Friday, July 31, 2009

The old and the new

“Television is the saviour of the deaf.”
from Deaf Sentence by David Lodge

I find it hard to keep up:- peanut shells on the floor, strawberry hulls in the plant pots and peach stones scattered around the garden. Nonna’s healthy diet and life style is evidenced everywhere. Small trails of detritus follow in her wake. It’s not just the small things that always irritate, it’s also the fact that it is always these things that the children choose to copy. The fall out is so much greater and long lasting. It’s not as if this is anything new. It has always been like this, a combination of absent mindedness and a total disregard for anything that might vaguely be categorized as domestic duties. Before she was widowed she had a husband who attended to such duties. Without him she is literally quite lost. In many ways this also means that so much of it is a lost cause, as it impossible if not pointless to try to curb the habits of 80 plus year’s practice. But the little annoyances can be swiftly wiped out by bigger issues:-

“Well Maddy.”
“I tink maybe I should go ome now.”
“Go home? Why go back to England when you’re perfectly happy here?”
“I need to check dah house.”
“House sitter, remember?”
“And dere are my friends.”
“Which friends?”
“Oh I don’t know…….most of dem are dead anyway.”
“Um….so there’s nothing to rush back for is there?”
“But I need to get tings done.”
“What things?”
“Oh I don’t know…….it’s so difficult to do tings here.”
“Such as?”
“When I am ome, in Poole, everyting is near.”
“What’s near?”
“Dah theatre, dah cinema, dah museums, dah library, dah art gallery……everyting.”
“When did you last go and see a film?”
“Oooooo well dat was ere, with dah children…..Ice Age 3.”
“Well then. When did you last go to the museum…….or any of those things?”
“I don’t know really……but……I could if I wanted to.”
“Ah…..I see what you mean. It’s a pain not being able to drive yourself, but I’ll drive you. Where would you like to go?” I back pedal fast as I realize the complications that will ensue. “We’ll make a plan if you like?”
“No …’s just if I were at ome……I can get all doz tings from dah television.”
“It’s going to be hooked up at the weekend.”
“Wot iz?”
“The new television, in your room.”
“Yes. You know, the black flat thing on the wall.”
“It’s a television?”
“Very strange.”
“We’re just waiting for the guy to come around and connect us up.”
“Really. Then we’ll all have to have a crash course on how to use the remote control.”
“I’ll be able to watch my programmes?”
“Of course. Why wouldn’t you? Animal Planet round the clock if you like?”
“Oh good………I thought you would make me wait.”
“Wait? Why would I make you wait?”
“5:30 is electronics time.”

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Freeze Frame

I am on pause mode at the kitchen sink, mid morning. Five million tasks completed, five million more to do, but I do tend to exaggerate, when she appears again. We run through her usual itinerary of questions, all part of the daily routine, a check list and head count of everyone’s whereabouts and doings. I do not care to recall or count the number of times we have already started the day.
“Good morning Nonna? Good night’s sleep?”
“Sleep? Me? I never sleep.”
We continue for several minutes, same tone, same answers, careful to ensure that there are no hic-cups. As she wanders off with a cup of hot slopping coffee I feel a dip in my spirits. I stare at the empty pristine sink with a rising sense of guilt and confusion when she re-appears at my side to place the coffee mug down.

We start again.

“Good morning Nonna? Good night’s sleep?”
“Sleep? Me? I always sleep perfectly but I am you know……a bit weary.” I jump at the chance.
“I know what you mean. The boys are stuck on 4:45 a.m.”
“Wot? Dat’s morning anyway? Or is dat night time?”
“You tell me?”
“Wot you are den?”
I blink because English is a foreign language when translated from the Italian, but she unravels, “why you are so …….dirty today?”
“No…dat……’s white……grey?”
“Oh you have a nice play wiv your pottery den?”
“When you do dat den?”
“Just now.”
“So you are cook now? Wot are you cook today?”
“I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”
“Well……dat’s your business. Wot else?”
“You look sort of……..ow you are?”
“Tired! You’re too young to be tired. Ow old you are now den?”
“48!” She fluffs her palms in exasperation, “when I was 48…….let me see now…..?” I see her reflect upon earlier times with her one delightful child, my husband, before she continues, “yes…..maybe…….don’t worry yourself…….soon you will be really old too and den you can forget all about it.”

