About to leave, I tripped over something. Worried that I had left one of the parts lying around, I picked the thing up and shone my torch on it. A little wrinkled face peered anxiously up at me from under a little red hat. It was a garden gnome. I started to laugh at the incongruity of it, but I decided impulsively to take it with me for luck.

I should have known better: I should have obeyed my training, which had inculcated in me the importance of disregarding impulses. The very next evening I started to work out exactly how stupid I had been.

‘Dave and I went up to the tip today,’ said Christopher as we walked up the High Street eating fish and chips from paper bags. I had decided I was old enough to do this without worrying about my self-image.

I accidentally swallowed a chip that was still too hot, and went into the obligatory pantomime of waving hands in front of mouth, choking slightly, and so on. This distracted Christopher, but only temporarily.

‘It’s a bit weird up there. Garden gnomes all up the sides of the road. If you look at them for too long you start to think they’re glaring at you.’

Sometimes I despaired of Christopher: he really was an incurable wimp. On the other hand, at least it showed that he had a vivid imagination – for a redundant archivist.

‘Have you ever been in there?’ he added idly, crunching a bit of empty batter.

‘Does it look like the kind of place I’d hang out?’

‘Maybe not...’

‘What were you and Dave doing there anyway?’

‘We’re clearing out some of Mrs Stevenson’s stuff.’

‘Does Jemima know about this? What if the only thing that’s keeping her alive in hospital is the idea of getting home and being surrounded by all her stuff?’

‘No, it’s OK. She asked Dave to clear out the shed. It’s just old dog beds and things.’

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