CAST: ETHEL – in her 70s
Time: The present.
Setting: Ethel’s House, living room.
It’s freezing out there. I wouldn’t throw a cat out on a night like this. Still, it’ll soon be summer. I usually go down to the pub, have a drink with my friends Madge and Doris, but it’s too cold to go out tonight. I thought I’d stay in, have a can of lager instead. The Red Lion, that’s my local. Bill’s a nice man, the landlord. He never begrudges giving me a free drink, not that I take advantage of him, mind you. I got a free drink off him last night. I couldn’t find my money. I was sure I had a pound coin in my purse but search as I did I couldn’t find it. The trouble is, they’re so small.
He said, “You’re all right, love. You can have this one on the house.”
Well, I don’t like taking advantage of his good nature but what can you do? I knew I had a pound coin somewhere in my purse. Worst thing they ever did getting rid of the pound note. They’re so small these pound coins. Only the other day I gave one to Mr Peterson the butcher and he said to me, “Ethel,” he said.
I said, “What?”
He said, “This is a pound coin.”
“Oh,” I said. “I am sorry.”
I thought it was a five pence piece, you see. Well they’re so similar in size. I was saying this to Bill while I was looking in my purse.
He said, “Ethel, close your purse and take your drink before I pour it over your head.”
Well what can you say after that? “Cheers, Bill,” I said, and then I closed my purse.
He said, “Your friends are sitting over there near the fire.” Madge and Doris that is.
I said, “They know where it’s warm. They’re not as daft as you look.”
He gave a smile.
“Yoohoo, Madge! “ I shouted.
She was pleased to see me. I love sitting in front of that open fire talking to Madge. You can’t beat the old open fire. Ok, gas fires are much cleaner and you only have to switch them on in the morning when you get up but they’re not the same as open fires. It’s a lovely big fire they have in The Red Lion. The crackling of logs on an open fire, you can’t beat it. I bet she’s in there now Madge, wondering where I am. I only went in last night for the last hour. She was pleased to see me.
She said, “I was wondering where you were.”
I couldn’t make my mind up whether to go out or stay in, you see. I thought: should I stay in or should I go out? And then I thought: well if I don’t go out I’ll only end up staying in. So I decided to go out. You’re better off going out. It’s better than staying in. Well you get so bored. You don’t know what to do with yourself. There’s not much you can do at our age. It’s too cold to go out tonight though. Madge’ll be there waiting for me as usual but no, it’s too cold. She was glad I went out last night though. She was with Doris and, well she’s no company Doris. She’s like a zombie. She doesn’t know what day it is. It’s a shame. To be fair, she is 84. She’s not all there. She’s not a full shilling. She didn’t even say hello to me last night. She’s in another world. She just sits there staring into space. I hope I’m not like that in ten years’ time. I tried to talk to her.
“Hello, Doris,” I said.
No response. She very rarely speaks. When she does speak she makes no sense. Madge says she doesn’t know why she bothers to bring her out. She’s better off coming out though. It’ll do her no good staying in her flat all day with just four walls to stare at. She’ll go mad staying in her flat all day. Madge says she already is mad. But she’s not mad. She’s just a bit confused. She’s 84. You get no sense out of her.
She said last night, “I’m glad I’m not a blue whale. I don’t fancy being a blue whale, not at my age. Or a piece of plankton. Not with my feet.”
That’s the kind of thing she says when she does decide to speak. She’s got senile dimensions setting in. Once you get those senile dimensions setting in there’s no hope. Once the old brain cells go, that’s it. She’s been going that way for years, Doris has. She used to walk down the street with nothing on. It’s not right. Not when there are children about.
Blue whales. She must have been watching that documentary on the telly the night before. It was about blue whales. It was one of those wildlife programmes. It was a good programme. I said to Madge last night, “It was a good programme. You would have enjoyed it.”
She didn’t see it. She was watching Only Fools and Horses on the other side. She said, “Are they very wild, these blue whales then?”
I said, “You what? I’ll say they are! Have you seen the size of them?”
She said, “Are they very big?”
I said, “Big’s not the word, Madge. Enormous they are.”
She said, “Are they bigger than sharks?”
I said, “Madge, compared to a blue whale a shark’s a stickleback.”
She said, “Now that does surprise me. I always thought sticklebacks were those tiny little fish. I didn’t know they were as big as sharks.”
Sometimes she’s as bad as Doris. I said, “You’re getting confused, Madge. Drink your lager.”
Well, according to this programme blue whales are the biggest animals in the world and probably the biggest animals ever to have existed in all time on this Earth. Poor things. I didn’t know that. You learn something every day. I thought those dinosaurs were the biggest animals ever. So did Madge. She said, “So you’re telling me blue whales are bigger than Godzilla.”
“Drink your lager,” I said.
It was a good programme. Mind you, on my telly you couldn’t tell they were blue whales because I’ve only got a black and white telly. On my telly they were grey whales. It was a good programme. That wildlife bloke was in it. What’s his name now? His brother was in Ghandi. It’s on the tip of my tongue. He never stops talking. He murdered all those people. Christie, that was his name. I don’t know his second name. They blamed it on the other bloke though, the police. They blamed it on that simple Welsh bloke who played The Elephant Man. He was deformed. Had a big head and a funny walk. Attenborough, that’s it. Richard Attenborough and his blue whales. We were talking about blue whales for ages last night, me and Madge. I said, “Madge, why are we talking about blue whales?”
She blamed it on Doris. She said, “It’s her. She started it. She’s weird. She’s better off in a home.”
I said, “Don’t say that.”
She said, “But it’s true.”
“It’s cruel sending them to a home.” I said.
She said, “They get looked after.”
“But you look after her, Madge,” I said. “She’s your neighbour and you look after her. Nobody should end up in a home. Surrounded by other old people, all smelling of pee.”
Madge of course has a different opinion. “Doris doesn’t know what day it is,” she said. “It wouldn’t bother her.”
It’s a shame for Doris. She decided to speak again just then.
“My aunty Mavis was a blue whale,” she said. “We kept her in a fish tank for two years and then she grew too big so we had to throw her in the Atlantic Ocean.”
“Oh what a shame,” I said. “Never mind, love.”
“Don’t encourage her, Ethel,” Madge said. “Just ignore her. If you take notice of her she gets worse.”