As I reached across the gas hob to retrieve a wooden spoon, I felt the heat rush up my arm. Husband had left the gas ring on, ‘simmer’. I hastily withdrew my arm before the flimsy material of my blouse could catch alight.
That single act brought another image to mind, an image of another item of clothing that did not escape the flames and indeed, that can still cause me to squirm and die a little of shame, each time I remember it.
I was 3 years old. The year was 1960.
It should be said that sibling jealousy played a big part in what was about to happen.
It had all started on Christmas morning 1959. My middle sister and I were both handed similarly sized, squashy presents, wrapped in identical Christmas paper.
My 5-year-old sister must have unwrapped her gift first. As the sheet of paper tore apart, a torrent of beautiful, pink satin silk, cascaded onto the floor, landing in soft ripples at my feet. Scooping the garments up, my sister exclaimed over her new satin knickers and nightie. I, watching longingly, coveted them from that moment.
“Open yours,” she urged me. I couldn’t wait. I ripped open my present, expecting the same pink satin garments to drop from its folds. I pulled out the crisp, flowered cotton apron and held it before me.
“What a lovely apron Auntie Jules has given you,” exclaimed my mother, or words to that effect.
I stared at the apron, disappointment clouding my vision. I looked at my sister’s pink silk nightwear and put the apron down. I don’t suppose I actually said I was disappointed. Perhaps they knew as much by my face but nothing was said. Of course, I liked the apron. However, its coarse cotton fibres could never match the delicate fronds that made up the silk knickers.
Every time my sister wore the garments I must have felt that stab of jealousy. More than once I begged to be allowed to wear them for a while, though they would not have fitted me. I was never allowed.
Living in a house bereft of any heating save for the coal fire, burning in the grate, it was inevitable that when laundry had to be dried indoors, the airer was erected close to the fire.
On this particular evening, some time early in 1960, the pink satin knickers and the pink satin slip, had been draped over the wooden clothes horse along side my Winceyette nightie.
My mother was brushing my sister’s newly washed hair. We must have both just had a bath because I was wrapped in a towel.
The fire guard had been moved while my mother poked at the coals to rekindle the flames. Satisfied, she had sat back to resume the brushing.
I reached out, intending to touch the pink satin.
“Don’t touch my things!” blurted my sister.
Now what possessed me, who can say? I really do not know but I remember it clearly. Perhaps her words goaded me, before I knew what was happening, I was reaching out and grabbing the knickers in defiance, while she screamed at me and my mother blinked in amazement. Quick as wink, I had flung the gorgeous pink satin knickers onto the fire.
To my mother’s credit, she reacted quickly and tonged the knickers out again, before they disintegrated in the flames. Alas, she was too late to prevent the scorched hole from appearing in the seat of those pants. They would not be worn again.
My sister squealed and I, almost as shocked by my actions as she was, burst into tears. The smack I received and the reprimand, were nothing in comparison with the feeling of horror I experienced when I saw what I had done.
It was a tough lesson to learn for a three-year-old, “jealousy is a destructive emotion and what is done cannot be undone”.
So, here I am, 56 years later and that moment is etched in my memory still, brought to mind this week, by a gas ring left burning. My sister kept the pink satin nightie until she grew out of it, by which time it was quite washed out and far less appealing. Its whereabouts after that are a mystery, probably delegated to the rag-bag.
Ironically, I still have the cotton apron that Auntie Joules bought me, all those years ago and treasure it beyond any silk or satin.
As I reached across the gas hob to retrieve a wooden spoon, I felt the heat rush up my arm. Husband had left the gas ring on, ‘simmer’. I hastily withdrew my arm before the flimsy material of my blouse could catch alight.
The waiting room at the Veterinary surgery, is empty. Flossie and I cross the threshold together. Except we don’t. Flossie takes a backward step and I have to give her a gentle tug to coax her into the room.
She twists round on her lead and makes the whole procedure somewhat difficult but, we are in, eventually.
Why are we here? Simple really. If you have read A twist in the Tail, you will know that Flossie recently had a traumatic experience involving a hedge in which she got firmly entangled. Having emerged, apparently unscathed, it transpired that, unbeknown to us, she had sustained a scratch below her ear.
Charlie, being a caring chap, has been licking this scratch for her. I discovered this, this morning and it has now created a sore patch requiring the Vet’s timely intervention.
So, here we are, standing in the waiting room, waiting to see the vet.
“Take a seat,” smiles the receptionist. I cross the floor to the bench under the window but before I can sit down, Flossie has leapt up onto the leather seat, wet muddy paws and all, and is panting wildly at the window.
