‘The End of the Pier’

 

 

thirty_one_pod

Thirty days of blogging.

Stories, memories and a very small poem that crept into my head in the night.

Dominated somewhat by the saga of the Krappy Kitchen and the process of acquiring the food preparation and dining area of our dreams.

Over the past day and a half we have watched the last vestiges of the Krappy Kitchen disappear.  I let out a small cheer as the lump hammers hit breeze blocks that have dominated the middle of the room for the past fifteen years.

The electrician was the last of our visitors to leave today, having drilled out the holes for my brushed chrome spotlights (I had a choice between white, shiny or brushed chrome).  My mind scurried back into virgin kitchen mode when asked to make that choice.  Then I asserted myself and after opting for brushed, was strangely proud to be told that I had made the right choice.

Hub and I wandered around after our visitors had left today. Our kitchen is an echoing shell now, with dangling wires and the huge double RSJs lurking in the ceiling.

We have found out a few things about our house.

It’s a miracle that Gap Boy hasn’t fallen through the floor when stropping in his bedroom because the existing RSJ only went across half the ceiling – the bit where he sleeps, not the bit where he regularly shouts, guffaws and giggles on his computer.

It’s another miracle that we haven’t all been killed in our beds due to the shoddy wiring put in by the first owner – who was (surprisingly enough) a qualified electrician.  Perhaps he trained st the same establishment where the subsequent owner did her artexing course. There will be no more skin scraping artex in our kitchen either .

The builders have sorted out the dodgy building bits and an inspector is coming to check it all  out tomorrow. Another stranger at the door.

The nice electrician is going to have a look at the rest of the wiring when he’s finished in  the kitchen.  He very gently told me that progress will slow down a bit now because the plasterer is coming in and it will take a couple of days for the walls and ceiling to dry out.

I smile that silly smile and remind him that after waiting fifteen years to be able to afford this kitchen a couple more days won’t worry me.

Talking of compromises, the work top won’t be quite as sexy as planned.  With the wisdom of Solomon I had to make the choice between waiting another three weeks for the Star Galaxy worktop or cancelling the order and getting the slightly more down-market black granite with just silvery bits in it which can be delivered when the builders need it because it has been sourced locally.

It is still a sexy worktop and with any luck, my kitchen will be done much quicker (and a bit cheaper too!)

Washing up in the downstairs bathroom is a bit challenging but having the temporary kitchen on the dining room table is easier on the legs.

After rebelling about the use of plastic cutlery and paper plates, we bought GB a set of his own cutlery and unearthed some plates.

More compromise.

I was in a bit of a quandary about the old gas cooker yesterday.

It had to sit outside all night until the big lorry came to collect the rubbish. I really should have given it a bit of clean before the builders came but it is being junked anyway and we ran out of time.

Trouble is, it sat in the garden in full view of the manic mothers on their school run (they slowed down to have a look – not quite to 20 miles an hour but not bad).  Now they all know what a dirty  cooker I had.

GB has been quite sweet today but that goes hand in hand with his lecturing and hectoring about every single subject under the sun.

My idea of snoozing gently with Scoob whilst Martin and Lucy wax lyrical about three-bed semis in Clapham has been shattered  due to the fact that GB cannot sleep upstairs whilst all that banging is going on. So he talks and talks and talks.

Mind you, he told me about the hose incident last night.

Apparently one of our elderly neighbours was watering his garden yesterday evening when someone drove up the road at speeds in excess of 60 miles an hour (I doubt it) , so my neighbour remonstrated with him.  The neighbour remonstrated back and my neighbour hosed him.  More naughty talk and another shot of hose.  I expected to hear the our neighbour had been bopped but apparently the drive chose to zoom off instead.

Perhaps it was the sight of my neighbour’s hairy, brown and extremely pregnant-looking belly that saw him off.

I know it’s been warm over the last couple of days but that belly would certainly frighten the horses. Put it on!

Poor Scoob had just got used to the chaps who chipped of the seventies brown and white tiles  yesterday when there was a change of personnel and he had to come to terms with three more of them.  Luckily the poor young boy in the hoodie who got so badly wuffed at yesterday was off on another job today.

They are a smashing bunch though.  I can hear their conversations through the wall and the range of topics is impressive and very informative.  GB asked me if I minded all the swearing. I hadn’t actually noticed it.

The kitchen singing is even better than the banter though.  The lads brought along their old, dusty, paint-spattered ghetto blaster and they sing along to Radio One. – although they may have wandered into Radio Two yesterday afternoon when I heard one of them singing falsetto to ‘Too shy, shy’.

My attitude to our builders is very positive therefore.  They don’t seem to mind the awfulness of the tea I make them (being allergic to tea makes this a very hands-off process and the fumes make me retch a bit). The biscuits I sent Hub out to buy have been a great success, and the fact that I really don’t mind them using the downstairs toilet also went down well.

“I don’t mean to be cheeky but can I use your loo/have a cup of tea/ smoke in your garden/ eat these lovely biscuits?”

They are such polite boys.

I have a feeling that today’s blog won’t really be the end of the pier as planned thirty -one days ago.

Making the effort to write something every day is a discipline I learned when participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which is held every November. http://nanowrimo.org/

It may not be easy to stop now although I’m not sure if I’ll continue to blog every day.

I have a kitchen to dress in the next week or so (that’s what they say on DIY SOS isn’t it?)

 

 

 

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‘Running Wild – sort of’

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I’m looking at the wreckage of my kitchen; dangling light fittings, bare brick and a very holy ceiling, memories of my first crack at independent living creep back uninvited.

At the tender age of seventeen I persuaded my long-suffering mother that I needed to stand on my own two feet if I was ever going to go off to drama school 140 miles  away.

Leaving a perfectly good bedroom (don’t worry, I went back – several times and for different reasons) I moved into a shared house with some friends of friends.

By no stretch of the imagination could the house be described as nice. Ann and Andy had the downstairs front, nice Sam the bicycle enthusiast had the downstairs back, creepy Perks the upstairs front, I had the middle upstairs and the little room that led off mine was unlet.

We agreed to advertise democratically for another housemate once we had all settled in.

Ha!

The only bathroom and toilet were downstairs at the back of the house and led directly off the kitchen.  There was a small corridor room where we planned to congregate, eat meals together and play endless intellectual board games into the early hours. Our shared vision.

Ha!

The gilt wore off the gingerbread very quickly.

Ann and Andy were insufferably in love and the proof of this woke the rest of us up too early on Sunday mornings, or kept us awake half the night on college days.  Nice Sam was hardly ever there; he was either cycling to and from college or out on his bike training. He spent the rest of his time eating high protein meals in his room or hogging the bathroom.

Perks had the reputation of being a ladies man. It was a reputation that he had worked very hard to cultivate. He made a few passes at me – well I was on site, young and naive – but got nasty when I turned him down. He was a bit older than the rest of us and was writing up his thesis.  He hired a very nice girl from the college secretarial course to type it up for him but only paid her once.  Captive in his manpad, she fell prey to his moustachioed charms and did the rest of the work for nothing.

Not surprisingly he dumped her once the thesis was handed in.

