Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Yes, I am still alive...

I know I know. It's been two weeks and not a word. Mea Culpa.

In my defense I have been on holiday. And, if that was not enough, I have been holidaying at a Travelodge which has yet to drag itself into the 21st Century and provide internet connection as standard. So I have been blogging off-line (now there's commitment) and will post a link to all my pearls of vacation wisdom just as soon as I can.

Thanking you all for your patience....

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

While the cat's away...

I haven't blogged for a week and I'm starting to feel guilty. Some friends have already commented that this site is becoming 'too Jewish' (you can take the girl out of the ghetto…) - if I now introduce an element of guilt as well, they'll hit the roof.

So, a quick update. Scrappino is still with my folks by the sea-side and I am still making the most of being childfree. I've been to the theatre ("Tom, Dick and Harry" at the Duke of Yorks - dreadful, since you ask) and the ballet. Again. Where Adam Cooper is concerned, once is not enough. And I've met up with friends for that elusive drink that never seems to happen when you're juggling work and home and kids and everything else.

Being child-free has been a revelation. I didn't work before Scrappino was born and so juggling work and parenting is all I've ever known. I've become used to the panic of missing a train and spending the rest of the journey frantically trying to invent realistic-sounding excuses with which to explain my lateness to an irate school secretary and a crying child. When a colleague suggests a drink after work, I don't need to get my diary out to make an arrangement for three weeks time or phone a babysitter. I can say yeah, that'll be lovely, and off we go. And I don't have to jump every time my phone rings, just in case it's the school on the line, calling to tell me that the boiler has broken down and will I come and collect Scrappino right now?

But for all that life is different with Scrappino away, there are some things that remain the same. Not least because I've found myself adopting his hobbies. I'm not sure when or how this happened. But, to prove the point, on Sunday night I watched four episodes of Dr Who back-to-back after spotting the latest DVD in Tesco that afternoon. I bought it for Scrappino, obviously, and I put it on his pillow as a surprise 'welcome home' gift. It lay there for all of seven minutes before my inability to delay gratification got the better of me and I ripped off the plastic, sat down and was gluded to the telly all evening.

As if that's not embarrassing enough, I am starting to take on some of Scrappino's other, less street-worthy, past-times. I spent three hours on Saturday loading a new CD-Rom he'd bought - a virtual model railway. It's made by Hornby, the same people who make the real model railways. For the sad railway enthusiasts. You know the type. The middle managers who spend every waking hour in the loft, fiddling with microscopic points and reduced-to-scale steam engines. Well, we don't have room in the flat for a huge model railway. And I would be failing Scrappino as a parent if I encouraged this kind of bizarre pursuit. So a virtual railway on CD-Rom seemed the perfect compromise. It also turns out to be highly addictive. I spent three hours laying track, choosing engines, building stations and operating signals. All from the comfort of my living room. I managed to stop myself before I started making microscopic sandwiches 2 days past their best-before date or a virtual terrorist blew the whole thing up.

Scrappino is still blissfully unaware of both the Dr Who DVD and the railway CD-Rom. They are patiently waiting for his return - tomorrow. Meanwhile, he is being spoiled and indulged by my parents - as is every school boy's right - during his summer holiday. I did worry that my Dad's ideals might influence Scrappino in a direction that I've chosen not to follow. My Dad has strong values that he wants Scrappino to adopt and I've decided that they are not for me. Sadly, my concerns have been justified. Despite my own life choices, Scrappino has been unable to resist the urge of his grandfather's influence. He has become an obsessed cricket fan.

During the test match, he spent 90% of our daily telephone conversations discussing the players, the teams, the scores, the tactics. This is not as easy for him as it sounds. For starters, he's only eight, and Trescothick is a bloody difficult name to pronounce when you haven't got all your adult teeth. Plus, he's not quite mastered all of the terminology. One evening he asked me, in a voice of hope mingled with quiet despair, "Mum, do you think the Australians will avoid the follow-through?" I know that some of the cricket commentators have suggested that Shane Warne is secretly crapping himself, but this is taking things a bit too literally.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous

I've just emailed Jonathan Freedland and invited him to join my shul. How ridiculously impulsive is that? Well, I read an interview he gave to Jewish Renaissance - Magazine Of Jewish Culture in which he laments the fact that he and his wife don't go to shul, mainly because they can't find one that is both 'traditional' (i.e. sings the Hebrew prayers to tunes we remember from childhood) and 'progressive' (i.e. considers the participation of women in the synagogue to stretch to something slightly more demanding than cutting cake and spreading chopped herring).

