30 April 2013


'Hi, Brian,' called Carol from the top of a pair of tall steps. 'I'll be with you in a tick.'
'No hurry,' Brian said, shoving his hands in the pockets of the tweed jacket he wore over his uniform shirt. Propping his backside on a Hessian potato sack, he allowed his thoughts to turn to Audrey; not that he'd thought of much else since that early morning call. He wondered what she was doing now. The dawn call, coming out of the blue, had so astonished him that he had forgotten all about the task she had ahead of her. While it could have been the reason she rang he preferred to think her motivation came about by a more romantic desire. It was not until she rang off that he gave the matter any attention. He made a mental note to arrange something for later in the day. Maybe send some flowers, or chocolates.
'Yes, Brian. What can I get you.'
Blinking back to his surroundings, he stifled a yawn.
'No sleep?' Carol's teeth flashed as she grinned.
'I'll have a thick white sliced and no cheek, thank you.'
Carol peeped at him from under her lashes, trying to determine whether he was serious or merely frivolous.
Giving her a wink, Brian said, 'You wouldn't believe me if I told you I'd spent the night dreaming of you so there's no point in lying.'
Carol slapped a wrapped loaf in front of him. 'I'll set my Alan on you if you don't mind yourself.'
He raised his hands in mock surrender, 'Oh no!' he cried, in a high pitched voice. 'Please, not Alan. Anyone but Alan.'
Carol giggled and reached across the counter to swipe his upper arm. Ignoring his feigned wounded cry she quizzed him about Audrey. 'Is that right she's back?'
'Yes,' he replied, and before she could pump him for facts, he added, 'I'll let her tell you everything you want to know.'
'I'm itching to find out about the terrible racket Alan and I heard inside her place.'
'Like I said, Carol, Audrey will explain.'
'Can't you give me a clue?'
'If I did, you'd have it painted on a board and hiked round the square before the count of ten.'
'Aw, come on, Bri,' she wheedled.
'I'll come anywhere you want to take me, dear heart, except round the square toting your gossip.'
Effecting a pout, Carol stuck out the tip of her pink tongue. 'Be like that then, Mr Policeman.'
Pulling a face, Brian left the store. He was totally beguiled by the spontaneity of their banter, unable to remember when he last felt so uninhibited. He had Audrey to thank for that.

Prior to going home, he popped into Settons, extracting a Gazette from the rack on the way in. He purchased forty Silk Cut, a box of matches, and the paper, then started home, scanning the headlines as he walked. Later on, he meant to visit Maggie to discuss David's need for a home. Until then he would have a read and maybe take a bath.
He still failed to understand why David had crawled like a deserter into his loft rather than go home to his mother. He had badgered him for answers but, in his usual surly manner, David merely alluded to trouble at home. Whilst not actually instructing him to keep out of his affairs, he implied that interference would not be welcome. However, Brian felt obliged to intervene, and that's why he intended to call on Maggie.
Following his eviction from the loft, David had moved to stay with one Edward Watson, a known drug addict and homosexual. Thankfully, according to David, it couldn't be a permanent residence because Teddy had a liaison with another bloke, and the other bloke didn't care for a threesome. According to Brian, the whole scenario needed sorting out. Therefore, this afternoon was an urgent mission; since he could not order David's return to his mother's house, he would try to persuade Maggie to change her mind.

