Sunday, 26 August 2012

How Not To Upset Your Flatmates


My son has not yet fully moved into his London apartment (aka black hole) but already squabbling has started amongst the flatmates.  This doesn’t bode well for harmony in the months ahead. 

Let me backtrack.  There are four students in total, of which my son is one.  Three lads and a young lady.  Prior to this merry band of four renting the black hole, Rob assured me all of them got on like a house on fire.  Which in some respects is true, because there have been lots of smoke signals these past few days culminating in major fireworks. 

It all started when Rob and – I’ll call them Wayne, Duane and, um, Jane – went to view the black hole.  Well actually it was just Rob, Wayne and Jane, because Duane had failed his exams and was swotting for a re-sit.  ‘Can I leave you guys to view lettings on my behalf?’ he asked.  ‘Sure,’ the others said.  As their budget was tight, there were only a limited number of properties available – which ranged from heave-makingly disgusting to dismally dire.  They elected for dismally dire.  A series of photographs were taken, including a video.  These were immediately sent off to Duane.  Duane viewed them before giving the thumbs up.  ‘That’ll do,’ he texted, ‘and if you guys don’t mind, I want the bedroom with the desk in it.’  The others agreed and sorted out the remaining choice of rooms between themselves. 

As I blogged previously, when I moved my son’s stuff into his digs I was appalled at the condition of the place.  Filthy wasn’t a word which came close to describing it.  Rob, Wayne, Jane, myself and my father (who’d kindly agreed to help) spent hours scrubbing the place from top to bottom.  Duane didn’t join in with the cleaning because, exhausted from revision and exams, he’d now taken himself off on holiday for two weeks.  Which rather annoyed Jane because Duane had said he was broke and still owed her £300 deposit money.

Over the last couple of weeks Rob has been in and out of the black hole overseeing men from the gas board to check dodgy looking appliances and arrival of furniture, and Jane – along with her own parents – forked out for paint and spent three days tarting up skirting boards and doors in an attempt to make the place look less of a black hole and more of a, well, grey hole I suppose.  At no point did Duane put in an appearance.  And he still owed £300 deposit money to Jane.

And then yesterday, while Rob was at work (his summer job), Duane phoned.  ‘I’m just moving my stuff in Rob and I’m not happy.  In fact I’m livid.’  ‘What’s up?’ Rob asked.  ‘This London apartment you’ve all leased is a naffing black hole.  So I’m angry.  Fuming in fact.  And I’ve changed my mind about having the room with the desk.  It’s too dark.  I’ll have the lounge as my bedroom instead.’ 

Unfortunately Wayne, Jane and Rob are not in agreement to Duane having the lounge as his bedroom.  The lounge was a deciding factor in them taking the lease because of its size.  It can accommodate a dining table for them all, a couple of sofas and is big enough to entertain friends.  They’ve already clubbed together and bought a projector for movies in there – which Duane incidentally also owes money towards.  Duane threatened not to pay Jane the outstanding £300 deposit money if he didn’t get his own way.  Jane promptly burst into tears.  So Rob and Wayne banded together and politely, but firmly, told Duane he was bang out of order.  It was pointed out that Duane had the first pick of the bedrooms, didn’t avail himself to viewing properties, failed to do his share of cleaning and still hadn’t stumped up monies owing.  Result?  Duane having the mother of all tantrums and calling Rob, Wayne and Jane some rather choice names. 

So not a good start.  And if it’s like this now, frankly I wonder who will be talking to whom this time next year. 

