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  • Writer's pictureLizzy Shannon

Dad and Inanimate Objects

1st week at Robin Hill, Northern Ireland

I’ve been here just over a week, and it has gone by fast. I think Dad is happy to have someone in the house. From time to time I hear him going, “Aah ah ah ah ah ah ah aah!” which is a silly noise he does when he’s in a good mood. I think he does it for the benefit of the dog, Cooper, who leaps up and wags his tail, ready for a game. Then Cooper snatches his ragged furry bunny from the floor and challenges Dad to chase him. It’s like a game of freeze to start with, as Cooper, bunny in mouth, leans down on his forelegs, immobile. Even his tail is in freeze-frame. Dad stands facing him, bent at the waist, legs apart ready to lunge. They’ll stare each other down until eventually Cooper wags his tail and Dad stomps a foot forward, making a quick grabbing motion with his hand. “That’s mine!" he'll tease. "Give me that!” and the game is on. Dad’ll more or less stay in the same position, but Cooper will run at him and around his legs, daring him to grab the bunny. When Dad finally gets hold of it, it’s tug’o war. Cooper growls softly and Dad imitates him. Then Dad will pretend to give in and Cooper triumphantly rips all the stuffing out of poor bunny. Later Dad retrieves the toy and jams all the stuffing back in until next time.

Dad has a few catchphrases he mutters to himself when doing stuff round the house, or out walking with Cooper. I get treated to sporadic, “I hate the dogs of war,” or “Oofle dust,” for example. For the first few days it was limited to benign things like that, but as he gets used to having me around he has once again begun to swear at inanimate objects. The other day on order to sit down at the dining room table to set up my Netbook computer, I had to lift an enormous pile of papers from the chair to do so, and also slide another heap of files and folders across the table to make a space. Now, I could have just sat down at the other end at Dad’s usual place, but you know how things are at Robin Hill… there is a time and place for everything, and thou shalt not deviate from it. I made the mistake of sitting there the other morning before Dad got up. I was well into what I was writing but got up to let him sit down, pushing my idling computer out of way toward the pile of files.

After Dad had finished breakfast I returned to the computer only to find it had been switched off at the wall so he could plug in his document shredder. Not usually a problem as the battery would normally kick in, but I’d removed it altogether. You see, every time in the past I’ve let the battery stay in the computer or if it was already built in, and I charged it over here, the battery’s performance would go downhill fast after that. A once 4 hour charge would only last 20 minutes, and the battery was as good as useless back in the States. Taking it out seemed like a great idea, this time. Isn’t it a wonderful thing I save whatever I’m working on, every couple of lines? I’ve learned the hard way about that in the past, having lost entire documents of precious writing, never to capture it again.

So, I bundled up the computer with its complicated wiring system… international plug stuck into the big white plastic scary wire-displaying filtered socket, and trailed off into the adjacent sitting room to find another electrical outlet to boot it all up again.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I hear from the dining room. Dad is apparently going through the great heaps of papers in the dining room, letting the shredding machine growl every few moments as he disposed of a document. The growling suddenly became silent. “Godstrewth!” Dad mutters. The sound of paper tearing and being crumpled up. “Fucking thing!”

I decided perhaps this wasn’t the best time to be writing so put the Netbook into sleep mode and wandered off to do something else. Which turned out to be hand washing some of my clothes.

The weather’s been gorgeous here all week. So warm that Dad hasn’t needed to have the boiler (heater) on all summer. That’s great, except then there’s no hot water on demand. If you want any, you have to pull on a cord hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen to switch on the immersion heater in the hot water tank (except it’s always filled with cold water unless you do this or turn on the boiler) then go into the airing cupboard, (where the water tank is) and press one button for 15 minutes heating time, two buttons for half an hour, and three buttons for a full hour. Dad recently had my brother, Ian, put this timer in, because he kept forgetting to switch the immersion back off, and it’s a very expensive way to heat water. Unfortunately for me, Dad has discovered a frugal way to bypass this expense altogether. When he needs hot water to wash the dishes or for himself, he boils the kettle and uses that water. I found myself having to do the same and trying to wash myself in my bathroom sink, the old-fashioned way. 'A lick and a promise', we used to call it (before I knew any better!)

One of my great joys in life is being able to have long, hot showers, taking my time to wash my hair and pamper myself. This wasn’t going to do at all! Then I discovered the immersion timer, and began to sneak 15 minutes heating time in the morning before Dad got up. (Some people sneak cigarettes or booze; I sneak hot water.) I conserved the water beautifully, by just running the shower when I actually needed to soap up, switching it off to scrub with a loofah and massage the shampoo into my hair, and turning the spray on again to rinse off.

The weather turned suddenly cold on Friday. We got soaked by rain when out with Cooper, and the house settled into a frigid damp sulk. When I got up out of bed on Saturday morning, my breath steamed and I felt chilled to the bone. Dad discovered me later, huddled in front of the emergency propane heater, wearing several layers of mismatched clothing. I mean, jeans under a party dress with a sweater and a hoodie on top just don’t go!

“It’s a bit chilly,” he said, and proceeded to take breadcrumbs out to the birds, wearing his summer-weight pajamas and dressing gown.

Then I heard the most wonderful words: “I’d better put on the boiler.”

The boiler! Yay! That means a heated house and HOT WATER! I leapt to my feel and danced into the kitchen with my coffee cup. “I’m going to have a proper SHOWER!” I trilled to Cooper, who had halted from bolting his breakfast to look at me like I had fifty snakes coming out of my hair. I slid into a ballet arabesque pose, coffee cup held out in front of me. Then I caught sight of Dad looking in at me through the kitchen window, his expression saying, "What in the hell is she doing now?"

It’s amazing how much one can appreciate something like hot water on demand when you’ve been denied it for a while. I don’t think I’ll ever take it for granted again!


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