Stuff Cometh and Wenteth

The Iceman Cometh

Since the sixties I’ve been bothered by the title of a play by someone called Eugene O’Neill – The Iceman Cometh. Who was this blasted Iceman, and why was he cometh-ing? I could never quite be bothered to find out. In those days it was not that easy to just Find Out. You had to go to the library and order books and stuff, then wait three weeks. And in any case, I knew the answer would be dull.

And I was right. It’s some sort of 1939 American play about a group of hopeless drunks and dreamers awaiting the return of a salesman, a charismatic chap who is likely to “get the party started”. Eventually he does turn up – unlike Godot, who never turns up in spite of all the wordy Waiting actors have done for him over the years.

But who is the Iceman? The Iceman is apparently not the charismatic salesman. No, after exhaustive further Googling I can reveal that the Iceman is, on one level, a kind of joke. The Iceman is the man your wife is most likely being unfaithful with – he’s the American version of the Milkman. But on another level, the Iceman symbolises Death. Death cometh to all men, etc., etc.

Did you really want to know that? I’m not sure I did either, but it’s one of those things you just have to – cross off, finally, from a bucket list of lifelong minor annoyances.

The Mosquito Cometh

One of my current annoyances is Mervyn the Mosquito. He/she lives in my living room and materialises somewhere on my leg, ankle or foot whenever my attention is distracted. Try to swat him/her and he/she vanishes – poof – leaving behind a trail of little red bites, some of which metamorphose into blooming great swollen, infected and fiercely itchy areas necessitating visits to the doctor and yet more antibiotics. I have to be careful of stuff like this, nowadays. My immune system is not what it was.

The Fence Man Wenteth

So, one of my fence panels fell over in a strong wind. Yes, in August when there aren’t supposed to be any strong winds. It fell into my neighbours’ garden. It is their fault it fell because they viciously slashed away all the lovely shrubbery (on their side) that had successfully held my fence panel up for the last ten years or so. I went out in my dressing gown and dragged the broken panel through to my side. It disintegrated into a further two parts. I regarded the six foot empty space that represented My Privacy. They have been progressively invading My Privacy, the neighbours, since they arrived. And now I also had to pay, money I hadn’t got, to replace this lump of wood, since the boundary is mine.

I thought it would be easy enough, if not cheap. I would call a fencing firm and they would come, with splendid fence panel, and manoeuvre it into the hole. Many visits by men in shorts, big boots and dangly tool-belts later; many non-materialising emailed quotes and non-returned phone calls later, and I was disabused of this simplistic notion. Nobody, basically, could be bothered to replace my fence panel. It wasn’t a big enough job to warrant them coming “all the way out here”. Not worth the petrol. In any case, the concrete supporting posts had moved over the years so any panel, I was told, would have to be custom-made in situ, ie even more expensive.

Next Door were all away in Tenerife or Barbados or somewhere. Two whole families of them, plus screaming baby, plus mountains of luggage – all mercifully, if temporarily, gone. Before they came back I was going to have to come up with an alternative solution. In the end I ordered the fence panel from Amazon. It turned up in a lorry next day. It turned out that I would have to treat it with two coats of preservative stuff – even though it was advertised as ‘dipped’. I ordered a big plastic tub of the ‘stuff’ from Amazon, plus a paintbrush and a paint kettle (I do not decorate, so did not have them). The expense was mounting.

I spent some time out in the back garden in a pair of old leggings and the top half of a redundant nightie, slopping the stuff on. Then I phoned a local all-purpose gardening couple. They arrived – very large and scary in matching green tee-shirts – and within half an hour the panel was in place. All they had done was wrench the concrete fence posts apart and slide the panel down in.

Life is just full of these dull little dramas, isn’t it?

Ham, Egg, Chips and Bingo

I haven’t eaten ham since 1981 or thereabouts, but I ate a bit today. After all, I am a vegetarian.

Only a small bit but… And I must say it was worth it for the chips. The chips were super. And there was no vegetarian option. I decided to continue being a vegetarian whenever possible but, on such outings, for the sake of getting on with people and not-being-a-pain-in-the-arse (which I have been, all my life) not to make a fuss.

Who should I apologise to?

I am still a bit weird, having been ill for a week. Double, simultaneous ill, in fact. Only yesterday did I begin to feel that I was moving at maybe ninety-five percent normal speed, which gave me the confidence to venture out of the house and wobble down the road to the bus stop, there to meet a lady called Jenny and someone else who was giving us a lift. My first meeting of the Over Fifties Club.

