Sunday, 17 July 2016

Let’s all go to Zante!

It seems like a lifetime ago, but in fact it’s barely a month since Mr V and I flew off for our summer holiday.  It was just the two of us.  No children.  Or, to be succinct, no adult children.  The kids were left to look after both the house and each other.  The thought of them being alone together for a fortnight caused a frisson of anxiety. They either get on like a house on fire or World War Three breaks out.
          ‘Don’t forget to lock up.’
          ‘Yes, Mum.’
          ‘Don’t forget to turn off the hob and the oven.’
          ‘Yes, Mum.’
          ‘Don’t leave the fridge door open.’
          ‘Okay, Mum.’
          ‘Don’t lock yourselves out.’
          ‘No, Mum.’
          ‘Don’t argue.’
said don’t argue.’
          ‘If there are any arguments it will be your daughter who starts them,’ said Rob.  Note the “your daughter” and not “my sister”.
          ‘That’s not fair,’ Eleanor huffed, arms folding across her chest.
          ‘It’s always you who starts a row,’ said Rob.
          ‘I do not!’
          ‘Yes, you do.’
dare you say that! You’re the one that starts everything.’
          ‘ENOUGH!’ I roared.  Dear Lord.  We hadn’t even left the place and they were starting.  I then gave my neighbour a spare key to the house (I didn’t quite trust the kids not to get locked out) and warned that if the house appeared to be imploding it was due to a hormonal teenager and…well…a hormonal twenty-three year old.  Do children ever stop being hormonal?  Maybe when they reach fifty-something.  And then they are simply too knackered to be hormonal.  Like their parents.
          ‘Be good,’ I warned.  Otherwise there will be no Duty Free.’
          Ah yes, in the old days it was the threat of no sweets.  These days the bribes are far bigger carrots.  Usually carats in my daughter’s case.
          At half past four – in the morning – a mild looking sixty-something picked us up in his taxi, grey hair neatly cut and combed.  Leaning back against the seat, I sighed happily.  A nice relaxing drive to the airport, a spot of brekky, a linger in Duty Free, onto the plane and….whooooooosh!  The journey to Gatwick Airport is forty minutes.  The taxi driver started up his innocuous looking taxi, rammed the gear into first and took off like the proverbial bat out of hell.  It took a good ten seconds for my tonsils to catch up with the rest of me as we hurtled down winding country lanes to the motorway.  Despite the taxi driver being a newish pensioner, he was clearly hell-bent on reliving his boy racer days before he reached his next big birthday.  Or the rest of us for that matter.  Would I live to see fifty-five?
          ‘Going anywhere nice?’ asked the driver.
          ‘Yes,’ I yelped.
          ‘Where’s that then?’
          ‘Zante,’ my husband squeaked.  Either he was also petrified or else the seat belt was too tight.
          When my daughter had learnt Zante was our holiday destination she’d convulsed with laughter.  ‘Bah ha ha ha ha!  I don’t believe it.  Did you not know it’s a seriously hot party place?’
          ‘Of course I knew!’ I’d lied, privately thanking both God in heaven and my lucky stars Mr V hadn’t been around to hear the conversation.  ‘However, if it could be our little secret I’d be much obliged.’
          The truth was, I’d simply typed into Google
best beaches in Europe and narrowed it down from there.  As someone who loves to walk, a long golden beach with soft sand is key.  So when I spotted Kalamaki, a scenic three kilometer stretch with protected nesting areas for turtles, I wasn’t too interested in much else.  As it happened, our hotel was fine.  It was well away from the party bit.  We walked the beach from one end to the other every single day.  The party area was crammed with sun loungers and parasols all occupied by young men and women, all giving each other the eye.  The girls showed off taut tummies as the boys smoothed sun cream over well-defined abs.  Mr V always changed his posture on this stretch.  Suddenly he’d appear two inches taller as he straightened up, adopting a ‘Superman’ pose.  Shoulders back.  Head up.  Soft tummy pulled in tight as he held his breath for the next two hundred yards.  You could almost see his blue cape flapping in the warm breeze. His lips were certainly blue by the time we’d skirted the dewy youth section.  I’d hear him rapidly exhaling then gulping in lungfuls of sea air.  The other end of the beach couldn’t have been more different.  Sun loungers petered out to nothing and, for a bit, there was just a lonely meandering shoreline of lapping water and scrub vegetation.
           One day we decided to edge past the far end of Kalamaki beach, circumnavigate a huge area of rocks, and pick up the next beach.  Paddling out into shallow waters, we waded for a few minutes until we were back on sand.  Here it was also remote.  Far ahead a few much older people were making the most of the total quiet.  As we gradually approached, my husband hesitated.
          ‘Um, Debbie–’
          ‘Stop dawdling, and keep up!’ I called over my shoulder.  I was well in my stride again, elbows in, arms moving in time to legs as I powered towards the handful of people who’d turned as one to stare at us.
          ‘Ah, Debbie, I think–’
          ‘What’s wrong with everybody?’ I muttered.  ‘Why are they looking at us like we have two heads?’
          A lady regarded me coolly.  I nodded and smiled at her.  She didn’t smile back.  She was sitting on a pink towel, her equally pink legs tucked up, arms looped over her knees.  Nothing seemed untoward, even though her legs were slightly parted and…I blinked…no…surely the sun was getting to me.  At that moment a grey-haired man stood up and gave us a full frontal.  My eyes flicked from the lady’s parted legs to the top of the man’s legs, as everybody else in my peripheral vision came into focus.  My mouth formed a perfect O.  I was wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and bikini.  Never in my life have I felt so overdressed.
          So Mr V and I instantly pretended we’d lost our bearings.  We stood there, hands on hips, noisily declaring how we’d managed to wander off track, me blowing my cheeks out and my husband scratching his head as we loudly pondered which direction might lead back to our hotel.  In hindsight, this charade was a bit daft.  We had two options: retrace our steps or head out to sea. And then we fled.  Which reminds me.
          A pensioner checked into a hotel, four floors high.  After unpacking, she tottered up to the roof terrace and settled down to some peaceful sunbathing.  After a couple of days, as nobody else seemed to be using the roof area, she decided to completely strip off and sunbathe nude.  She’d barely (excuse the pun) settled down when the sound of urgent footsteps could be heard coming up the steps to the roof.  Quickly, she grabbed her towel and put it around her.  A uniformed member of staff appeared.  He was very flustered.
          ‘Madam, I’m very sorry but you cannot sunbathe in the nude up here.’
          ‘Why ever not?’ the little old lady asked.  ‘No one can see.’
          ‘Madam,’ he said again, ‘you happen to be lying on the skylight of the dining room…’

