Sunday, August 31, 2008

The rat files - Episode II

Adam, the Rentokill chap, returned this week to attend to 'Stage II' of our rodent elimination process. It sounds a lot more impressive than it was. It simply involved him checking his traps, saying there was some mouse activity, and putting a bunch of deodorising sachets down the hole which the rat inhabits. These sachets are quite effective - strong enough to disguise the smell of rotting rats and mice, according to Adam. He told me he regularly uses them in situations such as ours where there is a possibility that the rodents are unable to exit and return to their nests to die, and so do so while trapped within/beneath the confines of your abode.

Yes, lovely image there: Our happy little family enjoying breakfast in our sun-filled kitchen, and then the camera pans down lower and lower till it descends to the scene beneath the floorboards - a dark, musty, and strangely perfumed battlefield of rodent death and decay.

Adam has a jaded air about him, as I imagine one would have were you to poison things and then retrieve their corpses for a living. He did however cheer up when talking about the fact that he and his wife are expecting a baby.

He said that they had already purchased their stroller and went on to tell me that it was great because it was easy for his missus to fold up. That seemed to be their only requirement when choosing - that the apparatus folded up easily. "It fits into her life, you see," he told me looking enthusiastic.

I mused that we too were like Adam and his wife once upon a time, foolishly thinking that all the things we were getting for baby were about our lives and how well these items, and indeed baby, would fit into them. And how we'd bundle her under our arm and continue with life as we had up until this point and nothing really needed to change.

Which brings me back to the adjective, 'foolishly.' When you have a baby, in fact the second you have that baby, it is not about them fitting into your life, but about you completely reorganising, reshaping, and overhauling yours to accommodate them. Babies, for their size, are incredibly life changing and not unlike a hurricane - you can prepare for their arrival to an extent, but you just don't really have a clue what to expect until it is upon you.

Still, there are rewards, and no this is not just something parents invent to make themselves feel better about the fact that they no longer have a social life and have to watch the Teletubbies instead of the Hallmark Channel. You see your child changing and learning new things almost daily, and getting pleasure and excitement out of the smallest and what seem like the simplest things. I watch Julia crawling around and playing before her bath, naked, and she is absolutely free and beautiful in her own skin. She doesn't know anything about body image or shame or feeling embarrassed. It is breathtaking to imagine, even for a moment, being so utterly without bullshit hangups and insecurities.

Unfortunately as soon as she is able to talk and understand and come into contact with other children, this will change. Children who, like their parents, are intolerant and ignorant to the concept that other people and indeed the world can be different to them and that this is a good and fine thing. Having grown up in a country where bigotry and intolerance were so thoughtlessly passed between parent and child, I mean to make a concerted effort to ensure our child doesn't suffer the same gift of supreme ignorance at our hands.

But I am getting far too serious and it's not in my nature, unless I am drinking a rather fine glass of red wine. Which, unfortunately, I am not. I've decided to limit myself to a couple of nights a week simply because all that fine vintage is going straight to my middle. It's quite incredible the havoc we can wreak on a perfectly fine body through over indulgence. And don't even get me started on my latest preoccupation with baking, which isn't helping matters.

Separately, is anyone else completely and utterly intrigued with the Foster fire in Shropshire case? I know it's terribly morbid, but I have a feeling in my wannabe forensic psychologist bones, that this is going to turn out to be a very sad and twisted tale of murder, betrayal and lies. The latest news is that of the two burnt bodies that were found, one has been identified as Jill Foster, with the post mortem revealing a gunshot wound to the head.

My theory is murder and then a cover-up by virtue of fire. The corpses of dogs and horses were also found with gun shot wounds, leading me to postulate that whoever did so did it as an act of compassion to the animals so that they would not have to suffer a painful death in the flames. This lends itself to a possibility that the person/s responsible were intimately involved with or indeed a part of the family.

Until the other body has been identified, said to be that of an adult man, Christopher Foster and his 15-year-old daughter Kirstie are still considered missing.
As a well as Jill Foster's body, which was identified from her dental records, an adult man's body was recovered on Saturday, though further tests are needed before a positive identification can be made.

