AIDA AUSTIN: 'Just checking to see if you’re still alive'

Aida Austin talks mishaps, dangers and accidents at her new home.

July. Mum and I are standing at the bottom of the steps in front of the house that my husband and I are hoping to buy.

“Good Lord,” she says, looking at the steep steps, and then up to the house. “It’s a long way up. Good job you’re not 80.”

“Hold the hand-rail, Mum,” I say.

“These steps,” she says as she pants, marching up the steps ahead of me, “will either keep you fit or be the death of you.”

“The death of you,” she decides at the summit. “You mark my words.”

August. I am showing my sister and her girlfriend the house, which we now own. “Great potential,” they say, clutching the hand-rail. “Pity about the steps.”

“Never mind the steps,” I call down from the top. “Wait till you see the view from up here.”

“Whoever has to carry your coffin down after you’ve broken your neck on these steps will have to have good knees,” my sister says as she pants, halfway up.

September. I am at the bottom of the steps, showing Paul the front of the house, which has been freshly painted. “Your money would have been better spent on a ****** Stannah stair-lift,” he says.

At the top of the steps, I say: “See how pretty it is up here? Sun all day and you can see right over the town.”

“Just a shame you have to dice with death every time you want to ******* see it,” he says as he pants.

Early October. I phone my sister.

“The builders have started,” I say.

“Have they got good knees?” she says.

I phone my mum. “We’ve gutted it,” I say.

“Please tell me you won’t kill yourself on those steps,” she says. “That’s all I’m asking.”

Late October. I phone my mum. “So you haven’t killed yourself yet then,” she says.

“No,” I say but describe a near-miss with my husband, Bernard, a cast iron bath, and the steps.

She says to stay away from my husband on those steps. She can’t warn Bernard but she can warn me. If my husband wants to kill himself, then that’s his business and if Bernard wants to kill himself, then that’s his too. And by the way, just out of interest, does Bernard have a wife and dependents too? Because she’d like to know.

Early November. My husband is trying to stabilise a wheelbarrow, filled with builders’ rubble, at the top of the steps. I am hiding behind the woodshed with my fingers stuffed in my ears so I might not hear him shout,

“WHERE ARE YOU? WE NEED TO BUMP THIS WHEELBARROW DOWN. YOU TAKE THE HANDLES AND I’LL STAND BEHIND IT TO SUPPORT ITS WEIGHT. I’LL BE BACKING IT DOWN. YOU JUST HAVE TO HOLD ON TO IT TIGHT.”

I phone Mum. “There was a wheelbarrow incident,” I say. “Lucky escape for both of us.”

“What did I tell you about staying away from him on those steps?” she says.

Mid-November. I am standing by the skip, when a lump of cavity block whooshes past my ear and lands in it. “Shit,” my husband says. “I didn’t see you there. That was close.”

My mother calls. “Just checking to see if you’re still alive,” she says.

“Hanging in there,” I say. Best not mention the cavity block.“Building works are nearly complete,” I tell my mum. “I’d say the danger’s passed at this stage.”

“Stage is irrelevant when it comes to those steps,” my mother says, darkly.

“Nothing could be as bad as bumping that wheelbarrow down,” I say.

Late November. My mother calls. “No more mishaps?” she says.

“No,” I say. Best not mention the rake. Could have been worse.

Tuesday evening, 8pm. I’m inside the house, dragging a bag of skim-coat across the hallway, when I spot my husband outside the front door with a torch.

He is strapping a full-size fridge-freezer onto a trolley at the top of the steps.

“Shit,” he says. “The strap’s just broken. You won’t have the strength to hold the trolley and bump it down.”

“Thank god for that,” I say.

“Oh well,” he says. “I’ll hold the trolley handles and you’ll just have to back down the steps and lean against the fridge.”

“Lean against the fridge?” I say.

“To stop it falling on top of you,” he says.

Beginning of December. “Well,” my mother says, “all safe and sound?”

“Yes,” I say. Best not mention the fridge. Main thing is, I still have my teeth.

Whoever has to carry your coffin down better have good knees


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