Friday, March 31, 2006

We go to choose tiles.

I am not sure quite how I got myself into this situation, but my delight at being in the King's Lynn branch of 'Topps Tiles' (a name that surely should belong to a tile shop in the Beano) is only marginally tempered by the realisation that I have forgotten to change my trousers.

I should have changed my trousers because Baby Servalan vomited in my lap earlier, and to the untrained eye it looks, to put it politely, a bit like I have jizzed all down them.

"Can we go now?" I ask the LTLP.

"No," she replies.

"But I really need to do a poo."

She looks at me in some contempt. "For Christ's sake. What with you and the baby..."

"It's not my fault. That coffee has gone right through me."

"We'll go to Homebase after this," she announces. "You can go to the toilet there and," she shakes her head, "do your poo."

"Are you sure it is a genuine toilet?" I ask. "Enclosed, with paper and all that? I am not going if it is just a display in the bathroom section."

"It is a genuine toilet."

I am a bit happier at this. My best-case scenario is to be allowed to go home to do my poo, my worst case is to continue choosing tiles and not be allowed to do my poo. Choosing more tiles whilst being allowed to do my poo seems like a good compromise. We park at Homebase and I hurry-waddle in ahead of her.

The toilets are pretty well next to the tills, and are sternly labelled 'FOR CUSTOMERS'. Bearing in mind that I have already waddled past the staff in an odd fashion, I am anxious that they do not think that I am a non-customer who is sneakily taking advantage of their facilities for some nefarious purpose. I try to let them know this, using telepathy. I am sure that they are looking at me suspiciously.

You would think that toilets in DIY centres would be the most incredible spaces, full of shiny bathroom gizmos to inspire, with labels telling you in which aisle to buy such fantabulism. But this is a place of disinfectant, of off-white washed walls, aged Armitage Shanks and plastic seating. It screams 'municipal!!!' louder than the Revd Iain Paisley fleeing down the streets of North Belfast being chased by a giant municipal.

I sit and do my business, hoping that the LTLP has entered the shop by now and that the staff have realised that I am a genuine toilet-authorised customer and not some wierdo.

I am some time in there.

As I go to leave, a member of the Homebase staff marches in through the door. He is checking up on me!!! I push past him in my ostensibly jizz-covered trousers and go to rendezvous amidst the tiles.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

“So how’s the building work going?” asked Short Tony.

“Your dogg has shat on my bathroom floor,” I complained.

“My dogg?”

Short Tony’s dogg raised a quizzical eyebrow from its slumptness on the stone flags. I looked at it in a stern fashion. The animal went back to sleep, my reproach unacknowledged.

“It might not have been Short Tony’s dogg,” the LTLP offered.

I had to concede that she was right.

“What does it look like?” asked Short Tony. “Hers are normally about... this big.”

“No – this was about... that big.”

“What colour is it?”


“Ah. Hers are usually quite dark.”

I apologised for maligning Short Tony’s dogg.

“Are you sure it wasn’t a cat?” asked Mrs Short Tony.

“It would have to be a bloody big cat,” I explained patiently.

“Or a hedgehog? They are quite big. Or a badger?”

“It looked like dogg to me,” I maintained. “On the bathroom floor. Ironically, exactly where the toilet is going to be. In the future.”

Short Tony disappeared to examine the evidence, presumably utilising a tape measure and colour chart. I felt foolish for making unjust and unproven accusations. The dogg slumbered on the floor.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I inspect my building work.

The cottage has been in a stage of semi-demolition for some time now, and I have been going over there periodically to check progress and take photographs. The difficulty up to now has been finding times that fit in with the builders not being there; aside from not wanting to give them an excuse to stop work for a chat, every time I reach for a camera they hastily slip behind walls, cover their faces, dive slow-motion into cement mixers etc.

One of my key aims has been not to spoil the fact that the cottage is essentially old and historic. The Methodical Builder has been very helpful in this respect, in that by the time he has finished the cottage will be even older and historicker. But progress has progressed and there are now some walls, which seems like a good start even to my untutored eye.

I need to come to terms with one thing though: I no longer have a secret bookcase which opens to reveal a large alcove within, like in the Scooby Doo cartoons.

A commenter reminded me of it the other day. I pretended I still had it, which I feel bad about. My staircase has moved, and with it has gone the secret bookcase which opened to reveal a large alcove within, like in the Scooby Doo cartoons.

The SBwOtRaLAWlitSDC has always been a key element in this piece of writing - part of its essential charm, perhaps. And I have had it removed, just like Hanna Barbera introduced Scrappy Doo. I would like to find somewhere in the house where I can build a suitable replacement thing. If anybody has any ideas then please let me know.

Friday, March 24, 2006

"Well I LIKE brussels sprouts," she maintains.

I look at her closely, wondering why we married.