Sunday, 5 June 2016

That Could Be Dangerous

My dear old mum has always been a cautious lady.  She’s someone who sees danger everywhere.
          When my mother was a child she was full of gung-ho, hanging off trees, skating on frozen-over ponds, taking on her little brothers’ bullies and giving any thug a pasting in the school playground. Most of us can recognise something of ourselves in that last sentence, when we too were once small.  The warrior child.  Fearless.  Immortal.  But somewhere along the way, realisation dawns that we are mortal beings. We have one body and need to look after it. Carefully. Certainly my own mother changed from warrior to worrier.
          As a young adult with children of her own, you didn’t find her doing any of the above.  Her reasoning: “What if I broke a leg?”  And as for skating on that frozen-over pond…madness!  “What if the ice broke?  I could get trapped under the ice, freeze to death, or drown. And who would look after my offspring?”
          Worry, unchecked, can turn into fear.  Sometimes irrational fear.  This can unwittingly transfer to children.  Is it wise to let our precious child hang off a tree, skate on a frozen pond, or have confrontation with the school bully?  What if our precious child was injured?
          At the age of ten I asked my parents if I could learn to horse ride. My mother nearly had a nervous breakdown.  She much preferred the gentler idea of her daughter attending ballet classes.  Instead it was my father who encouraged me with horse riding.  I grew up juggling bloc ballet shoes and jodhpurs.  While my mother dreamed of me being the next Margot Fonteyn, I fantasised about being the next Caroline Bradley.  I can still remember dancing on stage and my mother being all smiles.  I can also remember her every scream as my horse flew over huge fences in a serious affiliated jumping competition.  Talk about off putting.  And no, I didn’t qualify!
          Now that I’m a mother myself, it’s amazing to see how much fear, or encouragement, shapes us.  My daughter wanted to learn horse riding.  I immediately said no.  Why?  “It’s far too dangerous.”  I can still remember clapping a hand over my mouth after saying that.  I’d turned into my mother!  I haven’t ridden a horse since pregnant with my daughter, mainly because I didn’t want my kids demanding a turn in the saddle.  What if they fell? What if they broke something? Look what happened to Superman! Instead, illogically, I turned my attention to skiing.
          ‘That’s a dangerous hobby,’ my mother pointed out.
          I ignored her.  And then my children wanted to learn how to ski.  Once again I parroted my mother.
          ‘You’re just like grandma,’ they cried.
          ‘No I’m not!’ I retorted, deeply offended.
          ‘So let’s go skiing!’
          And we did.  I was a gibbering idiot throughout the entire week.  More so with my daughter because she’s absolutely brilliant and would like to spend all day tackling challenging blacks.  Off-piste.
          Meanwhile my mother, who is now eighty-three, is so anxious about “danger” she hardly leaves the house.  My father would dearly love to go on holiday, but my mother makes up every excuse to avoid going anywhere.
          ‘The Med is beautiful,’ my father sighed.
          ‘Not any more,’ my mother’s eyes narrowed. ‘The sea is full of bodies from drowned refugees.’
          ‘We’ll stay in a hotel with a pool. You don’t have to go in the sea.’
          ‘I don’t like flying. Planes crash.’
          ‘What about a cruise?’ my father suggested.
          ‘The sea is choppy. I get sea sick.’
          ‘No worries,’ my father replied.  ‘We could do a river cruise instead.’
          ‘The ship could sink.’
          ‘Okay. Then what about having a long weekend somewhere sunny? We could drive to France.’
          ‘No way.’ My mother looked horrified. ‘You drive like a lunatic.’
          My father dares to drive at forty miles-per-hour. Sometimes forty-one.
          My children, who had been rolling their eyes at each other whilst listening to their grandmother, piped up.
          ‘Grandma, seriously you need to relax and get out more.’
          ‘I can’t,’ my mother huffed. ‘I’m disabled. I can’t walk far.’
          ‘Then get a mobility scooter. You’ll be able to go anywhere and everywhere!’
          ‘A mobility scooter!’ my mother’s eyes widened in horror.  ‘Do you have any idea how dangerous they are?’
          My son and daughter looked at each other in surprise. Were they missing something here? Eleanor looked back at her grandmother.
          ‘Grandma, I’m talking about a mobility scooter. Not a motorbike.’
          ‘Yes, I know. And do you know how fast those things go?’
          ‘I believe the speed has been capped now,’ said Robbie with a straight face.  ‘Eight miles-per-hour.’
          ‘Exactly.’ My mother crowed triumphantly. ‘I’ve seen people on them in the supermarket, whizzing around like lunatics and causing chaos.  CHAOS!’ she shrieked.
          ‘Really?’ Eleanor’s eyes widened in disbelief.
          Robbie put his hands to his mouth, impersonating speaking through a tannoy.  ‘Staff announcement. Assistance please. There’s been a pile up in aisle three.’
          ‘You may poke fun,’ my mother waggled a finger, ‘but there’s danger around every corner.’
          Even in supermarkets, so it would seem.  Never again will I lurk too long by the baked beans.
          My children insist that I’m going to be as bad as my mother by the time I’m eighty-three.  I sincerely hope not. Sometimes we have to face our fears in order to overcome them.  So excuse me while I sign the entire family up for a pony trekking holiday in Wales followed by a taster session at Brands Hatch.  Which reminds me.
What lies at the bottom of the ocean and shakes a lot?  A nervous wreck…

