22 April 2011

Dare to be Scared

The room was cold. The fire, now no more than dying embers, made the fireplace look like a cavernous hole surrounded by a black marble mantelpiece. The unfinished drapes hung at the window awaiting final measurement. In the swelling silence Ellie Peterson was thankful that she couldn’t see outside.

An hour ago the sound of footsteps had unnerved her. Petrified she had waited for the door to open but nothing happened and the footsteps died away. Now, except for the creaking stair, the house was eerily quiet. She sat on the hard wooden settle, her body taut against the high back, feeling the terror in her spine. Dare she move? Would the spirits know of her presence if she did?

She wanted to believe the occupants had returned but they knew she was there so they surely would have called out. Her mind switched. Maybe it had been a burglar. If it was he was being terribly quiet. There were no other noises to indicate that drawers were being searched or cupboards ransacked.

The New Year’s Eve party seemed so long ago. The usual gang had turned up at Lacey’s Wine Bar with one extra, a boy called Ram who told stories about ghosts. While they drank in abundance someone mentioned the big house on the hill, saying it was haunted.

Ellie was taken aback for that house was where she would soon be working. The owner had commissioned her to replace the drapes in the dining room while the family was away in Tobago. In a mildly drunken state, she had scoffed at the suggestion of the place being haunted, saying it was all nonsense and bragging that she wasn’t in the least scared of ghosts. She didn’t mention that as a child she was scared to walk past the turreted property in case the ghost came out to get her.

It was Tom who dared her to spend the night there. Ellie had laughed and joked that she wouldn’t mind spending several nights there. And so she was dared so to do.

She had telephoned Jacqueline McCleary the next day, asking for permission to stay until her work was completed. It would be so much better, she’d said, if she could devote all her time to the task and not have the inconvenience of travelling to and fro. Mrs McCleary was delighted, saying it would be useful to have someone in attendance during her absence. She would make up a bed in the west wing.

Ellie remembered trembling with the excitement of spending nights alone in a supposedly haunted house. Now she trembled with fear in the icy room.

The musty smelling room was lit by a dim lamp on the antique bureau, out of reach from where she sat. She couldn’t remember putting it on but she did recall switching on the central chandelier before lighting the fire, then switching it off because the light was too harsh. Although she didn’t doubt her action she looked up, seeing only flickering firelight reflected in the clear glass. But the fire was dead and she half wondered if she was too.

She twisted round to check the door, wondering if she had the courage to go into the huge, cold hall that led to the west wing. She decided against it. It would be better to stay where she was, maybe close her eyes and try to sleep. The hard settle didn’t encourage sleep but she was too afraid to move to the comfort of an easy chair. Folding her legs beneath her, she eased the tartan blanket over her arms and prayed for daylight to come, wishing she’d ignored Tom’s stupid dare.

Outside the wind howled and rain lashed against the glass. The chandelier shook and the new drapes swayed in the half light. In a room in the west wing a shadowy figure rose from a winged armchair. Her skirts floated behind her as she noiselessly glided through a heavy wooden door that led to an imposing staircase. At the top she paused and listened as the first musical notes filtered through the air.

Ellie stirred, shifted her position on the settle. In the distance she heard faint music. It took her straight back to her childhood, when she’d been so afraid. Straining to listen she became aware of an indistinct soprano voice intoning the words of The Londonderry Air.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
Ellie shivered as the eerie singing grew louder, swallowed to suppress a ripening scream. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought that spirits didn’t like screams and anyway, wasn’t she a grown up, sensible person who wasn’t afraid of ghosts? Hadn’t she said so repeatedly before… before coming here?
The crash completely unnerved her. It sounded like something smashing against the far door. Hardly daring to breathe, Ellie pulled the blanket round her shoulders and slid from the settle, grabbing the wooden arm to keep from falling. Against her better judgement she felt she had to investigate? Fearfully, she tiptoed across the polished floor and eased the door open.

On the floor was the oil painting that had been hanging in the hall, to the right of the door. Its heavy gold frame was broken, the glass lay in smithereens, but the picture seemed unmarked. Inches away lay the picture hook complete with fixtures, the screw ends coated with plaster. Ellie stooped to examine the painting, a naval officer. His stiff posture and stern expression was a little forbidding as he sat on a long wooden bench. The name at the foot of the painting indicated that this was Daniel McCleary, presumably a family ancestor Behind him, one hand on his shoulder, stood an attractive lady dressed in grey. Ellie stretched out an arm to touch her solemn face. The eyes seemed moist as if tears were falling. So sad, she thought, as she made to wipe them away. Ellie shook herself, reprimanding her foolish imagination.

