funny

The Tail of Richard

I was recently reminded by a friend, of an email I sent out some years ago, which I re-read (yes, I’m an email-hoarder – thank goodness!) and have decided to now share with you. My generosity, you see, knows no bounds.

18 August 2013

Dear Friends,

I’m having a bit of a problem with some visitors at the moment.  It was OK when it was just Richard, he kept himself to himself most of the time.  Then he brought a friend along to stay, and I wasn’t too happy about the antics they were getting up to at night.  I decided it was time to drop some subtle hints, so I started laying traps.  Literally.  Because Richard is a rat. Only a tree rat (I think) but a rat none the less. 

He lives high up in one of our pine trees in the yard.  As twilight falls he comes down the tree and scurries across our new patio roof, over the Casita roof then disappears to goodness knows where.  At first I only heard him. He made so much noise you would have thought he was the size of a cat.  It was only when next door’s cat tried to catch him one night that I realised a cat on the roof sounded like a herd of buffalo.  Of course, no amount of careful stalking by the cat could ever result in a catch; once it sprinted into action for ‘the kill’  the sounding of charging buffalo had the rat long gone with a clear lead of at least six metres before disappearing into the bushes of our back garden. 

Then I got to meet him personally one night.  I was going to fetch something from my car and there he was, sitting on the roof of a little bird house which is fastened to one of the pine trees.  He just sat there, bold as brass, for what seemed like ages (though was probably only about ten seconds) before running up the tree into the cover of the branches.

If for any reason I park my car in the open yard instead of under the carport, I now take care to close the windows just in case he should fall out of his tree and tumble into the confines of my car. It is not nice to have a rat run across your feet when you’re driving; I know, it happened to me once in Zambia. (See INTO AFRICA with 3 kids, 12 crates and a husband.)

Sometimes he sits in his hi-rise apratment and dismantles pine cones.  I’m not sure which part he eats, but the bits he doesn’t want are tossed away, landing on the opaque plastic roof like intermittent hailstones at the onset of a storm.

Apart from when the neighbour’s cat is in pursuit, our dogs tend to ignore him.  I think they have learned from their abortive attempts to catch birds, that anything above their nose level is a waste of effort.

Richard’s solo lifestyle must have lasted for at least three weeks.  Then he got a mate.  I assume it is a female because it is smaller than him, although it could be a wee gay rat friend.  Anyway, we all know what happens when a rat gets a lady mate.  In no time at all little ratlets start appearing and we don’t want that, do we?  Well I don’t.

It was time for action.

I dug out the old rat trap from behind a mountain of plant pots only to find that it was in a slight state of disrepair.  It only has three moving parts and one of those had dropped off.  Being unsure of how to effect a repair it was easier to buy another.  I bought two.  The owner of the Ferret Shop (our name for a ferreteria [Spanish hardware store]) tried to sell me a multiple one which consists of one piece of wood with two or three traps positioned side by side.  I couldn’t quite see that myself.

Like, what were the chances of two or three rats actually nibbling on the baits at exactly the same time, setting the traps off simultaneously?   Or,

Picture Daddy Rat strolling along and spotting a chunk of greasy pork, temptingly positioned on a nice clean piece of wood.  He walks up to it, sniffs it “Ooo, yummy” , starts to nibble and WHAM, he’s smacked on the back of the neck with 500lbs pressure of coiled galvanised wire.  Then his missus, Ruby Rat, comes along and sees Richard lying there, obviously grabbing forty winks after a tasty meal, so she goes up to the second place-setting to partake of her own delicious delicacy  when WHAM she’s out for the count before she even had her second mouthful.  Not to be outdone Uncle Ernest Rat arrives and sees his two relatives lying there. “Miserable buggers, starting the party without me” he mutters, and starts tucking into a crunchy bit of pork crackling but WHAM down comes the third tightly sprung wire causing instant decapitation.   A likely scenario?  I don’t think so.  Especially if there were a few hot Spanish hours between demises.  Rotting rat would be detected five hundred metres away.

I arrived home with my two new, solo killing devices which I handed to Ziggy, asking him to do the dastardly deed. He put a piece of cheese on one and placed it on an eye-level shelf beside the braai which was near the area traversed by the rats and unlikely to be frequented by birds, cats or dogs. 

Later that evening there was an almighty crash which had the dogs fleeing indoors out of fright – and it gave me a bit of a start – so I went to investigate the cause. The trap took some tracking down to where it had been catapulted by the power of the spring.  Of the rat there was no sign at all.  I suggested to Ziggy that it might be a good idea to fasten the trap onto the shelf, at which point he lost interest in the project.

The next night I went rummaging through my fridge is search of some appropriate comestibles.  It shames me to admit that there is generally something in there of dubious quality and it didn’t take me long to find a suitable tidbit. 

I secured a crusty piece of pork belly to the dual spikes of the trap then prized the sprung U-bar back and very, very carefully secured it with the long holding pin.  Five minutes later I had it safely fixed to the shelf with a G-clamp.  Let the party start!

And it did – and went on for several nights.  A strip of rancid bacon,  two Cumberland pork sausages and eight ounces of pork belly later I have two very fat and happy rats, who are clearly not of the Jewish persuasion.  To confirm the mechanics, I poked a stick into the (empty) trap to make sure that it actually worked, the spring sprung back so ferociously that it dislodged the holding pin completely, never to be seen again.  A change in strategy was called for.

I returned to the Ferret Shop complaining to the Spanish owner that he had sold me duff traps.  He said Spanish rats were very clever and that maybe I should try poison instead. I had already figured that out for myself.

On to Plan ‘B’.  

I presented Ziggy with the box which contained a couple of dozen parcels which resembled solidified used teabags in a pretty shade of pink.  He took two and placed one either side of the useless trap.

As dusk turned to dark we heard much scurrying of feet and after half an hour checked out the shelf.  Both packets were gone, so he put out two more.  They were gone within ten minutes.  We were now supplying our rats with takeaways!

I woke at some point in the early hours of the morning and could hear strange squeaking sounds coming from beyond the bedroom window.  I convinced myself that it was the tortured cries of a rat dying a slow and painful death.  I tossed and turned for the rest of the night, wracked with guilt.

