Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Turning point

So it all started on a go-kart track.

Six-year-old Lewis Hamilton climbed into the go-kart, put his foot down, sped off around the track and crashed, injuring his nose. Instead of stumbling away blubbing about the nasty kart and pleading to be taken home, mini-Hamilton merely wiped the blood away and carried on driving.

His dad Anthony says he was impressed by his son's exceptional driving skills and determination.

Anthony Hamilton is a role model for pushy parents everywhere. Because if it wasn't for him nurturing, supporting and financing his boy wonder, Lewis Hamilton would definitely not have become the World Champion Formula One racing driver that he is today.

I'm reluctant to boast but it's a tale which reminds me so much of my eldest son. He too first took the wheel of a go-kart and astonished us when he was very young – six years old - precisely the age that Lewis Hamilton displayed youthful brilliance.

I can't remember the name of the resort where we came upon the go-kart circuit but it was an English sea-front, off-season in drizzly rain with limp grey waves splishing over the shingle of a gently-sloping beach. The dog had been swimming and was dripping and smelling and looking miserable as only wet spaniels can. We'd played ducks and drakes and we were heading towards a distant pier when we saw the go-kart circuit – just an area of tarmac promenade encircled by tyres.

There was no-one else on the go-karts. A chalk board offered a cheap price. No 2 son legged it towards a parked, locked go-kart and managed to climb in. By the time I got to him, he was steering wildly and without a doubt, heading down the home straight to a glorious imagined victory.

He was far too young to drive. Not quite four years old and legs too short to reach the pedals. But he was desperate and quite difficult to extract as he gritted his teeth and clung on to the steering wheel like a limpet. I winkled him out on the promise that yes, he could have a go-kart ride but only on condition that big brother drove.

So big brother had to be persuaded to take him. Big bro had no natural inclination for go-karting so had to be bribed with the prospect of a new Transformer.

Much like Lewis Hamilton's dad, I was unprepared for what was to unfold. I knew, at least, that the boys would be safe. No1 son was a strong character with a naturally cautious disposition. He could read well from an early age and was scrupulously law-abiding to the point of inconvenience and tedium. Once, when we inexplicably went off-track on a long walk (Christmas cracker compasses; never trust them) and needed to take a nifty short-cut in order to avoid retracing our steps for three miles, he point-blank refused to climb a gate into woodland signed “Private.”

Anyway, as there was an excellent bribe on the table, the go-kart track was deserted and there was only a disinterested spotty youth looking on, good-guy son grudgingly agreed to have a go.

Both boys donned too-big helmets and climbed into one of the machines. The youth gave son no 1 instructions for the accelerator, the brake and the seatbelts. Wearing his NHS black plastic-framed specs beneath the shiny dome of his helmet, the junior driver was silent, solemn and concentrated. No 2 son's face was hardly visible below his helmet but I could tell that inside his puffy anorak he was wriggling with delight at the thought of the thrills which lay ahead.

So there they were, belted, helmeted and squeezed together in the go-kart.

The driver tentatively put his foot down and, inch by inch, the go-kart began to creep forward.

I thought perhaps the accelerator was stuck.

“Put your foot down a bit Clive!” (not his real name) I encouraged. “Get it going!”

He took no notice but continued his silky-smooth acceleration until the go-kart was processing in a stately circular manner around the track.

The first time they inexorably crept past us (the two-strong crowd of go-kart fans going wedgwood blue with cold) I had the strong impression that Clive was taking some time to become familiar with the feel of the steering and the handling of the vehicle.

After all, when you're almost sitting on the floor in a sports car, even quite modest speeds feel a lot faster. I looked forward to the acceleration curve sweeping in an upward direction. No1 son had other ideas. He'd hit his cruising speed of approximately two miles per hour and he was sticking to it.

By the third circuit he'd adopted a hunched stance, as though his specs were misting over with the excitement of it all and he needed to lean over the steering wheel a bit to see more clearly. Perhaps he was concerned about the prospect of skidding out of control due to the drizzle. There were certainly no obstacles but you can never be too careful. Dead seagulls could suddenly have plummetted from the skies creating a sudden hazard or a dodgy water-main could have at any time burst up through the track like Old Faithful.

I was hopeful that the initial “orientation” laps would leave no 1 son confident enough to have a crack at smashing the walking speed barrier.

So did no 2 son. By now the little blob under the big helmet was shifting about trying to get hold of the steering wheel. Animated conversation was going on. A fight was breaking out, only quashed by sustained defensive elbowing from the driver.