Unsure about how to cope with the picture at that late hour and reluctant to delve further into the mysteries of the house she returned to the room where she had briefly slept. In the morning she would clear up the mess.

Sitting again on the settle she let her mind drift back to the picture, remembering the story of the young diva being killed, stabbed by her lover. So much for respectability, she thought.

Light was beginning to penetrate the room, making the shadows seem less creepy. Soon she would hear the dawn chorus; only then would she be able to relax. Ellie thought about the picture. Knowing she would have to explain to Mrs McCleary filled her with trepidation.

As more light seeped in Ellie found the courage to move about. Throwing aside the blanket she went to draw the curtains. She had to admit they looked good; the burgundy velvet went really well in the room. Since taking the commission she had worked hard, sewing well into the night on some occasions. Now all she had to do was measure and complete the hems. She would start early, after a drink and maybe some cereal. The need to move on with the work and leave the house couldn’t be ignored. But first she must clear up the mess in the hall.

Ellie stretched and yawned and tried to suppress a sudden desire to sleep, a long sleep in her own bed, in her own apartment. A cup of tea would revive her, she thought as she moved towards the door, reminding herself to tread carefully to avoid the broken glass.

Somewhere in the distance she heard a tinkling laugh that seemed to echo through her head, a young voice. Braver now the gloom had dispersed, Ellie flung open the door, stepped into the hall, prepared to see an expanse of broken glass on the floor. But there was not one sliver to be seen. Looking up, she saw the picture on the wall. Intact. Except that the man now had streaks of blood on his face and at his side the young lady smiled.

Completely disregarding the waiting drapes Ellie Peterson fled to the sanctuary of the outside world.

16 April 2011

The Bad Dog's Diary

A book found in a charity shop gave me some reading matter while I had breakfast. It is humorously written as a proper diary so I could read as many or as few entries as I liked, mostly though I found it difficult to put down. Blake is indeed a bad dog but lovable at the same time. The writer, Martin Howard, did a brilliant job of giving the dog a brain along with an aptitude for devilment. It took me back to the training days of my own dogs and the love that went with it. A synopsis of the diary, given below, was taken from the book itself since the description couldn’t be bettered. Today the bad dog’s diary was handed over to another owner because it’s definitely a book to be shared.

The bad dog's diary by Martin Howard

This extraordinary diary lifts the dustbin lid on a year in the life of Blake – very bad boy indeed – and spread it’s contents all over the kitchen floor. A maverick hound with an eye for the bitches and a flair for strategy, Blake is on a mission to become Top Dog of his neighbourhood while avoiding any hint of obedience to the Owner. Day by day he gives us canine insight into the canine world from a self-professed ‘dog’s dog’, including what it means to be pack leader, living with the threat of castration, what dogs realty think about tinned food, the joys of leg humping, and of course the political and social injustices of the traditional human-dog relationship.

Backed up by a host of friends, including Scottie, a geriatric, sex-mad Westie, and Constable, a dim-witted best-of-breed TV personality, Blake’s plans take unexpected turns as the year progresses. A dog who will be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever found a favourite shoe in slobbery tatters or fended off complaints from their neighbours, Blake is hilarious, wise and often touching. He delves deeply into questions of loyalty, love, war and scooting and along the way shows us exactly why there will always be a place in the human world for dogs.

15 April 2011

Shock treatment works!

I never classed myself as an overly large person when I only wore an average size 16 UK dress size, so it came as quite a shock when the nurse at the Well Woman Clinic told me I was a borderline case for obesity. ‘If you’re not careful you’ll overstep the mark,’ she said. Well, I was about to move up to an 18 but I kept that quiet.

The picture above is quite interesting. I didn’t know there were so many ‘classified’ grades of obesity. I’m truly thankful I didn’t get to the end of the chart.

I’m not sure if it was the shock of her comment that caused the tummy upset but it sure made me think. The upset was one of those conditions that make you go off food, commonly known as THE BUG. I was off food for several days and when I did start eating again I found I didn’t want half the goodies I used to eat before. That’s when my eating habits changed.

It wasn’t a drastic thing. I cut out milk because it upset the tummy and left potatoes alone. No cake, of course, nor those little things wrapped in paper known as sweets. It was only comfort eating anyway, I should have known better! Two major changes were drinking herbal tea and taking probiotic yoghurt which has continued to this day AND I’m back on the potatoes in more respectable portions.

Ever since I changed my style of eating I’ve developed a gradual dislike of heaped plates. Not just mine but other people’s plates too. Family gatherings at carveries are allowed to eat as much as they like so it’s only natural to pile it on. But some do take it to the extreme? Is that how our youngsters get to be so big?

