Ending at Sunrise – Week 28 of the 52 week short story challenge

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As the sun sinks down below the horizon, she picks up her bag and checks that all the contents are there.

She already knows that nothing is missing. She has a list and checks it several times as she packs her bag each day – just in case.

Order is paramount.

Her flat is small and immaculately tidy. A place for everything and everything in its place. The cutlery and crockery from her evening meal have already been washed and put back in the cupboard.

She does this every day.

As part of her routine, she looks in the mirror, making sure that her hair is brushed and that she has no lipstick on her teeth.

Not that anyone would notice if she did have lipstick on her teeth.

Her lipstick is pale. She tried a brighter colour once but her mother told her that she looked like a tart so she wiped it off quickly.

Her mother is gone now and there is no one to comment on her lipstick or how she dresses, but the spectre of her mother’s past stops her from making any changes – ever.

No one looks at her as she walks in through the staff entrance; she has become invisible to her customers and fellow workers.

She knows them all though.

She listens to their conversations but ensures that no one catches her eavesdropping. That would be against the rules. Her rules.

The rules are for her own protection. That was what her mother told her years ago when they first came to live in this tiny flat. A flat that was paradise compared to where they had been before.

They are a motley crew, her customers. Some are old and lonely, using the warmth of the place to stave off the return to a cold home. Others are young; student types with their eyes glued to their mobile phones, giggling at something they have seen and sharing it with their friends. Often they have been drinking; loud and jolly, filling the place with noise and energy.

Her colleagues are less varied. They are all younger than her, and carry out their work with a levity born of the knowledge that this job is just a stopgap; a step on the way to something so much better. Except for the manager. He is tense and angry, feeling that he deserves better than this.

Her coat and bag are put neatly inside her locker after she has extracted her uniform and laid it carefully on the wooden bench. She has two overalls and when she gets back from work each day she washes her uniform and hangs it up to dry in the tiny bathroom of her tiny flat.

Taking one last look in the mirror by the door, she smoothes down her overall and pats the pocket where she has put her keys to the staff cupboard.

The shape of the keys reassures her. A token of normality in a frightening world.

Out in the corridor, she keeps her head low as she passes the manager.

‘The disabled toilet needs cleaning and some uni kid has thrown up all over one of the tables. Get it sorted – the staff have been waiting for you to come in.’

She nods obediently as she unlocks the cupboard and takes out her work tools; the mop and bucket, disinfectant and catering size cleaning roll.

Waiting for her to come in?

No one ever waits for her to come in.

Like a spectre herself, she moves quietly round the tables, mopping up messes, clearing away the detritus of a fast food diet, not even wondering anymore how people can waste so much food when there are people starving all over the world.

The tables are clean now; the toilets too.

She surveys her work with pride although she knows that she will have to start over again in a few minutes.

As she takes her mop bucket out to empty it, a young man bumps into her as he leaves the toilet.

‘Watch where you are going old woman!’ he says as he brushes invisible dirt from his ripped jeans.

‘Sorry, so sorry.’ she whispers and then regrets opening her mouth as he looks at her with something far worse than disdain.

‘Get back to your own country you dirty Paki. We don’t want your sort here stealing our jobs.’

Hearing the sound of raised voices, the manager appears and pushes her into the kitchen whilst apologising to the youth. He offers him a free drink by way of appeasement.

On automatic pilot, she throws away the soiled cleaning roll and empties her mop bucket, wiping them out carefully before returning them to the cupboard.

As she pulls another bin liner from the roll, the manager reappears. He does not look happy.

‘How many times do I have to tell you not to wind the customers up? This is your final warning.’

He turns on his heel and goes back to the kitchen. He does not realise that the other staff laugh at him behind his back, or that he is about to be moved to another branch in a less salubrious part of town and will never get the opportunity to deliver that warning.

She knows the signs. She has seen it all before. Another day draws to an end.

As the sun rises, she takes her bag and coat out of the locker and heads home to the safety of her tiny flat again.

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Cliffhanger – Week 24 of the 52 week short story challenge

Home For Sale Real Estate Sign Isolated on a White Background.

The ‘For Sale’ sign outside her house came as a bit of a shock. She didn’t remember putting it up for sale and she didn’t recall her partner Andy saying anything about it.

Sarah parked her car outside the house, grabbed her bag and files, locked up and went to inspect the sign again. It looked new.  Had the estate agent made a mistake and hammered it into the garden of the wrong house? She looked at the houses either side of hers and shook her head. Surely one of them would have said something; they were on good terms with all their neighbours and putting your house up for sale was the sort of thing you let other people know about. Wasn’t it?

Still puzzled, Sarah let herself in and put the files on the hall table, bag on the floor and keys in the designated bowl. Andy bought the bowl for her; partly out of affection and partly exasperation as they were late for yet another party because she couldn’t find her keys. It was a very pretty bowl. White pottery with a pattern of delicate poppies and cornflowers. It was very feminine in a way that try as she could, Sarah could never achieve.

She didn’t do little dresses with frills, spend hours over her hair and makeup nor squeeze her feet into fashionably high and uncomfortable shoes.  She was aware of the fact that she would never be Andy’s ideal woman, but then for the last twenty years he had been anything other than her ideal man.

‘Andy? Hello?’ She shrugged off her coat and hung it on the neat but characterless coat stand.

