Alfred Owen, an octogenarian, appeared last Summer, to prune our front bushes.
Mrs Monk does not understand the concept of pruning, and was not altogether pleased to be “Alfed”
In Mrs Monk’s world, to remove what was there is to be deprived, even if what was there had become miserable and overgrown.
Alfred knew otherwise; that to remove what is there is to improve the potential, and to encourage better growth.
Despite Mrs Monk's disappointment, Alfred was invited to dinner, which he accepted courteously. He made sure that he did not arrive empty handed. He brought with him several plastic shopping bags containing copious offerings of unexpected well considered gifts of miracle cures, and most surprisingly, an electric fire, because he heard Mrs Monk complaining of feeling cold. He was of course unaware of Mrs Monk’s habit of turning up the central heating to the Sahara-setting and then opening all windows when we become too hot.
Over dinner Alf was interrogated by the Monks about his wartime memories. He told about courting girls during the German invasion of London; how he had an arm about a girl as they watched a wounded German aircraft swerve to avoid the Southend pier, before it ditched in the estuary.
“Sometimes, they saved them”, he said.
He was comfortable with an army pension having reached the rank of serjeant.
We learned that Alf had a strange and even excessive optimism, He had dealt with cancer for at least ten years, and having won frequent battles he wore the battle scars of tumour removal on his scalp as if it were nothing.
Nevertheless, he had enormous strength and the largest hands I ever saw.
Alfred Owen was also off-the-wall. He had an unfathomable desire to acquire more than he actually needed. He bought at least ten of everything. He always had ten mobile phones and ten lottery tickets, each requiring a lot of numbers that seemed to allude him. His preoccupation with the lottery may well be a measure of his optimism, but his multiple telephone obsession made contact by phone another un-win-able lottery.
He spoke about Primark as if it were paradise. He found in Primark, the very hat he liked and bought ten of them, for the fear of running short of hats.
When Alf had finished his work on our front bushes, he cast his eye on the trees in the back garden. Unfortunately Alf was not allowed by Mrs Monk to make any progress on the trees, much to my disappointment.
Alf moved on to gardens new, but then this November we heard that he had become ill and was on his last legs.
We were told that he was to be found in a hospice and that he had but a couple of weeks in which to say his goodbyes. However we did not know where he was, or who if anyone was taking care of him.
But then Alf surprised us by calling Mrs Monk on her mobile phone.
The next day we found Alf, alive but unwell. He was however articulate and aware of his predicament, and his prognosis. He was preparing himself for the inevitable, whilst at the same time stoically and characteristically optimistic, apparently wanting to enjoy our meetings and careful to avoid burdening us with grief.
His handshake was, as always, remarkably firm.
It became Mrs Monk’s mission to make him laugh on each visit, and if not to smile.
She never failed.
Goodbye Alfred Owen.