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Wednesday, 28 September 2011


“Muffin was SO bad,” said Mrs Lovely, hyperventilating at the memory raw from the weekend, “just refusing to give up the sock … and growling … so bad that I said, ‘Robert! Get me a glass of water.’”
Mr Lovely duly obliged and the pair of them had hovered behind the glass of water, scarcely breathing, just cooing, “Muh-fffinnnn, drop darling,” until the snarling and lip curling and sock savaging increased to such a pitch that the Lovelys’ faint bleatings were suffocated by all the noise. So Mrs Lovely breathed deep breaths, swung her arm and threw the water over him.

“It was awful!” she said.
I chuckled.
“Just awful. Pooooooor Muffin! He cowered! He dropped the sock and scuttled; he ran to behind the sofa. Soaking.”
“Only thing you could have done,” said Mrs Brisk. “You can’t have a dog growling at you.”

“We felt terrible. Robert said he felt worse, far worse than when he’s had to wallop the girls.”
We glanced at Muffin who was dry humping a footstool of a dog which lags behind whenever it can to sprawl, a butterfly beneath Muffin’s pin, as it were.
“Muffin!” shrieked Mrs Lovely.

The pain had cast a shadow until Mr Lovely said, maybe ten minutes later, “Do you think we should give him a treat. I hate it when he doesn’t like us.”
“No,” Mrs Lovely had said bravely, perhaps mindful of reportage fall-out with us lot, “No. We can’t reward bad behaviour.”
Mr Lovely trudged upstairs, his heart knocking about somewhere on the floor, and Muffin tiptoed from the back of the sofa and laid his face, damp and mournful, on Mrs Lovely’s knee. Mrs Lovely shed a tear and stroked his nose and kissed his head and smiled a happy smile.
Mr Lovely walked back in. “WHAT!?!” he had shouted, “So you’re allowed to make friends with him and I’m not!

During this episode of emotional trauma, I had been out walking in the woods with my friend Rachel. She, too, would rescue her dog in a fire before her husband or children. “Oh look at her!” she will say stopping to stare at Belle busily plunged face-first in a mound of piss-soaked grass. “Sweet!”
Any story I’d been relating feels foolish to return to now, so my patience with such scenes is limited.
“I really can’t bear dogs,” I might say.
“Not even mine?” she will say, wide-eyed. “Not even Belle?” There really is no answer to that beyond the bleeding obvious.

The Lovelies, meanwhile, the ménage reunited and loved up, went for a walk, and on their walk they saw that the old railway line was operating. A couple had stopped with their tiny children to wave at steam trains and the Lovelys stopped too, then shuffled on a bit.
“Well, we didn’t want to be taken for paedos,” she said, “with the children and everything. And then! Thomas came chuffing by. With his big blue face? Smiling. And I found that I was crying, I was sobbing.

“Ohhh!!” we said. “Noooo! How saaadddd!”

“Hmm,” she said. “Not Robert’s reaction at all. No, he tried to edge away from me, but was trapped between going too close to the little ones and looking like a paedo – ”
“He wouldn’t have looked like a paedo!” we said.
“‘You’re looking mad!’ he said to me, ‘Stop it, it’s only Thomas!’ but that just set me off more and whether it was because of being mean to Muffin or because the girls will never have that look of joyous innocence again – I don’t know: they only talk to us for £20 for Top Shop – but I was sobbing so hard that I gave myself a headache. Robert had to drive us home.”

I had been looking at old photos of the children on my phone, I knew what sad was. And I certainly knew what Thomas was. It seemed those days would never end. And then they did; a boxful of expensive Brio trains sits in the loft awaiting grandchildren.

