Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 28 February 2009

Please get in touch

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My boy has stopped returning my calls and texts. The other day I called him 18 times in a row, from sheer frustration to begin with, then as a joke, to make him smile when he looked at his phone and saw that it said he has 18 missed calls. I’ve given up leaving messages. Is this what happens with your kids? You think you’re best friends, then crash! The shutters come down — and for no apparent reason.

If I knew where my boy lived, I’d go round and knock on the door and ask him what’s happened, what’s gone wrong between us. But he’s taken infinite care not to divulge his address. It’s top secret.

The last time we spoke was just before Christmas. He’d rung, asking for a lift somewhere because his car was broken down. ‘What’s your address?’ I said, hoping for initiation at last. He wouldn’t say. It would be much easier for me, he said, if I met him outside the Spar shop. ‘It’s no trouble,’ I said. ‘Tell me where you live. I’ll find it.’ But he didn’t fall for it. ‘I’ve got a headache,’ he said. ‘I’ve got to go to the shop anyway to get some paracetamol.’

I was already parked and waiting when he turned up outside the Spar shop. He was wearing my leather jacket. ‘Aren’t you going to get your paracetamol?’ I said, as he got into the car. His headache had gone off, he said. I wanted to tell him that I loved him and missed him and how happy I was to see him again. But all I said was, ‘I was wondering where that coat had gone.’ It was the last time I saw him.

Another person not returning my calls is the new log man. His initial delivery was marvellous: a generous pick-up load of well-seasoned oak, ash and elm. The logs were on the small side, but you can’t have everything. ‘Tell you what,’ he’d said, when I made satisfied noises about the quality and amount of the logs we’d chucked off the back of his truck, ‘you can have a double load of the same for 90 quid.’ This represented a price reduction of ten quid a load. I wrote out a cheque for the load just delivered, and for a double load at the reduced rate, and gave it to him. A few days later he delivered the first of the promised two loads. I’m still waiting for the second.

I’ve rung the log man virtually every day since and heard every excuse under the sun. He’d delivered the outstanding load to the wrong house was an early one. Orders to subordinates being repeatedly ignored was another. The best one, though, was that he’d been out of the country for three weeks over Christmas. ‘Sourcing new supplies?’ I said. He’d been on holiday, he said. I ask you: whoever’s heard of a log man going away for three weeks over Christmas? ‘Hawaii?’ I said. He’d been to the south of France, he said. Provence. ‘Lovely!’ I said. ‘What was the weather like?’ He admitted it hadn’t been great.

Then he must have exhausted his imagination because he’s stopped answering my calls. Every day for the past fortnight I’ve sat down and rung my boy and been mugged off with that simpering woman saying, ‘Welcome to Orange answerphone.’ Then I’ve dialled the flaming log man and there she is again.

One day last week I made these two, by now, routine calls and was fobbed off twice by the Orange answerphone woman, while out walking the dog. Joe currently has one of those lampshades on his head to stop him continually licking an open sore on his front leg. In spite of this strange, inhibiting nuisance he remains cheerful. But it makes him deaf to my shouted instructions and much less biddable.

He’d galloped on ahead to make friends with a sleek Doberman and there was a danger that the Doberman’s owner was going to lead his dog across the main road, and that Joe would follow. This particular road, running between the sea on one side and a freshwater lake on the other, is the only straight road for miles around and many drivers take the opportunity to put their toes down. I yelled at Joe to wait, but he took no notice. I felt like a man calling out in a fog and no one answering. Why won’t anyone answer?

Then I lost my temper. I sprinted angrily across the shingle and, as I reached the dog, tripped over a root, so that it appeared to the Doberman’s astonished owner that I’d brought down my invalid dog with a spectacular flying rugby tackle. Too angry to laugh or explain, I got up and hauled a very surprised Joe roughly away by the collar.