Family Notes

Ailsa and Jude are coming out again. Let's hope the weather improves. Yesterday we drove to Guia de Isora to see the Hamiltons and nearly had to stay the night. The steep streets were carrying water inches deep and small stones were rolling down almost like surfacing fish. We took advantage of a lull, the grey-black clouds parted, leaving us a relatively clear path among the boulders left behind as the water ran off to the lower levels of the town. Open ground between the streets, usually filled by tangled bush, were now weedy ponds, but we made it to San Juan and the coast road. Los Cris was a rain-sodden world away and we carried a sinking feeling that we weren't going to make it. By Fanabe the Barranco del Ingles passing beneath us was a roaring torrent, part of the roadside cliff had collapsed and we narrowly avoided police barriers because a lorry loaded with gas bottles had gone into a ditch trying to avoid the obstruction. At Cristimar we were unable to enter the garage because, of course, the electricity was off. So we parked outside Mas a Menos and paddled in.

Funny peculiar! The pool looked just normal, serenely aloof at its natural level, its flatness only slightly ruffled by the rain while all around was chaos, soil and stones in muddy drifts over the entrance steps and pathways. Julio met us with a wry face wearing gum boots and oilskins and carrying a sweeping brush. "Mucho trabajo, amigo."

"Nunca mucho costa poco!."

Much never costs little! Well right! He laughed at my textbook Spanish - We should see Mas a Menos by the fish counter - for these much agua, he added something about the English and umbrellas but I missed it.

But hang about! I left the office window open, only slightly, but in this sort of weather only slightly can produce dire results. Say nothing to Petalmost. Just go in, be nice to the cat and hope for the best.

And now, just one day later I am standing opposite the Banco de Bilbao sheltering with many others beneath a sun canopy watching with amazement as water flows swiftly along the road on its downward path to the harbour end of the town. Incredibly, a builder's plank has joined the flotsm of rubbish from the building works further up and is bobbing buoyantly on its way past the church. But, more incredibly still, we watch the water still rising above pavement level before it tips the sill and starts flooding the underground car park. Astounded customers inside the Banco de Bilbao are staring through the windows trapped by the thundering rain. And this is the upper end of the town for Pete's sake, God knows what it must be like at the bottom end!

Later, at our end, Lizzie told me that people were watching, astounded by a leaping waterfall coming off the Montana de Guaza from one hundred and thirty metres up straight into the sea, and now, where they are building great blocks of apartments up the sides of the bloody Montana, sand, stones and mud are lying about all over the pretty new roads and the builders' open trenches are half full of water. We expect oncoming disaster when bad weather brings the whole lot sliding down. Similar horrors came to our notice at Los Gigantes. The steep descent into the town revealed apartments standing literally on top of one another, about to fall on us as we drove past. And these places built solely for the blessings of sunlight look so forlorn in heavy rain, the gleaming white sullen and soaked like wet washing.

Heavy rain, thunder and lightning have left Tenerife in chaos. Three health centres are closed because of flooding, lightning has knocked out a sub-station near Tacorante leaving the north of the island without power. Heading for the sea, flood-water has invaded the runways at Reina Sophia airport causing flights to be diverted to Gran Canaria. And the girls will be out tomorrow. Rain or shine, stormy or benign, we shall meet them and escort them to Cristimar.

Okay, they made it. We wave as they emerge from Arrivals. The passenger lounge, usually crowded, now has an open space in the centre where the water stands, like a dance floor crowded round the edges. The girls, coming to grips with the situation are torn between "Crazy!" and "Cool Daddio!" And of course, in this weather you can't get a taxi, new arrivals are huddled like sheep beneath the canopies. We brought brollies, for it's quite a walk to the car park - we do not park where the taxis stand. And now the sun breaks through and we get a relatively dry run along the new autopista. Los Cris looks as though it has been hung out to dry. The streets are steaming. And now with sunlight in bursts, they want to go to the beach. Dry sand previously pelted with rain bears a featureless flattened look as though it's been ironed, which reminds me there's 204's ironing to do. Get it finished then we have some time with the girls. I hate ironing, Lizzie hates sinks. We often indulge in a batty break, no time for a potem, and the Foxes are to confirm a booking for PB 132, so we may need to jump in there sharpish.

Giggles from the kids - "That's silly, Alan. How can it be like ballroom dancing?"

"Well, for a start you need a flat surface, and you need music. I always iron to music. I hate ironing fitted sheets, you iron into a corner and iron out again and finish with a double reverse spin."

