Archive for the 'Bloviation' Category

Down the Hatch

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks, Wikimedia Commons

The pearls of wisdom dispensed to expectant mothers include a string of statements about the importance of breastfeeding though it may be ‘slightly uncomfortable‘ at first.  Perseverance, I was told, is your friend.  Soon I would be snapping and unsnapping my contented baby from my boob with the kind of careless abandon generally reserved for summer holidays.  It should not hurt.  Soft pillows and feathers would surround me.

After Sprout’s very medically assisted entry into the world, I was determined to breastfeed exclusively for the recommended six months.  I went to a class about it, I read books, I watched videos.  The latch, well-meaning internet videos opined, is all-important.   Just follow the easy steps and everything will be golden and glowing.


I hardly know where to begin.  I am still exclusively breastfeeding, but if I had one iota less of bloody-minded resolve, I would have given up after six weeks.  I knew the first two weeks would be difficult; the information I had overloaded assured me that I would be trapped in a chair with a baby clamped to my chest.  If only that were all I had to contend with.

Those instructional videos might have been relevant for the 1% of mothers who have a perfectly calm hungry baby who obligingly gapes open its mouth while the rest of its body hangs relaxed.  Me?  I had to feed an angry octopus.  Trying to carefully manhandle a flailing fragile red-faced bundle of desperation into the correct position was a game I was destined to lose.

Oh, I won in the sense that it worked: he got enough to eat.  But the teeth-clenching toe-curling pain I endured for the first few minutes of every feed; the cracked and bleeding nipples which took days to heal; the number of times I almost sent K-man to buy an industrial quantity of formula.  These things will stay with me forever.  Sprout puked pink, and I worried about him bleeding internally.  No, said the midwife, he’s swallowing your blood and he can’t digest it.  For two weeks I used a combination of lanolin cream, nipple shields, and a breast pump: I stopped bleeding, and the pain lessened from severe to serious.

The assorted instructionals implied that this was happening to me because I was doing it wrong.  Maybe I interpreted it this way because I was a hormonal emotional wreck, but one thing I’ve learned so far about motherhood is that there really is a shit-ton of Blame the Mother flying around.  That’s a whole separate piece of writing I’ve got boiling away inside me.  The three breastfeeding advisers I consulted all checked the latch and pronounced it to be perfect.  One told me I have Reynaud’s disorder (I don’t).  I expended far too much mental anguish worrying about the need for a ‘correct’ latch and trying to follow step by step instructions and ‘bring the baby to the boob, not the boob to the baby‘ while Sprout wailed and tried to turn himself inside out.

After eight weeks, it gradually stopped hurting.  I believe several things happened concurrently to cause this.   First, Sprout’s mouth had grown so he could feed more effectively and not abrade the surface of my skin with his tiny tongue.  Second, my nipples had toughened like an old goat’s.  Third, I jettisoned the well-meaning advice about how to achieve a latch and just jammed as much boob into his mouth as he could take.  It worked.

I wholeheartedly appreciate, accept, and support breastfeeding and would never suggest formula is better for the baby, and would not have it any other way for Sprout.  But I still find breastfeeding a pain in the tit both literally and metaphorically.  But I don’t think it would hurt humanity if it were publicly acknowledged that not every woman finds it a blissful spiritual experience.  I cannot think I am alone in finding it very difficult but continuing because it is better for the baby.

Even without the pain, there are still major drawbacks.  Chief among these is that nobody can do it for me and sometimes I would like to spend more than two hours of my life without boomeranging back to my son to present my boob.  Pumping milk enables this, but means I have to prevent my milk supply dropping by either feeding or pumping as close as possible to the time I would have been feeding anyway so it seems rather pointless.

Sprout has gastric reflux, which means that after most feeds I need to give him Gaviscon Infant.  To do this, I have to dissolve lumpy powder in just-boiled sterile water in a sterile container immediately before feeding him, then find a way to get it into him at the end of a feed when he is full.  At home, this is difficult.  On the road it is virtually impossible.  If I were formula feeding I could simply tip the sachet of powder into his bottle, shake, and have at it.

