Friends

30 May 2013

CURTAINS!

We’ve acquired new curtains for the lounge.

We took down the old gold ones down when the decorator came to paint and paper our lounge but when we put them back up the darn curtain track broke. Not a serious issue, you might think, but then you hadn’t seen the style of fitting.

The system for hanging curtains was very tidy since the fittings were behind a built on, box-like wooden pelmet. However, once the track broke we were unable to fix it.  No room to manoeuvre, you see, plus neck, spine, eyesight and, in my case, height problems preventing us from fixing curtain hooks in the confined space, let alone repair a kaput track.

 After much thought I we decided the best way forward was to have a pole, with eyelets in the curtains. So while the cat was away this year the mouse set things in motion.

Jim, the fitter, was in shop when I called. When he heard what I was ordering he said to remember that style of curtaining meant we’d have to adjust the ‘fall’ ourselves. Geez, hadn’t I been adjusting the fall years before pencil pleats were invented. How lazy people have become if they can’t adjust a curtain. Anyway, I went on to describe the dilemma concerning the pelmet and he agreed to call round to assess the situation.

Jim came the next day. Of course, he would have to dismantle what was there, the pelmet and the wooden base that was secured to the wall, and had been since the house was built, but he assured me the job could be done. Nothing, he said, was insurmountable.

I went ahead, ordered the curtains and paid a deposit (hoping I was doing the right thing) and a date was fixed for Jim to come out and wreck the wall.

He actually made a decent job of removing the pelmet with no serious damage. There were a few holes and the area would have to be plastered and redecorated which meant contacting (with fingers crossed) Rod, the decorator. I didn’t hold out much hope of him being able to do the job when we wanted it done. However, we were in for a pleasant surprise. Rod said he would fit us in with another job in time for Jim to come out and fix the poles. Wow, such co-operation is rare in these parts. It went a long way to renewing my faith in workmen.

Rod did a superb job, plastering one day, wallpapering the next (we still had some of the paper) and painting the day after. Each stage took an hour but of course the work had to dry before he could continue.


Now the curtains are up and the lounge is looking ultra-smart. It’s a pity my iPhone didn’t do justice to the colour of the curtains. The first picture should be a little more yellow and the second should definitely NOT have a pink hue. It’s all down to light, I guess. Oh well, I can’t win ‘em all.

It’s amazing how things fall into place. After the curtain hanging was completed, we turned our minds to the disposal of the old ones. They were dry-cleaned when we took them down the first time, so I put them in two bags.... one in each. Gosh, they were heavy. We decided to look out for charities that also collect curtains and it didn’t take long. In fact, as I was typing this the next charity bag was pushed through the door ... and it specifically asked for curtains. Since one bag wouldn’t be enough, Joe rushed out to try and catch the guy who delivered it and he, Joe, came back with a couple more bags. All we have to do now is put the filled bags outside to await collection. How easy was that? Pretty soon our old curtains will be on their way to providing help for children with cancer. Thank goodness our timing was right. 

28 May 2013

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 41 CONCLUSION

With their relationship alternating between strained, grudging, and congenial, Brian helped David settle into a first floor flat, one of five in a Georgian residence that had long ago lost its architectural charm. On top of agreeing to pay the rent, a token one by current standards which Brian accepted would not cause him the hardship he had feared, he donated cutlery and china, bed linen and cooking utensils, and the old television which had been stored in the loft. It would do, he told David, until he found his feet and got a job. During the time it took to cart cupboards, a wardrobe, and a cooker from a second-hand shop, David groused unceasingly about his mother's partner. He seemed to be obsessed with a peculiar hankering to teach the guy a lesson, and this obsession prohibited discussion on anything else.
Brian was mystified as to the true reason he so hated him, but was disinclined to challenge him; it was better to say nothing than risk a potential black eye. Those who did not know David would say his attitude was cowardly, and he supposed their opinion would be right, but, basically he didn't want to be on the receiving end of David's flying fist. The prospect of securing a facial disfigurement this side of his planned outing to the pub, was wholly undesirable; he had to look his best to share his engagement with the world, and he didn't want to be marred beforehand.

At the end of the second arduous day, made more onerous by David's fluctuating mood, Brian collapsed into the armchair they had picked up for a song in Dunkley. David sat in a rocker, one leg slung over the arm. Believing him to be in a receptive humour, and with a certain amount of consternation, Brian broached the subject of his forthcoming marriage.

'You what?'

'I'm getting married.'

'Christ, who'd marry you?'

Striving to be patient, Brian said, 'Audrey Buckham, who else.'

