Slit spouse from gizzard to belly and he will read 'Made In England' like a stick of Blackpool rock. Never has there been a truer, more solid Englishman. Patriotic, loyal, you name it, he is it. As a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Viking/Anglo Saxon, he is an Englishman to his boot-strap bottoms.
In most things we are opposite and this instance follows the pattern. Whilst I too, am a loyal Englishwoman I am also a committed Francophile. I adore the country, the people and their way of life. Thus it was, that by some miracle, spouse, on retiring from the day job, was persuaded to make a short sojourn in France and we fetched up in a small village in the south-west, the Charente Maritime.
Needless to say I was in heaven. Spouse? Mmm, maybe not quite so, although he did enjoy the wonderful wines and food markets that abounded. There are many, many stories of our time in France, but that would be a digression too far in this blog However, one memory stands out in particular and was brought vividly back to mind this week.
I mentioned that spouse is Anglophile to his fingertips. An Englishman in France, socks with sandals and a proper stiff cream sun hat on. You get the picture. Well, it so happened that I had a C.D. by an Irish band called Planxty with a track on it called 'The Bonny Light Horseman', the lady in the song hold Napoleon responsible for the death of her lover.
I was playing this particular C.D. one day whilst washing up, singing along as you do. Spouse came into the kitchen grinning broadly and turned the volume up to deafening level. (Elf and Safety in Britain would have had his guts for garters.) Still grinning happily, he threw the windows and doors wide open and all of France to hear the song.
Now, as far as the French are concerned they did not lose Waterloo. Quite how they square this with Napoleon's capture and subsequent imprisonment on Elba, I don't know. Their great leader, Napoleon is still revered throughout France and Napoleonic law still rules. in a great many ways. You do not utter his name lightly. Luckily for us our nearest farmer neighbours were indoors, taking their usual post-prandial nap. Had they been out of doors and within hearing distance we might have been cassoulet Anglaise.
Having survived the French experience relatively unscathed, we returned to England and found a new home. Now, spouse is quite a keen chess player. No, I am not mid-digression again, dear reader. Bear with me and we will get there. We are keen afficianados of a good rummage through antique shops, junk shops and haunted many a brocante marche and depot vente in France and on one of our English sorties we came upon a chess set. One team was the Duke of Wellington, his Duchess and English soldiers and the opposing team was of course, Napoleon, Josephine and his French soldiers.
Spouse was ecstatic. Normally, as a true Yorkshireman, he would have gone away and rigorously examined the case for opening his wallet and laying hands on yer actual pound notes. But, for once, no such contemplation of the situation was deemed necessary. Gleefully he pounced upon the box and whipped out Her Majesty's currency before you could say 'knife'.
The chess set was borne home in triumph and given pride of place in the sitting room. Not just to be looked at I may add. No, to be used and then some. I am not a chess player. I'm far too scatty and whenever spouse has tried to teach me these have not turned out to be the happiest of occasion - it was better to desist than divorce. However, when spouse passes by his precious chess set, he always makes a move, for one side or another. But an interesting phenomenon occurs in our house - Napoleon never wins. Waterloo is safe in spouse's hands.
Well it was. You may recall, dear reader, that we recently moved house. The chess set was carefully packed away in its box and last week, tenderly unpacked again, once more given pride of place in the sitting room. Spouse happened to be out and about the next day when I noticed a small chip out of the chessboard, revealing its white underbelly. Out came the brown boot polish, my usually fail-safe remedy for covering scratches, but this time it proved unsuccessful. So I had the bright idea of turning the board around so that the chip faced the wall and would not be seen. Think the thought, do the deed. I slowly began to turn the board around, but drat his eyes, didn't the Duke of Wellington fall over and drop on to the floor along with one of his soldiers.
Believe me, there was more than a sharp intake of breath when I contemplated the damage. I had beheaded the Duke of Wellington, something even the great Napoleon had not managed to do. How does the story end? Well I am still here to tell the tale. Spouse has not beheaded me.
On his return home he was greeted with the sorry tale of the Duke and his maimed soldier. To his eternal credit he was forgiving and kind, realising I was motivated by the best of intentions and he did not repay me in kind - I have kept my head. Thankfully the Duke is now repaired and restored to his station and his soldier has also had his foot repaired and he too stands smartly to attention. Let battle commence - and the Duke win - of course.
Spouse has acquired an alternative monika - Hercules. Thankfully, not because he goes about disposing of of his family members, but, according to him, he has already performed at least twelve tasks and possibly more, before cock-crow.
How is this? You may well ask, dear reader. Does my six foot, not-quite-in-his-prime-anymore spouse resemble this Greek giant of derring-do? Perhaps he does. This is the case he puts to me every morning and when you have finished reading this account it is my sincere wish that every man/woman jack of you will count all of his/her blessings that you do not have to endure this litany of his achievements.