Yes, I know it is but a short section of my life.  I also know that the benefits for him outweigh the inconvenience to me.  But this inconvenience should be acknowledged as such: the fact that a benefit exists does not mean a corresponding disadvantage disappears.  I don’t need or want a medal.  I’m simply fed up of reading and hearing information given in a wrist-slapping chagrined tone, and which implies that women who do complain about breastfeeding or give up before too many weeks have passed are selfish delinquent mothers who are doing it wrong.  Breastfeeding might be all marshmallows and halos for some, but the truth is that for others it is a painful, dismal, lonely experience which they go through because they know it is the best thing for their child.

I refuse to feel bad for finding breastfeeding difficult and looking forward to its end.


Edited to add:  This morning, an envelope arrived from my mother containing a cut-out of an article by Eva Wiseman (my mother said it’s because she thought I’d enjoy receiving post, but I think she had no idea how to search for and email a copy of the article to me).  In the article Wiseman says pretty much what I’ve said above, only she says it better and more succinctly.  Find it here.


I was at a party a few weeks ago, which for me means like-minded souls and I get together and become irate at the world’s apparently intractable problems, corporate behemoth uber-un-accountability, slavery, feminism v classism and is it a competitive or complementary relationship, intersectional discrimination, environmental hell, and other light-hearted subjects.  Obviously, we blame everybody but ourselves.

During one of these wine-fuelled if I ran the world people would all just love each other and be happy sessions, in a moment of fairly ironic hypocrisy someone pulled out their iPhone and tuned me in to a quiz with some particularly insightful results.  I pulled out my iPhone – for I am nothing if not a  champagne socialist – to give the quiz a whirl.

The quiz lives at Political Compass and here is a quote from the website:

The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’ […] are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?
On the standard left-right scale, how do you distinguish leftists like Stalin and Gandhi? It’s not sufficient to say that Stalin was simply more left than Gandhi. There are fundamental political differences between them that the old categories on their own can’t explain. Similarly, we generally describe social reactionaries as ‘right-wingers’, yet that leaves left-wing reactionaries like Robert Mugabe and Pol Pot off the hook.

The test plots your politics not on one linear ‘left/right’ line, but in a quadrant that accounts for the distinctions between social and economic political liberalism or authoritarianism.  Or something.  So:

If we recognise that [the left-right line] is essentially an economic line it’s fine, as far as it goes. We can show, for example, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot, with their commitment to a totally controlled economy, on the hard left. Socialists like Mahatma Gandhi and Robert Mugabe would occupy a less extreme leftist position. Margaret Thatcher would be well over to the right, but further right still would be someone like that ultimate free marketeer, General Pinochet.

That deals with economics, but the social dimension is also important in politics. That’s the one that the mere left-right scale doesn’t adequately address. So we’ve added one, ranging in positions from extreme authoritarian to extreme libertarian.

That line goes vertically from top to bottom, resulting in a diagram divided into four quadrants:


The thought occurs that you readers probably came across this test years ago, but it’s new to me and I’m soldiering on.

There is far more information on the website, but as we know, when attention spans wane it is time to introduce FAMOUS PEOPLE.  That’s right. Here’s where they plot on the graph:


At this point I’m thinking that it’s no wonder I firmly believe the world is royally screwed up – it seems that many of our leaders reside in the upper right hand part of the upper right hand quadrant. In common with lots of world leaders, I have studied both law and political science (specifically, human rights) and I continue to be amazed that folks who must have read the same weighty tomes of convincing left-wing libertarian thoughts of a bundle of eminent thinkers can consistently spew such right-wing ill-thought-through downright-mean old clap-trap.

Ed Milliband is the son of a full-blown Marxist and known as Red Ed in the UK for his astonishingly left-wing position on many policy areas. Yet there he is, in the upper right quadrant.  I’m not even going to comment on the inclusion of Mitt Romney, because it hurts me to think about him for the length of time required to formulate the violent expletives warranted.

So I took the quiz and wondered where I would come out.  And the answer is:



That was a surprise even to me.  It’s no wonder I spend such a hefty dollop of time getting righteously pissed off at The State of Things.

Am I such an outlier? Not based on the self-selecting sample of folk at the party – I found one person whose dot was so far over to the left the graph wasn’t big enough to accommodate his views, and someone else who was just slightly more to the right and up.  Even K-man (and I say this with fondness) sits in the lower left quadrant.