The steering wobbled alarmingly for a few moments before the speed was adjusted accordingly until a safe crawling pace was reached.

The sight of them bickering and circling the track with the reckless verve of a knackered roadsweeper about to splutter clean out of fuel was too much. I had to turn away. It doesn't do to laugh at your own kids. They never understand.

A claxon sounded to indicate that time was up and I have rarely been so grateful for an ordeal to be over. My stomach muscles were aching and I had to try to look serious.

They climbed out of the car, divested themselves of their comedy helmets and left the track.

“What did you think of it?” I enquired, only choking slightly.

“It was ok,” replied Clive, with due modesty.

No2 son's face was reddening and contorted with fury.

He turned to his brother.

“Stupid. STUPID!!!!” he yelled. He dealt Clive a fierce thump in the stomach and burst into tears of abject disappointment.

So you see now just how closely I could relate to Lewis Hamilton's dad's memories.

Just like Mr Hamilton's experience watching his boy, watching my eldest negotiating that go-kart track was a turning point in my life.

I realised with a rock-solid certainty that he would never, ever in a million years be a World Champion Formula One racing driver.


Smooth as an ocean,

gunmetal tarmac

stretches and slips beneath my wheels.

Traffic roars in frozen ears,

a winnowing wind wipes all the tears

and an aching heart is numbed

by circular rhythms


by the calm comfort

of concentration.

I'm sorry, I'll sing that again....

So there I was earlier, identifying fungi collected in the woods and singing along to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I've always admired the Chili's for their nod towards paleontology.

I mean, how many rock bands famous for performing naked apart from socks would be interested in 500 million-year-old fossils?

Rock lyrics are not expected to make much sense but I've always joined in with that phrase on “Scar Tissue” “......with the Burgess Shale is the lonely view.”

I thought it was an inspired lyric.

Yes. No doubt it was lonely, not to say quite jolly exciting, up there in the Canadian Rockies, picking through bits of the Burgess Shale and finding evidence of what's now known as the Cambrian explosion – a bizarre array of marine organisms that bear little or no resemblance to any living thing on earth now.

So, having time on my hands (and difficulty identifying a particular toadstool with a slimy, almond-fragranced cap) I looked up the lyrics.

And I'm devastated to find that the Chilis aren't singing about the Burgess Shale at all. They are singing the hitherto unknown lyrics “with the birds, I'll share this lonely view.”

They are lyrics which, in comparison with the Burgess Shale reference, are prosaic and death-defyingly ordinary.

Listen to the track. It still sounds much more like the Burgess Shale to me and I prefer it. Anyhow, the Chilis have plummeted in my estimation and I may need to book an ear syringing.

At least I'm not the only one to mishear lyrics. Some favourite mishearings by others are documented here.

You have to know the tunes to get the most out of them, but the finest mishearing is possibly the late Robert Palmer's classic “Might as well face it, you're a dick with a glove.”

The Chilis again, “Can't Stop:” “Can't stop the ferrets when they need food..”

REM's Losing My Religion: “Let's pee in the corner. Let's pee in the spotlight....”

Madonna's “Like a virgin...touched for the thirty-first time.”

Nirvana's “Here we are now......in containers.”

Pat Benatar (performing the well-known Wii rock guitar classic) “Hit me with with your pet shark.”

The Beatles “Michelle, ma belle, some say monkeys play piano well,
play piano well...”

Not forgetting Creedence Clearwater Revival's chorus which sound like instructions on arriving at the b&b...

“Don't go out tonight,
“ cos they're bound to take your light
“There's a bathroom on the right.”


Oh. If anyone's interested, here are the standard lyrics, in order:

Might as well face it, you're addicted to love

Can't stop the spirits when they need you

That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight

Like a virgin, touched for the very first time

Here we are now, entertain us

Hit me with your best shot

Michelle ma belle, sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, tres bien ensemble

There's a bad moon on the rise

Recovery weekend

This is a recovery weekend. Yep, after years of hard drinking I've finally dried out for good.

I jest. Good grief, I have no wish to be tee-total. Grapes, in all their wondrous and varied forms are my second favourite fruit.

No. I'm recovering from the Cheltenham Festival of Literature. Actually recovery is the wrong word. Now I've caught up with sleep, I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms.

I'm staring wistfully at the bunch of used tickets littering my desk. There are more in my handbag.

