Friends

26 April 2017

The Butterfly on the Wall


The view from the steps was breathtaking, the sea like an ultramarine carpet laid before Vesuvius. Except that Vesuvius was lost in cloud. A good sign, according to the courier. It meant the heat wave was certain to continue. We carried on, treading gingerly from one step to the next, gripping the handrail firmly lest we should skid on the rubble.

The thicket was denser now, obscuring the view altogether. A dank smell rose from the undergrowth making it difficult to believe a charming panorama lingered on the other side. Then, as abruptly as they were upon us, the shrubs fell away, permitting the sun to warm our shivery arms. It was like stepping out of a damp dungeon and finding the world was on fire. I freed the breath I had been holding, astonished to find I had been afraid. Me, who had faced a mugger in the underpass and denied him the satisfaction of snatching my bag. But the underpass was on level ground, not built into a cliff like those steps. As if he knew, Vic took my hand and led me along the bumpy path.

At the next bend we stopped again to take in the awe-inspiring view. Colourful trawlers were moored by the quay, rowing boats and rubber dinghies abandoned by the water's edge. An ocean liner was anchored in the bay, brilliant white and highly impressive. 'That's my kind of boat,' Vic said, raising his binoculars.

Sweat was running down the nape of my neck. A pair of blue tits flew into a nearby olive tree. I scanned the harbour and wondered if the pink building was a cafe and if we would reach it before nightfall. Once Vic got binoculars to his eyes he was quite likely to stay there forever. I told him sharply that I was moving on. It was far too hot to stand around.

We progressed slowly. The steps were sheer and the handrail at this point had gone astray. I hooked my fingers in the single strand of green plastic wire which presumably was intended to stop us falling the eighty feet or so to the sea. Unnecessarily, Vic cautioned me to be careful.

The pink house was open, the Signora informed us, yelling her message from the far side of the building. Since he couldn't abide noisy women, Vic strode on until he reached a Taverna near to where the fishermen were mending nets, brown as berries and uniformly wearing T-shirts and mules. They worked to the high-pitched cries of herring gulls circling overhead. Gee-ya gee-ya.

Vic ordered the coffee in Italian, selecting the words from the phrase book he kept in his breast pocket. It didn't sound right to me, but the robust, silver-haired proprietor in the white vest obviously understood for he produced two cappuccinos exactly as requested. Stretching his arms above his head, Vic said, 'This is the life, Pauline. Can't remember when I last felt so relaxed.'

The last time I felt relaxed was at the top of those steps, before the handrail ran out. A smidgen of apprehension skulked inside me at the prospect of climbing back to the hotel. Tugging the straw hat to a more advantageous position over one eye, I shrugged my misgivings away and settled back on the wooden bench; no good marring the day with pessimistic thoughts.

Idly stirring the cocoa powder into the froth, I watched the launches ferrying passengers from the liner, scuttling across the water like red toads before disappearing behind a promontory. A cruise sounded romantic, but with so many steps to negotiate and being hauled into small vessels by rugged seamen it would be hard going. I had enough trouble with my legs without that kind of undertaking. The doctor said it was all in the mind when he inspected my knees. I argued that some days I could hardly bend them, however an x-ray seemed to prove his point. He recommended exercise but he would, being a fit young man who looked as if he worked out every day.

'See that, Pauline?' Vic was eyeing something through his binoculars. 'A batch of butterflies just landed in that hollow in the wall.' He removed the binoculars from around his neck. 'Here, have a look.'

Following his directions, I searched for the spot. Up the ramp at the end of the quay, ignoring the holiday-makers straining to glimpse the offloading of the day's catch; past the quaint houses, their balconies a riot of geraniums; and on to what Vic had labelled a hollow. It was really a sacred grotto, graced with a bust of Our Lady, surrounded by flowers and foliage and an illuminated cross. I adjusted the focus. The Virgin Mary smiled. Disbelievingly, I polished the lens with my skirt and looked again. She was smiling still. Her eyes seemed to beckon. I was surely dreaming, or else my mind had been addled by the sun. Vic surveyed the fishermen, unaware of the peculiar development. A single butterfly fluttered across Our Lady's face. I mumbled, 'Be careful,' then, overcome by a sense of urgency, I thrust the binoculars at Vic and hurried off.

I ran all the way, down the wooden steps, dodging the coils of rope and trailers and mountains of nets, past the souvenir shop and its array of tablecloths and postcards, up the cobbled ramp and round the bend until ... until, there she was, the fairy lights barely seen in the strong sunlight, the flowers showing no colour, foliage showing no green. Her smile was colour, her eyes the illumination.

My feet were rooted to the scorching cobbles as I gazed at her tranquil countenance. Vic's fingers seized my elbow. I hadn't heard him come. My knees trembled, but there was no ache. Our Lady's eyes twinkled and I knew why she had summoned me to her cave. Cautiously, I bent one knee to genuflect. Not one twinge assailed me. 'Thank you,' I mumbled, wanting no-one else to hear my words.

