Friday, 12 November 2010

Down Time

Welcome home

 Among the many emails awaiting await me on my return to the Bridge, let me share a couple with you.

Hi Tom. Just heard about 'change of plan': they don’t want me to start fieldwork on Mon as I'd hoped. Pity...I'm exhausted here!! Baby not sleeping, and boys having terrible troubles with homework.

I offered heartfelt sympathy. I am having terrible troubles working the grill, after two months of the international cuisine provided by Oasis Camps by the Nile. I managed not to burn M3’s potato waffles this morning, which is more than I can say for what the grill rack did to my foot.

Tom. Did I tell you about the tourist who breezed into town this week? He announced that he hadn't actually read your report yet but that he didn't agree with it. Then he looked at his watch, announced he had to get to the airport, and breezed out again.

In this context, I need to explain that a “tourist” is a consultant, official or politician who stays for an even shorter time in the field than a freelancer. In the old days, tourists conducted a “windshield survey” from the four-wheel drive, or even indulged in "over-fly research". Nowadays, the smart virtual tourist needs a memory stick at most. The tourist who actually lands and exchanges words with the local earthlings, or even with a freelancer, is to be applauded. And properly rewarded with a decent per diem.

I’m sure he’s quite right about my report. The trouble with us freelancers, you see, is methodology. We just don’t get it.There is a panoply of -ologies out there, of which the tourist is master. But with a freelancer, you're lucky to get any method at all, just a lifetime of experience of getting it wrong.

* * *

"What shall I do about supper?"asks my fragrant lady.

Perhaps either of my readers may be able to enlighten me on the methodology of rhetoric employed by Mrs M when I return from my travels. She sits bolt-upright several minutes before the alarm is due to go off, starts reciting lists, and continues this process while executing a neat sub-routine that involves selecting some of the animals for waking, and others for shooing out of the back door. Before I have had a chance to turn on Radio 4, she has delivered to my bedside tea from the blessed Teasmaid, may its name be praised.

She returns to bed long enough to take a sip from her own. "It'll have to be bangers and mash, I suppose... I'd better go and see if M3's shoes are dry." I hear her tripping daintily downstairs for the second or third time.

Friday Tex-Mex night at Oasis. The home-made nacho chips are much praised. And there's guacamole and sour cream to go with the fresh tortillas if you get to the trough before the Russians.

I manage to be-stir myself to take a large slurp from my cooling tea, before collapsing again onto the pocket-sprung mattress. May the name of John Lewis live for ever. My mind is completely blank about what I might offer instead of bangers and mash.


The L word may have risen momentarily to consciousness before I banished it.

There is just so much not to do during down-time. Currently I am enjoying one of these rare but happy occasions when there is another outing booked in the weeks ahead. This means that I can bask in the prospect of another cheque.

For a start, there is the condition of the garden. The Mandallay estate normally rivals the Augean Stables on my return, despite Mrs M's best efforts. (Ever since a particularly tricky moment when the children were as small as the puppy, she has sent me a series of bulletins about the achievements of various animals, starting the week before my return.) Also, the boys' lacrosse sticks need attention, and the boiler is bleating. The hoover's hose leaks, and the outside lights are, always, always, on the blink.

Yes, it all takes a lot of time not to attend to. Instead, I shall spend most of the morning, I am sure, trawling the internet, and consdisering the options for updating my lance. It's so twelfth century. They do them in alloys and even carbon fibre nowadays, collapsible, self-cleaning, even with a guidance GPS.

"Lasagne," I capitulate.


"I expect they'll be going out, but that would be perfect tomorrow."

I'll have to think of something else.

Saturday at Oasis. Barbecue night. The roasted goat is surprisingly good.

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