Another D Day

Well today was supposed to be another of those days of our building project where everyone was supposed to come and fit everything and we’d be left with huge amounts of progress. Another one. I’ve lost count of how many D Days we’ve had but suffice it to say that our project still isn’t finished.

It’s been a really frustrating week. To recap, our actual building work was almost there but depended on a painter who didn’t turn up for three of the five days he was allocated. As it turns out, he lives with his 14 year old son who had been hospitalised and so it was unavoidable (“Family comes first.”) but it still put the work back several days. Lee has nearly finished the painting now, though, and he’s done it really well.

In the meantime our kitchen units and most of the appliances have been sitting more or less in place waiting to be plumbed in and for the electrics to be connected. I feel like I am living in a B&Q warehouse. Some units have faults and we have had replacements delivered. However our kitchen specialist went off on holiday without really organising for the work to be done so it has not been done.

Long story short: after I yelled at him copiously, and he made me feel guilty for my objections,  he provided a plumber who has finally plumbed in the dishwasher – though its door is not yet attached so it cannot be used yet –  and the combi Quooker tap and the soap dispenser.

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Filtered water tap; Quooker combi tap; soap dispenser

An end to kettles in the Alliance household?” you may ask, “Infinite tea?”  Well, from the taste of the water: not quite. Here in London we have very hard water and we’ve made our tea using water from a filter jug for years. The Quooker boiler currently has no such facility and the tea tastes, well, minging. It’s scummy too and my worry is that limescale wiill prematurely destroy the tap and the the boiler in the same way that it destroys all unprotected appliances. (We have used a water softener at home for over a decade and it makes a huge difference. I wouldn’t be without it now but, because it adds a small amount of salt to our water supply, it is not drinkable.) What is the point of a boiling water tap that makes tea that tastes indescribable?

This means that we shall now have to buy and have installed an extra Quooker limescale filter unit. I only hope we can find a plumber available to do it. In the meantime the kettle is staying out of the skip.

We were supposed to have our internal doors, with integrated privacy blinds in the glass, installed today too. Sadly, the glass has been manufactured with white integral blinds instead of the grey that we ordered. And the packaging did not include the wheels so this is the scene tonight:

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The height of sophistication on the Friday before a Bank Holiday weekend. We are assured that the replacement glass with grey blinds will be available to fit on Tuesday morning along with the wheels. Our furniture is being delivered from storage on Tuesday too, so I’m buying popcorn to watch the removals men and the door fitters trip over each other.

Turns out that Tuesday is going to be yet another D Day: apparently, the remaining kitchen doors and cupboards will be fitted and the electrician is supposed to be coming to install the appliances. If they can find one. The sparks who has done all of the electrics until now has gone to ground and isn’t answering his phone. I’m wondering how many more weeks it will be until I actually have a functioning kitchen.

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On top of this, there’s the 8m wide Markilux awning that we ordered months ago and that’s been ready to install for weeks. On putting it up yesterday, the Samson technicians discovered that its motor did not work, so they will have to send for another one from Germany. (Nicht immer besser?) When the OH phoned them up yesterday, a representative assured him that he’d find out more details and come back to us. To date he has not. It is probably just as well that we are unlikely to have enough sun to require its protection this Bank Holiday weekend.

Avert your eyes please. Here comes a rant:

WHY OH WHY OH WHY IS IT SO BLEDDY IMPOSSIBLE FOR ANYONE TO DO THE JOB FOR WHICH THEY ARE PAID; OR TO CHECK THAT THEIR ORDER IS CORRECT; OR TO ORGANISE THEMSELVES SO THAT THEY DON’T KEEP THE PEOPLE PAYING THEM WAITING FOR WEEKS? WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH EVERYONE? I SPEND ABOUT 30-40% OF MY TIME CHASING COMPLACENT, LAZY, INCOMPETENT PEOPLE TO RECTIFY THE MISTAKES THEY HAVE MADE. AND THIS ISN’T INDIA OR FRANCE OR CHINA: THIS IS THE UK. WHY DON’T PEOPLE LISTEN? OR WRITE THINGS DOWN?

