It started with Buster's geckos, Carol and Borborski - pebble-patterned lizards about the size of a padded dessert spoon. Normally, they are slaves to habit, and visit the features of their little universe - rock, bowl, log - in a sequence as strict as the beads on a rosary. Their tank world is as sufficient for them as a flat planet to a medieval priest. They are not the natural Magellans of this world. Until last Tuesday when Carol hit some sort of reptilian mid-life crisis ("Why wasn't I a crocodile?" "Does my life have a meaning without eggs?"), and got out in to the big wide world of Bedroom and Upstairs. Boborski was distraught. He did the rosary - rock, bowl, log, rock, bowl, log, rock, bowl, log - until he was so tired he just lay on the bottom of the tank like a dead leaf. Buster was in an even worse state, as Celtic Melancholics are no good in a crisis and within 20 minutes of Carol's disappearance he was collapsed on his bed:
"Nothing ever goes right. My whole life is going to be like this!" Yeah, that's right: never mind marriage, jobs and children, it'll just be one long round of lost reptiles. While he wailed, Doug, Bunny and I looked under, behind and in everything. We could have been Special Branch looking for a murder weapon. But Carol had clearly found no dragons at the edge of the carpet and gone to find the North West Passage.
Then, while Buster and Boborski were still in a state of shock, Roz's terrier Lil went missing. Usually, Lil limits herself to days out at the Girl Guide Camp acting like a dog in high heels and getting paid in bacon rinds. But this was serious. Lil had gone on a major fact-finding mission down a badger sett up the road, and badgers don't care to be interviewed by terriers. They take it rather like a Brooklyn Mafioso would take a social call from an FBI stooge.
By the time Roz rang, Lil had been gone for two days, and we suspected the badger equivalent of a concrete overcoat in the East River.
We all took it in turns to call down the holes for her and even took Dog up there to sniff her out - as Dog and Lil are long term lesbian lovers. We spent a rather embarrassing morning yelling "Li-il" into every hedgerow between here and Scrungeton, but she didn't turn up.
And then, just when I was thinking that Lil's loss was the third bad thing and we might now be safe, Bob and Dolly called to discuss Doug buying the field. Buster's melancholic pessimism had got to Doug.
"Either they want another 20 grand, or they've got planning permission to build a nuclear reprocessing plant on it," he said, predicting the coup de grace to his plans for a poly tunnel empire. We tensed, ready for a fight, crashed cars, escaped reptiles and lost dogs. Hah! We were hardened; we could talk tough.
We didn't need to. Bob didn't yell once, or tell us anything about mole- killing. He let Dolly do the talking. In 20 minutes we had agreed the price, the fencing and the access. Bob's only contribution was to offer to bulldoze us a new gate. Shocked, we toasted the deal in all we had available - Russian brandy (which doubles as paint stripper) and pink grapefruit squash.
After they'd gone, we sat in the kitchen, stunned, poly tunnel dreams reinflating above our heads like balloons. The phone rang. It was Roz. "She's back. I went up to the sett with a chocolate digestive and she crawled out. It's a case of Border's Bottom Bitten By Badger. She'll live."
So maybe the surf at the eternal beach wasn't up, and the angel was returning with a dry board, and time to kill.
We went to bed after we finished the pink squash and the brandy. Flicking on the bathroom light, who should I see on a voyage across the bathroom floor but Carol. With my consciousness nicely uncoupled by the alcohol, I did just the right thing. In one movement, my T-shirt was off and wrapped round Carol's protesting little body. All my attempts to impress Doug, from shaving my legs to answering questions on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, were as nothing to the effect that gecko catching had. "Wow," he said, putting his arm around my waist, "that was amazing."
Funnily enough, Carol's new, adventurous image seems to have done wonders for her sex life. I noticed three eggs buried in the tank this morning.