Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Broken sunglasses and an old potato

It's not a good start to the day as I realise, yet again, that it's bins day and neither of us remembered last night to put the rubbish bags out for collection. As I stumble around the house in the half light of early morning, muttering and grumbling about being late for work, I wonder how other people organise themselves for the day-to-day activities of living together. With the small part of my brain that's awake at 6am, I trawl through faint memories of our early conversations, but I can't remember us ever having a conversation where we allocated out the chores; I don't recall any lists of tasks carefully shared and balanced.

There wasn't any negotiation process all those years ago, and I'm sure there would be no point in opening talks right now. It's too early, I'm sleepy, he's asleep. So I gather up the newspapers for the recycling bag and move from room to room emptying bins into a black sack. I line up the bags at the kerbside, then go back indoors to wash my hands before leaving for work. When I go upstairs to say goodbye, I realise there's one bin I've missed, so I dash back down for another bag, my irritation increasing with each of the thirteen stairs down and every one of the thirteen stairs back up again.

In our bedroom there's a small white basket, it's usually got a few tissues, perhaps the label cut from a new t-shirt or the polythene wrapper from the weekend's newspapers. Today, just because I'm in a hurry, it's full. And when I tip it up, the contents don't empty quickly or cleanly into the bin-bag. I reach down gingerly through the tissues, hoping for nothing damp, then extract a pair of broken sunglasses, one lens missing, one arm sticking out at a strange angle.  I tug to release it from the wicker weave of the basket, and as I do so, the rest of the litter falls to the floor. As the tissues float down like over-sized snowflakes, there's an unexpected thud, and I see a wrinkled old potato rolling across the floor and under the bed.

A little later, I'm driving to work, along with the often-slow lanes of traffic on the M25. This is usually my time for the mental shift from home to work, an hour of thinking about the day ahead, preparing the virtual list of things I'm probably not going to achieve in the next eight hours. But today, my mind keeps returning to home; the images in my head are a pair of broken sunglasses and an old potato.

I can't help but think how well those two objects sum him up. If I was taking part in a tv game show, I'd have guessed the identity of the bin-owner before the compère had even finished describing the wrinkled gnarliness of the potato.

I'd have known why sunglasses are a year-round accessory for him; that it's not a vain affectation, just a need to stave off the unsettling effects of over-bright lights. I'd know that he loses or breaks them time and again, that one day he'd like to own another pair of real Ray-bans, but that in the meantime he settles for something close.

I'd have been able to describe to the watching millions exactly where that potato came from, how it's ancestor sat in an egg-box on the window sill in Crown Road, before being planted in the middle of our allotment. I could talk about the enormous pride we felt the first year we harvested our own crop, how every year since then he's dug up the potatoes with the glee of a boy searching for buried treasure.  I could go on to explain how he's the cook in our family, how he turns those potatoes into the crunchiest roasties, even though he insists on leaving the skins on.

Today, the traffic flows as smoothly as my imagination and soon enough I'm pulling into the car park. As I stand in the lift on my way up to the seventh floor my last thought of home is the realisation that, without any negotiations about the sharing out of chores, I seem to have done ok. A frantic early morning emptying of the rubbish bins is a very fair price for the dinner I know I'll be going home to later.




33 comments:

Baglady said...

At first I wanted this to end with "I see a wrinkled old potato rolling across the floor and under the bed", satisfied by the unexplained. But then you built on this and I thought it was just lovely (I like "today, the traffic flows as smoothly as my imagination")

Except for the skin on potatoes.

Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Wonderful, readable and enjoyable post! Sharon, somehow, you are very good at setting an understated, specific mood and "feel" for the thereabouts. I enjoy reading your work. Excellent! ~R

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

It all works out in the end doesn't it?

Shea Goff said...

Thank you for sharing that. It's lovely.

Pat said...

Absolutely! My first reaction was : bins - men's work. But if he provides delicious meals I'm willing to make an exception:)

Nessa Roo said...

Two weeks from now, you'll be sniffing the air and realize you've forgotten about that old potato altogether.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You get the details precisely right. I could feel my own frustration when the bin (we call them wastebaskets) fails to empty nicely, and tissues flutter all over the floor along with other things I don't want to touch. And of course you see and convey the big picture in a lovely way as well.

Matt Inwood said...

Such a pleasing rounded bit of writing. When I saw your tweet a few weeks ago, I thought (and I might have been alone but for you) 'she should write about that'. I know I would if I found a pair of sunglasses and a potato in the bedside bin! But, of course, what's so lovely is they are merely a prop to work something so much more deep and felt into the weave, which you do so well. A perfectly balanced, perfectly paced piece of writing.

Out of Sync said...

That was a really nice post =)

Bill Dameron said...

How easily you take two such common items like an old potato and some broken glasses, and turn them into such an endearing love story, as only you can, Sharon.

steven said...

you sharon are one freaking awesome writer and i love and admire how all the very tiny and large features of your life braid together in your words and tell stories even greater than their own telling!! steven

The Elephant's Child said...

Skins on potatoes here too.
I believe that the often overlooked small things are the mainstay of our lives. Years back could you have believed that a potato (wrinkled or not) and some broken sunglasses would bring to mind love and mutual support? Which is what this post sings of to me. Thank you.

