Today, Whizz, Mavis, Horace, Kerching and I will set off for Shitstable – so named because of its unenviable connection with raw sewage. We head for a rented house where we will entertain the Shitstable and OtherTV and Bogthin (work that one out!) branches of the family – by that I mean my sister, brother, mother and other halves where appropriate. Ten of us (I hope I’m right about that) will sit down to an Italian meal mainly precooked and frozen by me with antipasto, salad and olive bread prepared by Horace and booze financed by Mum.
Having catered for sixty to eighty friends and relatives, close and distant, for Whizz’s 60th birthday party in June, this is a small affair. But its planning has preoccupied me for some weeks. Whizz’s contribution to the event is logistical. It entails sending people directions, checking the traffic on the route, filling up the car and worrying where everything will fit. Regarding this latter responsibility, I have learned to expect many remarks to the effect that it’s going to be a squeeze (especially if we take the hamster). Meanwhile, I am of the temperament that believes that where there’s a will, there’s a way – it’ll fit because it must.
I’ll pause here to explain about the hamster, which is not part of our antipasto. We bought it, with appropriate accommodation and play equipment, for Mavis’s birthday. Its care falls to Mavis and the two fellow students sharing a house with her in Nottingham. When I willingly purchased this little, binary creature named Toast, did I think about the holidays? Of course not. Because of this lack of forethought, I must now drive to Nottingham to chauffeur it home. Mavis has to get the train – only kidding.
Back to logistics. There are a couple of events in the past when all the careful measuring in the world proved that my more optimistic, instinctive method can be as effective (or not) as Whizz’s more cautious approach. The first story concerns our caravan. When we bought it, the plan was to park it in the back garden of our house, on a concrete slab next to the garage. This area is accessed via a narrow approach at the end of our home, bracketed on one side by the pebble-dashed wall of the house and on the other by a variety of fences, metal and wooden that concatenate to form the boundary between our property and that of our neighbours. Between our front and back gardens is a tall gate supported by wooden posts.
As expected, Whizz was out there measuring the available width – not only once but many times. ‘It’ll be a squeeze,’ he announced with his usual worried look. He must have been out there half a dozen times but eventually seemed satisfied that the caravan would just fit.
Have you ever towed a caravan? If you haven’t you won’t know that the first time you do it is scary. Driving forwards is all very well although the extra width takes some getting used to, but reversing is another thing altogether. Before owning this caravan, we had a folding camper and took a wrong turn once. The resultant backing and filling, the trailer poking left and right but never in the direction desired, meant that we ended up unhitching it and pushing it where we wanted it to go. This experience left Whizz traumatised, so the caravan we subsequently bought possessed a mover. A mover is a motor attached to the underside of the van that connects with the wheel or the axle or something. A remoted device allows one to drive the caravan in any direction needed. One stressful experience side stepped.
We pulled up outside the house, unhitched the caravan and engaged the mover. We watched it eerily rotate through ninety degrees and climb, tortoise-like, up the dropped curb. It rolled towards the very narrow gap and stopped. So far, so good. Whizz went ahead and unlatched the gate then inched the van towards himself and the gate
When the caravan reached the half-way point, the gate posts in fact, it became apparent that all that measuring had failed to take into account the camber of the ground. The paviers sloped slightly, away from the house. Only slightly, but enough to bring the top of the van into contact with the gate post and the roof of next door’s shed. The shed had been built right against the fence making it bulge into our property. We would never have noticed this in other circumstances.
At this point, while Whizz was in the back garden, inching the van towards him with the mover, I was in the front, squinting down the gap between the shed and the van for instructions such as ‘Turn it a bit to the right.’ Our neighbour was now on the roof of his shed, trying to protect it and the caravan from damage (he failed, and we ripped off a reflector – from the van not the shed). Behind me, traffic swept back and forth so that Whizz’s slightly hysterical instructions were lost in the noise.
‘I can’t hear you,’ I screamed.
The neighbour interpreted more politely, and Whizz and I fell to messaging one another on our phones.
It probably took us two hours to get that caravan into its space, and all we could think of when it was done was how we would get it out again.
We did get it out for our first weekend away, which involved, as predicted, a repetition of the above palaver. After that, it never went back. Another very kind neighbour was good enough to offer us a space on his property, and that is the end of that incident.
The other measuring fiasco involved a work top. As I have said, Whizz is a very careful man. He fitted our new kitchen and measured and routed the worktops with great skill and accuracy. When it came to fitting the utility room, one length of worktop remained. It was to sit above the free-standing washing machine and tumble drier. Installing it was a simple matter of screwing battens to the walls and measuring and cutting the worktop to length. Using the adage measure twice, cut once he made at least two measurements then, being a belt and braces bloke, also called on me to read off the measurement. I did, giving him the number he expected. Off he went to the garage to cut the worktop and we both carried it into the house. I rested my end on a batten and he let go of his end with a contented grunt. The worktop crashed to the floor, several inches too short. The look of astonishment on his face mirrored my own. In disbelief, he remeasured the worktop. He had cut it to the length he had intended. It transpired that the tape measure was marked in a misleading way that had us both misreading it.
One final story, an occasion when measuring entered the heads of neither of us: It was after a trip to Costco around the time when we had begun to let out rooms on AirBnB. We had two double rooms and a family room. This latter was let out only occasionally because it was a repository for bedding, towels, camera equipment, my desk and computer and a large filing cabinet, as well as about 2000 books. It did provide a bed for our regular visitor, The Engineer for a number of years. Sleeping, at the time of this tale, was on a sofa bed, which it turned out had been bounced on by some horrible Christmas visitors so that the first time two adults tried it out their revue was less than beneficial.
We had talked vaguely about having a bed that folded into the wall, but had done nothing about this and then, while in Costco, we spotted two wonderful folding beds that converted to foot stools. They had metal frames and a memory foam matteress each and could be strapped together to make a double/king-sized bed. On a whim, we loaded two huge boxes into our trolly and paid.
It was when we approached the car that we realised our mistake. Instead of coming in Whizz’s 4X4, we had used my Suzuki Ignis. The damned boxes would never fit, or not if I wanted to go home too.
But with my can-do atitude and Whizz’s problem-solving skills, we unpacked the two beds from their boxes, littering the surrounding area with cardboard, polystyrene and bubble wrap. Causing much inconvenience to passing motorists and only slight damage to one mattress, we manhandled the two beds into the car. Costco had the inconvenience of rubbish disposal and we bounced home with a sense of relief and achievement.
Conclusion: Plan. Don’t plan. It doesn’t matter. Something will trip you up but you will overcome.