Working days to go: 7. Shopping days to Christmas: oh, I dunno, must be round about fifty. But I mention it, because I saw my first specifically-Christmas advert on TV yesterday, even though there are still more than two months to go. And it was for freakin' dog -food: Cesar, the dog-food for dogs that aren't really dogs at all, but medium-sized rats. You can, it seems, get a special Christmas flavour of it, so that little Snookums doesn't feel all left out when you're tucking into your turkey. In terms of nutritional content, it's probably right up there with a Big Mac, and quite possibly tastes not too bad either - I can imagine it, spread on crackers and accompanied by some good port. Yum. But it's the surreal concept of a dog celebrating Christmas, and somehow appreciating your efforts, that amuses me. I suppose I should be annoyed by the concept, but I can't be bothered; anyone who possesses one of those miniature flea-collars on legs, deserves to be ripped off. So good luck to Cesar - and if you run out of cheese footballs or twiglets on Boxing Day, you know what to do. It's quite likely your elderly relatives will be just as happy, and it does wonders for their coats...
I bought a musical birthday card earlier in the week - I'm a firm believer in the gift that keeps on giving, even if it's only tinnitus. But how do you write the damn thing? Every time I cracked it open more than half an inch, a ferocious rendition of... well, I'm not quite sure what it was, but it was bloody loud. It didn't seem that bad in the shop, but in the office, it sounded like The Who had been turning their amplifiers up to eleven once again. So what do you do? Slam it open, scrawl "Hpy Brtdy J" on it really quickly? Or do you adopt the cautions, bomb-disposal approach, cracking it open slowly, until the last possible moment before all hell breaks loose? I went for the latter, though, being left-handed, I was still forced to wedge my hand in next to the spine to try and write anything. Combined with my nightmarish writing at the best of times, it'll be a major miracle if the recipient can work out who it was that sent it.
In a little over an hour's time, an era will come to an end; a solitary trumpet will sound The Last Post, as I switch my pager off, and go off duty for the final time. Yes, after somewhere round about nine years or so, I am coming to the end of my time as an out-of-hours support person, liable to be woken up at any time of the day or night for the most fatuous, trivial or pointless queries and errors. Except that at 3 o'clock in the morning, there is no such thing as a trivial query. When that beeping starts, getting progressively louder as you try desperately to convince yourself that it's someone else's... albeit someone else in your bed...someone else on call...it's one of the most hideous sounds known to man. If Pavlov caused dogs to salivate by ringing a bell (or waving tins of Cesar under their noses), it's likely that for the next decade or so, you'll be able to get me to twitch severely, by creeping up behind me and going "Beep-beep-beep-BEEEP!"
Years of experience have, however, skilled me in the art of being able to get up, connect to the work computers, analyse the problem, fix it - or, perhaps more likely, foist it off onto someone else - and disconnect, all without hitting genuine consciousness at any point. This is a useful trick, one which actually has its uses in day-to-day life as well, especially when hungover. But while I will miss the pager's four convenient alarms (I have taken it on holiday with me, purely for this reason, and even once left it behind in a hotel room in Florida, much to my consternation!), I can't say I'll be sorry to see it go. From now on, any sleepless nights will be entirely ones of my own making, and that's how it should be.