4 September 2011

Dear Sophisticated Ladies

 This weekend my parents have been for a flying visit, arriving Saturday at lunchtime and leaving early afternoon on Sunday. Mum is road testing Dad’s stamina with a view to planning something a little longer in October. It all reminds me of training a puppy; it has been reported that he seems restless or bored. My brother and I can’t really see the difference! There is nothing wrong with a man who gets up at some ungodly hour, on the day when even the good lord rested, and by 745 am sits down to breakfast having walked to the newsagents to buy a paper and cut the hedge! The physically flawed daughter is not in the best of temperaments and certainly isn’t dressed or showered when she joins them! I confess to being in my dressing gown when called up to find a broom and dustpan and brush to collect the hedge trimmings. Thank fully my wise neighbours had not yet emerged from their houses (or their beds most likely)! I am so pleased father had not brought his electric hedge cutters with him as two of my near neighbours have yet to reach their first birthdays or grasp the concept of sleeping through the night!

 It is curious how an age difference seems advantageous in ones youth; the glamour of the older man (my father is 15 years older than my mother) and in later life the generation gap is more stark. But most of the time the change is gradual, at a discrete stealthy pace imperceptible to the human eye until one of you takes a tumble. Stunned into robotic response mode the view is seen from a new perspective by the one who remains standing; in this case my mother. In the first few days, weeks and months the fit one is reliant on the assessment of health professionals; whose advice is invariably not as helpful as it could be. We need the data to be interpreted in a way we can grasp and at a time of our convenience. I for one feel the need to take control, to soothe and reassure; my life is carefully scheduled and there is seldom room for the unexpected. I am impatient, and irritated, if I feel patronised. Watching ones parents suffer hurts in a way that you couldn’t anticipate. So when mum asked if they could come down this weekend I decided to make it happen, my Saturday client meeting had moved to next weekend. And whilst I love seeing them I do wish we lived nearer so the upheaval (and inconvenience) wasn’t so great. I feel awful saying this but it’s true! The preparation is the same for one night as a week! Ungrateful daughter!

 Last weekend I found myself without heating or hot water; the boiler had been serviced six weeks earlier. I am not an advocate for the insurance policies that are pushed on you when buying new appliances but I make an exception for the boiler. I recall someone once astutely observing that insurance is for poor people; people without the financial wherewithal to buy themselves out of trouble. Harsh perhaps but true. The boiler malfunctioning was that the circuit board, otherwise known as the second most expensive part, had failed. The engineer tells me it’s not a part they keep on the van; it has to be ordered and yes it’s a bank holiday weekend. Bad news delivered by pleasant people somehow is more acceptable; that and the fact it’s August. Plus I have an electric shower and a dishwasher. The inconvenience is minor and the engineer well let’s say he’s easy on the eye! Giving the customer their mobile number adds an additional level of reassurance but don’t be mistaken this is standard procedure, you are not special!

 On Tuesday the part is ready for installation and another engineer arrives; he couldn’t be more different. As I open the door he strides past me into the kitchen vomiting information on the state of play as he walks. Scanning the room he says the computer has died and he doesn’t know my name. He needs a plug socket. Amused at his apparent state of disorientation I tell him the boiler is upstairs; if he hadn’t been in such a hurry I would have directed towards the first floor but he didn’t ask! Reddening he turns towards me hikes his bag onto his shoulder and climbs the wooden hill; I’ve had a terrible day is says. Colleagues called in sick and he had to pick up their calls; I hate days like this he says. Finding the spare bedroom I helpfully say it’s the circuit board. Does he want to see the form the last engineer left I ask? No he replies was it X who came? If it was that’s great as he’s good, I trust him not like some people. Oh bless him I think, and then he bends over to plug in the computer. He’s not an ‘oil painting’ from the front; from the rear it’s a much fuller picture, yes you could park a bike there. Oh please pull your trousers up! Without the support of a belt the stiff cotton fabric slips down taking his underwear with it; he hasn’t been on holiday the spotty white/grey skin unquestionably reports! Spluttering I offer him a hot drink – strong sweet tea is good for shock I believe; oh that would be me who needs this beverage!

 Retreating downstairs to recover (and shake my head with floods of laughter) he follows 10 minutes later in search of the gas meter. It’s 4 pm by this time and he has told me he hopes this is his last call. His boss has until 4.10 to allocate another job. He tells me he’s off home to finish putting together the Scaelextric circuit together for his children; mournfully he observes that once it’s finished he will have to watch and put the cars back on the tracks. Oh how mean can ones offspring be! I just hope he watches the action from the front as children can be awfully cruel.

