Sunday, 27 October 2013

Red Tape

British Summer Time is officially over and we are now into Daylight Savings Time, the UK thus reverting to Greenwich Mean Time.  So thanks to this fabulous bright idea (no pun intended) we all get a bit of extra light plus an extra hour today.  How will you spend yours?
          I know what I’ll be doing.  I have an extra hour to pack boxes.  Moving Day is next Thursday.  Halloween.  So potentially there is a risk of double the amount of trick and treaters ringing the doorbell.
          Our home is no longer looking like a place where the heart is.  Instead it is simply a house.  A number of bare rooms devoid of personal belongings.  There is something very forlorn about it all, as if the house is saying, ‘What are you doing stripping me naked?’  It’s quite sad really.
          Yesterday was a day of marathon telephone calls trying to contact everybody before they all naffed off home to enjoy the rest of their weekend.  EDF Energy had such a long telephone wait time (fifty minutes) that the battery on my handset died.  On the third attempt – ringing from an old fashioned phone with a twirl cord – contact was finally made.  Currently it is only the Halifax bank who remain officially uninformed about our new address.
          ‘Hello? Hello!  I’d like to notify you of my change of address.’
          ‘Yes.  I’ll just get your details on my screen.  Ah, I see you have a joint account.’
          ‘Yes.  The account is in the name of me and my husband.’
          ‘Is your husband there?’
          ‘No. He’s been dispatched to do some chores relating to the house move. Although I suspect he’s standing inside a television shop watching Manchester United.’
          ‘Right.  The thing is, I need to speak to him too.’
          ‘Shall I get him on his mobile?  Perhaps I could press my mobile to this handset and you can speak to each other?’
          ‘That might be difficult.  I know!  Tell me your pin number and I’ll override my computer security.’
          ‘What pin number?’
          ‘You should have a six digit security number.’
          ‘No, sorry I don’t.’
          ‘Okay.  No worries.  I’ll send you one in the post.’
          ‘Fine.  But I’m moving.  So you’ll need my new address.’
          ‘Ah.  We’re not allowed to send it to the new address.  It has to go to the old address.’
          ‘Okay.  Well I’m at the old address until next Thursday.’
          ‘Oh dear.  The pin number will take seven working days to get to you.’
          ‘By which point we won’t be here.’
          ‘Yes.  I quite understand.  Um, what about you pop into the Halifax in person?’
          ‘Yes, I could come in on Monday.’
          ‘With your husband?’
          ‘Er, no.  He’ll be at his office.’
          ‘That won’t work either then.’
          ‘What about you ask me a million security questions.  You know, my mother’s maiden name and what colour toilet paper I use.’
          ‘I could in normal circumstances, but not for an address change.’
          I mean, seriously, who invented so much red tape that you can’t even update your new address?  Meanwhile I’ve resorted to the good old fashioned fallback of getting the Post Office to redirect all our mail.  Which reminds me.
          Last week God visited Noah, now living in the North of England.  God said, ‘Once again, mankind has become wicked.  Build an ark.  Save two of every living thing along with a few good humans.  You have six months before I start torrential rain for 40 days and 40 nights.’  Six months later God returned.  He saw Noah weeping, and absolutely no sign of an ark.  ‘Noah!  I’m about to start the torrential rain. Where is the ark?’  ‘Forgive me,’ Noah begged, ‘but things have changed.  I needed Building Regulations approval and I’ve been arguing with the Fire Brigade about a sprinkler system.  Getting the wood was a problem because all the trees have Preservation Orders on them, and I live in an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty owned by The Woodland Trust which was set up to protect the spotted owl.  And when I started gathering the animals together, the RSPCA sued me for confining wild animals against their will. And then the County Council, the Environment Agency and the Rivers Authority ruled that I couldn’t build an ark until they’d conducted an Environmental Impact Study on your flood proposal.  The Trade Union said I couldn’t employ my sons and that I could only hire accredited workers with ark building experience.  And to make matters worse, Customs & Excise seized all my assets claiming I was trying to leave the country illegally with endangered species.  So forgive me, Lord, but it’s going to take at least ten years to build this ark.’  Suddenly the skies cleared and the sun shone down.  A vast rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder.  ‘Does this mean you are no longer going to destroy the world?’  ‘No,’ boomed God, ‘it seems the Government have beaten me to it.’


