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Sunday, 24 February 2013

It's not my job...

In every household, everyone has a job that is their job, that causes bucketsful of resentment when anyone else in the family is asked to do it. My son puts out the bins. When he’s not here or tries to fob it off on the daughter, she digs in her heels with a will that could see small countries invaded.
The daughter is in charge of writing birthday cards and wrapping presents. If asked to fold a triangle and stick his thumb on it, the son makes sure that the Sellotape takes on a life of its own, collecting crumbs, dog hairs and bits of red fluff from my slippers. The husband – apart from the rather huge task of doing the day job - is in charge of watching the rugby and war films with the son. Whisper Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood or Tuilagi to me, my shoulders go up round my ears and I remember an urgent need to sort socks.
Despite all these years of feminism, most households I know fall roughly into gender stereotypes – the men do the cars, the lawnmowing and DIY and the women do the day-to-day cooking, cleaning and ironing with a few grey area tasks in between such as supermarket shopping and Sunday lunches. But not in our household. I was definitely a bloke in a former life. Checking of the tyres, filling up the windscreen washers, screwing handles back on all fall under my jurisdiction, partly to stop the husband appearing with a mallet when a hammer is required and making one small job into several larger ones.
Husband's job: never to go near a nail
Image courtesy of foto76,
But one job that is definitely my job is anything disgusting. Recently, my happy little task was to unblock the drains. After a huge downpour and the slow joining of the dots in my brain, I had to stop pretending that those round lumps on the patio were anything to do with the dog and accept that I needed a man – or in this case, a woman – with a rod and a pair of large rubber gloves. The husband immediately started gagging, squealing like a girl, dancing about with the Yellow Pages and dialling Dyno-Rod. But weird as this might sound, I find a strange satisfaction in sorting things out, caveman-like. Do hope I don’t grow a hairy chest. I find it so fulfilling to get the manhole cover up, yank on some unidentified congealed blockage and have to sprint away for fear of being buried under an avalanche of excrement.
Similarly, every shower I’ve ever known appears to suck every last hair off my head with the sole purpose of weaving a hairy rat out of it and giving it a new home in the waste pipe. Never mind ecologically friendly drain clearers, a chap with a head torch and pickaxe would be hard pressed to find his way through the wig-rats that take up residence in our house. However, nothing is a match for me and my wire coat hanger. The unbridled joy of getting hold of one tiny little thread of hair and finding that a fat rat follows, a slippery little sucker glooping out into my plastic bag. Bliss.
Recently, we had our bathroom floor tiled. This led to a lovely little scene whereby I was playing table tennis with the daughter when the teenage son came mumbling out about there being some problem in the sitting room. I immediately assumed that there was a glitch with the X-Box, an evening ruining broadband crisis or some other tragedy relating to electronic what-nots. I was so engrossed in not ceding any ground to the daughter in the one sport I can still occasionally muster triumph that I nodded vaguely to the announcement that there was water pouring through the ceiling. Eventually, the words ‘Swimming pool on the sofa’ filtered through. In my moment of confusion, the dog seized the chance to dash off down the garden with the ping-pong ball, thereby transforming one disaster into a potential two…the ceiling waterfall plus the lodging of the ball in the dog’s windpipe. As I’ve said before, she does everything with such aplomb. Once we managed to swap a piece of sausage for the ping-pong ball I was free to concentrate on disaster number one.
Darling, shall I fetch the mallet?
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti,
Suffice to say, this is where I realised that everyone has clearly defined jobs, whichever household they live in. The tiler’s job was to put tiles on the floor in a straight line and grout them. It was not to know how to fix a pipe that had been nicked by a nail, identify an isolation valve or have a handy mate who was a plumber. The son’s job was to sit like the boy in the dyke legend with his thumb over the hole whilst moaning about missing Waterloo Road. The husband’s job was to scratch his chin whilst the wife sweated and screwdrivered off bath panels with not a little swearing.
But luckily, the wife’s job remit was a broad one which included identifying the household where the husband’s job was to know how to stop a leak, have the appropriate tools and the calm demeanour that meant he didn’t mind turning out at nine o’clock at night.
Can’t wait for that happy day when they identify me as the one who deals with drains…

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Big Shout Out

One of the things that strikes fear into my heart more than anything: will my children only remember the grumpy me rather than the sunny me?
The ranting about tinny music on too loud. The rancid socks littering floors and tables but not linen baskets. The leaving of the homework until the last possible minute only to find that we’ve run out of printer ink and now have to complete the email equivalent of landing a rocket on the moon to get the Jabberwocky homework printed out thus avoiding detention.
I only have to read the glorious Puffin Diaries – the honest and moving account of adopting two boys - to squirm about my lack of patience.
There’s nothing like the daughter arriving with a skirt missing a button five minutes before we need to get out the door to flip the madwoman switch.
Or suddenly remembering we needed to send in a donation today for the Harvest Festival for the old people’s home, which - as we haven’t planned for it - leaves the poor dears with the choice of a tin of artichoke hearts, some chestnut puree or a bag of goji berries.
Or algebra homework that involves me searching on the internet for how on earth we can possibly work out ‘n’ or ‘y’ while son pretends to be studying text book but is actually fiddling with mobile phone, leading to a weird scenario where I get so cross, the dog thinks it’s a game and starts jumping about barking and generally hindering the maths solving dilemma.

Then I've only got history, English,
Latin, French, DT and a volcano to make before tomorrow
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at
Of course, the fallout from this is that I then imagine that every mother in the world is sewing on name tapes while whistling tunes from The Sound of Music, dashing with great gusto to the recorder concert without making a joke about bringing earplugs and clapping her hands and saying, ‘What fun!’ when the son asks if he can have a house party - ‘Not many of them have girlfriends, so there won’t be too much making out.’ Least likely statement to get you what you want, right there.
I take comfort from the fact that you’ve only got to have a conversation with a sibling to know that we all remember things so differently. For all our memories have in common, we might as well have lived in different houses, in different eras, with different people.
So hopefully, when the son says, ‘Mum was always shouting,’  the daughter will looked puzzled and say, ‘Of course she wasn’t. She danced to Abba songs and made crumbles and told us she was so lucky to have us.’
Or maybe he’ll be the one to remember that when the chips were down, the person you really wanted on your side was the ferocious Mamma whose mantra was ‘There’s not a single problem we can’t solve together if you tell me the truth.’
And if all else fails, I simply console myself that the first time they get bawled out by a boss at work, they’ll just shrug and think, ‘If you think that’s scary, you should see my mother….’