Ann, Andy and Perks let the fifth bedroom to a ginger-bearded and hairy goblin one afternoon whilst I was busy drawing still life green peppers for ‘A’ level art.

The Goblin kept late hours and would creep through my room to his – well there was no other method of access.  It didn’t worry me at first but then, as I lay tucked up in my little bed, he seemed to take longer and longer to walk through the room.

I could hear him breathing.

It was not nice.

I told my Dad – I couldn’t have told Mum because she was forking out the rent on the house and would have insisted that I came home.

Dad’s solution was more practical.  He bought me a small black kitten from the pet shop in order to teach me to be more responsible and make sure that I came home at night instead of trying to stay out later than the Goblin.

Sprog was my first ever cat.

She loved me but wasn’t struck on anyone else in the house but Sam; which made her a pretty good judge of character.

The Goblin learned quite quickly that any hesitation on his part as he passed through my room would invoke an attack by a small, black, hissing ball of fluff and claws.

He packed his rucksack one afternoon and was never seen again.

I suggested that I try to find a friend who would be less pervy and more acceptable to Sprog. Reluctantly, Ann, Andy and Perks agreed. Sam was out that day too.

The first occupant was Neville; a quite dashing young man whose main claim to fame was that he got locked in the college gym one night and tried to get out using the climbing ropes.  He was caught up in them so badly that the blood supply in one of his legs got cut off and if it hadn’t been for the janitor hearing his anguished cries, he might have lost the leg or landed on his head when he lost his grip and consciousness.

Neville was only a temporary resident because he was between rich, older, girlfriends who wanted to mother him and ruffle his golden curls.  He also spent far too long in the bathroom.

Several different friends used the room to crash after parties but learned to inspect the inside of their sleeping bags before retiring for the night.

Sprog liked sleeping bags.

They were warm and cosy; ideal for a small black cat to creep into and curl up at the bottom.

The major hazard was that human beings had a tendency to climb into them too and disturb Sprog’s sleep with their giant feet.  She retaliated in the only way she knew.

Hiss! Spit! Jet propelled kitten flying out of the sleeping bag.

I applied antiseptic cream and plasters to afflicted feet and cracked open another bottle of cheap wine.

Sprog sat on the ancient chaise longe that came with the room, smug and washing her whiskers.

We moved into the house in September and by February the landlord was getting fed up with our constant complaints about things going wrong an falling apart.

The bathroom and kitchen were an extension built by the landlord and his equally extensive family.  The first extension fell down because no one had any experience in bricklaying and they didn’t stagger the bricks.  The neighbours giggled behind their nets but eventually a kind soul came out and explained the basics of bricklaying to them.

There was an open sewer under the kitchen and when the toilet backed up or the bath refused to drain, the sewer covere would lift ominously and make eerie sighing noises.

Neville was convinced that the kitchen was haunted – another reason why he didn’t stay.

Sam cycled off into the sunset at the beginning of the summer break. Perks spent the summer working on his thesis and his secretary.  Ann and Andy had passed through the halcyon days and made even more noise arguing with each other.

I was involved in a love affair that nearly stopped me going to drama school.  I spent less and less time in the shared hovel and eventually did a flit to my boyfriend’s shared house. Sprog went to live with my Mum due to me not being a responsible parent.

I had to be careful about staying my boyfriend’s as it was supposed to be chaps only and the landlord ran a cycle shop in the front of the building.

Several times he caught me there and accused me of having moved in.  I blithely waved a feather duster acquired solely for this purpose and told him that my mother had dropped me off early so that I could come in and do some cleaning for the chaps.

I have never been a convincing feather duster wielder.

It was a wonderful summer though; full of long sunny days spent sailing in big boats and small dinghies, going to all-night parties in large expensive houses and farms in Dorset and Wiltshire, and getting aching hips from sleeping by the Aga on the stone flags in the kitchen.

As the summer wore on however, my paramour was pressing me to make the decision about whether I would settle down and marry him or leave him for the delights of drama school.

We argued constantly and on one particular afternoon instead of arguing I threw things; boots, books, shoes, various bits of sailing paraphernalia and wet weather gear.  Anything basically, that was within  reach of the bed where I was having my strop.

Everything missed.

The final straw was when my then beloved said “Well, are you coming to the launderette or not?”

This smacked so much of the domesticity that scared the hell out of me that I screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” rather loudly.

With a great deal of dignity, he picked up two bags of his laundry and stepped over the my missiles to go to the launderette.

I gave him five minutes then ran off to the phone box and called my Mum to come and get me.

I cried a bit – mostly for effect but some of it was genuine sorrow.

I was packed and on my way home long before the laundry was done.

Two weeks later I was on the train to Birmingham and another awfully big adventure.

On the way I looked out of the window and saw a young couple sitting on a wall.  They had a small baby in a buggy and they were obviously having a domestic.  He looked angry and trapped.  She looked  bitter and worn out.

The thought that ran through my head – that could have been me in a year’s time.

The man I left behind and I met up to exchange a few cassettes and items of clothing a month or so later.  We both knew that it was the right decision. He’d passed his course and had a job selling big yachts. I’d begun to find my feet at drama school.  Still have trouble telling my left form my right but I don’t have to wear a bell and a red ribbon nowadays.

Ann and Andy split up and did two flits.

Perks had to redo his thesis.  He didn’t pay enough attention to what his lovestruck secretary was typing up.  He also had to pay the landlord all the arrears from us flitters because he signed the contact for the house.

It was the right decision.

Hub and our boys.

The wonderful friends I made at drama school – especially Bezzie Mate.

The wonderful friends we’ve made since.

The only relic of my running wild is that I still can’t wield a feather duster.

‘The welcome arrival of the Chilly Twins’

Thanks to the help and support of our Dear Friend and her lovely Hub, we broke the back of the Krappy Kitchen clearing yesterday.

Boxes were packed, bread, cheese and Danish parties were eaten and there was a steady flow of good conversation.

Hub and I did some more packing up last night and out main aim for Monday Monday was to empty the fridge freezers and get them outside to defrost so that our beautiful Chilly Twins (Frosty and Freezy) could be temporarily installed in the room that Uni Boy used to live in before he fled to York, and which provides accommodation for Bezzie Mate when he stays.

There were a few other jobs that needed doing but hey – the kitchen wasn’t coming till Wednesday and the builders did n;t start till Thursday – no worries.

I woke up this morning just after six am and lurched out onto the landing to come face to face with Gap Boy, fully dressed and coming up the stairs with a mug of coffee.

“Bet you thought I was a burglar.” he grinned.

Do burglars often stroll up the stairs with a mug of coffee in their hands?

Of all the thoughts that passed through my mind ‘oh look, a burglar!’ wasn’t one of them.

GB was champing at the bit. He desperately wanted to go to the supermarket for munchies but was under the impression that nothing would be open till 0700.

Being a good mummy, I checked on the web and advised him that although Tesco shut at 1600 on a Sunday, it reopened just after midnight  – so there was no need to hang around teasing me after all.

Off he flew on his trusty steed.

Scoob greeted me with much enthusiasm. GB soon returned with his rucksack stuffed with goodies and I was just about to give Scoob his breakfast when he went into big scarey wuff mode.

“There’s two blokes with a van outside.” quoth my darling boy as he wrestled with the growling beast.