So, yes. It’s been a frustrating week, kitchen-wise. This time last week I thought I might be sitting down to a proper evening meal and alas it was not to be. So near and yet so far.

 

Another D Day

On women-only carriages

This morning I woke to the news of Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion that he consult women on the re-introduction of women-only carriages on trains. Before all you Corbynieri and you Non D’aCorbs polish up your muskets, as far as I can see he was opening up a valuable debate and not advocating a new segregation law. He would merely be looking for opinions. I get it. And I am voicing my opinion here.

My first reaction was to tweet that India has had “Ladies Only” carriages for decades and this has not helped the general treatment of women as second class citizens in that country.  I’m not for them at all. I think that enforcing segregation means that a problem is too easy to compartmentalise, trivialise and push right to the bottom of the agenda. Rosa Parks could always just have moved meekly to the back of the bus, after all.

However I can well see why many women would feel safer, especially late at night, away from the possibility of leering and groping. Mine is the point of view of someone who has not been sexually harassed on public transport. Racially, yes, but not sexually. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s just not been the case, so I was keen to canvas opinion from MsDD, who is approached all the time by lecherous men, for her opinion:

Thank you, Mum. Well, my opinion leans decidedly against segregated carriages. I have indeed been affected by what the carriages will hopefully prevent, from a well-meant, if misguided, chatting up, to sexist comments. This happens to me on and off trains so I have grown accustomed to such encounters, but one sticks out vividly in my mind:

I was chasing my friends across London on a very hot day, and I hopped onto an underground train just before the doors closed. I was at the end of the almost empty car, and just happened to be in close proximity to a small but intimidating group of very well-built men. The sheer contrast of them and me was almost cartoonish: a very short, relatively slim, not very conservatively dressed girl, and a group of very tall, almost grotesquely muscly men. As I remember, the tallest of the group said in a very low voice, “It’s got a bit hotter in here now, hasn’t it, lads?” at which they all smirked.
I felt vulnerable to say the least, but a shudder came over me when another sadistically said, after realising how uncomfortable I was, “She looks fun.” Thankfully, my stop was the next, and I de-trained with nothing more than a bad memory, but the rate of sexual attacks on trains has risen, and so many women have not been so lucky. What was clear about the men in that encounter, is that they intimidated me because they knew that they had the power.

In my previous blog post on catcalling, I felt that women don’t fight back a lot because they are worried about a bad reaction. The other day, whilst walking down the street, I told a a cat-caller to f-off but on that train, there was no chance of retaliation. You can’t really run away on a train. You are stuck in a confined space until the next stop so, at night, trains can be quite scary. But there is one important reason why women-only train carriages are a bad idea.
While it really is meant with good intentions, the segregation does’t get to the root of the problem. It’s like the invention of the nail varnish that changes colour on contact with common date rape drugs. All I think of when ideas like this are introduced is the voice of someone saying, “Well if you didn’t want to be assaulted, you should have gone in the women’s section.” This is victim blaming, adding more things for potential victims to do, rather than try to reduce the amount of potential attackers. Rather than educate boys or change the way in which society portrays women, we go to great lengths to pin responsibility for crime on the victim.
Victim-blaming is very common because it is an easier path than trying to solve problems such as sexual assault. It is easier than changing how women are displayed in the media; easier then combating the emergence of rape culture, and easier than addressing the imbalance of power between the sexes.
It also insults men. Much like the burqa, measures such as this imply that all men just can’t help themselves and are compelled to assault any woman they see. It is rather patronising to suggest that they don’t know any better and they can’t possibly control themselves. It is much like the thinking that sending your child to a single-sex school is the best thing to do because you want to protect your child. Segregation is not the answer. It’s like saying racist attacks can be prevented by having a separate city for minorities. It’s a well meant idea, but it is both impractical and ineffective.

