It’s Saturday morning, the fifth of January, and the doorbell has just rung. I’m in no hurry to answer it – I have an ineluctable sense that I know most of what’s coming – but I look out of the window anyway. Sure enough, an enormous UPS lorry is parked in the road, and a team of men are unloading what looks like, although it can’t be, an even bigger packing case. I open the door.
“Delivery for you, squire,” says the man.
“I know,” I reply submissively.
It had all started so promisingly. “I’m going to send you lots of lovely presents when I’m away,” my True Love had said. “More and more, every day, till I get back.”
“That will be wonderful, darling,” I said, meaning it.
And Christmas Day, sure enough, brought a delightful surprise. A tree, with a bird in it. How nice, I thought, stuck it on the patio, and carried on the festivities with my family guests.
Next day, Boxing Day, there was another delivery, this time of a pair of doves. And another tree. With a bird in it. Ah, I thought, I’m starting an orchard. But what’s with all the birds? Ah well; she is an unusual girl, my True Love.
Over the next couple of days, though, after I’d acquired two more pear trees, complete with partridges (as we’d worked out they were by a bit of googling), four more doves, six hens and four peculiar creatures that the label informed me were something called ‘colly birds’, I began to wonder if something might have gone slightly wrong. But the arrival of five lovely gold rings (along with the by now accustomed avian life, and tree) soothed me a little. Not even the addition of six geese, shedding eggs, by special delivery on Sunday threw me, although the garden was becoming a bit crowded by now.
Then the first batch of swans arrived.
I logged on the suppliers’ website. “Howdy!” said the message on the help page. “We’re having a teeny problem with our delivery systems at the moment. Please try later. Our best people are working to sort this out.”
When the milkmaids arrived next day and started trying to milk everything (I directed them to the colly birds), my guests decided it was time to leave. They were wise – by yesterday evening, when I’d accumulated a population of twenty-four milkmaids, twenty-seven dancing girls, twenty lords, and a band of pipers, in addition to all the birds (though some of them had flown away, I think), it was getting a little close in here. We did have a good party last night, though.
I look at the ominous packing case in the drive. I know I’ll have to face it soon, but in a weak feint at procrastination I go and check the wine cupboard. It’s nearly empty. My True Love returns tomorrow, and she’s going to need a drink. I have an idea. Those thirty-five rings must be worth a bob or two down the scrap gold shop, and the wine warehouse is still open. I beckon to some of the lords, and they come leaping over.
“Little job for you, sires,” I tell them.
Then I go out and crack open the massive packing case. And the drummers start a-drumming.