Epic fail in Liverpool – married couple in retail meltdown

Today Lovely Hub and I have failed miserably at retail therapy.

We had to go to Liverpool to swear an oath for probate – which was a different experience to say the least.  We were slightly delayed because I was being Mrs Angry about some goods that I bought online that turned out to be total rubbish when they arrived.  They were mini stress balls that were advertised as being perfect party bag items for children and adults alike.  I only wanted one to use in a photo but you had to buy twenty.  When they arrived they smelled of chemical death and were horribly greasy – not at all like the friendly stress pig that sits on my PC base at work.  Imagine how stressed you would feel if you went to squeeze a stress ball and discovered that you had greasy and chemically polluted hands?

Uni Boy has cast his scientific eye over them and pronounced that they have obviously been exposed to heat and have started to degrade – well that hasn’t happened over the past couple of weeks in England has it?

I contacted the seller of the stress balls and told them I would like my money back  and we arranged for a courier to collect the box when both boys would be home and able to lurch out of bed to answer the door. As usual, the courier played his usual game of knock the door and run – so the parcel wasn’t collected.  The seller claims that it is up to us to take a whole day off and wait patiently by the front door ready to pounce on the courier before he can get back to the van.  I don’t think so.

This made me annoyed.  So I phoned the Trading Standards number and a very nice woman gave me advice about the Sale of Goods Act 1979, goods being of satisfactory quality and the cooling-off period when you buy online.  She also asked me to extract one of the balls and put it to one side so they could check the barcode and possible carry out a chemical analysis (very CSI).

We were running a bit late for going to Liverpool as a consequence.  I thought we had to be there for 1045 hrs and I may have dawdled a tad.  Hub however, knew that we had to be there for 1030 and actually moved up a few gears from his usual laid back loucheness.  We parked in L1, my trusty Sat Nav got us to the Crown Court and we were a bit surprised to see dozens of policemen clustered around Derby Square outside the court.  There were even two mounted policemen but more of them later.

When we got inside the building we had to undergo a security check – no cameras allowed (or Stanley knives).  It had never occurred to me when I grabbed my bulging  bag and shoved the probate documents inside it as we were rushing out of the front door that a strange woman would be rummaging through the contents.  The very nice security woman looked askance into the depths of my capacious bag and the smaller bag that sat inside it.

“What have you got in there?”

“My whole world?”

She performed a cursory exploration, looked me up and down, decided that I didn’t look as if I posed a risk, and ushered us through.  We ran to the lift, squeezed in with some very nice men who were headed for court and had to walk (asthma-inspired wheezing on my part) fast.  We made it with seconds to spare.

The whole probate thing took ten minutes.  We signed things and swore on a copy of the New Testament (possibly because there are things in the Old Testament that might cause offence), it didn’t explode into flames,  and then we were free!

Waved goodbye to the nice security guards who were very pleased that we got to our appointment in time, and went back out to the square which still had a high police presence.  Derby Square is lovely but hazardous.  It seems to be a designated spot for people wanting to spit up greeny-yellow mucous.  So we had to play hopscotch a bit to get back onto the pavement.

I needed a caffeine fix after all the excitement so we went up the road a bit and found a Starbucks, deciding to drink al fresco as it was cloudy but dry.  After all the rushing around it was good to just admire the architecture as we strolled past; some very beautiful buildings in that part of Liverpool, with statues in places that you wouldn’t usually look.

Hub very kindly allowed me to sit and drink my coffee in a spot that was less gob-ridden and had a good vantage point for ogling the extremely tight jodhpurs of the mounted policemen. I was just looking.  Then it started raining.

We had already agreed (Hub with reluctance) that after we’d see the probate people we would buy Hub some new clothes in the bustling mecca that is L1.  He doesn’t like clothes shopping (for himself) and will make his clothes last for years rather than have to buy new ones.  Nothing lasts for ever though and he needed new jeans and replacement polo shirts.

The last time we bought polo shirts (I surprised him and dragged him into a clothes shop when we were out supposedly doing something else) he went in for stripey ones.  He doesn’t like rough pique material but prefers cotton jersey (me too – we have a tendency towards the tactile).  He didn’t want stripey anymore though – so we were looking for medium cotton jersey polo shirts in solid colours (red and yellow are okay, I’ve been weaning him off blue for years and he won’t touch green or anything pastel).

Stripey cotton jersey – yes, solid colour pique – yes.  We very nearly bought two nice dark red polo shirts but then he realised that they were Jasper Conran and Hub doesn’t do designers.  We did Debenhams, Primark, BHS, Burtons, Topman, Next, TK Maxx and had reached the point where we were both whimpering about our sore ankles.

I bought a purse in TK Maxx.  It cost FIFTEEN whole pounds (well fourteen ninety-nine) and I’ve never paid that much for a purse before.  According to the label it should have cost SEVENTY FIVE pounds – yeah right.  Hub told me to get on and buy it  because he was hungry (so hungry that he bought it for me in the end) and we decided to make one last stop in M and S before getting some lunch.

No polo shirts that met specifications but Hub usually buys his jeans from M and S so I was hopeful.  Hopes were dashed.  Hub is a skinny whippet with a 29inch waist and 31inch inside leg – so apparently are most of the people who buy black denim jeans from M and S.    We gave up and went for lunch.

There’s a restaurant on the roof of L1 where you can stuff your face with a fusion of world foods.  Fine dining it ain’t and the people next to us had some very strange food combinations.  I’ve never seen one man eat so many spare ribs and his daughter was hell-bent on following his example.  You can fill up a plate with whatever you like and go back as many times as you want.  Hub and I tried to stay within limits, the only difference being I had a starter plate and he didn’t.  The joy of the place is that when you are shopping-knackered and want food NOW!  you can get it and carrying on munching until you are replete.  They do really cute deserts as well.

After lunch we tried one last assault on John Lewis – which was another epic fail – and then unanimously decided that we wanted to go home.  Big cities are nice for small visits but Hub and I have become far too provincial and like the quiet backwaters now.  No offence meant to my Liverpudlian chums but walking through the perfume section of John Lewis was like being in an episode of Thelma’s Gypsy Girls – pocking Hell!

