Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Bugs' Life

Back in The Countryside, it is quarter past 12 at night when I discover the cockroach scuttling towards my toilet.

Who needs carpets anyway?
It's my first night in the non-Childhood Home back in Oundle. It would be difficult to imagine anything less likely to make me a fan of the New Place Down The Road (NPDTR). The place is quite short on carpets. And curtains. Also kitchen comforts, food, floorboards and doors. One thing we do have is - to MD's delight - one of those 'futuristic' [MD] ice-and-water dispensing fridges. 

But something else we seem to have acquired  is a pet cockroach. The house is dark and sinister. I retreat from the loo, feigning casual indifference lest it senses my fear. Dogface is in bed and, in any case, would be no use in the face of such a monster. The room is pretty short of useful bug-trapping accoutrements, crammed instead with boxes of childhood tat.

Eventually, tin in hand, I face the nonchalant bug. Cramming it inside, I lop off a couple of legs in haste. I assure you, dear Kate in the Countryside reader, the beast could hardly fit, so large was he. 

The following morning, leaving the bug beneath its box (with an additional bowl over that, for reinforcement), I tell MD: 'There's a cockroach in my bathroom MD.' 'No there isn't,' she says.

The good end. Fact.
Our former neighbours are visiting the NPDTR (see how friendly it was that end of Oundle...). 'There's a cockroach in my bathroom,' I repeat. 'Is it dead?' asks Lovely Neighbour 1 (LN1). MD shoots angry looks behind his back Mrs Bennet-like - don't mention the cockroach -which become frantic when LN1 offers to rescue the beast. 

Moments later, beetle unveiled, we all laugh at my bug-illiteracy: 'That's not a cockroach!' MD - who had been transfixed from fear at thought that The Countryside would know of her cockroach concerns - is nearly crying with relief. LN1 liberates the nonchalant bug onto some rubble, while Dogface skips about awkwardly, uncertain where he fits in the bug hierarchy. I can't concentrate: the rubble is a bit near my room for my liking.

Nearby Dogface is now worrying a wasp - my beetle is too tough. Stoically trying to munch the stingy beast, he gets whimpery and irate each time it fights back. Finally, the frustration is too much. He uses his last and most potent weapon. As MD squawks horrified, Dogface confidently pees on the wasp. In the middle of the new kitchen floor. He smiles his success.

Put outside, he barks at MD's new car. I know how he feels. We neither of us like change. A NPDTR neighbour pops his head around the corner, ostensibly to say hi, but with a virulent glare at noisy Dogface. Meanwhile, a duststorm arises from the building site chaos and I'm instructed to re-move removal boxes.

That night - Easter - the reincarnated beetle finds my room for the second time. A homing cockroach. Frankly, the new place needs to try harder if it's going to ever win me over.

Next episode: Back in the Gym Agane.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

MD, Nigella and me

Worth it?
Back at the Pad, our entertaining ambitions have peaked with the acquisition of a Nigella Cookery Book. Laters to Jamie, at the Pad we're all about aspirational nightlights and tablecloths and cake. While BOF wows all with a selection of healthy and nutritious main courses, I generally stick to the non-compulsory element of the evening (cake). And, er, Nigella lipstick.

Dinner party pitfalls are many and varied. But both MD and Bofles (BOF's younger brother) were in London this weekend, so we knew we had to up our game: this was to be the uber-dinner party, where we gathered together all we had learned from the previous few.

As BOF and I readied ourselves for the MD-Day Sups, we stilled our nerves with the thought that we were entertaining veterans by now, and previous dinner parties had passed off OK. True, it would have been better if I hadn't cut my hand on a blunt knife last week while washing up and bled all the way through pudding. But BOF, belligerently optimistic as ever, reinterpreted the grotesque spectacle as symptom of our devotion to dinner, and our guests were duly grateful.

More blood injuries were sustained another day, when an enthusiastic chum almost sliced a finger off with cavalier cocktail-making and retreated to the bathroom whimpering. But a monkey plaster and a caipirinha later, he was only emboldened by his injury. Though perhaps I shouldn't have chased him and others out of the door with a steak knife when they admitted that they weren't keen for clubbing actually, and they didn't want a coffee from the coffee machine either.

And, yes, when we accidentally set fire to our (Mother BOF-loaned) tablecloth the week before there was some confusion: (BOF) 'Ah. What's the consensus on what we should do at this point?'. But from the brink of calamity Precociously Media-Savvy friend (PMS) saved us all. Just as the napkins burst into flames, she threw her glass of water in the the blaze with sniper-like accuracy. Soaked salad, wax and oil combined deliciously to form the main course.

But these small misunderstandings and incompetences just paved the way for the presence of Bofles and MD at our table. And on the scale of incompetence? Well. I ran out of time to make a cake, and then was so worried about my only dish not being on the menu I had to be restrained from compulsive baking at 7.45 that night. And MD managed to peep over the disproportionately high table despite her Thumbelina proportions (we gave her the only proper chair). But otherwise… people left on time, no one shouted, no blood was spilled or fires started. Pagan it was not.

