My failed career as a peace envoy

hotel-sign-22198092Eileen was the woman who often assigned me potato peeling duties.  We worked together at a hotel and although she wasn’t in charge I have always been good at taking instruction from women.  The building was a low-slung Jacobean monstrosity with tumorous additions and in one of these was Eileen’s kitchen.  It wasn’t hers in any real sense but she was very much the boss, whatever our real boss, Mr Cattermole, might have thought.  

Life had brought Eileen no end of ordeals.  Money worries, children worries, family back in Kerry worries, weather worries.  The list was endless but she never seemed beaten by it all.  “We’re not here to enjoy ourselves,” she explained, her Catholicism making sense of everything.  

Her greatest burden were her legs.  Her legs weren’t what they were.  “They’re not what they were,” she would say as she groaned her way onto the stool kept specially at the table in the hotel’s kitchen for her benefit.  “My legs aren’t what they were.”  This was the explanation she gave for why so much of her time at the hotel was spent sitting down.  

“I bet your legs never were much,” Huan said, unfunnily, hooting loudly at her own wit.  Huan was the Chinese woman who also worked in the hotel kitchen alongside us and the two women loathed each other.  

Eileen was the less vocal in her dislike of her work colleague, and at first I assumed, incorrectly, her to be solely the wounded party but when Huan was out of earshot Eileen let her feelings be known.  Huan, said Eileen, was lazy, dirty and incompetent.  I suspected these were simply code words for Chinese.  

Huan, on the other hand, had two great terrors in life.  Roman Catholicism was one and something called the Yellow Peril.  Her objections to “smells and bells” and “those priests with their dirty hands” seemed mainly to be directed at Eileen but I couldn’t work out what aspect of the dowdy Irish woman was being critiqued for being a peril in yellow.  Yellow was a colour I never saw her wear, more accustomed as she was to shades that seemed an absence of anything rather than a positive.  Added to which, perilous didn’t strike me as a word that could be applied to Eileen, it had too energetic and sprightly a note to it.  And her skin, if that’s what the yellow referred to, was entirely misplaced.  Eileen’s skin was grey with blooms of broken red capillaries.  Tiny B roads on the ordnance survey of her face.  

Finally, one evening over our third bottle of Bulgarian red, it was my friend Emma who explained Yellow Peril.

“But, she is Chinese, herself.”  I screwed my face up in confusion.

“Cultural self-loathing,” said Emma.  (One of her sociology textbooks brought to life.)  “Does she self-harm?”

I was lost again.  At seventeen I’d heard of neither self-harm nor yellow peril.  My thickness was being laid in front of me like an assortment box of embarrassments.  

“Cut herself,” Emma went on wearily.  “Razors, that kind of thing.  You remember Letitia at school?”

I nodded, unsure.  

Emma sloshed more wine into her glass and I could tell she was really getting into this.  “She used to do it on the District Line.  It only came to a head when a woman saw her slicing at her legs at Gunnersbury Park, had a meltdown, and called an ambulance.”

So, when I next heard Huan bemoan the Yellow Peril, I made even less of the insult.  “You watch my words, it is rising in the east,” she exclaimed, bending her knees on the word east and following it with her two hands rising as far as possible, some curious yoga-cum-religion move.

As Eileen and Huan bickered and bitched about each other I fantasised about bringing them together, using their physical frailties as the glue to bond one to the other. I imagined they would see each other afresh and forever after be grateful to me.  As I washed up, mopped floors or peeled vegetables I often found myself gripped by this fantasy, almost as frequently as I imagined being snogged by unobtainable straight boys I saw around the place.  The gratitude they would show me for bringing them together was the prize I sought, but when I emerged from these reveries I could never explain to myself why bringing these two women together would be quite so satisfying.  

Why did they loathe each other so much?  I even asked the hotel manager Mr Cattermole one day.  But his answer was vague enough to make me think he didn’t know either.  “Some women just don’t hit it off, Christopher.”  He said this as if describing something universally obvious that didn’t need any further explanation like why dogs and cats struggle to happily share a home.

With Huan the problem was her eyes.  The thick lenses in Huan’s glasses magnified her eyes and gave her a permanently alarmed look.  The myopic glare of a cartoon character, a hapless mole forever glancing against walls and knocking things over.  

“Blind chink,” Eileen would mutter when she saw Huan fail once again to notice something or to miss the hook on which she wanted to place her coat.  

