Friday, 25 February 2011

Housework Sucks

In theory, I should be doing ‘my’ Deep Cleaning until the ice-cream season starts again. This is terribly bad news, obviously; the spectre of maid’s caps, scouring pads and red raw hands, not to mention the possibility of a spot check from the health and safety inspectorate, makes me go cross-eyed.

But I have made a start with the War on Wires. Although everyone in the family (except me) is besotted by digital devices large and small (MY PHONE’S GOT AN INVISIBLE SCRATCH! WAAAAH!), when it comes to unravelling the knot of wires and cables backstage that connects these electronic beauties to the power supply, interest falls off pretty sharpish. Nobody knows what plug belongs to what so when you need to plug in the hoover, chances are you’ll unplug something really important, like a football match set to record or an ipod being charged, and be told off big time for fouling up someone’s leisure plans by your stupid plug selection, when you should have just unplugged something trivial like the fridge, to do your silly hoovering. Cut a long and boring story short (except I just told you it) the job of separating and twirling dusty cables into nice neat little spools falls to me, and is one of the enjoyable and satisfying jobs that I have accomplished this week, and would have missed out on entirely if my family members were not such lazy gits.

I have also performed the annual dusting ceremony of Maddy’s birthday presents from age seven onwards that she hasn’t opened but won’t give away – I’m sure she’ll notice and say ‘thank you for dusting my presents again’. And it doesn’t end there - I have faced the DVDs-into–their-correct-cases job. Looking at it from the children’s point of view, you get so tired sitting down watching a film that you can’t put a DVD back in its box then, and in the morning, even if your Mum reminds you, you’re so busy. It’s tough.

But this was not Deep Cleaning and I knew it…so I headed for the kitchen window frames with the cream cleaner when Lo! - brown globs were found evenly-spaced along the window recess. My heart missed a beat; an ice-cream maker cannot have globs! Jesus, is it a leak from the flat roof above, forming putrescent stalactites inside the kitchen? Or has an insect vomited upside down at regular intervals? Infestation?? I sprang up onto the sink’s edge to take a closer look; the globs were sticky…hmm…With enormous relief I identified syrup that had condensed from all the sugary steam that billows about when I’m making ice-cream. I could just wipe it off – hurrah! – which I did with gusto, causing myself to wobble scarily on the sink’s edge. I had to clutch the ceiling, else I’d have fallen, and in doing so left a very obvious hand-print on the ceiling. Hells bells – there was syrup all over the ceiling! Now I was in deep; the more I wiped, the more smeary and smudgy and dirty the ceiling looked; I’d have to wash or even paint the entire ceiling, just because I’d touched it.

I trailed off to the cellar to find a rock-hard brush and try to guess whether the syrup-coloured ceiling was once magnolia, twisted barley, hint of noodle or lank linen. Housework sucks.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Oh Barry

Heating is something that Alan and I love to scrap about, along with whether background music is absolutely essential throughout your waking hours, and which way round you put the toilet paper on the holder. ‘I want the heating ON!’ (stamp) ‘Well I want it OFF so ner!’ (stamp).

So when the boiler packed up after Christmas, we were united in getting it working again so that we could carry on scrapping.

It’s been on the blink for years, but being sensible responsible kind of guys we had to spend most of our cash on ballet lessons and unenjoyable holidays so not much left for fancy stuff such as hot water and heating. We’d already put one new boiler in - shouldn’t some grown-up fix it for us this time?

We did purchase (1 Star) boiler break down cover (‘Patch It Up Plumbing’) a couple of years ago. The gloomy personnel of that particular outfit said dolefully ‘sludge in the system’. Bowing to the experts, we were chemically de-sludged, at a cost of £400 (not covered by the insurance obviously) in exchange for half a teaspoon of sediment. This treatment (surprise, surprise) made no difference to the heating, only to the children’s pocket money, nor did their other idea, on the second and last page of their training manual, which was to change the pump once, twice, three times.

