I'm sure you wouldn't, but:

Protected by Copyscape Unique Content Check

Friday, 20 February 2009

all I really want

“I’ve decided what I’m going to be when I grow up,” T12 said.
“Oh yes?” I said.
“Yes. An actor. Or an architect. Or a lawyer. Or a prostitute.”

F10 lay on his back, in his dark glasses and dressing gown, an elephant glove puppet slowly stroking Catty’s head. Catty looked understandably alarmed. I forbore to ask F10’s plans for his future, his present is weird enough.

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” I said, scuttling downstairs awash with anxiety. Careers' guidance seems not to be what it used to be.

When I worked full time (clothes firmly on), I was always baffled at how busy everyone else appeared to be. I worked at a number of Big Places people have heard of, which was considered a good thing amongst the parents of friends. Nowhere is safe anymore. Maybe prostitution is the only reliable answer. I was tip top at my job, perhaps because I had virtually nothing to do, or nothing I couldn’t polish off in a couple of hours and then swan off for coffee. Those were the days, no question of tasking really, let alone multi-tasking. Heady promotion meant that I rota’d others, so I knew full well the extent of their under-employment, too, but, blow me down, there they were strutting about all stressed. So, unless I was neglecting whole swathes of my job (possible), or was just naturally brilliant (unlikely), or the others were virtually remedial (moot), or better at faking than me (unthinkable), then something was seriously awry. I never got it.

Suffice it to say that the bin was my friend in those days, filing being the biggest F word of all. I had a jacket pressed into action on my chair, there to imply that I was in, or in-ish, and not just chatting in the canteen. Meanwhile I stared, puzzled, at the rest of them, striding by, Busy Busy Busy, muttering under their breath; or chained to their desk in an unfathomable frenzy of activity and bluster. Perhaps they were doing all my work as well as their own?

Yesterday at the supermarket, the till boy had been glummer than usual. He swung on his chair, too large for it and restless. They have to wear big idiot badges now, with their name, what they do, when they joined and an Amusing or salient point as an optional extra. This lad had joined last year. There was no frivolous bon mot, his normal shtick was, I read, Assistant Trolley Liaison Assistant. Or something like that.

“Is this a promotion, then,” I said, gesturing the checkout.
“Supposed to be,” he said. “Don’t like it, though.”
“No?”
“No, I like it out there.”

I stared into the snarling gloom of the car park, following his wistful gaze.
Greasy fish and chip paper danced round unfortunate ankles, more grim slime than American Beauty.
Hoodies were circling the litter bins on tiny beat-up bikes (age appropriate to younger, presumably bereft, siblings or strangers). Their hands darted, oafish, primitive grapplings with pramface wannabes - their lips stubble-burnt, smelly hands in dyed WAG-straight hair. “Gerrroff”s and “Fuckoff”s and delighted outraged squeals tore the air. Kisses tasting of shandy, and cheese and onion crisps.
Mothers, tugging reluctant offspring from staring at this Hogarthian stew, steering them by the hoods of pastel bright coats, trotted sharpish in away and out of the cold.
Cars edging round like sharks hunting the prey of the freed-up space.
Another sullen lad, having lasso’d the strays from trundled-into corners, leant into a chain of trolleys, forcing them uphill. His hi-vis-jkt flapped in the wind, his hands blue-cold. He unleashed the trolleys and sent them clattering, loud enough to shock, obedient into their bay. Ranch work for small town cowboys.
It’s got to be said, it didn’t look a Must Have spot, no obvious centre of the universe that. Nothing Utopian.
Ambition, eh.

“Yeah,” he said with love in his grunt, “you can disappear. Take your time. Know what I mean?”
“Be in charge of what you do?” I was beginning to get his drift.
“Yeah.” He nodded. “Not like in here. Gotta chat and that.”
“Ah.” I finished my packing in silence. I've never needed to be told twice.
There’s not many jokes begin, “There were these 3 trolleys…” and I can’t see the canon of such being swelled anytime soon.

