30 August 2012

Feline Capers, part 2


There’s me, Lee, a lady cat. I’m the one telling the story.
Mom and dad, my human parents.
Tom and Sukie, my best feline friends.
Woof, a visiting Persian kitten with a daft name.


I had beef for dinner today. Mine comes in crunchy bits but mom gave me some of hers. I don’t normally eat human food but she knows I’m partial to a bit of cooked meat now and then. Best of it is I get it with gravy. You should see my tongue go when I get that; reckon I could win a medal for speed lapping. It’s always the gravy that hits the tummy first. I’m never given fish now.  I haven’t eaten it since a bit of bream made me sick. A man in the white coat, known as Vet, said I was allergic. I don’t see him very often, only when I’m under the weather or need one of those needle things that are supposed to keep cats healthy. Being the healthiest cat on the estate proves they work.

I did have fleas once. There was a right performance when mom discovered one jumping through my coat. I was whipped off to Mr Vet’s place faster than you could say Be Off. Straight away I was washed with some antiseptic solution that smelled revolting, even to me, and then the nurse gave mom some tablets to put in my food. I have one of those every day now and they appear to be working. My fur is scrutinised religiously once a week, mom and dad taking it in turns to do a full investigation.

After dinner I had a bit of a nap on the couch, then went for a stroll in the garden. It was pleasant, nice and warm and dry, just how I like it. I’ve no patience when it rains, can’t be doing with it at all, not since I fell in a fishpond when I was young. Anyway, I don’t like the way I smell when I get wet. You should see me after dad gives me a bath ... on second thoughts, perhaps you shouldn’t. You’d only laugh.

Smokey was just leaving when I reached the lawn; I saw his tail disappearing through the hole in the fence. The fence is quite dilapidated, rotten wood that’s falling to bits. It’s not a very big hole but each time he goes through he knocks another bit of wood out of place. Stupid cat got his whiskers caught once, he didn’t half squeal.

Almost every day mom has a go at dad about the fence and every time he promises to get people in to replace it. So far he’s done nothing. When mom gets annoyed I try to calm her down. If I wrap my body round her legs she softens, picks me up and gives me a cuddle. It’s worth all the aggro just to get a bit of fuss. I like it when she whispers sweet nothings in my ear and tells me all her secrets. Some of them are real eye-openers, I can tell you, but it’s more than my life’s worth to repeat them. Dad calls me a little heroine for being able to shut her up. I can only agree with him.

Anyway, back to the garden. There’d been a spattering of rain while I was indoors and I could see Tom stepping over a small puddle. Like me he hated to get his feet wet. There was no sign of Sukie. I thought about asking where she was but Tom looked so downcast I thought I’d better leave it alone. He’s too old for upsets. Well, not old exactly, not like me, but he is quite set in his ways. When I told him about the beef dinner he looked even more crestfallen. I promised to try and get him some meat next time I went in the house. I know where’s it’s kept in the pantry, all I have to do is wait for someone to open the door.

I noticed a scratch on Tom’s nose, wondered if he’d had another set-to with Smokey. Poor Tom was never able to stick up for himself but he was learning to since getting to know Sukie. I thought about that. It must be nice to have someone stick up for you. I’d never had that luxury. If there was a battle to be fought I was on my own. No back-up from other cats, but that was before Tom came to live here. I think I could rely on him to help out if the occasion arose. Not that it would. When I start there’s no stopping me; being female allows me to fight dirty, see. Basically though I have a gentle temperament; just ask mom, she knows what a softie I am.

As it turned out, the scratch was caused by Tom’s close encounter with a neighbour’s chicken. Apparently it got out of the run and Tom had tried to help Mr Man catch it. Tom told me that Mr Man kept trying to push him out of the way which was a bit hurtful when he was only trying to help. It’s not above us cats to be useful at such times. Well, the chicken must have decided it didn’t want to be caught because it struck out with its beak, hitting Tom right on the nose. Quite sensibly Tom decided to let Mr Man and his chicken get on with it.

Tom and I meandered round the garden. Me looking for bare patches in the lawn where I could have a good dig and Tom eyeing the birds. He has a thing about birds. He doesn’t mind them being there but when they fly he goes into an excited fit, leaping up as if he’s trying to do a pirouette. Daft as a brush! He seems to forget that all birds have beaks. I told him to calm down or he’d regret it. I said to him, you’ll do yourself a disservice, but he just looked at me as if I was out of my head. Oh well, he’ll learn in good time ... if he lives long enough. 