The fashion plate that is Uni Boy was gravely disappointed in our failure to shop.  We didn’t even go into H and M for heaven’s sake!  College Boy was just hacked off that we went ALL the way to Liverpool and didn’t bring him anything back.

I went online to Cotton Traders and found two polo shirts that met Hub’s exacting standards – then discovered that they have an outlet in the garden centre just down the road from us. Then we both crashed out – getting too old for this malarky.

Back to work tomorrow for me, Uni Boy is off to Spain with his chums and Hub has drawn the short straw again because he has to take Uni Boy to the sports shop to buy an American football.  He might even buy some jeans whilst he’s there. In my dreams.



Milk and Alcohol – but not this morning

It is Sunday and the sun is actually shining.  Hub and I have most of today off together – he’s on a night shift tonight – and the boys are most definitely out for the count.  Time for the To Do list.

Get up – done that.

Check on Uni Boy  – out on the razz with his mates last night.  His bedroom door is firmly closed this morning and the outside light has been turned off – I assume that he came home in one piece then.

Breakfast – ran out of milk last night so no whiskey porridge this morning then. Fruit juice, toast and Marmite, and a banana.  Ate that.

Wake Lovely Hub  – and examine those bruises.  I had to take photos of them last night to send to his paintball mate – who is responsible for two of the bruises.  I think Hub got his own back though. Had to take another one this morning because it’s developed a wonderful range of colours – and put it on Facebook for him – does this count as a wifely duty?

Put last night’s wet towel in the wash – it was forgotten in all the excitement of taking the photographs.  We’re down to two in the downstairs bathroom having thrown one away last night because it was no longer effective and I remembered exactly how many years ago I bought it.

Tidy up College Boy’s detritus in the kitchen – he was getting up just as we were going to bed last night.  There is evidence that he ate the kebab we bought for him.  He’s not very good at throwing empty things away; I often find empty fruit juice cartons replaced in the fridge or a tub of butter that isn’t any more.  This morning it is just an empty carrier bag, the stiff white paper that wraps up takeaway food and a few stray shreds of lettuce.  Doesn’t go well with toast – in the bin.

Shower – well I will when I’ve finished this – and I’ll remember to do something with the towel when I’m done.  Must remind Hub about hanging up the new blind that we bought over two weeks ago to replace the current one that has two settings – up or down.  Still he put the toilet seat back on its hinges again so it doesn’t fall down unexpectedly.  Not an issue for females but decidedly unsafe for bleary-eyed boys.

Get dressed – by this time Hub will have finished his breakfast and we can escape the house for a while – oh the joys of Sunday morning food shopping!  But we have hungry teenagers with expensive and fluctuating tastes who makes us feel guilty (Uni Boy) or just whinge (College Boy) if the right food isn’t in the house when they want it.  Must buy some new towels while we’re up there.   Don’t need flowers at the moment because Lovely Hub bought up Tesco’s stock of freesias and the house smells gorgeous.  Why is it that Tesco is the only place I can find freesias?

Lunch  – by the time we get back and unpack everything we will both be starving.  Highly unlikely that either son will be awake or offer to help if they are.  College Boy will lurch down in tee-shirt and boxers demanding food.  Uni Boy will emerge at some stage with his dressing grown elegantly draped around him to inform us that he’s having a shower and don’t use the water – please.  Ooh – scrap that.  He has just popped his head round the door to announce that the sun had the temerity to wake him up and he’s starving because he hasn’t had anything to eat since yesterday lunchtime – no wonder he’s so skinny.  Advised that his Dad will be coming down to get breakfast shortly so he only has a short window of opportunity in our tiny and hideously impractical kitchen, he smiles beautifically and says he’ll only be using the oven.  Yeurgh!  Oven-cooked food and it isn’t even ten o’clock yet.  Apparently he and his chums don’t eat whilst out boozing because the food is too expensive, its grim and it ruins the effect of the alcohol.  Should I be worried? Well – he is a scientist after all so he knows all about cause and effect..

Clear out the office – we were supposed to be devoting the whole day to this but due to my talent for procrastination we’ve ended up with an afternoon.  the office is our spare bedroom upstairs.  It houses my PC and the work laptop and it’s usually where I write and do my duty shifts.  I go in there to wake up and check my emails, Twitter and Facebook in the morning, or if I want to escape from noisy boys.  It is my oasis but it is a very cluttered and dusty oasis at the moment.  After our spectacular team work at clearing out my Dad’s bungalow, Hub and I decided that we should work our magic on the office.  The realisation that there are several defunct pieces of computer hardware hanging around in there, a pile of objects and books that were dumped there temporarily over a month ago when College Boy had his party, and – deep shame – files of notes from my first degree – which I took in 1988 – the year we got married.  There really can’t be anything social-work related in those files that is still relevant today can there?  Probably.  Anyway, there are two huge bookcases in the room that are not housing the books that lie around our house in disordered heaps.  I have two Kindles now – one for audio and one for reading but I still can’t resist the smell and feel of a real book.  I know that we will both feel better when we’ve cleared out the office but the prospect is lying over both of us like a big dark cloud.

Take stuff to the tip – provided it’s still open when we finish – otherwise it can go in the garage till tomorrow when Hub wakes up from his night shift.

Dinner – left over takeaway from yesterday – yay!  For Hub and I at least – we have been known to make a takeaway last for three days (I did last weekend) whereas the boys demolish all in front of them leaving only scraps and dribbles behind.

Ironing – this will be accomplished during ‘Wallander’.  I find that the dreary greyness is a suitable backdrop to ironing.  To be fair my ironing pile has diminished considerably since Uni Boy learnt how to iron and decided that my ironing didn’t meet his meticulous standards (Yay!)  College Boy’s clothes spend most of their time in heaps either on or under the bed (we bought him a double when we redid his room a couple of years ago – he has a small area to sleep in now) so there won’t be many of them to iron.  I like Wallander a great deal – although I wish they’d put the lights on occasionally.  I don’t actually mind ironing either provided I have something decent to watch on TV.  I sit on the sofa, ironing board now cleared of OU books and at its lowest setting, unironed clothes in a pile on one side and laundry crates ready to be filled on the other.  The fan is on, both uplighters are on so I can see what I’m doing, I have the remotes, my mobile and the house phone by my side and something to drink – thirsty work this ironing stuff – wonder if Uni Boy would make me a cocktail – or two?)  Once all this is accomplished I am perfectly content.

