Friends

26 April 2017

The Butterfly on the Wall


The view from the steps was breathtaking, the sea like an ultramarine carpet laid before Vesuvius. Except that Vesuvius was lost in cloud. A good sign, according to the courier. It meant the heat wave was certain to continue. We carried on, treading gingerly from one step to the next, gripping the handrail firmly lest we should skid on the rubble.

The thicket was denser now, obscuring the view altogether. A dank smell rose from the undergrowth making it difficult to believe a charming panorama lingered on the other side. Then, as abruptly as they were upon us, the shrubs fell away, permitting the sun to warm our shivery arms. It was like stepping out of a damp dungeon and finding the world was on fire. I freed the breath I had been holding, astonished to find I had been afraid. Me, who had faced a mugger in the underpass and denied him the satisfaction of snatching my bag. But the underpass was on level ground, not built into a cliff like those steps. As if he knew, Vic took my hand and led me along the bumpy path.

At the next bend we stopped again to take in the awe-inspiring view. Colourful trawlers were moored by the quay, rowing boats and rubber dinghies abandoned by the water's edge. An ocean liner was anchored in the bay, brilliant white and highly impressive. 'That's my kind of boat,' Vic said, raising his binoculars.

Sweat was running down the nape of my neck. A pair of blue tits flew into a nearby olive tree. I scanned the harbour and wondered if the pink building was a cafe and if we would reach it before nightfall. Once Vic got binoculars to his eyes he was quite likely to stay there forever. I told him sharply that I was moving on. It was far too hot to stand around.

We progressed slowly. The steps were sheer and the handrail at this point had gone astray. I hooked my fingers in the single strand of green plastic wire which presumably was intended to stop us falling the eighty feet or so to the sea. Unnecessarily, Vic cautioned me to be careful.

The pink house was open, the Signora informed us, yelling her message from the far side of the building. Since he couldn't abide noisy women, Vic strode on until he reached a Taverna near to where the fishermen were mending nets, brown as berries and uniformly wearing T-shirts and mules. They worked to the high-pitched cries of herring gulls circling overhead. Gee-ya gee-ya.

Vic ordered the coffee in Italian, selecting the words from the phrase book he kept in his breast pocket. It didn't sound right to me, but the robust, silver-haired proprietor in the white vest obviously understood for he produced two cappuccinos exactly as requested. Stretching his arms above his head, Vic said, 'This is the life, Pauline. Can't remember when I last felt so relaxed.'

The last time I felt relaxed was at the top of those steps, before the handrail ran out. A smidgen of apprehension skulked inside me at the prospect of climbing back to the hotel. Tugging the straw hat to a more advantageous position over one eye, I shrugged my misgivings away and settled back on the wooden bench; no good marring the day with pessimistic thoughts.

Idly stirring the cocoa powder into the froth, I watched the launches ferrying passengers from the liner, scuttling across the water like red toads before disappearing behind a promontory. A cruise sounded romantic, but with so many steps to negotiate and being hauled into small vessels by rugged seamen it would be hard going. I had enough trouble with my legs without that kind of undertaking. The doctor said it was all in the mind when he inspected my knees. I argued that some days I could hardly bend them, however an x-ray seemed to prove his point. He recommended exercise but he would, being a fit young man who looked as if he worked out every day.

'See that, Pauline?' Vic was eyeing something through his binoculars. 'A batch of butterflies just landed in that hollow in the wall.' He removed the binoculars from around his neck. 'Here, have a look.'

Following his directions, I searched for the spot. Up the ramp at the end of the quay, ignoring the holiday-makers straining to glimpse the offloading of the day's catch; past the quaint houses, their balconies a riot of geraniums; and on to what Vic had labelled a hollow. It was really a sacred grotto, graced with a bust of Our Lady, surrounded by flowers and foliage and an illuminated cross. I adjusted the focus. The Virgin Mary smiled. Disbelievingly, I polished the lens with my skirt and looked again. She was smiling still. Her eyes seemed to beckon. I was surely dreaming, or else my mind had been addled by the sun. Vic surveyed the fishermen, unaware of the peculiar development. A single butterfly fluttered across Our Lady's face. I mumbled, 'Be careful,' then, overcome by a sense of urgency, I thrust the binoculars at Vic and hurried off.

I ran all the way, down the wooden steps, dodging the coils of rope and trailers and mountains of nets, past the souvenir shop and its array of tablecloths and postcards, up the cobbled ramp and round the bend until ... until, there she was, the fairy lights barely seen in the strong sunlight, the flowers showing no colour, foliage showing no green. Her smile was colour, her eyes the illumination.