Mom called me in for afternoon tea ... hers, not mine. She likes her and me to have a cuddle while she watches the box in the corner. It’s called television. I have visions of my own when I’m on her lap being stroked. It’s nice being close to humans; I enjoy the smell of them, especially when mom’s been cooking. Human smells mingling with cooking smells are like an aphrodisiac, I feel quite aroused at times, hence the loud purring. I asked Tom if he wanted to come in as well, but he said he had to wait for Sukie. Shame, he could do with having a few visions.

I don’t think Tom has ever had his ears stroked, his owner is always out at work. I don’t even know if there’s any cooking done in his house. I’m sure he said there’s only him and the man living there and as far as I can make out men don’t cook. Perhaps it’s as well he couldn’t come in, mom might get too used to having more than one cat in the house and I don’t really want to share her with anyone. Dad’s okay, he’s human, but another animal could make life very difficult.

I’ll go in now. I can see another grey cloud coming over. Anyway, I’ve got to see if I can filch some beef for Tom. It would have been so much more convenient if he’d come here himself but never mind. 

Catch you later. 


28 August 2012



Brian Porter lay on the couch supported by plump cushions, all set for a much needed nap until he heard Gladys let herself in the front door. He groaned. He had forgotten it was Friday. He was hot and tired and not in the mood to cope with a vacuum cleaner motoring round at breakneck speed.
Gladys Stanhope breezed in, rolling her sleeves ready for action. 'Morning,' she trilled. 'Didn't expect to find you here.'
'Day off,' growled Brian.
'S'all right for some, I suppose.'
Brian tugged a cushion to support his neck. 'If you'd worked most of the night, you'd want the day off.'
Gone were the days when he could work nights and overtime without feeling fatigued, though he supposed at fifty-three he was entitled to slow down a pace. Maggie used to tell him he would never pass forty. That was when they were younger and sexually active, a long time before he changed his allegiance and found a lover.
The vacuum cleaner sped into the room, driven by the woman he simultaneously treasured and was irritated by. This was one of those times when her presence irritated but he was honest enough to admit it was due to being tired. When the machine advanced towards him, he propelled himself from the couch. Carping that he couldn't call the house his own, he collected his cigarettes and the Daily News and strode outside.
He collapsed in the rickety deck chair with such a bump several sparrows flew from the apple tree, insulting him as they went. 'Same to you,' he muttered as he settled back to watch a silver plane dawdling across the blue sky. Bound for an exotic location, he wouldn't wonder. He transferred his gaze to the lilac bush where Blackie was crouched ready to stalk some poor creature, a bird, or maybe a mouse. The old cat was too slow to catch anything but he persevered. A bit like me, he thought as he lit a cigarette and threw the dead match amongst the flowers. He eyed the curling smoke and yawned. His heart cried: Where are you, Audrey?
Tiredness invariably made him hanker to be wrapped in her comforting arms like in the old days when she cosseted him, pressing his head to her breasts and whispering tenderly until he fell sleep. A trickle of self-condemnation washed over him and he cursed the selfishness that had finally destroyed his happiness, eight miserable years ago. If he'd been truthful with Maggie, he might now be married to Audrey. Ironically, it was after Audrey ended the affair that Maggie discovered his secret and divorced him.
It was an amicable parting, if that's a fitting description for the break-up of a marriage. The disagreements relating to who should have what in the way of material things were nothing compared to the rumpuses whenever he worked late, or said he did. In the end he and Maggie parted on cordial terms. They'd had enough of wrangling over minuscule matters and treated the separation as a blessed release.
Now he had no-one.
Brian expelled a cloud of smoke and hacked like a bronchitic, a state of health Audrey predicted he'd acquire when old age drew near. Old age was not a prospect he anticipated with any real pleasure, not on his own. He stubbed the cigarette in the grass and covered his face with the paper. Soon his heavy eyelids drooped, the bees droning in the lilac lulling him into forgetfulness.
He dreamed he was on a traffic island, wielding his arms at hurtling cars. A gang of workmen arrived to install a set of traffic lights, but they got stuck in the widespread chaos and he couldn't get them through. In the end they got fed up waiting and ditched their van. Ignoring his appeals to hang fire, they trudged away. As they disappeared from view, Brian felt a tug on his arm.

