Friday, 27 April 2012

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands

I met a wonderful madman outside school today. Little Miss Sunshine was in a huff because I'd just refused to carry her (the bloody shoulder still acting up, added to the fact that the Little Miss weighs a trifling 18 tons), when he started talking to her. Trying to cheer her up, he pointedly addressed her in a heavily accented French even though it obviously wasn't his native language — I guess he is the father of a child attending the same school, because a young boy was sitting in his car, cowering away. My heart went out to him, as I had the same sort of dad when I was growing up: loud, funny and outrageous, saying weird things to total strangers, constantly making a show of himself.

The car, by the way, was quite something as well. I had noticed it before and I loved it: it was very old and decorated with dozens of magnets, stickers and furry toys. Was it for the amusement of the child or that of the parent, I idly wondered. Meanwhile, your man had started pretending that the stuffed shark affixed to the roof rack was devouring his arm and was growling theatrically. That got him a smile from my grumpy offspring. Then she noticed a fluffy cat on the roof of the car and pointed at it with a determined look while miaowing for Ireland. Your man promptly gave it to her, adding that the cat was sad because it only had one eye, and drove away in his old weezing car. He had never said a word to me.

I was left there gaping, open-mouthed. At first, when the man had popped out, I wasn't sure if I should maybe grab my child under one arm and bolt. Finally, I mumbled an awed "Thank you" before he disappeared. As I said, that kind of behaviour reminds me of someone and I find it endearing, now that I have shed my cringing adolescent skin. Little Miss Sunshine is the happiest little girl ever with her new sooty and frayed one-eyed friend. This man is my hero of the day.

It certainly isn't my doctor, because my eyes are worse than ever. I was weary of him from the start anyway, as while I was listing my symptoms, he made several attempts at spelling "nauseous" before he gave up, leaving it at "nauceis". Honestly, aren't these people supposed to study for about a decade before they get their licence? A week on, I still decidedly have that vampire look with my bloodshot eyes. Maybe it's a professional hazard and I should stop translating teen fiction — though my current opus is about firebreathers and not bloodsuckers. Or maybe I am getting magical powers — one look and I can kill you instantly if you don't behave. Watch out, Mr Property Manager...
Ooh, darling, you have such beautiful red eyes

Before you ask, yes, the house is still leaking from various places and the latest development is that the air vent fell off in Little Miss Sunshine's bedroom. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as, typically, it was held in place with sticky tack. Behind the vent, I discovered a ragged gaping hole full of rubble, with a loose bit of rusty wire mesh fluttering in front of it. Basically nothing stops the howling winds and the crawling beasts from rushing into my baby's bedroom. I went crazy with sticky tape, then angrily typed a passionate missive to my BFF from the management company. I know he will just blissfully ignore it, but I am plotting my revenge. The wrathful forces of the County Council will soon be set loose on him. Wait and see. (Told you my ruby eyes are a sign of superpowers.)

As for the car, a wonderful mechanic fixed it for free, but it went on to fail its NCT test. Considering I only just bought it a few months ago, it is rather vexing. But I am looking into the bike issue and in the meantime, we can always walk to school (it would only take about an hour). Never mind the lashing rain, we are hardly going to melt. I will let nothing undermine my morale.

So all in all, a nice, uneventful week. I watched a harsh Canadian film called Incendies ("Fires"), reminiscent of a Greek tragedy even though it is about Lebanon in the last 3 or 4 decades, and I suddenly felt really happy in my life. Lucky, even. I think I might buy a lottery ticket (really need that damned bike).

Monday, 23 April 2012

My house hates me, part II

Today I saw a red and yellow sunset and I thought, How insignificant I am! 
Of course, I thought that yesterday too, and it rained. 
I was overcome with self-loathing and contemplated suicide 
again — this time by inhaling next to an insurance salesman.
Woody Allen

Today I was staring at the latest leak in my home and I got so depressed I contemplated inhaling next to a property manager. In 6 months, TWENTY differents parts of the house have stopped working, fallen apart or started leaking profusely. Naturally, I have to harass the management company for weeks or even months each time to get them to fix it. And they don't go down without a fight. I have to resort to photographic evidence and lyrically detailed correspondence and a stubborn determination. This morning, my incredibly rude property manager informed me that the landlady has had it with us and would rather see us go than pay for another repair. He was yelling at me because I ring him every week about a new problem in the house.