Friday, 18 October 2013

A Laundry Lament

Some people find washing and ironing therapeutic.  Yes, it’s true.  I can remember – granted it was years ago – a friend who actually said that after a busy day at the office she enjoyed nothing more than running a hot iron over crumpled clothes.  That listening to the hiss and spit of the iron as it whooshed backwards and forwards over her beloved husband’s shirts was calming.  And as for periodically being engulfed in a cloud of steam, well apparently that was Nirvana.  This, of course, was before she went on to have a number of children, ended up with her nerves frazzled by juggling the office job with a family, and finally told them all to iron their own wretched shirts before taking off with the window cleaner.  Okay, he wasn’t the window cleaner.  But he was somebody similar.  The milkman or the postman.  And no I don’t know if she found bliss with her new man.  I rather suspect the danger of finding new love is that you inevitably exchange one load of domestic drudge for another
          Anyway, I digress.  My old friend’s words of finding the task of ironing to be a therapeutic one stuck in my memory.  I suppose it’s because as I’ve stood over the ironing board at assorted hideous hours of the day or night, I’ve tried to con myself into believing that I’m doing something soothing.  A bit of respite.  Something that makes my shoulders droop with relaxation and my mind uncoil from tension.   However, as I unball tightly balled-up socks and unpick a crop of buttons from shirts and blouses (my husband and daughter undo the top two before bending, head over feet, to pull the garment over their heads so that it remains not only securely fastened but also inside out), I have to confess that wearing a tranquil expression and thinking tranquil thoughts doesn’t come easily.  And when I’ve finally put garments the right way round, unpicked all those buttons and ironed everything to freshly laundered perfection, I don’t appreciate the cat mincing over when my back is turned and making an impromptu bed out of it all.
          Which reminds me.  A guy walks into a laundry run by cats.  ‘Excuse me,’ he said to the cat in charge, ‘can you get milk stains out?’  ‘Sure,’ replied the cat, ‘in a jiffy we’ll have that stain licked...’

Sunday, 13 October 2013

A Male Tale

Yesterday I spent three hours alternating between washing machine, tumble drier and ironing board.  After my ‘wake up’ call earlier this year, I no longer obsess about having a home like a show house, or garments hanging on the clothes horse for longer than 24 hours, or an immaculate garden whilst juggling the day job and writing long into the night.  Something had to give.  So these days the house is tidy, but cleaned when I get a moment rather than twice a week.  I’ve also taken on the services of a gardener.  And by Saturday, the lid on the laundry bin sits on a mountain of unwashed clothes rather than the bin itself, so laundry is now tackled in one fell swoop.  Help is still rather scant on the ground.  My son, home from uni for a rare weekend visit, disappeared into his room insisting he had to revise for his finals.  My daughter barricaded herself into her bedroom to deal with coursework.  And Mr V did what he always does when the weather is fair and fine.  He disappeared off to a golf course.
          I was quite happy to get on with the task without interruption.  Except I wasn’t left in peace for very long.
          ‘We’re hungry,’ came the call down the stairs.
          Grilled haloumi, toast and several teas later, I returned to the ironing board.  The next interruption was for an emergency trip to the barber by my son. I’d barely resumed ironing when my husband rang on his mobile from his car.
          ‘I’m five minutes away and absolutely knackered.  Get a bath on.’
          ‘You seriously want me to put on a bath?  Whereabouts?  On my head, like a hat?  Or perhaps around my shoulders?’
          I carried on ironing.  But not for long. Brrrring-brrring.  This time it was my son.
          ‘I’m done, but I’m covered in hair.  Can you draw me a bath?’
          Draw a bath?  Yes, certainly.  With a pencil or a biro?’
          Needless to say neither husband nor son had steaming bubble baths awaiting them.  Both wore hurt expressions at their bidding not having been carried out which, for a moment, I felt guilty about.  But only for a moment you understand.
          In my next life I’m going to be a man.  I think it has to be a hell of a lot easier than being a woman.  A man can walk into a bar on his own without eyebrows being raised.  A man is a lot safer than a woman walking the streets after dark.  A man can have as many partners as he likes without being called a tart.  And a man can collapse in front of the telly, while the only thing the wife can collapse is the ironing board.
          Oh I know there are a few men out there who mow the lawn, wield a power drill and aren’t afraid to don a pinny or plug in a vacuum cleaner, but sadly I haven’t personally come across one.   Which reminds me.  A woman went shopping.  At the check-out, she opened her purse to pay.  The cashier noticed a TV remote control in her purse.  Curious, he asked, ‘Do you always carry the remote with you?’  ‘No,’ the woman replied, ‘not usually.  But my husband refused to come shopping with me today.’  The cashier laughed and scanned the woman’s purchases.  She handed over a credit card.  ‘Oh dear,’ said the cashier a few moments later, ‘it appears your husband has blocked your credit card.’  And the moral of that little tale is: respect the hobbies of your husband... 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

How to own a mucky book...

