Bike 651–700

Wuthering Dormice

(aka Easy As Falling Off A Bike)

Parts 651–700

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.


Wittering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 651

Mima invited herself with us as we drove to Trish’s school. I’d made up a packed lunch the night before with homemade bread rolls filled with salad and salmon, a pot of yoghurt, some fruit and a tiny pack of chocolate buttons—there had to be some bribery allowed. To drink was one of those flavoured milk things which Trish loved. It was all packed into her backpack and she carried it with her as we walked into the school yard.

We both hugged her goodbye and waited while she walked in with her friend Peaches. Her mother spotted me and said, “Look, about your offer to take Pea home with you?”

“Yes?”

“Any chance tonight? I’m involved with some nature programme that isn’t going too well.”

“No, what time are you likely to be back?”

“I’m not sure.”

“No problem, I’ll give her some tea, and if you’re that late, she can sleep at our place.”

“God, I hope I won’t be that late, but thanks so much.” I gave her my mobile number and directions to get to Tom’s house.

“The old farmhouse, the Georgian one?”

“Parts of it are older than that, but the façade is Georgian.”

“Wow, you live there?”

“Yes.”

“Goodness, I am moving in exalted circles.”

“Not really, it’s just a house, does exactly the same as a small modern terraced house.”

“Yeah, but on a grander scale.”

“I don’t even think about it.”

“Nah, you wouldn’t if you were brought up in it. Me, we have a small three bed semi, I’m the first in our family to own my own house. My parents had a council house, Dad worked on the buses, Mum stayed home and looked after us kids. They couldn’t believe it when I said I wanted to go to uni. I was the first to go there too, and I’m proud of being an assistant producer.”

“So you should be. So you work on the nature programmes?”

“Documentaries,” she shrugged.

“Sounds interesting.”

“It is, absolutely fascinating, I love it, but looking after her ladyship can be a problem, fitting it all in.”

“I’m sure, looking after my two can be a bit of a juggling job.”

“You work at the university, you said?”

“I’m on secondment at the moment, but yeah, I count dormice and advise on their conservation. I’m also involved with the mammal survey of Britain and Europe.”

“And you have two under six?”

“Yes, but they’re good kids, aren’t you, Meems.”

“Yes, Mummy, I’s a good girw.”

“Oh crikey, look at the time, I’ve gotta dash, I’ll ring you later, if that’s all right.”

“Yes, don’t worry, I’ll collect Peaches and give her some tea. Anything she doesn’t eat?”

“Shellfish and mushrooms.”

“Fine.” I took Mima’s hand and we walked to the car. “Come on, Mima, let’s get some shopping and sort out lunch.”

We got back home and I made some lunch, a salad with cooked ham I’d bought at the deli. It looked lovely and Meems ate it like there was no tomorrow. Stella let her help feed Puddin’ which made her day. I knew she’d be bragging to Trish when she came home, but then Trish would be doing so about what they’d done in school, so it seemed a quid pro quo.

Meems seemed to follow Stella about which meant I could do my chores more easily, the cooking and cleaning, washing, that sort of stuff. How can the average bloke feel he works harder than his wife? He comes home from the office or factory, eats the meal she’s cooked, wears the clothes she’s washed and ironed for him and sits in the house she’s probably cleaned as well, not to mention any children that might be involved. I know some modern men help out somewhat, but loads don’t, and it irritates me.

Simon has gone out to our local branch of the bank and is using their resources to plug into the main system. It means he’s home at night but he doesn’t do much except help put the kids to bed, if I’m lucky. Tom is more help than Simon. At least Stella is doing something now. It isn’t enough and looking after the baby isn’t half as bad as she makes out—she is a drama queen. Then at least I haven’t got lumbered with that yet.

I switched on the bread maker and poured the tea which had been brewing for a few minutes. I called Stella and she came in, followed by her shadow, my younger foster child.

I’d prepared the vegetables, essentially, I did a savoury rice mix doing mushrooms separately, as Peaches didn’t like them. I did some strips of chicken which I’d stir fry with some bean shoots. The soy sauce had plenty left in the bottle, so I’d get some more next week.

Then it was time to get the girls. Meems stayed with Stella as I drove to the school. Peaches and Trish were last out as usual. “Come along, you two slow coaches,” I yelled to them and they giggled. “You’re coming back with us tonight, Peaches. Your mummy is going to collect you from our house, and you can have some tea with us.”

She looked at me a little distrustfully at first. “I can show you my bike and my doll’s pram,” said Trish proudly.

“Okay,” said Peaches, “Mummy coulda told me.”

“I think she was so busy, this morning, sweetheart. It is difficult looking after children and doing a full time job.”

“She loves her job more than me,” said the child angrily.

“I doubt it, she thinks a great deal of you, which is why she asked me to collect you.”

“Before you, it was Mrs Smith, but she got fed up and said so. Mummy was very cross.” I wondered what I’d taken on, was Laura a bit of an exploitative type? I supposed we’d soon find out. If she was, she’d have a surprise coming and her opportunity to blackmail me re the programme could be minimised, it was due in June, so she only had a short time to do it, and if Simon was right, she’d be taking on a large and powerful organisation in the bank. I decided I’d wait and see what happened.

We got home and I made Trish change and to find something for Peaches to borrow, she opted for shorts and tee shirt. The weather had got rather warm so they were out in the garden and drive playing with Trish’s bike until I called them in for dinner.

I was half expecting complaints—I don’t eat that, or I don’t like this—but she ate everything in sight and asked for more. She ate mushrooms, she ate the rice, the chicken the bean shoots, bread, crisps, ice cream and some fruit. Even Simon who’d come home in time for tea raised his eyebrows.

The phone rang and Peaches said, “That’s Mummy saying she won’t be home can I stay the night?”

I picked up my mobile, the number was ex-directory. “Hello?”

“Hi, Cathy, it’s Laura, how is Peaches?”

“She’s fine and she enjoyed her tea.”

“Oh good, look, you offered to sleep her tonight?”

“I did,” I felt my tummy twist, Peaches was too young to be so cynical.

“Could you? This business is going to take longer than I thought.”

“Yes, no problem.”

“I told you,” said Peaches, “She did the same with Mrs Smith, soon you’ll get tired of me.”

“I hope not, and besides it’s not your fault is it?”

“No, but Mummy makes out it is. If I wasn’t here she wouldn’t need to bother people…” she began to cry, “Nobody wants me.”

I put my arm around her, “Look here, sweetie-pie, you are wanted. I’m sure your mummy wants you lots and I know she loves you lots. We want you to stay the night. Peaches, would you like to stay the night with us?”

“Yes please, Lady Cameron.”

“That’s a bit formal, isn’t it, why don’t you call me Auntie Cathy?”

“I’d like that, Auntie Cathy.”

“Good, that’s all settled then. You go and play and I’ll sort out a bed and some pyjamas for you. You’ll have to borrow some of Trish’s.”

Was I being exploited? I didn’t know. I couldn’t tell if she was working late or out on the town with her boyfriend or girlfriend for that matter. But we were home anyway and what difference did one more mouth to feed make?

Watering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 652

I decided that although there was little chance that Peaches would discover Trish’s little secret, I would put her in a room on her own anyway, because she and Trish would probably talk half the night if I didn’t.

The bedtime story would be told downstairs and after the three girls had changed ready for bed and teeth cleaned. I popped Peaches’ school dress in the machine and then into the tumble drier, so it would be ready for the morning.

Thankfully with six bedrooms, the house was large enough to take boarders, in fact Tom’s wife had played with the idea that they could do B&B when he retired; sadly it wasn’t to be.

I made up the bed in a guest room we only used normally for storage of clothes, it was somewhere to air things when it was damp outside. I’d obviously tidied it up, and was just finishing the bed making, when Simon came rushing up, “Your programme’s on in ten minutes,” he gasped.

“What?”

“They said owing to technical difficulties they were postponing the scheduled Nature File or whatever they call it, and were showing a new film on dormice—there can’t be too many can there?”

“Oh shit! Tape it will you, I’ve got to get the kids to bed.”

“Let ’em watch it first, then bed.”

“You think?”

“Absolutely.”

“Okay,” I shrugged.

He turned and rushed back downstairs, just then the phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hi, Cathy, it’s Erin, your film’s on in ten minutes, they’ve had to reschedule it. I’m a bit angry as they had a nice build up to it featured, now all that’s gone.” I felt happier it gave less time for the press to feature me as a bigger exhibit than my little furry friends. I knew there’d be fall out, but this way it could be better.

Erin rang off and I went down and switched on the video, Simon was still rounding up the girls. They came in and after drinks of milk, they settled down and my programme started.

I watched the first two minutes and felt incredibly embarrassed, and had to leave the room. How could they suggest I was the thinking man’s crumpet replacement for Sir David Attenborough? I was dreadful.

I busied myself with cleaning up the kitchen and ironing. I did Peaches’ dress, which had come up beautifully, as had Trish’s blouse and skirt. On the sixth of Simon’s shirts, I felt quite tired, and left the rest in the basket. I had done four of Tom’s as well and a dress of my own—well Simon didn’t wear them, did he?

I heard the music of the programme finish and Simon led the girls out with Tom bringing up the rear. “That was brilliant, Babes, it really was.”

I shrugged, I mean he would say that wouldn’t he? “It was vewy good, Mummy, I wiked the bit with the dormice in their beds.”

“It was brill,” said Trish hugging my waist, “my Mummy’s been on the telly,” she sang and hugged me again. I wasn’t so sure it was such a good thing at all.

“I liked it lots, Auntie Cathy, the pictures were fab, and you looked very nice too.”

“Thank you, Peaches, you’re very kind. Now everyone, it’s bedtime, so chop chop; Trish, show Peaches her room, please. Meems, in the bathroom and clean your teeth.”

I wandered up the stairs behind the herd of wilde-kids, just in case there were any predatory dormice about. Well you can’t be too careful. Instead of reading them stories, I put a CD player on the landing in which I put a CD of Martin Jarvis reading a Just William story.

There was a bathroom next to Peaches’ bedroom and I left a small safety light on for her to be able to find it in the night if she needed, I also pointed out which was my bedroom, if she needed me.

I left her to put her own pyjamas on and then supervised her cleaning of teeth, and those of my two, who were already changed into their sleepwear. I tucked them all in and kissed them all goodnight. Then as I went downstairs I started the CD player and assured myself they could all hear it. They could.

Stella was making tea for everyone, “That film was very good, Cathy, you did great justice to Des’s photography.” She had tears in her eyes.

“Yes, Alan was good, but not as good as Des.” We hugged for a moment and she went back to pouring teas.

“Weel, lassie, that was every bit as guid as I expected it to be.” Tom hugged me, “I’m prood o’ ye.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” I kissed him on the cheek.

“Hey, I said it was good first, how come he gets a kiss and I don’t?” Simon complained.

