Imperfect Instinct

So, on New Year's Day a great-grandchild for Lizzie's mum; Flo is a great lady who is well past ninety, her fingers aren't so busy these days but still has all her own teeth; a grandchild for Lizzie and niece to her children, and sweet Rosie is the only niece between the three. I have five grandchildren, but that is nothing to shout about as some of them I haven't seen, nor am I likely to, but this tiny creature... Okay Rosie, take a deep breath, you're landed among this dead weird bunch of bonkers!

"Not weird, just slightly bonkers and only at full moon," says Ailsa, who abandoned a perilous marriage and now works with children at a nursery: and Keri whose love life disastrously perished and now works as a community nurse; and Lee who has remained single and now works with accounts; and dear old Flo whose embroidery is world class, who actually likes me as I am, and who, like me, cleans her teeth with salt.

Unbearable thought: now we have not only Christmas and New Year to celebrate but also Rosie's birthdays all on top of one another. However for the present I am pulling my weight, doing lots of work in the sink and dishwasher, mainly because cleaning up is the only domestic work I am good at and secondly, as the only man among this clacking bunch of females until Lizzie's brother Michael - who travels the world setting up security systems and is always late - shows up, and I don't have to worry about my nails. I warn not to subject the wee bairn to flash photography, the effects of which may impinge in later life. However, and against the claims of others, Sweet Rosie is not beautiful; to me she looks like Napoleon Bonaparte at the Bastille calling for a whiff of grapeshot, but then, among these outpourings of feminine adoration, who am I to disclose masculine divergence?

So, we shall leave her secure with a doting mother, indulgent relatives and the child's father Gerald who will, I hope, take a stronger role as time progresses, and with Michael as sidesman, and with grumpy old Grandpa who lives far away in Tenerife, there is a thin core of sex differential to balance things out a bit.

And there is the world of computers to think about. We are taking a printer back with us. A guide book comes with it which must be dead simple to some, but creates in me an almost panic state. I have found that writing with a screen is so much easier when you don't need to scrap whole pages or fill the page with so many corrections that it is almost unreadable. You don't need carbon paper nor suffer the deafening clatter of typewriter keys, and you can transfer whole blocks of writing to another space without losing it. But the printer we have is of the primitive sort that leaks ink powder. So, even now in the late twentieth century, society may benefit by my unblotched literary progress. Long ago Lizzie had an electronic typewriter in her office at Alginate Industries and she could sometimes pick up the taxi-drivers' waveband and hear their often obscene conversations without being able to butt in and tell them to shut up. We can't eavesdrop with this new beastie and we'll be dead lucky to get the right plugs in the right holes without some obscene commentary breaking out.

Just the phone as messenger. I used to dread its ring, especially when I was duty officer for the weekend. And now I dread a call from Joan in case there is an incident with Miss Booflums attempting suicide, or with Dick and Jesse, or some tenant problem with lost keys or a fridge door breaking off, for people do tend to lean on the doors of our small fridges. Now it rings dammit and I go rigid, but it's only a Christmas greeting and how is little Rosie, fancy being born on New Year's Day! - Shrieks and shrieks!

Two more days to go and it's beginning to drag, the weather is scowling grey with a few weak smiles, the Fridge Too Far is a fridge too full - the penalties of Christmas, too much food - is driving my holiday spirit to destruction and these cats have become very demanding round the feet - "Ged out of it!" so I start quietly packing. Lizzie would prefer to hang about, but we have a business to run, so common sense must rule the day.

Now we get one, invading the festive spirit. Lizzie bravely takes the call... Silence from her end with hand raised to chin denotes consternation.

I should silence the thing, kill the messenger like they did in the old days. "What? What?"

"Shush a bit!" the hand is raised at me.

"Okay, okay" - now the eyes are leveled at me. "What's up, Mouse?"