When our shifts first coincided it was Eileen’s ankles I couldn’t take my eyes off.  Her legs, thick trunks all the way down to her shoes, made no concession to the shape that would pop into most people’s minds when they think of ankles.  Ankles were not a part of the body I had ever imagined capable of becoming fat but Eileen’s were and they looked painful with it, the skin almost bruised, its thinness in direct contrast to all that it was holding in.  One morning, as if aware of my staring, Eileen explained their shape by the single word “childbirth.”  Her legs really weren’t what they were.

What did they used to be?  I had visions of them enjoying a carefree existence, maybe a life entirely independent of Eileen.  A Time Before Eileen.  Travelling around Europe perhaps.  I saw an open top sports car, racing over hills in the south of France or through the Low countries, a long scarf billowing in the wind, Eileen’s legs at the centre of the action.  Laughter, there was always laughter.  Then Eileen’s legs were partying, delivering acid bon mots and smoking multi-coloured cigarettes with gold tips through a long ivory cigarette holder and kicking high into the wee, small hours in some impossibly romantic nightspot or Riviera palace.  Basically Eileen’s legs had enjoyed life a very great deal up until the point some older, wiser pair of legs said “it’s time to settle down now, dear, you’re not getting any younger.”  So, Eileen’s jaunty, devil may care legs were introduced to the far less sprightly rest of her and that was that.  They were fastened on to her hips, and those once globetrotting pins, so full of life and possibility, suddenly lost all their spark.  The invitations stopped coming in, the road trips weren’t taken any more but instead they remained trammelled to this woman.  Their vitality was crushed.  213px-Norwegian-road-sign-626.0.svgAnd Eileen, sensing it was the only the history of her legs that stood between a dull workaday life in suburbia and a former, better existence so full of potential kept her mantra up purely to remind her legs and anyone within earshot that she had never forgotten what had been denied them.  

Sometimes there would be a wistful sigh at the end of her statement of woe.

“Oh for crying out loud shut bloody up,” shouted Huan.

“Piss off,” replied Eileen.

My role as peace envoy stalled for yet another day.  

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Why old friends drift apart

suffolk terraced houseWe visited the Malarkeys for three days and two nights every summer. Some years in the late autumn there was brief talk of reappraising the experience for Christmas but this never came to anything.

I started to think about the Malarkeys, for the first time in years, when I was in that cafe that’s named after an unexpected bird of some sort.  The Gaudy Crow?  The Forlorn Peacock?  A Pair Of Violent Doves?  I can’t remember right now.  Anyway, a woman had come in and there was something about the way she stood at the counter, and the way she looked in her bag for money that brought to mind Mrs Malarkey.

The Malarkeys lived in one of those Suffolk towns that was the personification of drab.  As I teenager when I roamed its moribund streets the houses often appeared deserted and now I imagine that’s simply because people didn’t want you to know they were in and that there was incest taking place.  Nowadays, people from London can’t wait to spend half a million pounds on a tiny house in those streets but back then it was unbearable.  I suspect it’s equally unbearable now but people look at silent unbearability in a different way now there’s the internet.  

The town was built on an east facing hill not far from the Southwold coast.  On one of the roads in there was a sign that welcomed you (if you were a careful driver) and advertised the fact they had a castle.  Indeed, there was a castle on a mound in the town, or the remains of one.  A single tower with a Union Jack flag hanging limply on overcast days.  I imagine the rest of the castle had been torn down by furious, bored holiday makers like us just to try and give themselves something to do.  

Despite the ad campaign by a verge by a bus stop, the castle wasn’t open but if you were in the know you could pick up a large key from a woman called Doris who worked in the post office, and then let yourself in.  It didn’t take long to look around.  Once you unlocked the door (the exciting bit) you walked in and realised you were just in a tower with not much else.  There was a floor made of soil like some sort of French toilet and if you looked up there was a birds’ nest and some sky.  This was no Tower of London.  No one even mentioned that torture was likely to have taken place there.  Anyway, before you knew it you returned the key to Doris and she’d look all disappointed because it hadn’t taken you longer to look around.  

“Seen everything?” she asked doubtfully.

Yes, the floor, the walls, the sky, a pigeon swooping in.  The smell of damp.

“I reckon so,” said my brother.

“Such a fantastic thing to be able to call your own,” said Mum.

