Monday, October 30, 2023


as told to


by a young friend of his; name of Simon

As I’ve grown up, I’ve become quite used to people correcting me whenever I make a mistake: when I forget a name, for instance, or confuse one word with another. 


This is very true of a friend of mine called Wilberforce, because he’s much cleverer than what I am. 


I’ve known Wilberforce for a good many years. Until we were eleven we went to school together. Then he went off to a posh boarding school, where they teach Latin and complicated maths and stuff; and I went off to a small day school in our town, where they deal with people who have what they call “special needs”. Nowadays Wilberforce goes to a university, where he learns something I’ve forgot the name of.


Although we went to different big schools, Wilberforce and I have always kept in touch, during the school holidays and that. And now, once a week or so, we meet up in a pub. I drink a non-alcoholic lager, because I get quite confused enough as it is, and Wilberforce drinks Guinness. I usually pay.


As I say, Wilberforce spends a lot of his time correcting me. So I was quite surprised when one day recently I thought I heard him make a mistake of his own. Wilberforce has learnt to drive, of course, so he was telling me of a really good place that he’s found where he can park, whenever he goes into town.


“It’s a small patch of spare ground,” he said. “Round the back of a church. And they don’t charge a fee. They just ask for a donation, in a little box on the wall. But you can easily put ten pee in and stay there all day.”


“Oh,” I said. “And which church is this?”


“It’s on Basin Street, Simon.  Near the railway bridge. It’s called the Church of the Transvestites.”


Now. I thought about that for a minute, because it didn’t sound quite right to me. So then I said, “Don’t you mean the Church of the Configuration?” I know about that, you see, because our Cub pack used to meet in their church hall. On Fridays.


“Hm?” he said. “Oh. Oh, no, no, no, Simon, not the Church of the Transfiguration – that’s quite a different place. That’s on North Street, on the other side of town. No, the Transvestites are quite a different lot. You can tell them apart easily enough, because their preferences are no secret. They have two Vicars, you see, and if you walk past on a Sunday morning you can see the Vicars standing outside to greet you. And they both wear these long flowing gowns, called frocks, in black and white. Oh yes, very fetching, and quite unmistakeable. It’s quite the Eve San Loron on a Sunday morning, I can tell you.”


“Is it?” I said. “Gosh!” I have no idea what he meant by that, but it sounded impressive. 


“Oh yes. And one of the Vicars has clearly had his hair permed. And he wears make-up. And I did hear a whisper…” Wilberforce paused and looked around, as if to make sure that no one was listening. “In fact more than one whisper actually, but I did hear it said…” Another look round. “I did hear it said that the one with the perm is thinking of having the operation.”


Now this particular statement had me completely flummoxed. What had operations got to do with anything? My mouth may have fallen open.


Wilberforce nodded. “Oh yes!” he said vigorously, because he could see that I was puzzled. “And once he’s had the operation done, this Vicar is going to change his name to Prunella.”




Now, at this point I ought to pause and tell you a little bit about my personal friend called Prunella. A real Prunella, she is. And she’s been very helpful to me in putting me right when I’m out shopping. 


Prunella, you see, is in charge of a small shop where she sells fish. And buying fish, I’ve discovered, is a business where a customer can easily go wrong. 


I was in there one day after my Mum had asked me to go to Prunella’s and buy us two mackerel. And when I got into the shop it was very quiet, and Prunella was on her own – no other staff, and no customers. So I asked for these two mackerel very politely. 


“Hmm?” said Prunella. 


“Two mackerel please,” I said.


“Oh no,” said Prunella, very firmly. She uses a knife to cut the fish up with, you see, a long thin thing, very sharp, and she quite often waves it around. “Oh no,” she said again. “We don’t sell MACKrell here.”


“Don’t you? I thought you did.”


“Oh no, Simon.” (Because she knows my name, you see. I’ve been going to her for years, usually with my Mum.) “No, MACKrell is a very inferior fish. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. Do you realise where it comes from?”


