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Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Er, Thanks Very Much

Certain presents are fated just to Do The Rounds, their life spent being wrapped, unwrapped, witness to a false smile, shoved in a drawer, grabbed at in desperation, re-wrapped, off-loaded. Phew.

I’m talking here of:
jewellery rolls (we all have several, the churl advises: we don’t need another, be they everso beautiful)
scented candles in whacky flavours
ditto soaps reeking fit to freak the kiddies
amusing socks in a fridge-shaped tin
necklaces – have none of my friends noticed I’m blighted by a metal allergy?

(However, let it be said that bizarre items – flat, light, soft – therefore with the tempting property of being easy to post are excused. They fall foul of no rule, needing zilch further function beyond the practical.)

It’s the receiving of odd presents which truly exposes the inner ingrate lurking within my otherwise fully-rounded Friend To All persona. In fact, it runs around naked, screaming and also means that I have a drawerful of weirdo objects, where candles jostle with necklaces, the lot rubbing shoulders with earrings I can’t wear and all smelling of mango.
And come my birthday, with a sullen flick of the wrist and spoilt toss of my curls, I chuck a whole shed load more in, ready to be handed on down the line to someone else as and when. Naturally, I gush charmingly, fling my arms round necks and am smiley in thanks. What do you think I am? Horrid? No, merely 2-faced.
Go on … we all do it.

And the same applies to boxes of chocolate brought by friends over to supper. Just the one box gets eaten that night so you are left with two or three more which, not being blessed with a particularly active chocolate gene (although I can do swift and permanent damage to a bag of decent fudge), it seems odd to sit on the sofas of a Tuesday, say, and eat à deux. Or maybe I presume. You might be a truly professional porker.

But these swishy boxes do need company, to be among flushed faces, and to be passed around, peered into without much in the way of hope, and plucked from dutifully.

Recently, an extremely odd box of chocolates made its way into the house. I was able, with the cunning waste of half an hour, to work out which of my friends had left it and she is not a natural purchaser of such stuff. Her face is quite well-scrubbed and her demeanour no-nonsense. My suspicions were raised, moreover, by it not having been handed over with any sense of obvious transference of ownership, no fanfare which, given that it was well within the sell-by date, and flash-looking, would seem that something was afoot.
Being a past master, I was quick to spot the Passing On of a Dud at play.

It was a silvery box possibly hailing from France, by one Anthony Berg, containing individually wrapped discs of dark chocolate. Encouraging a brief surge of hope, was the word “marzipan,” a beacon in an otherwise confusing explanation, but also was there the phrase Muscat grape jelly: hmmm, bad, surely? Jelly?? Not unlike tea-flavoured chocolate, or carrot and radish chocolate. Quite the wrong meeting of parts. I shuddered. Greed squashed by reality.

My heart felt heavy about these chocolates. They were clearly deeply disgusting but there again pretty expensive going by the flourishy writing. Having an empty little life, this is the sort of thing I fret about. The snob in me suffered a swift fisticuffs courtesy of the parsimonious in me.
I was ashamed of them.
And mean.
They had to be eaten.
They had to go.
Dinner party on Saturday.
Feck it. Perfect.

So we turned up, the basket bulging with Mr Berg’s creation, 2 bottles of wine (one decent and showily presented, one a dodgy Chardonnay on serious off-load), and a present for one of our number. Ahem, being temporarily shy a jewellery roll I was proffering the third book in a 3-4-2 when a book is bought not with wisdom but the desire to cash in on an offer. It was wrapped truly beautifully.

Chatting with the magician’s art of feint and bluff, I slid our bottles onto the table, and the box of chocs, which were immediately noticed.
“Top chocs, Milla,” S boomed with pantomime conviction.
“Oh, well, not sure what they’re like, probably disgusting,” I muttered, embarrassed, but sufficiently sussed to prepare the ground for later disappointment and disassociation.

