Bob phoned me up.
‘Gina’s gone off on holiday and left me to look after Duncan.’ Duncan is not their pet, although you might assume that from the way he said it, but their son. Now, when I heard that, several questions popped up in my mind. Namely, why had Gina gone off without Bob? Why had she left Duncan with Bob? But mainly, how on earth was Bob going to survive a week looking after himself and Duncan?
Some celeriac. Very nice but totally irrelevant.
There are husbands who are less capable than Bob, but there are not many of them. At least, I think there are.
‘That’s fine, Bob,’ I said, my voice oozing false conviction. ‘You two can have a great time bonding over boy things.’
‘Bonding?’ he wailed. ‘He’s already said he wants me to take him to the football! And he’s hungry!’
Well, Bob does not like football. Basically, he does not understand football. But rather than pursue that line at that point, I said ‘Uh, hungry? When did Gina go?’
‘Monday morning.’ It was now Wednesday.
‘Monday?’ I asked, in genuine surprise. ‘What have you been eating?’
‘Well, we found enough stuff in the larder for lunch – you know, bread and stuff – and we ordered pizzas for supper. I had cereal this morning for breakfast, Duncan wouldn’t eat anything.’
‘Why not? What’s wrong with toast?’ There was a brief silence.
‘Well, actually, the toaster…um…you know…caught fire.’
‘Oh.’ A thought struck me. ‘And yesterday?’
‘Er, cereal, and, er, sandwiches…’
‘Oh, we both fancied pizza again, you know. Really fancied it. Um, they’re very good, those ones…’
‘Would you like one of us to go shopping with you?’
In the end, we both went round. The kitchen looked as though it belonged in a student squat. The draining board was temporary home to four pizza boxes, several bowls and plates and a host of dirty knives, forks and spoons. There were also three pieces of burnt toast and two pieces of very burnt toast.
The toaster was sticking out of the top of the bin, and the air was perfumed with the delicate scent of smoke.
There was no sign of Duncan.
For some reason, my wife never really seems to have taken to Bob. She narrowed her eyes and fixed him with what I can only describe as displeasure, and suggested that if he would like any help at all with the bloody shopping list, then he might clear up his bloody kitchen immediately, a tactic that actually proved most effective.
He had finished that, and the shopping list had been compiled (No, you can’t possibly live on pizza for a week!), when Duncan walked into the kitchen.
‘Oh, hi!’ he said to us, in a friendly, distracted way, before looking at Bob. Duncan is a perfectly affable fifteen year old, who unfortunately takes more after his father than his mother. He had an instruction book in his hand.
‘I’ve got it Dad, look!’ he said, pointing to the open page. ‘You can do toast under the grill – it’s that thing at the top. I’ve seen Mum using it for something or other – cheese on toast, I think.’
‘Well done!’ said Bob. ‘How does it work?’
‘Um…’ Duncan stared at the page for a moment, turned it over and looked at the other side, and then turned back. ‘Not sure. You’d better take a look.’
We slipped silently out of the house while they studied the booklet.
That week, Bob seemed to drop by our house an unusual amount, generally just for a chat – just to pass the time of day – but there was always an odd question somewhere in the conversation.
‘Where has Gina gone, Bob?’
‘She’s staying in Oxford. Wants to see lots of the churches around there, apparently.’
‘Pity about the weather.’ Outside it was bucketing down. ‘The forecast is for more of this all week.’
‘I know. I’m surprised she didn’t take her waterproofs. They’re still hanging up under the stairs.’
‘Perhaps she forgot.’
‘I expect so. Er, if you were Gina, where would you put spare batteries?’
The day before Gina was due to return, Bob decided to clear up the house. To be fair to him, we didn’t prompt him this time. I think it might have had a little more to do with fear of what Gina might say when she returned to something that resembled a municipal rubbish tip under her own roof. But it all seemed to go well and when he nervously asked us to have a look, clearly worried he might have missed something, we were surprised to see the house had even been vacuumed.
‘That was Duncan.’ The boy went up in my estimation.
‘The only thing that didn’t go right was the washing,’ Bob said reluctantly.
‘In what way?’
‘Well, I put the wash on (he seemed proud of having mastered the terminology), but something went wrong.’ There was a washing basket in the corner, the floor was covered in water, and the clothes it contained were clearly still soaking wet. My wife picked out a shirt and held it up.
Not only was it still dripping with water, but appeared to be for a small child.
‘How did you manage that? Those clothes are completely ruined!’ He looked hurt.
‘Don’t blame me, it was the damned washing machine! I left it on whatever setting it was that Gina last used, put the clothes and a washing tablet inside, and just switched it on.’ He pointed at the offending appliance.
‘Even I know that’s the dishwasher, Bob.’ I said. Inexplicably, he looked relieved.
‘Oh, that’s okay, then. I was worried it might have been on the wrong setting.’
Gina came back in the evening. Despite the week of heavy rain, it must be said that she had somehow managed to pick up a most impressive suntan.