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Friday, 21 December 2007

Going Downhill Fast

The day began like so many in the C household at ten to eight, with a man with a tum and a bag of tools and an insatiable desire for sugar, leaning on the doorbell. I was upstairs, my make-up downstairs: aaargh. He barged in, barged out. Back forward, back forward to the van: door open the while on this cold and frosty morning, heedless that he was letting slip both our precious valuable heat, and our dog.

Still pyjama’d, F9 laboured over, and roared at, his Lego, while T11 counted his Christmas cards. 35. “Mummy,” he shouted, “come and guess who each one is from.”

Downstairs, Steve had set up stall all over the kitchen. I big-stepped round him to make breakfast and lunch. And the requisite tea.
The time he was taking, the muttering, the fiddling, the frequent power trips (all those clocks to re-set) was reassurance enough to flutter hope in the Milla breast that All Might Be Well. That he might be able to fix our brand new cooker and give us the means to prepare Christmas lunch.

He finished. “No can do,” he said cheerily.
While I stood, aghast and silenced, he continued, slathering me with a load of guff about inverters and circuits. “Brought a brand new one, see,” he said, waving at a brown box, “but it’s faulty.”
“Well can you get another?” I said.
“28th.” He said.
“WHAT!” I squawked.
“Yeah, can’t be nothing before then. Busiest time of year this; mind you, we get a lot of blockers, see, people who leave it to the last moment, or who’ve not read the booklet properly, so we’re fully booked.”
I rang the shop I’d bought the oven from not a fortnight before, and garbled down the phone. They had promised me that were the man not able to fix the oven, they would provide me with a new one. Before Christmas.
“31st do you?” said the man.
“31st!!!” I bellowed, before all but sobbing, “you promised me. Before Christmas. You said you had one. It's brand new.”
”Haven’t got one in stock,” he said.
“But you promised me,” I whimpered.
“We could do you an upgrade,” he said.
All my stresses slid from my shoulders. “Ah, an upgrade would be nice.”
“Yeah, that’ll be –“ he tapped on a machine, “another £350.”
Steve let himself out leaving the brown box on the side for me to deal with, and the door open.
We haggled, I got the shop man down, he upped the upgrade and I heard myself spouting VISA numbers at him and put the phone down feeling ever so slightly cheated. I don’t want an upgrade, and I certainly don’t want to spend £150 securing one. And I most certainly, Mrs Wronged Party, don’t want to be polite and say thank you at the end of all this. But I do.

And then I went to a funeral, driving dangerously fast because I’d been blocked in by the skip lorry. Thoughts of a 2 for the price of 1 flashed before my eyes as I careered into the cemetary with scant seconds to spare.
I sobbed at the tribute.
And when I came home, my e-mails told me that the chairs – promised (ha!) for the 21st – were now due sometime after the 31st. Meanwhile, that evening, the freecyclers were about to come and take away our existing table and chairs. Which they did, leaving oil on the driveway.

While I was musing on how to do Christmas now that I had an oven (on a van travelling my way one day) but with no chairs, or for that matter, no table, since its arrival was merely “promised,” the phone rang.
It was Mr J the headmaster, informing me that T11 had been involved in what he always calls “an incident.” Again, T11 had been walloped by a boy who has to weigh 3 or 4 stone more than him.

Up I strode to school, turning in my head oven, chairs, table, funeral and launched myself, on arrival, at Mr J. Telling him that my previous responses to these “incidents” had always been measured; they had been careful not to apportion blame, nor to vilify the boy in question, to try to understand and not to over-react, but that now, 6 years in, my concern is solely for T11. In short, no more Mrs Nice Guy.
I let rip.
He countered with weak blusters of “lines in the sand” and “appropriate measures.”
I blasted back with “everyone has had enough,” “we are all awaiting the call saying that our child is in casualty,” “duty of care.” I reminded him of how this boy had broken a younger girl’s finger the week before.
He blanched at the playground mafia having spread the story – “confidential” being his favourite word.
“That was an accident,” he said.
“It’s always an accident,” I said, “and the accidents have got to stop.”
I spoke of personal responsibility.
My mother is a governor at whatever they call Borstals nowadays and the mantra drummed into these tiny (some are as young as 7) tearaways is Personal Responsibility. There are no excuses.

I think he was glad to see me go. Hell hath no fury like a woman without chairs.
I held T11’s darling head to me, feeling for the marks, wiping away his tears, my heart pounding with fury that one parent’s inability to control his child results in a weekly bashing of one or other of our “nicer” children.

E and I decided that we deserved a treat when I got in (after taking F9 to the hospital – don’t ask – and both to the dentist). So we spent the evening shunting my charity shop sofa from the garage into the house.
It’s getting on for 8’ long – and doors are not that tall.
My how E swore.
Later he apologised for the swearing and praised my patience. I felt that the day had been going on for about 4 weeks and it was glass of wine time.
And today is another day, and the table is due in an hour. About the time I am due at a wee drinks party. I had been told 10.30 – bang goes tennis, thought I – and I’m still waiting at 20 to 2. Ho hum. Onwards and upwards.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Where I Spend Too Much Time

“You mustn’t worry about having gone to the Factory Shop,” advised Mrs Northern Posh, notwithstanding that I hadn’t worried at all for I’m quite the little regular. But by now she was laying a reassuring mitt on my arm, and speaking somewhat sotto voce, shooting an anxious glance around to assess who might be in earshot. “I was in Lidl yesterday.”

We contemplated in silence how the mighty are fallen. I wondered if now was the time to admit yesterday’s sofa buys from Sue Ryder. Perhaps not. One step at a time.
“They do do good chocolate,” I said.
“Excellent olive oil,” she continued gamely.
“And ice-cream,” I offered, willing to help a soul in peril: I could not have such a one as Mrs NP floundering around adrift and alone in a brave sea of Lidl-affinity after so generous a confession. “And apparently they took the colouring out of Smarties before Smarties did, so the children don’t go mental. And we got some fab wine in Spain from Lidl for 99 cents.”

We were off.

Our favourite part of Lidl, mention of which we circled round warily until sure that we’d agree, is the middle aisle wherein can be found a weekly-changing treasure trove of items you had no idea you needed but now find yourself hovering over, most horribly tempted.
Socket sets for £4.99? Who can resist.
Winceyette pyjamas for a fiver? Better pop a pair in the trolley.
Is that a job lot of 45 small sub-Tupperware tubs winking at me? It is. Best buy two.
We don’t touch the veg - we'd been scarred by some oranges once, and Mrs NP by a nasty episode involving a cabbage. And meat-type products, all scary pink, leave us weak. Mrs NP and I have our standards.

My own blush-worthy foray into the Factory Shop had been occasioned by the repeated ugly rearing of the head marked: “want more trainers”; this crops up at random, and with increasing frequency and is uttered, you will not be surprised, by the boys.
For if the children aren’t poring over strange catalogues aimed at dull men scratching a drill bit itch, then they’re demonstrating an intense need for trainers. Since I am mean and consider that I already spend a fortune on “proper shoes” for school, trainers are bought from the pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap haven that is the Factory Shop. This is possibly not wise budgeting given the regularity with which we find ourselves dazed at the shoe section; me lured by the fluorescent screams of Price Cut, the children by the dubious standards of the trainers themselves. But at a fiver a pop, I can temporarily play the Merry Mum chortlingly conceding to my nippers’ whims.

The Factory Shop is a grim warehouse, gaudily plonked in the next village along and permanently heaving with seniors in search of a bargain. Please leave your tartan trolley at the door.
It is too big for its location, yet cares not, for it shares similar size disparity blindness with the optimistic fattie tucking her marbled tum into teeny-weeny size 16 jeans. More stock than space. You’ve really got to want to be there to deal with it. Design flaws. Shoddy. Very third world.
I seem to spend too much time within its portals.

