“Wonderful!” she cries. Christina is a vegan and animal rights campaigner. Her idea of heaven would be to live in Donkey Sanctuary or Lost Panda’s Home or suchlike. In the past she’s owned rabbits, chickens and a colony of guinea-pigs (all classed as dearly beloved family members), but now there’s just her and Miaow. “I like this Dan guy more and more!” she declares. “He risks his life to save a pheasant, he’s creative and he’s good-looking. You’ll really have to introduce me to him. Unmarried you say?”
“Yes, but with a girlfriend. My harp teacher, remember?”
“Oh yes. And you say she’s a sex-bomb?”
“Shame. Oh well. If he shows any signs of getting tired of her, just send him along to me, will you? Or have you still got designs on him yourself?”
“Christina, I’m a respectable married woman!”
“Sorry, the line’s buzzing again. What was that about being a repressed married woman?”
I snort. “Trouble-maker!”
She cackles at me. At least one of us is having fun.
“Have your birch trees grown yet?” she asks.
“No, of course not! They take time to germinate. But Dan and I do go and look at them most days just in case. That is, we go and look at the seed trays and the compost and we hope that the seeds are OK. And we keep them well watered.”
“We, we, we!” she chants. “Dan and I this, Dan and I that!”
“Christina, stop it!”
“OK, OK! Untwist your knickers! I’ve stopped. So you want me to lie to Clive. So I’ve cut my hand on a tin-opener, have I?”
“Yes, you slashed it really badly. Just in case he ever answers the phone and asks how you are.”
“Can I elaborate? Say I got gangrene and nearly went for amputation - ”
“This is serious. I’m relying on you,” I tell her.
“Calm down, Ellie! Clive won’t suspect anything. What sort of tin was it?”
“I don’t know. Baked beans?”
“No, let’s go for chickpeas. More realistic.”
“Chickpeas it is, then! And Christina, something else. You find it really difficult to manage shopping bags and stuff like that. So I have to come and visit you and help out with things every day, OK? Saturdays and Sundays included.”
“Right you are. It’ll be nice to see you.”
“But actually I’ll be at the Harp Barn, helping Dan.”