Buying Petrol

May 3rd 2006
The phone rang. It was The Trouble.
“There’s a light in the car.”
“What sort of a light?”
“On the dashboard thingy.”
“Describe it.”
“Well it’s just a light.”
“What colour is it?”
“Do you remember those curtains we used to have in the spare bedroom? A sort of burnt orange?”
“When this light came on, was there a buzzing sound?”
“You need to put some petrol in.”
“How do I do that?”
It must be at least twenty years since I taught The Trouble how to drive – after insisting of course that she first had ten lessons from a qualified instructor, I’m not a fool. One day when she was reasonably proficient, i.e. when people had taken to the streets again and she had mastered the nine point turn – I asked her to take the next turn on the left and pull up. She did. Then said, surprised: “We’re in a garage.”
I corrected her. “A filling station.”
“Your next lesson. It’s called Going for Petrol.”
I had her get out of the car then showed her how to unlock the petrol cap and use the petrol pump. I stopped when I’d put in a couple or so gallons. Then I had her to the same, going through the complete routine. Three times. Satisfied that she now knew how to put petrol in the car I took her to the kiosk to show her how to pay for it. Sorted. Like hell it was .
From that day to this I swear on my life that she has never put so much as a single drop of petrol in any of the six or so cars we’ve had since she passed her test. On more than one occasion I’ve seen her get in the car, switch on, observe that the needle on the fuel gauge was getting dangerously near to the red zone, and get out and either walk or take a bus to where she was going. This time she must have failed to take that precaution.
The tone of my voice was deliberately long-suffering so as to register my disapproval. Water off a duck’s back, I know, but you have to try. “Go to the nearest garage.”
“Where’s that?”
“Where are you now?”
She told me.
“Make for Tescos.”
“Do they sell petrol? I’ve never noticed when I’ve been there shopping.”
“It’s not on the fucking shelves next to the tins of dog food, it’s in a separate building, with a giant sign that says Petrol, you’ll see about eight things outside it that look like one-armed monsters out of Doctor Who, they’re called petrol pumps.”
“There’s no need to be sarcastic.”
“There’s every need to be sarcastic.”
She arrived home about an hour later, not a happy bunny. “I didn’t know it was that price,” she complained.
“Well how would you?”
“Ninety eight pence a litre!”
“Right. How much did you put in?”
“Well a litre of course. Oh by the way, that light came on again on the way home.”

The Art Of Conversation


May 1st   2006

“Bugger all on the telly again.”

The Trouble looks up from her magazine. “So why don’t you switch it off ? Instead of hopping from channel to channel all the time? That remote doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going.”

“It’s going. On the tip with the telly if they don’t start putting something decent on.”

“You said that last week but you keep watching it.”

“Only in the way that Captain Bligh scanned the horizon when he was cast adrift on an open boat; in the hope that if I keep looking one day I’ll finally sight land.”

“There’s plenty of land to be seen already if you’d look properly.”

The Shakespeare in me emerged. “What land is this you speak of?”

“Well there’s The Royal.”

At first I thought The Trouble meant a documentary about Prince Charles or one of his dodgy offspring, then I realised she meant the hospital thing on Sunday Nights,
a soapish drama whose only redeeming feature is the sixties music that punctuates the scenes. “The Royal?” I said. “The Royal isn’t land. Or if it is it’s a swamp. I wish it was a swamp then Wendy Craig might fall in it and be sucked under, I saw quite enough of her in fucking Butterflies.”

“Fucking Butterflies? Wasn’t that one of David Attenborough’s?”

“Bill Oddie I think.”

“He’s never off the box these days, is he.”

“He should be in a box. With Wendy Craig.”

“Oh I quite like him.”

“He’s a self-satisfied little prick. Like Noel Edmonds.”

“Don’t you like anybody on the television?”

I thought about it for a moment. “I don’t mind one of the newsreaders.” I don’t, I was lying, I don’t like any of them, especially Trevor McDonald, the lot of them would be knackered without the autocue, but I want to keep the conversation going.
Television hasn’t killed the art of conversation in our house. It fuels it.

Alzheimer’s Club

April 30th 2006In our local Volunteer Centre there’s a large room upstairs that’s used for activities such as Tai Chi and Pilates sessions and charity coffee mornings, that sort of thing. Add to that now, according to the sandwich board-type notice outside on the pavement that I noticed yesterday morning, an Alzheimer’s Club.

 ‘Alzheimer’s Club, 3pm Thursday’, announced the notice in bold letters. I was intrigued. If someone has Alzheimer’s how do they remember to go? I had to know, not least because I’m fast approaching the age when I might become a victim of Alzheimer’s myself, and forewarned is forearmed as they say.I went in and said to the pleasant-looking young lady receptionist behind the desk: “This club for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? How do they remember to come?”

“We pick them up in a minibus,” the receptionist smiled.Problem solved then. Nothing to it. Ask a silly question. I was halfway through the door on my way out before I realised her answer threw up another question. I returned to the desk.

“Then why put a notice outside?”“Pardon?”

“Announcing a meeting of the Alzheimer’s Club? If you pick them up in a minibus why bother putting a notice outside?Her frown, added to her vacuous expression informed me that she obviously had no idea. But equally obviously she felt she had to defend the use of the notice. After a moment or two’s thought she smiled and announced: “Well it’s for people who haven’t got Alzheimer’s now but get it later. So’s they’ll know we have an Alzheimer’s Club here every Thursday at three.”

“No they won’t,” I said. Because when they get Alzheimer’s they’ll forget they’ve seen the notice, won’t they.” “That’s all right,” she said brightly, “we’ll pick them up in the minibus.”It was like the Goon Show re-visited.


The Trouble’s Fish

April 28th 2006

Writing about my wife and her difficulty with cooking yesterday reminded me of the odd story of The Trouble and the Fish.

This crawled out of the woodwork some time after we were married. We were talking one evening about when we were younger, in the days before we’d met, and The Trouble said at one point: “It was before I got my fish.”

Before she got her fish? What did she mean? She’d naturally taken me home to meet her parents when things started to get serious between us but I didn’t recall ever seeing any fish there, neither in a goldfish bowl or tropical fish tank nor in a pond in the garden. Nor had I ever heard her express any love of anything Piscean. Intrigued, I asked her what she meant.

It emerged that The Trouble was fifteen years old at the time, it was one Friday tea time, and she had started work the week previously.  The Friday before, as always on Fridays, the meal came from the chip shop. On the plates of her father and mother were fried fish, chips and peas. On the plates of The Trouble and her twelve-year-old sister were just chips and peas. However on the week in question things were slightly different. On the plates of her father and mother were, as usual, fish, chips and peas. Her sister’s plate showed no change either, being just chips and peas. But on The Trouble’s plate, along with the chips and peas, was a fish.

At first she thought she had been given the wrong plate by mistake. But no, when she looked at the plates of her parents she saw that both of them contained a fish. Had her sister also been given the benefit of a fish, The Trouble wondered? No, on looking she saw that her sister’s plate was as fishless as it had always been. Why the change? She had to know.

“Why have I got a fish?” she asked.

“Well you’re working now, you’re bringing in a wage packet,” said her mother.

I knew that the story was true, you couldn’t make up a story like that, but even so it was difficult for me to comprehend. For what happened could never have happened in my parent’s house. When we had fish we all had a fish, father, mother, me and my two sisters, and if fish wasn’t affordable that week we would all do without it.

The thing is nowadays The Trouble doesn’t like fish, whereas I love it. Mind you I had a fifteen year start on her to get used to its taste.