil who, given to annoying people, knows of this custom. He presented my Mother with a large parcel weeks before the festive date. It was heavy and produced a strange muffled rattle when moved.
As he expected, Mother was beside herself with curiousity regarding its contents. Several times each day she picked up the parcel, turned it over in her hands and made guesses. My uncle, rather an eccentric relative, was a wealthy man by our standards, and this raised the interest level considerably.
When the parcel was opened, it was found to consist entirely of walnuts. Consequently, Mother didn't speak to Uncle Denys for several years.
Because she was there all the time, Mother often became the subject of combined assaults by my brother and I. Mother's a dedicated housewife - a plump, smiling lady who exists to bake sausage rolls, wash clothes, and entertain. She is enslaved to the collection of just about anything made from brass, and on Wednesday afternoons she patiently polishes every item. Many years ago, on a rainy afternoon during the school holidays, my brother and I idly watched her clean the brasses. As she re-arranged the brilliantly gleaming nick-knacks on the mantle shelf, moving from left to right, we glanced at each other, nodded in unspoken and absolutely instinctive understanding, then tiptoed behind her, touching each and every item. It must have been very annoying for her, because after she had caught and beaten us, she made herself a cup of tea and absorbed an aspirin.
A major enjoyment of being annoying is the subtleties that can be achieved. As a student in a hospital pathological laboratory, I was often regarded with extensive disfavour by the laboratory manager. He was a dour Scot, with a penchant for selecting only the cream-filled biscuits from the tins presented to the laboratory staff at Christmas. The poor bloke never understood my humour and was thus a prime target. I soon discovered he fancied himself as a singer, and was indeed a member of the local operatic society. And so, whenever he was close by, I began to whistle very quietly. An atonal, endless keening, with what at first could be thought to be snatches from The Barber of Seville, or perhaps some other opera. But never quite correct. It drove him nuts.
Another student technician in the same laboratory regarded his greatest accomplishment (with respect to annoying people) as that of a recurrent confrontation with his mother over his tardiness at mealtimes. Since he had a great interest in the public houses which were lined up before him on the way home from work each evening, he was often late for dinner. His stout and unimaginative mother persisted in serving his dinner hours before he arrived home. When he appeared, and she indignantly told him his meal was ruined, he invariably replied,
"Give it to the cat, then!",
and retired. Most insensitive, I thought.
The sea brings a special atmosphere to the hobby of being annoying. I was working on a boat with two people who were the best of friends. One of them walked out of the wheel-house. The other, a tall blond man named David, handsome enough to be regularly accosted by women, began to cut thin slices from a newspaper. With tears of laughter streaming down his face, he trimmed the shreds and arranged them in the cheese sandwich the other bloke had brought for his lunch. Then he composed himself and waited for the uproar. He got one.
The owner of the adulterated sandwich was also known for his skills as an irritator. A short, rotund man with bushy eyebrows, he was the skipper of the craft, and his name was Mike. During a trip in rough weather, he entertained himself by observing an Indian crew-member being quite extensively sea-sick. Eventually, the boat reached the calm of a harbour and was tied up against the wharf. Mike climbed down into the boat's galley, returning soon with a large plate bearing a very thick sandwich. He approached the greenish sailor.
"Langston, would you like some tucker?"
"Oh, yes please, I'm feeling so much better."
With an evil grin, Mike flipped the sandwich over the side of the boat into the sea.
"Save you the trouble of chewing the bastard," he observed.
Now that I think of it, there seems to be an intimate relationship between boats, lunch-boxes, and being annoying. For a while, I was a SCUBA diver. It was quite common for me to surface from a dive, aching with cold, to witness the skipper of the boat (a lean, tanned, and rather slippery individual named John) standing at the gunwale, laughing at me, eating my lunch, and relieving himself on me - each act occuring concurrently.
Even so, marriage appears to be the greatest catalyst,the most fertile ground for acts of annoyance. The transition from being an attentive, considerate, almost obsequious companion, to becoming a depraved vandal verging on the lunatic, begins from the date of solemnisation.
The most persistent recollections I have of marriage are all associated with my irritating, low, childish cunning. For example, I'd put my dirty socks inside my first wife's pillowcase just before she retired for the night. More subtly, I'd insist on wearing a powder blue knitted hat in bed. Nothing else - just a powder blue beanie. She was a good woman, and deserved better.
