A Bit of Fry & Laurie

The Old Folks

Stephen is behind the reception desk of an old people's home. Hugh enters.

Hugh Hello.

Stephen You're not very old.

Hugh Sorry?

Stephen I say you're not very old.

Hugh No, I ...

Stephen This is an old folk's home, you see, and consequently we do ask that people wishing to stay here are, at the very least, old. It's in our charter.

Hugh I don't want to stay here.

Stephen Oh. Then I must instantly demand that you pardon me. Have we been talking at cross purposes do you suppose?

Hugh Possibly, yes.

Stephen Whoops. My fault, quite dreadful of me. You'd better start again then.

Hugh Right.

Stephen Right.

Hugh I wondered if ...

Stephen You're not very old.

Hugh What?

Stephen This is an old folk's home, you see, and consequently ...

Hugh No, I don't want to stay here. I've come to see my aunt.

Stephen Oh. No. Oh no. What a shame. She died.

Hugh Who did?

Stephen Your aunt. If you'd only been a few hours earlier.

Hugh Wait a minute. You don't know who I am yet.

Stephen I don't have to. We only had one aunt, you see and she passed away last night. Oh, we shall miss her indeed. Her cheerfulness, her sense of fun ...

Hugh Hold on. Do you mind if we just check the name first, to make sure we're talking about the same person?

Stephen If there's the slightest chance that it'll help you to confront some of the painful unanswered questions that must be weighing upon you at this most difficult of times, then all of a surely.

Hugh Thank you.

Stephen Please don't thank me, nephew.

Hugh Wh ... ?

Stephen I do this job because I love it. How many people can say that? Less than a dozen I fancy rotten. Yes, here it is. Room 14, aunt, died at ten o'clock last night.

Hugh Yes, what was her name?

Stephen Fourteen.

Hugh No, her name.

Stephen Well now, I don't think we actually have a record of her name. There isn't much space on these cards, you see? I keep on saying to the Trustees - did I say "saying"? Beseeching on bended legs, rather - "give me bigger cards" but ...

Hugh What was her name?

Stephen Well before you rush headlong down that tree- lined avenue, let me just say that we're very much given to using nicknames, here.

Hugh Nicknames?

Stephen Indeed, yes. To myself and the rest of the staff your aunt will always be remembered as "fourteen". Sounds a bit informal, I know. But that's our style here. We leave formality very much outside on the doorstep, together with a cheerful note to the milkman. From the day she arrived, "fourteen" just seemed so right somehow.

Hugh Are you saying that a woman died here last night and you don't even know her name?

Stephen I know it's hard sometimes for an outsider to enter a home like this, and it is a home - did I mention that? Did I make that abundant? - and straight away understand what it is we're really trying to do here.

Hugh My aunt's name is Amanda Thighkiss.

Stephen Well there you are, you see. Amanda Thighkiss. How could we have called her that? It's so cold, so unfriendly. And you can see how small the cards are. I'd lucky to squeeze "A. Thigh" on one of these. Deborah, as a very old lady, appears next to Stephen.

Deborah Please ...

Stephen Whoops! Hahaha ... Stephen tries to push Deborah's head down.

Deborah Just a piece of bread, a biscuit, anything.

Hugh Aunt Amanda?

Deborah (Popping up) Neville! Oh thank God!

Hugh Are you alright?

Stephen (Standing in front of her) Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear.

Hugh What's the matter?

Deborah I'm starving. Have you brought any food?

Stephen Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I'll never forgive myself for this. You should have been spared this. I'd give anything for you to have been spared this.

Hugh You told me she was dead.

Deborah Who was dead?

Stephen As if the shock of the news was not enough, you've now had to see this. I'm so sorry. So very sorry.

Hugh What are you talking about?

Stephen I'm sorry that you should be confronted with the body in this fashion. It's all very distressing.

Hugh Body?

Stephen Still, spiritually she's in a better place now. Let's be grateful for that.

Hugh She's standing right there.

Stephen Well of course her body is right there, but her soul ... Who knows what beautiful journey ... ?

Deborah Please, Neville, have you got any food?

Hugh Food? No. Are you hungry?

Deborah I haven't eaten since lunchtime yesterday.

Hugh Lunchtime yesterday? What's the matter, don't you feed people here at all?

Stephen Of surely course.

Hugh You do?

Stephen Indeed yes. Our guests have had more hot dinners than you've had ... than you've had.

Hugh Then why hasn't my aunt been fed since yesterday?

Stephen Ah. You're a stranger to death, I can see. Let me just say, as simply as I can, that it is deeply unusual to give food to dead people.

Hugh What?

Stephen Unless, of course, it is specified in the will. Otherwise we tend to look upon it as a needless extravagance. However, if it is your wish ...

Hugh What are you talking about? My aunt is not dead.

Stephen Are you a medical person?

Hugh No.

Stephen Ah.

Hugh Look, she's standing there, talking and breathing ...

Deborah (Faintly) Aaagh ...

Hugh ... just ... and you're telling me that she's dead.

Stephen I can readily understand that the effect of the shock taken with the friendly brightness of our decor would make it hard for you to grasp ...

Hugh She is not dead. (To Deborah) Are you?

Deborah No.

Hugh There.

Stephen Oh I know how much you want to believe it. Otherwise how could you stand the loss? But you see, I too have lost. When dear old fourteen died, a little part of me died with her.

Hugh Did it?

Stephen Yes, I shall be burying that little part of me this afternoon after a simple but affecting ceremony in the garden. Would you like to come?

Hugh Look. Why do you keep saying that she's dead? Just tell me ...

Stephen Well, if it won't be too painful ...

Hugh No go on. I'm keen to know.

Stephen Brave, brave nephew. What happened was this. I sent out a final reminder, thirty days after the last payment fell due, and believe me, even at that stage I still hoped that all might be well ...

Hugh Wait a minute. Payment for what?

Stephen Why, room and board. Payment comes due on a monthly basis. Most of our guests favour an arrangement whereby ...

Hugh You mean she hasn't paid her bill?

Stephen Sadly, no. We're all so very sorry. My deepest and most heartfelt condolences to you.

Hugh How much?

Stephen Your very pardon?

Hugh How much does she owe?

Stephen A very tragic one hundred and nineteen pounds and seven pence.

Hugh (Getting out cheque book) Well for goodness sake, (Writing) one hundred ... nineteen pounds and seven ... pence. There.

Stephen (Taking it without looking - his gaze is fixed on Deborah, who has started to eat the desk blotter) Fourteen! Can it be true? Can I be believant of my eyes! I'm sure I saw ... (To Hugh, briskly) Would you mind putting your card number on the back? Hugh does so and hands over the cheque. Yes! She moves, she stirs, she seems to feel the breath of a life beneath her keel. It's a miracle! A miracle! A porter enters wheeling a conspicuously dead person on a trolley. Number twelve! Look at this! Number fourteen has come back to life! Oh wonder of wonders!

Hugh Now come on, that woman really is dead.

Stephen On the contrary, sir. She has a standing order.

Vox Pop

Stephen (Wrinkling nose in disgust) Oh that's horrid. That's really horrid. Disgusting. Is it Welsh?

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