2 June, in the year of our Lord 2020
Up betimes, and after dinner a knock at the door, where a short figure in a sun hat and matching facemask, with a shoulder bag in which a small board with a spring clip, and clipped to the board a sheaf of notes.
‘Good afternoon,’ says she, maintaining a distance from the door jamb and flashing in front of my eyes a calling card, too quick to read. ‘I am doing a survey for Ofplague, the Office for Standards in Covey Management, and am wondering whether you might have time to answer some questions about your recent experience of having a Covey test? It should not take more than twentie minutes.’
I hesitating, but with nothing pressing else to do, said, ‘Oh, very well,’ adding for certainty, ‘if it will not take up too much time.’
‘Thank you. Lovely.’ With that she did barge straight past me to my kitchen table where she ensconced on a stool, admiring of all the room and the furniture and fittings in it before settling to her task, I seating myselfe at the further table end, and she removing her hat and dropping her bag empty on the floor beside her.
‘I beg your indulgence for the mask,’ says she, ‘but I had best keep it on, circumstances as they are. My name is Elizabeth and I would like you thank you for taking the time to speak with me this afternoon, and I believe you are…Mr. S. Peppies? That is correct, is it? Thank you. Lovely. I do like the blue of your kitchen. It would not be Sapphire Salute by any chance?’
‘Nordic Sky. May we press on?’
‘Of course. Now then, thinking back to when you first booked your appointment, was it on the line, by means of direct verbal encounter or by means of written correspondence?’
‘Well, both of the first two, to be — ’
‘On the line, direct encounter or written correspondence?’
‘On the line.’
‘Thank you. Lovely. Now, the next set of questions — ’
‘ — the next set of questions relates to your personal experience when booking an appointment. Would you describe the experience of actually booking the appointment as a doddle, not as easy as they make out, taxing even for me, or frankly a night dread?’
‘A doddle, not as easy, taxing or a night dread — shall I just put Not Applickable?’
‘Taxing. I sense alreadie this is going to take longer than — ’
‘It will not take too much longer, Mr. Peepies, I assure you. I do hate to ask, but is there a chance you might provide me with a glass of cold water?’ I obliged, up and running the water till it cold. ‘Thank you. Lovely. Now, in terms of the person with whom you booked the appointment, would you describe them as the spawn of the devil, probably a suspicious miscreant, didn’t really notice, nice enough but nothing especial, or blessed of such uncommon courteousnesse that it did take my breath away?’
‘Is there one that says moderately cantankerous?’
In due course I reflected on how long were two hours, and I up and down obliging one request after another, if not for water, then to fetch a cushion, to answer a possible knock at the door, to close the curtains against the sun and to swatte an imaginarie waspe.
Into the third hour.
‘Turning now to the quality of the feathers used. It’s quite hot in here, Mr. Peepsy, do you think we might open a window on to the garden? Thank you. Lovely. It is indeed a beautiful garden you have, and a lovely house, if I may say so; I would dearlie love a house of this salaciousnesse. My son Darren has a friend in Rye, an older Gentleman, and this Gentleman hath bequeathed him his home and all his Assets should the Covey take him. Would it be impertinent to inquire as to whether you have made an arrangement of this Nature with any, or might wish to make such an agreement, Mr. Pepsi, for as luck would have it I have to hand the Documentation for one?’
‘I would keep your luck where it is, for you are pushing it.’
‘Thank you. Lovely. If you should change your mind.… So, the quality — ’
‘ — of the feathers, yes. Continue before I lose the will to live.’
‘I mean the will for you to live.’
‘Now then, you opted for a combo Deal and I have here cards bearing some ink sketches with watercolour highlightes of the very feathers used. Would you be so kind as to rank them in order of comfort, where “one” is most unpleasant and “four” is most enjoyable? Thank you. Lovely. Ha ha ha ha hah! Yes, a lot of people like that one. Do not be concerned, though, Mr. Pipes, this information will go no further than whomsoever I choose. You would not happen to have anything in the way of a small snacke? Oh, sweetmeats! Thank you. Lovely. Now then — we are getting to near the end, I can assure you — how likely is it you would go back to the same premises in the future for a similar service? Is it highly — ’
‘At the first sign of a second wave I will be out of here before you can say “Drop your pants and roll on your side.” Next question.’
‘Thank you. Lovely. Coming to the end now, a question to do with your feelings in general about the First Lord of the Treasury his management of this crisis. Do you find him (a) a Pusillanimous Imbecile, (b) a mendacious self-serving Charlatan, (c) a vainglorious Incompetent, or (d) all of the above? Thank you. Lovely. A lot of other people seem to choose (d). Now, Mr Peepeyes,’ she said, winding up. ‘It has been a long day and I have seventeen children at home and my husband a wastrel and a drunkard. I feel we have shared some intimacies today. I do not suppose you have on the premises any victuals you might also be inclined to share?’
‘On a scale of one to ten, where Ten is make yourselfe at home and help yourselfe to everything I have in my entire house, and One is that I would sooner brush my teeth in Thames water by the sewer at Putney, the answer is zero.’
‘Oh! Very forthright. But no matter, I think I have all I want, thank you. Lovely. It just remains for me to say that we do thank you for supporting our enterprise in these difficult times and that we will be sending you a token gesture of our gratitude.’
‘That I may spend at the Exchange?’
‘I’m sorry, sir, it will be a token gesture and you will not be able to spend it anywhere. It will, however, permit you time off our next questionnyairea for we will fill in half the answers for you.’ With that she collected herselfe and her hat, and with ‘Oof! This bag weighs a ton!’ she out to the street.
Anon, I entended a light supper but in ill humour for unable to find several silver spoons, two pewter tankards, my Fire of London mug, my favourite plate and my best copper pan, and vexed with myselfe when the penny dropped for the real reason behind the water, the cushion, the sweetmeates, the waspe, the windowes and all.
Late, and it cooler, I took a little air in the garden as night bled into evening, and sat awhile, onlie with my cat, my flowers and the gathering dark, in rueful contemplation of the stupiditie of the day. It is best to laugh at foolishnesse lest it weight down the soul, and there are enough burdens in this world. For today would also have been the birthday of the closest friend I ever had, the day he would be fifty-nine, but the friend I had for half my life dead this last November, and truly missed. And with the sun down I pondered on the magnitudes of loss, their variety and Proportions, and what to grieve and what to not. One can always replace spoons. But what are spoons? And so to bed.