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Thursday, 20 October 2011


Darius may have packed up his stuff, tucked his English cultural treasures – Mockney CD and FIFA2012 XBox game – into his case and gone back to Germany but, in the interests of inter-country exchange, he left his dust allergy. With Lolly.
She has not stopped sneezing since - she only does it to annoy - and, when not sneezing, she is otherwise attention-seeking in a deeply unpleasing way: shaking her collar dramatically, squeaking, running like a loon on acid round the house (without, I may point out, going back shame-facedly later and straightening all the rugs). Standing oppressively close with a resentful cast to her eye. Breathing. Christ it’s annoying. Perhaps she needs Ritalin?
“Makes you wish for the good old days when she was just ... there,” I said.
“Makes you wish for the good old days when she … wasn’t there,” said E, “When she was just a twinkle in your eye.”
My eye!! A twinkle in your eye!” I said, squeaking as if I were about to shake my collar.
The next ten minutes can be glossed over, covering as they do the tedious and familiar ground of blame: who actually wanted the dog in the first place.

On the plus side, I finally have a valid reason to look pissed off, and am in a position to trade “tiresome noises I endure” stories with E. For, at work, E sits near a man who sniffs every 3 seconds, which E has worked out to be 9,000 times a day …. 45,000 times a week. They’ve worked in the same office 15 years. And when this man is not sniffing, he’s sneezing, like Lolly, over-dramatically, snerffff! Snerfff! SNERRFFF!!!
“Does anyone say Bless You?” I asked. E’s glance told me all I needed to know about bloody stupid comments.

“We should have got a kitten,” said F12, tutting over Lolly’s shenanigans, "Back then, not ..." He can't quite finish but relentlessly makes good on the feline-shaped hole in his childhood by being ever ready to channel “kitten,” while plugging away on the PR for a real one most hours of the day.
We did have a cat once, but Lolly’s inappropriate enthusiasm rather did for her and the kitchen fitter sped her away for his mum, on a cushion in his van. News is that she got the expensive end of cat ownership: the dwindling teeth, the cancer, the headstone. Animals. They break your little heart. And the vet drives around in a Beamer.

And now poor Lolly, rapidly losing her last vestiges of friends.
“Even if we had, that would be some geriatric kitten by now,” I said. “On the way out.”
“No," he mewed.
“Yup, or doing time, I’d heard. In prison, on the chain gangs.” The mythical kitten breaks rocks in my mind.
“How could you,” he whimpered, “Be so mean! To a kitten. Stew and wallow in your shame.”

E and I are rather fed up with stewing and wallowing in our shame. The imprecation is wheeled out frequently, by one currently in disturbing garb. F12’s favoured home clothes were a Poirot-dapper suit, with an Indiana Jones hat and a broken bamboo, for wielding purposes.
Then the hat was switched for a peaked Inspector’s cap (the child, irritatingly, having put in no interim service as a mere constable, drudge beneath a domed, unfetching hat, although one thinks he’d have warmed to the parking ticket issuing).
Tall wellies were dredged from somewhere. This is a resourceful child, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. Put it down and it will rapidly be considered unconsidered. I picture some random old man in the village, stuck in his slippers, still turning in vague circles, muttering, “Am sure Oi left they somewhere round ‘ere;” his gate banging in the wind, a newly-booted child hot-footing it to the shadows.
The suit jacket was bossily buttoned and a swagger stick appeared. Culled no doubt from someone’s prized tripod or music stand.

So now, a door will slam, doors always slam if a child is one or other side of them, there is no gentle touch, and seconds will pass so you will forget and next thing your heart’s in freefall catching sight, out of the window, of a small determined Nazi Country Gent inventorying the garden in a worrying manner, swagger stick bouncing on a Chino’d thigh.

Later I spoke to him, having been troubled by that dullard: the self-esteem thing, having bumped into Mrs Caring, and being reminded, by unflattering comparison, how very dreadful I am.

We had been at Mrs Lovely’s and I was being disloyal about my darling boy, regaling the dog gang with some witty tale.
“F12 doesn’t really speak like that, does he?” said Mrs Lovely.
“No, not really,” I admitted, do details of realism matter? “But when he goes off on one, we do all rather purse up our lips like this.”
Mrs Lovely and I chortled our horrid little heads off.
“Oh Good!” she said, “When Lulu’s being awful, Mr Lovely and I prance around the kitchen being the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz – like this – you know that face they make when they sing. Their hands! It’s the only thing you can do.”
We laughed the laugh of cruel parents snatching small treats from the wreckage.
“It’ll all come out in therapy,” she said happily.
“It will actually,” said Mrs Caring, not smiling as much as us. Certainly not smiling the smile of the imminently damned.
It sort of put a dampener on things.

“You don’t mind, do you, the teasing about the kittens stuff?” I was tidying his gun, smoothing his cap and propping up the swagger stick – she who would otherwise end up standing on it in bare feet in the dark was me. He sat on his bed and watched the staff at work.
“No,” he said, patting me tenderly as I sank beside him.
“I know you do it for my own good. To brush off my rough edges.”
“They’re quite furry edges, really,” I said kindly.
“Yes,” he said. Then he said, word for word, “Teasing gives life colour, it would be a shell without it, all beige. Shall I tell you about Lenin?” Somewhere in the bowels of the house came a canine sneeze. There was a sound such as of a collar being shook.
“Miaow?” F12 said, hopefully.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Having someone else in the house, staying, actually going upstairs and strolling around, was odd. We missed him terribly when he’d gone, but all the parents agreed that it was a relief to know we could go back to having a bit of a shout, pop into our jim jams early of an evening and forget playing the Merry Mom. We chatted in the playground for an hour after we’d waved them off, a bit teary, and then worried we’d be put on a Register for hanging around in a school unattended by children.