My feet were rooted to the scorching cobbles as I gazed at her tranquil countenance. Vic's fingers seized my elbow. I hadn't heard him come. My knees trembled, but there was no ache. Our Lady's eyes twinkled and I knew why she had summoned me to her cave. Cautiously, I bent one knee to genuflect. Not one twinge assailed me. 'Thank you,' I mumbled, wanting no-one else to hear my words.

Vic pointed to the wall. 'See the butterfly, Pauline. Isn't that a magnificent creature.'

I pushed him playfully and suggested a race to the steps, giving a backward glance as we moved away. A butterfly soared, brighter and more beautiful than the rest. An aerial display of shimmering colour. Yanking my hat into place, I squeezed Vic's arm. I had never felt so alive. 'Come on, slowcoach,' I said, 'or we'll miss our lunch.'

Arm in arm we marched down the opposite ramp, past the vegetable seller and a brood of scavenging feral cats. Canaries bravely sang from the confinement of tiny cages attached to walls in full sun. Beyond an arch of weather-beaten dwellings, the church bell began its forbidding toll. The sun beamed constantly and the butterfly twisted and wheeled non-stop, sometimes alighting on the wall, but mostly dancing ahead to guide the way.

Valerie

23 April 2017

NEXT TASK PERFORMED!

Reporting on my household renovations is a fit and start job. One day I write a bit then the next day, providing something has happened, I write a bit more. Usually it is only after publishing that I discover a change of time settings so I hope it all makes sense to the reader.
Next alteration in the way my house is run is the removal of certain curtains. Curtains are all very well but they are difficult to put up or take down, especially when the previous occupants of my house had a fetish for installing wooden pelmets. Imagine the scene, little me wobbling on stepladder trying to reach curtain hooks that are not only too high but also hidden behind a solid pelmet. Of course, Joe could reach therefore the problem has only just arisen.
So… it’s time to bring in the cavalry experts.
Two rooms have curtains on rods but other rooms are stuck with curtains on hooks. These MUST go! It’s the only solution to breaking a leg or neck after falling off steps.
Friend, Judy, has lovely blinds in most rooms which I rather fancied but it was disappointing to learn that they were not for me. The rep who came from a well-known company told me that the bedroom required a blind that I could ‘close’ to prevent people opposite seeing in when I was going to bed or undressing or whatever. This means vertical blinds. Shame! I would have liked something Italian. I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times how much I love Italy.
The room I use as an office (one of them) will now have blinds to match since that room also faces the road and would match the bedroom windows. For those who don’t know, I live in a bungalow. The bedroom faces the road, people who live in the road, and passers-by. Let’s face it, if I can see them, they can certainly see me. I can see contents of rooms in the house opposite quite clearly.
The guy who came to do the measuring asked me about colour. I had thought about it, of course I had, and decided a pretty pink would be nice. It would match the bedcover. What I hadn’t realised was that some colours are ‘see-through’. Demonstration proved the guy’s point so, after a lengthy process of elimination, I opted for a lilac colour which won’t clash with the contents of the room and isn’t see-through.
Okay, the job is done and I couldn’t be more pleased. The colour doesn’t stand out as garish, just a mellow purple shade. Charlie the cat is bewildered, his leaps to the window sill at an end. He gives me some very strange looks as much as to say ‘What the hell…..’
What the hell, it’s my house and I can do what I like.
The effect and practicality of blinds has hit home, so much so that I arranged for the fitter to comeback and measure up for more window blinds in other rooms. I might be able to go Italian after all.

Valerie

16 April 2017

AND THE NEXT JOB WAS......

