31 December 2012

Monday Mirth

 Referring back to my new Hoover washer-dry, here's a snippet from the instruction book:

This appliance is not intended for use by persons (including children) with reduced physical, sensory or mental capabilities, or lack of experience and knowledge, unless they have been given supervision or instruction concerning use of the appliance by a person responsible for their safety.

heehee that’s why hubby is not allowed to use the machine!
(it was his idea to include this snippet)

Wishing all my friends a very Happy New Year

30 December 2012

Hubby's Christmas Present

Not so long ago John Bain posted a couple of pictures that he'd drawn, pen and ink style. I was impressed. In fact, they were so good they prompted me to think of having something similar done for Joe's Christmas present. I pondered on it for at least a couple of days before I put shyness to one side and asked if he could do one for me! 'Yes', he said, 'just send me a photograph and I'll see what I can do.' 

I waded through all my pictures until I found one taken by a professional photographer on a cruise liner, when Joe was all dressed up ready for dinner. He looks so distinguished in a dinner jacket so I decided to use that one. I couldn't wait to see the finished product. 

There was a tense moment when it arrived and the postman handed the package to Joe. I can't remember what I said it was but you can rest assured it was a lie! It was a few hours before I could get it to the framing gallery and decide on a frame. 

It would be several weeks, they said. I pleaded with them to get it done for Christmas ... and they did ...  just! 

The guys at the gallery raved about the picture. Damn good, was one remark, while another wanted to know who the artist was. 

John's efforts were first class and I am now able to show the world what a talented artist he is. Here it is, framed, and hanging on the wall, and what's more, Joe loves it. 

 Thank you, John. 

29 December 2012


The old washer-dryer bites the dust. I guess when it reached the age of seven it decided it had had enough, I could tell by the way it screeched when the dryer was on, as if it was grinding it’s metal teeth. I know how it felt, I was grinding my teeth as well.

That was on Sunday. Sunday afternoon Joe and I went to a Curry’s store to look at new machines. I chose one made by Hoover. We always try to buy products made by a reputable manufacturer; rightly or wrongly, if I don’t know the name I don’t trust it.

The chosen machine had all the attributes necessary for a good working model plus a few extras so we decided to buy it there and then.

‘When would you like it delivered?’ asked the salesman.

Gobsmacked, I tried to think of a date! Then I saw a notice that said We deliver products whenever YOU want them. I was about to suggest a day when the salesman said ‘Tomorrow?’

Oh heaven! No waiting to do the next wash.

We were told that the company would ring us an hour before they were due to deliver but it was also pointed out that if we looked on line we could see the delivery slots ourselves.  I checked the site first thing Monday morning, inserted the required code number, and saw the words WE’RE ON OUR WAY. The delivery slot was 6.55 to 10.55. The time then was 7am. Shortly after that, the phone rang. We’ll be there in ten minutes.

‘What?’ I cried, ‘I’m not dressed yet.’

That caused a laugh.

How wonderful that you can have a product delivered so quickly. Ordered Sunday ... in possession of new machine in a matter of hours. We told everybody about the wonderful service.

The machine was duly installed and over the next few days I used it twice. The third time... wait for it... it broke down, or so I thought. Oh, it washed okay but didn’t spin the water out. I tried another programme but the same happened, or rather didn’t happen. The problem was reported and an engineer came out to see what the problem was.

It seems the machine is programmed to override the wishes of the person using it. It is cleverly designed (presumably by a man!) to weigh up items for washing, judging that one ‘towel’ too many will stop the draining process. The machine has a ‘half load’ facility which it selects all by itself.  Clever stuff! However, if it’s that clever why can’t it just nip over to a full load wash and forget the fact that there’s one small piece too many?

Gone are the days when you shoved everything in, selected a programme, pressed a button, and waited for the machine to do the work. Now it ‘weighs up’ what you put in and woe betide you if you get it wrong. Don’t misunderstand me, it works fine, it’s just that it’s fussy about draining water from clothes when there’s a misfit in there.  

Fine. So I had a small ‘sheet’ that needed washing, one that was big enough to ‘fool the machine’, or so I thought. Actually I use the word ‘sheet’ because I don’t know what else to call a piece of lightweight candlewick that was once used as a seat cover when doggy had muddy paws.

