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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

brmm brmm

Phut. Came a noise and the car went dark, as the electrics went kaput. Suddenly bereft of any chance of aimless fiddling, the only things I wanted to do were play the radio, light a fag and fiddle with the electric mirrors. None of these fine pastimes were to be mine.

True loss, however, came in driving around. I no longer knew what time it was (lost Swatch), and, more importantly, I no longer knew where I was because Tom-Tom didn’t work. The fag lighter is used just for Tom-Tom (so don’t get your wig wet, father) and here I was, stranded wherever I was which, sadly, was Gloucester. Gloucester for those lucky enough not to know, is twinned in motoring spirit with Swindon (home of the mini-roundabout). It majors in proud provision of characterless dual carriageways and big scary roundabouts. The kind to have traffic lights on them so that you can’t slide round to the third exit; instead you have to do it in staggered jumps to reach the right lane each time. Really rather scary.

I made it to a Halfords, like the Jews to the promised land, thinking, like my idol the little red hen, that I would do fix it all by myself. Fool. Halfords got ready to laugh. They paved the way with signs saying they could fit bulbs and things. At a charge.
I strolled busily to the fuse section and stared, like the dog at a Latin primer at the stuff on offer. All so confusing. A book on fixing a Cortina circa 1983? no probs. A plethora of air fresheners in a range of designs? Be my guest. A fuse for a vaguely modern car? No way, sucker.

So I went to find a man. There were none; and then there were 2, demonstrating baffling teamwork with a roll of tape where none seemed needed. I smiled as if at two Teletubbies, and started my explanation.
“Can’t help you, ‘fraid,” one smirked, “We’re work experience.” The ‘sorry’ came as an afterthought, delivered with a tone close to mirth. Pissed off customer? Job well done. The lad clutched his roll of tape importantly. My smile stiffened into something sickly and not entirely pleasant.

I found the desk.
Two lads were chatting by the till.
"Don’t let me interrupt you,” I said eventually, nice with a little ice. I launched back into my explanation.
“Oh we can’t help you,” one said.
“God forbid,” I said, “Silly me.” The boldness conferred upon a middle aged woman denied access to her Tom-Tom via a teeny tiny fuse and a bored jobsworth.
“I mean, we can. But we have to charge you.”
But of course.

So I strode from the shop in a WTF way, scuttled homewards, bowed to the inevitable, and called in on the dealership. DIY proving yet again to be a waste of bloody time.

The dealership has been taken over by a smarter car-breed since last time and accessing it off the, yup, dual carriageway called for lots of swearing, missed stabs at the slipway and dangerous u-turns. In I went to this vaulted glass palace with its marble floors and maple coffee tables, its playstations and spreads of magazines – Lexusland or MercCity or whatever it is – feeling scruffy and out of place. A sentiment possibly echoed by the Service Manager who bustled over swishily as if about to invite me to dance while at the same time doing his damnedest to steer me into a dark corner. I nearly curtsied.

“What seems to be the problem?” he purred.
I told him. I said that there was no ‘seemed’ about it, but that a fuse had blown and could I buy a new one, please.

He sashayed off to consult his screen, peering with due importance over half moon specs and tapping at the keyboard with a manicured mitt.
“Gavin?” he trilled. Gavin fetched Mike. They muttered.
Mike lent Shakespearean sorrow to the proceedings. He knew his place and maybe didn’t mingle much with such as the Service Manager. He bent mournfully over an oily rag which he fed from hand to hand and said that it would be an hour before they’d have a chance even to look at the car; only he didn’t call it a look, he called it Undertaking A Diagnostic Survey. Which would take at least an hour.

Dancing Service Manager let me hear all this and then said it again, since we all know that monkeys with rags don’t impart useful information to customers, even if they are plebs, only Service Managers do this.
“I don’t think it needs one of those,” I said, “it’s a fuse.”
“We’re not ruling a fuse out,” he said, glancing at Mike in an urgent, important, manly, way for corroboration, “But we’ll need to Undertake A ...”
“A Diagnostic Survey,” I finished.
“Yes,” he said.
“Which will take at least an hour?” I said.
“Yes,” they both said.
“So, we’re looking at how much?” I asked
“What’s it likely to cost?”
“Hard to say at this stage. It depends on the Diagnostic Survey, which is at least an hour and then … would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Forget it,” I said slightly tersely, springing into my WTF stride again and thrilling myself by managing the big glass doors without weeping or trapping my hand.

I vowed to get used to no Tom-Tom, no fiddling with mirrors, no clock, no CD, but it was hard going and the journey home was a long ten minutes.

I called in, on spec, at the local garage. It’s a bit of a mess, with no work experience, no entrance hall, no tea and coffee, no magazines. But, lo, a man in a shirt and tie bounded out helpfully from the portacabin hut.

