Bike 351–400

Easy As

Falling Off A Bike

Parts 351–400

by Angharad

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Easy As Testing For EPO! Part 351

I heard Stella’s footsteps retreat into the bedroom, and quietly opened the door. I peered into the bedroom: she was sitting up in bed reading. I walked purposefully towards the bed and got in, pulling the bedclothes over me.

“Hmm, you’ve marked your face with that stupid pack,” she said.

“It’ll heal,” I said dismissively.

“Ooh, get you, macho girl!”

“Can we stop this messing around? I’m finding it very wearing.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know exactly what I mean, Stella. I’ve told you I don’t do practical jokes and I don’t do girl on girl stuff. If you want to do it, that’s fine, but not in my room or with me.”

“Okay, that’s pretty plain. I was only trying to have some fun, I didn’t mean you any harm.”

“I did indicate earlier that I wasn’t into such fun, but you wouldn’t listen. So now, I’m feeling anything but ‘fun’ like. In fact, I feel quite upset.”

“Oh, Cathy, I really didn’t mean to upset you. I suppose I got a bit carried away. I’m sorry.” She stared at me and then saw the tears. “You’re not joking are you?”

I couldn’t answer I felt so choked up. I shook my head but the tears continued to trickle down my face. I felt so disappointed that the weekend I’d hoped would be so good, was anything but.

“Do you want me to go? Maybe I’d better.” She began to get out of the bed.

I shook my head, “No, I don’t want you to go. I love my sister, I thought she loved me.” Then the dam broke and I bawled my head off.

Stella came and sat alongside me, and hugged me as I howled, she was crying too. “I do love you, Cathy; I do love you. Truly, I do.”

“Why did you have to hurt me?” I sobbed.

“I didn’t mean to, I got carried away.” She was sobbing nearly as much as I was, “Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“But you keep doing it, I don’t like it, and I keep telling you—but you don’t listen.”

“I’m listening now—baby sister, I’m listening now.” She hugged me tighter than ever.

I didn’t know if I could believe her or trust her ever again and I felt I had to say so. “If you do this to me again, I will never speak to you ever again.”

“I won’t, Cathy, I swear I won’t.”

“I don’t know if I can believe you, because it seems you can’t stop it.”

“I will stop, I won’t do it to you, ever, ever again. Please don’t shun me, Cathy, I couldn’t cope with that; I really couldn’t. I really would die, I really would.”

I put my arm around her, “I love you,” I said, “as my sister. I always wanted a sister.”

“Oh, Cathy, I hate myself, I really do, please forgive me. I love you too and I always wanted a sister as well. We are made for each other, why do I always spoil it?”

There was a knock at the door and Tom poked his head around, “Everything all right?”

I nodded at him, “Yeah, we’re just doing some girly stuff. It’s okay.”

“Sure?” he asked.

I nodded, “Sure,” I said and he closed the door.

“He probably thinks we’re barmy,” said Stella.

“He’d be quite right, we are. Look at us, two grown women weeping in each other’s arms. We probably look a right pair of plonkers.”

Stella started to laugh, an infectious laugh and I joined her. If Tom had looked in now, he’d have sent for the men in white coats, the ones with the straitjackets.

“We’re a right pair, aren’t we?” she said and we started to laugh again, a little at first, egging on each other until we were helpless with mirth. My tummy began to hurt from the giggling.

“I don’t know about you, but I need a cuppa,” I said and got out of bed.

“Yeah, okay,” agreed Stella and we ended up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting, until about one o’clock on the Sunday morning. An early bike ride, there was not going to be.

I awoke at nine, my eyes were all red and sticky from the night before and I had to bathe them with some warm water. Stella was still asleep when I left her and went in search of some breakfast.

Tom was in the kitchen: he was reading a Sunday paper, which presumably he had gone out and got. I made myself some cereal and sat and looked at the sports pages. Nothing on cycling, so no change there then! How could they do fourteen pages of bloody football? I folded it up and threw it down on the floor.

“No cycling?” said Tom, peeping over the top of his glasses and the edge of the paper.

“Very funny,” I rebuked him.

“How about this then?” He shoved the colour magazine in front of me.

“Jeez, Vickie Pendleton in the buff,” my heroine, well one of them perched on her bike wearing just a helmet!

“I like the new women’s strip,” said Tom, sniggering.

“Yeah, you would,” I retorted indignantly.

“Now, now,” he said firmly, “No one has forced her to pose, nor did anyone force you to look at it.”

“Yeah, all right, although I don’t know if it enhances her reputation or diminishes it.”

“Enhances, definitely. Let’s face it. She has a nice body, so why not show it?”

“Because she wants to be seen as a serious athlete, not a bimbo on a bike.”

“I don’t think anyone who’s seen her ride, would think that, would they?”

“I’ll bet they don’t have one of Chris Hoy inside, wearing the same kit,” I said angrily.

“No, probably not. Would you be pleased if they did?”

“Rob Hayles, I would.” I smiled at him.

“Oh, the one they had to leave out.”

“Yeah, that was total nonsense, you watch—they’ll monitor him for the next three weeks and all it’ll show is he has a high natural haemocrit level.”

“What’s a haemocrit?” asked Stella walking into the kitchen.

“A blood result. They measure your blood cells, especially red ones. If you have too many, it could mean you are using something like EPO, which causes the marrow to produce more red cells.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” asked Stella. Her gaze fell on the cover of the magazine, “Oh, she’s nice, who is she?”

“It can cause a form of polycythaemia,” said Tom.

“Me nurse, you nutty professor,” said Stella. “Who’s this?” She pointed at the magazine.

“Pendleton,” I said, without disguising my disapproval.

“Nice body,” said Stella.

“That’s what I thought,” said Tom, “Germain Greer, here, thought it was verging on pornography.”

“I didn’t say that,” my indignation rising.

“Not in so many words,” he replied.

“I suppose she wanted Lance Armstrong on the cover?” offered Stella.

“No, Rob somebody or other,” Tom corrected.

“Rob Hayles. I’m going up to change, then I’m going for a bike ride. If you’re coming Stella, don’t take all morning.” With that I vacated the kitchen feeling irritable. Maybe I needed to see Dr Thomas, things were getting to me that usually I took in my stride. I wondered if I should just move on and forget everyone and everybody here. Were they worth the effort? I went up to my bedroom filled with all sorts of questions.

Easy As Talking In Hype Part 352

I changed into my cycling stuff. Part of me wanted to just go off for a blast, do some climbs and work off my bad temper and part of me wanted Stella to catch the bike bug and want to ride regularly.

I was wearing my Saunier Duval kit complete with arm and leg warmers when I went down, carrying my shoes as they are so uncomfortable to walk about in. I sat in the kitchen to put them on.

“I hope you come back in a better mood,” said Tom looking over the top of the paper.

“Yeah, okay.” I didn’t want to discuss it, to admit I was being juvenile or worse, to go off on one again.

“Stella is coming with you, so please give her a minute to change.”

“Okay, I said I’d wait.” I finished fixing my shoes, they are a ratchet variety so lock quite tightly to the foot. “I’ll get the bikes out,” I said and left the kitchen.

I checked out both the bikes—I would ride the Specialized today. Stella’s Trek was okay as it should be, and I stood waiting for her, doing some stretches as I waited.

She appeared about five minutes later and took her bike from me. “What sort of ride are you up for today?”

“Nothing too challenging,” she said as she cocked her leg over the saddle. “I suppose you’d prefer to go mountaineering, wouldn’t you?”

“If you mean hill climbing, it does tend to give a better work out, but I appreciate you wouldn’t like too big a hill to train on.”

“I don’t know if I’d appreciate a small one either,” she said as we approached the road.

“Okay, I’ll see what I can do.” I led her off along the coast, although even here it gets hilly, where harder rock occurs in the chalk or sandstone. We rode at a modest pace and every now and again, when I knew there was a roundabout coming up, I’d belt off and come back to her.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go that fast,” said Stella, she was puffing after a couple of miles of relatively slow speed.

“Does it matter? It’s all about finding your own level of enjoyment. I’d like to get fitter and faster and possibly race.”

“I don’t think I could,” puffed Stella.

“I didn’t think I could either, when I first started. In fact, while at my original uni, I was told to join the girlies because I was so bad,”

“That explains a lot of things,” said Stella, laughing.

“Yeah, I thought it explained everything. I only did the change so I could ride bikes with a lower crossbar.”

“And not have anything to catch on them, you mean?”

“That as well.”

We did a circuit of about fifteen miles, after which she was blowing a bit, so I led us home. There I left her at the gate and went off to do another fifteen at a faster rate. I came home tired but calmer, and after wiping down my bike went for a shower.

I did a salad for lunch, with some fresh bread which we all seemed to enjoy, however, shortly after lunch it was time to take Stella back to her ‘cell’ at the clinic.

“I wish I could take the bike back with me,” she said, “I could get some practice in then.”

“Would they allow you to ride offsite?” I asked as we were packing up the car.

“I don’t see why not, I’m hardly going to run off in cycling shorts, am I?”

“I don’t know if the bike shop would allow you to borrow it long term, maybe if I went and saw them tomorrow, they’d let you keep it for the week.”

“That’s meaning you’d have to come and get me next weekend, or the bike at any rate.”

“Or Simon?” I queried, “he could borrow my rack, I’m sure it would fit his car. Or take the front wheel off and it would go in the back of his.”

“That’s true. Would you go and see them in the shop? Tell them to call me if they have a problem, and I’ll give them my card number over the phone.”

“Course I will. Anything else to go in the boot?” There wasn’t, so I put on the bike rack and attached Stella’s bike. I also loaned her a U-lock. It would be embarrassing if she got it nicked while at the clinic. She told me she intended keeping it in her room. I wondered if that would be permitted. As all of this was to encourage her to return to normal life, I couldn’t see a problem, but I don’t run the place, which is just as well—I can’t cope with dissenting dormice.

The drive up was okay, we chatted like we’d never been separated. “You know, we’ve travelled quite a long way together,” said Stella.

I wasn’t sure where it was going so I opted for the silly reply, “Well according to the odometer, it’s only about thirty miles, so far.”

“I didn’t mean that literally, as you well know.”

“Yeah, okay, we’ve been through a few things together.” I decided I would agree.

“You have changed so much, from shy little boy to up-front woman.”

“Don’t know if I like the description of me as a woman. I mean, what’s up-front, supposed to mean?”

“Confident, occasionally brash or reckless, out-going.”

“I can see where you’re coming from,” I accepted, “not entirely sure what it’s supposed to mean, because half of those qualities are more masculine than feminine.”

“Yeah, you’re right; Cathy is twice the man, Charlie was.” She smirked at me.

“Hey, that isn’t what I meant—I mean, I’m gentle and retiring,” I protested.

“Sure you are, gentle as in meaning a maggot, and retiring as going to bed at night.” She laughed as she paused to consider what she had just said.

“Me, a maggot who goes to bed? Well thank you, sister-in-law. That really was too kind of you. If you don’t behave, you’re gonna find yourself cycling the rest of the way to the funny farm.”

“You don’t frighten me, Cathy Watts. Maybe I could stretch the gentle to that of the landed classes, so you’re then a prospective aristocat.”

“Aristocat? Don’t you mean aristocrat?”

“Not in your case, you can be quite miaowish when the mood takes you.”

“Ha!” I almost shouted, “A fine case of the pot calling the kettle, black. Look in the mirror, nursey! Take the mote out of your own eye, leave my specks alone.”

“I see you’re not denying it then,” Stella challenged me.

“It’s not me who is in denial,” I threw back at her.

“That’s a something of a contradiction,” she replied.

“What is?”

“It’s not me who’s in denial, if you’re denying something, isn’t that denial. No wonder you’re such a lousy scientist. Your logic is very poor.”

“What? How dare you?” I said with as much indignation as I could muster. “You a bloody artisan, knocking me an accredited scientist, huh!”

“Artisan? You cheeky cow, I’m a professional in one of the oldest medical professions.”

“Cobblers, it might be one of the oldest professions, or a branch of.” I was implying exactly what you’re all thinking as regards, oldest profession, “modern nursing has been a profession in its own right only for half a century or so, if that. Before that, it was ward maids and doctor’s lackeys. Between the wars, nurses used to scrub the wards, floors and all, pity they don’t do it now, there’d be less MRSA about.”

“I don’t scrub floors any more than you expect to do so in your precious laboratory. Plus much of what we do in nursing is evidence-based practice.”

“Evidence of what, that it isn’t science?” I taunted, “Most of doctoring and all nursing, is an art based upon the experience and skill of the performer.”

“What?” she shrieked and I giggled. “Shows how much, or should I say, little you know about nursing.”

“Yeah, yeah, any silly bugger could mop a fevered brow or empty a bed pan.”

“I suppose it takes a real scientist to stand in front of a room full of people and drop a dormouse down her blouse?”

I blushed, she had found my weakest spot. “Yeah, course, why, you wanna try it?”

“No thank you; I think dormice are cute, but preferably in the wild whilst I’m indoors.”

“A non-scientist would have suffocated it, not known where to catch her and return her unhurt to her cage.”

“That wasn’t science, it was a combination of juggling and good fortune. That poor little rat could have asphyxiated in that push-up bra of yours. I mean there’s so much padding, I’m surprised she didn’t try to build a nest out of it.”

We were still trading insults when the clinic hove into view. “Oh shit!” said Stella, “who am I going to fight with before next weekend?”

“How the hell do I know? See, a proper nurse would have known that!”

“Hey, bitch, just get my bike off the back and bring it to my room,” she snapped at me.

“Get you, lady muck! Carry your own bloody luggage, I’m not a native coolie.”

“Is there a problem here?” asked a third voice and we both spun round in surprise.

“No,” we said in unison.

“I thought I heard a violent argument,” said the man in the suit.

“Not us,” said Stella. I shook my head in agreement.

“I can’t see anyone else about,” insisted the man.

“I think you could have misheard us,” I offered.

“Misheard you?” he queried.

“Yes, we were having a competition to see who could insult the other in the context of what we were doing, so it had to follow those parameters, erm, you know meet the context,” I continued my total lie.

“Absolutely, and I think Cathy was winning, she’s more insulting than I am.”

My eyes narrowed and Stella smirked.

“Hmm! A likely tale, but as I can’t disprove it I’ll have to accept it.” He turned to leave.

“Excuse me, who are you?” I asked.

“Me,” he turned and looked me up and down, “I’m Dr von Josef, the director of the clinic, who are you?”

“I’m Lady Cameron, and this is Lady Cameron too.”

“No wonder you’re in a place like this, you’re crazy!” he said loudly.

“John, stop bothering those two ladies, it’s time for your meds,” called a voice we both recognised as one of the staff. He glowered at us and walked towards the building. Stella looked at me and sighed, then we both almost collapsed onto the ground laughing.

Easy As Calling On A Mic. Part 353

The drive back from Sussex seemed long and tedious—I did miss Stella. It was getting dark as I parked the car and walked to Tom’s house. It suddenly struck me, how generous he was in taking me in for a short period, which had grown to become my regular home. I would have to see how Margaret and Greg Soames were getting on too, especially as they would be using my ‘family’ home.

I opened the door and Tom was standing just inside. “Oh hello,” he said.

I threw my arms around him and kissed him on the cheek.

“Oh,” he said, “What have I done to deserve that?”

“Tom, you are just bloody wonderful.”

He blushed and was speechless for a moment. “Goodness, recognition at last,” he said to the hall carpet.

“I am dying for a cuppa,” I said walking past him.

“How was Stella, going back I mean?”

“Fine, we were having a friendly argument and this old bloke comes up to us and tells us off. He was wearing this expensive suit, so when he said he was the medical director, we believed him.”

“I take it he wasn’t?”

“No he was one of the loonies.”

“That a clinical term is it?”

“Okay,” I said blushing myself, “one of the clients. Better?”

“Yes, that I recognise.”

“Well they are all crazies, it’s why Stella feels so at home.”

“Cathy, that is very uncharitable.”

“Talk to Stella about it, poor little rich girl syndrome, booze or drugs and boredom.”

“Do me a coffee, will you?”

“Won’t that keep you awake?” I certainly wouldn’t drink coffee that resembled mud from the River Hamble.

“If it does, it’s my problem, not yours.”

“Fine, I only asked.”

“Stop asking pointless questions and make the coffee.”

“Yes, my lord and master.”

“No, that is Simon, I’m just your boss, elder and better.”

“You forgot all round nice guy.”

“Tut tut, how careless of me, okay include that in my entry in Who’s Who.”

“Are you in it then?” I was quite taken aback by this revelation.

“In what? Where’s that ruddy coffee?”

Who’s Who?”

“Yes, loads of professors are. Remember, not too long now and you’ll be in Debretts. That should be interesting reading.”

“I’ll probably just be an appendage to Simon’s entry.”

“Nah, they’ll do one for you too, ‘famous dormouse juggler, cyclist extraordinaire, and ecologist.’ Yes, that could be very interesting.”

“How can it be, if I’m not?”

“What? Not interesting? Who are you trying to kid?” He picked up the coffee I’d made and took a sip, “It certainly won’t have, ‘coffee maker’.”

“Oh come on, Tom, you don’t drink coffee, it looks more like the stuff they take off the top of sewage farm tanks.”

“Oh, that has improved the taste no end. Enough of this frivolity, when is Des going to make another appearance?”

“I’m not sure, when the local dormice seem to stop hibernating and start rushing about the place, which is usually April some time.”

“So I can get Pippa to organise classes for you for the rest of the term?”

“You can until April.”

“Okay, we’ll do that then. It’s just that I’m thinking of going to see my sister.”

“I didn’t know you had a sister, where does she live?”

“Scotland.”

“Like my ancestors.”

“No, your ancestors are dead, she is still very much alive.”

“Why does everyone pick on me?” I said as I sipped my tea.

“Poor use of language and general disorganisation.”

“Gee thanks.”

“You’re welcome, I’m off to my study.”

“Okay, I’ll say goodnight then.”

He turned and walked back to me, “You’re a terrible scientist, but a lovely young woman.” He kissed me on the cheek and went off to his study.

“If, I’m such a lousy scientist, why did you hire me?”

“I told you, to perk up the departmental photos, oh and you’re becoming a good teacher.” He shut the study door and I was dismissed for the night.

I called Simon. “I’m bored,” I said.

“Lucky you, I’ve got some jobs you can do for me if you like.”

“Nah, I’ve got plenty of my own, I could be doing if I wanted to. I don’t want. That’s the problem.”

“Oh I see. How was Stella?”

“Much better, she’s hired a bike and taken it up with her.”

“Will they let her ride it, I mean offsite?”

“Don’t know, but I tried to warn her that they may not.”

“You did your bit then?”

“I hope so.”

“Oh come off it, Cathy, you are practically a saint by modern standards.”

“Doesn’t that say more about the standards than it does me?”

“Depends upon which ones you read.”

“Yeah, I suppose it does. When will I see you again?”

“Sounds like a seventies pop song.

“It does, but then you’re a clone from a bygone age anyway.”

“So kind of you to say so. Be careful my beautiful bimbo, not everyone is as forgiving as me.”

“Is that a threat?”

“Would I threaten you?”

“You once threatened to give me a beating.”

“Yes at cards.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot that. Anyway, I have to go, talk to you soon. Love you lots, bye.”

We both rang off and I went to my bed all alone.

Easy For Some! Part 354

by Angharad (Bonzi fell asleep proofing it!)

Monday! Why does it always have to be Monday? Okay, so you didn’t recognise my Indiana Jones adaptation, don’t worry, just go and lie down.

I showered and dried my hair, then I put on my cycling clothes—somehow, I think I might have got things a bit back to front, most people shower after a bike ride. Never mind, it was close.

A light breakfast ingested, I spent a few moments persuading Tom to take some of my stuff in his Land Rover, then I set off for the university. The March traffic was hardly moving as I wove in and out of it. I was at the university and changed into some tidy threads before Tom got there. Maybe I should try to get him out on a bike? Yeah, and pigs will fly, and I don’t mean in the copper chopper!

“Are you sure you rode all the way in?” said Tom, eyeing me suspiciously.

“My bike is in the office if you’d care to inspect it,” I replied.

“Hmm, you look too tidy for a keen cyclist.”

He was referring to the fact that I had changed my clothes, combed my hair, and popped on some makeup and perfume. I had also quickly wiped down my sweaty little body before changing.

“I need some help with the survey stuff, so if you can spare an hour?”

“I thought I was a bad scientist?”

“You are, I need someone to lick the stamps and the envelopes,” he smiled broadly at his own joke and disappeared into his office.

“You know,” I said to Pippa, who was standing and watching the interaction, “he’s just signed his own diet warrant!” I waited for the effect of my joke to happen—it took a moment before she sniggered, and I walked away as briskly as my heels would allow.

I could almost hear my mother’s voice saying, “I don’t know how you can walk in those shoes!” and my reply, about it being easy. It wasn’t, it had taken some practice, but the boots Stella had given me, certainly helped in the early days.

I thought back to my life before Stella burst into it, and it felt almost monochrome compared to the Technicolor version now. I had been such a shy retiring sort, avoiding social contact in case someone sussed me out, or should I say, sussed the female inside me, out. Now I suppose, any fear I have is that they’ll know about my previous male life, such as it was. A total turn around, paradoxical or what?

I got back to the broom cupboard that served as my office, and waiting outside was one of my students.

“Hello Keith, what can I do for you? We don’t have a tutorial do we?”

“No, Lady C. I wondered if I could have a word, in private.”

“Yes of course.” As I unlocked my office, I wondered what he wanted to talk about—was it his problem or mine? Because you never can tell when they say, ‘in private.’

He followed me in and I offered him a seat. I then closed the door and took my own seat after closing down my computer.

“How can I help?” I asked, after giving him a moment to cast his eye over my shelves of textbooks, journals and bits of various animals, usually skeletal but not always; oh, and several soft toys given to me by various students, including the world’s largest dormouse!

“I’m not sure if you can,” he was struggling with his thoughts and I gave him space to straighten them enough to articulate them.

“Okay, take your time,” I reassured him, leaning back to give him physical space.

He ummed and ahhed several times before he came out with it: “I think I want to be a woman.”

He was blushing and sweating profusely. This was my nightmare come home to roost. I knew what I wanted to do, once Stella told me what I wanted. How on earth could I tell someone else how to do it?

I regarded the young man in front of me: he was about a hundred and seventy odd centimetres tall, medium sort of build, with unfortunately, a rather masculine face and dark beard shadow.

“I see, so what would you like me to do?” I didn’t want to be drawn into someone else’s struggle, I had enough demons of my own to deal with.

“They say you know all about it.” He blushed again.

“Who are they?” I asked, feeling rather warm myself.

“Other students,” he looked away after saying it.

Was this a wind up, or was he genuine? I had moved on from my outing and didn’t really want to discuss it anymore, and not with one of my students. “I’m a biologist, Keith, not a psychologist. There are people in the student counselling team who are better qualified to deal with this, than I am. Have you spoken to them?”

He looked at the floor. “No. I remember back last year when you went on telly with your husband and told everyone you used to be a boy.”

“I see. I’m afraid that doesn’t make me an expert. All I know is how I felt about things. I got lucky with the support I had.”

“I’ve been cross-dressing for several years. I told my girlfriend about it and once she got over the shock, she agreed to help me.”

“That’s good, she’ll be a great help, probably more than I can, other than to offer my support if you decide to tell the university. They already have an equality and diversity policy, so they can and will support you, if it’s what you want to do.”

He nodded and blushed some more.

“Have you spoken to anyone else, besides your girlfriend and me?”

“Like who?”

“Like your doctor? There are also support groups who may be able to quote you chapter and verse on the law and where to get help.”

“No, I haven’t spoken to anyone else.”

“Do you know what you want to do?”

“I want to be like you, and other women.”

Oh dear, I thought, the last thing I need is to become a role model. “What sort of research have you done?”

He took a folder containing hundreds of sheets of paper from his bag. “I’ve been on the Internet, and I also read loads of stories by TG authors.”

“Real life and fiction are a bit different Keith, although I’m sure you know that.” Oh pooh, now I was patronising him! “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, but I expect you understand what I mean.”

“Yeah, when I was still in school, I spent months trying to find a witch to annoy to get her to turn me into a girl.” He laughed, no, he giggled. So did I.

“If you’re still trying that, I’m not into spells and magic, sorry and all that.” I smiled back at him.

“No, I know or half the first year would be toads by now.”

“Not necessarily, we don’t get fees from toads.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Have you told your parents?”

“God no, they’ll be the last ones I tell.”

“Oh, that’s a shame, their help could be very useful.”

“No way! They’ll disown me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“What should I do?”

“What do you want to do?”

“Become a woman.”

“You need to get some expert help, go and see either the student counselling people or your own doctor. Get them to refer you to a psychiatrist with some experience in gender disorders, there’s at least one in the area.”

“Thanks, do you want to see some photos?”

I didn’t particularly, but felt I needed to do so out of solidarity. He handed them to me—they were dreadful.

“What d’you think?”

“Erm, I’m no expert Keith.”

“You don’t like them, do you?”

“I think a miniskirt and thigh boots would be a bit much for one of my lectures.” I tried to be helpful rather than destructive, “I’d have thought, something a little more subtle would be better. It draws less attention to you, if you catch my drift.”

“But you wear boots, I’ve seen them.”

“They are knee boots, and I was wearing a longer skirt.”

“But my legs are my best feature,” he complained, “see!” he pulled up his trouser leg.

“I’m sure they are, but it’s about blending in, not standing out; unless you want to be the centre of attention, in which case, I really can’t help.”

“So what do I do?”

I glanced at my watch, “I’ve told you once, go and see student counselling or your own doctor.”

“How soon can they do the surgery?”

“What surgery?”

“The op, you know, the sex change?”

“If you’ve done your research you should know that.”

“Yeah, but like, how long?”

“A minimum of one year from the transition, after you’ve passed the real life test. It’s sometimes longer than that.” Sometimes not at all, I wanted to say. “Look, I have a class to teach, so I’m afraid I have to go.”

“Oh, all right.” He picked up his bag and stuffed his papers back in them and left without any further word.

I sat there for a minute feeling as if all the sediment which had decanted itself over the past couple of years, had been disturbed. It was not an enjoyable sensation—anything but.

Easy As Calling For A Light Part 355

by Bonzi (It’s her turn to sleep tonight)

As I made my way to the lecture room, I felt very unhappy about the interview with Keith. It shook up too many feelings I thought I had put to bed. I was a woman now, not anything else, just a woman and I didn’t need to be reminded of my past. It was historical fact, nothing more. Once I got my gender recognition certificate, and my new birth certificate, it would be case closed.

I felt a bit guilty—when someone asks for help, surely one is obliged to provide it. Even though I didn’t really feel it, there was some sort of kinship amongst all gender variant people. Maybe he felt exactly the same as I had done but was unable to do anything about it—until now? I’d had to escape from home before I could start my own pupation and emerge from the chrysalis. Without the help of Stella and Tom and then Simon, I’d still be sat in my bedsit worrying about when or how I would do it.

My lesson was less than my usual performance and I set them an assignment and finished early. I went to see Tom. Fortunately, he was free.

“What happened to you?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” I said looking at him in astonishment.

“My girl, you looked triumphant earlier on, now you look as if you lost on penalties.”

“I need to talk, if you have a minute?”

“For you, I have a whole sixty seconds, come into my boudoir,” he ushered me into his room. “What’s the prob?”

“I’ve had a student come to me for advice on changing sex.”

His eyes widened, “Well, you probably know more about it than I do. So what’s the problem?”

“I’m not sure; I think there are people who would be better qualified to deal with it.”

“In a professional sense, but they don’t have the tee shirt, like you do.”

I actually giggled at that remark and its implication, ‘been there, done that, got the tee shirt!’

“What’s so funny?”

“You are, I love your turn of phrase, sometimes.”

“You should love it all the time, support your local professor,” he winked at me. “Look, I have another interminable meeting in a few minutes and I will be short of a luncheon companion, so how about we postpone this for…” he looked at his watch, “…an hour and a half?”

“Okay, it’ll give me time to organise my thoughts.”

“’Fraid not, I have a pile of correspondence from various government agencies which needs a reply drafted, here,” he dumped a large folder in my hands.

“How come I always get to do the dirty work?” I protested.

“Because Pippa can’t, it needs a scientist to answer some of it, but they’re all busy, so we have to use you.”

“Huh, you cheeky sod, what sort of answer is that?”

“All you’re going to get, be a good girl and get stuck in, here, you can use my desk and if you ask nicely enough, Pippa might make you a cup of tea. See you later.” he picked up his battered brief case and left.

I spent the next hour sipping tea and answering queries from Natural England about granting licences to various groups to possibly handle or disturb dormice, which are protected species in the UK.

In terms of feeding my ego, they seemed to think I was an authority on the subject. Then, compared to Tom, I was. I did one regarding bats and then dealt with a query about badgers and TB in cattle. I was not in favour of a cull, nor was the evidence which tended to suggest badgers were occasional vectors, but poor animal husbandry was the cause. Not a lot of comfort to the poor cows they slaughter or the farmers who lose money because of it.

Then a letter which completely concentrated my mind: someone had seen a pine marten in the forests of Northumbria and wrote to tell us about it.

‘…I was walking in the area which is primarily pine forest, counting red squirrels, which are regular inhabitants although not numerous, when I spotted a russet coloured creature rush up a tree and pursue a squirrel over a period of one or two minutes.

I could not believe that anything could actually dash through the trees faster than the acrobatic Sciurus vulgaris, but this creature did, pursuing the unfortunate squirrel and finally catching and killing it.

I then explored the area more carefully and discovered what looked like latrines, which had musty smelling droppings, some of which I enclose in the jar. I’d be grateful if you could confirm that they are pine marten, and not badger.’

“Lucky sausage,” I said as Pippa entered the room.

“Who is?”

“This guy, he saw a pine marten catch a tufty.”

“What’s a tufty?”

“A red squirrel!” I looked astonished at her ignorance.

“Don’t look at me like that, Catherine Watts, how am I supposed to know. You lot talk in code half the time. What is that?” She screwed up her nose at the contents of the small jar I was examining.

“What does it look like?”

“Sh… poo,” she said standing back as I offered it to her, “ugh, keep it away from me.”

“It is poo, hopefully pine marten poo, which we can use to add to the DNA database.”

“I thought that only applied to paedophiles and things.”

“Duh! Cambridge University, has been keeping a database of genetic material of British mammals for years. We can use it to check on new races when we think we’ve found one. If ever we need to captive breed things, we can ensure a good genetic mix. One of the sources of DNA, is good old fashioned shit, which we’ll share with them, as the old chap was kind enough to supply a grid reference for its location.”

“It gives new meaning to getting shit in the post, I suppose, sorry I can’t share your enthusiasm.” She left shutting the door behind her.

I photocopied the letter and gave it and the sample to Neal, who just loves to play with poo, maybe I should rephrase that, he has an interest in the dietary habits of creatures, and their menus.

I had just clicked my way back to the office when Tom came back from his meeting. “I don’t know how you walk in those things,” he said regarding my shoes. Then added, “Well you certainly look happier.”

“I’ve just given Neal some poo to analyse.”

“Oh good, he’ll enjoy that.” He looked at me, “The pine marten?”

I nodded.

“You reminded him to send some to Cambridge?”

“Of course, I’m not…”

“Just a pretty face, I think we all know that. Right. Pippa, I’m going to lunch and so is Cathy, we have some things to discuss. See you at two-ish, damn, I have to see the auditor then, don’t I?”

“’Fraid so,” replied his secretary.

“Oh, shit!”

“No, I took that to Neal,” I said smirking.

“Watch it Missy, or you’ll end up buying your own lunch!” he threw back at me.

Easy As Stalling A Kite Part 356

I clopped out to Tom’s Land Rover and sat demurely inside it. “I still don’t know how you walk in those things,” he said as he started the engine.

“Practice, practice, practice,” I said like a demented music teacher. He chuckled and drove out of the car park. “Where are we going to eat?” I asked, although I knew the answer.

“Usual place, unless you have any objections.”

“No, none at all.” I began to wonder if he had an account there, or even if he had shares in the place.

We drew up outside and he helped me out of the cab, which is a little high compared to a normal car. I accepted his help gladly, after which I strutted my stuff on his arm as we went into the restaurant. Well it drew a few stares and made him snigger.

“The usual and a tuna salad, please”, said Tom, “plus my Guinness and Cathy?”

“I’ll have a cranberry juice,” I replied, fancying the slightly sharp tasting juice.

We sat at a relatively private table, in the corner of the large dining room. “I won’t ask who came to see you, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts at what happened.”

I waited until the drinks arrived, then after the waiter had left, began my version of events. “A student came to see me and told me he thought he might be happier as a woman. I told him there were better people to see than me, and he reminded me of my interview with the Beeb, when we had that little trouble with Comrade Mafia.”

“So, he saw you as a role model?”

“I presume so.”

“I’ll bet he isn’t half as lucky as you were.”

“I doubt it. He looks quite masculine facially, and has a heavy beard shadow, all of which would make his task more difficult. It isn’t impossible, just harder.”

“I can see that, your fine features have saved you no end of bother.”

“Yes, I know I have been lucky all the way, except with my parents and in some ways even they came round when they saw there was no alternative.”

“Yes, your father seemed to, didn’t he?”

“I think he did in the end, once he saw no threat to his model of masculinity and also began to look deeper and see the individual inside. But that’s all water under the bridge now, for me anyway. What are we going to do about my student?”

“Not much we can do until he asks us to officially—seeing you off the record doesn’t count, which is why he did it. Is he genuine, given your previous experience?”

“I’m not absolutely sure, but I suspect he is. But being genuine isn’t the same as being serious about it.”

“That’s a subtle distinction,” said Tom scratching his chin.

“Yes, in applying to myself, I was genuine all my life. I was serious after I met Dr Thomas and especially after my initial encounter with Stella.”

“Can you not get this person on a bicycle and have Stella drive past him, if that was the magical catalyst in your case?”

“I think that might have been a one-off.”

“I rather think you’re right there young lady, and here comes our grub if I’m not mistaken.” He wasn’t and we concentrated on eating rather than talking.

“This student of mine, he’d done some research on the Internet, yet he still seemed poorly informed. He appeared not to know about the real life test and surgery.”

“That could have been nerves,” suggested Tom.

“Yes, it could have been. I suppose it could also be lack of opportunity and the anti-porn software may stop him being able to access a number of websites if he does it through our system. He seems to enjoy reading specialist fiction.”

“I’d never even thought such a thing existed, but I suppose it does and it’s easier than going to grubby little bookshops in seedy back-streets, which was the case when I wanted to read Lady Chatterley.”

“I can’t imagine you emerging into the daylight with a book in a plain brown paper wrapper. Didn’t that make it obvious as to what was in there? No one used brown paper for books.”

“Smaller bookshops did and still do, before the emergence of Amazon and the cardboard book box.”

“I thought most of them used bags with their name on.”

“Not always.”

“So, was Lady C worth the effort?”

“At the time, yes, on reflection now, no. But in those days my actions were products of the times.”

“That’s why I asked.”

“I am not completely stupid Cathy, but coming back to today’s problems, what are we going to do with our little problem?”

“I don’t know, hence my coming to see you. Remember, you big professor, me little inexperienced teacher.”

“Well, Glasshoppel, we wait and see.”

“What, while we listen for the sound of one hand clapping?”

“Something like that. You told him where to go—politely, I hope. The university has its protocols and policies, so it will support him as much as it can, unless he uses this as an excuse for not doing his work. After all, it didn’t stop you working, did it?”

“Is it reasonable for me to want little involvement, despite my own history?”

“Absolutely, you have no obligation other than to see him the once and give him appropriate advice about resolving his issue. It’s his not yours, remember.”

“I just don’t like letting anyone down,” I sighed.

“Neither do I, but there is also being reasonable and having your own life and agenda to follow. I would have said that once you start filming, you won’t have time anyway. Let him go and see the experts, not rank amateurs like you!”

“Gee thanks Tom, I hope you enjoy your meeting.”

“Meeting?” he looked puzzled then recalled what I was on about. “Oh hell, yes, that meeting; bloody auditors!”

