Blood, fish and bone – Sam Derby

“The ironic thing is,” says Mrs Grantham, leaning on the mud-encrusted border spade that she had moments before thrust meaningfully into the sod, “all those years ago one would conduct pagan rituals, sacrifices and so on – libations of this and burnt offerings of that – which of course civilised peoples like ourselves frown upon nowadays – and then off goes Jenkins, our man, who is terribly useful you know, to pick up a bag of blood, fish and bone for my roses at the local garden centre! Plus ca change, eh?”

I check that my recorder is working as she speaks, to make sure I don’t miss anything vital. I can do it by feel, I’m that used to it; though it’s only tiny, I know the bumps of its buttons like the back of my own hand. It isn’t that Mrs Grantham won’t know I’m recording, really; I’m an inspector, and the terms and conditions are quite clear. But keeping it unobtrusive seems to help them to relax while I go about my work.

I can tell straight away that she runs a tight ship, Mrs Grantham. She keeps all her records in a black metal box; she has a stamp with her name on it for making out cheques, to save the fuss of having to spell it out, or to have to phone up the bank and explain; she only admits visitors between four and six. The gate was wide open when I arrived, at two minutes past.

The lilies grow tall in Mrs Grantham’s garden, the stench of them hitting you when you pass through that little iron gate. There is a jungle of them, vying with the hostas and the brunnera for the deepest shade. It would be very peaceful, were it not for the ceaseless low yowling of two dozen cats, each in its designated and regulation-compliant box in the cattery at the bottom of the garden. They do not ask to be set free, however, or so says Mrs Grantham; they are defending their territory, each with its heat-lamps and nicely-set boundaries.

“They just detest being made to leave,” she said a few minutes ago, by way of explanation to an unlucky owner, scratched trying to compel the return of one particular inmate to its usual home. There was a welling, deep-red line upon her forearm, and a rather shaken look upon her face.

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