I pulled up the kitchen blind and was confronted by the grinning face of my builder and his mate.

A vision in my old blue flannel nightshirt, naked morning face and scruffy plaits, I opened the door to them.

“Morning Boss.”

“Umm, good morning.  I thought you were starting on Thursday.  The kitchen doesn’t arrive till Wednesday.”

“Yeah, but we’ve got to gut your kitchen first.”

Outwardly I remained calm and negotiated a twenty-four hour reprieve. I waved them bye-bye with a smiley face that turned rapidly into Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

I decided to have breakfast. After all, it wasn’t eight o’clock yet.

After breakfast I broke the news to Hub. He does outward calm so much better than I do.

The imminent arrival of the builders made the fitting of the door that would separate the hallway from Scoobyland was more urgent now.  GB took Scoob for a walk, Hub had his breakfast and set about the door with such renewed vigour that he killed the drill bit.

Cue GB “What’s that burning smell?”

Hub was just about to embark on a journey to B&Q to get a new drill bit and more boxes, when the phone rang and it was the KNOWHOW boys, who wanted to deliver the Chilly Twins between 1100 and 1200 instead of between 1300 to 1700.

Hub said  “Yeah, that’s fine.”

I said “AAAAAAAAAARGH.”

He went off to B&Q.

I began packing frozen food into frozen food bags and packed them into the downstairs bath. Then I packed the fridge stuff into freezer drawers ad put them in the bath too and shut the door.

The Chuckle Brothers had nothing on Hub and me as we dragged both fridge freezers out into the courtyard so that the men could take them away to the great fridge freezer heaven in the sky.

I Dysoned – yeah, I know I don’t do it often but these were desperate times.

I dog sat whilst Hub organised the undressing and placement of the Chilly Twins. Scooby s desperately wanted to help – well he might have wanted to nibble at the delivery men.

My Twins are beautiful; all shiny and white inside with shelves and compartments for EVERYTHING. Their outsides are Manhattan Silver and they  have blue lights on them.

I sorted out the fridge side and Hub did the freezer and it all fitted in. Yay!

Bezzie Mate and I had been texting so he knew of our predicament.  He offered his support and  drove the hundred miles to come and help us; he made us both laugh, mucked in and packed boxes and bags, and even took the Scoob out for walkies so that Hub and I could safely put all the junk into the garage.

The sound of Hub and BM laughing as they blithely wrecked the Krappy Kitchen was music to my ears.

I sent Hub to bed; early shift beckons so I will be dealing with the builders on my own in the morning.

Can’t count GB. He slept all day (after winding me up atrociously and causing me to make the ultimate empty threat of “if you don’t help out you won’t be allowed in the kitchen”). Yeah right!

BM has embarked on his long drive back home.

I am off to bed.

Scoob will be wuffing and I need to be dressed and with my face on before the builders arrive tomorrow.

Thanks to brilliant friends, things have not been too bad, but as another friend has pointed out – they can only get better.

GB says that we are rubbish. His particular gripe is that despite setting up a temporary kitchen on the dining room table, I have failed to leave out any cutlery for him.

I bought plastic cutlery and paper plates in case the water went off.

The Chilly Twins are packed full to bursting.

Ah well, tomorrow really is another day.

 

 

 

‘The Smotherer – yet another strange person’

Considering the number of people I  have worked with over the past thirty years, I can count the really strange ones on the fingers of one hand.

The really rubbish staff go into double figures but that is for another day.

The Smotherer came very close to driving me round the bend; closer than anyone else ever has.

When she  first came to do some training prior to taking up her secondment in our office, like the rest of my colleagues, I made her welcome.

I felt I should make a special effort to supportive because I already knew her, and because I had been the one to encourage her to apply for the secondment.

I arranged for her to have access to the IT systems so that she could start training as soon as possible.  I supplied her with sufficient training materials and together with the rest of the team, made opportunities for her to observe all the elements of our work.

After a short while I became aware that although she took copious notes, we all seemed to be going over the same ground with her.

When she was asked what she had covered so far, she either got flustered and seemed unable to reply or made a show of looking intently through her notes – but never actually finding the answer.

Given that we had all witnessed what an outgoing person she was, this did not seem to be caused by shyness.

After talking to the Boss about the Smotherer’s lack of progress, I put together two lists of team members, gave her one and asked her to put the areas of the job that she had covered next to the name of the staff member who had gone through the procedure with her.

I passed the other list around the team and asked them to do the same.  This was partly in order to see what areas had not been covered but also to see if there was a discrepancy between what the Smotherer had learned and what we thought we had taught her.  On completion I gave the sheets to the Boss without looking at them myself.

On a personal level the Smotherer appeared to be a part of the team; always the first to volunteer whether it was to wash up, make drinks or take minutes at the staff meetings.

She seemed very interested in us all, often interrupting conversations to give her opinions and advice.  She asked a great many questions, some personal, some work-related but usually in areas where she didn’t need such in-depth information.

I felt that once she had engaged me in conversation she was reluctant to relinquish my attention.  I found her over-familiar.  She sat too close to me when observing what I was doing, and many of her questions were far too intrusive.

I consciously withdrew and was reluctant to talk to her about anything other than the procedures we were looking at, especially after I overheard her repeating very personal information about an absent colleague. She didn’t say anything hurtful or unpleasant but she gave the impression that this knowledge showed what a close relationship she had with this member of staff, when in fact it was something she had just overheard herself.

The Boss felt that she might learn quicker if she started taking calls.    When she was seated near me I found myself frequently interrupted – either by her irrelevant questions or because I overheard her giving incorrect information out .

Virtually every sentence spoken on the phone ended with ‘is that alright, is that okay?’ which made it sound as if she didn’t really know what she was talking about.

She did not take constructive criticism well, becoming flushed and defensive.  I did my best not to be pedantic and  tried to keep the conversation light but it was very hard work and I found it difficult to concentrate on my own work under these circumstances.

I was relieved when I she on moved to work on other desks, but grew more concerned when I heard my colleagues going through the same process.

In November the whole team attended training with some health professionals.

 

Whilst the rest of the team turned up in office clothes, the Smotherer turned up in a scarlet satin blouse with a plunging cleavage, skin tight jeans and over-the-knee black leather boots.  We weren’t quite sure what to say but if it was an attention-seeking outfit – it certainly worked.

During the training I found the Smotherer immensely irritating.  She was loud, domineering, made silly and inappropriate jokes and on one occasion I overheard her making comments to the health professionals that implied that she felt the colleagues she was working with were  racist and discriminated against minority groups.

When one of them mentioned this to me later I told her that these opinions were the Smotherer’’s alone and that she was a new member of staff who did not speak for the whole team.

I felt angry with her and that she had let us all down by her behaviour but did not feel it was my place to say anything to her so I spoke to the Boss about it.  Up until this point team members had not grumbled about her or her behaviour but these two days seemed to highlight some of the problems we were all experiencing. The Boss was the only male on the course and asked me if I thought the Smotherer was flirting with him because she kept sitting next to him and rubbing her body against him.

I giggled.

After the training we were all pointing out the Smotherer’s mistakes in the hope that she might learn from them but she was very defensive, either blaming someone else for the error or denying that she had been involved – despite evidence to the contrary.

