Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Magic Growing Tree



“Did you swallow it?” I hear my wife demanding form upstairs. This is not a phrase I have heard for a few years. Our sons are aged 8 and 10 and well beyond the experimental stage of placing objects in the mouth to see what they taste and feel like. ‘How much did you swallow? Rinse your mouth out now!” This all sounds very dramatic but the glowing hand held devise in my palm prevents me from acting more urgently. Not a hand warmer but a handheld diffidence inducer. Ralf (his real name) had earlier persuaded my wife that the purchase of a magic growing tree was essential to his present state of contentment. Due to the intervention of my wife’s laptop diffidence inducer the tree had yet to be triggered into magical growth. Ralf had, in his impatience to witness said magical growth, tracked down the sachet of chemicals required to instigate the miraculous blossoming. He had, however elected to open the sachet with his teeth and it seems a small part of this mysterious clear fluid had found its way onto his taste buds. The unidentified substance causes crystals to form on the branches of the cardboard tree and one does not want crystals growing inside ones youngest offspring no matter how pretty the colours appear on the packaging – hence my wife’s vexation and rising panic. Never the less I confidently tell her that he has swallowed a negligible amount of the potentially lethal liquid. The directive to order the consuming of milk, which would ordinarily be the solution to such domestic mishaps somehow slips my mind.
And so the magic growing tree sits ungrown on the coffee table. Its sparseness reminding me constantly of the need to spend more time with my youngest son experimenting with potentially lethal substances. My wife forgets where she hastily stashed the elixir out of the reach of children with devouring urges. (note to self – teeth are a good tool in conjunction with hands.)
The opportunity to seek out the crudely opened sachet does not present itself as life speeds by but an image of its glistening torn edges flits in and out of my mind. I too hanker after the opportunity to document the miraculous growing process but the son whose real name is Ralf has ceased demanding the instigation of these rites.
 Such is the velocity of our urban village life that my wife has chosen to prepare foodstuffs in advance of my family’s arrival on Sunday. This involves concocting vast quantities of Moroccan style meatballs and a large vat of a delicious smelling tomato sauce. She is pushing the tiny food processor to its limits as she pushes the myriad ingredients into its unusually small receptacle. I am standing in a potentially irritating fashion by her shoulder when something crackles in the air between us and we glance momentarily into each other’s eyes. Could it be that culinary forward planning has reignited a romantic spark in our eleven-year marriage? This thought is left hanging unanswered as the fridge makes a large popping sound and has evidently decided to turn itself off. The confusion is added to by the simultaneous flashing of the smoke alarm on top of the fridge which periodically flashes to let you know the battery is okay. Aware that I was just standing in a potentially irritating manner I swiftly volunteer myself to cycle the half-mile or so down the hill to buy a new thirteen amp fuse.  I reason that by calm rationality I can prompt the inanimate fridge back into life in time for chilling the reasonably priced cava for consumption upon the arrival of my parents and sisters who will have spent an hour or so in traffic. On my way to the shop I feel a thought growing. The man behind the counter will not know what I mean by fuse when I ask him. It is such a small indefinable word that we will stand in limbo for a good minute whilst I try and explain. Sure enough it does take a few goes but almost as if he is tired of a game he points me to the second aisle where they hang with other domestic knick-knacks. This is a rack I often like to gaze at admiring its apparent union of the childish (small colourful packages) everyday practicalities (needles and assorted domestic problem solving accoutrements). Does my pre-emptive doubt make me a racist I ponder as I cycle back up the hill? Perhaps their surliness is not a cultural thing I need to learn to live with after all the white man in the village newsagents is always surly but then again he does not smile at the same time as being surly. His surliness is not part of a game. I thought cycling was supposed to help banish such non-useful thought processes. Luckily I have a simple task in hand and find myself back in the kitchen screwdriver in hand as I meticulously replace the fuse on the fridge plug. “Stand Back” I hear a voice in my head call out as I re-instigate the flow of electricity to the CO emitting device. The internal light does not come on when I open the door but this sometimes happens when the door is not opened at the correct angle. Still I can hear an encouraging background hum and consult my wife as to the direction of its origin (I myself only hear in mono). She cannot tell, which I find hard to believe but eventually track the source down to the cooker – this devise having been recently repaired under the terms of our house insurance. Undaunted I maintain confidence in the notion that the fridge simply needs resetting. The last thing we want is to spend the week without food chilling facilities when the solution was an obvious one to be found in the trouble shooting section of the owners manual. According to the flimsy pamphlet in my hand the fridge only has one dial on its external interface that is adjustable by lay people. I turn it expecting the familiar whir of the fridge to once more blend into the gentle thrum of the house. This hitherto undiscovered knob-turning process is one I had recently used to revive our boiler after a testing few days brought on by my wife’s denying me the opportunity of bleeding the upstairs radiators. Having exhausted all possible reasonable lines of non-life threatening enquiry we resign ourselves to using the backyard as a large walk in cool box. Rather sensibly, I think, I neglected to mention how I have noticed a propensity in my wife to push domestic appliances to their limits in a fashion that can’t help but put me in mind of somebody at the gym. Yes, in my superstitious primitive mind the fridge gave up the ghost out of indignation at the suffering of the diminutive food processor.
 My wife’s forward planning means that the visit of my family passes without major event but is perhaps a little too perfunctory to live up to the expectations of the soul that went into the preparation of the food. I grew up thinking corned beef hash was a delicacy. On Monday my wife arranged for an engineer to come on Wednesday to fix the fridge. Not until after she has battled through a mix up concerning the registered brand name of our appliance. It turns out to be crossed wire at the insurers end and I am sure they are drafting an apology as I write – such was the inexcusable surliness of the claim manger my wife spoke to. On Tuesday I return home early from a visit to Somerset house where the sun always seems to shine.  I detect a buoyant atmosphere in the home and low and behold my wife exclaims the fridge repairman had been in the area and called on the off chance that he could resolve our problem. Upon entering the kitchen he had immediately declared that the problem was either the motor of the circuit board but I can tell by my wife’s delivery that there is to be a twist in the tale. Thoughts of a reset button resurface. The engineer who was a very nice man had, however removed the circuit board and discovered it to be covered in patches of a strange crystalline growth. My wife tells me that he told her that she had not told him about storing the magic growth inducing fluid out of harms way on the top of the refrigerator.
And now everybody is happy. The fridge works better than ever and we are still in thrall to the novelty of possessing an indoor food cooling apparatus. The magic tree stands bare on the coffee table but I am no longer haunted by visions of the torn edges of its transparent sachet of miracle growth inducing liquid. The circuit board went into the bin after I briefly toyed with the idea of somehow reinventing it in a sculptural artefact. I might see if I can’t fish it out later before my wife gets back from work.

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