On Easter eggs, old boilers, food, batons, youth and old age.

It’s Easter and all our children and their partners will be back here for it. It’s a long weekend off with a national holiday both on the Friday before it and the Monday afterward. On the Wednesday just on the cusp of our visitors arriving, our boiler decided with perfect timing to go on the fritz. These things are sent to try us, as my mother would say through gritted teeth in the face of an unexpected adversity. She had a very hostile attitude towards unexpected adversities who soon learned to steer well clear of her.

The timing confirms my long-held suspicion that while we may be working on developing artificial intelligence, artificial malevolence arrived a long time ago. I tinker around with it, resist giving it a bloody good kick but because none of my usual fixes are working, decide on this occasion we’re going to need to call in some professional bodgers, as opposed to a talented amateur bodger like myself.

One of my sons has a friend who’s a plumber and after a prolonged Q&A session on the phone with him about the boiler, its make, model, vintage and its symptoms, he very kindly offers to pop in tomorrow for a quick look, which he does.

He’s accompanied by an older and more experienced plumber in the shape of his retired dad, not a good sign, so I suspect the quick diagnostic over the phone has pointed to more substantial problems. They have a good tinker with it for an hour or so but finally give us the number of the manufacturer who miraculously still runs a repair service for our John Deere vintage tractor of a boiler.

The manufacturer does a fixed price deal which’ll cost us slightly north of two hundred and fifty smackeroos, but the engineer can be here the next day on the bank holiday and at no extra charge, so we take a ball-pein hammer to one of our rainy day piggy banks and the engineer duly arrives on Friday to get to work on the beast. Having gone to battle with that boiler several times over the years and consequently knowing what I know about the state of its insides, I feel the decision to go fixed price may be a prudent one.

I’m in the study but can overhear the conversation between the engineer and my wife outside the utility room. He is totally impressed at how it was still functioning, considering it looked like it’d been years since it had a good service. I can almost hear the boiler shaming alert klaxton going off in her head, and listen expectantly. He asks my wife when that service was, and after a certain nuanced pause I recognise only too well, I hear her pleading early onset Alzheimer’s but conceding it could perhaps have been a year or two ago. She can be such a shameless little fibber at times.

It’s actually never been serviced in the twenty years since it’s been installed. I usually figure it out or give it a well placed clatter with a Stillson wrench and having sorted out who’s the boss, it gets back to work. Nobody actually repairs anything these days, they just keep replacing parts until the thing as if by magic starts working again. It’s a work method reminiscent of Trigger’s broom. Eventually he runs out of spare parts to swap in, so he and his white van zoom back to Moonbase Alpha for more spares. He’ll be back on Saturday.

The kids started arriving late on Thursday evening, and everyone is in position from Friday morning onwards to eat us out of house and home. That night our grandson decides to hell with sleeping in the travel cot they’ve got and slips into bed between his parents. He runs warm and has a great old sleep in his baby rompers on top of the quilt while they barely get into REM sleep beneath it, unconsciously fearing they might roll over and smother him in the night.

They start to explain it to me the next morning about why they’re feeling knackered, but I wave them off. We’ve all been there, got that particular t-shirt and did the exhausting shallow sleeping at attention thing when you know there’s a baby in between you. They’re starting to realise they’re neither the first parents in the world nor unique in having slightly paranoid concerns like that when it comes to your baby. It’s sort of sweet actually. From a certain viewpoint – ours of course – they’re still babies themselves, but the responsibility of having the fine wee man is growing them up fast.

He’s a blessing to have around. His uncles, whom I take care to remind my other sons they actually are, are very attentive to his needs. I’m indirectly and in a subtle way reminding them they have a duty of protection towards him but they’re good men who know that already. I can be a real worry wart at times.

He’s just started walking and wobbles around with both arms held up like a tightrope walker surrendering, a two foot high little man with a lean into it attitude towards a big new world. He walks around in it with feet at ten to two and constantly teetering on the brink of the great equilibrium disaster of Easter 2017.

