My mum rang the other day and began the conversation not with a ‘hello’ or ‘how are you’ or ‘have I ever told you what a brilliant son you are and how proud I am of all you’ve achieved’, but by barking the words, ‘Crosse and Blackwell beans Steven, have you had them?’
This isn’t unusual, it’s my mother’s style – she likes to get to the point. And she also likes beans, as her flatulence would attest.
“Erm, no mum, I haven’t,” I replied.
I’m not lying or exaggerating here when I say she launched into a 12-minute explanation of why I must try Crosse and Blackwell beans, giving her opinion with such passion and fervour that for a moment I wondered whether she had found employment as Crosse and Blackwell’s new PR manager.
‘I was up at the van and I told your Aunty Judy I was about to have beans … oh, remind me to tell you about Judy’s heel spur, she couldn’t get out of bed last Monday with the pain and it was such a shame because she should have been going to Dorothy’s church theatre group that day … but then Judy said ‘don’t you open a tin, I’ve got half a tin left over from dinner’. So she gave me this tin and it wasn’t Heinz, it was Crosse and Blackwell. I pulled my face a bit because I’ve never had Crosse and Blackwell but Judy … don’t let me forget to tell you about her heel spur, she’s in agony … said I should try them, so I did. This went on and on but the upshot of what my mum had called to say was that after 73 years of eating Heinz beans she had eaten a tin of Crosse and Blackwell and much preferred them.
“Right, that’s great mum,” I said when she finally finished her lengthy and impassioned bean monologue. “I’ll, erm, maybe get a can sometime.”
‘I think you should Steven,’ she said, with such gravity and concern it was as though she was advising me to get a lump checked by the doctor.
“I will mum,” I said, lying, “but I really need to go now because I’m in a meeting at work with a colleague.” (another lie – I was eating a tuna sandwich while reading a story on the BBC website about Manchester United’s switch to a 4-3-3 formation – but to be frank, and as much as I love my mother, I was all beaned out).
I often wonder what retirement will be like - whether it will be a chance to discover the world and do all the things you never got round to as a young adult before work and children intervened, or whether you’ll worry about which are the best baked beans.
I now know the answer.
* Earlier in the week a friend of mine asked me to walk his dog because he had to work late, and being a kind of modern-day Mother Teresa with a spot of Princess Di thrown in, I agreed to do it for him.
As directed by my pal, I took his pet pooch on a path that loops around the estate where he lives. Then an odd thing happened.
The dog had fallen some way behind – she is a little long in the tooth and feels the same about the idea of going for a walk as I do when Mrs Canavan suggests I spend a Saturday wall-papering the back bedroom - so I whistled and shouted her name in an attempt to get her to catch up.
At that moment, from behind the fence I was stood next to, two dogs went berserk, growling and barking and howling with all their might. At least one of them seemed intent on trying to headbutt its way through the fence in an attempt to reach my legs and remove them with his teeth.
I began to walk away when I heard a voice screaming ‘you, oi, you!’ and turned to see the head of a woman popping above the fence like a life-sized Punch and Judy show.
‘Thanks very much for that, I’d just got them settled,’ she yelled, red-faced and flustered.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, slightly taken aback, “are you talking to me?”
‘Of course I am,’ she bawled. ‘Why are you whistling? It sets my dogs off. Think next time’ ... and with that she disappeared.
I stood there stunned at her rudeness, then got a little angry and for a moment contemplated knocking on her door to point out that whistling in public is not - unless Boris Johnson has announced some new far-out policy I’m not aware of (which, in these weird times, is entirely possible) - illegal.
But she’d gone, so instead I had to satisfy myself with waiting a couple of minutes until the dogs had calmed down and then whistling as loudly as I could and scampering away, leaving the outraged mutts going crazy again.
Childish, I admit, but hugely satisfying.