Bike 501–550

Wuthering Dormice

(aka Easy As Falling Off A Bike)

Parts 501–550

by Angharad

This is an authorised compilation of Angharad’s story, with some minor reformatting of the synopsis areas and ending comments to make it work as a continuous story.

I have retained her beginnings and endings except where they were repetitive.

It has also received a UK spell checking and very minor editing.

I hope you enjoy not having to download a large number of parts individually.

Holly H. Hart

If you wish to make a comment please go to the original part by part posting on BigCloset TopShelf.


Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 501

“You think you’ve won, don’t you?” spat the social worker at me as I left with Jemima.

“How can I? The judge has yet to make his mind up. This isn’t a contest, it’s about what is best for Mima.”

“Is someone throwing money at her, best for her?”

“Who’s throwing money? I’m a poor working girl.”

“About to marry a millionaire.”

“What’s the matter? Jealous?”

“Of you—ha, at least I know what sex I am.”

“So do I, and have done since I was about four.”

“Your fiancé, he likes sleeping with blokes, does he?”

“Why, are you one?” I spat back.

“Me, I’m all woman, unlike some here.” She brushed past me and how I didn’t push her in the back as she went, is some evidence of my increasing self restraint.

“Mummy, why she mean to you?” There was my reason for not retaliating.

“Why is she mean? I don’t know, she’s jealous because you want to come and live with Simon and me. She seems to think you shouldn’t.”

“Mima wanna stay wiv Mummy an’ Daddy.”

“I know, lovely girl, that’s why we were seeing the nice judge. Did he like your book?”

“Yes, nice man wiked my book.”

“Oh there’s Tom,” we both waved, and he walked over to meet us.

“Where’s Stella and Simon?”

“Seeing Henry off, he had to dash for a vote in the Lords.”

“Oh, the burdens of office.”

“So what happened to you?”

“Your precious computer system played up again. We had to have the bloke back, he thinks he’s found the fault this time, a glitch in the software controlling it all.”

“Oh, I hope no more dormice are at risk?”

“Not so far, Neal is watching it now, at least the alarms work now.”

“What did we pay for if nothing works?”

“They won’t be charging us for the two visits.”

“I should hope not.”

“What happened in court?”

“He’s given himself a month to make a decision. Meanwhile he’s continuing the status quo.”

“Cor, that’s big words for you.”

“What is?”

“Meanwhile and continuing.” Tom was poker faced then the edges of his mouth crinkled.

“You silly old bugger, it’s only professors who become monosyllabic.”

“Isn’t that type of standing stone?” asked Simon, who’d caught us up.

“Come on, Mima, let’s leave these silly people behind and go home and have some ice cream.”

“Yes plwease, Mummy, I wuv ice cweam.”

I started to stride away from Tom and Simon, except in these shoes, I was likely to break my neck. I slowed and meandered along as Stella walked alongside. “What’s the problem, shoe trouble?”

“These wretched things are killing my feet.”

“Yeah, but they look brilliant, so walk through the pain.”

“That’s okay for you to say, it’s not you they’re crippling.”

“That social worker was really pissed at you for the way you dress.”

“What cast offs and charity shops?”

“The blouse isn’t either.”

“No, Simon gave it to me for my birthday—which you presumably chose?”

“On the grounds it might incriminate me, I’m saying nothing.” She hailed a passing cab.

“Hey,” called Simon, “Let’s go out for lunch. See you at The Oaktree.”

“Simon, my feet are hurting.”

“Go on, you can sit down to eat.”

I got in the cab, followed by Mima and Stella. I directed him to take us home. Once there, I changed my shoes to a more manageable pair of courts, got Mima’s dormouse for her and collected my car. We were at the pub half an hour later. Simon was a bit miffed, but when I showed him my sore toes, he calmed down, which was just as well, because I wasn’t at all repentant.

I wasn’t that hungry, so Mima and I shared some sandwiches, she sat on my lap and ate them. Then a little later, she fell asleep on my lap, cuddling with her dormouse. Stella took some photos on her mobile.

Simon who was sitting opposite me said, “You two look good together.”

“I can’t see how we look, but we certainly feel good together.”

“How did you think it went?” he asked me.

“As well as could be expected. At least he wasn’t blown away by my medical history.

“No, that’s very true. Mind you that Bentley chap was totally brilliant, I loved the way he suggested that you weren’t a woman in a man’s body, but a woman with a plumbing problem.”

“I missed that, Mima was needing some attention every now and then. I thought she did really well to sit still for so long.”

“Was that a new book she was reading?”

“Yeah, I got it for her the other day when I went out on my own.”

“What was it she asked you about?”

“When?”

“You know when it went quiet.”

“Oh that, a hefferlump.”

“A what?”

“It’s Pooh,” said Stella, “Have you never heard of a hefferlump? Pooh and co are terrified of them.”

“Of course,” Simon shook his head, “how could I forget? Mind you I’ve been trying to catch Alice, ever since Christopher Robin went down with it.”

“You silly bugger,” accused Stella and smacked him on his arm.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 502

My feet rested, I felt able to go for a short walk with Mima in the pushchair. Opposite the pub is a park, and we all strolled there in the weak sunshine that had managed to claw its way through the clouds.

When Mima had woken, I ordered her some ice cream and fed it to her to save her getting too messy. Tom was blown away by her new dress and coat. “She looks just darling in that outfit, who chose it for her?”

“She did, she saw it on the rack and wanted it. I chose the coat.” I replied as we walked.

“So there’s no doubting she’s all little girl, then?”

“Absolutely, Tom. But then at her age, I would have been given the opportunity.”

“Aye, my Catherine was, although it took a few years for us to deal with it.” He looked into the distance.

“Will you be placing some flowers on her grave for Christmas.” I asked.

He nodded, his eyes looking moist with tears.

“Could I come with you?” I held on to his arm with one of mine, pushing the buggy with the other.

“Och, I don’t know, Cathy. Sometimes I make a fool o’mesel’ when I’m there, what with her mother being there too.”

“It’s just that I’d like to thank her for teaching you about girls like us.”

“Well, she certainly did that alright,” he looked at me and shook his head. “I shouldna exclude you, you’re my daughter now, but neither do I want you involved in all my pain from so long ago.”

“You’re my father now, and I want to be a part of your life, if that includes the pain, then I have to accept the good with the bad.”

He stopped and looked at my back. “Is there a problem there, Daddy?” Bird droppings went through my mind—not literally, but you get my meaning.

“No, only I can’t see where your wings were attached.”

“Are you implying I’m a fairy?” I felt a little hurt if that was his view.

“No, you soft Sassenach, an angel was what went through my mind. You always walk the extra mile don’t you?”

“Not always, but sometimes—yes—especially for those I love, and I love you, Daddy.”

“Mima wuv Gwampy, too.”

“Yes, we all love, Gramps, don’t we?”

“Yes, we alw wuv Gwampy,” she piped and Simon and Stella laughed from behind us.

“You tell ‘em, Meems,” called Simon.

We allowed them to catch us up, “Can I squeeze a couple of hours tomorrow?” I said to Stella, nodding at Mima.

“I suppose so.”

“I need to do some shopping, I’ve virtually no presents for anyone.” It wasn’t quite true, I’d bought most of the ones I needed and the food shopping was under control. However, there were a few things I wanted to get.”

“Yeah, what sort of time, were you thinking?”

“Morning, after breakfast.”

“If it’s fine, we can go for a walk, take Kiki.”

“Now that’s good thinking,” said Tom, “it would save me walking her, and I could nip in and out of the office, check on Cathy’s rats.”

“Hey you, they are not rats, they are very valuable dormice.”

“That’s a matter of opinion, they’re just hairy tailed rats.”

“Those are my babies you’re talking about, you horrible man.”

“Bloody inconsistent women, two minutes ago she was singing my praises, now she condemns me. Where do we puir men stand?”

“Absolutely,” agreed Simon, “The only consistency is inconsistency.”

“A girl has a right to change her mind, isn’t that right, Mima?”

“Mima, wuvs Mummy an’ Daddy.”

“Nice answer, kiddo,” said Simon.

“Never mind trying to influence a witness, Simon Cameron, or I’ll fine you for contempt of court.”

“Since when have you been appointed a judge?” he gasped at me.

“Since I demonstrated impeccable taste and independence—oh and when I learned how to fix punctures.”

“Show off,” he scowled back.

“Ha ha, only because you can’t; brava, Cathy. One for the girls,” shouted Stella, Mima squealed, even if she didn’t know what she was squealing at, she joined in, which pleased me.

“Has anyone heard what happened to the um—Scotts,” asked Simon.

“They were conquered by the English in 1702 or something.” I was probably way off with my history and it was wilful misinterpretation by any measure.

“Were we now?”

“Until Gordon Brown became queen,” I said trying not to laugh.

“Puir Gordie Broon, he’s doing his best in very trying circumstances,” observed Tom.

“Yes, especially as one of their relatives keeps harassing him,” I nodded to Simon and Stella.

“As far as we know, any similarity between us and leaders of the opposition are purely coincidental.”

“So David Cameron is no relation?”

“No, not as far as we know.” He muttered something like, ‘thank God’, but I could have been mistaken.

“So have there been any politicians in your family, then?” I asked now warming to the inquisition.

“Only one as far as we can tell,” answered Simon, “ one Viscount Stanebury, was a finance minister in one of Disraeli’s cabinets. He didn’t last long when he disagreed with Dizzy over some item of tax and the banks.”

“Oh, is that all?” I felt let down.

“Yep, that’s it, unless you consider sitting in the Lords for about two hundred years.”

“Isn’t that just paid sleepovers?” I played Devil’s Advocate, Tom was sniggering.

“That remark shows you don’t understand the role of the Lords in keeping democracy in this country.”

“That sounds a wee bit oxymoronic, Si, an unelected house preserving democracy.”

“It’s true, various governments would have become police states years ago if they’d had the chance.”

“So Henry saved the world then?”

“No that was Gordie, Henry just helped save democracy.”

“Ah, it’s all so much clearer now,” I lied hoping to end the conversation. I suppose in doing so, I disproved Tom’s theory of my angelic origins, nice though they were.

As we drifted back to the cars, I tried to plan how I could find some time to start wrapping Mima’s presents. I had about a dozen, plus those for Simon, Stella and Tom. We’d all reined in a bit this year, partly because of the financial situation, but also because things had been so fraught with our custody battle.

As we drove home, I smirked to myself, Mima was singing her own much mutilated version of Jingle bells, while Tom would detour on the way back to get a Christmas tree. It would stay in the garden until Christmas eve night, when we’d bring it in and decorate it after a certain person had gone to bed. I longed to see her face when she came down and saw all the presents and trimmings—it would be a picture and I’d have my camera ready.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 503

Why do I do these things? It was nearly four on Christmas morning before Simon and I got to bed, Stella had chickened at twelve, and Tom and hour later. We were getting punchy by the time we collapsed between the sheets.

Nothing had gone right. I’d finally managed to get Mima to bed by seven. That should have given us five hours to sort things out. No she wouldn’t stay there, she was too excited waiting for Santa Claus. Tom came and read to her, he was nodding off, she was still bouncing around.

I felt awful, I had to invoke the ultimate anti-child spell, “If you get out of that bed once more, Jemima, I am going to tell Santa not to visit.” It worked a treat, she was now bouncing and bawling. I felt like throwing myself out of the window, actually, I felt like throwing someone else out of the window, but it’s not allowed, and social services would have had an early Christmas present.

Finally, she calmed down and I told her a very boring story with loads of detail, it confused her and she became almost trancelike, at this point I told her to go to sleep—and she did, just like that. It was nine, I dashed downstairs, closing the gate at the top.

Chaos reigned down below. Simon had potted the tree, which was only about six foot tall. Then he and Tom carried it in, and Stella did most of the decorations, except the lights, Simon was sorting them when Kiki came in and watered the tree and fused the lights—and the ring main.

Guess who had to fix it? That’s right, Tom, he was the only one who knew where the fuse box was. Thankfully, it was a trip-switch, so we didn’t have to mess about with bits of wire. We were without Christmas lights.

Simon, in a flash of brilliance—no he hadn’t fused as well—phoned the local supermarket, and they had a spare set for sale, they put them over at the petrol station so he drove over to get them. Kiki was banished to the conservatory—well how was she to know—it’s a tree and it’s what dogs do, except bitches aren’t supposed to cock their legs. Maybe I’m not the only gender confused inhabitant of the house?

I cleaned up the mess and after wiping the lights, removing bulbs and wiping some more, I got them working and on the tree just before Simon got back. He would have been livid, but the expression on my face probably saw off the dissent, he felt he was too young to die.

Stella wrapped presents for Mima, while Tom helped me put up the paper chains, assorted wall decorations, and hundreds of cards on bits of string. It was half past ten, and we stopped for a cuppa. Then back to round two. Simon set up the video camera so it would be able to catch Mima as she came into the room. We were going to shut the door before we went to bed, so she couldn’t go on there if she got past the gates on the stairs, plus the search lights and electrified razor wire fencing.

I went into the dining room and wrapped the others presents. I hoped they’d like them. The pile under the tree began to grow.

I prepared vegetables and put them in the fridge. It was midnight and Stella went to bed. More disaster, the lights fused again, Kiki was asleep in the conservatory. Plan B, use new set.

“Watch the tree doesn’t fall over, Si … okay, wait there I’ll get Tom to help me get it off you …” How can removing lights be so difficult? It was, tonsils would have been easier.

An hour later, tree is back up and Tom has gone to bed, lights fuse again. Simon suggests we douse tree in petrol and strike match. I disabuse him of this idea by threatening to stick him on top of said tree.

Another hour passes and I find problem in lights, broken cable by one of the fittings. I repair with insulating tape and fuse wire. Simon mentions something about fire insurance. I decide he might not survive the night. It was about a month since my last flare up of irritability, maybe it was a form of PMS. Whatever, I was still going to kill him.

We arranged the presents, so Mima wouldn’t need to destroy everyone else’s to find hers. I was feeling very tired and my homicidal tendencies were not easing.

Simon held the ladder while I put the mistletoe up, then he insisted on kissing me under it. “Now you’ll have to give me a present,” I said.

“Just as soon as we get up to bed,” he said winking.

“Not tonight, Josephine,” I responded, “I couldn’t give a shit, let alone a f—anything more energetic.”

He shrugged, and helped me tie up the holly and the balloons. At four, I gave in and crawled up the stairs, I was so tired I nearly fell asleep halfway up them.

“Mummy, Mummy, Daddy, is Chwismus.”

In my dream, I was being pestered by a giant mosquito, which having buzzed all around me was now tapping my arm to find a place to bite. I was waiting for prolonged contact, then I was going to rip its head off. For some reason I didn’t, maybe I was just too tired, or it might have been Simon physically restraining me. Either way, Mima survived waking us at six.

I’d put a small present in her stocking at the end of her bed. It was a soft bodied doll, that she could cuddle. However, she didn’t want to cuddle, she wanted to feed it breakfast, in the kitchen. She was not going to go back to bed, nor was she going to cuddle with us, she was awake and primed like a shaken can of cola. I yawned, wondering if we had the number for the local children’s home—I was so tired.

Simon was also yawning but slightly more alert than I was. He pulled on his dressing gown and pulled me out of bed, I threw on my wrap, and together we went downstairs with Mima. I took her into the kitchen to feed Dolly, while Simon slipped into the lounge to switch on the lights and his video.

Mima ate a tiny amount of cereal while feeding her dolly. My patience was very poor and I was fighting myself to stay patient. Next year I was going to tell her that Santa Claus had had an accident on the M27 and was still in hospital.

Simon called from the lounge, it sounded like trouble, oh no, not the fuse again? I dashed in and he filmed me, swearing at him and threatening to terminate his useless existence. Mima came in a moment later and saw the tree and all the trimmings, squealed and legged it. Now’s a fine time to discover she has some sort of dendrophobia.

I ran after her and calmed her down, explaining that there wasn’t a monster in the room, it was Simon—okay, it was a tree, a Christmas tree. I led her in and she was anxious, pulling back towards the door. The room was dark except for the tree and a few other twinkling lights.

Once over her initial shock, she was able to approach the tree and touch it. If I’d known she’d have had such trouble, I wouldn’t have bothered, or got a tiny one of those fibre optic ones which switch colour every two seconds.

“Come on, Meems, let’s go and feed dolly some more breakfast. She surrendered without a fight and I managed to get the rest of her cereal down her throat. Then I had some of my own, and we made a cuppa for Stella which we took up to her. Give her some practice in being woken early on Christmas morning.

Stella looked as fresh as a daisy—I was so envious, I could have cried, or better still, got into her warm bed and slept the rest of the day. She drank her tea and amused Mima, while I dozed sitting in the chair.

Then it was back downstairs, wake Simon and let the kid lose on her prezzies. I explained to her which were hers, she still opened half of mine. Not that I cared too much, I was so tired, I could have slept on a clothes line.

She had a new bike, a trailer bike which I could attach to my mountain bike and pull her along. The way I felt, she might have to tow me. I did remember to turn on the oven for the turkey, I did think to crawl in there myself except it would have been too tight a fit.

After some strong coffee, I rallied enough to put the turkey in, Pippa and her boys were coming for lunch, all riding their new bikes. Oh poo, why did I have to invite them? It was all too much trouble.

Finally, at mid-morning, Mima ran out of steam and fell asleep on the sofa. I curled up for an hour, too. Sadly, all I got was half an hour, but it made me feel so much better. I went and showered, then when Mima woke, showered and dressed her. I’d bought her a new pink dress, which she liked and wore with great enthusiasm. I had a top and skirt on, Stella wore a top and maternity pants, Simon a pair of slacks with the new shirt and sweater I’d got him, and Tom had the same.

I quickly vacuumed through and Stella popped the roasties in. Amazingly, Pippa and her two boys, plus her Mum, arrived ten minutes before lunch was ready. Simon had opened the wine first thing, a nice red, three bottles, just in case.

Tom carved the turkey after we said grace—why, beats me, but it made some of the others feel better, and perhaps it makes one less complacent in ones expectations, or does it?

We all ate and drank and had a good time. Then while the adults drank coffee and ate mints, the kids ate sweets and unwrapped the next lot of parcels. I’d forgotten my own presents, I’d been so tired and busy.

Simon gave me a new camera—a Nikon SLR, it had a bigger brain than me! It does everything, except press the shutter, and at five frames a second, would be good for bike races. Stella gave me the telephoto lens, and Tom the Photoshop software to tidy up the photos I took. It was perfect.

Simon liked his F1 driving lesson at Brands Hatch, he had to sort out a date for it. Stella, I bought a day’s session at a spa, which she thought she’d have after the baby was born and I was able to look after it for her, for the day—damn, shot myself in the foot, there. Tom—what can you buy the man who has everything? A painting of his house. The three of us commissioned a local artist to do it, and it was a splendid job. He took several photos and we chose the view we wanted. He was really pleased, especially when it was followed by half a case of twelve year old, single malt.

The boys had prezzies to open, too, I’d got them cycling gloves and helmets. Pippa got a bottle of her favourite perfume—well the eau de toilette, and her mum, a new pair of gloves.

I sat in the kitchen with the dishwasher humming away and fell asleep while the others all watched Wallace and Grommett on the telly. I suppose it had been a different sort of Christmas.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike)
# forty two dozen

“I think someone enjoyed themselves, don’t you?” said Simon as he carried Mima up to her bed. She was fast asleep in his arms, having fallen so, after tea, while she was unashamedly flirting with him. Little minx.

I changed her and we tucked her in, she cuddled her dormouse and sighed, “Daddy.” Simon went all gooey and I felt like strangling her, even asleep she was flirting with him. As we went back down, I calmed down a little and examined her motives. Maybe it’s a survival thing, suck up to the dominant male, you survive a bit longer. Nah, maybe she just loves him, he is quite loveable—at times. Maybe I’m not. Maybe she had no relationship with her birth father, so this is special or she’s trying to cover lost ground. My head was spinning, so I gave up. I felt like shouting at her, ‘Tough luck kid, he’s marrying me—na na na na na!’ I’m glad I didn’t Simon would probably have thought I was crazy, I’m not it’s simple jealousy. She’s cute, I’m not.

We were sat sipping our wine, just the four of us, except Stella was on fruit juice. “I think that was quite a successful Christmas, thanks to Cathy,” said Tom.

“Everyone helped,” I said with false modesty.

“That’s right we did,” said Simon, avoiding my elbow.

“Yeah, but Cathy did the bulk of it, and organised us.” Stella was my supporter.

“That’s what I meant. To Cathy,” Tom raised his glass and so did the others, “Our own Christmas angel.”

Just before it got dark, on Christmas Eve, he and I went to the churchyard, it’s about quarter of a mile away. He carried a wreath and I took some flowers—some hyacinths in a pot.

We walked arm in arm until we approached the grave. It was so peaceful. A plain marble slab with the name of his daughter and wife, their dates of birth and their deaths. I found it incredibly moving. He laid the wreath and I stayed back while he spoke to the grave. I mean, I don’t believe in anything afterwards, so he was talking to the grave, right?

“There’s someone I want you to meet, another Catherine, whom I’ve adopted unofficially as my daughter. She looks after me, although she has a busy job and is engaged to Simon. She knows all about us and asked to meet you. I agreed because I think it’s important you know about these things. Come along, Cathy, come and say hello.”

Um, well I did say I wanted to meet them—only I’m not sure it was what I had in mind. Oh well, if it will make things easier for Tom. I walked up to the grave.

“Hello, I’m Cathy Watts, although I suppose you know that already.” What am I saying? “I work with Tom, and it’s true I’m engaged to Simon, who’s a really nice man. Tom likes him too, and he thinks the world of Tom. His sister currently lives with us too, she’s expecting a baby in about three months. Um, I’m sure Tom has told you, Catherine, that we have a lot in common. Thank you for teaching your dad how to cope with girls like us, he’s a wonderful man and I’m happy to keep an eye on him for you.” Then I started to cry, as if some emotion had worked itself up in me and I couldn’t stop. Tom hugged me for several minutes.

Logically, how could it be important that I made a good impression to two stiffs? Yet they weren’t were they, they were part of Tom and it was to this that perhaps I was speaking. That under this cold wet earth, lay someone like me, whom he’d loved as his daughter, until she’d been taken away from him. Life is so short.

It was also important because I had intruded into Tom’s life and then into his home, finally into his affections. I had filled a gap, so he told me, so it was important that we achieved some closure here. Made my position legit to any doubts he might have. It also answered some curiosity for me, about which I felt a little ashamed.

We both spoke to the grave and I placed my pot of flowers in a recess at the foot of the stone. I think perhaps it was my imagination, but I felt approval—from whom or where, I couldn’t say—so it probably was imagination or wishful thinking.

I started to get cold and shiver and Tom, noticed. “Come on, young lady, let’s get home.”

We said goodbye, and I stupidly said, “Merry Christmas,” I mean, to what? Probably nerves, or tiredness.

“They like you,” he said, wrapping his arm around me as we walked back.

“How do you know?” I asked in wonderment.

“They have ways of saying so.” He said smiling as darkness began to fall. What would have happened if they hadn’t approved of me? No, I wasn’t going to go there. A cemetery in the dark, no way. I put my arm around him and we quickened our pace a little.

“Thanks for taking me,” I said wanting to show gratitude for what he’d shared with me.

“I’m glad I did, I knew they’d like you, everyone does.” He gave me a fatherly squeeze.

“Not everyone, Tom, I do seem to provoke hostility from some.”

“Take no notice of them, they’re either fools or they have their own agenda.”

I wasn’t going to argue, it was Christmas and I needed to get our little demon up to bed and asleep, so I could organise things. “How do you know they like me?”

“This probably sounds silly, but in my mind’s eye, I can see them as they were when they were alive. If I tell them something they don’t like, they frown or occasionally cry. When it’s good things, they smile. They smiled as soon as you entered the churchyard, they can recognise a good heart, when they see one. Catherine thinks you’re an angel, too.”

I’m not sure I really wanted to know all that, if he was correct it made a few things uncomfortable for me as far as the universe and my understanding went. If he wasn’t, then it means his delusion is his way of coping with his grief. We reached the lych-gate and as we went through, I waved to the grave or what it represented. Why not share in the delusion? Tom squeezed me again. It pleased him anyway.

I was busy thinking about the occasions when I thought I’d seen or spoken to my mother since her death. At this moment, I was covered in goosebumps and my poo-pooing it, didn’t seem so certain. Maybe I needed to think this through again sometime, preferably where it was warmer and light, yes bright light. God, it’s cold.

When we got back I changed into my jeans and top, and we had a hot drink to warm us up. At least it hadn’t rained, so I should be grateful. Then it was back to the bedlam which I described earlier.

Christmas drew to a close, Stella excused herself and went to bed, and Tom went shortly after sharing a whisky with Simon. I sipped my wine and felt very sleepy.

Once in bed, Simon lay on his back, his arm around me. “I think we had a splendid Christmas, thank you.”

“Eh?”

“I said, I enjoyed my Christmas, thank you.”

“Oh? Simon, do you think there’s such a thing as life after death?”

“What’s that got to do with Christmas?”

I didn’t answer, the wine and lack of sleep had taken their toll and I’d drifted off.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 505

This is the first day of the rest of my life. I’d woken about six, well just after. Simon was sleeping spooned around me, I was lying on my right side—apparently, if you’re physically tired you sleep on the right, mentally on the left. I don’t know if I believe it, there is so much bad science around these days. Mima hadn’t yet crawled into our bed, though I suspected it wouldn’t be long before she did.

I relaxed, lying on my side, feeling Simon’s arm around me and his warm body behind. It was lovely, they say the best things in life are free, they are, it’s just usually we don’t appreciate them until it’s too late, often after the event. So I was enjoying this while it lasted. I was also thinking about yesterday and the bedlam of Christmas, which astonishingly worked pretty much as I planned it—or was that despite my plans? Either way, it worked.

Mima, when she stopped running scared of trees, or just one in particular, thoroughly enjoyed herself, opening everyone’s presents and eating the dog’s choc drops—how could she? Oh I forgot to tell you about that, well, I’ll spare you the detail, but Kiki would have been signally miffed had she ever found out. I’ll have to get her some more when I can. It’s funny, we buy choc drops for dogs, but they aren’t chocolate, they’re carob, chocolate is poisonous to dogs and cats.

Enough of the soap box, I reflected on my Christmas day and it could have been worse, much worse. In fact I have spent worse ones, one or two in relatively recent years, though not the last couple.

Then I thought of our visit to the cemetery. I found goose-bumps rising on my arms even though Simon’s warm body was still wrapped around the back of me. I had definitely felt a sense of approval at the graveside, what I mean by this I don’t know. It’s like a sort of sixth sense, perhaps some form of primitive system which we haven’t discovered yet. It happens in some forms of blindness, if the eyes aren’t damaged they set up alternative pathways in the brain, or use primitive ones which means that some people who have a particular form of blindness can still detect movement. It’s weird.

So what did I detect? I don’t know other than a sense of something positive, like knowing that someone is thinking well of you even though they might be miles away. I used to make them laugh at Sussex, they used to call me Mystic Meg—after the scurrilous astrologer in the News of the World, because I would know when a letter was going to arrive from my mother. Daddy hardly ever wrote and I didn’t pick up on those anyway. My mother used to write irregularly, so there was no pattern. I even tried to find one, thinking it was something I was unconsciously counting, except it wasn’t.

In my final year, I shared a house with three girls, they only took me because they thought I was gay or effeminate and used to call me Meg occasionally because I would just say in the middle of breakfast, “I’m going to get a letter from Mum today.” Sure enough it would be there by lunch time.

I read a bit about people being ‘out of time’ not in the sense they’d just breathed their last, but that their consciousness was not in normal linear time. It sort of explained precognitive dreams and so on, sort of. I didn’t believe it until one morning I dreamt I won the lottery, and I saw the numbers on the ticket. Of course, I awoke with a wonderful buzz which lasted for hours. I bought a lottery ticket, not the numbers I’d seen, but a lucky dip. Of course the numbers came up, the ones from my dream, I’d written them down.

It was an amazing experience, realising that something as random as lottery numbers could be seen precognitively in a dream. It showed me beyond any doubt that time wasn’t always linear. Or that humans can sometimes be ahead of it. Oh the four million I’d have won, okay it could have helped a lot of dormice, but the experience was wonderful in itself, and what you’ve never had you can’t lose.

So is there life after death? I have no idea, part of me would like it to be so if only so we could see our loved ones again. Another part of me sees it as more likely to be wishful thinking and fears of our own mortality. I still don’t know and probably won’t this side of my own funeral. But if it helps Tom get through the day, I won’t knock it, though I’m not sure I’ll be up the cemetery with him too often, pushes too many buttons.

“Mummy,” I felt a tap on my arm and a little body clambered in beside me. She felt a bit cold, so I cuddled her against me and she soon warmed up. Thankfully she dozed for an hour, so I could have cogitated some more, except I snoozed too. I’d obviously done enough thinking for one day.

Boxing Day, got underway a little after seven when Mima woke up properly and refused to go back to sleep. We left Simon in bed and went for some breakfast, then it was back to normal, I vacuumed through and put on a load of washing, it’s amazing how that has increased with one small child who disproportionately uses up washing facilities. I do quite a few things by hand, a real pain, but some of my delicates and Mima’s nicest dresses, are too risky to put in the machine.

I’d washed the two dresses she’d worn recently, the one she wore for the court and the one she had on yesterday. I hung them on the line, although I wasn’t too hopeful they’d dry. They didn’t, I had to finish them in the drier.

Tom walked Kiki and took trouble with him, they went to feed the ducks and someone came back covered in mud—I cannot for the life of me understand what happened, but I managed to laugh rather than shout at Tom. I also took an hour to get her clothes clean again.

While Tom was out, I persuaded Simon to get off his big fat bum and come for a ride with me. We only did about ten miles and were both knackered. It’s weeks since I last rode and did I know it. It took ten minutes to pump the tyres up, so that shows you how things were.

Back home, I showered and was drying my hair when Tom brought Mima back looking like an unbaked brick. I whipped her in the bath and once dry, did her hair in two pig tails. She spent the rest of the day in her dungarees. Tom had to wash Kiki, which served him right—once she knew what was coming, he had to chase her around the garden before he could do it. I had very little sympathy, especially with my sore hands after all the hand washing.

For lunch we had turkey left overs, I did a salad, then for dinner, I did curry for those who wanted it, everyone except Mima and me. We had turkey jacket potatoes, yeah okay, hardly inspiring but it filled a hole. Tom was pleased with his curry, so I made someone’s day.

We watched a bit of telly, Mima played with her dolls and other toys and I checked my emails. One in particular caught my eye. It was from Janice Scott.

“Hi Cathy,
I hope you all had a good Christmas. I’ve run into a few problems here so it might be some time before I can look after Jemima again, so I would appreciate your looking after her for an indefinite period. I hope she’s settled in with you, I’m pretty sure she would and that you’d make every effort to see she did. You’re a good un, a regular angel. Give my love to ‘our’ daughter, she must feel as much yours as mine by now. Look after her won’t you, and enjoy her, she’s a good kid.
Thanks,
Janice (Scott).

I printed it off, it came from a gmail address, so no chance of tracing it. I was sure it was genuine, but I couldn’t prove it. I showed it to Simon, Stella and Tom. They had mixed feelings and were split about me telling Mima. I ignored their advice and told her anyway.

“Meems, your real mummy sent an email, to say happy Christmas.”

“You, my mummy. Caffy my mummy.”

“No, your mummy before me, Mummy Janice. She sent you this email.” I handed it to the child.

“I no wike, Mummy Janice, I wuv, Mummy Caffy.” Then she tore up the email.

“Don’t be too hard on her, Meems, we don’t know what she’s going through at the moment, but I do know she’ll be missing you. I would if we were separated and I’ve only had you a few weeks. She had you a lot longer, so she’ll be very sad.”

“Mima vewy sad too, Mummy Janice weft Mima, Mima no wike her. She bad wady.”

“Okay, Kiddo, don’t get upset, I’m not going to abandon you nor is Simon, Tom or Stella. We all love you loads and loads.” I hugged her and she cried a bit but not a great deal.

I did feel for Janice, I wondered what had happened, was she in prison or was she still fighting her case or on the run somewhere? I had no doubt that she selected me carefully as someone who look after Mima safely. I also had no doubts that she didn’t give her up easily, but it was a percentage play to reduce risks on Mima. I was just a safe pair of hands, who was dumb enough to get involved.

However, with her little body clasped to mine, and her need for love and protection and mine to give it, I had no regrets, absolutely none.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 506

Christmas is going and the turkey’s getting thin, doesn’t have quite the same ring about it, as ‘the goose is getting fat’, and we don’t have halfpennies or ha’pennies as they used to call them. All that changed before I was born, we did have half pence, which were tiny little things, that many people couldn’t be bothered to collect in change. They were got rid of years ago. So not only species become extinct through man, even his currency does too.

I know when I was a student, a few years ago, money seemed to go further than it does today. I didn’t have anything like as much as I do now, but I seemed happy enough. Now I suppose I have the worries of a child and three adults to burden me. Thank goodness they all earn or have independent means, or I would have to go out and slog for my living.

I actually got to see the dormouse video, it’s brilliant, especially the presenter, she’s sexy and authoritative—and I curled up in embarrassment watching myself on film. I was okay, but did I have to wave my hands about so much and did my voice have to rise slightly in pitch at the end of a sentence? I sounded like an educated Sheila, ‘Oh geez Baz, that would make me like Germaine Greer—aarghhh! A fate worse than sheep shearing.’ Otherwise it was okay, I suppose. Des’ filming was astonishing, and the sound track added largely afterwards, fitted in really well, birdsong and other natural noises, you know cows farting and sheep coughing, plus a motorway and various farming activities.

I sent Alan an email for him to finish it and send it to Erin. I also spoke to Henry and asked for his thoughts, he was very pleased with it, so were Natural England. We knew the Beeb were interested, and that usually means through them, we can sell to Canada and Australia. Whether I feel up to doing a similar thing with harvest mice, I have no idea.

It was my turn to check on the cages in the uni, I took trouble with me and also returned Spike to her peaceful existence amongst the academics and their ivory towers. What the hell was I doing there? Trying to keep them grounded, I suppose, plus earn a crust and protect the environment and one or two species.

I can’t save the world, man is intent on destroying it for profit or proliferation. I know the Pope stands for breeding lots of catholics, especially amongst poor people who can’t afford to raise and educate them. He’s also as repressive as the Taliban regarding the role of women, and especially about the role of womens’ sexuality. Not content with this, he bashes his favourite chestnut of gays, and adds me to them. That really pissed me off, silly old bugger, I sent a letter by email to the Guardian, but the only thing they published was from gay organisations or their own columnists. Writing to them seems to be as much a waste of space as the people I’m trying to opine about. No one wants to listen to me, unless of course I want to talk about changing sex, and allow them to take pictures. Bah, humbugs—the lot of them.

Mima actually kept relatively quiet around the hibernating dormice. I let her feed a Brazil nut to Spike, which had her giggling but also enjoying herself. There can’t be many three year olds who’ve handled dormice.

I took her round the park in the centre of Portsmouth and we stopped for a milkshake, which we shared, she couldn’t drink it all. Then a quick wee stop, and off we went home to organise lunch for Tom, Stella, Simon and us.

I stripped the remaining meat off the carcass of the turkey and boiled the bones for half an hour to make stock, thence I added vegetables and lentils, plus a few other bits and pieces and we had a passable soup. Mima seemed to enjoy it, so I froze the rest for the future, on days when I can’t think of what to give her. On the assumption I still have her, who knows?

Simon looked after in the afternoon, which usually meant post-prandial snoozes all round. Stella and I did the clean up and Tom walked the dog. Meems seemed to enjoy sleeping with Simon, mind you so do I, but that’s a different story.

Traditionally, the Christmas decorations are taken down on twelfth night, which is also the Feast of the Epiphany. I know this, I used to sing in a church choir, and we did solos during that carol service, Epiphany, that is. I don’t always do tradition, and I wanted the decorations down—like now. So I started to take them down.

Stella did the cards, which were going into the recycling box, and I was doing the paper chains and things. With the high ceilings, I needed someone to stand on the bottom of the ladder, Simon’s usual job. Given Simon was asleep with Mima, and nobody else was available, I should have waited, but you know me, Little Miss Hurry.

I got half of them down, no problem, it was the second half that was the cause of my flight. Yes, I flew, admittedly somewhat after the fashion of a stone, pulling paper chains and step-ladders with me. At thirty two feet per second squared, it doesn’t take very long, so my levitation was rather ephemeral.

I must have squealed as I went, because Simon woke and saw me momentarily, sitting on top of the Christmas tree, before my superior mass caused the top of the tree to snap off with a loud crack, and an even louder shriek from me.

Fortunately, the tree broke my fall. I broke the tree. Simon nearly choked laughing and it took him a few minutes before he could ‘rescue’ me. Mima was running around squealing, she thought it was hilarious. I just wondered how I’d got pine needles in some very personal places.

Finally, Simon got me out of the mess just as Tom came back. He laughed as well, I was nursing a few bruises and shedding pine needles like it was evergreen autumn. Stella dashed out and put the kettle on, thank goodness someone was thinking.

I mean, I would have rescued myself, except I was sort of wedged in between two bookcases, with a branch of Norway spruce attempting to insert itself into a place, where the sun rarely shines. I was well and truly jammed, and Simon had to tug hard to get me out.

Once they’d stopped laughing, he and Tom, took the remains of the tree out into the garden. I was glad to see it gone, and sat and drank my tea in the kitchen. After that, I went upstairs where Simon applied antiseptic to my wounds—well, I had two scratches, and some arnica to my bruises. I changed and shook yet more pine needles out of my clothes. Next year, we’ll have one of those little fibre optic ones and no paper chains.

All the decorations went into a couple of boxes and they went up into the attic. Never having been in that one before, and being of a nosy disposition, I carried the second box up the steps into the freezing cold chamber. It was floored, with ancient boards, and the ceilings had been plastered. It had electric lights and loads of boxes and chests and things, just like a childrens’ film. We labelled the boxes and sealed them with sticky tape. We might just find them next year, if I’d changed my mind about trees and decorations. My stiffening gluteals tended to indicate, I wouldn’t for a few days at any rate.

I served a stew for supper, which went down reasonably well, Tom muttered about curry, so I reminded him he’d had one yesterday. Problem with old people—short term memory loss, now where was I?

After this I limped up to the bathroom and soaked in a hot bath for about half an hour, then nosy-parker came to find me, took all her clothes off and jumped in as well. She had great fun sitting on my lap, trying to sink my rubber duck. We made a boat out of the soap dish, although it did sink on its maiden voyage.

Simon, who’d put her up to it, came in about twenty minutes later and retrieved her from the bath, scooping her up into a large pink towel. When, I went to get out of the bath, I’d seized up and Simon had to haul me out and help to dry me. I limped into bed after drying my hair, Mima of course found it all highly amusing, so did Simon. “I’m going to tell everyone that you fell off your broomstick.”

“You’ll be the only talking frog in these parts if you do,” I replied trying to make like a witch, “and as for you Missy, if you don’t stop giggling, I’ll turn you into a nice child.”

“Yeah, you’d better believe it,” said Simon, “she can turn a car into a drive.”

Mima looked spellbound, her eyes wide, “Is Mummy, a witch?”

“Yeah, but a good one, she only turns princes and aristocrats into frogs, oh and me into a pauper.”

I glared at him, “Well you’ll be a poor frog, then won’t you?”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 507

Is it just me, or do the days between Christmas and New Year, seem grey and forgettable? Or maybe it’s that short term memory thing again—I can’t remember. Anyway, it seemed that all the factors of Christmas had been there, too much money spent, too much food eaten, and a superfluity of booze quaffed by too many, Israel was bombing Palestinians, so all was right with the world. I watched the pictures on television and gasped in disbelief, state terrorism in action. More British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and suicide bombers in India and Pakistan kill dozens.

What is wrong with everyone? Can’t they see if you kill people, it rather pisses off their friends and relatives? When you’ve finished killing, you then have to talk to resolve things, so why have we got to go through all these stages, why not go straight to talking?

Maybe I’m just a dumb female, but it makes sense to me, as does the fact that if a quarter of the world consumes three quarters of the resources, someone is going to go without. I wasn’t that good at maths, but neither am I completely stupid, unlike most electorates. We need to vote for issues that are in everyone’s best interests, not just the favoured few—but that would be the end of capitalism as we know it, and Simon, Henry et al, would have to get proper jobs.

Of course, I can hide in my ivory tower or come home and talk philosophy with Mima. She can now say, “Fossafussy”, see she’s increasing my vocabulary all the time.

Simon arrived home at lunchtime on New Years Eve, he’d taken a couple of hours off. “What we doing then, babes?”

“About what?”

“Tonight, are we doing fancy dress?”

“Fancy dress?”

“It is New Year’s Eve.”

“Yeah, okay, you can wear three fig-leaves and go as New Year’s Eve. I’ll put on my nightdress…”

“Yeah…”

“And go to bed.”

His face fell. “Aren’t we doing anything?”

“Yes, looking after Mima.”

“Tom and Stella can do that, let’s go out for the night.”

“Where, it’s freezing cold, so I’d be wrapped up like a walrus’ testicles, fancy dress, yeah, let’s go as Eskimos, get me a set of furs.”

“Can we rub noses?”

“Not until you bring me back a seal steak, and a Penguin.”

“Some biologist you are, Eskimos are at the Arctic, penguins are the Antarctic.”

“I don’t want some fishy smelling chicken, I meant the chocolate biscuit, Mima likes them, don’t you, Sweetie?”

“I wuv pengins.” Mima was sat in her highchair watching me prepare the evening meal, she was content to sit there, as she’d helped me make some fairy cakes—we thought we send some to the Vatican. The house was filling nicely with the smell of fresh bread baking, and Simon was getting up my nose.

“Can you wipe her hands, please, Darling?” I threw him a cloth and he did so as if she’d been rolling in cow pats rather than eating one of the cakes we’d made. I shook my head, I wasn’t going to take over, he had to learn if we were to keep her, he had to do his share, besides it would be good practice for when Stella’s Puddin’ erupted. No I don’t mean the actual birth, I mean afterwards, when she’s got chocolate pudding all over herself. Hang on, how do I know it will be a girl? I just do. Ooh, someone just stepped on my grave.

I suppose Simon’s ineptitude meant that he and Mima were busy for about two hours longer than they should have been. I’m exaggerating of course, it only took him ten minutes to do something I do in less than one. He was touching her like she’d fall apart if he used any pressure. Even Tom is better than him.

