It looks like I’m a pest.
At the parent’s house, upstairs. I can hear a ticking noise. Something like a ticking noise, anyway. Something, once every second. Bzzp … bzzp … bzzp. It’s quiet, but penetrating, and I’ve barely been able to hear it for a minute before it becomes intensely annoying.
I rummaged around, trying to track it down, finding out where it seems loudest. And I find: on the landing, something glowing red and plugged into a power socket. BZZP! … BZZP! “Ultrasonic pest repellent” it says, on the side.
“What? You’re not supposed to be able to hear that!” said The Mother, when I asked her about it. “You can’t hear it. You’re kidding me.”
“Nope,” I said, plugging it in in front of her. “You mean you can’t hear it?” I said, as I was holding this thing, loudly going BZZP in my hand.
“No,” she said. “Nothing at all.” BZZP!
The Parents are, it turns out, worried they have mice. There is, on a regular basis, a rustling somewhere between the floorboards and the ceiling. The cat is evidently not putting the putative mice off; so they’ve invested in this device, to scare the mice away. Only pests can hear it, it says. And, erm, me. I can’t believe that I have superhuman hearing, so presumably I’m just a pest.
The Mother is always fond of saying: “you know, with your brain and your skills, you could have done so much better for a career! You could have done anything you wanted!”
So, when we heard on the news this morning about the teenager who allegedly made millions from internet crime, I was slightly surprised she didn’t say anything. I was almost expecting: “Why didn’t you do that? You’re just as bright as he is! You could have made millions from botnets and fraud by now if you’d only put your mind to it!”
Next week is going to be hell. I’m dreading it. Our kitchen – which passed its 25th birthday last winter – is being ripped out, torn up, and being replaced by something nice, new and shiny. The only problem: it’s going to take all week. The house is already in uproar, and I have no idea how we’re going to eat. Lots of dinners out next week, I think.
It’s a bit of a milestone, doing all this. I can only very faintly remember the kitchen we had before, at the old house. It had a sliding door from the dining area. Erm, that’s it. I’ve lived with the current brown cupboards, brown tiles, freezing cold green tiled floor for so long, it’s going to feel very strange living in something different. This morning, I took photos from the kitchen doorway. I’ve never taken many photos of the inside of the house, itself,* so when things do change I rarely have a proper record of them. If you want to see what our house looked like over the years, you have to look in the backgrounds and the corners. So, I took photos from the kitchen doorway, and I’m going to keep taking them next week as the old kitchen is pulled apart and the new one is built.
The mother didn’t get the point. “I don’t want you taking pictures of it and showing everybody when it’s a mess,” she said. “Wait until the new one is finished, then you can take pictures of it.” I will do. But I want pictures of it how it is now, too, because I don’t want to remember something that’s new and novel. I want to remember something that’s old, faded, and comfortable.
* except for, once, the big green Victorian mirrored ball, round, not tiled, that hangs in a corner of the dining room.
My parents are not Norwegian. They’re English, have hardly ever left England, don’t speak any languages other than English. Until last week, my mother hadn’t had a foreign holiday for 35 years, and my dad had never had one at all.
Now, often, you can look at someone, and spot their nationality. It happened to me in Paris the other month: I only had to go up to someone and say “Um … bonjour?” and I’d get: “Hello, can I help you.” Sometimes the hello came first, so I’m sure it wasn’t just the accent or the awkward pause. I’d assume that the same would apply to the parents too, as they’ve hardly ever left Britain.
But no: they set off for their first foreign holiday together after 30 years married, and they get on the ferry to Norway. They arrive at the ferry terminal in Newcastle, where you’d think the staff would be used to spotting the difference between Norwegian and English people. All of a sudden, everyone, even the English terminal staff, automatically assume they’re Norwegian. Getting on the ship, they’re being greeted: “hello … hello … hello …” – then as soon as The Mother appears on the gangplank, the greeter switches to Norwegian.* Why, she has no clue. Apparently, people from Norway, people from Newcastle, people who meet a lot of Norwegians, automatically assume my mother is one too. Strange.
