Sunday, 30 September 2012

Today I’m talking dirty...


Yes.  That’s right.  Pure filth.  My working week has been full of workmen.  With filthy hands.
Now I’ve got nothing against workmen.  Indeed, I’m exceedingly grateful to them for the services they provide.  Car mechanics?  I love them.  Especially when the car won’t start.  Repairer of roads?  I love them too.  Particularly when fixing the pothole that gave me a puncture a few weeks ago.  This week I tried to nurture the same feelings of love for the workmen who visited my house.  Let me start at the beginning.
I needed a new driveway.  And pronto.  For the last twelve months our neighbours have suffered my half-baked efforts to clean the gravel and sand from our driveway.  Mr V said he’d help.  But somehow golf got in the way.  So I abandoned my shovel and wheelbarrow and booked a reputable Kent County Council contractor to finish the job.  The company said they’d do it soon.  That was months ago.  ‘We’re a very busy company Mrs Viggiano.  Please be patient,’ was the standard reply whenever I chased up.  Patience is a virtue.  But not mine.  And then a leaflet plopped through my letterbox.  WE DO DRIVEWAYS was the heading.

‘We’re NOT using people we don’t know anything about,’ said Mr V.  ‘Of course not,’ I replied.  I waved Mr V off to work and rang the number.  Enter Harry.  Nice enough chap.  Had a squint which made him look a bit dodgy.  His sidekick had a thick tinker accent and no teeth.  I told myself that one cross eye and a lack of Simon Cowell smile was unimportant.  We got down to the business of numbers.  They wanted half the money that KCC’s contractor had quoted.   I resisted the urge to rub my hands together and cackle with glee.  ‘The job’s yours.  When can you start?’  Harry's right eye met mine while his left eye studied the floor.  I wasn’t sure whether he was actually looking at me or the ground.  Or both.  ‘Hmm.  I’m not sure when I can get hold of the tar.’  Which possibly translated as we need to wait for the material to accidentally fall off the back of a lorry.  ‘I’m a very patient woman,’ I smiled.  Which I am – where money is concerned.
The tar made an appearance four days later.  Suddenly my driveway had pneumatic drills chugging all over the place.  A lorry arrived and dumped a steaming mound of tarmac.  The driver jumped out of his cab.  He looked like an extra from Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.   He marched up to the front door.  I gulped.  Was my worst nightmare about to happen?  Ding dong.  ‘Good morning Mrs Viggiano,’ he smiled.  Only two teeth missing.  ‘Could I be using your toilet now?’  I stared at him.  ‘You’ll have to take those shoes off,’ I croaked.  I resisted the urge to ask him to take his hands off too.  They were blacker than the tar being spread across the drive.  Instead I sent up a silent prayer of thanks to God for creating anti-bacterial wipes for women like me.  The lorry driver disappeared into the downstairs toilet.  Seconds later there was the sound of a tap running.  Hurrah.  A man who washed his hands after using the loo.  He thanked me and went out.  I immediately went into the loo with my Dettox wipes.  The hand-towel, clean that morning, was streaked in black.  I picked it up and chucked it in the washing machine, before replacing with a clean one from the airing cupboard.
Ding dong.  I mentally braced myself.  Would this be the rest of the tarmac crew wanting a wee-wee?  Instead it was a completely different workman.  Enter Paul.  From British Gas.  For the entirety of the working week, our boiler had been playing up.  One minute we had no heating.  Then no hot water.  Then we had heating but still no hot water.  Then hot water but defunct heating again.  And then finally we had both heating and hot water but the thermostat packed up.  And then the control box jammed.  When the house had reached 40 degrees, I took to the fuse box in desperation.  ‘I’ve come to fix your boiler,’ said Paul.  I’d been hearing these words all week.  But it wasn’t really Paul’s fault.  He was an inexperienced and very young engineer.  Indeed, I don't know what British Gas are thinking of employing 14 year olds.  Paul had a habit of looking at the boiler, tapping his teeth with a pencil and then ringing up a colleague to say, ‘I haven’t a chuffing clue what’s wrong with this customer’s boiler.’  Thankfully, on his last visit Paul managed to fix everything.  And then came the magic words.  ‘Can I use your loo?’  Paul’s hands looked as though they’d been coated in diesel.  I made a mental note to chuck the second hand-towel in the washing machine.  As soon as Paul had departed, out came the anti-bacs again.  I’m never entirely sure if drips all over the floor are from water or...well quite.