She has a point.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beware of women in comfortable things

Nonna and I have known each other now for a goodly number of years. As one year flows into another, at some time or other we usually bump into the summer season. As the temperatures rise Nonna is apt to don her familiar hot weather gear, a garment that she refers to as a housecoat. I cannot speak to their provenance specifically, but I would hazard a guess that those housecoats, or muu muus, have been in her possession for quite a while. They are comfortable, easy to wash and airy, just what any woman with any sense would choose to wear as the thermostat creeps into the 90’s. That sensible woman would wear cotton, which she does and being thrifty, would take gentle care to ensure that they lasted many a season, after season, after season until suddenly some busy body points out that she could do with a make-over. Burnt Sienna orange and Turquoise are not the most flattering of colours, even with the most exotic complexions, but elderly Italian persons do not share this opinion. Although Nonna was once a homegrown seamstress, latterly such fine work is tough on both the fingertips and the vision. Thus it falls to me, or rather, I choose to take matters into my own hands.

I take my daughter with me as a second opinion is always welcome. Two heads are better than one and fool’s seldom differ, especially if they share the same genes. It is imperative that we find just the right fabric to update Nonna. This is my second attempt to hit the right note as I dithered between old lady florals and inoffensive pastels, neither of which would be my first choice. I don’t want to foist a shroud upon her, merely offer a third garment for my own selfish laundry purposes. One on, one off and one in the wash is the overall goal.

Just lately we have spent an inordinate amount of time at the hobby shop now that my daughter also wishes to learn to sew, although without help. Without help, she recently made the most magnificent tunic for herself, frightfully hip and trendy but unfortunately a size or two too small. Her loss was my gain in the form of an unexpected gift for Mother’s Day. The tunic is still in need of a little tender loving care, the odd loose thread, unfinished hem and would greatly benefit from a press. Hence it hangs over the dining-room table chair, clamouring for attention but ignored. Everyone ignores it except for Nonna, who is apt to pass through the room on route only to pause, pat and comment, “dat’s lovely dat……really…….beautiful.”

Hence I am in search of beautiful but the bolt is bare. There are a whole slew of similar bolts of fabric with the same design but different colour combinations, far too many colour combinations. So I dither. The pink is too puce, the blue is too cold, the yellow is quite nauseating, the green looks like camouflage. I poke the purple but no-one really wears purple. Few people can get away with purple. My fingers run along the bolts as we pull them out for comparison. Lilac is too pastel, too soppy, too girly. The red is too garish, the grey too aging, the beige too bland, the brown is quite boring. My eyes meet my daughter’s as she glares, ‘just make a decision!’ but instead mutters, “you’ll never get it done in time.”
“When’s her birthday again? When are you going to do it?”
“Right! Purple it is.” I march up to the counter with the bolt as my daughter hovers, leading up to something.
“Yes dear? Shall I buy something for you too?”
“No……..I was just thinking…….?”
“Those shoes……?”
“What shoes?”
“The ones on your feet, the ones you’re wearing.”
“Hmm? What about them?”
“You really should get a new pair.”
“Why? They’re the most comfortable pair I have. I’ve had them for years.”
“Exactly. They’re completely knackered.”

Monday, July 20, 2009

Not everything is bigger and better in America

I imagine that the entire neighbourhood is now familiar with our nightly heated debate, in the garden. In the heat of the garden we script our way through a well worn conversational path, without malice, well rehearsed. At some stage during dinner our Italian Nonna begins to point at the fence as English words fight for supremacy.
“Look at dat!” Her surprised delight for any wildlife is always genuine, always new.
“Ooo yes!”
“It’s a squirrel?”
“Yes, it’s a squirrel,” I confirm, at 50 decibels in my controlled yell voice.
“It’s a squirrel is it?”
“Mangy little ting isn’t it?”
“Not like English squirrels.”
“English squirrels are fat and round with big fluffy tails.”
“Do you not feed dem enough?”
“No, we don’t feed the squirrels.”
“Hmm we don’t feed dah squirrels in England either.”
“But dere still fat and fluffy and you know……gorgeous. Not like deez skinny little American squirrels.”
I listen to the American crickets, American birds and baited breath of all my American neighbours. I suspect that everyone is word perfect within a five mile radius of our house.