Hub to work – so I’ll have to remember how Wallander ends so that I can tell him when he calls me at eleven o’clock to say goodnight.

Remember to go to bed – I have a tendency to lose track of time when Hub is on a night shift and this isn’t helped by my nocturnal boys – who having slept on and off all day today will be full of beans when I am flagging.  I have book-related things to do tonight and stuff to get ready for work tomorrow.  We have a new colleague starting and I have to be in early to blow up some balloons – I made a banner before I left on Friday. Life is about beginnings and endings – we have to do them properly.

Tomorrow  – I will be up at six to prepare my whiskey-infused porridge – Hub has just returned form the local shop with the milk.

You can go your own way …

Not the easiest of weeks in all.  Lovely Hub came back from his paintball weekend on Sunday afternoon, extremely knackered and a bit disappointed that he had to spend most of his energy lugging camping equipment from A to B instead of running around splatting people.  It didn’t help that the weather was lousy, that he lost an airbed and had to sleep on the ground, or that bad weather at home meant there wasn’t an opportunity to have a go at pitching the new tent before they went away. I’m told that the draught cider was good though and so was the cocktail bar (? and I thought they were being ruff tuff boys running around with gun-things – sorry – MARKERS –  not sitting there drinking cocktails all weekend).  The zombie game was a bit boring as well, not a lot of variety in being a zombie really.

So after Hub and I falling prey to  two sleepless nights, we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately both Uni Boy and College Boy are particularly nocturnal at the moment.  Classical music and the boom of Super Mario on an elaborate sound system comes up from Uni Boy’s room and war game playing chortle issues through the curtain from College Boy’s room – he had a door once but it died and we are waiting for some sign of maturity before we replace it.

At half-past three in the morning the air was rent with the sound of the two boys fighting over bandwidth.  I ripped a muscle in my side jumping out of bed to separate them – last time they fought in the middle of the night, blood and bruises were involved (not mine).

At a quarter-past four in the morning an overwhelming smell of cooking permeated the whole house and I cursed College Boy for sneaking downstairs and making bacon super noodles with pepperami and tabasco sauce (a whole bottle) when I had to go to work in the morning.

At half-past five Lovely Hub had to leap out of bed to empty the overflowing water bucket  – for some reason the water from the tank decided to speed up while we were trying to sleep – Sod’s Law

I got up at six o’clock and staggered downstairs in search of painkillers for my achy breaky side.  Uni Boy was awake and it turned out that I had maligned College Boy and his super noodles, it was Uni Boy that had been cooking and despite being a hyper-intelligent megabeing it hadn’t occurred to him that leaving the kitchen door open whilst cooking would mean that the whole house stank of food.

I woke College Boy but he decided that his stomach was upset and he wasn’t going to get up.  Some guys have all the luck.

It was a relief to get out of the house and slouch at my desk – until I realised that torn muscles and slouching don’t mix.  Lovely Hub brought me more painkillers and I spent the rest of the day sitting in accordance with health and safety guidelines.  It’s getting better now – slowly.

Loveliest Friend worked her magic fingers into Hub’s feet and came home happy again and fully reflexologised.  Just as well because he had two day shifts – which he hates but I quite like because I get a lift into work and back.  The boys took turns (what!) to empty the water bucket as they were the only ones in but whatever it was that was causing the problem then decided to make the water flow even faster.

I phoned Uni Boy from work to see if he’d emptied the bucket.  He was a little terse.  Hub texted Uni Boy on Wednesday morning from work to ask him to empty the bucket.  This was Uni Boy’s response:

“Bucket looks fairly empty.  It fills 50ml about every 4 min., and drops 130 times a minute, so flow rate is 750-800ml/hr.  If that flow rate stays the same then the bucket shouldn’t need emptying until the evening at the earliest.”

College Boy would have texted “kk” or not even bothered to reply.

On Thursday night, Hub and I decided to tackle the water tank once and for all.  Well, I lay on the bed and watched Hub tackle the water tank.  He had to take some of the cupboard door frame off and stick his hand in the water tank to fiddle with the ball cock (ooh-er Missus!).  His master stroke however, was climbing out through the bedroom window (who needs Spiderman), scaling the roof and discovering that there was something nasty bunging up the overflow pipe.

All good paintballers have an unbunging stick and Hub is no exception.  Clinging onto the side of the chimney breast he shoved the stick up the overflow pipe and cured all our problems – well for now.  The bucket is still underneath the Heath Robinson pipework but it has remained empty since Thursday night.  Go Hub!  We still need a new boiler but that will have to wait for a bit.

Hub was at work Friday night so  a quiet night in.  Uni Boy and I had another one of our considerably lop-sided  conversations – nearly everything he says goes over my head.  So far this week we have discussed ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ – surreal to be talking about grubby DomSub books with your 19yr old son –  and whether or not the tot of whiskey I put in my morning porridge will still have an alcoholic content after being exposed to the microwave (he did calculations based on alcoholic content, amount of whiskey, temperature and length of time in the microwave – hic!.

When Hub came home we drove College Boy over to his mate’s in preparation for a day of shooting BBs in some disused army camp with a lot of other camouflaged pseudo-soldiers.  It was rather nice driving back at midnight  – just us – especially as College Boy gets particularly frantic when he is trying to get all his gear together.  He doesn’t know that we’ve found his college report (he hid it in a pile of paper on the sofa).  It wasn’t wonderful but then he’s had five bouts of tonsillitis in the past year  – oh – and he’s a lazy git to boot.