Anyway.  It is now Sunday.  And peaceful.  Not a workmen in sight.  I have a brand new very black driveway.  And there is heating and hot water.  And clean hand-towels.  Which reminds me.  Why did the germs cross the microscope?  To get to the other slide....

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Tales of the Unexpected


What do you do when you look into a toilet bowl and see, well, something you really didn’t want to see?
My son, Rob, recently moved into his London Apartment.  He’s sharing with three other dentistry students.  I’ve blogged before about their digs.  In a nutshell, it’s an expensive rental that looks slightly better than a squat.  Indeed, when I first stood in my son’s room, the urge to burst into tears was overwhelming.  The only thing I seemed capable of uttering was, ‘This place is a s**thole.’  However, the current condition of the toilet has reinforced that statement.
Rob and his flatmates Duane, Wayne and Jane (not their real names) are all getting down to the nuts and bolts of living with one another.  Things didn’t get off to a great start with Duane.  And unfortunately haven’t improved.

Jane is an organiser.  Rob thrives on pleasing.  And Wayne is a Yes person.  Whereas Duane is just... a pleb.  Within seconds of moving in, Jane purchased a white board.  She wrote up everybody’s lecture schedules and worked out a rota for household chores.  So far Duane has managed to avoid his share with a succession of excuses.  These are now running thin on the ground.  The last excuse was, ‘I don’t know how to mop.’
Jane assigned Robbie to train Duane in vacuuming and mopping, while Wayne cleaned the bathroom and Jane scrubbed the kitchen.  Halfway through vacuuming, Rob realised his trainee had lost interest and locked himself in his room.  And bolted the door for good measure.  Jane, in Manager Mode, told Rob to carry on and she’d speak to Duane later.  Rob dutifully mopped.

Duane later emerged to grab a snack from the fridge.  He left boot prints over Rob’s clean floor, and mess in Jane’s spotless kitchen.  Before either of them could murder Duane, he scarpered back to his room and locked the door.  And there he remained until Wayne, Jane and Rob went to bed.  At some point in the night, Duane crept out.  He returned at around 4 in the morning with an unknown guest.  Music was played at full blast.
At 7 a.m. Jane got up and went to use the loo.  It was blocked.  She scribbled notes to Rob and Wayne, and pushed them under their doors.  Her message read Loo Out of Order.  She then took herself off to university.  Cross-legged.  When Rob surfaced at 8, he failed to see Jane’s note and blearily staggered off to the loo.  Unimpressed with the sight that greeted his eyes, he pressed the flush button.  And watched in horror as the water rose, and rose.  And then rose a bit more.  Just when it seemed as if the River Thames was about to surge out of the toilet, the water subsided.  But the contents within didn’t.

Rob banged on Duane’s door.  No answer.  He then walked into the kitchen to find a raided fridge, leftovers chucked at the bin – but not in it – and a sink full of vomit.  Rob returned to Duane’s door and threatened to kick it in.  But as he’s all huff and no puff, he instead stomped off to uni. 
Who needs to watch telly when there is drama unfolding in an East End dump of a flat?  Will Wayne, Jane and Rob ever break down the door to Duane’s bedroom?  Will they hunt Duane down by the wardrobe or under the bed?  Will they disembowel him to stop shock encounters with Duane’s bowels?  And, more importantly, who is going to unblock that loo?