‘Up here.’ Came the reply. His voice sounded odd, and she wondered what she had done this time. Taking extra care to put her boots neatly on the shoe rack, Sarah walked slowly up the stripped pine stairs.

He wasn’t in their bedroom. She turned around and walked into the guest bedroom, not that they ever had any guests.

Andy stood behind the bed, which was covered with clothes, toiletries and a very large rucksack that still bore the label of the outdoor pursuits shop Andy loved to frequent. He looked up and gave a slightly guilty smile that made him look even more goat-like than he normally did..

She frowned. ‘Some idiot’s gone and put a For Sale sign up in our front garden. I was just going to ring the estate agents and ask them to remove it. What’s all this Andy? Are we going somewhere?’

‘Er, WE aren’t. I am. The sign isn’t a mistake. I’m putting the house up for sale.’

‘Our house? Why?’

‘My house. My mother’s house originally. I’m going away.’

‘But – but – we’ve lived here for twenty years. Where are you going?’ Sarah sat down on the very edge of the already crowded bed.  She didn’t like the house. She never had, and any attempt to remove the remnants of Andy’s childhood and his mother’s desire for neat, orderly and feminine, had been gently but firmly rebuffed.

‘We aren’t going anywhere Sarah. I’m leaving tonight and I’ve put the house sale in the hands of my solicitors. You can stay here until the house is sold of course but the estate agent thinks that she can get a fairly quick sale.’

Brain whirring as she tried to process Andy’s words, Sarah sat immobile on the bed. Andy continued packing things into the rucksack.  He was an excellent packer she would say that for him. He folded clothes very precisely and knew exactly which of the Velcro edged pockets would be best for the object in his hand.

‘Where are you going Andy? Shouldn’t we have talked about this?’

Patiently, he put down the pair of immaculately ironed shorts that he was rolling into a sausage that would prevent any travel creases.

‘I’m going to Thailand. I’ve worked my notice already and my plane leaves at twenty-hundred hours. I have booked a taxi to take me to the airport. I don’t want any scenes; you know how embarrassing I find them.’

‘Why Thailand? Why now? Are you going alone? Why are you selling the house? Why didn’t you tell me this a month ago when you handed in your notice?’

‘So many questions Sarah. I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand and whenever I raised the subject you made some silly comments about ladyboys and kidnapping. Some idea you got from one of those trashy novels you read I suppose.’

‘But – but – but what am I going to do? I won’t have a home anymore, what will our friends think?’

‘MY friends already know and think that I am making the right decision. We’ve gone stale Sarah.  We were never that compatible in the first place but your untidiness and slapdash ways have been driving me to distraction for years. It was charming at first but now it’s just self-indulgent. My sister will be coming up to pack my belongings and put them in storage while I’m away so I’d be grateful if you could start looking for somewhere else to live so that she has less to go through.’

Sarah hated Andy’s sister Abigail with a passion.  The thought of her rummaging through the house, their house, made her feel incredibly angry.

‘Don’t I have any say in this at all?’ she shouted at him, her hands balled into tight fists that desperately wanted to punch him in the face, to grab hold of that silly ginger goatee beard and tug it till his eyes watered.

‘Ah yes. time for the hysterics. This is why I didn’t tell you before. You really are rather predictable.’

‘I hate you Andy!’ she said vehemently.

‘Good. That makes it a lot easier for me.’ he picked up a neatly typed list and handed it to her. ‘This is an inventory of the contents of the house. Those typed in black belong to me, those in red are yours or things that we bought together that I don’t wish to keep. Abigail, my solicitor and the estate agent all have copies of this letter too.  Would you mind moving off the bed now please? I have to finish my packing.’

Sarah stood up and walked slowly to the door.  She felt numb, unreal. Her instinct was to go into their bedroom, throw herself on the bed and cry extremely loudly. This would have no effect on Andy whatsoever. Passion of any sort was alien to him.

She went into the bedroom nevertheless and got under the duvet. She  rolled over to Andy’s side of the bed and sniffed his pillow hoping that the remaining scent of his hair might break through the wall that was building up around her.

Nothing.

He’d changed the bedding.

Sarah wanted to scream and shout and rave. How dare he! How dare he plot and scheme behind her back in this way. She’d seen no change in his manner over the past month, had she? She rewound her memories and found no major arguments.

Nothing.

She found no major moments of happiness either.

Andy would wake her with a cup of coffee, then he would shower and shave, eat his horribly healthy breakfast and be out of the door before she had even made up her mind as to whether she would shower or have a bath. The choice was usually dictated by how long she had lingered over her coffee and the BBC news.

They had been embroiled in a cold war over the television in their bedroom almost from the start of their relationship. It was Sarah’s television and she needed its cheery morning information to wake her up.  Andy had no time for lingering  and lost no opportunity to express his disdain for her.

The more she thought about it, the more Sarah had to admit that Andy was right. They were going through the motions of a relationship but there was no laughter left, no fun. Just a distant, healthy, athletic landscape gardener and an untidy, disorganised social worker who found her partner’s style of living both reassuring and stifling.

It was warm and comforting under the duvet and, as had always been her habit, Sarah fell into a deep sleep that wiped away all that had happened since she had arrived home.

It was such a deep sleep that she barely registered the affectionate peck on the cheek and the gentle ‘Goodbye’ as the bedroom door clicked shut.

