Sunday, July 06, 2014

Conveniences I have known #1





















In the 80’s I worked in the National Health Service. I was a Clerical Officer. My sister Bernadette got me an interview as she was already (and remains) a hospital cashier. I worked in a converted Victorian house in South Manchester. The majority of the permanent staff was female: they had 2 toilets and the chaps (of which there were 4 in all) had one smaller toilet. The male toilet was also required by male visitors attending meetings and the doctors who popped in to pilfer stationery and borrow sphygmomanometers (which I kept in a special drawer and enjoyed mentioning in all their polysyllabic glory). 

The male toilet was also used if there was a run on the 2 female conveniences and a female colleague was ‘caught short’. Because of this eventuality a female member of staff had installed a small poster. The poster had been customised and bore an image of a cute baby elephant which was standing on its hind legs to wee into a toilet. The baby elephant looked back at the viewer with a cheeky look. The poster’s text read thus:

‘If you sprinkle when you tinkle
Be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.’

One only noticed the poster on exit. I did always wonder if a visiting ‘tinkler’ would actually tarry to the ‘wipe the seatie’.

The organisation was managed by a nice chap called Ray. If South Manchester Health Authority could be thought of a foreign empire, then someone had seen fit to banish Ray to an outpost where he could do little harm. Ray’s preoccupations in the absence of any meaningful decision-making became more and more domestic – which felt apt in what had been, and still felt like, a house. I accidentally fused the building by inserting a fork into the toaster in the basement kitchen. Ray appeared in the dimly lit kitchen holding his cigarette lighter in front of him. He had the look of an old family retainer who was disappointed by the actions of a guest who had failed to understand the workings of the house.

I realised that Ray really didn’t have enough to do when he conducted an investigation into the ownership of an unflushable stool in the male toilet. Each male member of staff was summoned to his office. In my case, this involved Ray calling the switchboard in the old parlour to ask the receptionist to send up the ‘one who can’t work the toaster’ who works in the old dining room. She shouted through from the old parlour with her hand over the receiver.

I noticed a paperclip on the carpet as I entered Ray’s office. I bent to retrieve it.

‘Leave that there,’ he said. ‘That’s been there for a week now. That ‘cleaner’ Alma has been too busy talking to spot that. Anyway, that’s not why you’re here.’

I awaited something momentous. The possibilities were:
·        

 a dressing down for the toaster incident

 a rebuke for not keeping a straight face when Ray lost a filling for a week and whistled when he spoke

 admonishment for isolating the most innuendo-strewn patient record card I could find and keeping it in a special drawer for my own amusement on slow days (a Mr Newdick who really lived on Knob Hall Gardens, God rest him)


'Now, young man,’ my boss began with great import.

‘This is serious. Was that you? That thing in the gents’?’

Friday, June 27, 2014

'Job Ready'

















When I first came to Newcastle I was seduced by the majestic sweep of Grey Street on a lovely spring day.

‘I could live here,’ I thought. And so I did.

I was back on Grey Street this morning, but it felt different. I was scheduled to sign my life away as a temp.

‘You will need to come in and fill in all the forms. 
So you've been doing the childcare - very brave! 
Is that your daughter in the background? 
Eee! She sounds lovely. 
A bit distressed.... but lovely.’

The girl had a sing-song Geordie voice. Of course she did.

I’ve been fruitlessly applying for jobs for some time now. I rarely even get the courtesy of a response. I feel like the Celie character in ‘The Color Purple’- the one who writes letters to God.

‘Just go and see some agencies. Temp a bit. You can catch up with the housework at the weekend.’

Maude, as ever, gave astute counsel.

I approached a busy junction in central Newcastle and felt a little fazed. I don’t get into the city much and it all felt a bit hectic.

I could see into the temp office from across the road. It had a cheerful colour scheme of bright primary colours and young people were moving around inside, carrying pieces of paper.

I was a few minutes early and well-dressed urban types were enjoying coffee outside Blake’s CafĂ©. I wasn’t early enough to do the same. I was early enough to stroll up and down outside for a while looking a little odd.

The young people carrying the pieces of paper didn’t look very formally dressed. This was good news - as I had opted for chinos and casual shirt.

A part of me had a very potent urge to just strip off on Grey Street. To strip right off and announce myself in the office in a state of absolute nudity. 

I would be 80-odd kilos of pink flesh thrown into glorious relief against the cheery coloured interior that was fooling no-one. 

I would be a newborn delivered into the world of work.

‘Livery me as you please and point me at a job!’


Monday, June 09, 2014

'Charming Family Home'

















‘Yes, sure, send them round. What are they called?’

I didn’t have a pen and feigned writing down the name.

‘Are they genuinely interested? Are they selling somewhere of their own as well? Any feedback from those people yesterday? The ones who were quite late, but didn’t apologise…?’

