For no particular reason, I’ve been thinking about the year that Arthur moved to the village. Not the whole year as such, but particularly the Harvest Supper. He’d been to church two or three times, but no one had really got to know him much as he arrived late and was the first to leave.
Unexpectedly, he arrived at the supper. C, who was organising the affair, hastily sent someone to lay an extra place and went to greet him. She smilingly asked his name. “Utter Fisk” he replied. I am quite good with an impenetrable North Suffolk accent so I understood him, but C came from Sussex. “Good evening, Mr Utterfisk, and may I know your first name?” she enquired fruitily.
Arthur looked completely confused. “Utter Fisk,” he repeated. Poor C, I’ve never seen anyone look quite so taken aback and embarrassed. She is not the sort of person who would amusedly shrug off a mistake, so I retreated behind the font and wept quietly with laughter.
Mind you, Arthur has confused me too. Not long after this, we found ourselves in the pub together (now, how did that happen? Me, in a pub?) and I bought him a drink. He chatted for some time. He is not that easy to understand and there was quite a bit of background noise, so I nodded and smiled a lot and picked up nearly half of what he said. And then, suddenly, I realised that he had changed from making general conversation and was telling me about the death of his wife. I just managed to alter my expression in time.
He also told me that his next birthday would be his 80th. I painstakingly committed this to memory and when, a few days before the event, another friend mentioned that it was his 70th, I said “Arthur, it’s your birthday too next week, isn’t it? A special one, I think?” “I’ll be 78” said Arthur. I still don’t know whether he exaggerated up or down.