watch & learn

‘So what happened with your leg? I never did get the story.’
‘You want the whole thing?’
I backtrack a little.
‘Maybe just the highlights.’
Malcolm adjusts his position in the chair. He has to use both his hands to help with his left leg, the boot cast is so heavy.
‘I’ve been keeping an eye on the house next door,’ he says. ‘Bill and Angela’s. They’re away on a trip. One of those round the world tickets. They’re doing Thailand at the moment.’
I’m glad I didn’t ask for the long version – but there’s something rehearsed and kind of ominous about the way he’s started to lay the whole thing out. Malcolm has obviously told this story a few times already. I’m intrigued to hear it.
‘Wow,’ I say. ‘Thailand, eh? Great.’
‘So I’ve been taking care of things, looking after the garden. Not a full-on caretaker’s job, but not far off. Anyway, the first evening I was out the back looking over the fence checking everything was okay, when I saw this big old badger heading our way. You get them round here now and again. I’ve always liked badgers. I think they’ve had a lot on their plate, lately. A lot of bad press. So I went back inside to fetch some nuts. He’d gone when I came out again, but a few hours later, so had the nuts.’
‘What sort of nuts?’
‘Mixed. I took out the raisins. I wasn’t sure.’
‘Anyway, I told Jack and Lindsay the other side and they said Oh, I wouldn’t do that. Badgers are real pests. You shouldn’t encourage them. And I must admit at the time I thought What are they talking about! Badgers? But of course, when I went out to look the next evening, there was a big hole in the fence, the flower beds were dug up and the bulbs all thrown about. So I hopped over to put them all back, smoothed the beds over, fixed the fence, added a few bricks to weigh it all down, and hopped back. And I thought that was that. The next day, there was an even bigger hole in the fence, and the bulbs were all over the place again!’
‘What are they using, wire cutters?’
He shrugs.
‘Wouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, I felt a bit guilty, seeing as how I’d led them on with my nuts. So I thought I’d better sort it out for good. I got a roll of heavy wire out the shed, dragged that over, and made a proper job of fixing the hole, plenty going into the ground to stop them digging down. Short of posting sentries I couldn’t think what else to do.’
‘Bloody badgers.’
‘Yeah, well. So anyway. Job done. That was that. I threw the rest of the wire back into my garden and hopped back over the fence. And that’s when it happened.’
He moves his leg again and winces with the ache of it.
‘D’you know how many times I’ve hopped over that fence?’ he says, gasping.
‘I don’t know. Three?’
‘Hundreds, over the years. It’s quicker than going back and round. There’s a rockery there, which makes it easier. Except this time, my foot slipped between two boulders, and stayed pointing one way whilst I went the other. I ended up with a spiral fracture of the tib and fib. A thorough-going job, the orthopaedic surgeon said. I was conscious when he did the op. He put a block in, so I wouldn’t feel it. I can’t have a general, you see. Anyway, the surgeon – lovely man – he wasn’t half swearing.’
‘And the rest. Here – look at the card Jack and Lindsay made me.’
He reaches over and hands me a homemade thing, a photo of two cute but sharp looking badgers on the front, peering out of a hole. There are speech bubbles over the top. One is saying: Are you sure this is going to work? The other one: Watch and learn, my friend. Watch and learn.

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