Three Disasters

1. I was sitting up in bed writing my diary about a week ago, when I heard Mr Litlove talking on the phone. Few people ring so late, so I was not surprised to hear he was talking to our son, and making many expressions of deep sympathy. I’ve been channelling Dorothy Parker for a while now, and I confess the phrase that sprang to mind was: ‘What fresh hell is this?’ Though as is the case when trouble hoves into view, I am always looking in the wrong direction. This is how you know what’s real: you could never have guessed it.

It turned out that it was one of my son’s best friends who was in need of assistance and a bed for the night. His girlfriend lives in our village, and he had gone to visit her, only to find that she and her family were out. He sat on the doorstep for a while and then, bored, had gone for a walk. Only to run into a bunch of youths who had assaulted him. Now he was injured, and the family still hadn’t returned, and it was nearly midnight.

I felt both enormously sorry for my son’s friend, and deeply exhausted at the thought of his arrival. I think I’m suffering from compassion fatigue, after all my son’s troubles of late. Plus it was the end of the week in which we had launched the magazine, and I’m still writing a book here and I was just tired. I’ve noticed, though, that when a situation calls for me to be more engaged and nurturing than I think I can manage, it arouses profound anxiety. The thought of this poor wounded child arriving (would he need to be taken to hospital?) nearly gave me a panic attack. Though in fact, when he came, he only had a small cut on his forehead (where he’d been headbutted) and wasn’t the traumatised boy I’d imagined.

We all went to bed, and in the stillness of the night I could hear him moving around in our son’s room. I was lying there, wide awake, trying to reconstruct his movements. I could hear him talking very quietly on the phone. Then more movement. Then he went downstairs and seemed to try the front door. I could feel Mr Litlove beside me, listening too. After another brief call, he went downstairs again and out of the door. Mr Litlove looked out the window and saw a car arrive and pick him up. Either this was the most willing kidnap in criminal history, or his family had come for him. In the morning we found a really sweet note that he’d left us, saying it was his girlfriend’s family who had finally returned and picked him up en route.


2. On Monday morning I was driving to work at the bookshop and sitting in the usual heavy traffic, when I saw my hairdresser pass by in his car on the other side of the road. I was so surprised to see him, as one is with people who belong so intrinsically to their environment. But we waved gaily at one another, and in turning around to do so, I stalled the car. And then, when I tried to start it again, the engine was completely dead.

I put my hazard warning lights on and wondered what on earth to do. I thought for one mad moment I should get out and push, before remembering you needed someone at the wheel to do that. I dug my phone out of my bag, though knew Mr Litlove was in a day-long strategy meeting and couldn’t help. All this time, traffic was pouring around me, white vans honking in protest, the buses squeezing through impatiently with millimetres to spare. And then a saviour appeared at my passenger window in the form of a man on a bike with a beard and ponytail. ‘Have you broken down?’ he asked. ‘I didn’t think you could just be sitting there.’ As he began to push, so the window cleaners from the shop materialised and, recognising me, came to help. I was at least now off the main road in a side street, though parked in a doctor’s space.

The window cleaner had a look at the engine and thought it was the battery. He asked me what had happened and I tried to explain my hairdresser’s surprise drive-by, a narrative he greeted with an expression of bewilderment mixed with indulgent contempt. He had packed off his apprentice – over whom he rules with a sort of benign despotism – to finish the job they’d been doing and said that, when they were ready to leave, he figured they could give me a push start and I could make it home. I don’t have any rescue cover, as Mr Litlove is fond of cancelling things that charge against chance; which is fine when he has the luck of the devil, but not fine for me who most certainly does not. I’d thought I needed to open the shop, so that was a complication, but luckily it turned out that someone was in. So I returned to my car to await my unlikely heroes.

‘I’ve never done this before,’ I said when they appeared. ‘So you’ll have to tell me exactly…’

‘Do you want to push?’


So I lined up with the apprentice, both of us grinning wryly at each other in acknowledgement of our lowly status, and we pushed and ran and pushed and the engine caught again.


3. So on Thursday night I was once again in bed, writing up my diary, when I became aware of a commotion coming from the bathroom. Mr Litlove was yelling for my help, an act that was unprecedented in our twenty years of marriage, and there was the ominous sound of water cascading. I sped over the landing, opened the bathroom door and saw a drenched Mr Litlove, his hands in the toilet cistern, attempting to stem a gushing fountain of water that would have graced Trafalgar Square. ‘Go and get me a screwdriver!’ he begged, and I shot off, not really liking to admit that I could probably only identify a screwdriver under conditions of complete calm and on receipt of a jolly good clue. In any case, as I hunted around our utility room, there didn’t seem to be any tools in evidence at all. I tore back, tripping up the stairs, with the whole (almost empty) toolbox in hand. ‘You’ll have to stop it while I look,’ Mr Litlove said. ‘Put your hand here and flush the loo when the water gets high enough.’

If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s out of control water. It seems to symbolise the most powerful forces of nature able to destroy and wreck in blind chaos. I sloshed through the lake that was covering the bathroom floor and stuck my thumb in the dyke, as it were, my heart pounding and trying not to shiver in my thin nightdress. I could hear Mr Litlove running down the garden path to his shed, and then back to the house and up the stairs. When he had a screwdriver, he could turn off the isolator down by the cistern, and the fountain of water died instantly away. For a moment we neither said nor did anything, catching our breath.

‘Sorry about that,’ said Mr Litlove. He had been washing up downstairs when he heard water running down the windows, which he identified as coming from the overflow. Thinking he could effect a quick repair, he’d gone to take the troublesome part out of the cistern, and…I guess it didn’t go so well. We still don’t have a working toilet upstairs, which is okay, we have a cloakroom, but I’m always halfway up the stairs before I remember.

