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Friday, 14 November 2008

less is more

“As long as we’re alright for cheesy footballs, Ian, we can do without Twiglets.” A stout and purposeful arm, clanking with gold bracelets, which poked from a raggedy purple cardigan, stretched forward and toppled 3 tubes of cheesy footballs from the shelf into the basket on her knee, crushing a bumper pack of Wotsits already nestled in the bottom. There was a serious cheese-food-type-stuff deal going on here. This was a woman who knew what was what and was happy to speak her mind. “No-one goes a bundle on twiglets. Not these days. So that’s a no, Ian. Cherryade.”

I longed to linger, and feigned an alibi of interest in the wholesome biscuits on the dull side of the aisle, the one which no-one in our Tesco’s bothers with much.
Mr Wheelchair pusher, Ian, was about to enter the fray. It looked like he wasn’t ready for cherryade yet, indeed that he had a thing or two to say about Twiglets, and their place at the modern party; that, frankly, he was fed up with the whole Empowerment thing. Push your own chair, witch.

But I’ve noticed I’m not so good as I think I used to be at loitering unobtrusively. I’m afraid I stare, slack-jawed in fascination now. That fantastic certainty. It’s only a matter of time before I bring my own chair, or am actually squatting there, begging for the low-down, chipping in my tuppence-worth. My dark glasses are only so good as a disguise, they’re not quite the invisibility cloak I fondly imagine.

While I was down that end of the store, reluctant as I was to tear myself away, I thought I might as well get a present for T12’s friend, whose party it is tomorrow.
Ever the dilemma: to spend absolutely as little as possible while making it appear generous. To this end, I have tempting tussles with unsuitable items which attract but merely fulfil the cheap bit: Teach Yourself Typing DVD, anyone? or, venturing further afield, what’s more appealing than a bumper pack of sellotape for a pound, or value toner for the printer (dented packaging), or who can resist 3-for-2 on ankle socks? So what if they're pink; get over it. Surprising gifties perhaps for today's 12 year old boy, but, hey, I don’t know him. That's secondary school for you. All I do know is that I can’t mention it to Mrs NP since her boy’s not invited (the pressure, the potential for tears) and that this party represents 30 of the 90 miles E and I have to drive to and from Gloucester tomorrow. Rugby take. Rugby collect. Party. Hang around and wait. Sigh. I lament the good old days when all they cared about was the wrapping paper. Tears and tantrums and torn tissue.

It takes hours saving money, steering a path through the dross, but at least I can park. Although now I sound like my grandfather. If he wasn’t showing a touching interest in where we’d slung the motor, he was desperate to know when we were leaving; the two topics segueing into each other at close quarters, clashing clumsily like dodgems, leaving not much time in the middle to validate ones arrival. If we were feeling very cruel, we’d say, “Car? Can’t remember.” His sense of panic was palpable.

The football coach had trapped us at the school gate this morning, banging on about time management. Too late to get away, hampered by politeness, never quite sharp enough to turn a pause in the conversation into a gap big enough to leave in, I stood trying not to catch anyone’s eye. Manners are a pain in the neck.

“Only 168 hours in the week,” he announced, rocking on his heels. “Richard Branson doesn’t get any more. Never has. Doesn’t waste time on the EIRM, the Electronic Income Reducing Machine in the corner, see. The television,” he added, sensing our failure to get with the program. “40 hours a week the average person spends watching TV.”
“Well I do watch ‘Spooks’ AND ‘Top Gear’ on a Sunday,” the kind, dim mother offered anxiously.
He’d been on a course. The coach, not Richard Branson, or, God Forbid, DumbMum. Time Management. Loved it. He must be the only person in Britain happy on courses.

Nice but dim mother was frowning over the 168 hours bit.
“7 days x 24 hours,” I hissed helpfully.
Her frown deepened. “When?” she said.

“It’s all about HPOAs,” he said, warming to his theme.
We all looked blank.
“High Pay-Off Activities,” he explained. “Rather than,” he counted on his fingers, “LPOAs.”
We could all guess that one. Well, apart from the really dim mother, who cocked her head like Lolly.
Lolly was struggling with all this, too, mainly our inability to grasp bollocks when we could be out striding through horse shit, swapping one load of excrement for another. She could spot a Low Pay Off Activity before her nose, see time slipping through her paws. I feared she might start humping me, her idea of time well spent. Since being spayed, she has gender realignment issues. The carpenter suffered greatly yesterday.

“Basically you’ve got to delegate. Sort your goals, and delegate.“
There’s not much delegation goes on when you’re bottom of the food chain, where ‘goals’ boils down to Buy Oranges and Hang Up Washing. It’s chaps what go on courses and who learn to add up that get to grasp the right end of the delegation'n' goals stick. Still, a girl can try.
I mocked a handing over of Lolly’s lead to him, Sassy Welsh Mother from the PTA did the same with her bag of gubbins: 95,000,000 Pudseys to be cut out for Fun Activities this afternoon.
“Can’t hang around here chatting,” he said, demonstrating most admirably both closure and the refusal to be delegated himself.

