house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Friday, 13 April 2012

44 days, 44

Day 44. Friday the 13th (what are the chances?)… The last day of Blog Camp.

So, it can be done. One CAN write a little thing every day and share it with one’s two readers.

You can do it even with normal, rainy days like today. Days that start with ‘So much to do, but there’s PLENTY of time, let’s have a coffee’; continue with: ‘Ehm, this is taking a bit longer than I thought…’; become really interesting with: ‘Oh no, there’s THAT (and that and that and that) to do too…’ and ‘WHAT, you need a ride into town, and where else? And you want to be picked up too?’; and end with: ‘So much to do. Yawn. And the blog. What can I possibly write about today?’

This is where, today, the toad comes in. Back from the shower (mixed with heavy rain and wind, shower curtain wrapped around me like a cold octopus), so yeah: back from the shower, I find the toad on the veranda. It makes these slow and sticky lunges in my direction. After the shower curtain, I have no desire for another cold, wet encounter. So I say: ‘Shoo’ – of course, it's both inaccurate (what do you say to a toad) and useless. The creature gives another exhausted lunge.

I notice it has big dark eyes – in the light of my torch they shine without any discernible expression. At this point, I think of the Frog Prince. And recoil; imagine picking Starship Slime here and giving it a life-changing kiss. A second alarming thought: how many people actually see a toad AND immediately picture kissing it? Have I lost it, reader?

You’ll be relieved to hear: I didn’t kiss the toad. I have my prince already – and he’s on his way home!

In the meantime, blog written, there’s still SO much to do.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

44 days, 43

Cheeta wakes me up in the middle of the night: do you see how the neighbour's wall is all lit up? He whispers.

The unspoken question: 'Is there someone in our house?' We look at each other with dread.

Well used to domestic martyrdom, I sigh. 'I'll go!'

'I'll come with you!' – he's no lily leaf himself.

'Wait! Let me put my jammy trousers on!' Like that's gonna instill respect in your average house robber.

Armed with keys, torches and a blackberry, we march in grim silence to the house.

The effect is slightly spoiled when Saffie starts barking like mad, right at the back door. 'Great. Now they know we're coming!' , 'Well, hopefully they'll grab the stuff and run!' etc., etc.

It's at this point that WE get distracted in a big way. Our joined torch beams reveal that Saffie is not barking at a gang of masked robbers, but at a hedgehog on the threshold of the tool shed. One lightning-fast shuffle, and it's gone! The sweet little prickly thing is inside the shed now. We look for it but it's vanished completely among buckets and paintbrushes. We can't leave the door open and unlocked (well, it was open and unlocked... but the robbers, remember?) - so we spend some time widening the gap between the door and the ground. 'Do you think he'll manage?', 'How long are those quills?', 'Sorry, didn't have the chance to measure them.', 'Shall I bring a saucer of milk?' etc.

Eventually we get back to our intruders. I wonder briefly why they need so much light, for so long. There's not much in there, just some of Cheeta's tools and empty juice bottles. We advance slowly and carefully, while I try to remember how to attack people with a small bunch of keys. Perhaps I should pick up a stick? A leftover plank of plasterboard? A trowel? No time. We are upon them. They seem to be in Nikita's bathroom.

We charge in, jammy trousers flapping, torches waving. Nothing. Not a soul. We look around. We look at each other. Nikita:

'Mica-a. Did you forget to turn the lights off?' Uh-oh.

44 days, 42

Went to the fair with Kira and her friend. Everything was exactly the same as every fair, as every year. The same rides, the same prices, the same dreadful music, the same food, the same bands. For Kira however, everything was new and full of charm. The main attractions:

And even more interesting, being sealed into a huge beach ball and rolled into a baby pool. The objective: to get up and run on the spot, à la hamster-in-the-wheel:

Which resulted mainly in this:

The big let down: riding a temperamental plastic bull. It went on for ages and bucked and shook them about until they looked like two exhausted limpets stuck to its back.

The cowboy hat they won made up for some of the pain:

At the end, Kira had a question: 'Why is everyone who works here Indian?' It was true, all the poor sods stuck all day in those booths looked particularly tanned. Travelers? Nomads? Gypsies? But how come? Are they the only people who can put up with the endless wondering, mud and dust and heat and the slow march of hours on the fairground?

Their children are there with them, sitting around all day. A father put his toddler in those elastic harnesses above the trampolines, to fast forward some time. The little fellow bounced about a few times, then grew weary and lost momentum, until he stopped, suspended in mid-air like a broken marionette.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

44 days, 41

Normal day at the building site. Nikita's getting ready to paint, using some lovely clay-based paints and casein primer. Nice and natural. You're not sure? Does the word 'casein' induce a little doubt? Should we find out more? Casein, a 'protein commonly found in mammalian milk' (thanks Wikipedia!) Now doesn't that sound sweet and harmless? You make this watery potion containing casein and apply in on walls, just before the paint. Look - Nikita's about to do exactly that... He opens the bottle where I stored some casein primer a few days ago.