Over in the woods, Lolly had done the splendid undreamable. She had gone missing. My step quickened. Rachel’s hand was to her mouth, her blonde curls bounced unhappily, “Look,” she said, “it’s sheer down there, it’s like a cliff?”
“Is that where she was?” I said hopefully peering down the precipice: glorious steep, craggy. Rocks.
“Yes! She was trying to follow Belle.” So irritating, my dog the follower, and inept at that (‘was trying’). “But of course couldn’t keep up.” Of course.
“What’s beyond there?”
“A road.”
I hardly dared believe my luck.
“And while Belle might be able to leap over the wall at the bottom, there’s no way Lolly could.”
I smarted.
“Lolly might look like an old bag of fur, but she could take that wall. Like a donkey winning the National, but she could do it.”
Rachel dared favour me with a pitying look.

“We might as well head on back,” I said in the manner of one preparing to do a runner, gathering myself for a hearty gallop away from the scene.
“But … you’re so calm,” said Rachel, “I’d be sobbing.”
“There’s not really any point, is there,” I said.
I felt like the heartless boy in the village who, on being told his cat was dead, had thought, shrugged, and said, “I reckon I’ll have got over it in two weeks so I’ll just go straight to that stage now. What’s for tea?”
We had all thought this the sign of most terrible moral turpitude.

“She’s got a nametag, I said, the grim truth settling, “and she’s chipped.” My pace slowed. Always some blot on the landscape, trouble in paradise.
“Belle doesn’t like wearing a nametag,” said Rachel, “and isn’t the chipping cruel?”

We walked down through the woods enjoying the path doing its requisite meandering, strolling through the dutiful shafts of sunlight. All was good although the thought of the chip hung heavy, and then there was an untidy noise, as of a donkey manhandling the jumps at the National and it was Lolly, bustling near. Belle jumped up and they bounced on their hind legs, knitting their front paws together. I must confess it was quite nice to see the drunk old fur coat again.
“Oooh, look,” said Rachel. “Belle! Isn’t she sweet. Such a kind-hearted dog. She’s pleased to see her, look.”

Sunday, 25 September 2011


F12 threw himself on the bed, emitting a funny little sound, such as a hamster in crisis might make, “No, no!” he squealed, “This cannot be! This is the deepest darkest day of the Mummy Occupation. Courage! She will not overcome!”
I squirted my delicious Method spray a little more vigorously and busied with my duster. Love product, loathe cleaning. Mmm, almond smell.
“She may take our stuff,” the One Boy Resistance Movement squeaked on, face down into the duvet, doing bugger all to help, “but our dignity and honour remain intact.”
I lifted his legs and poked the Hoover under them sending an expensive clatter of Lego flying up the tube.
"I'll do it!" Too late; the same watery promise has been made for weeks, months. His credibility is shot. "Later! I'll do it later!"

A grim business, entering his room, but needs must when a German Exchange boy is coming to stay. On Ritalin, and with a dust allergy. The heart soared.
I was anxious and collared the teacher.
The Ritalin concern was brushed aside with a brusque, “Lots of children are on it, you wouldn’t know,” so I moved onto the dust allergy, shadow boxing with the brutal truth of describing our house; jabbing hints instead, fearful of closing on the deal and saying out loud that it was a slut fest. “It’s not really … it’s not exactly …. Well it’s not very show-house,” I plumped for. The German teacher inclined her head and indicated that I should flounder further, she all but handed me a spade and pointed where to dig. “It’s more sort of, well, arty,” I cringed and rattled on, “lots of books and pictures and rugs and, and stuff. There’s quite a lot of stuff. And we’ve got a dog and back onto a field, so the chances of him sneezing at something here are quite high. So perhaps he’d be safer in another house?” I ended in a rush.
She gave me a look and said that this kind of allergy meant no building work. It would mean industrial levels of dust. That’s what a dust allergy meant. A vision of our house popped into my mind to fit the bill while I mused, too, on clever old German teachers, the things they know, their skill in reading between the lines, leaving you back where you started only with your card marked and your laziness on parade.

