Merchants in Houston - Chapter 4

This is a first - composing an email at leisure on my own computer in the study of our American house instead of on the hoof in office receptions and hotel business centres with other users breathing down my neck and inimical systems threatening to terminate my session at any moment. Can't promise any improvement in quality but quantity may vary according to the demands of the washer/dryer or the lure of the pool. It is great to be finally settled in a house and start living a "normal" life. I had a lovely time last Saturday just doing a bit of ironing here, a spot of cooking there while Brian entertained the plumber and then the electrician, one or two things still requiring attention in our "immaculate" house which no English cat was allowed to sully. Sorry - this still rankles, particularly since Brian discovered a jumbo sack of cat litter in the back of the garage. Just 'cos some people couldn't look after their animals properly.... Anyway the visits of the American Homeshield reps proved 100% satisfactory - toilet and fridge now in full working order - and also rather gratifying. The plumber said "you folks got this place fixed up real nice" and the electrician, who looked all of 15 (interesting pantomime as Brian professed to know nothing about all things electrical to find out how much he knew) pronounced it "real homey". While I was simply content to bask in this unsolicited praise and contemplate fishing out the silver polish, it had the unfortunate effect of sending My Dear Husband off on one of his periodical flights of fancy regarding all my missed opportunities for making big money and thus facilitating his early retirement. On this occasion I am to set up as an interior decorating consultant to the tasteless home owners of suburban America, sort of Martha Stewart meets Linda Barker. Startling as this suggestion may appear to the uninitiated ie those who had no idea that Brian is a chronic suffer of Walter Mittyitis by Proxy, I remained calm, knowing that persistent indifference on my part will kill the proposal stone dead before the day is out. In similar fashion I have, over the years, successfully despatched the notions that I could/should have been a Page Three model (OK, we're talking over 30 years here, remember), a prize winning quiz show contestant, a best selling novelist, a cattery owner (no thanks, one litter tray is enough) and now the female equivalent of Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen! This is, of course, when I'm not being castigated for my general lack of usefulness to the human race as a "Caterpillar of the Commonwealth" (Richard II, Act ? Scene?? as all you literary types will immediately recognise and Brian's one and only Shakespearean quote which somehow managed to net him a grade A in English Literature 'O' level while my single algebraic equation barely got me a pass in maths), a drone, sloth and, a perennial favourite this, a Complete Waste of Space. Before you all leap to my defence, I must reassure you that my tried and tested method for quashing unrealistic expectations is equally effective in disarming these unjustified calumnies and anyway Brian has not had an easy ride himself since we took up residence in Memorial Northwest, surviving (self-inflicted) ordeals by Fire and Flood no less.

Fire: After a pleasant interlude pretending to be Jo from Little Women while sweeping the pine needles from our front walk with a sweet little besom acquired in Wal-Mart, I entered the kitchen the other day to find Brian acting out his own version of a different but equally well-loved classic of children's literature. Offering a more than passable impersonation of Mole after a hard night on the cocoa, he was discovered feeling his way around the Family Room, eyes tight shut, arms outstretched, enquiring piteously if he had any eyebrows left. Peering through the haze of scorched fur I was able to reassure him on that score but, Toadlike, couldn't resist remarking that the hair loss programme appeared to have undergone a five year acceleration, te he he. What, no sympathy?, I hear you cry. Well, even a Complete Waste of Space knows it is not a good idea to test an unfamiliar gas appliance by turning the fuel supply full on then sticking your head inside to look for a non-existent pilot light while holding a lighted match, don't they? I must say, unlike its hapless operator, the gas log fire looked quite magnificent and I shall look forward to that when temperatures drop below freezing of a winter's night. Hard to imagine when you're typing this at 88 degrees in brilliant October sunshine.

Flood: Following his unhappy experience with fire, attention has now been turned to all things aquatic of which The Pool (lovely, lovely pool) is naturally an important but not exclusive interest. The apparently moribund garden sprinkler system has required intervention not only from Brian but also from the delightfully named Toncho (Tonto meets Poncho!), cousin of the former yardman Angel who prefers to be known as Ramon, got it? Even after a visit from the Mexican connection results were still not deemed satisfactory so on our way out to the car en route to a downtown restaurant Brian decides to give one recalcitrant nozzle just one more chance to do its stuff. Oh yes, thar she blows, all over his nearly new chinos, painstaking washed and ironed by the Sloth that very afternoon. Fortunately, harsh words from the wife apart, this was not the severe shock to the system you might anticipate as Brian is no stranger to wet trousers these days. Polaris, our sweet underwater vacuum cleaner, or pool dog as he is affectionately known, has a cute little habit of surfacing just as the Master walks past and spraying right up his leg. Now he has my sympathy. I've lost count of the times poor Polaris been summoned to the poolside for minor adjustments to improve his work operation and no doubt Brian has further increased his inferiority complex by telling him that if only he applied himself, a brilliant career as a nuclear submarine could be his for the asking. Apparently impervious to the inherent resistance of American installations to impertinent British interference, Commander Merchant had one more trick up his sleeve. Delivering the afternoon Earl Grey to the poolside on Sunday I was greeted by the sight of My Dear Husband, for once appropriately attired in swim gear, lying on his stomach at the side of the pool, his eye jammed against one of three plastic spouts which, he assures me, with only a little coaxing, will send a playful fountain dancing across the water to the delight of swimmers and spectators alike. While I none too gently reminded him that we were not yet registered with a doctor in Houston let alone familiar with the whereabouts of an ophthalmic surgeon, I suddenly underwent a startling revelation as to the origin of my mother in law's hitherto unfathomable but equally unshakeable conviction that young children are a curse and a torment to be endured until they become old enough to be useful or better still, move 200 miles away with an unsuspecting young spouse at which safe distance and with the passage of time, they mysteriously metamorphose into a "marvel" and a "rock".

But I digress.... and how, I hear you long suffering readers sigh. And once again I have failed to deliver any information regarding the flora, fauna or opportunities for sporting daring do in the Houston area. There are, I think, 2 reasons for this thoroughly reprehensible omission.

1) Our lives are sad and continue to revolve around house, work and the s......g word. I could add pool to this miserable list but you will only hate me more although I could soften the blow by adding that the water temp is currently a "refreshing" 25 degrees and I used to moan when the local Sports Centre pool didn't get above 28.

2) I have no familiar with whom to commune and console. It is heartbreaking to think how many opportunities to scowl, smirk and roll on your back with legs akimbo at the antics of "that man" have been denied to my poor dear exiled William.

So, more than enough for Chapter 4. I must go and feed the workers, Brian (foreman) and Tom (labourer and BF Number 3)), who have had a very productive morning changing the light bulb in the front porch (20ft up) with a special telescopic tool purchased from - you guessed it- Walmart and mowing the front lawn under the incredulous and disdainful eye of the truck load of Mexicans who apparently hold the contract for every other yard in the street. Daughter Number 3's visa is on its way to Brighton as I write so she should be on tomorrow's flight, only three days behind schedule.

Love to you all from the Merchants about whose domestic life you now know more than you ever needed, or wanted.

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