The vegetable box has arrived, and we are searching for something green to go with our delicious liver and bacon. The only such thing in the vegetable box is brussels sprouts. I must have upset the Vegetable Delivery Lady.

Miserably, I start preparing the Brassica of Much Controversy.

Whatever little topic I choose to write about here, I always do try to avoid the obvious subjects or easy targets. But of course there are certain things - Telford, Jack Straw, brussels sprouts - that one must give a good kicking to occasionally, for fear that they somehow become readmitted to polite society by stealth, perhaps in some postmodern ironic sense. That is how the Nazis came to power in the 1930s, and I do not want to be responsible for the re-emergence of their vegetable equivalent.

I slice the ends off viciously, trying to lose as much sprout as possible in the process. How can something this watery and bland have such a bitter aftertaste? If I wanted that sort of experience then I would buy a James Blunt album. The weekly mystery vegetable delivery is, tragically enough, the highlight of my week, and I tend to take disappointments badly. The inclusion of brussels sprouts is one such, and it has quite taken the shine off my weekend.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I hear a knock on the door!!!

Previously this would have been a major event in the day. In the week, come to think of it. A knock on the door would have been a prompt for an exciting leap into the air, followed by a scurry to see who my Mystery Visitor was.

That was then. I look up from my newspaper in some annoyance.

Between feeding, winding, hugging, clearing up poo, changing nappies, making up bottles, washing up, clearing up the bits of poo that I missed first time round, doing laundry and feeding again, I have very little time to do all those little things that make life bearable - reading the newspaper, listening to banjo music etc. Now some idiot is knocking on my door.

I put down my newspaper. Current affairs will have to wait. If it is that Lord Levy then I will tell him to piss off.

I throw open the door. Two ladies ask me how I am.

My guard shoots up like a Pete Doherty. In my experience, people do not go around knocking at other peoples' doors to ask them how they are. In fact it is a pretty good rule in life that any stranger who starts a conversation by asking how you are is likely to be winding up into some form of pitch that will make the answer that you gave them everso slightly less true.

"I'm fine. Thank you." I study them through bleary, sleepless eyes.

"Would you like to talk about the Bible?" one asks.

"I'm really busy..." I begin.

"Oh well, don't worry," she replies. "Do you not believe in God?"

"I..." I begin (again).

"You have a nice day." And with that, cheerful and smiling, they are gone.

I stand there for a minute. As sales techniques go, this seems to be from the 'auditioning for Sir Alan Sugar' school, and I conclude that I have just been doorstepped by the two most rubbish Jehovah's Witnesses in Britain.

Retreating indoors, I look in the mirror. I try to decide whether I look particularly heathen - to question whether, by taking one look at my depraved and amoral face, two middle-aged ladies could immediately conclude not only that I am not a regular churchgoer but that I am so far towards the 'Satan' end of the norm group that any form of spiritual rescue is out of the question. I can't see it myself, although I appear to have a slight squint that might look demonic in a certain light.

It is slightly worrying. Baby Servalan starts crying. I give her a quick check for hooves before sticking the kettle on for a feed.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My baby is a heifer!!!

I weighed myself the other day. I do this occasionally, if I am feeling overly cheerful in the morning, as this tends to make me feel a bit ill.

I climbed on to the scales. I looked at the digital readout. I goggled at it a bit, and decided to eat fewer pies. Then I realised that I was holding the baby.

A foolish mistake to make. But it gave me the opportunity to put her down, weigh myself again, then work out how much it was that she weighed (it is quite easy, you take one figure away from the other, there is no need to involve a health visitor at all).

I looked up her weight on the NHS percentile chart.

My baby is a heifer!!!

She is off the scale. That is not an overly-enthusiastic way of saying that she is a 'bit heavy'; she is genuinely and incontrovertibly off the scale of what babies should weight. I checked it twice, then examined her closely. She does not seem to be especially porky, nor has she got a particularly large head, nor did she have lots of spare change in her pockets.

Short Tony pointed out to me that this 'get on the scales carrying something then put it down and get on the scales again and take one figure away from the other (not involving a health visitor)' process was a bit like a scene from one of the Mr Bean programmes.

I found this a bit depressing as I have a specific rule in life not to base any of my actions on scenes from the Mr Bean programmes or, indeed, anything that was written by or has involved Richard Curtis. It makes it so inconvenient when one meets American ladies in country house situations.

I stared at Baby Servalan. If there is going to be a new world record heavy baby then it may as well be her; it is just sad that Roy Castle is not around to formally announce it to the world.

Friday, March 17, 2006

"That's it!" announces the LTLP.

I glance at her in concern.

"I am officially PISSED OFF with washing up."

I know that she has been unhappy for some time. She has been complaining of a bad back from where she has to lean over the sink, and the occasional session without marigolds has caused the skin on her hands to go a bit singingdetectivey.

