I BELIEVE one of the loveliest things in life is to have a pen-pal in a place far, far away. . .

 

(‘For goodness sake, this isn’t Star Wars!’ Mrs S has just piped up.)

 

. . . and then after years of close correspondence to be granted the opportunity to meet that person in . . . er, person.

 

I hasten to explain that the situation never has applied to me for I have no friends residing abroad.

 

(‘You’ve none in this country either!’ Mrs S declared. ‘Why don’t you just shut up and get on with it!’)

 

Okay, okay, so what was I telling you about? Oh, yes, the Silver residence was much of a madhouse the other day as we prepared for the arrival of Mrs S’s pen-pal.

 

Just consider it. The two ladies had sent each other hundreds of letters over the years and now were actually to get together for the first time.

 

‘Do you think I’ve prepared enough food?’ asked Mrs S, panting heavily from exertion and excitement.

 

I watched morbidly fascinated as the legs on the dining room table appeared to buckle under the weight of practically every cooked (and uncooked) concoction known to modern man (and woman). If a table could speak then, believe me, that table would have had so much to say.

 

‘Just how much food can a person eat?’ I asked incredulously. ‘You’ve got enough here to feed the total population of . . . ‘

 

I tried urgently to think of a country which contained lots of people. Mongolia was pretty vast, wasn’t it, but how many folk lived there? Not that many, I suspected.

 

In order to complete the sentence I had started to state — and also because I could no longer hold my breath — I finally plucked a place out of thin air and gasped ‘Japan.’

 

‘Japan?’ echoed Mrs S. ‘That reminds me. I’ve forgotten the sushi.’

 

The situation had leaped in one brisk bound from disturbed dottiness to complete craziness but I didn’t say another word. Why burst the bubble of Mrs S’s elation at finally being face-to-face with Ellie-Mae, her as yet unmet mate.

 

At that moment, Ellie-Mae was winging her way across the Atlantic from her home in Tiptonville, Tennessee, to spend a week with us in downtown Bury.

 

Mrs S glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘You’d better leave for the airport now. Ellie-Mae will be landing in a couple of hours.’

 

‘I’ve plenty of time to get there,’ I said as the table legs seemed to buckle a bit more.

 

‘No you haven’t,’ said Mrs S. ‘You’ve got to allow yourself some leeway for firstly running out of petrol and secondly going to the wrong terminal.’

 

‘Why do you have no faith in me?’ I grumbled. ‘And anyway, why aren’t you accompanying me to the airport? It would be good to get all the emotion of your first meeting out of the way before we all go home to eat.

 

‘It’s not an attractive prospect to have you and Ellie-Mae slobbering over the supper you’ve been preparing for more than an epoch.’

 

Mrs S sniffed. ‘How can I come with you? Somebody has to prepare the sushi.’

 

I departed for the airport and eventually arrived at Arrivals (after running out of petrol and then going to the wrong terminal) and prepared to greet our overseas guest. But I wasn’t sure I would recognise Mrs S’s pen-pal.

 

I needn’t have worried. I picked out our visitor from the approaching throng with no trouble at all.

 

Ellie-Mae stood at least 6ft tall and was a whole lotta woman. Her craggy, tanned face was framed by big hair with a 10-gallon cowboy hat perched precariously on top of the frizz.

 

‘Goodness,’ I gulped to myself. ‘It’s Arnold Schwarzenegger with boobies.’

 

I walked up to our visitor with some trepidation and managed to break the world record for the most stupid-ever introduction. ‘I’m my wife’s husband. Would you please accompany me?’

 

I led Ellie-Mae into the multi-storey, piled her three huge pieces of luggage onto the roof of the car and off we went.

 

After chugging along in silence for a while, I felt obliged to say something. But wanting to make amends for the prattish way I had introduced myself and also wishing to impress the American lady, I made a conscious decision not to come out with some hackneyed phrase like ‘How was your flight?’

 

Flailing around inside my brain for a profound statement, I eventually came up with: ‘Mongolia’s a vast country but not many people live there. And, by the way, I hope you like sushi.’

 

Ellie-Mae gave me a weird look, struck a match with her thumbnail and lit up a thin black cheroot.

 

Suddenly, I heard a screech of brakes from the vehicles behind me as Ellie-Mae’s luggage fell onto the road.

 

‘I must get a roof rack,’ I mused as I pulled into the kerb. ‘Anyway, Ellie-Mae, you’ll enjoy your stay in Bury. It’s positively throbbing with things to do.’

 

Ellie-Mae smiled. ‘I know the place well, chuck,’ she said. ‘I live in Bolton.’

 

I pondered on Ellie-Mae’s Lancashire-twanged response all the rest of the way and came to a disturbing conclusion. ‘You’re not Ellie-Mae Ellis from Tiptonville, are you?’

 

‘No, luv. I’m Doris Dibble from Doffcocker and I’ve had a lovely holiday in the States. Thanks for the lift home and I’ll bill you for the damaged suitcases.’

 

I returned to my own home to find Mrs S holding up the partially-collapsed dining room table.

 

‘Don’t shout at me!’ I shouted at her. ‘I swear Ellie-Mae wasn’t there. Maybe she went off with some other bloke. It’s easily done.’

 

But Mrs S was looking decidedly sheepish. ‘I should have checked my recent emails,’ she mumbled. ‘Ellie-Mae can’t make it. Her daughter-in-law is having a baby very shortly and the expectant grandma has gone there to visit instead.

 

‘The family live in Ulan Bator. It’s the capital of Mongolia.’