Gladys said, 'I've brought your lunch.'
He blinked. It took a while to realise that Gladys was not part of the dream, that she really had brought his lunch. He focused on the small table beside him, feasting his eyes on a welcoming spread of salad and Camembert and coffee. Brilliant, he thought, his earlier antipathy having entirely disappeared. The old dear knows exactly how to take care of a man.


Brian spent the afternoon reading and doing laundry, in that order. Years ago Gladys had stipulated that he should scrub his own shirts and socks, alleging that doing his bedclothes was enough for any poorly paid cleaning woman. He had disputed the reference to insufficient remuneration. With a weekly wage twice that of other cleaners in Fieldmoor, not to mention the various perks, she was more than compensated for her efforts. When he challenged her claim, she assured him she was joking; when he threatened to slice her pay in half if she didn't behave, she warned him that she would suspend his guts from the window, appropriately labelled Skinflint. That was the year Maggie went. The ensuing years saw role reversal, the boss and charlady alliance converting to one of hectoring tyrant and reluctant slave, with him portraying the latter. He adored her, when his mood allowed.
At five o'clock he consumed three rashers of bacon and two fried eggs and washed the lot down with lager before tucking into the jam sponge Gladys had baked.
At six o'clock he went out, purchasing the evening paper at Setton's prior to strolling along the river to the Broadway pub, perusing the headlines as he went.

Ron Pearce fingered the knot in his paisley tie. 'Here he comes,' he cried. 'Constable Porter in the flesh.'
'More like PC Plod,' retorted Fred Smith as he ogled his bloodshot eyeballs at the landlady's low-cut red dress. 'You look nice in that frock, Jane.'
Jane simpered. 'Why thank you, Fred.'
Her husband took no notice of the exchange, simply folded back his cuffs and poured the drinks. 'Heard a good joke today,' he said.
A wicked moan travelled the length of the bar.
'You wanna hear it?'
'Go on,' said Fred.
'An Irishman purchased a new scarf, but after a couple of weeks he returned it to the store saying it was too tight.' Peter Fleming held his corpulent gut and roared with laughter.
Fred Smith kept his face straight. 'You're incredible.'
'Aye, that's what Jane keeps telling me.'
The men drank in silence, watching Jane as she bent to top up the peanut bowls. Fred's right, thought Brian. She does look a picture in that dress. It's perfect for waiting on lechers.
Brian gave Fred a game of darts, while Bill Mountford halved his attention between them and his newspaper. 'Incidentally,' Bill said. 'Did anyone hear about the tramp in our midst?'
Peter squinted. 'Is this a joke?'
'You've got jokes on the brain.' Bill swigged his beer, belched, and turned a page. 'Ellen spotted him going into Ardenrose Road. Old Gladys Stanhope was terrified. She flitted up Brian's entry to steer clear of him.'
Brian held his throw. 'Who ran up my entry?'
'Gladys, to get away from the tramp.'
Brian's dart missed the board. 'What tramp?' he enquired, bending to retrieve it.
Bill Mountford sighed. 'The one walking the lanes. Last seen heading towards Arbor Road, probably en route to Audrey's residence. He's likely found out about her weakness for solitary males.'
The men sniggered. They all knew about Brian's passion for Audrey.
Dropping the darts on the table, Brian took a swig of beer. 'I'd better go and explore,' he said.
Fred was uptight. 'What about the game?'
Buttoning his jacket, Brian stepped towards the door. 'If you ask Bill nicely, he might take my place.'

Once outside, he hesitated. Why on earth was he forsaking a decent pint and a game of
arrows just because Audrey's name was mentioned. He leaned against the wall and pulled his smokes from his pocket, debating whether or not to retreat to his beery refuge. The constitutional pull of drink and darts almost won. If it wasn't for a niggling conviction that tramps were perfidious, he would surrender to man's prerogative to indulge in occasional dipsomania and go inside. Lighting up and inhaling deeply, he supposed it wouldn't do any harm to take a gander; by and large it was preferable to be on the safe side, and he'd never forgive himself if he ignored the matter and something went wrong.


Brian promenaded up one side of Arbor road and down the other, keeping his distance from the glare of street lights. It was so intensely quiet the smack of his boots on the pavement seemed to echo. There were no nocturnal sounds, no wailing cats, not even a blaring radio.
At number forty-one, at the precise moment he stopped to survey the house, Audrey swished the curtains across the bedroom window. The courage which brought him suddenly ebbed away. He reeled to face the fields, not daring to dwell on the intimacies experienced in that room.

