It was only fairly recently that the concept of a 'bad day' really occurred to me. Of course I'd heard of them before, but I guess up until recently if nothing was working or things were overwhelming or the kettle exploded, I assumed it was my fault; it was some error of personality. Things aren't working? You didn't set them up properly. Things are overwhelming? You should have been better prepared. The kettle exploded? It's simply responding to the abominable person you are. It hates you, the same way the toaster and everyone you have ever known hates you.
I'd get home after explosions and unravellings and mistakes and collisions and spillings and all kinds of electronic tauntings and wonder how everyone else seems to retain such high levels of chirpiness and the ability to cook dinner without crying over the mushrooms after all these signs of their ineptitude. Luckily, before I could follow this thought to its painful conclusion - 'maybe it's just that not very many people are as inept as you are' - I realised that a lot of people probably write off a collusion of unforseen, unmanageable, coffee-stained, window-smashed, thumb-slammed-in-the-car-door occurrences as simply the unfortunate workings of a 'bad day'.
After an avalanche of runny pigeon poo into my work email address, a sudden traffic jam of trucks and vans that needed to be somewhere yesterday, and an ant-like stream of phone calls from people who took more and more pieces of me down the ant-hole as if life was a picnic and I was the cheese baguette, I was ready to settle in for a night of weeping over the portobellos when I felt a sudden lightness. It wasn't my ineptitude, it was a BAD DAY. Oh, how glorious! None of this was my fault, it was the day's fault. It's not a personality problem; it's something external I can blame.
And that's not even the best bit! I can call someone up and tell them I've had a 'bad day' and these two magical words will open a window into a treasure-trove of tea and hot meal invitations, sighs and consolations, and 'you poor thing - here, have a cookie. You deserve it'-s. Suddenly I can not only throw away the brick of responsibility, but I can receive tea and hugs and 'awwws' until 'the bad day' floats away like Huckleberry Finn down the sleepy Mississippi.
The only problem with this newfound 'absolving of guilt' device is that, because it's almost like a new toy, I can see myself taking it out of its box more often than I probably should. I love sympathy, and I also love cookies, and after a lifetime of feeling like exploding kettles and organisational car crashes were my fault, I fear that maybe I'll drift towards the opposite extreme. Maybe when things go wrong, even if they are my fault, I'll pull out my two magic words and then reward myself for coping with this malevolent universe by sucking hot chocolate through a TimTam with my understanding friends. 'That really should have been dealt with yesterday, and now there's an angry person on the phone. Oh, I see what the problem is! It's another bad day. Why is the world so cruel to me? I think a nice lasagne followed by chocolate mousse should ease the pain a little.'
I'd soak myself in a mug of peach schnapps and watch DVDs, waiting for all my consoling emails and text messages to come rolling in. I'd imagine myself as a thwarted Queen ant, struggling nobly on when the tunnels are collapsing and my workers only seem to be able to bring me stale ham sandwiches ten hours after I issued the order.
Both extremes seem sad, really. One side for the paranoid and depressed, and the other for the the arrogant and indignant.
As with a lot of things, I guess I'm meant to live somewhere in that boring middle-ground. I wonder how many people actually live there, though. People who accept the blame where it's due, realise when things aren't down to them, never cry on their vegetables or overdo it on the consolatory lasagne. They're probably the same people who never prepare for their public speaking stints, preferring to 'wing it' because they know it all inside out and backwards and don't care if 'people are looking at them'. I don't think I could ever live there, even if I debarked all my dogs and painted my mailbox the required shade of calm.
But at least now before I leap to press the obvious 'You're Inept' button, I'll know that there is an alternative. Sometimes the universe just hates you.