Archives July 2020

The Blame Game

You’ll remember where we left it last week. I was down on my knees mopping up cream. Lizzie was earning a huge number of brownie points by helping.

My wife? She’d fled the scene. It wasn’t just the kitchen floor. Her jeans and her jumper had also received a generous helping of single cream.

One of those little pots, eh? You pour some on your strawberries and think, ‘Well, there isn’t going to be much for everyone else.’ Hurl it all over yourself and the kitchen floor and it’s like the loaves and fishes.

So my wife scuttled off upstairs to get changed. And then there was the inevitable inquest.

Some of you will find the next sentence impossible to believe: you may need to go and lie down for a while.

It was my fault Beverley threw cream all over the kitchen floor.

I was in the other room. I heard her cry of anguish. I rushed to help. See above – on my knees mopping the floor. But when the inquest was held…

“It was your fault. You hadn’t put the top on properly.”

Fast forward a few days. Lunchtime. A slice of toast and – assuming Alex hasn’t beaten me to it – the last of the cheese. I cut a large slice of my wife’s home made bread. And that’s all I need: one slice of home-made equals three slices of supermarket pap.

Well, you can’t slice bread without making crumbs. Someone’s left a piece of kitchen roll on the worktop. I grab it and clear them up.

That’s odd. My hands are greasy. Oily, almost. I wash them. Butter my toast. Clean up more crumbs with that convenient piece of kitchen roll.

Greasy hands again. Is it the butter? Or have I developed some sort of super power? ‘We’re saved! It’s Slippery Hand Man!’

I wash my hands again. Take my toast into the dining room. Tell my wife about this strange, oily/greasy/slippery phenomenon.

“You know I always grease the bowl for the bread. So it doesn’t stick. I use a bit of vegetable oil and a piece of kitchen roll.”

“…Which you left on the worktop.”

“If you say so.”

“So it’s your fault my hands are greasy.”

Ha! I have revenge for the cream. That’ll teach her.

“No, dear. It’s your fault for being stupid and not realising.”

Calmly and logically I point out that there’s no clear evidence about the cream pot crime. There are no witnesses. Only my wife’s supposition. Whereas Beverley very clearly left out her oily piece of kitchen roll.

Calmly and logically does me no good. The cream is my fault. Slippery Hand Man is also my fault.

Half an hour later I was plodding along the cliff top. An almost-forgotten incident floated back to me. An incident from long ago, in a hallway not very far away…

It’s 2003: Dan is 9, Eleanor is 7. And there’s been a small outbreak of hostilities. A touch of ‘Brotherly, Sisterly Love,’ as I called the column.

Eleanor, having inflicted some serious damage on her brother, has been sent packing to her bedroom. And what did I write?

Halfway up the stairs she pauses, sticks out her chin and yells, “He deserved it!”

Eleanor, Dan did not deserve that…”

Yes, he did. He was asking for it!”

Eleanor injures Dan: it’s Dan’s fault.

The gene has been passed on. So I may need to drive to Leeds. Have a word with Could Be Serious. They’re buying a house next year. “Sorry to tell you this. She’s a lovely girl. But if there’s cream on the kitchen floor…”

Or maybe he’s worked it out already…

The Cream Rises

As you may recall, my wife was a touch hyper last week. Lizzie was coming to visit and a decree had gone out from Caesar that the house was to be made spotless.

Naturally I played my part. Although the old short term memory must be playing up again – I can’t quite remember what I did.

Cleaned the shower? It was on my list but somehow Beverley beat me to it.

Cleaned the top of the cooker? That was my first job. Me and Mr Muscle. We’re old mates. Work well together. Did I actually do it? Er… see above.

Ah! It’s all come flooding back to me. I fixed the kitchen cupboard doors. A few of them were getting a touch loose. Didn’t want Alex’s new girlfriend wandering round with a cupboard door in her hand.

Actually… strike that word ‘new.’ I’m not sure when the relationship officially started – and obviously Alex sees no need to inform me – but early March is my guess. So they’re about four months in. And they spent six weeks of lockdown together.

I reckon a week spent locked down together is worth a month in normal life.

“More like a year, you mean.” May as well write it now: save my wife the trouble of adding it when she’s proofreading…

So not new to Alex. But new to us.

