File under: Hereditary Haplessness
In our house if you got given a dog, it was just for Christmas - unfortunately so were your other presents. Rather than waste money on a shoddy piece of crap which would last for as long as you could resist the temptation to put it in the dustbin, my father would instead use what money he had as the deposit on a grander gift, but with no intention of maintaining the payments. His assumption was that by the time the goods were repossesed they would be broken, worthless and discarded through boredom. The typewriter with it's keys bent into a gnarled fist, or the guitar used to bat a tennis ball around the yard. This temporality was taken for granted, and I remember one year when my brother and I received new bikes. By Boxing Day all moveable parts had been stripped and replaced with those from our old bikes, leaving the repo-man two newish looking but knackered substitutes.
Back then there was no central register of bad debtors or credit blacklist, one simply had to find a shop using a different finance agency, and as this became harder to do, so the nature of our presents became increasingly bizarre. The year I got a canoe was the most perplexing; at first it seemed a virtually useless winter gift but as the snow fell I realised I had the fastest, most stream-lined toboggan in town. Miraculously it escaped total destruction until the thaw when it was fitted with pram wheels and careered into the park's public toilet block.
The repo-man was already on the trail and my father panicked. If there was nothing to surrender, it meant court action. That weekend, with the help of a library book and a tub of resin from the local art college sculpture department, we set about a makeshift repair. Fibreglass is very inflammable and my father was a heavy smoker, so if I told you that we were working in a rickety timber garage insulated with old carpet nailed to it's beams, you would be surprised to learn that we escaped with nothing more serious than superficial burns and a sooty fuzz where our hair had been. My father was no stranger to self-inflicted injury, be it from an 'invention' such as the hedge trimmer (made with an old washing machine motor), or a simple accident like falling off the roof. He even bought an automatic car, so often did he need to drive single handedly to the casualty department, the other hand being needed to stem the flow of blood with a grubby tea-towel.
His logic of irrationality extended to all areas of our lives and habitat. For instance, we had a television with a reverse hibernation policy; on the first day of spring it was wrapped in an old blanket and banished to the loft space until the first day of wintertime. I came home from school one day to find the front lawn dug up and replaced with a plot of jerusalem artichokes. Fifteen years after the lawn was re-instated by it's new owners, I can still walk past and spot the odd vegetable shoot that refuses to die.
I can't decide if his continuingly erratic behaviour and lack of judgement are due to his life as an artist, or if they are in fact his only qualification.