Courting Couple

Marion parked the car by the hedge. In the back, her dog, Maurice, lumbered to his feet, ears alert and tongue alternately lolling, and lapping his black muzzle. He was, like Marion, in his middle years but unlike his mistress, still longed to run, and chase a ball.

They visited this disused chalk quarry almost every day. In early summer it was a mass of rare flowers and plants. Butterflies danced between orchids and vetch, and Damsel Flies hovered low on the hard-mud tracks that circumnavigated and crisscrossed the flat piece of land that lay between sloping, chalk-bald sides, rimmed at their upper edges by sparse woodland and beyond, on one side, a road.

Now, in late summer, Marion had thought that autumn was upon them. The evenings had cooled, were cold even, and the balmy days, sitting with Keith, gin in hand, watching House Martins plunging grubs into the tiny bills under next door’s eves, were ended for the year.  Now, however, a humid and intense heat from a late August sun, had brought forth more butterflies and a brief opportunity for outdoor living.

A grass hopper fizzed from the verge as she slammed shut her door and lifted the tailgate to release Maurice.  She caught up a chucker with a slime flattened tennis ball clenched in its yellow, plastic jaws, and closed and locked the car.

The dog strained to be released, wheezing against the noose of lead. There were no other cars nearby and apart from birdsong there was a heavy silence on this bank holiday Monday afternoon. This area was a dog-walker’s paradise and one got to know regulars, some well enough to nod and say, ‘lovely day’ to, others, who became friends.

Marion made the dog sit, and pulled off his lead, then launched the ball over the gate and down into the grass. She needed both hands to negotiate the uneven ground and the drop into the chalk meadow. Maurice leapt away, found the ball, sniffed around in the willow herb and clover then cocked his leg on a clump of grass before trotting back to meet her, tail waving and tongue lolling from his huge smile. He dropped the ball at her feet and began to run before she had even picked it up.

She raised her arm to throw. This would be their pattern as they paced twice round the circumference. She would walk, throw and shout, he would sniff, shit and pee.

They turned to the right to join the main track and Marion took in a deep breath. The smells of a dying summer rose from the ground: decaying vegetation, fragrant last-minute flowers and burgeoning blackberries and elderberries. She had stored blackberries, steeped in gin, in a dark cupboard under the stairs. The liquor would be perfect by Christmas. She pushed the thought of Christmas from her mind. Not in this sunshine.

Something attracted her gaze. There was a figure, maybe more than one, sitting or lying on the sloping ground on the far side of the quarry. How lovely. A picnic on this beautiful day. She threw the tennis ball again and directed her feet on their usual route, towards the diners and round the edge of the field.

As she drew closer, she realised that there were two figures, a courting couple. She dismissed the quaint phrase. These two were very definitely not courting. She drew closer, undeterred by the intimacy of their actions, this was, after all, her regular route, and the pair seemed oblivious to her presence.  The scene was tender. There was certainly a girl although all Marion could see of her were a pair of smooth plump legs extending either side of the kneeling, fully clothed back and buttocks of a young man. The girl’s legs terminated in a pair of white trainers.  The boy stooped towards her, his movements tender and unhurried. His push-bike lay beside him on the ground. Now, this close, Marion couldn’t, in all decency, look. She threw the ball again and walked on past, staring at a pair of orange butterflies that settled on the ground in front of her and took off a moment later, at the approach of her well booted feet. She wondered at the audacity of the act she had just passed. The young people had placed themselves in clear view of the gate and the road. They could have lain in the woodland, just beyond, but had chosen instead the glorious warmth of the afternoon to make their love.

In her menopausal, dried up state, Marion felt no lust, neither did she feel disgust, only a sense of loss. Nostalgia drew her back. Marion had once lain under the sun, half distracted by the sound of a distant tractor, half by her lover’s caress. Precious brushes of tongue, lips, fingertips. Savouring each miniscule, unhurried, electric movement. Was that so long ago? It was another life. Not better, just different.

She strode on, feeling a little puffed and promising herself a healthy meal this evening.

On her second circuit, she took a diagonal path, avoiding the couple, wondering if they had consummated their act. Two more cars were parked by the gate now and heads bobbed along various footpaths.

Back at the car, Maurice slumped on the floor, slobbering wet spots onto her rolled up coat. She started the engine and manoeuvred the small car round a CRV that had almost blocked her in.

At home she parked on the drive behind Keith’s BMW, and released Maurice, who plodded to the door, desperate for water.  This late sun had given the lawn an extra spurt of growth and she hoped that Keith would notice before she had to press him to mow it.