A rifle, legitimately owned by the businessman, has been found near the bodies as was the body of dog, which was also shot.

A further three horses and three dogs found in the mansion's outbuildings were shot before the fire broke out, while spent and unspent gun cartridges have been found in the mansion's grounds. (Reuters) Continue reading.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The rat files - Episode 1

The Rentokill man, a young fellow of about 24 named Adam, turned up at our house last week to start the ominous-sounding 'Stage 1' of our rodent elimination process. That's really a very nice way of saying that they are going to poison whatever is under our floor so that it dies a slow horrible death. Three days I believe - three days of agonising pain and then they die from external and internal hemorrhaging.

"Jesus, can't we just catch it and let it out in our neighbours yard?" I asked, looking mortified at what I was about to be an accomplice to. "Well," said Adam, hand on his hip, cup of coffee in hand, "the thing is, these rats carry disease. I've seen people taken very ill from rat bites." I doubted he had, but I imagine it's part of Rentokill protocol to give the soft-hearted housewife this spiel. And yes, I'm sure that some of them do carry diseases, so again, why not just let them out in our neighbours yard?

It got worse. "He might be down there alone, or he might have a family, but this stuff should take care of all of them," said Adam, thinking that the whole family line would make me imagine lots of rats and therefore make me less empathetic and more mercenary. Like I'd say, "Yeah, go ahead, annihilate the f***ers!" Instead I said, "Family? Who said anything about a family? Oh god," imagining a motley crew in Beatrix Potter Dickensian garb trying to make their way in a harsh world, i.e. the space under our kitchen floor.

Adam went on and on about disease and bites, and looked at me, and then at Julia, and I saw his point. I just wish there was another way, a quicker one that didn't involve them having to suffer such a long painful drawn out death. It genuinely unsettles me.

I also learnt that although rats live in filthy environments, they don't actually eat filth, or rather, given a choice, they don't. They much prefer cleaner things like grain, rice, that sort of thing. They are also apparently partial to peanut butter (them and Milla Jovovich is would seem), and crispy dry bacon. And as for mice and their love of cheese? Complete myth, according to Adam - they have no interest in it.

So that was my rodent 101 introduction. And instead of a manicure or nice client-paid lunch to look forward to this week, I have Adam returning to see if he's managed to catch anything in his traps, and to spot any mutilated corpses.

God forgive me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I don't think we're alone now

There are certain things you dread hearing from your plumber. For example, "That will be 250 quid please," following a 30 minute callout only to discover it was a simple washer replacement that you could have done yourself. Another might be, "I don't know what it is, but there's something a lot bigger than mice down there," when referring to the space under your kitchen floor he's investigating for a nasty smell. Only in our case the latter isn't just a humorous horrible scenario, but reality. Our plumber actually said to me, "I don't know what it is, but there is something a lot bigger than mice down there."

I probably don't need to illustrate how that made me feel. I will say this much however - I'm not sleeping very well at night. I have visions of this creature coming up through the hole the plumber made in order to send his scope down, damply creeping up the stairs, and greeting me with a sewage infused toothy grin on my pillow.

Oh, and did I mention we have a lot of damp down there too? Damp and something large that isn't a mouse. One can only imagine the night-time goings on under our kitchen - an Attenborough narrated nightmare. Actually I'd rather not. The Rentokill assessment man (strangely stressed in a suit and tie?) assured me that whatever it is, it isn't in the house itself, just beneath it. Yes, because that makes me feel A LOT better.

This creature managed to chew its way through one of the electrical cables, resulting in the main switch that the fridge, our dishwasher, and a whole lot of plug sockets connect to, continuously tripping. Fortunately the electrician was able to mend that particular problem on the same day. But still, what ambition to chew your way through a thick electrical cable. Who knows what else it may be capable of? I need to remember to log out of my email at night.

We had the chaps that flush out the pipes over yesterday evening too. They take their job very seriously and insisted on showing us what had been causing the blockage. As they reached into the wet filthy bag I felt a sensation of dread come over me, imagining them hauling out the dead carcass of our unwanted visitor's friend. I mean, if you are going to chew through electrical cables, murder and betrayal may not be far off right? I wouldn't put it past him. Yes, I've decided it's a male. Only a male could be responsible for that ghastly smell that rises up through the kitchen sink. Fortunately what we were shown was not a furry mutilated corpse, but a few bits of brick and concrete, evidence that previous builders had been careless with where they chucked their waste.

