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Gentlemen

When I was young my granddad drove a green Nissan Datsun. It was a putrid, mint green. The interior was smoggy and relentless, as close to umber in tone as you would wish. As a complete unit it wasn’t too dissimilar looking to a chocolate lime.

The carpet, the same off brown as the seating was a thick shag pile, all gnarly and knotted holding a damp, oily mildew under the fingers. It had caught, in its web over the years rusty screws, loose change, hairpins, sweet wrappers, the sort of detritus you might expect to find rattling around in a typical, old family runner. These objects however were securely woven into the fabric creating a precise carbon dating of the vehicle for any future archeologists that might happen upon this anthropological gem.

In the school holidays I’d sit on the back seat whilst my granddad ran errands. I always thought, when he told me we were going to run an errand, of an exotic place where I would witness new and exciting landscapes but it was usually just Woodley precinct or the high rise flats where my aunty Hilda lived.

On one of these particular errands I had brought along a packet of strawberry Hubba Bubba. Upon lodging a piece into my mouth I quickly grew disappointed with the flavour and unable to stand the synthetic, saccharine burst I took the fluorescent pink wad out of my mouth.

As my granddad careered round corners and swerved up curbs in his usual fashion I struggled in the back, sliding from one side to the other. Trying to keep a grip of the seat with my childish thighs and hands I let slip a grip of my wretched blob of sticky bubble gum. It jumped across the seat and sprang forward into the matted brown jungle. In a desperate attempt of retrieval I nudged it deeper into the brown unknown. It tangled wildly and gladly into its new home. I yanked and pulled, uprooting clumps of sticky pink and brown fur, but the more I struggled the more the gum assimilated with its new environment.

From that day forward my granddad’s car had two distinct odours – the thick, comforting smell of stale cigarettes, cloaking the upfront interior with the territorial pride of a feral street cat. And in the back, the oozing sickly sweet smell of strawberry Hubba Bubba.

My granddad’s sighs could not keep my glad heart from leaping. Despite the frowns that gathered neatly above his kindly eyes, I was left with a gluttonous sense of pride. A warm feeling from the bond I believed my granddad and I now shared, represented in the mingled, wreaking odours that our bad habits had imprinted on that green Datsun forever.

We’re moving house. Crow said he’d fly over and give us a hand.

‘Really, if you had a system this whole ordeal would be a lot simpler. It’s an absolute shambles.’ Crow pecked at papers and jaunty souvenirs from a box I still hadn’t got round to unpacking from the last move. ‘I thought you were over your hoarding phase.’

‘It comes and goes.’ I said.

‘Well you might have warned me. This dust is going to play havoc in my plumage.’ Crow spread his wings and flapped erratically. ‘Here, I’ve got together all your silverware, the clean stuff anyway.’

‘You should have been a magpie Crow.’ I joked.

‘Pica pica’ Crow muttered under with his breath with disdain. ‘Bind it together with tape’ he ordered, ‘to stop it from rattling.’

‘Won’t that leave behind a sticky residue?’ I asked.

‘Don’t worry about that, Hannah can scrub it off.’ He paused for thought. ‘Although she’ll probably leave behind remnants.’ I was inclined to agree with him but refrained so as not to encourage the recent dislike he had seemed to take to her. He had told me earlier in the month that he found teachers collectively condescending and inappropriately fruity.

‘How is the rest of the band?’ Crow asked with an air of fabled nonchalance as he alphabetised a pile of utility bills. ‘Good.’ I said.

‘And morale? How’s morale?’

‘Jovial’. I said. ‘You know, Nathan’s not been on the last few dates either. They’ve been small affairs; out of the way places. We didn’t want to trouble you with the triviality.’

‘Please,’ he said, ‘it’s always more trouble than it’s worth.’ He forced a pathetic laugh. I did too.

‘How’s the Halle? Have you had many dates recently?’

‘Oh, they have a new conductor. I don’t care for him. Eastern European. Pompous old card. No I don’t travel much with them these days.’

There was silence, languid over the rummaging of boxes and papers. ‘We have three days in Helsinki next month. Perhaps you could fly over and meet us. It’s a big show. I’m sure the guys would love to see you.’

‘I don’t want to trouble you.’ He said.

‘No,’ I said, ‘it’d be great; you’ll keep our spirits up. Like in the old days.’ We continued packing in the silence.

‘Where’s the box marked Kitchenware?’ Crowd asked eventually. ‘I have some more spoons.’

When we arrived back at Gus’s house from the Bristol show it was gone four in the morning.  “Take Maud’s bed.”  He said opening the door to his own rooms.  He turned back with a dejected look in his eye.

“There’s a hog in my bed” he said, “sleeping.”  He returned to the Landing with a genial smile and said that is was no mind and that he could take the settee for the night.   It can often be the case that at Iron Mountain the sleeping facilities are liberally dished out in an instance for the common good.  I could hear the hog grunting and tussling with sleep behind the door.  He sounded like a large fellow.  I thanked Gus for the hospitality and went to bed.

I woke late the next morning and pulling myself out of bed, dressed and went into the Kitchen.  There, I was confronted with a large pig, stood on his hind legs tending to a smoking pan on the oven top that hissed at intervals with alarming volatility.  He was dressed in a three-piece Harris Tweed suit although the jacket was hanging on the back of a chair.  His shirtsleeves were rolled up and over his waistcoat he wore a plastic, chince-patterned apron. I guessed the suit was tailor-made because there was a deliberate hole at the back where from his tail protruded with just cause.                  The kitchen was in chaos; dishes were piled up over and around the sink.  A blackened pan was melted into to the linoleum floor, bottles and jars filled the sideboard in a sticky, blind panic.  By the kettle eggshells created a nest for a soggy heap of watery tea bags.

“Good morning.”

“How do you do?” He said.

“Well” I said, “my name’s Sam” I said extending my hand.

“Oh do forgive me!” he said dropping the spoon and wiping his trotter on his apron.  “I’m afraid I can quite forget myself when at the stove.  Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Arnold and whom do I have the honour of addressing?”

“I’m Sam.” I said again, raising my eyebrows and dipping my head back into the conversation with a prompting gesture.

“But of course! I’m terribly sorry, you’ve already told me that, I’m afraid I can quite forget myself when at the stove.”

“No problem” I say.  “A pleasure to meet you.  Would you like some coffee?”

“Ah but relax my dear fellow you have had a long and tiring excursion as I am to take it. No, you just sit there and relax, allow me.  Coffee is on its way along with breakfast – Kippers and eggs. Sunny side up!”  The hog chuckled to himself contently.  He soon handed me a large plate of grilled kippers with two fried eggs and a slice of hot buttered soda bread.

“Bon appetite” he said with a wide brimmed smile.  His smile blanched as a look of grave apology formed when he saw me eye the disarray “Oh but I’m afraid I’m a terribly messy house guest” his countenance lightened again “but I make an excellent pot of coffee” he poured me a steaming cup fresh from the peculator.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, “I don’t think the guys will mind.”