Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Fungus takes his revenge: will this bathroom ever be?

Hair-raising stories of builders gone bad are about as common as those about banks – yet every time I enter into a home-improvement project, I do it with bright-eyed optimism, determined that this time will be different.

Hah!

My barathrum, which I stripped of all accessories last Monday (that’s 10 days ago) in preparation for a projected four-day renovation, is nowhere near finished. And I mean nowhere near.

My Handyman, whom I suspect hides a set of angel wings under his overalls (and who is also, by a happy coincidence, very easy on the eye), has therapised me through what has been a really rough patch. When he arrived yesterday morning to find me in a stand-up knock-down screaming fight with the tiler (the second one; I’d already fired the first one for the simple reason that he never turned up), he actually patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Toe nou,’ which is a dear Afrikaans expression most often used by concerned grandmothers to calm their weeping grandchildren when they’ve woken up out of a terrible nightmare.

It wasn’t just that the tiler was Utterly Fucking Useless. It was that he also (astonishingly – even now I’m having trouble believing it) apparently used my house as a communications base during the five days he was ‘here’ (but only in theory) for a multitude of friends, acquaintances and business contacts, who dropped by in a steady stream, knocking on the door, disturbing me at work, and asking if they could ‘just leave a message for Steven’.

The last two backed away, genuine fear in their eyes, when I screamed, ‘Are you completely mad??? Do I look like a secretary to you??? You give Steven a message from me: tell him he’s fired!!!

There was more amazement yet to come, however, when Steven turned up at my door at dawn’s crack yesterday morning (the first time he’s set foot in my house before 10am) and (please try to imagine this) demanded payment.

I took a deep breath. ‘Steven,’ I said. ‘In five days of so-called work you’ve laid a total of 18 tiles; a dozen of those have since come unstuck. You’ve held up everyone – nobody’s been able to come in and do their jobs because you haven’t finished the tiling yet. Grouting is but a distant dream. You’ve ground muck into and ruined my carpet. And you’ve left a huge pile of junk out on my front verandah. And now you want to get paid?’

Steven is clearly either brain-damaged or an irretrievable moron, because he gave me a big shiny smile and said, ‘Yes, and please make the cheque out to cash, I need the money today.’

Which is when I lost my marbles and had to be toe-nou’d by the Handyman.

Anyway!

Since we gave Steven the bum’s rush, we’ve run into countless more problems, mainly bizarre plumbing that defies rationality and, in some cases, actual scientific laws (old taps that appear to have grown organically into their surrounds, pipes that come from nowhere and go to the same place); and also a toilet that tilts alarmingly (because the floor is skew) and a sink that does similar (because so are the walls). Angle-grinders have been pressed into service, the skills of an additional plumber have had to be secured, copious quantities of cement have been bought and mixed, washers have been lost then found (then, often, lost again), holes have been knocked into walls, filled in, opened again, filled in again, opened again…

You know, it might just be stress-induced hallucination, but I could swear earlier today that I heard a phlegmy snigger echoing around the bombsite that was once my barathrum. Yes, I suspect that Fungus the Bogeyman is well pleased with the way things have turned out.

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The hideousness of having teens – you’re not alone!

My children have finally begun moving out of that appalling I-hate-everyone-but-you-most-of-all phase of early teenagehood and into a new stage that makes them fairly pleasant to have around. Because it happens slowly (oh so slowly), and because we human beings are particularly good at blocking out bad memories, I’d forgotten how ghastly your child’s puberty could be until I got an email from a friend in London with two children in their early teens – Z, a girl of 15, and J, a boy of 13.

‘Z and J bicker all the time and Z gives me looks of such withering contempt that if I weren’t a more robust person, I’d probably be saddened at the cruel cutting of the mother-child bond, instead of which I just get so angry,’ she wrote. ‘I lost my temper last week, which I do from time to time, but so badly that I ended up with a racing heart and sweating hands and had to go and lie down before I had a stroke. Afterwards I was pleased to see that I hadn’t actually assaulted Z in my rage so I’m obviously a deeply controlled person.’

About Z’s (disappointing) exam results, my friend (who’s an academic editor) wrote, ‘How she ended up, with me as a mother, so hopelessly unable to use punctuation I do not know. Actually, she thinks it’s another anachronism from my incredibly distant past and therefore completely irrelevant to her.’