'That bitch?'

'David!'

'You must be off your head. What about Mum?'

His patience was threadlike; nevertheless Brian persevered. 'Stop, David. Stop now, before you say something we both regret.'

But David was fired up. He could no more have stopped the swirl of malignity than single-handedly sail the seven seas. 'So you'll abandon her, just like that. Leave her to the mercies of that cretin she's taken with. That's you all over. Even now, you're so engrossed with finding a second home for your cock, you don't give a shit about her. Fine bloody husband you are.'

Brian charged out of the chair, raging like a bull and as capable of goring his son to death. 'Your insane, you know that? You need to see a damned shrink. Not that a shrink could do much, you're too far gone to be helped.' He was gratified to see his son's incredulous expression, but the fury didn’t abate. 'You're attitude is unforgivable. For all you profess to be concerned for your mother, you seem strangely reluctant to consider her feelings. Or mine.' He was too furious to attempt to rationalise, to drum into him the sad business of falling-out of love, or define what divorce and the consequent readjustments were all about. If he didn't understand by now, he never would.

'Huh! Get you!' sneered David. 'You, of course, know all about considering feelings. You and the bitch.'

'I've never known anyone as vindictive as you, David.'

'Haven't you, father? Well, I'll tell you this, so long as my mother continues her degrading gymnastics I shall continue to be, as you say, vindictive to her and Ben Jarvis. All he can think of is injecting his dick. He's a bit like you in that respect.'

Angrily, Brian stood over him. 'And who are you to censure regular guys? Eh? What about you and your anal-prodding cohorts?'

'At least I don't do it with mates who've paired off.'

Brian knew that if he didn't get the hell out, he would be hard-pressed to refrain from committing murder. He lurched to the door and dragged it open, but, before going through, he stopped and wheeled round. 'Whether you approve or not, it's most likely your mother will set up home with Ben Jarvis, and I am definitely intending to wed Audrey.'

'And I hope you'll all be very happy,' said David, sarcastically. 'But if you think bitch Audrey will slot into Mum's shoes, you've got another think coming. She's fucking infantile. You won't like living with someone like that, not after Mum. Who else would coop themselves up in a room full of bleedin' bears.'

Brian sprinted down the stairs to the road. He jumped into the Escort, rapidly winding the window to oust the smell of cast-off furniture, and took off like a bat out of hell. It wasn't until he slid to a stop at the traffic lights that the implication of David's final words hit home.

Bears!
Cooped up in a room full of bears.
Jesus!


He had known David was crazy, but to be so bitter was inconceivable. To enter Audrey's home and smash every ornament was total derangement.' He massaged his forehead, recalling the shredded underwear, the business with the bed, the urination, and the gross devastation. The lights changed and Brian pressed the accelerator to the floor, scarcely aware of what he was doing. He was thoroughly dazed by this time, the awful disclosure weighing heavy on his mind. For the rest of the journey he fretted over telling Audrey, dreading the prospect of explaining that it was his son who had wrecked her home. And after that, she would charge David with the offence, and she would choose not to marry him.

As he turned into Ardenrose Road, he considered that possibility; he knew he couldn't handle it, and by the time he'd travelled the fifty yards to his house and pulled in at the kerb, he knew that he could no more exist alone than join a monastery. Not now. He shouted, 'No!' as he hoisted the handbrake, and glowered at a startled woman passing by. 'I won't tell her,' he yelled as she scurried to the safety of her own space. It would mean that David would not be indicted, but he, Brian, would be fulfilled at last. It was a momentous decision, reached for purely selfish reasons. So be it, he thought, happier to face recriminations at a future date than spoil his new-found happiness.
*****

Very much the young lady now, Vera tried her hand at supervising the rearrangement of Audrey's home. She assigned tasks to Bess and, in order to keep the operation moving, she outlawed the idea of taking even half-an-hour's break.

Bess complained, 'You're a rotten old slave driver.'

'No, I'm not. I aim to get the place shipshape in record time, that's all.'

The bulk of the work entailed climbing into the loft to sort the belongings of Audrey's mother, ornaments which over the years had been substituted by others. After consultation about which ones to display, the girls set about washing and polishing and positioning the items at designated stations. A much happier Liz Tomlin provided refreshments, lemonade for the girls, and coffee for Audrey, and at lunch time she brought hot soup and crackers and slabs of fruit cake.

