I was trying to glean some information from Southern Rail’s website the other day, after yet another disastrous journey home, when I found myself being shunted, like a broken-down train in The Wivelsfield Area (in railway speak, anywhere something bad is happening is an “Area”), inexorably towards the FAQs page. 

Every website has one. It’s meant to be comforting. “See—it’s not just you having problems!” But in reality, I suspect it’s just another way the company, or the council, or whomever, can avoid dealing with you directly, and—as a bonus—maybe even get you to solve your own pickle. “Have a look at this great long screed of woe…anything sound familiar?” Anyway, while I was scrolling through Southern’s most frequently asked questions—many of which, unsurprisingly, were variations on the “How do I get a refund?” theme—I began wondering, idly, about our own family FAQs. What would they be…?


Q Has anyone seen my phone?

A Unlikely, unless you happen to work at Waitrose. In which case, yes; you have seen it—twice—after it fell out of my coat pocket in the fruit and veg aisle. (“I think we’ve had this one before,” the Customer Services girl said, eyeing it suspiciously.) Outside of the supermarket, the correct answer, offered calmly, in a voice that does not suggest your mother/wife is going crazy, is: No, but have you checked your handbag/pocket/Waitrose?


Q Is the dog eating something?

A Yes. The real question, though, is what is he eating? The answer could be: a sock, a glove, cat litter (I’ve switched brands so he’s slightly less keen on it than he was), one of those balls from the drier that stops your clothes tangling, wood, an ice cube, a cuttlefish, Kleenex. The dog is rarely seen eating actual dog food because, despite having a bowl that’s designed to stop “bolting,” his record for polishing off his dinner is nine seconds.


Q What’s the worst that could happen?

A Again, this is usually uttered in connection with the dog. As in: “If I leave these bagels on the chopping block, what’s the worst that could happen?” or “If I fail to put my mittens away, what’s the worst that could happen?” The answer to this FAQ is: a trip to the vet’s and a large bill.


Q Has my son been using my razor?

A Almost certainly, yes. Usually spoken just after my husband has trimmed half his beard and realised that somebody has switched the setting from “light beard” to “designer stubble.” 


Q Has anyone seen the remote control?

A Which one? We have such a bewildering array—for the TV, satellite, brand-new and totally terrifying “Sound Bar,” and don’t forget the DVD player—that I have given up trying to figure out which one works what. And it doesn’t help that they all look alike. Why, for Pete’s sake, can’t somebody make a remote in a colour other than black or silver? How about a yellow one, shaped like a banana? 

I remember those happy days when we laughed, as my mother-in-law struggled to figure out which of our two remotes worked the TV. No one’s laughing now. I fear that, in my case, it is just a teeny, faltering step until I, like Nana (who at least has an excuse, in that she’s 83), start referring to the internet as The Google and using my mobile phone to try to turn on the toaster.


Q. Why is there no hot water?

A. Because our daughter has run a bath the size of Harrington Sound and used it all up.


Q What is a seven-letter word, using only the letters E, I, G, R and T, that I can use to halt Grandma’s relentless march to world domination in Online Scrabble?

A Tergite. Look it up.


Q. Does this sweater smell of cat pee?

A. Probably. And there is nothing you can do about it until spring returns to this godforsaken northern land and you can hang the offending item on the line, spray it liberally with Febreze and hope the sun will do his bit.


Q. Would you like me to make you a little Old Fashioned?

A. Just so we’re clear, this refers to cocktails and not a state of mind. So the right response is: Yes, please! Particularly when the person volunteering to do the making is my father. The correct recipe is: One scant teaspoon of sugar, muddled with a couple of dashes of bitters. Add a finger of water, and stir till sugar dissolves; then ice cubes, a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry with a dribble of juice (this last bit is important). Top with Canadian Club (never rye, or at least not in this house). Enjoy. 


I hope you’ve found these helpful. Any complaints can be sent to Southern Rail.