“You’ll get your kiss later, if you’re lucky,” I winked.

“Hmmm,” grumbled Simon, “if you’re not too tired.”

I shrugged, he could be right, I was yawning and it was only nine o’clock. Stella brought Puddin’ down for a feed and I ended up doing it, but it was a labour of love, and her bright eyes sparkled as I held her.

“Hello, darling,” I said to her and she gurgled. She took her bottle and I burped her, then changed her nappy. I’d managed to persuade Stella to use the environmentally friendly ones—the terry towelling ones, and had even bought her a dozen of the gold ones. They weren’t gold in colour, but in quality, being thicker than the silver ones.

I nodded off with her sleeping in my arms as we continued watching telly, ensconced in an armchair, and her holding one of my nipples in her fingers, through my bra and top. I woke when Stella lifted her off me and Puddin’ held onto my nipple, it tweaked and for a moment I thought it was Simon.

“Come on, Puddy, let’s get you off to bed,” she cooed at the sleeping infant. “Night everyone,” she called as she went up to bed.

“Okay, Babes, let’s go on up,” Simon winked at me.

I yawned by way of reply, then got up and kissed Tom on the cheek and wished him goodnight. Simon took my hand and pulled me up the stairs. My little wash and change, plus tooth brushing took about ten minutes by which time Simon was lying in bed and tapping my side with an expectant grin on his face.

I felt very tired, but decided he’d been quite patient and almost useful—so I let him try to excite me. He did, and the inevitable happened, which we both enjoyed. Instead of becoming comatose as he usually does, he asked me if I’d spoken to Marguerite?

“Marguerite?” I said dabbing a tissue under me.

“Yes, your lady vicar.”

“Oh, that Marguerite?”

“Is there another?” he asked and I had to admit there wasn’t.

“No, I haven’t had time, and I doubt I will tomorrow morning.”

“Today, you mean, it’s nearly one.”

“Oh.” I sighed: here I was now fully awake when I should have been fast asleep, and with him asking about weddings and things, I was likely to stay that way for a bit. I loved him to bits, but at times I wondered why?

I went for a little wash to save soiling the bed and mused in the bathroom whether I should go for the early quick wedding and then a more formal blessing later, or do things just the once on a grander scale. I was pretty sure Marguerite would still marry us, even if we did it somewhere other than her church, although, my recollections of it were quite special. I needed to go and see her again and check it out, she could after all be very busy and fitting us in might be a problem.

I crawled back to bed, Simon was now asleep and I lay there thinking about how tired I would be the next morning as I watched the clock.

Worrying Dormice (aka Bike) Part 653

Morning came early—by that I mean it came before I was ready for it. I was dog-tired—how did I know, Simon reckons I was barking in my sleep—go figure. The usual invasion of the body-snatchers didn’t happen, which had my remaining brain cell whizzing around in ever decreasing circles. Then I remembered, or was it dismembered? We had a guest staying with us, another one to get washed and dressed and breakfasted.

I rolled out of bed with my eyes still shut and walked straight into my bedside cupboard. The pain in my left big toe was not nice and I opened my now watering eyes. It certainly increased my alertness from walking coma to a semi-colon or something like that.

The girls were not in their room, they were in talking with Peaches, having their own pyjama party while I slept on. Limping in I asked Peaches if she wanted a shower or just to wash herself?

She opted for a bath. That confused me for a moment as I didn’t remember offering her a bath, but if that was what she wanted, then she could have a bath. Was she going to wash her hair? No, could I do it? I knew it was going to be one of those days. How did they cope in Anne of Green Gables? I don’t remember them all being five or under and in those stories they all help each other, unlike real life where they usually mess with each other.

I ran a fairly shallow bath, washed Peaches hair, and left her to wash the rest of herself. Then I ran my two through the shower so fast, it was the closest they’d been to going through a car wash. I avoided the wax polish at the end.

Next it was drying them and sending them off to get Simon to help them dress, while I removed the fruited one from her bath, helped her dry and handed her her clothes. She always carried a spare pair of knickers in her bag—now there’s foresight for you!

Once dressed, I dried all their hair, and finished with a quick plait. Simon who had now showered agreed to get them breakfast with Tom’s help. I hopped in the shower—literally—my toe was still sore. The warm water eased it somewhat, and I dried my hair and dressed. I couldn’t be bothered with makeup, and I was very casually dressed in jeans and tee shirt, a Tour of Britain one—they gave it to me for marshalling for them.

The chimp’s tea party was nearly over by the time I got downstairs and I managed a cuppa and a banana before I rounded up the two schoolgirls and their various baggage. It was gym today, I handed Trish her kit and she looked anxious as she accepted it. I knew they had separate cubicles so there should be no problem, but just in case, Trish had on a pair of tight panties under her regular school ones. Peaches apparently left hers in her locker yesterday. More foresight?

The two girls chatted as I drove more or less on autopilot. I walked them into the school and as we entered the yard, the chattering classes of mothers went quiet. Then a voice said, “Is that her?” Another said, “Looks like her.” A third added, “It said with assistance from Portsmouth University, so it could be ’er?”

“Why are they looking at us, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“Aunty Cathy was on telly last night, wasn’t she?” offered Peaches.

“Oh yeah, d’ya think they watched it?” Trish asked.

“I dunno, do I? You got a better idea?” said the more streetwise Peaches.

I felt physically sick. Why on earth did I make that film? Was it going to be worth it—the publicity it would bring? I had grave doubts, and it could subsequently bring the wrong sort. My mobile rang and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

I picked it out of my bag, it was Simon, “Hello Si.”

“Hi, Babes, just be aware there are some strangers waiting at the end of the drive—they look like the gentlemen and women of the press. Oh, another’s just arrived that makes six so far. Gimme a ring when you’re nearby and I’ll come and get you.”

“I wondered if the old back gate was opened, I could drive in there and come through the orchard.”

“I’ll ask Tom, hang on.” He went off and a few minutes later said, “Yeah, he’s gone to open it, I’m going to do a distraction at the cars to keep the press occupied. See ya later.”

The children began to form lines and Peaches and Trish took their places with the rest of their classmates. I’d made a quick sandwich for each of them, plus an apple and a milk drink. I gave them a couple of pounds each to buy some extra food if they wanted to. I’ll bet they buy crisps or chips or fizzy drinks.

The parents kept staring at me and I felt most uncomfortable. “Was that your programme on the telly last night?” asked one of the women, “because if it wasn’t, you’re the very spit of the woman who did it.”

“Yes, it was me.” I blushed profusely.

“You were excellent,” said the one.

“My ’usband loved it, thought you was a right tease.”

“I’ll bet he knows a bit more abaht dormice though, done ’e?”

“Nah, he was too busy watching Cathy in her shorts.”

“Don’t listen to ’em, girl, it was very good, even I could recognise a dormouse now, without the teapot.”

I smiled, thanked them for the positive feedback and ran to my car. It was quite sunny, so I could put my sunglasses on without it looking suspicious. My mobile twitched, a text.

‘Stay away from ’ere, press out in force. Pip.’

I sent her a thank you text back. And this was without any pre-publicity? Geez, what would it have been like with it?

Erin called me, “The BBC would like to do an interview, any chance?”

“When?”

“This afters, about three.”

“I’ve got to collect the girls from school.”

“Can’t your other half do it?”

“What sort of questions are they going to ask?”

“I hope ones relating to the film last night, why?”

“If I agree, and it’s only an if, I’m not answering any personal questions.”

“Okay, I’ll tell them.”

“I need to talk to Simon first. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

“Okay, I’ve got a feeling they did insert a clause about using you to advertise the programme.”

“Oh shit, that’s just great, Erin.” What am I paying you for, you dummy?

“Okay, get back to me as soon as you can.”

“I’ll try, but there’s a posse of them outside the house.”

“Damn, they didn’t take long, did they?”

“The un-dead never sleep, Erin.”

“I see you have experience of the press.”

“You betcha, and it wasn’t necessarily pleasant. Remember, if I do it this afternoon, no personal questions.”

“Okay already.” She rang off and I went home by a rather tortuous route. At least no one seemed to be following me.

I drove into a field behind the farmhouse, through a gate that was normally locked. I parked under some trees and sneaked across the orchard and through the side gate. By the time they saw me, I was two steps from the door and Simon flung it open and dragged me in, locking it behind me.

“It’s a sair fecht,” said Tom, muttering, “why?” he asked and shrugged at his own question.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 654

I was fuming. Why should I have to hide like a fugitive? I should be able to walk out of the drive and ignore them or talk to them—the press I mean. Except I know they’d twist every word I said to fit into the context of their story—and usually they don’t let the facts get in the way of the pitch of their story.

Tabloid newspapers are usually aimed at people’s emotions and they are light on facts but not the way they describe them. So that someone they don’t want you to like, they encourage you to see as a monster. By the end of the article, you’re usually ready to condemn them to whatever punishment the writer wants you to. They’re frequently aimed at an audience whose reading age is under ten years, and who are therefore likely to have less developed cognitive skills, especially analysis and testing. Sadly, they also tend to reinforce prejudices—of which the owners are frequently blind.

I mused about the recent picture in the Guardian of the lemur-like creature that the palaeontologists reckoned was forty seven million years old, whose fossil was named ‘Ida’, and who was considered to be part of the common ancestry that humans had with other primates.

As a born again Darwinian, and fervent believer in evolution, I remembered an argument that I’d had with an old man who, I discovered later was a Jehovah’s Witness, who claimed that man was no more than a few thousand years old and that the earth was only ten thousand years old.

That fossils were as old as the rocks they were found in, seemed irrelevant to his creationist views. Man was created by a god and placed ready formed, like a living Ken doll and soon after Barbie arrived from one of his ribs. It said so in the Bible.

I tried to explain that even in theory it was wrong, Barbie would have arisen first and given birth to Ken, as in the older goddess myths which predated the takeover by the sky gods.

He didn’t want to listen, I mentioned carbon dating and he just said that was all invalid after the first atom bomb. The fact that it wouldn’t affect things except those very close to the blast zone and fall out area, he wouldn’t accept. Strontium 90 doesn’t affect Carbon 14.

This all flashed through my mind as Simon said, “Do you want me to fetch the girls later?”

“Oh that would be brilliant, Si, if you could.”

“What about little Nectarine?”

“Who?”

“The girl who stayed here last night.”

“Peaches, you mean?”

“Well I was close.” Tom, in the background, snorted and then roared with laughter. “So what am I supposed to do if she needs to come home with us?” Simon added.

“Bring her I suppose.”

“What through this circus?” he pointed at the gate.

“Oh yeah,” I sighed.

“What would I tell her? Oh by the way, Auntie Cathy, used to be Uncle Charlie?”

“That is so cruel, Simon.” I felt it strike me in the heart.

“I’m sorry, Babes, but you know what I mean?”