I haul her down and reprimand her. Can’t she read? The notice clearly states, no animals on the seats please. Flossie doesn’t think she is an animal of course. I take a tissue from my pocket and wipe the paw marks only to find that she has twisted round and leapt right back onto the seat. She is clearly worried.
Having cleaned the seat a second time, I decide to go and wait by the door. Flossie is happier here. She can see through the glass pane and into the street. Apparently, she is happy if she can see an escape route. This makes me wonder, briefly, if she suffers from claustrophobia. This would explain her sudden determination to get out of confined spaces.
I consider the notion but dismiss it. I think she just remembers previous visits to the vet and is anxious to be gone.
We are booked in for 9.50am. At 10 o’clock, we are called.
“Barker,” says an unfamiliar, soft Irish brogue.
I look up and smile, the very good-looking, young Irish Vet beckoning us, smiles.
“Barker?” he asks.
“Well, I am Mrs Barker, this is Flossie,” I explain. Common mistake.
He laughs and makes a fuss of Floss, who is so grateful to be moving, she fairly flies into the surgery.
She is not so happy to have her face looked at.
“Wet eczema,” proclaims kind, Irish vet, “I’ll just shave the area a little to make it easier to treat,”
You will, will you?
Flossie is thinking the same thing.
My mind, and possibly hers, flits back to the last time our usual Vet tried to give her the kennel cough vaccine which is given in the form of nasal drops. Without going into detail, let me say that the entire endeavour ended with me having Floss in a stranglehold in the corner of the room while the vet, squished in with us, tried to squirt the vaccine into her nose as Flossie manfully struggled backwards and careered across the room in a blind panic.
Our usual Vet declined to give her the vaccine this year.
I convey some of this experience to new, young and kindly, Irish Vet.
He nods and smiles and suggests I hold Flossie while he uses the clippers.
I tempt her with biscuits and kind words but she is wise to what’s going on and refuses to sit still. It is at times like this that I think Floss and I are a little mismatched, she so big and me so small.
The Vet steps back and scratches his head, metaphorically speaking.
“I think I’ll take her out of her comfort zone and into the back room. I find dogs are often better away from their owners when doing this kind of thing,” he decides.
I will try anything rather than end up, bruised and battered, in the corner again.
Floss disappears into the nether regions of the practice. I am left waiting. I can hear voices. I can hear laughter but I can’t hear the sound of the clippers buzzing. I wait. I wait some more.
I hear footsteps.
Nice young Irish Vet opens the rear door and pops his head round, his expression rueful, “Had to use the scissors,” he smiles, “just putting the ointment on…and giving her an antibiotic jab, won’t be long,”
He disappears. I wait.
“All done!” a very relieved Vet reappears, with Flossie, obediently following behind.
“If you need her to have the kennel cough vaccine in future, just bring her in and we’ll take her out the back and administer it there,” he says with confidence.
I am not quite as confident as he appears to be but I will be willing to try. I smile and thank him and we make our exit with far less fuss than we entered with.
Flossie, walking sedately along the path to the car, could well be planning her next escape, however, she’ll have a job, we have had the back garden re-fenced since her last attempt.
Watch this space…
A wry look at life
Flossie here. I have to say I am feeling a little embarrassed today. I’d really rather not tell you about my latest escapade at all but if I don’t, the Boss will and she is bound to make far more of it than she needs.
I suppose I should start with the current state of play, since the days of my cunning plan.
For the past few weeks, my freedom has been curtailed. Having blocked up as many holes as she supposed I could escape from, and in between bouts of pulling her hair out, The Boss has ordered new fencing and my outings into the garden have been limited. I am either accompanied by the Boss (give her her due, she is out there in all weathers with her wellies and raincoat) and allowed to have a romp with young Charlie or, should it be dark, taken out on my lead (the indignity of it) to have a wee.
This is not so bad as it sounds as the Boss is quite good company. She doesn’t seem to mind if I forget I am on the lead and suddenly lurch off in the direction of a new smell. She seems to follow quite quickly though she does curse a little. The lead is abandoned during daylight hours for some reason. The Boss is under the delusion that she can keep an eye on me and pre-empt any escape attempts.
On some occasions, the front gate is closed and we are shooed out there though it is not half as interesting as the back garden. Having seen that I have attempted to squeeze through the main hedge in the front garden more than once, the Boss has had the Boss Man strategically place a couple of heavy pallets to thwart my attempts.
