Merchants in Houston - Chapter 6

Dear All

Do you remember a winsome little ditty about a mouse who lived in a windmill in Old Amsterdam? Well, how about a giant cockroach in the NW Houston suburbs? Doesn't quite have the same ring to it somehow. The other afternoon Boyfriend No 3 came to me and reported that while washing up (finally got 'em trained!) "something" has run across his foot and disappeared under the dishwasher. "Righty oh", I somewhat dismissively replied, 9/10ths of me still kneeling with Scarlett wrestling her conscience at Miss Melly's deathbed (yes, progress has been slow). A couple of hours later, seated at supper within a foot or so of the dishwasher, that "something" caught my eye. Readers, I screamed and while not actually leaping onto my chair elevated my feet and legs several feet in the air. On the other side of the table, the other female in the room immediately followed suit, interspersing shrieks with demands to know "what?" and "where?". Yup, that's it", said Boyfriend, with only the merest hint of "I told you so". Prone as I am to the occasional slight exaggeration this thing was, I swear, a minimum of 2 inches long, and fat - well, we are in Texas after all. Even as, in awful fascination, we followed the progress of the "thing" along the base of the breakfast bar, it began to flex an enormous pair of wings. That was it - on the floor was one thing but airborne....! Quick as flash I threw a handy piece of paper over it while almost simultaneously, and acting with uncharacteristic alacrity, Brian wrenched off his flip flop and dealt it a hammer death blow to the head. Phew! "Will someone please tell me what it was?! came the plaintive voice from across the table.

During the clearing up operation I was dismayed to discover that the handy piece of paper was not, as I thought, yet another advertising insert from the pages of the Houston Chronicle but in fact the print out of a newly received email from Christopher Prime (still my very favourite of the might have been sons in law), detailing his exploits as a stand- in photographer for Vogue at a recent London fashion show. Oh dear. Still this was only another of several occasions when Chris has come to the aid of the Merchant clan. In particular, I was put in mind of one incident which took place about 6 years ago at dead of night at the end of our stay in an isolated farmhouse in the depths of the SW French countryside. Alerted by She who, in the wee small hours, can hear a pin drop five miles away and compute this as a hoard of brigands intent on rape and pillage breaking into the house, hotel, cottage, caravan, tent etc , Chrisopher, clad only in a sarong and armed with some sort of miniature entrenching tool which he somewhat disconcertingly had conveniently to hand, sprang Crocodile Dundee-like into the pitchy dark without a second's thought for his personal safety or sleep deprivation. Some 15 minutes earlier I had, of course, first appealed to my own dear husband who had turned his back on me with some typically selfish rebuttal like "For Pity's sake, Woman, I have to get up and drive you all to Paris first thing in the morning!" Chris no doubt wished he had thought to employ a similar excuse when, on returning as suddenly and silently as he had left to report the successful rout of a pair of over amorous foxes, he received not the hero's welcome he anticipated (and deserved) but a clout to the head from a floor mop wielded by the soon to be ex-girlfriend's mother. And to think he is still speaking to us! I see I have fallen into reminiscence mode once again. What does this say about me and the ageing process? At least I've only taken you back to the summer of 1997 this time as opposed to the winter of 1963 - now wasn't that the year of the legendary snow fall....?