The evening passed in the predictable blur of jollity and alcohol until coffee time when S bustled back, spoiling things by waving a familiar box in the air, the silver flashing ostentatiously amid candle light.
Fiddlesticks. Bastard things stalking me.

“Thanks, Milla, darling!” she cooed at maximum volume.
Did the room hush? I fear it might have done.
Really, she must have had these before AND hates me, I thought, hunched like my avatar, and cringing while still alive to a certain flicker of relief that at least the chocs had reached the end of their road. No more busy drawer work for them, I was shot of the brutes.

Paws dipped into the box, there was bemused and noisy merriment at the pantypad/ladywipe nature of the individual wrapping, drawing more and more unnecessary attention to the chocolates. And then there was endless chomping. I frowned. The script was deviating. Fearful of missing out, I took one too and popped it in my pocket, sat on it all the way home and encountered it next morning, cracked and crumpled.
I slid it in my mouth.
And really rather delicious it was.
I sensed an immediate involuntary gnashing of the teeth at my failure to take full credit for these beauteous beasts, kings of chocolate, and a greater rage at not having snarfed several more the night before.

My only worry is now that I will have to reassess, on a serious basis, jewellery rolls, soaps and strange necklaces.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Trolley Dolly

It always seems to happen like this.
One moment I am sashaying round the supermarket fairly vacantly. If push came to shove, and an impertinent soul were to ask, then I would admit to being perfectly proud of the trolley.
For glance at it – a-bulge with organic produce showing the world that I am, contrary to rumblings in the chorus, not a bad sort of person. Spilling over indeed it is with impressive fare: bunched carrots, and peppers, fairtrade bananas, 2-4-1 raspberries, half price strawberries … (ok, the halo’s slipping, the parsimony starting to show, but the principle is still good: it’s fruit, it’s veg and we are Getting Away With It, even though, yeah yeah, I should have gone to the greengrocer with my hempen trug. Begone.).
Let it be said, through gritted teeth, that at this stage the trolley is most certainly 100% impressive, and yet not any soul to admire it.

So that is One Moment, and the next?
Ah, the next is my undoing, being me coming upon the Bargain: Reduced section, turning self almost upside down in a greedy rummage, elbowing pensioners out of the way in pursuit of a cheap pie, snorting like a piggy at the trough, tearing desperately at cut price Cornish pasties, possibly made in Slovakia, possibly involving knees and beaks; unwanted cheap cheeses; and a random pud.

And it is shortly after that love-in fest with bargains (from which I emerge triumphantly grateful and pink in the face), and a random Supermarket Sweep grab at the wine shelves, that I bump into a mother from school, The Healthiest Nurse in the World.
She is also the only person I have ever met who can segue any conversation – whether ostensibly regarding boilers, the weather or a parking slot – into sex, in fewer than 3 moves. But that is incidental to this blog and perhaps I need to meet more people.

(you encountered her here first: //http://milla-countrylite.blogspot.com/2008/03/huffing-and-puffing.html, read down to Andy, penultimate para, see! Earthquake to sex without blinking an eye).

(I neglected to report a time I played tennis with her. One sniff of a hangover on the part of your scribe, and she was into resuscitation mode. “Oh Milla,” she said, in very caring tones, “you can’t exercise” (don’t guffaw reader) “and recover.”
“Recover,” the cow actually said “recover.”
Then she said, “That’s how heart attacks happen,” or something unnecessary and medical like that. Heart attacks indeed. Well Really! How slippery and alcoholic and near death on a daily basis does she have me?
Pause for anxious thought.
Does she really believe all that insensitive guff about a mere 14 units a night? I mean week. How, as F9 says so very frequently, how offensive.)

Anyway, she came upon me when her trolley was spanking fresh out of the vegetable aisle and therefore still impressive, while mine had tussled with bargains and booze and lost.
I spotted her but was too slow to slide, a la teeny tiny binkin over porcine bum, one small packet of organic oats across a massive family pack of crisps, nor did I have time to conceal a virtual shelf full of yellow stickered Green and Black chocolate bars with the few small packets of sesame seeds I must have snatched up by mistake. There’s only so much a girl can do.