It does this soft fffsssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss.

Then, in succession: we are engulfed in a cloud of the most horrendous foul smell you can imagine (yes Moona, even worse than rotten onions!). We both scream with the only resulting effect that we inhale more of it and a) I realise it couldn't be Nikita and b) he realises it couldn't be me. We run and gag. We try not to breathe. We try not to puke. We squirm and suffocate a little. Can't bear to take another breath, can't quite carry on without one... The noxious cloud is still hanging low, inside the house and in the back garden – where Niki bravely disposed of the poison in the bottle. We run further away and cough and gasp. WHAT is this HORROR?

And this is how we learn some more about casein.

Monday, 9 April 2012

44 days, 40

Kira woke up in yesterday morning tingling with excitement for the upcoming Easter Egg Hunt.

Easter Egg WHAT? was the motherly reaction, I'm a little ashamed to say. In fact it's worse...(WHAT? Today's EASTER?) Ahem, right.

Nikita jumps to the rescue. Three coffees later (all for me), we have some clues, and we walk the Trail and hide the eggs. Then she's ready to go:

She doesn't much like the first Clue:

'How do you define 'compost loo'?
I need to know now, please, I beg...
'Simple! YOU give IT a fresh... shhh
('Oh tell me, do!' 'OK, starts with 'p', ends with 'oo')
And IT gives YOU a chocolate egg!
(there is, by the way, one more clue:
Don't be late
Don't jump in
Try the gate
Not that one, that's the door, try once more:
the BACK gate!)

So she makes a face, but finds the gate and we have CHOCO-LIFT OFF!

And on it goes. It tests the mind:

… and the body:

Some eggs are easy to get:

Some require assistance from all, including Saffie:

It leads to a tight spot, as always. Luckily the girl has a good eye and long arms, she strikes gold:

And gets the great prize!!!!

And now can we all have a nap?

P.S. This was my partner-in-chocolate. The Force was with him, again. He saved me from a life of juvenile rhyme and meadows of lost Easter eggs. Thank you, Master...

Sunday, 8 April 2012

44 days, 39

OK, April 2012. What do you see? (apart from the two clowns in the rain)

Do you see it? I've only noticed today.

Life times ten, then.

44 days, 38

So, after swearing I wouldn't take them to see The Hunger Games, I took them. Well, in my defense, I took them to see The Lorax, but it was dubbed in Portuguese. The problem was not the language, we'd seen Tintin in Portuguese and got the idea. The problem was hearing a virile, well-oiled, radio presenter voice trying too hard to translate Danny DeVito in Portuguese. Ouch - I couldn't bear that, the kids concurred.

So The Hunger Games it was. My problem with it? Suggesting that the idea of kids chasing and killing other kids might be acceptable and entertaining - albeit in a faraway fantastic future.

In fact, that was the least important issue in Kira's mind. The games were the games, once she knew the rules, she waltzed along. What utterly grabbed and bewildered her was the status quo in that future world: 12 districts living in abject poverty and one pampered Capitol, looking like another planet. What did they do, the people in those districts, what did they DO? - she kept asking. What is a revolution? Why did they rebel? Why were they so poor? WHY were The Hunger Games their punishment?

We tried to explain - really, we did but it was hard to paint a believable scenario. It all sounded too bizarre; that those districts would meekly accept to be plunged into a grey never-ending existence where a bread roll was a dream come true. That they would be just fine with the Games, in fact that they would watch them and be proud if their boy or girl killed everyone else and won! That all this misery was enforced by a few poncy troops like Darth Vader's white pawns in Star Wars.

Instead, all I could think of was the ancient tribute to Crete - the 12 boys and 12 girls sent to the Labyrinth every year to face the Minotaur. I think I'll tell her about that today.

Friday, 6 April 2012

44 days, 37

Some pictures of this year's little ones:

Baby figs:

Baby apricots:

Baby nectarines:

Baby almonds:

... and big ping-pong kiwi:

Thursday, 5 April 2012

44 days, 36

I can't put it off any longer: today I wake up early and leave the two bears sleeping; I'm off to the tax office to pay taxes and pick up a several incomprehensible forms I need to fill and file. Inwardly, I shake for the sanity of the person who invented these forms, I quake for the army of people whose jobs involve learning them by heart. Dozens of rules and sub-rules in a sad and forever foreign language.

