Monday, 16 May 2011
We have a slight plumbing problem at Crap Cottage. Needless to say, it can’t possibly be simple – a washer on a tap, a blocked drain....no, it has to be the old dripping cistern lark.
We’ve had this issue before. Something goes wrong with the loo, the cistern overfills and the overflow runs incessantly, keeping me awake (the Shah would snore through a nuclear blast) and making me even worse tempered than usual. Last time it happened, the Shah fiddled with all the component parts of the whole plumbing system of the house, broke pretty much everything he touched, swore blind it was all fine and I ended up calling a plumber to fix it all at vast cost.
This time, the Shah swears blind he has learnt his lesson from last time and, besides, he has picked up loads of tips from Mark and Paul – the unfortunate builders who did our kitchen extension and who are still in a Swiss Clinic recuperating. So the Shah begins to investigate the problem. He begins by “adjusting” the mechanism inside the cistern and assuring me that it is all fixed and the water is no longer dripping. The actual result is that the water flow is increased and the accompanying burbling sound through the pipes not only keeps me awake but also makes me need a wee every five minutes through the night. It is like Chinese Water Torture.
The Shah then forms the opinion that it is the tank that is at fault and the ball- cock needs replacing. I remark sourly that the tank is not the only thing that will need its ball-cock replacing if this isn’t sorted soon. The Shah affects indifference and adopts the superior air of the true artisan.
So now he needs to get into the loft to look at the water tank. Correction – he needs to get into one of the two lofts to inspect one of the FOUR water tanks that nestle up there. This is Crap Cottage after all – the land where nothing is ever straightforward. The two lofts are both tiny and only good for storing the odd suitcase. They are probably tiny because of the ridiculous over supply of water tanks. I have no idea what they do, so I ask the Shah.
“Shah,” I say, “how come we have four water tanks?” The Shah’s air of Artisanship (sp?) increases and he says airily “because we need water for the house,” (as if I am an idiot savant).
“I know that,” I say gritting my teeth, “but why FOUR?”
“Well it’s obvious, isn't it?” he huffs
“Well,” he continues in his best patronising voice, ”this one here is the cold water tank and that one there is beside it. As for the two in the other loft, the little one is the hot water tank.” He gives a smirk of satisfaction at his own inspiration.
“So what’s special about the tank beside the cold water tank and what about the fourth?”
The Shah loses patience. All of a sudden he leaps up the rungs of the step ladder like a young gazelle (as opposed to cutting the figure of an arthritic hippo which is the norm) and buries his head in the loft opening so that I can’t hear his reply.
Some time later he reappears to tell me that everything is fixed – no problem. I ask how he has done this so quickly. He tells me that he has changed the ball cock and it’ll be fine.”*
Fast forward 48 hours. Jason the Plumber is here. He is renewing a faulty part in the cistern and the dripping sound has ceased. I write Jason a cheque for an amount of money quite out of proportion to the time and effort he has expended but, frankly, I would have paid him twice as much if it meant getting the Shah to stop fiddling with the waterworks. Peace and quiet is restored to Crap Cottage.
Fast forward another 24 hours. One of the children is in the shower. Suddenly, a noise like 30 Harrier Jump Jets taking off shakes the shallow foundations of the house. I am terrified. I am convinced that the boiler is about to explode and blow us all to Kingdom come. I rush to inspect it. It is off. The noise appears to be coming from the direction of Loft 2 – the one that houses the biggest water tank. The tank with the new ball-cock.
It is by now apparent that the Shah has completely lost interest in the waterworks and the problems thereof. He makes up some cock and bull story, utilising as many long words and technical-sounding terms as he can in an attempt to blind me with science. “Ah well,” he says knowingly. “It’s because the phlange on the basilicum base is rubbing against the carborundum arm. Don’t worry – it’ll be fine.”*
My phone rings. It is our next door neighbour. “I don’t want to worry you,” he says politely, but there is a terrible grinding noise coming through the wall from your house – we wanted to make sure you were okay.” He is polite enough not to say “and you are keeping our baby awake”.
