the miserable moo

Vera is as formidable as an oak tree. An ancient, wonderfully craggy version, a boundary oak, maybe, with a disposition of knots and old storm wounds that give her a ferocious but at the same time peculiarly forbearing and kindly expression.
‘How did I get like this?’ she says, approximating a walk by rocking from side to side in her vast, rose-pink slippers, pulling the chord of her dressing gown so tight I’m worried her curlers will fly off. ‘Dear oh dear. Sad, innit?’
She stops and gives me a baleful look.
‘Don’t get old’ she says.
‘What’s the alternative?’
‘What’s the alternative? Switzerland.’
She shakes her head and carries on into the living room.
‘Make yourself at home,’ she says, waving dismissively at the sofa, then slowly lowering herself into a well-worn armchair. ‘Mind you, I’ve lived here sixty year and I still ‘ain’t managed it.’
‘I don’t know. Seems like a nice place.’
‘You make the best, d’oncha?’ she says, putting her feet up with an expressive range of ooh-ooh-ooh’s and aah’s.
‘All right?’ I ask her. ‘Do you need a hand?’
‘I need more than a hand,’ she says. ‘What else’ve you got?’
Before I manage to do anything, the phone rings. Vera mutters a great deal as she picks up the phone from the side table, holding it to the end of her nose to scrutinise the number, then making a great fuss of holding it at arm’s length to press the ok button, frowning at the same time, as if she was being asked to do something outrageous, then cautiously and slowly putting the phone to her ear. I can hear the voice on the other end shouting as the phone travels through the air – a man’s voice, saying Nan, Nan, It’s John. Nan?
‘21364’ she says, in a strangely formal voice. But that only lasts as long as it takes to establish it’s John on the other end, and she immediately slumps back into normal Vera again. I prepare the paperwork and get my obs kit out, whilst Vera sighs and tuts and does her best to reassure John she’s all right, and no, she’s all right as far as shopping goes, she’s got enough to last her till Christmas, and yes, she’ll let him know how the appointment goes, and no, she doesn’t want anyone to worry, she hasn’t lived till ninety without learning a thing or two. There’s a moment towards the end of the conversation when John’s seems to be telling her something about himself.
‘Oh? …. What’s that, then? …. You what?…. I thought that was cows…?’
She looks at me, raising her eyebrows and shaking her head, then refocuses her attention on what John has to say.
‘Righto,  then, John. You get better soon, love. And love to the kids. All right? All right? Bye bye, John. Bye bye.’
She thumbs the phone off with the same pantomime of attention as the answering of it, then drops it back with the TV guide on the side table.
‘That was John,’ she says.
‘Yes. He’s always ringing me up to ask how I am and then telling me he’s got it worse.’
‘Why? What’s the matter with him?’
‘Foot and mouth, he says. I thought that was something cows got.’
‘He probably means hand foot and mouth. It’s a viral thing…’
‘Oh. I see,’ she says, but I can tell she doesn’t. ‘That’s all right, then.’
She pats her curlers and rearranges her dressing gown whilst she gets her thoughts in order.
‘Only John!’ she says at last. ‘He’s a bloody postman! Although saying that, maybe they give him a new round that takes in a farm somewhere.’
‘Maybe,’ I say.
She sighs and shakes her head.
‘Hark at me!’ she says. ‘I’ve turned into a right old miserable moo!’

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