Friends

31 March 2018



‘SHAMELESS BURGLAR HELPED HIMSELF TO FOOD AND DRINK’

That was a comment seen in the local newspaper which reminded me of an incident that occurred when I was a young child.

It was war time, which meant that Mom and Dad had to work. I was farmed out with family friends for most of the war years but things happened that my mother talked about for many years.

Today the above headline caught my attention and reminded me of something that was talked about for years.

The house, of course, was empty with everyone working or being farmed out, which gave a burglar a wonderful opportunity to help himself to a change of clothes. My Dad’s clothes, naturally.

Mom came back from work to find what she called ‘a proper cheek’. That’s not what I would have called it, but then I was too young to give an opinion.

The scene: the lounge. On the armchair was a dirty pair of trousers and a ragged jacket, placed carefully with its sleeves on the arms of the chair as if for all the world someone was sitting there. On the floor was a pair of well-worn shoes placed in the position of someone sitting there. On the seat of the chair was a note on which was scrawled … THANK YOU!

How about that for nerve? A guy breaks into a house and promptly steals my Dad’s clothes, leaving his own for someone else to discard. Nothing else was stolen.

It happened almost eighty years ago and, of course, the identity of the scruffy but well-mannered guy was never discovered. 

29 March 2018

WATER!


Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Only in my case it should read: water, water outside, but nothing in the house.

I tell a lie, there was some in the house only I couldn’t get at it. It started with me complaining to my regular water fixer/electrician/gas maintainer/sometimes odd job man (Mr K) that my hot water system was scalding. Like the good chap he is he promised to come on a certain day but, unlike his usual self, he forgot. Well, like any other person getting on in years, it was understandable. I phoned again and pleaded with him to jot it down in his memory book, that way I could rest assured he would turn up.  

Actually, Mr K did a great job putting things right and double checking everything and presenting me with a bill for £250. Admittedly he had to buy a new valve thingy so I guessed it was a reasonable figure. I know from past dealings that he never overcharged and always did a good job.

The water was still extremely hot but he had assured me that it would cool down when enough cold water entered the hot water system. I carried on for a day, doing all the usual things like washing dishes. I have given up on the dishwasher on the grounds that it would take a month to build up enough dishes to justify switching it on. Work it out if you like, three plates (one dinner plate, two small tea plates) a day, three cups, one glass, and the cat’s bowls (2 a day). No water, nothing. Cold water was available but I defy anyone to wash crocks in cold water. Fortunately, I have a kettle. That wasn’t the point though, the point was that my helpful man had to be summoned again. Actually I felt panicky, too much stress, you know.

So Mr K comes back – it took ten minutes from his house to mine but he came straight away when he heard the panic in my voice. Panic? I was almost in tears. As soon as he came in he said ‘I know what’s happened … I forgot to open {something} so the cold water wasn’t filling the hot tank. Simple, when you know what you’re talking about!

The whole incident was enough to make me realise that Mr K wasn't the man he used to be. Sad, and I know the feeling! So when the boiler that operates my central heating started playing up I called in another expert. This one is younger and more capable and seems to know his trade through and through. He is expensive but I feel he is more reliable. 

So sad about Mr K though!

24 March 2018

DARE TO BE SCARED


The room was cold. The fire, now no more than dying embers, made the fireplace look like a cavernous hole surrounded by a black marble mantelpiece. The unfinished drapes hung at the window awaiting final measurement. In the swelling silence Ellie Peterson was thankful that she couldn’t see outside.

An hour ago the sound of footsteps had unnerved her. Petrified, she had waited for the door to open but nothing happened and the footsteps died away. Now, except for the creaking stair, the house was eerily quiet. She sat on the hard wooden settle, her body taut against the high back, feeling the terror in her spine. Dare she move? Would the spirits know of her presence if she did?

She wanted to believe the occupants had returned but they knew she was there so they surely would have called out. Her mind switched. Maybe it had been a burglar. If it was he was being terribly quiet. There were no other noises to indicate that drawers were being searched or cupboards ransacked.

The New Year’s Eve party seemed so long ago. The usual gang had turned up at Lacey’s Wine Bar with one extra, a boy called Ram who told stories about ghosts. While they drank in abundance someone mentioned the big house on the hill, saying it was haunted.

Ellie was taken aback for that house was where she would soon be working. The owner had commissioned her to replace the drapes in the dining room while the family was away in Tobago. In a mildly drunken state, she had scoffed at the suggestion of the place being haunted, saying it was all nonsense and bragging that she wasn’t in the least scared of ghosts. She didn’t mention that as a child she was scared to walk past the turreted property in case the ghost came out to get her.

It was Tom who dared her to spend the night there. Ellie had laughed and joked that she wouldn’t mind spending several nights there. And so she was dared so to do.

She had telephoned Jacqueline McCleary the next day, asking for permission to stay until her work was completed. It would be so much better, she’d said, if she could devote all her time to the task and not have the inconvenience of travelling to and fro. Mrs McCleary was delighted, saying it would be useful to have someone in attendance during her absence. She would make up a bed in the west wing.