Vic pointed to the wall. 'See the butterfly, Pauline. Isn't that a magnificent creature.'

I pushed him playfully and suggested a race to the steps, giving a backward glance as we moved away. A butterfly soared, brighter and more beautiful than the rest. An aerial display of shimmering colour. Yanking my hat into place, I squeezed Vic's arm. I had never felt so alive. 'Come on, slowcoach,' I said, 'or we'll miss our lunch.'

Arm in arm we marched down the opposite ramp, past the vegetable seller and a brood of scavenging feral cats. Canaries bravely sang from the confinement of tiny cages attached to walls in full sun. Beyond an arch of weather-beaten dwellings, the church bell began its forbidding toll. The sun beamed constantly and the butterfly twisted and wheeled non-stop, sometimes alighting on the wall, but mostly dancing ahead to guide the way.

Valerie

23 April 2017

NEXT TASK PERFORMED!

Reporting on my household renovations is a fit and start job. One day I write a bit then the next day, providing something has happened, I write a bit more. Usually it is only after publishing that I discover a change of time settings so I hope it all makes sense to the reader.
Next alteration in the way my house is run is the removal of certain curtains. Curtains are all very well but they are difficult to put up or take down, especially when the previous occupants of my house had a fetish for installing wooden pelmets. Imagine the scene, little me wobbling on stepladder trying to reach curtain hooks that are not only too high but also hidden behind a solid pelmet. Of course, Joe could reach therefore the problem has only just arisen.
So… it’s time to bring in the cavalry experts.
Two rooms have curtains on rods but other rooms are stuck with curtains on hooks. These MUST go! It’s the only solution to breaking a leg or neck after falling off steps.
Friend, Judy, has lovely blinds in most rooms which I rather fancied but it was disappointing to learn that they were not for me. The rep who came from a well-known company told me that the bedroom required a blind that I could ‘close’ to prevent people opposite seeing in when I was going to bed or undressing or whatever. This means vertical blinds. Shame! I would have liked something Italian. I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times how much I love Italy.
The room I use as an office (one of them) will now have blinds to match since that room also faces the road and would match the bedroom windows. For those who don’t know, I live in a bungalow. The bedroom faces the road, people who live in the road, and passers-by. Let’s face it, if I can see them, they can certainly see me. I can see contents of rooms in the house opposite quite clearly.
The guy who came to do the measuring asked me about colour. I had thought about it, of course I had, and decided a pretty pink would be nice. It would match the bedcover. What I hadn’t realised was that some colours are ‘see-through’. Demonstration proved the guy’s point so, after a lengthy process of elimination, I opted for a lilac colour which won’t clash with the contents of the room and isn’t see-through.
Okay, the job is done and I couldn’t be more pleased. The colour doesn’t stand out as garish, just a mellow purple shade. Charlie the cat is bewildered, his leaps to the window sill at an end. He gives me some very strange looks as much as to say ‘What the hell…..’
What the hell, it’s my house and I can do what I like.
The effect and practicality of blinds has hit home, so much so that I arranged for the fitter to comeback and measure up for more window blinds in other rooms. I might be able to go Italian after all.

Valerie

16 April 2017

AND THE NEXT JOB WAS......

THE NEW SHOWER ROOM
It is years since I had a bath but perhaps I should reassure you that I am not smelly. Years ago, I stopped bathing and resorted to [plenty of] showers for the simple reason that once down I couldn’t get out. Joe was more agile but even he began to have problems. So for the last three or more years I have climbed into the bath to take my shower. Actually, I can still do that but as the years go on it will be impossible even to swing a leg over the side of the bath. It dawned on me that I had to do something about it before it was too late.
How about one of those popular wet rooms with a shower, I thought, and nursed the idea for some time. Eventually I decided to go for it and started to look round and get some quotes for the work. A lot of companies were willing to do it – without question – but the one I chose explained it in more detail. To start with, a wet room needs space which was something I hadn’t got. I had thought the bath being removed would be sufficient but what would I know, I’m not a plumber!
I ended up engaging a company to put in a ‘tray’ with stool and small screen. Mike (the rep) included a new shower and tiles with which to cover the empty wall space. Then there was the matter of the flooring, which I hadn’t thought of. We had carpet! Okay don’t tut-tut, please remember carpet was the thing to have once upon a time – maybe a few generations ago. Progress was slow in my house!
Some of you may remember me having new flooring in the hall. It struck me that the same kind would look good in the new shower room. The expert agreed, so I contacted the guy (Alex) who did the hall. Yes, he would do it. He would also liaise with Mike who had said the first layer of flooring needed to be done before fitting the ‘tray’ after which the floor job could be finalised.
It’s was all very technical. I could only hope they knew what they were talking about. Between them they seemed to have got it sorted.
Moving on:
The job is done………. and I am thrilled with it, even forgetting the obstacles I had to overcome.
The day the workmen finished their part of the job, Alex came to do the flooring. Being impatient I couldn’t wait to get the knickknacks back in place and enjoyed making the room look lived it. In and out I went, until I fell over. Wearing silly sandals I tripped at the door, an unlevel patch which once had a door strip but now awaited a new one. Trying to save myself made the fall even worse. Let me tell you that ribs smashed against a wooden door frame is no joke. I’m hobbling around aided by a walking stick, although on this the second day the injury feels ever-so-slightly better.
Alex was brilliant, he made tea and kept checking on me while laying the new floor, making sure I was okay. I was, sitting down! One thing I know is that there are still some kind people in the world. 
I miss the bath, though. Already I can see there are habits that have to be changed. I used to sit on the side of it to do my hair etc, now there is no bath to sit on. I used to lean on the bath to reach something on the window shelf, now there is no bath to lean on. It's a case of starting again but I am mindful of the old saying 'old habits die hard'. I can't wait for the newly ordered bath stool to arrive from Amazon. 
Valerie