I put the casserole into the oven, a change from the slow cooker. It was coq au vin, hardly exciting cooking, but it would be okay, and a bit more exciting than beans on toast.

The bread maker beeped and I tipped out the contents—“Not to touch,” I said at Simon and wagged my finger at him. He looked very sheepish at me, like a schoolboy who was in hot water.

“Okay, Mummy, I’ll be good,” he said rolling his eyes. “You’re no fun anymore.” He threw the cloth back to me and it splashed in the sink, sending droplets of water all over me. Mima laughed with glee. I glowered at him.

“I didn’t do it on purpose, sorry.” He passed me the towel

“So I’m no fun any more—have you asked yourself why?”

“No, but don’t blame the little folk.”

I gave him a perplexed expression, then got what he was on about. “It has nothing to do with that,” it did, but I wasn’t going to admit it to him. I was so tired all the time, and it seemed a logical conclusion that as it coincided with Mima’s stay, it was linked to it. Some of it was the extra responsibility, and the twenty four hour care little ones need, but the custody thing also weighed heavily on me.

“No it’s just me, worn out by the excesses of Christmas.” I was still stiff but my bum wasn’t quite so sore now.

“The fairy on the Christmas tree, it was so funny…”

I wasn’t in the mood to laugh, so walked out of the kitchen. I went and sat in the dining room, feeling self-conscious and thin skinned. Jemima came running in, grabbed her doll and pushchair and went off to the lounge to play. I felt quite relieved.

“I was hoping we could celebrate,” said Simon.

“Celebrate what?” I snapped back.

“It was year ago, that you became fully the woman I love.” He turned slowly and walked away.

Oh shit, why didn’t I remember? I got up slower than I’d like, and went after him. “Simon, please.” He stopped and turned, and I threw myself into his arms. “I’m sorry, I forgot—please forgive me,” I rested my head on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, I just thought we could celebrate it.”

“It’s a lovely idea, but it should be tomorrow we celebrate, not today.”

“Yeah, well after midnight, it is tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah, I’m going stupid, sorry.”

“I also got this for you.” He went to the hall table and picked up his attaché case, and picked out a large brown envelope. He passed it to me. It was large and heavy. It had been opened. I pulled out the documents.

“Gender Recognition Panel—what’s all this about?”

“Your two years is nearly up, I thought we should get this sorted, it gives your enemies fewer sticks with which to beat you, and it means we can then start to organise our wedding.”

“So you still want to marry me then?”

The silly bugger went down on one knee and said, “Catherine Watts, will you marry me?”

I burst into tears and nodded.

“Can you help me up, my knee’s locked?”

Once I got him upright again, we went and sat in the kitchen, me on his lap and my hands around his neck—not strangling him, but leaning my head on his shoulder. “I love you, Simon Cameron—sometimes I wonder why, but today I know why.”

“Why is that, Catherine Watts?”

“Because you are the most romantic man in the whole world, and I don’t deserve you.”

“No, probably not.”

I sniffed, “That was a rhetorical statement.”

“Oops,” he hugged me.

“So, are you going to make an honest fellow out of me?”

“Why, are you giving up banking?” I smirked, well the odd one below the belt is allowed, I’m a girl and can’t hit as hard.

“Banking requires the highest levels of honesty and integrity, ask that John bloke who comments on those stories on that web site you occasionally visit, you know he’s from bow wow wow, or somewhere, he’s a banker.”

“Banking requires the highest levels of honesty and integrity, okay, that’s the customers, what about the wheeler dealers?”

“You cut me to the quick, you ungrateful hussy.”

I smirked again, “Got it in one, still gonna marry me?”

“I have to, the warranty expired last week, I can’t send you back now.”

“What?”

Mima walked in and put her doll in my lap. “I can’t get her dwess on, Mummy.” She held the garment in her other hand. “Have you been cwyin’?”

“No sweetheart, laughing, Daddy Simon made me laugh.” I took the doll and with a little difficulty pulled the dress on it and did up the poppers.

“Can I’ve a cuddwle, Daddy?”

“Course you can, Poppet.” I stood up and she jumped onto his lap. He practically submerged her into his embrace, and she giggled. “Maybe we will stay in—and celebrate—something better still.” He looked down at his wriggling bundle and smiled.

“Sounds good to me,” I said and kissed him.

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@Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 508

Our New Year Celebrations were relatively muted, Tom, Simon and I toasted the new year with a bottle of ordinary champagne, I tried to tell Simon, that I preferred an Asti spumanti but typical man, he thinks it’s his job to talk and me to listen.

Earlier, I’d put Mima to bed and Simon had done the story telling. He’d fallen asleep again, and I had to go and wake him. Dinner was okay, my coq au vin, was passable and some polite comments were made about it. It was acceptable, I wouldn’t go beyond that myself. For dessert, I produced some apple and mint sorbet, I’d made a week or two ago. That was good, even I enjoyed it, though the cold made my teeth squeak a little.

The television wasn’t on, as we played a few games of scrabble to while away the evening. Tom is actually quite a canny player, and he and Simon beat Stella and me, twice. We did get revenge, when Stella played a seven letter word and hit a triple word score. I also got all my letters out first.

By the time, we girls had hit back, it was nearly eleven forty five, so Simon went off to get his bottle of bubbly and Stella poured herself a fruit juice. I was quite impressed how she had eschewed alcohol during her pregnancy. I didn’t say anything because I knew it would make her self conscious.

Simon checked his radio controlled watch and at two minutes to twelve he opened the bottle and poured us a glass. We toasted the new year and I went with Tom to let the New Year in, opening the front door and standing on the doorstep for a few minutes. No one walked past, nor did we see anyone else about, however, suddenly the place was filled with bangs and flashes as people set off fireworks.

I was amused to think of a report I’d seen of the women of Naples going on sex strike if their men folk continued to use illegal fireworks. Apparently there are fires and nasty injuries every year, so the woman were trying to use the same tactics as the ancient Greeks—good luck to them.

We hadn’t set off any fireworks, so Simon was safe, assuming he was in the mood. I was tired but could probably be encouraged if he pressed a few of the right buttons, two of which were on my chest.

We all kissed each other to celebrate the New Year, and my kiss to Simon, should have sent him the odd message. I would wait and see, he’d have to work for it, but he’d get his just rewards if he did.

As we shut the front door, we heard someone blowing a bugle in the near distance, I don’t know what they playing, because I’m a total ignoramus regarding bugle calls, except it wasn’t the last post, I knew that one from Armistice Day.

A little later after finishing the bubbly, we went to bed. Simon let me go in the bathroom first, and while I waited for him, I tucked in Jemima, who had possibly wriggled with the noises outside. It was bitterly cold out doors, no wonder we hadn’t seen anyone.

“Happy New Year,” I said to Simon and kissed him. He took the hint, and kissed me back, then he let his kisses migrate downwards and, you can probably guess what happened later and why I had to go to the bathroom again.

I was returning to bed, Simon had already zonked, when I heard a little whimper. I froze and listened. It was quiet and I was quite literally freezing. Then I heard it again. I sat up in bed and this woke Simon up, “Wassamatta?”

“Hush, listen.” I sat there and he lay still as we listened, trying to ignore the odd sound of revellers or traffic from whatever it was I’d heard. Then it happened again.

“Mima?” Simon whispered to me.

“Sounds like, I wonder if she’s having a bad dream,” I whispered back.

“Want me to check her?” he offered and I nearly fell out of the bed.

“No, it’s okay, I’ll go.” I said and went to Mima’s little bed. He followed me. She was moving about and her eyes were moving indicating she was dreaming, REM, or rapid eye movement, they call it.

I stroked her face, “It’s okay, Meems, we’re here, no one’s going to hurt you.”

She opened her eyes but was obviously still asleep, “I wanna stay wiv Caffy, Caffy my mummy.” Then she closed them and seemed to calm down as I spoke and reassured her again.

“Poor little lamb, if those bastards in social services only knew what they were doing to her,” said Simon once we got back into bed.

“I want to keep her more than ever,” I said and felt myself tear up.

“You and me, too. Dammit all, we are going to keep her. If that judge bloke doesn’t find in our favour, I‘m going to appeal against him.”

“Hasn’t he got to give permission, for you to do that?”

“I can be most persuasive.”

“I had noticed, I’m sore somewhere because of your powers of persuasion,” I said.

“See, absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s what it was.”

“You cheeky cow, you told me I’d turned you on a few moments ago.”

“Well maybe you did, perhaps we could see tomorrow and I’d have something to compare it with.”

Even in the relatively dark room I could see his expression of mixed emotions, the overriding one being that he hoped I was still feeling comparatively sexy tomorrow. I’d do my best.

“What about Jemima?” I asked, “What would she do if the judge found against us?”

“Keep it quiet, Babes, she might hear us.”

“I am keeping it quiet, I’m whispering.”

“You weren’t just then.”

“Sorry, I am now.”

“I think she’d be very distressed, so would I for that matter, and I hate to think what you’d be feeling.” He stroked my shoulder, “You’ve practically become her mother.”

“Yeah, I know. So we fight on?”

“As much as we can. She needs stability and a loving household. I think we provide that, even if you are a cyclist.”

“What? You cheeky git. What’s wrong with being a cyclist?”

“Nothing, I was winding you up.”

“No you weren’t, you did that earlier, this was screwing me up.”

“No, that’s what I did earlier, this was a wind up, definitely—trust me, I’m a banker.”

“Oh shit!”

“What’s wrong?”

“You just reminded me.”

“Of what?”

“Never mind, I’m tired, I need to go to sleep.” I kissed him and lay down, turning on my side away from him.

“What did I remind you of?” he hissed behind me. I of course ignored him and went blissfully off to sleep, while he whispered and hissed to his heart’s content –now that is what you call a wind up.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 509

At breakfast, Simon looked at me and said, “What did I remind you of?”

“When?”

“Last night, when we went to bed.”

“I have no idea, why?”

“Well, I tossed and turned for at least an hour trying to work it out.”

“Never mind, it can’t have been important or I’d have remembered.” I laughed inside, a wind up that had worked. He must never know.

“Happy New Year,” said Stella as she arrived at the kitchen.

“And to you, too,” I replied.

“Attie New Weir, Annie Stewwa,” grinned a little face with Marmite around her mouth.

“And the same to you, sweetie-pie,” she walked over to Mima and kissed her.
“You look tired, Simon,” she sat down and poured herself a cup of coffee.

“Yeah, couldn’t sleep last night.”

“Why was that, guilty conscience?”

“Indeed it was not,” he snapped back indignantly, “my conscience is clear.”

“Yeah, they say psychos don’t have one,” she continued.

“Daddy gotta bike,” called a little voice, I thought I’d let Stella sort that one out.

“Yes, that’s right, daddy is a cyclist,” said Stella, snorting as she tried to hold back a guffaw. Even Simon laughed.

“If I ever need a character witness, you’re the one I’d call,” he said to Mima.

“Daddy’s cwapper knickers,” said the parrot, who was obviously suffering from an audio failure of some sort.

“Hey there, Crappy Knickers, pass me the marmalade, would you.” Stella’s eyes sparkled, she had a stick and would beat him unmercifully.

“No, get it your bloody self,” Simon threw down his napkin and stormed away from the table.

Stella laughed nervously. “Was it something that I said?”

“I think he’s on his period, he gets crabby like this, perhaps his boobs have swollen and his bra’s too tight.”

“Daddy’s bwa is too tight,” came back the echo.

“Hush now, parrot, you don’t have to repeat everything I say.”

“Mima a pawwot,” she giggled to herself.

“Pieces of eight, squawk, Pieces of eight,” said Stella in a mock parrot’s voice, sounding like something from Monty Python.

“Piece of steak,” said Mima. I was beginning to wonder if she did have a hearing problem.

I cleared up the dishes and wiped Mima’s face, after I taken off her bib, I put her down on the floor and she scampered off to get her doll and pushchair. She’d certainly had some fun with those, which pleased me, as it justified the cost. A few moments later she brought me her naked doll and the clothing she was trying to put on it. I wasn’t so pleased with that. It had been quite expensive for what it was and didn’t really fit, even though it was supposed to be by the same manufacturer.

“I’m sure I could make them better than this,” I said in disgust, not necessarily meaning it.

“Mummy gonna make dowwy a dwess,” said Mima dancing around the room. I immediately cursed my own stupidity, why can’t I keep my mouth shut when the human tape recorder is about? “Can, I helwp, pwease Mummy.”

“Come on then, let’s see if I have any material.” I went and got my sewing basket, and bag of assorted bits. I’d collected them to make some patchwork cushion covers and never got round to it; this was when I was still living in my bedsit.

I pulled out the material on the table and considered three lots were potentially useful for this purpose. “Mima, you choose which pattern you like.”

“Dis one,” she said pointing at one which had tiny roses on it. It was probably the most suitable.

“Be a good girl and get the dresses that dolly has now so I can see the sort of styles they have.”

She got down off the chair and dashed into the lounge where all her doll’s clothes were. Moments later she was back with a great pile, which she shoved on my lap.

“I don’t want all this, darling, just the dresses. There were three, so took them out and sent her back with the rest. “Here, put these back where you keep them, and put them tidy—don’t run, please.”

It made not a wit of difference, she flew in and back, she had obviously just chucked the stuff and come straight back. “I hope you put them tidy, like I asked you to do. Did you?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Are you sure?”

She nodded as she spoke, “Yes, Mummy.”

“So if I was to go and check, I’d see how tidy they were, because if you are telling me fibs, I’m going to be very cross and not make your dolly a new dress.”

She gave me a very serious look, obviously worried. I made to get up and she leapt off the chair and rushed into the lounge. Stella smirked and shook her head. Then two minutes later I went to check, she was still busy putting things tidy. “Oh, you’re tidying up her wardrobe?”

“Yes Mummy, I fibbed, is you cwoss?”

“I don’t like you telling me fibs, but because you put things right, I’ll let you off this once. Assuming you are genuinely sorry.”

“Yes, I’m vewwy sowwy,” she hugged my legs and cried for a moment or two, before I picked her up and dried her tears. I was trying to teach her it isn’t right to tell lies, so a few tears might reinforce that message.

I grabbed a pad and we measured her doll and I then measured one of the dresses. Then I drew round the dress and extended the measurements a fraction, too much and the thing would be like a tent, too little and it still wouldn’t fit.

I made our pattern from these sketches and tried bits against the doll. It didn’t seem too bad. So next I pinned and cut out the material, then tacked it together. We’d been at it over an hour. Stella came in with a cup of tea for me and a juice for Mima.

I tried on the tacked dress and it didn’t look too bad, Mima was delighted. So for the next half an hour, I hand sewed it all, putting on tiny popper studs down the back of the thing. I gave it to Mima to try, partly because I wanted her to be able to do it, and partly because I had my fingers crossed under the table.

She fitted dolly’s arms into the sleeves and they fitted. So far so good. Then she concentrated quite hard, her tongue sticking out as she did some of the poppers up. The first time she mismatched them, so I told her to do the top and then the bottom one first. Which she did, finally after a minute or more, she clicked the last popper together and held up the doll with her new dress. Okay, it wasn’t as good as the shop bought ones, but it fitted better. I would try and make her another over the next couple of evenings, with a few more embellishments, like a belt or mock buttons, or even some tiny sequins.

“What do you say?” I reminded her.

“Fank you, Mummy,” she gave me a sloppy kiss on the cheek and rushed off to show Simon her new doll’s dress. I put the pattern safe and cleared the bits and pieces. Time to get lunch, what is they say about women’s work? I’m so glad this is a holiday.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 510

After a relatively light lunch, Tom asked to take Mima to feed the ducks. I agreed on the condition he wrap her up warmly, it was really cold, a raw penetrating cold. As he left I told him I was going to be busy for an hour or so, and winked at him. His face broke into a broad grin. Stella appeared, lagged to the gills, and went with them, carrying the remains of a stale loaf.

I nudged Simon and said, “Come on upstairs,” the smile on his face was huge. As soon as I got into the bedroom, I started taking off my clothes, so did he—actually, he started taking off his own clothes. I opened my wardrobe and flung his bib-tights to him, while dragging my own over my feet.

“What’s this for? I thought you wanted a bit of—you know…”

“I do, a ride on the bikes.”

“What? It’s bloody freezing out there; let’s stay here and you know.”

“Simon, I need a bike ride, either you come with me or you stay home.”

“But I thought you wanted…”

“There’ll be time for that later.”

“How long are they going to be out then?”

“About an hour, why?”

“It’s hardly worth going for a bike ride if we’re going to dash back, to—you know.”

“What? I was talking about when we go to bed.”

“Yeah, but with the eye of Horus in the room it’s much more difficult.”

“It would be even harder on a bicycle, come on, last one out’s a sissy.” I ‘d slipped on my sports bra, my thermal vest and socks while he was whingeing. Then I pulled on my long sleeved shirt and ran downstairs with my cycling shoes and sat at the bottom of the stairs to put them on, over which I pulled my overshoes. My feet would still get cold, but at least I’d tried to keep them warm. I was feeling very warm, the struggle to get the stretchy overshoes on had made me puff a bit.

Simon swaggered down the stairs, “Is this really a good idea, Cathy?”

“Stay home then, or come with me, just stop whingeing like some schoolgirl who forgot her gymknicks.”

“I beg your pardon, but I don’t believe I have been.”

“Pity the human tape-recorder isn’t here, she’d capture the emotion if not the verbatim evidence.”

“Who or what is the human tape-recorder?”

“Mima the dweamer,” I smiled and pulled on my jacket, zipping it up to the neck. Then pulled on my balaclava and tucked it inside the collar of my jacket.

Simon paused while he pulled his ski mask over his face, it was one with holes for eyes and mouth. “Does our darling hostage to fortune, know you call her names?”

“Sorry can’t hear you, you look like a terrorist or SAS.”

“You look like Sir Gallahad.”

“Come on then, let’s go find the grail.”

“That story is full of holes,” he quipped.

“Don’t tell me, the holey grail?”

“You’ve heard it before?”

No, Simon, I know how you’re puerile little mind works, “Must have done,” I shrugged and opened the garage. The tyres were okay, I did a few quick stretches and pedalled the Scott out onto the road with Simon just behind me.

We set off up towards Cosham and the hill. Simon began to lag further and further behind, and I thought I was the unfit one. I waited for him at the top of a hill, it was bitterly cold, the easterly wind was taking no prisoners. It was three o’clock near enough. I waited until ten past, then started to worry. I was also very cold.

I set off down the hill, at the bottom on a bit of a bend is a pub. There was no sign of Simon anywhere. Then I spotted the Tarmac—his bike, an S Works Tarmac, one of the fastest made.

I parked mine alongside his, and chained them together. I was going to give him a piece of my mind and possibly park my bike up his backside. Any chance he’d had for a bit of nookie later, had just been frozen out. I stormed into the bar, there were two or three men drinking there, they just looked at me as if I’d arrived from another planet.

I went back out to the hallway and in through the door marked, ‘lounge bar, if the rat was hiding in here, I’ll chew him up in front of everyone, he’ll deserve it. I wasn’t quite so cold, warmed mainly by the volcano which was driven by my temper. Did he think I was so stupid, I wouldn’t notice?

I opened the door and strode in. “Hello, darlin’, you lookin’ for your bloke?”

“Looking for him? Yes, I have to find him before I can kill him.”

“Oh no, darlin’, some bloke with a white van’s just tried that.”

“What d’you mean?” my solar plexus flipped and felt very cold.

“He’s in the back kitchen, the Missus is tryin’ to patch him up.”

“Oh shit!, Can I go through?” my emotions in the form of the volcano, just collapsed in on themselves. I should have had more trust in him, I should have known he wouldn’t let me down like that. I hope he’s not too badly hurt. Oh shit, shit, bloody shit.”

I entered the kitchen more humbly than I had the bar. Simon was sitting on a carver and looking quite pale. A middle aged woman, with huge hips, was bending over him. “Does that hurt?” she asked.

“Ow, yes.” He looked up and saw me, “Oh hi, Cathy. Guess who got knocked off?”

“I didn’t notice anything wrong with the bike,” I said numbly.

“It’s got some scratches, it rolled over with me, bloody van caught my shoulder with his mirror, I’ve done my knee again.”

“Oh ‘ello, dear,” said big hips,” he’s cut his knee, gonna have a nice bruise there later.” She’d put some form of dressing on it. I walked in and could see his leg raised on a stool. “Took a heavy clatter.”

I held out my hand to him, “How are you?”

“I’ll live, but I won’t be riding home I’m afraid.” He squeezed my hand.

“Thank you for looking after him, if there’s any charge?”

“Goodness no, I was disappointed to see he didn’t have blue blood.”

“He did, but the government made him change it, so he’d look less like an alien.”

“So you must be, Lady Catherine?”

“You have the advantage, madam?” I replied, like someone out of a second rate Victorian novel.

“June Wiggins, you met me ‘usband, Alf, in the bar.”

“Very briefly. I’d better go and get the Mondeo if we need to carry the bike back.” I kissed Simon briefly. “Thank you Mrs Wiggins, I won’t be long.”

“No relation to Bradley, I take it?” said Simon as I swept out of the door. I waved to the landlord as I dashed through his lounge bar and out to the bikes. I relocked Simon’s, there were one or two small scratches that I’d missed earlier.

Moments later, I was back on my Scott and pedalling like hell. As I came through the edge of the city traffic, I was flying down the center of the road, with the slight hill behind me, I was easily exceeding the speed limit of thirty miles and hour. The odd car beeped at me, but I was gone, well into my cadence and flying, driven by adrenaline.

I came screaming into the drive passing Tom and the others just before they got to it. I jumped off the bike, and locked it in the garage, then ignoring them, I ran into the house. “These flaming overshoes,” I huffed and puffed as I pulled them off and then my shoes.

Tom called something, but I was halfway up the stairs, I grabbed my trainers and quickly donned them lacing them with speedy fingers. Then back down the stairs and the duck feeding detail were standing in front of me.

“Excuse me,” I reached past Tom to get my car keys.

“Where’s Simon?” he asked.

“He got hit off by some van, he’s back at a pub on the road above Cosham.”

“Two questions, do you need me to come to help? And, are you going to take your cycle helmet off?”

“Oh, shit.” I unclipped it and dumped it on the hall table. “You can come if you like, but I need to hurry.”

“Is he badly hurt?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll have a better idea when I’ve seen him walk on it.”

“What about the bike?”

“I think it’s okay, least I hope so.”

“Get your priorities right, Cathy,” said Stella, and I wasn’t sure if she was being funny ha ha or queer.

“Can you look after Mima, I’ll be back as quickly as I can.” She nodded her reply and I leant over and kissed the child. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Is Daddy hurted?”

“He’s bumped his bad knee, I’m sure he’ll be alright.”

“Can I come to see him?”

“No, love, you stay here, I won’t be long, we need the space in the car for the bike.”

I watched a large tear fill her eye and roll down her cheek, “Daddy hurted,” she said and began to sob. I wanted to pick her up and hug her but time was important, especially if we had to go to the hospital, at least we were over the right side of town.

“Come on, girl, let’s go and get him.” Tom grabbed my arm and steered me towards the car.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 511

I drove despite Tom’s protests, he asked me what had happened to Simon. “I didn’t actually see it, I was ahead of him up a hill and waiting for him, and he didn’t arrive. I got cold waiting so went back to see where he was. I spotted his bike alongside the door to a pub and assumed he’d got fed up and went for a drink. I was so angry, I didn’t think he’d come off.”

“You do seem to be on a short fuse these days.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I try to control it while Mima is around, but at times it just evades all my efforts.”

“I’ve noticed that you tend not to be so volatile when Mima is around.”

“I so desperately want her to stay with us.”

“I think you’ve done a good job so far, and I think the judge tended to agree with me.”

“Yes, but it will be decided on points of law, not the well being of Mima.”

“Maybe, he struck me as a shrewd old bird.”

“I suspect my transgenderism will count against us.”

“Why, he seemed to think it was unimportant, or relatively.”

“Yeah, but when he gets back to his chambers and has a think, he’ll go with the majority prejudice and decide I’m some sort of freak or pervert.”

“I don’t agree, Cathy. I think your counsel dealt with it brilliantly and he seemed to agree with it. Didn’t he say something like, ‘You seemed to have made the right decision.’ I thought he was quite impressed with you.”

“I don’t know what he thinks, but I shall in a few weeks, if I can stay sane.”

“Just enjoy having her while it lasts. Even if he let you keep her, her mother could turn up at any moment and take her back.”

“I know, that worries me too.”

“She isn’t yours, Cathy, you only have her for a limited time—enjoy it.”

“I know, and what you say makes such sense, but she has really got under my skin, I think I love her—as much as if she were my own.”

“She’s certainly quite a character, is this the pub?”

“Gosh, yes,” I’d nearly missed it, and just managed to turn into the car park. I pulled in as close to the bike as I could. “Ah good, it’s still there.”

We entered the pub and the landlord waved us through to the kitchen. Simon was sitting drinking coffee with the landlady. “Hi, babes, Tom. June, this is Tom Agnew, professor of biology at the uni, my lovely woman, you’ve already met.” We all nodded at each other.

“How’s the patient?” I asked Mrs Wiggins.

“He’ll live, but his knee is quite swollen.”

“I think it might be worth going home via casualty.”

“I think it might be too, Lady Catherine.”

“Please, everyone calls me Cathy, including Tom’s spaniel.”

“Thanks, would you like a drink?”

“No thanks, I’m driving and I never mix the two.”

“Yes, of course. Good policy.”

“I hope he hasn’t had anything either, in case they need to do anything to his leg.”

“Only a cuppa.”

I knew that could compromise things too, but I didn’t say anything. “Come on, tiger, let’s see if you can weight bear.”

Simon stood up and with difficulty moved to the door of the kitchen. I let him put his arm over my shoulder and I supported him out to the car, he sort of hopped as much as anything. He was also grunting and groaning, and sweating—it was hurting.

Tom had removed the wheels from the bike and stashed it in the boot of the car, then he came to help me with Simon. “Are we going to the hospital?”

“I’ll be all right,” Simon volunteered.

“Yes, we are. I want them to X-ray the knee make sure nothing has torn or broken in there.”

“They won’t know anyway,” said Simon, “Just take me home.”

“Get in the car, hop-along,” I exhorted, as I helped him slide across the back seat, he squeaked a bit again. I knew for certain he needed to see a doctor, and he was going to whether he liked it or not.

“Hey, this isn’t the way home,” Simon complained as we entered the hospital complex. I drove to A&E, and then went to find a wheel chair, Tom and I manhandled him into it, and I gave the keys to Tom to park the car while I pushed our reluctant patient into the waiting area.

It was quite quiet and we were seen within about ten minutes, at least to take details.

“You were knocked off your bike by a white van, sir?”

“Yes, the mirror caught me.”

“Did he stop?”

“No, he drove off rapidly.”

“Did you get the number?”

“No I was lying in the road under my bike.”

“Do you think he did it deliberately?”

“I don’t know, Sister.”

“Any witnesses?”

“Some bloke crossing the road helped me into the pub to wait for Cathy.

“Who’s Cathy?”

“I am,” I replied.

“You didn’t see anything?”

“No, I was further ahead.”

“Are you a relative?”

“Yes, she’s my wife,” said Simon, very quickly.

“Okay, you can wait with the patient. We have to inform the police as you were involved in a road traffic accident and have been hurt. The driver is now guilty of an offence.”

“I get the impression, it won’t worry him or her,” said Simon, then groaned as she touched his leg.

“Sorry, I’m going to have to cut your pants, you have a hole in them anyway.” She snipped away and Simon grunted, once because her scissors were cold. I stood and held his hand, he was being brave—well, almost.

A doctor came in took one look, tore off the plaster which had Simon squeal and jump, “Sorry about that,” said the doctor, “X-rays please, Sister, we’ll need antibiotics too, Fluclox two fifties. Is your tetanus up to date?”

“I think so, I think they gave me one when I got shot.”

“You’ve been shot?” asked the doctor, his eyebrows nearly disappearing into his hair line.

“Yes, we were out checking on dormice, her fault,” he pointed with his thumb at me, “some poachers, thought we were deer and fired at me.”

“I thought dormice were protected?” said the doctor.

“They are, sadly field biologists aren’t.” I said and squeezed his hand.

“You’re biologists?” asked the doctor.

“She is, I’m in banking.”

“You are?” asked the doctor to me directly, ”fascinating, and you study dormice?”

“She’s one of the leading experts in Europe.”

“You don’t happen to know the girl on youtube, do you, the one where the dormouse goes down her blouse, that is so funn…oh, sorry, I didn’t recognise you.” I felt my colour rise like a rocket, and within milliseconds was blushing like a red balloon. Why do they always know that clip?

A porter arrived and I walked with Simon as we were taken down to Diagnostic Imaging. Tom waved to us from the A&E waiting room. We waited while they found the duty radiographer, she was having her evening meal in the staff restaurant.

She arrived some ten minutes later and I waited while Simon was irradiated, or his knee was. They can’t have used enough, because he neither glowed in the dark nor had changed into Spiderman. I think I was more relieved than disappointed. Someone who glowed in the dark would be hell to sleep with—he’s bad enough now, snoring and snorting and releasing his flatulence.

The porter came again, and I was given the films to carry back to A&E. We waited with Tom, who was trying to drink the most revolting cup of coffee I had ever seen. In the end he dumped it in the bin. Half an hour later, we were called again and I went with our patient to see the doctor.

He had the film on a light box and showed it to us. “I can’t see anything broken, but it looks badly sprained, so you might have torn a ligament or the cartilage. Make an appointment with orthopaedics outpatients for Monday, I’ll give you antibiotics and some painkillers. Anything you can’t take?

“Not to happy with lager, too gassy…” Simon was pulling his leg.

“I meant with the tablets.”

“No, doc, I can take anything as far as I know.”

“Okay, these are quite strong painkillers, so no alcohol, okay?”

“I’ll see he doesn’t,” I volunteered.

“Thank you Mrs Dormouse, where’s the best place to see them in this part of the world? My kids would love to.”

“The university, give me a ring on this number,” I wrote down my mobile number, “and I’ll try to arrange sometime that’s mutually convenient.”

“Hey, that’s really good, thanks in advance.”

“Most of them are hibernating, but I might have one who’s awake.”

“Spike?” said Simon.

I nodded.

“Isn’t that the dog in Tom and Jerry?” asked the doctor.

“She is something of a dorweiler,” I said trying to keep a straight face.

“She’s not the one who jumped down your…”

“She is, she also savaged one of our technicians.”

“Wow, I thought they were harmless little things.”

“I thought the same about her,” said Simon nodding at me, “look at me, twisted knee, been shot and I’m broke—all since I met her.”

“You forgot celibate,” I said as I strode out of the treatment room, the doctor snorting behind me.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 512

Simon grumbled and groaned as we got him upstairs, and I helped undress him. He groaned even more when we pulled the bib-tights down over his swollen knee. Even I winced then. He lay on the bed in his tee shirt and underpants, with an ice pack on his knee. Mima lay alongside him, helping her foster ‘daddy’ get better.

He read to her for her pains and I left them to it whilst I went and sorted out a quick evening meal. I did poached eggs on toast with some baked beans, okay, I know with Simon that’s another kilo tonne of methane into the atmosphere, but I was too tired to worry about it. Conservation, is something people do when they have the time and resources to spare.

Simon had his upstairs on a tray, we have one of those with a built in bean bag underneath it, so it conforms to your lap. Of course, Mima ate half of his, then curled up beside him and they both fell asleep. They were both in hibernating mode when I went up to collect the dirty plate.

In lots of ways I was pleased to see Mima develop such a close relationship with a male figure. I was also delighted to see how Simon had grown to fill the role. He’d moved on from self indulgent schoolboy, via partly looking after me, to that of parent in less than two years.

Okay, we always want to change people—a dreadful thing to want, let alone do, and usually end up changing ourselves—which is how it should be. So I had changed too, more obviously than Simon, especially physically. I’d become more female in a physical sense, the hormones had been kind to me and the fat moved to all the interesting places. I had also matured a bit, not enough to be a competent parent, on however temporary a basis, but I was improving.

Simon is a very generous hearted soul, which is probably why he copes with me, and even more, his sister, who can be very demanding. He was kind enough to deal with my little secret and grow to accept the me, who was inside, in fact he even offered to pay for the alterations. Fortunately, that was never needed for which I’m glad, because I would have felt indebted to him until I’d paid it all back. I have a degree of pride and wouldn’t allow such a thing without being able to pay it back.

But seeing him with Mima, just chokes me up, he is so natural with her, and she loves it. When he’s at home, I stand no chance of attention, unless she wants something. I’m the heavy, the one who makes her do things like wash her hands or clean her teeth; who tells her not to run or to wear her crash helmet. Simon, he tells her stories and tickles her, he also spoils her rotten, buying her toys and sweets.

When I expressed my concern over this apparent bribery, he told me he was making up for lost time, and as we might not have any children—no might about it, unless he means by adoption—he was making hay while the sun shone.

As the lack of fertility is entirely my fault and about which I do have issues, he knows I have to back down. So he continues to spoil her, against my counsel. No wonder she loves him, she went from an absent father to a super dad in one easy move. I wonder what she thinks of me? Not a lot, unless I’m making her doll’s clothes.

Still, maturity means I’m not jealous, and I’m not really. I wish I’d had such a good relationship with my father when I was her age. We sort of did, except he was trying to turn me into a man, and I didn’t want to know. I hope he understood before he died. He said he was proud of me, but my insecurity regarding my relationship with him and to some extent my mother, means I have unfinished business there, which sadly will always remain so.

I stripped Mima off and changed her while she slept, and then transferred her to her own bed. Simon briefly woke up, then drifted off again, helped I suspect by the strong painkillers.

I sorted out the dishes, Tom and Stella were chatting in the dining room, he was having a glass of whisky and she her fruit juice. I made some tea and after loading the dishwasher, went to sit with them.

“How’s big brother’s knee?” asked Stella.

“Sore, I suspect. He’s zonked, probably with the pain killers.”

“I’m sure when I knocked you off your bike, you didn’t do anything stupid like sprain your knee.”

“No, I was very lucky, apart from ending up with no clothes to wear.”

“What? You ended up with half my wardrobe, if I remember correctly.”

“So does this mean Simon will have to start wearing skirts?” asked Tom smirking.

“He does already,” I replied.

“He does?” gasped Tom, wondering what other sort of weirdo was inhabiting his house.

“Yes, they’re tartan and pleated.”

“Och, ye twister.” He said then laughed, “I should hae seen that coming.”

“I can’t get over how good he is with Mima.”

“Yes, he seems to really enjoy being with her. So does someone else, we know,” said Stella looking at Tom.

“Oh give me a break; of course I love having her around, she gives me the gift of temporary granddad. It’s wonderful.”

“I wonder what would have happened if your daughter hadn’t died so tragically.”

“She wouldn’t have had any children, without a very successful prayer to St Jude.”

“Who’s he? Someone the Beatles wrote a song about?”

“No, he’s the patron saint of lost causes.”

“Maybe I should make a note of that, then.” I said jokingly.

“You may scoff young woman , but some people have reported all sorts of miraculous things.”

“Tom, you are a serious scientist so why do you torture yourself with all this superstitious cr…nonsense?” I asked. Stella sat back to see what would happen.

“I don’t believe I’m torturing myself. In fact I’m quite happy in my delusions, remember Darwin went to train as a priest, and even just before he died, he was at worst an agnostic, he wasn’t an atheist by any means. What about Wallace?”

“Which Wallace are we talking about? Wallace and Gromit? William Wallace?” I asked.

“Alfred Russell Wallace.”

“Darwin’s little Welsh buddy.”

“Was he Welsh?” asked Tom.

“Yes, he was born in Usk, near Monmouth;” I said proud of the fact that I was teaching granddad to suck eggs.

“I didn’t know that,” admitted my boss.

“What about this Alfred wotisname?” asked Stella.

“Alfred Russell Wallace, he was about to publish his own version of natural selection.”

“What and beat Darwin to it? That would have been interesting,” said Stella.

“He saw it all in a dream while he was in a fever, according to legend,” Tom added.

“So what’s all this got to do with St Prune?” I asked sniffily.

“Wallace believed that he had been given an insight by the Almighty, into how things worked.”

“Tom, you can’t believe all that, surely?”

“Why not, if Darwin was hedging his bets, and Wallace believed, why shouldn’t I?”

“It’s a free country, I suppose, I think I’ll shall go to bed.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth than in thy philosophy, young Cathy, I’d bear it in mind if I were you,” said Tom as a parting shot.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 513

I went into the bedroom and not wishing to disturb the sleeping pair, I grabbed my nightdress and changed in the bathroom, cleaned my teeth and headed for bed. I checked Mima, and my stomach flipped, her bed was empty. Where could she be?

I switched on my bedside light: there she was, tucked into Simon’s side with her arm lying across his tummy. I wondered if he knew she was there. I wasn’t entirely happy. Kids who sleep with their parents don’t sleep as well as those who have their own beds, and they tend to stop the adults sleeping too.

I eased her back into her own bed and tucked her in, she seemed to go off to sleep again. My heart was still having palpitations from the empty bed so I took some time to relax enough to sleep. During my interlude, I did think about several things, including what would happen to my career if we got Mima. It did not look good; on the other hand, I didn’t feel that badly about it either. If I did end up as foster mother to Mima, it came with compensations—I just couldn’t think of any, except the fuss she made of Simon. Damn, I was getting jealous again. How can I be jealous of a three year old?

I would need to get her registered with a doctor, would she need to be de-flead and wormed? Well we do it with the dormice. I have to take her to the hospital on Monday to see Dr Rose, oh gosh, Simon has to go too. I wonder if I can kill two birds with one stone? I must get him to check her ears, because I do wonder if she has a hearing problem.

What if it’s earwax? I know they have pump things to clear it, do they like, connect a high pressure pump to one ear and blow it straight through to the other? Would your brain get in the way? Eardrums would. So these pump thingies must do something else. I’ll look on the net when I have time.

It is two in the morning and I’m still awake, I’ve been worrying about the court again, what if she is taken away? I couldn’t bear it, and I know Simon would be mortified, he’s got really fond of her. Even Tom would be upset. He’d have to feed the ducks on his own.

What about the film? The dormouse one is nearly finished, at least it doesn’t need me to do anything except authorise it. Do we do the harvest mouse one? I need to speak to Alan and Erin about it. What if I win custody? Will I have time to make films, or do we put Mima on the payroll as a bird scarer?

Simon was walking out the door, he was holding hands with Mima. “It’s no good, Cathy, it would never have worked, so I’m going to marry Mima instead, at least she’s a real girl.

I burst into tears and threw myself at his feet, “Don’t leave me, Simon, I love you too much.”

“See, you’re just a liability—emotionally unstable. Come on, Jemima, just get me to the church on time.” She looked at me with contempt in her eyes, threw back her head and walked past my weeping figure.

“Hey, Babes, what’s the matter?” I felt Simon touch my face, which was wet with tears.

“Oh, Simon, you’re not going to leave me?”

“Me? No, why?”

“I just had a horrible dream.”

“Well it’s okay now, so stop crying and go make some tea, I’m as dry as blotting paper.” He hugged me as best he could without moving his knee, and I slipped out of bed and went to make tea.

I’d forgotten the detail of the dream, only that he was going to leave me. I couldn’t remember why, which was possibly just as well—it was pretty stupid. I returned with two mugs of tea. He pulled himself up into a sitting position and sipped it. He wanted another painkiller, I checked what was in them, and it said no more than eight in a day. He’d already had four. I denied him them and gave him some aspirin instead.

“Did you know Mima was in bed with you when I came up?”

“What when you came up to bed?”

“Yes.”

“No I didn’t, I think I remember reading her a story and not a lot else.”

“I came up and changed her and put her in her own bed, then went down with Tom and Stella. Then I come up to bed, and guess who’s been sleeping in my bed?”

“I can’t help it, I have this effect on women, it’s my animal magnetism, my charisma, my…”

“Bank balance?” I suggested.

“Erm, could be.”

“So how come I’m attracted to you? I’m not into money.”

“My animal magnetism?”

“Well I am a biologist, so it could be.”

“You make me sound like a specimen.”

“Yes you are, Homo Feloffabikus,” I smirked as I said this.

“Homo? I’m not a bloody homo.”

“As in Homo sapiens,” I reassured him.

“Oh, that’s different. I always thought I’d be Homo layaboutus, or H. stinkinrich.”

“So what would I be?” I asked foolishly.

Simonus wifus,” he said and then leant over and kissed me.

“What about Stella?”

Theresalwaysone cameronus,” he chuckled and I had to hush him.

“And Tom?”

“Lets see, I know, Smartarsus Oldgitus.”

“I wouldn’t let him hear you call him that, if I were you, he’ll bash your other knee.” I finished my tea and yawned, Simon leant over and kissed me again, this time with more intent.

Half an hour ago I’d have enjoyed it, now I was exhausted. He touched my breast and I moved his hand away. “Not now, darling, I’m very tired.”

“Bugger,” he muttered.

“You know I don’t do that,” I sighed.

“You know what I mean,” he said and I smiled at him. Of course I did, but I wasn’t going to tell him. Instead I lay on my back and reached out a hand to somewhere near his underpants. He immediately tensed. I grabbed his pride and joy which grew under my touch, his breathing grew heavier. I smiled and continued moving my hand….

I slipped into sleep aware he’d struggled out of bed towards the bathroom. I didn’t hear any crashes, so I continued drifting off to my badly needed sleep.

Morning came too quickly, I felt a little body insert itself between us, and it went quiet again. I don’t know what time it was, but I eventually woke some time after nine. I was alone in the bed, so how the others had got down I had no idea.

I went and showered and washed my hair to wake myself up. I had dark rings under my eyes, a sure sign I wasn’t sleeping properly or long enough. I had to do something about it or I’d be ill.

I dressed hurriedly and went downstairs, my hair wrapped in a towel. Simon was sitting at the table with Mima, her highchair alongside him, eating the breakfast he passed to her. It was a scene of domestic bliss. She was still in her pyjamas, but I’d forgive him that, at least he was trying.

“Oh hi, Babes, we thought you’d like to sleep on a bit, so Mima carried me down on a piggy-back.”

“Sure it wasn’t a fireman’s lift?”

“Nah, she’d have banged my leg on every step.”

“Where’s Stella?” I asked.

“She went with Tom to check on the dormice.”