Ellie remembered trembling with the excitement of spending nights alone in a supposedly haunted house. Now she trembled with fear in the icy room.

The musty smelling room was lit by a dim lamp on the antique bureau, out of reach from where she sat.  She couldn’t remember putting it on but she did recall switching on the central chandelier before lighting the fire, then switching it off because the light was too harsh. Although she didn’t doubt her action she looked up, seeing only flickering firelight reflected in the clear glass. But the fire was dead and she half wondered if she was too. 

She twisted round to check the door, wondering if she had the courage to go into the huge, cold hall that led to the west wing. She decided against it. It would be better to stay where she was, maybe close her eyes and try to sleep. The hard settle didn’t encourage sleep but she was too afraid to move to the comfort of an easy chair.  Folding her legs beneath her, she eased the tartan blanket over her arms and prayed for daylight to come, wishing she’d ignored Tom’s stupid dare.

~~~~~

Outside the wind howled and rain lashed against the glass. The chandelier shook and the new drapes swayed in the half light. In a room in the west wing a shadowy figure rose from a winged armchair. Her skirts floated behind her as she noiselessly glided through a heavy wooden door that led to an imposing staircase. At the top she paused and listened as the first musical notes filtered through the air.

~~~~~

Ellie stirred, shifted her position on the settle. In the distance she heard faint music. It took her straight back to her childhood, when she’d been so afraid. Straining to listen she became aware of an indistinct soprano voice intoning the words of The Londonderry Air.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

Ellie shivered as the eerie singing grew louder, swallowed to suppress a ripening scream. Somewhere in the back of her mind was the thought that spirits didn’t like screams and anyway, wasn’t she a grown up, sensible person who wasn’t afraid of ghosts? Hadn’t she said so repeatedly before… before coming here?

~~~~~

The crash completely unnerved her. It sounded like something smashing against the far door. Hardly daring to breathe, Ellie pulled the blanket round her shoulders and slid from the settle, grabbing the wooden arm to keep from falling. Against her better judgement she felt she had to investigate? Fearfully, she tiptoed across the polished floor and eased the door open.

On the floor was the oil painting that had been hanging in the hall, to the right of the door. Its heavy gold frame was broken, the glass lay in smithereens, but the picture seemed unmarked. Inches away lay the picture hook complete with fixtures, the screw ends coated with plaster. Ellie stooped to examine the painting, a naval officer. His stiff posture and stern expression was a little forbidding as he sat on a long wooden bench. The name at the foot of the painting indicated that this was Daniel McCleary, presumably a family ancestor Behind him, one hand on his shoulder, stood an attractive lady dressed in grey. Ellie stretched out an arm to touch her solemn face. The eyes seemed moist as if tears were falling. So sad, she thought, as she made to wipe them away. Ellie shook herself, reprimanding her foolish imagination.

Unsure about how to cope with the picture at that late hour and reluctant to delve further into the mysteries of the house she returned to the room where she had briefly slept. In the morning she would clear up the mess.

Sitting again on the settle she let her mind drift back to the picture, remembering the story of the young diva being killed, stabbed by her lover. So much for respectability, she thought.

~~~~~

Light was beginning to penetrate the room, making the shadows seem less creepy. Soon she would hear the dawn chorus; only then would she be able to relax. Ellie thought about the picture; knowing she would have to explain to Mrs McCleary filled her with trepidation. 

As more light seeped in Ellie found the courage to move about. Throwing aside the blanket she went to draw the curtains. She had to admit they looked good; the burgundy velvet went really well in the room. Since taking the commission she had worked hard, sewing well into the night on some occasions. Now all she had to do was measure and complete the hems. She would start early, after a drink and maybe some cereal. The need to move on with the work and leave the house couldn’t be ignored. But first she must clear up the mess in the hall. 

Ellie stretched and yawned and tried to suppress a sudden desire to sleep, a long sleep in her own bed, in her own apartment. A cup of tea would revive her, she thought as she moved towards the door, reminding herself to tread carefully to avoid the broken glass.

Somewhere in the distance she heard a tinkling laugh that seemed to echo through her head, a young voice. Braver now the gloom had dispersed, Ellie flung open the door, stepped into the hall, prepared to see an expanse of broken glass on the floor. But there was not one sliver to be seen. Looking up, she saw the picture on the wall. Intact. Except that the man now had streaks of blood on his face and at his side the young lady smiled.

Completely disregarding the waiting drapes Ellie Peterson fled to the sanctuary of the outside world.

22 March 2018

TECHNOLOGY, LOVE IT OR HATE IT!



Why does everything shift about on the iPhone. I arrange all those little icons in order of preference and a few days later they’re swopped around to Apple’s order of preference ... or is it the phone company that messes with our phones? It’s little things like this that drive me bonkers. I am quite an organised person and like things to be easy to get at if I’m in a hurry. If I want to see something on the iPhone I want to see it straight away and not have to hunt for it. Fussy, or what?

