‘Did you see that programme about the woman who rescues baby elephants? It’s such a shame what’s happening to them. I think the parent elephants are getting killed by the poachers for their tusks, and the babies are left to fend for themselves. There’s still quite a demand for the ivory, of course, and all those ridiculous herbal medicines, and what have you. And I don’t think it helps that when the elephants go from one place to another they always go straight, like they’ve always done, never mind there’s a village in the way. It’s not their fault. An elephant’s a big old item, though. It’ll do a lot of damage.
‘You see, mankind’s in conflict with the animal kingdom. We won’t have these lovely animals for much longer. We’re using them all up. It’s the same with the monkeys, the orang-utans. We’re cutting down all their forests and they haven’t got nowhere to go. We need to start doing something about it, though, or what’ll the planet be like in future? They’ve named this age after us, the Anthropocene – and I tell you what, that’s hard to say without your teeth in – because you see we’re a thing now, the human race, like asteroids, or the ice age. We’re killing things off on a huge scale. It was the same with the whales and the Victorians. When you think of those magnificent animals, cut to pieces, and for what? A bit of oil for your lamp? A few corsets? I don’t know if you remember, but we used to have anti-macassars on the backs of chairs, because all the men had this oil on their hair and it stained the fabric. And when you think of them poor old whales…
‘But it’s hard to tell younger countries not to go the way we did, with the industry and the pollution and what have you. It’s like saying: we’ve enjoyed all this progress, we’ve made a stack load of money, but sorry, mate – you can’t do the same because it’s not good for the planet. How do you justify that? You’ve got to make it worth their while, or you’re on a hiding to nothing.
‘I never had an education. I went to the local school and then I worked in a bank. I had this aunt with a bit of clout. She saw something in me and got me an interview. They sent me up to London, to Lombard Street, the heart of the city, to sit this test. It was a huge thing for me then. There I was, a tiny little mouse from the country, getting off the train with my little packed lunch, stepping off into another world! A skyscraper world! They sat us in the biggest, most grandest hall you could imagine. I was so nervous I could hardly write. But I worked my way through it. There was this woman walking round looking over our shoulders, and she came over to me and she said “I’d have another look at question five, if I were you”, so I did, and I passed with flying colours! That was nice of her, weren’t it? So the next thing I knew I found myself working in a bank. Not on the desk, mind. They didn’t let women out front on the desk in those days. I was in the back, working the machine that processed all the cheques. That’s where I met my husband. And when we got married we bought a little sweet shop.
‘You should’ve seen it. Lovely teak counter, rows of jars behind me up on the wall. It was quite a knack, climbing that ladder to fetch a jar without breaking me neck. They were heavy items, you see. But we used to sell all kinds of things. Necessaries, you know. Bread and milk. Newspapers. I used to be up at half past five in all my make-up, marking out the papers for delivery. I wish I’d took a photograph. It’s all gone now, of course.
‘We had this rocking chair just beside the counter. People used to come in, take a seat, light a cigarette (you could in those days), and just chat. Oh – I got to know everybody. All their problems. I loved it. I didn’t want to retire, but I suppose everyone’s time runs out sometime. So here I am, chatting to you, trying not to fall out of bed. Who’d have thought?
‘But that’s enough about me. Tell me about you. Do you have a family?…’