Starlight said...

Beautifully written. My favourite line: “Today, the traffic flows as smoothly as my imagination and soon enough I'm pulling into the car park.“

Marsha said...

What a nice study of the everyday workings of a relationship. Smooth, readable, and true.

Joe Pereira said...

You can weave a story out of anything Sharon - nice prose. Could you write something about "building walls" ? both kinds - physical and metaphorical? I ask because I can't but desperately want to. Does that make sense? Thanks :)

Dicky Carter is... said...

I was actually laughing reading this because I hate it when stuff drops out of the bin bag - yuck. Great piece of writing and brilliant post title.

Jayne said...

This is a beautiful portrayal of the joy of intimacy, of having deeply loved and lived with someone long enough to be able gaze at trash and find sweet sentiment within.

I'm beginning to think that it's time to swap chores. Although, I'm not sure if I'd want to take out the trash on a permanent basis. ;)

Mr London Street said...

You know, better than almost anyone else I've ever read, how much the little things tell us about the big things. Being able to show everybody that is the single biggest part of your brilliance. I hope you never envy other writers, when you show so many people what can be achieved with words. I loved this.

Eryl said...

You've definitely 'done ok', in, as far as I can see, every aspect of life. Your writing is joyous: you manage to convey happiness and drama at the same time. I'm not sure I knew that was possible.

Hillary said...

MLS left a comment and said it best, but I'll try to add.

Sometimes as a writer you brazenly find yourself wishing you had written something. That's how I felt with reading this. It gave me joy and made me envious. What a great story you wove from broken sunglasses and that old potato.

Cle Reveries said...

I've enjoyed all your writing, but the story of the sunglasses and that of the potato are amusing and peculiar.
Very, very nice post!

Elisabeth said...

Lovely to meet you Sharon. I'm here from Eryl's blog. I enjoy juxtaposing seemingly odd objects and drawing meaning from them, as you do here. What wonderful images, the potato and the limbless sunglasses. I'm very pleased to have met you.

The Idiot Gardener said...

Nice, simple, uncluttered (unlike the bins), and a man that takes potatoes to bed. Good work!

Diane Cosby said...

A lovely testament to all of us who have been with the same person for a long time!!!And for those aspiring to do the same. You have skillfully summed it up in your usual subtle but yet riveting way.

Happy Frog and I said...

I always look forward to your posts and this was no exception. It's difficult to pick out a particular favourite sentence but for me it would be 'As the tissues float down like over-sized snowflakes, there's an unexpected thud, and I see a wrinkled old potato rolling across the floor and under the bed.'

Sharon Longworth said...

You are all very lovely - thank you for so many smashing comments.

Baglady - what can I say about the roast potatoes? - you and I both know they're better without skins on, but some people just won't be told...

Raymond - thank you! I'm not sure I ever intend to set a particular mood, so I'm very flattered if that is what you find.

Mybabyjohn/Delores - doesn't it just?

Shea - really glad you like it - thank you.

Pat - oh yes - I'm definitely the lucky one here - delicious meals, all the time!

Sharon Longworth said...

Nessa - brilliant! I have almost no sense of smell, so it could be there for a long time...

Blissed-out Grandma - I'm so glad it's not only me who makes a mess of clearing up the mess!

Matt - I love your comments, they always seem so thoughtful - I'm guessing they're a proper reflection of who you are.

Out of Sync - Thank you!

Bill - that's very kind - thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Steven - that's such a smashing thing to say - thank you.

The Elephant's Child - indeed, who'd have thought it? Who needs diamonds when you have a pair of broken sunglasses and an old potato?

Tamara - thank you! I'm glad you liked that line. I must say it makes my drive to work sound much better than it actually is most days.

Marsha - thank you.

Joe - thank you for your kind words. And as for writing about building walls - well I guess you know the answer to that by now...

Sharon Longworth said...

Dicky - I know, emptying the bins first thing is never my favourite job - I don't often find something to smile at, let alone write about!

Jayne - thank you. Trust me - trash emptying in return for dinner is a really good deal.

MLS - I don't need to tell you how pleased I am that you liked this.

Eryl - that's right up there as one of the best comments I've ever had - thank you.

Hillary - I often wish I'd written the things I read from others - even when, like MLS, they tell me I shouldn't.

Sharon Longworth said...

Cle - I'm pleased that you've taken the time to read my posts - and I'm really glad you liked this one.

Elisabeth - thank you for visiting via Eryl - her blog is great isn't it? I've just realised I used to read your blog, but haven't done so for ages - I will head over again and have another look.

IG - I'm not sure what it says about me, that I love a man who takes potatoes to bed, but there you go...

Diane - it's not a bad thing to aspire to is it?

Abbey - I'm so flattered when anyone says they look forward to my posts - too kind by far, but very much appreciated.

Lizzie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lizzie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sharon Longworth said...

Lizzie - I am so, so, sorry - your comment came up twice, so I tried to delete one of them, and ended up deleting them both. And now I can't seem to retrieve it.
Feeling very stupid, but please don't think I'm an ungrateful fool, your comment was lovely