Monday, August 31, 2009

The Mouse #2

I heard the mouse scampering around in the eaves and decided to take action. Now before I go any further I should confess that I have an unreasonable, irrational, ridiculous and somewhat obsessive fear of attics. In fact, I have lots of unreasonable, irrational, ridiculous and somewhat obsessive fears: dogs, heights, small spaces, flying, fruit, belts, the dark, writing in public, falling off the planet, feet, my belly button being touched,spiders, bones in my food, wasting my life, and most recently, plugholes.

Some of those are understandable- heights, flying, small spaces, even dogs are all quite common fears. I was going to say spiders too but my spider fear has a twist. I hate them, I hate the way they appear suddenly without warning with their nasty pincers, bulging bodies and hairy legs, but I don't won't kill them. My particular fear is that I will pick a mug from the cupboard and find a meaty black spider in the bottom. This stems from an incident when I was a child when I found hideous aforementioned spider in the bottom of a stacking orange plastic picnic cup in our kitchen cupboard. I screamed, threw the cup in the air and the spider fell onto me whist trying to beat a hasty retreat. So I still cautiously check cups when I take them out. That was 1982. Obsessive or what?

The attic fear stems back to the eighties too- maybe 1988- when I was a dirty goth and my friends decided to watch Hellrasier one night. Therein lay the problem with my being a goth; I really wasn't cut out for it. I was quite cheery by nature, disliked graveyards, deplored lace and velvet, secretly listened to ABBA and hated horror films. I was so terrified of horror films that just describing one to me in vague detail was enough to leave me trembling in my bed at night. So there I was, peeping out from behind the sofa trying to give the impression that I was watching the film when I was actually staring at the TVs on/off button. As successful as this method sounds, you couldn't really avoid knowing what was going on and anyway, when something horrible occurred, you were naturally drawn towards whatever hideousness was going on onscreen. The gist of Hellraiser was that some guy was coming back from the dead and was reforming cell by cell by feeding on people. He lived in the attic and innocents would be sent up to their doom. It's as simple as that. Irrational I know, but the truth is that I have not been near an attic- haven't even thought about an attic since that fateful night, without the vision of this half-formed flesh eating man popping into my head. So, bearing this in mind, I'll get back to the mouse.

So, it's getting dark, my husband, M is away on his own in Seattle to check out one of his favourite bands (I'm a really really nice wife)and the kids are tucked up in bed. I know that in the dead of night I have enough to keep me awake without having to deal with the scurrying of the mouse. I know what it is that I have to do, I even stopped by the hardware store earlier in the day to buy traps. I have to go into the attic. As I have mentioned in an early post, our attic was converted into a big light room, so the actual attic space is the part above the sloping eaves, accessed by a board that I screwed securely to the wall the day we moved into the house.

I decide that I can't wait until M comes home- that I have to do this now, so I drink a glass of wine- something that I just don't do often enough these days. It tastes really good, and so I pour another, contemplating what it is that I have to do, step by step. By now, it's pitch black outside and the neighbourhood, which usually has lots going on in it is deathly silent. I finish wine #2 and start preparing. I do not know what is waiting in there for me, so I dress securely- wellington boots, jeans, a hoodie and for good measure I put on the heavy duty respirator mask we bought for painting when I was pregnant, and I now have to drink my wine with a straw. I slowly unscrew the board, and then armed with the screwdriver, I pull it away. There is no instant sign of the creature from Hellraiser nor indeed of the mouse- no droppings, gnawed electrics or fluffy nests. In fact, there is not much of anything, just dark eaves and pressing silence all around me. The floor is uneven, part planks of wood, part insulation and I realize that I need a different plan. I retreat, screw the wood back on and go downstairs where I gulp back my wine because I know that I have to go back in.

Twenty minutes later I am there again, this time with a large tray holding six traps set with delicious smoked Gouda as bait. I contemplate, just for one moment that perhaps I look like a waitress- yea, a waitress wearing wellington boots and a respirator. I go back through the same motions, back to having my heart in my mouth and the dark corners and screaming silence. I place the tray. I back out. I screw the board back in place and for good measure I push the heavy computer desk up against the wall. Mission accomplished.

