Island Blog – All About Henry

I awaken into a beautiful crisp morning, all blue sky and Wolf Moon shining enough light to afford me a greenish wander from kitchen door to kettle. Barefoot, I encounter what I already knew was there, even if I have been keeping my eyes above floor level for a few days. Dust. Bits of dropped food. Fluff. Well Dammit, I mutter. I will need to take action today. Knowing, as I do, my excellent ability to distract myself from housework, I decide to add another dull task as a sort of punishment. The bathroom needs cleaning. These days I can ignore the bathroom-needing-cleaning thingy for days. When Himself was still above ground, it needed cleaning daily and I accepted the work as a part of my morning routine without question. Even before that I would clean it just in case the Bathroom Police dropped in to check. But, now there is no Himself and absolutely no chance of anyone dropping in, let alone the BP, I have grown indolent and Henry mutters away to himself in the dark of the cupboard below stairs. He is bored, I know it, but I also know that precisely because I have neglected him, he will take full advantage of today’s outing for he is mischievous and resourceful.

I can hear him now, as if he is reading my thoughts, or maybe I spoke out loud. He has perfect hearing and I know this as he knows I know this. I move towards the door and open it a glimpse. I hear rustling. It could be him or it might be a scuttle of mice who have enjoyed a long period of quiet, undisturbed. Hallo Henry, I say, my moon face peering into the darkness. Are you where I left you or have you relocated? Are you hiding? I know he is shy. My hands find him and I begin to tell him where we will work this morning. He grins. It’s quite an area of carpet I plan to let him loose upon and he is full of anticipation.

First we climb the stairs and I thank him for being light. My previous carpet sucker, a very expensive Miele, weighed a flipping ton and refused to recover on stair work after I pulled too hard on her trunk, thus sending her into a series of backflips thus landing her, most undignifiedly, on her back, her belly exposed to the world. At that point I recall sitting down for a think. Perhaps, I thought, I should buy myself a male hoover this time and one that weighs less than an SUV, one with a very long and hand-winding flex, no electric one that almost but not quite draws in the cable, one with bags I can bin instead of having to wash out the catacomb of Miss Miele every time in order to get rid of the smell and the bits.

When I first met Henry, I thought everything would now be easy and un-smelly. I was wrong on the second count. It was so depressing because now I had no chance of washing out the innards. I was hardly going to bin a bag after every hoovering session after all. Once I had risen from my depression, I decided to seek some fragrant oil, one that could be dripped onto the filter, and one that just might do the trick. It did. But for Henry’s shyness there seems to be no cure. He snags in every doorway. I encourage, wheedle, soothe, beg even, but nothing overcomes this unfortunate trait. I try empathetic questions. Is it because you are embarrassed to be cleaning? Is this a Macho Man thing? Are you afraid the Bathroom Police are in the next room just waiting to laugh at you, to mock and deride? To say, This is Women’s Work, in that idiot man sort of way? Henry just grins and keeps schtum.

In the bathroom, quite alone with me, Henry sucks bravely, intent on his work. I wheech off the brush and point the nozzle at the corners and the edges. We move behind and under everything that isn’t stuck down and I feel quite jaunty at the difference we are making. Hoover/Woman synergy, a sort of bond between us and I turn to tell him so. My mistake. Never trust the smile of a man who says nothing, for there is a deal of control planning going on behind that face. In that moment of complacence Henry sucks up a cleaning sponge and a cloth. Just like that, straight into his belly, no chewing. Henry! I admonish, and here he turns to the skirt of my frock. It takes me a few seconds to reclaim myself even if I do realise there is no chance said frock would disappear in the same way up that proboscis, affixed as it is to other parts of my body which would need surgical removal in order to allow such a snatch. After I have a word with him about respect for a co-worker, the engine silenced, we continue across the landing and down the stairs. He only backflips once and I right him with abject apology. Now we are cruising and, apart from two further attempts to pull my frock off, eliciting a raised eyebrow from me, we lift the dirt from all floors, up and down.

