Tuesday, 30 August 2011

It stayed the same and changed

We are back in Hong Kong. I can see immediately that life is how I left it, four months ago.

The fumes still surround us in our island town as we pass on our route home. The warm humid stink rises from the drains just where we pause, between the ice cream parlor (now closed), and the cranky wire fence where the rat killer lays out his poison.

The drain runs along the street that slides off the main path and runs towards the steps which rise past the crack house. It is possible to avoid the sluicing drain and the disreputable route, but we never do.

I do not know why not. Perhaps all our family feet are instinctively drawn to this particular junction, for the five of us always, always must position ourselves here, standing over the running drain, to invariably discuss which of us might walk in which direction, and who could walk with whom. While the rat poison and gutter effluent rise up all around us.

The noise of play in the house. That is the same, too. I had forgotten how cataclysmic is that sound.

If three children are drawn to 'play' in a house basically made of concrete and tile, there is nowhere for the sound to be absorbed. I hear it all, echoing. And it is terrifying.

In England I am protected. The wood and fabric absorb the blasts, shock-waves and fallings out of daily play. If I hide upstairs, the noise is guaranteed not to travel three floors up through carpet. Then I can feel calm, and tell myself I'm letting these children, future citizens, solve their own problems, and that is called effective parenting.

But in Hong Kong there is nowhere for a weak parent to hide. There is no let up. It is all noise, start to end. Even the most innocent states of 'play' set up reverberations round this house, so I live with a continuous level of anxiety about my involvement. I can't tell the difference between happy play and serious grudge match of epic proportions. Until it is too late.

So I set up strategies. When the physical starts, I inevitably creep along to the site of 'play' with half-formed ideas about distraction, where I might draw one child away from the melee, maybe to buy onions, hoping to avoid torture and blood spillage. I am usually met with blank stares and the explanation 'We are playing', delivered to me like I am some sort of wandering village idiot.

The insect life. That is still sub tropical. The Bish could be a real help to me, with the sense of joy I feel when the two-inch bug crawling over the cooker hood at my eye height waves a cheery greeting with its antennae. If not GinoBug, then the centipedes creeping behind the toilet, or the ants in my bulgar wheat cupboard, and the tree spider that stares at me, watchfully, as I edge my way with a bag of laundry for Mrs Chang's blast furnace.

So it's all the same. The displacement, wrong footing, the life on edge.

But not everything remains unchanged. I have been absent four whole months.

I can stare into the fridge. There has been no Good Woman to impose Moral Virtue on the innards. Dig has reverted to Planet Bloke.

Thus your atmosphere is burned up by fridge gas for the benefit of the following: one porcelain bowl (containing a curious orange stain); a half tin of anchovies (dried); three bottles of wine (two empty); and a hewn chunk of rock. On examination the rock turns out to be the piece of cheese I left there in March.

Other changes that I note, are the piles. Dig has formed Mr Trebus-style mounds of paper and cardboard boxes to line his burrow back and forth to the office; he has heaped books over most available surfaces, and purchased a vacuum cleaner.

(No, it doesn't surprise me, especially the last. When faced with any domestic problem of any sort, Dig's answer? Buy a vacuum cleaner. At one point we had five, and I reduced the count from seven.)

Strangely, a selection of chick lit has appeared around the house. Since it is not mine, I have of course immediately accused Dig of the obvious conclusion, and that is, he has acquired an air-head floozy for whom exciting life drama is to lose a handbag in a wine bar where it will be picked up by accident by Mr Wrong who, through a sequence of hilarious misunderstandings, turns into Mr Right.

Dig denies it all. He claims the chick lit was pressed upon him at a publishing do by Bernice the PR girl who was desperate to offload two hundred copies.

Hmm. It may be so. But I also note, as I rifle his wardrobe, that his socks have been perfumed with orchid allure fabric conditioner. I am only saying that Mrs Chang does not normally add orchid allure when it is me, giving her the socks. I will keep my eye on her, and if there is any change to her usual indifferent manner, I will let you know.


Deb said...

No ice cream shop? What are you going to do? I recall that being your main form of sustenance last year. Chin up, Grit - at least the girls are getting some entymology in.

Nora said...

I take you very seriously and wonder why you are there at all? If it is worth it. I wonder if it is good for your mental health because I do worry about that. Should I?

Grit said...

hi deb, we have several ice cream options. this is hong kong, and you can get what you want. there are 2 restrictions: first you must find it, and second you must pay for it.

our first preference is on HK Island and it is *I Scream* (geddit? hilarious, right!) we catch a ferry to reach them.

they do artisan flavours which are superbly lickable (green tea, adzuki bean, lotus paste, strawberry and basil etc etc - i think they should hire my kids for tasting purposes, since we would like to see ginger root and honey, carrot and syrup, marmalade and cracker).

unfortunately, i then have to pay for it. my budget there is ridiculous, and i am ashamed. i dare not tell you the weekly dollars i put behind their counter.

hi nora, well, you are right on the mental health but family dynamics is never easy, is it?!

so do not worry, not at all. i have put in a request for gin for my birthday, and this will help. xx