Monday 31 December 2007

Reality bites

I have done something wild and reckless, spontaneous even – I have changed the batteries in the torch before they actually went dead on me.
As I approach the end of the year - the terminus of my hopes and dreams for 2007, I hold up my hands and say: “It has not been quite what I expected”.
For starters I’m no thinner than I was at the beginning, nor richer nor more famous - though why I wanted that heaven only knows, I think I just got carried away with all my wishes last year.
What has happened though possibly not unexpectedly is that financially we are worse off than we were this time last year, I’d like to blame it on the Chancellor, the Credit Crunch, a whole manner of events and circumstance but the truth is it is profligacy…Or owning a Damoclesian house - you know the sword is going to fall you just don’t know when or where.
Despite raising our mortgage to stratospheric heights this year we seem no further on and now every time I walk through the back door I have to search blindly for the kitchen door before I can shed light on where I have been - quite literally, as we have no electrics in the East Wing any longer. In fact we don’t have any plumbing either nor any plaster on the walls nor paint or carpets - nothing really though my ever optimistic helpmeet just hugs me when he looks at it all on his return home and smilingly says: “Isn't it wonderful!”
I’m not quite sure what he is on but BOY do I wish he’d give some to me. He points out all the beautiful oak and I nod dumbly all the while screaming inside my head: “Yep mate, and I know the cost of every square inch of it: a whopping £10,000! Or to put it nicely one fully fitted and functioning bathroom, 10 radiators – working - and all the light I could possibly want with crystal knobs on!”
Dear Charlie hugs me tighter and sighs contentedly surveying the skeleton of the house in all its architectural glory while I make a mental note to call the Bursar as soon as School opens next week to discuss a more flexible way of meeting my obligations.
For before Christmas I waved good bye to the cleaners, dropped the child minder by a day and would have dropped the Gardener too but luckily he owes us some £500 and since we see him so rarely we will manage to spin out his working for us by a few more months through threats and if necessary the small claims court.
By hook or by crook I’ll hold on to Theresa for life will have to be very bad before I do my own ironing. Admittedly there will be less going to her, though Dear Charlie won’t notice. I’ll keep his shirts in the pile but perhaps the boys and I will have to wear our clothes in a more crumpled style not that they mind. Sheets and pillow cases - well having those done was always a luxury, as were dusters and the like. Luckily it’s winter and I’m in polo necks most of the time and maybe by the summer things will have turned.
In a way I’m looking forward to the challenge of a more austere 2008, it is said to be very fashionable at the moment to be careful, prudent and the like. Not that I follow fashion in any way but one must always look on the bright side!

Wednesday 19 December 2007

A romantic gesture….