Which reminds me.  What do you get if you cross a Goth with a toilet?  The Cisterns of Mercy...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Incy Wincy Spider


Remember that nursery rhyme?  My kids used to love it.  The words down came the rain and washed the spider out have currently never been truer in our house.  Spiders abound.  Yesterday I flicked back the kitchen curtains only to have a sizeable spider fall into the palm of my hand.  I recoiled in horror.  Flinging it like a javelin thrower, I stepped backwards.  Straight into the dog’s water bowl. 

The rest of the family haven’t fared much better.  My daughter leapt into the shower only to discover she was sharing the cubicle with an eight-legged visitor.  Walls instantly closed in and hyperventilation took place.  And Mr V, comfortably enthroned in our bathroom, was horrified to discover a spider sharing his newspaper (he’s not very good with spiders.  Or sharing his newspaper.). 

However, pity my poor sister.  A friend wanted to get rid of a greenhouse.  My sister, a keen grower of all things vegetable, whizzed round to the friend’s house, and had it disassembled and stowed in her 4 x 4 before you could say Alan Titchmarsh.  The friend did caution my sister to check it over for spiders first.  One can only assume this warning fell on deaf ears.  The following morning my sister set off to work.  As she roared along the M25, in her peripheral vision she saw something black stroll across the ceiling.  At this point she was travelling in the outside lane at 90 miles per hour.  But that’s between you and me, and not to be shared with PC Plod.  She most certainly wasn’t in a position to take her eyes off the motorway to check out what the something black was.  However, sensing it might be something to scream about, she attempted to get onto the hard shoulder and investigate.  But before she could even find a gap in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, the something black released a silvery thread.  And dangled in front of her face.   Her worst fears were confirmed.  A huge spider.  The sort that is thick bodied with legs that could benefit from hair removal cream.  As it rotated before her nose, my sister began to scream.  She screamed as her vehicle hurtled past a Tesco’s lorry, screamed as she carved up a pensioner hogging the middle lane, screamed as she finally edged into the inside lane, and screamed even more upon discovering the hard shoulder had run out and didn’t begin again for another two miles.  The spider, possibly unnerved by all her noise, stopped rotating and dropped into her lap.  My sister nearly fainted.  Aware that causing a motorway pile-up simply wasn’t on, she managed to keep going until the next hard shoulder mercifully appeared.  She later told me that she wondered what passing motorists made of the woman hopping around in one shoe as she thrashed the living daylights out of her car. 

Even worse, on her drive home, exactly the same thing happened.  And the saying that all things come in threes was never truer.  Yes, the following morning, yet another horrendous vision was dangling in her rear view mirror whilst she once again zoomed up the M25.  My sister was convinced that a hoard of spiders had transferred from the disassembled greenhouse and found a home in the lining of her vehicle’s roof.  Needless to say the roof lining has been squashed to oblivion in an attempt to obliterate anything that might be lurking.  Personally I’d trade the car in.  To hell with the expense. 

I can always remember my son, when a toddler, having his first encounter with a spider.  He kept touching its leg and chuckling deliciously as the spider waved it about.  Naturally I had a light bulb moment – train my toddler to adore spiders.  And then get him to despatch them.  ‘Awwww, look at the furry spider,’ I said (from a safe distance).  ‘Give him a little stroke and then pop him outside for Mummy eh?’  ‘’Pider,’pider,’ said my son lovingly.  It didn’t last.  Six months later he had joined the rest of us folk with arachnophobia.   

What is it about spiders that reduce us to gibbering wrecks?  Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with this.  Why did Mrs Spider buy a computer?  Because she wanted a website...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Back to School


They say all good things must come to an end.  And so it was with the school summer holidays.

I always have mixed feelings about the half-term and end-of-term breaks.  On the plus side it’s fantastic to have an extra hour in bed in the mornings.  It’s also brilliant to enjoy some quality time with my children.  On the minus side, my working day is severely disrupted because – oops – they’re children only in name.  The reality is I’m living with teenagers.  Young adults.  And actually they don’t want quality time with their mother.  What they absolutely do want, however, is knowing whether I’ve washed/ironed/sewed a button on their jeans/skirt/shirt/blouse because they are needed.  Now.  So anticipated moments of happy togetherness would instantly disintegrate into a frenzy of mutually soaring stress levels.