I settled on a boxset of 3 DVDs for £6. Vaguely Boysy and one of which, ‘Happyness,’ was being sold separately for £8. Bargain. £2 saved, and just the 20 minutes wasted. That’s an episode of The Simpsons when it was on the BBC part of the EIRM.
I stood in the queue near enough to peer over at Ian and Mrs Purple Cardi. Cheesy footballs were spinning on the conveyor belt, jostling with hulking bottles of Cherryade. Despite the triumph of the passable DVD, I was made inexpressibly sad to see that no twiglets had made it.
The Maund is Dite means, of course, The Basket is Ready. Full of cheesy footballs and primed to party.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

the maund is dite

Me and the fat bag of fur have been out walking.

She is dim, and slow to equate lusty jumping in the stream with the concomitant horrors of the hose when we get home. It is a brutal business requiring a bought-in dedication to the task of cleanliness, and leaving us both soaked and harrowed and nursing resentment one against the other.
Once thoroughly wet, Lolly is in a better position to absorb sawdust. Oh good.
For finally, expensively, desperately we are on the last leg of our house improvements, namely the hurling of banisters and an inner wall thing into the skip and resurrection of much the same, only hopefully nicer and involving scary cheques. The carpenter has just been quoted £1000 for root canal work, and I fear for our Extras bill.
But soon we will be civilised again.
Damn, the downside is that I'll have to start hoovering on a serious basis. And me with an A in Greek ‘O’ Level. That it’s come to this.

Only 2 of us took it, Greek, schooled by a vicious old trout who had been a vicious old trout when she'd taught my mother Latin 20 years before. And when I say only 2 of us took it, really it was only me, since the other girl was plagued by convenient migraines. Particularly on double Greek day. Even now, because of this, the name Felicity is sullied somewhat. Lightweight. Migraine, my arse.
I would stare, wretchedly, at the happy souls sauntering into mere Greek Civ, the easy one, with stories, in English. And with a heavy heart trudge solo to rendezvous with the old trout, who was slow to smile, quick to criticise and found tiresome the little things I would do to cause merry diversion. Just call me Bunty.
Never did she chortle at the chalk tin, poised precariously on the flap of the raised desk, ready to fall and reverberate when her tread went upon the step scattering dusty chalk and clanging tin, and not once did she see the wit in trapping the cat in the desk and playing Hunt The Miaow. Even now, both memories cause happy sighs. We had to find our fun where we could in those days, remember; no daytime TV, no internet. Time could drag in a quite extraordinary fashion.

Luckily my mother (clever) had taken Greek O Level a couple of years earlier. It was the same course and all. Handy. She'd got an A. She was one to watch, and copy.
I consulted her exercise books, tiptoeing into the room where they lay, avoiding creaking floor boards. Initially it was purely under the guise of 'checking my work' but pretty soon I learnt to bypass the whole “ὁ ἡ το, τον την το” do-it-myself process, and just copied the lot before sidling off to watch Banana Splits, a fine piece of programming my mother and I never quite agreed on. Her critical thinking involved the off button, mine the aggrieved squawk.

The old trout was resentfully impressed by my homework, and had to give me ticks which must have hurt. But things became trickier when the curriculum split, the trout selected different texts and thus we reached The Maund is Dite stage. This refers to Loeb, translations bound in green (or red for Latin) and useful primarily for amusement value (amusement value of a most relative kind, it must be stressed, for, really, Loeb / Banana Splits? Loeb / Grange Hill? Decisions decisions). In Loeb, not only were tricky, nasty things like homosexuality consigned to the footnotes but, to fit syntactically, the translators dipped heavily into arcanity, pursuing scansion over sense and making the English frequently more difficult than the Greek. But still one read on, fuelled by a compulsion to cheat, to grab the easy route rather than struggle girlfully, to grapple with The Text. And in one such, we were informed that the maund is dite. I think it was about then that I gave up on my brief affair with Loeb. Sometimes it really is just easier to do the work than avoid doing it.

What exactly is a maund and what does is diteness mean? I could get existential and ask what does anything mean. Instead, I’ll tell you tomorrow.
Meanwhile I want to be here again:

Want sun. Bored of cold weather by now. And dark mornings. And the sound of hammering. (And why does the formatting change on Blogger without you telling it to?)
So to this end I have been disturbing myself with looking through photos on the computer. It’s that or fret about Laura being voted out of The X Factor.

This is one of a series in which the boys decided to marry each other, in and out of an old top I'd glittered up when one of them was a fairy in the school play. Sometimes the past can snap round and bite you on the nose and it's painful. Those days have slipped through my fingers like the cat from the desk.

Otherwise, my hands are cold and I'm a bit bored: there's lots I want to blog about, but can't. Self censorship means that although my head is teeming with neighbours and friends, sisters-in-law and the man at the post office, they have to remain mere fine phrases buzzing, going nowhere, confined by sense and manners, 2 things I struggle with.
The fear of being stumbled upon is great so there's too much one cannot say, but dare not risk going further than the whispers of, "Bits. Of me teeth. Dropping off me. Like from a glacier. I'm on medication." Nor can I mention the ducks in his bath, ("The feathers! You wouldn't believe!") That's the man in the post office. The waste of him is painful. I gnash my own super dooper gnashers in frustration.