If you are inclined to spend the five minutes to take the test and tell me the results, I would be interested to find out where your dot lands on this chart.  No judgment, no authoritarianism, nothing but curiosity.  I think left is best, but that’s because that’s what I am.

Ambitious Pursuit of Magazine Life

We’re decorating the spare bedroom.  My role during performance of a particularly delicate decoration operation is to take cover outside the blast zone and pretend it isn’t happening.  Attempts at diffusion are misinterpreted as supervision, and nuclear fission swiftly results.

As my contribution, I decided to paint the spare room bed.  We bought the bed from a charity shop for a pittance two years ago, and while neither of us were in love with it as a piece of furniture, it is a solid workhorse.  It didn’t look noticeably awful in the spare room, because the rest of the spare room always looked like shit too, so there was a happy harmony of decor dissonance.

Now that the spare room is being addressed, the vexing question of the foul appearance of the spare room bed must be answered.  The shape is acceptable, even pleasing: it is the vibrant orange sun-damaged pine varnish hue that is desperately off-putting.  Observe:


OK, it doesn’t look that bad in this photo.  That’s because it’s outside in sunlight and the photo is weird.  Inside, this thing is orange and shiny.   Believe me.

So, I thought, I will paint it.  This will be productive: paint is cheaper than a new bed, the bed is solid wood and very sturdy, and it could not look worse painted than it does now.  It will be easy, I thought – I read articles about how to do this stuff all the time.  It will be satisfying – it is very many years since I did something even vaguely creative with my own bare hands.  It will bring this piece of furniture bang up to date in terms of fashionable interiors – painted shabby chic furniture is all the rage.  Thinking ambitiously, I decided I would artfully distress the bed so that it looks like an antique that belongs in a manor house rather than a piece of crap we unearthed from the damp section at the back of the YMCA shop.

You will no doubt be shocked to discover that magazine articles can be misleading.

In the magazine, the preparation phase is over in the time it takes to flip the page.  In real life, after three hours of arm ache and finger burn and the disintegration of huge wadges of coarse steel wool, there will be no discernible difference in the appearance of your potential masterpiece.  To wit:

If through my tears of fatigue I had examined it through an electron microscope, I may just have been able to detect a slight difference in the surface of the wood.  I was covered in dust, which indicates that something was happening.  Just not the magical transformation I’d been expecting.  I hoovered the dust off the wood, and then wiped it carefully with a damp rag to make it really clean.  K-man, who was not convinced this project would work and who forbade expense other than cheap paint in the pursuit of improvement, was practising his Skeptical Eyebrow.

By this time four gruelling hours had passed and I had begun to question the wisdom of my endeavour.  Still, the really worth-it part was fast approaching: painting!

In the magazine the lady of the house spends money like it is going out of fashion, buying industrial quantities of the best paint on the planet.  In real life, there’s a husband who declares the expensive paint verboten, forcing a compromise of some clearly inferior product.  In the magazine the best brushes are worth the investment because money is no object.  In real life, the aforementioned compromise restricts the decorator to two cheap old brushes with the few remaining bristles sticking out in every conceivable direction.  In the magazine, the painting environment is a carefully air-conditioned sensitively-lit studio of wonder.  In real life, the blazing hot sunshine and the outdoors makes life uncomfortable in a number of ways.

Let me count the ways.  The paint will dry very quickly.  It will dry on the wood almost instantly, on the brush itself shortly thereafter, and in the paint pot within the half hour.  It will be virtually impossible to achieve the desired smooth finish and instead brush-strokes and lumps will be clearly visible.  Sunburn will be a significant issue, and insects will be strangely attracted to fresh paint, becoming embedded in it  up to their shoulders.

I would have done it indoors, if I didn’t have a husband who convinced me this was a job that would be better done outdoors.  Like a fool, I listened.

After another four hours of tirelessly cutting in to get all the detail, the first coat looked like shit.

At dusk it looked otherworldly, like the malevolent ghost bed of childhood nightmares.  At this stage I was dead on my feet and gasping for a beer.  I tried hard to focus on the fact that every time I have painted anything, I have always thought it looked crap after the first coat and restored my faith with the second coat.  K-man was looking less bemused and more impressed, which I took as a good sign.

