Nick called yesterday. He's my younger brother and not well. But he lives in Harrogate (the Goring of the North), a 300-mile round trip.
My Christmas card to him is sitting on the newell post awaiting a stamp. He chortles mildly, having already posted his card to me.
He hates to impose and I know he'll ring off unless I can extend the conversation in a natural way. As we talk I tick off subjects I know will interest him.
The typeface of Gorgon Times, he says, is too small to read easily. I tell him not to apologise. He reveals - to my surprise - he keeps a copy of our mother's book of poems on his coffee table. We agree she wrote pretty well (one poem came second in a nationwide competition) excepting the one about Douglas Bader, the WW2 fighter pilot. "It's as if... " he ponders a comparison. "It was written for the Beano," I say and he laughs despite himself. I tell myself Nick is alive and my mother is dead. Besides, she admitted the poem was unsatisfactory.
As a yachtsman he gives genererously to the lifeboat charity but has latterly become disenchanted. Once, sailing alone in the Channel he found a floating headless body. On the coastguard's instructions he circled the body for hours listening to the lifeboat coxswain tell the coastguard over the VHF he didn't want "that" on his boat. Nick forgets a lot, but not that.
We wander over well-worn reminiscences and I try to provide joky punchlines. He laughs at quite a few and these are greater triumphs than anything I've ever written. When he finally does ring off I pretend to myself he does so reluctantly. One never knows.