So yes, it's all fun and games out our lovely new home at the moment. An ominous smelly creature living beneath our kitchen floor, a lot of damp, chewed-through electrics, and blocked pipes - now (we pray) unblocked.

We visited Yo Sushi at Brent Cross for lunch today. A smartly-dress woman and her husband in their 60's arrived and sat down next to us. She only ate a bit of whatever her husband took off of the rotating belt (which wasn't much), and there was a lot of serious discussion as to what that would be. It seemed to me they were deciding on what would be least offensive, rather than what looked most tasty. I wondered why they had chosen a restaurant which clearly presented them with such anxiety provoking choices, and decided that perhaps, in their retirement, they had made a conscious decision to live life on the edge.

Roberto and I are off to Center Parks for our vacation with Julia in a few weeks. My god, Center Parks. I never thought I'd see the day. I'm not being a snob, I hear it's quite a smart holiday to spend with your kids and it's not cheap. But yes, it doesn't exactly smack of glamour and adventure does it? The brochure does promise a lot of interesting activities like horse riding, archery, and rock climbing etc. Then there's the crockery painting and water colour classes.

I think our days of finding a bar in Paris and perching until we've sampled all the cocktails are well and truly behind us, because lets face it, that's really living life to its glamorous adventurous max. Or at least, its alcoholic max. But yes, it's probably more sober wholesome breaks until Julia decides she's too old to go on holiday with her sad old parents, or when she's 18 and we decide it may be safe to get a hotel babysitter.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Croissants, crazies, and cakes

This morning I was sitting in Cafe Rouge, trying to eat a croissant and feed Julia at the same time (not an easy task), when a young woman at a nearby table started talking on her phone. Talking is a polite way of putting what she was doing. More like shouting in a loud crazy way and using the F word a lot. Now I'm a firm believer that there are times when use of the F word is absolutely necessary when conducting a discussion - like when your crack dealer is attempting to short change you in a Soho alleyway, for example. But on this occasion the restaurant was full of children and it was plainly distasteful.

This is the information I could gather from her rantings to a poor soul called Danny who it seems was driving on the motorway at the time: She had maxed out all of her credit cards, had enormous amounts of debt, and had thirty pounds to her name. Not sure why you would go to Cafe Rouge for a coffee when you are down and out, but there you go. Also, not sure how wise it is to loudly exclaim how broke you are when you have just ordered something in a restaurant. I imagine the waiters were thinking - 'Yep, this one is definitely going to be a non-tipper.'

She was being thrown out of her flat and her parents had cut her off despite her repeated attempts to pull her life together. Her parents were also refusing to clear her debt. Oh yes, and her mother was a twisted evil bitch that could not be trusted (I'm qouting here).

She was losing her hair, and her mind, and didn't even have the money to have a haircut. She said the last as though her sanity and personal happiness depended on it. I reflected briefly on my own state of mind when my roots get really bad, and felt an element of sympathy for her on this point.

As the ranting continued it became clear that her family, her friends, indeed the whole world was conspiring against her, and she herself had absolutely nothing to do with the terrible circumstances she found herself in. In short, she was a victim - and the worst kind.

Eventually she got so loud and profane that the manageress calmly walked up to her, asked if she was OK, and then suggested she might prefer to continue her conversation outside. The whole thing was flawlessly conducted, coming across as helpful and considerate when in effect she was being thrown out. She apologised and carried on yelling and swearing as she walked out, leaving behind her half-drunk, unpaid-for latte behind. I think the staff saw it as a worthy sacrifice to be rid of her, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I had visions of getting home and hearing Julia utter her first words, "F**** her Danniiiiii!"

And finally, here is one of the funniest blogs I've seen in a long time - cakewrecks. It's cake decorating gone wrong when left up to eejit bakers (like my favourite one above), bad taste cake decorating (is there any other kind?), and just some weird shit you most definitely wouldn't want to eat. A big thanks to Gareth 'Hussein' for the tip.

