Grinding Doors

First let me say mine is a small, humble dwelling, though of infinite variety.  If I further divulge that one source of variety is the incidence of different door designs I may provide a clue concerning my week’s activities, and possibly be drawn into admitting to one of the challenges of advancing age.

Doors various – below stairs (that’s the ground floor, of course, but I like to imagine I have servants and that’s where they live) the internal doors are all of glass panels, the frames of which, though naturally finished, fail to meet any standard of uniformity, although I have endeavoured to standardise the handles (in brass, I fitted the last one just in time to be told that brass had become ‘so last year’).   Upstairs, and yes, I promise I will use the proper term ‘door furniture’ from now on, there are four internal doors in four patterns, none of which are glass, and none of which bears even a passing resemblance to its siblings.  Siblings???.

Gripping, so far, isn’t it?

Irreproachably, the Memsahib gave notice that conformity needed to be established, so I ordered three doors of identical design to the last one I fitted.  On Saturday, after keeping vigil before my tools through the night, I set about preparing Door One, which incidentally is the door to my ‘airy nest’.   The Vale of Despond yawned open before me, but undeterred I removed the old door, used it as a pattern, and trimmed its replacement neatly to size.  Then I cut recesses for the hinges into the new door…

Yes, I cut them on the wrong side.  I swear I studied all the possibilities for an hour before I made the first incision, turned the patient – sorry, the door – over and over in my mind, but I still got it wrong, and I still don’t know why!

It’s a spatial awareness thing, I know that; the condition of being unable to reverse images and angles in the brain – but I never used to suffer from it:  where did it come from?  Oh, and the door doesn’t fit, in spite of all my careful trimming, but that is down to latch revenge, and a separate issue.

So, in summation:  there are those who will persuade you that old age has not affected their abilities, or impaired their mental function.  Maybe they are lucky, or maybe they are delivering a brace of testicles, but I do not count myself among their number.  I can measure my deterioration in units of door.  A task I could achieve comfortably in a couple of hours not many years ago now detains me for one-and-a-half days (two if you count the afternoon I spent sitting here with an ice-pack on my head, muttering incoherently).  The thought that two more doors await me before I can claim to have performed my mission fills me with dread.  I may need counselling.





Salad Days

It is time to confess:  I am seventy.  I have reached the gates of Old Age.

I was a novice of sixty-five when I first hung up my gloves and placed my favourite chair determinedly close to the hearth.   That new dictum of ‘behaviour in retirement’ took time to learn.  I had to understand that my perception of retirement as a period of rest and dignity was not shared by others; that even as I was entering my sunset days of employment those around me were plotting my course from gold watch to dotage with meticulous care.  The list, by the time I reached harbour on my final day, was writ large upon the wall.

In case you, my reader, have yet to encounter my situation, I will introduce a phrase to you that will become familiar:  it begins  “Now you’ve got more time on your hands…”

This clause cannot be argued:  I had, at least initially, more time;  I had always hoped that would be so.   Nor could a constructive case be prepared to vie with the ensuing clause:  the pavement of the patio did need repointing, the bathroom did need modifying, that kitchen was just SO last year, and the ton of rocks we had delivered in 1990 for the rockery were finally going to get moved then, weren’t they?   All true.

Now I have acquainted you with the phrase and its possible conclusions, let me add a warning.  Do not counter with a protest:   “I was hoping to get a little time to myself,” or you will meet with the instant riposte:

“You need to keep active.  I won’t allow you to just vegetate.”

Oh, patient reader, you know me by now.   I am not sexist by nature – far from it.   But this much is undeniable; women live longer than men, a truth that has gone unacknowledged most of your life, until you hit the wall of sixty-five.  At sixty-five, as you long to melt into cabbage-like quiescence, the woman in your life will suddenly shift to a higher gear.  She will buzz about the garden, hum over the floors with the vacuum, wash paintwork you had forgotten existed, join line-dancing classes and begin a Masters Degree with the Open University.  She will tow you around the supermarket like a faithful if reluctant dog and around stately homes with vast  gift shops which swallow you whole for hours while she peruses dried flowers, china ornaments and small, expensive packets of Jasmine soap.

You see the obvious conflict?  You may observe this frantic, flitting creature with tolerant good humour, or with active distress, but never with indifference.  Inevitably you will feel guilty.  You are accustomed to keeping pace and no longer can, you feel required to enthuse when really you just want to sleep – somewhere, anywhere.

It is this tragic breakdown in human communication that drives men to abandon the comforts of home for long hours in snooker clubs, to plant allotments or live in sheds.  Let’s be absolutely clear – no man wants to spend all day in a shed.  A shed is a refuge, a place to plot the final steps on the downward spiral, arranging tools upon carefully constructed racks, or dousing the lawnmower with unnecessary oil.  There is an unwritten law which says no man must be interrupted in a shed.  This law is especially sacrosanct if the shed is also on an allotment.  Allotments are sacred ground where men are able to indulge in certain sectarian rights not shared by the female sex, like the ‘Earthing Up’ ritual applied to asparagus, or the ‘Thinning of Carrots’.

