Sunday, October 7, 2012

Still counting

Even before he retired he began to count and note  the number of stairs on staircases, sheep and cows in fields, people on railway platforms, birds on telegraph wires. He loved numbers as poets love words and sculptors love wood or stone.  After his leaving party at Fontwells, publishers of timetables and directories, where he had been finance director for 30 years, he found that he had time to broaden the scope of his monitoring activities. Nothing escaped his attention: bowls of sugar - how many grains? Roofs - how many tiles? Stretches of forest how many trees?  His notebooks grew fat with data which would have seemed useless to most people, but which, when he cast his eye over them, made him smile as he remembered their context.

His wife was pleased enough as he became more deeply engrossed. At least he didn't traipse after her to the supermarket like the newly retired husbands of many her friends suddenly at a loss to fill their day. Instead he was happy to cross The Common on his own, or sit in the park  making  new statistical studies. "Obsessive," said his son who wrote and played music for a living, and had no sympathy for a pass time which he considered empty and uncreative.

But Henry Pidgely was happy. Sometimes but not often he would laugh at himself.  What he did made little sense to the rest of the world. But to him it helped to explain some of the mysteries of existence. And as the field was so vast he would never run short of material.

When one fine day  he fell  ill he remained calm and interested in what was going on round him. In the hospital bed, he lay quiet and uncomplaining. To visitors including his wife, he said little. For there was little to say. When eventually his son came to see him, he greeted his father cheerily.

"What have you been up to Dad?"

 If you really want to know since I woke up this morning I have been counting the number of breaths I have taken.  So forgive me if I concentrate on the task in hand."

And he wasn't joking.