When she woke, the house was quiet, too quiet.  she reached for the remote and turned on the television in time to catch the end of the ten o’clock news.  It wasn’t until she’d finished watching the weather that she remembered Andy.

‘Andy?’ she called, half hoping that he would reply but knowing that he had gone. She rolled out of bed and wondered for a moment why she had been in bed fully clothed in her going-to-meetings suit and vaguely pretty blouse that she had allowed Andy to buy her.

‘Andy?’ she called again and pushed open the guest bedroom door. The bed was bare now, save for another copy of Andy’s inventory list. She pushed it onto the floor in disgust and decided that she was hungry.

Making as much noise as her be-socked feet would let her, Sarah stomped down the stairs in a manner guaranteed to annoy Andy, if he was there.

But there was no response.

The curtains in the lounge were drawn and the sidelights on, the kitchen was similarly put into evening mode by Andy before he left. Thoughtful to the last.

Thoughtful! How could it be thoughtful to abandon your partner of twenty years and sell the house from under her? Sarah pouted as she opened the fridge door looking for immediate food. The shelf containing Andy’s macrobiotic foodstuffs and bottles of water was empty. Her shelf was always more interesting anyway. It certainly was now; Andy had stocked it with the items that he normally found disgusting. Sarah extracted a can of Diet Coke, some sliced cheese and bread.

She made her sandwich and left the knife and chopping board on the worktop. She didn’t even bother with a plate, as twenty years of Andy’s rules flew out of the window. It felt good to be curled up on the sofa, balancing her sandwich and can on the leather arm whilst flicking through the TV channels for something other than wildlife and gardening.

The phone rang and without thinking, Sarah jumped to her feet knocking over the can and spreading breadcrumbs onto the floor. She looked at the phone. Abigail. No thanks. Leaving the answerphone to deal with her much loathed  sister-in-law, Sarah dug her mobile out of her bag and went back into the lounge, stepping over the sticky mess on the floor. She could hear Abigail’s annoyingly sweet voice being patronising over the phone as she left a message guaranteed to patronise and infuriate Sarah.

When in doubt, phone a friend.

‘Jude?’ Sarah could feel her voice cracking already.

‘Hello Honey. No need to explain. I got home from work today to find a type-written note from your ex-beloved explaining why he was running away to Thailand without you and selling the house. Little rat!’

‘Why didn’t you call me Jude?’

‘Your phone was off.’

‘He must have done it before he left. Pig!’

‘He’s gone then?’

‘Yes indeed!’ Sarah tried to inject as much enthusiasm into her response as possible.

‘And I bet you are drinking Diet Coke and eating a sandwich in the lounge without a plate or coaster in sight.’

‘Right again. I’m not sure what to do now though. I spilt my drink on the floor and there are crumbs everywhere.’

‘I’m on my way. Are you still hungry?’

“Yes, this cheese sandwich is disgusting.”

‘Good, what we need is red wine and kebabs.’

‘Won’t Dan mind?

‘No, my darling husband sends his love and hugs and asks that you send me home in one piece tomorrow. I’ll be there in half an hour.’

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A Villain’s Perspective – Week 14 of the 52 week short story challenge

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I should have known that she meant trouble for me. There was something about that bird that really wound me up; she really knew how to push my buttons.

I was fresh out of college and in my first job when I met her. It was at an induction course for new staff and I was scheduled to do part of the health and safety briefing. I was a bit nervous when I saw the sea of faces in front of me but I got through it and handed over to Joanne; technically my senior, who was going to talk about safety at work.

Unfortunately for Joanne, she decided to wear a pair of high-heeled shoes that would never meet H & S standards; she fell off them on her way to the stage and had to be helped to reception for a check from a first aider – who was due to give his own talk half an hour later.

I went back and delivered Joanne’s talk and in order to fill out the time I asked if there were any questions.

Bad idea.

A hand shot up.

‘Health and safety regulations apply to all staff, don’t they?’ She didn’t look sarky as she said this.

I nodded.

‘So, all staff should be wearing clothing and footwear appropriate to the work environment, shouldn’t they?’

Slow on the uptake, I nodded again.

‘I’m sure we are all very sympathetic about the young lady’s unfortunate accident, but if she had complied with regulations as you suggest…’

The sarky bird laughed. They all laughed. I blushed. My confidence gone, I looked helplessly at my boss Carl. He came on stage and gestured for me to leave. He joined in the laughter and apologised but pointed out that he couldn’t have had a better example to emphasise the importance of adhering to health and safety regulations if he’d tried.

I felt gutted. He had them in the palm of his hand. He was on my hit list and so was the sarky bird in the audience.

I didn’t even have to try to get rid of Joanne; she was demoted to the post room and I was bumped up to Carl’s deputy. Not much of a promotion considering there was just the two of us, a secretary and two work experience girls, but I was on my way.

Getting rid of Carl was complicated; people liked him and he had worked for the company for ten years. He was getting complacent though, happy to leave much of the work to me and the clerical staff. I soon had them all eating out of my hand; I knew the importance of turning on the charm.

After a few months of surreptitious cancelling and rescheduling of orders, meetings and training, Carl’s star was sinking and he accepted a sideways position into another branch of the company when it was suggested that he had lost his grip on the whole facilities issue. He never found out that I was the one who had sabotaged his work.

They interviewed me for Carl’s job and not surprisingly, I got it. He gave me a brilliant reference. Fool.