“Do you honestly think I shall ever forget my origins? And even if I do, don’t you think there will be hordes of clamouring bigots to remind me?” I felt angry, hurt and sad; all at the same time.

“Hey, the scunners loved it,” cried Tom from the table behind us.

“What, Daddy?” I said turning around to see what he meant.

“The television critic in the Guardian, he liked your fil-um very much.”

“How do you know?” I asked moving towards him.

“See fer yersel’,” he pushed the paper towards me. I looked at the page at which he was pointing.

‘…in complete contrast was Cathy Watts’ film about dormice, you know the cuddly little rodent the Mad Hatter dumped in the teapot to wake it up. They do apparently spend half their lives in hibernation, which isn’t a sleep it’s like a deep trance state, where metabolism reduces and fat can last all winter.

‘Dr Watts skipped enthusiastically around the countryside, showing her elegant legs in shorts, while she examined nesting boxes and weighed the occupants. “You can tell which ones will make it through the winter by their weight,” she explained. The ones she looked at all seemed okay, which is probably because she bred them in the first place and then released them.

‘Our Cathy, is a leading expert on dormice and things Muscardinus, and she has been researching them for years, which is amazing as she barely looks older than a schoolgirl herself—and is probably why every male over the age of twelve was totally captivated by this sexy young thing, seducing us into her world of small furry things.

‘Never mind Sir David, he never quite grabbed me like the nubile biologist from Portsmouth, and yes, her small furry things were as delightful as their foster mum. More please, Auntie.’

“It’s a bit sexist,” I commented after reading it twice, then noticed there was a picture of me in shorts and tee shirt, clambering up a ladder to get at a nesting box. “God, my bum looks huge.”

“Not from where I’m standing,” said Simon. “Let’s have a quick flit round the newspaper websites and see what they thought.”

“I think I can live with the uncertainty, and besides, I need a cuppa.” I switched the kettle on, “Anyone else for tea?”

“I’ll hae coffee,” said Tom shuffling off to his study, while Simon yelled from the dining room, “Tea please.”

Moments later he shouted, “The Telegraph heads it with, Move over Sir David, Lady Cathy is here… they seemed to like it too. The Mail, thought you were as sweet as your subjects, the Express, ‘a walk on the wildside with you would be lovely.’ Yeah, it’s all favourable. Maybe they’re not baying for your blood, just your charms.”

“What the pack of hyenas outside? I don’t care what they want, I’m not giving it to them.”

“Where’s the interview with Erin?” asked Simon.

“Bristol, I suppose.”

“Is it a good idea?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Oh yes,” said Simon loudly, “this is the best yet.” He paused, “The Independent,

‘Dr Watts has an infectious enthusiasm for her subject, the delightful urchin of the hedgerows and woodland edges, the increasingly rare, common dormouse, although far from common these days. Still, our attractive expert managed to find her elusive prey and scrambling up ladders in shorts, showed us her shapely legs while she poked about in nest boxes to weigh and record her victims state of health.

‘Cathy Watts, is the breath of fresh air, or should that be hair?, as it swirled seductively about her attractive face, while she explained why dormice were so interesting and why we should appreciate their use as barometers of the climate change which will ultimately affect us all.

‘Outstanding photography by the late Des Lane and Alan White, made the complex themes Cathy explained come to life, as we saw the intimacies of a dormouse fittingly called, Spike, giving birth to her twelfth litter of babies, in Dr Watts’ laboratory. Spike is apparently the dormouse thousands of YouTube viewers have seen disappear down Cathy’s blouse in that notorious clip of the press conference in Portsmouth last year…

“Weel, The Times, ‘thinks you’re the Bettany Hughes of the animal world, and could add that sexy zest to nature programmes that the glamorous don has done to history’,” offered Tom.

“I am not riding a bloody horse to explore harvest mice,” I said noisily and Simon nearly choked on his tea.

“How aboot fer yon press conference, I reckon you’d look guid in jodhpurs,” cracked Tom from his study.

“I’ll poison your porridge, you old bugger,” I shouted back.

“Ach well, I’ll die happy,” he called in reply.

“Mummy, there’s a man standing at the door,” said Meems, and as I picked her up there was the flash of a camera.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 655

Simon had just entered the kitchen to collect his tea when the intruder with the camera snapped his picture of me picking up Meems. Snapped, is what Simon did as well, he dashed out the door after the bloke chasing him down the drive. If he’d caught him I hate to think what he’d have done. In the man’s blind panic to escape, he dropped his camera which Simon picked up and removed the memory card dropping the priceless Nikon on the concrete of the drive, where he left it, and came back to the house.

“Did you see him run?” he said entering the house.

“What’s that you have?”

“His memory card, I’ll wipe it and if he comes and asks me nicely, I’ll let him have it.”

“What exactly does it mean?” I asked.

“That will depend upon my mood,” he said smiling.

“Simon, bashing him will do you no good whatsoever,” I cautioned.

“Au contraire, it will make me feel very good. Keep the doors and windows locked. I’ll collect Trish at three, you go and do your bit up in Bristol. Take a change of clothes, and change at your house.”

“What about lunch?” I asked.

“Can’t you grab something in Bristol?”

“Not mine, I’m too worked up to eat, yours.”

“Oh, Tom and I can eat out somewhere, and bring in a take away for the weenies.”

“I’m not very happy with that idea,” I said, feeling that I should be here with them not letting two men organise things. “Who’s going to look after Meems all day?”

“Oh yeah, forgot about Meems. Okay, I’ll stay here and watch her.”

“She’ll need lunch in a couple of hours.”

“What do you suggest?”

“A boiled egg with some toast soldiers?”

“If there’s egg and bread, count it done.”

“What about your lunching out, now?”

“We could take her with us. I mean it’s not as if she hasn’t been out before is it? I’ve taken her out to eat before.”

“Once,” I said rather curtly.

“So, how much practice does it take?” Simon challenged.

“Okay, Mr Knowall, you take her out for lunch.”

“I will, Tom are you coming too?”

“I’ll happily meet you fer lunch, but I hae tae go to the office. Whaur d’ye like tae meet?”

I ran upstairs and popped some things in a bag and ran down again, grabbed my handbag, kissed, Meems and the two boys and slipped out through the orchard and off towards Bristol. I’d told Erin I should be there for three, at the BBC.

The drive up was uneventful, except the traffic was very busy. I got to Bristol and to my house at half past twelve, and en route bought a sandwich and some milk.

It was good to see the house was in good repair. After Margaret and Gregg didn’t take up my offer to rent, I got a local woman to come in a few times a week and dust it and forward any mail. She also kept the grass cut and I see had put in a few bedding plants. She was very good value and she did Des’ house for me too. If I had time, I’d pop and see that while I was up.

I ate my sandwich without much enthusiasm and washed it down with a mug of tea. That felt good, so I made another. Then it was time to change and drive to meet Erin.

Parking at the BBC was a nuisance, but they eventually let me in after the gatekeeper called the News and Current Affairs department. Apparently, the MPs’ allowances was the big news item again and I was almost sidelined. It wouldn’t have worried me if I had been.

Erin arrived as I was walking to the meet with the producer of the news programme. We chatted and she suggested I leave things to her. We met with Meg Postlethwaite in her office.

“Thanks for coming, Cathy, I’m sure you’re busy, but your film was delightful and we reckon it will have brought in five million viewers.”

“Is that good?” I asked.

“Seeing as Sir David wasn’t doing it, and it had almost no publicity, it was fantastic.”

“Oh,” was all I could say.

Erin now stepped into the proceedings, “I understand you’d like an interview with Cathy?”

“Yes, with Sheila on the evening news and Mervyn on the Radio 4 PM programme. There’s also a possibility they’d like you on the Midweek programme and Radio 5 might be interested during one of its topical programmes, may even ask you to do a phone in.” I think I visibly shuddered, because Meg asked if that was, ‘alright’.

It wasn’t really, okay if they asked questions about the programme and its making or about British mammals or dormice, that was fine. I looked at Erin.

“I think, that Cathy is prepared to do your programmes provided the questions relate to her professional life. She is not prepared to discuss her private life nor that of her family. Is she getting a fee for these?”

Meg’s face fell. “Um, I hadn’t actually thought too much about that.”

“It has cost her to get here and she’s had to miss a day’s work, so there are cost implications.”

“I can see that. I think I can probably agree a fee for expenses. How much do you think you spent, Cathy?”

“Including loss of earnings, I’d say five or six hundred should cover a significant part of it.” Erin said smiling sweetly.

“I… er, um didn’t have quite that much in mind,” Meg said looking very pale.

“You were talking three programmes; it isn’t that much,” Erin now sensed weakness and sought to exploit it. I kept quiet. This was what she did for a living, I’d have settled for fifty to cover my fuel costs.

“Excuse me a moment,” Meg slipped out the door and Erin gave a real belly laugh.

“I’ve learned that they have already recouped their outlay on the film by selling it on to other networks. We were sold short, we only get a small commission.”

“I thought it was my intellectual property?” I was astonished.

“No, they assume those rights, and pay you a fee for your troubles.”

“But that’s not fair?”

“I didn’t say it was, hence my attempt to shaft them now.”

“How much did they pay us?”

“For last night’s effort—about fifty grand.”

“How much?”

“You heard me, and you also know how long it took to make.”

“Six months.”

“For two of you working to make it, plus some added on costs for good measure—that isn’t very much. You’re selling a very good product, the dormice were good too. But, you are the main feature and you did brilliantly.

“I don’t know if I can cope with three shows.”

“Okay, six hundred but we’d like Cathy to do a nature programme as well,” said Meg re-entering the room.”

“How long is all this going to take?” I asked, “I have to get home to my kids.”

“The news progs about twenty minutes each, we’ll try and schedule them close to each other, the midweek is a morning programme, any chance you could pop in next Wednesday morning?”

“I’d need to think about that?”

“Will she get more travelling expenses for that?” Erin asked.

“Yes, we can pay those separately.”

“Fine, then she can, what about this nature programme?”

“It’s one we’re sorting for next month, we pre-record it, so we’d need you for a half day in a week or two…and yes, she’ll get travel expenses.”

I wasn’t so happy, that would mean at least three trips to Bristol and problems with getting Trish to and from school plus looking after Meems. I was going to need some extra help.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 656

“Do you mind if we talk about this for a moment?” I said indicating myself and Erin.

“No, go ahead, I’ll find us some tea,” said Meg.

“Wonderful, I could murder a cup,” I said, ‘and Erin’, my mind added on.

“Problems?” asked Erin as soon as Meg had removed herself.

“Yeah, I don’t want to do any of this.”

“I thought you were doing it before anyone else did it to you? At least this way you have a modicum of control.”

“I know, but I don’t want to do the other stuff.”

“So? Don’t do it,” Erin snapped angrily at me.

“I don’t want to be away from the girls.”

“Okay, okay, I understand. Look, offer to do the others from a studio link up in Portsmouth. If they can’t organise that, they should be shot. Just make sure you can park there.”

