From the Punch Book of Short Stories 2 , 1980
Do you know anything about cricket? It's going to be a lovely summer and I don't want to be left out of it. The rooks are building high and the winter has been unusually hard as it was in 47, '59, '63—the summers that followed were good. I just wish Nick had lived to see this one summer more. He loved summer. It was the one thing we always shared. No, I mustn't go on. Cricket! As the announcers always say after a disaster.
Do you use a soft ball or a hard ball? Would it be possible to play international cricket under‑arm? These are the sort of basic things I want to know. You'll laugh when I tell you but I am thinking of forming a ladies' touring team to visit places like the Pacific Ocean. I have been told by a woman at the Post Office—I don't know whether you remember Frances, that big woman ?—that I could get sponsorship from people like Dunlop Tyres and so on. If Nick could go into hang‑gliding at sixty I don't see why I can't do something. I never seemed to back him up and now is the chance to make some kind of memorial to him. Though I don't want to keep on about Nick. I think that's what drives people away. I'm ashamed to say I took some caterpillars round to Dora's and put them on her roses—just so that I could show her how to get rid of them. You begin to feel so useless at my age and cut off.
I will tell you the things I know already and perhaps you will put me right. I am enclosing a stamped addressed envelope and would be very grateful for your time. There is a very pretty girl interested and you can meet her when you can find the time to get away. You must relax sometimes, Daniel! She is into politics and is a Liberal as a matter of fact. Her name is Darimiri—she is at the grocer's—and she wants to bring in exchange governments to stop war and cut out defence spending altogether. We would have a black government in London and an American government in Moscow, Russians in Luxembourg—she's got it all worked out. She wants to play long‑stop in the team as she's afraid of the ball. I will try to find a photo. Her father is building a boat that you may be interested in. They are very rich but the mother has got leukaemia and Mr Chakra wants to take her back to India to die leaving the whole business to Darimiri who is an only child. So try to come up if you can.
What are the nets? This is something I don't understand. What is silly mid‑off? When they say fielding deep? At school I don't remember any of that. I would make it a rounders team but it doesn't seem to involve enough people, does it? Also I doubt whether we would get backing. This is partly the reason I am aiming at younger people in the team as well. Really sexy girls will help to offset the pensioners. This is what keeps the WI going, I'm sure. That and the Queen Mother. How important is good quality willow? I have been in to Trader Jack's in Milton Keynes and they have bats at twenty guineas! Though I don't think this will be a problem once I fix some kind of angle. Publicity is important and that's where you could help also, Daniel. Frances thinks the bigger girls could wear breast guards. This would hit the front pages! Do you deal with bra manufacturers in your agency? They would need to be cork, I think. Tin bras might have some funny effects on a quiet afternoon.
On the subject of contacts, just to get away from cricket for a minute, did you manage to rustle up any publisher's interest in my first chapter? I have just finished the second and I have included Nick's accident. They say it is the first hang‑gliding fatality involving cows. This might be a selling factor. I hope this doesn't sound as if I am being commercial about Nick because I don't mean it like that. There is something I have always wanted to talk to you about regarding Nick's death because you are the only one—with your own problems about Hilda and so on—that would understand. At the funeral we never got left alone together once—did you notice? I quite understand why you need a break sometimes. And incidentally there's a girl from the Open University coming in to do some typing for me—Help The Aged would you believe it! I think she would like you—I have shown her your Ovaltine advertisements and so on—and her day is Tuesdays. I go to Yoga but there is always a bottle, as you know. She lives alone in a flat on Fishermead and her name is Karen. Like you she has got a bit of a past!
About Nick's death, which I won't talk about at all, if you want to get away from London on one of your account trips ask no questions, it is this. Hang‑gliding was the first thing Nick went in for that we could not share. Perhaps you are already aware of that. We did cycling together, roller‑skating, treasure hunts in the old Triumph Mayflower, fishing, bowls, darts—even climbing with my arthritis—and he never managed to shake me off till hang‑gliding came in. And look what happened! He went in too early, Frances says. In another few years there will be twoseaters. Anyway, that's what I wanted to say and not another word. When I came back from our world tour I am going to change my image—to talk your language. I may even get married again—yes, you have read aright! Something has come into my life which is very strange as it has a direct connection with Nick himself and the way he went that Sunday afternoon on Dunstable Downs.
Do you remember Mr James at the funeral? You couldn't miss him, really. He looks a bit like Mr Nabarro, the Member of Parliament who used to have a lot of side‑whiskers. And who's that man who grows roses? Anyway they were his cows in that field and he felt awful about it. That cow was the only one with horns! In the whole herd! Isn't that strange? The rest were Dexters, those little cows you can have in your garden and give a gallon and a half of milk a day—he wants to give me one but the Corporation say NO! He wants to take me out but you know, Daniel, I've always had this hang‑up about that sort of thing with anybody else, even when Nick was alive. Karen and Darimiri scream with laughter when we talk about sex together—you will like them if you can get down here. I said to Karen on Tuesday—she had just typed the dramatic climax to my autobiography (how long does it have to be, incidentally ?)—and Darimiri had come round with some dried peas which they didn't have last week, and we were on about that night your secretary got a shock from my electric blanket, do you remember? They're both longing to meet you.
