Thursday 27 November 2008

In which the Phantom Pooper attempts suttee (or The Self-Immolating Collie)

Heck it’s cold here. I’ve been trying to work but every five minutes I have to get up and launch into a series of star jumps to get the circulation going again. Those of you with still-functioning memories might be suspicious at this point, muttering that ‘surely she has heating now?’ and indeed we do. Lovely, brand-new through-the-house heating and dead impressive radiators. However Adrian is being stern and unrelenting on the question of oil and, having seen the way the stuff is racing down the tank like juice being sucked out of a glass by a greedy child (or gin and tonic by its mother), I take his point.
My office has a hole where the wood burner will go. There is even a slab of slate waiting to be laid. Only problem, no money for said wood burner. So it’s back to the star jumps.

Now I know I have moaned a lot about The Phantom Pooper (17-year old collie, not ours, generally loathed but what can you do?) in the past but, bless her aged (and still revoltingly sound) heart, she is trying to help us stave off the chill. The other night I was lolling on the sofa (with a thick blanket wrapped, burka-like around me), watching back to back DVDs of Boston Legal. Adrian was sitting next to me engrossed in some arcane classical rendition on his iPod. The fire was burning pretty well (thanks to libations of candlewax) and the PP staggered over towards it. I assumed she was simply trying (like the rest of us) to keep warm so didn’t pay much attention. She then wobbled over the brick threshold into the inglenook itself. Weird dog, I thought, then simply figured she must be really cold. Attention strayed back to the television. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something large and black waving around – with a glowing tip. The stupid dog had obviously wafted her tail over the fire and it had caught light.
‘Oh puck!’ I said.
Adrian carried on blithely conducting. The PP carried on blithely waving her tail and the glow deepened.
‘OH PUCK!’ I yelled.
‘The dog’s on fire!’
‘What did you say?’
If you’re wondering why I didn’t jump up and attend it’s because, in the Bonkers House, certain duties are clearly delineated and the task of Stamping Out Sparks is one of Adrian’s. He does that man thing of spitting on his fingers and then picking up the smut or spark with his bare hands. Let’s be clear here it is the only macho thing he does and so he is inordinately proud of it – it would be emasculating and cruel to take it away from him.
Anyhow, the PP was waving her tail like an Olympic torch, seemingly totally unperturbed by the fact that she was, quite literally fanning the flames and possibly (hopefully?) facing self-immolation. Finally I managed to mime conflagration to Adrian (yes, I’m good at charades, if I say so myself) and he slowly swung his gaze to the fire.
Taking off his headphones he said, calmly:
‘What’s up? What’s that dog doing?’
‘Committing suttee,’ I said. ‘Or trying to.’
‘She’s on fire, for puck’s sake. DO something!’

I could see it in his eye – how tempting just to leave her to go up in a self-appointed pyre. No more endless poop scooping, no more being woken several times a night, no more sick to shovel off the kitchen floor. She would even keep the fire going a bit longer.
Then his basic animal-loving nature got the better of him (plus he probably figured out that burnt collie is probably a very unpleasant room fragrancer) and so he calmly got up and dowsed her tail in the ash bucket.
The smell of singed dog is, indeed, not to be recommended.

When I told Milla the story she laughed (as you might have guessed) and then pointed out that, had the PP really been committing suttee that would imply that Asbo Jack would have pushed off this mortal coil beforehand. I sighed and indulged in a blissful moment’s reverie about a life sans dogs. Then the barking started again.

Changing the subject abruptly (sorry, have to spit this out quickly before my fingers freeze into one solid chunk) I don’t attract a lot of blog bling (another Milla phrase gleefully stolen). So I was rather childishly chuffed when Hadriana bestowed the Superior Scribbler award on this unworthy blog (oh go on, boost my ego by taking exception to the unworthy bit). I now have to do my own bit of bestowing and so, in no particular order, these are a few blogs whose writers have a certain way with words….(there was a prescribed number but I can't remember and my fingers won't last long enough to go back and find out)....

Little Brown Dog – someone give this poor woman a break. Life’s grim but the writing is juicy.
Ladybirdworld – a superior wordsmith – a new find and already a favourite.
Milla – the inimitable - when the puck will someone give this woman a newspaper column?
ElizabethM – lyrical and just luscious prose and pictures.
Ernest de Cugnac (oh, I mean God of course) for the God Diaries. Sure God doesn’t need an award but this is just one of the cleverest, funniest things I’ve read so I’ll bestow it anyhow (he can always pass it onto Lucy).
Edward for Rotwatch – don’t think he’s a blog bling man either but you never know. I don’t really watch TV but this makes me laugh even when I haven’t a clue what he’s talking about.
Cowgirl – fabulous marriage of words and images…
KittyB – a neat turn of phrase, a way with words….and the damn woman is slim, gorgeous and can cook too (how I hate her!).

