In those rather-too-far-off days when I was studying business management, I spent a lot of time on Critical Path Analysis. This is (if I remember rightly) a project management technique that involves mapping out every
task necessary to complete a particular project, with particular attention needed for the dependencies of any one task on others. My favourite example (as in, to be strictly honest, the only one I actually remember) is that it is no use boiling the kettle
until you have filled it with water. You know it makes sense. Except that I almost always have some water left in the kettle from the last time I made us both a cup of coffee - but that, in business management terms, is Beside The Point.
Be that as it may, when I cantered off the corporate carousel just over nine years ago (can it really, truly be that long?) I rather thought that the theories of Critical Path Analysis
would be of little use to me in retirement. Instead I have adopted the mantra “One thought at a time, one task at a time, one day at a time.” Many is the occasion that reciting this useful advice has sent me back to sleep when I have lain awake
with a hundred thoughts about a dozen tasks, any one of which would take days to complete, circulating inside my weary head. And so it has (mostly) proved until my Waterfall Experience of recent days.
Even while the water was cascading through my ceiling, the Youngest of the Darling Daughters and her fella, Dunk’em Dave, were urging me to contact my insurance company immediately. Being (for the most part) the obedient
type, I did as I was told. Which was how it came about that I had a surveyor on my door-step last Thursday, here to assess the damage wrought by my Watery Emergency.
I had been treated to several scare stories about insurance assessors and the hoops through which they demanded their victims / clients to jump so it was with a certain trepidation that I invited the surveyor into my home. I shouldn’t have worried
- he was kindness personified. Perhaps he was blown over my interest in his tools of the trade - in particular his damp meter. I always think professionals like the uninitiated to treat such essential equipment with respect. Hence I followed the poor fella
around the house, demonstrating my endless fascination with the way the damp meter assessed the damage to my bathroom, hall, stairs and landing.
damp meter, the surveyor and I) were doing really well at first - the bathroom floor, landing carpet and laminate flooring were all registering a healthy green light indicating there was no presence of serious damp. My stalwart efforts to air the house by
opening every door and window had obviously paid off, despite my incurring the wrath of Mr B (not something to be recommended) for allowing draughts to circulate around him and causing serious discomfort of the Chilly Nature.
When it came to the walls and ceiling of the hall, however, it was a very different situation - red alert, screamed the damp meter. The friendly surveyor gave his verdict - a complete redecoration
of hall, stairs and landing would be required. He proceeded to reel off a list of forms to be completed, decisions to be taken, actions to be, well, actioned. I felt quite dizzy at the enormity of the task ahead. So much for “One thought at a time, one
task at a time, one day at a time”…
The Eldest of the Darling Daughters messaged me, urging me to “Be positive!” It was the addition of
the exclamation mark that brought me to my senses - here was my chance to have a complete makeover of our hall, stairs and landing. Surely I could apply my knowledge of project management to the task at hand. I didn’t need Laurence Llewelyn Bowen to
advise me, now did I?
I put the kettle on. First things first. You know it makes sense…
There are two other Women of a Certain Age waiting at the bus stop when I arrive. I just missed one bus so I have walked on to the next stop, as a way of making best use of time (and adding to the steps registered on my
Bossy Boots Fitbit.) I am getting extremely good at time management, though I say so myself as shouldn’t (as my dear mum would doubtless gently chide me.) I will explain as I go on and you can be the judge of this bold claim.
I ask my bus stop companions if they think we will be allowed to use our bus passes, it being three minutes short of 9.30 a.m.p. One says she isn’t sure but the other declares that she isn’t
even going to ask the question of the bus driver, she will simply present her card in the expectation that she won’t be challenged. I decide to let her board the bus before I do…
The bus driver is a friendly fella; we exchange greetings, ask after each other’s well-being and I tell him I am off to the dentist’s. “Good luck with that!” he says. I take my seat with a certain feeling of
satisfaction that I have already had meaningful conversations with three complete strangers.