Patch It Up got the thumbs down, so when the boiler died we gathered recommendations, first up being Pipework Paul. ‘He’s not flash, but he’ll have a really long and careful think about your pipework’ (ooh, pipework!) ‘and then he’ll diagnose’ (the master – he’s going to get it right!). I asked Alan to stay home so that he could have a man to man and explain that the heating doesn’t work better than me. Pipework Paul arrived and was treated with due reverence (‘Quiet children! Let the man think!’). He diagnosed a leak in the nether regions under the house, said he’d send a quote, then disappeared off the face of the earth.

Next was Andy Ape, assisted by his skinny scared son (‘Fucks sake you twat get yer arse up ‘ere’ – never done a days work in his life’ says Andy Ape). ‘The whole shyshtem’s clogged innit?’ said he. I explained haughtily that we had been de-sludged already (you’ve obviously got this wrong dear fellow). ‘Na na na’ says Andy Ape, ‘You need the power (‘pa’) flush – snot cheap mind you – ball park five hundred quid - I’ll send a quote from the Canaries.’ We shivered and shook for another week, by which time we had decided Andy Ape was not nearly grovelling enough and too rich.

It was Divine Providence as it turned out, for Boiler Barry then came into our lives. ‘Barry loves solving problems’ (an intellectual!) ‘and he won’t say you need a new boiler if you don’t.’ Boiler Barry marched quickly through the house – mind if I go straight up to the boiler Miss Pyett? (tick!), diagnosed the problem (tick! tick!) and fixed the boiler in a day (tick! tick! triple tick!). Boiler Barry, you’re my first, my last, my everythang…

Friday, 11 February 2011

Beauty is only Skin Deep

This media-dominated world is driving our girls to be body-conscious – sexualised – before they’ve even hit their teens. It said so on the telly!

So I was on the rampage today when I found Bonnie navigating her way around ‘GoGirlsGames', dressing up doe-eyed chicks in cool gear (click!), styling the hair (click! click!), applying the make-up (click! click!)… ‘You can go on The National Geographic Society website’ I’d said ‘it has some interesting games for your age-group.’ But she’d tricked me, and I’d let an hour slide past – that's an hour of brainwashing already.

‘Bonnie – this is superficial sexist narcissistic drivel – turn it off now. You are internalising inappropriate sexual stereotypes.’ I thought I had the tone about right. ‘That Geographic thing was so boring’ she said ‘and anyway, you had Sindy dolls, same thing, so don’t be a hypocrite’ ‘Yes but I wasn’t begging my Mum to take me clothes shopping every three seconds,’ I said ‘and I wasn’t trying to sneak mascara on for parties!’ (‘What is a tart Mummy?’ ‘Shh. I didn’t mean to say that…’)

‘Anyway Mummy,’ said Bonnie, ‘you promised to stop calling everything I like ‘drivel’’. Oh yes! I must keep the channels of communication open, man. I changed my tune: ‘Bonnie’ I simpered, ‘you know that beauty is only skin deep, don’t you sweetie? It’s what’s inside that counts.’ She looked me up and down witheringly. ‘Actually, Mum, you need some new clothes…Anyway, see Lola on the screen, do you think I should crimp her hair or straighten it?’ My words of wisdom were clearly hitting home.

Josie and Maddy have taken to watching ‘their TV’ (that means it has lots of supermodels disguised as school kids, swearing, taking drugs and having sex ) behind closed doors, because they know I’ll moan. Usually I’d respect their privacy, but not today. I opened the door quick as a flash (‘Oh sorry girls – didn’t know you were in here!’ cough cough) and caught a flicker of a babe drinking a shot of whisky out of a boys belly button before they could wipe the picture. ‘Girls’ (I was stern) ‘You must watch age-appropriate TV from now on.’ 'Everyone watches this – we’ll be left out’ they said. ‘I don’t care!’ I replied, ‘this is for your own good. You know all your isms these days ‘sexism’, ‘racism,’ ‘homophobic…..ism’…but watching drivel like this means you are more shackled with inappropriate sexual expectations and more beset with your body-image than ever. There’s a fantastic programme called ‘The Human Planet’ I’ve recorded – let’s watch that instead!’ Silence.

