Bike 401–450

Easy As

Falling Off A Bike

Parts 401–450

by Angharad

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Bike 401

It was going to be a long afternoon. I made us some lunch, but it was wasted, neither of us had much appetite. If it was just me, I‘d have got my bike out and got hot and sweaty for an hour. I knew it was pointless asking Stella, she wanted to be here should Des make his decision. I really didn’t know how it would go.

Obviously my mind ran through what I knew about Des. It wasn’t very much. He has a reputation as a womaniser—not something I find attractive about him. I’d always be worried if he was away any length of time, which with his work, happened regularly. He’d tried it on with me, how serious that was, I wasn’t sure, except it had embarrassed and frightened me. He can be a very smooth talker.

In some ways I was a little worried about spending time with him while we did the film, even though he was engaged to Stella, I wasn’t sure I could trust him. While she’d be heart broken in the short term, I worried for her if he came back and patched it up.

I wished I could speak with Simon. He knew Des better than I did. He may have some idea of what to look out for or what to think. However, I couldn’t talk to him until it was more public, if it went ahead at all. I didn’t think he’d be very pleased if it did.

Stella mooned about the place like a lovesick goldfish. If you’ve never seen one, do if you get the chance. At one point I became worried about the carpets shrinking under all the tears. She cried gallons of them. Do goldfish cry? I doubt it, I mean, would you need tears in a watery environment? Hardly.

I was almost afraid to let her out of my sight, given what she did once before when she was upset. However, so many cups of tea had passed down my throat, I needed to void my distending bladder. I went to the cloakroom and when I came back, she’d vanished.

My stomach flipped like an acrobat on steroids. I rushed into the dining room, she wasn’t there. I now ran into the lounge and nearly missed her. She had curled up on the sofa and was asleep, presumably knackered after her emotional roller coaster. I felt awful, if I hadn’t mentioned babies, this wouldn’t have happened—well, not yet.

Had I done them a favour? I doubted it, besides, who she chooses is her affair, which may be an appropriate word for Des. I somehow think, that some men have an adulterous gene because they can’t seem to stay faithful. Anyway, even if they have, it doesn’t validate what they do. Decency is a conscious act performed by civilised adults.

I got my book and tried to read, while I watched over Stella. It was of course doomed, I fell asleep too—some watchdog I’d make. When I awoke, she was missing again. This time, with a head that felt full of cotton wool and a body that had all the responsiveness of a three week old corpse, I set about the house looking for her.

I ran around the house feeling increasingly worried, there was no sign of her. Her car was still there, so she hadn’t gone far. I redoubled my frantic efforts, there was no sign of her. My stomach churned like a demented cement mixer. I felt quite sick.

I had searched the house twice, where could she be? I was fast running out of places to look. The key to the garage was in it’s place, so she wasn’t out there. Where could she be? I had no idea.

I walked with faltering steps into the kitchen to put the kettle on. It’s what Brits do when all else fails, make a cuppa. I also felt the smell of the tea might bring her back—maybe I’m superstitious—touch wood. I filled the kettle and glanced up the garden. She was out looking at the repaired wall. She was in my garden.

I almost dropped the kettle in my haste to get to her. “Stella,” I said and hugged her.

“What’s the matter? Has Des called?”

“No, I just lost you and didn’t know where you were. I got frightened.” I felt tears run down my face.

“Oh, Cathy, you silly goose. I’m all right, well as far as I can be given what’s going on. I just wanted some air, you were snoozing over your book so I slipped out into your garden. I wondered what sort of job they’d done on your wall—looks okay, doesn’t it?”

“Oh that, yeah, it’s okay, isn’t it?” I admired the repaired brickwork.

“They reused most of the old bricks by the look of it?” Stella observed, looking at the colour of the bricks.

“The new ones are a bit different, but quite a good match, and because they used so few, it came in on budget. The two of them worked so hard together, I gave them a tenner each on top of the price.”

“What’s going to happen to me, Cathy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Des, is he or isn’t he?”

“I don’t know, you know him better than I do.”

“Do I? I’m not sure I know anything any more.”

“What do you want out of it?”

“I think I want Des. I have for a long time, ever since school.”

“You fancied him in school?”

“Yes.”

“Even with his reputation?”

“Yeah, even with that. I had a schoolgirl crush, and when I pulled him—I couldn’t believe my luck.”

“You dated him?”

“Not quite dated, we managed to get the odd hour together. The Gestapo at school did all they could to stop any liaisons. But we managed it, an odd hour here or there, down behind the cricket pavilion, in Glastonbury; wherever we could. He took my virginity.”

“What?” I gasped.

“You know, he—‘n’—me, we—erm—did it.”

“And?”

“It was bloody awful, total waste of time.”

“Oh, pity.”

“Well, it got me brownie points with my lot, you know the other girls in my dorm. One or two of them had dropped ‘em for their boyfriends, so I was in esteemed company.”

“It wasn’t a problem I had.”

“No you went to a day school, but you would have had more freedom to date boys, unlike us in Colditz.”

“Stella, how could I have dated boys? I still was one.”

“Oh bugger, of course you were. I’m sorry, you seem to have been a girl forever.” She blushed, “Sorry, I forget.”

“It’s okay, in fact it’s almost comforting to realise that you’ve almost forgotten my past. I wish I could, but you can’t—it’s fact, so it stays. Thankfully, it’s becoming less important and the things I have some influence upon, the present and future, mean that I am, who I’m meant to be.”

She hugged me, “My little sister, that’s who you are.”

“Thanks, Stella, that is the greatest gift you could give me.”

“What is?”

“Accepting me for who I am, without wanting to change me or set conditions.”

“Well, you do the same for me.”

“I know, but you’re real—I almost feel an impostor.”

“What do you mean? You’re real,” she pinched me.

“I’m not a real woman though, am I? I’m a simulacrum, an illusion.”

“Better not let Simon hear you say that, because as far as he’s concerned, your every bit as female as that bloody guinea pig of yours.”

“She’s a dormouse.”

“What?”

“Spike is a dormouse not a guinea pig.”

“I know she is.”

“You said she was a guinea pig.”

“Did I? You said you were an impostor, both were wrong. You must stop feeling you have to justify things. Nature makes us who we are, you’re a female, now stop questioning it.”

I hugged her, “Thank you, Sis. Sometimes my confidence is paper thin.”

“I don’t know why, you are one of the prettiest women I know, with a figure to die for. You and Simon are so made for each other. You’ve both got it, flaunt it and most of all, enjoy it.”

“And I’m supposed to be looking after you? Some hostess, I am.”

“Cathy, I’m a sister not a guest, remember?”

We hugged again. “I’m glad I’m not a man,” I said, feeling the security of my relationship with her and the female bonding it provided.

“So am I.”

As we headed back to the house, I heard the unmistakeable sound of heavy diesel engine drawing up outside. My stomach flipped again, Des had returned.

Bike 402

I led the way into the house, Stella stopped and turned, “I don’t know if I can cope with this.”

“Course you can, you have to. C’mon, I’ll stay with you.” I put my arm around her, but she turned out of it.

“I really can’t, Cathy. You speak with him, I’ll be out in the garden.” Before I could say anything she’d fled to the garden.

I walked slowly towards the front door, the doorbell rang and I practically jumped out of my skin. I don’t ever remember it sounding so loud before. My nerves were fraying faster than an old sweater.

I opened the door with clammy hands, barely able to get a grip on the handle. Then had an enormous shock, before me stood, grinning like a chimpanzee on ecstasy, was a man from DHL, “Hi, luvvie, package for you, can you sign here?”

I signed, and accepted the package, closing the door with my back as I leant against it. I carried the package through into the kitchen, opened the door and called out to Stella, “It’s okay, false alarm.”

“I opened the box, cutting through the tape on the top of it. Inside was another box. I hoped it wasn’t going to be like Russian dolls, with the final one being the size of a matchbox and containing a mummified corpse of some poor little rodent and a letter asking if I know what it is.

Inside the second box, wrapped carefully in bubble wrap were some objects which I soon identified as my image intensifying equipment and infrared viewer. The note was short but said:

’Dear Cathy,
If you’re chasing dormeece, these may be useful.
Love,
Tom.’

I nearly wept when I saw it. I’d not had any room in the car to carry anything else. It was also officially property of the university, which I just happened to keep with me. I’d thought I’d have to ask if I could rent or borrow such stuff, possibly through Des. Now I wouldn’t have to, I needed to go and see Tom as soon as the summer school was over and thank him for his thoughtfulness. I had so misjudged him.

He was probably old enough to be my grandfather, but part of me did enjoy pretending he was my dad. I think he enjoyed the illusion as well. I was probably too old to be adopted now anyway.

I put the stuff away carefully in the cupboard under the stairs, hoping I’d remember where I’d stowed it when I wanted it. I wandered out to the garden, Stella was mowing my grass.

“It needed doing,” she said and I nodded.

“I’ll make some tea,” I said but she indicated she’d prefer a cold drink. I went in and put some ginger beer in the fridge, I’d nearly forgot I’d bought it. I only did because it was on special offer at half price in the supermarket. I enjoyed the odd glass, doubly odd because ginger was not a flavour I normally liked. But an occasional vodka and dry ginger ale did spice one up for a few minutes.

I watched Stella working the mower up and down my lawn. A frog jumped in front of the mower and she went all girly and came screaming into the house.

I’d seen what had happened but said nothing. “What’s the problem?”

“There was a frog.”

“Yeah, you get them in gardens, especially one with a pond.”

“I don’t like frogs.”

“Well you usually have to kiss a few before you find a…”

“I mean it, I don’t like frogs—they just make me want to throw up.”

“Don’t tell me, Simon did something nasty with one when you were a kid.”

“If he did I can’t remember it.”

“Shoots my theory down then, doesn’t it?”

“What does?”

“Never mind. Do you want a drink now or when you finish the mowing?”

“Ooh, I can’t go out there if the frog is still about.”

“What? Scared of a frog?”

“Yes, can you go and—like, remove it?”

“I doubt I’ll be able to find it, it could be anywhere.”

“Please, because I can’t like, go out there again unless you do.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, what do I have to do to convince you, swoon or throw a hissy fit?”

“No, I’ll go and look. There’s some ginger beer in the fridge if you’d like it.”

“In a minute. The frog, ugh—please.”

“Alright, I’m going.” I went out into the garden. The artful amphibian had legged it, there was no sign of it anywhere on the grass. I looked in the pond but apart from the goldfish, I couldn’t see anything else swimming in there.

I started the mower and finished the rest of the grass. It was warming up as the sun broke through the clouds. It had been a poor summer so far, so today was something to be enjoyed.

I emptied the basket and cleaned off the underside of the mower and put it back in the shed, locking the door after me. Stella was sitting in the kitchen drinking her ginger ale. “Sorry about that, but I can’t stand those slimy things, they make my flesh creep.”

“That’s okay, we all have something that we don’t like.”

“What is it you don’t like?”

“Erm, I don’t like spiders very much.”

“How girly of you,” she said laughing.

“Yeah, so? I’m allowed to be girly, aren’t I?”

“Course you are.” She stood up and hugged me, “even if it must be embarrassing for a biologist.”

“I can cope with them, but I don’t like the big hairy ones that move the furniture as they cross the room.”

“Oh yeuch, you don’t have any of those do you?”

“What the big Tegenaria?”

“I don’t know how old they are, nor do I care…”

“Stella, that’s the family name, Tegenaria

“It sounded like you were telling me how old they were.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Like, octogenarian.”

“The only octo about arachnids is the number of legs they have.”

“So would that make an octopus an arachnid?”

“No.”

“Well they’ve got eight legs.”

“No they haven’t, they’ve got eight tentacles.”

“Testicles?”

At this, the mouthful of ginger beer I had taken, got coughed up my nose and sprayed all over the kitchen. It took me several minutes before I could breathe without my nose and nasal passages burning, and my eyes were running like mad. Stella was sitting down laughing like a drain – the cow.

After cleaning up, it had got practically everywhere, I sat down at the table. “Octopus are cephalopod molluscs. They don’t have limbs.”

“Molluscs, you mean like snails and things?”

“The phylum Mollusca, is quite large and contains a number of things, including slugs and snails.”

“And octopus.”

“Yeah, them too.”

“What about squid?”

“Them as well, another cephalopod.”

“What head foot, isn’t that what cephalopod means?”

“Literally yes.”

“I wonder what they call us?”

“They can’t,” I said sniggering.

“Why because they don’t have a larynx?”

“They don’t, but I was going to say, they can’t call us because they don’t have our number, it’s ex-directory.”

“Oh, geez, Cathy, that was pathetic.” That was her opinion but I wasn’t sure about it because she laughed as she said it. I put my ginger beer down safely before I spoke.

Bike 403

The afternoon drifted into the evening and we heard nothing. As neither of us were very hungry, we had a sandwich using up the rest of the loaf so I had to make some more bread. Stella sat in the kitchen watching me and making occasional conversation, but it wasn’t sustained. I knew she was hurting, so I avoided disturbing her.

“Do you think he’s going to ring or phone?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Sis, I hope so.”

I was just washing my hands when the phone rang, we both jumped. “Can you answer that?” Stella squeaked in a little girl voice.

“You sure?” I asked. She nodded her confirmation.

I picked up the phone, “Hello?”

“Hi, Babes, how’s it going?”

“Hi, Darling, where are you?”

“Town, bloody work.”

“My poor, darling, you work so hard.”

“Tell my slave driver father, will you?”

“No I won’t, while he’s watching you he isn’t thinking about me.”

“Gee thanks, Cathy, for nothing.”

“You’re welcome.” I tittered.

“You cruel, cruel woman.”

“Who? Moi?”

“Oui, tu.”

“Oh!”

“Oh or eau?”

“Does it matter?”

“S’pose not.”

“When will I see you again?” I missed him.
“I’ll come down to Bristol on Friday evening, God and my father, willing.”

“Good gracious, I didn’t know you had him as a client.”

“Who?”

“God, silly.”

“What are you on about?”

“You said, God and your father, willing. I assumed he must be a client, if so charge him a good fee for making you work late.”

“I thought you were a scientist?”

“Who meee? Nah, I just a dormouse watcher.”

“Dormouse juggler?”

“Oh don’t, I’ll never live that down.”

“Let’s face it kiddo, not many can claim that epithet.”

“Who’d want to?”

“I have no idea.”

“Have you made loadza money this week?”

“You have to be joking, we’re only just staying afloat, we got caught with the bloody subprime mortgage thing too. Nowhere near as badly as some banks, but it’s affected everyone.”

“Just because some banks got greedy.”

“Banks are always greedy, some of them got even greedier.”

“I hope your bank isn’t so greedy.”

“I’m afraid it is, but we do it with a bit more style than the average. When we sting our customers, they only comment on it if we let the style slip.”

“Are they all crazy or something?”

“The ones I’m thinking of are both.”

“Both what?”

“Crazy and something—as in crazy rich.”

“Simon, are all you landed gentry completely barking or something? If my bank overcharges me a brass farthing I grumble.”

“Yes but being from peasant stock, you don’t appreciate how important it is for our clients to be able to say we stiffed them, they have to be exceedingly wealthy for that to happen.”

“Rich and stupid. Okay, will you ring me and let me know what you’re doing on Friday?”

“Of course I will, so you can do a Norwich for me.”

“Norwich? This is Bristol, Norwich is in East Anglia, like the other side of the civilised world, beyond that you fall off the planet.”

“Don’t tell that to the Danes and Norwegians.”

“Okay, I won’t.” I laughed at his absurd reply to my bit of nonsense. Sometimes Simon could be lacking in humour, or there was a sort of jet lag before he actually got the joke, so maybe joke lag, would be a better description.”

“I’ve got to go, see you on Friday evening.” He rang off. I felt the sweat roll down my back. Thank goodness he hadn’t asked about Stella. Maybe my zany efforts had done the job and kept him distracted. I’d never know because I certainly wasn’t going to ask him.

“My big brother?”

“The one and the same. Phew, I’m sweating from the strain of distracting him away from you.”

“Yes, I listened to your side of it, sound as if you did a good job, although it also sounded as if you are the crazy one not him.”

“Stella, my family have never interbred as far as I know, yours probably do it all the time, or did so.”

“Rubbish, we’re not some small community on a remote island somewhere. We came from a country every bit as big as England but with only a fraction of the population.”

“Do they not lecture on sex education in Scotland?”

“How would I know, I went to Millfield; but what has that got to do with anything?”

“I just wondered if the small population was caused by ignorance of the birds and bees; perhaps it’s too cold?”

“I beg your pardon, but we Scots can do it as well as anyone, if you don’t believe me ask Queen Victoria?”

“Stella, she is dead.”

“Nah, she isn’t she’s pinin’ for the fiords. She’s just restin’.”

“Restin’? She is dead, deceased, passed on, she is an ex queen.”

“Damn, I’ve forgotten how the next bit goes, bloody Monty Python.”

“I’ve got it on tape or CD somewhere, they did for Children in Need one year and I taped it. Funniest sketch ever done according to a thing on Channel four.”

“Cathy, how can I laugh at a time like this?”

“They say we Brits laugh in the face of adversity.”

“Yeah, only ‘cos we don’t understand the seriousness of the situation.”

“Okay, point taken.”

“So when is he going to ring?”

“He might call in person.”

“Okay, you sure you’re not a Virgo, nit picker? When am I going to hear from him. I mean how much air does one guy need?”

“I don’t know. When I told Simon about my then little problem, he took a while to take it on board and decide what he wanted to do about it. Remember, men feel these things deeper than women and have much more difficulty dealing with it.”

“Okay, I suppose I’ll just have to wait it out.”

“I think so.”

“Oh poo!”

“Oh, Simon said something about Norwich.”

“Norwich?”

“Yes, Norwich.”

She suddenly began to laugh, real belly laughs. “That is like, so funny.”

“What is?” I now felt left out of some joke.

“It’s an acronym, Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home.”

“I’ll kill that brother of yours when I see him.”

Bike 404

The evening was beginning to darken into night. Stella mooched about the house like a lost soul. “He isn’t going to call is he?”

“I don’t know, Stella, I really don’t.”

“But you don’t think he is do you?”

“Please don’t put words in my mouth, I don’t know. Want some more tea?”

“No, I’ll be peeing all night as it is.”

“Suit yourself.” I switched on the kettle, my tummy rumbled so I reached for the cream crackers and some cheese. “Want any of these?” I said showing them to her. She shook her head and continued her wandering. Whilst I felt for her, her inability to settle was beginning to irritate me.

I ate my crackers and cheese and drank my tea. The phone rang, and I begrudgingly put down my snack and went to answer it. “Hello?”

“Hello Cathy, did the package arrive?”

“Yes Tom, I was just having a quick snack and was then going to call you. Thanks so much for sending the stuff, it’s going to be very useful.” We chatted on and on for maybe twenty minutes when Stella appeared and looked at me and at her watch. She wanted to know how much longer I’d be in case Des phoned. I came to within a fraction of an inch of telling her where to go.

I finished the call with Tom, promising to go and see him as soon as my commitments in Bristol allowed me. I glared at Stella and went to check my emails. Those kept me busy for the next hour. I suddenly realised, the wandering one wasn’t wandering. My heart nearly stopped as the recollection of what happened the last time she got depressed, hit me.

I rushed into the lounge, she wasn’t there, upstairs – nowhere to be seen. I looked in the kitchen and she had Spike in one hand and a knife in the other. My body froze and my throat refused to function other than to choke with a huge lump in it.

Unable to move I watched as she moved the knife closer to Spike. I couldn’t bear to watch, and if she saw me, who knows what would happen. The knife got closer and closer and whilst I couldn’t bear to watch, I seemed unable to turn away or cry out. With a very delicate move, she seemed to put the point of the knife in the dormouse’s mouth and flicked, a piece of nut or something similar flew out.

“There we are little critter, that should feel better.”

I regained the use of my body and mouth. “Oh there you are, I was just coming to feed her.”

“I’ve done it for you, she’s quite cute isn’t she?”

“What’s the knife for?”

“She got some nut stuck on a tooth and didn’t seem able to free it herself.”

“Oh, I thought perhaps you were teaching her to use a knife and fork.”

“Don’t be silly, her paws are too small. It’s a pity, back at Daddy’s house I have a whole pile of doll’s stuff including cutlery, which would be around the right size. Sorry Spike, you’ll just have to eat with your fingers until I remember it.”

“She doesn’t look too downhearted. Shall I take her?”

“Yeah, she’s had two hazel nuts and a couple of almonds.”

“Okay, I’ve got some meal worms in the fridge, she likes the odd one of those too.”

“Ugh, fancy eating something while it’s still wriggling.”

“I know, but have you ever had oysters?”

“Yeah, they’re vastly overrated.”

“You eat those live.”

“Ugh, I suppose you do. Can’t say I’ll be wanting one of those again in a hurry.”

“Nor me, I don’t fancy slimy food anyway.” I gave Spike the meal worm and she held it and her little jaws smacked with pleasure as she bit off its head.

“Ugh! That is like—ugh! Gruesome.” She shuddered and moved away. “I don’t suppose Des emailed?”

“Fraid not, least not to my email address, does he have yours?”

“Dunno, can’t remember if I gave it to him or not.”

“My puter’s still on if you want to go and check.” She did and left as Spike dispatched the next meal worm. I gave Spike one more then put her back in her cage with a dog biscuit in case she wanted to gnaw on something. It was safer than eating her cage.

When I got back to the dining room, Stella was still looking at her emails. “I have one from Tom asking me to ask you to make him some bread to take back with me.”

“I should think that might be arranged, depending upon which day you go back.”

“I could hardly go until this is sorted, could I?”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Stella. You know you’re welcome to stay as long as you like, or it takes. Might be worth warning Tom, though.”

“Oh, I can’t—what if it goes pear shaped, I’d never be able to face him again.”

“I’d have thought he’d be rather sympathetic towards you. He’s very fond of you.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just—I dunno—just so traumatic. Once I get over this, I’m never gonna let another man near me as long as I live.”

“They’re not all bad, you know.”

“Yeah, prove it.”

“Well just think about the two who have called tonight, Simon and Tom. They are both lovely men. Surely you can’t include them in such a generalisation.”

“What, all men are bastards?”

“That sort of thing, because clearly they aren’t.”

“No but they are all stupid.”

“Sometimes, but then so are we.”

“Whose side are you on?”

“No one’s, because I don’t feel it’s a partisan argument. We can all be nasty and stupid, not necessarily at the same time. Sometimes it’s a response to life and sometimes it seems innate. Besides, what will you think if Des decides he can’t live without you?”

“That’s different.”

“Is it? He’s a man, isn’t he?”

“Oh yeah, he’s that alright, but he’s still a bastard, keeping me on tenterhooks all this time.”

“Yeah, but he is making a commitment for the rest of his life. So it isn’t an easy situation.” I didn’t know why I was almost defending him.

“Yeah, so? I made the same commitment when he asked me to marry him and I didn’t need six months to think it over. I answered immediately.”

“You’re fortunate to know your own mind. He obviously isn’t so sure of things or we’d have heard from him by now. What if something else has happened and he’s unable to get to a phone?”

“Like what?”

“The BBC could have sent him off on a commission somewhere.” I was clutching at straws.

“Yeah, sure, like they don’t have payphones anywhere or a signal for his mobile. Come off it, Cathy, why are you protecting him, you don’t fancy him, do you?”

“I’m not defending him, I’m just testing your arguments. No I don’t fancy him, in fact, I’m not sure I really like him.”

“So if I married him, we’d never see you?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“No but you haven’t denied it either.”

“I don’t care who you marry, Stella, as long as you’re happy. I’ll cope with the larger social issues as they arise.”

She was about to respond when the phone rang again. I picked it up, “Hello? Oh hello, Des. Stella, he wants to speak with you.”

Bike 405

She’s just coming, Des.” I said into the hand piece before handing it to Stella, who was shaking with fear for what might happen.

I walked away to give her some privacy with her very personal call. As I sat in the lounge, trying not to listen, I wondered about how the outcome would affect me. It was unavoidable, I had to work with Des at least for the next few months, and possibly live with Stella for an indefinite time, unless I stayed up here in my ivory tower or she actually married him and moved up to Bristol.

I suppose she might end up being a regular visitor here or maybe she’d just move in with Des. It wasn’t my problem, directly at least, I’d just have to cope with whatever happened. Like life in general, I suppose.

I needed to get some work done on the mammal survey. The data Tom was sending or having sent to me needed looking through. It was probably the best of a day’s work sifting it all. Once I got shot of Stella, I could do some. That sounded awfully callous, she was important to me, but so was my work.

She came in looking quite pale. “How did it go?” I asked.

“He hasn’t ended it, well not yet anyway. He wants to meet on Monday and talk it over with me.”

“I’m working then, you realise and I have prep to do for my teaching.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“No, stay as long as you like, but I have to do this work.”

“That’s okay, I’ll amuse myself—I might even go for a bike ride.”

“If that’s meant to make me envious it’s succeeding. Why the delay with Des?”

“He’s got to go up to Yorkshire to film some flooding.”

“Don’t they have cameramen in Yorkshire?” I wondered out loud.

“Not with his particular expertise, they are looking to do a thing on the effects of flooding upon wildlife and also farm animals.”

“I thought the effects were the same, they drown.”

“Some do.”

“Those silly wool covered things have a strong sense of kamikaze, they seem to drown for a pastime.”

“Yuck, poor little sheepies.”

“It’s very sad, Stella, but they have very small brains and a poor sense of survival.”

“I thought some of the hardy varieties, could cope with anything. I know we have some almost unkillable ones up on the grouse moors.”

“Yeah, well being pecked to death by grouse is a trifle unusual, even by sheep standards, although I’ve seen crows kill them, pecking out their eyes and things.”

“Oh don’t, that’s horrible. How can a crow kill something bigger than itself?”

“I don’t know if the sheep was sick or exhausted or what, but by the time I got to it, it was dying and it’s eyes were gone.”

“What happened to old fashioned shepherds, caring for their flocks?”

“Sheep are cheap as ninepence, that’s the problem, farmers don’t care like they used to.”

“Where was that?”

“Up in the Cumbrian fells, above Shap, very hard landscape. I was looking for ravens and things, saw the odd one plus a red kite.”

“They the ones with the forked tail?”

“Yes, just been reintroduced into England, about five years ago.”

“Saw them in Menorca, years back.”

“They have black kite there too, plus booted eagles and Egyptian vultures.”

“Have you been there, then?”

“Not yet, but I’ll get there one day, they have dormice too.”

“Oh do they? You’ll have to speak nicely to my dad.”

“Why? What’s he got to do with Menorca?”

“He owns a villa there, near Ciutadella.”

“Oh does he, I might just have words with Henry.”

“It gets used by loads of his bank cronies, so you’ll need to book up in advance.”

“Might be easier to get a package holiday.” I sighed at what might have been especially with the poor summer.

“That’s up to you. What about Des, do you think he’s really off filming?”

“How do I know? You know him better than I do.”

“Yeah, but you seem to be able to second guess him better than me.”

“Stella, I don’t. I have no idea what he’s up to, except that if you’re thinking of marrying him you have to trust him. If you can’t then you may be making a mistake. But that is for you to decide.”

“But what do you think?”

“Stella, I don’t know how many times I have to say this, I don’t know. Des is a very complex creature with an equally complex history. I won’t speculate however much you want me to. It’s pointless.”

“Can I stay until he comes back?”

“I told you that already, you can stay as long as you like as long as you appreciate I have work to do.”

“Can I help?”

“Not really.”

“I could do some cooking or cleaning.”

“If you want, but it’s quite clean here, isn’t it?”

“Maybe if I just keep out of your way.” She said desultorily, I wanted to agree wholeheartedly but that would have been mean.

“If you can give me the mornings to work we could ride or something in the afternoons. Of course next week I’m off on the summer school thing, all week. I’m not altogether happy of you and Des together having this chat while I’m busy working.”

“Why?”

“If it’s bad news, I feel I should be here supporting you.”

“Oh in case I top myself, is that it?”

It was but I couldn’t say that, “Of course not, but I know I’d want your support if Simon had chucked me, or still could.”

“I doubt it, he’d be lost without you. I promise I won’t kill myself till you get home, how’s that?”

“That isn’t funny, Stella. You know how I worry about you.”

“That sounds as if you’re my mother.”

“No, I’m your sister, and they worry too.”

“So you think I’m at risk?”

“I didn’t say that, I think that you are vulnerable to great hurt if this thing with Des goes wrong. I don’t like to see you hurt.”

“Isn’t that just a polite way of saying you don’t trust me to cope?”

“No, not at all. It’s about not wanting to see you, someone I care about, getting upset and hurt.”

“What if I chuck him?”

“That’s your prerogative.” Secretly, I wished she would.

“I see, so you are completely neutral?”

“No, I love you much more than Des, who is a friend of Simon’s and a collaborator on this film thing I have to make for your dad.”

“He’s a friend of yours too, isn’t he?” She didn’t believe me.

“Sort of, not one I’d necessarily choose myself, but I seem stuck with him. However, you are my family now, so I care far more for you than I do for him. Please believe me, now, I don’t know about you, but I need to go to bed.”

“Can I sleep with you again?”

“If you like.”

Bike 406

I don’t know if Stella actually enjoyed sharing a bed with me or what, I supposed she must, or at least being with someone. For some men this would be the ultimate fantasy, two hot chicks in one bed. I don’t know about two hot chicks, but one was very hot—me. I was too hot, and Stella spooning into the back of me; only made things worse. I had peeled back the thin duvet, but was still far too hot to sleep. Of course, Stella was fast asleep—it seemed her family could sleep anywhere.

In the end, I went to the bathroom and when I came back, lay on top of the duvet. I must have slept because I woke up feeling cold—wonderful, isn’t it?
I crept back under the covers and this time slept quite well.

I awoke hearing the phone ringing, then it stopped. I was yet in a stupor and it was a few minutes before I realised I was alone. I sat up in bed and Stella came breezing in with a cup of tea. “Des has just phoned, he’s been up since four wading in the floodwater trying to get to some woodland or other. He said, he was cold and wet and getting hungry. I said I knew a way to warm him up.”

“Oh, okay,” I was still more asleep than awake.

“I washed the kitchen floor, as you weren’t up, I thought it would dry more easily.”

“Thank you,” I said yawning.

“You seem tired.”

“It isn’t just about appearances, I am knackered.”

“Oh dear, too much stress in your life.”

“Could be.”

“Never mind, when Des comes back I’ll be off your hands and out of the way.”

“Yeah, okay.” I yawned again and my eyes watered.

“I’m going to hang myself if that’s alright?”

“Yeah, okay,” I said and yawned again, this time unable to see anything as well as not process much of what Stella was saying.”

“Why don’t you go back to sleep?”

“I can’t, too much to do.” Another yawn consumed me and I felt cross with my stupid body. I gulped down my tea and jumped out of bed. I showered and dressed while Stella sat on the bed and watched. We exchanged the odd word but not much. I pulled on my Tour of Britain tee shirt and a pair of stretch jeans. It wasn’t warm exactly, but I didn’t need a cardigan or sweater. After a quick breakfast, I got stuck into my emails and data sorting.

Most of the records were straightforward; voles, mice, rats and so on. I also got the strange ones. One included a photo of a lion in front of Blackpool tower which had obviously been faked. At least it made me chuckle. I rejected a few others too.

The process meant that I had to have two other people to check my vetting of records and I checked theirs, we worked as a triumvirate, checking each other and that included the rejects. The pile was growing. Obviously, exotics escape or are dumped and there are plenty of mistaken sightings—especially big cats, which turn out to be dogs usually or the perspective is altered through some strange atmospheric condition. If farmers were losing dozens of sheep, there’d be big game hunts. There aren’t, ergo, there can’t be many of the large leos about.

Someone considered they had star nosed moles in their garden. If they did it would be a first—weird looking things, with like a star of red fluff around their noses—and the moles are ugly, too.

Stella brought me in a coffee to keep me awake. I was actually doing quite well. I worked until one in the afternoon. We had a very light meal and changed to go for a cycle ride. We were back two hours and twenty odd miles later. Stella had struggled but I had decided she needed to get fitter and thus pushed her harder. She zonked in a chair afterwards, I went back to my records and did another two hours.

I checked some of my material for Monday and then got on with making the dinner. A new loaf mix was the first thing, then I started the vegetables. We had salmon with new potatoes, fresh peas and carrots.

Later, while Stella watched telly, I sorted some data from Aberdeen university and they had a record of several sightings of wild cat and pine martin. Those excited me, and I wished I had time to go up to Scotland and see these wonderful creatures. They had loads of records of tufties, and various mice and voles, plus one or two sea otters—another creature I’d love to see myself,Tarka, as Henry Williamson called him.

I sent these on to our panel of experts. Apart from some dormice in Cheshire, from a specialist group there, I had none of my little critters to record—unless I included my own records, which I wouldn’t until verified by another individual, part of the work I was doing for Bristol Uni.

I put together my proposal and costed it. I wasn’t going to come cheap, but I pointed out that I was the leading researcher in dormice in the UK, possibly Europe unless the prof at the University of Turin, took that accolade and he didn’t know much about the common dormouse, he was an expert on the edible one, Glis.

I woke Stella, who’d fallen asleep in front of the box, and told her I was going to bed. She nodded and apparently fell asleep again. I was aware of someone getting into bed during the night, but it hardly disturbed me at all. I awoke at seven the next morning feeling well rested. I stole out of bed and went down to start work while I ate my breakfast.

Stella came down after ten, “Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You looked so peaceful, and besides you probably needed the sleep.”

“I fell asleep in the chair, woke up about four.”

“I did wake you to tell you I was off to bed.”

“Did you, I don’t remember. I came up later when I woke up and crept into bed.”

“Yes, I know, I did wake but only for a moment or two.”

“Sorry, I tried to be quiet.”

“You were. What are you going to do today?”

“It’s raining, so it looks like indoor stuff. I thought I might read one or two of your books.”

“Help yourself.”

“What are these Gaby Stories?”

“Take a look, but I warn you they are addictive. I won’t tell you the plot because it isn’t anything much, each chapter is almost a little vignette in itself.”

“Okay.”

“I shall stop at one, because I’m almost up to date, for the moment. If it’s dry then we can have another ride after lunch, if you’d like?”

“Fine, yeah.” She went off to curl up with one of the Maddy Bell books, I’d bought a year or so ago.

I ploughed on through the ‘paperwork’, most of it was actually electronic, except I printed off the rejects. A polar bear off Whitby? Hardly!

At lunch—some of my home made bread with cheese and pickle, Stella told me she had thoroughly enjoyed the stories of the gender ambiguous cycling phenomenon, and would read the other two before she left.

The weekend approached and as we realised Simon was en route, we agreed to no mention of Des, she even hid her engagement ring. Simon arrived and we went out to dinner.

At bedtime, Stella had to make do with her own bed and some more Gaby stories. In my bed, Simon was attempting to show he had missed me, it was touching—he touched me all over! It was moving—I fell out of bed once, while he tried something which I assumed was physically impossible from his description. He had to find out the hard way, but I was the one with the bruises.

I eventually succumbed to exhaustion about an hour after we went to bed and actually fell asleep while he was—I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that. The next morning neither of us could move without something hurting. Stella had a good laugh from it, and I nearly gave the game away by saying something about her and Des, but I managed to alter it and Simon didn’t seem to notice.

We cycled some of the Saturday, Simon being the slowest this time. I cooked a roast dinner for the evening meal and we all went to bed slightly worse for wear after two bottles of Cabernet. There were no gymnastics that night, we slept soundly.

Sunday, Simon mowed the lawn, while I did the washing. I’d booked a table for three at a pub, so after beautifying ourselves, we went off for lunch. It was okay, a carvery near Bristol Parkway station, except we’d eaten better the night before, then we had a mooch around Cribbs Causeway retail park. Simon bought himself a new pair of shoes, but Stella and I only looked.

Simon headed back to London after tea, deciding he needed an early night and Iwas too big a temptation—I didn’t know whether to feel flattered or insulted. Stella thought it was very funny.

In a way, I was glad he hadn’t stayed another night. Tomorrow I was teaching, so had an early start myself, and it was supposedly the day of reckoning for Stella and Des. It was therefore going to be quite stressful enough without a disturbed night. The Camerons continued the musical beds game, as Stella came back in with me once her brother had gone. However, after some talking we fell asleep.

Bike 407

The Monday morning came too quickly, and I groaned as I opened my eyes and realised I had to get up and out. Stella lay in bed yawning whilst I dashed into the loo and then the shower. I dressed and dried my hair, putting it up in a ponytail. I was casually dressed, in pink jeans and Tour of Britain tee shirt.

After a very quick breakfast, I picked up my handbag, laptop and notes, loaded them into my VW and after wishing Stella good luck, set off for Gloucestershire and Hartpury.

The course was due to start at ten, but I was there by nine and setting up quarter of an hour later. I had someone photocopying handouts for me, while I quickly ran through the slides and PowerPoint stuff I’d prepared. I hoped it wasn’t going to be too high powered for them—much of it was aimed at undergrads not extra mural classes.

I sat sipping my coffee, I’d brought a flask with me, as my students began to assemble in the class room. Some of them knew each other, presumably from other courses. There was a bit of a buzz because they were expecting someone else who obviously wasn’t here, instead there was a strange young woman—viz., me.

At two minutes to ten, Dr French walked in and the class quietened. “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid your regular teacher is unavailable through misfortune, however, we have been tremendously lucky to have the services of Miss Cathy Watts, who used to teach at Portsmouth University and is one of the foremost mammal experts in the country. She is very involved with the United Kingdom mammal survey, which she helped to set up and is a national authority on dormice—of which, she assures me, you’re going to hear plenty. She’s undertaking a survey of some sites in this area and around the Forest of Dean for Natural England and Bristol University. She is a very experienced field biologist and long time bird watcher, and we are very lucky to get her at such short notice. I shall therefore leave you in her capable hands.” He finished, there was a round of applause and they all looked expectantly at me.