Which reminds me, did you hear about the guy who pushed his friend under a steamroller?  He wanted a flat mate...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

London Living


My son is revving up for his second year of dentistry at uni.  A London apartment has been found.  Now to me, the words London apartment conjure up a host of possible pictures.  Lofty penthouses.  Converted warehouses with high ceilings and state of the art kitchens.  Or even a snazzy waterside jobbie with a balcony that overlooks the tugs chugging up and down the Thames.  So when Rob burst in through the door cheerfully calling out, ‘I’ve found a place and it’s really good,’ I was chuffed to bits for him.  Rob’s smile was so wide his lips were almost meeting around the back of his head.  ‘What’s it like?’ I asked eagerly.  ‘Well,’ he hesitated, picking his words carefully, ‘my room is the smallest but it’s really light and airy.  And I can see the sky!’

Seeing the sky is quite important to Rob.  He spent the last year in Queen Mary’s Halls of Residence overlooking a building site which, in no time at all, turned into a towering new hospital wing completely blocking out all light.  The view from his window was bricks, bricks and more bricks punctuated by blacked-out glass which, funnily enough, reflected back the bricks of the building he was inhabiting.  After a while Rob found this view so depressing he ended up blu-tacking to his walls posters of spectacular sunsets, emerald parks and gushing waterfalls.

And so it was that I soon found myself loading up the car and transporting all Rob’s gear to this particular London apartment.  An hour later we were parked up in a mean side street adjacent to a squalid looking block of Council flats.  ‘Are you sure your flat is privately owned?’ I asked Rob.  ‘Oh Mum don’t start stressing,’ Rob implored as we got out of the car, ‘and please don’t embarrass me in front of my flatmates.’  ‘Of course not,’ I said as I followed my son up a concrete staircase that stank of urine.

‘You’re all paying HOW MUCH?’ I shrieked at Rob and his flatmates as we stood in a kitchen full of mismatched cabinets filled with mouse droppings.  When my son had told me it was £500 per month I’d naively thought they were splitting this rental between them.  How any Landlord has the cheek to charge £2,000 per month for a grime encrusted s**thole (which the lettings agent insisted had been professionally cleaned) is surely a joke.  Except I wasn’t laughing.  ‘Oh it’s not too bad,’ quavered Rob.  ‘You’re right,’ I fumed, ‘it’s not too bad, IT’S DIRE.’  Yes, okay, I was being embarrassing.  But hey, I’m a parent and we’re all embarrassing right?  And then I did what any other embarrassing parent would do.  Despatched all four of them to the local shop for bleach, scourers, cleaning fluid, and anti-bac wipes.

Seven hours later the place had been scrubbed from ceiling to floor and wall to wall.  I can’t say it looked any better for it though.  I also think Rob might be re-cycling his posters.  You can indeed see the sky from his window.  If you crane your neck.

Oh to have written a novel like Fifty Shades and made a comfortable million or three.  Then I’d have bought my son one of those brand spanking new London apartments half a mile down the road with all mod-cons.  Meanwhile, I shall source e-bay for a couple of mousetraps.

Which reminds me, what is a mouse’s favourite game?  Hide and squeak...

Friday, 3 August 2012

Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside. Cyprus...


This time last week I was in Cyprus.  Summer holidays, whether home or abroad, are embraced for all sorts of reasons.  Mostly a holiday is all about taking a step back from busy lives and re-charging the batteries.

It was with a sigh of pleasure that I hopped on a plane and briefly escaped Britain’s dismally wet summer and grey skies.  Of course, the moment I jetted off England sniggered behind its Union Jack flag and temperatures soared to 27 degrees for three whole days!  But I didn’t care too much.  I was about to embrace 40 degrees. 

There was a moment of panic on arrival.  ‘Where’s the rep?’ asked Mr V.  ‘Follow me,’ I instructed and trotted off to a lady waving a Thomas Cook placard.  She checked her clipboard to see which coach we should embark upon.  The tip of her biro traced the passenger names on her list.  ‘Oh dear,’ she chewed her lip, ‘you’re not on the list.’ Now I’ve been suffering from a terrible affliction for the last year.  It’s called Menopausal Memory.  Every now and again the fog lifts and I have a moment of clarity.  The grey matter did a bit of mattress plumping and – ding! – I suddenly remembered that I’d booked the holiday with a completely different tour operator.  Thomson.  And sure enough, there was another rep – a man this time and not standing a million miles away – waving a placard and searching the crowd.  ‘Viggiano?’ he called forlornly.  ‘Anybody seen the Viggiano family?’

