I’m not entirely convinced my earliest memory is my own. I am in the family pram (my mother would have insisted on ‘perambulator’) and it is going very fast. Propelled with her polio-limp it is however the fast of a speedboat on choppy water. I can see blue sky and the tea-and ivory sides of the pram are high about me. She recalls this later, or recalls it to me so that as I say I cannot be certain it is my memory at all. My mother is hurrying because the thub-thub-thub of a doodlebug has cut out above. It is late in the long years of the second war. A decade later and my geography master Captain Donald insisted on his wartime rank as if in recompense for the hook that had replaced one hand. Inevitably we called him Captain Hook when we thought him out of earshot and us all the braver for it.
‘It is a very nice bomb,” says Cecil.
Mme Roux smiles tightly. She is a very well brought up bomb. Never has a bomb looked more bombish. She spends a moment or three painting a picture of how sad she will be without her bomb, without her Bon-Bon. But even bombs must fly the nest, although of course all but for Bon-Bon who stayed behind when her leaner, younger sisters eloped with the V-Bombers a decade before. I’ve heard it before, twice indeed, in the cab of the big Bedford QL where I drove and she rehearsed on the way here with the bomb tightly tied and full in the mirror.
‘And yet you’ll forgive me,’ says Cecil, ‘If I ask how I can know for certain if it is the bomb?’
Mme Roux pretends surprise though she is already clicking her fingers for me to fetch the Geiger counter previously collected from Old Mr Bittersweet.