"It's their daughter who's come - the one from Australia. Joan says she's a big bossy woman who describes herself as 'tough titty'. She's taken over Dick and Jesse as if they were lost sheep. It's none of our business but she's already upset Maeve complaining that her Christmas has been ruined because she is back on duty in February and she's got to get her parents into a home in England dead quick cos she can't take 'em back to Australia. The second piece of good news is that Mrs Mouthpiece is coming out on 6th January and can she have Victoria Court 1b1 please? The third piece is Jennie Waite wants to know if we have anything available in March? The fourth piece is Dennis Pearl has taken over Dolly's dog bowls."

Snap: "So who the hell is this Dennis Pearl geezer?"

"Well, Joan heard this motor bike and thought it sounded like Peter's bike. So she looked up and it was, and this Australian bloke was on it. He's taken over Peter's job."

"Oh, what joys await us! Outback Annie and Dennis the Menace, to say nothing of Mrs Mouthpiece. But I'm happy about Jennifer Waite, our art lady, and the poor old thirsty dogs."

Maiden in Costume (The Art Mistress and The Gardener)

"Well don't be! Hang on... Right... Well I don't blame 'em... Just a min..." To me: "Joan says the neighbours are complaining about keeping the kids in because of the dog mess. All over - like cow shit in a field - as you are wont to say, Sweet Prince. But you can compare notes with sweet little Jennifer. I wonder if she's still with Clive?"

The days of the big perambulator are gone, my kids rode shotgun on the sides with Tina snugged down inside. It was a Silver Cross. The huge spoked wheels shod with white rubber tyres ran smoothly over the humps and hollows. They should have one for wee Rosie, for it's only a short swank up to glorious Wanstead High Street, but baby-growlers with a pair of dalmatians trotting at the sides costs a bomb in these days of folding push chairs with finger-trapping steel struts and pony wheels that fold nicely into car boots or buses.

What about a doll's house! Do girls still have dolls' houses? I'm afraid I've lost the plot. Centuries ago I made a doll's house for Teresa out of a wooden box, covering it with wallpaper, a praiseworthy effort but all part of the unreachable past. All we have now are our economy class return tickets and the approaching future with Mrs Mouthpiece and Dolly's dog bowls and where the hell has Dolly gone for crying out loud!

"Mrs Mouthpiece promised she wasn't coming again. Never mind. Cheer up kid, let not gloomy doomies intrude upon the scene. We'll soon be home."

"This is our home." Lizzie's flat tone tells me she is near to tears.

A happy return - well, yes and no. The weather is an exact replica of the weather we left behind at Gatwick. "It ain't possible!" squeaks a fellow passenger with a wife and a clutch of disconsolate kids "Got permission to keep them off school - for this!" We leave them behind as we run through wind and rain for the airport bus.

Almost forgotten - that feeling of holiday disappointment. Hoping for delight, climate is what you expect, weather is what you get! Barrie is waiting for us and we need to pick up some flowers for Joan who won't take any commission. Brought some cigars for Barrie - Dutch Scooters - which is damn silly for they are a hell of a lot cheaper over here but he can't find Scooters over here and there's a real old-fashioned smokers' shop just outside Ilford station.

And what home news have we brought back with us? Biggest thing after Robert Maxwell is the rising jobless. No, the biggest thing after the rising jobless is Robert Maxwell - let's get it right! All those people in the Mirror Group Pension Fund have lost out - what £400 million! How on earth does one man create such losses? Untypically, passengers were arguing in the gangways, preventing drinks trolleys getting through: He just went for a paddle off Gran Canaria, got out of his depth and drowned - poor sod!

I am anxious about my Lizzie. For comfort I take her hand. Later I will take more. Very soon we will be seeing our people, Barrie and Joan, Harold and Claudia, embattled Maeve, the Walkers and the Bees - oh yes, we have Delia Smith for Berenca who wanted it in English. Perhaps then Petalmost will be feeling better at leaving behind dear old Flo, Michael, Ailsa, Keri, Lee and sweet little Rosie in wet and wintery Wanstead, not forgetting dear Blodwyn and Ginger Jenkins who, thankfully, were not alone.