Easy As Falling Off A Pine, Marten Part 357

After we got back to the university, I went off to push more paper around my desk and Tom went off to be counted. Why they would want to audit Tom, I didn’t know, I could have saved them time. There is only one Tom Agnew, they broke the mould after him.

I rode home on the bike still not sure of what to do about Keith. I tried to rationalise with myself, that it wasn’t my responsibility, I didn’t have to make everything good for everyone else. So why was I fretting so much?

So wrapped was I in my thoughts, rehearsing excuses as to why I couldn’t help, (‘Sorry I’ve got ebola,’ ‘the university doesn’t like more than one per department and I got here first!’) that I nearly ran down a pedestrian. It was Keith! Freudian or what?

“Lady Cameron, so that’s what you think of me!” he ejaculated at me, and fled. I was left shocked by his outburst and rode home much more sedately.

I was in the middle of getting dinner, when the phone rang, it was Stella.

“I’ve been out on the bike, gradually getting the hang of the gears and things.”

“Oh good, I’m really glad they let you take it out. I phoned the bike shop and they were okay for the week. Said, you can sort it out when you take it back. As they know Simon and me, they trust you.”

“That’s good, I did fifteen miles. I’m knackered now, but I had to tell you.”

“Yeah, thanks for that, I’m really glad for you.”

“So how’s your day been?”

“I had a student tell me they wanted to change sex.”

“Boy or girl?”

“A boy who wants to be a girl.”

“Well at least you have experience of that direction.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know how much I want to be involved.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t want to be.”

“Is it that obvious?”

“’Fraid so.”

“I nearly ran him over just now, riding home. He thinks it’s personal. The irony is, I was so busy wondering what to do about him, that I wasn’t really watching where I was going. I stopped just in time. Thank goodness for side pull brakes.”

“So, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. Tom thinks it’s up to the boy himself to do things as they have protocols and so forth for dealing with it.”

“Can you just walk away and leave him to flounder?”

“I don’t know,” Stella was making me feel really guilty.

“How far would you have got without the active support of so many of us?”

“I don’t know that either, Stella, that’s the problem. Part of me wants to walk away, part of me feels obliged to help.”

“Hmmm, so which part of you is going to transcend the other?”

“Transcend? I don’t see this as something spiritual, more mechanical. It’s about helping someone to jump through hoops or not, as the case may be.”

“When you help others, you help yourself.”

Oh no! Stella has had an attack of platitudes! “Sorry, Stella, I might not entirely agree with that.”

“Oh well, that’s your problem. Do what you want—it’s nothing to do with me.”

She was expressing how I felt. “Look, Stella, I know I was extremely fortunate. Doubly so, having you and Tom to help me, and then to have Simon is indescribable.”

“Yes, Simon is indescribable,” she laughed.

“I didn’t mean it like that. Anyway, I think part of the problem is he sees me as a role model, and I’m very uncomfortable with that idea.”

“So who else is he going to pick, erm, Caroline wassername?”

“Who? Oh Cossey, Caroline Cossey, the Bond girl?”

“That’s the one, can’t think of any other famous ones.”

“I’m afraid my student is no Caroline Cossey.”

“That’s uncharitable of you.”

“I mean it, too masculine looking.”

“Oh well, I’m sure you’ll sort out something in between saving the world and making porn films with Des.”

“I suppose I shall have to.”

“Right, I have to go. Give my love to Tom. See you at the weekend.”

“Okay Stella, take care on that bike.”

“Hey, that’s my line.”

“What’s that between sisters?”

“True. Byeeeeee.” She rang off.

I went back to finish the dinner while I racked my brains about what to do.

Tom came in while I was making the gravy, “You know that student you were telling me about?”

“What about him?”

“He’s put in a complaint about you, claims you tried to run him down on your bike.”

Easy As Kicking Up A Stink! Part 358

“What? That little toerag is making a complaint?” I was shocked.

“Looks that way, the Dean rang me just before I left.”

“What’s he complaining about, that I tried to run him over?”

“I think so.”

“That is just hogwash, total nonsense! Does he know how much that bike is worth? Far more than his stupid life! He stepped out in front of me and was lucky I was able to stop.”

“It’s his word against yours, I wouldn’t worry too much.”

“What are his grounds, I mean it happened on a public highway, so what’s it got to do with the uni?”

“He seems to think that what he told you earlier, made you jealous, because he’s younger than you.”

“What? Jealous? What a total little shit! He’s the one who’s jealous, how can I be jealous of something like that? If I knew where he lived, I’d go around there and give him his sex change, all right, on the kitchen table!”

“Cathy, please put the knife down, it’s making me uncomfortable, and secondly, calm down and finish my dinner.”

“Shouldn’t that be thirdly?”

“What?”

“Finish my dinner.”

“If you like, yes, okay. I didn’t realise you could count that far, I shall have to look at your statistical stuff with closer examination, the figures might just be right. Hmmm!”

“What?” I still had the knife in my hand, “You cheeky old fart!” I shouted at him.

He took one look at me, and one at the knife, and disappeared into his study. If I hadn’t been so angry, I’d have been amused by it. I dished up his meal and left it on a tray outside his study. I settled down to eat mine in the kitchen, but I wasn’t hungry—I was too angry and hurt.

I moped about for the rest of the evening and when I went to bed, I didn’t sleep too well. Simon phoned and tried to console me, but all I wanted was to wake up and find it had been a bad dream. Sadly, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

The next morning I drove to work, and was greeted with a message to report to see the Dean. In case this could happen, I dressed rather tidily, wearing the suit Stella had given me and beloved of my diving dormouse.

I entered Dr Andrews’ office. “Ah Cathy, do come in. I suspect you know what this is about?”

“I have an idea.”

“Keith Sunderland has made a complaint that he told you something in confidence yesterday, and that as a consequence you tried to knock him down while riding your bike. I’d like your take on the incident.”

“Did he tell you what he told me?”

“Yes.”

“That he thinks he’s transgendered?”

“Yes.”

“I wasn’t sure what I felt about being involved in someone else’s problems, especially one so close to home, so I was rather non-committal about it. I suspect that annoyed him. I did all I was required to do: listened to him and advised that he sought better qualified help than I could give him. I was concerned about it, however, and sought advice myself from Prof Agnew. He seemed to agree with what I’d done.

“I worried about it all day, and was still worrying about it when a pedestrian stepped out in front of me as I rode home. I managed to stop and discovered it was him. He simply didn’t look where he was going.”

“He says you were going too fast and deliberately tried to hit him.”

“Would I risk a four thousand pound bike to run him over? Besides which, I could be hurt myself. If I’d wanted to hurt him, I could have simply divulged the conversation we’d had to all and sundry.”

“Wouldn’t that be a breach of professional etiquette and misconduct?”

“I suppose so. I didn’t even think of it, because I don’t do that sort of thing any more than I’d have run him over, especially on that bike. Look if he’s making these accusations, I think I have the right to ask he be taught by someone else.”

“That won’t be necessary, he resigned from his course. He accused you of riding at him with a foot stuck out, as if to kick him at speed.”

“That’s absurd, it would probably knock me off my bike, besides, my feet are secured to clipless pedals. He’s a liar.”

“He’s lied to the police as well then.”

“What?”

“He said he told the police.”

“So how come they haven’t been to see me?”

“They should be waiting for you now.”

“So is that it? What happens now?”

“I’ll be in touch in the next few days. I’ll have to suspend you until then.”

“What? This is ridiculous—you’re believing that little liar over me?”

“I’m not believing anyone until I’ve weighed up the evidence.”

“There is no evidence, just his lies against me.”

“Thank you Cathy, I’ll be in touch.”

I left and went to Tom’s office. A couple of police were waiting for me, a man and a woman.

“Cathy, these two police officers are waiting to speak to you,” Pippa said looking at me in embarrassment.

“Yes, so I believe, where can I speak with them?”

“Tom’s out at the moment, you can use his office.”

I led them into the office, and we all sat down.

“Lady Cameron,” started the woman police officer, “we’d like to speak to you regarding an incident last night.”

“I’m not Lady Cameron yet, I’m only engaged not married. So it’s plain Cathy Watts.”

“Okay, we were misinformed, Miss Watts.”

“I think you’ll find that this whole thing is about misinformation, if not disinformation.”

“Perhaps, we received a complaint from a Keith Sunderland that you tried to run him down on a bicycle, which you were riding recklessly.”

“Do you have any evidence?”

“He claims to have several bruises.”

“How did he get those? I didn’t actually hit him.”

“That isn’t what he says.”

“He’s a liar. He came to see me yesterday about a personal matter, to seek my advice. I didn’t want to become involved but gave him advice to seek assistance from the student counselling service. He didn’t like my response apparently and left in a slight huff. I must insist that I acted in accordance with the guidelines and policies of the university.

“I was concerned about him and went to seek advice from my prof, who told me that what I had done was fine and that I wasn’t obliged to become involved in someone’s personal issues.

“I was still wondering if I had done the right thing when I was riding home last night and a pedestrian stepped out in front of me. I was horrified to discover it was him—he saw it was me and ran off. I didn’t actually hit him or make any personal or physical contact with him.”

“He says you kicked him as you rode past at speed.”

“The bike I was riding is a carbon fibre race bike. It’s worth about four thousand pounds. Do you seriously think I would risk something that valuable to get my own back on a creep like him? Besides which, I could have hurt myself.”

“Is this where it happened?” They showed me a photo of a road, with shops and other landmarks.

“Yes, somewhere along there.” I stared at the photo. “Hang on, isn’t that a CCTV camera on the top of the traffic lights?”

“Yes, it is,” said the young male constable.

“Have you examined that?”

“Not yet, I don’t even know if it was on record last night.”

“Well if it was, I think you’ll find it supports my story.”

“We’ll make some enquiries. Where can we contact you if we need to speak to you again?”

“Here’s my mobile number, if you call me, I’ll tell you where I am and we can arrange to meet. Can you let me know if this is proven to be the load of poppycock, I know to be the case?”

“Yes, we will if no further action is to be taken.”

“How about doing him for wasting your time and annoying me?”

“We’ll be in touch.”

I thanked them and we shook hands. I went out to Pippa.

“Keith Sunderland has made allegations that I tried to knock him down. I’m suspended apparently, so I’m going home and out for a bike ride.”

“Have a safe ride. Oh, did you know he’s left your course?”

“His mind left some time ago, I’m glad his body is following!” So saying, I left as well.

Easy As Falling Off A Bike Part 359

Dormouse on berries

I made sure that the technicians knew I was off for a few days, so that Spike and the other dormice would be looked after. They were starting to show signs of activity. I thought I might take a look in the woods later and see what was happening there.

The drive home was a chore—the Portsmouth traffic never seeming to improve. No matter how many roads they built or altered, there were just too many cars. I finally got home and parked my car, went in and changed into my cycling togs. I made up a drink, and ten minutes later I was out on the Specialized and easing into a warm up ride prior to doing something a bit more energetic.

The perceived wisdom is that if one is racing, the warm up should be about a third or quarter of the distance to be raced. It always made me laugh: I could just see Cadel Evans and Dave Millar et al. knocking out fifty kilometres before they set off for a two hundred kilometre race!

I usually do some stretches, then a mile or two at a slowish pace, gradually working up a bit faster. This morning, I missed out the stretches, but did a couple of miles at warm-up speed. Then it was a steady twenty as much as possible. Once I escaped the city and its traffic, I was off over the downs or along the coast. Today it was the downs. I needed an energetic workout to ease my frustrations.

I felt betrayed by one of our own, something I would never do except in retaliation. How could someone like that do it to me? All that made sense was jealousy. Despite my history, I had made good: a relationship that worked, a job I loved most of the time, some wonderful friends and I was also doing something to protect the planet I loved so much. If dormice needed a public defender, I’d do the job, which I suppose is what the film was all about. The problem with so many documentaries is that they either dumb them down for overseas markets (and some of our own viewers) or get too sentimental.

My script was intended to take full advantage of the fact that dormice are beautiful and everyone watching will go awwwwwwwwwwwww, but would be factual in the life and death struggles they face with their environment every day, and how we as the dominant species on this planet, are making it harder by global warming and destruction of habitat.

Dormice need hedges and woodland in which to live. However, they may take years to recolonise an area if they ever do so again, so while planting trees and preserving hedgerows is essential, they need even more awareness amongst the general public. Politicians really only care about votes, and dormice or skylarks don’t vote, so they get sacrificed to whatever the agricultural policies are, or the latest round of road building. What we need is more consideration for the environment, more awareness together with radical policies to make not only the world fitter but also its human population. So get people out of cars and onto buses or bikes. Sadly, it’s a vote loser.

I was working on a rehash of my script as I headed up the first hill and began to work up a sweat. I was blowing hard by the time I got to the top, having clicked my way down through the Shimano Dura Ace gears. I crested the hill and started clicking back up through them.

My anger had changed from that towards the idiot, Sunderland, to the despoliation of the planet. I could see no reason why it had to be so, except for short-term gain, which in the long-term cost even more money. Apparently, Chinese workers living in industrial areas are developing all sorts of cancers from pollution, which they didn’t used to get. Surely it won’t be too much longer before the big companies have to clean up their acts, people power will demand it. At the same time, it struck me as ironic that as living standards rise in India and China, the people want the sort of lifestyles we have in Europe or the States, where we die from diseases of affluence: obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease—wow, when loads of Indians or Chinese die from those, they’ll know they’ve made it! Sometimes the total futility of life worries me.

I sped down the downhill, which according to my handlebar computer was at a speed of fifty miles an hour. It’s exhilarating because it just is, the bike has a couple of inches of rubber in contact with the road, that’s all. A sudden stop is not possible without some form of unscheduled parting from the bike. So it tends to focus the attention, but what a buzz! It’s probably next best to low-level flying for adrenalin junkies like me. I love it!

A car pulled out in front of me, not having looked properly despite the fact I am wearing bright red kit, and flashing down on him like a supersonic poppy. Another car is coming up the hill towards me. We are all going to meet at about the same time. I click into two higher gears and begin to pedal like crazy. My plan is simply to overtake the car ahead of me before the other one arrives.

As I reach level with the car in front—a red Peugeot 206, driven by an oldish man—he accelerates, totally oblivious to my presence. I go for broke and really sprint. Mark Cavendish would be proud of me, and at fifty-eight miles an hour I just manage to slip between the cars, the red Peugeot blowing his horn at me. That does it! War has been declared.

Over the next mile or so, I slow down and keep in front of the car so he can’t overtake me. He blows his horn and tries to swerve around me and I block him. Finally, I stop suddenly and so does he. He gets out of his car ready to hit a cyclist, I suspect.

I whip off my helmet. My hair is sweaty but I am wearing the makeup I slapped on before the meeting with the Dean. He stops when he sees he has to deal with a woman, but only momentarily.

“You stupid cow, what do you think you are doing?” he rants. I stand silently waiting until he pauses for breath.

“You pulled out of that turning without looking, I was going too fast to be able to stop behind you, but I had right of way.”

“You were cycling recklessly, you stupid woman!”

“No granddad, you were driving without due care and attention.”

“How dare you, you young hussy. What do you know about anything?”

“Who are to judge me? You know nothing about me.”

“I can see that you are no respecter of age.”

“You’re wrong, but that’s neither here nor there.”

“You impertinent child. Who do you think you are?”

“I’m just an impertinent child, going about my lawful business, when some silly old fool pulls out in front of me while I’m going down a hill.”

“You cheeky hussy! You deliberately stopped me overtaking you.”

“Yes, because I wanted to tell you to be more careful.”

“How dare you! If you were a man, I’d have given you a bloody good thrashing.”

“If you take that attitude, then you really are heading for trouble. The next person you annoy may well give you one. If I wasn’t a lady, I’d certainly be less tolerant of your threats.”

“A lady? Ha! Gentlefolk don’t ride death traps, like that stupid thing.”

“Actually they do. My father-in-law, a viscount, is a keen cyclist. And that death trap is a state of the art race machine, worth significantly more than the jalopy you are driving, possibly ten times more.”

“You impertinent bitch, you’re lying. Your father-in-law is probably a road sweeper and you a common prostitute.”

“My father in law is Lord Henry Cameron, the Viscount Stanebury and he runs a bank and I’m a university teacher.”

“A likely tale, even if it were true, that makes you some Scotch bandit. I’ve got a good mind to throw you and your wretched bike over a fence.”

“Racism is an ugly attitude old man, and for your information, Scotch is a drink, not a race. Furthermore, if you so much as lay a finger on me or the bike, I will sue you for every penny you have and I’ll bankrupt your children and grandchildren as well.”

“You wouldn’t dare!” he screamed at me.

“Try me,” I said, remounting my bike. “It’ll be the last thing you ever do.” I was shaking with anger as I rode away, hoping that was an end of the matter. A mile down the road he hadn’t passed me, so I assumed he’d turned off.

Just then a police car pulled up and waved me down. It was the two officers I’d spoken to before. “Miss Watts, may we have a word?”

I stopped and dismounted. “We just had a call from a motorist who said he saw some old fool pull out in front of a bike which was travelling quite fast, and only by good fortune wasn’t hit by the car. The informant was going the other way, but thought he saw you stop and speak to the driver. Is that correct?”

“Yes, I asked him to be more careful. He didn’t appreciate it, but then they never do, it’s always someone else’s fault.”

“I see. How fast were you going?”

“Is that relevant, as bikes aren’t subject to speeding laws, and I was on a main road?”

“It could be.”

“Okay, I was doing about fifty miles an hour when the old boy pulled out in front of me.”

“Could you have stopped?”

“Only if I’d hit him or the car coming up the hill.”

“So, isn’t that riding recklessly?”

“No, I was in more control of my bike than the old man was of his car.”

“But if you can’t stop?”

“If I’d been driving a car I’d have hit him, unless it was a Porsche or some other rocket powered machine, because an ordinary car wouldn’t have got past him. The speed limit for cars is sixty on this road?”

“Yes.”

“The stopping distance for that is hundreds of feet. It would have been an accident. He didn’t look properly, if at all. He might, now.”

“After you spoke to him?”

“Yes, he threatened me, so I told him if he laid a finger on me or my bike, I’d sue him. He was racist too, insulting my future in-laws.”

“Oh, the Camerons?”

I nodded.

“So everything is okay?”

“Yeah, an anxious moment but I dealt with it.”

“Your little friend Mr Sunderland has withdrawn his complaint.”

“So is that it?”

“Not quite. We have to investigate anyway.”

“Bloody hell, what a waste of time and effort. Did you get the CCTV tape?”

“We’re still following up on that one.”

“Talk about wild goose chases, this is ridiculous. I’m suspended because someone who I suspect is bonkers made a spurious complaint against me at the university, and then with you guys. Yet I have no comeback.”

“’Fraid not, still it’s a nice day for a bike ride,” he said, moving towards his car. “Just think, you could be stood lecturing a pile of unwashed students!”

“Or wasting my time talking with the local constabulary.”

“Yeah, or that. Have a safe ride.”

I waved a whole hand, although I felt more like using two fingers. The rest of my ride was ruined. I rode home and felt even more stressed than I’d been before I started. It just wasn’t my week by the look of things, this far anyway.

Easy As Falling In A Like Part 360

After my shower, I felt a little better tempered. It still rankled me that spurious accusations are taken so seriously. Just my luck to call the cops ’cos someone is trying to kill me, and I get an ansafone because they’re all out chasing wild geese!

Tom arrived home about half past six, “I spoke with the Dean, who told me you’d been suspended. I played merry hell.”

“Why, I thought it was the protocol when a complaint has been made?”

“That is discretionary, especially as the wretched student left anyway. It’s hardly as if you’ll be able to threaten or intimidate him.”

“I didn’t the first time. I don’t know what was going on in his head, but it sure wasn’t rational thought.”

“Of course it wasn’t, he’s a student. What do you think this is, Oxford?”

“I like to believe the degrees we do here are legitimate and as good as anywhere. If I didn’t, is there any point in me returning to work just to make up the numbers and turn out inferior graduates?”

“I’m getting old and cynical and I need a drink. What’s for dinner?”

“Shepherd’s pie, I used up the lamb from the other night.”

“Fine, I think it will taste better with a Cabernet, don’t you?”

“Yeah, why not? It’s not as if I have to get up to go to work tomorrow, is it?”

“Erm, the outcome of my little Hie’land fling, was to get you reinstated. I pointed out that I am your boss, and thus will be the one who hires, fires, suspends, hangs, draws and quarters you etcetera.”

“Which means?”

“I want you back there tomorrow dealing with more mammal sighting records.”

“But one of the students could do that.”

“Not with your aplomb.”

“Get that wine opened, I’m going to drown my aplomb.”

I did too, which wasn’t a very clever thing to do. Perhaps, Tom is right, and I’m not very bright, unlike the sunshine which is pouring through the windows and giving me a headache.

My brain was so tender, combing my hair hurt. I dressed simply—simply couldn’t be bothered. I should have cycled, but the thought made me feel sick, all that fresh air—urgh!

Tom, who actually imbibed more el vino than I did, seemed unaffected by the aldehydes which form after alcohol is metabolised. In my case, I began to wonder if it metabolised into formaldehyde, which means I should be around for a long time—just very dead. I have jars of deceased Muscardinus avellanarius pickled in formalin or formaldehyde, I also have drawers of nibbled hazel nuts and other food items, all labelled and stored. The most gruesome are some tawny owl pellets with dormice bones in them, or should I say, dormice bones extracted from owl pellets?

For those not in the know, owls swallow their prey whole, so the indigestible bits—fur, bones and so on, get compressed into pellets which the owl throws up. I actually witnessed a tawny owl do that from about fifty metres away and thought I’d marked the spot. I wasted an hour looking for it. Went back the next day too, still didn’t find it. What a subject to be thinking about when in the terminal stages of Ethanol overindulgencius.

I had a very light breakfast, two cups of tea and a piece of toast, the buttering of which nearly shattered my sensitive auditory nerves. By the time I’d actually eaten it, with the crunching in my own mouth, I thought I’d be deaf forever more. No such luck. The drive to work was awful, and to cap it all, someone was hammering and drilling in the lab next door. I tossed a coin at one stage to see which I would do: commit murder or suicide. Then it stopped for an hour and the paracetamol began to work.

Tom wasn’t kidding about reports of mammals. Had I felt less fragile, I might have allowed myself to laugh occasionally, but the thought of the noise it would have created meant at best, I snorted now and again.

There were two reports of orcas, or killer whales to you. Yes, they do occur around the coast, but in a reservoir? The next best to that was of a bottlenosed dolphin in someone’s garden on Portland—they sent a photo. As it was some distance from the sea, and would have had to swim up a cliff, I think we can discount that as a hoax. A crocodile in Dumfries—possible, but it’s a reptile, so doesn’t get included unless we count the dogs and cats it eats.

Oh yes, polar bears—in Norfolk. I suppose they get penguins at bird tables there, too. Who are these people? Here we go, the first of the big cat sightings—the beast of Brompton? Unlikely, to say the least. But the armadillo in Nottingham could be an exotic pet escape. We have armadillos in Portsmouth, they’re made by Specialized and I have them on my mountain bike—a type of puncture resistant (bullet proof?) tyre for bikes.

The records were the result of BBC Wildlife Magazine publishing my article on the coming survey. What none of the contributors to the pile of litter I was sifting through seemed to understand, was we are only counting indigenous species, and those which may have arrived by themselves. In the case of mammals, it’s rather unlikely unless they are bats or rats. Sadly, we don’t have too many lions swimming across the Straits of Gibraltar and up the Bay of Biscay, so accounts of them are dubious at best.

I gave up at lunchtime and took Pippa to lunch in the university cafeteria. For some reason I was hungry. “Why did Tom give you that stupid job to do?”

“Dunno, maybe he thinks I did try to kill young Sunderland.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you have used a bow and arrow, or something more creative?”

“I would have fed him to the polar bears in Norfolk,” I said with a flourish.

“They don’t have polar bears in Norfolk, do they?”

“As far as I know, only in zoos or on Foxes’ Glacier mints.”

“You’d think they’d have a fox, wouldn’t you?” said Pippa.

Lacking the will to live, let alone argue, I nodded my agreement, hoping this futile discussion would end. Sadly, it didn’t.

“So why don’t they have a fox not a bear?”

I sighed inwardly, “I think it’s about the glacier bit in the name, Glacier mints.”

“Oh yeah,” she chuckled, “silly me.”

I could have agreed with her but didn’t, at least not audibly and I hoped the nodding of my head would be seen as a post-hangover twitch rather than confirmation.

I felt better for the food, a burger and chips, and the fresh air of the walk there and back. I should have brought the bike, although I suspect I’d be accused of starting World War Three.

Simon emailed, to say he’d be home at the weekend and would bring Stella and the bike with him. A month ago, I’d have treated that as suspiciously as reports of rhinos on the banks of the Thames or crossing the savannas of Surrey.

By mid-afternoon, I’d finally finished the trawl of sightings. I came to the conclusion that most of these were sent by either: batty old ladies who knitted things to sell for the RSPCA—which is a fine cause and laudable way to raise money; or school children who regularly see orang-utans in Savernake Forest, and wild asses in the New Forest. Even with global warming, I don’t think we’ll have tropical rainforest in Essex or desert in Hampshire. In the latter case, there is the odd donkey and loads of ponies in the New Forest, so that one is understandable. But the others—most of the observers couldn’t tell a dormouse from a doorpost—so if I was looking to write a book of absurdities, they’d be a good start.

On the way back to Tom’s office I passed our truculent security guard who was talking to a colleague. “Look out, stand to attention, it’s Lady Muck.” He was obviously talking at me and as obvious as an aside in a Shakespeare play. I walked past, giving him the finger behind my back. Judging by the sniggers I heard from students, it must have been visible.

Easy As Feeling Very Sick Part 361

I’d just come back to my office to get my coat and bag, when the door was roughly pushed open and I was shoved into my desk.

“Just what do you think you are doing?” I was angry and frightened at the same time. He, the security guard, was so much bigger than me.

“You stuck up cow! I’ve laid my life on the line for this friggin’ country, seen my mates killed by the friggin’ Taliban, for what? So some stuck up bitch like you can lord it over me? And what have you ever done, except drop yer bleedin’ knickers for some rich bastard? You make me sick, bleedin’ parasites, the lot of you.”

I was leaning back against my desk, wondering what he would do next and how I might try and counter it. I had to remain calm, or it would excite him even more.

“As far as I know I have done nothing to you. It was you who started the insults and innuendo, why?”

“Because I can see you are a stuck up cow.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Pushin’ yer bleedin’ bike through the college. Everyone else locks theirs up outside in the bike locker. But no, you ’ave t’ bring it into yer bloody office. That pisses me off. One rule for the peasants, one for the toffs.”

“I see. I got permission to bring my bike into my office. It cost me a lot of money when I had very little. I am very fond of it.”

“I bet yer ’usband, Little Lord Fauntleroy, bought it f’yer.”

“I had that bike before I met Simon. I bought it with my student loan. I only used to eat once a day to save money.”

“Go on, yer don’t expect me to believe that do you?”

“I don’t give a tinker’s toss if you believe me or not, it happens to be the truth—something you wouldn’t recognise if it perched on your leg and bit you on your dick. Now, I think you’d better remove both yourself and your prejudice from my office before I call the police.”

“If you say anything to anyone about this, including Sugar-Daddy Agnew, you’re dead meat, you got that? An’ yer fancy kick fightin’ won’t save yer, I could kill you in under a minute, probably less than that—that’s how long it took me to kill one of Saddam’s elite, an’ ’e ’ad a gun. These did for ’im though.” He extended his hands and I squeezed myself back against my desk. My hand closed on my paper knife, not a very effective weapon but better than nothing.

“If ever you come near me again, you moronic cretin, I’ll have you hanged, drawn and quartered. Now get out of my office! NOW!” I screamed at him and my hand clutched at the knife.

“Is there a problem?” asked Neal poking his head around my door.

The gorilla-like security guard pointed at his nose and sneered at me as he left. Neal looked at me and I dissolved in tears, at which he came over and hugged me. I wept on his shoulder.

“Was he trying something on?”

“Yes and no. He doesn’t like me because I bring my bike into my office.”

“That’s his tough shit, and none of his business. I think you ought to complain. The noise I heard, I thought he was trying to rape you.”

“No, I don’t think I’m his type, too stuck up apparently.”

“Bloody idiot if he can’t recognise a beautiful woman from Blutack.”

I looked curiously at him, ‘Blutack’ I mouthed.

“Yeah, stuck up, sorry it was a bad joke.”

Now I saw it and began to laugh, the relief flooded through me and I laughed like some demented banshee.

“I didn’t think it was that funny,” said Neal.

“It isn’t,” but I couldn’t stop laughing, not until I got hiccups and they made me feel silly, which started me off again.

“I think you should report this to someone, I’m your witness.”

“What did you see or hear, Neal? Nothing except me shouting at him to leave. It would be his word against mine. But if ever you see him near me again, please come quickly.”

“Of course I will.”

“Thanks, you’re a real friend.” I pecked him on the cheek.

Blushing, he said, “That’s all I can be. Simon got there first and I respect your relationship.”

I felt my mouth drop open and I gasped—he fancied me, my God. Was that the problem with the other guy, did he fancy me too, but felt I was unattainable? Or did he just resent everything I stood for, from cycling to ‘Free Tibet?’ I didn’t know nor did I want to. I wanted nothing more than to avoid any contact whatsoever with that oaf.

“Was he in the army?” Curiosity got the better of me.

“Para’s I think, at Basra, or was it Afghanistan?” Neal scratched his chin. “He did mention it once when he was chatting about his war exploits. I was on the periphery of the group and wasn’t really listening, he sounded like something out of a John Wayne movie.”

“I’m going home. Thanks again, Neal.”

“Any time, Cathy.” He winked at me and left.

I turned around to face my desk, the plastic handle on the paper knife was broken and my hand had been bleeding a little. There were a few drops of dark red on my blotter, I folded up a tissue and held it in the palm of my hand, which was now hurting. If he had come at me, would I have stabbed him? I didn’t know, and besides he might have been so quick I wouldn’t have had time to react. I could be dead now.

My hand was hurting even more and I was beginning to shake and felt sick. I went to the loos and heaved up my lunch, then had to sit and deal with the nasty taste in my mouth while the diarrhoea lasted. I felt exhausted.

I managed to wash out my mouth and drank some water. I keep a bottle in the car. Then with tears in my eyes, I drove home.

Easy As Crawling In A Nike Part 362

I got home and locked the door before rushing up to my bed and throwing myself upon it. I cried for a while and then must have fallen asleep. I awoke to the phone ringing. It took me a moment to recognise where I was, and when I sat up my eyes felt red and sore and my mouth was thick and sticky.

“Hello?”

“Cathy, it’s Tom, can you let me in, please?”

“Uh?”

“The front door is locked and it’s starting to rain.”

“Oh, sorry, be right down.” I replaced the receiver and once I got my sea legs, trotted down the stairs and opened the door.”

“Thank you, why was it locked?”

“Sorry, I shut it in a rush and didn’t realise I’d locked it.”

“Your eyes are all red, are you going to tell me why you’ve been crying?”

“No.”

“What’s for dinner?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let’s have a cuppa and then you can tell me why you’re upset, or not as the case may be.” He steered me into the kitchen and switched on the kettle. Next he pulled out a chair and I was gently pushed into it. I touched my sore hand against the table and winced.

He took my hand and looked at the palm. “How did you do this?”

“My paper knife broke.”

“Too much pressure on it, I expect. What were you trying to open, a jiffy bag?”

“Something like that,” it was actually the aorta of a certain security guard, I wish.

“Really, you girls ought to know better. Let me get a plaster.” He pulled out a small pack of plasters from a kitchen drawer, and using one of the bigger ones, stuck it over the palm of my hand. “That should keep it clean as well as stopping it bleeding over my carpets.”

“I’m sorry if I got blood on anything…” I burst back into tears.

“Right, Catherine bloody Watts, if you don’t tell me what happened, I am going to make you a cup of tea and you will drink it.”

“All right, I’ll tell you.” I pouted and sulked a little for good measure. “But I’ll make the tea first.”

After we drank the reviving fluid, which would have tasted like embalming fluid if Tom had made it, I told him roughly what had happened.

“I shall see the Dean first thing tomorrow. How much did Neal see?”

“He didn’t see anything. He heard me shout, but not what I shouted. It would be his word against mine.”

“If he was threatening you, I want him gone.”

“That just makes his threats stronger.”

“If he’s been sacked, they’ll be from further away.”

“I don’t want to make an issue of it.”

“I think you’re making a mistake. I hope it isn’t a big one.”

“Look Tom, I know what you’re saying, and part of me agrees with you. But, and it’s a big one, I suspect it would just make things worse. I feel that if I ignore his threats as bluster, he won’t do anything else because he’ll see his power trip has failed.”

“Even if he wasn’t in the Paras in Afghanistan, he’s twice your size so my money would be on him to win.”

“Why do you think he’s doing it?”

“Who cares, let’s just get rid of him.”

“But I’d like to know.”

“Why? What good would that do?”

“It might help me resolve things.”

“Earth to Cathy. Look, I know you like to analyse things to the nth degree and understand as much as possible, I don’t see why it’s important we know why some psycho wants to hurt you.”

“Maybe he sees me as unattainable?”

“Cathy, stop dreaming and come back to real life. I don’t care if he wants to marry you, if Simon finds out, he’s cat food.”

“But the only way we have of stopping him is if we understand him.”

“Simon won’t see it that way, and will stop him a lot quicker.”

“What good does violence do?”

“It’s expedient.”

I had no answer. I knew in some ways he was right, but part of me wanted to resolve this not just terminate it. If he had issues with me, maybe they could be worked out? Perhaps I should talk to him?

“For the third time of asking, will you go and smarten yourself up and I’ll take you out to eat?”

“I can’t be bothered, Tom, but thanks anyway.”

“You will be bothered. Now go and change this minute.”

I didn’t have the energy to protest, and I was quite hungry, since my lunch was on its way to a sewage farm by now. I went upstairs, and after washing and changing into a skirt and boots, shoving on some makeup and combing my hair, I was ready to go out.

I took Tom’s arm and he led me out to his Land Rover. “Can we use my car? I don’t think I could cope with the smell of that tonight.”

“Ye imperrrrrrtinent weeeeeeee husssssssssy!” he said in an exaggerated Scots accent, “Agatha will sulk now.”

“Agatha?”

“Yes, my wee Landie.”

“Wee? It weighs about two tons.”

“Ach ye’ll neverrrrrrrr underrrrrstand. It’s a boy thing, the love of Landies.”

“Landies?”

“Och, ya pudden heid, a Land Rover, Agatha is ma Land Rover.”

“Why have you gone all Robert Burns on me?”

“Ah dinna ken.”

“Ken who?” This was fast approaching farce.

“Let’s go in your Krautmobile, then.”

“I must be really slow tonight Tom, but what are you on about?”

“Your VW, I said let’s use your VW.”

“Oh, I thought you were saying something very different.” I have a German friend and I know they don’t like the ‘K’ word. Besides, it’s an Americanism from the war.

I let him drive, content to sit and let someone else take control. He parked it near the Spinnaker Tower and Gun Wharf Quay, and we walked to a traditional fish restaurant and had fish and chips.

He told me a little about his childhood in Scotland. He ‘wis frae Dumfries’ although he’d lived south of the border since he was fifteen. His father was a doctor and they’d moved to Surrey to take over a general practice there.

I asked him why he’d not gone into medicine, and he shrugged his shoulders, he simply preferred studying bugs to treating them. I smiled at his play on words. We tend to call insects and so on, bugs. We also refer to infections as bugs.

We had a long walk around the quay before going back to the car. The rain had cleared and it was a lovely evening. I held on to his arm for support and to show my affection for him, he shook it free and put it around me, holding me to him and protecting me. It felt a much more paternal act than I could recollect my father ever doing. It felt nice.

When we got back, he poured us out a brandy each and we sipped them talking about things in general, so I went to bed very relaxed and slept like a log.

