26 March 2017


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.

19 March 2017


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. 


13 March 2017


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.


12 March 2017

I never thought.....

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

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.

08 March 2017


Bowie Greene watched the small smooth-skinned creature slither behind the rock formation like a furtive whisper. Despite the arid conditions, the area was strikingly fertile. Low-lying gorse edged the rough mountain paths, rising almost to touch the self-seeded wild flowers spilling from crevices. Still hunkered after checking his boot laces, Bowie surveyed the cloud-free July sky, a fusion of blues streaked with the white vapour trails of military jets. Like an abstract painting. He sniffed the air and inhaled the minty freshness of his surroundings before springing to his feet. Hitching his rifle he plodded on, determined to overcome his fear.

The stony path zigzagged upwards for a hundred yards before changing its gradient. Running his hand around his neck to wipe away a gathering of sweat, Bowie braced himself for the ascent. He’d done this trek a thousand times. Knew every undulation, boulder, blade of grass. Long ago, when youth and health went hand in hand, he’d even done it blindfolded for a bet. But in all these years he’d never made it to the top. No climber ever had. It was known locally as a mountain because of the climbing involved, incredibly steep in parts. From the ground the apex looked as if someone had given it a blonde wig. No-one had yet discovered what was up there to give it that appearance.

Gripping an arching slab, Bowie swung his body to a higher level. The rock was more angular, jutting cruelly towards his shin. His breathing quickened as he tried to dispel a straight-jacket sense of unease. He had reached the spot where once he’d taken ill. The fear of what can happen on Blonde Mountain still haunted him. Remembering Bernadette’s taunt, he pressed on. Driving his boots hard into the ground, he mustered every ounce of willpower and forced himself to pass the man-sized column of rock known to regular climbers as Ugly. The precise site of the heart attack.

It was a Wednesday when it happened, Bernadette’s birthday.

He was hurrying. On that occasion he’d been content just to climb, leaving behind his ambition. He reasoned that he could do it and take the commissioned photographs in plenty of time … and would have if the weather had stayed calm.

He remembered shrugging off the discomfort in his arm, concentrating his mind on his wife. She had been fraught for weeks over the shop; it was only fair to give her more of his time. He and Jamie had planned to take her out to dinner. Going up Blonde Mountain had been a mistake given the circumstances, but he wasn’t to know that at the time. When the pain worsened he had stopped near Dixon’s Dike to swallow a couple of painkillers and then advanced towards Ugly.

The final blow came shortly afterwards, half way to Ugly, wedged in a crevice where he’d paused to adjust his thinking. Should he go back or carry on? How much more would Bernadette take of his wild craving to reach the summit? The kick came right at that point. Knocked him sideways. He’d fallen 200 yards, crashing against the rock face, bouncing, until he landed on a ledge. And blacked out.

The rescue team found him. Surgeons saved his leg and treated his heart condition. They said he was a lucky man. Bowie knew he was, he was grateful, yet still the zenith of Blonde Mountain claimed his attention. Like most climbers he wouldn’t rest until he achieved his goal. So many times he had almost made it; so many times he’d failed.

Was he trying to escape his wife's accusations
or prove her wrong?

Bernadette was furious over his insane desire to try again, her criticism wordy and threatening. She spoke of divorce if he didn’t start to see sense. You’re too old, she said. It’s time you packed it in. She was generous, criticising him instead of using selfish reasons. Bowie knew she had plenty of those, fear being the main one, loneliness another.

Bowie feared losing Bernadette but pigheadedness overruled all emotion. Now he wondered what had possessed him to come up here. To escape his wife’s accusations or to prove her wrong? Ever since the outburst a week ago, when she fiercely charged him with having no spunk, his morale had been crushed. The only remedy had been to climb, to prove that he was still good at it. Bernadette thought the deal with the magazine was the main incentive but to Bowie the second photographic commission was merely an excuse. He would climb into the clouds to achieve personal fulfillment.

