Oliver Cross: The eye has it

MY friend Dibbs has got himself a monocle, although I'm not sure why. Still, he looks very distinguished in it, which I've always taken to be the main point of monocles.

The only other monocle wearer I've met, outside theatrical circles, was my friend Tony Miller, who I've foolishly lost contact with, although I could do with him now because he would be able to advise me whether that last 'who' should have been a 'whom'.

Tony, a poet (as it said on his passport) and man of letters, suited a monocle, as well as any one of his collection of panamas, French berets and other noticeable hats, very well, because childhood polio had left him with no choice but to be eccentric.

His body was tiny and twisted and, apart from his strong and constantly expressive hands, not much use.

His large head, with long, rather wild curly grey hair and very mobile mouth and eyes, not to mention his hats and eyewear, was a marvel (and now I'm trying to remember if he did actually carry a lorgnette, or whether I've just imagined it on the grounds that that's exactly the sort of thing he would do).

Luckily (although I don't suppose luck came in to it) he found a wife who felt no need to normalise him.

Helen had quite a lot of carting around to do, Tony being thoroughly wheelchair-bound, but the trade-off was that, in the public part of the marriage at the very least, she had a wonderful time joining in, or sometimes acting as a counter-weight to, his jokes and rants and self-parody.

My memories of conversations with him and Helen are largely of laughter from the start, or of wide and perfectly serious discussions descending into laughter anyway.

Alcohol, as they say in the courts, may have played a part but I think Tony's personality was the real culprit.

He was a great cricket fan and liked to spout on about it, with reference to Wisden, while wearing his monocle and panama and putting on his poshest voice, as if he was an old buffer in the lounge bar at Lords.


But in fact Tony came from a large working class East London family and, he said once, if the cards had fallen differently, would have liked to have been like his brothers and lived a much easier life; working all hours at Ford's in Dagenham then trooping off to watch West Ham of a Saturday.

It's a tribute to the power of viruses that this regular London lad ended up, of all unlikely beings, as a poet with a monocle in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, which is where I came across him. I'm sure he would judge it differently, but for me, it was a gain.

Weather worth talking about

THIS is the week when time turned on its head, which is an over-dramatic way of saying that a bleak midwinter was followed, back-to-front, by the temporary restoration of an ordinary autumn and within a couple of days, it seemed like nothing had happened.

And indeed it hadn't, or at least all that had happened was that the weather became temporarily worth talking about; usually it's just a way the British avoid tackling awkward subjects – I'm picturing a future nuclear conflagration with the missiles rumbling overhead and unimaginable disaster a certainty. "Ee," they're saying in West Yorkshire, "they've picked a dull day for it – bit blustery though."

The newsagent where I used to buy my paper every morning used to greet customers, after no preamble at all, with mystic phrases such as "Can't make up its mind", or "It'll turn before you know it" or "Sticky, I shouldn't wonder".

He didn't have to explain that he was talking about the weather, because what else would any sane person talk about? But I could see that language students from abroad might run screaming from his shop, despairing of their chances of ever mastering British English.

Tassos is feline his age

I REMEMBER, from about 20 years ago, taking delivery of my rescue cat Tassos. "This is a very special kitten," the rescue lady told my children, and she didn't know how right she was.

What she didn't say was whether Tassos would be Charles Manson-special, Mother Theresa-special or, as it turned out, a bit of both without being particularly either.

He is, let's say, more psychologically complex than any medium-sized mammal needs to be and I wish I had chosen a rescue rabbit instead.

Tassos has always, for example, insisted on waking early and taking the whole household with him; some time between six and seven he strolls up to the bedrooms (no use closing the doors because, as everybody knows, that makes him play up even more) and starts knocking things off the shelves and cupboards – ornaments, toiletries, books, remote controls...anything that will make a noise and force the human part of the household to wake up and feed him.

So why, you ask, don't I put all those Tassos targets into cupboards or out of his reach? Well, it comes down to pride. I'm a primate, me, and I refuse to let a second-order mammal such as a cat make a monkey of me.

But now, and this just shows how manipulative cats can be, I'm having to interrupt my 20-year war with Tassos because he's become suddenly very old; there's not an ounce of flesh on him, I don't think he can see or hear properly and collapsing in a heap, a cat speciality, is now beyond him.

When he wants to sit down, he creeps round and round in a circle testing each joint in turn in the hope of finding a comfortable, or at least bearable, position.

It's terrible to watch, particularly when I remember how Tassos, as agile as any large cat could be, once strolled down the street as if he owned it, stopping off to talk chat to passers-by and neighbours and seeing off any rival cat with a look. Still, I suppose that's what we'll all come to.


File photo of supporters of the 40 Days for Life pro-life group - one of the groups named by Leeds campaigners -  in London. Photo: Ian Nicholson/PA Wire

Calls to ban protests outside Leeds abortion clinic with new style ASBOs