I think I managed to put my finger on what’s been wrong.
The last few weeks I’ve been so touchy and snarky and difficult, and arguments have sprung like weeds.
Being without a kitchen since Jan 1st has ploughed up all our domestic routines.
Washing up, doing the laundry, cooking, all have been affected. Working round some of us being vegan and some not, in a house of five adults, with one hotplate, for most of two months has been trying. Had it been summertime we’d have cooked in the garden happily, but it’s been raining or snowing a lot of the time. Also vegan food requires more preparation and combining. And economical foods include things like pasta (needs draining – no sink), porridge (pans difficult to wash up, need rinsing and serial washing – means going outdoors to tip out each lot of water), soaking pulses (need draining – no sink). The choice for washing up has been either squatting on the bathroom floor upstairs, carefully carrying all crocks and saucepans etc upstairs and back down again, or boiling a kettle and combining with water from the bucket (which spills a lot) downstairs. Plus our multi-sockets haven’t got quite long enough leads so constantly threaten to pull the kettle base off the make-shift counter every time you lift up the kettle. And of course there’s no draining board. And the garden’s been dug up and mostly covered with snow, which has made it harder to get the firewood in and take the compost scraps down the garden, and we’ve had no washing line to dry the clothes . . .
Reflecting on this at church today, it occurred to me how important routine is for maintaining harmony in community – in monasteries and schools and prisons and hospitals, everything depends on routine. One can rest in a routine and the rhythm of the day means one’s responses to others have a quality of preparedness. You know when you’ll be left in peace and when expected to be more outgoing, you can be geared up for certain chores and carry them out in a peaceful state of mind without constant challenge and frustration, because there’s a system in place.
In an extended condition of disruption, nerves become frayed. It seems to have become the norm for tradesmen to say “I’ll come Monday . . . or Tuesday . . .” and assume you will stay home for them to arrive both Monday and Tuesday – and then they don’t show up until Friday and expect you to be really pleased because they plan to work right through until 7 o’clock at night intermittently turning off the electricity with no warning.
Our kitchen man, God bless him, is designing and building 3 items: a cupboard with a counter (like a Welsh dresser but built in); a small high-up cupboard in an alcove, and a sink unit with a counter under which the washing machine will go. He measured the last one incorrectly. To compensate for this he thought the best thing would be to cut the skirting board off half-way along the kitchen, and omit the bracket to support the counter – that way he could still fit the washing machine in. Provided he built the unit around the washing machine as we would never be able to get it out again without deconstructing the unit. It took 3 visits and 4 phone-calls to convince him that we really didn’t want him to do that. He glared and scowled and muttered a great deal, remaining adamant that, having now made the incorrectly measured unit, unless we paid him more money he wasn’t about to alter it because, as he kept telling us, "It's bespoke! You know what bespoke means, don'cha?". As a ‘compromise’, Joe our regular builder suggested we could take the unit right up to the doorway, cutting off the architrave that surrounds the door. We said we’d be okay with that. There then followed a long tussle about the construction of the plumbing and whether to box it in so we could never get at it again, or have access to the joints.
Then it snowed. Guess what? Our kitchen man lives in a trailer, against which his workshop is built. He has no heating in his workshop, only a woodstove in the trailer. Though he had this going full blast, it did not warm the workshop enough to paint (the now constructed units).
“I will bring you a heater,” said I, through gritted teeth – he was by now a month over-schedule, and we had been kitchenless for 6 weeks.
“No,” saith he: “my meter is already spinning round, I don’t want an electric heater.”
“Then,” quoth I, “bring the units here and paint them in situ.”
“No,” says he: “you haven’t seen our yard. Our field's all full of snow, I can’t get the truck out.”
And he calls me "Penny". I hate that.
And he calls me "Penny". I hate that.
Then the weather brightened up. He could paint.
So he painted the units but now he couldn’t bring them because it rained next and he has an open truck so they’d get wet – he’d have to wait for a sunny day.
Tarpaulins? Heard of tarpaulins, anybody? Yes? Not him, apparently!
Meanwhile, instead of coming out with the rest of us, Alice stayed in her entire day off waiting for the guy who had promised to come that day and sort out her light fitting. Did he come? No. Why am I not surprised?
We could have Freecycled our old oven, except someone said he would love to have it. Has he collected it? No. Is it still sitting on top of the washing machine? Yes. Are Alice and Hebe both having to squash into half the space in their studio making a stained glass commission and cutting a headstone (because the masonry workshop has been too cold to work in) in one small room, with the corner for the stone bench occupied by a washing machine with an oven on top of it? Yes.
Meanwhile, the extended periods without electricity have caused the pressure to drop in the solar array necessitating it being turned off. The engineer (eventually) said he would call last week to arrange to fix it this week. Did he? Of course not.
Patience, friends, in this house, is wearing thin. Threadbare. The residents are surly. None more so than me.
Tuesday I have to officiate at a funeral. Tomorrow therefore I have to write it. Writing a non-standard funeral and associated eulogy requires careful attention and concentration.
Can’t you just guess who’ll turn up tomorrow with a view to working all day both days wanting endless cups of tea and attention, turning off the electricity, needing access to Alice’s room while she’s out at work, wanting to know how and where to position the light fitting, trying to saw off the skirting board as well as the door architrave, attempting to build the unit around the washing machine to avoid checking if it slides in and out okay, needing to be reminded to take the oven, requiring supervision to ensure the correct batch of tiles is used. Oh, and did I mention? The garden centre guys are delivering five huge lumps of stone tomorrow.
One day – one day – this household will manage to settle down to something we can recognise as routine. Still; there’s no need for me to be so grumpy in the meantime, is there?
P.S. You do know the song "Right," said Fred, don't you?
Now this is the kind of thing I have a hard time moving on. Nobody else wanted it and it was just part of some packaging. Both those characteristics endear it to me in a Franciscan kind of way. It was even semi-useful; it could act as a tray or a dumping ground for small items with not obvious purpose in life, and it was handy to put scrap paper in with a view to being so organised that I’d be in the right place at the right time to write useful Lists on the paper.
But eventually I came to my senses. I didn’t want the small dumped items, more scrap paper or another tray. We do, on the other hand, always have room for some extra firewood . . .