Enduring house viewings is tiresome and demoralizing. The estate agents are sending a steady stream of ill-mannered people to traipse around our ‘charming family home’ in its ‘sought after location’. Their reactions have ranged from embarrassingly effusive (never to be heard from again), through poker-faced inscrutability to dismissive rudeness.

Aside from the chore of keeping the house clean and tidy to an unrealistic level, there is the enervating experience of having the faults of my ‘charming family home’ detailed  by complete strangers. They point out all the cracks in the walls, all the loose slates and scrutinise the stretches of carpet that have obviously seen the heaviest traffic. If that isn’t bad enough, they then ask for explanations e.g. why is that wall cracked?

Most scuffs and blemishes can be blamed on the kids:

‘Small kids, they do a lot of cosmetic damage you know. Thank god we’ve got girls and not boys….’

Cracked plaster is not so easy to pass off on the girls. The simple answer to the question is ‘because I haven’t fixed it’, but I have to remind myself that the viewer is not my wife and that they don’t need or want a personal defence.

Yesterday’s viewers were a thirty-something couple. The man was excessively concerned about the amount of parking space available outside the house. I had watched him try to park and was unsurprised by this preoccupation. 

They were childless and mentioned that they own a dog and a cat. I explained that the entrance to the woods was at the end of the street. They seemed disappointed that the woods weren’t accessed through a cute gate at the end of the garden.

The man walked in from the sun-trap garden and patio through the sun-kissed ‘breakfasting kitchen’ into the living room illuminated by a large bay window and a south facing wall of glass bricks:

‘It’s a bit dark in here, isn’t it? Does it get any brighter than this?’

I suggested that no, it didn’t – not here in Rowlands Gill, in the North of England.

Monday, June 02, 2014

'Old Man'














I admit that I do sit the kids in front of Youtube music videos when the fatigue of mammyhood gets the better of me. Favourites include the ubiquitous ‘Gangnam Style’ and of course, anything by One Direction. For balance, the girls have been exposed to more authentic music in my car (on cassette). This collection includes the album ‘Harvest’ by Neil Young. I realised that this policy was paying dividends when Casta burst into song at the dinner table last night:

‘Old Man, look at my life. I’m a lot like you were….’

This wasn’t directed exclusively at me.

Being a stay at home Dad brings with it many responsibilities – among them the need to equip my daughters with the tools to entertain and amuse those around them. I take this responsibility very seriously and want to develop in them the modern equivalent of what Jane Austen might have called ‘accomplishments’. Singing prowess – as above – and a range of ‘party tricks’.

‘What about this one Dad?’

‘Not bad Casta – not bad at all, for a first try.’

I then looked at Aurora and could see that she was really focussed. This I could tell because her tongue was poking out between her lips as she concentrated – an endearing trait she inherited from her mother. Aurora enjoys any creative pursuit and never misses her after school Art Club – although I suspect that the parent-tutor who runs her group has a stockpile of felt that she is working her way through: felt monster for Halloween, felt elf for Christmas, felt heart for Valentine’s Day, and so on….

My paper-folding workshop required no felt – just some paper currency.

I moved beside Aurora on the sofa.

‘That’s not bad, but just one more fold here and BINGO! You now have your first party trick or ‘accomplishment’ – how to fold a ten pound note in such a way as to create a superb pair of buttocks out of the queen’s jawline.’

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

'Cotton and Guns'















‘So, you had guns in class?’


‘Not real guns. Just small air pistols. They were called Gat guns and we only had them at the back of the class. I scarred my hand cocking one against a desk, just here, look.....’


Maude was unimpressed with the tiny purple scar between by thumb and forefinger.


‘And you shot each other?’


‘A little bit, yes.’


‘How do you shoot someone ‘a little bit’?’


‘They didn’t shoot bullets or darts – just pellets.’


Maude was having trouble understanding an educational context in which teenage boys could fire air pistols at each other. She hadn’t been to a Mancunian comprehensive in the late seventies – especially one that came about through a merger of a rough boys’ school and a girls’ convent school. Our year was the first intake and we were taught by a mixture of bewildered nuns and short-fused ‘demob’ teachers in ‘demob suits’. The rage and frustration was palpable and the kids were pretty volatile too.


A lot of boys had air guns and some brought them into school in their sports kit bags. There was nothing high calibre – mainly Gat guns. We sometimes shot each other at the back of the class before the teacher arrived. We knew that the angry demob guys had fought in a war somewhere before they’d done a brief correspondence course to ‘teach’ inner city kids. I did hope that one of them would catch a boy toting a Gat gun and pull out a much more impressive military revolver to up the ante – a bit like‘if....’ in reverse. Sadly that never happened.



‘And you’re thinking of investing in one of these ‘Gat guns’ to deter Celia’s cats from soiling our flowerbeds?’


‘Well I was, if they still make them. But as you say this plan back to me now, I’m not so sure.’


Maude seemed deep in thought and then thought aloud.


‘Do they come with a holster?’