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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

Classical music agony aunt ALICE McVEIGH returns
to tell the story of her rescue by Hel and Slime

Dear Music & Vision,

Where is Agony Alice?

R J from the USA, Curious in Vermont, and Frankly Seeking the Post in NW6

Dear above,

I was in Crete, the northwest bit, near Stavros, twiddling toeses in the surf, doing laps on the swimming pool and chilling out on the balcony avec wine glass. But if you think that sounds nauseatingly smug, consider the situation as it was on 27 July 2004, at 4am (yes, that's am, or the middle of the ruddy night) when I was perched dejectedly by the side of the M25, with weeping six-year-old, useless taxi-driver and worried husband, along with three suitcases, scanning the horizon for the fairy godmother.

We had got a flat tire, rather dramatically, going around the bend (literally) where the A21 joins into the M25, people-carrier rocking, steering seriously weird, etc. Taxi driver confirmed diagnosis on hard shoulder with an airy wave of hand. 'Flat, schmat,' about summed up his attitude. He has a new people mover, by one of those Japanese firms, and it was his first flat in same, but no problem, he got weaving with getting our luggage out and his screwdriver in, in order to release the spare tire, while Si watched and Rachel and I played Hangman in the back seat. I wasn't aware of anything going wrong with the programme as outlined until I heard him asking Si for help with the release mechanism. They started off with one of those jolly all-boys-together larkiness, but, twenty minutes later, had admitted defeat. Not even two lots of simultaneous brute force could shift it; the mechanism was jammed and the all-new, all-shiny wheel just perched there giggling at us.

Now in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem, you will have to understand that Chania is seriously underequipped in the flight department. It is well known that, in order to get to this undeveloped bit of Crete in the summer, you must book no later than the previous January. Otherwise it's a three-hour drive from the next nearest airport, and, at peak season, you'll be bloody lucky not to have to fly to Athens and take a ferry. This, with the amount of art materials Rachel requires in a TV-free zone, was a formidable idea. Simon called the airline, who said 5:15 (for the six o'clock flight) was the latest we could hope to catch it. Our driver, whose sang-froid was perfectly maddening, called the AA, who talked airily of 'under an hour.' It was then that I had my brain-wave (my first since 1987). I got on the mobile and called my best friend Helen, who lives just off the M25, with her delightful husband Slime (known to readers as DGriffs) and her three teenagers. It was by then around 4:30 in the morning but she picked up the phone almost immediately, and right-hoed instantly. Sooner than one would have believed possible, her ancient estate car was looming off the motorway and the fairy godmother (oddly enough, Rachel has always called her that) was there, make-up-less and not quite as beautiful as usual, but never half so beautiful to me. (Though her beauty of soul is such that I dedicated my first novel to her, 'To my two sisters: Kathy and Helen.' Which then entailed my Mum in a lot of tedious explanations in the US about how I elected Helen an honorary sister back in 1982, but that's life.)

We spent a lot of time in Crete (the time when we weren't disagreeing about whether our taxi-driver friend deserved squat or a token ten pounds for the outward trip) wondering about what such sterling friendship deserved (there not, frankly, being much worth buying in the undeveloped bit of Crete that we favour) and came down on a bang-up meal for Hel and Slime in the Italian restaurant of their choice on our return. Any reader who can think of anything more imaginative (and no, we can't afford a less banged-up estate car) pls email instanter ...


Ask Alice

Dear Alice,

Why is it that a house you leave looking perfectly decent can, in a mere two weeks, become a tangled mass of brooding dust and dirt?

A M, Orpington

Dear Alice,

This is a little known effect of 'Irritable House Syndrome'. In other words, houses, which are notoriously low in the IQ stakes, take a while to realise that they are uninhabited, but (once they cotton on) they get very peeved indeed. Cases are not unknown of their egging on boilers to break down, pipes to burst or fridges to burst into flame, but your average house contents itself with quieter species of revenge, such as causing mold to form where it never normally would, egging on dust to collect itself in heaping handfuls, and sending out signals for any moth in the vicinity who isn't feeling too hot to come and pop his clogs in your bathrooms. The only cure for this is, of course, never to go away for more than a couple of days, but my advice is to sod the house and take your chance. Most houses have too good a sense of self-preservation to go for the more malevolent forms of IHS, and my view is that a dustless house is a touch characterless.


Copyright © 20 August 2004 Alice McVeigh, Kent, UK



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