Romance after years of living together is a bit like the once dizzying wallpaper you’ve become so used to it you wouldn’t notice if it bit you on the bum.
I forgot this important fact until this weekend when I suddenly realised that my father is possibly one of the most romantic men I have ever known. I don’t think Mum would actually agree on this one as the litany of forgotten birthdays, anniversaries and other such important occasions compounded by the purchase of inappropriate gifts stretches back some forty odd years - each forgotten tribute to be cherished in the annals of family folklore.
It was Sunday and Mum had trotted out to the outhouse to rummage in the depths of the freezer for something suitable for lunch before we wended our way to the pantomime at the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond.
I was warming myself nicely on the Aga, the Boy was playing being a witch in the other room and Dad was reading the Sunday papers and for the first time that weekend there was peace - oh for at least five minutes!
It was broken by a heartrending shriek from outside and Mum shot into the house screaming: “Oh! It’s terrible, terrible! There’s a rat outside. I can’t stand rats! They’re horrid things, oooohhhh!”
Of course, instead of comforting Mum as she collapsed onto a chair, we all - from the warmth and relative safety of indoors - peered out the windows to see if we could spot the terror of the outhouse. There was nothing to see.
“Honestly, you lot! It’s gone in between the outhouses among all those tiles you won’t find it now; I hate rats nasty, horrid, dirty things…” she went on for some time along this train of thought and as I listened with half an ear I was taken back in time to a trip we did while based in Brunei.
It was the ascension of Mount Kinabalu in Sabah – you know the thing you do as a happy family holiday at Easter time or as Dad would say a bit of team bonding, a character building pastime for all the family to enjoy.
From this you might be able to surmise that over the years I have a developed somewhat cynical view of my parents’ best efforts to engender the spirit of adventure into me, their eldest daughter.
We set off on a bright warm morning from the tourist camp to climb the last few thousand feet to the top. An exercise that Dad said would take about a day to the summit camp. Once there we would have supper and overnight it before the big push to the top at 5 o’clock in the morning returning for breakfast and our descent.
The hut at the summit camp was fairly basic – but luxurious compared to some of the places we had and were to visit with Dad on our travels. It was a bit like a long low bungalow and had slatted windows, which you could open when it got hot. There were lots of bunks and a rudimentary kitchen. Mum was on cooking duty and we, I think were helping ,I can’t remember exactly. But at some point there was a commotion from the kitchen area. I believe - but will no doubt be put right – that Mum had a problem with pests of the whiskered variety who quite literally sat in a row watching her every culinary move. I can understand that this might be quite unnerving as Mum had not even had the advantage of watching the acclaimed Disney movie Ratatouille, which in itself was not even a sparkle in the producer’s eye – in fact perhaps the producer was not even a sparkle in his own father’s eye – I digress.
Having been subjected to such scrutiny Mum was totally unhinged and such was her fear that she actually pushed me from the top bunk in order to sleep as far away from her tormentors as possible.
I lay in the bottom bunk too close to the floor for comfort and zippered up to my chin in an ex-army sleeping bag. I kept as still as I could in the moonlight in order to listen for the soft pitter patter of claws and the swish of long scaly tail on the floor. But it was not from the floor that they came but from outside, up the drainpipe and along the ridge to the bottom of the window at the foot of the bunks, I saw several of the little blighters scramble up the cantilevered window pains to the top where they were able to push their noses in and slither through to jump the short distance to the foot of the top bunk. Then they scrambled down the bed, dropt softly onto the floor and headed off towards the kitchen in search of food and other edible commodities.
It gave me a feeling of great satisfaction that despite my mother’s best efforts she still had rats crawling all over her that night. I, at the then tender age of 16, felt that I should have been on the top bunk and that her maternal feelings should have outweighed her baser instinct of self-preservation.
A movement in the flowerbeds near the bird feeder caught my eye.
“Dad, it’s there!” I whispered.
“Where?” he said craning his head over mine to get a closer look.
“There in the flower bed going towards the feeder…
The young brown rat lifted its nose and quested with its whiskers. It tensed, listening, then relaxed and started to skitter and jump about which I thought quite cute until I realised it was getting rid of the birds so it could eat the scattered corn on the ground. It looked sort of innocent and almost cuddly and I motioned to Mum to look at it. I could feel her shuddering disgust behind my back. I turned towards Dad but he had vanished.
When I looked for the rat again it was gone as well and I decided to get Mum a coffee to help calm her nerves. She continued to shudder for some time.
A deep-throated retort and we all stopped, frozen, trying to work out what was going on. The Boy rushed in from the other room. “That gave me a fright,” he announced. “But I’m not scared,” he continued as he hugged me round my hips and pressed his head into my body.
I passed him to Mum, who looked a bit bewildered, and started to make my way towards the Hall from where I would be able to go upstairs from whence the noise had emanated.
As I reached the foot of the stairs, Dad swooped down them shotgun in hand. He gave me a triumphant look. “There,” he said grinning, “That’s what you get from sniper training!”
And with that cryptic remark he stalked off outside to retrieve his prize from the flowerbed and lay it at his mistress’ feet. Needless to say she was not amused. And from the foot of the stairs, listening to Mum scolding my father to take that revolting thing away and out of her sight, I realised that he had done a most romantic thing.
His Lady had fled in terror from a monster and he without wasting a moment and with no thought of his own comfort had slain it.

Monday 10 December 2007

This is a recorded message….