My next goal was to build up my very small team into something more impressive. It wasn’t hard; a mastered the art of being extremely accommodating to senior managers and effective at saving money. Why pay out for professionals when you can get it done on the cheap and earn yourself extra brownie points? The building janitors came under my remit now and I used them to carry out maintenance and delivery jobs that had been contracted out previously.

Okay, so they weren’t that good at carpentry and the shelves and worktops they put up were a bit dodgy, but they could paint walls, move office furniture and weren’t averse to a bit of unofficial work after hours if given sufficient sweeteners.

One of the work experience girls had taken quite a shine to me – and I fancied her too. I waited until she had gone back to school and turned sixteen before I made our relationship official of course; knocking off underage schoolgirls in office hours would not have gone down well – however tempted I was. She wasn’t terribly bright and had made a hash up of every office job I gave her but she was tall, blonde, very attractive and could be relied upon to do as she was told. My ideal woman.

The retirement of the canteen manager gave me my next opportunity to increase my empire. I would have responsibility for a cook, three kitchen assistants and a healthy budget to play with.

Saving money in the canteen was child’s play. I found a cheaper food supplier and changed the menus. The cook objected to the poor food quality and handed in her notice. The company marched on its stomach and as a consequence a replacement cook who didn’t care too much about good ingredients was appointed.

Most of the staff  were happy with chips; with fish and mushy peas on Fridays, sausages, burgers or pies during the rest of the week. I made sure that there was cheap salad available as I had already experienced the pointlessness of taking on the stroppy vegetarians.

My child bride and I got married – she was eighteen and pregnant by this time.

There were a few people who weren’t deceived by my charms; if they were on the same management level as me or lower, I did my best to undermine them. I was getting good at this game. Most senior managers realised that I was an asset to be used to their advantage; there were a couple who were cool and distant in their dealings with me. I was very careful not to cross them.

By the time I came across the sarky bird from the induction again, I had a son and a daughter, and a wife who was bored with being at home. She got suspicious when I took to working later than usual. She wasn’t that daft; there was a seventeen-year old cleaner who had added spice to my life. We would meet up for swift but exciting sex in a disused office when the building was deserted.

At about the time my wife was getting to be an unnecessary irritation, a new project team moved into the building. I was told to find temporary accommodation for them and ultimately an office – or two – as the team expanded. I was called in to a meeting with the senior manager in charge of the team and his team members – one of whom was the sarky bird from the induction.

‘Goodness me Adrian!’ she said. ‘Haven’t you risen up the ladder since the last time I saw you!’

I blushed and the other occupants of the room demanded to know what she was talking about.

She told them; she built up the story enough to make me look a total prat. They all laughed, not with me but at me and the sarky bird rose up to the top of my hit list.

After that, it was war. I did my best to make life as awkward for her and her snotty team but each time I did, she managed to put a halt to my plans.

The most embarrassing and potentially damaging thing she did was to grass me up to HR.

I had arranged for my wife to work in my office in the mornings – on a temporary basis – we used her maiden name because you weren’t supposed to have a spouse working for you. This had been a happy arrangement for about a month when I got a call from HR asking me when I had interviewed for a temporary office assistant, how many others had been interviewed and was it just a coincidence that the new employee and I had the same address?

It was a close thing. I could have been demoted or even lost my job but with a bit of careful briefing, my wife and I told a good story about her depression and her need to be out of the house again. I blamed my ‘bending’ of the HR rules on my love and concern for my family.

Success.

My wife was transferred to another office, and though she was still on a temporary contract, she was kept busy there during the mornings and I didn’t have the trouble of finding her meaningless jobs to do. That was someone else’s problem now.

I had no proof that it was the sarky bird that dobbed me in but the fact that she and her team members seemed to find me a constant source of amusement, and refused to treat me with the respect I deserved, that was enough proof for me.

It was war.

Trouble was, it was war on both sides.

My wife found out about my after-hours meetings with the office cleaner. A friend of a friend of the sarky bird in her new team told her and my life was hell at home and a work for a while. I had to sack the cleaner – which upset the other cleaning and janitorial staff. My wife went on strike when I came home from work and it took shedloads of expensive presents to get back in her good books. She really wasn’t as stupid as I thought she was.

Further cuts had to be made in the budget and it was decided that we would close the office building down and move the staff to a more central location.. We received a good offer for the land if the building was demolished and the new office building was only half-occupied so there was plenty of room there.

I got two of the most expensive estimates I could find for moving the furniture and equipment the three miles into town. Then I undercut them drastically by using our own janitors, hiring a couple of white vans, some large plastic crates and getting the staff to pack up their own offices.

Not surprisingly, senior management jumped at the chance of doing things on the cheap. We had a bit of a near miss when it was alleged that we had bats in the roof of the building though. As they were a protected species we couldn’t get the building demolished until the relevant inspectors had been in.

The crates arrived and were stacked up in the corridors. I got one of my staff to draw up a rota as to which office was moving and when. I saved more money by reusing the crates and going into the new offices to ensure that the staff were pulling their weight and unpacking quickly.

The bats turned out to be temporary residents so there was even more reason to get everyone moved and smash the building down.

There were more opportunities for promotion in the new building. I just had to pull this office move off first.