(to be continued)

27 August 2012

Monday Mirth

I want to be treated like a queen. Just not Marie Antoinette.


Don't make me use UPPERCASE


I'd like to give you a going-away present ... first, do your part.


I'm going south for the winter ... actually ... some parts of me ... are heading there already!

Happy Monday

26 August 2012

25 August 2012

Book Review


It’s a rare event for me to start a book and not finish it. Even if the story is lame I persevere because my curiosity won’t let me give up. Recently, however, I gave up on one, went back to it, then tried again. I told myself not to be stupid and get on with the story, even though it’s not my kind of book.

Sainsburys, my local supermarket, had a huge display of books by E L James on special offer: a trilogy of Fifty Shades ... Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. It was such an impressive display that I decided to read one. Not realising at the time that it was a trilogy I selected a book ... the middle one.

I was put right by the checkout girl. ‘Is that for you?’ she asked. When I said it was she went on to inform me that I should read the first one, ‘otherwise you won’t know what it’s all about’.

Well, I’ve read books out of sequence before and have always been able to follow the storyline. A good author should be able to keep a reader up to date no matter what order the books are read.

Rather than go back and change it, I decided to carry on with the purchase.

Now I know why she smiled at me so meaningfully.

My habit is to read a chapter in the morning and another at night but reading the book at those times was, to say the least ... er ... disturbing. Having said that, I’m not sure at what time of day I could have read it without feeling ... er ... moved. There are NO sexual innuendos, what you get is the full blown thing in graphic detail and what the main characters do to each other is ... yes ...beyond belief. This isn’t just a sex book, it’s a damned instruction manual with sadism and masochism thrown in for good measure.

I’ve written some steamy stuff but I think readers would find that most actions are left to the imagination. Not so with the Fifty books. It’s fine detail or nothing. Sorry E L James but I won’t be reading the other two books. A brief glimpse in the red room of pain finished me forever. It’s positively indecent. No wonder your books are being burned in America.

The blurb on the book’s cover reads: Romantic, liberating and totally addictive, this is a novel that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.

Ye Gods, I do hope not.

Interestingly there were no reviews printed on the cover or inside the book. I did read some reviews on Amazon, though, and the following two extracts are from lengthy critiques ... which everyone seemed to agree with:

1.       It is an act of sadism against the English language.

2.      Sadly, I thought the story had great potential but this seemed to be lost in page after   page of highly descriptive sex.

I wonder if the supermarket realised what the books were like? As I said, it was a huge display. Strangely enough I haven’t seen them anywhere else.  If they’re in the booksellers, they’ve been carefully hidden.

I normally give my books to the local charity shop, but not this time  ...  this one is going in the trash where it feels comfortable.

23 August 2012

Feline Capers, part 1


There’s me, Lee, a lady cat. I’m the one telling the story.
Mom and dad, my human parents.
Tom and Sukie, my best feline friends.
Woof, a visiting Persian kitten with a daft name.


Hello. My name is Lee and before I go any further I have to tell you what a pretty cat I am. I’m mainly white but I have some very fetching black markings on my back and the top of my head. I’m a ladylike cat, or so my owner keeps telling her friends and neighbours. She’s right, of course, I am very elegant and apparently royal because she keeps saying when I sit my front legs look like Queen Anne’s. I don’t know the woman but she must be okay if I sit like her.

It feels like forever since I arrived here in my third home, fourth if you count the market. I don’t remember much about the first one because I was shoved out when I was very small. Me and seven others.  I think we were related but it’s too long ago to remember exactly. We ended up at the market, cooped up in a cage. Even now I recall how hot and smelly it was and sometimes I wake in the night thinking I’m still there. I was rescued for a while by an old man who died a few months after I got there. It was just my luck to be whipped back to the market. What a relief to know those days are over. Now I live in a proper house. Brick built, carpets on the floor, a garden to explore, and toys to cuddle up to. 

My favourite toy is a tailless, one-eared mouse and that’s because I attacked it on sight. I wasn’t used to such things, you see. Not even real ones. Dad thought it would be great fun to roll the lifelike toy towards me and, of course, I went berserk. Pulled the ear off in one bite and felt victorious doing it. It was only afterwards I realised the mouse was a toy. Obviously I know the difference now, I’m not entirely stupid. Every night I chew off a bit more of the fur while imagining it’s the real thing.