Pic c/o cakewrecks

Sunday, August 10, 2008

These (overpriced) boots are made for walking

I bought myself a pair of MBT's yesterday - that's the Masai Barefoot Technology trainers, developed by a Swiss engineer. Yes because when I think Masai, I think trainers, and more so, I think Swiss trainers.

I had seen them featured in a magazine a few years ago, accompanied by a picture of Jemima Khan wearing a pair - all long, leggy and trim. The blurb waffled on about how these 'revolutionary' trainers are supposed to give you good posture, a great butt, and work out your legs and stuff just by walking around in them. But let's not kid ourselves here, clearly it was Jemima's tight cricket-loving bottom that was doing the selling.

The sales person in the shop (enviably toned and young) told me that you get a DVD when you buy your MBT's showing you the best way to walk in them, and what exercises you can do to maximise their benefit. Exercises? Who said anything about exercises? I'm always suspicious of any kind of footwear that's accompanied by literature. Exercise indeed.

I bought them because I do a lot of walking every day (as you do when you have a baby), and have a bad back too (ditto). I figured I needed some decent foot kit to ensure I'm not doing more harm than good, and if that kit also happens to help with butt firmness, then why not? God knows I can use all the help I can get in that department. Then there's the fact that they have this platform thing going which means even though you are wearing flats, you look a lot taller, albeit in a Tom Cruise hidden lifts kinda way.

I decided to wear them for the walk home. It felt as though I had springs attached to my feet, and steep downhill bits were a bit tricky - kind of like you are about to topple over in ski boots. But, to be fair to the hype, I did find myself, quite unconsciously, tightening my stomach muscles. I think it was out of sheer terror of falling forwards on my face, but if my abs (what abs?) get a workout, then I suppose that's a bonus.

We met up with good friends on Sunday for lunch and talk turned to putting Julia's name down for schools. Again. My god it's anxiety provoking. Apparently we are too late for one school, because you really have to put your child's name down when you are pregnant . So nearly 8 months is like way to late - I mean, stupid us for now knowing right? And that's just the baby school, never mind the junior and senior ones. God knows it's a taste of things to come. When I was a kid we went to the local school that was closest to where we lived, which also meant we could walk home if my mom got tied up. I think the latter being the sole requirement when my parents were choosing. We were thrown together with a motley crew of individuals - some academically ambitious, others aspiring thugs, and those were just the teachers.

I found a local place that does baby activity classes. It's an opportunity to break the incredibly repetitive and often insanely brain draining dullness of your day - at least that's how I think Julia feels about life with me - and meet other babies and their mothers. The first one I went to was a sort of music class. I didn't know what the hell was going on, and while the other babies dutifully went through the motions, Julia used it as an opportunity to crawl up to them in an attempt to scalp them or gouge out one of their eyes. I simply banged along on my tambourine with the other mothers, smiling like an eejit, and trying to look as though I fit in.

By the second class, Julia already knew what to do, far better than I did, but this time we were with older children and I had to protect her from getting scalped and having her eyes gouged out. It's definitely a baby eat baby world out there.

My sister and her son are visiting us at the moment. He is seven and very articulate and in touch with his feelings. This pretty much involves daily, sometimes thrice daily, announcements that his mother is showing more affection to Julia and that he is jealous.

Kids are amazing. As adults we never admit to jealousy. Instead we put our partners or friends through passive aggressive hell making them feel as though they are the ones at fault for our crippling insecurities. I tried to explain to him that jealousy was not something inflicted by another person, i.e. his mother, but a choice and something one had a degree of control over, granted with the help of a many years of expensive therapy . Bearing in mind that people three times his age would find this concept inconceivable, I thought he received it pretty well, "Yeah OK, but she still makes me jealous."

Finally, a HUGE congratulations to our friends on their engagement. Looking forward to the celebrations guys. Of course this means finding a babysitter that I can trust with our child. Oh dear god ... .

Monday, August 04, 2008

Top Gun - the true story

If you can't see the clip, click here.

A big thanks to Roberto for the tip :-)