I was listening to the local radio while I dressed when an item of news caught my ear:

‘Police are searching for the Bike Attacker after another woman was attacked near Portsmouth University. The victim, a twenty two year old woman student, was taken to hospital with a broken collarbone and several cuts and grazes.

Inspector Clive James, of the Hampshire Constabulary said, ‘We need to get this person before he does someone a serious injury. We don’t know why he has this thing about women cyclists, but we urge all members of the public to be vigilant, especially those who cycle. Anyone who saw or knows anything of this incident is urged to call the police headquarters as soon as possible.’

My blood ran cold. I was half-thinking of cycling and it was only because I didn’t want to impose on Tom to take in my marking, that I was going to use the car. If we really wanted to be kind to the earth, we’d car share every day. It just wasn’t always convenient.

Tom was waiting as went down. “There’s been another attack on a cyclist.”

“I know, I just heard it on the radio.”

“It’s one of your students.”

“Who? How do you know that?”

“I know because I have a friend in the police, and they told me who it was.”

“Who was it?”

“Denise somebody or other.”

“Oh no, she’s one of my recorder group.”

“I didn’t know you were musical?”

“Tom, you know damn well what I mean.”

“Oh, a tree-rat counter.”

“One of these days you’ll say that and I’ll slap you one.”

“This from the woman who abhors violence?”

“Grrrrrrrrrr!”

Easy As Drawling, American Like Part 363

Any thoughts I had of cycling to work were immediately forgotten. I knew the latest victim—that made it seem worse. When it’s impersonal or anonymous, it’s easier to deal with; when it’s someone you know, it feels much more personal and much more real—much closer to home.

“Want a lift in Agatha?”

“Erm, what happens if we have different finishing times?”

“You could always take a cab…”

“Or walk.”

“NO!” he said loudly enough to make me jump. “You don’t walk or cycle anywhere until that monster is caught.”

“Aw come on, Tom. How am I supposed to keep fit if I can’t get out on my bike?”

“I get the impression this man is looking for someone in particular. All the riders have been fair-haired or blonde, a bit like your colouring.”

“So? I’ll dye my hair.”

“This isn’t a joke.”

“I know. Remember, we’re talking about one of my students.”

“What if it’s you he’s looking for?”

“Me? Why me? What have I done?”

“You don’t need to have done anything, it’s what he or she thinks you might have done that matters. John Lennon had done nothing to the bloke who shot him, except in the bloke’s mind.”

“I’m not John Lennon, why should I have a stalker?”

“You’ve been in the media more than your fair share—your face is all over High Street Banks, in their posters and leaflets. It’s well known that you’re making this dormouse film, and you’re engaged to an aristocrat. You can hardly be described as a wallflower, can you?”

“Why should I? Why should I stand back in the background just because I’m female, or worse because I’m a transsexual woman? Is that fair?”

“No it isn’t, and you know jolly well that I have encouraged you in some of your involvement with the media. I still support that opinion. You’re a very pretty woman Cathy, and I think you should use whatever gifts you have to further your cause and that of the environment.”

“Isn’t that a bit sexist?”

“So what? You’ll get further in this world with a pretty face than an ugly one. I think you should use whatever the system encourages. You don’t have to approve to use it, just be careful it doesn’t use you.”

“Des is coming down next week to do some filming, maybe if I invite him to bring his bike we could get the odd ride in?”

“If Des or Simon is with you, that’s fine by me. His MO so far appears to be attacks on single women. These guys are usually cowards, so being with someone or part of a group, makes it much less likely. So please wait until you are out with someone, don’t walk or cycle by yourself, please promise me.”

“Okay, I promise I won’t ride on my own until this arsehole is caught.” I reluctantly said what he wanted me to, which I suppose was a small sacrifice to keep him happy. Simon would be home at the weekend, so would Stella, so maybe we’d get a ride. I suppose I could always buy a turbo and put some of those special tyres on one of the bikes. Then I could do some riding at home. I know it’s not the same, but it beats getting attacked.

I resolved to order one from Wiggle or whatever they call it, which is based in Portsmouth, I think. Get it delivered to the uni and I can either bring it home in my car or get Tom to do so. Yes, that’s what I’d do.

I took up Tom’s offer, only we went in my car, so he could walk home or get a cab. Car sharing meant we were doing a little for the environment and as much as if I’d gone by bike. That made it easier.

I had three lessons to teach and each one was dominated by enquiries about my injured student and the girls saying they were going around in pairs. Several had stopped riding and caught the bus instead. That annoyed me, not that they were using the bus but that someone like that could cause them to stop riding. Even some of the male students were walking or busing it instead of riding. There was quite a sense of trepidation about the place, which wasn’t usually the case.

Of course, some of the men were also talking about what they’d do if they caught him—why do we all assume it’s a him? But as he seems able to disappear into thin air, I doubt they would catch him. How does he do that? Strike and disappear?

It was the end of another day, one closer to the weekend and the return of my hero and his sister, two of the nicest people on the planet. I was really looking forward to it, and now that Stella was riding, she could come with us as well. It doesn’t get much better than that, just a couple more days to wait, thank goodness.

I’d ordered the turbo trainer and a pair of tyres for it and was about to leave when Neal called me back—there was something wrong with Spike. That was all I needed. I went to see what was happening and she was certainly not well. She was hotter than her usual temperature and I wondered if she had an infection, though how she’d get it goodness only knows. The babies seemed okay, which was a blessing. I called the vet. He agreed it was possibly an infection and told me give her a minute dose of antibiotics—we keep some here all the time.

Seeing as she was with her babies, she was isolated anyway, except from her young. I drew up the syringe and Neal grabbed her. I stood in front of him while he held her, rather gingerly.

“Look, I’ll hold her and you do it,” I said to him.

“No way, if she died you’d never forgive me.”

“Don’t be silly, she’s going to get better.” I tried to sound optimistic in case she picked up on the tone of our conversation. Who was I trying to kid? She’s a ruddy dormouse not a dog or cat.

“Ouch!” he said loudly as I injected the antibiotic into Spike and she objected by biting him again. I saw the blood on his finger a moment before the stupid animal made a bid for freedom as far as the neck of my blouse. You got it: once more she jumped down my front. I simply stood there with a sense of not knowing while this furry thing scampered around inside my clothing and Neal swore and sucked his finger.

Suddenly there was a burst of raucous laughter, Tom was standing in the doorway. “Not again,” he said laughing, “maybe she wants to be breast fed.”

“Maybe she needs her neck wringing?” I said, handing the syringe to Neal while I tried to grab the furry interloper.

Easy As Hauling Off A Shrike Part 364

After I’d managed to catch my errant rodent and slip her back to her babies, and Tom had finally stopped laughing, we set off home. We called in to a supermarket on the way and did the shopping for the weekend, so that was one less chore to do while our visitors were there.

Being a Thursday, once we’d sorted out the dinner—I did a quick risotto—I set to and checked my notes for my teaching the next day. It was my favourite topic: field biology. I’d worked with Tom to produce an adjunct to the course which was worth a full credit. This was the first time we’d run it and I was excited but nervous.

I’d been surprised by the uptake, with sixty students signing up for it, probably three times what I’d expected. The course was essentially over fifteen weeks with three batches of theory plus a practical: this meant four lessons and a field trip.

I’d been especially pleased to run it, because I knew how excited I felt about being out in the countryside or the coast, and it gave a new skill to any biology graduate who wanted to work in the field rather than a lab. Me, I’d rather watch birds or count dormice than dissect rats, any day.

Tom had hopes that we could sell the course as a standalone for nature watchers who wanted to do things more scientifically or systematically. Essentially, it was about ecosystems and how they interact with each other, with an intention to give each student some tools to use to do a small research project. In other words, we teach them the whys and wherefores of different ecological principles in the hope they can apply them.

I show them one relating to a peregrine falcon and how its upsurge in numbers can be linked to the environment in which it lives, including on top of an office block. We also compare how successful its breeding is against one in rural setting, where it is more likely to be persecuted.

I checked through my PowerPoint presentation, it was fine and I could hardly wait to get started the next day, not a feeling that accompanies the teaching of Krebbs Cycle—it’s not a make of bikes nor a bike shop!

Later, a quick chat with Simon and I went to bed. I wanted an early start tomorrow, and I planned on looking fairly smart. Sadly, I slept fitfully, a combination of my new course and Simon and Stella arriving in the evening. However, the shower helped me to revive and I dressed in a skirt and jumper I’d bought ages ago. The skirt is a green tartan-like check; the hem is one of these like a tablecloth in having four points. It falls well below the knee to mid-calf and looks best with boots. The top was a soft cowl-necked, green acrylic jumper. I wore a long string of beads and a bracelet made of green aventurine. The boots were my black ones and I wore a green jacket to go with everything else. Makeup and smellies all complemented each other and I dried and brushed my hair. I actually looked and felt quite tidy.

Two hours later I was still setting up as students began to fill the lecture theatre and I noticed to my horror, Tom and the Dean sitting in on my class. If I hadn’t felt psyched up for it, then I was now.

The introduction went well, the projector worked—it has been known to object to working with me—and the questions asked were intelligent, and pertinent. This was quite a pleasant surprise to me and I hoped the visiting dignitaries. They stayed for the whole two hours and were waiting for me at the end.

“That was pretty good stuff, Cathy, and you kept their enthusiasm. I’m glad I came, you’re turning into a very capable teacher.” The Dean seemed pleased with my effort.

“Yep, pretty good,” said Tom smiling like a Cheshire cat. I got the impression he knew something I didn’t.

“Cathy, I’d like to consider running an ecology course here in conjunction with the biology. The course would run for a whole year and be worth three credits. I need to present an outline to the board in a month’s time if you could put a draft together?”

“When are you planning on running it?”

“This year.”

“What? Who’s going to teach it?”

“You are, assuming you want to.”

“I’d love to, but what about my other stuff?”

“We’ll find someone else to do that. The element of field biology we currently run, we’ll rename ‘ecology’ and expand it. I’m also looking at starting some distance learning courses, as they help the revenue situation.”

“Okay,” I said, feeling slightly overwhelmed by the Dean’s offer, “I’ll put something together.”

The Dean left and Tom looked at me. “Ready for lunch?”

“Lunch?” I asked.

“Well you’re all dressed up, I assumed it was so I could take you out to lunch without embarrassing me.”

“Embarrassing you? Ha, I don’t have gravy stains in my beard.”

“Essential supplies in case I get marooned somewhere, I could always suck my beard.”

“Where are we going?”

“Usual place,” he smiled and sighed when I told him I wanted to go and freshen up.

For a change, I had lemon sole, one of my absolute favourites. Tom had sea bass—the curry was off. We chatted over the prospects for the new course.

“It’s only an option for students for the next few years, but if it’s well subscribed, it could become one in its own right. After all, the emphasis on ecology these days is so enormous, I think we could get loads of interest. You need to get your doctorate, because I think in a few years you could be poached by a larger university like Bristol or Birmingham to set up a course there. Eventually, it could mean a chair for you or a stepping stone to a less academic more political career.”

“I don’t want to get into politics, I despise politicians.”

“So do most of us. However, sometimes in order to bring about the change one wants, one has to do so from the inside.”

“Okay, but tonight I just want to focus on having Simon and Stella back and the prospect of a bike ride with them tomorrow.”

“I’m not happy about that.”

“Tom, in loco Daddy, or should that be plum loco? Look, I know you’re concerned for me, what with this weirdo running amok, but I’d be with Simon and Stella, so between us we should be safe enough.”

“We don’t know anything about this miscreant, except the victims are all female, which leads me to believe it’s a man who’s doing it.”

“Violence usually is.”

“True,” what else could Tom say but agree with me? With Simon around tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect anything out of the ordinary to happen.

Easy As Falling Off A Bike Part 365

I could hardly wait for Simon and Stella to arrive. Stella was doing about ten miles a day on her rented bike. Ironically, she was doing more miles than I was. Simon, as far as I knew, was doing none at all. He was apparently jogging and was thinking of doing some ‘spinning’—no not the distaff thing with bits of wool, but cycling on an exercise bike with a computer controlled program. Except for bad weather, it seemed a bit pointless. What’s wrong with a turbo trainer, except they are so boring?

Finally, they did come and Stella and I hugged while Simon and Tom took in the bags or got her bike off the car. Then Simon and I hugged, he lifted me off the ground and we kissed. My body ached for him, but we had dinner to get through, first.

I’d had a leg of lamb slow roasting in the Aga since breakfast, and had added various veg after coming home. It was delicious, the meat fell off the bone—which Kiki had to gnaw. So everyone was happy. The kitchen was also full of the smells of fresh bread, which I’d turned out to rest just before Si and Stella arrived.

We drank two bottles of claret between us and the conversation flowed like old times. It was the perfect evening, followed by the perfect night.

Simon was very pleased to see me, and at bedtime carried me off quite literally, dumping me on the bed and almost tearing my clothes off.

“Hey, hang on a minute,” I said, protesting at his impulsiveness.

“What for?” he said. “Thinking about your luscious body is all that has kept me sane for the past week.”

“Yeah, but I like a slow build up, you know that.”

“Maybe later, for now I am just so desperate.” With that he pulled off my knickers and began stimulating my erogenous zones.

Some twenty minutes later, he was happy, I was sort of, and we both lay gasping on the bed. “I’d like to go for a bike ride tomorrow, if you don’t mind?”

“Mind? Why should I mind?”

“’Cos you’ll have to come with me.”

“Why? Take Stella instead.”

“No good, I promised Tom I wouldn’t cycle without you, until they catch the cyclist attacker.”

“The what?”

“We’ve got some nutter who keeps attacking cyclists, usually women. One of my students was the victim a couple of days ago.”

“Can’t you go with Stella? I haven’t been out on a bike for weeks, in fact since I last went out with you.”

“What happened to the personal trainer?”

“Oh him? Got rid of him, it was costing a fortune.”

He began to kiss my breast and very soon, I had forgotten about cycling for a few moments. We cuddled and kissed until about an hour later, he indicated to me that he was indeed pleased to see me. After this I was so sore, I could have sworn I smelt burning. Simon kissed me, rolled on his side and zonked. Thankfully, feeling tired myself I wasn’t long following suit and I cuddled into him and slept.

I awoke feeling refreshed except in one rather tender spot. I’d slept better than I had for days and felt really good. It was eight o’clock and when I nudged Simon, he groaned and tried to go back to sleep.

I limped out of bed to go to the loo, boy I was so tender. I wondered how I was going to be able to ride. I made some tea and took Simon’s to him in bed, while I went off for a hot bath. It was so soothing that I fell asleep until Simon yanked the plug out and poured a cup of cold water over me. The brute! I would exact revenge later when he relaxed and forgot.

He showered and we went down to breakfast together, where Tom was reading my Guardian and Stella came down a few minutes later. Tom put the paper down in disgust, “Bloody rag, don’t know why I buy it?”

Simon sniggered, even more so when I said loudly, “You don’t, Tom, I pay for it.”

“That explains it—I’ve got bloody socialists in my house.”

“Yeah, there’s four of us and a dog,” said Stella, whereupon Simon and I burst into song… “Went to mow a meadow.”

“Three men and their dog, went to mow a meadow…” we continued until everyone was roaring with laughter so much, none of us could sing. It was like old times, before all the trauma and heartache. Today was going to be a good day, I could sense it with my whole being. I felt like an old soldier who was saying to himself, ‘today is a good day, good enough to die.’ Except, I knew I wasn’t, like all young people, I was immortal—besides, who would look after this lot if anything happened to me? Nah, the gods of ecology would look after me, I was going to save their planet, after all.

“So how about a bike ride today?” I said to the smiling faces.

“I thought they gave rain?” said Tom being a literal wet blanket.

“I’m far too tired, she wore me out last night,” Simon said winking at me.

“I’m game,” said Stella, “if you don’t go too far or fast, oh and no mountains—don’t do mountains.”

“Mountains or molehills?” I queried.

“They’re all the same to me,” she said, “don’t do molehills.” This had me almost reduced to tears, I was laughing so hard. This was the Stella I first knew, the one who had nearly killed me knocking me off my bike. It was also the sister I loved.

“You are not going cycling unless Simon goes with you.” Tom sounded very firm.

“But Daddykins,” I said batting my lashes, “I won’t be alone, I’ll have Stella with me.”

“No, Simon goes or you don’t.” Tom was holding his ground and I was trying to undermine it.

“But, Tom, I promised I wouldn’t go alone. I didn’t promise to wait until Simon came.”

“That was how I understood it, and I’m not giving up the garage keys until I know Simon is going with you.”

“That is ridiculous,” I said storming off to my bedroom. I was so angry. I’d waited all week and now I was being prevented from doing what I most wanted to do. If I didn’t ride soon, I’d die or I might just as well.

I was sulking in my room when Simon arrived shaking some keys at me. “You got him to change his mind,” I said rushing to hug him.

“No, I changed mine. This had better be a good ride or I’ll murder you.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” I said, purring and rubbing my body against him.

“If you carry on like that, I won’t have the energy to ride very far,” he said breathing heavily.

“And why is that?” I said, rubbing his chest.

He kissed me passionately, and I nearly forgot my bike ride until Stella banged on the door and asked about sorting the lease for her bike. I told her to go and phone the shop, but Simon had lost interest so we got dressed in our various kits, mine the yellow of the Saunier Duval team.

We clipped on our shoes and I checked all the bikes—they were fine save for the odd slightly soft tyre, which I inflated to the required amount. Then a few minutes of stretching and warming up.

Finally we set off. It was a glorious spring morning and we rode gently into and out of Portsmouth, easing ourselves over the inclines, none of which could be called hills, yet.

“What did you do about the bike?” I asked Stella.

“I bought it; this rental business was too much of a fiddle.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah, just like that, so bloody what, Watts?”

“Rich, bitch!” I exclaimed.

“Yep, and proud of it.” She laughed and wobbled a little.

I led them up towards the downs and as they were both struggling, called out, “I’ll wait for you at the top.” With that, I set off on my own.

It was such a lovely morning, the birds were singing and I was climbing well, almost too well—something was bound to go wrong. I pulled away on Portsdown Hill Road, talking to myself as if it was David Duffield doing a commentary.

“There goes Watts, attacking on the hill and breaking away from the peloton who don’t seem to be responding. There’ll points for this ascent giving Watts the famous spotted jersey, although she’s after the maillot jaune itself.

I was so wrapped in my own little world that I didn’t see him—the blur of someone in a black hoodie. Then the flash of something glinting in the sunlight, and I felt like a kick somewhere on the front of my body. It didn’t hurt so much as shock me.

Everything began to happen in slow motion, I tasted blood in my mouth and began to topple from my bike. I think I heard someone scream or shout, but it didn’t matter. I was falling, falling off my bike then it all went black.

Easy As Falling Off A Bike

Part 366 leap year?

by Angharad & Hampshire Air Ambulance

They tell me I was stabbed. It apparently punctured my lung and I nearly bled to death. I’m in an intensive care unit, which explains all the bleeps and other electronic noises I can hear. They also tell me they had to operate on my lung, so I’ll have a scar—just what I needed, then when I think about it, I’d probably have a scar where I was stabbed anyway.

I feel like shit, or how I imagine that feels after it’s been mangled by your guts and pooped out the end. If someone told me I’d been hit by an express train, I’d believe them. Pretty well everything hurts. The way I float in and out of consciousness means they are probably giving me loads of sedation.

Simon has been here constantly. It’s lovely to wake up and see him or Stella sitting there, or feel them squeezing my hand. They saved my life, or certainly helped to. The paramedics who answered the call from Stella and the air ambulance who took me to hospital also helped. Once I feel stronger, I shall do a sponsored ride to raise money for them, but it might be a couple of weeks, yet.

I have lovely young nurse called Trish, who bustles around the place ordering people about. According to Simon, she helped to save me. Apparently, my kidneys stopped working for a short time and I was very ill. I don’t know, I was out of it sort of floating above it all, until the pain kicked in and I found myself back in my body and feeling like—you know what!

I remember a voice calling me from far away, telling me to fight, insisting I get better, that I concentrate on staying here and not give way to the urge to leave. That was Trish, apparently—she pulled me through, this far at least.

Stella told me about what happened. They were fifty or a hundred yards behind me, when this bloke in a black hoodie ran from nowhere and seemed to hit me. They didn’t know I’d been stabbed, they just saw me fall. Stella rushed up to help me and Simon went after the attacker. He told me that had he known the bloke had a knife, he might not have been so reckless, except he was so angry.

Stella tells me Simon ran the bloke down on the bike. He ran downhill, so he was never going to outrun a Tarmac SL2, was he? Simon apparently hit him from behind and then when the bloke came at him with the knife, Simon tried to shove the bottom bracket down his throat—that’s the bit of the bike the crank fits it. It apparently broke the bloke’s jaw in four places and dislocated it, removing all his front teeth, but he dropped the knife.

The attacker’s name is Darren Entwistle. I don’t know him, nor he me; he just hates cyclists for some reason. According to the police, they aren’t sure why he stabbed me, possibly because I was riding too fast up the hill. He thought bikes went too fast and were a danger to pedestrians and little furry things. He cares about the environment, apparently. Ironic that I’m also trying to save the planet, and his lunacy nearly stopped me.

I’m trying not to get upset by what happened. I keep telling myself, he was some loony and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, I was having a wonderful time, riding as well as ever, looking to do so much with the university in developing new courses, seeing Stella looking so well—then some dickhead with a knife nearly ended everything for me.

Stella is looking really well—I keep focusing on that. My problems have given her a chance to forget her own, and she did help at the scene of the attack. I can’t remember anything about it, just these strange dreams I have and they’re horrible. But I get so tired, and then I sleep and dream.

My dreams seem to consist of this large black thing which is trying to catch me. Sometimes I’m running from it, sometimes I’m riding. They’re not very nice.

“Hello, Sleepyhead.”

“Hi, Trish,” I said back, through the oxygen mask. “When can I take this off?” I pointed to the mask.

“When your lung has healed enough. I’ll tell you when, don’t worry.” She bustled around me, adjusting my pillows and things. “You’re not drinking enough; come on, let me see you finish that.” She handed me a glass of juice with a straw.

It’s an effort and I get breathless just drinking. Maybe my sponsored ride had better wait for three weeks? She reminds me my kidneys need fluid, and if I don’t drink, they’ll connect me up to the mains. I’ve already got various drips running into me, so it feels like they’ve already done a mains connection.

I take my pills and then another sip of juice. I’m so tired…

Something touches me on the face and I open my eyes, Simon is standing there smiling at me, he’s just kissed me I presume. I smile back, although I don’t know if he can see it in the mask.

Tom is there too. He’s managed to sneak off work for a short time. They both take one of my hands and squeeze. I squeeze back, but I feel so feeble and I know that, much as I want to see them, I shall fall asleep while they’re talking to me—I can’t help it; I’m so tired, just so tired.

I have these two men I love so much, sitting with me. Nothing can hurt me, so why am I so frightened, why do I have these dreams even when they are with me? Could it be the pills? Trish brings me more bloody juice to drink!

I feel full up, I don’t want to drink anymore, but Trish insists. I take another sip and pretend I’ve gone to sleep, but she knows I’m pretending. Now Simon is bullying me too—it’s not fair, and I tell them so!

“What happened to my bike?” I suddenly remember I was riding it, what happened to it?

“It’s fine, the police took it home for you.” Simon tries to reassure me.

“It’s safely locked in the garage,” said Tom, “where it will stay until you come home.”

“Did it get blood on it?” I ask.

“Some, but we washed it up for you.” Simon isn’t usually someone I’d associate with that. Too squeamish, so probably Tom or Stella did it.

“Thank Stella for me, will you?”

“How did you know she did it?” Simon looked surprised.

“Because she knows you didn’t,” said Tom, laughing. “See, she knows you better than you thought.”

Simon pouted and I zoned out again. I was vaguely aware of voices in the distance, they sounded like they were coming through water. They were quiet at first, then I heard beeping and raised voices. I didn’t worry, they were getting farther and farther away and I was quite happy. I could see that bright light again, like a shaft of brilliant sunshine, it was shining all around me, like being out on a bright summer’s day.

Maybe I was outside. I felt a bit cold, but the light was drawing me closer and I so wanted to go towards it. The voices were far away now and there seemed more of them. I was too tired to care who they were or what they wanted. I tried to concentrate on the light. I don’t think I was breathing, but as that had hurt before, I didn’t care too much. It wasn’t hurting now, now I was in the light, this brilliant blinding light. Nothing mattered much now.

Easy As Breathing On A Ventilator Part 367

I felt like I was floating in treacle. Sometimes the light would be there and sometimes it was dark. I wondered if the darkness finally had got me? Something in my brain kept telling me, ‘it wasn’t over,’ then I’d float some more.

At one point I thought I saw my mother. “Why are you here?” she asked me in quite an uncharacteristically off-hand way.

“I don’t know, where am I supposed to be?” I felt exhausted and very confused.

“You have work to do.”

“Yeah, okay Mum, I’ll go and do it in a minute, I need a little rest first.”

“Catherine Watts, you will go and do it immediately.”

“Aw Mum,” I protested.

“Go now, this instant and don’t you dare come back until it’s finished.”

“Yes, Mummy.”

She faded and I drifted some more, then as if I’d been gripped by a maelstrom I felt myself being sucked downwards. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe. The pain, it was awful and I couldn’t breathe.

“Relax Cathy, it’s okay. Let the machine breathe for you—that’s right. Now don’t worry, you had a clot form on the lung, but we’ve sorted that. You also had a pneumothorax, where air gets into the pleural cavity. That will take a little while longer to sort. I’ve given you a jab to help with the pain, it might make you feel a bit strange. Oh, I’m Dr Finch, Judy Finch, and I’m the thoracic consultant.”

Voices come and voices go, but this goes on forever, or seemed to.

“Hi Cathy, it’s your favourite pain in the arse again, yeah that’s right, it’s me, the one and only Trish. You’ve got a bit hot and smelly, so I’m going to give you a little wash down and hang you on the line. You’ll be all right, it’s almost up to freezing out there.”

I occasionally felt her touching my body. “Now for the naughty bits, your catheter looks fine, just pat you dry. Cor, for someone who hasn’t done anything for two weeks, you still look in good shape, girl.”

My mind latched on to the phrase ‘two weeks,’ two weeks? What about my film? I fought to open my eyes, but they wouldn’t respond. I could hear the machine pumping and feel my chest rise and fall on one side. They’d depressurised half my chest, I was breathing on one lung only.

I had no idea of time. People came and went and talked to me in between. Then at one point, when Des was there, I managed to open my eyes. He was telling me that he was filming in my dormouse colonies with the help of my recording team. It was going really well. However, he hoped I’d be well enough to do a voiceover and perhaps we could shoot some footage to be spliced in later.

He was chattering away, when he looked at me. “Cathy? Cathy you’re awake! Nurse, hey nurse, she’s awake!”

“Calm down, Mr… erm, Lane, she may or may not be awake.” Trish came up to look at my eyes, she shone a light and I pulled away from it. “Yes, she’s awake all right.” She switched off the machine and I began to breathe for myself.

“Is she going be okay?” I heard Des ask.

“Of course she is, my patients always get better or I kill them.” Trish was hustling him out of the room. “Look, we need some space for about an hour. Why don’t you go and get a cuppa and phone her family.”

“Yeah, course. Wow, she woke up on my watch. See, I knew she couldn’t resist me.”

“Undoubtedly, Mr Lane, it’s your animal magnetism. Either that, or it’s your aftershave I can smell. Now be off with you for an hour.”

Trish came in to me, “Okay, Sleepyhead, I’ve checked with the doc, she says we can whip out the tube from your lung. This isn’t very nice, but bear with me, I’ll be as gentle as I can.”

Not very nice! The understatement of the century! Why would someone I’ve done nothing to, want to pull my lungs out through my mouth? Then it was over and I was breathing properly again, two lungs, I think. She lifted the head of the bed—an all-electric thing—and I was resting with my head up.

“Just take your time, but you should be able to speak now. Here, have a drink first.”

I took a sip of the ice-cold water and it helped to ease my burning throat. “Thanks,” I croaked.

“Right, now when Mr Wonderful—well he seems to think so, doesn’t he?—comes back, don’t try to talk too much, or you’ll make your throat sore.”

“’Kay,” I said and allowed her to fuss around me.

“Your hair could do with a wash, Missus. I’ll see where the hairdresser is tomorrow. If she can come, would you like that?”

“Could Stella do it?”

“I can ask her, she’s staying with your dad, isn’t she?”

“With Tom, yes.” It gave me a warm feeling to hear Tom called my dad. I think he’d like it too.

“I’ll go and give her a ring.”

Some little while later, Trish reappeared and said, “She’s coming this afternoon.”

“Thanks,” I croaked.

Des came back and told me he’d called Simon and Tom, Stella, Gordon Brown, President Bush and Pamela Anderson. When he saw my eyes boggle, he laughed. “I made up the George Bush one,” he said and laughed again.

I smiled at him and croaked, “If you leave now, you might make it out of the hospital before MI5 get here.”

“Yeah, then it’s off to a secret location and bang, bang. Still, I suppose it gives new meaning to ‘shooting on location’.” He saw me yawn and shut my eyes, “Goodness girl, you’ve only been awake five minutes and you’re yawning already.”

“It’s just being with you, Des; it’s this raunchy animal thing, wears me out.”

“Are you taking the piss, Cathy Watts?”

“Nah, I’m on a catheter,” I said, smiling before I closed my eyes.

“Hmm, I’d better go. Get better soon, I need you for my film.”

“Our film, Des.”

“Hmm, you’ve only done half of it, girl.” I heard him chuckle, “Okay, our film.” He leant over and kissed me on the cheek. “Don’t forget to tell Simon I kissed you.” He winked and left.

I immediately slipped into a sleep. Trisha woke me to eat some soup and even that was too much effort. I really didn’t know how I would cope with Stella washing my hair, but I was sure it would make me feel better and less like it had been deep fried.

I slept again and suddenly someone was stroking the side of my face. I opened a bleary eye.

“Hello Sleeping Beauty, your coiffure awaits.”

“Stella,” I said and smiled at her.

“Well, you look better than when I last saw you.”

“So do you,” I replied.

“I’m busy suing this place for wrongful dismissal. It’s amazing what a law suit does to get their attention.”

“Don’t do anything rash until I’m out of here.” I gestured at all the machines, “if the electric gets cut off ’cos they can’t pay the bill through you, I’ll be cross with you.”

“Don’t worry Sis, it’ll take months, and you should be back on your bike by then.”

“I hope you’re still cycling?”

“Of course. Then we’ll see who’s better up hills.”

I groaned, “Oh don’t, Stella.”

“Yes Missy, I do a molehill a day, whether I need to or not.”

I laughed and then coughed and it hurt so I stopped. I watched almost helplessly as Stella and Trish pulled the bed out from the wall and put it down flat, then they took off the headboard.

“God, it’s ages since I did this,” I heard Stella say.

“Yeah, we don’t do it too often, too much like hard work,” agreed Trish.

They eased me up the bed and then put a blanket underneath my head and with a bowl of water and a cup, Stella wet my hair then shampooed it. She rinsed then added conditioner and rinsed again. Then with towel turban, I was pushed back down the bed and the end put back, whereupon, they raised me up to a semi-recumbent position and Stella blow-dried and brushed my hair.

Altogether, I suppose they spent about an hour doing it, and I was exhausted when Trish brought me a cup of tea. I think I fell asleep while trying to drink it.

I still had my nasty dreams but I was working on the basis that once I could get my Specialized into one of them, I was going to slap the dark beast and ride off like the clappers. Maybe it would leave me alone then? Well, I can only try.

Helen, the night duty nurse came to see me, “Simon is on the phone for you.”

“Can you tell him, I’m a bit tied up at the moment?”

“You could tell him yourself.” She laughed and handed me a cordless phone.

“Oh! Thanks,” I took the phone and held it to my ear.

“Cathy?”

“Hi Handsome, how are you?”

“I’m fine Babes. Look, Stella told me she’d done your hair, so I wondered if you would like to go dancing tonight?”

“I’d love to.”

“Oh good, where would you like to go?”

“Somewhere big enough for you to push this bed around and all the machines that go with it.”

“Hmm! Has it got to be disco?”

“Nah, something to smooch to would suit me better, and if you get tired you could always hop into bed as well.”

“I like the idea of the second bit Babes, do you think they’d notice?”

“I think the machines would go crazy when my heartbeat rose off the scale.”

“Hmm, we have a problem then.”

“Yeah, maybe next week, see if you can get Abba to reform for us.”

“Yeah if Cream and Floyd can do it, why not?”

“I have to go Si, love you lots.”

“Okay, Babes. I’ll be in to see you as soon as I can.”

I gave the nurse back the phone and after yawning went back to sleep.

Easy As Calling For A Mate Part 368

The next several days were spent partly sleeping, having the odd test and pill, or receiving visitors. Apart from Simon, Stella and Tom, I had one or two from uni come in to say hello, including Pippa and Neal, the latter bringing me in a framed photo of Spike for me to keep on my locker.

This of course drew oohs and aahs from the various nurses whenever they saw it. “Is that your hamster?” asked Trish.

“No it’s my dormouse.”

“A dormouse? Is that a wild animal?”

“Only if you try to touch her babies, then she goes wild.” I smirked as that remarked passed clean over Trish’s head. “She is captive bred, but she comes from wild stock, which we’ve been trying to supplement by breeding them and releasing them into the wild.”

“Do you actually breed them then?”

“I set up the programme, so yes, I’m involved in it.”

“I’ve got a vague memory of a clip on YouTube of someone juggling a dormouse and it ends up down her jumper. It was quite funny.”

“Oh really,” I said blushing, “I’ll have to keep a look out for that one.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to have another look at it sometime.”

“They get thousands of clips every day, so there’s probably better ones by now.”

“That was a classic I think, very popular at the time. Come to think of it, she looked a bit like you, Cathy.”

“Who me? Do I look like a dormouse juggler? I can’t even catch a ball.”

“Anyway, I’m off to lunch, see you in an hour.” She left and I sighed with relief, I have a horrible feeling, they’ll be playing that clip at my funeral.

I ate my lunch, a rather uninspiring cottage pie. I could tell it was cottage pie because of the thatched roof. The tea was okay and I had a cake with it, so seeing as I wasn’t moving around, I didn’t need too much food.

I glanced down at my legs swathed in the rather ugly greeny-blue elastic stockings they make everyone wear. I suppose they’d go with a pair of navy blue or bottle green bloomers they used to make schoolgirls wear. But hardly with the pink nightdress I was wearing.

I was indulging in my postprandial snooze when I became aware of someone watching me. I opened an eye and Trish was stood looking at me and at my picture of Spike.

“This is the dormouse on the YouTube thing, isn’t it?”

“Is it? I never know what the little bugger’s up to.” I tried to laugh it off.

“And this is you, isn’t it?” She had printed off a picture of me with a look of horror on my face with Spike’s tail poking out of my jumper. “It said it was filmed at Portsmouth Uni. So that’s your lot isn’t it?”

I knew when I’d been rumbled. “Okay, it’s me, so what?”

“Can you sign my picture? It’s been hit on over ten million times.”

“Haven’t people got anything better to do?”

“It is so funny.”

“It wasn’t at the time. She peed while she was down there, she was so frightened.”

Instead of pity, I got a raucous laugh out of the nurse. “That is just, like, so funny. Wait till I tell all the girls we have the dormouse juggler in here.”

“Aw come on Trish, give me a break.”

She took the picture I’d signed and left, laughing as she went.

The following week, as my body began to heal itself and the machines were removed one by one, they began to talk about moving me to an ordinary ward.

Neal came in to see me again, with more pictures of my dormice. Trish happened to be on duty and came to see them as well.

“Have you seen the clip of her with Spike on the Internet?” she asked Neal.

“Erm, have I, Cathy?”

“Seeing as you and Dan were responsible for posting it, I suppose I’d be inclined to say yes, if I were you.”

“I guess that gives you your answer then,” he said to Trish.

“Are all these your babies?” Trish asked while looking through the photos.

“They are, except their Granny isn’t there to look after them.” Neal gave me a wink as he spoke.

“Why, what happened to her?” asked a bemused Trish.