Mom likes to kit me out in new collars. I’ve had four or five since I arrived here but most of them were lost while climbing trees. You should see the present one: state of the art tartan with a silver medallion bearing my name.  I don’t think it is real silver but I like to think mom gives me the best. I don’t have a pedigree or anything to say I come from a good background. In fact I don’t think even Mom knows where I originated. For all I know I might have unsavoury parentage but I do my best to act like I come from good stock.

You’ll have gathered by now that I’ve got human parents and I have to say it’s no bad thing. Mom and dad look after me well, good food and plenty of attention which I return whenever I can. If Mom picks me up I always put my paws round her neck and nuzzle into her. She adores that, she goes all soppy and tells me how much she loves me. You can’t blame me for stretching it out, can you? I like being told nice things. It’s good for my ego.

It’s a bit different with dad; all he wants to do is play with bits of string and rolled up silver foil. I join in, of course I do. It would be silly not to. I mean what would be the point of watching the foil ball roll past and not try to stop it. Actually I quite like the way my claws sink into it. It makes a soft crackling noise, the sort of noise that makes me want to do it all over again. Another game is called catch the pea but this drives mom mad. Dad will insist on throwing me an odd pea or two when they have them for dinner. Old as I am I never fail to catch one which is probably a good thing since mom keeps warning him that if she finds peas on the floor she’ll kill him. I’d hate to be responsible for that. When I hear the tension rise I disappear inside my paper bag. It’s peaceful in there. I usually have a sleep until the atmosphere changes.

I only have one complaint about living here and that’s the frequent visits of a Siamese cat called Smokey. Daft name for a cat but I suppose it describes his appearance. He has a cream body and a lilac face, ears, legs and tail.  Sounds more like a flower than a cat. Well, this Smokey comes through our fence and gazes round, positively radiating his snootiness. Even if he’s out of sight we know he’s there, that stupid bell around his neck gives him away every time. He thinks he’s important, walks up the path as if he owns it. I tell you, I may be a lady cat but I know how to fight and I won’t let that upstart put one over on me.  

One day, when I was lying in the sunshine, there was a right kerfuffle on our lawn when Smokey intruded on a tête-à-tête between big black Tom from next door and ginger Sukie from the other side. I saw it happen from my spot by the laburnum tree. They were minding their own business, planning a love tryst for all I know. They’d been pretty friendly for a while and I couldn’t fathom why they didn’t get together. Anyway, Smokey walked up the path in that highfalutin manner of his and barged in between the two of them. I put my head down. I knew what a temper Tom had and didn’t want to get involved. That’s the beauty of being an older cat; I can keep my distance without offending anyone. They just think I’m past it; little do they know what I’m capable of when roused. We’ll keep that bit of info between you and me, if you don’t mind. I don’t want all my secrets revealed. There are occasions when the surprise element is a valuable thing.

Generally speaking I can tolerate foreign cats but the Siamese gets on my nerves. There are two more in the road but they don’t ever step outside their boundaries. It’s only Smokey who does that. He acts like a grandiose VIP so it’s no wonder he rubs animals up the wrong way. Mom doesn’t like him either. She hammers on the window whenever she sees him, while dad’s face turns puce with temper. He rushes out and yells at the top of his voice ... Smokey soon disappears when he starts, as well as all the birds. The reason dad doesn’t like him is because he drinks the water in the birdbath and pinches the apple cores that are thrown out for what dad calls his feathered friends. Aren’t humans funny the way they conjure up silly names for animals? A cat down the road is called Charlesworth but I’d better not go on about him ... I’d probably die laughing.

On the day of the fracas Sukie actually made a play for Smokey. Well, not exactly a ‘play’ but she definitely gave him the eye. Now I know what mom means when she uses the expression fast cat because that’s what Sukie was being, a fast cat. She actually nuzzled Smokey’s ear. I was about to look away when I saw Tom’s paw fly up. His claws looked wicked as he struck Smokey on the nose. That did it. I flew into the house where it was safe. Female cats are difficult to understand sometimes. I mean, why eye another cat when you’ve got a good steady male who dotes on you? Daft, if you ask me. Yes, I know I’m a female feline as well, let’s just say I have no tendencies for flirting. Come to think of it, I don’t have tendencies in any direction. I’m content as I am, with just a mom and a dad to please. Can’t be doing with all that hanky-panky the youngsters get up to.