One thing I am pleased about comes under the heading GOOGLE. All the time I have owned an iPhone and iPad (more years than I can remember) I have been unable to post comments or do anything else remotely connected to this blog unless I gave my password and email address. Not in bulk, but every time, for every different comment. Suddenly, about a month ago, I found I could do it by phone, albeit assuming the eyesight was strong enough to see what I was doing. The only way round that was to do it all on computer. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I needed to post a comment whilst the computer was switched off and I was in an idle mood. Yes, it was sheer laziness that caused me to do it on the iPad. Just once, I thought, it wouldn’t kill me to go through the procedure just once.

Imagine the shock of not being asked for password or email address. It must be a one off, I thought, but I was wrong. It happens all the time now. Someone must have complained! It wasn’t me, honest, although I was very tempted to write to Google and complain. 

20 March 2018

A WINTER’S NIGHT



How exquisite is the night so cold,
stars like diamonds standing out so bold,
a glowing moon lighting up our space,
making the planet a beautiful place.
There’s peace and stillness on a night like this,
the cold disguised by a cloak of bliss,
covering us with dreams of better things,
like butterflies with gossamer wings,
But when spring is born
and cobwebs glisten every morn,
when buds are grown and standing proud,
will we forget that wintry shroud?

17 March 2018

NOISES IN THE NIGHT

  

Nearly midnight. From where she sat Shelly Cunningham could see the flickering shadows on the dividing wall. She tightened the belt of her dressing gown as if the action would protect her from evil. The pink robe was cosy, a little too warm for the time of year but she needed the comfort it afforded her.

The wall was new a couple of months ago; the neighbours had got rid of rickety fencing in favour of solid brick. Easier to climb than a wobbly wooden fence. The flat was situated on a main road, bedroom at the front, lounge at the rear with views side and back. The Star Inn was on the opposite side of the road. Even at this late hour the busker played his spoons outside the pub, a regular sight when special functions were held. Shelly used to sit on her bed and watch through the window but not so much these days. In any case, now that the nights were drawing in, the pub gardens would soon be empty and the customers either closeted inside or at home.  

She hated this area. It was a main thoroughfare, noisy, untidy, and alive with traffic.  Pizza boxes and cigarette packets were strewn adinfinitum and nobody gave a damn. Shelley and nearby residents were forever clearing their front gardens after the revellers had gone.  

Shelley’s flat occupied the entire ground floor of a converted old house. She and Daniel had been lucky to get it at a time when housing was in short supply. Daniel lasted a year; he couldn’t stand the noisy neighborhood. It was the best thing, really. They did nothing but argue and, apart from that, he didn’t get on well with the guy upstairs. Continually moaned about him. Shelley suspected he was jealous of Reg Carney’s laid back approach to life.

The upstairs flat had been empty since Reg died. He was killed by falling from some scaffolding, an unfortunate accident considering he was a scaffolder by trade and should have known better than to step into thin air. Still, accidents do happen. At least she had been able to take care of Lisa, his cat, and even she had now departed from this world.

For all his faults Reg had represented security, another soul in their rambling building. He didn’t intrude on Shelly and she kept her distance as much as she could. However, having a man nearby was a comfort when drunks were at large. When he found one totally inebriated man roaming in the yard he dealt with him pretty swiftly. The yard was shared, Reg had his own section of the garden and Shelley had hers. They had their own sheds and took turns mowing the grass. The arrangement was good. Nowadays Shelley wished she could go back to it; if only Reg hadn’t died.

Every night for a week she had seen the shadows dancing on the wall. Every night she willed herself not to panic, especially when she heard a disturbance at three o’clock in the morning. At first she thought there was an animal outside but the noises seemed more human: subdued breathless gasps as if someone was climbing the wall. Yet there was no-one there. She was braver in the beginning, now she was reluctant even to peer through the window.

The wall was about five feet high, easily seen from both main room and kitchen. That first night she was too scared to go to bed, imagining the worst, like someone breaking in while she lay sleeping? For hours she sat in the darkened room, breathing erratically, unwilling to switch on the light. She didn’t want to be seen ... watching.

Tonight, while taking a bath, she heard noises outside: footsteps, the rasping bolt on the side gate, someone entering the yard, the clang of metal against metal. Whoever it was had put something in the galvanized bin and let the lid crash down. Reg used to dispose of rubbish like that, raising the lid and letting it fall without any thought that she might be startled by the noise. It crossed her mind that the culprit could have been a boozed-up patron from the pub, in which case a request would have to be submitted to the landlord for additional security. Only padlocks and barbed wire would keep drunkards out.

Shelly was irate, wished she’d not chosen to take a bath at that time. In a bold moment she felt that nothing would have given her greater pleasure than to accost the person who was using her yard as a rubbish dump. Yes, it was easy to be heroic behind closed doors. She considered calling the police. The only thing that stopped her was the foolishness of her story. Could you come round, officer, I think there’s someone putting rubbish in my bin. She rang a couple of friends but neither of them answered the phone. Eventually, during a lucid flash, she reminded herself that the doors were all locked and bolted so nobody could get into the house.