The following day the dogs spent a lot of time racing back and forth into the garden, obviously looking for something.   A couple of times I heard what could only be the plaintiff squeak of my dying rat but, like the dogs, could not actually find it. 

As the afternoon came to a close I went about my watering chores.  The Spanish summer heat was playing havoc with my garden.  As I came to the last batch of pot plants I was absolutely dismayed to find that one of my three baby and two of my three juvenile pot plants had each had one of the lower leaves gnawed off. 

Those overweight rats hadn’t been in their death throes at all.  They had been high on my bloody marijuana plants!

This was war. More pink teabags were put out.  I even fastened one in a trap. I nearly pulled the plan off with that one. 

I was sitting outside on the stoep, as is my wont on a balmy Spanish evening, tapping away at my laptop when the almighty snap of the trap resonated off the tin roof and echoed around the valley.   I raced to the killing zone only to find a sorry sight.  The rat sat on the shelf staring at the quivering teabag in a state of shock.  It appeared the teabag had been so big there wasn’t room for it and the rat under the sprung wire.  I glanced around for something to capture the rat in its stunned state. As I grabbed at an empty plant pot the creature came to its senses and in a flash high-tailed it off the shelf into the darkness.

Damn it.  I had been within a whisker of catching it.  I went back to my laptop to scour the websites for Plan ‘C’.

Plan ‘C’ leapt out at me from several websites.  A simple design.  Bucket; water; pole; empty drinks can; bait.

Fill a large bucket to one third with water, get a cane stick or something similar to lie across the bucket. Make a hole in the bottom of the drinks can then thread the stick through it and out the top pouring hole, ensuring that the can turns easily and lies lopsided on the stick.  Attach some bait to the can and hey presto, one rat trap.

The idea is that the rat climbs onto the edge of the bucket, which you have positioned at a convenient level, then it walks along the stick, climbs onto the can to get the bait, the can swivels on the stick and the rat falls in the bucket of water. One drowned rat.  Or if you want to be humane about it put an upturned plant pot over the floundering rat, trapping it in the bucket as you empty out the water, then take the rat, preferably at least a mile away, and release it into a hedge or someone else’s garden.

I had a builders’ mixing bucket lying around (12”high x 14”dia) which I figured would be about right for the job. I found an old cane which I had used for propping up last year’s weed crop and Ziggy helped by emptying a can of San Miguel.  The bait was my masterpiece.  A small piece of dried up ham stuck onto the can with some of my home-made plum glue.  It was supposed to be plum jam but it didn’t quite work out right (every time I tried to spread it the knife got glued to the bread). 

I placed the bucket close to the shelf where the other rat-catching feeding devices had been laid, switched off the overhead light and went back to my computer to await the action.  It wasn’t long before I heard the scraping of tiny feet on metal.  This is it, I thought.  I went to take a look but everything was still there, excluding any sign of a rat.  This happened a couple of times, then I heard some splashing.

I raced to the scene of the crime and turned on the light.  Nothing.  But I could still hear splashing.  I turned around.  Behind me was our mastiff slurping water out of the swimming pool. 

Ten minutes later I again heard can and water noises and went to check.  I looked down at the still rocking can to see that not only had the ham gone, but the plum glue had been licked off the can as well. 

Putting on the light I saw Richard sitting a couple of yards away beside his escape route just beneath the roof.  After eating his fill he must have taken a refreshing swim and then jumped out of the bucket back to safety. He sat there shaking his head, as if to get the water out of his ears, grinning!

I glowered back at Fat Richard.

“You little bastard!” I said, at which he winked at me and sauntered off.

There is nothing wrong with rats.  I don’t know what all the fuss is about. 

I am beginning to quite like rats actually.  They are happy, friendly, furry little things. I don’t have a problem sharing my stoep with a rat or two.  After all haven’t I been living with one for almost 40 years?

25 August 2013

Richard the Rat – Epitaph

It is with a sad and heavy heart that I have to advise of the recent demise of Richard.   This morning, somewhere around half past ten, Richard passed away. Expired, departed this life, croaked (or was that the toad?), kicked the bucket, or simply died and went to meet his maker (who I hope likes rats).   Yes, Richard is no more; dead though not buried.

After my previous report Richard and his friends had continued to frolic around the laundry and in the bushes with gay abandon, hurtling from branch to branch like trapeze artists in a circus.  I had given up on the traps, and the bucket remained unbaited, though I did put out the odd pink teabag now and again.

Then a few days ago I found two of Richard’s little friends.  The first one appeared to be still alive, but the movement turned out to be the ripple of ants crawling all over it.  The second one lay several feet away and looked like it had enjoyed a swim in the trap-bucket before somehow escaping but then succumbing to the lethal effects of the pink teabags.  It too was the subject of some considerable ant interest.  I fetched the shovel and despatched the little beasties high and westward over the garden fence.    

A third one was discovered by one of the dogs (identity unknown) the following day and was generously delivered to the yard where it was left proudly on display for all and sundry to enjoy.  Whilst I am no expert in the study of rat remains I would hazard a guess that this one croaked at about the same time as the other two as it now only consisted of skin, a little fur and a head and tail, and was somewhat akin to the mummified cat recently shown on BBC World News, but smaller and more rat-shaped.  I dismissed an initial impulse to contact the BBC, and with the help of my trusty shovel propelled this one in a southerly direction into a neighbouring, abandoned orchard.

Thereafter my post dusk relaxations were only minimally peppered with sounds of a very lethargic Richard and my neighbour’s disappointed cat.

The next day I went about my business of watering the potplants; Saturday was the day for fertiliser application.  I tended the three large plants, then the two smaller ones which had been re-potted more recently.  I turned to the third, pathetic little stripling which was still on a workbench as it wasn’t yet worthy of re-potting when I myself was rooted to the spot by the sight before me.  There, all curled up as if in a made-to-measure bed lay Richard, in the pot-plant-pot.

I slowly moved closer to his chosen place of repose when I noticed that his little eyes were open and he was still breathing.  I raced off to fetch Ziggy – and my camera.