“I could always cycle there,” I said triumphantly.

“Sure, if you want to appear a sweaty blob, carry on. I thought part of this was to show how much an ordinary woman you are.”

“Okay, that’s implicit, I guess.” I blushed, it looked like I’d have to do them. At least it was radio not television.

Meg returned with the drinks and we each grabbed one. BBC tea, it was okay I suppose, I preferred my own brand. “Well, can we consider the four shows for a contract?”

“Not just yet, Cathy and I have been talking and she’s concerned about babysitting cover for her two girls.”

“Oh, I suppose we could pay something towards it,” said Meg looking down at her notes.

“That wasn’t what we had in mind, why couldn’t the radio programmes be done with a studio link?”

“Part of the magic of Midweek is the interaction of the guests, I mean a couple of months or so ago, we had someone who had transformed from a man into a quite attractive woman, are you alright Cathy?” I started to cough, having been halfway through a swallow at the time.

“I’m fine,” I said coughing some more.

“Well, part of the magic of the programme was for everyone there to agree with the presenter, that, oh I can’t remember her name, but that she was now an attractive woman.”

“I hope you’re not implying that Cathy used to be a…” said Erin quickly, I was still coughing.

“Good lord no, Cathy is obviously all woman, but a very lovely one, and that’s part of the point. I feel that the powers that be would love to use her again, and the dormouse programme is being repeated on BBC 2 in six weeks time, and with some publicity.”

My stomach flipped over. I wasn’t sure I wanted any of this, well, I quite enjoyed doing the film, especially when Des was about. He used to say things like, “Go on make love to the camera,” it didn’t work, I always collapsed in giggles. “Go on pout sexily,” he’d say, and I fall over laughing. “Cathy, you’re supposed to seduce them, purr at them, you want them to buy this film and its message—get ’em going, seduce them.” In the end I did. I hated it, but apparently, the viewers didn’t.

“I shall do these radio programmes from Portsmouth. If you want me, you’ll organise it. Oh, and I want seven fifty. I have to go.”

“What about the news and local news?”

“What about it?” I asked standing up.

“You agreed to do a slot on both.”

“How long is that going to take?” I asked brusquely.

“I’ll get someone to record an interview.” Meg got up and practically ran out of the room.

“You prima donna!” exclaimed Erin.

“I’m sick of these bastards pushing me around. I won’t be making any more films while I have the children.”

“You have to.”

“Says who?” I snapped angrily at my agent.

“Says me for one, so do the BBC, you are such a natural. Attenborough is the consummate professional, but he’s been doing it for forty years. You’re a rank amateur and yet better than most of the presenters I’ve ever seen. You have to do this, it’s what you were born to do.”

“I always thought I was born to raise a family and live in the background somewhere with peace and quiet. I could study a bit, write a bit and look after my kids. Is it too much to ask for?”

“Yes it is. Don’t give me the bullshit about staying out of the limelight—you absolutely love it. That film is a seduction, you are seducing the men, women, children, camera crew and even the sodding dormice, until they are putty in your hands. They can’t prevent themselves from hanging on your every word.”

“Well I could, in fact I couldn’t bear to watch it.”

“Yeah, so? Unless you’re into either masturbation or narcissism, that’s hardly surprising is it?”

“What? Are you crazy?” I said loudly and Megan came through the door.

“Is there a problem, ladies?” asked Megan.

“Nah, Cathy was telling me that until she discovered dormice, she thought Wan King, was a town in China.”

I blushed as what she had said got processed. I looked at Meg and she looked confused, then blushed and finally roared with laughter. Reluctantly, I began to snigger as well. Erin chortled, it was an old joke, but it got us all going.

“Meg, will you tell this woman, why you are so eager to hang on to her, as a presenter, I mean?”

Meg looked a bit embarrassed, then said, “You’re brilliant and sexy.”

I nearly collapsed. “You are joking?”

“I wish I could be half as sexy, and no, I’m not joking. Okay, so the dormouse is your subject and you show that in your film. But you also pass on the enthusiasm to others. We’ve had to put up a thing on our website about the dormouse, because viewers keep phoning or emailing us. They want to see one.”

“Do you know how long it took me to be able to find them?” I said almost rhetorically.

“No, how long?”

“Two years of field work.” It was a fib, I was studying something else at the time and began to notice dormice occasionally, then with a bit more practice, I found them more often and so on.

“Oh wow, so just looking at our website, isn’t going to help?”

“Thankfully, no. They’re protected because they’re endangered. I don’t want would-be David Bellamys going looking for them.”

“You might get all these sexy girls out searching for them, trying to emulate you.” Erin was taking the proverbial.

“We want to hang the story on the fact that, on the Isle of Wight, they’ve been increasing in numbers. As the expert we want your take on it.”

“Alright, let’s get started,” I said, with little enthusiasm.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 657

Megan took me through into makeup, where they powdered my nose and tidied up my hair. Then it was through to a studio and a link with London and the main news studio.

I sat there waiting for what seemed like hours, when Megan popped in and said we’d be running in five minutes. A cameraman came in and they did a voice check, then suddenly a red light came on and the news presenter, Sheila somebody or other, started talking on the monitor.

“We’re frequently being told that industrial farming, habitat destruction and global warming are making our animals and birds decline in alarming numbers, so it’s nice to be able to report a positive story.

“On the Isle of Wight, the local nature group is reporting that they have stopped the decline of one species, the common or hazel dormouse. In our Bristol studio is filmmaker and scientist, Cathy Watts, who made the film shown on BBC the night before last.

“Cathy Watts, is this a general trend, have we halted the decline in dormice?”

“Obviously, on the Isle of Wight, this sounds like the case, but generally, I’d say that we’re still losing habitats, which means we’re losing dormice and other woodland edge species.”

“Could this be the answer, breeding and reintroduction of endangered species?”

“There have been several projects of captive breeding of dormice, one that I’ve been running in Portsmouth, there’s the one on the Isle of Wight, and one in Cheshire, involving Chester zoo. According to my studies, in areas where we’ve reintroduced them, and manage the sites, they do quite well.

“The big problem is the destruction of habitat and loss of traditional forms of woodland management, such as coppicing. Some of these woodlands are quite ancient and are being cleared or used for different purposes, so in changing things they’re obviously affecting the species who live there. The dormouse is protected but most landowners contemplating clear felling a woodland are hardly likely to tell anyone if they have dormice, if in fact they know.” I was on my soap box.

“So would some form of financial inducement help, if landowners were paid to protect habitats?” asked Sheila.

“They could certainly help. The big landowners like County Councils, National Trust and Forestry Commission are generally very good about protecting the sort of habitat dormice need, but they need to know about it first and all too often dormice are not discovered until it’s too late, if they’re seen at all. Which is why the National Mammal Survey is so important, once that is completed we should have a much better idea of the status of a number of rare and endangered mammals.”

“And you’re involved with this national survey?”

“Yes, through Portsmouth University, which is one of the lead universities involved with the Department of the Environment, Natural England, and of course the Mammal Society.”

“Thank you, Cathy Watts, from Portsmouth University.”

“Phew,” I sighed, “I hate doing that sort of interview.”

“You did really well, now we’re going to link up with Southampton in a few minutes for their local news programme. Would you like a drink?”

“Water, please.” Megan brought me a bottle of spring water and I sipped at it, hoping not to spill it all down the front of me before the next interview.

“We’ve got Radio Solent, patching through, can they ask you a few questions about the dormice film?”

“I suppose so, how long have we got before Southampton?”

“Ten or fifteen minutes.”

“Okay, fire away.”

“Hi, Cathy we’re going live now.” He paused and then said, “Hi, it’s Mark Westerbrook on Radio Solent, and in the Bristol Studio I’m talking to Dr Cathy Watts, who made that wonderful film on dormeeces, we all drooled over the other night. Magical film, Cathy.”

“Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

“Oh come on now, those things are so cute, who could fail to be entranced by them? And as a narrator to the film, you were pretty good too. Is that the first one you’ve done?”

“Yes, and it was absolutely nerve-racking. The two cameramen I worked with Des, who sadly died in a car accident before we finished the filming, and Alan who replaced him, were totally brilliant.”

“They certainly were with the photography, but you were equally brilliant with the commentary and at times made the film, it was like Snow White and the seven dormice.”

“There were more than seven,” I corrected him, pleased he couldn’t see me blushing, “and they were the stars of the film, not me.”

“Ooh, so modest, I believe you wrote and directed the film as well?”

“Um—I did most of it, but Des and I collaborated on setting up the initial theme.”

“But you were the wildlife expert on the film?”

“I was the dormouse expert, Des and Alan are both experienced and skilful wildlife photographers.”

“But they’re not as beautiful as you, are they?”

“In the eyes of our mothers, we’re all beautiful.” I felt myself sweating.

“Oh very tactful and modest. Tell me, are you planning on making any other films, a little birdie tells me harvest mice could be on the agenda?”

“I don’t know, I have no immediate plans except to look after my two children and organise my marriage.”

“And the lucky man is Simon Cameron, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“A lucky man indeed. Thanks, Cathy, good luck with the wedding.”

“Thank you, Mark.”

I gulped down some water. I could feel the sweat and oil on my face and patted it with a tissue. I didn’t want to go near ‘makeup’ again.

A minute or two later, I spoke with the Southern News programme and three minutes later, it was done, except Radio Two got in on the act, then Radio Four, then finally Five Live.

I left there an hour later with Erin, who was fuming. “Five interviews, and they’re paying for three—I’ll write some snotty letters in the morning.”

“Thanks for coming Erin.”

“Well they kept off the personal stuff, mostly anyway.”

“Yeah, thanks to you setting the boundaries. I was psyched up to say, ‘that’s personal’ but I didn’t need to.”

“Yeah, sometimes they abide by the agreement, but how many times have you heard them pillory a politician over an issue they didn’t agree to talk about. Journalists are opportunists and they’re all bar…”

“Stewards?” I finished.

“I was going to say, bar flies, but I like your idea better.”

“Right thanks again, I’m dashing home to sort out my kids. Talk to you soon.”

“Indeed we will, when I’ve sorted the arrangements for Midweek.”

“Oh shit, I’d forgotten about that.” I got in my car and set off for Portsmouth. It was six in the evening and by the time I got there, they’d be in bed. I felt like shouting my anguish, I’d let them down again.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 658

I sat in my car and sent Simon a text to tell him that I was on my way home. I could hardly see the phone for tears. I gave myself quite a talking to and pulled myself together. Still shuddering, I set off for Portsmouth.

Once clear of Bristol, the roads weren’t too bad and I made good time, arriving back at the house about a quarter to eight. I locked the car and walked up to the house. I felt exhausted as I opened the door, and this whirlwind of children and dog overwhelmed me.