The sarky bird had moved on to another team; just to add salt to the wound, she had been appointed to a job that my wife had been turned down for. This new  team inundated me with demands; room for larger desks because of health and safety issues, storage for confidential files, an accessible meeting room – the list just grew and grew.

A few more cracks appeared in my master plan. I had told the staff to put as much as possible in their pedestal drawers – this meant that I needed fewer crates. The drawers had very small wheels however and the combination of ham-fisted janitors, bumpy car parks and tiny wheels meant that there was a large casualty rate amongst the pedestals – which cost a great deal to replace.

Then there was an accident.

Someone – and no one ever owned up to it – left a crate in an office doorway. A member of staff tripped over it and broke their ankle. I got my secretary to send out an email telling staff not to block doorways and corridors with crates so I couldn’t be held responsible.

We were down to the last week of the move. I was shoving a large desk up the corridor on my own when the sarky bird walked past.

‘Adrian! You should know better than to be moving heavy furniture on your own. Health and safety regulations! You wouldn’t want to have another accident on your conscience now would you?’

I growled.

She sniggered and went back to her office.

The final crates were stacked outside her office. Maybe the crates were piled a bit high but we were in a hurry.

There was another accident.

The sarky bird’s manager told her to get a crate down from the stacks to pack away some specific equipment. As she lifted the crate free from the stack, another one fell on her foot and damaged her toe.

I did my best to cover my back again but senior management laid the blame at my door – and at the door of her manager. They suspended her on a number of allegations regarding the disclosure of information about the workplace but as the accident led to her being off work for more than nine months the Health and Safety Executive had to be involved and all the allegations were dropped – apart from the allegation that she made sarky comments about senior managers – me included.

The upshot of it was that the company had to accept full responsibility for the accident and pay damages to the sarky bird. She also got a reference and pay in lieu of notice. I got demoted, and my wife got a job that she hated so much that she took it out on me at work and at home.

Okay. Other people lost their jobs because of me. Other people got injured. Senior managers stepped aside and laid the blame at my door and instead of being grateful for my having saved them a great deal of money, they also blamed me for the damaged pedestals and low morale amongst the janitorial staff.

I don’t think of myself as a villain.

I blame the sarky bird.

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‘Waving Hands Pushing the Mountain and Repulse the Monkey’

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Some years ago, whilst gainfully employed by an organisation that I am forbidden to talk about, I received an e-mail inviting me to partake in Tai Chi classes specifically aimed at employees with arthritis and diabetes.  Having an infliction of both, as well as an interest in the participation of an activity that hitherto had seemed to be performed in parks by hundreds of old people wearing silk pyjamas, I signed up.

It was being held at a venue close to my workplace, at half-past five and only cost three quid.  Bargain!

On arrival in suitably baggy clothing and sensible footwear (no silk pyjamas though), it transpired that the email had attracted a diverse bunch of people, a few of whom obviously hadn’t read the ‘baggy clothing’ instruction.  Some of the attendees, like myself, looked quite happy to be there.  Others bore distinctly resentful expressions and I later found out that they had been referred by (scary music) Occupational Health and told that there would be dire consequences if they didn’t attend.

Our Tai Chi instructor, far from being a wizened pyjama-clad martial arts man of an Asian appearance (Grasshopper), was a young NHS physio in a polo shirt, trainers and tracky bottoms.  He was lovely; patient, a very good teacher and particularly kind to those who were obviously pressed men and women.

Most of us participated and had a good time. Some of the hard-core pressed people started wincing and grimacing before they had even been shown the warming up exercises and by the time we actually got around to learning the moves, had collapsed in agony onto chairs at the back of the room.

The drop out rate therefore, was quite high and by the third week there were only half a dozen of us who had been charmed by our instructor’s enthusiasm and relieved to find that the slow, gentle movement did actually help out with management of the achy bits.

It wasn’t easy learning the moves, especially for those of us not blessed with the ability to tell right from left. There was a certain amount of coordination needed between feet and arms too.  After a few wrong turns, minor collisions and occasional fits of giggles, we all picked up the sequences (after a fashion) and I managed to remember enough to be able to practice at home.

I bought a CD of music specifically for use with Tai Chi, and thanks to the tolerance of Hub and the boys, began to have my own Tai Chi sessions before work every morning.

The environment had to be right; not too dark or light, with some fresh air and sufficient room to parade up and down, backward and forward (about 2 metres by 1 metre).  Our front room could just about accommodate this provided no one left diving gear, Airsoft guns or paintball markers in the way.

I did so well that my instructor asked me if I would be interested in training as a Tai Chi instructor.  The NHS would fund my training but I would need a current first aid qualification – either funded by myself or my employer.

Fuelled with enthusiasm and the thought of a weekend learning Tai Chi at a hotel in Stockport, I asked my boss if he would nominate me for a first aid course.  I didn’t envisage any problem; we ran these courses every couple of months and though they were always well-subscribed, there was no desperate rush as the next Tai Chi course wasn’t till after the New Year.

He refused.

He said that we already had two people with first aid qualifications on the team (one had lapsed and she had no intention of taking it again) and that was enough.  I was surprised at his attitude – usually a combination of laissez-faire management and ‘can you do this for me?’ but when I questioned further he clammed up and refused to discuss the subject.

I returned sadly to my instructor, only to be told further sad news that he would not be running any more courses for my employer ( they hadn’t paid), and that was why he had suggested that I do the training so that I could carry on the sessions at no further cost.

