Sunday, 17 November 2013

Let’s Get Shirty

As a teenager I used to be a bit of a hot head.  You know...strop about if I couldn’t get my own way over something.  Get a bit shouty.  Pout a lot – sulkily, not seductively.  And if a temper tantrum reached boiling point, I’d wave my arms around like windmills to emphasise my anger.  My parents lost count how many times I’d yell, ‘It’s not fair.’  Those words are a teenager’s catchphrase.
          As the years pass and we walk through life, inevitably we grow out of saying, ‘It’s not fair.’  We also find our tolerance grows and we react differently to the way we used to as a teen.  I remember reaching a defining point somewhere in my forties where I was only a fraction of the hot head I’d been in my teens.  But this was also helped by the fact that I now had two teenagers of my own frequently yelling, ‘It’s not fair,’ whilst windmilling their arms about.  Also I was too knackered and browbeaten to retaliate.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ my mother said last week.  ‘You’re nothing like the feisty woman you used to be.’
          Actually that’s not true.  Deep down I am still feisty, it’s just that I’ve put a lid on it.  After my spell in hospital this summer, everything was put in perspective.  If a day is full of sh*t hitting fans, rather than retaliate I've simply learnt to duck.  Avoiding cr*p may be tedious, but it’s still more preferable to bone marrow tests and hospital food.  Anyway, I digress.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ said my father, when the boiler in our new house keeled over 24 hours before moving in.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ said my husband when his bathwater failed to flow out of the main drain and instead erupted out of the downstairs loo and flooded the hallway and kitchen.
          ‘Aren’t you calm,’ said my daughter when a painter misread his address sheet and painted our brand new shed bright green.  And the kerb on my parking space collapsed damaging my car.  And I put my shoulder out wrestling with a back door that refused to lock.  And so on.  Calmness reigned.  Serenity was my middle name.
          I suppose everybody has a line that they are finally pushed up to.  Mine came last Tuesday when a well known bedroom company were due to fit my bespoke wardrobes.  Oh how I’d waited for this moment!  I could now satisfy the deep craving to unpack boxes and put clothes away!  I’d paid a lot of money for these wardrobes.  The designer and I had spent hours poring over graph paper.  The surveyor had checked and double checked the measurements.  There was then a two week pause or everything to be made at the factory.  And then the fitter turned up to put it all together.  Yessssss!
          ‘Hello,’ said Mr Fitter.
          ‘Good morning!’ I said crisply.  No beaming or smiling.  Didn’t want him thinking I was flirting.  Too many misunderstandings have occurred over harmless smiles in the last few weeks.
          ‘Where are we doing it?’
          ‘In the bedroom.’  There was an uneasy silence as we both contemplated our respective choices of words.  ‘Follow me,’ I snapped, desperate to regain employer/employee status.
          I have two flights of stairs in my new house.  By the time we’d reached my bedroom, the fitter was panting for all the wrong reasons.
          ‘I smoke forty a day,’ he wheezed.  ‘I can’t say I’m too happy about having to lug all the material stored in your lounge up to the top floor.’
          ‘I did explain to your company that I didn’t have anywhere to properly store the materials,’ I waved a hand at the box towers all around, ‘but they were most adamant that I had to make space somewhere.  The lounge was the only feasible place.’
          ‘Well you’re going to have to clear this bedroom somehow,’ Mr Fitter said as he planted his feet wide and stuck a pencil behind his ear, ‘because I have no room to get my big tool out.’
          There was another weighty silence as we both digested his unfortunate phrase.
          ‘How big,’ I croaked, before clearing my throat, ‘exactly what size is this tool?’
          ‘Vast.  It’s my workbench.’
          ‘Yes.  I use it to jigsaw.’
          I gathered we weren’t talking about the toyshop variety.  ‘You’re not cutting materials in here!’
          ‘I will be if you want me to make your wardrobes,’ said Mr Fitter looking mutinous.
          ‘Make my wardrobes?  What do you mean make my wardrobes?  My wardrobes have already been made!  They just need putting together!’
          ‘No.  They need making. And I’m making them.’
          ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ I said, squaring my shoulders, ‘but there seems to have been some monumental understanding.  My daughter is asthmatic.  No way would I have signed a contract with your company if your designer had explained you’d be making wardrobes in my house!  I can’t possibly have wood dust filling the air.’
          There then followed an awful lot of chuntering.  Mr Fitter was mightily upset at having his job cancelled.  Time was money, didn’t I understand?  He had a wife and family to feed.  And a forty a day cigarette habit to fund.
