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31 March 2014

TITBITS ... CRIME, AN UPDATE, AND SHOPPING,


Boy 15 kills young girl by shooting her in the head. 
In this land that doesn’t allow guns how the heck can a young boy get a gun in the first place? And why is there a law that stops the press from naming and shaming kids who kill? What is happening to our society and our youth?


GWYNETH PALTROW AND CHRIS MARTIN’S MARRIAGE BREAKS UP
This was the cover story in all our newspapers on the day they made it official. Headline news and lengthy reports that took precedence over the disasters in the world, the missing aeroplane, the mudslides in Washington, the loss of lives in various other parts of the world, yet there we were, ogling the story about Gwyneth and her soon-to-be ex spouse. I despair sometimes.

NUISANCE CALLS
This did interest me, though. Apparently our government is planning to make it easier to fine firms that hound members of the public with nuisance calls. Read about it here. There is nothing worse than cold calling to private addresses. Those who do it don’t care when or what time they call and will keep trying until someone answers. We don’t... but the continuous ringing drives me nuts. So good luck to the government, I just hope they can remove this pain in the butt once and for all.  


For the first time ever I forgot to alter all the clocks before going to bed. I did remember one at last minute and that’s the radio alarm, not that I needed it since I was wide awake before it went off. Now, after changing the clocks – no matter whether forward or back – I usually wake feeling like a wet lettuce, lifeless and tired and drained of energy. Not this time. Instead I woke feeling full of energy and eager to start the day. Why is that, I wonder? Could it be that the body knew the clocks hadn’t been altered? Does it subconsciously react to change? 
My thanks to my blogging friends who enquire about Joe and who regularly send good wishes. Joe is doing reasonably well with his treatment, although these days he does drop off to sleep more often. I understand that tiredness is one of effects of chemotherapy. Mind you, he’s always been able to doze but now the doze is a full-blown sleep ... and often. I don’t mind since sleep is a healer of minds and now that his medical problems are dragging on he needs sleep more than ever. 

All being well the chemo should be over soon (he’s on his fourth batch) so hopefully other problems can soon be sorted. One of the consultants said his next operation would be end of March/beginning of April but since a couple of treatments had to be missed because of a white blood cell problem it could be April before things start to move. Joe is still philosophical but he is understandably fed up with everything.


Referring to an earlier Titbits report, concerning attitudes of assistants in stores, I have since had another exasperating experience... this time concerning loyalty cards. 

When I bought my birthday outfit the lovely manageress asked me if I had a loyalty card. I explained that I had stopped using one because the staff at this particular store didn’t know what to do when I went back to spend my vouchers. Nonsense, she said, and went on to persuade me that I would get a good rebate on the item just bought. She was right; I got £80 back, by voucher. What joy! It meant I could almost buy another outfit or at last half of one.

So I toddled off to spent my £80.

First thing that caught my eye was a lightweight lacy jacket that was a perfect match for the birthday outfit, priced at £79. Putting it mildly, I was over the moon at the thought of acquiring the item free of charge.
          
I took the garment and, clutching my voucher, approached a young assistant. She, of course, didn’t know what to do with it. Hadn’t I known that all along? Off she went to find a supervisor on the next floor. The young lady from Lingerie came to talk to me. It seems the other girl was new (just my luck) and there were only the two of them on the entire floor which houses *reckoning up* at least twelve franchises.

At the time of my visit the escalator was out of order and the stairs were blocked off. The only way up or down was via the stationary escalator and we all know how difficult it is to walk on them! Consequently it took quite a long time for the girl to go down and find a supervisor. After twenty minutes I got rattled and started to rant. I won’t repeat what I said but safe to say it was less than ladylike. The girl from Lingerie was extremely sympathetic and tried to ring down to the supervisor... but just then the new girl appeared. 30 minutes altogether with no-one to talk to and nowhere to sit.
          
I didn’t get the jacket. The story was that they couldn’t decide what to do about the odd £1. Remember ... I was offering an £80 voucher for a £79 garment. They should have asked me, I would have told them.... just call the jacket £80 and have done with it. The reason I didn’t get the jacket was because I was too disgusted to deal with it, plus the fact that I had been kept waiting, in isolation, for half an hour. Cut off nose to spite face comes to mind, but quite honestly I was in no mood to cope with it any longer. Anyway, I have until 2015 to spend the voucher!
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30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday


to  Mothers everywhere

These flowers came via Interflora from my lovely stepdaughter. 
She's a ray of sunshine in my life. 
Thank you, Rosanne and Frank.
See you both very soon.


The flowers came complete with this white jug. 
What a fantastic surprise!


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28 March 2014

Shopping ... love it or hate it!

Section of shopping precinct


I used to love browsing in shops, even if I didn’t want to buy anything but now we don’t seem to have many shops in which to browse. There are plenty of hairdressers for men as well as women but you can’t really look around those establishments without appearing a bit odd.

picture courtesy of bbc.co.uk
Charity shops are rapidly taking over our shopping precincts or High Streets. One retail outlet closes, three charity shops open. Or a hairdressers.  Or a sandwich bar. The charity shops do encourage people to look around but when you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all since they all stock other people’s cast-off clothes and shoes. Quite honestly I don’t fancy wearing discarded shoes in case the owner’s feet were malformed, twisted, warped or infected. But each to their own, I guess.

