Cement and Sympathy

For years the front garden of No3 Forsham Cottage looked like a builders yards. We had turned an idyllic little bit of Sutton Valence into an obstacle course, red sand stained the lane as the lump was eroded by the rain and washed into the road.

Stacks of bricks and blocks, which no matter how many times I re-stacked them still fell over (ground sloped towards the road at twenty degrees). What with the look of the place and the accompanying dust and noise, our neighbours (Mrs B & Mrs T) had every right to complain, but bless them they were always so tolerant and so supportive. I think they felt sorry for us. (We did milk the sympathy vote)

Number 3 FC had a really ugly flat roof extension ‘plonked’ on the side of it. To add insult it was painted battle ship grey, so blend in, it didn’t. From the very outset we were determined …. it had to go. We were endeavouring to transform the HMS ARK ROYAL into something a bit more cottagey and more in keeping with the original dwelling. The master plan was to convert the integral garage into a dining room. We were building a new porch and building a new garage next to the detached garage belonging to Mrs T. Top of the list was to replace the flat felted roof with a proper pitched roof using old Kent clays tiles. I should also add that between us we had amassed approximately NIL experience of the building trade.

Once committed we were spending every spare hour working on our house and spending every last penny not on ‘nice to have’ stuff like an Indian takeaway or a posh frock but on ‘must have’ stuff like cement dust, joists and replacing numerous tools I had either lost or broke. However with the aid of the Readers Digest DIY manual (wedding present) Stan and Reggie (Cindy’s and my dads). Hundreds of hours of swearing, our extension conversion slowly emerged from the mire. Things happened along the way like an eight foot long concrete lintel falling from the top story. She was just being dramatic, it missed Cindy by several foot, but it did harpoon the patio, which I never did repair. The dog caught a half brick I threw down off the roof onto the rubble pile. That must of hurt, but he still did it again! He also diligently picked up the clay I was throwing out of one trench and unbeknown to be was re-filling the trench behind me! Too cocky to be told , I f****d my back repeatedly carrying over full buckets of wet cement up a ladder onto the roof. The legacy of which thirty years later I still endure.

The bloke from the electricity company that came to move the meter got into a fluster because he was running late. Rather than go to get his drill, he borrowed mine. There was a slight problem, the trigger switch was bust (no dosh for a new one) so I had rewired it, bypassing the switch, which meant it literally spun into action as soon as it was switched on at the wall, which to the uninitiated could be a bit startling. It was not a good idea to plug it in holding on the ‘spiny bit’ or as some would call it ‘the chuck’, which he did. Ok, I should have warned him …..but he cottoned on quite quickly and dropped it, where upon it jerked and thrashed about on the floor like a demented critter on a leash having a fit, until I put it out of its misery by switching off its life support system!

Then my startled sparky mate used my stepladder, which had the second to bottom step missing, (concrete block fell on it). Now in my defence he must have known it was missing because he had climbed up it, so to forget a few minutes later when coming down, was in my opinion carelessness on his part. He was not a happy chappy laying there on the floor gasping for air (just a bit winded). SEEBOARD man was not having a good day, as was proven several weeks later when an inspector came out to ‘ eyeball’ and sign off the work. He found that our accident prone sparky had wired the meter up back to front so it had been unwinding for the best part of a month. Obviously his mind was elsewhere!

Cindy at nine months and two weeks pregnant spent her days pointing block work, in appreciation of her condition I did mix up the cement. She woke me about midnight saying something about waters breaking, which given we were always having problems with the plumbing and the back half of the roof was a PVC lorry sheet, I at first assumed she meant we had another leak.

I called the number (like my list told me to) and explained to a very nice lady, who in my opinion was far too calm, that something called the waters breaking had occurred. She asked if I was sure. “If Cindy says something’s broke, then it’s broke!” I told her. The blue lights turned up and two confused ambulance men stood in the lane, in the dark, in the rain, shining torches around the place trying to work out which bit of plastic sheet covered holes in the wall was the door and then what was their best line of approach. I gave them a lead, particularly drawing to their attention the two foot wide, three foot deep trench that ‘moated’ the building and the piles of now wet clay that had been exhumed from around and under the house (I was under pinning the footings). Having negotiated the obstacles two slightly bemused blokes stood in our front room with a stretcher and with clay up their otherwise very neat trousers. Procedure dictated that the patient was to be stretchered to the ambulance, which was not going to be easy. They thought of making an arm cradle and manual carrying her out to the road, but gave up on that. What actual happened was that Cindy, who was not overly fetchingly dressed in her night attire and wellington boots clambered over the trench and sand piles, followed by the blokes in black carrying the stretcher. Once we had gotten onto flattish ground they put Cindy on the stretcher and carried her the remaining twenty five foot to the ambulance. Dill the dog always liked a trip out and had to be persuaded that this was not an occasion for him to ‘get in the back’, so as a memento of their visit, Dill dropped a half brick on the ambulance step and left his mark up the side. (class act that dog).

It was snowing a week later when having convinced the midwife we had a warm nursery and that Cindy had help at home, she wangled the OK to take the ‘kidlet’ home. I consulted the list again. “When collecting us bring the bag on the table” it said. I presented Cindy with the bag of nappies, Zinc & Caster ointment jars and pins. She wanted the ‘bringing baby home clothes’ bag. “It didn’t say which bag” I offered as a pathetic defence. So it was that our Kidlet came home in ill matching and ill fitting clothes lent to us by the nurses, who had rummaged and borrowed them from around the ward. (they felt sorry for us)

Not the most auspicious of starts for our Tracey, but Dill gave her a bit of brick, so she WAS welcomed home ……..