What strange set up was this? No being avoided, ignored, patronised or passed down the line. Weird.
“Let’s take a look,” he said. See! A look. All I wanted was a look.

I played hand maiden to his He-Man and we fiddled with the glove compartment and located the fuse box hidden high above it, and he prised it out and stared it and then said, “Give me a minute.”
Then he ran back to me, like a chap in an advert and inserted the fuse and smiled and said, “Start her up then.”
So I did and all the lights and the mirrors and the clocks and the radio came beaming into life and I smiled the smile of the easily pleased and sighed a happy sigh.

“Thank you so much!” I gushed.
He looked a little surprised at my pleasure.
“It’s been a long afternoon,” I said. “Let me know what I owe you?”
“For a fuse?” he said, puzzled. “Nothing at all.”

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


If a turd had to be anywhere indoors then it’s best that it was on the coir matting and relatively intact. Important to start the day with a good omen. Lolly gave me a “yeah? What of it?” look, smacked her chops, stretched until her paws skidded on the floor, and squeak-yawned. I can’t begin to describe what an irritating combination that is, and her favourite trio of moves. Then she shook, and I closed my eyes with a hunched shudder to the invisible splatter hurtling towards clean walls. She stood, thoroughly pleased with herself.

Having fallen foul (ho) of dog turds the other day, I am raw with recent faecal experience. I had weeded the driveway, then tottered down the side of the house towards the compost bin, carefully keeping a wary eye out for turds blending cunningly with the gravel since, God, can that dog ever create! Another cause to ponder, just what’s in it for me?
It’s got to be 2 or 3 a day she squeezes out, the product of the toxic plops from a tin I ladle faintly into her bowl. The things for which my degree comes in handy.

My mother does it bigger and better. Not only is their dog the size of an old-fashioned caravan, but she’s reached her incontinent phase (dog, not mother; we’re talking seas of wee) and she has to be fed by hand. Tripe, or chicken breasts, and mars bars. What with the hamsters (yes, now plural) turning their tiny pampered snouts up at anything less than Waitrose tenderstem broccoli, their pets cost more to feed than they do.

“Yes,” my mother said, “I picked up some good reduced things from Waitrose today, though.”
Every penny helps when you’re haemorrhaging cash having the extension knocked down.
“I feel a bit guilty,” she said. “It’s your inheritance.”
“I rather think you have first call on it,” I said, “Spend away. Anyway, what were your bargains?”
“A Thai chicken curry for your father, 95p and a, well this doesn’t sound actually very nice but it will do two meals, a parsnip and carrot mash for 65p for me.”
Unpleasant, but with the added benefit of stretching to 2 meals. Who can resist?
“The dog can always have it,” I said.
Her silence suggested that it wouldn’t be good enough for the dog.

I trod shy of the landmines of fresh turds and slung the weeds at the compost bin. At which point, something fast and dark and, gulp, rat-shaped, heat-missiled itself out of the bin, through the hole at the back and on to where it belongs, which is next door.
I stepped back … into a turd. Nice shoes, too.

I discussed it with my mother. We decided it was a mouse. Possibly a big mouse. The R word is not used. But, where is the justice in any of that? A good deed cruelly repaid. Shit on the shoes taking 20 mins to clean off. Yum. A similar smack around the face by fate’s careless hand occurred when I bent down, once inside, to do some unnecessary sweeping and a cupboard door swung open from nowhere to smash into my head. The conspiracy of inanimate objects to piss you off.

Out on the walk, the talk is of the 800 new houses planned to link 2 villages: neither of which wants linking. They will go in nearby fields which “flood once in a thousand years” (environmental agency). Surface water gathering after a 20 minute shower doesn’t count; that it is more or less a flood area doesn’t count. The wretched crew of that irritating Blears woman rubber-stamped half of it on a whistle stop tour (the image of her in her leathers on a bike floats unbidden to mind).
Last week, we went to an interface session or whatever they called it at the village hall. E was too angry to stay. I spoke to a nervous young sacrificial lamb booted and suited and wheeled out from the PR company to deal with us enraged villagers, all of us quick to snarl and jealously guard. He hovered near flipcharts which detailed the proposed rape of our countryside.

“What about all the extra cars?” I said. “Come 20 to 8 in the morning the roads are already all clogged; there’s no employment here, everyone has to travel to get to work as it is.”
“Ah,” he said, Pleased That I Had Asked; he bounced a finger in the air to show so. “We’ve established that, at outwards time, point three of a vehicular unit per dwelling will be added to the flow.”
What?” I said (so much to enrage here). “Please. Say car, not vehicular unit.”
Outwards time? Point fucking three. Flow! “800 houses means 1600 cars,” I said, “and if they’re not driving to work, they’re driving to the schools – which are already full – where does point three of a car come into it?”
“We’ve consulted a survey,” he beamed.
“Commissioned by the End User?” I asked, nastily slipping into bollocks-speak.
“By an industry standard, as it goes, a company called TRICS,” he said, proudly.
Tricks? Nuff said. I filled in a form, blackening it with the dire poetry of my upset.