Other disruptions were unscheduled taxi services.  The nineteen year old had a habit of suddenly saying, ‘Any chance of you quickly chucking me over to so-and-so’s house?’  By using the words quickly and chucking I was instantly misled to believe that the so-and-so in question lived just around the corner.  Not ten miles away.  Or even twenty miles away.  Which made for rather prolonged round trips.  Especially in rush hour.  I only wised up to this ruse in the final week.  ‘I borrowed some stuff off Harry,’ said my son, ‘and he wants it back.  I don’t really want to see him though.  Would you mind quickly chucking it back for me?’  As Harry lived 30 minutes away and I was desperate to hit the supermarket, my response was swift.  ‘No problem. Just so long as I can quickly chuck you at Tesco’s en-route.’  Touché.  My son looked suitably gobsmacked.  But he dutifully did my shopping while I returned a stack of CDs to his mate. 

My daughter, just 15 and not yet ready to totally sever the invisible umbilical cord, had far sweeter tactics.  ‘I love you Mum.  What about we have some girlie time together and go shopping?’  For this, read her shopping and me paying.  But I fall for it every time.

I'd drive us to Bluewater, full of anticipation.  That fizzled out upon being dragged into the type of shops that were only a teenager’s paradise.  Not a middle-aged woman in sight.  Well not on the shop floor anyway.  Instead they were standing with hunched shoulders and resigned expressions outside changing cubicles, credit cards clutched possessively to matronly bosoms. Yes, they were waiting for their own teenaged daughters to finish slithering into fabulous figure-hugging jobbies.  Take Lipsy for example.  Gorgeous dresses in sizes small, medium and large.  But in Lipsy these sizes actually translate as 6, 8 and 10.  I do not know any truly large woman who would fit into a Lipsy dress.  Not unless she wanted to look like a particularly porky sausage in the grip of a very tight bandage. 

‘Let’s go to M&S,’ I eventually suggested.  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I cringed.  They were the same words my mother had dared to utter decades earlier when I was teenager.  Back then my feelings about M&S had been the same as my daughter’s today.  A shop for old people.  ‘You sound just like grandma.  You’ll be admiring that polyester dress next.’  ‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ I spluttered.  And moved smartly away from a dress that was...no it couldn’t be....hell it was.  Polyester.  Needless to say the only shopping I achieved was in the M&S cafe, Revive.  If my credit card had been human I’d have offered it a cappuccino.  For it certainly needed a bit of reviving if my daughter’s copious shopping bags were anything to go by. 

But suddenly peace reigned.  My son went back to uni.  I waved him off, wiping my tears with a less than fresh tea towel.  And instantly broke out in conjunctivitis.  My daughter went back to school informing me there was a forgotten academic review we both needed to attend.  I binned the manky tea towel and took my red eyes off to meet the new form teacher - who looked a dead ringer for a twelve year old.  I hope the form doesn't gang up on her.

Which reminds me.  Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher?  She had trouble with her pupils...

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Menopausal Madness


Earlier this week I took my daughter to the local photographer to update her portfolio for her drama agent.  Whilst there I asked the photographer if she would be kind enough to take a couple of mother and daughter photographs.  ‘Of course,’ said the photographer.  So together Eleanor and I beamed away while lights flashed.  At the end of the shoot, the photographer showed us the results on a big screen.  Eleanor looked absolutely stunning.  But who the hell was the old bag standing next to her? 

I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror.  Well, only to put my make-up on.  And that’s not something to smile about, so I’ve been oblivious to the crinkled eyes and crow’s feet that appear on baring one’s teeth.  I don’t stand there like my teenage daughter, preening and pouting with a mobile phone, before posting the latest inane pose to Facebook or Twitter.  But that’s because she’s 15.  Whereas I’m 50.  And dear God did it show when we stood before this TV screen.  ‘Do you do airbrushing?’ I asked.  

