Mr Orms came to see me last Friday evening. A surprize visit totally unexpected. It turned out he had taken choir practice that night, his successor as an organist having given up his post and no replacement found so far. It’s all makeshift, now, odd people like the headmaster of Green Hamlet School, the organist of a neighbouring village and somebody else taking turns in performing the musical duties in Green Hamlet Church. The Vicar had prevailed on Mr Orms to have a go, too. “He talked me into it,” Mr Orms said who might not have accepted the offer of his own accord. However, he had loved it. Transport had been arranged. A lady from the choir had collected him and would take him back. On their way home they called at our house, because Mr Orms wanted to deliver a bag of…plums to me. Straight out of his neighbour’s garden. Beautifully ripe and blue. They would make a delicious plum pie. Mr Orms knew that I liked plums. “I went to ask my neighbour for some,” he said, “I told him who I wanted them for, I don’t know whether he knows you, and he couldn’t very well refuse.” He looked pleased. Something he had done for me at last. I was delighted.
The lady from the choir whom I hadn’t seen for a long time came in with him. Just for a few minutes. They had never been in our house, and the lady took everything in with a keen eye. She is a well-known figure in Church circles and informed about most things. They sat down and Mr Orms, after having greeted our dog, inquired how I was. The lady looked interested. I said I had nothing to complain about, except it was evening, the end of the week as well, and I was feeling a bit tired. But that was perfectly natural, wasn’t it. Of course, he asked me, because I had given up shopping for them on the grounds that I felt a bit run down. Which I did at the time. Pointless telling them that I wanted to spend my time in a more interesting way.
Mr Orms was pleased to hear I was better. This didn’t satisfy the lady, though. She bent forward with a compassionate expression on her face and said I did look a bit drawn, a bit pale etc. She made me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps there was something wrong with me. However, I managed to shake it off, saying that probably one can do too much and I might have been overdoing it somewhat. She didn’t seem to worry much after all. According to her we all go through different stages from time to time. I don’t know what they talked about in the car when she took him home shortly afterwards.
Mrs Orms certainly gave me a concerned and scrutinizing look when I visited them the following week. “How are you?” she asked and told me that her husband thought I was looking poorly last time he saw me. I have no idea what he could have seen much with his poor eyesight in not very strong lamplight. I assured her I was alright. “Has the Vicar been to see you?” she asked next. I had a mild shock. Why should the Vicar want to see me? Well, she said, she had mentioned it to him. Couldn’t he pay me just a friendly visit, see how I was, etc. Wasn’t that what vicars were there for? Getting me plums, arranging for the Vicar to see me – I was overcome. Didn’t I want to see him, she asked. I said I wouldn’t know what to say to him, not having anything to do with the Church. I didn’t mind a kind of working relationship, but apart from that…She seemed to think she’d done the wrong thing and I hope she’ll let the Vicar know. His wife is fully informed about my state of health, so it appears anyway.
Mrs Rivers telephoned in the evening when I was busy washing a lot of iodine out of a skirt – I had emptied a small bottle onto it and was delighted to see the stuff yield to soap and brush. I wasn’t prepared to interrupt this activity for the sake of the telephone. My daughter answered it. She came back laughing. Mrs Rivers who had seen me only the day before was wondering how I was. The Vicar’s wife had told her I was…poorly! I expect I shall get a few more calls in this matter…
Mr Orms was fine, on the other hand. In different spirits altogether. Preparing breakfast, his wife told me, and making himself useful in house and garden. “He is feeling wanted again, you know,” she said. “They want him to play the organ more frequently. He played at a wedding last Saturday – mind you, the congregation, about a hundred of them, wouldn’t sing, the Vicar had to tell them half way through that hymns were for singing – and again on Sunday. He won’t be playing this coming Sunday, because the headmaster’s wife wants her husband to do it, so that he’s out of the house!” Mr Orms called this quite an eye-opener. “These women! Up to all sorts of things!” and he laughed a little, trying to see the funny side of things…He still doesn’t know what it was when he was so sick two weeks ago, Mrs Orms told me. Apparently he had even said he was “ready to go”. However, this has passed. “Getting better steadily,” he said to me and seemed reasonably happy with life.
Mrs Orms is in the middle of knitting her husband a short sleeved shirt. He wanted it dearly and in order to please him she gave up knitting the jersey for Mrs Rivers’ grandson and started his. The colour is a bit controversial, but it was his special choice. Absolutely bright red. It was this colour or none, as far as he was concerned. Mrs Orms is apologetic about it to everybody who sees it. Mr Orms is undeterred. Won’t it look nice with his grey trousers? What an excellent combination – red and grey. And one of the prettiest parrots, the African Grey, what colours is he, if you please?! Mr Orms can’t wait to see his shirt finished and Mrs Orms is hurrying up.
They’re on the telephone, now. The Vicar had managed to talk them into it. Things the Vicar can do! Of course, he’s an authority. If he wasn’t, who would be? He made Mr Orms play the organ again and it was a huge success. “Nobody plays it like him,” the Vicar’s wife said to me. Having him stand in when necessary must be quite a bit cheaper than employing a full-time organist. And it boosts his spirits at the same time. Why did he ever give it up?
