Routine investigation

We wonder at the rainbow sheen on the wings of a peacock butterfly as it suns itself on a buddleia, and our enjoyment is barely diminished when we consider it’s just a temporary appearance in a much longer cycle that has turned for millennia. There are thousands upon thousands of these exquisite creatures, yet they’re so thinly spread we see them rarely, and their lives so short, we never become habituated to their fleeting beauty. We just thrill at the moment when we can get up close.

Routines are very different. Many were once chores, now approaching perfection; some still are. They don’t have flashy rainbow wings for our uncommon admiration, nor infrequency to tease our interest. They’re just the familiar, faithful, greasy old wheels and cogs in the machine that keeps the rust-bucket chugging into the sunset, and occasionally affords us the contemplation of a glamorous butterfly on its verdant fore-deck. Below deck, in the obscurity of attention deficit, they turn at widely different speeds, an erratic clockwork of personal, domestic, horticultural and, in Joan’s case, professional necessities.

Here’s one. In the act of shaving alone, I’ve spent nearly fifty days solid of my life, according to my calculations. That’s shaving 24/7 with everlastingly sharp razors, (I am of the wet shave persuasion), no meal or comfort breaks and no sleep. That’s the equivalent, if my sums are right, to working a thirty five hour week for more than seven months, without holidays either, around 14,300 shaves, minimum. Blimey, imagine how many haircuts a barber commits in a career.

So what’s one of these shaves actually like? Like most of the others. One shave fits all. I stumble frowstily into our capacious if untidy family bathroom. In the full glare of the so-called architectural 500mm vanity lights, I strip off various ancient fleeces, some of which I sleep in, some of which I put on when I get up. Why do the old so feel the cold down to their bones and marrow? I am left standing in, say, a yellow T shirt that has hopefully seen better days. As a matter of fact, I’ve never seen someone who’s just been pulled through a hedge backwards, but what I see before me must pretty much fit the bill.

First, the face flannel, once white, now for some reason a fading tawny pink, is on the window towel rail, dry, rough and stiff as board. I hold it under the hottest bearable water, then slap it to my face. The heat is said to soften the bristles, but I get more refreshment by holding the flannel to my eyes. I repeat a couple of times. Next comes the lather applied with the fingers from a can of Tesco’s Everyday Value Shaving Foam , a mere 50p; and value it is: around just 1p a shave. Don’t even think of mentioning those ridiculous badger brushes.

My tight-fistedness in this department extends to razors. So it’s Baron Marcel Bich’s disposables for me. These simple little darlings of mass production work out at about 1.5p per shave. What a cornucopia of convenience and economy we live in!

The shave itself is the best bit. If I’ve put my hearing aids in, the blade passing over the bristles sounds uncannily like the rhythmic turns of a skier descending a snowy, well-pisted slope on a peerless and otherwise silent, sunny morning in the Alps. All of a sudden I’m on La Grande Motte when I should be shaving.

The blade traverses back and forth the virgin snowy side of the face, then the jaw line, the side neck, the jowl, the middle neck, the under-beard, the same the opposite side, then a final swipe below the lower lip to cut off those bristles which, when left, stain that attractive saffron yellow after a curry; all this interspersed with dips into the basin to remove the caked bristle/foam mix that’s built up on the blade as the slalom progresses. It ends with a quick finger-tip check for any stubborn growth and the necessary remedials. The hot, wet, now slightly more faded, tawny pink flannel treatment is repeated by way of the rinse, and all that’s left to do is to swill the pale scum of spent foam, bristles and leached flannel colourant, whatever it is, into that forgotten underworld on the dark side of the plug-hole.

Come to think of it, I’ve probably done more skiing in the bathroom than in the Alps.

Here are a couple more cogs that turn at much lower frequencies, in one case a few hundred times, in the other the bi-annually. The lowest frequency routines come round so rarely, their niceties too easily give memory the slip. Buckets with holes can soon become colanders, in the world of things as well as in the world of thoughts.

Inspired by the persona of one that can still be reasonably active when required, as projected in a previous blog, I decided to take the green waste to the tip, or Recycling Centre, to show it proper respect, and resolved also to take inside a recent delivery of smokeless coal.

Joan had, the day before, rabbied, as she would say, (a rather startling reference to circumcision) an hopelessly overgrown and woody honeysuckle in the garden.

There were eight annoying bags of its remains waiting behind the hedge at the front of the house. Concurrently, a delivery of a dozen, 20 kilo bags Blaze, the brand name of the most reasonably bulk-priced smokeless fuel I can find, was deposited on the side door path by a cheery lad from Fuels4U. He had little difficulty in carrying them two at a time, damn him. Moving these inside was part two of the day’s merit banking.