Climbing into the car, Brian tugged the seat belt and sat for a moment with his eyes closed, endeavouring to conquer his apprehension over the approaching audience with his ex-wife. He twisted the key and the engine roared. He switched on the radio in an effort to relax, though the opportunity to annihilate a scotch would have been a preferable panacea. Bluegrass music drawled to the swish of the windscreen wipers, an expert breaking in to deliver prolonged and inessential opinions instead of playing fully the songs he raved about. This conjured thoughts of David, who was an erstwhile enthusiast of country ballads; accordingly, since he had a thirst for imperturbable composure, he switched it off.
The rain worsened as he entered Maggie's district. Ordinarily, he was a faultless driver (he had been commended many times for his ability in handling vehicles) but this journey was getting on his nerves and the perpetual zing of the wipers was distracting; hence, losing concentration, he zoomed through a set of lights, on red, forcing a Vauxhall driver to brake sharply. The driver, who was eloquent in offensive nouns, rightly hurled abuse and the emphatic revilement resulted in Brian, who was severely daunted by his performance, slowing down and driving more cautiously until he instinctively guessed he was nearing his destination. He switched off the wipers and peered through the smeared screen at the dimly lit road. Murchison Road was the next on the left. The knots in his stomach tightened when eventually the road-sign came into view for it had been a while since he saw his ex-wife and he had no idea what her mood would be.
He drew up outside the house and stared at the black and white exterior. An iron lantern swung laboriously above the transom, illuminating the long needles of silver rain. Inside the dark windows, a dim chink of light showed on top of an inner door. He planted his elbows on the steering wheel and massaged his fingers. 'Well, Brian lad,' he muttered. 'Here we are. All you've got to do now is get the hell in there and get it over with.'
Brian ascended the two steps and pushed the bell, setting off musical chimes ... a well known tune, although he couldn't recall the name.
'Who is it?'     
'It's me, Brian.' He took a deep breath as a bolt was drawn back and a key turned in the lock. Maggie Porter peered over the brass safety chain before opening the door.
The entrance hall was lit by a single lamp shining onto a writing desk. Above it, in a pine frame, was an enlarged snapshot of Maggie, on which David had scrawled I love you, Mummy. A good photograph, showing to advantage her dark attractiveness.
The comfortable sitting room was uncomplicated and undemanding. A simple wine coloured, cottage style three-piece faced a small television set. Abutting one chair, a large footstool was adorned with knitting and newspapers. A central, unlit chandelier glowed with the reflection of two shaded wall lights.
Brian sat down and adjusted a cushion behind him; a herb cushion if the emanating whiff was anything to go by. 'Is Malcolm in?' he asked.
Brian was relieved. It would have been too embarrassing discussing David in front of his second son. Amiable as Malcolm was, the whole conversation would have been peppered with disparagements.
Maggie listened attentively while he reported David's business problems and homelessness but he got the impression she did so out of politeness. He was not surprised when she said, determinedly, that she couldn't have him there.
'I assumed you'd be pleased to help him out.'
'Brian, I've had as much as I can take of him. He's been told never to come here again and, quite honestly, I don't care where he lives.'
She watched Brian from underneath her lashes, in much the same way Carol did earlier in the day, and the connection reminded him of Audrey. He moaned to himself; he had forgotten to check on her. Though the realisation made him want to rush off and make amends, he made himself lean further into the herb cushion and wait for Maggie to carry on.
As it turned out, her tale was a lot more mind-boggling than his. It involved Ben, a man friend whom David apparently disliked. He couldn't, she told him, get on with any man she got friendly with. One night, a dreadful incident occurred; David arrived at the house, uninvited, while she and Ben were upstairs.
'He wasn't due,' she explained, 'although he often turned up without warning on a Thursday night. If Ben was here, we regulated ourselves so that we'd be downstairs if and when he came, only things had got, sort of, hectic ... you know how it is ... and we were still in bed.'
I'm not sure I want to hear this, Brian thought.
Maggie went on to recount how David shouted several times from the foot of the stairs, then stormed up when he got no reply, bursting into her room without stopping to knock. When he found her with Ben he went crazy, standing over them and screaming at him to stop fucking his mother. She defined his eyes as glinting like steel, and said his neck seemed to retreat into his shoulders. He had dragged Ben off her, screeching at him, and demanding to know what obscene things he had done to her.
Brian snapped his mouth shut when Maggie caught his eye, only now realising that his jaw had sagged in sickening dismay. He was aware of David's obsession with his mother but he would never have imagined him to be capable of such bizarre behaviour. 'What on earth did you do?'
'Ben hit him. Then I threw him out. Don't worry about him, Brian. He's got plenty of places he can stay. It's lack of money that stops him lodging with his so-called friends. I'm quite prepared to help out with that side of things.'
'I did search the estate agents for somewhere rented. I'm prepared to offer financial support, but I can't have him in the house. We don't get on well enough.'
'Neither do we any more. I do have Ben to consider.'
And I have Audrey, Brian reflected. 'Right,' he said aloud. 'I'll tell Dave to get off his backside and find accommodation. And I'll sort the details. Is that how you want to play it?
'Yes, please.'