Oh well, that’s enough storytelling. I need my sleep. I might even go upstairs to lie on the bed, or inside it if mom’s forgotten to tuck in the sheets. It’s my favourite sleeping place, especially at night when the folks are in it. There’s nothing like nestling between two humans even if dad does moan about it.

Maybe I’ll catch up with you some other time.


21 August 2012


The fictitious village of Fieldmoor is where forty-nine year old Audrey Buckham embarks on an ordeal by phone and steps into a nightmare of sensual desire shared exclusively with a mysterious, licentious man. A single woman, she lives alone now that her son, Matthew, works abroad. She is still attractive to the opposite sex, but the eight years following the split with Brian Porter, Matthew's father, have been entirely chaste. Because of loneliness (Gladys Stanhope is her only true friend) she tends to imagine situations where none exist.

Was it the Vicar. Or Brian? Or Norman or Fred or Bill. Or maybe it was Brian's son, David, who was responsible for the distressing calls. Whoever it was, he was driving Audrey Buckham towards a cerebral breakdown.
A mature and beautiful woman, not ordinarily susceptible to feelings of fear, her nerves were rapidly reaching saturation point. Her whole world would soon disintegrate and the self-loathing, a consequence of the calls, would propel her to that blessed place they call insanity.

Read on…….


The table rocked on its spindly legs when Audrey Buckham banged down the phone. It was the third time that week it had rung and no-one answered, and twice the week before. 'Must think I've got nothing better to do,' she grumbled as she stalked back to the kitchen, but quickly forgot the incident when she resumed her breakfast and surrendered to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

She adored music and consistently at breakfast she set the volume high. Except when Matthew was home. He elected for peace and quiet after an exhausting stint abroad, though not for a moment did Audrey believe that teaching English to the Germans was as exhausting as he made out. She suspected most of his tiredness came from too much beer and courting too many young girls.
Glancing at the clock, she wondered if there was sufficient time to toast more bread, but the music changed to her favourite composition and she began instead to wave a finger of buttered toast in tune. The piece reminded her of Brian, waving his arms and whooping Crescendo whenever the melody soared. She could still picture him as he was when they met - charming, and a bit of a clown - uttering the words which ignited their affair: I'll be able to come round for a cup of tea.
Clicking off the portable tape recorder, she paused to study her son's photograph on the wall, hanging crooked because of her inability to hold the picture hook steady while she hammered in the nail. 'You're a handsome brute, Matthew,' she said, and fancied she saw his eyes twinkle in agreement.

His resemblance to Brian was uncanny. He possessed the same craggy features and furrowed brow as his father, and both had a cleft in the chin. She had heard somewhere that a deep cleft was supposed to be the sign of a sexy man, which was certainly true of Brian. She couldn't speak for Matthew.
Once again glancing at the clock she was shocked to see it was time to leave for work. Hastily she patted powder on her cheeks and swept her hair into a knot, pinning it to hold the weight. Gathering her white nylon overall, bag, and spare handkerchief, she left the house, humming the tune which threatened to haunt her day.


At the corner of the road the Reverend Michael Spencer was conferring with the window cleaner.  As Audrey approached he interrupted his conversation and lifted his black trilby to greet her. 'Good day, my dear. I was just saying to Samuel how nice it is to enjoy some warmth after months of wind and rain. I pray it stays like this for the garden fete. Are you working today?'
'Part of it,' Audrey replied. 'I'm spending the afternoon with Gladys.'
'Ah. In that case, I wonder if you would both come to the vicarage for sandwiches and tea. Say five o'clock?'
Audrey cringed. 'I'm not sure what Gladys has planned. Can I let you know?'
'You can, my dear. Mind, I will be extremely disappointed if you cannot make it.'
Audrey knew by the way he persistently closed in on her that Michael liked her, but his nearness gave her the creeps. She wasn’t one for familiar immediacy. Occasionally his head came so close she caught his sour breath, a distasteful experience even with someone she liked. On those grounds she would have to reject the offer, not forgetting that if she accepted this first invitation others would surely follow.
Sensing that Sam Wilding was about to say something, Audrey waited, but when no words came she took her leave. If she was late reaching the store Carol would have another go about her timekeeping. She would then feel obliged to stay over and that would disrupt the whole afternoon.