If a film were to be made about it – and here I must clarify that this is a game that E and I play, who would play whom In The Film: would Nicole Kidman be the new glam mother at school (E’s opinion) or can we get away with a mere Renee Zellwegger (my lust-inhibiting input), that kind of thing. Time for a new sentence. At this point I can sense him stretching across the ether, to interrupt me to say kindly but firmly, “there won’t be a film” but, if there were, then it would be best made by Tim Burton. Tim Burton under strip lights and big on freak-show. Maybe John Walters would be nearer the mark. Parental Guidance advised.

The walkways are narrow, and peopled by gargantuan maidens (possibly in the inappropriate size 16 jeans) with hammy arms pushing push-chairs. Dull-eyed, they won’t get out of your way, and tug in their wake a trail of moppets, strung out on E-numbers, clutching non-branded Barbies and wailing for chips. The garg maids travel in pairs but talk to someone else on their mobiles. All look listless and bored and walk more slowly than you can believe. I may dither, but I dither briskly. One suspects that they have been there for 8 or 9 hours. Maybe longer. You can only admire their dedication.

The range of items is more bizarre even than that to be found in the glorious middle aisle of the very spacious Lidl.
It is here where I found my iron (half price, naturally). A stand away, lurid wheelies jostle for space alongside bird cages; unfamiliar DVDs share shelving with East European slippery chocolate; piles of plastic plates give way to bras in whose cups a couple of sheep could nest for the winter.

Yet somehow, unlike IKEA where the shock at the till is nasty (just how can those few tea-lights, that unlikely storage unit promising happy hours with an Allen key and a hammer, and an unnecessary light suddenly total £200?) even an armful of odd stuff is never more than £30 at the Factory Shop, and sold with heartening cheeriness by jolly ladies showing great interest in your purchasing choice. You can only give internal thanks for not having succumbed to a sheep bra, for it would be waved around the room and discussed approvingly.

While over at Lidl, one glum lad sees out his youth processing unlikely middle class ladies’ selections of olive oil, superior Smartie-type sweeties and ice cream.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Milk and 2 Sugars

Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Snout

Or, in my case, and sadly none of them dressed as a fireman:

Chris; Paul; 2 surveyors; 3 fencers; Tony; Barney; Neil; Mark; 14 plumbing firms (11 of whom we never heard from again); 27 skip deliverers; Paul; Chris; Pete; dear Gwillem; Fat Simon; Phil; Aaron; Darren; the Welsh one; James; Andy; Andy’s silent helper with the iPod and the piercings; Clive; Ray; Phil with the piercings; Carl; Dean; drunk Nick; Gary; Liam; Lee; Jase; Mark; Darren the Loft; and his boy; Prison-cell Paddy; Col; Shaker; Shaker’s mate; Martin; Rex; Paul; Paul; Rob the Roof; Rob’s nephew; Rob’s nephew’s friend; the one who fell off the ladder; the one who didn’t; Gay Matt (who wasn’t, not that I’m … some of my best friends … etc etc); Matt’s mate (and I mean that strictly pants on); Dave and the 4 screeders; Kev; Jalley; Ivan; Mr B; Mr B’s boy; Liam P; Liam P’s mate; the insolent insulators; Andy; Andy’s mate; Andy’s other mate; Mark; Nino; Gavin; Danny; Mike; Christina; Chantelle; Roger; Spade (such a pretty name for a boy, I weep that I didn’t consider it); Fred the Shed; and his boy; Pete; Simon; Tim; Chris; Gary; Chris; Chris; Paul; John; Paul; Nick; Peter; Stuart; Ian; John; Javed; Paul …

Milk and 2 sugars to a man. Apart from (because it could never be that easy) a request for an anaemic tea, a couple of “go easy on the milk”s, some coffee and one, and a handful of teas without, but the rest demanding that the spoon stand up in the mug.
Mugs grabbed with no wincing care to protect the fingers from heat, mugs dumped down carelessly and damply on nice wooden furniture, mugs knocked over and chipped and left in the mud for me to encounter when out on turd duty.
More than one thousand two hundred cups of tea, several hundred cups of coffee, a sack of sugar and several cows’ of milk. Needless to say, I merely drink an easy black coffee, no sugar, and no-body makes for me but E.

I know about their success in securing a surrogate child, and for how much they sold the story to sub-standard magazines.
I have caught them photographing the dog and texting her to their friends. Many times, actually.
I have turned deaf ears to their weekend tales of debauchery and infidelity.
I have advised on birthday presents for their daughters.
I have rushed into the next village to buy things they were meant to bring, but didn’t.
I have sympathised with vans that need fixing, albeit that this serves me zilch, since dead vans alibi their absence from leaning a ladder against our wall and doing something useful.
We have eaten on the floor for weeks.
I have doled out neurofen and biscuits and toast and cheques (oh, the cheques: a graveyard of shattered broken stubs stuff out our top drawer).
I have developed a fantastic on-line relationship with our banker, by dint of pleading e-mails, to which she responds with gratifying pleasure: she wants to meet. Perhaps to lob me into debtors’ prison?
Our carpets are more sand and mud than fibre, we wipe our feet to go outside.
We currently wash up in the bathroom; not the bath which is deep in paint trays, but the basin. We have had no idea where anything is for a very very long time now.

”Some of my customers,” said Kitchen Gary, “crack up half way through the fortnight. How long have you been like this? 6 months?””We’re into our 20th month,” I said, turning to locate the kettle.

Sometimes I wonder if we appear normal, if I am dressed correctly. Our old, enormous wardrobe, a beast of wood, carted upstairs in 17 bits, does not fit in our new bedroom. The door hits the bed. We nearly wept. The floor remains our clothes’ storage place.

But we are nearing the end.

… the scrape of shovel on concrete
the relentless whirr of the cement mixer
the choking and dying on a daily basis of the poor beleaguered Dyson
the perpetual aural wallpaper of an ill-tuned radio station
the pursed lips of tutting locals unable to navigate their drives AGAIN since, although a semi-capable, borderline-sober tank driver could swing his vehicle through the gaps left by lorries and vans and flat-beds and trailers, the same cannot be said for the powers of a pensioner manoeuvring a Nissan Micra (“not with my shoulder”)
the leaking of cash
the broken promises
the jolly banter
the setting of the alarm for half past seven on a Sunday on the promise of a chippy who fails to show; again
the “where d’you want this then, mate?”
and the “he never said nothin to me bout that, Carmeeell”
and the “any chance of another cuppa, love?” delivered with day in day out regularity to a sad sack of a woman heartily sick of tea and of being called ‘Carmeeor’ and ‘Cameelierrr’ and ‘Camilll’ and ‘mate’ and of measuring out her life in teaspoons;
but …
finally the end is within sight.

Or “an” end is within sight, for let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Let’s not forget the shed-like nature of the erstwhile garage-cum-wannabe Family Room, lined with 54 metres of book shelves (and, oh no, this is not enough), nor the warehouse status of the sitting room, housing possessions of which we have long since tired, on which we bark our shins.

But the kitchen has been unloaded and the dregs of our old one languish in a skip, joining the ghost of the cooker, tossed a fortnight ago into another skip to enable us (“us” as in “E and his bro”, while I rode shotgun with my old chums the kettle, and the dustpan and brush) to lay the floor in kitchen readiness.

Meanwhile, paint colours have stressed: since a wall of a colour bears so little relation to that tiny square admired so on a chart.
E, being a colour genius has worked wonders to tempt glorious shades from unhappy tin-opening moments, mixing in whites and ochres and drops of black to enliven and subdue.
Paint is not alone in being replete with adrenaline-surge properties, for each new stage of the renovation process has trailed with it a new obsession to plague me at 4 in the morning.