Frankly, it was rather a disappointment. We'll have to have the team back again. Perhaps with the addition of the Fight Clubbers from down the road. That should do it.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Women's Institute

Even putting a glass of wine in front 
doesn't make it look good.
When I was smaller, MD would frequent the Women's Institute Cake Sale down the road from my now-deceased Childhood Home. [The coffee cake was best by miles, but there was definitely some sort of cake quota at work. Why else would there have been as many summer puddings as coffee cakes? Who wants a scraggy mound with fruit in instead of succulent cakey goodness?]

These cake sales were terrifying. Half an hour before they opened, hordes of kindly-looking old ladies thronged the village hall doors chatting contentedly. Once inside, however, these old dears would think nothing of trampling each other into the ground over a medium-sized carrot cake. 

As the smallest, I was employed by MD to sneak through the mob and grab the best-looking cake, before retreating to the CH.

It was at orchestra last week that I was reminded of the terror I'd felt around the countryside's mobster grannies. Here, instead of cake, it was artistic recognition for which they fought.

So, hours before the concert, my friend and I realised we couldn't find our usual seats. We'd been ejected from our mildly prominent stand to seats at the back, out of sight, behind a pillar. The sweetly-smiling violinist ladies had manoeuvred themselves forwards with dastardly cunning.

You'd think this would be enough Machiavellian activity for one evening of classical music, but no. Next to us (behind the pillar), sat Mabel.

Mabel can no longer hear very well, but continues to play with atonal confidence. Beside her sits Lin-May. She's in fact rather good, but she can't speak much English, and Mabel finds the language barrier a useful excuse to offer Lin-May advice on her playing. Shouting over the quiet solemn passages and whispering in the loud, Mabel confuses and embarrasses Lin-May equally, but communicates little.

At the interval, Mabel shuffled about onstage, moving people's music (to conform to her own mysterious system), and causing chaos.

As the start of the second half approaches Lin-May and Mabel are nowhere to be seen. Privately, I fear Mabel's locked her friend in a cupboard, though it might be somewhere more sinister. Mabel appears - tutting and fretting and shouting over the tuning, 'Where's the silly girl got to now?' in best beleaguered schoolteacher fashion.

At last, Lin-May appears with moments to spare and in complete disarray:
'Where did you get to this time?' Mabel demands, delighted.
'I can't find my glasses! They're my only pair!' 
'You can't have lost them again? For goodness' sake!' 
'I can't play now,' mumbles Lin-May, close to tears.
'Are they these?' Mabel enquires innocently, plucking Lin-May's distinctive glasses from her bag with a flourish. 'You'd better put them on then - they might come in useful helping you find the notes. Or maybe not...' And, with an air of great generosity, looking as though she'd just beaten her to the last coffee cake, she handed the glasses to Lin-May.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Goodbye Childhood Home (the conclusion)

Well, bye then.
This weekend was the last spent in my Childhood Home, whose impending decline was where Kate in the Countryside started last year.

When I was last at home, Dogface was doing his best to be as disconcertingly unfriendly and yappy as possible towards the couple who have bought the house, the Childhood Home Usurpers. This culminated in a notable incident where he tactically crapped in their path and fled. How things have changed. Now, when the CHU turn up (enthusiastic dog-owners themselves), treacherous Dogface starts gambolling about with enthusiasm and delight. They've even been taking him for walks apparently....

At least Childhood Home itself is not so fickle. Strapped for storage space, the CHU asked if they could keep some of their stuff in our - now empty - garage. MD agreed. Clearly unenthused, the garage retaliated in triumphant style when its roof collapsed on the boxes, moments after the CHU had moved in their things.

'Well that's never happened before,' I observed nonchalantly, brushing dust off them.

And packing is dull. The Cupboard of Terror on the top floor of the house in particular took an astonishing amount of time. I was told to extract the things I wanted from within the cavernous pit. Sifting through my childhood hoardings elicited many treasures, including: a small novelty tennis racquet wrapped in a golden cape, seven fake witches nails, half a Polly Pocket (blue), a locked briefcase with an unopenable combination and - bafflingly - three standard pound coins, stuck together to form a small tower.

Even as I boxed these items on a sunny Sunday (in the box marked 'Very Special Things': don't worry - they've been saved) with MD next door to protect me, the Cupboard of Terror seemed as terrible as ever.

Even the door I'd been sure to prop firmly open left me with no certainty that I was safe. Might it not spring shut and lock me in - as it had on that day sixteen years ago when three pals and I had thought it the perfect hiding spot? Sadly the adults (from whom we hid) didn't realise the game. They were not even looking for us and, once locked, the CoT was unopenable from within. That the four of us are still here today is a miracle of initiative and DIY.

Elsewhere, mouldy accessories from the hotel I once started in my bedroom (I was the Manager. Hapless friends were deemed 'Bellboy' or, if they were very lucky, 'Waitress'), fell stickily down from various crannies. Dogface munched the small soaps and flannels as snacks.

Later, we had an impromptu drinks party to say goodbye to the place, where MD's friends asked me whether I was sad to be leaving until I was. Then Dogface and I ran about in the garden one last time and MD drove me back to the station. 

Every memory I have from home seems to have happened in lovely sunlight or snow. To me, the mental image I have of CH looks like a Cambridge University Prospectus drawn by the Wizard of Oz.
If you remember anything from Lorne House that you want to leave at the bottom here that would be tremendous. Thanks chaps.

Next episode: The Women's Institute