The dog bounced out when I got in, wrong way traffic against my struggle with the carriers. She sniffed the air, seeking freedom but frightened to find it. Age has lowered her horizons. She could take the back wall in one bound like she used to, and fly off into the field. Could, but no longer does, though E continues to nurse vain hopes - fly, dog, fly; run, run, and don't look back, let the wind be in your fur. Perhaps she senses the barbed wire lurking the other side: Trouble in Paradise. Always some bloody fly in the ointment.
She doesn’t escape much anymore to the nearby building site either which is sort of sad.
Just the Olds continue to be favoured. I fear for the smell in their airing cupboard when the door's next open, when the stench released from her rank pelt, weaving itself about the dangling contents of their triangular clothes’ drier, has matured. Items left out with good intent which it would have been better to let rot and spare encounter with dread dog. I ducked to watch Mrs Old, a mirthless smile creased into her static face, unwittingly folding her sullied blue towels with a depressing, erroneous confidence.

Mulling corrupted youth prospects and despairing of elderly innocence, we overloaded on TV (Masterchef, Bleak House on DVD, Skins and Question Time: a heady mix) and were looking forward to bed. I had changed the sheets earlier and was anticipating that glorious moment when you scissor your legs in new bedding.
But, what was this?

The bed was hijacked by F10, still in dressing gown and glove puppet, sprawled across the middle, while the prostitute-in-waiting clung to the scrap allotted him on F10’s left. A similar tiny strip, which should have been flattering but was just annoying, was left for me on the right. E took one look and legged it, heading with insulting delight, to the spare room. I tucked myself in, and dreamed uneasy dreams.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

jam jam everywhere, nor any drop to eat

Having bought some reduced stuff at the supermarket, I had to find room for it in the freezer. Once home - as so often happens - the lustre had faded from my bargains. It dawned on me that never would I want to eat any of it, however cheap, particularly shrouded in ice. To boot, the packaging will crack, thanks to my sturdy forcing, and the label will come awry. A wintry anonymity of deep unattractiveness is doomed to settle on them. The boys will be told to eat up without complaining.

Solid and frozen however, these will be a problem for me to encounter way in the future, as were the three punnets of raspberries, optimistically-purchased last October, which were jettisoned to create the necessary room for this batch of odd decisions.
I decided to make jam of them. I needed jam (Marie Antoinette would understand in a cake / jam way) but it ended up taking 2 days which no-one, even in the wilder throes of mis-placed optimism, is going to say was time well spent.
The pursuit of a cheap thing can be time-heavy and, although I dread to confess it, expensive. The jammy offerings of Tiptree are appearing to be spectacularly good value in comparison. Plus they actually are jam, whereas my efforts cannot be said to be anything other than slops.

“Sauce,” my mother suggested when I told her, “for your porridge.”
“Coulis,” I said sternly; this IS the Cotswolds.
The trouble is I didn’t want coulis, and I certainly didn’t want sauce. What I want is jam. And I don’t eat porridge, so having plugged a gap which wasn’t there, I am still left with a jam-shaped hole.

We entertained chums at the weekend. It worked so well, and that despite a smorgasbord of dietary peccadillos to navigate, that I could crow with gloaty delight. One friend said I should open a restaurant (I do love praise) and that she would play Mrs Overall, shuffling round as cardi-clad waitress. The idea appeals, but not much. Have you seen Masterchef? Do not those sessions in the “pro kitchen” inspire you to promise never, ever to complain, even under your breath, in a restaurant? A circle of hell, but eagerly aspired to by the culinary mad.

I do like cooking, but on a low-key level although I must (must you? yes) shoehorn in an unnecessary boast that my mayonnaise is just delicious. It takes less than five minutes to rustle up and is genuinely, cross my heart etc, worth doing. It is less expensive than “proper” mayonnaise and I couldn’t even walk to the post-office-cum-shop to buy some in the time, let alone factor in the inevitable painful trapping of chat with the Post Office man (teeth, medication, ducks, Spain, hedges in Spain, post office regulations).

Pasta is moot. It's good, better than shop bought, but it is incumbent upon me to confess that I could walk to Tesco and back, even down an icy, winding road in a horrid blizzard, in the hour or more that I spend sending myself crazy sending the dough through the machine.

