The research centre of nursery rhymes

mice

“Thanks for coming down to our facility, Mrs Dee Point,” the elderly gentleman began, as he gestured her into the workroom.  “I’m Professor Noel Ivan Deer. We would get you some water, but we sent our researchers Jack and Jill up the hill to get some earlier and… well, you wouldn’t think it the hardest thing in the world but poor Jack’s now got a fractured skull.”

“My goodness!” Mrs Point remarked, evidently alarmed by how frantically she was scribbling this down in her notes. “So he’s gone to hospital?”

“With those waiting times in A&E?!” exclaimed Professor Deer. “No, we’ve sent him upstairs with vinegar and brown paper.”

“But…” Mrs Point was thrown for a moment. “Surely that will never work?”

“Well, you’d think so, but that is what we do! Jack’s misfortune has blossomed into a beautiful opportunity for us! Our facility is dedicated to solving the mysteries of nursery rhymes. Restoring the eyesight of the three blind mice was just the beginning! We’re asking the important questions like: why do the bells of St Clements owe five farthings to the bells of St Martins? Why does Aiken Drum live in the moon? Why does the little boy who lives down the lane need a bag of wool from Baa Baa Black Sheep? Sounds to me like that poor chap is being worked than rightfully so for a lad of his years!”

“And what have you found overall?”

“Well Mrs Point, there is an awful lot of jumping in the world of nursery rhymes. Jack jumps over the candlestick, the cow jumps over the moon…”

“And have you found a reason for this, Professor Deer?”

“Not yet, but surely there must be one.”

“So have you achieved anything of value?”

“Well, we’ve found Bo Peep’s sheep, we’ve helped the King’s Men put Humpty Dumpty back together again, and we’ve got our fingers crossed for Jack, otherwise poor Jill’s going to be devastated.”

Suddenly the door opened, and in came a second elderly gentleman. “Ah Doctor Foster! How was Gloucester?”

“Terrible weather, you should see the puddles! I’m never going there again,” grumbled the doctor. “But have you heard the news? London Bridge is falling down!”

“Falling down!” exclaimed Mrs Point.

“Falling down! London bridge is falling down, my fair lady,” said the Doctor.

Sensing something was not quite right, Mrs Point pondered “hang on, is it really falling down, or did you set that up just so the nursery rhyme would work?”

“Are you suggesting all of this is just an elaborate set up for us to make bad jokes using nursery rhymes?!” blustered Professor Deer. “That’s ridiculous! What’s for lunch, Doctor?” he suddenly asked as casually as he could.

“Well, I did catch a fish alive, but then I threw it back again.”

“Why did you let it go?”

“Because it bit…”

“Oh for goodness sake!” shouted Mrs Point. “You’re grown men. Not every nursery rhyme, or any song for that matter, has a literal, deeper philosophical meaning.”

“Heavens, you’re right,” said Professor Deer. “Marry me my dear, we’d be perfect together!”

“Well, as creepy as that is, I have to decline; I’m waiting on my love forevermore bonny Bobby Shafto who’s gone to sea.”

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Reacting to the news…

newspaper

Seeing his wife Monica fighting back the tears, Eric grabbed her by the ponytails and held her head gently. He’d been dying to get home ever since he’d heard the news. “Can you believe it Monica?” he whispered to her.

“I can’t,” Monica sniffed, dabbing at her eyes. “Ever since they made the announcement, the world just doesn’t seem real anymore.”

“How did you hear about it?” Eric asked. He couldn’t quite believe it himself. No one seemed happy by the news; no one had ever truly wanted such a thing to happen.

“In the canteen at work,” Monica replied. “I don’t know why it affected me so much, but I just had to come home.”

“I don’t blame you,” Eric mused. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that this truly feels like the end of the world.” He held his face in his hands for a minute, before rubbing his eyes as he stared at his TV. There was nothing on, just a blank screen. “How do you think people will react?”

“There’ll be revolts up and down the country,” Monica replied without hesitation. “No shadow of a doubt. People won’t stand for it. No one ever thought it actually would happen in the first place. To be honest, I think it would be a good idea for us to stop doing anything until we can figure out what the hell is going on.”