I'd quite like to be looking forward to driving over there this evening, squeezing the car into half a space on the leafy Promenade and sprinting, late as usual, across Imperial Gardens, past the Holst fountain, skirting the book tent, jinking past the Garden Theatre and into the back of the Town Hall to land breathless and slightly dishevelled in my seat just as the lights are dimmed and the author is ushered on to the stage.

In addition to hob-nobbing with a couple of valued pals from this site, it was a hugely enjoyable and inspiring thing with very few disappointments. I was amused, entertained, I learned some things and had my mind opened to others, which is about as much as one can expect.

Not everyone likes Literature Festivals. The mother-in-law can't understand why anyone would be remotely interested in listening to an author and feels authors who go boasting about themselves on stage should be consigned to the fires of hell. She has a whole set of additional commandments waiting for ratification by the Almighty including thou shalt not wear nail varnish and make-up for such adornments are only for the vain and flighty etc etc.

She does have a point though. Why are we interested in the people behind the words? Why do the words not speak for themselves? Readers of discernment just like words, I'm assured. Nothing else. No images, no audio, just particular patterns of text which provoke, disturb and ignite the imagination. Yet the truth is the Festival is there to sell books therefore, like it or not, the author becomes part of the celebrity culture.

The MyT writers I met were just as warm, intelligent and full of interest as I expected yet writers can often be dull, weird or anonymous; the kind of people who blend into a crowd yet take in everything around them and mentally file it to be used later. Writing well doesn't bear any relation to being good to look at or being fascinating to listen to.

Yet I am intrigued by writers. Maybe there's an ancient conviction deep in my brain that if I get close to greatness, or touch the coat-tails of greatness, I too might be blessed with a fraction of their writing talents. I got pretty close up to the brilliant Richard Curtis but just stopped short of prostration. And I did make him smirk, even without the prostration, which was pleasing.

So many events. So many highlights. The outdoorsy afternoon at the Centaur Centre at the racecourse was excellent if short of practical tasks. Ray Mears and Bruce Parry both gave talks with a good hour between them – just in case there was jealousy in the car park with whittled pointy sticks.

I spent the interval sitting in the sun on the Tattersall terraces within sight of the finishing line staring at the splendid racecourse and the Cotswold escarpment and thinking up unlikely challenges for the two of them including the Greatest Survivor Contest subtitled Last One To Make Fire Using Only Wood and Newspaper Is A Sissy.

My money would have been on Ray. Some people think of him as a kind of Crocodile Dundee character. He recalled that one chap actually showed him how a revolving door works. The helper no doubt realised that in the wilderness, a revolving door is a redundant piece of tat whereas in the city they present very real hazards.

Bruce impressed less this time than last time I saw him shortly before he began filming his Amazon series.

This time his wholesome exhortations to grow our own food, consume less, save the rainforests blah, blah, sounded a tad lame in view of size of his own vast “green footprint” created while jetting thousands of miles with film crews and employing helicopters for local transport and aerial shots.

He talked of taking hallucinogens (which he insisted be kept in the programmes) vomiting copiously and tripping out in the expert company of friendly Amazonian villagers. It was a positive, mind-expanding and spiritual experience, said Bruce, and it was good to go to the “dark places” but obviously don't do it in your own homes, folks – only where the tribal shaman will hold your hand and keep you safe. Yeah right.

Being in the presence of at least some of the Blackadder creators was a joy. Richard Curtis, Tony Robinson and producer John Lloyd swapping memories of the making of the series, 25 years ago, originally titled “King Edmund and His Two Friends.”

The original scripts, Lloyd said, were the funniest things he had ever read. Then during the cast read-throughs, people would make them even more amusing, bejewelling and enriching them with extra wit from the likes of Stephen Fry and Rik Mayall. There was hot debate on the funniest vegetable – courgette or cucumber – but no arguments about halibut being the funniest fish.

I've always disliked Frank Skinner the comedian but being interviewed, he was much better than expected. He told stories too risque to repeat here with finesse and wonderful timing. I laughed so hard that it actually hurt.

The three-hour screenwriting workshop was excellent. Great shame that Carla Lane (Bread and Butterflies. TV series, not a sandwich) couldn't make it because the guy who took her place had a poor sense of humour.

He asked if there was anyone present who'd never read a screenplay. Feeling frank (who raised no objection), I raised my hand.Then he posed the question “You would hardly go to a novel-writing course if you'd never read a novel would you?”

Eeew. Was that a teensy weensy bit of a put-down? I might have retorted something about him being a disappointing replacement for Carla Lane anyway but I politely held my tongue. And in fact I did complete the screenplay for a short amusing film (really short....about ten minutes!) about two dogs. I am going to print it out, roll it very tightly into a scroll about two inches in diameter and send it to him with a suggestion as to where he might usefully put it.