          Minutes later the designer was on the phone full of apologies at forgetting to mention that the wardrobes weren’t cut to size at the factory.
          ‘Are you sure we can’t cut them in your house?’ he wheedled. ‘What if we put a dust sheet down?’
          ‘A dust sheet,’ I repeated, calmly.  Oh yes I was oh-so-calm.  The sort of calm where you enunciate everything slowly and quietly before spectacularly losing the plot.  And suddenly I was whizzing backwards in time to my sixteen year old self fighting the tremendous urge not to turn my arms into high speed windmills and shriek, ‘It’s not fair!’
          To cut this tale short, Mr Fitter has gone and Mr Designer has – with a bit of luck – had his knuckles rapped.  Meanwhile I’ve appropriated a number of portable hanging rails, unpacked the clothes and binned all the boxes.  And a new wardrobe fitter has been employed.  One who makes the wardrobes in a factory and then sends over a fitter to put them together like a jigsaw, rather than actually using a jigsaw.  And I’m almost back to feeling calm.  Which reminds me.
          A woman waiting to have her new wardrobes, no, no...let’s change it.  Two hunters were out in the jungle, when an elephant appeared from nowhere and squashed flat one of the hunters.  The remaining hunter was horrified.  He whipped out his mobile phone and called the Emergency Services.  ‘Help,’ he gasped, ‘my friend is dead. What can I do?’  The operator said, ‘Calm down!  I can help, but you must keep calm.  First, let’s make sure he’s definitely dead.’  There was silence then a gunshot was heard.  Back on the phone, the hunter said, ‘Okay, now what?’

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Let’s Get Flirty

I like to think of myself as a friendly sort of person.  So it’s not unheard of for me to strike up conversation with, say, another shopper standing in the same check-out queue as me.
          ‘Oh dear.  Looks like somebody has lost their purse,’ I might respond to the woman in front of me who, exasperated with the woman in front of her has turned to me to roll her eyes.
          ‘Yes, but I just wish she wasn’t in my queue, I’m in such a rush.’
          ‘Ah well, these things happen.  Are you rushing off anywhere nice?’
          ‘I’m babysitting my little grand-daughter.’
          And so on.  My daughter has always been somewhat embarrassed at my talking to strangers.  I don’t know why.  Maybe it’s an age thing.  I’m at an age where I don’t care who I talk to, and my daughter – sixteen – is at an age where paranoia is normal and of the opinion parents should be seen and not heard.  I find most women in the same age category as myself to be exactly the same as me.  One minute you are strangers, the next you’re discussing the most intimate details.
          For example, earlier this week I had a lady visit from a well known curtain company.  She staggered into the hallway with five heavy swatch books and, pushing her specs up her nose, sat down to do business with me.  Mulling over fabrics needs a cup of tea.  Ten minutes later we were settled, at the table, as I pored over textiles.  Somewhere along the way our conversation strayed from thread counts and prices to the menopause, the pros and cons of HRT, and whether to have a boob job.  All deeply personal and private stuff.  However, whilst it is marvellous to hit it off with someone, sometimes I suppose I do need reminding of who precisely I’m striking up conversation with.  Like the time I was with Eleanor, in River Island, paying for shopping.
          Young Man:  ‘That will be umpteen pounds and twenty-two pence.’  Broad grin.
          Me: ‘Thank you.’  Proffers MasterCard and returns smile.
          Eleanor:  Scowls.  Her mother is in the shop to pay for goods, not indulge in making smiley faces.
          Young Man:  Takes MasterCard and shoves it in machine.  ‘Very nice weather we’re enjoying at the moment.’
          Me:  ‘And I see you’re dressed accordingly.’  Gives another smile whilst waiting for terminal to prompt for pin number.  ‘That’s a lovely t-shirt you’re wearing.  Looks nice and cool.’
          Eleanor:  Rolls eyes at me for making embarrassing parent chitchat with young man.
          Young Man:  Beams.  ‘Thanks.  It’s my favourite.’
          Me:  ‘It showcases your wonderful biceps.’
          Eleanor:  Looks astonished.
          Young Man:  Looks astonished.
          Me:  Enters pin number blissfully oblivious to the fact that this is not my son I’m talking to.
          Young Man:  Leans across counter.  ‘I’m very proud of my muscles.’ Lowers voice.  ‘I’m a gym addict.’  Waggles eyebrows.
          Me:  ‘I always admire anybody who has the dedication to work out.’  Waggles eyebrows back, just to show there is a bit of me that can work out without breaking into a sweat.
          Eleanor:  Mouth drops open.