My local shopping area has now been designated an eating place. Gone are the old electrical shops, the chemists, the butchers, the china shops, antique shops, small stores, clothiers, shoe shops and independent marketeers, all to be replaced by restaurants, cafes, Costa and pizza bars, Italian, Indian, French, Chinese, Thai, even English fish and chip and coffee shops. You can’t avoid the smell of cooking unless you happen to be standing outside a charity shop. I imagine they don’t go in for feeding the public, just dressing them.

And woe betides you if you want to purchase something! You can get it on-line, Madam is now a familiar piece of advice. A week ago I saw a top I liked in the colour I wanted. As ever, they didn’t have it in size 16 (UK size). I say as ever because this happens every time. It would be okay if I wanted a 10, 12, 14, 18, or 20 but they never have a 16. The excuse is that the company only sends two garments in each size and because 16 is the most common size they sell out quickly.

Yesterday, since I was back in town, I decided to look again. Still no size 16. Ah well, if I couldn’t have the blue I’d take one of the latest pinks ... guess what ... no 16 in that colour either.

Can I order it?

You can order it on-line, Madam, but you would have to pay for delivery.

The lesser of two evils!

I challenged the assistant about the repeated lack of my size and she stated that in all her three years service it had been ever thus. She continued for a good ten minutes, describing every policy detail adopted by the supplier, at the end of which she offered to go and look in the stockroom. I didn’t decline the offer, although I had been there before, needlessly waiting for the assistant to come back empty handed. Well this time I was wrong, she stepped off the escalator clutching two tops. ‘The last ones,’ she murmured, a trifle sheepishly. One blue and one pink. I took both and resisted the urge to ask why in a whole week she had failed to replace stock, even though her words they only send two garments in each size were ringing loud and clear inside my head.

Next time I want something to wear I might be forced to try the charity shops, followed by lunch and possibly a hair-do.

On a more positive note, whilst surfing the Internet I saw the outfit I wanted for my birthday bash. I went to the same store, different franchise, and talked to the manageress. I had gone armed with photograph (thank goodness for smart phones) so she could see for herself which outfit I wanted. The response was positive, she not only ordered it (by phone) but she got it in store by next day and phoned to tell me. I was there like a flash just after the store opened and there was my outfit, pressed and ready to try on. Now that is what I call service.

The difference between the two incidents is this: the manageress was an older (although to my eyes still young) person whereas the one with three years’ service was nought but a beginner who hadn’t yet learned the trade. How long does it take to learn a job, that’s what I want to know! 
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26 March 2014

FEAR AWAITS AT JOURNEY'S END (repeat)


The deeper the express train travelled into the tunnel the clearer became the woman's reflection in the window, giving Arthur Mott a chance to stare without her knowing. Now, instead of occasional glimpses of her profile, he could see the whole of her face. Short, wiry hair curved around her ears like dappled muffs; dark hair, so flecked with grey it reminded him of pewter. He guessed her wistful expression belied a sunny disposition, for he detected the hint of a smile dallying at her lips. The pronounced cheek-bones attracted him. They made her almond-shaped eyes seem so submerged that he felt, if she turned to look at him, he would drown in the abyss of their dark beauty.
            The notion of being captured in an all-embracing glance made him fidget and he rocked slightly on his seat. Forward and back. Soon, the agitation filled his head, turmoil he thought had long ago subsided. He was compelled to suppress it with a system of deep-breathing. As he inhaled, he ran his fingers along the plastic armrest, counting to ten. With every exhalation he scratched his chewed nails on the jagged edges of sundry burns, willfully accomplished with cigarettes, no doubt, by drunken barbarians. Mother wouldn't have liked that, he thought, recalling what a stickler she was for neatness, how she would toss into the bin anything marred by cuts or stains.
            Now that he had a chance to study the woman, he saw that the skin on her throat was crinkly, like crepe, like his mother's, and he longed to touch her neck to see if it felt the same. There was an unusual fragrance in the compartment, of spicy perfume mingled with the polluted smell of soiled upholstery. Neither pleasant nor repulsive, simply unusual.
            Her thinness intrigued him. How could a modern woman look so haggard when the whole nation was bordering on the obese? Arthur laced his nicotine-stained fingers, remembering his mother's bulk, her flesh hanging over him at night, her protruding eyes devouring his nakedness. He shuddered, as he had shuddered throughout his childhood.
            Once again daylight entered the carriage. Fields rushed by, measures of green allocated for farming stock, an occasional house stowed aimlessly in the middle. Shouts could be heard in the next carriage, choruses adored by football supporters, some kind of convoluted vocal meandering punctuated with cries of ‘three-one, three-one’ which meant nothing to Arthur. He wasn’t a sporting man.
           