At the end of the programme, there it was, soaking wet. Take something out, the engineer had said. Considering there was only one item in the machine I found that rather difficult. I tried something else. I tried adding a couple of towels (clean ones!!). Pressed the button and waited. Everything came out soaking wet. I took something out all right, I removed the item I was trying to wash in the first place.... the small sheet. Pressed the button and watched while the machine happily spun water out of the two towels and then proceeded to dry them. Why the hell couldn’t it do the small sheet at the same time?

I have visions of future conversations with this machine:

I’ll just add another garment.
Like hell you will.
Just one more, pretty please?

It rather looks as if I have a battle with technology. It’s either me or it, and if it thinks it’s going to dictate my life then it’s got another think coming.  I will not be beaten by a mere machine; no matter how long it takes I am DETERMINED to win over this newfangled appliance.

Finally let me record my latest attempt at success:

The load: a typical lightweight wash programme, man’s shirt, winter weight sleeveless vest and pants plus one pair of socks, and three pairs of lady’s panties. All items were washed perfectly but not spun. Upon opening the machine I found the clothes lying there – sodden.

Remembering the engineer’s advice I removed the shirt and selected the spin programme,  which worked perfectly. Afterwards I returned the shirt to the empty machine and spun it. So it seems that in this case the shirt was the culprit. Hubby now thinks he should rethink the way he dresses! Maybe he should wear more shirts so they can be washed without other garments? I’m thinking of putting a notice on the laundry bag – NO SHIRTS BY REQUEST. That should do it, don’t you think? Think of all the ironing I WON’T have to do unlike my former machine that I controlled in such a way that ironing was almost non-existent.

27 December 2012


Matthew took advantage of his mother's shopping excursion to organise his surprise. Suspecting she did not have much in her life beyond work he was anxious to give her a decent night out. We'll have dinner in town, he decided, looking round for the telephone directory. He found the book in the hall table and ran through the page-long list of restaurants. He came across the Court Hotel where one could have set meals in the Conrad Room or a la carte in the Palm where on Saturdays a trio played. It sounded a bit top notch for him but he reckoned his Mum would go for it. He phoned to book and a condescending receptionist informed him that until five minutes before they had been fully booked.
'Does that mean you have or haven't got a table?' he enquired.

'We have received a cancellation,' replied the girl.
Wondering why she bothered to complicate matters, Matthew reserved a table for eight o'clock. He shut the phone book with a flourish, pleased that the outing had been easy to arrange. All he needed to do now was decide how best to spring the surprise, whether to get his mother out of the house and then tell her, or lie and pretend to take her to the cinema.
With various schemes filtering through his brain he went to return the book. The drawer had jammed. He jostled it, and groped inside, then tackled the problem from the drawer above. Once that was removed he could see a six-inch square, white cloth bag. He eased it out, recognising it as the one his mother made for shuffling Scrabble tiles. Puzzled, he untied the cord and took out five micro cassettes, four of them individually wrapped in white tissue. He wondered if they'd been hidden accidentally or by design.
Curiosity compelled him to remove the current cassette from the talk machine and insert the unwrapped one. He pressed the start button and sat down to listen to what he expected would be a stir of routine messages, totally unprepared for what was to follow, an unfolding of such salacious filth that his flesh seemed suddenly infested.
'Jesus Christ!' he cried, unaware that he was beating the table with his fist until the machine jarred. The lewd words hiccupped then continued without further pause until Matthew, his mouth labouring uncontrollably, ejected the tape and hurled it across the hall. His distressed howls did nothing to temper the blistering repugnance for a man not even worthy to be dubbed a psychopath.