Nor can I expand on what’s behind snatches of conversation, like
"She said, 'I've bought her a shrug,'" E said, and then asked me, "What's a shrug?"
"An inefficient cardigan," I said.
"Christ," he said, "starts half way up the back? What's she thinking of, it's in December."
And that’s a shame, too. The full story's funny.

No wonder I'm dogged off, bogged off, blogged off.
If I could, I’d skew 'em all slightly and turn them into a novel. But I'm moronically faithful to a tee, my imagination is stuck in mud and I can't do it: these characters, my family and friends and shopkeepers, are so perfect as they are that to tweak them, to give my sister in the law the rotting teeth rather than a penchant for purchasing strange knitwear, just wouldn't work at all. And to contemplate post office man edging his meaty shoulders into a shrug is just de trop. My maund is dite, overflowing even (now there’s a clue) and I can't use it.

I’m left with the dog, and God knows that’s not something I would wish on anyone, even the old trout.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

scared? yup. and found wanting

The devil was kind last night and left me alone. I was growing fearful of going to bed so this was good.
It happened on Friday. Hallowe’en if you believe in that kind of thing - and I never have before - when I was woken, presumably by a child, and lay there crossly knowing that that was that. It was 4 am. I consoled myself with the normal guff that it didn’t matter, I was resting, it was good Thinking Time, etc etc, but the truth was that I was cross; a dream had been lost and I like a good dream.
The room was quite hot thanks to our defunct heating system. Being brand new and efficient, it doesn’t work reliably. Before going to bed, I busily turn off the timer and down the thermostats, to about ten, just to labour the point. Come 2 in the morning the radiators are fit to fry eggs on. Another thing to fume about. So I did, creating angry letters in my head.

And then I felt it. A truly malign presence just to my right rustled out of nowhere. Just hovering there. I did not need to look to know it was the devil. And I did not look because I was frightened beyond any normal sense of fear, worse than when I was attacked in a locked underground carpark. Worse than half way through childbirth, half out, half in. Bleak, soul-destroying, defeated fear, a capitulation with any sense of self denied.
I could sense but not see dark red and black.
I lay pole-axed in terror, thinking that if I barely breathed he would go, that I would be spared from having to deal with it, that I could evade it. I like evasion. Seconds spent in denial are seconds I don’t have to act.
But he didn’t, he stayed there, very still, and I did not know what to do. So I set up a rapid account with God and crossed myself busily and endlessly, muttering like a possessed loon in a film from the ‘70s. I was feeling by now a quite enormous pressure on my torso which I visualised for no good reason as large tubes of air woven haphazardly, strewn casually by the devil and constituting a killing pile. I felt myself sinking and mashed and helpless. Unable to breathe. I continued to cross myself. And all this time I was awake.

Time passed, maybe half a minute. Don’t laugh. Think back, that’s a long time in a chemistry lesson, or being crushed by the devil. Then it passed. The devil evaporated and I could go to sleep again. He was there and then he was gone, and the fear went, too, although I continued to lie very still.

Bold stuff appears in quotes – oh, yes, I’ve been on-line – about the devil. Confident lies where the boastful claim of despatching him or shaming him, of the routing of him by fair means. Shakespeare reckons the devil is seen by the poet, the lover and the lunatic. A cheering thought when you know which prong of the triangle you’ve been left.
My inner Cowardly Lion would like to re-write events, to say that I saw him off. But we both know that that ain’t true. So instead I ticker-taped through my recent history trying to establish what I might have done to deserve this. Or was it the product of an accrual of unpleasantnesses, mean thoughts, glowers at Lolly, small irritations resulting in this visitation? Had Lolly herself had a paw in it? Anything's possible, the rules seem to have changed and it would be just like her having a hotline to hot places.
I’m more of a carrot girl, as a rule (praise is us), than one who responds to a stick but I felt cowed and chastened and don’t like it much.

The next night I placed my mobile phone by the alarm clock. E is stern about things like mobile phones and unnecessary use thereof. Texters had always had a special place in hell reserved for them. Such imagery no longer amuses.
“It’s in case the devil comes,” I said. “I might need to call someone.”
It sounds stupid, but it was about all I could think of. T12 would understand. He’s a child to derive comfort and security (and too many renditions of Scouting For Girls) from tawdry plastic.
I would offer, naturally, Lolly as some sort of sacrifice, should that be the devil’s bag. I can see her on an altar, fulfilling a greater purpose. But he didn’t ask and she meanwhile seems to suffer no such visitations. Is this fair? Indeed, just now, ha, how much self control can one person exercise? I had to walk past her. She was asleep in her basket, splayed, steeped in that familiar stench of satisfied eau de dead badger following a ninety minute romp with her friend near the race course (gratitude sent my way? none). I was carrying a spade through the hall. As you do. The sweet juxtaposition never realised: fetid beast, sharp blade, a marriage made in heaven divorced before the banns were published.
Ah me.
Who would know? The devil would know. Foul thoughts scare me now. I must go and charge my phone. That and lock in the shed the temptation of a shiny spade.