Apparently there is also an Over Sixties Club. This confused me as I couldn’t see anyone at the Over Fifties Club under seventy. Are they bitter rivals, I wondered? Like those two gangs in West Side Story? Does the Over Sixties poach members from the Over Fifties, or do the Over Fifties all also belong to the Over Sixties?

As you can tell, I’m still not quite back to normal. One of my illnesses was a kind of super-cough/bronchitis or possibly asthma thing. This has meant being unable to breathe and lie down at the same time, which in turn has meant a week of nights alternating between a moggie-infested bed upstairs and a very uncomfortable sofa downstairs, propping myself up with various arrangements of pillow and cushions and trying to sleep sitting up. I have not had much sleep and last night I don’t remember getting any sleep.

So I was not in the best mental shape to be sitting in a vast, chilly seafront pub, looking out through the frosted glass patterns at distorted images of passing cars and learning to play Bingo.

My fellow Over Fifties did not at first believe that I had never played Bingo. They played Bingo regularly, all over the place, and had their own plastic bags full of special fat pens, which are not called pens but dabbers. I said I would pass on the Bingo-book-buying this time, but watch what someone else did.

So I sat next to Jenny as she explained Bingo to me, whilst I was wishing I had worn a tee shirt under my posh top. But I couldn’t hear her over the noise of the Bingo man experimenting with his sound system. However, there was to be no escape. She did one game then I found the dabber thing plonked next to me. I was going to have to “dab” alternate sheets in her books. Rats! Again she tried to explain to me the difference between a Line and a House, and what a Bit On The Side is (apart from the obvious) and what that last sheet is for.

After a few minutes of me hunting wildly around the sheet for the numbers as the man with the mike rattled them off, someone said “Does the lady realise the numbers are arranged in columns of ten?” I hadn’t, though it was in the process of dawning on me. Knowing that made things much easier.

Then they believed I had never played Bingo before.

And then I came home and discovered Amazon had delivered two 300l bags of cat litter to the Lady with the Illegal Scotsman in my absence, so I had to go and get the wheelbarrow. She took one look at me wheezing and coughing palely over the laden wheelbarrow and offered to push it for me, but I couldn’t let her because she is older than me.

Then, too stuffed with illicit ham, egg and chips (and cheesecake) to need to eat anything more, I made myself some coffee and sat through the entire, extremely long speech of the Catalan Prime Minister, hoping to discover that he had been brave and declared independence from those brutal Spaniards. He had. Yay! Or had he? No one afterwards seemed to know. Damp squib or what?

Then I sat and hand-sewed a patch on the leg of my jeans. You know those jeans with the arty kind of fraying? I always wanted some and eventually, at an unsuitable age, I got a pair. Unfortunately, after they had been through the washing-machine numerous times the elegant fraying began to turn into falling-apartness. And then my big toe started getting caught in the falling-apartness every time I put the jeans on, which tore it even worse. I am wondering whether those ripped-right-across the knee jeans are not so much ultra-cool as the result of endless big-toe-catching.

I was going to do it on the sewing machine. I had to remove the white thread bobbin and wind specially a denim blue bobbin. Bobbin-winding is not easy on my sewing machine. Bobbins have a tendency to go ape for no reason. Either the cotton frantically winds itself around the metal stem that holds the bobbin in place, or the bobbin sourly turns itself into a nasty thick bobbin at the top and nasty measly bobbin at the bottom. I have been know to throw bobbins across the room.

Shows you how little sleep I have had, then. I completed this rigmarole, went to put the jean leg under the sewing machine needle and realised I couldn’t – not without unpicking whole jean leg – because a jean leg is a tube.

New Slippers

It was always going to be stressful, first Sunday visiting Mum in her new “forever home”. Routine is restful; I hate new places. New places are… bound to cause me to wake up with One of my Heads, which feel like hangovers only without the pleasures of alcohol. My eyes feel, as they always do with these Heads, sensitive to light as if they were about to pop out any moment and land in my lap. I put on the black over-glasses – the ones that make other drivers hoot at me, assuming I’m driving sightless – and set forth alone one of the fastest and nastiest stretches of road known to woman. In my capacious bag – paper hankies (she never seems to have one), white-boards and special pens for communication and… a splendid new pair of slippers.