The conversation was awkward: I felt exposed, vulnerable, and found wanting. I realise that I am a horrible control freak and do not like being exposed or found wanting.
Mrs HNW was chortling about her holiday. Just back from Florida, the stocks in their freezer had melted, thanks to a power cut.
“Oooh, I see you’ve found plenty of goodies for your” (inference: sub-standard) “freezer,” she said in the congratulatory terms one might use when a toddler managers a turd near the pot.
“Mmmm,” I said, defensive of my piggy-grub.

Later, much later, too too late, when I had done penance with some aduki beans and – get this, black turtle beans – I saw HNW in the distance hovering by the DVDs and, en speedy route to encounter her casually with a happenstance transformed trolley, I suffered the gross misfortune of banging into Whispering Mother instead. She who is in permanent search of prey having someone’s private details to divulge, a secret tumbling from her lips at any given moment even, I imagine, when asleep.
Being merely a vector for her conspiratorial germs, I could have been anyone, anyone whose initial secret it wasn't, that is. But it held me up and meanwhile HNW, from whom I was still fretfully hell bent on retrieving nutritional brownie points, was on her way out of the store and I was stuck nodding at something idiotic and judgemental regarding party invitations.

The need casually to smuggle “as I was reaching for the aduki beans” to indicate my on-going au faitness with fibrous goods, into any conversation which might lurk in the future with HNW was bothering me. I’m yet to suss how she masters it with sex. Shamelessly, it goes without saying.

My chance came later. And inevitably it was due to go tits up.
I was rolling out some pastry, using a wine bottle so to do, for we still haven’t unearthed the rolling pin since moving here 2 years ago.
The doorbell went and in a frenzy of flour I went to the door, wine bottle in hand. Well, it might have rolled on the floor. Reluctant to leave the dog in charge of the chocolate was still on the side, I shoved them from the edge, 2 slid, I snatched up the errant bars. Temptation is a cruel thing and rarely resisted by Lolly.
“Ah, Milla,” said the waiting HNW, uniformed and prim, and perfect. "About this tennis ..." a leaflet was in her hand.
She looked me up and down, frowning at my mid-afternoon drink of choice, taking in my snack of choice, processing for later dissection my marriage to the bottle, that wine was my comfort rag, chocolate my prop, necessary both even to answer the front door.
I fish-opened my mouth.
A whispery little “aduki beans” was in there somewhere, chums with “black turtle beans,” but just … wouldn’t come out.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Not AdMen but SadMen

Wednesday night is TV night in the Milla’n’Rottie household, wall to wall pleasure courtesy of “The Apprentice,” Adrian Chiles talks to the You’re Fired candidate, “Desperate Housewives” and “Dexter.”
I couldn’t possibly go out. It’s all so exciting.

The eagle-eyed, and Radio Times-savvy, will compute that a certain amount of recording needs to go on to make feasible this heady feast, so of course it is the stuff on the commercial channels which is DVD’d. This we can then watch on Catchup. For the marvels of modern technology mean that one programme can be being recorded while we watch another FAST FORWARDING through the adverts.
What a lovely phrase that is, fast forwarding through the adverts.
I’m as fond of a good Honda ad as the next person, indeed I worked for the world’s biggest advertising agency a lifetime ago, and I’m gullible to boot, but it’s not enough. It’s not that it’s glossy lie after glossy lie. It’s not merely the personal injury commercials, or the ghastly soi-disant celebrities hamming it up about Iceland or Tesco. What really fuels my rage is the portrayal of family life, at the heart of which seems to reside FuckWit AdDad, his Eye-Rolling Wife and Disdainful Offspring.