Since my big birthday, never have I been more aware of body parts doing things they’ve never done before.  Forget about wrinkles, middle-age spread or sprouting a fluffy chin overnight.  That’s superficial.  It’s the brain I’m talking about.  Since March it’s completely re-located.  Possibly to my derrière.  I jokingly tell my family that my backside is keeping my brain warm.  My husband jokingly says, ‘That figures because you talk a load of s**t.’  Well I think he’s joking anyway.

Certainly there’s a major problem connecting the brain to other parts of the body.  Like my mouth for instance.  There are moments where I open my chops to speak and wonder exactly what’s going to come out.  Take Friday for example.  The car needed petrol.  So I filled up and then ambled over to the cashier to pay.  ‘Oh, and while I’m here, I’ll take a run through the dishwasher.’  The cashier smiled kindly before wordlessly passing me a ticket... to the car wash.  Where do these unwanted words come from?  Why does the brain misconnect to the mouth causing rubbish to spout forth?

I was caught out again while doing the day job.  Whilst it’s good to be friendly with folk, when writing to Paul it’s probably best not to start his letter with Dear Pal.  It could be misconstrued as taking friendliness too far.

The brain is also failing to remember day to day things.  How many times do I go upstairs to do something only to find that I have absolutely no recollection of why I ventured upstairs?  But no matter, because being a busy housewife and mum there’s always something to do downstairs.  If only I could remember what.  One day my husband watched me go up and down the stairs, backwards and forwards, without actually achieving anything.  ‘Are you exercising?’ he asked.  ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I’m trying to remember...something.’  ‘Well why don’t you sit down and think about it.’  ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I snorted.  Sit down?  I was far too busy going up and down the staircase.  Mr V shook his head and went back to his telly viewing.

In the last week alone I’ve tried to get into three cars that weren't mine and lost my car in the supermarket car park four times.  I just couldn’t remember where I’d parked it.  Should I be worried or does this happen to other women? 

I’m currently reading a book about taking charge of your life and making your dreams come true.  Apparently you can literally manifest things into your life.  Currently I’m working on manifesting a really brilliant state-of-the-art brain.  However, this cosmic calling turned a whole new corner last Wednesday.

I was ransacking the larder for a jar of baby porridge for the hamster (yes, sounds odd, but she’s old, lacks teeth and I swear the baby porridge is all that’s keeping her alive).  Anyway, could I find the jar of baby porridge?  No.  Frustrated, I grabbed a chair, hoisted myself upwards, and systematically searched the shelves from top to bottom.  No baby porridge.  It was late, the shop was shut and I didn’t want the hamster starving.  So in desperation I’m ashamed to confess I began chanting.  ‘I am manifesting a jar of baby porridge, I am manifesting a jar of baby porridge.’  Mr V wandered into the kitchen in search of a late night snack, found his wife with her head inside a cupboard commanding a tin of Heinz soup to turn into a jar of Heinz porridge, and asked what the hell I was doing.  I nearly fell off my chair.  It’s one thing to attempt manifestations in private, quite another in front of an audience.  I clambered down from the chair, put it back under the table and then froze.  For right there, on the table top, was – wait for it – a jar of baby porridge.  ‘OH.  MY.  GOD.’  I paled.  ‘What’s the matter now?’ Mr V asked.  I picked up the jar of porridge and waggled it in front of my husband’s face.  ‘I’ve only gone and done it!  Manifested a jar of baby porridge!’  Or...gulp...had I in fact been to the cupboard...removed the porridge...forgotten I’d done so...then spent a futile five minutes searching the cupboard and behaving like a lunatic? 

Meanwhile I’ve taken solace in a bit of retail therapy.  Autumn is upon us.  The shops are full of warm knits, long-sleeved tops and trousers the colour of rich wine.  I’ve bought a couple of sweaters and some jeans in this shade.  After all, they match my face as I repeatedly hot flush to the colour of boiled beetroot. 

Which reminds me.  If scientists ever find a cure for the menopause, what will our biggest problem be?  Global cooling...