At the time of fessing up, the house was as nothing to what came next and, in retrospect, my protestations were rather fey: the house wasn’t that bad at all, but that was before we had to forfeit several thousand pounds in getting the roof tied together internally, which revealed that a vital steel was missing rendering T14’s room liable to imminent collapse. Back to the breeze blocks we went. Arguments with the builder and dwindling cash mean that T14’s room still has 2 big holes in it, ceiling and wall. No amount of dusting can deal with that one. It’s the sort of hole big enough for this season’s mutant spiders to squeeze through, if they hold their tummies in. That big. About 4’ square each.

So I’ve been attacking the house, on a mission to kill dust and destroy spiders, the beasts that nightly taunt me. Eight we had one night, eight.
One Ran Over My Arm.
Another, the size of Mordor, with legs to match, put approaching the larder out of the question for an evening.
Lolly fleetingly comes into her own as chief spider eater, by which, horrors, I mean only spider eater. But it’s not reliable and it’s not going to save her from the glue factory come the day.

I’ve hoovered under things, not merely round or near them; not merely thinking about doing it and then doing something else instead. I’ve stripped each room back, one by dusty one, in pursuit of hotel status. I’ve polished glass, the while lamenting our endless shelves boasting an array of the coloured beauties, all dunked now in lemony hot hot water and buffed to a sheen.
Towels are lined up, chrome gleams, tiles zing, floors glow. Like when you’re trying to sell the thing. If I’m not hands and kneesing with a dustpan, I’m fiddling with a fluffy thing on a stick rounding up the cobwebs. Really, it will be a housecoat and a scowl next, a broom and an organised shed.

I twitch when the family return to Hotel Lite, drifting into reception (I mean, the porch), before trudging across the foyer (rather, hall), to dump all their gubbins willy nilly in the kitchen. A backpack here, a blazer there, a tie sprawled half on half off a sofa. Sofas where I’ve even hoovered under the cushions.
Oh, pointless life.

In F12’s room, sub sofa cushions yielded a perhaps unsurprising haul: the predictable sock, foreign coins, a locked padlock (no key), a worrying quantity of curry powder, a teaspoon, a selection of bird badges, a short sharp stick and an electric toothbrush.

His room was the final frontier, the bête noir, Room 101. Dreaded and feared and overdue tackling. I girlfully girded my loins and took the brute on. The division of labour shifted: its best, 70:30 (me:him) swiftly became 90:10, became 105:-5 as he realised how much more pleasant it is to sit feet up, reading a book, so sauntered off to do just that in a room I’d prepared earlier (immaculate), leaving me the legacy of his own half-started attempts at tidying, all of which boiled down to fiddling with Lego and wailing and making things worse.

I summonsed him and held up something approximating trousers, “Do these still fit?”
He glanced across and nodded, “Yes.”
“Are you sure? Did you look? These, these trousers?”
“Yes,” (irritably) “hence the Yes.”
“It’s just that they’re age 7-8 and you’re nearly 13. Hence the Are you sure?”

At the end, I stepped back pleased, my face a boil in the bag red, back stiff, hands raw. Under the bed were storage boxes bursting with collated Lego; several bags of crap (broken this, grimy that, illicit wrappers, unidentifiable other) lolled in the boot of the car headed for the tip, “My childhood!” he keened, “How could you.”
The room is now a room and not a squalid holding cell for ancient life forms. Moreover, the door can be left casually open for visiting Germans of a delicate persuasion to glance inside without risking death. One can inhale in there, and walking on the floor in bare feet is back on the cards. Really rather pleasant.

E returned from running round a county somewhere (recreational weekend fare).
“F12’s room looks good,” T15 said in the tones of one delivering unfeasible news.
“Good,” said E, “Good boy, F12!”
This was too much to bear, like having to sit by and just take that red-coated fattypuff Father Christmas getting all the praise.
I wheezed in desperation.
“Mummy helped,” F12 said airily. “It’s not as good as it was though. I liked it better before. It was more me.”
“What’s that you’re doing now?” E asked.
“This? Oh it’s a list. For my birthday. I need some more Lego. Quite a lot really.” He made that funny little sound he makes a lot to signify agreeing with himself – someone’s got to – “hmmmn mmm. Yes, more Lego.” He beamed. “There’s room now.”