He was still there when we returned although Ziggy wouldn’t believe me when I said he was still breathing (he needs more than reading glasses methinks), but offered to splatter him with a spade.  I declined his kind offer and he went back to his tv program whilst I went off to my computer.  As I sat there I began to feel terrible about poor Richard, leaving him there to die in the baking sun.  I went back to Ziggy and asked him if he would just come and tip Richard out of the pot down the slope of our land where he could at least wander off under a bush and die to his heart’s content.

So we went back to the potting area but instead of lifting up the pot, Ziggy simply grasped Richard by the tail and lifted him out of the pot.  Within seconds Richard was wriggling about on the end of his very long tail.   I was amazed – and quite impressed – that Ziggy didn’t instantly drop him when this happened.  If it had happened to me I’d have crapped myself.  Not that there’d ever be a chance of that happening (picking up a rat by the tail, not crapping myself.) 

You’d think I’d never mentioned the ‘live’ aspect to him, because he said, “Hey the little bugger’s still alive”    Stupid sod.

Ziggy then stood in the middle of the back garden to get good clearance of the 2metre high fence and said “Say ‘goodbye’ to Rowland” – he never could get the name right!

With a tear in my eye I called “Goodbye Richard” as Ziggy executed a perfect overarm lob and with a flick of his wrist swung Richard by the end of his tail in a perfect arc, sending him flying off in the direction of our veggie plot. 

I hope he landed unharmed, and rested in peas.

Small Black Plastic Gubbins

I had a lovely Christmas, thank you for asking.  It was relatively quiet, mostly due to the fact that Brad was missing.  He and his girlfriend are in South Africa where they are spending Christmas at Mabalingwe Game Lodge with her family.  I had a phone call this morning (Boxing Day) from a ‘Police Sergeant Botha’ to say he was sorry to break the news, but my son had been eaten by a lion. I thought it was a hoax to get money out of me so I ignored it.

Anyway, Leon and Vicki, along with her boyfriend Sam and best friend Will were here, even though V&S were late arriving, due to both having to work !!! until five o’clock (on Christmas day for goodness sakes!).  We opened lots of presents and my Christmas repast went down well, being served at the correct temperatures without any errors or omissions this year.  (I actually think this was a first.)

Anyway, the reason I’m talking to you now is to share a  list which I just compiled, which I thought might entertain you a little.  You see, my daughter bought me a new bedside lamp for Christmas.  I just went to ‘install’ it, but first had to clear my bedside table.

This is what was on said furniture –

  • Bedside lamp – faulty
  • Hanging from lamp – pair of spectacles, on a cord
  •                                      – fob-watch on a chain
  • Box of tissues, almost new
  • Thick plastic paperclip-sort-of-thing, blue
  • White pearl Button, in tiny plastic packet
  • Small spiral notepad
  • 3 pens (black, red, purple)
  • €1 coin
  • 2 touch-screen sticks (1 lime green, 1 purple)
  • 1 dog biscuit, heart shaped
  • Bottle of Aloe Gel, 1/3 full
  • Small blue emery board
  • Folded tissue, from handypack
  • Small black plastic gubbins, purpose unknown*
  • Vicks Inhaler
  • Zambia K500 note
  • 1x12cm thin black satin ribbon, previously attached to a cardigan shoulder
  • Amstel beer coaster
  • Enough dust to give someone a serious asthma attack

Having cleaned off the dust and removed certain of the duplicated/unnecessary items, my lovely new touch-lamp is now suitably sited.

My old touch-lamp lasted nigh-on seven years before developing a mind of its own, when it randomly began to switch itself on at the most obscure times.  This could be somewhat disconcerting (ie read ‘heart-attack material) if it happened while you were walking through the dark room at night, or suddenly awakened from a deep sleep by a mid-night brightness.

Anyway, I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, or bonus day, or two, off if you’re not into it.  We only get one day off here in Spain, no Boxing Day for us.  Of course, I get as many days off as I want, seein’ as ‘ow I’m an old retired person.

In closing I would like to wish you a 2019 filled with good health, a reasonable amount of wealth (no need to be greedy) and tons of happiness.

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PS      I’ve remembered what the small black plastic gubbins is.  It’s the nozzle for the vacuum function on an old, but still partially working, bag sealer stored in the top of a wardrobe. (It fell off as I was chucking the machine into the cupboard, and I couldn’t be arsed to get the steps to fit it back on).

MY SON KEEPS BEATING ME!

 

For readers who think my son Leon is a little sweetie, or those of you who know the older version and think of him as a lovely, smiley (not-so) young man, ever ready to lend a helping hand, think again my friends, because the little b@$!@~d keeps beating me!

I kid you not.  It’s been happening quite a lot lately and I’m not sure how to cope with it.  Only yesterday the bugger beat me at Carcassonne, then Scrabble and finally thrashed me 3-0 at Rummikub!

I know, it’s utterly outrageous.  That’s the thanks I get for teaching him so well when he was a little snot-nose.

And if that’s not bad enough, he almost caused me to have a heart attack this morning.

I was sitting outside on a sunny Spanish day.  It was lovely and peaceful, well relatively, with the only sounds coming from the birds hurling their discarded pine-nut shells onto the patio roof and our Spanish mastiff snoring on the sofa. I sat quietly checking my emails when completely out of the blue (or door behind me) a noise so outrageous almost sent me soaring skywards.

“WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOFITY, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF”.

No, it wasn’t our Labrador, but Leon shouting woofing noises at the top of his voice.

When I climbed down off the rafters I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, scaring the living daylights out of his mother like that.

“WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOOOOOOF!” he continued.

“LEON!  Stop it!” I yelled at him. “What the **** are you doing?”

“I’m trying to frighten that bloody dog awake, like she’s been doing to me in the early hours of the morning these last few nights!  WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOOOOF.”

“In the end I brought her into my room.  But after five minutes of settling back down in bed I still couldn’t sleep – because of her snoring!  WOOF, WOOF, WOOF, WOOF!”

I glanced across at the recumbent mastin as she still lay on the sofa, softly snoring.

“Well it didn’t work” I pointed out.

Chilled Martini

ONE OF LIFE’S LITTLE IRRITATIONS

I had just finished my breakfast and was now trying to write.