“She’s in here.”

Trish looked at him for a moment, then began to laugh. “Hee hee, Granny Cathy, hee hee.”

“It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it,” I said in my lousy John Wayne impression.

“If that was Jimmy Stewart, it was, waal it seemed dreadful,” said Neal in a passable copy of the actor’s voice.

“It was John Wayne, pilgrim,” I replied in my unimproved imitation of the movie star.

“Hey, I didn’t know you did impressions of Reece Witherspoon,” said Trish, laughing.

“I don’t, y’all.” My reply only damned me further as unable to do accents, especially American ones, but it gave Trish and Neal a chance to fall about laughing.

Neal is a nice looking bloke and Trish is a very pretty, blue-eyed blonde and I was quite sure some chemistry was happening between them. It was certainly more interesting to me than talking about that film clip.

“So does Cathy know much about dormice, then?”

“No,” I said loudly.

“She is the foremost expert on them in this country. The government consults her, and she gets enquiries from abroad. She knows more than anyone else does.” Neal beamed and I blushed as he told Trish my secrets.

“I’ve never ever seen one, and I have two experts here, wow.”

“Would you like to see them?” asked Neal. He smiled at me and I inwardly groaned.

“Oh yeah, wouldn’t I just,” said Trish with enthusiasm.

“I suppose we ought to seek the agreement of their Granny, don’t you?” Neal said to placate me; giving me a silly grin.

“Just be careful with Spike while she has her babies with her,” I cautioned him, “You remember what happened last time?”

“I do.” He looked at his finger.

“What happened?” asked Trish.

“He discovered that some dormeece are partly carnivorous,” I said smirking.

“She tried to eat my finger,” he said, holding the injured digit aloft.

“Aw,” said Trish, “let me kiss it better for you.”

Neal smiled and blushed. He left a little while later with Trish escorting him to the door as they set up a date.

‘Young love,’ I thought to myself, which was ridiculous as I was about the same age as both of them, maybe a year older than Trish.

“So when are they going to move me to an ordinary ward?” I asked our lovesick nurse.

“Probably not for a day or two,” she replied, smirking.

Easy As Falling Off, Like Part 369

Dormouse

It seemed that apart from recuperation, my purpose in being in hospital was to set up a dating agency. This wasn’t just because of Neal and Trish, but someone else who should be a little better known to you.

The day after I’d seen the sexual chemistry between our nubile nurse and tasty technician, Stella came by complete with full makeover kit. She had enough face paint with her to do the front of Tom’s house.

She arrived and we kissed and hugged as well as one can while still attached to a couple of machines and a gas mask—okay, oxygen mask. I vaguely recognised the bag she was carrying from the first time I’d met her—you know, the first time she tried to kill me!

“What’s in the bag, Stella?” I enquired with such subtlety, that I sometimes surprise myself.

“Just a few bits and pieces, why?”

“I just wondered.”

“Your hair could do with cutting again.”

“That is the least of my worries, sister mine.”

“I thought I taught you better than that.” She shrugged her shoulders in despair.

“Well, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” I smirked after saying this.

“In your case, how very true, you ugly sow.”

“Oink oink!” I said, began to laugh and got the stupid pain back in my chest. I groaned.

“You all right? Do you want me to call, wotsername, Trish, isn’t it?”

“No, I’ll be okay, it’s just where they went in to stop the bleeding, hurts when I laugh.”

“Serves you right. Where is the blonde bimbo?”

“Probably by now, helping to stop the bleeding from Neal’s finger.”

“Who’s Neal?”

“One of the biology technicians.”

“Why should he be bleeding?”

“Spike.”

“What, that dormouse?” she asked, nodding at the photo on my locker.

“The same, the carnivorous variety.”

“I thought they ate nuts and leaves an’ things.”

“I think if she ate Neal’s nuts, Trish would be most disappointed.”

Stella sniggered for a moment as she processed what I’d said. “Ate his nuts? You are barmy, do you know that?”

“It was you who brought it up, not me.”

“Yeah, but not in that context. You said Spike was carnivorous. I was querying that statement.”

“She bit him on the finger when he touched her babies.”

“So would I,” Stella replied indignantly, “how dare he?”

“We were trying to weigh them. I told him to remove her first, and then take the babies. He didn’t listen and she had him.”

“Serves him right. That wouldn’t make her carnivorous.”

“I know that Stella, it’s supposed to be a joke.”

“Oh, is it?”

“Doh!”

“Anyway, while I’m here, I thought I’d pretty you up a bit.”

“What for?”

“To make the place look tidier.”

“I can’t be bothered, honestly I can’t.”

“You just have to lie there and think of England.”

“Why?” I thought I’d give her a taste of her own medicine.

“Because I said so.”

“Oh…” Damn, she wasn’t playing. “I don’t feel like it.”

“Tough,” she proceeded to pick up her box and advance towards me.

“I knew that box looked familiar. I saw it that day you hit me off my bike.”

“Oh yes, so you did. You complained then, too.”

“So would you if some psycho had knocked you off your bike.”

“Psycho! Who’s a psycho?”

“If the cap fits…”

“You cheeky sod.”

“Who me? I’m seriously ill.” I lay back and pretended to be dead. Unfortunately, I did such a good job one of the machines went off and in came a young doctor with an even younger nurse.

“What happened?” he asked checking the readings of the machines.

“I just lay back, like this,” I demonstrated and the machine went off again.

“Oh, okay, must be faulty. Kirsty, can you change it for another one?”

“I can’t carry one of those,” she said sulkily, “they weigh a ton.”

“I didn’t mean you personally. I meant get the porters or whoever to change it.”

“Yes, I’ll go and ring them.” She left flouncing out of the unit.

“I think while I’m here, I’d better just check your heart and breathing.” He pulled out his stethoscope and listened to my heart and took my pulse. “Yes, that’s fine. Your lungs aren’t quite clear yet, I think we’ll change the antibiotic, that should do it.”

“What are you giving her?” asked Stella.

“Clarithromycin, why? Is she allergic to anything?”

“Not as far as I know. Are you Cathy?”

“Only Tom’s tea,” I answered, making a silly face.

“Don’t I know you?” The young medic said to Stella.

“You might, I used to work here.”

“In what capacity?”

“She’s a nurse specialist in the pox,” I said loudly and fell back laughing, which hurt.

“I wouldn’t laugh too much if I was you, you could open up the wound.”

“Gee thanks Doc, now you tell me. Still it explains why she keeps telling me jokes. I knew she was trying to kill me.”

“Listen buster, if I was trying to kill you, you’d have been dead ages ago.”

“Ladies, please. This is a hospital not a boxing ring.”

“Did you work with Mike O’Rourke?” asked our young quack.

“I did, he’s a lovely guy.”

“He’s my uncle.”

“Wow, he never mentioned you.”

The young doctor blushed, “My mum and he fell out big time.”

“But surely he acknowledges you now?”

“When we meet he does, but it’s cursory and polite.”

“That doesn’t sound like Michael.”

“Our family can be really queer.”

“Who’s queer?” asked the nurse coming back with an electronics technician. “This one,” she said to him and tapped the machine.

“Mind your own business Kirsty.” He looked at his watch, “Right, I’m on coffee break, bleep me if you need me.” He looked at Stella, “Fancy a cup?”

“Yeah, why not, seeing as Miss Twisted Knickers isn’t going to let me emulsion her face.”

“What?” he looked aghast at her.

“Cathy won’t let me do a makeover on her.”

“Why aren’t you working?” he asked her.

“It’s a long story…” they left the ward together.

“They seem happy enough together,” said Kirsty, as she watched them leave.

“Yeah, poor Stella. She could do with a bit of luck—she’s had a rotten last few months.”

“Pretty girl,” said the technician as he fiddled with the machine, “She shouldn’t have a problem finding a bloke with her looks.”

“All the good ones are gone, Dave.” Kirsty gave the classic female response to that inane statement.

“I’m still available Kirst,” he said, and I could have predicted her stock reply.

“Yeah Dave, that’s what I meant.”

Still, it was marginally more entertaining than watching telly.

Easy As Falling For A Quack Part 370

Stella came back about half an hour later. She was so smug, I was tempted to annoy her. I resisted the temptation.

“You still awake?” she said returning to my cubicle.

“Looks like,” my words part echoing through the vents in the steamed up oxygen mask. “You look full of yourself, so I assume he asked you out.”

“Yes, and there is no need to be such a wet blanket about it.”

“Sorry, but even with Simon’s ingenuity and my classic good looks, there is nowhere I can think of that would allow us to turn up in a hospital bed, except an operating theatre or mortuary.”

“Quite.” She looked as if she was remembering her own close call with ending up in the latter.

“When’s the date?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“What date?”

“With Dr Kildare.”

“It’s Kelly, Dr Kelly.”

“I was close. So is he from the Isle of Man, and if so does he know Mark Cavendish?”

“He’s vaguely Irish, or his uncle is and presumably so is his mother.”

“That’s no good. How am I supposed to meet Mark Cavendish?”

“Why don’t you write to him? You never know, the next time he’s cycling around the hospital car park, he might pop in.”

“Nah, he’ll be off doing the Giro D’Italia and then the TdF.”

“In which case you’ll have to wait until you’re well and then you can go and watch him race somewhere. I’m sure my darling brother would take you.”

“I wonder if they’ll let me home soon?”

“I think they usually move you to high dependency and then a normal ward before discharging you.”

“Couldn’t they just dump me into a wheelchair and push me home? Hey Sis, couldn’t you do that?”

“No I couldn’t, besides I can be here when Padraig comes to see you.”

“Who’s he?”

“My new friend, and your doctor.”

“Oh, the dishy doc?”

“Yes, he is rather dishy, isn’t he?”

“If you like that sort of thing.”

“What sort of thing?”

“He’s round-shouldered.”

“He rides a bike, what d’you expect?”

“Oh well he’s probably all right then.”

“He races for a Gosport club.”

“Can’t be all bad then, can he? Even Arrogant Armstrong raises money for cancer charity.”

“Why don’t you like Armstrong?”

“I think six TdFs in succession is a bit above what I’d expect from Superman.”

“He was never caught doping was he?”

“No, he was never caught.”

“Are you implying he did?”

“I’m not implying anything, Stella. He was never caught doping, let’s leave it at that.”

“Padraig wouldn’t dope, anyhow.”

“How do you know that? You only met him an hour ago.”

“I can tell—female intuition and all that.”

I shook my head at her. It wasn’t a good idea, it sent up my blood pressure and that set off some sort of alarm on a machine. Kirsty came running in.

“What’s happened?” she asked.

“Nothing, we were talking about Lance Armstrong.”

“Who’s he, a rock star or an actor?”

“He’s a cyclist.”

“So what are you talking about him for? Can’t he afford a car?”

“He probably has several, he’s a millionaire.”

“So, perhaps he’s an environmentalist.”

“I don’t know, but he’s from Texas.”

“Oh, so how do you know him?”

“I don’t, personally, neither does Stella. The closest I’ve been to him, is probably a few hundred yards away at the start of the TdF in London last year.”

“TdF? What’s that?”

“The Tour de France,” said Stella, concerned that this nurse knew less about cycling than she did.

“Oh that stupid bike race. Can’t be arsed with that, gi’mme a football match any day.”

“What? Where the levels of skill are so minimal, several premiership players have knuckles that drag on the ground when they walk? That football?”

“We have a premiership club here, so watch it!”

“It’s their players I was referring to.” This was a lie, but I was beginning to enjoy sparking people off, seeing as I couldn’t stay awake enough to read or watch telly.”

“What, you live here and don’t watch football? How could you?”

“Easily. If you hadn’t noticed, we have HMS Victory here too, but I’m not in the Royal Navy.”

“So you like cycling?”

“Yes,” Stella and I harmonised.

“You need to speak with Padraig, he likes bikes. Oh, but you did, didn’t you?” She smirked and left.

“I’m beginning to remember why I don’t like nurses.”

“Stella, you are a nurse, so stop talking nonsense.”

“I used to be a nurse, not any more.”

“I hope you still have your registration up-to-date.”

“Why?”

“Because in six months you’ll regret this and want to go back to curing people, and so forth.”

“I don’t think so.” She shook her head as if to clear it.

“You need some sleep, girl,” I said loudly. She almost jumped out of her skin.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right, I do need some sleep.”

“Yeah, so do I, so clear off.”

She hugged and we kissed—sort of—it wasn’t so much an air kiss, as an oxygen fly past. I knew I was tired and just a few moments after she left, I zonked for two whole hours.

Easy As Falling Off A Bike—

Hard As Landing On The Road! Part 371

by Angharad & Bouncing Bonzi

The next few days were as boring as before, perhaps more so as I was staying awake more of the time. Stella came in every day in time for Dr Kelly’s coffee break or lunch. If he was busy, she stayed and chatted with me.

At the end of that week, I was off all the machines and breathing much more easily. I could now laugh without it hurting, although coughing was not a good idea. I wondered how long it would take to get fit for riding again.

They decided to put me straight into a medical ward instead of high dependency. Young Dr Kelly still came to see me each day, as did Stella, and they tended to disappear together. I was now able to walk to the loo and to shower myself, so thoughts of going home came increasingly to my mind.

I began to ask the doctors and the ward sister when I could go home.

“You have to appreciate how ill you’ve been. You very nearly died,” the sister replied.

“Yes, I was there, part of the time anyway.”

“I don’t think you realise how much blood you lost.”

“Is that why I keep feeling like I’m somebody else?” I said in response and the stupid doctor thought I meant it. Thank goodness I didn’t actually say, ‘but I’m a Jehovah’s Witness!’ I was simply bored out of my brain.

I did discover the hospital had a gym attached and did manage to go down and do some mild exercising and then zonked out afterwards. I was in one such post-exercise coma when Stella came to visit and her Siamese twin Dr Kelly appeared milliseconds later. When they found I’d been on an exercise bike for an hour, they went somewhat ballistic. I’d only done twelve miles, why the fuss?

“Cathy, are you raving mad?”

“I will be if I stay here much longer.”

“It could take you up to two years to recover from the sort of experience you’ve had. You nearly died.” Padraig tried to lay down the law.

“Yes but that was with boredom. Since I discovered the gym, life has been better.”

“Stella told me you like to ride regularly and are quite good.”

“What else did she tell you?” I asked.

“That trying to get you to cooperate with taking it easy would be pretty well impossible.”

“Yes, I did.” She stood there arms crossed across her chest.

“Did she also tell you, she’s a pathological liar, given to delusional states and that she once tried to convince Tom she was a hedgehog?”

“No she didn’t.” He gave me a very funny look.

“Damn, it must be my medication, then.”

He looked at me even more strangely, then glanced at Stella. Suddenly, he began to snigger, which then grew into a chuckle: from whence it became a chortle, a laugh and finally a guffaw. He obviously liked to build up to a laugh.

“You two are crazy,” he pronounced finally.

“If you think we’re crazy, you should see her step-mum. She is barking, probably something to do with her having come from Labrador.” As I said this, even Stella’s stony countenance began to crack and she snorted.

“Just what am I going to do with you?” Padraig asked me. Actually, I think he asked anyone with an opinion, I just happened to answer first.

“Send me home, I can get a nurse to pop in everyday.” ‘Unless she’s out with you,’ I felt like adding, but didn’t.

“I’m going to start charging you fees if you think I’m going to stay home and look after you.” Stella sounded quite serious to the uncultured ear.

“I’ll get my fiancé to pay them. He’s a banker, you know!” I sneered at her.

“Banker, I must have misheard that earlier,” she riposted.

“Ladies, please, have some decorum.”

“Nah, it’s too fattening,” I said.

“It is not! Not if you get the decorum lite. It has the secret ingredient, manners—which cost nothing and weigh even less.” Stella was back on form.

“Manners! Pah! What do you know about manners, you who think that racism is believing in what’s going to win the Derby?”

“Isn’t it? You mean to tell me it’s something else?”

“I’m afraid so, and theism, isn’t a belief in the definite article.”

Padraig had to leave the room he was laughing so much. When he returned a few moments later, he said, “You two should be on the stage doing stand-up or improvisations.”

“I don’t think so,” I said, “most audiences fail to catch the speed of the one-liners. Consequently, they miss most of them.”

“I’m not entirely surprised. I hear you like Monty Python?” he asked me.

“I have been known to watch the odd one several times.”

“Why am I not surprised?” he said. “It’s nothing to do with the BBC saying anything, either. No, it’s just the surreal experience when you two get going.”

“What?” I tried to sound shocked and distressed, instead giving an impression of a broken bell push. “I am cut to the quick,” I said emotionally—all of it false.

“Yeah, but we healed that,” he said quickly before anyone else could.

“Can I go home then?”

“Tomorrow, I shall have words with my boss—if he says okay, you can go.”

“Oh good. Right wench, pack me a bag,” I said to Stella.

“Wench! I’ll go and get a wrench, and bang you on the head with it.”

“Leaving here will be such a wrench,” I said dramatically.

“Yeah, monkey variety,” said Stella, ending the discussion.

Easy As Getting Back On A Bike

Part 31 Dozen (372)

by Bonzi (Mum’s out riding)

It was Friday morning and I was laying on top of my bed trying to read Cycling Weekly while I waited for the decision from the consultant. Two of the women with whom I shared the four-bed unit were talking at volume and were making it harder to concentrate.

“But our Vera, says I should do more of it.”

“It’ll make you sore though, won’t it?”

“Not if I lubricate it proper like.”

Although I was trying to ignore them, this snippet caught my imagination and I had to know more.

“What with?”

“Dunno, maybe Vaseline or talc.”

Talc? What is she lubricating? I tried to return to my article on the Giro d’Italia, but concentrate I could not.

“Talc is awful messy.”

“Yeah, that’s what my hubby says, gets everywhere.”

My mind was definitely boggling—surely you can’t put talc there, can you?”

“I got him to put some padding on it to make it bigger.”

What? Gee whizz, what could she be talking about.

“Won’t you have difficulty getting it in?” asked her friend.

I put the magazine down, my focus was now on the conversation between two middle-aged overweight ladies. It was fascinating.

“Yeah, it’s so big, it rubs on my thigh.”

At this point, I almost lost it. I lay back on the bed trying to laugh silently. There were tears running down my face and anyone seeing me would have thought I was having a fit.

“I’ll have a word with the physio, see if she can make it easier for me.”

“That’s a good idea, save your ’ubby some effort.”

“Yeah, it takes up too much time first thing in the morning and last thing at night. He’s too tired by then.”

I had to sit up—I was in danger of choking myself through laughing. What a way to go!

“Maybe it’s ’im what needs the physio?”

“Yeah, could be right there, ’e can’t get his leg over at the end of the day.”

At this point I fell off the bed. Bloody hell, the floor was hard. I lay there for a moment getting my bearings before getting up, when I saw a pair of legs riddled in varicose veins standing in front of me.

“You all right, luv? I can’t really ’elp you up, my hys’trectomy in’t ’ealed yet, and me friend can’t get her false leg on, so she’s called the nurse.”

“I’ll be okay. Thanks for asking.” I was halfway back up when the nurse came in.

“What’s the prob, Glad?”

“It’s not me nurse, it’s the young ’un at the end, she fell outta bed.”

“I’m okay, I just leant back too far and overbalanced.”

The nurse gave me a quick look over. “You’ve got a couple of bruises coming up, I’ll get an ice pack. So how come you came to fall?”

“I was laughing at the joke in the magazine, and leant back without seeing where I was on the bed. It’s quite high up, isn’t it?”

I was now sitting on the bed, and the bruises were starting to hurt. I tried to work out what they were talking about, which my dirty mind had misconstrued. It had to be Gladys’ artificial leg. It was just so funny the way it came out.

A young doctor came to check me out, “How did you fall out of bed?”

“I didn’t, I fell off the bed. I wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing, leant back and fell off. It’s entirely my own fault.”

“You’re supposed to be discharged today, according to your notes.”

“Absolutely, can you do that?”

“No, you need to see the consultant, or his registrar.”

“Is that Dr Kelly?”

“The registrar is.”

“That should be okay then.” I felt happier.

“Dunno, the old man sometimes overrides his registrars.”

“But not today. I need to get home, I’ve been here too long now.”

“Miss Watts, please don’t be in too much of a hurry, you were pretty ill you know.”

“So you lot keep telling me.”

“You had ten units of blood.”

“What?”

“Practically a complete oil change.”

“That’s a bucketful!”

“Oh, more than that, you had a few units of saline and dextrose too.”

“Bloody hell.”

“I saw you admitted, it was touch and go and I have never seen so much blood. No, I tell a lie, when a guy’s aorta went, it sprayed everywhere. All up the walls, what a mess that was. Yours came from the wound and your attempts to breathe. You could have bled to death or drowned in your own blood.”

“Isn’t that what happened to Nelson?”

“Sort of, I believe. Anyway, back to you. The wound is stable, so I expect you’ll be able to go today, but don’t ’old your breath, just in case.”

“Okay, thanks.” He pulled the curtain back and the two old biddies asked how I was.

“I’m okay thanks, just a few bruises. So hopefully, I’ll be home later today.”

“Lucky you,” said Gladys, “I’m likely to be another week at least, through this sodding leg.” She lifted her surgically shortened leg into the air. “Damn ulcer won’t bloody heal, tried everythin’, we ’ave, my ’ubby even put new padding in the artificial one, but it was too tight for me stump. He couldn’t push it ’ard enough to get it in, an’ ’e couldn’t get his leg over mine and climb up on the bed, since ’e ’urt ’is back.”

“That’s bad luck,” I said, desperately trying to keep a straight face—any more of this and I’d possibly fall off the bed again.

Padraig walked in, “Catherine Watts, you can go home, just try not to hurt yourself before Stella comes to get you. She’s coming in an hour. Here’s the discharge letter for your doctor. See you later—oh, no cycling for at least a month.”

“See you later,” I said, trying to pretend I hadn’t heard him.

“You did hear me?”

“My hearing is fine,” I retorted, trying to ignore him.

“Good, because if Stella tells me you’ve been out on a bike, I’ll personally use you for vivisection.”

“You’d have to catch me first,” I said and smiled.

“I’d probably manage that, I’ve raced for the South of England team.”

Oh pooh, trust me to throw a challenge to someone more than capable of doing it.

“You ride for the university?” he asked me.

“I have done once, against Southampton.”

“My old alma mater. Did you win?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm, not the force it used to be.”

“It was a women’s race.”

“Ah that explains it.” So saying, he turned and left.

Easy As Falling Off A Hospital Bed Part 373

by Bonzi

I sat in the chair trying not to move too much. The bruising I’d received from falling off the bed was now becoming painful, and even breathing was hurting. I think I’d probably bashed some ribs a little too hard. If by non-disclosure, I was going to get out of the hospital, I would keep my suffering to myself.

Stella arrived. Moments later, so did Dr Kelly. I had an image float into my mind, that Stella released pheromones and Padraig Kelly, somewhere on his body had two feathery antennae which picked up on these within seconds, just as moths do. When I was doing my BSc at Sussex, I had to do a project on moths and pheromones—fascinating stuff, but I still prefer dormice.

“Are we ready then?” asked Stella, after she helped me pack my few belongings in my bag. “D’you mind if I just nip off with Paddy for a few minutes?”

“Carry on,” I said with resignation. I couldn’t sigh, it would have hurt too much.

I was busy listening to my MP3 player, when a nurse came by. Why do people always speak to you when you’d just as soon not talk to them?

“I thought I saw your sister, was I mistaken?”

I had to remove the earpieces, “Sorry?” A lie if ever I told one.

“I thought I saw your sister?”

“You did?”

“Where is she? Wasn’t she coming to take you home?”

“She will when it doesn’t interfere with her love life.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“She’s nipped off to the sluice for a quick how’s yer father.”

“She’s what?”

“She’s gone for a quick bonk.”

“What?” She was bristling with indignation.

“She’s gone for a coffee with a colleague.”

“Oh, right oh, would you like one? I’ll be bringing the trolley round in a minute.”

“I’ll have a cup of tea, if that’s okay?”

“Of course. You were joking about your sister, weren’t you?”

“What, about the coffee? Yes, she usually drinks tea.”

“No, about the how’s yer father bit?”

“I was just teasing,” I smiled and tried not to breathe.

I was just starting my tea when a flushed looking Stella returned. There was a sparkle in her eye, which could only have been caused by one thing, and it wasn’t Optrex. “When you’re ready,” she said.

“You could have a cuppa too, you know, or would a fag be more appropriate?”

“I don’t smoke, you know that.”

“Why are you looking so flushed then?”

“I’ve just run back from the cafeteria.”

“Why?”

“I thought you wanted to go home?”

“I do. Running didn’t give you that twinkle?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Never mind, I hope it was worth the risk.”

“Absolutely,” she said, with a faraway look in her eye.

A little while later, I was limping up the steps to the front door. “Are you sure you should be home? You seem to be in a lot of pain.”

“I fell off my bed yesterday, didn’t lover boy tell you?”

“No, how did you do that?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Of course, she challenged me and she didn’t believe me.

“They were talking about her prosthetic?”

“Yes, she had an artificial leg.”

“Well surely, when she mentioned talc, you didn’t really think she used it for, erm, you know what?”

“The whole conversation was surreal, two old biddies talking about what sounded like sex.”

“But other people’s sex lives are so passé.”

“Tell that to Kinsey.”

“Good lord, you didn’t read that, did you?”

“Of course I did, by the age of twelve, I’d read Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfield.”

“Who?”

“Never mind, it didn’t teach me very much anyway, except people were just as crazy in those days as they are now.”

“Do you think so?”

“You and Simon are living proof.”

“Yes—WHAT did you say?”

“I said it’s all about living your truth,” my fingers were crossed behind my back.

“Are you sure? I thought you said something about Simon.”

“I did, he lives his truth.” My fingers were still crossed.

She gave me a very funny look. Then after shaking her head in disbelief, she asked if I wanted a sandwich.

“As long as you don’t burn them.”

“Burn them? What are you on about? Did you bang your head?”

“Not as far as I know, why?”

“It’s an odd thing to say, are you sure you don’t have concussion?”

“Well your little friend examined me, so I should be all right.”

“Why?”

“I thought you said he was a good doctor?”

“He’s certainly good at some things, I don’t know about doctoring.” She had that dreamy look again. She also burnt the sandwiches. Don’t go there, I don’t want to know! Some things are better not known—‘ignorance is bliss,’ and all that. I was glad she wasn’t a surgeon.

“I get a distinct impression that you are getting fond of Padraig?”

She blushed and hesitated before she answered me, “And what gave you that impression?”

“A lifetime spent watching dormice.”

“What have dormice got to do with me? I think you’re taking the urine.”

“Oh, that’s where you’re so wrong. Like Miss Marple says, ‘there are patterns shown in simpler forms which are repeated’—or is it reflected?—‘upon a larger, more grandiose stage’.”

“You just made that up, didn’t you?”

“Would I do a thing like that?”

“Yes.”

“Oh ye of so little faith.”

“So you did make it up?”

“How can you say such things?”

“Easily, now tell me the truth, did you make it up?”

“Why would I do that?”

“I don’t know, but someone who could get engaged to Simon, is capable of anything.”

“Huh!” I pouted, “I shan’t tell you now.”

Easy As Staying On A Bike

& Winning The Gold Medal! Part 374

The afternoon wore on, tediously at times, as I tried not to move my painful ribs. Even going to the loo was a pain, the sitting and standing and bending to wipe the nether region: not a bit funny. I dozed now and again, but would wake myself up either by moving or coughing, which produced sharp pains in my chest.

I went and lay on my bed at one point, but couldn’t move for ages afterwards, getting all hot and bothered as I tried to work through the pain.

Stella popped up with my painkiller and a cuppa, and she had to help prop me up to drink it. Goodness, my ribs were sore—remind me not to do that again. I dozed off again and it was dark when I awoke. I struggled to reach the light switch, but finally managed it, temporarily blinding myself in the process.

It was nine o’clock, Simon was late, unless he’d been home and was downstairs keeping quiet ’cos I was asleep. That didn’t sound like Simon. I painfully wriggled my way off the bed and scuffed on my slippers. Then, I limped my way down the stairs.

Stella was asleep in the chair in front of the telly. If Simon was here, he was both quiet and invisible. Tom was at a meeting: there was a note on the fridge door.

I decided I’d make a cuppa and try and do some supper, something on toast—a quick and easy snack. I scrambled some eggs—not a good idea, lots of movement involved. While the toast was doing under the grill, I nuked the eggs in the microwave.

I roused Stella, who was cross with herself for falling asleep, though she forgave herself enough to come and eat her supper.

“Has Simon called?” I asked her.

“Not as far as I know, do a 1471* and see.”

“Could you? Mobility is not my strongpoint at the moment?”

“Yeah, sure.” She went off to the phone and came back with a face like a fiddle.

“Who’s stolen your lollipop?” I asked her.

“Nothing from Simon, but Paddy called and I missed it, fell asleep didn’t I?”

“Yes, I had noticed.”

“No Cathy, had you been wandering around, I’d have woken up.” She insisted that I was pulling her leg. I decided it wasn’t important enough to challenge.

“Where is Simon, he isn’t usually this late?”

Stella looked at her watch, “Yeah, he is a bit late, call his mobile.”

I tried it and it got the unobtainable noise. “Either his battery is down, he’s in a dead spot, or he’s switched it off. It’s not taking messages either.”

“What, not doing voicemail?”

“That’s what I said.”

“That’s a bit unusual, where is he?” She began to see why I was worried.

“So what do you suggest we do next?” I asked.

“Dunno, call Daddy, see if anything has happened at work?”

“Would you like to do that?” I suggested. I didn’t really want to talk to Henry.

“Yeah, sure.” Off she went.

I loaded the dishes in the dishwasher, each bend making new pains shoot through my ribs. Once or twice, I had to stand and hold onto something to control the pain. Usually, I do it with breathing exercises, that wasn’t entirely suitable for this.

“Are you all right?” Stella came bounding across the kitchen. “Come on, come and sit down; I’ll finish that.” She helped me struggle to a chair, “You did hurt yourself didn’t you?”

“Yes, my own stupid fault—I mean, how can you just fall off a bed?”

“Most people would find it difficult, but you do the difficult all the time.”

“Thank you, I think.” I wasn’t entirely sure she was complimenting me. If she was, it was a bit of a back handed one.

She disappeared and came back with my pills, “Come on, take them and it will help the pain.”

“I hate pills, Stella.”

“So do I, but I hate the pain more.”

“Okay, you’ve convinced me.” I swallowed them with the water she brought me.

We heard the door open and Stella dashed off to see who it was. It was Tom. He came into the kitchen and wanted to hug me, seeming confused by my refusal, until I explained things.

“Where’s Simon? I’d have thought he’d be here by now?” asked Tom.

“According to Daddy, he left at the normal time as far as he knows. Mind you, he did say, he hadn’t actually seen him today.”

“Maybe he’s broken down somewhere en route?” suggested Tom.

“Yeah, or maybe he’s been kidnapped or had an accident. He could be lying in a ditch somewhere.” I did my impression of a drama queen.

“If he is, he’s going to get wet; it was raining as I came in.” Tom switched on the kettle. “So how are you, surrogate offspring?”

“In pain, my ribs hurt.”

“So Stella said, how did you do that, in the attack?”

“No, I fell off my bed, just leant back and rolled off, cracked my ribs.”

“That’s a pretty dumb thing to do, even by your standards.”

“Oh thanks, your sympathy is underwhelming.”

“Go on tell him the truth,” urged Stella, “She fell down ten flights of stairs and hit every step.”

“That sounds more reasonable than falling off the bed, not even out of it.”

“The banisters were made of kryptonite,” said Stella, laughing as she spoke.

“Stopped her flying, did it?” asked Tom.

“Yeah.”

“I’ve noticed she wears her knickers over her tights.”

“Yeah, a dead giveaway, don’t you think?”

“Absolutement,” said Tom in a worse French accent than I can do.

We drank another round of tea, and were still discussing what could have happened to Simon, when the phone rang. I jumped and the pain that shot through the rear part of my chest was like a knife. Actually, it wasn’t, the knife I did feel was nothing like that at all.

Tom looked at his watch, “I’ll answer that if you like,” but he was too late, Stella was up and at it as quick as a flash. I felt quite sick.

Easy As Failing On A Bike (375)

Part Three Hundred and Seventy Bloody Five!

Time seemed to hang, as the phone rang again. Then it stopped as Stella picked it up. Tom and I looked at each other. She came back in. “Wrong bloody number,” she banged her hand on the table in frustration.

We had another pot of tea and Tom suggested we all went to bed, as sitting up waiting achieved nothing. Stella helped me up the stairs and then decided to sleep with me.

“Do you mind?” she asked.

“If you can cope with my grunting and groaning, feel free.” I grimaced as I undressed.

“Geez Cathy, you have some lovely bruises.”

“How can bruises be lovely?” I winced as she touched them.

“Arnica, that’s what you need, I have some in my room.” She disappeared presumably to get them. I hoped she meant pills not cream.

She returned a few moments later with a small tube of homeopathic pills. I read the instructions and took a couple of them. As a scientist, I was aware of the dismissal of homeopathy by mainline medicine, but if it would have helped, I’d have drunk nettle juice.

I slept fitfully, and I suspect Stella did, too. I heard her talking in her sleep—it didn’t sound as if she was enjoying the dream—so I gently told her she was okay. She rolled over and slept more peacefully after that. I crept out to the loo—all that wretched tea!

At about six the next morning, there was a ringing on the front door bell. I struggled to get out of bed. Stella woke and blearily got up and looked out the window. “Shit, it’s the police, Simon—oh my God!”

“Oh no!” I wailed and followed her down the stairs, my aches and pains temporarily forgotten. I got to the hall a few steps behind her. She opened the door.

“Lady Catherine Cameron?” he asked Stella.

“No, I’m Stella Cameron, it’s my sister-in-law you want.”

“Lady Cameron?” he addressed me.

“I’m Catherine, yes?”

“May we come in?”

We showed them into the lounge, by which time Tom was also up. “We may have some bad news for you.”

“Yes?” I said, and Stella rushed to my side.

“We have a report of an accident on the M3. Your husband’s car has been involved and it’s very badly damaged by fire. It appears it hit a tanker and they both exploded into a huge fireball. The motorway has been closed all night.”

I felt myself swaying—thankfully, so did Stella, “Tom, a chair, quickly.”

He snatched up a spare dining chair and they shoved it behind me. I collapsed onto it.

“Is my brother dead?” asked Stella.

“I’m afraid the driver of the car is, so is the tanker driver.”

“When did this happen?” asked Tom.

“According to witnesses, about one this morning. They said the car was being driven erratically and was speeding. We have some videos of the car being driven in excess of a hundred miles per hour.”

“Why would Simon be driving at that speed?”

“Was he in a hurry?”

“Why, he could have phoned to say he was held up. It doesn’t make sense.” I was somehow too shocked to cry. First me, now him. It made no sense.

“Do we need to identify a body?”

“I’m afraid any remains are too badly burned to recognise. It’ll be from dental records now. Could we have the name of his dentist?”

“Yes, erm, I can’t remember, can you Stella?”

“Yeah, Sam Hodson, in Hampstead, we’ve gone there since we were kids.”

“Okay, thanks.” The young copper noted it in his notebook, and Stella went and got her address book which gave chapter, verse and phone number.

“But we don’t know if it was Simon, do we?” I said pathetically, knowing that he’d had kittens when I drove his car.

“No ma’am, we don’t for sure, and may not for some days.”

“Oh, great!” I sighed.

“I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is in these things.”

“We think there were two in the car, any idea who the other might be?”

“Two? No officer, I have no idea. Maybe a hitchhiker?”

“Could be. Okay thanks for your help. Sorry to be the bearers of bad news. Please accept our condolences. Is there anyone you want to speak to?”

“Only Simon,” I said shaking my head. “I can’t take this in.”

“You going to be okay, Lady Catherine?” asked the second copper.

“We’ll look after her,” said Tom. “Can I show you out?”

“This can’t be happening—I won’t believe it,” I said. “Simon, can’t be dead, he just can’t be.”

“Who was the second person?” asked Stella.