This makeshift arrangement has worked for a while without mishap. It has worked too well for my liking. Every time I venture close to the hotchpotch of fencing in the lower garden, she yells at me to stop. I do of course. I am trained you know. However, the other day, I spotted a new hole in the hedge, higher up the garden, and the Boss, evidently not suspecting its existence, was busy elsewhere.
Seizing the opportunity, I wriggled through—oh the joy—the freedom—the sudden panic when I heard the Boss yell. I knew I shouldn’t have done it but try as I might I could not quite make myself go back just yet, just have a sniff here, a snuffle there…
I returned unscathed some few minutes later through the same hole and the Boss let me in the house with a frosty look. I knew I had done wrong.
Charlie of course, goody two shoes as ever, bounced around her ankles and preened under her praise for being a good boy.
That dog will get his comeuppance one day, I thought to myself, he will slip up and she’ll see him in his true colours.
So, back to the present.
I think my misdemeanour in the back garden the other day, influences the Boss’s decision to let me run round the front garden this morning. Charlie, ever ready to join in the fun, grabs his yellow ball and tears ahead of me. The Boss decides not to accompany us. She can see us from her desk and it is a bit chilly.
After a while, I think she has actually forgotten about us because otherwise, how am I able to find the time to inspect that pallet arrangement properly? If she was out there, I might never have known that yesterday’s gale force winds have apparently dislodged one. As it is, there is a gap through which I am sure I can squeeze, just give me a few moments to gather my strength.
The front hedge is particularly dense, I should explain. Had I known just how dense, I might never have embarked on this mode of escape. As things are, I think I can squeeze between those branches and I know the road is on the other side.
Charlie, abandoning his ball, has come to investigate. Thinking to follow me, he begins burrowing further down in the hedgerow and to my chagrin, gets to the other side in record time. I make a concerted effort. My head breaks through a tangle of branches only to encounter more of the same. My body strains against the wood and briar that seem to be pinning it to the spot. This is not so easy as I first supposed. I am about to give up and retreat when I realise — I am stuck.
Oh the indignity of it. I wriggle my shoulders. I attempt to shuffle backwards. My efforts are all to no avail. I am well and truly jammed. To make matters worse, I can hear the Boss calling me.
At this point, I realise the full scale of my predicament. Not only am I wedged firmly deep inside this prickly hedge, but neither can I be seen.
Well, this isn’t so bad, I suppose, who wants to be seen in such an embarrassing situation? I keep quiet and concentrate on wriggling forward again. It is then that the Boss begins staring at the hedge and calling,
“Charlie, is that you?”
No, of course it isn’t Charlie … old goody two shoes has legged it hasn’t he?
I realise I am making a bit of noise with all this scrabbling around. The trouble is, all the boss can apparently see of me is a flash of tail. She soon realises that it does not belong to Charlie of course but when she realises it is little ol’ me encased by all that shrubbery, she doesn’t know whether to laugh or shout at me. Despite her hastily smothered chuckle, I sense she is a little concerned,
“What are you doing in there?” she asks.
Well, what does she think I am doing? Isn’t it obvious? I hope one of her cohorts won’t saunter down the road in a minute, and bear witness to this travesty.
I can see The Boss but she plainly cannot see me very well. She goes round the hedge to the roadside and peers through the branches. There really is not much to see, except a tangle of wood and briar and if she looks very carefully, a rather sorry-looking golden retriever who has by now given up.
The Boss mutters something about there being no way I’ll be able to get out on the road side of the hedge. It is far too dense. (Tell me something I don’t know?)
She stands back and surveys the problem for a second before marching round to the garden side. I cannot see her now of course. She is at my rear end. She calls me. I suppose that is just in case I am pretending to be stuck.
I try to get a foothold so I can push myself backwards but it is no use. I am doomed. I envisage being trapped here forever. Oh, woe is me.
The Boss has other ideas. She pulls back a couple of the thickest and thorniest branches so that I can at least twist round a bit. She frees my head and shoulders. However, even half turned round I am still trapped. This hedge is a jail. The thick wooden stems are its bars.
The Boss assesses the situation for a short while before she grabs the nearest branches and tugs them back a little. With a satisfying crack, the one that was caught round my leg is gone. That’s all I need. As The Boss huffs and puffs and encourages me, I take a deep breath and manage to turn all the way round. She is almost in the hedge herself now. I push myself over the final hurdle. Only the pallet stands in my way now. With an almighty effort, the Boss wrenches it aside and I hurl myself out of the abyss and into daylight.
Thank you Boss! I am overcome with emotion.
The Boss is laughing until she sees the little yellow ball on the driveway. Where is Charlie?