Audrey bent to pinch out a few leaves of thyme which grew in small clumps between the slabs of Gladys's path. Sniffing her fingers, she carried on towards the maroon door where a single bearded Iris inclined towards the drainpipe as if trying to escape from a carpet of purple Aubretia. Receiving no response to the second knock, she went round to the side of the house. The gate screeched on neglected hinges, setting her teeth on edge. She thumped on the back door and yelled, 'Gladys.'
The neighbour's dark head appeared above the privet which separated the two gardens. 'She's here,' said Diane Pearce. 'Come on round.'
Stepping through the connecting gate, ducking to avoid sinuous lengths of honeysuckle, Audrey encountered Cocoa, Diane's aptly named Labrador who was sprawled across the gravel feigning sleep. One dark brown eye opened when she stooped to stroke him. 'You're an old fraud,' she laughed.
Gladys was kneeling on the lawn, her black skirt spread out like a circular rug. Even though her term of widow's mourning finished years before, Gladys Stanhope still wore black. Diane squatted opposite. Albeit a little unkempt, she appeared rather youthful in a simple flowered shift. Between the two women were varying lengths of wallpaper, stretched out and secured at each corner with stones.
'Whatever are you doing?' asked Audrey. She listened to Diane's explanation that Gladys wanted wallpaper for the vicarage shelves, then took advantage of the ready-made opportunity to drop her bombshell about the Vicar's unexpected solicitation.
Diane's reaction was one of utter amazement. 'What!' she cried.
Gladys smiled and mumbled that she already knew.
Audrey demanded to know how.
'Sam told me when he asked for a date.'
Enlightenment dawned. The reason for Sam Wilding's earlier bemused expression became clear to Audrey, as did his recent practice of always being near Gladys wherever she happened to be. Michael's invitation must have thrown the poor man's plan to the wind.
'Sam?' squawked Diane.
'Yes,' replied Gladys.
'Lord!' Diane's monosyllabic astonishment was quite hilarious.
Gladys clambered to her feet. 'You'll have to go solo, Audrey,' she said as she began rolling the last length of paper. 'Bless you for this, Diane. If the Vicar ever notices he's got shelves, I'm sure he'll be pleased they're covered.' Clutching the awkward bundle, she struggled to the gate, calling over her shoulder, 'Thanks for the coffee.'
Audrey grinned as she trailed behind Gladys. She could tell Diane was flabbergasted by the small incursion into her neighbour's private life. 'I'll keep you posted with developments,' she called, closing the gate behind her.


While Gladys brewed the tea, Audrey stayed in the parlour, gazing through the window at Brian's cat curled beneath a bowing Philadelphus, completely oblivious to the scurrying squirrels. It seemed to her that squirrels led very uncomplicated lives, unlike humans who bustle into turmoil at the press of a button. What should she do about Michael? Could she perhaps invent a headache? Or maybe Gladys would .....
'You could come out with us.'
Audrey swivelled round to see Gladys propped against the door. Utterly amazed that she should make such an appalling suggestion, Audrey refused on account of it being unfair to Sam, and went on to expound the reluctance she would have felt to include a third party in an outing with Brian.
Gladys shrugged and returned to the kitchen.
Endeavouring to find an excuse which would cause least offence, Audrey wrapped her tongue around a couple of the favourites she used in her old job at the police station … a migraine or an appointment. But she was acting like a ten year old. Why couldn't she tell him straight she didn't want to go? Cross with herself for being cowardly, she shot into the kitchen and faced Gladys, standing with legs astride and arms akimbo. 'I don't have to do anything I don't want,' she cried.
'Of course you don't,' agreed Gladys. 'Now sit down and drink this tea while it's hot.'