“Mummy,” squealed two excited voices, and Kiki barked as if not to be out done. “We saw you on the wadio,” squealed Mima.

“On the television, stoo-pid,” Trish corrected her.

“Yeah, on the tewevision, Mummy, we seed you.”

“Did you, my darlings,” I felt my eyes fill with tears.

“Yes we did, Mummy.”

“Ah, our superstar is home,” said Simon’s voice. Kiki barked again, dancing round in circles and he nearly fell over her. “Stupid mutt, outta the way.” She ran off back to the conservatory.

Once I’d hugged and kissed both the girls, I gave Simon a hug and a kiss and then told the children, “C’mon up to bed, I’ll tell you all about my time at the BBC.”

“Is that where you was?” asked Meems.

“Course it was,” Trish rolled her eyes as she answered her sister’s question.

“Yes, sweetheart, up to bed now.” I followed them up the stairs and after they’d cleaned their teeth, I tucked them into bed. I use that figuratively, as it’s difficult to tuck someone in a duvet, but you get the idea. Then I sat on the floor between the beds and told them about my adventure in Bristol.

“You said you’d take us to Bwistew, one day.”

“I will indeed, Meems. When Trish is on half term or end of term, I’ll take you both to see my house in Bristol; that’s a promise.”

“Hooway,” said Meems clapping her hands.

“I’ll look forward to that, Mummy.”

“How was school, today?”

“S’alright, bit borin’, although they let me read if I finish before the rest of them.”

“What were you reading?”

“Some story about a horse.”

“Not, Black Beauty?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“I loved that story when I was younger. It was written by Anna Sewell who was concerned about the welfare of horses in Victorian times.”

“Didn’t they have vets?” asked Trish.

“I expect so, but human life was cheap in those days, so horses were treated badly sometimes. There were few if any petrol motors, so taxis and buses were pulled by horses, and they often were treated very badly.”

“Oh, I haven’t read very much yet.”

“Okay, darling, you enjoy it and remember that mostly these days, the things that Mrs Sewell was trying to promote have happened.”

“Have you ever ridden a horse, Mummy?”

“Not really, been on a donkey at Weston-Super-Mare beach, but apart from that no. I don’t particularly like horses, they frighten me. They’re big animals and quite powerful and I actually prefer bikes. I usually know what a bike is going to do, although a front tyre blow out can be a bit hairy.”

“Oh gosh, what happens then?”

“That depends on how fast you’re going, but it can deposit you on the road. Touch wood,” I patted the leg of Mima’s bed, “it hasn’t happened to me, but it did to someone when I was riding with a group and he fell off and left some skin behind on the road.”

“Ouch,” said Trish, “that sounds perfectly beastly, Mummy.”

“It was and painful. Tarmac burns sting like blazes.”

“Have you fallen off, Mummy?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I have lots of times when I was learning to ride and occasionally since. It happens with cycling, can’t get your foot down in time or something goes wrong with the bike—brakes fail, puncture, blow out; or somebody knocks you off.”

“Did somebody knock you off, Mummy?” asked Mima.

“Once, yes. They weren’t very nice and they didn’t like women cyclists.”

“Was you hurted?”

“Yes, Meems, he stabbed me.”

“With a knife, Mummy?”

“Yes, Auntie Stella saved my life, and Daddy Simon, caught the man.”

“Gosh, what happened then?”

“I don’t actually know, Trish. I lost consciousness rather quickly, through loss of blood, but I’m told Simon wasn’t too gentle to the man.”

“What did he do, Daddy, I mean?”

“The man waved the knife about and Simon hit him with his bike.”

“What he was riding it still?”

“No, he apparently got off and I presume holding by the handlebars and seat post hit the man with the bottom of the bike, put him in hospital, too.”

“What, Daddy?” asked Mima.

“No, the nasty man. A bottom bracket, even on a carbon bike is pretty hard.”

“What’s a bottom bwacket, Mummy?”

Too much detail, when will I ever learn? “It’s the bottom part of the frame, where the pedals go through, or the spindle the pedals spin round on.”

“Oh, thank you, Mummy.” I knew for a fact she had no idea what I was talking about, so the next time I had a bike out, I’d show her.

“Right, you two little ruffians, time for sleep.” They giggled and I kissed them both and wished them a good night.

I went downstairs and Simon was pouring boiling water into the teapot. “Yes?”

“Oh, please, I’m gasping for a cuppa.”

“Hungry?”

“Why?”

“Da-rah,” he said and pulled the remains of a Chinese take-away from the oven.

I smiled at his trick and I knew the girls would have had some of this too, I wasn’t too happy about it, Chinese food is often dripping with MSG and too much salt. However, I suppose once in a while it’s okay.

I sat at the kitchen table and Simon spooned it out on to a warm plate for me, then poured me a cup of tea, and sitting opposite said, “Eat, then tell me all about it.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 659

“I ended doing three radio interviews and two TV ones,” I said as I sipped my tea.

“Do they pay you for them?” asked Si.

“Sort of, Erin was trying to screw a few pounds out of them.”

“Well, the ones we saw, looked quite good.”

“Did they?”

“Of course they did, I’ve recorded them, so you can judge for yourself.”

“Not tonight, I think I’ve had enough of studios and television.”

“Is there any more in prospect?” he asked.

“I’ve agreed to do Midweek in the next few weeks?”

“Oh, I like that programme.”

“Well you go and do it then and I’ll stay at home.”

“Very funny, it’s not me who’s made a film about dormice.”

“I tell you what, you can do the harvest mouse one, as long as you wear a bikini or a sexy top and shorts.” I smirked at him.

“Oh yeah, I know bugger all about dormice, let alone harvest thingies.”

“Harvest mice, I’ll write the script for you, all you have to do is look sexy and turn all the blokes on.”

“Cathy, I am over six foot tall, I have a broad hairy chest and fat hairy legs. I am not doing your next film period; never mind turning anyone on.”

“You turn me on,” I said.

“I’m pleased to hear it, but let’s face it, I’m a banker cum broker. I am not a television presenter or naturalist. I can just about tell the difference between a red deer and a stoat.”

“That’s more than some people can, mind you talking of stoats, there was one filmed in January or February dancing about in someone’s garden in Wiltshire, in the snow. It was really funny, he bounced about like a kitten.”

“I think I saw that, on the BBC?” said Simon smiling. It tended to indicate he had, it was just so funny. I’d love to have filmed something like that on dormice or in fact anything. We tend to think that only primates and carnivores play. Maybe other critters do too, which is difficult to say out loud because of the hostility of some religious lobbies who think only man has freedom of speech, word and deed.

As a man wrote the religious laws under which they practice, it strikes me as a problem awaiting a solution, and that until now, lip service is all that’s been contributed. The earlier goddess worshipping days were less coherent, because there was no written language in those days, least as far as we know there wasn’t.

Anyway, play is seen as one of the highest mental activities, yet we see it in many animals and birds, watching fox cubs or young badgers is like watching puppies or kittens playing—practicing their hunting and killing techniques. The crow family, seem to do things for the hell of it, and anyone who has watched choughs flying will know immediately what I mean. They are amazing aerobats who appear to have fun flying.

I’ve seen two young peregrines chase a snipe—no mean flier itself—with little attempt to catch it, just a bit of tomfoolery, where they flew like they were jet fighters pursuing a heavier bomber. Presumably they were practicing their hunting, but it looked as if they enjoyed it too, hunting in a pair.

Dormice can climb like squirrels, possibly better because they are smaller and thus get onto smaller twigs and boughs. At times it can seem like they are having fun—although I’m aware this is all anthropocentric thinking, and I could be completely wrong, but I doubt it.

A film on wild animals at play, would be very entertaining, but I won’t mention it to Erin, she’ll be selling it before I’d made it, being the astute business woman who successfully traded our first film.

“So, are we going to bed to see if I still push your buttons?”

“I can’t think of anything better to do. Did Laura pick up Peaches?”

“Yep, she’d collected her before I got there, so we didn’t see anything of the fruity one.”

“Oh good, that means I don’t have to see her again tonight. She’s a nice kid but I have doubts about her mother.”

“Do you think she knows anything about your past?”

“If she does it will be because she heard it from the archives. C’mon, let’s go to bed, I’m shattered.” I was too, so after raising Simon’s hopes—I dashed them.

That night, I had a weird dream about Simon making a nature documentary film wearing my top and shorts and me getting very upset because he would stretch them if not destroy them altogether. I tried to make him stop, but he insisted he wore them for the filming, “after all you told me to wear them.”

Suddenly he was all the men’s pin up, replacing such stars as Susan Boyle and Lassie. I did say it was a weird dream. Then we were inundated with requests for his autograph from loads of men, some of whom were offering photos of themselves.

Finally, I managed to see Simon being offered a contract for Playboy, It might help with the weird dreams, or did they just get a whole lot riskier as he posed in my underwear in the centre pages.

The dreams continued even after the aliens attacked us in bed again, but these were more realistic and Simon was in bed with a giant dormouse. No not Giant the bikemaker, but a very large rodent—shades of Roger Rabbit.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 660

I lay awake listening to the children talking with Simon at the same as time scanning the ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4. The news was full of disasters not least an airliner disappearing over the Atlantic with two hundred plus passengers on board, one of them an eleven year old kid from a prep school in Bristol. Then a story about two distraught parents who drove to Beachy Head and jumped off with a rucksack containing the body of their five-year-old son. The three bodies were found at the base of the cliffs. I mused how I’d feel if I lost either of my girls—I might take a trip to Beachy Head myself.

I’ve actually been there, it’s just a bit of the Downs that runs down to the sea, ending with large white chalk cliffs. It’s a very popular spot with suicides, so much so that the Samaritans paid for a phone box to be kept nearby, in case they could talk would be jumpers out of it.

It’s a lovely spot, and we walked there from Eastbourne across the Sussex Downs, with a pub a bit further on and open fields. Can’t think why it’s so popular with suicides except it is quite high, some four or five hundred feet. Strikes me as such a sad thing to do at such a beautiful place.

Suddenly I remembered we had to get Trish ready for school, and I almost jumped out of bed. “Come on, action stations. Girls, in the shower please, Si are you going to take Trish or shall I?”

“Is there a posse at the gate?” He peered out the window, “Nah, it’s clear at the moment. I’ll take her if you like, you can collect her.”

“Okay, I’ll give them both a wash and brush up.” I sped into the bathroom behind the two giggling monsters and we all three stood under the warm water and washed. I did most of the washing, and the drying—the girls standing passively as I rubbed them over with the towel. Then with a towel wrapped around them at breast and another turban on their heads, I sent them into their own bedroom to put their undies on.

I had barely put my own on when they were back giggling again like a pair of freshly washed marathon runners. I took them back to their room and Trish pulled on her school dress—it was forecast to be warm—short socks and sandals, while Meems helped me put a summer dress on her, a blue affair with yellow flowers on it. She liked it, anyway.