THE NEW SHOWER ROOM
It is years since I had a bath but perhaps I should reassure you that I am not smelly. Years ago, I stopped bathing and resorted to [plenty of] showers for the simple reason that once down I couldn’t get out. Joe was more agile but even he began to have problems. So for the last three or more years I have climbed into the bath to take my shower. Actually, I can still do that but as the years go on it will be impossible even to swing a leg over the side of the bath. It dawned on me that I had to do something about it before it was too late.
How about one of those popular wet rooms with a shower, I thought, and nursed the idea for some time. Eventually I decided to go for it and started to look round and get some quotes for the work. A lot of companies were willing to do it – without question – but the one I chose explained it in more detail. To start with, a wet room needs space which was something I hadn’t got. I had thought the bath being removed would be sufficient but what would I know, I’m not a plumber!
I ended up engaging a company to put in a ‘tray’ with stool and small screen. Mike (the rep) included a new shower and tiles with which to cover the empty wall space. Then there was the matter of the flooring, which I hadn’t thought of. We had carpet! Okay don’t tut-tut, please remember carpet was the thing to have once upon a time – maybe a few generations ago. Progress was slow in my house!
Some of you may remember me having new flooring in the hall. It struck me that the same kind would look good in the new shower room. The expert agreed, so I contacted the guy (Alex) who did the hall. Yes, he would do it. He would also liaise with Mike who had said the first layer of flooring needed to be done before fitting the ‘tray’ after which the floor job could be finalised.
It’s was all very technical. I could only hope they knew what they were talking about. Between them they seemed to have got it sorted.
Moving on:
The job is done………. and I am thrilled with it, even forgetting the obstacles I had to overcome.
The day the workmen finished their part of the job, Alex came to do the flooring. Being impatient I couldn’t wait to get the knickknacks back in place and enjoyed making the room look lived it. In and out I went, until I fell over. Wearing silly sandals I tripped at the door, an unlevel patch which once had a door strip but now awaited a new one. Trying to save myself made the fall even worse. Let me tell you that ribs smashed against a wooden door frame is no joke. I’m hobbling around aided by a walking stick, although on this the second day the injury feels ever-so-slightly better.
Alex was brilliant, he made tea and kept checking on me while laying the new floor, making sure I was okay. I was, sitting down! One thing I know is that there are still some kind people in the world. 
I miss the bath, though. Already I can see there are habits that have to be changed. I used to sit on the side of it to do my hair etc, now there is no bath to sit on. I used to lean on the bath to reach something on the window shelf, now there is no bath to lean on. It's a case of starting again but I am mindful of the old saying 'old habits die hard'. I can't wait for the newly ordered bath stool to arrive from Amazon. 
Valerie

09 April 2017

MOVE YOUR BUTT



This bit of nonsense was written in response to a friend who thought I'd gone too long without writing something. I was feeling lethargic, it was too much trouble to put the brain in gear. 

Deep discussions would take place. I was told if I didn't get cracking I would lose it altogether. I took no notice, until one day my pal lost her cool and shouted 'Come on, Val.... MOVE YOUR BUTT!' That did it. I think I wrote it inside half an hour. Anything to shut her up! 

MOVE YOUR BUTT 
Val… move your butt!’

I stopped dead, wondering if the remark had been directed at me. Twisting round I saw three men in green overalls leaning against the bus shelter, paint brushes in their hands, several paint pots in a row beside them. They were grinning as if I was an object of amusement. I bristled at their nerve. Why didn’t they get on with their work and stop harassing women?

Annoyed, I tossed a lock of hair out of my face and strutted off. If I hurried I could still make the eleven o’clock train. Reaching the corner I waited at the pedestrian crossing for the lights to change.

Val… move your butt!’

The audacity of those men! 

Momentarily forgetting the time, I spun round, glared ferociously at the laughing trio. One man held his sides as he laughed. I guessed he was the one doing the shouting. I stormed up to him and cuffed his arm. ‘Would you mind telling me why you’re being so damn rude?’ I asked, hoping there was enough sarcasm to penetrate his infantile brain.

He looked me square in the eyes but didn’t reply. Merely grinned and shook his head. Even in my anger I couldn’t help noticing his deep blue eyes and slightly lopsided sensual mouth. 

‘Hey up, Missus, don’t look too long at Tom or you’ll be under his spell. E’s got a way with women. Sends ‘em silly with them cheeky eyes.’

I adopted a haughty posture and glowered at the speaker, a short red haired man with freckles and a jagged scar on his cheek. ‘Do you have to do his talking for him as well?’ I enquired acidly.

‘Nah. Missus, but Tom’s lost ‘is voice, see. I’m actin’ as spokesman.’

I glanced at Tom, foolishly pleased that he hadn’t been the culprit. He really was quite delectable, I thought, as he winked almost secretly. I flushed with something akin to delight.

Behind him the spokesman sniggered and nudged the third man who was so thin he looked as though a good dinner wouldn’t go amiss. ‘You wouldn’t believe me, ‘Arry, well you can see ‘Tom’s method for yourself. You might learn a thing or two.’

The third man, obviously unsuccessful with women, beamed with pleasure as he gazed at Tom. 

