I’m not fond of practical jokes. They’re usually performed by people – famous or next door – who you’d cross the street to avoid.
But there is a level of trickery that can be justified as long as one is prepared to face the consequences…and only as a matter of important principle.
My lovely wife, Bernie, would tell you that my most ‘celebrated’ example of this was during a holiday in Cyprus, many years ago. On the first morning, we awoke to find a parade of cats on the patio. Mindful that such places are full of hungry strays, we simply stared out of the patio doors at them.
Secure in the knowledge that they had our attention, most of them left; leaving an elegant ginger pair: father and son, to parade around our pool before junior was ceremoniously dumped on our doorstep as the ‘lion king’ went about his reproductive business elsewhere.
I’m a sucker for cats… this little fella gazed up at me as if to underline my duty for the next ten days: feeding him…
My blinking eyes accepted this miracle of causation, and I turned to my wife, who knew well my weaknesses.
“No!” She said “We are not feeding that kitten!”
I closed my mouth and let my brain engage the little used room in my mind labelled ‘necessary deceit’…
Through a union of loving gazes, we reached an understanding, little Oscar and I. He ‘agreed’ not to come into the villa, and I undertook to find a way of feeding him.
Bernie knew I loved tinned tuna, so she was not surprised when, on a trip to the local supermarket that afternoon, I bought six tins. “They will make a quick snack if we don’t want to cook,” I said, casually. From then on, I made sure to make no reference to the stack at the back of the larder. Had my wife picked them up, she would have discovered that the lower ones were remarkably light. Using them to feed little Oscar, I was gradually washing the tins – thoroughly, then returning them to the bottom of the stack.
My duplicity was not uncovered until the end of the holiday, when, having our last home-cooked meal on the patio, the original theatre troupe of cats re-appeared and took their places on the seats around the large table…
I’ve never taken drugs, but I would imagine this is the kind of thing you see if you do. My pathetic attempts at “Shooo!” Were met with derision, as one of the she-cats moved over to let little Oscar take his place.
Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.
I turned to see my wife arriving with the main course. She placed it down and gave me ‘that look’; then poured herself a large glass of red wine.
“There’s a story here, and I have all night to watch this steak, baked potatoes and salad ruin,” she said.
My intra-family courage has seldom matched my ingenuity… I confessed all. She even applauded my motives amidst her laughter. The fact that little Oscar had kept his part of the bargain and not urinated in the villa, nor anywhere near the patio, must have swung it.
The expensive piece of gold jewellery purchased for her in the departure lounge, the following day, was over-reported, in my opinion….
Which brings us, rather obliquely, to today.
The present Mrs Tanham, as Terry Wogan used to say, referring to his one and only wife, was exhibiting a rare streak of what psychologists used to call ‘obsessive-compulsive’.
We were at the end of our weekly shop in Grange-over-Sands. I say shopping, but my job is to walk the collie while she dashes, in a very structured fashion, around the excellent local shops.
We’re a bit older than we were in the Cyprus years and have no doubt developed various annoying traits that are to be found in any successful marriage.
“The one with ‘V’ on it is yours,” she said, needlessly, returning to the car with two coffees in a cardboard papier-mâché tray. I like a shot of vanilla with my tall latté; and a coffee at the car has come to be the Covid- era treat that a snack used to be.
I settled Tess, our collie, down in the back and closed the tailgate.
“You need to get in the car so I can pass you the coffees.” Bernie said. “Yours is the one with the ‘V’ on the lid.” I said nothing. Seconds later, she passed me the tray of two coffees, one with a ‘V’ on it. As she closed the door and began to cross round the back of the car, I looked down at the two coffee cups and the two lids, one with a ‘V’ in it, resting on the centre console.
She slid into the drivers seat. I pushed the coffee tray slightly towards her. The protest was immediate: “I told you yours was the one with the ‘V’ on the lid!”
“I’m sure that one will suit you best,” I said.
Exasperated, she didn’t try to read the mirth in my eyes, but reached over and took the other coffee, She flicked the lid off and took a large sip…
“You switched the lids…” she whispered; but couldn’t suppress a small laugh.
“Cats and tuna tins,” she chuckled… taking another and larger drink of my coffee, a slow smile spreading over her face. “I could develop a liking for this…”
©Stephen Tanham 2021
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.