This morning I amused myself by compiling a list of the most frightening phrases in the English language. You know the kind of thing. "This will need some work" when uttered by a dentist examining the furthest corners of your mouth or a car mechanic having just lifted the bonnet of your car. "It's a big job" - a phrase which is usually accompanied by an extended inhalation through moderately clenched teeth, thus producing a unnerving whistle - when voiced by a plumber or an electrician or my good friend Cousin Dave. I have a list of such utterances scribbled in the back of an old exercise book and this morning I added two more.
It is now six weeks since Alexander left home in order to make his way in the world of learning (and parties and sleeping and drinking and parties) and Isobel and I have been learning to live without the little chap. "It's a chance to do things together again" - a phrase that came very close to being incorporated into my list - said Isobel the other day. So off we went, shopping. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against shopping per se. I can spend many a happy hour trawling through the shelves of a bookshop of checking out the delights a half-decent stationery shop. I am not attracted to dress shops, china shops, food shops, furniture shops, or handbag emporiums : but what man worth his grapeshot is? Compromise is always possible, the kind of compromise that sees the memsahib head for M&S whilst I skedaddle towards Waterstones. It is when you eventually meet up again that dreaded phrase No. 1 comes into play : "It's time for a coffee".
What is it about women and the desire to sit in some upper floor of a faded department store sipping coffee? It wouldn't be so bad if you could browse through your latest bookshop purchases, but you are not allowed. You have to "talk". I have always been a bit of a follower of the stoic school of thought which holds that as one has two ears but only one mouth, one should listen twice as much as one talks. Isobel isn't a stoic. What is worse, she won't allow me to be one. Thus we have to talk. And drink coffee.
As the Festive Season approaches a second new phrase has been entered into the black archive at the end of my exercise book : "We'll make a Christmas Cake together". I can't imagine why she wants to undertake such an enterprise, let alone approach it as some kind of joint bonding exercise. But for weeks the threat of the Christmas Cake has been hanging over me like a rich and sticky sword of Damocles. The other night we had a jolly shopping expedition to buy the ingredients - she wanted to stop for a coffee whilst we were out but I said that it was both cruel and unnecessary to shoot a man after you had hung him - and they now wait on the kitchen work surface ready for, what she tells me, will have to be a fairly extensive window of opportunity. I sit here listening for her car on the drive with a degree of trepidation. Tonight might be the night.