A few seats behind me a couple are talking about the library
and the fact that it is now open after refurbishment. They are wondering what changes have been made over the preceding months. I rehearse in my head what I would tell them, based on my extensive experience over the past seven weeks volunteering on the Summer
Reading Challenge, were it not for the fact that then I would have to admit to eavesdropping. The bus driver wishes me well as I alight at the town centre bus stop.
a fruit and vegetable stall at the entrance to the arcade, the stall holder is engaged in a ferocious argument with a young woman who has been checking the ripeness of his avocados. Could she please desist, he says (though a little less politely) from feeling
the avocados. Every time she presses them, she is bruising them - which means the next customer will buy bruised fruit without ever knowing about it. The customer looks at him, expressionless, and goes on feeling the fruit. The stall holder grows ever more
apoplectic in his protestations. Because I am watching my time, I have to reluctantly move on without knowing what happens next. Will the customer buy an avocado or three? Or not? Will the stall holder re-arrange all the avocados so that nobody could possibly
tell which ones have been felt / prodded / bruised? Is an avocado a fruit or a vegetable?
My appointment is at 10 a.m. which leaves me twenty minutes to
fill with productive activity. I take my carrier bag full of blister packs into Superdrug where, to their credit, they have a receptacle collecting these in aid of Marie Curie. I start counting the blister packs as I post them into the box. A friendly shop
assistant approaches me to suggest wouldn’t it be easier simply to take the top of the box and tip all the blister packs in? I have to admit, a little shame-facedly, that I quite like counting how many I have collected as this gives me a warm glow of
accomplishment. On the way out I tell him my tally: 86 bister packs. He gives me a thumbs up and goes back to stacking the shelves. I just have time to whisk into Marks and Spencers to pick up some breaded fish and sugar snap peas before presenting myself
at the door of the dentist’s surgery, to have my temperature taken and my hands sanitised by a new receptionist who knows my name, even before I tell her.
In the dentist’s waiting room we have to sit on chairs with our dentist’s name on the back. I am Julie. I strike up a conversation with a woman sitting on the chair labelled Paul though it is short and sweet as I don’t have to wait
very long to be called into the surgery. I don’t have a great deal of conversation with the dentist either because most of the time I have my mouth wide open, trying to move my tongue from side to side, up and down as requested which means I have to
communicate in sign language.
My teeth having received a clean bill of health, I find time to call in at the library to return the book I borrowed and at The Fabric
Shop (my favourite shop, Mr B’s least favourite shop) to buy wool for my latest knitting project. To my delight, the shop is already well-stocked with Christmassy material and ribbons, crafty kits and All Things Seasonal. I discuss with the sales assistant
the fact that this is the one kind of shop that needs to stock early for Christmas.
The electronic sign at the bus stop suggests that my bus will arrive
in three minutes. Five minutes later, it changes to indicate arrival in eight minutes. I explain this waywardness to a Cypriot woman who joins me at the bus stop. She laughs and says she expects the driver has stopped off quickly to buy himself some lunch.
We wonder together whether he has treated himself to a sandwich or a sausage roll…
I should have been a trifle miffed that the tardy arrival of the bus
has rather spoilt my otherwise excellent time management - but I can’t be cross because the driver happens to be the self same fella who drove me into town. “How did you get on?” he asked me - and I am ridiculously gratified that he recognises
me out of all the hundreds of passengers he must welcome aboard. Was it something I said? I wonder.
Brief encounters with total strangers. They make my day…
Mr B says that it is high time I sorted out my priorities.
I can’t help thinking that this is a trifle rich, coming
from one who knows very well that he is always top of my list of priorities. But, assuming positive intent, I realise that he isn’t referring to the major, but the minor - and, in his view, still vitally important - priorities.
Our current debate about our differing priorities concerns the Sunday newspaper which once again hasn’t been delivered. Mr B feels strongly that I should immediately scoot off to the newsagents
to collect it and deliver strong words to the staff there about the failure to deliver. I explain that I will certainly do this (probably omitting the strong words because I’m not one for confrontation unless it’s, well, a priority) once I have
finished my cup of coffee.
Mr B says that if I don’t head off now, as in immediately, I may turn up to find the newsagents shop has closed for the day. Bearing
in mind that they are clearly experiencing a shortage of paper boys and girls, it stands to reason that they may be falling short in other departments. I stick to my guns - if I leave now my coffee will be cold by the time I return and its recuperative powers
will be sorely diminished…
Mr B’s obsession with the daily newspaper is nothing new. On those far-off days when we were able to go on foreign holidays,
he would always be first in the hotel shop of a morning. While I would be counting up how many postcards I needed to send to friends and family back home or bewailing the fact that the sun cream on sale is so very much more expensive that the tubes I mistakenly
forgot to pack - he will be paying out an exorbitant amount of our holiday cash for a two day old English newspaper.