Prince FWAD is the hapless fule who stumbles in one day in search of something fairly straight-forward, like a sandwich. Mother is busy being capable, children are doing homework or watching TV or something. All is calm, all works. The scene is set. Who’s going to cock it up, the equilibrium? Who do you think? FWAD wanders in, picks up the bread packet and frowns. What’s wrong, FWAD? Square bread of a sudden? Whiteish brown? Invisible crusts? Bit Of Both? What’s going topsy turvy in breadworld to stump you so? It’s all so very difficult to take in, love, you have the nation’s pity.
Mother rolls her eyes, catches the glance of Disdainful Offspring who raise a tired eyebrow, flare a nostril and do that silent harrumphy thing with their lips expressing a total disbelief in shared genetic material.
Yup, FWAD’s at it again, just can’t cope when the rules change.
Mother patiently explains in idiot speak. This is the clever bit. We sofa monkeys at home, barely able to cling to the simplest of concepts, in need of great help when it comes to leaps forward in breadland, are clearly the ones who need total idiot speak, thus has FWAD had to be invented, to be us – geddit?
What greater punishment can be doled out to middle aged white male, he who has conquered continents in times gone past, won Pulitzers, run large companies, landed on the moon and, er, been President of the United States, than to be the butt of 50% of all current advertising campaigns?

Women it seems have no sense of humour, so they can never have the piss taken out of them or be the butt of anything. We have to watch with our irony meter turned down low while they writhe orgasmic under the effects of a hair conditioner (going where no hair conditioner has gone before), or get down and dirty with a packet of soup, or go doolally over some newly packaged catfud breathing in with a happy simper particulate matter dense with roadkill brain spatter masquerading as Finest Duck. Or are flirted with by Chippendale types, wooed for their approval of a flavour of hot chocolate.
Our presumed need to be “pampered”, and for that pampering to be deemed Job Well Done thanks to a sachet of hot chocolate or a bit of bath oil irritates on so very many levels.
For every discernible reason (starting with “she’s loathsome” and finishing with “and smug”) Advert Woman is generally isolated. Good. No wrinkles, weird hair and friendless. There is a God. She will have a supporting cast (cat, fireman type) but on the whole she is lone, indulging in a love-in with herself, whether roller-skating on the beach, getting too damn personal with a cat, or looking whimsy in a mirror searching for lines which aren’t there: you’re 19! Stop it. FWAD is only allowed to shake off his intrinsic cluelessness and indulge in being manly when he is out in his car for cars, we all understand the rules, are the one place that Men can be Men.

Meanwhile FWAD has found his nadir in the sponsor ID links topping and tailing the ad breaks in “House.” Here we are presented with a familiar face – fat, 40-ish, blokeish, bit stupid, trying to eat something. He fails, naturally, landing him with his leg in plaster. Oh, the comic potential. For still the FWAD pursues tricky things like yoghurts, lurching at them hopelessly with his crutches, chopsticks for the big fat toddler emasculation has made of him. Obviously the yoghurt conspires against him, explodes on the floor rendering FWAD a flailing yoghurt-free zone on the sofa, which calls for Capable Mum to bustle in, sighing, with her Vax to tackle the trashed floor in only the way that Capable Mum can. She doesn’t even seem to mind much being waylaid from her day job of running the world from her kitchen.
There’s a similarly irksome smug individual who explains to a FW how to make tea, using filtered water. I truly dislike her.

It’s not surprising really, since this take on men has seeped into so much actual programming. No series is complete without some patronising, proficient woman mopping up after the great inept, men. In drama series these are called not BossyBoots, but Matriarchs. And virtually every HowTo series on telly is fronted by this ghastly boorish breed, teaching us how to clean, dress ourselves, cook. The sort of thing that mothers used to do without the eye-rolling. Now we need freakshow versions of pantomime mothers and they have to be on television since there is a new perceived truth that parents don’t know anything. The only truth lies on the screen. We’re worth it. But we’re so very stupid now, that we can’t even be trusted to cook properly. Thank God for Delia, an erstwhile by-word in common sense and since self-traduced via a packet of frozen mash into EverySlut incarnate. It’s exhausting, seeking out a truth in these very many representations.

