I am sitting in the kitchen in front of my laptop, drinking coffee in the sluggish morning light, just back from the southwestern leg of the band’s 2022 tour. I am exhausted, my stuff is still piled in a big pyramid in the sitting room, and my shoulder aches where the banjo strap catches it.“Would you care to know,” I say, “where our album currently sits on the official UK Folk chart?” The oldest one looks up, composing his features into a careful, blank expression.
“Go on, then,” he says.
“It’s currently at 31,” I say.
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“Isn’t that where it was last week?” he says.
“It’s a monthly chart,” I say. “It only changes every 30 days.”
“So this is just a reminder,” he says.
“Your daily reminder,” I say.
The tortoise stomps past, a look of unmistakable fury on his face.
“He’s raging,” the oldest one says.
“He wants out,” I say. “But it’s too early.” My wife walks in, in a similar, stately rage.
“When are you gonna move your stuff?” she says. She does not stay long enough to hear my answer.
I watch as the tortoise attempts, not for the first time, to leave through the cat flap; I know from experience that he’s about a centimetre too wide. He stays wedged in there, preventing the cat from coming and going, before backing out and taking up an angrier position in the middle of the room.
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Later on the sun comes out, the air warms up and the garden door gets left open. The tortoise escapes, as he often does at this time of year. I have learned to let him enjoy these temporary victories. He thunks down the back steps in a bid for freedom and heads in a southerly direction, imagining that the halved tomato he finds in his path is his discovery, and not my doing.
That afternoon I look up from my computer to see the tortoise strolling across the lawn, with the cat riding him like a horse. He is wary enough of general threats to retreat into his shell whenever a shadow is cast across him, but takes no notice of a cat standing on his back.
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It is just one more humiliation on a long list that includes the knitted dinosaur costume we put him in at Christmas. When I next look up, both cat and tortoise are gone.Later still, when the temperature has plunged and the rains have returned and my wife has gone to bed before Newsnight has even started, she sends me a text from upstairs: an emoji of a tortoise.
Encoded in this text is an instruction: go out into the cold wet night and retrieve the tortoise from wherever he is hiding. On Tuesdays I might also get an emoji of a recycling bin, but it’s only Monday.
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I go into the kitchen, where the oldest one is still sitting at his computer, now in a recreational capacity. The wind is whistling outside, and the rain is lashing the skylight above my head.
“Is this, like, a named storm?” I say.
“I haven’t named it,” he says.
“I mean officially,” I say.
“Sorry, what are we talking about?” he says, looking up.
“Nothing,” I say. “I need to get the tortoise.”
“Ugh,” he says.
Even a few nights on a stage in front of an audience will inflate the ordinary ego to an extent that a conscious effort is required to shrink oneself back down to size when you get home. I don’t know what remedies other people use, but half an hour searching for a tortoise in driving rain usually does it for me. Every season he adds a new hiding place to his rotation, to make it just a little bit harder.
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Eventually, I spot a protruding foot by the light of my phone, and find him in his latest bolthole under the ivy. I pick up the cold doorstop weight of him, carry him inside and place him gently under the dog’s bed. Then I send my wife a thumb’s up emoji and lock the back door.
Sitting back down in front of Newsnight, I think about what this routine must be like for the tortoise: every day he makes a daring escape, and every morning he wakes up in the same spot under the dog’s bed, as if it had all been a dream.
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It’s probably not so bad, I think – exciting and frustrating by turns, but with a rhythm to it that must become familiar, even comforting over time.
I look over at the giant pyramid of my stuff, still untouched, and think: 31, all month.