“I was just starting to enjoy that, except it felt as if my life was passing before me.” This got a slight titter from my class. I was an unknown quantity and with that introduction, possibly a frightening one. “Thank you Dr French. Important announcements, we stop for coffee at eleven, fifteen minutes max, then back here. Lunch is at one till one forty five, I know that’s shorter than usual, but I want to get us back and started because we’re doing field work for the last hour of the afternoon, plus two days of it on Thursday and Friday.”

The group before me, all twenty of them gasped and one or two smiled. “This afternoon, we’re going to be looking at the ecology of disturbed ground, tomorrow that of motorway verges, Wednesday, woodland edges and then Thursday and Friday we’re off on organised trips.”

I had certainly got their attention. “To me ecology and fieldwork go together. It’s all very well drawing up plans of computer simulations about climate change if you’ve gone out and done the work first. If you’ve walked your sites and found your evidence. So often, we get scare stories in the media because someone from the Daily Mail has misinterpreted a scientific paper or some scientist has been slack with their work and not done it properly, which is why we’re mostly peer reviewed. Who remembers about twenty years ago, there was a scare that English oaks would be extinct in ten years because of a gall wasp which interacted with the American turkey oak?”

One or two older students raised their hands. I nodded to acknowledge them. “So is the English oak extinct?” There were answers of ‘no’. “No of course it isn’t, it was bad science, not based upon enough observation or experimentation before results were extrapolated upwards. Nature has a nasty habit of doing the unexpected.”

“I’m sure you’ve all seen this anyway, so I thought I’d get it out of the way. Never, ever work with animals and children. If you do, this is likely to happen.” I played the youtube clip of Spike jumping down my blouse. It was followed by lots of laughter.

“Is that you?” asked someone in the front row.

“I’m afraid so. She reacted to the flash of the camera, it spooked her and she went for a safe place to hide. She also weed while she was down there.” That got more laughs.

“Right, you can see I don’t take myself too seriously; however, I do take my science very seriously. All of what I’ll teach you is verified elsewhere—see the handouts, or I shall say so. If it’s a theory of mine, I shall say so and so on.”

When I announced coffee time, they all shot off to the cafeteria except one, a middle aged woman. “Miss Watts…”

“Cathy, please.”

“Thank you, Cathy, is it you who is going to marry Lord Cameron?”

“Yes, is that a problem?”

“No, of course not. But you also pulled a baby out of a burning car last year.”

“Did I, I can’t remember.”

“Yes, you did and you appeared on television about another personal issue, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I changed sex.” I blushed and wondered where this was going.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to put it about to the others, although I don’t know if the others may recall it from the dormouse clip.”

“Too bad if they do, I don’t regret it nor am I ashamed of it.”

“No, you shouldn’t be. You’re a fine looking woman and very natural in your chosen role. None of us would guess from seeing you.”

“Thanks, is there something else?”

“Yes, it was my grandchild you saved from that car fire. I just wanted to say, thank you, I’m pleased to meet you.”

“Thank you, small world, eh?”

“Very.”

“Come on, let’s get a cuppa before it’s too late.” I escorted her to the cafeteria and we talked more generally as we got there. There was a queue so we hadn’t lost any time.

The rest of the day went very well. They seemed to enjoy my presentations, oohing and aahing over my dormouse pictures. The short fieldwork we did in the college grounds went down very well and they asked intelligent questions.

We overran by half an hour and no one was in a hurry to leave, when I finally remembered Stella and her meeting with Des, I wrapped things up quickly. As we finished, several of the class came up and thanked me for an interesting day. I assured them the next would be even better.

Dot, the lady whose grandchild I’d saved, came up to me at the end and said, “You realise you’ve got a fan club now, they all think you’re wonderful.”

I blushed, “Me, wonderful? Oh dear, they may be disillusioned by the end of the week.”

“You’re the best teacher I’ve met so far, the chap you replaced, he’d have bored us to tears by now, we’d have all gone as soon as we could; not stayed longer and risked the rush hour traffic. Keep it up please.”

“I’ll try. On Wednesday, I’m intending to bring Spike—my dormouse, along, so you can see what they look like and how they eat hazel nuts. Don’t tell the others.”

“You have a tame dormouse?”

“She isn’t tame, she delights in embarrassing me in front of audiences. She’s a wicked, wild animal with a dreadful sense of timing.”

I glanced at my watch, “Goodness, I’ve got to dash, I need to get back to Bristol.”

I sat in the heavy traffic all the way down the M5 to Bristol. A journey which should have taken less than an hour took me two. I was exasperated beyond measure. When I drove into my driveway and parked, I felt exhausted. Stella’s car was still there, so she hadn’t gone off to Des’ house.

I walked into the house, there was an air of sadness there which wasn’t present earlier. I shook my head, it had to be my imagination. I looked around the house but couldn’t find Stella anywhere. I went upstairs and came back down searching every room. Finally, I saw her curled up on the sofa in the lounge, an empty wine bottle lying on its side on the occasional table, along with an empty glass.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to suspect things had not gone well for her and that she had sought oblivion through a bottle of my red wine. I suspected also, that cooking for her would be a waste of time. I went out and brought in a bucket for her, just in case. I took away the empty glass and bottle and sat waiting for her to wake up, nursing my cup of tea.

For over an hour she didn’t stir, oblivious to my presence. I got on with some survey work on my laptop, before my eyes began to hurt and I felt very tired. I yawned and then sneezed, loudly.

She opened her eyes and stared at me for a moment before she seemed to recognise me. “Cathy?”

“It is, sister o mine. What’s happened?”

“It’s awful, it’s absolutely dreadful.” She immediately burst into tears. I put down the laptop and went to hug her.

“What’s happened?” I asked holding her sobbing body.

“It’s Des,” she sobbed.

I thought, yes the bastard, wait until I see him, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. “What about Des?”

“He’s dead.”

Bike 408

I held on to the sobbing woman beside me. Had I heard her correctly? Des was dead—no, I must have misheard it; he was going to finish his filming in a couple of weeks as soon as I found the dormice in the Forest of Dean. It had to be a mistake.

“Now, Sis, tell me carefully what has happened.” I held on to her tightly as I spoke to show my support for her.

“The police came around…it’s awful…” she broke down again and I had to wait for her to control her emotions. “They said he’d crashed his Landrover on the M6, went through a barrier and down an embankment. He died instantly.”

“Oh my God, how awful.” What could I say? The fact that my mouth worked at all was a minor miracle.

“What, am I going to do, Cathy?” She burst into tears again, and this time I joined her. I had very mixed feelings about Des: part of me felt he was a total arsehole, another bit felt he had the capacity to be sympathetic and helpful. He had helped me. Suddenly all that was gone—he was gone—it was unbelievable.

“I can’t believe this, it’s ridiculous. I mean he was so alive a couple of days ago, how can he be dead? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Now you know how I feel,” said Stella, “the police say he had a bunch of roses on the front seat, with my name on them. They found me through my name on his mobile.”

“That must mean they spoke to Tom, because they couldn’t have known you were here.”

“I’m so spaced out by it all, I hadn’t thought how they found me?”

“I’d better call him,” I announced and went off to the hall and picked up the phone. I dialled his number and was relieved when he answered. “Hello, Tom, it’s Cathy.”

“I know who it is, I’d recognise your voice anywhere. What did the police want with Stella?”

“Stella got herself engaged a week ago, to Des. They had a bit of a bust up and Des had to go up north to do some filming. He was killed earlier on today, coming back to see her.”

“Oh bugger!” The line went quiet for a moment, I didn’t want to interrupt him. “Poor Stella, how is she?”

“Very upset, as you might imagine.”

“Are you able to stay with her?”

“Not really, I’m running this summer school all this week.”

“Oh bugger!”

“You’re repeating yourself, Tom.”

“Am I? How about I come up and get her?”

“She might not want to leave here until the funeral.”

“We could get her back to you for that, I’m sure.”

“You can’t stay with her, you’re working as well.”

“I can take a week or so, maybe Simon or her father could help break the monotony of being with an old fart like me.”

“I don’ t think she’s looking for entertainment, rather someone to give her occasional hugs and look after her.”

I could hear him tapping computer keys. “There’s a train to Bristol in half an hour. Expect me when you see me, oh, I’ll stay the night if that’s okay? And I’ll have to bring the dog.”

“That’s all okay.”

“I’ll drive her back in her own car, then she’ll have it with her.”

“Could be a good idea, certainly, she couldn’t drive at the moment.”

“Can you collect me from the station?”

“I don’t really want to leave her….”

“No, of course. I’ve got your number on my mobile, I’ll call if there’s any hitches.”

“You’d better get going, Tom, you don’t have long.”

“Oh damn no, bye.” He put the phone down.

I went back into Stella, who was still sitting hunched over herself, rocking gently. “Tom is coming up, with Kiki.”

“Is he?” she sounded distant and unconcerned.

“Yes, he is. Are you okay for a minute? I’d better let Simon know.”

She nodded but kept rocking, and I began to worry about her mental health, especially given the previous episode. I rang Simon but he was in a meeting, I asked his secretary to tell him it was urgent and very important. Then I called Henry and left a similar message with his secretary.

Some of these people worked late, but then if I was on my own, I’d be checking stuff for tomorrow or doing some more work on the survey. Maybe, we’re all workaholics in the UK?

I made some tea and put some biscuits out and took them into Stella. She had hardly moved except her constant rocking. As I put the tray down, she gave a bloodcurdling scream and collapsed on the floor. I shook from the yell and then the collapse. “Shit, what do I do? Oh, Stella, don’t do this to me.” I was talking to myself as I tried to recall my first aid.

I laid her out on the floor and checked for breathing and pulse. She was still breathing and her heart was banging away like mad. I put her in the recovery position, so she wouldn’t choke or inhale any vomit, and phoned my doctor.

He was just finishing his surgery and was reluctant to visit, however, he finally agreed that the paramedics would only insist she was hospitalised and that might not be the best thing just now. He arrived half an hour later and I thanked him profusely.

Stella hadn’t moved. He examined her and gave her an injection, “This will calm her down and help her to sleep.”

“The last time I came to this house, Mr and Mrs Watts had a son. I take it you’re not his wife?”

“No, my parents are both dead as you know, and I did make peace with my dad before he died. I used to go and visit him in hospital.”

“So are you re registering with me as a patient?”

“If that’s okay with you?”

“Yeah, you don’t seem to be ill very often if I recall.”

“Normally, I’m not but a few months ago, some lunatic stuck a knife in my lung as I was out cycling.”

“Why?”

“He didn’t like cyclists, especially women. So he stuck me. I nearly died.”

“I’ll bet. Lungs are not a good place to get a bleed. Right, how strong are you?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Lifting your friend here, up onto the sofa.”

“Go for it,” I said, and we turned her on her back and lifted Stella on to the sofa. “I’ll get a blanket in a minute.”

“Mind if I wash my hands?” asked the doctor and I showed him the cloakroom.

While he was in there I put the kettle back on to make some fresh tea. I offered him a cup and after glancing at his watch, he accepted. He followed me into the kitchen. “What’s in the cage thing?”

“A dormouse.”

“A dormouse, as in Alice in Wonderland?”

“Yes, except I don’t dip her in the tea pot, want to see?”

“Yes, if it’s safe to disturb her.”

“She’s good as gold, and I keep handling her to keep it that way.” I lifted Spike out of the tank and gave her a hazel nut.

The doctor watched in fascination. “I was trying to think why I recognised you, I mean okay, I vaguely knew you as a boy, but that’s years ago. Now seeing you with a dormouse….”

“The clip on youtube?”

“Of course, that was so funny,” he chuckled to himself.

Why do they always remember that bloody bit of film? If I won the Nobel prize, they would still link that film with me, ‘Oh yeah, I know the one you mean, her and the dormouse, she won the Nobel prize…’

“So, the lady in the lounge, her fiancé has been killed. What is she to you?”

“I’m sure this must all sound very confusing, but she is my future sister in law, I’m engaged to her brother.”

“So, let me get my head around this. You used to be a boy, who’s had a sex change—yes?” I nodded and he continued, “and now you’re marrying a bloke? Does that make you gay?”

“I don’t think so. He loves me as his woman, and I believe I love him like a woman. I don’t think I was ever really a male, just my original body, didn’t quite agree with me.”

“Well you’re an exceptionally beautiful transsexual, I’ve got one or two on my books, but none of them are as convincing as you. Well good luck with your future husband, I take it he knows about the erm, you know the operation.”

“Yes, he knows all about it.”

“Oh good, well good luck. If your sister in law needs any further help, give me a shout.”

“You’re too kind, thanks for coming.”

“Well, you filled in the Temporary Resident forms, so that’s that. Goodnight.” He left and a few minutes later Tom phoned to say he was on the train and it was on time.

Bike 409

I wrapped Stella in a blanket and made myself a sandwich. I began to wonder what awful thing I’d done in a past life to deserve all the punishment that seemed to land on me. Then I thought I should count my blessings—I had plenty to be thankful for; one of them lay sleeping on my sofa, another was on the way to help and the third was yet to phone back. As I thought this, so the phone rang.

“Hi, Babes, what’s happened.”

I explained the situation to Simon, who swore and then said, “Do you want me to come down?”

“I don’t know, Tom is on his way, but I don’t know if he will be able to cope with Stella. He wants to take her back with him.”

“No, definitely a no-no, I’ll ring Dad, he’ll organise taking her home, Monica can look after her.”

“Monica is back then?”

“Oh God, yeah. She was only away for a couple of days, they do this to each other every now and again. She’ll be in her element looking after Stella for a bit. Tom might have to keep an eye on her for a day or two, can you cope with them both under your feet?”

“I expect so.”

“Good, look if Dad can’t organise something for a few days, I’ll come down and watch her. I know you need to finish your course thingy.”

“Running my summer school, yes, I need to finish that.”

“I’ll ring again later.” He rang off and I settled down to my tea.

The doorbell rang and I answered it, Kiki bounced all over me and Tom smiled, dropping his overnight bag just inside the door. He hugged me and asked where Stella was.

We sat talking and drinking cups of tea until about midnight, when Stella stirred. She needed the loo, so I helped her to the cloakroom. She was quite unsteady on her feet. After that, I made her drink a milky coffee and eat a biscuit. She was still very vague about everything. Asked where she wanted to sleep, she nominated my bed. I shrugged my shoulders and Tom muttered something about sisters.

We got her up to my room and I helped her undress and pull on her nightie. Then she got into bed and zonked. My head was still spinning when I got to bed—thinking about how I was going to cope with all this, how would Stella take it in the long term, and the realisation that I’d never see Des again. Okay, he wasn’t my favourite man, but he was a friend and I’d miss him. The last thing I was worried about was the dormouse film, that would take care of itself, one way or another.

I woke up feeling like shit. I had slept but not very well. Every time Stella moved, I woke up—presumably worried she might do something to herself. The alarm went off, and I staggered to the loo at seven. I staggered back to the bedroom and Stella was lying there looking at me.

“You look like I feel,” she said.

“Thanks, Stella, that has really made my day. How are you?”

“Better for the sleep, but he isn’t coming back is he?”

“No, I’m sorry, he isn’t.”

“How will I cope?”

“I don’t know, but somehow we’ll muddle through.”

“Yeah, I suppose so. I never seem to be able to keep a man, something nasty always happens.”

“I’m sure things will improve one day.”

“Can’t see why. Besides, Des was special—I’ve always loved him.”

“Yeah. I’ve got to get showered and dressed. Tom is here, so you won’t be alone.”

“Oh yeah, I remember now, just before I came to bed.”

“He was here then, yes.”

“So he’s my baby-sitter is he?”

“No, he’s a good friend who cares about you.”

“I know. I’ll try not to annoy him too much.”

I went and showered and then talked with her as I dressed. Then she showered quickly while I waited for her. As we got downstairs, Tom was coming in the door with his dog.

After breakfast, I drove to Gloucester, but the bounce I’d felt yesterday had gone. I no longer wanted to be there, I wanted to be back with Stella and Tom. I thought it best if I told the class what had happened and apologise in advance if I seemed distant or anything. They all sympathised and said they’d help me through it. I burst into tears, they were so kind to me. After a quick, spontaneous coffee break, I got myself together and taught the course. At times it was really tough, some of the best slides I had were taken by Des. He was an ace photographer.

We looked at more ecosystems and the effects of global warming. Then at the end of the day, we went to look at the motorway. Without special permission and all sorts of safety equipment and procedures, you can’t go near a motorway except in a car. However, for all I needed we could do it while standing on a footbridge over the tarmac death trap.

Having assembled there, I took a moment to deal with my sudden upsurge of grief—Des had died on a motorway—before continuing the lesson. Despite the enormous numbers of birds and animals squashed on our roads, motorway verges were a huge facility for wildlife. There was little disturbance from man except the noise of the traffic whizzing by at seventy miles an hour (or more). Many of the banks were planted with trees or bushes creating mini habitats, they were often planted with wildflower seeds and all the species of trees were native ones.

We discussed what we could see, miles of grassy or shrubby embankment where people weren’t allowed to walk. Apart from the noise, they really did offer some degree of refuge. We watched a kestrel hovering above the bank, looking for large insects or small mammals.

We considered food chains, predators, pollution and so on. I considered, that in a classroom this would soon become tedious, outside it had its own magic and once again they thanked me for adding to the lesson.

I left on time and dashed back home. Simon was there with Stella, Tom was out walking his dog. “Hello, Darling,” I said and kissed him briefly. I didn’t want Stella to feel deprived of her relationship. Simon seemed to understand.

“Des’ parents are coming over in about half an hour, I hope that’s all right?”

“Of course, I need to dash out and get some cake or something.” I grabbed my bag and was halfway out the door when Simon suggested no one would want to eat much. I didn’t care, I was brought up on the basis that hospitality reflects upon the host. I jumped in the car and raced off to Morrison’s. I was back twenty minutes later with a bag full of cakes, some fresh bread and something for sandwiches.

“What’s all this for?” asked Simon.

“It’s a contingency.”

“For what, a nuclear war?”

“No, silly.” I kissed him quickly, “It’s in case anyone needs to nibble something.”

“I know what I’d like to nibble,” said Simon, gently chewing my ear.

I pushed him off, “Simon, a good friend of yours has just been killed, behave yourself or at least show some decorum for Stella and his parents when they arrive.”

“Spoilsport, what a time to show you’ve grown up!”

I slapped him on the upper arm, “Behave.” He gave me a good demonstration of a sulky pouting child and sloped off back to Stella. I arranged cakes on plates and put them up where I hoped the dog couldn’t reach.

The bell rang and Simon answered the door. I stood in the kitchen doorway, waiting for the kettle to boil. Moments later Simon came and insisted I meet Des’ parents. Reluctantly, I went with him.

“This is my fiancée, Cathy, whose house this is. Cathy, this is Dave and Sue Lane.” I shook hands with them and they thanked me for allowing them to come and meet Stella at my house.

“Goodness, it’s nothing, Des came here several times and we talked about his films and things here. I’m delighted to meet you. Now, who’s for tea?” With that I scuttled out to my kitchen to make tea and sandwiches.

Des’ father came out to help me. “Sue and Stella are doing girl talk, so I thought I’d come and see if I could help.”

“You could carry that through, if you would?” I indicated a tray laden with food and crockery. “To the dining room, if you would.” I carried through the large pot of tea, just as Tom arrived back with his hound.

Dave and Sue were lovely people and we all got on really well. There was the odd tear and we obviously discussed the accident. Kiki, kept us all amused and she persuaded most of us to give her titbits. The evening was actually very pleasant and we were invited to go and see them when things calmed down.

Dave took me to one side, “There’s a load of film and stuff at Des’ house, can you come over and see what may be of use to you for your dormouse film?”

“Dave, I’m a biologist not a film maker, I’ll contact the BBC and see if there’s anyone there who may be able to help.”

“Cathy, Des was very fond of you. He said, you were only the second woman who’d ever turned him down. So you were special, particularly because of your love of nature. Did you know he has a framed photo of you with a dormouse, in his office at home?”

“No, I didn’t know, nor can I think why?”

“This is to go no further than your ears,” he said very quietly.

“Okay, if you think I need to know.”

“It was you he wanted to marry, but he knew that Simon had got there first. He also knew he’d never get you to leave Simon.”

“He told Stella he loved her.”

“I think he did, but you were his first choice.”

“Dave, I wish you hadn’t told me that.”

“It will explain his will, when that is read a bit later.”

“What do you mean?”

“We have to go, Cathy. It’s lovely to meet you at last. Both you and Stella are really lovely young women. We’ll be in touch with the funeral arrangements.”

They left and as I cleared the mess of plates and cups, I couldn’t look Stella in the eye.

Bike 410

As I cleared away the dirty dishes and crocks, Stella came out to help me. “That went pretty well, all things considered.”

“Erm, what did you say?” I asked not having listened. I felt as if I was betraying Stella, I knew something she didn’t which might harm her. It was bad enough to think that she had lost Des; to consider he had fancied me more was to add insult to injury. Was it necessarily true, was Dave mistaken? I mean how could he fancy me over Stella? She was real, I was a sham, a fake—how could this happen? She was beautiful and intelligent, whereas I was—nothing, not even with a job.

“You aren’t listening now, are you?”

“What?”

“See—why do I bother? Might as well talk to myself—that’s a good idea, Stella, at least then you’d get an answer.”

“I’m sorry, Stella, my mind kept flitting to Des, seeing his parents has brought it all back with a bump. We’ll never see him again.”

“I know,” she said and began crying. We hugged and wept together.

When bedtime came, I felt a bit unsure of what to say to Simon and to Stella—for that matter. Maybe I should have asked to share with Tom? There was no way I could get two others in my bed, it wasn’t big enough.

If I slept with Stella, I’d feel guilty all night. If Simon slept with me, his ideas may differ from my own—I simply wanted to sleep. I needed to discuss what Dave Lane had said, with someone, keeping it to myself was driving me nuts. Perhaps, I could talk to Tom eventually, when Stella was away or asleep? Why did he have to tell me, and what was it he was talking about in the will? Could it be a time-bomb, just waiting to happen?

Stella took herself off to bed, her own one. That was a relief, Simon and I went up after I made up a bed for Tom. It could be I needed a bigger house? Kiki slept on the floor near her master. At least one of my guests was easy to organise.

“Gi’s a cuddle then,” said Simon as we got into bed.

“Remember, I have to work tomorrow.”

“Yeah, so—it’s supposed to help you sleep.”

“What is?”

“You know,” he replied. I did know but wasn’t allowing him the satisfaction by revealing it.

“Simon, if I knew, why would I bother asking?”

“To avoid it.”

“Avoid what?”

“You know.”

“Simon, this could take all night….”

“Yes please,” he chuckled back.

“I’m going to sleep, good night.” I turned over facing away from him. He groaned and cuddled into the back of me. His hand was around my waist, but two minutes later it had travelled up to my breast, which he was tickling. I moved his hand back down to my waist, even though I was enjoying his attentions. I needed to sleep. “Good night, Simon,” I said firmly.

Five minutes later his hand was back on my breast, this time only cupping it. I ignored it. The fingers started to gently massage me—it was sooo nice, I really didn’t want him to stop, however, I needed to sleep.

I continued to ignore him and his hand, until his other hand began to stroke my bum. “Will you stop it?” I asked firmly.

“Why? I’m not stopping you sleeping.”

“What? You should try sleeping while somebody is rubbing your boob and your bum.”

“Okay,” he said, “You do it to me, I’ll bet I can sleep.”

“What? D’you think I came down in the last shower of rain?”

“I think you’re lovely.”

“Especially when I’m angry,” I snapped.

“Sometimes. Tell me, what did Des’ dad want to talk to you about?”

“The dormouse film, why?”

“He mentioned that earlier, it was hardly private stuff, so come on, fess up.”

“Okay, he was warning me about something in Des’ will.”

“His will—like what?”

“I don’t know, he didn’t say anything else, other than to expect to be surprised.”

“How strange?”

“Exactly, now can I go to sleep?”

“So has he left you anything in his last will and testicle?”

“How do I know?”

“Very interesting, what about Stella?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

“Shit, if he’s left you something and not her, she’ll go ape.”

“Now you know why I’m worried.”

“Was that the impression he gave?”

“Was what?”

“The impression. Did he give one that you had something coming and Stella didn’t?”

“Not exactly, he didn’t mention Stella.”

“So what else did he say? You were talking for several minutes.”

“I can’t remember just now, it wasn’t important.”

“If you can’t remember, how do you know if it’s important or not?”

“Go and play with your sub-primes and let me go to sleep.” It went quiet for a few minutes and I’d hoped he’d dropped off. He hadn’t, he’d been analysing what I’d said—amazing; normally he didn’t listen at all.

“You were more important to him than Stella, weren’t you?”

“Erm, what—I was just nodding off,” it wasn’t true but he didn’t know it.

“He liked you more than Stella, didn’t he?”

“Don’t be daft, how could anyone fancy me more than Stella. She’s a real woman to start with, I’m just a facsimile.” I felt a tear run down my cheek.

“You are as real as anyone, you don’t have to justify it. Soon you’ll be able to get your new birth certificate and we can get married. I never want to hear you describe yourself as anything but a real woman, okay?”

“But it’s true, Stella is far more desirable than I am. So how could he fancy me more than her?”

“You’re a beautiful woman, Cathy. I fancy you like mad, right this minute. It’s easy to see how any man worth his salt, would fancy you.”

“But Stella is beautiful, too”

“Yes she is, but you have something she doesn’t…”

“Yeah, a bloody ‘Y’ chromosome.”

“Geez, Cathy, will you stop it. I don’t care what your chromosomes say, I love you. So there.” He leant over and kissed me, I felt tears run down my face into my hair.

Bike 411

I sat in the traffic on the motorway. I yawned and felt my eyes fill with tears. I was late. All my good intentions from the night before had come to naught. After cuddling with Simon, his sweet nothings and manual dexterity wore down my resistance and he had his wicked way. Oh, I enjoyed it as well, so I shouldn’t complain too loudly, but it was nearly two before I got to sleep and I was a bit sore when I woke up and showered. I left him instructions to strip the bed and wash the bedding—however, he was still lying in them, half asleep, when I told him. I left him begrudging him every minute of his lie-in.

The traffic moved a little and I could see the problem, a truck which had thrown off half of one of its tyres, the police were in attendance. I waited my turn for another eight or nine minutes before I got past the obstruction and drove like a maniac to Hartpury House and my class.

Despite the congestion, I was only five minutes late and they were all busy chatting. The class were mainly women, outnumbering the men by a factor of three. As I yawned, I wanted to curse all men as tricksters only after one
thing. If it had been a class of women only, I might have done that, but with some men in attendance, it wouldn’t be a good idea, or a good ideal, as they say in Brissle.

I apologised for showing my tonsils—yes, I still have them—and got on with the registration and the lesson. We did some more ecological systems, the rainforest and the ocean. Then it was lunch. It was quite interesting that two of the class had been to a tropical rainforest in Amazonia. Their descriptions, especially of the birds of paradise and their weird calls, made me want to pack up and head for South America after lunch.

After lunch we looked at the ecology of broadleaf woodland and that of the littoral zone—not something that occurs in libraries, but the seashore. My slides of dormeece and starfish got some oohs and ahs, until I pointed out the crown of thorns starfish, was doing enormous damage to coral reefs—not quite the seashore, but it always pays to show that nature is red in tooth and starfish, and not as innocent as we like to think—which of course is anthropomorphising it as well, so I’m a total hypocrite.

Our mini field lesson was looking around the edge of the woods near the Centre, in fact in the grounds of the house. At last I was in my own element, European broadleaf woodland. I knew most of the trees, the birds, the mammals and many of the flowers, grasses and mosses. The larger ferns I recognised and some of the fungi, so I was able to answer most of the questions they had. We looked at succession and climax woodland—not somewhere you had your first erotic experience, but a woodland of oak or beech, sometimes ash.

We stayed late, no one seemed interested in going home as I showed them how the woodland worked as a system, how plants now dying back under the canopy of the trees had grown quickly in the early spring, flowered and produced seed and started the cycle again, waiting for the first warm spring days and the absence of leaves on the trees.

I showed them how some trees protect themselves and their territory, a black walnut had nothing growing within yards of its trunk. It poisons the ground, so nothing much can survive there, secreting toxins from its roots.

At six, over an hour late, I prised myself away from my class and set off for home. Of course I caught the end of the rush hour, so it was nearly eight when I got home—more than twelve hours after leaving it. As I sat in the traffic, I did wonder what Simon, Stella and Tom had got up to in my absence.

It seemed they all rose late and then worked off their guilt by doing chores. Tom tidied my garden, Simon washed the cars and Stella did the laundry, including my bedding which Simon had stripped from the bed. It was dry when I got home and Stella had even ironed it, something I didn’t bother with. Simon and she were putting it back on my bed when I arrived home. I felt like climbing straight in and going to sleep—instead, Tom told us all to get tidied up and he’d treat us to dinner.

I didn’t really fancy cooking, at the same time, I didn’t really want to go out either. I was very tired, however, the others wouldn’t allow me to cop out. So reluctantly, I washed and changed into a skirt and top and went out to dinner with them. Considering how funny such company had been in the past, it seemed rather sad, to me at any rate, that we were all so subdued. I kept yawning and having to wipe tears away, I was also sniffing quite a bit, enough for Simon to ask if I had any tissues with me. We ended up arguing and not speaking for the rest of the evening.

When we got home, they all decided to have a drink—I went straight to bed and was asleep before Simon came up. I was aware of someone getting into my bed but didn’t really wake. The next morning, when I did wake, I was surprised to see it was Stella who was lying next to me.

I slipped out and showered, coming back to the bedroom to dress. A sleepy Stella looked at me with bleary eyes. “Hi,” she said.

“Hi, where’s Simon?”

“He grabbed my bed, sent me to sleep with you.”

“Why?”

“He said he was in your bad books.”

“What’s new?”

“As he said he conned you into sex the night before, he didn’t think you’d want him near you, last night.”

“Oh, how does he think we’re going to cope when we’re married?” I realised what I’d said after the words left my mouth.

Stella didn’t pick up on it, so I said nothing more about it. “You know what he’s like, weasels out of things he doesn’t fancy, and confronting a strong, irritable woman is one of those he doesn’t fancy.”

“So who’s that then?”

“Who’s what?”

“The strong, irritable bowel, I mean woman.”

“You are, silly.”

“Oh—hey, who’s irritable?”

“You were last night.”

“Was I? I was very tired.”

“You were, besides, I didn’t fancy sleeping alone.”

“So are you irritable woman, proof?”

She laughed, “I didn’t mean it like that—you know what a coward Simon is when it comes to confronting women?”

“Sort of,” I shook my head. “I have to go and get some breckies and get off to work, I’m taking them off on a field trip today.”

“What sort?”

“Ecology of woodland and some limestone meadowland. Tomorrow it’s river systems, oh and a canal.”

“Sounds nice, can I come tomorrow?”

“I don’t see why not, there may be room on the minibus. I’ll ask the class. Would you be up to traipsing about all day, and having to listen to me rabbiting on and on?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“In which case, I’d love to have you if the class are happy for you to come.”

I spoke to the class at the first opportunity, they were very happy to have Stella accompany us. We drove off to a forestry area and compared the two types of habitat, looking at the commercial and ecological aspects of the place. They weren’t too impressed with the commercial growth of softwoods but when I showed them hazel coppicing, they were suitably agreeable. I wasn’t really manipulating them—well, not much.

After a pub lunch, we set off for the Doward, a hill in Herefordshire which has some traditional English, hay meadows, full of wild flowers and insects. One of the men was trying to photograph butterflies, wood whites, marbled whites, ringlets as well as meadow browns and gatekeepers. We heard several warblers singing, and were lucky to see a spotted flycatcher—a bird increasingly rare these days—and we used to get them in the garden, when I was a kid.

They all went back to the college feeling very satisfied, it had been a super day as far as the weather was concerned. I prayed it would stay the same for the next one, their last day. It seemed most of them were enjoying themselves, and so was I, this was what I was meant to do, not sit before a computer. I suppose we all have to make adjustments to cope with life.

Back at home, Stella had gone shopping with Simon, Tom had walked his dog and they were both pooped, so after a cuppa, I sat on the sofa and went off to sleep which apparently, Tom and Kiki also did.

Bike 412

As we drove back from the field trip, Stella looked tired but contented. We’d done quite a lot of walking. At one point I thought she was going to fall asleep but she was obviously thinking. “You know,” she began to expound on something I didn’t know, “it’s been quite a nice day—I’ve enjoyed it, and I’ve seen another persona.”

“Another persona?” I queried as I braked to let a Tesco lorry turn across in front of us.

“Yes, you know the Greeks and personae.”

“I know that modern psychology applies the term to different aspects of our personality.”

“Yes, that’s my usage too. I mean that I’ve seen, Cathy the teacher and Cathy the field worker, as well as Cathy the first aider when that woman twisted her foot.”

“I passed that on to our resident nurse, if you recall.”

“Lucky that someone had a spare bit of crepe bandage and I was able to strap it up.”

“Lucky for Cheryl, that we had both it and you.” I patted her on the leg.

“I can see why Des wanted you to do the dormouse film.”

“I was going to be involved anyway, our bank is funding it and I’m their ecological advisor.”

“I saw twenty people follow you around all day, hanging on every word you said.”

“More fool them,” I said dismissively.

“Why can’t you accept the compliment?”

I don’t know, perhaps it sits uneasily with the way I was brought up, and the fact that I could never please my parents, or if I seemed pleased with myself; was brought back to earth with a bump about pride going before a fall.”

“That’s sad. It’s also untrue.”

“Are you accusing me of lying?” I felt myself getting hotter.

“No, Sis, not you, your parents. There is nothing wrong with taking pride in doing something or having done something.”

“No, I suppose not,” I admitted reluctantly.

“I don’t mean hubris, that’s very different.”

“You know I don’t like Greek food.”

“You silly cow, that’s humous.”

“I was close,” I protested as she slapped me on the arm.

“So you don’t believe people when they give you a compliment?”

“Not really.”

“So if I say you are a good teacher, you won’t believe me?”

“I suppose, I do the basics okay.”

“Basics? I had twenty people asking me if you were doing another one next year, or better still a set of evening classes. That’s basics is it? You have a fan club. Everyone you meet, you give something of yourself to. Most people fall in love with you in minutes. You are honest, generous and pleasing to look at, with so much charisma it’s untrue.”

“Oh come off it, Stella, you make me sound too good to be true, and this is after one day’s trip.”

“Ha ha, your defences are well prepared aren’t they. Well take ‘em down for a minute. I have known you woman and boy, don’t you forget that.”

“Woman and boy? What is that supposed to mean?”

“Usually I ‘d have said woman and girl or man and boy, but if you recall, I first met a skinny in betweeny, who has since blossomed into this beautiful woman.”

“It’s okay, Stella, you don’t have to say nice things about me; I will take you home rather than make you walk.”

“See, you can’t accept a compliment—what is wrong with you, girl?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I don’t equate being beautiful with being me. I’m a fake, how can I, an ersatz woman, be beautiful?”

“Because your inner beauty shines from within. There are models and actresses who would be considered more physically appealing than you…”

“God Stella, what an understatement…”

“No it isn’t and you didn’t let me finish. Like I said, there are more physically appealing women than you, but….let me finish; “ she intercepted my interruption, “None of them can hold a candle to you for inner beauty or presence. Tom was right when he said that you were special, you are.”

“Only because I’m your sister.”

“You’ve done it again.”

“Done what?”

“Laughed off a compliment, by being self deprecating.”

“ I just thought you were being a bit too precious.”

“So my opinion doesn’t count?”

“No, that isn’t what I mean.”

“Well just shut up and listen,” Stella asserted, “I know you really well, possibly better than you know yourself. I think you are a very beautiful woman, who is charming and …shut up, I haven’t finished. Is charming and generous and who has amazing people skills…”

“If that was true, how come I can’t shut you up…”

“Will you stop rubbishing yourself all the time?”

It was true, I couldn’t easily accept a compliment, loads of hang ups about self worth, or lack of it. I never had been able to, possibly because of my parent’s attitude or because I never had any self esteem to begin with, made worse because of my transsexualism. I wanted to be a girl/woman but knew I couldn’t be a real one, only a sort of sham copy.

“Can we stop discussing me now?” I said as we managed to move faster than dead slow.

“On one condition.”

“Which is?”

“You accept my right to see you as a beautiful female.”

“Okay, but it’s not my fault if you need glasses.”

“Catherine Watts, will you stop that this minute?”

“What did I do?” I asked perplexed by her scolding.

“Exactly what I told you not to do, accept my right to see you as you are, not your self image distortion.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just second nature.”

“Well stop it this instant and accept the accolades you so richly deserve.”

“Yes, boss.”

“Goodness, how much longer is this going to take?” she asked referring to the traffic congestion and our arrival at home time.

“It’s bad because it’s a Friday and all the tourists are on the move.”

“Oh no, don’t tell me we’re caught up in traffic full of lazy tourists.”

“Fraid so.”

“You lazy sods, get back to work!” She shouted out of the window, “No wonder we’re facing a recession — too damned lazy to work.

Bike 413

Stella and I were pleased to get home at last, she helped me carry my stuff into the house. “Are you sure you had a good day?” I asked.

“I’ve told you umpteen times.”

“I hoped that wasn’t politeness.”

“Me? Polite to you? Don’t be daft.”

“I suppose that answers my question.”

“Yeah, ask a silly one…”

“I know, and get a silly answer.”