As if weary of the view, the woman changed her pose, languidly shuffling round until she faced him, her cream blouse taught against diminutive breasts. Her eyes were moist and her lips trembled slightly, drawing his notice to the lines on her upper lip. A pity the lurking smile had disappeared. He would have liked to see it go. Sweet anticipation set him rocking again; back and forth, a shade faster than before, foreseeing an exhilarating adventure, when she would be as putty in his hands.
            Suddenly, the door slid open and a fat-faced man, carting a battered brown suitcase and a bundle of newspapers, barged in like a squall of blubber. Another example of modern living. Without asking if the seat was reserved, he dropped the bundle on the table adjacent to Arthur's green trilby and slung the case on the overhead rack. 'Teenagers make me sick,' he said to no-one in particular, 'the way they behave in public.'
Having secured the case, he flopped on the seat opposite Arthur, puffing out his cheeks with the exertion. 'I've been sharing a compartment with the Liverpool brigade,' he told Arthur, who was not at all interested. 'Had to leave 'em to it. Couldn't stand the noise. Comes to something when a body can't enjoy a train journey in peace.'
            Agitatedly plucking the front of his fawn jersey, Arthur Mott eyed the woman wondering if the moment of contact was lost.

Leonora Deloitte rummaged inside a lizard-skin bag, searching for her wallet and the small notepad contained therein. She had thought of passing the big man a note concerning that measly little man who had stared constantly since they joined the train. She was used to being goggled at by men and enjoyed the experience, for it boosted her sometimes deflated ego, but this man was not a typical voyeur. When he stared it was like being mentally dissected.
She unzipped the inner compartment and flicked through the papers there, but she had no joy. The wallet, containing money and credit cards, was missing. She could only think she must have left it at her daughter's. She leaned back, wondering what on earth she was going to do, so absorbed with her dilemma she failed to adjust the black skirt that had ridden up.
            'I'm going to Birmingham-on-sea,' said the rotund man. 'Though I confess I have no bucket or spade. Or a red and white scarf, for that matter.'
            This smattering of humour went some way to persuading Leonora that he was an approachable individual who might help solve her predicament. Not that she would relish asking a perfect stranger for a loan, yet she couldn't see any alternative. She could hardly walk from Birmingham to Solihull. Hesitantly she smiled at him and the man promptly inclined towards her, stretching out his arm. 'Godfrey's the name, Ma'am. Godfrey Hastings. You going far?'
            'Birmingham,' said Leonora.
            'Well, isn't that just dandy. My luck must be in.'
           
In his corner, the scrawny little man scowled. His hands twitched in his lap, busy fingers stretching and curling as if he was squeezing an invisible object. It brought a small, involuntary cry to Leonora's lips and she knew she had been right to be afraid.
Collectively, the two men arched their heads, but only Godfrey Hastings spoke. 'Whatever is it, Ma'am,' he enquired.
            Leonora opened her mouth to express her fear but, feeling inanely foolish, she hastily closed it. She felt rather testy, hating to feel intimidated, but the horror of being thought ridiculous prevented her from launching into an unjustified dialogue of complaint. Instead, as calmly as she could, she announced the loss of her wallet, and was relieved to see a token of concern remove the disagreeable glower from the man's contemptible face.
            Even the brief glimpse of pale thigh that had so excited Arthur was powerless to squash his loathing for Godfrey Hastings. He had completely wrecked his intentions. If he had an appropriate weapon he might stab him through the heart. In the few minutes since he arrived he had not only gained the woman's trust, he had destroyed the possibility of seduction. Unless he could outwit him his prospects would be dashed. An offer of cash to the lady would stand him in good stead but he only had a paltry sum in his breast pocket, a sum estimated by the authorities as sufficient for his needs until he could fend for himself. He had let loose a hollow laugh when they told him that and had been warned to behave. Well, he would cope; always had and always would. The only quandary he had was how to manipulate the woman.
            He liked the notion of offering funds, even falsely, but recognized the infeasibility of such a suggestion, reluctantly acknowledging the numerous unwanted problems it would pose. Anyway, to do that he would have to find his voice. He always became incoherent when he was nervous. Words would jumble together in his mouth and emerge in the wrong order. It was the reason he had not engaged the Leonora in conversation. Leonora. As delightful a name as any he'd come across. Most of the casualties in his life had ordinary names: Margaret, Sylvia, and Mary. Those were the three he commemorated most in darker moments, each one thin as a rake, with eyes like pools. Like Leonora. Arthur covered his mouth with his hand to hide the excessive salivation.

'You mustn't worry, my dear,' Godfrey said. 'I'll see you're all right for ready cash. Leave everything to me.' He was helping Leonora return her haphazardly strewn belongings to her bag.
            Arthur beheld a gold-coloured lipstick case rolling between a plastic cup and some cellophane biscuit wrappings. He was fascinated by it, for Leonora's lips were unadorned and he could not imagine her defacing them with tawdry paint. On the other hand, removing it could prove to be a lot more stimulating.
            'Oh, dear,' exclaimed Leonora. 'I've just remembered where I left it.'
            At that point Godfrey Hastings espied the lurching lipstick and retrieved it, presenting it to Leonora as if it was a nugget of real gold.
Arthur's resentment rose up like bile when he saw the gratitude on her face.
            'Thank you so much, Godfrey,' she said in her low, rich voice, its contralto timbre giving the impression that she was or had been a vocalist.
            Arthur was captivated by it. He mused on the possibility that her screams would be musical and therefore so much nicer than the terror-stricken sort he’d grown used to hearing. He momentarily closed his eyes the better to imagine it.
            Leonora dropped the lipstick inside the handbag and snapped it shut, offering the explanation almost apologetically, that she had placed the wallet by the mantel clock at her daughter's house while she looked for the ticket for the train. She had been distracted by her grand-daughter insisting she be picked up and nursed. In the event, she had forgotten it.
            'Well, there you are,' Godfrey said. 'All's well that ends well.'
            Godfrey fixed his probing sights on Arthur but swiftly re-established his concentration on Leonora.
Arthur was excused the confusion of replying to Leonora. In those few seconds, as he shrank from the fleeting inspection, it struck him that the man was familiar. But recall eluded him and he guessed he was mistaken.
            Godfrey took a visiting card from the inner pocket of his navy suit. 'I'll withdraw enough cash to tide you over,' he said, handing the card to Leonora. 'There's my address and telephone number. I'll take my reward in kind.' He chortled and gripped Leonora's hand. She delivered a sumptuous giggle as if she was a teenager on a first romantic date.  