Wherever he goes, one or the other of his uncles is no more than a yard behind him, crouched over with encircling arms within catching reach of him just in case he finally falls off the tightrope. Softies. It’s the love and care and tenderness within the heart of a man which actually gives him his real strength. I watch him doing his miniature drunkard’s walk around the house and them closely shadowing him, and know they’ll make good fathers one day.

Friday is mostly meeting and greeting, unloading cars and catching up. Our youngest man heads off very early into the smoke to go on a jaunt to the coast with his quite recently met paramour and we know we won’t see him until tomorrow. This particular one it’s plain means something to him, a keeper. We all tease him a bit for being too eager because that’s our manner but it’s gentle because we all can see he’s smitten with this one.

He has a stout and resolute heart which has already been tested in love, the kind that bruises deeply and beyond all the teasing, we want her to be the one, or failing that at least someone who’ll let him down gently. There’s a momentary silence in the house as we hear the front door slamming behind him downstairs as he heads off to see her. I lay abed and a little silent prayer follows him on his way.

The boiler engineer gets back on Saturday morning, and after a few more hours of swapping old parts for new, the boiler comes back from its near death experience replete with stories of white narrowing tunnels of light heading skywards and such. As we’re settling up with him, he says we’ve done well out of the fixed price deal, since he reckons with his labour and the number of parts he’s replaced, we could have been looking at an eight hundred quid bill if it was a time and materials job.

When I run the numbers in my head, we’re a lot more in the money than that, not least because we haven’t been paying the usual exorbitant annual maintenance fee for two decades. Plus when you add in the overkill of the replace rather than repair approach to fixing it, we’ve essentially got a new boiler.

With the return of hot water, Saturday afternoon then becomes a stampede to the showers by everyone in the house but me. While they’re banging on the bathroom door trying to get each other out of long and luxuriant showers, I’m happy just to have a leisurely hot wash undisturbed in the hand basin of the downstairs loo. Having gone a whole three days without their usual daily shower, they’re acting like it was three months in the hellish swamps and jungles of Guadalcanal. I’ll shower at my leisure bright and early Sunday morning before anyone is up and without anyone banging on the bathroom door.

Saturday passes quickly doing nothing more than catchups and playing with the fine wee man. As evening closes in, the food consensus moves towards a take away rather than cooking. That’s somewhat of a surprise since everybody is a more than proficient cook who likes to show off their expertise in the kitchen except for me, el primitivo who is quite happy to get by on the occasional bit of roadkill, even taking the trouble on occasion to fry it in a blob of axle grease if I’m in the mood for some fancy dining.

We go the kebab route after some debate and it’s an order of doner kebabs of the lamb, chicken and mixed variety, a veritable mountain of chips and tubs of chilli, garlic and hot curry sauce to dip things into. Given the unexpected size of the order, the local takeaway quotes a long lead time so by the time it’s safely hit the dining room table, everyone is ravenous because there is a certain irresistible synergy between hunger and the thought of nicely fried chips.

A huge mound of chips is spread out on its paper wrappings in the middle of the trencher table, a liberal dousing of salt is applied and then I sprinkle the holy vinegar of Antioch over the whole lot of it while at the same time intoning my version of the old Catholic baptism ritual. Do you Spawn of the Spud reject Satan and all of his works? As I intone the blasphemous ritual, hands slip in from the side and squeeze out dollops for communal dipping of tomato ketchup, BBQ sauce and mayonnaise onto the paper peeking out from under the edges of the mountain of chips.

Given that you can pick up and eat a kebab in its unleavened bread container and select a chip by hand and dunk it in the sauce of your choice, it’s a very primitive, leisurely, relaxed and gregarious way for a family to share a common meal. There’s something very fitting and natural about eating food with your fingers. We chat away, feeding the baby tasty bits and giving an unconscious priority to slowly grazing our way down through the chip mountain because we all know reheated chips are always crap, whereas there are lots of tasty things you can do with the uneaten remains of last night’s kebab.

We demolish Chip Mountain, and the not insubstantial meaty remains of the kebabs with what’s left of the tubs of sauce are carefully stored in the fridge for lunch tomorrow. Everything else gets rolled up inside the paper wrappings it arrived in, popped in the delivery bag and then it gets thrown in the bin. There’s no cooking nor washing up, which is absolutely the best thing about the occasional treat of having a take away.