We did buy her slippers for the hospital when she was sectioned, but those disappeared as we handed them in through the door. She spent the whole six or so weeks in the same grubby pink trainers she had been admitted in. This time we have hopes of them staying with her. The home is more civilised.

Selecting clothes for Mum seems to be one of the few remaining tasks I’m trusted with, and I do quite enjoy it. I found these on Amazon – raspberry coloured with those Velcro tabs across the top for easy fastening (and adjustment). I made sure to get them a bit on the big side, and wide-fit, because her feet are swollen. I never, in my life, imagined I would be pleased about purchasing raspberry slippers. Didn’t I once want to be a poet?

Boiling hot day. I rendezvous with Godmother Betty at the garden centre and hop into her much nicer – and cleaner – car. Take the black over-glasses since eyes still throbbing. My function now is to show Betty – who is slightly older than my mother – where exactly the home is. We drive past it, of course.

‘They’ve gone and moved it,’ says Betty, kindly, simultaneously executing a spectacular U-turn involving the entrance to the A20 and a lot of steering-wheel twizzling. I wouldn’t have undertaken it. ‘We were lucky there!’ she remarks.

slippers3.jpg

Headache or not, when we go in I feel it again – that sense of relief, of it’s being the right place. It’s kind of posh and airy, and it doesn’t smell (much) of wee. The sun streams in. The staff are actually talking to the residents. Old people are sitting about with cups of tea, or asleep. All the doors are open to the garden and old people sit about in the sunshine, not saying much but…

All those weeks of saying she would be all right, if she could just go outside. The mental ward door was locked and there was no going outside. Even the windows only opened a little way. ‘If only I could go one step outside,’ she would say, ‘it would all go.’ Her voices get quieter in the outside world. And now of course there’s the tablets. All those weeks of imploring, and now she prefers to sit in the circular common room, in the shade. Outside seems to have lost its attraction, as so many things do once attainable.

She is asleep, and it’s not easy to wake her up in a gentle way. I make several attempts, tapping her arm, stroking her hand. Her head is sunk to her chest. She is wearing one of my old Tesco tee shirts and some trousers that were somebody else’s in the mental ward, but seem to have travelled with her.

She doesn’t look like Mum any more. Every time I see her she seems to have migrated into a different body. A carer comes along and wakes up another old lady using the simplest of techniques “Boo!” That seems to work. “It’s your birthday,” she tells the old lady.

“I wondered when it was.”

“Yes, your son is here to see you.”

“My son?”

I pass Mum one of the raspberry slippers, hoping she’ll try it on. She looks as if she might drop it. They do smell a bit rubbery, being new, and she has a good sense of smell. Perhaps she dislikes the smell. She passes it back to me.

It is not going to be one of our days for conversation. I try a few things on the white-board. Do you like it here? Are you settling in? Her lips move as she reads. Having read, she falls asleep again. The son arrives for the other old lady, bearing flowers and some square gift in purple shiny paper.

And then I notice there’s another occupant, an old man in a hat, dozing. I compare his slippers to Mum’s and yes, I’ve got the right sort. Every old person I see has exactly this sort of slipper. A small sense of achievement. My eyes hurt. I’d take aspirin but the only liquid around for swallowing is Mum’s half glass of orange squash, and I’m not sure what’s in it. They can give covert medication if necessary. The old man dozes on, and so does Mum. Betty and I sit and talk about the wildfires in Canada. My sister lives in Edmonton and on the map… My sister tells me Fort McMurray is a four hour drive away, but still. That’s only, like, Norfolk and the fire is moving so fast…

We admire the light fitting, which is a spectacular kind of huge glitter-ball thing, only artistic. We imagine at night it must reflect pretty patterns on the ceiling. I picture them waltzing beneath it, these elderly men and women. Maybe they sleep all day and dance all night. And then the wife of the man in the hat comes in. She has been out in the sunshine, waiting in vain for him.

She kicks his slippered foot with her slippered foot. It’s a vicious kick and wakes him more efficiently even than “Boo!”

“Whaaaa…?”

“You just left me out there. You left me sitting alone. Where have you been?”

“In here, I’ve been in here…I’ve been asleep…”

“I am so fed up with you…”

She turns to sweep out. Being married doesn’t change, even in old folks homes.