'Am I glad to see you,' Audrey said as she struggled to unlatch the gate. The sight of Matthew on the step was decidedly welcome in view of all the bags she carried. 'Give me a hand, there's a dear. I didn't intend buying this much but I got carried away with you being home. Carol said to tell you Hello by the way.'
Matthew didn't answer, he merely collected the bags and carted them into the house; nor did Audrey notice that anything was wrong, she was just glad to be rid of the load, thinking how good it was to have him available for tasks such as these.
Inside she shouldered the door to, absently rubbing her deadened fingers and vowing never again to carry heavy goods in plastic bags. Inevitably she checked the machine for messages, sighing thankfully when she saw the red light was still and not constantly blinking like it usually was. But she jumped like a startled doe when she saw the tapes stacked one on top of the other and the empty bag beside them. Pallid faced, she pawed the wall, seeking support.
At once Matthew was at her side to help, assisting her with the removal of her coat, planting it on top of the four carrier bags by the wall. He seized her elbow and guided her into the lounge, pressing her onto the couch. He crouched in front of her and gripped her hands. His words were strangled when he addressed her.
'Why didn't you tell me, Mum?'
'I c-couldn't.'
'Who is he?'
'I don't know.' Audrey pulled free and covered her eyes, wishing with all her might that the ground would crack open and suck her into obscurity. 'I'm so ashamed,' she sobbed.
Matthew began tramping backwards and forwards, finding this very difficult to deal with.  Audrey shivered as she tracked his progress. She applied pressure to her temples; it felt as if an iron belt was clamping her skull. Perhaps if she stood upright ....
'Have you told the police?' demanded Matthew.
Red blotches appeared on Audrey's throat. She crossed her legs and nervously drummed the air with her foot. In a quivery voice, she reluctantly answered the question. 'Gladys told Brian, and he made me promise to tell him if I got another call. But I didn't.'
'Why ever not?'
Without warning, Audrey shot off the couch. Her eyes blazed and her nostrils widened like a rabid dog. She felt commensurately crazed. 'How could I?' she shrieked. 'They'd want details and I couldn't give them any. I couldn't repeat such loathsome things. I can't even listen to his bloody voice, let alone talk about it.'
God forgive her for these untruths.
'For Christ's sake, Mum. You wouldn't need to say anything. Just give them the tapes.'
Matthew leaned down to touch her shoulder. 'Well, it can't go on. First thing tomorrow we'll give the story to the police. Okay?'
What could she do? Arguing would make him suspicious and her motive for keeping quiet might be exposed. She couldn't endure it if he discovered that his mother had downgraded to the status of a slut,. For that reason she nodded her agreement, though inwardly praying for help with the battle for ongoing secrecy.
'Don't worry, we'll sort him out.' Matthew cupped her face and brushed her tears away with his thumbs. He spoke as if soothing a child. 'Put it out of your mind because I'm taking you out tonight and you'll look silly with mottled cheeks. Now, why don't you take a shower and deck yourself out in your prettiest frock.'

Compliantly, Audrey crossed the room, finding it easier to give in than put up a fight. In any case, it was essential to reserve some strength for potential disputes, and for the effort needed to assuage tension as eight o'clock hovered near. She was surprised at the stiffness in her legs and arms, both sets of limbs seeming disinclined to move.
Malcolm watched her with troubled eyes, and his head moved from side to side as she passed.


Early the next morning, Matthew fried bacon and eggs and carried a loaded tray to his mother's bedroom, walking in without stopping to consider that she might be indisposed. She lay quite still, staring at the ceiling, unblinking like a prostrate dummy. He thought for the first time that maybe he shouldn't be there, that she might not want him in her room. Blushing slightly, he started to retreat, but he'd only taken a single pace when she turned towards him and beckoned him to her bed like he was still a kid.
Stepping over the cream dress which his mother wore last night and which lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, and ignoring her protestations that she preferred to eat downstairs, Matthew positioned the tray on her knees. He was rewarded with a smile as she gave in and drank her tea.
She looked pinched, as if sleep had eluded her, and there was a smudge of brown mascara circling one eye. She flicked on the radio and adjusted the sound, while Matthew gathered up the dress and laid it on the nearest chair, on top of various items of underwear that looked as if they'd been dumped in a hurry. He rescued the abandoned shoes and put them near the wardrobe. Assured of his mother's absorption in the music, he playfully whacked the snout of the largest teddy bear and left the room.
But the instant the door clicked behind him the outwardly impish attitude disappeared. He tumbled down the stairs two at a time, halting momentarily at the bottom to cock his head and listen. Hearing only music, he went to the telephone and dialled a number.


A small cough came through the wire, and a sleepy voice inviting identification.
Overlooking the preliminaries, Matthew stated the reason for his call. 'I'm taking Mum to the police station to report the obscene calls,' he said, 'and I must say I'm amazed you didn't insist on it.'