My current one, beyond the black hole of minus cash, is ministering to the floor, anxiously eyeing it for the scratches it attracted from the moment it was clicked into place. None of them in places to be concealed by units. Don’t be silly.
One particularly nasty incident relating to the floor involved a glass of wine and the fridge.
Never, never, dear friends, do I not finish a glass of wine. Never. Except for the night when I didn’t. Whereupon I placed it, capped with a cunning piece of cling wrap, high in the fridge.
Never, also, do we move the fridge. Until the day of floor laying which coincided with non-wine finishing day.
So when I opened the fridge, the wine glass toppled. I watched it as it decided, and watched it as it freefell and shattered, a favourite glass, on the brand new floor.
The hole made was impressive.
“It’s all part of the patina,” E said brusquely, meaning, No, I’m not replacing that bit.
I wasn’t on for patina quite this early in the floor’s life.
An hour later, when the planks leading to the hole had all been grimly upped and a new one laid and the back fill re-laid, he still wasn’t talking to me. And I sort of can’t blame him.
Now, can I say, goodness we laughed? I can’t really. Although I maintain that we think that it was time well-spent. His time, naturally.

Previous anxieties have numbered:
ill-fitting skirtings: not only is the wiggly line unsightly, but surely a gateway to the ingress of spiders?
shelves in the kitchen which are just pants: too widely spaced and woefully unsupported in the middle. And that’s before you lay a testing jar of marmite on one, when it sags in protest; you can almost hear it sigh. You can certainly hear me sigh
botched plastering
bodged lining up of walls
jobs left merely 90% done
fuck-witted insertion of steels
frustrating siting of smoke alarm masking nice light
wonky bell push
bashed fence (were they warned to be careful? They were).

Milk and 2 sugars, tea with one, can I have a glass of squash? Yeah yeah, whatever.
Am I going to miss them?
You bet I am.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Pressing Concerns, ho ho

The more terminally bored among you might be giving anxious thought to how we are keeping clothes uncreased since the dog ate the iron. Fortunately we favour the crumpled look, but with a wedding looming it seems seemly to invest in a new one.

So, chancing upon an Argos catalogue (why do children love catalogues so much? F8 favours the ScrewFix catalogue, which he carries around everywhere, making him now an expert on a bewildering infinity of drill bits and overflow items) and having pledged to buy from T11 a number of Argos vouchers he was given for his birthday, I took me to the iron page. Correction: iron pageS.

For, people, irons have morphed. No longer are they merely a vaguely triangular thing you plug into the wall, and press bad temperedly over clothes while the owners of those clothes watch television. I have led a sheltered life and in the meantime irons have Got Modern.

There are 84 of them, and they are brightly coloured: they resemble trainers not boring old irons and, indeed, look as if, in their spare time, they like to go dancin’ or travel through space.
They have names, they are turbos and generators and experts, and want to travel the world, work with children and nurse sick animals.
Codes have been ascribed – brownie points if you like – for steam capabilities and soleplate function.
I hadn’t realised so many bits of an iron had a term, either. I’m all for the naming of parts, but familiarity with these is somewhat depressing.

Pages of irons there are in this catalogue, photographed – best side to the fore, please – against a flattering black, and all promise the world: they have become politicians.
No mention is made of their nasty little habits, their soleplate solecisms, their steam failings, their sneaking fondness for getting sticky on the bottom and dragging burnt brown stuff over clean white shirts.
I feel a primordial expectation of betrayal awaiting me somewhere down the line, about a week after the warranty expires, if things follow the predictable pattern of the past repeating itself upon the future.

Dizzy, I was, on staring blankly at the pages, suddenly baffled, a creaky door being force-opened in my consciousness to file, compare and assess something as deeply prosaic as an iron. Feeling that it is only when the wrong decision is made that all will become clear and too late will I finally know which one I should have bought.

It flooded back the Buying A Hi-Fi horrors of the ‘80s when woofers and twitters briefly obsessed me. Having heard of neither, suddenly I was meant to be basing a purchase on comparative wonders of same. Swiftly, they dominated my every thought until I succumbed to the inevitable, got an attack of the Sod Its and bought the one I liked the look of. Akin to betting on the Grand National on the basis of the horse’s name: forget Form, or Going or Past Performance: is its name cute? I chose, and never looked back. Although in those days, what my swinish children like to call the old days, built-in obsolescence wasn’t quite such the art form it has attained today.

Still I feel the compulsion to dither indecisively for an irritating amount of time, concealing this necessary part of the process in the arc from reluctant need to final ownership from E [Bill] who can be really quite unpleasant.

“What does it need to do?” he might ask, with an impatient and patronising tinge to his voice which I recognise from many other such forays into Choice Paralysis Land (kitchen, bathroom, granite, hoovers, all “white goods”, paint colours, carpets, cars, children’s names, “what shall I read next?” …)

“Iron,” I mutter meekly, all but crushed by his common sense. How can he not fall victim to the world of possibilities, albeit admittedly none of them being life changing, represented by this current iron-shaped hole in our lives?

“Well buy a bloody iron, then,” he says, “they’re all the bloody same.” (We value the power of language and favour descriptive words in our family, the mot juste.)
I rally tinily to gesture bold-weakly at how, actually, darling, this isn’t quite the case any more, and dare to whisper “soleplate”. He is not ready for turbo.

Fazed, rippling the pages between my anxious hands, I feel like an old person expected to understand rap music or to get an iPod to work. Or indeed just me expected to understand rap music or get an iPod to work. But at least I do recognise that rap and iPods exist whereas, in his bored denial he is rendered an old person refusing to grasp that either rap or iPods even exist, hands in ears like a child, nah nah nah (oh dear, an old person child). But since he is my very own old person who makes my iPod work, whereas I cannot, the analogy crumbles and falls and starts getting confusing and I need yet another little lie down.
The iron can wait. What’s wrong with creases?

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

A Squeal of Thanks and Homework

How exciting is that!! I go to waste some time on the site ("how rude," as F8 would say, "how offensive") and trawl through some favourites, bits of which I might have missed while idiotic enough to live life, go on holiday to avoid flood-cum-droughts, and wrestle with slippery beasts.
(Enough Lolly-talk, you’re losing your audience.)
And in my cyber trip to the gorgeous @themill what do I find but a RGB award?
Long have I wondered how the blessed get these honours and now I know. Actually, I think we can all just nick the image, but I want @themill to know how embarrassingly pleased I am by this, and for the rest of you to know that it was really and truly conferred and not just the product of a burgling spree.
(You are right to have entertained the thought, however; although I am a little bit hurt that you did so.)

According to @themill I can nominate 5 more. And knowing that several of you already have this, you will forgive me for not selecting you, so I will go for, in no particular order (the power, the power):

LittleBrownDog: my kind of girl, albeit with an absurdly strong sense of responsibility towards her Akela: step back from the beige uniform, put down the cheesy balls!
ChrisH: those paintings (by association, if not her actual mitt on the brush) and that assiduity – so shaming to the lazy – (even if she can’t undo her own bra. Honestly!)
Frances for bringing the unknown world of New York retail into our (largely) British lives.
KittyB for being naughty but a horribly accomplished role model. Those flower photos, those cushions and All Those Plans for Christmas! KittyLand in December, anyone??
IrishEyes, a true teller of tales, an old fashioned and absorbing style, witty and warm and thoroughly readable every time.
Elizabethm for being inspirational, yet still dry and funny. Anyone who’s not read the story of her illness should hie them over and be prepared to be awed. Still waiting for an invitation to That Cottage, mind.

Oops, can’t count. Oh well.
Still a-flush with my award, I am finally tackling my homework, with which I am several days late – and I was such a Good Girl when young, wail. The smells and sounds one.
Now, you’re going to have to like me a lot to hoick the old carcass around the world like this to prompt me from my coma, but here goes.
All pretty obvious stuff:

That wall of heat that wallops you when you get off the plane on holiday. The worst of the preparation is done – you’re there, for God’s sake – and, from grim grey skies to that muzzy warmth: who cares if you left the oven on? You didn’t. Enjoy.

Later, unpacked, the sea can lap round my ankles, feet disappearing into fudgey sand. Getting ready for supper, my back will feel tight from the sun, my nails white from swimming and my lungs pure from sea air. Aaaah.

The smell of my children. Don’t wince, they’re young and fragrant, their skin soft as Teflon. Plus they’ll immediately start bickering about who kisses first or second so I’ll have to rise from the dead to thwack them.