Eric was on his feet now, pacing the room as if trying to diffuse some great bundle of energy inside him. “Perhaps…” he pondered, as though what he was trying to say was bold and daring, and he was hesitant to speak it. “Perhaps it might be a good thing. Change can be good for the world.”

“Not like this,” said Monica flatly. “This feels like the wrong kind of change to me. I mean, think what this could inspire within people. They see this happening, they suddenly think that their radical notions aren’t quite so radical anymore. Where do we go from there?”

“I don’t know what we’ll tell the kids,” sighed Eric. “Do well at school, by the book that binds us all… and for what reward? When something like this can happen?”

Monica gripped him by the hands and stared deep into her eyes. “Don’t worry my love,” he reassured her. “We’ll still teach them what is right. This won’t change them one bit.”

They both sat down and stared straight ahead, still taking it all in. “I still can’t believe it though,” Eric wandered aloud.

“Yeah. Whoever thought they’d reduce the size of Toblerone? What kind of world do we live in where such a thing is possible?”

“Whatever happens, we’ll always have the Quality Street. They can’t take that away from us.”

Hoping for a change of tone, Eric reached for the remote. On flicked the latest news.

“Holy shit,” he gasped.

“I can’t believe it,” Monica’s hands were covering her eyes.

“The John Lewis Christmas advert,” they said together.

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“A Tweet Too Far,” or “The Woes of Stubborn Rail’s Social Media Manager”

railway-desolate

TICKET OFFICE

“So tell me,” said Lucy, breathing heavily with the resigned attitude of someone who has been asking the same question all day, “Why do you want to be the social media manager for Stubborn Rail?”

Gary’s smile was almost bursting with enthusiasm. He’d debated wearing a vibrant bottle green tie with pictures of different train designs to highlight his passion, but he’d refrained, rather reluctantly. Instead, he was wearing an aqua blue tie covered in hashtags, with a Twitter logo towards the top. He’d debated not wearing that one either, but in the end he thought it was best to wear a tie and look professional.

“Well… I remember the first time I saw a train,” Gary remarked. “I thought to myself, “I like that.” I also remember the first time I saw Twitter on my friend’s phone, and I thought, “I like that.” Then I saw Stubborn Rail’s account and you know what I thought? I love that.”

He spoke with the pace of a train pulling into its final platform. Lucy smiled, partly because she couldn’t help but admire the sentiment he was aiming towards, but also as it was bemusing to imagine a wave of affection towards a social media page.

“You realise how much responsibility you would have?” Lucy replied, her eyebrows slightly raised. “How many services we run, the hundreds of thousands of followers that rely on our updates? It’s a lot to get into 140 characters.”

Gary took a deep breath. In his mind, he envisioned running onto a platform and boarding a train just as the doors were closing. This was his make or break moment.

“Look Lucy, I’ve managed plenty of social media accounts in the past. Give me a few words and I’ll give you a great hashtag. But you know what I also know? Your service map inside out. How many carriages there are on your peak services. I even know which carriages have those power sockets with the signs warning they are not for public use. And you know why I know these things, Lucy?” At this point, he stood up, thrusting out his aqua blue social media tie as he did.

“Because I care about Stubborn’s train services. I’m a huge believer in public transport. I don’t want to provide just a service to your customers, I want to provide an experience. I’m not just Gary Buffer. I am all-change; the change, that YOU all need to your service.”

Lucy smiled again. It was the second time she had smiled that day, second time she had smiled that week, second time she had smiled that month. Stubborn Rail were all about efficiency; time for smiling was rare. He was easily the best candidate she’d had all day; one of the applicants had never even been on a train, and didn’t realise there was such a thing as “first class.” She stood up and held her hand out to him, like she was helping him onto a carriage. “Welcome aboard, Gary.”

DEPARTURE

Three weeks later, and Gary was slumped at his computer screen. There were just so many complaints. He’d had no idea of the mess he was getting himself into. He’d always worked from home before, so he rarely had to use trains regularly, and never at peak times. He’d never felt so depressed; all of the cancellations in front of him, and there was nothing he could do. Shockingly, the life of a social media manager was not as glamorous as he had expected.

