Sunday, 19 February 2012

"Right" said Fred

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.


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? 


365 366 Day 50  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here

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 . . .


Michelle-ozark crafter said...

That is enough to get on your nerves really quickly. I think I was so irritable before we moved because our little house was in such a state of disrepair and needing so much work. Add to that no toilet or sink in the bathroom and knowing the entire plumbing was shot. I am so much happier now in a place in good repair and not waiting for something to break. I hope you guys will soon have a working kitchen again!

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - hooray for your home improvements!! Triumph! x

maria said...

I am sending you lots of hugs right now Ember...hang in there my friend, it will be over soon! :)

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, my friend! We have marvelled at how much more possible this has been because of the way we live. If all of us had been tied to the working hours of jobs outside the home, I can't see how we'd have managed. And because we mostly heat with the woodstove and fire, and are used to camping and cooking with a storm kettle and making one-pot meals and improvising, things have been much easier for us.
We've lived in this house two-and-a-half years now, and had to work right through the whole house and garden having alterations and repairs done. The whole time we've been here we've had builders in! The kitchen is our last thing, and I think it was inadvisable to leave the most disruptive one to last, because we have got a bit jangled by the constant problems with people not turning up etc.
But we're nearly there. I just wish I could be a bit more graceful about it!

Rapunzel said...

After all this time your family will seem to have shrunk after the builders finally leave.

If I were you I'd not only be grumpy, I'd be thinking of all sorts of things that could be made into firewood. Watching things burn makes me feel better.
It is going to be a hard-won kitchen, maybe that'll make it all the more joyous to work in? Here's hoping!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0D "The Hard-won Kitchen"! I like that! xx

Donna said...

I'm on Day 1 now and I didn't even make it through Day 0! I've now set all the kitchen stuff up in the living-room, but yesterday it was all half and half and I couldn't figure out how to cook in two rooms and once when it came to tea-time so I just cried and ordered a pizza.
Many medals for you for camping for so long! And how incredibly frustrating about that unprofessional man! If I were to order something hand-made I would expect a better service than from a faceless corporation, not that kind of "Oops I've hacked up your house, now I'll hack it up a bit more and you can pay me extra" attitude!

Pen Wilcock said...

The more time has gone by, the more Indian take-outs and "Bugger it let's go to Simply Italian"s we've had. Yesterday Tony and I ate lunch in Sainsburys. May your kitchen work be quick, easy, and not bankrupt you! x

Anonymous said...

I LOVE that's very yummy you should keep it forever :-)

I've also just had a Road to Damascus moment reading your post...routine-I needs one :-D I think God's been poking me in the head for a while about it but I've been ignoring him whilst spinning in circles and getting nothing done. Working from home can be wonderful but it also needs much more concentration and commitment than rolling out of bed, getting showered and dressed and heading off to the bus stop in need of caffeine! I'm thinking a notebook and timetabling this week would be a good start.

Give the person who wants your cooker a deadline and say if it's not picked up by X then it's going on freecycle.

I hope you get everything sorted and your kitchen man needs to know that Bespoke means custom-made to the buyer's specification not a bodged job!


Pen Wilcock said...

Yes, routine is vital to working at home, not least because it helps n the necessary enterprise of setting and maintaining boundaries. People who do not work at home think that people who do have two lives running concurrently; the one in which they are producing books, paintings, sculptures etc, and the other one in which they are available to socialise and field errands.

Anonymous said...

My new routine has been interrupted by the breakdown of my washing machine...I am now handwashing towels and sheets in the sink! ;-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh yes . . . familiar territory . . .

DaisyAnon said...

I suffered from mild PTSD after my kitchen was done. I still have occasional flashbacks. Hope it is all finished soon. I agree with others your bespoke craftsperson needs reminding who is paying him and what for. He is not doing you a favour.

Pen Wilcock said...

We have seen partial progress today!!

Thank you for your lovely letter which came in this morning's mail, Daisyanon x

Hawthorne said...

Oh Ember, you poor thing, I do feel for you! I'm having lots of home improvements done at the moment - new boiler, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, double glazing - so I have an inkling of what you're going through. My aim is to reduce my monthly energy bills so that I can get a lower paid, and less stressful, job. One thing that gets to me with all this is the MESS they make. Even when they lay dust sheets and, supposedly, hoover afterwards I still end up going round again with a damp cloth. And I find the noise of drilling and clanging pipes really jangles my nerves. Better be worth it in the end! ;-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Hawthorne - that is so worth doing! I've spent years inching my way towards freeing up time and space by diminishing my income needs, and the resulting freedom is so precious to me.