Finally, upon entering the old shabby building, I weep for the lives of the people who must come here every day, every day from 9 to 5, swimming in cryptic paperwork, hiding behind their dry and deplorable jargon.

I pick up a ticket and stand in a queue. Immediately I realise that I don't have the invoice I need, to make my payment. It's in the car. I leave the building and sprint to the parking lot. Clutching the paper, I run back. Have I lost my place in the queue? Phew, no, a stroke of luck – I'm next.

Before me, paying his dues, an old man in corduroy trousers. He's very slow. I can't see his face, but I see the face of the clerk at the till. You know the stereotype: young, fast-speaking, superior, cocooned in his jargon, unwilling to use normal phrases so that any of us might understand what's actually being said. No patience, no sympathy, no imagination. You know.

Soon, I'm fascinated: the clerk is not young, maybe in his fifties. Doesn't act superior. Doesn't speak fast, and when he speaks, utters simple, human phrases that even I – a foreigner standing 5 steps away – understand. He guides the old man through his paperwork with infinite patience and affection. He's never impertinent or patronising. Asks questions about the old man's life even, and nods his head in wonder. Stands up to show him the way out.

When my turn comes, he's still standing, still nodding, still in awe. 'He's 104 years old,' he tells me. 'And still working his fields.' 'Oh, and he came here by bike.' This makes my day, and the least I can do is give something back. 'It was great,' I tell him, 'to see you talk to him like you did.' 'Look at me, he says, '52 years old and stuck in this office. It will be such a miracle if I even reach 80, let alone 100...'

So we have a little laugh about Old Age waiting for all of us round the corner, then I pay my taxes and walk out feeling better about humankind than any person can expect when leaving the tax office.

44 days, 35

In the queue at the supermarket. The woman in front seems airy and distracted: she spends five minutes staring into her wallet and moving little papers about (sounds a bit like me, doesn't it?); she's got one of those high, shallow shopping trolleys, with a basket up high and a storing rack underneath. In this, I notice, she's got her coat and a box of detergent.

Eventually she starts loading her shopping onto the rolling check-out thingie. 'She'll forget the detergent', I think. She forgets the detergent.

Ummm-huh. This – I realise now – is one of those situations that happen to someone else, but say a lot about me. There's this choice I suddenly have to make: do I get involved? Do I look the other way? I wish she'd dropped something and carried on walking; then I'd know what to do.

I wonder, briefly: did she forget the detergent? Is she trying to pass it through unnoticed? Do I tap her on the shoulder? At this point, it will attract the attention of the shop assistant, and embarrass the woman even more. Also, if she's actually stealing the stuff, it'll piss her off considerably. All awkward and very unpleasant.

Now her stuff is going through and I still haven't made up my mind. She's paying. I look around: huge supermarket, the light, the noise, the masses. Once I saw someone drop a whole box of wine after buying it. It smashed on the floor and ruby liquid pooled around shoppers' feet until it looked like a fresh crime scene. They brought out a new box of wine without a blink and the guy went home happy.

I'm not going to say anything. I've decided. There's a chance she's simply forgotten about it, in which case she'll have a nice surprise. Either way, the supermarket won't even notice (OK, the literal thought is 'stuff them'!)

She's wheeling the trolley away. My turn. No, wait. She stops, turns. 'Oh, she says, I almost forgot.' She pulls the detergent out. 'I was robbing you without meaning to...' The detergent – 8.99 – is passed through and she pays. She pays in coins of 5, 2 and 1 cent only. It takes a decade.

I'm starting to wish she'd walked away with the damn thing.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

44 days, 34

This is a story about Lyra. Miaow. Today one of us left the Velux window open at the alambique. She stepped in.

On the table she found two fishcakes. She ate them.

On the chair there were some books. She knocked them down and curled up.

The chair was not comfortable enough, so she went upstairs. Found the softest bed and fell asleep.
Where the three of us found her. Gasp. Whoosh – out of the window and back into the woods, long golden tail swishing behind her.

Question: what fairy tale did Lyra enact today?

Hint: mama bear was NOT pleased.
Hint hint: no LOCKS can keep that cat out of the house.
Hint hint hint: Once again, Lyra found everything JUST RIGHT!

Monday, 2 April 2012

44 days, 33

Slowly coming back to my life of lists and labour. Ehm, and leisure actually, enforced by Kira who of course lives for it. We go to the park and I watch her and Inês play ping-pong. I love the bamboo hedge at the park – and sit in the shade of the long shoots, eyes half-open in the late sunshine. They sway above me like a vast and gentle fan.