I’ve been telling them they are beautiful since they were born, but they see only perfect physical specimens around them. ‘I’m fat,’ said Bonnie, ‘look at my tummy! I need to go on a diet.’ ‘What??? WHAT DID YOU SAY??’ I am aghast, horrified. Eight years old. That’s it – anorexia, bulimia. And they’re all at it: ‘I hate my podgy knees, my hair is disgusting…’

‘Just eat healthy food, girls, do not go on diets’ I say. Turns out it’s my fault they binge on sweets and chocolate because I only buy ‘horrible’ fruit, and of course vegetables are not on the radar at all, don’t be daft. Year round blueberries and mangos would be helpful…so I dug deep and bought a heap of exotics with red ruby pomegranates as the centrepiece, the seeds of which I scattered hither and thither amongst fresh pineapple. ‘Look at those colours!’ I cooed ‘-what a stunning dessert!’ But it was ‘Ow! Pips! Bitter!’, Alan helpfully concurring in the background: ‘Mmm. I always found pommegranate disappointing..’ (SMACK). ‘Actually Mummy is their any ice-cream?’ they said. ‘Or is it bad for your skin?’

Saturday, 5 February 2011


HALLELUJAH!! With Secondary School just a few months off, Alfie has come in with the Big One; he is reading Harry Potter!!! His impressive reading bank now comprises Beano, Captain Underpants, Wimpy Kid, Match Magazine and Harry Potter! (I could include Top Trumps, but that would be gilding the lily)

To celebrate, I have thrown caution to the wind and bought new copies of the Harry Potter volumes at full price, an extravagance hitherto reserved for the School Book Fair when the Head is watching. ‘They’re classics, Alfie,’ I drawl ‘so we should buy nice new copies - maybe your own children will read them one day!’ (He reads a chapter book, next thing is I’m asking for grandchildren!’)

This zeal for self-improvement is down to his new teacher, the inspirational Ms P: ‘She writes words after my work instead of just ticks!’ ‘Never!’ ‘And she’s made this huge chart of conjgetives!’ ‘Con-nec-tives?’ ‘Yes!! D’you know about them too??!!’

Before Ms P (BP) literacy was as interesting to Alfie as a wet carrot. I’d find some ripped up piece of paper with illegible markings in his pocket, which I would waggle in front of him, wondering if he was planning to blow his nose on it. ‘What is this?’ I would say. ‘This is my story’, he’d reply, biting his lip to repress a snort of laughter. ‘I’ll read it to you: Billy Whizz got his lovely dinna and he got his shinny spoon and he put all the dinna in his mouth yum yum the end’

We have a little prayer of thanks for Ms P:

Our Ms P, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy pen
I thought I couldn’t write
Till you shone the light
But now I can spell ‘eleven’

Same story wih Maths – he’s on fire! ‘Mummy! Can I do another mental maths test? Please?’ ‘That’ll be ten tests, Alfie’ pinning my eyelids open ‘Ready? Two.. Thousand.. Divided.. By-‘ ‘SLOW DOWN MUMMY!!..’ The minute the test is finished ‘Mark it! Mark it!’ hopping from foot to foot – ‘What d’I get??’’

By contrast, the lovely Maddy, with GCSE courses a few months off, is in danger of sleeping through her entire secondary school career, though in her opinion it is the school that keeps tests and homeworks a secret from her. (‘Why didn’t you know about this homework???!!! Were you in the class??!!!!’ ‘Yeah, obviously’) She has to choose her GCSE Options: ‘So what do you want to do at GCSE, Maddy?’ ‘Nothing’ she says. ‘…well that’s as good a starting point as any...’

But she doesn’t have a Ms P, only me, so I decided this weekend it was time to pull out the big guns: ‘Maddy, I’ll do anything you want if you will just get your act together. I will buy you Supernoodles for a month!’ ‘Now you’re talking, Mummy!’ she said, putty in my hands. ‘Give me a pen – I’ve got work to do!’