Brian rang several times, to Vera's disgust for she reckoned his calls delayed them. Once he rang when she was grouping a trio of monkeys on the plaque shelf in the hall, and she answered the call. 'Now look,' she said. 'How do you expect Audrey to be finished in time to see you tonight if you keep on calling. What do you mean, how do I know? Doesn't she see you every night after we've gone home? I'm not loony, I can read the signs, you know.'

Audrey almost choked on a mouthful of cake, in anticipation of Vera defining the signs, while Liz averted her eyes and shook her head at her daughter's audacity. Both were astounded when Vera replaced the phone without bothering to summon Audrey. 'That was Brian,' she called. 'He said to tell you he loves you and he'll be round at six sharp.'

The house was habitable again. The unwanted, more outlandish of the archaic collection had been packed and returned to the tea chests in the loft. The adornments Audrey selected were more in keeping with modern times; not for her the ugly dogs and cats that were once in vogue. Three things she kept on one side: a small powder bowl, which she believed Bess would enjoy using; a delicate trinket box for Liz; and a tiny porcelain replica of a grandfather clock for Vera. Wanting them to be tokens of appreciation from them both, she waited for Brian to arrive and presented the gifts then.

Bess was so awestruck when she saw the bowl that she could only stutter her thanks. Liz, too, was stuck for words, but Vera loudly conceded that the clock would forever remind her of Uncle Adrian. There was a suspicion of tears behind the handkerchief Liz used to blow her nose but Brian covered the moment by pouring wine into the old fashioned silver goblets that were now in use. The girls were included, and they accepted the wine with much giggling and tittering and, as they drank and nibbled cheesy biscuits, Vera referred again to Uncle Adrian.

'I should ring him,' she remarked. 'I did promise.'

'Do it now,' suggested Audrey.

Vera didn't need telling twice. 'Right on,' she said, racing from the room to the phone, and racing back again for the number. Audrey scribbled the number on the till receipt which came with the wine.

'You're drunk,' yelled Bess, as Vera sped off with the receipt in her hand.

They all gathered round while Vera spoke to the old man, who was apparently thrilled to hear her voice. Chatting at speed, she enquired after his health and checked that he was taking care of himself. She asked about the dog; she said she was at Audrey's house with her mother and Brian and her best friend Bess and said they were all listening and refusing to give her a minute's peace to talk with him alone, finishing with: 'When can I come to see you?'

There was a pause while she listened to his reply.

'Fantastic!' she cried. 'Can I bring Mum?'

'No!' mouthed Audrey, shaking her head vigorously.

Vera ignored her and carried on talking, ultimately ending the conversation with, 'See you in two weeks, then. I'll ring before we come.'

Naturally, Liz was concerned over Vera's hastiness in pushing for an invitation, but Brian declared it would do her good to get away and renew her acquaintance with her daughter.

Initially, Audrey felt a stranger's presence would disturb Adrian, until she recalled the state of him prior to meeting Vera, then she saw the sense of it. And she told herself, remembering his liver-spotted arms and wizened fingers, that it wouldn't hurt her to go. With Brian.

*****
At Brian's extraordinary insistence they went out for a drink, the first time since the funeral they had been out as a couple. Nervously, Audrey clung to him. Although confident she looked her best in the blue outfit she'd bought for the fete, she still felt like a zoo animal waiting to be gawked at. A wave of stomach cramps overwhelmed her. She felt like sprinting for cover but Brian's clasp was firm; there was no escape.

As if she had been lying in wait, Jane Fleming pounced the minute they walked in. 'You look like you've just traded a penny for a fortune,' she remarked to Brian as she escorted them to the congested bar.

Audrey stared goggle-eyed at the balloons and streamers and the banner strung across the ceiling which bore the inscription Congratulations. A giant piece of white card, with their names printed on, was pinned above the optics. Seeing that, she bumped Brian, hard. 'How did they know?'

'Search me.'

Just then, Audrey spotted Gladys and Sam in the alcove. She watched them for ages, contemplating the reason why Gladys seemed so different. Her hair, perhaps? And then understanding dawned. She was wearing yellow. 'Good Lord,' she exclaimed, laughing and pointing. 'Look, Brian. Gladys has gone contemporary.'

Gladys reddened and ducked behind Sam.

'Very nice too,' Brian said, smiling broadly. 'I bet she's the culprit. I let on this afternoon that I was bringing you here. I suppose she's blabbed it to the entire village.' Seeing Audrey's misgivings, he squeezed her hand. 'Hey you. I love you, and I don't care who knows.'