It makes a change for Charlie to be the one who is missing. I trot into the house and begin cleaning the brambles from my coat. The Boss spends the next half an hour, hunting for Charlie, no longer a goody two shoes. He comes home eventually of course.
What a twist in the tail indeed!
“Would you like ballet lessons, Debbie?”
The question was thrown at my 7-year-old self, by my mother who stood chatting to a neighbour, in the street. I was playing hopscotch on the broad paving slabs that lay beyond our gate, at the time and stopped, wide eyed at the prospect set before me.
I had harboured dreams of becoming a ballerina, ever since reading “Laura of the ballet school.”
“Yes please!” I breathed.
They both laughed and turned away.
I threw the pebble with renewed vigour and practically pirouetted across the slabs. I was going to have ballet lessons! I was beyond excitement.
My mother, chatting away to her friend, had no idea of the depth of my desire of course.
I waited all afternoon for her to bring the subject up. She didn’t.
Finally, unable to bear it any longer, I ventured,
“When can I start ballet lessons?”
My mother looked up from whatever it was she had been doing, in surprise.
“Oh, we’ll see,” she replied.
I sensed my excitement had been a little premature.
For the next few days I waited, growing less certain by the minute. Had I misheard? Had she not asked me if I wanted ballet lessons?
My sisters were less than encouraging.
“Ballet? You?” they said, in sisterly amazement, “You’ll be lucky.”
I tried one more time that week. I waited until I thought my mother was in a reasonable mood. This often coincided with her singing in the kitchen (she was an accomplished soprano in her youth – could have gone professional had her mother let her – she was oft heard to say.)
“When can I go to ballet school?”
“Oh don’t be silly, you wouldn’t like it,” my mother told me.
I realised something then. Adults say things they don’t mean. At least, they say things that children can easily misunderstand, especially when talking to another adult.
Later, I realised that my mother and her friend had probably been discussing the cost of ballet lessons, or the fact that Mrs so-and-so up the road was taking her daughter. They had been discussing anything but the thought of me going to lessons. I liken it to me discussing someone climbing Everest and turning to one of my own children, when small, and asking them glibly, if they would like to do the same. It would have been a rhetorical question of course. I would not have meant it to be taken with any seriousness. I would have been most surprised had that child later turned up with an ice pick and demanded to be taken to Everest.
Alas, at that precise moment, the disappointment I felt when I realised the folly of my ways, was deep.
To be fair, my view of ballet was a little romanticised at the time, but it would have been nice to have a go.
By the age of seven and a half, I had turned my attentions to the piano.
The upright piano arrived and took up residence in the dining room where it squashed itself between the sideboard and the fireplace. Police houses were not large and I am surprised it fitted anywhere, looking back. I think it had come from my grandmother’s house but I can’t be sure.
My grandmother was an accomplished piano player. No one in our house played but my parents thought it might be good to have. We children were warned not to thump the keys but we were interested. My elder sister played Chop Sticks and I copied, dreaming of becoming a famous pianist for a while.
I’d recently read a book about a girl who had fought her way, Cinderella-like to the pinnacle of musical stardom.
I didn’t ask if any lessons were coming our way. I now knew better.
Some little time later, the piano disappeared to a Great Aunt’s house. Great Aunt Grace played beautifully. That summer, while staying with this Miss Haversham look-alike, I was treated to a few lessons from her and picked up the scales and the rudiments of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. She had had the piano tuned and it now sounded beautiful.
“Perhaps your parents will get you piano lessons at home,” she encouraged.
I smiled and said nothing. We didn’t even have a piano now.
Sadly, the lessons were sporadic given the distance between us and no more was said about taking lessons at home.
The violin entered my life when I was nine years old. The school had engaged a violin teacher, at great expense apparently, and I was offered the chance to go to his lessons. I was over the moon.
I was handed a violin in its leather case, which was to be mine for the duration. I had to clean it, nurture it and love it. I did all these things. I learnt to play it like a guitar, I mastered, F A C E and E G B D F. I rubbed resin on the bow and drew it across the strings, bringing forth recognisable nursery rhymes, including, Twinkle, Twinkle, little Star. I read music and played the instrument, tucked beneath my chin, with my fellow violinists, at school concerts.
I loved my violin at first but as we progressed, touching on Chopin and Bach, I struggled a little. After two and a half years, I suppose I had doubts about the suitability of this instrument. A natural musician I was not.
At first, I merely moaned about having to go to the lessons. By the age of ten, I was actively seeking to leave.