At that moment, Tom dropped his paintbrush and stepped towards me. His smile was cultivated, designed to trap a member of the opposite sex. Me! Curiously I smiled back, the time and the train completely forgotten. Taking my arm, he guided me to the railings opposite the bus shelter. I felt bewitched as his face drew close to mine and in a faint voice asked me my name.

Valerie,’ I whispered. 

And then it dawned on me … not one of the men could have told me to move my butt since they didn’t know my name. Suddenly mystified, I was about to question Tom when he pointed up to a window of the house behind the railings. It must be his house, I thought, becoming uneasy. It was obviously a bedroom window. 

Sanity returned and I decided to get the hell out of there. Cursing my stupidity I pushed him away and took my first steps towards the traffic lights. What in heaven’s name had I been thinking of, hanging around bloody painters just because one of them had a captivating smile.

Val… move your butt!’

Sweeping round, I raised my hand to hit him. He was where I’d left him, arm raised, still pointing to the window, I looked up then and saw what he was pointing at. Strutting on a perch inside the open window was an African Grey. A parrot! While I stared at the bird it began chanting in a very realistic voice:

Val… move your butt!’
Val… move your butt!’
Val… move your butt!’

That was a year ago, nine months before Tom and I got married. We never did discover who the other Val
 was, but we’re still laughing.
Valerie

02 April 2017

JOBS DONE AND MORE TO COME ... PART ONE

At first I thought Charlie the cat had wet the carpet but it turned out that the radiator was leaking. And how!
The system is this: a spare room, which was once Joe’s office, has been changed to Charlie’s room. It has chairs he can sleep on, a discreetly placed litter box, and an ever-open window through which he can come and go.
The reason for the open window is two-fold. It opens onto a covered side passage at the end of which is a lockable door to the garden and a cat-flap. It means that Charlie can come and go in the night without the need to wake me. Ingenious, I thought. The room is cosy, having radiator and comfy chairs to keep Charlie happy. That is until the radiator developed a leak. Poor Charlie and poor me having to walk on a very wet carpet. The leak must have developed in the night and is labelled as discovery No.1. Yes, there is another leak, in my bedroom, and worse than the first.
Panic! Well, what else could I do. It was no good smiling and saying it will be okay tomorrow. Leaking radiators don’t work like that. So, what to do, or rather who to contact.
I looked in the phone book and on line but, really, I didn’t know who or what trades-person I wanted. Those radiators had been serviced regularly by one guy (Mr K) so I wondered if he would know who to approach. He did. Moreover, he came right away. At least two heads were better than one, especially since mine didn’t seem to be working.
I can do this, he said, as he toured the rooms, each one having a radiator, and each one, he discovered, useless. They all seemed to be going at the same time.
You should have seen the mess after and during the drainage of all five radiators.
I told Mr K (as he worked) that I hadn’t known who to contact, an electrician, the water board, or someone in the gas business. None of them, he said, in future just ring me and I’ll know who you want and get them there. I love that man!
The words ‘new’ radiators worried me for a while, especially as mine are very, very long. It meant money! I had visions of having to spend thousands on purchases and fitting, even more of a worry considering that I have booked a company to measure up for a change in the bathroom. Because of the dangers of getting in and out of a bath I decided to go for a wet room and someone is coming to measure up two days. Should I tell him not to bother or what?
I broached the subject of money and asked Mr K how much he thought new radiators etc would cost and was more than surprised when he quoted hundreds not thousands.
It is strange, though, that all five radiators went at once. Mr K and I both thought that but he reckoned Joe had organised it from his place in heaven because coincidentally probate etc has just been finalised.
Because I need to change the bathroom I welcomed the visit (pre-booked) of a representative of a local firm that deals in this sort of thing. Because getting in and out of a bath is getting a trifle precarious I decided to have the thing removed. The expert I called in was really helpful. He talked me out of my idea of having a wet room and will work round the shower at present installed. The idea is to have a much lower ‘tray’ so I only have to take a small step instead of literally climbing into a bath. I will have a stool to sit on and smart surrounds. Tiling will be as is, just added to. Only the floor will need to be seen to. The expert recommended Karndean flooring, which I already have in hall and loo, and would you believe I have some of it in an unopened box that the guys who did the hall left behind.
While Mike (the expert) was with me Mr K and his son came to measure up the previously mentioned radiators. This meant I had three men to deal with and organise … date-wise (wink). Well that’s Monday dealt with. Tomorrow will bring what tomorrow will bring, I won’t know until Mr K phones me with further details. It’s a bit nippy here without warmth so I think I’ll switch on the portable electric heaters.
A few days later the new radiators arrived, posh ones too. They made me realise how outdated the old ones were. Not only did they no longer work but they were no longer attractive to the eye. Now they look smart and I have heat, only snag is the control box which doesn’t want to control. Fortunately, I can bypass the timing and just put it on when I want it. Hopefully Mr K will be able to fix that as well. 