Sunday, 15 May 2016

An Open Letter To Persimmon Homes

Dear Persimmon Homes

At your insistence, we moved into our Forever Home just days before Christmas. Your marketing person said, ‘If you don’t achieve this date, the deal is off.’ At your behest, we had to use your conveyancing solicitor. When that solicitor had to endlessly chase you, we should have realised you were a company that didn’t move swiftly or deal with matters methodically.
          We visited the property for a home demo. However, because conveyancing was dragging (down to you) and we weren’t the legal owners, we were told we didn’t have the right to flag up snagging issues.  When we were requested to sign the Home Demo form indicating our satisfaction, the marketing person assured the house would be thoroughly examined, all snagging would be identified
and addressed.  Signing was simply a formality. So we signed.
          Completion loomed, but thanks to your tardy legal department we hadn’t exchanged contracts.  Our solicitor received a reply from you telling us to go ahead and book our removal contractor. The day of completion arrived, our removal men turned up…and we still hadn’t exchanged contracts. We had one member of your staff still insisting, ‘If you don’t achieve completion today, the deal’s off,’ while someone else refused to accept a perfectly acceptable post-completion Undertaking. You were arguing amongst yourselves! Have you any idea how stressful it was packing up an old house, arriving at the new house but refused entry because of your own internal prevarications, especially at Christmas time? Eventually, just before the banks shut their doors for the day, somebody somewhere recognised the madness of the situation. We exchanged and completed simultaneously. Never mind that our removal men were still unpacking at bedtime!
          We were
dismayed to observe no snagging issues had been addressed. It has taken over five months for your contractors to slowly work through a two-page list of snags, some of which remain. This includes a damaged kitchen cupboard.  Your response:
          “We cannot look to cover any items damaged unless stated on your Home Demo form.”
          As we pointed out, we were not allowed to list snags on this form because we hadn’t exchanged contracts AND your staff assured they would thoroughly inspect/resolve issues on our behalf. Your response:
          “I’m sorry we cannot help with this issue but state we cannot look to replace this door and must follow company policy.”
          What company policy is that then? Is it the Talk Rubbish policy or Mass of Contradictions policy? Can you please now explain why staff gave a verbal undertaking that snagging would be listed and rectified on our behalf? Also, do you think it reasonable we paid top dollar for an “exclusive” property and that damage should be rectified at our expense?
          Another outstanding snag: Pop-up plugs that don’t hold water.  You couldn’t make it up, eh?  There was my husband trying to have a morning shave with a sink draining faster than…well, a sink without a plug.
          Yet another outstanding snag: Peeling bi-fold doors.  If we’d lived here for five years, I could understand weathering taking its toll.  But not after five months. I was promised somebody would address this weeks ago. A wall of silence remains.
          And yet another outstanding snag: An electric isolator switch set at eight feet high.  Your contracted electricians at the time of building the house were SC Farley of Maidstone. Persimmons sent Mr Matt Deeble to look at the switch. Mr Deeble agreed it was unacceptable and would be remedied. The fact that he then arranged an electrician to attend when I wasn’t home, was indeed unfortunate. Memo to Persimmons: Try COMMUNICATING with home owners first. It achieves great things! Since then the electrical contractor has done a U-turn. Their written response:
          “We are not attending. The reason for the isolator switches being high is to stop people turning them off as they are meant to as I am sure you are aware 24/7.”
          Quite apart from the fact that this is atrocious English and doesn’t make sense, I’m assuming Jane Farley of SC Farley was trying to say fan switches are meant to run 24/7.  However, Jane, I don’t
want a bathroom fan running 24/7.  I want silence when I go to sleep at night.  Oh, and no they don’t stop whirring after ten minutes, like you said they would.  But apart from anything else, why place the other switches at an acceptable height but this one at eight feet? I’m baffled.  Now what else did SC Farley say?  Ah, yes:
          “They should only be turned off by a qualified operative for works to be done.”
          But, Jane, I don’t want any works done! I just want to turn the fan off!! Do you not understand how ridiculous you sound? Should I, perhaps, get a ‘qualified operative’ in to turn my light switches on and off as well? Or do you suggest I leave my lights on 24/7 too and go to bed wearing a black-out eye mask?
          The icing on the cake is that every now and again I receive a random text message from Persimmons. It says:
          “We hope you are very happy with the recent work carried out.”
          What recent work? I’m still waiting! But to reply, the answer is no. No, I’m not remotely happy with you or your contractors.  Which reminds me.
          A surgeon friend said his favourite clients are those who work in the building industry.  Apparently they don’t mind bodged body parts or the job taking longer than scheduled…


