Time And Tide Wait For No Man

It’s the annual family excursion to Cornwall and we are back in our rented house opposite Dawn French’s gothic mansion. But alas! After last year’s ‘Dawn Watch‘, well-placed sources inform us that Dawn is currently on a world tour of her stand-up show.

Still, this does not stop my father training his binoculars on her house every five minutes – ever hopeful that the cheery comedienne might make an appearance.

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Luckily, there’s plenty of other fixations to keep the parents happy. Namely, my father’s new boat. I say ‘boat’ but really its a souped-up dinghy – the type of inflatable that one might use to get from one’s yacht into the harbour (for my father, the dinghy IS his yacht. See previous blog here).

In fact, the husband and I have been known to disembark the dinghy and wave vaguely at a fancy vessel in the distance, on the pretence that we’ve just popped ashore on our tender.

So, my father finally invested in a new dinghy this summer – after spending six months meticulously checking out potential boats in a shop in Garstang. On his fifth visit, he finally decided to commit to the purchase (much to the weary shopkeeper’s relief).

Let me introduce… Chrismick III (and a rather ungainly image of the husband’s backside).

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One might think that this would mean that original Chrismick I (purchased in 1973, gnawed by mice in the garage, and covered in puncture patches) and Chrismick II (purchased circa 1985, world’s most well-travelled dinghy, and part of many a childhood adventure) might have been resigned to the scrap heap.

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But, oh no, father is now smugly driving around with not one but TWO boats folded into the boot of his car, while Chrismick I languishes in the garage at home – per chance it might be called upon to sail the seas once again (in the unlikely event that the parents should ever require the use of three dinghies simultaneously).

As we cruise down the River Fowey on board Chrismick III, my mother likes to recite a series of her favourite stories: the time her and my father got stranded in Polperro when a drunk ferryman never returned to collect them; how the trees down the river used to be covered in white China clay from the huge ships that entered the estuary; the time my father ambitiously headed out to sea in Chrismick I, where ferocious waves lapped over the dinghy and she was forced to frantically bail out water with a milk carton.

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Another of the parents’ favourite hobby horses is tide times. My father has an unhealthy pre-occupation with the tide and studies his tide times book several times a day. When the tide is coming in, it’s possible to travel all the way up the Fowey estuary to Lerryn and Lostwithiel – as long as you’re in a small boat. (No problem there!)

My mother has a series of oft-used phrases to explain tide times, such as, ‘it was like someone had pulled the plug out!’ and, ‘it was nothing but mud flats!’. The parents occasionally like to run the gauntlet with the tide, claiming it’s all part of the fun. Nothing pleases my father more than chugging up to Lerryn, having a pint in the The Ship Inn and racing the tide back to Fowey again (following the route of the channel on his special Ordnance survey map)

On one such visit to Lerryn this week, my father was delighted to find it was an extra special Spring tide, meaning the car park was flooded and water was lapping rather worryingly at the front doors of some of the pretty cottages lining the river.

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There’s also a little bridge going into the village of Golant; at high tide the gap between the bottom of the bridge and the top of the water is pretty slim. Everyone has to duck on the count of three. It’s all part of the fun.

The Fowey Hotel is a slightly down-at-heel Victorian residence teetering grandly on the cliff above the estuary. I have fond memories of enjoying cream teas on the lawn there during those endless childhood summers where there was never a cloud in the sky.

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The parents first visited the Fowey Hotel in 1973, after a friend recommended it to them. In those pre-internet days, they simply drove down to Fowey, having no idea what it would be like.

They were so taken with the Fowey Hotel and the area in general, a love affair was born. They even sent my grandparents down the following summer.

But after driving 350 miles, my grandfather arrived to find the Fowey Hotel had closed down and all the furniture was being auctioned off!

Luckily, it re-opened sometime in the late 80s/ early 90s (with a much higher-price tag) and though in latter years my parents couldn’t afford to stay there, they would check-in to strange Keith’s B&B on the road above and visit the bar each evening for their supper.

Now, the parents love nothing more than having a drink in one of the large windows, as they reminisce and watch the boats come and go from the harbour below.