Various commercial scents, the lifting of the lid gets me full throttle in the solar plexus, kick-starting a terrifyingly powerful drag back to the past:
Cachet, which my friend and I used to wear to go to parties in the 6th form: a welter of unhappy memories, slights, disappointments and waiting in the cold for a lift home can flood back with that one;
Paco Rabanne for Edward, and happy hours spent in duty free buying it having sprayed on everything else just in case;
Royal Secret for my mother, although I don’t know if they do it any longer? But it’s her, and her getting ready to go out and looking beautiful and glamorous and coolly jewelled.
Obsession for my father;
Miss Dior, if I’m being solipsistic (and, let’s face it, why not?) for me. My mother first gave it to me at 16 and despite going wild in duty free (see above) I’ve never really succumbed to anything else.

Someone whispering, “Supper Is Made Forever...” or, oh let’s say AND, whispering, “We’ve Arranged Fairies To Do The Laundry …. Forever...” Who could die with that offer on the table? Go on, let’s complete the trio with that immortal promise, too-little heard, “My Turn To Drive…” A girl can dream.

The crunch of snow beneath the skies on the first day of a skiing holiday. The sky is blue – it was pleasingly grey in comparison back in Blighty, remember, for schadenfreude is part of the deal; the promise of vin blanc shimmers in the pleasingly near future and the queue for the ski lift is minimal. Heaven.

Flowers, the old faves: David Austin roses, wallflowers, sweet peas, Freesia, Elaeagnus angustifolia “Quicksilver”, honeysuckle and jasmine, night-scented stocks and Nicotiana. Greedy nostrils sated, the hayfever pill was taken earlier.

A gentle pop and the fat fizz of champagne glugging into my glass. My big glass.

Cool, clean sheets, and one’s legs scissoring in them, back de-clicking after a long day.

The smell of a damned fine Indian meal, accompanied by the sizzle of chicken on tandoor. Seated opposite me will, I know, be my glorious little F8 tucking in bigly, while T11 anxiously nurses his coca cola, knowing it has to last the whole meal. It’s these inevitables which are so comforting.

Children singing. Sobbed when they did Land of Hope and Glory at a recent school concert, ditto when their orchestra performed a joyously rambunctious version of English Country Garden.

The bit before any meal with friends or family. That first glug of wine and the hand reaching for a shiny olive. The anticipation, always the anticipation, that indefinable sense of things being in train, the work all but done, the enjoyment about to begin: Christmas Eve over Christmas Day. It’s all but palpable.
There’s no-one to pass the homework on to, aren’t I the last?

Monday, 17 September 2007

A dog, a Dog, My Sanity for a Dog. In other words, don't do it.

A friend e-mailed me this morning. Since her dog died a year or so ago she has been in strange mourning for her life as a dog owner. I would call it freedom.
Her husband, a glorious fellow in many ways, but fantastically selfish, too, has no time for such hankering. He’s enjoyed being well shot of the beast, but has recently – surprisingly – relented to the point of saying, yeah OK, to an “endearing” dog. Rather, one gathers, than to a repeat run of the fubsy old rescue mutt they had before for so very many years.

So she wrote, “But before I get carried away can you just remind me of the down side of puppy ownership, especially from a (possibly) irritable man's point of view?”
She wanted to know too, how Lolly (dog) got on with Maisie (cat), the complication in honesty over this part of the communication being that we inherited Maisie from this woman’s daughter. And that they don’t know quite how little partial we are to it. Gulp.

I wrote back:

“Downsides of puppies, hmmm, where do I start!
- Settling them in - first night was excellent. We were therefore smug. Second night the yapping commenced....
- Even though that is now fine, the brutes still want you up earlier than you want to get up.
- House-training, something which is still hit and miss. Crate training is meant to be the key because they're not meant to crap in them. Wrong. Lolly not only craps in hers more than happily but then dances up and down in it scattering faecal particulate matter with abandon. My, how we laugh. Despite feeding her at about half 7/8 and again at 2, she seems to retain plenty of Elimination Material in the system to dump sometime over night. More or less on pads, but…. It’s bearable now; however when the kitchen is done can see selves getting quite stressy about this.
- Chewing things, everything. Mainly pencils with us which are expendable, our shoes are safe – although we don’t push this. She seems to be more modern in her desires, heading straight for technology which is expensive and irksome for we've also lost the TV remote control, my mobile charger and the iron (yes, the iron) to her tender jaws. As well as part of the stairs, although the furniture seems currently more or less safe.
- Expense of putting in kennels for a mini-break.
- Claggy arse.
- Dealing with turds in the garden - we're lucky in that we can just flick 'em over the wall and into the field, but it’s less than lovely playing Hunt the Turd in the rain. Your neighbours might notice if large clods of poo start landing on the lawn synchronous with the dog arriving: there’s only so much for which you can realistically blame the cat.
- Damp and greasy beard waved enthusiastically through the air / across yellow sofa or white trews when hound has just had a lusty session at the trough.
- Wanton display of unpleasing "bits" right under your nose when trying to watch something improving like "24" on the telly and the dog decides to splay her undercarriage. Not nice.
- Stealing of food from table if you're damnfule enough to do something reckless like answer the phone during supper.

Good bits?
More hmmm.
Over to you.
Certainly a "pretty" dog is great to own, she has a fantastic "aaah!" factor, luring children like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Lolly loves Maisie, Maisie hates Lolly. Sounds like the basis for a tediously long-running sit-com.”
She was not, I think, expecting such a robust response for she replied, “Oh my God....just phoned another friend who said none of those things! She made it all sound so eeezzzyy and the rewards so great…”

I wrote back:
"Yes, sorry to be bearer of grim news. But I am the worst person (second worse, to be honest, E is obviously The Worst) to talk to about this. Not a rosy glasses wearer. I do enjoy the walks, I suppose, and she is an enchanting little dog (apart from that unreliable *rse!!) and so loved by everyone … else. Teehee. A grim man called her "the darling of the village" and all that side is deeply gratifying to a shallow type such as myself, and I nod and smile and collect plaudits willingly. Bizarrely, the trainer maintains that she's very bright (we'd suspected she was a little bit dim) but another man said, in a “oh, didn’t you know?” sort of way, that Wheatens are THE worst dog to train. Very slow. And everyone else must just be nicer than us and clearly they don't mind splayed bits and greasy meaty muttony beards to the same extent!"

She’s not replied.

Then I met someone else who was chortling gaily about getting a dog.
“Are you quite mad?” I said, frowning. The woman has seen me in ill control of Lolly, her raring to go like a drunk fur coat, a crazed balloon at the end of the string of her lead. Me red in the face risking a dislocated shoulder and with a fresh hinterland (now that F8’s behaviour is sort of improving) of people to apologise to as Lolly charges through careless, enthusiastically greasy and bossy after dogs’ bums to nuzzle and noxious smells to roll in.
I ran through my list – well, it was fresh in the mind and I like to be helpful. But K reacted not at all to my caring suggestions, just rocked on the spot like the laughing policewoman. We see what we want to see, I suppose.
I spotted the signs of feckless idiocy, having been that same person myself just a few scant months ago: deaf to sound advice, back in a golden age where possessions were safe and one was not woken with the rooster by an importunate yap. When you could sit on the sofa of an evening without forced to respond to the tetchy clatter of claw on glass as madam decides to sashay back in from a session scaring the cat; and then have to leap to it seconds later when she wants to barge out again in pursuit of some unpleasant whim.