Audrey was powerless to interpret her uneasiness about people knowing, able only to associate it to her mother's oft-quoted superstition: grief treads upon the heels of pleasure. A stupid, stupid sentiment. There was, after all, absolutely nothing that could upset her future happiness, The past was sorted, the quandary was extinct; therefore, she had nothing to fear. Her heart was ready to burst and it was difficult to remember how, because of foolish pride and a wounded ego, she had denied herself the pleasure of being with Brian.

Still with Brian at her side, Audrey surveyed the room. Paddy and Eileen Finnigan were conversing with Maureen Dingle-Jones, whose hand was resting lightly on Eileen's shoulder. Bill and Ellen Mountford were propping up the bar, talking to Jane and obviously discussing Audrey if the covert glances were anything to go by. Next to them Ron Pearce and Arnold Trevors were trying to push a shrieking Diane onto one of the high stools, amidst loud guffaws from Tom Setton.

Peter was circulating with a tray of champagne.

Snatching up a glass, Norman had to roar to make himself heard about the din. 'Can I just say ....' He paused, brandishing an arm to gain attention. 'Can I just say how pleased I am about Brian and Audrey's engagement? I might add, it's not before time.' He raised his glass. 'Would you join me in wishing them a bright and blissful future?'

Cheers rang out and a voice called, 'I'll endorse that, Squire.'

Although the champagne bubbles made her cough, Audrey swallowed it like lemonade, then swiped another from Peter's tray. She scoured the room for Gladys and located her scurrying, with two glasses in her hand, towards a table in the darkest corner where two people sat. She peered through the curtain of smoke, trying to make out who they were, blinded for an instant by the lights of a car sweeping like a searchlight through the window.

It was then she saw Doris and her mother. She saw Mrs Pinches take the champagne from Gladys and witnessed the effort it took to get to her feet; and she was still watching when the old woman hollered, 'God bless Audrey Buckham and her bloke.'

Regardless of the fact that she'd drunk more than enough, Audrey was compos mentis. Consequently, she failed to understand why the folk who were sporting silly grins were moving away.

Brian, too!

Was she growing horns or something?

Someone spoke softly to Brian, who had his hand on her waist - only, when he stepped back, the hand remained.

She sucked in her breath, and slowly turned her head.

'Hi, Mum!'

She squealed: 'Matthew!' and swivelled right round to throw her arms around him. She clung tightly as if she would never let him go, immobilised from speaking by the narrowing of her throat.

'Glad you could make it, son,' Brian said as he waited, contentedly, to pump Matthew's hand.

THE END

26 May 2013

Sunday Scenes

Selected at Random

Rosella birds, waiting for food or something, in Victoria, Australia
Picture of sleeping fox at the bottom of our garden,
a long-range shot taken by daughter
Escaping shoes, seen in local store

Finally, wasn't it nice of Google to send me a birthday greeting. 
I didn't know it did that!

Happy Birthday, Val

25 May 2013

I'm Ninety-Nine, You Know

Blogging friend Ken Stevens goes under the name of Grumpy Old Ken, although I've yet to find anything grumpy about him. He writes some interesting articles on his blog and I either leave there chuckling or feeling I've learned something. Amongst other things he has written a book called A Childhood Revisited, about life as it was when he was growing up.  I came across this monologue some time back and Ken gave me permission to borrow it to read at my WI.  With Ken's permission, I am sharing it with you. 


I’m Ninety-Nine, You Know 
by 
Kenneth Stevens

Scene set in an old fashioned country cottage. An old lady sits in an armchair. She is knitting and hums to herself. She wears a shawl over a cardigan and woollen dress, She has on long woollen stockings, black lace up shoes and horned rimmed spectacles.

Come in. I heard you knocking. The old eyes may be a bit rheumy but me ears still work. I’m not too bad, thank you, all things considered. Sit down and we’ll have a cup of tea. Now what is it you want to know?

Old? I suppose I am. And you want to know what I can remember about my life? I don’t know about that but I’ll try.

I were born in 1906, it seems a long time ago. I don’t remember much as a little girl though I remember everyone being excited when a great big ship were lost first time out. Terrible it were, all those people drowned. What were it called, Gigantic, or Colossal, something like that.

School were all right, but strict. A slate and some chalk in the infants, a real pen and ink in the seniors. The boys had plenty of rulers on the knuckles, but we girls were usually spared that. The three ‘R’s were what we did most, Reading, Riting and Rithmetic. And we learnt about the Empire. It weren’t just lessons you remember. Hop Scotch, marbles and ‘What time is it Mr Wolf?’ were great. Plus skipping games. How did it go? ‘Salt, vinegar, mustard, PEPPER!’