I asked my boss again. He refused again and nominated me for a fire marshal course instead.

Six months later, there was another email about Tai Chi classes.  They were going to be held in out own building but with a different instructor.  I signed up and tried not to giggle at the women who turned up at the first session in pencil skirts, tight white blouses and high heels. They didn’t read the bit about baggy clothing either.

The new instructor was dressed in black and spent most of the session telling us to listen and making sure that no one was creeping up on us from behind.  It was all very ninja. Not everyone took his exhortations seriously and as a consequence there was much giggling but at him, not with him.

He didn’t turn up for the second session.

I carried on with Tai Chi at home; not as rigorously as before but enough to try it out in various different venues when we were away on holidays.  The balcony at the hotel in Cornwall was good – if a little damp from sea spray.  The bungalow we rented when we went back down South to visit family was very accommodating and I often had an audience of birds and squirrels as I waved my hands at invisible mountains. I even managed to keep up my routine when I went away on a residential course.  Luckily I had blagged an accessible room with an en suite, my fellow students were stuck in shoeboxes that barely accommodated a bed, chair and desk. I had a longing to return to the scene of previous holidays in Majorca or Cyprus, and a villa with a sun-drenched balcony where I could Tai Chi to my heart’s content.

Hub and I were attending a health and fitness centre and I enrolled in Tai Chi classes there.  The instructor bore a startling resemblance to Gary Glitter in the Vietnam years and even wore a matching scarf.  He lined us up and announced that we would be exercising to music.  Far from the delicate and soothing tunes that I had become accustomed to, he put on a CD of what can only be described as Red Army marching instructions. As the  instructions were not in English, they had to be interpreted for us and as a consequence we were all rather behind with the steps, more giggling ensued and our instructor was deeply displeased.

I didn’t turn up for the second session.

Fate intervened and I bumped into my first Tai Chi instructor whilst shopping in Asda – as you do.  He was running another set of courses on Friday afternoons.  They were supposed to be for the over 65s but if I was interested then he could get me in.  The Tai Chi master behind the sequences I had learned previously, had added another nine moves.

Accordingly I booked long lunch hours for every other Friday afternoon – not really a problem as no one EVER wants a meeting on a Friday afternoon.

The lessons were lovely.  I was the youngest in the class – barring the instructor – I picked up the further nine moves eventually and managed to incorporate them into my early morning sessions at home.

Then I had the accident that I’m not supposed to talk about.

The accident that turned my life upside-down and put paid to any kind of exercise for months.

We also acquired Scooby, his bed, dinner and water bowls.

The combination of Scooby’s stuff and boxes of legal paperwork ate into my Tai Chi space, so that even once my injury had healed, there was no room to move any more.

Ah, but now we have the new kitchen and with it – more than a space 2 metres by 1 metre. I can open the windows for my fresh air and lower the sparkly black blind so that I don’t frighten the horses or distract the mad mother drivers as they round the bend on their way to school.

I have Tai Chi-ed every day since May 22nd.

Rusty at first and I had to send off for the wall charts in the end to remind me of the moves, but it has all come back.

Scoob insisted on watching me for the first couple of days.  He wasn’t sure about the arm waving and the strange music – doesn’t bat an eyelid when we play Motorhead or the Foo Fighters in the kitchen – but this weird tinkly stuff…….

He has settled down now and stays in the front room until the music stops and he knows that toast may be in the offing.

My blood pressure is down.  My blood glucose is down. I have lost the half a stone I put on during the kitchen renovation.  My Tai Chi makes me feel at ease again and able to tackle some of the less palatable jobs that I’ve put off.

The parcel delivery man just called.  He hadn’t seen the kitchen since it was done.  He loves the twinkling lights and the sparkling worktop. Obviously a man of great taste.

Love the kitchen.

Love Tai Chi.

Love family and friends.

Love life.

http://www.taichiproductions.com/[/

Dr Paul Lam – a very bendy man in silk pyjamas who provided the inspiration, the moves, the music , DVDs, books and the wall charts

In the presence of presents

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When Gap Boy and Uni Boy were younger, buying presents for Christmas and birthdays was simple.  I could let my imagination run riot in the toy shop – avoiding the pink aisle and the weapons of mass destruction.  We worked through Lego and K’nex whilst Tilly, Tom and Tiny watched from the toy box – we had Rosie and Jim too – as well as a plethora of other character spin offs from whatever children’s programme the Red House book club was flogging that week.

As the boys got older and diversified, all my good intentions about not allowing guns or electronic toys went out of the window; Uni Boy became a Gameboy fanatic (subsequently progressing through a vast range of must-have Nintendo products) and Gap Boy’s latent killer instinct would not be suppressed. The boy would shoot anyone with anything given the opportunity – including his mother  (on Mothering Sunday) with a BB gun.

I thought that Hub was easier to buy for; I bought him things that I was sure he’d like but it took several years of him gratefully accepting my weird purchases before the penny dropped and I noticed that most of his presents were still in a brightly patterned gift bag a year later (he would never give or throw them away for fear of hurting my feelings).

I inherited the tendency to overbuy from my Lovely Mum.  Neither of us ever felt we had given enough and as a consequence we would shower each other (and other people) with shedloads of goodies.  I do miss Mum’s hastily wrapped bags of delight.