'I beg your pardon?' cried Gladys.
'You knew about the calls, yet you did sod all.' The hostility was clear as he persisted with his reproach. 'Jesus! And to think you're reputed to be her friend. Was the affair too nasty for you to bother with?'
Matthew thought she'd cut off when he got no response to his tirade but, when she did speak, the full extent of her anger made him cringe.
'I don't need a whipper snapper like you ringing at first light and talking to me as though I was something hatched in the gutter. Now start again. What am I supposed to have done?'
Owing to his uncertainty about how to proceed, Matthew echoed his initial statement.
In a less severe tone, Gladys advised him that his mother did mention the phone calls. 'She begged me not to tell anyone.'
Matthew gasped.
'As a matter of fact,' she went on, 'I ignored it. I told your Dad, and he talked to her. The problem died a death because, according to your mother, it was all a practical joke. So why are you getting at me?'
After chewing over what she said, Matthew adopted a remorseful approach. 'I apologise. That's me for you, always jumping to conclusions. Do I understand you right? Mum didn't confess other calls?'
'She did not.'
Matthew's hitherto iron control was abruptly and irretrievably demolished and it was several minutes before he was in peripheral charge of his emotions. 'She's got five bloody tapes chock full of bloody obscenities,' he said, the outrage back in his voice.
'My Good God!'
Matthew heard the receiver fall at the other end and Gladys moaning in the background, lamenting repeatedly, 'Poor, poor woman.' He imagined her rocking to and fro and tried to penetrate her anguish by calling her name down the phone. A crackling noise smacked his ear when she picked up the receiver. 'Will you come with us to the station?' he asked. 'Mum needs you.'
'I'm on my way, boy.' Gladys's voice overflowed with raw emotion. 'Just as soon as I excuse myself to the Vicar for not going to work today.'

(to be continued)

24 December 2012



The scene beyond the rustic garden gate was like a Christmas card. Outside the ivy laden cottage a robin was perched in a holly bush. A recent snowfall covered the thatched roof like oddly shaped clumps of cotton wool. Leaded light windows reflected the orange flames from the fire. Beneath those windows, a wooden wheelbarrow filled with logs.  The bare beech tree looked strangely out of place, dull brown when everything else was highly coloured. The cottage door, as red as the holly berries, was adorned by a festive wreath. The door was ajar and inside could be seen a Swedish Pine of mammoth proportions ablaze with twinkling lights. And the aroma that emanated from within was of turkey, slowly roasting.
In the snow-packed lane, an elderly itinerant peered over the boundary hedge, white unkempt hair wafting skywards in the biting wind. With ice-cold fingers he smoothed it over his crown then pulled his shabby grey coat closer to his chest. The motions were entirely mechanical for he was truly not  conscious of the cold. He had no need of fires or Christmas fare, for his soul was warmed through with love of Jesus, who kept him safe and whose birthday they shared.


22 December 2012



The sun shone on the frozen town, but it yielded no warmth to the boy whose occupation was to construct a cave. Diligently, in the quiet churchyard, he chiselled impacted snow with his boot, squatting occasionally to scoop chippings with his bare hands. He could hear the choristers singing: Oh Come All Ye Faithful. His favourite. Humming as he worked, he felt strangely ashamed that he did not know the words, but then he had never been encouraged to learn religious songs.

The Boy in his ignorance did not understand

Tiring of the pointless exercise, the boy adjusted his baseball cap. Hungry and cold, he shoved his numb hands into his pockets and considered going home, but the idea was discounted as quickly as it occurred. His Dad would be on the Internet and he hated to be disturbed when he was surfing. It was all he thought of, except when Sky Sport was on the telly. Christmas meant nothing to him; there were too many mysteries for his liking.

The Boy, in his ignorance, did not understand

Nor did he understand his mother, who sang so joyfully before she discovered drugs, and who believed the Millennium would be her salvation.

The boy, in his ignorance, did not understand.

A new carol began: We Three Kings of Orient Are. Leaning against the edifice, the boy banged his heel and bounced his head in rhythm. Suddenly, a shadow fell before him and he stiffened, fearful lest he was doing wrong.

The man whose shadow the boy had seen, a bearded man in a grey robe, came to stand in front of him. 'I am the Custodian,' he said in a gentle voice. 'Would you like to see our Christmas tableau?'
The boy remembered his father deriding the church's endeavours to recreate the nativity. This was the modern age, how could they reproduce what never existed?

