From the archives – First published on unmadeup.com
The freezer bit of our seven-year-old fridge-freezer packed in a few months ago; it had been stuttering along since the guarantee ran out, often needing a good kick or a shove to encourage it to actually freeze anything more than a tray of ice. Being skint we haven’t been able to replace it until now, and that’s only due to the grace of a new flexible friend; and what with the sun coming out last Tuesday we thought it would be nice to have some ice for the summer – so it was essential really.
Coincidentally my mother-in-law’s fridge packed in a couple of weeks ago. It was 39 years old; she’d boasted about it when she found out about the demise of our under-maintained modern rubbish. Since she doesn’t drive and since she’s getting on a bit, it would have been churlish of me to refuse the opportunity of a joint excursion to a nearby retail park.
We identified the fridges we wanted – a Bosch combo for us and a Hotpoint larder fridge for the mother-in-law., then went home to order them on the internet – a combined saving of £115 – not bad for ten minutes on a price comparison website.
We promised we would go round the mother-in-law’s last Thursday to give the decrepit old thing the heave-ho, making room for the sparkling new arrival due on Friday.
Before we went I phoned a friend to apologise for not attending his recent enthronement as chair of the local council: “Something came up,” I lied. (Truth was I couldn’t face the pomposity of the toadying speeches.)
He didn’t sound too good on the phone – it was his birthday and that morning he’d perched his 21-stone bulk on his wobbly hip and hauled it over to answer the door to the postman. It was a registered letter from his ex-wife demanding money with legal menaces. He’d hardly sat down again to resume contemplating his shit life, accompanied as usual by the lift-music inanity of breakfast telly, when the door rattled again (of course the bell doesn’t work – duh!). The police had come to arrest his younger son for burglary.
This wasn’t going to be the perfunctory apology I’d imagined. “Hang on,” I said, “I’m just off out. How’s about I treat you to lunch tomorrow, for your birthday? We’ll chat then.”
“OK,” he said, “but you’ll have to pick me up; I wrote my car off the other day.”
What the fuck?
“I had a coughing fit coming down the hill ” (his chest is fucked) “- I passed out and hit a wall. I’m all right. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”
After moving the mother-in-law’s fridge we sat down and politely refused the proffered glass of sherry – “We can’t stay long. Vital Signs is on the telly at nine.” Living in a small community our conversations usually involve an over-dramatised round up of local gossip: hatches, matches, despatches (usually despatches), and of course the latest scandals – that sort of thing.
She has a way of probing, sticking her long sharp tongue deep into the blooms of local life, delighting in the nectar of schadenfreude thus extracted; one of her last remaining pleasures I suspect. The travails of my friend’s life were duly dug out. “I saw him the other day,” the mother-in-law said, “he looked awful, terrible; could hardly walk, and that scruffy beard… ”
Her head shook in disapproval to the beat of the tuts on her pinched lips. (It’s a habit of hers; that’s why she needs a pensioner’s perm now and again – to stop her hair falling off with the shaking.) As she went on to pump a hail of critical silver bullets into the torso of the poor bastard’s character, I fumed at her intolerance and lack of empathy, but she’s old and must be humoured, so I just got up from the armchair, mumbling excuses, and left.
Friday: my friend and I had an early lunch in a quiet pub on the edge of town; we sat outside in the sun and ate and talked: salad, chips, garlic bread and a pint of orange squash (he’s on a diet). He filled me in on the details of his chaotic life and we talked about religion and Marxist politics, and about how there was nothing for young people to do. No wonder they got into trouble. He told me that his son, who was already on bail for drug dealing or something, was arrested for breaking into a neighbour’s shed and nicking a bunch of fishing tackle to give to his dad for his birthday.
“Has he heard the expression: ‘Don’t shit on your own doorstep?” I asked.
“Yeah, I can’t cope with him any more. he’s drinking too much. I can’t get through to him, especially when he’s on Valium; he’s a bit better when it’s just the weed, but it’s too expensive.”
When I dropped him off after lunch, his mood had improved. “I enjoyed that,” he said. “We’ll have to do it again; my shout next time.”. I nodded; glad to see a muffled smile developing. Before he got out of the car, he asked me: “Do you know anything about growing cannabis?”
My mother-in-law’s fridge was delivered around the same time we were in the pub. She made sure the deliverymen unpacked it properly and took away the rubbish. After they left she switched it on – it was faulty; she’s still waiting for a replacement.