And yet we’re all at it. It’s everyone’s third child. And those with three or four children are madder still, boasting a concomitantly greater number of dogs. These people tend to be the more likely to branch into multiple hamsters and happily let their cats give birth on their beds. Is life not hard enough, people? Sit on the sofa and drink wine. Smell not of dog. Be free from the tyranny of handling dog food.
A baton passes and just as life gets easier, as the children become that bit less hard work, we pick up a big furry spanner – writing a large cheque for it, naturally – to throw in the works of our comfort, and put ourselves back to square one.
Barking, really.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

What Counts For Me As A Near Death Experience

Blimey, it was scary and it took a minute or two to realise that I hadn’t actually died on this glorious blue day, time in which, meanwhile, a couple of the other drivers kicked straight into useful action. Masculine and efficient, wannabe firemen, they pulled in their own cars to a lay-by and lent their weight to the back of my motor, realising the urgency of moving it ASAP, and actually doing something about that urgency rather than bouncing on the spot all twittery which I fear was my part in the adventure.

The man who had managed to brake, hard, directly behind me, was kindest of all. Trashing his tyres for his troubles, and landing scant inches behind me, while I stared, eyes stretched in impotent horror, at the rear view mirror while his car rammed towards me, bigger and bigger. Certain I was that it would never stop in time and that I was locked into witnessing what I took to be my last minutes on earth. I was wrong.

We were very polite to each other but I obsessed that the “Cotton Traders” logo on his check shirt was unraveling, and panicked that my hand might stray to it and pluck at the dangling length. Which would surely be Inappropriate. Depressingly, my snatch from death was marked by an instance of predictable trivia when couldn’t it have made a better, less random, person of me?

Most of the other drivers drove by, smug in their perfect cars, their passengers smugger still with maps on their laps, bearing small frowns, pursed lips and double chins. Rubber-necking, they slowed disapprovingly, all but mouthing “silly cow”, clearly thinking, “what’s that silly cow doing leaving her car in the middle of the road. Honestly!” Tut-tut, head-shake.

For what had the silly cow done? Why, had been driving her car to the garage because it was Making A Funny Noise, when it seized up, the brakes locked, the gear shift went baggy and the car died abruptly, violently stopping bang on the spot like only a cartoon car could. Only a cartoon car and mine.
The seat belt works, though.

But what were those sneering drivers thinking? That my actions were somehow recreational? Hey, let’s stop the car right here and annoy everyone and, if I pop dem ole clogs in the doing? Well, but a side-effect, a bauble of detail, it happens.

For naturally, my moment of excitement took place upon the most lethal stretch of road in the locality: the kind which many of us have too near to us, where the wall opposite is routinely smashed into (keeping local builders, at least, in semi-permanent employ), where bunches of flowers are left tied to telegraph posts, and where the police can drive to blindfold.
A long, fast A-road, motorway-like in aspiration, heaving with lorries, with a bend just before a cross roads, out of which I had just turned left. The most vulnerable spot on a frightening road, since you have to build up speed so fast before everything hurtling round the corner – which you couldn’t see when you turned out – flies up behind you all impatient.

Cars scream down this road at 80 or 90mph – which seems to be the new 60 – so I put my shaky feelings in my back pocket, armed myself with my pink straw basket, being the nearest thing to a sensible red triangle, and tottered towards the bend to flap my arm feebly, in hope that people didn’t plough into me, or cause the next pile-up at killer corner to make the Echo front page.

However, another side-effect of the perilous nature of this road is the siting of a garage (like the builders: one man’s crash is another’s livelihood) and a gorgeous mechanic did the manly thing with a big bad truck and another dear smiley chap drove me home while I jabbered as if drunk and now, I am shaking.
Armed with my friend black coffee, I am trying to still my wobbly fingers by making them type fast, because it’s now that the Thank Gods and What Ifs slide in.
I’m before the “Blimey, can we afford the £800 it’s bound to cost!” stage and well immersed in the re-living of a near car crash where the car behind did go into me, where all the on-coming cars failed to spot my weedy pink basket and where I am the next in a set of grim statistics.

Sorry for returning to blogging like this. But thought you’d be nice to me!

Monday, 23 July 2007

Water water everywhere, nor any ... you know the rest

A one-minute wonder of a blog, this, just to say thanks so much to those who’ve e-mailed.

Yes, Gloucestershire is bad: we are 10 minutes from Cheltenham who were meant to lose "amenities" after us (but greedily queue jumped) and 10 minutes from Tewkesbury (wellington-boot and dingy-led hogger of current news’ footage on TV) and are awaiting the loss of water and power any minute, conserving like mad (eeek, how our hair squeaks) and hoping that everyone else is doing likewise – though going by stories that fisticuffs have broken out in Tesco over bottles of water, maybe not.
Waitrose, earlier, was thoroughly more civilised, and where T10 and I bought a modest 15 litres, at a very modest £3.27, the bottles handed over by gorgeous male-type people in stripey shirt and Behaving Really Frightfully Well and wishing that all females were worthy recipients, aka: Celia Johnson. As did I, I fancied a little breathy moment amid the stress and latent trolley rage.

Really, it’s one thing a) being a rubbish summer and b) living in a *loody building site with c) a rampant mental bag of fur on 4 legs, but quite another being a dangerous rubbish summer in a *loody building site with ... Lolly (you guessed c)).

More later.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Being Mostly About Doors

The house is breeding, rooms have appeared and while the two parts might have seemed small, the sum of them together far exceeds our expectations. Money – lots of it, naturally – well spent.
We are now eyeing, with envy, T10’s “suite,” which joins to his brother by means of a shared bathroom (and yes, we are treating the ingrates to some juicy glass tiles for which I have driven to furthest westest Wales: not my greenest outing, my carbon footprint trembles).
Our quarters seem sad and shabby by comparison and piled high, still, with oddments of possessions we have grown to loathe.

For the woods we ain’t out of yet.

The banging continues. The obstacle course to get out of the gate gets more interesting and limb-threatening each day.
The kitchen has been knocked into the new dining room, which is the old outside, and into the old dining room which we used to call the caravan (evening sun meaning you have to wear sunglasses to eat, people drifting past on the Right Of Way at the back of the narrow garden, etc).
It’s bloody enormous.
E, or Bill, as perhaps it is easier to call him, had an awkward moment when I was in Wales. He was making tea, a strawberry punnet already full of sodden bags, it being ten in the morning.
Jase leant on his axe. “Big room, this,” he said, “as big as my whole house.”
Bill stiffened at his kettle. Actually that sounds obscene, he just went still and quiet and a little red in the face.
But help in the form of a “No,” was at hand.
“No,” said Gaz.
A pause.
“Your house is only as big as this bit here.”
Bill stirred his spoon briskly, eyes averted like Princess Di, praying for Scotty to beam him up.

As Bill has said in his blog, he is busy with doors.
Doors, things you open and shut in normal life, which the children let slam in your face when you’re struggling in with all the shopping. But also things which have another use which the kind passing of time causes you to forget: choosing them; getting them; getting handles; buying handles from the fourth place you trail round, all close to tears; realising once home that these cheap handles are cheap since there are no “keeps”; going out again rather brisk and bad-tempered to buy keeps - whatever they are; varnishing them; them getting stuck when the floor shifts and cracks appear upstairs.
Hours of recreational purpose meted out by a door.
Starting with getting them.
Last week, Gaz barged into the kitchen waving a screwdriver.
“These doors, Carmeel. Chippy’s here to hang ‘em.”
I went wide-eyed.
Had I been warned that I should have 21 doors hanging around to be placed on hinges within 20 minutes?
I don’t think I had.
I whittered about having found some "cheap" ones but that I had to get them delivered yet.
"Good," says Gaz, "damnfool go spending fifty pound on a door." He and his son chortled at the idiocy of the middle classes.
I gulped. My "cheap" ones were over a hundred. Smoothing of the way required to produce a middle path in that antsy ground where sensible son of toil meets mimsy Mrs quasi-Posh, but prior to that was another quandary.
"Oi, Carmeel," he said, "you having artex in these here ceilings or what?"
I blanched.
"No, I think not," I said, appearing to give the idea some consideration.
His eyes rolled evesoslightly heavenwards.

His lovely son meanwhile had gone off in the truck to get themselves a hot dog from the stand on the by-pass.
“Give us-selves a treat, Carmella, well tidy that van, nice, yeah” I can report, with yet another tiresome and patronising stab at a full-on Gloucester accent. I can do nothing to convey its up-beat cheeriness which is a shame because he is a sweetie. Or well tidy.