Vesta Chicken Chow Mein enthusiast and neuroscientist Susan Greenfield was brilliant, as usual, propounding her theories with clarity but I'd really like to have seen her in debate with Rick Stein, who was not well liked by some of his audience who murmured “too commercial “ as they left. He and Susan could have a good spat over her assertion “Cooking. Why bother? It's all over in ten minutes.”

Ruth Rendell – I forget her Lords title, Baroness something - is a great writer but, as a person, a bit spooky. If I was an interviewer I'd feel nervous. She sits extremely still and straight, her hands resting on her thighs, concentrating on the floor of the stage just ahead of her, answering questions in an ascetic, economic, dry way.

She revealing that her latest Barbara Vine book features the latest craze for wealthy yet sexually jaded metropolitans. Called “adventure sex” it's a service offered by an agency where a guy pays £30k to have his girlfriend (who gives consent in advance, being of an adventurous nature) blindfolded, bound, gagged and taken to a mystery location where the boyfriend has wild sex with her.

Rendell – who's a well-preserved late seventies if she's a day - was gently probed as to how she dreamed up the details and replied:

“As you know, a writer of fiction doesn't need much to go on. Henry James said 'A young lady of talent has only to walk past the windows of the officers' mess in order to write a novel about the Army.'”

There was Richard Fortey talking about the little-explored backrooms at the Natural History Museum and the fake dodo which is made of cygnet feathers thanks to a member of staff who snaffled a swan from under Hammersmith Bridge one night. It didn't break his arm, either.

Edward de Bono tried to teach me some perceptual thinking using six hats. I usually enjoy trying on hats, especially big brimmed hats with ribbons or a snazzy flower but due to the lack of tangible hats, I must have succumbed to a long blink and so missed the significant of the triangle, the circle, the square, the lozenge and the heart that he was scribbling frantically on his projected whiteboard. I wrote the words 'Truth Paste' but I have no idea what they mean.

Dr Who producer and writer Russell T Davies, the man who made us hide behind the sofa cushions again, proved to be very Welsh and very gay displaying a hearty mirth that shook him from head to toe. He recalled the time he and a colleague auditioned the dazzlingly-toothed John Barrowman for the role of Captain Jack.

As Barrowman finished the audition, left the room and shut the door, they turned to each other and both went “PHWOARRRRR.” A sentiment echoed by the entire audience, male and female who seemed to adore him in equal measure. Jilly Cooper, Alan Carr and others..well I've droned on too long now so I'll spare you those.

I've written about the Miles Kington tribute already too but I've just remembered another idea he had which you could nick if you're finding a rainy Sunday a bit depressing....

"How Whingeing Can Work For You!” a self-help book about self-pity...

.....an ideal subject for a collaborative effort!

Miles Kington - a bit late.

There aren't many people you encounter in life that you feel you could relate to on almost any level; a friend, a sister, a hot date.

That's how I feel about Miles Kington.

Such a pity he is deceased.

I should have taken more notice of him during his lifetime.

A bit late, I know for general worship and reverence but not too late for a tribute now, that I have got something of the measure of the man.

An event at Cheltenham Festival of Literature had the extraordinarily well-kept Joanna Lumley, Terry Jones, Maureen Lipman and Miles' widow Caroline talking about their memories of him and reading extracts from a book of the letters he wrote to his friend and agent Gill Coleridge when he knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer. The letters are comic, quirky, witty and not in the least maudlin. The affection for Kington was almost palpable.

I knew Miles Kington was a witty writer and always enjoyed what I read of his but I didn't actively seek him out, which is a shame because I find I like him a lot for many reasons.

He was a cyclist for a start. Cycled from home to Fleet Street every day. Cycled at weekends down in the countryside near Bath.

Miles: “I have often found that the mind goes into free wheel more easily on a bike ride than anywhere else in the world and you get some really good thoughts up there in the saddle.”


He wrote with an easy, witty panache. He had an extremely messy study, he was a musician and he had a liver and white English Springer Spaniel. He was entirely my kind of bloke.

The more I read of Miles the more I like him. He penned his collection of letters, collected in the book “How Shall I Tell the Dog?” after the time when he realised he would probably not outlive his spaniel, Berry.