We looked at the castle every year when we came to visit and it was always the same, both inside and with Doris.  Maybe there was a shopping centre or a funfair we consistently overlooked and that’s why she couldn’t understand how we were so quick, but I doubt that was the case.  Having been to the countryside a lot I’ve learnt that people who live there can take considerable time over almost nothing at all.  If you didn’t, you’d get to about the age of twenty-five and realise you’d done absolutely everything there was to do in the place and you still have another fifty years to live.  That’s why everyone, once they’ve grown out of the incest, has so many affairs.  

Don’t get me wrong, at first glance the place looks nice enough.  There are pretty little houses on winding little streets that lead to a central square.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays a market took place there where lumpen red-faced husbands and wives would sell the gubbins from their small farms: eggs, leeks, jam, that sort of thing.  We were usually there for the Wednesday market, the runtish sibling to Saturday’s jaunt.  

“You should come one year when the Saturday market is on,” Mrs Malarkey said one morning as she scraped dried mud out of her husband’s boots with a fish knife.  “It’s a very different beast.”  

So, the following year we arranged our trip to coincide with this excitement and wouldn’t you believe it she was absolutely right.  On the Saturday there was a man selling packs of bacon from a van, and not only that.  But a stall that sold large old lady knickers. Five pairs for two pounds.  No wonder Saturdays were so popular in that town.

I have vague memories of when the Malarkeys lived near us in London but they moved when I was about five and they have lived in Suffolk ever since, and we went every year but never at Christmas.  They never came to us because we lived on a bus and it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you there wasn’t much room spare.    

“If I’m honest,” said Mrs Malarkey, “I’m not even sure I could cope with London these days.  What with the terrorists and the way people drive.”turnip field

“The best decision we ever made,” said Mr Malarkey one night as we sat in their small front room staring out of the window at the field opposite watching the turnips grow and putting on their show.

I caught my brother’s eye and we shook our heads, Dad admired the turnips a moment or two longer and then went back to leafing through the Radio Times.  I could tell he was itching to cross and tick certain programmes with that red pen of his.  Mum yawned loudly and said she might turn in and then Mrs Malarkey got to her feet.  

“That freezer won’t defrost itself,” she said, eager to give the evening after eight pm in that little Suffolk town some sense of purpose.

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Straight men and their ways

  peckham rye parkIn the park on early Saturday mornings a group of runners dominates the place.  There is nothing casual about their running but as they snake around the paths, their routes are dictated either by little yellow arrows on sticks or running group organisers.  Small bearded men all of them, who play the role of the sticks and hold up little yellow arrow signs as the runners approach, and no one makes any eye contact.  No one chats as they run either.  Everyone is running alone and it’s far too serious a business for affability.

The closest anyone ever came to companionship that I saw was one lean man with a hungry face who pushed two babies in a double push-chair ahead of him.  As I sat on a bench and the trio hurtled past me I saw one of the babies was round-faced and placid, staring firmly ahead, unfazed by the world passing by at an alarming rate.  Whereas his sibling, the wind howling over him turning a curl of his baby hair into a terrible toupee, had a look of utter panic about his features.  Bets are off as to which one will have an easier time of it in life.

My friend Jake took to running for a while.  But not outdoors.  peckham rye park benchBeing gay, he preferred a proper gym with a punishing direct debit schedule.  He made semaphore of a warm-up routine, then pounded the treadmill and used weights.  On leaving the place, he clutched a large frothy coffee in a paper cup and maybe once in a while a muffin, too.  Because what is a trip to the gym without a heap of cake as a reward at the end of it?  We didn’t see each other for most of this time.  He is always much busier than me and the gym took up the rest of the time but when I did finally see him after our eight months absence he was changed.  Not just physically but his voice had deepened too, until he laughed that is, and I told him that, other than his laugh, I thought he had changed in numerous ways.  

He said, I know.  I feel more masculine.  

In what way, I asked?  

Well, for instance, when I sit down on the Tube now I do so with my legs wide apart.  

You want to grow out of that habit, I said.

He looked offended.

There’s nothing to be said for taking up more than your fair share of space on the Tube, I explained.  It’s a horrid straight man affectation.  It’s a good thing your laugh hasn’t deepened.  If it had, I’d be worried you’d find other men like you and laugh together in that way certain straight men sometimes do where you’re never sure if they’re going to buy each other a pint or end up in a brawl.

These days, I’m pleased to report, Jake is a much more hot yoga kind of guy.