I was so heartened this email – it’s such a relief to discover other mothers go through the same pain.

And of course younger children, who do have the benefit, at least of ‘still thinking I’m her lovely mummy, not some money-providing inconvenience in what is after all, her life, not mine’, also have their little challenges. My friend’s last-born, C, who’s 10, ‘has been ready for her next certificate in swimming for some time but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) take off her goggles and pick up something from the bottom of the pool, so I’m afraid I shamelessly bribed her by promising her that if she did, I would take her and a friend to see High School Musical in London in the school holidays. Needless to say she was at the bottom of the pool in a flash. With older children you will not understand the full horror of HSM (Juno will, no doubt) – the kids say it’s like a 21st-century version of Grease, but it makes Grease look like, I don’t now, Proust maybe or Dostoevsky … And what’s more the tickets are between £25 and £40 for a seat so I will have to pay to sit through it. I will have to take a flask of something bracing.’

Isn’t that wonderful? Thanks, M, for reminding me that I’m not alone. (And take heart: this too shall pass.)

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Now here’s an idea I can go for: wine as collateral

For my sins, I work in the insurance industry. It’s a vague arm – editorial, rather than sales – so it earns me comparatively little but at least it allows my conscience to sleep easy-ish.

It also scares the screaming bejeezus out of me – I’m forever downloading hair-raising stories off the wires, about how I’m not saving enough for my retirement (dogfood as dinner is doubtless in my ill-planned-for future), how my house will burn down and leave me (because I’m so frightfully underinsured) with nothing but the raggedy underpants I stand up in, and the reasons I’m just three short months from being on the street drinking cheap liquor out of brown-paper-wrapped bottles (I’m an active, rather than a passive, earner).

Also, I work in wine – I’m a contributing writer to the yearly South African Platter Wine Guide, a vast compendium, tirelessly researched, of the country’s wine industry. (Also, I drink a lot of it.)

Now, at last, my two creative arms have reached around and clasped each other: tonight I learnt, from a young winemaker of good repute, that there’s a French bank that will accept wine as collateral for loans.

I’ve seldom been so thrilled. I raced home, hopped on the Internet, and learnt the following from a May edition of the Los Angeles Times: Le Crédit Municipal, a Paris pawnshop that dates back 1777, will accept wine as collateral for ready-money loans. (Cash Crusaders, where are you now?)

Le Crédit Municipal has a long track record, having given Auguste Rodin the readies for new tools (in exchange for pieces of his sculptures ) and accepted Claude Monet’s wife’s ‘beloved medallion’ (for, we have to assume, lily-hued watercolours). This discreet Right Bank stone building has, apparently, a ‘sprawling underground maze of rooms’ holding 76 000 boxes of jewellery, racks of furs and countless odds and ends, plus an art collection second in size only to that of the Louvre.

And now there’s wine: the pawnshop recently granted a loan against a 1986 Romanée-Conti, an ‘admired’ Burgundy wine worth about R80 000.

For me, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Deep in hock for the controversial improvements to my barathrum, I’ve set aside my bargaining tools to take to Nedbank tomorrow: a case of Chateau Libertas (R18.99 a bottle, bought on special at Checkers this weekend) and my very best pyjamas (which I will wear, not offer as surety).

Wish me luck.

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Thursday, 19 June 2008

Nest of cranes in Sandton - but how, civil engineers, do they get up there?

On the way up Grayston Drive to Benmore today, I counted no less than ELEVEN gigantic yellow and orange cranes on various construction sites, all within a few blocks of one another. In fact, the area around Grayston and the Morningside Clinic looks like a nightmarish 3D game of Tetris, with big blocky office buildings popping up everywhere you look. Now, call me a poephol, but I have a real problem with cranes. In fact, I have several problems with them. One, I can't look at the crane operator trapped in his little glass bubble without feeling sick. Two, I can't drive under a crane (or at least the back end of one) without pressing my foot to the accelerator, convinced that the grey concrete counterweight slabs are going to pancake my car. Three, and this has bugged me for years, I just can't figure out how a crane is put up. Please be patient with me here; I didn't get to play with Lego or Meccano as a kid, and, besides, I'm a girl:



How does the long, teetering horizontal piece get up there? Is it hoisted there by another crane? And if so, how does that crane get put up? Using another crane? Are we talking an infinitely long line of cranes here, each one hoisting up the next? If a crane on a truck is used to put up the horizontal arm, where on earth do you find a truck-mounted crane with a long enough proboscis? (The cranes in Sandton are dizzyingly tall; see pic).

