Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Sorry, Sweet Irene

I've been a bit pushed and haven't thanked you properly for my awards. And I think there's one from Crazy Cath, too. How useless of me. Please accept my apologies. It's all been a bit busy what with the holidays, sardine issues (did you realise fish could count?) and the cat lying with its back feet along 'QWERTY', its head resting on the printer and its body blocking the monitor and then biting me whenever I attempt to move. It's rough out here. Don't ever forget it.

The hair straightener solution

I'm waiting to collect Beth from sports training. She's late, no doubt because she's trying to straighten her hair: currently her answer to all problems, big and small, and no doubt something that would form a cornerstone of her considered approach to global warming, food shortages and the ethics of bio-crops.

Two boys, who are about her age, saunter past, deep in conversation:

"Mine knows how much homework I've got but she's still on at me, all the time. 'Get up.' 'You need to need to help.' 'I can't do this on my own.' She just doesn't realise how tired I am after a full day at school."

"Mine does it all. No stopping her. But her timing! She waits until I've finished my homework and I'm watching something really good on TV and then it starts. BZZZZZZZZ...And if it's football, you can guarantee she'll be vacuuming right in front of the screen just when they score the vital goal. I ask her to move but of course she doesn't take any notice."

"Mothers," the boys agree, shaking their heads in disbelief. "Why do they do it to us?"

And at that moment, they have no idea how lucky they are. Because if I had access to rope, a power source and Beth's hair straightener, I can pretty much guarantee that I could really help them change their minds about mothers - permanently.

Notes from the edge

"I don't want to go back to school. I don't like the children, I don't like the teachers. I hate the school lunches."

"So do I."

"But you're the teacher, Mum. You're not allowed to feel like that."

"Oh, yeah? And what are they going to do? Dock five minutes of my playtime for being rude?"

Deborah giggles.

She's back at her school today. Mine starts tomorrow. And, as is usual, the mood is a cross between endless shaggy dog story and mourning for the time I could have spent in places that don't smell of cabbage and echo with screams. And that's only our house. School is 100 times worse.

"I'm just too old to be in a classroom," I whinge, overcome with sadness for myself and the parallel life I know was out there for me once, before thick blue veins started pulsing across my hands and I developed not so much a mono- but multi-brow that heads off down the side of my face in so many directions at once that I'm convinced somebody's given it a dodgy plan of escape that leads straight into my ear.

But the real problem is that, in my customary 'ignore the problem and there's just a chance that some superior being will magic it away' fashion, I haven't yet put together my lesson plans. Admittedly, these are short at the best of times, but even the most unobservant of heads of department can probably tell the difference between four paragraphs of lucidly constructed objectives and a blank piece of paper - though, given a severe enough hangover, it's certainly something capable of foxing me.

I'm waiting to collect Deborah from her first day at school when Cultured Mum's brother greets me. He is also a music teacher, though one who, bizarrely, appears to enjoy what he does. He also has boundless energy, enthusiasm and an encyclopaedic knowledge of techniques and instruments I've never heard of. I feel my heart sink.

"Are you using the Kodaly method?" he asks.

"How reliable is it?" I ask. "With three children already, I don't want to take any chances."

He looks confused. "You know, that marvellous Hungarian system of getting children to sing on their own, limiting the range of notes and encouraging them to listen as they sing. You get the most amazing purity of sound."

"You do? I mean, you do, yes, absolutely. Couldn't agree more. Good old Hungary. I'll certainly be rooting for them come the next Eurovision."

"Anyway," he says. "I'm working through the instruments of the orchestra with mine. It's the Cor Anglais this week, and then a Bass Oboe. If I can get hold of one."

I nod, dumbly. I've come to the reluctant conclusion that being a crap music teacher isn't just a case of playing the wrong chords consistently.

Later on, I ring Cultured Mum and ask her what a Bass Oboe is. "You mean, you don't know?" she says, laughing, and hangs up.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Socialising - the freecycle way

Socially inadequate? Worried that, come springtime, the occasional appearance of the sun might trigger long-buried 'getting together' instincts in friends and relations?