But as for the jam, I could stroll to Waitrose, friends, which is 5 miles away. I could dawdle in the blissful aisles, hand pick the smartest jars, stay for coffee, read the papers, stay for lunch, stroll back and still be quids in, both time and cash wise.

Saving money is not all it’s cracked up to be, particularly when it means the fridge is full of substandard sauce. But still one persists. And el credit cruncho has resulted in some crazy wheezes peddled by desperate newspapers.
My mother told me of a Handy Tips booklet included with a recent Telegraph where one of the suggestions concerned saving that vital fiver in cocking a snook at room service if you were to reach the hotel after the restaurant was closed.
Yes, latest wisdom is that you can toast your own cheese sandwich.
What is entailed is the cunning inclusion in your packing of some pre-made cheese sandwiches wrapped in silver foil. Once in the privacy of your room, break into your suitcase, extract the sarnies and iron them. Yes, iron them: ta-da!
This they call an “instant tasty hot snack.”
But there are so many issues skirted over. Not least of which the inadvisability of popping a sweaty cheese sandwich in among your clothes in the first place: the pfaff, the potential for error: the suitcase inadvertently being left by a warm radiator, while you get pissed on the mini bar. Then there's the assumption that your room will have an iron, and the folly in expecting that it will be anything approaching “tasty”.
We all know that the bread will remain steadfastly soggy and limp, while the cheese will manage to break free and leak oily globbets on a shirt, plus you’ll have a scorched chest of drawers on your hands to hide from the chambermaid: there’s only so much concealment one can reasonably expect from artfully discarded sachets of Nescafe.
They attempt to pre-empt this last, by suggesting bringing along a bundle of old newspapers – truly – to fashion an impromptu late-night ironing board. By the time one’s packed a tasty snack and a heap of old newspapers you might feel it was easier to stay home and eat it there, rather than Go Tramp in a smart hotel ruminating on your failure to run to the hotel’s offerings.

It doesn’t stop there, and many a use for 'denture cleaning tablets', too, crop up, providing you have such things handy, which so many of us from the Colgate generation just don’t. Otherwise, which is true of many of the tips, you might as well go out and buy the thing that's meant to do the job you are buying the alternative for. Much as I love my superior mayonnaise, it’s to be eaten with salad, not popped on my head as hair conditioner.
And the suggested uses for marshmallows - again, not a permanent feature of my cupboard - would make your eyes water. Let's say home pedicures feature.

Jam-tired this made me, I’m all for eyeing the 100% shop-bought Marmite with interest. Whistling insouciantly, my hand stretched into the fridge, brought forward three sullen jars of nasty sauce and hurled them to the bin. A certain lightness settled on me.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

tell the rats that it’s now the year of the ox … but never the year of the dog

My mother was born to a 44 year old widow, and a sister of 17. This sister’s first husband committed suicide, and she is now ensconced, in her 80s, in cold comfort farm, deep in the bowels of the countryside, tending to her second husband. G. He takes all day to eat breakfast, and, on finishing at 6 in the evening, finds it is only time to get ready for bed again. A repetitive business.
Recently, somehow – and, frankly, the mind boggles at the practicalities attendant on such an excursion – these 2 went on holiday. I can’t remember where, and it will have been somewhere most people wouldn’t consider. Bird watching would have been factored in, and swimming in January tides, “So bracing, Milla.”
They asked what time breakfast finished and the innocent waitress informed them that it was 9.30.
"Aahhh," said G.
She'd learn.

Small disappointments hardly break the surface of my aunt’s brand of optimism when in her element, one which is characterised as being fundamentally bleak, whether on holiday or back home, a once lovely house crumbling with defeated neglect.
Postcards note events such as, “we heard that seals bask there quite frequently. We waited all day but none showed up. Clearly busy elsewhere! G commented that the wind was bitter, but I imagine it’s worse in Siberia; we missed lunch, but no matter,” that sort of thing, accompanied by a little drawing of a coy seal. She enjoys deprivation and takes comfort in the certainty that however bad things are now, they will be even worse tomorrow.
Once home they returned to a rat inundation. In the kitchen, under the stairs. They have come in from the cold and opened an account on my aunt’s house.
“Oh,” my aunt said airily, “everyone in the country has rats.”
“Can’t you get a man in?” asked my mother.
“Oh, no. Not round here.”
My mother relayed this to me and I squeezed a genteel shudder and said, apropos of the inevitability of rats in the countryside, “I don’t think so!”
We probably laughed.

