Yesterday I found a fairy at the bottom of my garden. Actually, that's not true; it wasn't a fairy at all but I've always wanted to say that. It wasn't a fairy but it was the next best thing, almost. I found a girl at the bottom of my garden. That doesn't have quite the same ring to it; much more prosaic than a fairy. There could be many reasons why one might discover a girl at the bottom of one's garden. She might be a neighbour who just popped over for a chat or a neighbour's daughter searching for a lost ball or she might be a complete stranger who had taken poorly in the street and entered my garden to sit down for a while. She might even be a runaway hiding out from her wicked step-mother; now that sounds more romantic. On the other hand she could be an armed and dangerous criminal on the run from the police and that would most definitely not be romantic.
To tell you the truth it wasn't a girl at all, at least not in the usual definition of a girl as being a human female from birth until the age at which she is considered an adult, or even the more common definition of a young woman. You see, she, and I call her that because she has the form we regard as female, and an exceptionally attractive one at that, isn't a human at all. She's... well, I'll come to that.
I see this isn't making much sense. That's the problem when you start with a catchy first line that isn't actually true. You end up with all sorts of complications which, as you try to resolve them, only lead to more complications which in turn... you get the point. Worse, my thoughts are not as lucid as they could be which is not surprising considering the circumstances. Perhaps I should start again more mundanely.
I had just returned from visiting my daughter. I don't like visiting my daughter. I've nothing against her; in truth I'm very fond of her, and she does appreciate my visits. The problem isn't so much with my daughter as with her children. No, again, that isn't fair. They're nice children; reasonably well behaved and polite and they, too, enjoy a visit from their Grandpa. No, the problem lies not with my grandchildren as people but the very fact that they exist at all. That doesn't sound right either. I would be very sad if they didn't exist. I'm not making much sense. I'll try again.
Since Connie died, I've lived alone. I'm quite content. I have my garden and the local book club and the walking club and the internet. A grand invention, the internet. What did we do without it? It was my son that set it up for me. He said that, as I was getting older and had no-one close by, it would be good if I had e-mail so I could keep in touch with him and Frances and they could send me pictures of the children and things. It sounded like a good idea so I went and had some lessons. I was quite tickled; an old codger like me going back to school. They taught us all about how to use our computers and word processing and spreadsheets and e-mail and things like that. They even taught us how to use the internet. I may not be quite as young as I was but I'm not senile, unlike some there who barely managed to switch the machine on by the end of the course.
The internet was a real eye-opener. Imagine, all that information from all over the world right at your fingertips. Beats going to the library once a week and arguing with old Mr Flintov. Right old curmudgeon he is and he seems to live in the library. Well, from the internet I learned about forums and message boards and on-line chat rooms. They were a revelation. I would never have believed you could actually talk live to someone in Australia or America or South Africa without the cost of an expensive telephone call. Now I have friends all over the world. It's just as well I need a bit less sleep than I used to for I confess I sometimes burn the candle a bit at both ends.
Where was I... ? Oh, yes, Frances' children; my grandchildren. The problem is not them or that they exist, the problem is that they're young and, being young, they're full of energy and enthusiasm. I suppose I must've been like that as a child though I don't remember being quite so... insistent. They're always wanting me to do this or look at that, and Frances... she thinks that, as I'm on holiday, I need to be doing things or I'll get bored. I keep trying to tell her that I never get bored but I like to do things at my own pace. Maybe I won't arrive as quickly as some but I will arrive and, I believe, have a more enriching experience as a result. Who enjoys a journey more, the man who takes the motorway from departure to destination or the man who takes the back roads? Quite possibly the latter will never arrive at all having discovered something wonderful and marvellous along the way that sets him off in an entirely unexpected direction. I like to take the back roads.
Frances always has an itinerary for me. A very organised woman is Frances. She was like that as a child, too. Always knew exactly where every one of her dolls was and lined them up on her bed in the morning with military precision. I know it's a terrible thing to do to one's own daughter but, occasionally, I would move one. She used to get very upset about it so I didn't do it very often. She had them organised according to some arcane strategy that only she understood. She tried to explain it to me once but I confess I didn't understand a word. She was happy and that was all that mattered. That's probably why she's so successful at her job. She's an accountant. She didn't particularly shine at maths at school so Connie and I were a bit surprised when she said she wanted to study Accountancy at university. I suspect what she lacked in mathematical ability, she more than made up for in organisational skills. I'm sure she wouldn't rest content until she had all these numbers exactly in line and could account for every single one of them. A good trait in an accountant, I would assume.
To be fair, Frances' itineraries are always well thought out. She knows what I like and organises things I can do with her and Robert, things I can do with the grandchildren and things we can do as a family. What she somehow always forgets to do is organise things I could do on my own. They have a very good art gallery where they live but I've yet to visit it. The library's excellent too, or so I've been told.
To cut a long story short, while I like visiting Frances and Robert, and Tom and Sam and little Connie... I have a special fondness for little Connie. Frances was pregnant when Connie, my Connie that is, died and she immediately changed her plans and named her daughter after her mother. She was a bit reluctant to tell me at first. Thought I might be upset or something. Far from it. I was honoured and I know Connie would have approved. Robert has always insisted that he was one hundred percent behind the change as he was very fond of his mother-in-law. He's a good lad, Robert, if a trifle loud and hearty for my tastes. Still, there's no doubt he's a good provider and a good husband to Frances and a good father to the children. As I'm not married to him it doesn't really matter if I take him to my bosom, figuratively speaking, or not.
It's the heartiness that gets to me. The whole family is like that. They talk loudly, they behave loudly, they even walk loudly. They're not noisy. They don't hold wild parties, at least not when I'm there, and they don't play music at excruciating volumes or have the TV turned up all the time or quarrel, again at least not when I'm there and I think I'd've seen some signs of marital discord if they were present. No, they're just loud people. Tom plays rugby. Well, his father played rugby when he was Tom's age... quite well, too, by all accounts, junior club level I'm told... so I suppose it's only natural that his son should follow in his father's footsteps. People who play rugby, I've noticed, tend to be a trifle more, er, dynamic than the rest of us. Whether it's that sort of person who is attracted to the game or the game which makes people who play it become like that, I don't know.
The essence of it all is that visiting them is tiring. I always feel like a soldier going off to war when I start out. As I step into the car, I sort of straighten my back and square my shoulders and mentally don my suit of armour. It's silly but, as I turn the key in the engine, I sometimes say things like, 'it's a tough job, men, but someone's got to do it'. The daft things you say to yourself sometimes! As I drive there I find I'm psyching myself up, as the Americans say. For all you might complain about our brothers across the Atlantic mangling our language, every so often they come out with a particularly pithy phrase that seem utterly a propos, and psyching oneself up is one such.
Visits to Frances and Robert are exciting, eventful, boisterous... and tiring, and I always return feeling in need of a good holiday. I know that's a terrible thing to say about one's daughter but it's true. A funny though has just occurred to me. When I was working, I would gird my loins and march off to the fray day in day out and look forward to two weeks of peace and relaxation during the holidays. Nowadays I gird my loins for a few weeks of strenuous effort while 'on holiday' and enjoy peace and tranquillity the rest of the year.
.... There is more of this story ...