Jill complained that I had omitted to mention her talent as a fortune-teller, though what use that is likely to be to the very old escapes me. Priscilla grumbled from New York that in advertising for a handyman I was denigrating her prowess as a plumber. Michael, annexed unbeknown to himself to be our photographer and chronicler, sent a postcard from Spain saying: 'Taking photographs, writing a diary, and reading the Independent.'
James, the anonymous friend quoted as refusing to live with us, has unbent slightly. He is prepared to reside near us and do all our shopping, as long as we buy no extras. Knowing his views on the importance of moderation, I dismissed this offer out of hand, but Una demurred. Plenty of us, she pointed out to me privately, would be sufficiently unscrupulous to buy in lots of booze without telling him.
Several applications have come in from friends and acquaintances, including Tim, who buttles for us unpaid from time to time and wishes to perform this role in our home. I'm dubious about this since he's only 27 and I've no idea what he's going to be like when he's in his sixties. And does even the MCC have a 33-year waiting list?
Applicants known to us can be treated in a cavalier fashion, but Wilma's letter called for a serious response. From darkest Ayrshire, she asked to join us in growing old disgracefully, proffering as inducements 'a good hand with massage, and I volunteer for oven cleaning provided you do not want it done more than once a year'. Honourably, Wilma admitted that 'the fact that I always seem to have a book attached to one hand might interfere with my massage duties'.
Obviously I cannot take alone a decision about whether to admit a total stranger to our non-existent home, so when in Dublin recently I set up a meeting to consider Wilma's application. Being busy people, we met for breakfast at 9.30am on a Sunday, our group consisting of perhaps half-a-dozen would-be inmates and some outsiders brought along to give a sense of perspective.
My objective was to draft a proper application form, but I should have remembered that this is not an area in which my countrypeople shine. In fact they refused to discuss it at all until what they considered to be far more important issues had been thoroughly aired. How could we ensure that neither the Government nor the European Union would impose upon us quotas of lesbians and travelling people, regardless of whether they were temperamentally in tune with us? And desirable people and qualities and undesirable ditto must be determined.
Michael's exhaustive notes record that we lived up to our national stereotype and spent the vast majority of our time airing our prejudices.
From the long list of disqualifications and the disqualified, I select those most comprehensible to the general reader: anyone who enjoyed The Piano; those members of the British chattering classes who find terrorism chic; Jeremy Paxman; anyone who thinks Arthur Scargill is a lovable old dinosaur; anyone fey; any wife who stands by her husband; Scott Fitzgerald readers; people who wear money purses around their waist (an amendment proposed was that applicants wearing these offensive items must hand them in as they enter the home); people who have been Outward Bound; anyone who spells judgment with an 'e' in the middle.
'Desirable people and qualities were comparatively few,' recorded Michael.
They included Fergie; those in favour of blood sports; transsexuals (provided they change their minds halfway through); and curable (Sixties-type) venereal diseases (provoking the lament that 'you can't get crabs from anyone any more - not even from reliable domestic staff').
I fear the Buck's Fizz had well and truly taken hold by the time (most of us were dancing) we reached the application, which I reproduce in toto: name; address; amount of cash at your disposal; do you suffer from a disability?
(please state if self-inflicted); do you suffer from a speech impediment?
(ie, are you Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish?); are you prepared to join the Mile-High By-Pass club?; are you in receipt of alimony and if not, why not?; are you prepared to participate in Zimmer races?
It was agreed that since Wilma is clearly one of us, she would not need to fill in the form. The trouble was she was also one of us in being hard-up, which, as she pointed out, 'curtails the spending on best smoked salmon, beluga caviar and wine, wine, wine.'
I had to leave the meeting at 4pm to catch a plane just as we were in the middle of trying to solve our financial problems. 'The question of acquiring patrons and sponsors was discussed inconclusively,' reported Michael. 'The meeting ended in a state of alcoholic exhaustion.'
I can see nothing for it but that Wilma takes the practical responsibility of setting up the home. She's older than the rest of us, after all, so she should have a greater sense of urgency. Besides, the main committee is addressing another vital issue. Do the decorative properties of peacocks make up for the noise?Reuse content