For the rest of the journey Arthur was besieged by despondency as Leonora Deloitte chattered about the holiday she'd had with her daughter and son-in-law, five grandchildren and a dog. She didn’t care for the dog, she said, would never have one herself, although she admitted a pet was good for youngsters.
Leonora talked exclusively to Godfrey as if Arthur was but a travelling ghost. Though she did occasionally glance in his direction, at his hands, she did not once raise her eyes to his. He spent much of the time trying to visualize how her lips would look when painted. Older lips looked grotesque when highly coloured. On her scarlet might be appealing.
            He meddled with the square card he'd rescued from the floor, thrilled that he'd had the sense to pocket it instead of handing it over. Surreptitiously, he glanced at it, scanning an address in Hermitage Road. Residence of Deloitte, it grandly proclaimed, in gold.
            'Five!' exclaimed Godfrey. 'You don't look old enough to have five grandchildren.'
            Arthur silently agreed. Though the outward signs were that Leonora Deloitte was old enough, she possessed a genteel manner that defied age. It showed in those extraordinary dark eyes. Such a contrast to his mother.
            The disclosure that she was going home to an empty house inspired Godfrey to ask if she was a widow. Leonora's eyes misted again when she conceded that she had been alone for twenty years. Exactly the length of time since Arthur lost his mother. He wanted to tell her that. But he couldn't, his mouth would never manage the words. In any case, her attention was rooted to the comically stout intruder who, for all his portliness, knew how to hook a woman with spontaneous chitchat.
           
Leonora peered through the window. She had not liked that last, lengthy tunnel. She had imagined the seedy little man making a grab for her, his heavily veined, dirty hands seizing her by the throat. But Godfrey's hand brushing hers had reassured her that she was safe.
Arthur stood up, lurching as the swaying train arrived at their destination. He picked up his hat and positioned it on his head. Having no luggage to collect, he just stood there waiting for the train to stop.
            'Travelling light, are you?' boomed Godfrey.
            Arthur nodded and looked away, finalising his strategy. He would leave the train first, linger on the platform until they passed. Then he would follow. Godfrey Hastings couldn’t protect her all day … and she did, after all, live entirely alone. Not even a dog to defend her.
            'Here, Leonora, let me help you with your coat,' Godfrey said, readily taking up the crimson garment. Another whiff of spicy fragrance was released as he held it behind her like a matador's cape.
            'Birmingham New Street,' came the guard's announcement. 'Please be careful bridging the gap between the platform and the train.'
           
By the time Godfrey and Leonora left the train, Arthur was studying the contents of the vending machine. He selected a chocolate snack bar and inserted coins in the appropriate slot. He could have pretended to be procuring something, but he was by now extremely hungry. It had been hours since he had a proper meal and the arrowroot biscuits he'd eaten on the train had made no inroads into his hunger. Clutching the chocolate, he leaned on the machine and watched Leonora teetering on silly stilettos beside her escort. Hurriedly, which suited Arthur's schedule. The sooner her monetary crisis was sorted, the sooner she would be free to travel home. Gleefully, Arthur tore the wrapper from the snack bar. The blue paper fluttered down to the dusty platform. Like a child, he stuffed the whole bar in his mouth … the chocolate would run down his chin and his mother would be furious if she could see. At that moment he didn't care. He had other things on his mind.
            Ahead, at the entrance to the escalator, he saw Leonora sailing through, her hand resting lightly on Godfrey's arm. A beautiful slut, thought Arthur, chomping the snack bar as he moved quickly in the same direction. There must have been a dozen people between him and them yet he could easily pick them out by her red coat and his fair hair. Arthur gripped the rail as the escalator glided steadily upwards. He almost lost them in the station's main precinct when a crowd of high-spirited football supporters surrounded him, claret and blue scarves waving like streamers as they jostled for a place at the exit. Arthur panicked, thinking his plan had been foiled, but then he saw the red coat half-way up a second ascending escalator. Holding his hat in place, he ran, jubilantly, towards the subsequent bank of moving stairs.