A week later, after hearing no squeaks or struggles from the live traps M and I go back in, though without my home-alone-theatrics. The cheese is undisturbed, the traps are empty and there is no sign of activity. We haven't heard a peep from the mouse since and I wonder if I imagined it in the first place. Perhaps it was squirrels on the roof or a bird caught somewhere? Perhaps the mouse moved out because it didn't like Gouda.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home

I've been feeling homesick recently, but now I have that song stuck in my head and I am feeling an uncontrollable urge to talk about hats. I've owned some really good hats in the past and have an unfortunate habit of losing them. There were two in particular that I loved and lost during the party years when I lived in Toronto in my early twenties. I'd ended up there by mistake after a two week holiday from the UK went in a funny direction and I threw my ticket home into the bin at Toronto airport at six-in-the-morning and ended up staying there for four years.
Both of these hats were presents from my mum, and both were lost on spectacularly drunken nights out. I was so gutted by the time that I lost hat number-two that I actually made 'Missing' posters and stuck them up around the warehouse district where I vaguely remember attending some after-hours party. My poor friend S who'd been out with me the night before was pulled from his bed at an early hour and forced to help me retrace our steps that had apparently included several bars, a fast food joint, an art opening a wee in an alley and the after hours club.

Spurned by my throbbing head and churning stomach we traipsed through Toronto's back streets, me frantic to catch site of a glimpse of red and green (yes, the favourite hat was red and green) or even for some sodden little pile of fabric that would pop back into shape in the washing machine. But there was nothing.

I know exactly what happened to it, the problem was where. I was wearing one of my signature outfits of the time: black boots, black opaque tights, an extremely short green suede skirt (that probably made me look like an extra from a Robin Hood pantomime), a black scoop-necked top, false eyelashes, a chunky black belt and a vintage leather purse that attached to my belt ensuring that I didn't get separated from my money, keys and God forbid, my lip balm. Last, but definitely not least, I was wearing a clip. My good friend D says that I have survival skills and the clip was an early example of this, probably implemented after the loss of the first hat. The clip was to attach my hat to my belt when I inevitably took it off in some hot bar somewhere. But somewhere in my well-laid plans something went wrong and I was left in my Robin Hood pantomime costume sans hat.

After the search was exhausted and poor S had been allowed to go back to his bed and I went back home, I cried. Which is kind of funny seeing as I don't think I ever really cried when my parents divorced or when my grandparents died or when I lost touch with my best friend. I am a squirrel you see- I like stashing things away especially when they involve anything unsafe, like crying. I like to pack it all down uncomfortably inside me and then I occasionally allow a little bit to seep out over something unimportant like an ambulance rushing past late at night, or a daft TV advert or perhaps, a lost hat. I've gone off-topic here....I was talking about the clip. Deep down I knew the fate of the hat- I knew it's clock was ticking and I installed the clip to try to avert or maybe just delay that fate. But the clip, the hat or perhaps even the belt failed me while I danced the night away somewhere and come to think of it, I have had a slight aversion to belts ever since. Sort of like my fear of fruit- I avoid them unless absolutely necessary.

This was meant to be a piece about homesickness but it appears that I know far more about hats and belts and clips and drunken nights out than I do about where exactly my home is. The one thing that I can see clearly is this: If wherever you lay your hat is your home and you are a serial loser of hats- you've got a problem.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Total and utter waste of ink

From February 1984- when I was 12- I was a committed, fastidious and obsessive keeper of a diary. I would have died for my little red & white book; it meant everything to me and despite the fact that I lived with a family who respected privacy I squirrelled it carefully away, paranoid that someone was going to read through it and find out my deepest dark secrets. The fact of the matter was that no one, even my older brother was in the slightest bit interested.
I kept diaries on and off till I was about 20, when between college, work, the pub and drunken stupors there was simply not time to write. The little red & white book, it's covers hanging off from over-use was, along with it's army of successors tossed unceremoniously into a dusty old box where it sat untouched for a decade and a half.

Now, we all know that youth is wasted on the young and all that but I was pretty sure that i was quite aware and profound as a teenager, so it was with riducolus excitement that I unearthed the box of diaries from my mother's attic last time we were visiting the UK and brought them back to Canada with me. Though I was aching at the thought of reading through these detailed accounts of the eighties and early nineties, I waited until my good friend N, a partner in crime since high-school was visiting and together we lugged our heavy bags to the pub and ordered a bottle of wine.