“I need some coffee, strong and black.” Tom went out to the kitchen.

“Tell me this is a bad dream,” I said to Stella.

“Yeah, a veritable nightmare. Hang on in there kid, you’ll wake up in a minute and find my brother sucking on your boob.”

The absurdity of what she said made me laugh, and laugh and finally I lost it in a bout of hysterical laughter. I vaguely recall Stella helping me into bed, but after that I can’t remember much at all, except this sense of emptiness, clawing away inside me, then sleep.

Easy As Losing It All Completely Part 376

by Angharad & >^^<

The rest of the morning seemed to go by in a dream. I stayed in bed, refusing food and drink and anything else.

“You’ve got to eat and drink something, Cathy.”

“Why?” I challenged Stella.

“Because you need to keep your strength up, that’s why.”

“What for?”

“I’ll come back in a bit.”

Another time I heard Tom’s voice say, “No, she’s sleeping. Leave her in peace for now.”

I had awful dreams, like I was in the car with Simon. Why had the universe done this to me? It was so cruel, I didn’t even have a body I could mourn over—just a mess of charred flesh, fat and bones. I could almost smell it—I jumped out of bed and got to the loo barely in time, as I vomited down the bowl. I felt awful. I washed out my mouth with the tooth glass. It didn’t help very much.

Stella came rushing in, “Are you okay?”

“I’ve just been sick.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“They think it was Simon. They found his watch at the scene and the remains of his wallet.”

“How do you know?”

“They phoned earlier, I’m sorry.” I collapsed sobbing in her arms and she helped me back to bed. My legs would hardly carry me. “I’ll make you a nice cuppa, you just rest a while.”

I lay in the bed, wrapped in a duvet and shivered—this gnawing coldness which started in my stomach was expanding to fill my whole being. It was like my soul was being sucked out of me by some mysterious vacuum cleaner. My life force was succumbing to it and I didn’t care. Why had I bothered to recover from my injuries—for this? Had I known what was going to happen, I’d have let go then.

It seemed the universe wanted one or all of us dead. It tried Stella, and we managed to save her, then me, and they saved me, and now Simon. This time it gave us no chance to intervene, which was so unfair. I’d have fought the devil himself to save my Simon, or offered to go in his place. Maybe if I was to die, they’d let Simon go.”

I was so confused, I didn’t really know which way was up. Logic would have told me it was always the opposite from the way I was heading, because I was definitely heading down. I should have died, not him, they should have let me die when I first tried it two years ago, then none of this would have happened.

God was punishing me for being abhorrent in his sight, getting at me by hurting those I loved. Destroying them because I loved them. Well, now I’d just lie there and die, if not from a broken heart, then I’d never eat again or drink anything, not ever again. Once I was dead, I was going to show that bastard God, what for!

I didn’t really believe in him anyway—stupid folk tales. When we’re dead, we’re dead, end of story. So why did I find myself praying, praying for the life of my Simon. “Let him live and take me instead.” I was chanting it like a mantra. All I wanted was the chance to say goodbye first, then He could do what He wanted with me.

It was dark and Stella and Tom had been in to beg me to eat or drink—I refused. They sat with me and reasoned with me, but I ignored them, doing my mantra in my head.

It was light again, was that another day or more? What did I care? I was simply waiting to die. Almost looking forward to it—how crazy was that? But if it brought Simon back, it would be worth it.

My stomach jerked with cramp and wind pains—I wasn’t going to eat or drink. I’d made my covenant and was prepared for it, the pain made me connect with reality for a short while, but I was soon drifting again.

“Cathy, Cathy wake up,” someone was shaking my shoulder.

“Go away,” I said, it was distracting me from my mantra.

“It’s okay, he’s alive. He’s alive, they’ve found him.”

“Go away,” I repeated my repulsion.

“Cathy, Simon is alive and well. They have found him.”

“What? Are you sure?” My heart leapt, my covenant had worked. He had been spared, now the Angel of Death would come for me. I’d go willingly if that’s what it took.

“He got mugged in a car park belonging to the bank. They stole everything and left him tied up in a cupboard. A maintenance man found him an hour ago. He didn’t die, he’s okay. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Yes, it’s wonderful and it worked.”

“What worked?”

“I told God to save him and take me. It’s worked.”

“Don’t be silly. He never did die, so how can you switch places with him?”

“That’s how these things work, but I know. I’m allowed to see him before I die, that was a concession I insisted on.”

“Cathy, listen to me: No one is going to die. You are both going to live happily ever after together.”

“No, you don’t understand! I have to die for him to live.”

“That isn’t so, Cathy. It’s the shock, you’re suffering from shock. You are both going to live.”

“I don’t think so,” I said. I coughed and could taste blood. It was beginning. I could feel it stopping me speaking.

“Oh my God, the lung is haemorrhaging. Tom, Tom get an ambulance, quickly.” I heard this in the background and I drifted. Breathing became more difficult, eased a little by the oxygen and the ambulance.

“I must see Simon,” I gasped, “It’s in my covenant, I must see Simon.” Then it all went dreamy.

Easy As Fading Away Part 377

by Angharad (>^^< is out clubbing.)

I vaguely remember being poked about, and being lifted and moved around. I think I even watched it at one point, having an out of body experience or should that be, an out of mind experience? All the endorphins and enkephalins floating around my dying brain might have been the cause. No tunnel of light, no pain, just a floating sensation in a darkness that I found neither frightening nor unfriendly.

I think I heard voices—well, they say hearing is the last sense to go. I’m not sure of anything—until the pain. I seemed to be aware of the burning in my chest, deep inside me. It felt as if I’d been hit by something radioactive which had buried itself deep inside me and was boiling my insides to mush.

I think I must have groaned, because I felt almost instant attention, although I had no real idea of time. I heard Simon’s voice and I felt happy, I think I may even have wept. A familiar voice in a sea of nothing.

My body still felt a bit detached from me, sensations were rather fuzzy but I think he squeezed my hand, and I think he kissed my forehead.

“Oh, Cathy, you’ve come back to us,” he said, sounding like a pathetic Heathcliff.

I could hear the beeping of machines, where the hell was I? My head felt like mushie peas that had been left to ferment and intoxicate themselves. The beeping was regular, some sort of clock?

What was Simon on about? Come back? I haven’t been anywhere, have I? Must have forgotten. Maybe I’ve been up to Bristol, I don’t know, I can’t remember it if I did.

As my senses came back to life, the pain increased and I groaned again, “It hurts,” I think I said, not really sure. Sounds like me, whingeing.

“Don’t ever leave me again, Babes, I couldn’t bear it.” I felt him grip my hand in both of his. There was something sticking in the back of it—what’s the matter with him, can’t he see it? And that bloody beeping, what the bloody hell is it?

I tried to open an eye. It felt all stuck together, my eyelids, I mean. I tried to move my other arm, but it had something stuck on the back of it too. What is going on?

“Simon,” I said weakly, “Where am I?”

“You’re in hospital, Babes, you had another bleed in your lung.”

“What’s bleeping? It’s driving me nuts, I can’t sleep for it.” I don’t know how much of this I actually verbalised, maybe none of it, I felt so incredibly tired. I think I fell asleep, I don’t really know.

The pain was still there but easier. I could feel someone holding my hand. “Drink,” I croaked. I felt a straw being pushed into my lips and I sucked some cool water into my mouth and swallowed it very carefully. “Thanks,” I said a little easier. The straw was removed.

“How do you feel?” asked a familiar voice.

“Shit,” I said.

“Can you open your eyes?” asked a different voice, a woman’s.

“Why?” I asked, not wanting to make the effort.

“Please, for me.”

“Who… you?” I missed out a word somewhere, I think.

“Dr Crabbtree. You’re in Intensive Care and you’ve been very ill. You’ve had your eyes closed for several days, I need to see if you can open them. Will you please open them for me?”

“Oh duck!” I said, wondering why I was talking about birds. “Stuck,” I said, maybe that was what I said the first time?

“Hang on, I’m going to bathe them in some warm water for you.” I felt something wet being rubbed around and over my eyelids. Then something drying them, very gently. “Please try again.”

They opened slightly and the light was so intense it hurt. I closed them.

“Hold on, I’m switching the lights off, please try again.”

I opened them again and everything was blurry. It took me several seconds to focus and it wasn’t as clear as usual.

“Hello, Darling,” said Simon, I think he was smiling.

“What am I doing in here?”

“Your lung started to bleed again.”

“Again?”

“Don’t you remember being stabbed?”

“Sort of.”

“You’ve been very ill and your memory will probably sharpen as you get stronger.” The doctor was a young woman, barely older than I was.

“Thank you,” I said to her.

“What for, I haven’t done anything?”

“You bathed my eyes, didn’t you?”

“Yes I did.” She smiled. “However, the one you’ve got to thank is Dr Kelly, he sat up all night with you a week ago, draining off your lung.”

“Stella’s friend?”

“I think so, but I’m not entirely sure,” she sounded a little embarrassed.

“That’s the one,” said Simon.

“I must thank him,” I said very quietly.

“I have a feeling Stella did that for you, if he wasn’t too tired.” Simon smirked, which was just as well because my brain wasn’t quick enough to pick up on the innuendo without help.

“Oh!” I think I squeaked and felt a wave of fatigue roll over me like an Atlantic swell.

Simon or Stella were there every day waiting for me to wake and drop off while they were saying things to me. If Simon was in a good mood, he’d read me bits from Cycling Weekly. He avoided Dr Hutch, as I laughed and my ribs hurt. I had a feeling that was an older injury, but my mind was still fuzzy.

Tom came in to see me and to tell me he was away for a few days to see his sister in Scotland. I was still in hospital when he came back, although no longer in intensive care.

“You look better today,” said Simon.

“I feel quite a bit better. How long have I been here?”

“Nearly a month. The TdF starts soon.”

“You’re joking?”

“I’m not, here look at the comic.” I took the Cycling Weekly from his hand and looked at the date, it was the middle of June. I gasped.

“I’ve lost a month of my life,” I said in horror.

“You very nearly lost far more than a month.” Simon took the magazine from my trembling hand, “And I nearly lost everything.”

Easy As Swimming Up Hill Part 378

by Angharad (>^^< is out with the boys)

“You nearly lost everything? What, you mean the car and your wallet?”

Simon looked at me. “What? No. Cars and wallets can be replaced, people can’t—especially someone as special as you.”

I felt like saying, ‘I didn’t know you cared,’ but I did know. It was just he didn’t say it quite as explicitly as that. I felt moved to tears and began to cry.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said squeezing my hand.

“I’m not upset, I’m happy,” I said bawling my eyes out.

“Women!” I heard him mutter before he hugged me.

The consultant came in to visit the ward and Simon was made to withdraw, however, he made it known he wanted to talk to the great man before he left.

Mr Nicholas Gordon was the thoracic surgeon and arrived at my bed with his entourage. “And how is Miss Watts today?”

“Better for your intervention, thank you.”

He smiled. “Right, ladies and gents, gather round. Miss Watts here, is a very interesting case. She was stabbed whilst out riding her bike, the knife penetrating the lung and causing a nasty bleed. She nearly died. We sewed her up and sent her off and she was doing quite well when a few days later she had a nasty shock, which started a spontaneous bleed in the wound site. She nearly died again. She now has only seven lives left.”

The pulled the curtains round and I was prodded and poked as he, then the students, examined me. He asked them questions and they answered, then they asked him questions and he answered. Finally, one of the students asked if they could ask me a question. He nodded and I agreed.

Expecting a question about my experience or the treatment, I nearly fell off the bed when the student said, “What sort of bike was it?”

“A road bike—more?” I asked and the student nodded.

“It’s an S works Ruby, does that mean anything?”

“Nice bike,” said the student, “was it damaged?”

“No, my fiancé’s SL Tarmac nearly was, he apparently tried to shove it down the throat of the attacker, who was waving a knife around.”

“What was the cause of the shock?” asked another student.

“I had word that my fiancé’s car had been involved in an accident and that the car had exploded in flames.”

“Oh, poor you.”

“Thankfully, it was his car, but not him. He’d been mugged in London that evening and his car and wallet stolen, so they thought it was him. He was tied up and left in a lock up cupboard in an underground car park. He was discovered by a maintenance engineer a few hours after the accident.”

The group gave a collective sigh. A small female student at the back put a hand up to ask a question. “Can I ask Miss Watts a question?” Mr Gordon nodded and looked at me, I agreed.

“Was it you I saw on YouTube, juggling dormice?”

“Oh yeah, have you seen it? It’s really funny, it goes down her jumper,” said one student to another. There was group tittering until Mr Gordon called everyone to order. He looked at me. I was blushing.

“You know,” I said, “if I saved the planet from annihilation, the only thing I’d be remembered for is that bloody video.”

“It is rather funny,” added Mr Gordon, “Thanks for your cooperation. This way children,” he called to his entourage as he led them off to their next victim.

“That bloody video!” I said under my breath.

I saw Simon approach the man near the entrance to the ward. They talked for a few moments and then shook hands, Simon came in to me smiling.

“What were you cooking up?” I asked him looking at the smirk on his face.

“Who me?” he asked, “I’m innocent even after proven guilty—it’s a frame up I tell you.”

“Guilty of what?”

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, unless you count… nah, you wouldn’t would you?”

“Simon, please shut up.” He did. “Now what were you talking to Mr Gordon about?”

“Sorry, I can’t. It would be a breach of patient confidentiality.”

“Which patient?” I asked.

“I just told you, I can’t tell you.”

“Aaaaarrrrrrrrrghhhhhhhhh!” I squealed.

“Oh, okay, seeing as it was you we were talking about.”

“Saying what about me?”

“Asking if you could go home soon?”

“And he said?”

“He said ‘yes.’ So I asked if I could take you away for a few days.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure he said that was okay.”

“He did.”

“Like hell!”

“I actually had somewhere else in mind.”

“Ha bloody ha, like where?”

“France.”

“What for?”

“I thought you might like to see one or two stages of the TdF. You have to rest and remain calm.”

“At that madhouse? You have to be joking?”

“I am, actually.”

“Don’t tease me Simon. You know how much I’ve always wanted to see it in France.

“Which is why I have reservations at three different hotels and my new car on standby.”

“What is it, another Saab?”

“I thought I’d try a Jaguar, this time.”

“Oh, an expensive Mondeo then?”

“No, this is an XK class one.”

“The sports one?”

“The same.”

“Oh I can’t wait to drive one of those. Simon, are you all right? You seem to have gone very pale. Simon?”

Easy As Falling Down A Category 4 Part 379

Jaguar XK

“When do I get to see the new phallic symbol, then?”

“What?” asked Simon.

“The Jag.”

“Phallic symbol? What’s that supposed to mean? I thought you of all people would know that.”

“I was joking, Si. Here, let me kiss your ego better.”

“The smirk on your face tends to suggest you are taking the urine.”

“Who, moi?” I pretended to be aghast at his suggestion. “Je suis mortified!”

“What?”

“It’s Franglais, don’t interrupt when I’m thinking.”

“Sorry,” he paused for a moment, “What?”

I sniggered, “Some days Si, you can be awfy thick.”

“You sound like Oor Wullie*.”

“Aye hen…”

“Nae, that’s The Broons*,” he sniggered.

“We used to get both at Christmas from my Scottish grandmother. I loved them as a kid, now I prefer Calvin and Hobbes.”

“That boy is positively sick, a born sociopath if ever there was one.”

“If you don’t like it, why do you read them?” I asked.

“Because you have several of them and they are easy reading when going to bed.”

“Have you taken some up to London?” I thought I had more than the few on the shelf at Tom’s.

“I’m pleading the fifth, on account that any answer might incriminate me.”

“We don’t have a fifth amendment, so how can you plead it?”

“It’s a free country, I can do what I want.”

“This is true, but we don’t have a written constitution, so it follows case law.”

“So?”

“So you can’t plead it.”

“Your saying that means you are depriving me of a right I should have under the human rights act.”

“What are you on about?”

“It is depriving me, and thus contrary to the human rights act.”

“The human rights act? I always thought it was designed to protect all the people in Europe, enable security of a home, work, family and religious worship.”

“You don’t vote then?”

“Is that covered too?”

“I’d have thought so, otherwise we are in trouble.”

“Don’t do politics,” I sighed.

“Not on the grand scale we do in Westminster but otherwise you seem very political, from your bloody Guardian, to your choice of clothing.

“My clothing?”

“Yes, your Che Guevara tee shirt.”

“Wearing a Che tee shirt doesn’t make me a rebel, nor revolting.”

“Revolting?”

“The peasants are revolting.”

“Not that old chestnut!” he shook his head.

“Sorry, but I thought you went peasant shooting.”

“Much as I’d like to, I resist the urge. I don’t even shoot pheasants nowadays.”

“That’s the ones, pheasants,” I squealed and Simon winced.

“I don’t think Che Guevara was into saving pheasants, unless it was for dinner tomorrow. Besides what has it got to do with the price of dormice?”

“Simon, Che Guevara wasn’t a dormouse, I have proof of that.”

“Incontrovertible scientific evidence?”

“Erm? Not entirely, but photos of his body after he was shot by the Bolivian police.”

“So it should show his hairy tail?”

“At the risk of sounding indelicate, wouldn’t the hairy dangly bit, be something other than a tail?”

“Does the photo show that?” He looked almost horrified.

“Not as far as I know, wouldn’t it be a Che too far?”

He groaned, “I have to go, I’ll pick you up at teatime, be ready.”

“Why can’t I come home now?”

“Mr Gordon originally said he’d check you tomorrow. I said I wanted to take you for a short holiday. He agreed it would be okay, he would organise a discharge note in case you were taken ill in France.”

“He doesn’t think that does he, ’cos if so, I’d rather stay home.”

“No, he’s just covering every eventuality.”

“Have you really bought a Jaguar?”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Can I take that fifth amendment…?”

(* Oor Wullie and The Broons, are comic strips in The Sunday Post, a Scottish newspaper.)

Easy As Winning Gold Medals! Part 380

by >^^< the wonder cat

Hospitals are boring at the best of times. I’d read the latest Cycling Weekly, Procycling and Cyclesport several times. Lunch was far from inspiring—hotpot, with a novelty twist, it was cold. The old lady across from me asked me what I had ordered.

“Lancashire hotpot, I don’t think it’s what I got though.”

“Me neither, but eat it quick before it clots.”

We both laughed and managed to force down about a third of the rapidly congealing goo. “Not hungry?” said the nurse as she collected the plates a little later.

“Not for that, I’m not.”

“The sweet is spotted dick.”

“Okay, I hope it’s warmer than that was.”

“Why, was it cold?”

“See that big lump there?” I said to her.

“There?” she said pointing gingerly.

“That’s a baby iceberg in the making.”

She laughed and brought the sweet. “Hey this isn’t spotted dick.”

“Yes it is,” she said, “they just gave it some penicillin.” It was actually syrup sponge.

“You’re right, I can taste the penicillin,” I called after her.

“That’s not penicillin, that’s the bromide in the custard, to stop us attacking the doctors.”

“Does it work on women as well then?” I asked, unaware if it did or not.

“When did you last fancy a doctor?” she asked.

“I take your point,” I answered, not really fancying any of them, although I think that may have been down to an aesthetic thing rather than chemicals in the food.

“What are you reading?” she asked.

“Some cycling magazines.”

“Ach, they’re no good to me. Funny thing for a girl to read.”

“I’m a keen cyclist,” I replied, “more at home with bike chains than knitting.”

“God, you’re like my late hubby, he liked his bike when we were younger. Used to ride miles we did, or ’e did, we ’ad a tandem at one point, went to Brighton on it one weekend—couldn’t walk for a week, nor sit down!” She began to laugh and then she wheezed. “’ark at me now, couldn’t ride to save me life.”

“It nearly killed me too.”

“’ow come? Did you crash or summat?”

“No, I got stabbed by some lunatic as I was going up Portsdown hill.”

“I ’eard about that, you’re married to some local nob, ain’t ya?”

“Simon, yeah, he’s Lord Cameron.”

“So does that make you Lady Muck, then?”

“Only before I shower, afterwards, I’m Lady Clean.”

She laughed until her chest caught up with her, and she coughed and wheezed, her chest doing its impression of a demented cement mixer. “Do you race on your bike?”

“That was the intention until the lunatic stabbed me, caught me in the lung.”

“Why did he attack you?”

“I have no idea, I’d never met him or anything as far as I know.”

“They ought to bring back hanging, that’d sort these swine out.”

“I don’t think it would,” I felt strongly against the death penalty.

“Oh yes it would, you mark my words young woman, I’ve been around a bit longer than you. We didn’t have all these stabbings and things then.”

“I don’t know, in the eighteenth century, when they hanged you for practically anything, stabbings happened. Footpads and highway robbers were fairly common, hanging didn’t stop them.”

“That was very long ago, I mean more since the last war, it’s got crazy with all these do-gooders, bloody criminals have more rights than the victims.”

“Yeah, you tell her Myrtle, said the woman in the next bed to her, “those that were ’anged, never did it no more, did they?”

Admittedly, I couldn’t argue against that statistic, the problem was, it needed incontestable evidence that they’d done it in the first place. There have been so many controversial cases of wrongful convictions for loads of different reasons, that capital punishment just wasn’t safe. Even if it was, I’d be against it. Killing is wrong, one of the few things I agree with in the Bible, although much of that supposedly sacred text seems to either exhort or excuse the dreadful deed.

I enjoyed the conversation, despite its somewhat morbid subject—it passed the afternoon. Eventually Simon arrived.

“’ere, look aht girl, ’ere’s Lord Muck. Where’s yer white charger then?”

Simon looked at me, I was sniggering. He pointed at himself with regard to the conversation. I nodded.

“My charger? Erm, yes, it’s tethered in the car park. You know hospitals these days, no consideration for visitors or patients. Are you ready, Darling?” He laid on the lah-de dah element with a trowel.

“Coming, Darling,” I cooed back.

He picked up my bag, and looking around the ward said, “Well, toodle pip.”

Not to be outdone, I waved and called, “Chin chin, eh what?” Then we got outside and laughed ourselves silly.

“What was that all about?” he asked. I explained the afternoon’s activities from congealed cold-pot, to a debate upon capital punishment.

“Sounds like the House of Lords.”

“Do you have a seat there, then?”

“No, they stopped a lot of that a few years ago. Only selected peers now and I’m not politically motivated. I certainly wouldn’t accept the party whip, I do my own thing, so I’d be a cross-bencher much of the time.”

“I think you have quite a nice disposition, I think you’d be more a nice bencher.”

He laughed and explained that it meant the ‘cross’ bit related to where they sat between the major party groups.

We strolled out to the car park and he showed me the car, a convertible Jaguar XK. It was a very pretty car. “What do you call her?”

“I hadn’t even thought of that? What do you think we should call her?”

“Erm, how about, Sylvie?”

“Sylvie? Where does that come from?”

“Well, she’s silver coloured, and I think it fits her, don’t you?”

“If you think so, then it’s fine with me.” He hugged me and we kissed.

Easy As Calling For A Rite

(2 of which don’t make a rong!) Part 381

by Angharad (>^^< has gone to church)

I got into the new car and was impressed by the comfort of the leather seats. I sat and wheezed for a moment. The slightest exertion seemed to leave me breathless.

Simon sat looking concerned, “If ever I meet that bastard again, he is dead meat.”

While I understood his feelings, his anger made me even more excited and thus breathless. I took a hit of my inhaler and it slowly eased. “Let the legal process deal with him, he isn’t worth the aggro.”

“For all the distress he’s caused you and our family, he should be locked up for life, and it should mean that.”

“I don’t want to argue about it, can we go home?” We went via a pharmacy and purchased a nebuliser—I had to use it twice a day until my breathing returned to normal. All I wanted to do was ride my bikes—that could be ages away. I didn’t dwell on it because it would either make me angry or depressed, but I could certainly see where Simon was coming from.

Simon drove us gently home, although we did have the roof down. I was wrapped up like an extra for The Mummy, and despite the sunshine, I was glad of the insulation. When we got home, he helped me to the house and then went back for the bits and pieces. Tom was waiting, and he escorted me into the house and led me through to the kitchen, where he switched on the kettle.

“Are you going to make your own tea, or shall I do it?”

I nearly risked it—I mean, what is there to get wrong, but he does and it isn’t just a bit too strong or weak, it’s just a bit too undrinkable. I asked him to put a tea bag in the mug and pour on hot water, I’d add the milk and pull it out when I considered it strong enough—not very long in my case. I carefully squeezed out the tea bag against the mug and the spoon and added milk. I like milky tea unless I’m drinking green tea.

“Ugh! I don’t know how you can drink that anaemic looking fluid.” Tom’s opinion never faltered.

“I didn’t ask for your opinion. I don’t express one when you throw that mud down your throat in the mornings, please don’t when I’m drinking my tea.”

“That mud, is pure Columbian coffee, it should be savoured strong and black.”

“Fine, this ’ere is boggo standard Typhoo and I drink it how I like, so there.”

Stella came rushing in, “Sorry I was upstairs,” we hugged and air kissed. “So how do you like his new chariot?”

“It’s very nice.” I kept the remark short, I was feeling a little winded.

“I can’t wait to borrow it,” she said and chuckled.

“It’ll be the last thing you do,” Simon walked in and spoke very menacingly. “It’s insured for the owner driver only.”

“You rat!” exclaimed Stella.

“I beg your pardon?” replied her brother.

“How dare you exclude me from driving your car?”

“How dare I what? It is my car after all.”

“Oh yeah, mine is my car, but it doesn’t stop you borrowing it.”

“You weren’t driving it at the time, if I remember correctly.”

“But the insurance, we’ve always had a block insurance,” Stella protested vigorously.

“Well, it was cheaper to go for owner driver. Even Cathy won’t be able to drive it.”

Not wishing to enter the discussion, I waved it on. I really didn’t have the breath to waste on pointless arguments. Stella had her own car, which Simon had paid for. I think he paid for the insurance as well, so maybe he had some entitlement to use it. She paid nothing towards his, so I didn’t support her argument.

I sipped my tea and then excused myself. The noise about the car was continuing as I struggled up the stairs to rest and then to nebulise. I suddenly had great sympathy for asthma and other chest problems. Would I ever ride my bikes again, and more immediately, would I be well enough to go to France to see the TdF, unless Simon borrowed a wheelchair? My eyes felt wet when I lay on the bed still blowing hard after climbing the stairs.

I awoke with a start, my heart hammering inside my chest, until I realised Simon was sitting on the bed watching me sleep. “How do you feel?”

“Breathless.”

“Are you going to be well enough to go to France?”

“I don’t know, sorry, it was a lovely idea.”

“There’s always next year.”

“I’d love to see Millar and Cavendish ride in the flesh.”

“I thought they wore racing skins.”

“Ha ha, very funny.” I went to say some more but had to stop and breathe.

“I think I’m going to phone the doctor, we need oxygen and I want a second opinion.” He kissed me and went downstairs.

I started up the nebuliser and put in the drug the hospital had given me and inhaled the moist air from the machine. I hoped things improved rapidly, otherwise my life was going to became insufferable. I tried desperately not to dwell on the attack and the idiot who perpetrated it—I tried instead to visualise myself getting better and riding once again.

Simon returned, “The doc is on his way,” he smiled at me attached to the machine.

“Thank you,” I said, struggling with the noise of the machine to make myself heard through the mask.

“That’s okay. Nothing is too good for you, I want you as fit as a flea so we can cycle together again, like old times.” He smiled at me and I burst into tears.

Easy As Bleeding After Worming Bonzi

Part 382 zillion

I lay on the bed trying to breathe. I began to understand how a fish felt out of water, all this air and yet I could hardly breathe. I was gasping and beginning to get frightened. I knew that to panic would make me hyperventilate, and that would make things worse. I tried to pause and breathe deeply, then pause and exhale. It was so hard, my heart was pounding and I felt very afraid—like I was drowning on dry land.

“That’s the doorbell,” said Simon and he disappeared, re-emerging a couple of moments later with a stranger, who I presumed was a doctor.

“Hi, I’m Dr Wainwright, let’s have a look at you.” He paused and watched me gasping for air. Then he listened to my chest and heart. “Do you get asthma?”

I shook my head and Simon told him about my two recent hospitalisations following the stabbing.

“Have you unpacked your case?” asked the young doctor and I shook my head. “Good, take it with you, I’m going to readmit you.”

I groaned but couldn’t answer enough to argue. Simon tried to, but the young man dismissed his arguments.

“Your wife is going to become increasingly ill if she stays here.”

“I only just got her home.”

“Sorry, but that’s too bad. I refuse to accept responsibility for her, can I use your phone?”

He followed Simon out of the room and I heard him say, “Hi, it’s Dr Wainwright here, I’m readmitting someone you sent home today. I’ll give her a note—yes, severe breathing difficulties. Don’t bother sending her home until she’s properly better. That’s your problem, look I’m just doing my job and keeping people alive is one of them. Send me an ambulance now, yes it’s very urgent. Good, I’ll wait here then. Bye.”

He came back into the room, “Right, young lady, I’m readmitting you by ambulance. You are not to move a muscle or attempt to talk. I estimate your lungs are half-full of fluid. Whether we have another bleed, I don’t know, it might just be water. You need to be examined somewhere where they can make that differential diagnosis. Do you understand me?”

I nodded and kept gasping. This was so much hard work, no wonder people died from respiratory disease, it was such hard work simply breathing.

Simon looked at me and I felt myself begin to weep, it was silent, I didn’t have the energy or breath to cry as well. I just felt frightened and disappointed. The chances of getting to France were so remote now. Be just my luck for Millar or Cavendish to win the bloody tour now.

I saw the blue lights flickering in the driveway and a couple of minutes later two paramedics appeared. They spoke with the doctor. I was fitted with an oxygen mask and lifted onto a stretcher chair—they kept me upright to ease my breathing—then I was unceremoniously carted down the stairs and into the ‘van.’

I felt very dreamy, and although the paramedic sat in the back of the van with me, spoke to me, reassuring me, it all seemed unreal. Maybe I was ill?

Despite the oxygen, I began to feel very sleepy and by the time I was rushed into A&E, I was mostly out of it. I didn’t feel the drips or the catheter being inserted, nor remember them moving me up to a ward sometime later.

I do recollect waking up and being able to breathe somewhat easier. I missed the tour, I was still in hospital. Stella would record it on a DVD and bring it into me, I played it on my laptop, so I was always a day behind. Cavendish won four stages, we’d have seen at least one if I hadn’t died.

Dr Kelly was charged with sorting me out, his consultant was abroad on holiday—if he was watching the TdF, I was going to kill him when he got back.

I suppose the only consolation was that the month of July was one of the wettest and nastiest on record, so even if I’d been home or working, I wouldn’t have been able to ride my bikes—it was too wet and at times very windy.

They talked about discharging me a couple of times, until Simon spoke loudly about litigation if I wasn’t fixed this time. I was getting some exercise in the gym using the stationary bike and also a treadmill. Both made me feel as if I should never be able to run or ride like I did before, ever again. However, the physio in charge, a nice guy named Ahmed, reassured me that I should return to full fitness in time. When I asked how long, he shrugged and suggested the ‘piece of string’ answer.

I asked if I could bring in my own bike and a set of rollers, but it was refused, it wasn’t standard equipment. I was getting problems with the bike: it was hurting my knees—being less than properly set up for me unlike my own bikes. So I began to use the treadmill each day and after that, running around the hospital grounds when it didn’t rain.

By the time I left the hospital, I could run for nearly an hour. Although I still became breathless, it was a normal sort of post-exertion type of breathlessness. I couldn’t wait to sit on a real bike again, this time knowing, I really was recovering. I also promised myself that I’d watch as much of next year’s tour as I could.

Easy As Licking Yer Own Bum Part 383

by Bonzi

I had been home an hour. Stella had come to collect me from the hospital. As soon as she left me alone, I was out to the garage and checking over my bikes.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” said a voice from the door.

“Playing with the spiders, why?”

“Ugh! I don’t like spiders.”

I knew this, which was why I said it. “Better stay out of here then.”

“My bike had better not have any spiders on it,” she said accusingly.

“Oh, it has hundreds, I’ve been taking them off mine and putting them on yours.”

“You’d better not.”

“Why, Stella Bloody Cameron, what are you gonna do about it?”

“I’ll squeam and I’ll squeam until I make mythelf thick, tho there!”

“Richmael Compton has a lot to answer for, creating that monster.”

“I never read the books, just used to listen to the tapes that Martin Jarvis did.”

“They were very good, they used them quite a lot on the radio.”

“Radio? When did you have time to listen to the radio? You were supposed to be studying.”

“Not 24/7, have some compassion—damn, you’re a nurse, they remove it don’t they?”

“Very funny, I don’t think. So why are you playing with bicycles, Catherine Watts?”

“Because I don’t like riding them with flat tyres, too bumpy, see!” I did a mock Welsh accent.

“There’s terrible for you!” said Stella in an equally stereotyped Welsh accent.

“Look you, Stella Cameron, you’ll be sorry when my army of suicide spiders attacks you and declares inde-bloody-pendence from England.”

“No, you look you, Cathy Rubbish-Welsh Accent, ’ow can Portsmouth declare independence from England?”

“We’ll invade the Isle of Wight, using Portsmouth as a bridgehead.”

“I didn’t know spiders could swim?”

“They’ll fly, from b’there to over b’there.”

“Spiders don’t ’ave wings, look you!”

“They balloon, stew-pid woman and you sound about as Welsh as haggis.”

“How would y-ew know, y-ew Bristolian imposter? Look yer boyo…”

“Oi! Girlo if you don’t mind.”

“All right see, look yer girlo, I come from a long line of Welsh haggis.”

“Welsh haggis?” This had got a bit silly, it would have made Monty Python seem sensible.

“Yes, why not? Just ’cos our sheep have wellies on their back legs.”

“I thought they wore wellies on one side, so they could walk round hills?”

“No girlo, it’s on their back legs see, why d’you think Welsh leg of lamb has such a unique flavour?”

“What, wellies? Ugh!”

“Absolutely!”

“Tell me, as you’re such an expert on haggis, why does it look like a bladder stuffed with horse manure?”

“Have you tried it?” asked Stella, the phoney accent now gone.

“No, I haven’t.”

“’cos it tastes like that, too.”

“Is that just the Welsh variety?” I said laughing.

“Oh God no, I may be Scots by birth, but I prefer cornflakes to porridge.”

I began pumping up the tyres on my bike with the track pump.

“What are you doing that for?”

“They need to be one hundred psi.”

“Why? You’re not going to be riding it.”

“Let me give you a tip Stella, don’t put any money on it.”

“Simon said not to let you ride.”

“Simon isn’t here and he doesn’t own me yet, whatever he might think.”

“He is going to be cross with you.”

“Would you prefer we went for an hour’s cross-country run?”

“You’re joking, you can’t do that, can you?”

“I did for the previous week before I came home: had a physio run with me.”

“Was that wise?”

“I don’t care if it was or not, it’s what I needed to do. Riding my bike is what I need to do now. So you can either shut up and go and get changed into your cycling stuff and come with me, or shut up and piss off!”

“I suppose I’d better come with you then.”

“Right, I’ll check your tyres too, then.”

We did eventually get a ride, although we didn’t go very far—Stella couldn’t keep up with me. She seemed to be short of breath. “I thought you were going to keep this up, so you could give me a run for my money?”

“What with running back and fore to that hospital and recording that stupid bike race for you, I didn’t have much time—when I did, it would rain.”

“Right, well I have a training schedule in mind, so you can come on board if you like.”

“How vigorous is this going to get?”

“Not very… to start with.” As I said this, I saw her relax then tense up. “No, an hour’s ride each day, which will get progressively tougher as we improve.”

“Simon isn’t going to like it, you know.”

“I don’t care, this is how I get to feel fitter and happier, back to my usual sweet self. If Simon doesn’t like it, he’ll have to lump it. Besides, he can come out to play at weekends if he behaves himself.”

“What about work and your film?”

“I need to speak with Des about that.”

“How is that man-eating dormouse of yours?”

“Spike? I don’t know, I haven’t asked Tom, just in case something had happened to her.”

“It hasn’t, has it?”