For the first time in ages she wished Daniel was still around. For all his faults he would have protected her from intruders. He would have put those enormous fists to good use, and probably arrested for it. He wasn’t the gentlest of men when roused, as she knew to her cost. It had taken a long time for the mental bruises to fade. 

Thinking a cup of tea would calm her she went into the kitchen to fill the kettle. Almost immediately fear overtook her. The sink was too near the back door ... if anyone was out there she would be seen. Oh how she wished she’d thought to put a curtain up at the window. Tomorrow, she would definitely buy some material. Dismissing the idea of tea, she grabbed a bottle of Evian from the fridge and went back to the lounge. Settled in the armchair, tugging the gown closer to her body, she wondered why she didn’t just go to bed. But she knew sleep would not be forthcoming while her nerves were raw. She would only toss and turn and worry herself silly.

A car’s headlights lit up part of the garden, moved slowly to reflect on the ceiling as the driver negotiated the crossing. Mesmerising! The mantel clock ticked in rhythm with her breathing, when it chimed the quarter hour she jumped. Rapid heartbeats heralding trepidation. Even as she tried to calm down there was a noise outside. A cough. A serious cry. Shelley froze, grabbed her mobile phone, remembered it was dead. If only she’d charged it when she had the chance. Still seated in the chair, she peered through the window.  As if someone had flicked a switch the scene changed. The car light had gone, the flickering had stopped. Except for the distant mewing of a cat, it was deathly quiet.

An hour must have passed before Shelly plucked up the courage to look outside. There was a French window in the lounge that led straight onto the garden. If she went that way she would be able to peer round the end of the house and see if any damage had been caused by the intruder. She was pretty sure he’d gone. Maybe he’d fallen off the wall and killed himself.

Armed with an iron poker, Shelly opened the French door, lifted her robe and crept out, stepping over the single step onto paving slabs, alternate colours, a whim of her ex. A distant owl hooted. The garden looked eerie in the moonlight. A train rumbled through the valley and a sudden wind whistled through the trees; loose tentacles of Russian vine waved, one glanced against her neck. She spun round, felt the cold tremor run down her spine.

She tightened her grip on the poker. The feel of a weapon in her hand gave her the confidence to peer round the edge of the house. All quiet. Stealthily she eased her body round until she faced the brick wall, in time to see a cat leap up; black as a witch’s cat with gleaming yellow eyes. Without hesitation it disappeared to the other side.

Lisa?

Feeling foolish, Shelly shook her head to dismiss the weird thought.

Further up the yard, nestled between two small hydrangea bushes, was the refuse bin. Glimmers of moonlight played on the hard black plastic. Rooted to the spot she stared in disbelief, unable to believe her stupidity.  How long ago was it that the council replaced the metal bin with plastic?

As if the devil was on her tail Shelly hurriedly retraced her steps, shot through the door, slammed it shut and shot the bolts. One slipper lost in her haste. She leaned against the door, beset by a series of involuntary shivers, relieved that she was safely inside. With her ice-cold hands on her cheeks, she forced herself to breathe normally. It had been Lisa, she was sure of it. She had looked after that cat long enough to know... it... was... her. Yet, how could it be when the cat had died in her arms.

With a sudden intake of breath, she remembered ... Lisa’s medallion, found in the soil when she wrenched out a bunch of creeping ivy.

... and the phone call, days after; the silence when she’d answered, reminiscent of a call when Reg died ... when his ex-wife was too choked to speak. For a few minutes all she’d heard was someone sobbing. But that recent call ... although the line was live she felt there was no-one there. Just static; indistinct and ghostly.

... and the scratching at the back door. Lisa wanting to come in. Only Lisa, like Reg, was dead. She had died in her arms. The vet said she would suffer terrible agony if he didn’t put her down. Shelley remembered thinking it was fortunate that Reg didn’t know what she had done. Reg would never have counselled the idea of killing his cat.

Slowly exhaling, she recalled the footsteps, one late evening, loud and purposeful on the floor above, around the time the landlord was paying spasmodic visits. She had gone to the front door to say hello, to check if he’d decided what to do with the property, found Reg’s door locked; the landlord ... gone? With all the strange noises she wasn’t sure he’d been there at all.

Gyrating her head to relieve the tension in her neck, she felt certain she was going mad. Normal people didn’t see ghosts or hear noises in the night; therefore she must be going off her rocker. Her sister always said there were more insane people outside the asylums than in. Perhaps she was one of them. Perhaps she was due for a visit from men in white coats? The phone rang as that thought passed through her mind. She hesitated for a moment, then went to answer it. Nobody ever rang at this hour unless it was an emergency.