She was the first person I had come across that I could not train and this made me feel demoralised.  Once I realised however that no one else was managing to train her either, I felt a bit better but was still frustrated by the effect that  she was having on the team.

No one wanted to upset her because she reacted so strongly to criticism but when she was happy she was so over the top that she made you want to scream.

In the busy time running up to Christmas we were spending half the time doing damage limitation on her work.   I had to try very hard to bite my tongue where she was concerned.  I told the Boss how I was feeling and he advised me to try and let other people deal with her.

I did my best to be polite and pleasant to the Smotherer, but felt that once I stopped training her and kept my distance, she took this as rejection and decided to focus on making my life difficult.

On the day before Christmas Eve we were short-staffed.

At some point in the afternoon I heard the Smotherer say that she was going to get something from the stationery cupboard.  We were fairly busy and I remember thinking she had been gone a long while when she came back into the room looking very red and agitated. She rushed down the office towards me and insisted that I come with her to the stationery room as she had something I needed to see.

I wondered why I had to come as there were five other people in the room – including the person who ordered the stationery.  I didn’t want to cause a fuss however so I followed her.

The lower shelf of the stationery cupboard had collapsed, spilling  booklets all over the floor. I asked her what had happened and she said that she had walked into the room and found it like this.

No one else had been in the room, the shelf didn’t have sufficient weight to collapse on its own and I could see by the way the books were dispersed that someone had tried to put the shelf back.  I asked the Smotherer to move the books back against the wall and said that we’d get the janitor to look at it after the New Year, but for the moment I needed to get back to the phones.

I was off over Christmas and New Year and although I had found her behaviour a bit bizarre that day, I thought no more of it.

When I came back to work she was on leave and a colleague asked me how I managed to break the shelf in the stationery cupboard ?

I was told that someone else found the mess after Christmas and when asked the Smotherer had said that she knew nothing about it but that I did, giving those present the impression that I was responsible for what had happened.

Luckily another colleague who was on duty with me that day corroborated my side of the story. The Smotherer had tried to set me up.

I made a conscious decision not to be alone with her again in case she made any further accusations.  In supervision I  told the Boss about this incident and other experiences I had with the Smotherer.

She was on Induction training after her leave and the atmosphere in the office was completely different. We could get on with things without interruption and gradually everyone admitted that working with the Smotherer was difficult, no one wanted to upset her but she was very hard work.

 

At the end of her secondment, the Boss told her that she would not be offered a permanent post because she had failed to meet the standards set for the team.

She cried and said that she hadn’t progressed because I was a bad trainer and that I bullied her.

Fortunately the Boss had feedback from all the other staff and had to tell the Smotherer that  no one else had managed to train her either and that he had seen no evidence of anyone bullying her.

He asked her if she wanted to make a formal complaint against me, the team and himself.

She declined.

I was on leave when she left so I couldn’t be held responsible for the fact that no one organised a leaving do for her.

 

 

‘So much to do, so little time’

I got up very early today because Hub was off to paintball.

Gap Boy had informed us last night that he was off out to his mates for the day.

Oh Bliss. Just me and Scoob and a flip chart sheet of Operation Chuck It Out Chores.

GB hadn’t given me a time when he should be emerging from his pit so I left him to it once Hub had gone.  Scoob had been walked and fed so just me to sort out.

I wasn’t going to clear the dining room table off till later but a vase full of dying flowers fell over on it and the rush to pick up the paperwork, mop up the mess and move the left over Easter eggs meant that it got priority.

My nice piece of Italian brocade that serves as a table cloth got wet and old flower-smelly. It washed up well though.

Having shifted one lot of old flowers to the Krappy Kitchen for recycling, I thought that I might as well do the other two vases as well and plonked them on the beautifully empty piece of work top that we cleared off yesterday.

That meant that I couldn’t have breakfast till I’d done the flowers and put the vases into soak because I’d used up all the spare room on the work top.

It was while I was walking past the dresser that I remembered that I had to sort out my cookery books and put them into the small book-case so that we could move the dresser tomorrow.

So I did it. It took ages. Is there a mathematical ratio regarding the number of cookery books to the amount of cooking that you do? I had a dead heat between Delia Smith and Keith Floyd.

And I was quite glad that I hadn’t had a shower first or my breakfast because it was rather dusty shifting all those books.

I ate breakfast eventually, and had a shower and got dressed into something more practical than my now very dusty nightshirt.

I have been beset by disruptions and distractions all day though.

I get up from the sofa intending to do something and get waylaid by something else that needs doing.  Some of the things have been a nuisance – forgetting where I put the bottle of water I just took out of the fridge (it was in the kitchen by the vases), others have been a blessing; texts from Hub, a lovely call from Bezzie Mate and from my Uni Boy.

On being told that Hub is getting a new kitchen door on his way home, UB asks if and when his room will get a new door, especially as BM stays in the room when he visits.  UB’s door has been assaulted by GB on several occasions, most notably the one where he re-enacted the scene from ‘The Shining’ – “Here’s Johnny!”. A door with knife holes in it does not give a good impression to one’s visitors.

GB doesn’t actually have a door on his room.  He demolished it some years ago and we said we would buy him a new one when he started to behave in a more responsible fashion.

He still has a curtain where the door should be.

At four o’clock today there was still no sign of GB so I tapped on his door jamb.

He told me that he should have been awake at a quarter to eleven  but didn’t hear his alarm.

I felt guilty – it’s a mother thing.

I accomplished nearly all the things I set out to do eventually and I have project managed the rest of the week – my flip charts are things of wonder.

GB revved off on his motorbike eventually.

Hub came home with the kitchen door and fetched takeaway because we didn’t want to get the clean worktop dirty again,

Lovely Friend and her Hub are coming to help us clear out the Krappy Kitchen tomorrow so there will be more motivation and energy flying about – GB excluding.

Onward and Upward!

‘Christmas is only eight months away’

 
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The work top is an essential part of any kitchen.

My new kitchen work top is black with sexy coloured glittery bits in it. I can have Christmas all year round in my new kitchen especially when the pretty blue lights under the units and near the floor are on.

I have had two phone calls and three letters reminding me that my new kitchen is being delivered next week, to blow up the blue balloon and tie to my gate (the party will be later) and make sure there is a space 2m x 3m to store the stuff in until my builder is ready for it.

We are SO ready for the new kitchen.

We know that we will be eating takeaway off paper plates for a couple of weeks and that personal hygiene and clean clothes may fall by the wayside when the water is off.

We have broken the news to Gap Boy that he may find himself separated from the PC when the power is off – Minecraft battles may have to wait.

Uni Boy and Bezzie Mate are staying away until the new kitchen has been installed.

Scoobs may spend the next couple of weeks wuffing and whining at the strange men who will be demolishing part of the house and rebuilding it again (I hope).

This afternoon I got a call from a six year old (well maybe ten – okay then a sixteen year old ) work experience girl who had issues with her fs and ths.
There ‘as bin a nerror at Haitch Q apparently. My kitchen has been ordered – bu’ sum1 forgot tuh order yer worktop. Sumfing muzt ‘ave gonn wrong sumwheh – dunno wot ‘ appened, or oo didit but it woz sum1 ‘ere – not sum1 at the shop.
Enough of the junior jargon – they are going to supply us with a temporary work top until my sexy work top arrives, then my builder will be coming back to take out the temporary one and fit the new one.