(and on their return, they brought me a giant sausage. Which appears to be Danish. But that’s a blog for another day, when I’m not too lazy to get the camera out to shoot a picture of it)
* Whether Bokmål or Nynorsk, I don’t know – as the parents don’t actually know any Norwegian of either sort beyond “Does anyone know where the toilets are?” they didn’t appreciate the subtlety – never mind the subtler still differences between spoken and written languages.
You often hear people saying something along these lines:
Something horrible happened, but we survived. And then something else horrible happened, but it could
have been so much worse. Someone Up Above must be looking after us, because we got through it.
My mother has said it a lot in the past, but she’s not the only one. And every time I think: hang on a minute. If someone has their eye on you, if someone saved you, why did it happen to start with? Why did you need to be saved? If someone’s looking after you, how did something so horrible happen?
Given that today, in the news, there’s rather a lot about the slowly-growing and now likely forthcoming schism in the Anglican church, I thought I’d ask the average churchgoer in the street about it. Well, the average churchgoer who is also my mother, at any rate. She’s a fairly average “active” Anglican, though. She’s white, lower-middle-class, female, edging towards elderly, lives in a commuter village, and goes to church every week. She’s a Sunday School teacher, has organised the parish’s Christian Aid collections, sings in an ecumenical Christian parish singing group,* and generally is far more active and puts more effort into religion than most churchgoers, never mind the huge percentage of Anglicans who tick the relevant box on the census but never cross the threshold of a church for anything other than weddings and funerals.
So, I said: “what are you going to do if the church splits in two? Is anyone going to leave St. Nick’s over it?”
Her answer: “What split?”
“You know, the one that has been rumbling for the last few years.” I tried to explain how the rather homophobic Peter Akinola is a figurehead for a group of largely-American homophobic conservatives, who do not like the Archbishop of Canterbury and have been threatening for some time to lead a schism, sometimes in the hope of bending him to their will, sometimes apparently meaning it.
“I’ve not heard about any of that,” she said. “We don’t talk about that sort of thing at church. That’s nothing to do with us.”
So, there you have it. I don’t think The Mother is particularly ignorant. As I said above, I think she’s probably less ignorant than your average churchgoer is likely to be, because she takes a very active interest. But to her, the politicking of a motley band of Americans and Africans isn’t important. An earthquake in Lambeth Palace isn’t important. The Second Coming occurring in the Lady Chapel of our parish church probably wouldn’t disturb most of the congregation, so long as it didn’t disrupt the Mothers Union or the bellringers, and everyone still got a cup of tea (or coffee) after the Sunday communion service. For your average English Anglican, dogma is something you recite during the service without really listening or understanding. It certainly isn’t something to get all argumentative about.
* where “ecumenical” means “Anglican and Methodist”, because they’re the only churches in the village. I’m not sure what they’ll do if those often-suggested plans to subsume British Methodists back into Anglicanism ever make much progress.
This week, I have managed to:
- be completely baffled about the nature of relationships (and other people in general)
- Make someone happy, just by putting a website online for them
- (I didn’t even design the website myself)
- Explain the meaning of the term “shaggy dog story”
- Annoy The Mother, as per usual
- Annoy The Cat, by ignoring him when he tries to wake me up at 5am
- Let other people get me down (see point 1)
- (yes, I know they’re not numbered)
- Let me get myself down
- And thus piss off most of the other people I know, by moping constantly.
On the other hand, I can always cheer myself up by reading what people have been searching for on the net, that has led them on a misguided goose-chase to this place:
drunken squirrel – sorry, no clue
carpenter furniture joke – start here and be prepared to groan
birthday presents for goths – black things? Possibly?
things you do automatically – I’m not sure. They’re automatic. I don’t really notice them.
how to snog a colleague – use your tongue
gerbils show around west midlands – I really have no clue now
“i hate grimsby” – don’t we all, dear
extreme kidnapping fantasies – Oh-kay…
sex in forest – …that’s enough of that, I think.
