By Arachne

Missing parts

My uncle came to Oxford for a formal college lunch today. Ages ago he invited me to accompany him but as I am not going into closed spaces with other people at the moment (and because I don't know how to dress for formal even if the food is excellent) I very politely declined. But I agreed to meet him beforehand for a short walk.

One of the good (but bizarre) things about my uncle's short-term memory loss is that even though he can remember all the answers to every Times Christmas Quiz since 1947 (I did say 'short-term') he no longer expects me to, which makes him better company than he used to be.

During our very short walk I invited him to come to my house, ten minutes' walk away, for tea in the garden after lunch. I hadn't asked him earlier because I knew he'd forget. He was delighted. So I wrote down the invitation, with my phone number, and suggested that when he'd finished his formal lunch he ask the kind people in the porters' lodge to phone me and I'd come and collect him. He carefully stashed my note in an inside pocket in his formal suit. At that point, someone who happened to be minding the guests asked us whether we were OK so I told her the plan and asked her to help him remember to make contact. She assured me she would. As I went out I also alerted the porters and gave them a description of him.

On my way home to make ginger biscuits I bought a cake.

When I thought his lunch might have finished, I phoned the college and learnt that they were all being treated to a recital. About half an hour later I decided simply to go there to meet him. On my way into the college a different porter told me that most guests had left but that some were still chatting. I went in search.

In the chapel? No. The dining hall? No. The cloisters? No. At that point I bumped into his minder who said she'd turned round for a moment and when she'd turned back he was gone. She was searching for him frantically. We swapped names and phone numbers.

I phoned Secondborn, who lives not far from me, to ask her to go to the house with my spare doorkey just in case he'd managed to find his own way there (I had previously invited her along for the biscuits). She leapt on her bike.

Meanwhile I ran along the High Street to intercept the bus to London. The driver allowed me on but Uncle wasn't there. I ran back to the college where the porter told me that someone had tipped off his minder that some of the guests had gone to the Botanic Garden across the road. The Botanic Garden was closing but when I told them I was looking for a missing person they allowed me to join the two other women also looking for a missing person.

No luck. The two other searchers were anxious but I assured them that he had almost certainly forgotten and had got on the (previous) London bus. They asked me to let them know when he was 'found'.

I went back home and Secondborn and I ate enough ginger biscuits for three. They were exquisite. We then chatted in the sun in the garden and when I thought Uncle might have reached home I phoned his landline (obviously, the only sort of phone he has). He'd arrived back only five minutes earlier, just enough time to take off his suit, and he'd had a lovely day.

I phoned his minder to say he was safe then Secondborn and I ate the last two delectable biscuits (recipe available on request) for supper.

I wonder what will happen next time he puts on his suit and reaches for the inside pocket... Just in case, the cake is in the freezer.

Extra is Magdalen College, snapped on my runs, with no traffic. Extraordinary. It might last have looked like this c.1953, except that back then the world was black and white.

Black and white in colour 250

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