Just as every man in parliament seems to be Scottish, so on TV if men do get a chance to get some action in the bossing around stakes, they have to be seriously gay. I’m thinking of Gok Wan here. The Jeremys are different, because argy bargy with the Scottish brigade and bruiting on about cars clearly call for Real Men so we’re lucky to have Paxman and Clarkson on hand.
But in thriller type programming, rights are restored, here, the producers have failed to realise that straight men are hapless, that they can’t even open a yoghurt or tackle a packet of bread. They’re brutish and mean and hit people. It’s all very confusing.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

The Dentist's Chair Calleth

If you’re anything like me, and I don’t mean merely lite, shallow, venal, horrid and lazy, but stingy and cowardly too, then you’ll hate the dentist’s.
But having cracked a bit of tooth, I had to go. I mean, I Had To Go. I am not so totally stupid as to be able to brush that little one under the carpet.
Indeed, in the intervening 36 hours twixt crack on Saturday night and finding myself prone on a diddy up and downy chair yesterday, I had sufficiently enhanced and advanced my cracked tooth via the various stages of necrotising infection merrily through onto, er, death, for my vanity to take a kick up the bits and force me to book an appointment.
I popped a firm fist round my purse and dialled the number.

I remember my dentist fondly. Not so fondly that I ever really went but fond in the abstract: he was a jolly chap stepping in for a friend of his who had been “totalled” on his motorbike. I didn’t ask if he had qualifications because I didn’t want to hear the answers. He was nice and that was fine and he was steady on the equipment, with no wild gleam in the eye on snatching up the drill or revving the syringe.
I had been forced to move by some sort of warped principle, on the occasion of the callow swine at the place I had frequented since childhood forsaking their national health obligations. Hello, we trained the *astards: I was there handing out leaflets on buckle occludals and obfuscation by alphabetical dental naming – to be read as if reciting the football scores, with even rise and fall – even if you weren’t. So I wasn’t going to drive to Bristol, fail to park, and pay top prices when I could do all that here.
And lo, I found one at which I could park, a modern peril sorted, and, more, I was convinced by its shabbiness. Anywhere that can’t afford to change its door mat is my sort of place, I thought: money stays in the patient’s mouth (if not, sob, their wallet) and isn’t gleaming in the form of a shiny Jag slung outside, number plate: 1BITE.

But in the intervening years, things have changed. Just as irons have morphed, so has even the dowdiest dentist’s palace.
E has long sashayed through the doors of an upmarket establishment, mainly funded, thanks to his dental implants, by us. There, 3 dragons studiously ignore the poor ill-toothed, staying slave instead to their space-age headphones. They raise an importunate stilling finger at the luckless wretch hovering at the desk in favour of attending to the needs of the more important person on the other end of the phone. Needless to say when we are on the other end of that phone, we are put on hold. They battle with, supposedly, sub-standard computer programmes, charge a bomb, bugger off early and breathe fire. The children go there too, because there’s a train set and fish tank. We fiddle with the swishy coffee machine and read magazines smothered in suede covers. So I am used to Modern Dentists.

Things have not got so bad, or so typical, at my dentist’s. No fish. But they remain strangers to the idea of fear, they do not laugh in the face of clutched mouths.
We sat on leather armchairs and waited beneath an enormous decorated round mirror.
I considered moving the children here forthwith. Which was when the receptionist muttered something unpleasant about “most dental practices charging between £18 and £33 per child PER BLOODY MONTH.” The potentially dentally-expensive children did not so much as glance up, planning their scuba-diving trips to the Red Sea, “4 star hotel, I think’s best,” said T11; or, F9, busy besting a baby building toy.