Happy days.

Went into service at the big house. Seven shillings a week living in. Up at six, black-leaded the stove, polished the brasses, made the beds, washing, ironing, never stopped ‘til bedtime. Allowed two hours off on Wednesday afternoon, we loved that. Went back home on Sundays and gave me mam and dad me wages. Were allowed to keep sixpence for myself.

The Big War, yes I remember The Big War. The first Big War. So many men in the village never came back, God rest their souls. I remember thinking, it’s always men that cause wars. If it were up to women to decide, they’d be no wars. I remember some women trying to get women the vote. Chained them selves to railings they did, and one threw herself under a horse. What was her name, Mrs Sandhurst, Mrs Panhurt, something like that. I thought she were very brave, though I daren’t say so. Dad wouldn’t have liked that.

Dad believed everyone one had his place in life, women included. Mind you, he had his standards and he kept to them. He would proudly walk our mother to chapel, twice of a Sunday, in their Sunday best. Mind you, if it started to rain dad would take his cap off and put it in his pocket.
Why did he do that? Well, there were no way he were going to sit in the house all night with a wet cap on!

Married, yes I married Baxter when I were twenty three. A fine, God fearing man were Baxter. Hardworking, he were, a plumber, and a painter, and a sign writer, plus he were the village lamplighter. I don’t know where he got his energy from. Mind you, it couldn’t have done him no harm ‘cause we had eight children! Nine if you count the little one buried in the chapel yard, poor mite. Six weeks old, that’s all. All that time ago and I still think about her. And I took on our Barbara’s baby when she died.
Only four weeks old it were. It were a hard life but what else could you do? The doctor had strong words with Baxter when I had me fifth. I weren’t very well at all. Plus the fact that money were scarce, no child allowances in them days.
“If she has any more, it may well kill her,” Baxter were told. But he were having none of it. “If the Lord sends them, we’ll provide for them,” were Baxter’s answer. And that were that.

Let me get us both that cup of tea and we’ll talk while I’m making it.
Why am I cutting up the tea bags?
‘Cause I can’t be doing with putting bags of tea in the cup. It don’t seem right to me. The only thing I reckon you dunk into a cup of tea is a nice Rich Tea biscuit. How many sugars?
No sugar? I don’t know how you young ones survive, I really don’t. Too many fads today, if you ask me. We used to live on bread and dripping and plenty of fatty bacon. Didn’t do us any harm. There you are love, Now where were we?

What do I remember most?
I remember The Second War. I remember thinking, here we go again! All those young men, what a waste! Two of my brothers went and both came back; many didn’t. Hard times once more. Men getting us in trouble again. They never learn!

Politicians? Had enough of them. If it’s not war it’s womanising. I used to like Lloyd George until he found too much time for the ladies. That Major man were just the same. At his age too! Ought to have known better! At least this other fellow seems to look after his wife. What’s his name? Bloor? No, Blair, that’s it, Lionel Blair.

I remember how many things there were for you to catch. Ringworm and impetigo, measles, mumps and chicken pox. If you didn’t get one you got the other. And some children had rickets, poor things. Mind you, everyone had nits, but you didn’t die from nits. Now scarlet fever, whooping cough, and diphtheria, they were really horrible. Chapel yard’s full of children who didn’t make it to five.
What did you say, were it all bad in the old days?
Like I said it were hard, certainly but we were happy as well.
Bath nights were funniest, the old tin bath in front of the fire. The water were filthy by the time it were your turn if you were youngest. And you had to remember to get out on the fire side if you wanted to keep warm.
Fetching the accumulator from the shop for the wireless. Listening to Donald Peers and Joseph Locke, they weren’t half smashing. And Vic Oliver and Rob Wilton. How we laughed!
There were no televisions in them days. I never had one until the children grew up and bought me one. I liked it in a way but I were never sure of them, what do you call them, channels. I used to wait for the children to come and change them. It used to say sometimes ‘Normal Service will be Resumed as soon as Possible’ I often wondered if it were just mine or if next door were the same.

Things in the old days were made really well, made to last you might say. Some of the modern stuff’s rubbish! My children try to make me modern but it’s too late. They put all my food in containers, Tupper something they called it. I put some in the oven and you should have seen the mess. And the smell, I’m sure it were intoxic. Is that the word? I heard a man say it on the wireless. Mind you, my children didn’t half shout at me when I put the ashes from the fire in a bucket they bought me. I took them out to the bin in the yard but only me and the bucket arrived. The trail of burning ashes nearly set the house on fire. Rubbish, this modern stuff; plastic do they call it? What’s the matter with good old-fashioned tin?

