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Saturday, 30 November 2013

It's not easy being suave and cultured

Mary has a good opinion of me, because I talk to her about politics and religion. It's one of the many things I like about her and it's something I'm keen to hang on to. 

But the harder you try to be suave and cultured, I find, the more your inner idjit gets out.

So we're chatting together in her living-room, as she eats the dinner I've brought round and I sip a small Talisker she's poured for me, and she asks me how I'm doing.

"Struggling," I say. "Recessions are tough for a freelance, and living off your wits gets harder as they lose their edge with age."

"Have a biscuit and don't be daft," she says. "What age are you?"

"Fifty-five," I say. 

"Just a boy," she says

"Can I get you a coffee?" I say, leaping lithely to my feet to prove that she's right.

"I have it with all milk nowadays," she says. "In my favourite mug."

"What does your favourite mug look like?" I call from the kitchen with a sinking feeling, as I can see about 40 mugs around the room. 

"It looks like a mug," she calls back. So I stick my head through, to find her pushing her plate away and looking expectant. "Gimme a clue," I say. "What kind of mug?"

"It looks like this," she says, making a mug-sized shape with her hands. "It has a nice pattern on it and Fay gave me it as a present."

Short of the gift tag still being on the damned thing, I fail to see how that helps me. But I head back to the kitchen and play for time by pouring milk into a saucepan and heating it on the hob.

"You like it boiling or just hot?" I ask.

"Boiling," she says. "But not all over my cooker."

Ninety years old, yes. Fluffy and feeble, no. 

"She does this frail old woman act," Susan often tells me. "But she's anything but. She's manipulative. She used to write letters to the papers under different names, in praise of the charity she started for unmarried mums. She even changed her handwriting for each of them. That's devious."

"It's resourceful," I tell her. "And it's all for other people. That's what I like about her. She is unselfish. She's spiritual."

"She should be," she'd say. "She prays to the Holy Spirit all the time."

"For the benefit of other people," I'd point out. "God and scheming make a great combination. Ideal way to get things done, if you ask me."

And a little divine assistance wouldn't go amiss now, I'm thinking, as the milk boils over and I shut the door fast, so Mary can't hear the hissing. It is hard to get milk off a hot plate but I do my best. Then I scrabble around the kitchen some more, searching for this daft mug she's so keen on. 

Suddenly I spot it in the sink. Tall, tapering, with fancy flowers on the outside. I know it's the one. Don't ask me how. Maybe being this close to Mary means God is on my side tonight too. 

The thought makes me overconfident and the mug slips from my fingers and smashes itself to bits on the floor. I stare at it for a moment, my mind numb, then look upwards. "Thanks a bunch pal," I tell Him, as the milk boils over again, I reach out to grab it and tip the entire saucepan over the hob.

"Bugger, bugger, bugger," I say, as I survey the scattered chaos in a once lovely kitchen. "Bugger." 

Five minutes later I've cleaned up as best I can and made her black coffee in a Huckleberry Hound mug, with "Oh My Darling Clementine" in large letters on the side.

"I am sorry, Mary. I couldn't find your posh mug and you had run out of milk," I say, as I hand it to her. 

"Never mind son," she says, patting my hand, taking a small sip and pretending she likes it. "It's lovely to have you here to chat to, about all the stuff that's on my mind. 

"You are just so calm and sensible."

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