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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!