How do I pass the time at my age?

I still gets to chapel of a Sunday and I read, though me eyes aren’t what they were. What do I read? Not the papers, that’s for sure. Can’t be doing with them. Full of rude pictures and bad language! I reads me Bible every day. My daughter says I’m studying for me finals. In a way she might be right. Dad’s long since gone and so has Baxter. But they’re both up there waiting for me, that’s for sure.
I have a nap in the afternoon and a little tot of whisky at night. For medicinal purposes of course! I signed The Pledge when I were eighteen, but I’m sure a little to help my constitution don’t count. Would you like to join me?
You’ve got to go? Well thank you for coming.
And will you come back next year when I get me letter from the Queen. I’m ninety-nine you know. It’s still Victoria, isn’t it?
I’m only joking, my dear, I may be old but I’m not senile yet!



23 May 2013

TELLING TALES

It’s lovely to receive greetings cards on birthdays or Christmas but what do you do with yours after the event? People give them to charities, or the recycling unit, or even strip them down for reuse. When I say reuse, I mean cut them up to make gift tags or decoration on home-made cards. But in the old days of rationing and lack of cash the cards could be used again. It was easy because most had an inserted leaf with printed greeting that could be removed so no-one was aware that the card had been reprocessed.

My mother wouldn’t admit to such a practice but she did it nonetheless. She would carefully remove the insert and checked the card for indentations from pen nibs, random ink blots, and other betraying signs, before writing her own greeting.

I don’t expect many people wrote to thank the senders of cards but we did acknowledge presents that way. Unlike today, I might add. Often now it’s an email or nothing. I cannot remember how old I was but I was old enough to write thank you letters, which I did with passion. Here’s what I wrote to a pseudo aunt. She was no relation, just my mother’s friend, but we were very respectful in those days. Here's the gist of my message:

Dear Auntie Carrie. 
Thank you for the lovely present and the Christmas card. Mommy liked the card. She showed it to everybody. She said she could see where you tore out the paper from the middle so you could use it again. It made everyone laugh. 
Lots of love, Valerie.  

Mom nearly killed me when she received Auntie Carrie’s letter. They didn’t speak for years after that, no matter that Mom was as guilty as her friend when it came to reusing cards. As you can imagine I grew up knowing that whatever I wrote could be taken down and used in evidence if I didn’t choose words carefully.  

It's my birthday today... perhaps that's why I went back in time to an almost long-forgotten incident. Cheers, everyone.

21 May 2013

A SUMMER CHILL, CHAPTER 40

Puffy-cheeked clouds, a vivid blue sky, a balmy breeze. If there was such a thing as a perfect day for a funeral, this was it. The feathers on Audrey's black velour fluttered as the cortege passed. A wreath shaped like a tennis racquet lay on top of the white coffin, which was surrounded by flowers. As soon as the last car glided by, Audrey and Brian joined the procession of black clad, bible-clutching villagers who had gathered to say goodbye to Steven Smith. It was a sobering sight.
           
The capacity of the church was misleading. First impressions were that it was small, until one noticed the height of the stained glass windows, so tall it was difficult to make out the entire design. The pews either side of the centre aisle connected with the radiators which in winter months lent warmth to the cold stone. There was a musty smell of old books and ancient hassocks. Displays of bud roses on the pulpit and at each end of the choir benches, pressed home Steven's tender age. Like the flowers, his life had been cut off before getting the chance to bloom.
           
Gladys and Sam sat several pews behind the grieving parents. Gladys wore a black beret, the only extra to her usual black attire. Sam wore navy with a black armband. Tugging Brian's elbow, Audrey indicated her wish to join them, and as they slipped into the pew Gladys gave Audrey a surreptitious wink to demonstrate her opinion of her escort, which made Brian smile as he undid the coat buttons of his grey pinstripe suit.
           
On the far side Vera sat with her mother. Vera waved and Liz nodded in acknowledgement. Young Bess was with them; no doubt the awkward passage to the church had prevented her invalid mother from attending.
           
Those mourners who could not find a vacant pew huddled at the rear and, for those outside, a loudspeaker had been erected to relay the service. Steven's tearful school friends fidgeted and whispered, rustling hymn book pages, and hunting noisily for handkerchiefs, every one solemnly mindful of the occasion.
           
Carrie swayed during the first hymn and Fred held her tightly to him. He whispered something and she nodded. Witnessing this, Audrey's voice faltered. How would she feel in Carrie's shoes, trying to get through the days and months without her son.
           