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As time has gone on, I’ve grown to love the Fowey Hotel too. Not least because of its air of slightly naff old world glamour, the rattling original period lift and framed yellowing letters from Kenneth Grahame to his son (he reportedly wrote Wind in the Willows at the hotel) in the lobby, and the seemingly never-ending stream of quirky guests.

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On leaving day today, my mother pushed the button on one final obsession: the need to eat up everything in the house.

As the daughter of a post-war disciplinarian, she simply can’t bring herself to throw any food away. Last year, she was left with a tub of margarine that hadn’t been fully consumed and she actually toyed with the idea of buying some bread just to ‘use it up’.

This morning, my mother managed to empty the fridge, save for a pint of milk: first, she forced my Uncle Stephen to drink a glass. She then drowned my father’s Weetabix in twice the normal amount, and stood hovering nearby, desperate to whip the bowl and spoon off him to wash it up.

Satisfied that the milk was gone, the cupboards were bare, and the ‘boats’ were safely packed back in the car boot, it was time to bid farewell to beloved Fowey for another year.

 

Odds and Sods

Our nosy neighbours Dick and Susan are moving out! Months of curtain twitching, bitter complaining and persistent emailing is coming to an end. And secretly, I’m a little sad.

Apparently, the sight of fellow residents entering the communal bin area and then either a: not closing the bin lids properly and/or b: not closing the gate properly (hello half-job husband!) has tipped Susan over the edge.

Dick has invested in a special pair of heavy-duty gloves to tackle the problem, which I’ve rebranded ‘Dick’s mitts’. Down-in-the-dumps Dickie seems to spend his days rummaging around in the bin compound – mitts donned – while Susan looks on from her perch in the window, barking the occasional instruction.

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Sanctimonious Sue sent an email telling me how glad she is to be leaving.

‘Someone had a party Sat night, with noise in the hall and distant party noises; I think it must have been 17,’ she wrote.

I complained in a very moderate way to one of the friends arriving about parking all over the front of the building and got sharp words in return.’

She added: ‘You may not be surprised to hear that all these comings and goings have reminded us – not that we really needed it – how glad we will be to leave here.’

Down the road at Caffe Nero, my interaction with retiree-at-large Malcolm has reached new heights.

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Malcolm seems to be under the misguided belief that I am some sort of literary don. He keeps coming over and throwing names of Dylan Thomas’s poems at me like some kind of bizarre quiz. It’s making me very nervous and I generally have to keep smiling and nodding along each time he mumbles, ‘What do you think of Under Milk Wood?’

Malcolm kept mentioning that he wanted to get rid of his beloved collection of classic novels and did I know anyone who would like them? It took my a while to cotton on but eventually, the husband said, ‘I think Malcolm wants you to have his books.’

The next time I saw him, I told Malcolm that I would love to take ownership of them.

For the next two weeks, Malcolm drove around with the books weighing heavy in the boot of his car, waiting to see me.

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The books now have a new home on our bookshelf; they’re actually really nice little leather-bound tomes. I like them.

But it hasn’t ended there. I mentioned to Malcolm that I was thinking about visiting Majorca and the next day, he appeared with another box – this time stuffed with literature about his favourite Spanish island.

I’m fearful that Malcolm is gradually emptying his house of his worldly possessions and foisting them onto me – the ultimate clutter-phobe.

He also keeps harping on about his favourite hotel in Deia. He’s mentioned it so many times that I actually think we might now have to stay there when we visit Majorca this summer – just to keep him happy.

Over in the corner of Caffe Nero, Porridge-Loving Pensioner has taken to reading a selection of bonkbusters!

Lately, he’s been completely engrossed in Jackie Collins’ Vendetta, which rather ambitiously bills itself as a nonstop, action-packed tale of sex, betrayal, drugs, intrigue, and murder.

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Porridge-Loving Pensioner has a new routine: he arrives by taxi at 7.30am, clutching his Co-Op carrier bag crammed with supplies. By 7.40am, he’s already on his first pot of porridge. At midday, he shuffles off to the pub next door before returning for one last pot of porridge and departing by taxi, circa 4pm.

