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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.