There’s a knock at the door. That’s one of my favourite phrases in literature. It conjures up expectations of unknown and generally unwanted visitors. In Chez Martin, I end a chapter with those six words. It’s a well-tested tool to inspire the reader onwards to the next part of the book. In The History Boys, Alan Bennett indulges Hector with almost half a lesson of discussion regarding who might be responsible for the knock at the door. And the most famous, and probably the most often paraphrased visitor, is the Person from Porlock. Allegedly responsible for the non-completion of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, the Person from Porlock has since travelled widely throughout the history of literature, including a cameo appearance in another favourite of mine: arriving unexpectedly, Morse accuses Lewis of being the Person from Porlock. In those days, Lewis played the stooge and replies, ‘no sir, Newcastle’.
Anyway, it’s five of the clock in the Twilight Zone that I inhabit. It’s time for unwanted and unsolicited phone calls from people born in other countries: Scotland, for example. I’ve already responded pleasantly to a saleswoman from Ford and am just gearing up to put on my angry head when there’s a knock at the door. What’s the last thing you could possibly imagine being asked on opening the door to unexpected visitors?
Accompanied by his mother, who’s clutching yet another of my late-night Amazon purchases, is Aaron from over the way. ‘Can I watch your washing machine’, he asks? Even mother has the grace to look surprised. If I’d had time to think, I would’ve been ultra cool and said ‘of course’ without batting a drooping eyelid. Let’s face it, the machine, full of towels, and heading in the direction of final spin, sounds as though it’s preparing for a journey across the kitchen and onwards to the car park. Hardly surprising then that Aaron’s attention has been alerted by the noise. As it happens, there’s no time to formulate a reply as Aaron, faster than you can say Fairy Non-Bio, has ducked and dived his way into the kitchen and is looking at the spinning machine in awe:
‘Good Lord’, says Aaron a few times and I have to concur – it’s extraordinarily noisy. Living alone, one doesn’t tend to notice these things. Previous visitors have complained that they can’t hear themselves speak but, like the washing machine, I tend to ignore them.
‘It’s a Bosch’, announces Aaron. ‘Will it start moving? Will it come out?’ As he’s clearly an expert, I wonder whether Bosch machines have a known tendency to travel. I point out that it’s currently jammed against the fridge so, hopefully, will maintain its current position. A number of questions follow:
Why are you doing washing? Do you always do washing on Mondays? Are you doing any more washing afterwards? Will it click when it’s finished? Answers: my clothes are dirty; possibly; no; yes.
Aaron’s mum asks whether they can go home to retrieve the camera and return to take a snap of the Bosch. It’s the second confusing question but at least I have time to be amenable. They leave the Amazon parcel that contains a new book by Graham Robb and an old record by Bruce Hornsby. They return with Aaron’s exercise book in which there are many photographs of the washing machines of friends and family. A commemorative picture is taken. I ask Aaron if he will remember the make of my machine when he writes up his latest acquisition and he regards me as if I am stupid. ‘A Bosch’. I ask Aaron if he would like to switch off the now silent machine for me. This is received in a better frame of mind. All is silent. ‘What’s the noise’, he asks? I can’t hear anything so I look at mother for help. Mother is looking around vaguely. It’s the silent fridge which is, apparently, not so silent to those with acute hearing.
Aaron is bored: ‘whose door shall we knock on now’, he enquires? Marie seems to be in the frame and serve her right after that unfortunate business with the skip.
Aaron is eleven years old. Where I work, we refer to our students as having learning differences. Those with learning difficulties don’t make it into higher education. Actually, in Aaron’s case, they don’t even make it into mainstream education, let alone further, higher or anywhere else. They go to school in a mini-bus that does the rounds daily to collect all these special children. And at the end of the day, the mini-bus brings them home and returns them to the arms of ever-smiling parents.
‘Thank-you for the parcel’, I say.
‘I didn’t even hear the washing machine’, says Linda.