As she walked up the hall she heard music: soft, but getting louder. Pink Floyd. One of Reg’s old favourites, the one he played over and over until she felt like screeching. Reaching the phone, she lifted the receiver, whispered into it. ‘Hello’.

Shelley?

The receiver crashed down so hard it almost fractured the cradle. She felt sick in the pit of her stomach. Her head pounded, her brain felt like cotton wool. She tried to scream but no sound came. Whoever it was sounded just like Reg. Groping her way down the hall, hand over hand, using the wall for support, she felt something warm brush against her leg.

Lisa moved her head against her shin, just like she did when she was alive. 

13 March 2018

About Packaging



Usually when I reach the end of a product I check to make sure the tube or bottle is absolutely empty before chucking it away. If I’m uncertain about what’s left I go on a money saving kick by cutting the ends off tubes to remove every centimetre of cream. Today was one of those days. I’d struggled to get the last of the skin enhancer out of the tube, squeezing and rolling the end up in the time honoured way, but absolutely no more would come out. So it was off with its head tail and in with a spatula. 

You wouldn’t believe the amount that remained. The tube was about a quarter full. Clinging to the sides was roughly two month’s supply of cream, if not more. It filled a Clarins jar (I save jars as if they’re going out of fashion) and considering I only use a dab of cream a day I reckon I won’t need to use another tube until nigh on Christmas. I had bought a replacement thinking the product was running out and now I find it was an unnecessary purchase. Of course it won’t be wasted, I will eventually get through the large residue.

Some tubes are easy to empty, even un-rollable plastic will roll given enough pressure but this one wouldn’t budge. Jars could be used in all cases but that would put the price up and anyway aren’t we supposed to be utilising environmentally friendly containers? It wouldn’t surprised me to learn that manufacturers deliberately use tubes that won’t empty out properly as a way of making a fast profit. At our expense! Of course, I could be wrong.

If any ladies or gentlemen out there want to get the most out of their products … any products, household as well as cosmetic … try cutting the tubes in half. You might be in for a surprise. 

10 March 2018

CONTROLLING INFLUENCE

For all his talking he wasn't sure he was getting through to her. She seemed to think that being late was the prerogative of a personal assistant. With inexhaustible patience he explained that she should spread the message by example to junior staff that tardy timekeeping was not fair practice. 

Anthea frowned when he reminded her that unpunctuality was tantamount to theft. She maintained that she understood his reasoning yet failed to see how getting in a quarter of an hour earlier would influence the juniors one way or the other. 'How would they know,' she inquired, 'when they never arrived before nine-thirty.' By then she had brewed the tea, sorted the mail, checked the appointments, typed the first memo, and soothed the boss's morning-after brow. He hesitated, remembering those cool fingers. For the moment Martin Burrows decided he would let the matter rest. 

Anthea flounced out of his office, the new flared skirt flapping on her thighs. So be it, she fumed, ramming home the gear lever. If that's what he wants he'll have to put up with the consequences. It went against the grain but in future she would commence work even sooner than the job description decreed. She would open the post herself … probably in a fraction of the time the juniors took … brew his precious beverage, sort the appointments, and .... she paused her deliberations to sound the horn at a speeding sports car overtaking on the inside lane. A couple of lovebirds by the look of it. Little wonder he was driving recklessly; the woman should know that caressing his hair while he’s driving could cause an accident. 

Anthea grinned for the incident had given her an idea for retribution, a penalty for Martin Burrows' unreasonableness. She would stop the ritual of soothing his fevered brow. He would probably grumble about being neglected but that was his hard luck. She was resolutely determined to abandon her portrayal of all-embracing assistant and discontinue her policy of skipping enthusiastically to his side to minister to his wishes and whims. 

Starting tomorrow she would leave the family to make their own beds, prepare their own breakfast, and wash their own pots. And lifts to school would be out of the question, as would the morning romp with their Dad. He would be upset but she couldn't cater for all desires. 

'But Mum,' whined Kathy. 'I'll be late for school if I have to boil my own eggs every day.' 

Tough, thought Anthea as she applied colouring to her cheeks. She felt doubly touchy this morning. The boss's blinkered demand had already disrupted the organised and leisurely start to her working day. 'You'll just have to get up half an hour earlier.' 

'But Mum ...' '

Half an hour isn't so bad. When I was your age I'd done an hour's housework before seven.' '

But Mum ...' 

Anthea bellowed, 'Don't argue with me.' 

The kitchen door opened and the pyjama-clad figure of her husband strode in. 'Hey, what's going on?'  

'Oh, Daddy,' cried Kathy, throwing herself at her father. 

Anthea rolled her eyes heavenwards. 'Look,' she said, appealing to Kathy's rear view and deliberately avoiding her husband's quizzical eye. 'If he says I've got to be in early, then I have no choice but to obey.' 

Kathy pulled free of her father's protective arms. Grabbing the egg saucepan, she went to put it in soak then swiveled round and eyed her father with disdain. 'Do I take it this upheaval is your brilliant idea? 