So, armed with a bit of chutzpa, and the wonderful anonymity that comes with email, I dropped him a line. I begged him not to press shift+delete before he got to the end of the first paragraph, but kept it 'light and breezy'. I think I managed to tell him all about the wonderful Kol Nefesh Masorti , the only (can you believe that?) traditional egalitarian shul in the UK, without sounding too much like a cold-caller. After a couple of sentences liberally dosed with words such as 'egalitarian', 'welcoming' and 'challenging' I signed my name, and pressed send. So watch this space.

Actually, you might have to wait a while before the space is worth watching, because his auto-reply tells me "I'm away and unable to check emails until August 22nd, but I will get in touch once I get back. Best wishes, Jonathan Freedland". Firstly, that's a downright lie, because I heard him this morning on the Today programme. And secondly, just how long IS his summer holiday?? [£11.89 of which I paid for, courtesy of Jacob's Gift - A Journey into the Heart of Belonging].

Still, it's nice to rub shoulders with a celeb (kind-of). It must be the week for it. Last night, I was on the tube on my way home from work, frantically avoiding all eye contact with other commuters (in case they think that I think they're bombers) when I noticed that the chap sitting in front of me was Stephen Merchant. He's the goggly eyes chap from the Office and Extras. Ricky Gervais' side-kick. [Or, as Merchant puts it, 'writing partner']. Anyway, my immediate reaction on seeing his face was to burst out laughing. Well, you would, wouldn't you? He didn't seem to mind. I suppose it must be better than being asked 'What's Ricky really like?' by smitten groupies. But afterwards, once my giggles had subsided, I felt a bit disappointed. Here I am, dreaming of one day penning a comedy masterpiece as my stepping stone into the good life, and there's Stephen Merchant, co-creator of the biggest-selling British comedy EVER, and he's going home on the Jubilee Line. Reading a discarded Metro with the Su Doku already filled in. What's there to aspire to??

Friday, August 05, 2005

Tears before bathtime

I am off to the sea-side today for a (hopefully) relaxing weekend. Scrappino is there, spending his summer holidays being looked after by my folks and I've been left behind in the smoke so that I can go to work. Or, more accurately, I've been left behind in the dust.

My plumber-cum-builder (not the one who quoted me seven grand for old rope) is currently in the process of gutting my old bathroom and fitting a brand spanking new one. He's spent three days ripping off old tiles, tearing down wallpaper, dismantling cisterns and covering the flat with a thick layer of dust in the process. I hate to be flippant - but my home is now not unlike the nuclear wastelands of Hiroshima the day after they dropped the A-bomb. (Although, perhaps today is not the best time to make this comparison?)

I've been looking forward to the new bathroom for ages. And although I knew there would be a bit of upheaval during the fitting process, I felt I was prepared for the disruption. In fact, I expected it to be quite fun. You know. All reckless spending from the Dolphin catalogue and inappropriate jokes about ball-cocks. But the reality has been a bit different. Every day since starting work on the bathroom, the plumber has called me at work to let me know of another disaster. First it was the state of the walls. When he ripped off the tiles and wallpaper he discovered that the plaster underneath was crumbling in his fingers and he's had to strip the walls to the bare brick. Cue two extra days added to the Estimated Job Length. Next, he called to say that there was a delay in taking out the old bath. He can't turn off the water to the flat because of some problem with the tap on the mains and he might have to call out the Water Company. (The same company who were responsible for this fiasco, so I'm not holding my breath.) So that's another two days added to the Estimated Job Length. Finally, he called yesterday to let me know that the cowboys who fitted the central heating to my flat have used some kind of twisted piping system that will need to be pulled out and replaced. Unfortunately, he can't do this himself as he's not a 'Registered Heating Consultant". Luckily, he has a friend who is on the register (presumably not in the sex offender sense) and he can fit the job in next week. But I'm beginning to wonder if it was all worth it.

My tolerance levels are decreasing in inverse proportion to the Estimated Job Length. Every time the phone rings at work I have to brace myself for another plumbing catastrophe. My nerves are shattered. I'm starting to feel like a walking game of Buckaroo. I'm taking on all these DIY calamities one at a time and I never quite know which one is going to make me flip. What I could really do with is a nice long soak in the bath. But of course, now that the walls and floor have been stripped, I can't do that without flooding my downstairs neighbour's flat with hot water and Radox bubbles. So I am off to my folks for a dust-free weekend and a long dip in their lovely new bath. I've even phoned ahead to make sure the immersion heater is on. And I might well have to extend the Estimated Soak Length.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

(Un)happy anniversary

Shoot me now. Yesterday I got the following email from my employer (automatically generated, naturally…)

"Dear X [they did insert my name, but I decided to delete it for blogging purposes],

Happy Anniversary! Thank you for your 5 years of service with [I know better than to blog my employer's name!]

