The spoils of Houston
And so it came to pass that our overseas consignment arrived on Thursday 8th February, very possibly the only day of the winter when 4 inches of snow closed schools and brought roads to a standstill throughout the Midlands. Having assiduously followed the weather forecasts the night before we had really given up any expectation of the drop actually taking place but we had underestimated the economic imperative of our moving company. In any event, I was awake at 4am, washing and drying bedding at 6 am in anticipation of a 9 o'clock rental collection. At 9am on the dot Chris, the Devonian container driver, was at our doorstep but there was no sign of any other players, not even the container. This, it transpired, was parked around the corner on a wider, straighter road as Chris "don't dare" bring it in the Close "can't get turned round, see, not in these conditions". The packing crew were having difficulty leaving Croydon and the rental company weren't keen to risk the trip from Carpetbury (only 10 miles away) to pick up our borrowed goods, the snow kept on fallin' so it looked like everything would be on hold until the morrow. B rang international moving HQ in Liverpool to confirm the postponement only to be met with total incredulity, "Snow, what snow, we haven't got any here. (well, duh, that would be because you are in Liverpool and we are in Middletown some 150 miles to your SW) What's your problem? We have to go ahead today, cost too much not to". B threw in the towel, I threw a fit, the cat threw up and the delivery went ahead regardless.
Our unpackers, a motley but cheerful crew, finally arrived around 12.30 pm just ahead of the rental lot so for half an hour we had furniture going out and boxes coming in, doors wide open to the elements, carpets swathed in blankets and cling film and the cat safely closeted in the guest ensuite with his minder, Daughter No 3. Contrary to all dismal prognostication, the house gamely swallowed up not only all of the old stuff (and some of it was old 31 years ago when we first set up home) but also the Texan bought spoils including an 8 seater oak dining table with matching buffet and hutch (sounds so much more fun than "dresser" which is a chest of drawers to our transatlantic cousins). Boxes were another matter - 176 in all. All those innocent shopping trips to Ross and Marshalls had come home to roost with a vengeance and there was a distinct shortage of perches. I stood in the hall issuing instructions which were soon reduced to just 2 possibilities; a cosy fit in the "pink" (sunbaked terracotta sounded just a shade precious) bedroom or exile to the rapidly filling garage. About half way through the proceedings one of the guys with severe dental issues came to me with a tale about a night out and finishing off in the morning. "Wot a cheek", I thought, savagely buttering the last of our hot cross buns (remembered the sugar, forgot the biscuits, didn't I) "So they think they can skive off early for a night in the fleshpots of Middletown do they?" Later on, after a chat with "boss", proud owner of more than a couple of teeth, I was mentally swallowing humble pie with my cuppa as "a night out" was translated as a long and difficult job, necessitating an on site sleep-over, in this case in the back of the van, trussed up in cardboard and plastic sheeting. And all that on top of every delivery having involved taking the transit to Churchill Road, unlocking the container, loading up, securing same and coming back into the Close to unload, sometimes under the hail of snowballs lobbed by local disaffected youth. Boy, did these guys earn their crusts or Sainsbury's organic flapjacks, the HCBs having run out by mid afternoon.
