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…


Sunday, 7 February 2016

Curtain Call


Earlier this week our new house finally got its curtains and blinds.  What a difference it has made.  Dressing a window definitely turns a house into a home.
          Having never paid attention to needlework and dressmaking at school, the matter of running up some fabric for our windows was a total non-event.  I am a deep admirer of anybody who can knit cable sweaters, crochet lacy cardigans or drape fabric over a mannequin and knock-up an amazing trouser suit.  At school it took me three terms to make a pinafore dress which, at the end of the year, I’d outgrown and failed to put a hem on.  I remember my school report saying, ‘The only thing Deborah is good at is talking.’  Anyway, I digress.  I got in touch with a well-known curtain franchise company and made an appointment.
          When the rep turned up, I was expecting a lady.  Whenever I’ve had dealings with this company before, it’s always been a woman.  So I was somewhat taken aback to see a young man on the doorstep.  In fact I’ll tell you how young he was – nineteen.  And I know this because he chattily told me so over the cup of tea I made him.
          ‘So, er, how long have you been doing this job?’ I asked casually.  Yes, I confess there was anxiety about an inexperienced teen putting up wonky curtain poles and taking incorrect measurements, and the thought of him messing up with a power drill all over the house mentally had me hyperventilating.
          ‘Nearly a year.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do after leaving school, so my mum persuaded me to come into the family business.’
          ‘Right.  And, um, “Mum” isn’t about at the moment?’
          ‘No,’ the lad smiled.  ‘It’s just me.  But don’t worry. I mostly get jobs right now.’
          ‘Oh, that’s…reassuring.’
          Tea finished, the lad confidently strode about measuring bi-folds and windows, offering advice here, holding up fabric swatches there.  We then settled down to talk prices. Haggling over, I signed the paperwork. I wasn’t quite sure what “Mum” was going to say about the lad’s quote, but I for one was absolutely delighted and almost snatched the pen out of his hand.
          Three weeks later, the young man returned with the materials.  He set down a number of cardboard and plastic boxes, opened a case of tools, and got to work.  And this was where the teenager clearly came to the fore.  Never have I seen such a spectacular mess from simply putting up curtains.  Rather than clearing up as he went along, boxes and cartons littered every available piece of floor space throughout the house.  It was chaotic.
          ‘Don’t worry,’ he said cheerfully.  ‘I’m the sort of person who clears up right at the very end.’
          ‘Right,’ I said uncertainly as the cat joyfully crash landed into a carton and the dog tore off with curtain rings hanging off her teeth.  And then there was the drilling.  Don’t get me started about the drilling.  Previous dealings with the lady of this company had seen each room being cleared up and vacuumed individually.  You’d never have known anybody had been in the place.  But by the time this young lad had finished, aside from the debris, furniture was covered in plaster dust.  It also took him double the amount of time he’d originally thought, so by the time the last curtain was hanging he was in a complete panic about his next appointment.
          ‘I’m so sorry,’ he apologised, tripping over a discarded pole and almost falling into a pile of boxes, ‘but I don’t have time to tidy up.’
          It took me three hours to clean up the plaster dust, gather the debris and restore order.  But the job is done.  We have a dressed house.  Hooray!  Which reminds me.
          A blonde goes into a computer store.  ‘Where do you keep the curtains?’ she asks a sales assistant.  ‘You won’t find curtains in here,’ he replies, ‘this is a computer shop.’  Annoyed, the blonde puts her hand on her hips and says, ‘Hellooo, my computer has windows…’