One eye on Arthur Mott, Godfrey withdrew the money from the machine in the wall. He had known who he was as soon as he saw him board the train. He had been partly responsible for the man's incarceration after the dreadful murder of the prostitute, Patsy Musewell, in Small Heath Park. The morning papers had reported the news of Arthur's release only that morning: Ex-Banker's Sentence at an End. The report had gone on to describe Arthur Mott as formerly a smart intellectual, held in great esteem by his profession until his mother died and the man slipped into decline. Typical of newspapers to publish the man's antecedents before he was barely out of Jail. Godfrey had resolved that while he was on the train he would watch him like a hawk and that was how he came to locate him sharing a carriage with one female occupant. Godfrey had been mighty troubled when he glimpsed the rapt look on his face. That's why he barged in like he did.
            Leonora's polite cough stemmed his thinking and he turned to see her noting the time by her watch. Bygone police practices had driven her predicament completely from his mind. Noticing her anxiousness, he wondered again about the absurdity of giving money to a complete stranger. He'd have been stripped of his stripes if he'd been so daft in the old days. But he had a good feeling about Leonora. He trusted her. And he liked her a lot.
Movements beyond caught his eye. Two constables on the prowl, one redoubtable individual, bearing the hallmark of a long-serving copper, the other innocent and fresh: a slight-framed, bit-of a-kid rookie, just right for tackling the inhuman Arthur Mott should the need arise. 'Excuse me a tick, Leonora,' he said. 'There's a man over there I must have a word with. Will you wait for me here? And don't fret about getting home. I'll order a taxi.' Maintaining covert surveillance on Arthur, who was hiding behind a picture stall, naively believing he couldn't be seen, Godfrey scurried towards the two coppers.

Arthur laughed, rejoicing over his success. His plan had worked. Leonora was alone, scanning her watch and peering anxiously after the Hastings man. He wanted to yell at her that she had seen the last of him. The last of anybody, come to that. Very soon. Why didn't she walk away, he asked himself, wondering if he ought to make his presence known. But he preferred the concept of tailing her. The element of surprise was more exciting. She looked exquisite, standing there. Mother would have adored her. She liked thin women, being grossly fat herself, and often urged him to marry one. He might have, if he hadn't grown accustomed to mother's corpulence shrouding him in sleep, her podgy hands clutching him, thick lips beseeching his dormant parts to wake. Yes, she liked thin women, but thin women didn't like her, and it annoyed him that his mother's desires were unfulfilled; accordingly, after her death, by a process of selective slaughter, he had satisfied her needs.

Hoping her loitering would not be misinterpreted by staff inside the building society, Leonora stood inside the doorway. The area was dreadfully crowded. People dashed in all directions: passengers with suitcases and shoppers lugging bulky plastic bags. She could smell the dampness on people's coats as they hustled by. Rain. And she wasn't wearing a raincoat. A long-haired mongrel dog of indeterminate parentage paused briefly to sniff a Malteser box, then snorted as if disgusted by its emptiness before scampering on its way.
            She had totally lost sight of Godfrey. She longed to get away but she had yet to make arrangements to return the cash. An Asian girl stopped at the cash machine, tossing her silky hair out of the way as she confidently punched in her numbers. Oh for the assurance of youth, thought Leonora, who had no aptitude for technical contraptions. Taking Godfrey's visiting card from her bag, she examined it and tried to recall exactly where Northfield was. An appreciable distance, she imagined, from Solihull, and probably the opposite direction. Nevertheless, she had his number. She could ring and quickly rectify the situation, whatever he thought of her for disappearing.

Arthur’s heartbeats were like tom-toms as he watched her advance towards the exit ramp that would take her to New Street from where, presumably, she would head towards home. Her coat bounced around her slender, though shapely calves, her hips swaying like a model's as she sashayed past the health food shop. He struggled with the disorder in his pants, recognising the need for control if he was to beget another offering for Mother. The best he'd netted to date. Why, even he could fancy her.
            His courage rapidly returning, Arthur glided down the ramp and veered into New Street, his eyes fixed on the swinging red coat. And the added, useful accessory: a red scarf with white dots, half on, half off her hair. Unconsciously, he flexed his hands, tugging taut the imaginary ends, enthusiastically blessing the rain.
            The crowd had moderated and he had no difficulty keeping tabs on her. She twisted round once, surveying the street. He thought she might have seen him but she was merely monitoring the traffic prior to crossing the road. Not that it mattered if she did see him, he had as much right to be here as she did, but if she saw him now that terminating jolt of bewilderment and incredulity that possessed his victims at the end would be forfeited.
           