Once in the dentist’s lair and semi-upside down, being pumped to the ceiling, like a butterfly sprawled against a pin, but free at least of the children and their strange ideas of amusement, I was forced to take in a most odd sight, being a television clamped to that same ceiling towards which I was jerking north fast. Bless. Entertainment. Pavarotti in silence, but a distracting focus from the suggestion that I get my teeth realigned, “£3,000 I think,” the dentist cooed. “Is good.”
I had dressed up in case I died on the chair, and I think that the hot chick Swedish dentist appreciated my efforts. She pretended that we were the same age, but this was clearly offensive. To her. She packed in some temporary gubbins and held my shoulder kindly.

In all, I was so entranced by the myriad toys, the, yes, artwork, the wooden floors, the travertine tiles in the loo and the French soap and hand cream pumps, all designed to lull you into thinking you’d fallen into some chi-chi little wine bar and might actually be enjoying yourself, that when the bill came, given the surroundings, it almost felt cheap at half the price. A mere couple of bottles of wine, I thought, handing over that poor battered thing, my credit card. T11 barely looked up from his Egypt holiday brochure and F9 sent the baby toy hurtling to the floor AGAIN, and I all but skipped out and bought myself a cheap Phlox as a recovery present.

I’m not saying I’m looking forward to next week’s visit replete with its smorgasbord of x-rays, deep cleaning and real filling, not to say more mention of how I could spend a spare £3,000 I might have hanging around, but let’s say a lot can happen in 168 hours. I could be bombed, or mugged or run over and if none of that lot happens, I’ll just study the artwork and stare at Pavarotti.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Another One!

Knew that couldn't be it.
Realise that in my original 8, when tagged to do this last June, I had mentioned the road accidents. And then I bring them up again. Durr, obsessed or what.

Anyway, instead of the repeat of the road accidents, what I meant to say is:

We were bombed on the beach once, my beloved and me. Well, not us, exactly. Or at all. Our presence was purely incidental. A load of lesbians down the other end were the target. This was on Lesbos and the poor lesbians were bombed, which seems a bit of a cheek. We up on the straight bit merely got boomed a bit and felt all juddery through our towels, and surprised, and then tromped off to get another glass of wine and rolled over and scowled at the ghastly family nearby letting their kids kick sand at everyone.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Death Comes A Knockin', aka The 7 Things

The 7 things, being mainly about death. Late to my tagging duties as per.

Last year it was Eight Interesting (or otherwise) Things, in grim, recession-bound 2008, we're down to Seven.
Bit of a struggle, frankly, to come up with some more, and fear that of all the things to dwell on, this lot seems mostly regarding blood.

1. I saw a UFO when I was 16. In Spain. It was officially recognised as such the next day in France. So it must be true. For the curious, it was an inverted pink triangle high high in the sky at about 6 in the evening against a vivid blue sky. Oh yes.

2. I have been involved in numerous road accidents, starting at four with being knocked over by a motorcycle and needing stitches in my head.
I sold my moped following the 7th near miss with that particular beast, thinking I’d pushed my luck.
But, even now, I’m still rubbish with roads although, touch wood, I have never caused an accident.
I must be lucky, though, because I was born with a hole in my heart. No chest ripping surgery, just popped in an incubator for a few weeks and right as rain thereafter. Nearly endured death by earring too. On having my ears pierced I fainted three times which was just the start of a short-lived relationships with lobal jewellery. I developed some form of septicaemia and that was nearly that.

3. I once had to operate the Spitting Images eyes of the Princess Fergie puppet. Big horribly rubbery thing and hard work or what.

4. I escaped by the skin of my teeth being dragged into some vile porn film once. Shudder. I blogged about it for the old CL competition thing. The blog had been in fond memory of a dear friend who, er, died. We escaped together through a bathroom window and ran through a coal black South London night. Happy days.

5. I have had millions of miscarriages. Don’t be silly, Milla, learn to count. At least 7 or 8. Vile, painful. Black, dark days. I may blog about the last one, given the mood I’m in, one of these fine days.