While I’d been eating a flash of inspiration came to me and I needed to write it down quickly before it abandoned me.  The only trouble was, THE FLY.

It had been zipping around me for the past fifteen minutes and was now beginning to really piss me off.  Quietly whizzing around my head, it had been in my ear, my hair, got me in the eye twice and was constantly landing on the back of my hands.

As quickly as I tried to write the little bugger kept distracting me, both physically and mentally.  My arms were waving around like an octopus in overdrive. As much as I swiped and swatted, the only thing I achieved was two bruised fingers, very messy hair and a broken plate.

It even had the gall to land on my laptop and walk exactly over the words I was typing, knowing full well that I wouldn’t risk swatting the screen.

I was about to give up on the project and the fly when, as it flew right in front of me, purely by chance one quick CLOP resulted in one dead fly.

Yes!   Gocha, you little bastard.

Fly 0  : Ann 1

Now at last I could get on with my work. I picked up my tea for a celebratory slurp.

Thankfully I noticed it just in time, its shiny black body winking up at me from the brown liquid.

OK then, we’ll call it a draw!

A Cup of Tea and Dog Farts

My morning began quite normally, with Ziggy bringing me a cup of tea in bed just before he watches the 08:00 news on the telly.  It is customary for me to take my daily medications with said tea before settling back down for another half hour’s kip, depending on what time I went to bed the night before.  In this instance it was 2:20am so at least another half an hour was called for.

Ziggy’s next move is to go down onto our plot to water his vegetables.  The instant he picks up the keys to the gate, which leads from our top garden,  JD and Marti, our Labrador and Mastin, will leap up to follow him down the steps.

They usually mosey around the plot for a while then go for a wander around the neighbours’ unfenced land, Marti to check out anything of interest and JD to go avocado scromping.

But today had an addition.  We’d had our son’s dog Choco staying with us for the night.   We think he’s a Staffie crossed with something a bit bigger, and he’s a youngster of about two years so is still very excitable.  However, he’s not yet as well trained as JD and Marti and we can’t rely on him to return when we call him.  As a result, when he tried to follow Ziggy and our dogs on their morning constitutional he wasn’t allowed to join in.  Ziggy shut the gate behind him to thwart the dog’s exit.

That was when the whining, crying and barking commenced at full volume.

Another change in our routine at the moment involves Leon.  He’s working down on the coast at a beach restaurant, 12 hour shifts which only see him return home just before 03:00.  By the time he’s unwound from all the excitement of working it only gives him a few hours to sleep before rising at 11:20 and leaving for work two hours later.  The last thing he needed was to be wakened by a yowling dog at eight in the morning.

So I leapt out of bed and dashed off down the garden to shut Choco up.  The only way to do that was to bring him inside the house, but then he’d be dashing back and forth between the door and windows with the same vocals.  So I was obliged to confine him to my bedroom.

I climbed back into bed to try and resume my slumbers.  I know.  Don’t say it.  I know what you’re thinking!

And I might as well have stayed up because the little bastard now started whining at the glass door which leads from the bedroom onto the pool area.  Various vocal commands on my part went unheeded so I tried to block out the noise by hunching my head down between my shoulders to keep out the noise.  Fail.  Then I tried wedging wadges of the bed sheet into my ears to act as earplugs, but that didn’t work either.

He eventually quietened down and I was just drifting off to sleep when he started up again. He’d heard the rattle of the gate indicating the return of his friends.  So I got out of bed and let him out.  Peace at last.

Well, for five minutes, then I could hear a scrape at the door.  I recognised it as Marti wanting to be let in.  I figured she’d give up if I didn’t respond so I ignored her, but she was having none of it.  Her keen sense of smell told her that Choco had been into that bedroom in her absence and being very protective of me, demanded entry.  I let her in.

NOW I could get some sleep.  Except you have to remember that this dog has been running around the countryside, culminating in a climb back up the 34 steep steps from the plot.  And she’s a very big dog, covered in a thick double coat (goes with the breed), and it’s a Spanish summer’s day.  She lay by the foot of my bed panting like a steam train.

Then Choco started pawing at the door too, so she moved even closer, to the side of my bed and continued with her huffing and puffing.  After five fruitless minutes of non-sleep I gave up.  I got up.

I should mention here that the bedroom is not very big.  There is not much space between the bed and the fitted wardrobes.  In fact, when Marti is lying with her back against the bed her toenails are touching the cupboard doors.  So when I got out of bed I only had a couple of feet (in both senses) in which to get dressed.

As I reached for my underwear the dog whispered.  So as I hopped around on one foot trying to put on my pants I found myself engulfed in dog fart.  I can’t remember the last time this dog farted.  She is not a frequently farting dog.  But she had to fart now, of all moments!

I couldn’t move away from the fart because the dog took up my exit route, and she was going no-where.  Putting on shorts requires a little bending forward, so that brought me in even closer proximity to the source.  It is not easy, if you’re an overweight almost-69-year-old, to get dressed in a two-foot cubicle when you’re trying not to breathe!

Consider yourself lucky (I do) that I’m still here to tell the tale.

 

 

 

 

 

Irregular Black Friday (or How to Empty a Septic Tank)

So yesterday wasn’t a regular Black Friday for me, it was more of a Frenetic Phone-call Friday.  I received more calls that morning than I normally get in a week!

It started at 08:25 when Brad phoned me, though I suppose I’d better give you a bit of background first.

Our septic tank needed emptying.  Now I bet that encourages you to read on, eh?  Just bear with me, it’s not as grim as it sounds, but listen carefully because I’ll be asking questions later.

A friend of ours, Rod, who is a supposed-to-be-retired builder is good for repairs and solving property related problems.  I’d asked him to check out an unpleasant smell which intermittently invades our casita (guest annex).  He arrived on Monday.  His investigations established nothing of great significance but he needed to check ‘from the other end’ if anything (roots or suchlike) was blocking the pipes exporting waste from the casita bathroom into the septic tank.  In order to do this he needed to feed his aquatic telescope through the septic tank but it was pretty full and his telescopic eye could not see its way through all the crap (if you’ll pardon the rather graphic pun) to find where the pipe from the casita emerged.  The crux of it is that we needed to have the tank emptied so that he could complete his quest.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find the invoice from the last time we’d had the tank emptied.  Now there’s a story in its own right. Let me tell you about it.