Terrified that they might demand to see you and, even worse, require food, drink, conversation?

Neurotic about the possibility of being forced to lend them valuable DIY equipment or, even worse, being asked to help out?

Your worries are over. Because with Freecycle's bumper crop of seasonal freebies, it's a virtual certainty that you need never be bothered by other people ever again:

Begin by solving communications difficulties at a stroke by trying not to talk to people. This 'top of the range mobile phone battery' is bound to make life easier as it doesn't hold a charge, making silence a round the clock everyday communication option once again.

And if people do get through and ask for DIY help, Freecycle has just the backup you'll need. Choose from the '3 step aluminium ladder - very useful round the house. Bottom rung must not be stood on,' and just watch the faces of elderly or infirm relations as they work this one out for themselves. Then there's what we call procastination in a box - a 'non-working Black and Decker Firestorm drill.' - perfect for those jobs you know you'll never get round to. Even better, why not get both.

And if, despite all your efforts, unwanted guests do turn up at your door, there's only one thing to do. March them out into the garden during a heavy spring shower and sit them under your special, no expense incurred, Teak garden umbrella frame & iron base.' As it's 'sadly missing all its fabric' there's no question that they'll soon get the message.


Wednesday, 9 April 2008

A friend e-mails

'We are doing well. If it is any consolation to you, another friend, who works in the mental health arena, (a little visual here of a white lab coat, in a coliseum trying to reason with schizophrenic lions) told me that the worst a woman will ever feel is when she is 44 years old; her parents are old and sick, her kids are teenagers and hate her, she has come to the realisation that her success and ambitions are limited (and more than likely over) and her body and hormones are conspiring against her.

So remember - you cannot be held accountable for any of your actions.

That's probably just as well. We move house on May 2nd. I may notify you of our new address/phone number in a few weeks but seeing as you are still sending Christmas cards to the place we left five years ago, it might all be a bit pointless....

Monday, 7 April 2008

Honour his name

It's almost exactly a year to the day since Francis was made redundant. Rather than let the occasion go by unnoticed, his former employers have decided to mark the anniversary in a moving and novel way.

Instead, of going for those tired, stale gestures - say, by calling him and asking how he's getting on in his new job, or putting up a commemorative plaque next to his favourite cubicle in the gents (the one with the shelf rest where he could prop up an elbow while reading the paper on company time) they've decided to honour his name by making the rest of his team redundant, too. Clearly, they do care after all.

Trevor, the man who took over from Francis, calls to tell him the news. "They've sent out a memo saying that they're reviewing the headcount, and for people not to bother talking to their line managers because 'they won't be able to give you any reassurance.'"

"Succinctly worded, if brutal," comments Francis.

"I've been called into a meeting at 2.30 tomorrow afternoon," continues Trevor. "And my second in command has been called in half an hour later. Apparently it's to talk about management issues. Do you think my job's safe?"

"Er - " says Francis.

"The thing is, I think I'll be OK, because only last week, the chairman told me that I was a greatly valued member of the team and that he'd always be proud to think of me as a friend. That shows I must have some standing, mustn't it?"

"Well, it must," I agree, when Francis recounts the conversation to me later.

"I'd go along with that - except that this time last year, the chairman said exactly the same thing to me. And look what happened next," says Francis. "That invisible menders round the corner still hasn't managed to remove the knife marks from the back of my jacket."

He whistles to the dog.

"Has that animal been adequately rewarded, food-wise?" he asks.

"Francis," I say. "You've been in too many meetings again. Speak normally or I'll have to set fire to your briefcase. And you know how annoyed it made you last time."

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Forward planning

Perhaps it's the way I keep forgetting where I live, recently ending up over the road spending three years in the wrong house until evicted for complaining that nobody seemed capable of remembering which brand of conditioner I preferred, but Francis has taken it into his head to start explaining things to me.