But a scant fortnight later, tit’s given for tat, petards have been hoisted and we have taken a tumble both. My mother is on the phone.
She had seen a fat rat strolling around outside her back door while I was main-lining sal volatile since the casual scrapings aside of gravel leading to a hole under the side of the house had been confirmed as a rat run. Real rats, not merely bad tempered commuters stealing a march by racing through housing estates.

I snagged the Ratman in the post office. I think he was relieved to be rescued from a chat about the Post Office Man’s teeth (him of the “Bits. Dropping from meh. Like ice from a glacier”) and scuttled out all eager, clutching his barbecue beef crisps in one paw.
I showed him the hole and he nodded eagerly, and then changed the conversation, just like that, to his dyslexia, and that of his wife and his four children. I found it interesting, to be sure, and offered my trademark kind advice, but would rather have continued on warfarin and neosorexa.
He advised that we concrete in the hole and, when I persisted, told me what it would cost to distribute poison. The quote deterred me, but I paid for my meanness in 18-certificate fear over the weekend, during which time the sounds in the walls grew. I’ve seen ‘Ratatouille’ and am now realising what a big mistake that was. I thought I had no imagination. I was wrong.

Ratman came back and took to his task with a torch. He wriggled in the loft, and “fresh” droppings were found. It’s not at infestation level, no “tail swish” was found in the sawdust – t’ank feck – and pleasing, industrial amounts of poison have been laid. Ratman is firmly in the diary, a date more eagerly anticipated than any teenage tryst, for next Monday. Death had better be widespread. I’m thinking holocaust, species cleansing, annihilation. Call it a massive failing, but I don’t subscribe to the ‘they were here before us’ mentality. We’re here now, and they can fuck right off, however intelligent and clean. I’m brighter, I’m cleaner.

Meanwhile, our neighbours, The Olds have vermin, too, of a different but depressingly familiar sort: Lolly.
Rather than finally earning her keep – I could hire her out, earn a few quid if she would but just grab this chance to shine and be useful in doing what terriers should do: catch rats – she has instead been breaking into The Olds’ garden.
She has zilch taste, for it’s a dull patch: small, frighteningly well-tended, each blade of grass personally known and accounted for. There are boring slabs (which I pray haven’t yet been crapped on) and resin weasels with handbags. Every corner of it is highly visible from just about every window in their house. Since The Olds, when not outside pinning up endless laundry in their garden or trimming shrubs by that vital centimetre, are inside up step-ladders polishing their windows or giving the nets a busy shake, the chances of our Getting Away With It are slim. In fact, they keep a lead just for returning Lolly to us, grim-lipped. And although they go out bothering other oldsters quite frequently, for tea and to watch Countdown en masse (flat-capped and car-coated in their pristine Micra),the snow has not aided my pretence that Lolly is under any control whatsoever.
I let her out yeseterday, hoping she’d rat-catch, but she disappeared like a junkie after heroin next door, the dread tell-tale trail of the addict’s pawmarks heading into the gap in the wall. Their wall, their gap, actually. I must remember to drop that into future conversation, thus steering things away from Dog Crimes.

“Lolly!” I hissed, hoping she’d detect icy fury in my voice and come a-trotting. Yeah, right.
I went further into the snowy garden and, through the Ceanothus that separates them from us, I saw the foul hound, looking frightfully pleased with herself jumping stiff-legged on their lawn. I whisper-bellowed at her, and she bounced some more, thrilled, and then ran round and round, flurries of snow flying from her paws, her trespass laid bare in documentation. There was no way I could hope that they’d think that this was an over-active robin or a break-dancing squirrel. At any moment there would be the careful returning roll of Micra wheel on gravel and fresh out of excuses I would be caught. It’s bad enough being told off for your own shortcomings or those of the children, but on account of the dog? Per-lease. Eating humble pie for a disapproving oldster catches terribly in the craw.
One problem scuttles away, another takes centre stage. As the rats recede, the bigger pest makes hay.