6. I worked, as a student, running the bar in private parties at let’s call it a Very Important Hotel in London. Very Hotel Babylon. Was Utterly Shocked when the other bar runners barged in and out of all the rooms the moment the tipsy “clients” waddled off downstairs to scoff in the hall, before re-emerging, even more pissed, to finish what they started. My, ahem, colleagues just started grabbing and tipping away bottle after bottle after bottle of gin, scotch, vodka. We were paid commission, you see, according to what the clients consumed – whether by mouth or down the plug hole. And we were subject to random searches on the way out, rendering theft dodgy. Have to say I never participated. Nor was I searched. Honest, me. And that’s true. Although there was nothing doing but to scoop my share of the commission. Hush money maybe.

7. On my way to one of these work dos, I saw a man killed. He was an American trying to cross Park Lane. Silly man. He looked left instead of right and was tossed in the air by a thundering coach. Like the proverbial rag doll he was until he landed with his knees bent back the wrong way, and his specs 100 yards down the road and his shoes in the central reservation.
I’d seen another killed the minute I turned up in Florence, another man sent flying. The blood from that one you would not believe. It haunts me still. And the sense of my face peering through the railings and my hands gripping at the iron. But I’ve had a soft spot for Jessica from Murder She Wrote ever since. Random deaths DO happen. Just be very afraid when you’re around me …

As usual, am sure I’m the last to do this little one.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Where I Live

I love where I live, although it could give Stepford a run for its money.

Our neighbours have a coat and a broom and a gizmo for every eventuality, whether primly plucking at their window boxes or bent double over their passenger footwells in forensic search of a stray hair to snaffle through their disapproving dustbuster. A dustbuster which has its own rack nailed into the garage wall.
A sunny day such as today will bring the Seniors out in force to primp their pristine flower beds making the air dense with the thrum of lawnmowers. No Sunday morning is complete without the revving of leaf-blowers and the officious clipping of secateurs.
These are gardeners who wear gloves and have tartan kneelers. Tartan has been annexed by the elderly, and given a wipe-clean surface to boot.

The olds do an awful lot of laundry, endless sheets spin daily on the outdoor airers, interspersed with several hundred tea towels. What do they do which leads to so much washing? They have spent good time perusing the inserts in the Mail and Telegraph (the Post Office here only buys in 2 Guardians a day). They have filled in the forms and are now in grateful receipt of tool organisers and multi-pocketed aprons, trugs and trowel sets, different drawers for different nails. Therefore, they put things away properly, rather than hurling things in a corner, which means that they can safely leave their garage doors open to the cruellest of scrutinies. I know, I’ve peered, and it’s eye-opening how other people live. Not in a whirl of chaos, nor amid a riot of half-done jobs, in desperate pursuit of another five minutes. No, what is revealed in my neighbours’ garages is advert life (OAP version) and advert walls suggesting that a frenzied orgy of organisation took place one weekend resulting in A Place For Everything And Everything In Its Place. Not the squalor of badly piled belongings which would constitute our garage had we not turned it into a room. This they find hard to believe.
One actually said plaintively, “Don’t you want a garage?”
“Waste of space, Paul,” I replied heartily, and firmly.
Our parking near to the fence running between our gardens, a fence we paid for, annoys them.

I’m surprised, frankly, that we are allowed to live here.
Our neighbours did try.
While we were on holiday last year, they ganged up and wrote us a nasty letter lamenting our skip and our vans and all the gubbins that conspires to create an extension. I was so upset that I broke a nice glass when I read it. A nice glass that just slipped from my hand in shock.
Prior to that, they’d done their damnedest to ensure we wouldn’t get planning permission. The council read us all their letters.
Then we finished and they have been silenced.
Finally, our drive is nicer than their drives. Na-na-ni-na-na. Our windows are newer. Our lighting more groovy. Our front door solid and substantial. And the house is much bigger. It gleams with Lindab. Our lawn is a sward and a far cry from the Steptoe yard it was for so long. It’s still a dump inside, but they can’t see that and we shut the door quick, leaving them to be confronted with external Bigger and Better. My how they hate it, gnashing their teeth through the grimmest of Hello Theres and waving a trowelled fist at the sky.
God, schadenfruede’s good. Revenge is sweet and best eaten with the tinge of frost that 2 years of renovation involves.