Hasty apologies were made and we scampered over to the Thomson chappie.  ‘Sooooo sorry,’ I murmured to the sweating rep.  ‘No problem, you’re here now,’ he smiled, mopping his shiny face with a hanky.  ‘All I need is the name of your hotel.’  Ah yes.  The name of the hotel.  ‘The name of the hotel,’ I rummaged through my handbag for the paperwork, ‘is...er...the name of the hotel is...it’s right here...somewhere...it’s...um–’  No paperwork.  Where was the paperwork?  Menopausal Memory had returned.  I looked at Mr V.  Who looked back at me.  ‘Where’s the paperwork Debbie?’  This question you understand was delivered through gritted teeth.  I had a tiny inkling Mr V’s temper was rising to match the Cypriot weather.  ‘No problem,’ I assured my husband and turned back to the rep.  ‘I can tell you exactly which hotel we’re staying in.’ The rep looked relieved.  ‘Yes, it’s the one with the really massive swimming pool.’  Out of my peripheral vision I could see Mr V rolling his eyes.  My daughter, like all teenagers, was being dramatic and whimpering about heat exhaustion.  We’d only been on Cypriot soil for ten minutes.  How was she going to cope for the best part of a fortnight?  The grey fog once again shifted.  ‘I remember now!’ I squeaked excitedly, ‘we’re staying at the Hotel Anus.’  There was a stunned silence.  Even my teenager shut up moaning.  ‘I think you mean the Atlantica Aeneas Hotel,’ the rep said carefully.  Yes.  That’s what I said.

And so began our holiday.  Every day I would stretch out on a sun-lounger.  Rivers of water would cascade down my sides.  I wasn’t sure if my body was crying from the heat or whether some part of me had simply sprung a leak.  The only exertion was to press the page-turning button on my Kindle, take a tug on the straw of my Seven Up drink, or put both aside and take a dip in the pool or sea.

Were there any holiday mishaps?  Yes of course.  Like getting on a bus one evening to explore and getting lost.  We ended up in Protares.  Well in all honesty I dragged my husband off the bus after 40 minutes muttering something like, ‘I’ve had enough of being in a sweat box with hundreds of wannabe clubbers necking booze and rolling spliffs and I’m getting off right here right now whether you’re with me or not.’  It was one of those moments when my husband recognised the wild look in his wife’s eyes and didn’t argue.  Especially as my previously freshly washed sheet of sleek hair had turned into a sweat drenched mass of wild ringlets turning me into a dead ringer for Medusa.  We walked through Protares which was akin to landing on another planet.  Clubbers abounded.  We were possibly the only three people in the street decently attired.  Bare-chested young men were everywhere.  And whilst the women weren’t exactly bare-chested let’s just say that nothing much was left to the imagination!  Across the road was a nightclub that I myopically mis-read as Boobies.  Which was quite appropriate all things considering.  ‘Drink,’ Eleanor gasped, ‘I need a drink.’  We headed towards a familiar neon sign.  All the way to Cyprus and there we were in McDonalds.

What other mishaps?  Oh yes.  My husband’s Speedos.  Mr V simply will not embrace long swim shorts covered in neon palm trees.  I don’t know why.  I’ve told him such shorts are trendy.  And it would make him look younger.  But for some reason he prefers to hang on to his ancient Speedos which are...well...saggy to say the least.  Mr V didn’t fully appreciate just how lacking in the elastic department they were until lying sideways on his sun-lounger.  And inadvertently exposing himself.  Which gave a whole new meaning to that charming English colloquialism dropping a bollock. 