- stre

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Fit For Nothing

My daughter recently called time on living in digs.  Washing-up was a challenge due to the sink always piled with others’ mouldy dishes, nobody was interested in a bin rota, stuff went missing, food got eaten, de da de da.  When the mice moved in, Eleanor moved out. So she’s home.
          ‘At least I can get back to pole fitness,’ she declared.  Prodding my soft tummy she said, ‘Why don’t you give it a go?’
          ‘Because I have zero upper body strength.’  After a freak accident with my Dyson vacuum cleaner which landed me in hospital for two operations, upper body strength is compromised, as evidenced by flapping bingo wings.  ‘Anyway,’ I added, ‘I’m fit enough.  I have Molly Muddles to walk.’
          ‘Dog walking doesn’t firm bingo wings. What about doing a yoga class?’
          My ears pricked up.  ‘I can do yoga.  Sign me up!’
          ‘Excellent!’ Eleanor beamed.  ‘I’ll do it with you.’
          I suddenly felt a wave of enthusiasm.  ‘What else do they do?’
          ‘Well, there’s a bouncer-cise class which dove-tails with my pole fitness lesson.  We could travel together.’
          Suddenly Eleanor looked a bit sad.  ‘I was hoping to do bouncer-cise as well.  It would have been fun to do that with you, Mum.’  She looked up at me under her eyelashes.  I was so touched.  My baby!  Happy to hang out with her Mum!  Okay, there was a ploy going on, but thanks to the heart strings tugging it didn’t register.  I pondered for a moment.  ‘Is there, perhaps, a second day of bouncer-cise?’
          Eleanor looked surprised, as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her (she’s a great actress, sometimes I forget she’s a trained performer!).  ‘Yes, there’s another class on Saturday morning.  Do you fancy doing that together?’
          ‘Definitely.  Let’s book it!’
          ‘But, um, wait a minute.  That means you’ll be doing
three fitness classes in one week.  Are you sure you’re up for it?  That’s…ah…quite a lot for someone who thinks a work-out is going for a long dog walk.’
          ‘Don’t be ridiculous.  Of
course I’m up for it.  What’s so difficult about doing a few stretches and bouncing on a trampoline?’
          So the following Tuesday evening, we began yoga.
          ‘Hang on,’ I touched Eleanor’s elbow.  ‘What are those orange things everyone’s getting into?’
          ‘Hammocks,’ Eleanor replied.  ‘Yoga takes place in a hammock.  It’s an anti-gravity class.’
          ‘Oh,’ I frowned, and then shrugged. I presumed the teacher was thoughtful, and that stretching in a hammock was more comfortable than stretching on a hard floor.
          The lesson began.  It was a doddle for…ooh…five minutes.  Then we began
extending ...and far more than anticipated.  As my intestines twanged, the word “hernia” floated through my consciousness.  The instructor told us how to grasp the silk, haul ourselves up, slide backwards, flipping over and hanging upside down.  Extending backwards, my spine creaked ominously and refused to oblige.  I was just about to give up, when the instructor marched over.  Folding me up like an ironing board, I was suddenly dangling feet first from the hammock.  As the blood rushed to my head, I spotted a poster on the studio wall.        If You’re Afraid of Falling You Will Never Fly.
        Yes, I was very afraid of falling.  As my fingers clawed at the fabric, the strain on my upper arms became unbearable.  Within seconds my bingo wings were wobbling like unset jelly.  Moments later the whole hammock was vibrating.  From my upside-down world, my eyeballs flitted left to right.  Everybody else was calm, unaffected by the sound of blood roaring in their ears or feeble arm strength.  Unable to stand it for a moment longer, I disentangled my legs from the hammock and landed in a heap on the floor while everybody else spent the next ten minutes looking like bats doing ballet.  My face flamed with humiliation.  This feeling intensified when, after class, the instructor came over for a word.