He’d never realised just how much hate could be fitted into 140 characters. He couldn’t even remember the last time he saw a nice tweet. But what made it worse was that he had to personally sign on at the start of each shift, so now he was being singled out as the source of all the commuter’s woes. The insults were getting worse and worse; admittedly some were very creative, but others were borderline sadistic. He’d started a tally of how many users wanted to tie him down to the train tracks.

He was so busy wallowing in his despair that he didn’t even notice his line manager Elliot wandering over. “Bad news I’m afraid,” he said in a voice so nonchalant it made you wonder how bad the news could really be. “Temporary shortage of train crew again at Clapham Junction. Who would have thought it? Schedule some reminders over the next couple of hours.”

Breathing in deeply, Gary readied himself for the barrage of abuse that was about to greet him. His fingers were shaking as he raised them to the keyboard. Sweat began to pour down his face as he stared at his screen; his whole body was beginning to shake. His index struggled towards the first key… but he couldn’t. He turned to Elliot and looked him defiantly in the eyes.

“Is… isn’t there anything else we can do?”

Elliot had to hide his disbelief. His army of tweeters had never questioned his orders before; they just typed.

“Well, I’m afraid not. There is simply not enough staff, not to mention the signal faults further up the line.”

“But what does that even mean?!” demanded Gary, his voice getting stronger with every word. “Engineering works, signal faults, temporary shortage of train crews… these are just phrases bandied about! They have no significance to the everyday commuter!”

He was on his feet now. Most of the office had stopped what they were doing to watch him. Elliot was shuffling awkwardly, quickly glancing around at the bemused expressions across each workstation. “Now Gary, I think you’re being a little over-dramatic.”

“Oh am I?!” Gary spluttered, his eyes popping at the accusation. “I just want some positivity, for once! Is that too much to ask?! I mean seriously, can you remember when trains used to actually run on time? I bet people who haven’t even heard of our company think that we’re useless! It makes me wonder why we’re even running trains at all!”

Elliot was doing his best to remain calm. He had always taken his line manager training very seriously, and one of the underlying principles was never to lose your temper. So he smiled through gritted teeth and asked “well then Gary, seeing as you’re obviously an expert on the operation of railways, what would be your solution?”

“Hire more staff!” Gary proclaimed, raising his arms like this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Get more people out there on the rails! People like trains, people like driving, people can drive trains!”

Elliot laughed timidly, daring not to be too audible less his suppressed rage manifest itself in some way. “Now Gary, you know perfectly well that we can’t just send more people out on the track. We haven’t got enough staff. Where do you suppose these people are going to come from?”

His forced smile suddenly faltered at the mad glint in Gary’s eye. “Maybe…” Gary began, now pacing back and forth. “Maybe… WE could drive the trains!”

Elliot’s smile had now completely collapsed. But his anger had vanished too, replaced by a growing anxiety. Where had this freewheeling radical of a social media manager come from?

“Now Gary, be reasonable. There’s no logic in that kind of thinking. We’re not train drivers, for God’s sake! We’re tweets. We’re hashtags. We’re the soul of new marketing! We ride timelines, not train tracks. Whoever heard of a social media manager driving a train? In this day and age?!”

“But the commuters Elliot! They’re not just angry tweeters in suits and jackets! They’re real, living people that need to get home! We can help them do that! Every time it’s a temporary shortage, but WE can turn that all around!”

“But then who will post our updates Gary?” retorted Elliot, his checkmate response. “Twitter needs tweets. Our audience needs the latest information. You say these commuters are real, living people? Give them what they want- the most efficient announcements known to man!”

“We could do it while driving the trains! You’re the one always telling us to multitask, have you any idea how impressed people would be by a workforce that could send a tweet while driving a train?!” The whole office was captivated by Gary’s performance; it was arguably the most inspirational speech a social media manager had ever given.

“Well maybe one day Gary, but today is not that day. I expect to see that update on our timeline shortly,” said Elliot firmly. He was putting his line manager voice on now; this was not just a statement, it was a warning. He wanted things to return to normal, but as he returned to his desk, he couldn’t help glancing over his shoulder at Gary, who was now back at his computer, his face like shattered glass.

But Elliot was right; Gary was a social media manager, and that was that.

Until lunch break.