A little while ago, my sister leant me a book – a very beautiful book full of spiritual teachings.  When I was in hospital and in a rather dark place, I fell upon this book.  It went everywhere with me.  Down to X-Ray.  Into Ultrasound.  In the queue at Phlebotomy.  And, naturally, not far from my side in my hospital room.  In between writing, I read it while munching through the hospital’s menu of soggy cereal, insipid dinners and unappetising teas.  And when I went home, the book went with me, squashed into the depths of my handbag.
          My first husband was absolutely fanatical about the care and condition of any book he read.  Indeed, by the time he’d finished reading a book, you’d have honestly thought the thing had never had a page opened, let alone turned.  Quite how he managed to pull off such a feat was beyond me.  Unfortunately I am the opposite.  I open the book, flatten the page, turn corners of pages over to mark where I’m up to, and as I progress further and further into the book the spine collects more wrinkles than a crone.
          Reading is a pleasure.  And such enjoyment is heightened when the devouring of words is twinned with a snack.  It’s therefore not unusual to find my current read sporting greasy fingerprints from buttery toast.  The annual summer holiday leaves my books covered in sand, sun cream, pool and sea water.  Indeed, after three or four days on the beach, the book has seen so much of the latter that some pages become unglued.  If you spot a sunburnt blonde chasing bits of paper along a beach, that’s me.  So as you can see, I may be an avid reader but I’m not a very good carer.
          ‘Why are your books so scruffy?’ my sister once complained.  ‘Anybody would think you are a total slob.’
          I’m not a slob.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  Other than in the Book Department.  So when my sister loaned me this particular book, I was very wary of accepting it.
          ‘But it’s brand new,’ I pointed out.
          ‘That’s okay,’ she assured.
          I opened the first page and was horrified to see it had been inscribed with a personal message by the author.  And not to my sister either.  It was addressed to her husband.
          ‘Oh, but this is Richard’s book,’ I gasped.  ‘Does he know you’ve leant it to me?’
          ‘No, but don’t worry about it.  He’s had it years and never read it.  And it’s very unlikely he ever will.  Keep it.’
          ‘Gosh, thanks,’ I beamed.  And with that I treated the book as if it was my own.  Fatal.
          This morning I had a telephone call.  It was my brother-in-law.
          ‘Hi, Debbie.  I just wondered if you’d finished reading my book?’
          ‘Almost,’ I beamed, ‘and it’s absolutely marvellous.  What wonderful teachings.  I’m so grateful.’
          ‘Good, good.  Only the thing is, I’d like it back.  I want to read it myself.’
          There was a pause while I did the sort of gulp you hear in cartoons.
          ‘Ah.  Right.  Um, well obviously it’s not as, er, pristine, as it was.  So, uh, I know!’ I smiled brightly into the receiver.  ‘What about I buy you a brand new book to replace this one?’
          ‘No, no, no.  That’s nice of you to offer, but I’d like the original back.  It has a personal message in it, you see, from the author.’
          ‘Yes,’ I whispered while all sorts of words fired off in my brain which are far too rude to write here.  There is a lot to be said for the invention of Kindle.  Indeed, why the devil hadn’t I just downloaded the same book in the first place?  But it was too late for that now.  A rescue operation had to be done.  And quickly.
          So the book in question has been wiped clean, polished with a soft duster and, as I currently write, is being flattened under the weight of umpteen other books in order to restore the jacket and internal pages to some sort of decent condition, rather than curly edges with fluffy corners.  When I hand it over, it will be swathed in bubble wrap so my brother-in-law can’t see the second-hand condition until I’ve put some distance between us.  About twenty miles to be more precise.
          Which reminds me.  What sort of people make the best book-keepers?  The people who borrow your books and never return them...