“Um, no, not really. The sea, isn’t it?”


“Yes, but only after a fashion. They come from the English Channel. And you do know what’s in the sea there, don’t you?”


No. I didn’t. 


“Lots and lots of poo,” said Prunella. 




“Yes. Stuff what comes out of your bum, and then gets pumped into the sea.”


“Goodness me,” I said.


“Oh yes. Gallons of it. All day. Poo pumped into the sea. Completely untreated. The water companies find it much cheaper to do that, you see, than to purify the poo first.”


“Do they?” I was astonished.


“Oh yes. Well you can tell that, easy enough, Simon. Use your eyes…. Have you been down to the sea recently?”


“Oh yes.”


“Well then, you can see for yourself. Seen people sunbathing, have you, sitting in deckchairs and that?”




“Blokes with their shirts off? After they've been swimming?”




“Well then. What colour is their chest?”


 “Um… Well… Brown, I suppose.”


“Exactly… I will say no more,” said Prunella. And she tapped the side of her nose with a finger. “Just keep that to yourself, Simon, because that could get me into trouble, if you let on that I’ve told you. The water companies are trying to keep it a secret, you see. And they might send a couple of heavies round if they knew I was wise to them.”


“Gosh!” I said.


“Yes. So that’s why I don’t sell MACKrell, you see, Simon. What I sell is an entirely superior kind of fish.”


“Is it?” 


“Oh yes. Similar but quite different. What I sell is not MACKrell, you see – it’s mackerELL.”


“MackerELL?” I repeated. 


“That’s right, Simon. Well remembered. You catch on real quick, lad, whatever people may say about you. And do you know why they’re called mackerELL?”




“Because they come from the Irish Sea. They’re Irish, like me.”




Prunella paused, and waved her long thin knife at me, just to make sure that I was going to remember. She often does that. And I stepped backwards three paces, which is what I usually do when the knife is out. 


“So next time you come in here, wanting a real treat for your dear old Mum, Simon, you remember to ask for some of my special mackerELL. And I’ll see you get the right thing.”


“Gosh, Prunella,” I said. “Thank you very much.”


And that’s why I really like Prunella you see. She puts me right when I go wrong. Just like Wilberforce does too.



Back to my discussion with Wilberforce, about the two clergymen, one of whom likes to be known as a different Prunella.


“Well,” I said to Wilberforce, “if this bloke really wants to be known as a woman, I’m not surprised he’s chosen the name Prunella. There is only one other Prunella in this town, and I know her quite well. I buy my fish from her.”


“So do I!” said Wilberforce. “Well remembered, Simon. She’s the one with that big sharp knife. I wouldn’t like to fall out with her on a dark and windy night. And come to think of it I shall have to remember to tell this clergyman fellow to have a word with her himself. Because if he asked her nicely I dare say she would do his operation for him without a waiting list, and at a nice cheap price as well. A couple of quick flicks with that knife of hers and Bob’s your auntie. Don’t you reckon?”


“Umm,” I said. Because once again I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. 




Such then, are a few of my recent chats with people. And as I thought about these chats, over the next few days and weeks, I began to feel a bit worried as to whether my memory was dis-improving – which is a word what the real Prunella taught me. Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I was forgetting things too often, or mishearing people, or dis-remembering things. So I had a look at my diary, and I realised that fortunately I was due to have one of my regular meetings with our doctor. In just three days’ time.


After I left school, you see, the doctor told my Mum that he’d like to keep an eye on my progress, so he arranged to see me every six months, whether I was feeling well or not. He’s a foreign bloke, and I’d like to tell you his name, but I never can quite remember it. Neither can Wilberforce, funnily enough, but Wilberforce calls him Dr Dumkopf, and I’m pretty sure that isn’t right. Anyway, when the time came I trotted along to see the doctor, quite happily, and explained a few of my worries.


