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Saturday, 27 June 2015

Stress-free living

Woman gets carried away, bell-ringing. Telegraph, Oct 2009 
"I'm John," announces the new arrival to our evening chat, pulling up a rusty chair and sitting beside us around the small garden pond.

Dark hair, forty at a guess, wearing a burgundy sweatshirt with the logo, Guildford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers

A campanologist. Only my second in a lifetime of meeting people, the first being a bad-tempered, smooth-skinned engineer called Tod whom I worked with briefly at Rolls-Royce. 

Turns out this John is 62, same age as Harris. I'm astonished but detect a pattern. 

"John is a lifelong bachelor, I'm guessing," I tell Harris later, when we're sipping Glenmorangie in his lounge on a comfortable couch, looking out at the Surrey countryside, having learned much, in the meantime, about carillons, clappers and cats' ears.

"Still lives with his mum," he says. "How did you know?"

"Coupla clues," I say, trying to tap the side of my nose and missing. "Look at us. You have less hair on your head than on the soles of your feet. I have more snow on my upper slopes than Kilimanjaro. We look our age and then some.

"John on the other hand has silky skin and hair like a raven's wing. His jaunty air speaks of a stressless life, free of all responsibility. Where you and I worry about health, family and the price of beer, he strolls across the village green of a sunlit evening and pulls mightily on his big bells. He is carefree and will live forever. Why? I'll tell you why."

I take a long sip and look straight into Harris's eyes, which seem strangely unfocused for one so smart. "The single source of all the stress in the world is absent from that man's life," I say, pausing to consider the sentence and feeling slightly surprised that it came out so well. 

"The single source of all the stress in the world," I say again.

"What are you talking about?" Harris says, swaying slightly in his seat.

"Sit still man and listen," I tell him. "John has had no contact with the one thing that has turned you and me grey, bald, wrinkled and grumpy."

"Drink?" Harris says.

"Women," I tell him.

"Ah," he says, pulling the cork out of the bottle with a satisfying squeak-pop and sloshing whisky into our glasses. 

"Women," I repeat and nod knowingly, as does he. 

"Bloody women, you might say," he says. 

"No, no," I say, shaking my head and wishing I hadn't. "You can't say bloody women. Walls have ears."

He peers at the walls of his lounge. "Mine don't," he says.

"They do," I tell him. "Your sister Susan might be 500 miles away, but she can hear us."

"Don't be daft, man," he says. "You're a physis... You're a physisiss... You're an engineer. Talk sense."

"I am talking sense. And what I'm saying is if you want to look young and healthy, stay away from women. I'm not saying it's their fault. Correlashish... Correlation is not causation."

"I've often thought so," he says. "You're a very wise man, Douglas."

"So are you, Harris," I tell him. "Where's my bed?"

"Top of those stairs on the right," he says.

I lean my head back and contemplate the stairway, winding above us like the north face of the Eiger. 

"This is a very cumchy couf," I say, prodding it with my finger. "I will sleep here tonight."

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