Extending his hands, palms upwards, Martin Burrows turned to his wife. 'Sweetheart, I didn't mean ....' 

Anthea smiled at his bewilderment, content in the knowledge that her ploy for securing a positive stance had been a complete success.

08 March 2018

Dishwasher news


It's not that I’m mean about the cost of running machines so I continued to run the household in the same way I did when Joe was chief householder, but one day it struck me that at least one appliance was best left alone. 

Because there’s only me to look after cooking arrangements have diminished, and it seemed silly even to try and load a dishwasher on a daily basis. Nevertheless, I carried on until one day I realised I was wasting money running a machine virtually empty. It would have taken ages to fill and I didn’t have enough tableware to do that, so I stopped using the machine altogether. It is still there as a just in case, but I can't ever see a time when massive entertaining would take place again. 

Some friends thought I was mad until I gave my thoughts on the matter. 

Removing the machine from use meant having to hand wash everything. Tough? Hell, no! Three times a day I wash up and it’s a great excuse to get out of the chair and actually DO something. 

I must remember to tell the chiropractor… he’s always on about the dangers of sitting down too much. 

07 March 2018

Marking Time

Initially, the notion of travelling back through time filled me with fearful foreboding. Not the actual crossing over from now to then, I could cope with that, being a bit heroic in the exploring stakes. No, it was the idea of meeting up with a dead person that worried me, knowing he's dead yet sitting with him, drinking coffee, or vodka, pretending he's alive and feeling talkative. Famous or infamous, he'd still be dead. Deceased! Defunct! But on second thoughts, I guess it could be fun. Question is, which man would I like to meet?

~~~~~

I say he, but it doesn't have to be a man. Take Cleopatra. She was intriguing as an individual, though I wouldn't fancy encountering her in case she was still screwed up over that blessed asp. Best leave her dead and buried in case she turns spiteful and sets an asp on yours truly.

~~~~~

Let me think. What about Will Shakespeare? His stories were brilliant. He could string words like pearl necklaces. Put me to shame, he would, if we met. I'd rather carry on in blissful contentment, writing my own yarns, getting them read my only concern. William Caxton wouldn't have such trials, he'd print his own.

~~~~~

William Caxton. English printer. Now he was bright. Without him I couldn't have read Shakespeare's Macbeth, or Hamlet, or The Taming of the Shrew. Or Wilbur Smith!

~~~~Historic Facts~~~~

Caxton was born in 1422. In Kent. He became apprenticed to a London cloth dealer and ultimately set up his own business in Bruges. I'd like to know how his interest in printing arose but I daresay cotton cloth and papyrus were similar. I could ask him about design and layout.

He was Governor to the English merchants in Bruges and negotiated on their behalf with the Dukes of Burgundy but somewhere along the line he cottoned on (excuse the pun) to printing and took himself off to Cologne to learn the art. Bit of a traveller was Will: England, Belgium, Germany, by ship and by road. I wonder if the ancient ships were as uncomfortable as I imagine them to be.