I dried three lots of hair, starting with Trish, for whom Simon would be making cereal and toast. I plaited her hair, then dried and did the same with Meem’s, and finally dried my own, pulling it into a ponytail. Today, I had work to do, including washing and cleaning, baking bread and sorting the dinner. I pulled on some green shorts and an almost matching tee shirt—which fell a little short of my waist.

I had to almost beat Simon off me, and remind him that he had to take our daughter to school. He’d forgotten, it seemed. It made me worry a little, if men had two brains, albeit, small ovoid ones, why couldn’t one of them remember anything besides sex? I was smirking at my own joke when Simon scowled at me. “Sandwiches,” he said and I jumped and blushed.

I quickly made up a packed lunch for Trish, with a tuna sandwich, some salad in a sealed box, a yoghurt and a small chocolate biscuit—a ‘Penguin’. Simon saw it and immediately lapsed into a very old joke.

“Why don’t elephants like penguins?” he said already laughing.

“I don’t know,” sighed Trish, knowing it was going to be unfunny.

“They can’t get the silver paper off,” Simon roared and so did Meems, probably because Simon was laughing.

“Actually, they have a plastic wrapper nowadays.” Trish said this as she finished her toast and Simon glared at her, while I snorted because it hurt too much to stifle the laugh.

After Simon had taken Trish off to school and Tom had decamped to the university, Stella and Puddin’ came down and Stella allowed Meems to help feed her, which had her almost bouncing with joy. Without Trish crowding her out, Meems was able to ‘play mummies’ with a real baby. Stella seemed happy to watch the pair of them so I got on with my chores.

I was sorting the washing when Stella came out to the utility room. “Where are the little ’uns?” I asked.

“I put Puddin’ down for a nap and Mima has decided to take one too.”

“Okay, I won’t vacuum for the moment then.”

“I did ask you this before, Cathy.”

“You did?” I asked wondering what was coming next.

“Yes I did, and you were noncommittal about it.”

“I was?”

“Yes you were.”

“I was, then. So I’ll probably be the same again.” I had no idea what she was on about, but it sounded like I should remain consistent.

“I thought you might, but I’m going to ask you again, anyway.”

“Fine,” I tried to sound as if I had some idea of the topic in question. Of course I didn’t.

“Well, will you?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said in response, “I still feel the same about it.”

“Damn,” she said, “I had a feeling you’d say that.” She walked disconsolately from the utility room. Then she came back in again. “Could we do it the same time as you get married.”

I was now completely confused about this subject. “Seeing as that’s a moveable feast and I need to speak with Marguerite about it, I’d have thought that would be too vague for your purpose.” What the hell was she on about, doing it the same time as I got married—do what? Go shopping?

“No the timing is fine, it would also mean everyone who needed to be there would be there.”

“They would? Oh I’m glad about that, should make it easier.”

“It’s a shame you’re not really interested.”

“Sorry about that, you know me.” I had absolutely no idea what we were discussing, and to admit it would make me look even more stupid than I usually do.

“I’ll have to find someone else then. Simon seems fairly happy about it.”

“Well, you know Si, always eager to please his little sister.”—Mainly because he’s scared of her.

“You should check if yours are, then we could do it all together.”

“I don’t know, Stella, I mean if I can’t with yours why should I do it with mine?” Do what though? It still wasn’t obvious.

“Maybe they wouldn’t let you anyway,” she sighed and wandered off again.

I took the washing out to the line and while I pegged it out to dry I tried to figure out what she was on about. It still made no sense, and I did think I’d perhaps go and ask her and confess my ignorance.

I walked back into the house and the phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hi, Cathy, it’s Laura.”

“Is Peaches, okay?”

“Yes she’s fine, look could you do me a favour?”

“That depends upon what it is?”

“Yeah, natch. Look it’s a big one but it’s important to me.”

Was everyone going to talk in riddles, today? Or was I being particularly obtuse? “What is it?”

“I have to go and see my ex about his payments of child support, he’s not very good at it?”

“Don’t the CSA*, do that for you?”

“No we opted not to use them, but he’s started defaulting and I know if I go and see him, he’ll cough up the amount owing and be more regular in future.”

“What are you taking with you, a gun?”

“Yeah, like I wish I could, but then if I shot him, he’d be unable to pay anything, wouldn’t he?”

“You have a point. So what’s the favour you want?” I was pretty sure I knew what was coming.

“Could you have Pea for the weekend?”

“From when to when, exactly?”

“Friday from school and I’ll collect her from school on Monday evening.”

“Possibly, can I get back to you, I need to check with Si and Tom that there’s nothing else going on?”

“Yeah, ’course,” she gave me her mobile number.

I put the phone down and fumed. Peaches warned me about this. Where did her ex live? Did it take a whole weekend or was she taking the proverbial?

I called Simon.

*CSA – Child Support Agency.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 661

“Hi, Babes, what can I do you for?”

“I’ve just had a call from Laura.”

“Who’s she?”

“Peaches’ mum.”

“Oh yeah. What did she want, you to collect her offspring again?”

“Not quite, she wants us to have Pea over the weekend.”

“What do you mean by, weekend?”

“From Friday after school to Monday morning, when returned to school,” I sighed.

“She’s got a bloody nerve.”

“I know that, Simon, her daughter as good as told me that the first time.”

“She did? First I’ve heard of it.”

“I did tell you, but you were probably thinking about sex at the time.”

“I think about sex, constantly,” he joked. I knew it was a joke—he only thought about it most of the time.

“Well, there’s a surprise,” I replied with feigned astonishment.

“I thought it would be a revelation to you, didn’t you realise that men think about sex, nearly as often as women think about shopping.”

“Is that food shopping or real shopping?” I joked back.

“I think it could be both, why?”

“Depending upon how much food we have in the house, I could think about shopping more often than I do when buying stuff for the girls or myself. If it’s just the latter, you can’t be that highly sexed.”

“What? You’re always shopping,” he protested.

“Compared to you—yes, compared to many women—no.”

“What even, Stella?”

“Stella is a special case, but before she was ill and a nursing mum, she could shop for England, and I suspect probably did.”

“No wonder the economy is in crisis, some coincidence that it was contemporaneous with Stella’s illness.” He sighed as if it was a profound thought.

“Oh speaking of the Arch Consumer, what was she on about wanting us to do at the same time as the wedding?”

“What wedding?”

“Thee and me, remember?”

“Remember what?”

“You asked me to marry you?”

“Yeah, but that was last week.” I heard him chuckle in the background.

“So am I released from my plight?” I asked.

“Why?”

“Well, I saw James Cracknell on the telly the other night, he looks quite a hunk.”

“I beg your pardon?” he said and I could feel myself blushing, at the same time I knew his blood pressure would be rising, even though he knew I was playing silly games, the same as he was.

“You know, the Olympic Oarsman, he could paddle my canoe any day,” I continued, goading him.

“Catherine Watts, you are practically a member of the aristocracy, please wait until you are before behaving so badly.”

“So it’s allowed then, is it?”

“Shall we say, we all turn a blind eye and cough politely.”

“So James will have to wait a few months then?”

“’Fraid so, if you want to do it properly.”

“Okay, I’ll tell him. Is that what you do?”

“Me? How could you? Remember our motto.”

“What motto?” I asked, unaware of it.

“Honour, Integrity—or the wife will kill me.” He roared with laughter at the other end.

“So what was Stella on about?”

“How should I know, I wasn’t there, remember?”

“I know you weren’t there, that’s why I’m talking to you now. We had a whole conversation and I didn’t have a clue what she was on about…”

“Christening,” said a voice as Stella walked past.

“Thanks…doh!” I had betrayed myself, she’d give me hell for while now.

“Doe, a deer a female deer…” sang Simon.

“Oh shut up,” I pouted down the phone.

“What did she say?”

“Christening.”

“Oh yeah, she asked me earlier if I’d be a God-parent or something, to Puddin’.”

“Well it would fit the remnants of the conversation as I recall it.”

“Just sign on the dotted.”

“I’m an agnostic, how can I be a God-parent, whose role, as I recall it, is to make sure the child is brought up as Christian and encouraged to become confirmed.”

“Is it? What’s the problem?”

“I don’t believe in the Big Cheese.”

“Ah, that could cause a small difficulty.”

“Which is why I declined the first time. Nothing has changed.”

“No, Stella is a bit one-track in the mind department.”

“So am I.”

“Yeah, bloody stubborn women, and you have the temerity to blame all the world’s problems on men.”

“If you mean, greed and war? Yes, I do.”

“Hang on a mo, missus, you and Stella, is hardly a cooperative is it?”

“Well it’s more that than confrontation, we just agree to disagree.”

“Yeah, like Afghanistan.”

“I don’t have a problem with Afghanistan.” I said moving to higher ground, at least morally.

“Well, I can’t see them allowing you to have the snip and then marry me, for one thing. They’d stone you to death or something.”

“Why?”

“For being different or just for being a woman. Can you imagine walking round like a Guinness bottle in one of those full size veils?”

“No, I couldn’t.”

“So there, see you do spend loads of brain time thinking about shopping.”

“How do you work that out?”

“I could hear your little brain trying to work out if Burberry made burkas.”

“Damn,” I said in mock indignation, “how did you guess?”

“Intuition,” he said and laughed.

“What about Peaches?”

“Yeah, get some if they look edible.”

“Simon, I’ll get you in a minute, what about this poor kid whose mother seems to dump her on neighbours and friends?”

“We can hardly refuse, can we. But only this once.”

“What if she does a runner, like Meem’s mother did?”

“Get a very large jiffy bag…”

“Be serious for a moment, Simon.”

“I am, deadly so. I have a book of stamps, you’re not going to keep her. If you’re getting broody, get a kitten.”

“What! I am not broody and I don’t want any more children. I love the two we have. It’s enough for me.”

“Say, no, to her then.”

“Um, that might be difficult.”

“Why?”

“She’s walking up the drive with a suitcase.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 662

Hastily, I asked Stella to keep Meems out of the way while I spoke with Laura. The doorbell rang as I shut the door of the dining room. I opened the front door and faked my surprise, “Laura, this is unexpected.”

“Sorry I couldn’t wait for you to get back to me, look could you have her tonight as well—I know it’s short notice, but if I don’t get off up to Scotland to see Ken tomorrow morning, he’s going to wriggle out of things again.”

“Um—it’s short notice, Laura.” I wasn’t at all sure how much I believed her and how much I wondered if she could be taking the urine.

“Please, Cathy, I know she loves it, staying with your two.”

“She also hinted that she gets dumped quite regularly.”

“Ooh, the little fibber, I’ll have words with her when I get back.”

“Five year olds are rarely competent liars, Laura.”

“Well, she must be the exception then.”

“I’ll do it this time, but I’m not guaranteeing any further occasion beyond bringing her home for you to collect in the evenings.”

“Oh, like that is it?”