Saw Hub off to paintball this morning – it isn’t raining and he’s sent me nice texts so I know he hasn’t been too badly crushed, mashed or covered in yellow paint.  Uni Boy spent some time this afternoon practising his cocktail making skills – oh  dear – do you really need me to test that Cosmopolitan for you?  Oh well – alright then.  The boy makes a fine cocktail.  He went off to a friend’s house and for three hours this afternoon I’ve had the house to myself.

I fell asleep.  Must have been that cocktail.

This time next week Uni Boy will be in Spain and I will be starting my one and only Open University residential unit in Nottingham.  Apparently the booze is cheap (Spain and Nottingham Uni).  I’m going to be a real student for a whole week and I am more than a little bit terrified.

Hey Ho! The Paintballer and the BB Boy have returned.  The latter is totally shattered and can’t even raise the energy to go out for a meal with his best friend. He also has a red mark on his neck from a wayward BB.  He has just staggered past me with a bottle of water, a duvet and heading for bed. Hub has had a lovely day shooting at people as well but also has a couple of war wounds which he’ll show me – laterz.  Uni Boy is off out on the town again tonight with a couple of 500ml bottles filled with his cocktails – he has pre-drinking style that boy.

It hasn’t taken much to persuade Hub that tonight is a good night for a takeaway.

Just seen the war wounds – a bit tame – just on the arms but going to turn into lovely bruises over the next couple of days.  So glad I don’t have dangerous hobbies – unless you count OU terror camp next week.

Now where did we put that takeaway menu?

Dexy – a very fine cat lived here

When I first met lovely hub, I was living in a studio flat with my cat Sam.  Sam was a rescue cat.  A bruiser but very loving, he used to bring his mates in when I was out at work and reward me with a dead rat whenever I made liver and bacon casserole for dinner.  I preferred it when he brought the rat straight to me rather than leaving it under the sofa or in an obscure corner.

Lovely hub moved in and as he’d never been able to have a pet due to allergies in the house, we acquired a rescue kitten called Elmer Fud.  Sam and Elmer eventually got on – although Sam wasn’t averse to giving this tiny black upstart a warning swat when he got too uppity.  We moved into a little terrace house and the cats settled in.  Three months later Sam became ill and had to be put to sleep when they found a tumour in his throat.  Through various means when we moved Up North six years later, Elmer Fud had been joined by four more rescue cats and Uni Boy.

Muffet died first; she and her sister Callie were rescued from a drunken pub singer called Imelda.  With her wild curly black  hair and an aura of booze, she blessed us for taking the last kittens from a litter of six born to an elderly  mother cat with cat ‘flu.  The vet told us they’d lost several of their seven lives already and that they probably wouldn’t live more than a couple of years.  Muffet achieved seven years and managed to make acquaintance with College Boy the year before she died – neither of them were particularly impressed. We buried her under the lilac tree in the front garden.

Tigger – as ginger, mad and bouncing as his namesake  – was run over the day before we moved to a bigger house on a quieter road.  He would have loved the new house and garden, so we took him with us and buried him under an impressive magnolia tree.

Then there were three; thin rangy black Elmer, tiny calico tortoise-shell Callie and Sylvester – a human in feline form.  Sylvester attached himself to us before Uni Boy was born.  A stray with a dirty matted coat, who smelled to high heaven but decided that he fancied living with us.  After he’d been washed, had his doormat of a coat clipped off and been taken to the vets to have the op and stop him spraying everything in sight, we discovered that he was a pedigree Maine Coon cat; big, fluffy and incredibly lovable.  He single-handedly saw off any dog that dared to wander into our garden but would just as happily sit on your lap, a huge black and white purring chunky lump.

Sylvester was the next to go; falling victim to FIV and fading very fast.  He’s under the pine tree that Father Christmas in the Delamere Forest gave us.  It was once a five-inch sapling and now it towers over the house.  I miss all our cats but Sylvester will always hold a special place in my heart.  Not long after he died we were asked to take in a pedigree Persian Blue called Sean.  He looked beautiful – if you liked squashed faces – but had the most unsociable personality.  He also came to us already under a death sentence of kidney problems.  We had a year of his scornful company before his kidneys failed and left us with another dead cat and hefty vets bill.

Elmer disappeared one day.  Always prone to wandering far afield and not being seen for a while we had grown used to this but when he failed to return after a few days we started to worry.  His black fur had turned a rusty-brown and with a digestive system that was never brilliant from the start, we eventually found out that he had crawled into a garden, died and been collected by the RSPCA.

Callie soldiered on until 2000 and we found her curled up and as peaceful in death as she had been in life.  We have a birdbath now in the middle of the lawn where she liked to sleep, and she lies underneath it.

‘No more cats!’ we both said.  Uni Boy and College Boy gave us looks.  A week later, on Father’s Day whilst lovely hub was working, my parents took me and the boys to the Cats Protection League.  Just to make life more exciting, the fire alarm went off and a fire engine turned up.  Much joy for two small boys: loads of cats AND firemen.  We found Abba and Dexy on death row.  A not particularly cute looking tabby brother and sister who were weeks away from being put down because they were six years old and no one wanted them.

A week later they were ours.  Abba was obviously the bossy big sister, she had an umbilical hernia which made her white fluffy stomach hang down and swing from side to side if she broke into a trot – which was rare.  She was my female ally in houseful of men and she was a feisty female who would lash out at anyone or anything that annoyed her – usually little brother Dexy or College Boy but she caught both me and lovely hub occasionally too.  She was with us for eleven years, ruling the roost but always purring, and she became deeply attached to my Dad when he and Mum moved Up North to join us.

Abba was a judge of good character and was very useful in helping us choose a double glazing company. She sniffed at the first two reps and walked away in disgust, but when the third arrived, she sat on his feet purring and dribbling so he got the business.  She was right; his company did a good job and within a couple of years the other two companies had gone bust leaving disappointed customers.

Abba started going downhill last summer; she lost a lot of weight but seemed happy and  still had a good appetite.  She chose to die on September 11th – 9/11, on the day that lovely hub, my Dad and I were seeing Uni Boy off on a trip to Berlin.  Having waved him goodbye, we went on to a food festival but curtailed out visit because College Boy felt worried about Abba.  He was very good with her, sitting next to her on the sofa as her breathing became more laboured.  he told us to take Dad home first so that he wouldn’t be upset by Abba’s deterioration.