Anyway, I found retirement to be illusory:  my dream of rest from the daily toil was never realised, and all I could plead in its stead was a transformation from constructive career to demeaning labour.   Retirement merely served to rob of me of any sense of self worth or self confidence, forcing me to face my inadequacies.  All of which, come to think of it, was ideal preparation for the official new status I shall now enjoy: that of Advanced Septuagenarian.   Incapable of lifting another rock, getting down far enough to repoint a patio, or walking the distance to my allotment, at last I can claim sanctuary within my own four walls.

My list is completed.   There is more to do but I can no longer do it.  I am officially worn out!


© Frederick Anderson 2017.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Frederick Anderson with specific direction to the original content


Mario, Maria, and Something Slimy in the Night

It lives somewhere, in some chamber dark and drear I know not of:  I know only it must be damp, and cold, and these things are all my consolation, because it hates me and I wish it in hell.   At night it moves, sometimes silently, sometimes with barely audible stealth.  But I hear it, and I know it is preparing for the earliest hour, the coldest dawn, when it may strike.

Its spiteful cry, its impactful bang and crash wake me as certainly as it might wake the dead.   I run about the house, seeking it behind walls, beneath stairs, under floors.  I return its malevolent hammering with fists of fury and it merely laughs.  I know it laughs.

How do I know?

Because I can hear that, too.

But I have a path, a way to vengeance.  Before exhaustion overtakes me I must rush from bath to basin, from shower to sink.  I must open every faucet, turn on every tap.   Water gushes, pressure bursts forth:  my enemy groans its pain, then lapses into silence.   I turn off the taps, return to my deprived sleep.  And as I drift away I hear it, shaking off defeat to move once again…

There are few things I cannot do in a house – I re-wired a shop premises once:  I’ve relaid floors, plastered walls and yes, I have plumbed.  Lord knows I have plumbed.

A few months ago, however, in lazy mode, I let plumber in.   A professional.   This followed an unfortunate experience refitting a radiator which resulted in a minor emergency.  Nothing serious, just enough to set the blame train in motion:  I blamed the radiator, the radiator denied all responsibility – you know the sort of thing.   Anyway, the system needed flushing, another radiator had to be refitted so I allowed myself to be persuaded, and in came plumber.

He brought Gherkin with him.

Gherkin, by the way, is ‘it’.   Named after my least favorite vegetable; something small, green and slimy.  About the right size to block a pipe.

Yet Gherkin’s activities are not confined to creating blockage: no, Gherkin is also aEvil Gherkin skilled saboteur.  Since it was introduced by plumber it has been moving around, disabling everything it passes.   A minor adversary at first, it has become a dangerous enemy.

This Saturday it struck.   The Judas goat – the ‘bait’ if you will – was a perished ball valve.   No problem; simply replace the washer. A few years ago, foreseeing the need, I placed a tap in the flow pipe for a straightforward operation like this.   I turned this off, removed the valve, ignoring quiet sniggers from somewhere below, and extracted the old washer.

My tap failed.  Water came, at first dripping, then trickling, then gushing.  The more I turned off, the faster it gushed.   Race downstairs, plunge beneath kitchen sink, turn off mains.


At least, the flow of water was stemmed.  Absolutely nothing in the cupboard below could be described as dry.

I tried to reunite valve and pipe.  But plumber had rearranged the piping so it didn’t fit.  Let’s just give the two parts that needed to be joined names, and say that Mario’s thread refused to go anywhere near Maria’s socket.  However, after more craft, graft and wrestling than goes into the average Italian wedding I managed to achieve a union.  I turned the mains back on, stood back with a sigh of satisfaction.  Life would be normal again, at least until tonight.

We didn’t get that far.   An hour later, returning to the room with the cupboard that contained the header tank, I heard the dripping; my new union had begun to leak.  Not quickly – just quickly enough to saturate the pile of washing we had just placed underneath.

Put bowl under drip, placate the arguing partners – it’s slow, it’ll settle down, dry out.  Saturday night passed quietly.  Gherkin, apparently satisfied, allowed me sleep.  But it was plotting.

Sunday morning I returned to find a faster drip.  Decree Nisi already a distinct possibility, it wasn’t going to dry out.  I searched my stock of plumbing joints, ready to replace a whole section of piping.  A cry from my wife alerted me: the drip was becoming a trickle and increasing by the minute.  The bucket was filling.  I did not have the parts I needed, so, panicking I raced the sixteen miles to the only DIY store open on a Sunday and laid out extravagant amounts of money on new pipe and new joints.

I raced home.

The drip had stopped.   The joint was dry.

Today, the joint is still dry – I don’t know why, I hope the warring newly-weds have made up and are happy together, though I darkly suspect otherwise.  I suspect it’s dry because Gherkin is sitting right there, blocking the leak.  And one night, I don’t know when, perhaps in a few days, or a week, or even a year, it’s going to move.

Meanwhile, I pass my nights in wakefulness, deprived of rest by the quiet menace of its laughter.