The route now was straightforward. Bowie had reached a plateau that enabled him to rest. He leaned against rock and looked out. He could see the village, a simple speck on a map of green fields. Unstrapping his back pack he removed the rifle and maneuvered the pack so that he could reach the camera and binoculars. As he did so he felt tingling in his stomach. Nerves! Suddenly alert, he twisted on his heel, aiming the rifle as he spun round. He stared at the rock. Nothing there, yet he could have sworn he heard stealthy shuffling.

Unexpectedly nervous, sensing something was close by, he tightened his grip on the gun. Shivered, yet there was sweat on his face. Slowly, he turned. Saw the dog. It was like no dog Bowie had ever seen. Huge head, long body, stumpy tail. Unusual colouring; an indeterminate shade that reminded Bowie of wallpaper paste. Round his neck was a black band of dark fur that resembled a collar. Even as Bowie watched the creature disappeared, seeming to slither rather than run round the rock formation.

Bowie lowered the rifle, wondering if this was the fabled animal climbers talked about. It was always referred to in local pubs as the Blonde dog. Some said it was the keeper of the mountain. Bowie had laughed at the idiocy of such a theory. However, if what he witnessed was not a familiar four-legged breed of domesticated pet then the whole episode must have been a mirage. A hallucination!

After taking a batch of photographs, Bowie repacked the equipment, adjusted the climbing ropes, and moved on. An unexpected gloominess had settled upon him, a cloud formation that he didn’t like obliterated the sun. He once told Jamie that when clouds came the rock face lost its friendliness. His son had laughed, unable to understand that rock could be friendly. He moved slowly, hesitantly, remembering the weather change he’d experienced before. That almost fatal day! Ahead he saw something glide round a rock. An impression rather than a sighting but he knew it was the creature he had seen before. Probably didn’t like the wind that was getting up.

When it came the rain was like a deluge, stinging Bowie’s face, the sharpness causing him to close his eyes. He struggled to adjust his helmet, pull the side flaps over his ears, returned the goggles to his eyes. He hated both. It killed the freedom of a climb but he recognized the merit in taking safety precautions. He wasn’t a fair weather climber. It would take the hand of God to stop him climbing in a storm.

The dog reappeared and stayed in front of him. His coat was like a beacon in the growing murk. Bowie made no attempt to catch him up. The short distance between them was somehow comforting as if the dog was measuring the route in stages. At the end of this section Bowie would climb again. The thought made him feel exhilarated. At one point the animal paused, turned his head to look at Bowie, and snarled. A deep rumbling sound that echoed against the rock.

‘It’s okay, Blonde,’ said Bowie, thinking it was up to him to soothe the dog’s trepidation. The dog trotted forward. Bowie wondered why he had called him Blonde since he wasn’t convinced that climbers’ tales had any foundation. The dog seemed stronger somehow, his carriage more assured. Dominant! It struck Bowie that the dog thought he’d taken over.

The weather worsened. Rain sliced through the air, the wind driving it full force. Bowie was unsure of his footing. His boots slid instead of holding him firm and his hands were icy cold. There were better gloves in his pack but he had no time to get them out. The dog, though still ahead, stood perfectly still as if on guard. ‘What shall I do, Blonde,’ asked Bowie, moving tentatively along the narrow ledge towards the dog. He wasn’t quite prepared to fight his way down.

The dog lay down in Bowie’s path, preventing another move forward. He looked at Bowie with unflinching eyes that were like small fires. Daring him to move! Bits of rock shifted beneath Bowie’s boots, tumbled off the ledge into the whirling space that an hour ago had been so tranquil. Behind the dog a boulder became dislodged and hurtled towards home base. It was as well he’d stopped at that point. Bowie began to feel scared, hoping his heart would hold out if conditions deteriorated even more.

The dog eased himself onto all fours, growled twice, inclining his great head as if indicating that Bowie should follow.

Bowie did. He inched after the animal, exercising caution as he circumnavigated a rocky projection. His feet felt heavy. He could barely feel his hands. He longed for a cigarette and remembered what it was that made him pack up. It was a Wednesday, Bernadette’s birthday.

