Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Introducing Muriel

My darling friend, the fabulous Muriel, another forty-something freelance writer, editor, jorler, mother, thinker, drinker and all-round Amazon, sends me the best emails in the world. She's a writer of exceptional talent, and her letters are so good, so deliciously funny and so riotously entertaining, that I can't resist sharing bits of them with you. Now, I haven't exactly asked her permission (sorry, Mur), but I have promised myself that I'll leave out all identifying information*

She's an all-rounder, my Mur. Here she is on the subject of bird lice and doing the washing:

My challenge this week has been bird lice. When I noticed that one of my cats seemed to be shedding liberal quantities of strange little creepy-crawlies (mainly into my bed, as she is the cat that sleeps on my head), it was hey-ho, hey-ho, and back to the vet we go. I went armed with some Google-supplied information on ear mites in cats, as this is what I assumed them to be. The vet’s diagnosis: ‘Sies! Those aren’t ear mites! Those are bird lice!’

The horror, the horror! And finally the inexplicable bites and rashes we’d all been battling with for the last few weeks came clear. Those fucking fucking FUCKING chickens had kindly passed their lice to the cats (well, I suppose I will have cats and chickens that play together), and the cats had brought them into the house. Yeeeuuugghghgghgh!

Fortunately, bird lice, although they do bite humans, don’t live on them, so we didn’t have to worry about bodily infestations – but they do move into houses and hang about in corners, waiting for a warm blood supply to wander past. So yesterday was spent doing the following joyful work.

1. Catch and dose four cats with a parasiticide – way easier said than done, since the minute one cat is caught and dosed, it transmits this information to the others via a series of bloodcurdling yowls, and all the remaining cats flee for their lives.

2. Hot-wash every single bit of linen (sheets, duvet covers, pillowslips, blankets, cushions, throws, towels, etc) in the house – the washing machine is this morning on its 12th cycle and the bathroom still looks like a Chinese wash-house.

3. Spray every single surface in the house with an eye-watering insecticide.

4. Clean out the hen-house – and, really, you don’t want to know how thoroughly revolting that was – and spray it down with the same insecticide.

5. Spray with insecticide every single place the chickens have ever been or are likely ever to go. And...

6. Spray the chickens themselves (this last we haven’t yet managed to do successfully – unutterably stupid though those birds are, it is really amazing how quickly they cottoned on to something unpleasant happening in their vicinity, and how fast they made themselves scarce).

So that is what I’ve been doing for the last 24 hours. I must say it’s worked bloody well, though – although the house smells like a chemicals plant, for the first time in weeks, we woke up this morning devoid of mysterious bites and bumps, and Maui is now officially bird-lice-free.

But God works in mysterious ways… and this is a good segue (pronounced ‘seg-way’ – did you know that?) into my Tale of the Washing Machine. My washing machine broke down about two weeks ago, which is a very real bugger, as you know, when you have teenagers in a house – teens seem to have a secret weekly ‘laundry limit’ (10kg, unwashed, isn’t unusual) they have to reach in order to satisfy their need to drive their mother completely crazy, and my teens take this task very seriously. P's modus operandi is to allow his dirty laundry to pile up in a corner of his room and then, on a randomly chosen day – usually when he finally runs out of clean underwear, and usually also the day on which I have finally emptied the laundry basket – he brings it all through at once. J, on the other hand, considers it far easier to just chuck into the wash anything she tries on, wears for three seconds, then discards, than to refold these garments and replace them in her cupboard. And then there’s all the usual linen, towels, etc – you know the thing.

Anyway, so I phoned the local handyman, who told me he wasn’t keen on working on washing machines, particularly old ones. ‘How old is yours?’ he asked. ‘Um… old,’ I said. I didn’t want to say the words ‘fifteen years’ because then I knew he would run screaming into the sunset. He ran screaming into the sunset.

I then phoned various repair companies and was presented with a variety of stymies: a callout fee of R350 regardless of the problem or its solution; a long waiting list (two weeks was the shortest); spurious advice about throwing away my old machine and buying a new one, etc.

Well, fukkit, I thought. The machine’s already broken, it’s not as if I can break it more. So I turned the washing machine upside down, using chair and ladders and towels as stops and pulleys and brakes. Then I uncoupled every pipe I could see and, using the garden hose, flushed them all out (flooding the kitchen, but who cares). Then I took out the pump and vacuumed it (yes, vacuumed it). Then I put everything back together again and, swearing and sweating, set the washing machine back on its legs.


Mur, darling, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of myself in my life! I fixed my own washing machine (even if I don’t know how I did it)! Verily, I am a domestic goddess!

And truly, she is.

* Ms Sally Forth, 69 Pinotage Lane, Nicotinefontein, Western Cape.

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