So it seems the lords of misrule are still aligned over the Fens and I am left wondering what will happen next? It doesn’t bear thinking about…


47 thoughts on “Three Disasters

  1. Oh my! What an eventful time you’ve had – and not in a particularly good way…. Hope things are calmer now and you have a relaxing Easter break!

  2. haha you are totally hopeless! I think it’s about time you took a car repair and tool identification class there, Stereotype. This was a great read. Had me on the edge of my seat over just everyday troubles. Great writing as always.

    • You know, I would, but I am quite convinced they’d throw me out for being useless! Plus, I may well find myself manipulating others emotionally to do the work for me, and well, that’s not pretty. 🙂 Thank you for the lovely compliment. It’s a moment of redemption when I think: aha, this is one for the blog…!

  3. Still, dear Victoria, you can make me laugh through all the trials. From, “What fresh hell is this?” to needing a jolly good clue for screw driver identification, I am so glad that I am not the only one with disasters.

  4. That was quite an eventful week you’ve had, I’m glad things ultimately turned out ok. Regardless, I must congratulate you here on the launching of your online magazine. That’s a wonderful idea and I wish you all a successful venture!

  5. That’s way too much excitement for one week. That instruction to get a screwdriver would have had me baffled a little too, not because I don’t know where we keep them or what such a tool looks like but because it’s too vague a direction to be of much use. does he what a phillip’s head screwdriver or a flat one, and what size? You can bet that whatever one I found it would be the wrong one…

    • Oh now that’s a really good reason for being baffled! I’ll have to keep that up my sleeve for next time. I most certainly would have brought the wrong one too! You are so right that it’s more excitement than a woman really needs.

  6. I have stopped The Bears coming over to help on the grounds that I am not certain how many of them could recognise a screwdriver either. I am the practical one in this household but only as long as I can plan to be practical. Otherwise, like you in the face of an emergency anxiety gets in the way.

    Oh and I am also the pusher in the house. I can only steer a car by instinct. Ask me to think about it and I am useless.

    Have a better week.

    • I have a delightful mental image now of the Bears driving the car (one at the wheel, one at the pedals, one on the gear stick) and you pushing. The Bears are always welcome to visit, but we might keep their paws out of the emergencies, though I don’t doubt they would do wonders for my morale. I perfectly understand the need to plan to be practical – heaven only knows I require a GREAT deal of planning! 🙂

  7. Yes of course, bad things come in threes so all will be absolutely fine now. It was funny to read about, though, if not to experience! x

  8. Goodness, that’s a lot of drama. It’s not the same window-cleaner as was involved in a previous litlove-related mishap, is it?

    Happy Easter, I hope things are much better now!

    • It is such a redemptive moment when after something bad happens I can think to myself: this is one for the blog. 🙂 Oh yes, here’s to calmer weeks. I do feel I’m owed one!

  9. Nothing comes next! You’ve had bad luck in threes and now you’re on a break from bad luck for a bit. Naturally! It does all sound incredibly trying, and I’m glad your son’s friend is okay.

    I feel just the same about rushing water. I can’t watch movie scenes with loads of rushing water — that whole bit in the film of The Two Towers when they release the dams and flood Isengard makes me feel terribly anxious, even though of course I support the defeat of Saruman.

    • I do love your comments! And thank you for the solidarity on flowing water. I remember the film of the Titanic being quite traumatic in that respect. I am so hoping that three marks the end of an… interesting run of events. Enough already! 🙂

  10. Dear me, I turn up for the pleasure and entertainment of your blog and instead it’s more disaster, even if entertainingly written as ever. Your water story gets to me most as it’s like ongoing out of control when it happens, but you need to get Mr Litlove to place crucial screwdrivers near to your off valves, which we don;t have (sadly), you know like those little glass boxes that say in case of …break glass! Hope you have a pleasant spell off the what next patrol, you should unsubscribe! I’m off to fix the garden hose!

    • Do you know what’s really galling? Mr Litlove DID have a screwdriver in the basket of bathroom bits and bobs we keep near the toilet for all eventualities. He’d just forgotten it in the heat of the moment! We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when he remembered that… I will try and take your excellent advice to unsubscribe from the what next patrol – lol!

  11. All sounds most unfortunate to happen in one go, but made a very amusing read.

    I’m convinced that I’ve come out with a positive balance from my breakdown cover – however for this to be true you’d also have to have my luck with cars, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    • Lol! Yes, I know what you mean about breakdown cover. My car is just reaching that age where it is a bit wobbly about the edges, and I am just generally convinced that if something can go wrong it will. Mr Litlove tells me this is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If that’s his way of saying I’m right, so be it! 🙂

      • There’s a balancing act to be performed – my uncle’s ancient Nissan broke down so many times that the AA threatened not to cover him any more! He gave up keeping a car soon after that (London living.)

  12. Like Jenny, my sympathy for rushing water trauma is, well, over-the-top. There’s almost nothing worse in a house (having said that, I realize that I’ve only ever seen fire from outside the house which is quite the way to do it if one has to).

    • Lol! I have three a.m. thoughts about house fire, as the amount of tinder I’ve stocked the house with doesn’t bear thinking about. Mind you, water would do just as much damage. Thank you for the solidarity – it is much appreciated!

  13. Oh dear, you are disaster central there at Casa Litlove! We’ve not been having any disasters at my house, it seems they are all visiting you. It’s quite kind of you to take them on like that 😉

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