So, the radio alarm goes off and the dulcet or strident tones of John Humphrys, Sarah Montague or some other Radio 4 Today programme presenter enters out consciousness. Thus awakened, our Hercules shimmies silently out of bed and descends the stairs. He is one of those fortunate people who, from the minute they open their eyes are instantly alert, firing on all cylinders and not only ready, but raring to go. I, on the other hand prefer to come to consciousness in a more gentle fashion and gradually greet the day. Thus it is that spouse is despatched to make the morning tea and use up some of his early morning bounciness.
Here we have reached the nub of the matter and where the Labours of Hercules begin and now that I reflect upon his morning's activities I am amazed that I get a cup of morning tea at all.
He has to go out and dig up some clay and mould a couple of drinking vessels on his potters wheel, which then have to be fired in his ever-ready kiln, (not that I recall seeing one of those about the place). Then he has to pick the tea leaves from the bushes and dry them, (in the kiln?). I am a keen gardener and I don't remember any tea bushes in our garden, but as we are new to this house, maybe I have overlooked them as yet. Although sometimes he does talk of going to China or India to pick the leaves.
Also, I have not seen a well on our property, but, nevertheless. Hercules has to go and draw the water from the well to heat up for our tea, (presumably in his kiln). It will certainly be hot if that is the case. Now, we like a splash of milk in our tea, so poor old Herc has to go down the garden again to milk the cow and trudge back up to the house with the jug of warm milk Last of all he has to raid his supply of sugar cane, crush it, roll it, boil it and do all manner of things to it to end up with his granules of sugar for his morning beverage. If clean out of sugar cane he might visit the bees for some honey for his tea. Whose bees these are has never been made clear to me, as we do not have any hives. Having done this he is now ready to bring all the aforementioned elements together in the form of two cups of tea, ascend the stairs and present the fruits of his labours to his dearly beloved - me, allegedly.
Gosh. No wonder he looks quite whacked out by the time he and his libations reach the portals of the boudoir. As you can imagine, dear reader, quite some time has elapsed since Hercules descended the stairs to undertake this task, (although an element of time travel must be involved as John Humphrys is still banging on at some hapless politician on the Today programme). Perhaps spouse is more Dumbledore than Hercules. Anyway, in the interim I have fully woken up and am sitting up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, eagerly awaiting my morning beverage and in the right frame of mind for discussing the forthcoming day and all the delights it my hold.
Wearily, Hercules deposits his newly-crafted cup of Rosie Lea by my bedside and then collapses exhausted into bed. Perhaps it's time someone told him that re-usable cups, teabags, milk and sugar are available from the supermarket and those strange devices that lurk over our sink dispense endless quantities of Adam's ale.
Or maybe not. I have to admit, I enjoy all his Herculean efforts on my behalf and Daisy cow is adorable. Oh, didn't I tell you about Daisy? Well, having a cow down the bottom of the garden doesn't mean he does all that other stuff - or does it??? .....
I think I would be correct if I said that we all have a certain image of ourselves, as in perhaps a cheerful, positive person, or an action man/woman, or laid-back couch-potato type, or maybe even a dissatisfied Eyore. I am sure there are many combinations. I have always been a 'don't put off until tomorrow what you can squeeze into the next half-hour' type. 'Do it now' has been my watchword. Spouse is rolling his eyes even as I type the words, having been on the receiving end of Mrs Actionwoman for far too many times than he cares to remember.
However, I have noticed a certain change in my behaviour of late and I have not as yet come to a firm conclusion as to the reason why. I have gone from being a 'do it now' merchant to a 'mmm, maybe not today' lady. I have become a procrastinator extraordinaire.
Here's a 'for instance'. Having moved to a new home recently I have a 'to do' list, which incorporates a 'to contact list, 'to find' list and a 'get on with it soon' list. The list lurks on the kitchen worktop and I peer guiltily at it when I pass. I am getting to the stage when I slink past it like a naughty child - if I close my eyes I can't see it and so can't be reminded of what I should be doing instead of what I am doing, which is not a lot.
Unluckily for me, it is not only THE LIST that glares balefully back at me. In our new bedroom, which is a large, light and airy room, there are a distinct lack of wardrobes. In fact, we don't have any at all. At present, we have some clothes rails to hang our extremely expensive designer and coture clothes upon. (I lie, dear reader, we do not own one piece of coture clothing between us). But our glad rags hang there, a reproach to my current procrastinating tendencies. I am supposed to be organising fitted wardrobes - I think they're an item on my 'to do' list.
And then there is the little matter of my Office. Only it's not a 'little matter' at all. A paper-mountain awaits sorting out in there and I hope one of these fine days to work my way in, to find the file with the plot of my next book. But that fine day has not arrived yet and again, I slink guiltily past the door, trying my best not to think about the chaos within.