Increasing age and a modicum of maturity opened my eyes to the perils of inappropriate present giving and I decided to let Hub have more of a say in what I bought – as in ‘you order the bits you need for paintball and I’ll wrap them up‘. Birthdays and Christmas are less imaginative now but mutually happier and there are fewer festive filled carrier bags hanging around.  UB and GB now request filthy lucre instead of presents, or as in GB’s case, get us to drive to the motorbike shop and pay for his protective gear.

Hub had a big birthday.

Big birthdays call for extreme measures.

A brand spanking new marker for paintball – his first ever because he’s been good and only had second-hand stuff before.

UB announced that he couldn’t get home for his dad’s birthday due to Uni commitments but suggested  that we meet up in Manch for an evening meal.  He then came up with the even brighter idea that we should go to Manch on the train.

Hub loves trains.

As I don’t drive, he spends a lot of time ferrying me about in the car.  He loved my birthday weekend in York because we went on the train and he got to look at the scenery and relax.

We decided to invite Bezzie Mate up for the birthday celebrations as we love his company, he loves trains too and he has become an integral part of our family.  We did ask GB if he wanted to come but the joint perils of using public transport and spending the evening with his older brother proved far too repellent. He said that he would stay home and look after Scooby – who’s minding who?

UB booked the restaurant and as the family train expert, gave me a potted version of the timetable and texyed me a list of his own  commitments. I booked train tickets (not with the cheapest online source according to UB but what the hell) and baby we were ready to go!

BM arrived on Hub’s birthday with a beautifully wrapped box containing marzipan and a Spiderman helicopter  both of which brought a huge grin to Hub’s face.  His marker had arrived in time for me to wrap it and he’d completely forgotten about the melon vodka that UB and I had bought him.

The builders were still busy in the kitchen when BM arrived but he was able to see the glory that was the sparkly granite worktop being fitted before the three of us left to – catch a bus to town!

Hub made a beeline for the back seat; memories of schooldays obviously flooding back.  I prefer the front seats especially if there is a bell to ring nearby and a pole to grab hold of.  BM and I followed Hub but after a few moments of hideous bumping and the full blast of the sun, we all relocated to more comfortable and less sun-drenched seats.

We were travelling to Manch in the rush hour, so needless to say, the train was packed and it was standing room only.  Nearly everyone sitting down on the train had a laptop or tablet of some description on display.  Hub and I managed to get seats at the next stop but BM was so wrapped up in looking at HIS tablet that he preferred to stand.

Manchester Piccadilly station brought back memories of my misspent youth; my Lovely Mum worked for what was then British Rail, and as a consequence I got four free rail tickets per year and quarter-fare the rest of the time. This came in very useful for a homesick eighteen year old who had relocated from the seaside South to a land-locked Birmingham and the delights of drama school. Ticket inspectors often failed to clip my ticket, giving me the opportunity to make more journeys home (and back), usually on the through train but sometimes via Euston and Waterloo.

Large train stations and the Underground held no fear for me in those days as I lugged my hefty sailbag southwards and to home – or reluctantly back to the cold and endlessly damp Midlands and my tiny bedsit.

Thirty-odd years later, laden only with a ladylike Primark rucksack and accompanied by two of my favourite men, Manchester Piccadilly was a delight, even if one of the travelators wasn’t travelling – until nature called.

Thirty pee to pee!

To add insult to injury the toilets stank of other people’s stale pee – and worse.

It took a sit down and a takeaway coffee to restore my equilibrium.  Hub and BM found my ire most amusing. They frequently gang up on me like a pair of naughty schoolboys but I forgive them – usually.

UB phoned as we were drinking coffee and teasing each other on FaceAche.  His meeting had overrun and his train had been cancelled so he would be going straight to the restaurant and could we please stop messing around and get there first in case they let the table go to someone else. Suitably chastised for our levity and wondering how the al-seeing eye of UB knew we were messing about, we packe dup and drank up.

I would have gone for the taxi option, but Hub and BM were excited by trams (and the ticket machine) so we took the Metrolink. As we passed the Manchester Eye I had to kick Hub to shut him up because he started talking about the chap who had occupied the Eye in protest against being recalled to jail for breaking his parole.  You never know who might be listening on a tram, and to my wary eye there were several fellow passengers taking an unhealthy interest in what Hub was saying. He was oblivious to it all. He loves trams.

We got off the tram before the heavies did. Hub had to use his mobile satnav to find the way to the restaurant, which was under the shade of the Beetham Tower and alongside the canal.  Our progress was slow but enjoyable; BM was happy-snapping the surroundings, Hub and I were just happy looking and lapping up the atmosphere of a balmy Manchester evening.

We were on time. Our table was inside rather than out on the crowded terrace.  We ordered cocktails, including one for UB who had texted to say he was on the Metrolink and would like something sweet, fruity and very alcoholic please.

It was a wonderful evening.  The food was great and the cocktails even better. When he found out that it was Hub’s birthday, our lovely waiter Guillaume bought over a surprise brownie pudding complete with candles and a glass of champagne – on the house.  More cocktails with dessert, UB and I were torn between two drinks so we ordered both and took turns slurping through separate straws – that’s my boy.

Despite having return tram tickets, I persuaded my men that a taxi to the station would be a better option given our varying levels of inebriation.  Many cocktails made all three of them very amenable.  UB’s train left shortly after ours so he packed his parents and his funny uncle safely aboard  and waved us off with that curiously old-fashioned look on his face.  He’s always been much older and wiser than us.