There was another sticky moment – quite literally – when my daughter charmingly discarded several pieces of used chewing gum by spitting them in the direction of our bathroom’s toilet.  But her aim was off and everything landed on the toilet seat.  Being a teenager, she simply left it there.  In due course Mr V came along and quietly shut himself away in the bathroom with – triumph – a copy of the Daily Mail bought for an extortionate price in the local souvenir shop.  At this point I would like to point out that my husband is...how to put this delicately...hirsute.  Indeed I swear his veins contain gorilla blood.  So when Mr V sank down gratefully onto the toilet seat, he wasn’t expecting to have one thigh welded to several globules of gum.  Or to be shrieking in pain ten minutes later whilst his wife cut him free with a pair of nail scissors.

Meanwhile my daughter had packed a suitcase of shorts that, in all truth, were little more than
Denim underpants.  Certainly they gave a whole new meaning to the word cheeky.  Boys flocked around and Mr V did an awful lot of huffing and puffing.  ‘Debbie, have you seen what Eleanor is wearing?  Can’t you do something about it!’  As if I have some sort of control over a fifteen year old.  Ha!  Has he not yet learned that teenagers are a law unto themselves and there is no reasoning with them until they have passed their 18th birthday?  Annoyed, Eleanor stomped off to the bar.  ‘And make sure you’re only drinking Coke!’ Mr V shouted after her.  ‘Yessss,’ she hissed.  In all fairness to her, she did drink Coke.  It’s just that it had Malibu in it too.  Rather than get involved in a row, I stomped after her and ordered my own Coke.  With Bacardi.  Foreign measures are nothing like British measures.  Within minutes Eleanor and I were absolutely plastered.  Mr V pursed his lips and took himself and his one bald thigh off to the bar too.  He ordered a gin and tonic.  Five minutes later he too was totally smashed. 

Now the trouble with extremely short shorts is that they have a habit of finding all your nooks and crannies.  By the time we’d finished our drinks and were ready to stagger into the restaurant, it became apparent Eleanor was in difficulties.  ‘C’mon,’ I slurred, ‘Geddup.’  Eleanor shook her head.  ‘Can’t.  Gotta wedgie.’  So Mr V and I had to form a screen around her while she stood up and made the necessary adjustments. 

Later, on the way back to our hotel room, I came across a stray cat.  It eyed me suspiciously.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had a moggy.  This pitifully thin creature captured my heart, especially when I spotted five tiny kittens hidden in the cool depths of a nearby geranium plant.  Mummy Cat allowed me to peer into the flowery depths.  At that moment a stick insect ran down my arm making me jump.  Mummy Cat hissed but fortunately didn’t impale her claws on my face.  The kittens were adorable but it was obvious they had an eye infection.  A couple of them had eyes glued shut with thick gunge.  Two children materialised by my side.  ‘What’s wrong with them?’ asked the tallest.  ‘They have conjunctivitis,’ I said.  ‘Oh no,’ said the youngest looking close to tears, ‘can you fix it?’  I looked at them.  ‘I think so.’  I went to the local pharmacy and bought antibiotic drops.  For the rest of the holiday me and my two nurses – Isabelle and Trinity – would swaddle the kittens with an old t-shirt and drip the drops into their crusty eyes. 

Isabelle named all the kittens.  There was a dear little tortoiseshell called Tikka.  Two tabbies became Tiger and Mischief.  And two tabby-and-whites were suddenly finding themselves addressed as Alvin and Chipmunk.  ‘I think you need to re-name Alvin,’ I said one day.  ‘Why’s that?’ asked Trinity.  ‘Because Alvin is female,’ I replied.  ‘We haven’t given Mummy Cat a proper name,’ cried Isabelle, ‘what shall we call her?’  ‘I know,’ said Trinity, ‘let’s call her Debbie because she’s a Mummy too.’  So there you have it.  Somewhere in Cyprus is a cat called Debbie. 

Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the cat that swallowed a ball of wool?  She went on to have mittens...