“As of 12 noon this day Monday 10th of December the requirement for you to house your birds has been lifted….”
I have rushed down the stairs, shot out of the door and run over to Stalag 57 and flung open the gate and told them they are free. And guess what – they stood stock-still and just blinked at me. Then they started to get all startled and there was much clucking and squawking and a flurry of feathers until I realised that in my excitement I hadn’t shut the front door properly and the dogs had followed me outside.
It could have been a tragedy! So within moments of saying: “You’re free!” I bolted the gate and removed the dogs indoors.
Slightly more calmly I re-opened the gate and there they all were at the back of the run in one great big huddle. I could see they were not impressed and to be honest I got the feeling that they were unsure whether or not to believe me.
To show my good intentions I scooped out some corn and started to call them outside. It took some doing I can tell you but it was Stupid who finally plucked up enough courage – it was ever thus with her food will always beat good sense. You could see the others watching but as soon as she started to eat and no one pounced on her the rest quickly followed.
There was such a lot of noise – I had missed it but hadn’t realised. Usually when I let them out in the mornings they are a noisy, cackling bunch shouting about being left behind or that someone is in their way or just chatting to each other as they scrabble around for breakfast.
And while they were incarcerated they had been quiet apart from the occasional chuckle or crow – it was quite a cacophony a few minutes ago and now I am upstairs telling you this and they are running about and jumping up and down and spreading their wings and Ollie is taking some down to the Orchard and Mr Tickle is squabbling with the Burnt brothers as to who is boss, Stupid is looking to go in the barn and see what the builder’s are up to and Stan is among the flower beds and Oh! It is good to see them out!

Wednesday 5 December 2007

There comes a time…

Sometimes a relationship can become too familiar; the boundaries, which we manufacture for our self-preservation, are broken and everything thereafter is unbalanced and nothing we can do will ever make it the same as it once was – I have come to such a pass.
The dog has ‘wuffed’ at me.
My dog has NEVER ‘wuffed’ at me before and our relationship is undergoing a huge modification and all is not well in the household or at least in my bedroom.
Tattie, a silver brindle whippet with a grey velvet nose very similar to a Womble's, only ever “wuffs” at those who are sitting or sleeping where she would like to sit or sleep and until now she has constrained her ‘wuffing’ to the other four-legged ones who share her world.
A ‘wuff’ is preceded by her staring ever so slightly myopically at the cause of her concern. She usually sits very upright for this with her ears laid back and one paw raised. The ‘wuff’ starts quite quietly and builds up from her lungs up her neck and explodes in a short sharp crescendo. This will then continue until the cause gives in and lets her take over whichever space or area she wishes to occupy.
The tension in her body and quivering (not shaking) that frequently accompanies it is I feel merely to show the cause that she is restraining herself admirably and that the cause should be grateful that she is behaving so nicely rather than giving into her baser self which, I imagine, would be explosive. She usually gets what she wants.
But she has never ‘wuffed’ at a human before. I am not quite sure what has got into her but we are now undergoing a psychological battle of wills, which I fear I am losing.
I always thought of myself as top dog in this pack so this event is quite shocking. Where has she got the idea from that I am not in charge? Is it because I am slavishly pandering to my builders’ every whim and serving them tea or coffee up to five times daily to prevent them from disappearing before the job is completed? Is it because I find myself tidying up before the cleaners come so that they won’t sack me for being too messy to clean for – I kid you not they sacked a friend of mine recently. Is it because I am still getting up in the middle of the night to ‘play’ with The Littlest in an effort to placate him before he wakes the rest of the family?
Whatever the reason I was ‘wuffed’ while taking an afternoon siesta in an effort to catch up on the sleep I had missed the night before because The Littlest had been feeling a trifle playful.
A one off you think? Well, no – we have progressed. Now she doesn’t even have to ‘wuff’ I can feel her staring at me even in my sleep. And she gets what she wants … and I have to share my bed with a whippet. Although she does not snore as Dear Charlie does, she has a very nasty habit of lying rigid-legged so that her claws dig into me and I am gently and persisently pushed off the bed. Life is becoming very uncomfortable...not the least cold!

Go on you know you want to...


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