I thank him and return him to the mice and the dark. The house smells lovely and I tell him so. I thank him for his help and say magnanimously, as an afterthought, that he can keep the cloth and the cleaning sponge. As I close the door, I can hear him chuckle.

Island Blog – Pas pour Moi

I wake with the sun, can feel the warmth and the promise of a new day ahead. Impatient, I leave first, walking from the apartment down the little hill towards the village. Bonjour Monsieur-dame, I greet an older couple coming towards me with bags of shopping. I can smell the baguette and see it too, peeping out as baguettes always do, refusing to fit in. She, Madame, appraises me, her eyes covering my body like a touch. She is, I know, looking for an inappropriate bare of skin. She won’t find it, for I know this old fashioned place and am respectful of its rules of thumb, its unwritten laws. She, naturally, is dressed for a winter’s day in Alaska, all in black and so buttoned up as to appear more like a seal than a woman. Her face, pinched into a critical catch tells me that her smiling Monsieur will be disappointed at my coverings and also that her life has not been an easy one.

The streets that wind through the village are cobbled, worn by thousands of feet over hundreds of years, smoother around the entrance to the cafes and bars where feet have scuffled and stopped, turned around or opened the door for refreshment and friendship. Picasso painted here, as did Matisse and Dali and it is to the painters I am bound. Through the archway and down to the rocky harbour I find them, placed like buskers and probably with their own pitches considered sacrosanct. Bonjour I say and more than once as I walk by with only a glance at their work. I know the rules. No artist wants to be gawped at and most certainly do not invite comment. as they apply oils to canvas, eyes on their subject. I look out to where the sun rises pinkly perfect over a calm and submissive sea. Around the curve of the natural harbour an old stone edifice stands sentry. Much of its face is gone but once it would have stood proud as Punch. This is the way in, it would have said to the fishermen and sailors seeking sanctuary.

On the edge of a spit of rock stands a woman in white. Her long dress floats a little in the warm morning breeze but nothing else of her moves. Her hand below a bonnet of white satin is shading her eyes as she looks out to sea. Searching for her husband, says a gruff smokers voice behind me. I am startled back to myself. How did he know I was English? Ah, Madame, he says, English always look English, no matter where they go. I am momentarily disappointed but concede he is probably right. She will not move all day, he continues. She is an art student and this is how she earns money for her studies. I smile and move closer to her. She doesn’t even blink. The heat, I think, the heat! Already, at 7.30 am it is 20 degrees and she has enough clothes on to kit up the whole cast of Hamlet.

I move towards my favourite cafe and sit outside beneath the shade of a tree, one I cannot identify. Cafe Madame? Our, mercie Monsieur. In moments he returns with a small coffee, black, thick and hot. Beside it he places a tiny shot glass of something and winks at me. For the heat, Madame, he says and swings away.

Later we swim. There is a storm gathering and the waves are restless and confused. Himself, snorkelled up, is ferreting about among the rocks whilst I sun myself on the stony beach. When he returns to me I can see something is wrong. He has lost his teeth, pulling them clean out along with the snorkel tube. Lost, he lisps at me. I roll my eyes and feel a small panic rise but the storm is closer now and the waves too high and mighty for a search. I resign myself to a toothless husband who doesn’t care one bit. For three days as the storm rages he orders omelette or scrambled eggs for dinner and thinks the whole thing hilarious. I smoulder across the table. It is, after all, one thing to lose all your teeth to the ocean and quite another to think it amusing, having no intention whatsoever of either organising a new set once we get home or to have any regard for the way I feel watching him lose food through floppy lips and talking like a drunk.

After the storm has moved away and the waves, their skirts still upskittled a bit, have calmed, I move into the water. Point at the place you lost them, I call back. He looks at me as he might a crazy woman and guides me. There! he says and turns back to his book. I duck beneath the water and there they are, sitting atop a rock, complete, waiting. Triumphant I lift them to the sky and call out to him. The whole beach looks up as if I had just found gold, which, in my opinion, I have.

We are the talk of our favourite restaurant. C’est impossible! They say and I am a Cheshire Cat. Pas pour moi, Monsieur, I reply. Pas pour moi.