That photograph in the Advertiser's Weekly makes you look about forty—they can't believe you're my brother. Anyway, I said I can't make love unless I don't know what's going to happen next. You know how Nick always liked me to say, 'What you doing? What you doing? What you doing?' all the time? The girls couldn't believe it! They do things these days that I daren't even put in a letter! You'll like them.
Dora visited me yesterday but she doesn't stay five minutes. She's got to have one of her ovaries taken out but that's nothing these days. She's not interested in anything I say. It's all Bob getting the sack and the kids' school plays and clothes and gardening and she doesn't listen to anything I say. Fred comes in if he happens to be driving up the M1 but do you know I don't like to say this about my own son but he never stops yawning! I think he should see a doctor. All your life struggling to bring up kids and never a word of thanks. Daniel, I never see them! I didn't even know Adrian's wife had got multiple sclerosis. Since Nick went I might as well not be alive. Sometimes I wish we'd stayed in Leatherhead amongst people of our own age that we were brought up with. I still get cards, of course. Mrs Likely's dead—you probably don't remember her. Not Adrian's wife—the paralysed one—Freda! John's wife. She can't walk. But he takes her everywhere, of course. He always treated her like a baby, didn't he?
Who do you think I could write to in the West Indies ? Frances at the Post Office thinks we ought to start a fixtures programme for this summer and perhaps get it in the local paper. We've got thirteen Community Newspapers up here—one for each grid—and you can write what you like in them. The people on Netherfield are building their own airship! This is a marvellous place for opportunities and we have road and rail communications to all the major ports plus two airports—at Luton and East Midlands to the North. This is what Nick had in mind when he retired from the railway, of course. Do you remember I didn't want to come up here and we nearly split up? Then I found out that Joyce Sparks had moved up here with Tetley Tea Bags and was egging him on. She was furious when I changed my mind and we never saw her again. Well, I didn't. And Nick was never out of my sight so far as I remember. Not till he joined that bloody hang‑gliding club. I only ever went once and never again. To see him running down that hill with his gout and his hernia and his asthma and all those people pulling at him with a rope—my God, Daniel, it was like a nightmare. I honestly don't know what got into Nick after my arthritis. When I needed him most.
But that's enough of that—here, I know what I was going to say. Do I bore people? I try not to talk about Nick but a funny thing happened at the Community Office. You know they've shut the door between where we have our pensioners' coffee mornings and Hope's office and put a bit of hardboard over the glass so you can't see in—I mean Hope's really lovely and will listen to everybody's troubles but you never hear hers and I couldn't think why they'd done it. She sits in there now all by herself clacking away with that typewriter. Of course it's the Corporation—they have to say no to anything human like Mr James's little cows. Anyway, yesterday when I was telling somebody about those anonymous lilies I got on my birthday, Marian Klinder—I don't think I've mentioned her to you, she's about seventy—got up and rushed into Hope's office and slammed the door and you could hear her screaming for ever such a long time. They had to call Dial‑A‑Bus for her. Then I remembered her saying to me once, for God's sake, don't keep going on about it then. I don't remember what it was about now.
When you write to me about the cricket (and don't forget to mention any books I might need—not the one by Sir Neville Cardus because I got that from Wolverton Library) give me your honest opinion. I do go on a bit, I know. Even my next‑door neighbour has stopped talking—she makes deaf and dumb signs, the silly old bitch. I expect I'm worrying unnecessarily but I've got nobody to ask. Well, that's not quite true, I've got very friendly with a woman with a spastic son. She says nobody else will talk to him as I do, though of course he cannot answer. He understands though. Just a minute—oh goodness, the time! It's Wheels on Meals—I always get that the wrong way round (!!!!!!)
You really ought to meet Kirsty, Daniel. She's Scandinavian and she had her baby in Holloway Prison and she's still got a beautiful body though they say she's on drugs—always singing. 'Just a minute, Kirsty!' I cry with a lilt in my voice (I'II finish this when I come back).
She didn't even come in. Just to finish, then, did you get my last letter with the first chapter in it? I know you said your firm were moving (I wish they'd come up here!) but I daren't risk writing to you at home with Hilda so funny. Oh God, you don't think she sent me those lilies, do you? Why don't you suggest that she comes up to see me herself if you can't get away yet—she was always interested in sport. Oh Christ, I forgot the very reason I sat down to write this letter to you! You'll never believe this, Daniel! I had a dirty phone call at one o'clock this morning! Filthy things he was saying at first and I wouldn't listen but finally I seemed to calm him down. I kept him talking for two hours but of course I couldn't ring the police to find out where he was. His first name is Felix though we were cut off before I could find out anything else. I had a good old laugh with Frances about it—that's the big woman at the Post Office. You think life is over but it's all happening really. If we visit Fiji with the team I shall go in for some tropical kit—I've nearly finished my Littlewoods club. Well, that's the end of another chapter. Can you use letters ? I could take it into Hope and get it photocopied. She thinks I should keep it short—no padding. By the way, do you know anybody at Dunlop Tyres?
All my love
your affectionate sis
Margery (P. Cootes!)
PS. What does 'In the slips' mean?