“I’m afraid she can’t stop the lessons,” my head master told my parents, “It will be good for her to continue,”
I have never liked being told I have to do something, especially when in my eyes, it is not essential.
I began leaving my violin at home.
“I can’t go to the lesson, I’m sorry, I forgot my violin,” I’d try.
I got away with it once or twice.
My parents got a letter home,
“Deborah must remember to bring her violin to lessons,”
I was not allowed to forget it again.
I took to accidentally, ‘losing’ the case on my way to school. I’d rest it by the canteen, half hidden in the long grass and wander, casually, into class. At lesson time, I’d explain that I had ‘lost’ my violin.
Now, although I, the child, thought this a plausible excuse, the adults in the room clearly did not. A search for the violin would always end the same way. It was found.
Sometimes, they didn’t even have to search, the violin would be handed in to my class, having been found somewhere in the playground. (I was not the master of hiding places). The fact that the instrument had my name clearly printed on its case, ensured that it was never lost for long.
It was no use, I would just have to make the best of things. I dragged my violin to all the lessons. I continued to polish it¬—we shared a love/hate relationship. I practised at home, much to the family’s distress, and I performed at school concerts. Although, I do remember, just pretending to play a particularly difficult piece of music at one concert, leaving the actual playing to my fellow violinists. I don’t know if anyone noticed. I was a good mimic. I did think it was lucky that not everyone took this approach.
I endured those lessons for the remainder of my time at Primary school. I don’t think my musical prowess improved much during this period, I suspect my ability had plateaued. Yes, my repertoire now ran far beyond Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and I could read music but I lacked that essential spark.
Aged eleven, I passed the eleven plus and moved up to Grammar School. I was ecstatic, no violin. My violin had been handed back to my old school for the next, unsuspecting pupil. I was only a tiny bit sad to see it go.
My new music teacher asked if anyone had ever played an instrument, I hesitantly raised my hand.
“I used to play the violin,” I told him.
He was encouraged, I think, for a moment but I did not fall into the trap of offering to take up another instrument, I was too recently released from my last experience.
I was vaguely interested in the trumpet but thankfully, I refrained from joining that class, I was still too traumatised by my violin experience. Mr H did not press me.
For the first year, I was one of his star pupils. Several other children played instruments and read music and I easily kept up with them, using my previously learnt skills.
I performed so well in the end of year exams that I came close to the top of the class. My musical knowledge had really helped that year.
However, by the end of the second year, things had changed. My exam results were very different. Like I said, I am not a natural musician. I’d far rather listen o music than play it. The knowledge that had helped me through that first year, simply ran out. It was with some relief that I slipped into anonymity within music class.
Around that time, Great Aunt Grace, died. There were no more sporadic piano lessons. My musical career was finished before it had really got going.
Alas, I was destined never to dance in Swan Lake nor to play strings at the Albert Hall but I have no regrets. I don’t think the world is a poorer place for my failure to make the grade.
After all, I believe the pen is far mightier than the bow…
Have you ever listened to Simon Mayo’s, True Confessions, on Radio 2? Have you any of your own that deserve to be aired?
Asking myself that question, I was struck that there is something I really should confess, so here goes…
It was July 1977, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. My boyfriend of 7 months, and I, had no money between us. He was still at University, I was working for the Civil Service. We were 20 years old and looking for a cheap summer holiday.
My father, a sergeant in the police and well liked and respected by his colleagues, knew someone in the force who had a mobile home in Walton-on the-Naze, Essex, that they let to friends and family. We could have it, said my dad’s friends, for a ridiculously small fee.
We jumped at the chance.
The night before we were due to go, as I travelled home from work and waited for the bus for the last leg of the journey, a friend stopped to chat and offered me a lift home in her mini. My bus was late so I accepted. Carol walked me to where she had parked her mini.
The downside of the lift was that the mini needed a jump-start and I would be the one who had to give it that jump-start. So, with larger and taller friend at the wheel, I, 5’ 2” at a pinch, put all my strength into pushing and bumping that heap of metal.
After a few bumps, the engine spluttered into life.
I got in the car, rubbing my shoulder, which felt a little sore.
The next morning, I awoke in a little pain but was hopeful the ache would fade as the day went on.
My father was giving my boyfriend and I a lift to the camp site. A little old fashioned, he mentioned that he had told his friends that Dave and I were engaged. (This was 1977). So, my boyfriend, aka fiancé and I, packed our bags and climbed in his car. Dad dropped us at the camp site where we were introduced to the lovely middle-aged couple, Diane and Terry, who had offered to rent their beautiful mobile home to us, for a pittance. Any guilt I might have felt, at pretending to be engaged, was offset by the pain I was experiencing in my left shoulder, by this time.