26 March 2017

EATING PROPERLY


I am not a saint but I do try to do things right. The subject of meals came up during a phone conversation with my brother-in-law when he revealed that his sister wasn’t eating properly. It was a surprise to me because she always loved her food. Situations change, though, as I found out when Joe died.
When I first became a widow so many things had to be done that I wondered if I would cope with it all and am still hesitant about a lot of stuff. My past helped me through.
I had always been aware of the way to a healthy life and especially the diet. I always made sure Joe had proper meals, sometimes against his better judgement, but I swore I knew best. I’m not the greatest cook in the world but I do know that the right food is important. My theory was that at least one cooked meal a day should be the norm. All other meals could be much lighter but dinner had to be cooked with loving care.
When Joe died one thing I determined to do was carry on with the same routine and have done so. The table gets laid albeit just for one and I have succumbed to watching television shows while I eat. Joe wouldn’t have liked that! However, I think he would approve of my meals. Okay, I don’t cook lunch every day. Some days I indulge in a meal-for-one purchased from the local supermarket. I have a freezer full of those meals because they are tasty and filling and nourishing and the right size for my dwindling appetite. They vary from sausage and mash, liver and bacon, meat dishes with varied green vegetables, casseroles of all kinds, cottage pies, fish pies, roast dinners, even fish and chips. It’s hardly worth cooking but I do, about four times a week, simply to keep my hand in.
Traditions: Every afternoon Joe and I had choc ice. Ice cream wrapped in chocolate was our favourite and we never missed a day. We also had a lot of yoghurt, a yoghurt drink in the morning and thick creamy Greek yoghurt after lunch. I still do, there is no point in neglecting myself because I am on my own, is there? 
Sister-in-law won’t even try a ‘ready-meal’ or yoghurt. Instead she has biscuits or cake or nothing. At first I thought it might be due to her dementia but, apparently, she was leaning towards eating very little when her husband was alive. After hearing about her I am more determined than ever to carry on life with food and laid tables because I feel that normality is the way to go. Attempting anything strange or different could have detrimental effects and if I have to stay on this earth I need to act normally, eat properly, and enjoy what years I have left, in as fit a condition as I can manage.
Valerie

19 March 2017

PLAIN SPEAKING

Is it my imagination or are people speaking faster now? Women seem to have adopted a way of talking that I can’t follow. It is more noticeable on television when English actresses speak in an affected, fast and slurry way at high speed. On top of this everyone these days talk across each other, all at once, causing nothing but a conversational babble. My brain can’t grasp what they are discussing half of the time. I realise that on TV there are time restrictions but that doesn’t excuse the rudeness of people who cut in when someone is in mid-sentence. I see the look of frustrations on some faces which is exactly how I feel seeing it happen.
Watching old programmes and films I notice how much slower and clearer women spoke in days gone by so I guess it’s probably a new craze for the excitable and show-off ways that have entered the English language. I have come to the conclusion that it’s not my hearing after all.
The ex-treasurer of my ex-WI speaks as though she’s in a race against time. I try very hard to grasp what she is saying and always have to ask her to repeat what she says. Or does the problem lie with me? Am I going deaf or something? I have noticed a similar problem with folk on television, mainly women so maybe it’s the pitch that stumps me, after all I hear men quite clearly. Deeper tones must suit me better. Whatever, it is becoming a nuisance. When watching TV programmes I can turn up the volume or use subtitles but it’s not as easy in real life. Imagine the response I would get I asked a real live woman to switch on her subtitles. I fancy the white van would soon be here to pick me up!!
Seriously, I can hardly ask women to shout and I think I would annoy them if I kept asking them to repeat everything. Thank goodness for men, that’s all I can say. I have no trouble hearing or understanding them, which confirms my suspicion that it’s not all down to me. 

Valerie

13 March 2017

FISH DON'T BITE ON SUNDAYS

The two made their way to the water's edge, Dan's trainer-clad feet flying to keep up, locks the colour of nutmeg flapping as he ran. Jed had insisted on toting the heavy tackle box and for a minute Dan had felt sulky ... he liked to play the big man when they went fishing, it was a role he adopted when his Dad was off skippering his trawler.