The guest toilet in our house, which is the one we use most, wasn’t flushing as well as it should.   Despite gallons of bleach and drain cleaner being poured down its throat any clearance was short-lived.  So I phoned a friend.  Not the same one as the one who was helping me now, I hasten to add, but another one who had done some building work for us.

My friend, who for the sake of anonymity we shall call Albert, came along and established that he first needed to find the arqueta.  Okay, okay.  It’s Spanish.

Now don’t quote me on this ‘cos I’m no expert, but my understanding is that an arqueta is like a junction box in plumbing, into which the waste from the bath, shower, basin and toilet all feeds before exiting via a single sewage pipe into a septic tank, or wherever.

After much investigation and gnashing of teeth Albert eventually established that the arqueta was under our shower.  So he dug up the mosaic floor tiles until he’d exposed enough of a gap to make a hole in the floor and lo and behold, there was the arqueta.  But then he needed to find out where all the waste went from there.  Using his trusty tape measure he worked out where a pipe should appear on the outside of the house.

There he took up more floor tiles and started to dig a hole. Once the hole was three feet square and almost as deep he concluded that perhaps the pipe did not in fact lead this way. However he did  find the location of a water pipe leading into the house, with his pick, so we then had to call out the plumber to repair that.

When I look back on this little episode I cannot figure out what he was trying to achieve by digging that hole.  It rather reminds me of a song, Hole in the Ground  by Bernard Cribbins.

Perhaps he was trying to find the septic tank.  Not having found it he filled in the hole and I went off in search of tiles that now had to be replaced.  Have you ever tried matching 10 year old tiles?

I had already been in touch with the previous owner, who’d had the property for nine years,  and asked him if he could tell us where exactly the septic tank was.  He said he didn’t have a clue as he’d never had it emptied!

We eventually had to call in a drain expert who unblocked the pipe which was at the seat of the trouble and also found the septic tank within minutes of shoving his camera round the bends.  The tank lay under the tiled area between the house and the casita. He even pinpointed the exact spot where the access point was – hidden under a single tile.  He kindly replaced the tile with a lid which would allow easy access to the tank in future.

Sewage tanker people were contacted and they duly came along and emptied the tank.  All that was two years ago.

So now (we’re back to the original story – this reminds me of Ronnie Corbett relating his tales from his armchair!)  I was looking for their invoice to give them a call.  Naturally it was nowhere to be found.  Dear husband said he’d seen a company we had passed many times which did septic tank emptying and described their location.  I zapped off in my Renault Kangoo, duly found the place and spoke to a lovely lady who in turn phoned her boss to ask when he could do it.  He was working on a job out of town and promised to come around to our place before noon on Wednesday to check out our layout and give me a price, with a view to carrying out the job later that day or the next.  I also asked the receptionist roughly how much I might expect it to cost.  She said +/- €200.  I went home and related this to Ziggy,

“Bloody hell, that’s a bit steep,” he said, “the last time it only cost us €130!

In the event the bossman didn’t pitch, so Ziggy said,

“Why don’t you call the drain expert and ask him the name of the company he put us onto last time?”

I wasn’t hopeful.   I had tried to phone this guy before I’d called Rod in but there was no answer from any of his numbers.  I figured he’d closed shop.  But I said I’d give it a try and this time was answered after two rings!  I duly got the phone number.

Now I should mention that this ‘expert’ on his last visit (about the problem we are having now) had told us he didn’t believe the waste from the casita was going into the same septic tank as the house, and that to establish where it did go would need the casita shower digging up.  (Not another one! I thought.)   Even he said it would be cheaper for us to get a builder in to do this.  Instead he simply applied some evilly strong chemicals (licence required) to the drains and hoped that did the trick.  Clearly it did not, well not long term anyway.

Fortunately before ripping the shower to bits builder Rod had the insight to apply a high pressure hose down the casita toilet while his assistant, with the aid of a torch, watched for any movement in the contents of the septic tank.  Movement there was so it did, in fact, drain into there.

Where was I?

Oh yes, so having got this original septic tank emptier’s phone number I called them.    This is where my lack of Spanish reared its ugly head.  The guy who answered the phone spoke no English.  I did manage to explain that I would get my son to call him.

So I phoned Brad whose is able to converse in Spanish up to a point and asked him to call them to see if they could empty our tank again for the same price as before.   Apparently the bloke he spoke to said something about a vacation and gave him another number and said something about mañana.  Brad wasn’t sure if he was supposed to call the guy today to have the work done the next day (mañana) or to only phone the next day.  We left it.

On Thursday I went back to the offices I’d visited on Monday (like an idiot I hadn’t taken their phone number) to find out when, or if, the boss was planning to grace us with his presence.  Another phone call by the receptionist established he would be at our house between 10 and 14:00 on Friday. I also established that he expected his price to be €175.  I agreed to await his arrival but this time I picked up one of their business cards bearing a phone number.

Discussing this back home we still weren’t happy about the price, so Ziggy said he’d take the dogs for a work early that day so that he could go to our local town hall (before they closed at 14:00 for the day) to see if they provided a septic tank emptying service. (He lives in a dream-world sometimes!)

They didn’t.  But they did give him the name of a man who did.  The man had the same surname as the company I had been visiting but Ziggy said that on giving him the number the girl at the town hall had mentioned a company name that sounded familiar, possibly the one who’d emptied our tank before.  I conceded that the Spanish are very frugal in their variation of names, be it first or last names, so it was quite possible there was more than one Septic Tank Cleaner-outer with the same name.

[I wonder if there’s a special name for a person or company which empties septic tanks?  I can think of one myself but wouldn’t write it down in here!]

Once siesta time was over (14:00 – 17:00, come rain or shine, summer or winter) I phoned Brad again and asked him to call the number Ziggy had obtained.  Ten minutes later Brad happily reported that a sewage tanker would be at our property between 10 and 14:00 the next day (Friday) and that the cost would be €130!

I duly phoned the first company and cancelled their appointment, citing the cheaper price elsewhere.