Outside the house is Gaz’s wife’s motor. I thought he was calling it a hearse. Well it is black, and an unlikely Chrysler.
Unlikely in a horribly judgemental sort of way: this goes without saying.
Given the tum, the tats, his dislike of any fancy frippery which might have led one to believe that a truck was the natural recreational vehicle of choice, with or without high heels, in or out of normal building hours. I'd sort of read his tastes into hers. But then I've never claimed to have any imagination.
I frowned, “I sort of see what you mean,” I mused, looking it up and down, edging Lolly off from nipping my ankles.
“You what?” he said.
“Calling it a hearse,” I said, “kind of long, I suppose, dark.”
Needless to say it was “the hers” he meant. The motor what belongs to Mrs Gaz, the car being hers.
“Ah,” I said. “OK.”
Gaz gave me the look he reserves for the skip monkey, (another cheerful little soul, with his asthma inhaler in one hand and a full wheelbarrow in the other tottering along a rotten plank).
I hastened to the kettle.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Tagging stuff

It seems I’ve been tagged – yet another thing I don’t understand. I thought tagging was what kids play in the playground til Health and Safety stop ‘em, or what happens to young offenders (or what used to be called “burglars”).
Before I start, do I have to pass on the baton?? If so, it's to exmoorjane!
But meanwhile it’s 8 things I have to say so, here goes:

1. I’ve been attacked 4 times.

Once, trapped in a self-locking underground car park with a man who told me “no-one need ever know.” I lost my temper and yelled at him that I’d had a terrible day and wasn’t in the mood for being raped. It was pre-central locking days and I managed to get into my car and drive out with him spread-eagled on the bonnet – watch the paintwork, sonny!

Once on a sunny Sunday morning on the tube where an enormous Rasta first of all stopped me getting on the tube I wanted, then arm-locked me once on another, and uttered the immortal temptation, “we’s goin’ all the way to Cockfosters.” Too polite and scared to whisper, “Help! Please!” to all the other travellers studiously ignoring the incongruity of our closeness, what’s a girl to do but to knee said Rasta and leg it at Russell Square? (far more my sort of destination, frankly).

Once at a party where 20 Young Offenders gatecrashed having cut the phone line. They started grabbing the hi-fi and booze and promised, “we won’t touch your women!” (this annoys on just so many levels). My boyfriend was last seen grabbed round the throat with a bottle against his head. People were bleeding on the floor. Someone jumped from a first floor window and called the police and when they deigned to show up, I shouted at them to call an ambulance, to be told, “we ain’t a public service.” Oh really. Sill tax-payers. They kept themselves locked in their van and only the Asian officer ventured out because, as another officer said, “they hate the blacks more than we do.” Needless to say it was a long walk back from Acton Hospital at 6 in the morning. Ah, the good old days.

Once by a man with a knife at Baker Street tube where me and my boyfriend were catching the last tube. We had legs. We ran.

2. I’ve been in several road accidents. I sold the moped after the last. I’ve been lucky. Still horribly ghoulish about scars. Still meander across the road hopelessly. I clearly never listened to that bossy squirrel telling us what to do on the TV when small. No ability to follow the simplest rule.

3. My strangest tasks while at work involved sticking white ‘m’s onto m&ms for the filming of the pack-shot (I used to work in advertising), time well spent or what?
And also operating the eyes and mouth of the Spitting Image puppet of The Duchess of York.
Cor, was that difficult. I do not multi-task. I multi-start (but that’s another story).
The most interesting thing I’ve been asked to do recently (and no, strangely, I don’t include a request to iron a PE kit at 5 to 9) is to be a graveyard judge. Sort of intrigued, but since it was going to entail driving the other judge round and round Gloucestershire for ever and ever, neither of us with any sense of direction whatsoever, I possibly foolishly declined.

4. We lived in the Beirut of Bristol when first married (burgled on our honeymoon, sob; husband mugged) but once I was given work by my old boss to cast for extras for a fairly long-running and truly abysmal supermarket campaign, and fed the roles out among the locals, word went around and we were left alone.
Besides no-one looks threatening in the street when you’ve seen them behind a trolley pretending to be interested in pet food.
We still shudder and give thanks to our guardian angels for selling that particular house, mind. Let this be a lesson, children: location, location, location, every time. Do not be lured by glorious decaying architecture and a cheap price.

5. I was once mobbed by a pack of ten year olds in Southampton, thinking I was Boy George. The sticky hands, the pestering. Actually, the outrage! I must have been a third of his weight. The true horror ending of this story came later when the real Boy George, a fearsome beast with terrible skin and mean ole eyes, took a fancy to my boyfriend.
Lesson number 2: never go out with someone prettier than you are, and always avoid nightclubs, and Southampton when wearing a hat.

6. Please don’t ever try to see me without my eye-make up on. I don’t do the orange stuff, and I don’t do mascara, but I reserve the right to be buried in eye-liner and eyeshadow. Otherwise, I will swear. I swear appallingly. My mother said it was fine as long as we had recourse to a wide vocabulary, and felt that an expletive was the right word. However, I did not swear in childbirth, not in front of the midwife. She was very stern and I limited myself, out of fearful respect, to a yowling “lordy.” I prefer all the swear words in the world to the following: 'appropriate,' 'toilet,' 'moist,' 'gusset,' 'community,' 'what's for supper?'

7. I appeared in a documentary made about Tom Stoppard. Hastily, not by invitation, but by dint of his being friends with my parents long ago when my father shared a flat with him and other artists / writers, and when he left Bristol, my mother and he had “separation dreams” about each other. John Boorman made the film (and a couple of others featuring my father) and I’m romping fetchingly in a red swimming suit with a natty white belt to it.
I peaked then. Other random TV appearances have included the epitome of dismal: awkward child dragged onto Points West to whitter about a book called Children’s Bristol; feeble flailing on Top of The Pops when I was pitied and dragged onto an elephant pedestal thing with one of their star dancers (the cringing never leaves you); incompetent jabbering about my job when at the BBC; the afore-mentioned Godawful TV ads. Now, I need a little lie-down to counteract all that retrospective shame.

8. I’m married to Bill.
It was a holiday romance – can you imagine resisting? I knew I was going to marry him just from hearing his voice. I was reading “Invitation to a Beheading” which made him gulp, but he wrote “I love her” the first night on the tablecloth (the waiter dug it out of the bin to show oh-me-of-little-faith the next day: I had scurried down on the dolmus to check). He asked me to marry him numerous times from that first evening onwards while I said “no,” meaning “yes.” He then stopped asking me, but come the end of September we will have been together 20 years. Blimey.
Cushion-issues apart, he's really quite a nice chap.
You can read more about him, and his intolerant little ways, here: http://rotwatch.blogspot.com/2007/06/who-is-rotwatcher.html

Thursday, 24 May 2007

The Dyson, the rubber belt, and me

How much do I hate thee?
Let me count the ways.

Today’s object of loathing is the Dyson. What a ghastly contraption it is.
A bit of show offy yellow and grey does not a good hoover make and Mr D needs telling. And why do I bother eschewing my slutty ways in favour of a bit of hearty tidying when all that I receive for my troubles is a nasty session grappling with its absurd undercarriage? Where is the justice in that? Is this really what my life has come to?

But, the floor being covered, to the point of carpet no longer easy to identify, swathed so with the detritus of plumbers and tilers and electricians and carpenters, all painful underfoot, prompted me, finally to think that I should clean it up. Bleeding feet are a bad price to pay and I feared the school nurse becoming involved.

So out comes the wretched Dyson and I lug it upstairs, barking shin with same in ungainly attempt to struggle the thing through the anti-puppy stairgate. (This is loathed object number 2: Lolly refuses to accept its symbolic presence as a barrier to her eager bounding or romps on the bed and we, that’s us and 85 tradesmen up down, up down, have to click it, finger-snapping tight, each and every time we stumble upstairs: it won an award, lots of awards if you can believe that so many are there to be handed out to stairgates, but my it’s a pain in the *rse, and I bet that men were on the judging panel.)

