It’s not every day you open your front door to find a giraffe in the porch.
Not actually in the porch, obviously. That would be absurd; a giraffe is, as you probably know, quite a tall animal, and certainly taller than my porch, which is, well, porch-sized.
To clarify then. The giraffe was standing outside the porch.
Leaving aside the conundrum of how it had managed to press the front door bell without possessing fingers to perform the task, I decided to concentrate on the bigger picture as it were. The bigger picture being the fact that there was a giraffe standing in my front garden in Croydon.
All I could actually see of the beast from my current position of relative safety just inside the house were four legs. The body, neck and head of the giraffe were out of sight, hidden by the overhang of the porch.
You may well ask how, in that case, I could be sure that it was a giraffe at all.
Two reasons. First, the legs of a giraffe are unmistakable, both in terms of their length, or maybe that should be height, and their colouring. Also, these legs were quite thin. Very giraffy, in fact. They could not be mistaken for, say, the limbs of a camel or an especially tall zebra.
Second, I could hear a voice calling out. ‘Delivery of one giraffe, male, 4 years of age, to Mr Benjamin Sprockett.’ This appeared to confirm my hypothesis.
The voice seemed to be coming from somewhere over my head and was muffled by the intervening roof of the porch, but nevertheless the gist of what it was saying was quite clear. I debated briefly with myself whether a giraffe would have that clarity of tone but immediately dismissed the idea as fanciful, and so concluded that there was a second individual also in attendance, and that this second individual was, on the balance of probabilities, human.
I was reluctant to step outside and thus risk being crushed under the hooves of the massive creature, which could cause serious damage if their owner decided to undertake a bit of general trampling. And so, pulling the door to and securing it with its chain, which might or might not restrain a giraffe in full flight, I hurried upstairs to the bathroom, which overlooked the porch and front garden, and also enjoyed a magnificent view of the roof of the Ashcroft Theatre in the middle distance.
Kneeling on the toilet seat, I opened the bathroom window.
The head of the giraffe was still some distance above my own and appeared to be engaged in a long overdue cleaning of my gutter with its tongue.
However, perched somewhat precariously on the animal’s back at my eye level was a small, rotund man with ginger hair, wearing an ill-fitting brown uniform which looked as if it may have been designed in the dark. With his right hand, he was holding firmly, even grimly, to a rope looped around the lower neck of the giraffe. In his left hand, he held a clipboard at which he squinted through a pair of wire-framed pince-nez as he saw me appear at the window.
‘Excuse me!’ I called across to the man, who waved cheerily at me, almost dropping his clipboard in the process.
‘Ah, hello, sir,’ he replied. ‘Do I have the honour of addressing Mr Benjamin Sprockett?’
‘Excellent. If you would be good enough to sign here… ’ and he reached across with the clipboard. The gap, however, was too great and the clipboard ceased its journey a good five feet from the bathroom window. I did not consider this to be as great a calamity as the man on the giraffe clearly did. ‘Bother,’ he said, although bother was not the word he used. I forgave him the profanity in the circumstances.
‘Sign for what?’ I asked, although I entertained a deep suspicion that I already knew the answer.
‘Why, for Geronimo, of course.’ He waved his left hand vaguely up and down a few times, nearly dropping the clipboard as he did so. I understood that he was indicating the giraffe, possibly thinking I had failed to notice the animal.
‘Geronimo?’ I ventured ingenuously.
‘Yes, indeed,’ said the man, waving the clipboard again, but this time gripping it more tightly to prevent its escape.
‘You mean this giraffe.’ I felt it was important to move the conversation on.
‘Of course, Geronimo,’ explained my human visitor in the sort of way that suggested he believed all giraffes were named Geronimo.
‘I didn’t order a giraffe.’ This was a point that needed making, I decided.
‘Yes, you did.’
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘Well, yes, no you didn’t, but it was of course implied.’ Whilst pleased that we were not about to engage in a lengthy, pointless bout of “yes-you-did”, “no-I-didn’t”-ing, I was unsure what he meant by the word “implied”. So I asked.
‘What do you mean – implied?’
‘It was in the small print.’
‘I don’t read small print.’
‘Well, no, of course not, who does?’
‘Especially small print on forms that I have not looked at.’