We lived in a caravan in England. In Winter, apples and oranges in a fruit bowl which sat on the window ledge would occasionally freeze. I had the occasional habit of waiting until my wife had taken to her bed for the night, and then pulling up the bed clothes to empty the frozen fruit onto her feet. No matter where she wriggled, the fruit would roll after her. Sometimes I would pad softly to the kitchen cupboard and select a large pressure cooker. Like a wraith in the night, I'd return to the bed and ease the covers from her recumbent form. It was the era of shortie nighties. Imagine the effect of a frost-rimed metal pan pressed against a pair of soft, naked, round, sleeping buttocks.
Not unnaturally, my wife retaliated. She'd observed I was in the habit of needing a tumbler of water by my bed before I could settle down to sleep. And so, she waited until I poured my drink, placed it to hand and retired. Then she drank my water. Annoying. One evening she picked up my drink and held it to her lips, a smug and victorious expression contorting her face.
"I wouldn't drink that, if I were you," I suggested.
"It's your drink and I've got it," she crowed, and drank the lot.
I'd laced it with washing-up liquid.
Steve, a very good friend of mine, annoys his wife extensively. He is a thin man who regularly tortures himself with abnormal occupations - jogging and cycling and so on. Once, he and I were deep in conversation on a technical matter, sitting in our office. He was expostulating about something and I was listening avidly. As I watched him, his face changed. An expression of demoniac glee manifested and he rushed to a telephone, dialled a number, listened for a few seconds and then crashed the hand-piece down. Without a word he returned to me, sat down and continued the conversation. Three minutes later he muttered, "She'll be back on the toilet now," and dialled the number again. Somehow he must have known.
Steve also annoys his wife in much the same way as my father annoys my mother. If she begins to talk to him seriously about some household issue, he walks to the refrigerator and selects something he can eat noisily, and at length. He stares at her over the food, chewing frantically. He calls it 'eating at her'.
A group of people can be very effective if they get together to annoy someone. Where there are tea-room facilities, petty thieves are evident - people who steal the tea, milk and so on. I was working with a group of people who were into drinking chocolate. The petty thieves were also into drinking chocolate. Ours.
After a consultation, we decided to fight back. We took an empty drinking chocolate can and put a few handfuls of sawdust into it, then fastened the lid on using epoxy glue. It was enjoyable to arrive at work and see the litter of bent spoons lying around the can, but eventually the thieves cottoned on and found our hidden drinking chocolate.
We changed our hiding place and bought some laxative chocolate bars, These were ground up and mixed with drinking chocolate, and left in the original hiding place. Each morning we weighed the mixture on a sensitive balance ? we could see the weight reducing every day. We waited. One morning, a little Welsh chap came staggering in, complaining in his sing-song voice about persistent diarrhoea. We had him.
Some years ago, I told a group of eight fisheries biologists I was about to annoy the clerks and I needed advice. Naturally, there was immediate enthusiasm, and so I put the question:
"Which fish will provide the worst odour if left to rot in the administrative section?"
There was a chorus of replies, rapidly escalating into a detailed argument:
"No, no, Shark with the guts still in it, that really stinks!"
"Swimmer crabs are the worst!"
And so on. Eventually, we settled on a mixture of puffer fish with added guts, blended and very slightly cooked.
The stew, grey and vile, was carefully ladled into a plastic container which had a series of small holes drilled near its rim. In the evening a stealthy assault into the enemy camp resulted in the container cap being screwed onto the underside of a low shelf - above a steam radiator. The already nauseous package was attached to its cap. It was Winter and the radiator turned off automatically at the end of the day, thus there was little smell in the mornings. The odour would slowly develop through the day. Six weeks later they found it.
One particular clerk was an irresistible target. I stole his new office chair one day and conveyed it onto the roof of the building where he worked. Some time later, he discovered the chair, located a ladder, and climbed up to recover his furniture. The best photograph of the series I took while he was on the roof adorned the tea-room wall for months. Beneath it was written the caption 'Gordon trying to ascend to great heights'.
As I've aged, there's been no waning in my urge to be annoying. My beloved lady walked into the kitchen the other morning, her face dark with suspicion.
"What were you thinking of doing with this?" she asked, holding up a large green cucumber. I had hidden it under the pillows of our bed the previous night and forgotten it.