A Weighty Problem

When I was at the height of fishing widowhood and living with a houseful of anglers there were times when their strange habits encroached upon my sanity to a marked degree. Looking back on it now I wonder how on earth I managed to survive.

In between looking after the family, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing - all the usual chores and many other activities which are traditionally carried out by the male of the species unless they're dedicated anglers, when digging the garden, decorating, the unbunging of drains, gutters and toilets becomes womens' work - I taught small children the art of piano playing.

Most of my pupils were the offspring of friends so the unusual behaviour of my menfolk was looked upon with an open mind and accepted as part of the fun of venturing across our threshold. How anyone ever learned anything musical during the half hour stints which were interrupted by 'Where's...?' 'What have you done with...?' 'Could you just hold this...while I...?' defies credibility but the youngsters enjoyed the lessons so much, probably because of the novelty value, that they achieved good results.

One hot, July morning I was offering instruction to the daughter of a good friend. Fortunately, as it turned out, her parents both possess a similar sense of humour to mine, otherwise I could have found myself on the receiving end of a law-suit.

The conger season has a lengthy preparation period which involves - among other things - the manufacture of lead weights. A number of large lumps of lead piping were kept resident, sometimes for years at a time, in the garden shed and retrieved, at this time of year, to be melted down. This activity would have been far better performed in a workshop than a domestic kitchen but needs must, and all that - apparently.

The piano lesson was progressing nicely. Simone was, and still is, thank the Fates, a very bright little girl, musically. She had practised her pieces until her little fingers ached but after ten minutes, or so, she made repeated and, for her, uncharacteristic mistakes. I couldn't work it out. 'Are you tired, sweetheart?' I asked her. 'Did you stay up late last night? Do you feel poorly?' She started to cry. 'My head feels funny,' she said.

Only then did I realise that, one room away, the Chief Angler and his Mate were in the throes of melting down lead piping in their own cast-iron pot, especially bought for the purpose (because I had thrown a wobbler when they destroyed a brand new milk saucepan) but in my kitchen and on my hob. The fumes had been slowly infiltrating the music room, unnoticed, and were, very clearly, having an adverse effect on Simone's infant brain.

So, we opened all the windows, took a musical story book out into the garden and sat on the grass for the last ten minutes of the lesson. When Simone's father came to collect her, it was with some trepidation that I explained why his daughter was feeling a bit wobbly. As I said, his sense of humour is a good one, so it was O.K. but it could have been considerably dodgy had Simone been the health inspector's daughter.

After I had castigated my anglers for lack of forethought and being unable to wait until Simone, the last lesson of the morning, had gone home, I thought no more about it. Until the time came to cook tea when I thought I might have a migraine on the way because everything in the cooker area looked slightly out of bonk - one of the warning signs of an imminent attack is a mild disorientation.

I had decided to concoct a powerful chicken curry, a family favourite which, on this occasion was to serve a dual purpose. i.e. to feed a multitude (the Mate's mates had turned up near a meal time, as usual) while, as it cooked, dispelling any last traces of lead fumes. As I began to throw chopped vegetables and garlic into hot oil, the pan listed to the left and slid off the hob spreading it's contents over a surprisingly wide area of kitchen carpet. Definitely a migraine on the way, I thought, clumsiness being another symptom. Turned out that the heat generated by the melting of lead, in a red hot crucible on a domestic cooker, also goes downwards on to the square, alloy, saucepan holders which were buckled beyond repair.

Be warned. The aftermath of weight making can continue for several weeks. Small globules of lead may be discovered lurking in corners, above and below eye-level, where they have been missed during the intial, and usually perfunctory if performed by the perpetrators, clean-up.

You may find strange splodges and squirls outside in the garden. My anglers left the back door open while in construction mode so that they could deftly flick risen lead scum from the top of the saucepan and on to the concrete patio area. The resulting intricate, silver patterns made it seem as if our snail population has held a midnight rave - Disco Snails, on Ecstasy at the very least.

So, a word of advice to the inexperienced weight-making widow. The only way to avoid all the hassle of a lead-melting session is to go out for the day and not return until all danger of your possible involvement is passed - cleaning up, the storage of cooled off weights etc. Hide everything that you don't want them to use, first, mind. If your best secateurs go missing - they'll be used to cut up the lead and you'll never prune another rose with 'em - it will be your own fault for not taking precautions.