“It’s all your fault,” I inform the Shah who pouts like a small boy. “I can’t understand it,” he whines. “I’ve never broken anything before.”
When I have stopped laughing and smacking him round the head, I remind him of the time, in a previous house, when the cistern began to leak. He cemented up the area that was leaking so effectively that, not only did the leak not stop, but the Plumber could not get the offending nut undone and ended up having to take a sledgehammer to the loo and literally smash it out of the bathroom before replacing it – again at vast cost. The Shah looks amazed. “I don't remember that!” he cries.
I put the kettle on. I am making tea – strong with two sugars. Just the way Jason likes it.
I have already noted the Shah's generous use of "it'll be all right" here which generally indicates anything but.
Monday, 2 May 2011
I am sorry this post has taken so long to materialise. I would love to cite pressure of work, involvement in charity projects or intellectual (hah) activities but the truth is closer to lazing around in the sunshine, watching a future King marry for love and going to parties.
However, I mentioned in my previous post that I was constructing a guide to the minefield that is the parenting of teenagers, following on from the String Bag and Octopus Guide to rearing babies that I offered you last time. For those of you whose children are under 10 (because we would be naive to imagine that the teenage years actually begin at thirteen – that’s just one of the ways they set out to trap you) I can offer no better introduction to the stygian nightmare that awaits you than this:-
You may think it is far-fetched. Those of us who have been there or who (like my good self) are in the thick of it, believe that it is but a flight of humorous fancy, a tiny shred of gossamer-light whimsy in comparison to the jack booted reality of life with teenagers. The Shah and I actually met somebody once who responded to our moans about our children with the killer phrase “Oh Vienetta will never be like that,” with a totally straight face. Vienetta was 4 at the time. The Shah laughed so hard that twin jets of snot flew from his nostrils and we both had to be stretchered out, in need of oxygen.
So – although all attempts to deal rationally with teenagers call to mind King Canute trying to hold back a hurricane of hormones, I humbly offer you a few pointers to help you navigate these tricky times.
1. 1. You have to be prepared to lose your ranking in your child’s affections. Whilst many idiosyncrasies apply to boys and girls differently – this one is equal. All that matters from now on is their friends; and I mean they are ALL that matters. Pestilence? War? Famine? Death? GCSEs? All of these will simply score a resounding “Meh” with your average teenager.
2. 2. Along with number 1, you must be prepared to be treated like the saddest, most stupid being that ever walked the earth. The minute you open your mouth, the eye-rolling will start and the loud sighing will set in shortly afterwards. You know nothing, your opinion counts for zip. Get used to it.
3. 3. As soon as your child’s age hits double figures, the bathroom door will be firmly locked, hair will begin to sprout in previously bare areas, they will grow at the rate of about a foot a week and sudden body awkwardness will happen upon them. If you should be stupid enough to walk into their bedrooms without knocking (assuming you can crank the door open – see number 6) you can expect to be screamed at. “LIKE, GET OUT” will become a familiar sound.
4. 4. Lose any ideas of smugness you may feel when you hear about others’ travails. When you learn that Jessica’s parents came home to find the house trashed, a strong smell of weed in the air, their darling daughter in flagrante delicto with an Albanian car valet, a herd of miniature goats shredding the garden and a London Routemaster bus parked in the pond, do not snigger. It could be your turn next.
5. 5. Do not imagine that, now your offspring can sleep for England, your nights will be any easier. You have moved on from pacing the floor with them in your arms to pacing the floor while they are in the King’s Arms, necking pints of Snakebite as fast as they can. Stand by with the bucket when they return.