"I know you are," I reassure her. "Just think though - we'll be back in our nice cottage in three months or so, with our brand new dishwasher."

She fixes me with a stare. I suddenly come over all worried, like a small boy who's fallen into the leopard enclosure.

"No. I need you to help."

"But I have helped! I got you that special washing up liquid for sensitive skin. Plus I always try to use a paper plate if possible."

"I need you to do some fucking washing up!"

I feel myself being engulfed by leopards. I look this way, then that way, then this way again. A miraculous superhero thing emerges from neither this way nor that way in order to help me out. She seems really cross now.

"All you do," she continues, "is stupid easy jobs like - quote - 'hanging the washing up' - unquote - that appears to involve you disappearing upstairs with the washing basket in order that you can sneak onto the PC and have conversations with your internet DWEEB FRIENDS."

This seems a bit unjust, and needs challenging. "They are not exactly my friends..." I begin. But she is not interested. I skulk back into the lounge and contemplate my forthcoming life of drudgery.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Outside the tube station there is a flower stall.

It's a magnificent affair - bustling and bright and perky - and stocks every single flower that you could name: roses, and tulips, and all the other sorts of flower.

I waited there to meet somebody for another Very Important Meeting.

A man lumbered into view. He was well-built, but his bulk came from the several layers of clothing around him. Lugging a huge and filthy backpack, presumably holding his worldly possessions, his face was worn and his beard neglected. I watched him as he approached.

He clutched a polythene bag - the sort that you only get from convenience stores, generic branding and material thinner than advance ticket sales for the Glitter comeback gig. Through the plastic you could see stacked the classic gold of Special Brew - no cheap imitations, two four-packs - formally identifying him as a member of the paramilitary wing of CAMRA. He reached the stall and rummaged in this bag.

"Here," he croaked, pulling out a tiny box of Ferrero Rocher and awkwardly offering it to the lady on the flower stall. "I just wanted to say thank you very much."

And with that he was gone.

Monday, March 13, 2006

I visited London.

This was very exciting for me, as I had not been in the big metropolis for many months. It also meant that I had twenty-four hours without having to make up baby milks. This, for me, is freedom. Freedom!!! I skipped down the road like the ladies in the tampon ads, heading for a late-afternoon drink.

I chose one of my old regular haunts. A traditional yet pleasingly vibrant place, it is known for selling very good beer. This is generally my criterion for pub choice, as opposed to Sky TV or £1.99 meals for pensioners on Thursdays. Besides, I was meeting a lady who I was keen to look cool in front of. (Don't worry about the LTLP etc, it was nothing untoward and had nothing to do with sex, plus I had to leave at 7pm.)

"I'll have a cider," requested my hot date.

At the bar, a chap was polishing glasses methodically. I asked him for a cider. He stared at me, as if I had requested a battered penguin.

He put down his tea towel. "Aah erm sorry," he replied in a French accent that would have French people denouncing him for being overly French. "Wee duh not seurve cider."

I didn't quite understand.

"There eez nuh cider," he explained. "My beurse deurse not like tuh steurke eet."

A stern-looking boss-type figure watched us from the end of the bar, carefully taking note of potential cider-drinking hooligans. I had a short conversation with the barman about the usual availables in a public house, the traditional nature of the drink both in England and in Northern France, and the renaissance of cider as a choice of well-behaved young professionals with high disposable incomes.

"There eez nuh cider," I explained to Lady I Was Keen to Look Cool in Front Of, my sociological argument with the staff having tailed off lamely. She radiated piqued disappointment in her thwarted ciderlessness.

"A lager then. A nice one."

I plodded to the bar. "Aah erm sorry," replied the barman. "Wee duh neurrrt sell laager eether."

"You don't sell lager."


"This is a lager pump. Here. This one. It says so."

He gave me a shrug that was almost Asterixian in its Gallicness.

"Eet izz nurtt on today."

I returned to our table. "There eez nuh lager either," I explained. Lady Who I Was Doing A Bad Job of Looking Cool in Front Of blinked rapidly, with a 'you are an idiot and this is an idiot pub' air.

"There is no lager?"

"There is no lager."

"Er - I guess I'll have a white wine then."

I felt my shoes wearing out as I returned to the bar once more. Very slowly and patiently, I addressed the barman.

"Do you sell white wine?"

"We duuuh."

"I'll have one of those then."

I was careful not to specify a particular grape variety or level of dryness or wetness. He poured it happily. My beer was too warm.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I search for a laptop.

This is not normally what I do, but I wonder if anybody could help me? I am not really a laptop expert and am floundering around totally out of my depth like some Patrick Kielty of portable technology. The last laptop I had was called an Osborne 1, but it didn’t have any USB sockets and they don’t make them any more and besides I need something with a bigger screen.

