21 March 2021

from My Family and Other Animals, The Return (Gerald Durrell)

Our mountain of possessions was arranged in the Customs shed, and Mother stood by it jangling an enormous bunch of keys. Outside in the brilliant white sunlight the rest of the family talked with Theodore and Kralefsky, who had come to see us off. The Customs officer made his appearance and wilted slightly at the sight of our mound of baggage, crowned with a cage from which the Magenpies peered malevolently. Mother smiled nervously and shook her keys, looking as guilty as a diamond smuggler. The Customs man surveyed Mother and the luggage, tightened his belt, and frowned. 

'Theese your?' he inquired, making quite sure.

'Yes, yes, all mine,' twittered Mother, playing a rapid solo on her keys. 'Did you want me to open anything?'

The Customs man considered, pursing his lips thoughtfully.

'Hoff yew any noo clooes?' he asked.

'I’m sorry?' said Mother.

'Hoff yew any noo clooes?'

Mother cast a desperate glance round for Spiro.

'I’m so sorry. I didn’t quite catch ...'

'Hoff yew any noo clooes ... any noo clooes?'

Mother smiled with desperate charm.

'I’m sorry I can’t quite ...'

The Customs man fixed her with an angry eye.

'Madame,' he said ominously, leaning over the counter, 'do yew spik English?'

'Oh, yes,' exclaimed Mother, delighted at having understood him, 'yes, a little.'

She was saved from the wrath of the man by the timely arrival of Spiro. He lumbered in, sweating profusely, soothed Mother, calmed the Customs man, explained that we had not had any new clothes for years, and had the luggage shifted outside on to the quay almost before anyone could draw breath. Then he borrowed the Customs man’s piece of chalk and marked all the baggage himself, so there would be no further confusion.

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