There’s a campaign here to stop children becoming obese. It’s a horrible word, isn’t it? When I look around though, in shops and other public places, I am astonished by the vast amount of children who are totally overweight. It’s not puppy fat either; it’s a good solid mass of fat. No wonder the experts are worried. Imagine having to cart all that weight around while your lissom friends cavort with ease!

I can’t decide whether it’s due to something in the food we buy or a parental dislike of using negative words. I know a local family where the mother panders to her youngster’s demands for unhealthy food simply because she’s afraid of saying ‘NO’. Mind you having witnessed his almost violent tantrums I can almost understand her reluctance. However, in my opinion she’s not doing the child any favours, either in eating habits or obedience.

These days I take smaller portions of everything and feel better for it. For a start I no longer suffer from indigestion and that awful overloaded feeling. Today I went shopping. I knew I’d dropped one dress size but lo and behold I now find I’ve dropped TWO.

All together now: ‘Who’s a clever girl, then?’

Thanks for listening.

10 April 2011

The price of vanity!

Just the other day a friend and I attended a fashion show put on by one of our largest stores to raise funds for the Breast Friends charity. A good cause that we felt we had to contribute to. The show was held at Moor Hall, my favourite stately home type hotel and eating place. The ambience there was perfect for such an occasion. I made lots of notes of appealing outfits but have yet to explore the possibility of purchase.

However, we did come away with goody bags containing loads of samples for making ourselves look not only more beautiful but youthful too. One of the samples was a new award winning product by Lancôme, namely Génifique, a youth activator. These days anything that claims to hold the secret of youthful skin sounds very attractive. I used the sample for several days and I swear I could see a difference. I agree that may be a little over the top but I did enjoy the feel of the product and my skin seemed suddenly to glow with life.

Obviously a trial run was not enough; the treatment needed to be continued forthwith. Under the circumstances it’s perfectly understandable that a trip to town was considered to be somewhat urgent, never mind that a phone call was expected from Australia at 11 o’clock my time. The shopping precinct being a mere stone’s throw away I knew I could be home in good time to take the call.

At the store, stopping only to buy a couple of jackets at greatly reduced price ... well, who can resist bargains, especially since recent weight loss means I have nothing to wear … I headed for the Lancôme counter. A beautiful young assistant told me she couldn’t serve me because the fire alarm was going off. What? I listened … and could just about hear it under the blare of music.

I love music but there’s a time and a place and stores that make frequent announcements to the public should not play music at a pitch where nothing else can be heard. Why on earth we need music playing in stores is a mystery and today proved my point that it’s not only unnecessary but a possible safety hazard. But back to the fire alarm…

When I had decided to go out I didn’t take into account the possibility of mass evacuation of the entire shopping mall. Having been told to leave the store, I automatically went to the nearest escalator which led to the door where my car was parked. Half way down I was called back, ordered to switch over to the one going UP. Then I was hustled out of the store to join the throng of people being ushered away. A continuing announcement told us that an incident had been reported that required evacuation of the Mall, ending with the statement that under no circumstances should we attempt to go back for our cars. Alarm bells continued to go off to demonstrate the seriousness of the incident.

Isn’t it amazing how people talk to each other when there’s a crisis? I was in the middle of a conversation with a couple of folk when my cell phone vibrated in my pocket. It was a text message from Australia to say the intended call could not be made at 11 o’clock, and the caller would ring the next day. Whoops, in the excitement of the evacuation I’d forgotten all about the expected phone call. But what a relief that the call had been put off because there was no way I would get home in time.

I continued to chat with the two ladies, often having to repeat things because of the row made by the non-stop announcement and alarms, but then suddenly the noise stopped. It was all over. Of course we had to wait while all the employees went back to their respective shops and opened for business a second time. I spotted the lovely Lancôme assistant heading back to the store and as soon as permission was granted I went in to make my purchase.

I just hope it was all worth it. On a final note I must praise the security people who dealt with the evacuation. The entire area was vacated in minutes in a fuss-free, calm manner. I was impressed by the professionalism and shall always feel safe when I go shopping in that part of town.