Rounding the projection, he suddenly stopped. In front of him was the huge mouth of a cave. The dog sat at one side of the entrance like a guard dog. Ignoring the attacking rain, Bowie stood openmouthed and stared. In all the years he’d climbed the mountain he had never before seen a cave. The dog walked in a little way, stopped, looked at Bowie as if urging him to follow.

It was a typical cave, small and dry, enough room for Bowie to lie down if required. Initials and messages were scratched on the grimy walls. Bowie squatted on the floor and shrugged off his pack. A message near where he laid the gun was ‘next time will bring medal for the damn dog.’ Bowie looked at the animal for inspiration about why he needed a medal. The animal’s long body filled the width of the entrance as he lay there looking out at the teeming rain, head on one side, an ear raised like he was listening for something. Bowie called him, tried to make friends. The dog resisted all sound, stayed still as a statue, listening and looking out.

The noise of the rock fall was colossal, vibrations so fierce Bowie thought the whole mountain was collapsing. He dug his heels into the ground, tensed his body against the cave wall, too scared to think about anything except how the hell he was going to survive. He prayed like he’d never prayed before, wishing he’d heeded Bernadette’s advice. He didn’t know if he’d even see her again. The tears were hot in his eyes, sobs rose, bursting wretchedly from him, adding weight to alarm. If only he’d stayed home where he belonged.

The dog nudged his head under Bowie’s arm. Seeking comfort? Oh my god, thought Bowie, the dog needs saving as well. Moving his head up to Bowie’s face, the animal licked his cheek. Bowie threw his arms around his neck and hugged him hard. ‘It’s okay, buddy,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll save you.’

They sat there, man and dog, waiting for conditions to steady. The rain was abating and Bowie could have sworn he saw a flash of light on the rock. He was afraid to look outside, afraid at what he might see. Blonde began to fidget, rose leisurely and went to the entrance. Looked out, turned back and barked at Bowie. As he crawled to join him, Bowie could have sworn there was a smile on his face.

Looking out, seeing the blue sky Bowie would never have guessed he’d been caught in such a violent storm. Still on his knees he moved further out, saw the damage done to his beloved mountain. His elation quickly disappeared when he saw that the whole of the route he had taken had gone. Not a ledge was left to walk on. ‘What do I do now, Buddy?’

The dog wagged his short tail, moved to join Bowie outside. He barked once and trotted off to the right. Came back, looked at Bowie, barked again, and trotted off. To the right.

Realising he should follow, Bowie went back for his pack and rifle, then stepped out to join the waiting dog. They were on a well worn trail with just enough width for a single person to walk, hitherto unseen by Bowie who thought he knew everything about the mountain. He followed the dog. The downhill walk was easy, patches of soaked grass already steaming in the sun. Occasionally the animal turned to check that Bowie was still there. Bowie kept checking the way they’d come, seeing the split in the mountain where the rocks had come loose, knowing that he could have been killed. Silently he thanked the Lord for giving him another chance of life.

As he trudged behind Blonde, Bowie remembered the etchings on the wall of the cave, and the one that read: next time will bring medal for the damn dog. The damn dog that had saved Bowie’s life and probably the lives of many others. He wondered how he’d never heard of the animal’s lifesaving activities before. And what was that he’d said: that only the hand of God would stop him climbing in a storm.

‘Hey, Buddy,’ ‘he called. ‘You’re not God are you?

But the animal had vanished, seemingly into thin air.