Procrastination is very tiring. If I put half the amount of energy into getting on with things and actually getting them done as I do into not doing things, I could probably conquer the world, well, at least a bit of North Yorkshire. Instead of which, I drift about the place, watching the wildlife and pulling out the odd weed in the garden and watching the grass grow. 'Never put off until tomorrow' is a fading memory. At present I am a 'let's not even get started' person.
Mulling this new procrastinating behaviour over, a ray of light begins to dawn on me. I have just finished writing a book and when I'm busy writing, like everyone who works, it's all a bit of a juggling act, balancing the work with the multitude of other life tasks and pleasures awaiting out there. So you get a wiggle on and make the most of every nano-second.
But, I'm having a break from writing - a holiday - a step away from the daily rush of life and I think my poor old brain cell does not know what to make of all this spare time it has. For sure, there are plenty of things to do, but there's no hurry to do them, yawn, so why do them at all? No hurries? Then, no worries, it will still be there tomorrow.
By then I might be lying in my new hammock on the lawn and the house-elf will have been in and sorted out all the things on the 'to do' list and I won't have to procrastinate about them any more, (in my dreams). Then I can start procrastinating about starting a new book, assuming the house-elf found the file in my jungle of an office. Are my brain cells ready for it yet? Maybe, maybe not. I need to go and lie in the hammock some more, just to be really sure .....
So, spouse showed our young man the wood he wanted.
'Oh, that wood! Now if I'd have known it was that wood you wanted...'
Spouse by this time was nearly busting a blood vessel. However, he managed to contain himself and together they went through the feet ad inches measurements, barcode and price routine, then returning to the Order Desk to finally get the whole lot on to the computer.
Now came the exciting bit - the proposed delivery of all this wood. When would Sir like it? Ooh, Sir would like it tomorrow or the next day please. Well, actually, no. Sir couldn't possibly have it as quick as that. Well why the ****** ask me then?
After much consultation on the phone it turned out it couldn't be delivered for another week and no he couldn't pay for it at this desk - this was the 'Order Desk'. He would have to go right away over the other side of the store to the 'Pay Desk'.
I think spouse was very tempted to tell the young man where he could put his 'Order Desk,' but as he had gone through so much that morning, just to get this far, he was beaten into submission and paid up at the 'Pay Desk' without the need of a security guard to manhandle him out of a store for a change.
Moral of this shaggy dog story? Moving house is partly for the shedding of STUFF. Look what happens if you have too much of it. I am ordering the yurt even as we speak.
It has been an interesting week at Maison Comb. Having recently moved into our new quarters and even though spouse has acquired a large study, he still has not got enough bookcases to stash away all his books. So, he decided to build in bookshelves in a large recess. He planned, he drew it out, he carefully measured up - not in his favoured feet and inches, but in millimetres as the local DIY emporium deals in these, or so he thought.
It would be a simple matter of driving into town, ordering the wood and arranging for delivery. So my dear spouse thought, in his innocence. Sadly, this turned out not to be so. The drive into town was simple enough, but thereafter it turned into an episode of 'Four Candles', only with spouse getting more and more exasperated as the ordering process went on.
it goes like this - Spouse enters store and goes to the far end of it where the wood section is. Makes his preferred choices and notes the measurements in millimetres and quantities required. Then schlepps to the front of the store to the 'Ordering Desk'. After some queuing up it is spouse's turn to order and he begins with his first two items, only to be interrupted by the young male member of staff manning the computer.
'Ooh, I'm not very good with millimetres, have you got feet and inches?'
'No,' says spouse. 'You always want millimetres.
'Well, did you get the bar code?'
'No', says spouse, only mildly irritated by this stage.
So, off he went to the far end of the store again to get the bar code. Schlepped back to the Order Desk and the young man brings a picture up on the screen - white wood on a white screen background, which was not much use to spouse as he could hardly see it.
'Tell you what,' says the young man, 'Chris in 'gardening' is good with millimetres. Go and see him and we'll be right as ninepence.'
'Or thruppence ha'penny if it's old money,' mutters spouse under his breath,' as he makes his way to 'Gardening'.
But there was only a female member of staff working in the 'gardening' section. When spouse requested the aid of Chris, it was to be informed that he had gone for his 12noon lunch break. Lucky old Chris, is was only 11.45a.m. so, out of luck on the millimetre front, spouse schlepped back up the store, re-checked measurements in inches, bar codes and prices and made his way back to the Order Desk once more. Greeted like an old friend, our young man once more consulted his computer screen and bought up yet another picture of wood, 'no, wood is not just wood, believe me.)
Once again, spouse did not feel the picture of this piece of wood properly represented the piece he had just been looking at at the back of the store.
'Why don't you come and look at it wit me,' he suggested to the young man.
It was like flicking a switch and the light bulb came on.
'Good idea,' young man exclaimed and almost arm-in-arm the made they way up the store to inspect the stocks of wood.
Spouse showed the exact sample of wood to the young man.