Digital Ischemia

01/01/2020

Father Episodes cont’d

A further instalment of eccentric vignettes, following the original Father Episodes

Shortly after Father arrived, he presented me with half a dozen nail files and a magnifying hand mirror.
“I thought you might like these for… female titivation.”
I gratefully frowned at the rust spots on the mirror and the assorted specifications of filery: a wide array of shape, coarseness, colour and a common theme of unfit for purpose.
He saw he was losing ground in this attempt to ‘shed’ benevolently.
“I purchased the series in trying to find the right one. I haven’t used them.”

——

One evening there was a crescendo of televised warfare, culminating in the vociferous cry, “get ‘im! Get ‘im!” This was followed by a rapid series of clunks and curses, “you blighter!” as Father’s reclining chair misinterpreted his vigorous limb-flinging and unfolded on him. His cries of chagrin continued as he flailed in vain to regain sight of the television and reach of the remote control, with the escalating frustration of the battle continuing without him.

——

Father wears Marks & Spencer’s navy blue moccasins with the special sheep fluff lining. This is a permanent association like birds and feathers, dating back to at least 60 years before any such product was available with the St Michael label. Once there was even a delighted but nebulous epiphany around a previous life as a Native American. Michael of course having received his sainthood for services to ‘cowbags and indibugs’, as the inchoate Father coined his favourite game c.1884.

These slippers are replaced every year in December. Never washed, just replaced. They are purely for nighttime trundles and restricted to the journey between bedroom and bathroom. Not too controversial. However, in my house, I prefer to wear slippers throughout, a probably pointless commitment coincidentally following a substantial outlay for new carpets.

As a spectacularly deviated protest, shortly after moving in, Father explained to me that he was now alternating between two pairs of Marks & Spencer’s navy blue moccasins. The original pair size 7 for original restricted use. Plus a new pair size 7 1/2 for daytime and entire house expeditions. Size 7 1/2, he elaborated, because of the addition of a layer of sock, which would not fit in size 7. Notwithstanding this duplicate provision, he would still sneak about in his shoes like a first class rotter, just to demonstrate that he did not recognise my authority.

After he had moved out, I discovered his final revenge. In one of his now empty rooms, the neutral coloured carpet that had required that substantial outlay was now adorned with two large, well worn, blue patches. These locations correspond exactly with his two chairs: the recliner for leisure purposes, and the executive computer operator chair for hyper-consumerism diversions.

It could have been worse: it could have been neutral-coloured dog shit from Outside.

——

Shortly after Father had departed to his new residence, one of his old friends, Don (the name has been changed to protect the undead) wrote to me seeking Father’s new address. Since Don supplied an email address, I promptly contacted him with the sought contact details.

Don responded with no less than 23 emails, in progressive stages of drafting, conveying his appreciation as well as some family updates. It seemed his webmail account had some synchronisation glitch that shared every saved stage with the recipient. I let him know and thought the contact was concluded.

Some weeks later, I received an unexpected email from a suspicious account with Don’s name as alias, plus a suspicious lack of text and presence of attachment. Clearly spam, and not surprising following the previous IT dodginess.

In my next conversation with father, I was prompted to enquire whether Don and he had got successfully in touch following their communication fankle.
“No. I received a nonsense attachment.”
“Ah, you got that too. I think it was spam.”
“Did you get the subliminal message?”
“No?”
“Don is dead.”

I was so utterly bewildered by the sheer non-sequitur of this reasoning, that he chuntered on about some trivia for a couple of minutes before I stopped him to protest that (A) it was consistent with the pattern of spurious emailing I had experienced as well as having all the hallmarks of spam, pointing toward a compromised mailbox, and (B) if you suspect one of your oldest friends is dead, however unconventionally you have received the notification, it is usual to contact their family and express condolences.

Needless to say, Don was not and is not dead. Long live Don, and death to personal correspondence gremlins.

——

Phone calls are either epic waffles and whinges about the weather and Waitrose, or abbreviated bulletins concerning his health status. The latter comprise two minutes maximum, concluding with “end of message,” then a click as the connection is terminated. Either way a monologue.

I called Father one afternoon. As often happens, there was a twenty second delay between him lifting the handset and responding verbally into the phone.
“[mumble]”
“Have I woken you up?”
Further pause before further muffled response. “I’m eating a peppermint.”
“So, you’re safely back home?” Stating the bleeding obvious as invitation to journal the banal.