Oh, there are loads more but sorry, sorry, fingers about to drop off – time for another set of star jumps – or maybe I’ll get a fire going and get as close as I can to it (without setting my hair alight).

PS – apologies for all the brackets – they are becoming the new exclamation marks.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Jungle Barbie and empty coffee cups

I was sitting at a table in Café Nero, staring at the coffee cup opposite me. Two minutes before Adrian had been sitting behind it, gulping down his three shot cappuccino before racing off to catch his train. Strange, I thought, how he’s gone but there’s still steam rising from his cup. I became a little fixated with it, truth to tell, couldn’t take my eyes off it, wondering at which precise moment it would stop steaming. When he would really be gone. My thoughts turned morbid, as they are wont to do. What if this was all that was left of him? What if the train crashed or a suicide bomber hurtled into Old Street? Adrian, just a bit of steam.

I’ve always had a gothic turn of thought. When I was young – and I mean very young – I used to pore over Bosch paintings, fascinated by scenes of torture. Poor Barbie got it something rotten. While my friends primped and pampered their dolls, mine had to battle through jungles, getting her hair snagged out by the roots and her clothes ripped. I drew scars on her cheeks and hauled her through mud. I even poked pins in her on one occasion when she was being pursued by hostile natives. Barbie wasn’t remotely Lara Croft though – she didn’t kickbox her way out or blast three shades of hell out of everyone. She just submitted in a totally craven and rather pathetic fashion. She annoyed me so much that I decided her life in the jungle was really too exciting so I built her a croft in the remote Highlands (otherwise known as the rockery in our Sutton garden). She got a few scraps of tweed to wrap around her pneumatic breasts and a plastic horse for company. There she stayed, gazing mournfully out over the remains of the lavender, picking at her mascara, until she became green with mould. When each of her babies inevitably died, she hauled herself to their funerals and threw herself onto their graves with fits of sobbing, wiping dirt over her (already filthy) face. OK, so the babies were frogs (having managed to get them from spawn to four legs, they sort of gave up the effort – but this could have been something to do with my home-made bin-bag pond). Anyhow they died, in rapid succession and were buried, with elaborate ceremony and arcane ritual, in padded matchboxes to a backdrop of Barbie’s wailing, interspersed with the odd hacking cough (the poor creature probably had pneumonia).

Sorry, that was a long diversion but it is pertinent. I think my main problem is that I’m having a problem with the fact that – unless some medical miracle occurs – my life is more than half over. I’ve never been very good at the second half of things. Holidays are a case in point. I love the first week, all is promise, hope, excitement, new things to try, taste, smell. Then the halfway point is reached and the gloom settles in. Homeward stretch. I start thinking about the return. Have even been known to start packing. There seems no point in making huge plans, chatting to new people because, well, it’ll all be over soon. Same with everything really. I just sort of wilt after the halfway point, want it all over. Can’t be bothered.
Not a good attitude really when it’s one’s own life in question.

I know this is a common theme and I moan on about it far too much but I’m still feeling washed up. Finding it hard to summon the energy for anything really. Ye gods, I’m turning into bloody misery-guts Barbie.

Back in Café Nero, I suddenly realised I couldn’t bear to see the actual moment when the coffee stopped steaming so I jumped up, threw on my coat and hurtled out without a backwards glance in case seeing the moment of death could, by sympathetic magic, cause it. Is that a bit odd? Yes, thought so.
Still, I pulled myself together and went off into town. I haven’t been shopping, as in proper shopping in a town, for about half a year and I thought I’d lost the knack yet I managed to do all my chores in about forty minutes flat. Then, with two hours still on the parking meter, I thought I’d get my annual spot of total degradation over and done with. This is the moment when I decide I should Make An Effort and buy something shimmery or glittery for all the parties I will try to make excuses not to go to. Last year, you may recall, it was the Only Gay in the Village sequinned t-shirt. This year, I decided, it would be a dress. I know. Don’t laugh. I don’t actually have a dress (no, not one - seriously) so this was a challenge.