She died that night and I bought a lavender bush to plant on top of her grave.  After she died Dex became very vocal and very deaf.  Always the skinny cat, he never stopped eating and yelling – unless he was purring.  He and College Boy forged a bond so that hub and I became mere food providers and second best if College Boy wasn’t around. He committed GBH on me when I tried to remove a vole from his mouth.  His incisor went through my finger, right to the bone and necessitated a trip to A and E.  The tingling in the finger remains, nerve damage from his very effective gnashers.

We’ve known he was living on borrowed time; he got thinner and more whiny, scavenging anything and everything that we left in his reach.  He survived College Boy’s party, and nine months to the day his sister left us, hub and I found him, stretched out on the path by the front door in the late afternoon sunshine.  He just looked as if he had fallen asleep.

I howled and was hugged by lovely hub and College Boy.  We wrapped Dexy up and put in the garage for now.  My Dad is dying in hospital, hub has Norovirus  that he caught on the ward, and College Boy has tonsillitis and drugs, We’ll dig a grave by the buddleia and plant some more lavender bushes.

Dexy was a very fine cat.

Paintball Wizard – got such a supple wrist

I am a deserted wife.  My Lovely Hub is somewhere in the Brecon Beacons firing small balls of paint at about 800 similar-minded individuals.  He will come home tonight, muddy, smelly and covered with a multitude of small but perfectly formed raised welts which will morph into bruises over the next couple of days.  He usually picks up three or four of said welts on a day’s paintballing but he’s been gone since Friday so I may have to use a red marker and join up all the dots when he returns.

We have coped with being so cruelly abandoned thus far; me and the squabbling teens, and that is despite the many issues that threaten to disturb our domestic bliss (!)  One of the main issues over the past couple of days has been an overflow water tank that doesn’t – or rather it does but in the wrong places.  The morning after the Fruit and Nut party, Hub woke to the sound of dripping and discovered that the valve that should open and let water out of the tank had stopped working.  Whether or not this has anything to do with College Boy’s filling our house with drunken teenagers, or whether it was just an awful coincidence, we may never know.  For the past month though, Lovely Hub has been utilising a length of plastic tubing and several jugs to empty the excess water out of the bedroom window and onto the roof below – where the moss has become lush and verdant. He usually has to do this in the early hours of the morning when the dripping wakes him up (it wakes me up too).

Being tallish and thin, Hub has no problem getting his hand into the tank and extracting the water via the tube.  Being neither tallish or thinnish, I have a very large problem – which is why I stay in bed and pretend to be asleep whilst he is stumbling about in the dark with jugs and a plastic tube, trying not to wake me.  College Boy had a go but he has inherited his mother’s chunky wrists and whimpered when the nasty tank bit him.

The mad scrap metal merchant who used to own our house put the door frame on the airing cupboard after installing the water tanks and as a consequence there is very little room for manoeuvre.  We know that we have to sort our heating system out but in our usual haphazard fashion we have put it off.  We all know that the timer for the boiler died a couple of years ago – which is why I get up earlier than everyone else in order to switch it on manually.  We all know that the radiator in the upstairs bathroom never goes off; it is a small sleepy satellite that has cut itself loose from the mothership.  We all know that putting the boiler to hot water only will turn the heating on – sometimes – it likes to keep us guessing.

There are many other anomalies in our house; three extensions and four flat roofs, wiring that sits on top of the wall instead of inside it, walls and ceilings that are covered in every pattern of Artex imaginable (we think that they used the downstairs hallway to practice on because it has at least five different patterns).  This smaller version of the Money Pit  (Home Crap Home) always has something that needs doing but there is always something else that is more important to spend the pennies on.

As the realisation that Lovely Hub was going away for three days dawned, so did the thorny issue of how I was going to empty the water tank whilst he was away.  College Boy and I had a dummy run but it consisted of him standing on a stool moaning about how much his hand hurt whilst I stood halfway across the bedroom holding a length of guttering that he found in the garage and which is now lying on the (broken – cheers Gibbo) patio table outside.  The guttering worked quite well once CB had got the water flowing but as the tank tends to fill up in the early hours of the morning, the idea of standing there holding a six-foot length of guttering out the window whilst CB swore at the water tank did not appeal.

At last, Lovely Hub conceded and called up a friend who has a plumbing business.  He was due to visit on Friday lunchtime, several hours after Hub and his friend had departed for jolly paintball japes, so I made sure that Hub wrote it all down for me.

Hub’s friend stayed in the front room the night before they departed.  We were not good hosts; Uni Boy spent much of the night watching American talk shows and chortling in his bedroom – next door to the front room, College Boy spent much of the night upstairs shouting at his game buddies and chortling, Hub emptied the tank before and after we got some sleep and the garage alarm went off at half-past three in the morning waking up everyone but Uni Boy – who had’t gone to bed yet.  We weren’t chortling.

After the paintballers had gone (only one false start – Hub had to come back for fruit juice and his paintball markers (gun things) without which ….. ) I was very proud of the fact that I got the grey and blue bins out on the road to be emptied (even though they were very,very heavy for poor little me) and glad that I did it at half past seven in the morning because the heavens opened shortly after that and continued to chuck it down all day.  My wonderful neighbour put them back for me. Mwah.xx

I made my ‘to-do’ list once they’d gone; ensuring that I’d already done at least three things on it so that I could cross them off straight away and give myself a sense of achievement.  TMA05 featured heavily on the list – it is the title of the next piece of Open University work I have to do and I need to get going on it because in less than two weeks I shall be leaving for a residential block at Nottingham Uni – ooh squee! The chance to be a real Uni Woman at last!

My new tutor – the one that I thought was so nice and sympathetic compared to his bile-filled predecessor – is just as fluent in sarcasm.  My sad attempts at hypothesising and working out whether I need an ANOVA, MANOVA or a MANCOVA to analyse my as yet uncollected data (we do the experimental research whilst at Nottingham) and how many tails it has (don’t ask) do not meet with his approval.  As a consequence I keep moving the books around on the ironing board that I use as a table and finding multiple distractions to avoid depressing myself further. Uni Boy irons far more than I do so I have to move my piles of books so that he can borrow the board.  Fortunately, he irons nocturnally so I find my board back in the front room when I get up in the morning.