At no cost to us.

Well, that’s a relief then!

Today we have been mostly clearing out the Krappy Kitchen.

Hub and I are dirty and dusty, and now I am disheartened too.

GB has thudded down from his bedroom every now and then to bark at the dog (who is wuffing a lot because he feels insecure), snarl at me and Hub and tell us what a lousy job we are doing.

Go on then GB – set us a good example to follow – thought not.

His one contribution to Operation Chuck It Out so far has been to take his clothes mountain out of the bathroom and dump it on his bed so that we could swap over some bookcases and books (our upstairs bathroom is a very dusty but literary place).

I really should not have chosen basic black to wear when sorting  out dusty but much-loved books.

On the plus side, I have found many favourites that I thought I’d lost – and have now purchased and installed on one of my Kindles – I can’t throw books away though and the charidee box looks rather sparse.

I was given a medicinal sherry to cheer me up after the phone call – I had to hand the charmless teen over to Hub before I said something extremely rude to her.

Spit that gum out!  Spit it out NOW!

It wasn’t so much the news that she was imparting; it was the lethargic ‘so what’ manner with which she delivered it.

I could almost see her examining her cuticles with disinterest as she dropped the bombshell on me.  I wonder if they drew lots in the office as to which of them should break the news of their incompetence to Mrs Angry?

Who the hell orders a kitchen and forgets to order the work top?

Doh.

Easter is over but I am still one Hot, Cross Bunny.

Fingers crossed that I have my kitchen for Christmas – only eight months to go.

‘Bacon and Egg’

This story takes place in the days before mobile phones and smoking bans.  Local authorities had a policy of placing children in small group homes staffed by male and female houseparents.  Sometimes the staff and the children had a good time, sometimes it was hellish. There were some very dedicated staff who genuinely wanted to make a difference but there were also those who saw the job as a good skyve, or worse still, the opportunity to work out their own issues on children and young people who deserved far better.

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Management usually appointed houseparents based on experience and how the candidate dealt with the interview but on this occasion the manager had invited one of the junior members of staff to attend the interviews and have a say in who got the job.

He was torn between two candidates; both men were experienced in the field of children’s residential care, both interviewed well but  one had considerably more charisma than the other.

The other staff members that had been on duty whilst the interviews were being held had made their own assessments when  showing the candidates in and offering refreshments. One of the men had been charming and pleasant, the other looked nervous and uncomfortable.

In the end the manager and the staff came to a stalemate over who should be appointed.  One of the male staff joked that at this rate it would have to come down to star signs.  Some of the staff scoffed at this but a quick list was drawn up nevertheless to establish the astrological make up of the team.  The quieter candidate was a Sagittarius, the other was a Taurus and in the end the dearth of earth signs was the clincher.   ‘J’ –  the happy guy in the cowboy boots was appointed and the balance of the heavens was restored – allegedly.

J worked out very well to start off with.  The kids seemed to get on with him although it was noted that some of the older boys were a bit hostile, even wary but this was put down to the alpha male effect.  The teenage girls were all over him like a swarm of bees and certain members of the female staff weren’t far behind, but he dealt with it sensibly and made it quite clear that he was very happily married.

There was something about him that made her feel uneasy when she met him but she did her best to ignore the feelings and concentrate on the job and the course that she was studying for. She was still one of the younger members of staff and didn’t want to make waves this early in her career.

Holidays with a group of ‘maladjusted adolescents‘ were not easy and the inevitable behaviour issues and subsequent damage often prevented a second visit. J suggested a week at Butlins because he had taken kids from his previous home there,  and a succession of coffee mornings, bring-and-buy sales and a sponsored silence (not very successful) raised enough money to subsidise the paltry holiday fund that the local authority provided.

Not all the staff wanted to go on the trip so it was easy enough for the manager to choose enough people who actually wanted to go.  J was amongst them. A couple of the kids couldn’t or wouldn’t go on the holiday but they had staff who were happy to take them on day trips and rent videos to keep them busy during the holiday week.

She had to admit that she enjoyed that week and the opportunity to get to know the children who stayed at home better.  The cook took the week off whilst the home was half-empty, and both staff and children had a chance to take over the cooking, introducing a healthy change from the usual fish and chips, Sunday roast and spaghetti bolognaise.  The high ratio of staff to kids, and the relaxed attitude of both groups during that week strengthened relationships as well as cooking skills.

The holidaymakers returned; high on a diet of cheap takeaway food, fizzy drinks, late nights in the ballroom and long days on the fun fair or watching the wrestling and knobbly knees competition. No one died or even got into a trouble as far as they knew, they weren’t thrown out and staff had even been offered a discount if they booked for the next year.

J was undoubtedly the hero of the moment and riding high on a wave of popularity.

That was when his guard dropped.

Prior to the holiday she hadn’t worked with J much, but when one of the male staff got promoted to deputy manager in another home, she found that her shift pattern had been changed to his.

Sleep-in shifts in a children’s home were often a flash point for staff to embark on short-lived flings or long-term relationships that usually led to one party having to work elsewhere.  She usually had a boyfriend in tow and hadn’t worked with anyone she even remotely fancied – J included.

He had seemed to be unusually friendly and talkative throughout the shift.  They parted ways around nine o’clock in order to get the kids through their baths and settled for the night. Around ten-thirty, she came back downstairs to write up the logs in the office, J joined her and instead of making himself a coffee as usual, he pulled two cans of lager out of his rucksack and offered her one.  She declined politely and carried on writing.

J finished the can, chucked it into the bin and opened a second, then a third and finally a fourth.  She knew that drinking on duty was frowned upon but she also knew that it was the unwritten rule not to tell anyone – there wasn’t anyone else on duty to tell anyway.  She finished up the logs and went into the kitchen to make sure everything was washed up and for Friday morning.

J followed her and she felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle as he leaned on the work top next to her. She could smell his breath; lager and cigarette-tainted.

He was far too close.

She moved away from him and busied herself with sorting out the cereal packets.

He put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her towards him.

She shrugged him off and told him that she wasn’t interested, that she was tired and wanted to go to bed.

He told her that she was obviously frigid then and stomped off into the front room to roll himself a cigarette.

She ran up the stairs and pulled the chest of drawers in front of her door, her heart beating wildly.  She heard the distinctive sound of his cowboy boots clumping up the stairs and turned out the bedroom light.  The footsteps approached down the girls wing corridor and she held her breath as he tapped quietly on the door. The sound of her heart was deafening and she was sure he could hear it.

He tapped again but receiving no reply, cursed and stomped off down the corridor.

She lay on the bed fully dressed and dozing but woke at every sound, so she gave up around six o’clock and got up.

One of the boys was sitting on the landing.  He looked very pale.  He told her that J had come into his room and pushed him around a bit, then stormed off to the sleeping in room in the boys wing.

The boy told her that they were all scared because J had been crashing around in his room and shouting.  He managed to get onto the landing when the noise stopped and had been there curled up behind the bathroom door ever since.