I'd ask what life was like in the 1400s, what sort of pace it had and how he felt when he set up his press in Bruges. Must have been thrilling, in 1474, when he printed his own version of a French romance entitled Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Like I said, he was bright. Bet the poets Chaucer and Gower and John Lydgate thought so too, when he published their works.

~~~~~

William Caxton, printer of a hundred books. Perhaps, if I went back, I could persuade him to give me some publishing tips. What satisfaction I'd have vetoing today's uninterested publishers and printing my own.

04 March 2018

AFTER THE RAIN

 

The evergreens looked much fresher after the rain but the flowers around the front lawn looked quite downcast. Of course, they would soon recover when they dried out and at least the Montbretia still looked showy. That’s what attracted the old man’s attention.

For a man of such obviously advanced years he was stylishly dressed in well pressed jeans and an open necked pale purple shirt with a jacket in deeper shades of purple and green. It reminded Beverley of a poem about wearing purple,’ except that she thought it related more to women than men. Certain she hadn’t seen him before, Bev wondered if he was new to the area.

The stranger extended a gnarled hand and gently touched the flower before looking up and spotting Bev standing by the front door. She felt suddenly as if she’d been caught spying but the feeling vanished when she saw his face light up with a beaming smile. A remarkable face, she thought; though heavily wrinkled the skin seemed soft, almost girlish. Treading carefully on the still wet path, ducking to avoid a random shoot of Wisteria, Beverley Wilson walked towards him.

‘My wife loves Montbretia,’ he said.

‘So do I,’ Bev replied. ‘Perhaps I could cut you a bunch. The blooms are almost done but there might be a day or two’s beauty to enjoy.’

The man thanked her, saying she was very kind, and could she put some paper round them.

Rather taken aback, Bev agreed. ‘I don’t take the newspapers, I’m afraid, but I’m sure I can find something.’

The man grimaced as he picked up a paper carrier bag from between his feet and took a faltering step towards her. ‘I don’t want to cause any trouble, only my hands can’t grip too many things at once. Arthritis, you know!’

Bev did know, hadn’t her mother been crippled with it for years.

‘I’ll go and get the cutters and perhaps you can choose the best flowers.’

Hurrying into the house, shutting the door behind her, she raced through to the back garden and grabbed the gardening scissors from a hook outside the door. The thought entered her head that at least she would be armed if anything should happen.

When she returned, the old man was sitting on the low wall which started where the privet hedge ended. He was nursing his paper bag, his wooden cane propped between his knees, his right hand fondling the head of next door’s tabby cat. Obviously an animal lover, he made soothing noises as he worked his fingers through the black fur. Beverley thought how kind-hearted he was.

He tried to get up when he saw her.

‘Stay there a while,’ she said. ‘I’ll get the flowers for your wife.’ Quickly she sorted out the best, all the time complaining about the effect of recent rain on her beloved flowers. She was aware that she was babbling and tried to stem the apprehension. It was always the same when faced with strangers yet deep down she knew that on this occasion there was no need to feel anxious.

When she had finished she wrapped the flowers with some of the long leaves in several layers of tissue paper and took them to him, hoping somewhat childishly that he would like them. As she approached she thought how tranquil he was, so completely at ease. The word contentment came to mind. She could almost feel his calm, deep inside. Surprisingly, she experienced none of the tummy lurching that preceded apprehension. It was replaced by a sudden confidence, an amazing sensation. She could feel the future opening, welcoming.

‘Aye,’ he said as he admired the arrangement, ‘my wife will be delighted with these. She had a dress in that colour and the Montbretia flowers remind her of it. It was her going away dress on our honeymoon.’

Bev felt a lump in her throat. Her mother had fond memories of a particular dress she wore when she married, only hers was Hyacinth blue. It must be a thing about growing old, she thought, and wondered why she couldn’t recall the outfit she’d worn when she and Ed went on their Irish honeymoon. Perhaps it was because her marriage hadn’t been a happy experience. Ed was not the gentlest of men, he scared her most of the time. They parted after just six years and she’d been alone ever since; her own choice.

Pushing away all those thoughts, she asked the old man if he would like a cup of coffee and maybe some cake? Her boldness startled her. Had she taken leave of her senses? What on earth had possessed her to invite a complete stranger into her house, let alone offer food and drink? She wasn’t usually so sociable but there was something about the man’s demeanour that drove away her customary fear.

Once again she cursed the day of the burglar, that ruffian who burst in while she was in the back garden and made off with her purse, jewellery and several valuable ornaments. Since then she had diligently locked all doors and windows and earned a reputation for overzealously locking herself in the house. The neighbours thought she was a bit odd but although they knew of the incident they couldn’t know how her nerves had been shot to pieces.

‘Cake would be very nice but with tea, if you don’t mind.’

‘Come on into the house, then,’ said Bev, then paused and asked if his wife would wonder where he was. A last minute excuse to back out.

‘Nay, lass, she’s a patient soul. And she’ll be right pleased to see me turn up with flowers.’

Beverley led the way, guiding her unexpected guest round a rather elderly black Vauxhall and over the step by the door. For once the Wisteria stayed where it should be. She wanted to ask his name but courage failed her … a remnant from the past when her mother chastised her for being forward. At fifty-five she should have grown out of childish worries but old habits die hard when they were drummed into you by a dominant parent. 

She did ask his name but not until she had made a pot of Assam tea, sliced some Battenberg cake and arranged them on one of her best Spode plates with a white paper doily to make it look nice. She felt quite comfortable in the old man’s presence, not in the least anxious; in fact, as she looked at him she thought how well he suited the surroundings, the eau de nil paintwork and lilac flowers in the wallpaper were in complete harmony with his clothes.

Pulling the smallest table from the nest by the hearth, she invited him to sit down. Helping him into the winged fireside chair, she suddenly asked, ‘What should I call you?’