After navigating a course through the queues of buses and taxis waiting at the lights, Arthur slowed almost to a halt. Ahead of him Leonora was contemplating the display in Principles' window. She looked weary. He chuckled contentedly, feeling certain it would not be long before he could administer a permanent cure.
Clutching the scarf that refused to stay in place, Leonora followed the window round so that she was concealed from the road, yet her view of it was unimpeded. She had been so sure she was being watched that she needed to check it out. Then she saw that awful man from the train, staring at the site she'd just vacated, not even bothering to mask his interest. She saw him shove his hand inside his grey jacket, lift the scruffy jersey and slowly release a narrow, black leather belt until it hung by its buckle from his waist like a snake waiting to strike.
Alarm bristled like cactus spines, punching a warning at her brain. Beware. She realized she'd been spotted; the odious man was eyeing her through the window, toying with the buckle of his belt. He began to shuffle towards her, his face contorted in a hideous leer. Leonora's panic surged, swelling up like an eruption of boiling lava. She felt she would faint if she didn't get away. She tried to fight the fear, reasoning that her imagination was playing tricks, asking herself why she should feel so threatened, telling herself that nothing could happen to her in a public place. She attempted to pull herself together, relating her consternation to the man's obvious dirty-mindedness, a factor she so abhorred. The reasoning didn’t work. As Arthur Mott drew near, she retreated until her backside touched the frame of the shop door, jumped at the unexpected contact. Certain she was being attacked from behind, she screamed, cries rising from the pit of her stomach like a welling spring and emerging from her throat like a salvo of ear-piercing howls.
Some passers-by gawked inquiringly, others swerved sharply away. No-one came to her aid.
            Leonora's feet seemed to be welded to the ground, her knuckles white as she gripped the door handle. He was only yards away, his colourless face distorted, hooked nose almost meeting twisted mouth, pupils enlarged with impatience. As if witnessing something in a dream, Leonora saw him release the belt from the waistband of his trousers. She became mesmerized by a snag in the material running from his fly to his left hand pocket. A drawn thread, looped in places. She heard children laughing in the distance, but couldn't tear her gaze away. The belt swung like a pendulum as he neared.
            A youngster begged his mother to look at the strange man with a strap in his hand. He was sharply ordered to come away.
            The incident distracted Leonora. Her common sense returned. Shaking her head, she paced back, intending to demand the use of the shop's phone. But she didn’t need it. There was a sudden tableau of flying bodies. Godfrey Hastings and a boyish policeman, brandishing a truncheon, had entered like mounties in a movie, overpowering Arthur and pinning him to the slippery ground.
            Godfrey didn’t shout, he merely said, 'Got you, Arthur Mott,' as he hauled the puny man to his feet, thrusting him at the young officer, who quick as lightning slapped handcuffs on the man's wrist. Arthur squealed like stuck pig as he struggled within the policeman's grasp. Leonora trembled, her relief so heartfelt she was sapped of all her strength.

Later, in a coffee shop, sheltered from the world and its psychopaths, Godfrey's hand covering hers, Leonora listened to Godfrey outlining Arthur Mott's criminal history, though he benevolently apportioned blame to Arthur's mother: an overweight, oversexed woman with cross-grained chromosomes. According to Godfrey, Arthur had no spunk. His pitiful attempts to stand up to his mother resulted in physical and mental bruising until, in the end, her terrible dominance and his frantic desire to please, drove him to kill, believing the mutilation of the women she had so hankered after in life would indulge her in death.
            Leonora quaked, remembering the earnest scrutiny on the train, those rheumy eyes, the twitching hands and fingers that curled, guessing he had decided to kill her. It would have been so easy to overpower her and wrap his hands around her throat. The reality of the situation eluded her as she imagined how easily he could have overpowered her when she was hedged in that doorway. No-one would have taken any heed. Others had been killed in broad daylight. She shook as the horror recurred of that awful, insane moment when she was sure she was going to die. It took a while for her mind to clear and to realise that such a thing couldn’t happen in a public place.
            'Now, dear lady,' Godfrey said, 'There's no need to be scared any more. It's been quite a day, but there have been good bits. Certainly there were good bits for me. Meeting you, Leonora, was like emerging from a dark cave onto a sunny beach and basking in the warmth.'
            Leonora blushed as she regarded him, loving his style and liking what she saw, admiring the friendly blue eyes and the blonde lashes that fanned his cheeks when he blinked. Was it possible they had only met that day? The image of Arthur Mott slowly crumbled as the prospect of running her fingers through the tight spirals of hair filled her soul, the need to unwind one and watch it spring back into place so essential it was like a pleasant pain. She was comfortable in his company; she thought she could be snug and protected in his bountiful arms. 'I'll try to put the bad bits behind me, Godfrey,' she said.
            Godfrey chucked her under the chin and murmured affectionately, 'That's my girl.'

Composed and unemotional, Arthur Mott waited in the interview room. So what if his scheme had been thwarted, it was only a temporary setback. The police could interrogate him all they liked, but they couldn't detain him for long without charging him, and they couldn't do that because he hadn’t committed a crime. Watching a woman didn’t constitute an offence, not when it was a one-off incident. Certain of early liberation, Arthur sat upright on the wooden chair and stared at the officer by the door. It was only a matter of time before he could continue his quest. Go for the kill. He palmed the white card and removed it from his pocket, keeping it below the level of the table so the supervising copper wouldn’t see. He read the gold print again: Hermitage Road, Solihull. Residence of Deloitte, where, by Leonora's own admission, she lived entirely alone. Not even a dog to defend her.

(Sequel to follow next week)
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25 March 2014

Those were the days, my friend... we thought would never end!


Video seen on Herman's blog that I couldn't resist sharing

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23 March 2014

ISN'T SHE LOVELY?


Joe and I have just finished watching stepdaughter’s wedding video. We thought it was never coming but finally, after four months waiting, it arrived from Australia. The video was professionally done, even the cover and disc featured Rosanne and Frank as stars of the film which, of course, they were.


After lunch on the day we received the disc, Joe and I sat down to view the events of that day in November. It was wonderful and so was Rosanne. Joe kept saying how beautiful she looked and I agreed, even though there was a slight dampness around my eyes that blurred the vision at times.

We heard people read the speeches we’d sent and again that mysterious eye problem attacked. I didn’t dare look at Joe! My problem was that since I don’t speak Australian I couldn’t always grasp the accent or keep up with the speed reading. They all speak so fast ... I hadn’t realised that before. Never mind, I should be okay after several more viewings.

