I had my parents over for a fortnight and acquainted them with a few of our friends, if they didn’t know them already. Aldous and his wife came to see us briefly within twenty-four hours of their arrival after having tried in vain to entice us into visiting a local bird-farm. They were going with two of their grandchildren. “ A very interesting place, a lovely place, good fun even for adults.” They recommended it strongly and I felt bored by the very idea. I asked them to see us after having visited that place without us, which they did.
Aldous’ wife complained that Aldous went to sleep at one point when they were sitting down somewhere at the bird-farm. Their grandchildren were also tired and sat on the grass next to us – this was in our garden. We were exchanging compliments about the merits of our respective countries, except that the weather in England…but we all knew that…when our dog suddenly growled and made a jerk towards the child who was next to him. I saw that this child had almost been creeping into the dog and seemed to have his hand somewhere under the animal’s body. We all started and the child cried. Aldous’ wife took him onto her knees and I felt most uncomfortable, something must have gone wrong. For Aldous’ wife the situation was clear: “He is such a nice dog normally. What has he done to you?” The boy had a mark on his cheek, a kind of imprint which could indeed have come from a dog’s tooth. She pointed it out to me. “Good job he hasn’t drawn blood,” she said when I showed my concern. “Never mind,” she then added turning to her grandson, “Our dog has been on to Steve (my husband)!” Tit for tat. Aldous’ wife insisted that her grandson was particularly good with animals. I didn’t know whether to believe her, just looking at the little rascal who soon forgot his tears and was made to stroke our friendly animal. When they were gone my mother told me spontaneously that she hadn’t liked the look of that little rogue. I certainly don’t believe that our dog snaps without a reason. However, you can’t tell people that.
I know now why they don’t like their neighbour’s dog. Aldous himself told me. He had had an encounter with a dog of the same breed – the most nervous breed you can imagine, I gather – in a different country. As soon as he, Aldous, entered the room, the wretched animal fled into the furthest corner. How absurd. Aldous tried to befriend it, but the effect was even worse: the animal started trembling and showed signs of real terror. A ridiculous breed, Aldous concluded. He had tried in vain to talk his neighbour out of having one like that. His neighbour wouldn’t listen to reason and Aldous had had to give up. He sighed, frustrated.
Not like our next-door neighbour who told us on which occasion he had heard a rabbit scream. When he was a young boy living in the countryside, he once noticed a stoat chasing a rabbit. The fleeing animal was in great danger, and as a last resort made straight for our neighbour at whose feet it collapsed with a mighty scream. The stoat left off and ran away, whereas the boy picked up the rabbit and took it home with him. Soon after, it had recovered and was able to join its mates.
Aldous and his wife asked my parents to tea, together with some “very elderly cousins” of theirs and Yan’s wife. The cousins were presumably in their seventies; She fat, richly made up, especially her mouth, plenty of rings on her fingers – one of these admirable talkers about nothing, useful company with any party; he big, fat, bald, gaps in his teeth, jolly, inquiring about Yan’s wife’s address on hearing that she was without her husband for a few days. His joke was received with a polite smile. Tea was poured and it turned out that I was the only one who hadn’t been served. Totally unintentionally, of course. Aldous’ wife said she was sorry and I helped myself – after all we are on easy terms. The usual jokes were cracked – people seemed to appreciate them, judging by their laughter. After a while my children came in to return the key of the barn where they had been playing ping-pong, and we all went home. Next day as we were having tea Aldous was on the phone. I had my mouth full of food which I had to push into either cheek in order to be able to speak. He inquired whether we still had the key to their barn. Our children protested that he had taken it from them with the words “Thank you very much”. “Of course I would say that,” he said. I suggested he looked in his trouser pockets, and he said he had not yet searched properly. I hope the key has turned up in the meantime….
One evening we had Jeremy and his wife round. They are my language pupils and welcomed the opportunity of meeting my parents whose English is not bad by English standards, just a little weak. They brought me a pretty plant and greeted me with kisses – I didn’t know she was that kind – and we spent a pleasant evening with them without touching controversial subjects.
Next evening Yan and his wife came to see us. They apologized about the English weather. We discussed the last war – it’s difficult to find subjects of common interest for people who are strangers – and the masses of rosebay willow herb which had sprung up on ruins in London, a plant hitherto unknown. I told them that certainly it can be found everywhere in the countryside. Yan’s wife thought it must have been present in England before the war. Yan reminded us, it had been “pontificated” – a new word for me – in Aldous’ house that the plant was now in this country and that was it. We laughed. Yan’s wife had brought us a cake as a present. Without any additives, Yan pointed out to me. Maybe he wanted to please me or pull my leg or both. I answered I didn’t ask about these things any more and he informed me that indeed somebody in Aldous’ house had noticed I had changed. I was interested to hear this. When they left us, Yan said to my father that on their return home the sun would no doubt be shining. A few days later I could give Yan the sickening news that the first thing my parents did on their arrival was to put up…the sunshade! Apparently it was very warm…It had been raining non-stop in Southern England on that day and we had the electric fire on.