05 March 2017


I regularly ask Charlie where he goes on his daily or nightly walks but he never tells me. Not once have I found out what he does when my back is turned. I don’t even know if he has any friends. When he moved in, just over a year ago, there was a stream of cat visitors to the garden, cats of all description and one look-alike, but they all seem to have disappeared – at least from my view.
Mealtimes are difficult. I present him with a dish of food which sometimes he scoffs straight away and other times he turns up his nose. It’s the same food, for God’s sake. So, why does he like it one day and not the next? At first, when he was new to me, I pandered to his whims, now I’m not so soft. My new policy is that if he is hungry he will eat it but that doesn’t stop me worrying or cursing the cost of wasted food.
One thing I have worked out is that he is brand fussy. I tried cheaper food but he just turned away when I put that down, almost as if he was insulted to be given cheap stuff. I can almost visualise him saying ‘Hey, Mom, will you please note that only the best is good enough for me’. Another thing I had to work out was that he is a fish lover and only eats meat or poultry on rare occasions. Once I got that into my thick head I saved a fortune.
Somebody told me that a cat must eat meat which immediately rang alarm bells until I worked out that fish is food and probably has as many if not more vitamins as meat. But, you know what (I hate the overuse of that expression but it’s the first time I’ve used it), he loves boiled or roast ham, the sort I have for my tea. He will sit like a dog waiting for titbits which, of course, I give him on the basis that he looks so endearing when he pleads for a taste of my food.
Why can’t cats have routines like we do? It would make my life so much easier. Cats, huh? You’ve gotta love ‘em whether or no. 

01 March 2017

A SURPRISING REVELATION (a short story by Valerie)

The day was bright and sunny when Grandma Charlotte told me about her infidelity. She was dressed in a lavender tweed skirt and very feminine pink mohair jumper. She dressed well, kept her small frame neat and tidy, never letting age dictate her attire. As she spoke she continuously stroked the deep grey wave that curved from front to back of her small head.

We were seated on this same iron bench overlooking the lake, a place we frequented often. Swans glided past, babies in tow and followed by a single female mallard. Gran said she thought it must be ladies day and giggled at her observation. Gran giggled a lot, especially when she was nervous. At first I thought she was imagining things but her tale was too realistic to be dreamed up.

It happened when Grandfather Tom was at war. It was a long war and she’d been lonely without him. Not that she admitted it to anyone. I suppose she missed her Mom and Dad and all of her seven siblings. I know what it’s like to miss parents; mine were killed when I was just a kid. I’d lived with Gran and Grandfather ever since. They looked after me, putting up with the tantrums and guiding me through the difficult teens. I loved them both dearly.

Gran met the man in an electrical repair shop. She’d gone to collect a radio that was having new valves put in. She had to explain about valves and I still don’t properly understand how they worked. Gran had been leaning across the counter trying to see if the radio was among the ‘readies’ on the back shelf, when suddenly his face appeared before her. She couldn’t see the rest of him. Apparently he was picking up dropped coins. Gran went quite girlish when she described him as a blonde bit of all right. Her eyes literally twinkled as she smiled, not a wide grin, just the hint of a smile. I always think of Gran now when I see the picture of Mona Lisa.

His name was Des, short for Desmond. Gran showed me a photograph and I must say her description was right. He had loose blonde curls and huge laughing eyes, wide open, as if he had been surprised by something the photographer said. His chin was deeply dimpled and I silently wondered if he lived up to the saying that people with deep dimples make good lovers.

Des and my Gran became firm friends. He would see her weekends and she would call in the shop in the week when she finished work at the munitions factory. Des couldn’t go to war on account of his deformed leg. You had to be fully formed to fight for your country.

Gran went starry eyed again when she told me about their first kiss. They were out walking, holding hands, telling each other stories about their past, when Des suddenly asked Gran if he could kiss her. I laughed when she said that, I never had a man ask for a kiss, the men I knew jumped in without asking. Anyway, Gran said yes and they never looked back. In fact, they looked forward most of the time, if you know what I mean.

‘Sylvie,’ she said, ‘I’d have done anything for that man. He treated me like I was something precious. Never handled me rough, always considerate. We were like man and wife except we didn’t live together. Her voice was silky, as if the mention of love had smoothed the words before she uttered them. I thought I knew my grandmother so well. Why had I not realised there was something … someone else in her life?

I dared to ask if they slept together.

‘Oh yes, we slept together but we didn’t stay together. I loved that man with all my heart. I loved his kindness, and his attitude to life, but neither of us wanted a scandal that would hurt our folk.’

‘But … what about Granddad Tom?’

Gran was silent for a while, searching for the right thing to say. Unseeing eyes followed a feeding robin, bravely pecking at a crust before an approaching magpie could seize it.

