01.11
It’s a small world

Where would you go for an au pair?

More specifically, whom might you turn to for Swedish childcare? (I can’t imagine why, but just say you happened to have a preference for young Scandinavian girls).

The answer, I now know, is New Zealand.

My request for help in finding an au pair produced an unexpected response. The only New Zealander on my global ‘e-mail from America’ circulation list put me in touch with a girl in Sweden who happened to have a friend looking for a job in America. Martinborough is 9,142 miles away from Darien, not to mention 10,897 miles from Sweden, and yet that distance evaporated with little more than a couple of computer clicks.

It has to be said that this particular iteration of global trade met with a considerable degree of wifely suspicion. The suggestion of a Swedish au pair introduced over the Internet by a New Zealand sheep farmer received a rather cool reception from Ros. She did little to disguise her relief when we discovered that Sanna was unavailable, having already secured a position in Colorado.

A couple of weeks later I had further evidence of a shrinking world. My work was disrupted by severe flooding in Bangalore.

I know it will come as some surprise to readers of my e-mails, who had me down as a ne’er-do-well hanger-on to the coat tails of my wife’s meteoric career, to hear that I dabble in work. Over and above my duties as a surrogate Connecticut Mom, I’ve actually been doing something that men aren’t supposed to be able to do. Multi-task. When the pinafore’s off, I’ve been earning a crust alternately with words and with numbers.

The words I’ve jumbled together, in my capacity as a semi-translucent ghost writer, to form a book on retail branding that Charles Dunstone has described as “the best manual I’ve come across on how to retail to 21st century customers”. The much-quoted notion of monkeys randomly typing on a keyboard and eventually coming up with War and Peace springs to mind. For those of you who are interested, the book is called ‘People don’t buy what you sell’ by Martin Butler and can be found at all good bookshops such as Amazon.co.uk. My life ambition has always been to write a book that makes people laugh. I sincerely hope that this is not it.

It wasn’t the book that was sabotaged by Indian monsoons. It was my numbers. Much to my incomprehension, and with no idea how such a strange thing could have happened, I appear to have become a quantitative researcher. This is even more improbable than my attendance at Darien coffee mornings. Together with a colleague in London, I have a fast growing business that helps advertising agencies quantify how their clients feel about them. So fast, in fact, that I’ve been drowning in numbers. I’ve missed the last two coffee mornings and haven’t even had time to paint my nails or curl my hair.

Salvation has come from the Indians. I have recently started to subcontract my number-crunching to a company of Asian computer supremos I read about in ‘The World is Flat’. The time difference with India means that their working day starts when mine finishes. It effectively doubles our working week. Similar to the New Zealand sheep farmer trading Swedish au pairs for the American market, here we have a research response bouncing around three continents in a matter of minutes. All fine and dandy, until Bangalore goes the way of New Orleans.

The world is indeed a whole lot smaller than ever it was. (And wetter).

I just wish it didn’t all conjure up such painful memories of being incarcerated in a revolving painted crate to the mind-numbing cartoon song ‘It’s a small world’ piped through endless clunky plastic models grouped in hackneyed national stereotypes. Nothing epitomises Disneyworld more than the ‘It’s a small world’ ride. And nothing brings out the worst in me more than this hell-hole. I suffer nightmares of being stuck in there forever. My resistance to believing in an afterlife can probably be blamed on a fear that it could equally well end up here as it could with seventy-two virgins fawning over my fully shaved body or having some old geezer with a long flowing beard usher me to join a group of harpsichord playing fairies on a cloud. With such alternatives atheism is the only option.

Disneyworld does more than anything to skewer our finely balanced marital equilibrium. I hate the place, which puts me in a very small minority in our family. Worse than that I’m cast as the killjoy, the grumpy old man, the object of vilification for not joining in the fun. But, despite all the disharmony it causes, I just can’t bring myself to applaud in wide-eyed wonderment as cheap plastic figurines sing to me that it’s a small world.

It’s this kind of attitude that makes me so much more suited to scheming, murderous, cheating Chicago than I am to the happy families of Darien.

It was Halloween here this week. I guess it was Halloween everywhere else as well, but Halloween here is a big number. Office workers sign off early in the afternoon to get home in time. Children are excused homework. Schools hold special parades. And everyone (children and adults) dress up in the most extraordinary costumes. I found myself passing the time of day with a post-menopausal Bo Peep while Darth Vader, a tiny American footballer, Hermione Granger and the Devil sauntered past hand-in-hand.

Trick or treating has to be jointly sponsored by the confectionary industry and the dental profession. Jay & Natasha both went out with large pillow cases to carry the sweets they would collect. They both returned staggering under the weight of more processed sugar than I have ever seen in my life. I’m not sure if I should admit to this (given that I now have some local American readers on my global ‘e-mail from America’ circulation list) as such a confession is sure social suicide around here, but, safe in the knowledge that I’m soon to leave town, I think I can come clean. With Ros in Chicago (having left me a large bowl of sweets to hand out to the expected visitors of the night) and both Jay and Natasha out on their respective confectionary hauls, I was left home alone. Turning off every light in the house (apart from the dull luminous glow of my computer screen) I buried myself in my study with my headphones on and prayed to be left alone.

Truth be told, little kids dressed in all manner of weird kit scare the living daylights out of me.

When Natasha returned and saw the untouched bowl of sweets, I was castigated for being a recalcitrant shit (she didn’t quite use those words, and if she did I may have questioned whether recalcitrant was really the right adjective) and for not entering into the spirit of the Halloween. I argued, on the contrary, that by turning our house into a lifeless intimidating place inhabited by a grumpy old ghoul, I was indeed being true to the concept. She told me that Halloween wasn’t about that, it was about remembering the dead and giving away sweets.

I think I may have lost my place in heaven and, tragically, will now be condemned to suffer the ‘It’s a small world’ ride in perpetuity.

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