“Who’s a silly arse?” asked Tom, coming out of the lounge to greet us. Stella and I looked at each other and then burst out laughing. “What did I say?” asked Tom. This caused fresh convulsions. “Blessed women,” he said dismissively, which of course set off further eruptions and by this time both Stella and I had tears running down our faces. The sixty four dollar question was: Is he going for after shocks? He was. “I suppose I’m the silly arse, am I?”

Almost helpless with laughter, I managed to shake my head, ‘no’. Taking a deep breath, I said quickly, “You misheard my reply to Stella, it wasn’t silly arse, it was silly answer.” Possibly the most mundane thing I’d said all day but Stella and I found it painfully funny, we were now into a hysterical giggle fit a la schoolgirl.

Tom shook his head and went back into the lounge to await the return of our collective sanity. It could take some time. We were like two teenage drinkers unused to alcoholic beverages, staggering under the weight of laughter. I knew it would end in tears—tears of laughter, oh, and hiccups. I always get hiccups after a giggle session.

For Stella, this merely fanned the flames of insanity until in mid-cackle, she wet herself. She laughed at this, making the wet patch worse. That set me off again. Like I said, Tom could have a long wait.

I checked on Spike, she wasn’t laughing, she was asleep and resented my disturbance of her nest box. She refused to allow me to handle her, even nipping me on the thumb to emphasise the point. I put her back without any reward.

While Stella went to change, I did stop laughing. My sides hurt and I was still hiccupping now and again. I took a deep breath and held it. Of course, Tom, tried again whilst I was turning blue from hypoxia.

“What on earth are you doing?” he asked me.

I tried to wave him to wait a moment. He looked unable to understand what I was on about. So in the end, I had to say, “I’m trying to stop my hic [hic] cups.”

“Oh I see, try a drink that usually works for me.”

“F [hic] rom the wrong side of the gla [hic] ss, I sup [hic] pose.”

“That’s right, whilst standing on one’s head waving one leg at each pole.”

“But there are millions of Poles, and I’m not even a centipede,” I complained.

“Okay, I’ll get the lab to clone a Cathypede, something that whinges at a hundred times a second.”

“Gee thanks, Tom, I suppose you never complain.”

“But of course I don’t, we’re made of sterner stuff, our generation.”

“This is the same generation who invented Prozac and therapy junkies?”

“Absolutely, and in case you forgot, false memory syndrome.”

“I remember talking to Santa Claus about that only last week…”

“I see, was this before or after the Good fairy came to help you wash up?”

“No, she only came after I kissed a frog and discovered it was just that—a frog.”

“Messy!” commented Tom.

“Traditionally, one has to kiss a few frogs to find a prince.”

“It’s still easier than all the mattresses required to discover a princess.”

“Only if you have a dried pea.”

“I keep one especially for the job.”

“Do you?” I couldn’t believe this.

“Yes, in my whistle.” He pulled it from his pocket and gave it a quick peep which nearly deafened me and which brought Kiki barking into the hallway.

“How do you get it out of the whistle to put it under the mattresses?”

“That would be telling,” he said quietly. He held the whistle in both hands and after making funny movements with both, he made a dramatic music ‘noise’ and held the pea and the whistle separately.

Impressed, I asked him how he did it, but he wasn’t going to tell me. Tom, it appeared was full of mystery. Despite my protests, he refused to budge and only when Stella came back down with fresh jeans, did he admit he’d been an amateur magician when younger.

“So you used to do magic tricks and things?” I asked, my jaw dropping.

“I was a paid up member of the Magic Circle.”

“So, a prestidigitator,” I gasped.

“You dirty thing!” exclaimed Stella, and slapped me on the arm.

“What was that for?” I asked.

“You said you were a mas…”

“No, I said, Tom was a prestidigitator, it isn’t quite the same aspocket snooker, although he may be clever with his hands.”

“That would explain why your eyesight is unaffected.”

“What?” I gasped.

“Well, don’t they say it’s bad for your eyes? Makes you go blind, according to the toilets back in school.”

“What does?” I asked.

“That more than conjures with the imagination.” Tom said pithily.

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“They called it self-abuse, when I was in school,” offered Tom.

“Until I discovered Smirnoff I thought Wan-kin’ was town in China,” said Stella and she and Tom dissolved in laughter.

“Until I was discovered by Stella, I had no idea what all that was about,” I said and blushed.

“You really were a virgin, weren’t you?”

“In all senses. Naivete doesn’t go anywhere near describing my experience as a teenager. I knew all about reproduction in all sorts of weird animals, but had no thoughts about sex at all.”

“Not until Simon and I corrupted you,” said Stella with a smugness that annoyed me.

“I just wasn’t interested.” I continued, “It wasn’t my fault, I mean I’d been brought up to believe all that stuff was wicked and besides, it just didn’t do anything for me. Not until I got kissed as a girl and it sort of released what had obviously been nascent.” There was a pause and I felt enough had been said about such things. “Have you any other tricks, Tom?” I asked changing the subject.

“Gosh, I’m a bit rusty, I’ve not done any of these since my girl died.”

“I’m sorry,” I felt rather embarrassed.

“No don’t be, I should be over it by now, it was years ago, after all—but I suppose you never quite do.”

“Would you tell us about her?” I asked gently, “But only if it’s okay.”

Tom looked at Stella and then at me. He seemed to be having some sort of internal dialogue. Finally he arrived at a decision, “Okay, let’s go and sit somewhere quiet and I’ll tell you about my lovely daughter.”

Bike 414

“Where’s Simon,” I realised he was absent from our little party.

“He caught a train up to London, about midday, a little local difficulty, apparently.”

“Goodness, I hope everything is okay,” I said, sounding awfully, awfully.

“I’m sure it is, young Catherine.” Tom, winked at me, “There’s a bottle of white in the fridge. How about we have a glass as we talk?”

“If you’d like to forestall a little, I could cook us up something and we could talk over dinner.”

“An excellent idea.” Tom smiled, no, he beamed a smile at me.

“You will still tell us about Catherine, won’t you?” I asked.

His smiled faded rather rapidly, “Sounds like you already know.”

“I know bits.”

“So who’s been blabbing?”

“No one you could take action against.”

“Oh, go on then, get some food. I’ll pour us a drink anyway.”

I ran into the kitchen and Stella followed me. “You know all about her then?”

“Out the way, I need that pan.” I pushed her aside and set up a large frying pan on the top of the cooker and began melting some butter. Then I washed some potatoes and began slicing them. I was doing sautés.

“Well, how much do you know?”

“Only how she died, okay? Happy now? Here, chop these up.” I handed her some spring onions.

“Oh God, my hands will smell after that.”

“Would you prefer to do the garlic?”

“Where’s the knife?”

Despite having her under my feet, I did stir fry chicken with sauté spuds. In just over twenty minutes we were seated at the table and eating it. “That was delicious, Cathy.” Tom wiped his mouth on his napkin.

“Stella helped.”

“Yeah, like I chopped some onions.”

“The best chopped onions I’ve ever tasted,” Tom said, smirking. Then he said, “Ouch,” as she kicked him under the table.

I cleared away the debris and we sat with coffees and wine and I invited Tom to tell us about his daughter. I thought he was trying to escape, but he only went as far as his jacket, where he removed his wallet from the inside breast pocket and came back to the table. From this ancient leather pouch, he extracted an envelope, yellow with age. He pulled out a small passport sized photo in black and white. “This is my daughter, Catherine.” He handed the picture to me.

“She’s beautiful, Tom, you must have been really proud of her.” I touched his hand as I spoke.

“Lemme see,” squeaked Stella and took the picture. She kept looking at it and then at me. “If your hair was darker, this could almost be you.”

“Don’t be daft, she’s beautiful.” I felt myself getting hot.

“And so are you.” Tom, took back the photo and replaced it in his wallet. “Sorry, it’s the only one I have.”

“I’ll do you some copies if you’d like, my scanner could do that and I could enlarge it for you.” I volunteered because it was a relatively easy job.

“Yes, okay, sometime.” Tom postponed my offer. His face became wistful and he looked into the distance. “She died in October of nineteen eighty seven. She was brilliant with dead languages, read classics and Latin at Oxford and also Anglo Saxon. Must have got it from her mother, it certainly wasn’t from me.” He paused to sip his wine.

“She was reading Anglo Saxon studies for a PhD at Oxford, a department made famous by JRR Tolkien, although he’d long gone. Driving back from Portsmouth to the university at Oxford her car, a little Peugeot, was hit head on by a coach, a charabanc. The driver was under the influence of alcohol and was later prosecuted for drink driving. He was banned from driving, and fined two hundred pounds.”

He paused, still looking at the wall, tears now in his eyes, “That was all her life was worth, a measly two hundred quid.” He paused again and blew his nose. “It devastated us. My wife, Celia, who was already fighting multiple sclerosis, gave up the fight and in less than six months, I’d lost both my darlings. I only had my work to keep me alive.”

I put my hand on his and squeezed it gently. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back at him and Stella dashed to the kitchen and brought back some more coffee. She then poured us another cup each.

“You can imagine my surprise when I got a letter from a student from Sussex, commenting upon a paper I did. It piqued my curiosity and I invited him to come and see the department. I was intrigued by the cheek of a new graduate making some comments about the methodology we used on mammalian surveys. It wasn’t really my subject, I did the physiology, but the young tyro had some relevant points.

When he arrived, I nearly died, he could have been my grandson—except for the small matter that my Catherine, couldn’t have kids. So after a meeting where he stated a few points we could have improved, I challenged him to come here and do a master’s degree and show us how it could be done better.

A few months into the course and he came to see me. He was transgendered. It hit me like a bomb. He was too pretty to be a boy, and I wondered if he was gay, except he kept much to himself and his work was first class. It was so coincidental, it almost felt as if my daughter had been reborn, except this Cathy, was already alive when mine, died.”

I felt my ears burning, I was blushing so much and the alcohol seemed to make it worse. Tom took a sip of his wine and continued his narrative. “You see, Cathy, my Catherine was also transgendered.”

My blushing got a sight worse. “Oh,” I squeaked as my throat seemed to constrict around the words. It made it obvious why he was so unfazed by my revelation and why he was so supportive on a personal as well as official level. Stella had told me she’d learned from him a bit of this, so it wasn’t entirely a revelation, but it still choked me.

“We knew from early on, that there was something different about our son. At first I thought he was gay and while it didn’t exactly disturb me, I saw it as a complication for his life. However, it wasn’t a case of homosexuality, it transpired to be a gender thing. That did disturb me, I mean, it’s so obvious to all who know you, once things start changing. Anyway, we pulled together as a family and her mother was brilliant. So just before going away to Oxford, my son became my daughter – Cameron Agnew, became Catherine.”

“Cameron!” Stella squeaked loudly, “How many more coincidences are there going to be? If you tell me her second name was Stella, I’m going to ask a paranormal researcher to investigate.”

“No, that was my mother’s name.”

“Geez, I bloody knew it,” she said taking a gulp of wine.

“Cameron Simon Agnew, became Catherine Simone Agnew. Oxford were quite helpful, given this was in the late seventies and I paid for her to go to the States for surgery at John’s Hopkins in Baltimore. She had it done during her first summer vac. After that she didn’t look back, she had a girlfriend and they loved each other. It broke up and she had several relationships afterwards, all with blonde girls—which she had a thing about. So when I am presented with a blonde, almost look-alike, it nearly blew me away.”

I finished my coffee. “No wonder you found it so easy to accept my changeover?”

“The hard part was stopping myself from projecting the person I had lost onto you. At times it was so hard. Then when you moved in here, it was like the gods had rewarded me, they had given me back my daughter and another reason to live, other than just my work.”

“Except, I wasn’t your daughter.” I touched his hand and he held mine.

“No, more like my wilful granddaughter, who constantly gets herself into scrapes.”

“Yeah, erm, sorry about that.”

“You know the Dean is retiring?”

“No, when?”

“He’s actually gone, Dr Mathers has taken on the role temporarily.”

“Who?”

“He’s from Marine Biology, so you probably haven’t met, oh, yes you have, he was witness to your little outburst.”

“Oh, oh well.”

“I’ve sussed him out, he told me on the QT, that he had some sympathy with you. Which means, I’m offering you your job back.”

“What?”

“What is it with you young women, don’t you ever bloody listen?”

“No, erm, I mean yes.”

“Oh goody!” said Stella, and she began a little dance around the kitchen.

“Tom, where is your daughter buried?” I asked him quietly.

“She was cremated and interred at the local church in Portsmouth, why?”

“Next time I’m there, I’d like to take her some flowers, if that’s okay?”

“I’m sure she’d have liked that, she loved flowers.”

“Is that where you take the dog, every week?”

“Damn you, woman, how did you guess that?”

“Intuition, I suppose.” I squeezed his hand again, and he put his second one on top of mine.

“So are you coming back?” He asked as Stella danced in with another bottle of wine.

“I don’t think I have any choice, do I, granddad?”

“Still as cheeky, but then with my daughter being similar, I should have been used to it, shouldn’t I?”

“Absholutely,” said Stella, her tongue poking out of her mouth as she tried to get the corkscrew into the bottle.

Bike 415

With Simon up in Town, Stella slept in my bed. She was just a teeny bit tipsy, and if Tom hadn’t helped, she’d still be trying to get the corkscrew into the bottle. We all seemed to sleep in on the Saturday except Spike, who had munched her way through several nuts by the time I came down at ten.

Stella, who had a hangover—some people never learn, just had fluids for breakfast, whilst I was okay, only having had two glasses of wine. Tom who never seems to show ill affects from booze, sat and ate breakfast with me.

“Thanks for telling me about your Catherine. I’m sorry you lost her, it must be the worst thing that can happen to a parent.”

“It is, Cathy, I don’t think we ever get over it, just learn to cope with the void. However, thanks to you, the void is smaller and I’m grateful for your presence in this world, or should I say in my world. No, that sounds awfully arrogant, what I mean is, thanks for allowing me some participation in your world.”

“Duh! Can you run that past me again?” I said, winking.

“As I wasn’t listening to myself, I don’t think I could.” He sniggered then laughed out loud, I laughed too, snorting milk and corn flakes all over the table.

“Ugh, you mucky pup!” he gently chided me.

“The coincidence of me turning up after your daughter, is phenomenal, isn’t it? I mean, transsexuals aren’t very numerous at the best of times, so two in one household – twenty years apart—it blows me away, it really does.”

“I don’t see either of you as transsexual, just girls with a gynae problem which is treatable. You both achieved womanhood by a slightly more circuitous route than most women, so what? It’s just as valid. As for two in one household—there is a saying which says, ’We meet those we need to on our respective paths. Sometimes the reason for it seems obscure.’ As a scientist, it has no merit whatsoever, as a human, it may explain some of the things which happen.”

“Isn’t this the Blind Watchmaker argument, which Dawkins and others have rubbished so successfully? The Intelligent Design stuff, just poor science.”

“Probably, however, have you never looked up at a starlit night and been filled with awe? Or seen the structure of something under a microscope and been astonished? I know we say it’s all evolution, I’ve been preaching it for longer than you’ve been alive—but just now and again, my resolve cracks and I do wonder like Hamlet, about more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

“Yeah, but Hamlet was psychotic, talking to ghosts and killing people, including himself.”

“I accept he was disturbed. But haven’t you told me that you spoke to your mother, since she died?”

I blushed, hoist on my own petard, “They could have been dreams.”

“Including the one with the special cavity under the bedroom floor?”

“Yeah, why not? I might have seen her using it when I was a child?”

“You told me it was relatively new.”

“I could be mistaken.”

“Cathy, scientists need an open mind in order to be able to explore the universe.”

“Open yes, not swinging in the breeze.”

“Are you implying that describes me?”

I blushed beetroot red, “No, I didn’t mean it that way. I meant that a certain amount of discretion is necessary in one’s cogitations.”

“So is this discretion, in your case, the better part of valour?” He fixed me with a stare and I felt myself looking away after a few moments.

“Coincidence, that’s all it is, that’s all it can be,” I muttered to myself.

“In your philosophy, because if it isn’t, your map of the universe is suddenly inadequate.”

“Oh shoot! Don’t do this to me, Tom.”

“I’m your professor, it’s my job to expand your cognitive skills.”

“I think they’ve just gone into over stimulation and burned themselves out.”

“They can’t, that’s an emotional response, not a cognitive one.”

“Isn’t the God thing, more of the same?”

“Maybe? I’m an agnostic, I need evidence then proof, but just in case I’m getting it without recognising the fact, I keep my options open.”

Was this just an old man trying to reconcile that he will one day die, possibly not too far away compared with ten years ago? I wasn’t convinced, yet in the back of mind was the meeting with Marguerite, the parish priest and scientist. Was it pure coincidence? I had to believe it was or as Tom suggested, my map was needing some major revisions, and that was frightening. The same fear fundamentalists feel when they are challenged, because they haven’t thought it through, they regurgitate chapter and verse and are likely to be out argued by a quick mind looking for the flaws in their arguments, which are many. Was I becoming a fundi? An atheist? Because that’s what Tom was implying, wasn’t it? How important was it to me? I didn’t know, which is even more frightening. I had much to think about.

“More coffee?” I asked getting up to make some fresh tea.

“Yes please, with two lumps of rationale.”

“Ha ha,” I answered back. Not the wittiest of retorts, but it was brief and Shakespeare considered brevity the soul of wit. So maybe he’d have laughed at it. Tom chuckled, he had me on the run and I was digging big holes for myself. Quit whilst you’re ahead, was the advice of generations past. I admitted defeat. “Okay, I surrender. Destiny drove us together, so how come you don’t ride a bike?”

“You just answered your own argument.”

“What?”

“Destiny drove us together, I therefore have no need to cycle.” He smiled and I felt like showing him the sound of one handclap, around his earhole!

I gave him his coffee and sat down, “Smart arse,” I muttered.

“I think that constitutes admission of being a sore loser.”

“If you say so. My head is spinning.”

“So is mine,” said a voice announcing the return of Lady Cameron, “I think I need to get some retail therapy to clear it.”

Tom laughed heartily at this, and I had to clear up the snorted tea from the table.

“Are you going by yourself?” asked Tom.

“No I’m waiting for my sister to smarten herself up so we can go and do what women do—shop till we drop.”

“That’s awfully stereotyped,” I complained.

“Yeah, so, truth sometimes is, now get yer togs on and let’s get going before the sun sets over the shopping mall, this is post modernist feminism.“

“It’s what?”

“You ask far too many questions, carry on like that and people will think you’re a scientist instead of a bimbo. Now go and get dressed, there’s a good girl, before all the bargains are gone.”

“I thought there was a depression on?”

“You may be depressed little sister, I feel fine, now get yer arse in gear. Time and summer sales wait for no man.”

“Alright, alright I’m going.” I said while waving a piece of kitchen roll as a substitute white flag.

Bike 416

We were walking through the precinct of Cribbs Causeway when it happened. Stella had her arm linked through mine, when she dragged me towards a window of bridal dresses. “Cathy, look at these. God aren’t they beautiful? Which one shall we get?”

My stomach flipped—bridal gowns? Oh poo! How do I get her away from here without a strait-jacket? “Erm, yes, they are lovely. Do we have time to bother with these today? I thought you wanted to get to the sales?”

“But, Cathy, look—they have a sale on, too.” Before I could think of any sort of reason why I didn’t want to look in a bridal shop, she dragged me into it.

A youngish assistant wearing rather too much makeup approached us, “Can I help you ladies?”

“No thanks, we’re just browsing,” I said.

“Yes, what have you got in a twelve?” said Stella, countermanding my reply.

“Several madam, any particular colour or material or style in mind?”

Don’t do this, Stella.’ My brain was trying to send telepathic messages to her, instead some one behind us picked them up and I heard a voice say, “Oh I’m not doing this today.” However, it wasn’t Stella’s, she was following the saleswoman down the shop towards racks of beautiful and expensive dresses.

Could she have forgotten that her own wedding had been changed to a funeral? That reminded me, we needed the details of the service, I’d have to speak with Dave or Sue.

I walked briskly down to the shop, she was admiring dresses and the assistant was putting them out on a rail for her to see more clearly. I tried once again. “Stella, we really don’t have time for this today, why don’t we come another day and then you’ll have more time?”

“What’s wrong with today? I need a wedding dress.”

“Stella, I think you’ve forgotten something.”

“Oh, and what’s that?”

“Stella, Des can’t marry you, remember the accident? Last week?”

“No, what accident was that?”

I motioned to the girl to stop. “Stella, Des was killed last week, don’t you remember?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, if something like that had happened, I’m sure he’d have told me. We’re getting married, you’re just jealous aren’t you, because he’s marrying me not you?”

“Stella, Des is dead—there is no wedding.”

“Des isn’t dead, I spoke to him yesterday, I told him I was going to look for my dress with you. I knew it was a mistake, I knew you’d be jealous. Whatever I do, you’re jealous and try to spoil it.”

If she had said this to me in normal circumstances I’d have felt cut to the quick, this had to be delayed shock, least I hoped it was. I tried to keep myself from entering her delusion.

“Stella, look come home with me and have a chat with Tom and Simon, then if I’m wrong, I’ll bring you back tomorrow.”

“We’re not open tomorra, it’s Sundee.” At the shopgirl’s words, I wanted to slap her across her stupid mouth, or say something very insulting like, ’If your brain was as only half as thick as your mascara, you’d still be a halfwit!’

“See, I know your stupid plan.” She looked at the shop assistant, “She’s trying to stop me marrying the man I love because she wants him, my brother isn’t enough, she wants my Des as well. Your lies won’t work here, Catherine Watts—you’re not Lady Cameron yet, but I am, so there.” She actually poked her tongue out at me.

“Ladies please, we don’t want any unpleasantness, this is a shop of happiness not a street corner.” An older woman had noticed Stella’s outburst, undoubtedly the shop manager or owner.

“Throw her out then, she’s the one causing the problems. I came in to purchase a wedding dress for my wedding.”

“It might be better if you were to leave, madam.” The older woman took my arm and started to escort me to the door.

“Can I have a word with you?” I said quietly, to her.

“I think you’d better just leave, you’re upsetting my customers.”

“Would you like me to return with the police and psychiatrist and have her sectioned? I did once before? Would your customers enjoy that more? She gets quite violent when they try to restrain her.”

The woman’s face drained of colour, “What is she some sort of mental case?”

“That is my sister in law, she recently got engaged to a colleague of mine. Sadly he was killed a couple of days ago while driving down to see her. She has gone into denial, she knows he’s dead, the other night we were talking to his parents about the funeral. I suspect she’s suffering from a form of amnesia from delayed shock.”

Stella was busy talking to the shop assistant who kept glancing at me, so goodness knows what she was saying. Just then the assistant came up to us and said, “Mrs Butler, could I have a word please?”

“Would you wait here please,” the older lady said to me. She then went off with the assistant and spoke for a couple of minutes. Two minutes later, she returned, Stella was still examining gowns. “You nearly had me fooled, please leave, now or I’ll call the police and have you removed.”

“Please do, maybe the same ones who told her that her fiance was dead will answer the call.”

“You’re bluffing, aren’t you?”

“Am I?” I took a small card from my bag, “Call this number, and speak to Professor Agnew. Ask him he if he thinks it’s a good idea for Stella, my sister in law here,” I nodded at Stella, “to buy a wedding dress?”

“Who is he, some sort of psychiatrist?”

“No he’s my boss at the university.”

“Professor of what?”

“Biological sciences. I’m a lecturer in the same.”

“I don’t know, if we upset Lady Cameron, we could have big problems.”

“No you won’t, I’ll speak to Henry.”

“Who’s Henry?”

“Her dad, Viscount Stanebury.”

“Oh shit, why did this have to happen the day before I go on holiday?” asked the older lady.

“I’m sure it’s delayed shock, go and call Tom and ask him to come and help me get her home.”

“I don’t know, Mrs..erm.”

“Cathy, will do. Look I’ll wait outside; out of sight of Stella.”

“I don’t want any trouble,” the woman said and I felt quite sorry for her. I looked up and Stella was going into the changing area with the assistant.

“Hurry and call Tom, I’ll be outside.” I left the shop, wondering what on earth to do next. I picked up my mobile and speed dialled Simon.

“Hi, Babes, look I’m kinda busy, can I call you back?”

“Simon, this is urgent, Stella has gone funny in a bridal shop…” I gave him a brief account of the event. “ I don’t know what to do, but I’m going to need help.”

“I’ll call the clinic where she stayed before, maybe they can advise us. If she goes funny, get the cops. I’ll get back to you.”

I stood just down the mall from the shop, clutching my phone and feeling very anxious. The longest five minutes in the history of time elapsed before my phone pinged and vibrated. I snapped the button, “Yes, Si?”

“It’s Tom, I’m on my way. I called the police and spoke to one of the officers who brought the bad news from Ghent. She’s on her way too. Be there in ten.”

I waited some more—not much else I could do. Poor Stella, why do these things always have to happen to her? I glanced down the mall and two police officers were moving towards me at a rapid walk, one was a woman. I hoped it was the one we wanted.

“Are you Cathy?” she asked.

“Yes, how did you know?”

“You’re the only one in this Nirvana of consumerism who looks as if she didn’t want to be here.”

“She’s in there. Look, I’m sure it’s delayed shock, she’s lovely really.”

“It’s okay, Cathy, you wait here, I’ll get her out.” So saying, she marched into the shop and spoke with the manageress and ten minutes later escorted Stella from the shop.

“If you don’t feel too well, I’d better get you home.” Stella took my arm and led me towards the car as my mouth gaped open. Just then Tom arrived, trotting towards us. “It’s okay, Tom, I was bringing her home anyway,” Stella smiled at him.

“Oh, alright then, shall I drive?” He offered and I handed him my keys.

“Will you be alright now, madam?” the policewoman asked me.

“I think so, thanks for your help.” She slipped a card into my hand and winked.

“Come on girls, let’s go home,” said Tom and we walked to the car.

Bike 417

As Tom drove us back to my house, I realised that the policewoman had tricked Stella into coming out pretending I’d been taken ill and needed to go home. I kept up the act of not being well until we got home.

“How do you feel now, Cathy?” asked Stella as we arrived at my house.

“Much better now, thanks; how are you?”

“I don’t know, I think I feel sad and down, but I don’t know why.”

“What’s happened recently that might have caused it?” I asked, although playing therapist wasn’t something I usually did.

“I don’t know, unless I’ve forgotten something.”

“You don’t remember Sue and Dave coming over the other night?”

“Yeah, they did, didn’t they. Who are they, anyway?”

“Sue and Dave Lane, they’re the parents of my film making colleague.”

“Who’s that then?”

“Des, Des Lane.”

“I was in school with a Des Lane.”

“It’s the same one.”

“You don’t say. Remember me to him the next time you see him, won’t you?”

“That might be difficult, Stella, he died a few days ago.”

“Oh, how awful.”

“You don’t remember?”

“Remember what?”

“He had asked you to marry him.”

“Don’t be daft, not the Des Lane I knew, a dedicated bachelor he was, besides, I think I might remember someone asking me to marry them, it doesn’t happen too often.”

“Stella, would I lie to you?”

She looked at me as if she wasn’t sure what the answer should be, “This is a wind up, no?” I shook my head in the negative, she looked at Tom, who did the same. “You’re kidding me?” We both shook our heads. “You’re not are you?”

“No we’re not, Stella.” Tom looked very serious. “Des did ask you to marry him, he died in a car smash a few days ago.”

“I don’t believe you,” she looked at us but in her eyes there was a doubtfulness that wasn’t in her speech. “Des is dead?”

“Yes, Sis, he died in the crash. You know the young police woman who came and got you from the shop a little while ago?” Stella nodded to my question. “She was one of two officers who came to tell you of Des’ death. Do you remember her now?”

“Not really, she looked very young, but they all do these days. So Des is dead?”

“I’m afraid so,” I felt really sad.

“How long were we engaged?”

“About a week.”

“That all?”

“It had just begun, Stella. I’m so sorry.”

“Just as well then. You never could rely on Des for anything. You watch, he’ll be late for his own funeral.” She got out of the car and walked to the front door.

“There has got to be a reaction, sometime,” said Tom, “She’s just blanked it all.”

“Looks like it,” I said as I exited the car. “I’m out of my depth here.” I walked up to the front door and let us all in. “Who’s for a nice cuppa and a piece of cake?”

“Did you make it?” asked Stella, her eyes brightening at the prospect.

“I tell you what, I’ll cut you a piece and you tell me if I cooked it.”

“Oh that is like, soooo unfair, isn’t it Tom?”

“I’d prefer a Cathy cake, but will settle for a nice one who ever made it.”

I made a pot of tea and then took the cake out of the fridge, it was a real cream and jam Victoria sponge. I’d heard Miss Pendleton made a mean sponge, so I decided to challenge her. Well, I had no chance on a bike.

I cut us each a slice and served it up on tea plates with pastry forks and napkins—it was ever so posh—we even had cups and saucers, and the milk was in a small matching jug with a little doily with weights attached to it. This was draped over the jug to keep flies out. I remember my mother making it in crochet. I wanted her to show me how to do it, but she wouldn’t as my dad wouldn’t have liked it.

I poured the tea and passed the cups and the cake around. They ate a little bit and Tom smiled, then he had another bit and closed his eyes as if in a state of bliss. Stella looked at him and then at me, she sniggered and nodded at him as if to say, ‘Look at him.’

She ate half her cake and I said, “Okay, who baked it? Tesco or me?”

“I think I may need another slice to make entirely sure,” said Tom with a huge smile on his face.

“You did,” said Stella.

“How do you know?” I challenged.

“I found one of your hairs in it, at least, I hope it was one of your hairs, I wouldn’t like to eat someone else’.”

“Ugh, you didn’t did you?”

“Course not, but it had you worried, didn’t it?” She seemed back in her natural buoyant state, so what about the engagement and the death? I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Had she completely forgotten it? “What d’ya think, Tom?”

“Habeus cakus,” he said grinning, “a definite Cathy-cake.”

“You’re both wrong, it’s from Tesco.” I was lying but I wanted to tease them and see what they said.

“Rubbish,” Tom declared, “If Tesco made them like that, they’d be sold out in ten minutes. I can tell a homemade cake from a shop one every time.”

“I agree,” said Stella, “bubbles are too big.”

“You mean the air holes?”

“Yeah, them as well. You two, are a pair of air holes! Nah, it doesn’t have quite the same amount of zip in it as the original.”

“Original?” I puzzled, “What do think this is, a ready to bake cake kit?”

“No, I was on about the expression the ‘Mericans can’t pronounce or say properly.” Stella beamed.

“What’s that?” I asked completely bemused.

“That applies to half the English language. The greatest gift we ever gave the world, and half of them can’t pronounce dukeproperly—I’m afraid, dook just won’t do. In Scotland, that’s a female drake.” Tom was now on his high horse.

“God knows what Tom is on about, I was meaning asshole.” Stella blushed as she spoke.

“What about a partial donkey, as opposed to a complete one?” Tom was teasing.

“Eh?” Stella gawped at him.

“You said a whole ass, what about a partial one?”

“What about it?”

“Methinks, the professor doth protest too much!” I said and left the kitchen.

Bike 418

Simon eventually called, if I understood what he said he’d gleaned from speaking to the clinic, then Stella was suffering from a form of delayed shock or some form of post traumatic stress. Either did not sound very nice. If she began doing things to avoid mentioning Des or anything associated with him, then it was possibly PTSD. I was beginning to wish I hadn’t told him.

He would be back tomorrow for a few hours before he had to dash back up to London again, the bank was under siege, some American billionaire was trying to sell short on their shares. He’d apparently made millions in nearly wiping out two British banks already. I wondered how such people slept at night, but then having seen a film about the men who kill seal pups for their fur, I began to believe there is no evil to which men won’t sink if the money’s good enough. Good enough that had an irony to it, somewhere.

Simon came and went back, Stella stayed in denial but in reasonable spirits. Dave Lane phoned, Des’ funeral was the next Wednesday. Tom decided he would stay. I seemed to spend much of my time cooking and cleaning, Stella did lend a hand some of the time and Tom did tidy up my garden so my house was looking really neat and tidy.

On the Wednesday morning, after breakfast and the clean up following it, I went up to change. I had a black skirt and lace blouse I would wear with a black jacket and my boots. Stella borrowed my navy suit and looked really elegant in it, especially with the hat. Tom borrowed a black tie from my father’s stuff—I was still clearing it, and bought himself a new white shirt.

We arrived at the crematorium about twenty minutes before the service and mingled with a few others who’d come early. I knew parking was a pain, hence our early arrival at Westbury.

Eventually the family arrived and Simon came running up the driveway, he’d been helicoptered to Bristol’s Filton airfield and had a taxi from there. He’d been a friend of Des and I knew he’d do all he could to be there. He was still breathing heavily as we went in and took our seats. There were probably fifty people and I wondered how many would come to my funeral, probably less than this. Maybe I needed to make more friends?

The service was standard fare, the odd hymn, a few prayers, a eulogy from a priest who’d never met him, another hymn, another prayer and then the committal. His mother was distraught and his father looked pretty upset too. Stella, however seemed bemused rather than in mourning, although I know I was glad I’d used a waterproof mascara.

Outside people gathered and chatted. I handed a cheque to the undertaker for a local wildlife trust, which was in place of flowers. A single rose had adorned the coffin. Several people seemed to know each other and Simon and I sloped off to talk.

“I can’t stop, the taxi is coming back for me in ten minutes, but I had to come and say goodbye to him. He might have been an arsehole, but a very likeable one.”

“He was a nice bloke, really.” I said and began sniffing again.

“Yeah, I guess.” Simon agreed and after hugging and kissing me, he left, saying goodbye to Stella and Tom as he went.

“Please adjourn to the Swan Inn,” called the undertaker, and in answer to the question, where is that?, shouted, “Follow the silver Jaguar.” So we did. Tom drove my car, he was enjoying it so much, I began to wonder if I’d ever get it back—there was no way I was driving around in that old heap, he had.

At the ensuing ‘Wake’ as people describe these things, erroneously as it happens, Tom had a little too much lubrication, so I had to drive us home. I did manage to speak with Dave and Sue, although they both seemed a bit shell shocked, unsurprisingly.

Stella, seemed to move amongst the mourners without showing much emotion at all and she snacked and chatted with several. Tom remarked on her seeming aloofness. I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

As we left, Dave led me off on my own again. “Can you call by here, on Friday morning? No need to make an appointment.” He pushed a business card in my hand. I glanced at it, it was a firm of solicitors, with names I’d never heard of. I promised I would try. “You know, Cathy, I don’t think you’ll ever appreciate how much he loved you.”

“Dave, please, his fiancée is over there, and I think she’s on the verge of some sort of breakdown. She’s been acting very strangely since this happened. The other day, she wanted to buy a wedding dress, today she seems unaware of their engagement. I’m really worried for her.”

“Yeah, that would explain why she’s acting like someone who came in a wedding party rather than a funeral cortege.” We looked at Stella who was laughing and joking with some young man.

I nodded to Tom, who despite his slight inebriation, collected her and brought her to the car. “You pair of killjoys, I was enjoying that,” she accused as she got in my car.

“Stella, that was the funeral of your fiancé. It’s hardly a time to be laughing and joking.”

“Well if that’s the case, why don’t I feel anything?”

“I don’t know, Sis. Perhaps it’s just too much for you to take in, so you’ve sort of sidestepped it.”

“Come on, Cathy, surely I’d know if I was upset or not, and I’m not—am I?”

“Do you remember the bridal shop?”

“I remember someone asking me to get you home, because you’d been taken ill. I thought we were just having a girly day out.”

“It wasn’t quite how I remember it.” I felt myself blushing.

“Oh well, I’m obviously crazy then, aren’t I?” Stella said this quite forcefully. It was as if she wanted me to deny it for her, I found I couldn’t. “So I suppose you’re going to send me back to the funny farm again?”

“Me? No, I have no authority to send you anywhere, nor would I want to if you didn’t want to go.”

“You say that to my face, what were you talking to Dave about?”

“We were talking about Des, his son, remember him? And the reasons why he couldn’t come to the piss up after the funeral.”

“I wondered where he was,” said Stella, absently.

“Stella, he was at the funeral.”

“Was he?” she said with some surprise. “I didn’t see him.”

“He was in the wooden box, geez, Stella, get a grip.” I felt so exasperated, I was choked with my own grief and here she waspretending she hardly knew what was happening—maybe she didn’t.

“Oh, I didn’t notice and please don’t shout at me, everyone gets at me.”

“Stella, we love you and we are worried because you don’t seem upset by all this. Everyone else is, so why aren’t you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t bloody know, all right, so don’t keep on to me. I can’t remember him, okay. It’s like it never happened. All I can recall is my time with him when we were at school.”

I drove home in silence, Tom was nodding off in the front passenger seat and Stella kept watching me, glancing at her, in the rear view mirror. The tension was broken for a moment when Tom, farted noisily, apologised and went back to sleep.

As we got back home, Tom, woke up and after a few minutes managed to get himself indoors. Stella and I were already talking in the kitchen while the kettle boiled. “D’you want me to leave?” she asked, “seeing as I don’t conform with your model of grief?”

“Not at all, I love having you around, perhaps we could get some riding in soon?” I said back, all of it lies. I felt like I was sitting on a time-bomb of indeterminate fuse. If she’d gone ape, throwing things about and screaming or tearing her hair out with grief, I probably could have coped. It was the unemotional element of this which frightened me. If it broke, it could be like Krakatoa going up.

“Yes, I quite fancy a bike ride, maybe tomorrow then? I’m going up to change.” Stella went upstairs. Tom staggered about, looking more tipsy than before.

“Why don’t you go and have a lie down, Tom?” I said to him.

“Erm, yes, okay.” He staggered off, one pace forward and two back. I almost suggested he face the other way, he’d get there quicker. Instead, I took his arm and helped him up the stairs.