And how do the (shudder) concrete slabs get up there? More worrying, what's holding them in the clampy metal bit? Why does it always look as if one slab is on the point of slipping out and plummeting onto my car?

Please put me out of my misery.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Family dinner, anyone?

I’ve often – very often – felt guilty as a mother for not sitting my children down at the dinner table come 7 o’clock, provisioning them with nutritious, delicious comestibles, and inviting searching conversation about their concerns and interests. For this is what all good parenting books tell you to do, if you wish to raise offspring who won’t turn into frenzied axe-murderers.

More common, in our house, is a somewhat staggered dinner preparation process, poorly coordinated and with little in common. My son (whose idea of ‘proper food’ is only meat; sometimes, if pressed, starch or dairy products) will make himself a toasted-cheese sarmie; I might steam a head of broccoli and sling a bit of tomato-chilli sauce over it; a while later my daughter (a putative vegetarian) may have some of this, but will also boil herself an egg and eat it with mayonnaise and spring onion. Our actual acts of eating are usually as badly coordinated, happening anywhere – at the kitchen counter, in front of the TV, on the verandah, at the dinner table or, if the weather is particularly cold and unfriendly, in bed with a hotwater bottle.

It’s different if people come for dinner (which they often do – thank god, for the emotional and mental health of my children). Then, I make an effort (ironically, I do really love cooking) and we all sit down together, around the table, and, well, make a meal of it. We drink wine, we talk, we play music, we loll around afterwards rubbing our stomachs and sighing contentedly, and perhaps sip coffee and eat chocolates.

But the truth is that it’s only in 'normal', nuclear families (which, these days, is like saying when fuel was affordable) that real, regular, sit-down dinners happen in any habitual way.

My friend C (who is a ravishing 52, and I mention her age for a reason that will soon become apparent) came to stay recently from Jozi. She was taking part in a gruelling river-canoe race – gruelling not only because it’s long, but also because it’s tricky, and because the weather’s cold and uninviting, and because you have to have cajones the size of Mars to even think about doing it. (I’m 44 and I’d rather have my eyes sucked out by a giant squid than canoe down the Berg in the middle of winter, thankyou.)

Anyway, so C did her first day (and did very well, but more about that later), and that evening, I thought she’d appreciate nothing finer than a sit-down family dinner with chitchat and companionship and all that crap. So I prepared a hearty meal and at about 7 o’clock I served it. My kids (who, bless them, do get all keen when we have a real meal around the table) sat down; I sat down; my oft-times partner A sat down … and C picked up her cellphone and proceeded to tap out an SMS.

We sat, forks politely poised, for a few minutes. C typed. I said, ‘Kids, tuck in, it’s getting cold’ (I said this quite loudly). C typed. I said, ‘C, darling, how about joining us? Eat it while it’s hot...?’ C typed. I said, ‘Jesus, C, what are you typing? A novel?’

She looked up at me distractedly. ‘My coach,’ she said. ‘I’m just reporting how I did today.’

Fair enough. C finally sat down and looked with heartwarming gratitude at the food that was congealing on her plate. ‘This is great!’ she said, then she looked around. ‘Hey,’ she said. ‘Didn’t you say you’d got a DVD to watch tonight? Let’s put it on!’

For the record: C lives in a committed relationship, and her dependants are three cats – so she’s never felt compelled to sit down for a family meal, and nor should she.

So let me just say: not everyone appreciates a sit-down round-the-table dinner, and it’s not always necessarily appropriate.

(C was the 5th woman in, in a very tough race. Her prize for about eight hours of astonishingly difficult paddling? A bottle of organic pet shampoo, which she donated to my dog.)

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When is it restoration and when is it gentrification?

I got a rather snippy email from a friend today who accused me of ‘gentrifying’ what he calls ‘my lovely old home’. This was in response to my telling him that I was busy having my barathrum ripped out and turned into a bathroom, and that I was thus living with a lot of dust and noise.