‘As you can see,’ he continued, beginning to sound quite exasperated, ‘I am trying to get you to sign the form now, Mr… ’ and he referred to his clipboard, ‘Sprockett’.
‘Are you suggesting that I have somehow agreed to take delivery of this giraffe despite not yet signing anything to confirm that?’
‘No, I mean yes, that is to say, I mean, well, it’s the introductory offer, isn’t it?’
‘Is it? What introductory offer?’
‘Yes, it’s in the small print.’
‘Which, as we have established, I haven’t read.’
Whilst I was more than happy for the giraffe to keep eating the sludge and other murky detritus out of my gutter, the morning was drawing on and I had other things which I could be doing. I wasn’t sure what they were but undoubtedly something would occur to me before long.
However, I was mildly intrigued. ‘Who are you, exactly?’
‘My name is Bob.’
‘Pleased to meet you, Bob,’ I said, not completely honestly. ‘However, that’s not what I meant. Who do you represent? A company maybe? A zoo perhaps.’
‘Silly me, I should have said right from the outset. I’m from Animazon.’
I thought I’d misheard. ‘Do you mean Amazon?’
Bob laughed. ‘Oh, no, not Amazon. I get asked that all the time. No, we are Animazon, much the same but we specialise, as you can see, in fauna,’ and again the clipboard waved up and down to indicate the giraffe.
‘Including giraffes. I see, although I’m not sure that you can classify a giraffe as “fauna”, the dictionary definition of which is “the animals of a particular region, habitat, or geological period”. Unless Croydon has undergone some sort of massive geological transformation overnight, I don’t think a giraffe could be accurately described as an animal native to this locality.
I had clearly confused my visitor, who looked at me with two deep lines of perplexity running down his forehead just north of both his nose and his pince-nez.
‘Well, perhaps “fauna” is the incorrect terminology. Animals would be better. The Animal Kingdom as it were. All that passed through the doors of Noah’s Ark are available on sale or return from us here at Animazon.’ He seemed happier again, having got that off his plump chest.
‘So, nothing to do with Amazon then.’
‘Indeed not. Entirely separate company. Splendid though Amazon are for obtaining books and lampshades and so forth, you would be hard-pressed to obtain a giraffe at 48 hours’ notice from them. Or indeed a wildebeest. Or… ’ I could see he was trying to think of some other type of creature; if his knowledge of the animal kingdom was restricted to just giraffes and wildebeests, it could be argued he was in the wrong job.
Meanwhile, the words “sale or return” had caught my ear.
‘Well, Bob,’ I said, summoning up a reluctant smile from somewhere deep inside. ‘As I did not order any giraffes in general, and specifically no giraffe named Geronimo, and as I have not signed to accept delivery, and as you have just mentioned that you operate a sale or return policy, I thank you for your time and this unexpected but interesting half hour, and I bid you good day. Please shut the gate after you. Or ask Geronimo to do it if you can’t reach the latch.’ I started to shuffle off the toilet seat but at that moment, Geronimo, who had obviously finished his dredging of my gutter and had heard his name mentioned, bent his neck and stuck his head through the bathroom window, taking extra sustenance in the form of a tube of toothpaste and a bar of Coal Tar soap as he did so. He fluttered his long lashes at me and smiled.
Well, it looked like a smile, but perhaps he was just feeling bilious from the sludge in the gutter, not to mention the toothpaste and soap.
At that point, the William Tell Overture burst forth from inside the house. I recognised it as the ringtone on my mobile phone and it certainly caught the attention of Geronimo. He pushed his head fully into the bathroom, brushing past me as I stepped warily back against the wall. The giraffe’s long neck twisted from side to side as he attempted to find the source of the music. His head reached the open door of the bathroom and, still smiling benignly, Geronimo peered out on to the landing where I had left my phone sitting on a side table.
Spotting the instrument, he stuck out his tongue, now mercifully clean of gunk from the gutter, and deftly transferred the phone from the table to his mouth, where he held it delicately between his floppy lips. Reversing his head back into the bathroom and turning it in my direction, Geronimo spotted me backed up against the tiling. His head approached me with the phone held in his mouth. William Tell was still merrily playing, although I was mildly surprised that the voicemail had not yet kicked in. Geronimo dropped the instrument into my hand which I had stretched out in an attempt to ward off the beast. He looked friendly enough, what with the smiling, but there could be only one loser in a coming together of giraffe, man and bathroom wall. Geronimo’s head disappeared back out of the window and I held the phone to my ear.