“Sixty-one years,” she spits across at us. “Sixty-one years I’ve had him!”

slippers2

slippers2

 

NOW ON KINDLE: Angels & Other Occurrences

I thought I’d forgotten how to do it, but no. It’s been so long, but – guess what? I published another e-book.

The Angels & Other Occurrences sequence is already scheduled to appear in La Tour Abolie at the rate of one new story a day – and probably won’t all have appeared by the time you read this. So, if you’re desperate to read the whole thing in one go right now, or just fancy a copy of the whole shebang tucked away on your Kindle for that somnolent after-sprouts/far too many chocolates hour on Christmas Day afternoon, now’s your chance.

Pssst: heads up to La Tour Abolie readers:

It’s FREE to download for five days, starting Sunday 6th December.

If you do decide to download and can find time to post a review on Amazon – thank you so much. Reviews can make quite a difference – though I fear there’s little prospect of that sunshine holiday in the Bahamas even if I sell one or two between the end of the five free days and the disappearance of Christmas.

But one of these days! I’ve got the straw hat and the sunglasses, all ready…

Update: 13th December

The free download period has now ended, unfortunately. But I’ve put Angels & Other Occurrences back on at $0.99 (or equivalent sum in other countries) which is the lowest Kindle Direct allows.

 

 

 

Sort of purple and hazy

You know those anxiety dreams where you just miss the bus, or the train? Story of my life.

I just missed out on a lot of things. I just missed out on the War. I just missed out on rock and roll, I just missed out on being a hippie and I just missed out on all that New Age mumbo-jumbo: all the stuff I would have been interested in, all the stuff I really needed to know. Just my luck.

The War – I was born a few years too late. I arrived, and was instantly labelled a Baby Boomer, and the minute they give you a label you cease to be anything else. Worldwide, around eighty million human beings may have been lost between 1939 and 1945 during ‘the deadliest military conflict in history’. This estimate includes not just soldiers but civilians, those who died from war-related disease and famine and the prisoners of war who died in captivity. Post-war, young marrieds everywhere did their patriotic duty, whether they were aware of it or not, labouring (literally) to restore the balance. The result was a tidal wave of babies, a lumpy, unmanageable and now increasingly unpopular ‘bulge’ in the population stats, destined to become the hippies of the sixties and seventies. Through no fault of their own they are now, or will shortly be, clogging up our monstrous, overspent, inefficient National Health Service and forcing the younger generation to work harder and harder in order to generate enough taxes to keep everything going.

Like most women in those days, Mum and Nan were Housewives, totally dependent on their men for money; their role – to stay home, clean, tidy and replenish the house, do the cooking, washing-up, laundry and shopping, raise any children and Keep Young & Beautiful. This was in order that their husbands, coming home from a hard day’s work, should not – as a result of a spreading waistline, the odd curler still a-dangle, unshapely eyebrows or a lack of careful make-up – be tempted to Stray. However, I don’t think all the women in those days minded it all that much, and I can understand why. As a stay-at-home Mum you can exercise your creativity through cooking, crafts and childcare, quite apart from being able to take up hobbies, raid the library or write novels, if so inclined.

I find the idea financial dependence on a man – or anyone – pretty nearly unbearable, but that’s just me. Bit of a Wild Thing. I’m not sure what a Wild Thing is, but it sounds good. I’d rather be as poor as a church mouse (as indeed I am) than hand to a man the power to decide, arbitrarily and without any significant knowledge of grocery shopping, how much housekeeping I ‘deserve’ at the end of each week; then have to scrimp and save out of that to buy myself headscarf or a second-hand book, or see a film.  As you can tell, feminism was the one thing I wasn’t too late for.

That being said, I envy the way women in those days had at least leisure to chat, listen to the radio and generally be themselves. Had I been able to stomach the ‘kept woman’ scenario – or been able to bear children, in which case I would have had no choice – I might have written more, and sooner, but I doubt if I would have written well. I would have missed out on the lifetime of learning, loss, muddle, fear, friends, struggle, chance encounters, odd jobs, strange bedfellows – some of them very strange – weird and appalling experiences, Getting By and Making Do Somehow – I now have to write about.

I got to hear quite a lot about the War, via the conversations that went on over my head while Mum and Nan were sitting in the kitchen, knitting. It was lucky for me that they lived at either end of the same street and would meet up several times a day. Grown-ups forget about children, if the children can manage to be forgettable enough. Once – I must have been throwing a tantrum – my mother called me a Prima Donna. I had to ask her what it meant, and was actually quite pleased when she explained. It was a step up from Diffident or Unaffectionate Child, Impossible Baby to Cuddle, etc. Being Diffident etc etc did have its advantages: I overheard a lot.