She took him downstairs and decided that she should call the manager.

The phone  line was dead.

She could have gone out to the phone box to call for help but that would have meant leaving the children alone and unprotected.

They drank coffee and talked, the boy and herself, until the cleaners arrived at seven am.  They both lived nearby and one of them ran home to phone the manager.

There was still no sign of J, but when the manager arrived he went up to check with both the cleaners creeping behind him; they said they were there for his protection but they were just being nosey.

The room was wrecked: littered with more lager cans, the phone wires ripped out of the  socket and  heel marks all over the wall where J’s cowboy boots had kicked out again and again.  J was lying in a drunken stupor on the floor.

Other staff were called in; she was sent home and J’s wife came to collect him.

The official line was that he’d had a nervous breakdown due to stress.  She was disciplined for not contacting the manager when J started drinking, and her protestations that she had been too afraid to report her colleague fell on deaf ears.

J was suspended for six months but for most of that he was ‘off sick‘.  He was given a phased return with no sleep in duties and no working alone with female staff.  She did her best to be empathic toward him but the very sight of him made her skin crawl.

The local authority had instituted a policy of closing down most of their children’s homes, and over the next couple of months there were no replacements when children and staff left that particular establishment.

J kept his nose clean  for a while and his working restrictions were lifted.  The manager was replaced by a middle-aged woman who was not prey to J’s charms and had very strong feelings about staff drinking – or even smoking on duty. Addicted to his roll ups, J would find any excuse to take the one remaining girl out for a walk so he could satisfy his habit. She was a quiet bookish girl who prefered to stay in, watch videos and make things.

He became very solitary and those who would still do sleep in duties with him reported that he would sit downstairs for most of the night and cook meals that were found in the bin next morning, barely touched.

She was working with the last resident during the day; they had been painting glasses with stain to sell at a craft market.  The table was covered with newspaper and they’d had a lovely messy time of it.  Tidying up rapidly before getting ready for the evening meal, she had dumped the newspaper in the kitchen bin intending to empty it in the morning. She went home after the meal, leaving J, another female member of staff and the girl watching the TV.

She got a call at three in the morning.

The house was on fire. they all got out safely but J was ill because he ran back in to grab a fire extinguisher.

The female member of staff was hysterical after having had to get herself and the girl out of the house via the fire escape.  Desperate to do anything to help she was given special permission  for the girl to come and stay with her for the rest of the weekend.

They were allowed back in to look at the house on the Monday.  She walked through the smoked damaged rooms with the manager.  It transpired that J had decided to cook himself bacon and eggs after the others had gone to bed.  He also had a roll up which he threw  in the kitchen bin.  A bin very obviously full of newspaper.

The fire service couldn’t say for certain whether it was arson or an accident.  The contents of J’s stomach – barely digested bacon and eggs – were deposited outside the front door when he threw up after inhaling smoke.  He survived. The home was closed because it would have cost too much to repair the damage.

The girl and the staff were sent off to other homes, with the exception of J who was advised to resign quietly whilst off sick. His wife laid the blame for his decline at the door of the staff member who had rejected his drunken advances, but she walked out on his herself a couple of months later.

The young houseparent didn’t know what happened to him after that.  She didn’t want to.

It took a long time before she could stomach the smell of bacon and eggs.

‘Georgie’

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This figure of St George was one of my lovely mum’s favourite finds.

He belongs to an era when Mum had stalls at antique fairs in the South of England.

She had an eye for beautiful things anyway and when she retired, she decided to dabble in actually buying and selling.  My stepdad was generally roped in to lug the special boxes down three flights of stairs – the less special and more commercial boxes were kept in the very cold storage shed by the bins. He didn’t mind too much; he would sit at the back of the stall and read the Sunday papers once everything was set out, maybe strolling off to the nearest pub for a pint of real ale at lunchtime, and coming back to help Mum pack up again.

If he was working, it would fall to me to help.  I liked wandering amongst the other stalls, selling whilst Mum was off having a browse, and I even got into the swing of unwrapping the newspaper from each precious object, displaying it and wrapping it up again at the end of the day.

I learned from Mum. What was good and what was tat. What would sell and what would be endlessly wrapped and re-wrapped.  Different fairs called for different goods depending on the clientele.

I became eagle-eyed for those who came to pilfer; interrupting them with a smile and a question before they had the chance  to tuck the object of desire into a capacious pocket.

Even now special things sing to me from amongst the rubbish.  They may not always be worth much; I probably wouldn’t be any  good on ‘Bargain Hunt’ but as the saying goes – I know what I like.

Some of Mum’s favourites never actually made it onto the stall.  Her St George statue – or Georgie as he became affectionately known, was one of those objects. He stood proudly by the fire in every property Mum lived in: the third floor maisonette I grew up in, the sheltered housing flat she and my stepdad moved into when the stairs became too much, the even more sheltered accommodation just down the road from us that they moved 240 miles to in order to see more of their beloved grandsons, and finally the specially adapted bungalow that enabled Mum to escape from hospital and have an extra eighteen months of freedom.

I was always very fond of Georgie.  He’s a tactile boy with a lovely smile. I’d often sit on the floor next to him whilst watching the TV.  There was always something very reassuring about his solid wooden form.

Not surprisingly, years later when Uni Boy was a toddler, he developed an affection for Georgie too.  We had to watch him closely; the origins of Georgie’s paintwork were unknown and whilst mostly smooth, there were a few hard edges still.  Georgie was one of his first words, which pleased my Mum extremely.

Gap Boy also enjoyed Georgie’s company and at first there were a few tussles regarding ownership but UB moved on to playing chess with Grandma, leaving GB to the less cerebral pleasures of Georgie hugging.

Just like Puff the Magic Dragon, Georgie was abandoned by my boys as they grew older and turned to gameboys and football but he still held pride of place by the fire; a memento of Mum’s antique fair days long after she left us in 2009.

Georgie was the first thing I saw when Hub and I began the long process of clearing out the bungalow after my beloved stepdad died suddenly in 2012.

I brought Georgie home to my own fireplace and he has been there ever since; a symbol of my Mum’s love for her heritage, for beautiful  and unusual things.

My lack of prowess in the field of housework is well-known.  I have had feather dusters but they invariably disintegrate from age rather than use. My mantelpiece is a display area for important but not necessarily priceless objects.

It is Georgie’s special day today so I have dusted him down and elevated him to the windowsill where he can keep company with the freesias and my star-gazing bunny.

Happy St Georgie’s Day Mum.

‘At Twenty-Two – Love Goes On’

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They say that most people have a special person – a teacher or a work colleague – who had a profound effect on their lives. Sometimes they disappear and you never see them again, sometimes they come back into your life in a most unexpected way.

In my third year at primary school I was a horror.

I was the original temper tantrum kid and if anyone – teachers especially – dared to cross me, I would leave the classroom with a screech and spend the rest of the morning or afternoon swinging and singing to myself in the playground until it was time for lunch or hometime.

This never occurred at home. My mum wouldn’t have let me get away with such behaviour.

It really began in the second year when Miss S broke a ruler across Lesley’s calves.  It was a wooden ruler and Les had a knack of tightening his calves just as the ruler hit, causing it to splinter and have no impact on his legs at all.