One sunny day the other week, Porridge-Loving Pensioner went a bit crazy. He hobbled over to me and whispered that a strawberry milkshake was coming my way. I just nodded and smiled back at him, thinking, ‘he’s finally gone doolally.’

Then, 10 minutes later, a woman appeared in the doorway with a tray full of strawberry milkshakes and Porridge-Loving Pensioner started handing them out to all the Caffe Nero customers – me included!

He was the Milky Bar Kid gone rogue.

To this day, I have no idea where the milkshakes or the woman even came from. And I’m a little unsure on the policy of slurping non-Nero shakes on their premises.

It’s been a couple of weeks now Porridge-Loving Pensioner’s Milkshake Moment of Madness. He’s now retreated back into his corner to tuck into Jackie Collins’ latest bestseller.

The other day, I ordered my coffee and sat down with my laptop across from him.

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There was a sudden scuffle from behind and an avalanche of Cadbury’s Eclairs landed in the table in front of me.

I turned to see Porridge-Loving Pensioner’s wizened face leaning in.

‘Friends for life,’ he said.

The Half-Job Husband

The husband arrived home from work the other night. He walked through the front door and left it half open; he kicked off his shoes and left them in the middle of the hallway; he flung his damp gym towel over the nearest door to dry it but left it still folded up.

Welcome to the world of Half-Job Harry.

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Half-Job Harry is the moniker I gave to the husband for never doing a full job on anything. I’m not sure whether other people have this problem with their partners but it drives me bananas.

Half-Job Harry does do jobs but he doesn’t do them thoroughly. He might, for instance, reluctantly change a lightbulb (a weekly occurrence in our apartment – what is it with these spotlights?!)

But once done, he will leave the old lightbulb on the side, the chair he used to climb in the middle of the room, and the plastic packaging from the new bulb strewn somewhere on the floor – while happily reclining back on the sofa, satisfied that he’s achieved a spot of entry-level DIY and his work is done.

Last month, after more persistent hen-pecking, the husband reluctantly sloped off to put some oil and screen wash in the car. He was gone for some time and he returned empty-handed.

It was only when I opened the car boot this week, that I found a big plastic box swimming with greasy oil and screen wash from where he hadn’t secured the bottles properly.

Half-Job Harry is usurped only by Put-Off Pete. Put-Off Pete likes to leave smelly bin bags by the front door because he will ‘take it in the morning’; he leaves paperwork to pile up on the kitchen worktop – because he will ‘deal with it next week’; and he leaves ironing on the side because he will ‘put it away tomorrow’.

Put-Off Pete came into play the other night when I asked the husband if he could nip down to the basement to quickly read the electricity meter.

‘I’ll do it at some point over the weekend,’ said Put-Off Pete.

‘At some point over the weekend?’ I cried. ‘It’s only Wednesday night. It will only take two minutes!’

‘If it only takes two minutes, you can go,’ said the husband.

‘You know I don’t like to go down there for fear of What Lies Beneath,’ I said.

What Lies Beneath is the name we gave to the eerie void underneath our apartments, which also houses the electricity meters – and probably several hundred super-rats.

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For three years, we were oblivious to What Lies Beneath until we went on a mini adventure to sabotage SuDick’s carpet tiles (SuDick are our bothersome neighbours (details here) who insisted on laying carpet throughout the communal corridors. As part of our anti-carpet campaign, the husband and I decided to start stealing the stash of carpet tiles from the basement at the rate of one by one. We then frisby them off our balcony and into the valley below. This little game has become a lot of fun).

I think it’s fair to say that the husband does not like doing DIY. We were having a picnic in the garden of The House We Might Never Actually Live In the other weekend (we occasionally eat a Sainsbury’s £3 meal deal there – it’s the only picnic we can afford, given that the garden is costing a third of my monthly salary to upkeep), when the husband spotted a tree that had blown down in the wind.

If you look closely, you can see it perpendicular to the green conifer. I’m not quite sure what one does in the event of a felled tree – dial a tree surgeon?

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The husband went for a closer inspection of said tree and started rambling about climbing up the wobbly-looking conifer next to it and CHAIN-SAWING it down.

