Friday, 31 July 2020

Sonia

Sonia

  

I can’t remember any words Sonia might’ve said

from old school dictionaries branded in my head,

but looked up all the times she entered, with eyes

scolding hot, sultry brown as her tongue chastised.


How those years did flow on by, in wind whipped

sycamores and oaks, dancing a breeze restless

samba, all spinning seeds, dropped hard acorn

bullets into musky autumn earth, one on one

 

until what remains in my dreams now belongs.

Hot summers long, learning lessons all wrong,

thirsty lip-licking of dry throats and wet moats,

all that back row fingering of unbuttoned coats.

 

Those soft currents spiral white butterfly specks

up, up and away, freckle blue skies with flecks,

mottle my memories, dappling white leaves beige,

binding up yesterday’s diaries, make sticky pages

 

drizzle inky prose of copybook blots that may,

or may not, its black and blue secrets betray:

watching, as you bend forwards across to scrub

hard, squeeze out gummy suds; polish and rub

 

as winters strip trees naked, each year passing

dims our eyes unclear, we see greens grassing,

hedges blooming with fresh clutches of nestlings

shredding bare our mind’s sharp seeds, wrestling

 

from us all bright memories of clammy gussets;

peeking out on purpose, revealing red lace buffet,

a good spread on a tray, honey, smiles and teeth,

pushing back against the door, holding my leash

 

between her snapping fingers. Time ploughs faces

into bent furrowed fallow fields, kicks over traces

of summer’s yield, leaves us out to pasture, slow

burning where new green buds are starting to show,

 

thrusting up and out of dank earth. She’s shrieking

spells, bending her back, works it, Greek in speaking

old curses of women need men to reach it, there,

oh, now that’s it, quenching floods, burning in bare

 

crimson flushed flesh to end where we both began

to plough fields then scatter. And, what of them?

New blooms fade in nature’s fields, withering slow

soured mildewed vines under brief waning rainbow.

Plant Sonia within my dreams, for there she grows.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

The Hospital Pass


The Hospital Pass


Well, here we are again at number 36 Lumpslap Close and in the front room there’s a peculiar sight.

Well, I think it is.

You might just shrug you shoulders and say ‘oh no, we do that all the time in our house’, or ‘get away with you’, if you were feeling like hurting my feelings. But, I’ll tell you straight, I think it’s very strange.

Look, I’ll try to describe it. Then you can make up your own mind and be done with it. Bear in mind that description is not my strong suit.

No - not that sort of suit.

Anyway – look - here’s Morgan, Patience and Faith in the front room – the one with the patterned maroon carpet, the comfy old woollen sofa and bean-bags. The television is off, because it’s a Monday afternoon.

Yes, that’s right. A school afternoon and, in that case, why isn’t Faith yawning her way through one of Mrs Gridney’s worksheets?

But she isn’t, you know. And the more observant of you would notice the two way camera school monitor is switched on – there’s a glowing, pulsing red light to say that it is so – and today it’s blinking like a spider in the top corner of the living room wouldn’t.

Most peculiar of all?

Morgan, Faith and Patience are sitting grumpily inside cardboard boxes underneath it, wobbling around unsteadily and trying to do school work.

Actually, Faith looks like she’s rather enjoying it.

“I am enjoying Lockdown School,” she giggled, to confirm what I’ve just said.

“Ah, shut up, Mary-Sue, it’s only a drill. Huh, huh. A mock lockdown.” sniggered Morgan. He reached outside his cardboard box, grabbed his satchel and lobbed it, as hard as he could, at Faith. Then he glanced up at the camera, affecting to be not unconcerned. “It doesn’t work anyway.”

“Stop that, Morgan,” snapped Patience, from within her box. From the outside you could see it had once held tinned peaches that had long since been eaten. “You were young once. There was nothing you liked better than school in a box.”

“Don’t give me that – I used to like soap on a rope and, in any case, they didn’t have stupid lockdowns when I was growing up.”

“Have you finished your Maths for Mr Pedals?”

“No and I’m not even going to, anyway. You know very well that the teachers never mark this drivel. All they do is pretend it got lost in the post while taking the week off.”

Patience had heard enough. “You’ve got no proof that’s true, so get on with it.”

Morgan sighed loudly and brushed his long hair from in front of his eyes like an actor on stage. He picked up a biro and sucked the nib thoughtfully and read aloud. “Four warships of the glorious imperial navy intercept a Spanish consignment of asparagus tips bound for Monchengladbach harbour…” He stopped reading and smirked. “Who writes this rubbish? Here, Patience, I bet one gets torpedoed by a U Boat and there are only three left.”

He stopped reading and wrote ‘3’ in the appropriate box without bothering to check, put his arms behind his head, leaned back and tumbled out of the box, onto the carpet, where he lay prone, chuckling quietly.

By doing so, he came perilously close to Faith, who was happily colouring in a picture of three cheery Easter rabbits hiding gigantic eggs under palm leaves. “Get back!” she shrieked, “social distancing!” In a panic, she jumped out of her box (which, I think had once been for delivering disposable nappies) battered him with the worksheet and called out, “Grandad! Grandad!” in her shrill six year old voice.

Morgan, still on his back, swotted her away grumpily as she made for the back garden. “It’s the boxes,” he grunted, “I don’t see why we can’t have fluorescent tape like other students.”

For once, Patience agreed, “Yes. Or those stickers that say ‘keep apart two metres’.”

“Well that’s wrong, anyway. We shouldn’t still be using metres, by rights. Here, why are we?”

“The government couldn’t be bothered to change it.” Patience gingerly stood up inside her box, stepped over the top and helped Morgan to his feet. “Come on, we’d better retrieve Faith before anyone at the school notices.” She too glanced at the blinking light in the corner.

But since no imperatives had issued forth from the speaker, perhaps Morgan was right and the teachers were having an afternoon nap, or something.

So both of them went to the back door in a quiet and mature fashion – two metres apart.

When they got there, Faith was running round and round, shrieking “Grandad! Grandad!” like Mrs Dander’s dog in pursuit of an escaped pork chop. Except pork chops don’t escape as a rule, and Mrs Dander’s dog has never yet been known to speak English.

Grandad was nowhere to be seen.

As soon as Faith came close enough, Morgan rugby tackled her to the floor, whipped her up in a ball and and slung her towards Patience with one wonderfully executed movement. “Howzat?”

With a look that was nearly admiration, Patience brushed Faith down and the three of them paused beneath the wide canopy of the yam-yam tree, searching for Grandad Patches. “I’m sure he came out here, though, I heard him dither on about being a private dick, back in the sixties,” muttered a perplexed Patience. “Now where the devil should this Grandad be?”

“I’m telling Ma you swore,” spluttered Faith, still out of breath.

“No you won’t,” snapped Morgan, “in any case, I’m pretty sure that your big sister was having a Mercutio moment. Now, shut up while I listen.”

Patience blushed and ruffled Morgan’s hair affectionately. The three of them waited intently; Morgan, skilled at tracking from his days in the scouts, dropped to the earth on one knee…and placed his right ear close to grassy turf.