So what of the here and now? Well, as most of you already know a posse of 6 (including Boyfriend and Daughter's Old School Friends) took a road trip (7 hours) to New Orleans at the beginning of December. The drive was not as tedious as I had feared, the road (there is only one) being very straight and the car rather powerful but then I wasn't squashed in the back. Although pretty featureless for the majority of the route, the scenery became more interesting after Baton Rouge where the freeway is built on stilts over a series of swamps and, as we neared New Orleans, I was thrilled to skirt the southern shores of Lake Pontchartrain of The Be Good Tanyas fame. Pity I'd forgotten to take the CD. Once established in New Orleans, between us, we did a host of touristy things like the Historic French Quarter, the Aquarium, street car rides, mule and buggy ride, Mississippi River steamboat trip, lethal cocktails at Pat O'Brien's Bar, dinner at Dickie Brennan's steak house, seafood at the Cafe Royale, cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde, trad jazz at the Preservation Hall, Blues at the legendary Blue's Bar etc etc. Still to be done: swamp and plantation tours, a tour of the mansions of the Garden District and a night at Harrah's Casino, something for the summer, I hope. While Brian and I enjoyed the luxury of a hotel on the edge of the Business District, the "kids" spent 2 nights in an International Hostel some 22 blocks away. Barn-like, cold, spooky and apparently deserted, this former Civil War hospital was not, I felt, the ideal accommodation for our young people and after the school friends' return to Houston, I am only slightly ashamed to admit that I coerced my husband into removing Daughter No 3 and Boyfriend from this "character building" experience to the safety of our hotel by appealing to his colleague, Manny la Bella, a gentle teddy bear of an American, raised in Venezuela by Sicilian parents. In response to my enquiry as to whether he would abandon his 16 year old daughter (the wonderfully named Angelica la Bella) to such spartan and potentially dangerous conditions, he fixed me with his brown velvet gaze and, in a scene straight from The Godfather, pronounced quietly but inflexibly, "That would never happen". Girls, chills, and thrills, ran up and down my spine. This was it! Why had I not had the forethought to marry into the Mafia?! Joking apart, New Orleans, like virtually all American cities, is a dangerous place, especially for tourists and sadly a Seattle delegate to the Work Boat Show was mugged and murdered just 2 streets from our hotel in a hitherto "safe" area. You really can't be too careful.

At the end of November we enjoyed the official rehearsal for Christmas, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. Apart from an excuse for over indulgence this forerunner to the Main Event provides some useful reminders without which Christmas dinner could prove something of a disaster, in this household at least. Lessons learned to date:

1) Before preparing your turkey for the oven, DO remember to check you have a tin to put it in and DON'T forget that you consigned your battered receptacle of some 20 years' service to the dustbin in Middleton because you were going to buy a new one in Houston.

2) Before sending your husband out at the 11th hour to purchase a new tin, DO first measure your oven.

3) DON'T attempt to wrest the over-sized turkey tin from the oven in order to check on the progress of its occupant while wearing a white linen skirt and no pinny.

4) As above but for "white linen skirt" substitute bathing costume, especially important if you have just failed (for the third time) to be accepted by an American doctor.

5) DON'T imagine, however many times you have done it before, that it will be a cinch to knock up a pumpkin pie while struggling with an unfamiliar food processor, a hangover and a temper still frayed by the turkey tin debacle.

And so we look forward to Christmas..... The two trees (mandatory) are already in place: one (pink and gold) artificial (or "permanent" as we must refer to it here) in the family room; the second (red and green) real (and already shedding needles) in the dining room. Window poles are seasonally swagged, courtesy of Wal-Mart and my two reindeer are currently nodding and twinkling in the breakfast area, awaiting their installation in the front yard this weekend where they will join the herds already gracing (or should that be grazing) our neighbours' yards. The Cable man cometh tomorrow so we will no longer be forced to watch ER through a permanent snowstorm, even the scenes with Carter in the Congo (oh, sorry, I don't suppose you've had those yet). The Christmas puddings and cake were brought over in October and Daughter No 2 is entrusted with the delivery of bread sauce and stuffing mix and a bottle of duty free Cointreau for some really special margaritas. She and her Old School Friend arrive at Bush, separately but hopefully within an hour of each other next Wednesday afternoon and we can't wait to see them. The official guest suite with the cute cat appliqued quilt set is already prepared, ditto a twin room for Daughter No 1 and Childhood Friend although no date yet set for their arrival.(No, I'm not nagging!) Daughter No 3 and Boyfriend are in New York until Monday night and probably ice skating in Central Park as I write, lucky things. In fact we have all been very fortunate to date in our move to the States and look forward to a happy and fun-filled Holiday with family and friends. We wish you all the same and very much appreciate all the emails, cards and phone calls we have received since our move. Please keep them coming and not only messages but also yourselves. Bookings now being taken for 2004!

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