“Oh hell, it was my turn to do it today, I forgot all about it.”

“I said you were still sleeping and they went off together to do it, I don’t think they mind too much.”

“I’d better make them something nice for lunch.”

“I think they said they’d have lunch out.”

“Oh, just the three of us then?”

“Looks like.”

“I must make some more bread and do some food shopping. Do you want to have Mima, or shall I take her with me?”

“What you going to do Mima, stay with me, or go shopping with Mummy?”

“Stay wiv Daddy.”

“Animal magnetism,” he said shrugging his shoulders.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 514

It looked as if I was going shopping on my own. Mima went and cuddled with Simon, so I went upstairs, dried my hair and dressed for the weather, finally rubbing some moisturiser on my face to try and offset some of the cold wind’s ravages. My skin is still quite good and I intend to keep it that way.

I was wearing, a camisole on top of my usual lingerie, then a polo-neck, a thick skirt with a waist petticoat, some over knee socks and my new boots. With my gloves, scarf and duffel coat, I was ready for nearly anything, weatherwise, except rain, and that wasn’t forecast.

“You wook nice, Mummy,” said a little voice, “I wike your wed coat.” She rushed over and hugged my leg.

“Thank you, young lady. Now you take good care of Simon, and I’ll see you later.”

“Are you goin’ to vuh shops, Mummy?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I’m going to buy some more food.”

“Wiwl you get me some sweeties?”

“Um, I’ll have to see, I think you eat enough of them already, perhaps I’ll get you some fruit.”

“No, Mummy, Mima want sweeties.”

“I’m afraid, Mima gets what I want, not what she wants.”

“Come on, Meems, I’ll read you a story.” Simon called to her and she turned and trotted back to him.

“I wuv you, Daddy,” she said while looking pointedly at me. I wasn’t going to play her game however, and picking up my bag, I went out to the car.

I did buy her some sweeties, they were reduced in the post Christmas free for all. I also bought her a top and skirt, which together were less than the original price of one item. I thought she’d look nice in them, and wished I could have worn them at her age.

I gave myself a quick pep talk—stop thinking about what is past and can never be, and get on with the present and future—what is and what can be. You can’t influence the past, but you can the present and the future. So give up the regrets and get on with living.

“That’ll be forty seven pounds and thirty two pence, madam.”

“Um, oh yes, sorry, I was miles away.”

“I wish,” said some bloke behind me.

“I think I know why only women are called, ‘Patience’.” I said loudly to the cashier.

“What’s that rhyme?” she said. “Oh yes, Patience is a virtue,”

“Catch it if you can, it’s seldom found in woman…” I added.

“And never in a man,” she said looking behind me.

“Look if you too are going to do a poetry reading, at least let me through first. I have to get to the university to see a professor.”

“Oh which one?”

“Oh some old fart, called Agnew or Agnes or something.”

“Tom Agnew?” I offered.

“Yeah, could be, you know him?”

“I should, he’s my dad.”

His face said, ‘Oh shit,’ his mouth said, “Oops.”

“What are you seeing him for?”

“I have to cover for someone who’s on maternity leave, or making a film, or both.”

“So you’ll be teaching biology?”

“That’s what I do, I suppose your dad does too.”

“Not too often, it’s my job you’re covering.”

“Good gracious, it isn’t, is it?”

“What time is the appointment?”

He looked at his watch, “In an hour and half.”

“So why were you complaining about me in the queue?”

He blushed, “I don’t want to be late, and I’m not at all sure of my way around Portsmouth.”

“Come on, let’s get a cuppa, I’ll lead you to the uni afterwards. Don’t eat anything, he’ll take you to lunch I expect. Do you like curry?”

“Yes, I do.”

“The job is probably yours, then.”

“You’re joking?”

“Okay, I’m joking. Come and have a cuppa.”

We sat down in the cafeteria, and he went and got two cups of tea. I watched over our purchases. “You don’t look very pregnant?”

“I’m not, but I have been making a film, which is being finished at the moment.”

“So why am I covering for you, if you’ve finished?”

“They want me to make another one.”

“What’s the first one on?”

Muscardinus avellanarius,” I smiled at him.

“Oh, dormice, lovely critters.”

“I’m glad you like them, we have a breeding programme at the department, which I still manage.”

“So you’re our local dormouse expert, I presume.”

“I suppose so.” I blushed with embarrassment.

“Who are you making the film for?”

“Natural England and High Street banks.”

“What a combination? Bureaucrats and fat cats.”

“Careful, my future father in law is the chairman and chief exec of the bank.”

“Oops, I seem to be rather good at sticking my size nines in my gob, don’t I? At least where you’re concerned. Which is a pity.”

“Why?”

“Never mind, you’re a bit out of my class, anyway.” He looked away shyly.

“I’m sorry, I’m spoken for.”

“Is that your little girl you’re buying the outfit for?”

“Sort of, I’m currently her foster mother, although I’m in dispute with the social services.”

“Oh that’s my cousin, head of social services.” He said and blushed.

“Is it now?”

“No, I was just trying to impress.” He smiled and I smiled back.

“I’m glad about that, the robots we’ve had come round to us have been a total pain.”

“My cousin is a social worker, but not here, up in Bristol.”

“Brissle,” I said and smiled.

“You know it?”

“I went to Bristol Grammar School.”

“Oh, I only went to a comprehensive in Redlands, but I did do my degree at the Bristol Uni.”

“I was at Sussex, then did my masters here with Tom.”

“Oh nice, how did you do schooling at Bristol, was your mum in Bristol?”

“It’s a long story and rather convoluted, not the subject for casual conversation.”

“Oh, okay. Look do you mind if we go soon, I’d like to sort of compose myself.”

“Sure, follow me.”

He didn’t, he had to rush off to the loos first, which made me like him even more, for his vulnerability. He did eventually follow me out to the cars, his was an old Vauxhall Astra. I loaded up the Mondeo and set off at a sedate pace to the university. I parked up and showed him where he could park for a couple of hours.

While he sat in his car munching his Loperamide, I went in to see Tom and Stella. She was glad to cadge a lift home, her ankles were swelling and her back was aching. She had helped Pippa do some of her paperwork, but had now had enough, or her body had.

Tom came out of his office, as I came back from the labs. “You didn’t tell me you were interviewing for my job.”

“You didn’t ask.”

“Gee thanks, Daddy.”

“You’re welcome, which of these two spilled the beans? Bearing in mind I can only sack one of them.”

“Neither, I met the guy in Tesco.”

“He goes to Tesco? That disqualifies him to start with.”

“Come off it you old fart, he’s rather nice, very fanciable, and comes from Bristol.”

“Yes I know he does, I just hoped lightning couldn’t strike twice.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Oh, just that he won’t desert me for the glamour of films and the lure of the aristocracy.”

“Phew, is that all?”

“What else is there?”

“No, nothing, absolutely nothing, no he’s all boy—nothing to worry about there.”

“Maybe I should stick around a bit longer,” said Stella, looking as if she’d got her second wind.

“Well, don’t point that at him, he’ll run a mile.” I said indicating her broadening belly.

“Bugger, I keep forgetting it.”

“Are you taking him to lunch?” I asked Tom.

“No, why should I?”

“He likes curry.”

“Oh does he now, well I suppose I could make an exception. Pippa book me a table for two, usual place.”

“Come on, Stella, before my ice cream melts.”

“What flavour is it?”

“What did you want?”

“Chocolate chip and Brussell’s sprout, why?”

“If I didn’t know you were pregnant, I would now.”

“Duh,” she patted Puddin’, “bit bloody obvious, isn’t it?”

“From your choice of ice cream, yes.”

“Doh!” she said as we walked towards the car.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 515

“So did he get the job?” I asked Tom when he got home that evening.

“Why do you want to know?”

“Organise the dormouse schedule, why else?”

“I got the impression you found him attractive.”

“I can window shop, can’t I?”

“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, Cathy.”

“Tom, you don’t think for one minute, that I would do the dirty on Simon, do you?”

“No, I would hope not, but sometimes these things have a way of happening despite the best of intentions.”

“So what’s his name?”

“No his name isn’t Watts at all, it’s Bradley Peet.”

“What you just employed Brad Peet.”

“Yes, not Brad Pitt.”

“Still if you say it quickly, it sounds the same.” I laughed out loud.

“Only because you Sassenachs canna talk properly. Ye’re all slovenly in yer speech, and dinna pronounce things properly.”

“You are a big bully, Thomas Agnew, and only picking on me because I’m a girl.” I pretended to cry—definitely crocodile tears.

“There there,” he said, “I ken fine well ye’re taking the piss, so you can stop the mockadile tears noo, straightway.”

“Damn you, you haggis stuffer, you always know when I’m winding you up.”

“Cathy, I was playing faithers afore ye were born.”

“I forget, you also knew all about transsexualism before I was born.”

“Aye, I suppose I did. Least, at knowing how it affected someone, I did.”

“So did you employ Brad Peet?”

“Aye, for six months.”

“Is that how long you think this next film will take to make?”

“No, but if he doesn’t fit in, I can get rid of him and find someone else. There’s plenty looking for jobs these days.”

“He went to Bristol, so he said.”

“It would seem so, he went on and did a masters there too.”

“What straight away?”

“So it would seem, which is another reason for the six months. He doesn’t have much experience.”

“I had more than him. So how old is he?”

“Twenty six.”

“Hmm, older than me.”

“He had to work so did a couple of years selling carpets.”

“He could sell me one any day.”

“Cathy, behave.”

“Yes, Daddy.” I pouted.

“What’s for tea?”

“I made a fisherman’s pie.”

“Well I hope you took his boots off first.”

“No, I saved them for you along with all his maggots.”

“That wouldna worry me, have I taken you fishing at all?”

“No, my father tried it, I didn’t like handling the maggots or the fish and wasn’t really interested. Of course he accused me of being girly, which secretly delighted me, but also got me a few slaps for my pains.”

“I can never see how hitting a child is justified,” said Tom shaking his head.

“Nor me, but most people do it.”

“Not like your father.”

“Certainly that day, he excelled himself.” We were both thinking of the day he really went to town on me and I tried to end it all as a consequence. Dr Thomas saved my life and my sanity and Tom came to see me in hospital. It was then he learned I was transgendered and told me it was okay. Little did I know just how much he knew about it, but then he didn’t know what I was going to do about it either; partly because I didn’t know myself. In lots of ways, I owed loads to Stella, who forced me to confront the issue, fulfilling the Jungian suggestion, that things we don’t resolve internally are projected externally and force us to deal with them.

All of this seemed such a long time ago. I suppose it was two years, I must fill in that form and send it off to the gender recognition people. I’d have to ask Simon where he’d put it.

The kitchen smelled of fish as I opened the oven door and checked the pie. It was browning nicely, and I wondered if Mima would eat some of it. She was possibly too full of ice cream, encouraged by Stella who made do with raspberry ripple in lieu of her Brussell’s sprouts. Yuck.

I laid the table with help from Mima, who’d just woken up from a nap with Simon. His knee was still sore, but not as bad as yesterday. I don’t know how much he needed the painkillers but he was still taking as many as I’d let him have.

Henry was far from pleased by his son’s absence through injury again. However, I think Simon was quite happy to be away from the wheeler dealing he normally had to do. Mima was certainly pleased to spend time with him. I suppose it took the heat off me and allowed me to do lots of things I’d have found difficult before, especially with regard to Mima: but, other women manage, so I’d have had to do so as well.

I dished up the meal and Mima turned her nose up at the smell of it. She did however, eat half of Simon’s dinner, so I was quite pleased with her consumption.

“Oh, Cathy, something I should have mentioned earlier, I invited that young man to dinner on Sunday, I hope that’s all right?”

“Why? What are you cooking?”

“If I cook, it’ll be curry…”

“Okay, I surrender, what do you want?”

“A leg of lamb, perhaps?”

“You must promise to keep that mutt of yours under control,” Kiki had previously run off with a leg of lamb before Tom could carve it.

“Oh she won’t do that again.”

“No she won’t, I’ll shoot her first.” I declared with mock seriousness.

He handed me a couple of twenty pound notes, can you do a nice sweet too?”

“I could do some of my apple and mint sorbet?”

“Aye, that’ll do.”

“What are you two plotting?” said Stella bringing the dirty plates out to the kitchen.

“Brad Peet’s coming to dinner on Sunday.”

“Who’s he?” she asked oblivious to what I thought would be a great joke.

“The replacement teacher for moi.”

“Oh, that’s different, count me in, won’t you?”

“Aye, I was rather hoping you’d stop Cathy swooning at him, all the time.”

“Oh wow, is he that delish?”

I nodded furiously.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 516

Saturday meant more food shopping, Jemima opted to stay with Simon again, who didn’t seem to worry too much about being left holding the baby. He was managing to limp with the use of an elbow crutch, so he could fix her a drink or snack if necessary. Stella decided to come with me. We left after I made up another bread mix.

I bought a fresh leg of lamb, none of this New Zealand, frozen stuff. This was Welsh lamb, some of the best flavoured in the world. Of course, living in Bristol, we had relatively easy access to it, and although Cotswold lamb is good, Welsh is better. So we actually shopped at a butcher’s not a supermarket.

Along the Gloucester road, we found all the veg we needed as well, so a bottle of white wine and some mint jelly, and I had all the ingredients needed for our meal tomorrow. Today was going to be some homemade soup for lunch with the fresh bread—assuming Simon hasn’t eaten it all. For dinner, I was going to do a pasta bake, probably tuna, it’s so easy, and I had a can of condensed mushroom soup to make the sauce.

At home, once the soup was on the go, I peeled and boiled the apples, then cooled them and mashed them for the sorbet. While I was cooking, Tom arrived back and wiped off Kiki’s feet, where they’d got muddy. I was still trying to understand that as we’d had hard frosts for several days consecutively. Apparently the top surface defrosted and got muddy and very slippery.

Soup was served with fresh, still warm bread. The whole saucepan of vegetable goodness disappeared and so did the bread. They all sat about with very satisfied grins on their faces. Stella went to make the teas and coffees, while I finished the sorbet and shoved it in the freezer.

Simon had gone back to the couch for a nap with the rather replete Mima, who cuddled up with him. “They look good together,” said Stella. I smiled, but felt irritated, it seemed Mima had little time for me unless she wanted something; still, at least it kept her from getting under my feet in the kitchen.

Simon got upset when I ran round with the vacuum cleaner, “Can’t you do that later?”

“No I can’t, I’ve been on the go since I got up this morning, you’ve been sat on your increasingly large arse, I’d like to sit down sometime as well, but I have a dinner to make, so don’t you start or you’ll be cooking it!”

“I’ve been baby sitting, ask Meems.”

“Yes, Daddy bin wooking after me.”

“Well seeing as you seem to do most of that with your feet up and your eyes shut, it doesn’t strike me as exactly energetic.”

“I can’t help having a bad leg, can I? After all, I got while I was indulging you.”

“Oh that’s right, blame me, like it’s my fault you can’t ride a bloody bike.”

“I got hit off it, if you remember?”

“Yeah, so you said, if you’d taken a bit more time to get fit instead of sitting on that fat posterior, you would have been up with me and the van would have been an irrelevance.”

“Mummy cwoss. Don’t be cwoss wiv Daddy, he got a baddie weg.”

“He’s always got something wrong with him, darling, just enough to stop him actually doing anything called work. I’ll bet if we went to a disco, his mobility would dramatically improve, almost by miracle.”

“That is unfair of you, Cathy. You take that back. The only reason you’re rushing round like a blue arsed fly, is because lover boy is coming tomorrow.”

“It’s because we’re having a visitor, not a specific one. I like this place to look tidy as much as I like the food we serve to be as tasty as I can make it.”

“You make it sound like a restaurant, we’re running here,” Simon fired back.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snapped and stormed off leaving the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the room and ran off to my bedroom, where I fell onto the bed and burst into tears.

I must have fallen asleep because it was getting dark when I awoke. No one had come looking for me, so had they missed me—didn’t look like it. I felt really fed up. I tried to think of positive things in my life, but at this moment, there didn’t appear to be any. I might just as well be dead.

Tom poked his head around my door, “Cuppa?”

“Thanks,” I sat up, and accepted the mug of hot beverage.

“You’ve been crying.”

“Have I?”

“Yes, you have panda eyes.”

“Oh bugger,” I said and started to sniff.

He sat on the bed alongside me and put his arm around me. “I think you’d better tell me what’s going on. I heard the exchange with Simon earlier. If you want Mima, you’d better think about your relationship with Simon. If social services find a weakness, they are likely to take full advantage of it.”

“I know, but I just feel so fed up with everything.”

“Why don’t you go up to your house in Bristol for a couple of days?”

“With Mima?”

“No, leave her here with us, we’ll manage between us.”

“No way, I’m responsible for that child, so where I go, she goes too.”

“Don’t you trust us?”

“It isn’t about that, she’s my responsibility.”

“I thought we were all one family here?”

“We are…”

“There’s a but coming, isn’t there?”

“You know me better than own father ever did.”

“I think he began to understand you towards the end.”

“Don’t humour me, Tom, for most of my life he was a total shit. You’re not, you’re a caring and civilised man.”

“I thought you held Simon in the same category?”

“I do, but he’s trying to take Mima off me.” Tears were streaking down my cheeks.

“Ah, so that’s it is it, you’re jealous of him and probably of her too. It’s unusual, it’s usually the father who gets jealous of his wife, and feels left out.”

“So, I’m a failure as a mother and a woman am I? My partner is more female than me. Who am trying to kid, Tom? I’d be better off dead.” I was crying now, and he’d removed the tea from my hand before he hugged me tightly.

“You silly girl, can’t you see, this whole household revolves around you. You aren’t a failure, you’re a wonderful success, but it comes at a price—that of lots of work, which is never rewarded, just taken for granted. Millions of women share the same experience every day. We never fully appreciate the efforts of our wives and mothers, until it’s too late.”

“How can you understand me so well, Tom?” I sobbed crying against his shirt. I was aware of his masculine smell, a bit of sweat mixed with the odours of soap and his deodorant. It was a reassuring smell to me and I felt safe in his embrace, part of me wished he could hold me for a long, long time. I knew that was impossible, but don’t we always want the impossible?

“I’ve had a daughter and a wife, if you remember. I also like to think that whilst I can pretend to be an irascible chauvinist pig, I’m not, I notice when folk are unhappy, especially those about whom I care, and I care very much for you, my girl.”

“I know, Daddy, and I love you too.”

“You need to talk things over with Simon, don’t keep things back from him. He’s not stupid, but he probably isn’t aware of much of it either, he’s a bloke and they often aren’t.”

“But so are you, so how have you noticed?”

“I’m one step removed, Cathy, so I have the room to see these things, I’m also a bit older and more experienced—remember, experience is what we call our mistakes.” He chuckled at his own joke.

“So you got it wrong with your wife and daughter, then?”

“Oh yes, but I learned, eventually. My Catherine, taught me an awful lot, just as you have, about women and their plight.”

“I didn’t think I knew enough about being a woman to teach anyone, including myself.” I sniffed in my apparent failure.

“Yes you have, you’re even more natural than Catherine was, you exude a femaleness she didn’t have.”

“You mean I have PMS?”

“That as well,” he chuckled and I laughed too, until I started to cough, then I had to take a sip of tea. “Why do you beat yourself up so much, your standards are much too high.”

“What do you mean?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get a strong impression that you are scared of anyone detecting or suggesting that you’re anything but one hundred percent female. You try so hard to cover any flaws and to do things just right. Is this so?”

“Sometimes it feels like that,” I admitted.

“And if anyone says anything or challenges anything you say and do as a woman, you take it very deeply, even though the incident was probably trivial and instantly forgotten by the other party.”

“So, I can’t help it. It’s something transsexuals do.”

“And if I really wanted to upset you, I’d challenge your suitability as Mima’s custodian and guardian, in particular, your role as her foster mum.”

I felt the tears start again, “Yes,” I said very quietly.

“I am going to say this only once. Please stop trying to be a perfectionist, ordinary women make mistakes, they aren’t all perfect, far from it. You are as female as any of them, just because you don’t have ovaries and a uterus, but then neither do all of them. Forget all this, I used to be business, move on and just be the woman you are, believe in yourself, we all do.

“As for being a mother and a wife, you look after us all in those roles and for which we treat you with the same contempt we did our own wives and mothers—or so it might seem, but we love you to bits, we know it and assume you do because it’s implicit. Maybe we should say so more often but we don’t, but that’s par for the course: and the reason, because you are so natural in it. If you like, you’re a victim of your own success.

“If I was thirty years younger, I’d be chasing you myself; instead, I have to settle for being your adoptive father. I’m content with that, a small portion of someone you love and respect is better than a large portion of someone you don’t. So, come on, dry your eyes and come on down to your family, who love you to bits but also take you for granted.”

After this I howled for several minutes while he held me, safe and secure and so patient. I loved this man, who I would have chosen as my father had I been given a choice and like him, have to be content with the period of my life I can now share with him in that role.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 517

I went down the stairs after washing my face, I couldn’t face them, so I slipped into the kitchen and started the pasta bake. About ten minutes later, Mima came to see me.

“Gwandad says you’ve been cwyin’.”

“Yes, I peeled some onions, they always make me cry.”

“I wuv you, Mummy,” she said hugging my legs.

“I know, Sweetheart.” I picked her up and kissed her, then hugged her.

“Wotyoumakin’?”

“A special type of like a pie, called a pasta bake, we use these strips of pasta and we add some tuna and some sauce and one or two other bits and pieces and pop it in the oven.”

“Is it nice?”

“It’s lovely, do you want to try some when it’s cooked.”

“Yes pwease.”

“Okay, I’ll keep you some, do you want a drink or an apple?” She opted for the drink and toddled off with a carrot to chew on.

While the kettle boiled Stella came out to my hideaway. “Oh, you’ve got the kettle on, good oh.”

“Who wants what?”

“Simon and I want tea, Tom will have some of the tar he calls coffee.” I made the teas and added some hot water to Tom’s coffee maker.

“There you go, with a mince pie for everyone, sorry they’re shop bought, I didn’t have time to make any.”

“You can make mince pies?”

“They’re very easy, especially with tinned mincemeat and frozen pastry. They don’t take that long if you have to make the pastry, but I’m not a good pastry cook, my hands are too warm.”

“What difference does that make?”

“Lots apparently: according to one chef I knew, his assistant made better pastry than he could and when she did, everyone in the kitchen used to beg some to take home to make pies and things.”

“Oh come on, Cathy, that’s an urban myth, surely?”

“I spoke to the man himself, he was doing a course I was on making soups. He was magical, and we learned about so many things that day.”

“You certainly make good soup.”

“Yes and Simon can certainly pack it away. That reminds me, I need to make another loaf for breakfast. Mima seems to like bread for her brekkies.”

“While you upstairs, she said she didn’t like bread before you made it for her, she said you were the best mummy, ever.”

“I wouldn’t have thought she’d have noticed something like that, the bread I mean. I suppose it’s because I’ve let her help me make it now and again. Send her out and she can help me again, she likes tipping the stuff in the bread machine.”

“By the way, we all think you’re the best mummy ever, even Tom.” She winked at me.

“One of these days, that Tom Agnew’s great gob is going to get him into all sorts of bother, but thanks for saying so.”

She came over as I thought to pick up the tray, instead she gave me as big a hug as she could with Puddin’ taking up some of the room. Then she picked up the tray and went into the lounge.

Mima came out and I shoved the pasta bake into the oven, glancing at the time as I did so. Then it was getting out the flour and yeast and so on for the bread machine. We weighed up the amounts and Mima popped them in the machine, poured in the water and I closed the lid and switched it on. Her eyes got bigger as it began mixing the ingredients, making a grinding noise and vibrating. Once that was done, she disappeared back to the lounge I presumed to cuddle with Simon. Oh well, I’d get over it.

I was busy washing up the mess from doing the pasta when a hand touched my shoulder and I jumped, nearly into the sink. “Careful, you nearly had me over then,” said a male voice.

“Sorry, Si, I didn’t hear you with the tap running.”

“I came to apologise.”

“What for?”

“For not being as useful as I could be.”

“You and thirty million other British males.”

“I’m trying to be serious about this. My leg hurts, but I could do more.”

“I’m sorry, maybe I’m just tired.” I turned and he kissed me, very gently but sensuously.

“I know, you work so hard for us. We do appreciate it, and we do love you.”

“I know, I’m just sad Tom had to tell you all.”

“Yeah, okay, so he did. I’m a bloke, I need to be told—apparently.”

“You keep Mima from under my feet when I’m in the kitchen.”

“You don’t mind?”

“Not when I’m cooking or clearing up, other times I do sometimes worry that she likes you more than me.” I felt a tear forming in my eyes. “I know it’s silly, but…”

“I think she’s playing us off against each other, kids do.”

“No, Si, she seems to prefer to sit or lie with you more than me.”

“Only because you’re always on the go, I sit down and she brings me a book to read to her, or pretends to read it to me. She can’t do that with you, you’re making the next meal or doing housework, or stuff for the film or the uni. You’re so busy. She actually said the other night that she likes you to read to her as well.”

“When I have the time…”

“She said you were always so busy, so she uses the default position, Stella, Tom or me. It isn’t rocket science.”

“I’ve been so foolish,” I said choking up as I did, tears began to run down my cheeks. “Will you forgive me?”

“What for, for being so beautiful I want to carry you up to bed this moment, but my bad leg won’t let me.”

“You silly bugger,” I said and let him hug me, resting my head on his shoulder.

“Don’t push too hard, I’ll fall over,” he said, which sort of broke the romantic spell.

“Am I forgiven?” I asked.

“No, because there was nothing to forgive, except tiredness and worry. We all love you, Cathy, me most of all, except Mima might give me a run for my money, and Tom of course—despite all this going on, he acts like he’s ten years younger than he actually is. In two years time he has to become Emeritus professor.”

“Why?”

“He’s sixty eight, at seventy he’s supposed to retire, but they always have this fall back position, don’t they?”

“I was never sure what emeritus meant.”

“Retired, is the short answer.”

“Gosh. I forget he’s that age, mind you he looks good on it.”

“When he first started the negotiations with the bank regarding our sponsorship of your dormouse campaign and some of the survey, he looked quite a bit older.”

“Did he?”

“Then you started to live with him, and he suddenly looked so much better.”

“I’d have thought having me here would have made him look older.”

“You silly goose, he wanted to parent you, you reminded him so much of his daughter, that when you came here, he suddenly had another chance and you played into his hands.”

“That sounds as if there was something sinister about it.”

“No, he was hoping you’d stay here, then when we all moved in, he must have had quite a shock, but he said he liked the house being full of younger people again. It gave him some purpose and like an instant family. Then Mima turns up, and it makes it even better, he gets to play granddad, something he never thought he would do.”

“And I thought I was a problem.”

“Cathy, you are a dreadful problem, makes the banking crisis and middle east conflict pale into insignificance, beside you—how’s that, bad enough? Or can we tell the truth and say, you are wonderful, the best foster mum any dormouse could wish for.” he pecked me on the cheek and limped off quickly while I was helpless with laughter.

“Is you all wight, Mummy?” asked a little voice.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said wiping a tear from my eyes, “Would you like me to read to you?”

“Can we dwess my dowwy instead, pwease.”

“Of course we can, you go and get her and the clothes you want her to wear.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 518

That night, despite his sore knee, Simon made a great fuss of me in bed, which was a shame: I was too tired to want to do anything but sleep. I think I managed to persuade him, that it was me not him, and eventually, he gave up and let me go to sleep.

I woke up in the night feeling very guilty, and after I stole out to the loo, I cuddled up to him and he sleepily put his arm around me. He was still holding me when we woke up as Mima climbed aboard. She simply wriggled in between us, with much huffing, puffing and giggling. We indulged her and she stayed quiet for about half an hour. Then as I came to, prompted by her elbow sticking in my ribs, I remembered we had a visitor to lunch and I hadn’t finished the vacuuming, or dusting.

I attempted to leap out of bed, only one of my feet got caught in the duvet, and I sort of twisted and flopped nearly braining myself on the bedside cupboard. Simon sat up in bed and regarded me lying on the bedroom floor with my one leg splayed out and the other stuck in the folds of the bed.

“Cathy, what are you trying to do?”

“At this moment, get off the floor, bloody duvet caught me.”

“Don’t you mean, you fouled in it.”

“What’s the difference?”

“It caught you, suggests, it the duvet actually wrapped it self around your leg.”

“Of course it did, it’s a woman-eating duvet.”

“I see.”

I pulled my leg free and would have kicked the wretched thing, except that would have made me look more stupid than ever. I went into the bathroom and weed and washed, then dressed in jeans and top. “Are you two lazy daisies getting up?”

Mima giggled and Simon pretended to snore. Then Mima tried to copy him and ended up coughing. At that point, I went down to get my breakfast. Some tea, toast and cereal and I was off with the vacuum cleaner and duster. Never sure which way round to do it, because they both generate dust.

Then I started doing the vegetables, roast and new potatoes, glazed carrots, celery and whole green beans. The sorbet had set sufficiently and tasted okay. I washed the meat and inserted little bits of garlic into the skin, plus the occasional caper, then marinaded it in lemon juice with rosemary.

At ten, I switched on the oven and zapped the roasties in the microwave—it’s quicker than par boiling. I then placed them in a roasting tin with some corn oil and popped them into the top of the oven. At half past ten the lamb went in.

Mima came to see what I was doing, she’d finished playing with her dolls and wanted some attention from me. I wanted to go up and shower and change. “Did Simon wash you, before dressing you?”

“No, Mummy.”

“How about we go up and have a shower together?”

“Does Mima need hair wash?”

“Yes, Mima. Hmm, let me see, don’t you want to wash it?”

“No, Mummy.”

“You can try my shower cap, but it will probably be too big. If it gets wet, it has to be washed, okay?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

As we were undressing, she stopped and looked at my pubic hair, then looked down at her own bare pubic area. Then she walked over and touched me, in the pubes. I grabbed her hand. “Mima, it’s not done to touch anyone there, unless you’re a grown up and they give you permission.”

“You hairy, Mummy.”

I blushed and looked down at my groin. I wasn’t that hairy before surgery, and I certainly wasn’t afterwards. Besides, I kept the hair trimmed, not enough to irritate, but short enough to be tidy. “All grown up ladies have hair there, unless they shave it off, or do some other form of removal.”

“I gotted none.”

“No, Mima, you won’t until you grow up, don’t worry, that’ll be here before you know it. Come on let’s find that shower cap.” We trotted into the bathroom and it was hanging from the hook on the back of the door. Of course it was far too big for her, even when we swirled her hair around in it, it kept drooping over her ear or face. In the end I found the belt off an old skirt and tied that around it to keep it in place. It looked like some sort of exotic headdress.

During the shower, the ends of the belt kept tickling her back and she chuckled like a demented leprechaun. We dried ourselves, well she had a good try to do it herself, and only needed a little help to finish the job. I believe in letting children help to do things for themselves, it makes them independent and possibly sooner than those who remain passive. If you make it into a game, they try even harder.

The shower cap worked, although I thought I would see if I could get a child’s one for future use. Mima helped to dress herself, and I threw on my dressing gown and basted the spuds and the joint. I had melon to prepare for a starter, and I needed to get a move on.

Mima watched as I dressed in skirt and top, then added a pair of court shoes. She slipped her shoes off as soon as my wardrobe door was open and clattered around the room in a pair of mine, red courts with a three inch heel.

She watched fascinated as I did my eyes, a little bit of liner and mascara, and finally some lipstick. As I rolled my lips to even the application, she did the same. I found an old lip balm and painted her lips, she was beaming with pride as she rolled her lips again. “Mima pwetty, now.”

“Mima, you are beautiful and priceless.”

I squirted some perfume on myself and she had to have a bit as well. I gave her a different one that wasn’t as expensive as my Coco.

I did my hair and decided to leave it down, I had a clip in my pocket if I needed to keep it out of my cooking. I checked myself in the mirror, not too bad I suppose—for a boy! Shit, I must stop thinking like that.

“Mummy, pwetty,” said a little voice watching my reflection in the mirror.

“Thank you, darling. Come along, let’s get the melon sorted.” We went down the stairs, hand in hand, her carrying a pair of my shoes, with which she was going to parade as soon as we got down. I had her shoes in my other hand, they could go back on later if she didn’t break her neck.

I watched her clomp into the lounge to show Simon. It brought back memories. I’d been allowed to clomp about in my mother’s shoes until I was about three or four, after that it was forbidden, even though I liked it. What brought it to a climax was when I clomped about in her shoes and a blouse which was like a dress on me at the time. My dad went totally ape, I got a hiding and was banned from wearing my mother’s shoes or clothes again. It didn’t stop me, after all I was a girl in my own mind, but it made me much more secretive when I did it afterwards—and I did.

I put the rest of the vegetables on and began to cut and clean the melons. I know some people like the seeds, but I wash them and put them on our bird table. The squirrels like them—I know, I shouldn’t encourage them.

“What time is Brad arriving?” I asked Tom when he returned from the checking the dormice.

“He’s here, with me, he followed me back from the university. Come on in Brad.”

Stella’s radar was working well and she appeared as if from nowhere, she certainly hadn’t done much to help, then I could see why, she’d rather glammed it up, especially her hair.

“Cathy you’ve met already, Stella is the one with the pudding, Simon, is Cathy’s partner and last but not least, this is our resident supermodel, Mima.” She clomped into view and right up to the rest of us. We all shook hands and the hostility I half expected from Simon, didn’t materialise. I excused myself to check on the dinner, while Stella commandeered our guest, assisted by our ‘supermodel’ who insisted on holding his hand as she tottered in my shoes, her dormouse in her other hand.

Everything was done and I placed it on a hostess trolley, except the meat, which I left to rest, making sure Kiki was locked in the conservatory. I also made the gravy. Then I took in the melon, and Simon poured glasses of wine for everyone but Stella and Mima.

After the melon, I brought in the roast lamb and Tom did the honours with the carving knife. Stella brought in the mint sauce I’d made earlier, and we started the main course. Stella probed our guest for info about himself, quite successfully at times. Of course, I had prior knowledge of some of his history from our encounter in the supermarket, and he asked me questions about my time in Bristol. Despite the wine, I managed to avoid giving too much away about myself. I supposed, he would eventually learn about me from someone at the uni, but I wasn’t going to offer anything on that subject unless he asked me specifically. These days it was definitely on a need to know basis only.

My sorbet went down very well, after a short pause to let the rest of the meal make room for it. Then we had coffee. This Stella made, her only contribution to the meal. I cleared up and after rinsing put the dirties in the dishwasher.

Mima clomped around to me and raised her arms to be lifted onto my lap. She lapped up the attention she got from everyone, she is quite a pretty little thing, then she cuddled into me, and holding her dormouse and sucking her thumb, she dropped off to sleep. Simon looked at us and smiled, “See, she’s tired of me already.”

“So, she’s your foster child, yet she calls you mummy and daddy?” asked Brad.

“Initially she got dumped on us,” I began to explain.

“No, Cathy, she got dumped on you, you’re the only one soft enough to let it happen,” Simon decided to rewrite history, but I didn’t challenge him. “Cathy and Mima have history, she keeps bursting into your life doesn’t she?”

“We’ve had encounters in the past yes.”

“Cathy, saved her life,” added Tom.

“Hang around long enough, she’ll save yours, too,” said Stella, smiling coquettishly at our visitor. “It’s a habit she has, she’s really Supergirl, in disguise.”

“This all sounds interesting, tell me more,” demanded Brad, so Stella obliged much to my embarrassment. It seemed I had saved half the population of Hampshire and Avon, the way she told it, with Simon adding odd snippets, and even Tom, put his oar in too.

“I hope all this derring-do stuff doesn’t go with the job, or I’ll have to resign before I start, I’m a bit of a wimp, myself.”

“Don’t listen to them, Brad, they’re making half of it up.” They hadn’t, but I didn’t want him researching me on the internet, because he’d then discover my little secret. Why can’t Stella keep her brain in gear and her mouth in the off postion?

I decided to leave the table and carried Mima to the couch in the lounge so she could sleep more comfortably, after that, I began to clear the table. As far as I was concerned, the meal was over and no one had mentioned dormouse juggling. That had to be a first.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 519

“I’d better be going, thanks, that was a lovely meal.” I spun around, Brad had tracked me down to my lair.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.” I blushed not sure what I should do, I mean I hardly know the man, so a hug is a bit overfriendly, isn’t it? “You’ll have to come again sometime.”

“Yes, I’d like that. I don’t know how I’m going to fill your shoes, the students I spoke to, thought you were pretty cool, and I think I know why, and that’s besides saving the world, making films and looking after a toddler: not to mention being a super cook and really beautiful woman.”

“Um, I…” spluttered and blushed. I shrugged, “That’s me I suppose, Mima doesn’t think I’m super, or beautiful, she just likes me for who I am.”

“I think you’re all of the those things I mentioned and more. I hope we eventually get to work together, that would be really ace.”

“I’m not that nice to work with, when you look under my desk, you’ll find a pile of bodies—unless they’ve cleaned them up—of students and staff who pissed me off. Ask Tom, I once attacked him in a professor’s meeting. I do have feet of clay.”

He glanced down at my navy courts, “They look fine to me.” He walked over to me and kissed me on the cheek, “Once again, thanks for a lovely dinner.” I smiled and nodded. Then I got back to the clearing up. A few minutes later, the front door closed and I heard a car starting up. I hoped he hadn’t drunk too much wine.

“Lover boy’s gone,” said Simon limping into the kitchen.

“Why did you call him that, he’s perfectly okay.”

“Pardon me for breathing—I thought you fancied him.”

“Well I don’t, although he has quite a cute little bum.”

“He what?” Simon sounded shocked, served him right. “What’s wrong with mine?”

“Nothing, but his is nicer.”

“Gee thanks. I don’t go making comparisons between you and other women.”

“Well I hope you don’t compare me to other men,” I pretended to be horrified.

“Actually, yes I do.” The swine was calling my bluff.

“And what sort of conclusions do you draw?”

“You have a nicer bum, why?”

“Oh,” I couldn’t think of anything to say in response.

“And better tits,” he continued, walking closer to me.

I put down the pot I was holding, “Is that so?”

“And nicer lips,” he said advancing towards me. He put his hands around my waist and kissed me. “Definitely nicer lips,” he said, then as if to make sure, he kissed me again, and this time I responded by kissing him back, putting my arms around his neck.

We tongue wrestled for a few moments, when I felt something clasp me around the leg. “Do you wike Daddy kissing you?”

She seemed to grab my legs more than a lovesick dog, at least she didn’t try to hump them, so I had to be grateful for small mercies. “Hello, darling, what can we do for you?”

“Can you make dowwy a new dwess, Mummy?”

“Not tonight, Josephine,” I replied knowing it would go straight over her head.

“Mummy, my name’s Mima, not Josephine.”

“I know, darling, it’s an old expression, and I don’t know why I used it, nor why I’m trying to explain something to you that your little brain won’t understand.”

“You’re a compulsive teacher,” said Simon—very quietly—chuckling.”

“Mummy, what’s my wittle bwain?”

Simon was shuddering with silent laughter. I was at a loss for a moment. I mean, how do explain what a brain is, the most complex mammalian organ, to someone, whose very organ isn’t enough developed to understand?

“Um, your brain is the thing in your head which understands things.”

“I understand, Mummy, is that my bwain?”

“Absolutely, darling, absolutely.”

Simon was now having difficulty standing he was shaking so much, trying to stifle his laughter on my shoulder.

“Perhaps tomorrow, when we get back from seeing Dr Rose.”

“I wike, Docker Wose, he’s a vewy nice man.”

“He’s a delightful man, Mima.”

“Dee-white-full,” she said to herself and ran out of the kitchen.

“You swine, laughing at my foster child!” I snapped at Simon.

He lifted his head from my shoulder and looked me in the eye, his were running with tears from his laughter, “She is priceless, if they could can that, all these comedians would be out of work.”

“You are not going to put my precious Mima in a can,” I said indignantly.

“I dunno, if we made the cans small enough, we could probably get a hundred or so of them. Sell ‘em for a hundred quid each, as pickled toddler, make a killing.”

“I think you’d need to do the killing before the canning, starting with me.”

“Okay, I’m gonna kiss you to death,” he pretended to growl.

“Yeah, you and who else’s lips?”

He motioned to kiss me, then drew back. “I thought it was, army, you and who else’s army?”

“Mine’s more apposite.”

“That’s true,” he mused.

“Well, get on with it,” I said and instead of kissing me we both fell about laughing.

That night, Simon decided that kissing me to death was taking too long. He therefore concluded he would shag me to death. I was going to point out the flaw in his plan, but then thought better of it, after all it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it. After his first assault, he collapsed in a heap, moaned about his leg hurting and fell asleep.

After a little wash, I slipped back into bed and suggested he try to kill me again, but he simply muttered in his sleep and snored. I sniggered and eventually drifted off to sleep, sore but happy.

I woke early and snuggled into him, he grunted something, which showed he was probably awake and at his articulate best. “You gonna try and kill me again?” I teased, squeezing a certain part of his anatomy.

“Oh bugger,” he grumbled, “Now I need to pee.” He struggled out of bed and into the loo. By the time he came back, Mima was in his place in the bed and we were both pretending to be asleep. “Who’s been sleeping in my bed?” He actually sounded like an authentic grizzly, or was he just grizzling? It was enough to make me snigger which caused Mima to giggle.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 520

Eventually we had to get up, and after breakfast, I showered with Mima, this time, I insisted she have her hair washed. She protested but not for long. The reminder she was going to see Dr Rose, and that he wouldn’t like dirty haired girls, was enough.

At the moment I don’t have a lot of reason to tart myself up, as my mother would have described it, wearing some tidy togs and some makeup. Admittedly, I had been fairly well dressed yesterday, but I decided to push the boat out to see Dr Rose and I dressed Mima accordingly. Being quite girly, she easily accepted the opportunity to wear one of her posh dresses.

I wore the YSL suit with the floral blouse, yes the one that Spike had parachuted down, the same one that featured in the meeting with the EU panel and I think featured in the photos in the bank literature. Mima wore the blue dress again, it was her favourite unless you asked her to pick it over the pink one.

Lunch was a low key affair, which we had early. I wore a pinny to keep my clothes clean and we wrapped Mima in a tea towel to try and stop her food from jumping off her plate and onto her dress. We had tuna sandwiches with salad to try and minimise the risk. Thankfully it worked, and we stayed clean and tidy.

