My stepfather is Jewish with a love of sausages, we call him the Rabbi. The Rabbi, my mother and I have lived together for the last 6 months. The Rabbi's one contribution is the bbq. There is always something missing, however, often it's charcoal, so we cut down a few branches, other times its firelighters. An 8 o'clock bbq doesn't start until 10 pm. An exhausting grubby ordeal for the Rabbi as he pokes and puffs at the stubborn old fashion grill, in the meantime my mother cooks everything in the Aga and we just warm it up on the bbq in the dark to make the Rabbi feel content that he has contributed. A contribution he will remind us of for the rest of the week. On the rare occasions, he does manage to cook on the bbq, I am convinced the man is trying to kill me; the chicken is raw in the middle and the sausages are blacker than the charcoal. Salmonella and cancer in one sitting.
The Rabbi likes to come home from work to his wife, not wife and 35-year-old morose stepdaughter. I am not allowed to be in the house when just the Rabbi is there, I have learned his schedule. But one day he deviated from it and came home at 4 pm and there I was making a cup of tea. Panic. The conversation I had been avoiding:
'Whats the plan?'
Plan, plan, there is no fordforsaken plan. I can't even book a 'pont' (french bank holiday weekend) or get myself to the new Tate Britain exposition showcasing my hero Jenny Saville what in the world makes you think I have a plan?
When I evacuate the house in line with the Rabbi's schedule I go to the temporary tennis club. The Rabbi is also a member of the same club. So if we don't bump into each other at home we do at the tennis club. The Rabbi is essentially a grumpy old man, but that's what I like about him, there are no surprises. He makes no attempt to cover up his feelings about not wanting to live with me and I have been asked to put my dates into an excel spreadsheet and my tennis times. There is a column for me in yellow and a column for the Rabbi in grey. This seems to work and minimal overlapping has occurred.
The Rabbi is a minimalist, he had a bachelor pad with white leather sofas and glass tables with pictures of cars and Marilyn Monroe before he met my mother. My mother is a clutterist, she will lug dozens of wooden artifacts back from her trips to Africa, voodoo sculptures and native paintings. They have 9 different pairs of wooden salad servers and a draw of reserves which they hand out at every christening, engagement party and wedding they attend. They have recently bought a new house and I am witness to daily battles about the artwork and furniture choices. I don't help, I decided last month to make 24 cushions out of some material beautiful boy and I had bought in Morocco. The Rabbi went berserk.
One thing they have agreed on is the need for a downstairs bathroom, the Rabbi is 70 and has one leg and their bedroom and bathroom are on the 4th floor up windy narrow stairs. The downstairs bathroom project has sadly broken up our little party of three, as we now share the house with a team of Polish builders.
One last thing about the Rabbi, he has a collection of old cars which are scattered around London in various garages. These include the E-type, the Corvette, the Mark 2 Jag, Citroen, and MGTD. Nearly all these cars have only 2 seats which are very handy when he drives back from the tennis club offering the seat to my mother and leaving me to walk 25 minutes up a steep Arkwright road in the dark.
He works in Chalk Farm and has tried all modes of transport of getting to and from work. My favourite was the purchase of 5 bikes, a bike a day would leave Hampstead and cruise down Haverstock hill to the office, and then the tube was taken back. A bike a day (I'm sure there's a slogan in there somewhere) and then at the end of a week he would rent a van to collect all 5 bikes and drive them up the hill back to Hampstead. He then invested in an electric bike but cycling up the hill was still strenuous, so on the second day, it stayed at the office and as far as I know it's still there.
So now he walks down a small hill to South End Green and catches the 168 bus to the office and for his return takes the tube to Hampstead and walks down another little hill to get home. Gravity is his friend. He then drives to a garage and parks the car of the day and then catches a taxi to another garage and gets a different car out which he drives to the tennis club and collects my mothers and lets me walk home. There is another spreadsheet for the garages, the cars, and their usage.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am very fond of my step-father.