Mike and Julie were deeply moved by the garlic bread plate and spoon I gave them for a wedding present. Julie thought it was really lovely. It was a sweet card with a touching message which tumbled through my letterbox shortly after their honeymoon. It was also a little disturbing because not only had I not given them a garlic bread plate or the matching spoon, but I hadn’t actually got around to buying them a gift in time for the wedding at all.
Four months later I still haven’t thought what to buy them but they don’t seem too bothered. Yesterday I donated my nice casserole dishes, some storage containers and a book of household management to their kitchen before we all headed over to the car boot sale at St Albans railway station. Mike and Julie had stacks of stuff to sell and so did I. We laughed as our trestle tables sagged under the weight. Books, CDs, saucepans, crockery, a garlic bread plate…
Actually, my friend Lucy has gifted me the best car boot sale goods over the years. There was blah and blah and blah blah. Oh, and let’s not forget blah. Okay, I forget what they were. They were very popular though. Especially the ones I marked down to one pound. To be honest, I didn’t sell everything Lucy’s ever given me. No, not the uber-trendy eyewear for skiing. That stays, and so does the green clock plus some other cool stuff. Star Wars tie? Fifty pee.
Talking of gifts, my favourite gift in the past seven days has been one I sent to Thailand. First, the back story. Many years ago I lived in a shared house with scottish Ken and Tik, his Thai wife, plus Pete, the photographer. Five nine nine St Albans Road, Garston. It was mad from day one.
Ken and Tik argued that they should only pay one third of the bills because they shared one room. Pete and I thought a quarter each was fairer for four adults. Somehow a compromise was reached but it was never completely comfortable after that. Ken and Tik would close all the doors and filled the fridge with their weird stuff which included bags of dehydrated octopus and starfish. Pete and I waited until they went on holiday and threw wild parties.
Woven through this rich tapestry was the thread of the Yellow Towel. I owned two towels–one blue and one yellow. Every day I would wash my hair and hang my yellow towel on the radiator to dry. Every day, Ken would go into the bathroom after me and take the towel off the radiator, complaining that it ate all the heat. Poor wee laddie.
Ken never tired of removing the towel from the radiator, even when he wasn’t actually using the bathroom. I never tired of putting it back. Day after day. Week after week. Pete changed girlfriends three times, maybe four. I think the Christmas cards eventually read “Pete and (insert name here)” but the yellow towel remained a constant companion.
Ken sometimes tried hiding the faithful towel behind the chair but I found it and hung it back on the radiator. Pete moved out and another guy moved in, a guy who made great curries to compete with Ken and Tik’s fabulous Thai food (they weren’t all bad). And the jolly jeu jaune continued. Eventually I moved out to live with Pete and Jeremy in another house in nearby Bushey. Ken and Tik went to live in far-flung Thailand and we never saw them again. Almost.
One day, three or maybe four years ago, I was walking through Kings Cross underground station. The old drunk regular was slumped semi-comatose over his guitar, wailing and mumbling and strumming random chords to his audience of Tennants cans. I was speed-walking to keep the experience down to a bare minimum.
Suddenly, I recognised a face. It was Ken. Ken Scott! After all this time, walking towards me. “Ken Scott!” I cried. “Keith Jefferies!” Hail, fellow and well met! You get the idea. We chatted a bit, compared notes. He’s divorced now, living in Thailand with his new wife. His ex-wife lives somewhere near Watford. Ken works for a tourism agency. He gives me his card. Two copies. One for Mike. Yes, the same Mike. I put them in my bag and we head on to our respective trains.
Next time I see Mike, I give him Ken’s card. “Great!” he says. “I must get in touch with him.” Then he forgets about it and loses it somewhere. I lose it too until just a few months ago when I rediscover it at the bottom of my sports bag. So I drop Ken an email about visiting Scotland and what we might find there. He writes back. Haddock, he says. Haddock and chips.
Now, twelve years after living with Mr Scott, I’m cleaning out the loft and, lo! What is this in a forgotten carrier bag? Why, it’s a yellow towel. It’s *the* yellow towel. Old, frayed, tatty. Mm. Yellow. Mmmmmm. It would be wrong to put it in an envelope and post it to the Pacific Asia Tourist Agency in Bangkok. So I put it in an envelope and post it, complete with customs form. “Contents: yellow towel; value: nil.” It’s a fly on the wall moment.