The boy, in his ignorance, did not understand.

Feeling the first stirrings of inquisitiveness, a yearning suddenly to see inside, the boy took the stranger's hand and allowed himself to be led away.

Festooned with berry-laden holly, the church was alive with Christmas atmosphere. There was a sweet smelling pine tree, shining with baubles and a silver cross, but it was the nativity display that caught the boy's attention. Viewed by hushed, reverent children, each one pointing to a thing of note, it was as wondrous as fairyland. The wide-eyed boy crept nearer, wanting to touch the blue-eyed baby in the straw-filled stall.

Without warning, from the depths of the church there came great crashes of reverberating chords, followed by a more peaceful air.

And the congregation sang: Once in Royal David's City.

The boy, in his ignorance, did not understand the passion he felt or the coursing tears as he joined in, humming when the lyrics eluded him. Unwittingly, he stepped back, not wanting to disturb the sleeping babe, and when the carol ended he turned and fled and did not halt until he reached the outside.

The Custodian advanced towards him, smiling, gliding almost through fresh snow. Not wanting to show his tears, the boy made off. It wasn't proper to cry, his Dad said.
'Peace be with you, the man called.
'Thanks,' hurled back the boy, and he sprinted away leaving a trail of footprints in his wake.
As he sped along, he reflected on the pleasant experience. He could hardly wait to tell his Dad.
Peace be with you, the man had said, and the boy, in his wisdom, understood.


Written by Valerie Daggatt for the Christmas Carol Service in Birmingham Cathedral
Copyright December 2000

20 December 2012


The magnolia-painted window-sill in the hotel bedroom was wide enough for Hilary Barnes to sit with her legs drawn to her chest, arms encircling her knees in a pose reminiscent of dreamy childhood days. The room itself possessed a charm that reminded her of the house she grew up in, but the view through the window was as bleak as her state of mind. It was Ted's idea to come away for Christmas, declaring that their house would be lonely and far too depressing. She was equally depressed here, even the virgin snow shrouding the fields and hanging from the branches of an elderly oak did nothing to cheer her. It only served to remind her of Greg's childhood love of coasting down the road on a makeshift sledge, annoying neighbours with his spirited yells of pure joy.
‘I'll be home before you know it,’ he said when he rang to break the news.
Would he? Or would he be maimed or killed.
She stared through the window, looking beyond her own reflection at the white hedgerow where houses now glowed, transformed by fairy lights twinkling in the descending gloom.

Christmas Eve. It wasn't a time for sadness, but how could she not be sad when Greg's regiment was this very day flying to war zones, where God only knew what might transpire. She ran a finger over a slat in the wooden shutter, suddenly driven to check the whole thing for dust as though some sort of action would make things right.

Then, for the first time, anger swelled within her and she pounded the shutter with her fist. How dare they whisk a young man into danger without any regard for his tender age. She sucked her knuckle, grateful for the hurt yet moderately stronger for having released some of her fury. In the corridor, the maid loaded her trolley with discarded glasses; remnants of celebrations. Hilary wiped her hand on her plaid skirt. Maybe tomorrow would be better, by then Greg would be installed in new barracks. However, no matter how long he was to serve there, she would never become accustomed to her teenage son being in the firing line.

The snow fell steadily during the night and by morning the landscape was an unsullied wonderland. Christmas Day. A day of celebration. A day to give thanks for life's blessings.

Hilary contemplated the white world, seeing a young couple trudging arm-in-arm along the lane, heading towards the church, two enthusiastic little girls following behind, slipping and sliding in fur-topped boots, their laughter-lit faces encompassed by red-striped pompom hats, matching scarves taking wing as they scampered in the drifts. As she watched, she had an urge to attend a Christmas service, to sing carols with Ted at her side, to pray for Greg and plead for his safekeeping.
Ted needed no persuading. As soon as she mentioned her intention, he opened the wardrobe and took out their coats. 'Let's get there early,' he said as he helped her into the yellow sheepskin. Understanding her need he made no mention of her customary absence of spiritual leanings.
Outside the hotel, Ted took her arm, guided her down the drive, circling the frozen fishpond and passing between barricades of newly-cleared snow until they reached the wrought-iron gates. Five minutes later they walked into the ancient parish church. It was alive with the atmosphere of Christmas. The grey stone walls were festooned with holly, an elaborately-carved pulpit decorated with berry-laden foliage. A colossal Christmas tree dominated one corner, adorned with gold and silver baubles, shimmering tinsel, and a gold star at the top. Hilary could smell the pine even from where she stood. To the right of the tree, reverent children viewed a glorious nativity display, quietly uttering ooh's and ah's as each one pointed to something of note.
Hilary and Ted slid into a side pew behind the buzzing congregation. Hilary breathed in, enjoying the sting of cool air entering her lungs, for her insides were aglow with the character of her surroundings, and she wondered why her inaugural Christmas Day worship had taken so long to achieve.