In the background, a chime resounded.
“Ah: doorbell. Hang on.”
I have learnt over the years to swiftly pull the phone away from my ear before the statutory series of amplified sound effects as he abandons the handset and shuffles off.

Following a couple of minutes of distant conversation, sound effects resumed, then conversation.
“My helper. Just a quick visit. Been here already. Earlier. [mumble, mumble, breathing]”
“Shall I call another time then?” Pause for peppermint-filtered mumbling. I continue. “Allow you to have one conversation at a time?” Even one can be a challenge.
“[Mumble] call back later on.”
With cheery relief I hung up. Total call time three minutes seventeen seconds. Total conversation time substantially less.

——

My sister visited him on one occasion and inevitably found herself detailed with a list of specially selected noisome chores. In the depths of some wardrobe manoeuvres, she identified a stack of brand new, polythene-sealed shirts.
Father pronounced, “bin.”
Her expression clearly expressed bewilderment so he expanded.
“Wrong fabric. Should be poly-cotton mix.”

My sister’s attempts to tackle this monstrous illogicality from the angles of (A) return to retailer for financial recompense and (B) donate to charity met with the characteristic Wall of Disinterest. This is a fascinating feature of the Pilgrim’s Progress that was under-written and sadly lost in an early draft.

The material continues to accumulate…

01/02/2019

Father Episodes

Filed under: Shorts — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Teepwriter @ 15:00

The perils of parental cohabitation: vignettes of eccentricity

Ten years ago, my father arrived for a few months. He stayed five years. He found the place comfortable? Oh no, it was “tolerable”.

——

My concern was always aroused on returning home to find my father sitting in the hall. More so if both front and back doors were fully open allowing a

30mph wind to flow unimpeded through the house, and windows ditto. He was inevitably monitoring some disaster recovery operation / resting during a more active course of same / awaiting my return to explain some destruction / awaiting same to register his dissatisfaction with my substandard domestic furnishings or appliances.

If he was sitting in the hall with the doors closed, he was awaiting the postman.

As soon as I reached the threshold, he would pronounce a well rehearsed summary.

“A blue smoke episode!” This coinage described the regular occurrence where he had commenced frying a slab of meat, become bored with waiting, wandered off, and returned to heavy smog and charcoal. This was attributed to my hob being “peculiar”.

A frequent alternate was: “your washing machine has added a tissue to my laundry, shredded it and deposited it evenly throughout the load. Consequently, in carrying the finished load through to my room, I have scattered a fine layer of bits of tissue along the full length of the hall. I have been picking them up for twenty minutes now. I’m exhausted.”

——

One time I had spent a good hour shovelling snow to clear the drive. I found kneeling more comfortable for my back as it meant less bending and lifting. When I re-entered the house after this practical but style-unconscious exercise, Father was in position in the hall, having well mulled his commentary in anticipation.

“Bad genes. … Your mother’s.” Chuckle. Exit.

Notwithstanding that pragmatism coupled with utter disregard for appearance was closer to his mode and the antithesis of other parent, the highlight was the midway pivot as he realised that the mulling had failed to anticipate the elephant trap.

——

On my return from work I was greeted by the old boy standing in the doorway with the bottom half of his trousers sopping wet.

“The showerhead got away from me.”

What he was doing in the cubicle fully clothed was never explained. (It wasn’t cleaning; such meniality was outwith his purview. In any case, his shower wasn’t dirty. The “black bits” arrived in the water, just as the layer of grey dust that rapidly accumulated on his piles of everything derived from lorries and came in through the windows. The fact that these symptoms were not expressed anywhere else in the house was ignored. More of windows anon.)

——

Early one summer morning I noticed a shimmering on the kitchen counter at Father’s end. My kitchen had been combined with a utility room by replacing the dividing wall with a ‘breakfast bar’. This allowed dual use and served as a convenient demarcation between zones: mine being relatively clean and organised; his being a total clutter of packets and jars and spills. The most frequently used were at the front ranging back to those entirely forgotten, pressed against the wall. The cupboards were already stuffed full of unused crockery and groceries he had brought with him and also forgotten about. I usually avoided looking at that end because I felt like the walls were coming in at me.

On this occasion the counter surface was moving. Among the sticky jam jars, stained cutlery, spilled sugar, splashed juice, biscuit crumbs and residual chocolate powder were ants. I peered in.

