Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Tea time (with ratty)

Took tea with Miss Dilly.

Miss Dilly is not a character in a book. Although sometimes I think she is. Miss Dilly is an elderly English Lady. She looks the part, with her fine bony features, porcelain complexion, and sharp, perceptive eyes. To the foolish, lumbering youth of Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, towering above the dainty Miss Dilly, well, she must be as old as their grandmothers. Maybe their great-grandmothers, with all their mythological ages combined.

What I like about Miss Dilly is her permanent expression of innocent bemusement at the world, her simple and disarming gaze, and her resolutely childlike manner: she sees what we do and how we go about making a mess of everything, yet good naturedly knows how to improve even the worst of circumstance. With a calming cup of Jacksons of Piccadilly, served in a rattling bone china cup, to be taken in the garden while the children sit on picnic rugs and we all watch Mrs Brown peck about the borders in the late summer sunshine.

Miss Dilly suddenly interrupts our tales of who in the family is the greatest criminal so far, and what recent torture has been the hardest to forgive. She sits bolt upright, puts down her cup on the wobbling garden table and says, Would you like to see my rat?

Silence falls. Shark, Squirrel and Tiger fasten their eyes on her. She has come up trumps before, with a cockerel named Benjamin and four kittens in a box.

It's perfect! She exclaims. Would you like to take it home?

Squirrel glances towards me. She has never got into a forgiving mood over the fish. Or the renewed hamster responsibility chart.

Miss Dilly springs up. Come and look! She cries. It's by the shed!

The children advance, nervously. Miss Dilly lifts up a rock. Behind it lies the perfectly flat skeleton of a rat. Look at that! she declares triumphantly. I came home from holiday and there it was! Isn't it amazing! You can see where the fur fell off! Look at those teeth! You can boil the head to make it perfectly clean. Would you like to have it?

Tiger's face has drained of all colour. Squirrel has retreated to the safety of her picnic rug, and Shark bears enough of an expression of curiosity that suggests it might be worth a try, so long as there's no touching.

I should thank Miss Dilly profusely, and say under normal circumstances we would gladly accept! Unfortunately we're busy this week, what with our full timetable.

Of course I don't say that. I say Not likely. I am not boiling a rat's head. Not for anything in the world.

Miss Dilly looks crestfallen, and for a moment I feel I should have chosen the way she would have; the softer way of things. But then she says Oh how disappointing! I thought you'd be just the people to learn about that!

And at that simple and disarming invitation to step up to the mark, to be the sort of people treasured in the life of the tiny, elderly Miss Dilly, wonderfully alive with a child's perspective on the excitement of all things, to be offered an impromptu education in a whole new world, I am not telling you whether at that moment I was fantastically won over, whether I slipped that corpsed head in my handbag or not, and whether I spent several hours this night reading up on how to bleach skulls, nor whether or not I quickly set my ambitions on a goat, maybe a sheep, even a cow?

Really, I am not that easily led.

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