After the table is cleared, we chat away for a while until we all drift away to various activities. Some go for the disengage brain activity of watching TV while others go for setting up what looks to me to be a horrendously complicated board game on the kitchen table. I gracefully decline a seat at the gaming table and retreat to the study to listen to some music behind a closed door and peck away at a piece. I hit the hay just before midnight, but the game players are still hard at it and I can see it’ll be a late night for them all.

 

 

After an extremely long shower early Sunday morning, I dress and sort out an Easter egg hunt for the fine wee man with my wife. We start outside the back door and walk our way around the garden, hiding miniature Easter eggs in various places. Just underneath a frond, at the edge of a flower bed, in the V of some lower-hanging branches of an apple tree, precariously balanced atop a solar-powered night light, sitting impudently on a tree stump, hidden away in plain sight in the lawn. Everything has to be within that two foot high sightline of a toddler who still needs to hang onto my hand as we traverse what is for him the rough ground of our lawn.

Since we’re going to be concealing over twenty miniature Easter eggs around a rather large garden and therefore run the risk of forgetting where we put a few of them, I think it best we walk along an odd route which is actually a path through one of my memory palaces, and as we walk from place to place, the objects I left there a number of years ago for retrieval some day come unbidden into my mind’s eye. Some are good, some less so, and yet I marvel at the seemingly limitless data retention capacity of the human mind. It’s all in the mix of a varied life.

Sunday lunch is a small plate of stir fry made from the leftover kebab meats with the addition of various enhancements like chopped up chillies, onions, jalapenos, diced chorizo sausage and a dash of various condiments like soy sauce and virgin olive oil. I love the sizzle and smell of it and the billowing clouds of tang as it’s being prepared. With a few dabs of various cool sauces on the side of the plate, it’s a very relaxed and tasty fork in type of meal which’ll hold everyone until dinner in the evening.

We kick off the Easter egg hunt after lunch. He finds the first one of the miniature eggs right outside the back door because I point at it and then when he’s picked it up and rotated it around a few times in his hand in puzzlement, I peel the garishly-coloured silver foil off it and bite off a little bit of chocolate to feed him. Small enough so he won’t choke on it. He gets the idea that these colourful silvery things contain that magic stuff called chocolate which he already knows about, so from then on he’s on mission.

We walk along together with me holding his hand while he waggles the other arm around in the air to keep his balance. We stop somewhere and I pause significantly, not pointing at anything. He takes the hint and knows there’s an egg to be found somewhere in the immediate vicinity and starts scanning around for it. I notice he glances at me to see where I’m looking to get a clue, so I push him a bit because I can see subtlety is not lost on this kiddo.

The familiar thought occurs to me that to those who are given much, less help should be extended, in order to make them develop those gifts. I do however keep idly gazing at where the egg is hidden, just to give him the feedback of showing the little mite he’d found an innovative solution to this particular problem.

Trying to be demanding with him prompts a few memories of my childhood that have stayed with me like a slightly nagging thorn in my hand I couldn’t quite get out when my usually loving father seemingly left me to sink or swim. In that halting journey around our garden with my grandson, I finally came to understand the wisdom of his way of thinking and how hard it must have been for both them. Sometimes there’s simply no explaining the persistence of children grown to adulthood and still refusing to understand the times and circumstances of their parents.

The domino theory of understanding kicks in. A memory I’d forgotten or perhaps conveniently suppressed of my very early childhood floats to the top. It’d be me the mute observer watching on as he came home and asked her to boil up a basin full of hot water. I already knew what that meant because I’d seen it several times before and we’d already had the whole screaming argument of getting little me out of the room which I wouldn’t because I knew my Da was hurting. I hung onto the door frame furiously screaming and she was afraid of breaking my fingers.

He’d keep trying to put his hand into it but it was still too hot, and she’d be standing there by his side with a jug of cold water and keep adding little increments of it in and stirring with a wooden baking spoon until he could just about take it.