“Like what?” I asked feeling more than a little cross.

“How do you think the press will respond to finding that the latest natural history presenter pin-up, is actually a boy?”

“I think you’ll find my birth certificate says female.”

“It might nowadays, but it didn’t used to did it? Charlie?”

“Just what are you insinuating?”

“That life could get a bit hectic and troublesome with the press at your door for a week or two, as I’m sure you already know, Charlie boy.”

“I could quite easily tell you to look after your own child, instead of listening to all this nonsense.”

“Oh I don’t think it’s nonsense. I’ve got a DVD of a news bulletin where you featured with Simon, trying to stop the tabloids taking the initiative. It won’t work this time, you are a celebrity, so you’ll be fair game.”

“So? All this is in the public domain, why should I worry?”

“Your rich fiancé and his family won’t stop one of the tabloids breaking the story again.”

“Who said they stopped it, before?”

“Come off it, Cathy, or is it Charlie?”

“There is no Charlie.”

“Ooh, get you. If there’s no Charlie, why are you blushing?”

“I could just call social services and report you as an unfit mother.” Maybe a counter threat would work?

“Go ahead, see what happens.” She smiled as if she’d been there before and came through it. “I’d have thought that social services were the last people you wanted here, given your run ins with them. I’m sure they’d just love to get you back for your making them look stupid last time.”

“They were stupid.”

“Ah, but like elephants…”

“What big eared and full of shit?”

“Ooh, very quick. I can see I’ll have to watch you. How do we know that your two girls are actually girls? Maybe you’re some pervert and dress them as girls when they are really boys?”

“How dare you?” I was ready to roll up my sleeves and smack her one.

“I dare things all the time. You see, I’m a bit of a dare devil,” she said, smirking at me.

“Well the devil bit’s right.”

“Ooh, so who swallowed her razor blades this morning?”

“Blackmailers are especially nasty people,” I said with vehemence.

“Yes, because we have total control.”

“Are you driving to Scotland?”

“Why?”

“I was going to wish you a safe journey,” I smiled the falsest smile I could manage.

“Ha, you think I’d be stupid enough to tell you how I’m going, so your rich friends could organise a hit.”

“Laura, I think you’ve been watching too many thrillers on television.”

“Oh, have I? So your killing of Russians earlier, was a figment of my imagination that so happened to get mentioned on telly?”

“I’m not going to discuss this any more. Your demands are obviously based on jealousy.”

“Jealousy?” she repeated it over and over, laughing to herself as she did so. “Yes, I like that—I’m jealous of a boy who pretends he’s a woman. Oh, what fun.”

“There is no pretence, Laura.”

“What about your girls? How many of them are really girls?”

“How dare you? I think you’d better go and quickly.”

“Or what? What were you going to say—or you’ll kill me?”

“No, I was going to say, before your daughter finds out what sort of nasty, two bit hooker, you really are.”

“Hooker? Ha, at least I don’t go around seducing my own sex?”

“Neither do I—whatever gave you that idea?

“How about Simon? He’s a boy like you, isn’t he?”

“Simon is a boy, well a man, but I’m a woman.”

“So you’d have a chromosome test, would you, just to prove me wrong?”

“What would that prove?” I wasn’t getting anywhere with this argument.

“That you used to be a long term housewife? I don’t think so, but it might prove beyond doubt that you are actually a boy and that I’m a girl or a woman.” She seemed to gloat and I desperately wanted to punch those sneering lips.

“Get out of here, before I call the police.”

“No, Cathy, I’m the one who makes the threats, veiled or otherwise. You do as you’re told, and we’ll get along fine.”

“What if Peaches needs a doctor?”

“You’d better make sure she doesn’t, hadn’t you?” She laughed and dumping the suitcase inside the door, turned and walked away.

I slammed the door and leant against it. I felt so angry and so helpless. Part of me wanted to beat her until she bled, or get someone else to do it. Then I thought about her daughter, who as far as we knew, was a nice kid. Why should she suffer because her mother was a total shit?

Stella and I were limited in what we could say about what was happening in case Meems got hold of the wrong end of the stick, or even the right end for that matter. It wasn’t nice for Peaches, who seemed to be such a good friend of Trish.

I did our lunch and made preparations for another place at dinner. All the time I knew we had to keep Trish’s secret from Peaches, but how? I wondered if it was worth getting her some very tight knickers to wear under her normal ones? Then would that do her an injury, and in this warm weather, would that be uncomfortable, full stop? I needed this like a hole in the head.

“Time to go and get the girls, can you watch Mima, Stella?”

“Sure, you get them.”

I set off with a heavy heart. It wasn’t fair on any of the children that I was being forced to do this, it wasn’t their fault after all, so I resolved to try and put a brave face on things and treat them as if I loved them all. Why did I have this feeling of doom and gloom so strongly?

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 663

I was waiting by the school gate when Trish and Peaches came out of school. “Hello, girls,” I waved to them and they trotted over to me.

“Do I come with you until Mummy comes to collect me?” Pea enquired.

“Um—I’m afraid you’re staying a bit longer than that, Peaches, I hope that’s okay?”

“Has she dumped me on you?” asked the youngster, while Trish stood alongside her friend with her mouth open.

“Your mummy has asked me to have you for the weekend,” I said trying not to upset the child.

“What is it this time? Screwing money out of Dad?” This coming from a five year old made me blush.

“Um—I—um, don’t know, Peaches.”

“I hate my name, can you call me something else?”

“Of course, what would you like us to call you?” I asked, feeling very self-conscious for the child.

“My other name is, Olivia, can you call me, Livvie?”

“Livvie, it will be my pleasure, and I’m sure Trish would agree, too.”

“Yes, I like the name, Olivia, and Livvie, even better.” The two girls hugged and Livvie looked a bit moist-eyed.

I took a hand from each of them and we walked back to my car and they both sat in the back chatting all the way home.

I went through, Livvie’s case with her, and sorted out some play clothes, so after some fruit and a drink, they played with Trish’s bike again. If she became a regular visitor, it might be worth getting a second bike. Meems could use it eventually, so it wouldn’t be a waste of money.

I got the dinner sorted and Simon came home early to discover our visitor. “Hello girls—Trish, Peaches…”

“No, it’s Livvie, now Daddy,” Trish informed Simon.

“Hang on a minute, I’m only a dumb man, Peaches is now called Livvie?”

“Yes, Daddy, that’s right.”

“Oh good, hello, Livvie.”

“Hi, Uncle Simon.” Simon stiffened a moment at the novel form of address, before he relaxed and smiled. Then he saw me watching.

“Hi, Babes,” he said and kissed me, “What’s for dinner, I’m starved.”

“I’ve done some boiling gammon.”

“Oh, any chance some pea and ham soup tomorrow?”

“I suppose so,” I said already having saved the stock for exactly that, but I like to make him work for it.

“Oh good,” we went into the house and he said, “I wasn’t expecting Pea—Livvie until tomorrow.”

“I had an interesting chat with our visitor’s mother,” I informed him, and told him what had transpired.

“She said what?” his face went red with anger.

“She tried to blackmail me into having the girl whenever she wanted me to.”

“The cheek of it. If she tries anything, I’ll get our lawyers to sort her out, her feet won’t touch the ground.”

“Let’s see if it was just bluster,” I suggested, then seeing Livvie coming in the door, I made a face towards her, which thankfully, Simon understood.

“Hello, sweetheart…”

“Auntie Cathy, can we ride the bike along the pavement?”

Remembering the incident with the car, I felt myself blanch. “Not tonight, sweetheart, dinner’s nearly ready, so come on in and wash your hands. Trish, put your bike away and come and get your hands washed.”

The girls came in and we ate, Tom arrived just as we were finishing, and I put up some food for him. The girls had gone out again, “Livvie?” asked Tom.

“Peaches as was—she doesn’t like her first name,” I explained.

“I hope her surname isnae Oswald or Owen.”

“Why?” I asked clearing the dirty dishes away with Stella who was sniggering.

“P-O-O,” spelt Stella.

“Yeah, oh,” I gasped as I got the joke, “I don’t know what her surname is, I’ve never asked.”

“I did,” said Stella, “relax,” she added, seeing me tense up, “It’s Richards.”

“Peaches Richards,” I said out aloud, “Who could do that to a little girl?”

“What about Charlie Watts, then?” she fired back.

“I don’t know anyone of that name, other than the ‘Stones’ drummer.”

“I used to,” she said sighing, “a nice young man—I wonder what became of him?” She poked out her tongue at me and I responded similarly.

“Mummy, why is Wivvie used to be Peaches?” Meems has this way with English—she speaks it like a second language.

“Do you mean why is Peaches now called Livvie?”

“Yes, Mummy,” she nodded deliberately to reinforce the point.

“She doesn’t like her first name, which is Peaches; preferring her second name, which is Olivia, or Livvie for short.”

“Can I change my name, Mummy?”

“What would you like us to call you?”

“Caffy, wike you.”

“I don’t know if that’s such a good idea, Meems, people would get confused, what’s your second name?” I had seen it but not remembered.

“Anne, my name’s Jemima Anne, Mummy.”

“We could call you Anne or Annie.”

“I wike Annie, Mummy.”

“Well you’ll have to give us time to adjust to this, so don’t get upset when we forget and call you, Mima or Meems or even Jemima; will you?”

“No, Mummy, I wike aww my names.”

“Aren’t you the lucky one, hen?” said Tom.

“What’s wrong with Tom?” I asked.

“Whit’s richt wi’it?”

“It’s a good, solid name.”

“Aye, I’m lookin’ rather too solid these days.”

“That’s all those lunchtime curries, and you need to exercise more often.”

“Crivvens, lassie, a man’s gottae eat,” he said rolling his eyes.

“I agree, but a bit less often or less quantity than you do, Daddy.” I smiled my sweetest smile and he scowled at me.

“Ach, ye bloody women, ye’re aw the same.”

“Huh, unless you want to be on salad all next week, you’d better watch it.”

“Ach, I’m nae one o’yer tree rats. I haftae eat proper food.”

“Yes, but not by the truck load.”

“Ach, awa’ wi’ ye.” He got up from the table and went into his study, grumbling as he went.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 664

The next day, Friday, went fairly smoothly. The girls didn’t invade our bedroom—something which usually woke me—and instead of sleeping on, I woke up even more than I did when they were bouncing over me. I went to investigate and discovered Trish and Livvie sat up in Trish’s bed, reading each other stories and thereby amusing Mima, as well.

I managed to get them showered and dressed—one at a time—which was a pain, but we had to preserve Trish’s reputation and her little secret. As a previous bearer of such a secret, I wasn’t likely to forget.

I got them to school, did chores and food shopping, and found a similar bike to Trish’s in a bike shop. It was shop soiled and in need of some minor repairs, which I could do myself, so I bought it at half price.