Brian waited while Maggie unfastened the brass chain. 'Is all that on account of Dave?' he asked.
Maggie told him she had no choice. David had refused to give up the key. 'Malcolm's going to change the locks,' she said, and added that it came to something when your own kid had to be locked out.
She pulled open the door and stood back to let Brian go through. He wavered for a moment, contemplating her pleasant countenance, wondering how they came to rear such a strange son.
'Do you still see Audrey?' Maggie asked, flushing beneath his gaze.
Brian sighed. 'If you'd asked me a few weeks ago, the answer would've been no. We've started to edge back recently, though I'm not sure if anything will come of it.'
'Do you want it to?'
Thoughtfully, Brian leaned an elbow on the wall and rested his head on his hand. He was hesitant about acknowledging a love that could so easily be thrown back.
'If it's what you want, then I wish you well.'
'Thanks. I've got a gut feeling that pretty soon things'll be sorted between us. I'm certainly keeping fingers crossed.'
Maggie grabbed his free hand and stretched up to peck his cheek. 'I hope you make it, my dear, then she can come with you to meet Ben.'
Brian would have enjoyed staying longer to talk about Ben and Audrey, the future, and what each of them expected and looked forward to. For now, though, he was happy to leave things unsaid and wait until a more definite promise was in the offing.

(to be continued)

28 April 2013

Sunday Scenes

Seats and steps, windows and gates, walkways, walls and hedges!
All seen in Vigo in 2009


27 April 2013

Skin Care for Hands, Face and Body

Old skin needs more nourishment than young skin, as I’m now finding out. Unfortunately I’m one of those who develop a resistance to long-established and expensive creams, hand creams in particular. My skin just won’t absorb them and I end up feeling tacky.

My good friend Ron is really knowledgeable about skin care so when he recommended Nivea Soft I decided to try it. The recommendation was good; the product did wonders for my hands where other hand creams made no impression. I was so thrilled I bought another tube. I had noticed that there were tubs of it but I keep hand cream in a special place and a tub would have been too big for that small area. However, after one of my bathroom clear-outs I made room and decided to get a tub next time I went shopping.

Remember what I said recently about shops not supplying things I want? Well, here we go again. No Nivea Soft, in either tubes or tubs, could be found. There were other Nivea products, except the one I wanted. Nivea Soft is a moisturising cream containing Jojoba Oil and Vitamin E and was suitable for face, body and hands. Not so the new range. There are different creams for hands, body, and face, and a check revealed that Jojoba Oil wasn’t in any of the new products so it was useless one sales person telling me the hand cream was the same. How can different ingredients be the same? Perhaps she thought I was born yesterday!

I asked assistants in different stores and chemists shops, where I had seen the product on sale, but none knew if Nivea Soft had been discontinued or was in the process of being repackaged. One did offer the suggestion that I look on the internet. It was infuriating after so recently discovering/been told about it. Was I now obliged to start hunting for a suitable cream as good as Nivea Soft or was it another case of forcing us to shop on line?

And then I saw the advert on lunchtime television! Nivea Soft, it said, the perfect all-purpose skin cream. I can tell you, my ears were pinned back so hard it’s a surprise I didn’t get earache. The advert went on: Visit your local Boots store (our major English chemist) and give your skin a treat.

I was out of the door like a lightening flash, got in the car and drove like a madwoman to the nearest store. And there it was, an enormous display of NIVEA SOFT, which certainly wasn’t there the day before.

Wouldn’t you think the store’s buyer would keep the assistants informed as to why the product had been missing for weeks or do I expect too much? I mean, a hint or explanation that there had been a delay in delivery would have been so useful. Sometimes I dream of training shop assistants and teaching them words like No, madam, we don't have any right now but if you come in on Friday you can buy any amount you want. 