I got him into his room and was about to enter mine when I thought it seemed rather quiet in Stella’s. I opened the door after gently knocking and she was sitting by the open window, wearing very few clothes, my suit was folded very carefully on the chair. Her legs were out of the window by the look of things and she hadn’t seen or heard me.

I was transfixed by the scene before me. She was clad in her underwear only, sitting on the edge of the open window and then I spotted it—around her neck was a piece of clothesline attached to the leg of the bed. She was talking to herself—I think, it certainly wasn’t to me. She edged closer to the windowsill and the fifteen foot drop below it. I could feel the icy cold sensation in the pit of my stomach. I had to get to her without startling her and causing her to jump or fall. The problem was, I was frozen to the spot, I literally couldn’t move. She inched closer to the edge again and I heard her sob, “Wait for me, Des.”

Bike 419

I had to do something, but what? I looked more closely at the clothes line, it was quite substantial and she had doubled it around her neck. I had no idea if she slipped out of the window what would happen, would she hang or would it break, in which case she’d land on the patio and possibly break her neck anyway.

She was saying the Lord’s Prayer quietly to herself. I moved as quietly as I could to the other side of the room. I was now only feet from her. I needed to be able to grab her in such a way, that I could drag her back into the room without any risk of either of us getting hurt.

As she came to the end of her prayer, I grabbed her around the waist with one arm and with the other I took a hold of the rope. She screamed but I managed to haul her into the room and drop her onto the bed. Then I closed the window.

“What the hell were you thinking?” I said as I turned away from the window.

“Why did you stop me?” she asked, she’d tied her hands in front of her so she couldn’t help herself.

“Because I love you, because you’re important to me, and because I didn’t want you to die.”

“If you loved me, you’d let me end this pained existence.”

“What d’you mean?” I asked.

“Each time I get a taste of happiness, something awful happens to stop it. I believe I’m cursed, so the sooner I die the better.”

“So who made this curse?”

“How do I know?”

“So how do you know you are?” I countered.

“I have to be, look at all the awful things that have happened.”

“Do you, I look and see a wonderful lady, to whom I owe my very existence both literally and figuratively, and who I am privileged to call my sister.” I felt tears leak from my own eyes, Stella was weeping profusely.

“So why do all these awful things happen to me?”

“I don’t know, Stella. I don’t think it’s a curse, just a whole pile of bad luck, which is random. Pure serendipity.”

“I don’t believe that, and I don’t think for one minute you do either.”

“Sorry, but I do. There is no such thing as luck, except in the random occurrence of events. Now, let’s get this rope off you. Where did you get it?”

“Your garden shed.”

“If I’d known you were into bondage games, I’d have given you the number of the local sea scouts, then they could have practiced their knots on you. It would have to be more fun than sheep shanking each other.”

“You are so dogmatic about some things aren’t you?” she said as I tried to untie some of the knots.

“Am I? I hadn’t noticed.”

“Yes you have, you know that the idea of a god frightens you, so you demean it with science.”

“If there is one, how come there is so much misery in the world? How could so many horrors be committed in His name? Why isn’t there any evidence of Him?”

“What would you see as evidence—being struck by lightning for blasphemy?”

“Well it would be a start, he used to knock down walls of cities in the old days.”

“Cathy, that could all be metaphor or allegory.”

“What, you mean Adam and Eve didn’t exist? Well would you Adam and Eve it?”

“Very funny,” she wasn’t smiling. “I just wanted to join Des.”

“What happens if there is nothing afterwards, would you have joined him then?”

“I’d have been in the nothingness with him, together in the void.”

“Sounds like something from Dr Who. I hate to correct you, if there was a nothingness, you couldn’t be in it.”

“How do you know?” she snapped at me.

“I don’t but the odds are I’m right.”

“You don’t know that—you could be wrong. Why have so many people over the centuries believed?”

“Religion did a good propaganda job.”

“But even today, more people believe in something after death than not, how do you explain that?”

“People are stupid—how else did George Bush get in twice?”

“What? Why are you trivialising this?”

“Am I? I’d have thought the fact that he is in the most powerful position in the world—until the Chinese get their act together—wasn’t exactly a trivial matter.”

“What has all that got to do with Des and me?”

“Absolutely nothing. Now hold still while I untie your wrists.”

“Are you going to have me committed again?”

“I didn’t last time.”

“You know what I mean.”

“It isn’t up to me.”

“Who is it up to then?”

“You. You are going to call the doctor at that fancy clinic and tell him or her, why you were about to do the window jump bit.”

“Me?”

“If you don’t then I’ll call him and say what I heard and saw.”

“You would, too, wouldn’t you?”

“Try me. I’m deadly serious, Stella. I want you alive. I don’t have the training to deal with your demons, so I have to suggest we contact someone who can.”

“I don’t want to go back in there.”

“It’s probably more comfortable than the local mental health facility. I don’t know if I can trust you anymore. So I don’t have much choice, do I?”

“What if I give you my word?”

“Sorry Stella, I can’t take that risk.”

“But you’re my sister, I couldn’t lie to you.”

“What if you did? How could I live with myself if you did succeed next time?”

“I wouldn’t do it again? I gave you my word.”

“I think we’ve been here before and look what I interrupted this time. Sorry, Sis, I just can’t take that risk.” I finished untying the rope from around her wrists. “Please put some clothes on.”

I stood by the bed, she went behind me to get some clothes and the next moment, she shoved me hard and I fell over the bed, landing hard on the floor. By the time I recovered my senses, she was out the door, and took the key with her, locking me in her room. I ran to the door but it was locked shut and I couldn’t budge it.

I rushed to the window and opened it. I could just reach the ‘dirt pipe’ the one that carries toilet waste to the sewer. I made a grab for it and swung out of the window. I then, with a little difficulty, scrambled down the pipe to the ground. I hadn’t done it since I was a teenager and then I wasn’t in a skirt and heeled boots.

I trotted around to the front of the house just in time to see Stella come out of the front door, wearing some of my clothes. She didn’t see me until I was right on top of her.

For the next several minutes, we struggled and I managed to grab her car keys. She knew then it was over. I got her back indoors and called the clinic in Sussex—they could take her back. I got her back there at nearly midnight. It was about three in the morning when I got home again.

The next morning, Tom arrived in my room with a cup of tea. “I think you ought to know that Stella’s bed hasn’t been slept in.”

“I know…” I then went on to explain where she was and why.

“Why didn’t you call for me?”

“Sorry, Tom, but you were newted and no use to man nor beast.”

“I could have watched her…”

“Watched her hang herself? She’s safe for the moment, that’s all that matters.”

Bike 420

Tom took Stella’s car back the next day, and life returned to normal. I worried about her and emailed her regularly, but she didn’t reply, then my name was blocked and my emails returned. I suppose I deserved it although I was trying to act in her best interest.

I went to see the solicitors as Dave had suggested. I was shown into a large office inside which sat a big man behind a huge leather topped desk. “Ah Miss Watts, do come in, coffee?” he looked at the young woman who’d shown me in.

“I prefer tea if you don’t mind?”

“Of course not, Indian, Earl Grey or China?”

“Earl Grey, thank you.”

“Thank you for coming in, I take it you received my indirect invitation via young Des’ father?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Good, my brother does occasionally get things right.”

“You’re Dave’s brother?”

“Yes, Des’ uncle. Now to business, do you have anything which proves your identity?”

I had to stop and think, I searched in my bag. “I have my driver’s licence, will that do?”

“Admirably.” I passed it to him and he checked it and the photograph. “Thank you.” He passed it back to me.

I tucked it back in the pocket inside my handbag to keep it safe. “Why did you need that?”

“A will becomes a public document once it’s surrendered to the probate court and is proved. In order to prove it I had to ensure you were who you said you were and of course before I reveal its contents, I wanted to make sure for myself. The photo is a good likeness.”

I blushed but was saved from responding by Natasha, the receptionist reappearing with my tea and his lordship’s coffee in a cafetiere. He slowly pushed the plunger down with his palm, his fingers out straight from his hand. He looked at me once or twice as he did so, smiling, he was enjoying it. I sipped my tea and crossed my legs, remembering I was wearing a skirt, a longish one and my boots.

He poured his coffee and added a dash of cream. Then he drank a long sip and sighed. “Thank you for indulging me, I do enjoy my elevenses.” He sipped again, “Ah, bliss.” I could hardly refrain from laughing, but somehow I managed it, mainly thinking how the hell I was going to face Stella if he left me anything more than her.

“Miss Watts, do you mind if I call you Catherine?”

“Most people call me Cathy.”

“Yes, thank you, Cathy, it is. Do you have any idea what Des bequeathed you?”

“No, nor do I understand why.”

“This might help to explain things. It’s a private letter from Des to you.” He handed me an envelope. “Essentially, he’s left you everything.”

I was too busy looking at the handwriting on the front of the envelope to take in what was said. I looked at him, “What did you say?”

“He’s left you everything.”

“But that’s ridiculous, we were just friends, collaborators on a film he was making. It should be left to my sister in law to be, who was engaged to him.”

“Sadly, the will was made a few months ago. He changed it, he was going to leave it all to a charity, but he changed it to the current version.”

“Why?” I felt myself get very hot.

“Maybe you should read the letter, I’ll give you a few minutes while I have a second cup of coffee, it’s Columbian and pure nectar.”

I tore open the envelope, inside was a handwritten letter.

’Dear Cathy,

If you’re reading this then the worst has happened. I hope you’re not too upset, I should be if the positions were reversed. I made the awful mistake of not meeting you before Simon did. If I had, he’d never have stood a chance. I fell for you almost at first sight, they say it’s a chemical thing. God knows what my chemistry was doing, but you’ve driven it mad ever since. I’ve never met a girl like you—I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, I mean, I’ve never met someone who blew me away like you did. I’m sorry that we never got it together, at the same time I admire your (in my view, mistaken) loyalty to Simon, the old duffer.

I hope we got the film finished and are both enjoying the fruits of its royalties, if we haven’t then, please I beg of you, finish it for the sake of the dormice. There are loads of papers and video clips at the house, which will now be placed in your care. Get someone from the Natural History Unit, to help you, but keep editorial control. You know the film we were making, see it through.

So that’s it. I’s a gonner—I wonder how I died, fell down a cliff filming, or did someone’s husband catch up with me? I hope it wasn’t Simon—only joking, you’d never do that, would you? More’s the pity.

So, to the only woman I loved and who spurned me, I leave my entire estate. Oh if the cat’s still there can you look after her, she’s a sweetie, her name is Tonka—like the toy trucks, which she used to sit in when she was a kitten. I’m sure she’ll love you as much as I did.

I wonder if there’s life after death, if there is, I look forward to seeing you again one day.

Until then,

All my love,

Des.
XXX.’

I sat there completely shocked. This was as big a surprise as the news of his death. What on earth was I going to tell Stella? I mean neither of us needed the money, but she was his fiancée, not me. I needed to seek the counsel of Simon and Tom on this.

“Not bad news, I hope?” said Mr Lane, superior solicitor. He’d finished his coffee and was watching me.

“I’m not sure. He mentions a cat.”

“Oh that, we’ll have it put down for you.”

“No, he asked me to look after it.”

“Well that would be taking care of it.”

“No, Mr Lane, I shall take his cat and look after it. “

“As you wish. I have some keys to his cottage, please don’t remove anything of value, it all has to be assessed for the valuation and any inheritance tax payable. I have chap calling to see it next week. The estate won’t be settled for several months, I’m afraid, as we have to deal with creditors and so on. Do you know where it is?”

“I think we had a meeting there once prior to going to the BBC.”

“Yes, you’re involved with his wildlife film, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am, I wrote the script for him, and he was trying to get me to present it.”

“I’m sure you’d do it admirably.”

“Anyway, we’ll sort out the estate and let you know how much it’s all worth. He had about ten thousand in his bank accounts, so there’s plenty to pay off his creditors with, you should do reasonably well. He obviously named us as executors.”

So you’ll do well, too. I thought but didn’t say. “What about his mortgage?”

“I don’t think he had one, his dad loaned him the money and he paid it back years ago. He was quite astute with money, despite his reputation, he was actually quite a sedate chap. Well thanks for coming in,” he reached over and shook my hand, and I was dismissed. I signed some forms on the way out and got after requesting it, a copy of the will.

I felt embarrassed by it, but the first priority was to look after his cat. With this in mind, I set off to his cottage, now my cottage, to meet my cat and take her home with me. I had an awful thought—I hope Spike will be safe with her. I shivered as I got into my car.

Bike 421

I had been to Des’ cottage just once before, however, I knew roughly where it was and within half an hour or so, I was walking down the front path. It was out of the way being down towards Aust village, near the original Severn bridge. So it was quite rural and yet within easy reach of Bristol.

It wasn’t a thatched cottage of the chocolate box variety, rather it’s stone walls supported a pan tile roof, with two upstairs bedrooms and three rooms downstairs. A bathroom had been added at a later stage and underneath that the kitchen had been extended to hold a washing machine and fridge. Beyond the lounge was a small conservatory, complete with brass telescope on a stand overlooking the estuary. It really was a splendid spot.

As I walked in a small black something, shot off into the bushes. It made me jump out of my skin. If it was rat, it was a monster, so I hoped it was a cat, perhaps Tonka.

I went in the house and looked around, there was masses of film making stuff, his dining room was more like a studio editing room, with various machines and computers. The door had been locked and I could see why—it was presumably quite valuable. Despite his at times apparent disorganisation, his work was so tidily sorted and labelled, I almost cried with relief. There was a lot of stuff, but hopefully, I could get it all in the boot of my car.

I relocked the room and went in search of the cat. There were a few tins of food and some dried biscuit things, so at least I knew which brands to buy. I looked high and low, but there was no sign of the cat, which increased the chances that it was what I had disturbed and it had charged off in fright.

I went out through the back door and looked at the garden, he grew his own veg, or some of it. When did he have time for all this? I wondered. I picked some beans and a couple of lettuce to take back with me.

Back inside the house, I re-entered the editing room and removed all the material for the film to my car. I was aware of someone watching me, and looked up to see an old lady standing in her garden across the road. Hoping she’d know about the cat, I went to speak with her.

“Hello, I’m a friend of Des’ and I’ve come to take the cat back with me, except there’s no sign of her.”

“It’s not a cat you’ve bin loading into your car,” she said tartly.

“No, he asked me to look after the film we were making together. I thought it was safer to remove it until after the place has been valued. I’m still hoping we can finish it, we did quite a lot of work on it.”

“You’re not the woman who was ‘ere t’other week.”

“No, I’m not. Look, if I tell you something, can I ask you to keep it confidential?”

“Depends what it is, you’d better come in.” She led me into her house, a modern bungalow and I sat in the kitchen with her as she made some tea. After she poured us two cups and put a plate of cake between us, she sat down and said, “So what’s this secret, you ain’t secretly married?”

I blushed, “No, it’s all a bit incestuous really.”

“You’re not his sister or something like that?”

“Sorry, no I didn’t mean it literally, rather that it’s all a very small world. Des and my fiancé went to school together, so did my future sister in law, the woman you saw the other week. They had just got engaged and he gets killed a few days later. She is bereft as you can imagine.”

“I got to know Des through our work, he makes films and I’m a biologist at Portsmouth university—I don’t chop things up in test tubes, I go out counting animals and weighing them, that sort of thing. Anyway, my specialty is dormice, and Des wanted to make a film about them, so we were collaborating on it.”

“I had met Des a few times, because he knew Simon, my fiancé and Stella his sister. My parents lived in Bristol and I inherited their house a couple of months ago when my father died. So Des came to dinner a couple of times. I knew he fancied me because he tried it on, but I managed to stop any amorous ideas he had. Then a a couple of weeks ago, he met up with Stella, quite by chance and after they spent a few days together, they got engaged. Then he meets with an accident coming back from a film assignment. We attended the funeral last week.”

“I know,” said the old lady, “I saw you there and talking to his dad afterwards.”

“Yes, he asked me to go and see a firm of solicitors this morning, which I did, when I learned that Des had left his entire estate to me.”

“So, you’ll be selling the cottage then?”

“I won’t be doing anything for some time, it all has to be assessed and valued for the tax man and that could take a while. I will, however, come down and check on stuff when I can.”

“So what was it you wanted me to keep in confidence?”

“All of this I suppose, no one else knows about the will yet. In time they obviously will—no pun intended, which will give more time to decide what I’m going to do about it. Please help yourself to anything from the garden, vegetables and salad stuff.”

“I suppose you’ll want the key then?”

“You have a key?”

“Yes, to water his plants and feed the cat.”

“I wondered how he did it when he was away.”

“She spends half her time here anyway.”

“Would it be asking too much, to enquire if you’d like to keep her, if she’s settled with you, it might be easier for her.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“If I take her, and I’m happy to do so, she may not take to the move too kindly, plus I sometimes have dormice at home and that could prove a problem. I’d be happy to help with vets bills and things.”

“As you haven’t sorted the house yet, I’ll look after her temporary like.”

“I haven’t introduced myself, have I, I’m Cathy Watts.” I offered her my hand.

“I’m Olive Green, don’t laugh, I was born Olive Smith, how was I to know my husband would be Sid Green?” She shook my hand.

“Thanks for looking after Tonka, help yourself to the food in the house, I’ll try and bring some more down next week. Don’t hesitate to let me know if she costs you money.”

“You don’t look that flush yourself.”

“I’m not particularly, but in a way, I’m spending Des’ money to look after his cat, so it has a sort of poetic justice about it.” We chatted for a few more minutes and then I left driving back home and putting all the film stuff safe. Tomorrow, I’d phone the BBC and ask to speak to the couple of names he had mentioned, maybe they could help save the film project.”

At least the cat had been sorted. I went and woke Spike up and told her all about the cat I didn’t see, while I fed her a brazil nut.

Bike 422

Simon phoned later that afternoon, he’d spoken with the clinic and Stella had settled in reasonably well, they were however, keeping a careful watch on her given her suicidal impulses. He told them, if she succeeded in harming herself, they had better check their insurance cover because he would sue and demand so large a compensation it would keep their great grandchildren in poverty.

“Gosh, Si, you can sound really threatening when you want to.”

“I wasn’t joking, I would clean them out.” His voice sounded flat and menacing, a side of him I didn’t know. I knew he was capable of violence, the man who stabbed me found out by eating a bottom bracket. Then, I was no angel, I had set out to deliberately hurt men with my little bow and arrows. I wasn’t proud of it, and I hoped I should never need to do such a thing again.

“I shall try and get to see her at the weekend.” It would mean having less time with Simon, but I felt I needed to see her.

“The clinic is suggesting no visitors for a couple or three weeks, and then just Dad and Monica.”

“Oh! So when can I see her?” I was taken aback by this pronouncement, and felt hurt. If it wasn’t for me, she might already be with her ancestors.

“Don’t worry, as soon as you can go, I’ll get them to let you know.”

“I feel so guilty being the one who got her admitted again.”

“You did the right thing, she may not appreciate it at the moment, but you probably saved her life again.”

“Can we get together at the weekend?” I began to wonder if I should see any one at this rate.

“Of course, Babes, of course. I shall come to you on Friday evening—how’s that?”

“Brilliant, I’ll make something special, what do you fancy?”

“You.”

“Be serious for a moment, Simon; what would you like—to eat? I mean.”

“I am being serious, I fancy you something chronic. I’m not sure how much more of this bloody banking, I can take. It gets on my tits, it really does.”

“Maybe, you can get on mine then,” I said as sexily as I could, which wasn’t terribly. The femme fatale is not really a role I’ve had much experience in.

“Now that is what I fancy, breast of Catherine, done on a bed of clean linen—ever so slowly, but repeatedly.”

“And to drink?”

“The milk of human kindness, with which you are inordinately endowed.”

“Erm, have you got the right Catherine?”

“Oh yes,” he said breathily, “the angel of the West.”

“If you’re comparing me to that ugly bloody thing by the A1, then I’m not sure I appreciate it.” I was referring to a huge sculpture near a main road in the north east of England. To me it resembled an aircraft that was standing on its nose or someone who had been impaled on a huge piece of wooden fence. It’s called, The Angel of the North.*

“I was trying to show my fondness for you Catherine, by comparing you with the saint of the same name, only giving you the elevated status of an angel, my little cherub. In your case, a Catherine wheel is something on a bloody bike.”

“Absolutely, and in the case of the Ruby, Royal Fusee SL wheels.”

“Is that all you think off, bloody bicycles?”

“Not at all, it was you who started talking about them, but hurry up and I’ll get a quick ride in tonight.” I was joking, sort of, I was going to ride anyway but I thought I’d wind him up.

“So I’m playing second fiddle to a bike am I?” he sounded hurt.

“You did give me the bike, every time I go for a ride I think of you,” I purred.

“I smell a rat,” he said.

“No rats here, only a dormouse, and I cleaned her out a while ago, so you shouldn’t smell her at all.”

“How come whenever I try to talk about us, we end up on the subject of bikes or wretched dormice?”

“No darling, you were talking about rats, I simply told you I didn’t know of any round here, however, I have worked with a few.”

“There’s a few of the two legged variety round here as well. You asked me what I fancy for Friday evening, how about some fresh bread and cheese and good wine?”

“I think that could be arranged since you’ve asked me so nicely,” I teased.

“Be careful on that blessed bike, I have to go. Love you.” He rang off before I could say, ‘love you’ back. I felt sad about it, and sent him a text message saying so.

‘U dint giv me time 2 say I luv U 2. Now I feel sad. C xxx.’

I went to change and when I came back down he’d replied.

’Sorreeee. Tkn as red. S xxx.’

I felt this warmth swell up inside me, and was pretty sure it wasn’t a hot flush. I also felt my eyes well up with salt water. I sniffed and put my cycling shoes on. Minutes later, I had checked the bike over, pumped up the tyres a little and was off on the open road. I decided I‘d have some time to myself and did a long ride. I got home some two and a bit hours later clocking up over forty miles. I was soaking wet with sweat and in dire need of a drink and shower.

I slaked my thirst with a blackcurrant squash drink and then dashed up to the shower, the hot water felt good rinsing away the dirt and my cares and woes, at least for a few moments.

Tomorrow, I was going to start my survey of the Forest of Dean and I intended to get concrete evidence of dormouse presence. I checked my equipment. I had a couple of live traps—these are small boxes that allow animals to trap themselves without doing them any harm, they also lock after one subject enters, so preventing a predator getting in an finding an easy meal. It meant checking them the next day, early, so I did think about booking into a bed and breakfast overnight. In the end however, I decided I’d drive to and fro.

That night, I read for a while before going off to sleep. I’d bought some of the Gaby books via the internet and found them a light read. However, I was rather glad she wasn’t real, she’d show me up on a bike.

The next morning, I was out by seven and beat most of the rush hour traffic. By eight o clock, I was parked up and beginning my survey. I’d spotted a nice looking pub a couple of miles away where I would go for my lunch. In doing so, it meant I took a break—previous experience had shown if I took a sandwich, I’d keep working while I ate.

I’d mapped out where I was going to survey, and eventually set up my traps on what looked like dormouse runs—these are aerial routes along branches, where they hopefully travel with less danger of predation. It took me some time to disguise the traps, I didn’t need the local kids exploring. At the same time, I needed to be able to find them again, early the next morning. I left some red string tied tightly to a bush ten paces away.

I’d finished my bottle of water as well as setting my traps, so my rucksack was much lighter as I headed back to my car. Nature had rewarded me, some bird had crapped all over the windscreen. Such is life!

The pub was clean and tidy and they advertised accommodation, while I ordered my meal and chatted with the landlord, I enquired about it. The charge was quite reasonable, so I did think I might stay next time. I had four areas to survey, I’d done half of one.

“You walking in the area, are you?” he asked me.

“No, I’m from the university, doing a mammal survey.”

“What rats and mice, that sort of thing?”

“Badgers, foxes, weasels and stoats, as well as the rodents, squirrels and dormice, not much chance of harvest mice, sadly. So maybe the odd water vole will show up, or even an otter.”

“I thought most of those things were more active at night?”

“If I do a night survey, I’ll have someone else with me.”

“I should if I were you, no place for a woman, wandering around a forest in the dark. Who knows what’s about at that time o’night, poachers and all sorts of ne’er do wells.”

“I had one encounter with poachers down in Hampshire last year, they shot my fiancé.”

“Geez, they shouldn’t allow just anyone to get a shotgun, lethal bloody things. Did he survive, your fiancé, I mean?”

“Yes thankfully, he was holding up a rucksack at the time and it took most of the blast. He ended up in hospital though, getting airlifted by helicopter. Frightened me.”

“I’m not surprised, it’d frighten me an’ I’m not engaged to ‘im.” He laughed showing an array of huge white teeth, all of which seemed to me, to look like dentures.”

As I got my meal, he said, “We’re usually not too busy this time o’year, it’s too warm for walkers and cyclists, they come earlier or later.”

“As I do both of those, I’ll bear it in mind.” I eyed the meal they had produced for me, the largest jacket potato I’d seen in a long time. “Gosh, that looks a plateful,” I said almost licking my lips in anticipation, and they hadn’t stinted on the tuna either. Yummy.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_angel_of_the_north

Bike 423

The potato was delish, with oodles of tuna—so my mercury levels should be up to scratch, and the salad garnish was excellent; almost equivalent to a side salad. I washed it down with a ginger beer, which woke me up.

Then came the bad news: I got to the door of the pub and it was precipitating down! The car park looked like a scene from a movie on the life of Noah. I stood for a few minutes deciding whether to risk a paddle to the car, or to borrow a boat and row across.

A new customer came dashing in and I stood aside for her, “Crikey, it’s absolutely pis…Oh hello,” she said. “God, look at me, I’m soaked and I only crossed the car park.”

“I’m going to do the reverse. I do have waterproofs.”

“You should be okay then.”

“Not quite, they’re, erm, in my car.”

“Ah, not so good.”

“No, it isn’t.” I went back to the lounge bar and ordered a coffee. I had my rucksack with me, my money was in it, so was my laptop. Well it’s actually a notebook, so it’s a lightweight lappie. I sat down and began working on it, hoping that my GPS was accurate in positioning of the traps.

I wondered about the safety of leaving them overnight if the weather was going to remain bad. Driving to and from home was going to be a real pain. I booked into a room in the pub. I keep a spare pair of socks and knickers in my rucksack. If it stopped raining, I’d nip to the corner shop in the village and buy some toothpaste and a brush.

At tea time, it did stop raining briefly, and I got my stuff from the car and my toiletries from the corner shop, I bought some deodorant and a face cloth. The landlord showed me up to my room, it was above the skittle alley—not the best place for an early riser, they had a match that evening. Skittles is nine pin bowling, without all the high tech equipment.

It can be great fun unless you’re trying to sleep, which was my case. I’d found a wi-fi link and dealt with some emails; for a laugh, I sent some webcam pictures of myself dancing about in my underwear to Simon. Did I mention it has a webcam in the lid of the notebook?

It isn’t advisable to show the response I got from him, save to say I nearly wet myself when he said he was in great discomfort in his office—they were working late—and he was trying to avoid letting anyone else see either his computer screen or the tent in his pants.

Just to help him along, I then did a slow striptease removing my bra, giggling like a loony, when he sent me a message to tell me to stop because his bank would lose even more money, or he might also lose something else in his trousers.

I lay on my bed in the hotel room, the rain was back and despite the long days, it was dark before eight. I watched the television but nothing held my interest and I nodded, only to be awoken by a rumbling sound and the clonk of skittles being knocked down. It was eight and the match could go on for another two or three hours. The rumble-crash noise was made worse by the shouts and cheers of the players. Maybe I should have gone home?

It all stopped eventually and I did sleep. My phone awoke me at five and outside my door was a tray with a continental breakfast laid out on it. I washed and putting my hair back in a ponytail dressed and breakfasted.

I was out by six and approaching the place I parked at last time. It wasn’t raining now, but everything was sodden and dripping, and the paths were under an inch or more of water. My boots were supposedly waterproof as were the gaiters, so between that and my Barbour, I would be pretty dry. I pulled on my rucksack and shoved on my hat, and off I set.

I sploshed my way to the coordinates I’d set for the traps, and found the first of the red strings. Ten paces and there it was. I did wonder if anything in there could have drowned, then remembered they had holes drilled in the bottoms of the traps in case of rain or incontinence.

There was nothing in the first one, so I removed it and hung it with a bit of string to the rear of my backpack. Trap two was more difficult to get at and I swore as water ran down my arms and into my sleeves. Some days I love my job, sadly this wasn’t one of them.

With enormous difficulty, I got the trap and disentangled it from the branch to which I had previously lashed it. I was now cold and wet from my arms and beyond. I peeked in the trap before it joined the other and to my delight something moved inside it.

It could be anything, a mouse, a rat, even a weasel or a squirrel. It could have trapped itself yesterday afternoon or first thing in the morning. So, to play safe, you open the trap over a special plastic bag and the contents can be viewed safely.

Despite the wetness spreading around my chest from my armpits, my bra now felt damp, I momentarily forgot everything in the excitement of the hunt. I tipped, what was probably a mouse or squirrel into the bag. Suddenly the day brightened, at least in a metaphorical sense as Muscardinus avellanarius fell into the bag. All of a sudden, it was all worth while.

I weighed her—it was a female, and recorded it, I also popped her in a small box and photographed her, sometimes they have distinguishing marks. It didn’t so I snipped off a tiny bit of fur from her right front leg so I would recognise her again. Having done all I needed to, I released her and gave myself the rest of the day off. It was raining hard before I got back to the car.

The drive back to Bristol was miserable, the motorway was awash with spray and at times it was like driving through a thick net curtain. Even with lights on it was difficult to see the car in front and I expected mine were just as bad for the car behind me. I was wet and tired, and even the elation of finding one of the target species wasn’t enough to keep my spirits up. By the time I got home, some two hours later, I was very tired and quite down. It was still raining when I came through the front door. I ignored the post other than to pick it up, and put it on the hall table, I ran upstairs after taking off my coat and stripping off jumped into the shower and warmed myself up.

I had a very late lunch and called Bristol University to set up a meeting. I now needed assistance to map that part of the site and install nest boxes for the dormice. It would complicate my return to Portsmouth, but once I’d shown them what to do, they could feed back results to me which I would collate for the uni.

Over the next week, things were very busy. The weather stayed dry and I managed to collect a group of three undergrads and teach them what I needed them to do. They were bright kids, so I only had to show them about a thousand times—duh! Finally, they seemed to understand and I hoped they wouldn’t kill too many dormice. The university had the required items of kit, including image intensifiers, so we did some night manoeuvres as well.

Between us we surveyed the other two sites and all we found was secondary evidence, nibbled acorns and hazel nut shells, which indicated they’d been there but weren’t necessarily there now. It happens most of the time. We had one active site, so that was important and three students had the beginnings of some data for their dissertations and a quick grounding in fieldwork—something they only did in theory and very superficially; a matter they would take up with the biology department.

Simon arrived on Friday and we had a pleasant weekend together. I needed another week here to sort out the study in the Forest of Dean, then I could go back to Portsmouth. Tom was urging me to come back, they had recovered the cages and had a promise of four dormice from Cheshire, where they also had a captive breeding programme. I began to think, they really did want me back.

The week became a fortnight and I took my father’s old car down to Portsmouth to take my stuff back in one go. The Mondeo felt huge against my Golf, but it went well and I had remembered to re-license it in my name as owner. The tax disc had come back through the post and I was able to take it out for a test drive and then a service before going back to Tom’s.

That Friday night, I arrived at Tom’s house and Simon followed me into the house. He’d kept me abreast of any news on Stella, so I wasn’t really expecting him to grab me as I walked back out to the car. I kissed him and gave him a huge hug. “Hey, babes,” he said hugging me back. “Have you heard the news about Stella?” His face grew serious and my stomach flipped.

Bike 424

“Stella, what about Stella?” I asked urgently, he had worried me.

“She can come home for a weekend.”

“Oh, that is great. You had me worried for a moment.”

“Worried? Why?”

“I thought you were going to say something awful had happened to her.”

“No, as far as I know she’s fine. Anyway, she’s coming home next weekend, I’ll collect her on Friday evening and take her back on Sunday evening.”

“Okay, am I invited?” I wasn’t sure, although if I wasn’t why was he telling me?

“I suppose we could allow it. Actually she’s been home for the odd day with Dad and Monica and is coping quite well.”

“Yeah, but I’m the one who took her in again, will she resent me being here?”

“I’ve asked her that, she says she can see how ill she was and that you saved her life again. She loves you and wants to see her sister again.”

“So why have they blocked me calling her or emailing her?”

“They have with everyone except Dad and me, and we have to check she’s in the right mood to speak to us.”

“Oh, is she well enough to come home then?”

“I think it’s a bit like a reward system, if she behaves she can have a normal weekend in a designer straitjacket.”

“That’s a bit cruel, Simon. If you’d undergone half of what she has in recent months, you’d be depressed as well.”

“Depression, she was verging on psychosis.”

“That’s very cruel, Simon. She was suffering from post traumatic shock,” I chided him.

“Oh come off it, Cathy, she didn’t know which way was up.”

“Simon, that is horrid of you. She was badly shocked, that’s all. Let’s face it, if you’d been killed, I’d have been so upset that I’m not sure I’d have been compos mentis.”

“You wouldn’t have been a compost heap?” He threw back at me.

“Simon, this is not funny, this is your sister we’re talking about.”

“I know, but if I don’t laugh I’ll be as crazy as she is.” He shrugged and walked away. I presumed that was the end of the discussion, I wasn’t sure what I felt about it—disappointment, I think. He could be so understanding and sympathetic when the mood took him. At the same time, I was judging him without knowing what was going on in his world, I saw him so rarely these days.

I went back to the house with my next load of stuff, and Tom helped me with it, then gave me a hug, “It’s so good to have my girl back again,” he said and hugged me again.

“Thanks, Tom, it’s good to be back.” I kissed him on the cheek and he blushed.

Simon walked past us, he looked as if he was going to say something then changed his mind. I was rather glad if his recent remarks were anything to go by. Tom helped me unload the car and I was able to lock it up again. I’d brought just one bike with me, leaving the other in Bristol. I wondered if Simon might like Des’ bike, when everything was sorted. There was plenty of time to ask him.

I cooked us a meal that evening and Simon was strangely quiet. Tom went off to his study to finish some work, although I suspect, he was working on a single malt, and that he had decamped to leave Simon and me in peace.

“Okay, Bigboy, what’s wrong?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“There is something bugging you and I’d like you to share it with me.”

“Who said there was something bugging me?”

“I did, and so does your body language.”

“Oh, it’s just work.”

“You can tell me, you know. I won’t tell anyone else, promise.”

“The bank’s in trouble.”

“Like going bust trouble?”

“No, it shouldn’t do that, but we’ve been caught by the mess in the States and the bank we took over, High Street, they had some debts we didn’t know about.”

“Shouldn’t they have told you all that?”

“We’re thinking of suing the previous board. If it happens, it will be one of the biggest cases in history, the settlement will be in billions.”

“If you win.”

“Oh we will, our counsel is sure of that.”

“So, my little, Simon, is sad?”

“Tired more than anything, I have been working sixteen hour days for weeks, trying to keep us afloat in the investment side of things. It’s harder than ever and I feel ready to chuck it all and walk off into the sunset.”

“Shouldn’t you ride off into the sunset?”

“Have you seen the cost of keeping a horse?”

“No, silly, I meant on a bike, with your favourite girl.”

“Nah, she can’t ride a bike.”

I stroked his arm, then looked at him, “Who can’t ride a bike?”

“My favourite girl.”

“Why is that?”

“ ‘Cos I’m gonna whip her up to bed and make mad passionate love to her for hour after hour.”

“I thought you were tired?”

“Yeah, I am, tired of waiting to whip you off to bed.”

“I have to do the dishes first.”

“Can’t Tom do them?”

“He would probably say the same about you.”

“I’m conserving my energy, for later on.”

“Like usual, a quick bonk, a fart and then you fall asleep.”

“I don’t always..”

“Fall asleep? You usually do.”

“M’lud, the prosecution counsel is implying generalisations, I move that it be stricken from the record on the grounds of defamation of character.”

“You can’t defame anyone in a court of law.”

“Oh, quite right. Erm, on grounds that she should be washing the dishes while I conserve my energy.”

“Of course, I might just be too tired to do very much after I’ve washed up…”

“On second thoughts, maybe I’d better play the gentleman and help you.”

“Oh, Simon, how sweet of you, rinse them off and shove them in the dishwasher, and I’ll go and clear the table.

As I cleared the table I could hear him talking to himself, “To the woods, to the woods fair damson. But a damson is a thing in a jam! You’re not out of the woods yet!” He laughed at this ancient and corny joke, but he did do the dishes—sort of.

Bike 425

The next morning was Saturday and I was absolutely shattered. Simon had had his wicked way and I was quite right, he’d farted and fallen asleep, not that it worried me too much, I was too tired to care about much and I was almost asleep before him.

However, I didn’t sleep that well. I don’t know if it was the change of bed, from mine in Bristol, or what. I suppose it could have been Simon’s snoring, or maybe it was me—I really don’t know what kept me awake after three.

I’d woken up needing a pee, and had managed to wriggle out from under Simon, and do the necessary. While in the loo I had a little wash, so maybe that woke me up, but I went back to bed and stayed awake for the next three or four hours.

Simon eventually got up and went down for some breakfast, whereas I, went back to sleep. He woke me about ten, I was tired and irritable. He finally got the message and I slept until midday.

I staggered downstairs in my nightie and thin housecoat, Tom was sitting in the lounge reading his newspaper. “Oh, hello. On the afternoon shift are you?”

“Oh don’t, Tom, my head is splitting enough as it is.” I looked around with my still sleepy eyes. “Where’s Simon?”

“I have no idea, why, were you expecting him this weekend?”

“What! He was here last night, he even washed up for me. Geez, he even made love to me.”

