Of worms, weapons and beautiful women


My grandchildren stayed the night last week. Inigo and August, aged 5 and 3, are brothers: Esme, their cousin, is four. When they arrive they always make straight for the upstairs room where my toy guns are kept. Bought in Woolworth's many years ago and satisfactorily made of shiny metal rather than plastic, they are played with for hours. None of the children are allowed to play with guns in their own homes and there's a strict understanding that they must be flourished indoors only.

I find them very useful because it means I can put my feet up and watch EastEnders while the little ones rush about shooting each other. Sometimes I get shot and then I have to pretend unconsciousness, only I've told them it's possible to be in that condition and keep one's eyes open, which means I can still watch the telly. Not that I was able to do so on that particular night because Inigo insisted on watching the video of The Tailor of Gloucester. When it comes to the bit when the bride of the mayor appears he always calls out admiringly, "She's a beautiful woman."

Above the bed in the children's room hangs a framed photograph of my father and mother on their wedding day. My father was christened Richard, shortened to Dick until Dorothy Ward, principal boy in the pantomime Dick Whittington, uttered those immortal lines: "What? Six miles to London and still no sign of Dick."

The next morning the children woke at 5.30am. As the weather was mild, I suggested a walk round the empty streets to look for worms, at which August refused to budge unless he could take his gun. Worms, he said, could be dangerous.

Esme, who answers only to the name Dorothy - she of the Wizard of Oz - made no objection. Inigo, being older, became distressed. He said it was very likely, if seen, we would all be arrested. August, jumping up and down, said he would bite me if he wasn't allowed. I'm no good at confrontation; holding tightly to Inigo's hand and promising I would save him from prison, we set off.

We didn't find any worms and were returning to the house when Inigo stopped in his tracks and gave a little scream. A man had turned the corner of the crescent and was approaching. August stuck his gun up my coat and whimpered. And then we heard a tapping sound, and saw the man held a white stick. "He's blind," Inigo said. "I'se saved," cried August." "I am saved," I corrected, and he said, "You'se isn't the one with the gun."


THE FOLLOWING day I journeyed by charabanc to Walford to attend the reception following the wedding of those East End lovers, Peggy Mitchell and Frank Butcher. Actually, in telly terms, the knees-up came before the wedding, which took place six weeks ago but hadn't yet been shown. Nor can I be sure that the term "lovers" is strictly correct, in the sense of Peggy and Frank having had carnal knowledge of one another. We know they've been living under the same roof, but there was that night - the day before Peggy was due to have one breast removed - when she begged Frank to enjoy her while she was still intact and Frank looked far from happy. I think he said he had a headache. Possibly, being a religious man, he wanted to wait until it was all above board.

I didn't go to the church, and it wasn't until Pat spilled the beans at the reception that I learnt Peggy had nearly stood Frank up. Apparently she wouldn't go to the altar unless Grant was there to see it, and he said he wouldn't go because he hadn't forgotten it was Frank who had so carelessly run over Tiffany. It was Pat who persuaded him to change his mind, which was gallant of her, seeing that Roy had just taken his Viagra tablets and was behaving oddly.

By all accounts Grant had sat in his pew and glared daggers at Ricky, who was Frank's best man. Pat confided she couldn't help thinking of those words spoken by that other Dick, Richard III, "Bound with triumphant garlands will I come, and lead thy mother to a conqueror's bed."

We had champagne outside the Queen Vic and waited for the bride and groom to arrive. There was such a prolonged wait - we know now this was due to Peggy's last-minute refusal to turn up at the church - that some of us went on a tour of Albert Square to while away the time. I popped into the little park with the bench, the one on which everyone slumps when life gets too much, and there was Barry in his morning suit, looking very mournful and dabbing his eyes with a none too clean handkerchief. I asked him what was wrong and he said I'd find out if I bothered to watch the episode later in the week. Then he told me to clear off. I think he's got love problems.

Peggy looked wonderful when she arrived. Had Inigo been with me he would have cried out, "She's a beautiful woman." When you think of the burden of those dreadful sons, not to mention her medical condition, one trembles for her now that she's joined to Frank, who, if he borrowed Roy's Viagra, would surely detonate Walford, let alone Peggy. When they left, Frank magnificently sang "The more I see her, the more I love her."

Again, I was reminded of Richard III, this time as portrayed by Ian McKellen, tumbling in battle from the roof of Battersea Power Station to the soundtrack of Al Jolson bellowing "I'm sitting on top of the world."

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