“I don’t know, but she is rather elderly.”

“Oh dear, I didn’t realise that. I hope she’s all right.”

“Me too, I shall find out tomorrow, you can come with me if you like.”

Easy As Finding The End Of A Rainbow

Part 32 Dozen (384)

Dormouse on a branch

I sat in the kitchen. Stella, Tom and I had just eaten. I’d cooked a casserole with some liver and bacon. It was quite tasty and I’d possibly eaten too much. I found myself drifting while Tom and Stella’s voices faded away in the distance.

“She’s nodded off,” I heard Stella’s voice, causing me to wake up and jump a little.

“You were sleeping, Cathy. Are we that boring?” asked Tom.

“Was I? No of course not, I’m just a bit tired.”

“All that cycling, it’s too much too soon,” Stella was doing her Job’s comforter bit.

“It’s not the cycling is the problem, it’s the recovery time. Hopefully it will recover in the next few days.”

“You were quite ill, you know.” Tom was trying not to patronise me. In turn, I was trying not to say something I’d regret.

“I know, Tom.” I was there for God’s sake.

“You had about ten units of blood.”

“Tom, can we change the subject? I’m going to pop in to see Spike and the other dormice tomorrow.”

“Is that wise?”

“What do you mean?” Was there some sort of coded message here I wasn’t seeing?

“Well, you’re supposed to be on sick leave. They don’t like you in the university if you’re on sick leave.”

“Since when?” This was news to me.

“New policy, through the health and safety laws.”

“But there are no student’s there, so I’d only be doing some very brief admin stuff.”

“I don’t care, you shouldn’t be in there.”

“Are you instructing me to keep out of the place?”

“No, I’m advising you of the new policy.”

“Is there some reason why I should stay away? Nothing has happened to Spike has it?”

“Not as far as I know, why?”

“Maybe I’m tired or getting paranoid. I think I’ll go to bed. If Simon rings, tell him I’ll talk with him tomorrow.” I bid them goodnight and kissed them both. I was in bed and asleep inside half an hour. I think I heard a phone ring, but I tuned it out and went back to sleep.

I awoke the next morning feeling full of the joys of hell. I was stiff and sore and knackered. Perhaps I had overdone it? I refused to believe it, I was just out of practice with regard to exercise, especially on a bike. I looked at the clock, it was six in the morning. I turned over and zonked again.

I slept for another three hours, waking when Stella brought me a cuppa. It was a struggle to surface then, but I finally made it. “Hi,” I sort of grunted as I strove to keep my eyes open.

“Good morning, Sleeping Beauty.”

“Yeah, I was tired.”

“Simon phoned just after you went to bed. He guessed you’d been out on your bike. He wasn’t very pleased.”

“Tough, he’ll live. Did you tell any more tales on me?” I was a bit ratty.

Stella blushed and her whole body language changed after my remark. It was annoyance. “I didn’t tell tales, if you must know. It was Tom, who told him, because he was concerned for you. You looked very pale when you went to bed.”

“I’m always pale, unless I’ve been exercising and then I’m red in the face. But it’s a pale red.”

“You forget that I have seen you, Missy. You go about as pale as a ripe tomato. At least you did yesterday.”

“Anyway, I’m going in to the uni today.”

“Tom told you not to.”

“No he didn’t, he advised me against it. I’m beginning to wonder if something has happened to Spike.”

“You said yourself, that she was quite old.”

“She is, which is why I’m worried.”

“She’s only a dormouse, Cathy.”

“That’s like saying Darwin was only a Victorian gentleman.”

“I thought it was a town in Australia.”

“Ha ha. Anyway, I have decided that I am going to see if she is all right.”

“Why don’t you just phone them?”

“The dormice don’t have any phones.”

“No, you dummy, the technicians who look after them.”

“They often don’t answer out of term times, claiming they were setting up an experiment or using some equipment that drowned out the phone.”

“Maybe they were?”

“I’ve been there in holiday times—they don’t do much at all except feed the dormice and clean out the cages, and feed any other animals we have there.”

“Why do they have other animals?” She looked at me: I kept silent. She looked at me again. “They use them for experiments, don’t they?”

“I’m not involved in that sort of stuff.”

“But they do don’t they?”

“It’s all licensed by the government.”

“I think it’s appalling what these poor animals have to suffer in the supposed name of science.”

“I don’t do that stuff, I just count and weigh and try to understand what’s happening in populations from my data.”

“Don’t try to get round me, I know what you white coated sorts get up to.”

“Stella, that is pure prejudice. That is like me accusing you of fox strangling, just because you used to ride horses.”

“Well, I don’t. I was blooded by my granddad when I was six and became hysterical.”

“Blooded?” I wasn’t sure what she meant, never having hunted anything except to observe or count it.

“Yeah, you know, rite of passage stuff. They daub your face with the warm blood of a fresh killed fox. I went crazy and rode off. It took them two hours to find me. I didn’t talk to Granddad for months, and we’d been very close. Daddy didn’t like foxhunting and as soon as he inherited the title, he banned it across our estates.”

“Estates? You have more than one?”

“Of course, we have two in Scotland, farms in various parts of England, some woodland in Wales, mining areas in Cornwall and several small areas in France and Spain, including the Balearics.”

“You lot are wealthy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Daddy is a billionaire, although much of it is in trust.”

“So he’s the Richard Branson of the banking world?”

“Well if he lost most of his fortune, he could still buy out Sir Richard.”

“The Bill Gates of banking?”

“No, he isn’t that wealthy. Besides, he has to work to earn his money, he doesn’t have a monopoly.”

“Except, what you’re saying sounds like Monopoly money to me. Even if I got to be a professor, which I don’t particularly want, I’d never make anything like half a million by the time I retired.”

“Yes, you would, earning between fifty and a hundred K, you’d get there in ten to twenty years.”

“Money doesn’t interest me, it really doesn’t.”

“It would if you had either loads of it, or very little.”

“That’s as maybe, anyway I’m off to shower and go and see my bairns.”

“I thought you were going to see your dormice.”

“I am, my bairns, wains whatever.”

“Ah yes, now I see what you’re on about.”

I managed to shunt Stella from my room into her own. I showered quickly and went down to eat a small breakfast. Then it was a few stretching exercises and out to the bikes. Stella accompanied me, which was nice and despite all her grumbles, she was actually not a bad cyclist.

It took about half an hour to get to my office and secure the bikes. Walking about in lycra got a few stares from people and one of the security guards walked into a door post while staring at Stella, who is currently bigger in boobs and bum than I am. I do however have a relatively small waistline and I’m hoping my hill climbing will improve with the lower body weight.

We set off for the labs and bumped into Neal. “Hello, Cathy, what are you doing here, I thought you were sick?”

“I am, I’ve popped in to see Spike and the rest of the dormice.”

“Oh dear,” he said and I felt my stomach flip faster than the Olympic champion in floor exercise gymnastics.

Easy As Getting Upset Part 385

Dormouse

“What do you mean?” I asked Neal.

“You’ve been away a long time, Cathy.”

“I’m sorry, but some idiot shoved a knife in my lung.”

“Yes, I know. I came to see you in hospital.”

“Did you? I’m sorry, I don’t remember.”

“You looked pretty ill, we weren’t sure you’d pull through.”

“Oh ye of so little faith.”

“Yeah, sorry, but it did look bad.”

“Cut to the chase, Neal, what are you trying to break gently to me?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what? Spike isn’t dead is she?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? It’s a straightforward question.”

“She’s not here.”

“Don’t be silly, of course she’s here.” My stomach was flipping faster than a pancake on Shrove Tuesday.

“They’ve all gone.”

“What? You’re joking, tell me you’re joking.” I was excited close to hysterical. I pushed past him into the lab. It was empty, the tanks were gone.

“Where are my dormice?” I screamed.

“Calm down, Cathy.” Neal urged me whilst Stella stood open-mouthed behind him.

“Calm down! I’m going to bloody kill someone, just tell me who. Who is responsible for this, they are dead?”

“Tom, I suppose.”

“Tom? You’re joking?”

“He authorised it.”

“Did he now? Well he can authorise his own bloody funeral, because I am going up there now to kill him.”

“Calm down, don’t be so bloody ridiculous.” Neal grabbed my arm to stop me. I ripped it from his grasp.

“Get your hands off me,” I snarled at him, “don’t you ever lay a finger on me again.”

I stormed up through the faculty. Neal had followed behind protesting until I told him to go forth and multiply, in the Old English form. Pippa was at her desk. She looked up, possibly hearing my cleats clomping on the floor.

“Is he in?” I said as I continued towards his door.

“Yes, but he’s got…”

“Too bad,” I wrenched open his door. He was sat with several other senior staff and the Dean. “Where are my dormice?” I said loudly.

“This is neither the time nor the place to discuss this, you are on sick leave, please go home.”

“Not until you tell me where my dormice are?”

“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen,” Tom grabbed me and manhandled me out of his office. “For God’s sake go home. I told you not to come in.”

“Where are my dormice, what have you done with them you stupid old man?”

“That does it, Cathy, you are suspended. Get out of here.”

“Where are my dormice?” I grabbed him by the lapels and began lifting him up against his door.

“For goodness sake Cathy, think about what you’re doing.” Stella tried to separate us.

“If he’s killed my dormice, I’m gonna kill him.” I ranted loudly.

“Call the police,” Tom, gasped at Pippa, my hold on his lapels now choking him.

“Let go Cathy,” Neal and Stella pulled me off him. They dragged me away screaming threats at him. They took me down to my office where I collapsed in tears. All my work had gone, it had been a waste of time. I was so angry, that I wrecked my office despite Neal’s attempts to stop me. Then, still crying with sadness and rage I grabbed my bike and set off for Tom’s house. I wanted revenge and a certain spaniel could offer one variety.

I didn’t see Stella following me. Perhaps it was just as well she did—she found me a few minutes later with Kiki and a large knife. I was stroking the dog, feeling for her carotids.

“What are you doing Cathy?” asked Stella.

“Go away, this doesn’t concern you,” I snapped at her, without looking.

“It doesn’t concern Kiki, either.”

“She has to suffer to show that bastard I mean business.”

“I think he got the message. You’re very lucky they didn’t call the police.”

“If they had, I’d have killed him before they got there.”

“You want to serve a life sentence do you?”

“No, I’d have killed myself as well.”

“Put the knife down Cathy. Let the dog go, she hasn’t done you any harm has she?”

“Neither did my dormice, but they got rid of them.”

“They lost the funding. You forgot to fill in the form.”

“That’s propaganda,” I snapped back at her.

“I’ve seen it, while you were annoying Tom, Neal showed it to me. You didn’t send it back to Natural England.”

“No, no, I can’t have forgotten.”

“It’s partly my fault, so perhaps you should kill me, not the dog.”

“What do you mean?” I was confused.

“It was when I was ill the first time, so you forgot because you were looking after me.”

“So where are they, the dormice?”

“They released all the younger ones and those they thought would survive in the wild.”

“What about Spike? Where is my Spike?”

“The guy who looks after the rats, he’s got her. She’s quite safe, Neal pops over once a week to see her. Put the knife down Cathy, please.”

I allowed her to take the knife away from me, then collapsed into a hug and we wept together. Finally, I agreed to go up to my room. I didn’t sleep, I packed. Stella was asleep in her room, so I sneaked in and took her key, locking her door.

For the next hour I shoved as much stuff as I could into my car, putting the two bikes on the rack. I would come back for my workshop kit, I had enough tools to cope with minor problems. I locked the garage, returned the key to its place and sneaked up to Stella’s room and unlocked it quietly. Then, it was back downstairs, and off in my car. I couldn’t see out the back window it was so packed up. I drove out of Tom’s drive for the last time. I hoped Simon might collect my workshop stuff. I never wanted to go there again.

I had scribbled my resignation to Tom, it was slightly better than, ’stuff your job and your university,’ but not much.

I drove away from Portsmouth, not sure where I would go or what I would do. Then I turned around and drove to the university, parking carefully out of sight. My keys, which were master ones, opened the labs used by the performing rats. Their master wasn’t there. Ten minutes later, I ran out carrying a small cage with a pile of straw in it, a bag of hazel nuts and my oldest friend. Then once more I drove away from Portsmouth, or should I say, we drove away from Portsmouth—Thelma and Louise we weren’t, but it was the end of many things and the start of something new, perhaps.

Easy As Falling Off The World 386

Dormouse on a branch

I drove for some distance, I wasn’t sure where. My driving had been on autopilot, my mind was very much elsewhere. I was very disappointed in myself, attacking Tom like I did. He was partly in the wrong, but to embarrass myself like that, was crazy. At one point, I did wonder if I was crazy.

I pulled over and wept for about half an hour, apart from what I’d have to say to Tom, to apologise—just what was I going to say to Simon? He’d be disappointed with me too. I hated to think what Stella thought of me, thank goodness I didn’t hurt the dumb mutt. That would have been unforgiveable and a criminal offence.

I wondered where I was. I’d have to go further to find out. I pulled myself together and started off again. I recognised the eastern approaches to Bristol. I had a house there except it was on loan to my unfortunate neighbours. I wondered if the reconstruction of their place had started. It had to be three months or more since I saw the house, probably longer.

I drove to my house, the phrase ‘my house’ felt quite strange. I hadn’t used it since I was a kid—‘let’s meet at my house’ sort of thing. Now it was mine, yet at the same time with Margaret and her slimy husband, Greg in occupancy, it wasn’t mine.

Their car wasn’t parked in the drive, maybe they were out shopping or something? I parked mine on the driveway. I knew my dad’s Mondeo was in the garage, I’d have to sell it or do something with it. I didn’t recall filling in the form to say it was off the road, so there could be more trouble waiting for me.

I peered through the window and then rang the bell. As I waited, I looked at my neighbour’s house, it looked as if the building was pretty well finished, so maybe they had moved back without telling me. Or maybe they had and I hadn’t noticed. I seemed to be a bit behind with paper work at the moment.

I peeped through the letterbox, and saw a whole mass of mail lying behind the door. What was going on? I found my key and opened the door, the mound of mail made it difficult to push open. I forced my way in and gathered it up, dumping it on the kitchen table. I wouldn’t be short of reading matter tonight.

I then did a quick tour of the house: no one had been here since I locked it up when I left after the funeral. I wondered what had happened to Margaret and Greg, but I had my own problems—thankfully, one of them wasn’t finding somewhere to sleep.

I unloaded my car and locked the bikes away. Spike, I brought into the kitchen and gave her some hazel nuts. She ate them as if nothing had happened, yet it was a long time since she had travelled in a car. Maybe she had more confidence in me than I did. As soon as I could, I would organise a larger cage for her, but until then, she’d have to make do with her travelling one.

Having secured everything, I dashed off to the supermarket and stocked up with a few days food. The fridge and freezer compartments would need a wash, but they had been left switched on, albeit with nothing much in them.

Back home and a cuppa inside me, I felt a bit better. I’d have to apologise to Tom and the university, although I neither expected nor wanted to return there. I would like Tom’s forgiveness, but that would be for him to decide and I wouldn’t blame him if he withheld it.

I busied myself cleaning the fridge and the freezer, then the bread machine. I wasn’t very hungry—too upset—but maybe the smell of bread cooking would change that. I had Flora spread and some fresh mousetrap.

Another cuppa and I vacuumed and dusted everywhere. For the first time ever, I found some comfort in housework. I switched on the hot water and aired some sheets for an hour before making up my bed. I still slept in my own bed, unless Simon was with me, then I used the spare room.

It was evening before I noticed the aroma of the bread cooking dominating the lavender smell of the furniture polish. My stomach grumbled, it had had nothing since breakfast. I made some more tea and a short while later was tucking into fresh wholemeal bread and cheese. Even Spike was nibbling on a crust of bread.

I was on my second cup of tea when my mobile phone peeped to indicate a text had been received. I got it from my bag and opened the text, it was from Simon.

C where R U? We R all frantic wiv worry.
Contact me soon, please.
Luv S.xxx

I texted back:

I’m safe, just need sum space 2 think. Miss U.

I’m ashamed 4 what I said and did 2 Tom.

I hope Stel is OK.

I resigned my job, do I need to do same wiv bank?

Luv U lots C.xxx

I finished my tea and felt the tears welling up, soon I was breaking my heart. I was so ashamed of my stupidity and reckless behaviour. How could I have threatened an old man? But I did. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bank kicked me out as well, then I’d have to find a job to pay my bills. The money my mum left would tide me over, and I’d get some more from Daddy’s estate, but I’d still need to work. After what I did, I didn’t know how my reputation would be damaged, so academic work might be difficult—I mean, how many vacancies do you see in universities for transsexuals with homicidal tendencies and hot tempers?

Some of the emotion I was feeling was self-pity, I recognised that, but some as also a deep sense of shame, for what I had done to someone I loved and who had professed to love me. Also, it could hardly be categorised as ladylike behaviour or language, my only plus had been absence of the F word. That surprised me a little.

My mobile peeped again.

Where R U? I’m worried. Let me Know. S xxx

I replied, when I could see through my tears,

Call me, I will talk. C xxx

My mobile began to ring. I switched it on and held it to my ear, “Hello?”

“Cathy, where the hell are you?”

“I’m safe.”

“Tom and Stella told me what happened.”

“I’m ashamed of what I said and did.”

“Tom was a bit shaken up by the ferocity of your attack.”

“Please tell him I’m sorry. I will write and apologise as soon as I feel able.”

“What got into you?”

“I saw all my work destroyed.”

“But it wasn’t, it was all on hold once you were approved as fit to return.”

“It didn’t look that way to me. Anyway, I’ve resigned, I couldn’t show my face there again.”

“Tom asked what happened to all your dormouse data, you trashed your office.”

“I still have it on my laptop.”

“He said you’ll need it for your doctorate.”

“Is he teasing me?”

“Ask him yourself…”

Before I could refuse, I heard Tom’s voice, “Cathy, Cathy, are you there?” Big blobs of tears rolled down my face, dripping onto my tee shirt. “Cathy, please speak to me.”

“I’m sorry, Tom,” I blubbed down the phone.

“Are you all right, young lady?”

“No, I’m so ashamed,” I sobbed.

“You certainly deserve to be. I’ll have to accept your resignation, you realise that, although I think I’d prefer it if you retyped it.”

“Okay,” I sniffed.

“I’ve spoken with Bristol, they were very impressed with the way you helped them set up their part of the survey, and they have a colony of dormice in the Forest of Dean, which they’d like evaluating. It’s only a temporary position, but it’s better than nothing. You also have a commitment to Natural England for your supervision of the mammal survey, so you’re going to need to get online for that. They’ll pay you separately for that, and you have a film to finish with Des.”

“How can you be so kind to me after I threatened you?”

“With some difficulty. I told you I had some problems with my daughter, you are so like her Cathy, peppery and impulsive. I still need you to fill that void, so do come back to us, or to me, won’t you?”

“I think we need to think a bit and then talk, somewhere neutral.”

“If that’s what you want, that’s fine with me.”

“Please forgive me, I was hurt and wanted to hurt in return.”

“I know that. If you had hurt Kiki or damaged my house, I might feel differently, the university is obviously less benevolent, the Dean wants your head, I’m afraid, and I have to give it. However, as you resigned before I could sack you, he’s going to be disappointed.” He gave a little chuckle as he said this.

“How can you be so kind to me, I threatened you, I could have harmed you?”

“But you didn’t, you were angry, with some reason. I’m your adoptive father, parents have to deal with unhappy children. Sometimes it’s hard and hurts, but we have to get on with it.”

“I love you, Daddy-Tom,” I said and broke down completely.

“I love you too, Daughter-Cathy.” I think there were tears in his voice too. How could I have hurt such a lovely old man? I was a dreadful woman. I rang off, sobbing and bawling for an hour. Finally, I crawled off to bed and cried myself to sleep.

Easy As Losing The Original Episode Part 387

Dormouse

I was exhausted after talking to Simon and Tom, and went off to bed without checking on Spike. I crawled up the stairs and was so tired that I could barely find my mouth with the toothbrush, collapsing into bed and zonking out as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I woke once in the night, and staggered to the loo and back barely opening my eyes in between. I slept deeply again. Eventually, I awoke at about eight and after a quick breakfast of tea and cereal, decided I’d do some washing. The sun was shining so it would dry on the line. I loved the smell of clothes which have dried outside compared to those which are dried indoors. It’s also more carbon friendly than tumble drying, as well as cheaper.

I chucked my dirty washing in the machine and switched it on, while I was waiting I vacuumed around downstairs. The Dyson always fascinates me, it sucks dirt out of what appear to be clean carpets, and whisks it around in its transparent cylinder.

By the time I’d finished that, the washing was ready to hang out, so I carried the basket and pegs out to the line. It looked as if it was going to be a lovely day. After pegging out my washing, I decided I would mow the lawn later. It was about a foot tall and desperately needed doing. I walked back in through the open kitchen door, which I’d left ajar to let some air into the house. It had been shut up for a few months. I still had a mound of paperwork to sort through, but I’d do that later.

I noticed I’d eaten half the loaf I’d made the day before, so I did another mix and switched on the bread machine. I looked at Spike’s cage and there was no movement, so decided she was asleep—not entirely surprising, they are supposed to be nocturnal creatures.

It was too lovely a day to waste, so I changed and took the Scott out for a ride, doing an hour’s tour of the downs and Clifton before returning to our close. As I rode into the road, a cul-de-sac, I noticed one of the builders working at Margaret and Greg’s house, was out tipping stuff into a skip. I rode up to him.

“Hi,” I said stopping the bike in front of the skip.

“Hi, nice bike.”

“Yeah, I’m quite pleased with it. Tell me, what’s happened to the couple who own this house?”

“They haven’t lived here since the fire, one of the neighbours saved them apparently.”

“Yeah, I know, it was me and a chap across the road.”

He was checking me out, his eyes wandering over my lycra-clad body. “Oh well you know as much as I do.”

“I doubt it—I’ve been away for a few months.”

He continued to probe me with his eyes, “Pity,” he mumbled.

“I beg your pardon?” I said, blushing at his vulgarity.

“Pity you were away, ’cos then you’d know, wouldn’t ya?”

“Oh, I see,” I admired his quick thinking, but I don’t think that was what he meant originally.

“’Ang on, I’ll ask if the foreman knows anythin’.” He disappeared into the house emerging some minutes later. By this time, I’d dismounted my bike and was leaning my bottom on the crossbar. “’E’s in ’ospital, an’ she’s stayin’ wiv ’er rellies.”

“Oh, thanks.”

“She’ll be back when we finish ‘er ‘ouse.”

“Okay, thanks very much.” I turned and pushed my bike towards my house aware that he was staring at my bum as I walked. I blushed as I went home, aware that my bum was actually quite a well-formed edifice, which cycling kept fairly taut.

I went into the house after safely locking away my bike and made myself a cuppa. As I was drinking it, I felt quite good. After the mess of the past day or two, things were coming better. I informed Spike that things were improving. As I glanced at her cage, I noticed some debris on the worktop. There was a hole—she had gnawed through her cage.

Frantically, I checked the nest box: it was empty—I felt my stomach flip and that horrible sinking feeling in the pit of it. This couldn’t be happening, could it? Just as things begin to look up, some miserable sod craps on me. Some days, it seemed the universe didn’t just crap, it had veritable diarrhoea—this was one such enteric episode.

I began to search the kitchen. When did she escape? How far could she get? God knows—and He and I aren’t talking. I looked under the cooker and the fridge, in the cupboards, under the sink. I clomped around the kitchen and downstairs rooms, calling ‘Spike’ as if it would help. I must be barmy—yes, with worry.

I searched high and low: not a sign of her. Where could she be? Oh no, when I’d been hanging out the washing the door had been open—could she have sneaked out then? She could. I glanced out of the window and watched a neighbour’s cat ‘swimming’ through the grass. Oh no, Spike could be out there. I dashed through the door, slamming it shut noisily behind me.

The cat continued its perambulation, unhurried by my presence. I shooed and hissed at it, noises which it treated with an air of contempt until I got to within a yard of it, when discretion got the better part of valour and it fled the field, leaping over a high wall at the bottom of my garden.

While I was in the garden, I might as well search there. I wandered around, clomping as my cycling shoes sounded on the path, the grips around the hems of the legs causing me to itch, as I bent down to explore the old compost heap and I even tried to squint under the shed. I couldn’t find her anywhere and began to curse myself and everything else in the universe, but mostly myself. I had taken my little friend from the relative safety of the university and brought her here to get lost and possibly killed.

She would never survive in the wild, she was fed and watered by humans, she didn’t even know what the wild was like, not even my garden, which was far from ideal for dormice.

Dejectedly, I went back into the kitchen and searched again, in vain. Tearfully, I went up to shower and change. I was back half an hour later in shorts and tee shirt, with trainers on my feet so I could kneel or crawl about the house checking out all the dark places with a torch.

I discovered creepy crawlies and fluff even the Dyson couldn’t reach—then a horrible thought assailed my mind—the Dyson! I’d vacuumed that morning, it was powerful enough to suck the few grams she weighed into its chamber. I felt sick. I placed some newspaper on the kitchen floor and emptied out the contents of the Dyson onto it. I sighed with relief: she wasn’t there, minced or otherwise.

I cleared up the mess and began to check all the downstairs rooms again. Dormice are so agile, she could have climbed into anything if she was still in the house. There was no sign of her. As I wondered where next to search, the bread machine peeped: it had baked my loaf.

Oh no, she couldn’t be in there, could she—dormouse pie? I glanced at the machine. I couldn’t see how she could, but then I couldn’t see how she’d escaped in the first place. If she was, she’d have been baked alive—what a horrid death for anything. I remembered as a child trying to save woodlice which were in the dead stuff my dad used to throw on the bonfire.

The machine peeped again interrupting my reverie. How dare it? I approached it and gingerly opened it. I couldn’t see any sign of baked dormouse. I tipped the loaf out on to a cooling tray. Despite my worry, which looked as if it would become grief, the smell of the bread made me feel hungry. I’d not eaten anything for several hours and my stomach was now gurgling.

I made a fresh pot of tea and while it was brewing, I decided I’d cut myself a sandwich from the old loaf. I picked up the bread knife in my right hand, a long bladed, serrated knife, which my mother more correctly called a bread saw.

The loaf was standing on its cut end on the breadboard. I should have put it away last night but was too tired. I grasped it in my left hand ready to cut off a slice and my thumb went into what seemed like a cavity—surely not an air hole.

I turned over the loaf and there looking back at me were a pair of bright eyes, blinking in the daylight. “Spike,” I squealed nearly dropping her and the loaf. She seemed unmoved by the worry she had caused me, merely, curling up and going back to sleep in the loaf.

I could quite happily have murdered her and told her so—she remained asleep, so even when I turned to sarcasm and irony, she didn’t move. Bloody rodents!

I put the loaf plus its precious cargo into her cage, duct taping the lid of a tin across the hole. She was safe, I felt such relief it was enough to cause me to weep for joy. When I finally got myself together, I found an old fish tank in the garage which took me the best part of the afternoon to clean up along with its stand. My dad had had tropical fish when I was a kid, until the thermostat went wrong and boiled them all.

I brought the tank and stand into the kitchen and put her cage in the middle. Even a dormouse can’t climb up glass. However, it was only after I went out and got some fine mesh wire and secured it across the top of the tank that I knew she was safe, sadly in solitary confinement, but safe. I would organise something like her previous home, but that would take time and cost me quite a lot. I wonder what happened to the old ones? Maybe Tom would help.

I had wasted half a day on a wild dormouse hunt—she had obviously got hungry and ate her way into the loaf, then got comfy and slept. Life was back on track and my little furry friend was still with me. In fact, she had never left me, it was only my frantic mind which had considered that, making two and two into a dozen. I was exhausted, and still hadn’t had anything to eat. Spike was fast asleep, full of my bread. I shook my head at her and picked up the new loaf.

Easy As Part 388

I was in the middle of eating my sandwich when the phone rang. I was a little apprehensive about answering it, because no one was supposed to know I was here. At the same time, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to make an informed guess.

I picked up the receiver, “Hello?”

“Hello Cathy,” said Simon.

“Hello lover,” I replied, “What’s that noise in the background?”

“Bristol Temple Meads Station.”

“What on earth are you doing there?”

“Waiting for my fiancée to come and get me, why?”

“She could be busy with her piece on the side.”

“She can’t cope with one man, so two would be a man too far.”

“Damn, you know too much. Now I’ll have to kill you.”

“Can I choose the method?”

“What?”

“Of how you kill me.”

“What?” I said, and his reply made me blush.

“Well come on, the sooner you collect me, the quicker you can start loving me to death.”

“Have you eaten?”

“Never mind food, I’m sex starved, now hurry up.”

I got in the car and was still smirking to myself as I drove down to the station. It took me twenty minutes, but there he was, waiting for me with his overnight bag and a bunch of flowers.

I pulled up and he climbed in, throwing his bag over to the back seat. We kissed briefly and then I drove back to the house. “How did you find me?”

“Duh!”

“You took a risk coming down on the train, didn’t you?”

“You had to be here. There was nowhere else.”

“I could have been in a hotel or B&B.”

“With a dormouse?”

“It might have been a dormouse-friendly establishment.”

“I’ll ask the tourist board to consider it next time they update their manual. One question?”

“Yes,” I smiled at him.

“I thought dormeece were protected, how come you have one?”

“I have a licence to handle them, study them and where appropriate, keep them.”

“So it’s you not the university that has the licence?”

“Yes, which could be one of the reasons they got rid of them.”

“Couldn’t they just get another licence?”

“They could, but maybe someone didn’t want them to.”

“I see, conspiracy theories abound once more. Tom had some awful bruising after you tried to kill him.”

“Tried to kill him? I was just angry with him.”

“Remind me not to make you angry.”

“At least I didn’t try to stuff a bike frame down his throat.”

“That was different.”

“Sure it was.”

“Oh come on Cathy, the guy had a knife, he’d already stabbed you as I found out afterwards. I wasn’t going to wait to be introduced, I jumped off the bike and used it to keep him at bay.”

“It just happened to catch him in the mouth?”

“Well he had a big mouth.”

“I never did thank you for helping to save my life that day and apprehending the perpetrator of the assault.”

“He’s pleading insanity.”

“He probably is barmy.”

“In which case they should lock him up in a secure mental unit and throw the key away.”

“What is he, a paranoid schizophrenic?”

“That’s what he wants them to believe, and the doctors have swallowed it. Little green men tell him to attack cyclists because they’re destroying the planet.”

“Can we change the subject? Mind you, I feel safer with you here.”

“I didn’t do much of a job last time did I?”

“Only because I was riding faster than you.”

“You always do, watch out Cannonball Cavendish, Wonder Watts is on her way.”

“Oh come off it, I’m not that good unless you’re comparing me with you.”

“Oh thanks a million. Any more insults like that and I shall keep my flowers.”

“I was beginning to think you were anyway.”

“Oh yeah,” he blushed, “these are for you.” He spoke as I pulled up in the drive.

“What? For me? What a lovely surprise.”

“Oi, watch the sarcasm, or I’ll give ’em to Spike.”

“I don’t think she’d eat them.”

“How do you know dormice don’t have higher feelings like humans?”

“I’ve studied them for several years… next question?”

“Fair enough, I was just asking, that’s all.”

“Are your neighbours sharing with you?” he nodded towards the damaged house.

“No, they never actually stayed here.”

“Why didn’t they tell you?”

“I don’t know. I was so relieved when I found they weren’t here, that I didn’t bother to find out.”

We went into the house, and he shut the door and pulled me into his arms.

“Careful, you’re crushing my blooms.”

“Wait till we get upstairs… oh, those blooms, well put them down then.” I dropped them on the floor. “Hey, be careful they cost me a fortune.”

“Make your mind up Simon, are you going to ravish me or have I got time to put these in water?”

“Erm, can I smell fresh bread?”

“Yeah, I made some this morning.”

“Can I ravish you after we’ve eaten?”

“You are sooo romantic, Simon. I am underwhelmed by it all.”

“A fellow’s got to keep his strength up, you know, this ravishing business always makes me ravenous.”

“How many have you ravished already?”

“Only a few today, needed to save my energy for the main event, don’t you know?”

“I’m so glad. It’ll have to be a dormouse sandwich, I haven’t done much shopping.”

“Eh?”

I kissed him, then took him into the kitchen to see a fat, little furry thing still curled up in the loaf.”

“I thought they lived in teapots.”

“That’s only in Alice in Wonderland and he didn’t sleep in the teapot, they were trying to wake him up by dunking him in the teapot.”

“So this is a wholemeal breadmouse?”

“Seems to be.” I told him of my adventure yesterday and my frantic search for Spike and where she ended up.”

“Spike, you’re a very naughty girl, running off like that without telling your mummy. Maybe I should buy her a mobile phone.”

I handed him his sandwich, “If you can get one she can use, I’d be very interested in seeing it.”

“Oh ye of little faith,” he sighed grabbing his sandwich and taking a big bite of it. “Hmm, I’ve really missed your bread.”

“I thought you were implying you missed something else even more?”

“All in good time, I have to pace myself and deal with the inner man first.”

“Tea?”

“Fine, unless you have a nice French wine to go with the cheese?”

“Sorry, I don’t. And the cheese is Irish Cheddar.”

“Oh! Oh well, tastes okay with your delicious homemade bread.”

“Flatterer!” I had turned away from him and bent down to get a vase out of the cupboard under the stairs. Suddenly my bottom stung, and I realised Simon had pinched me. I stood up and spun around to slap him, and he was pointing at Spike’s cage. She was awake and nibbling a bit of bread. I watched rubbing my bum as I did so. “I’ll have a bruise there now, you pig.”

“Oink, oink!” he said and began to laugh.

“My mother always said it was common to pinch a woman’s behind.”

“I couldn’t resist it. I mean, you were waving it about in the air like a flag, so I gave in to temptation.”

“You can jolly well kiss it better, later.”

“Yes please,” he grinned.

Needless to say, we had an early night.

Easy As Catching A Cold Part 389

I snuggled down with Simon, I had missed his warm muscular body and his strong arms which were currently holding me against him. “This is nice,” I said.

“Erm, what?” he said sleepily.

“You’d nodded off. Am I that boring?”

“No, but neither were you up at five o’clock this morning.”

“Oh poor Simon,” I cooed.

“Shut up and go to sleep,” he said.

“But then you didn’t have the trauma of a disappearing dormouse and the wild goose chase to find her.”

“No, I’m not barmy enough to keep little tree rats as pets. Now go to sleep or I’ll go down and chuck her out the back door.”

“You wouldn’t dare, would you?” The second part of my remark was said very quietly.

“Not if you go to bloody sleep, now shut up and sleep.”

“Simon,” I sniggered, “do you want to do it again?”

“Oh no,” he groaned, “let me rest.”

“It’s okay, I was only joking.” I was too sore anyway, and I might want to cycle tomorrow as I strove to get fit again.

I was so unused to much company in bed, that it took me a while to relax. Also, Simon was so warm, it was like lying against a medium hot radiator. So after a while, we ended up lying back to back, it was cooler that way.

At five o’clock, Simon’s watch alarm went off and he staggered out of bed. “Can’t you call in sick?” I said loudly as he went to the loo.

“’Fraid not, besides they know where I am, and I don’t want Dad on the phone playing hell. Things are tough at the moment in finance. Are you going to run me to the station?”

“No I’m not going to run to the station, I might cycle or take the car, but I don’t think I could run that far.”

“Ha ha, very funny. Now get out of that bed and put the kettle on for your lord and master.”

“Lord and what?” I squealed with laughter.

“Can you get me a towel, please?”

I rolled out of bed and got him a towel from the airing cupboard. He was in the shower. I did the necessary and went to fill the kettle. I was making him coffee when he arrived downstairs. He kissed me, then took a sip of coffee—“Um, thanks, Love; oh that feels better.”

“What do you want for breakfast?” I asked him.

“A bit of toast will do, I’ll get something on the train.”

“You’ll pay through the nose for it.”

“So? The bank can pay. I’ve come down to see their ecology expert.”

“They aren’t going to sack me then?”