The caravan was equipped with a TV but without electricity, it had to be powered by an old car battery, which sat on a plinth on the floor next to it.
“If it runs out, you can recharge it at the local garage,” explained Terry.
Thanking our benefactors and bidding my father goodbye, we prepared for our bargain week in this caravan, aptly named, Terridi.
By the evening, my neck and shoulder had seized up and Dave had to apply hot flannels to my shoulders to ease the pain.
Each day, I could only walk for a certain amount of time before the pain got too bad and we had to go back to the caravan for the application of hot flannels and a gentle massage. I think Dave enjoyed the massage, more than me. We drank wine, watched television and played cards, enjoying our solitude.
This pattern went on for several days. We’d explore in the morning and go back to the caravan for a rest and to watch some TV, in the afternoon, until my shoulder, gradually, improved.
One afternoon, sitting in the Blue Room at The Royal Albion, (out of the blue), Dave proposed. I accepted. We were officially engaged after all. He bought me a budget eternity ring and told me I should keep the news quiet as he didn’t believe in long engagements and he still had two more years at University. I agreed of course.
We couldn’t have been happier.
The night before we were due to go home, Dave decided that he would take the car battery to be recharged as a gesture of goodwill. Having no car, he had to carry it there and back again.
On his return, he heaved the battery up the steps and into the caravan. Resting it on the fabric bench, he wiped his hands on the seat of his jeans and remarked that it was heavier than he had thought it would be.
At that point, I noticed something seeping out of the battery onto the cushion covers.
‘What’s that?” I squeaked, uneasy now.
“Oh sh**! Battery acid,” Dave swore.
“Move it!,” I cried.
He hoisted the battery into the air and staggered back down the steps, setting it down on the ground. I noticed he was wiping his hands on the front of his jeans now.
I was more concerned with the state of the seat cushions. The battery acid had leaked rather badly. I grabbed a bowl and filled it with soapy water, biting back all the comments that were on the tip of my tongue.
“We’ll have to scrub it, neutralise it,” I exclaimed instead and set to with the scouring pad. The area I had cleaned looked ok. In fact, when I stood back, I could see that it was now far brighter than the rest of the bench. There was nothing for it but to shampoo the entire seat.
Meanwhile, Dave did something with the battery and sat it back on the metal plinth from which it had originated.
Hot, bothered and worried about the consequences of the battery acid eating into the fabric, I stood back to survey my handiwork. The cushions were now gleaming. We could only go to bed and hope for the best.
The next day, we hardly dare look but it was ok, the cushions looked no worse for wear. They did look incredibly clean though.
We wondered whether to leave a note to explain the mishap but decided against it. Instead, we left a thank you card, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine on the coffee table.
By the time my father appeared to take us home, we were more than ready to leave.
Later that day, walking round our home town, we had reason to climb a flight of steps. Dave went first. It was as he reached the third step that I noticed a hole appearing below his left buttock. In the era of tatty jeans, this was not in itself unusual but as I watched, another hole appeared and every time he lifted his foot to climb higher, more of the fabric seemed to disintegrate.
“Your jeans!” I hissed,
“EH?” he returned,
“They’re falling apart!” I stuttered between giggles.
Sure enough, by the time he had reached the top step, his underpants were clearly showing through the tattered denim.
Looking down he groaned. We feared that if we didn’t get home soon, his jeans would just disintegrate which made me wonder…
Were those sofa cushions really ok or did the fabric slowly rot away? Was there a time delay? I imagined that lovely couple getting up one morning for breakfast and wondering what on earth had happened to their cushions. Even worse, had the acid eaten into the floorboards and was the caravan, even now, full of holes?
We never did find out and it is only now, Dave and I having been married for 36 years, that I feel I should “’fess up”.
So, Dear Diane and Terry, if you ever wondered how your caravan seats came to disintegrate overnight, I am very sorry, it was us, the young, unengaged, but about to be engaged, couple whose intentions were good and who left you a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates, in appreciation of your generosity. We did it.
There, it’s done! I have confessed. Diane and Terry might well still remember the incident. My father died in 1986 so I can’t ask him if they ever got in touch to ask about the calamity. The jeans, by the way, had to be thrown away, what was left of them, and Dave learnt his lesson about handling car batteries.
I should also confess that that was the first time I ever used a four letter word!
Yes, it is that time of year again. The tree that was festooned in blossom in early Spring and provided shade all summer, is now ready to let go its fruit.