"We don't dance couples these days. You're way back, Alan."

"There's a glass and a plate at each corner. Honour your corner, honour your partner."

"That's Old Time, Alan, not ballroom. Who does ballroom anyway!"

"No, it's Country and Western. We used to do it with a caller wearing a cowboy hat at the Police Sports Centre at Chigwell. Trouble with you lot is you do it solo - like primitive tribal supplicants praying for rain, jigging about, no style, no content. If you really want style try the tango, that really gets to the meaning of life."


Shrieks from the girls. No good explaining the difference between the ballroom shuffle and the short clipped rhythmn and emphatic strut of the Argentinian tango, so frankly breathtaking that some women start shrieking like these two, but these two wouldn't touch traditional dance with a barge pole. Ailsa is 23, Jude is 24. Out here on holiday they go back a few years and start shrieking like teenagers. I am grateful when they go to the beach.

Now it is cards and a few cokes before preparation for the evening. While I have been ironing Lizzie has been filling the washing machine and helping me fold. We can get all of 204's linen in one big carry bag then finish the cleaning in about half an hour then get back to supervise the evening's frolics. Ailsa's friend Jude was her companion on the beautician's course they did some years ago. Normal smooth running of the home is disturbed by their extraneous conversation that has no bearing whatsoever on our life style, edgy stuff, stepping from one tiny crisis to the next, "then he turned round and said..." and "well, you know what she's like..." the raw side of community life, and what is so startling is their deadwood of nonchalance about Jude's class of schoolgirls, aspiring beauticians, two of whom are pregnant and with violent boy-friends. As a much troubled father, whose daughter returned from volunteer work in Africa bearing an infant, once said to me "I didn't think we were that sort of family" - a brutal execution of his sense of decency - "but we have to bend, Mr Mann, what else can we do?" Their affronted dignity, unjustly framed as permissive parents in sight of all the neighbours, led to adoption proceedings.

At home there are certain expectations of behaviour, politeness, filial affection, but here, instead of filling in vacant spaces due to prolonged absence, we greet as if we saw them in Sainsbury's last week, for this is holiday time and certain social trammels are cast aside. Respectability is an old word that once held value. Some kids these days behave like cattle, they experiment with adulthood before they reach it. I get the feeling that morality, like the Dodo, has disappeared without trace. At holiday time there is a welcoming of social disorder, a joyful absence of constraints, as with the 18 to 30 club, with yobos with union flags on their bums, and 'I Love Dick' across juvenile tits. Mind you, I'm a fine one to talk about morality, though I did put a word in about nonchalance - "But you should worry about what the neighbours think, Ailsa, neighbours are part of your community" - which is quietly ignored though Lizzie gave me a nod, she is being drawn into girlish consultation, so I suppose I shall get to know eventually.

But they shriek! God, how they shriek!

There are three new bookings to enter in the diary and a street let we have been asked to take on from a hotel down by Pooh Corner which I will not accept until I know why the hotel can't take them - which reminds me to take flowers to Angela, she never asks a penny commission for all the work she has done for us. So I will deliver 204's stuff on my way to investigate and do the flower shop on the way back.

Despite warnings that we are busy people there is yet a family expectation that we are totally available for entertainment. We try to oblige their expectation yet, left to their own devices, we worry.

"In by eleven-thirty, please. Lizzie and I are busy tomorrow. We have an airport pick-up, and some people are leaving and we have beds to strip and another big wash day."

"Didn't know you had a washing machine now, Alan!"

"We also have electricity to run it - most of the time."

Yesterday there were shrieks from the bathroom. Total darkness and the hair drier had stopped. "Alan! Mum!"

"Power cut. Stop howling. I'll get the lamp."

"But we're going out. What if the lift stops halfway down?"

"Just press the red button and the lift goes down to the basement where you get out."

"How do you see a red button in the dark, Alan?"

"A process of elimination, Ailment! You're bound to hit the right one, eventually. And no, you may not have a key but we will loan you an umbrella in case. Be back by eleven-thirty. I'd collect you except that I can't get the car out of the garage when there's a power cut."

"Didn't know you had a car, Alan!"

"That thing you were in when we brought you back from the airport. It had seats in. That was a car!"

"Well, right. Thought it was a hire car."

"We have moved forward. It is a Fiat Ronda, a veritable beast on four wheels. We bought it from friends going home."

