Can you hear me, mother? Have to keep the noise down: I find myself at the centre of a supersize game of Sardines. If anyone else twigs that we’re here and tries to join us, the density levels may prove fatal.
Where do we start?
With the clothes, I think. Mrs Jones is propped up on the edge of her bed, by the wardrobe.
“Let’s imagine that you’re going to a hotel for three weeks,” I suggest. “We’ll pack for that to start with. Then I can always bring you up more stuff. Or bring you home to choose more – um – stuff.”
“I don’t see myself coming back,” says Mrs Jones.
“I know this is a difficult question,” says LovelyFuneralDirector, “but have you thought about what you want to do with the ashes?”
She is a woman, by the way, this LovelyFuneralDirector. All three of the funeral directors we’ve met are women. As are both registrars, the minister and the train driver on the Yorkshire to London Express. Sisters are doing it for themselves. We just need one of us to find a cure for cancer and we’ll be well away.
“So there we were, scrabbling around on the cell floor in front of the Naked Rambler, trying to pick up the papers and desperately trying not to look up and not to laugh…”
It broadens the mind does travel, and going away last weekend to celebrate a school-friend’s sixtieth brought us into contact with interesting people who had interesting stories to tell and different – shall we say – viewpoints.
It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that babies are a lot more fun when you’ve had a night’s sleep.
I’m yawning here just at the thought of those hours spent rocking the buggy, singing “my old man’s a dustman” to the tune of “girl from Ipanema.” Driving round the block in the early hours, hoping in vain that there won’t be cries as soon as the engine’s turned off. Arriving at work on autopilot only to discover that not only is YoungLochinvar still in his child seat (forgotten to drop him off at Ma’s) but also that, in the early morning rush, I’ve failed to shut the front door (concerned neighbour, police visit). How does anyone survive early parenthood? Nightmare.
Talking of which, this response has flooded in following my last blog. What a genius way to deal with cold callers!
“My brother … would greet them with the message ‘we are experiencing a very high volume of enquiries today but your call is important to us. Please hold the line’ and then follow up by playing Wagner until they lost the will to live.”
“We quickly realised that we were working with a retreating, not a fighting army. There were so many casualties – we operated for nine hours continuously until the Japanese were within minutes of our position. It was hectic. Those who hadn’t survived had to be buried. We had to wash down, clear up, repack and reload, and then move on as quickly as we could before the Japanese caught up with us. Then we’d start all over again.
“There were men who were so badly injured that they were going to die. What could we do for them? There was no way that we could leave them for the Japanese to bayonet. It was a terrible dilemma.”
“Who’s he? Have we seen him before?”
“He’s married to the woman who posts the blog.”
“The vlog. We’ve established it’s a vlog.”
“Yes her. With the blond hair.”
“OK. Can you pause it a minute? OK. Tak.”
Put aside quilt. Dash into bedroom and return with reel of thread. Install self back on sofa and start to thread needle.
“OK?” says ActorLaddie. “Say when.”
“Nu. Tak… Hang on – who’s he? Is that the Russian Roulette guy?”
Forty years ago this week, lucky travellers on the Liverpool Street Line were treated to the sight of Ma and I manoeuvring a sizeable, empty metal trunk on and off the train. I was about to start at Exeter and the trunk would soon be sent ahead with all that I considered precious: radio/cassette player, gold table-lamp with orange shade and books from the reading list, some of which still sit on my shelves, spines barely creased.
“Is Mrs Vestibule coming to camp?” asks an Elfin, over the washing-up.
I’m at the other end of the trestle tables, in arm to arm combat with a hefty pan which is coated with industrial quantities of baked bean sauce. So the question is picked up by Brian’s mate, Graham, who has taken a week’s leave from pen-pushing at the Civic Centre to be here, washing dishes in a cold, wet field with the Woodcraft Folk.
“No, she’s afraid of camping.” The entire rota group stops to gawp at this news. As does Sheila.