‘Hello?’ I said in an understandably wavering voice. My daughter, Amy, replied.
‘You took your time, dad. Anyway, I’m just ringing to wish you happy birthday.’
Happy birthday? Was it my birthday? I had quite forgotten.
‘Erm, thank you, dear,’ I said, not willing to admit forgetting my own birthday in case it should prompt Amy to start thinking of the words Home and Nursing.
‘Have you got the present I sent?’
‘Yes. Hasn’t it arrived? It should have been delivered at midday.’
’Delivered?’ It seemed I was only capable of repeating random words. I wasn’t generating much coherent thought. Giraffes standing in one’s front garden can have that effect.
‘I knew you needed company and you don’t like dogs, so I thought this would fit the bill. And you don’t even have to take it for walks.’
I stared stupidly at the phone in my hand for what seemed ages.
‘Are you still there? Dad?’
‘Er, yes, dear, sorry. Are you saying that you have arranged for an animal to be sent to me? As a birthday present?’
‘Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. And I had to take out a subscription to Animazon Prime as well to make sure I got next day delivery, by twelve o’clock. And it’s now gone half past. I’ll be demanding my money back.’
So Amy had decided that what I really needed as a 60th birthday present was a giraffe? I’d always thought she was the sensible one. She had been Head Girl at school, after all, and was now a successful solicitor. How could I tell her that I had absolutely no requirement for a twenty-foot tall giraffe, and nowhere to keep it if I had? I didn’t even have a garage.
‘No, don’t go complaining, Amy dear,’ I said. ‘Your present has been delivered. It’s outside now in fact, with the man from Animazon.’
‘Outside? What’s it doing outside? You need to bring it indoors. It’ll catch its death of cold.’
Amy knew the size of my house very well and must be aware that squeezing a fully-grown giraffe into it was an impossibility. Also, her assertion that it might die of cold seemed highly unlikely. Yes, of course giraffes are native to the warmer climes of Africa, but they seem to survive quite happily in British zoos so were probably able to adjust to variations in temperature.
‘I doubt if I’ve actually got room for Geronimo,’ I said. ‘It’s a lovely thought but I think I’m going to have to refuse the delivery. I’m terribly sorry.’
‘Geronimo? Who’s Geronimo?’
‘Geronimo’s his name.’
‘What a ridiculous name for a gerbil.’
I paused, moved over to the window and peered out. Geronimo was still there, having by now taken a liking to my rose bushes. Bob waved again when he saw me reappear. There was no doubt that Geronimo was a giraffe. Not a gerbil.
I put the phone to my ear again. ‘Gerbil?’ I asked carefully. ‘Not giraffe?’
‘Giraffe? What on earth are you talking about, dad? Why would I send you a giraffe? Do you think I’m made of money?’ I was a little concerned that the expense was the principal reason Amy had not ordered me a giraffe, but let it go.
‘I’ll call you back,’ I said, and hung up.
I called to Bob. ‘I think there’s been some mistake. That was my daughter, Amy, on the phone and she insists she ordered a gerbil.’ And just in case I had not made myself clear, ‘Not a giraffe.’
Bob looked down at his clipboard and pursed his lips. ‘Dearie me,’ he said. ’Would that be Mrs Amy Wotherspoon?’
‘It was Mrs Wotherspoon who ordered the giraffe.’
‘No, she ordered a gerbil.’
‘Gerbil? Are you sure? Let me see,’ and Bob ran his finger down his clipboard. ‘Galapagos penguin, Gecko, Gerbil, Giraffe… Ah, yes, I see what’s happened. My colleagues in Dispatch have ticked the wrong animal. Easy mistake to make.’
It seemed like a fairly fundamental mistake to me. ‘So you’ll take Geronimo away?’
‘Of course, sir. Sorry for the inconvenience.’
‘And bring a gerbil? By tomorrow perhaps as my daughter has paid for Animazon Prime?’
‘Oh dear, no, I’m afraid we’re completely out of gerbils’
‘I see. Very popular, are they?’
‘Oh, no, it’s not that,’ said Bob, frowning. ‘It’s just that the lion has eaten them all.’