“Nah, Tom told Dad that you would probably be doing work for the university here, and also for the Dept of the Environment. He was happy with that, especially as Tom said you were still doing your PhD.”

That could prove difficult, but I didn’t say so to Simon. Losing my study group was too bad.

“A penny for them.”

“I was just thinking how much I’d miss my study group.”

“Yeah, Tom was on about setting up a system to organise that. He still wants you to supervise the dormouse colonies and analyse the data. It’s still your students who are collecting it.”

“I’ll talk to him sometime. I ordered broadband for here yesterday. It’ll take a few days.”

“Oh good, get a bundle with free calls and things.”

“Look, eat your toast and shut up.”

“I don’t get much chance to talk to my fiancée these days.”

“You could have talked with me last night but…”

“I was shagged out.” He said this and we both fell about laughing. “I’ve always wanted to say that and mean it.”

“No stamina—men these days,” I said casually.

“You try it after working a twelve hour day.”

“Simon, I can’t.”

“Why, cause you’re not working?”

“Simon, in case you were still asleep last night when we were erm—you know what—I have a space where you have dangly bits, admittedly, purpose built for the receipt of such bits.”

“God, you take me so literally.”

“I do, or the Almighty does?”

“You. Geez, we’re going to be late, come on Fanny-Annie, get me to the church on time.”

“Eh?” I gasped.

“The station, or it’ll be a trip to London in your People’s Wagon.”

“No way, Jose. You’ll make your train.”

I kept my word, he did get to the station in time to catch his train. He looked a bit pale when we got there and was muttering something about ‘driving with Stella.’ I kissed him goodbye, and drove home. Spike had eaten a big lump of the bread.

I had my breakfast cereal and fed Spike a couple of nuts. I needed to keep handling her if I wanted her to remain comfortable being touched by humans. I thought back to the number of people who had handled her—it was quite a list. She’d only bitten Neal because he touched her babies. She’d nearly had a nervous breakdown when that awful child Jemima, shrieked at her, but otherwise she was quite good. Unless I counted the two occasions she’d used my blouse as a latrine.

After my little cuddle with Spike, I changed and got the bike out. I was hammering up a hill on the downs when a familiar voice called, “Cathy, Cathy Watts, wait for me.”

I chose to ignore it, at least until I’d finished the climb. I was seated on a bench at a viewpoint when he caught me up. I’d almost got my breath back too.

“That was mean.”

“Mean? Who says so?”

“I do, you know I’m slower than you up hills.”

“I’m not as fast as I was.”

“How are you now?”

“Getting there, don’t know if I’ll ever get back to where I once was, but I’m gonna try.”

“Good for you. You could have told me you were in Brissle.”

“I only got here the other day, loads to do.”

“So, how long before you go back to Portsmouth?”

“I’m not.”

He gave me a curious look, “Why not?”

“They upset me and I interrupted a professor’s meeting and threatened to kill Tom.”

“You what?”

“Weren’t you listening?”

“Yes of course I was, I am simply shocked. I mean, you and he were like daughter and father.”

“We still are. I was cross with him for giving up on my dormouse project.”

“Yes, who’s going to run that now?”

“No one, well, not the breeding bit. I’ll be collecting data from my previous researchers and doing the analysis.”

“So all is not lost?”

“Not quite.”

“Good, we need to do the filming of you walking about near the nests and then do the voice-over bit for the rest of the film.”

“Oh yeah, I’d nearly forgotten about that.”

“We’ll need to do some of it before the greenery gets too autumnal.”

“I think Bristol wants me to do some assessment of some sites in the Forest of Dean.”

“What? For dormice?—kewl.” He smiled broadly, “We could do it there, then. I’ll need to film you catching the little buggers and weighing them, or something similar.”

“Once I’ve got the site sussed, I’ll let you know. I could do some live trapping depending on the site.”

“Yeah, that’d be good. Look, I’ve gotta shoot off. Let’s have dinner one night.”

“Yeah, fine—give me a call, you’ve got my numbers and email.”

He pecked me on the cheek, “See you, Cathy.” Des waved and was gone back down the hill. I glanced up at the clouds—it looked like I was going to get rather wet before I got home.

Easy As Finding More Work Part 390

As I rode home, the rain started—some summer this was proving to be. I was quite wet before I got back to the house and by the time I’d wiped the bike down, was feeling cold. I know the bikes are carbon framed, but they still have metal components that can rust.

I went in and after switching the kettle on, ran up for a leisurely shower. I was nice and warm again when I changed into the velour sweat suit—they call it a lounge or leisure suit, but essentially it’s the same as a jogging suit. I made some tea, checked Houdini was still in her cage and set up the laptop.

Using dialup was slow, but enabled me to check my emails. There were several from Tom, including the contact at Bristol University and another at the West of England University. They both ran biological sciences, although the WEU, ran an ecology course, which might have possibilities for me as a teacher.

I sent them both an email asking for an appointment. I also sent an apology to Tom, although I would buy him a nice bottle of Scotch when I next went down there—if he’d ever let me in the house again.

Stella said she wanted to visit, so I sent her a reply inviting her as long as she didn’t upset my dormouse. While I was replying to one or two others, she told me she’d bring some hazelnuts and would be up the next day. I sent her another email, advising her to bring her bike with her.

It was soon lunch and I made some soup—actually I cheated, I made a packet soup and added vegetables and some bits of chicken to it. I was going to make a chicken salad, but this was nicer on such a lousy day. It was summer, but I only knew it because the rain was warmer—no wonder people went abroad. I daydreamed about missing the TdF and felt very sad about it, especially with Cavendish winning four sprint stages. I felt even sadder a moment later, as the soup had boiled over and I’d now have to clean the cooker.

I ate first. It gave the hotplate a chance to cool so there was less possibility of burning my fingers. The soup and bread filled a hole which was completed with a cuppa. As I drank my tea, working up the enthusiasm to clean up the mess on the cooker, the phone rang.

I answered it a little apprehensively, not many knew I was here. “Hello?”

“Hello, can I speak to Cathy Watts?”

“Who’s calling?”

“Dr French from the West of England University.”

“Hello, this is Cathy Watts.”

“Oh, I’m glad I caught you. We’re running a summer school course next week on field biology skills, and our main teacher has called in sick, could you help us?”

“Probably—Next week? Crikey, that wouldn’t give me much time to prepare.”

“Some of it has been done already and the field trips arranged, can we get together ASAP?”

“Yes, when?”

“Any chance you’re free this afternoon, because I’m away for a couple of days after that?”

“I could be there in an hour, I suppose.” Dr French gave me directions and I went up and changed into something more appropriate, no not a camouflage safari suit, but my jeans and a comfy top—my Tour of Britain tee shirt. I also chucked on a bit of makeup and a squirt of smellies, then a little later I was heading for the WEU which is near the motorway at Frenchay.

I followed the campus signs for the School of Biological Sciences, and entered the modern looking building. After signing in, I was led to Dr French’s office, a small book-lined room. He introduced himself and we shook hands.

We talked about his summer school, which posed no problems to me, as my bachelor’s degree involved some fieldwork and which my work since with Portsmouth had consolidated. He had checked for my publications, and the three papers I’d published were all about population studies and ecology.

“These papers were published by Charles Watts.”

“Erm,” I blushed, “my previous incarnation.”

“It’s interesting because the Mammal Society charges for copies of their papers, and I checked our library. The more recent versions, the electronic ones are attributed to Catherine Watts, whilst the paper copies in the library are Charles Watts. I’ll get them altered by next week.”

“Thank you.”

“No problem, if you can run our summer school, that would be wonderful. I saw you on the telly, didn’t I? Weren’t you engaged to some banker?”

“Yes, I still am.”

“Wasn’t he a lord or something?”

“Yes he is, his father is a Viscount.”

“I always thought that was a type of aeroplane.”

“Before my time, I’m afraid.”

“So what happened at Portsmouth?”

I gave him the edited highlights, leaving out the accusations of mass murder and mayhem which circulated after my leaving. He was horrified at the attack on me and asked if I was well enough to do the teaching—he obviously didn’t want a second lame duck.

When I asked what had happened to my predecessor, he explained that he had gone sick with prostate problems. I deduced he was probably a bit older than I was, and although I still had a prostate gland, the hormones should have stopped it hypertrophying.

He handed me the summer school programme, which I scanned quickly. “The whole thing lasts five days, three on theory and the last two on field studies?”

“It does.”

“I want to do an hour’s practical in the morning and afternoon.”

“What? I don’t know if we can. The two field outings are up to Hartpury House, where we have an agriculture school and equine department, as well as a large wooded area.”

“This stuff is good,” I said, referring to the programme, “except, they’ll all be asleep by the afternoon. If we start with an hour in the lecture room then an hour outdoors, weather permitting and do the same in the afternoon, they’ll stay awake and learn more.”

“What do you propose to do with them in an hour?”

“Get them awake and thinking. This is a disturbed site.”

“Yes some building is always going on here.”

“We’ll look at recolonisation of the disturbed ground and habitat destruction and restoration.”

“Good lord, I’d never thought about that.”

“It’s all ecology. Then the next day we’ll look at the motorway.”

“You can’t, access is prohibited.”

“I said we’ll look at it. All we need is a bridge or footbridge over it. We can see all we need to. People often think ecology is about saving rainforests or our temperate woodlands. While it is that, it’s also about understanding that each time you dig your garden you’re changing things. Ecology is about how the natural world adapts or doesn’t to change.”

“Yes, I know, but…”

“But nothing! We are all responsible or affected by it. Usually we adapt, sometimes we don’t. It isn’t just about global warming, it’s also about the weeds in your garden, or those that spring up when you rip a hedge out or pave the front garden—what happens to the water runoff when it rains.”

“I see. You’re planning to teach that as well as the items we have here?”

“If they can go back to their homes and see changes there, they’ll appreciate how those contribute to greater change. It’s all very well to produce bio-fuels and claim they are carbon neutral, what about the water used to grow them? That is often forgotten about.”

“What about your dormice? Are you planning on doing anything on them?”

“I have loads of data on them, which I could use. I take it we’ll be using PowerPoint?”

“Yes.”

“I have plenty on disc and my laptop to keep them amused for weeks.”

“Maybe a second summer school, or even autumn school?”

“I don’t know. Anyway, I shall be here next Monday with my bits and raring to go.”

“Thank you, I’ll look forward to introducing you to your students.”

We shook hands and I left, placing the file of paper on the back seat of my car. I would teach the principles they wanted covered, but we’d do it my way and have some fun doing it. I was also going to give a prize for the person who notices the most number of species during the course field outings.

I drove home feeling quite pleased with myself. We’d agreed on a fee of a thousand pounds for the week, which I would certainly earn, but it was still good money.

Easy As Making Mud Pies—

Hard As Eating Them! Part 391

I did some shopping on the way home. If Stella was due to arrive tomorrow, some more food would be useful, although we could eat out once or twice. I had some work to do, so she’d have to talk to Spike or go out on her own.

I got enough to fill the freezer and much of the fridge. Goodness, the price of food had gone up in the past few months, or Bristol is dearer than Portsmouth. I got home and unloaded it all, then began to look at the summer school programme. I spent two hours integrating it with my stuff and checking up a few quotes—thank goodness for the Internet, my books were still in Portsmouth.

I made myself a snack meal and back to the computer. I had the first two days complete and just one more to go. Dr French was supposed to be sending me stuff on the woodlands at Hartpury House, including some maps. I couldn’t really do much more until I had them, other than look at a couple of specifics about marine ecology, urban, montane, rainforest and finally temperate woodland—which was my specialty, especially dormeeces!

It was nine in the evening and I’d just poured myself a cuppa when Simon rang. “Hi, Babes.”

“Hello, Si.”

We talked and I related my recent meeting at the university. He was pleased for me—mind you, I was pleased for me. I wasn’t so pleased at his next topic.

“Did you get your cornflakes on the train?” I asked him.

“No Babes, I didn’t. It took me until I got to the office to recover from my ride to the station. You drove just like Stella.”

“There’s gratitude,” I felt irritated, “I got you there in one piece and in time to catch your bloody train.”

“You nearly had to deal with a cardiac arrest.”

“Is that like a citizen’s arrest?”

“Ha ha, very funny—seriously, I was getting palpitations sat in that car with you.”

“If I hadn’t driven like a demon, you’d have missed your train. Maybe you need to give me more notice next time.”

“Perhaps, I’ll drive down next time.”

“It takes longer.”

“Oh I don’t know, my life seemed to pass before me on several occasions, so that took a bit of time.”

“Simon, I don’t criticise your driving.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m a good driver.”

“Are you implying I’m not?”

“This once, yes.”

I began to feel more than a little irritated. If he mentions women drivers, I was going get very cross.

“Of course men are generally better at this sort of skill than women…”

“That is total balderdash, and you know it. Data from insurance companies shows women are far safer drivers, which is why our insurance is cheaper.”

“I wouldn’t necessarily accept that data.”

“Fine. I’m sure it would contradict your flat earth theories, so no I don’t suppose you would accept it. I have news for you, the world is round. Bye.” I put the phone down and ignored it when he immediately tried to call me back. He would get the message that I was cross with him eventually.

I heard my mobile peep to say a text was received. I was sure it was Simon again, so didn’t hurry to check it, instead giving some attention to my obese dormouse, adding to her fat levels by feeding her nuts.

I nearly forgot the text message and was about to go to bed when I checked it. It was from Des.

‘N E chnce u b ridin 2moro? Same plce? luv Des.xxx’

I couldn’t reply because I didn’t know what time Stella was due. In the end, I did respond.

‘Have Stella arrivin 2moro. Why not come 2 dinner, 8pm. RSVP Cathy.’

About ten minutes later I got his response:

‘How can I refuse 2 luvly ladies?’

I sent back one word.

‘Creep!’

I knew he’d laugh at that, least I hoped he would. At least sparring with him took my mind off my spat with Simon. Sometimes I wondered if we were compatible, at all. Then we’d have a good day together, or a better night, and my worries would disappear. I know some of it was my fault, but Simon could get so priggish at times. Especially his insults about women, he wasn’t really a male chauvinist, he was actually a gentleman, so why did he have to play the macho game? Maybe Stella could shed some light on it?

I went to bed and after reading some dry as dust novel for ten minutes, fell asleep. The story I’d been reading was based in Palestine. Why I’d picked it up, I didn’t know, although I had forgotten to include the ecology of deserts to my programme. I mean deserts as in Sahara not desserts, as in apple pie.

I tried not think about food, that would keep me awake. I dreamt I was teaching and went on about deserts and they all started asking me about the ecology of sweets and puddings. It sounds ridiculous but I woke up in a fair old sweat. My confidence with a new group was not as high as I pretended. I knew my subject to my satisfaction; I hoped it was to theirs as well.

I went for a pee and thence back to sleep waking with the alarm at eight. I lay there for a moment before remembering Stella’s visit. I jumped out of bed and into the shower, then down and cleaned up the kitchen after a quick breakfast. I vacuumed everywhere and made up a bed in the spare room. Finally, I made a new bread mix and set off the machine. The house would hopefully smell welcoming.

Stella arrived ten minutes after the loaf finished. We ate much of it for lunch with some cheese and salad and a little white wine. I asked her how long she was staying and she decided three days. That was fine, it meant I’d be free by the weekend and could take a look at these woodlands near Gloucester at Hartpury House.

When I told Stella that Des was coming for dinner, she seemed rather pleased. I wondered if there was some history between these two? If so, I intended to find out. It could prove to be an interesting evening.

Easy As Trawling For A Pike Part 392

“What are we having for dinner?” asked Stella.

“You’ve only just eaten,” I said smirking.

“I know but something smells wonderful.”

“It’s my new deodorant,” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tease her.

“I can smell food, Cathy Watts.”

“Can you now?”

She rose from the table and followed her nose to the cooker. She opened the oven door, “Hmm, what is that?”

“They had some venison at the local butcher. It’s stewing away slowly in there. I must find where Mum put the slow cooker.”

“Venison, cor, how decadent!”

“Me, decadent? Sounds like a toothpaste.”

“You’ll wonder where the money went, if you brush your teeth with decadent,” trilled Stella.

“You are one crazy, mixed up woman,” I said.

“Hark, who’s talking, she who is more bonkers than conkers.” As she said this, we both paused then fell about laughing.

“Bonkers than conkers?” I repeated, my cheeks covered with rivulets of tears from laughing. “How on earth did you come up with a line like that?”

“I don’t know,” she said, now giggling helplessly.

“You should have been a milliner, not a nurse.”

“A milliner? Why?” She bit.

“’Cos you’re as mad as a hatter,” I said triumphantly.

“Well, we have the dormouse, what does that make you?”

“At this moment, the Cheshire Cat.” I smiled a beaming grin at her.

“Yes, very good, Cat-hey! What time is the White Rabbit due?”

“I told him eight, I think.”

“Ooh,” Stella stretched and yawned, “I could do with freshening up. Is there anything you need me to do?”

“Not really. It’s four, we could do quick ride if you’ve brought your bike.”

“If I’ve brought my bike? Of course I’ve brought my bike, you’ll have to put the wheel back on it though.”

“Yeah, no problem. Did you take it off?”

“Don’t be silly, I ride them, I don’t know how they work.”

“It’s very simple Stella, you turn the pedals and the wheels go round.”

She raised her eyebrows and sighed. “I know that stupid, but how you put them together and so on shall remain a mystery.”

“What happens if you have a puncture?”

“I do what I do when the car breaks down: stand by the side looking helpless and appealing.”

“Sounds like a spaniel in a straightjacket.”

“What?”

“Never mind, let’s go and get it sorted and we can get in an hour’s ride.” I followed her out to her car and then back into the house while she tried to remember where she put her keys. They were under her bag, which was under the table—we walked past it three times.

Once opened, we unloaded the car and within two minutes, I popped the wheel back on her bike. I then put it in the garage until we were ready to go. We changed into our cycling clothes and I led Stella out for a short and gentle ride. She said she’d enjoyed it when we put the bikes away.

I left her to go and run a bath and have a soak whilst I washed the vegetables and put them on to cook. Then I went up to wash and change. I couldn’t decide what to wear beyond a bra and pants. In the end, I opted for a pair of jeans and vee necked jumper—showing a little cleavage, which I decorated with a squirt of smellies.

I did my hair and put on just a touch of eye makeup and pale lipstick finishing with some drop earrings and a bracelet. Stella met me at the top of the stairs—she looked a knock-out, which suited me fine. I was quite happy to sit and watch tonight, although I was aware she had been seeing the young doctor back in Portsmouth. I was curious if that was going anywhere, but it certainly wasn’t the time to ask.

“You knew Des from school, didn’t you?”

“Yes, he was a looker then, but had a very naughty reputation with women of all ages.”

“All ages?”

“Absolutely, among his conquests were two girls from my house, plus the housemistress, who was fifty something and the matron, who was coming up for retirement.”

“How old was he?”

“Coming up sixteen.”

“Goodness, well he hasn’t tried anything on with me, not recently anyway.” I blushed as I said it, because he had once before, but that was some time ago, and having two of us here would prevent that happening.

“I know he fancies you, Cathy.”

“Don’t be silly, he knows I’m engaged to Simon. Besides, he also knows my history. I’m surprised that doesn’t put him off.”

“It doesn’t seem to with Simon, does it?”

“Simon is special.”

“Special needs, you mean,” she rolled her eyes as she spoke.

“Hey, you leave my Simon alone! I love him anyway.”

“Just as well, you’re about the only one.”

“We suit each other, he knows about me and it doesn’t make any difference and his little foibles don’t worry me.”

“Cathy, for goodness sake stop worrying about your past. You’re an absolute fox, and what is now is what matters. Most men would give their right arm to have a date with you.”

“What would I do with all those right arms?”

“Feed your dormeece?”

“Nah, she likes nuts.”

“Well if you fed her those, their previous owners may not have much interest in you after all, no matter how attractive you were.”

Previous owner? Spike? It didn’t compute. Then I reran the whole sentence and realised she wasn’t talking about Spike, she was talking about nuts, and not the variety I meant. I blushed and she sniggered. “I wondered how long it would take for you to get it.”

“Obviously, too long.”

I went into the kitchen and checked everything: it was all doing quite well. I took an apple pie I had in the freezer and slipped it into the oven. I would make custard later and I also had a cheese board ready with some assorted biscuits.

“Cor, you do enjoy putting on the Ritz, don’t you?”

“What d’you mean?”

“Well, puddings and cheese and biccies.”

“So? I like to entertain in my own decadent manner.”

“Oh yes, very good.”

“Come on, help me lay the table.”

It was just coming up to quarter to eight, when I heard a diesel engine drive up outside and saw Des emerging from his Land Rover. A moment later, the doorbell rang.

Easy As Killing Bambi Part 393

Might not be suitable for vegetarians or people of taste.

I opened the front door, and accepted the flowers and wine presented to me. I also accepted the peck on the cheek. I showed him into the lounge where Stella was sitting. “I believe you two know each other,” I said.

“Hello, Stella.” Des held out his arms to give her a hug.

“Hello, Des, long time no see.” She accepted his hug and they kissed each other on the cheek.

“Yeah, you know how it goes, work, work, work. No respite for the wicked.”

“Your past caught up with you, then?”

“Looks like. So what are you up to?”

“The letter C, why?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I simply answered your question Desmond. I am up to the letter C in arranging my music CDs.”

“You don’t change do you? Ever the quick wit.”

“With you around, one needs to be on one’s mettle.”

“Oh I am mortally wounded,” he pretended to stagger about as if he’d been stabbed in the heart, “stabbed through the heart by the woman I trusted. Oh death where is thy sting?”

I clapped his performance having returned from the kitchen moments before. “Very good Des, it would have brought a tear to a glass eye.”

“Methinks, the lady doth mock me.”

“Do forgive me kind sir, but I be just a poor serving wench whose purpose be to tell you and the Mistress Stella, that dinner is served in the great hall.” I curtseyed after speaking.

“Lead on then, wench. Come, Lady Stella, prithee take my arm and accompany me to the great hall, whence we may dine.”

“Great ’all? Lawks a mercy, Sir, I ain’t never seen one o’them.” Stella switched into her Eliza Doolittle act.

“Well stick with me kid, and you never know what might happen.”

“Sadly Des, I do, but hopefully not in front of Cathy. She’s a callow maid and I wouldn’t like to frighten her.”

“Frighten her, what’s going to frighten her?”

“The way I say, NO. Grown men have been known to weep and tear out their own eyeballs rather than witness it.”

“You’re assuming I would ask you something for you to refuse.”

“Yes, I am being presumptive, but this comes with experience of your track record and modus operandi.”

“Geez, Stella, talk about givin’ a dog a bad name, how do you know I haven’t reformed? Ask Catherine here, our resident vestal virgin.”

“I don’t think I can cope with writing references and serving dinner. Come on through and take a seat.”

“Hmm, it smells good,” Des sniffed the air in the dining room.

“It’s venison,” said Stella.

“Oh no, you killed Bambi, I can’t eat it.” Des clowned around pretending to cry.

“Fine, I’ll eat yours then,” said Stella.

“You cruel, cruel woman—how could you eat Bambi?”

“Easy,” said Stella, pretending to aim a gun.

“It’s been organically killed,” I informed them.

“Eh?” They both commented together, “Organically killed?”

“Yeah, they beat it to death with a cauliflower. Come on, it’s getting cold.”

“I shall never be able to look a cauliflower in the eye again; not without seeing it tainted by Bambi’s blood.”

“You’d better keep your eyes shut then, laddie, ’cos it’s on the menu.”

“What? Bambi’s blood?”

“Yeah, it’s in the gravy, so’s the cauliflower.”

“If it made him cry, would it be cauliflower au greetin’?” asked Stella, which about plumbed the deepest of the various puns so far. Des and I groaned and stepped into the dining room.

The conversation slowed down as we used our mouths for their other function and got stuck into the dinner. It was pretty good, if I say so myself, and we drank the remains of the burgundy I’d used to make the sauce.

“You’re driving,” I reminded Des.

“Only because you won’t let me sleep with you,” he replied.

“Certainly not,” I said firmly, “I’m spoken for, and besides, you probably snore.”

“So does the saintly Simon,” he smirked, “I’ve known him suck the drawers out of a tallboy.”

“Suck the drawers off a tall boy?” Stella deliberately repeated it incorrectly, “Nah, not Simon. He’s not like that, he likes women, in fact, one in particular very much.”

Des shook his head, he knew whatever he said, she would twist and throw it back at him. “You haven’t changed, have you Stella?”

“Yes I have. You don’t think I’d have driven here in this outfit do you?”

“Tell me, did the housemistress get pregnant?” I asked innocently.

“Ooh, who’s been airing dirty linen then? Let me guess—Stella Cameron.”

“Moi?” she asked with feigned innocence, “Li’l ol’ moi?”

“Et tu, Stella.”

“I think we may be crossing a few cultural lines here somewhat. Isn’t it supposed to be, Et tu Brute?

“What’s the problem? I always associated Miss Piggy with Shakespeare.” Des had struck back.

I nearly fell off my chair when Stella choked while protesting. “Miss Piggy? Miss Piggy? I’m an actress, I tell you!”

“How about we call a truce?” I asked, partly because nothing was likely to top that last riposte of Des’, and partly because I needed him to focus on some more serious business.

I made some coffee and poured it. Stella handed out the after dinner mints. “I haven’t had any response yet from Bristol, regarding the dormouse site, but West of England want me to do some teaching next week, just for a week.”

“I thought the term started September–October?”

“This is a summer school, their tutor has gone sick.”

“Hey, that’s useful, a foot in the door,” Des congratulated me.

“Yeah, I suppose so. I could have done with something less intense, I’ve got other things to do for Tom and the mammal survey.”

“Plus our filming. You have to do your David Attenborough bit.”

“Here we have a frustrated film maker,” I said in a manner not too unlike Sir David, “we can tell his mood from the way he throws film cartridges about while chattering in a manner unlikely to make him approachable to many of his fellows. Oh look, he’s just attacked one of his tribe with his Panasonic—no, I tell a lie, it’s a Sony camera.”

“That sounded more like Alan Whicker,” said Stella.

It was Des’ opportunity to break into his Whicker’s Isle sketch, obviously of Monty Python creation. “Here, on Whicker’s Isle, the sad truth is, there is no one left to interview.”

Had Simon been here, undoubtedly the pair would have done the whole routine and we’d still be there a week later. I gave thanks for small mercies. I would arrange with Stella after Des had gone, not to mention any of this to Simon.

Des finally left about midnight, when Stella and I began to yawn rather too much to concentrate on the conversation. He said he would try to pressure the university to sort out the Forest of Dean site, reminding them of my presence in the area. “After all, if we have an outstanding beauty in an area of scientific interest, they should use her.” With that, he kissed us both and left.

Easy As Going Shopping Part 394

by Angharad (shopaholic)

I often find that after a stimulating evening, I am too wound up to sleep. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case and despite the storm that raged half the night, I slept like the proverbial log.

In actual fact, Stella brought me a cup of tea the next morning. “I have some bad news, sleepy head. There was a storm last night.”

“What storm?”

“Didn’t you hear it?”

“No, obviously I didn’t.”

“Okay, keep your hair on. The wind blew down some of your shrubs.”

“Oh well, I’ll have to do some tidying up, won’t I?”

“More than that I’m afraid, it also brought down part of the garden wall.”

“Oh, which one?”

“The high one at the bottom.”

“I had a horrible feeling you were going to say that. I wonder if the builders are still down the road.”

“They won’t stop everything and come and do it, will they?”

“I doubt it, but they might when they finish Margaret and Greg’s house. If not, I’ll get someone else. It’s hardly urgent. I’ll clear up what I can, but I’m not going to kill myself.”

“I’ll give you a hand, but like you said, not to the point of stupidity.”

After breakfast I went and spoke to the builders, one of whom gave me a rough quote. He would do it over the weekend and would need some more bricks, and obviously, cement and sand. His quote seemed reasonable, especially when he knew it wasn’t an insurance job.

“You’re not claiming on your insurance?” Stella seemed astonished.

“He quoted me two fifty, my excess is over a hundred, so by the time I’ve finished and higher premiums next time around, the difference won’t be that bad, perhaps fifty quid. Not worth the hassle for that.”

“Catherine Watts, it’s a good job Simon isn’t here, he’d be livid. What’s the point of insurance, if you don’t claim on it?”

“If the roof had blown off, I probably would be claiming, but this, I shall bear myself.”

“Oh well, it’s your money.”

“Yes, right, that’s the dishes done, let’s see about the garden.” We laboured all the morning and by lunchtime, I was glad for a sit down. Stella seemed to feel the same. “How about a quick lunch and wash and we go out on the bikes for an hour?”

“I hope you are joking, Cathy Watts, because I am knackered, with a capital na.”

“I was actually, but if you had wanted to go, I’d have struggled to accompany you.”

“In case I get lost?”

“Yeah.”

“I have my Garmin.”

“What a GPS?”

“The same, fits on the bike, tells me how far I’ve gone, where I want to go and how many calories, heart rate and what I had for dinner last Wednesday.”

“Ha ha, but it’s good, is it?”

“It’s okay, can do computer printouts and so on. You know, you plug it into a computer.”

“Excellent. Well round here I doubt I’d use it much. Away it would be more useful, especially if doing off-roading.”

“You left your mountain bike at Tom’s.”

“Yes I know, I could only carry so much.”

“Why did you run off like that?”

“I thought everyone knew that.”

“But surely, you could have talked it through with him? He misses you dreadfully, and so do I.”

“Yeah, I miss you two as well. Enough of the mawkishness, what about lunch? What do you fancy?”

“What or who?”

“Either, but tell me the food bit first, then you can talk with me while I’m getting it.”

“What do we have?”

“Sarnie or something on toast?”

“Either of those is fine.”

“What happened to the dormouse? Doesn’t she run about like a hamster?”

“I hope nothing has happened to her.” With quickening pulse, I rushed over to the cage, she wasn’t inside her loaf. My heart nearly stopped, however, a few more moment’s search found her in her nest box. She accepted some of the nuts Stella had brought for her, and Stella fed her while I made our sandwiches.

“You got quite worried then, didn’t you?”

“Yes, she is rather special to me.”

“She will die one of these days. How long do they live?”

“I don’t know, probably only a year or two in the wild. In captivity probably four or five years maybe longer.”

“What eats them?”

“Any predator clever enough to catch them, especially when they are hibernating. Otherwise it’s probably destruction of habitat, loss of good thick hedgerows and occasional hazel coppice. All the farmers these days flail cut with those damn machines, very few lay hedges like their forebears did.”

“Oh, I just love to see a nicely laid hedge,” Stella gushed. “It’s so clever.”

“It is skilful stuff, like my sandwiches.”

“Gee whiz Cathy, I can’t eat all of those.”

“I’m glad to hear it, half of them are mine, you greedy piglet.”

“Oh, thank goodness for that.”

After lunch, whilst I checked my emails, Stella fell asleep reading the paper. “Hooray,” I said loudly.

“Erm, who?” said Stella sleepily.

“I’ve heard from Bristol uni, they want me to go and talk with them about the dormouse site.”

“So when are you going?”

“Erm—it’ll have to wait. I’m busy next week with the summer school, and I have work to do over the weekend. The week after next is the earliest I can go.”

“Why not tomorrow, if they have some free time?”

“Because I have a guest.”

“Who’s that then?”

“Spike, why?”

“I don’t mind, I can amuse myself for an hour or two. Where is it?”

“Top end of Park Street.”

“Where is that?”

“Up past the shops.”

“Shops, the magic word. Yes ring them! Tomorrow will do fine.”

“You are so predictable,” I said almost dismissively. It wasn’t true, but I felt she needed some chastisement for wanting to go shopping, it was just too girly.

“So? You can talk. You seem to like shopping, too.”

“Yeah, but not like you.”

“So what would you have me do? Wait for you to finish and then we can both go shopping, or what?”

“Yeah, that sounds a great idea. Why not come with me and have a look at the museum?”

“Yeah, how exciting, not.”

“Okay, I’ll call them, see what I can do.” I did, speaking to the biology department administrator, who had in fact emailed me. I set up an appointment with her for first thing the next day, which meant Stella would get maximum shopping time, with or without me.

When I informed her, she said, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

“Stella, I think that’s been done?”

“Oh yeah, by whom?”

“Would you believe the A-Team?”

“The what?”

“Never mind.” At this, she returned to her newspaper.

Easy As Working For Nothing Part 395

The next morning, I awoke early and decided to get myself ready for the meeting at the university and then shopping with Portsmouth’s answer to Imelda Marcos. I don’t know which worried me more, probably shopping with Stella—I was a bit out of practice of retail therapy.

I couldn’t think of anything much I wanted, let alone needed; not that that would stop me. I considered that I might ultimately want to change furnishings and redecorate my house, to make it mine, but it would be for that reason alone, as both decoration and furnishings were in reasonable condition. The other thing was my uncertainty of occupation—if and when I married Simon, where would we live? I wasn’t going to think about that until I had to—life was complicated enough as it was.

I dressed in smart casual. It was supposed to be summer, but the trees were blowing quite hard in the breeze and it didn’t feel that warm. I pulled on my trousers, a tidy pair in black satin with a slightly flared leg. I partnered these with a red and black paisley sleeveless top, which was further decorated with beads and tiny sequins and had a quite a deep vee neck. One might say it capitalised on the effects of my Wonderbra: a combination Simon enjoyed me wearing. Over this, I wore a needle-cord jacket.

In view of the fact that I’d be busy walking for several hours after my meeting, I went for reasonably comfy shoes, a pair of two and half inch courts with a rounded toe.

I wore my hair in a ponytail, as much to save it from the ravages of the wind as anything, and I kept my make up simple. I met Stella in the kitchen. She came down as I was buttering my toast. We hugged, and she made herself some coffee.

“You look nice,” she commented, taking a sip of her coffee.

“So do you,” I returned the compliment.

“What this old thing?” The old thing to which she referred, was a designer labelled pant suit in beige, with a small floral print in contrasting shades of beige and black.

She poured some milk on her cereal and sat down at the table with me. I munched on my toast. I’d eaten quite well today: cereal, a banana and now some toast—I didn’t know when we’d have lunch, or where, for that matter.

I dropped her off in Park Street, and we agreed I would text her when I left the uni and she could tell where she was, or wanted to meet. Part of me hoped it would only be an hour or so.

Despite the university being officially on vacation, the car park was quite full, and I managed to nab the last visitor’s space. I had to sign in and display a permit they gave me at the office. Then I had to wait for Mrs Valentine, the biology department administrator, to come and collect me. I wore a badge which declared I was a visitor.

Mrs Valentine, was not Shirley, but Geraldine, a vivacious thirty something with masses of dark chestnut hair and a smile that could melt concrete. We shook hands and she led me off to her office. It wasn’t palatial, but it was bigger than the one I’d had in Portsmouth.

“Are you staying in Bristol for long?” she asked me.

“It’s my home town.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you came up from Portsmouth.”

“I was in Portsmouth until recently; I had a disagreement with the management of the department and came back to my parents’ old house.”

“Oh, you’re living with your parents?”

“No, they’re both deceased, it’s my house now; although I tend to still think of it as my parents’ place.”

“I’m sorry. Yes, I know what you mean, if it was the family home, it remains that even if you’ve long moved out to your own place.” We both sat down after she poured us coffees from a coffeemaker. “You had a disagreement with your previous employers?”

“Yes, they did away with my dormouse breeding programme without telling me. I was off on sick leave for a while.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?” She probed, presumably making sure I’d complete the job before croaking.

“Yes, I got stabbed while out riding my bike.”

“You got stabbed?”

“Yes, there was some lunatic who didn’t like cyclists, he’d attacked a couple of women riders previously, but he stabbed me in the chest as I rode past him. Caught me in the lung. I nearly bled to death.”

“Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed, “Where was this?”

“Outskirts of Portsmouth, going up Portsdown Hill.”

“You cycle up there?”

“Yes, hills are there for cycling up.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Your professor gave you an amazing reference. He considers you one of the leading experts on dormice in the country, and says you are consulted by the government and one or two commercial institutions on mammal biology.”

“Rodents mainly, and dormice in particular.”