When he could finally immerse his hand in the hot water and keep it there long enough, she went and fetched a new Gillette razor blade from the bathroom cupboard over the sink where he kept his shaving kit and unwrapped it from its grease paper cover and left it with one end protruding over the table for him to pick up easy. We all waited.

When he felt ready, he’d give her the nod and lift the offending hand out of the basin and she’d dry it with a tea towel and then press it fiercely down on the table for him by the wrist and across the tips of his fingers. He’d pick up and use the new razor blade to cut down through the softened callouses of a mechanic’s rough hand and to the cause of the problem.

His hand on the table would always tremble but he’d be unerring with the other one, and she’d press down even harder to make his target easier.

The razor blade was held like a pen between thumb and forefinger. He always did a small grunt at the first cut, but that was about that and nothing more, allowing her to quickly press down onto his hand and probe and extract with an eyebrow tweezers the sliver of steel that’d been shot into him by a lathe owned by an employer who didn’t believe in protective clothing.

I’d see the blood drops dripping into the basin from the hand he’d quickly rotated off the table not to make a mess on it for her and watching them dissolving as she did the fiddly thing of getting the two paper bits off a sticking plaster. But I also once saw the afterwards, the tenderness with which she ran the tips of her fingers down the side of his face and knew as sure as Christ I wanted a love, a woman who’d look at me like that at least one fucking time in my life.

She would always rinse the blood off the blade, dry it and carefully put it back into its wax wrapper. Razor blades were expensive and not to be wasted.

Against that sort of backdrop, the harder virtues I’m trying to impart in a mild way to my grandson seem an indulgence. Like the simple thing of seeing your father’s blood drops falling one by one into a basin of water and dissolving into nothing forever, there’s always a lot more story behind those long vanished drops of blood.

I already see the hunter in him, the instinct you have for it or never will have. It would be nice to teach him the field craft, the meaning of a flattened blade of grass which has not quite sprung back to where all the others are, spotting the little piece of slack water in the lee of a rock in a mountain stream where a trout would take up station because knowing your quarry that’s exactly where you’d be if you were a trout, about being a hunter and taking a life but paying respect to it.

Of bending a line with precisely the right fly on the end of it and laying that gram weight gently down on the waters approaching that rock without a splash on the downward rushing water. Those things and more he’ll perhaps have to stumble upon himself, and finding one day the bliss underneath the sun on a bend on a river somewhere and realising it’s all a celebration of a bigger concept of life in which we’re an integral part.

For the moment, we simply hunt free range Easter eggs together in the garden.

Thinking about it realistically, I’m a grandfather he’ll probably never recall and one who’ll only ever be talked about in slightly scandalous tones which’ll come down to you don’t really want to know too much about him. Not a lot of good will ever be spoken of me, because I’m too cussed and unreconstructed a shattered flint and therefore have too many sharp cutting edges.

I’m reminded of a scene from the Simpsons where Marge is explaining to Bart about an uncle Bill whose existence he’d only just found out about by accident – it took twenty-two US Marshals to take him down she tells him while avoiding eye contact. We will never speak of your uncle Bill again, she says with a certain this is the end of this conversation forever finality.

As he finds them, my wife opens and proffers an egg carton with a hollow for each egg into which he duly deposits each foundling. I notice every time having carefully placed the egg in a vacant hole, he closes the lid of the box. A place for everything, and everything in its place. This guy is going to be a completer and curiously more focused on filling all the holes in the box with each egg he finds rather than eating them.

All Easter Sunday afternoon, my wife is cooking a leg of lamb for the evening meal, and the delicious aroma works its way around the house. It’s going to be a full on Sunday dinner with all the trimmings with even dollops of mint sauce. The lads are practically pawing at the ground to get at it. I’ve been in the study hacking away at a piece but the sheer smell of it draws me out of the man cave. She’s just taken it out of the oven and it’s sitting on the side cooling down. Inviting. It’s nicely crisped on the outside and I stand before it, getting high on that lamb smell.