The grass sparkled beneath their feet as they dumped the gear by the osier tree which slanted towards the water as if striving to drink. Jed hung his waxed jacket on a wooden tethering post and proceeded to unpack their gear while his son explored the adjacent woods.

Dan liked the forest best when he could kick the brown leaves to make them rustle and scare the redwing, but this morning the ground was soft as a cushion after the rain. A squirrel shot into view and paused when he saw Dan ambling along. Dan stooped to find a cone with which to lure it but then he heard Jed's summons and chose instead to participate in a more rewarding pastime. Spinning on his heel he ran back to the lake, happily anticipating a few hour's fishing and quiet contemplation with his Dad.

'So why do you think your mother wanted us out of the way?' asked Jed as he adjusted the float with his powerful hands.

Dan had no idea, unless it had something to do with that man who called at the house when he was tucked up in bed. Uneasily, he tugged at his knitted scarf. He once saw the man through the window hurrying to their gate, carrying a huge piece of cardboard which knocked off his hat when he tried lifting the latch one-handed. He called him The Cowboy on account of the hat. He'd always wanted a cowboy hat but had lately gone off the idea. Dan eyed his father's profile and tried to think what he'd look like in cowboy gear. He'd only ever seen him with a navy-blue woolly hat covering his coarse grey hair, but he'd like to bet he'd look real good in a Stetson, with silver pistols ready to draw and a gleaming sheriff's star on a black shirt.

Dan hadn't told him about the mystery man in case it made him weep. He didn't want that. He hadn't liked to see him cry when Mum's tummy lump disappeared and the baby they promised went to live somewhere else. He had undertaken then to make sure nothing ever upset his Dad again. That's why he couldn't tell him about the man Mum invited in.

His mother definitely wasn't right. No longer did she jest and joke and play pretend when Dad was away. It was very worrying. Sometimes it stopped him sleeping. He'd heard his father once say, 'Lighten up, Francine. Don't be so heavy with the boy.' Unsure what lighten up meant, Dan sneaked a look at his mother, who seemed the same as always except her mouth was stretched in a hesitant smile. She blamed her tetchy mood on lack of sleep. Dan couldn't take that in, not when she spent her evenings napping - at any rate the ones when the man didn't come.

Dan cast his line the way his Dad told him, his blue eyes flashing as he thought how wild Matt and Digger would be when he told them he'd actually used a rod. They still fished with nets and jars, but as Dad said he was sensible enough to handle proper equipment.

Jed nodded his approval. 'Well done, son. If that bait don't get 'em biting, nothing will.' He secured the lid on the baccy tin which held the wriggly maggots and installed it in the tackle box.

'Will you be home next weekend, Dad?'

'Sure will, lad, but don't tell your mother. Let it be a surprise, eh? Thought maybe as it's my birthday we could go for a bite at The Lion. The break would do us good, your mother in particular.

'She's been bad-tempered lately, Dad. She won't play with me no more.' Dan felt his grievances rising and before he could stop himself wild accusations tore from his lips, charging Francine with not appreciating his needs, for sending him to bed early with no supper and no television, while she ....' Dan clamped his teeth on his bottom lip to prevent him saying more, from revealing Francine's involvement with the cowboy man.

Jed pressed his hand on Dan's shoulder. 'Don't fret, boy. It'll come right. Maybe if you showed willing with your chores instead of idling the punishments would lessen.'

Dan didn't think that would make any difference, not with his mother preoccupied with another man, but he was willing to give it a try. It was only fair on his Dad.

The ensuing week was better. Dan helped Francine with jobs he'd never done before and was pleased as punch when she praised his window-cleaning, saying she'd never seen the glass so sparkling clean. However, just after Jed rang on Wednesday a strange thing happened. Dan was consuming a hot dog fresh from the travelling van and Francine started filling packing cases (which she'd lugged from the cellar all by herself) with her precious figurines. 'Don't want these broken when your Dad comes home,' she explained when Dan queried her action.

Dan nibbled the end of the bread roll. He was confused. Jed might be a tough guy but he was mighty gentle around the house. If anyone broke ornaments in this house it was him or Mum.

Francine giggled as she planted a pink crinolined lady in the crate, the first chuckle Dan had heard in weeks. 'Don't crease your brow, Danny,' she said, her hazel eyes twinkling. 'I'm planning a surprise for your Dad's birthday.'