6. 6. Small children are messy. Large children are twice as messy with half the excuse. Both sexes will store all their clothes on the floor; the boys because they simply can’t be arsed to open a drawer and the girls because they are constantly trying on every shred of clothing they possess before declaring, “I’ve like, got NO CLOTHES.” (This last remark accompanied by a murderous look that suggests you are Scrooge’s first cousin).
7. 7. More on the thorny issue of clothing. This is akin to tip-toeing through a newly-laid minefield. Let us take the sexes separately. Boys:- your formerly sports-mad, healthy-looking little lad may well transmute into a slouching, grumpy, ashen faced Goth whose long fringe exists purely to be flicked back at regular intervals and, oh yes, to hide the heavy black kohl ringing one eye from you, his parents. He will inexplicably wear all his trousers so that the waistband is half way down his buttocks and the crotch flops around his knees. Girls: - this is like a minefield x 10. No scrub that – a minefield x 10 to the power 3 trillion. Your erstwhile freckle-faced, tousle haired tomboy may well transmute into something that wouldn’t look out of place on the arm of a priapic Premiership player. Despite your cardiac arrhythmia, my best advice is to say nothing because whatever you say, IT WILL BE WRONG. When your daughter asks for your opinion of her outfit just as she is about to leave the house (and remember, she has tried on every damn thing in her wardrobe so there is no room for manoeuvre here) LIE THROUGH YOUR TEETH. To help you out, here are a few suggestions for right and wrong responses:-
Here darling, let me adjust your hemline...
My memory’s longer than that dress.
Didn’t the shop have that top in another size?
Now I know where Viz got the inspiration for Fat Slags from.
That’s a refreshingly modern look!
You look like a ten bob slapper.
What unusual boots! I didn’t realise Cowboy boots were back in!
Yee hah! Ride ‘em cowboy! (This phrase is particularly inappropriate.)
You have a lovely sun kissed look
Oi Jaffa! You’re more orange than Pippa Middleton.
Didn't Princess Beatrice wear something similar to the Royal wedding?
You look like the bastard lovechild of Chi-chi and a Unicorn
1. 8. As a responsible parent, you will want to make sure that your children receive a balanced diet with all key nutrients accounted for. You will undoubtedly plan meals carefully throughout the week. You will then come home to find your 6 foot son standing at the open fridge door, eating planned meals 1,2 and 3 whilst moaning that there is “like, NO FOOD in the house” before shambling off and leaving the fridge door wide open. You should also develop the culinary skills of a Masterchef finalist because nobody will ever want what you have actually planned to cook as they all seem to imagine that they live a Michelin-starred existence and there is some sort of menu from which they can choose every night. Learn the phrase – “it’s Spag Bol or nothing,” and use it often.
2. 9. Driving – another bone of contention (as if there weren’t enough already). When your kids reach 17, they are likely to demand driving lessons. Then they will demand “like, a decent car”. At this point, you should expect attitude over gratitude as they declare that they are “like, not driving that heap of shit” gesticulating wearily at your much loved, if elderly, Ford Focus. If you are foolish enough to point out to them that putting them on your insurance is likely to cost a couple of grand, they will rear up and screech “IT’S NOT LIKE, MY FAULT – I DIDN’T ASK TO BE BORN YOU LOSER. BEN’S DAD’S BOUGHT HIM A FUCKING ASTON MARTIN WITH PERSONALISED NUMBER PLATES. YOU’RE LIKE SOOOO CHEAP.”
3. 10. The moment you utter one small word of dissent about anything (or even if you just repeat a request as mild as ‘could you pass me that plate please?’) you will be instructed to “LIKE CALM DOWN!” said in tones that suggest you have just had a three hour screaming tantrum.
To be honest, I'm exhausted just having written that lot down, much less having lived it for quite a few years now. The good news is that they do (eventually) emerge from the teenage chrysalis and something semi-human appears, something that can actually hold a conversation without grunting or screeching and does, occasionally, show affection and gratitude.
Oh, but just one more thing before I go .... all other parents are cooler than you. Fact.