“Vibrations,” he hissed, “definitely, vibrations – a sort of thud, thud, thud.”

“Do you hear that wheezing, groaning sound?” added Patience, “like a gigantic pair of pumping bellows?”

“Nice description, sister.”

Po, po, po, tiddly pom,” said a third voice, joining in, “now what on earth are you three doing down there?”

And do you know what? There was Grandad Patches, half way up the yam-yam tree and a very long way above the garden indeed. He tried to look stern, but that’s difficult when you are clutching a branch with one hand and a brass, naval issue spyglass with the other. “Here, I say, you three should be in your crates doing your school work. Why…” he continued, “you are not even two metres apart. Now, if you don’t go back to your boxes this instant…why, I’ll, I’ll get very, very…”

“Grandad!” called Faith, excitedly, “why are you up there? It’s ever-so-high, can I come up?”

Po, po, po, Faith, my dear, well, of course you can,” and he beamed with delight, his whole face crinkling like a prune.

Morgan scowled at Patience and hissed, “not us, of course.”

He darted around to the other side of the trunk and began scaling the rope ladder that Grandad Patches must have used to ascend to such heights; huffing as he did so, because rope ladders have a tendency to heave from this way to that and are by no means easy to use, you know.

Soon he was so high he could look down to see the top of both Faith and Patience’s heads and he couldn’t help but grin in delight.

Grandad Patches was not quite so charmed, as Morgan got to the branch he was perched on. “I say, now Morgan, I say, po, po, are you sure this branch can bear our combined weights?” he grumbled, as Morgan shuffled towards a good vantage point.

Morgan ignored him. “What are you doing up here, Grandad? And what’s with the telescope?”

“Oh, not much,” mumbled Grandad Patches, in a tone that suggested quite the opposite.

“Oh, I see!” sniggered Morgan, “you can see right into Grandad Biggert’s garden. Are you spying on him? Now what’s the old rotter up to this time?”

Po, pom, piddle pom. I most certainly am not spying on him.”

But Morgan, who hadn’t lived 15 years without learning some things, snatched the spyglass from Grandad Patches and clapped it to his eye. As he did so, the branch they were perched upon creaked alarmingly.

What he saw caused his mouth to open in astonishment. “Good grief. What on earth is he doing?”

Over the fence, in the adjacent garden, was Grandad Biggert. He was dressed in a dark, one piece suit and was gazing with intent at a tree at the far end from which hung several pork chops and lamb bones on strings, like unpleasant meat based Christmas decorations, rotating gently in the spring breeze.

But that wasn’t all. Grandad Biggert was supporting himself with a square, metal walking frame. Every so often, he would take a deep, wheezing breath, lift the contraption up, move it forward, place it down and walk one step onwards.

Ker-plunk, ker-plunk, ker-plunk…advancing ever nearer to the dangling, stringed meat ornaments.

Morgan and Grandad Patches continued to watch until he had reached some meat. With a flourish he ripped a pork chop from its mooring, devoured it, tossed the bone onto the grass and wiped his swarthy beard with the back of his sleeve. “Heh, heh, heh,” he chortled, loudly, “that must be nearly 100 by now.”

“That’s not anywhere near 100,” spluttered Grandad Patches into Morgan’s ear, “count those bones.” And the branch creaked again.

Alerted by the noise, Grandad Biggert looked up at the overhanging limb. “Patches! Patches! I know that’s you, you bean-curd,” he screamed, booting the walking frame in irritation. “Are you spying on me?”

“Er…most certainly not, I am examining this tree for bark-rot”

“Bark–rot? Don’t give me that. There’s no such thing. And what's that young whippersnapper Minger doing up there with you?”

“Hello, Grandad Biggert, you're looking dapper today.”

“Don’t give me that, Minger, or I’ll poke mince in your eye.”

“Poke mince in my eye?” hissed Morgan, to Grandad Patches, “how on earth will he do that?”

“Ah…I suspect he means in his pie,” mumbled Grandad Patches, stressing the word pie and grasping his branch more firmly, “as in cottage or shepherd’s.” He raised his voice a little, addressing the irate pensioner next door, “I say, Grandad Biggert, do you mean shepherd’s pie?”

“What did you say, Patches?”

“Shepherds or cottage?”

“I’ve a shepherd in my cottage? What? Mind your tongue, you filthy old goat. Any more of that and I’ve a mind to come up there and black your eye.”

Grandad Patches grunted with understanding and nodded sagely at Morgan. “Yes. It seems he wants to offer us some of his blackberry pie. I say, that’s jolly decent, isn’t it?”

Morgan smirked. “Certainly not Grandad Biggert’s usual way of doing things,” he agreed, swaying in time to the branch. Beneath him, he could see Faith and Patience still looking upwards anxiously. And, across the fence, Grandad Biggert ignored them all and was beginning to puff his way back up the path, very, very slowly.

Ker-plunk, ker-plunk, ker-plunk.

By the time he had reached halfway, Morgan was perplexed. “Grandad Biggert,” called Morgan, “would you like some assistance?”

“Certainly not, you vile scallywag. You’ll not get your hands on any portion of my money.”

Morgan wondered if there were meaty treats at the other end, too, faggots perhaps, or a tin of Del Bentos 100% reclaimed pork hotdog sausages in brine. The spyglass to his eye, Morgan gave Grandad Patches a sharp nudge in the ribs.

“Woah, there,” he implored, “I nearly lost my grip, Morgan.”

“Sorry, Grandad. Why is he using that walking frame? I’ve seen him walk normally on many occasions. Only the other day, I passed him coming back from the shop.”

“Ah, yes indeed, Morgan, my boy, and was he full of good spirits?”

“Yes,” answered Morgan, then reconsidered. “Well, no. Actually he told me I was an interfering, maladjusted mop-top and that if I didn’t mind my own business he’d push a roll of bin-bags up my nose.”

“Bin bags up your nose, eh? Po-po-po. How did he expect to get them up there? I must say it doesn’t sound as though he needs a walking frame…ah, yes…um, I wonder.” Grandad was adjusting his grip and, once again, the branch creaked in pain. “Po, po, po. He must have been afflicted with an ailment that has limited his full mobility.” He raised his voice. “I say, Grandad Biggert? Have you been afflicted with an ailment?”

“Shut your beak, you carrion boiler!” screamed Grandad Biggert, who had finally reached the other end.

Once he got there, he started to hop up and down in triumph. “One hundred laps,” he was laughing maniacally, “Mine, all mine! Excellent. Oh, my dear Patches, you have been na├»ve. You should have stopped me when you had the chance. Now I have all the money I’ll ever need, heh, heh, heh.”

Grandad Biggert paused jigging to consider the implications. He took a crumpled newspaper from his pocket and waved it in the direction of the yam-yam tree. “Money, my dear Patches,” he snarled, tapping the newspaper rapidly, “Money that I will invest. And with the profits, oh, I will mete out such punishments upon your head that have not yet even been devised.”

He reached into a tin that was suspended from his rotating clothes line and fished out a long, springy pork hot dog, waving it vigorously in the direction of the yam-yam branch. “See this?” he taunted, “see this?”