So was Dad, Dan thought, his mind in a turmoil over what to do, whether to reveal Jed's plan or keep quiet. He wanted to ask Matt or Digger, but Matt was away at his Grandad's farm and Digger was none too bright at the best of times. He licked a dribble of mustard off the remaining piece of sausage before popping it in his mouth. He could smell his mother's chips warming in the stove. Another time he might beg a few to round off his tea, only the mood for eating had gone. He wished his Dad was there to tell him what to do. Then he remembered Jed's wish that he say nothing and rationalised that since his request came before all this nonsense with packing cases he, Dan, should keep his promise. However, before the night was out, as Dan climbed into his winceyette pyjamas, Francine unfolded the plan which changed everything and relieved Dan of the need for silence.

'Look at the parlour,' she said, eyeing a strip of paper suspended from the ceiling. 'Not had a lick of paint in years with your father on his boat so much and my back preventing me from attacking the walls. But I've got plans for righting that with the help of Cedric's brother.'
Cedric was the long-haired artist who lived opposite. Although Dan didn't know his brother he had an uneasy feeling about him, feeling certain, without his Mum owning up, that he was the secret caller.

Francine continued. 'It was a good idea seeking advice from Duncan, that's Cedric's brother, him being an interior designer. He's been ever so obliging, coming twice a week with sketches for my inspection.

The breath left Dan's lips like a puff from the bellows. So that was who the stranger was, the man in the showy gear who only called when he was in bed.

Francine put the last ornament in the crate. 'I raised the money for his fee selling cross-stitch pictures to a buyer Duncan found, who wanted more when they were ready.' She crossed the room, stopping by the mirror to check her unruly chestnut hair, coiling it with slender fingers and lifting it free of her blue linen collar. She seemed suddenly carefree and Dan thought how pretty she was with her cheeks flushed and chubbier than he'd ever seen before. And then the bell sounded in the hall, its jangle reverberating through the house, and Dan guessed, by the way his mother glanced first at him and then towards the door, who the visitor was.

The man breezed into the room flourishing his wide-brimmed hat, bowing slightly when he saw Dan. 'Pleased to meet you, young sir. Duncan Thresher's the name, Maestro of Colour, at your service.' His manner didn't impress Dan but the expansive smile embraced him and made him feel happier inside.

Francine gave him a can of Jed's beer which he drank without pause before extracting pages of paper from the pocket of a beige leather coat, fringed like the cover on Dan's bed. Placing the can on the sideboard, now free of ornaments and picture frames, the man gazed into Francine's eyes. 'You sparkle with mischief, Madam,' he said, proffering the pages with a bow. 'Are you sure your friends know what to do?'

Francine smiled. 'They're eager as pups to oblige, Duncan. Amazin' what a pledge of free booze can do.'

'And is Daniel aware of the plan?'

Dan looked quizzically from one to the other, hoping that one of them would enlighten him.

Francine pulled him close with a possessive arm, so close that his nose touched her tummy. Smelling her warmth and the gardenia talc she used every day made him feel safer than he had for ages. He was reluctant to move but, as her scheme unfolded, excitement stirred within, making his arms want to swing and his feet to skip in anticipation of being included in a real adult adventure.

Duncan Thresher playfully cuffed his ear. 'So will you play your part, young man? Keep that cheeky mouth sealed until it is a relevant time to speak?'

Dan wasn't sure what relevant signified, but he nodded anyway. Francine smiled her approval and gave him an intimate wink, and Dan mentally hugged himself with glee.

What furniture could not be transported had been stacked beneath dustsheets. Curtains were down and the pictures removed from the walls. On one small walnut table, pushed into a far corner, a shabby record player was set to play music, sixties tunes which Francine told the waiting guests was Jed's favourite.

Uncle Kenny (not Dan's real uncle, but he'd always called him that) said if Francine believed that she'd believe anything, which Dan thought was unkind when she'd bought it specially for the party. Aunt Elsie taught him a lesson, though, by kicking his leg and telling him to mind his mouth. Uncle Kenny knew when he was beaten, 'cause he squatted on the lino and sulked. Nobody else spoke. They were all busy listening for footsteps in the road.

'It echoes, Mum,' said Dan, raising and lowering his voice to get the effect. 'Dad'll hate it.'
Francine shushed him and as she switched off the lights she ordered him to keep watch at the window. Thus, the cottage was in darkness when Jed arrived.