I go to the Recycling tip quite often, probably once a week, mostly cardboard and garden waste. Then, as on many days, it was just garden waste. I stuffed the bags of the dismembered honeysuckle into the boot and back seat of the old banger, and off I went. Right now, Autopilot is having a bit of downtime because almost every route, including the most arcane rat runs, to almost everywhere else in the borough is obstructed by road-works. Diversions are gridlocked. Traffic lights switch pointlessly their phases. Static drivers grind their teeth.

Somehow I got there. It was a glorious late winter early afternoon. Witches’ knickers, caught high on the barbed wire of the tip’s perimeter fence, fluttered cheerily in the sunshine. For once I didn’t have to queue, and the supervisor hailed me from his cabin with his usual amiable, if ironic, “Good afternoon, young man.” His rotund colleague sat in the middle of the yard behind his Easy Rider shades, a sphinx in a hi-viz jacket, supposedly ensuring residents deposit their waste in the appointed containers. It was on my second pass from the car to the green waste container that I heard his abrupt snort and saw his head jerk suddenly upright. All’s well at Recycling.

I bet on a circuitous route home. It paid off, and so from the quick cup of hot lemon and ginger into the Blaze. Most evenings in winter, we light a fire in a sitting area adjoining other open-plan spaces on the ground-floor. It’s warm, comfortable, and peaceful, ideal for focusing on a boxed set of The Borgias’ debaucheries, for instance.

The fire, a subject in itself, is a cardinal feature of all this cosiness and culture, but it does not become blazing Blaze without grunt on my part in the supply chain from bag via coal-bucket to grate. Grunt is first required to shift the bags left by the nonchalant young strongman from Fuels4U, on the paving near the side door, where passing, opportunist thieves could help themselves day or night (stranger things have happened), to just inside it, where they have to break the door down to get at it.

This side door opens inwards leading to a closed passage about a metre wide that leads straight down the side of the ground-floor to a door at the far end opening onto the garden. We call it the alley. It has shelves down much of one side and we use it as a sort of pantry reached from the main part of the house via a door in its side.

Immediately beyond the inward door-swing at the front, three steps rise about half a metre to the same level as the ground floor. At the top, on the right, the door to the main house opens into the alley. When the side door is closed it is about a metre from the foot of the three steps creating a small pit like space, perfect for storing bags of Blaze.

Getting the Blaze into the pit is not completely straightforward. First, the bags have to be humped onto the floor at the top of the steps, outside the door to the main house, enabling the side door to be closed, locked and bolted. Next the bags are heaved down into the pit, at the front leaning against the inside of the now closed door. Get it?

So I managed to hump and heave my way through Part 1 to get the dozen bags to the top of the steps, one at a time, without doing myself an injury. Then seeing that the pit floor where I stood was covered in Blaze dust, I decided, in a house-trained kind of way, not to carry black dust into the house, but to go out through the side door, lock it, enter the house by the front-door, wiping my shoes carefully on the mats outside and in, before entering the alley from the house and dropping the bags into the pit.

The side-door latch clicked as I closed it, and as I did, it came to me that I’d left the key in the door on the inside. Of course we have spare keys but they wouldn’t help. At the front the keyhole was blocked by the key on the inside, and the garden door is not just locked but bolted on the inside. (Security is taken seriously in Oldchester) The doors are glazed (and barred) to give the alley light, so I could see inside the bags at the top of the stairs. Three were stacked against the door that opened into it from the house. So now the trap I’d set myself and fallen straight into was clear. The 240 kilos of Blaze and enough groceries to stock a corner shop, not to mention the barbeque, were well and truly locked and blocked in the alley by the flaming Blaze.

No doubt various stress-related physiological changes were kicking in as I strode to the front door, wiping my shoes thoroughly on mats, inside and out. At least that went to plan.

With the threat of domestic ridicule hanging over me, (damn the keys!) I became strangely calm. However fatuous, this problem just had to be solved, and solved without damage, and especially solved before Joan got back. The Blaze bags were blocking the door. I gave the door a hefty shove. It barely budged, but after a few more, it had widened just enough to get my bare arm around the back to grip the first bag. This would be my one and only chance. The radio I’d left playing provided suitably suspenseful music as I reached round, walked the fingers of my left hand along the bag behind the door and just managed to get a grip through the plastic on an individual Blazer nugget or ovoid. Little by little, I managed to tug it over the edge of the top step. Little by little, others in the bag followed, and eventually it tumbled down the steps. Hope! Little by little, similar procedures, some more impossible, protracted and uncomfortable than others, were applied to the remaining culprits, which ultimately succumbed to the drop as well. At last the door could be opened. A truly great escape: out of a predicament into the alley. Phew! The rest is history.

Joan, who, coming in later, had witnessed none of my contortions, nor fully faced the implications of failure, was outwardly amused. Inside, I suspect, she thought ”God, he’s really it losing it now”.

So I go on like this, well-meaning enough, but unwittingly digging elephant traps for myself, falling into them, then having the stress of having to extricate myself, in some cases before being found out. I don’t know…. I really don’t. Always was rather clumsy. Must get those doors rehung come summer.

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