This would be good under normal circumstances. The tree is rooted just yards from the back door and the pears it produces are invariably juicy and sweet. There are far too many for us to use ourselves so we give lots away.
We have already handed out bags to hairdresser, daughters and work colleagues…other years have seen us putting boxes of pears outside the barn , on the roadside, for passers by to collect.
This last ploy has always been successful. Many people passing on foot, return with their cars to load a box or two into their boots.
Flossie, a lover of apples, rubber balls, bits of string and anything edible or not, loves pears too. Hence, when the initial few fall, she is first to gobble them. It is up to me to gather the pears before she gets to them. This is not the easiest of tasks.
I have to get ever more observant and compete with Flossie who can hear a pear fall from the other end of the garden. As she stands, begging to go outside, I have to find my boots and squeeze past her substantial frame. In rain or shine, bag in hand, I wander around the tree picking up any pear I may see. I check further afield and only when I am satisfied that I have them all, will I let her out.
At first there are just a few on the ground. Looking up, I can see hundreds dangling in the leaves. One strong wind and they’ll be down. I place the first few in my bag and stow them out of Flossie’s reach. Flossie is eager to get outside and of course, she will find the pear that I missed, the one that rolled into the shrubbery unseen. Ecstatic with her find, she pelts off down the garden to munch on it. The odd pear in her diet, would not be a problem of course. It is the number she eats that turn her into a bloated ball of fluff.
Every morning, I am out there, hunting for pears while Floss and Charlie stare at me from within. One morning, I collected 65 in one fell swoop, the next morning, 97. Since then, there has been a steady stream of fruit which now languishes in bags and boxes and my washing basket (all I had to hand).
Her favourite time is after dark when she can find all those pears I just cannot see. Replete, bloated and obviously in pain, she lies there panting at the end of the day and invariably, will have an accident on the kitchen floor in the night.
Every year, we have tried to forestall this situation by collecting the pears as they fall. Dave has designed weird and wonderful contraptions, mostly involving netting stretched beneath the tree, but all failed. One year, a branch, laden with fruit, grew too heavy and broke. The resulting hoard was easy to collect and resulted in several boxes set at the roadside for passers-by. If only we could catch all pears so easily!
Alas, our good intentions are thwarted, year after year.
The time has come I am afraid to take action. The pear tree has to go. Sad as we are to chop it down, it is really in the wrong place, so close to the house and in the path of our planned extension. These past weeks of pear hunting have been a pain. Flossie, who had trimmed down so nicely after last year’s feast (yes, it is that bad) is looking bloated and unhealthy again.
So, We’re going on a Pear Hunt one last time…we’re not scared…
*”We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” is a children’s book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, a favourite with my children and now my grandchildren.
Yes, another temporary crown is needed. No good wishing dental care was as good yesterday as it is today. It is What it is! A new crown is required and today I am having the temporary one fitted. Back to the dental surgery, I go.
I appear to be the only client this morning. Either that or the other clients are hidden, behind the white, surgery doors. All is eerily quiet.
The waiting room remains deceptively homely. A departure from the clinical whiteness of the surgery, so long held dear by dentists across the land, our dental team prefers a gentler approach so a leather sofa beckons and retro wallpaper decks the far wall. Waiting is the least of my worries of course. The appointment will take about an hour in total I am told.
An hour gives one a lot of thinking time so I am not put off. I can plan that story…unravel that plot. It will be good to think without the distractions of home.
I am offered a choice of in-house entertainment:
DVDs (Blue Planet or Planet Earth) or the fish tank?
(You may notice a strong, watery theme here)
I choose the fish tank. Well, it looks so calm and those little coloured fish swimming round and round the overhead screen, are so, well, to be honest, they are boring. Haven’t I seen that red fish in that exact spot several times before? Can I cope with this for an hour?
“Can I change my mind? Yes please, Blue Planet sounds good,”
(Which one did I watch before?)
“Oh, earphones too – sound effects – too loud you ask? A little loud, that’s better, thank you.”
“Yes, I am comfortable…”
“Yes I will raise my hand if I feel discomfort at any time.”
(I will try not to because I want to get this over with quickly and any amount of discomfort is preferable to a lengthy stay in this chair)
The DVD begins – it begins with the sea, shoals of fish dipping and diving, glistening under the diver’s camera light.