Yes, it was well worth waiting for. Excuse me while I go take another look.
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18 March 2014

Eleanor Nobody, the Sequel (repeat)

She opened her eyes and knew that today was not a good day.

Lying motionless beneath the grey overcoat Eleanor could hear the laboured breathing of the old man next to her, but she didn’t stir. Time enough, she thought. When morning came she would attract someone’s attention. Until then she would ease his suffering as best she could. Warmth was the main thing and some soup to heat his innards. Eleanor gazed through the space in the rafters, seeing the stars speckling a velvet black sky, and once more thought of the woman who befriended her some years ago. She wished she could remember her name.

Reaching across to the old man she secured the blue spotted scarf around his neck and gently pushed his knapsack further into his side to block some of the draught. The old shed was full of holes but she’d been lucky to find it … and the old guy who now lay beside her on the driest part of the floor. Goodness only knows how long he’d been there. He was poorly when she arrived and in four weeks he’d shown no improvement. Bronchial trouble, she reckoned, and would have summoned the medics if only he’d allowed it. She was reluctant to interfere and override his wishes; hadn’t she left the shop doorway for similar reasons.

Eleanor snuggled into the coat and continued to gaze through the hole in the roof, trying not to think of how cold she was or that it was her birthday. She wouldn’t have known the date but for the newspaper blown against the shed two days ago. The memory of a birthday cake filtered across her mind, when that kind woman gave her chocolate ├ęclairs that rightly belonged to her boss. Whatever happened to her? Guilty thoughts seized her, not for the first time, of that Christmas two, no three years ago, when she ran away. She couldn’t stay, could she, not when the prospect of a family Christmas was on the cards. It wasn’t said in so many words but it was plain that an invitation was forthcoming.

The first signs of morning roused her. Daylight creeping in, the start of the dawn chorus, changing perspective from night to day.  It was bitterly cold so the early birds were likely thinking about breakfast. The farmer had several nesting boxes in his yard; on those times when she felt disinclined to wander the lanes Eleanor would sit outside and watch the feral pigeons. If she had any food available she would toss them a few crumbs. Reaching for her bag she checked to see if there was anything left of the crusty roll she’d bought at the local shop, found only the stick of barley sugar given to her by a young girl at the behest of her Mom. Eleanor had saved it for an emergency so she replaced it in her bag.

Hearing the old man groan, Eleanor turned to face him. Leaning on one elbow, she whispered, ‘Is there something I can do, Jed?’

Jed’s chest wheezed; he groaned and said nothing.

The shed was dilapidated, its repair probably not on the farmer’s list of priorities. He knew they were there. He’d seen her going out and looked the other way. It made Eleanor feel more comfortable about being there. The normal routine was to sleep in the shed at night and move out at first light but Eleanor knew the day was coming when Jed would be too frail to make the effort. She wondered, what was the best thing to do? The situation was definitely a downside to being homeless and without friends.

Deciding to leave Jed where he was, Eleanor collected her bag of personal belongings and left the shed, trudging up the lane towards the gate that led to the farmhouse. She was torn between getting on with her aimless day and pushing through the gate to seek assistance. She wasn’t one to cry for help but she realised that if she didn’t Jed might die in that cold shed.

Thoughts of the kind woman filtered through Eleanor’s head and she wished fervently that she could remember her name. She would give good advice if she was here. Eleanor admonished herself for thinking stupid thoughts and walked briskly away from the gate. Her mind was made up; she would get Jed some food.

Her first stop was half a mile up the road at the small market town where ablutions could be carried out and food obtained, only this time she needed to get food for Jed as well. People were already setting up their stalls so Eleanor wandered about in the hope of catching the woman who sold hot soup and bread rolls to the stallholders. On a good day she would let Eleanor have a carton of soup for free, on a bad day she turned her away with a curse. Eleanor hoped today might be a good day.

There was no sign of the soup lady which was a pity since hot liquid food would have been good for Jed. Eleanor peered longingly at the display of fruit and vegetables outside the greengrocer’s shop, thinking some soft fruit might be easy for Jed to eat, but shouted orders to clear off from inside the shop had her moving quickly away. Even though she could have paid for a bit of fruit, she wasn’t in a fighting mood.

Turning the corner she paused and sniffed the air, picking up the smell of roast meat emanating from the butcher’s shop. Chicken, she thought. Ah Jed, wouldn’t you like a taste of chicken? It had been a long time since she’d eaten meat. Eleanor walked towards the butcher’s window. As she approached she saw the soup lady coming out of the door, followed by the butcher who’d come out to inspect his window. The woman acknowledged Eleanor with a wave. She must have been in a good mood. Taking advantage, Eleanor drifted towards her, wished her a good morning.

‘Aye, but it’s cold. You must be perished.’

‘I’m okay,’ said Eleanor. ‘My friend isn’t though, he’s sick. Probably dying!'

‘Dying?’

Eleanor explained the symptoms.

The woman was horrified. ‘Sounds more like pneumonia, the lad should see a doctor.’

Eleanor told her he was an old man, very old and very sick. At this point the butcher asked where the old man was so Eleanor told him they were squatting in a farm building down the road.