“Cathy, he isn’t here nor was he last night.”

“You’re winding me up, aren’t you?”

“No. No I’m not. You came here yesterday and were very tired. You said you didn’t feel very well. I helped you unload the car. You went up to change you said, and when you didn’t come down, I went up to see where you were. You were in your bed and fast asleep. You have just come from there now.”

“But, Tom, he made love to me—at least I think he did, he spoke to me this morning but I refused to wake up. Surely, I didn’t dream it, did I?”

“I don’t know but you’ve slept for about eighteen hours, so you must have done.”

“How come you didn’t wake me?”

“I assumed you needed the sleep, which it looks as if you did.”

“So any news on Stella?”

“Not that I’ve heard.”

“He told me she was coming home for the weekend next weekend.”

“If that was the case shouldn’t he have told me, as well?”

“It must have all been in my dream, it just seemed so real.” I shivered, maybe Stella’s illness was contagious, was I going loopy as well?

“How about a cuppa?” said Tom, “Have some coffee, it might wake you up.”

“I don’t know, Tom, not the way you drink it.”

“Go on it’ll put hairs on your ches—um, okay, I’ll do yours a bit weaker.”

“Yeah, weak and watery like me.” I slumped in the armchair and next thing I know I’m asleep, or rather he was waking me up. I think it was real this time, the coffee was still as strong as swamp water, and it made me cough.

“Are you all right? Perhaps we should call the doctor?” I didn’t hear anything else, I was off again. I woke up some while later lying on the sofa with a blanket over me.

“How did I get here?” I asked, puzzled by the fact that I was in my nightdress.

“You fell asleep in the chair, I simply moved you over to the sofa. Any more strange dreams?”

“Strange dreams?” I looked at him wondering what he was on about.

“Yes, you were telling me that Simon was here last night, when in fact he wasn’t.”

“Did I? What time is it?” I asked yawning.

“Six.”

“What, in the evening?”

“Yes, why?”

“I was just wondering if I should go and change. I almost feel like going back to bed.”

“Why don’t you then?”

“I might not sleep tonight, and tomorrow is Saturday, and I have things to do.”

“No, tomorrow is Sunday. It’s Saturday now, and you’ve slept through most of it.”

“What? I’ve slept a whole day?”

“Yes. Look, Cathy, you’ve had a lot to cope with recently, so maybe your body is simply taking some time off.”

“Goodness, my throat feels sore,” I croaked.

“I hate to say this girl, but your face looks a bit swollen. You could have mumps.”

“Oh no,” I groaned, “it could make me infertile if it causes orchitis.”

Tom laughed, “I think it might be a bit late for that, young lady.”

“Oh yeah,” I said and winked at him.

“I think we’d better call the doctor tomorrow, just in case.”

“That’s all I need,” I wailed, “I came back to see you and Simon and to go back to work.”

“We can ask the doctor to give you a certificate, can’t see you back to work in under two weeks, if then. I think you need a holiday or a complete rest. I suspect your body agrees with me.”

“That is just so unfair,” I said and began to cry. Tom came and cuddled me. “Aren’t you afraid of catching this?” I sobbed to him.

“Not really, I had it as a kid, besides, for my girl, I’d risk anything.” I’m afraid that just made me howl even more. I think I must have fallen asleep because he woke me a little later with some scrambled eggs and a drink. It was nice he was spoiling me, but I didn’t really want anything to eat. I did manage to get down a couple of mouthfuls, but it was tasteless and my throat was sore. I drifted off to sleep and dropped the tray, he had to clean up the mess helped by Kiki.

Eventually, he helped me up to bed and once again I slept all night and part of the morning. I was awakened by Tom announcing the arrival of the doctor. He checked me out and confirmed the diagnosis. I had mumps or parotitis an infection of the parotid glands by the mumps virus.

He gave me some antibiotics and told me to rest for a couple of weeks. Me—rest? I had to, I was too weak to move very far at all. What a weird weekend that was.

Bike 426

I don’t know how Simon knew I was ill—shall we say, although I had an idea of how he knew, I couldn’t prove anything—but flowers arrived almost first thing on Monday morning. It’s one of the nicest ways of starting a week I can think of.

I sent him a text message of thanks and he replied that he would ring later. I was still clad in my nightie, lounging laconically, except when rushing off to the loo. The antibiotics gave me the squits—which seeing as I wasn’t eating too much, meant I had to drink plenty. Tom had stayed home until he was happy I wouldn’t die before tea time.

My throat was sore, my neck hurt, I felt like dehydrated camel poo, and I think I was beginning to resemble it as well. My face looked like I was on steroids or had Cushing’s syndrome. I couldn’t settle to anything, I was tired but had slept long enough, I couldn’t concentrate to read or watch telly, I didn’t feel like fiddling with the computer, in the end I listened to Radio 4 and Woman’s Hour.

Amazingly, they were talking to someone who’d changed sex, only the other way round. I couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would want to be a man, but he probably had equal reasons for thinking the exact opposite.

I’ve heard it said, that transsexuals probably have clearer ideas of what constitutes a gender or sexual stereotype than most other groups. I don’t think I agreed with it, neither did the interviewee on the radio. If you want to see that sort of thing, then gay drag queens probably fit the bill, with their caricature of exaggerated femininity.

I wasn’t very feminine, I enjoyed an element of sport—okay, cycling and I was considering racing if I could sort it out after I got legal status. I decided I would contact the Dept of Constitutional Affairs/Gender Recognition Panel, and gen up on the paper work for when I applied to change my status.

As I had nothing better to do, and Tom had popped out to the university, I sat and thought about myself and my degree of femininity. It wasn’t that much, well, okay, some of it was. I enjoyed clothes and dressing myself up to look nice for Simon, I sometimes used makeup, rarely painted my nails, did get my hair done and wore perfume.

I enjoyed being with Simon and playing the supporting role, unless we were cycling. I enjoyed tinkering with bikes, even the difficult stuff like building wheels, yet hated even checking the oil on a car. I could sew and cook in a limited sense, enough to make it as an average housewife but not an outstanding one. I loved flowers but not necessarily arranging them. I didn’t particularly like reading chick-lit books, although I often enjoyed those sort of films. I didn’t like women’s magazines—they’re a rip off. Now, New Scientist, or Nature were brilliant, and of course, Cycling Weekly on whose website I had squandered many an hour.

I nodded off listening to the afternoon play, only awakening when Tom came back. “How do you feel?”

“I’ll live—for a few more minutes, anyway.”

“So you won’t want this homemade ice cream, Pippa brought in for you.”

“Homemade? She has a machine?”

“She thought you might be able to swallow it.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll swallow it okay.”

“It got a bit soft, so I’ll shove in the freezer for an hour. How about some tea?” The thought of Tom making tea, had me suddenly generate a remission, and I jumped off the sofa, got all dizzy and fell over knocking the vase of flowers all over the dog.

Tom couldn’t move for laughing, until Kiki shook herself and sprayed water all over his book cases and television. I staggered to my feet and seated myself on a chair until my head cleared.

Like a trooper, Tom cleared up the mess. Thankfully, the vase and most of the flowers survived the accident, and Kiki didn’t shrink either. We had newspapers spread over the top of the damp patch trying to soak up the water. I did wonder if I should have sat there pointing my hair dryer at the carpet, or at least offered to do so.

I had some ice cream for my tea, it was delicious and I resolved to buy an ice cream maker when I felt a bit better. I would phone Pippa tomorrow and croak my thanks to her, my voice was now a sort of squeaky whisper and my head ached abysmally.

I went to bed and tried to read. I couldn’t read, even the paper Tom had got me. As for the crossword—don’t be silly, I could barely read the clues let alone understand them. I lay in the bed feeling really sorry for myself when Simon phoned.

“Hi, Babes, how ya feeling?”

“Awful,” I croaked.

“What? I couldn’t hear that.” In the end we had to abandon the call. He could speak to me, but I couldn’t croak loudly enough for him to hear me. He talked to me for about ten minutes then rang off. I cried myself to sleep, only to have Tom come in with a cold drink of orange juice.

The week went on and I did start to gain some strength and felt a little better. My neck was going down and my face didn’t look as swollen. I tired very easily and my doctor was not at all sure about when I could go back to work. In some ways I was glad, I fell asleep in the waiting room. That sort of did it, I was take another week off and gently exercise and be prepared for another one after that. I was neither pleased nor surprised. Tom had advised the university and they seemed happy to wait for my return. I wasn’t sure about it and if anything felt a little anxious about the whole matter.

I communicated this to Tom. “What are you trying to say, Cathy?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you trying to tell me you don’t want to come back?”

“I don’t know, Tom, I don’t know what I want.”

“You realise how hard I had to work to get your job back?” he looked a bit annoyed or hurt.

“Of course I do, and I’m very grateful for it. It’s just I feel very anxious about going back.”

“That’s probably because you’re suffering the after effects of your mumps, what do they call it?—post viral fatigue and depression.”

“I suppose it could be, I do feel exhausted, but I wonder if I’m doing the right thing.”

“Why shouldn’t it be the right thing?”

“I dunno, I just don’t know anything any more.” I started to cry and he came and hugged me.

“Have a bit longer off, take your time.”

“Won’t they start to get fractious if I’m not back before the start of term?”

“I’ll deal with that.”

“Thank you,” I sobbed and hugged him back. He really did feel like a father substitute, probably more than my own dad had been, and I so wanted to please him, but I felt so weak and unsure of anything. I didn’t even know if I could run the captive breeding programme again. I had never felt so useless in all my life, except when I had tried to kill myself.

While part of me considered it, I decided I didn’t have the energy to follow it through. I also thought of all those I’d leave behind who would feel hurt by my demise. I couldn’t do it to them, so that meant I’d have to get better and back to my normal self, if I could.

With Stella still not home, I felt the women were letting the side down, yet we’d also taken the brunt of things, so were doing our best in difficult circumstances. What’s the opening line from that country and western song—’Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman‘

Bike 427

I awoke feeling a bit better. It was two weeks since the lurgi had struck and my head felt clear for possibly the first time. My neck was much less swollen and my face looked almost normal—as normal as it usually does.

I got up and went in the loo then the shower. I hadn’t noticed the time until I was standing back in my bedroom, it was only seven. The sun was shining, another rare event this summer, and I felt quite good.

I dried my hair and dressed, I put on a skirt for a change and I used some makeup. I began to feel like my old self, although I knew I would tire quite quickly when the ‘good’ feeling began to run down.

I trotted down stairs and Tom was just coming back into the kitchen after feeding Kiki and letting her out in the garden. “My goodness, who’s the lucky fellow?”

I was switching the kettle on and turned to look at him, “Who’s what?”

“I take it you feel better today?” He said abandoning his original comment. He washed his hands and put some bread in the toaster.

“Yes thank you, I feel much better.”

“Just don’t overdo it.”

“I won’t, don’t worry. But I thought I’d come into the uni and check a few things out.”

“Like what, exactly?”

“My office.”

“It’s still there, I got them to clear the brooms out.”

“You’re too kind,” I smiled.

“I know. What else?”

“I want to see if they’ve set the cages up properly for the dormice.”

“Seeing as Neal has been looking after them ever since you started the programme, I suspect he has a little idea of how to do it by now.”

“Are you trying to stop me coming in?”

“No, I just don’t want you making yourself ill again, by coming in the first day you feel better.”

“I’ll only come in for an hour, how’s that?”

“Are you asking me a question or claiming a wicket?”

“What?” I looked at him in total confusion.

“You just said Owzat, isn’t that what bowlers yell?”

“No I didn’t, I asked if—oh I don’t know why I bother. I felt so much better and now—“ I began to cry, he’d ruined my good feeling. I ran out of the kitchen and up to my room.

I lay sobbing on my bed, my dress was all crumpled and I probably had panda eyes, and cared not a bit. There was a quiet knock at the door, and Tom peeped around the edge of it, “May I come in?”

I ignored him but he came in anyway. “I’m sorry, I made a joke which fell flat and I rather upset you. I am truly sorry, please forgive me.”

I lay there for a moment, he was a good man, maybe I’d overreacted or something. “It’s okay,” I snorted, “it’s just me, maybe I’m not as strong as I thought.”

He came and sat on the bed alongside me. “No it was me, Cathy. No wonder my daughter left me so many times, no wonder she went to Cambridge—I’m surprised it wasn’t Aberdeen. I seem to have no skills in dealing with women. I am sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

I sat up and wiped my eyes, aware that anyone seeing me might try for a record of a racoon sighting. “Tom, you are the most decent man I know, you didn’t hurt me, I overreacted. It’s me who should be apologising to you. I’m sorry for going all girly on you.”

“Eh? Isn’t that what girls do? Don’t worry about it, but if I am forgiven, why don’t you have a leisurely morning and come into the department just in time to come to lunch with me. That way you won’t tire yourself and you can show the others you’re still alive.”

“Won’t that look suspicious, I can do lunch but not work?”

“Of course not, I’ll take responsibility for it and who would want to argue with the original nutty professor?”

“Not me.”

“Good, that’s settled then. I have to go and make sure the mice don’t play too much.”

“I hope that’s not the dormice you’re referring to.”

“No, I was meaning the two legged ones currently on the payroll. I have to crack the whip now and again or they think I’m going soft. Now then, who shall I sack today?” he said, wandering out of the room, “Oh, I’ll see you at twelvish, bye.”

I heard his car start up a few minutes later. I sat on the bed lost in my own thoughts for a while before I fell asleep. I awoke with a start, the doorbell rang. Without thinking, I rushed down the stairs and opened the door. A woman stood there holding a large bouquet of flowers.

“Miss Watts?” she asked, and I nodded. “Are you all right luv? You look as if you’ve been crying.”

“Yeah, I’m fine, time of the month,” I said quietly, “just got to me this morning.”

“Oh, yeah, can be a real pain. I hope these cheer you up a bit.” So saying, she handed me the flowers and went towards her van. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Yes, really I am, and these will cheer me up, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She got back in her van and drove off. I shut the door and looked for a card. I eventually found one with a little furry thing on it. ’Sorry about this morning, I hope these help, love Tom, who should know better’

They must have cost him a small fortune, it was as much as I could do to carry them. They were wrapped in a plastic wrap stuff, with a reservoir of water at the bottom. I put them on the kitchen table until I decided what I’d do with them.

I realised I’d had no breakfast and after looking at the clock, it was just ten, I made a small bowl of cereal and then had a cuppa. It was only when I went to the loo that I saw my face. It was sight for sore eyes, only the red eyes in question were mine, surrounded by smudged black lines of waterproof mascara that wasn’t. I wasn’t sure whether I should laugh or cry, so I didn’t do either.

I cleaned off the mess with a wet wipe and wondered if it was worth redoing. I put on some moisturiser and decided I would smarten myself up for lunch with Tom, he was still my manager even if he acted like my father out of work.

I changed out of my crumpled dress into a lightweight suit I have in poppy red with a thin black pinstripe. I wore only a cami underneath the cotton jacket, apart from my bra that is. The effect was okay, and once I redid my makeup and changed into my wedge sandals, I thought I looked quite good.

After letting the dog out into the garden for a quick sniff and a pee, the dog that is—I may be a cyclist, but a reasonably domesticated one—I set off for the university, a place I didn’t think I’d ever see again, let alone enter.

I walked into Pippa’s office. She was busy typing and didn’t look up, “Be with you in a sec,” she said.

“Okay,” I said and she looked up and her face broke into a broad grin.

“Cathy, how nice to see you again.” She rose from behind her desk and we hugged. “Waiting to see the great man?”

“No, I’m waiting for Tom, actually.”

She stuck her tongue out at me, “He’s in a meeting, should be here in ten minutes or so.”

“Okay, I’ll take a walk down to the labs, who’s in?”

“Neal and Gloria.”

“Fine, I’ll surprise them.” I walked quietly down towards the labs and I did surprise them, they were locked in a clinch and oblivious to anything or anybody. I coughed politely and they both jumped. “Hello,” I said and sniggered.

“Cathy,” they both sang out almost in unison.

“So, work that quiet is it?” I said smirking.

“The work is all done,” said Neal defensively.

“Don’t worry, I’m still on sick leave, so I don’t care anyway. But if you’re going to be friendly, I suggest you do it in my office, where you can at least lock the door. I’m off to lunch, I hope to be back in harness soon.”

We all hugged and I went off to find Tom and deal with my rumbling tummy.

Bike 428

Tom appeared a few minutes after I started chatting with Pippa again. “Bloody women, always talking, get some work done.” His face was as straight as a poker but his eyes were twinkling.

“This is a university, Professor Agnew, it’s the undergraduates who should be working, we’re just here to supervise.”

“I’ve met one or two lecturers who seemed to really have that attitude. So have you had a look round?”

“Yes thank you.”

“And,” his eyes bored right through me.

“Okay.”

“Okay? Okay? Okay what?”

“Okay, I’ll come to lunch.”

“Fine, that’s just fine and dandy.”

“Where are we eating?”

“The pub out on the Gosport road, the Baker’s Bollocks or something.”

“Baker’s Arms, perchance?”

“Something like that. Are we eating or having a quiz?”

“I’m waiting for some old fart to escort me to my luncheon, it isn’t you perchance?”

“Oi, less of the old. Come along then daughter dear,” he crooked his arm and I linked mine through it. “Your car or mine?”

“Mine, if you think I’m going in that ancient death-trap in this outfit, you’ve got another think coming.”

“You could of course always take it off…” he said his eyes sparkling.

“And you could buy yourself a new car, it’s not as if you go off road in it any more, is it?”

“Why should I? Nellie goes perfectly well.”

“Oh come off it, Tom, it gives off more emissions than a coal fired power station. I thought we were trying to save the planet.”

“Yes, we are. You see I have the dilemma, if I buy a new car then it’s using new resources and energy to manufacture and deliver it; whereas if I continue using Nellie, I only burn fuel.”

“Yes, about the same as a jumbo jet taking off, and as much oil as fuel.”

“Nellie doesn’t use much oil?”

“Not compared to the American plastics industry, or possibly Shanghai province. Besides, the Mondeo is more comfortable on your aching bones.” I had to stifle a snigger when I saw him stiffen at the last bit.

“You are only as old as you feel, and I still feel like a twenty year old.”

“So do I,” I said smirking, and he aimed a slap at my head which I ducked.

We were half way through our lunch, Tom and his curry and me and my tuna; when my phone peeped indicating a text. I wasn’t expecting one, so I paused in my munching to check my phone.

‘Stel is askn to c u urgently, cn u go 2dy? Lol S.’

“Oh!” I exclaimed.

“What’s up?”

“Simon has just asked me to go and see Stella, apparently she has been asking to see me.”

“And?”

“I’ll have to go, won’t I? I mean I was almost persona non grata so I’m quite pleased to see her.”

“Do you want me to come? You’ve been quite tired lately, and I don’t want you overdoing it.”

“I’m sure I’ll cope.” I began to finish my lunch, besides you’ve had a drink.”

“It was only a pint of Guinness for goodness’ sake.”

“I’ll be okay, you have work to do, besides, if I do it easily, I’ll come back to work next week.”

“We’ll see.” Tom almost glowered at me.

“If I get tired, I’ll stop and have a nap—does that satisfy you?”

“It isn’t about my satisfaction, it’s about your health. You’ve been ill.”

As he spoke a waitress came to collect the crocks, “Excuse me, do I look ill to you?” I asked her.

She stepped back bemused and shook her head, “Not as far as I can see madam, but I’m not a doctor.” I was about to take the moral high ground when Tom trumped me.

“See, she’s not a doctor.”

“Neither are you,” I countered. “Look, I’m going, so drink up or you have along walk ahead. Oh by the way..”

He stood up and finished the dregs in his glass, “Yes, what?”

I kissed him on the cheek, “Thank you for the flowers, they’re lovely.”

“You got them then?”

“Yes, mid morning, I fell asleep…”

“See, you do get tired.”

“Yes, but I’ve had a nap, so I should be okay.”

“I’m really not happy about this. I’m coming, too.”

“Have you been unconscious then? I suppose you might as well have been for all the notice you take of me.”

“Cathy, I have no idea what you’re on about.”

“You said you were, coming to, isn’t that what people do from unconsciousness? I said I’d be okay, you just won’t listen.”

“I listen, but make my own judgements. As your superior and in loco parentis, I’ve made my decision, I am coming with you.”

“You’re not insured to drive this car,” I said as we drove up to the university.

“I am on my own insurance, give me the keys.”

“I’m driving.”

“Fine, you can drive, just give me the keys.”

“Why?”

“So you don’t sneak off before I come out again.”

“I give you my word.”

“Sorry girl, let’s have the keys.” He held out his hand and I placed them in it. “I don’t want you trying to prove a point.”

I felt an element of indignation, but he was right, despite promising to stay, I’d have gone as soon as he was inside the building. I sent a text to Simon saying we were going. Tom came trotting back, with his brief case. I queried it. “She’s only asking to see you, I’ll stay in the car and do some work.”

“What if she’d like to see you as well?”

“You can always come and get me if that happens.”

In some ways I was glad to have him with me. The journey is tedious at best and we chatted as I drove. We arrived at the clinic and I parked the car. I went into reception. “Hello, I’ve come to see Stella Cameron.”

“I think she’s gone out, I’ll just check for you.”

“What do you mean she’s gone out? I’ve just come haring up here because her brother told me she wanted to see me urgently, I’ve just spent two hours in a hot car, for nothing.”

“I’m sorry, madam, she is allowed to go out and it is a pleasant day, so she’s gone for a walk with one of the nurses. I’m sure she won’t be long, would you care to wait? We could probably get you a drink, tea or a cold one?”

“I have someone in the car with me.”

“I’m sure we could manage two teas, madam.”

“Okay, two teas then, I’ll get my friend.”

I stormed out to the car.

“Who’s taken your lollipop?” said Tom, eyes twinkling.

“She’s not bloody well here.”

“Oh, where is she?”

“Out for a walk, with a flippin’ nurse.”

“So we wait?”

“Yes, inside, they’re getting us a cuppa.”

“Oh well, not all is lost.” He put his work back in his case and shut it in the boot of the car. “Shall we adjourn for tea?”

I shrugged and walked to the clinic with him. I’ll murder Stella when I see her.

Bike 429

Would madam like some camomile tea, it’s supposed to have a calming affect?”

“No I would not, thank you, Lady Grey will do fine.” I could have slapped the woman who enquired, it certainly did not have a calming affect to watch Tom trying to stifle a snigger. “And you can stop it as well,” I snapped at him.

“Me? What have I done?”

“Ooooh, men!” I said and continued tearing my hair out.

“I’d be careful, if I were you, young lady, they may have a spare room here.”

“Oh shit!” I took a deep breath and sat down. Where was she? We’d been here half a bloody hour!

The tea helped to calm me down, that and Tom threatening to have me admitted. It wasn’t a bad cup or two, Tom seemed to enjoy it as well. We had just finished the tea when Stella deigned to arrive.

“Cathy, Tom—what are you doing here?” She hugged us both.

“Simon, told me you wanted to see me urgently.”

“Did he now? Oh yes, now you’re here, I’d like a chat.”

“I have work to finish, if I might borrow the car keys, young lady.” I gave him the keys and Stella and I went to her room.

“I’m dying for a cuppa, would you like one?”

“Stella we’ve been here an hour already, my tonsils are floating I’ve drunk so much tea.”

“Oh, okay, I’ll have one after you go.”

“If you want one, have one by all means, I don’t want one though.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, please do it.” How I controlled my temper, I don’t know, but I did. Sometimes Stella’s dithering drove me nuts.

We made small talk until her tea arrived, she poured herself a cup and sipped it, “Ahh, that is so good, sure you don’t want any?”

“I am certain, Stella. What is it you need to talk with me about?”

“It’s quite personal.”

“I’m hardly going to tell anyone else am I?”

“I didn’t mean it like that, I meant it’s difficult to tell, even to my sister.”

“I’m sorry, it’s been a hard day,” and it doesn’t appear to be getting any better.

“Oh dear, would you prefer I didn’t tell you?”

Maybe I would kill this woman? “Stella, I’ve spent two hours on a hot day, driving here…”

“Yes it is beautiful, isn’t it?”

What do I have to do to get her to tell me? Torture? Truth serum? Sarcasm? A comfy chair? Spanish Inquisition? Monty Python? I was so busy with my own internal dialogue, which was getting quite surreal that I missed what she said next. “What, did you say?”

“I said, I have to tell someone, and you’re my sister.”

“Tell me what?”

“I’ve m….”

“You’ve what?”

“This is so embarrassing, but I thought you’d understand.”

“I might if you told me.”

“Especially, after what happened before.”

“Eh?”

“You might think I was wicked or something.”

“You’re talking in riddles, Stella.”

“Am I, it’s so personal.” She got up from her chair and walked nervously about the room.

“Do you want me to go?”

“Oh no, please stay a bit longer.” She seemed even more agitated.

I went through her conversation in my head, “Why should I think you were wicked?”

“Because of what I did before.” She wrung her hands and walked up and down.

“What did you do before?”

“God punished me.”

“Stella, that is not true. There is no God, so how could he, she or it, punish you?”

“He did, and I deserved it for what I did.”

“What you did?” I was racking the few brain cells which were not exhausted to give some answers. I watched her walk up and down the room. Only one thing stood out in my mind.

“When did you first discover it?”

“Two weeks ago.”

“You’ve lost quite a bit of weight, that can do it?”

“I know. For someone who doesn’t suffer, you know quite a lot.”

“You’re sure?”

“Pretty well. I’ve been sick as well.”

“Have you done a test?”

“That’s where I was, I have it in my bag. Will you wait with me while I do it?”

“Of course I will.” I hugged her and she sobbed on my shoulder. I felt my eyes fill with tears as well. Eventually, she went off to the bathroom, and I heard a muted cry, I knocked on the door, it wasn’t locked. She was sitting on the toilet and weeping copiously.

“Hey, come on, Sis,” I took her hand and led her into the room. “I take it, it was positive?”

She nodded, and we hugged again. She cried for several minutes and so did I. I wasn’t sure what the implications were, except she mustn’t do what she did last time.

“What shall I do, Cathy?”

“That’s for you to decide. I can’t tell you, but you know you have my love and support.”

“Yes, thank you.” She kissed me on the cheek, “Good old, Cathy.”

“You’re going to need to tell them here, in case any medication affects it.”

“See, ever practical, you’re far more cut out to be a mother than I am.”

“I doubt it, Sis. But I’ll help you all I can, as will Simon and Tom, and I’m sure Henry and Monica will too.”

“He won’t have a father, Cathy, that’s what’s so wrong.”

“I can’t do that for you, Sis, but Simon and Tom will help, and how do you know it will be a boy?”

“I don’t, it just sounds better than calling it, it.”

“True, so you are sure that you are pregnant?”

“As sure as I can be, and those kits are ninety nine per cent accurate.”

“We need to tell them here, do you want me to stay while you do it?”

“Would you?”

“Yes, of course I will. This time we need to tell the others, not keep it a secret. They will want to help, don’t exclude them, will you?”

“No, not this time.”

“Good. Send for the nurse in charge and see what she has to say.”

Actually, she didn’t say much at all, other than ‘Are you sure?’ and ‘I’ll inform doctor, we might need to stop certain medication.’ Then she shot off like a scalded cat.

As Tom was nearby, we called him in and he was pleased for her. He did however agree to keep it under wraps until she had spoken to Simon and her father.

Finally, after Tom went back to the car and Stella and I were alone again, I hugged her again, “Congratulations, Sis, I’m sure Des would have been so proud of you. I am, as well as a bit envious.”

“I’m, I mean, we’re, going to need our Auntie Cathy to help quite a lot, will you be his godmother?”

“What, do you think I’m a fairy or something?”

“No, you silly cow, be serious, because I’m asking you seriously.”

“I don’t believe in God, so am I the right person for the job?”

“Absolutely, you’re a far more godly person than many I know who claim to be so.”

“Thanks, I think. I must go. Take care, get plenty of rest and look after yourself. If you need me, I’m only a phone call away.” We hugged and I went back to the car.

“Hello Auntie Cathy,” Tom smirked at me.

“Don’t you start,” I fired back at him.

Bike 430

The drive back started quietly, once we’d got over the initial banter of ‘Auntie Cathy’ and ‘Grandpa Tom’. I did suggest the latter could be shortened to ‘Grumps’ which for some reason he didn’t find amusing, because I did—which annoyed him all the more. When he grumbled, I merely pointed out how apposite the epithet was. This made me snigger all the more, and he went into a long silent sulk. It made a change, usually it was me sulking.

Tom started talking after we were cut up by a juggernaut on the M27, most of it was aimed at the driver of the offending lorry, who wouldn’t have heard it anyway. I was annoyed enough to sound my windscreen washer at him—the horn is in a different place on the other car.

I did think about retaliation, but he was a trifle larger than us, by a factor of about fifty, so decided that it would be useless. As he shot past, Tom urged me to chase after him.

“Tom, he’s been too close already.” I was still a little wobbly after this close encounter.

“Just catch him up, you’ve got loads of power there, use it girl.” Instead of arguing, I put my foot down and we caught him up within a few minutes. The Mondeo has quite an oomph factor, especially when the turbo cuts in.

“Right, just pull in behind him,” Tom instructed.

“What for?”

“Just keep us behind him and listen.” I watched as he pulled out his mobile phone and began dialling a number. He then reported the driver to some organisation which monitors driving. He gave chapter and verse, time and place and so on.

“Okay, girl, show him who’s boss.”

“What do you mean?”

“Pass him and leave him well behind.”

“Wouldn’t it be safer to drop back and let him go?”

“Yes, but I want him to know we’ve reported him.”

“Reported him to whom?”

“There was a number on the back for How’s my driving.”

“I’m sure that’s going to make him behave in future, what will they do, beat him with a wet lettuce?”

“I have no idea, but at least we have responded to the situation.”

“You could have called the police?”

“They probably would have replied, it’s a case of his word against ours, and as no accident happened, only due to your careful driving, they probably wouldn’t do anything.”

“If you tell them, you think you saw a gun in his cab, it might have a more immediate reaction.”

“Cathy, you have a really wicked streak in you.”

“No, if I was being really wicked, I’d have told them he was full of illegal immigrants.”

“That would have been a good one. They’d have searched his truck, which would have delayed him for an hour or two.”

“Yeah, but you have to give your name and address, and they have your phone number. So they can do you for wasting police time.”

“Nice idea, all the same.” Tom had either forgiven me or forgotten. We chatted the rest of the way home.

We stopped at a pub on the way back and I paid for the meals. I had plaice and chips while Tom had chilli con carne. Whilst waiting for our meals, we listened to the local news on telly and both nearly had heart attacks when the lorry which carved us up was on screen.

“Can you turn the sound up a minute?” Tom asked the landlord.

’…The truck was stopped near Portsmouth following an undercover operation by immigration officers and police. Ten illegal stowaways were found amongst the pallets of paint and decorating materials, the truck was carrying. The driver has been arrested and taken into police custody for further questioning. The nationality of the stowaways has not been confirmed as they had disposed of any identity documents or passports before the truck was stopped. However, they are thought to have possibly originated from China.’

“You were closer to the truth than you realised,” said Tom, high fiving me.

“True genius will out, even when I’m not trying, and it’s always accompanied by modesty.” I suspect it was the latter part which caused Tom to inhale his Guinness.

By the time he’d stopped coughing, our meals were ready and I was happy to escape to the table. He took it in good part, so no threats were issued, however, I did notice each time I took a sip of my drink, a diet cola, he tried to say something funny.

We got back at about nine and minutes after we arrived, Simon called to say he was with Stella.

“How is she?” I asked.

“A bit shell shocked as you can imagine. I’m okay, although obviously a bit worried for her, Dad is over the moon, a grandkid at last.”

“Remind him not to expect any from me.”

“I think he is well aware of that situation.”

“Yeah probably. Actually, if Stella keeps well, I think this is a wonderful thing.”

“It’s the if bit that worries me, Babes, especially if recent form is anything to go by.”

“Where is she if you’re running her down, not listening I hope?”

“No, I’m just sat in the car, going back to Dad’s in mo.”

“Well you drive carefully in that speed machine.” I referred to his Jaguar, which I still had to get to drive.

“I always behave myself, it’s you women who cause all the problems on the roads, doing your makeup as you drive.”

“Actually, we had a close call coming back from the clinic, a truck tried to run us off the motorway. Tom phoned up and complained about it. I told him he should have called the police not the firm, and reported that he was carrying illegal immigrants. We had a bite in a pub and lo and behold, the police had pulled him and he was.”

“Was what?”

“Carrying illegal immigrants.”

“You’re joking?”

“I’m not, it’s true. Wait until the papers tomorrow, I’m sure they’ll carry something.”

“If they don’t, do I suspect a rich fantasy life on the part of my fiancée.”

“Go back to your dad’s before I…”

“I’ve seen your right hook, I’m going. Bye.” He rang off.

We had a long way to go with helping Stella take on her most challenging and potentially rewarding role to date. That I was intensely envious, goes without saying, however, my primary hopes were that both mother and baby would stay healthy throughout the pregnancy and delivery.

I knew I’d have some opportunity to practise my babysitting skills, to which I was so looking forward. “If only she had twins, we could have one each,” I said out loud to myself in a flight of fancy.

“You be careful what you say, after tonight, I’m not sure what to think of your predictive powers.”

“I’m only joking, Tom.”

“Yeah, famous last words.”

Bike 431

I was at the birth, Stella was lying on the bed with her legs in gynae stirrups. She was covered in sweat with the effort of pushing to expel her baby. The midwife, delivered the baby, rushing off to clean it up before we saw what it was, then another baby popped out, and another midwife grabbed it and rushed out. Twins, my prediction was correct, then another baby and few minutes later another, until we had seven in all.

As we were about to leave the delivery room, She suddenly cried, “There’s another coming.”

We all stopped and the midwife again delivered the baby, which she looked at and said, “This one must be yours,” with that, she handed me a three pound baby dormouse.

It was about this time I awoke, wringing wet and not sure if I was laughing or crying. It was five o’clock and barely light, I hopped in the shower and after drying myself and my hair, dressed and went for breakfast. It was still only six by the time I’d finished, usually the time that Tom rises. I went back upstairs and changed into my riding kit. I sneaked down the stairs and out to the garage before he could stop me.

I was off on the Specialized before he could do anything. It felt wonderful to be out on a bike again, although I knew I wouldn’t be able to go very far or fast. I did about ten miles and struggled a bit up the hills, whereas I usually ascended at a reasonable speed; today I crawled. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was knackered when I got back. Tom had waited.

“Just what do you think you are doing?”

“What do you mean?” I replied breathlessly.

“In your condition?”

“My condition? It’s Stella who’s having a baby, not me.”

“I am well aware of that, but you’re still on sick leave and instead of resting you go out on that stupid bike.”

“Where does it say I can’t?”

“I suppose you’re knackered now, aren’t you?”

“No,” I lied. “I’m just going to wash and get changed for work.”

“Okay, report to me when you deign to arrive.”

“I’ll be there by nine, don’t you worry.”

“Better get your skates on then, it’s eight o’clock now.”

I bounded up the stairs, driven more by indignation than enthusiasm. I quickly washed in cold water, trying to reduce my body temperature and the sudomotor activity it produced. It was still quite warm, so I slipped on a sun dress with a light jacket and some kitten heeled sandals.

I sorted my hair, it was a little moist but wasn’t too bad, and I shoved on some makeup. This I had off to a fine art, it took less than five minutes to do eyeliner, mascara and lippy, plus a little blonde eyebrow colour to make them look more tended. Squirting some Anais Anais down my dress and on my wrists, I grabbed my watch and my bag, my laptop case and keys and drove off to work.

Of course using a different car, I had to get a temporary permit, which caused all sorts of complications in the office. “Most teachers only have one vehicle,” said the snotty girl in the office.

“Nonsense, half of them use their wives or husband’s car, half the time. This is my dad’s car.”

“I thought the professor had a Landrover?”

“He has, but I’ve got two dads.”

She looked at me very strangely and a bit of devilment got into me. “I’ve got two of everything, two houses, two cars, two husbands—big o’ me, isn’t it? Two bicycles, two horses, two cats, two yachts, two pencils, two computers, my real name is Noah.” I left quickly before she could catch her breath and call the local loony bin to see if anyone was missing.

“She’s very strange,” I heard as I exited the place.

“Have you only just noticed,” came the response from whoever she was talking with.

My notoriety was growing, and I just smirked. I was too tired to care. I entered the Biology dept at exactly nine. Tom was standing at his door looking at his watch, I curseyed to him and went to speak with Pippa.

“So how is our expectant auntie?” she asked, sniggering.

“Don’t you start, I woke up at five having nightmares about it.”

“It would be even worse if you were expecting, believe me. The whole bloody thing is a nightmare, especially with my mother fussing around the whole time.”

“If I was expecting, I could retire on the fees I’d get from the media.”

“Oh yeah, sorry, I keep forgetting.” She blushed sweetly.

“That’s okay, actually it’s the best compliment you could give me. I just wish I could forget my path to womanhood was different.”

“If you two gossips have quite finished, we might get some work done.” Tom tried to assert himself. In order to placate him, I decided I would play along.

“What would you like me to do, oh master?”

“Very funny, I want a protocol for the captive breeding programme on my desk by lunch time, and this afternoon, I’ve organised a series of tutorials for you to do with the second years. Welcome back to work, Miss Watts.”

I saluted, clicking my heels together, which wasn’t too clever because it hurt, I’d forgotten I had sandals on. Then I did an about wheel and walked towards my office, winking at Pippa as I went.

Neal and Gloria smiled at me when I went into the labs. Nothing was said but much was communicated. I spoke quickly to them about the cages and how many animals we were getting and when. Neal was able to give me chapter and verse on all I needed and I adjourned to my broom cupboard to write the protocol.

