Friday, December 07, 2007

Playroom? Dressing Room? Tales from the Neanderthal Smugglers' Den

"But the room is too big." both my children declared - their excuse for persistently succeeding in destroying my efforts to tame their untidy bedroom. What was to be done about it? I plotted and planned, measured and sketched, then headed off to Firwood Timber, our local timber merchant.

Nowadays I think I'm probably just 'that quirky woman who thinks she can do DIY', but initially the men in the yard treated me with a kind of revered contempt. I did a small stint in a timber yard myself, as a cashier, not in the yard itself. My manager-to-be explained at interview that he would not discriminate, of course, but there was a horror story of a girl who had once worked there that had to be told. Not that I wanted to work in a cold, windy timber yard: a warm office shared with a lovely accountant will do quite nicely thank you.

So, the Firwood timber men got past the fact that I know my wood, mostly manage not to look too put out by their self-derived need to curb their language when I'm in there and will pretty much let me roam as free as their male customers. I even had a meaningful discussion with one of the chaps about different types of bricks once, but that was long after my first attempt at a big DIY job - a 'do or die' attack on the kitchen.

We had cheap, flatpack kitchen units and a leaky sink, the consequence of which was a gradual slide to the left as the screws lost their grip in the disintegrating chipboard, followed by a controlled crash as said units landed on the floor. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust and all that, the resulting pile was as flat as it had been originally.

If you have ever questioned the purposes of all those geometry lessons at school, let me tell you that rebuilding a kitchen from timber justfies the suffering. I reasoned thus: if I manage to pull this off I've got a new kitchen; if I don't I've got 130 quidsworth of fire wood. We had a coal fire at the time, so either way we wouldn't have lost out completely.

Back then I didn't own a single power tool, so the whole job, four cupboards, two drawers and a three metre work surface, was to be completed by hand. Norm Abram's a skilled craftsman, a master of carpentry, but with a workshop that is as well kitted as his I should bloody well think so too. What I'm saying is that my kitchen units are no work of art, but they're functional, hardwearing and still standing after ten years.

And so to my plan. The children were right. The bedroom was too big and they were too small. Perhaps reducing it in size was a good thing. My delivery of plasterboard and timber arrived and I fashioned a dividing wall that separated the room into a larger part, to be used as a bedroom, and a smaller area, henceforth to be known as 'The Playroom'.

The Playroom? THE PLAYROOM? Anywhere less playful I have yet to find, as it rapidly filled with stuff. Now, I would love to be more specific about the heaps and piles of tangled, messy, sticky stuff, but I wrote over a hundred thousand words last month. It's quite astounding just how much mess small people can make, and it would have been all well and good if their 'no longer too big' bedroom had stayed tidy. Admittedly this would only have been a relocation of untidiness, yet there we were, with two rooms filled with clothes, toys, snaffled bedding, a tent, books, pens, broken Christmas presents and so forth.

Annual clearout time. All unwanted toys and gifts in this bag. All the rubbish in that bag, and that bag, oh, and that bag too. Four trips to the recycling centre in a large MPV and those famous last words:

"Keep it tidy this time!"

"Thank you Mummy. We will."


My children have grown a lot since then and so has the mess they make. It's changed a bit along the way, I must admit, for now the stuff is not stuck together with glittery glue and paint. It's stuck together with lip gloss and nail varnish and all other manner of cosmetics that are not so easily removed as 'safe for children' products.

As they have changed, so have their rooming requirements. Now that original, smallified bedroom is occupied by one daughter, and we were ousted from our office to house the other daughter, hence the discussion of bricks and the presence of my computer on the kitchen table. Oh yes, we built a new office, or at least removed our own stuff and everyone else's from our garage in order to use it as an office, but it's another room to heat. So, why do I have to keep my computer on the kitchen table children? Because you created so much mess that you needed to relocate some of it to a third room.

About three years ago we 'Ikea-ed' their bedrooms. Good, solid Scandinavian tat at very reasonable prices, although you have to take the journey of Proserpina to get it. The Playroom became their dressing room, but it's never lost its original title. We built two giant chests of drawers and constructed a chrome dress rail, carpeted and decorated and there it was. All new and shiny. And tidy.

Then the stuff came. Unfortunately a leaky water tank destroyed the carpet, not that it matters when the floor isn't visible.

"But there's not enough light." they said.

We fitted lights.

"My drawers are broken."

I fixed drawers.

"The rail has collapsed."

I gave up.

Until today.

