Friday, April 11, 2008

Laugh? Nearly cried.

Thursday was a day in which the more I heard the less I understood.

"Will you be sick?" I asked the cat. She sat there impassively, the breakfast of cows hooves and sheep guts labelled "Whiskas" gurgling inside her.

"You'd better not be sick! I'm fed up changing the covers on that bed!"

The cat looked disdainfully at me a moment through half lidded eyes. Then she noticed a sunbeam and danced across the bed and over the chest of drawers, her tail disappearing behind the net curtain.

There was a ding dong at the doorbell and:


"Ve haf come to fit doors..."

Two serious Eastern European gentlemen stood on the step, one proffering a bundle of invoices that indeed included me as a customer expecting a delivery and installation of internal doors on this very date. They looked at me silently, the sides of their mouths turned down. I inspected the papers with the methological precision of a border guard.

"Do you have any vegetables, fruits or livestock?" I asked.

They shook their heads.

"No contraband or anything to declare?"

"Ve haf nothing to declare."

"You'd better come in then."

They set to with a will, unloading a van full of shiny new timber and absolutely beautiful three-quarter glazed doors. I'd picked them from a catalogue, sight unseen. They were far better than I expected.


I watched as the doorframes were pulled out. Pulled out very carefully, I saw. And any cables or wires knocking around were saved to be hidden again in the new doorframes like expertly installed listening devices.

Each of the men had a tiny pencil, little more than a lead stub that emerged from some orifice from time to time and made arcane runes on the bare wood. When one made a mark, he disappeared outdoors and a sawing or plaing machine would start briefly, shriek through some unnameable torture, then whizz to a halt. The other would then take a measurement, cluck to himself, then disappear into the garden, passed on the way by the first, carrying the newly cut timber and slotting it magically into place. I was rapt.

I sat there, slowly turning to grey under a film of plaster dust as the men removed timbers and replaced timbers and slid their hands over the smooth grain and checked and double-checked that everything was running well. At 12.00 noon precisely, they withdrew two Tupperware containers of pasta and stew from the van's glove compartment, slid them into our microwave and made lunch.

"Kettle?" I asked.

"Tea. Please."

I filled some mugs and looked about. They had both retreated to the van and were smoking cigarettes. The took the tray from me in the garden. Ten minutes later, the saws and planes were going again.

There was another ding-dong. I struggled out of the mound of volcanic ash that seemed to cover everything and found my African neighbour on the doorstep. He looked a little agitated and my ear, tuned to Eastern Europe all day, couldn't quite make out what he was saying. It sounded like:

"Balumba umba umba....this wurk, 'ere."

"Eh?"

I tuned my earlobe a little and made out:

"...und I wawshed my car..."

I looked at his car. Nice car. Kept very well, usually. Wonder where all the dust came from that's covering it...?

"Aw, crap..." I thought. I should have considered earlier asking him to move the car out onto the road and upwind of the work. The two chippies were working furiously on a door's edge and a piece of architrave, respectively, in the drive the one with the better English looking daggers from time to time.

I offered to pay for a car wash. My neighbour looked at me as if I called him a son of a crocodile.

"Or," I said, "I could clean it myself...? I'll do that. When the men are finished working, I'll get a bucket and cloth and give it a wash, okay?"

He drew himself up.

"We ah gud neighbaws. We ah close!" he said, cocking his nose. "We do not fawl owt abawt such things. If you say sorry, I will be happy."

I said I was indeed sorry and that I was upset that he was upset. I should have been more thoughtful and spoken with him earlier. I would still arrange to clean the car if he wished...

He made a dismissive chopping motion with his hand.

"It is fo'gawtten."

And he was gone.

"Dust? Dust? Pah!" the lead carpenter said back inside the house. "I say iz impossible not find dust anywhere! He could park car anywhere and get dust! He crazy man. Crazy man!"

"No," I said. "He was right. We could have done more to save his car from getting so dusty."

I was a little deflated with it all. The doors were still lovely, but after the unexpected complaint a bit of the good had been taken from them. I now felt the coldness of the unheated house with the door permanently open as the chippies came and went. I saw the wood chippings in the carpet and the white dust on the stacked furniture. There seemed no end to the chaos.