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An unsuccessful recipe from 1997 that combines potatoes and humiliation

greengrocer displayIn the greengrocer’s, Len, the owner, and his rake-thin son, Tubby, were serving other customers and so Vernon almost walked out when he feared he’d be cornered by the infuriating assistant with the shaky grip of arithmetic.

“I’m just looking, for the moment,” said Vernon sweetly as the man approached.  Playing for time, he dallied over the barrels of apples and pears, inspected with great interest the display of courgettes, celery and fennel, scrutinised some potatoes.  This must be how people pass the time at flower shows, he thought.

Len was now saying goodbye to a woman manoeuvring her shopping trolley out onto the street.  “Have a nice weekend,” he called after her.

Vernon’s moment had come.  He made his move.   “What are these?” he asked, picking up a small spud.

“Be with you in a moment, Vern,” Len said.  “Just need to get my tea.  Derek will sort you out.”

You bastard.  He’d been duped.

Vernon was still brandishing the potato and Derek was now prowling around it, a forensic look on this face.  “I think,” he said, slowly, contemplatively, as if working up to some great reveal.

Electrified with hate for every fibre of this man, from the top of his ginger head down to the tips of his be-socked toes in their sandals, Vernon knew what was coming and he tensed.

“I think this is what is known as a potato.”

You.  Monstrous.  Dick.

Derek had whipped the potato from Vernon’s fingers and was now laughing.  Not alone.  Tubby was hooting away too and so indeed was Len as he came back into the shop clutching a mug.  The three of them guffawing uproariously.  Vernon attempted a smile.  His lips were marble.  He tried again.  He felt his mouth purse into the shape of a cat’s arse.

“I know it’s a potato,” Vernon said, “but of what type?”

Of what type?  Oh god, a duchess.  It didn’t matter they were ignoring him anyway.

“Now we’re agreed it’s a potato,” said Hercule Greengrocer, “where do you think it comes from?”

“From whence does it hail?”  Tubby said.

“Ooh, very good, Tubs,” Derek said, grabbing the potato back from the pile and holding it up to the light, valuing a diamond.

“Lincolnshire?”

Duchess gone.  Starchy schoolmistress in her place.

“South America.”  The voice was portentous, its reveal something hugely clever.

“Not this specific one though.”  Oh damn, the duchess had returned.

“All of them did, Sir Walter Raleigh brought them here.”

“He was a sailor and an adventurer,” said Tubby helpfully, Watson to Derek’s Holmes.

Len’s turn now:  “He couldn’t have brought back just the one, could he?  Mrs Raleigh would have had to send him back to get the rest of the shopping!  Tea would have been late that night.”

Abundant hilarity once more.  No wonder everyone else went to Tesco.  Nobody spoke to you there.

Eventually the ordeal was over and Vernon paid.

“Doing anything nice this weekend, Vern?” Len asked.

“Friend’s funeral.”  This will take the wind out of their sails.

“Not Princess Diana’s, I hope,” Derek said, kicking off another round of laughter.

“Yes, as it happens,” he said, making his way out of the shop.  The duchess in full flight now, her voice imperious, but with the walk of a silly old queen knocked about by three greengrocers.

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Luxury Fish Pie

fish pieFinally, he plumped for one called Luxury Fish Pie.  Surely Elsa deserved a whiff of luxury.  As did poor old Nikos, for that matter.  At first, Vernon couldn’t gauge what was so luxurious about this particular recipe.  Certainly, there was no lobster or crab, and by comparing it with other recipes it seemed merely evidenced by the inclusion of a layer of egg slices.  An odd use of words.  Since when did egg denote luxury?  Not since the war, surely.  And it didn’t seem to add very much either.  Other than egg.  Fish Pie with Egg might have been a more honest description.

Once it was all ready, he layered the pie’s components into his second-best baking dish.  He let it cool and settle then gathered it in both hands.  He only felt sad he wouldn’t taste it.  Would the egg become something more after its time in the oven?

As he carried it down from his flat he ran through his instructions for Nikos: the temperature of his stove, the length of cooking, the level of crisp burnish on the top that should be achieved.  Maybe a little salad at the side?