The problem seems to be that I don’t seem to want what other people think I should have. All I need is something that is small and light and that I can write things on using Microsoft Word (a word-processing package, it is quite popular) and access the Internet. I require neither my processors dualled nor my graphics accelerated, and on principle I’d shy away from something that wants to offer me ‘xclusiv ultim8 gaming action’ or the like.

The main thing is that it needs a nice keyboard. You can’t tell on the internet sites whether keyboards are tappity-tappy and robust, or something that Clive Sinclair would have laughed out of the factory as being too plasticky. I can only judge keyboards by going into somewhere like PC World and physically trying them, and I do not want to go into somewhere like PC World, as I do not want to get cross. For my purposes (writing things quickly) they keys need to go down when they’re pressed and make a satisfying thwacky noise that tells me that the character that I have just typed is definitely typed and will stay typed, even if I decide that I need to delete it at a later date.

Does anybody have any recommendations? I would be most grateful.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"I'd never work again," repeats Short Tony, leaning heavily on the bar. "I would never work again."

Short Tony works in a sphere in which it is important to come across as sensible and sober. It's difficult for me to judge, as I'm a bit close to it, but I am not sure if that comes across or not in this piece of writing. I reassure him that I have no intention of progressing the offer.

"'From reading your blog, you and your cast of friends and neighbours sound perfect'. That's what the email said," I explain.

"I'd never work again," he mutters. We wave at the Well-Spoken Barman, who refills pints of Nethergate.

"The idea is," I continue, "that they would set up a camera somewhere, and just film us going about our daily lives. Then if the pilot was any good it would be shown on Channel 4."

"I would never, ever work again."

"I have to say the LTLP is not enthusiastic."

Television, like the Sirens from old mythology and early Genesis songs, lures people to their doom. I have never been on television before if you do not count an inadvertent and unwanted appearance on Play School, but I know enough about it to know that it can make perfectly normal people look like a bit of an idiot. Plus apparently it puts pounds on you (makes you appear fat) and exaggerates the size of your head.

I rereassure Short Tony that nothing is going to come of it. I could not possibly swap my simple life of playing bowls and the occasional pint for modern trendy clubs and coke-fuelled bunk ups with Trinny and Susannah and the 3am Girls. We turn back to our handled glasses, and the topic is closed.

Friday, March 03, 2006

I engaged a cleaner.

I had not employed a cleaner since the previous debacle, and had not intended to until we moved back into the cottage.

When you have a new baby it is sometimes necessary to economise, especially what with the rent money I am having to pay Evil Slumlord Landlord Narcoleptic Dave. That was until I realised how much child support we get from Mr Brown. Honestly it is loads!!! I give her no weekly pocket money at all, and get to keep about seventeen quid a week. No wonder single mothers are always having babies at the expense of the hard-working family community (i.e. me).

Not having a dishwasher has caused mess in the kitchen to accumulate, and I am spending a fortune on paper plates, so it did seem like good economics to get cleaning help. I telephoned the number I'd found.

"What's the house like?" she asked.

This was shortly after our dose of food poisoning that turned out not to be food poisoning after all. It was a mysterious winter projectile vomiting bug!!! Both my in-laws subsequently caught it off me. Before the heating was fixed.

"Oh, it shouldn't be too much work," I replied. I did not mention that the last two people who had used our bathroom had subsequently contracted dysentery. It did not seem like a fact that would aid me in my negotiations.

So I have a clean house again, and what's more I've become an employer in the local economy again!!! Granted I am not quite in the Alan Sugar league despite all the work I do for Great Ormond Street Hospital which I don't like to mention at all or take any credit for. But it is a start, and my toilet is much nicer as well.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Townie!!! Townie!!!"

I clearly remember mocking Martin the IT Consultant at the bar in the Village Pub. He had called out an emergency Boiler Repair Man whose expertise had identified that the oil tank was empty.

That was a couple of months back. I replayed the scene in my mind as I hammered the boiler furiously with my fists at four o'clock in the morning. Behind me, my father-in-law radiated unimpressedness.

I have always got on reasonably well with my father-in-law. Granted, he probably thinks that I am a bit of an idiot, and I have an inkling that recent events have confirmed his suspicions that I have had sexual intercourse with his daughter, but in general he's a smashing chap who has never hit me with an axe.

I methodically worked my way round the boiler, looking for a secret switch marked 'Turns on heat despite no oil'. I could not find one anywhere. You would think there would be a failsafe. It was clearly a heap of shit, and I told it so in my firmest voice. Behind me, my father in-law racked up the unimpressedness radiation.

"I'll have to check the tank when it's light," I explained, reinforcing the fact that I was in charge of the situation.

The boiler looked on mockingly, as only an appliance can.

Short Tony arrived the next morning with portable electric heaters. He is a very helpful man, but could do with losing the smug expression.