Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sweet Violet and the Attack Vac

This past weekend was hot…so hot that even in my air conditioned bedroom, I was wearing a light cotton nightgown in the middle of the day. It was one of those things I bought in the States in anticipation of the hot summer weather, a thin white cotton chemise-type ankle-length gown with eyelet straps, a light, floaty concoction designed for maximum air flow.

Like most places, Cape Town has its weather peculiarities. Our most famous one is the “Cape Doctor,” a stiff wind that is the bane of hairdressers everywhere, but the darling of the wind and kite surfers. This is no wussy breeze, mind you…the Cape Doctor not only blows your cares away, it has also been known to blow roofs off garden storage buildings (known as “wendy houses” here) and take the make-shift tops off the shacks of the poor. It’s a powerful wind and if you’re smart, you keep your windows closed during its visits…not only does it blow dust and debris into your house, it will actually blow things off window sills!

And so it was on Saturday morning: Hubby was in the shower and I was checking email when I heard the unmistakeable sound of breaking glass. Concerned that he had broken something in the shower, I slipped on my sandals and checked up on him…no glass.

“Sounds like it came from the loo,” he said and, sure enough, there on the floor of the loo lay one of my African violets, the water catching bowl in shards all around it. I picked up the larger pieces and, when Hubby was done with his shower, sent him to the guest room to fetch the vacuum.

Now, you have to understand about this vac…Hubby had it before I moved here and, since I don’t have to use it (one of the perks of having a maid), I’ve never agitated for a smaller, easier-to-manage one. It is a massive canister vac, the kind that will suck up dirt and water and any passing 747 that may wander into its space. It’s huge, heavy, unwieldy, ungainly, and difficult to move about, despite having more wheels than a semi. I hate the thing but, since the maid was off and I am the back-up household management person…and glass on a floor where we walk barefoot in the dark of night is not something to leave until she returns…it fell to me to get the floor safe enough for naked feet.

Hubby plugged it in and went back to his retreat. I looked for the “on” switch but couldn’t find it. I felt around on top of the body of the machine and found a likely depression in the plastic housing…but the only thing I got out of pressing it was a broken nail. The machine stood in the hallway, its black plastic hide gleaming evilly as it counted its first point against the puny human.

I am not a person to be put off by machines. I firmly believe we are their masters and when one takes it upon itself to challenge my dominance, I get unhappy with it…and determined to prevail. I mended my broken nail and then called in the big guns…my husband, the mechanical engineer.

So well-concealed was the on-switch, Hubby actually had to turn the light on in the hall and spin the beast around several times to locate it. I stood by, wand in hand, the head poised over several glittery shards of glass, as the monster roared to life. I made the first pass over the broken glass and the wand came apart in my hands, the left hand holding the wand and head, the right hand holding the hose…which was diligently trying to eat my nightgown!

It had sucked up a bit of fabric near my midriff and was eagerly chowing it down. Startled, I dropped the wand and pulled the fabric loose, only to have the fiend snatch the hem and start slurping down the entire skirt like a spaghetti noodle. Again, I dragged metres of fabric from its gullet but before I could put the wand back over its gaping maw, it attacked again. This time it seized a bit near my knee and greedily gobbled it down, pulling the gown snug against my ample torso.

My husband stood there, rapt. He neither turned off the machine nor tried to rescue me from its clutches. I suspect he was caught in the kind of hypnotic paralysis that a cobra’s victim experiences…knowledge of the impending danger but powerless to flee. And it happened fast: all three attacks in less than a minute! Eventually I managed to muzzle the brute by clapping the wand over its rapacious snout and compelling it to do what it was supposed to do in the first place: suck up the glass shards from the floor.

Ten minutes later Hubby had returned the beast to its lair and I was comforting the poor violet that had been so unceremoniously dashed to the floor. Fortunately, it was the sturdiest of the three on the window sill, so it gratefully soaked up some fresh water, shrugged off a few crushed leaves and, in the morning, popped a few buds into bloom for me.

So, I have been contemplating buying a new vacuum…one of those small stick vacs that aren’t much bigger than a broom and don’t have a separate wand to be suddenly cast off in preparation for attack. I’ve got my eye on a cute little thing they’ve been advertising on TV…it’s called The Shark…

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