“What’s going on?” yelled Patience, alerted by the hysterical shrieking.

“Yes, what’s going on?” added Faith, as importantly as she could.

“It’s difficult to be sure. Grandad Biggert is hopping around waving his sausage at us in a menacing way,” answered Morgan.

Faith sniggered loudly, then did her best to stop it coming out with her hand.

“Get back to your box,” snapped Patience, glancing at her angrily and pointing towards the back door, “Morgan, get down here at once, before Doctor Snaptor notices and puts us in Lockdown Detention.”

But no sooner had she uttered those words, the yam-yam tree groaned and creaked in final resignation; the branch holding Grandad Patches and Morgan giving up its impossible struggle.

“Run!” screamed Patience, pushing Faith towards the door. But she needn’t have worried.

By some awful twist of fate, almost in slow motion, the branch toppled forwards towards the skipping, besuited figure of Grandad Biggert. Because he was munching triumphantly on his sausage, he failed to notice the clear and present danger until it was too late.

He screamed a terrible scream as the whole mass – branch, Grandad Patches and Morgan (still holding the brass spyglass) hurtled towards his head like the runaway car of a rogue rollercoaster.

“Brace for impact!” shouted Morgan, who almost seemed to be enjoying the ride.

With a calamitous crash, the branch hit earth, mangling Grandad Biggert in the process. But as the dust cleared and the noise subsided, worse was to come. From the corner of the garden, an ominous bestial growl was making itself heard.

Grandad Biggert was the first to open his eyes. He glared darkly at Grandad Patches in impotent fury as he tried to disentangle himself from several tons of wood. “How dare you trespass in my garden, you turnip-mangler?” he spluttered, “your intrusion has caused me to smear Del Bentos smoked frankfurter into my hair and beard.”

“I say, old chap, no need for that, one cannot help bark-rot, you know, indeed no…po-po…terrible accident. No bones broken, eh?” answered Grandad Patches.

“No bones broken?” screeched Grandad Biggert, “speak for yourself, you spineless poltroon…and who’s going to extract that spyglass from my…”

Morgan, for the most part unhurt, leapt to his feet. “No time for that now. Look over there.” And he pointed, with a trembling finger, at the hedge from where the snarling sounds were emanating.

“Oh, I say, Mrs Dander’s dog,” cried Grandad Patches, moving remarkably swiftly for an old man; leaping up from the broken branch. “It must have been attracted by the smell of meat.”

“Quick, run!” shouted Morgan, echoing Patience, moments before and grabbing Grandad Patches’ arm.

“Oh, no, no, no, I don’t think there’s any need for that,” muttered Grandad Patches, “I feel sure it’s the meat he wants. Back in the sixties, when I used to be a dog warden on the mean streets of Aylesbury, I once had occasion to retrieve a rogue Labrador cross from a porker’s sty. I told my fellow trackers ’don’t interfere with the porkers’, I said, ‘it’s the pork that attracts them…’ ”

Mrs Danders’ dog appeared to be oblivious to Grandad’s expertise and was, all the while, advancing up the lawn, hackles raised and making the most fearsome sounds.

“What about me?” howled Grandad Biggert, still pinned to the grass.

Morgan reasoned there was no time to find out. He bundled Grandad Patches back through the bashed up fence.

By the time the ambulance arrived, Grandad Biggert had been licked all over several times and, I think it is fair to say, was quite free of any lingering traces of lamb, sausage, mince or pork. Although there was quite a bit of slobber.

And didn’t he make a fuss about being taken to hospital?



*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *


It was getting close to Two Minutes Love by the time Faith and Patience had returned from posting the worksheets to the Central Education Agency. Patience removed her face mask and hung it on the coat stand, then bent down to help Faith with hers. She was supposed to use the mask safety-tongs to do this, but like most of us didn’t bother.

Dusk was falling outside and the streetlights were on but, unusually, the warm smells of Grandad’s cooking were missing.

“Ma says she will bring fish suppers home,” grunted Morgan, engrossed in some spectacular non-contact distance wrestling on the television, where the two opponents scored points by gurning to the camera then hurling themselves to the mat in spectacular fashions.

“Is it open, then?”

Grandad Patches was sitting on the sofa, looking slightly pale and examining his right hand every so often, flapping it this way and that like a soggy halibut but, as usual, his face lit up like a city at night when he saw Faith. “Po, po, po, Faith, my dear, and how was the post box? Did you have any adventures on the way there?”

“Yes, Grandad,” answered Faith, “I saw two crows fighting over a blue face mask that somebody had thrown into a hedge.”

“Thrown into a hedge, eh?” repeated Grandad, “well that’s not very environmentally sound, dear me, no.”

“Why were crows fighting over it, Grandad?”

“Hmm. Well I expect they thought it was some cheese.”

Morgan snorted. “Thought it was some cheese? What sort? Stilton?” He rolled his eyes and waggled his eyebrows as though he’d said something clever, but nobody took any notice.

Grandad pursed his lips, jabbing the air in front of him methodically, then wincing. “Why, of course, that must have been it, indeed, yes. Back in the sixties, when I…”

Morgan groaned loudly. Grabbing two tissues, he screwed them up and thrust them into his ears – one on the left, the other on the right.

…worked at Old McDonald’s Crow Emporium,” continued Grandad, “on Bigchester High Street, we had a terrible to-do that time Terry McTowcester  walked into the store in his mixed cheese assortment hat. Do you remember, Faith, m’dear?”

“No, I don’t, Grandad. I don’t think I was alive in the sixties.”

“Well, I don’t suppose you were.” Grandad flapped his hand again, wincing.

“What’s a mixed-cheese-hat, Grandad?”

Grandad Patches stroked his bristling chin. “They were all the rage, back then. The Australians started it with corks, designed to ward off flies – I now recall, yes, indeed. Anyway Terry decided to go one better. He put twelve different cheeses on strings around his hat, then paraded up and down Bigchester High Street, offering his cheese to pedestrians…unfortunately, when he strayed too close to our crow infested tree…”

Patience shook her head in disbelief and walked out to the kitchen, not willing to listen to whatever consequences Grandad Patches cooked up. Wondering where Ma had got to with the fish suppers, she looked across at the mess the fallen tree branch had made of the fence. “Ma won’t be pleased,” she thought, then glanced at the clock.

“It’s time!” she called, reaching for a stick and saucepan.

Pretty soon, in preparation for the Two Minutes Love, Grandad Patches, alongside Morgan, Faith and Patience stood outside the front gate of number 36, each holding a saucepan and a stick from the kitchen.

It was a gay sight. Morgan had the aluminium frying pan, Faith had a small poached egg boiler and Grandad Patches had turned an old, rarely used pressure cooker upside down to beat like a snare drum.

And, at all the other gates, the residents of Lumpslap Close were gathering on the pavement waiting for six-o-clock.

At the top of the hour, a cacophony of noise was released. Unfettered, the citizens of Purridgeton smacked their pans with sticks – a wonderful convocation of joyous, delirious din – and those with no access to pans bashed dustbin lids, wheelie bins, metal gates, even smashing up the bonnets of parked cars – anything that made a racket: “Hurray for our Front-Line!” They screamed, over and over, thrashing as mightily as they could. “We love you, we love you!”