It's a twenty minute run from the aeropuerto. Barrie - "nice to see you back" - buzzes on about the insurance business: time-share bosses are persuading their street people to take out insurance; enforcement is the dark side of persuasion for most of these kids can't afford it, but the appeal of street life keeps many of them tied-in at pack level, for it's all great fun. But it worries him - Barrie the salesman, torn between selling insurance and saving the street kids from debt, his motivation stops short of slaughter - much better to keep his nose out of time-share scams, for the police are getting interested in those kids who disappear without trace. Also Barrie's own little tickle is causing him worry, for his delightful home at El Medano was built without permission and thereby has no legal electricity supply so he take current with a buried cable from the solitary street lamp five yards away, and now this bare rocky part of El Medano is due for development, which means new homes - and street lamps. "Shit! I'll have to get a generator."

"And so will hundreds of others! Don't worry, Barrie, they probably won't find your little cable."

It brings a silent hurf of laughter from Lizzie for which I am thankful. I wonder how many homes in South Tenerife are unpermitted, or left Lego-like with ugly grey building blocks unskimmed and unpainted to avoid paying urbano. But soon all this rates-avoidance and free electricity lark will cease when urban control is brought up to modern European standards - and that will bring protests of great luminosity from Canarian householders.

"This Australian woman is quite a character. Got Dick sorted. There was Maeve standing outside with a load of shopping and he wouldn't let her in. Up comes Miss Australia, puts her hand on the door and breaks it open. Maeve was real upset Usually when she takes the shopping in she takes the hand-washing out. Joan says she's not a nurse she's a vet."

And now this woman has got her parents paraded in front of our homecoming; Dick is wearing his light grey business suit, Jesse is in her button-through desert brown with patch pockets and decent shoes in place of the habitual sloppy sandals.

"Oh God!" Lizzie hisses, "What's this?"

Introductions are brief. Their daughter is bulky, very loud and, give her a pencil moustache and forage cap, she'd look just like their sideboard photo of Grandpa Gilpin.

"Will you witness their wills, guys?" We nod. Speech seems difficult.

"Well, she can't do it, she's a relative," says Dick helpfully.

"It's on here too!" Lizzie whispers, pointing as if revealing a long hidden spiritual mystery.

"It's also on their business card they gave us years ago. Grandpa Gilpin wanted a boy so he gave her the boy name. It never seemed to bother her."

They didn't need to dress up for a simple witnessing. But we make it an occasion with a Good Luck drink. But their daughter with no sense of occasion speaks loudly of the difficulty of finding a home that caters for married couples. The witnessing accomplished she wants to be off.

The whole business is horribly embarrassing. We stand there and just hope she'll go away. Jesse wants to sit, I lunge forward with a chair.

"No, we're going. Can you get me a taxi!"

The party remains standing. I am finding it terribly hard not to be rude. Dick is moving towards the door extending an arm towards Jesse and avoiding my eye. I think he is close to weeping. Jesse hasn't said a word. She leaves with her hand on Dick's arm, doesn't wait for the lift but heads for the stairwell. Her best people haven't come, only this outcast from Australia who is telling her to wait for the lift.

Is this love - or merely administrative convenience? A form of love, maybe. Maybe. I'm not the right sort of bloke to shout about it, though. Others can sort it. Something restrained me from offering a lift... Shock maybe... I'm not normally discourteous.

"Listen to that voice! With a relative like her who needs enemies!" ... That's not me either. Mr goody goody social worker forgets his lines!

"She's probably a very busy woman," says Lizzie seeking grounds for defence, "with a family back home."

Claudia arrives with a bagful of shopping, alarmed at the sight of Dick and Jesse getting into a taxi outside Mas e Menos... &with some other woman."

"That was their daughter. She wants to get them into a home. We witnessed their wills."

"Interesting. Might be a good subject for our next discussion group - 'The Imperfect Instinct' It's kindness and cooperation that has preventing us from sliding into anarchy."

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