She opened the front door.

‘I’m back.’

‘Good walk?’ Her husband’s voice reached her from the office, his hideaway, her excuse to watch Casualty, alone with only a box of chocolates for company. She stuck her head into the room.

‘Lovely. There are still butterflies. So peaceful. Not a soul about.’ She smiled at him. ‘Cup of tea?’

‘Yes please.’

It’s the school holidays so…

So I have time to blog, write, paint and generally catch up on domestic responsibilities. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. What has actually happened is that the time is, mainly enjoyably, slipping through my fingers. Nevertheless, here I am writing at last.

My dear uncle, mentioned in the previous post, departed this life recently. This was a devastating event, especially for his children, my cousins, and his older sister, my mum, who hobbled to the lectern and spoke very movingly at his funeral. Afterwards I was able, in his memory, to break my diet at the wake, on sandwiches, and a scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I gained half a pound when weighing in at  Slimming World on only my second week.

Death is not funny, but it is inevitable and over the years I, somewhat morbidly, have collected anecdotes about the interesting and sometimes amusing circumstances relating to it. This preoccupation might explain why I write books about people dying. Take a look here to read the first (so far the only, and I should be working on its sequel now – not blogging).

It is one of the characteristics of Brits, that we make a joke about the most terrible events – perhaps it is because we are not so good at putting our feelings into words. To many this tendency will seem horrible and insensitive, but you have to believe that we have the feelings, it’s just one of the ways we face the world with them.

Wood engraving by P. May, 1901. Published in Punch

My first story came from Woman’s hour,  years ago, and I believe the theme was that you can bury your loved ones in any way you choose. Something like that. The interviewee was a lady, let’s call her Imelda, I hope this wasn’t her real name, I don’t remember anything about her apart from what she did.

Imelda’s mother died after a long and disabling illness that kept her house-bound. Prior to her decline, Mum had been active and had many friends, but the friends had become equally disabled by age and so were unable to visit her before she died.

Upon her mother’s demise, Imelda decided not to leave her with the funeral directors and instead brought her and her coffin home, so that she could chat to mum and say her goodbye’s thoroughly. I’m not sure how long this took but having satisfied this desire, Imelda popped the coffin into the back of the car and took her mother to visit all her decrepit friends, so that they could bid her farewell, too. One can’t help wondering how the friends felt about this but clearly they were polite and offered tea and biscuits – to Imelda of course, this isn’t a Monty Python sketch.

Having done this, Imelda took her parent to her favourite spot, for a last look at  the view before she was returned to the funeral director’s for her final exit.

The second story is more a situation that tickled me, about a woman whose husband dropped dead while they were away on holiday in their caravan. He fell straight down the middle of the ‘van  so that she had to step over his body each time she made a cup of tea for the paramedics (we used to call those, ambulance men, I don’t think there were any ambulance women then, but now there are, it does seem more appropriate to give them a generic name). This picture has stuck in my head for years – I told you I was morbid.

More recently, the mother of a neighbour’s son-in-law died. The funeral was sad but went according to plan and the wake was held in the deceased lady’s beautiful garden.

The guests stood under the trees in the rolling lawns, sipping wine and nibbling on canapees when there was a gasp, and one of the older members of the group dropped down dead.

An ambulance was called and while the crew attempted, unsuccessfully, to revive the poor guest, the son of the lady whose funeral it actually was, had to make polite conversation with the remaining guests. Ghastly.

Finally, this week, here in Pebbleditch, a death with a hopefully happy ending:

I have changed the names and written this from my imagination as I was not actually present. Apologies if I got anything wrong.

Our village has been lucky enough to have a new football pavilion and the opening ceremony – albit some months after it started to be used – was held last Sunday. The celebration was also to induct local people in the use of the new defibrillator, installed on the wall of the building.

An expert in heart disease explained the symptoms that might indicate that a person was about to have a heart attack.

Raymond, the Vice Chair of the Parish Council, was sitting on a bench next to a somewhat generously proportioned gentleman.

‘The first sign might be profuse sweating,’ The instructor informed the audience.

Raymond looked at the man, who was sweating profusely.

‘Next the patient may become pale…’

The colour drained from the man’s face.

‘The victim may also become short of breath.’

At this point, the fat guy panted for a bit then dropped to the ground with a coronary thromboses. His heart stopped working and he had in fact, died.

You may be surprised to read that there were a number of paramedics on the scene and a defibrillator. He is now in a specialist hospital making his recovery.