Ah, I hear you ask, why didn’t you simply dress after lunch? I didn’t think we’d have time, the appointment was for two o clock and we had to drive there and park the car. Tom’s Landrover was leaking copious amounts of oil on the drive, so he’d borrowed my dad’s car—the Mondeo estate, so I was using the Golf. It’s a lovely car and much more manoeuvrable than the bigger Ford. It’s also quite snappy with good acceleration. I had remembered to put the child seat in the Golf, after asking Tom to take it out of my dad’s car.

At quarter past one we left for the hospital, Mima with her deformed rodent and a doll, me with the latest copy of Nature, which Tom had brought home from the department. I don’t know why I took it, I didn’t really get much chance to read any of it, except one or two letters and a quick flick through the adverts for jobs—not that I want one, but just looking keeps me abreast of what the opposition are doing.

Would I like a professorial chair? Maybe, but not at Portsmouth, Bristol possibly or even my alma mater, Sussex. However, I need my PhD plus some brain cells. Mima was busy reading a story book to her doll and the abominable dormouse and I was busy looking at sits vac, when we were called.

“Jemima Scott, please sit outside room two,” we rose and walked across the waiting room to a row of seats outside the consulting rooms.

“Jemima, Miss Watts, please do come in.” Mima dashed into the room to give Dr Rose a hug, while I followed as quickly as my heels would allow me.

He looked her over and seemed really pleased with her progress. I, however, wanted him to examine something else. “Dr Rose, could you examine her ears, please?”

“Her ears?” he looked puzzled, “I presume there’s a reason for you asking?”

“Yes, I wonder if she’s a little deaf.”

“Mima not a wittle deaf, Mima’s a wittle girw.”

“If I speak quietly, she doesn’t always hear me.” I spoke just loudly enough for Dr Rose to hear me, but Mima stood there looking confused.”

“What you say, Mummy?”

“See what I mean?” I said to the doctor.

“Hmmm, indeed. Right old girl, let’s have a look in your lugholes.” He sat her on the couch while he found an otoscope. “That’s a lovely dress, did Miss Watts buy it for you?”

“No, Mummy Caffy, buyed it for me.”

“She has very good taste.”

“I choosed it,” Mima voiced quite noisily.

“You have very good taste, too, then.”

“You not eatin’ Mima,” she squawked at him.

Dr Rose looked at her with total confusion, then at me. “I think she relates taste to something that is stuck in the mouth,” I said.

“Ah, now it makes sense.”

“Mima has wittle bwain, she understands.”

“That’s more than I do, kiddo,” said Dr Rose and we both had to look away to stop ourselves laughing. Eventually, he regained his composure and examined her ears. “They look a little inflamed, possibly a bit of glue ear. Has she complained about her ears?”

“Not to my knowledge,” I replied.

“Do you get sore ears, Jemima?”

“No, granddad has a saw, I seed it.”

“Do you get baddy ears, Meems?” She looked at me and nodded with great deliberateness as young children do. “Are they bad at the moment?” She shook her head.

“I’m going to give you some drops, Mima, will you let Mummy Cathy, put them in for you? They’ll make your ears better.” She nodded and sighed, he smiled at her. “What are we going to do with you, young lady?”

“Mummy gonna make dowwy a new dwess. Mummy, vewy cwever.”

“I think she is too, she made you better in a few short weeks, didn’t she?”

Mima nodded twice, each very purposefully again.

“I did nothing, just gave her a safe environment to recover.”

“Well it was nothing short of miraculous. I have a little boy who had a similar injury to Mima’s. He’s still in a wheelchair. I only wish you could do the same for him.”

“If I could I would willingly, but I didn’t do anything, honestly.”

“He’s from a children’s home.”

“I think I have enough trouble with the powers that be, at the moment.”

“You’d have no trouble with him, the home is at a loss at what to do.”

“How old is he?”

“A little older than Mima, only he was pushed down the stairs by another boy.”

“My house isn’t set up for a wheelchair, besides, wouldn’t the social services see it as a deliberate atempt to influence this case?”

“They could, I suppose.”

“Maybe, after the case is over, assuming we win.”

“You better had, or I shall write to the judge and tell him what I think of the old buzzard.” He paused for a moment, “Look, Patrick is the next patient, let me bring him in and just say hello to him.”

“I don’t know, Dr Rose. The last time I did something like this, I went home with a kitten.”

“Please, just meet him.”

“Oh, okay then.”

“Patricia, please,” he called from the door. I assumed I’d misheard him, until I saw the child the nurse brought in. Through the door came a child in a wheelchair. She was blonde with her long hair in ponytail, huge blue eyes and a gorgeous smile.

“Hello, Dr Rose,” said the child.

“Patwisha,” gasped Mima, whereupon she scrambled across the room and gave her a hug. The other child smiled, and she hugged Mima back.

“I’m sorry, I thought you said, Patrick,” I said to the doctor.

“I did, GID, something with which, I believe you have some acquaintance.”

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“I’ve been set up.”

“Cathy, if I might call you that, you haven’t.”

“How do these two know each other?” I pointed at the two children hugging and showing each other their toys.

“They were in hospital together, on the same ward.”

“What makes you think I’d be any use to ‘Patricia’, here?”

“You know what it’s like to be transgendered.”

“I know what I felt like, but how do I know what anyone else feels?”

“Nurse could you keep an eye on these two a moment?” He pointed me towards his office. “Look Cathy, I’ve been seeing Patricia for two years. The paediatric psychiatrist asked me to see if there was any physical reason for her transgenderism: you know, genetic, endocrine, the usual stuff. I could find nothing, but we had this three year old boy convinced he was a girl, and more feminine than the real ones.

“I assumed he was probably gay, and he may well be, they often are—but, he still insists he’s female. I’ve watched him for hours, and I’m beginning to think he might be right. I’d like your opinion.”

“What? You want me to spend some time with ‘her’ and tell you what I think?”

“Not quite, if I had my wish, I’d like her to walk again. I’d also like her to stay with a sympathetic family. We’ve tried four so far, they all bring her back saying they can’t cope. Then she was pushed down the stairs by another child, a boy who’s a bit of a bully. She’s been paralysed ever since. It’s a couple of months now.”

“I sympathise with her, but I don’t know. I’d need to speak with Simon, my fiancé, Tom and Stella. We’d also need to find out what Mima thinks. I’d hate for her to feel pushed out. A disabled child is hard work and very time consuming and Stella is expecting in a couple of months. It might just be too much.”

“As far as we can tell, Patricia’s injuries have healed.”

“You think it’s psychosomatic?”

“It could be. She isn’t going to improve in the home, she sees it as place of danger.”

“How do you know mine isn’t just as dangerous?”

“I think I’d have guessed by now.”

“Could you have her for a weekend and just give her a break?”

“Can I think about it? I can see my career going down the pan.”

“Perhaps you should see it as a diversification for a few years.”

“How am I going to finish my PhD with children distracting me?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t finished mine, mainly because I keep meeting children with greater needs than just a piece of paper.”

“Just think what it must be like in Gaza at the moment, with all these traumatised kids.”

“I know what it’s like, I was there for a few weeks during the first intifada.”

“I’d have thought with your name you’d be…” I blushed, “Sorry, that was very rude of me.”

“You thought I should be Jewish, you’re right, I am. I’m also a supporter of Save the Children. I was there in my holidays, helping them and other medical charities.”

“I take my hat off to you.”

“I don’t believe in an eye for eye, I prefer the gentler teachings of Rabbi Hillel, be kind to your neighbour.”

“Is that while standing on one leg?”

“You know who I mean?”

“I’ve read bits and pieces and belonged to a peace group while I was at Sussex.”

“Not all Jews, especially secular ones, support what certain governments do.”

“I know, I read the Guardian.”

“So what about Patricia?”

“I need to think about it, especially with this case still hanging over me.”

“I understand that, but I’d be really grateful if you could seriously consider having Patricia for a weekend. Jemima would enjoy it and I know Patricia would. She’s a nice kid.”

“When does she go back to the home?”

“Straight after this appointment.”

“Can I use your phone?”

“Of course, you need to dial nine to get an outside line.” He walked out and left me in his cluttered little office. On the desk was a picture of a woman and two children, which I assumed were his family. Then I saw another, it was of a man carrying an injured child with a background that looked like a refugee camp in Palestine. I looked hard at the picture, it was Dr Rose and he was crying the child had blood on it’s face. Did he really need that to keep him on his toes every day?

“Hi, Stella, can you patch me through to Simon?” I waited while she handed him the phone.

“Hi, Babes, is there a problem?”

“Sort of, Dr Rose has a young child here who had a similar injury to Mima, only she’s still not walking. He wondered if we could have her for a couple of days, she knows Mima, they were in hospital together. There might be an element of psychosomatic illness involved.”

“Hmm, a psycho, eh?” He paused, “With you, that would make two psychos.” He laughed at his own joke.

“That’s not all I have in common.”

“You haven’t banged your head as well have you?”

“No, silly, this little girl used to be a boy, at least officially.”

“What?”

“The child is transgendered, or claims to be.”

“Well, surely they are if they say so, they’re hardly old enough to play mind-games, are they? Anyway, when are they coming?”

“Tonight?”

“Where are they going to sleep?”

“We could put the two of them in the spare room, next to ours.”

“Have you spoken to Tom?”

“No, because I needed your support first.”

“You’ve got it, and Stella is nodding too.”

“Tell her, thanks.”

“Ring Tom.”

So that was what I did, thankfully he was just about to dash off to a meeting and I caught him quickly. He said yes before I could explain half of it, “It’ll be nice for Mima,” he said and rushed off.

“How long would it take to get her bag packed and her stuff delivered to my house?” I asked the doctor.

“It’s three o’clock now.” He waved to the support worker from the home, and she came in. “If I gave you an address, when could you deliver Patricia?” he asked her.

“She has a bag of stuff in the car, just in case you wanted her in again. I suppose I could take her straight wherever you want me too. I’d need to tell them at the home,” said the young care worker.

“I already did, well that it was possible. If you follow, Lady Catherine (he winked at me) back to her place, then you’ll have the address as well. It’s all in here,” he handed her an envelope. “And you, your ladyship, are any details I feel you need to know about Patricia. As far as I know, she doesn’t have any special dietary requirements. Her only medication is laxatives, not moving about doesn’t help her go.” I nodded.

“When you’ve had enough of her, phone the home and they’ll come and get her. She’s a lovely kid, and her and Mima get on tremendously, least they did here.”

“Tell me, have I got, sucker written across my forehead?”

He glanced behind me, “No you haven’t, but I can see where your wings are behind, you’re a positive angel, and I can’t thank you enough for this. If anyone can get Patricia walking again, it’s you and Jemima.”

“I’m not promising anything but to look after her as best I can. If I remember correctly, it was supposed to one of your lot who used to do miracles,” I threw back at Dr Rose.

“Nice one, maybe he did or could, we’re not as convinced as you lot. But I know an angel when I see one, and they perform little miracles all the time.”

“Yeah, but on my grade, that’s restricted to dormice.”

“Au contraire, you’ve performed one already—Jemima, if you remember.”

I looked at my watch, and said, “Gosh look at the time, must fly.” Dr Rose nearly fell over.

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I walked Mima back to my car and saw that the care worker with Patricia wasn’t parked too far away. She manhandled the older child into the car and then put the wheelchair into the car’s boot. Then it was simply a case of driving slowly enough for her to follow me back to Tom’s house. Here, she reversed the process and deposited Patricia into the chair and pushed her towards the house. Mima and I followed behind carrying the sizeable suitcase of Patricia’s clothes. As I carried it, it was heavy, I considered I’d been had. At the same time, I’d signed no forms nor had police checks done, so Dr Rose, who was presumably taking responsibility for all this, must have some confidence in me. He was taking something of a risk.

The care worker, whose name was Amanda, stopped to see the room and the lie of the house, and after pronouncing it fine, stopped for a cuppa and a chat with Stella and me, while the ‘girls’ entertained Simon.

“It’s a lovely house you have here,” said Amanda.

“It’s not mine, it belongs to my boss, Professor Agnew.”

“You work for a professor, what are you his cleaner or housekeeper?”

“No, I teach at the university; I’m a biologist.”

“I used to like biology at school. ‘cept we stopped just before they started cuttin’ up earthworms an’ thin’s. Didn’t fancy that, killin’ thin’s just so I could see their guts.”

“I don’t like that aspect either, and the older I get the less I like it. No, I teach people to count dormice and how to carry out population studies of various animals, so really I’m an ecologist or field biologist. I’m on secondment at the moment to Natural England to make a couple of wildlife films.”

“Hey, that sounds fun, more than wiping dirty noses an’ bums, an’ I bet it pays better.”

“I’ve been rather fortunate, although the second film will be more challenging, it’s about harvest mice.”

“Ooh, don’t fancy mice, makes me go all of a shudder,” just to prove the point Amanda twitched. “What’s the first one about?”

“Dormice.”

“Like in Alice in Wonderland.”

“Yeah, except we don’t dip them in teapots.”

“They don’t look so much like mice, do they?”

“No, they have blunter noses and furry tails.”

“Cute. I wish I’d gone to university.”

“It’s never too late and they run access courses at local colleges.”

“Nah, I’m too bloody old.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty seven.”

“I was teaching two people older than you on my course.”

“What, older than you are?”

“Yes, it happens in adult education. Some people don’t do a degree until they retire.”

“I don’t know, I’ll have to think about it.”

“Have a look in your local library, or go online and find out about access courses.”

“I’ll see.”

“Now, tell me about Patricia,” I said pouring more tea.

“Not a lot to tell, she’s been with us about two years, goes crazy if you call her a boy or by her real name, Patrick. Most of us get on fine with her, only it takes a bit of time to get used to the right name and pronoun. She lets you off once or twice, then gets very cross.

“She was sort of accepted by some of the girls, but not all of them. The boys found it harder, and one in particular, Ben Bowditch, a real tike of a boy, was quite unhelpful. He calls her all sorts of names, and knocks her about when ever he gets the chance—a real bully. A couple of months ago, we heard a scream and Trish was found at the foot of the stairs. Ben was seen running away from the top of the stairs, but no one saw him, so we can only surmise what happened. Trish was unconscious and has no memory of what happened.”

“Do you think Trish is really transgendered?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I’m not a psychiatrist. Why have they sent her to stay with you?”

“Presumably because Mima is here, and I helped to get her walking again.”

“She was in ‘ospital with Trish?”

“So Dr Rose said, they greeted each other like lost sisters.”

“Well, the little I’ve seen of them, they do get on well. Is there any chance you might ask to foster Trish?”

“That’s a very different matter, it’s not impossible, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

“She’s been out to several families, before her accident, they always brought her back, the manager has never told me why.”

“So no reason comes to mind?”

“Not really, she’s a likeable enough kid, as long as you treat her like a girl.”

“Presumably the would be fosterers would have known the position?”

“Yeah, I’d have thought so.”

“Oh well, if you get a call to collect her because she turns into a bat on a full moon, and hangs upside down in the wardrobe, I’ll be sure to tell you.”

“I hope you can get her walkin’ again, that would be really good.”

“If I can get her walking again, I’m gonna set myself up as witch-doctor.”

“Which doctor is that?” asked Stella, so I poked my tongue out at her as a sign of my maturity.

“If she causes you any bother, let us know, we’ll come and get her.”

“I’m sure we’ll cope, I mean how much trouble can a four year old cause?”

“You’d be surprised, and Trish is nearly five. We’ve had a bit of difficulty with the local school, they’re not sure about gender-benders.”

“Maybe that’s why she was returned. I find it ludicrous that a school couldn’t cope, especially if she is committed to her new role before attending there, no one would be any the wiser.”

“Unless they saw her with no clothes on,” suggested Amanda.

“Quite, or someone in the know, gossiped, which is much more likely.”

“Why should teachers be immune to gossip about something as unusual as transgender kids. I’d be more surprised if they didn’t.” Stella made her point.

“Dunno, Stella. Anyway, it’s not something that worries any of us, or Mima by the look of things. We’ll give her as good a time as we can.”

“I suspect our manager will phone to see how things are going, she might also call to see you and speak to Trish.”

“That’s fine, as long as we know so we’re in. If it’s a nice day we could be out.” I thought I’d throw that in to minimise misunderstandings.

“I’m sure she would tell you before, and yes she’d be glad you were giving Trish some fresh air.”

“Yeah, as a bona fide miracle worker and raiser of the dead, we’ll be taking her out for long walks to improve her muscle tone, but only twice a day.”

Amanda gave me a funny look, then smiled, “You are funny.”

“Yeah, you don’t know the half of it, it’s her that turns into a dormouse during a full moon and she climbs up the walls.” Stella began her calumny, Amanda sniggered and I sighed.

“Don’t tell everyone,” I hissed at my bulging nearly-sister in law.

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There is a tremendous age gap between three and nearly five. Trish, despite the wheelchair, was able to use her cutlery in a reasonable manner, which of course Mima mimicked. As soon as the support worker went, I dashed off to get the ear drops and some cotton wool. I also bought a few comics and a book for each of them. If I couldn’t teach Trish to walk, perhaps I could help to teach her to read.

I also bought her a new doll similar to Mima’s, and some outfits I knew Mima didn’t have. If I could stop them fighting over whose was whose, it would help my frayed nerves. Why do I do these things to myself? I should have said no, and walked away from it, Trish is not my problem, I have no obligation to make things all well for her. Except my damned conscience doesn’t see it like that, does it?

“Hello, Cathy,” said a semi-familiar voice. I turned around.

“Brad, do you make a habit of lurking in supermarkets?”

“No, but it’s cheap to eat here and better than the bed-sit I’ve arranged for a few weeks.”

“If you get fed up, call by, I’m sure Simon would be happy to chat. I won’t, I’ve just acquired another child to look after for a short time.”

“Well do have cuppa with me before you disappear.”

I looked at my watch, “Okay, but a very quick one.” We sat down at the coffee shop cum cafeteria in Morrisons. As these go, it’s one of the better ones, certainly better than Tesco or Asda. Brad went and got two cups of tea and a biscuit and we sat and chatted while we ate them.

“How come you’ve got another kid to look after?”

“I got caught, and fell for it hook line and sinker.”

“What another little girl?”

“Yes, a ward mate of Mima, with similar injury to her head. She isn’t walking however, and the doctor hoped seeing Mima running about the place might help her.”

“Wouldn’t that frustrate her?”

“Maybe, they think it might be something psychological, as she appears to have healed. I mean, she can control her bladder and bowels, so she has some nerve function. She was living in a children’s home and was bullied by an older boy.”

“I hate bullying, I was bullied at school.”

“Yeah, so was I.”

“What even at Bristol Grammar? Do posh kids bully as well?”

“Don’t they just. I was smaller than many of them.”

“Were you, you must have had a growth spurt since, because you’re quite tall.”

“I did in my teens.” It was true, boys usually do, but he didn’t know that, and I wasn’t going to tell him. “What about you?”

“When they found out I was gay…” I coughed and spat out a mouthful of tea, fortunately back into the cup. …”Are you okay, Cathy?” I was busy coughing and spluttering, but nodded at his question. “You didn’t know?” he asked and I shook my head. “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. It’s just that girls usually pick up on it.”

I gave up on the tea, and after blowing my nose, said, ”I don’t think Stella did, either, so we’re obviously a bit slow in the uptake.”

“I hope you won’t be disappointed in me.” He looked very sad and blushed.

I placed my hand on his, “Why should I be? This is the twenty first century, and the university has a difference and diversity policy which is a good as anywhere. I happen to subscribe to it wholeheartedly.”

“That’s nice to know, I hope the others do.”

“In the department, they couldn’t care less as long as you can do the job. Tom has no hang-ups about any of these things, and last year we lost a student to AIDS. That was awful.”

“Goodness, I thought most people could expect to reach forty or more with the anti retrovirals.”

“They didn’t seem to work for him. He got a chest infection and died. His parents didn’t know, they were devastated. I got involved in trying to explain things to them, I hope it helped.”

“How come you got involved?”

“I was his tutor, and he asked me to speak to them. He was taken ill during a meeting with me, and I took him to the hospital.” I felt my eyes begin to moisten and looked into the distance.

“I’m sorry I’m upsetting you. It’s just unusual for a female lecturer to get so involved with a gay man, especially a straight woman.”

“I don’t see people as male or female when they have troubles. I see them as humans who might need my help.”

“Are you some sort of angelic being?”

“Don’t you start.”

“Why who else has called you one?”

“No one.” I said very quickly, which of course indicated they had.

“Well, you seem to be such a kind and generous person, you always walk the extra mile, don’t you?”

“Only because the exercise does me good. I have to be getting back. Feel free to call in if you’re lonely. If you play chess, Simon would love you to call in.”

“I haven’t played for ages, but I might just do that.”

“If you can phone first, it’ll make sure we’re in.”

“Of course, thank you, Angel Cathy.”

“Oh bugger off!” Despite my swearing at him, he kissed me on the cheek. Stella is going to be so pissed when she finds out, hee hee! He hid that well. Was he telling me fibs to see if I’d open up to him? I’m not convinced he’s gay, so he might be trying to lull me into a false sense of trust. Hmmm, I’ll wait and see. He still has no reason for knowing about me, yet—if at all.

When I got back, the two kids were sat on either side of Simon as he read them the House at Pooh Corner. “Ah, here comes Tigger, now.”

I looked around and decided he was talking about me, “What was that, Eyore?” I replied and the girls laughed like drains—silly description, have you ever heard a drain laugh? No, nor me, they never do more than chuckle round here.

“I’m glad you’re back, I need to go to the loo.” He struggled up and hobbled out to the cloakroom.

“So you girls have been looking after Simon, have you?”

“We bin wookin’ after Daddy,” said Mima.

“He’s a very nice daddy,” said Trish.

I decided not to comment until I’d spoken to Simon. “Yes, he tries to be, doesn’t he, Meems?”

“Auntie Cathy, can I call you, Mummy?”

I took my coat off and sat in the chair opposite Trish. “I don’t know if that’s a good idea, Trish. Your real mummy might not like it. Besides, I don’t know how long you’ll be staying, so it might not be a good thing, feel free to call me Auntie Cathy, if you like.”

“My mother doesn’t like me, she abandoned me when I was a baby.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know. But just because she did something bad a long time ago, doesn’t mean she didn’t love you. She could have had a good reason for leaving you, which you might not understand until you’re a big girl. Life can seem very different when you’re very young, to when you are nearly grown up.”

“I hate her, it’s because of her that I’m in that horrid home, where they tease me and hurt me.” She started to cry, and so did Mima.

“What’s going on, you’ve only been in two secs and they’re both crying?”

I signalled Simon to go away for a moment, he retreated back to the hallway. I moved over to Trish and lifted her onto my lap. Mima came and cuddled alongside us, so I put an arm around her, too.

“I’m sorry that you are teased and hurt by other children. They don’t understand, and what they don’t understand, they fear. They are afraid of people who seem different to them. In this house, and in this family, you will never be teased or hurt by any of us. We don’t judge because you might be different, we accept you for who you feel you are. If you believe you’re a girl, and want to live like one, that’s okay with us—we’ll accept you as one and treat you like one. All we ask is that you help us to help you, and behave reasonably while you’re here. Is that okay, young lady?”

“Yes, Mum—Auntie Cathy.” Then she leant her head on my shoulder and sobbed. “You are all so nice,” she cried.

“You’re safe here, so let out all those pains and hurts you’ve kept hidden away … we understand, so just let them go, and enjoy yourself here, where it’s safe and secure. Simon, Stella, Tom and I promise to look after you as long as you’re here, as a girl.”

“Thank you, Mummy,” she sobbed and I couldn’t correct her, I was too choked. Mima sobbed too.

“Mummy, why’s Twish, cwyin’?”

“Hush, little one, just cwtch in here, with Trish and me.” (Cwtch is a Welsh word meaning amongst other things to cuddle up to someone. It’s a very useful word which has crossed the Severn to Bristol).

They both fell asleep cwtched with me. Simon snuck in and smirked when he saw me pinned under the two little bodies. He made the sign of a ‘T’ with his hands and when I nodded, he went off to make some tea.

I wrestled with my conscience, how could I send this child back, even if she could walk, when I might be able to help her more than some other foster parents. But was it a good idea? I would be so biased in favour of her transgenderism, even if she wasn’t. Could I be blind to something else? If she found out about me, would I become a role model, excluding more normal women or men? I didn’t know, and I knew I had much to discuss with Simon, Tom and Stella, although her pregnancy would limit her assistance with two children, if both stayed for any time. Oh bugger, why is life so difficult?

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 524

The girls were playing with their dolls, Trish was really pleased with her new one and its outfit. Thankfully, Mima didn’t seem jealous, she was pushing her dolls around in the pushchair.

I went into the kitchen to start dinner and also to talk with Simon, who perched near me on a kitchen chair. “Where’s Stella?” I asked him.

“She went out with a friend, she said she’ll be back by six.”

“I’m surprised she can reach the steering wheel.”

“Her friend is even bigger, she’s due the week before.” As Si spoke I conjured up the vision of two pregnant ladies locked in the lavatory and smiled to myself. When he asked what I was smirking at, I had to tell him and he chuckled.

“Si, are you happy with Meems, calling you daddy?”

“She seems happy with it.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

“Okay, yeah, it’s okay. I don’t think it does any harm, it’s only a word after all.”

“Yeah, but it’s quite a powerful word.”

“Not as much as mummy. I notice you seem uncomfortable with it.”

“I love it, but I’m scared it’s tempting providence. What would Meems do if we lose and they take her away?”

“I hate to think. I mean what would we do? And poor Tom would be heartbroken, losing his grandchild.”

“I know, so now you know why I’m resistant to the name. I’m not her mother anyway, and she could return and upset the apple cart, too.”

“I doubt that will happen for a bit.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Dad got some private investigator in South Africa to talk with her lawyer. She’s done a runner with half of Africa after her. If they catch her, she could end up doing a long stretch in an African jail.”

“Oh, poor Janice.”

“It’s of her own making.”

“So? I still feel sorry for her.”

“I don’t. Those guns probably killed a lot of people.”

“Maybe, I think that was probably her husband more than her.”

“Stop deluding yourself, Cathy, some people are total shits and need flushing away.”

“I still think she loves her daughter, which was why we were chosen so carefully.”

“Why didn’t she just skedaddle with Mima?”

“Because that would have put Mima at risk, and remember she was injured, too. They had tried to kill her, that horrible van driver. If only I’d known at the time, I’d have kicked his goolies up round his lugholes.”

“Remind me not to upset you, oh warrior queen.”

I poked my tongue out at him, “Why’s that then?”

“I don’t think I want dangly earrings.”

“In your case it would be cutting off my nose to spite my face, oh maker of my pleasure.”

“You have a point there,” he sighed deeply with relief.

Mima came clomping into the kitchen in my red shoes, I thought I’d put them away, obviously not. “Can we have dwinks?”

“What’s the magic word?” I asked.

“Pwease, Mummy.”

I gave her two tumblers of squash. “You be careful in those shoes.”

“Yes, Mummy,” she tottered back into the lounge.

Simon and I continued chatting as I peeled the vegetables and chopped them for the stir-fry I was going to do.” She clomped back in with the plastic tumblers in one hand, the other pushing her pushchair laden with dolls.

I carried on with my conversation and a few minutes later we heard loud laughter from the lounge and Mima racing about. I dashed to the room, pausing at the door and peeping through the crack in the back of it. I gasped.

Mima was dancing about chanting encouragement to Trish who had her feet in my red court shoes and was inching her way to the edge of the sofa. She stood and wobbled, falling down again onto the sofa. I gasped again, hoping she wouldn’t hurt herself but also not wanting to interfere. Trish tried again and failed and said something which I didn’t catch. Mima went and hugged her. Then she got her doll’s pushchair, and passed it to Trish. Once again Trish rose on wobbly legs and grasping the pushchair walked the length of the sofa before collapsing on the far end.

Mima ran and hugged her and they both laughed. I felt tears streaming down my face, and rushed back to the kitchen when I saw Mima walking towards me.

“You alright?” said Simon noticing my tears.

“Uh huh,” I wiped my face in my pinny.

“Wossup?” he said.

I waved him to be quiet. Mima rushed in very excited. “Twish got Mummy shoes.”

“Has she now,” I said.

“So can she walk any better than you?” asked Simon.

“No, Daddy, she fawwed over.”

“She fell over?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Well go and look after her, then.” He shooed her out of the kitchen, then said, “I take it you saw this happening?” I nodded, and felt my eyes water again. “Aren’t you going to see her?”

“I suppose so, I was going to let it happen a few more times first.”

“Well Mima has pretty well blown that out of the water.”

“Only if Trish knows what she said.”

“That is very true, you women are a cunning lot, aren’t you?”

If you’ve only just noticed that Simon Cameron, you are more stupid than I thought. “Sometimes,” I actually said, not wishing to question his intelligence in case I got the answer I was expecting. When I thought about it, women, who are smaller and less aggressive than men, only survive because they tend to make up in brains what they lack in brawn. It’s a sort of natural balance, most of the time.

I wandered into the lounge followed by Simon. Trish was still wearing my shoes. “So that’s where my red shoes went.”

“Yes, Mummy, am I being naughty wearing them?” she looked ready to burst into tears.

“No, of course not. I didn’t say you were naughty, did I?”

“No, Mummy.”

“Nor did I say you couldn’t wear them, did I?”

“No, Mummy.”

“So just be careful and not fall off them, okay?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Good girl. Right, Simon, let’s go and make some tea, shall we?”

@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 525

We were back in the kitchen grinning like Cheshire cats. “She actually walked?”

“Yes, Simon, only the length of the sofa, but it’s a start.”

“How important were the shoes?”

“Very, I should think, but what girl could resist them.”

“Did you leave them out purposely?”

“No, I thought I’d put them away, Mima must have pinched them again.”

“Oh well, all’s well that ends well.”

“It’s not over till the fat lady sings,” I said wondering why I’d said it.

“Well, I hate to say it, but Stella’s singing could kill most things. At home we’d get her to sing in the bathroom to kill off any mould on the walls.”

“Simon, you are rotten about your sister.”

“Yeah, so, that’s what they’re for, isn’t it?”

“Maybe when you were eight or nine, it might have been, not twenty eight.”

He pouted—I think he’s been copying me and practising. “You still cwoss wiv me?” he said sounding like a little boy.

“Grow up you silly fool. Come on let’s see what the girls are up to.” We strolled into the lounge where Trish was hobbling around the furniture still in my red shoes. “Oh goodness, you’re walking, Trish.” With that she let go the chair and I just managed to catch her as she toppled. “You silly goose, you could have hurt yourself. You obviously need to practise a bit more in those shoes, don’t you?”

She was crying, “Yes, Mummy, you’re not cross with me?”

“Why should I be? I’m not cross, I am delighted to see you walk. I want you to practice every day, until your legs get nice and strong again.”

“You won’t send me back to the home, will you?”

“I can’t promise anything about that because it isn’t in my control. If they say you can stay longer, we’ll have to see what we can do.”

“Thank you, Mummy,” she blubbed and clung to me like a limpet.

“Why’s Twish cwyin’?” said Mima who’d come to investigate.

“I think she might have banged herself when she fell.”

“Oh, Mummy kiss it betta,” she said and walked over to Simon who picked her up and hugged her. “Is Twish all-wight?”

“I think she is going to be,” said Simon.

“Good,” she said sounding like an adult, “I’m gwad.”

That evening Stella and Tom, who arrived almost simultaneously, were regaled with stories of more miracle cures, and the magic red shoes.

“D’ye think if I wore them they’d make my arthritis better?” asked Tom.

“Probably worse,” said Stella and I nodded my agreement.

After an early dinner, I bathed the kids and changed them for bed. As Mima didn’t know about Trish, I bathed them separately and dressed them in their nightdresses. They were put to bed and told to stay in their own ones. Tom read them a long story during which time they both fell asleep. I checked and they were both sleeping.

The bathroom is directly opposite the bedroom so Trish wouldn’t have far to walk and she could hold onto the walls for support. Hopefully within a day or two, she’d be walking much more strongly.

Simon and I although alone for the first time in weeks, were so tired we fell asleep as soon as we went to bed. I slept right through until I felt a little body getting into bed with me, and assumed it was Mima. I dozed for a while longer and discovered it was Trish.

Oh shit, do I tell her off and have more tears or do I ignore it. I decided I would say something later in a low key way, not make a big issue of it. The problem was Mima, and she wouldn’t take kindly to me stopping her bed hopping.

I lay there for another fifteen minutes or so, feeling the warmth of the little body beside me, wondering if it was the first time she had cwtched with an adult. The problem was, the home would take a dim view of it as would social services. If I told her to say nothing, it would give it too much importance, so instead, I decided to say nothing. It struck me as so stupid that normal, everyday family things can be so misconstrued because of the actions of a small number of nasty people.

I got up and roused the children who had both nodded off to sleep, Mima was cuddled into Simon. Then it was wash and dress time. I looked through Trish’s bag, she didn’t have very much in the way of clothing, and some of it was rather unisex. She did have one skirt so I asked her to wear it and her Mary Janes with knee length white socks and a white and pink striped top.

“Si, can you watch Mima this morning?”

“I suppose so, what are you doing?”

“I want to take Trish to get a few new clothes.”

“Okay, how long will you be?”

“Not sure, couple of hours or so.”

“Yeah, I expect we’ll manage it. Think you can look after me for a couple of hours, Meems?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“Okay,” he yelled back to me.

I measured Trish every which way and wrote them down on a piece of paper which I put in my bag. Then after breakfast, and clearing up, and starting a new loaf in the bread machine, we left. We had to take the wheel chair because I knew Trish wouldn’t walk very far without tiring and I certainly couldn’t carry her very far either.

I decided the least I would get her would be some panties, a new dress, a new skirt and top, some camisoles, and a pair of girly trousers or jeans with a suitable top. Then we’d look at a new coat, hers was looking a bit small and grubby. Finally a new nightdress or pyjamas and dressing gown and naturally, a new pair of slippers.

In just over an hour we’d got half the stuff, and she was trying on slippers when she saw a pair of red patent shoes, little pumps with a half inch heel. She was practically drooling over them, so I agreed, but only if she also chose a pair of trainers as well. She did, pink and blue ones. To be fair, they looked okay with the embroidered jeans she chose, and the denim skirt would also look good. I bought her a pack of socks and two pairs of tights. She couldn’t get over the fact that she could choose her own clothes. It hadn’t occurred to me that she’d never done so before. While we were in the shoe shop, I got them to check her MJs and they were a bit small, so I bought her another pair, she would need them for school which would be in a couple of months.

The coat, was a red quilted one with white fur around the hood and down the front. I knew it would get filthy, but what the hell, it was the first one she’d ever chosen for herself. We’d keep the old one for playing in. I got Mima some new slippers and tights, so she’d be happy too. For Simon, I found a Jaguar key ring.

We got home and Stella was reading to Mima, who dashed to see us. Trish walked into the house pushing her chair, although she flopped down on the sofa and fell asleep a little later. After lunch, she had to model all the clothes we’d bought, then she changed into her jeans and new blue top and went to play with Mima. They played with their dolls together like two sisters. I went to make a new cup of tea when Simon came out to the kitchen. “How much did you spend?”

“I’m not entirely sure, about three hundred I think, why?”

“I’ll go halves with you.”

“That would be great, thanks Si, you are so good, and she does need new clothes. What I got today is only half of what Mima has.”

“So she needs some more?”

“Yes,” did I have to spell it out to him, generous yes, quick on the uptake, not often.

“Oh, well I’ll match you then, you’d better get her some more.”

I hugged and kissed him, certainly he was very generous and I loved him in spite of it. I loved him for him, not his kindness, that was a bonus.

“So how was your morning?” I asked him.

“Alright I suppose, Meems and I went down the pub and after a few beers we had a game of darts and came home.”

“Only one game of darts?”

“Yeah, thought we’d better get back for lunch.”

“Did you win?”

“Nah, but she cheated, she stood well in front of the oche*.”

“Well she is a good bit smaller than you.”

“When I was throwing?”

“Ah that’s a bit different.” I sighed, “I see your ability to fantasise is undiminished.”

“It’s true, ask Mima how many pints she downed, it was four I think.”

“Simon, I could almost bath her in half a gallon.”

“Oh, um, maybe it was only three then.”

“Something else Trish will need.”

“What?”

“A pram or pushchair for her dollies.”

“Is that all?”

“Is that all, have you seen the price of the decent ones?”

“Can’t she share Mima’s?”

“No, I want her walking, to exercise those legs. So you look after her this afternoon and I’ll take Mima with me to choose one for Trish.”

He groaned, but that’s what we did. We chose her a lovely pram, and they each got a new outfit for their dolls. Then we came home. Trish was in tears, when she saw the pram.

“It’s for me, not Mima?”

“Yes, it’s a present from Mima, seeing as we didn’t get you one for Christmas.”

“It’s so lovely,” she choked up and had to come to me for a hug before she could calm down. I was nearly as choked and Stella had to leave the room. Even Simon was looking watery eyed.

“And it’s for me, it’s mine, I mean.”

“Trish, yes, you own it, it is yours forever, to do with as you wish. I’m sure Mima hopes you’ll share it with her now and again, but essentially, it is entirely yours.”

She looked at me, limped over to the pram, pushed it back to me, and hugged me. “I love you, will you be my mummy forever?” At which the dam burst and I wept all over her.

*******

* Oche (pronounced ockey) = the line from behind which they throw darts at the board. @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 526

After we’d put the girls to bed and they were asleep, I went to have a bath. I dropped a couple of bath bombs into the hot water and fitted the speakers to my ipod—yes, Simon got me one for Christmas, just the basic, I’m too thick to handle anything more complex. Then I stripped off and carefully stepped into the hot, scented and oily water.

I’d pinned my hair up and we have a pillow thing to hang over the edge of the bath to protect your neck, somehow I managed to sit down in the hot water, and finally, lay back feeling like a piece of ham in a saucepan. The initial sensation of boiling soon dissipates, and I know they say you shouldn’t sit in hot baths, but I wanted too. I wanted to relax and be by myself, listening to my music, letting the warm water ease my tension and allowing my mind to drift.

Some people like to have candles burning and all sorts of other relaxation aids, I’d switched off the main light and was quite able to see all I needed to. I closed my eyes and listened to Swan Lake, imagining the dancers leaping across the stage with great athleticism and elegance. Me, I’d be like a drunken hippopotamus.

My mind flitted to seeing Mima and Trish enrolled in a ballet school, doing their bit in tutus. I felt myself smile at that vision, it might never happen. To start with, I didn’t know if either or both of them might end up staying with me, so ballet classes were something of a fantasy at this stage. With Mima, I should see about a toddler group, but could I manage the time? This parenthood business was all encompassing, and some elements, a positive nuisance. I would have to get the others to help share the burden a bit more. When Puddin’ arrived, things would be even more stressful, what if we have all three of them here? Oh my goodness—I nearly ducked under the water, as if to escape the prospect, then remembered my hair.

I desperately wanted to keep the two youngsters we’d been privileged to help, because I felt I could do a reasonable job of raising them; however, a new baby and a next to useless mother, could be a bit too much. Oh well, the courts might well rule against us and that would change things dramatically. Did I really think that? No I didn’t. I was going to win that judicial review, if I had to strangle a few judges with my bare hands—okay in cycle mitts.

Dr Rose had made a submission to the court, for which I was very grateful, his word would carry some weight. The judge had been sympathetic towards my unusual path to womanhood. I had to fill in those bloody forms and send them off to the gender panel or whatever they called themselves. It could only help to have full legal status, and of course it would enable me to marry Simple Simon. I sniggered at that. He was anything but simple.

The music grabbed my mind again and I drifted into seeing the dancers moving about the stage and I must have nodded off. “Are you going to wait until you’re all white and wrinkled?”

“Uh, what?”

“Babes, it’s ten o’clock.”

“It’s what?”

“It’s ten o’clock, time to wake up and come to bed.”

“Oh, yeah, course.” My head was swimming, I’d been fully asleep. My music had stopped for some reason. “Did you switch my music off?”

“Yeah, so you didn’t nod again. It was playing Sleeping Beauty, appropriate or what?”

“Ha ha, go on bugger off, while I dry myself.”

“Don’t I get to dry my girl’s lovely body, then?”

“When you put it like that, how could I refuse?”

The inevitable happened, so for those who want the sordid details, go find an adult sex site and look up Missionary Position, it wasn’t what happened but it will give you something to think about.

I slept after our gymnastics, it’s astonishing what Simon and his bad leg can still manage, but I won’t bore you with the gruesome minutiae. I did wake needing a wee in the middle of the night, and I had a little wash, because I needed to—use your imaginations. It disturbed me and meant I couldn’t get straight back to sleep, but when the mini invasion arrived at about six in the morning, at least I could feel happy in my hygiene. I’m sure you understand, if you don’t get a book on mammalian biology and look up reproduction. I know, I can only reproduce with a photocopier, but the principle is the same, no not the photocopier bit, the biology, oh why do I bother?

In the wee sma’ ‘oors, as Tom would describe it, I lay there listening to the foxes busy out in the fields. They come into season in the winter and January is the month they mostly mate. For those who haven’t seen red foxes at it, it’s quite disconcerting if you happen to be a dog fox, as during the nooky, the vixen goes into vagismus and he is trapped by his—use your imaginations—it is an adult site after all—for up to a couple of hours. If you can imagine a modern locomotive, with a drive unit at each end, facing away from each other, that’s our foxes—the dog, being led around by his…um dangly bits—for some reason—the picture is quite enjoyable to some women.

It was daylight when I fully awoke, with a little body inserted between me and the edge of the bed. I had my arm around it and it was fast asleep—the child not my arm. From the colour of the hair, I surmised it was Trish. My own fault, I hadn’t told them not to come in to our bed.

At eight, I decided to break up the slumber party and organise three bodies for breakfast, Simon could organise himself. The vision of foxes squealing in the night flashed through my mind—no wonder the dog howled, I’ll bet Simon would too.

I washed and dressed the two little ones, they had similar jeans and tops, and I dressed similarly myself. Trish was still wobbly but she was walking more and more. After breakfast, I left a message for Dr Rose to call me.

I was in the middle of baking cakes, or at least making a sponge mix with the girls, when the phone rang. “Si, can you get that?” I called into the lounge, where our resident couch potato was reclining, resting his leg.

The phone carried on ringing. “Don’t touch anything until I come back,” I cautioned the tots, then dashed off towards the phone. “Hello?”

“Cathy, it’s Sam Rose,”

“Oh hi, Sam. I need to speak to you about Trish.”

“What’s happened, she isn’t ill?”