“I am wondering, you see,” I said, “whether I’m going a bit like my Uncle Bert. He’s getting quite old now, and he’s got what he calls a case of the demons. Forgets things easily and all that.”


“Oh yes, I know all about your Uncle Bert,” said Dr Dumkopf. “And you’re quite right, he has got a form of dementia. But you’re far too young to worry about that. However, I can give you a quick test to prove it, if you’re at all worried. It’ll stop you getting into a twist about it.”


“Oh yes,” I said. “Please do test me.”


“OK. Now, you know the days of the week, don’t you?”


“Oh yes. Mostly.” The truth is I do get a bit confused about Thursdays and Fridays. I used to turn up on the wrong night for Cubs sometimes. But I didn’t let on to the doctor. 


“Right then. Now, recite the days of the week backwards for me, beginning with Sunday.”


“Um, right.” So I did it, and I got it right too, because I was slow and careful.


“Very good. Now then. Do you know the Lord’s Prayer?”


“Um, well, yes – bit of it. ‘Our Father, which art in heaven’, and all that?”


“That’s the one. Now, recite that one backwards for me.”


Wow. I tried, but of course that one had me totally stumped. I got as far as ‘Amen’, and that was it. But that didn’t bother Dr Dumkopf at all.


“Jolly, good, Simon!” he said. He seemed really pleased. “That’s really good!”


“Is it?”


“Oh yes. You see, these days most people don’t even know the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer. But you do. So that means your memory is even better than normal. Most people think the Lord’s Prayer is something you recite before a game of cricket. So the fact that you can’t recite it backwards means that you’re absolutely normal. Just like everyone else. One hundred percent. Congratulations.”


“Oh!” said. Cos I was a bit surprised. “So you don’t need to give me a prescription or anything?”


“No, definitely not. But I tell you what though. If you’re really worried about hearing what people say correctly, the next time you’re passing the chemist’s, go into the shop and buy a couple of packets of Lockets. They’re cough sweets really, but if you start sucking one of those every time you go out shopping, you’ll find that they really help to clear the tubes from your mouth to your ears, and to your brain too, for that matter. So you’ll hear everything much better than before, and you’ve got much less chance of misunderstanding anyone.”


“Gosh!” I said. “Thank you very much.” I was really delighted.


My Mum is right about our doctor, you see. He really is helpful.



And finally I went to see my Uncle Bert. He’s my Mum’s uncle really. He’s the one that truly has got a case of demons and really does forget things, and so he’s definitely got something to worry about. And I had a long chat with him.


“Hm,” said Uncle Bert at the end. “Well, you’ve had an interesting time recently, Simon, no doubt about it. And I’m glad you get on all right with our doctor. One word of warning, however. Our doc is a cheerful sort of fellow, and he has his own sense of humour. So if I were you I would take everything he says with a pinch of salt.”


“Oh, really?” I said. “Would you?”


“Oh yes. Definitely.”


“Oh, well, thanks for the tip, Uncle. You’ve taken a great weight off my mind, and I’ll definitely do what you say.”


And I have followed my Uncle’s advice. Faithfully, because he’s always had a soft spot for me, and keeps an eye on my progress. And now I keep a regular supply of Lockets on my desk at home. Every afternoon, before I go out shopping, I unwrap one of them. And then I go downstairs and dip both ends of it in the salt cellar. It makes them taste a bit funny at first, but you soon get used to it, and they really do open up your tubes as the doctor said. I can hear what people say much better now, and that makes me much happier. Because I know that I’m much less likely to de-mean what they say, and make a bit of a twit of myself. So I’m far less likely to be referred to as Simple Simon, even though people do mean it kindly, and only call me that name when I’m not listening to them.


All in all, I think I’ve learnt a lot this last few weeks. And the most important thing I’ve learnt is that I know some very helpful people.  


It’s a wonderful thing to have friends – don’t you agree?