You see, they've been living in the same three school shirts (I have no idea how this works between two of them over the course of a week - maybe they take turns at having one or two shirts each) and yet they own at least ten shirts between them. I decided to go on a reconaissance mission for the missing shirts. That was two hours ago and so far we're up to five shirts in total, including the ones they're wearing.

I'm about to start the second bag of rubbish. There are two shelves full of shoes, even though their footwear diet is only marginally more varied than their school shirt usage. I've yet to embark on the chests of doom, sorry, drawers, and there's some very interesting clothes piling going on in the wall cupboard.

On the plus side I've found my long lost nail file, a couple of dozen coat hangers, three pillows, a cereal bowl and spoon, two flasks, lots and lots of pens and the floor.

I should really commend them though, for over the past year or so they are finally learning to control their mess. The Playroom is the last bastion of stuff and their bedrooms are, well, OK-ish I suppose. And they do appreciate it, especially as it's nearly Christmas, which means...

...they'll be needing the space for all their new stuff.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Oh No! Not Twittering. Anything but Twittering.

When I started this blog, I was adamant that it would not be a 'blog': hence the title 'de-blog' - a play on words that allowed me to connect my name to this log of my life whilst at the same time condemning the shortening of the term web log / weblog.

With this in mind it may be surprising to read that last night I received a ticking off for my use of 'ur' as instant message shorthand of 'your' in a writers' chat-room, and rightly so. Sometimes these things occur out of force of habit and it's one I wish I hadn't acquired. Modern methods of communication are obliterating our language and it seems that I, like everyone else, have succumbed to the necessity to 'get with it'.

This is not to say that I despise new technology; far from it, I appreciate the simplicity and immediacy of email, something I have had far more success in using than I ever did with traditional postal mail. It is a long time since I had penpals, who undoubtedly went on to find other English speaking people who could be bothered to write back. To those individuals I apologise wholeheartedly: it was nothing you said or did.

Instant Messaging has proved to be an incredibly useful tool also, for I am not so adept with the spoken word, as any of those who know me will testify. However, the key is in the name: instant messaging. I am as guilty as the next person of being so impatient that typing a whole sentence just doesn't seem instant enough. In context, it appears appropriate to shorten long and winding statements or questions to the shortest form possible, providing that doing so doesn't lose the meaning.

I can also appreciate the need for protocol and the shortening of many phrases has resulted directly from this. We no longer refer to web logs or electronic mail and I don't think we ever used the term 'inter-net'. We log on to MySpace, Facebook and liveJournal without a thought to the connecting of words in such a manner. It is customary to capitalise each word when writing it outside the browser address bar, but the names refer to domains where spaces are not allowed and hyphens are abandoned in the quest for the simple and easy to remember. With the billions of sites out there, the last thing any company needs is a domain name that could be mis-typed and direct the user to entirely the wrong place.

I didn't want a 'blogspot'; I certainly had no intention of creating a 'liveJournal'; I was signed up to 'MySpace' by my students and joined 'Facebook' under the duress of friends who were already there, in spite of the fact that it sounds like the kind of action one contemplates when finally comprehending a difficult to read text (a la 'headdesk': the act of banging head on desk in despair).

But today I hit the bottom of the well, mentally and electronically. I'd been awake with toothache until 3am, then slept for four hours after taking anti-inflammatories. Two cups of coffee and a shower later I still felt dreadful, so I stayed in bed, ate toast topped with leftover beans and watched a couple of pretty lousy Christmas movies on TV. When I eventually managed to drag myself downstairs at 1pm, I read Jeff Atwood's Coding Horror Blog, which is something I enjoy and it's on my iGoogle page, but today it was merely a means of passing the time before taking my daughter to the dentist.

At some point, considering the title of this post, I have to get around to writing about ''. The word itself is ugly and irritating: birds twitter when they wake us at dawn and we're not happy about it. Children twitter all the way through the TV programme we wanted to watch. However the verb is applied it carries negative connotations and I have yet to fathom why any website would wish to condone such a practice, let alone use the term for its domain name.

Last week some of my fellow novelists were "twittering about their progress" and I couldn't help but wonder why they were proud to boast this. Still, I took solace in the fact that the more discerning members of the electronic community tend to avoid twittering, and then Jeff Atwood's post referred to a friend's "recent twitter update". I concluded that if it was good enough for Jeff - well who was I to cast aspersions?

So I went to, where the buttons are labelled thus: 'What?'; 'Why?'; 'How?'.

What? I know 'what' twitter is and do my very best to avoid it in all its forms.
Why? because it's like the aftermath of a piece of grit under the eyelid.
How? I don't care how.

I returned to the Twitter homepage, where I noticed one final question:

What are you doing?

I don't think they meant it quite the way I read it.