The plumber and his mate visited at lunchtime as arranged, looked askance at the water tank and chortled at our solutions.  Within half an hour they had rigged up a curious Heath Robinson-type construction of pipes and joints that enables me to drain the water into the mop bucket.  I still have to empty it using the measuring jugs – so the moss remains healthy  – but I don’t have to try to get my hand inside the tank anymore.  Unfortunately, on the first night the pipe was a couple of inches short of the water in the bucket so all I got was drip, drip,drip all night long.  One night of the Chinese water torture was enough.  I have now raised the bucket up so the end of the pipe is in the water and silent.  Uni Boy emptied it for me yesterday tea time (when he woke up) and College Boy had another go at bedtime (mine not his).  The bucket was nearly full when I got up this morning – I had a lie-in and woke up at twenty-past seven – whoo!  Chucking water out of the window has a curiously medieval feel to it.

We ARE getting a new heating system.

This morning I have Tai Chi-ed, and will be eating breakfast shortly, after which I shall make another ‘to-do’ list that will feature TMA05 prominently but will also have things on it that I actually want to do – and some that I don’t but hey – that kitchen bin won’t empty itself now!

There are so many ways in which Lovely Hub makes my life easier (and happier and funnier and totally bearable) and it isn’t till he’s not here that I stop and appreciate that.  He’s got to cope without me for a whole week soon but I think he’ll manage a bit better than I do – which offends my ego somewhat – no one likes to think they are easily replaceable.  I’m still reaching for the phone to call my Dad and tell him things.  That may never stop.

Ho hum.  Time for breakfast before I get totally maudlin and have to put whiskey in the porridge to cheer myself up again.  Uni Boy has just gone to bed.  College Boy has chortled himself to sleep and this is a time when the Whinging Cat and I would have cuddled each other back into a good mood.  Except that the  Whinging Cat is now buried under a lavender bush in the garden.  Where’s that whiskey?

Sex and Drugs and Fruit and Nut

Back in April College Boy decided he deserved a party.  He decreed that the party would be at Whitsun after the exams were finished so that all his mates from college could attend, and that he didn’t want Uni Boy or us oldies in the house.

With military precision (but only guarded consent from his parents) the Boy set about planning his party.  We were presented with a list of potential attendees, and the knowledge that his two older (and marginally more sensible) friends were also coming, would stay the night and make sure the house didn’t get wrecked.

Permission was eventually given, and withdrawn on several occasions; usually as a result of refusals to stop yelling at his computer all night, put his dirty clothes in the wash, bring his cutlery and crockery downstairs (and put it IN the dishwasher –  not just on the draining board) and to actually acknowledge the fact that his parents both own the house and have to go out to work to maintain it (roughly).

Uni Boy very gracefully gave permission for College Boy’s two mates to sleep in his room (apparently several other mates would be sleeping in the front room – number unknown).  Lovely Hub and I arranged to go to the Laugh Inn in Chester for the evening and to drive back very slowly – there was some initial talk about us staying out till 0100 hours but we both knew that we’d never last out that long.

The week before the party, when all the invitations had been sent out and some of the stuff bought, my Lovely Dad got taken into hospital.    One of the things we discussed as we sat in A and E majors  waiting for a hospital bed, was College Boy’s party and whether I should cancel it.

“Let the lad have his party, he’s been planning it for months.”

So with his blessing we went ahead.  My Dad got worse and each day brought new stresses but in the true nature of the teenager, College Boy was only really interested in his party – which was going to be epic.  He loved his grandad but was of the opinion that he would want the party to go ahead anyway (he was right but I didn’t tell him that).

Hub and I bought some storage boxes and watched through gritted teeth whilst CB packed  our mementos away and put them in the garage (they are still there).  Our cluttered and chaotic house was gradually deconstructed and after a last-minute Mum and Dad – ish dash to ASDA for nibbles (You are SO old-fashioned – NOBODY eats at parties anymore), and scribbled notes with my mobile number poked through the doors of our immediate neighbours warning them about the party, we left.

CB’s best buddies had already arrived, along with six chums from college who might or might not be staying the night.  I remembered them all from playschool and nursery  – my, how they had grown.

On the way to Chester I got a text from our joined on neighbour, in reply to my note  – “I’d better turn the telly up then.”  A man of few words but very welcome ones.

We had pizza at the Laugh Inn, drank rather a lot of wine (me) and saw three very good comics and a review act called Raymond and Mr Timms  who were so original and funny that my sides ached from laughing.  No longer interested in bopping the night away, we left there about elevenish – wondering what we could do for the next hour.

Years ago before we became a 24-hour civilisation, there used to be an all-night garage near our old home down South.  As well as petrol, they sold a limited stock of munchy food – principally Fruit and Nut chocolate.  It was still there when Uni Boy was born and there were often nights when he was colicky and going out in the car was the only way to soothe him.   Lovely Hub would drive us to the garage, stock up on Fruit and Nut, and we’d go down to Portsdown Hill to eat chocolate and watch the lights over Pompey for an hour or so.  So, for me,  late-night sojourns will always be associated with Fruit and Nut.

Some people are funny about graveyards but I find them fascinating.  We both like panoramic views and the hill overlooking the Walton Cemetary is one of the best – especially at night. So we stopped at a garage, loaded up with Fruit and Nut, and headed for the hill to kill some time (quite apt considering).

As we sat there, nattering and munching, a police car pulled up beside us and the occupant shone her torch in our window.  We explained our situation and the policewoman was very sympathetic.  She thought we’d got off quite lightly because we were at least allowed to come home – whereas she’d had to go away for a whole weekend when her son had a party.  She giggled and her words will stay in my mind forever.

“I’ve been up here loads of times, I’ve seen people doing drugs, I’ve seen them having sex, but this is the first time I’ve found someone sitting here eating Fruit and Nut.”