ARRIVAL

It wasn’t sandwiches on his mind for once: it was Stubborn Rail’s train depot. Such a stroke of luck that the site was only twenty minutes across town! No one batted an eyelid as he entered the depot; he had a staff badge, surely he was on official business. Common knowledge dictates that no one turns up at a train depot for the sheer hell of it. It was only when he tried to get one of the trains moving that suspicions were raised.

No one accelerates out of their starting position at THAT kind of speed. Security were running for the train, but no one could stop him. Somehow, Gary just knew how to drive a train. It felt like destiny. Before he knew it, he was heading for Clapham Junction, famous for constantly boasting about being “the UK’s busiest railway station,” an achievement that was as depressing as it was daunting.

He was nearly at a platform when they stopped him. He could have got those passengers home. He could have got them back on time. But somehow, conductors had managed to get onto the train, and suddenly the driver’s door was being forced open and a sea of whistles were being blown in his face. Gary would never control social media channels for a train operator again. He wouldn’t be allowed into a station for five years.

But hey, it could be worse. He could be commuting by train in 2016.

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The Half Five Drive

Half Five Drive Field

Considering I’ve always wanted to work in radio, it seems silly that I never foresaw how difficult it would be to get up for work. After all, the breakfast show heralds the start of the day, so spare a thought for those who have to get up BEFORE the start of the day. But two months in to freelancing for local radio, mostly BBC Radio Kent, forcing myself awake just after half four is not getting any easier. However, asides from the bleary eyes, the even-earlier-than-early rise does have its perks.

BBC Radio Kent broadcasts from the Great Hall Arcade in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, on perhaps the most western corner of the county. With the TV studios for South East Today and digital teams also sharing the building, it’s an impressive operation that you’re proud to be part of. Normally the dozen or so miles to the office would be half an hour at peak times, but for me, it’s under twenty minutes. Why? Because there’s practically no one on the roads at half five in the morning, and it’s bloody lovely.

Most adults know the repetitive grind of the nine-to-five commute- endless queues, constant delays, the slog from one set of traffic lights to another. But before everyone else is up, the roads are motionless, a driver’s dream. The number of cars you encounter are so few that you wonder the reason they’re there in the first place. There’s the occasional taxi, a handful of delivery drivers, and others like me who reject the traditional work hours for whatever reason. The easy flow of the journey certainly beats the stagnant congestion and slight panic that you’re going to be late, which greets you every morning.

It certainly helps that the A264 from home in East Grinstead to work in Tunbridge Wells is a very pleasant one. Passing through a collection of sleepy villages at the top of Ashdown Forest, crossing one county into another, there are plenty of serene landscapes bursting with nature along the way. Of course, you get used to them when you make the same journey several times a week, but it still makes you smile occasionally, especially when you catch the different shades of colour striking the fields after sunrise.

Obviously there are a few downsides, some of which you can probably predict. Firstly, the tiredness. No matter how many times you do it, you never get used to getting up to work on a breakfast show. You can be a veteran of the industry, but that just means the bags under your eyes are even bigger. Maybe if I actually went to bed at eight like I said I would, rather than after ten and cursing my procrastination, maybe that would help. But nothing can prevent you from feeling tired at half five in the morning. Just thinking about that time makes me yawn.

But there are other factors to take into account that you might not expect. Deer, for example. Understandably, on the outskirts of an enormous forest, there are scores of the antlered animals, and they do have a habit of bolting across roads in groups. On one occasion, I came round a corner to find several of them lolloping on the tarmac. I’m still not sure who was more surprised at the encounter, but thankfully I was keeping well within the speed limit, or it would have been bye bye for Bambi.

To be honest, whatever your commuting pattern is, chances are it is not something you are likely to consider before starting the job. Okay, you may think about the distance, but not necessarily about the route itself. Rather, it is something that comes with the overall package, rather than being the deciding factor. But as a new driver, I much prefer the tranquil state of the half five drive. I’ll hold my hands up and admit it’s a tired tranquility, but you can’t have everything.

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My Mum’s review of Northern Ireland.