You might be thinking this is only to be expected
of a Newspaper Family such as ours - Mr B’s father worked in a paper mill, Mr B was a compositor making up many thousands of pages of newspapers in his time, I was a journalist for many years. But, no, Mr B’s holiday newspapers are a priority for
one simple reason - he can’t bear the thought that someone famous might die without him knowing about it. His worst fear is that, come New Year’s Eve when the TV companies broadcast a montage of all the sportsmen and women, the actors, the film
stars, the minor celebrities, the pop stars, the politicians of all parties who have “passed on” there will be some he didn’t know about it because they dared to die while we were away sunning ourselves on a faraway beach. It does, I suppose,
make a kind of sense.
More sense, Mr B would be quick to point out, than the time when my own holiday priorities were severely tested. We were on a canoe safari.
I know, I know, this doesn’t sound at all like me but we were accompanied on holiday by Our Boy, then aged sixteen, who had just completed his exams and needed a holiday that was a little more adventurous than the kind his parents favoured. The thought
of sharing a canoe with one of us didn’t appeal, for some reason, so he teamed up with another lad leaving his father and I to clamber aboard a craft of our own.
I knew it wasn’t going to be a picnic when our tour guide advised those of us wearing specs to tie them on securely. My sense of foreboding grew as we approached the first of the rapids where a crowd of locals had gathered to enjoy the spectacle
of whatever disaster would surely befall us.
We only fell in twice, once at the top of a rapid, the second time at the bottom of the same. As I struggled
in the water second time around, I noticed that Mr B’s money belt had come unfastened and was floating off down the river. At the same time, out of the corner of my eye, I could see his Spurs hat floating off in a slightly different direction. I leave
it to you, dear reader, to guess which one I tried to save first….
I finish my coffee, walk down to the newsagent, collect our newspaper and walk back through
the steady rain which has just started to fall. I arrive back, soaked through. Mr B points out, albeit kindly as he takes note of my bedraggled state, that had I gone when he suggested, instead of finishing my coffee, I would have been home and dry before
the rain started.
He still hasn’t actually read the newspaper. Spurs are on the TV playing Chelsea and he is glued to the screen. A chap has to get his priorities
right, don’t you know?
“Have you been there?” asks the friendly fella behind the counter at the Oxfam charity shop. I have to admit that I haven’t, but that it looks exactly the kind of place I would like to visit if I ever
find myself travelling again. Has he been there? I ask - it seems appropriate to extend the dialogue. Now we have started (as the many hosts of Mastermind have asserted over the years) we will finish.
My new best friend tells me he has never been there either. We gaze, as one, at the picture of Menton in France which is featured on the front of the jigsaw puzzle which I am about to buy for the princely sum of £3.50.
“I’m not trying to stop you buying it,” he says, obviously worrying that I am re-evaluating the worth of a puzzle depicting a place that neither of us has ever (i) visited and (ii - even worse) heard of. I hand over my money by way of confirmation
that my mind is made up.
There is something of an adventure in buying a second hand jigsaw puzzle from a charity shop. You never really know, do you, that all
500 / 1000 (delete according to your stickability) pieces will be in the box. Not until you reach the last half a dozen pieces will you be assured of completion. But then you know me, I like to live dangerously. Though only where jigsaw puzzles are concerned.
I had decided that I needed a Return to Puzzling. I needed something to occupy myself, to take my mind off the fact that, since my Waterfall Experience on Monday, the smell
of damp carpet permeates my home, despite all the windows and doors being open to allow the breeze to, well, breeze through. I needed to concentrate on something other than the phone being out of order, the stair lift refusing to move upwards (or presumably
downwards) and the constant need to inspect the laminate flooring in case it is starting to lift.
The helpful engineer from Outreach had replaced the box
on the windowsill, the original box being completely waterlogged. (I am not sure if “box” is the right term but all the leads plug into it. I’m sure someone will know better?) Unfortunately, despite all his engineering, the telephone still
wouldn’t work, hence my need to buy a new handset (or two.) Bless him, he left me his mobile number to call when my new phone arrived from the Amazon Jungle so that he could call in and connect it up for me. He had obviously summed me up as One Needing
a Helping Hand. His kindness was repaid many times over when, a few minutes after his departure, I noticed that he had left a serious piece of kit behind. Fortunately, as he had given me his mobile number, I was able to summon him back - when it turned out
that the piece of kit he had left behind was worth a couple of grand. This is proof, if proof were needed, that a generous heart will reap its just rewards.