I plugged the beast in and pushed it around feeling fed up but virtuous, ignoring – fool! – the clatter of inappropriate debris choking it up until the inevitable screaming whining noise and stench of burnt rubber, forced me to turn it off, de-plug it and go in search of a kitchen knife to rip it apart. Yes, yet again, the black band had sheared in half.

Recently a plumber and I had fixed it in a bizarre version of Dyson sex, with me the lusty bloke and him the virginal maid. He had pulled gruntingly on the ring, I had huffed and puffed over the roller trying to shove it into the hole whether the hole wanted it or not: who *ucking cares, just take it and shut up. We both sweated and got a bit red in the face, me the redder when I twigged what a metaphor for unpleasant sexual activity it could be called. Finally, we triumphed and sat back panting for some post-coital chat, him congratulating me on my patience, me thanking him for his. All we needed was a couple of fags and for him to roll over and fall asleep.
Instead, he went upstairs – to the bathroom I hasten to add, where he more or less lives these days – and did manly things to pipes until Lolly burst in (through the portals of insufficiently-closed, award-winning stairgate) and licked him on the ear.
“Oh!” he cried, sweetly stroking her, “I thought it was you!”
Meaning me.

It went again, the belt, and my competent Swiss friend did it last Friday, using her feet: very European and a surprise to my chaste English expectations. I watched and learnt.
And then it went again this morning. So, short of a plumber (who’s moved out and who can blame him) and shy a pair of Swiss feet, I used my own and managed it. All very Little Red Hen. Until I turned the *ugger on again and there was that familiar smell of burning (so hysterical and self-important) and it seemed that my smuggery had not been rewarded with Job Well Done but the usual inept failure to follow through again. I tussled with the thing once more and burnt my fingers on the spindle, tucked high, high within the bowels of the machine. A flurry of expletives – naturally – followed and a little light but necessary kicking, just to the point where it won’t actually hurt and it now lies on the bedroom floor and I’m not sure which is the most defeated, me or it.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Old Camera, Pet Wars and a Teeny Tiny T10

Because our camera was odd and the memory card full and the uploading onto the computer irksome, and the desire to take pics of the work unfolding paramount, I took me, silly me, to Comet or Currys to buy another.
“I’d like a memory card please, for my camera,” I said, reasonably.
“Which camera is it, madam?” (really, I did get a madam.)
“A Canon fine-pix,” I said, inwardly lamenting the “x”, I do so go for a properly spelt word.
A lot of flicking around between computer screens went on. An aborted phone call led to the replacement of the handset with very little having been said.
“Are you sure about the name?”
“No, no, no! It’s a Fuji fine-pix!” D’oh!
“Aaah, would that be an SL, or a DX, or a SX or ….?”
“I don’t (bloody) know! It’s silver!”
I went away again.
I returned later. With the camera and brandished it proudly, presumptuously rummaging in my bag for cash for a speedy transaction.
The man shook his head sadly. “This is a very old camera.”
“5 years …” I said, puzzled.
“Very, very old,” he said turning it round in wonder at its potential museum status. A small crowd of blue-shirted, name-badged men gathered to peer and frown.
So I had to buy a new one. Cheaper, they said.
Our new one is well dandy, 10,000,000 pixels no less. I am hoping that someone had to count them. Nice big screen, now filling nicely with piles of mud and blurs of puppy.

Had a fantastic dog and cat moment yesterday which I am compelled to share.
There is a thing in the garden, possibly sold as a summer house, which is sited inconveniently, hard against a tree which the previous owner had forgotten might grow. It now takes our bikes and garden chairs and, temporarily and oddly, my desk. It is also where the cat is fed, whom regular readers from the Other Side will know is the spawn of Satan, only not as nice.
We have optimistically had a new slab created for it – the summer house, not the cat – in a corner, but are at a weedy middle-class loss as to how to move it so it continues to be in the wrong place.
Stonehenge comes to mind: they did it, we must be able to.
But not yet.
My Swiss friend came over with her three year old boy who was entranced by it. Open door: in. Out. In. Out. First the piles of sand and grit, now the summer house. Hours of happy fun. If this is England, it rocks. We all had to go in and stand with him, amongst the motley furniture and torn packs of cement, feeling foolish and hot and dusty.
Then they went, and I forgot to shut the door properly. Well, it’s a man’s job, shutting doors properly, and E was away at Lords. Along came the wind overnight and blew the door half off its hinges.
Next morning, alive to the open status of this hitherto forbidden paradise, in skipped Lolly (dog). Bouncing on stiff teddybear legs she was, in the parlance, well made up. Then she caught sight of the kat fud. More prancing. She sashayed over and tucked in. I chortled.
But the cat, inappropriately jauntily monikered Maisie, was lurking – unpleasantly – in the flower bed and on glancing up, saw Lolly through the grimy glaze of the cat flap. Like a Jane Austen dowager spotting her favourite niece being slighted by a cad, she stiffened and set sail across the ballroom of the grass landing her furious face scant millimetres from the glass. Lolly looked up, all perky, all Let’s Play. Maisie lifted her paw and smacked it hard against the cat flap which shuddered and flew hard into Lolly’s face the other side. Maisie sat a moment to contemplate the just deserts of the outcome and then swaggered off to insult the Ceanothus.
Later, I fed Lolly and she tucked in joyously.
Along came Maisie. She strode right up to the dog, whom she has hitherto merely hissed and spat at, and started eating the food without a by your leave. Confused, but at heart a nice sharing kinda gal, Lolly sat back dutifully and licked her lips, imagining the taste of food which only the cat was actually getting.
Unbearable to think that Princess Lolly considers herself to rank lower than the cat but thus it seems to be. I gave it a minute, out of reluctant fairness, and then chased Maisie away.

This morning I took T10 to the doctor to address his persistent cough. All was fine until I made some incidental reference to his skinniness. She weighed and measured him and fiddled with her computer and declared that he is below the 5th percentile so must eat unhealthily for the next month to see if we can fatten him up slightly.
I said that I had been like that as a child and an insulting “I find that hard to believe” silence hung in the room.
We went and bought some chocolate, and I selflessly shared with him to show my allegiance to his new diet. I returned him to school and made myself an exhaustingly large plateful of scrambled eggs on crumpets. It’s a tiring lark this Eating Up business.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Invasion of the Builders

I am surrounded by men, none of whom I would wish to spend ten minutes with in a cupboard, but against whom I nonetheless seem to have to press myself to wriggle in and out of our room (life’s necessities: bed, bath and computer – wot? no wine?).
For, yes, the building work has started in earnest and footings fit to receive an approving nod and a wink from Fred West lie just outside the back door to trap the unwary – or a daft puppy.
Note to self: do not wine take and go for a nocturnal stagger trilling, “Quickly! Quickly!” to the puppy in pursuit of satisfactory micturation.
Needless to say, when the skip lorry turned up, the heavens opened threatening a Glastonbury of mud to develop. Then the mini-digger man arrived and rather temptingly handed me the key. Quite fancied a turn on a mini-digger, but a man with a big tum beat me to it. I rather imagine he made a better fist of it than I would have done. In any case, the fence is intact and ramming into same was the one thing to make me pause. Expensive things, fences, as we know from cheque-writing experience.
Lots of the time today (theirs) seems to have been spent rasping on the phone, smoking (hence the rasping) and saying “Gerroff it Liam, you dozy prat.” And being rude about our fridge, which fails by not having an ice-making ‘facility.’
“But I hate ice,” I wailed, “it hurts my teeth, and it has to be wired up to the mains.” (‘the mains,’ like ‘foundations’ being terms to prompt conniptions).
“Use a straw,” they said.
But yet, somewhere along the line, in 6 scant hours, 2 monster skips have been filled (the product of Fred West trench debris wheeled by a tiny earnest lad, the barrow bigger than he and wobbling on the runway plank – I can’t look as he totters by).
It’s exciting, and it’s also scary. I feel for our funny little house being raped and scarred so and have to give myself stern words about It All Being Worth It In The End.
A whizz through the mocking Before photos stored on our camera also provides fine reminder of the necessity of the enterprise. Retro irony be *uggered, fond, too-late anxieties be stilled: the place needs nuking.
I, meanwhile, the Little Woman of the set-up, spent most of the time stirring boiling water into neat sugar, trying to get the spoon to move against the sludge and worrying for their cavities. Gaps in mouths tell me that this is a worry that should have been addressed long ago.
There is also a poor madman sawing in the be-sauna’d loft: he who pulled life’s short straw and is boarding the place so our Christmas decorations and suitcases have somewhere to loll in splendour. The ladder swings out all glorious and wooden, no screaming of metal to strip the ears of vital linings.
Day one, over and out, and over.