Grandad Patches seemed quite overcome by the racket. In fact, as you may have noticed, he hadn’t seemed terribly well all afternoon. “You’d think Grandad Biggert might have made an effort,” he muttered, snarkily, which wasn’t like him at all. “He’ll be arrested if he’s not careful.”

“He’s in hospital, Grandad.”

“Why yes, so he is, now why did I forget that? Oh dear. My hand’s fallen off. Quick, call the ambulance.” Grandad Patches keeled over and fainted.

Tossing his frying pan aside, Morgan caught him. By the time the ambulance arrived, Two Minutes Love was over and Lumpslap Close was quiet again.



*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *


It later turned out that Grandad Patches’ hand hadn’t really fallen off at all, but he told everyone it was badly strained.

Anyway, I can tell you that he was having a lovely dream as he lay in his hospital bed – full of rainbows, long haired men and women dancing to jingly-jangly bhangra music under blue, cloudless skies in the hot sunshine, singing and clapping, passing flowers to each other – that sort of tie-dyed affair.

Well, he wasn’t asleep for very long before he was back through the window and into the real world. Grandad Patches eyes flickered open – because he was convinced his feet were becoming very, very wet.

He looked up into what might have been the reassuring eyes of a nurse. It was hard to say given the face was mostly obscured by a mask made out of black bin bags.

“Stay quite still, now, while the Bishop washes your feet.”

“Bishop washes my feet?” spluttered Grandad Patches, now fully awake. “Po, po, po – I say, why is a bishop washing my feet?”

The nurse grunted and waved an official looking clipboard at him. “It says here, quite clearly, that you asked for an ecclesiastical foot wash everyday at 9am for the duration of your visit.”

“I don’t remember that,” grumbled Grandad Patches, listening to the Bishop mutter some sort of invocation under her breath while scrubbing vigorously between his toes.

She stood up and rolled her eyes at the nurse. “His feet are quite the nastiest I’ve seen in a long time, Nurse Privet, clogged up with twigs, leaves and bits of a bird’s nest.”

Grandad Patches grunted. “Well I don’t know how those got there.”

“You have been a filthy boy, haven’t you,” scolded the nurse, “don’t worry, Bishop Brenda will be back tomorrow.”

“I don’t want Bishop Brenda to come back tomorrow,” sulked Grandad Patches. “I don’t even know why she came today.” He tried to snatch the clipboard, but failed, due to his bandaged hand and wrist. In a moment of kindness, the nurse showed him the document. “Huh. That’s not even my handwriting.”

“Not yours? Then who put your name down?”

From the bed next to Grandad Patches, a muffled snorting could be heard from under the sheets. Why? Because the occupant had put them over his head, that’s why.

Nurse Privet clicked her tongue and with her free hand, pulled the sheets back to reveal the bearded face of the tittering individual. “Grandad Biggert. Did you do this?”

Grandad Biggert kept a straight face and summoned a glare which he aimed in Bishop Brenda’s direction. “Well, of course. I don’t want to be afflicted with his stinking feet do I?” He glowered at Grandad Patches, who was looking affronted, and then smirked in an oily way, “in any case, who wouldn’t want there feet blessed by our lovely Bishop? It’s such an honour.”

Po, po, tiddly, pom, well, may I suggest you wash Grandad Biggert’s feet tomorrow, instead of mine?”

“Bah!”

“You could wash his armpits while you’re at it, too, and scrub the bits of meat out of his beard.”

“She’ll do no such thing, you over-boiled sprout,” Grandad Biggert screamed.

“Let your armpits be your charmpits,” replied Grandad Patches, “has always been my motto. Why, back in the sixties, when I worked in advertising…”

“He’s lying, he never worked in advertising, I demand you move me to another ward now.” And Grandad Biggert threw the sheets back over his head.

Nurse Privet shook her head from behind her bin bag mask and clicked her tongue again. “Well, all I can say is that you two had better be a tad more civil towards each other in future during your stay in this Starling Hospital,” she announced, grimly, and then looked up as a large, portly woman bustled towards them, similarly masked and dressed in bin bags. “Ah, here comes Doctor Spriggit. She’ll sort you both out.”

Grandad Patches, whom I think was recovering his wits and good nature, shuffled himself up the hard mattress until the pillow was propping his back up. He regarded Doctor Spriggit, taking her time, looking into beds, this side and that, as she made her way forward. He also noticed that the ward was empty save for himself, Grandad Biggert, Bishop Brenda and the nurse.

“Why is the Doctor dressed in bin bags?” he asked, which I think was a very reasonable question.

But Doctor Spriggit had arrived before he received an answer and was consulting the nurse in those hushed tones only reserved for emergencies. Vigorous nods, consulted notes and occasional sharp glances punctuated the conversation whilst Bishop Brenda smiled benignly; doing all sorts of odd moves with her arms.

“I say,” called Grandad Patches, and then more loudly, “I say…you there…yes, you, may I have your attention?”

Doctor Spriggit coughed in manner that conveyed irritation. Whenever she moved, her bin bags rustled like a noisy bag of crisps in a cinema. One expert eye roved over him whilst the other eye looked through the notes. “And just what were you doing up in the tree?”

“Spying on me, that’s what,” snapped Grandad Biggert, throwing the sheets back like he was casting off a cloak. “Him and that young scoundrel, Minger. Poking his nose into business that does not concern him…as usual.”

“I see.”

“He caused an entire tree to fall on me. A vicious and unprovoked attack. But, not satisfied with those machiavellian machinations, he then attracted the attention of a wayward mongrel, a most savage cur, and bade it tear me to shreds. That mongrel holds a grudge, believe me. I demand satisfaction.”

“It says here that a dog was found licking your face.”

“Exactly. Driving all sorts of vile infections into my wounds while I was pinned helplessly to the ground. I demand that you bring the full might of British law to book upon his wretched soul.”

“He was after the meat,” explained Grandad Patches.

“Meat?”

“Yes. Grandad Biggert had suspended a tin of Del Bentos sausages from a string. I say. Do you know if they extracted my naval spyglass from Grandad Biggert’s…”

“Never mind that, never mind that,” screamed Grandad Biggert, “I demand my one million pounds. And I want to see your best lawyer at once.”

“One million pounds?” asked Doctor Spriggit, somewhat taken aback. “Whatever makes you think I have that sort of money lying around? Don’t be silly. Anyway, because your injuries happened during lockdown, you get to be in this smashing new tent. The other patients aren’t nearly so lucky as you. Now stop getting over excited; you sustained a few nasty bruises. We want to make sure you’re quite better before we release you.”

“Pah! Stupid tent hospital,” snapped Grandad Biggert, childishly. He blasted another glare at Grandad Patches and threw his sheets back over his head. “I’m not coming out until you take him away.”

But Grandad Biggert did come back out. And probably sooner than anybody would have wished for.



