Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Spiders, cats and mad old ladies
In the Lord of the Rings the questers encounter the lair of Shelob – a giant Hobbit-devouring spider. Well, I popped in for a visit yesterday; I spent most of the day under a Bradford sandwich shop, surrounded by thick, sticky strands of the stuff – every time I surfaced I needed de-webbing. I was covered every inch in yucky, mucky dead insect bodies and dust and clingy clumps of gossamer. My hair was matted with it.
But that was nothing compared to the encounter I had later that afternoon with the mad old cat lady of Cutler Heights, as a result of which experience I’m writing my will. An 87-year old deaf woman with a tenuous grasp on reality, not least the reality she was deaf; while I was in a cupboard, fiddling with fuses, she’d ask a question, I’d shout the answer and she’d say “Eh?” Perhaps a verbatim transcript will help:
Me: “Hello, I hear you have a problem with your lights?”
Mad Cat Lady: “I’m not letting him in I’m putting this one out” (cats)
Me: “Yes, I see. Now, your lights?
Me: “You say your lights aren’t working?”
MCL: “They’re all out!”
Me: “Except for that one” (indicates working light)
MCL: “No, that one’s not working.”
I shrugged and carried on, walking past the definitely brightly glowing lamp which turned out to be on another circuit. As I was locating the fuseboard she was convinced she didn’t have she presented me with a table lamp. I explained I had a head torch. “Eh?” she said. I turned round and transfixed her in the glare. For a second I thought I’d finished her off as she stared into the tunnel of light.
Then she switched from horror to calm acceptance and wandered off. From another room came her disembodied cackle.
MCL: “It’s dark without the lights.”
Me: “Yes, isn’t it?”
Me: “Just one minute!”
Me: “There. They should be back on now.”
I emerge from the cupboard and begin turning on lights. All worked fine except the hallway and the bathroom. I remove the hallway lamp and it’s blown; it’s probably the one that blew the fuse. I hand the blackened bulb to her and ask if she has any spares. (I’m parked 200 yards away; it’s one of those old-fashioned ex-council estates, from when cars were a symbol of extreme opulence.) She hands it back to me.
Me: “No, that one’s blown.”
MCL: “Eh?” She’s standing right beside me and I’m speaking slowly and clearly.
Me: “It’s broken.”
MCL: “No, this one is working.”
Me: “It’s not.”
MCL: “It was before!”
I sigh, take the lamp and attempt to re-insert it into the lampholder which, being on its last legs, begins to fall apart. It’s also loose; it needs replacing, which I try to explain
MCL: “It was working before!”
I turn my attention to the bathroom light, the only other one that doesn’t work, but not before she asks me to show her which lights work. Her short term memory not being what it was she takes some convincing. The kitchen light, in particular fascinates her. I turn it on, she is amazed saying it wasn’t working before, then after showing her the working bedroom light she asks, “But what about the kitchen?” I turn on the light, she stares uncomprehendingly at it.
We go to the lounge. “This one doesn’t work.” she says. “No, I explain, because it has no lamp in it.” She finds the blackened, defunct bulb from the hall and asks me to try it. Sighing is becoming my default way of breathing. After a few hours (minutes, but you know the feeling) she suddenly beckons me to the kitchen and an entire cupboard full of lamps, mostly for fittings she doesn’t possess.
The living room restored to brilliance she returns to the hall and points. “That one” she says.
Me: “The fitting’s broken”
MCL: “It was working before”
Me: “Yes, but it’s broken now. It was probably this one that made the fuse blow”
MCL: “Is the fuse blown?”
Me: “Not now. I fixed it”
MCL “So why isn’t his one working?”
We have three more attempts at making sense of it all. Once again she is captivated by the kitchen light which she is now convinced has never worked before and even as I leave, having promised to return and replace the hallway lampholder, she is still adamant that the hall light is working fine. I said earlier I’m putting down my final wishes. It’s very simple; just a couple of sentences, really. It says: Shoot me. Shoot me now.