I love it, still I stir a bit uneasy, with more and more nagging thoughts crowding at the back of my mind, rattling the bars. They all start with 'must'. 'Must order paint!', 'Must treat the wooden cabinets for the bathrooms!', 'Must sand some beams!', 'Must plant a million plants!', 'Must wash up a mountain of dishes!', 'Must read with Kira!', 'Must finish the grouting / tiling / cabinet doors / painting, etc'...

Leave me alone for a minute, you horrible, never-ending MUSTS! I know, I know and I know. It feels a bit like a kung-fu film, when the hero is surrounded by lots of lively and lethal adversaries and has to do these incredibly fast moves, turning round and round, to keep them all at bay. How long can he keep it up? Head hurts even at the thought of watching such a film, let alone acting in this dreaded domestic version.

It would be called something like: 'The Curse of the Dried Up Paintbrush', 'Lethal Carpentry – The Battle Begins' or 'The Tile of Terror' – and it would probably have an audience of one, namely a guy I happen to know in Pakistan. Need a clue?

44 days, 32

So tired. On the radio in the car, Adele sings that song I've heard so often I actually almost know the words. She sings: 'I couldn't stay away, I couldn't fight it...' and I sing along 'I couldn't stay awake, I couldn't fight it'. We sing well together, Adele and I, I'm beginning to get into the groove and then Kira shrieks: 'AWAY, NOT AWAKE!'


Could this have been the first inkling I had, of this creeping exhaustion? Later in the day, I'm sitting on some stone steps and gradually become aware that there is a list of things to be done somewhere in my head, and that I can't do any of them. Can't even move a finger. Can't keep my eyes open. As I exhale, I deflate a little, a little smaller with every breath, until I vaguely understand how I feel: empty, dry, light, not unhappy, just spent.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

44 days, 31

Again today, no time to stop and enjoy, or celebrate: too much to do. P. arrives and gets to work. By midday the house is unrecognisable. He doesn't talk much and won't stop unless he runs out of materials, needs to ask something or has a stroke. I say stroke because I suspect anything less won't stop him. He cut a finger the other day and just kept working, wiping the blood every now and again. He had hernia: no problem, heavy work? Bring it on. I tiptoe around, trying to see what he's doing, how he's doing it.

Compared to this, our regular guys are such lightweights. Take earlier this week: two young strong guys, one whole day, thin layer of cement to mix and pour over a small surface (3 m2?); around 11am they're shaking their heads saying: 'we're probably not finishing this today, no way, impossible!'. After lunch, I find work in the same area, I 'visit' them every 20 minutes or so.

Here's what I find: they go together to make the cement. One puts the 'ingredients' into the cement mixer: sand, lime, water; waits for everything to go round and round for ages. During this time, the brother has a cigarette, regards the village in the valley with a sleepy gaze. Then they carry the mortar. One jumps to work, pouring and smoothing it down. The other? Well it's his turn now to have his cigarette and watch the world go by. Etc. Of course they can't finish in a day!

I make some helpful suggestions. I keep coming back, I spend time marveling at the secrets of laying mortar. I waste hours on these 'educational' trips. I must confess I believe I had something to do with the fact that they finished the job by 4 p.m. Exhausting.

Work. Can be done in so many different ways. Shoddily, to pass the time. Or with heart, putting in it everything you've got. Or anything in between. How do we give our kids the will to get it right, to give their best to any little effort? It makes so much sense and they're more likely to enjoy it too...

44 days, 30

Last night around midnight, Nikita got an email from UWC. Only contact information, then a puzzling expression: 'for nominees 2012'. We looked at each other: could it mean...? Of course, we hadn't had any reply letter, still biting nails, painting walls and waiting...

For a while we looked at the contact sheet, looked at each other, sat in silence thinking at the slowest, most conservative pace possible. There were a lot of pauses, then tentative half-sentences: 'Surely....', 'Do you think?...', 'Must mean...', 'But then....' and 'Oh my God'... I always thought I'd cry if this happened, but no tears.

He went to sleep. I went to sleep. We couldn't sleep. Today we paced around the gate like young girls waiting for an invite to their first ball. The postman came, didn't have THE letter. That's it: we wrote to UWC. Sent, then back to Inbox and there, THERE was the LETTER! He's being offered a place at Atlantic College.

We read it many times. Once again, we sat in silence. So many things to do, to say, to feel – and in the face of this flood, the body felt drained and numb. No gushing, no big words, no tears.

Later on, I called my parents. Dad boomed, then passed me on to mum. She made a few strangled sounds, then nothing. I squawked something in reply, then waited. Nothing. Eventually I realised she couldn't speak, she was crying and gasping for air, and drowning in her great joy. What? Mum never cries. And then, finally, I found out that I too couldn't speak, so we sat there clutching our phones, drenching them in tears, looking for tissues, finding the sunlight blurred and bewitched.