Needless to say, I loathe these things, they are so tedious to do, like writing a text book. I finished a draft version at one o’clock. I hadn’t even stopped for a drink. I emailed it to Tom and sat back in my chair. I awoke with a start when someone knocked my door.

My head was pounding and my neck was stiff, I called for them to enter. It was Harry Potter. “Cathy, are you alright?”

“Yeah,” I yawned, “I’ll be okay, fancy a cuppa?” I was dying for a drink.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Okay, have a seat a sec, I’m in need of a cuppa before I do anything else.” I managed to make one in the lab techies’ room, and wandered back to my own, yawning and trying to relax my neck muscles.

“Are you better now? We heard you’d been stabbed and then sick.”

“I see the grapevine is working well.”

She blushed and nodded. “Are you better?”

“Yeah, I suppose I must be. How’s your dad?” I threw back at her, and she spent the next five minutes telling me about her father’s holiday in the Cayman Islands. I though wistfully about my missed opportunity to go to the TdF and felt a bit envious. It seemed it was becoming my natural state.

Finally we got down to her new coursework and as she hadn’t really done any, we used the time to run through the sort of assignments she’d be getting during the coming semester.

I drank my tea. It was cold, and felt my tummy rumble. It hadn’t been fed since before six that morning. It was now three in the afternoon. No wonder I felt light headed. I phoned Pippa and asked if she could get me a sandwich or something from the refectory, as I had another student imminent. She grumbled, but agreed to get me one.

I got through the next tutorial with a new student by winging it, although all through it I was aware of this pit in my belly, which was by the moment becoming a yawning chasm. I got rid of the lad a few minutes early and Pippa brought me the cheese salad sandwich and a hot cup of tea. I wolfed it down after I paid my dues, and popped the Mars bar she also brought, into the drawer. I saw the next student, trying to ignore the wind pains which had begun and the urge to break wind to relieve them.

“Are you okay, Miss Watts, you look quite pale?”

“Do I, excuse me a moment, I think I’d better nip to the loo.” I was sick, chucking up the tea and cheese sandwich, as well as farting like a jet aircraft warming up. I did feel better when I got back to my room, except the Mars bar in my desk drawer kept drawing my attention.

I had two more students to see, and ate half the bar between each of them. It just about kept me going. When I got home, I collapsed in the chair and fell fast asleep. Tom didn’t wake me for over an hour.

“Come on hen, wake yersel’ up an’ I’ll tek y’oot tae dinner.”

It took several moments to recognise who he was, let alone what he was blethering about. He did however, take me out for a meal, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, roasted buttered carrots, roast potatoes, broccoli and sliced green beans. Goodness did I feel full after that. Once again I had to dash to the loo, this time to allow for the escape of gas I knew I’d be full of. It took nearly ten minutes of releasing methane before I went back.

He looked curiously at me. “What are you doing?” I asked him.

“I just wondered how big your nose was if it takes that long to powder.”

“You can’t rush beauty,” I chucked back at him.

“Touche,” he said and we both laughed.

###################################

My thanks to Bonzi for helping with this episode and getting dirty paw marks all over my trousers.

Bike 432

Thankfully, any dreams I had were forgotten immediately, so I didn’t wake up thinking of giant dormice. The next morning, I chuckled as I recalled the midwife handing this large furry thing to me.

I felt quite tired, but now I was back at work, I had to keep going. I arranged to call Stella, each evening for five minutes. I decided that was long enough for her to tell me anything that had happened and wouldn’t have us simply chattering for the sake of it. If the truth be told, I was very short of time, when I was actually awake.

The sunshine we’d had yesterday turned to rain and it came down in sheets. When I saw it, I said something similar to that, as well. I’d just dried my hair and by the time I’d get to the car, I’d be drowned. Umbrella, hat or scarf? Umbrella wouldn’t flatten my hair, but I’d get wet putting it up and getting it down, then it needs to be shaken. Oh boy, what a challenging existence I lead.

Tom was finishing his bacon and eggs when I arrived in the kitchen. “I kept you a bit of bacon, make yersel’ a bacon sarnie for a change.”

I hadn’t even considered bacon for breakfast, but as it was on offer, I did as he suggested and made myself a bacon sandwich, with a bit of tomato ketchup, and thoroughly enjoyed it. “Thanks, Dad,” I called to him.

His smile practically lit up the kitchen, “Do you know how long it is since someone called me that?”

“I’m never sure what you feel about it, so I don’t push it.” I felt myself growing hot as I said this.

“Me likewise, I mean, it isn’t that long since you lost your natural father.”

“Well let’s sort it now for good. Out of a work environment, I shall henceforth call you, Dad or variations on it.”

“What do you mean, variations?”

“You know, Daddy if I’m feeling little girlish, Pa if that is my mood, or Pater, Papa if I’m feeling nineteenth century heroine like, and so forth.”

“So what do I call you in retaliation?”

“Whatever you like. You usually do anyway.”

“Aye, that’s kinda true, an’ I do sometimes call you Daughter or my girl.”

I blushed, because hearing him addressing me so, sent ripples up and down my spine. My own father had eventually shown me some love, but I was never sure if it related to his weakness through his hemiplegia , or even to the loss of my mother, which had shocked him. Tom, by comparison, had never shown anything but loving support, which I now realise was through having his own gender disturbed child. I suppose I loved him as a father, so what was wrong with according him that appellation?

“So, Daughter mine, do we have an agreement, or are ye having second thoughts?”

“No, I’m in agreement, Daddy mine.” I hugged him, “Is this a formal adoption?”

“I suspect you may be a little too old for that, and I can’t see you changing your name to Agnew.”

“True, I’m obviously a love child,” I said, pretending to show shame, whereas I was trying not to giggle.

“I never met your mother, let alone slept with her.”

“Pity, she might have improved for knowing you, and certainly would have held less fundamentalist views on life.”

“You can be equally dogmatic at times. I don’t think Professor Dawkins needs any help from you, Daughter.” When he called me that my spine tingled, it was a recognition of me as I am. I know my father also eventually recognised it, sort of, it didn’t have the authenticity that came from this ageing Scot.

“Dogmatic, me? I just don’t like people being deceived by a pack of lies.”

“Cathy, if they choose to be taken in by them, that’s their choice. You are possibly more fortunate in having a better education than some of them, but don’t use it to oppress or destroy those of lesser wit; for some their faith is all they have to keep them going. So what right have you to take that away from them?”

“I don’t do that, do I?” I felt embarrassed possibly ashamed.

“You have done, if you need to say anything, simply say you disagree and leave it at that. If you show them to be fools, you take away their crutch, and embarrass them, making them feel foolish.”

“But isn’t science about being right or wrong?”

“Is it?”

“About proof and evidence.”

“Proof, science always has proof, does it?”

“It has more than religion.”

“I wasn’t asking about religion, I was asking about science. What is the universe made up of?”

“Erm, light matter and energy and dark matter and energy.”

“Where’s your proof?”

“It’s been demonstrated mathematically.”

“Has it? As far as I’m aware only the hypothesis has been demonstrated, there is no proof as yet.”

“But it’s only a matter of time, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like waiting for a second coming that isn’t going to happen.”

“See, you’re at it again. It may take decades to prove anything or another better idea may arise. How do you know there won’t be a second coming?”

“Oh come off it, Dad! It just isn’t gonna happen, every sentient being knows that.”

“Do they, now? I’m sure there are many well educated minds who would disagree with you. In probability terms, it’s unlikely from what we know, but then if there is a God, who knows what might happen.”

“I‘ll take my chances with the dark matter.”

“Some religious people might suggest you were full of it.” His eyes were sparkling, this was a wind up.

“Yeah, so what would they do? Stick me on a bonfire to disprove it?”

“I don’t know, but maybe we should look to get you some fire resistant knickers next time we go to town.” He smirked and I laughed heartily.

“You pig, that’s what all this was about, a wind up, wasn’t it?”

“A little word of advice, believe with passion, but argue with reason.”

“Thank you, Daddy, I shall try and remember that in future, especially when arguing with you.”

“I think we’d better get a move on if we aren’t going to be late.”

We took two cars. My worries about the rain had eased as the deluge eased. I had dressed for a less summery day, in a suit and my boots, yes the old red ones Stella had given me. I’d had them heeled, goodness knows, how many times but they were still looking okay and functioning well.

Once in work, I dealt with my inbox for the next hour, did some tutorials and then redid the bits of my protocol for the dormouse farm that Tom disliked.

I went to lunch with Pippa and we were sitting minding our own business when the girl from reception came up to me. “You lied to me, you said you had two fathers. Professor Agnew is not your father at all, is he?”

“Shouldn’t you ask him yourself, rather than cast aspersions in public? I believe he’s there this afternoon. Maybe we could get him to give you a call, Miss erm.” She fled at my challenge.

“What’s all that about?”

“Pippa, don’t go there. But I’d be grateful if you could get Tom to talk with her, she’s beginning to get on my nerves.”

“What’s he going to do but agree with her?”

“Not necessarily.”

“You know something I don’t. Come on spill the beans.”

“I can’t go into detail, because I can’t, but we have sort of adopted each other. So I call him Dad and he calls me his daughter.”

“Wow! When did this happen?”

“At breakfast.”

“What today?”

“Yep.”

“So if she’d confronted you yesterday, you’d have been up the creek.”

“If she had confronted me, I’d have talked her down much less gently.”

“Oh, remind me not to cast nasturtiums about you, I might not get off so lightly.”

I smiled wickedly as a response.

Bike 433

‘Still puking for team GB. Luv Stella.’

What a lovely way to start the morning, hearing of Stella’s pregnancy problems. I’m not very good with vomit, or people producing it. I tend to want to join them, or the contents of my stomach do.

I quickly cleaned out Spike’s palace, and left her some hazel nuts and other bits and pieces to eat. She was still asleep—probably been out clubbing all night—and her a grandmother! I had decided when we got the new breeding scheme up and running, I would take her back to the university and share the load of feeding and cleaning them.

That would take place soon, well, within weeks. I had agreed to go up to the Cheshire wildlife group and see their programme and compare it to what we’d had running. If I remembered correctly, we had more success, in terms of numbers and my data was more comprehensive, especially in recording releases and their progress subsequent to release. This was still being collected by my students, and I had a pile of it to analyse and process onto the data base. Maybe I should promote one of them to doing it, except this is my PhD stuff, so I don’t want too many cock ups in it.

It appeared, word had got out that I was back which pleased some and doubtless annoyed some others who thought they were shot of me. I only saw the positive messages, and had quite a few of those, mainly emails.

That morning, I was supervising the replacement of the cages in the laboratory area, when the phone rang. “Cathy, you’re wanted,” called Gloria, one of the technicians who had answered the phone, whilst Neal—her current romantic interest—and I discussed the pros and cons of the previous set up and my new ideas.

I excused myself, “Hello?”

“Is that Cathy Watts?”

“Yes, who’s that?”

“You don’t know me.”

“If you don’t tell me who you are, I’m putting this phone down in five seconds.”

“I think you’ll be interested in what I have to tell you.”

“Not unless you tell me who you are. I don’t speak to anonymous individuals.”

“I think it will be of real interest to you.”

“Bye,” I was about to put the phone down.

“I know about your transsexualism,” the male voice said.

“It’s old hat, and I don’t do blackmail.”

“It’s not…” I got bored and put the phone down. It rang again and I lifted it and then immediately replaced the receiver. I wasn’t going to listen to him, whatever it was, probably a crackpot.

Ten minutes later, Neal and I were back to rearranging the cages, I held them while he drilled and screwed. The phone rang again, Gloria went to answer it. “If that’s for me, and they won’t give a name, tell them I’m busy.”

“ ‘Kay,” she called back. Then a few moments later, “Agnew, Professor Thomas, will you talk to him or are you busy?”

“Glo, can you hold this cage? Then I can take the call.” I was busy taking the weight while Neal did up some screws.

“Hi, Tom, how can I help?”

“You sound like someone from the bank.”

“Okay, what d’ya want you furry old fart? Is that better?”

“I prefer the bank one.”

“Okay, so what do you want, I’m trying to get these cages up.”

“I have someone here who wants to meet you.”

“Tom, I’m engaged, so don’t start matchmaking.”

“You idiot, get your arse up here now.”

“Are you playing the alpha male?”

“Erm, yes, now.”

“Have you been sniffing something?”

“Cathy, stop fart-arsing about and get up here now, I hope you’re tidy.”

I looked down at myself. I wasn’t. I knew we were going to do the job today, so I was in jeans and tee shirt, both of which had some brick dust and assorted debris on. I suspect I had some on my face too, because I’d got it on my hands.

I nipped into the loo and washed my face and hands and combed my hair before putting back into the scrunchie. I renewed my lipstick and trotted up to see whoever this mysterious visitor was.

I planned on finding out from Pippa before I went in, but she wasn’t there, probably off photocopying somewhere. Damn! Now he did have the element of surprise.

I knocked on the door, and entered when instructed to. “Professor,” I nodded to the other person, a man in his late thirties, who I didn’t know.

“Ah, Don, this is Cathy Watts, dormouse juggler extraordinaire. Cathy this is Don Maskell.” We shook hands, and I was none the wiser.

“Excuse my ignorance but who are you and what do you want me for?” I went for the full frontal.

Tom went rather red, but the other bloke smiled. “You’re direct, I like that.”

“You haven’t answered my question, which I don’t.”

“Oh ho, spunky too.”

“I’m sorry, but I have loads to do.” I turned to leave.

“Cathy, sit down,” Tom barked. It so surprised me, that I did as I was told.

“Okay, I’m from DEFRA.”

“We all have our crosses to bear, screwing up the environment happens to be yours.”

“Believe it or not, I happen to spend much of my time trying to save it.”

“Not in that suit, Armani, isn’t it?”

“Yes, perceptive too.”

“Look, I really don’t care who or what you are, but I’m trying to save an endangered species, and the longer I spend chatting to you, the less time I have to save them.”

“Passion and prioritising, yes, excellent.”

“That’s it, I’m off.”

“Cathy, sit down, NOW.” Tom practically roared. I stopped in surprise. Then I sat down and looked as sullen as I could. This guy was a pen pusher, so how did he conserve things except his flat in Kensington and probably a big BMW.

“I have an offer to put to you.”

“I don’t do sex before marriage.” I lied but he was pissing me off. Tom nearly went apoplectic.

The man roared with laughter. “I like it,” he said, “this kid’s got balls.”

“Yeah, but I had them removed.” I said and he laughed even louder.

Drying his eyes, he said, “I need you to work for me.”

“I can’t, I can’t cope with what I have to do here.”

“We’ll cover you for that.”

“Oh so you have someone who can supervise my dormouse project or teach or do my tutorials, do you?”

“That can be done.” This short statement just destroyed my raison d’etre.

“If I’m so easily replaced, why don’t you use your cover to do what you want me to do, instead?”

“Do you realise who I am?”

“A pen pusher, on a top civil service salary, if you can afford Armani suits.”

“I’m the under secretary.”

“Yeah, like I said, a pen pusher.”

“You realise, one word from me and I could revoke your license and close down your project.”

“So if you can’t bribe me, it’s intimidation, is that your game?”

“It’s not a game, Cathy, I not here to save dormice, I’m here to make sure there’s a planet on which you can release your dormice. I’m involved in the bigger picture.”

“Yeah, so?” Okay, so it sounded impertinent, but that’s how I felt. I’d been there ten minutes and still was no wiser.

“I want you involved in it, too.”

“If you actually told me why and how, instead of making patronising remarks, I might.”

“Okay, let’s talk turkey.” He sat down alongside me. “You were making a film for Henry Cameron with Des Lane, who sadly is no longer with us?” I nodded and he continued. “You will finish that film, you have two weeks. It will be processed and shown before Christmas. You will do a series of adverts warning about climate change.”

“And that’s going to save the planet?” I asked cynically.

“No of course not, you’re going to present more documentaries and so on. I want you to front the ‘Save the Dormouse Campaign.’ “

“What campaign? I’ve never heard of it.”

“Of course not, it hasn’t started yet, but as one of the leading experts on it, who better to run it? Only it won’t only be about saving dormice, but loads of other things too. You are going to be the new David Attenborough.”

I sat there and laughed. “Tom, one of us is crazy, please tell me which one of us it is?”

Bike 434

“Cathy, I think you need to listen to Mr Maskell, this is your chance to do so much for the conservation of all those little furry things, plus so much more besides. Just think, without this we could lose even more species. With it, we may even manage to improve things.” Tom was obviously sold on the idea.

“So why don’t you make his silly programmes then? You could be the new Sir David Attenborough, instead of me.”

“He isn’t as sexy as you m’dear, and despite its vulgarity, it sells things, including conservation.” Maskell interjected.

“I think I’ve heard enough of this,” I said coldly and walked towards the door.

“Cathy, please sit down,” Tom said in a firm but gentle manner.

“What for? I disagree so fundamentally with what has been said. It’s sexist, it’s patronising, it’s flesh creeping and I want no part of it.”

“My dear girl, you have passed all our tests. You said she would turn it down, Tom and we didn’t even get to the filthy lucre.”

“What is going on here?” I demanded.

“Okay, this is what we’d like to happen,” Mr Maskell explained, “we really would like you to finish your film and for it to be shown on terrestrial television. We’d also like you to make some other documentaries.”

“Why me?”

“Sadly the reasons I mentioned just now are true. You will attract an audience who enjoy seeing a pretty young thing standing around and talking to them. Bettany Hughes gets far better audience figures then Simon Scharma. We have a message to sell, you’re the best one to do it.”

“Tell him, Tom,” I said quietly, “before this goes any further.”

“Tell me what, Cathy?”

“The bad news.”

“Oh the sex change, not a problem.”

“Don’t be silly, how can I sell conservation when initially I’ll be bigger news than it?”

“It will boost the initial programme.”

“Is nothing sacred?”

“Your history is in the public domain, as soon as you’d made the film with Des, and it had got on the box, the tabloids would have been all over you like a rash. Instead we use it to sell the message; I admit I don’t like it particularly, but we have to play the hand we have, and you’re the ace up our sleeves. Sex change beauty, Cathy Watts, will double our audience figures and hopefully it will also encourage listeners to support the conservation of dormice. By the time we make the second and show it, the heat will have died off and people will just accept that the rather attractive woman narrating their programme, is an expert in the subject not just a bimbo.”

“I don’t know, it isn’t your life that’s being sacrificed, is it?”

“I have another proposition for you as well.”

“I’m not sure I could cope with any more of your offers.”

“You’ll like this one.”

“I doubt it?”

“Promise.” He actually looked sincere, but I wasn’t going to believe him anyway. “How would you like to run a parallel breeding prog on harvest mice.”

“That’s Geoff Grantham’s subject, why not ask him?”

“We did, he doesn’t want it.”

“Now I know you’re lying.”

“Honestly, Cathy, I am not. He said he’d help you, but he doesn’t want to do it himself.”

“I suspect they’re difficult to breed in captivity.”

“I believe that might have been one reason why he wasn’t prepared to do it. However, we want you to do a programme on them as well, so that will be the second one, to go out some time next year. Then we’ll do one on the red squirrel, and finally, one on the pine marten.”

“There are people who are far better qualified than I am to talk on these animals.”

“They may know more about them, they aren’t better qualified, and as a respected expert yourself, you’ll be able to talk with these people in their own language, they’ll tell you things the rest of us wouldn’t understand, and all you have to do is simplify it for the lay audience.”

“So I get to do the dumbo thing, do I?”

“Not at all, you’ll be the communicator, teaching us things about these mysterious animals, which will make us want to protect them.”

“I don’t do schmaltz.”

“It won’t be that sort of thing. We want you to help these experts make their points intellectually, but in terms the man in the street can understand.”

“These experts are all well established communicators, they don’t need me.”

“You will be the common thread linking all of the programmes. After the pine marten, we may look at commissioning some more.”

“I need to think about it, I don’t feel very comfortable with the whole idea, especially as it might be about the time of the first or second one that Simon and I may get married.”

“Simon Cameron, so you’d be Lady Catherine, eh. Why can’t you marry him now and we could use the publicity to float the dormouse prog.”

“No way, how dare you? Is nothing sacred to you?”

“To me, dear lady, in a word—no.”

“I thought so. I’m not at all sure I want to be involved in this, at all.”

“But it will bring you fame and fortune.”

“It could, except I don’t want or like those things.”

“So Lady Cameron—see it just trips off the tongue, it’s so sweet.”

“I’m not married to him yet.”

“Well hurry up then.”

“I can’t until we’re ready, and besides I have to do two years to qualify for my ‘female’ status with the gender recognition panel. I obviously can’t marry him until that happens.”

“Is that it?”

“I nodded.”

“Okay, if I get you your gender recognition, would you do it then?”
“You can’t hurry the process of law,” I protested.

“Watch me.” He pulled out his mobile, he pressed a preset number and a few moments later he was talking over the loud speaker on his phone to somebody of importance because they agreed to his queries. “Sam, can we get someone’s gender recognition hurried up?”

“Let me know who, and we’ll work on it.”

“Okay, will do. Bye.” He switched off his phone and looked at me. “Does that say anything to you?”

“Not really, I don’t watch telly.”

“Grrr, you don’t make this any easier.”

Bike 435

Here I was stuck with Mr Slimeball Maskell, undersecretary at DEFRA, and my father substitute, Tom, who seemed to be in his thrall. I needed some time to think about things, either with Tom alone or by myself.

“Can I think about it?” I asked.

“But this is such an outstanding offer, not only will you be a household name, but you’ll be well paid for it too.”

“While I watch my academic credibility slide down the drain.”

“On the contrary, loads of top academics make documentaries.”
“Not at the price of self-sacrifice you want. I have been quietly supported by colleagues because there hasn’t been a song and a dance about my change of life. The statement I made on television was handled carefully and only because the tabloids were about to break it. To appear to take advantage of it, will bring down the ire of academia, and I’m not sure I want that.”

“I doubt it, even if it did happen, it would be short lived; they’d soon go back to their little ivory towers.”

“I don’t want to risk it. I’m an academic not a television presenter.”

“You are a very good communicator.”

“If that’s the case why aren’t you hearing me? I’m a researcher, a field worker, not an exhibitionist.”

“What about the Youtube clip?”

“I didn’t post it.”

“You haven’t tried to take it down either, have you?”

“I didn’t know I could, an it’s probably a bit late now.”

“You need to do this, Cathy, to help save your precious dormice.”

“I don’t know, I really don’t.”

“Tell her,Tom, she needs to do this.”

“I can’t do that, Don, she has to make up her own mind.”

“Tom, for Pete’s sake, tell her it’s a wonderful opportunity, probably the most amazing of her short life, so far.”

“You know little of her life, Don, all of it is amazing. She is a very special young woman, but she has to make her own decisions.”

“Geez-uz, what have I got to do to convince you?” Maskell turned to look at me. “I know you’ve done a lot so far to protect dormice, and it’s very creditable. But you could do ten times as much with one short film, and in a fraction of the time. Think about the other critters we have in mind, we’re talking harvest mice and pine martens—not wood pigeons. How many have been lucky enough to see either of those? We could do one on the beaver, since they’ve been reintroduced to Scotland, which would involve going to Canada to film.”

“I thought they were European beavers?” I challenged, this guy didn’t know his beavers.

“Oh yes, of course they are, but I think we would still involve the Canadian aspect, they have so many there.”

“Not Martian ones then?”

“Being facetious does not become you, Cathy.”

“I shall let you know, I have to go.” I glanced at my watch, it was nearly lunch time and I didn’t want the hard sell over food.

I nodded to each of them and left, feeling better to be out in the fresh air. “So who’s the suit?” asked Pippa.

“DEFRA—the man from the ministry. What an arsehole.”

Now, now, Cathy, we’re not allowed to talk about our lords and masters in such terms.”

“Speak for yourself,” I threw back at her, “I’ll say what I think, not what they want me to.”

“Well, Miss Outspoken, are we going for lunch?”

“Yeah, why not?” I pulled my bag over my shoulder and Pippa collected hers and we went off to the refectory. While we ate our rolls, I related what had happened, as I saw it.

“Blimey, he’s quite a slime ball, but you’re going to do it, aren’t you?”

“I don’t know yet, beyond finishing Des’ film, which I sort of promised him. But even with that, I want editorial control, not some idiot in Whitehall. After all, I helped to write the script and discussed the format and so on with Des, we even had some idea of dates about filming in the Forest of Dean.”

“So you’re going to front that one?”

“Yes, because I promised Des.”

“What’s the difference between doing one and doing four or five?”

“Quite a lot.”

“Haven’t you already sold out to them?”

“No, because I’ll make Des’ film.”

“What, on your own?”

“No, I have some names from the Beeb natural history unit.”

“So how do you know that you’ll be able to control it?”

“I think I will. I own the original stuff he shot.”

“Oh, will that make any difference?”

“I think so.”

“I thought he was working for the bank?”

“Yes and no.”

“Oh, what do you mean?”

“Des was a wheeler dealer, he was trying to sell the film to as many companies as he could, maximise profits.”

“But you work for the bank?”

“Yes I’m extremely aware of that.”

“You didn’t object to them using you for a campaign.”

“Oh yes I did.”

“Before my time, I expect.”

“It could be.”

“So whatya gonna do?”

“I have no idea.”

“You sound very prepared.”

“Eh?”

“I was being sarcastic.”

“Thanks for the moral support.”

“Anytime,” she said smiling at me, mocking me with her eyes.

Bike 436

Pippa and I walked back to her office, Tom wasn’t there, we assumed he’d gone for lunch with his friend—the slimeball. I asked Pippa to let me know when he was back and if he had a few minutes to talk with me. I didn’t really want to talk about this at home.

I wandered back to my lab, and Neal and Gloria were having a cuppa, so I joined them, it always tastes better out of a chipped and cracked mug—I don’t think, but they did offer. I had loads of mugs at home in Bristol, I’d bring some down next time I went.

We hadn’t quite finished the last cage when the phone rang. Gloria answered it—it was Tom, he had five minutes. I made apologies to Neal and ran off to Tom’s office.

“Go straight in, he’s expecting you, although I’m not sure about the make up.”

“What makeup? I’m not wearing any.”

“Oh, it could be dirt—and you a licensed dormouse handler, should be ashamed of yourself.”

“My apologies, I’ll kill you on the way back, don’t move.” I knocked and entered the inner sanctum, thankfully, Tom was on his own.

“So, have you made your mind up?”

“Yes and no.”

“That sounds typical you.”

“Thanks father figure, I really needed that.”

He sniggered, “Come on what’s it going to be?”

“I promised Des, we’d make the dormouse film. I have all his tapes of the dormice and I know we have to do my narration and a few bits and pieces of me in the field. That shouldn’t be too bad. After that it’s up to the editor and continuity, that sort of stuff. I own the copyright to the film, so I should be able to produce the film I want.”

“What makes you think the ministry don’t have the same objectives?”

“I don’t trust them, or at least not that creepy bloke you had here.”

“Oh don’t take too much notice of him, if he knows he’s creeping you out he gets worse.”

“That is so insulting, his whole manner was disgraceful. I have a good mind to write to the Secretary of State…”

“Who will call him in and show him your letter, if he ever gets it, and they’ll both have a good laugh and do nothing except blight your career.”

“They can’t do that, can they?”

“Piss him off and see what happens.”

“I’d prefer not.”

“Wise decision. Look, why don’t I call him later and tell him you’ll do the dormouse film, but you want to see how it goes before you commit yourself to anything else.”

“Well that’s sort of the truth,” I said, because that was more or less what I’d just said to Tom.

“I’ll explain that you had a very definite message with your film and you wanted to maintain editorial integrity.”

“I’m not sure that last word is one he’ll understand.”

“He’ll understand, he just doesn’t have any, hence my warning about being careful with him. Why do you think I was keeping out of things?”

“You were in agreement with him?”

“On the level of doing more to protect our species and their habitats, otherwise he is a total anathema to me. Plus I had to sit and eat lunch with him.”

“Why didn’t you warn me he was coming?”

“I didn’t know, in the diary, I had down a low level meeting with someone from DEFRA regarding the survey. I hoped he was just going to ask how we were spending his money, because I have that in chapter and verse. Instead, Don Maskell showed up, and I knew my morning was going to be wasted. However, what Don wants he gets. Don’t stand in his way.”

“I’m not going to let some jumped up pen pusher boss me around, Tom.”

“Instead you’re going to let some jumped up pen pusher destroy your career, are you?”

“I erm—he can’t do that, can he?”

“He can and will. It should be obvious even to your tiny little mind, they want you to do this film, so if I were you I get on and do it. If it’s a disaster, I expect they’ll look for number two on the list and get them to make the next one. So that’s one way of getting off the hook—however, you’ll have lost any credibility you had within the world of academia. They don’t mind you making documentaries as long as they are good ones, plus of course, if it’s a cock-up, your precious dormice won’t get the support they need.”

“So I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t?”

“Yes and no.”

“Now who’s equivocating?”

“I didn’t realise you understood big words like that”—he smirked and continued, after I glowered at him—“if you make a good film, it just might be that other offers will come in, and you might just be too busy to do his second one.”

“That’s a point, I like it.”

“The downside is you can’t depend on it happening, but there is a reasonable chance. I know the Spanish were wanting to do something about the dormice on Menorca. In fact, I’ve got someone going out there next week to do some research.”

“Why didn’t you send me? I’d love to go to Menorca.”

“She was going anyway, some Welshwoman or other with an unpronounceable name, you know what it’s like, sounds as if they have need of speech therapy.”

“Remember I come from Brissel, we’re quite used to Taffies there, and they do happen to have the Olympic and World champion road woman’s road racer.”

“Oh her with the French sounding name?”

“Nicole Cooke, I suppose it could be French, I’d never thought of it like that—anyhow, she’s the best woman rider in the world, even beat Vos, who is something special herself. That final lap in the world championships, was something else and Cookie outsprinted Vos, she actually outsprinted the great Marian Vos….”

“Cathy, are you making a film about endangered species or Nicole wassername?”

“Erm, I wonder if she knows any good dormice?”

“Earth to Cathy, look lassie, I shall tell Maskell, you’ll do the first film and we’ll be in touch. I shall of course put in a bid for a full time replacement, although I want you here enough to supervise these yer dormeece, when we get them. Keep a clear account of your expenses, we’re going to claim every penny we can out of these tightwads in Whitehall. Remember to keep a note of the hours you work, we’ll decide what the going rate is afterwards.”

“This is going to be hard work, I hadn’t thought of all that.”

“If you’re the producer as well as the presenter of the film, and the main author and advisor, you’re not going to come cheap.”

“I want Des’ share too, he has a child on the way and he or she deserves something from their Daddy.”

“What about his cottage?”

“That has a full editing suite in it, I might well be working at his house for some time.”

“Looks like. Just when I get my daughter back, she’s off again.” He shook his head in disbelief.

“I’m only going to be away temporarily and I am mobile, I shall come and visit and you can do the same, you know.”

“I don’t like to interfere, I know Simon sees too little of you.”

“As long as you’re not actually sleeping with me, I know Simon won’t mind. Have you heard anything about Stella?”

“Not since we went up there and found out about the bairn.”

“I’ll ring her later, and see how she is. I know she will be pleased that I’m going to finish the film.”

“Yes, I’m sure she will.”

“Right Professor, I’m going to see if Neal has finished installing the cages. Wait until I tell him we’ll be doing some harvest mouse breeding as well.”

Tom laughed out loud, “He’ll say, I thought this was a bloody university not a bleedin’ zoo.”

Tom was absolutely right, almost verbatim.

Bike 437

“This gets more like a bloody zoo every week, one run by nutters.” Neal walked out of the laboratory in disgust. He always protested about the slightest change, yet he always took it on board and adapted. He was our top technician since Dan had left. He’d gone to Southampton, our great rivals a little further west along the coast. It was a bigger university who could pay more wages, end of story.

I called Neal back, he came in grumbling just as he’d gone out. “I’m going to be leaving the uni for a while, I’ve been seconded to a special project…”

“Your dormouse film, I s’pose.”

“Yes, except the ministry have got involved and practically insisted I make it and quickly. They’re paying for a replacement until I finish it. Tom has insisted I keep contact to supervise the dormouse project.”

“I can see why they want you to do the film.”

“You can?”

“Yeah, a nice bit of crumpet will boost the viewing figures, especially if you wear a short skirt and scoop necked top.”

“Neal, I’m a serious scientist, not a bit of crumpet. This is a serious film not pole dancing.”

“Pity, I’ll bet you’d be good at that.”

“Neal, how dare you?”

“Ha ha,” he laughed, “works every time, you ought to know me by now, Cathy. I respect you as one of the nicest women I know, and also one of the best field scientist here—the rest are pants, ‘cept the kids you’ve trained.”

“Aww Neal, you say the nicest things, for an oversexed, male chauvinist pig.” His face fell for a moment, then he began to laugh and I laughed too. I was going to miss him.

I did a few chores to finish the afternoon and drove home like crazy to get in a quick bike ride. I hammered the poor beast for an hour, coming home exhausted with sweat dripping off my face. I’d reduced my stress levels but I was far from happy.

I showered and got on with cooking a simple meal. Tom arrived home at half six and after giving me a hug, he disappeared into his office. I knocked on his door and entered. I rarely went in here, it was his sanctum, where he went to avoid everyone, including me. “Dinner is ready in five minutes.”

“Fine,” he said nodding, “got a few calls to make.”

“I’m dishing up in five minutes, if you’re not there it gets cold.”

“Okay, I’ll be there.”

I just knew he wouldn’t be, which was why I popped it back in the oven, although it was switched off, it was still warm. I’d finished mine before he emerged, looking very serious.

“What’s the problem?”

“That bloody man wants you to agree to do two films.”

“That’s outrageous.”

“That’s what I told him. He reckoned because you’ve already shot much of the first one, he wants you to agree to finish it by the end of the year for screening in the new year. He wants the second one for the same time, the following year.”

“What the harvest mouse one?”

“The same.”

“But they’re even harder to find and film than dormice.”

“I suggested that to him.”

“What did he say?”

“That you’d better not hang around then.”

“If I hadn’t promised Des, I’d have told him to stick his film, somewhere very dark and very personal.”

“He’d have got his own back.”

“Not if I left academia.”

“You’d have given up your career for a moron like him?”

“No, I’d have given up my career because of morons like him. I should then have spent the rest of my life campaigning against his sort of arsehole. It’s blatant abuse of power.”

“Where would that get you?”

“I’d have brought him down eventually, being Lady Muck, would have helped that.”

“I didn’t think you were driven by bitterness?”

“I’m not.”

“It looks that way from where I’m sitting.”

“It would be retribution.”

“Revenge, looks more appropriate.”

“Okay, revenge then.”

“Revenge does nothing for it’s perpetrators, except to cheapen their name.”

“Hey, I thought you were on my side.”

“I was until you started acting bitter.”

“Wouldn’t you be?”

“No, that’s something I’ll never be. I’ve encountered some awful types over the years, who’ve done some pretty horrible things to me. Once I realised that bitterness does me more harm than them, I stopped feeling it. It was true that once abused by someone, I never trust them again and avoid them as much as I can, I do it without bitterness. It’s like a cancer and eats away at you.”

“I—erm—don’t know, I’ve never felt so angry with someone before.”

“He’s a pig, we know that, just accept it and move on. Use the tools he gives you, use his funding to get a proper editor, you can’t do it yourself. Get some of Des’ friends to give you a hand, but don’t let the BBC take control, or it will become their film, not yours. Send the message you want, not what other people want you to say.”

“I’m going back to Bristol at the weekend, I have a meeting with a friend of Des, who’s also a producer.”

“Be careful, or it will become their film.”

“I shall be careful, Daddy. Remember, the bank is part funding this and Henry liked my script and Des’ takes. I think he could be quite an ally.”

“Just be aware that Maskell and Henry have some history.”

“They do?”

“Maskell helped Henry get off a manslaughter charge during a pheasant shoot. He shot some guy who walked in front of him. The bloke died.”

“And how did Maskell get him off?”

“He said he’d shouted at the bloke who got shot. No one else did and they don’t remember Maskell saying anything, because no one saw what happened. The case was dismissed and Henry went on to greater things.”

“Oh, so did Henry shoot anyone?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure it was no harder than keeping his bank afloat in these trying times.”

“I thought that was just the weaker banks who were being wiped out.”

“Nowhere is safe anymore. Henry may be well placed to cope, but there will be pressure for him to merge or sell out to others.”

“Surely not…”

“If they hadn’t taken over High Street, they’d have been okay. Don’t you read anything in the papers?”

“Crossword clues, letters, cycling if there is any.”

“I don’t know why we bothered to educate women, maybe the Taliban have the right idea.”

“In which case, your dinner is in the dog!” I growled at him.

Bike 438

The next morning I phoned Stella; she seemed quite well as her morning sickness had been easier the past day or so. I was still mightily jealous, but I did at least have my man, she didn’t—so I suppose we were even in a perverse sort of way.

I told her that I was being pressured to finish Des’ film, which she encouraged me to do. I told her that I had the use of his cottage and his equipment, of which she seemed to approve, reminding me to feed his cat. I felt guilty at that, seeing as I’d already wished it on his neighbour.

I started winding things up at the university, except the possibilities of doing the harvest mice. I asked Neal to cost half a dozen cages—at this rate we’d need a bigger building—and send the results to Tom. If we were asked to do the harvest mouse film, he’d need to get funding. The mice build nests on the stalks of wheat or reeds, weaving like a knot of fibres with the nest in the middle. They are very skilful climbers using their prehensile tails. We’d need to have some form of miniature wheat field or reed bed in the cages and that’s going to cost.

Harvest mice orMycromis minutes are Britain’s smallest rodent, weighing in a few grams and being only a couple of inches long, unless you count the tail which can be half as long again. Quite how I’m going to cope with all these things, I’m not sure.