*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *


Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to go into hospital, but one of the bright spots of the patients’ day is visiting time. After all, the rest is taken up by all those other mundane times you’ve probably seen in old films – washing time, bed-bath time, temperature time, porridge time…and visits from media crews doing tiresome documentaries. It’s not easy.

So imagine Grandad Patches’ delight when, at the far end of the ward, the tent flap was lifted up and in rushed Faith.

“Grandad!” she cried, happily, running towards him, until she was puffed out, “I’ve come to visit you.”

In the corner of the ward, Nurse Privet sat behind a desk in her bin bags, looking like a particularly scruffy crow. Upon seeing Faith, she immediately snapped to attention and started squawking. “Stop, child, stop! Where’s your PPE? Did you wash your hands?” And she rushed towards Grandad Patches in a panic.

At the adjacent bed, sheets were snapped back like the ring pull on a can of pop. “Yes! Eject that vile child now, or I’ll sue this tent for every penny it has. Why, you won’t even have enough money for a plastic peg by the time I’ve finished.”

Ignoring him, the nurse called her over. “Come here, child. I’ve got the latest in PPE on me.”

Grandad Patches’ eyes twinkled approvingly. “Well, I say, that is splendid news, Faith, my dear.”

“Yes,” continued Nurse Privet, “supplied to us by Brit Bog Regret Enterprises.”

“Brit Bog Regret? Well, that sounds jolly impressive, I must say, doesn’t it, Faith?”

“Yes, Grandad.”

Nurse Privet took a roll of what looked like industrial strength bin bags from her pocket, unrolled and tore one off with expert skill and bagged Faith up, using scissors to cut holes for head and arms. “There,” she said. “Now use these cut off bits to make a mask and gloves.”

Nurse Privet helped Faith, then stood back to admire the result. You scrub up well, young lady,” she remarked, with slight pride.

“Why, yes,” agreed Grandad Patches, beaming, “quite the professional.”

“No, she doesn’t,” snapped Grandad Biggert, “I’ve seen more professional looking fly–tips.”

“Grandad Biggert!” giggled Faith, holding her arms out, “and how are you this fine day?”

Grandad Biggert ignored her, glowered and whipped out a newspaper from beside his bed. He shoved it in front of his face and pretended to read. “Stay away from me, you rancid girl. Don’t be breathing your germs anywhere near me or I’ll swipe you with this newspaper. Did you bring any fags?”

On the other hand, Grandad Patches patted the top of his bed and Faith jumped up. “Well, now, Faith, I’m very pleased to see you. It’s been awfully quiet here.”

Grandad Biggert snorted from behind his paper.

“Well apart from Grandad Biggert talking in his sleep and making vulgar noises, that is.”

The newspaper rattled in vexation.

“Yes,” continued Grandad Patches, slightly more loudly than was needed, “snores like a hungry hippopotamus, he does.”

Faith snorted. “Is it loud, Grandad? What does he talk about?”

Po, po, tiddly-tum, well it’s difficult to follow all of it, but mainly, in between all his very nasty, smelly sounds, he talks about how he’ll be revenged upon the whole pack of us when he escapes this benighted planet.”

Abruptly, the newspaper collapsed, revealing Grandad Biggert’s snarling face. “Shut your noise, Patches. And you…” he waggled a finger at Faith, “…let me tell you that this custard coated blackberry crumble sings ‘kumbaya, m’lord’ when he can’t keep his eyes open…which is quite often considering his bedtime is just after half past seven.”

“Now, now, gentlemen, if you don’t stop arguing, I’ll send for Doctor Spriggit again.”

As Grandad Biggert raised his newspaper, the tent flap was once more lifted and in walked Doctor Spriggit anyway. “Grandad Patches?” she called, “it’s time for your exercise.”

“Exercise? Shouldn’t I be getting all the rest I can?”

The Doctor looked at her clipboard. “Well, it states here, on my docket, that you asked for exercise. Signed up for it.”

“I don’t remember that,” grumbled Grandad Patches. And, from the vicinity of Grandad Biggert’s bed, there was the start of a guffaw that stifled itself into a snigger. Again.

“What are you laughing at, Grandad Biggert? You’ve put down for it as well.” Doctor Spriggit, tapped her clipboard impatiently.

“What?” His newspaper clattered down like high speed venetian blinds and Faith saw that Grandad Patches was trying very hard to keep a straight face.

Doctor Spriggit had no time for any nonsense. She put a whistle to her lips and blew. “Crouch, Bent and Duff? In here, now.”

Instantly, the tent flap opened and three gigantic female orderlies rushed in with two ancient looking wheelchairs, pushing them in a straight line towards the occupied beds. “In you get,” she ordered, in a firm voice.

Faith jumped up and down, clapping her hands. “Can I have a go?”

“No.”

With a great deal of blustering from one corner and po-tiddly-poms from the other, the two elderly gentlemen were bundled out of their beds and into the wheelchairs by the burly orderlies.

“Unhand me, you louts, I can walk, you know, I’m perfectly capable,” snarled Grandad Biggert, as he struggled in vain.

“It says here you normally use a walking frame.” frowned Doctor Spriggit, consulting her notes.

“That was so I could get a million pounds, you medical misfit,” yelled Grandad Biggert, rudely, as he was strapped in. “I did my one hundred laps. It was all in the newspaper.”

Po, pom, tiddly–tee.” Grandad Patches answered. “You don’t get a million pounds for that, my dear fellow, dear me, no. In any case, you only did 15. I counted.”

“Espionage and treachery. Don’t listen to him, Doctor Spriggit.”

Doctor Spriggit had no intention of doing so and, with a snap of her fingers, the orderlies pushed the two wheelchairs to the exit in grim procession, with Faith skipping behind Grandad Patches. “To the exercise tent, please.”


*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *


Inside the hemi-spherical exercise tent was a terrific buzz of excitement. The chairs had been set out in a circle and it lent the effect of a gladiatorial arena – or a circus - given the multi-coloured balloons that were used as gay decorations here and there.

You can take your pick.

A queue of noisy people snaked out of a canvas entrance, opposite to that which Grandad Patches and Grandad Biggert had been wheeled in, the latter still protesting his outrage most vehemently. Oh, there was hue and cry, believe me.

Mostly, people ignored him and observed the two metres rule instead; paying a pound a head to enter, before finding a seat.

Look! There’s a bin-bagged-up popcorn seller circulating, and of course, in the corner is a radio documentary crew. Well, there’s always one of those, these days.

As you know, Grandad Patches and Grandad Biggert had been strapped into their wheelchairs: “For your own safety,” Doctor Spriggit had advised, as they’d sped across the lawns between tents, pushed at high speed by the three orderlies.

Faith clutched Grandad Patches’ hand and looked in wonder as the chairs began to fill with eager spectators. She’d never seen anything quite so exciting in her young life. Behind her, two orderlies waited patiently, still not speaking.

Grandad Patches looked at the wheelchair beside him and rubbed his chin. Grandad Biggert, still pointing and waving passionately, was making sounds of fire and fury that could not be heard above the hubbub of the crowd. “Upon my soul, I think we’re going to take part in a sporting contest. And all these good people have come to see us.”

“Goodness me, that is fun, Grandad, isn’t it?”

