News From Home 13, Part III
2/8/2004 (updated 2/8/2004)

Mr. Trewell’s wife, Wanda Lee, stopped in the other morning. When I came back from the supermarket, I found her looking very at home on our lounge sofa, She had come by to tell us about her Sock Drive; her charitable organization, the Misplaced Daughters Of The Confederacy, were collecting odd socks for the poor and needy, and she was sure we must have some. Well, of course, odd socks are always a problem, unless you buy several hundred all the same, and even then, you’ll be down to your last pair in a couple of months. Where do they go? I fancy they sneak out of the house at night, using a leech-like motion, and head for some huge central pile, a kind of sock singles bar, where they writhe and twist in amongst each other, searching for an exact matching soul mate. I handed Wanda Lee a large carrier bag of oddities, and she squealed with delight in a Gone-With-The-Wind sort of way. I wondered if Rhett Butler had ever tried a bag of old socks on Scarlett? Wanda Lee has one of those very sexy southern accents – indeed, if she shed about a hundred pounds, she would be quite a package – but mostly she confines herself to the small talk of an undertaker’s wife. A sample:

“I’m afraid our coffee maker’s broken, Mrs. Trewell, or I’d offer you a cup.”

“My sincerest condolences to you all.”

“How are the children doing?”

“As well as can be expected, really.”

“Did you hear about the increase in car tax?”

“Yes, we must shoulder life’s burdens with a smile.” Etc.

After some chitchat not unlike the above, I finally realized that Mr. Trewell was also in the room, sitting on the ottoman in the corner, perfectly disguised as would be a warbler upon a willow. Only his cough alerted me to his presence, and just in time, before I sat on him. I congratulated him on his costume in the Mayor’s Day Parade, and suggested next year he should be the Invisible Man – no make-up necessary. He then shocked me deeply by telling me a joke! – In the driest, most detached delivery possible. It ran thus:

If Donatella Versace married the Invisible Man, would she be – Donatella Nobody?

I think I laughed because it was ridiculous, being told a joke by a mortician. Mr. Trewell has hidden depths. I thought of countering with the one about Una Stubbs marrying Idi Amin, but I fancied it would be culturally too obscure. Later that night I had a strange dream of homeless men in a shelter, deeply humiliated by their odd footwear, sitting in a circle frantically swapping socks, trying in vain to find two the same.

Witherstock has moved into the guesthouse, and has the place looking tremendously spic and span. She has personalized it with a few mementos and photographs; one struck me particularly, of a noble but debauched-looking gentleman from the1950s, leaning on a 4 litre supercharged Bentley. I asked Witherstock if this was a relative? She said, Heavens, no – it was a former employer, the Earl of Derby, surely she had mentioned him in her C.V? There was a small scandal at the time, but there was no truth in the allegations about his Lordship and certain acts with gentlemen friends, and she should know, being his housekeeper. I felt a little embarrassed asking, and moved on to another portrait, of a good-looking young man of about twenty-five, with dark, slightly thinning hair, glasses, and the makings of a handlebar moustache. This, I was told, after something of a pause, was Cedric – a Government Under-Secretary for Transport, and obviously the love of Witherstock’s life - tragically killed in the sixth month of their engagement. Had she turned her heart to stone since that fateful day, denying herself all pleasure, and devoting herself to the service of others? From her long silences, I guessed that this was not the time to pry.

There was a postcard in the mail today. A view of Sydney Harbour, Australia. In front of the Opera House, about halfway up the long flight of approach steps, and casting a convincing shadow, was my Japanese garden ornament. It seemed none the worse for wear, having travelled eight thousand miles. Also in the foreground, fishing rods dangling into the bay were two garden gnomes, with red gnome hats and little red gnome waistcoats. The message on the back was non-committal – “Wish you were here” written, no doubt, with the wrong hand – a heavy left-leaning slope. The postmark was Sydney, Australia, and the date was plausible. This will require further investigation.