During the ceremony she joined in the carols and intently listened to sermons and messages. She prayed with others for compassion, for liberation, and good will, as well as for Greg and his colleagues somewhere in a distant war-torn country.
With the closing carol sung, she felt in her pocket for her sheepskin gloves. A few couples rose to depart, but the minister held up his hand and they sat down again.

A small group advanced towards the altar as the minister announced that a christening was to take place; he invited the congregation to attend. Hilary nudged Ted and looked at him enquiringly. He nodded and smiled, and squeezed her hand.
The christening was soon over, a quiet service which could barely be heard at the back. After a final hymn, the minister toured the entire church with the child in his arms, her fingers clutching the stole around his neck, her shawl draping the front of his surplice, her residence in his arms making him beam with pride as he introduced her to everyone as Christine Beverley Anne.
'How do you do,' Hilary said, when it was her turn to be presented, automatically reaching out to move the dribble-damp shawl from the baby's chin. Christine Beverley Anne transferred her grip to the minister's immaculate surplice and, as the baby gurgled, Hilary began privately to celebrate Christ's birth, as they were glorying in the birth of this baby, as she and Ted did at the christening of their only child. In that instant she knew that Greg would return unharmed. Through this small being Jesus had decreed that it would be so.

Blindly, as the baby was carried away, charged with a sense of supreme well-being Hilary groped for Ted's hand. 'All will be well,' she whispered as a quivering smile crept over her face.
Ted put his arm around her shoulders. 'He'll be home soon, like he promised.' And with that he gently hauled her to her feet. 'Lunch calls,' he said. 'Presents to open.'
For the first time since Greg's worrying phone call, she felt happy. Not only that, she was suddenly hungry for the Christmas festivities, the repast which the hotel predicted would be the best ever tasted, the Queen's speech, a quiz before tea, and, later on, a fancy-dress ball. Leaning sideways, she kissed Ted's cheek. 'Merry Christmas, my dear. And Greg, too.'

18 December 2012


A pleasurable, worry-free hour later, refreshed after a second immersion in scented water and exchanging the crumpled cotton dress for the pale green silk, Audrey returned to her post at the window. Her timing was perfect for Matthew was standing by the wooden gate absorbed in a discourse with Gerald Tomlin. She ran to the door and flung it wide. Seeing her, Matthew jumped over his bags and sprinted up the path.
Gerald watched while Matthew wrapped his strong arms around his mother. Looking a trifle sulky, he walked away.
As Matthew swept her into the air, her legs swinging like pendulums, Audrey thanked God he had arrived safely. A powerful scent of Imperial Leather filled her senses. As soon as he put her down she held him at arms length to study him. He was a carbon copy of Brian and the stubble under his nose indicated the beginning of a similar moustache. There was no trace of the once troublesome acne and the adolescent fat had given way to a muscular physique. He looked the picture of health, stunningly bronze and shockingly handsome.
Audrey grabbed his hand to pull him indoors but, first, Matthew had to rescue his bags from the roadside. The couple of minutes it took seemed interminable as she waited to haul him in and leave the world to its own schemes on the other side of their closed front door.