25 April 2013

A Force to be Reckoned With, by Historian Jane Robinson

It was thanks to Twitter that I learned of this book about the history and eminence of the WI and I couldn’t wait to buy it. It is written in modern language with a thread of humour running through which makes for an enjoyable read.

Other books have been written about the WI and its origins, many of them factual but dull. None that I’ve read portray the original founders like real people. It is my opinion that Jane Robinson has produced a book that everybody should read and every Federation should possess. It is our history, something to be proud of.

Cover blurb:

Everyone knows three things about the Women’s Institute:
They spent the war making jam; the sensational Calendar Girls were WI members; and more recently the slow hand-clapping of Tony Blair.

But there’s so much more to this remarkable movement. Over 200,000 women in the UK belong to the WI and its membership is growing. It crosses class and religion, includes all ages – from students and metropolitan young professionals to rural centenarians – with passions that range from supporting the 1920s Bastardy Bill (in response to a wartime legacy of illegitimate babies) to the current SOS for the Honey Bees Campaign.

The WI was founded in 1915, not by worthy ladies in tweeds, but by the feistiest women in the country, including suffragettes, academics and social crusaders who discovered the heady power of sisterhood, changing women’s lives and their world in the process. Certainly its members boiled jam and sang Jerusalem, but they also made history. This fascinating book reveals for the first time how they are – and always were – a force to be reckoned with.

The chapters:

1.      The Beginnings: 1897-1913
2.      Taking Root 1913-1918
3.      The Women Carry On: 1st World War
4.      Golden Eagle: Lady Denman (this was an eye-opener!)
5.      Marthas, Marys, Pigeons and Crows: the 1920s
6.      Change the World  in an Afternoon: the 30s
7.      Mum’s Army: 2nd World War
8.      Halibut Hall and the Revolutions: 1945-1960
9.      How to Be Happy though Educated: Denman College
10.   Not According to Schedule: 1960-1999
11.    Bloody Marvellous: 1999 onwards

When I was asked to read a taster at our 81st Birthday Lunch I was hard pressed to find something to fit the allocated 15 minutes, because I couldn’t find a suitable break in the WI story. Today's the day, and I've decided to read a mid-chapter selection. I hope the members will enjoy it as much as I have. 

23 April 2013


I will definitely remember today, thought Audrey, recalling Brian's words when Vera baited him, though she was determined to erase the memory as quickly as she could. But she knew she would never erase Brian's compassion, his support when she desperately needed it, the protection she should never have discarded. He had always been there for her, yet she built around herself a fence so high that even she could not see over. And still she had not fathomed why. She peered at Brian with her red rimmed eyes, comfortable now in his presence and grateful for his nearness. He drove with one elbow out of the window, casually turning the steering wheel with one hand, and she experienced an all-over warmth as she gazed at the cleft in his chin, wondering why it had taken so long to come to her senses.
'You okay, love?'
'Yes,' she said, between the sharp intakes of breath that were the aftermath of protracted weeping.
There was no doubt that the message on the machine had disturbed her as much as the burglary but the emotion now was unrefined hatred for the man who Vera believed was a wonderful example of shining fatherhood.
Brian stopped the car in front of Gladys's house. 'I can't go in with you,' he said. 'I'm hellishly late.'
He leaned across to kiss her cheek, and she very much wanted to twist her head so that it would land on her lips. She restrained herself; even though she sensed she was finally where she belonged she warned herself not to rush. To show that she understood, she briefly caressed his arm, carefully gathered her gifts ... a basket of dried flowers for Gladys and the parcelled barometer.