The ants were fascinating. They were actively surveying and collecting crumbs and sugar granules. Once loaded, each set off along the counter over the cupboards, around the wall, in front of the sink, under Father’s fridge, diagonally down the bin cupboard door and into the skirting by the back door. This was a well established highway in both directions, connecting somewhere beyond the door to some hidden metropolis under the slabs.

ants on kitchen counter

I felt a curious mixture of concern and elation. I was fascinated and revolted. I carefully checked my end and with relief found it all clear. Amusement recommenced. Before leaving for work I wrote Father a short warning note. I imagined him stumbling in for breakfast, his bleary eyes failing to detect small legs and antennae until they were well up his spoon arm.

Sadly there followed a chemical genocide as we were past the point of tools of dissuasion. The pied piper himself became weary of crushing them individually with a paper towel as they encroached, following their irresistible urge to climb the sugar vapour gradient. Plus I had spotted one or two intrepid explorers in the vicinity of my cupboards. Unacceptable. Still, I’m impressed by their foraging capability.

——

“The bathroom light shade has disintegrated.”

This seemed unlikely. It had been recently installed by an electrician to replace two spotlight fittings which were restricted to 60 watts each, and thus apparently insufficient for Father’s shaving activity.

The electrician had been introduced because the fusebox had blown, and continued to blow despite being reset. The fuse culprit was traced to … the lights circuit. Father had ignored the warning sticker and pushed in two 100 watt bulbs. Being incandescent, the fittings had quickly overheated, the wires in the ceiling had melted into each other, and we were lucky the loft hadn’t caught ‘light’.

I think he was after a theatre dressing room style mirror, framed by two dozen 40 watt bulbs. He made similar demands of his adjustable reading lamp and became incensed when the weight of the galactic strength bulb caused it to constantly droop.

You can understand, then, his disappointment when this new bathroom installation provided only one diffuse 60 watt equivalent CFL bulb, further obscured by a clear glass cover. He decided to ‘upgrade forthwith’ to a 100 watt equivalent bulb. Frustratingly this new bulb was larger and prevented the glass dome from reaching its holder clips. He had carefully wrestled and shoved until it shattered over the bathroom floor. Ideal place for broken glass.

——

Things became a little less humorous with the heating. This was required to be on 24 hours per day just in case the temperature should dip below 22°C. I had turned off the radiators in my rooms as the infrared radiation from his quarters was plenty. Simultaneously, and counter-intuitively, windows fore and aft were required to be ajar to allow a gentle, fresh breeze to flow through at all times. This arrangement came to my attention early on when a repeatedly creaking door kept me awake. He was unmoved by my ‘hyperbolae’ about heating the entire neighbourhood and the remarkable 80% increase in oil consumption.

In the height of summer, during a rare heatwave, from the garden I was astonished to hear the boiler fire up. I swiftly came indoors to query with himself.

“Yes. As I usually do before my shower.” And he would not budge despite persistent argument around the fact that it was actually very warm and he would be complaining about it later, a portable heater could heat just the bathroom if that was necessary, towels could be warmed elsewhere, etc. It was a habit and not to be interfered with.

——

Father was sitting at the kitchen counter scrabbling with a plastic bag of bananas. I wondered if he was having trouble opening it. But no, he liked to keep his bananas in the bag, so they could sweat for several days in the bowl. He would then notice they were brown, complain with disgust about their lack of longevity, and throw them neatly away, still in the bag.

On this occasion it was the bag itself that was cause for concern. He looked up.

“Where do your bananas come from?”

I’m interested in the provenance of my produce, and anticipated a new nugget of ethical consideration. My bananas were loose and helpfully stickered, so I reported back immediately.

“Costa Rica.”

Still scrabbling, with increasing frustration, he explained, “avoid Colombian bananas. Laced with cocaine.”

——

As usual I reversed at full tilt into the drive, stopping just short of crushing a gutter down-pipe. This cathartically expunged my last vestiges of my office tension. I noticed with alarm that Father’s parked car was occupied and its engine running. A few seconds later and our similar reckless reversing habits could have collided. Moving swiftly on, I waved to the coated and hatted phizog in the wing mirror but zero response. He seemed to be concentrating.

After about 25 minutes I noticed his car was again sitting in the drive, chugging away. Shortly thereafter himself entered the hall, removed coat and hat, and expressed surprise that I had snuck past him.

“Entertaining trip?” I enquired, imaging perhaps he’d whistled along to the post box or other local destination that took longer by car than on foot.