The next morning I couldn’t face the bed until after lunch: I knew the magazines were misleading with their implication that a second coat goes on in the time it takes to cancel your subscription.  At 2pm I recommenced.  The second coat was looking much more promising, and though the weather was even hotter and the drying issue was even more pronounced, it did seem to be working out.  Behold:

At the time, I was just so bloody relieved to have the thing finished by 6pm that I didn’t much care what it looked like.  I painted it in Old English White by Crown, and there are some weird grey streaks in the dried finish which I am not very happy about but which K-man says add to the character and charm, and will make it look fantastic when it has been suitably ‘distressed’ by my steel wool and furniture wax combo.

All I can say is that it had better look damn good in the new spare room.  More on that next week.



Watching Television With My Parents

BBC Test card from my childhood.

Television featured large in my childhood and teenage years.  I couldn’t begin to calculate the number of hours I’ve watched with my face a couple of feet from the screen, and lo, my eyes are still round and functional.

I even adored the black and white TV that was carefully tuned using the twin methods of precision dial-turning and of adjusting the foil sail attached to the aerial.  So desperate was I to watch TV, that I have been known to watch snooker on a black and white set.  I would get up early on weekends and wait for the test-card to disappear and the cartoons to start.  Other activities were planned around the next episode of Star Fleet, since there was no way to watch it later.  One of my earliest TV memories is watching enraptured as Boris Becker (a child!) won Wimbledon for the first time.

Visiting family in the USA meant an added bonus of the sheer wealth of television on offer.  One grandmother had only the basic TV, no cable, and even she had upwards of 40 channels.  The other grandmother had a cable package and it was wall-to-wall Jetsons and Flintstones, transitioning to Baseball in the afternoon and episodes of Roseanne in the early evening.  I think she had over a hundred channels and my brother and I would simply flick through using the remote, eyes goggling at the wonder of it all.

I was in heaven for as long as I could fight off my parents’ demands to switch off and go outside.  Somehow, I still managed to fit in plenty of time to partake of reading, and outdoor activities – perhaps because my every waking moment wasn’t taken up with lessons or enforced socialising, or family visits (my extended family were over 3000 miles away in Chicago).  I had so much time I struggled to fill it.

With a wistful sigh, I say those were the days. Now, you can watch whatever you want, whenever you want, and too many stations produce 24 hour rolling schedules of constant low-level dribble.  News Tickers make my eyes hurt and are so distracting that focus on the events of the day is impossible.  There is amazing TV out there to watch, for sure, but the activity itself isn’t special and wading through the tripe to find the gem is too much effort.   I hardly ever watch anything at the time it’s broadcast.   Generally, I watch online or  DVDs, or I HD-record and watch later so I can speed through adverts.

At Easter, K-man and I visited my parents.  My parents have become Homeland devotees.  They have no VCR, HD Recorder, unlimited broadband, or patience.  I was informed that when Homeland was on, they would be watching it, and we could do what we wanted but they would be watching Homeland.  This is parental code for AND THERE WILL BE SILENCE.

I was reminded of the fear engendered whenever, as a child, I needed something after bedtime and my parents were watching a programme.   Unless it was a genuine emergency, Televisual Interruptus had better not occur until either an ad break, or the end of the programme.  When my parents were watching something, they were watching it.

Well, I learned that behaviour from them.  I focus absolutely on the programme – think embedded – I need silence from others, and I rarely miss details.  I do not want other people to swan in halfway through and casually enquire as to what is going on.  Who is that and what are they doing?  Fuck off.  K-man’s trick is to fall asleep for ten minutes, wake up suddenly, have no idea what’s happening, and seek an emergency plot précis from yours truly.  Piss off, I tell him, I’m missing this now because of you.  You might think the advent of DVDs and HD-recorder would mean I would simply pause, but that would mean the spell would be broken and enjoyment curtailed.   K-man pauses a two-hour film an average of four times so he can leave the room for whatever reason, and it drives me utterly crazy.

In an odd way, I was looking forward to watching TV with my parents.  I briefed K-man on the rules, advising that even in the event of a rancid fart from someone in the room, noise-making was verboten.