Ever since I moved back in with The Parents, The Mother has been insistant that I have a Proper Breakfast. Unfortunately for me, her idea of a Proper Breakfast was always a bowl of corn flakes. I’ve never been a fan of breakfast cereal,* and tried to explain to her that there’s not that much justification for eating it. It was originally invented by an enema-obsessed nutritionist who was very concerned about bowel movements, and believed that masturbation was evil. His brother added salt and sugar to make it more palatable. If you think it doesn’t taste very good now, bear in mind that the current Managing Director of Kelloggs Europe has admitted that “if you take the salt out you might be better off eating the cardboard carton for taste”.
The stick approach doesn’t work with The Mother very easily, though. You can point out how unhealthy something is until you’re blue in the face – and I did, pointing her to articles such as the one that quote is taken from. It wasn’t until my dad told her that the Sunday Times was claiming that new research had worked out the healthiest breakfast of all. A “traditional German breakfast”, apparently, consisting of “cheese, ham, and rye bread”. So, the next day there was two slices of toast, a plate of sliced ham** and a selection of cheeses on the breakfast table at 6.30.
It was … well, different, at any rate. Better than cornflakes, certainly, and I told her so. The next day it was back onto the corn flakes; but today, a bacon baguette was waiting. Excellent!
I know how my mother’s mind works. She heard that German breakfasts are healthy. She prepared the nearest thing, in her mind, to “ham and rye bread” – a bacon roll. So now, she thinks not only that a bacon roll is a traditional German breakfast, but that they are intrinsically Good For You. This is definitely a good-looking development if you ask me.
* “Pencil shavings,” as at least one Roald Dahl character called it.
** pre-sliced supermarket sandwich ham, I think. Probably far higher in salt than corn flakes, but don’t tell The Mother that.
Back in July, my mother lost The Cat, accidentally releasing him on the way to the vet’s. She spent hours putting up posters in that part of town, searching round the neighbourhood, answering calls from people who thought they had seen him, but to nothing. After a month or so, the calls dried up, and we assumed he wasn’t coming back.
Yesterday, I got home from work. I went upstairs, changed out of my work clothes, and went to the bathroom. In there, I heard something squeak. A door, or something, squeaking once then twice, just like the cat used to miaow. Strange, I thought, opening the bathroom door to find him wandering on the landing, rubbing against the corners of the walls.
The mother had a phone call yesterday, from an elderly woman living maybe a quarter of a mile from where he had gone missing. She’d been feeding him for about a fortnight, and happened to go in a shop which still had his poster on the wall. She phoned us, dragged him out from underneath her sofa, and the cat came back. He’s lurking in the garden now, trying to re-establish his position in cat society.
Talking about pets: the cat has vanished. Not near home, either.
The mother was taking him to the vet, on Monday, in his cat box. She was a few paces away from the surgery – a mile or so from home – and the cat box, in her words, “fell apart”. It’s a plastic affair, with a removable lid, and it’s picked up by the lid too; so if you haven’t done up the catches right, it will fall apart. And The Mother has never shown any ability to be able to do up the catches right. I have shown her how to do it many, many times, but she still refuses to learn.
The cat immediately scarpered, and hasn’t been seen since. Since then we’ve had thunderstorms and constant rain, and The Mother – when she isn’t out looking for him – keeps saying things like “oh the poor dear, I hope he’s found shelter somewhere.” Which makes me think: no, you’re not allowed to say that. You would be allowed to say that if the whole thing wasn’t completely your own fault.
More than anything, I’m angry. I’m always angry with my parents at some level, because they are intensely annoying people. This, though, has left me angrier than normal. My mother has always been annoyingly semi-competant, being able to grasp 90% of an idea, but missing out the 10% that actually gives it its shape and flavour.* Most of the time it isn’t a big problem, but occasionally, it matters.
* Like the time she saw “Thai curry sauce” in the supermarket, the sort that you add to stir-fried vegetables, and thought “Ooh, I’ll make a Thai curry.” So she cooked some mince, heated it up in a pan with some tinned kidney beans, and added the stir-fry sauce to it. Ta-daa, “Thai curry”. It wasn’t inedible, but she didn’t seem to understand that she’d actually made something entirely different.