Miss S was not pleased and we all got detention because of Les’s legs. She stopped using the ruler though.

Up until that point I had quite liked my teachers; respect went right out of the window that day.

In my third year Mr M was our teacher. He had a goatee beard when they weren’t fashionable. He shouted a great deal, wielded the gym slipper when punishing the boys but saved his most savage criticisms for the girls. Not the pretty girls, but those like me who wore National Health glasses and hand-me-down clothes.

If I failed to answer a question in class I was stupid.  If I answered correctly I was being a smart ass – and nobody likes a smart ass.

There were a couple of us that he routinely picked on with an unprofessional glee,  but one day the worm in me turned. I had tried to shut out his noise for months but when the weather improved and the world outside seemed more appealing, I broke free.

 I got up from my seat after a particularly scathing reprimand and walked out. He grabbed my cardigan as I left the room but I shrugged out of it, screamed in his face and ran. Torn between running after me and deserting the class, Mr M stayed where he was and I sat on the swing in the playground; cold but happy to be away from the shouting that made my ears ache and my heart pound.

It took a few more of these episodes before Mr M stopped picking on me.  The school secretary spotted me on the swings two days running and brought me into her office.

She gave me a sweet and asked me why I was out of class.  I told her about the shouting and how Mr M pulled my cardigan off me and made me cry. I told her that I sat on the swings to make the bad noises go away.

The head teacher got my mum to come up to the school.  I hadn’t told her about Mr M because I thought I would get into trouble.

Mr M disappeared within half an hour and we had an elderly supply teacher who looked like someone’s grandma and read us nice stories till the end of term.

My teacher for fourth year was Mr W.  He was a games teacher with a reputation for using his spare gym shoe on any boy who messed around in games or PE.  He didn’t use it often because he tended to keep his pupils busy.

On the first day of term we had a general knowledge quiz.  I won.

At playtime, Mr W called me to his desk. He smiled and spoke very softly.

“You are very good at general knowledge.  I hear that you also write stories and poems, and that you like to draw.”

I nodded.  I had been expecting a telling off although I wasn’t sure what for.

“I like poems and stories, music and art.  I like people who enjoy learning.  Do you enjoy learning?”

I nodded even more vigorously.

“Good.  I also need you to let other people learn too, so from now on, even if you know the answer in a quiz, don’t put your hand up.  If no one else answers then I will ask you.  Okay?”

Still dumb, still nodding, but smiling too.

“I also want you to promise me that if you feel upset or angry, you won’t leave the classroom but you will write me a note about it and we will sort things out later.  Promise?”

I promised.

 I wrote poems and stories.  I answered questions when Mr W asked me.  I danced and sang and acted in Mr W’s productions. From then on, I only went on the swings at playtime or lunchtime.

He loved Greece and was a great fan of Nana Mouskouri; he used to bring her records in to play to us. I like to think that we loved him enough to listen quietly.

Not surprisingly, for such a good teacher, Mr W was offered a better position at another school and we both left at the end of the year.  I organised a whip round and managed to find three Nana Mouskouri albums that he didn’t have.  We both had watery eyes that day.

Winding life on, and at twenty-two years of age I was working as a revolting houseparent in a local authority children’s home.  One of the girls had been caught smoking behind the bike sheds at school (where else?), and I had to accompany her to a formal telling off by the new head teacher.

I think both of us felt nervous as we sat in the corridor outside the head teacher’s room.  The school secretary came out to  usher us in. part of me wanted to ask her for a sweet, then I remembered that I was a responsible adult now.

The head teacher was Mr W.  I grinned hugely as I said his name.  He hadn’t changed – well his black hair was turning grey at the edges and his moustache was more bushy than I remembered it.  He blinked a couple of times, then smiled just as hugely as he recalled my name.  No more National Health glasses or hand-me downs; I’d gone upmarket, had designer specs and penchant for jeans and rugby shirts.

The next ten minutes were spent updating each other; his progress through the ranks to his first head teacher position and my more chequered career through drama school,  bar work and after the soda syphon incident, a spell as a volunteer in a children’s home that led to my current permanent post.

My naughty girl was temporarily forgotten.  She had the sense to sit quietly whilst we talked, and when we eventually remembered her, Mr W merely frowned and told her that he didn’t want to see her in his office again.

In the three years that I worked at the children’s home, I had cause to work with Mr W on several occasions; our children were not the easiest to deal with.  Most of them had spent years being rejected and neglected, so solutions weren’t always easy.  Mr W could always be relied upon to look beyond the issues and use his imagination to motivate rather than punish. Our children thrived in his environment.

We lost touch after I qualified as a social worker and moved to another children’s centre.

I met my Hub whilst working there, and two years after we married, a familiar name caught my eye one evening as I leafed through the local newspaper.

Mr W had retired at last and was going to relocate to his beloved Greece.

Three weeks after he retired he was killed instantly by an uninsured boy racer.  The boy t-boned Mr W’s beloved Jag as he pulled out of the local Spar shop car park one Sunday morning when he went to collect the papers and some milk.

On and on like the sea
Love goes on eternally
Troubles come then they’re gone
Love goes on, on and on
Like the sea
Love goes on eternally’

 Love goes On – Nana Mouskouri 1970

A tale of two fridges – well- four actually’

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When Hub and I bought our first house 27 years ago, we were given a fridge freezer as a moving in/engagement present by Hub’s parents. My tiny fridge with freezer compartment that had served me well in my studio flat looked in danger of collapsing if it was removed from its little cubbyhole in the kitchen. I left it there for the new owner, together with an Ercol wall unit and a temperamental Baby Belling.

We bought it from Bejams –  a company now known as Iceland  – but in those days it only sold frozen food and things to keep the food in, and long before they started using A, B and Z-list celebrities to promote their products.

The fridge freezer sat very nicely in the tiny kitchen of our two up, two down end of terrace ex council house, and made up for the disappointment of finding that what we thought were kitchen units turned out to be doors with a big empty space and a gas meter behind them.

The little house was Uni Boy’s first home too; he cruised around the furniture and we were slightly worried that he was having problems walking. Then we took him to Southampton Common , plonked him on the grass near the Ornamental Lake and watched in amazement as he ran, and ran, and ran. Hub managed to stop him before he reached the lake.

When Uni Boy was just over a year old, and Gap Boy was more than just a twinkle in his father’s eye, we moved North and rented a house.  We let our little house to a mature student, his wife and daughter, and endured several months of them grumbling (via the agent) about the shortcomings of our happy little home.  We couldn’t get house or contents insurance because of our tenant’s status and they unfortunately they turned out to be a ham-fisted pair judging by the constant breakages and replacements they demanded.  The fridge freezer survived their clumsiness however.

We decided that we wanted to stay in the North; we had made good friends, Hub enjoyed his job and Uni Boy was busy running everywhere (and climbing into my Dear Friend’s fish tank).

After Gap Boy was born, we started saving up money to buy another house – providing we could sell the old one.  The tenants moved out and on to wreck another property after a couple of years.  We had the house professionally cleaned and tidied and put it up for sale.