‘So you’re the folk Gerry Westbury talks about. He said he had visitors on his property.’ To Eleanor’s surprise he didn’t use the word unsavoury when he referred to ‘visitors’. The butcher looked quickly at the soup lady. ‘We should investigate, Mary.’

Mary agreed and offered to take soup and bread. The butcher said he would supply some cooked chicken portions and whatever else he thought might be easily digested. Eleanor was overcome by their kindness and overwhelmed when the butcher transported her and Mary to the farm in his blue van.  

Jed was where Eleanor had left him, no longer covered by the coat. He seemed almost lifeless, his face drained of colour. He was conscious but it was obvious he was a very sick man. The butcher whipped out his mobile phone and dialled 999, giving details and emphasising the urgency of his call. Eleanor removed her coat to cover Jed but the Butcher told her to put it back on or she’d freeze to death. He went out to his van and collected some green tartan blankets to wrap around Jed.

The farmer’s wife appeared while they were all bending over Jed, the butcher arranging blankets while Mary spooned a little soup into his mouth. Feeling frightened, Eleanor knelt beside him holding his hand.

Folding her arms against her chest, the farmer’s wife said, ‘Well, well, if it isn’t my friend Eleanor Nobody.’

Eleanor froze, then released Jed’s hand and slowly turned. She’d known who it was the minute she heard the voice. Judith. At last she remembered.

As Judith walked towards her, arms outstretched, Eleanor struggled to stand.  Using both arms Judith hauled her to a standing position and embraced her. She felt elated that the woman she had worried about for the last few years was here on her farm.  Looking Eleanor straight in the eyes, she murmured, ‘Welcome to my home.’

Eleanor felt in her bones that today was a good day.

*****

Eleanor went with Jed to the hospital and she stayed with him until he died, holding his hand so he’d know he wasn’t alone. She could have just left him there but she couldn’t abandon a friend when he was poorly. The only friend in the world, she’d thought, until today proved her wrong.  Judith had been her friend but she couldn’t see it at the time. If only she hadn’t crowded her private space!

*****

A week later, Eleanor sat in the empty cowshed gazing at the paraphernalia for milking cows. It was warm in there, yet she shivered. She felt stifled and fretful.  Any minute now Judith would call her in for dinner.  Eleanor didn’t know if she could tolerate another meal in that homely kitchen.  A meal on a china plate, a flower painted cup on a saucer, things she had grown out of. Judith was a fine cook and her pies were real tasty but Eleanor wasn’t used to eating regular meals. Her stomach couldn’t cope with the sudden influx of food. Casting her mind back she recalled that it was food that made her run away from this caring person. That, plus the fear of again being beholden.

Her work was done; she had seen that Jed ended his life in the care of professionals, now there was no time for daydreaming. And the offer of a job on the farm was just that, a daydream. She’d come a long way in a week. Judith had insisted she stayed with them, although she was tactful enough not to suggest that she slept in the house.  Instead she had a room in one of the outbuildings, cleaned out and done up for visitors.  It was peaceful … and oppressive.  Sometimes four walls were worse than none at all.  Sleeping in a bed wasn’t for her, so every night she had slept on the floor with her coat for covering and her bag for a pillow. Same as always. She was too old to change.

Maybe she should be grateful, maybe she should be a lot of things, but she couldn’t alter who she was. The outdoor life suited her; there were no commitments to worry about, no arguments to mar the day, no worries. She had everything she needed to get by and no-one to tell her what she should or shouldn’t do. No rules, no obligation. 

Automatically Eleanor’s hand slid up to her chest to the place where she used to pin a yellow rose. Of course, it was lost, and that’s how she felt. Lost! It had been a reminder of days gone by, given to her by a nurse in the ward where she bore her son. ‘You’ve got no flowers,’ she said, ‘so I brought you this.’ 

She had treasured the silk flower; it was a reminder of the joy she felt for producing a boy. Later it became a reminder of the badness she’d brought into the world. Her son, a wicked man who lied, and stole, and gambled away her home.  Perhaps it was as well she lost the rose when she moved on.  Perhaps losing it had turned her fortunes. Judith’s reappearance in her life might be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps one day she would find peace.   

But not here, not in these four walls, with a full belly and an obligation.  She needed space to gather her thoughts and her wits. The kindest thing she could do for Judith was to go away, like she did before. It would hurt her more the second time, but Eleanor knew that she must lead her own life, return to the wilds, the roads, the haystacks, and freedom.  She would never forget her; even though she treated her badly, Judith was the only person in the world she could truthfully call her friend. 

For a brief moment Eleanor sat on, gazing blindly at an old copper kettle that lay in a pile of hay, and for the second time she prayed to God that Judith would understand.  Eventually, she rose, picked up her bag, and moved slowly to the ill fitting door. Opened it, stepped outside.  The wintry sun was shining, the grass by the door glistened. It was a pretty sight. After a brief and surprisingly sentimental glance towards the farmhouse, she opened the five barred gate and began the long walk down the lane. 

Behind the kitchen window Judith watched, a single tear trickling down her cheek. She’d had great hopes of helping Eleanor to lead a normal life yet deep down she’d known she would feel uncomfortable, that she felt threatened by ordinary things. It was not in her power to change things. ‘Goodbye, Eleanor Nobody,’ she whispered.  ‘May your God go with you.’




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