Feeling a little light-headed, Audrey stood on the kerb waving until the car was out of sight. Only then did she walk briskly up the path. There was a smell of baking and she was unexpectedly confronted by a craving for a wedge of pastry or a slice of cake. Thus, she knocked the door and pressed the bell-push before stooping to wedge a stone against a bearded Iris that had lost the ability to stand erect.
Sam answered the door. He wore an apron round his middle and a flinty expression on his face, reminding her of the last occasion she was there ... the day of the big tantrum. She followed him through the house, feeling slightly awkward bearing in mind what a cow she'd been. She wondered what he thought of the current situation. Would he tolerate her taking up residence again. Gladys, however, soon dispelled the anxiety by catching her in a hug so close she could scarcely breathe. Audrey's throat constricted as she returned the warm embrace.
Seeing Sam smile, Audrey cottoned on to the reason for his dour greeting. The poor man must have feared her visit would upset his new fiancé. She returned the smile, hopefully reassuring him that she meant no harm, and handed over the basket and engagement present.
They shared the unwrapping, wrangling like juniors over the best way to undo the string. Sam wanted it cut; Gladys insisted on untying the knots, commenting that she would then be able to save it intact along with the paper. With a resigned sigh, Sam gave in. He stood quietly by while Gladys finished the task but, on seeing the barometer being lifted from the tissue, he cried, 'By heck, I've always wanted one of those.'
'Me, too,' said Gladys, polishing her fingerprints from the wood with her apron. 'What can I say, Aud?'
'You don't have to say anything.'
'Well, I do,' Sam said. 'Only thing is, I don't think thanks is enough for such generosity.'
'After all you two have done for me, I'd buy the moon if I could.'
Maintaining she was having trouble with an eyelash, Gladys bent to fiddle with the flowers, but before long she recovered her composure and installed the arrangement next to a planted geranium. After collecting three mugs and three plates and placing them on the table, she took cakes from the oven and put more in. She shifted a bundle of darned socks from a chair so that Audrey could sit down and proceeded to empty the cookie jar onto her plate.

Audrey spoke falteringly about the break-in, describing the havoc as insufferable, heartbreaking, and wholly beyond belief.
'Was anything stolen?' asked Gladys, holding the brown teapot aloft.
'Not that I could see. Brian reckoned someone wrecked the place for kicks.'
Presuming it must have been the actions of kids, Sam roared, 'They want their bloody ears boxing. A spell of army discipline would do 'em a power of good. Knock the disgusting little toe-rags into touch.'
Returning the teapot to its stand with a thud, Gladys glowered at him, silently censuring. Suitably humbled, he took over pouring the tea.
Addressing Gladys, Audrey said, 'Do you mind me staying?'
'Of course not.'
'Everywhere's such a shambles, you see, and depressing. Brian thought ....'
'What's all this Brian talk?'
Because she had additional news to impart, Audrey ignored Gladys's interruption and got on with her revelation. 'We know who made the calls.'
Sam gawped wide-eyed as the story unfolded.
Gladys's cup clattered into its saucer. 'Gerald?' She held her head as she tried to comprehend. 'I can hardly believe it.'

For Vera's sake, Audrey begged them not to broadcast it to a living soul.
Sam declared bluntly, 'I wouldn't mind getting my hands on him.' He deposited a cup of tea on the table and put a hand on Audrey's shoulder. 'Well, the nightmare's over, thank the Lord. Now it's recovery time.'
His sympathetic response made Audrey fall apart, setting off a further influx of tears, a minor seepage to begin with, then a deluge as reaction set in. As Gladys replaced her sodden handkerchief with a dry one, she wailed, 'I felt as if my whole world had collapsed.'
'Not to worry,' said Gladys in her practical manner. 'It's in one piece again and ready to be lived in.' Going to the dresser, she grabbed another handkerchief and tossed it to her. 'There. Now, let's get on with it.'