Believing a solid English meal would be appreciated, Audrey cooked a piece of topside and served it with enormous helpings of roast parsnips, cauliflower and minted potatoes. Matthew licked his lips and reached for the mustard pot, seeming not to notice she had forgotten to include Yorkshire pudding.
While they ate he described the scene in Düsseldorf, defining his new school as an old Schloss set in the middle of parkland. 'It's even got a moat,' he said, 'though I gather that's a recent addition.'
'What's it for?'
Matthew shrugged. 'It's either to stop vandals getting in or the children getting out.'
'What are the students like?'
'Most of them are the offspring of German academics. They're very enlightened. I'm not sure I'll be able to teach them anything they don't already have knowledge of.'
Like her, Matthew was often plagued by self-doubt, but he had no need to worry. His confidence would quickly return once he settled in. He wouldn't have been given the job if the school principal didn't think he was up to it. Seeing his worry lines, Audrey encouraged him to discuss his social life, more as a means of changing the subject than a need to know.
Matthew had a mate called Heinz who was the same age and had the same interests as himself. They shared their evenings and sometimes, as a release from correcting exercises, they went to a local disco. There they drank lager (an apparently rare practice) and viewed the dancers.
'Do you date any girls?' Audrey enquired, shovelling more potatoes on his plate.
'In particular?'
'Don't show off,' commented Audrey as she passed the gravy boat, noticing with motherly affection the strength of his hand, the many freckles on his fingers.
Matthew drenched his roast beef with gravy and dribbled some over the mound of mustard to create yellowy-brown swirls.
Determined not to nag about the mess on his plate, Audrey enquired if the language was a problem.
Matthew speared a segment of cauliflower and dipped it in the gravy. 'Most Germans speak English,' he said, 'It angers me that we can't or won't use their native tongue. I can't understand why we don't study languages like the rest of the world. It ought to be mandatory. We'll get left behind if we're not careful and it'll be no use complaining ....' He broke off, listening. 'Is that the phone or the bell?'
It was the doorbell, but Audrey's eyes automatically flew to the clock. Five minutes to go. Excusing herself, she trotted into the hall and clicked the machine to the off position before unlocking the door.
Gladys walked straight in. 'I hope I haven't come at an inconvenient time.'
'We're having dinner. If you're lucky Matty might part with some of his.'
'Slim chance.' Gladys slipped off a long sleeved cardigan. 'I know him of old.' She stood on tiptoe to hang the black woolly on the coat rack. 'He was always a greedy beggar,' she proclaimed, raising her voice.
'Can't hear you,' called Matthew.

Gladys sat with them while they ate, though she refused to share their dinner.
Matthew ate the rest of his meal like a man deprived of hot dinners; even the excessive amount of mustard disappeared. At the end, he scraped his plate almost clean, placed his knife and fork side by side then screwed his napkin in his great fist. He leaned back and regarded his godmother. Pointing an accusing finger, he said, 'I saw her in the square, Mum. Threw herself at me, she did. I wouldn't object ordinarily, but the bench women'll think I've no sense of value.'
'I'll whack you one, Matthew Buckham, big as you are.'
'Come on then, titchy woman. Ssee what you get.'
They made eye contact. Gladys tried to stare him out, but eventually she blinked and looked away, and said, 'I'll make the coffee, shall I?' She darted from the room and could be heard clattering around in the kitchen, opening cupboards and banging them shut.
Audrey chided Matthew for his cheekiness.
'She loves it,' he said, chortling.
'I'm not so sure. She looked a bit glum.'
'Nah, she's okay. She enjoys a joke.'                       
Gladys returned carrying a tray of coffee things. Audrey helped herself to a cup, and Gladys waited for Matthew to take his. 'Cream?' she asked, amiably.
'I'm not really a cream man,' he said as he poured a small measure into his cup. 'I prefer skimmed milk.'
Gladys offered the sugar bowl. 'Gone off that as well?' she queried, batting an eye at Audrey.
'Not on your life.' Matthew heaped four spoonfuls into his cup and stirred vigorously.
'I'm surprised the spoon'll go round,' Gladys remarked. 'He sure loves his sugar, Aud.'
Audrey nodded. 'Seems so. Mind he looks well on it.' She stopped as Matthew spluttered and spat coffee into his cup. 'What's wrong?' she cried, putting a hand to his back.
He scowled at Gladys. 'She's put bloody salt in my coffee.'
Gladys sent him her sweetest smile. 'No, Matthew. You put salt in your coffee.'


For two days and three nights Audrey and Matthew stayed home, neither having any desire to interrupt their reunion. During the day they argued, bantered and joked. In the evening they reminisced and, except for Audrey's guilty secret, brought each other up to date with the events in their separate lives.
Not once did the telephone ring and, on the third day, Audrey went shopping.

(to be continued)