He hit a rather sore spot because I’ve already had one run-in with the local aesthetics committee over a new window I put in some years ago. I installed the window (a lovely large wooden-framed one, very much in keeping with the general feel of the building, which dates back to 1892) in place of a dreadful old garage door that was riddled with rot and hanging from its hinges, not only unattractively but also dangerously. (And I turned the garage, which was so poorly positioned and proportioned that I couldn’t even manoeuvre my CitiGolf into it without employing advanced driving techniques, into a little bedroom for my daughter.)

The aesthetics committee chairman came to have a look at the new window and was annoyed. ‘You’ll have to take it out,’ he said, and my heart sank.

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘It isn’t in keeping with the original house,’ he said, and sniffed.

This I found very interesting. ‘The original house’ actually started life as a barn and still has the huge upstairs storage loft with three outside doors with grapple hooks for hefting up feed. Although the original plans for the barn and subsequent renovations that turned it into a house were lost in a fire in 1969, it isn’t hard to work out what’s been changed – the clues are all there in filled-in doorframes, 1940s exterior architectural features (like the decorative pillars in the pic below) that now exist inside the house, differing thicknesses of interior walls, varying floor levels, and the like.

Some of the savagely unaesthetic changes that had been wrought by the time I bought the house included:

* A nasty little bathroom that had been added as a lean-to (this is what was until recently my barathrum, home of slugs and fungus, and is now being refurbished into something more suitable for human use).

* A ‘front room’ that had been created out of what was originally a makeshift verandah on the road side – strangely, however, no windows (none at all) were put into this room, so it was about as useful and inviting as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

* A ‘living room’ that had been created out of what was once a large back verandah. It had been furnished with two tiny steel-framed windows and a solid-steel exterior door. From this, a mean little flight of concrete steps led down into the back garden – this was the only access to a large, wild, lovely plot of land. This huge, chilly room was laid with thin grey ‘carpet tiles’ directly on raw concrete. A whiteboard ceiling had been installed but damp had got into it, and one side of it, depressingly discoloured, drooped threateningly; also, the ceiling cut straight across two beautiful casement windows (which had, like the pillars, at one stage been exterior).

* The tiny kitchen had last been refurbished (cheaply and nastily) in the 1970s, if the hideous cupboards and swirly brown linoleum (the same linoleum that was until recently in the barathrum) was anything to go by. It had one small window, set too low.

Because my budget was limited when I first moved in, I first did obvious things to make the house liveable – while at all times keeping in mind the historical worth of the building. I immediately knocked the walls out of the living room and turned it back into a verandah, complete with a wide staircase that gave directly onto the garden (and I put in a swimming pool); I ripped up the carpet tiles and replaced them with ceramic; and I tore down the whiteboard ceiling and replaced it with reeding.

I knocked out most of the wall separating the oddly windowless ‘front room’ and the galley-like kitchen; I installed a massive solid-wood counter between the two rooms, creating an open-plan kitchen/living area; I put an open fireplace in the living area (and kept the pillars - hideous as they are, I grew to love them); and I installed a large wooden-framed window in the kitchen at a more sensible height.

Some time later, when my bond could once again take the strain, I replaced large areas of linoleum and raw concrete with good-quality carpet and ceramic tile; I installed a second bathroom in what had been yet another mysterious windowless room (I think they used to call these ‘box rooms’ in the old days – they must have had a lot of boxes); and I turned the useless garage into a bedroom (leaving two of the walls in their original raw-brick state).

During these renovations, some of the original foundations of the house were exposed. Instead of throwing a slab and thus covering them, I opted to keep half the house at a different level and make a feature of the exposed foundations – which I mention because I really, really do appreciate the vintage of the house, and would never do anything to ride roughshod over the lovelier architectural features I’m lucky enough to have inherited. (I also saved the small sash window I replaced in the kitchen, and used it elsewhere in the house to replace a metal-framed window.)

And that was when the aesthetics committee chairman arrived to tell me I’d have to remove the picture window because it ‘wasn’t in keeping with the original house’. (And the steel windows I'd removed were? And the linoleum? And the raw concrete? And the rot-riddled garage door? And the windowless front room? And the … you get the idea.)

‘So what do you suggest I put in its place?’ I asked.