Monday, 30 April 2007

The War of the Pansies

Lolly, aka Princess Furry Trousers, loves pansies. Shame is, so do I. And it was my digging, my fivers.
She stalks them, I stalk her.
This inappropriate admiration for botany and a nasty penchant for half five in the morning, however, is about as bad as it gets, and she is SO pretty and jolly that she is almost forgivable.

Friday evening found us perched in a small sitting room with a puppy trainer. Our mismatched seats, culled from a Dentist’s waiting room, arrayed around a disconcertingly large rubber mat. Most tempted to test its efficacy myself. A tenner for more than an hour of efficient “one-to-one” and away we went with effective little hand motions, a dog keen to Sit and Off and, oh, something else – I should have been born blonde – and our own paws stinking of cheap mangled sausage.

We then went to pick up T10 from his chum C9. We stood all adult with wine on the front garden to their pretty cottage facing the church in their beautiful village trilling in that parenty way, and Lolly crapped on the perfectly manicured lawn belonging to Mrs Northern Posh.
Exquisite timing.
Most very wrong grass.
I flapped around keen to show how well I remembered the vileness of other people’s dogs – not one to be Love Me Love My Dog, how tiresome is that? – and squatted dismally amateur with my green plastic bag and Mrs NP’s hose at which point her littlest, the dear sweet B4, scuttled out all sunshiny squeals and random trotting and armed with an inevitable homing instinct for the faeces…
Mrs NP went into screech freefall and I had a misguided moment involving B4, Mrs NP and the manic hose, but we were well tucked into our pinot grigio by then, which we managed to grip that necessary bit tighter while separating child / dog / poo / water, so I hope that we can say that a) my how we laughed and b) I think we got away with it…

Buoyed by her prowess in the poo department, an ear cocked for further instructions emanating from Asbo Jack way south in Exmoor, Lolly then pranced around with unpleasant eagerness in Mrs NP’s immaculately maintained flowerbeds.
Mrs NP twitched, and who can blame her, with that intensity of scrutiny being displayed by one so small and busy and wanton?
My yanking on the pretty pink’n’daisy collar’n’lead threatened to compromise the sloshing meniscus of my wine so I had to take ungainly gulps of that, so as not to waste a drop, while tottering inelegantly in pursuit of, what Countrymousie would doubtless call, my wheaten terrorist. While still managing to chat about schools. As you do.

A relief to get home even if that does signal cooking time and an interest to be shown – mine – in supper while Lolly dipped in and out of the flowerbeds here, rummaging and foraging and gathering pretty petals on her teddybear fur.
A second bucket of wine and it was hard to care either way.

The nights are still less than ideal, made vaguely bearable only by being able to call it summer.
I am re-connected to times of day I do not like.
2 in the morning while still at a party: tick.
2 in the morning to marry the sound to the likely scenario – Lolly dancing on her crate scrabbling at the door and yapping, and then stagger downstairs to deal with it / endeavour to ignore to show that this sort of behaviour is not to be tolerated: not tick.

We take it in turns, Mr C and I, and it is a matter of debate whether we will make our imminent 17th wedding anniversary.
(17 years, though, blimey, what an age is that. Seems like only yesterday etc.)

What actually seems like supper time is now, yet not even lunchtime, since Princess Wildebeest was up and on the go before 5 this morning, bouncing on her crate, eating the door.
You read that right. 4 something intolerable.
And straight out to nuzzle into the pansies, breathing in pleasurable wafts of a junkie’s fix.
Off to slaughter a puppy – furry pair of gloves anyone?? – she’s pushed that envelope too far today, and I did merely say that she was “almost forgivable.”

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Country Lite: Spiders and Other Nastiness

Here am I with not much to say.
How can this be! Has the Princess of Verbiage (West Country version) really run out of fuel? Perhaps I should just re-hash an old one. Surely no-one would notice?
Kitty Corrigan will be nodding in self-satisfaction. After all, “The three we chose, after much debate, all have the potential to write a column centred on rural life without being repetitive.”
Well, correction, still not much to say but of a sudden without the words to say it. I rather hope that this trimming of the soul is a temporary thing but some stuffing has been knocked out of the Mad Milla Typing Machine, not to mention my peepers which are strained rotten by all the obsessive computer work over recent months.

In any case, thank goodness Ms Smith in her wisdom – by omission – judged my work
“not to stand out above all the rest” since, “Writing a magazine column is very different from blogging, and the blogs were judged not only on writing style and structure but also on the subject matter and how well it related to CL. The shortlisted blogs are the ones that we felt had the most potential to be turned into a regular column.”
Nice to clear that one up. Thanks, Suse.
Could all have turned quite nasty. I would have dried and died and how deeply unpleasing that would have been.
Kinda kicking myself, though, for not sticking to the one subject, a hen, and talked about it over 5 very short paras.
Or, if wisdom were mine, I could have mentioned a mole catcher: oh, we’d have laughed, how exceeding quaint! or a horse licking a window: how very country, what larks!
Victory could have been mine.
Mwah, hah, ha.

You get the point.

So what goes in the day-to-day lives of one of the spurned?

Now that I can admit not giving a flying *uck about chickens, I can at least concentrate with a vaguely happy heart on the true business of the day – gossip if you dare!! (that’s enough, Ed, the silly green duck will be set on me!) – which is my bathroom.
Chaps, it is a triumph. Spanking new white bits and pieces. An enormous splendour of simple oak, being the basin unit. Groovy, but discrete, shiny chrome shower. Travertine marble smooth on the walls, a running line of the juiciest little glass tiles – all seconds, so crazed and millefleury in places and, importantly, cheapish – and good enough to make me Squeal.
True, it’s all taken a month or so, and still the lights aren’t in or the paint splashed on but it is all so so near and I can at least stand in the doorway and sigh big fat happy sighs.

A thumping big spider was trespassing away in the bath this morning, threatened to send the sullied lot in the skip pronto.
Blimey, what a turn I was given when shimmying in for a quick matutinal admiration session to confront the big black beast o’too many legs. That’ll larn me to get me about my chores quicker, rather than mooning around in dazed smuggery. Down to the cereal boxes, girl, do not linger over glass tiles, they will prove your downfall.

Spiders, I just cannot abide, which basically rules out travel in 9/10ths of the world: a teeny tiny Cinderella Carbon Footprint is mine through mimsy.
The darting scuttle, the sullen stand-off stance when they sense the air suddenly saturated with adrenaline (mine). The ones in our house all but wear sunglasses to express their disdain at my fear.
I had thought that September was their month. I imagined that that was the deal and had tried to come to terms with it. Not in this house, though, due to those pesky fields out the back, where an open season is declared from February to November and they saunter about at will. Only the bleakest, most bone-sapping months are spider-free, which is prompting me to relinquish my Seasonal Adjustment Disorder ways in favour of promoting winter as suddenly a Very Good Thing.

Darn it, all twittery and scared again. Should have stuck to moles. Aaah, how sweet! Squeal!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Before I dive into a nonsensical freefall, I'm going to limit this to a sentence or two to check if I am here, that this is working, that it is accessible. Am an old dog and bad at new tricks. Here goes.