Wait a minute there. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

You've heard about the quirks of our house before. Indeed every week brings new excitement: the lock in the front door gets permanently stuck; it starts raining heavily in the living room, right under the bathtub; the oven won't work; the window won't close; lately, around the time we found suspicious poo in the garden, the flush started producing scary clanking sounds as if the pipes were about to explode, and a faulty heater flooded my daughter's bed. The management company eventually sent us a plumber.

Like many other things, plumbing in Ireland can be... I'm looking for the right word. Poetic? Inventive? Neurotic? Each repairman we've seen was crazier than the next. Our latest has provided a fair amount of entertainment.

For starters, when he rang me, the first thing he said was a flirtatious "Bonjour". I had no idea who was calling me, so I found it a little scary that a total stranger was addressing me this way. He couldn't possibly have found me out just by the way I say "Hello"! (Apparently, as I discovered later, plumbers gossip among themselves and your man had chatted with a colleague.) Yeah, I'm French. So what? And why do non-French people always imagine it's cute to lavish their two broken words of French on any unsuspecting Gallic creature coming their way? Do they think it makes them irresistible? Help!

When he arrived, he started working on the heater in Little Miss Sunshine's bedroom and... immediately proceeded to flood said bedroom. Oddly enough, he wasn't prepared for that, so he just grabbed an empty Lego box that was lying there and used that to collect the water pouring out of the pipe — and I'm talking black, sticky water here. Then he realized the dratted box has little holes in the bottom. Admittedly toy boxes aren't usually meant to be used as a plumbing device, but your man was shocked nonetheless and complained to my stunned friend G., who was visiting. He used up an entire roll of toilet paper from our bathroom to clean the mess and... blocked the toilet with it. But this didn't deter him from emptying the faulty radiator in there too. Oh no. When I found him staring at the black liquid ominously filling the bowl up to the rim, he shamelessly insisted the toilet must have been blocked before he arrived...

I guess I just don't get the Irish sense of humour.

When he ran out of toilet paper, he just used one of our bath towels as a floorcloth to wipe the remaining black goo. And this bundle of fun went on for two days as he didn't have the part he needed to fix the heater. The next day, your man repaired the flush, and immediately after that the cistern overflowed. Apparently, he had never seen that happen. But he did fix it eventually, leaving in his wake a trail of black fingerprints and wet patches around the house. After this memorable visit, the central heating didn't work anymore. And the toilet cistern was leaking.

Here it might be amusing to note that my new best friend — our property manager — angrily wondered why we still have plumbing problems in the house since he sent us a very competent professional plumber a short time ago. I admit I guffawed a bit at that, yet I didn't have the heart to set him straight. But to our landlady's dismay, we do need another visit from a "competent professional", because we still have leaks here, including an abnormal amount of water pouring out of the side of the house. Admittedly, it's gushing outside, not inside. So why do I complain?

As for my mystery pooper, I haven't identified him yet. I did spot a stray cat in the garden, but it was only... eating the lilies.
I know, it's odd.

Ah, well, it's just one of those weeks. I don't know how much more fighting it will take to get a leak-free house, and a sudden bout of conjunctivitis makes me look like a rabbit with myxomatosis or a severe drug problem. To top it all, my car now keeps stalling every time I slow down, so maybe my next post will be "My car hates me". Told you I need a bike... (and maybe a voodoo doll or something.)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

I love Paris in the springtime...

Last time I wrote, a heater had flooded my daughter's bedroom, a fox or some other unidentified creature was pooping in our garden, Little Miss Sunshine was decidedly acting like a teenager ten years early and work was being slightly nerve-racking. To cut a long story short, we were in dire need of a holiday.

So the prospect of our imminent week in Paris, even though I mostly go there to see grumpy relatives, unsympathetic bankers and useless doctors, seemed rather exciting. But the trip didn't start well. At Dublin airport, a security guy demanded that I throw away Little Miss Sunshine's milk bottle and fruit pouch before we went through. Now, I travel a lot and I am aware of the whole liquids-and-pastes-in-a-plastic-bag shenanigan. I come well prepared, everything is neatly packed in 100 ml containers, and albeit the inane regulations, nobody at an airport security checkpoint had ever asked me to throw away my baby's stuff, even if there was an offensive 200 ml of it. As opposed to the highly dangerous toothpaste and shampoo, growing-up milk and organic fruit purée didn't seem to pass as potential explosives. The worst these people had come up with before was to have her taste some of it in front of them. No big deal.