          ‘For somebody of your age, you did very well.  It’s not easy starting this sort of thing at your time in life.’
          I know she meant well, but her words intensified my misery.  I had a sudden memory of an eighty-year-old on a Britain’s Got Talent audition doing crazy dancing and being flung around all over the place by her dance partner.  If an eighty-year-old could contort, I’d be damned if a fifty-something couldn’t too.  I left the studio feeling upset but determined to do better next time.  As for the class being “gentle”, my body begged to differ.  Forty-eight hours later I could hardly walk, which was a nuisance because that was the day of the next fitness class.  Bouncer-cise.
          As I hobbled into the studio and selected a trampoline, music began to blare.  I told myself this class would be easier than anti-gravity yoga.  The anticipation at the start of class was a bit like the Grand National.  One minute everybody was packed together on their trampolines, springs creaking as arms and legs jostled for aerobic space, the next we were off!  It was clear that everybody else had done this class before.  Bums out, tums in, squatting into each jump, I hadn’t a clue how to master the stance. I continually bounced high into the air, choreography completely out of sync and musically out of time. As everybody settled into dance-like routines lifting legs and punching the air, I was yo-yoing up and down desperately trying not to spring off and crash into my fitness neighbours.  I won’t lie.  I went home and cried.  My daughter caught me snivelling.
          ‘What’s up, Mum?’
          ‘What’s up?’ I shrieked, reaching for a man-size Kleenex to trumpet into.  ‘I’ll tell you what’s up!’  The dog, a sucker for toilet paper and tissues, promptly snatched the Kleenex off me and shredded it to pieces.  ‘Argh,’ I yelled, ‘I can’t even blow my chuffing nose!’
          ‘Here.’ Eleanor calmly handed me another tissue.  ‘Why are you crying?’
          ‘Do you know,’ I hissed, overcome with sudden fury, ‘In my lifetime I’ve done ballet for fifteen years, Ceroc for two, and dabbled with Salsa.  But for some reason I CAN’T BOUNCE IN TIME TO MUSIC ON A TRAMPOLINE.’ Nothing like feeling sorry for yourself, eh?
          ‘Hmm. All that dancing was rather a long time ago, Mum.’
          ‘And don’t I chuffing well know it!’ I fumed.  ‘I feel like a has-been.  A failure.  An idiot.  I can’t believe my body won’t do what I want it to do.’
          ‘It takes practice.  That’s all.  It will get better.  You’ll see.’
          At that moment, somehow our roles had reversed.  My daughter, the mother. I, the child.  But Eleanor was right.  A month later, it’s a bit better.  No, I still can’t do everything everybody else is doing in the anti-gravity yoga class, but I will eventually.  Why?  Because my upper body strength is improving.  I know this for a fact because my bingo wings have disappeared, and I’ve mastered the stance on the trampoline so can now bounce in time to the music.  I’ve even had the ego-boosting experience of keeping going whilst a sweat-drenched twenty-year-old, after just ten minutes, sulkily declared she couldn’t do another second.
          So for anybody starting out in the pursuit of ‘fitness’, my humble advice is: Do not to give up.  Keep at it, and maybe I’ll even see you there!  Which reminds me.
          Person at gym:     Can you teach me to do the splits?
          Gym instructor:    How flexible are you?
          Person at gym:     I can’t make Thursdays...