The estate agents kept us apprised about viewings and we thought that they were looking after our little house.  Unfortunately they were slapdash and left the spare set of house keys in the kitchen drawer.  We got a phone call one Monday morning telling us that someone had broken in through the kitchen window and ‘somehow‘ managed to unlock the back door and take out the fridge freezer.  The burglar(s) tried to take the washing machine and the boiler but were too inept to manage the plumbing.  Oh, and the spare set of keys were no longer in the office, did we have them?

Surprisingly enough, the little house still sold and we went looking for a home for the four of us and our family of cats.  We had moved North with five cats and were down to four after our tiniest cat had curled up under the radiator one night and gone permanently to sleep. We lost another the night before we moved when he ran out into the road when a dog wuffed at him and was run over.  He is buried under our magnolia tree. The other cats lived out their happy moggy lives in the new house.

Our new house-to-be was occupied by students when we went to visit it.  The owner had left the students to show prospective buyers around and was perplexed as to why there were no offers after eighteen months. We found out why.

We visited just after Christmas.  They refused to let us in.

We called the estate agent and he arrived within minutes and threatened to call the owner.

They let us in, scowling.

The curtains were closed, the wreckage of a Christmas tree leaned drunkenly in the living room,  three hung over students were slumped sullenly on the sofa.

The agent showed us around.  His bright and breezy attitude at odds with the sulking students.  The kitchen was dirty and filled with rubbish – some of it in bin bags.  The downstairs bathroom and bedroom were damp, smelly and unaired, the living room too dark to see anything, so we climbed the stairs and were pleased with two of the bedrooms.  The occupant of the third obviously had a bad temper as there was a huge fist-shaped hole in the plasterboard.  The agent had described the upstairs bathroom as ‘impressive’.  It was.  It was a huge tart’s boudoir.  All white and pink and gilt and scalloping.  Uni Boy eyed the bidet with interest. He later informed friends that our new house had a ‘bumwasher’.

We visited twice more and saw the real house hiding beneath the students’ wilful neglect.

The owner appeared to have had lessons in artexing as every room in the house had a different pattern – on the walls and on the ceilings.  The stairway and upper hall still have the capacity to remove three layers of skin when you brush against it carelessly.  Under the grime, the kitchen turned out to be a seventies nightmare; brown and white tiles, pine cladding, pendant lights and pseudo Mediterranean arches that  blocked out the light. The front room and dining room ran the length of the house with patio doors opening on to a quiet courtyard – filled with more bin bags.

The purchase of the house was rather fraught; the students were reluctant to move, the owner was reluctant to change the locks or drop the price due to the state of the garage roof.

We won in the end.

With the help of our new and incredibly supportive friends, we moved out of our rented house, cleaned it from top to bottom and moved into the new house.  There wasn’t an awful lot of money to spare and though we kept the existing horrible hob and crusty cooker, the fridge freezer was beyond redemption, so we bought a new one from Iceland – RIP Bejams.

As the boys got bigger and consumed more food, we took advice from our Dear Friend and invested in a second fridge freezer which was installed in the downstairs guest bedroom after the garage proved too cold for it.  Uni Boy moved into the room when he started at high school and needed more peas and carrots (peace and quiet).  By this time he was cooking elaborate meals for himself and had already acquired a taste for grana padano cheese and soya milk, so having a fridge freezer in his bedroom was a must.

Hub and I were permitted to keep food in UB’s fridge freezer but GB was told in no uncertain terms to keep out.

Now that UB is away at uni, his room is frequently occupied by our Bezzie Mate.  He tells me that the fridge freezer is rather talkative – especially in the middle of the night.  It sighs like a mournful ghost apparently and is even more disturbing than the sound of GB thundering down the stairs to cook noodles in the early hours of the morning or Scoobs giving me his uproarious first thing in the morning welcome.

After fifteen years of living with the artex and pine-clad hell of our kitchen (we replaced the worktops and cupboards a few years ago, and bought a new cooker but I still hated it) we are having a new one.

Being kitchen virgins so to speak, we have relied on the support and advice of our friends. We were told to get at least three quotes.

Then we walked into Wickes and I fell in love with a black quartz worktop with multi-coloured sparkles in it.  Shiny shiny!  Shortly afterwards I developed an attraction for what turned out to be the most expensive set of kitchen units in the store.

The kitchen designer came out and measured up our horrible kitchen.  Scoob liked him – possibly a bit too much because he handed the job over to his colleague.

The kitchen fitter/builder came out and scrobbled Scoob’s head.  Scoob was smitten and so was the fitter.  I viewed my horrible kitchen as a monstrosity; he rubbed his hands gleefully and told me that this was his favourite kind of job and he couldn’t wait to get started.

Having had a boiler and radiators fitted the previous February, we decided to wait till May and give the weather a chance to warm up.  Three days of sitting together on the sofa huddled under a blanket with a nervous and wuffing dog had taught us a lesson.

Our kitchen designer drew pretty pictures on his computer and all the bits were ordered and paid for.  We now have a letter from head office containing a blue balloon and a piece of string which we have to attach to the gate so that the delivery men can find us.

So sweet.

The hob, the oven and the microwave are included. We are using our own washing machine and dishwasher. I have chosen floor and wall tiles and matched up the paint with the units. Oh, go me!

The only thing left to do was to find a snazzy American-style fridge freezer and a tumble drier that would fit in the gaps.

Hub did his methodical trawl through ‘Which’ magazine.  I hopped about on the Internet going ‘Oooh’ at very expensive and rather impractical monsters.

We headed to that big electrical/computer store and whilst Hub nipped into Halford’s for wiper blades, I did some fridge freezer stroking and exploring.  That was when I found the beauty that heads this story.  It is a fridge  with a nice, cold, ice-cold water dispenser and loads of shelves. And the beauty has a freezer brother with a tippy ice-cube tray and oodles of drawers – also pictured.  The handles are full length and very tactile, and even when put side by side, they are still only 30cm wider than the conventional 90cm allowed for the American-style monsters. It would also mean that we could get rid of the fridge freezer in UB’s bedroom and ensure that BM would have quieter nights when he comes to stay.

We also found a not very glamorous but highly rated by ‘Which’ tumble dryer with a condenser and a sensor – all this is over my head.

Clutching our measurements we toddled off to Wickes in the hope that the gorgeous chilly twins could be accommodated in our ner kitchen.

Oh, go Wickes!  Not only did our lovely designer redesign the kitchen to incorporate the twins, we got a refund for the bits of kitchen that we no longer needed.

So, today, 27 years after the day we first started going out with each other, Hub and I have purchased the last three essentials for our first new kitchen.  Work starts next week and apart from having to control Scoobs and move into camping mode whilst normal services are suspended, our only other shopping trip will be to pick up the tiles and paint in quantities as advised by our eager builder/kitchen fitter.

Now begins the mass chucking out of fifteen years of womble-hoarding in the kitchen cupboards.  I will be awarding a prize for the most out of date object found.  Lovely Friend and her Hub are coming over to endow us with some much needed ruthlessness.  I foresee many tip trips ahead.

We will be having a kitchen party once it is all done and I have been told that with my new kitchen will come a housework gene that has hitherto been missing.

So woe betide anyone who leaves a mess on my glittery worktop or puts a dirty cup in my Belfast sink!