‘A sash window,’ he said. ‘That’s what would have been here originally.’

Well, no, actually. This house wasn’t always a house – originally, it was a barn. And barns don’t have sash windows.

I didn’t say that, though. I just allowed my eyes to fill with tears and stared at him in mute appeal.

He fiddled with his pen for a while, then said, ‘Well, alright then. But don’t do it again.’

‘I sure won’t,’ I said to him, then turned away and muttered under my breath, ‘dickhead.’ (I know it was childish but it made me feel better.)

Anyway, so now my friend is accusing me of ‘gentrifying’ my ‘lovely old house’ because I’m making my bathroom habitable by beings other than Fungus the Bogeyman. The irony is that this wasn’t a ‘lovely old house’ when I bought it. It was a hideous mishmash of architectural styles, badly planned and executed, cheaply and poorly finished, with several inexplicably unusable spaces. (Although in its defence it had and still has three gigantic bedrooms, fantastically thick walls and the most amazing solid-wood ceiling throughout – some of the features that, incidentally, initially sold me on the place.)

Still, my friend has sucked a little of the joy from my excitement over finally having a bathroom that isn’t a repository of mushrooms and slugs, and whose tiles don’t suddenly detach from the wall and come crashing down on you when you’re relaxing in a nice warm bath. I’d been so excited about going to fetch the new tiles today (gorgeous big slabs of swirly blue and grey – ooh, they’re just so pretty) but now I’m not so sure.

I thought I was restoring. Turns out I’m gentrifying.

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Friday, 13 June 2008

Haute couture in the country

This morning I drove to the nearest big town, 20 kilometres away, to do my weekly shop. I go there because there’s a Pick’n’Pay, and after eight years of begging for them to stock outlandish things (like poppadums, for instance – the first time I asked the store manager about them he just assumed I was a stutterer – and capers for puttanesca pasta sauce; and smoked pork hocks, without which it is impossible to make my favourite pea-and-ham soup; and sour cream, apparently a novel concept here in the dorengone) they now finally have most of the things I need.

But mainly I like going there because no-one turns a hair when I shop in my pyjamas.

There’s something fabulously liberating about not having to worry about making yourself presentable to the general public when going on a foray outside your home, and it’s one of the big pluses of living away from the city. Even my teenage daughter, who wouldn’t be seen dead in ‘the real world’ (ie, anywhere but here) without her mascara thinks nothing of running into the local farmers’ co-op in her rabbit-ear slippers to pick up bread and milk. (They’re not made of rabbit ears; they just look like rabbit ears.)

The downside, of course, is when you erroneously carry this philosophy elsewhere.

I imagined (fondly) that people here in the country don’t look twice at me as I trundle my trolley around the supermarket in my pink fluffy top and matching drawstring pants because they look a bit like day clothes. But apparently not.

A few months ago I was compelled to go into the city on business, and decided in the morning to keep on my pyjama bottoms (these particular ones are black silk splotched with big red roses) because – well, they’re really comfortable and they look nice and I just couldn’t be arsed to find something else to wear. I did put a real top on – a red ribbed jersey – and real shoes – black heeled boots – and when I gave myself the once-over in the mirror before I left I fully approved of my reflection.

So you can imagine my horror when, waiting at the reception/security desk of the office building where I was due to have a meeting, I overheard the following conversation, conducted in whispered Afrikaans behind me.

Young man #1: Is this woman wearing pyjamas?

Young man #2 (after a pause during which I could feel his eyes boring into me from behind): Ja, they look like pyjamas.

Young man #1: They are pyjamas. My mom’s got some the same.

Young man #2: Never! What kind of person wears her pyjamas to work?

Young man #1: A mad person. I can’t wait to tell my mother about this.

I stood there, my spine rigid and my ears burning, while the young men giggled behind me. When the security people finally let me through, I marched briskly across the lobby and when I reached the safety of the lifts, I turned around to have a look at my critics. To my intense embarrassment, they’d gathered a few mates around them and were pointing me out, while slapping their thighs and having a jolly good old laugh at my expense.

Still, my tattered ego was slightly soothed later that afternoon, when I stopped in at my usual Pick’n’Pay to buy a few essentials, and the manager said to me, ‘You look very nice today. I see you’re not wearing your pyjamas…’

So there.

