The chap from the gas company is at the door. His first words are meant to be civil, almost certainly, but sound abrupt. "You all right?"
I am very well indeed, and it's kind of you to ask, but I am puzzled by the enquiry. Have I fallen over on the doorstep, blacked out and come round, without realising anything? And if so, is the gas man qualified to give first aid, or at least triage? Maybe at the very moment he knocked I was screaming hysterically but absent-mindedly, or throwing paint all over myself, which he can see but I have not noticed.
Somewhere, at some time, "Good morning, madam" fell out of general use and has been replaced by this universal greeting. But how to respond?
"I am all right, thank you. Are YOU all right?" This sounds too challenging, as though I believe my new acquaintance to be deficient in some way. Or it suggests mutual survival from some unspecified disaster – the collapse of an adjacent building, perhaps, or near-miss with a speeding car.
It would be quite nice to restart this relationship on a different footing. "Good morning, thank you for coming," I say. "You all right?" he replies. Ah. "I am fine, thank you, and isn't it a lovely day, but the boiler is somewhat under the weather." The emissary gives me a tired look that tells me this line of meteorological metaphor is not welcome.
My new friend stands between me and a show on cheetahs, and it is vital that we get on. "You all right?" he repeats? "Yes, good," I reply. And put the kettle on.