Notes from the Sofa 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.