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How does Goldie like her eggs? Fertilized.

There were several things that I saw as pretentiousness, eight years ago when I first moved to this small country town. One was how a pair of dungarees seemed de rigueur in any rural wardrobe. Another was how everyone – everyone! – had chickens.

I’ve since gained enough perspective to realise that wearing dungarees just because you live in a place where the smell of fertilizer predominates for most of the year is indeed pretentious unless you are a male farmer over 70. And that some people - like me - have chickens thrust upon them.

The mortality rate for chickens here is high – the ferrety things that live on the mountain come down at night and snaffle them, they fall in the pool and drown, they succumb to claw-rot and feather-mould and all manner of other hideous ailments, and sometimes they just disappear without trace or explanation (but this usually coincides with a neighbourhood dog looking particularly well-fed and pleased with itself). Having gone through a few batches of chickens myself, I’ve learnt to be philosophical about losing them.

Recently, however, I’ve had to deal with a whole new chicken situation.

Goldie – a pretty hen with golden-hued plumage and a perky little black tail – was one of four chickens thrust upon me by local friends who were downsizing. Two of the chicks immediately ran away from home, to the next-door neighbour’s house, where there is a large flock of hens and a resident rooster. Black Betty and Goldie were left, and pecked companionably about the garden for a few months.

While Black Betty never produced an egg, Goldie was a prolific layer, producing enough eggs a week for a huge slap-up breakfast every Sunday plus a quiche or two. She showed no interest whatsoever in sitting on her eggs, so I had no qualms about gathering them every day.

Until two things happened: one, Black Betty was killed by a neighbourhood dog and Goldie found herself alone; and two, I suddenly had a very busy period during which I forgot to gather Goldie’s eggs.

About a week ago I realised I hadn’t seen Goldie for a while. The first place I checked was, obviously, the hen house – and there she was, all fluffed out and settled down. I felt cautiously under her (she pecks) and, yes, there was a large collection of lovely warm eggs.

The problem, of course, is that they weren’t fertilized – Goldie hasn’t had access to a rooster. I phoned my darling vet (who has now become accustomed to strange and frantic queries from me about a range of livestock) and asked him what to do. ‘She’ll sit tight for about three weeks,’ he said. ‘Then she’ll realise they won’t hatch and she’ll abandon the clutch.’

There was something about this that upset me – hens don’t eat while they’re brooding a clutch, and I couldn’t bear the thought of dear little Goldie fasting for three weeks, incubating her putative babies so assiduously, and having nothing to show for it at the end. I told the vet this and his solution was simple: ‘Take the eggs away from her, then.’

‘But won’t that freak her out?’ I asked.

The vet sighed. ‘Yes, a bit,’ he said. ‘But chickens are easily distracted. She’ll soon find something else to obsess about.’

Poor Goldie. When I took her off the clutch, she made little chicken noises of distress that spoke straight to my womb, and afterwards she went back into her henhouse and settled straight back down again on the empty nest. I scattered food for her nearby and made encouraging sounds, but she just cocked her head at me and gave me an accusing look with her beady eyes.

Three days later she was still there – fluffed out and settled down, sitting tight on nothing. She hadn’t moved at all, and she hadn’t eaten.

I called the vet again and (with a bit more longsuffering sighing) he advised me, if I were really that worried about her, to find her a rooster.

Which is why, yesterday, I gently wrapped Goldie in a towel and carried her next door. L, my neighbour, listened to my tale of woe and, trying not to smirk too much, agreed to let Goldie live with her flock for a week, in the hope that she’d get rogered by the rooster and be able to produce eggs that would actually turn into babies.

I’m perfectly aware that I’m going to be the subject of risible dinner-party conversation next door for a while, but I don’t care. And I’m seriously thinking about buying a pair of dungarees.

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Monday, 9 June 2008

Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most

Although I remember very little these days, one thing I do recall is the bizarre collapse of my brain when I was pregnant. I spent months of my life doing unnervingly dim things, like throwing dirty socks in the bin and carefully depositing rubbish in the laundry basket.

I was assured, at the time, that this happens to many pregnant women, and that my sanity would return in due course. Although I have good reason to doubt the absolute accuracy of this, it is true that eventually I was no longer finding myself in the car and wondering where I’d come from and where I was going (and not existentially, either – in a very literal way).