If you’re on the ball you will realise that this has now brought us up to Frenetic Phoning Friday.  You remember, I mentioned it about 30 pages back…

Brad called me at 08:25.  I’ll be honest with you now, I was still in bed, sipping my mug of tea which Ziggy brings me religiously each morning.  He (Brad not Ziggy) had received a call asking for confirmation of our address, but wasn’t sure it was from the people he phoned first or second, and didn’t want two tanks pulling up at our gates.  We chatted about it for a while but it got us nowhere.

Half an hour later he called me again saying the bloke in his tanker was querying the address (the name of our lane is not recognised by Google Maps).  He said it might be a good idea if I drove up the lane to meet him nearer the main road.  No sooner had I finished this conversation and was climbing into my car than my phone rang again.

This time it was a friend (who I’d not met before – don’t ask) confirming our meeting for that lunchtime.  Just then the house phone rang.  As I tried to cut my friend’s call short Ziggy amazingly went and answered the other one and walking out with that phone and as I was reversing out (if I could get off the phone to drive) I could hear him trying to direct someone to our lane.  As he was chatting away he looked up the lane and saw the man he was talking to was about ten metres away walking towards him.

Turned out he was the man with the tanker, except without the tanker.  He’d left it at the top of the lane as he wasn’t sure how good the access was.  (Bloody hell we’d had removals vans, pneumatic trucks delivering one-ton sacks of wood and cement wagons down this lane, so it could easily handle a piddly-arsed little tanker!)

So I abandoned my car, still trying to finish the call, so that I could go and move some of our outside furniture to give access to a large suction pipe.

Seconds after finishing that chat I got another call, this time from a friend who was supposed to be joining me and my new friend, then the truck arrived…

Peace reigned, though not much quiet, for a while as the man who does shoved his pipe into our septic tank and slurped all the shit emptied it.  Once he’d finished, stashed his hose and put the lid back on our tank he produced two invoiced books and asked me whether or not I wanted to pay tax. Ah now, that’s a tough one, let me think…

So I received a plain receipt for the sum of €135 (I wasn’t going to argue over the fiver) and we both ended up happier for the experience.

Less than half an hour later I got a phone call from a man about our septic tank.  We had a strange conversation because his English was on a par with my Spanish.

He seemed to be asking me how long the guy had taken to do the job.  I told him “hora medio” which in my Spanish meant ‘about half an hour’ but which I just checked and found means ‘average hour’.  Seems I should have written “medio hora”. No wonder he’d been a tad confused by my answer.

He tried to confirm our address, which wasn’t easy, but I did the best I could.

Then he asked, “was ours the house with the two dogs?” I told him it was.  Being the ferocious guard dogs they are, they had totally ignored the man and his big pipe who had just left, but he had clearly seen our two dogs.

Now you must understand that up until this point I thought he was checking up on the guy who’d done the job.  Then he went on to say “tres perros” which I do know means three dogs.  It dawned on me when he’d talked about two dogs earlier, what he had actually been saying was “tu perros” which means ‘your dogs’.   So where is he now getting three dogs from?

As our convoluted conversation continued I began to realise that he was actually nothing to do with the guy who’d been, he was a guy who was coming.  So who the  hell was he???

Now I had to try and stop him from pitching up with his tanker.

“No, el septico tank es empty (I didn’t know the Spanish word for empty).  Es terminado.”

He was battling to understand me. (Can’t imagine why!)

“Es complete, no necesito para tu.”  ‘It’s all done, I don’t need you’ is what I thought I was saying.

He said something else which sounded like he understood I no longer required his services.

“Si, gracias, adios.”  I said, and prayed to dog that he comprende’d.

Then I wondered if in fact this had been the bloke who’d quoted the €130, and if so, who the hell had I just paid €135 to for emptying our tank?

I have yet to phone Rod to tell him the septic tank it now ready for his inspection.  I’ve had rather enough of the subject to be honest.

 

But might I suggest, if you should ever be tempted to move to Spain based on the wondrous stories you’ve heard from me, that when you buy a house make sure it is on the mains sewage route.

Anyone for Twins?

Talking of the twins…

We were?

Yes.    We being the royal we, as in ‘im indoors’ and me.  I asked him to fetch me a drink of my (non-alcoholic) wine from the fridge as he ‘owed me one’ for the day.

“Oh yeah?” he says.

“Yeah,” I replied, “for not being there when they were born.”

They – Victoria and Leon James – were the subject of our conversation because it was their BIRTHDAY when we were having our little chat.

I am not going to tell you that they turned 39 yesterday because that would be quite rude of me, but on the other hand it will save you the trouble of trying to recall what year it was when they had their 3rd birthday party in Zambia.  It would after all be quite a schlep for you to have to go trolling through Into Africa with 3 kids, 13 crates and a husband to find out.

I’m sure I mentioned in said book that when they arrived they came as a bit of a surprise.  But I didn’t tell you about the palaver that went on in order for them to arrive actually in the hospital.  So if you have five minutes to spare (or ten, depending on how fast you read) and fancy being bored with enlightened on the issue – I promise, no gory details – then read on.

Back in the ‘70s Wednesday was my mum and dad’s night off from their pub.  Occasionally, when Ziggy was working away from home, I would go out with them to one or few of the other local hostelries which they enjoyed.  On this particular evening, the 22nd March 1978, we went to a pub called The Waterloo not far from where I lived.

As we sat chatting in the bar, mostly about what 17-month-old Brad had been misbehaving at that day, I made an observation.

“You know Brad was five weeks early, hey?” I asked.

They nodded.

“Well tomorrow it will be exactly five weeks until I am due to give birth to this baby.” I stated.

“Oh!”  “Is it really?”

“It occurred to me,” I went on, “that with Ziggy working all week in Southend which is several hours drive away, if anything like that should happen this time around, I might need some help getting to the hospital.  Perhaps we should, you know, make a plan.”

“Hmm, yes” said Nancy, my mother.

In the event that this one fights its way out as quickly as Brad did (16 hours start to finish, including the doctor in charge trying to stop him coming*) then we couldn’t hang around waiting for Ziggy to take me to the hospital.  *NO, he didn’t try to push him back inside!  He tried to stop his emergence with drugs – which clearly didn’t work.