We await deportation papers shortly, assuming we’re not lynched first.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Round the U-bend

I am driven to distraction or rather, very distracted but driven, in my task to complete one simple additional salad for supper to stave off starvation for another 24 hours with the hungry hoards.

It is a busy time of the day, the time of day where each child is occupied to allow me one on one time with my son for his daily "cooking lesson." Meanwhile, Nonna has her own very important agenda. Nonna’s agenda consists of ensuring that everyone is well fed, that the Tortoise is well fed, the cat and the dog, although in no particular order of priority.

My son pokes a tomato with the point of a kitchen knife, ineffectually, whilst I hack up a bunch of coriander.
“Wot about dis one den?” she asks waving the tortoise bowl in front of my nose. I’m tempted to shout but resist as she is without her hearing aid. My precious store of tomatoes is already depleted due to forgetful, elderly, diabetic thieves. Now yet another is to be sacrificed to the tortoise. This particular tomato is roughly equivalent to half Fred’s entire body weight, but there’s no point in arguing, or rather, it is too time consuming and therefore futile.
“You tink eee will like it?”
“Eee is a vegetarian yes?”
“Wot do you tink ee likes best?”
“Yes. He loves grapes.”
“Ow you know dat den?”
“He told me at the pet shop.”
“I knew ee could squeak but I didn’t know eee could talk.”
“!.....the tortoise didn’t tell me, the shop assistant told me……the shop assistant in the pet shop………….you’re teasing me right?” She beams back at me over her shoulder.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saved from the Salon

“Wot about dis den?”
“What about what?”
“My air.”
“What about your hair?”
“I need to do something wiv it.”
“Such as?”
“I don know…….a perm perhaps?”
“No. Don’t perm it.”
“Wot can I do wiv it den?”
“Tell you what, you wash it and I’ll blow dry it for you.”
“You can do air?”
“Of course I can do hair.”
“When do you ever do air?”
“Look around you……I do everybody’s hair, wash, cut and blow dry.”
“Ow long you do air?”
“A whole life time it would appear.”
“Oh yes, I was forgetting.”
“What did you forget?”
“Dat you are Scottish.”
“No salon den?”
“Nope, scream bloody murder they do. We’ve been banned from everywhere in a 10 mile radius.”
“Why dey scream?”
“Why indeed?”
“Tell you wot?”
She beams her wicked grin, “I promise not to scream if you promise not to urt me?”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Nag, Nag, Nag – what an old hag

I fret about the children who stink of dog and algae as the swimming pool turns a hideous shade of Emerald.

So what with one thing and another and another [ish] it takes me a while before I notice but once the jet lag has fizzled out it becomes obvious. It is quite obvious that Nonna is approximately 95% less annoying than usual. I consider the lack of annoyingness and wonder why this might be?

Before too long I can compose a lengthy list of all the absent annoying things, such as plaguing me for book recommendations, uprooting weeds all over the garden in helpful little piles, dead heading the roses bare handed, requesting additional pencils, erasers, paper and pens, suggesting recipes and ingredients for any given meal, to name but a few, and last but by no means least, her daily swim. Whilst in principal I’m all in favour or retirement and the easy life, I do not regard this as good trend. My mental arithmetic is poor but it all adds up to a Nonna below par, alarmingly so.

Generally speaking I believe it would be unwise to put a bonfire under any elderly relative but I know that I need to do something, although I’m not entirely sure what?

I spend a wee while rummaging around upstairs to scrape together an acceptable collection of art materials. Whilst I shouldn’t like her to exert herself, I worry about her lack of usual activities. I have no choice but to adopt another campaign in my permanent role as family nag.

Since subtly is my middle name I invade her room and launch, “how come you don’t paint any more?”
“Paint! Why aren’t you painting?”
“Ooo I don know……..too much bother I suppose.”
“Here, why don’t you have a go with these?”
“See what you can up with……..before lunch.” I give her the look, the look that I often give other family members. It’s a warning with a not so veiled implication of starvation for failure to comply.

