Low life

We lost our elderly, dementing French charge

8 December 2018

9:00 AM

8 December 2018

9:00 AM

I entered the cave house carrying groceries and panting from the climb to find an old hippie woman displaying rugs to Catriona. Evidently Catriona had narrowed her final choice down to the two spread out on the red floor tiles. She and the hippie were silently contemplating them. One was about six feet by four, the other four by two.

‘What do you think?’ said Catriona. ‘Very ethnic,’ I said. ‘From where?’ The hippie woman asserted ‘Cappadocia’ rather too hastily for my liking. ‘They’re kilims,’ said Catriona, brightly and knowledgeably. Top of the class, she informed me that a kilim is a traditional prayer mat or wall decoration decorated with symbols and coloured with natural dyes. ‘Hand-woven by a devout and smiling peasant woman sitting cross-legged on the mud floor of her tiny hovel?’ ‘Oh fuck off,’ said Catriona.

I did so. When I came back later, the entrepreneurial child of the 1960s had departed leaving behind both carpets. Catriona had bought the larger of the two. The other, she claimed, was on approval. ‘How much was it?’ ‘I’m not telling you.’ ‘A hundred?’ ‘Mind your own business.’ ‘Cappadocia, my arse,’ I said. ‘Factory-made in India, more like. And the smaller one? How much is that?’ ‘Mind your own business.’ Later, I had her in a full nelson but she still wouldn’t tell me. But she was right about it being none of my business. It’s her house and if she wants to trot about on overpriced ethnic rugs that’s up to her.

A few days later, I was in the house alone. I noticed that the larger of the paid-for rugs was turned up at one corner. I bent to flatten it and noticed a price tag: €700. I looked under the corners of the smaller rug and found a price tag saying €500. I’m sorry to say that this lower-middle-class boy thought that €1,200 for two mats woven from gold thread would have been excessive.

But she is a hard and conscientious worker is Catriona. I’ve rarely seen such dedication to work or such tremendous guilt about relaxation. Speaking as an idle bugger who can sit in a chair and read for hours, this perpetual motion can occasionally get on one’s wick. One of her many and varied jobs is as a carer. The day after the mat purchase she put on her carer’s hat and for three continuous days and nights looked after a client called the Sausage. The Sausage is what his wife calls him, usually shortened to Saus. The Sausage has pale-blue eyes and snow-white hair and he is unfailingly humorous, courteous, pleasant, interested, intelligent and flirtatious, except he doesn’t know where he is in time or space and is liable to wander off if not kept an eye on.

Catriona and the Sausage were at the cave house when a van arrived containing 30 years of marriage represented by furniture, books, CDs, crockery, kitchen equipment and statuary, all carefully packaged, artistically labelled and sent to France as a parting shot by Catriona’s artist ex-husband. We dragged the stuff up the path and the living room was soon an obstacle course of Ikea cartons and bubble wrap and tea sets and paperbacks plus a Victorian swing mirror and a butcher’s block. I was packing my bag, about to leave for England. As usual, the affable Sausage was pacing the floor in his bouncy Nike Air Maxes and getting in the way while Catriona was opening boxes and being by turns delighted and annoyed by what she found inside them.

Then a disaster occurred. I was carrying a precarious heap of writing equipment across the room to where my wheelie bag lay open, when a glass bottle of Parker black ink slid off and smashed on the tile floor sending a jet-black sunburst over the new €500 rug. Paralysis turned to panic when Catriona said: ‘Where’s the Sausage?’ We ran out of the house and down the stony cliff path bawling his name.

Standing on the path at the bottom of the cliff was an elderly Frenchman. Had he by any chance seen a white-haired, blue-eyed elderly man pass this way? I circled
a forefinger close to my temple to convey in exaggerated shorthand that the person I was seeking’s knowledge of the essential facts of reality was incomplete. Incredibly, he said that he was looking for his wife, who was also missing. Had I seen her?

Happily, less than a minute later I spotted the Sausage and this man’s wife in conversation on an unfrequented path, putting two and two together, I imagine. ‘Ah, there you are!’ said the Sausage at the point of capture. ‘Where are you taking us?’ said the woman, cosily, as I led them away. ‘To look at a carpet,’ I said grimly.

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