Sunday, 10 April 2016

For Duck's Sake

When we moved to our Forever Home last Christmas, I was delighted to find the surrounding countryside also had a beautiful duck pond.  It was privately owned, as were the birds paddling around on the water’s surface.  One morning, whilst walking Molly Muddles, I saw an elderly lady throwing grain at the ducks. We started chatting and it transpired she was the owner of the pond.  She’d bought the three beautiful white birds as ducklings from a County show the previous summer.
          ‘What are their names?’ I asked.
          ‘Oh, no names,’ she shook her head and smiled. ‘I don’t want to get too attached to them in case the foxes get them.  I shouldn’t have bought them really, but as ducklings I just couldn’t resist.  They were so gorgeous.  I’ve made the pond as secure as possible.’  She nodded at the mesh fencing surrounding the bank, and a duck house on stilts in the centre well away from the water’s edge and any sly prowling fox.  ‘I can only hope no harm will ever come to them.’
          Sadly, a month after that conversation, two ducks disappeared overnight.  However, village gossip was that no fox had visited, but instead a two-legged thief.
          ‘Why didn’t the thief take all three ducks?’ I asked a fellow dog walker.
          ‘Probably because he didn’t have three arms.’
          Ask a silly question and I suppose you get a silly answer!

          The sole remaining duck looked very lonely as she swam around on the pond all by herself.  Every morning I’d walk past the pond and – as nobody was around – stop and talk to her.
          ‘Hello, Jemima.’  Yes, I named her.  Jemima Puddleduck.  Couldn’t be anything else really, eh!  ‘How are you?’  Molly would plant her feet on the fence and greet the duck, who would swim over, waddle up the bank, and honk several greetings.  This became a pattern.  I raised eyebrows once when I forgot myself whilst with another dog walker and yelled out, ‘Hello, Jemima!’
          ‘Who’s Jemima?’ asked my companion, which left me feeling rather foolish.
          About a week or so later, Jemima perked up.  Two moorhens were swimming around on the pond.  Mr and Mrs Moorhen were quite happy to exchange pleasantries with Jemima as they got down to the serious business of nest building in the rushes.
          Friday morning was like no other.  I passed Jemima busily diving, her fat feathered bottom up in the air, neck well under the water line as she dived for…well, whatever ducks like to dive for.  She was so busy she didn’t stop to greet me.  Smiling, I set off across the fields.
          I’m a bit myopic.  On the horizon a flash of something moving was flitting in and out of my vision.  I paused to stare, hesitating whether to let Molly Muddles off the leash.  Was it a hare?  Yes…no…yes…not sure.  I carried on walking with my pooch firmly on the leash.  Then I spotted the streak again, this time dipping over a hill.  That was no hare – it was a fox!
          Molly was already straining at the leash and yapping excitedly.  ‘Let me chase it, please let me chase it.’
          ‘No.  Come on.  This way.’  And off we set.  Over the hills and far away in a completely different direction.
          On the route home, I walked past the pond.  And abruptly stopped.  Where was Jemima?  My eyes flicked from side to side.  Nope, she wasn’t huddled anywhere along the bank.  Or in the duck house.  Or…wait…what was that movement in the rushes?  I walked round to far side of the pond but couldn’t see anything.  There was another very small movement, and then Mrs Moorhen peered over some greenery.  She was on her nest, one beady eye anxiously watching me watching her.  And in that moment I realised Mr Fox had taken Jemima.
          To say I was upset was an understatement.  My sister wasn’t very sympathetic.  ‘You live in the countryside.  Stuff happens.  Get over it.’
          Frustrated and furious, I silently wished Mr Fox a very bad case of indigestion. However, much to my surprise and joy, Jemima was back on the pond the following morning.  Where did she go?  I haven’t a clue.  Either this was the second resurrection or Jemima managed to outwit the fox.  But one thing is for sure – I’m chuffed to bits.  Which reminds me.