“No, not at all, just how much walking should she do at first?”

“You’ve got her walking?”

“It wasn’t exactly me, she saw Mima staggering about in a pair of my heels, and she had to have a try—she’s been walking ever since.”

“Geez, that is brilliant; have you told the home?”

“No, I thought I’d wait for them to contact me.”

“I knew you’d pull it off if anyone could.”

“I’d, um, like to keep her.”

“Oh yes, I wonder why that is?”

“She had me in tears the other day, she told me she had never chosen any of her own clothes before.”

“Oh, I thought they did, it’s quite a progressive home as these things go.”

“She also didn’t seem to realise that she could keep the doll’s pram we bought her.”

“You’re spoiling her, Cathy, which is exactly what I thought you would do.”

“I wondered if you could recommend her staying with us a bit longer, and how do I explain why she keeps calling me mummy despite me telling her not to.”

“I shall certainly support her staying with you for longer, although they’ll have to do some checks on you and so forth. It’s a private charity but they still have to conform to certain legal protocols.”

“So how come she’s here already? “

“Mobilising her was the priority and I knew you’d come up with the goods.”

“Will that count in fostering her?”

“I’m sure it will, I’ll recommend you need to keep her for at least a month to make sure she doesn’t relapse.”

“The only problem there is, if she stays the month and they then take her back, she’s going to be completely distraught.”

“I’m sure something will work out to her best interests, the charity really does try to look after it’s charges.”

“What about her calling me mummy?”

“Would you prefer daddy?”

“Sam, don’t be silly, you know what I mean?”

“She sees you as a mother substitute, and is bonding with you, it’s all powerful stuff in your favour, you know.”

“As long as they don’t think I encouraged it. She copied Mima, who used it despite my objections.”

“I see you’re totally in control there, I have every confidence in you.”

“Just don’t send any more waifs and strays, remember we’re going to have a new home produced individual in a few weeks.”

“Oh yes, damn, I’ll have to reduce the list of kids I needed miracles performed on.”

“Sam, you are getting close to finding two toddlers chained to your car tonight.”

“Oh, like that is it?”

“I’m stretched to the limits of my coping abilities, I really mean it.”

“Do you want me to have one of them removed?”

“Yeah, how about Simon?”

“Simon, you mean Lord wotsisname?”

“I’m only joking, but it is hard work, most families have a year or two between children, unless they have twins.”

“So, you’ve got heterozygous twins.”

“There’s a two year gap between them?”

“Yeah, so what are you complaining about?”

“Sam, I’m going, we’re making cakes and I suspect they’re eating all the mix.”

“I have a patient to see, if you decide to continue miracle working, we might be able to find you a room on the children’s unit.”

“I shall stick to dormice, Sam, I know what I’m doing with them.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 527

I made my way back to the kitchen expecting to find the girls and my kitchen to be under cake mix. I was astonished to find both girls waiting for me to return and neither had scoffed all the cake mix, in fact I doubted either had eaten any.

“You haven’t eaten the cake mix?”

“No, Mummy, Twish said you send us to the home if we eated it,” said Mima, defensively.

“Hmmm, so it’s a good job you didn’t eat it then, isn’t it. For being good girls, when the cakes are baked and cooled, you can have the first ones.” They both jumped up and down shouting excitedly.

Once I calmed them down, they each got to fill a dozen paper cake cases and put them on a tray, which I then deposited into the oven. A little later, Simon walked into the kitchen and sniffed, “That smells nice, what is it?”

“Well, Delia* and Nigella* here, have created some cakes, which are busy baking themselves in the oven.”

“Oh, just in time for a cuppa, then?”

“They should be, about another five minutes, but the cooks get to taste them first, cooks perks.”

“Yeah okay,” he ambled off.

“Simon, where have you been?”

“I went up for a shower.”

“Why didn’t you shout for me to help?”

“You were busy.”

“Did Stella help?”

“Don’t be silly, besides I’m quite capable of sticking a bit of plastic bag around my leg.”

“Oh, well done.”

“It’s hardly rocket science is it.”

I sniffed, “Hang on, the cakes need to come out.” I opened the oven door and waited for the heat cloud which emerges a moment later to disperse before I bent down to remove them from the oven. They looked wonderful and when I tapped one or two they sounded nice and hollow, they were cooked. “Now girls we can leave them as they are, or we can do butterfly cakes. Which would you like to do.”

Butterfly, was the unanimous answer, I had a feeling it would be. “We have to let them cool, so I’ll pop them on this wire rack and they should be ready in half an hour or so. Now we have to make the buttercream to stick the butterflies on the cakes.

I had some butter already softening because it was a pretty sure guess they’d opt for the butterfly cakes. They each had a go at mixing the butter and sugar and once it became nice and squishy, I beat it into a cream. Normally, this would have taken me five minutes, with two helpers it took me nearly half an hour. Too many cooks? Or the sorceress’ apprentices?

The cakes had become cool enough to slice off the tops and I did one to check. This involved a knife, so I did them all. I then showed the girls how to put a dollop of cream on the top of the cake after the top was cut in half and to stick the two parts of the top into the cream like a butterfly. They had a whale of a time.

They each ate their first completed cake and I made a pot of tea after which, we took a cake and a cuppa to Simon who declared, he’d never espied such delicious looking comestibles in his life. The girls looked confused by his high fallutin’ linguistic sesquipedalia, so I explained, he thought their cakes looked absolutely delish. They chuckled and trotted back to the kitchen, where I had to stop them from scoffing any more before lunch. “You can have another one after lunch, if you eat all your lunch. Okay?”

They both nodded and said, “Yes, Mummy.” I know, I’m a heartless taskmaster. For a change, I did scrambled eggs on toast which they both ate, as did Simon and Stella. Stella seemed to disappearing rather a lot recently and I asked her after lunch how she was?

“I’m okay, getting heavier and feeling fed up with myself, my back aches much of the time. I’m also terrified of this great lump coming out of a such a small place.”

“It is designed to stretch quite a bit, Stella, unlike mine.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got your babies without any pushing.”

“In the literal sense, yes, but I’m having to push quite hard to keep them.”

“You can have this one for keeps, guaranteed,” she patted her tummy.

“Stella, please don’t say things like that, when she’s born, you’ll absolutely love her.”

“Ha, will I hell, nah, I don’t think I’m cut out for motherhood and apple pie, much more up your street.”

“You won’t know until she’s born, and if it was so bad, no one would have more than one baby, would they? Besides, when you feed her yourself, you’ll bond with her wonderfully.”

“Why don’t you feed her instead?”

“Stella, aren’t you forgetting something?”

“You might not have a womb but you have tits, with the right hormones, you could probably feed her as well.”

I was speechless, I’d read it in fiction stories on the web, was it really possible? If so I’d love to, but that would be letting Stella off easy again. I’d love to suckle a baby, but not as Stella’s wet nurse, not just for her convenience. She would be Puddin’s mother, she needed to take some responsibility not just side step it like she always had. Parenthood is not something you can just pass on to someone else.

“Stella, she’ll be your baby, don’t you feel anything for the little life you’ve been carrying around all this time?”

“Not much positive, I’ve got stretch marks on my belly and boobs, and I am sick of feeling ugly and gross.”

“But you don’t, you look beautiful, you’re absolutely blooming.”

“I’m fat and ugly. I never want to be pregnant again and I wished I got rid of this in the beginning.”

I was shocked, not to put too fine a point on it. “What about Des’ memory? This is his child too.”

“So, it could have joined him, should have joined him as soon as I realised.”

“Stella, what is upsetting you? I’ve never heard you talk like this before.”

“I told you, you try being huge and ugly all the time.”

“Oh, Stella, you’re nearly through it now, just hang on a little longer. I know you’re going to adore young Puddin’ when she arrives.”

“Shows how much you know, it’s a boy, I saw it on the scan.”

“Oh, well you’ll love him then.” I was surprised, I was sure it was going to be a girl.

“I’ve told you I won’t, so you’d better have him or I’ll give him away for adoption.”

“Please don’t do anything silly when he’s born, will you?”

“If you mean infanticide, no, but I tell you, if you don’t look after it, it goes.”

“Can we talk about this nearer the time?”

“If you want to breast feed you’ll need to see someone soon to get the lactating hormones and so on.”

“But don’t you need to feed him for a few weeks to pass on colostrum or whatever they call it?”

“I’ll see, I don’t want breasts like melons.”

Neither do I, but to save a baby, I’d take the risk. “Maybe you won’t anyway.”

“No I won’t, he’s all yours once I get him out of here, I’m outta here.” She patted her tummy and then waved her hand around the house.

“Why do you want out of here?”

“It’s like kindergarten, I’m sorry but I don’t really like babies and small children.”

I felt offended as well as surprised. “Where would you go?”

“Back to the cottage, I suppose.”

“Maybe you’re just suffering a bit of stress from the battle to keep Mima and then having Trish thrust upon us.”

“No, I’m not exactly happy with kids under my feet and I do realise how much Mima means to you, and perhaps Trish too, so you can have number three with my blessings to feed and change to your heart’s content.” I could see a tear run down her cheek, “I’m just sick and tired of it all.” With that she turned and fled back to her bedroom and locked the door.

“Is Annie Stewwa, cwoss wiv us?” asked Mima.

“No, darling, I think she’s not feeling very well at the moment, so she’s gone for a lie down. Her back is hurting her, it sometimes does when you have a baby inside you.”

“Did Mima hurt you, Mummy?” she asked me.

“No Mima, you didn’t. If you remember, I’m only your foster mummy, Janice is your real mummy.”

“Mima do’wan’t Janice as my mummy, I wan Caffy as my mummy.”

“Yes, I want Cathy as my mummy too,” said Trish who’d been listening at the door. They both grabbed me and hugged me around my legs. I held them as they held me.

“I’m trying to be the best foster mummy I can for you.”

“You are the best mummy ever,” said Trish crying.

“Yes, Mummy Caffy,” added Mima and burst into tears as well.

Simon walked into the kitchen, “Bloody hell, what do you do to these kids?”

“Just love them, Si, that’s all, honest.”

* Delia Smith & Nigella Lawson, television cooks.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 528

Nothing else untoward happened that evening, although I spoke with Simon and Tom at dinner, when Stella failed to come down for it, despite being told it was on the table.

They were both concerned and Simon suggested he speak to Henry, who was the only one who seemed to have much influence over her. He went off to talk with his dad, while I spoke with mine.

“I’m worried about her, she’s gone all this time with us thinking she was happy about being a mother, and she isn’t. It just baffles me.”

“Maybe she’s just feeling a bit off today. Tomorrow she might be different.”

“I hope you’re right, Daddy, she does worry me.”

“I’m surprised you’ve got the energy to feel anything much at the moment, looking after two kids and the house.”

“Three kids if you include Simon.”

“Include me in what?” said Si as he returned to the dining room.

“Our happy family, why?”

He gave me a funny look, then said, “Dad’s going to phone her and if necessary will pop down to see her at the weekend. Now what’s this about happy families?”

“Eavesdroppers never hear well of themselves,” I offered as dissuasion.

“I wasn’t eavesdropping, I was walking back and I overheard part of what you said. I’d like to hear the rest.”

“Okay, I said I love looking after the two kids, Tom and you.”

“Oh, is she telling the truth, Tom?”

“Of course she is, she may be a Sassenach, but she’s a braw one.”

“I notice you left Stella out of your equation,” said Simon.

“Only because I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to look after a perfectly healthy young woman, who is more than capable of looking after herself.”

“She is pregnant,” said Simon defensively.

“Since when has that been an illness?”

“She can hardly bend over to put her shoes on.”

“If she asked, I’d help, but she doesn’t.”

“In which case, she has answered your question, she is self sufficient.”

“We all are, except the children. You’re injured but help a bit, Tom is working full time and helps when he comes home, I do the brunt of the housework and cooking, as well as childcare. That’s fine with me, Stella eats what I’m cooking, usually—tonight she didn’t. She doesn’t very often help either to prepare or clear up. If she said she felt unwell or exhausted, I’d excuse her—but she says nothing to me. I don’t think I’ve done anything to offend her except perhaps foster two children, which it appears she doesn’t like.”

“Shall I go and see if she’ll talk to me?”

“That’s up to you, Simon.”

“I thought men were the warmongers, in this house most of the fights are between the women,” Simon left this thought as a parting shot, before he went upstairs. It rankled because he was right. Stella and I were the ones who squabbled most.

“Do you agree with him?” I asked Tom.

“Aye, lassie, it’s usually you pair who are raising the temperature.”

“I thought I was quite even handed about that, fighting with anyone and everyone, in turn—the children being the exception.”

“You dinna fecht wi’ me too often.”

“I wish you’d speak English, Daddy.”

“Ye ken perfectly whit I’m saying.”

“Insofar as I used to read The Broons and Oor Wullie, beyond that I’m lost.”

“I said, you don’t fight with me too often.”

“I know, but I was hoping if I said something, you’d speak English from now on.”

“Starting a fight with me too, are you?”

Thankfully, I could see his eyes twinkling, so I knew he was winding me up. “No, I don’t fight with you: a, because I respect your opinion on most things; b, because I don’t like fighting with you, it’s too hurtful.”

“I’m glad you respect my greater experience of life, and I thank you for saying so. I’m intrigued that you find it hurtful to fight with me. I’m not sure what you mean.”

“I’m not sure I can put it into words, but I feel safe squabbling with Simon or Stella, they give as good as they get and once we’ve calmed down, we’re okay again, it sort of clears the air. With you, arguing feels hurtful, it hurts me to do it, perhaps because I respect you so much, and I love you too.”

“Did you feel the same towards your own father?”

“No, except perhaps towards the end, when he couldn’t fight back and I was therefore in the position of power.”

“Is that the same reason you don’t fight me, you feel in the position of power? Or could it be, because this is my house, you feel vulnerable.”

“I’m not aware of either of those. I have my own house in Bristol, which I must go and visit to make sure it’s all okay. So I have somewhere to go from here if it were to become uncomfortable to stay here. Do I feel powerful against you? Not really, because it was you who empowered me, or helped to.”

“So is that the reason, not wishing to hurt those who helped you?”

“Could be, but then so did Simon and Stella. So why do I scrap with them?”

“They’re closer as equals in age and status, and it isn’t usually serious as you said, after a short time you make up again. Remember, it takes two to squabble, and as often as not they start it.”

“See, that’s why I respect you, you’ve resolved my conflict.”

“I haven’t, I’ve merely offered an explanation, it isn’t scientific to accept anything without testing it.”

“Oh bugger science, this is subjective stuff and I’m not some crazy psychologist looking for a PhD subject to study. Besides, part of me feels all science is subjective in any case.”

“That’s a perfectly valid point of view, although I suspect the proof may be difficult to demonstrate.”

“How about a cuppa?”

“You have a cuppa, I’m going to pour myself a nice scotch and deal with my emails.” He rose from the table and went to his study. Sometimes I think he finds me hard work.

As I poured the hot water on the teabags, Simon came down. “You spoke with her then?”

“Yes, Dad called her, and it seemed to calm her down.”

“What about her eating something?”

“She says she’s not hungry and has gone to bed.”

“Oh, okay, tea?”

“Yes please, she also said she was sorry if she upset you. She realised you were trying to be helpful.”

“I could be wrong, it seems I am about so many things these days.”

“Like what?” he accepted the mug I handed him.

“Like I was sure she was having a girl, but she says it’s a boy.”

“She doesn’t know what she’s having.”

“She said she did, she saw the scan.”

“She didn’t, she didn’t want to know what it was when she was scanned. She said it to hurt you because you were winning the argument.”

“Oh, I’m not sure if telling me that was a good thing or not.”

“She wanted you to know, that’s all. She respects you a great deal and sometimes she feels envious of how you deal with life, your energy and strength. She envies the way you’ve taken to motherhood, and is worried that anything she does will be in your shadow, and she doesn’t want to be seen as a failure.”

I felt myself filling up with tears, “Oh, Si, how can she think that, we’re not in competition, and I’m hardly the perfect mother am I? I’m not even female, not really female, am I?”

“You’re not starting that again. We all see you as much female as anyone ever was. Stella sees you as female as she is, she says so. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed by you. If you were a man, she’d ignore the competition element, it’s because she sees you as another woman, that it gets to her.”

I hugged him and felt tears roll down my cheeks, I felt unable to say anything. On one level, Stella had paid me a huge compliment, on another, she had hurt me because she wasn’t seeing me as a sister but some sort of rival in the maternity stakes.

I tried to explain this to Simon when we went to bed, but he shook his head. “It shows that you’re an only child, Cathy; sibling sisters do have rivalries. She sees you as her sister alright.”

I slept fitfully that night, worried about what I was going to say to her the next morning, it certainly wasn’t going to be easy for either of us.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 529

I woke feeling a little body getting into bed with me, and assumed it was Trish. I was so tired I drifted off quite quickly, I think. I was eventually woken by Simon, who pinched my bottom and asked if I was going to get up.

“I feel exhausted,” I said, yawning to prove my point.

“I don’t, I’m raring to go.”

I closed my eyes again hoping it was a bad dream. It wasn’t, because a younger voice said, “Mummy, can we have some breakfast?” I did think about the line my mother used to quote, ‘I’m going to change my name to Daddy,’ but somehow it didn’t seem quite appropriate.

“Okay, okay, I’m getting up.” I half remember rolling out of bed and nearly squashing Trish in the process. Then I staggered into the bathroom, used the loo, washed my hands and face and went downstairs, followed by two shadows.

Cereal, toast and drinks were produced on autopilot and while my delicate eaters shoved food down their throats like there was no tomorrow, I went to see where Stella was. I knocked on her room and she called, “Come in,” so I did.

“Fancy a cuppa?” I said hoping it would break the ice.

“That would be nice, thanks. Oh, Cathy, sorry if I was crabby last night, my back was hurting.”

“That’s okay, I half thought as much. How is it today?”

“Sore, I don’t know why.”

“Hormones relax the ligaments supporting the spine.”

“How come you know this and I don’t?”

“All my previous pregnancies have involved dormice, I know lots about those, human ones, I thought I better bone up on. It’s all on the internet.”

“I’ve rather stupidly tried to ignore it all, but the truth is, in less than two months I shall have a squawking infant for whom I shall be responsible.”

“You’ll be a mother, Stella, the apotheosis of the human experience.”

“Eh? Doesn’t that exclude half the population?”

“It’s a personal opinion.”

“Aren’t you a bit hyper-feminist?”

“Perhaps, probably from joining the team a little late.”

“On permanent transfer?”

“Absolutely,” I beamed a smile at her.

She smirked back, “You silly bugger. Where are the kids, is Simon watching them?”

“Oh shit, gotta dash.” I ran back down the stairs. It so happened the girls were still sitting at their places, pretending to feed toast to their dollies.

Simon lumbered down a few moments later. “Wot no tea or coffee?” Instead of decking him, which was my first inclination, I treated his remark as a wind up and refused to play the game.

“Kettle has boiled,” was all I said, and he made a pot of tea and two mugs of coffee.

“Can you take Stella up some coffee, or is she coming down?”

“I’ll take it up to her, can you watch the kids?”

“Babes, I haven’t had my own breakfast yet?”

“Neither have I, I’m up with Stella for a few minutes, can you wipe Mima’s paws before you let her run amok?” I picked up a mug of tea and one of coffee before he could respond, and went up to Stella.

We had a useful chat, it seems Simon was telling the truth last night. Stella did think of me as her sister and was jealous of my apparent success in fostering not one but two children.

I told her I was jealous of her ability to produce her own offspring and be Puddin’s mother. She said she’d swap the discomfort of pregnancy for competence in fostering, anyday.

We hugged and buried the hatchet. As we stood holding each other, I felt Puddin’ was lower in her tummy than before. ‘She’s not going to go two more months’, went through my mind.

“Have you packed for the hospital, when you go in for the baby, I mean?”

“Yes, my little case is all done from when I went before. You know what’s in it you packed it.”

“I did? Oh well, it’ll be perfect for an ordinary visit, but not necessarily a maternity one.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are supposed to take in babygros and various other bits and pieces for the baby.”

“Are you? I suppose you would. Do I have to take nappies?”

“I should think so.”

“I have some of those, but I don’t have much for a new born.”

“I think we’d better go shopping and soon.”

“Could you do it? I’ll watch the girls.”

“Stella, this is your baby, do you want to trust the potential direction of it’s fashion sense to a total novice?”

“No, but I trust my sister to do her best for both of us.”

“I’ll take the girls with me, it’ll remind them we’re having a new baby.”

“How could they forget with my belly tending to dominate anything smaller than a football pitch?”

“Okay, it’ll bring a new sense of reality to the subject, and they’ll love it. For them, it’ll be like dressing a life size doll.”

“I hadn’t thought of it like that, I was serious about you breast feeding, if you want.”

“I think that as much as I’d love to, I’ll maybe share your second one with you.”

“What? You surely don’t think I’ll do this again?”

“I believe lots of women do, so it can’t be that awful.”

“I tell you what, we’ll have a second but you can do the pregnancy thing, the maternity clothes, being unable to see your feet, back pain and running to the loo: I’ll do the baby sitting with the others.”

“Okay,” I said, “you have a deal.” We shook hands on it and giggled.

“You’d actually enjoy it wouldn’t you?”

“Every second,” I finished my tea and went to collect the girls and shower and dress them.

I decided I would shower them one at a time, if Trish stayed with us, then I’d have to work out perhaps with some advice, how to tell Mima about Trish’s anatomical imperfection. Until then, I thought it better to keep it quiet.

So I took them individually into the bathroom and showered and dried them. Trish seemed to understand the reason even without me explaining, and by the time I had Mima dried, Trish had more or less dressed herself in the clothes I put out on the bed.

Once Mima was dressed, I cautioned them to behave and keep clean, and jumped in the shower myself, ten minutes later I was dried, except my hair and pulling on my bra and pants. When I went back into the bedroom, both of the kids were clomping around in my shoes and giggling. Trish had managed to get on a pair of my boots, and was walking about very stiff legged, the tops of the boots disappeared under her dress and probably were rubbing on her bum.

I dressed chuckling to myself at their antics. Then I had an audience as I did my makeup, and I felt quite self-conscious, they were starring intently at every move I made—it’s quite intimidating. I sprayed myself with scent and squirted a cheaper one on both of them, which made them giggle even more.

Finally, I did my hair, retrieved my boots from Trish and we were nearly ready to go. “Will you be able to walk for a bit, Trish?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Because I can’t carry you. If you aren’t sure, I’ll take the wheelchair.”

“I’ll be alright, Mummy, where are we going, anyway?”

“We are going shopping to buy some things for Auntie Stella’s baby.”
They both skipped around the room with anticipation. “It’ll be a bit like buying clothes for a real dolly.” That got them giggling even more. I made them go to the toilet and then we put our coats on and I just opened the door to be confronted by a tall woman, from whom Trish shrank and hid behind my legs.

“Lady Cameron?”

“Yes,” I know it wasn’t quite correct, but sometimes it’s easier to go along than challenge.

“I’m Nora Cunningham, manager of St Nicholas’ Children’s Home.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 530

“Oh, we were just going out; I suppose you’d better come in. Coats off, girls, we’ll go out shortly.”

Trish and Mima grabbed each other’s hand and dashed off to the dining room. Ms Cunningham, gasped. “Is that Patrick—I mean, Patricia?”

“The larger of the two, yes.”

“So the rumours are true, you’ve got him walking again.”

“No, I have her running again. I made a deal with Trish, that while she’s under my care, and as long as she desires it, she will be treated as female. It’s a protocol accepted by the other inhabitants of the house as well, who are well aware of her original status, except Mima, who you saw trotting off with her. They get on really well.”

“I did try to phone, but you were engaged on both occasions. I called by to see how, Patric…um—ia, is getting on with you. Dr Rose had asked and got a minimum stay with you of one month, as he said he thought you were making progress with hi…um..her mobility.”

“A little progress, as you can see. Shall we discuss this in the study?” I led her into Tom’s sanctum, and asked Simon to make us two coffees and keep an eye on the girls. Once I’d deposited her in there, I was able to quickly say who she was. He limped at the double to make the coffees.

“Is, Mima, your own child?”

“No, I can’t have children, I’m fostering her for her mum, who’s in Africa at the moment.”

“Oh, she’s lucky to have a friend like you, Lady Cameron.”

“Can I clear this up first, I’m not Lady Cameron yet, Simon and I are engaged but not yet married. So just Cathy Watts, will do for now.”

“Fine Miss Watts, or might I call you, Cathy?”

“If you wish.”

“I’m Nora.”

“Yes, so you said.”

“How did you perform this miracle?”

“I didn’t, it’s about motivation, that was all I provided.”

“I don’t follow,” she looked confused.

“Sam Rose, “ I name dropped deliberately, “told me they couldn’t find anything wrong with Trish, so he wondered if it was psychosomatic. By that I mean she had healed from her injury as Mima had.”

“What, the other little girl had been paralysed, too?”

“She was hit by a van.”

“So you are a miracle worker?”

“No, Mima wanted to walk again, I just rewarded her when she did. In the same way, I provided motivation to Trish to walk.”

“How, we had experts in, they got nowhere.”

“Because they saw her as boy pretending to be a girl. I made no such distinction, she was accepted as she was, and I used girl psychology on her. Mima borrowed a pair of my shoes and was clomping about in them, and Trish wanted to try them. What little girl doesn’t? So she did, and she walked a few steps and I took it from there.

“For her reward, I took her shopping and allowed her to pick some clothes and a pair of shoes. She’s wearing them at the moment.”

At this moment Simon interrupted with the coffees and biscuits. “Is that your manservant?”

“No, that’s Lord Cameron, my fiancé.”

“I’m sorry,” she said blushing. She took her coffee and I began to feel I had the initiative in this meeting. “He’s a nice looking young man.”

“I think so, and the girls love him.”

“The girls?”

“Mima and Trish.”

“Of course. Could I have a few words with Trish while I’m here?”

“Of course you can, shall we drink our coffee first?”

As we drank them, we chatted and she began to loosen up a little. “Patrick was a very unhappy little boy, his mother had left him because he wanted to be a girl. We had him at age three and half, he was quite sure he wanted to be a girl but of course none of us had any idea about coping with a child who was gender different.

“We called in the experts, who managed eventually to agree to let him dress as he wanted, in skirts and dresses. Sadly, this meant he became a target for the older boys and girls who bully anyone who’s different, and because it’s so obvious—the change over—it makes him an easy target.

“He spent a lot of time crying and hiding away because of the bullying. So we tried fostering him out. He went to three different families, and each time we thought they understood the concept of gender different, but they didn’t. At one place, he lasted less than a week.”

“She, Trish is a girl, so the pronoun is she or her.”

“I’m sorry, you’re quite right. She had difficulties at all of the fosterings and even more so, when she came back to us. She became very depressed, and then the accident happened. No one saw it, it might have been a deliberate attack by a boy who particularly likes to torment her, but she ended up in hospital and although she healed up, she no longer walked—until she met the miracle lady.”

“No until she met someone who accepted her for who she felt herself to be, who acknowledged that and was prepared to show it. I believe she stopped walking because she could possibly escape back to hospital, or she had less interaction with those who bullied her.”

“She probably did see less of them. What insight, and you have never been to the home have you?”

“No, I just put myself in her place and had a little think.”

“Are you a psychologist?”

“Me? No, I’m a biologist.”

“I think you might have missed your calling, you should have been a child psychologist.”

“I think not, I’m better with dormice than people.”

“Yet you get two little girls—I remembered this time—to walk? I think you are a very talented lady, and I’m sure will be well suited as Lady Catherine.”

“Time will show, on that score. You wanted to speak with Trish, would you like to see her room first?”

“That would be useful.” I led her upstairs to the girls’ bedroom.

“The girls share this room, I decided that neither should be on their own. She sleeps in this bed, and this is her wardrobe.” I opened the doors and she gasped at the goodies hanging therein.

Nora walked to the wardrobe and examined the clothes. “She chose all of these?”

“Yes, once I told her what I was going to buy her.”

“She has very good taste.”

“She is a delightful little girl, given the chance.”

“Yes,” she blushed.

“Nora, if I might say, how can you expect the children to accept her as a girl if you have difficulties with the concept.”

“But I do,” she protested.

“But you don’t, until I corrected you, you were very ambivalent about her status.”

She went a beautiful shade of crimson, and I think may have even begun to get moist eyes before she took control of herself. “Perhaps we’d better speak with Trish.”

“Fine, do you want her on her own or with me?”

“Please do sit in, I seem to be learning so much from you.”

Now it was my turn to blush. We went into the lounge where the two girls were walking up and down the room with their dolls in the pram or pushchair. “Trish, can you show Nora your dolls?”

She stopped in her tracks and gave me a look that seemed to say, ‘Do I have to?’

“Come along, Ms Cunningham is a busy lady.”

Trish and Mima walked up to her. She pulled the doll out of the pram and showed it to Nora, who made nice comments about it. “Make sure you give the pram back to the other little girl when you finish playing won’t you?”

“Nora, it’s her pram, a belated birthday present from Simon and Mima.”

“Oh gosh, I am sorry. It’s a lovely pram, I’d have given my right arm for one like that when I was a girl. You are such a lucky girl. I hope you said thank you to Simon and Mima, and to Cathy as well?”

“I said thank you to Mummy and Daddy and Mima.”

“Mummy and Daddy?” Nora gave me an old fashioned look.

“Can we speak about that in a minute?”

“Okay, it’s somewhat irregular.”

“I suspected it was. Now, Trish, keep those clothes clean because we will be going out shortly. And you, you little urchin.” I said to Mima, who giggled and ran off with the pushchair.

“That’s a lovely dress, Trish, who chose it?”

“I did, do you like it?”

“I think it’s lovely and you look very nice in it? Do you like staying with Cathy and Simon?”

“And Grandad Tom, he reads to us every night.”

“Professor Tom Agnew.”

“Oh, he’s your father?”

“My adoptive father yes.”

“Oh, so were you in a home, too?”

“No, it’s a long story.”

“Maybe another day?”

“Maybe.”

“So do you like it here?”

“I love Mummy and Daddy, and Auntie Stella and Kiki.”

“Simon’s sister, and the dog.”

“Auntie Stella has a baby in her tummy,” laughed Trish, “I want one in mine when I’m growed up.”

Nora smiled at her, “so you love Mummy Cathy, do you?”

“Yes, I do. She lets me be a girl.”

“So I see, and buys you nice clothes.”

“Yes, she loves me and Mima.”

“I do believe she does, Trish. You go and play now while I talk to your mummy.” Nora and I went back to the study. “ We don’t usually approve of short term fostering using the M and D words.”

“Believe me, I did try to avoid it, but there was no point in making a scene. Mima calls me it because her mother encouraged it. So if she does, then so does Trish. Whenever I corrected her she ignored it and carried on calling me Mummy. After a while it seems pointless to try.”

“We are still looking for a long term fostering arrangement with Trish, obviously the home is not the best place for her. I can’t guarantee that you’d get her, but she does seem settled here and I’m sure Dr Rose could delay the return, and do his own assessment on her staying here. Obviously, you’d have to jump through the various hoops, we do have protocols in some areas. But I have never seen her looking so happy, and you have given me much food for thought. Thank you Lady Cameron.”

“It’s just plain Cathy…”

“Ah but, I believe if someone insists on calling you something, you eventually bow to their pressure, Lady Catherine.”

So there I was hoist by my own petard. Nora left and we shook hands very warmly. “I like you, Lady C.”

“You’re okay too, Nora.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 531

Nora’s visit had made us late, so late it was nearly lunch time. I made some sandwiches and we ate them then went shopping. It’s supposed to be what every girl loves—the same is said of chocolate, but you can only eat so much before you become sick literally, or sick of it—the same with shopping. Okay, it’s my own fault that I had two little helpers with me.

We did a couple of department stores, Mothercare and another specialist baby wear shop. It might have been easier if Stella had seen the ultrasound scan pictures, then instead of buying neutral things, we could have gone for boys’ or girls’ baby clothes. I got three babygros in white, lemon and pale green. I bought a couple of plainish matinee coats, some little bonnets, a large shawl, and on special offer—a baby box, with wipes and cream and various other bits and pieces.

The girls were very good, they helped me choose things, sometimes against my better judgement, like green babygro, but that’s life. They also helped me carry things back to the car.

Next stop the supermarket. They really enjoyed that, so did I. I tried to involve them in choosing meals for the next couple of days, but jelly and ice cream as the main course? I don’t think so, although Simon would probably go along with it. I did promise they could help me make a jelly one day soon and we bought the concentrate for the job.

With that lot stuffed in the boot, we did pop into the toy shop and I agreed they could buy one small toy each. Trish opted for a small furry thing which I suppose nearly resembled a cat, well as much as my dormouse did its epithet. Of course once Mima saw what Trish wanted, she had to have the same, only I persuaded her to have a different colour. Trish had a grey furry thing and Mima had an orange one.

As we drove home, I suggested they think of names for their felines, most cats I know would probably freak out if they thought they looked like the girls’ toys, but they liked them. A bit like mothers and babies.

When we got home, they had to show Simon their latest acquisitions. He immediately asked what they were called, and the response was lots of giggles.

I unloaded the car and took the baby stuff up to Stella. “Crikey, will I need all of this?”

“And more, what if Puddin’ is sick and poos him/herself on the same day?”

“I see. Will you help me change him?”

“No, you have to keep the one they give you, unless there’s a manufacturer’s guarantee which says otherwise. Besides, you’ll want to keep her.”

“Why are you so sure I’m having a girl.”

“I dunno, I just am.”

“So not just a miracle worker, but a psychic as well.”

“Yeah, I’m good value for money. They want me to part the Red Sea, while they look for archaeology.”

“Ooh, can I watch?”

“Nah, I turned it down, I have to keep putting out burning bushes.”

“Just keep taking the tablets, eh?”

“Oh, that is bad, Stella, even Simon would have come up with a better one than that.”

“Did you choose the green babygro?” she asked looking through the purchases.

“Um, not exactly, that was Mima’s idea.”

“I like it.”

“Be sure to tell her. She’ll be cock a hoop at that.”

“Don’t go much on the lemon one.”

“You can buy the next lot yourself.”

“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, Cathy, but I’m not that fond of yellow, in clothing.”

“Is that why you hit me off my bike?”

“Erm—were you wearing yellow?”

“Yes, bright yellow as in Saunier Duval team kit, a la Dave Millar.”

“Oh yes, Simon got you a replacement one.”

“Well you did sort of total the old one.”

“I didn’t, it was you who dived into the hedge.”

“Stella, you hit me up the arse at about thirty miles an hour, I was lucky there was a hedge, and a relatively soft one or you’d need a medium to talk to me, and may still be in prison for causing death by dangerous driving.”

“My driving isn’t dangerous.”

“No of course not, perfectly safe drivers knock harmless cyclists into hedgerows all the time.”

“It was very poor visibility and you didn’t have lights.”

“It was daylight and I was wearing a bright yellow set of skins.”

“They didn’t seem that bright to me.”

“Obviously.”

“You’re never going to forgive me for that are you?”

“Nope, it was a life changing moment, one in which I saw my whole life go before me.”

“You did?”

“I can’t remember, I was too busy trying to fly without wings.”

“So it’s your fault then?”

“How can it be my fault?”

“You were trying to fly without wings.”

“Only because you launched me off my bike.”

“Oh that’s right blame me, a defenceless woman.”

“Defenceless, at the time you were driving a lethal weapon. I was the defenceless one with the lacerations and scratches.”

“And that tiny willie.”

“What?”

“When I saw you in the shower, with your boobs and tiny willie.”

“Well, that’s what hormones do.”

“Yes, I know, I’m a nurse if you remember.” She giggled.

“What’s so funny?”

“Seeing you in that shower, getting that bandage off your boobs and seeing your tiny kit.”

“Seeing as I didn’t want it in the first place, how do you think I felt about it?”

“You told me you were yak breeding or something, do you remember?”

“I only remember having my life turned upside down from the moment of that impact—and I don’t regret a moment of it.”

“I did loan you some clothes.”

“It’s funny, when I went out that day, I was dressed as a man, when I went home the next, I was a woman and I haven’t changed back since.”

“I just forced you to take stock.”

“You’ve been a tremendous help to me, big sis.”

“I think we’re even on those grounds, if I’m not actually in debt.”

“Who’s counting?”

“Yeah, we’re family.” We hugged and I felt Puddin’ kick against me.

“Well if it isn’t a boy, she’s going to be either a footballer or a martial arts expert,” I said.

Stella laughed, “All of this because of a lemon babygro.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 532

I was edgy when I got up and the feeling stayed with me most of the day. It was Thursday and the next day we’d be meeting up with the judge to hear his opinion in my case, or rather that of custody of Mima.

“Why don’t you go for a ride on your bike?” suggested Simon, “You could take one of the terrible twins with you on the trailer.”

“No, the last thing I need is to have an accident with one of them and for it to come out in court; besides it’s very cold out there. Can you watch them for half an hour?”

“They’re playing quite nicely, I’ll give them a biccie if they get peckish.”

“No, give them an apple between them, but take the core out.”

“Yes, boss. What’re you doing?”

“I’m going out in the garage.”

“To fiddle with your bikes?”

“No. See you later.” I dashed upstairs and changed into trackie bottoms and a sports bra with an old tee shirt over the top. Then I dashed out to the larger of the three garages. We never put the cars away, because there wasn’t any room. One of the garages was full of bikes, the other assorted junk of Tom’s and the third had some junk but also Simon’s mini gym and Stella’s kick bag—a punch bag which she used for practicing her kick boxing, and upon which she had also taught me.

I did a couple of minutes stretching and bending, warming up different muscle groups, then used some of Si’s equipment, the rowing machine and the weights. When I felt exhausted, I drank a little water and set to with the kick bag.

I felt like pretending it was Social Services, but that was childish, so I just labelled it—Obstacles—and kicked at it until my legs were like jelly, and I was sweating like a sauna user.

I walked back on wobbly legs and went up to shower, too tired to feel anything but aching muscles. After, I dried my hair and put on a small amount of makeup, although very casually dressed in jeans and jumper, I felt much better.

I went down and the girls came and hugged my legs and told me they loved me. “I love you, both, too. After lunch, we can make some jelly.” They both rushed off to tell Simon with great excitement. That he was in the same room and had heard me telling them, didn’t seem to matter.

In the kitchen I turned out the loaf, the machine had baked for us. Although our extra mouths were small ones, we were getting through an extra loaf a week, I baked a loaf nearly every day, and bought the flour and yeast in relatively large quantities compared to my first sojourn into the area.

Lunch was soup, I’d become quite an expert in turning out tasty pans of all sorts of soup. Sometimes it was from a book, other times I just experimented, usually with some left over stock and whatever vegetables I had available, thickening it with lentils, split peas or pasta, occasionally with potato.

Today, it contained onion, broccoli, celeriac and lentils in a ham stock. In an hour it had cooked and I put it through the blender. Mima sometimes grumbled at bits floating in hers—the odd dark lentil, or bit of onion which had a darker colour in it.

It tasted okay, with garlic and pepper added and a little salt, I don’t use much which annoys Tom, or used to. He used to add loads to everything—a very Scottish habit, although I weaned him off much of it. He’d have a little tonight as a first course of his dinner—sounds very grand doesn’t it.

Lunch was served and after clearing up, the jellification started. Even though the girls had washed their hands before lunch, if we were preparing food of any sort, I made them wash their puddies again. It was now sort of ritual, so they hardly needed asking, and they shared the sink as I put a blob of liquid hand soap on each of their hands. Once they’d dried said paws, I’d wash mine and the task would begin.

Jelly is essentially gelatine and sugar with some sort of fruit flavour thrown in with the appropriate colouring. It dissolves in hot water and when allowed to cool it sets in a couple of hours. Obviously, I had to do the hot water bit, but they each had a go at stirring the slowly dissolving lump of red. They chose strawberry flavour.

After this it was left to cool in a glass bowl. However, while it was cooling, I had them carefully remove the stalks from a dozen or more strawberries, which we then chopped into quarters. I let them do a bit hoping there wouldn’t be too many small fingers floating in the red goo, especially as oxidising blood goes brown and would discolour the jelly and spoil the effect.

By the time I’d sewn fingers back on, hopefully to the matching hand, the jelly was beginning to thicken and set. We then dropped in the fruit pieces with such exactitude it was breath-taking. Had I been making it on my own, I’d just have dumped the lot off the cutting board: today; we were dropping each piece individually with great concentration—tongues were waggling around the edges of their mouths. Why we do this? I have no idea, but I do it when I’m applying eye makeup, or at least hold my mouth open—does it aid concentration or act as a comfort? God knows.

Once this placing of the fruit had happened, we proceeded with great ritual to the fridge and I placed the bowl inside to cool and set. They kept coming to me all afternoon to ask if it was ready yet. The fridge door would be opened and they peered inside and shook the bowl slightly. If the fruit moved, it wasn’t set. In some ways I’m surprised it set at all, they were shoogling it every two minutes.

For dinner, I did spaghetti Bolognaise—it was a favourite of Simon’s. Stella came down and ate a little. The children we practically wrapped in towels to keep the sauce off them. Of course it didn’t work, Mima dropped some on her jeans, and Trish spilt some down her new jumper. I stripped off the offended garments and threw them in the washing machine. I’d saved a few other things because I knew it would happen, so Trish sat in her vest and Mima in her panties for dessert—the jelly.

Tom, the only taker of soup was not going to have any dessert until I asked the girls to tell him who made it. Once the chorus of, “Me,” died down, he thought he’d better try some.

I whipped some cream and decorated the top of the dish with it. Then accompanied from the kitchen with great excitement by my two catering assistants, the fruit jelly was processed to the table.

Actually, apart from being very cold, it was quite nice, and I had found another way of entertaining while educating them, for a rainy day. I would keep a supply of jellies in the cupboard. Wait till they see how to make trifle.

Tom declared it the best jelly he’d ever eaten, and Simon seconded his motion. “I think we need to get a board in the kitchen, so when our little maids here, cook or make something, if it’s good we write it on the board and give it a silver star. If it’s excellent we put on a gold star.” Stella and I agreed, and I nominated Simon to make a template on the computer for our worksheet. He sighed, but he wasn’t doing much else except the odd bit of baby sitting.

He had to go to hospital on Monday to have the strapping off and hopefully be declared fit to work again. Henry wasn’t too pleased as he thought Simon was skiving, which he was. However, he was also aware that I was quite stressed and that having Simon about was a something of a support for me. Henry was actually a very caring man, although he pretended he wasn’t.