 

On women-only carriages

Haz worktopz

 

One step at a time.

Our worktops went in today. The OH thought they were going to be a little too glamorous and showy but I think they’re just right. I like the way they pull together the colours in the cabinets; the appliances; the slate floor and the walls.

The Sonos system was installed too. We have two speakers in the kitchen ceiling and two in the living room around the corner. There was a slight hiccup when Patrick, our master builder, discovered that he’d left his phone inside one of the speakers but that was easily resolved once we’d tracked down the source of the recurrent buzzing.

The sound of the speakers is sharp and clear and the system means that all sorts of inputs are controllable from the Sonos app on my iPhone and those of everyone else in the family. Potentially this means that the Boywonder will be able to call up Rammstein from his student halls in Montreal, and play it in our kitchen, just to remind us that he’s there.

Currently I have TSF Jazz playing, a station that we came to know when we were living in Paris. I might add Cherie FM to play in the morning. We can be all nostalgic when we hear the morning horoscopes that I used to translate for the offspring on our arduous daily school run.

Classical music is so clear as well. I played the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (Sabine Meyer as soloist) and my lovely Oscar just lay down on the slate at my feet and listened. You’ll remember that this is one of his favourite pieces. I’m wondering why we didn’t get it sooner. All we need, on this chilly, damp evening is to get the Nest system working – it’s gone off in a huff at no longer being the Next Big Thing  – and perhaps a glass of Prosecco.

There are still many things to do: the appliances and the electricity and the plumbing. But, at last, we’re getting there.

 

Haz worktopz

You obviously know far better than me…

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People are inordinately fond of telling me what I think and my motivations for my courses of action. It happens a lot on Twitter, of course. If ever there was a medium that enabled people to pass a swift, wrong, judgement and move on leaving a trail of devastation, that is it. As on Twitter also in life, and favourite tipsiness are listed below. I apologise for the rather defensive tone. It’s not that I feel I have to explain myself to anyone but it seems as good a time as any to dispel a few of the hoarier old chestnuts:

  • My children are independently educated because I am a snob and because I want them to have connections and privilege in life. This is a subject for a whole blog post that I’m not going to tackle here but the day is coming soon when I shall. However, I can assure anyone who cares to listen (and let’s face it, no-one will because they’ve already made up their minds) that connections were the furthest thing from my mind when deciding on my children’s schooling. There were all sorts of factors involved and the process was agonising. However, I’m glad I had the opportunity to go throughout that process;
  • OK, I don’t travel into London on the tube everyday but the OH and many other people I do depend on it for work. I know that their already long commute on top of a long London working day – an hour is deemed normal or even good – is more than doubled on strike days. It causes them grief. So being told by people from other parts of the country who never have to depend on the tube that the strikes are for our own good as Londoners, or that Londoners are too stupid to realise that the strikes are not about pay is galling. Really galling.
  • That being a stay at home mother, household manager, means that my whole day is free and that I spend my time having my nails done. Again, this is another subject for a whole blog post but suffice it to say that my nails desperately need doing.
  • I have a pedigree breed dog and he isn’t neutered. Apparently this makes me one of the worst people on earth. My dog is my first ever dog and, having looked at rescue shelters, I was told that they are (quite rightly) reluctant to rehome dogs to inexperienced homes with small children. So I chose a breed of dog known for their friendliness, biddability and lack of aggression to start off with. My ideal next dog would be a rescued flatcoated retriever but, funnily enough, they don’t come up for rehoming very often.( I’m wondering whether my choice to rehome another dog, inherited from my cousin but originally purchased in a foreign pet shop is a good or bad thing in these people’s eyes.)
  • He’s not neutered. No. Because having carefully considered all of the pros and cons, we decided not to interfere with him unless and until it was strictly necessary. He does not stray and is always with us and under control. Careful weekly training mean that he is obediently bonded to us. Did you know that in Scandinavia, less that 7% of adult male dogs are castrated? My dog is not a living fluffy toy. He is a dog and behaves like a dog. A lovely dog and we know him far better than the people making these pronouncements.
  • Apparently, not wanting my difficult, dementia-addled, uncooperative mother to live with our family and turn our lives upside down, rendering us prisoners in our own home is disgraceful. This remark usually comes from people who are either halfway around the world from their own parents, have no experience of dementia, let alone caring for someone with this disease or both. Nuff said.
  • I cannot be a proper feminist because I take an interest in my appearance or that I like cooking, so some people say. News to me. Feminists have to eat, don’t they? And surely the point of feminism is self-determination? Wearing lipstick doesn’t of itself make people unable to think.

