Last week, I drove to Bourne End (on Thames) to visit my old friend Guy. We were heading for Costa Coffee, when I suddenly dived into a hardware shop
Hardware shops are like another planet - they're full of things I don't recognise, but I like it that somewhere out there are men who do know what they're for. Me, I go for that special smell of metal, wire, oil and nails. My ex also loved hardware shops, but one day we had a blazing row when she suggested I should actually buy something. An electric sander, if I recall, but that wasn't why we got divorced.
"They've got a lot of stuff here," an elderly lady in the aisle said. That's when I saw it - a floppy piece of yellow oval-shaped plastic about half the size of my hand, with a gaping open mouth like a fish at one end. A hand puppet? I picked it up and tried a bit of ventriloquy next to the saucepans. "Hello," the yellow fish thing said to the elderly woman. "I'm Frankie the Fish - how is life in Boringend on Thames?" She moved quickly towards the gardening section.
"What's it's for?" I asked a man in the queue to pay.
"A tennis ball holder?" he said. "Is it a boiled egg protector by any chance?" asked the chap next to him. I ignored him, and asked the man behind the counter.
"You squeeze your lemons in it, so you don't get juice everywhere," he said.
" And all my life I've been squeezing lemons in my hand - dangerous, but I like to live on the edge. A new EU health and safety regulation? Do you sell lots of them?" " Lots" he said. "It's £2.50."
"For five pence worth of floppy yellow plastic!? Is it Yellow Nose Day in Bourne End?"
"Do you want it or not?"
"I'll take it," I said.
Outside, a girl tried to hand me a hot cross bun. "From St Mary's Church," she said.
"Sorry, he's Jewish," said Frankie the Fish.
In the café, I showed it to Guy. He studied it carefully. "A lemon squeezer," he said. I should have known; Guy also happens to be president of the Sherlock Holmes Society, and was only recently sighted in full Holmes regalia at the Reichenbach Falls investigating if Holmes had really plunged to his death with Moriarty.
"It protects lemons," a woman said. "From whom?" I asked. "Maybe I live a quiet life but nobody has ever attempted to even interfere with my lemons, although I live in a salubrious part of London. Guy, is Bourne End suffering from a lemon crime wave?"
"Not as far as I know, the Bourne End crime rate for lemon related offences is at an all time low," he said.
He handed me a tiny label he'd been reading with a magnifying glass. "You will be delighted to know it is dishwasher safe, stain resistant - and you get a five year guarantee against faulty workmanship," he said. "But only if you've followed the care and use instructions. I'd hang on to your receipt and keep it somewhere safe if I were you," he said. Guy is also a lawyer.
I've run out of space so I can't tell you about the monkey I bought later, or why he is now in the cells of a police station. Let's just say he got arrested for speeding and drink-driving on the M40. And can you believe it? He tried to say I was driving… luckily Thames Valley police didn't fall for that old one.