Architecturally, our village is displeasing. A long ribbon road squashed in with all the brick’n’mortar nasties that the ‘60s and ‘70s could throw at it. But every shiny car tings sparkly twinkles in the sunshine, no weed is safe and everyone chirrups Good Morning when I crash past with the dog.

We have a good pub whose every landlord (9 in 14 years, I think) does their best to squander the opportunity afforded by an affluent North Cotswold village. The newest of these refers to the “local” locals as riff-raff. He has invested in barrels and chains and takes a keen interest in monitoring what he calls The Parking Situation.

There is a post office/café/shop presided over by another mad man, this one a glum Mancunian who eye rolls for England and traps you with tales of driving to Spain with 3 dogs, 2 parrots, and a duck. “The feathers!” he breathes, “You would NOT believe!”
The shop is cluttered with tartan shopping trolleys whose owners frown that tea is a penny more expensive here than at Tesco, or tut at children fisting flying saucers and white mice into the little counting trays; lying on the floor they hinder the elderly from roaming in free-fall disapproval. There are almost as many children in the village as oldsters so it’s a battle which can run and run. I got in frequently to make unnecessary purchases feeling it my duty to keep the place going. You have to factor in that buying a lemon can take 45 minutes.

And there is a most excellent primary school. A sad man tries to break in most weeks, and recently made a sorry, ham-fisted attempt to kidnap a child. The police were too busy handing out parking tickets to bother making it out here. The man waited politely for an hour or two to be arrested and then gave up and went home.

In the playing field, tucked behind the village hall, is a sub-standard play area for tinies, complete with plaque detailing the opening ceremony honours. I must have read it a thousand times and I still couldn’t tell you who cut the ribbon. Ditto the dedications on the benches.
There is a petanque square, and a cricket square and grimy nets, and a big field for footie and for general hanging around on. There are trees and a stream and other fields to run to. 2 tennis courts are in the far corner where I am often to be found playing a game of chat, while admirable elderlies on the other court huff and puff and sprint and dash and then say things like, “Fancy a cuppa, Jill?” at the end of it which always makes T11 guffaw if he’s lurking.

Our house is fairly horrid, and the first new house we have owned. It is, however, half hidden in a corner yet still in the middle of the village which suits my nosey needs perfectly, and ensures that I can keep up with what’s what.
We shifted the driveway around deciding that being able to park a dozen cars there was kind of irrelevant, but can do nothing about pulling the rug on the house’s spot in the plot. Maddeningly, we have a mere 20’ strip across the back but more out the front which is a waste. You wonder about the wisdom of builders sometimes, or we do, having had massive exposure to dubious decisions.
Built about 30 years ago, it was butchered by the ruination of lazy neglect when we bought it from a batty old trout who waved her broom at our removal men, wouldn’t get out and when she did, hours late, left behind a shedload of rubbish. This called for the first in a long line of skips.
Painfully, we have dragged the house into the twenty first century along with the usual uphill struggle that new ownership entails, replacing carpets and windows and doors and knocking down walls and building extensions and installing new bathrooms and kitchen and fireplace and flooring. Wires await a home cinema (we’re bad with cinema audiences: rustling, chatting, crunching, texting, slurping) but we ran out of money, as dangling cables in the ceiling attest, so it’s no films for us for a while.

Cash has haemorrhaged from our account. The numbers, in negative, are scary. I dare not tell the children that their inheritance has become walnut and granite.
But every day, when I walk into our gorgeous new kitchen and look out over the field at the back I could weep with gratitude. It’s not a proper, magaziney view, being a mere field, although knowledgeable people impress by being able to name the hills beyond, but I love it. And a big sky we get with such a view, domed as if to keep us in one of those snowstorm things, and Disney birds bouncing from feeder to feeder lark around outside. Plus, of course, it’s somewhere to sling the dog turds.