Viewing commenced.  Homeland was OK, as far as I could tell in the first seven minutes.  Seven minutes is the time my father could spend in his chair without needing to perambulate slowly to the kitchen hitting every creaky floorboard on the way, and loudly clatter some pots and pans.  He returned with a bowl of peanuts and then proffered them around with verbal enquiries while plot-points screeched past.

After fifteen minutes, there was an ad break.  My dad sat in his chair and watched four minutes of Eat! This! Buy! This! Watch! This!  

Homeland came back on, and after five minutes, dad got up to go to the bathroom, only to return just in time for another ad-break.  My mother was asleep on the floor.

What. The. Hell?

Someone has abducted my parents and infected them with Hypocrititis before returning them home.  Ingrained teaching runs deep, so in the next ad-break I dared enquire whether they were actually watching the programme, because there was something else I might enjoy on another channel.

Yes, apparently, that is what passes for TV watching these days.  I asked if they recalled what would have happened to my brother or I if we had sneezed during an episode of EastEnders.  This was met with snorts of disbelief and statements along the lines that we kids were always interrupting their television viewing and yet remain alive.  I was accused of being unable to multi-task.   K-man chimed in: you should see her at home – I get yelled at if I even cough during Sons of Anarchy.

ARGH.  It’s not me, it’s you!

The Show Must Go On

Six weeks into this year, my interim assessment is that it sucks.  Minor trauma plus minor trauma equals astonishing sense of unfairness.  On the bonus side, I got my annual bout of illness over with during the first week of January.

First, allow me to expound on the self-made miseries.  Well, what the hell, I’m going to be true about it: K-man made these miseries.  It was nothing to do with me when he put our car on because he’d identified a new car he swore he needed.  Something about the size of his testicles, I don’t know what.  We use our car once a week at most, but for reasons to do with stones I don’t possess it behoves us to spend £6,000 on a piece of metal that spends 98% of its time on the driveway.  Don’t ask me; I just live here.

He made a hat-tip at ‘consultation’ and put Vern on the market, selling and arranging collection within a 24 hour period, for a price that was borderline insulting to Vern’s dignity.  The pre-car research on the proposed new car was only completed after he sold our old car. Things were discovered, worrying things, about the proposed new car having a fake service history.  What now, fool, when we need a car?  Oh yes, now we’re pressured buyers: a great big unavoidable horror.  Car salesmen can SMELL pressure. 

Yes, I’ve been skating close to the thin mental line lately.

Next up is the Bedroom Furniture Debacle.  The bedroom was next on the list of things in the home to participate in the destruction of my surroundings, a project that’s going really well.  Remember the bannister?  Months later, this is what it looks like now:

My best guess is that the white stuff in the middle is nuclear-bunker-grade heat-protective coating. It will not budge.  If President Obama needs protection from Iran’s unhinged, he should come to my house and crouch behind my bannister.

We moved out of our bedroom three weeks ago and it’s in a state of disarray that will be brought to you in another post.  Our furniture is too big for the room so was put up for sale.  The enormous triple-wardrobe was the priority, but ultimately we needed to rid ourselves of the rustic solid oak bed and bedside tables we got in New Zealand too.  We discussed and agreed a sale price that would prevent me feeling aggrieved (I like this furniture and we paid a wadge for it).

K-man operated the eBay and somehow fucked up the equation that exists between ‘buy now’ and ‘minimum bid’.  Our solid oak king-size bed and two bedside tables that we lavished cash and care on were sold for a price so low I had to fight back tears.

Next up, the trauma visited upon us from outside our control.

Finding that one’s bicycle has been stolen is never pleasant.  I can attest that it’s particularly unpleasant when one is returning home at 1am on a freezing cold night having had too much to drink.  I searched the bike park in vain for my bike, clinging to the hope that I had, like all the other times, simply forgotten where I’d left it.  I saw a cut cable lock and with a sinking feeling put my combination in.  It sprang open, and so did  my tear-ducts.

To a cyclist, no bike you’ve had for any length of time is just a bike.  We’ve seen penguins, fallen off curbs, been blown into oncoming traffic, got back up, and travelled on together.  I loved my bike.  I reported the theft of my buddy to the police.

