Granny cannot hear herself think. Damage on roof - and the sounds like camels and an elephant making it - is one thing; the sound of it being repaired is almost worse. (Electric drills, don't you know.) The roof is, obviously, very very thin. Complaining about the noise to Mr Handsome from Blackburn , asking for the work to be left till she is out, later, would not be politic on the whole. He is even thinner skinned than the roof. No wonder the roof springs its leaks every summer; as for the leaks Mr H springs when complained at, don't let's mention them. In any case the job has to be done. Of course it does; rain is threatened. If the boiler electrics are left uncovered, rain will short the whole house; electrics of which find themselves shorted often enough for much less obvious reasons, local electrics being what they are. (You think they are bad in Britain? You should try here.) But still, meantime, bang, bang, screech screech + (loud) groan (from granny.)
She had been going to continue with her translation of the excellent Spanish detective writer. But that requires close concentration and a clear head. Is it an insult to say she needs less for writing this? Possibly. On the other hand a leap out from rational thinking sometimes does wonders when it comes to banging out new prose. Wonders are needed on prosaic mornings - even with the help of coffee most mornings for Granny are prosaic and worse. Let's hope wonders come.
In any case Granny faces a disrupted day. Beloved has co-opted her to help with his AS level students. All of them have been brought up in this island. Not one of them seems to know anything about it - if she is being snobbish about these things she'll explain that they are mostly the children of British bar-owners; when the parents' thinking doesn't stray much beyond, sun, sand, beer, alcopops, chips and Traditional English Breakfast, what can you expect of their offspring? They have never been rock-pooling for instance; the sea for them means beaches and pulling each other; that kind of marine life. The often more interesting kind, creatures in, on, over and under the sea, don't figure to date, not for them. Beloved is determined to change this. Currently he is teaching them about the food chain; today he will introduce the food chain directly in a local context, via the salt flats down the road from Granny and his house. His job there will be to show what's in the sea, eating and being eaten; to point out the seaweed and samphire, covered and uncovered by the tides, twice each day; to help them catch animals, pull up seaweeds to install in the fish-tank/rock pool newly installed in the school biology lab. His job is not - he has decided- he hasn't the time - to introduce his pupils to what's above the sea, the top of the food chain, in this context. Namely wading birds and seabirds.
Guess whose job it is to introduce them? Granny has only herself to blame for getting herself landed with this. She likes birds, a lot. They give her acute pleasure sometimes, lift her heart. Doesn't she take and use her binoculars every time they go down to the salt flats - several times a week usually, to run the Beautiful Wimp and the Tiresome Terrier. She has always liked seabirds, especially; not least because even the smallest are not particularly little. She is very short-sighted - a fact discovered when she was eight years old. Her mother unfortunately fell for the Bates school of thinking espoused by Aldous Huxley - him of Eyeless in Gaza, Antic Hay and "Gumbril's Patent Small-Clothes" (very funny. at least she used to think so: she doesn't know if she'd find them funny now). His views on short sight were not so funny. They involved curing lazy eyes with extremely tedious, frequently repeated exercises; they involved not wearing glasses so as to make 'lazy' so-called eyes work harder. Between the ages of 8 and 12, consequently, just at the age when children learn, or should learn, to be observant, Granny went round in a fog the whole time, except when permitted to wear her black-rimmed NHS spectacles - at the cinema or the theatre, or looking at the blackboard at school. Out in the open air she never wore them She couldn't see sparrows or blue tits, except as blurs. She could see seagulls and herons, more or less. So there you go.
So perhaps she should blame her mother for inflicting this task on her. Or maybe the rather dishy oculist Granny used to be taken to see. Shame on her to think his dishiness might have influenced her virtuous (very) mother's thinking. Worse shame on everyone - not least Aldous Huxley - that the whole thing turned out to be codswallop. Granny suffered her blindness for nothing; which in the case of so many things, for so many people, is often the case.
'I'll show the kids what's in the water, we'll fish for shrimps, pick up snails etc,' Beloved said. 'You can go and look for birds. When you see some you can let me know, and I'll send the kids over in pairs. You can tell them the names and they can write them down.'
Excellent thinking, Beloved; except for two things:
1) Birds don't tend to stay in the same place. By the time her students arrive they will quite likely have scarpered - because of the kids' arrival, or her own moving or shouting, not least.
2) Although the salt flats are often full of birdlife, they aren't at the moment. Three weeks ago along with the ubiquitous egrets, of which there will still, most likely, be a few - she can point them out, make the kids look at their beaks through binoculars, explain how they feed - there were herons, whimbrels (small curlews), all kinds of big and little plovers, sanderlings, turnstones, terns as well as gulls. Oh, and a spoonbill. But then the rains came, the winds came, they scarpered. The lot of them, apart from those egrets. She can only hope they have returned today, some of them. Otherwise the only beaks they see will be those of gulls - scavengers, they don't feed directly on what's under under the sea - and of that odd egret, high stepping about like a little pony, snaking it's neck. Their notebooks will be full only with the names she gives them; they'll have to go back to school and look it all up in a book. Which is a pity.
Among the first years students, there will be a second year; the student - a boy - asked especially to be included. Beloved was pleased to see him so enthusiastic. But as soon as Mrs Jonah, the headmaster's wife, who is to help with the driving heard about the request she said; 'There'll be a girl involved. I bet you.'
Granny will be looking to see which pair of students arrives for her instruction hand in hand. That's real biology that is. Perhaps Beloved can add it to his instructions on food chains. Or perhaps not. Such things don't interest him. His idea of hell would be to be shut up in a room with nothing but volumes of agony aunt stuff, and the Mills and Boon backlist. It would be Granny's idea of hell, too - but not for the same reasons.
Labels: family stories