I heard about having to eat horsemeat, and what you could make from a blackout curtain or parachute silk. I heard about bombed buildings, and babies sleeping undisturbed in their cots, found amid the rubble. Under the kitchen table, hugging my little scabby knees to my chest, I heard about Nan’s experiences running a NAAFI canteen in Swindon in the War, and how they put the cabbage on to boil at ten in the morning and it was like seaweed by dinner time (and she had to throw the rice pudding out). I heard about Mum being evacuated to Wales to live in a cottage with Miners, and being forced to empty the chamber pots by the grand family in a country house near Canterbury, while my uncle was given the job of filling the coal-scuttle. I heard about painting your legs with gravy-browning when you didn’t have stockings, and drawing a line up the back to look like a seam. Maybe everyone is fascinated by the decade just before they were born. I went on to read as much about it as I could, and devoured all the Mass Observation books, made up of contemporary diary entries, or ‘reports’ sent in by ordinary people.

And then I just missed out on the original wave of American folk music, blues and rock and roll. I was just too late for Elvis – or rather he was still around but I saw no point in him. I probably wouldn’t even have realised I’d missed out, except that I married a man nine years my senior. Suddenly I was listening to his records, and to him singing and playing the guitar. This was my introduction to blues, folk and classical music. And even then I didn’t fully appreciate all that I’d missed, musically, still being contaminated with The Beatles, The Stones, The Dave Clark Five, Freddy and the Dreamers and all that sort of stuff. Ironically, long after husband and I were no longer an item I began to listen to that music again on my own account, and take an interest in classical music.

And then I just missed out on being a hippie. Oh, my mother thought I was a hippie, but that was because I never evinced much of an interest in wearing make-up (particularly eyebrow-pencil) a Playtex girdle or frilly blouses, or having my hair nicely permed. But I wasn’t – not really. I was certainly a bit on the shabby side because my tiny Tech College grant meant I had to buy my couture at Oxfam, but I was a few months – maybe even a year – too late. It had all happened, somehow, it had all jingled and jangled its way off into the rainbow-coloured sunset. And I was timid. I never experimented with LSD or smoked a reefer; I never danced in the sunshine at a festival or went to San Francisco wearing flowers in my hair. But doesn’t it look fun? Why wasn’t I there, Oh, why wasn’t I?

As it was, Free Love entirely passed me by. I went steady with a Maths student, half-Austrian and several inches shorter than me. He went off to teacher training college and so, abortively, did I – in another town. End of.

In the common-room some Hendrix look-alike practised what sounded like pretty good riffs all day, but how would I know? In the refectory I was stridden past (I’m groping dimly for the Past Perfect Progressive, or whatever that tense is, of strode past – help me out, someone…) by skinny, long-haired art students in eccentric hats, uncompromising tee shirts, big boots and scarecrow jackets. I was filled with admiration but for some reason I couldn’t actually be one of them, and was as invisible to them as I had been to Mum and Nan under the kitchen table.

And yet I think I am a natural hippie. For me it has never gone away, a way of thinking and being that I never got to manifest at the time. The ‘eighties went, and the ‘nineties, and I began at last to hear about and – thanks to Amazon – obtain copies of books on particle physics, psychoanalysis, philosophy, Zen, mysticism – anything that caught my eye – that were being written as I was being born and labelled a Baby Boomer; when I was a child at school; a teenager failing to play table tennis with the boys at Youth Club; a student and almost a hippie; an unhappy wife. One book led to another – sometimes I read several at once – and I started to see the connections between things – the way one academic discipline morphs into another, the way New Age becomes, imperceptibly, Science – the way it all adds up – the way people far apart in time and space can be approaching the same conclusion from different directions. I also became addicted to Amazon and second-hand paperbacks, which was ruinous to my finances. The postman/lady turned up every other day with yet another cardboard package, jiffy bag or brown-paper parcel – or sometimes a stack of them held together with elastic bands. I made notes, I made connections, I wondered, I thought about Stuff. Without realising it, I was knitting my own degree.

Only Connect (2)

I live in an out-of-the-way sort of place. Sometimes it feels like the end of the earth. Believe me, when everything goes grey in November, when the only-road-out starts to flood on a regular basis and the gale-force winds arrive, you wouldn’t want to be here. It’s mostly a case of staying indoors till March.