          Young Man:  ‘Do you want to feel them?’
          Me:  Retrieves MasterCard.  ‘Okay.’  Snaps purse shut with a flourish and leans across counter.
          Eleanor:  Mouth so wide there is danger of treading on bottom lip.
          Young Man:  ‘Rock hard.’
          Me:  ‘Gosh, yes you are, aren’t you!’
          Eleanor:  Eyes flicking backward and forward from Young Man to Mother.
          Young Man:  Whispering.  ‘I could take you to the gym.’
          Me:  ‘Do you think?’
          Eleanor:  Eyes in danger of crossing.
          Young Man:  ‘Have a think about it.’
          Me:  ‘I will.’  Picks up packed shopping.  ‘That’s awfully kind.’
          Eleanor:  Snatches shopping from me and flounces off.
          Young Man:  ‘Bye for now.’
          Me:  ‘Thanks again.’  Dashes off after daughter.
          Eleanor:  ‘Oh my God, Mum!’ Strops at high speed through other shoppers.  ‘I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.’
          Me:  ‘What?  Why?’
          Eleanor:  ‘You were giving him the come on.’
          Me:  Spluttering.  ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’
          Eleanor:  ‘And then he flirted with you.  With you!  You’re old enough to be his mother.’
          Me:  ‘He was just being friendly.’
          Eleanor:  Doing a silly voice.  ‘Oooh, do you like my muscles?  Oooh, yes I’d love to feel them.’  Dropping the silly voice.  ‘It was outrageous.’
          Me:  ‘Oh don’t be so absurd.’
          However, being friendly – or as my daughter thinks – over friendly, could indeed be misconstrued as flirting.  Earlier on this week there was possibly such a misunderstanding by a man living a few doors down from me.  I was sitting in my car, having just pulled into my parking bay.  There was a knock on the driver’s window.  Accordingly, I buzzed it down.
          Another Young Man:  ‘Er, hi.  You’re in my parking bay.’
          Me:  Produces dazzling smile to diffuse a potentially iffy situation.  ‘I believe it’s my parking bay.’
          Another Young Man:  ‘It’s definitely mine.’
          Me:  Smiling so widely my lips are in danger of meeting at the back of my head.  ‘No, it’s definitely mine.  The Marketing Suite showed me a map and this bay belongs to Plot 129.  That’s me.’
          Another Young Man:  ‘I’ll go check with the Marketing Suite myself.’
          Me:  ‘Sure,’ getting out of car, ‘I’ll come with you.’
          Another Young Man:  Looking alarmed.  ‘I’m fine, I can go by myself.’
          Me:  ‘It’s no problem.  Let me join you.’
          Another Young Man:  Backing away.  ‘Really, there’s no need.’
          Me:  ‘Truly, I insist.’  All set to be jolly good neighbours.  ‘I’m Debbie by the way.’
          Another Young Man:  Gone in a cloud of dust.
          So, did that particular young man get the wrong end of the stick and, far from thinking I was just being a friendly neighbour, think that I know...after him?  Surely not.  Which reminds me.  My next writing project is a telephone book.  So can I have your number?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Waste Not, Want Not

In the days leading up to moving into a brand new house, I’ve had a desire to buy brand new things.  For example, now that I’ve left behind kitchen units that look not so much ‘tired’ as exhausted, I didn’t think it right to pack up a plastic toaster that cost £4.99 from Asda or twenty mismatched tumblers.  I wanted a bit of boast to my toast and class to my glass.  And following the glow of buying new things, it’s even nicer to extend that glow by telling your friends and family what you’ve been buying.  Although, perhaps not in the case of my mother.
          My mother is a bit like a female version of Uncle Albert from Fools and Horses.  She begins a lot of sentences with, ‘When I was in the war.’  Let me assure I have nothing but admiration for war babies, my mother in particular, for not just surviving horrendous circumstances but also enduring the poverty and hardship that went with it.  I totally understand where my mother is coming from when she berates modern society for ‘waste’.  We are fortunate not to live in a war zone.  We are blessed not to know famine.  We are lucky to have jobs and to be able to treat ourselves to things.  However, a line has to be drawn somewhere underneath the subject, especially when the joy of buying something new is soured by another lecture on ‘waste’.
          Last Sunday I had my parents over for Sunday lunch – the last Sunday lunch in our old house.  As I dished up the dinner I was fizzing with excitement.  Why?  Because I’d bought a new cutlery set.  And no, it wasn’t a boxed set from John Lewis reduced from £399 to £99 in the sale – although I confess I was tempted – it was a trendy set from Next and cost twelve quid.  Actually, I lie.  It cost £24 because I bought two sets!