I don’t know how to finish this post except with a joke, borrowed from my brother’s play, Losing Louis:

An old lady was very upset as her husband William had just passed away.  When she visited the undertakers to have a final look at her dear hubby she became distraught. Through her tears she explained to the undertaker that she was heartbroken to see her dearest William wearing a black suit, when it had been his wish to be buried in a blue one. The undertake apologised profusely, explaining that they always put bodies in a black suit, but he would see what he could arrange.

The dear lady returned the next day to have one last moment with William and when the undertaker pulled back the curtain, she smiled through her tears because William was smartly clad in a blue suit. ‘That’s wonderful,’ the lady cried, ‘but where did you get that beautiful suit?’

‘Well,’ explained the Undertaker, ‘Yesterday afternoon after you left, a man about your husband’s size was brought in and he was wearing a blue suit. His wife was quite upset because she wanted him buried in the traditional black suit.’

William’s wife smiled at the undertaker. ‘That’s such good luck. So you swapped the suits over.’

‘Oh no,’  the undertaker replied…

‘We just swapped the heads.’

Boom boom!

She who must not be named

Our life, as you may have gathered from your avid reading of these posts, is a confusing mix of technology and creativity, fitted around a number of domestic and canine responsibilities.

The last fortnight has been further complicated by an uncle with cancer, currently at the mercy of a caring but overstretched NHS,  parents celebrating a 65th Wedding anniversary, and a letter emphasising a financial obligation we have been trying to ignore.

The upshot of this is that I have been cooking for England (very enjoyable and creative), obtaining quotes from builders and zooming off to the hospital on my days off.

Time has become tight, and this fact stimulated a conversation about how technology could benefit my life (in the humble opinion of my husband). We are talking about his other woman again, she who must not be named (in case she buts in to our conversation to tell us a joke, or apologise for not being able to answer a question we never asked her in the chuffing first place).

Up until today, I have been delighted to be able, vocally, to add items to my shopping list, while, with an erratic record of success, Alexa has inserted some of that list into my on-line Tesco shopping cart, with no intervention from me.  As a system, it is not that reliable, sometimes the thing she adds to the list is so far removed from the thing I intended that I have difficulty remembering what it should have been. On other occasions, I get the right thing but in the wrong form, so I might say, ‘Alexa, add sweetcorn to my shopping list,’ and get the frozen stuff when I always buy ‘Ho ho ho Green Giant‘.

I don’t mind this complication too much, because the very fact of being able to add something to the shopping list while my hands are plunged into the washing up water, or covered in flour and pastry, is the greater part of the benefit for me. Of course Whizz was straight to the rescue anyway. The shopping would be better served, not with Tesco, who apparently pull the data from Alexa, but with Ocado, who push it. I think that’s right. What I mean is that instead of me adding an item to my list then Tesco fetching it, I tell Alexa to ask Ocado to put an item into my trolly. In this way, stocks and options are checked by Ocado before the request is processed.

Alexa gets quite chatty during the process. ‘How does this sound.’ she asks, ‘Green Giant sweetcorn four pack?’

I can ask for alternatives and she will offer them, and when I have the item I want I say, ‘Yes’, and she asks if I want to add anything else, and so it continues. She gets a little belligerent if, as I did when I couldn’t get the words out, or the options she was offering were not suitable, I simply said ‘Stop’

‘OK,’ she spat, ‘Goodbye,’

The next time, I tried being more polite and said, ‘Thank you,’ when she got an item right.

She asked ‘Did you say thank you?’

‘Yes’ I replied to which she said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t find an item called thank you.’

It’s all about the language, you see. She needs to be asked using exactly the right terminology, without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Attempting to order Splenda Minis (artificial sweetener tablets) I said ‘Splenda Millie…’ then corrected to ‘Minnies’,

‘Sorry, she replied, ‘I can’t find Splenda Millie-Minnies.’ Whizz and I got the giggles, which confused her even further. From this day forth those tablets will be known in our family as Millie-Minnies.

And  another saying enters our (for some) already baffling family vocabulary.

Guest Jest 1

We hear a lot of funny stories from (not about) our guests so I have decided that in addition to Child Stories I should have this new series called Guest Jest. The first of these, the flippy floppy hat, has already been posted as the third funny thing,  under a different title in a previous article.

I somehow think that most of these stories are destined to come from one, special guest, The Engineer. The Engineer has been staying with us once a week since 8th September 2015, so we know him quite well. We are acquainted, directly or indirectly, with his family and friends too, in fact it’s true to say that he is a ‘Paying Friend’. The Engineer brings beer and (usually) fixes broken things, so we like him a lot.