He never told the Independent, for whom he was writing a daily column, that he was ill. So even when he was admitted to hospital for chemotherapy, he'd hand-write his columns in the morning, gave them to his wife Caroline and she'd take them home to type them up and email them to the Indie as usual. She did say that he hated all those columns because he disliked not having the opportunity to “polish” them.

Reading the book in a corridor at Cheltenham Town Hall, I found that he pitched the idea of a book called “A Hundred Things To do Before you Die” rather than the “1,000 Places to Go Before You Die” (written by some American woman) which I've always considered unrealistic to achieve especially if, due to indecision over dates and suitcase size, you have lost time and find yourself wheeling along the oxygen, drip and catheter bag.

Like me, Miles dislikes the whole Yank thing of travelling the world ticking off the sites of interest as they are bagged. He extols the virtues of doing all the things you ever wanted to do but didn't without even leaving home which is v achievable in spite of credit crunches etc.

He cites the essentials that everyone ever wanted to try but didn't get around to it, like Learning to Give a Piercing Two-Fingered Whistle. My Sicilian sister-in-law was very good at that. She could whistle her children in from a crowded Cefalu beach in high season. She tried to teach me but I think my fingers were the wrong shape. I envied her ability though.

I was with her at a dog-training session on the edge of a vast recreation area full of people playing Sunday league soccer. It came in handy when her large Doberman puppy slipped his lead and careered off into the distance to join them.

She put her hand up, wedged a finger in each corner of her mouth and emitted a whistle of jet-engine pitch and volume that simultaneously brought all four soccer matches to a complete halt.

Like meerkats, the players gazed in the direction of the whistle. The dog stopped dead too, briefly acknowledging the call before seizing his chance to snatch the nearest football and flee.

Some other valuable learning strategies proposed by Miles included:

How To Pronounce 'Macho' and 'Chorizo' Properly – Unlike Mark Lawson

Get – and Keep – That Space By The Beach Or Pool

How To Make Children At Adjacent Tables Burst Into Tears For No Apparent Reason

It's Never Too Late To Learn How To Shoplift

Beating A Duvet At It's Own Game

How To Do A Cartwheel

Of the wider list, I could only mentally tick off four, which is extremely poor.

How To Swear in Other Languages (I've got a neat little phrase book), How to Fix a Ballcock (you bend the ballcock thingy until it almost snaps and mostly does so you have to purchase a whole new section) and as for How To Make A Noise With A Blade Of Grass, I perfected that when I was eight. It's rubbish. Only useful for alarming pheasants.

As for Tossing A Coin, I can already toss a coin really high – something I had to learn in order to avoid looking even more stupid playing league ping pong.

Anyway, like him, I think there is a market for the One Hundred Things book. I'd buy it, if only to master the two-fingered whistle.

Miles also planned his own memorial.

“If there is any money accruing from any of the books which may be written as a consequence of these letters to you between now and my death, I would like you to arrange for a bench to be bought and dedicated to me along the canal.” (The Kennet and Avon, near his home).

He liked benches. They were useful for pausing to do up shoelaces and for sitting and scribble thoughts that had occurred during his bike rides.

He wanted the Kington seat to bear a plaque with the following words:


'How Shall I Tell the Dog?' is a special book by a lovely bloke.

Maureen Lipman says it's a glorious feat of good nature, imagination and courage. I tend to agree. Worth a look. Definitely.

Sorry I'm not here to take your call....

......if you'd like to leave a message after the tone I'll ring you as soon as I can.”

This isn't a blog about answering machines. They are old technology now and besides, it's been done to death the way you can tell personality types or social status from the kind of greeting message people leave.

The standard BT message, after all, belongs to the traditional reserved middle-class person who takes themselves very seriously and wishes to avoid revealing anything remotely personal.

Not for them the kooky family messages “You have reached the Mad House!!! Rory and Steph must be out doing the taxi service for Adam and Sophie. Either that or the kids have finally left home and we are comatose on Tesco's Finest chardonnay.”

It's more about the messages people leave. Some are normal, businesslike and to-the-point. There are others, of course, where you hear nothing but the Click of Frustration or a long protracted sigh and a muttered “not there AGAIN....”

Best of all are the messages where people treat the answering machine as a mute friend. My machine would record for 30 minutes if necessary, which was just right for my late lamented mumsie.

Her messages were epic; easily as long as our conversation would have lasted had I been there – occasionally longer.

It wasn't that she enjoyed the sound of her own voice. She always began with vital information to impart and once in full spate, savoured the freedom of not being interrupted.