"It rained the last time, Alan. And some silly people were getting out of the pool and running for shelter! I mean, I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. wet people trying to avoid getting wet. They couldn't get any wetter!"

In the presence of her mum she is still a child, but it is game-playing: loving obedience that no longer follows but obliges, for she is talented, quick of mind, assertive, in good work, with a paratrooper boyfriend back from the Falklands. On balance her social barometer looks good. Her younger sister Keri is with Thomson Holiday Group and is out here permanently. We see Keri often. Her friends are part of the lovely Thomson crowd and, like Ailsa, she is a happy and very busy lady.


My family did not emerge from the darkness of my past life until Tina came boldly forth with her girl friend to meet Lizzie and me at The Eagle in Wanstead in 1983. Then Simon came out to Cristimar with his wife Sue in 1986, but, apart from Tina and Simon, there has been no further contact by other members of the Mann Clan since my exit from the family home in 1977. We were delighted with Sue, taken with her practicality, her serious views close to the hub of family living, what we did not know about was the salt in the situation for this was their last chance to breathe before they separated.

Peter had doubts about the way forward, possibly his own problems with family matters - Shirley had a bad time; so did I was all he had to say on the matter, it came out in conversation, though what sort of conversation brought it forth I can't imagine - parenting is an affliction we all suffer from. It takes one to know one! as they say. "I have access to the boys," Simon told us over the phone, but the loss of Sue hit us both very hard. The unforgiving and unforeseen that waits around the corner, which was the nearest I got to why Shirley could never go home to India.

"Met Peter the Prof last time. Don't like him very much."

"He's not a prof. He's Doctor Uffington, a scientist. He's into earth movements, widening cracks in the substrata. He digs holes in the ground and puts measuring instruments in."

"Well, he talks like a prof. He's a bit old for digging holes, isn't he!"

"Well he doesn't actually dig the holes. Though he says he's going to dig a few holes to bury his kids in! An interesting thought!"

"Shirley's nice."

"All our friends are nice. But Peter and Shirley have gone home."

"I remember that little man who brought the fish. Walked in as if he owned the place?"

"That's Lori. He gets fish from the fish lady. She's the one with the basket who walks around the urban."

"Oh yes. I remember her. Weird woman!"

"You haven't met Maeve for weird! Think yourself lucky. She'd tell you what's wrong with kids these days!"

"The iron's on the blink, Petal."

"No, the power's off. Use the spare. Fix it later."

"Tambien the spare's on the blink, my darling. No electricidad!"

"We're doomed!"

The girls don't know what to make of this nonsense, as strange to them as their nonsense is to us. They exchange looks, grin knowingly, but, by and large, they are enjoying their stay in Tenerife.

Next Saturday we shall take the girls back to the airport, our unseemly hurry will be hidden behind a leisurely and fond farewell before we depart to Paloma Beach to do a quick clean for people coming in on an early evening flight. There are five and they'll need a zed bed.

"There's no electricidad, sweetest!"

"Shit! I've got 204's stuff to take round and a street let to investigate."

Mostly electricity is off only for short periods, usually a substation cuts out when there is heavy rain in the hills. In town cables are strewn about across buildings and open spaces with seemingly unregulated indifference to danger. I am amazed there are not more breakdowns. We just keep our fingers crossed. But there is a gorgeous upside to it, for if the night is clear we can watch the stars without the glare of electricidad. Even the girls are impressed.

The second time Simon came out he came alone, yet he was pursued by telephone calls from an interested lady. Eventually he married again with access to his two boys and found a settled life, started his own business as a graphic designer, struggled and rose slowly out of the wreckage of his early years.

I have heard nothing from Sylvia: the disaster of my first marriage created a state of abandonment - total loss on both sides, for which I don't blame her in the slightest, for what on earth could she want with me, a failed father? Both she and Teresa won places at the Royal Ballet School, Sylvia at the lower school at White Lodge, Teresa at the upper school at Talgarth Road. I believe Teresa has a lifetime interest in ballet, and teaches dancing. But this is all I know. Their stones have never been placed on the table. For me being unforgiven has its good side, one is not drawn in to old hurts, not obliged to tread old battle-grounds - for that route leads to confusion, and I am sworn to hold my ground come what may.

Two stones on the table. Keri and current boyfriend are next; I have forgotten his name, but no matter. Distracted momentarily from parental matters I look to my Lizzie who always looks good to me - but today is different. "What are you wearing, my petal?"

