Immediately after clocking in this morning I was given the hard word. Those thugs in the general office are to deny me tea and biscuits until I come up with another tale from my own experiences – some readers will know that I produced a couple earlier. This one is needed for today’s print run. I suppose we’re short of material, though nobody ever tells me anything. However, having reached my anecdotage, I can handle this task. Here we go. Editor
It’s The Thought That Counts
I was in the infirmary, breast bone and four ribs broken and the car written off. Nobody’s fault, unless you blame the local authority gritting crews and I don’t. They had their hands full dealing with the main roads and I’d been on a minor one. The culprit was a patch of ice which threw my tiny runabout into a skid. Being the only mishap of consequence I had experienced in many years of driving, it was a shock – the sort of thing that happens to other, younger people. Of course, I have to admit that anyone under the age of fifty now seems to me a youthful tearaway.
In the afternoon of my third day of horizontality, my friend Bob called. He came minus both grapes and fruit juice, not that I take much notice of such things, and exhibited the classic symptoms of a hospital visitor – simulated bonhomie, fidgeting, eyes continually straying, not surreptitiously enough for my liking, to the wall clock, after the first ten minutes of his stay. The second of these manifestations was particularly evident, as it was exacerbated by Bob’s decision, taken a few months earlier, to stop smoking. I had noticed that since then he seemed to be afflicted by constant wriggling, scratching, rubbing of various body parts and bouncing from one buttock to the other, as though taking his daily exercise while chairbound. Not for the first time, I wished he would revert to the weed. I hadn’t liked the smell of his cigarettes, but found that less irritating than his non-stop squirming.
“Well now, what’s the full story?” he said, full of forced joviality. It was a fair opening, so I explained. There were the inevitable interruptions, obliging me to say that yes, my seat belt had been fastened, no, I hadn’t been drinking and yes, I really did try to get straightened out again but failed, mainly because the road was narrow, sinuous and half-blocked by a car belonging to a fellow who had come to grief a couple of minutes earlier, in the same way as I did. The location was, I learned later, an accident black spot. I wonder why it is that after such events one must submit, even to one’s friends, to an interrogation process that would be more appropriate following a major incident at a nuclear power station.
Finally, Bob was satisfied that I had not been overtaken by suicide mania. That clarified, he told me that I had been very lucky. I replied that having broken several bones and lost my trusty old car, I failed to perceive my good fortune. By this time, about twenty minutes of the allowed visiting hour had elapsed and I began to match Bob’s clock-watching, glance for glance – a long spell of mutually uncomfortable conversation is no trifling matter. “Well look,” said Bob after a particularly uneasy pause. “If there’s anything I can do, just tell me.”
I was well aware that the standard response in such circumstances is: “No, everything’s okay. I’ll be out soon.” Instead of saying words to that effect, I began to do a little chin-fingering. This clearly caused my pal some discomfiture, so I persevered with it for a while before answering: “As a matter of fact, there is.”
“Name it,” Bob whipped out smartly.
“Well,” I said, “I was just going to tidy the garden. That’s a fairish task. As you know, I have well over half an acre, and they reckon that although they’ll discharge me in a couple of days, I’ll be fairly weak for while. The trees have shed a veritable carpet of leaves on the lawn and paths and around the borders. It always takes me ages to gather them up. And I have a load of laundry waiting to be dealt with. Apart from that, there’s only the question of groceries. That’s a bit complicated, what with my vegetarianism and general faddishness. It means some running around health food places. Then I go for locally grown organic produce – one has to be so careful. Still, if you don’t mind.”
By this time, Bob was decidedly on edge. He hesitated for, by my casual reckoning, four seconds before unleashing a rapid, jerky response. “No problem at all. Only thing is we’re booked for a fortnight in Cornwall from tomorrow. Trying to get as far south as we can for the pre-winter break, and you know that the better half won’t go abroad. She doesn’t even have a passport – that’s always been a bone of contention between us. But look, as soon as we get back – “
Realising that he was blathering, I broke in: “Don’t worry about it for a minute. It’s the thought that counts.”
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