Man about the House
I have long harboured a profound dislike of curtains. In many ways, I’m still stuck in the period 1970-1980, when everything was about plain architectural venetian and roller blinds. Even for 5-10 years after that – when blinds went all flouncey Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen – I still favoured them over curtains. Curtains were what my parents had: rather shiny materials that ran on plastic rails, lived in bungalows, and formed the backdrop to Abigail’s Party.
But then designer ironmongery happened, largely produced by companies (almost always for some reason based in Shropshire or Hereford) using logos suggesting they might be the progeny of 18th century blacksmiths. And with this reproduction rebirth came a return to proper curtain rods supporting heavy cloths in warm, lavish patterns. One could bunch them to each side of the window, onto grey-iron croquet hoops. The effect was terribly grand in an Edwardian sort of way: it had a certain elegant sweep, and we’re not talking glove puppets here. There was nothing elegant about Sweep: he squeaked. Then the dog got hold of your Christmas present, and Sweep fell silent.
Sootie and Sweep were two characters invented by the children’s television star Harry Corbett in the 1950s. All telly in those days was in black and white, and during 1955 I pestered my parents to buy me a Sootie. Imagine my horror on Christmas Day when I opened the puppet kit to discover Sootie was not white but orange. Orange. I must have been a racist from a very early age, because in an odd sort of way I never fully recovered from the trauma of this discovery. It was like the mental image I had of Tony Hancock on the radio suddenly turning into the chubby bloke on television. Or hearing Bill Haley on the record player, and then discovering he was a sweaty blob with a silly kiss-curl.
Returning from Rock around the Clock to curtains, I didn’t mind their rebirth too much at first because I was married, and back then if you did anything other than drill the holes in the wall for curtains, you were obviously a homosexual. Like men always did barbecues – turning every sausage into a cremated worm – women made curtains.
But then I wound up divorced in France with a large house to restore and a barn to convert and eight sets of curtains from two marriages . OK-yah ladies from Kensington emporia not being readily available, there was no option but to get my hands dirty.
The Sun headline from me on curtains is that hanging’s too good for them. They’re large, often heavy, prone to tangling, employ umpteen different technologies of attachment, involve bits of plastic that look as if they were designed by a gynaecologist and – worst of all – are very unforgiving if you do any one thing out of step.
Don’t, whatever you do, put the poles through the holes and the knobs on the ends before you put the hoops on the poles. And even if you do hoop the poles before inserting the poles in the holes, remember to put a temporary retainer on one end of the poles or the hoops will fall off the poles just as you’re about slot the poles through the holes. Needless to say, you could still find that, with all the hoops on the poles and the poles through the holes, if you put the poles too close to the walls, the screw on the knobs doesn’t have room to line up with the holes in the poles.
As for the actual hanging bit, be sure you really know which way up the gynaecology goes. There’s only one option here, and upside down doesn’t cut it unless you like your curtains lying informally on the carpet as a statement about how fucking daft curtains are when you get down to it. Also do count all the plastic probes before you start loading them onto the hoops. There is no sensation more shattering than getting to hoop 40 with hook 41. It’s like Scott getting to the Pole and finding Amundsen’s flag there.
Some things – like walking on clumpy boots carrying shoulder-crunching skis from your hotel to the piste, getting on the pommer and having a thumping great frisbee stuffed into your groin for 2,000 feet – really are the Twelve Stations of the Cross updated. But with putting curtains up, you get the crucifixion thrown in too. There you are, up a wobbly pair of ladders, looking over your shoulder for the left hole while using bat technology to help you with the location of the other one. Then half an hour later, you’ve one foot on the ladder and one on the window ledge, one hand slotting plastic curly-wurlies into metal hoops, and five kilos of Osborne & Little under the remaining free arm.
Let’s face it: apart from the nails and the loin cloth, you’ve got the full set right there.
Having finally mastered how to unroll glued fly paper and trap 400 insect vermin a day, I realised a few days ago that flies do not make the connection between columns of dead comrades and potential danger to themselves. Even with the lowered educational standards of mad Blairism, your average fly is never going to pass anything at GCSE – not even woodwork.
So I’ve reverted via hitech but useless fly sprays and sticky mobiles to the fly swatter.
There’s a knack to fly swatting. I don’t fully understand it, but if you hold the fly swatter behind your back over the right shoulder – left if you’re left-handed – and bring it down at medium speed directly over the winged target, provided your aim is good, you will send it up to the Big Fly in the Sky.
Each morning now, I stroll round the kitchen – hooked arm over my shoulder – and use this approach to culling flies. To the casual observer it might look like advanced calisthenics or an eccentric form of Alexander Technique, but for me the ritual holds a dual advantage: it is effective, and word gets around among the fly population: “this bloke is a homicidal maniac of disturbingly clinical accuracy”.
Having recommended the programme earlier today, it seemed churlish not to watch the BBC2 documentary on Roald Dahl. It was beyond wonderful: a beautifully cut and presented portrait of a Great Briton.
Rebellious kid, heroic pilot, brilliant diplomat, part-time spy, cosmopolitan traveller, amazing writer but above all magical father, Dahl was unique. But until watching this docubiography, I had no idea of all the influences, experiences and inspirations that surrounded the man.
The BBC was put on Earth to inform, educate and entertain. Blaming the BBC because it no longer does this is, in my humble view, pathetic. It doesn’t fulfil that role any more because gargoyles like Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher, Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, David Cameron, Baron Green and Theresa May scared the crap out of spineless BBC Governors.
But love it or loathe it, at its best the Beeb is light years ahead of anything the Murdoch Mob could ever hope to produce, because Newscorp has no hopes or aspirations of any worth.