"Ailsa gave me this."

"Turn around, love." These days kids wear all sorts of messages. I LOVE DICK is quite common. She turns, posing with a cheeky smile GRUMPY BUT GORGEOUS across her chest. "Ducky Puss! Your second eldest gave you that?"

"It was given to her, she's just passing it on. Don't worry. I'm not wearing it outside. Just a fun thing."

"Pass it on to Maeve."

"Maeve would definitely not see the funny side."

"Girls have sexy legs so you'd better watch out." The child who sang this could have been no older than ten, her thin piping voice gave no weight to the words yet the sound of her singing brought her closer to the oncoming monster of sex. I was seriously shocked, wanted to say something. At ten she should have no serious thoughts about what lies ahead. The tools and appendages of sex she gets in Human Biology but not yet for Christ's sake in the bawdy songs! In family company she trotted down to the beach in her toy bikini. The Brownriggs are two of our best people who, some years back in VC 1B1, spilled a bucket of sand and shells on a mattress then took it out and beat it, borrowed our vacuum cleaner with apologies and restored the mattress to perfect condition. Not many customers will do that, considering beach sand in an apartment to be a management problem. Ron Brownrigg is a policeman. He tolerates no messing about. Tough love is an element shared by both parents and that is good when both parents stand together. Did they see trouble ahead from their frisky little daughter? I caught his eye. "We meet it head on," was all he said.

For myself I could never turn from one parent to the other. They were beetling cliffs of solidarity. And I never understood what occupied the space where love lingered unseen. The Manns and the Crisps and the Lamberts lived in a world that I couldn't reach because very little was said to disperse the grim world of adulthood. "Strait is the gate, narrow the way." Mum and her glasses. You got the delivery over the top. I was never a wayward child, too shy and scared to venture.

"strait is the gate, narrow the way." I puzzled over which strait - or was it straight?

Straight, the adjective: without curves or angles, without deviation or circumlocution.

Or strait, another adjective: narrow, restricted, puritanical, overscrupulous. Which one fits? I decided on straight because it suited my picture of my self - a straight bloke, no messing about. I told this to my dad. He said, "That's right, lad. Play it straight and people know where you stand."

"A lot of people think that childhood ends with ankle socks, all that follows is just sex biz. I'm appalled at Melanie. She knows too much. She's only just ten. Do you know what - precious man...? The Brownriggs always come out on Melanie's birthday. We forgot her birthday."


"And do you know what, precious man ... We forgot Tina's birthday."

"Double shit!"

"Ailsa's is next."

Ailsa the beautician, she travels the London area selling her firm's beauty products. Her boyfriend, Stewart, was a paratrooper with the second battalian Parachute Regiment. He finished his stint in the Falklands, retired and went into security work.

Keri the Thomson rep works on the north side of the island, so we see her regularly and often. Thomson's are a marvellously joyeous crowd of people, even off duty there is singing and dancing, and they have a special dance routine for New York New York.

Lee is the eldest of the three girls; a company secretary also doing spare time accountancy work. She lives in our Wanstead home, works damn hard to keep it safe. Temperamentally she tends to be unpredictable, her voice strident and hectoring, we call her Popocatepetl - without rancour of course, for they are all petals, loyal and true, and have cautiously accepted me as a substitute parent.

As for my kids, a silence of ten years put them beyond sight over the horizon, Simon broke it with a clang, appearing at Cristimar with his wife Sue, the last ditch stand we now know it to have been, followed by a long and empty silence. How much of this is mine I asked myself? I broke a link which was never secure, held together a few strands of decency. Tina came to us at Wanstead with her best friend, broke the ice as if there were no ice to worry about - and I forgot her birthday.

"What's fair in life, ducky puss?"

"Not a lot, my man! It shouldn't be so, but you know my kids far better than your own."

The happiness of constant occupation is infinite: I tell myself this when the Furies rise up to scold me - rise up is not an oxymoron; the words don't contradict, they complement, but it still looks funny - ah well! Sometimes I get confused and ask Lizzie for confirmation. My sonic landscape on the other hand baffles the Furies embracing El Tango, music I adore in minor key and Latin American for its unsurpassed joyfulness. For if I have music I can cope.

We play games. Sometimes it will be "A bit slow this morning aren't we, Scrotum! Where's my tea?"

"Beg pardon, Madam. Had to change the gas bottle."

"I don't want feeble excuses, Scrotum. Please ensure this does not happen again."