Eighteen months ago the Beloved Daughter came home with Could Be Serious. Now they’re looking at houses.

And here’s Alex. Walking out of the station with Lizzie. And he’s carrying her bag.

It’s one thing I admire in my youngest son. He’s a gentleman: he’s protective and considerate.

My dad must be looking down with a broad smile. He’d approve of Alex. “Walk on the outside,” he always said to me. “A gentleman always walks on the outside of the pavement.”

“Why?” I said.

“To protect the lady’s dress against splashes from a passing horse and cart. And so he has his sword-arm free.”

I was an argumentative, sarcastic little sod as a teenager. You can guess my response.

But now I’m older and wiser I realise the reason didn’t matter. It was a courtesy, a mark of respect, of caring. And I see that in Alex. He opens car doors. Small gestures, a hand on her shoulder. He’s solicitous, he cares. I love to see it.

Almost as much as I love to see cream all over the kitchen floor.

Monday night. Lizzie had cooked for us. A lovely meal – butternut squash risotto. One of the recipes that made sure Alex spent lockdown with a smile on his face.

Now we’re clearing away.

Suddenly there’s a blood-curdling scream from the kitchen.

Or maybe it’s not blood that’s curdling…

My wife, having told me that the house must be immaculate, has thrown a carton of cream all over the kitchen floor.

And herself.

I rush to the scene. To help? To clean up? Of course. Once I’ve dabbed some Germolene on this nasty outbreak of schadenfreude…

Lizzie is right behind me.

And that’s the test, ladies and gentlemen. Will she get down on her knees and help you swab cream off the kitchen floor?

The answer is an emphatic yes…

So I offer that sage advice to all parents who may be meeting a new boyfriend/girlfriend in the coming weeks.

Don’t bother with all that small talk. Don’t try and tease out details about their ambitions or their intentions or their future prospects.

Just throw a carton of cream on the kitchen floor. The next two minutes will tell you all you need to know…

The Cleanest Clean

I received a generous dollop of Cold Tongue Pie the other night.

I broke a dinner plate. But it wasn’t for that. Nope, it was because I broke the wrong dinner plate…

“I’ve broken a plate,” I confessed, already reaching for the hair-shirt.

My wife went into the kitchen. “You’ve broken the wrong one,” she said accusingly. “Why didn’t you break the one with the chip in it?”

Married life, eh? You think you’ve finally mastered it after 27 years and then you break the wrong plate…

But I have bigger fish to fry. Or should that be, bigger crayfish?

“How are you doing?” we asked Alex two weeks into lockdown.

“I’m good,” he said. “My flatmates have gone home and I’m locked down with Lizzie.”

Yep, two weeks into lockdown and our youngest son was marooned inside his flat with his new, Australian girlfriend.

“And what’s Lizzie doing?” we asked. “Writing an essay?”

“No,” he said. “She’s cooking a crayfish stir-fry.”

Well, you know what I’m going to write next. Lizzie is coming to visit. Tomorrow.

Which might explain my I have a looming appointment with the oven cleaner. And a screwdriver.

My wife has decided the house needs cleaning. And fixing. I was due to sort the shower out as well – or paddling pool as it was rapidly becoming – but she lost patience and did it herself.

But does it really need doing?

Will Lizzie even notice?

When I was a young lad – still at university – I went to stay at my girlfriend’s. I never once looked at the top of the cooker. There could have been a Komodo Dragon living in the kitchen and I wouldn’t have noticed.

The shower? Yep, I definitely had some thoughts about the shower, but they had nothing to do with how quickly the water was draining…

Bluntly, I only had one thing on my mind.

When were her damn parents going out for a walk?

Come on, the sun’s shining, you live five minutes from the beach. And go to the pub on the way back…

No chance. Christine’s father very pointedly sat in his armchair and turned the TV on. “That’s me settled in for the night,” he declared.

Why not say what you mean? ‘There’ll be no hanky-panky under my roof, young man. And don’t try anything in the night either. Heard you were coming. Installed some special creaky floorboards…’

I now realise there was a sub-plot. He was – I can barely write the words – from the South. He didn’t want to risk any Yorkshire blood in his daughter’s home counties pedigree.