“Just One Night”

It was snowing hard, the garden was filling up, the harsh edges being smoothed under a blanket of the white stuff. Then and now, as a so called adult I get a childish thrill watching the snow cascade from out of the heavens, especially at night thought the light an unveiled window.

A lone set of foot pints came in from out of the darkness of this cold winters night. Copper Cat (she had a brother called Tommy) was holding centre stage, framed as she was in the light of the kitchen window, bleating and crying, a sorry looking spectacle. Already she was up to her belly in snow and gathering a measurable ‘drift’ betwixt her ears. Copper Cat had stables, the hay store, a goat shed and the garage to sleep in …… she was pulling all the strings to be let in!

Unsurprisingly Cindy and the kidlet started to harangue me to let the pathetic critter into the house, “for just one night”

I have lots of ‘life rules’ one being that I don’t let anything in the house that can lick its own ‘jobby bits’! … trying to eat breakfast whilst some critter is tonguing its privates is a step too far… I remained adamant ……. I stood my ground………. I let the shyster in.

Next morning CC sat calmly at the door waiting to be let out, the snow had stopped, the garden was brilliantly white, and strangely tidy. On opening the door a small snow drift tumbled onto the cat and across the floor. Copper Cat gave me a look that was both accusing and vengeful. Without a hint of gratitude the shyster trotted out onto the frozen snow … “just one night” I said, as she slowed to a saunter and showed me her penny bit!

It became evident that the bugger had not slept in the card board box supplied, a mass of hairs portrayed it had hunkered down on my work jumper, which because of its unsavoury nature was not allowed anywhere near the coat hooks, destined always to be slung on the floor behind the backdoor. I hate pet hairs, so with a degree of disgust I pulled my jumper on ….. I had no option it was cold. Instantly a smell like no other was wafting around the kitchen. Cat crap! That bloody cat had shit, not simply on the jumper, that would have bad enough, the dump was UP a sleeve. The offending mess was now wiped a second time up my arm as I took my cat haired and poo smeared jumper off.

That cannot have been anything else other than deliberate! To gain maximum effect that cat must have diligently backed itself up the sleeve. Even now I can imagine the shyster’s smug expression as it relieved itself, thinking ……… “just one night”.

Ben Hur, Goats and a Hangover …

Our posh but very nice neighbours (Mike & Pat) were happy to have our goats on their grass, and we were happy to oblige because it saved our grazing. Therefore there was nothing untoward when one morning Cindy said “I’ll put the kettle on if you put the goats out on Pats lawn. Gert’s (the mum) got her tether chain with her but Oscars (Billy kid*) chain is still out with his tether spike, and as Oscar might not follow you out you’ll have to lead him by his collier.”

(* Yes, we did eat the Billy kids, but this one is another blog)

Over night Gert was tethered to her Ark, hence she had her chain with her, and Oscar free ranged in the chicken run. I didn’t normally get involved with the goats, Cindy did the milking she had built up an empathy with the critters, so there was an uneasiness in air as it was me, and not her they spied approaching them, fetchingly attired as I was in my old boots ( sans laces) and baggy shorts. It was still early enough that the nice posh folks had their curtains drawn and the birds were BLASTING out a dawn chorus which coupled with the persistent two tone bleating of agitated goats was not sympathetic to the aftermath of the several pints of cider which was still trying to impose its numbing presence on my skull bone.

I got the kid out of the chicken run, holding him as instructed by the collar. Unhitched Gert’s chain and started towards the grazing. Gert broke into a trot, anxious to get to the grass and to get away from me, the kid although young was getting to be a ‘handful’ and sensing the panic of its mother was pulling so hard it was rearing onto its back legs. To help with this torturous situation I was bent at forty five degrees, because when Oscar was on all fours, he was only stood a little over two foot at the shoulder.

I pride myself as being pragmatic, so rather than endure this situation and end up with a permanent stoop and arms proportionality so long as to never fit a ‘regular’ suit again. I had an idea …….I hauled Gert back to me and hooked Oscars collar to the other end of her chain so I could lead them both on the one chain ….‘Ben Hur style’. Proving that even under the haze of receding cider intoxication and applied torture. I could ‘sort it’.

All I did was to shut my eyes for a few moments, they wanted to be shut, I needed them to be shut! The tugging of two goats and that bloody bleating was doing my head. The sun was warm in my face. I was fighting to keep awake. OK, I may have remonstrated with the critters (just a little) asking them to “please be quiet” or words to that effect. Their instinctive ‘fight or flight’ mode kicked in, they went into flight mode, so now instead of the buggers being in front dragging me out across Pats lawn they were swinging out sideways and parallel with me. At this juncture I defiantly did question their antics in a slightly more animated and vocal way, which severed as the final impulsion they needed to cross behind me and run out tight which left me with a twenty foot tether chain warped around my naked legs being pulled tight by two goats who were not about to stop pulling and release the tension because the critter in middle (me) was now screaming every profanity he knew (which is lot), crying and starting to bleed.

How I laughed, laying on the grass outside my neighbours bedroom window ‘reeling in’ a kid goat whilst its now demented mother was taking up the slack in the chain instigating a cheese wire sawing action across the back of my knees.

Still looking on the bright side, the sodding kettle was on, so there was plenty of sterilised water!