Then, I could blame my mental incontinence on hormones. But now?

I turn 44 this year, which seems to me to be a little young to be experiencing fairly substantial memory loss and/or random acts of stupidity. It’s worse when I’m stressed, as I have been for the last couple of weeks. The longer my to-do list, apparently, the shorter my memory.

Although I’m constantly driving my family crazy by forgetting small things (mainly where I put my car keys), I’ve become adept at keeping lists of the bigger chores in my diary, which works well when I can remember where I left the damned thing. I check the list every few hours, to ensure I haven’t missed an appointment, left children stranded at school or forgotten to feed the neighbours’ cats.

Yet small and disturbing things happen continually, reminding me that all is not well in my head. On Saturday night, for instance, I fed the dog and my family. Or at least I thought I had.

At about 8 o’clock, with the dog behaving in a very annoying way – whining at me, getting under my feet, etc – I threatened it with expulsion from the household if it didn’t pull itself together.

‘She’s probably hungry,’ my daughter said.

‘No, she’s not. I fed her a few hours ago,’ I said.

‘No, you didn’t,’ said my daughter, then pointed to the dog’s food bowl, which was sitting, full but undelivered to the dog, on the kitchen counter. (So now I have an added chore on my to-do list: ‘Feed dog. ACTUALLY GIVE DOG FOOD.’)

After dinner, when we were clearing up, my daughter asked me why I hadn’t put the gem squash on the table.

‘Which gem squash?’ I asked.

‘This gem squash,’ she said, pointing to the cooked and strained veggies – sitting untouched on the draining board. (New to-do list chore: ‘Feed family. ACTUALLY GIVE FAMILY FOOD.’)

The diary I have at the moment is a normal half-size one, but it’s quickly getting to the stage where I’m going to have to get one of those gigantic ones, in order to fit in my daily to-do list:
1. Wake up.
2. Get out of bed.
3. Brush teeth.
4. Shower.
5. Change into day clothes.
6. Make coffee. ACTUALLY DRINK COFFEE.
etc.

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Saturday, 7 June 2008

Chris Rock rocked: shame about Carnival City's crap crowd control

I saw manic, rude, clever Chris Rock last night at Carnival City - what a brilliant show, and a what a warm, foot-stomping audience. But dear, oh dear, someone at Carnival City needs a bloody good kick in the pants. It seems like the security department's single brain cell had gone missing last night. Chaotic, scary and downright dangerous doesn't even begin to describe the scene when all five thousand members of the audience tried to leave through a single entrance. (And I'm not exaggerating: the stadium seats five thousand, and it was packed to the rafters). There I stood, my face mashed against the wall, barely able to breathe in the crush, waiting for some pillock to shout 'fire' or 'bomb' and start a lethal stampede. Naturally, no one had thought to open one of the many fire doors that encircle the Big Top Arena. And that's only half of it. At precisely the same time that all five thousand people were pressing towards the exit, ANOTHER five thousand people were ploughing headlong towards the same door, on their way into the arena for the 11 o' clock show.

No one directing the crowd, no-one talking importantly on a walkie-talkie, and no one exercising a little imagination and opening emergency exits. The crowd was packed so tightly that all you could do was stand still, and try not to panic. The incoming crowd wouldn't yield for the outgoing crowd, and so it became a human logjam. Not nice in a hot, noisy, sweaty casino environment. It took us an hour to walk (to inch, actually) from our seats in the arena to the front door of the complex, and another hour to get out of the parking lot.

My blood runs cold to think what might have happened in the event of a fire.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2008

How to frustrate a scissor thief


During my recent cleaning blitz, I unearthed six or seven pairs of scissors, which I hid in various cunning places around the house. Today, when I needed to cut something, every single pair had vanished (along with the stapler, the punch, the sticky tape, various screwdrivers, and so on). If you have a home office and children, you will appreciate just how maddening this can be.

('It wasn't me, I swear'.) So I have come up with the final solution (see my kitchen wall, left).

Any bets on how long the scissors will stay there? My kids don't own bolt cutters, so if this pair disappears, I can ony assume that they are entirely innocent - and that there's a nest of murderous Borrowers living behind the skirting boards.

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