Menton is known as the “Pearl of the Riviera” and is one of France’s best kept secrets. While the wealthy flock to the glamour and the glitz of Monte Carlo and Cannes, the discerning (and, presumably, certain jigsaw puzzlers) have found their
way to this “city with a village feel” which boasts the sunshine record for France along with botanical gardens, a world famous restaurant and a museum dedicated to artist, writer, film-maker, designer and poet Jean Cocteau. Not to be confused
(as I very nearly did) with Jacques Cousteau, the underwater explorer.
Honestly, I haven’t even pieced together all the edges of the jigsaw and I am already
in love with Menton. I may never actually walk its narrow streets and alleyways but by the time I have inserted the very last jigsaw piece (always assuming there are no missing pieces) I will feel as if I know every nook and cranny of this beautiful place.
And the imagjned scent of lemons will have completely obliterated the smell of damp carpets…
I was dreaming of a long-ago holiday in beautiful Canada, staying with Mr B’s cousins, Bob and Jacky. Bob drove us all over Ontario while Jacky and I, sharing the back seat of their station wagon, consulted the map
at regular intervals so that I could track where we were going and played endless games of cribbage to while away the long journeys.
An especially memorable moment
was standing at the very edge of Niagara Falls, watching the waters cascading ferociously into the steaming depths below. In my dream, I kid you not, I could hear the rushing water…
Except that when I woke up, I could still hear it, from Somewhere Downstairs. Tottering, still half asleep, to the top of the stairs I could see my very own waterfall, torrenting down from the ceiling and into the flooded hall below.
It wasn’t nearly as picturesque as the Niagara Falls and far more worrying.
A quick inspection of the bathroom followed, which involved tiptoeing across
the sopping wet landing and into - a paddling pool. Except that paddling pools are supposed to be fun, don’t you know? Meanwhile Mr B was calling me from downstairs demanding to know (i) what was going on and (ii) what I was doing about it. The answer
to both questions being - I don’t know! Or words to that effect.
I had sufficient wits about me to realise that I needed to turn the water off. Unfortunately
my wits didn’t extend to knowing exactly how to do that. A panicky call to our poor put-upon neighbour helped me to identify the right tap and which way to turn it - obeying the useful mantra “Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty” - but my weak wrists
(as opposed to my equally weak wits) couldn’t shift the tap in either direction. Meanwhile my own personal waterfall kept right on cascading. I emptied the airing cupboard of towels, thanking my lucky stars that I have more beach towels than anybody
else I know.
I telephoned my friendly local plumber who said he would be along just as soon as he had removed someone’s gas fire. I telephoned the
Youngest of the Darling Daughters and her fella - not because they could actually help in a practical sense but because I just needed somebody to talk to. They advised a call to the insurance company which, if nothing else, helped take my mind off the
waterfall while I answered countless questions about the age of our house, whether I had artex ceilings and, if so, how long our ceiling had been so decorated. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are really good reasons why these particular questions
need to be asked but at the moment I can’t imagine what they might be.
At this point two messages pinged into my mobile phone in quick succession.
The first, from my brother-in-law wished me good morning and exhorted me to “have a fun day.” The second, from my GP surgery, urged me to get my blood pressure checked. My sense of humour kicked in for the first time that morning. My giggles were,
to be fair, liberally laced with hysteria…
You will be pleased to know that my friendly plumber has put my Troublesome Toilet (identified as the source
of my problems) out of action. I have mopped up four buckets full of water from the paddling pool aka the bathroom floor and another couple from the hall. I have consigned ten soaking wet beach towels firstly to the washing machine, then to the tumble drier.
Water finally stopped dripping through the cracks in the ceiling at around 1 p.m. My home telephone appears to have stopped working, possibly as a result of being water logged but, like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, I have decided to worry about
that tomorrow, being as tomorrow (as everyone knows) is another day.
Mr B said, if I was through worrying about the waterfall, how about me cooking a Hairy
Bikers Spanish Traybake for our dinner?
It was SO reassuring to be faced with a question I could actually answer…
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