          ‘Enjoy eating off this cutlery for the last time,’ I trilled as everybody picked up their knives and forks, ‘because I’ve bought a new set!’
          My mother’s fork, en-route to her mouth, froze mid-air.  It wobbled alarmingly as her head swivelled 180 degrees towards me.  Suddenly I was caught in the glare of two blue headlamps.
          ‘You’ve bought new cutlery?’
          ‘But there’s nothing wrong with this cutlery!’
          There then followed a need to justify oneself.  To explain, with excuses and great power of reasoning, the need to buy new cutlery.
          ‘I’ve had this particular set for twenty years and much of the silver has spoilt.  I mean, look at this,’ I picked up a dessert spoon and showed her the underside.  ‘It’s tarnished!’
          ‘There’s nothing wrong with this cutlery, my girl, other than the fact that it needs a damn good clean.’
          ‘It is clean, Mum.  It gets cleaned every day.’
          ‘In the dishwasher,’ I said calmly.  ‘Anybody want another potato?’  This last bit designed to get off the subject of cutlery and talk about something more topical.  The latest Government disaster.  The increase in the cost of fuel.  Even the weather.  Anything.
          ‘I’m not talking about cleaning cutlery in a dishwasher!’ My mother had downed her fork and knife and was clearly intent on making a speech.  ‘I’m talking about cleaning it properly.  With a bit of elbow grease.’
          My father was then dispatched to the sink, dinner abandoned, holding aloft the blackened spoon, to demonstrate to us all – and more particularly me – the art of cleaning twenty year old cutlery.  Five minutes later he’d scoured the dessert spoon half to death before finishing off with a full minute’s worth of polishing with a dry tea towel.  He held it up proudly.
          ‘Look at that!’ my mother crowed triumphantly.  ‘You can see your face in it.’
          Marvellous.  Except I haven’t the time or the inclination to spend five minutes apiece on my canteen of cutlery.
          ‘Well I’ve bought new cutlery now,’ I said, somewhat defiantly.  ‘I shall put this old set into the charity shop and let somebody else have the pleasure of cleaning it.’
          ‘What a waste.  When I was in the war we were lucky to have utensils.  But then again we were lucky to even have enough food to sit down and eat.’  My mother turned to her grand-daughter sitting opposite.  ‘Are you going to waste those carrots?’
          ‘Nothing will go to waste,’ I sighed, ‘because the dog will have the leftovers.’
          ‘What else have you bought?’ my mother asked.
          I considered.  Should I tell her or not?  She smiled encouragingly at me.  Oh, thank goodness.  A truce.
          ‘Well,’ I beamed, ‘I’ve also bought new bedding.’
          The smile instantly vanished.
          ‘You’ve bought new bedding?’  This, you understand, was said in the same shocked tone as if saying, ‘You’ve robbed a bank?’
          ‘Yes,’ I quaked.  ‘New bedding.’
          ‘And what is wrong with the old bedding?’
          ‘Well, exactly that.  It’s old.’
          ‘It’s not old!’ my mother exclaimed.  ‘Your bedding isn’t as old as my bedding and we’ve had ours for years, haven’t we, Tony?  Decades!’
          For a moment I had a an overwhelming urge to excuse myself from the dinner table and scurry off to the local church, find a confessional box and lock myself in.
          ‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  I’ve bought new bedding.’
          ‘This is terrible, child.  You must confess to the Lord to be forgiven.  Is there anything else you’ve bought?’
          ‘Yes.  I’ve splurged on new cutlery, table mats, scatter cushions, a state of the art toaster, a matching kettle and (sounding hysterical now) an entire range of fitted wardrobes by Sharps.’
          ‘This is outrageous.  Do you know how wasteful you are?’
          ‘Yes.  My mother tells me every week.  Especially when I burn food, knacker saucepans and end up going to the local chippie for emergency sustenance for my family.’
          ‘You are sinner.  You must say umpteen Hail Mary’s and buy me a piece of crispy cod for my tea this evening.’
          ‘Yes, Father.’
          Much as I love my mum, she has a knack of taking the joy out of things.  I hope I never turn into my mother, although I fear it may be too late.  Which reminds me.  Once, on our way to my parents’ house, I glanced at my 16 year old daughter and said, ‘Isn’t that skirt a bit short?’  She rolled her eyes and gave me one of those Oh, Mum! looks.  When we arrived at my folks’ place, my mother greeted us at the door.  ‘Debbie!  Don’t you think your top is awfully low cut?’  H-e-l-p...