Scrunching her handkerchief in the palm of her hand, she told me, ‘I loved your Granddad in a different way. He was a good man, he didn’t deserve me, and I didn’t deserve him. I was impetuous when I married him; I didn’t really know what love was. I admired Tom and respected him, but my heart was with Des.

‘Did Granddad know about Des.’

Gran looked down, silently studying her hands. Along the path a youngster toppled, and cried. His mother shushed, promising to make it better. Gran gazed at them, while I wondered what she was thinking.

Stirred from her reverie, she put her arm through mine as if seeking solace in my presence. She spoke in a whisper, answered my question. ‘It would have killed him. No, he never knew. Des and I parted company when Tom came home from the war.’

Tears formed in her rheumy eyes. Sadness washed over her as she leaned into me. ‘I had to do my duty to Tom, raise his children, and be a respectable married woman, one he could be proud of. He’d fought a war thinking I was waiting for him, I couldn’t let him down.

Speaking softly, I posed the question, ‘What happened to Des?’

‘He stayed where he was, looked after his widowed mother. It was too painful to spend time in each other’s company. We’d see each other out and about, we had to be content with that.’

‘And when Granddad Tom died?’

Gran straightened her skirt, adjusted her cardigan sleeves, and gazed up at the sky. I sensed her mood lighten as I waited for her to speak. ‘He asked me for a kiss,’ she said. A hesitant smile played on her lips. ‘He came to check that I was coping on my own and …’ Gran turned to look at me, her happiness beginning to shine through. ‘It was as though we’d never been apart. He was there for me; even apart, he was always there for me.’

‘Where is he now?’

‘After his mother died he stayed on in the house. He’s old now; it’s too late to change. At least he thinks so.’

Gran delved into her bag, withdrew a crumpled packet of toffees and offered me the bag. Putting her free hand on my knee she told me she had plans. As I unwrapped the sweet I wondered what plans an elderly lady could have.

‘I want him to move in with me.’

You can imagine my shock.

‘Don’t dismiss the idea out of hand,’ urged Gran. ‘We both did our duty. We hurt no-one. Now it’s time we had some real happiness. Together.’

I suppose she had a point. If they loved each other as much as she claimed, it must have been a wrench to give him up when Granddad Tom came home. But Granddad was no longer with us, where was the harm in making it easy for two people who needed each other.

‘The neighbours will talk,’ I warned.

That really stirred Gran. ‘Let them. I don’t care. I’ve waited too long to worry about neighbours.’

Des and Gran spent the rest of their days together and it was difficult to tell which one was the happiest. As the neighbours will tell you, they bubbled with joyfulness and love. As for me, well, there were moments when I hankered for Granddad’s company but I had a feeling that he knew and was content with the way things were. There were only happy vibes in their house. As I watched Gran and Des together I thanked God for giving them the opportunity of ultimate contentment.

Now I have a funeral to prepare, making sure Gran’s plans are carried out as she wanted. Des isn’t capable of dealing with it. Since Gran died he’s been like a lost soul. I told him the other day that she wanted a happy funeral, no dirges, and no tears. He perked up when I mentioned hymns, told me he’d like to hear everyone sing 'You are the sunshine of my life’. I couldn’t believe what he was asking. Gran herself had put that one at the top of her list.

She often said she’d make the hundred and get the telegram from the Queen but she didn’t get there. Nevertheless we’re doing a cake with candles in celebration of a longstanding love affair. Their wish!

You are the sunshine of my life
That’s why I’ll always be around,
You are the apple of my eye,
Forever you’ll stay in my heart

I feel like this is the beginning,
Though I’ve loved you for a million years,
And if I thought our love was ending,
I’d find myself drowning in my own tears.

You are the sunshine of my life,
That’s why I’ll always stay around,
You are the apple of my eye,
Forever you’ll stay in my heart,

You must have known that I was lonely,
Because you came to my rescue,
And I know that this must be heaven,
How could so much love be inside of you?

You are the sunshine of my life, yeah,
That’s why I’ll always stay around,
You are the apple of my eye,
Forever you’ll stay in my heart.