05 April 2011


Initially, the notion of travelling back through time filled me with fearful foreboding. Not the actual crossing over from now to then, I could cope with that, being a bit heroic in the exploring stakes. No, it was the idea of meeting up with a dead person that worried me, knowing he's dead yet sitting with him, drinking coffee, or vodka, pretending he's alive and feeling talkative. Famous or infamous, he'd still be dead. Deceased! Defunct! But on second thoughts, I guess it could be fun. Question is, which man would I like to meet. I say he, but it doesn't have to be a man. Take Cleopatra. She was intriguing as an individual, though I wouldn't fancy encountering her in case she was still screwed up over that blessed asp. Best leave her dead and buried in case she turns spiteful and sets an asp on yours truly. Let me think. What about Will Shakespeare? His stories were brilliant. He could string words like pearl necklaces. Put me to shame, he would, if we met. I'd rather carry on in blissful contentment, writing my own yarns, getting them read my only concern. William Caxton wouldn't have such trials, he'd print his own. William Caxton, English printer? Now he was bright. Without him I couldn't have read Shakespeare's Macbeth, or Hamlet, or The Taming of the Shrew. Or Wilbur Smith! Caxton was born in 1422. In Kent. He became apprenticed to a London cloth dealer and ultimately set up his own business in Bruges. I'd like to know how his interest in printing arose but I daresay cotton cloth and papyrus were similar. I could ask him about design and layout. He was Governor to the English merchants in Bruges and negotiated on their behalf with the Dukes of Burgundy but somewhere along the line he cottoned on (excuse the pun) to printing and took himself off to Cologne to learn the art. Bit of a traveller was Will: England, Belgium, Germany, by ship and by road. I wonder if the ancient ships were as uncomfortable as I imagine them to be. I'd ask what life was like in the 1400s, what sort of pace it had and how he felt when he set up his press in Bruges. Must have been thrilling, in 1474, when he printed his own version of a French romance entitled Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Like I said, he was bright. Bet the poets Chaucer and Gower and John Lydgate thought so too, when he published their works. William Caxton, printer of a hundred books. Perhaps, if I went back, I could persuade him to give me some publishing tips. What satisfaction I'd have vetoing today's uninterested publishers and printing my own.

03 April 2011

Dream Talk

Do you talk in your sleep? You do? What language do you use?

My Guy is a great one for talking in his sleep, the only trouble is I can’t understand a word he says? I can’t make up my mind if he’s talking Swahili or gibberish. It’s driving me mad. I suppose there’s nothing to say he has to speak in his own tongue but it would be ever so convenient if he did. It’s very frustrating. I mean, he could be revealing all sorts of secrets and there’s me not understanding a word. How would I know? My school never taught Swahili or even gibberish?

I wish I could sleep through it but, no, the minute he starts I wake … at least I think I do … and lie there in my little bed straining to decipher the words. It’s even worse when he talks about something exciting, when the voice rises almost to a crescendo making it impossible even to interpret the plot. I might just as well forget the whole thing and go back to sleep.

My trouble is I’m inquisitive and I don’t like being kept in ignorance over hush-hush things happening in the middle of the night. I wonder if someone could invent dreams with subtitles. The mind boggles sometimes when after a few grunts he starts with the action. The grunts are similar to the ones uttered at the start of a domestic, the sort that say ‘Oh no, not again!’ But when there’s one of those his arms don’t lash out and his legs certainly don’t start kicking. He’s quite a saintly person to argue with, that’s how I know he’s not dreaming about me! And it’s definitely not sexy behaviour … come to think of it I don’t believe I’ve ever seen how he reacts to a sexy dream. Perhaps he doesn’t have them anymore. I don’t like to ask… just in case...

One night I tried to record a lengthy conversation he was having but when I played it back the tape was totally blank. Perhaps I hadn’t switched the recorder on properly. I tried again the next night, making sure before I nodded off that the recorder was set up accurately and all I had to do was press a button. Again, when checked out the next day there was no recording although the tape had wound on to its full extent. Don’t you find that interesting? I tested the equipment, talking in English, and it recorded beautifully. After trying several times more I came to the conclusion that dream talk can’t be recorded … unless, of course, you know better.

01 April 2011

Talented Bloggers Part II

Today it is my privilege to link up with another blogging friend and to announce the publication of her book and her blog. The first post is dedicated to Star, who has written a book using the pseudonym Amanda Marigold. Amanda’s book is a mystery entitled Murder in the School … here's the synopsis. “The arrival of a new Head Teacher in the school causes turbulence amongst the staff. It isn't long before tensions escalate and strange things begin to happen. The school secretary decides to take matters into her own hands and begins to collect together the tools of her trade, which include a broom and three black cats.”

The mere mention of black cats has me wondering and I intend reading it as soon as I can. I read one of her stories on-line and believe me I couldn’t wait for the next part to be posted. Amanda Marigold is also the name of her new blog which you can find here. She has an open invitation to writers so why not pay her a visit and find out all about it.