I wonder how these people know all these things for certain. Perhaps they have found the fount of all knowledge and swallowed it. Or maybe they have read the whole of Wikipedia and therefore know all the things. I wish I had their self belief and absolute confidence in their own judgement and judgements. I often don’t know where to start to make pronouncements on all sorts of things. Doubt and hesitation creep into my head before the words have time to leave my mouth. I’m obviously a failure. How I wish I possessed their certainty.

Photo by StockMonkeys.com

You obviously know far better than me…

Night night

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Sleep well.

Do you sleep well? Are you one of those people who can fall asleep in the middle of a sentence last thing at night or do you stay awake fretting for hours, dwelling on the annoyances of the day? I’ll give you one guess which of those I am.

I’m either fretting or seething or worrying, all of which, yes, I know, are a waste of effort and time but by this point my logical brain has upped and walked away, leaving my illogical brain to stew in its own folly.

Or I find that suddenly I have a nocturnal earworm: the same phrase of, oh I don’t know, the Messiah or Kylie or whatever repeating and repeating in my ear. Then I find that my back itches in a place that I can’t scratch or I’m suddenly too hot or I have developed heavy, twitchy legs. So I stick my leg out of bed and then that becomes too cold to sleep. And I fret on.

And then I start fretting about all the sleep I’m missing and how I won’t be able to function in the morning. I shan’t be able to concentrate at my voluntary job or I’ll be rubbish on the gym treadmill. At this point I can try listing an A-Z of countries or girls’ names or vegetables (E is difficult unless you play in American.) A favourite nocturnal exercise of mine used to be listing the 50 states of the USA in alphabetical order. Sometime I start counting backwards from 100 but I invariably get down to 0 and I’m wide awake.

And then I suddenly need the loo.

I try and avoid it for a while but eventually I bow to the inevitable so up I get and toddle off to the bathroom – luckily it’s only a few steps – but I have to make an effort not to start thinking about the things I have to remind MsDD about in the morning – because she’s sure to forget -or what I shall cook for supper.

I heard a programme on the radio during the week about the effect of sleep and lack thereof on the brain. Apparently adults need between 5 and 8 hours’ sleep a night, which is just as well because I get about 6 on a good night. The programme mentioned that one of the culprits of insomnia was using screens so close to bedtime. Apparently our natural sleep conditioning has made us to evolve to wake at the bluish light of morning and grow drowsy and sleep in the reddish evening light. Computers and screens inevitably give out blue light that affects our ability to nod off. So if I ever resort to nocturnal Twitter or Words with Friends, I’m fretting that this is bad for me too.

And all the while, the OH is asleep. You see, he is one of those people that can and will fall asleep at will anywhere, “Standing up on a bloody pin,” as my offspring often quote me.  I’ve often thought that his narcolepsy is an avoidance mechanism: if he’s asleep he avoids dull smalltalk. An introvert, he finds that people sap his energy and his way of dealing with this is to fall asleep immediately wherever he is. This elicits sympathy because he is obviously so exhausted. Meanwhile I force myself to stay awake and maintain the social glue or carry out the chores that need to be be done, and so maintain the facade that I’m not tired at all.

This drives me nuts, as you can imagine. It’s one of the worst feelings there is: watching in total frustration as your OH sleeps the sleep of the righteous night after night, completely oblivious to your fretting or sniffles.