Anyway, a few million gallons of water have flowed under the bridge, and here I am now cast in the role of grumpy old dad settling in for the night.

Except I’m not. I’ve already told my wife that we’ll be doing the decent thing and going for a tactical walk on the beach. Or more likely Beverley will be going to visit her mother and I’ll go and hide in the office.

But first things first. The oven…

And what do you know? She’s already done it. The top of the oven is immaculate. Glistening as the sun peaks in through the kitchen window.

“You’ve done it,” I said as Beverley came out of the shower. “I said I’d do it.”

“I just wanted it done and off the list,” she said.

But like with Christine’s dad and his creaky floorboards, there was a sub-plot. ‘I just wanted it done properly.’

When I clean something there are three stages. ‘Call that clean?’ Clean-ish and what I fondly imagine is ‘really clean.’

And then there’s cleaned by my wife…

Smoke on the Ceiling

I was on the phone. And I was fighting a losing battle.

“The book about Pepper is in Germany,” I said.

“What did you say?” came the reply. “All I can hear is a guitar.”

I finally made myself understood. My wife looked up from the other side of the dining room table. “Are you auditioning for MI5, dear?”

“What?” Sometimes the woman talks in riddles.

“The book about Pepper is in Germany…”

“Yes, Amazon printed the paperbacks in Poland. They go to Germany and then they’re flown to the UK.”

“You still sounded like an apprentice James Bond. What was the reply to your password? Ze cheese sauce for my cauli – fleur eez in Normandie?”

I let her cheap sarcasm pass. “It’s a wonder I can make myself understood at all,” I said, gesturing at the ceiling. “You can’t win against Jimmy Page.”

“Who?”

“Jimmy Page. Lead guitar in Led Zeppelin. I thought you knew a lot about music.”

“It’s Deep Purple,” she said.

“What is?”

Smoke on the Water.”

I checked on Google. So it was.

We were eating breakfast. But humble pie was still on the menu. And those of you who’d tagged me under ‘old so probably a heavy metal fan’ will need to revise your filing systems…

Alex has been home from university for two months now. He arrived with the avowed intent of teaching himself the guitar. He’s been as good as his word and – like all beginner guitarists – has been playing Smoke on the Water remorselessly.

So far, so good. A basic guitar he found in Dan’s bedroom and he was making progress.

And then disaster struck. Josh went back to college.

“Hell’s teeth,” I said. “What’s that? It sounds like the Rolling Stones are warming up.”

There it was again. Coming straight through the dining room ceiling. The clear, unmistakable sounds of an electric guitar.

We rushed up to what had once been our son’s bedroom and was now a recording studio.

“What’s that?” I said, staring at an electric guitar.

Alex did his best not to use the is-it-time-for-your-medication expression my wife and daughter have perfected. He didn’t quite manage it this time…

“An electric guitar,” he said proudly.

“And what’s that black box on the floor?”

“An amp.”

“So Josh has gone back to college and left you those?”

He nodded. I searched noise cancelling headphones on Amazon. Meanwhile I tried to work with Smoke on the Water running endlessly through my head.

“I think we should have Josh’s head on a spike for this,” I muttered.

“Don’t be silly. However loud he is he’s still quieter than Eleanor. Don’t you remember when she was learning the trombone?”

Do I ever? Two terms of purgatory when the school somehow cajoled the Beloved Daughter into trombone lessons. Just when she was at her bolshie-teenager phase as well.

“That’s it, Eleanor. I’ve had enough. Go up to your bedroom and stay there.”

And thirty seconds later she was standing outside the lounge door ‘practising’ the trombone.

But relief was at hand. Two days later the Music Gods smiled on me. Smoke gave way to Sunshine of your Love. Yes! Eric Clapton! One small step for my son, a giant leap for music.

I may even get Layla before he goes back to Edinburgh.

And let’s keep things in perspective. It may be a distraction but it’s still preferable to his First Serious Girlfriend coming round to “help me with my revision.”

But nothing ventured…

I thought I’d try that line on my lovely wife. “Help me with my proof-reading.” You’ll be astonished to hear that after 27 years of marriage it didn’t work…