But this guy wouldn't be budged. Bin it or leg it. And I, the shy little mouse, went ape. To my credit, he really wasn't helping. He declared that only infant food was allowed and that my child was not an infant (hell, she's 3; admittedly, she's 3 going on 13, but his absurd heroism was about to guarantee me and everybody else on the plane a milk withdrawal-induced 2 hour-long tantrum), and he argued that I could buy her a burger and fries as soon as we cleared security. Let's just say I'm not a big fan of junk food, so you can imagine how I liked that sensitive suggestion. Niceties were exchanged, while Little Miss Sunshine started piling up the plastic trays and climbing on the conveyor belt. "It's not a playground here, Ma'am", he helpfully added. Then came the highlight of our conversation: "Those are not stupid rules, Ma'am, those are aviation rules."

When I left my new friend, in shock because of my fresh discovery of the world's stupidity and my inner vengeful Gorgon, I was clinging to my trophy: the milk I'd managed to hang on to. After a teary phone call to Mr Grumble, who had to stay in Dublin because of work ("I briefly turned into YOU! I cried. And I didn't enjoy the experience!"), I took a deep breath and braced myself for the long and exhausting adventure of travelling alone with a lively 3 year-old, 2 heavy bags and an injured arm.

My treacherous family had insisted the temperature in Paris would be a summery 20 to 25°C all week, so I arrived in open-toed sandals, cool shades, a short-sleeved top and an eager smile to be met by... a freezing cold. Grey clouds, biting rain, chilly wind — I really don't see why my French relatives and friends feel compelled to mock us poor sods who live in Ireland. I dearly regretted the nice, warm jumpers and scarves I'd left at home.

Yet I have to say I appreciate Paris now that I only visit my home town as a tourist. Not everyone is rude and hurried, and there are a lot of nice things to do, eat and drink. Even Irish whiskey is cheaper there than in Ireland, as logic will have it. And they do bake a mean croissant. Not to mention the sizzling sunshine they get in the springtime. Usually. Nonetheless, staying with your folks when you're old enough to say you did something 20 years ago can be rather trying.

Almost disappointingly, my various family crises didn't come to an explosive end, so nothing extraordinary happened, apart from a humongous hangover gained from a night out with my 22 year-old brother. Trust me, I like my wine and my whiskey, so I'm a veteran, but I NEVER had it that bad. From what I remember of it, our night was great fun. The only problem was that my younger brother has worked as a barman and knows a lot of nice people who lavished a lot of free drinks on us. When I woke up the next morning around 2 pm, I got up and immediately lay back down, lest I would pass out.  No, it was never, ever that bad.

Our Dad looked stern; he was about to host an important meeting at home. We had to either be presentable in less than half an hour or vacate the premises. My brother had stumbled into the sofabed with his shoes on and looked rough. I felt so horrible that I actually considered attending the meeting, as I didn't feel fit for travel. But I really couldn't. Giving up the idea of taking a shower when my brother mumbled "What for?", I quickly gathered my stuff and ran for the door with my grey-faced sibling in tow. Suddenly the thought of crawling home to Mum seemed strangely appealing.

It took forever. We may have taken a few wrong turns here and there. We certainly didn't manage to grab lunch on the way — too complicated. And the métro is the most loathsome thing. Crowded, noisy, dirty, shaky... But we did make it to our mum's place eventually, and she delivered the compassion and the food we craved. Little Miss Sunshine had spent the night at her grandmother's and I was wondering how competent a mum I would manage to be in my current exhausted and sickly state. Amazingly, my sweet little demon went up to bed spontaneously when it was still technically the afternoon and fell asleep on her own without dinner. Needless to say, this had NEVER happened before as she usually needs a lot of milk, stories, songs and hugs to grudgingly go to sleep around the time I feel ready for bed too. I guess she too had been partying quite hard at her Gran's place the day before. Unless it's the sight of my hungover self that shocked her into an early sleep.

Over the week, Little Miss Sunshine and I gorged on chocolate, checked that each and every member of our family is still barking mad*, caught a few bugs, met a few friends and used the métro far too much, and our holiday was over before we knew it. On the plane back to Dublin, between a coughing and a sneezing fit, I got a fresh gust of the Irish sense of humour when a voice said over the loudspeakers: "The weather is bright and sunny between the showers."
Aaaaaah. Home, sweet home.

*I might say more on the topic of my dysfunctional family later. For now, suffice it to say that my medical student of a younger brother uses his slippers to pratice his stitching abilities...
Oh, and I'm sorry if this post sounds more like a lamely ironical whine than an Ella Fitzgerald song. Will try to do better next time.