“You’ve published papers on dormice populations…” as she spoke I felt myself get warm. I was waiting for her to mention the disparity of name, instead she showed that Tom had sent copies, of the revised authorship, God bless him.

“I’ve spent hundreds of hours finding, observing and recording data on dormice in Hampshire primarily, but a little in Dorset, Surrey and Sussex. I started the process while I was at Sussex, where I did a paper on the ecology of dormouse populations. It was an exploratory paper and it got me the job at Portsmouth, so I’ve no complaints.”

“It sounds as if you might be just the person we need. We have some anecdotal records of dormice in two sites in the Forest of Dean. If that is the case they will need scheduling under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, to give them appropriate protection and responsibilities concerning that by the landowners.”

I nodded, aware of the administrative nightmare some of this stuff was, but if it protected the little furry things, I was all in favour. Once the landowner was informed they had protected species on their land, they had a responsibility to protect those species, including land use and management. In other words, no flail cutters on hedgerows where dormice were known to be, during the warmer months.

“Basically, Natural England has charged us with surveying and assessing the sites and the surrounding area for the presence of dormice. We have a reputation for mammal biology…”

“I know, I’ve read some of your stuff on urban foxes and badgers.”

“So you’ll understand how we wish to maintain it.”

“Of course.”

“It seemed fortuitous, that you were in the area and available to undertake the work.”

“Possibly, depending on what is required and the duration.”

“Oh! Is there a possibility that you won’t be available?”

“If you want me to survey the sites over the summer or supervise the survey perhaps by some of your students, then I can. After the summer, I’m not sure what my plans might involve. I have a lot of involvement with the countrywide mammal survey, and data should be coming in during the autumn on that.”

“I see, but you are available now?”

“After next week, I’m doing a summer school at the West of England uni next week.”

“Fine, well it would take a week or so to sort out a temporary contract. I think the best thing is if you could do a short paper on how you would propose to survey the site and involve undergraduates, that would be really useful.”

“A short paper? Have you any idea how long that takes?”

“Well a proposition for how a survey may be executed, and your costings. Would that be possible?”

“You mean like a tender?”

“Almost, I’m sorry, but we have to have a formal proposal and idea of the cost involved before we can respond to Natural England. We would also have to agree ownership of the data.”

“I see, given my interest in this species, the Hazel or Common Dormouse, then I should like the use of any data arising and would require it under the mammal survey anyway, so hopefully we can share that.”

“I’ll have to check that. You know what some of these academics are like?”

“Yes, being one, I’m well aware.” I smiled and she looked away blushing very slightly.

We talked a bit longer and I left there a little miffed that I had to do yet more work before anyone paid me. I suppose it’s almost like speculating to accumulate. I drove off to see Stella and wander round the shops until she was worn out or spent out. My mood had not improved.

Easy As Oversleeping Part 33 Dozen (396)

I met with Stella who had already bought several items. “Someone’s having fun?”

“Oh yeah, but this is just a warm-up. I’ve seen several things I want your opinion on, and some things you really need to try yourself. There is this just darling little dress in royal blue which is made for you.”

“Stella, I don’t need any new dresses at the moment.”

“Oh course you don’t. Shopping isn’t about need, it’s about opportunism.”

“Is it? I thought it was about getting things you needed but didn’t actually have.”

“Nah, that’s utility shopping. That’s what men do. Women go on expeditions, like sort of hunting but with a credit card.”

“I suspect I’d feel better shopping at the Horsefair.”

“What? There’s more?”

“Yes, we have several shopping areas, this, Horsefair and Cribbs Causeway—that’s one of those out of town shopping malls.”

“Is it far away?”

“No, not from here.”

“Well let’s go then.”

“Okay, but what about your little blue dress?”

“I’ve just noticed your eyes are green.”

“As far as I know, they always have been.”

“Come on, I don’t need your excuses.” With that, she bustled me back to my car.

It took half an hour to get to Cribbs Causeway. It’s a large site with most of the major chain stores there, including a huge Marks and Spencer. The first priority after parking was to find a loo. After that, we decided it was close enough to lunchtime to find somewhere to eat.

I had a Spanish omelette. Stella had a jacket potato with prawns and coleslaw. We washed the meals down with a bottle of still water—always sounds as if it’s going to mutate into something, like ice—no, it’s still water. The sparkling or fizzy water makes you burp and rots your teeth, so I always have still. Then I was going to order a cup of tea, but Stella began to get twitchy—it must have been at least forty minutes since she bought anything.

We did practically every shop in the mall. I did buy a new dress, a little black one—I know, every girl needs one, I now had two, suppose that makes me a girly girl. I don’t care, it was a very me dress, the dropped waist helped to emphasise my hips, which are a bit narrow and it had three quarter sleeves. It was made out of a very fine jersey material, so was a little clingy and the scoop neck was a little lower than I’d like, but it looked fine and will continue to do so as long as I don’t put on any weight. Maybe I should take it back—nah, Stella will kill me.

I bought Tom a tie with spaniels on it and I got Simon one with bicycles on. They were quite expensive, so I hope they appreciate it. I bought Stella a new bag and she—the rat, bought me a new pair of boots. They are exquisite, black knee length with a three-inch stiletto heel. They were reduced in the sale, same as her bag. In fact, the price was pretty much the same.

Finally, we were almost shopped out and went to Asda, a huge store. It’s part of the Walmart group. I got a few more food things and some more fuel, but the reason I came was to get some cheap paper for my printer. I bought two reams from their home and wear department and a new black ink cartridge. What a rip-off—I decided, I needed a laser printer.

Stella looked absolutely bushed, and started to nod as I drove us home through the rush hour traffic. It endeared Bristol to me each time I got stuck in it. Thankfully, we didn’t have too far to go, although Stella was asleep by the time we got home.

“We’re there,” I said loudly and gave her a nudge.

“Oh don’t Paddy, I said no, didn’t I?” she said loudly, then stared at me blankly for a moment. “Cathy, what are you doing here?”

“I live here, remember, it’s my house.”

She looked around in part astonishment and part aghast. “Where am I?”

“Brissle, me dear.”

“Where’s Patrick?”

“Do you perchance mean, Dr Kelly?”

“Yes, you know I do.”

“I don’t Stella. You fell asleep, I just woke you now when we arrived home.”

“Are you sure?”

I wasn’t anymore, but rather than postulate about parallel universes, I decided to keep quiet. “I think so.”

“But it was so real, he was trying it on and I said no, but he wasn’t going to listen to me.”

My mood became more serious. “Has this actually happened or is it just a dream?”

Stella blushed and looked straight ahead, “Your garage door needs painting,” she said.

“Are you still seeing him?”

“I think black would be the best colour don’t you?”

“I haven’t even thought about it.”

“You should, or it won’t keep the weather out.”

“It’s been like that as long as I can remember.”

“That’s no excuse, it needs doing.”

“Come on, let’s get a cuppa and I need a wee.” We unloaded the car and after dumping all the bags in the hall, I quickly scrambled into the cloakroom—I only just got my trousers down in time.

After tidying away everything, we had a cuppa but Stella avoided any mention of Dr Kelly. I could only presume that what she had dreamt was a rerun of a real event, in which case I felt very sad, primarily for her, especially if he forced himself upon her, but also for him, as he seemed such a nice young man. Another demonstration of how appearances can be deceptive, I wondered?

Easy As Forgetting The Past Part 397

“What would you like to eat?”

“I’m not hungry,” Stella said, looking a bit withdrawn.

“What’s the matter, Sis?”

“Nothing, honest, it’s nothing.”

“If that were true, then why has it altered your mood? You were fine until you fell asleep and had the funny dream. Then it changed and you look sad and tired.”

“Just leave it, please.”

“If I do, it’s with great reluctance, because I care about you.”

“I know. Nothing happened, all right?”

“So it was just a dream, then?”

“Yeah, a dream that’s all.”

“I might not have your skills in feminine wiles or intuition, but I do know when someone isn’t telling me the truth. I’m sorry, Stella, but I think you’re lying to me. That, I can’t accept.” I turned and walked out to the kitchen on the pretext of taking the dirty cups away. It also gave her some space to think.

I was stretching our relationship to the limit, but if she couldn’t trust me enough to level with me, then I wasn’t sure we had a relationship. The next hour or two would be critical. I half expected to hear her ask for the garage keys to get her bike from the garage as she packed to go home.

I stayed in the kitchen and put in the mix for the bread maker. She hadn’t come to me, nor had she left. I began to do some vegetables for the meal. I had no idea what we’d have to eat, but I did some spuds and carrots and then began checking some kale. In the fridge, I found two pork chops and stuck them under the grill, I quickly made some apple sauce and looked in the pantry for a suitable bottle of wine.

Stella sat in contemplation in the lounge: she was obviously having a long and difficult internal conversation with herself. I’d done it often enough myself to know what that felt like—not a nice experience.

I laid the table and while the dinner finished cooking itself, I poured two glasses of wine and took one of them into Stella. She accepted it and sipped it. Neither of us spoke a word.

Ten or fifteen minutes later, I served dinner and asked her to come through into the dining room, which she did. We ate and drank some more wine without much talking at all.

As we drank our coffee, she looked at me and said, “Cathy, I love you as my sister.”

“I love you too, as my sister.”

“I can’t lie to you, it hurts me too much.”

“Okay.”

“Patrick and I went out about half a dozen times, the last time we both got a little tipsy and I stayed over with him, too drunk to drive really. He wanted sex and I didn’t. He tried to force me, I shouted at him and he slept in the other room. Nothing happened, but I dreamt about it, and it all came back.”

“I’m sorry, Sis, I thought he was a nice lad.”

“He is, that’s the pity of it, but I don’t feel I can trust him again. So that’s it.”

“I am sorry.”

“Don’t be, there are plenty more fish in the sea.”

“Atta girl.” I poured the remaining wine into our glasses and proposed a toast, “To Stella, may she find her ideal man.”

We chinked glasses, “To Cathy, may she always be my best friend as well as my sister.” I choked up after that.

Quite why Stella ended up in my bed, I don’t recall, possibly because the wine makes things a bit fuzzy. I don’t mean we were doing anything, except being company for each other. We slept, that was all. However, I had forgotten she was there, so when I woke up in the night needing a wee, I had a little shock when I realised I had someone in bed with me. Then I remembered, and relaxed. I went to the loo and took half an hour to go back to sleep again.

The next morning I awoke to a hand around my waist holding us tightly together. I felt myself tense a little. “It’s all right, I’m only having a cuddle with my sister,” she said as she spooned into the back of me.

“Okay,” I said, but wasn’t at all sure about what I was feeling.

“I’m not gay, you’re quite safe.”

“I’m not frightened of you, Stella, just a little taken by surprise.”

“Didn’t you ever cuddle with your siblings?”

“It’s difficult if you’re an only child.”

“Erm, yes, it would be. Didn’t you have a teddy bear?”

“Yes, but he didn’t put his arm around me.”

“If he had, I think I’d have recommended running for it.” Her comment made me laugh which she did as well. Before long, we were lying side by side on our backs reminiscing about childhoods.

“When I was young, I used to go and cuddle with my parents—I’d wriggle in between them. It was stupid really, because I’d get too hot and my dad would grumble that my feet were cold. Mum used to laugh at that. I do miss them.” I felt a little sad after I said this.

“Yeah, I’m sure you do. I don’t much remember my mother.” Stella sounded sad, too.

“That’s sad.”

“She left my dad when I was about four or five. Simon was inconsolable, mind you, Daddy was pretty upset as well. She went off with his best friend.”

“Oh dear, how embarrassing.”

“Yeah, just a bit. She died in a car accident about three years ago.”

“I’m sorry, did you go to the funeral?”

“No, it happened in Africa somewhere. She was cremated and her ashes flown back. We went to the interment, but it felt pretty remote, as if we were pretending she wasn’t really dead. I know Simon felt much the same.”

“Did you used to see her after she left?”

“No way, Daddy forbade it.”

“That’s very sad. I know when I didn’t see my parents much when I transitioned, I missed them dreadfully. If I hadn’t had you and Simon and Tom to help me, I wouldn’t have made it.”

“Yes you would, it was what you needed to do. Si and me, we did nothing, really.”

“Nothing? You kick started me. Without that, I’d still be thinking about it, waiting for the confidence or desperation to get enough to make me do something.”

“Yes you would. Tom would have helped. He knew about it didn’t he?”

“I had to tell him why I tried to kill myself. It didn’t worry him and he was always very supportive, told me he’d helped someone else before and that the university had had several.”

“Did he tell you who he helped?”

“No, he couldn’t do that could he? It would be a breach of confidentiality.”

“Only if it was a student.”

“What d’you mean?” Now I was really puzzled. “Who else is there? Oh shit, it’s not, is it?”

“Why do you think he feels so protective towards you?”

“My God, he’s never said anything about it to me. Presumably he has to you?”

“I asked him outright.”

“You didn’t?” I sat up in bed, “How?”

“I asked him if he’d been through this before. He told me, which was why he was so hurt by your spat and then leaving him. It was similar to what happened before, only she died soon after and he never quite forgave himself. It killed his wife—she died of a broken heart.”

“Oh my God, I didn’t know. I must go and see him and apologise, beg his forgiveness. I feel such a bitch. How long ago was all this?”

“Twenty or so years ago, it was tougher in those days, even though she was a real looker, a bit like you.”

I blushed, “Oh, Stella, how can I even begin to say I’m sorry?”

“I don’t know, girl, but I thought it best if you learned a bit about things.”

“Indeed. I feel a real shit, I really do.”

Easy As Falling Off An Ice Floe Part 398

I was shocked by this revelation about Tom. His daughter was transsexual… Goodness, talk about lightning striking twice. How could I go and see him without making a fool of myself—how could I not go and see him? In the olden days, it would have meant crawling while wearing sackcloth and ashes and begging his forgiveness. I had no idea—I wonder why no one mentioned it before? Maybe it was too long ago, will they be the same about me in twenty years—old news and all that?

“A penny for them,” piped a voice from the bed.

“Oh, I was just revelling in my guilt. Just how am I going to be able to speak to Tom, ever again?”

“If you don’t, you’ll both regret it. You’ve spoken to him on the phone, so why the problem?”

“I didn’t know what you’ve just told me, did I? It makes everything very different.”

“I don’t see why, you’re the same and so is he. All that’s different is you know something about him that you didn’t an hour ago.”

“Why didn’t he or someone else tell me?”

“Why should he?”

“Well—because, that’s why.”

“What relevance does his or his daughter’s past have to do with you?”

“Everything.”

“Why?”

“Because it does. I mean, how rare is it for someone to meet two trannies in their lifetime? Unless of course they’re part of the scene. I mean, I haven’t since I discovered it wasn’t for me.”

“You’ve seen them though haven’t you? Didn’t you tell me you were always screening for them—your gaydar or transsexual equivalent.”

“Yeah, but that isn’t like, getting involved with them, is it? That’s like totally different.”

“I suppose if you put it like that, but then his feelings for his daughter would be rekindled by you, he could redo some of the things he might have got wrong the first time around, by doing them differently with you.”

“A sort of therapy?”

“I don’t know if I’d quite call it that, but a sort of redemption for him. Of course, we don’t know if he really got it that wrong the first time. His daughter died, he blamed much of it on himself, then his wife dies and he probably blames himself for that too. She might have accused him as well, so he may well be riddled with guilt or he may be philosophical about things. I couldn’t determine that from what he told me.”

“I’m just astonished that he’s had two come his way and become so involved with them. But it does explain his kindness and generous support for me.”

“I suspect you’d have got that anyway. I’m not a gender-bender and he’s generous to me too, nor is Simon.”

“No, but you are both involved with me.”

“Don’t get delusions of grandeur, Cathy. He might just like us for our own loveable selves.”

“Like I do, you mean?”

“Something like that.”

At this point she stopped talking, possibly because I hit her with a pillow. My first strike use of unclear weapons of mass dysfunction, resulted in retaliation. It led to almost predictable escalation of hostilities and within minutes we were on a full war footing. Of course all war is futile, and there are no winners. Puffing and panting, we shook hands, declared a truce and signed a peace treaty, we were both too tired to continue with the pillow fight.

“Are you going to tell him that you told me?”

“Nope.”

“Is that it then?”

“Is that what?”

“The end of it?”

“Seems like. If you want to talk to him about it, you can do your own dirty work.”

“Yeah of course, just tell me Stella, how I bring it up in normal conversation? Oh goodness, hasn’t it been an awful summer? Oh, by the way, Stella tells me your daughter and I have loads in common, or would have if she wasn’t dead.”

“That might be a bit direct.”

“So how would you do it?”

“Maybe the next time he mentions her, ask him to tell you about her.”

“What if he never mentions her again?”

“Tough titty.”

“Geeee, thanks, Stella.”

“You’re welcome. It’s supposed to be summer isn’t it?”

“As far as the calendar goes, yes.”

“So how come the sun isn’t shining?”

“Pass.”

“They said global warming would give us hot dry summers…”

“Yeah, but they didn’t say where or when, did they?”

“I think some of it is hysteria.”

“Yeah, especially amongst polar bears.”

“What are you on about?”

“The lack of ice floes and glaciers for the northern teddy bears.”

“Oh yeah, it’s getting tough for them.”

“I know a joke about polar bears. It’s a bit of a schoolboy howler, so you might not want to hear it.”

“Cathy, how can you do this to me?”

“Do what?”

“Tempt me, then take away the pay off.”

“Eh?”

“Tell the sodding joke, all right?”

“Oh, okay—since you put it so elegantly. Right, there’s these three polar bears sat on an ice floe. Daddy bear, Mummy bear and baby bear. Daddy looks out to sea and says, ‘My tale is told.’ Mummy bear looks out to sea and echoes him, ‘My tale is told.’ Baby bear looks up at both of them and nods, saying, ‘My tail is told too, in fact it’s freezing’.”

Stella looked at me, I don’t get it.”

“It’s a play on the word tale and tail.”

“I can see that, I just don’t think it’s funny.”

“Fair enough, British humour doesn’t appeal to all foreigners.”

“Foreigners! Yer Sassenach, hark who’s talking.”

“Ah but, living in Bristol, there must be some Welsh in me, plus some of my ancestors were Scots, so I’m mostly Brit. Your ancestors were Irish.”

“If you were part Scot, so would yours.”

“Oh yeah, I didn’t think of that.” I blushed and she sniggered.

“For an academic, you seem a bit dull at times.”

“It’s the altitude sickness from my ivory tower.”

“How can you justify killing all those elephants to build a tower?”

“Stella, it’s simply a figure of speech.”

“A likely tale.”

“It is, think about it.”

“I have, in India and the Far East, there is an enormous amount of ivory. They probably could have built a tower of it.”

“That’s as maybe, but it has nothing to do with real tow…. You bitch, this is a wind up, isn’t it? I hit her with a pillow again—you know what happened next as history repeated itself.

Easy As Getting A Good Report Part 399

by Angharad (could do better)

Breakfast was late, it took us a little while to clear up the feathers from one of the pillows, which had haemorrhaged all over the place. Stella, giggling, scooped up as many of the curled feathers and duck down as she could, shoving her collection into a plastic bag, whilst I chased down the others with the vacuum cleaner.

“We used to have pillow fights in the dorms when I was at school,” said Stella, “only once did we have a pillow burst, and the whole dorm was put on detention for a week.”

“Serves you right,” I said, emptying the vacuum cleaner into a bin bag. “I think maybe I need to get some new pillows. These could be getting a bit ripe.”

“Are you giving them a ticking off?” asked Stella.

“What? What are you on about?”

“Ticking, pillows.”

“Stella it’s clocks that tick. Pillows don’t say much at all, in my experience.”

“Pillows do tick.”

“Don’t be daft. How can they tick… oh, bugger. You pig, you got me again.” She had pointed to the fabric the pillow was in, a pillow tick. Grrrr!

I said that breakfast was late, it could well have been that lunch was early. We ate brunch, as our cousins across the pond call it. It proved to be heavier than a normal breakfast but possibly not as much as typical lunch could be. Either way we had some bacon sarnies, with grilled tomatoes and mushrooms. They were delicious, especially washed down with copious amounts of tea.

“Right, let’s go and get these new pillows.”

“Stella, I am so full, I can hardly move.”

“Typical of today’s youth—gratuitous self-indulgence and idleness.”

“Gee, thanks, remind me to contact you if I need a reference.”

“Yes, ‘Could do better, except in dormouse juggling,’ that would be a good one.”

“I’ve probably had worse, especially at school.”

“Oh I had some crackers from school, ‘Lady Cameron would do well to pay more attention to the laws of the land with a view to maintaining them, not transgressing them’.”

“Oh, I don’t think I can beat that, but my sports master possibly second guessed me. ‘As a rugby player, Watts may find it useful to join the netball team.’ My dad was furious. When he confronted the games master, the bloke said he meant it with regard to a sense of timing and balance, which he thought netball would encourage.”

“Did they ever let you find out?”

“No, sadly. My friends thought it was hilarious. Whenever we played rugger or soccer, they suggested I should play, ‘goal defender’.”

“Oh, that good eh?”

“Yep. Hence the cycling, I was useless at that too.”

“That makes me feel a whole lot better.”

“Why?”

“Well if you were useless, and have got better, then there is hope for me too.”

“Yeah, I asked to do cycling instead of soccer.”

“And?”

“I was accused of trying to skive off. Besides, my dad wouldn’t buy me the sort of bike I wanted until it was too late.”

“Pity.”

“He played football and rugby for his school, but was twice my size and weight. He was built like a bull, I was like a gazelle—one with poor hand-eye coordination.”

“What about tennis?”

“We did a bit of it, I wasn’t very good, but at least the ball was softer than it was in cricket.”

“Oh, I played ladies’ cricket. Great fun.”

“Maybe I’d have enjoyed that more than I did the men’s variety. I couldn’t bat for toffee, and my bowling was mediocre, although I wasn’t a bad slip fielder. However, not good enough to get in the team, so Daddy was not impressed with me.”

“So what else do you recall from your school reports? I had, ‘Stella would be a good listener if ever she stopped talking’.”

“Nothing new there then,” I said, dodging her swipe. “I had, ‘Watts has a rare talent, he is the only person in this school who can plane scalloped wood with a box plane’.”

“Explain, ex-plain—ha ha,” she laughed at her own joke. No seriously, I don’t get that.”

“A box plane is designed to strip the wood in straight lines. I could give it a regular undulating surface instead of flat. As a woodworker, I made a good rugby player.”

“That bad, eh?”

“Oh yeah, but the one I got for metal work, well, ‘Charles has a wonderful action with the hammer on the anvil, unfortunately, he has yet to make contact with the metal he’s supposed to be drawing’.”

“Drawing?”

“Yeah, the object is to heat the iron and work it with a hammer to draw it out. I never actually managed to hit it.”

“Did you need glasses or something?”

“No my sight was fine, I did hit it once or twice, but it was such a heavy hammer, I couldn’t lift it properly, so his remark was doubly sarcastic.”

“Oh, you were a real girly then?”

“I wanted to be. I used to watch the girls going into their school and dream what it would be like to be there.”

“Much the same as the boys I should think, boring and a waste of time. I mean, why did they teach us to type? None of us were likely to be secretaries unless it was as a way of marrying our bosses. What parent in their right mind paid several thousand pounds a year to have their daughters learn to type?”

“I wish they’d taught me to, I’d have found that rather useful, more so than trying to make paint scrapers or letter openers.”

“Didn’t you have to do some sewing as well as woodwork?”

“Yeah, I was actually quite good at that, although I managed to lose my demo piece so it wouldn’t show in my report.”

“Maybe your mother would have been more sympathetic to you if you had let them mark it.”

“I doubt it. We had to do a bit of homework and she saw me. She laughed at me, though she did correct what I was doing wrong.”

“Sometimes people have to take these things on board at their own pace?”

“Someday never.” I felt my sadness rise again. I had never managed to talk to my mother rationally about my feelings. I liked to hope that if she’d lived things might have been different, but I wasn’t holding my breath.

“We’ll never know now, so you might as well feel positive as negative about it.”

“If wishes were horses then beggars would ride, that’s what my mum used to say.”

“My Gran used to say, ‘If ifs, and ands were pots and pans, there’d be no need for tinkers’.”

“What’s a tinker?”

“According to my Gran, they were like gypsies who repaired pots and pans and dealt in scrap metal. You know, itinerants moving around the place, in the days when pots and pans obviously weren’t made of stainless steel and were too valuable to discard.”

“Gosh, I never thought of that, I wonder how they repaired them.”

“Soldered, I suppose. Couldn’t really see them having facilities for welding.”

“Welding?” I was amazed, “Can you weld saucepans, then?”

“Not stainless ones, the old cast iron ones possibly, but they could solder them. Haven’t you ever tried it?”

“A bit, but only in the garage when I was a kid and trying to repair a brake mounting. It didn’t work, too soft.”

“I made some jewellery while I was at school. You see, Millfield did teach me something, as well as breaking and entering.”

“What?”

“Yeah, getting in after lights out, or getting out again.”

“Thankfully, I was at home, not sent away to a concentration camp. Having said that, Daddy was pretty strict, so you might have had more freedom.”

“Probably. I didn’t let the school stop me doing anything, and I even let them teach me the odd thing.”

“Yeah, I suppose I must have allowed that to happen too, or enough to have Sussex accept me and then give me a degree.”

“London did the same for me, only in nursing. They liked Simon so much they gave him a master’s.”

“What, an old master’s?”

“Oh yeah, I like it. I’ll have to tell him that. Hey, you’ve got one too, haven’t you?”

“Yeah, from Portsmouth. Sometimes, I think I miss the place.”

“Come back with me tomorrow then.”

“No, I have commitments here, and besides, I’m not ready to see Tom just yet and maybe he feels the same?”

“One way to find out.”

“Come on, let’s go buy my new pillows,” I said changing the subject.

Bike 400

Dormouse

We bought the new pillows: I got half a dozen, and dumped them in the boot of my car. Of course we bumped into Des, who was walking back from the BBC, so we had to have a coffee and a chat. This became a meal, or an invitation to one. I cried off because I felt the other two could enjoy themselves better without me. Des promised to have Stella back before midnight, and I went home to see Spike.

To cut a long story short, he brought Stella back three days later, with a very silly look on her face. I looked at my watch and said, “What time do you call this?”

She smirked at me and said, “We’re engaged.”

“Congratulations, who’s the lucky man?”

“He is, silly,” she pointed at Des.

“Congratulations,” I said to him. Then I gave each of them a hug. “This calls for a celebration. Do Simon and your dad know?”

“Not yet. I thought I’d tell my sister first.” Stella blushed.

“Well, I am honoured. I also have some good news: I found dormice in both the Forest of Dean, and up at Hartpury, too.”

“Oh that’s brill, you clever girl.” He grabbed me and danced around the room much to Stella’s discomfort. “If I offered to marry you as well, wouldn’t that be big o’ me.”

“No it wouldn’t,” huffed Stella, “it would belittle me.”

“Go on, I’ll tell them I’m a Mormon Muslim and have to be polygamous, or they’ll chuck me out of the Salt Lake-Baghdad boy scouts.”

“You’re a what?”

“No that’s you, Cathy. I’m a Lane.”

“Yes, a very twisted one,” Stella quipped.

“Ouch, she’s gonna be divorcing me before we’re even married.”

“Why waste time on the fine details? So where’s the ring then?”

“Here,” Stella held out her hand and displayed a rather nice diamond and emerald cluster.”

“Gosh, it’s amazing what they sell in the pound shop these days,” I said, trying to keep a straight face.

“Hush, you’ve spoiled it now,” said Des, pretending to be betrayed.

“At least I didn’t find mine in a Christmas cracker, like someone I know.” Stella humphed, and went out to the kitchen.

“Put the kettle on Stella,” I called to her.

“Can’t, it won’t fit.”

“I hope you realise what you’ve done?” I laughed at Des.

“I think so, I’ve known her a long time. However, it ain’t fair, you marry her brother and become a lady, I marry Stella and she becomes plain old Mrs Lane.”

“Well, if you go through what I did, you can marry Simon, instead.”

“Just for a title? You’re joking.”

“You get to sleep with him as well,” I smiled.

“I’ve slept with him before. Remember, we were in the same dorm. Snores like a deranged lawnmower, no thanks. Besides, come the revolution, I won’t get a free ride in a tumbrel.”

“I’ll try not to lose my head if I do.”

“Oh goodness Cathy, can’t you do better than that?”

“It was as good as your bigamy joke.”

“See you just don’t appreciate good puns.”

“I don’t? Hark who’s talking—you wouldn’t know a good pun if it hit you on the funny bone.”

“Cathy Watts, you are a fibber.”

“Keep your voice down, you’ll wake my dormouse.”

“Who wants tea?” called a voice from the kitchen.

Des and I went into the kitchen to collect our mugs. Instead of finding more comfortable seats, we sat at the kitchen table and chatted about any and everything.

“Do you think the university would allow me to film in their woods?”

“Do you think my Dad would go for a double wedding?”

“I wonder how Tom is, when are you going to tell him? What about Simon and Henry?”

“How secure is the Forest of Dean? Could I film there without drawing attention to the dormice?”

“What colour are you wearing, Cathy? I wonder if it would clash with my bridesmaids?”

“I’m arriving on a bike, and we’re leaving on a tandem,” I joked.

“Can we concentrate on one thing? Stella, we’ve only just got engaged, so can we discuss the wedding in a few decades time? Cathy, you’ll still be messing Simon around, so can we discuss your wedding plans after the next millennium ? Which leaves the only other item on the agenda, the dormouse film, we seriously need to get some of that done and soon.”

“I know Des, but I’ve got the summer school next week, and it will depend upon the weather after that.”

“Have you done the survey for Bristol Uni?”

“I’ve had a cursory look at the two sites and found evidence of dormice, from nuts and acorns. If they want me to give evidence of the population, that’s a much bigger commitment in time and will require some help.”

“Me please, teacher, meeee!” he said holding up his hand.

“I was thinking of using an undergrad or three, and do similar to what I ran at Portsmouth.”

“I think they were crazy to sack you,” Des looked a little angry.

“They didn’t, I resigned.”

“Yeah, only because they leant on you.” He still sounded angry.

“No, it was because I assaulted Tom in front of a whole room full of professors. I lost it, and regret it.”

“I don’t understand what happened there, especially to your captive breeding programme.”

“Nor me, the explanations I’ve heard so far were less than satisfactory. Almost as if they didn’t expect me to come back, or something.”

“Tom was very worried about you for a couple of weeks. We really thought you might not make it.” Stella sounded sad as she recalled my hospitalisation.

“I think if I had known what they had done to my programme, I wouldn’t have bothered to pull through.”

“Really? What about me an’ Simon?” Stella looked shocked.

“As far as I can recall from those dark days in ICU, it would only have taken the tiniest piece of bad news to make me say, “Oh sod it, I’m off!”

“I’m glad you didn’t, Sis.” Stella put her hand on my arm.

“Yeah, I think I’m probably in agreement.”

“Well, I’m more than probably, I’m in total agreement.” Des beamed at both of us, “What could be better than having the two most beautiful women in Bristol as wife and sister-in-law?”

“Having the two most beautiful and wealthiest?” suggested Stella.

“Healthiest?” I proffered.

“Nah, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. I’m quite happy with it.”

“So how about telling Simon and Tom?” I asked.

“Okay, I’ll go and call Simon and then tell Tom when I get home tonight.”

“How come he didn’t phone here when you were late back?”

“Oh, I told him we were going off for a couple or three days.”

“What, you and me?” I asked, and she nodded. “That’s a lie, Stella.”

“I know, and I’ll tell him the truth tonight.”

“What about Henry?”

“Have you met my dad, Des?”

“Yeah, once or twice. He won’t approve of me.”

“I thought that, about myself, I mean,” I reassured him, “Henry was super and still is, not that I see him very often.”

“He’ll have to like you, I’ll insist upon it.” Stella spoke firmly and I wouldn’t have enjoyed being between the two of them when she did tell him. The crossfire would be withering.

“I’m sure he’ll be delighted,” I lied.

“What about a double wedding?” Stella asked.

“I don’t know Stella, I’d need to speak with Simon, and there’d be a lot of other things to take into account.”

“You don’t like the idea, do you?”

“I’ve barely had time to get used to it, Stella. Besides, you might want to get married first, I’m in no hurry.”

“Oh, does Simon realise this?”

“Yes, I told him from the beginning.”

“See,” said Des, “I told you, after the next millennium.”

“There’s no need for me to hurry. It’s not as if there’d be a great hurry for children, is there?” As soon as I said it, I realised I’d hurt her, but it was unintentional.

She began to sniff and then she sobbed. She got up from the table and left the room. Des went to go after her, but I pushed him back in his seat, “I’ll go.” I followed her into the lounge. “I’m sorry, Sis, I didn’t mean to bring up all that again.”

We hugged, “It’s not your fault, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have any either after killing the first one. I hardly deserve any, do I?”

“Stella, please don’t think like that. You made what you considered was the best decision at the time. We often see things differently on reflection, when the pressure is off. But we can’t change the past. I can never deny I was once a male, legally, if not emotionally. You can’t deny you lost a baby, but see it as that, a loss, which today might have been different.”

“Yeah, I gave it up for my job, then lose that as well. Great—what a runaway success that was.”

“There will be other jobs, hopefully other children, and all the future to look forward to. Try to see it positively and not with regrets about the past.”

“It’s all right for you. You didn’t do it, did you?”

“No, but I could have done in your position. Learn from your mistake and move on. Make any future children you have the happiest kids in the world.”

“I still killed the first one.”

“Yes, if you see it that way, so you owe it to that first baby to make any siblings it would have had as happy and healthy as you can make them.”

“What if I can’t have any, because of what I did? Would that be God’s judgement on me? Serve me right, I don’t deserve any.”

“Why don’t you wait and see what happens? You’ve only just become engaged. I don’t think I want to see Henry walking down the aisle with a large bore shotgun.”

“You fool,” she said and laughed. “Should I tell Des?”

“That’s between you two.”

“Yeah, but what do you think?”

“I just told you.”

“Oh, all right. What shall we tell him about this?”

“Leave that to me. Give me two minutes, then come back, okay?” She nodded at me we hugged again. I went back to the kitchen.

“Is she okay?” Des looked quite worried.

“Yes, she’s fine. It’s old stuff which she might tell you about one day, but please let it go for now.”

“There’s nothing I should know?”

“Not as far as I know—oh about this, no. We have some history which was upsetting to both of us. I accidentally stirred it up just now. She’ll be all right, honestly.”

“Okay, thanks for calming her down.”

“That is part of our functions, Stella and me—we pour oil on each other’s troubled waters.”

“You two have really gelled, haven’t you, like real sisters?”

“Better than that, we’re friends as well, good friends. I owe her a lot.”

“I owe you my life,” said Stella as she came back into the room.

“Well, we’re quits on that score,” I was able to reply.

“No we’re not, Cathy, not by a long chalk. Des, you ought to know a few things about me. I had an abortion and I bled badly a few days later. Cathy saved my life. I tried to kill myself; Cathy found me and saved my life. I want you to know what you’re taking on, and if it’s too much, you can walk away now without any embarrassment. We’ve told no one but Cathy.”

“Wow! Erm, I don’t know what to say.”

“If you want to go and think about it for a while, just say. If you want to keep the ring until you’ve decided, that’s okay.” Stella was being very brave and I wanted to hug her.

“Erm, I still don’t know what to say, except I appreciate your honesty. I need to get some air. I’ll call.” He left and as we heard the door shut, she collapsed in my arms.

“I’ve lost him, haven’t I? I should have listened to you. I’m sorry Cathy, I always mess things up, you should have let me die.” She sobbed as I held her.

“You did the right thing as always, Stella. Now we see if his love for you is as strong as he says it is.”

“Why didn’t you let me die?”

“Because you have lots of living to do, and I need you. I haven’t had a sister for very long, I don’t intend to lose her without a fight. I love you, Sister, I need you.”

“I love you too, and it looks like I need you even more than you do me?”

“Come on, let’s have a fresh cuppa.” I led her back into the kitchen and wondered how long it would take Des to make his decision and what would happen after it?

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