Friday, December 28, 2012

The Old-Fashioned Man

During an episode of Coronation Street this week someone asked Roy Cropper his plans for the evening. He replied that he hoped to retire early to ‘wrestle with a weighty Trollope.’ I’ve been wrestling with a hefty biography of Dickens for 3 weeks now. A mature, bearded Dickens stares out from the cover, challenging me to get through it. Jocasta taps the cover every time I pick it up to read:

‘Is that your book about the ‘old-fashioned man’?’

‘Yes dear.’

‘Did he die?’

‘Yes dear.’


I was reading a section about the writer’s London office near Covent Garden. It was essentially a very comfortable bachelor flat with a token desk and I began to feel envy course through my veins. Aurora now wanted my attention. She didn’t tap, she knocked on the book cover – as though she were rapping on a tiny door.

‘Daddy! Come upstairs - I’ve made a special secret world for you.’

I was intrigued enough to follow her. As I went into her room, the ‘Little Angel’ plaque on her door rattled annoyingly, as it always does. Using a mixture of Lego, Barbie accessories, folded paper and doll's house figures, my daughter had created my ‘special secret world’.

‘I thought you were up here making a Nativity Scene.’

‘I changed my mind’, she beamed.

‘Anyway Casta put Baby Jesus in her pants and I didn’t want it back.’

Aurora talked me through her vision.

‘It’s you, Daddy, in your special room.’

I got down to floor level and looked closely. A doll's house 'grandfather' figure sat on a pink plastic (Barbie) chair:

‘That’s you Daddy.’

On a miniature table (Lego) beside ‘me’ sat a tiny book and a cup and saucer (all from the doll’s house).

‘That’s your book about the old-fashioned man.’

I was touched by the thoughtfulness, the attention to detail, the recognition of my simple needs. I wasn’t so touched by the use of the grandfather figure.

‘So, darling, I’m guessing that you had to use the 'grandad' because Casta put the 'daddy' figure in her pants and you didn’t want it back……’


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Chim Chim Cher-oo

‘I really think you should go for it! Make your own hours, meet people, niche market.
£50 a pop, 10 jobs on a good day. It’s a no-brainer.’

My nephew Lance had been listening in and his enthusiasm was a little startling. Lance is tall, like his uncle. His large hands were flailing wildly as he spoke and they seemed well within my personal space.

‘Would you do it?’

He stilled his hands.

‘Well no, obviously.’

An interesting array of possible careers has been assembled for me by the well-meaning.

Lenny has left his liveried Spectastic bicycle at my disposal. He insists that I wouldn’t even have to knock when delivering glasses: ‘the bags are so well padded, you could play football with them.’  

Family members:
Crawford phoned especially when he had the idea that pizza delivery would be ideal: ‘Sure, the kids would be fast asleep when the pizza trade really gets going. Curry too. Just a thought….’

‘It is a more ‘junior’ role in administration than what you have been doing. But it does have potential.’

‘It’s not so much a ‘junior role’ as an ‘office junior role’. I’m 46.’

‘As I said, it does have potential….’

Today was unusual. Today’s suggestion came from a complete stranger: a tradesman.

‘Seriously, it’s money for old rope. Bit of training, a van, yellow pages listing. You’re laughing. I used to be a nurse. I’m still helping people – but I don’t have to deal with all the backstabbing, politics and public sector gloom.’

I always try and engage tradesman in conversation. I am naturally curious about what it is like to be a plumber, or a kitchen fitter or a damp-proofer. I also believe that ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and cherish the hope that being nice to tradesmen might just result in affordable bills.

Most tradesman tolerate my chat and some even pass the time of day in Tesco.

Today was different. Today I was daunted by how well-received my chat was.

‘You could come out for a day with me any time you like. Just let me know. Get a feel for it.’

These were parting words. Lance was at my shoulder, eyebrows raised in anticipation of my conversion.

‘No Lance, I’m not sure I want to become a chimney sweep any time soon.’

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Let There be Light

‘I’m totally with you,’ said Lenny.’ I hate the winter too. It’s cold and unforgiving - a bit like my ex-wife.’

Lenny is a friend and an optician. We’d got to know each other as members of the same quiz team.

Lenny was dropping off Maude’s new ‘geek chic’ glasses as a favour and the clocks had just gone back.

Shortly after he left, Lenny thoughtfully texted to me the details of a SAD lamp he’d seen in the Maplin’s brochure.

The lamp arrived within a couple of days. With a cupboard full of immune boosting vitamins, St 
John’s Wort and a fruit bowl full of bananas, we are truly winter-ready.

This evening felt pretty wintry and we remembered the lamp. The family gathered for the big ‘switch on’.

