Saturday, May 23, 2009


continued from

The Residents' Lounge was comfortable, grand and south-facing, with walls the colour of pale butter; and big windows bright with yellow curtains, cheerful in the mid-morning sun.

"Coffee," shouted Ivy.

"Isabelle!" An elderly man rested his book on the arm of his chair and stood to greet her. "Come and sit down! Where have you been? It's gone eleven! And bring your friends over!" He walked towards them a few paces, opened his arms expansively and ushered them to comfortable chairs near his own.

"Coffee, Lewis, we're to have real coffee. It's been decided. We went to a meeting and they said from now on we can have real coffee."

The man frowned. "I'm not sure I'll like that. It's bad for my digestion." He rubbed his stomach defensively. "But I expect they'll give us a choice. Who are your friends?"

"This," said Ivy, pointing at Camellia, is Lady Hamilton, Duchess of Marlborough. And this (you don't mind me pointing, do you?) is, oh, I don't know," she said, fanning her face with her hand. "Napoleon did you say?"

"It'll do," said Hugh, smiling. "Did you say 'Isabelle'?"

"Sshhhhhh!" Ivy was startled and looked cross. "Lewis! You should know better, much better. You shout!" Camellia frowned. "Don't worry dear," Ivy said. "You've come to the bottom of it now, arrived at the end of it. No more names." She smiled. "I've run out." And she dropped her voice to a whisper. "I'm Isabelle. That's my real name. Though I'd rather you didn't know."

"But why?" Camellia was feeling miserable again; tired and disoriented. "Isabelle is such a pretty name."

"Sshhhhhhh! No-one here is to know."

"Is that your boyfriend?" shouted a red faced man in a cardigan who was sitting at the other side of the room, next to a large fireplace with a vase of flowers in it.

"Shut up, Scotty! Ignore him, Camellia." " 'Isabelle'," she whispered, "is too pretty a name to use here. But 'Ivy''s an old person's name, don't you think? And Mrs Bendicks thinks I really am an 'Ivy'. It's in the records - and it's important you don't tell her it's wrong." She had gone pale. Clearly it mattered to her more than Camellia properly understood. Camellia decided from now on she'd not call anyone anything.

"Ivy, I really don't like real coffee. No-one does," said the man called Lewis. "And you're just making work for Maria, you know you are."

"He's worrying about his custard creams," said Ivy.

Maria came to the door with a large man in a wheel chair. He propelled himself over and parked beside Hugh. Maria went back to the kitchen . . . or somewhere.

"Professor Blake," he said, offering his hand. Hugh hesitated as he took it. "I'm sorry," he said. "I've forgotten who I'm meant to be. I was Napoleon just now but I don't think . . . ."

Professor Blake laughed. "Don't worry," he said. "You'll settle on something in time. Or you might decide to be like me and stay as you were before you arrived."

"Then are you a real professor?" asked Camellia hoping he would say 'yes' but not expecting to believe him, whatever he said.

"I was. Of mathematics. But, in Mrs Bendicks' view, no-one over seventy has a brain - and her ideas are curiously retro-active. All old people are idiots and in her view that proves they always were - so none of us could ever had careers, or done anything useful or thought an interesting thought. It's quite good as a cover. I can be myself because she doesn't believe I was ever me. How could an old person have taught mathematics?"

"Aliens!" shouted the man by the fireplace.

"Ignore him," said Ivy. "You always get one. I wanted to keep the 'I', you see?" Camellia didn't. "So they wouldn't send back my post." She was urgent to make Camellia understand. But Camellia didn't. She was lost. (She wondered if her eyes had crossed with the effort.) " 'I' - it has the same initial! 'I'. And Ivy's like me, still clinging on." She patted Camellia's knee tearfully and Camellia tried not to mind.
A large lady with a large knitting bag eased herself into a large armchair opposite. "Hello," said Hugh, "I'm Hugh and this is my wife, Camellia."

"I'm Victoria," said the lady with a sniff. "I used to be Queen you know."

"She knows I can count. (This was Professor Blake.) "Just about. Have you got your Bingo Card yet? No? You will. I have an idea she expects us to practice in our rooms. We all get one. Astronauts, scientists, actors, doctors, Nobel laureates - we all get Bingo cards. But don't worry if you have trouble with numbers. She'll organise a community volunteer to help you. The Church sends them round. The first time I met mine I told her I didn't like Bingo but, if she was at a loose end and wanted someone to talk to, I wouldn't mind if she stayed on a bit for a chat."

"He thinks Star Trek is still on the Telly," said Ivy. "You can hear him fighting Klingons in the bathroom."

"She told me where to buy thermal vests," continued the Professor. "She's very keen on thermal vests. Apparently they come in an infinite variety of shapes, styles, colours, lengths, widths, tensions, plies and prices. You can buy one in a packet or . . . "

"I use double knitting or chunky nowadays," said Queen Victoria. "When I was young and knitting for my children, it was all three ply. No-body bothers now. I'm not sure you can get it even."

"Here's Duke Ellephant," said Ivy, of a tall, thin man who had entered the room. "Come and meet our new friends - Lord Thorncombe and Lady Hamilton."

"Not Napoleon, then," said Professor Blake. (Lewis was saying he preferred Dr Who.)

"Bingo, this afternoon," said the Duke (who turned out to be 'Ellington', not 'Ellephant') as he joined the circle. "I don't know why the Queen doesn't send the cards out like telegrams when we retire."

"You like Bingo?" Hugh was surprised.

"Heavens no! But you know what they say - 'Birth, death and Bingo'."

"Mr Ellephant is a conductor," said Ivy.

"Philharmonic," said the Duke quietly. "But don't let Mrs Bendicks know you know. I sometimes go out to Berlin to guest, even nowadays, and she's jealous because she thinks I get more holidays than she does." Camellia studied him. He looked too frail to be working. "Just sometimes," he said, smiling across at her. "It makes a change from here."

“Of course,” said Queen Victoria, leaning over her needles, voice throbbing with drama. “If you’re really bright, they let you play Scrabble.”

Professor Blake snorted.
"If you had been holding a cup of coffee, you'd have spilled it on your legs," Ivy said gleefully.

"I'd not mind," said Professor Blake. "They're not mine. (The trousers, I mean, not the legs," he added quickly because he'd noticed Camellia was trying hard to look not-startled.) “Which reminds me. You’d better keep tabs on your clothes, Newcomers. Guard them closely - if you want to go home with the ones you arrived in.”

“Best thing,” said Lewis, confidentially, "is never let them go to the wash. Once they're there, you might get them back - you might not. They're common property all of a sudden and who knows who might be wearing them next?"

"Klingons!" shouted the man by the fire - and everyone laughed. Except Camellia - who couldn't stop wondering when Rosemary would arrive to collect them . . . and when Hugh would say they could go home. She was missing the mists of Thorncombe, the smell of the cattle - and rain.
For the Next Post - Forty-Four
For the Post Before This - Forty-Two