He’d emailed me to say he’d be at the court tomorrow for moral support, and if we won, as we deserved, he’d take us all out to lunch. I suspected that eating would be the least of my worries tomorrow.

Tom read the girls a story while Simon helped me clear up. I thought he’d had a personality transplant, but then realised if he was faffing around the dishwasher he couldn’t do the template on the computer—a ten-minute job. So I asked him to go and do it. He grumbled but went.

He was back before I’d wiped down the draining board and table. It was a very simple table chart with large boxes into which I could write the name of the dish and a space to put the star alongside it. I’d get some stars tomorrow at the newsagent, he did those sorts of things.

I went to bed early, I was nearly dropping from exhaustion and Tom told me to go. Simon was already asleep in the chair in front of the telly, poor soul, he was exhausted too—designing a form is such hard work.

Then I got into bed and woke up or got past sleeping, I don’t know which but I couldn’t sleep. My legs were aching from my exercise that morning and my head was spinning with possible scenarios of the court room. I kept telling myself, that I couldn’t influence what the judge would say, so it was pointless worrying. I wish my brain could have accepted it’s own logic.

I got up once and went to the loo and was sick—purely nerves, but then, I was fighting for a child’s happiness and future, which I thought were better with me than with another foster parent. Arrogance? I hoped not, it wasn’t meant that way—I was just so fond of the little mite, and Trish as well, with whose special needs I possibly had some insight.

I went back to bed and Simon switched on his bedside light, “Did you just do what I thought you did?”

“Was I sick, yes.”

“Would you like a cuppa?” he asked.

“Do you want me to make one?”

“That wasn’t what I asked, would you like one?”

“I dunno, not if it makes me throw up again.”

“Don’t see why it should, I’ll go and make one.” He limped off down to the kitchen to put the kettle on. I sat in bed but didn’t want to be there, I wanted it over and done. I wondered if soldiers felt like this before an action. A minute later, I popped on my dressing gown and went down to the kitchen where Simon was just pouring the teas.

“Stella can’t sleep either, so can you take one up to her with yours?” he asked me.

“I’ll take hers up, but I’m sitting down here to drink mine, maybe if I get sleepy first then go to bed, I might get a few hours in.”

“Babes, it’s two o’clock now.”

“I know, you go on up, I’ll be up soon, I promise.”

We argued for a couple of minutes, but I said I’d read the paper for a bit and drink my tea. He reluctantly accepted things and taking Stella’s tea up with his, he mounted the stairs.

I sat looking at the pictures of Gaza and feeling a mixture of sadness and anger. Eventually I called the Disasters and Emergency Committee donations line and gave them fifty pounds. It wouldn’t bring back any of the deceased but might help one or two of the living.

I woke up at four, I’d been sitting with my head on the table and had a mark down the side of my face. I shrugged and went up to bed where I finally managed to fall asleep.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 533

I woke up with a little body tucked into me, this time I discovered it was Mima. I found out later that Trish had suggested they cuddle into Simon and me on an alternating basis—in case we got jealous. I could see that Trish was going to be quite a negotiator if she’d considered such areas before the age of five.

The cuddle or cwtch every morning had been such a routine that as they climbed in, I automatically put my arm around whoever it was who climbed in—thank goodness Kiki was kept downstairs.

The little body trembling or shaking woke me up properly, “What’s the matter?” I asked quietly, realising it was Mima not Trish I was holding.

“Wiw they take me away, today?” she was crying.

“Will who take you away, sweetheart?”

“The judgeman.”

“The judge? I have no idea what he will say, but I shall be very cross if he tries to take you away.”

“I wiw cwy, if he twies to.”

“Hey, we’re not going to even think about losing this, we’re going to win it, right?”

“White,” she said.

“Right on, Babes,” said Simon turning over.

“Who told Mima she could be taken away today?” I asked loudly.

Crying sounded from the other side of Simon, “I’m sorry, Mummy,” Trish boo-hooed, “But I heard you talking with Daddy, the other day, an’ you said what you’d do if the court took her off you.”

Damn, little piggies have big ears—now I had two to comfort. “Why did you tell Mima?”

“We was goin’ to wun away,” said Mima.

I sat up in bed, “Okay, who was going to run where?” Trish instead of answering me, howled even louder and Simon cuddled her close to him. “Trish, I need you to stop crying and talk to me.” Mima was hanging on to me for grim death.

Simon managed to calm her down and Trish stuttering, told me how they were going to run out of the court and hide around the back. Later, they would walk to Tom’s house and be with us again.

I admired their pluck, but it was a total non-starter. They’d be lucky to get out of the court, let alone out of the building, and as for finding their way to Tom’s house—impossible.

I made them promise that they wouldn’t try any such thing, because if they did, I would take them to the police station. They looked horrified at this, claiming they only wanted to be with Simon and me.

“Girls, judges are very important people. They are also very powerful people and usually very wise. He will do what he thinks is the best thing for Mima. I have my own ideas, which he might not agree with, but whatever he says, we have to obey. To do anything else, means we could be put in prison.” This brought forth another bout of tears.

Once everything had calmed down we all got up and showered, Simon going last for obvious reasons, he also dried off Trish who, he later told me, seemed total un-self-conscious of her wrongful anatomy. She dressed herself, in the clothes I’d put out for her by the time Mima and I emerged from the bathroom.

A quick breakfast—I managed to force down a single slice of toast only because Simon insisted. Stella was up as well and dressed, she announced she was coming too, so was Tom, who looked pale and drawn.

“Are you okay? Daddy,” I asked him.

“Just worried about this, I reckon. I didnae sleep too well.” I hugged him and told him I loved him and thanked him for his support. “I’m doing this for that wee mite, an’ mesel’. I enjoy being a grampa.”

“I know,” I hugged him again, but decided he should see the doctor if he didn’t look better soon. He ate a little breakfast, except for Simon and the girls, none of us wanted much, which I attributed to nervousness.

Henry phoned to wish us luck and told us he would see us in court. I’m sure it wasn’t the first or last time he’d used the phrase. Our hearing was due at eleven o’clock. After my third visit to the loo, we left at ten.

I drove the Mondeo with Tom and the girls with me. Stella followed in her Fiesta accompanied by Simon. At a push he could drive if she was taken ill, but he hoped she’d be all right.

This was a civil case; what someone who was actually charged with something must feel entering the courts, I hated to think. We went to the waiting area and met up with Henry and Monica. They made a huge fuss of the kids and of Stella. Finally, they greeted Tom, Simon and me. Henry, kissed me on the cheek and whispered, “Is Tom okay, he looks quite grey?”

“He said it was just worry.”

“Get him checked out, soon.” We hugged and he went back to Stella and the girls. Monica made a fuss and she too, asked about Tom. I looked at the man I’d come to regard as my substitute father, and they were right he looked ashen and seemed to be sweating.

“Daddy, come and sit down,” I urged him.

“Aye, alricht,” he lumbered towards the chair and the next thing, he slumped off it and onto the floor.

“Tom,” I gasped as Simon and Stella rushed to help. Tom had a small cut on his head where he bumped either the chair or the floor. A court usher rushed to see if he could help.

Monica grabbed the two kids and whisked them off to see if they could find some sweeties, I seemed to snap out of my trance and knelt down at Tom’s side. Stella was trying to feel for a pulse but with her lump in front, it wasn’t easy.

I placed my hand on Tom’s neck, there was no carotid and his lips were turning blue. Myocardial infarct? Probably. I treated it as if it was, and began chest compressions, ripping open his shirt and pulling off his tie as I started.

Stella dialled nine nine nine and called for an ambulance. After thirty compressions, I checked, still no heart beat, so I straightened his airway and blew two breaths into his mouth. I felt my tears drip off my chin as I returned to the compressions.

The usher told me he’d do the compressions. “Do it to the Archer’s Theme music timing,” I said.

“Gotcha,” he replied and I could hear him humming, ‘Dum ti dum ti dum ti dum…’

“Breaths,” I said and blew again into Tom’s mouth. We continued thirty compressions to two breaths. I felt sick and guilty, why didn’t I spot this happening, and what was Stella thinking—she’s the trained nurse.

Eventually the ambulance arrived and Simon went off with it. I collapsed in a heap of tears and self-recriminations. Stella, pulled me up and walked me to the ladies loo.

I looked in the mirror, my makeup was a mess, I‘d rubbed a hole in the knee of my trousers and I felt a total wreck. She helped me wash off my messy makeup and I combed my hair into some semblance of tidiness. Monica looked in and said, “They’re calling you, Cathy.”

My stomach flipped and I just made it to a cubicle to be sick. Monica came to help me, I felt quite faint but managed to walk with the support of Monica and Stella.

Henry was standing in the middle of the vestibule with one of the girls holding each of his hands. The nonsensical thought went through my mind, that he looked as if he was enjoying himself with his two grandchildren—then I thought of Tom and I started to cry again. Monica shoved some tissues into my hand.

The usher came up to me, “Are you Catherine Watts?”

“Yes,” I answered and sniffed.

“Was that…”

“My father who collapsed, yes.” I sniffed again.

“His lordship is ready to see you.”

I nodded and digging into my reserves of strength, pulled myself upright, held out my hands to the children, and walked into the family courtroom. I led our little party into the side unoccupied by a dozen or more bodies from Social Services.

Let the denouement begin.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 534

The usher who had called us, went ahead of us and through a door at the back of the court. A few minutes later, he came out again and then announced, “All rise for Mr Justice Kenyon.”

We’d only just seated ourselves and then had to get up again. The judge entered and sat at the bench. “Please close the doors, and admit no member of the press, this court is now sitting, and I am passing a restriction on court reporting, for the protection of the child involved. Therefore, I am prohibiting the naming or revelation of any detail which might identify the child or participants in this matter.

“I see you have another child, Miss Watts, are you collecting them?”

“No, m’lud.”

“So is this one just visiting with you?”

“M’lud, if I might explain,” said a man’s voice from behind us.

“And you are?”

“Dr Samuel Rose, Senior Consultant in Paediatrics at Portsmouth Hospitals Trust.”

“Please do explain, Dr Rose.”

“I was so impressed with Miss Watts’ ability to get Jemima walking again, that I asked her to try with another child who’d suffered similar injuries. The child was non-ambulatory before staying with Miss Watts.”

“And now?” asked the judge.

Dr Rose walked up to me, “May I borrow Trish for a minute?”

“Go with Dr Rose, Trish, you’re perfectly safe. I’ll be right here.”

Sam Rose held Trish’s hand and walked her before the bench. He then said something quietly to the judge who nodded.

“Thank you, Dr Rose, and Trish,” said the judge sounding like a sombre MC at a talent show. There was a short pause while he consulted some notes.

“This has been an interesting case with several interesting legal points to consider, not least the gender reassignment of the potential foster parent, who seems to be one of the most convincing females I’ve ever seen, and who appears to have a gift for healing damaged children…

“…then there is the fact that the child was not in care but in the custody of the foster parent as requested by the biological parent, a fact which has been confirmed by a lawyer in South Africa, and a letter from the child’s biological mother…

“So before concluding this review, I should like the senior social worker to approach the bench, and Miss Watts to come forward as well.

On wobbly legs I walked out to the judge’s bench—I had never felt so alone in all my life; my heart thumped loudly enough in my chest to mask the sound of my footsteps on the tiled floor.

The judge focused on my opponent—well, I know she wasn’t really—she was just doing her job as she saw it, and I was doing mine as Mima’s foster mum. “You are?” he asked the social worker, who said her name to him. “Thank you. Mrs Paretski, what would you consider is the most important aspect of this review?”

She was surprised by this sudden interrogation, and while she paused for thought, I tried to get my head around the same question if it were asked of me.

“Protecting the child and meeting the legal requirements laid down by statute, M’lud.”

“And you, Miss Watts, what do you think most important?”

“Mima’s well-being and happiness, M’lud.”

“Thank you, Miss Watts, now if it were considered in Mima’s best interests would you surrender her to the court?”

“If I believed it was in her best interests, yes I would.” My heart sank and I thought I caught the trace of a smile on the social worker’s face. It vanished when the judge addressed her again.

“Mrs Paretski, do the legal requirements take priority over the child’s well-being and happiness?”

“Yes, M’lud, they do.”

“Please have Jemima Scott approach the bench.” I felt myself go pale. Was he going to ask the social worker to take her now? Oh God, I felt sick and was sweating.

The usher brought her before the judge and stood holding her hand, Mima held her hand out to me. I looked at the judge and at her hand, he nodded at me and I took her hand. It felt so small.

“Now, Jemima, which of these two nice ladies would you like to stay with?”

“My mummy,” she shouted and pulling free of the usher, grabbed hold of my legs and held on like a clamp. I ruffled her hair, and she looked up at me and said in a loud voice, “Why you got hole in you twousis?”

I cringed and blushed. She put her finger in and poked my leg, it tickled. “Please do answer her, Miss Watts,” said the judge.

“When I knelt down quickly to help Grampa Tom, when he was taken ill, I ripped my trouser leg on the floor.”

“Where Grampa Tom now, Mummy?”

“He’s in hospital, Sweetheart, Simon has gone with him so I could stay here to speak with the judge.”

“Daddy make him betta?”

“I hope the doctors will, Sweetheart.”

“Thank you, Miss Watts, now Mrs Paretski, what would you feel if it was ruled in favour of Miss Watts?”

“Personally, I would suggest that without the appropriate checks, we are uncertain that she, and I assume it’s now she, a suitable person to look after a child.”

“Let us assume that she is the correct pronoun and that legal checks have been carried out, how would you feel then?”

“Unhappy that the normal protocols weren’t followed.”

“Are there protocols for acting in loco parentis? I’m not sure there are.”

“I don’t know, M’lud.”

“But you feel that legal requirements are a priority over happiness and well-being.”

“Yes, M’lud.”

“I am reminded of a case in which the biblical King Solomon was required to act in the custody of a child, as two women were claiming to be his mother. Both seemed to have equal claim, so he had to try and use some of his legendary wisdom to determine the real mother. He asked the first, that as they were equal claimants, if he cut the child in two, and gave half to each would she be happy. She answered, yes that was fair. The second woman when asked said, no, that she would relinquish her claim to the child. Solomon ordered the child to be given to the second woman and for the first to be whipped and cast into prison. He reasoned that the child’s true mother would prefer the child to be given to the other woman than see him hurt, which was the case with the second woman.

“In some ways, I feel like Solomon—albeit without his legendary wisdom. Miss Watts, has said that she would give up the child if she believed it was in the child’s best interests. Social Services have said, they feel the law has priority over the well-being of the child.

“In my opinion, the protection of the child’s health and well-being and happiness are the whole point of the law, not to mention the love and nurturing required for a child to reach its full potential.

“There is a clear bond of attachment and affection between the child and Miss Watts. So I find evidence of all the legal requirements with the current situation of the child. I therefore grant legal custody and guardianship of the said Jemima Scott, to Miss Catherine Watts, until or unless the natural parents challenge this in a court of law.”

The judge stood up and the usher instructed us to stand. I was already standing in front of the court holding Mima and crying with relief.

Social Services scowled at us and filed out. Stella, Henry and Monica who was holding Trish’s hand came to congratulate us.

“Why’s you cwyin’, Mummy?” asked Mima.

“Because I am very happy, darling. The nice judge has said you can stay with us.”

“Hoo-way,” she shouted.

Trish pulled out of Monica’s hand and rushed off after the judge, charging through the door into his chambers. Monica dashed after her, but hesitated at the door. I walked to the door and knocked, “Wait,” came the response. I wanted Trish back and I had to get to the hospital.

“I’ll call Simon,” said Henry, realising my dilemma. He popped out of the court. The rest of us, except Stella who went to sit down, waited outside the door to the judge’s chambers. I was beginning to get very worried, I mean, what was Trish doing in there?

Some ten minutes later, Trish came out holding the judge’s hand. “Miss Watts, could you please come in?”

I handed Mima to Monica, who produced a lollipop, and went with the judge and Trish. “Dr Rose told us why Trish is with you. However, this young lady wants to stay with you forever, she tells me she was in a home where she was bullied and pushed down the stairs, which injured her head. After the hospital, she was sent back to the home but she hated it. She says you are the nicest person she’s ever met, and she wants you to be her mummy.”

I shrugged, “I suppose I’ll have to use whatever protocols there are this time, but I’d like to have her stay as long as she wants.”

“She said that they call her a sissy and say she’s a boy, but she insists that she’s a girl. Given your experience, it’s not surprising that you agreed she should be treated and addressed as a girl.”

“No, Sir—I mean, M’lud.”

“There are protocols to be followed, but I shall instruct the home to allow her to stay with you until those have all been followed, and that she stay with you unless you are found to be unsuitable as a foster parent.”

“Does that mean I can stay with Mummy, Mister Judge?”

“Yes, Trish, essentially it does.”

“Thank you so much, you do have the wisdom of Solomon, m’lud.”

“I only wish I did, Miss Watts. Goodbye,” we shook hands and so did the judge and Trish. “Watch this one, Catherine Watts, she’ll end up as a judge if you’re not careful.”

I thanked him again and holding her hand, left his chambers. Henry had just got back. “Tom is awake and comfortable. Simon is waiting for one of us to collect him. I suggest we all go back to Tom’s house and you change your trousers, and I’ll run you into the hospital and collect Simon. If you take your phone, I or Monica will come and collect you when you call.”

“Okay, let’s do it.” I said.

“What happened in the judge’s chambers?”

“Oh, he said Trish could stay with us until fostering procedures were carried out.”

“Oh wow,” said Stella, “that’ll cheer Tom up no end.”

“I hope so, he’s going to need all the help he can get.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 535

If I spend much more time here, they’ll be inviting me to staff functions, I thought to myself as I hurried to cardiology. I was dressed casually, jeans and jacket over a long sleeved top.

I spoke to one of the nurses and was directed to a bed at the far side of a four bedded unit. There in pyjamas I knew weren’t his, was my boss and adoptive father. I had an overnight bag full of his pyjamas, dressing gown, slippers, toiletries and shaving gear. Even though Tom had a beard, he kept it trimmed.

I also had a couple of books and a miniature of scotch whisky. He was dozing when I arrived, so I set to organising his locker and his cupboard behind—wardrobe would be too grand a term for a small wall cupboard in which one could hang a few clothes. The locker has a small cupboard and a drawer in which more essential stuff can be stored.

I found his wallet, and checked that it looked undisturbed. It did. I put his nightclothes away, and his other things in either the cupboard or the locker. When I’d finished I sat down beside his bed and touched his hand.

“Typical bloody woman,” he said tersely.

“What is?”

“Not what, who—”

“Okay, who is?”

“You is, Missy. You tidy my bloody locker before you come to see me.”

“You were asleep,” I countered.

“I wisnae, I was keeking at you. Whit are ye gonna do with my wallet?”

“I can leave it if you like, but it won’t be there if you go down for tests. I thought, if you kept so much money with you, and I’ll take the rest home.”

“Aye, a’richt.”

“Anyway, apart from talking like someone out of Oor Wullie, how are you, Daddy?”

“I’d hae been fine if some interferin’ young nyaff hadn’t decided to keep me alive until the ambulance got there. Noo, I’ll hae to read more stories to her bloody children.”

“You ungrateful old buzzard,” I said, noticing the twinkle in his eye, despite his illness, he was determined to show some spirit.

A nurse came over to us and said, “If you can’t behave, lady, you’ll have to leave; we can’t have you upsetting our patients.”

“She’s no upsetting me, she’s the one who kept me alive long enough to get here. Nurse Rachel, meet my daughter, Cathy.”

The nurse nodded at me, but her eyes were less than friendly. I smiled a very superficial smile back. It wasn’t worth me upsetting her, she could make Tom’s life difficult—although I also knew he could do the same to her. He may be an old man, but he’s a very articulate and clever one, with some very powerful friends.

“So how are you doing?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine in a day or two. I want you to ask Pippa to bring or send my correspondence in, so I can keep things ticking over.”

“No, definitely not. You are here to recuperate—not work.”

“But, I’m fine, it was a tiny wee clot, they’ve shoved me full of heparin to disperse it. I’ll be okay.”

“The problem is a big clot.”

“What are you talking about?” He was talking English again—thank goodness.

“You, you big clot, you’re here to get better. If I hear any more about you working, I shall forge your signature on a letter to the dean giving in your resignation.”

“He’ll know it’s not from me.”

“I’m a good forger,” I wasn’t but he didn’t know that.

“We have an agreement, I promised not to live too long, and he’d let me die in office.”

“That was before you had other responsibilities.”

“Whit responsibilities?”

“Your grandchildren.”

“Grandchildren?”

“Yes, Mima and Trish.”

“Are ye adopting them, then?”

“That’s my ultimate aim, or very long term fostering.”

“Simon told me you’d won your case for Mima.”

“I thought it might cheer you up.”

“Aye it did.”

“Trish went and spoke to the judge by herself.”

“She whit?”

“She followed the judge into his chambers and talked to him alone.”

“But she’s not even five years old, she’s jest a bairn.”

“I know, but she explained what she wanted and how unhappy she was, and he’s promised to have the home allow her to stay with us until we can apply to foster her.”

“She’s going to be quite a lassie, that one.”

“That’s what the judge said.”

“Aye, ye’ll have to watch her. She reminds me of my first Catherine and, to lesser extent, of you.”

“I’d never have had the nous to talk to a judge as a five year old.”

“That’s whit I mean, but my Catherine would hae.”

“I’m afraid I don’t believe in gods, let alone reincarnation.”

“Aye, I know, but sometimes the coincidences seem striking.”

“That’s all it is, and because you’re sensitised to it, so imagine it’s something more.”

“So, I’m just being a silly old fart, when I believe that God sent me an angel, to replace the one I lost, am I?”

“If that’s what you wish to think, that’s your business, but seeing Trish as an angel, except in the cutesy stakes, is wishful thinking, in my opinion.”

“Trish? Trish? I was talking aboot you, ye knuckle heid.” The old buzzard made me blush twice over.

I held his hand and he squeezed it. “Looks like I owe you my life, like all the others do.”

“No you don’t, if it’s owed to anyone it’s the teacher we had at Sussex, who taught us basic life support. But you don’t owe me anything, I’d have done it for anyone, as would you. Besides, you took me in when I was at rock bottom, so I think we’d be quits, if anyone was counting.”

“Cathy, when I took you in, we needed each other. I needed you as much as you needed me. I needed to find something beyond my work. I’d been on my own so long, I needed someone as well as my work to live for. You provided that incentive, reminding me so much of my Catherine, but different enough to be yer ain woman.”

What could I say? Was this just a fright, causing him to be so effusive? I know he was fond of me.

“I look upon ye as my daughter, as ye ken, so if anythin’ should happen to me, my solicitor’s address is in my personal file in the locked filing cabinet in my study.”

“I don’t need to know this, Daddy, you’re going to get better and live for years yet.”

“Aye, I intend tae, but in case my plans gang aft a-gley, to quote the bard.”

“What Shakespeare?”

“Nah, Rabbie Burns, a real poet not some part time ham and writer of plays.” His eyes twinkled so I knew he was trying to wind me up again.

“Can we talk about this when you feel better?”

“No, I need to say this now, in case I don’t get better.” I felt myself feeling very sad, and tears filled my eyes, the thought of losing him was unbearable. He’d only been part of my life for a couple of years, but such a part—an immeasurable part. “Don’t ye get all weepie on me, I feel bad enough as it is.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“Do I hell? No, I want ye tae stay.”

I looked up in time to see a familiar figure walking towards me—the dean. I didn’t want to stay while he was there. “You have another visitor coming, I’ll go for a cuppa and come back in half an hour or so.”

Tom looked up and saw who it was, “Aye a’richt, but mind ye come back.”

I kissed him on the cheek, “I promise, Daddy.” I squeezed his hand and he squeezed mine back.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 536

There was a chill in the air as the frost manifested itself. The sky was clear, as I would have been able to see were the hospital area not so brightly lit. It was eight o’clock and I wanted to get home.

Monica had set off to collect me, however, judging from what I could see of it passing the hospital, the traffic seemed heavy. I shivered as I tramped up and down to keep warm, swinging my arms around me to try and generate some warmth. I noticed the windscreens of cars starting to glisten with their icy coating and wished I’d stayed in the vestibule rather than insisting I walk to the front of the hospital driveway. Why don’t these roadways seem as long when you drive them?

I reflected on my return to Tom’s ward; I’d had a cup of tea and a sandwich which I knew would suffice until I got home. Actually it was quite good, so hospital food had improved no end in recent years.

The dean had only stayed half an hour. We’d nodded at each other as I’d left—we were on reasonable terms—but I wasn’t too sure why he was there. Tom reassured me it was an act of friendship, they’d known each other for years. I wasn’t so sure. Was it just my increasing paranoia? I hoped so.

I knew I had to speak with Neal about the dormouse rota, but then had a text from him to say it was all under control, and I didn’t need to worry. He also told me Spike was fine. So far, so good. Tom had of course attempted to discuss departmental stuff which I could action on his behalf. I reminded him I had two children under five, three if we included Simon. That made him laugh so much, his intravenous drip shook.

Seeing as I wouldn’t play his work game, he went back to his funereal theme. I didn’t want to play that one either, but he informed me that I was designated his next of kin. I was glad he’d told me, though asking me might have been nicer. Then I thought, I am his daughter, of course I’m his next of kin.

I managed to keep one brain cell on his conversation which got very maudlin at times, and the other was worrying about looking after my two charges; somehow it now felt much more official and therefore more under scrutiny. I wouldn’t be doing anything different, it just felt that way. I had a feeling that being married would feel like this for a few weeks—exactly the same as cohabiting, but official or formal, and thus having a different feel to it. Perhaps I was just too kinaesthetic?

Monica drove up in the Mondeo, I was surprised to say the least, but I didn’t say anything. She asked me how Tom was and we passed the return time talking about him. That was a blessing, because I wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt in her company by myself. She behaved, except for fumbling one gear change, when she rubbed my knee. I moved my leg away and she didn’t get another chance.

I felt fairly sure it was deliberate, but what could I say? We eventually got home about eight forty-five. The kids were in bed, Simon had changed them and read them a story. Trish was trying to stay awake to see me, so Si suggested I would come and tuck her in when I got home. I readily agreed and excusing myself from the gathering, went to see to the kids. They were both asleep but I kissed them and tucked them in. They had that warm, cuddly smell of young children.

I lingered staring at my two charges. My life had changed already, I was now practically a full time mum. I shivered a little, my mother’s prediction had pretty well come true. I shook my head in denial; it wasn’t possible—when you’re dead you’re dead. There are no gods, just gullible, needy humans. I returned to the family gathering.

Monica was a good cook and had used some chicken I had in the fridge to do a fricassee. Mine was in the oven, I didn’t think I was hungry, but it was jolly good and I ate it all.

I chatted with Henry about Tom, complaining about his desire to return to work. Henry suggested it was a sense of duty lacking in many younger people—he looked over at Simon while he said it. I told him I was glad Simon had been free to support me, it had been a very trying period with the court business hanging over me. However, it had all been worth it.

“Have you signed the forms yet?” Henry asked me.

“What forms?” my mind was more on Tom than anything else.

“The gender recognition forms.”

“No.”

“Right go and fill them in and I’ll get the attorney at the office to witness them for you.”

“But they can’t if they don’t see me sign them.”

“As I recall, they have a statutory declaration which you sign, they only say they have signed it too. Go on girl, it’s okay.”

I had got the surgeon to do the form that was required, so I suppose I could submit them along with payslips, and other documents showing my two years of living in role. I even sent my masters certificate to show I had been doing something useful.

By the time I’d finished, Stella had disappeared to bed, Henry and Simon were chatting and Monica was messing about in my kitchen. Being a little territorial, I went out to see what she was doing, she was making a new loaf for us for the morning. I thanked her and she smiled at me—I almost ran out of the kitchen with her roaring with laughter behind me.

Henry and she left at about eleven. They were staying at the hotel at Southsea. As he left, I said, “I think I ought to resign from the environmental advisor’s post, seeing as I’m going to be looking after two little bodies.”

“No you won’t, just keep your hand in the environmental stuff enough to be able to deal with queries, carbon footprint and so on.”

“Am I going to have time? I haven’t had a bike ride for weeks. He fell off, if you recall.” I nodded towards Simon.

“I was knocked off—fell off indeed. Huh!”

Henry and I both laughed, then I kissed him on the cheek and the same with Monica. “Tomorrow at eight, be ready for a quick bike ride.”

“It’s going to be freezing and dark,” I grumbled.

“So, wrap up and put lights on your bike, I know you’ll have some.”

“What about the children?”

“If they’ve got bikes they can come too.”

“Henry, don’t be so silly, I mean, who’s going to look after them at breakfast?”

“Their supposed other parent, it’ll do him good to get some practice in.” Simon of course heard this and glowered at his father, who smirked back. “I shall see you tomorrow my dear, Simon leave your cycle shoes out so I can borrow them, oh and I want to use your new bike, too.”

“Looks like you’d like to borrow my wife too,” he muttered which I heard but I wasn’t sure if Henry had.

“Absolutely,” his father beamed, “but not in the way you’re thinking.” He left with Monica on his arm.

“You’ve got to ride his arse off tomorrow,” said Simon.

“You must be joking he used to ride competitively.”

“So, that was years ago. I’m sure you’re fitter.”

“I doubt it, I haven’t ridden for weeks, have I?”

“But you sailed off when we went out.”

“Only because you hadn’t ridden for months, so compared to you, I was fit. I have no idea what your dad does to stay fit, he looks quite lean and fit.”

“Just beat him, please, I’ll buy you a new bike if you do.”

“How can I beat him if we’re not racing?”

“He’ll engineer some form of contest, trust me, he will. You have to beat him, and be careful, he’ll cheat if he can.”

“He’s probably stronger than I am, I’ve lost loads of muscle since the op.”

“I thought the object was to lose just one muscle?” Simon smirked at me.

“Very funny, you know perfectly well what I mean.”

“Do I? Perhaps we’d better go to bed and you can show me.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 537

I eased past the sleeping body of Trish, and stumbled into the bathroom. It was seven o’clock. I washed and dressed in the bathroom, tying my hair back with an elastic hair band. Then I slipped downstairs in my socks, carrying my cycle shoes to avoid waking the sleeping trio.

I made myself some tea, feeding Kiki and letting her out in the garden afterwards. It smelt cold and miserable, why did I let Henry persuade me into this ridiculous ride idea? I drank my tea and made some toast, it felt odd without Tom being here at this time. I hoped he was all right—he was so important to me.

I washed up my dirty crocks and pulling on my Gortex jacket, went to check over the two bikes, I presume Henry would want the Tarmac. In the light of the fluorescent strips in the garage I checked it over, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it, even the tyres had stayed up. Alas it was too big for me to ride which is the only way you can tell if a bike feels right. My own Specialized, needed some air in the tyres but that was all, but I checked out the brakes and chain. I fitted the lights to my bike and tested them, the batteries seemed okay—but then they should, the lights were unused except for testing.

I was just finishing fitting the brackets to my bike when I heard a car pull into the driveway, Henry was spot on time. He wandered in and watched me fitting the lights. “Morning, young lady.”

“Morning, Granddad.”

“That’s right, make me feel old before my time.”

“If I’m a foster mum, then when Simon and I marry, you’ll be a foster grandfather.”

“I suppose I will, although by then Stella might have five or six.”

“Hmm or eight, like that woman in the States.”

“They always think big in the States.”

“I heard a rumour she already has other children.”

“As long as she can afford to look after them all, and gives them lots of love, I don’t care how many she has.”

“I do, I think it’s ridiculous, how many boobs has she got and are they the size of a cow’s?

“Jealous are we, Cathy?”

“Yeah and no. I wouldn’t want eight kids; full stop. I’d rather have a couple I can afford and bring up properly, giving them time and encouragement.”

“Well you’ve got your couple now, I can’t believe that Trish had the bottle to go and speak to the judge, like that.”

“No, it’s almost too fantastical for words, especially as he sat and listened to her.”

“She’s going to need a bit of spirit if she continues on her path to femininity.”

“Oh, she’s plenty of that all right. As for her long term agenda, she seems fixed on it at the moment. I shall have to speak with the shrink she sees and also with Mermaids.”

“Not the fairies then?”

“Ha ha, no Mermaids is a charity that helps GID kids and their families.”

“Strange name.”

“They might say the same about Stanebury.”

“Touché, Madame.”

“Simon’s shoes are over there, I suggest you try the bike to make sure it feels okay, he’ll be miffed if there’s anything wrong with it, it cost him six thousand.”

“Geez, that is absurd.”

“How much did your Aston cost?”

“How did you know I had an Aston Martin?”

“I’m psychic.”

“I suppose my blabber-mouthed son, told you?”

“No he didn’t. I just guessed, you’re a patriot at heart, so cheapo Italiano or gruff Germanic motors would be out of the question. It had to be an Aston Martin.”

“Hold on, I came in an Audi, and I have owned a Ferrari, and Monica has a TT, and we have a Mercedes, too. I don’t think your reasoning fits the facts.”

“What about being a psycho or what?”

“Psycho, that sounds more like it.”

“Thank you, Lord Stanebury, I love you too.”

He sat and pulled on the shoes, “God, they didn’t have lumps like this under them the last time I rode a decent bike.”

“You used toe clips?”

“Yeah, only they called ‘em rat-traps in those days.”

“Do you still ride with them?”

“Back at home I do.”

“You’d better practice, getting them in and out of the pedals, and remember you need to disengage before you stop.”

“I’ll manage.”

“That’s what I thought the first few times I wore them, but I only did after I fell off the first few times, the tarmac burns teach you to remember.”

“I’ve had a few of those from my old racing days.”

“I’ll bet. Anyway, give it a go up the road and don’t forget to practice the shoe release and re-engagement.”

“How d’you change gears?”

“The brake handle on the right is the back mech, and the left is the front one. You push it over to change down and push the little button here, to change up. You’ll get the hang of it, even Simon did. The same in reverse for the front mech.”

“Up down, shake it all about. You need a pilot’s licence for this.”

“Only because it flies, it’s one of the fastest bikes manufactured for the mass market. Bettini has one and so does Boonen.”

“And who has one of those?” he asked pointing at my Ruby.

“Emma Pooley, why?”

He shook his head and started off down the drive. I ran after him, the saddle was fractionally too high. Simon is quite tall. I just managed to hold him up as he disengaged his cleats. We adjusted his saddle and he tried again, I locked up and followed him out, fitting my head light to my helmet, and donning my safety glasses and gloves.

As I rode away after Henry, I noticed two little faces pressed against the bedroom window. I waved and they waved back with enthusiasm. I caught up with Henry about quarter of a mile down the road.

“These gear changes are good once you get used to them, not sure about the flipping pedals, nearly came off back there.”

“I did warn you. You’ll get the hang of them eventually.”

“This bike is magic.”

“It is nice; it’s also very pretty, but so is the Roubaix.”

“Come on let’s get riding, how about we do one of my old training runs.”

“You rode round here?”

“Oh yeah, Simon’s cottage was our holiday cottage in this part of the world and before we got one in Menorca.”

“Okay, your Lordship, after you.” Henry took off at quite a rate and surprised me with his acceleration. I had to pedal quite hard to stay with him, once I’d managed to catch him. He was breathing hard as well, but he kept going. My fears of his fitness levels seemed well founded.

After a few miles, and my legs had warmed up—I use the term advisedly, it was bloody cold, and despite my neoprene overshoes, my feet were like the surface temperature, freezing.

Theoretically, if you have the tyres at the correct pressure, they grip the road quite well, they are thin so may even melt thin ice, they certainly expel small amounts of water, even without much tread on them. So far the roads had been reasonable, salted in places on the major networks, but now we turned up towards the downs.

Henry stood on the pedals and began climbing the hill, he was in a higher gear than I was; I was still seated and spinning the pedals although as the gradient rose so did the effort required, and finally I was in my bottom gear and Henry was still dancing on his pedals. I’ll bet he was a hill climber.

He began to open a gap and, angry with myself, I dug deeper trying to get on his back wheel again; wheel-suckers may not be popular in cycle racing, but I began to wish I was one at that moment.

I didn’t catch him until the top of the hill, where my legs felt like jelly and my chest was heaving. The front of the balaclava I was wearing was wet with my breathing through it. We went along the ridge for a mile or so, then began to descend. Once again he flew off ahead of me, and being heavier he was building up speed more quickly. I began to click up through my gears and pedal quite hard; I began to gain on him, at last.

I didn’t know the road that well, but I suspected sooner or later there’d be a junction of some sort. There was, a cross roads, with the priority against us. Henry didn’t seem to notice and a car had to brake to miss him as he flew down the hill. I slowed and made it across the junction safely.

Finally down the bottom and back on the relative flat, I reckoned he was either tiring or playing games with me. I caught him and stayed on his rear wheel. We rode like this for maybe three or so miles, and I recognised where I was. We continued back towards Tom’s house, and he was definitely slowing. Was it a ploy—or was he tiring?

Now he dropped below fifteen miles an hour, and with half a mile to go, I decided to up things. I dropped a cog to pass him and once clear, clicked back up and speeded up to about twenty five. I heard him come after me. It was possibly a ploy—too late for me to change things, I put my head down and went for it.

There’s a short but deceptively steep rise towards Tom’s house, I dropped a gear and stood on my pedals almost sprinting at it, then down the other side, I clicked up and hammered on the pedals, two hundred yards to go, I caught sight of him drawing level.

My legs were jellied and my chest was heaving, he had to be hurting too. Geez, I’m only half his age. Disgusted, I found another burst of energy and went into full sprint mode, throwing the bike from side to side as I gave the chain my all. I actually overshot the drive, I was doing thirty five miles an hour. Henry followed me and as I slowed down, he drew level again, his breathing was ragged and he was tomato red in the face.

“Bloody hell,” he puffed, “where did you learn to ride like that?”

“Sussex,” I gasped back, “But I wasn’t good enough for the team.”

“Who was in the team, Lance bloody Armstrong?”

“No, the ladies team,” I joked and he nearly fell off his bike.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 538

We cycled slowly back to Tom’s drive, “So what do you think of Simon’s bike?” I asked Henry.

“I can’t believe how fast it is, or could be under Boonen’s bum.”

“I don’t know, you didn’t do too badly yourself,” I smiled at him.

“Not as good as someone else though.”

“Oh, were we racing?” I asked with feigned innocence.

“No, of course not, it wouldn’t do for me to race a woman, would it?”

“Of course not.” Is he a sore loser—or is he a sore loser? No he’s a sore loser. “That wouldn’t do at all, especially if she beat you.”

“Exactly—um, I mean, it just isn’t done, is it?”

“I don’t know Henry, I’ve raced men and women, they both usually beat me.”

“I thought you did reasonably well in that thing against Southampton.”

“It wasn’t a proper race, and they still won.”

“Never mind, I’m sure you did your bit.”

“Yeah, coming last.” We’d actually won, but I was talking it down and I’d come sixth or something.

“Ha, we saw her beat you,” called Simon, who was standing inside the drive with the two girls.

“Nonsense, we weren’t racing,” objected Henry.

“Dad, I know you and you were giving it everything, unlike Cathy, who was cruising.”

I coughed at this, if I’d given it any more, I’d have needed a mortgage to repay it. Henry gave me an old fashioned look, and shrugged, “She is younger than me, you know.”

“Is she? You know I like older women.”

“Hey, what’s this about older women?” To make my point I jabbed my elbow in his ribs.

“Mummy, you were so fast,” quipped Trish.

“Yes, you was vewy fast, Mummy,” added Mima.

“As fast as fast, Mummy,” said Trish dancing around, which Mima copied. “Grampa Henry, couldn’t catch you.”

“What?” said Henry, “Grampa Henry?” he repeated and Trish blushed and looked awkward, Simon looked ready to intervene, when Henry continued, “Yes, Grampa Henry, yes, I like that.” He smiled and Trish smiled awkwardly whilst Simon and I exchanged looks of relief.

“C’mon you two, don’t get too excited.”

“How about taking one of them out on the trailer?” asked Simon.

“Not on this bike, besides we’d have to change them, it’s very cold.”

“Oh, okay, it was just an idea.”

“Maybe later if we have a milder day. Don’t forget, you have to go and see the orthopod later.”

He looked at me strangely, then twigged. “Oh, the consultant about my knee, yes at three this afters.”

Mima wrapped herself around his bad leg, “Is you weggy stiww baddy, Daddy?”

“Well, that’s what we have to see the doctor about later.”

She looked very worried, “Daddy stiww got a baddy weg.”

Henry looked as if she was speaking in a foreign language. You could tell he was trying to translate by rerunning what she’d said, finally he smiled, so he’d obviously got a translation that made some sense. Personally, I couldn’t see the problem, myself.

Henry surrendered the bike to Simon and went off to shower. I wanted to do the same, but I thought I’d wait until he’d finished. I put the bikes away and locked the door.

Simon was cock-a-hoop, “You beat the old b-u-g-g-e-r,” he spelt.

“If you say so,” it wasn’t that important now, “I only just did it.”

“Watch him, he’ll want a rematch and he’ll train like hell to beat you next time.”

“I don’t think there’ll be a next time.”

“Why?”

“I won’t have time for it, I have my two little girls to take care of.”

“But you’ve got to have some time for you?” This wasn’t the usual Simon; was he going to be betting on the rematch, or something? I felt quite suspicious.

“So are you going to baby sit while I do my training?”

“Whenever I’m available.”

“Sounds a bit iffy to me, Si.”

“Sorry, best I can do, old girl.”

“Mummy’s not old,” said Trish and I smiled a thank you at her.

“It’s a figure of speech,” said Simon wishing he hadn’t bothered.

“No,” shrieked Mima, “Mummy not owd, siwwy Daddy.”

“Come on girls, let’s go in and make some tea, I’m gasping for a cup.”

After lunch, I drove Simon to the hospital, the girls came with us as Stella was grumbling about her back again and went to lie down. I dropped Simon at the orthopaedic department and took the girls off to the park. He would phone me on my mobile when he was ready or we’d be back in an hour or so.

The girls scrambled up the slide like a couple of monkeys and shrieked like banshees as they slid down. I caught them most of the time, whereupon they’d giggle and rush off to do the same again. It was harmless fun and got them some exercise.

Then they had a go on the swings, I obviously got the job of pushing them, which was accompanied by much giggling and shouts of, “Higher, Mummy.” I chose to ignore it, they were going high enough for my nerves.

My mobile ringing brought playtime to an end and we went back to pick up Simon. “Gentle exercise, like riding a bike,” he said laughing.