Mr Orms telephoned me for the first time to tell me, Mrs Rivers’ sweater was done and finished, ready to be handed over. My daughter collected it – a superb thing to wear in icy Swiss mountains, I’m sure – and took it round to Mrs Rivers. I went to see her next day about payment. She was delighted and thought one couldn’t grumble at the charge made. I told her it was a price between friends and she wondered was it enough. She also had more wool, she said, in case Mrs Orms was prepared to do any more knitting. I said Mrs Orms was feeling tired at the moment. Poor dear, Mrs Rivers said, and could I give her her thanks.
Another lady from the Choir came to see me. Somebody had told her I was poorly, she said. I reassured her it had only been an excuse for giving up shopping for the Orms. She would be willing to do the shopping, the lady said, except that she had a poor back and can’t lift very much…I hastened to inform her that an elderly couple had been found; not in excellent health, but still, they thought they could manage. “Oh good,” the lady said and invited me to come and see her for a chat next Monday. I accepted the invitation wondering who else would be there, but she didn’t say.
I did hear from the Vicar in the end. He got his wife to sound out how poorly exactly I was and whether it was really necessary to visit me. She rang up as I was busy making pancakes, causing one of them to be badly burnt – fit to be thrown away. “How are you, my dear,” she said, “I’ve heard you’re poorly.” We are on remarkably friendly terms really, considering… I told her I was very well and gave her the usual story. She approved of my good deeds so far, she appreciated I wanted to give them up, she agreed altogether that somebody else might as well take a turn. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, but had the distinct impression that she would have agreed anyway. To finish that part of the conversation, she extended her thanks to me, she said, for all the good I’d done to the Orms. I didn’t see why she should thank me for that and said so. She replied: “Well, you see people like to be thanked. It doesn’t take much to say ‘thank you’; yet so few people ever do it.” The Orms certainly thanked me profusely every time I saw them. I couldn’t very well accept the Vicar’s wife’s compliments without returning them. So I hastened to thank her for all the good she’d done to the Orms. “Oh well,” she said, “I have to do it. Seems to be my job.” “You do it professionally,” I said. She laughed and said she’d done so much, she didn’t know how she had managed it all with that bad back of hers. How was she then, I asked. Nothing special, she answered, just waiting to see the specialist and eventually there would be most likely an operation. She felt bad for not being able to stand about much, thus forcing her husband to do a lot of chores in the house on top of all his other work. She would have to cut down, too, on her activities. People would have to cope without her. Her doctor, though, was an excellent young man. The same who looks after the Orms. So kind, so caring. Reluctant to go on holiday, because she was in all this pain. She had told him he had done what he could. In fact, she exclaimed, he had done more than he could! What a lovely person! I congratulated myself quietly on being enrolled with the same doctor. He had come to church last Sunday, she continued, and had heard Mr Orms play. He was delighted and much impressed by Mr Orms’ spirits. “And do you know what happened in church?” she giggled, “we had a bat! It was flying around and causing a stir. People were shrieking and trying to avoid it. I’m not afraid of bats. They’re lovely animals. Very gentle and soft. Sharp teeth, though.” I told her that the German name for it related them to mice who are rodents; maybe, they belonged to the rodent family. Then the idea flashed across my mind that bats were flying most of the time with probably not much chance for gnawing, and I added hastily: “Or partly, anyway!” She would have accepted anything from me and agreed regardless. Then she continued: “The bat even flew round my husband’s head as he was standing in the pulpit! Wasn’t that fun! Everybody was laughing. And he greeted it with “hello, dear”!” She seemed most amused at the thought and I wondered would it be worth trying to introduce a pigeon into the church some time. A white one preferably. But then, of course, one can’t be sure that the animal will behave the way it is expected to. She said bye-bye eventually, urging me to look after myself, and I said the same to her.
Then I dashed into the kitchen to save the pancake, but I came too late. The children who had heard me speak to her asked why I had said “how dreadful” so often. I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I should have said that and was therefore unable to give them a juicy piece of news.
I went to see my lady friend from the Choir who had also asked one of our neighbours, a lady I knew vaguely, because our dog is friendly with hers. She took an interest in me, her husband’s ex-wife having been my nationality. This compatriot of mine had also re-married, a lawyer this time, I was informed, in order to indicate the social status, I suppose, and has two daughters from her first marriage who my informant is on very good terms with. The two families, I gathered, were getting on excellently, hence this lady’s desire to learn my language. They have a huge alsatian, she looks huge at the side of our dog, anyway. However, the lady who keeps her in order to deter burglars – she’s a lot on her own – is a little worried. Her twelve-year-old son apparently doesn’t like the dog and teases her. The dog doesn’t like him and leaves the room whenever he comes in. “You know what sort of a reputation alsatians have,” she said. “False. You can’t tell what they’re going to do.” And she is worried there might be an accident one day. I could only share her concern. Our little meeting was friendly, uneventful, non-committal and totally insignificant. I suppose it’s useful to keep in touch.