ken, cowboys & aliens

Ken has got one of his pipes on the go. In any other house it would stink the place up as comprehensively as a termite fumigation, but Ken is sitting in his usual seat by the open patio window, so most of it billows out harmlessly. As soon as he spots me striding across the lawn, he taps it out, and follows my progress towards him with a baleful air.

Ken has always reminded me of someone and it’s only now I realise who. At the very end of the closing credits of the first Star Trek series, after the stills of multi-coloured planetary landscapes, Kirk in some catacombs, or a ship coming in to dock – there was always a closing shot of a gaunt and quite terrifying figure in a robe, staring straight at you, as a Desilu production appeared on its forehead and the music thrilled to a conclusion.

That’s Ken.

To be fair, he’s friendlier than Balok, who, I only just learned, was actually a fearsome puppet used by cuddlier beings to test the friendliness of anyone coming to call. So whilst Balok’s slack-jawed, unblinking expression was designed to be scary, with Ken it’s more a symptom of his general bewilderment, and of the hours he spends sitting in his chair by the window smoking his pipe, watching old films on the TV.
‘How are you, Ken?’ I ask, struggling in through the window, past the drinks cabinet shaped like a globe, and a kitchen trolley stacked high with necessaries.
‘Terrible,’ he says.
‘I’m sorry to hear that. What’s the worst thing, would you say?’
‘The worst thing?’
‘Yes. You know – are you in pain? D’you feel sick, dizzy…?’
‘No,’ he says. ‘It’s just my bloomin’ memory.’
‘In what way?’
‘I can’t remember nothing. Not a thing.’
Carefully he places his smouldering pipe on the tray beside him, and folds his hands in his lap. ‘I’m old,’ he says. ‘I’m just one of them ones that goes on too long’
‘Well – let’s see what’s what,’ I say, putting my bag down and reaching for his folder. ‘Shall I make you a cup of tea?’
‘No. I’m all right.’
‘Okay. So – I understand you had a fall this morning.’
‘Did I?’
‘Apparently. The ambulance came and picked you up. That’s why I’m here now. To see you’re okay.’
‘I don’t remember. If you say so.’
I scan through the notes and then put them aside.

There’s a western playing on the TV. No shoot-outs. Just some guys talking round a campfire, tipping their hats back, toeing the dirt, looking regretful.
‘Glenn Ford!’ says Ken, pointing at the set. ‘And there! That dodgy looking one, sneaking round the horses. Ernest Borgnine!’
He turns his sad eyes on me. ‘You see,’ he says. ‘The longer ago it was, the more chance I’ve got of remembering it.’
He reaches for his pipe, looks at me, then slowly puts it back again.
‘So I’d like you to explain to me if you can,’ he says. ‘Where’s the sense in that?’

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