Next door, my neighbour took his car out. About an hour later it was back in the driveway with a clean look about it. Back in the driveway. In the same place as before. With my two chippies working away with their saws and drills and planers right beside it...

"Ah, for feck's sake!"

I walked up his driveway and rang the bell.

"Er, you know these men will be working for maybe an hour... or more... yet?"

"I thawt they were nearly finished."

"Could you oblige me... please.... and move the car out onto the road...? Pretty please?"

When he moved the car, I noticed half his driveway was covered in wood chips. I groaned. No wonder he was making a fuss! I grabbed a brush and started sweeping.

There was a mountain of sawdust and chippings in my own drive. I laboured away for half an hour until everything was bagged and tied and tidy.

It was eight o'clock before the men were satisfied that everything that could be done had been done. It was a fabulous job and I was overwhelmed with the quality of the work and of the doors.

"Everytink is gut?"

"Brilliant!"

"If you get doors for upstairs, you call me. I get cheaper."

"Nice one," I said, taking down his telephone number, signing his docket, handing them a tip which went into the same place as the butty pencils, which is to say somewhere unknown.

I looked at the chaos of the house and sighed. It would take a day off work to put everything to right again.

After a while, I thought of the neighbour's car out on the road. Mybe someone would run into it. Or scrape it. Or steal it.

"I bet I'll be blamed if it does!"

I nipped upstairs to the bedroom, tugged back the net curtain and leaned on the windowsill to look out to see if the car was okay. My hand squelched in a pool of cat vomit...

"Bad cat!" I said.

The cat opened one eye briefly, brupped pleasantly and went back to sleep.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Loved it! Anyone who gets more than they expected from a catalogue is having a pretty fine day. I used to build doors for a living and know hoe unusual it is foir a customer to be satisfied!

My cat Rocky, who has been 10 years old for 3 years, went out to eat some grass today now that most of the snow is gone and left his special little memento of the occassion under my Mother's chair. For a nearly 84 year old woman, she can still scream while sliding her foot through cat vomit!

Willie_W said...

We've discovered that feeding the cat less has met with some gastromonic success. It seems she has become like a kid in a sweety shop in her old age and just keeps demanding more food til she cannae take it any more, Cap'n. So now she's grumpier, but doesn't get sick and is putting on some condition again.

Anonymous said...

I loved that story Willie.
My elderly cat has different ways of letting me know which food she likes. Often the paw tenderly pats me on my cheek till I have ignored her too much...then out comes the claws on my arm, just enough claw and a certain look in her eye to tell me I am about to get the full claw works if I don't get up. My cat eats small amounts of food through the day, trouble is, she leaves a small amount in her bowl each time also. Hench when it comes to the next feed she looks at me as if to say " you really don't think I am going to eat those left overs from last feed time ?" Why does she also not like certain food out of the puches I buy for her ? I tried to do all sorts of tricks by buying tins of food instead of the pouches, sure she NEVER finishes a tin either, looks for a different flavour and the quarter left in the tin is wasted. I love her though *S*.....Joan

Holler said...

That was a really funny story Willie! I will stay tuned!

Anonymous said...

Post script to my last comment about my cat !
My cat sits outside the bathroom door waiting till I come out, for no particular reason, my kids used to do the same, except they would actually ask "when you coming out Mummy ? ".
My cat tends to scratch the bottom of the door. The other day, I was all hot and bothered after a hot and bothered day in work. I could not wait till I got home to freshen up. I dashed upstairs straight into the bathroom with my cat running up the stairs after me, as if I was playing some sort of game in her minds eye.
After a few Miaow's as she does she settled down to wait for me to re-open the door. I do so duly, there she was sitting sprawled out right outside the entrance, me being me, I said "Hi again Kitty " with a smile on my face. UNTIL, I tried to step over her and misjudged my footing. I went smack into the side of the wooden door frame ! Ohhh the pain, she never moved. I have a bruise all down the arm, in perfect shape of the door frame. It is now a purple yellow colour so it must be getting better eh. Cats !..............Joan