“No one wants it! Mr Lovely suggests setting up barriers, guns, a sort of passport control,” confessed Mrs Lovely. “I suppose we’re not allowed to think that sort of thing.”
“Your daughters could man it,” I suggested.
“Don’t! I want them put into Care,” she said. “We’re quite nice; and the children just aren’t.”

Mrs Very Rich’s 2 are at one of the smartest schools in the country. “They eat like pigs,” she said. “Pasta by hand!”
”Curry by hand!” trumps Mrs Lovely.
“Soup by hand?” I asked, really rather pleased with it all. My father is Table Manners Taliban and is shocked by our two’s manners. But at least they, generally, use knives and forks and sit facing the table.
“Soup?” Mrs Lovely gave me a look. Don’t be silly, Milla.
It’s almost worse when they do use cutlery,” Mrs VR said of her 17 year old. “Grabs the fork with her fist and shovels, chin to the plate. Talks with her mouth full, the lot. Disgusting.”
We laugh.

Mrs Gossip sidled up, torn between wanting to slag off her children and store up ammunition against the rest of us. She settled for both, “Oh, you’re so lucky, having just boys, Milla,” she said dismissively. “Sounds like yours are a handful?” she wheedled hopefully, turning a face towards the others.

I had seen Mrs Anxious earlier on, waving, bleakly at the backs of her two sons receding into the distance, trudging up to school. “Not allowed to walk up with them,” she explained.
F10’s slippery little hand had clutched mine the harder. We always walk up together. T13 always happily kisses us goodbye when dropped off at his bus. I thought of that now, smug before a fall maybe.

“Oh,” said Mrs Lovely, “Lulu! In town, I’m not allowed to acknowledge her, or her friends. Can't say hello. No. I have to turn the radio off as we draw up to school. Wind the windows up, everything. Not allowed to exist.”
Mrs Gossip nodded happily.
“It’s probably something or other to do with what they’d call identity and separation and stuff,” I said wisely, a long evening with a psychobabble friend still in the memory. “They’ll be back, they’ll be great later. Don’t you worry.”

The dogs, known – we like to think affectionately – as the hooligans, were munching on a fat old crow (dead). Tossed feathers fluttered in the air. The dogs hawked and chomped and sneezed. Everyone shrieked and attempted fat lady runs up the hill, inept scaredogs in inefficient motion. By some miracle of miracles it was Mrs Gossip’s foot which landed in the cow pat.

Friday, 11 September 2009


Mr and Mrs Very Rich were knocking back the wine, and chortling, so presumably it was in pleasure rather than mere search of oblivion.
I was still giving thanks that, on their arrival, I hadn’t bobbed a curtsey and mumbled, “welcome to my ‘umble abode, sirr.” Nor had I snatched, too greedily, the stunningly beautiful and enormous bunch of flowers and the 2 bottles of wine which aren’t the stuff of 3 for a tenner.

For, in a moment of temporary weakness (other alcoholic beverages are available), I had seen my hand straying towards the mobile and from there texting Mrs VR asking if they’d like to come to supper and, be careful what you wish for, with obscene haste, they were saying YES. Just like that, in full-on, shouty CAPS. Finally I understood Victorian ladies and their propensity for fits of the vapours.

“What should we bring?” she asked.
I understood; they weren’t used to consorting with proles and needed a clue to our primitive little ways. Or, God, perhaps she thought I needed help, that I needed courses bringing.
“At the risk of sounding like an Alcoholic Annie, just yourselves and a bottle of wine,” I said.

Round about now 2 more ‘yes’s pinged into my phone. Bugger. T12 (T13 since yesterday) was having little mates for a sleepover that night, too. I felt like the Buckeroo donkey with a couple of extra pans on my back.

Mr and Mrs V Rich's house is the one with 2 downstairs lavatories, both featuring fireplaces; with a laundry room; an ironing room; a food room; a boot room; a utility room; a room for the children; a 70’ kitchen; 3? 4? 5? receps; a conservatory – but not as we know it. 3 staircases. I've not been up any of them.
If they’re not just off to South Africa on holiday, it’s because they’re on their way to Australia. Or France, or Canada, or Switzerland, or Cyprus, or the Caribbean or Tunisia. And that’s just in the last year. They are delightful, but there is something about such disparity of wealth which unnerves. They wouldn’t see themselves as rich at all. The pecking order totters upwards ever unto Midas.

We’ve been shovelling friends through, you see, those to whom we owe dinner. Ten at a time for weeks. We’d let it slip. Never again, not in such industrial quantities. (Despite any gross churlishness exhibited here, let it be understood that I am extremely fond of my friends. I just wish cheese sandwiches was all it took. I doubt, please? that I'm alone in this.)