"Very good, Madam."

Or maybe, "Where's my dinner, woman. You'll have to do better than this or you'll scrub the floor in your underwear!"

"Oh please Sir Jasper, be gentle with me!"

Fred, Mimi & Lizzie

Silly games. But mostly gentleness for both of us have been through the mill, I take her wrist, sometimes while she sleeps, for I can enclose that small wrist completely with finger and thumb. I cannot understand how a lady with such a well-stocked mind allows dreadful domestic matters to ride alongside intellect. "But we're in it for business, my darling. They pay us for it." But it's hard to believe that she enjoys ironing. I mean, really! I do domestic tasks with a restless urge to be elsewhere, slamming drawers and doors in haste, stopping to revise my notes adding something of interest to the day. And there's something in Tennyson about being of the earth, the imperfect state. Must look it up.

Dawn's early light does not reach me for there is no window in the bathroom. I need a shower and the electricity is off again. The telephone is also off, been on and off for four days. So I shower in the dark. Of course the pump won't work either, so it has to be just gravity from the top tank if there's any water left in it.

"Is that you in there?"

"Who do you expect, Speedy Gonzales?"

"Whom do you expect... You're the writer so say it proper! We have a visitor."

"Now she tells me!"

"It's family."

"Yours or mine?"

"Yours, sweet prince."



Simon, 1989

Well, it's not my fault the telephones are off. Simon has been phoning to let us know his time of arrival. So we meet at breakfast. He looks anxiety ridden but I manage to get a smile out of him. He arrived at Cristimar as I was doing a late airport run. Lizzie asked no questions, put his bag in the spare bedroom and he was asleep before I arrived home. "I did tell you my man but you were half asleep yourself."

Maybe work is bothering him. No talk of Sue. I liked Sue, she wasn't a bad kid and it seemed fairly clear from the first time out that getting back together was not on. Outsiders, including social workers, see the waves but don't often see the underlying currents that wear away relationships. My thoughts were on the two boys, did they see their father regularly? Last time I advised him not to get involved with women in his work place. He smiles over breakfast. Being here throws a blanket over the crisis, but crisis is still present in the way he pushes his plate away. Lizzie is hanging back, anxious to help, she wants to know what's what.

It takes the best part of a day. No, it's not money. No it's not Charlie, for she took to the boys with no problem. Charlie said go and see your dad. Fine. So what's up Tiger? Well, it's stress. If he doesn't take a break he will be ill again.

This is a Mann thing. Maybe he should forget ambition. In my innocence many years ago, I thought local government was free of ambition, without the killer instinct of commercial undertakings, yet here were level 3 officers jostling for a vacant senior position, the tension rising higher and higher. What level of competence rests on the client's needs when all you can think about is a fellow conspirator already talking to your area officer about his fitness for the position? It's no longer a client thing: ok you're still in the band and you're playing all the right notes but without meaningful expression, for ambition has raised its head and there can be no surrender to time's moving finger for there may be no other senior officer post becoming vacant for many years. Unless, alternatively, it can be an aesthetic thing if you're brave enough to say balls to time's moving finger and simply settle for what you have: but I can't tell that to Simon; counsels of perfection are no good to a man of thirty struggling to pay the bills, with two young sons, a mortgage and God knows what else.

Lizzie puts a helpful suggestion. "Let's phone wee Bernard, put Simon in 204. It's only next door. He can come round when he wants. Time on his own, yet close enough to reach out."

He didn't actually go for it. He knew it was intended to be helpful but wasn't sure if the propinquity he needed would be lost, for I can't just wait around on the chance that he may call. Stone-faced, his major thought "What if Charlie rings?"

"Why not ring her now. Tell her what's been decided."

"Sorry dad, but I haven't decided."

"Then stay here until you have decided."

Self-portrait, 1990

I grew up with a fixed mind-set, it took me to age forty to break it. My interests were groomed by my parents who, though mindful of their fractious child's interests did not push or promote ambition - "Get a trade, lad" - For we were a poor family, work and survival framed our lives. I loved art and music but dare not use either as stones for stepping on. But there were ENSA concerts at Nottingham Albert Hall where I saw Barbirolli glaring at the audience for silence before raising his baton, and the great Pouishnoff giving piano recitals and his wonderful introductions in beautiful Russian-based English. I tried to explain this voice and how it enhanced the Chopin recital to Mr Thompson who cut me off to discuss it later. Afterwards I realised that a classroom full of football and cricket players was not the right place to talk music. He did explain what ENSA meant - Entertainments National Service Association. As I say, it took me to age forty to break away from my background - and it ended in disaster.