Describe the bike, blah blah, where did you leave it, blah, was there CCTV, blah blah investigate I’m not really listening anymore but then and how would you describe your ethnicity?


Are you black, white, asian? 

The police person on the phone does not know me, and does not know that questions like that coming out of nowhere, even when I’m drunk, especially when I’m drunk, and already upset are not something I’m going to let fly.  Way to make a bad situation worse, Flow Chart voice.

Is that relevant?  I shot out before I could stop myself.  Would you NOT investigate the crime I’ve just been a victim of because I fit, or did not fit, a certain racial profile?  


Because, that’s certainly the implication OFFICER.


Would you like my gender, age, or other profile information for the government statistics? 

Uh, no.

In that case you can put me down as human.

I’m really pleasant when I’ve had too much to drink and been the victim of a crime.

Next up: the following week, K-man was riding home on his un-stolen bike and got hit by a car.  The bike ended up under the wheels of the car, and he bounced off the bonnet.  He’s fine; cuts and bruises only (though the bike was a write-off).  Mostly, he was shaking and fragile with shock.  Thank lard it was a small car that hit him, and that it was not going faster.  He made eye contact with the driver before the collision (she definitely saw him), he had right of way, and she should have stopped and she knew it.  Her foot ‘slipped off the brake’ apparently, so she simply drove into him at a roundabout.  A witness helped pick K-man up and escorted him home to make sure he was OK.

Then, back from a weekend in the country during a cold-snap and snow, our heating broke.  It’s always a bad sign when you can see your breath in the hallway, and in sub-zero temperatures frozen pipes mean you have to eat your Ha! Boiler insurance! What a con! words and call the Fuck My Wallet line.  £500 later, I’m seriously considering becoming a heating engineer.

Everything you ever wanted to know about my frame of mind by this point is represented by this picture of Jesus, our formerly vibrant house plant:

What’s a girl to do when the first six weeks of a year have removed her colour and rendered her incapable of even a glimmer of sparkle?  Why, run off to Paris, of course!  My friend JR might not be a doctor, but he knew, it turns out, that I was in parlous trouble in the doldrums department without me even having to mention it.  And, because he is somehow psychic and knew without me ever having breathed to anyone how much I wanted to go there, he surprised me with tickets to this place:

It's the Star Ship Enterprise, in chandelier form!

In one weekend, I regained my sense of being alive.  My vibrancy came back, I smoked some cigarettes, ate a bucket of french lard, glammed around Paris, and remembered all the good shit I’ve seen and done, all the people I loved, love, and almost lost, and who I am privileged to know.

Here Ends the 11th Commandment

I work at home most of the time, which means K-man will happily arrange delivery-people or tradesmen to call at the house.  These people are rarely reliable, are always disruptive, and K-man has always gone to work.  I am glimpsing a tiny part of what it must be like to be the parent of a baby who manages to get her child to finally go to sleep 30 seconds before her partner arrives home to comment (in tones that imply judgment about the ease of parenthood) on how cute it is.  Only it’s the noise and disruption of tradesman, and K-man waltzes through the door at 7pm to examine how great everything will look.

I need a fucking break from this shit, I said.  I am not getting anything done because every half hour I have to get up to answer the door, show someone around for the purposes of yet another quote for work, make a cup of tea for a worker, or answer some question about how exactly I would like something done.

Part of the problem is the nature of my work, which requires hours of close reading and deep thought about public policy processes, the relative merits of different methodologies for researching the answer to a question I haven’t thought of yet, and whether and how I know what I think I know.  Having someone liberally cursing at their machinery interrupts the train of thought, and trying to get that thought back is like clutching at fog.

I’m pretty sure I said thou shalt engage no more tradesmen until 2012.  Several times.  I’ve taken to calling it the 11th Commandment, but I should have known better because like many a religious dictat it’s being enthusiastically ignored.

Latching on to my statement that perhaps certain improvements to the outside would not be as disruptive, K-man arranged for a man to move our garden shed and build us a patio in the sunny spot of our garden.