This week, The Engineer has had an eventful time both domestically and socially.

At home, some impending visitors caused his wife to insist that he fix the defective flush mechanism on their loo.

The toilet was prone to flush continuously unless the button was prodded and thumped.  On investigation, he decided that a new mechanism was required so he removed the cistern and replaced the flush mechanism, returned the cistern to its place again and flushed. Sadly, water began dribbling from its connection with the pipe. It didn’t take a genius to conclude that there was a leak where before there had been none.

It being difficult to detect exactly what was leaking, The Engineer removed the cistern and enlisted his wife to help find it (the leak). He half filled it (the cistern) with water and sat in the conservatory with it resting on his parted knees while Wifey knelt below, trying to see what had gone wrong. The underside of the tank was wet so she got some kitchen roll and began to dry the area.

This was the point at which things went wrong. It seems that the workings of the newly fitted flush mechanism were nearby, and quite by accident the poor lady set it off. The result was a face full of water for her and filled shoes for him – and a lot of mopping up.

I was trying to find a funny image of a woman with a wet face when I remembered this. It’s me after an unexpected downpour while walking the dog.

Toilet fixed, The engineer set off for his weekly commute from Surrey, bunking at various places, including ours. On this particular evening we were to be deprived of his company; he was to dine with some colleagues. Lucky him, he was being driven to the restaurant.  After a brief chat with us he set out to walk towards his workplace, intending to meet his chauffeur en route. He wasn’t sure what car the guy drove but was relieved when a red Ford Focus, driving towards him, indicated and pulled across the road, stopping a little behind him.

He swung round and opened the rear door. There was a large rucksack on the rear seat, right where he wanted to sit so he grabbed it to move it to the other side of the car. Suddenly a hand shot out from the driver’s side and gripped his wrist. He looked up, into the eyes of a compete stranger. Wrong car!

This puts me in mind of another story, also hear-say but I have no reason to disbelieve it:

Many years ago LH and I had some friends with the strangely normal names, Michael and Karen. These friends were responsible for introducing us to a load of Hooray Henries who called one another ‘Chap’.  From M and K we also learned where in Kinsale, Ireland, we could go for a drink, in every one of the 24 hours that made up an average day, and how to lose at Poker. They owned a bulldog called Horace that was partial to a Vindaloo curry – that’s not relevant but adds to the somewhat eccentric nature of the people concerned.

The couple (Karen eventually ran off with the plumber) lived in a house in the Midlands, a quaint place with oak beams. Their drinks  cabinet – this is relevant – was an old pine corner cupboard, mounted on the wall in the sitting room.

The Hooray Henries treated Michael and Karen’s house like home. They would often wander in for a drink when they were passing. Eventually, M and K moved to a larger house but may have failed to mention this to one or two of their more irritating acquaintances. As a result, one afternoon, a particularly gormless ‘chap’ wandered into the house and proceeded to help himself to a drink from the pine cupboard.

He heard footsteps coming down the wooden stairs and turned to raise his glass to Karen. The person who met his gaze was neither Karen, nor was he delighted to meet him.

The only moral I can think of is: Never call anyone ‘Chap’ as in ‘Hello Chap, how are you?’ I apologise to all public school persons who don’t do this – never would I describe you as Hooray Henries, even if you happen to be Members of Parliament.

Child Quote 15

I suppose, really, that Mavis should no longer be called a child, now that she is 18, however she is still my child and this is my blog so I’m continuing the Child Quote theme.

We are in the Easter holidays; both of us at home. This is a rare opportunity for me to have some quality time with Mavis – when she gets up, and doesn’t have her nose pressed to her phone. Today we went out for lunch and then to see The Greatest Showman. The film was not my favourite, but it entertained me enough to keep me awake, and Mavis enjoyed it, which is enough for me.

It was while dining that conversation led to my proposal that, as there was a bit of time, perhaps we could browse around a couple of clothes shops. ‘I feel like a change of look. Give myself a bit of style,’ I said.

‘You already have a style,’ Mavis replied. Aah, was this daughter of mine about to pay me a compliment?

‘Do I?’

‘Yeah, Batty Old Teacher style.’

I paused, thinking that I rather liked the idea of looking a bit batty. ‘I don’t mind looking like a batty teacher,’ I said. ‘Like Mrs Slopes?

‘No,’ Mavis corrected, ‘A batty old teacher. Mrs Slopes looked like a batty teacher, but you look like the kind of teacher that makes the kids wonder if you’re a witch.’

I think I prefer her when she’s ignoring me.