“Did you tell him that’s what caused it in the first place?”

“I tried to, but you know these consultants, two seconds then on to their next victim.”

“I think perhaps an exercise bike to begin, Tom has one I think.”

“There’s one back at Hampstead, the bad news is, he’s told me I can go back to work.”

“Oh, I’d just got used to having you around, oh well, Stella and I will have to cope until Tom comes home. I told him I’d go in this evening. Can you put the dynamic duo to bed again?”

“Yeah, no probs.”

“When do you go back to work?”

“Tomorrow. I’ve told Dad I’ll be back sometime tomorrow morning. Sorry.”

“That’s okay, it had to happen. I’ll just have to get more organised, that’s all.”

“If you need some paid help?”

“I’d rather try by myself, I mean millions of women look after two or more children every day, if they can do it, so can I.”

“I’m sure you can, but you have other commitments too, like your films and helping Tom, and when Stella pops, well…”

“I’m not looking after her baby while she swans around like lady muck.”

“No, don’t you dare. If she gives you any trouble, let me know—I’ll sort her out. She might wrap Dad around her finger, but I have her number all right.”

“I suspect I will be able to deal with Stella myself, she sometimes listens to reason.”

“Sometimes being the operative word.”

“Let’s get home,” I glanced in the mirror and both children were asleep.

“What did you do to them?”

“Just let them run amok in the park. Tired themselves out.”

“Good thinking, Batgirl.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 539

The night of bliss I might have planned with Simon, given he was back to work tomorrow was spoiled by Mima being sick—as in all over her bed. I know she couldn’t help it, but I had to change everything and calm her down. She had frightened herself being sick as she woke, or waking as she was sick, I don’t know which way round it happened. Trish woke up too, and called for me. I was downstairs at the time, relaxing after having been to see Tom. He was doing fine and expected to be home in a few days.

Back to Trish, I was having a cuppa and a cuddle with Simon, when a little voice rang out, “Mummy, come quick Mima’s been sick.” Just what I needed. Simon, to be fair came to help then retreated as soon as he smelt vomit. So, muggings had sort it, single handed.

I asked Simon to run a bath and dipped Mima in it, it seemed the quickest way to clean her. Then when she was out, added a bit of detergent and threw her bedding in it, to soak overnight. Fortunately, I had a spare duvet, so within half an hour she was tucked in—can you tuck in a duvet? You know what I mean—and asleep again. I left a bucket for her if she felt sick again, but didn’t really expect her to use it.

I wanted to go up to Bristol to check out my houses. Yes, Des’ old one as well, although I had someone keeping an eye on both of them, it had been a long cold winter. Maybe sometime in the week depending upon what Mima has wrong with her.

I awoke with two little bodies climbing in my side of the bed. “We’re cold, Mummy.” They were too. Trish squeezed in between Simon and me, and Mima I held close to me, while Trish cuddled behind. “I thought, Mima had better go near the edge of the bed, in case she feels ill again, I brought the bucket, Mummy.”

This kid was cleverer than I was, maybe she should be looking after me? “Thank you, darling, cwtch down quietly and lets all have a nice snooze.” Which was more or less what we did. I woke at eight to find Simon in the shower and two kids cuddled in tight to me. They both said they felt cold and were shivering, I felt fine.

I left them in bed and went to phone my GP. I caught him just as he arrived at his surgery, he said he’d pop by later and check on the kids, once he’d got over his surprise that I had not one but two. He knew Sam Rose, so he chuckled through my explanation.

I warned Stella, we could be incubating anything from Lassa fever to bubonic plague and were waiting for the doctor. She called back she would stay in her room, except for meals. I wasn’t sure if I felt she was wise or being over reactive. It all depended on what the kids had. It could be a 24 hour bug or something else, I had no idea of their inoculations record.

Life seemed to be like this—a bitch, I mean—with someone sick or injured all the time. Thankfully it wasn’t me, so I was grateful for small mercies. If I was ill, the rest would starve to death, unless Tom was here, and then they’d have to get used to curries. Actually, he’s better than that, but he does like his curry.

When I saw him in hospital, he was bemoaning that they didn’t seem to have one on the menu. I did point out that he wasn’t there to give the place a gourmet rating, but to get better. His reply was, “I’d get better awfy sooner, if I’d a curry inside me.”

When he came home I’d make him one to celebrate, but I wouldn’t be eating it, can’t stand them. Yeah, curried parsnips, that would be my nightmare scenario, in a gastronomic sense, I hate both—can’t eat them.

While Simon kept an eye on the girls, I made some breakfasts and took them upstairs, toast and tea for Stella, some toast and milk for the girls, and toast and tea for me. I left scrambled egg on toast downstairs for Simon, he shot off like a rocket. I wasn’t sure if that was his desire to escape the sick room or eat his breakfast. I decided that I didn’t need to know that badly.

I couldn’t stay upstairs all day, so I made up a bed on the sofa in the dining room and put on the gas fire. The girls lay head to toe under the blanket and each had a bucket. I didn’t remind them what it was for in case it encouraged a practice run. They had eaten and drunk a little, and both were sleeping; mind you the room was very warm with the central heating and the fire on.

I went to see Stella, who regarded me very suspiciously. “I hope you’re not carrying whatever bug the kids have got.”

“So do I, or you’re likely to starve to death.”

“I’m quite capable of making myself something,” she huffed. I thought, yeah, what about the rest of us?

“I’ll bring up some lunch, probably soup.”

“Okay,” she said. I left, before I said something I’d regret. She was such a lovely person when she was on form, so what was affecting her now? Maybe when she was in a better mood she’d share it with me.

I went down to check my patients, they were fast asleep and stayed that way until just before lunch, when my doctor arrived. “Hello, Dr Smith.”

“Nice to see you again, Cathy. Now, these two aren’t registered with me, so we need to sort that out as soon as we can, so I’ve got records and things.”

“Well, Trish would be registered through the home and Mima, God knows where her records are?”

“No chance of contacting the mother?” he asked.

“Sorry, she’s on the run in Africa, last heard of, pursued by about three different countries for smuggling guns.”

“Oh, I see, like that. Okay, let’s have a look at your children.”

“Just one thing, Dr Smith, Patricia was born Patrick, but believes herself to be female and Mima doesn’t know yet.”

He gave me a wide eyed look, “Well I suppose you’re as well placed as anyone to deal with that.”

“Maybe,” I said hesitatingly.

“What you have a problem with it?”

“No, of course I don’t, I just wonder if I’m the best person to deal with it. I don’t intend to tell her if I can help it.”

“Why not, surely you’d show her what was possible?”

“Yes, but I’d rather appear to be a role model as a normal woman, even though I didn’t start out that way. Plus, I don’t know how long I shall have either of them, it might be months, it could be years.”

“You’re not adopting then?”

“I’d like to, but that’s a long time away at the moment.”

“What will either or both of them do if they ever find out? It is in the public domain, after all?”

“I’m still making this up as I go along, a few months ago, I didn’t think I’d be looking after one child let alone two. Things are still evolving and we’re all getting used to each other, except the girls get on so well together, Trish is a delight, she mothers Mima all the time. I’ll bet she’d mother me, given the chance.”

“Hmm, let’s meet these two paragons,” he said and I showed him into the dining room.

They were awake but sleepy. He used one of those thermometers you stick in someone’s ear and it gives an electronic reading. “No temperature, so it’s not a febrile condition. They’re not dehydrating, I’ll write you out a script for Calpol, that’s a paracetamol syrup, use as necessary but no more than three or four times a day. I’ll give you a big bottle then there’ll be enough for both.”

“Thanks Dr Smith, so what is wrong with them?”

“I’ve no idea, possibly a virus of some sort, hopefully short lived. I’ve checked throats, ears, tummies and temperatures. If it doesn’t improve in a couple of days, or worsens, let me know.”

“Thanks, I will.”

“I can’t get over you as a mummy, but you seem well at home in the role.”

“I’m trying to do my best.”

“I’m sure that’s as good as anyone else’s. How is your sister in law, wasn’t she pregnant?”

“Yes, she’s hiding in her room in case she meets one of us lepers.” He snorted at this and shook his head.

“Pregnancy does strange things to some women, I know you’d have loved to have experienced it, but be thankful that at least you didn’t go strange because of it.”

“No I was strange long before it.”

“Cathy Watts, I wish you’d stop all this self-deprecation, you’re an okay woman, and that’s a medical opinion, so do what the doctor ordered and accept yourself, okay? The rest of us do with no difficulty whatsoever.”

I blushed and almost felt a tear in my eye. “Okay, I’ll try,” I managed to blurt out without actually crying. He left and I went back to my soup making after watching both kids go to the loo.

He was right, of course, so why was I the only one who had problems with it, or did many other new women.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike).
45 Dozen.

The rest of the day was taken up with chores and looking after my two little patients and Stella’s hypochondria. Life was mundane and I was missing Simon, for all his faults, he loved me and made me feel special. My two little angels loved and made me feel special too, but now they were preventing me from visiting Tom.

I took Stella up a cup of tea as she was too ill to come and get it herself. She was lying on her bed painting her finger nails, mine were getting ragged from all the housework.

“Tea?” I said taking the mug into her room.

“Yeah, just put it on the bedside cupboard.”

“Tom is not going to get any visitors today, least, not from here.”

“Oh I expect the university will send someone, to check he’s still on the payroll.”

“I take it, you’re not going?”

“Oh no, my back aches terribly.”

“So does mine from washing out bedding in the bath and vacuuming.”

“Yes, sorry I can’t help with the chores.”

“Never mind, you’ll have a full time job soon enough with Puddin’.”

“Ah, but you’ll help me, won’t you?”

“Will I? I’ve got two to look after of my own, enjoy your tea.” I left before the second shoe dropped.

Downstairs, I fumed silently doing the ironing while watching over my two cherubs. Mima was sleeping but Trish was watching me with concentration.

“Mummy, why are you ironing that shirt again?”

I glanced down, she was quite right, I’d ironed dumped it in the wrong pile and done it again, I was so cross with Stella. “Oh, silly me, I was day dreaming. Do you want to try some ironing?”

“Oh yes please, Mummy.” Like lambs to the slaughter? Wait until you have to do it every week.

I had couple of pillow cases to do and after standing her on a chair, I showed her what I did with the first one and folded it and finished it. She was a quick student, and seemed able to follow my instruction without endangering herself with the hot iron, which belched steam every so often to remind her. She’d had a go, and I told her she could do some more when I next did some, but that she was to promise me not to do it without me, until she was at least twelve or thirteen—by then she will do most things to avoid it.

Mima was still asleep, and I got out a book I’d bought for them a week or two ago, it was a reading book, a primer—one that helped children to learn to read. I was delighted that Trish had done some earlier learning and I didn’t have to start from scratch. We spent about fifteen minutes with her reading to me, which I deemed was long enough for her to concentrate.

I was just going off to the kitchen to make some drinks, when Stella emerged down the stairs. “Oh, hello,” I said to her as much in surprise as anything. “More tea?”

“Ah, no. I’m popping in to see Tom, any messages?”

“If I’d known, I’d have got the girls to help me bake him a cake.” She gave me a look of disdain, which I secretly enjoyed. She had such a shock coming, it would be like an earthquake. I thought I might let her flounder for a bit before I helped her out, though at times she seemed too thick to learn from experience.

Stella left and I was just carrying the drinks from the kitchen when Trish came running and shouting, “Mummy, Mummy, come quickly, Mima is being sick again.” I shoved the tray on an occasional table which wasn’t intended for such use and ran into the room.

Mima was lying on her back and trying to vomit, which could be very dangerous, she could choke or inhale the corrosive muck which can lead to nasty chest infections and lung damage.

I grabbed and turned her over on her face, she squealed in fright but threw up over my lap and the carpet, Trish jumped back like it was lighted petrol. Okay, so I’d have a nasty smelly mess to clean up, but not organise a child’s funeral. The latter, I could not have borne without feeling a total failure for the rest of my life. Thank God, yeah the one I don’t believe in, for Trish.

I held Mima to me as she cried pitifully, and thanked Trish for helping me keep her safe. She did a pirouette well out of range of Mima’s projectile vomit. Once she’d settled down, I took her upstairs and washed and changed her, then washed and changed myself, then having her carefully seated surrounded with cushions draped in bath towels, I got the upholstery and carpet cleaner and started to scrub the sofa and the carpet. It took me an hour, Mima had fallen asleep sitting up and Trish was watching the traffic go past from the window. My tea had long since gone cold, but I didn’t dare make another pot, for the moment.

“Tom is coming home next week, all being well,” called Stella as she passed the dining room door, “What’s that funny smell?”

“Mima was sick everywhere,” said Trish dancing about the hallway, whatever bug she’d had, it had passed or hadn’t properly got her yet. Peculiarly, Stella didn’t wait to talk, she practically ran up the stairs despite her ungainly shape. If I’d sent Trish after her, I wondered if she would have reached running speed? I was getting really wicked.

Mima managed to eat a little jelly and ice cream, which Trish helped me make. Stella and I had grilled Scottish salmon with a green salad, which I made mostly of watercress, with cucumber, spring onion and celery all chopped in with the watercress. I did some new potatoes with a knob of butter over them. The salad I dressed with my own vinaigrette recipe, taught me by my mum.

I took Stella’s up to her while Trish watched Mima in her high chair. Usually she was very good, if told not to move she didn’t, except to jettison things from the tray. But she ate her jelly and ice cream and had a drink of milk, so she was getting some nourishment. Trish wasn’t too keen on the smell of the fish, so I did her some French toast, which she gobbled down with some tomato ketchup smothering much of it.

“How is Tom?” I asked Stella.

“He’s looking okay, he sends his love and says he can’t wait to get back to work, he wondered if you could speak to Pippa about this.” She handed me a piece of paper, which I read and stuffed in my pocket.

“It’s an order for some equipment, some of the microscopes need replacing, he’s just making sure he spends his budget.”

“What do they do with the old ones?”

“I’ll get Neal to look me out a good one and bring it home, as I’ll be using it for my teaching stuff, it’s hardly theft, and if they like, they can have it back if ever I leave. I’ll sign a receipt thing, so it’ll all be above board.”

“Can’t you just take one, who’s going to know?”

“Firstly, I will; secondly, if ever they were to search the house for anything else, and found it, you can guess the consequences. They sometimes sell off some of them to students, but not usually staff.”

“How much is a new one?”

“Depends upon what you buy, but Becks are couple of grand each I suppose.”

“Bloody hell, we had Beck ones when I did my degree, they don’t take much care of them.”

“They’re pretty robust, which is why we get them, undergrads are sometimes heavy handed, I also want one of the binocular mics, they’re brilliant for analysing droppings and owl pellets.”

“Ooh, Cathy, do you mind, I’m going to eat my tea.”

I left her, but didn’t mind at all, I’ve eaten sandwiches while soaking owl pellets in a water dish, teasing out the bones from the assorted gunge of fur and feathers, depending on what the bird has been eating. In cities, it’s often starlings and pigeons, snatched silently from roof top roost sites. In the countryside, it’s usually small furry things, including the odd dormouse. I’ve found dormouse bones twice.

I went back down to my charges, Mima looked much better and Trish was making silly faces and noises to amuse her. I lifted her out of the chair and after asking them to play quietly—not run about too much—I ate my salad. The fish and potatoes were rather cold by then, but it was still quite edible.

Then, after cleaning up, I took the girls upstairs and after bathing them, Mima first, then Trish, I towelled them dry and dressed them for bed. It was my turn to read to them and to my shame, I fell asleep whilst reading the story of the princess and the pea. Sorry, but the plot doesn’t hold me like it used to.

Once the kids were asleep, I had a warm bath myself and went to bed and zonked straight away, trying to remember what I’d done with the note from Stella, but was too tired to care too much.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 541
I woke with two small bodies cuddled into me. I was wrapped around Mima and Trish was clinging to me from behind. I glanced at the clock; it was coming up to seven—a little early to get up. I dozed for maybe twenty minutes, then thought I’d better get everyone up and breakfasted and dressed.

“Come on, you two, rise and shine.” Both lay still and pretended to be asleep. I repeated my exhortation. They continued to play possum. I started to tickle both girls. They squirmed and wriggled and giggled, and moments later two little bodies ran into the toilet.

“You pee-pee diffwent,” squealed Mima in a piping voice. Oops! Now how do I handle this? Trish hid in the bathroom and cried. How does that song go? Oh what a beautiful morning…

“Meems, come here.” I took her hand and led her into the bedroom. “Meems, what did you say in the bathroom?”

She looked at me and giggled in embarrassment, “Twish has a diffwent pee-pee.”

“And why do you think that is?”

She again laughed with embarrassment, “I don’t know.”

“It’s because that part of her body didn’t grow quite right, but before the doctors can sort it, she has to finish growing, which is a long time away yet. It can be fixed, but not for a long, long time—when she’s a grown up or nearly one. Do you understand?”

She nodded and looked quite concerned. “Do she go to hosiptaw?”

“She will eventually, when it’s sorted. Now I need to ask you for your help. Will you help me?”

She nodded emphatically.

“Now, one of the reasons that Trish is able to stay with us, is because we don’t mind her having a different pee-pee, some people do. But we don’t, do we?”

“No, Mummy.”

“Now, if she thinks we feel bad about it, she won’t stay with us.”

“Oh no, Mummy, I wike Twish.”

“And you want her to stay?”

“Oh yes, Mummy.”

“Okay then, this has to be our secret, we must never tell anyone that Trish has a different pee-pee, or Trish might decide she doesn’t want to stay with us any more. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mummy,” she nodded to show me she did understand. I wanted to check, however.

“So what must you never do?”

“Teww that Twish has a diffwent pee-pee.”

“Good girl, now you sit here and wait a moment while I speak with Trish, okay?” I put her up on the bed and went into the bathroom, and closed the door. Trish was curled up by the wash basin, quietly crying to herself.

“Okay, Trish,” I seated myself on the toilet cover and held out my arms to her. She slowly got up and came to me, clinging to my waist. “Come on, dry those tears.” I tore off a piece of toilet roll and she dabbed at her eyes. “I’ve explained to Mima that you are bit different down below to most girls, but that when you’re grown up, they can sort it. I’ve made her promise not to tell anyone. Is that okay?”

She sniffed and nodded. It was the best I could do for her, and when Mima realised that boys and girls were different, she would need a wider explanation. For now, she was happy knowing that she was helping to keep her ‘sister’ at our house. They seemed to have forged a genuine bond together and I hoped that would carry them through until puberty did its strange things to them, by which time, I hoped we could artificially help Trish start a female one. I was so lucky that a male puberty almost passed me by, so until I started oestrogens, nothing much had happened.

“Will I ever be a proper girl, Mummy?”

“If you still want to be as real a girl as we can make you, when you are old enough, I promise to help you as much as I can. Does that answer your question?”

“Will I be like you, with boobies an’ things?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“Thank you, Mummy, I love you.”

“I love you too, Trish. Come on, let’s go and see Mima and tell her we love her as well.” Which is what we did. She was just beginning to get a little anxious and the look of relief on her face was almost palpable.

Trish and she hugged, “I’m sowwee,” she said to Trish.

“That’s okay, Mima, you’re my sister, and I love you.”

“I wuv you, Twish, an’ you my sista.”

“Right then, girls, today is a special day. You’ve declared yourselves as sisters and that means in order to protect you as such, I have to be your mother. At the moment that means I’m your foster mother, but I shall do all I can to keep us all together with Simon and Tom and Henry and Stella as one family, if that is what you want?”

They both looked at me a little overwhelmed. Start again. “You two are sisters now, yes?” They both nodded. “Who else would you like in your family?”

They both hugged me and squealed, “Mummy and Daddy.”

“So who do you want to be Mummy?”

“You,” they both shrieked, “Siwwy, Mummy,” added Mima.

“And who’s going to be your daddy?”

“Daddy,” they shouted. I pretended I didn’t know who they meant, and Mima said, “Daddy Simon.”

“Oh, that Daddy.” They both shrieked, “yes,” and giggled falling about on the bed.

“Anyone else in this family?”

“Grampa Tom,” said Trish. Mima agreed, bouncing up and down.

“Anyone else?”

“Annie Stewwa,” offered Mima. Trish agreed.

“And her baby?”

“Oh yes,” said Trish, “actually, I’m quite looking forward to helping look after her baby.” I looked at the child again, wondering if they’d got her age wrong, did they mean fifteen not five?

“Yes, Baby Puddie,” said Meems, she was close.

“Is that it?”

“Yes, I think so,” Trish concluded.

“So you don’t want to include, Grampa Henry and Grandma Monica?”

“Oh yes, we forgot them, because we don’t see them as often.”

“Yes, don’t see ‘em as offin,” parroted Mima.

I began to wonder if Trish was going to out grow me by the time puberty hit. She was obviously very bright and needed a good education to develop to her potential. I needed to start looking at schools—like today. I decided that I’d do that as soon as I could settle the girls to playing with their dolls or something.

We breakfasted, and Mima seemed back to normal, Trish was okay too, so hopefully the bug was over. Stella would be glad, I was delighted. I got them dressed and then they played with their dollies, while I did a coloured wash chucking my jeans in the machine with several other non-colourfast clothes.

I made a list of schools from Yellow Pages and went to sort the washing, there were bits of white stuff in it. Had I left a tissue in a pocket? I had, and then I remembered something else I’d left in a pocket—Tom’s list. It fell apart as I removed it and tried to open it. I’d have to go and see him later and apologise. Oh poo!

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 542

I went through the list in front of me. Most of the schools said that they had full complement of pupils. Some even claimed that they had more then the allocation they were supposed to have. I thought the birth-rate was dropping, so why were all the schools full?

At the bottom of the list was a small private school. A convent school—a girls’ convent school. It was the only one left, I called it. The headmistress said they had some spaces and that she would be delighted to show us around that afternoon. If we went at two, we could still get to Tom just after three. Surely looking around a school wouldn’t take that long, would it? How much would it cost? She’d explain fees when I’d viewed the place, and be sure to bring my little darlin’, with me. Oh boy.

I called the home and spoke to Nora. “Nora, Trish needs to go to school at Easter, but the only place with vacancies is some little convent place.”

“None of the local council schools will take her as a girl. I tried to get her lined up for one, but they wouldn’t play. I told them she had been seen by one of their educational psychologists, who said they thought that she was a genuine GID child, but they wouldn’t wear it at all.”

“I thought by law they had to take her somewhere?”

“Yes one of them does, but as a boy.”

“That would destroy all the confidence and happiness I’ve been building up these past few weeks.”

“I agree, but they won’t budge. One of the desk jockeys even accused me of forcing the child into girls’ clothing.”

“He’s obviously never met Trish…”

“Nor read the report by the psychologist.”

“Do you know anything about this convent?”

“Which one is it?”

“Hang on, oh yes, here we are, St Claires.”

“Name rings a bell, be prepared for the cold shoulder when they answer the sixty four dollar question.”

“You’re such a comfort, Nora.” She chuckled down the phone.

“I’ve sent you some forms for the CRO search. If you have anything of a criminal record, you’d better say so on it, which will make you a little problem, but not half as much if you fail to declare it.”

“No, my slate is entirely clean, unless I bash this head mistress nun woman this afternoon.”

“Don’t, that won’t do anyone any favours.”

“I’m only joking. Now to business, I will register her as my ward.”

“No, as your foster child, I’m assuming it will all be okay, if not then we’ll have to sort it out later.”

“Okay. Trish, I’ll register as Patricia, what’s her second name?”

“Watts.”

“That’s what I just asked.”

“No, Watts is her surname, like yours.”

“You’re joking?”

“No, that’s what seems to make it so apposite.”

“How come I didn’t notice that before?”

“You didn’t need to?”

“If I’d asked her and she told me, Watts, I’d think she was either being funny or wanting to adopt my name. I suppose it will make things easier in some ways.”

“Maybe, now you’ll need her date of birth. I’ll send you a copy of her birth certificate, but for the record it’s July twentieth, two thousand and four.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“I’ll also write to the school explaining that you have custody of the child for the foreseeable future. Oh by the way are you receiving child benefit for either of the terrible twins?”

“No, how do I get that?” I thought any help would be useful if I have to start paying school fees. She told me to call the DSS and explain what was happening. They’d send me the forms.”

I decided to leave that until later, if I had to deal with any more bureaucracy today, I’d go totally insane.

Lunch over, and Meem’s left in Stella’s reluctant but good care, Trish and I set off in my Golf, for St Claire’s Convent School for Girls. We found it exactly as the instructions from the headmistress had said, confirmed by Google Maps, and the Portsmouth AtoZ. Well, I wasn’t going to give a bad impression for the pre-acceptance interview.

I had told Trish, when she shook hands with the old biddy of an headmistress to nod her head down—okay, a bit deferential, but these megalomaniac theists like to lord it over us proles. We practiced it for a moment and she got it straight away.

We parked the car and my sweaty little hand clasped Trish’s sweaty little hand as we walked towards the school building. It was only ten minutes away by car from Tom’s house, which would be useful, if they accepted her.

The convent was hidden behind a large wall, and inside was a church, the school, presumably a hall of some sort, and also the nun’s residence. There were huge gardens and a netball court, plus what could have been a hockey or even a football pitch.

We followed the sign to the school office and I explained who we were. The secretary or receptionist, spoke into an intercom, and we were asked to take a seat. I looked around the building as I could see it; it was old, pre-World War Two, which was amazing it was still standing—Portsmouth was bombed very heavily. The windows were large but single glazed and the floors were old ceramic tiles. It would be cold in winter.

A young girl arrived, “Mrs Watts, would like to follow me, I’ll show you to Sister Maria’s office.” Trish and I looked at each other and followed the girl down the corridor to an imposing wooden door. She knocked on it and was bid enter. “Mrs Watts and her daughter.”

“Thank you Melanie, you may return to your class.”

“Thank you, Sister Maria,” the girl almost curtseyed as she left. I began to wonder if we’d just entered a time warp.

“Ah, Mrs Watts, do come in.” The voice belonged to a woman in her thirties, she was no old biddy. We shook hands and she had a firm grip for a woman. Trish shook her hand and gave the deferential nod, which made Sister Maria smirk for a moment.

“What a delightful daughter you have.”

“Trish is my foster daughter, but I hope she’ll be with me for a long term arrangement.”

“Mummy, I want to stay with you for always,” added Trish, before I could tell her not to interrupt.

“And how long have you had her?”

“About three or four weeks.”

“And you’re about to embark on private schooling? Dedication indeed.”

“I don’t have a lot of choice, no where else was interested in taking her.”

“Does she have issues?”

“No, it was just they said they were all full.”

“I see, can you afford two thousand pounds plus per term?”

“If Trish is happy here, then I’ll find the money.”

“What does your husband do?”

“I’m not married yet, my fiancé works in a bank.”

“Are you sure the fees won’t be a problem? I’d hate to disrupt Tricia’s education, although you may be eligible for one or two bursaries.”

“My future father in law, owns the bank,” I said through tight lips.

“Oh, well in that case, I apologise for calling you into question.”

“It’s okay, perhaps you could show us around.”

“But of course.” She did. Despite the age of the building, the girls seemed happy, at least all the ones we saw were. The classrooms were airy, if a little cool, the sports facilities were very good for a small place, as were the kitchens and dining facilities. The technical rooms, a language laboratory, an equipped kitchen and suite of rooms for domestic science, plus a laboratory. The loos looked modern and clean with no graffiti. I was impressed except by the attitude to money.

We went back to her room and she ran through the syllabus. I possibly blanched at the religious instruction. I’m not a Roman Catholic, to me Vatican represents the Evil Empire, but I needed to get Trish in somewhere. If it was too much, I’d pull her out. I’d also teach her all the biology she needed, including Darwinian evolution.

“Do you work?” asked Sister Maria.

“I’m a biologist, I teach at the university although I’m on secondment to Defra to make a couple of films.”

“Oh how exciting. Films about biology?”

“One about dormice is just about finished, the other about the harvest mouse is still at the drawing board stage.”

“My goodness, a female David Attenborough?”

“I don’t think my efforts come anywhere near that icon of natural history film making, nor that of the BBC, although they have shown an interest in using it.”

“Oh, how wonderful, one of our mums is a media star. That could be so useful on sports day, at present we have to rely on a local MP or business man. So a woman presenting prizes, would be so nice.”

I felt myself blushing, what would happen when she found out about Trish, and then about me? The last thing she’d want is me presenting prizes. Trish might be the first child expelled for having a transsexual foster mum. Better keep my solicitor’s name handy, because I would sue and big time.

“So what do you think about the school?”

“I’m quite impressed, and the grades you get are equally impressive.”

“We like to think our girls are equipped to deal with most things, from marrying and settling down with a family, to going off to university and following an academic career. Now, Trish, do you think you’d like to be a St Claire’s girl?”

“There is just one more thing we need to discuss,” I said.

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“Would you care to discuss this in private?” asked Sister Maria, “Perhaps, Tricia would like to meet some of our reception class children?”

“Would you like that, Trish?” I asked.

“Okay,” said Trish probably realising what we were going to discuss. Sister Maria sent for an older girl and asked her to escort her to the reception class and stay with her until we came to get her. The older girl, took Trish’s hand and they went off together.

“It’s good for them to practice a little caring for younger children.”

“Quite,” I agreed.

“Now what is it you need to tell me, let me guess she has a wooden leg and you want to keep her off games?”

I laughed and shook my head.

“Let me see, she’s really a boy, but likes to dress as a girl?”

“Yes.” I blushed as much for my own situation as that of Trish.

“Okay, we’ve dealt with that before. It can be a complication in games lessons, but otherwise we can cope.”

I was blown away with this easy-going attitude. “I don’t know what to say. I hope you’re not joking.”

“The wooden leg was a joke, the transgender thing wasn’t.”

“But the Pope ranted against gays and transgendered people at Christmas. I assumed it would have a knock on effect upon all things Catholic.”

“The Holy Father is entitled to his opinion, I’m entitled to mine. If he met young Tricia, he’d love her. That’s all that matters. Providing she conducts herself at all times as a young lady, she’s welcome here, although you will have to speak with the local education people. Usually, it happens later than this, but for her to grow up as a young woman from such an age, will have it’s advantages. Why did she come to you?”

“According to Nora, the lady who manages the children’s home she had been fostered three or four times but the various foster parents couldn’t cope and returned her. I have another foster child, who is three who received a head injury before she came to me. I had met her previously with her mother, who dumped her on me and disappeared. She was out of hospital but couldn’t walk, I just encouraged her and believed in her and we had her walking in a few days. So when I took her back to the hospital, the consultant asked me to have a go with Trish. I did and with a bit of cunning, I got Trish walking too. She’s been with me ever since, and I’m rather fond of her.

“Mima, my other girl, discovered that Trish has an anomaly and I explained it as a birth defect which she will have sorted when she’s grown up. Mima seemed to accept that for the moment.

“Trish told me she believes herself to be female, I accept her as such and promised to treat her as such until she says otherwise. That’s it, end of story.”

“She’s very fortunate to have found such a caring foster mum, as you said, not everyone could cope with the slings and arrows which will occur from time to time.”

“I think society is becoming more acceptant of people who are a little different.”

“Except those who are sexually different, somehow that seems to threaten them.”

“Sister Maria, you said that as if it came from the heart, maybe from past experience.”

“Very insightful of you, Mrs Watts. My younger sister, Valerie, was hounded out of our small community because she fell in love with another girl.”

“Crushes amongst teenage girls are hardly rare.”

“Is that your experience, Mrs Watts?”

I blushed furiously, “Um, no, I was rather late in developing crushes on anyone, I suspect my gonads were comatose until fairly recently.”

“Until after the surgery, you mean?”

“I beg your pardon?” I blushed even more and felt quite sick.

“I know why Tricia was sent to you, and why you care so much. When you explained her transgender status, I realised where I’d seen you before. You have hardly been low profile, in the local press for catching thieves, on BBC for being engaged to an aristocrat and being transsexual, and the clip…”

“On Youtube, is there anyone who hasn’t seen that film?”

“Don’t worry, your past life isn’t a problem, I’d still like to consider you to present our prizes or come and talk to our girls about dormice.”

“I’d be happy to do that, any time.”

“I want my girls to have role models, women who are empowered, who do something with their lives, who cope with obstacles and still succeed. Mrs Watts, I am really happy to accept you and your daughter at this school.”

I felt like crying, instead I thanked her and we shook hands.

“I’ll send you the paperwork, there will be forms to sign and so on, and I’m afraid we like the term’s instalment at the beginning of each session.”

“Yes, that’s okay.”

“Shall we go and collect your daughter?”

“Before we do, if I could ask a couple more questions?”

“Including that one?”

“I’m sorry?”

“You asked a question.”

“Oh, yes, I see.” We both laughed, “No, you said you’d encountered transgendered children before?”

“Yes we have here, and no I can’t say if the girl is still here.”

“No, I didn’t expect you to, I hoped it was here not at another school.”

“It was, and your other question?”

“I’m a little concerned about the religious element in your syllabus, I’m a scientist and therefore at best agnostic.”

“I’m afraid it’s a condition of the place, however, what you tell her at home is up to you providing you don’t cause her great conflict between us.”

“She’s amazingly bright for her age. I’ll have her reading before she comes here. So I hope she’ll cope with our disparities.”

“Perhaps, intelligence doesn’t always equate with maturity, which is as much an emotional state.”

“Yes, I appreciate that. I’m sorry, I’m prejudicing our case now, aren’t I?”

“Not at all, we have Catholic children whose parents are worried about the religious element, some want more others want less, and some want rampant Darwinism not Creationism. I hope we explain both, although I suspect you might well know more about evolution than a non-scientist like me. We both have our faiths, Mrs Watts, mine is to God, yours your science. Who is to say either of us are wrong? Surely it’s about how we live our lives, and only what we believe in how it informs that living?”

“Thank you Sister Maria, you remind me of a woman priest I met a year or so ago, she gave me something to think about, too.”

“Now, women priests, there’s something for the Holy Father to think about.”

At this point we went to collect Trish, who was sitting in the class reading a book to the older girl. A book, I wasn’t aware she’d seen before. “Hello, Trish, having fun?”

“Oh yes, Mummy, I like school.”

“Oh good, well we have to go now, so say thank you to Sister Maria and to your friend,” I indicated the older girl.

“Thank you, Eleanor, I enjoyed the book, I’ll have to put it on my reading list.” At this, it was as much as the rest of us could do to stop ourselves rolling about laughing. Talk about, old head on young shoulders—it had nothing on Trish.

“I think your daughter is going to pose one or two challenges, Mrs Watts.”

“I think I might well agree with you, Sister Maria.” We both smiled and said goodbye.

“Did you enjoy your time in the classroom?”

“Oh yes, Mummy, it was good fun.”

“So you think you’ll like school, do you?”

“I like this school, Mummy.”

“That’s good, because that’s where you’ll be going, come Easter.”

“Did you explain everything to Sister Maria?”

“I think so, why don’t you trust me?”

“Oh yes, Mummy, but I hoped you’d get the facts right.”

“I told her you were a girl with a genital problem, like we did Mima.”

“I like that explanation, Mummy.”

“I thought you might, come on, let’s get Tom some fruit on the way to the hospital.”

“Why do you sometimes call him Tom instead of Daddy?”

“I don’t know, Trish. Perhaps because he hasn’t been my daddy for very long.”

“Who was your daddy before?”

“A man called Derek Watts, who had some difficulties with having a daughter. He didn’t like me, and although I loved him, I didn’t like him much either. He was rather mean to me when I was a bit younger.”

“Did he want a boy not a girl?”

“I’m afraid he did.”

“So did my first Mummy. I’m so glad I have you as my Mummy now.”

“Well, I did make it up with my first Daddy, but he died last year after a long illness, my Mummy died the year before. Then Tom sort of adopted me, and we agreed he could be my second Daddy. He had a daughter called Catherine, she died in a car accident.”

“Oh dear, was he sad?”

“Yes, for quite a long period. He says I make him happy because he remembers the better times with his first daughter.”

“Do I make you happy?”

“Yes, Trish you do. I can’t have babies, so you and Mima are my two babies.”

“Why can’t you have babies, you have boobies?”

“Babies grow in a different part of your body called a womb, mine didn’t grow properly, so I can’t have babies.” I know this was a white lie, sort of, arguably, a half lie. All embryos start as female and only later differentiate to become male. The proto-sex organs develop into the masculine forms from the generic female ones, the left over bits being reabsorbed. So it wasn’t entirely a lie—was it? Stop nodding.

“Will mine grow properly?”

“I’m afraid not, so you won’t be able to have babies as a woman, unless some new method is developed to create or transplant wombs.”

“Could you have babies then?”

“Possibly, the problem I have with the idea, is that the womb has to cope with enormous stresses during pregnancy and birth, that I doubt a transplant would work. So I’m still waiting to see if implants grown from cloned cells would work better, but it’s hardly a form of research which would receive lots of funding…” I glanced around at Trish, she was fast asleep in the child’s car seat.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 544

I parked in the hospital car park, and gently woke Trish. “Come along, sleepy head, we’re going to see Grampa Tom.”

She yawned and stretched, then looked around in bewilderment. “Where are we, Mummy?”

“In the hospital car park, we’re going to see Grampa Tom, remember?”

“You were telling me about having babies…”

“Yes and it was so interesting, you fell asleep.”

“Oh, sorry, Mummy.”

“It’s okay, any time you can’t sleep, let me know and I’ll describe in great detail, the embryology and development of the mammalian reproductive system—it’s positively riveting.”

Trish laughed and then said, “Mummy, I need to wee.”

“Okay, let’s get inside and find the toilets.” The air was cold outside the warmth of the car and Trish wasn’t the only one who needed to wee. The only advantage was that I could watch her while she was in the ladies. No I didn’t actually watch her, I watched that she wasn’t hassled by anyone. She wasn’t, the event was completely un-eventful; except, I realised I hadn’t put any makeup on.

I’d forgotten the fruit, so we had to buy some from the hospital shop at a rip off price, the only consolation being that it helps fund the ‘Friends of Portsmouth Hospitals’, who raise money for various things for the hospital and local health providers. It’s always struck me as strange that a nationally funded healthcare system needs charities. But then, as more and more things are funded by the NHS—such as my surgery—I suppose I shouldn’t complain. Instead, I also donated the change I was given—the money, not plumbing—duh!

Trish carried a magazine for him, a magazine for herself, and a comic for Mima. I bore the bag of grapes and apples. We went in the lift, squeezing in behind some rather large people. We made faces at each other and held hands. I kept thinking about the article on blushing I’d seen on the net by Adam Hart-Davis, who seems a bit like an oversized schoolboy, as he suggested farting in a crowded lift as the cause of embarrassment.

Mind you, as the presenter of a programme called, What the Romans did for us, tends to suggest he’s a plonker anyway. The Romans didn’t do anything for us Brits, they did loads for themselves and our gains were spin offs from their needs. Okay, they built roads, but only so they could supply logistics to support their legions, or transport goods back to Rome.

The same sort of logic should suggest, the British Empire was a good thing, teaching those fuzzy-wuzzies a thing or two, eh Carruthers? We did much the same as the Romans, provided a transport system and a civil service—oh, and gave them a common enemy.

Much of the problem in places like Africa, is from the artificial boundaries the western imperialists set up, enabling the emergence of monsters like Mugabe. Still at least we were better than the Belgians, who chopped off the hands of anyone who upset them. Imagine trying to feed yourself without hands, or grow food or even wipe your own bum! It’s monstrous, who’d have thought the Belgians capable of such things? I wonder how Tom Boonen would manage to ride his bike without hands?

Tom was sitting by his bed, not looking at all sick or unwell. “Hello, Grampa,” called Trish trotting to see him. She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek, “I’m going to school.”

“Well, well, aren’t you a big girl.”

“Yes, Mummy organised it.”

“You mean you needed a middle man?”

The term obviously threw her because she looked disconcerted then said, “No a man didn’t do it, Mummy did.”

Tom realised his joke had fallen flat. I’d explain it later, how he was complimenting her as being capable of doing it herself, probably without my help. A slight exaggeration, she’s clever, I’m grown up—in places.

I handed him the fruit, and she gave him the BBC Wildlife Magazine. He thanked her and she then took it back to ‘read’. “Mummy, what’s a dromouse?”

“Do you mean, dormouse?”

“Oh yes, silly Trish.” She blushed and held up the magazine.

Pictures of cuddly dormice as Wildlife Magazine, previews the forthcoming documentary on one of Britain’s shyest mammals, presented by Portsmouth academic, Cathy Watts.

I glanced at the photos, I’d taken half of them and Des the rest. The article was by Erin. Okay, it was a good way to stimulate interest but, she could have told me she was doing it. I’d have something to say about that to her later.

I handed back the magazine to Trish and she did manage to read some of it to Tom, who was most impressed. I perched on the bed watching them interact, it made me feel really good, they were so natural together. Tom was brilliant with small children, I remember him with Pippa’s two, he was good then, as was Simon; but with Trish and Mima, he transcended the caring elderly adult, he became their granddad. It was lovely just to watch both of them getting so much out of each other’s company. Maybe I should just push off for a couple of hours and collect Trish when they both got tired. Pity I couldn’t lie down on the bed, it looked so inviting—until I recalled my own stay in one of them in this hospital after the attack on me.

“What are you thinking of?” asked Tom, noticing my vacant look.

“Nothing,” I shrugged but blushed. He knew damn well what I was thinking about. I’d looked at the bed and felt the scar on my chest through my top. It didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to deduce my thoughts.

“Trish’s new school, has she told you about it?”

“I was just going to, Mummy,” she asserted. “I’m going to go to St Claire’s Convent School for Girls.”

“A convent school?” said Tom, looking at me in surprise.

“It was the only one with spaces.”

“But you’re not…”

“They seemed happy about that, they may need the money.”

“Oh, it’s a private school?”

“Yes, Grampy, Mummy has to pay. Will I need to get a job to help?”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this, but it’s only a hundred or so years ago that children her age were exploited for work in factories and mines.

“I think I might need someone to polish my desk everyday,” said Tom.

I shuddered, a five year old playing about in his sacred space, even I didn’t touch anything there. “Is that wise, Daddy, perhaps we should find somewhere with less to disturb or lose?”

“No, she can start tonight or tomorrow,” he continued and I found myself wishing he’d shut up, he wasn’t the one who’d have to deal with the consequences of mixed up papers or worse—lost ones.

“You’ll have to get Mummy to show you how to take things off my desk and lay them on the floor, then put them back in the same place after.”