"And that's the villa we always stayed in," he said, today, showing me some old photographs. "Every year we'd get there by - "

"- catching the BOAC bus that had the little trailer and went from where they've built the Sainsbury's in the Cromwell Road," I say. "I know, Francis, I know."

"That's all of us, right outside the front door on the first day," he says, a few minutes later. "Dad would always say - "

" ' - room for a litte one in the back?'" I fiinish, for him.

During lunch, he explains where his parents live now, virtually including postcode and directions, then moves on to what a sardine is, and seems on the point of reminding me of the children's names, ages and shoe size when I interrupt him.

"Francis," I say. "Against all the odds, I have succeeded in retaining a few facts about us all, and I intend to hang on to them."

"I'm practising for when you lose your memory," he says, cheerfully. "Since I'm obviously going to be spending half my life telling you who you are, I thought it would be worthwhile practising now. Then it won't seem so odd when it happens."

I can't tell you how delighted I am by his solicitude and forward planning.

"Darling," I say, "Look at this long, pointy, sharp object. It's called a kitchen knife. And if you insist on telling me anything that I haven't specifically asked to have explained to me, I'll be using it. And I'm counting on my memory to tell me exactly where to cut."

Truly, marriage is a wonderful thing, even if, in our case, it's not exactly the meeting of minds because his is right here and mine, I greatly fear, is in Lalaland. Or, possibly, in Terminal 5 at Heathrow, along with 28,000 other old bags.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

That sort of a week

It's been the sort of week when complete strangers very nearly pause and ask if I'm all right before hastily remembering not to care - after all, this is Britain - and pushing past me, a shudder of disbelief vibrating in their slipstream.

Cars accelerate towards me, apparently motivated by a genuine and well-intentioned desire to put me out of my misery instead instead of merely seeking to experience the thrill of reaching the next red light slightly faster than everyone else.

And, as I load the shopping into the trolley one afternoon, it seems only appropriate that, as I pay, I notice that I'm standing opposite a bright red sign that could have been made especially for me.

"Pull your bag here," it says. I wait for 15 minutes, but nobody comes. As I say, it's been that sort of a week.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Over exposed

In the few days we've been away, my in-box has, as usual, been filled with messages from well wishers, all of them from Megadik.

"Things to tell a naked woman," is the title of one typically well meant, though unecessary piece of advice. In my case, "Stop it, Lindy," or "Did you realise you were doing the school run without on your clothes on?" do the trick every time.

There are also many, many photographs, all, according to the caption, on loan from satisfied customers.

They have an initial shock value but once I've pressed the delete key and held it down, retrieved my toast and marmite fingers from the keyboard and mopped up the spilled tea, it starts to wear off.

Given the attention paid to the composition (none); the focus (excitably blurred) and the central feature (elaboration unnecessary) it is obvious that they are the work of a recent though unlikely to be award-winning graduate from the Bad Lindy School of Giblet Photography (slogan 'No pictures knowingly taken above the waist')

I forward the picture on to her. "Were you responsible for this?" I ask, somewhat ambiguously.

"No," comes the reply, a few minutes later. "But pass me his phone number and I'd be more than happy to take him in hand."

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Death has to be more interesting


"Oh, hello - I didn't see you there at the back of the queue."

"How are you?"

"Very well, thank you; and you?"

"Struggling to remember things. Honestly, look at me. I have to keep my shopping list in my purse all the time with a little pencil or I simply forget to bring it out with me."

"But doesn't that mean that every time you want to add something to it you have to get your bag, open it, find your purse, find the list, find the pencil, write it down and then do the whole thing in reverse."

"Well, yes. It's very time-consuming and rather boring. But at least I don't lose the list. Anyway, I'm at the front, now. Better get on. Bye, Pat.......It is Pat, isn't it?"

"Pam. It's Pam."

"So sorry."

"But I only live next door. And you've known me for twenty years."

"I do aplogise. I'm not very good with names either."