We strung it out a bit longer but by eleven forty-five the chocolate was gone and we just wanted to go home.  I texted CB – “Can we come home now please?” and put my phone on charge.  As a consequence it wasn’t until we pulled into the driveway that I looked at my phone again and discovered his reply.

“Can you stay out for another hour please?”


A boy and girl were sitting on the wall outside our house chatting and drinking out of bottles.  CB’s best buddies  – far more sober than me – met us on the patio and escorted us into the house.  No one had died  – so far.  We trotted up the stairs and shut ourselves into our bedroom. There were people in my office next door  – despite a CB poster threatening trespassers with dire consequences.  CB sent them off downstairs and informed us that we were now officially ‘cool parents’ because we hadn’t  stopped the party.  Someone turned the volume up on the music.

We agreed that it would all end at one o’clock; Hub and I sat down to watch old editions of HIGNIFY and QI on the Dave channel – oh no not more laughing – but were disturbed by the news that one of our neighbours was outside and threatening violence if the music wasn’t turned off.  None of our immediate neighbours would dream of doing such a thing  so Hub went to investigate. It turned out that the guy WAS a neighbour but not one that we knew, and he’d run off to wherever he came from anyway.

The party wound down then and we ventured downstairs.  The little girls I knew from nursery had blossomed – oh boy had they blossomed – and were wearing hardly-there dresses and teetering on high heels (I even saw a pair of  Louboutins in my kitchen).  For some reason people had pinched all our whiteboard markers (for the year planner in the kitchen) and written all over each other’s arms. ?!!

We were left with CB’s buddies and five of the original six youths, who were staying the night.  CB announced himself too knackered to do anything but go to bed, so it fell to Hub and I to ensure there was no broken glass, supply blankets and turn out the major lights – side lights left on because they were all watching the Dave channel downstairs.  It was about two am by then so we went to bed.

My alarm goes off around six am during the week; I switch it off on the weekends unless Lovely Hub is on earlies, but my body still wakes up for six  and it did the next morning.  I surfed and checked Twitter and Facebook but decided I was still tired and went back to bed.  As a consequence, when I got up again, dressed and went downstairs, all our guests were up and five of them – who had promised that they would help clear up – had bogged off.

CB’s best buddies were still there and hadn’t wrecked Uni Boy’s room.  We sat and talked for a while till their lift came then Hub and I, armed with kitchen roll and black bin liners, set about restoring the equilibrium of our house.

There were puzzling things; why was the downstairs bath covered in muddy footprints?  Why were there small red peppers in the garden? Why did the garden table lean at a crazy angle? Where had all the milk gone?  Where did this bunch of teenagers get the money to buy all this booze from?  Would the cat ever recover from the trauma (no – he died two days later but the incidents do not appear to be linked) and was there any trouble whilst we were out?

It appears that the girls were walking barefoot and washed their feet in the bath before putting their Louboutins back on.

The small red peppers were Ghost Peppers – hotter than Scotch Bonnets apparently and the only way to cool your mouth down once you’ve eaten them is to drink milk – Aha! another question answered.

A lad called Gibbo, who is big, muscly and plays a lot of rugby, sat on the edge of our iron table and bent the legs.  He was very sorry.

The cat escaped from the catservatory several times but was put back there by CB quite solicitously – heaven only knows (literally) what he made of it all.

Apart from the angry neighbour, the local PCSOs called in during the early part of the evening.  they were just making inquiries about a fight that occurred a couple of streets away – nothing to do with us.  One of the more sober lads asked them if the music was okay and should he turn it down?  Apparently they said no – the music was fine, in fact they quite liked that group.

CB was very reluctant to help tidy up – so fatigued was he by his partying, but by using cunning,  threats and outright bribery, Hub got him to help us put the house back together.  He has decided that he will only attend parties in future; organising them is too much like hard work (another prospective career path down the Swanny for him then!)

He is off to a party tonight.  He went to a party at the same house a year ago and  got very drunk.  We had been told he’d gone to a mate’s for a sleepover.  We were a little surprised to find that he (and about thirty classmates) were attending  a party a couple of miles away and had in fact all just been thrown out of the house.  The call from a friend stated that CB was sitting on the pavement, smiling , wet and covered in sick.

Hub was due to go to work on a night duty but we sped over there, scooped up our smiley drunk, his friend – drunk but not sick  – and the good friend who called us and who was on crutches.  At the end of the road I could see a bunch of locals circling like vultures, ready to pounce on the pack of posh school kids with their short dresses, tight jeans and iPhones.  Hub did a handbrake turn and we were out of there.  CB turned out to be an amiable drunk who – when plied with much water – didn’t even get a hangover.

Ooh! Stop Press!  The party has been cancelled!  Trying to hide my deep joy; it is chucking it down, Lovely Hub is paintballing in the Brecon Beacons this weekend so we have no transport and this means my two little birds will be staying in the nest with me – I can put up with their arguments, at least they are safe.

Now, where’s that Fruit and Nut?

Gudbye t’June

June was always a good month; Uni Boy’s birthday on the 2nd, good weather (usually) and the Whitsun Holidays followed by my sister’s birthday on the 27th and my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding anniversary on the 29th.

We couldn’t see Uni Boy on his birthday this year due to exams and stuff (stuff is usually linked to alcohol and partying -Uni life moves on fast).

The wretched Jubilee fiasco took over the rest of that weekend; bedecked in damp bunting and mawkish sentimentality.  As my lovely Dad and I sat in A and E till the early hours of the 4th, we agreed that at least we hadn’t had to watch the Jubilee celebrations on the box.

The nurses disagreed; they were upset because although the wards were allowed to put up Union flags and bunting, A and E was a flag-free zone.  We said nothing, just smiled the weary smiles of a man who was dying and a woman who had just found out.

My battles of the next nine days are well-known; together with the germs that invaded us and laid us even lower at a time when we all needed to be resilient.  Clearing out a very damp and dusty house when you have asthma and a chest infection is not a good idea and my coughing is still what my Lovely Mum would call ‘productive’.  We thought Uni Boy had escaped the germs but he maintains that his cough and snuffles have come from me – not any of the hundreds of people he has come in contact at Uni since.  I had no idea my germs were so powerful and far-reaching – but I expect it’s because I’m a Mum.