What would be the first thing you would notice about Northern Ireland? I ask as my parents are currently there celebrating a friend’s birthday. They’ve checked in to the Canal Court Hotel in Newry for some fancy dress revelry drenched in Guinness and all manner of cocktails. It’s a chance to experience a different culture, to tick another box off on the bucket list, and relax on a well deserved weekend break. I thought I would give my Mum a text to ask her how things are going…

Mums Ireland review

There you have it. No matter where you go, from the rockiest mountains to the largest cities, the first factor that will always strike us Brits is the weather.

I bought a sandwich from the new Subway shop. What happened next will change lunchtimes forever

subway restaurant

Ah, Subway. They said it would never come. The East Grinstead high street is adorned with all of the eateries a small town in Sussex could possibly desire, but yet the rumours were rife. The empty site next to the Bath Store had lain bare for so long, that no one thought a shop would ever move back in there; it was just one of those things that was physically impossible.

But then it arrived. Subway, in our little town! No longer were we confined to the pains of choosing between a meal deal from Boots, a pasty from Greggs, or going to the family run Olive Grove which already offered a superb selection of sandwiches, even branching out to paninis and ciabattas for the more adventurous of us. Now, we could choose our sandwiches elsewhere!

It’s Monday. The drabs of office workers still left in the town are buzzing with excitement. I can barely contain myself as I step into the store at lunchtime, and I allow myself an audible gasp at the revelation that they now serve pastrami, mainly because I never buy pastrami anywhere else but I can now see myself as a pastrami man. Like a New York wannabe frustrated by the confines of a small town.

Crowds of literally six people wait patiently ahead of me, eyeing up the vacant seating at the back of the store adorned with balloons. Was anyone there bold enough to be the first person to sit in that hallowed area? Thank god there was a local news reporter on hand; this was something you wouldn’t want to miss.

subway park

I get to the counter and I see it; the fabled mecca of bread that is honey oat. Honey oat.  Many had dared to dream of a day where honey oat would come to the town, but no one ever quite believed that it would ever happen. I felt a tear come to my eye. And I still had to choose the fillings.

By the time I reached the end of the assembly line the news had caught on like wildfire. A bustling queue was now spilling out round to the side of the Bath Store- possibly bought on by the fact that if you bought a drink at lunch you would get your sub for free- and excitement levels were bordering on pandemonium. Concern over whether there would be any meatball marinara left. Flutters of panic from those who saw the “cash only” sign far too late.

Personally, I felt the pressure of eating instore was too much. How could I sit in the window, savouring every bite, while others looked on with envy in their eyes? I fled to the safe retreat of Moat Pond and tucked in. Subway in hand, the world in my hands, the world is a sandwich. Tears came to my eyes; was this euphoria like no other? Possibly, although it may also have been the jalapenos.

An Unexpected Visitor, or “There’s a fox in our bathroom!”

Fox In The Bathroom

“Hannah? Are you awake?”

“For God’s sake Max, it’s two in the morning. Tomorrow, I’ve got to fire someone so I can hire someone else who I will probably end up firing further down the line. It’s only four hours until I have to face the music, so whatever it is, I guarantee I won’t be interested at the moment!”

“Hannah, there’s a fox in our bathroom.”

“Max, I’m really not in the mood for this- did you say there’s a fox in our bathroom?”

“Yeah, like a real wild fox. I could hear something scampering around and when I peaked around the door I saw two startled eyes staring back at me.”

“You sure it wasn’t June and Peter’s cat? The one that got into number 42’s compost heap?”

“Hannah, believe me, I know it’s a fox. Bright orange, busy tail and all.”

“And why are you telling me this Max?”

“Well, funnily enough I don’t really know what to do with it!”

“Since when have I been a fox expert Max? I’ve got enough responsibilities around here as it is!”

“I just thought you might have some ideas… and the thing is… I kind of need to go.”

“Then give him five minutes, knock again and see how long he’s going to be.”

“Hannah, I’m serious…”

“Well honestly Max, what do you expect me to do?”

Middle class suburbia. Sunny south. Gets the Telegraph delivered (except on Sundays). Jobs going well, thinking of starting a family, all the details ironed out. Everything flows like clockwork. Then there’s a fox in the bathroom. This isn’t just an unusual work-up call; this is a test.

“How on earth did the fox get in in the first place?”

“How should I know that?”

“You didn’t have the decency to ask? I’m pretty sure that’s breaking and entering, I don’t care if he has four feet.”