“I was tuning the radio.”

——

Unfortunately the entertainment value of the episodes increasingly soured. First there were several occasions when I found the freezer door had been open all night. The compressor had been powering away to no avail. The fridge was tepid. The freezer contents were soft and damp. Father had been the last to visit the kitchen for his statutory sugar-laden ‘supper’. J’accuse!

Having found the fridge at his end of the kitchen insufficient, he had commandeered the top half of mine too, and a reasonable two-thirds of the freezer. Sometimes, when lifting things out, he fumbled the fridge door and slammed it with his elbow en pirouette. This created enough air pressure within the fridge compartment to reverse the flow of chilled air from the freezer below, and, on particularly vigorous occasions, force the freezer door open. When I pointed this out, he naturally countered with “poor design”.

There were also several instances which conclusively revealed his freezer drawer jutting out and preventing the door closing. He denied any awareness. Mind on higher things.

I became tired of trying to consume all my carefully baked and frozen cakes, assorted produce and leftovers in one day. I installed a temperature alarm. The problem didn’t recur, but Father frequently swore at the continual beeping while he stood for 20 minutes with the door wide open, restocking his provisions.

——

He perpetuated an irrational war on insect invaders. He was usually more successful with stealth tactics, picking them off individually, as with the ants. Yet they had their revenge. Swatting flies often resulted in disorder and destruction around the battlefield, and many distant expletives.

The crushing of large spiders was the greatest folly, however. He would leap out of bed late at night and fall into a crouch, poised over the skirting with a carefully funnelled paper towel to absorb the blood—rather like gravy actually—and collect the carcass.

This sudden rush of activity and change of attitude from the horizontal unfortunately upset his balance. With the spider looking on, Father slowly somersaulted backward across the carpet and came to rest against the bed, woefully disoriented. Defeat was admitted pro tem until his blood pressure and proprioception returned to operational levels.

——

One morning I was surprised to find him at breakfast before me. He was already chuckling at his prepared report.

“Upon waking, I looked at the clock, which said 8AM, so I leapt out of bed. Having been through my bathroom routine, I returned to collect my supper plate, and saw that it was in fact 6AM. I shall be ahead of myself all day!”

——

Meanwhile Father’s stock control methodology became extreme ‘just-in-case’. This was ironic at the same time that mine became conversely extreme ‘just-in-time’ to reduce wastage during Father episodes or power-cuts. As my space requirement diminished, he filled any additional available fridge space. However, like the counter tops, unused packets inevitably migrated backward and coalesced like a layer of sediment beginning its geological phase.

Sometimes prompted by my complaints of noxious drippage, sometimes just from an eery sense of losing storage capacity, Father would investigate the deeper recesses of the fridge. He would find cucumbers liquified in their plastic bags, potatoes having valiantly sprouted, withered and returned to primeval slime, cheese that was no longer hospitable to mould and had desiccated to pumice. He found these discoveries hilarious.

——

If I was not present to be regaled, and he grew tired at his post in the hall, he would pen a memo. Another of his habits, retained for its perceived professional prestige, was illegible script, even in capitals. “HALL LIGHT BUSTICATED.” Appended to this was either a small alien emoticon, his self-identified caricature, or his initials, if his timeframe had lapsed and he found himself joyously revisiting the 1950s, dictating to his secretary.

Sometimes the original message would be overlaid with a different colour of scribble to the triumphant effect that he had resolved the problem. When the second colour was the grey of one of my handy pencils, this would involve considerable scratching and scoring of the paper, culminating in a barely visible complaint about the quality of my writing instruments.

——

When snow was swirling but the lights were still on, I would work from home. This included telephone conversations with colleagues. Often, in the middle of a desperately dull discussion of business process revision to ensure the capture of… by which point my forehead was resting on the keyboard with demotivation, we would be interrupted: a click, a series of beeps, and a pause with heavy breathing as the expected dialling noises failed to sound.

Once the departure from standard operating procedure had registered—the ongoing conversation not having registered—I would loudly insert my request.

“Could you possibly wait until I’ve finished?”

“Ah. Forgot you were here. Apologies.” Click.

Luckily this never happened while I was speaking to my manager, or it would have precipitated yet another discussion on business process revision to ensure that my home working environment was conducive to…

——

How he eventually came to depart is another tale of eccentric bafflement. He continues in much the same fashion elsewhere.

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