Simon does not have a fixed mind-set. His growth was assisted by positive encouragement. But the idea of competing with others in the same back yard may be abhorrent to him. Maybe he needs his own business. He is jokingly polite about my interests, the origins of the Guanche people are to him a pointless historical exercise though he is too deferential to say so.

With us for eight days, he reads a book, watches tv, sunbathes on the veranda. We speak of nothing in particular. Being here is sufficient.

Tina hinted that Sylvia might write and warned that her arrival on the scene may be difficult, for Sylvia speaks her mind and may be less accommodating to a wayward parent than Simon is. But we wait. Years will go by and Sylvia may not appear. Maybe it will be for the best. Neither of my two returnees has mentioned Teresa, it seems she is as far away from them as she is from me.

Never having been identified as a genius I am never fearful of falling from grace, yet my social-work background pushes me into a position where I am expected to deal with social problems in a more enlightened way. The couple waiting in the hotel lobby were simply short of money and required less expensive accommodation. I didn't like them very much but I took them on and put them into our only vacancy in Paloma Beach 132. First of all they wanted a discount. This was refused. So after two nights they slipped away from Paloma Beach stealing two of the Foxes' beautiful blue bath towels and disappeared into Eucaliptus which was cheaper. Fortunately we traced them. Lynn Foreman let us into the couple's apartment where we searched and found the stolen towels neatly folded and packed into travel cases. On their return to Eucaliptus, Lynne warned them to keep out of my sight.

The need of satisfaction still clings to me. I relish the memory of beating the hell out of Margaret's father just before I retired. And if I met our thieving couple in Los Cristianos I would be similarly inclined. Lizzie thinks I am right and I get a kiss to show. If a man is wholly of the dove without any trace of the hawk he becomes totally ridiculous. The imperfect state - He is all fault who hath no fault at all... - Must look it up.

So why me? I love my lady with pride and gentleness. I can scarce believe that she loves me, for what qualities lie here that I cannot see? I console myself with the certainty that virtue does not rest in her camp alone. I struggle with thoughts of virtue when I open my mother's Tennyson, the brown photo pinned inside the back cover is not my father, it was given to my mother at Christmas 1917 when she was seventeen by F.S. and his photo appears dated 1919. Frank Smith - hardly a name to conjure with, but then: What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!

I did not dare ask. But now she is gone and I can open her Tennyson with a freeer mind, for there is something I need to look for, something barely caught in previous forays, near the back in Idylls of the King. In these tiny gold-edged pages and ridiculously small print minutes become an age and I want to put the book down for mum is looking at me over the top of her glasses. She had patience for these long avenues of blank verse, stuff that is boring me to death. I must have passed the bit unrecognised. There are some thin bits of interest scattered about but I haven't the patience to go back through those overbearing courtesies and lofty sentiments in case I missed it.

Later it will come to light.

The last item on the family agenda is Angela, an item that has been bothering me for some time. All the work she has done for us over the years yet not a penny has she asked in commission. We will invite her and family for dinner. There is talk of mushroom vichyssoise, new potatoes and green beans, and fruit meringue trifle. We will make a joint visit with flowers. She has a husband and two children. The whole family will be welcome.

Her hotel has changed. There are now desks in the foyer with holiday reps, coach outings, lettings agents. Angela is not there. Where do we put the flowers? There is also a new manager. He regrets to say that Angela quit her job three months ago. Please phone her, Señor. He does so, returns to inform us that Angela does not wish to resume contact with her workplace. Regret Señor Mann she does not wish her number to be known. He is certain it is her wish.

Urging is to no avail. We leave the flowers and depart.

One day we shall grow old. But where shall we grow old, here among the palms and Canarian pine trees or back home in Wanstead? We still say 'back home' knowing for sure that this part of the world isn't ours. Some elderly people are content to remain here, enjoying their friends in a foreign field. But we are confirmed non-joiners, only slightly known hereabouts and lack closeness to outsiders. Our old age would be isolated, gripped by deepening gloom as those few we know as close friends depart for ever, whilst those who know us only distantly merely nod and smile as they pass by. No, for us old age will be back home where the cats play in the garden and the washing hangs out on the whirligig. But until then...

Until then we shall enjoy what we have.

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