The shed was built at least 25 years ago in the stupidest place available, right in the centre of the garden.  Visually it cuts the garden in half, and it takes up valuable sun-lounging space during our four annual seconds of sunshine.  It’s ugly, and there are now enough gaps in its structural integrity to enable squirrels to get in and cause havoc.

Cross-reference the astonishing size of the dump section of our garden, which is in the perfect place for a garden shed since it is in the back left corner which never sees the sun.  Every garden – am I right? – has a dump section.  Ours is the size of Tokelau.  I tried to clear it myself but stopped when after six inches of digging, I uncovered a bin-liner potentially containing my worst nightmares.  Always one to take the easiest way out, I pretended the dump section’s dark secrets didn’t exist, so we dumped more crap on it (the smashed up fireplace, the 1970s kitchen unit we ripped out of the garage, the fence we pulled down and replaced) and walked away brushing down our clothing.

Work began yesterday.  Sixteen cups of tea and a wheel-barrow of biscuits later, this is the view from the upstairs window:

Considerable consternation was caused upon the inevitable tradesman discovery that in relation to the dump section, more clearance work would be involved than he initially estimated.  I tried to tell you, I said, for all I know it’s filled with concrete and human remains to a depth of 20 feet.  I am paying you so that I don’t have to think about it.  Now deal with it!  Yes.  Tradesmen adore me.

The skip on our driveway is full already, and neither the shed nor that huge heap of soil will fit in it.  The tradesman is taking the shed away himself after we have stripped useful firewood from it.  We will have to get rid of the huge heap of earth by chucking it over our skeevy neighbour’s fence gradually putting it in our wheelie bin for the council to take away.  Some of it can probably go on my vegetable patch, which is already full of topsoil from under the original shed.

Our house is gradually evolving, and with it I believe my approach to home improvements has matured.  I have informed K-man that should there be any further works scheduled during 2011, his costing should factor in my hotel bill.

Allow Me Just This One

Having proclaimed that I would not write about my in-laws’ recent excessively lengthy visit, I find I am unable to control myself.

How we came to be on Waterloo Bridge on the hottest day of the year arguing about parking restrictions is a long and irrelevant tale, so I’ll move swiftly on to summarise the context.

London parking restrictions are legendary for their inconsistency and poor public notification.  Should you find you have accidentally transgressed an anti-parking rule, there is no way of knowing in advance the precise nature of the penalty that may befall you.  It may be the comparatively palatable £80 fine.  You might return to your vehicle to find a large yellow lump of metal clamped to its wheel.   If you get things really wrong, you might return to find an empty space where your vehicle once was, and scant notification of where it might now be.  If you can track down your vehicle, it is likely to cost you an amount roughly equal to your weekly salary in order to retrieve it from the sweaty hands of a private contractor with no accountability and no conscience.

If you happen upon something that at first sight appears to be a perfect parking space, that is the time to be especially cautious.  Scan the locality for partially or fully concealed signs, or a lamp-post that looks as though it may once have had a sign attached.   Anything that has a symbol on it instead of words will require reference to the internet to decode.   A misjudgment will result, the moment you step away from your vehicle, in a vampiric warden swooping from an alleyway to suck your bank account dry.

So.  Two cars disgorged four adults, two senior citizens, and two fractious children upon Waterloo Bridge on a Sunday.  Sundays are a special subcategory of parking restriction interpretation.  Sometimes, all restrictions are void and you can tap-dance a fandango with joy.  Sometimes they are in full force.  There is unlikely to be a sign telling you which is which.

In our case there was a sign of particular incoherence and apparent internal self-contradiction.  Google revealed the sign have two possible meanings: you may park here, or you may not park here.   An internet forum of disgruntled parking fine recipients gave similarly indeterminate information.

As every Londoner knows, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.   Parking spaces on Waterloo Bridge (in a cycle lane too), just a staircase from the bustling South Bank, definitely fall into the category of Utopia.  I was busily pointing this out to the non-Londoners among us, and while we were debating the relative likelihood that we would descend into the hell of towed vehicles and public transit home with two septagenarians and two tired and unruly children, a car pulled up behind us to park.

Hm, said someone.  Are they assuming we know what we’re doing? 

Maybe, said someone else.  If they are parking here, maybe they know it’s OK.

Maybe, said my mother-in-law, but are they even British?



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