My mother and step-father came down to see me today. They are separated but still friends. In today's diary entry I'm going to give you a hint- just a hint, mind- of the trials and tribulations of family life.
I had set off early to do chores like buy Aloe Vera toilet roll in Aldi. I bought a dish drainer for 2.99 in a bric-a-brac shop and asked the man where he was from. He said he was from Afghanistan, had I ever been?
He said I should go there on holiday.
“But it's dangerous, isn't it?”
No, it's not all guns and tanks.
“Have you ever seen guns and tanks?”
Yes, he said. He also said China is a good country. (I think they supply weaponry to the Taliban).
Later my mother and step-father came. The first task was to get my mother up the stairs. She has MS (unpleasant disease) and uses a stick. Unfortunately the fire alarm was going off, although there was no actual fire. We began the long climb up the stairs. “That fire alarm is you. You've done something.” I ignored this. We got near the top, mum slipped once. “I think that fire alarm is you. You did something,” Mum said again.
“Mum, if you say that again and I'm going to get angry,” I said, already angry. My mum looked at me, shocked. I felt bad, as usual. Actually, very bad. No need to be so highly strung. My mum chips away but that's just how I'm perceiving it. In her world, she's just making witty conversation. “I was only joking.” My mother said. Still, it had turned out that I had left burnt toast on in my flat the first thing my mum would have said was “I told you it was you.”
I tore some tissue and put it in my ears, my mum did the same. Then I shut the lounge door but still the sound of the fire alarm came through. I rang the letting agency to let them know about the fire alarm. After heaving some of my stuff up to the apartment we had to do my step-dad's tools and he had brought rather a lot of them. A woman downstairs asked me to turn the fire alarm off. Back upstairs my mother asked for a water a couple of times and then said it was “rubbish” when I mentioned that she'd asked for a drink. Mum got her rubbish water. Spilt some of it on herself and screamed. (MS effects co-ordination). My step-dad, David, still had more stuff to get, I asked if he needed a hand.
“No, I can do it myself boy. You do the washing up.”
He went down all those stairs alone. Came back up. He'd forgotten his car keys. Went down again. Eventually I went down to see what was taking him so long, needed a hand taking stuff up. He couldn't get back in the building this time. We carried more stuff up. Finally, that damn fire alarm was turned off. It had done something unpleasant to my ears, which waxed up like they do after a plane journey. My mum said it had given her a headache and we were reminded she had a headache throughout the day.
David set to work on putting shelves in my kitchen units, as the landlord had given me kitchen units without shelves, missing screws here and there and so forth. I said I'd found a place David might found useful. He was unable to sell his paintings of unhappy clowns (one painted entirely in blue) on Ebay a few years back and there's an emporium in town that will give you 50 percent when they sell something of yours. They sell borderline antiques, clothes, records, paintings, radios. It's an emporium. In my view, as David's unique, original paintings are far superior in finish and originality to the usual thrift/junk store prints they currently have on sale I'm sure they'll take them. But David said 50 percent was too high a cut and didn't care if he was cutting his nose off to spit his face, he'd rather give them away. Had it been David advising me he would haven't let the matter rest there. (See further below).
It wasn't long before my mum started talking about lunch. Her way to say she wanted lunch was to say that David wanted lunch. Knowing my mum, these calls for lunch were going to become as persistent as that fire alarm. It was lunch time anyway and I wanted to treat them both so I suggested I take them out to a restaurant.
“What about the cavity wall plugs?” David asked. We needed some because the two spots in my flat that the book shelf can go on are cavity or partially cavity wall.
I thought it best to satisfy my mum and get lunch out the way. David did not protest.
I took them to the very finest. A restaurant and cocktail bar with a first floor (second floor) balcony overlooking the sea. My Slovakian waitress was not impressed that I could order fries in Czech. There was a 23 percent discount because it was 23 degrees, though my step-dad checked on his vintage iphone and it was actually 24. My mum had tuna steak, my step-dad real steak, I had risotto.
David stage manages absolutely everything I do. He is the living embodiment of Harry Enfield's bloke who says “You don't wanna do it this way, you wanna do it that way.” In fact, he is far worse. It's not that there isn't some wheat amongst a lot of chaff but that he protests strongly if you choose not to something his way, be it ever so small. He often later had to quietly admit he was wrong but it never changes his character, his incessant series of tips for a better life. For example, he got it into his head that he could help me do the move (not wise, he's had a heart bypass) and when I arranged for it to be done by man, woman and van for the bargain price of 180 pounds he told me several times that I should have listened to him and hired a van for five days and the two of us could have done it ourselves. Actually he never suggested any such thing until after I went ahead-having sought his advice- with booking my team.
But anyway, hiring a van for five days, plus petrol would have cost- probably more than 180 pounds- and then it would have taken- 5 times longer- and we'd have had no help carrying very heavy stuff up lots of stairs. I never did see the logic of that one.
So naturally when I ordered the risotto with fries- he had to suggest that rice plus fires is carbs plus carbs therefore I should order salad. There was a method to my madness. I don't trust restaurants to make a decent salad unless I see it and you usually get something salady with the dish anyway. But brow beaten by David I did what he said. The risotto came with something salady and so I now had two salads. And the side salad was a not a good (worth paying for) salad, as I suspected. David said he'd make it up to me by buying me some chips at a chippie but my mum interceded and ordered my fries from the waitress, what I wanted in the first place.
It was nice to be sat there on the balcony enjoying the sea but having gone to all that expense my step-dad said he was getting sunburnt and would have been happy with a sandwich. Mum was quiet. Probably a bit sloshed on her seven quid cocktail. (Truth be told it's the MS. It's a constant battle for her these days.) She came back down to land on a mineral water. I had two bottled ciders, David has an ale, because he actually thought we should have gone to Wetherspoons (this was repeatedly mentioned) and hung out with all the drunks shouting across the room at each other.
The bill was ok- 49 pounds plus a fiver tip for the waitress. I spoke to the barman who was from Latvia and told him I'd been to Riga. He said Margate is “terrible in many ways” but it's ok because he has fun within the cocoon of his Eastern European colleagues. (Paraphrasing).
We still had DIY stuff to do, my step-dad said we should have gone and bought the cavity wall plugs first. We took mum back to the flat and this time she did find it a tremendous struggle getting back up those stairs. Then we went to B&Q. David said I should have followed his advice and bought a bathroom cabinet he suggested at 22 pounds.
“You won't find a better one anywhere at that price. But it does need modification because it's not good enough. What I do to it is...” He's told this story many times but I can't remember it because I don't care. What he is referring to is a white MDF cabinet without mirror, which is quite ok but I doubt is the best you'll find anywhere at the price.
We arrive at B&Q. As he's looking at plugs I run over to the bathroom section and pick up an Oak veneer bathroom cabinet (reduced twice) with mirror on front. 20 pounds.
“Good for the price, isn't it?” I say to David.
“I don't care,” he says, like the relative value of bathroom cabinets never has been of any concern to him.
Unfortunately he doesn't have time to put it up because my mum, who was as quiet as a mouse at lunch- the time to talk- but has been firing off her own suggestions and questions like a machine gun whilst we've been trying to do things- wants to go home.
It's been a typical family day. Me way too highly strung, my step-dad full of take or take it advice and my mum just wanting some attention and also to have all her advice followed. I wave them off, go to Tesco to get a 'meal deal' and sit in my flat, forgetting to eat it. I feel very sad about my mum's condition and how she has ever decreasing quality of life. It's a bit late in the day for me to have realised that. My mum hasn't really realised, either. Today she brought her swimming costume. As if...