For someone renowned for his inability to use a radiator bleeding key and who once had a particularly close shave with a circular drill that nearly took his eyebrows off, the idea of the husband willingly going anywhere near a chainsaw is a very frightening prospect indeed.

Luckily, Put-Off Pete soon jerked back into action.

The fallen tree’s been there for a couple of months now and thankfully the husband hasn’t mentioned it since.

His damp towel is still festering in his gym bag; there’s a pile of unread letters on the kitchen side; and the car’s been demanding more screen wash for at least a month now.

Basically, it’s business as usual.

Damned Designs

The husband and I have bought a house. It’s very pretty. I wish I could get a bit more excited about this new step towards Becoming A Proper Adult but there’s one big sticking point to it all.

When we bought the house, we rather rashly assumed it wouldn’t be a problem to renovate and extend it quite a bit.

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Our new domicile had already been extended by the previous owners without any problems; there was no neighbours to speak off, except a few octogenarian bowlers; it wasn’t overlooked at all. We were planning on replacing the strange blue conservatory. Basically, our Kevin McCloud extension wouldn’t hurt anyone.

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Unfortunately the council don’t share this view.

It all boils down to an over-zealous planning officer called Laura Hogg who has left no stone unturned in her quest to quash our plans and basically ruin our lives.

After rummaging through the planning archives in a dark council basement somewhere, she triumphantly claimed that our house is in a previously undistinguishable ‘green belt’ area of suburbia, and, as it has already been extended by the national law of 30 per cent volume since 1948, we are not to extend it by a single brick more.

This means: no two-storey side extension, no double garage, no all-glass kitchen diner at the back, no master bedroom overlooking the garden, and certainly no indulgent (but entirely necessary in the husband’s eyes) basement ‘media room’.

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This news came as a very heavy hit.

Our future abode currently stands empty and dejected, a bit like its owners. Once a fortnight, I drive past it – simply to check it’s still there.

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Occasionally, we wander wistfully around the garden and sometimes have a picnic. We have a new hedgehog friend too. He only has three legs.

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Sometimes, I wonder if the husband and I will end up like my parents’ friends Pete and Enid, who bought a new house up the road from them and despite happily decorating it and pottering in the garden every weekend, have NEVER MOVED IN. This might not be quite so alarming, if they hadn’t bought the house 25 years ago.

My mother cycled past and spotted Enid in the garden the other week. ‘Will you be moving in soon?’ she cautiously enquired.

‘Moving in?!’ shrieked Enid, wild-eyed and terrified. ‘It’s nowhere near ready!’

The news from the council has left us with three options:

1. Find out where our nemesis Laura Hogg lives and knock on the door with a brown envelope stuffed full of grubby bank notes. If she refuses to accept this bribe, let down her car tyres in the dead of night.

2. Carry on living happily in our apartment, aka The Holiday Home, and do a ‘Pete and Enid’.

3. As Laura Hogg has now moved department, pretend the whole saga never happened and resubmit a scaled down version of the plans – with the insane notion that a different sympathetic councillor may give them the rubber stamp.

We decided to go for the resubmit plans/ bury-head-in-sand approach. According to our architect, crazier things have happened.

Last week, were given a new case officer: Peter Grant. I spoke to him on the phone. He has a very dry sense of humour and seemed quite positive.

‘Peter Grant has a humorous, ‘can-do’ attitude,’ I thought. ‘I’m all about ‘can-do’ attitudes. Maybe Peter Grant will be our saviour?’

I arranged to meet him at his office. I woke early that morning with all the anticipation of a first date. I needed to woo Peter Grant.

‘Whatever you do, don’t go for the brassy barmaid look,’ said the husband.

‘Have you ever know me dress like a brassy barmaid?’ I said.

‘Good point,’ said the husband.

Still, I couldn’t decide what to wear. I wanted to channel a mixture of innocent school teacher/ naive housewife/ simpering girl-next-door. It wasn’t an easy look to pull off.

In the end, I plumped for black leggings and a bright orange jacket, (avoiding the colour green at all costs).