Her monologue would ebb and flow as she paused briefly to collect her thoughts, and she delivered those thoughts interspersed with real-time observations about her immediate environment.

Because the phone point was still in the hallway (in its original location from the mid-sixties) mater could answer the door, collect post from the postman and continue her voicemail thread in a seamless flow.

Being Welsh, she was effortlessly articulate and never lost for conversation, especially when no-one else was involved.

“Janie? Are you there? It's only me...” she'd start.

“Oh. (pause) Maybe you're in the garden. (pause) But hang on. Ah. It's only 9.30am. Maybe you're still out with the dog. Oh well. (sigh, pause..... longer sigh) I'll talk to you later. I've been up since 5.30am. Done everything. Seems like lunchtime already. Ray is picking me up at 11.30 and we're off to Moreton market. Let me know if there's anything you'd like me to get?

“Anyway, I only wanted to remind you about Aunty Joan's birthday. It's Saturday. We usually just send a card. She never buys anything so don't feel you have to. We don't want to start anything now. Anyway, I've got her a nice make-up bag. You needn't get anything though. The last present she bought for you was when you were seven before we left Llanfach.

“Aunty Glad's never forgotten your birthday. She's always spelled your name with an extra 'n' but I never had the heart to put her right and it's too late now, forty or so years on. Anyway, it's not as if you mind.

“I forgot to tell you a horrible black labrador attacked our Buster yesterday. Bloody owner let it off and it came after Buster like grease lightning. I lashed out at it but kicked a tree. My toe's in agony but Buster had him. I'm still shaking now...”

.........and so on and so on.

I especially enjoyed it when she switched into real-time commentary to describe a sudden on-going event.

“Oh! Hang on. (pause) I'm sure that's Ken's car. What's he doing here? Ken's car's just pulled up across the road. He must be back. I told you, didn't I, that I saw him leaving with his suitcases three weeks ago? Josie left them outside. She'd changed the locks by then.

“She hasn't mentioned she's expecting him back. Oh dear. I'd better go over later and make sure she's all right....” etc

Absolutely the best voicemails. They always made me smile. The prosaic and the funny alongside the drama, the reminders, veiled criticisms, veiled sadnesses, the uncertainties, the diary dates, the disappointments were all there. Mater's monologues could knock spots off anything Alan Bennett ever produced because hers were utterly heartfelt and authentic.

Just occasionally, there would be a gem. Like the day the milkman called.

Mumsie was leaving me a complex message about holiday arrangements (she was dog-sitting for me and needed to know precisely how many pigs' ears a day would be required for Rolls) when the doorbell rang.

“Hang on. Milkman,” she said, clunking the phone down on the hall table.

I knew she'd opened the front door because of the jangle of the security chain. I heard her trill to the milkman “Hello. Yes. Won't be a second. I'll just go and get my purse. I'm on the phone.”

Footsteps to kitchen and back to door followed by prolonged jangling of security chain.

“Oh no. Sorry about this. Can't get the chain off. It's tangled.”

I could hear the milkman's mumbled voice.

“S'ok. I'll wait.”

“How much do I owe you anyway?” More fevered jangling of metal.

“Thirty-six pounds forty-two pence.”


Noisy struggles continued.

“I'm so sorry about this.”

Mater began to giggle apologetically.

“I dont know what's going on here. I seem to be making it worse. The chain's getting tighter and the gap's getting narrower and narrower...”

“This is ridiculous!” She snorted with laughter.

“I'm so sorry. I can hardly see you now........I'll just have to post the money through the crack.

“Can you take it? Can you see the ten pound note yet?

Milkman, laughing now: “I thought it was a fiver but yes, I can see the edge. Shall I grab it and pull?”

Mother, giggling hopelessly : “It's this stupid chain. It's got a mind of its own.

“Here comes the second ten pound note...got it?”

The milkman was choking with laughter. They both were.

“Got that? Here's the last one... Coming through. No, hold on, the edge keeps curling up. I'm trying my best to stuff it through....”

In a lull between hysterics, I just catch the milkman's voice. He sounds exhausted.

“Tell you what, Mrs R, let's call it quits at thirty quid.

“We'll leave the change until next time. I can't take any more of this. You've made my morning, though. See you.”

Mother finally regains her compusure and picks up the phone again.

“Oh my god, J. Did you hear that? That was embarrassing. He's usually a bit miserable but we were both doubled up. Oh dear.

“Right. I absolutely must go now (said in an accusing tone that indicated that I had been keeping her!!)

“I've got to get this damn security chain undone before anyone else comes to the door.”