A discussion duly took place between Nancy, Mev (my dad) and myself with ‘the plan’ being made.

We enjoyed the rest of our evening and I was duly dropped off at home.  Relieving the babysitter – our next door neighbour – I briefly explained our plan to her, as she would likely have to be party to the exercise.  She agreed to help whenever needed.

Fortunately Brad was not an early riser but the next morning I was awoken suddenly at 7 o’clock, with a very familiar damp feeling under my backside. Yep, my waters had broken.

My first call was to Ziggy, or his digs to be precise as this was light years before cell phones existed.  He came to the phone, saying he was in the middle of eating a hearty breakfast.  I told him the good news.

“You’re kidding me.  It’s not due for weeks yet.”

“Neither was Brad.  And it is exactly five weeks early, to the day.  Just like Brad!”

“Oh Shit!”, which was the sort of response I had expected.

“Okay, so now what?” He asked.

“Don’t you worry about it.  We actually made a plan last night and everything is under control.  Nancy will take me to the hospital and you just get there as soon as you can.  It would be nice if you could be there for the birth this time.”

I had to have that one dig, as he’d missed being at Brad’s arrival because he had been in the hospital car park eating fish and chips whilst I was giving birth!

As this conversation was taking place only minutes after my damp discovery I told him to finish his breakfast first, which he did.  He then packed his bag, paid his accommodation bill then nipped along to the site he was working on to explain that he wouldn’t be working that day.  This was the Thursday before Easter so he was due to drive home that night anyway, for the long weekend.

Next I phoned my mum.  I got the same response, more or less.

“Are you being serious?” she asked, “not doing a dummy-run ‘just in case’?”

I assured her I was deadly serious but that she shouldn’t panic.

“I was in the middle of preparing the sandwiches for the pub, have I got time to finish them?  Have you actually gone into labour yet?”

“No, it’s okay, only a few twinges to let me know this is the real thing and that I didn’t just pee myself in the bed.” I assured her. “You have plenty of time to finish making your sandwiches.”

By this time Brad was awake and demanding my attention so we went down to the kitchen for breakfast.  Then I finished packing the small case I’d put aside for taking to the hospital.  I had made sure this was ready well in advance.

I didn’t want a repeat of the performance I’d had with Brad.  On that day, a Saturday, once we realised what was happening and that Brad was arriving much sooner than we’d expected, it dawned on me that I had nothing prepared.  I mean, I didn’t even own a night-dress.  So Ziggy dropped me at my folks’ pub while he went shopping in town to buy me a couple of nighties, as well as some other bits and pieces.  By the time he returned to the pub to take me through to the hospital, the customers were getting very nervous about my presence, as I was starting to get contractions.  But that’s another story.

Next I went to Betty next door and asked her if she could look after Brad for us while my mum drove me to the hospital.  No problem, just call me when you’re ready to leave, she’d said.   I made sure Brad was organised with toys to keep him occupied and I was folding the terry-towelling nappies which had just finished drying in the tumble dryer when my mum arrived.

“What on earth are you doing?  You shouldn’t be working now.”  She was such a fusspot.  “Are you getting any contractions yet?”

“Yes.”

“How often?”

“Oh about every twenty minutes or so,” I answered calmly.

“WHAT?  Let’s go!”

Brad was more than happy to stay with Betty, who had four kids of her own albeit older, and my mum promised to come back to look after Brad as soon as she’d seen me comfortably (??) settled at the hospital.

I think now is the time I should just explain a little about my home town.  Burton upon Trent sits, as you might imagine, on the River Trent.  The main body of the town lies on west side of the river and there are a couple of fairly substantial suburbs on the eastern side.  We lived in one of those.  My parents’ pub sat in Burton ‘proper’ on the other side of the river near the Town Hall and the railway station.   The hospital was also on the west side of the river, but further away from us than my folks’ pub.

So within fifteen minutes of her arrival, Nancy and I were on our way to the Andressey Hospital, as it was called then.  As she drove she mentioned that the traffic was ‘getting a bit hectic’ at the bridge when she came over it.

In 1978 there was only one bridge over the River Trent at Burton, so as you might imagine it could get quite busy.  This was especially so if travelling in a westerly direction, because there were four busy roads all converging onto this one bridge.  It was even more hectic on the days when the very popular outdoor market was held twice a week, which was on Saturdays and Thursdays.

Now if you remember, I mentioned earlier that this was the Thursday before Easter, so as well as the lure of the market, every man, woman and child, with their dog, was making their way into Burton as all the shops would be closed on Good Friday, and they had to stock up for the long weekend.

We drove down the steep Bearwood Hill Road, which filtered into Newton Road before reaching the traffic lights controlling this wonderful junction.

Alas we came to a standstill partway down the hill behind about eight cars which were interlaced with two double-decker buses.  That in itself was a bad sign as buses in and out of our suburb normally only came one at a time.  And all those vehicles in front of us had to fight with the traffic on Newton Road before they could even reach the traffic lights.

We slowly made progress with each change of the lights and had only three cars waiting in front of us when my mum asked me,

“Are you alright, our Ann?  You seem to be doing some huffing and puffing.  How often are you getting the contractions?”

“About every ten minutes,”  I grimaced.

I thought my mother was going to have a seizure herself.  She started ranting that she was going to call for a police escort, though quite how she would do this was beyond me.  Never a policeman in sight when you need one!

“Then I’m going to toot my hooter,”  she said.  I managed to stop her just in time.

“No-one will know why you’re doing that mum.  And if they did, they can hardly move out of the way, where would they move to, it’s choc-a-bloc on that bridge?”  She conceded my point.

But I had to stop talking to put a bit more effort into the breathing exercises I’d been taught in antenatal classes a couple of years ago.  It was supposed to relieve the pain.  Bullshit!

As I sat and breathed with varying degrees of severity my mum eventually got us across the Trent Bridge, then she let it rip.  It was as if she were daring a police car to pull her over for speeding so she could get an escort, a move I was now becoming in favour of.  But at the pace we were going, I was more concerned that we might finish up in A&E instead of the maternity unit!

