In the suburb where I live, the sunshine is quite significantly different from the sunshine in other parts of the world. Here the sunbeams are very sharp, with bevelled edges just like chisels, and they slide along the house peeling the paint off in great flaking strips. Naturally all the flaking paint is at the top of the house because that's the closest to the sun and therefore the sharp sunbeams hit that part first. By the time the sunbeams reach the bottom of the house they are much blunter and so the paint is able to resist them.
Eventually such a lot of paint was flaking off my house that I decided I needed to do something about it. I had sandpaper, polyfilla (the woodworker's friend), paint, a paintbrush and a ladder. The only thing preventing me from setting to work was the extreme vertigo from which I suffer whenever I find myself at the top of a ladder. Obviously I needed a cunning plan. Fortunately I swiftly came up with one.
Ring, ring. Ring, ring.
That'll be the phone.
"Hello," I said.
Eventually I realized that phone conversations work a lot better if you pick the phone up before you talk at it. So I did.
"Hello," said a voice. "This is John. I'm building a tree house and I wondered if you had a ladder I could borrow?"
"Of course I have," I said. "My ladder is your ladder. Feel free to borrow it for as long as you need it. Why are you building a tree house?"
"Because Dylan needs one," said John. Dylan is John's five year old son. They have a wonderful relationship. John uses Dylan as the excuse for playing with all the toys that he really wants to play with. Once he took Dylan to a motor show (they are both extreme petrol heads). A mutual friend spotted them there, watched them for a while, and then rang Lynelle, John's wife.
"Your small child and your other small child are having the time of their lives!"
Lynelle wasn't at all surprised at the news. So, knowing this, I was sure that Dylan would have an absolutely wonderful time playing with his new tree house. But John would have a better time because he'd been waiting for his tree house for thirty years longer than Dylan had.
"Dylan will love that," I said. "Come and get the ladder straight away."
Within minutes, John and Dylan turned up and took the ladder away. I was very pleased. Now I had a perfect reason for not painting the top of my house. There was nothing I could do until the ladder came back. Time passed...
Wavy lines, wavy lines, wavy lines.
A year later, many months after the completion of the tree house, I decided I couldn't put off painting my house any longer.
"Can I have my ladder back?"
"Of course," said John.
I prepared myself for the ordeal. I assembled my tools and then approached the ladder with fear and trembling. My ladder is an origami ladder. It can be folded into a multitude of configurations, thus allowing any conceivable climbing task to be conquered. So I folded the ladder this way and that, and it turned into a frog.
Hmmm. That didn't seem quite right. How could I climb to the top of the house on a frog? Perhaps I was supposed to cling to its back while it jumped high in the air. I tried again, and this time I got a fireman's greasy pole. great for coming down from the top of the house, but not a lot of use for climbing up there in the first place. Three times is a charm. I folded the ladder once more and this time I got pitons, a mountaineering harness and an ice axe. I was tempted by this, but I was worried at the thought of the damage I might do by banging the pitons into the walls of my house, so I tried another set of folds instead. Success! This time I got an actual ladder. I propped it against the house and inched my way gingerly up it, sandpaper, polyfilla and spatula clutched in my hand.
I found it hard to breathe in the rarefied air at the top of the ladder. Wind whistled past my ears, pushing and shoving, trying desperately to make me fall off. Wisps of cloud made it hard to see what I was doing. Low flying aeroplanes made strafing runs which broke my concentration.
I reached out tentatively to peel off the flaking paint, sand down the borders and fill the gaps with polyfilla. With my right hand I scraped and sanded. With my left hand I held whichever tool I didn't need at the moment. And with my middle hand I held on to the ladder with a vice-like grip to stop myself falling off. Since my middle hand is purely imaginary, life at the top of the ladder was more than a bit scary. And it didn't help that I kept stretching and straining to get at things that were just out of reach. This is not a sensible thing to do on a ladder but it takes such a long time to climb down, move the ladder a foot to the left and climb up it again that I simply couldn't help myself. Several times my centre of gravity swayed almost to the tipping point.
But eventually the preparation work was finished and I hadn't fallen off the ladder and died. All that remained to be done now was to paint the newly prepared wood.
The next day I opened up a can of paint, stirred it vigorously and then folded the origami ladder into a spiral staircase. I climbed up and, holding the can in my left hand, the paintbrush in my right hand and with my middle hand clutching the ladder, I began to paint. First I painted my trousers, then I painted my shirt and then, having nothing else to paint, I painted the wood. A curious fly landed and explored the newly painted wood. It got stuck and buzzed plaintively. Aha! The perfect opportunity...
When I was a little boy I used to sneak up on the flies that crawled on the window panes and squash them between my thumb and forefinger. My mother found this habit quite gross and would tell me off whenever she caught me doing it. She particularly hated it when I put the flattened corpses in my pocket for safe keeping. She was always complaining about the dessicated bodies and putrefying fly guts that floated out and stuck to her fingers when she hand washed my trousers.
I became quite skilful at squashing flies. Rare indeed was the fly that escaped my grasping fingers. However some did escape and therefore the natural processes of Darwinian evolution meant that very soon the fly population of the world started selecting for the gene that gave them the speed and manoeuvrability to easily avoid me. The number of corpses in my pockets dwindled to zero as they evolved, and it has been many years since I was last able to squash a crawling fly. But now I had a fly trapped in front of me in the paint. No way was this one going to escape. I reached out and squished my first fly for forty five years.
Ecstasy! Nunc dimittis! Time to fall off the ladder.