Since there was the requisite vegetarian due, I was settling for dinky little canap├ęs (of which I am pathetically proud), then a fish curry and a prawn curry, followed by pavlova, and a chocolate/coffee/cardamom thing that I made up by chance which sounds disgusting but isn’t.
The idea being that the lot tastes really quite good, but looks effortless. In order to look effortless I had had to start deveining prawns at lunchtime, a grim task which makes my legs itch. But all in the name of looking just knocked up.
Just knocked up had gone on the week before, too, or rather it hadn’t.

Another 10 had shuffled through the portals. A celiac one of the crew that time, along with that weekend’s vegetarian. This always makes me fret – is wheat in rice? I find myself asking, in eggs? Will she be dead by midnight and us kept up late waiting for the ambulance.
All was going well until doling up time when Mr Veg sidled up and said, “You do realise that Mrs Veg is a vegetarian?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, waving a patronising and boastful paw over my old friend the fish and prawn curries.
“No,” he said, and, friends, never has a No been invested with such lashings of pity, scorn and embarrassment, a small word which can burst at the seams with meaning. “No,” he said with studied patience, “A vegetarian. Not a [mere] pescatarian.”
“Oh,” I said, hushed, “a real vegetarian?”
“Yes,” he said. “I should have said. I saw you ladling meat [meat??!] in and should have said.” Then, “I thought you knew? You’ve always got it right before.”
Got it right.

FUCK! What I thought I knew, from a summer’s long experience, was that all vegetarians ate fish these days, besides not being above a spot of bacon or even chicken if the mood or vino took them. But no, I’d found a purist; serendipity explaining away past success. Buggeration and bollocks to it all.
“Can you just knock up a risotto?” he asked.
I love that ‘just.’
“I’ve just ‘knocked up’ this,” I said, “No!” (Believe me, it takes something approaching skill to insert italics AND 'quote marks' and bold into one short sentence.)

Knocked up, my arse. But fortune, or rather my earlier ineptitude, forsook its smirk and momentarily smiled on me. I spotted the little pile of vegetables I’d prepared for the curries, and then duly forgotten to sling in, and chucked them hasty into a pan, and swirled them round with a spoon.
“A bit of garlic?” he suggested. “Some bouillon?”

Some bad-tempered garlic was produced. I pretended to study the label of something or other in a bottle to eliminate the evils of a stray percentage of anchovy, claw or hoof and then shook some of that, whatever it was, in as well, and tipped the lot onto the rice.

“Milla,” hailed Mrs Veg, oblivious to my panic and waving a pleased fork rather wildly, “this is lovely.”
'Lovely' clearly means different things in vegetarian-land. It means serviceable, functionable, edible. All the ‘-ble’s. Just no bull. Ho.

Spooling forward, the day following Mr and Mrs Very Rich’s dining experience chez nous, I bumped into her, out with the dogs.
“Thank you so much!” she trilled, grasping my wrist. “We had a marvellous time!”
I preened everso slightly and might have gone a little pink. It had gone well, tank feck and God knows one thing I am alive to is nuance of disaster. An over-cooked prawn can give me conniptions for weeks, living on cruelly in that grim tease, my memory.
In the distance, Mrs Gossip loomed near. I dreaded her knowing that she’d been left out of something. Well you would, with a name like that.

“Shh,” I hissed, edging my head in explanation. What a waste, I was in need of a wallow, some basking in praise, some run-throughs of how wonderful I was.
She swept on. “But I just must say, I had no idea Mr VR was so very drunk! He nearly fell in the stream on the way home.”
I laughed. It was funny. A pitch black field, a stile, a stream, a bottle suddenly regretted, a slither of an expensive loafer. Besides which I had barely being able to lift the clanking recycling box that morning.

“You couldn’t tell,” I said. “He seemed fine.”She took this for proof that I, too, had but a hazy recollection of the night before. Wrong. Fear sharpens the senses.
(Mrs Gossip was all but upon us.)

“Well,” she said, collapsing her hands with a slap on her thighs, “that’s a relief, because he was SO embarrassed at talking about … you know … money!”
“It was fine,” I said – it had been one hell of an eye-opener. Fascinating.
She looked appalled: I had remembered! Oh, yes. Someone else’s turn to don the hair jacket of The Night Before.
“Very interesting,” I said, but what does it matter? “I’ve never been so close to all those millions. So many noughts, and none of them mine.”
Mrs Gossip beamed the face of one alive to a nugget, a scrap of a story. Mrs VR just goldfish popped her mouth, widened her eyes in a silent scream, and smiled the tight smile of one exposed.

"What are you 2 chatting about?" asked Mrs Gossip, with a caring syrup I have grown to dread.
"Nothing," we both said. A little too loudly.