At the moment I am addled with my allergies. Last night I woke nose blocked and sneezing loudly at 2am. I took an anti-histamine and tried to go to sleep. For four hours I tried and then, just as I dropped off, as usual a particularly noisy aeroplane turned over our house for its final descent to wretched London Heathrow. I tried to drop off again but the dog woofed because the decorator turned up at 7.15. Eventually I gave up, rose and started the day. With coffee.

Photo by schnappischnap

 

Night night

While the cat’s away…

 

I find myself doing this again today.

Our builder and project manager, having worked himself into the ground (and hospital) has gone away for a few days to celebrate his first wedding anniversary and attend his friend’s wedding. And, I hope, for a rest.

In his absence, work on our building project, which was in theory in its last week, has ground almost to a halt because the decorator has failed to turn up for three of the days. Until the decoration is complete, we cannot install the sound system or the awning or the internal doors or, well many other things. Apparently he was in hospital yesterday but promised to arrive at 7.15 today. He did not. I would have a lot more sympathy for this decorator if one of the other workmen hadn’t told me that this is a common excuse among tradesmen who simply can’t be bothered to turn up. In fact, it was given to us as an excuse for flouting the Sunday noise regulations by a contractor up the road, “I’m going into hospital tomorrow so I have to work today.” My eye! The lovely weather here is probably adding to their disinclination to turn up.

Our architect tells us that this is the culture among the building insdusty in this country, and it certainly reflects the attitude during our previous, botched, building project that lasted more than twice the time allotted. That company went bankrupt but not before that architect had signed off deficient work that we eventually spent scores of thousands of pounds to have redone. Pity the poor, naive client who thinks that the job they are paying for will be done properly.

The problem is that our lovely, hard-working builder was relying on this decorator and the project completion date has now been put back over a week. This isn’t helped by the fact that our granite worktops, which were scheduled to arrive yesterday are now not coming until next Tuesday (apparently) and this means that the appliances cannot be installed. The freezer is missing and some of the appliance housings are damaged. I am wondering why, if they have been waiting at Ashford for six weeks, they could not have been checked before they were delivered, and mistakes could not have been rectified in that time but, hey, I’m just the client and why should it matter what I think? Even more galling is the fact that the kitchen designer seems to have gone into retreat in a silent order for this week.

Our architect dropped by to draw up a “snagging list” this afternoon, but, in fact there were two pages in his notebook of things yet to be completed.

It is no wonder that people are giving work to Polish and other builders who are skilled, meticulous, polite and actually bother to turn up and complete the work. Part of me wonders whether this is the reason that some people are so keen to keep Europeans out of this country: they have better skills and a stronger work ethic and that would threaten the entitled lazy attitude and low skills of many here, but perhaps that is me being harsh and cynical. Or perhaps not.

Indeed, the only beacon of hope yesterday and today has been Tom/Bogdan (we are not quite sure of his name and he speaks little English.) This softly spoken young Romanian has worked a ten hour day for weeks, including weekends, quietly, meekly, just getting on with the job. Hats off to him. It must be lonely trying to do the right thing. He was probably a doctor in Romania. I have made sure he was well supplied with tea and biscuits and a smile.

While the cat’s away…

Charlotte

Meet the latest addition to our family:

 

 

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Charlotte

 

We’ll give her a week or so to find her feet, though I’m not sure she can under all those feathers, and then she can start work. But what is her job title? Suggestions please.

Also in today’s post bubblewrap that does not pop:

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How disappointing! What sort of joysucker thought that up?

Charlotte

On competitive parenting

In today’s post I am linking to an article in yesterday’s Guardian, that sums up how I have felt for quite a lot of the last 20 years. It gives me an excuse to talk about it here.

I suppose it is only natural for people to place their hopes on their children’s shoulders. It is, after all, the aspiration of most parents that their children have a better life than them. Whether better means wealthier or happier or more fulfilled or with a better work/life balance is a subjective matter and believe me I’ve had several judgemental representations on the subject.