“No, it isn’t, it’s a demeaning travesty,” screamed Grandad Biggert, looking around for something to roll up and swot people foolish enough to get near him.

“Why yes, Faith, my dear, I suppose so,” agreed Grandad Patches, ignoring him, “I have had a great deal of experience in these things, y’know. Back in the sixties, when I was a member of ‘Brother Bertie’s Travelling Medicine Wheelers’, a troupe of strollers, we travelled from town to town entertaining ecstatic crowds by balancing cough mixture on spinning plates.”

“Lying liar. I can remember that bunch of talentless multi-coloured clowns and dodging your high speed projectiles of bottled medicament.” yelled Grandad Biggert, in a voice that suggested he was still angry about it.

Before Grandad Patches could reply, the radio crew had made its way across the ring. The anchor-woman pushed Faith to one side, and spoke directly to microphone, just in front of the wheelchairs.
She was middle aged, rather on the large side, but did wink at Grandad Patches and Faith before beginning her broadcast.

“Well, hello, viewers. Eleanor Grubbage, reporting for National Sports Live Radio, directly from Purridgeton’s Starling Hospital, in deepest Devon. We do have a very special event today. But it is of course, very important, that our old and vulnerable shielded citizens are ready for all eventualities during preparatory weeks such as these. And, of course, kept fighting fit.” And she smiled amiably at the two gentlemen in front of her. “Would you like to greet the nation?”

Grandad Patches waved to the crew and beamed. “Why, hello there, listeners, it’s great to be here!” he called, cheerily. It was as though he knew exactly how to be on radio.

Evidently, however, Grandad Biggert had no such experience and made some very rude gestures with his hands whilst attempting to snatch the microphone from the interviewer as Eleanor bent down to ruffle his head. “I want to make a complaint,” he snapped, “about this so called hospital and the way I’ve been treated here since this grinning imbecile,” he gestured at Grandad Patches, “caused a gigantic Canadian redwood tree to fall upon my head, wrecking my entire house in the process.”

“Well, dearie me,” replied Ms Grubbage, in a soothing tone, “that does sound like a traumatic experience.”

Now that it was within reach, Grandad Biggert snatched the microphone and swiped at Grandad Patches’ forehead with the bulbous end. “Well, yes it was, actually,” he blustered, his voice shaking dramatically, like an overwrought actor. He nodded vigorously. “Yes it was, thank you so very much. Shoved in a tent - a tent, mark you - in a bed, next to him…and what’s more, I didn’t even get my one million pounds. I earned that one million pounds, don’t you know. Cruelly snatched from me by the pitiless tree of fate, caused in no small part by him - him and his meddlesome ways.”

Eleanor Grubbage quickly grabbed the microphone back then frowned curiously at Grandad Patches, who smiled at her in a benign sort of way. “What about you? Have you anything to say?” she asked.

Po, po, po,” replied Grandad Patches, “well…ah, yes, actually. Faith and I would very much like to know why everybody in this hospital is wearing…well, ah…bin bags. Wouldn’t we, Faith?”

“Yes we would, Grandad,” answered Faith, holding her own bin bagged arms up to the light and examining them critically.

Ms Grubbage nodded at him. “Well, now that you mention it, I did ask that very question upon my arrival,” she replied, conspiratorially. “Doctor Spriggit said that they’d had a consignment disappointment due to a wrongly signed docket at Mablethorpe Airport. Fortunately, a chap from Brit Bog Regret Enterprises saved the day with some cutting edge, state of the art, peak performance PPE that only looks like bin bags. It’s very hi-tech. I’m told.”

“What did this chap look like?”

“Never mind that, never mind that,” interrupted Grandad Biggert, loudly, “what about my money?”

“Well, now, we’ll have to see what we can do about that, listeners, won’t we?” boomed Ms Grubbage, winking at them both.

During the interview, the tent had now filled. Spectators had taken their places and were waiting in anticipation for something exciting to happen; many of them suited and bemasked in the black bin bag PPE which they had purchased at the entrance along with the cones of buttered popcorn.

Well, happen it did.

Firstly, the media crew, still fronted by a very excited Eleanor Grubbage, moved into a vantage point that overlooked the circle, all the while broadcasting, as a huge sack of multi-coloured plastic balls was poured by Duff, into the centre of the ring.

You probably know the sort of balls I’m talking about – they’re normally used to fill up pools in children’s play areas. But today, they had a much more vital purpose.

Crouch and Bent, meanwhile, did not hang around either. They pushed Grandad Patches and Grandad Biggert to opposite ends, where ramps had been laid down to give the wheelchairs easy access.

At this the crowd began to buzz and there were one or two piercing whistles and cat-calls.

Now, Faith, of course, went with Grandad Patches and she was feeling a growing sense of trepidation, especially when Crouch appeared beside them, a strange contraption in her hands.

It was constructed from a long wooden broomstick and had a metal shopping basket sellotaped crudely to one end.  She also had a giant, garishly coloured plastic animal mask that looked as though it would fit completely over the head of the wearer.

At the far end of the circle, Bent had a similar device and was carefully explaining it to Grandad Biggert.

Faith was surprised to notice, however, that he had stopped his loud complaints and threats and, as Bent muttered into his ears, a sly smile was creeping across his face like an ugly caterpillar. Grandad Biggert grabbed his long stick and basket and began taking practise swipes, at one point, narrowly missing the crowd, who roared their approval.

“Grandad? What is Grandad Biggert doing?” she asked. But as he was having a giant plastic hippopotamus mask fixed to his head, Grandad Patches was in no state to answer – merely grunting while twisting his own stick and basket over and over in contemplation.

Looking once more around the arena, Faith was relieved to see two familiar faces in the crowd – her big brother and sister. In fact, Patience was beckoning her over impatiently to an empty seat she’d reserved.

“I didn’t know you were here, Patience.” Faith grinned as she jumped onto the seat.

“Oh yes, wouldn’t miss this for the world,” yelled Morgan, over the noise of the crowd, “it’s all over the radio, you know.”

“What’s going to happen?” complained Faith. “Why won’t anyone tell me?”

Morgan grinned. “Tournament of the century. This’ll beat non contact boxing into a cocked hat.” Then he raised his voice, “play up, Grandad, play up!”

At his words, the arena darkened and a microphone slowly descended from above on a long wire, twisting like a ballerina as it did so, until it was grabbed by Duff, still standing in the centre and beside the balls.

Now an organ, played by Bishop Brenda, crashed out a crescendo of mighty, thunderous chords; spotlights danced across the cheering crowds until they found and illuminated Grandad Patches and Grandad Biggert. Both attired in huge, plastic animal heads, they couldn’t really see much, but they looked simply splendid – one in pink and the other in blue.

“Citizens of Purridgeton,” cried Duff, as if she’d done this sort of thing many times before, “welcome to this afternoon’s heavyweight bout of elimination hungry hippos, live from our Starling Hospital arena!”

Po, po, po and a westward ho,” spluttered Grandad Patches, from deep inside his pink plastic hippo mask, with its fixed, snarling grin, “hungry hippos?” And, strapped in his wheelchair, he waved his broomstick and basket in something that looked like irritation.