Audrey arrived home earlier than expected, her normally high spirits in decline. The cause mystified her though she suspected it had to do with Michael's summons, and if that was the case she should be committed for allowing a man like him get her down. He had accepted with good grace her excuse about expecting a call from Matthew, but the actual falsehood depressed her. To lie to a man of the cloth was a despicable thing to do, but she could hardly confess her view that he was objectionable. Attempting to put the matter behind her, she collected her library book and knitting and went into the garden. Basking in warm sunshine would do her more good than mentally struggling with her misdeed.
She sat on the peeling rustic bench so that, if she wanted, she could put her feet up and have a nap. As soon as she settled, as if they had waited for her to stop fiddling about, four blue tits landed on the birdbath. Without a sound she lowered the book, hoping that if she remained motionless they might bathe. One bird hopped in but right away flew out, and he and his mates departed in a panic to a nearby tree. Audrey looked to see what had caused the disturbance, expecting to see a prowling cat or a fox, hearing instead the recognisable thumps of Vera and Bess clumping over cobbles to reach her gate, dragging school bags behind them, typically choosing the most difficult route instead of using the path. At fifteen, Audrey considered they should have better regard for their belongings.
The two girls had been firm friends since infants. With Vera living next door, Audrey had watched them grow. They treated her as a companion instead of just another meddling grown-up. She guessed it was curiosity that brought them initially, but they soon recognised that she was someone they could talk to and discuss their problems with. They were colourful characters. One day Audrey hoped to have grandchildren just as chirpy, but Matthew showed no sign of settling down. It didn't bother her much; frequently she told herself that forty-nine was much too young to be cast in a grandmother's role.
'Coo-ee, Miss Buckham,' called Bess as she pushed Vera through the gate.

Audrey planted a kiss on each girl's cheek and advanced towards the house, inviting the girls to taste her fresh lemonade. When they didn't respond, she enquired if their tongues had gone walkabout.
Bess coloured, and mumbled, 'Yes.'
Unable to resist the temptation to tease, Audrey enquired, 'Yes what? A walkabout?' Her sarcastic humour, however, fell on stony ground.
Vera was quiet. She was like that some days, sulking over something her mother said. When that happened, it was hard to pull her out of it. Her mother, Liz, was a short-tempered, discontented woman who argued with her husband and nagged at her daughter. On the other hand Gerald was placid and kind, more like a chum than a father. Vera loved him. She only mentioned her mother if there was a stupefying report to divulge.
The girls leaned against the fridge-freezer while Audrey poured lemonade into the new tall glasses, the ones with hand painted lemons she bought especially for them to use. She threw in a few cubes of ice and added straws.
'Mum uses straws now,' stated Bess. 'It's easier for her when she's in the wheelchair. I only give her a mug when I get her out. I got her those curly ones last week. She likes them.'
Vera sucked on her straw until the lemonade reached the half way mark. 'Did you know there's a tramp in the village?'
The ringing telephone prevented Audrey from replying. She went to answer it, listened to the silence for a minute, then exclaimed, 'Really,' and crashed the handset on the cradle. Muttering profanities, she returned to the kitchen and began to drag the chairs in place, picking crumbs off the cloth and moving the cruet an inch or two. Her cheeks burned with exasperation ... the business with the telephone was beyond a joke.
The girls viewed her with amusement. Audrey reckoned they had a right considering her uncharacteristic behaviour. She made an effort to concentrate, to recall what they were discussing before the damn phone rang. She sat down and at once stood up to fetch more drinks. If only she could remember.
Vera moved her straw across the bottom of the glass with her mouth, drawing up every drop of lemonade. 'Mrs Coombes said he's dangerous and we mustn't go near him.'
'Who?' asked Audrey.
'The tramp.'
Ah, yes. The tramp; the man who looked like a delegate for a rag merchants' conference and reeked like summer dustbins. But that didn't mean he was a threat. As she refilled the glasses, she disclosed the fact that certain men choose to live in the open and aspire to cut themselves off from society. Deep within she wished the person on the phone would also sever his or her attachment to civilisation.
Bess smoothed her urchin-cut blonde hair, crossed one bare leg over the other. 'I'll give him a thick ear if he comes near me.'
Vera burst into hysterical laughter.
Audrey saw why, and it was all she could do to keep her own face straight.
Bess looked indignant. 'I will,' she insisted, breaking off when she saw Vera pointing at her lap. Uncrossing her legs she went to stand in front of her and, with her hands placed on her hips, demanded, 'What's wrong with you, stupid?'
Vera hiccuped twice, then belched and blurted out, 'You've got a hole in your drawers.'
Audrey slapped Vera's back to stop her from choking.
Mortified, her bottom lip drooping, Bess plonked her grey school hat on her head and, without a word, marched out, leaving Vera to follow.
Harking back to her own schooldays, Audrey giggled. How well she remembered the navy-blue knickers, the tight elastic which scored red weals on her thighs, the split seams you could poke a finger through.

(to be continued)