Monday, November 24, 2008

A man is nothing without regimentals

I could hear the sound of Elgar with a Dimbleby voiceover – it could only be the television coverage of Remembrance Sunday. I came downstairs from some of my chores to find Maude marching Aurora up and down the living room in time to one of the slower movements of ‘Pomp & Circumstance.’

‘I do love Remembrance Sunday! It should be compulsory in schools. Never mind ‘Lest we Forget’, most of them don’t know anything about it in the first place.’ Aurora mimicked Maude as she saluted the Chelsea Pensioners.

‘We really must take Aurora to the Menin Gate when she’s older. Oh, and bring back plenty of cheese and coffee of course….’

Maude enjoys a bit of military pomp. I joined her and Crawford on a pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Tattoo a couple of years ago. All went well until Crawford got over-excited and showed his enthusiasm for the Royal Irish Regiment by discharging his Luger into the air. The police didn’t press charges – Maude successfully argued that her father had exposed their woeful approach to stadium security. I had only previously seen the Luger when I asked for Maude’s hand in marriage. Augusta assures me to this day that Crawford only fired into the fireplace on that occasion to express his delight at the prospect of my joining the family.

‘Men look so splendid in uniform don’t they?’

I guessed that this was rhetorical and left my wife to her reverie.

‘All of them. They all look so…..impressive.’

I smiled across from the Norton Recliner – happy that Maude could derive so much pleasure from such simple things. In my peripheral vision, however, I could see that her attention was breaking away from the television and turning towards me.

I was still in my dressing gown and sandals (I couldn’t find my slippers). My fungal big toenail was, sadly, visible. I knew also that I had not found the time to remove the porridge that Aurora had rubbed into my hair earlier: the little poppet had shown off her dexterity by tugging Daddy’s hair on end with porridge as ‘product’. I looked like Stan Laurel relaxing. Maude’s gaze grew heavier and more discomfiting – I could tell that she was about to speak. I suddenly felt tense and returned the recliner to its upright position.

‘Couldn’t you at least join the TA?’

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Where Are You?

Me: ‘Well I’m actually abseiling down the east face of the Palace of Westminster. Got a great view of the London Eye and the police are waving. I met these really nice guys from ‘Fathers for Justice’ in the pub and, well, we got talking and it would have been churlish not to join in after that.’

Maude: ‘Where are you really?’

Me: ‘I’m on the A1, near Washington Services.’

Friday, November 07, 2008

Idle Eric

Our house is not overlooked, it faces a dene with a babbling brook and energetic squirrels. This vista is spoiled, however, when we descend our front steps. To the left of the dene is Eric’s house. Most of the houses in the neighbourhood are rendered and painted white and gardens are colourful and well-tended. Eric’s house is painted grey and he has paved over his garden. We have lived in close proximity to Eric for a full three years and nothing – smiles, offers of ‘good morning!’, even the birth of our child – has ever elicited a word from him.

As I locked the house on Tuesday morning, I noticed that Eric was in his front garden/yard, gripping his picket fence. There was nothing unusual about this – he does take occasional breaks from watching the television to put pizza boxes into his wheelie bin, or watch his wife carry the shopping in from the car.

‘Excuse me!’ I was amazed to hear Eric’s voice for the first time.

‘Morning!’ I took this as neighbourly contact of some sort. Unfortunately Eric then launched into a tirade about thoughtless parking blocking his gate on a regular basis and insisted that he should be treated with a little more respect as the street’s resident of longest standing. I offered an apology and vowed to be more thoughtful in future. This did not placate him and he began to literally jump up and down and wave his arms in rage. I didn’t think he had such energy and his animated form reminded me of an old public information advertisement in which a hopping mad farmer is viewed through binoculars by some litter louts from the city. If I remember rightly they mistake his rage for ‘country dancing’. Eric’s ‘country dancing’ was followed by some incomprehensible mutterings as he stormed out of view and back to his TV.

I drove away through the leafy bends of The Villas, but my morning had been tainted by such unpleasant intercourse. I turned back and gave Eric’s door a firm, but unconfrontational, knock.

He seemed a little taken aback and instinctively raised his fists and assumed a boxing stance. His SKY remote control fell from its holster at his hip and spilled its batteries. The batteries rolled off the step and came to a stop on the paving.

I picked the batteries up and handed them back to their owner.

‘Eric, I really don’t want us to fall out about parking. Let’s talk about it.’

Eric had clearly not shaved for a couple of days and I felt a bit sorry for him. He relaxed a little and seemed happy to have a chat. I was soon apprised of the parking crimes of the last 20 years on the street. I assured him that we were accidental offenders and never intended to cause him any upset. I toyed with the idea of asking him if he remembered the public information film with the hopping mad farmer, but thought better of it.

Yesterday morning I was in the usual hurry to get Aurora to the childminder. I wished Desmond good morning and he said some kind words to the baby. I couldn’t help noticing that the nose of Desmond’s van was just encroaching on Eric’s drive. I presumed that Eric was not at large and that a resident of Desmond’s long standing might be able to impose a little.

I installed the baby in her car seat and got into the driver’s seat. As I did so I heard the rumble of a wheelie bin – this was strange as our rubbish is collected on a Tuesday. The noise was coming from Eric’s drive and I adjusted my rear view mirror to see the poor man flying down the slope towards Desmond’s van. Eric had smeared his face with dirt and was wearing a bandana – he was pushing the wheelie bin as a makeshift battering ram.

Desmond is a little deaf and didn’t notice a thing.

Desmond waved a little wave at Aurora as he pulled out into the road and made off for another day of cheerfully fitting carpets. Eric’s momentum took him across the road and into Desmond’s garden wall. He didn’t appear to lose consciousness. I thought it best not to draw attention to such indignity. Aurora and I set off with our usual sing-song start to the day:

‘The wheels on the bus go round and round…..!’