Shit! What on earth was I expecting? The first year, when I was twelve was really not a lot more than lists of boys that I fancied with the occasional reference to friends, parties and summer holidays. The second year started promisingly with a (rather lame) list of new years resolutions......followed by, more detailed lists of boys that I fancied, more detailed accounts of parties and summer holidays. N on the other hand was reading out profound and wise (and I'm sure she'd say somewhat dramatic) letters she'd composed to herself in the future, deep insights into family relationships and....err....lists of boys she fancied. Year three was more of the same with a major slant on alcohol. This had been an interesting year. My parents seperated, I was selecting what subjects to take at school (that would determine perahps my whole future)my dad met my future step-mum, we moved house and I had a long trip to Canada (we lived in the UK) just after my mum's dad passed away. But none of this made it into my diary apart from a cursury half page to Grandaddy- no, I was too busy detailing what outfit I wore to a party (complete with diagram), who was standing where during a chat with a boy at the bus stop and endless records of dialogue about absoutely nothing. I managed to list exactly what alcohol we drank, where it was aquired and which number bus we caught to town at what stinking time, but no mention of divorce, new step-mum or anything else of any worth. Sigh.

Now that I'm over the disappointment it occurs to me that I made a huge assumption that my life was so acutely happening that I wouldn't need accounts of the big stuff because I'd never forget it. There's some truth in that- I haven't forgotten that my parents divorced, remarried and moved from one place to another. I haven't forgotten what subjects I did at high-school or any of the other major occurances, but it would have been nice to read about something a little higher in quality than who snogged who at church youth club. But like I said, I'm over the disappointment and now I can appreciate these books for their true idiocies. They are a true, if boring account of what it's like inside the one-track mind of a teenager and even though there are pages that make me turn fire-engine red, the sheer hilariousness of the total and utter waste of ink never fails to reduce me to tears.

You're an embarassment

My dear friend C who I have known since I was twelve has this theory about me. She says that you can't embarrass me because I embarrass myself before you can get there. I'm not entirely sure if this is a compliment or an insult but seeing as we are still friends *cough* A QUARTER OF A CENTURY (Major freakout.....breathing into paper bag)on, I'll chalk it down as a good thing and move on. She first said this around the time we lived together, when we were eighteen and I looked like this. I don't think she was referring to the way I looked though.

Anyway, before I start getting distracted by goth photos and stories about not washing my hair for months and other such....err....of course, lies.....I'll get to my (weak) point. After years of contemplating what exactly C meant, I've come to view this innate ability to not only embarrass myself, but to brag about it, as a sort of badge of honour. This came to a fine head the other morning when I returned to the house not only with my skirt wedged into my bum-crack, but with baby spit-up gunge smeared across my chest. It reminded me of one of my finer moments when I was in my early twenties and living in Oxford, when I accidentally left the house with no skirt on. It had been drying on the radiator next to the front hall downstairs and I'd been running through the list of things I had to grab before I left the house, late for work as always: keys, purse, skirt. Keys, purse, skirt. So I got out of the house, hurried down the road and half way down, right by the school where mums and dads were dropping off their kids I did a quick check. Keys, purse, skirt. I had them all there- right in my hand. To top it off, I was wearing nylons and my underwear, t-shirt and lazy winter leg hair were all squashed nicely underneath the transparent tights. I really wanted to insert a photo here to get the image across- I have this great one of my brother's hairy legs squashed into my black tights the time we all cross-dressed for Christmas dinner- that's another story but unfortunetaly I couldn't find it. Anyway.

So C, after all these years I have this to say. I am actually a master of disguise. I disguise all the really embarrassing things under the lesser embarrassing ones giving the impression that I've bared it all. But there are other darker things underneath, just like the underwear and the tucked in t-shirt and the overgrown winter leg hair squashed up and visible to those who are looking at the right moment. Things that I can't bear to think about, things that make me turn red in a dark room at night but over them, I have remembered to wear a skirt.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fear of Fruit

To the great amusement of friends and coworkers, I seem to have a fear of fruit. It's not that I don't like it, on the contrary, I love fruit, but I can't stand pips, seams, pith, soft blemishes, surface imperfections, sticky juice and stems. It takes me a long time to prepare fruit in the exact way that I enjoy it most and by the time it's in that state there sometimes seems little point. I thought that that the root of this pickiness lay in the hands of my father, who was determined to pass on his love of fruit picking to my brother and I when we were young. We'd be minding our own business in the back of the car, perhaps reading, maybe having a little squabble when suddenly my dad would veer to the side of the road and we'd be ushered up to some hedge, empty yogurt pots in hand. We weren't just expected to pick the plump little clusters of raspberries or blackberries that hung heavily from the brambles- we'd be expected to enjoy it.