I look around for a good carving knife, but she gets between me and the cutlery, blocking it physically with her body while pushing me out of the place because she knows about me and my weakness for lamb. ‘Could I just have a little taster of the burnt bits?’ I ask, but she’s adamantine, harder than steel, and gets me out of the kitchen. What a terrible disaster it is for any man to marry a woman who gets to know him only too well.

The kitchen is a whirl of activity with her working away with her sous chefs preparing the trimmings. It’s finally ready in the early evening and we all sit around the big table helping ourselves to various things from the big plates in the middle of the table. Before we start, we do a lot of clinking of glasses wishing everyone a happy Easter. A good thick homemade sauce is poured on the meat and roast potatoes, people have their first taste and then pronounce it delicious, which it is.

It’s a long and leisurely meal with people chatting, forking out seconds from the dishes in the middle of the table and reloading wine glasses as we enjoy an evening back together. It runs down in the end and we all go our separate ways. I go for watching a downloaded movie, a wilting little man gets put to bed and the game players resume the paused board game on the kitchen table. The movie ends and most head for bed but I excuse myself and head for the study to tidy up some stuff.

The tidying up turns into a writing overdose. When for once it’s blessedly flowing so easy, you hang onto that tiger’s tail for as long as possible and edit the results in the morning aftermath. In the end I start nodding off, so it’s time to hang up my keyboard and go to bed. I pass the game players in the kitchen, still hard at work with a growing stack of craft beer longnecks accumulating at the back door for the recycling. With a goodnight, I leave them to their enjoyment of the game.

It’s Monday morning. I’ve watched the sun come up in the company of a quiet piece by Erik Satie with a few support acts by people like Debussy and Shostakovich. Me time. I sit in the study in the aftermath of sunrise doing a few respins and thinking deep, meaningless, unconnected and disjointed thoughts – just allowing my mind to wander along with the music when the fine wee man appears silently at my elbow to get my attention.

Old men and babies share the common habit of being up before the dawn. The former I suppose because we’re just glad to see another one, and the latter because they want to get an early start on what promises to be a whole new day of stirring adventures in what is to them a whole new world.

He stands on tippy toes and plucks at my sleeve to snap me out of it. It’s usually the one undisturbed moment of the day I can spend in Wallawoora and therefore the most closely guarded and valued, especially after a long weekend when the house has been packed with too many people and there’s no peace to be found in it, so the little man has to work hard to drag me out of my meditations. He’s so tiny and brave and vulnerable, he has my heart.

 

 

I heft him up onto my lap and we listen together to a Mahler adagietto for a few minutes or so, watching the sun burn off the last traces of morning mist hanging over the garden, but the tempo of the music is a little bit too slow for a dynamic young man like himself, out to explore the whole damn world before breakfast is served to him like a lord in his high chair in the kitchen by his foot servants. He hops down and wobbles away but I somehow know he’ll keep popping back in to check up on me.

It’s easy to see there’s too much of the shepherd in the fine wee man, the old family curse hardwired forward down the generations in the DNA – he’ll be another worry wart. I think a half decent forage into what’s commonly called the junk DNA sequences of the double bedspring might reveal some highly uncomfortable home truths about an individual’s essential nature, but I know that’s a very controversial baton best tossed forward in the last falling not failing gasp of my generation to his new one.

For reasons known only to him, his favourite tune is the Jimi Hendix number Hey Joe. He just enjoys the riffs in it and most especially the throbbing backbeat and bops along in time to it but thankfully doesn’t yet understand the lyrics. His parents enrolled him in a baby signing class some time ago, and he really can communicate his basic needs by signing but has also started making up new ones which confound his parents because he keeps repeating them until they understand.

The sign he invented for play me some music is holding a clenched fist up to either cheek and slightly shaking his head. That one took some working out. I would dearly love to know the thought process behind that sign.

He’s starting to pick out and repeat back to you the noun in whatever you say to him because he’s at that development stage where the rate of language acquisition goes geometric, so we’ve all agreed that from now on we’ll have to be more careful about what expletives we use around him.