I bade farewell to my tutorial students, as it was unlikely I’d be around for the rest of the academic year making this wretched film—why do I allow people to talk me into these things? I knew when we started the narrative part of the filming. I’d feel incredibly self conscious and stupid, talking to a camera. Maybe I should borrow Simon’s camcorder and practice to reduce the embarrassment.

A couple more days and I’d meet up with Alan White, Des’ friend who does freelance work and some stuff for the Beeb. He’d only agreed to give me some advice, so I wasn’t expecting him to help directly, but there was no way I could edit and produce a film, I couldn’t even manage it with a tape recorder with great clonks each time I’d switched it on or off. I needed to find an expert and quickly.

I spoke to Henry—eventually, he tried to tell me that he was busy with the banking collapse, I mean, how significant is that compared to this dormouse film? The man has his priorities upside down, especially as he and his flipping bank started it all, wanting me as their poster girl. He did agree to help with some funding up to twenty thousand, so at least I had something to play with. I could now offer some money plus a percentage of the profits. I felt a little more empowered.

I sent Maskell an email asking for sponsorship, he matched Tom’s figure. I now really did have a starting point when I met Alan. This creeping about begging for money was a real pain. I happened to bump into Tom at lunch time, and complained about it, his reply stunned me: “Now you know what I do for a living.” It had never occurred to me before. I mean we all know professors are people who lead research teams, not beggars. It appears not, they do spend much of their time inviting funding to pay for the research. They’re entrepreneurs not academics. I’m just amazed that Tom found time to take me under his wing as well as all the other things he does—but then he is a pretty amazing guy. I only wished at times that he stopped trying to encourage me to fulfil his belief that I’m something special, the Great Prophet of Ecology. I thought Al Gore had already got there.

I wanted to go out for ride on my bike, but was up to my elbows in paperwork. Tom reminded me we were still running the mammal survey, and there was a backlog of work to do. We left the office at seven that evening and had a fish and chip supper from a take-away. No wonder I was getting fat. I put the bike on the rollers and did an hour’s work out before I went to bed. It was a mistake. Instead of me collapsing exhausted between the sheets, I collapsed exhausted, but unable to sleep. I tossed and turned half the night.

My last day in the office for some time, other than as an occasional visitor and dormouse adviser—assuming the dormice needed any advice. I was kept busy much of the day and, Tom insisted he take Pippa and I out for lunch. I had my usual tuna salad, Tom had his curry and Pippa, some vegetarian pasta thing.

Then we did paper work all the afternoon and I loaded up the car after clearing out my office. I had a tear in my eye when I said goodbye to all my colleagues.

“It’s only a temporary absence,” said Tom, trying to reassure me, “it’s a secondment, not the sack.”

They presented me with a bouquet of flowers and I blubbed, then left, clutching the expensive display of flora as I left. I sat in the car and howled for a few minutes before driving home. I’d come all the way back here only to be displaced again—was somebody trying top tell me something, apart from Don Maskell?

Simon called that evening. “I thought you were going to Bristol?”

“I am, tomorrow. Why?”

“I was going to meet you there tonight, remember?”

“Damn, I hadn’t, I’ve been so busy, I’ve done fifty letters and emails today,” I said pointedly.

“I do that every day,” Simon said wearily. We chatted a bit longer before he asked what time I could be there tomorrow.

“What time would you like me there, tomorrow?”

“Ten-ish?”

“I can do ten, what time will you be there?”

“I can do ten as well,” he claimed.

“Are you driving or using the train?”

“Not sure yet, I’ll let you know.”

“You’d better had if you want a lift from the station.”

“Cathy, I’m your lord and master, you should be happy to drop everything—(he paused here)—to do my bidding.”

“Drop everything? You’re joking, I hope—that’s only if you wish to continue living.”

“It’s a figure of speech and I think of your figure every time I say it.”

“You lying toad,” j’accuse.

“Oh, Cathy, you can be so hurtful.”

“Oh, Simon, you can be a real whinger,” I said back mocking his tone.

“Don’t you want me to come tomorrow?”

“Simon, I’d love to see you, but only if you want to come. I’m not getting into any stupid arguments about the semantics involved. If you don’t want to come, I’ll survive and do some more chores or paperwork.”

“You’ve heard of the credit squeeze?”

“Yes, Simon, I have.”

“If I put my wallet in my trouser pocket, will you wrap your delectable thighs around me and squeeze my credit cards?”

“Simon, you are a naughty boy,” I said in mock chastisement, as I blushed profusely.

“You’ve only just noticed?” he threw back at me.

“No, I’ve been aware of it for some time, it’s just I hadn’t mentioned it to you.”

“I don’t believe you,” he said.

“That is your problem, not mine. I am going to put this phone down now and go to my bed, so I can rise refreshed and relaxed for seeing you tomorrow.”

“Oh, yeah, okay.” He said and rang off. I flopped onto my bed and fell asleep without undressing or cleaning my teeth. I had to do both at three o’clock that morning, it made going back to sleep a difficult task.

Bike 439

I was waiting at Bristol Parkway at ten o’clock. I’d already been home and tidied up a little, checked my mail and so on. It was a fine morning and I leant against the car, I’d been sitting long enough. The sun was shining and for few minutes I stood there enjoying it’s warmth on my face, arms and legs. For a change I was wearing a skirt, the red one that Stella had given me that very first night I met Simon. I was also wearing the red top and the boots. My own black jacket was on the back seat of the car, but there was enough warmth in the sun for me not to need it.

I heard the train come and go, and as far as I could tell, Simon wasn’t on it. I therefore waited for the inevitable phone call to say why. We’d been so starved of sunshine this summer that I couldn’t pull myself from its warming rays, almost as if my body was suggesting my vitamin D levels needed boosting. For those not in the know, it’s synthesised in the skin by the action of sunlight. We all need about fifteen minutes a day to keep us healthy, according to some experts. I’d only had about ten minutes when something cold was touched against my neck.

I opened my eyes and jumped, of course I couldn’t see very much against the sun, and I nearly went arse over tip, as my dad used to say, as I sprawled against the car.

“Sorry, I couldn’t resist it.” Simon’s voice was instantly recognisable, “I bring a peace offering.”

As my vision returned, without the yellow blob of the sun’s image superimposed over things, I began to see him as well, I could see someone else standing beside him. “Simon, that wasn’t funny, I could have had a heart attack or fallen over.”

“Sorry, Babes, you looked so vulnerable and relaxed.”

“Where have you been, the train left ten minutes ago.”

“That’s my fault,” said the stranger.

I looked him over, he was about six feet tall and quite slim—compared to Simon, he was—with mid brown hair greying at the temples. “And you are?” I asked with some sullenness.

“Forgive me, I’m Jason Wilson,” he proffered his hand.

“Cathy Watts,” I said shaking his hand.

“I know all about you,” he said beaming, his whole face, and quite a handsome one, lighting up with it.

“How is that?” I asked, feeling a little suspicious.

“Simon and I have known each other in the City for a few years, although our meeting today was purely fortuitous, I’m on my way to see my mother, who’s not been too well.”

“I’m sorry to hear that…”

“So, Babes, can we give Jason a lift?” Simon said looking very little boyish. It left me in a position of being unable to refuse without seeming very churlish. “Oh, I nearly forgot, these are for you,” he handed me a large bunch of flowers.

“Thank you,” I pecked him on the cheek, “Of course we can give Jason a lift.” We then stuffed various bags in the back of the Mondeo and set off to Jason’s mother’s house. It turned out to be a rather well appointed bungalow, with very well kept garden near Clifton.

Jason had chatted a little as we drove, he was a revenue lawyer and did rather well for himself, however, he lived fairly frugally with his girlfriend, another lawyer, in Chelsea, near Sloane Square. He planned on retiring at fifty and moving to his villa in the South of France.

I admitted with the recent summer in mind, it was a lovely thought. Simon of course interrupted, “Don’t forget we have one on Menorca.”

“Simon, this place is mentioned every now and again, but you rarely tell me much about it and have never invited me there. I sometimes wonder if it’s just and urban myth.”

“I tell you what, once the banking crisis is over, I shall take you there.”

“What, in the winter?”

“Erm, the spring would be better,” he suggested.

“Yeah, when I’m up to my neck in dormice or harvest mice, possibly making the second film.”

“Films? Simon, you told me your beautiful fiancée was a university lecturer.”

“She is, except the men from the ministry have asked her to make some films on endangered animals, or something—isn’t that right, Babes?”

“Yeah, more or less, they’re thinking of doing one on bankers, next year.” I said quite drily.

Jason thought it was funny, “Is that before estate agents, or property developers?”

“Part of me hopes they’ll be extinct by then.” I didn’t like the archetypal money grabbing sort.

“I’m sure it’s a feeling shared by many. Well here we are, thank you, kind and beautiful lady, for the lift. Good to meet you at long last, I’ll catch up with you somewhen Si.” He took the case from me, after I removed it from the back of the car. He took my hand and kissed it, and I blushed. Then he walked up the front path and waved just before he entered the house.

“How do you know him then?” I asked.

“We use him occasionally in disputes with the Chancellor, costs an arm and a leg.”

“He seems rather nice,” I said, thinking of him, “He’s very suave.”

“Yeah, a sort of urbane myth,” Simon said, his eyes sparkling at his own pun.

“No, that would be me, he’s very definitely a myth-ter.”

“Oh very good,Babes, gi’s a kiss then.” I stopped the car at the end of the road and we kissed, just a quickie otherwise it might upset the horses.

“So where shall we go now ?” I asked.

“How about back to bed?” Simon winked at me. It was a lovely idea and I nearly succumbed, except, I had shopping I needed to do. So that’s what we did, I bought some new jeans and a sweater, plus a new pair of trainers. Simon bought himself a pair, as well.

“You’re dressed a bit girly to be buying trainers, aren’t you?”

“So? I can wear a skirt if I want to, can’t I?”

“Course you can, isn’t that the one you wore…?”

“Good Lord, you noticed.” I was impressed.

“Yeah, I always notice what you wear, I don’t always say anything though. I prefer you like that to jeans and tee shirts.”

“Yeah, but jeans and tees are easier for playing with dormice…” as soon as I said it, I knew I’d made a mistake.

“I prefer that blouse and skirt in the film,” Simon chuckled.

“Pig!”

“No, it was definitely a dormouse—ouch—don’t hit so hard.” I made him pay for lunch—no not for that remark—I was going to anyway, it was his turn. We went to the pub at Aust village, where we’d embarrassed ourselves during a Sunday lunch. The landlord had obviously forgotten us, or me, he did eye Simon suspiciously. After lunch, I showed him Des’ cottage, or Des’ Res as Simon called it.

“And he’s left this to you, all of it?”

“Yes.”

“Does Stella know?”

“No, and you’re not to tell her.”

“What are you going to do with it?”

“I don’t know. I might just keep it for the moment and see what happens to the property market.”

“He left her nothing?”

“I’ve sorted some personal stuff for her. I also want to make sure that their sprog gets something, but haven’t decided what yet.”

“Yes, that would be a good idea.”

“The editing stuff, I’ll keep for the moment, not that I’m going to use it, but it enables me to use it instead of having to go to someone else’s laboratory.”

“You’ve lost me, Babes.”

“If I find an editor, they can do the work here if a lab isn’t available, remember we have a bit of a deadline.”

“Oh, I see. Let’s go home, I feel a bit odd being here without its previous owner being here.”

“Oh he’s here alright, can’t you feel him?” I said.

“Ooh, that’s too spooky for me, I’m off.” Simon made a rapid tactical withdrawal out of the house. I followed him, after locking everything up. I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, if Des was still hanging around the house, I know he’d have been pleased to see me there, especially as I was trying to complete the film. In fact I wished him a good evening as I left.

Bike 440

We got back to my house and I made us a quick meal of pasta, and a side salad, which we ate with a bottle of red wine. Actually we ate it with knives and forks, but I suspect that’s implicit, isn’t it?

Afterwards, we were lying together on the sofa listening to the Mozart requiem, which is a favourite piece of music of mine and just happened to be on the BBC Radio 3, which is the classical music station. I love the lacrimosa which goes straight to my emotions. I remembered bursting into tears when the film Amadeuswas shown in the cinema club at uni. I was supposed to be a man then, so it did little for my credibility.

Today, it had exactly the same effect, and I lay sobbing with Simon’s arm around me. “What’s the matter, Babes?”

“It’s this music,”

“Do you want me to switch it off?”

“No thank you, I love it.”

“But it makes you cry?”

“I know, so does Shadowlands but I love to watch it.”

“Shadowlands? It’s a film, I take it?”

“Yes, with Tony Hopkins and Debra Winger.”

“A chick flick?”

“Not in the traditional sense, it’s a love story about CS Lewis.”

“Doesn’t happen in a wardrobe, does it?”

“Ha Ha, very funny—there’s no witch or lion either.”

“Are you accusing me of being a proper Narnia?”

“Simon, for you, that is almost good.”

“Huh, since when have you been the queen of taste?”

I could have used this sideswipe against him and dissolved into tears, against which he has no defence. If I cry he gets upset and then protective. It does mean he can be manipulated, but I didn’t feel in that sort of mood. The Mozart had finished and something much more contemporary by Philip Glass was emanating from the radio, so the lachrymal moment had passed so to speak.

“Why do girls enjoy a good cry?” He asked as if he genuinely didn’t know the answer.

“I dunno, it’s just something we do, a contrast of emotions, I don’t know.”

“So how come men don’t then?”

“How do I know? But I suspect it’s about the fact that men are frightened of their emotions and so suppress them. It’s quite interesting that men feel emotions more intensely than women do.”

“Is that so? Well I suppose it’s a good excuse for going out and smashing up a bus shelter. I didn’t think the bar-stewards who do that sort of thing had any emotions except annoying everyone else.”

“Teenagers have brains which are rapidly changing physically and mentally, sort of brain soup.”

“So what happens to make so many of them turn into psychopaths and not butterflies?”

“Too much salt?” I ventured.

“Eh? What are you talking about?”

“In the soup.”

“What soup? We didn’t have any soup.”

“Brain soup…”

“Ugh! I don’t fancy that, Creuzfeldt-Jacob consommé.” He made the sound of being sick.

“I was meaning the teenagers, and their pupation.”

“Oh, I was wondering if they did mad cow-tail soup?”

“I doubt it, most of it went into beef burgers, didn’t it?”

“God, I hope not, I ate loads of them when I was at school.”

“You’re not alone, so did I. Can’t stand them now.” He nodded in agreement and we cuddled for a little longer. He started to gently massage my neck, and then his hand came around to the front of me and he began to gently rub my…but you don’t want to hear about that, do you?

I awoke early the next morning, I could hear a church bell tolling in the distance, reminding me it was a Sunday. I turned and looked at Simon who appeared to be asleep still. I kissed him gently on the nose and got up to go to the loo, when I got back the bed was empty. I hadn’t heard the door open or close and I seriously began to wonder if I had dreamt it all again, until I heard the kettle switch itself off and then could smell the toast cooking. I threw on my house coat and went downstairs, Simon was standing at the counter, his back to me. I snuck up behind him and put my arms around him and squeezed.

Instead of the friendly greeting I expected, I got, “Oh shit, look what you made me do!” He’d dropped the butter knife on the floor.

“There’s another in the drawer.”

“Yeah but you’ve spoilt my surprise. I was going to bring you breakfast in bed.”

“I’d rather eat it at the table and go back to a crumb free bed.”

“Oh, all right then,” his eyes sparkled at this suggestion.

An hour later we were lying in bed when he said, “I prefer your bread to the commercial stuff, can you make me some to take back with me?”

“If I have enough of the flour and yeast, of course I will.”

“Oh goody;” he snuggled down under the duvet again.

“I need to get up then or it won’t cook in time.” I slipped out from under the covers and went into shower. A few moments later I felt a draught and a pair of hands massaged my back.

“Is this a private shower, or can anyone join?”

“It’s by invitation only, but you’re invited.”

I did manage to make his loaf for him although I suspect he’d have eaten half of it before he got back to town. I smacked his hands a few times when he was wanting to pick at the crust just after I’d turned it out to cool.

He caught the evening train back, I ran him to the station and waved him off. When I got back in the car the emptiness I felt was almost palpable, by the time I got home and stripped the bed and remade it, I was weeping gently to myself. I found my DVD ofShadowlands and after making myself a cup of tea and getting a pack of choccie biscuits, tissues at the ready, prepared myself for a good howl.

Somehow, I don’t think Simon would have understood it.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=CQUFQ_N0JI8

Bike 441

I stood in front of my wardrobe trying to decide what to wear to meet Alan White. I could have cycled and thus worn cycling kit, or casual and let him see the unimproved me—but neither of those captured my mood of the day. I had watched Shadowlands yet again and cried myself silly, and before someone asks, it wasn’t because I’d eaten all the chocolate in the first reel.

I’d slept well and although I always missed Simon after spending the weekend with him, I felt okay. In fact I felt quite girly and seductive—maybe not the best mood to be in when meeting a friend of Des, about whom I knew little.

In the end I decided to wear a suit, some heels and my hair down. I took great care over my makeup and chose my nicest perfume—Coco. I looked good in my designer suit, the one that had impressed the EU people, and the expensive blouse. I looked really good, then I took the clothes off and pulled on a dress instead—that came off too. Finally, I wore the longer denim skirt, with boots, a scoop necked tee and my denim jacket. I wore my mother’s sapphire necklace and earrings, and finally I was satisfied with my appearance.

We were to meet at a coffee shop near Whiteladies Road, a stone’s throw from the BBC. I’d had to park some distance away and was a bit warmer—make that hotter—than I’d liked to have been. I was also a bit late. He’d had the benefit of seeing a picture of me in the paper after I’d saved the baby in the car fire. All I knew about him was he had a beard. I was curious about that, his exact words when asked how I’d recognise him, were—“Look for the beard.” He refused anything other than that.

I entered the coffee shop, the door top bell jingling loudly. Several people looked round, mostly women, and as far as I could tell, none of them had beards. Oh no, after all my rushing, have I got the wrong coffee shop?

No, this was, ’The Coffee Pot’, hardly the most original name for a coffee shop, but at least it wasn’t one of the franchised chains. I glanced around for a free table and strolled inside the dining area. Then I saw him. There could be no doubt it was him, a large man, seated at a table using a laptop, with the biggest beard I have ever seen. I think even Bernard Shaw would have been in awe. It wasn’t anywhere near as long as Gandulf’s but it was certainly a beard and a half.

I walked towards him, and he glanced up. “Cathy?” he asked and extended his hand, “How nice to meet you.” He pulled out a chair for me.

“Thanks,” I said and sat down, taking off my jacket to lose a bit of heat. I was sweltered.

“What would you like?”

“Lady Grey, if they have it.”

“I think so,” he raised an arm and the teenage waitress came over to him. He ordered my tea and another espresso for himself.

“How long did you know Des?” I asked.

He pursed his lips, “Forever, or it felt like that. He was a really good mate in lots of ways, then he’d do something stupid and for a moment, you’d want to kill him.”

“I can recognise him from that.”

“I can’t believe he’s gone.” He looked wistfully into the distance, “Silly bugger, especially as he knew I was out of the country. I’ll bet he only did it so I couldn’t get to his funeral.”

I smiled at his deliberately flawed reasoning. Why is it that we have to joke about death? To reduce the fear we have of it? To hide the pain of our loss? I didn’t know, but I knew people often spoke in humorous terms about people they’d lost, often with some irreverence as Alan was doing now.

The drinks arrived with a piece of almond slice, which I hadn’t noticed him order. I ate it out of politeness—the first bite, anyway, the rest was pure indulgence, it was delicious. We talked about Des and then I introduced our project.

“So you did the script and he did the camera work. He was going to edit it and you were going to do the narration, is that about right?”

“Yes,” he’d been listening. “The BBC have expressed an interest, and it’s sponsored by the bank and DEFRA.”

“We are in honoured company.” He smirked at me.

“Why?”

“Cathy, I’ve been in this game a long time. Des was good, but not the best. I am, at least of the free lancers. To get the interest of these heavies before starting the shooting, he must have had something very special to sell.”

“He did, me.” I blushed as I said it.

“I didn’t know he was into white slavery.”

“I have links to the Cameron’s.”

“Oh, we do move in high circles, don’t we?” He gently mocked me.

“In some ways. The origins were that my future father in law, Henry Cameron…” I was interrupted as Alan spat espresso all over the table. He then spent several moments coughing and spluttering. I patted him on the back. He went very red. I wiped up as much of the mess as I could with the paper serviettes we’d been given. The young waitress came up with a cloth and after removing the chintzy tablecloth, wiped the table. Then a few moments later she relaid the table and brought Alan another cup of coffee.

“Henry Cameron is your father in law?”

“Future father in law, yes. I’m engaged to Simon.”

“Bloody hell, if you’d said, I’d have genuflected at your arrival.”

“Please, I’m an academic not an aristocrat.” I gave him a stern look and he nodded. “They wanted their takeover of High St Banks, to look environmentally friendly and lo and behold, Simon’s girlfriend studies nice little furry things, which have a huge awwwww factor. Kill two birds with one stone, engage girlfriend to make film extolling virtues of bank.”

“You can’t do that, not on the Beeb.”

“Not directly, no. But by association, you can.”

“They watch for that as well.”

“Just suppose, I finish the film which is purely about dormeece. They are very photogenic and do have a high awwww factor. So by mentioning at the end, the sponsorship by the bank, aren’t we associating the bank with green values.”

“I suppose so, but they may not agree to allowing the mention of sponsorship.”

“They will, they’ll mention DEFRA, too.”

“So what’s so special about you?” He threw the conversation back at me.

“I’m quite knowledgeable about dormice.”

“And Camerons.”

“I only know what they want me to know about them, whereas dormice don’t.”

“So you’re an expert on dormice and photogenic, what next?”

“That’s it.”

“Oh, is it? In which case the government may have invested prematurely in this film.

“Have you seem the clip with the dormouse on Youtube?”

“With it going down the girl’s dress?”

“Blouse.”

“No, I’m sure it was a dress, I’ve seen it loads of times and very funny it is too.”

“It’s a blouse with a suit, it has a slight mark where the bloody thing peed.”

He stopped and put his cup down—probably thought he may inhale less coffee that way. “You sound as if you know that blouse quite well.”

“Intimately.”

“It was you, wasn’t it?” Without waiting for an answer, he called up the website and watched it, with the sound turned off. He sniggered and looked at me again, “Good grief, that is you, isn’t it?”

I nodded while blushing furiously. “That clip is a classic, no wonder they wanted to use you. You’re a natural.”

“So I’m told.”

“Can I see some of Des’ work?”

“Only if you agree not to copy any of it.”

“Absolutely.”

Bike 442

I wasn’t sure about showing Des’ film as it stood to anyone, especially a rival. At the same time, I needed someone who could take it on to the next stage and I suspected Alan might be that person. I also had a few worries about going to Des’ cottage with a relative stranger.

“We’ll need to go to Des’ cottage to see the film, such as it is,” I ventured.

“I have a meeting in an hour, could do something after lunch, say half two three.”

I looked in my diary, I knew I was free, but he didn’t. “Yeah, I could reschedule something. Okay, I’ll see you there then.” We shook hands and I left whilst he collected together his laptop.

What did I think of the rather large man half hidden by this wondrous beard and I was half minded of the old nursery rhyme about the birds nesting in the old man’s beard. Then the thought struck me about it possibly being allegorical, old man’s beard being a name for wild clematis, which swarms over hedgerows on the chalk and limestone soils of southern England.

Perhaps it was a limerick not a nursery rhyme, I pondered as I drove home for some lunch. I collected some more flour and yeast from Asda and went home starting a loaf before I left. I set the machine to produce the goods about six.

I had to make a new loaf or buy some bread as I’d eaten the last of it for my lunch, bulking out a rather boring tuna salad I made myself. I sent Simon a text, telling him I was meeting this Alan White at Des’ cottage that afternoon. Then if he murdered me, Simon would be able to tell the police. What a strange thought—being murdered. I shivered for a moment as if I’d walked into a freezer.

I got to the cottage at two fifteen, Alan hadn’t arrived. Maybe I should set up a sound recording device, then there’d be evidence of my demise. What was I thinking? So far he’d been rather nice not at all murderous. I comforted myself with the thoughts that my initial feelings about Simon, all those months ago had been very strange. I wondered if he was a maniac and a cannibal. I chuckled to myself, only to jump about a foot in the air when the door was knocked.

It was Alan. I welcomed him in and offered him a cup of tea or coffee, he opted for tea. I’d taken milk and tea bags with me, just plain bog standard Typhoo, but it was warm and wet.

After we had the tea and a biscuit—plain chocolate Hobnobs, I unlocked the studio door and he whistled, “Blimey, I didn’t know he had all this stuff here, it’s better than mine, he must have had some luck on the horses to get this lot.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that it might be on credit, no one had come forward to say so, unless it was to the solicitors, which would be the appropriate course. Maybe they had, so we’d better get a move on.

“This is still all waiting for probate and stuff, so how long it will be here, I don’t know.”

“Yeah, course—well, let’s get stuck in then,” and he did. I passed him the DVDs and he ran the first. He kept making comments about this and that, mostly complimentary. An hour and a half later he said, “He has some cracking stuff here, can I see your script?” I got my copy out of my brief case and handed it to him. “Hmm, there’s still a bit to do before we get to editing and so on. There’s several bit still to shoot, including you doing your David Attenborough stuff. Where are the nearest dormice?”

“I’ve got some sites in the Forest of Dean with confirmed status.”

“Hmm, the weather is supposed to be good mid week. We need to do some daylight shots of you strutting your stuff and talking to camera. What you say isn’t too important, we can mix that in by over dubbing and stuff later. You need to decide what you’re going to wear to do this and then stick to it for the same locations. It’s very distracting if you change your clothes every two seconds—spoils the continuity.”

“Will we need to do any night time filming?”

“I don’t think we do, unless we can get some shots of dormice running along branches or something.”

“Possibly, but wouldn’t you need to leave the camera and work by remote?”

“Yep, plus it would have to be an infra red, you’re talking megabucks agai…”

“…Like this one, I held it up to him.”

“Bloody hell, who’s funding this—the CIA?” We both laughed at his remark.

“Is it okay?”

“It is fabulous and would do the trick.”

“I’m afraid, where it goes, there go I,” I said, parodying a bit of Shakepeare.

’Where the bee sucks, there suck I
In a cowslip’s bell I lie.
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily:’

Alan started the verse and I joined in, we completed it together. “The Tempest, we did it for A-level English. What’s your excuse?”

“We did it for English, only at GCSE, it’s just one of those that sticks in your mind, it’s so ridiculous.”

“Did you know there is a suspicion that Shakespeare came from Bristol?”

“I thought he was a Midlander from Stratford.” I felt very puzzled by this remark, doubtless down to some arcane professor spotting word patterns in his plays and deconstructing it.

“Nah, he goes on about Ariel, musta been the Bristol areal.” He laughed at his own joke. In Bristol the locals often add the letter ‘L’ to vowels as a suffix, so a good idea becomes a good ideal.

“Ariel appears in The Tempest, doesn’t he?”

“Indeed he does, which is probably the only reason I remember him. The important question is: was he an FM or UHF aerial? “

I shook my head in surrender, this could be as damaging to my sense of humour as working with Des would have been. “You enjoy your puns, I see.”

“Absolutely, except you have to be with someone who knows what you’re on about, or it gets lost. Looks like we’re compatible.” He beamed a smile at me.

“So you could finish this film?”

“Yep, sure could.”

“I need to maintain editorial control.”

“That I don’t find so easy, but I can see what you’re trying to do, so I’ll go along with it. All we have to do is negotiate a fee and agree contractual terms.”

That worried me for a moment, I needed some professional help with that, an agent or a lawyer. I would speak to Des’ uncle. I felt a little easier after that.
Alan left after we agreed where we’d meet in the forest, the day after next. He was prepared to get the filming done without the contract being ready, because time was going on.

I could see me getting very little for my part in the film, Alan was going to cost me twenty thousand, but that included the editing, sound and continuity. Now I had to sort out the legal stuff.

I browsed through some of Des’ files, but couldn’t seem to find anything remotely legalistic, except a threat from the council to take him to court if he didn’t pay his Council Tax. I went through two drawers of his filing cabinet and there was nothing. It struck me as strange, even if his uncle did it all, surely he’d have copies?

Then I noticed a couple of box files under the desk. There it all was. I decided I needed to get home for my bread maker, or the loaf would be spoiled. So I locked up and took the files with me—bedtime reading.

It wasn’t as dry as I thought it would be. Des was actually quite a good businessman and made quite a reasonable living. His house was paid off and so was the equipment, so I was no longer worried about it being repossessed from under our noses. However, this was certainly something I wouldn’t be sharing with Alan. I got the name of Des’ agent and left a message on their ansafone. Things were slowly coming together.

I had fresh bread and Cheddar cheese for my supper, with a few bits of pickle and salad. Then I went to bed, all in all it was a productive day, but very tiring. Simon called while I was in bed, but I fell asleep listening to him going on about how he and his father had been talking with the Chancellor’s office and had helped draw up the strategy for saving Northern Rock. It was deadly dull to me and I nodded off.

Bike 443

I must have been tired, I slept right through the night because I was awoken the next morning by the phone ringing. I picked it up and mumbled into it. “Miss Watts, this is Erin Lovejoy.” My rather sleepy mind silently asked, ‘Who?’ before it answered itself, ‘Des’ agent—you dozy cow!’. I began to wonder if I was becoming schizophrenic, should I get a second opinion? I was in two minds about it.

“Oh yes, thanks for ringing back. I’m Des’ beneficiary, inheriting his entire estate.”

“Congratulations, it should be worth a bit. What can I do to help?”

“I’m also a collaborator of his, we were making a film together when he died so tragically.”

“I thought he died in a car smash,” she sounded a little sharp.

“He did, sorry, I’ve only just woken up so I’m not putting this very well. He and I were commissioned to make a film on dormice, which we were doing. Unfortunately, during the early stages, I was attacked and ended up in hospital.”

“What, by a dormouse?”

“No, we were doing bits and pieces as we could, I was out for a ride with my fiancé and his sister and a local lunatic stabbed me in the chest as I went past.”

“In Bristol?”

“No, Portsmouth.”

“Oh yes, I remember something in the press now. You’re a university lecturer, aren’t you?”

“Essentially, I’m a field biologist who does some teaching on a regular basis usually at Portsmouth, but sometimes elsewhere. I also instigated and led a captive breeding programme at the university there, monitoring the release and any effect it had on the local wild populations.”

“You’re an expert in dormice?”

“I suppose so. High Street Bank, commissioned us to do this film to highlight their green credentials.”

“Is that you on the posters?”

“Yes, fraid so. I don’t know why they couldn’t have got a proper model.”

“I thought they had, not quite the usual image one has of a university lecturer, with such model looks.”

I blushed and was glad she couldn’t see me, my hair was ruffled from sleep and I felt heavy and bloated, I also needed a pee and something to eat and drink.

“Could I come and see you. I need to get a contract with someone else to finish the film. I want to retain Des’ share of any profit, at the same time reward the new party adequately, not forgetting my share too.”

“Won’t you have Des’ share anyway?”

“There’s a complication, he was going to marry my future sister in law, who is pregnant with his baby.”

“Oh, I see the potential for complications.”

“Yes and no, I want anything Des would have made from the film to be held in trust for the baby. What I do with the estate, I’m not sure yet and probate is still being proved anyway.”

“Well that’s not my affair anyway, back to the contract. Who are you using to finish the film?”

“A friend of his, Alan White.”

“Oh!” this was followed by a long pause. “Have you shown him any of the material yet? The stuff Des already had?”

“Yes, and the script.”

“Oh, I wish you had come to me sooner.”

“Have I done something wrong? He’s not a rapist or something?”

She actually laughed before saying, “No you’re safe there, he’s gay. However, he does have a habit of plagiarism and intellectual theft.”

“I have made a mistake, haven’t I?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s not too late to tie him up in a contract that even he can’t beat; he is something of a contractual Houdini. When are you free?”

“I feel this needs to be done soon, I’m free this afternoon, is that any good?”

“Hmm, I liked Des, despite his wandering hands, he was essentially a nice chap. Okay, if I can move another appointment, I can see you at three. If I can’t shift the other one, I’ll call you on this number. Will you be there all morning?”

I glanced at the clock, it was ten past nine. “I will be after eleven thirty. I have to go out for a bit this morning, but I’ll be back by then.”

“Fine, if you don’t hear from me, I look forward to meeting you in person. I have one of the leaflets here.”

“Thanks, do I need to bring anything?”

“I have a recollection of contracts between Des and the bank for this somewhere. I’ll look them out. As you found my name, I assume you have some too?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Bring those and any other paperwork, scripts et cetera relating to the film. See you later.”

I scampered to the loo and eased my suffering bladder. Then it was downstairs for a quick breakfast of tea and toast, with a banana. Then I rushed upstairs and dressed. Not more than about twelve minutes had elapsed when I was out pedalling gently as I warmed up some leg muscles. I needed a bike ride almost as much as I did food and drink.

I did my usual round trip under the suspension bridge and around the Avon gorge, with a good hill to wake me up before I got back an hour and a bit later. I showered, enjoying a good soak under the warm water, the cordless phone laying on the wash basin should Ms Lovejoy call back. She didn’t, but Simon did.

“You cut me off last night,” he said peevishly.

“Hang on, I’ve only got one leg in my knickers.”

“Oh how lovely, need any help?”

“No, just two hands, hang on.” I pulled on the undergarment and popped on my bra as well, then I shrugged on my housecoat. “Sorry about that. I’m decent now.”

“Damn! You’ve just ruined all my fantasies for the day.”

“That’ll teach you to be such a dirty young man.”

“No it won’t,” he said, and I was saying almost the same thing in mind as he verbalised it. Simon was a healthy young man, they spend half their lives having thoughts about sex, cars or football. So why was I worried, so long as the thoughts were about me, I was laughing. The time to worry is when they aren’t.

“So what do you want, I have to go and see an agent.”

“What a secret agent?”

“It was only secret insofar as I hadn’t told anyone, no a film agent.”

“What? Can they get you free tickets to the latest premiere?”

“I don’t know, besides I don’t want to attend film premieres, I just want to get this bloody thing about dormice finished. I had no idea how complicated it all is.”

“Try banking…”

“I think one banker in the family is enough, don’t you?”

“Why do I feel like you’re getting at me?”

“Who me? You’re the one who was complaining, not me.”

“Well, yes. You put the phone down on me last night.”

“Did I? I’m sorry Si, I was so tired I just nodded off and it switches itself off.”

“Does it, or did you?”

“Either way I’m sorry. So what has my favourite capitalist been up to today?”

“Haven’t you seen the news, the economy is in freefall, banks are losing money hand over fist. Several US banks have gone bust.”

“Is that important?”

“What? I don’t believe you said that.”

“I’m sorry, but I have no idea what banks do apart from hold money for me and pay my direct debits and things, oh and your one pays me some money every month.”

“Cathy, the whole capitalist world is teetering on the brink of financial collapse.”

“Is that serious?”

“Serious? It’s catastrophic.”

“Oh well we’ll have to live on my money then won’t we?”

“There may be no one to pay you, this could destroy governments.”

“Oh, so does this mean you won’t be over this weekend?”

“Course not, it’s not that serious.”

“Oh good, I knew I could rely on you to save the world.”

“And make a profit.”

“Hmm, is that ethical if everyone else is going bust.”

“Babes, I’m a banker.”

“Yes, but once we’re married I hope you’ll stop your nasty habits. I have to go, love you, byeeee.” I put the phone down and giggled for several minutes as I finished dressing. Serves him right, disturbing me with only one leg in my knickers!

##############################3

Author’s note: I’m away from early tomorrow morning for a week,looking for dormice on Menorca, so you won’t have to put up with my ramblings for seven whole days. Don’t celebrate too hard.

Bike 444

I wasn’t sure what to wear to meet with Ms Lovejoy. She knew I was a mad scientist, I only knew her as an agent, or actually as a voice on the phone. She sounded somewhere in her late thirties or early forties but I wouldn’t know until I met her.

I decided to go all professional, and dressed in the navy suit with a white blouse, and black court shoes. The suit is a Chanel type, with boucle material and round collar on a short jacket, which has quite large buttons. My mother had something like it, twenty years ago–I remember because when I cuddled her my face was all red marks from the rough material.

I found her office and waited in the car until five minutes to three. Then it was up the stairs in quite a modern block of offices. Her office was on the first floor, which is the one above ground or street level. I entered and her secretary, asked me to take a seat.

“Don’t you want to know who I am?” I asked.

“No, I recognise you from your picture in the poster.” She pointed at the poster on the wall, one of High Street Bank’s. I also recognise you from the clip on You tube, that is so funny.”

“I certainly didn’t think so at the time.”

“It’s had over two million hits.”

“Don’t, I want to retire to the country and breed dormice.”

“Aww, they’re such lovely looking things aren’t they?”

“You mean when they aren’t actually jumping down my front? Yes, I suppose they are.”

“Are you making a film on them?”

“Yes, which is why I’m here.”

“Ah, of course.” The intercom beeped and the dizzy secretary said, “You can go through now.”

I pointed at the door behind her and she nodded. I knocked and entered. I was at a disadvantage here, she knew what I looked like, I didn’t her. I was soon to find out. She rose from her desk to shake my hand. I was dwarfed in all senses. She was over six foot tall and broad, dark brown hair with a peaches and cream complexion. She looked about thirty five but it could have been five years either way.

“So, the famous Cathy Watts, soon to be Lady Cameron. Delighted to meet you.”

“I’m pleased to meet you.” I replied, “Someone has done their homework.”