Vernon was never to see Elsa again.  Nikos took it from him with a strained jollity in his voice.  His face was so thin, Vernon noticed, as he told him in advance of how grateful Elsa was.  (“She has told me off for letting you cook this for us!”)  Two days later Elsa died, and at the funeral Nikos made a point of telling Vernon that the fish pie he’d made was the very nicest Elsa had ever eaten.  (“Even nicer than that first one at Wheeler’s all those years before, she wanted you to know.  The egg was genius.”)  hard boiled egg ad egg slices

Vernon felt himself flush with pride.  He waited a tiny moment and when no further compliments were forthcoming he quashed a spark of annoyance.  Instead, he hugged his old neighbour, the first time they’d ever actually touched, and the freshly-minted widower’s quiff was as carefully set as ever, and Vernon risked allowing his hand to move upwards just imperceptibly, so as to have a tiny feel.  Welded hair and fingers met, just briefly, and it was as perfectly hard under Vernon’s touch as he had hoped.  He suddenly imagined producing a small, silver toffee hammer, and sharply tapping Nikos’ head, then standing back as shards of fixative and hair clattered to the ground.

Here, today, he watched Nikos feed the pigeons in the street and and not for the first time, since Vernon had made that fish pie for them both, he wondered whether it was too soon to ask for his dish back.

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High on a hill

london from westow hillWe went to meet our friend Isy and her baby Beti earlier today, in Crystal Palace where they live.

Although it’s perched high on a hill (with the sorts of views estate agents get moist about) I always feel CP has quite the seasidy feel.  I’ve never been able to put my finger on why but today the wind whipped about, forcing me to give up on wearing my cap, and that buffeting in particular reminded me of trips to the sea.  There too it is always colder than you expect and the wind always stronger than it is at home.

On a boiling day in London a month or so ago, I went to Brighton with my friend Anthony.  With our swimming togs packed, we pelted along the motorway.  The car windows were wound up and the hotter we got the more convinced we were that a dip in the briny couldn’t come a moment too soon.  The moment we left the car park however we both regretted not having brought a pullover.  And when offered an outside table at the Regency for our fish and chip lunch we said we’d rather be indoors, out of the chill, thank you very much.

Anyway.

Little Beti is a beautifully easy-going baby and we all sat in a cafe for a couple of hours and she was more than content.  In there we bumped into our friends Helen and Martin and they moved from their table and joined us.  How lovely, this all is, I thought.  High on a hill that promises the sea, in my bag an extremely expensive pair of sausage rolls purchased in the farmers’ market just down the way, a fabulous independent bookshop a few doors along.  I could live here.

Almost everyone I know who lives in London SE19 doesn’t have a proper job and I fantasised about all the coffee that could be drunk of a mid-morning.

Isy was telling us about a short film she’d recently been in where they had had to eat a good quantity of custard creams in one scene.  A woman also involved was very unhappy about this aspect of the shoot.  She was averse to custard creams apparently and told Isy that she had good reason to be as they stayed in your gut for up to thirty years.

Our conversation meandered about until it reached that apex of middle class worries.  What to do with the awful gifts your cleaner gives you?

While I was holding Beti and playing a little game of peekaboo with her, occasionally tapping her on her nose to make her laugh, Isy explained that their cleaner had embroidered what appears to be a toadstool as a present for Beti when she was born.  Obviously it now has to be on the wall in Beti’s bedroom and although it’s pretty rotten there’s nothing to be done about it.

“What’s her name?” I asked, always keen on unnecessary detail (see Brighton above).  I meant their cleaner.

“Beti,” said Isy.

That’s weird I thought.  A Bulgarian called Beti / Betty.  Seems unlikely.  Isy must have said err … what?  Beppe?  (My hearing, I’m convinced, is on the wane.)

Beppe sounds pretty Italian to me but who’s to say it might not be a Bulgarian woman’s name, too?  Out of everyone around the table, Isy would be the one to know her own cleaner’s name.

“Beppe?” I asked, just to be certain.

Somebody came over to clear plates at that point and, distracted, Isy never answered.

Walking home afterwards, with a gentle horror I realised what Isy must have thought I had been asking.  Maybe I’d been tapping Beti on the nose at just that point and Isy thought I was pointing at her instead?  Dear god.  I texted to apologise for this horrid misunderstanding.

“Oh that’s alright,” Isy replied.  “I just thought you said ‘Beppe’ because that’s how you imagined a Bulgarian might pronounce it.”

Racist, as well as crassly indifferent to your friends’ children.

No one ever told me having staff would be this difficult.