After detailed discussions with her son, we decide that only way forward is to set the plague upon her. I enlist everyone’s help, 5 of whom seem to be permanently at home, skulling around and otherwise being useless and unoccupied. It’s almost a rota. “Go and ask Nonna if she’s painted anything yet dear, …….nicely…….. and loudly.” The compliance ratio is quite stunning to witness, as I listen to each individual trot off on request and yell at Nonna. I hope that 15 minute intervals will suffice.

She has yet to pick up a pencil but I hope to restore her to her usual standards, as illustrated above, soonishly.

For now, it’s work in progress, but I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Deprivation diet

“So Maddy?”
“What we do about im den?”
“Dat ting?”
“Which thing?”
“Er wot ee called? Astaire!”
“Ah yes. Fred. Wot we do about im?”
“What would you like to do?”
“I mean…..wot doz ee like to eat den?”
“His favourite food is grapes but he also likes cherries and celery tops.”
“Salad and fruit salad den?”
“More or less.”
“Eee is so lucky.”
“Is he?”
“Yes……..eee gets fruit. I do so "miss fruit.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bam boo hoo!

“So Maddy?”
“Why are you so……exotic den?”
“Exotic? Me?”
“No not you…….everyting?”
“Such as?”
“Well here…….in America……in California……you know…….even the weeds they are so exotic. Not like Dandelions and daisies but more…….exotic. Dey’re not like weeds at all. What are dey called?”
“I have no idea……I just rip them out.”
“What about dis ting den?”
“Which thing?”
“Mug or Koala bear.”
“Dat’s it. I was forgetting what it is called again. It’s all very…..wot is dat word?”
“Australian? She brought it back from Australia......her visit.”
“What’s exotic?”
“Well…..first it was hermit crabs, those skinks, dah Blue Bellied Lizards, den Praying Mantis, den now you have dah Tortoise. Wot next?”
“I have no idea.”
“And now wiv dis ting!”
“The Koala bear mug?”
“NO! Dah plant…….dah bamboo! Very exotic.”
“Hmm I suppose so.”
“Wot you get now den?”
“No idea.”
“How about dat ting?”
“Which thing?”
“Dah exotic pet.”
“Which exotic pet?”
“Er……wot is it called again…..?”
“Ah! Yes! You’re going to buy it to eat invasive Bamboo.”
“I don’t think Koala’s eat bamboo, do they?”
“NO! You want to buy a Panda!”
“I think I can say with absolute certainty that there is absolutely no possibility of us buying a Panda…….even if there were one available. Absolutely not, never, impossible.”
“I don’t know…….?”
“No. No chance. Not going to happen.”
“You used to say dat before.”
“Before what?”
“Before you got dah dog.”

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Magic Mushrooms - feeding the 5000

I pull out fresh croutons from the blazing oven and pause to think what next to do when Nonna steps into the kitchen, “so you didn’t burn dem dis time.” I suppress a pout.
“Yes, croutons and lots of garlic.”
“Dats good den! Although I don’t mind them burnt. Dah squirrels like dem too.”
“Hmm I wondered why they were scattered all over the garden.”
“Ooo look at dat!”
“Doz tings.”
“Which things?”
“Doz……..mushrooms dat you made. Dey are very realistic.”
“Ah……they’re supposed to be acorns.”
“Are dey? Well dats no good den as you can’t eat acorns. Acorns are poisonous. Did you know dat?”
“Er yes. I did. But as they’re not real so you can’t eat them anyway.”
“You can’t?”
“What a shame. Maybe you could buy some real ones?”
“Happy to add them to the list for the next shopping list.”
“Are you going to write dem on dah list?”
“Yes… I don’t forget.”
“Good. You do dat and I’ll go feed dah squirrels.”
“They’re not real acorns.”
“I know.”
“So you can’t feed the acorns to the squirrels.”
“Of course not. I’m going to feed dem dah some of doz croutons, the left overs.”
“But they aren’t left overs…… yet.”
“Dey are now!”