So, we are a long way from anywhere, and not everybody has a car. I do have a car but can’t afford the petrol to go gadding about unnecessarily. I drive when I absolutely must, and then I try to accomplish everything on my ‘To Do’ list in a single round-trip – get petrol, attend dental appointment, parcel to Post Office, collect medicine from vet, farm shop for birdseed, etcetera. It requires careful planning and makes for a long, tedious outing. Infrequently as I get out of the house I am always relieved to get home.

Hardly surprising, then, that most people round here shop online, which means an awful lot of vans. On any one day, van after van arrives – Post Office vans, Amazon’s courier; everyone else’s courier; a giant lorry delivering parcels in bulk for one of its couriers, who lives here; delivery vans bringing groceries from all the major supermarkets. That’s not counting, of course, all the other traffic – plumbers, electricians, dustmen, drain-unblockers, odd-job gents, cavity-wall insulators, solar panel specialists, the gypsies’ truck looking for scrap metal, mobile dog-groomers…

Our community would be hard put to manage without all these incomers. We have no Post Office, no chemist, no railway station, no petrol station, one bus stop and one tiny, inadequate all-purpose-type shop. You might just be able to survive on that shop if you were a carnivore and had only one pet, but not a hope for vegetarians or those who need to buy pet food in bulk; it’s steak and kidney pud or all-day-sausage-and-bacon-breakfast-in-a-tin, combined with mushy peas in a tin, or nothing, and if you find a couple tins of Whiskas on the shelf you’re lucky. That was their stock for the week. By mid-morning there’s no bread left. If you need to post anything bigger than a standard letter or postcard you either drive twenty minutes or walk twenty-five minutes (and another twenty-five back, by which time it will be raining).

So obviously we tend to get to know the various couriers, or at least recognise them. Most of them are nameless, so we think of them as DPD, Yodel or whatever. A few get nicknames. The one who comes to me a lot is the Amazon delivery guy. I get virtually everything through Amazon, from paperback books to spare light bulbs to cat litter to duct tape to birthday cards. I do know his name now, if only because Amazon keep texting it to me in advance of his visits, but for a long time he was just Nice One. This is not because he is particularly nice, although of course he may be, but because every time I succeed in scrawling some sort of signature into the little box on his recording device he exclaims Nice One!

And then there’s No Speaka de English. Now, this isn’t a name I invented – I don’t think I’d want to be that patronising – but it is what the neighbours call him. I don’t know what nationality he is, but obviously not from round here. It was a bit of a problem at first because he really didn’t seem to speak more than a couple of words of English. If you had to go out and left the usual note taped to your door – Gone out. Back soon. Please leave parcel round the back/ in the greenhouse/ in the recycling bin/ under the doormat – if it was No Speaka the note would be ignored. Instead you’d get a card poked through the door with a ticked box to inform you the parcel had been left with a distant neighbour or returned to the depot. But then if No Speaka couldn’t decipher our notes, how was he to act upon them?

At first he didn’t smile. He’d appear on the doorstep with the parcel and his little black recording box and mumble Chhhello with eyes downcast. As soon as the parcel was signed for it was Bye-Bye and off up the garden path. Inevitably you found yourself calling Bye-Bye after him, then feeling foolish.

After a while he became bolder. Once he arrived in his delivery van just as I was walking back from posting a letter. Good time! he shouted up the road. Yes, I shouted back, Good time! Then I thought, maybe I should have shouted Good tim-ing. How’s he going to learn if everybody speaks pidgin back to him?

Then the other day he turned up with one of the biggest parcels I have ever seen. I’d mail-ordered a plastic dog kennel kit-thing to replace the old wooden rabbit hutch I’d been using as a food shelter for feeding stray cats and a hedgehog overnight. Over the years frost, flood and the weight of many a large tomcat and snuffling, hefty hedgehog had done for the raised floor, which had split and fallen through. But I had underestimated the size and weight of the kit-thing. When I opened the door and discovered No Speaka de English fidgeting there, more or less obscured by this giant, unweildy parcel my face must have told the story. Oh My God! I gasped. He grinned. Oh My God! he said, mimicking my accent and horrified expression perfectly. Leave round back? Usual place?

No Speaka de English is learning. Learning de English and learning to connect.