'Suffer the little children to come unto me,' quoted Michael. 'Steven's cheerful grin will light the pathway to Jesus and all those who follow will do so joyfully. He was a treasure to his parents. He will be a good friend to those who sleep beside him.'
           
Sneaking a look at Brian, Audrey prayed that their boys would have long and contented lives.

There were tiny beads of sweat on Brian's forehead when they left the cemetery. 'What happens now?' he asked, removing his jacket.
           
Taking a cue from him, Audrey slid out of her sable coat and replied that she thought they should wait for Gladys.
           
'And Sam?'

'Naturally. He's part of the fixtures now.'
           
Michael Spencer broke from a group of parishioners and scurried towards them, his cassock and surplice swinging around his feet. 'Do forgive me if I'm being presumptuous,' he said, 'but am I right in thinking you two are now united.' He beamed as he scrutinised their blushing faces. 'I guessed as much when I saw you entering the church, and I can't tell you how utterly delighted I am. Please accept my very best wishes.'
           
In thanking him, Audrey wondered why she had always presumed him to be a man bent on usurping her space. Was he not simply showing concern for her welfare? For all his cordial felicitations and apparent warm-heartedness she reckoned not but ignored the niggling doubt, preferring to think it was her who had misconstrued his affable attitude for something more ambiguous.
           
As more of his flock emerged, Michael sped away. 'One of these days,' Audrey muttered, 'he'll trip over that frock.'

Decorum having deserted her, Vera skipped ahead of her mother to talk to Audrey. 'Wasn't it a lovely service,' she said, slipping her hand in the crook of Audrey's arm. 'I am glad we came back.'
           
'So am I,' Audrey said, thinking of the other reason she was pleased to be here in Fieldmoor.
           
Seeing her mother approaching, Vera gabbled that everything was absolutely hunky-dory at home, but her mother wasn't above telling her off for running, so if Audrey didn't mind she would walk by Brian. Without further ado, she scooted to Brian's side and plunged her arm in his and, by the time Liz joined them, Vera was querying whether Brian had thought any more about adopting her as his girl friend.
           
'Sorry, your Ladyship. I'm promised to another.' Brian furtively batted an eyelid at Audrey, forgetting that Vera was shrewd enough to discern the significance.
           
'Yes!' Vera yelled, punching the air. 'Whoopee. Right on. Fantastic!' Suddenly she stopped jumping around and looked enquiringly at Audrey. 'Can I tell Bess?' Receiving agreement in the form of a humorous nod, Vera flitted off.
           
'Will she ever grow up, d'you think?' Liz was laughing as she watched her daughter go.
           
She seemed much more self-assured than yesterday, strikingly graceful in a tailored black and white outfit. Her posture had improved and the pinched look had entirely vanished. The visible transformation, a direct result of shedding inhumane burdens, was equal to Audrey's; with no trials to drag them down both were poised and self-assured, their countenances free of worry lines, their general demeanour showing renewed contentment.
           
'I hope she stays as she is,' replied Audrey. 'Youthfully fresh, with no anchoring grudges or bitterness. She'll confront the cruel world's occupants soon enough.'
           
'I agree, and I've already decided to seriously monitor her prospective liaisons. The idea of her diving into one like mine makes me cringe.' Liz paused and glanced round, and in a muffled voice, she said, 'I heard from Gerald this morning. He's moved to Ireland. Permanently from all accounts. I was wondering how that would affect you?'
           
'Me? I think it's brilliant news. The further away from me the better, providing he doesn't venture into long-distance phone calls.'
           
'I meant regarding the court case.'
           
'There's not going to be a court case. As I see it, his flight has eliminated both our difficulties. If I pressed charges it would mean having contact with him, albeit from a distance, and I don't think I could stomach being in the same room as him. I want to forget the past and move on. And there's Vera to consider. You and I will doubtless handle our contemptible memories, but I think it would be unwise to heap them onto Vera's young shoulders.'
           
'That's exactly how I feel.' Liz glanced to where Brian stood talking to Sam, then fastened her eyes on Audrey. 'And it might bode ill for your relationship with Brian. I'm thrilled to the traces that you two are together again, the poor man's been floundering for years.'

Gladys invitation to lunch was gladly accepted since Audrey's own kitchen was so impoverished, though Brian whispered to her that he felt a bit in the way in a kitchen that resembled Crewe Station on a Friday. Audrey nudged his arm and told him not to be so daft, but she smiled coyly as she said it, contemplating a future of cookery pursuits and other pleasures.
           
