Friday, 17 September 2010


When I was a kid, my parents had  just one wardrobe. I don't suppose it was particularly large, as wardrobes go, but to me it seemed enormous.
It was a great, looming wooden thing and although it wasn't terribly wide, the single door at the front made it appear somewhat taller than it was.

The wardrobe was covered in a pale, wood veneer and there were some carved bits of decoration framing the door. But the most intriguing thing about this piece of furniture was the curious pattern adorning the slightly curved face of the door. Worked into the veneer was a pale abstract pattern similar to an oak leaf. It was just the sort of pattern that could start to look like anything if you stared at it for long enough; a bird, a face, a monster...

As I grew up, I never really gave a lot of thought to the work that had gone into that pattern, although at some point I must have realized that it hadn't been an original feature and that it must have been something that my Dad had done. The glorious smoothness of the finish was typical of the care that he lavished on any of the wood-work that he produced.
Certainly your eye could be snared by the strangely ragged outline of this pale feature, but your fingertips would never detect any irregularity in the silky surface texture.
So it was clearly his handiwork, but the mystery remained as to why he'd created such an odd pattern.

The truth was that my Dad didn't actually choose the shape that was incised into what should have been an unblemished panel.

In 1940, my parents hadn't been married for very long and they were living in the East End of London. When The Blitz began in September of that year, they were just another couple of Londoners trying to survive the remorseless, nightly bombardments.
When the air-raid sirens sounded they retreated in the darkness to an Anderson Shelter and hoped for the best, as the bombs fell and the fires burned.
They were lucky. The house that they were living in wasn't destroyed, but during one particular night, the blast from a nearby explosion sent a shock wave through the house that toppled that mighty wardrobe onto the rail at the foot of their bed, gouging a huge hole in the pristine surface of its door.

As wartime newlyweds, my parents didn't have lot. That wardrobe was one of the few items of furniture that they owned and there was certainly no way that they could afford to replace it.

So my Dad repaired it.
He patched the hole with wood filler, sanded it smooth and revarnished the door until the whole thing was better than new.

As it's the Seventieth Anniversary of the start of The Blitz, there's quite a lot of stuff in the media commemorating the events that took place and how they shaped our world.
There are countless stories of heroism or folly, of dreadful loss or extraordinary good fortune, and yet to me, the image of my Dad repairing that wardrobe represents the quiet determination of so many of the people who lived through the Second World War.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

It's curtains...

Bearing in mind that I've just returned to work after a couple of weeks holiday, you could be forgiven for expecting me to be relaxed and full of mellow good will. Unfortunately, instead of an uplifting and whimsical post about all the lovely things "wot we did on our holidays", I'm going to subject you to a brief rant about dry cleaning.

 [Oh dear... Where's everybody gone?]

We don't normally have much need for the services of dry cleaners, but after a lot of muttering and deliberating about whether to ignore the fabric care label on the living room curtains, Blight-of-my-life decided it would be more sensible to get them dry cleaned than risk bunging them in the washing machine.
After a few 'phone calls, it became clear that there is a surprisingly wide variation in the cost of getting curtains cleaned. To make things slightly more complicated, some shops quote for cleaning by weight of material, while others quote based on the size of the curtains per square metre.

After a only a brief struggle, the curtains were down, weighed and measured. A few calculations on the back of an envelope and it became obvious that the best deal could be had at one particular shop as long as the cleaning was priced by the square metre.

The curtains were duly bundled into the car, then while I suffered the mind numbing tedium of washing all the curtain hooks, runners and rails, Blight sped off to the dry cleaner's.

When she returned, she was not happy.
"Well, that was a complete waste of time."
"Why? What went wrong?"
"I've had to bring 'em back. They're still in the car"
"But why? Why wouldn't they clean them?"
"They couldn't take them because their computer's not working."
"What? I didn't realize that the cleaning was computer controlled..."
"It's nothing to do with the cleaning. It's the computer they use to calculate the cost of cleaning that's faulty."
"Couldn't they just work it out with a pencil and paper, like you did? Or even a calculator... It's only multiplying the area of the curtains by the cost per square metre, isn't it?"
"That's what I told them," she said, "but apparently they have to use the computer to do that. They're incapable of calculating area"
"But that's completely stupid."
"It's worse than that. They said they'd give me a price to clean them by weight. They weighed them and quoted me forty quid more than it would be by area."
"Bloody hell... No wonder you brought them back."

So there you have it.
A shop staffed by people who cannot multiply two lengths together to work out the area of a curtain.

Not all the muppets live on Sesame Street...