The overhead light winks at me as the dentist’s drill approaches. I concentrate on the dolphins opening their mouths as I open mine – fish into theirs, metal into mine…
The whirr of the drill is like nothing on earth, rattling and insistent as it seeks to dislodge the old crown. I am wondering about the advisability of choosing Blue Planet now. A storm is raging across the ocean, water swirling, rising, waves crashing against the rocks, chipping away at their surface over a millennium. The music reaches a crescendo and I am in my own storm until the drill ceases and the reluctant crown is tugged away, exposing God knows what beneath.
All is calm again.
I refuse to be dragged down into that synergy again. “Nothing to see here folks,” I want to say, as the Albatross fall prey to the great sharks in the aftermath of the storm. I allow the impressions to be taken, upper set first, pushing in so hard I think I might leave the chair.
“No, no, that’s fine, really…”
Turtles are laying eggs, scurrying across the sand – millions of eggs, there is safety in numbers. They all lay their eggs at one time, giving the hatching youngsters, maximum chance of survival against the predators that await them. A quarter will make it to the ocean. 75% will perish. A sobering thought.
I am breathing deeply, counting the seconds until the horrible putty stuff is removed.
The impressions are lifted, I remember this bit, my teeth will remain intact, I am sure. The lower set, pushed in with less force, feels no less intrusive, but takes less time.
Above me, waves continue to crash against the rocks; sea spray covers the lens.
Temporary crown is in place.
“There you are, all done,”
Is that it? 45 minutes? How quickly the time has passed; hardly time to draw a parallel between what was happening above and what was happening beneath the drill. I am elated. I have come through it all without a problem. I forgot about the story and the unravelling of the plot though – perhaps I have been more distracted than I care to admit.
On reflection, I think I have won round two, Mr Attenborough, but next visit, I think I will stick with the fish tank.
Summer slips away and Autumn ambles in. We barely notice the change in the weather until we realise another layer is required and it is no longer wise to leave one’s coat at home.
The late summer holiday we spent in Suffolk, has become a treasured, if distant, memory with its brightly coloured beach huts and softly lit fields.
All the while, we were wondering if grandchild number five would arrive while we were away. We need not have worried, Florence Bluebell chose to be born on 16th September and what a wonderous thing it is to have a granddaughter.
Her arrival, on the very day we had gathered to say goodbye to a dear, older, friend, was all the more miraculous; the old making way for the new, indeed.
On the 1st September, my mother celebrated her 90th birthday. She had stayed with us for three weeks and fully expected to be able to greet little Florence. Florence had other ideas. Still, at least Zoe managed to join us for a celebratory dinner. We were not in a library. I assure you, those books are part of the wallpaper in the country pub we were visiting.
It has been quite an emotional month, all in all, so far. That may explain why I am at present, feeling like the Silent Assassin.
It began when I mentioned to one of my daughters that the creepy crawlies in the barn were freaking one of our regular overnight guests out when she stays. Elizabeth pointed me in the direction of a bug bomb.
“They really work!” she enthused.
I duly ordered some.
Today, I shut all the windows and doors in the barn and removed all utensils and items of food. I set the can in the middle of the floor and followed the instructions. (This was not easy as the print was so small that I had had to use a magnifying glass to read it earlier and had resorted to Googling the instructions.) I went back into the house and watched the YouTube video again which clearly showed me what to do. There really is a YouTube for everything, I find.
“Remove the cap and press down firmly then rotate the top in a clockwise direction,”
Back in the barn, I unscrewed the cap and pressed down hard on the top. I didn’t get a chance to rotate; the thing went off like a firework, hissing noxious fumes into the atmosphere. I remembered the next instruction – “vacate the room”.
Having left the bomb for the required two hours, I armed myself with a hand held Dyson and returned.
All was almost eerily quiet. The bomb sat there, benign, exhausted. I looked around, dreading what I might see. At first, I didn’t see much. Then I noticed some tiny bodies on the carpet. I vacuumed them up. I began looking further afield…
Curled up spiders of varying sizes appeared to have dropped from the eaves. I pointed the nozzle at them and blinked back a tear…I kid you not, I felt terrible. As those poor little bodies were sucked into the nozzle, I had to remind myself that this was a kindness to Abigail.
As I reached behind the dressing table, the bottom of the Dyson fell open and the drum emptied onto the floor. This was almost too much for my sensibilities. Trying not to look, I closed the drum and pointed the nozzle bravely at the carnage on the carpet.
Emptying the bomb and its victims into the dustbin, I felt incredibly sad. Yet collecting an enormous spider from the bath, in a glass and throwing it down the lavatory the other day, had given me no such qualms.
I have two more bombs left. Whether I use them or not is open to debate. Maybe I am just not tough enough…
I am not cut out to be a silent assassin it seems.