The journey home was only marred by a yoof with very cheap earphones broadcasting his boom-boom repetitive dance music to the whole carriage.

Hub rested his eyes.

BM was engrossed in his tablet.

I smiled the happy smile of the slightly intoxicated and tried to work out where the hell we were.

Disembarking was an experience.  The clothing of our female companions was – skimpy – to say the least – and although it was a Thursday, there must have been something exciting going on in the town centre (or cultural quarter as the PR merchants have christened it) as most of the yoof were headed in that direction.

Another taxi and home to a shiny, shiny kitchen, a very happy Scooby, a slightly disapproving GB (aren’t you all a bit old for this?) and much needed sleep.

Just in case you were worried that GB was left out, Hub, BM, GB and I went off to our favourite curry house for dinner the next night.  UB hates curry.

Hub says it was his best birthday ever.  He had more cards, more messages on FaceAche, presents he really wanted and a good meal enjoyed with some of his favourite people, not to mention the bus, trains and tram.

I’ll think he’ll cope with the nifty fifties now.

 

‘The End of the Pier’

 

 

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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?)

 

 

 

‘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.

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!

‘Sixteen – Over halfway’

So I’ve passed the halfway mark now and managed to put something on my blog site every day for the past sixteen days.

Some days have been easier than others.

There have been mornings when I’ve had to get out of bed early because something wanted to jump out of my head and my fingers, and onto the keyboard.

On other mornings I’ve dragged myself  out of bed and stared zombie-like at my ergonomic keyboard, waiting for the elusive muse to hit me. My muse is not a gentle soul.

Inspiration has come from some familiar and other more bizarre quarters.

Writing isn’t confined to early mornings though; frantic to get something written before midnight, I have now discovered that WordPress is in a different time zone so I have an extra hour to play with – which is nice.  Technically though, I have actually been burning the midnight oil on more than one occasion.

Going away for the weekend was a little tricky.  The hotel we stayed at provides free wi-fi but only for one device.  As we are a two-phone, several Kindle and a laptop couple – some’s gotta give.  The laptop won and I managed to get my words online in time whilst Hub snoozed over his Sudoku.

Yesterday was more problematic.

Back home and our internet provider didn’t.

No wi-fi!

The router was fine – everything was fine at our end  – but gremlins in our provider’s garden shed caused internet grief throughout the country.

You forget how many things you use the internet for: FaceAche, Twitter, ThisismyJam, Amazon, the news (BBC and Yahoo), my Fitbit (Google it) and online banking to name but a few.

Gap Boy feigned disinterest and played a game on his computer that he’d been meaning to have a go at for ages.  He also ate us out of house and home.

Hub and I cleared junk out of the garage and did shopping (to replace all the food that GB ate) but in between times we both sat down at our computers and cursed the provider (and the wi-fi, and the computer, and anything else that seemed remotely connected to the computer – poor mouse).

Mafeking was relieved  – and so were we – when the internet came back to us just before dinner.

For all his disinterest, GB was back online and bellowing at his buddies within a very short time.

Hub and I checked everything out to make sure it was all okay.  Life returned to normal – ish.

Peace returned to the household.

The internet has been a bit sluggish today but we have had other issues to occupy our time.

I had to make a phone call that could have been patronising but as I started to talk I realised that it was me that had made the error, not the company concerned. My tone changed from officious to extremely apologetic within seconds and after some minor grovelling the awfully nice lady agreed to sort things out although it wasn’t strictly company policy.

The tip trip and charidee shop were supposed to be next on the menu but first, I decided to conduct a scientific experiment.  I was making chili in the slow cooker for dinner and discovered that I’d made too much. so I put half in the slow cooker and half in my lovely purple casserole.   The slow cooker was put on low and the casserole in the oven on gas mark three.

Which one would be better?

Only one way to find out.

Finally got rid of the rubbish, and the better stuff was happily received at the charity shop.

Onwards to M&S for some totally indulgent shopping and a phone call from GB who woke up and smelled the chili.  He was gutted to hear that he couldn’t eat it for another couple of hours and whinged for food.

Home again and GB was right, the whole house did smell of chilli.  We waited impatiently till six o’clock and as Hub and I tucked into our sensible-sized portions, the mother in me was gratified to see GB wander past with a huge bowl of chilli in his hands.  He was at pains to point out however, that real chilli doesn’t have beans in it.

Mine does.

And chickpeas.

GB came back for seconds and having emptied the purple pot, made a start on the slow cooker.

Tomorrow’s dinner.

GB’s scientific analysis.  Both edible but they still shouldn’t have beans in and how dare I smuggle button mushrooms into his slow cooker as well?

Sneaky Mum.

B and T gave us some homegrown rhubarb yesterday so I may spend a little time trawling the net for some nice recipes.

All this domesticity is most unusual for me.  I have no housework gene and my enthusiasm for cooking is sporadic at best. Perhaps I am being spurred on by the fact that by the time Hub and I reach our 26th wedding anniversary I will have a new kitchen – fingers crossed.

A new kitchen with a Belfast sink, drawers that don’t fall apart in your hands, cupboards with doors and LOADS of sparkly black quartz worktop space.

For now, I will just have to move a few piles of flotsam around in order to clear a space for some rhubarb chopping.

Night all