Peter Grant finally appeared in the lobby.

He was younger than I’d imagined, casually dressed, with intense dark eyes and a brisk manner.

‘Sorry about that,’ he said, gesturing to the seat opposite him. ‘I’ve been embroiled in a series of office-based escapades.

Embroiled? Escapades?! I loved this man.

I wanted to yell, ‘I’m a WORDSMITH too!’

But instead I concentrated on the task in hand: hypnotising Peter into granting us full planning permission.

‘So what was the problem with the original plans?’ asked Peter, spreading the drawings on the table in front of him.

‘I think it was just the sheer size of it,’ I said, adopting an innocent tone and taking care not to mention the words ‘green belt’, ’30 per cent’, or ‘Laura-bloody-Hogg’.

‘Well, I can’t see any problem with this rear extension,’ said Peter.

‘We’re all about enhancement here and l like to impart good news on a sunny Friday morning,’ he added.

I did an inward whoop.

‘Great,’ I squeaked, thinking, ‘just kept smiling, maintain eye contact, and whatever you do SAY NO MORE’.

‘I’ll get the architect to re-submit the revised plans next week.’ I added.

One of two things is now going to happen: Peter Grant grants us full planning permission and gives our case no further thought. Peter Grant bumps into Laura Hogg at the water cooler, happens to mention the name of our house, and gets the full lowdown from Miss Planning Enforcer herself.

In which case, my only option would then be to start an affair with Peter Grant.

I updated the husband over dinner that evening.

‘It’s gone well up to now but just how far do you want me to take this? I said.

‘I might even have to SLEEP WITH PETER GRANT!’

‘You will have to do what’s necessary,’ said the husband.

‘But let’s face it, you’re no Demi Moore.’

Dick Gets Nicked

Two blogs about our nutty neighbours in a month? It seems a little excessive. But when the story’s this good, I just have to share.

For those of you not in the loop, Susan and Dick, aka SuDick, are a pair of curtain-twitching, moaning retirees, who keep tabs on the movements of all other residents in our apartment block in the most busybody way imaginable.

Last month, a pair of new residents moved in and had a rather raucous party, which disturbed many other neighbours into the early hours. Inevitably, SuDick sprung into action the following morning; emails were flying around from as early as 8am to gather support for their nuisance tenants campaign.

Belligerent Bill (another curmudgeonly retiree of Post-It Note Parking fame) also waded in on the action – complaining direct to the council’s noise nuisance squad.

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Dick followed up the complaints with a strongly-worded letter, which he half-slipped under their door the following evening. Before the party-loving tenants arrived home, I managed to sneak a peak at the note itself (who’s the nosy neighbour now? I hear you cry).

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Here’s a snippet:

‘I think you’d do well to start apologising to your neighbours and show more consideration in the future…’

‘I’m telling you this in your own interests… Don’t get off on the wrong foot.’

It was a little heavy-handed perhaps but nothing too serious.

That’s not what the new neighbours thought.

At approximately 4pm on Monday, a police car pulled up outside the apartment block and two police officers got out, handcuffs jangling at their hips. Entering the premises, they headed straight for SuDick’s apartment, where they invited themselves in ‘for a chat’.

A complaint of harassment had been filed against poor Dick. The new tenants, it seemed, had decided to go nuclear on him, complaining that he was intimidating them.

Sparrow-hawk Susan sent out an email to us all, recounting Dick’s police encounter. ‘Dick wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ she cried.

She added: ‘Dick’s note was not threatening; it was just convenient to construe it in that way. He simply pointed out that such behaviour had not set them off on the right foot here and suggested an apology to those kept awake might be appreciated. None has come, of course.’

Under no circumstances are we to contact the new tenants directly about noise again. I’ve got to hand it to them.

But I do feel a bit sorry for deflated Dick, now the long arm of the law has put a stop to his over-zealous neighbourhood watch.

Susan ended her email saying that the police seemed to know a lot of information about them.

‘Are our emails being hacked?’ she pondered.

Complaints, conspiracy theories and late-night confrontations… I fear it’s only a matter of time before Dick gets an ASBO – and Susan ends up in the slammer.