09 April 2017

MOVE YOUR BUTT



This bit of nonsense was written in response to a friend who thought I'd gone too long without writing something. I was feeling lethargic, it was too much trouble to put the brain in gear. 

Deep discussions would take place. I was told if I didn't get cracking I would lose it altogether. I took no notice, until one day my pal lost her cool and shouted 'Come on, Val.... MOVE YOUR BUTT!' That did it. I think I wrote it inside half an hour. Anything to shut her up! 

MOVE YOUR BUTT 
Val… move your butt!’

I stopped dead, wondering if the remark had been directed at me. Twisting round I saw three men in green overalls leaning against the bus shelter, paint brushes in their hands, several paint pots in a row beside them. They were grinning as if I was an object of amusement. I bristled at their nerve. Why didn’t they get on with their work and stop harassing women?

Annoyed, I tossed a lock of hair out of my face and strutted off. If I hurried I could still make the eleven o’clock train. Reaching the corner I waited at the pedestrian crossing for the lights to change.

Val… move your butt!’

The audacity of those men! 

Momentarily forgetting the time, I spun round, glared ferociously at the laughing trio. One man held his sides as he laughed. I guessed he was the one doing the shouting. I stormed up to him and cuffed his arm. ‘Would you mind telling me why you’re being so damn rude?’ I asked, hoping there was enough sarcasm to penetrate his infantile brain.

He looked me square in the eyes but didn’t reply. Merely grinned and shook his head. Even in my anger I couldn’t help noticing his deep blue eyes and slightly lopsided sensual mouth. 

‘Hey up, Missus, don’t look too long at Tom or you’ll be under his spell. E’s got a way with women. Sends ‘em silly with them cheeky eyes.’

I adopted a haughty posture and glowered at the speaker, a short red haired man with freckles and a jagged scar on his cheek. ‘Do you have to do his talking for him as well?’ I enquired acidly.

‘Nah. Missus, but Tom’s lost ‘is voice, see. I’m actin’ as spokesman.’

I glanced at Tom, foolishly pleased that he hadn’t been the culprit. He really was quite delectable, I thought, as he winked almost secretly. I flushed with something akin to delight.

Behind him the spokesman sniggered and nudged the third man who was so thin he looked as though a good dinner wouldn’t go amiss. ‘You wouldn’t believe me, ‘Arry, well you can see ‘Tom’s method for yourself. You might learn a thing or two.’

The third man, obviously unsuccessful with women, beamed with pleasure as he gazed at Tom. 

At that moment, Tom dropped his paintbrush and stepped towards me. His smile was cultivated, designed to trap a member of the opposite sex. Me! Curiously I smiled back, the time and the train completely forgotten. Taking my arm, he guided me to the railings opposite the bus shelter. I felt bewitched as his face drew close to mine and in a faint voice asked me my name.

Valerie,’ I whispered. 

And then it dawned on me … not one of the men could have told me to move my butt since they didn’t know my name. Suddenly mystified, I was about to question Tom when he pointed up to a window of the house behind the railings. It must be his house, I thought, becoming uneasy. It was obviously a bedroom window. 

Sanity returned and I decided to get the hell out of there. Cursing my stupidity I pushed him away and took my first steps towards the traffic lights. What in heaven’s name had I been thinking of, hanging around bloody painters just because one of them had a captivating smile.

Val… move your butt!’

Sweeping round, I raised my hand to hit him. He was where I’d left him, arm raised, still pointing to the window, I looked up then and saw what he was pointing at. Strutting on a perch inside the open window was an African Grey. A parrot! While I stared at the bird it began chanting in a very realistic voice:

Val… move your butt!’
Val… move your butt!’
Val… move your butt!’

That was a year ago, nine months before Tom and I got married. We never did discover who the other Val
 was, but we’re still laughing.
Valerie