 This week the subject of choice is on my mind for a number of reasons: a banal domestic one and a rather more significant one related to the proposed amendments to legislation governing access to abortion. So to start on the prosaic and frankly tedious matter of gas and electricity charges. When I received a notification from my current supplier that the fixed price deal I (apparently) have is coming to an end my heart sank. The chatter in the media leads one to believe that there is always a cheaper deal to be snaffled if you look hard enough. But where do you start is the question? And in my case can’t I pay someone to find this out for me? Please? Will I get around to doing the required head banging time consuming searches on line? Probably not in time but I feel I should; I am an intelligent woman and this is surely not beyond me? Of course it’s within my grasp but I just don’t feel I know enough about the questions I need to ask to get a cheaper deal. How much do I consume a year? How much do I waste every time I forget to shut the fridge door? Or leave the TV on standby? And how much do I need to save to make it worth the effort? Hmm.

 As a freelancer I have enough work at the moment, probably until October, but none of us are falling over new contracts right now. To secure new clients one has to identify special powers that give you the edge over your competitors. Being a slightly eccentric, middle aged, spinster probably doesn’t qualify as a special power! So of course I should put time aside to torment utility supplier with incisive questions. This will make me grumpy; very grumpy! But put the time aside I did and using a price comparison site I did save money. Interestingly of the 59 deals offered in response to my query not one was from my current supplier. You have been warned ladies! Perhaps utility suppliers should be considered in the same way that bankers are?

 And somehow it is September already, where did the excuse for a summer go? After taking a holiday and co-organising a festival there wasn’t any time left – you should see the state of my garden as evidence! The front hedge is tidier after father worried it with the manual shears and the back garden a tad more orderly after mother and I resolved the ills of the world with secateurs as a weapon!

 August is traditionally a slow news month when slightly odd things are picky up by the media that simply wouldn’t merit attention for the other 11. The Arab Spring continues but without the focus it had, well, in the spring. The coverage of the Libyan conflict generated from within, as noted by the Prime Minister this week, doesn’t provide the same self congratulatory platform for the Allied/UN/US as those we have paternally initiated on the citizens behalf. Does anybody else wonder if colonialism has morphed rather than disappeared?

 The news item, that both irritates and saddens me most, is the challenge to access to abortion led by Nadine Dorrie. It is, in my view, a scandal that the issue has been allowed to get this far but on the other hand I do support free speech. And if we support a particular stance then we should accept that on occasions we will be challenged; if we believe in something we will have the answers even though these answers may not be the ones our opponents want to hear. It is the arrogant assumption that women use abortion as a convenient way out of a pregnancy we didn’t plan. Let’s face it we find ourselves, ashen faced, staring into the mirror with the positive pregnancy test in our hand simply because we couldn’t be bother to reach for a condom!  I bet there aren’t many of you reading this that hasn’t once in their life found themselves with that sinking feeling. The one that has you wracking your brains as to when it might have happened.

 Spinsters like me don’t often have to ponder this one for long; the date tends to be memorable largely because of its infrequent occurrence. My boudoir is not as busy as a bus station or even the bus stop on the green in Ambridge. Thankfully so; the physical and emotional upkeep mounts up with every passing year! And isn’t slipping your freshly bathed body into clean sheets about as reassuring? If it’s warm your after I can recommend an electric blanket or a pet!

 So I am secretly hoping sanctimonious Ms Dorrie gets a metaphorical kicking next week  – normally I am dismissive of the anti abortion lobby as it is frequently headed up by men from a religious background. But the fact Nadine is a woman and an intelligent one at that makes her stance all the more naive and offensive. OK let me just slip off my high horse as the saddle was beginning to chafe!

 Further to my observations about Gaddafi’s daughter, Hanna (or Hannah) the doctor; there have been yet more ‘revelations’ about her this week. Apparently in the weeks leading up to the rebels’ most recent surge she had been warning the hospital where she was working not to treat injured opposition soldiers. Yesterday another doctor in the hospital where she worked said she lacked a caring manner, noting that medicine was about more than treatment. Ms Dorrie might want to take note of this too.

 So darling readers I hope you are all ready for the autumn as schools return this week and the nights will surely begin to drawn in. Time to pull the drapes at 4 pm once more! But before you succumb to the change of seasons do join Ms Curneen and I for the Salon on the 26 September; I’ll be in touch again ladies…

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