Far across the arena, over and beyond the heap of plastic balls, Grandad Biggert was twirling his stick and basket above his head like a majorette at the head of a marching band. Indeed, with a flourish, he sent it shooting into space, then deftly caught it. “Heh, heh, heh.”

Crouch and Bent pushed the chairs up the ramps. They faced each other, in front of the heap of balls, the audience dimmed into cheering silhouettes. Duff continued. “Gentlemen. Keep it clean. No body contact or any scooperage between your opponent’s legs. Seconds out – round one.”

A bell sounded.

Spurred on by screaming crowds, Grandad Biggert raised his fist and signalled thumbs up like a gladiator. Bent jerked him backwards with a flourish. The wheels of his chair skidded across the mat. With a strong downward swoop of the stick and basket, he scooped a huge pile of plastic balls which skittered away from the centre and towards the spectators.

“Get in, you balls,” he yelled, encouraged by the amount he’d bagged. He raised the stick and basket to go again.

Bent shoved the chair and he struck like a cobra, over and over, until there were scarcely any balls left.

With each push forwards and each drag backwards, the audience howled in delight until there were seconds remaining. And throughout, Grandad Patches, seemingly unsure of the rules, remained static, Crouch waiting for his signal. “Po, po, po,” he mumbled, beneath his mask, “Now, what on earth are these hungry hippos? And how did they get here?” He fumbled and dropped his stick and basket in confusion.

As it clattered to the floor, Grandad Biggert, on his final swing forwards bought his basket down upon Grandad Patches’ head with a ‘thwok’. “Have that, you limp lying runner bean,” he chortled, as the bell rang to signal the end of round one.

Grandad Biggert was wheeled back to his corner. Now, Bent rubbed his shoulders. She looked extremely pleased and whispered encouraging words onto the ears of the plastic mask whilst applying a clear jelly to its eyes and brows.

Morgan had seen enough, and, ignoring the gasp from the crowd, leapt into the ring. He hurtled across to Grandad Patches, seizing the handles of the chair from Crouch and began to speak urgently. “Come on Grandad, pick up your stick and basket. We’re not finished yet. Let’s make this a contest, not a conquest.”

The bell sounded for round two.

Grandad Biggert was like an efficient machine. The crowd was delirious as he struck and netted a good portion of the multi coloured targets and he jabbed the space above with his equipment in triumph, spurred on by their shrieking.

Undaunted, Morgan pushed Grandad Patches forwards in a blur of wheels who thrust down with the stick and basket. However, all that happened was that one or two of the balls were squashed flat and he once again dropped his stick. It bounced once, and then toppled several feet away from the chair.

“You’re holding it upside down, Grandad,” shouted Morgan, in exasperation.

“Well how was I to know that?” complained Grandad Patches, as seconds ticked away. “You’ll have to get my stick back now.”

Like an eagle, Grandad Biggert continued to swoop in, to and fro, back and forth, steadily diminishing the colourful pile.

“I can’t get your stick back,” grunted Morgan, “it’s against the rules. I can only wheel you over to it. You have to pick it up.”

“But I’m strapped in.”

Trying to avoid Grandad Biggert’s flailing weapon, Morgan pushed Grandad Patches over to his stick. “Try.”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?” grumbled Morgan.

As Morgan bent down to retrieve it anyway, Grandad Biggert caught him a good one on his hands with the basket. “Oops, sorry, Minger,” he chortled, as the bell sounded the end of round two. “Guess that’s another round to me. Maybe you’d have better luck if you were both up a tree watching my superb performance with your stupid brass spyglass. Heh, heh, heh.”

Morgan wheeled Grandad Patches back to his corner. He went round to the front of the wheelchair and addressed the reluctant participant very firmly indeed. One might almost say sternly. Certainly, Morgan has raised his voice and sounded quite ticked off. “Now, see here, Grandad,” he rebuked, “you’ll need to try harder than this.”

“Will I?”

“Yes, you will. It’s perfectly simple. Handle your equipment correctly. Bring the basket down on top of your balls, then I’ll tug you backwards. If all goes well, you’ll get a good portion. We can’t let Grandad Biggert best us like this. He’ll be crowing over the fence for days, if he does.”

“Don’t want to.”

“Look, I’ve got a bruised hand, thanks to you. Do you want me to be in hospital too?”

“I suppose not,” muttered Grandad Patches, still sounding unconvinced.

Morgan nodded and wagged his finger at the hippopotamus mask. “OK, then. Now, when that bell sounds, hold your stick and basket out in front of you as firmly as you can. I’ll push you forwards in one lightning movement. Then bring it down. Hard. Got it?”

The mask nodded.

“Right way up this time, eh, Grandad?”

Another nod.

Morgan braced himself as the clock ticked towards the bell. Once again, the watching crowds had whipped themselves into a frenzy of excited noise as, at last, it sounded.

“Charge,” yelled Morgan, and pushed forward as hard as he could whilst Grandad Patches held out his stick like a jousting knight.

Too late, Morgan clocked the oncoming storm that was Grandad Biggert, who was grasping his stick in triumph, way above head height at 45 degrees, ready to strike at the glittering prizes before him.

Grandad Patches’ basket caught him smack between the hippopotamus’ eyes.

The impact caused the opposing chair to topple sideways and over, still holding a dazed Grandad Biggert by its straps, the uppermost wheel spinning manically. His plastic hippopotamus mask came away cleanly and spun gracefully into the crowd who sat in stunned silence.

“Knockout,” shouted Duff, over the microphone, “a clean K.O. Grandad Patches is the winner in three rounds.”

“Somebody phone an ambulance,” called somebody, across the auditorium, which caused a nervous titter.

And Grandad Biggert slowly raised his fist from the wreckage and shook it in the direction of the voice.


*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *


Two hours later, Nurse Privet watched from her desk as Grandad Patches and Faith prepared to leave her ward. Doctor Spriggit had rushed over with glad tidings that, it turned out, there had never been anything wrong with his hand after all. She had left the bandage on as a precaution, but he was quite free to leave whenever he chose.

Now, Grandad Patches had taken it all in his stride and seemed quite recovered after his hungry hippo ordeal, contenting himself with a comment that he was glad it hadn’t been ‘battling tops’.

No, I don’t understand what he meant, either.

In the bed next to him, Grandad Biggert had not been quite so lucky. He now had a large handkerchief around his face which was knotted at the top. His face was covered in red basket marks and he confined himself to glaring at the bed next to his, because it hurt when he shouted out anything.

“Will they give you a lift home by ambulance, Grandad?” asked Faith, as she watched him pack his very small case quite slowly and methodically. This should not have taken very long, if you consider that he only really had a toothbrush and a cotton pyjama robe. However, he would insist on folding it, over and over again.

Po, po, po and a tie-dye turban,” he hummed, frustrated, “I cannot fit this into my handicase. Why I’m sure it was in there when I got here.”

“Can I ride in the ambulance with you, Grandad?”