Sam excused himself as he trundled a trolley past them, a means of transportation Gladys loudly deemed unnecessary, considering its load was a single bowl of crisp green salad. She tutted as she lugged a tray of chicken portions from the oven, complaining that men had no sense when it came to domestic tasks. Transferring the steaming portions to stoneware dishes, she placed them next to a basket of wholemeal bread, then, after casting a supervisory eye over the table, she instructed them to help themselves.
           
Audrey selected a chicken piece and scooped salad from the bowl Sam offered. There was an awful lot of food in the light of there being only two of them, assuming the invitation had been a polite afterthought, and she began to question if the meal had been planned, and, if it was, why the masquerade. She thought back to when they came out of the church, when Gladys unexpectedly asked them to drop round, phrasing the invitation: 'Come to us if you like, we've got a bit of chicken left over from yesterday.' Looking at the table now, Audrey calculated that the bit of chicken would feed the locality, and then some.
           
'It's nice in here now you've decorated,' Brian said, viewing the room.
           
'It used to be two rooms,' said Sam, speaking knowledgeably, as if he personally had accomplished the alteration, but he quickly clarified the remark by referring to Gladys's husband, Percy. 'He knocked the wall down to create one big kitchen. I reckon he did it so he could watch Gladys cook. Sensible chap. I also like watching a cook at work.'
           
Brian smirked. 'Well, they do say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.' He gently butted Audrey, and quietly asked if she was okay.

For reply, she seized his hand. She could smell his aftershave and minty toothpaste. She wanted to recline against him and confide how she felt, but she didn't trust herself to stay calm. Out of the blue, she had a vision of Liz Tomlin's former tense face, the face of a woman having no knowledge of romance or ecstasy, and Audrey thanked God that Brian was normal and able-bodied, and gave additional thanks that the skirmish with Gerald had been no more than a foolish, personal blind spot.
           
When all the chicken pieces had been devoured, Gladys carefully deposited an iced cake on the table, while Sam poured champagne into flutes and handed them round. Audrey knew then that her suspicions were correct; there was definitely something afoot. Brian, too, was puzzled, judging by the sharp prod he administered with his elbow. They didn't have long to wait to have their curiosity quenched, for Gladys carried her bubbling drink to the head of the table and stood motionless until she had their attention. Then she began her address.
           
'It was sad seeing Steven buried today, and my heart went out to his folks. The lad had a proper send-off, bless him, especially from his friends at school.' Almost as an aside, she stated, 'I never thought I'd attend the burial of one so young. Bad enough sending us old 'uns to the other side.' She interrupted her little speech and bowed her head, while Audrey tried, by rapid blinking, to block the tears. However, Gladys wasn't taciturn for long. Straightening her shoulders, she pressed on. 'Perhaps today's not the right time, but young Steve wouldn't have wanted us to be miserable. Our lives must go on, so I've asked you here specifically to share my happiness. I haven't been so at peace since the day dear Percy died, and it's all because of him.' She inclined her head towards Sam and gazed lingeringly. 'So I'd like to propose a toast: to Sam.'
           
'To Sam,' they said, charging their glasses.
           
It was smashing of her to do that, thought Audrey, reflecting on the legion of qualities that made Gladys famous, of which the help, the counselling, and the friendship came top of the list. At Brian's murmured direction, she abandoned her deliberations and turned her eye to the square cake, painstakingly iced with yellow icing, with yellow rosebuds at each corner. There was some lettering in the middle, but, with the cake being back-to-front, it was indecipherable. She was about to query it, when Gladys's next utterance told her that the speech wasn't finished.
           
'When you're ready,' she said, sternly addressing Audrey and Brian, whose heads shot up like errant pups. 'I've got something else to say. I can't tell you how thankful I am you two've come to your senses.' As she spoke, she rotated the cake. 'I couldn't imagine spending the rest of my days cajoling you to get your blessed act together. So get your drink, Sam. Let's toast our two good friends.'
           
Brian squeezed Audrey's waist and, with his lips brushing her hair, he hissed, 'Look at the cake.'
           
Audrey leaned forward to scan Gladys's microscopic writing: For Audrey and Brian, whose love is immortal.

(to be continued)

20 May 2013

19 May 2013

Sunday Scenes

Ships and cranes and things at sea
taken during the Canaries Cruise in 2009. 

The ship we sailed on

We called at
La Coruna, Madeira (Portugal),  Las Palma (Spain), Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lisbon (Portugal) and Vigo (Spain) so these pictures could be anywhere in that lot.