For what it’s worth no, I’m NOT all about money and standing. I’m the same as most people say they are: they just want their children to be happy. Realistically, however, it’s far easier to be happy and fulfilled when you have choices and options and a reasonably comfortable home and a reasonably stable existence.

That Guardian article, posted by a friend on Twitter, expresses exactly the sort of thing that goes on all round me. Hell, I have even engaged in this sort of competitive parenting in my time. You get so caught up in it, especially in my suburban environment and let’s face it, it’s very easy to do when your child is at the top of the class, outshining all in reading and maths and French and vocabulary and musical abilty. Yadda yadda.

This was me for a while. I even played that stupid Kindergarten, Reception class game of comparing the stages of the Oxford Reading Tree. Silently, of course, because even then I knew how undignified it was. But I used to nod and smile smugly when other mothers told me that their children were on stage 4 when my child was on stage 7 or whatever it was. You see? I can’t even remember. No-one compares reading ability in adult life. I’m not cut up about being on Stage 14,652 when you’re on stage 15,003, for example. And that is exactly how ridiculous this is. Why are people so desperate for one-upmanship?

I have never wanted my children to discuss or compare their marks in public. I have always thought it better that my children save their good news for the walk home or the quiet and safety of the car rather than making a stick for some other poor parent or child to beat themselves. If my child has received a Recommendation for an outstanding piece of work (and because my children are messy, disorganised and often don’t try that hard, also because I have never done their homework for them, this has rarely happened,) I shall not rub your nose in it.

The thing is, when you’re at the top of the tree, there’s nowhere to go but down and this happened in a big way to us. I’m not keen on going into the details for obvious reasons but it’s funny how quickly the realisation hits you that suddenly your child is not the best thing since the thing after sliced bread and, if you’re a little more balanced than me, you learn to deal with it.

If, however, you’re less balanced than me you make up stories about your child’s progress and cross your fingers that no-one will find you out:

  • You might say that your 6 year old daughter has read all of the Harry Potter books by herself and understood every word;
  • You might protest loudly that another child is still infectious from chickenpox to prevent that child attending prizegiving when you suspect that the other child might receive a prize that you think is your child’s entitlement. After you have spent an hour every night from the age of three doing maths, English and drawing with her;
  • You might be so jealous of the singing ability of another child that you make up some story about that child exposing your child to porn websites and then acting them out on a sleepover. You might then email the children’s headmaster on Christmas Day making graphic and false accusations that sow all sorts of seeds of doubt about the other child’s character in the minds of those in authority. And the other child and their family will forever have a cloud of gossip over them;
  •  You might have a word with a teacher that your child is not to sit with another child because of their supposed malign influence over them, knowing full well that you have to bribe your own child not to hit you;
  • You might wheedle a child’s GCSE marks out of their parent and then secretly discuss with that child what their parent thought of their grades;
  • You might not contact a former friend and parent of your child’s former classmate for years and then oh so subtly, the week after the A level results are published, text them to ask how their child is “getting on”;
  • You might go on Twitter and commiserate in crocodile tears when another parent is having a hard time with their child, casually slipping in that your child is marvellous and teachers have Oxbridge hopes for them.

All of the above are personal experiences. A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

I have found it very hard to be a good enough parent when surrounded by people with superlative children. I have never wanted to be the archetypal pushy parent – goodness knows I see so many of those around me and their children never look happy – but on the other hand I do wonder whether I have failed my children by not pushing them hard enough. It’s been a slog.

At the moment it is exam results season and people are posting their children’s results on Facebook. It’s not something I would do because I know how small it makes me feel when my children aren’t self-motivated enough to push themselves to all A*s. I know you’re proud of your children, and I know they might have overcome considerable difficulties to achieve splendid results. I’m not talking about that. Well, not really.

But when I see the latest Facebook post of so-and-so’s daughter with 4As at AS level, and I know that that person posts nothing but boasts about her children, well it’s a little galling..

 

 

 

On competitive parenting