“Oh, dear me no, Faith my dear, we shall walk, why of course we will, upon my soul,” he answered, beaming and ruffling her hair. “It’s only across the park and past the bandstand. Twenty minutes a day, my dear. Good for the liver.” His pyjama robe slipped out again and tumbled to the floor. He glanced at the tent flap in confusion.

He was taking an inordinately long time to pack, wasn’t he?

Picking it up yet again, Grandad Patches waved Faith’s help away and as he did so, the tent flap entrance was lifted to one side and in strode Eleanor Grubbage. This time, she did not have her radio crew with her.

Anyway, she marched purposefully, towards Grandad Biggert’s bed, fully attired in the black bin-bag PPE. I’m afraid to say that she gave Grandad Patches a none too friendly glance, but, when she saw Grandad Biggert, her stern demeanour melted like ice cream on a warm day and she smiled in sympathy.

At last, Grandad Patches managed to pack his case and snapped the catch shut. Faith thought that they might leave, and grabbed his hand, looking forward to the walk across the park back to number 36 Lumpslap Close.

But Grandad Patches wasn’t quite ready to do so. Instead, he sat upon the edge of his bed.

“I have some wonderful, wonderful news for you, Grandad Biggert,” Ms Grubbage was saying, trying not to count the deep, red lines that criss-crossed his face. Being a professional, she refrained from sniggering or making cheap jokes like ‘don’t look so cross’ or ‘marks out of ten’.

Grandad Biggert grunted from deep within his bandaged face. It was difficult to see if he was pleased or not. He reached for a pad of paper and pen beside him and scribbled something on it.

Squinting at it, Ms Grubbage shook her head. “Ah. I’m afraid not. You only get one million pounds if you are one hundred years old, you see? The same goes for being knighted.”

More grunting.

“Yes,” agreed Ms Gubbage. “A terrible shame. That was your fatal mistake, Grandad Biggert. You’re only sixty seven, you see? If only you had stuck to sixty seven laps, instead of one hundred, the outcome might have been different. But as it is…my hands are tied.”

Tiptoeing over, Faith added, “Grandad said he did 15 laps, Ms Grubbage. Does that help?”

“If anything, it makes the situation even more complicated.” 

There was some more grunting, accompanied by a groan and a vigorous jabber of the hand at Grandad Patches.

“Well, yes, that’s my wonderful news, Grandad Biggert. Our listeners were so moved by your tragic plight, deeply foolish misunderstanding, as well as…” (she glowered at Grandad Patches) “…the outcome of the hungry hippos match, that they all clubbed together and raised a truly magnificent sum of money for you. One thousand pounds!”

Grandad Biggert suddenly seemed more interested. He held out his hand stiffly and looked victoriously at Grandad Patches.

Seeing the grasping, outstretched palm, Eleanor Grubbage shook her head in understanding. “Ah, no. That’s one thousand pounds for a charity of your own choice,” she added.

The hand dropped back to the bed. “Pah,” spat Grandad Biggert, “charity of my own choice.” Then he instantly regretted it; his face contorted in pain.

On his bed, Grandad Patches looked as though he was having difficulty with his mouth, which kept jiggling up and down as if doing a dance. “Po, po, po. I’m not sure he wholly approves of charity, Ms Grubbage, he said, quite slowly as if controlling every syllable.

“Really? You surprise me.”

However it would appear that Grandad Patches was wrong, because, even as Ms Grubbage spoke, Grandad Biggert’s eyes gleamed and he began gesticulating wildly with his free hand. “Bruh, Brah, Bribet,” he croaked, and again, more loudly: “Bruh, Brah, Bribet.”

Leaning closer into him, Ms Grubbage tried to decipher his passionate babbling. “Nibble on a biscuit?” she guessed.

Exasperated, Grandad Biggert scrawled upon his paper and waved it in Ms Grubbage’s face.

“Ah,” she replied, reading it “Brit Bog Regret Enterprises. Why, of course. Those wonderful people who supply all the excellent, hi-tech personal protective equipment to this hospital. What a deeply noble and honourable cause. Our listeners will be thrilled, moved and touched by your philanthropy. Protecting the brave front line workers. If you are not knighted for this noble act, well, surely you’ll consent to a national interview when you are fully recovered?”

Grandad Biggert nodded vigorously and I’m not sure I liked that look of satisfaction he aimed at Grandad Patches, either.

At that precise moment, however, the tent flap opened once more and in strode a young woman dressed in overalls, wearing a flat clap and holding a clipboard and pen. She paused, looked down at it then announced, “I’m looking for a Mr Robert Biggert.”

Well, for a moment, everybody looked confused by the interruption and there was silence.

“Is there a Robert Biggert here? I’ve been driving all over Purridgeton with a delivery. Can anyone help me?”

Upon closer inspection, Faith could see that the delivery driver’s overalls had an exciting looking logo upon the chest. ‘Orinoco!’ it proclaimed, with a smiley looking tick underneath the letters – just like the one on the outside of her lockdown school box. You know. The one for disposable nappies.

“Grandad Biggert? That’s your name, isn’t it?” Faith asked, happily. But when she looked, he had thrust his sheets over his head again. “You are funny, Grandad Biggert,” she laughed, pulling them back off.

“The name’s Reginald,” snapped Grandad Biggert, whose voice seemed to have returned, “Robert Biggert? Never heard of him.”

Rustling out from behind her desk, Nurse Privet, beckoned the delivery driver over. “Now Grandad Biggert, you know very well you’re called Robert.”

“No, I’m not.”

The delivery driver seemed to have had quite enough. “Look here, Reginald, Robert, Grandad, or whatever your name is. I have a large case of 10,000 ‘Cheapside Econobin Bags’ in my van and I need your signature. As well as an outstanding payment for ten thousand pounds.”

Now, Eleanor Grubbage gasped as though everything had suddenly become very clear – well she was a highly paid, national journalist, you know. “Brit Bog Regret…” she breathed, softly, scribbling rapidly with her pen, “why, if you change those letters round, you get…”

Drumming her feet in time to her tapping pen on the clipboard, the delivery driver repeated herself. “Ten thousand pounds. The supplier, a Don Luigi Verdasco demands payment before I leave, Mr Biggert.”

With a mighty howl, Grandad Patches roared out in rage. “Patches! You’re responsible for this. Get back here, you underbaked vegan cheesecake!”

But Faith and Grandad Patches were already strolling cheerfully, hand in hand, through the soft blossoms of the park as the sun began to set.

Po, po, po, do you know what, Faith, my dear? We might just make it back in time for Two Minutes Love. Won’t that be splendid?” said Grandad Patches, throwing his wrist bandage and Faith’s PPE bin bags into a recycling bin on the edge of the park.

“Oh, yes, Grandad. And we can always visit Grandad Biggert tomorrow, can’t we?”

“Well, perhaps, perhaps,” he answered, absently.

Now, do you know what? They did get back in time. Patience and Morgan were waiting with grins on their faces.  And, also, on the doorstep, was a mysterious package left by the ‘Orinoco’ delivery driver.

Nobody knew who had sent it; there was just a plain card that read ‘For Services Rendered’. And inside? A brand new naval brass spyglass.