Ministry of Information image (1943, UK) taken by division photographer (Jack Smith?) Source: Wikimedia Commons
January 9 2000
1A The Hole, Hope End Street, CARPOOL C87 4az
Thank you for last night’s phone call. It seems that I am labouring with problems similar to those described by Harriet. I acquired a second (or fourth-) hand computer and, within days, had snapped off the “power button” completely! No hope therefore of enthralling you with a black-and-white snap of that rare beast: a male nurse from times long past.
However, I do have one success to report. While standing in a (long) queue in the hospital canteen the other day, I overheard Thule – who was some feet ahead – raving about how impressed she had been by a book entitled: “Arctic Dreams” by Barry Holstun Lopez. I leaned a little closer Auntie, nearly sinking my elbow in a runny egg yolk situated on my plate. And Thule saw me, exclaiming ‘Oh Ralph. Would you like to borrow it?’
Well. Yes. I would! I eagerly snapped up her offer, and not only for the chance that it would give me to nearly brush the hand of one with whom I was so smitten.
And then she said, ‘I will drop it off for you Ralph. It would be so heavy to transport in one of your bike panniers.’ I think that might be code, Auntie, for letting me know that she wouldn’t like it to get wet in the driving rains of Carpool in winter.
I naturally sped home at the end of my shift, viewing the approach to my bedsit, with the eyes of a male who feared that he might be judged by the plethora of crisp packets, and other detritus, littering the path to the house. And also by the rather filthy look to the net curtains adorning my window.
I engaged in a fever of activity. I grabbed my (rather shredded-looking) broom out from under the bed, and whisked all the crisp packets – and chocolate bar wrappers – over the low wall dividing one house from another. And then I ripped the net curtains off the window and plunged them into a bowl of hot water and bleach. I have to say Auntie, that I am a little concerned that the (flimsy) material might not hold up against immersion in neat (as in 100%) Chlorine . . .
By the time I had finished, the window glass gleamed and, actually, the view across the street wasn’t half as bad as I had thought it was. I could certainly see the post box glinting on the corner, in its pillar box hue of brilliant red.
And, eventually, as in the following day when I had almost given up hope, Thule drew up in a navy blue Audi estate (estates are so practical, don’t you think Auntie?) They certainly don’t point to any form of hubris on the part of their owner.
I whipped open the door as fast as possible for a man who had been having a nap on his utilitarian-looking single bed – and there was Thule standing, finally, before me and bearing a copy of “Arctic Dreams.”
She was clad in a pair of white jeans and in a white blouse speckled with very small red dots. Her almost black eyes held mine in what seemed to be a very chill sparkle – and I found myself thinking of snow, and ice, and frozen sea and of how mesmerizing a view across vastness must be.
‘I was wondering,’ she said, ‘If you would like to go for a drink in that pub up the road?’
And of course I said, yes, draping my shoulders in a black wool jacket, as we set off down the pavement with coldness stilling our features.
The pub was “a dive” really, but I don’t think it mattered all that much. We were able to talk and that’s the important thing.
‘What are you going to do when you’re qualified Ralph?’ she asked. And I didn’t know Auntie; my future is a complete haze really.
But I found myself saying, ‘I want to be a hero Thule, wherever I live and whatever I do. I have been reading the books about Il commissario Montalbano by Andrea Camilleri and this detective is the sort of man I would like to be.’
‘Why?’ she asked.
‘Because he is intelligent and introspective and brave I think,’ I said. ‘And because he reflects on himself and his actions and is willing to talk about what might be his failings. I like the fact that he is surrounded by a whole lot of deranged colleagues and deals with deranged situations. The books are funny but also they’re a commentary on the social and political wrongs of the day. Inspector Montalbano is somebody intent on making a difference – and that’s who I want to be too.’
So she smiled Auntie and rested the palm of her hand on the back of mine. Do you think my future might lie in Greenland, doing something of consequence with someone also of consequence?
Your increasingly thoughtful nephew