07 February, 2006

the good, the bad, and the still-under-warranty


Where to begin?  John is at an "off-site" in Sussex for a couple of days, even though I keep reminding him that "off-site" is not a destination.  Avery is at school, somewhat reluctantly still not feeling quite her best after her weekend's bout with fever, and I?  I am sitting at my desk surrounded by boxes of books, unpaid bills from increasingly impatient American creditors who don't seem to realize I don't care about them anymore (but of course I'll be good and settle up Ladybug's vet tab and the Connecticut phone bill, etc.).  Mostly, however, my function today is what it has been since Friday, that is to answer the doorbell constantly and let in one after another alleged repairman to "take a look" at the stove.  Call it a cooker, call it a hob, it just doesn't work.  And last night after Avery woke up from a very odd nap after school, all hot and sweaty, I went down to her bathroom to draw her a nice, refreshing bath, only... there was no hot water.  I realized as well that it was quite cold throughout the flat.  With a sense of sinking inevitability, I went to look at the boiler, and yep, gone.  Dead as a doornail.  I called up the landlord's office, the mysterious Grosvenor Estates who hold us in such expensive thrall, and the young man on the other end eventually came back to me and said a repair guy would be there around 11.  " P.M.??" I gasped.  "Well, you see, it is quite late now [six o'clock] and it will take awhile for him to get there."  Where was this guy, Paris?  I said absolutely not and was there a supervisor I could talk to.  "Not at the moment, you see, everyone's left."  But me, his sad little voice implied.  "Well, keep the work order in for FIRST THING in the morning, then," I huffed.  "It's just as well, then, that I can't cook dinner, because I also couldn't clean it up," I said sulkily and on that biting exit line I hung up, wondering what else could go wrong.

An hour or so later, just after John turned up, the repair guy showed up at the door.  Much beringed and spiky-haired, Gavin did not impart confidence.  Sure enough, after an hour or so banging around in the boiler room, he gave up.  "The display panel is on, and then blower is working like crackers, but there doesn't seem to be a flame."  The flame being the essential part to any heating source, we were a bit frustrated.  But the crowning blow: he said, "You know, I should really not have been mucking about under the lid of that thing, not being licensed properly, really."  !!!!

We got Avery settled in her bed anyway, and since her room was freezing, I went to get her an HWB (hot water bottle, of course), but then remembered there was no HW to go in it.  Boiled water in the electric tea kettle, grateful for the first time for what I have always thought was a peculiar obsession with the English, their electric kettles.  Ah well, we settled down to watch a hilarious show on BBC1, "Balderdash and Piffle," where a presenter hunts down the meaning of an obscure word, usually something new and culturally-inspired, and then tries to convince an unbelievably solemn team from the Oxford English Dictionary to put the word in the next edition.  Last night's words were "balti," a Pakistani-inspired way to sauteeing meats in a deep-bottomed pan, and "bingo."  Only in England could such a programme fly in prime time. 

AH!!!  Tony is the man!  This lovely bloke just fixed my boiler!  It was the rare but vicious "internal fuse."  I have now had a complete course in how boilers work, as well as thermostats and timers.  He seemed amazed that I could take it all in, being a dumb American, so I brandished my PhD.  I coaxed him to take a look at the cooker, but as the English say, we had no joy.  Iain, the sweet but lame replacement for my beloved Bob, has gone away disconsolately to order a new cooker from Siemens who are dragging their feet about the warranty.  Grrr.

But I was supposed to start with the "good", wasn't I?  Pessimistic Scandy that I am, I forgot.  I was just feeling sorry for myself yesterday, saddled with laundry, sorting sweaters and fielding repairmen, when it was time to pick Avery up, and although she said she didn't feel very good, this news was overshadowed by the official report from the English Speaking Board, they of the dreaded exam last week, and she earned a "Merit"!  The grades begin with, obviously, "Fail," then go up to "Pass," "Good Pass," "Merit," "High Merit," and the coveted "Distinction."  Of the four categories on the exam, she scored two "Good Passes," a "Merit" and a "Distinction," the last being in the spontaneous question and answer period in which the examiner found her to be "lively, well-informed and articulate."  She is very, very proud.  Added to that, she was mentioned (in her absence) at assembly on Friday for having passed her skating test, for which she will get a cool little badge to put on her cardie.  Very impressive.  What a trouper.  We had ice cream and caulifower soup at Villandry, her favorite snack spot, and the lovely French server asked, "How did your exam go, pet?"  I felt we had passed a mile marker!  We have been remembered and treated like real people.  So Avery showed her the report, and the nice lady brought her two chocolate ladybugs.  Sweet.

Her homework last night was such a revelation, of what she's contending with in the way of cultural adjustment.  "Mummy, this does not make sense at all.  I'm meant to look at these different words and say how they each have different meanings though they sound the same.  But they don't."  There were several groups of words:

raw/roar
flaw/floor
paw/pour/poor

Of course in English English they DO sound the same!  She laughed and laughed.  "Coco has the most, most, most POSH accent and I can just hear how these words would sound the same if she said them, in that haughty way she has.  The homophones that aren't homophones to me!"

On the cultural side for me, I've discovered an excellent miniseries on DVD, because of course it stars my crush actor Matthew Macfadyen, but it's well worth seeing for the rest of the stellar cast as well.  It's called "Perfect Strangers," but not to be confused with that awful 1980s sitcom with Bronson Pinchot.  It's the tale of a family reunion where most of the family members have not ever met, and one particular family who's been ostracized, we know not why for a long time.  We see the secrets unfold through the experiences of the main character, Daniel, and it's very complex, rewarding and unexpected.  I haven't seen the end yet because of my hostess duties regarding repairmen and porters, but I shall at lunchtime I think.  Then, I've discovered a very important writer whose name I've always heard but never got around to reading: Nancy Mitford.  I suppose she probably got a rediscovery boost from the film version of "Love in a Cold Climate," which now I want to see.  But I started out with "The Pursuit of Love," and it's laugh-out-loud funny.  Go get it from the library, do.

Then yesterday as I was running to Boots, the chemist, to get a spray bottle for Dorrie to sprinkle John's shirts (I came away with a teeny tiny travel-sized perfume sprayer!  I don't think she thought it as funny as I did, so I'll have to track down a real one this week), I realized all the crowds were looking in the same direction and people were whipping out cell-phone cameras.  I turned in that direction and there, coming down Oxford Street and turning into Portman Street, were perhaps 60 or 80 horses with soldiers in full uniform!  Glorious!  At the risk of looking like a tourist I turned to an obviously native Londoner next to me and said, "OK, I'll bite.  What's going on?"  "Oh, every once in awhile the Queen just sends out her horses, to show that she has them.  It's a sort of defence thing, in the old days, for foreign visitors."  I love this place.

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