She abandoned the car near the front of the Andressey building then walked with me until we met a nurse, to whom we explained that things were pretty imminent.  As she lead me through to the check-in desk Nancy went and put the car in the designated car park before it got towed away.  Nancy joined me as the woman behind the desk was finishing taking my details.  I had told her that I was five weeks early but she didn’t seem bothered about that and said,

“Right, if you’d just like to get your towel and toiletries and take a bath…”.

“Oh, there won’t be time for a bath!” Nancy and I piped up in unison.

Not unless I’m down for a water-birth, I muttered under my breath.

With a look which said she hadn’t believed a word of anything I’d said, the battle-axe handed me over to a nurse who had arrived nearby.

“Right, let’s find you a bed,” she said.

I knew the general procedure from my previous visit.  There was a long ward full of beds containing females in various stages of agony.  The rule of thumb was that the sooner you were likely to pop, the closer your bed was to the exit, which lead to the delivery rooms.  This staff nurse obviously had more sympathy for my plight than the dragon woman, as she put me in a bed second from the door.  My status was also supported by the fact that I was having my third contraction in the space of ten minutes.

Once attired in the stunning hospital gown and settled in the bed, I was having a really bad spasm when Nancy suddenly said,

“Oh, I’m so sorry Ann, but I just can’t stay here and watch you in such agony.  I’m going to have to go to Brad,” and with that she was gone.

The staff nurse conducted a physical examination and was surprised when I told her I was five weeks early.

“You can’t be,” she said, “you’re too big.”

I assured her I knew exactly when the baby was conceived and that I was five weeks early.

With eyes rather wide she continued, “Well if you are, you’re having a very big baby!”

Now, that I did NOT want to hear.  When Brad was born he weighed in at a miniscule 4lb 14oz (2.2Kg) so compared to most women, I’d had a relatively easy time of giving birth.  But it certainly hadn’t been without pain, so I dreaded to think what it would be like expelling a ‘very big baby’.

But I didn’t have much time to dwell on that because ten minutes later I went into second stage labour.  That surprised them a bit.

It surprised me too!  Despite having gone through it all before, I had forgotten exactly how strong the involuntary urge to ‘push’ the foreign body out became at this point.  And one must not do that, until told to so by the attending doctor, or in my case, midwife.  So they teach you (at antenatal classes) how to breath properly to contain that urge.

For those of you who haven’t done it – men mostly, I reckon – you might have noticed that there is more to this child-bearing business than meets the eye.

After some to-ings and fro-ings the staff nurse, aided by another nurse, eventually wheeled my bed out of the ward, down the corridor and into a delivery room.

As they got me where they wanted me and readied all their gear, I panted and groaned my way through another agonising contraction.  The next minute the midwife smiled at me and said,

“Okay Ann, you can push whenever you’re ready.”

Nothing happened.  I had no more urge to push a baby out from between my trembling legs than jump naked off a fifty storey building.  So we all just waited.

Then suddenly it came again.  Fed up with having to hold it back previously, I pushed with all my might.  I’m not sure how many pushes I made, I wasn’t too fussed about counting at the time, but eventually at 12:45pm out it came.

“Well, you’ve got a little girl… she counted all the fingers and toes … and she’s just fine,” said the staff nurse.

They wrapped Victoria in a foil blanket and after briefly showing her to me, put her straight into an incubator for premature babies.

“But we thought you’d have a bigger baby than this!” and promptly stuck her hand into the cavern very recently vacated by my new daughter and said, “Oh, there’s another one in there!!”

Well that threw the buggers into a bit of a tizz, I can tell you.  They’d only catered for one.

“Just wait while we go and get another incubator, Ann.”

“Don’t worry, I’m going nowhere!” I replied.

So they faffed around, sorting out all the extra bits and pieces they needed, while I gazed and whistled at the ceiling.  They really should put some nice pictures up there for people lying here, I thought.

Leon James was born exactly five minutes after Victoria.  One push and he was out.  He could have been born much sooner if they’d been properly prepared!

He too was immediately cocooned in tin foil and shown to me before being placed in his own box.

The twins then had to be rushed by Ambulance to the Special Care Baby Unit which was housed on the other side of town in Burton’s General Hospital.  As they were wheeled away the midwife looked at me.

“You don’t seem too surprised by finding you’ve had twins, Ann,” she said

“That’s because I’m not.  I told my doctor over a month ago that I thought I was having twins, because I could feel them moving in different places.  But he wouldn’t believe me!”

Way back then, unless there were signs of problems, the average mother-to-be only got to see the gynaecologist four weeks before she was due to give birth.  I hadn’t made it that far so hadn’t had a scan.

“I can’t wait to see the doc’s face when I tell him!” I said.

His wasn’t the only face I couldn’t wait to see.  Ziggy was going to be in for a bit of a surprise too.  Shit, everybody was!

Alas, still needing the recovery facilities afforded by the maternity unit, I had to remain at the Andressey.  I was neatly draped and sitting up in bed when Ziggy arrived just after one o’clock.  He stood by the bed.

“So how are you doing?  How long do they think it’ll be before you have it?”  [One does not deflate back to normal size immediately after childbirth.  I still looked very pregnant.]

“What do you mean, how long?  It’s already happened.  You missed it.  Again.”

“No!  I came as fast as I could.  Broke every speed limit on the way here.”

“Yes, I’m sure you did.  But it all happened pretty damn quick.”

“So what have we got?  TELL ME!”

“At 12:45 Victoria was born,” I told him with a big smile.

He was so happy, laughing and dancing about like a maniac beside my bed.

“And at 12:50 Leon James was born!” I continued.

“What?  What did you say?  Did you say we have a boy as well?  Twins?  TWINS????”

His face was an absolute picture.

After he got over the shock we sat and chatted about what had gone on.  Then he was anxious to leave.  He said he couldn’t wait to tell my mum.  Before he left he established that he would be able to see the twins in the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).

He planned to go home, give my mum the good news then follow her to the pub so that he could leave Brad with them there for half an hour while he went to the SCBU.  Of course he would come back and see me later.

As he left the ward his grin was so wide it almost reached into his ears.

What a day that was!  Thank you my babies. XX