          What do you call a clever duck?  A wise quacker…

Sunday, 20 March 2016

When Alarm Bells Ring

A couple of nights ago a neighbour’s alarm went off.  After a few minutes the alarm was still ringing, so Mr V and I went to investigate.  We live in a very rural location.  There are no street lights.  On this particular night the moon was hiding and there was a definite absence of stars.  Leaving the welcoming brightness of our hallway, we stepped out into inky darkness.  I felt a frisson of anxiety.  What if Number 2 was in the process of being robbed?  What if we disturbed the burglar? What if the burglar turned nasty?
          ‘Hang on a minute.’ I turned around and went smack into my husband.  Note how he’d sent me out into the darkness first!
          ‘What’s the matter?’ he whispered.
          ‘I’m scared,’ I whispered back.  ‘I want Molly to come with us.’
          ‘If there is anybody in that house who shouldn’t be in that house,’ Mr V declared, ‘Molly would be as much use as a chocolate teapot.’
          ‘Don’t underestimate her,’ I countered.  ‘She’s very protective, plus her bark sounds like that of a really big dog.’
          I went back into the house and grabbed the pooch. Molly was thrilled to bits at the prospect of walkies, even if she couldn’t see where she was going.  Back outside, we’d only taken half a dozen steps when a disembodied male voice spoke.  The three of us nearly went into orbit.
          ‘There’s nobody home,’ said the voice.
          ‘Who’s that?’ I squeaked, fearful it was actually the burglar who’d finished his robbing spree and was now pretending to be an onlooker in order to disguise his getaway.
          ‘It’s me,’ said the voice.  A cloud parted allowing a single beam of moonlight to illumine the man’s face.  It was my next-door neighbour.  ‘I think there might be smoke coming out of the house.’
          My heart rate picked up.  ‘They’ve got a little dog who may be inside.  Quick.  We have to get in there.  I know!’  A moonlit brainwave came to me.  ‘Number 1 has a spare key for Number 2.’
          We made our way to Number 1 who, thankfully, were home and came to investigate with us.  Seconds later, everybody burst into the house to hunt for a potential housebreaker or fire.
          ‘You and Molly stay out here,’ said Mr V.  ‘If anybody dashes out, you can nobble them.’
          ‘Me?’ I squeaked.  But I was talking to myself.  I stood on my neighbour’s drive, with their burglar alarm screaming and Molly giving me the sort of look that indicated this wasn’t the late-night walkies she’d anticipated.
          A moment later the alarm was switched off.  The smoke turned out to be evaporation from a boiler flue pipe.  After checking the house over, it was deemed that perhaps a spider had triggered the sensor.
          I must admit I was very relieved when everybody came out of the house.  It had been eerie standing in the shadows of my neighbour’s driveway, listening to night-time wildlife and rustling hedgerows.  Which reminds me.
A burglar broke into a house one night. He shone his flashlight around, looking for valuables.  Suddenly a disembodied voice said, ‘Jesus is watching you.’  The burglar jumped, switched his flashlight off and froze. When he heard nothing more, he shook his head in bemusement and promised himself a fab holiday after the next big haul.  Clicking the flashlight back on, he continued searching for valuables. As he reached for the hi-fi, once again came the disembodied voice.  ‘Jesus is watching you.’  Freaked out, he frantically shone the light about looking for the source of the voice. In the corner of the room, the torch’s beam lit up a parrot.
          ‘Did you just say that?’ the burglar hissed at the parrot.
          ‘Yes,’ the parrot confessed.  ‘I’m trying to warn you.’
          The burglar relaxed. ‘Warn me, eh?  And who exactly are you?’
          ‘Moses,’ replied the bird.
          ‘Moses?’ the burglar laughed.  ‘What stupid person would call their parrot “Moses”?’
          ‘The same stupid person that named their Rottweiler “Jesus”…’