‘Call me Harry. It’s Harris really but my wife thinks it sounds a bit stuck-up.’ Harry took a bite of cake, then smilingly added, ‘Her name’s Gertrude, Gertie for short. She prefers Gertie for the same reason.’

‘Do you live locally? I mean, I don’t recall seeing you before and wondered…..’

‘Just round the corner from the cemetery. Don’t get out much though with this arthritis and the relentless rain stops me from venturing far.’

Beverley felt the same way about the rain. It seemed that every time she went out of the front door the heavens opened. She could recall better summers but now they seemed to be buried in the mists of time.

Harry agreed about the rain. ‘Gertie hates it, she always says a little is worth a fortune but too much drowns the plant life.’ Harry paused to remove some crumbs from his jacket before going on to describe his wife.

Gertie and Harry lived next to each other when they were children. Although she was four years older she spent a lot of time with Harry. As children they did a fair amount of squabbling and as they grew older each took an interest in other children of opposite and respective sexes. However, there was no comparison for the friendship they shared; a friendship that matured into love. By the time they were old enough for University they prepared to go their separate ways, Harry to Guildford and Gertie to Leeds. Those were nightmare years and no amount of correspondence could bridge the loneliness each one experienced. ‘We were a couple and couples should never be apart,’ explained Harry, somewhat wistfully.

With parental permission they married young and set up house in Guildford, enjoying the experience of being together under one roof. But their hearts were in the Midlands where they grew up and after a few years they moved back to Tamworth. ‘But our wonderful marriage produced no babies,’ Harry said. ‘That was a downside for us, a real tragedy.

‘But you had each other.’

‘Aye, we did that.’

According to Harry, Gertie was a cracker which Beverley assumed meant she was a good looking woman. He wasn’t so complementary about his own appearance and offered the opinion that he had never been able to work out what she saw in him in the first place. Bev, though, could see exactly what Gertie could see. Although she had only just met him she could tell that he was a compassionate man, full of character and understanding. There was gentleness in his movements and his blue eyes and generous mouth seemed always to be smiling. She imagined him to be quite benevolent.

Harry drank some of his tea then replaced the cup in the saucer and reached for another Battenberg slice. He remarked on the china, explained that Gertie adored Spode. Bev was impressed since he hadn’t looked under the plate to see where it was made. She had a feeling that she and Gertie had lots of things in common.

After pouring another cup of tea Bev leaned back in her seat. In a short time he had told her so much about his life yet he knew nothing about her. She wasn’t inclined to talk about her lonely life either, yet when Harry said he really must go Beverley felt at a sudden loss. It had been a long time since she’d had such pleasant and interesting company.

She helped Harry to his feet, handed him his cane and his bag. She had put the flowers inside the bag so that he wouldn’t have too much to hold. Harry led the way to the door then turned to thank Bev for her kindness. Seizing her hand he leaned forward to peck her cheek.

Agreeably surprised, Beverley felt the blush creep up her neck. ‘It was my pleasure,’ she said, and meant every word. Opening the door, she saw that the weather had turned again, it was pouring with rain. ‘You’ll get soaked if you go out in that, I’ll just get the keys to the car and drive you home.’

‘That would be helpful,’ said Harry. ‘But I have a stop to make before going home.’

‘That’s fine,’ Beverley said, ‘I don’t mind dropping you wherever you like.’ 

The route was unfamiliar but Harry directed her like a true navigator. After five minutes driving, he asked her to pull up by the cemetery gates. Pointing to the sky, he whispered, ‘Look, the rain has lessened. See the sun coming through the black clouds?’

Bev looked out of the car window and sure enough the sun was like a beacon shining through the grey. She hoped there would be a rainbow; she loved rainbows.

Harry smiled. ‘It always does that when I come here.’ He gathered up his bag, gripped his cane, and went to open the car door. But then he turned back and asked if Beverley would like to meet his wife.

‘Well, if it’s not too much trouble.’

‘No trouble at all, Gertie will be delighted to have company. And she’ll want to thank you for the flowers.’

Without waiting for assistance, Harry climbed out of the car. ‘Come on,’ he said, a trifle impatiently, ‘she’ll be waiting.’

Bev grabbed her raincoat from the back seat, locked the car doors and followed Harry through the immense wrought iron gate, thinking he must have easy access to his house from the cemetery path. But instead of following the path round he stopped in front of a grave with an angel at the head. ‘Gertie,’ he said, ‘I’ve brought a visitor.’

For several years Bev maintained a friendship with Harry and, through him, with Gertie. He’d been right, if weather conditions were bad when they visited the cemetery, the sun always came out the minute they arrived at the gate. Bev liked to think it was instigated by Gertie, using sunshine to welcome her husband.

Beverley’s loneliness disappeared the day Harry stopped to admire the Montbretia. He brought purpose to her life, she had someone to do things for, to look after, to laugh with or console on a bad day. She was happy; through him she acquired more friends. He was a popular man. Although he lived alone Gertie’s presence was very real, it was all he wanted.

Now Harry lies beside his wife. Bev visits often, always taking flowers from her garden and her thanks for their friendship.  And the sun never fails to greet her even on the wettest day.

THE END 

02 March 2018

IT ALL HAPPENS AT ONCE

 
Isn’t it strange how everything goes wrong at the same time. Last year ended and this year started badly. After a few setbacks door locks were next to go wrong. Not just one, either.

23.11.17
Realign UPVC door at front
I found a firm of locksmiths in the phone book and gave them a ring. Yes, the man said, I will send someone round straight away. What a relief!

16.02.18
Realign back door and replace worn handles.
The same guy came out in double quick time.

27.02.18
Replaced mortice lock and cut keys.
This time it was the inner front door, in other words the original before porch added.
The same guy came out.

This last time we had a laugh about the frequency of fixing my door locks and I remarked (in fun) that there were only another two to go.

He’s a nice guy with a sense of humour. As he left my house he said  'Cheerio, see you next week’. Wouldn’t it be funny if something went wrong and I did have to call him out in a week’s time?

After all that, the gas fire gave me another headache. More on that later……