I’d spent a scant month grinding my fingerprints to a criminal-friendly blank in cleaning since we’d been told that T15’s German Exchange Student, Darius, was not merely on Ritalin but had a dust allergy to boot. Death by dust wasn’t going to happen on my watch.

He arrived late, since they’d missed the ferry. The clich├ęd by-word for efficiency had not merely missed the ferry but arrived late enough to squeak onto the next one by the skin of their teeth. We went to pick him up. The rain hurled its English welcome.

The first hour dragged.

“So!” I said brightly, when we got in that first night and were still tripping over shoes and cases in the hall, “Bed?”
Nothing like a decent welcome, you say, but the lad had been on the go since about 2 in the morning, 19 hours ago.
“No,” he said with what I grew to recognise as Teutonic directness.
“Oh,” I said.

We are lucky. We have 3 (tiny) bathrooms. Darius needed a whole one to himself since the beauty regime began early. I dread the electricity bill.
Mrs Lovely had suffered an exchange. Having twins, twin girls, and therefore 2 visiting female teens, and one bathroom, she and Mr Lovely were getting up earlier and earlier, 6 am, 5.30 am, on one dread occasion 4.45 to have a shot at the shower, a glimpse at the toothbrush basin.
Mindful of this, I said firmly, “We shower at night, the morning, such a zuursh.”
“Yes,” said Darius. He rose at 6:30, sending the shower pump into what came to be a familiar house-shaking dawn frenzy.

My linguistic pain lies in knowing No German. I have instead an all-purpose Euro-language, comprising shaky tourist Spanish-Italian, a blurry merge of eager nodding, a side order of flashing teeth and a few words ending in –o. It is well-meaning and springs from a desire to appear to try but I have a sinking feeling that is baffling. Thus is portokalada, the Greek for Fanta Orange, ordered with grinning confidence in Portugal, where my knowledge extends merely to “obrigado” (spelling unsubstantiated but widely assumed to mean thank you, at least that’s the meaning I give it when smiling and nodding in Athens). I have got to enjoy many drinks in Portugal, few of them portokalada.

Rising extra early was ghastly, as was pretending to be nice and communicating, veering between my habitual freefall gabble and the occasional hastily remembered crap cod Portu-Greco-Euro, “No like morningos.” Sinister teeth unsheathed.

I had to drive the pair of them in since the school bus company was being an arse – we pay over £800 a year for T15’s ticket – and our friend, who pays, but never uses the service in the morning, said we could use their seat but Bennett’s refused to sanction it. “No,” they said, as if born in Berlin, “Not transferrable.”
“Come ON,” I said.
“No,” they said.
“Come on,” I whimpered, “we’ve spent over three thousand with you.”
“Sorry. Not transferrable. You’ll have to pay. I’ll do you a deal for £30.”
Fuck it, I thought, and pledged to drive the sixty miles a day, in out in out, that this entailed, even if petrol rose to a hundred quid a litre. That’ll show ‘em.

In the back, the boys were laughing over a photo on Darius’ iPhone so at the lights I took a look and inserted a “Sweet!” then a “Who is she?”
“My ex-gurrrlfriend,” said Darius.
“What a shame,” I cooed. "What happened?" I narrowed my eyes. He was so nice. What could this horrid girl have done to him.
He crossed his arms across his chest. He chuckled. “I was, errr, norrrrrty boy.”
What can one say.
“Oh, Darius,” I said.
“So,” I continued, with maternal eagerness, showing my teeth to indicate Good Thoughts, “How was Oxford?”
“Bit boring,” he said. I felt slighted. All those pesky dreaming spires, I guess. Seemed things had perked up when they were allowed shopping and HMV had been favoured with his cash. A CD was pressed into my hand.
“We play?”
John Humphries hadn't gone down well in the mornings, prompting not the hoped-for healthy debate about youth unemployment, or the folly of dumping parliamentary papers in a park bin, but instead collective teen eye rolling, so I had few hopes for the slippery slope of this CD. T15 reached to turn up the volume.
Just as the house to the shower pump, the car now pounded to some Mockney trancey rap crap. The teens looked pleased. I sighed and thought, Ommmmm. The music vaguely grew on me. I started to tap my finger on the steering wheel. F12 gave me a look. The finger froze. This was Nan swaying to the Sex Pistols and was not to be.

Next thing, the sassy Welsh bint, recognising an alien silhouette in the car from 100 paces, was flagging us down with a cheery, “Ooo! Hellooo!” I thought she might be about to issue us with a notification that we had single-handedly lowered house prices driving through at such volume but she was busy inviting us to something or other and, while I was revving, since I didn’t want to go dancing, her glances into the nether regions of the car were such that I had to say, “Oh, Lou, meet Darius, who’s staying with us from Germany.”
She smiled, “Darry-oossh! Welcome.”
I panicked. “Darius! Gosh, I’m sorry, have I been saying your name wrong?! I’m so sorry!”
“It’ll be Darry-oossh,” Lou continued to correct, nodding firmly.
“No,” said Darius. “it’s Darius.”
I gave Lou my Gosh Sorry face, at which she was meant to say, “obrigado,” and then shut up, but instead said, “No. No, it will be Darry-oossh. My father’s half Russian.”
So – since someone had to – I nodded my Gosh, OK face and we all moved on, that little bit the wiser.

Back home both boys, Darry-oossh and T15, reached for their XBox controls. A blurring of cultural differences, the yawn factor of history and sight-seeing and John Humphries dispensed with. The bonding over FIFA2012 was getting out of hand.
“Portokalada anyone?” I said.