You've got to take a step back here and look at my dad's childhood. He grew up in Nova Scotia and every summer, his two brothers and him would pack up their trunk and take the journey up to Cape Breton where they'd spend the summer working and playing on an uncle's farm. Hay rides, tractors, freshly cooked pies. Laughter, singing, ice-cream eating competitions and inevitably, fruit picking. So it's not so much that my dad was looking for free labour from my brother and I, it's not even really that he wanted the was the experience he was after. Not for him, for us. The problem was that when dad was a little boy, he was a little boy. I however, was a little girl, and whereas little girls might like fruit pies, or crumbles, or warmed berries on top of ice-cream, they do not like spiders, wasps or those wiggly white worms which are the stark reality of fruit-picking.

I'm fascinated by how the experiences in our lives shape us and I love the dawning of realization when, after observing some odd behaviour in oneself the light breaks with sudden realization about where the weirdness stems back to. I can't look at a blackberry without thinking of those little white wrigglers and all my adult life I've been blaming hot afternoons in roadside hedges for my fear of fruit. Until one day, after my second child was born when my mum, visiting from England pulled an apple out of her bag for me. I was about to ask if she could cut it up but she beat me to it, producing a little knife with which she neatly cored and sliced the apple. Then she checked each piece, cutting out a few seams........and next she looked up and down the skin of each segment nicking off a little piece here and there while it dawned on me what i was seeing. "What?" she asked at my amazed face. "I'm just cutting it up for you how I'd want it myself.

I watched her closely that visit and learned why I put butter on oven chips, why I have to pack the car a certain way, why I wash and pat dry a chicken before I cook it and why I eat my food in a certain way on my plate. It made me wonder how many hundreds of other things I did unconsciously that I'd learned from her and it made me wonder what oddities I would teach my children and I vowed that I'd try, just a little to be more tolerant with fruit.

Two weeks later we were preparing a family dinner at my dad and step-mums and she asked me if I'd do the roast potatoes but my husband, M quickly volunteered so I ambled off to do something else. Returning to the kitchen some time later I heard my step-mum thanking M for doing the roasties and he replied "It's better this way....have you ever seen a potato after Eleanor's finished with it?"

The Mouse

Maybe there isn't a mouse after all. Maybe it's the squirrels living in the holly tree that's grown against the house, banging against the sloping roof. It almost doesn't matter because if I believe there's a mouse, then the damage is done. I creep around like I'm being watched, clear away leftovers like something is about to pounce and listen so furiously in the silent dead of night until the blood pumping through my head deafens me.

There's something in all this, I'm sure. Not quite irony, not quite destiny. You see I started as a mouse. When I was young, too young to remember I announced that I was a mouse and from that day until I was a teen, that's what my family called me. Mouse. It still sjavascript:void(0)lipped out of my father's mouth now and then after the separation when we saw each other less and I would chastise him- I'm thirteen- not a child anymore dad, don't call me that. It's melted to distant memories now: The mousehouse- my cardboard box home with windows and a door where I'd sit for hours on end. There's a mouse sewn on the Christmas stocking that my mum made- probably the last visible sign of the story and I wonder if I don't put it down in words somewhere, does it simply disappear, evaporating into the air and drifting away forever.
How many other things will I forget? How many memories have gone already? Now that I have children I want to capture my childhood up: all those ideas and stories and smells and colours and stuff them in a box. One day I can pull it all out, tattered and worn and lay it all out on the floor to show them; faded and loved.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My own worst enemy#1

There's a mouse in our attic. It doesn't come inside but I've heard it a few times at night, scurrying behind the walls. We just moved our bedroom upstairs into the loft conversion that the previous owners put in and I've combed every square inch of the room for cracks or holes but there's nothing, we're separated by dry wall, dead air and a layer of thick cream eggshell paint that I put on last week. There have been nights now, more than three that I've turned on the light and M has groaned, pulling the sheets over his head while I sit there staring at the wall, my ears perked for the slightest rustle. Between two pregnancies and two babies I haven't slept through a night in three years, yet here I am, sitting silently in the night while neither child is awake waiting for a tiny noise behind a wall. When I finally lie back down and turn off the lights I'll watch the clock until yellow fingers of light creep across the room and then I'll give up and go downstairs. That mouse doesn't have to come into the house to disturb me. It's already inside nibbling at my small brain.

Monday, August 10, 2009

About Eleanor

I'm a Brit/Canadian mongrel. By day I have a serious job, by night I'm a writer. I don't get anywhere near enough sleep, for reasons that are not as exciting as I'd like. I love film, music, books, words, art, painting, talking, food, drinking wine, procrastinating and a lot of other things that I can wrap my obsessive compulsive tendencies around.