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Happy Christmas (six days late)

goodge placeThe sun’s gift that Christmas morning was to shine and shine.  Gallantly it made its way through the grime of the first floor windows in Goodge Place.  It traduced the fairy lights laced through Victor’s tree to a grubby yellow, and turned those around the gilt mirror almost invisible.  Walking into into the living room, Tom immediately wished someone else would arrive puffing merrily on a cigar: so seasonal would its smoke look suspended in the sunlight.  Instead, there was a smell of freshly-squirted furniture polish, and recently disturbed eddies of dust wavered in the air.

“There’ll be six of us, maybe eight,” Victor had said when he suggested they spend Christmas together.  Now, however, Tom noted, the table was laid for seven.

At the sight of this room: its table settings, its tree and the coloured lights, Tom sensed something akin to having arrived in a hotel on holiday. This wasn’t simply a place for lunch but he would be here for hours, in all likelihood well into the evening.  A whole landscape of activities and events might unfold in here of which complimenting Victor on the moistness of his turkey would only form a very small part.  Other than eating and playing games (he hoped there would be cards, Tom loved cards), there would shifts, developments and changing allegiances between those gathered around the table, mirroring the journey of friendships in life, but in miniature.  Victor had told him, quite sternly, gifts were not to be exchanged, but Tom nevertheless had felt he should bring something for his host.  In his bag therefore along with two bottles of wine, a bottle of the second cheapest champagne he could find, and a box of chocolate truffles there was also a book.  To counteract its gift status he had considered not wrapping it but in the end had decided that looked both antagonistic and lazy.  He intended to present it as a preemptive thank you.  He was holding it in his hand when Victor returned from the kitchen.

“Sherry?” He offered Tom a schooner, the type of which Tom had only seen in pubs with hunting scenes on the walls.  Bob then ambled in, silent as ever, never barking.  He sniffed at Tom’s shoes then went round and round in circles several times before finally slumping down, his jaw resting on Tom’s foot.  When Victor had taken Bob home as a puppy he had cried for the first three nights.  Victor listened as the little dog searched the dark flat looking for his mother.  He could hear Bob howl, then he would stop for a while and Victor would wonder if that was the end of it but before long he’d start up with the howling again.  The neighbours might start complaining soon, Victor had fretted.  On the fourth night, however, Bob stopped crying, obviously the small dog’s mother now forgotten to him.

“The table looks lovely, Victor,” said Tom.

“Thank you, my dear.”

They both admired it for a moment.  The moment being slightly too long.  Victor looked proud.  The candles were already lit, small sprigs of holly at their bases.  Tom had a sudden vision of making the Christmas news in one of those sad, tawdry stories the season specialised in.  Seven queens dead in table decoration inferno, Moira Stewart purred.

In the centre, next to a ramekin filled with cranberry sauce, squatted a ceramic brown frog.  “Ah, you’ve spotted, Toady, the mustard pot,” said Victor.  “An Xmas pressie from Diana.  It comes out every year.”

“Talking of presents, Victor, I know we said we weren’t doing them but this a little thank you, if you like.”

Victor took the book, looking quite serious.  “I haven’t got you anything.”

Tom felt something atmospheric change in the room.  “It’s not a Christmas present.”

Victor raised a doubtful eyebrow.  “Well, it’s very thoughtful of you,” he said, before placing it, unopened, on a small table by an armchair.

Something tugged a little at Tom’s sense of guilt.  His family back in Leatherhead would be eating smoked salmon blinis about now, not really so very long after finishing their Special Breakfast of scrambled eggs and grated truffles.  Throughout the year, everyone told everyone else how much they disliked the woody, decaying smell of the truffles, (jock-strappy, Tom thought) although no one ever told Dad.  So still they ate them.  An annual unwanted treat consumed two days after Dad brought them home, triumphant from a drive to a delicatessen in Dorking, holding aloft the small bag, his face etched with pride as if he’d gone out into the forest alone, on all fours, and sniffed them out for himself.

Suddenly, Bob barked at something.

“What’s the matter with you, you daft ha’porth?”christmas fairy lights

Bob’s jaws snapped shut on thin, Christmas candle-scented, air and Tom watched as a fly lazily flew upwards.

“Bloody flies.  They’re everywhere today.  Must be a dead rat under a floorboard somewhere.  Anyway, you calm down, Bob,” he said, gesturing at the dog’s basket.  “Happy Christmas.”

They clinked their sherry glasses; Bob closed one eye; and the fly settled, injudiciously, in the molten wax of Victor’s ‘Winter Wonderland’ candle, causing the flame to quietly sizzle.

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