Whilst my Dad was still in hospital, we’d started getting the more valuable items out of the house in case the word got around and the unsavoury element in the neighbourhood  decided to plunder.  We discovered that, despite assuring me that he done something about it,  my Lovely Mum’s clothes and belongings had lain undisturbed since she died in 2009.  Uni Boy and Hub set to and recycled the clothes, putting anything else precious into bags for me to sort later and being very patient when I got distracted by memories.

By the time my Dad died we’d managed to sort out the worst (or best) of it and our house, never tidy at the best of times, was taken over by piles of paperwork, bags of jewellery boxes and the overwhelming smell of damp, dust and old that clung to everything.

My Lovely Dad’s funeral went well; attended by family, friends and his neighbours,the day after my sister’s birthday and the day before the wedding anniversary.   Our choice of music  – made in the hospital before he died – was considered apt in view of my Dad’s lifelong love of jazz – and hey – it made a change from ‘Angels’ and ‘My Way’.

I sorted though Mum’s jewellery; cleaning it up and buying some little card boxes from eBay to put it all in.  There were a couple of pieces that we’d bought for Mum and though not of any particular value, were special to me so I put them to one side.  After the funeral, sibs and partners, we all got together in the bar of the hotel where my sibs were staying and I watched whilst my sister and sister-in-law worked their way through an Aladdin’s Cave of jewellery boxes.

Whilst I was rooting around I also found an old brown paper envelope crammed with old school reports, letters, newspaper cuttings and wedding invitations.  Our lives in a brown paper envelope.  I divided the papers up and put together display books for my brother, my sister and me; some of the papers were so old that they started to disintegrate as I unfolded them.

I gave my brother and sister their display books as we sat in the pub eating and drinking to celebrate my Dad’s life.  The pub did us proud and were over-generous with the food.  We moved it to a table in the middle of the pub and invited all the regulars to partake in Dad’s memory.  Tired but relieved it was all over and although the service made me cry silent manageable tears, I only really got choked when thanking my Dad’s neighbours for coming.

There are things you need to do when people die; you need to look at things you haven’t seen for a long time and mull over the memories they provoke.  We couldn’t do that when my Mum died.  It was too painful for my Dad; his grief was so profound at first that the last thing any of us wanted to do was to worsen the situation by demanding the right to pick through our mother’s belongings.   Belongings that at the time, none of us had any legal right to.

Lovely Mum married for the second time in 1972; at the time her husband – my second Dad – had a brother, sister-in-law,  a niece and nephew.  They did a bunk to Mallorca, leaving a huge unpaid tax bill and a mess that took my Mum two more years to sort out.  Once the tax man had agreed that my Dad wasn’t responsible for his brother’s debts, my Mum set about finding said brother in order to effect some kind of reconciliation.  She tracked them down and sent letters, explaining that there was no financial motivation, just a need to get in touch again.

They never responded and Mum found out that they’d moved on to Australia.  She tracked them down again – indomitable woman my Mother – but still no response.

My Mum never got around to making a  will; before she died I managed to ascertain that she wanted to be burned not buried, wanted a proper wood coffin, not one of those wicker ones with flowers, and after some discussion, she wanted her ashes scattered off the Great Orme’s Head in Llandudno.

On a cold chilly day in December 2009, not long after Mum’s funeral and a very subdued Christmas, Hub and I took my Dad to Crosby to see the men (Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’  but known in our family as the Standing Men).

Over a low-key lunch in a local restaurant, I explained as sensitively as I could that if anything happened to him, all my Dad’s estate – and my Mum’s – would go to some people in Australia.  Their belongings would belong to people who wouldn’t care about the photographs and school reports, Mum’s special china and the bits and pieces so reminiscent of our lives.  We would have no right to them unless my Dad gave us that right.

Despite his grief, he took it all on board and we found him some legal representation.  He had a will drawn up, applied for probate for my Mum and also sorted out lasting power of attorney so that we would be able to support him if he  ‘lost his marbles’.  Shame on the medics who failed to appreciate that power and made him suffer pain unnecessarily.

So instead of our inheritance ending up in the hands of  Australian strangers, we were sitting around a table in the Holiday Inn, drinking wine, exchanging memories and unpacking the little boxes of pretty that my Lovely Mum had amassed over the years.

There was very little of any real financial value; but plenty to promote reminiscences and laughter.  It felt that like finally, we could start to move on from our Lovely Mum’s death and begin to adjust properly. It was a good evening; untroubled by the fact that most of the hotel staff were totally bladdered and playing silly games in another section of the bar.

The next day started with good news from Uni Boy, who had his first year exam results and phoned from York to say that he had 85% – on line for a first.  Sibs and partners met up at the storage unit and redistributed some beer, wine and boxes of the valuable china.  Needing more time and space to sort, we all returned to my cluttered house and whilst my brother and Hub hacked down the Hebe and Cotoneaster at the edge of the driveway to make room for my Dad’s car, us ladies stayed inside and looked through more boxes of photos and trinkets.

We celebrated the anniversary by going out for a meal; all of us except Uni Boy, who was busy celebrating his success in York – we went to an Indian restaurant though and he doesn’t like curry anyway.  We laughed and talked and remembered and it was a good night.

So the dust has settled now – literally.  We removed the last traces of  Lovely Mum and Dad’s lives from the house and had it professionally cleaned.  It smells of disinfectant now.

I’m back to work on Monday, Hub goes back the day before.  We collected a coughing Uni Boy from York yesterday so both my birds are back in the nest.  There are still boxes in the storage unit, in the garage, in the living room and every time I think of something I have to ask my Dad about, I bring myself  up short and remember that his physical presence has gone, together with that of our last cat, who also leaves shadows around the house. I turn quickly and think I see both of them there.

Life goes on but I’m glad to say  – Gudbye t’June, she’s a dark horse, see how she ran.  (Cheers Noddy).