Notes from the Sofa Ray­mond Briggs

The Oldie - - NEWS - Ray­mond Briggs

I think I may be go­ing potty. A young friend, scarcely sixty, has come to help me have a clear-out. First sign of pot­ty­ness – 18 walk­ing sticks! Some in the junk room, some in the shed.

Also found: two very small ca­noe pad­dles – red han­dles, white blades. Must have been for the kids, who are both now about fifty. Even their three chil­dren are far too old to make use of them. They are all at one of th­ese so-called unis; but then again Ox­ford and Cam­bridge Unis have a boat race, don’t they? Not sure if it’s ca­noes, though. Never seen it, but don’t think it’s ca­noes.

Ring at front door bell yes­ter­day. Bloke out­side with a packet. I saw at once that he was a for­eigner; so I said in a for­eigner-friendly tone, ‘Oh, hello, are you Pol­ish?’ Most of them are nowa­days. ‘Naw,’ he said. ‘Booker.’ ‘Ah!’ I said. ‘Booker Prize!’ Had I won it? Then re­alised it wouldn’t be in a packet.

‘Oh, sorry,’ I said, ‘I’m a bit deaf – you said “Booker?”’

‘Yah,’ he said. We re­peated this Booker chat­ter two or three times, un­til I re­alised the poor chap was try­ing to say ‘Bucharest’, but leav­ing out the ‘est’. ‘BUCHAREST!’ I said. ‘Got it!’ ‘Ro­ma­nia,’ he said, quite clearly. This morn­ing, there was a sim­i­lar prob­lem. Ring at the door bell – bloke out there, not for­eign ex­actly but not lo­cal. ‘Hlo,’ he said. ‘You gudda a ladda?’ ‘Er, well, yes,’ I said. ‘There’s one round the back, in the fruit cage.’

‘Naw,’ he said. ‘Ah mean a ladda ound enda post.’

‘Let­ter about the post,’ I said. ‘Yes, they’re com­ing to al­ter the elec­tric ca­bles on that post just over there. Ex­cuse me, but you’re North­ern Ir­ish, aren’t you?’ ‘Yaw,’ he said. ‘Goundy Ver­managh.’ God, I thought, the worst ac­cent in the world to un­der­stand. ‘You want a lad­der?’ ‘Naw,’ he said. ‘Dud ye gedda ladda frum da Lag­drig Bard?”

‘Oh, I see,’ I said. ‘You are say­ing LET­TER, not LAD­DER?’ ‘Yaw,’ he went on. ‘Even in our fam­ily ad home, id wus drou­ble. My Dad sent me and my brother oud do bick up a LEDDER and we game back wid a LAD­DER.’

Blimey, I thought. What a coun­try! Can’t even speak their own lan­guage. Give me Ro­ma­nian any day.

Now they have both gone, back to the clear-out. Seven Kil­ner jars with rusty brass screw-tops, dat­ing from the days when dili­gent housewives bot­tled their fruit them­selves, be­fore Tesco was in­vented and did it cheaper and bet­ter.

Then! Hor­ror of hor­rors, a life-size, all-over-the-head mask of Mar­garet Thatcher. Star­ing eyes, snarling lips, yards of thick, yel­low, plas­tic hair,. Suf­fo­cat­ing to wear, al­most im­pos­si­ble to see out of. I never saw her, but she can’t have been worse than this, surely?

On top of a cup­board were six boxes of dog food, Bak­ers’ Com­plete Weight Con­trol, for dear Jess, our bor­der col­lie, who died five years ago. Two boxes of Den­tastix, a dog bowl with three metal combs and a wire brush. Mad­ness to keep this stuff, but chuck­ing it out would be like chuck­ing Jess for the sec­ond time.

A shoe­box full of old fam­ily pho­to­graphs; hol­i­day snaps, mostly. Mum, Dad, Aunty Betty at Betty’s cot­tage gate, and a tall, young teenager, white shirt with rolled-up sleeves; Mum, of course, gaz­ing up ador­ingly at him. Old lady aunts when young, look­ing amaz­ingly beau­ti­ful. Me, about four, in a vile bathing cos­tume Mum knit­ted, pale green with yel­low flecks, nar­row at the front, leav­ing nip­ples ex­posed, full at the crotch, mak­ing me look far too wellen­dowed for my age. I hated it.

Ev­ery one of the peo­ple in th­ese snaps is dead. Even my lovely cousin Doreen, only five years older than me, has been dead for seven years. We were both only chil­dren; so this brought us closer.

The last thing we found was the un­der­taker’s marker for Liz’s grave. Liz was my part­ner, un­mar­ried wife, what­ever you call it, for thirty-two years un­til her death, in 2015. I have put it back into the ground, with flow­ers grow­ing round it, just out­side the kitchen win­dow.

PS: Dis­cov­ered two more walk­ing sticks in the car! One un­der the back seat, an­other un­der stuff in the boot. Def­i­nitely potty.

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