Saturday 18 September 2010

Welcome home

15st 9lb, zero units. I was driving off to Newcastle for a haircut yesterday afternoon when I glanced to my left and did an absolutely classic double take; the sort that demands that you slam on the brakes and reverse up the road to be sure that you really did see what you thought you had spotted. As luck would have it, my attempt to reverse naturally coincided with the arrival behind me of a speeding white van, on a road that probably does not see more than one speeding white van per month. The driver gave me the traditional salute as he swerved and roared past.

But my eyes did not deceive me. There, walking purposefully towards his front gate, was my 85-year-old next-door neighbour who, when I last received a bulletin, was in hospital and looked likely to remain there for some time. Admittedly he was leaning quite heavily on a pair of sticks, but he looked considerably better than when I had last seen him. I don’t think I have ever been more delighted to see anyone in my life – though I suppose I must have been, now I come to think about it, mainly in those instances where women actually turned up for blind dates and proved not to be quite as hideous as I had assumed they would be.

I won’t say that I have been getting withdrawal symptoms, but since he has been away I have taken a couple of looks at Google Street View, in which he is immortalized standing in his dungarees and wellington boots in his winter-bleak front garden, staring suspiciously at the camera van as it goes by.

When I returned from my haircut (excellent – and good value, too. Tom O’Malley at Michael Dominic, 8 Lansdowne Terrace, North Road, Gosforth. He keeps angling for a plug in my newspaper column, and this is as near as I am likely to get) I called on my neighbours and enquired if he was glad to be home (he was) and whether his wife was glad to have him back (this took some thinking about, but she finally admitted that he was “company”).

“And what was wrong with you?”

“Buggered if aa knaa.”

“Well, what were they treating you for?”

“Buggered if aa knaa.”

“Do they think they’ve cured you?”

“Buggered if aa knaa. They wanted me to gan back next week but aa’ve rung up and cancelled it. At my time of life, do ye think aa want to be buggered about with? Aa’d rather dee.”

Well, I suppose the sentiments are quite understandable even if the language isn’t always to those born outside the North East. I once shared my house with a lady who is a keen equestrienne, and we would have long conversations with our neighbour in which I understood the dialect and she grasped his horse-related terminology, so when we pooled our knowledge afterwards we could usually work out what the hell we had just been talking about. Mrs H just nods cheerfully, and I am under standing instructions to kick her if she looks like doing so in response to a statement like “one of my goats has just died.” I am pleased, if surprised, to report that there have been no disastrous embarrassments so far.

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