Monday slowly unfolds as the rest of the world gets out of bed. It’s load out day for everybody. It feels like the aftermath of one of those chaotic pop festivals you went to as a kid. All passion has been spent and you’re drag assing your way off a field littered with beer cans, cindered remains of illicit fires still smouldering, abandoned tents blowing in the wind like tumbleweeds and homeward bound towards another boring day at work on the morrow.

And yet, despite all the disasters and patch ’em up and keep going work arounds, you’re totally up for doing exactly the same thing next year. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

©Pointman

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Comments
14 Responses to “On Easter eggs, old boilers, food, batons, youth and old age.”
  1. Blackswan says:

    Thank you Pointy, for this unexpected invitation to all your readers to join you and your family for a memorable long weekend at your home. It’s uncommonly generous of you.

    You’re right – the fine wee man is safe in the bosom of your worthy clan. You are all … “the right stuff”.

    Like

  2. rapscallion says:

    Your writing Pointman is so good, and so well written that it reduces one to moist eyes at the least and teary at the most. It is a pleasure to read. You manage to transport your readers to your house as if they were unseen guests. No mean feat. You write of a family, doing family things that I unfortunately never experienced, but can well imagine. I never knew my Grandparents – all dead bar one before I was born, and never knew any uncles or aunts either. Childhood for me finished at 8 when what little I did have of a family was torn asunder at Christmas 1966. You may not think it because to you it is quite natural, but you are incredibly fortunate. You have a wife who knows you too well, as well as sons and a fine “wee man” Some of us never had that and never will. You are indeed a lucky man. What’s that saying now? Count your blessings.

    Like

  3. Annie says:

    A lovely article Pointman. We are fortunate to have a great family too and you gave me some smiles reading of similar occasions.

    Like

  4. Pedro the Swift says:

    Pointy, as all previous comments have already confirmed, another fabulous description of your Easter break. Mine was somewhat similar differing only in that my eldest can only get away at Christmas every second year and that our youngest grandchild is female and three. I feel sorry for Rapscallion as I knew all four of my grandparents if only for a short while.

    There is an old adage that states chance favours the well prepared but this can not apply in my case as my life before I turned 60 was easy and simple yet my laziness and untidiness could never be interpreted as well prepared. Thank heavens that I was blessed with a mind which is extremely capable with figures.Your struggle with the boiler reminds me of mine with a hot water system a few Christmases ago, the laying of Easter Egg mines was originally one of our duties but has been hijacked by parents of the youngest.

    Perhaps the genetics have something to do with musical taste. I am a Cocker, Rolling Stones, rocking type. The granddaughter loves one of my favourites – Respect by Aretha Franklin.

    I hope the British chocolate industry has not succumbed to the Halal disease that besets some of our brands out here. Come to think of it, the use of words such as Christmas, Easter and Anzac Day seem to be frowned upon by the noisy minority.

    However there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel in that the number turning up for Anzac Day are increasing and that increase is more from the younger generation. Perhaps a similar phenomenon to Brexit and Trump although the age situation appeared to play little part in those.

    Like

    • rapscallion says:

      Pedro, thanks for the mention, but you know, what you’ve never had, you never miss. My Dad was 50 when I was born (and he had 4 brothers killed in action before he was 8 – 1917). His father died in 1940, and his mother in the early 1950’s .My mother’s parents died during WWII in Belgium. Both my parents are now dead and my sister moved to America in 1984. Last seen in 1993. I’ve been divorced for over 20 years, and have lived alone for the past 5 years. I don’t expect to form any new relationships with women as I’ve pretty much given up on them.

      I’m pretty philosophical about it all – it’s just a continuation of a trend as far as I’m concerned. Hey, sh1t ‘appens!

      Like

  5. philjourdan says:

    It is events like this in our life that remind us that the supply of “next years” is finite.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  6. Truthseeker says:

    Pointy,

    I do not recognise the board game. Care to enlighten?

    Thanks,
    Truthseeker

    Like

    • Pointman says:

      It’s called Scythe. Beyond that, I don’t know much about it except the game players finished their first game of it at 3am Monday, so it’s probably good.

      Pointy

      Like

  7. 42david says:

    G’day Pointy. Love your pet dragon. How did you train it to sit on a table? 🙂

    Like

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