From his look-out position Dan saw his father hesitate beneath the lamp and clench his fists with irritation. Dan chuckled and shuffled his knees further on the chair until the carved wood dug in. He observed Jed advancing along the path to the front door, roughly brushing winter jasmine out of his way. Dan indicated by waving his arm that his father was on his way in.

Jed strode through the door, dejectedly dropping his haversack on the linoleum-covered floor and feeling for the light switch, missing Dan's head by an inch. A chorus of Happy Birthday greeted him, seconds before the light came on. Jed blinked, adjusting to the illumination, taking in the unexpected scene. Devoid of possessions, the room was filled with friends and neighbours, each holding a drink in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.

Dan was beside himself with triumph and delight. 'It's a decorating party,' he cried, rushing to drag Jed's rocker from the kitchen. 'Come on, Dad, sit down and have a drink.'

Ignoring Dan's outburst, Francine handed her husband a glass of apple cider. 'Happy fortieth, my darling,' she said.

'Some birthday with all this upheaval.'

'Don't you believe it,' shouted Kenny from the back. 'Wish Elsie could have come up with the idea on my big day.'

'You got extra jam on your tarts,' Elsie cried. 'What more did you want?'

Loud guffaws travelled through the gathering, followed by Dan's piping declaration that more jam on Aunt Elsie's tarts sounded like the most smashingest present.

Jed looked enquiringly at Francine. 'Am I expected to spend my birthday trimming the place up?'

'You're expected to do no such thing. You and Dan and I are going to The Lion for the night, while our remarkable friends get stuck in here. There's enough alcohol to see them through and plenty of food.' Francine ran a pink-tipped finger through his hair, 'It'll be the best birthday you've ever had,' she whispered in that voice she used whenever she playfully hid Dan's weekend sweets.

On Sunday afternoon a radiant Francine suggested that her two men go fishing while she began the clearing up. 'I want time alone,' she said, 'to dance through the cheery kitchen and saunter through the enchanting parlour.

Dan reminded himself not to mention that bit to Matt and Digger in case they thought his mother had gone nuts. Thrilled with the idea of going out, he adjusted his sweatshirt over his jeans and ducked to lace his trainers.

But Jed turned the proposal down.

Dan peered at him, unable to believe he'd heard right. 'Aw, Dad. It might be ages before we get another chance.'

Jed grinned. 'Fish don't bite on Sundays, lad. Now, why don't you pop next door and have yourself a plate of Elsie's strawberry tarts, while your mother and me catch up on some unfinished business. See, son, now that I'm forty I've got to keep abreast of family matters. And with a new baby due, I've got to make certain your Ma don't lift a finger unnecessarily.'

The concept of eating tarts until he was sick sent Dan scuttling through the door chanting, 'Fish don't bite on Sundays,' at the top of his shrill voice but, as he paused to pull the door shut, he saw Jed caress Francine's belly with his big hand and heard him say, 'Fish mayn't bite, but I sure do.'

Dan ran off, hoping his Dad wouldn't bite too hard and ruin things, not now Mum's headaches had gone and her temper had improved and a new baby was making her tummy swell. But he didn't dwell on it, 'cause the prospect of extra jam on Aunt Elsie's tarts was too powerful a thought to push out of his mind, though as he vaulted the gate to next door he thought how smashing it would be to teach a brother to fish and handle bait and use a proper rod.

Valerie

12 March 2017

I never thought.....



I never thought the time would come when the following would (almost) apply!!!!

I’M FINE THANKS
~~~
There is nothing the matter with me.,
I am as healthy as can be.
I have arthritis in both my knees
And when I talk I talk with a wheeze.
My pulse is weak and my blood is thin
But I’m awfully well for the shape I’m in.
Old age is golden, I’ve heard it said,
But sometimes I wonder as I get into bed.
With my ears in a drawer, my teeth in a cup,
My eyes on the table until I wake up.
E’re sleep comes to me, I say to myself
Is there anything else I could lay on the shelf?
How do I know that my youth is all spent?
Well, my get up and go has got up and went!
But I don’t really mind when I think, with a grin,
Of all the grand places my ‘getup’ has been.
I get up in the morning and dust off my wits,
Then pick up the paper and read the ‘obits’.
If my name is still missing, I know I’m not dead,
So I have a good breakfast and go back to bed.
The moral is this, as this tale I unfold,
That for you and me who are now growing old
T’is better to say ‘I’m fine’ with a grin
Than to let them all know the real shape you’re in.