We are pleased to present you an award in recognition of this achievement. In an effort to make this event meaningful, please choose an award you will value. You can view the choices at the following website: [you guessed it, the website was listed here…]

Five years!? Where did the time go? And what do I have to show for it?? Mind you, it's not often that people get to email me a Happy Anniversary message (well, not any more…) so I suppose I might as well make the most of it. But I have to admit to feeling a little uncertain as to whether this is really a moment worth celebrating. I think maybe it's a moment to stop, take stock and make some BIG decisions. (P45 anyone?)

Still, my employers clearly think this is a milestone worth celebrating. And to help me do this, they have kindly offered to present me with an 'award' of my choice. Now, before you all shout me down for being ungrateful and unnecessarily critical, here's the deal.

Firstly, the website has a list of options to press, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years etc, with each button taking you to a different page. The pages display 30 or so 'awards' that I can choose from. I picked the '5 years' button first. There were two biros (posh ones, I'll admit, but biros all the same), a couple of vases (which even my mum would say no to, and she rarely says no to vases), some cuckoo clocks (no, I don't work for a Swiss company, so I have no idea either…) a penknife (useful, but if they check my bags at the tube station on the way home from work the police will confiscate it) and some binoculars. I don't mean to sound disparaging and it was a very nice gesture, but I can't help commenting that the quality of the goods displayed was less John Lewis and distinctly more TJ Hughes.

Secondly, no matter what button you press (5 years, 35 years, 50 years, whatever) the selection is exactly the same. It's the same batch of vases, photo frames and ceramic figurines. How disappointing; imagine working for the same company for 50 years and, on your final day, being offered a pen knife as a reward? You'd want to use it to slit your wrists, there and then.

Mind you, the thought of spending 50 years at the same office, doing the same job for the same company is utterly terrifying. To be honest, I'm finding it hard to come to terms with my 5 year anniversary. I have to admit that the congratulations being showered on me by my boss are not quite as deserved as he suspects. What he calls my 'loyalty and dedication' are actually utter inertia and laziness. I'd rather stay put and do my time than actually try to find something else or something better.

And so, with that in mind, I felt I should revise the rather flowery Note of Congratulations that I received from my MD. I won't show you what he actually sent me. Here is what, I feel, he should have sent me. You can decide for yourselves…

Congratulations!

Dedication and loyalty are attributes not found in every individual, and indeed, we struggled to find any devotion to [company name] evident in you. Nonetheless, we sincerely thank you for your commitment to our company and the laziness intrinsic to your personality type that has prevented you from pursuing an alternative career. We credit our successes to individuals like you who recognise a good deal when they see one, and opt for an easy life for low pay rather than aspire to excellence.

It is always a pleasure to recognize our employees' achievements, but it is especially gratifying to acknowledge those who have attained recognized terms of service. Think of us as a jail term or an unhappy marriage - best referred to by the number of years under your belt. As a thank you and reminder of our great appreciation, please select a service award from the following choices. You might like to choose the binoculars, to help you find your missing career. Or a watch, to slowly count the hours, minutes and seconds of the next five years. But choose carefully. We scoured the very best offers from the Argos summer clearance catalogue to come up with this selection of goodies. Your award will include the company logo, for which design we paid a jumped up 'creative' more than we've paid you during your five years service so far.

Again, congratulations on this great accomplishment and thank you for your continuing inability to face the Guardian job pages on anything like a regular basis. Together, we can continue to achieve the level of excellence to which we have all grown accustomed.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Don't read this if you haven't read Harry Potter book 6 yet...

On the train this morning there was a woman sitting in an aisle seat, reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. She was about half way through the book and she had a large bag with her, which she'd placed on the floor in the aisle. (I was sitting opposite her, playing Su Doku) At Hendon, a huge crowd of people got on the train and the aisle filled up with standing commuters. One of them very politely asked the woman if she would kindly move the bag, either onto the over-head rack, or put it on her lap. The woman refused. The gentleman explained that her bag was in the middle of the aisle and that it was getting in the way of the people standing up. "I don't care" said the woman, "I'm not moving it." "Fine!" said the man. "Leave it. Oh, and by the way, just so you know, Snape kills Dumbledore at the end."
Perfect. I wish I'd thought of that...