“Look Hannah, I know this might be funny to you, but I just want to sort it out!”

“Oh yeah, because being woken up in the middle of the night to sort out a fox with malicious intentions is a barrel of laughs! Well, what have you done so far?”

“Nothing really, just… gave it a quick Google… I put something about it on Twitter, but no one’s got back to me.”

“At half two in the morning?! I wonder why?!”

Raised voice, flared nostrils, stress levels rising. You wonder if these two are meant to last. Because if they can’t sort out a fox in their bathroom, then what does that say about longevity?

“Look Max, the last thing I want to do at this hour is chase a fox round the house as we try to usher it out into the garden. It’s probably more frightened of us than we are of it. Look, leave it for now, and we’ll call the RSPCA first thing in the morning and get them to sort it out.”

“Why the RSPCA? We’re not asking them to adopt a fox!”

“Do you have any better ideas?”

“Well I’m certainly not letting my privates dangle out in front of a fox if that’s what you’re thinking. That’s a gamble in No Man’s Land that is. I’m not making the charge.”

“Why can’t you just go in the garden? We could do with a bit of fertiliser, just make sure it’s over by the compost heap, or by where the compost heap would be if we had time to make a compost heap.”

“Hannah, are you really asking me to urinate over the flower bed? To defecate over the dandelions? We’re not savages, for heaven’s sake! What would the neighbours say?”

“Oh yes Max, the neighbours! The ones we see so frequently, like the time we popped round for afternoon tea and inane chit chat about how the kids are doing, how good the new kitchen looks, and- oh wow, is that a new lawn mower? What was that, two years ago now? And besides, even if you do happen to talk to the neighbours, are you seriously telling me that you would drop it in the middle of the conversation? I mean don’t be so-“

“Shush… Harriet… I can hear it moving.”

“Well, I hope it remembers to flush. Look, if it’s stuck in there now I highly doubt it will be able to get itself out. Barricade the door if you have to, but I’m going back to sleep.”

An hour passes. A whole blissful uninterrupted hour. Dreams of exceeding targets, satisfied clients, that golden ticket to promotion. Then…

“Max? Where on earth have you been?”

“Round to the neighbours.”

“At three in the morning?!”

“Well, I needed to go didn’t I?”

“I thought I said to go out in the garden?”

“Hannah, I know there’s a fox in our toilet but that doesn’t mean we have to stop being decent! June and Paul were perfectly understanding once I explained the situation. Anyway, you were the one bemoaning the fact that we never see our neighbours…”

“Yeah, but I didn’t mean going over for a chat at this time of night! You know how they love a bit of gossip, everyone on the road will know before long.”

“Ah well, seeing as they even leant me a spade to defend myself against the fox I think that’s a fair compromise.”

“I never thought I would see the day my fiancée would stand over me in his boxers, with a spade at his side, ready to defend us against a blinking fox. Just… try and get some rest, okay?”

Sunrise, birds chirping, morning. Strong cup of coffee, definitely not decaf. Just another day in the office for you madam? Home time, feet up… fox in the bathroom.

“Is that fox still there then?”

“Course it isn’t, I called the RSPCA first thing. Bloke came round and sorted it this afternoon.”

“Thank God you work from home now; I don’t think I could stand another night of it!”

“Yeah well, how often does a fox end up in your bathroom anyway? That’ll be one to tell the kids.”

“How was it anyway? Didn’t cause too much trouble?”

“Nah the guy was straight in and straight out. Wasn’t deterred by the situation at all. Although I did have a fair bit of cleaning to do after they left…”

“Don’t even go there Max, I have NO desire to hear about what that fox got up to in there. I’m just glad you did it.”

“You know I’d do anything for you Hannah.”

“Oh honestly Max, give it a rest.”

“Don’t go breaking my heart Hannah.”

“Don’t you start quoting Elton John on me Max, you know what that does to me!”

“It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside…”

They laugh, they chat, they reconcile. The night brings well deserved rest without any intruders. Days go by, weeks roll on and months turn to years. But there will always be that night when their relationship was strained. Pushed as it only can be at that hour. Resolved after many a bad word was said. But if you can get past that, then there is hope, and lots of it. But NEVER underestimate the effect of a fox getting stuck in your bathroom.