“It pays to know my clients, it means I can give them better assistance.”

“So what do you know about me, apart from being engaged to Simon?”

“You told me you’re making a film about dormice, Imogen, my secretary, found the clip on Youtube. You said you work for Portsmouth University, and prefer field biology to doing stuff in a lab.”

“I didn’t say the latter, but you’re quite right. I’m better at walking around woods and hedgerows than dissecting things.”

“From the point of view of the film, that’s probably a good thing. Can I see what you’ve brought with you?”

She spent the next hour looking at the paperwork, including the script, asking intelligent questions and showing tremendous insight into the film. “This script is very good, and you’re narrating it?”

“Yes, why?”

“I hope you’re going to be on camera as often as the dormice.”

“Possibly more often.”

“You have the looks and figure to sell it to every man under seventy.”

“That’s a bit sexist isn’t?”

“Honeybunch, the object of making a film is to sell it; firstly, to the broadcasters, secondly, to the public. If the former think the latter want to see it, they’ll buy it. What you have to do is bury the educational material within the script, so while they’re wondering how good you’ll be in bed, you’re getting your own message across.”

“Don’t women ever watch natural history documentaries?”

“Yes, but not as many as men. The reverse is generally true of soaps.”

Somehow that didn’t surprise me, although the latter held no attraction for me. “So can you do a contract that will protect my film against Alan White’s plagiaristic tendencies?”

“Of course,” she smiled.

“How long?”

“I’ll email it to you tomorrow sometime.”

“Tomorrow, that would be brilliant.”

“Of course it is. Just because this is Whiteladies Road, not Wardour Street, doesn’t mean we can’t be the best, does it?”

“Absolutely,” I said and she rose and we shook hands again. That was it, I left and went home to do yet more paperwork. Whilst I was there, Simon phoned to say things were still looking bad, but he’d be with me for the weekend. He couldn’t stop to talk, he had crises to sort out.

I did some work on the mammal survey and looked at some data from my own team at Portsmouth: it seemed they could do quite well without me. I wasn’t sure if I was saddened or worried by that.

I had an email from Alan White reminding me that we were filming the day after next. I emailed him back saying that I was hoping to have the contract by then and that I hadn’t forgotten.

I then drove over to Des’ cottage and picked up various bits of equipment, I thought we might need. I brought them into the house for safe keeping, as I knew two of the cameras were worth thousands of pounds. I did miss him, and it grieved me that somehow he could fall in love with me, whilst Stella was there waiting for him. I suppose we’re all victims of our hearts and hormones. Okay, in one sort of way I did quite fancy him, but I liked him as a friend. The saddest thing is I knew that friendship would grow and we’d have collaborated on other projects too. I had to go and make myself some bread to stop me thinking such maudlin thoughts.

I made myself a cuppa afterwards, and wondered what the next few days would bring. I also reflected on my meeting with Erin Lovejoy, who seemed to think I was attractive. She obviously needs to see her optician more often or doesn’t know I used to be a boy—sorta.

I called Stella, she was feeling much better and the sickness was only occasional now. She said she was huge, which probably means she put on about ten grams, at this stage she’d hardly show if she was naked. I felt envious, although I was pleased for her, and for my little niece or nephew, whom I was going to spoil to death.

I spoke to Tom, he asked how I was and what the new film producer was like. “According to Des’ agent, Erin, I have to be careful about plagiarism. He’s good but not as good as Des. She’s drawing up a contract which is more binding than a straitjacket. “

“Let’s hope he adheres to it.”

“I’m keeping editorial control.”

“How are you going to exercise that, you’ve never edited anything more than an essay.”

“A few published papers,” I said indignantly.

“That’s what I mean, this is a very different medium requiring very different skills.”

“If I don’t like how it’s going I’ll get in someone to do it until I do like it.”

“This could become quite an expensive film at this rate.”

“Yes I know, if only that silly bugger hadn’t killed himself,” I sighed.

“I don’t think he did it intentionally. He was very tired I expect and he possibly fell asleep.”

“Yes, you’re probably right. I’m tired myself and feeling that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.”

“Maybe this new bloke will do a good job?”

“It’s still not Des, is it?”

“No. Did you have more feelings for him than you’ve told us about?”

“I don’t know.”

“My advice is to lose them, girl, your future is with Simon.”

“I know, Tom, I know.” He was only giving me fatherly advice, but I felt almost as if he was telling me off. I felt a tear roll down my cheek, guilt or grief? Take your pick.

I finished my call and went to turn out my loaf. I ate a little with some cheese while it was still warm. I didn’t have much appetite to cook for myself and after a glass of wine I went to bed with a nice book.

Bike 445

I must have fallen asleep whilst reading, because the light was still on when I woke at four, needing a wee. I nearly fell over the book which was on the floor, which suggested I had dropped it. It looked a bit battered, with pages bent and buckled and I felt a bit ashamed that I could treat books so badly. I picked it up bent it back into shape and shoved it on the bedside unit, underneath a heavier book, which might help press some of the creases out of the pages.

The book was 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. I remember the film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, which had me in tears. I must watch it again some time, I really enjoyed it.

Back in bed and thinking about the story, I missed Simon, then started to think about Des again and felt very sad. I was trying not to cry, but I lost the battle and had a good bawl. I felt so confused. Here I am engaged to the nicest man I’ve ever met, grieving for someone I felt uneasy with and who I turned down several times. At the end he stopped trying to bed me, and I don’t know if he would really have tried it anyway; some of it I’m sure was just a game.

To be honest, I was afraid of him—or of his reputation as a lady-killer. I was also afraid of my own inadequacies as a woman: in the first instance, I was pre op, then afterwards, I was very inexperienced and frightened of the whole idea. I was mindful of my betrayal of my relationship with Simon, which would occur if I had been persuaded.

I’d always wondered if Des was serious or just playing games with me, as he knew my history. I suppose from his letter, he wasn’t joking. Can I forgive him for falling in love with me, when he knew I wasn’t available, that I was promised to his good friend? I suppose I have to.

I wondered if he was going to change his will after he proposed to Stella, but died before he could. If he’d known she was carrying his child, surely he would, wouldn’t he? After all, it’s not something I could do for him, however much he loved me or made love to me. I was so envious of Stella—at the end of the day, her being a real woman against my manufactured one, won hands down. I know she wouldn’t see it like that, but at this moment at half past four on a Tuesday morning, I did. I was a simulacrum, a facsimile, a travesty. How could anyone love me?

I cried myself to sleep.

The next morning I awoke as a total wreck. I felt like something that had been through an old fashioned wringer, at least twice. My eyes were red and sore and my head felt like it had turned into a bucket and someone had given it a hard whack with a shovel. I’d only had two glasses of wine, so it wasn’t a hangover.

I thought back to my feelings in the night. It wasn’t a hangover, it was a hang-up. Ms Erin Lovejoy, may, or may not be aware of my history, so she may be forgiven for seeing me as a real woman, but I’m not—I’m a fake. I went to the loo and then back to bed.

I was awoken by the doorbell ringing. My head had felt bad before now it was really thumping. I looked out the window, there was a flash car parked outside, a Mazda sports thingy, not the MX whatever, but the one with the rotary engine, what do they call them—wanker or something? Wankel, that’s it, a Wankel engine.

I pulled on my housecoat and ran down the stairs, who could it be—and more importantly, what did I look like? I opened the door and there before me stood Ms Erin Lovejoy. I nearly died.

“Oh dear, late night?” she asked.

“No, I couldn’t sleep.”

“So you slept on?” she enquired and I nodded, “and you feel even worse?” I nodded again, even though it hurt my aching brain, it was less effort than talking. “Have you taken anything?”

“What do you mean?” I wondered if she was on about recreational drugs.

“I mean for your obvious headache? Are you on or something?”I began to cry, and she shut the front door and hugged me. “Come on, tell your Auntie Erin all about it.”

I cried for several minutes and she held me, rubbing my back and making soothing noises. Finally I stopped and felt even worse. She led me to the kitchen and after sitting me down, she put the kettle on and before I knew it she had produced a cup of tea and was urging me to drink it, whilst she sat and sipped her own.

“Thank you, I feel such a fool.”

“Why is that?”

“Performing like this in front of you.”

“I’ve seen worse. I have teenage kids, two girls. I know when they’re on, it’s licence to kill time.”

“That’s just it.”

“What is?”

“I can’t come on.”

“Dearie, you must see the doctor, you have a problem somewhere.”

“Yeah, a big one—I’m not really a woman.”

I heard her gasp and she put down her cup very slowly. “What are you then, some sort of alien?”

“No, I’m transsexual.”

“Yeah, so—from where I’m sitting I’m talking to a woman and I’m looking at one, who despite her dishevelled appearance, is still very attractive.”

“But I’m not am I?”

“Doesn’t that depend upon how you feel about yourself? Being a woman is more than having ovaries and the right hormones; it’s about personal identity, how you see it and feel about it and how the rest of the world sees it and you. As far as I know, that’s as beautiful woman.”

“It isn’t how I feel.”

“Isn’t it? Everything about you screams female to me. So what are you feeling?”

“A fraud.”

“How?”

“Well, if I do this programme, I’m purporting to be something I’m not.”

“So what do you want to do to correct that—show ‘em your dick?”

“I can’t, I don’t have one—not any more.”

“You’ve had the operation?”

“Yes.”

“So, you’re a woman, aren’t you?”

“Not according to my birth certificate.”

“Why, because you haven’t changed it yet?”

“No, I can’t do that for a few more months.”

“Big deal, it’s a technicality, that’s all. Look, honeybunch, being a woman isn’t about having bits of paper, it’s about what comes over to other people, your inner self; and let me tell you, you are one of the most attractive females I have ever met. Even Imogen was on about how sexy you were, she was jealous of you.”

“What? That’s bloody silly.”

“You may think so, but it happens to be true.” She glanced at her watch. “Right, I have your contract here. I shall be back in one hour, you Missy, will get yourself tidied up and be ready to go somewhere nice for lunch, where we will discuss it. I shall be back in exactly one hour—be ready.”

I sat there for another four or five minutes, feeling like shit. I had a sip of my tea, but it was cold. I slowly got up and took myself upstairs and got in the shower…it nearly killed me, but I was ready, wearing a skirt and jacket and even some heels—oh and some makeup. My eyes were still sore, but they didn’t look too bad with some mascara and liner.

“Attagirl, now look in the mirror and tell me what you see?”

I stared into the mirror in the lounge. “Somebody who looks like a woman.”

“No, somebody who is a woman. Look harder, there’s no sign of a boy is there?”

“I suppose not.”

“Right, let’s go. Oh and by the way, I have put the word out that a new documentary on a sexy beast is being made by a sexy woman, and I have some interest from as far afield as Australia and Canada.”

“What?”

“Come on, let’s go and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Bike 446

I carefully sat in the Mazda and Erin shoved it in gear and we shot forward. About ten minutes later, she was parking it in the car park of a very nice pub I didn’t even know existed. “They have quite a good restaurant here, I booked us a quiet table, so we can talk.”

“Good afternoon, Mrs Lovejoy.”

“Hello, Samuel, usual table please.” The middle aged man led us through a very plush dining room to a table which stood before a window overlooking the well tended garden. “I’ll have my usual, Lady Cameron, what would you like?”

“Uh? Oh, just some still water please.” He nodded at my request and went off to get the drinks. “Why did you call me, Lady Cameron, I’m not yet.”

“He doesn’t know that, and besides he’ll be more attentive.”

“But it’s a lie.”

“Don’t you ever tell them?”

“Not if I can help it.”

“You’re too honest, too trusting.”

“Am I? I thought I was being myself, isn’t that what you told me to do?”

“Yes, but in this world, you need to be a bit more guarded, or people will shaft you.”

“So people keep telling me.”

“They can’t all be wrong, can they?”

“I don’t know.”

“Just think, you make your film and it turns out as you want it to. Your main sponsors are delighted and have a corporate showing. Then it goes network, the BBC or another company buy it and it goes down well. Now, who’s going to get you a decent price from the Beeb? Or even more importantly, who’s going to sell it to other companies abroad? If you sell it to the Fox network or CBC, who’s going to negotiate for you—or are you going to do it yourself?”

“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, I hadn’t actually got beyond the completion bit.”

“What, completing the film?”

“Yes, unless we do that, the rest is largely irrelevant.”

“Oh, Alan will do that and will make a good job of it.”

“I thought you said he was a thief, or as good as?” The waiter brought our drinks. She paused to sip her G and T, before answering me.

“He is, which is why this little baby,” she patted the file on the desk, “will tie him tighter than a tick. The sort of thing he does is to pinch bits of your clips you didn’t use, make them into a similar film to yours and undersell you.”

“But isn’t that self defeating?”

“No, he gets a cut of the royalties from yours, from his he gets the lot.”

“Oh yeah, bloody nerve.”

“He’s got plenty of that. Look, you said you’re filming tomorrow?”

“Yes, weather permitting, if we wait until it gets any colder, they’ll all be hibernating.”

“True, but a word of advice.” I sat there ears all agog. “Wear a top with a good plunge neck and a push up bra.”

“What?” I was shocked, no, make that disgusted. “I’m a scientist, not a bimbo. I do research not pole dancing.”

“Look, honeybunch, I know all this and I share your revulsion for blatant sexual overtones—but it’s what is going to sell your film.”

“What about all the pictures of dormice, Des did hours of filming?”

“I’m well aware of Des’ capability as a camera man. I’m also aware of the ‘aww factor’ for your little furry things. You’re aware of this too. You can still use your clever script and give loads of information about dormice. However, if you use the phwoar factor, you’ll get the message over even more, and they’ll want you to make more films, so you can save more little furry things.”

We chose our meals, then she continued, “Look, sweetie-pie, read me the opening line of your script.”

I took the paper she handed me. It was my script. “The countryside of the British Isles is very different to what it was twenty years ago. If we were to go back fifty or even a hundred years, you’d scarcely recognise it. The increased population and its various demands have caused enormous change….”

“Fine, you sound like someone giving the Christmas science lecture.”

I took this as a compliment. It wasn’t. She shook her head at me. “I want you to read it again, only pretend that Simon is doing the camerawork and you want him to take you to bed and ravish you.”

“What?”

“You know exactly what I mean—you’re a woman. Once he sees that glint in your eye, he’s total putty. We want the viewers to be the same.”

“I don’t want to be seen as a sexy, by all and sundry.”

“You should have stayed as a boy then. You are a very attractive woman, you need to capitalise or exploit it.”

“I don’t think I like where this is going. I think I want to go home, now.” I went to get up from the table.

“Cathy, sit down and shut up.” I slumped in my chair. “Do you want this film to work or not?”

“At this price, I don’t know.”

“All I’m asking you to do, is seduce the camera. You are so sexy, it’s almost unbelievable. All you need to do, is act a bit more seductively, use a breathier voice, and act a little more seductively as you walk about. You’re talking about nocturnal animals with good hearing, you need to talk quietly, why not make it sexy, too? You’re talking to every man in the audience, making him feel special.”

“What about the women? They make up fifty percent of the population, or have you forgotten that?”

“No, the younger ones will want to be like you, if not be you. Rich, clever, educated, beautiful and sexy…”

“Don’t forget infertile, and screwed up.”

“Don’t you think that Victoria Beckham has her off days, they all do—when they think, act and look like shit.”

“But she doesn’t have my problem does she?”

“Which is?”

“I’m not interested in looking sexy for anyone besides Simon.”

“Grrr! Look woman, you are sexy. Even in your dishevelled state this morning, most men would have given anything to jump your bones.”

“Now I know you’re exaggerating.”

“Sam, can you come over a second?” She called to the restaurant manager. He dutifully wandered over. “Sam, can I ask you a favour?”

“But of course, Mrs Lovejoy.”

“Take a good look at my companion, and tell me what you see. Please be honest.”

Sam blushed but began to run his eye over me. I blushed and squirmed beneath his gaze. “You are a very beautiful lady, with an enchanting smile that men would die for. You are very sexy, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“No that’s fine, Sam, thanks a lot.” Erin dismissed him, then looked hard at me and said, “Now do you believe me?”

“How do I know this wasn’t prearranged?”

“You’ll have to trust me on that.”

“But you said I was too trusting?”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t include me. Me, you can trust, okay?”

“If you say so,” is what my mouth said, but my heart wasn’t quite so sure about it.

Bike 447

I felt mortified, everything I’d believed about being discreet and proper was being undermined. I wasn’t at all sure I could do this, let alone wanted to do it. I wasn’t some bimbo pop star or wannabe, I was a serious researcher, a scientist looking to maintain that profile. I mean she’d practically suggested I do the filming in a swim suit. Stick my boobs out, hold my tummy in, waggle my arse about and speak in a seductive manner—if I did that in the street, I’d be done for soliciting. I was also engaged to Simon, would he want a future Lady Cameron to have such a reputation?

“You’ve gone very quiet, Cathy.”

“I was thinking.”

“About what?”

“About whether I abandon this project now or later.”

“Abandon it? Are you crazy?”

“No, I’m actually quite sane. This thing has driven me for weeks if not months. I’m sick and tired of it.”

“But it’s a winner, and what about your backers, they’re not going to be very pleased.”

“I’m not going to prostitute myself for anyone or anything.”

“You’ve lost me, you don’t have to sleep with anyone, so what’s this all about.”

“I’m not prepared to dress up like a street walker to make a stupid film. The film can go to hell. I’ve had it.” I felt the tears start and I felt stupid as well as weak.

“Cathy, you aren’t going to look like a street walker, it’s about selling your image as a sexy young woman.”

“I don’t want to be seen as a sexy woman.”

“What? Every young woman wants to be desired, wants to feel attractive.”

“Well I don’t.” I sniffed.

“What are you frightened of?”

“Who says I have to be frightened of anything?”

“But you are, aren’t you? Come on, you can tell your Auntie Erin.”

The tears were flowing and I was silently sobbing on her shoulder. How could I tell her I was terrified of being seen in such a light. That with the exception of Simon, I was scared of men. I’m not a sexual animal, well, not very. I love Simon, that’s why I can be intimate with him. I can see men as fanciable but to contemplate more than that, terrifies me. This is really why Des never got beyond first base—I was too frightened.

“Come on, Cathy, tell me so I can help you.”

“Please, can I go home now.”

“Of course you can. I’ll settle the bill and we can go.” Nothing was said in the car all the way to my house. When we got there she helped me in. I felt so stupid. I didn’t have the confidence or poise to do what she wanted me to do. Hell, I’d only been living as a woman for eighteen or so months. I’m not an actress, I’m a scientist but no one will listen to me.

I sat weeping in the kitchen while Erin boiled the kettle for a cuppa. She obviously wasn’t going until I either told her what the problem was or I agreed to do the film, or possibly both.

“Here,” she said handing me the mug of steaming fluid, “Now what’s the problem?”

“I don’t know how to do sexy, alright, you’ve dragged it out of me. I don’t bloody know. I’ve never done sexy, I’ve only been a woman for eighteen bloody months—how the bloody hell am I supposed to know how to do this like someone who’s been practising for twenty odd years?”

She sat there with her mouth wide open. “Oh you poor girl, I am so sorry.”

“I told you, I’m not a proper woman—now maybe you’ll believe me.”

“Of course, now I understand—we’ll just have to teach you, won’t we?”

“You just don’t get the message do you—I don’t want to frigging learn! I don’t want to be a femme fatale, I’m a friggin’ scientist. When I’m not doing that, I just want to be Mrs Simon Cameron, and look after the man I love. I don’t want to save the planet if I lose myself.” At this point I sobbed uncontrollably and she couldn’t talk or listen to me. Not that she listened to me anyway.

“This film is dead in the water then?”

“I don’t care, I just don’t care any more.”

“Do you want me to cancel Alan for tomorrow?”

“If you want, I really don’t care anymore.”

“I’ll speak to you tomorrow.” With that she left.

I took myself up to my bed and cried myself to sleep. Why did everyone want me to be someone other than me. My parents wanted me to be a boy, Tom wants me to be a dutiful daughter, Simon wants me to be a lady, and now this woman wants me to be a tart. Why can’t they just let me be me?

Bike 448

I spent a very uncomfortable night populated with fears of my inadequacies and dreams of being seen as a tart, the worst one with Simon and his family shunning me.

I needed to speak with someone who could give me a decent opinion or advice. I called Tom. It was seven in the morning and I’d been up prowling around the house for two hours.

I heard him yawn as he answered the phone. “Oh, Cathy, there’s nothing wrong is there?” Within moments I was in tears again and he waited patiently for me to recover enough to tell him my latest dilemma.

“You must do as you see fit, it’s your life and it’s your image that’s at stake, don’t let anyone else control you. You’re a natural enthusiast for your subject and anyone who isn’t equally enthused will either be deaf, dead or watching some other channel. You’re pretty enough, you don’t need to do sexy: you’re naturally sexy, just be yourself.”

We chatted a bit longer and he admitted he was finding things lonely in the house on his own. I promised to go and stay with him as soon as I could. I felt very guilty, I had used his position quite often to help with my little disasters and given him little in return.

“Our relationship is a bit one way isn’t it?” I said with a tinge of apology.

“Whatever do you mean?”

“You’re always doing things for me, and I do nothing for you, do I?”

“Apart from giving me a reason for living, no, not a lot.”

“What?” I was astonished at this.

“Having you as my surrogate daughter gives me a reason to be here. I look forward to your calls or visits. When you’re here, the house lives again, and so do I.”

“Daddy, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise…” the tears started again. “I’m sorry, I neglect you, I don’t deserve you or the help you give me.” This man had done more for me than my own father had ever done.

“Hey, don’t get all upset, I wasn’t laying guilt on you, I was trying to explain how I felt. You brought sunshine into my life after a long period of grey skies, that’s all I was saying.”

“Without your help, Daddy, I wouldn’t have lived this long, I’m sure of that.”

“Yes you would, you’re tougher than you think, mentally and physically. I just want to see you realise your potential, you have such a wealth of talent. Do your film, but do it your way.”

“I’m coming home tonight.”

“I thought you were filming.”

“I don’t care, I want to see you.”

“Leave it until the weekend. I don’t want you having an accident on my account. Come and cook me a Sunday dinner.”

I desperately wanted to hug this man, whom I loved so much as his surrogate child. I didn’t know if I could wait until Sunday. I’d also have to tell Simon. I showered and had some breakfast and called Alan.

“Erin told me you were wavering about the whole thing, I wondered if you’d change your mind again.”

“I feel I need to finish Des’ film, but not the way Erin suggested.”

“I suppose she told you I was a thief, did she?”

“Um, I um…”

“She did. Okay, I know she’ll draw up a contract that ties me like a straitjacket but I’d like to help you finish this film too. Des was a mate of mine, his stuff is good and we’ll make enough from it to make it worth my while.” I wanted to believe him, but I wasn’t sure if I could.

“She didn’t leave the contract.”

“Didn’t she? She said she’d seen you yesterday and you’d had a bit of an editorial discussion and agreed to differ. She also said you didn’t know if you were strong enough to present the film, she suggested she may need to get Julie Dixon to do it.”

“Julie Dixon! That trollop, I think Erin needs to remember whose film this is. It’s mine, at this rate I’m going to be looking for another agent.”

“I’d stick with her if I were you, she’ll get you a good price and loads of airtime.”

“So what are we going to do? Are we filming or talking?” I decided to move things up a notch.

“I’m ready when you are, sweetheart.”

“Right, at the woodland site in two hours?”

“I’ll be there.”

“So will I.” I didn’t say, ’sans sexy clothes and pout,’ but that was how it was going to be.

I dressed in green trousers and shirt, with a green jacket. I wore walking boots on my feet. I had a bra on, but it wasn’t a push up. I did my makeup, but it was very light. I packed my script and the equipment into the Mondeo, grabbed my handbag and locked up. An hour later, I was parking at the woodland site in the Forest of Dean. Alan was already there, and was setting up some of his equipment, he had a young man with him.

“Ah, here’s the star of the show,” he said to his companion. “Cathy Watts, this is Darren, who’s going to be our technical assistant.”

“Hi, Darren,” I said smiling at him, “What’s a technical assistant?”

“It’s jargon for gofer.”

“That’s me,” said the youngster.

“Are we paying him?” I asked quietly.

“Yeah, but I’ll sort that out,” Alan said adjusting a camera mount.

“Okay. I thought we’d do a quick recce and then decide where we’d do the shooting.”

“Fine with me.” He picked up a large camera on a tripod and put it back in the car, hiding it under a blanket. He double locked his car. I also locked mine.

We walked around the site for another half an hour; agreed where we’d film and then went back to the cars for the equipment. I’d made a flask of coffee, which we shared and then went to the shooting site. Alan did some checks for a few things including my voice, although he said we could always dub it later.

It was at this point I realised I’d left my script in the car. I was about to ask if Darren could go and get it, when Alan suggested I improvise, if it was rubbish, I could always dub over it afterwards.

“This is a patch of ancient woodland, it has a bank and a ditch which is probably medieval, the species of plant and tree are numerous and nearly all native species. Sadly, it’s now just a tiny remnant of the woodland which would have covered Southern England centuries ago, when bears and wolves also roamed these islands…”

I went on in this vein for several minutes before walking to a bush on the edge of the woodland and picking up several acorns under it, showed them to the camera. “These acorns show the unmistakeable presence of dormice.” Alan zoomed in and I pointed out the smooth edged hole around one acorn and a rough edged one around the other. “This is a hole gnawed by a field or wood mouse,” I showed the rough edged one. “This one has been eaten by a dormouse.” I held up the smooth edged one and Alan zoomed closer still.
He focused on the abundance of food in the woodland edge, hazel nuts, acorns, haws and of course until it gets colder, insects. I explained all this to the camera. I then pointed out a probable dormouse nest, suggesting that we came back later to see if it was occupied, when we’d need special night vision equipment.

“Okay, that’s enough, I’m knackered,” I said off camera.

“That was brilliant, Cathy.”

“I expect we’ll have to redo it or dub it.” I said, feeling less confident than my colleague.

“If we do, it’ll only be tiny bits. You’re a natural, kiddo and I suspect the script would get in the way, rather than help you. You talked about the woodland, the dormice, the other creatures. We’ve got some lovely sounds of blackbird and thrush, with robin and chaffinch, and great tit doing his bike pump bit in the background. If it’s going to be this easy, we’ll have the shooting finished in a couple of days—weather permitting.”

“I know a nice pub not far away, let’s go and get a bite to eat and I could do with a drink.” I hate to admit it, but a glass of wine felt more needed than the food.

Bike 449

We ate lunch at the pub and the landlord let us use a back room, so we were able to have look at the day’s filming. Alan and Darren thought it looked brilliant, I felt so self conscious watching myself, that I felt quite ill. I went off to get a coffee. When I came back, Alan said, “You wait till Old Mother Hubbard, sees this married with some of the stuff Des did. You don’t need to wear a miniskirt and a plunging neckline.”

“Ooh, yes please,” said Darren.

“I have no objections if you want to wear them, Darren,” I said and he went very red and quiet. “However, until David Attenborough turns up in that sort of kit, I won’t either.”

“So it’ll be just you then, Darren,” said Alan, sniggering.

“You’ll need some slouch boots though, unless you go for stilettos,” I teased the young man. Then recalled my own past and decided he’d had enough. It certainly didn’t sound as if he was gay, so how had Alan acquired him.

“So how do you two know each other?”

“He’s doing film making at Filton College, I teach there occasionally.”

“So, does this count as work experience?”

“Sort of, I also do a bit with Nick Park.”

“Oh, Wallace and Grommett, I love those.”

“They don’t let me do anything on that, but I have helped on some of the other stuff, the short films. It’s great fun but so painstaking, it wouldn’t be something I’d want to do very long.”

“Nor me, I’d rather sit in a wood and count dormice. Anyway, you can take some stills of me if you like. I’ve brought my camera, I might just be able to cope with seeing one or two exposures of me, rather than half a bloody DVD.”

“I don’t understand your problem, Cathy, you appear sexy and attractive, you do a good presentation and you know your stuff inside out. Your love and enthusiasm shine in every shot we take.”

“Look, I do the stuff, surely I don’t have to watch it as well?”

“If you want some editorial control, it’s probably essential.”

“Yes, that makes sense, I just wish I’d thought of it earlier.”

“Why?”

“Because then, I could have had someone else edit it.”

“I can do that for you, but if you want some control as you have insisted, you’ll need to have some input as well, which means watching it through a few thousand times. Don’t worry, after the first couple of hundred times, all you see is the technical aspect. When I was doing my degree, I did a film of some male strippers, a short documentary. These guys had the most amazing bodies, but after looking at the film for a couple of days, I didn’t see anything but the technical aspect of the film.”

“Geez, are you gay then, Alan?” said Darren.

“As a butcher’s hook,” he smiled at Darren who went a little pale.

“Does that matter?” I asked, “You’re only working together, not sleeping together.”

“Unless we do some night time filming,” said Alan, winking at me. The look on Darren’s face was a picture.

“Darren, how do you know I’m not what I seem?”

“What, like a lezzie?” he said.

“Or a drag artist?” offered Alan.

Darren started to laugh, “Come off it, I know a foxy chick when I see one, besides, she’s engaged to that Lord wassisname. So she’s kosher, alright.”

“Actually, I’m transsexual,” I said and Darren fell over laughing.

“Pull the other one,” he said and roared again. Well, I did try to tell him, and he chose not to accept it. I was quite happy.

An hour before dusk, we went back to the woodland and set up again, this time with some of Des’ equipment and my night vision stuff from Portsmouth. We shot some conventional film of me showing the camera the night vision kit and explaining how it works.

For the next six hours, we sat and waited for movement in the trees where we’d decided to film. Then, to my delight we got a little bit of a dormouse zipping back to his nest, and we got some nice owl calls as well. During the night, we also got footage of a couple of owls, a pair of deer who wandered past us, a couple of voles and a brown rat. Nearby some night jar had nested in the summer, but had now gone south for the winter.

It was just as well, we weren’t using a script, I’d have been unable to read it in the dark and it was all over quite quickly. Two minutes if we were lucky, but it would be enough to mix with Des’ film.

“Forecast is good tomorrow, I’d like to do some more of you walking through the woodland, explaining about the ecology of woodland and where it fits in the landscape of Britain.”

“Yeah, okay. Where and when?”

“What about that university land you went to in Gloucester.”

“Oh yes, hmmm, I think this is a better site.”

“Okay then, back here, by nine.”

“It’s four already. I’m going to kip in my car, I’ve got a sleeping bag,” I said yawning.

“Okay, I suppose we could do the same. What about it Darren?”

“Um, I think there’d be more room in Cathy’s car.” Alan laughed at his assistant’s response.

“You can’t sleep with me, I talk in my sleep and I can’t have that being reported.” I was joking but Darren looked very sheepish.

“I won’t tell anyone, Cathy, honest.”

“What’s wrong with Alan?” I asked.

“Nothing, but there won’t be room for him and me.”

“Okay, but all I’ve got is a blanket for you.”

“That’s fine,” he said.

“I got the impression, he’d never slept in a car before. It can get very cold. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but it would save two hours of driving and obviously meant those two hours could be used for sleeping.

We shifted all the camera stuff into the front foot wells and I put the back seats down, in my dad’s Mondeo. It was an estate car, and I knew I could lie outstretched in it. Darren, I wasn’t so sure about. “If you so much as look at me, you’re out in the cold, okay?”

“Sure, Cathy, I’ll behave, honest.”

“You’d better.”

I locked up the car with us inside, leaving just a little gap at the top of the windows to reduce condensation. Much to my amazement, I actually managed to get a few hours sleep and Darren—he was as good as gold, until he farted about an hour before we got up.

Bike 450

We did an hour’s filming at day break with me explaining a little about woodland ecology, showing a few plants, insects and more signs of birds and mammals. Alan was a real enthusiast and he admitted he’d looked at what we’d shot the night before, he reckoned we needed a bit more. I needed a shower and some breakfast, not necessarily in that order. Heading back to Bristol, we stopped at the motorway services and had a quick bite to eat, part of me wished we waited, the food is poor quality and expensive—however, it met a need.

We arranged to meet at six that evening, and we drove home. I was in the shower half an hour later and it felt amazing, washing away the dirt of the previous twenty four or so hours. Rejuvenated, I ignored the ansafone’s flashing light, I knew who it would be, and went off to town. I needed some more trousers and a new shirt, the others might not dry in time.

I eventually dealt with Erin’s phone call, she was quite put out by my assertiveness, and surprised that we had almost finished the filming. I made myself some lunch, put my wet laundry in the tumble drier and read through my script. I was pleased to discover I’d covered most of the points I’d originally described in the script, although I would need to hear what I’d said before I was completely sure about it.

I organised my evening meal and while it was cooking, I made up a picnic hamper and some flasks of coffee and additional soft drinks. I loaded it in the car, ate my meal and changed into the same clothes I’d worn yesterday. I packed the new trousers and shirt I’d bought earlier in case I needed them.

I was late getting to the forest, the traffic was abysmal. Somehow the other two had made it and were setting up the cameras when I drove in to the parking area. “Ah, the star of our show,” said Alan, as I alighted from the car.

“Oh don’t, the traffic is absolutely awful. Have you eaten?”

“Yeah, we had fish and chips on the way.”

“Oh, okay. So what do you want to do?”

“Get some evening shots, the light is quite interesting. What could you talk to us about?”

“Well the dusk is a form of transition from daylight to darkness and there are some creatures which are well adapted to it, as well as day creatures and night ones. It’s almost like the end of the day shift and the start of the night one, with bats and owls and moths replacing most songbirds and day time mammals and insects.”

“Talk about that and show us a few things.”

“Okay,” I walked back towards the area we’d filmed earlier and did my stuff adding a link about how the forest was preparing itself for the night shift proper.

Some five hours later, we had just filmed the dormouse again with a remote camera—one of Des’ toys. It was operated from a computer and we were able to place it close to where the animal had nested during the day. I think we got some good shots from it. Darren was removing it from the bushes when he decided he didn’t like tawny owls.

To be fair, I think I might have agreed with him had it happened to me. He was rustling away removing the camera, when the owl flew at him. It knocked off his baseball cap and actually scratched his scalp. Then it flew at him again. I stood helplessly and watched, Alan actually filmed it.

The young man screamed and yelped, then jumping out of the bush ran off into the darkness. I knew there was a stream near by, I wasn’t sure if Darren did. I grabbed a torch and using the night image intensifier, I was already wearing, I ran after him.

It was difficult to work out which way he’d run pursued by the owl, something which had completely surprised me. I’d spent hundreds of hours in woodland and never seen anything like it. As I ran towards the noises I thought I could hear, I fell over a badger which trundled out from some bushes by the side of the path. It squealed like a giant guinea pig and I shouted just before I hit the ground. Thankfully, neither I nor the equipment was damaged. I’d just managed to get up when I heard a shriek and then a scream.

I headed towards it, calling Darren’s name. He simply called back, ‘help.’ I followed the path and sure enough he was ten foot down a muddy bank, lying in a stream.

As everyone does in such circumstances, I asked him the stupidest question imaginable. “Are you all right?”

“I hurt my ankle.”

“Is it broken?”

“I don’t know. It hurts.”

“Can you move it?” I asked further inane questions. It should have been obvious to a blind man, he couldn’t move otherwise he wouldn’t be lying in a stream.

“Okay, wait there,” (where was he going to go?) “I’m coming round to you, it’ll take me a few minutes.

“ ‘Urry up, I’m freezin’.”

“Okay,” I followed the bank along, and found an easier descent, then splashed my way across the stream and up the other bank. Thankfully, with his help, I managed to heave him out of the stream and up onto the bank. Then we began the perilous return trip.

What had been five minutes trot turned into half an hour’s slog, with Darren limping while holding onto me. He was soaked and I was getting quite wet from his close proximity, I was also feeling cold where I’d got wet.

Back at the cars, we wrapped him in a blanket and I gave him some hot coffee to drink. I examined his ankle, which I considered had become a bit sprained. It meant if we removed his boots we wouldn’t get them back on as it would swell like crazy.

I did toy with the idea of loaning him my new trousers and shirt but decided they’d be too small, he was quite a bit bigger than I was. He thanked me for helping him, then Alan agreed to drive him home. I was quite pleased he wasn’t sitting in my car, the mud was quite smelly. I packed up my stuff and Des’ equipment and drove home. I considered that Darren was quite lucky, he could have fallen much heavier into the stream and really hurt himself. It was two in the morning and my bed was calling me, but not before I’d had a shower.

I got home about three and had showered and made myself a drink by four. My clothes were in the washing machine being churned in soapy water. I listened to a call from Simon on the ansafone, ‘looking forward to the weekend.’ I hadn’t told him of the change of plan; another thing to do tomorrow.

I would call Alan tomorrow and see how the filming went. I know he would have to re-shoot some bits, it was almost inevitable. I also wondered if we should include my clip from Youtube as a means of entertaining the populace.

I got to bed at four thirty and was asleep by five. I slept until ten, then managed to crawl out to send Simon a text:

’Chnge o plan re wkend.
Meet me at T’s.
Lol, C xxx.’

Then after breakfast and a little wash, I called Alan. He must have been in bed as I got his ansafone. I left a message.

There wasn’t much else I could do. So I made some bread, or filled the machine and turned it on—it had a very low threshold, so I just stroked it a few times!—while it did its thing, I switched on the computer and dealt with some emails. I was still being asked to verify records of all sorts of strange animals, including a lynx near Budleigh Salterton—which had neither short tail nor pointed ears in the photo and was obviously a big domestic or feral moggie; and the black beast of Bodmin, which looked remarkably like a labrador. Still it made me laugh a bit. Then I saw a picture and description of what looked like Eliomys quercinus or garden dormouse, probably an escape or a hoax. It certainly got my heart beating faster, as it occurs in much of Southern Europe but not the UK.

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