The lamp is VERY BRIGHT.

The kids disappeared behind the sofa. I thought of switching the hoover on to chivvy them all the way up the stairs for the night.

‘It’s scary Daddy. I can’t see Mummy.’

‘Don’t worry poppet. It’s meant to be a bit like sunlight, when there isn’t enough sunlight.’

The device illuminated the room with something close to the strength of the floodlights at a minor league football stadium.

‘Is Mummy on fire?’

‘I’m getting quite a headache,’ said Maude. ‘Beginning…… to feel……quite.... cross. I thought you’d read the manual’

‘Not yet, darling, and no, darling, Mummy isn’t on fire.’

‘For instance, how close should I be?’ asked Maude, as she persevered on the sofa, wincing a little.

Maude’s headache was worsening and I was feeling quite stressed as I rifled through the desk drawers for the instruction manual. It didn’t feel as though we were getting the optimum results from a device designed to create a sense of well-being.

The girls had disappeared momentarily and I could hear the familiar sound of one of their rooms being ransacked.

I found the booklet.  I read the ‘quickstart’ guide in the glare of the lamp. The guide was imprecise about recommended distance and I began to feel a dryness in my mouth and the onset of a stress-induced headache. For a moment it felt like the light was drawing me towards it – I thought I was having a near death experience.

Maude spoke and distracted me.

‘I think, perhaps, I should wear my prescription sunglasses.’

‘It does warn, darling, that headaches are possible during the first couple of sessions.’

The girls reappeared and joined Maude on the sofa. The girls were wearing their sunglasses.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little Knowledge...

‘But where will we go?’

‘You mean ‘where would we go if it actually happened?’ That’s easy - the west of Ireland: the ancestral home at Cloonagh.’

‘But in a pandemic, silly, there’s no travel. How would we survive and feed the girls?’

‘Well, we’d have to stay put and slug it out with the neighbours while we’re all looting the Tesco metro in the village. We could then take the National Trust property up the road - they have allotments. They might just let us in - we are members after all...' ’

‘Typical! You’re just not taking me seriously.’

On some Saturday mornings, Maude tucks herself away with a novel from the library. This morning, it is a tale of a flu pandemic that is apocalyptic in scope.

‘We at least need an emergency food store in the garage with (write this down):

Everything you can get in tinned form
Toilet roll
Powdered milk
….that kind of thing…use your initiative.’

I reminded Maude that I already have a storage system in the garage – with all the basics covered. 

One of my best boyhood friends was Polish. His parents had been refugees - shunted all over Eastern Europe and North Africa before arriving in Northern England. A win on the football pools had enabled them to set up their own business and live comfortably. Zbig’s dad, however, always maintained a garage store of essentials – an insecurity stayed with him and the memory of his garage store stayed with me. My thoughts were just moving on to memories of happy afternoons playing tennis on Zbig’s lawn when Maude persisted:

‘Listen to me - this is important . I’ll do a checklist for the emergency store. I’ll have it laminated by one of the support staff at work and you can keep it in the garage. Everybody has a siege store in America. ‘

‘Your mother has one in Ballymena. What calamity is she expecting.’

‘A power cut at Sainsbury’s’

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Three Doors Up

‘Look out of the window,’ said Maude. ‘Now.’

Maude was downstairs monitoring the girls. I could hear one of them crying and complaining incoherently about a crime committed by the other one. I was upstairs grabbing a minute put Brylcreem in my hair. It was one of those mornings when the smell reminded me of my father.

‘Have you looked?’

‘I’m looking, now.’

I was surprised to see that the third car in a funeral cortege was parked outside our house. My eyes followed the train of cars up to the hearse – as it was being filled with a coffin three doors up. Mourners and funeral professionals were milling around.

‘Oh.’ I said.

Three doors up is a rented house – tenanted by a couple in their forties for about six months. They could often be seen walking past the house with shopping bags – as they didn’t own a car. I did pass the time of day with them. Regrettably I never really took the time to engage them in neighbourly conversation.

Initially I wasn’t sure which one of them was dead.

‘Is it him, do you think?’ asked Maude.

I then saw ‘him’ getting into the first car. A large wreath emerged from the house with the name ‘JAQI’ at its centre.

‘Well it’s not him, he’s there.’ The upstairs window afforded me the better view.

‘Must be the woman, then’ called Maude from downstairs.

‘They’re fetching out a big wreath – it says ‘JAQI’. J,A,Q,I.’

‘Rather unorthodox spelling,’ suggested my wife.

I coughed and realised that I now have my father’s cough – he was virtually in the room.

‘Your daughters are out of control. Are you coming down any time soon? ‘