That night, the recent happenings filtered through Audrey's head, gathering pace and magnification, preventing sleep. She endured anew the shock of the first sighting of her ravaged home, despoiled by some hooligan who had no idea of the distress he caused for the sake of amusement. The wind outside made the shutters rattle on their squeaky hinges, evoking Gerald's voice ... as if a burglary wasn't enough to contend with. She shivered and rolled on her side, tugging the sheet to her ears to obliterate the imagined sound, feeling fresh shame on remembering her bygone response to his lewdness. But the reality of it is exclusive to me, she conceded, thumping the pillow and turning to lie flat. And residing next door will be difficult.
Leaving the bed, she parted the curtains and looked out. A furtive fox emerged from its hideaway and froze within the circle of light beneath the street lamp, alert to danger. Satisfied there was none, he easily jumped Brian's gate, its long shadow flying behind.
As dawn stole into view she wondered if Brian was awake. The likelihood motivated her to dress and tiptoe downstairs to the phone. She dialled his number, half-expecting there would be no reply, overjoyed when there was.
'It's me, Audrey. Did I wake you?'
'I haven't slept.'
'Are you all right?'
'I keep thinking of you. Does that make me all right?'
More than anything, she wanted him never to stop being all right.
'Did you manage to get some sleep?'
'Not one whit. I kept thinking about the house, and Gerald.'
'Then don't. There's no merit in persecuting yourself. It's done, finished, history.'
'Yes, Brian,' she said meekly.
It seemed, as she replaced the phone, that she was replaying an action she had been executing for a lifetime. How many millions of times a year did people pick up and put down their receivers, how often were the calls enjoyable, how many the absolute pits?
Unable to settle, she roamed the house. It would be useless going back to bed, and Gladys would not thank her for doing things in the house at such an early hour; she would pretend to be cross and start ordering her about. However, it was imperative that she answered the desperate need to do something constructive, like living ... and to this end she threw on a cardigan and hurried to the door.
At the gate, she glanced up at Brian's open window, her heart thumping so loudly she was certain he would hear it and look out. She waited a few minutes, then walked away, happy in the knowledge that he was at least there.


Audrey halted and looked round, saw no-one.
'Up here!' Vera was sitting carelessly on an upstairs window sill, hanging onto the flimsy net curtain and plucking clematis leaves. 'You coming or going?' she quizzed in a loud whisper. Not waiting to hear which, she ducked back in and a moment later appeared at the door. She charged towards Audrey. 'I'll come too,' she announced.
Audrey linked her arm. A walk, with company, appealed to her. The house could wait.
'I heard about the burglary, in Settons,' Vera reported as they flanked the shops. 'Mr Mountford told Mr Pearce that he saw Mr and Mrs Benjamin gawking outside. He said there were the most weird noises coming from your hall. Everyone was ever so concerned.'
But did anyone bother to investigate? Did no-one try and stop the vandal from inflicting more damage?
Vera went on. 'That's why I was curious. I kept thinking of those calls and, when I saw you drive off with Mr Porter, I knew something was wrong.' She broke off, giving Audrey a questioning peep. 'I got worried,' she said, shyly.
They passed the general store and Audrey noticed the Open sign was still displayed. For the first time she realised how hard-pressed Carol must have been, working single-handed, and no contact from her to say when she would be back. Little wonder the sign had been forgotten. Soon, she thought, if my job's waiting, I'll make it up to her.
Audrey squeezed Vera's shoulder. 'Come, let's go back and I'll show you what happened. You can help me sort things out if you like. It's in such a woeful state, I'm not sure I can cope alone.'
'You're on,' cried Vera. 'I can ring Mum from yours to let her know where I am.'

Vera whistled as she surveyed the bedroom. 'What a mess,' she said, kicking the feathers with a plimsolled foot. 'Got any black bags?'

While they worked, Vera made the surprise announcement that her Dad had left home. She spoke without a trace of sadness and showed no sign of regret.
Dear God, was this the end? Audrey endeavoured to suppress a growing gaiety and tonelessly enquired what had prompted the departure.
'Mum threw him out last night. They had a huge argument. It must have been serious for her to do that. She's been ever so nice since. Not a bit sad.' Vera dropped the plastic bag on the ground and sat on the edge of the bed. Unexpectedly, she bent her head and sniffed. 'Blimey,' she proclaimed, 'this mattress stinks.'

(to be continued)

22 April 2013

Monday Mirth (for oldies)

Today I am sharing some pictures that were sent to me by email. 
Hmm I can't think why the sender thought I might like