Why do we do it to ourselves? Maybe there are women who can sliver into something slinky and smile at themselves in the mirror but those women are not me. OK, so I was trying them on over jeans and pointy cowboy boots, with a white (ish) bra – but still. I looked like a home-made Christmas decoration, overstuffed and straining at the seams. Like Barbie I have out of proportion tits and very long legs. Unlike Barbie I go out at the waist rather than in. It’s not a good look. One dress flattened out my boobs into one enormous shelf – the size and shape of a Wii Fit. Another sort of caught them and tossed them out towards the mirror - two vast flashing white orbs intent on world domination. In the end, after half an hour of vehement self-loathing and self-pity, I settled for something vaguely shapeless with spaghetti straps (so it’ll be a large shawl or coat over that then – truly what’s the point?). It’s still too snug (despite being diaphanous) – so that’ll be a diet then (yes, another one).

Ah heck. Maybe I’ll just forget Christmas and go and hole up in a croft and feel sorry for myself there…watching the steam rise from an empty coffee cup.

Monday 3 November 2008

White nights

I didn’t sleep last night. Instead I spent virtually the entire night tossing and turning. I also read my way through nearly the whole of Jodi Picault’s latest novel, a curiously uninvolving tale of ghosts and love, made deeply syrupy by huge gobbets of quite inappropriate magic realism.

Every so often my eyelids would droop and I’d gratefully turn off the light and turn over. Squash the pillow and snuggle down. Then turn the other way. No, it wasn’t going to work. On went the light again and back to the ghosts (who did very unghostly things like snogging and digging, poking red rose petals in people’s pockets and misdirecting phone calls). I have the strong suspicion that JP has read some Alice Hoffman and decided she could do with a bit of magic. Wrong, JP, wrong. Leave it to Alice, love.

Down drooped the eyelids, off went the light again. Turned over and…
‘Aaaaghhhhh!’ A shriek broke out next to me.
‘Aaaaghhhh!’ I shrieked in reply.
On went the light and James and I both sat bolt upright staring at one another in terror. At this point I have to explain that James has been sleeping in with me for the last fortnight because his arm has been in a cast (following the day when five boys went to play at one boy’s house and two ended up in casualty while another went home with a bloody nose.) What can you say? Shit happens.

‘It’s not right, you know,’ muttered Adrian (about being cast into the desolate wastes of the spare room, not about the War of C*** Cottage). ‘He’s nearly ten.’
But, to be honest, I’d rather have James (snores; grinds teeth; hogs bed but is reasonably small) than Adrian (snores loudly; thrashes; hogs bed; talks total utter nonsense and is unfeasibly large).

‘What are you doing, Mummy?’
‘I was reading.’
‘But it’s four in the morning.’
‘I know.’
‘Why are you reading when it’s so late?’
‘Because I can’t sleep.’
‘Poor you. Why?’

Why indeed? Is it because I’ve been well and truly credit-crunched? Is it because, for the first time in my life, I don’t have a zillion things to cram into a day? Is it because we have spent our way through an extraordinary amount of money renovating the house – and yet still have walls with huge holes in them, ceilings balancing on rotten rafters and something unspeakably nasty in the cellar? Could it be acute anxiety over a whole phalanx of friends going through hell right now? Or simply that I had one too many cups of coffee or one too many glasses of wine? Or both?

‘I dunno. Sometimes it just happens.’
‘Rotten luck. Can I read for a bit too?’
So we lie there, like an old married couple, me harumphing over JP, him reading The Ashes.
‘I’m tired now, Mum. Hope you get to sleep soon.’
So do I.
‘I will. Night, hon..’

I’ll fall asleep at 4.30am. I nearly always do. I know my insomnia like an old enemy – we go way back. I started not sleeping when I was pregnant with James and never really regained the knack of peaceful slumber. At its worst, I would go for weeks, and sometimes months, without more than two or three hours sleep a night. But for the last year or so, it’s been better and I’ve forgotten just how truly miserable it is when the hours tick by and the hopes of a reasonable next day to follow start to vanish.

I remember once staying at the Lowri Hotel in Manchester in readiness for a live TV interview the next morning. My alarm call was booked for 6.30am and I was tucked up in bed by 10pm. At 1am I remember thinking, ‘Well, it’s fine – five and a half hours would be OK.’ Ever the optimist, a couple of hours later, I was reasoning that I could get by with three hours. My magic witching hour of 4.30 came and went. When it was down to ‘Well, an hour would help,’ I knew I was clutching at straws.

Insomnia sucks the joy out of life. It wrecks your immune system, destroys your sense of humour and turns you into a paranoid, grumpy, spotty haggard old crone. So forgive me if I am not witty and sparkling and amusing today. I have missed blogging and felt that, if I didn’t write something, anything, I would lose the knack forever. What seems funny in the moment loses its lustre if you don’t catch it pretty darn quick and all the curious little incidents of the last month I had been squirreling in readiness of a blog or two have grown boring and tarnished.

So, a sorry little blog today. Will try harder next time.