One thing I've learnt is that you can't judge a man by his washing-line.
It was my sister who first said that a fireman had bought the derelict house that backed on to our garden. Newly engaged herself, she had that urge to marry everyone else off too.
We spent the summer trying to catch sight of him. The curtains were drawn at odd times. He cut down a tree but we missed him. Occasionally we heard banging from the house. Once we heard him talking on the phone in his garden, but - having scrambled through a cotoneaster to peer through a hole in the fence - we could only see his broad back and shoulders.
Ever ingenious, my sister found that if she balanced on the upstairs bathroom windowsill she could just see his washing-line. And there was the problem: the row of tatty, grey long-johns fluttering in the breeze.
I was appalled. Fire protection, she suggested hopefully. Steptoe, I replied.
A few weeks later, we met him in a shop. He looked nice, I thought, but oh, the pants. The pants. My sister introduced us in a way that would have made Mrs Bennett proud. He offered us a lift home; she made an excuse for herself, adding slyly: ‘You can take my sister, though.'
As we drove back (passing my sister and her triumphant grin), he invited me in to see the work he’d done on the house. Ultimately, we drifted outside to the garden. I hoped, for his sake, that he’d put his washing away.
I scanned the lawn. Luckily, no washing. In fact, no washing-line at all. But, if I stood on tiptoe, I could just see a washing-line next door, complete with fraying long-johns. ‘Nice old boy,’ the fireman said.
I married the fireman ten years ago. Every once in a while, on the odd occasion when my sister and I do something daft, he has been known to roll his eyes and mutter ‘Fire-proof pants…’