Sunday, 28 February 2016

My Secret Valentine

Did you survive the recent Valentine’s Day?  Are you currently loved up and enjoying a room still full of fading blooms or, like me, just very grateful to be presented with a bunch of supermarket roses that died twenty-four hours later?
          Actually, this Valentine’s Day was extra special for me.  It marked the publication of my sixth novel, Secrets.  Part of the book is set in Canada.  It was a joy to research in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.  Do the hero and heroine get their happy ending?  Well, without giving too much away, I always like my novels to have a happy ending, even if the characters do suddenly nip off and do things they really weren’t meant to.  I spent the morning of Valentine’s Day doing a bit of tweeting about Secrets, then switched off the computer and took my patient pooch, Molly Muddles, for a long walk.
          ‘Wait for me,’ said Mr V.  ‘It’s Valentine’s Day. I’ll be romantic and join you.’  Apparently not staying at home, glued to the football, is a gesture of romance.  I’m not complaining.  I’ll take whatever romance is on offer!
          We live in Fairseat, by the North Downs.  There are many wonderful places to walk. A favourite is Trosley Country Park. It’s only a few minutes away.  However, the brief stroll to the actual park isn’t without fraught moments.  Molly’s training has been continuous.  She is very obedient – until a major distraction comes along.  The biggest distraction on the walk to Trosley is a huge German Shepherd guarding a country pile.  Molly has to walk approximately three hundred feet past this guard dog who, on the other side of sturdy spiked railings, snarls and growls throughout our passage.  Molly, built like a whippet, puffs out her puny chest to make herself look bigger.  She then takes the “I’m bigger than you” thing to the extreme and stands up on her gangly hind legs, extending her long neck and even longer back.  Switching to kangaroo mode, she then bounces down the road on two legs, front paws paddling the air for balance, which sends the German Shepherd into a complete frenzy.
          Once in the safety of the country park, Molly comes off the lead.  She always bounds off with alacrity, then bounces back to check where we are before disappearing again.  This is pretty much how she behaves on a walk…exploring but needing to check in every minute or so to make sure you are still around.  The trails at Trosley are colour coded.  We opted for the blue trail thinking it might be comparable to a blue ski run.  Wrong!  At Trosley the red trail is shallow, whilst the blue is horrendously steep.  If you were a skier, it would be a black run, as my husband can attest when his size nines took off down an almost vertical path.
          Two hours later, wind-blown and starving, we had completed the circuitous route.  It was debatable, as the finishing line came into sight, which was the most fabulous view: the North Downs to the left, or the cafĂ© straight ahead.  Molly Muddles had no doubts.  She zoomed off towards enticing smells of sausage, egg, bacon, and freshly brewed coffee.
          ‘Three all-day breakfasts, please,’ said Mr V to the serving lady.
          The lady looked between me and my husband.  ‘Three?’        Molly promptly plonked her paws on the counter and gave the serving lady a big grin.  ‘Three it is!’ the lady laughed.
          Dogs aren’t allowed to stay in the restaurant, but we didn’t mind at all.  Eating hot food outside in the bracing cold air somehow makes everything taste twice as scrumptious.  Molly certainly gave it her approval and licked all the plates clean.  Which reminds me.
          What’s a dog’s favourite pizza?  Pupperoni…