Next morning I was up at 7 .45 am in anticipation of the crew's 8 o'clock arrival. We were old friends by now so I had no compunction in offering them a glimpse of my rather fetching Walmart plaid PJ's. Getting on for an hour later, I was serving B a cup of coffee and beginning to wonder if the crew had perished overnight (although we did let them have the blankets from the hall floor) when I noticed that the cat, last seen unconcernedly tucking into his breakfast, was missing. No big deal, he had to be in the house and was probably upstairs making his own arrangements to avoid the last of the unpacking - no more incarceration in a b****y bathroom, thank you very much. I climbed the stairs to oust Daughter Number 3 from her pit to effect a recognisance mission to find her already struggling into her beloved cowboy boots to effect an escape to Brighton. Not so fast, Lady, you have a job to do. She looked, I looked, whistled and cajoled, B dismantled the pink bedroom but all to no avail. In the meantime, the lads had turned up, apparently none the worse for their overnight ordeal and were rapidly loading discarded boxes stuffed with packing paper into the van. B looked stricken. "Where are those boxes going" he enquired with growing trepidation. "To the compactor, Mate, recycling, innit?". Now normally this would be music to his ears but as I looked into the whites of my partner's eyes, I instinctively knew that memories of a favourite bedtime story book, ("The Patchwork Cat" by Nicola Bailey) in which a beautiful tabby cat delves into a dustbin to retrieve his favourite blanket and ends up at the municipal tip were rapidly surfacing and about to prompt some desperate and street cred sacrificing action. At that moment a triumphant "Found Him" sang out from the furthest bedroom where William had been unearthed from between the twin mattresses of stacking single beds, a smear of tapenade between two hunks of bread. Saved from entering removers' folklore as the "the bloke who tried to rescue a non-existent cat from a fate worse than death" B prepared to take Daughter Number 3 (Cat Finder Number 1) to the station while I reinstated William in the guest bathroom and then repaired to the kitchen to brew up for the nth and last time. While I was there, in a hopeful but inevitably doomed gesture to the future, I was moved to hang up my "7 Habits of Very Effective People" calendar - motto for February, "Proactive people make love a verb". If pressed, I'll deny I ever wrote this, but sometimes, just occasionally, husbands make quite a good job of it too. William, however, tells me he is more than happy to go on record that he has always been of the opinion that a certain member of this family was at least one packing case short of a consignment.
And now to this episode's rant, my daughters' least favourite part of my diary. I would call it a "blog" but I see someone has beaten me to it and bagged a £70K book advance to boot - a steep sum, to my mind, for someone who writes about Northumberland as if it were on a par with Outer Mongolia but I guess that's what we get for making Geography an elective subject in our secondary schools. However, it is David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party and would-be Prime Minister, not a spoilt, exiled Londoner, who has excited my wrath or at least my disappointment. I had been eyeing him, admittedly not with any great enthusiasm, as a possible even acceptable (given the rest of the field) replacement for the obviously tired and increasingly tiresome Mr Blair but recent events have altered my opinion. It is not the assertion that he (and others) smoked pot at Harrow at the tender age of 15 but his surprisingly immature response to the inevitable leaking of said news. His insistence on the right to a "private past" and his petulant defensive stance in front of the media has done him no favours. In fact he behaved very much like your average pubescent schoolboy whose first line of defence, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, and especially when confronted by a red faced menopausal Librarian, is invariably a sullen, "It weren't me, Miss!" [What was Cate Blanchett thinking?! "Notes on a Scandal" is one of the scariest movies I've seen in a long time. It even (to my secret relief) shocked 27 year old Art teacher Daughter No 1, not to mention all those nice senior ladies who had presumably turned out in the expectation of seeing Judi Dench reprise one of her several matriarchal roles as Mrs Someone or other]. David Cameron did not, as far as I'm aware, deny the alleged incident but neither did he express any regret or, more importantly, accept ownership of his actions, however long ago they took place. I don't know that anyone who aspires to hold the most powerful position in the land can be afforded the right to a "private past". Where would he like us to draw the line, bullying, dishonesty, cowardice? If, as a famous (in my school days, anyway) Lakeland poet once opined, "the child is father of the man" we need to know what formative experiences and behaviours have shaped our present and future leaders. He may be an Oxbridge graduate, a husband, father and MP but as far as being a man about it is concerned, Master Cameron still has a ways to go.
And finally, for those of you who are now totally convinced I'm losing the plot or, at least, contemplating a move to Tunbridge Wells, I refer you to the excellent and now sadly (although, like his father, he has no self-pity) wheelchair bound John Mortimer whom I heard interviewed on Radio 4 (where else) the other morning. "If you're not outraged by at least one thing every week," he ever so gently asserted, "you might as well be dead."