“Oh, goody. Mummy, I have a job. How much will you pay me, Grampy?”

“I thought you were going to do it for nothing,” Tom teased the youngster. Trish’s face fell.

“How can I help Mummy pay for my new school?” Trish dropped the magazine and came over to hug me. “I’m sorry, Mummy, I won’t be able to help you, after all.” She started to cry a little and I held her.

“That’s all right, I expect we’ll manage somehow. Don’t cry, sweetie, Gramps was only teasing you.”

“Yes, I’ll give you fifty pence a day for keeping my desk polished; and I’ll give Mima twenty five pence for helping you.” At least he was remembering there were two children, but this was going to be a five minute wonder and creator of great chaos, and it would be me he shouted at, for allowing it to happen.

“If Mummy keeps a tally of how many times you’ve done it, and done it properly mind you, not a quick flick with a duster, but real beeswax polish, not these spray things, then I’ll settle up each weekend, once I’m home from here.”

“I’ll give you a pound each week, and the same to Mima, if you both keep your bedroom tidy.”

“Oh thank you, Mummy.” She stopped crying and hugged me.

“Where’s my hug, it’s going to cost me a load more than a pound to get my desk polished all week.” Trish went over and hugged him.

“Thank you Gramps,” she kissed him on the cheek, which he loved.

“Right, Little Miss Beeswax, let’s get home and see what Mima has been up to. Bye, Daddy.” I kissed him on the cheek, so did Trish and we left.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 545

Trish chattered to me most of the way home. I asked her if she’d noticed they wore a school uniform. She sort of had, but had been a bit overwhelmed by the fact this was going to be her school. It also meant her ’sister’ would end up there too—assuming we could afford it. The children were in my custody, but I thought I’d best discuss it with Simon at the earliest opportunity.

“What is the uniform like, Mummy?”

“Well what did you see the girls wearing?”

“Um, skirts and um jackets.”

“They call those blazers, some were wearing cardigans or pullovers, so it looks as if they wear green tartan skirts and green blazers or cardis.” I thought, there are so many lovely shades of green, why do schools always choose horrible ones, this was sort of bottle green colour.

They also wore white blouses and ties. It took me back to my school days, which was the last time I regularly wore a tie. Only that was with trousers and other boy clothes, what I’d have given to wear the girls’ uniform. At least Trish had a better chance than I did, and I had a better one than many of my predecessors. We always try to make things better for our children.

Mima had run Stella ragged. “That bloody child, how I’ve kept my hands off her, I’ll never know.”

“What’s the problem?”

“She missed you two so much, she just played up as soon as you were gone.”

I glanced around, the two girls were chattering like two monkeys. “What did she do?”

“What didn’t she? She wanted to play with her dolls, then she didn’t. She wanted me to read to her, then she didn’t.”

“You didn’t fall asleep, did you?”

“Well actually, yes. But only for about twenty minutes.”

I shook my head in disbelief, from now on, I’d take both girls with me.

“Don’t you take that attitude with me. You should try being pregnant.” This time I said and did nothing, except to walk away. “Cathy, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.” I ignored her and continued walking.

“Mummy,” said a voice while a hand pulled at my trousers.

“Yes, Poppet, what can I do for you?”

“When can I hewp, Twish powish, Gwampa’s desk?”

“After tea, if you’re a good girl.”

“Thank you, Mummy.” She ran off squealing to Trish, who was equally excited. I continued organising the tea. I tried to make sure we ate a balanced diet, with lots of fresh fruit and veg, plus some meat or fish every day. I was making a turkey stew, which would be nourishing and fairly quick, using diced turkey meat and garlic, onions and celeriac. Later I’d add mushrooms, carrots and even the potatoes, which thickened the sauce a little. We’d eat in an hour’s time.

I allowed the girls a small drink, and an even smaller biscuit, just to keep them going. We watched the news on telly and the weather forecast. The latter suggested we were in for some snow. Not exactly what I needed just now, although the girls may enjoy themselves.

Stella stayed aloof during and after dinner. The girls I had to threaten with no polishing if they didn’t eat all their dinner. It worked a treat. They helped me carry the dirty dishes back to the kitchen and I shoved it all in the dishwasher. Then, armed with two dusters, a small polish rag, and a tin of beeswax polish, I led the two polishers into Tom’s study.

They were very excited and I had to speak harshly to make them listen. They stopped dancing about immediately. “This is Grampa’s special room, his bits and pieces are special to him, and the papers especially so, do you understand?” They both nodded to say they did.

I showed them how to pick up a pile of papers and lay them on the floor, then the next pile next to them and so on, so they were replicating the arrangement of the desk on the floor, then all they had to do was reverse the process and the papers were where they started. Trish, particularly, seemed to twig what we were doing, Mima just did as Trish told her.

Once the desk was clear of papers, I showed them how to apply a very small amount of polish and to rub it over as much of the desk as they could. The thinner the polish, the better the shine. Trish had a go and after a few attempts, got the idea. Then I showed them how to buff the polished area to get a good shine, polishing round in circles to avoid leaving lines. Goodness, the housekeeping my mother taught me stood me in good stead—maybe she did know, after all?

After they’d both had a go at buffing, I left them to it. They’d be bored in about ten minutes and it was a large desk. I started up my laptop and devised a chart for them, to show they had polished the desk to my satisfaction and the days they had done it. They took about ten minutes and when I looked it was full of finger prints. I showed this to Trish and explained how to avoid them. They did have a natural disadvantage in that they were both small and Tom’s desk was large. I supervised as Trish polished out the finger marks, and then they both replaced all the papers. It took another ten minutes. All told, if they did this every day, it would take them about half an hour.

I put them to bed where we looked at their magazine and comic. They went off to sleep and I slipped down to call Simon. He was concerned by the weather forecast, and was tempted to sleep in his office. He kept a small folding bed there and a change of clothing. They also had a freezer and a microwave, so it would be possible to ‘live’ there for a couple of days.

I managed to persuade him to work on line if it got too bad, or even to walk to work. He reminded me of his newly recovered knee, and I felt stupid.

“So what have you been up to?” he enquired.

“I enrolled Trish in a school.”

“Goodness, that’s a big step.”

“Yeah, there was only one which’d take her.”

“Why only one?”

“The others were all full. It’s a private school.”

“Oh. How much?”

“Two grand a term.”

“Shit, that’s not cheap.”

“I know, I’ll pay it somehow.”

“Which one is it?”

“St Claire’s Convent School for Girls.”

“A convent? I thought you were the AntiChrist?”

“Very funny, that’s Richard Dawkins, I’m just a run of the mill agnostic.”

“As opposed to an atheist?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

“Still, a Catholic school, I mean, don’t they spend most of their time on their knees praying for forgiveness—if it’s enjoyable it’s a sin.”

“That wasn’t the impression, I got, besides, I will still be seeing Trish everyday, it’s not like I’m sending her off to a Jesuit boarding school.”

“What about her little anomaly?”

“No prob as long as she keeps it covered.”

“So they don’t do nude figure skating, then?”

“I hope not. Mind you if they did, her anomaly would probably freeze off and solve part of her problem.” I heard him laugh, although it wasn’t really funny, it was more a tragedy, but we’d get through it.

“So six grand a year for her to know all about the millions of saints they have and how we’ve martyred them.”

“Their syllabus looks pretty good and they have excellent SATS results and they are well placed in the tables, I looked it up on the Guardian website. Besides, I don’t think there’s too much of a problem on religious grounds down here.”

“Except in Lewes, they burn an effigy every year there.”

“Do they? What? Guy Fawkes?”

“No I think it’s someone else, but that sort of thing.”

“Is it still a problem in Scotland?”

“And Liverpool and Manchester, they even have proddy and Catholic football teams. Liverpool is proddy, Everton is Catholic. Rangers and Celtic are the same in Glasgow. It’s still quite tribal in some places.”

“Crikey, I thought that only applied in Northern Ireland?”

“No, Babes, it happens elsewhere, too. We like to think we’re not tribal on the mainland, but we are, just look at the racism which is milked by the British National Party—that’s pure tribalism.

“Have I done the wrong thing, because I thought the headmistress seemed so helpful, and she guessed Trish’s problem—it’s not the first GID child they’ve helped. Oh, and she recognised me.”

“Don’t tell me, that clip on the net?”

“Amongst other things.”

“Oh, do tell?”

“The reports in the local paper, the bit we did on the BBC plus the Youtube, clip.”

“Gosh, someone with a memory.”

“She said she might ask me to present prizes sometime.”

“Eh?”

“She said she saw me as a positive role model, being an academic, film maker, aristocrat and foster-mother.”

“What about me then?”

“You’re not an academic.”

“No, but I have to cope with you and all these waifs and strays you keep taking in, I’m beginning to think we should get the house changed to a shoe.”

“Shoe? What are you on about?”

“There was an old woman, who lived in a shoe.”

“She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do,” I completed. “Two is hardly so many, is it?

“It’s only two at the moment, but by the weekend, you might have adopted ten more?”

“Simon?”

“What?”

“You are crazy.”

“Charming.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 546

“Mummy, it’s all white.”

“Yes, darling, it’s all right.” I snuggled against the warm little body in front of me.

“No, white, Mummy.”

Whichever it was, it wasn’t the one I was holding. So it must be the other one. How’s that for logic? See, Tom Agnew, I am a scientist.

“It’s snowing, Mummy, everything is all white.” I opened an eye, I was holding the little one, so it had to be Trish who was making all the noise. My deductive skills were fine. “Mummy, can we go out and play in the snow?”

This woke up Mima, who joined in the cacophony. I tried burying my head under the pillows, but they tickled me. Then I needed a wee. While I was hiding in the loo, I wondered how I could be bullied by two children under five, but I was.

It was seven in the morning, here I was hiding in the loo with two squealing ticklers waiting for me. I surrendered and set a few ground rules. “You can play in the snow, when it’s stopped snowing, and after you have eaten a proper breakfast.”

They both grumbled, but agreed. As far as I knew we didn’t have a sledge, besides which they were too young to ride one. I did think about improvising with some heavy duty plastic bags, such as those used for animal feed or fertiliser. I might look later, for the moment we could build a snowman or throw a few snowballs.

Breakfast was very difficult, they were too excited to eat, but I made them sit there, it was still snowing anyway and I wanted it to stop first, otherwise they would get cold and wet before they’d had much fun.

I almost had a flashback to my father and me playing in snow when I was a kid. I was about Trish’s age, he wanted me to go on the sledge he’d made, and I was too frightened. I just wanted to build a snowman. My mother asked him to humour me, but he went in instead, and I had to build my own snowman, which was rather small, and my hands got so cold, when I went in, I cried with the pains in them. Daddy called me a ‘girl’, which hurt me deeply. I cried even more and he made me stay in my bedroom so he didn’t have to listen to the noise. Fancy me remembering that now?

By the time the snow had stopped around ten, we had several inches of it—so a snowman was quite possible. I told the girls we’d build a snow woman, which they thought was a good idea, or at least they giggled quite a lot.

I put the bread machine on, we’d have some soup when we came in. Sadly it would have to be tinned or packet stuff, as I wouldn’t have enough time to play and cook. Stella was staying in bed, muttering something about, ‘horrid white stuff,’ and ‘a headache.’

I sorted out some clothes for my two would-be snow builders. Neither had much in the way of old clothes, so they’d have to wear decent ones, I’d just have to wash and dry them afterwards. Mima had wellies, Trish didn’t, and so it went on. They both had gloves, scarves and hats. I wrapped their mittened hands in cling film to try and waterproof them. Then it was out into the snow.

Mima had only trotted about twenty feet when she slipped and sat down in the snow. She squealed with laughter, and I picked her up and brushed her down. Trish managed to stay upright until we got to the garden, where she walked across some decking and disappeared.

She yelled, and I told Mima to stay where she was as I rushed to help Trish. She was a little shocked and was crying. She’d stepped into a snow drift and had fallen right into it. She had snow down her neck and up under her coat and up the legs of her jeans. I pulled off her coat and shook it free of the snow and we managed to extract most of the rest with shaking. This made her laugh, and she finally got over her shock. Mima was laughing at our antics until a small avalanche dropped off the roof and landed alongside her, she jumped in fright and fell over—so she was crying. No wonder I didn’t like snow that much.

With some trepidation, I got them up the garden and into a field where we were able to roll a couple of large snowballs and stack them on top of each other. We used some stones for eyes and teeth, some twigs for arms and some straw I found in one of the sheds for hair. The girls laughed when I sculpted a bosom on our snow woman, and a narrowing at the waist.

I went back for the camera and had my two labourers pose with our creation. They were giggling still when we came back in at midday. I was quite surprised they’d lasted so long, their hands and feet were freezing. After I had them jumping up and down and clapping for a few minutes, I took them up into the bath.

As Trish’s secret was no longer secret, if you see what I mean, I dumped them both in the same bath, which I’d filled with bath foam. They played with a plastic duck for a few minutes after which I showered them off and dried them. We were just coming back down to have lunch when Stella decided to get up.

I did the soup, it was tinned, but not too bad, and the bread was still warm from the machine. Stella had lost her appetite so could only manage three slices of bread, which I managed to equal. The girls had one slice each.

They wanted to play again in the snow, and this time I took them for a walk to our nearest hill. We each carried our feed bag, and I explained that the object was to sit or lie on it while holding on to it, as you slid down the slope.

When we got to the hill, about half a mile’s walk, they were grumbling until they saw the other kids on sledges and other improvised items. We weren’t the only ones with bags. They watched the others, then I took Mima with me, and Trish sat on her own bag and off we went. We went about forty yards before we fell off, rolling in the snow. Mima giggled as I picked her up, she was calling for more. We watched as Trish came down about twenty yards then stopped. She wasn’t quite heavy enough.

We tried a three sitter on the bag, but it didn’t really work. We did about forty yards again and rolled off, which had the two girls laughing, but we weren’t going very fast. Some of the boys on sledges were simply flying along. I was a little concerned that they could hit one of the little ones and shouted at two boys in particular, to be careful of the little ones. They ignored me or shouted back something obscene, so I moved our two further over, to avoid them.

I slid in turns with my two, and as the run got compacted it got faster. I was pallying up with another woman who had a small child, a boy, so we watched each other’s kid as well as looking out for the older and bigger kids disturbing us.

I’d just walked back up to the top of our slide with Trish, and was about to take Mima, who waited patiently for her go, when we saw the two boys absolutely rocket down the slope. They must have been doing twenty or thirty miles an hour.

“They’re not going to stop,” I shouted as other revellers jumped out of the way of the sled. One of the boys threw himself off as it went up the bank and crashed into a tree. tThere was a splintering of wood and the boy who’d stayed on it lay still.

There was a shocked silence, “Watch my girls, will you?” I asked the woman, and scrambled down the slope towards the scene of the accident. The only other adult—a man—was also rushing as best he could towards the prostrated boy. We arrived together, huffing and puffing. The boy was bleeding from a head wound, but he was breathing.

The man wanted to roll him over, but I stopped him, cautioning a neck injury. The woman with my children was on her mobile calling for assistance. “Tell them he’s unconscious, he’s bleeding from a head wound but he is breathing,” I shouted to her. She relayed this to ambulance control, who would be in real difficulty to get a vehicle out to us.

The man pulled off his scarf and placed it under the boy’s head to keep the cold and snow off him, I stripped off my coat and laid it over him. We had to try and keep him warm.

“Let me know when you get cold, I’ll put mine on him,” said the man, which we did, ten minutes and we switched coats. I had a clean handkerchief, which we tried to use to staunch the bleeding but the snow was turning increasingly red. I did mould a snowball and hold it against his wound which did slow the bleeding to a trickle, but he’d obviously caught a vein or other vessel the way it was bleeding.

Half an hour later, the air was filled with the sound of a large engine and the air ambulance hove into view. They managed to land about two fields away, nothing else was flat enough and came running with a stretcher and equipment bags.

My girls were looking anxious, so as soon as the paramedics arrived, I dashed back to see to them. Of course I was spattered with blood, which I tried to wipe off with snow. Then I had to return to the accident, they needed another adult to help carry the stretcher because of the slipperiness and depth of the snow.

The paramedics took our names and suggested the police would want to talk with us as witnesses. By the time we’d got the boy loaded into the chopper, and his friend sorted out, he’d broken an arm, jumping off, we were all cold and wet.

We walked part of the way back with the woman and her son. Her name was Diane, and his was Ben. The girls had certainly got on well with him, although I was wary of Trish making many friends in case her secret was discovered, especially boy friends, who might get a bit boisterous. Ben seemed quite quiet as boys went, so maybe he would be okay. We swapped phone numbers just in case.

When we got home, Stella wanted to know why I looked like I’d been slaughtering things. “Mummy helped a naughty boy who crashed his sled,” said Trish loudly.

“Oh, ever the boy scout, eh Cathy?”

“Mummy’s not a boy spwout,” said Mima with indignation, and we all sniggered. Then it was clothes in the washing machine and up to the shower, to get us warm and clean.

I was putting the chicken in the oven when the door bell rang. “PC Bond, how nice to see you,” I said to the two coppers standing on the step. “Do come in.”

He looked very serious.

“Has something awful happened? Oh no, not Tom or Simon?”

“Lady Cameron, it’s okay, they’re fine as far as we know, it’s the kid you tried to help…”

“Oh no,” I gasped and my hands came up to my face.

“…he didn’t make it, so we’ll need a formal witness statement.”

“Oh no, he was breathing when he got to the chopper…” I said, feeling very saddened.

“They apparently rushed him into theatre, he had a clot on the brain and an internal bleed you wouldn’t have seen.”

“I told them to be careful, they were going so fast—too fast.” I wrung my hands, “Why do they always have to learn the hard way?”

“I don’t know.”

The two girls came rushing up to me when they saw me looking so sad. PC Bond, looked at me and heard them both calling me, Mummy.

“You’re collecting them, are you?”

“I’m fostering them.”

“Couldn’t come to a nicer place or foster-mum.”

I smiled back in acknowledgement of his compliment. I made some tea, and the girls showed PC Jones their toys. He kept them amused whilst I made a statement with PC Bond. Then they were back to their 4×4 and back to the station.

“Why were the police here?” asked Stella coming back downstairs.

“The accident we witnessed, he—um—didn’t make it.”

“Oh, bad luck. Are you alright?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. I have to be don’t I? Two little mouths to feed.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 547

It’s always horrible when someone dies, unless they’re really old and wanting to go, or have some dreadful terminal disease. When it’s a child, it’s awful because everyone feels cheated for the deceased, as if it’s potential has not been fulfilled. I feel truly sad for anyone who loses a child, it must be the most dreadful thing which can happen to most of us.

“What’s the matter, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“Nothing, darling, why?”

“You look very sad and your eyes are red.” This child would be mothering me in a couple of weeks given her current development rate.

“I’m very tired, where’s Mima?”

“It’s her turn to put the dolls away.”

“Oh, so are you going to polish Grampa Tom’s desk?”

“After tea, if that’s okay?”

“Yes, are you going to help me make it?”

“Oh, yes please, Mummy.” I gave her a quick hug and we went to the kitchen. The chicken was almost cooked, so I turned it down low and quickly did some potatoes and carrots, and decided to use some frozen peas to add some colour.

Trish helped me scrub the carrots, which I chopped and boiled with the potatoes. The meal I’d planned was not the one we were going to eat, but it would still be nutritious and tasty.

Mima came out to see where we were. She became jealous as soon as she saw Trish with me. “I wanna hewp, too.”

“Okay, Mima, can you get me the peas from the freezer.” She struggled with the door of the freezer, and Trish was going to help her until I stopped her. She pulled out various drawers and, packs from the drawers, until she hit on the correct one. Trish was laughing at her, so she threw the pack of peas on the floor and ran off crying. I really didn’t need a hissy fit tonight.

“Trish, please don’t laugh at her when she’s trying her best.”

“But she didn’t know what a pea was?”

“Which was part of the reason I asked her to find them, she will next time.”

“But I could have got them in half the time, Mummy.”

“I know that, that’s why I asked Mima to do it. She would learn something from it, you wouldn’t, except perhaps it’s unkind to laugh at her because she didn’t know something. If people laughed at you when you were trying your best, would you like it?”

“No, Mummy.” She looked as if she was going to burst into tears. Then I’d have two to console. Not my day. I went in search of Mima, who was hiding behind the sofa in the lounge. I did manage to calm her down with a cuddle and by making Trish apologise. Then she was crying, so she got a cuddle. I swore if Stella burst into tears, I was leaving home.

We had dinner and the girls helped me clear up afterwards. It seemed easier to eat in the kitchen, so that’s what we did. Stella grumbled, but agreed it was warmer there, with the Aga. She went back to bed after eating, no wonder she got indigestion.

When I was reading the girls a story, Trish asked, “I wonder if that boy is better?”

“Which boy?”

“The one who crashed into the tree.” I had to make a split second decision, do I risk upsetting them at bed time or tell a porkie? I chose the path of truth and its consequences.

“No he isn’t.”

“How do you know, Mummy?” This kid was going to be a barrister.

“The policeman told me.”

“Oh, is he very ill?”

“Not any more, sweetheart,” here comes the punchline.

“So he’s better?”

“No, sweetheart, he died.”

“Like my granny?”

“I don’t know about your grandmother, Trish, but according to the police, his head injury was very bad. Because we saw it happen, they asked me to tell them what I saw.”

“We seed it too,” asserted Mima.

“I know, darling, but only Mummy had to give a report.”

“What is died?” asked Mima. It was the sixty four dollar question. Now, how to tell her in words she might understand without upsetting her.

“It means, um, he’s….”

“Dead,” offered Trish.

“People who lived many years ago are dead. All of us will die one day, sadly some will do so before they get old. Most people who die are either very old or very sick. Sometimes younger people have accidents, like that unfortunate boy and die.”

“Is I gonna die, Mummy?”

“Not for a very long time, Mima, so don’t worry about it.

“Unless you bash your head like that boy did, ker-splatt.”

“Trish, please, I think I’ll read you another quick story and then you must go to sleep, I have work to do. Once upon a time, in a village a long long way from here…”

I hope I’d got off lightly, although nightmares could still happen. I’d remembered Tom’s list and called his mobile number. He was still awake reading New Scientist, did I want him to keep it for me?

I brought him up to date, he knew the field well. There was a sledge in one of the garages. I told him it could stay there, after what I’d seen that day, if I never saw another one, it would be too soon. I told him about the list and washing it. He laughed and told me he’d already spoken with Pippa. Then I hope he was joking when he said, “She’s got two kids and she copes, how come you can’t?”

“She hasn’t got a grandparent in hospital and a partner in London.”

“So, she still copes.”

“Okay, she’s not an academic. Remember, those who can do, those who can’t—teach.”

“What are you implying? Remember, I’m a teacher too.”

“If the mortar board fits, wear it.”

“Your sarcasm is improving.”

“Yeah, I noticed it happens under provocation. When are you coming home?”

“I hope sometime after Monday, that’s when the consultant comes around again.”

“Okay, let me know when you know. If the snow clears a bit, I’ll try and get in to see you.”

“Don’t you dare, it’s much too dangerous.”

“I’ll drive with care, Daddy.”

“You have two babies to look after, you stay with them, oh and give them my love.”

“I will. It might thaw tonight.”

“Not according to the forecast, it’s supposed to freeze hard. You stay home and keep warm.”

“Under protest, I miss you, Daddy.”

“I miss you too, darling daughter. I wish I’d been there to comfort you after the police visit.”

“Yeah, me too. I tried to explain to Mima that the boy had died. I don’t for one minute believe she understood the concept at all. Trish did, she’s too clever by half.”

“Aye, you’ll have to watch her, when she grows up a bit, she could be quite a handful and really push your boundaries.”

“Yeah, I have no doubt of that, she’s started already. I obviously need an experienced parent to advise me.”

“You need a teacher do you?”

“No, I need some one who can do it, not talk about it.” I could almost hear him groan.

“Awa’ tae yer bed, ye scunner.”

“Aye, Dr Findlay,” I replied in as phoney a Scots accent as I could. He laughed at the other end and the line went dead.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 548

As I lay in bed, something was niggling at me; apart from every time I closed my eyes I could see the snow reddening with the boy’s blood. What was it? What was niggling at me.

I sort of dozed, not enough to call sleep, and I suppose my mind was churning away all the time. I saw myself listening to Trish and Mima talking, and Trish repeated, “Ker-splatt”. That was it. Girls wouldn’t normally say such a thing. That worried me even more. What if Trish wasn’t GID? I got up and went to make some tea.

While I was in the kitchen, Stella came down. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I keep seeing that young kid who died.”

“Any more tea there?”

“Yeah, help yourself,” I replied.

“It’s always nasty watching someone young die. When I did my stint in paediatrics, I saw two kids go. One just slipped away with tremendous grace and courage, just as if he was going to sleep. He knew he was dying, but it didn’t worry him one bit. The other went kicking and screaming, probably because the parents were drama queens.”

“I’m sure it makes a difference,” I said pausing to sip my tea, “but I suspect I’d be pretty upset if anything happened to my two.”

“Your two girls, they look pretty healthy, don’t they?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Is that all that’s worrying you?”

“Yeah—no, well it’s such a stupid little thing.”

“They usually are, I’m terrified where I’ll be when my waters break.”

“Just carry a bucket everywhere.”

“You bitch,” she spat at me then laughed. “So what is it?”

“Something Trish said.”

“What did she say, she wants to be a boy, or play rugger for England?”

“No, nothing that obvious; she described the accident and when the boy hit the tree, said, ‘ker-splatt’, quite loudly.”

“Ugh! Apart from horrible, what’s the problem?”

“Most girls, wouldn’t say that, would they?”

“I don’t know, what with binge drinking and violence, they seem every bit as bad as the boys.”

“Those are teens or young adults, not children. How many girls, and I mean children, do you know who would say that?”

Stella sipped her tea while she thought. “Okay, so you made your point. Here’s another, she was brought up as a boy until just now. Also, she’s a biological boy, with a female gender fixation, she’s not one hundred per cent female, neither is anyone else, unless you count Julian Clary.”

I nearly choked on my tea. Julian Clary is a gay man who is as camp and swishy as they come. He’s a comedian and television presenter, who makes Boy George look butch. When I’d finished coughing, I laughed. Stella can be so funny when she’s in the right mood.

“Have you noticed any other masculine traits, because I haven’t?” she continued.

“No, probably I’m oversensitive, I just didn’t want her to be making a mistake.”

“It’s not as if she’s having surgery for a little while, is it.”

“Little while? Maybe thirteen years, although I saw something on the net about some kid in Germany who got done at sixteen. Kim somebody or other, she’s a bit of a pop star, quite a pretty little thing—sixteen, going on twenty-five.”

“You’re a pretty little thing, going twenty-five.”

“Ha ha, very funny Stella.”

“Why can’t you take a compliment? You’re one of the prettiest women I know, with a magical figure. Why can’t you see that?”

“Okay, enough of the sermon, please. I know I keep promising to change my attitude, but it takes time. I am trying.”

“Say that again.”

“I am trying.” I repeated smirking.

“If I wasn’t a lady and six months up the spout, I’d slap you one, you self deprecating bitch. Oh dear, I’m talking like a boy, maybe I am one really, the pregnancy is a delusion.”

“It’s a pretty good one, ‘cos it had me fooled and the scanner.”

“Well you’re just an ugly mug, so you’re easily fooled.”

“I’m glad we agree on that, Stella.” She glowered back at me, I’d turned the tables on her and was enjoying it. The only problem was going to be getting back to sleep. It was nearly two and I felt wide awake.

Stella was talking and I hushed her. I heard the noise again, and went to the stairs, one of them was crying. I ran up the unlit staircase and nearly fell over the top step. I went into the bedroom and stood quietly, someone was breathing very rapidly. I expected it to be Mima, upset by the accident, but it seemed to be coming from Trish’s bed.

I listened intently, she was moving about quite a lot, then she whimpered again, “No, Mummy, don’t put me on the sledge.”

I moved to comfort her, and stroked her head, “It’s okay sweetheart, no one is going to put you on a sledge, you just go back off to sleep and dream of something nice.”

“Yes, Mummy,” she replied sleepily and seemed to go back to a quieter sleep, at least her breathing was becoming more regular. I went to the loo and checked them again, they were both asleep. I went off to my bed and after reading the leader in the Guardian, yawned and put my light out.

I dreamt I was in a busy supermarket with Stella, and the two girls. I seemed as fat as a pig. Suddenly, I felt moisture between my legs and I couldn’t stop it, I waddled off to the toilets dragging the others with me, by which time it was running down my legs. “What’s the matter?” asked Stella.

“My waters have broken,” I said and she laughed uproariously.

“Now you know how I felt.”

“My knickers are all wet,” I said and unconsciously must have felt them, because I woke up at three and my knickers were wet, I’d weed myself. I changed the bed and read some more of the Guardian, now it was four and I was feeling quite punchy. All my own fault, except for the bit about the accident. That got me seeing the poor kid again with his brains hanging out and blood pouring from the wound.

Okay, I couldn’t actually see any grey matter, but I’m pretty sure he was bleeding from his ears. Oh think of something else, next time, let someone else see to it.

I woke up with two bodies clamped to me, and the phone ringing. Mima hopped out of bed before I could come around properly. “This is me who’s you?” she said down the phone. “Daddeeee,” she yelled. “Mummy, it’s Daddy.” She put the receiver back to her ear, and nodded in response to something Simon was saying to her.

I wriggled out of bed, with Trish clinging on to me and giggling. I tickled her and she let go and squealed. I took the phone from Mima. “Simon?”

“Hi, Babes, how ya doin’?”

“I’m okay,” I yawned, “Why are you ringing so early?”

“Early? It’s after nine, Babes.”

“It’s what?” I squeaked, glancing at the clock; it was nine twenty. How had I slept until then? Tiredness?

“Come on sleeping beauty, get your act together.”

“Why are you calling? Is something wrong?”

“We have a little problem with your form.”

“What form?”

“Your gender thingy form.”

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) 549

“What about the form?” I still felt half asleep.

“You didn’t submit the medical part.”

“I filled in all the bits that Henry gave me.”

“No, Babes, that bit should have been filled in by your doctor or the surgeon or shrink.”

“I didn’t see that bit.”

“Okay, I’ll phone them and get them to send that bit to you.”

“Why wasn’t it there in the first place?”

“I have no idea, Babes, I’m just relaying what Henry said, or his legal bloke. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.”

“Okay, I’ve put the safety catch back on.”

“Yeah, okay.” He paused. “You what?”

“I said, I’ll catch you later.”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, okay.” He rang off. I quickly ran through in my mind what I’d signed in the forms, there was no medical form, so where had that gone? I hoped Henry was more thorough with his banking forms.

While I bathed the girls, I did wonder which doctor would be the best one to speak to. My GP or shrink would be the easiest to see, but would the surgeon be better, for the gruesome details? I decided I’d deal with it when it arrived.

I had to speak with the Social Security people to get the child allowances for the two girls, and I needed to get them registered with my doctor. As soon as I finished their breakfasts, I called Nora at the home and asked to Trish’s medical card and any other paperwork I might need.

After this I phoned my solicitor and asked him about getting Trish’s name changed. He told me I couldn’t do that because I wasn’t actually her parent, however, he was sure that official bodies like the local education authority, would be sympathetic to amending her records, if only on an indefinite temporary basis. He suggested I enlist the help of Dr Rose.

I left a message for Dr Rose to call me when he had time. I then called the hospital to see how Tom was doing.

“Who are you?” asked the nurse.

“His daughter, Cathy.”

“Hold on?” I waited for what seemed like ages. “He’s gone down for an ECG, I’ll tell him you called.”

“There’s nothing wrong, is there?”

“No, it’s just routine, we monitor our patients when they’re at risk.”

“Is he at risk?” I felt quite alarmed.

“Only insofar as he’s had one heart attack already, so we try to monitor how he’s responding to treatment.”

“And, how is he—responding, I mean?”

“Fine, as far I know.”

“Okay, thank you.” I put down the phone.

I called social security and explained my situation and the woman to whom I spoke made notes, but when she read them back to me she garbled it completely. I felt somewhat cross but tried to keep it cool.

“Look it’s all perfectly straightforward, I have custody of a little girl, Jemima Scott whose parents are out of the country and could be so for an indefinite period. Custody has been agreed with the courts as it was a private arrangement rather than through a fostering service. I don’t have details of her date of birth or National Insurance number nor any other number, she was dumped upon me and her parents pissed off to Africa, where it seems half the governments of that continent are pursuing them. I have a second child, who is staying with me from St Nicholas Children’s home because she has special needs and was being bullied at the home, so her consultant paediatrician recommended she stay with me. The formal fostering paperwork is in progress. Her special needs are that she is gender identity disordered, so although legally she’s a boy, she feels she’s a girl and has been accepted at a private school as such. As I’m having to find those fees, I feel that any contribution would be useful, hence my application for child benefit.

“She’s only going to the school because none of the council ones have spaces or are interested in coping with her gender problem. Yes it’s disgraceful, but so is much in this world—so what do I have to do to get benefit?”

“It’s quite a complicated affair, isn’t it. Why are you fostering the gender swap one?”

“Because the consultant asked me to, which was supported by a judge.”

“We’ll need that in writing, plus any supporting documentation you have.”

“That I think I’ll be able to provide, from the home, plus presumably, they’ll cancel anything you pay them.”

“Yes, now as for the African child…”

“She isn’t African, her parents are in Africa. She’s born and brought up here.”

“We’ll need proof of that.”

“Fine, I’ll put her through the blender and stick her in a padded envelope.”

“That sort of attitude doesn’t help anyone.”

“Can I speak with your supervisor or manager?”

“Why? I’m perfectly qualified to deal with this.”

“So why aren’t we getting anywhere?”

“Because you aren’t giving me the correct information.”

“Can you send me the application forms and I’ll send a covering letter with them.”

“I could if you give me your name and address.”

“You hadn’t asked me for it until now.”

“Madam, that’s because you hadn’t asked for a form, you were just asking me how you claimed.”

“In which case I apologise.”

“Okay, shall we start again, madam?”

“Fine, it’s Cathy Watts…” I couldn’t believe it would take an hour to get the forms I needed. Then I called my solicitor to ask if they had any details of Mima that I could use to prove my case to the social security people. He promised to look into it and get back to me as soon as he could.

The children came for a drink and a biscuit, and a quick hug. After they’d had their elevenses, I dressed them up to go for a walk. We got as far as the door. It was pouring down, the snow was nearly all gone, and everywhere was practically floating. It wasn’t my day.

I shoved them both in the car, along with Mima’s wellies and the dog. Then we went off to the local shoe shop where I got Trish a pair of pink floral wellies and a pair of yellow ones with butterflies on for myself. Next we went to town and I bought them both waterproof coats with hoods and see-through plastic umbrellas. I also bought the dog a coat and we went off for a walk in the rain. They had great fun splashing in the puddles, and Kiki seemed oblivious to the rain.

We splashed our way through the park down by the river, where normally the ducks were waiting to be fed. Not so today, the river was brown and fast flowing and I felt nervous of allowing the girls too close to it.

“Can we play Pooh Sticks,” Trish asked.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea today, sweetheart.”

“Why not, Mummy?”

“Because the river is flowing too fast. Look, let’s walk down to the bridge and you’ll be able to see what I mean.” Which is what we did. I lifted them both up so they could see how fast the river was flowing.

“Gosh, Mummy, it feels like the bridge is moving,” said Trish.

“Yes, it does, doesn’t it.” I wasn’t very happy being there, I wasn’t that strong a swimmer and if either girl had fallen in, I wouldn’t have been able to save her.

“Is it danejus?” asked Mima.

“It’s very dangerous, Meems, so keep well back.”

“What’s that lady doing?” Trish asked, pointing upstream. I squinted through the rain and from what I could see she was trying to pull something out of the river.

“I don’t know, but she’s being very silly—I think her dog must have fallen in, she’ll have to be so careful—oh no, she’s fallen in.”

I looked around, but there were no life saving devices visible.

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 550

The poor woman just overbalanced into the brown fast-flowing water. What could I do to help? I glanced around anxiously, but there was absolutely nothing I could throw her as a buoyancy aid. She was splashing around frantically as she tried to grasp vegetation on the bank; the girls were getting upset. ‘Oh shit!’

What could I do? I certainly couldn’t jump in to save her—I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer, and that would mean two of us getting drowned or smashed against the stone piers of the bridge on which we were standing.

I dialed 999 and called for emergency services, told them who I was, where we were, and finally what had happened. She was being washed into the midstream. I couldn’t watch. I switched off the phone, and wished there was something I could do. If only she’d come near to the bank, I might have been able to grab her.

I saw a dog scramble out and up on to the bank. Stupid creatures, it was all right, she was drowning. I glanced at Kiki—then an idea came to mind. “Trish, hold on to Kiki, don’t let her go anywhere.” I grabbed the dog and undid her leather collar, she immediately frisked about and I shouted at her to sit. She sat.

I held the plastic handle of the leash, it was really a string that was rewound on a spring thing. It was about fifty feet long. I began drawing out the line, it might not be strong enough, but it was better than doing nothing.

When I got to the end of the line, all fifty feet coiled in my hand, I watched to see where the woman was, she’d disappeared. My heart sank. Where was she? She bobbed—up still in midstream, rapidly washing towards the bridge.

I shouted at her, “Catch the line.” I threw it but it flopped in the water a few feet ahead of me. It wasn’t heavy enough, and worse then that, Kiki’s collar had come off it. Oh shit, this was not going well.

I pulled the string out and after tying it around my wrist, flung the handle end towards the woman, who’d gone under and bobbed up again. The fight as going out of her, possibly from cold and shock.

In slow motion, I watched the red plastic handle fly towards her, and almost bash her on the head, falling just beyond her. I tugged on it and it hit her as I pulled. She automatically grabbed it. “Hold on,” I screamed at her, doubting whether she’d hear me against the roaring of the water. “Stay there,” I told the kids as I ran towards one side of the bridge.

The line snagged on something and I stopped to see it was caught on the side of the bridge. If I pulled too hard it would snap and all would be lost. I ran to the snag and freed it, I hoped she was hanging on.

I ran around the buttress of the bridge and down the bank tugging gently on the string. I felt some resistance and hoped it was still her hanging on to it. I felt my feet slip as I descended the bank and I sat down with a thump on the wet grass, about six feet from the rushing water. I tugged on the string and saw the bundle of clothes halt in its rush to the bridge. She must have wrapped it around her arm.

In the distance sirens sounded, help was coming, if only I could hold on to her, and if she didn’t drown or die of cold. I pulled her gently along the bank away from the bridge, trying to keep my footing on the slippery grass. A fire engine came hurtling across the park, churning grass as it drove towards us.

Moments later, two burly men ran up with a ladder. “My dog’s lead,” I said pointing to the string, she’s on the other end.”

“What your dog? We heard there was a woman.”

“The woman,” I shouted back.

The sirens of an ambulance grew louder as it came towards us. Two more firemen held the ladder as the one who’d spoken to me clung on to it and grabbed the end of my line, he pulled it and then snatched at the bundle of rags, it eluded him and he swore.

Once more he leant out and tugged the line, pulling the bundle towards him. He snatched again and this time he grabbed her. Another fireman slid down the bank, grabbing the ladder, he helped to pull the unconscious woman out of the water. Another helped to heave her up the bank and the ambulance crew came dashing up. One of them cut the line before I could tell him it was my dog’s lead. Now how was I going to get Kiki, not the most attentive spaniel, back to the car?

Remembering the dog, I suddenly thought of the children. I walked back towards them as the paramedics fought to save the life of the unfortunate female.

“Kiki’s been a naughty girl,” said Trish.

“Never mind, let’s go home, eh?”

“Yes, Mummy,” said Mima and she hugged my legs crying. “I was fwighted.”

“It’s okay sweetheart, you’re safe now.”

As we walked back towards the car, a police officer approached me. “Was it you who called 999?”

“Yes, officer.”

“And you held her against the current?”

“Sort of, with my dog’s lead, although the paramedic ruined it.”

“Sorry, about that. Do you know how long she’s been in the water?”

“About five to ten minutes, she fell in trying to rescue her dog. That’s it, the stupid Labrador over there.” I pointed. “She fell in and it got out.”

“So you saw it, then?”

“All of it.” He took my name and called in reporting it to some central control.

“We might need a statement, hang on, weren’t you there when that boy died sledging?”

“Yeah,” I sighed, “I hope this one turns out happier.”

Movement caught my eye and I turned to see the ambulance go screaming off. I offered a silent prayer to the God I don’t believe in—well maybe she did?

“Are you going to catch her dog?” I asked the copper.

“Nope, the dog warden can do that, it might be nasty with strangers.”

“Oh bollocks,” I said and called the bewildered animal which trotted towards me. When it got to me, I grabbed its trailing lead and gave it to the copper. “Here, pretend you’re a lion tamer.” Then to the dog, I said, “Sit,” it did and so did Kiki.

We did manage to get back to the car, where I nearly had a heart attack. I couldn’t find my keys. Mima held them up to me. “Where did you get those?”

“You dwopped them, Mummy, I picked um up.”

“You are a clever girl, in fact you are both very clever girls.” The dog barked as if it recognised being left out. “Okay, Kiki, you’re a clever girl, too.” We all laughed and I opened the car.

On the way home we passed a pet shop, so I was able to get another extending lead, I also got Kiki, the largest bone I could find. The femur of a sheep or pig, they call them, ‘postman’s legs’. The meat was cooked and I knew she’d spend the afternoon stripping it off.
In the newsagent next door, I bought myself a chocolate bar and the girls a small pack of chocolate buttons each. I felt in need of a sugar hit, and assumed they might as well. They didn’t argue, that was for sure. Mima was about to give some to Kiki, when I stopped her. “Meems, don’t give chocolate to Kiki, it’s poisonous to them, it can make them very, very ill.” Mima went scarlet and faced back to the front of the car.

“Look at the time. Where have you been?” asked an anxious Stella. “I nearly got them to drag the river for you.”

“Don’t, Stella, it’s not funny.”

“What are you on about?”

“Mummy helped pull a lady from the river,” said Trish beaming.

“Oh no,” gasped Stella.

“Yes she did, she puwwed hew out with Kiki’s wead.”

“Eh?” said Stella.

“She used the dog’s lead to rescue her,” Trish translated.

“Goodness, what a resourceful lady your mummy is?”

“Actually, she’s very clever,” said Trish.

“Vewy cweva,” echoed Mima.

“Woof,” said Kiki, so maybe it was unanimous?

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