Why was I trawling around bike shops? Well, a girl’s got to have some fun after all. No, I needed a new track pump, my old one had passed the point of redemption, so it was destined for the scrap heap. I bought a Blackburn, because they do replacement parts for most of the bits likely to wear out.

The bike and pump were carefully hidden in the boot of my car when I collected the girls from school. Stella was looking after Meems—I mean, Annie—at this rate I shall be a basket case by Monday.

It was warm and although there was a reasonable breeze, I half considered taking them for ice creams on the way home. Instead, I bought a large tub of the stuff and we dashed home before it melted. Everyone had a small dish of it when we got home—even Puddin’ had a taste of Stella’s and squealed for more; we all laughed.

I sent the girls up to change and felt relatively secure in the fact that Trish was wearing quite tight knickers, hopefully hiding any little bulges. While they were upstairs, I took the new bike to the garage I used as a workshop and locked it.

All the children wanted to watch a DVD of Bambi, so I told them they could do so for half an hour. While they were busy rotting their brains with Disney, I slipped into the garage and began working on the bike. It had a few scratches, but those wouldn’t matter. There’d be a few more after they’d crashed a few times, and girls do as well as boys.

I straightened the handlebars and repaired the brake, it just needed a new screw and the saddle damage was repaired with a drop of glue. All in all, it looked in working order and I put it alongside Trish’s bike.

Simon arrived home as I was mashing the potatoes before creaming them. I was doing a corned beef hash with tomatoes. I don’t mean I was making corned beef hash with tomatoes, or do I? We were having corned beef hash and tomatoes with it. Actually, I can make a hash of most things, but not necessarily in the culinary meaning of the same.

Trish had asked me for it a few days before and as Livvie said she liked it too, I decided I’d give it a go. I hadn’t actually made it since my student days. It went down a treat and as I cleared up after the meal, I suggested the girls played outside as it was forecast to rain at the weekend.

“Like what?” asked Trish.

“I beg your pardon? Go outside and play.”

“Play what?” she said with her volume increasing.

“Go and play with your dolls and prams, or your bike.”

“I want to see more Bambi.”

“No, you can have some more tomorrow, I said half an hour. Now go and play.”

“But I wanna see Bambi, Mummy.”

“I don’t care, you are not seeing any more tonight and if you keep complaining, you won’t see any tomorrow either.”

“You’re a meanie,” she said and ran off.

“Trish, why don’t you go and play on your bike?”

“Doan wanna,” she said and picked up one of her dolls.

“What about you, Livvie? Don’t you want to play outside?”

“Not really, Auntie Cathy, I’ll play with Trish and her dolls.”

“Canni pway, too?” chirped Mima as she brought her own doll.

“Why don’t you go and play on the bike?” I tried one last time.

“No thank you, Mummy, I’m gonna play dollies.”

Some days, it does feel as if the universe is being particularly fickle. I went and got some mending I had to do on Trish’s school blouse, she’d torn the seam under the arm—God knows how, but I had a tear about four inches long to repair. The blouse was practically brand new, so I grabbed my sewing box and sat in the lounge under the window where the light was good.

The girls were playing away with the dolls and all three were playing quite nicely. I was listening to them as I pinned the seam and then threaded my needle. The girls seemed oblivious to my presence as I sewed quietly.

“Where has your mummy gone?” asked Trish.

“Scotland, somewhere.”

“My gramps has castle in Scotland.”

“My dad has a flat and a girlfriend.”

“My daddy works for a bank.”

“Mine teaches at a university.”

“My mummy does that, so does my other gramps.”

“Yes, Gwampa Tom, is a pwofessa,” said Meems trying to muscle in on the conversation.

“My dad teaches medicine.”

“What does your mummy do?” asked Trish.

“She works for the BBC, she’s an assistant producer or something.”

“My mummy’s film was shown on the BBC.”

“Yes, I saw it, your mummy is really clever. I wish my mummy had a dormouse.”

“My mummy bweeds dowmices.”

“My mummy isn’t very nice,” said Livvie.

“My mummy is, I think she’s lovely,” boasted Trish and I felt myself blush.

“I wish your mummy was my mummy,” sighed the little voice, “she’s really nice.”

“She’s not my real mummy,” said Trish so quietly I could hardly hear her. “My real mummy was horrible.”

“She isn’t your real mummy?” queried Livvie, with a note of horror in her voice.

“She’s much nicer than my real mummy. My real mummy wanted me to be a boy.”

Livvie laughed, and still laughing said, “That’s silly, you’re a girl.”

“This mummy let’s me be a girl, she’s nice.”

“I like your mummy,” said Livvie.

“I wuv my mummy,” added Meems for good measure.

I finished sewing the blouse and decided I’d stop the conversation before Trish compromised herself. “Okay, girls, bedtime now and I’ll put another story on the CD player. Stay in your own beds please.” With that I collected them up and after they said their goodnights all round, I chased them up the stairs.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 665

The next morning after breakfast and a quick check of the weather forecast, I asked the girls if they’d like to go to the beach. The weather was a bit iffy, but the sun was shining at the moment.

“I haven’t brought my swimming cozzie,” Livvie complained.

“I don’t think it’s warm enough to swim, so just wear shorts and if it feels okay, you can have a paddle.” That seemed to satisfy our visitor and, she ran upstairs to change; Trish and Mima were already wearing shorts.

Simon decided he had things to do so he wasn’t coming with us, Tom however, agreed he would once he’d walked Kiki. By the time I’d packed the sandwiches I was making, and organised drinks and so forth, Tom was back.

“I hate to say this, but it’s looking a wee bitty dark towards Soothsea.”

“I’ll make them take a book each, or we could take my lappie and run it off the power inverter and they could watch some more of that Disney rubbish.”

“Wi’oot ye goin’ doo-lally?”

“I’ll take my MP3 and sit in the front, with my book.”

“Whit book, would that be?”

“The Mammal Society’s journal.”

“Och, jest somethin’ light then?”

“Did you want mustard on your ham?”

“Aye, of course I do.”

“Tough,” I said and poked my tongue at him.

It took another twenty minutes to get the car and the kids packed. It would have been easier if we’d put the kids in the boot and the picnic inside the car. Still, eventually, I managed to lock up the house and off we went.

As we went towards Southsea, the heavens opened. I hoped whatever rain we had, it would ease up as we drove on. It didn’t. So we ended up parked at Southsea watching the rain bouncing off the bonnet and the ground.

The kids read their books for a while before Tom pulled out his battered copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories, and read to the girls, who fidgeted a bit but on the whole remained fairly calm.

The rain stopped for a few minutes, just enough for me to rush to the loos with the kids. I took them in one at a time, which meant that the elder child who wasn’t in the cubicle with me, had to watch Meems. Trish, was grateful for my method to protect her modesty. She gave me a hug before she left the cubicle.

Back to the car, and it started to rain again as I was bringing the picnic from the boot: I got quite wet despite it only taking me a few minutes. However, once back inside, we had a reasonable meal, Tom’s face smiling when he discovered I’d put mustard on his meat sandwich. He took a bite, his face lit up and he said quietly, “Ye scunner,” but the smile meant he didn’t mean it.

The car was steaming up beautifully, and I felt like I was in a Turkish bath, not that I’ve ever been in one. I opened my window to let some fresh air in and rain drove through the gap causing squeals from behind me, so I closed it again.

After we’d finished eating and drinking, I packed up the picnic stuff and got my laptop from the boot, with the power inverter. “Oh no, Mummy’s going to do some work, we’ll have to be quiet now,” wailed Trish almost sarcastically and the other two laughed—actually they giggled, and before long the car was moving as the three of them bounced on the back seat in fits of giggles. Tom and I looked at each other and shrugged.

When the giggle-fit was over, I switched on the computer and Trish sighed, until she saw the film coming up on the screen and then squealed, “Mummy’s brought Bambi, yay!” The other two then squealed with pleasure.

“Right, you three, you sit quietly and watch it, or I turn it off. If it goes off, I won’t turn it back on. Understood?”

Three yeses came from behind me. I positioned the computer so they could all see it and sit reasonably comfortably. Then, after fitting my earphones to my MP3 I leant against the door of the car and nodded off listening to the haunting music from the The Mission, one of Morricone’s masterpieces.

Life seemed to reach an element of balance and I woke some ten minutes later with the sun blinding me as it shone through the window. The clouds had parted and suddenly, summer seemed to be on its way back.

I asked the children if they’d like to go for a walk, but they preferred to continue rotting their brains with Disney and my computer. I grabbed my jacket and wandered about a hundred yards from the car enjoying the peacefulness of the fresh breeze and sunshine.

Alas, it didn’t last long; suddenly a large black cloud came over and the deluge began again. I ran back to the car and hopped in quickly to squeals from the girls as some rain followed me through the open door.

Once the film was over, I packed up the computer and we went home via an ice cream shop, where Tom treated us all to knickerbocker glories. I hadn’t had one since Simon bought me one when we were first dating—so, despite the coldness of the ice cream I had a warm feeling in my tummy.

On the drive home, I led the choral singing of, One Man and His Dog, and Ten Green Bottles, by which time we were home and it looked as if it hadn’t rained much there at all.

Simon was busy mowing the lawns for Tom, and when asked about rain, reported there’d only been a short shower just after we left, but that was all. The girls decided they’d play on Trish’s bike. I stood by the car and paused in my unloading of it. Trish got the key from the house and unlocked the garage and opened the door.

There was a pause as she walked in then a squeal of surprise—a bit like a rabbit being caught by a weasel—then she came running out. “Daddy’s bought another bike,” she said dancing around and clapping, “look, Livvie, my daddy’s bought another bike.”

Tom paused in helping me with the picnic, “Her daddy or her mummy?”

“You know, Daddy, prophets in their own land.” I shrugged and continued unloading the car.

I watched them from the kitchen window as they rode up and down the drive on the two bicycles. Meems, had come in with me and had decided on a nap on the sofa in the lounge, I closed the door and washed up the picnic stuff.

Stella came and sat with me and we made a cup of tea. Simon came in and had one and while we were sat enjoying it, the two older girls came in for a drink.

“Thank you so much for the new bike, Daddy,” said Trish.

“New bike? What new bike?” he looked completely bemused.

“The girl’s bike that was in the garage, Daddy, the one you put there.”

“I didn’t put anything in the garage except the lawn mower.”

“Yes you did, Daddy, you’re fooling with us, aren’t you?”

“No I’m not, Trish, I haven’t bought a bike since Christmas.”

“Well, who did then?” She looked quite chastened by her mistake. “Was it you, Gramps?”

Tom had just appeared from his study, “Wis whit me?”

“Did you buy us a new bike, Gramps?”

“No, it wisnae me, Trish.”

“Auntie Stella, was it you?”

“No, it wasn’t, Trish.” Trish looked really puzzled. “Now think, young lady, who is the real bike fan in this house?”

“Daddy?” she said and I nearly choked on my tea.

“Mummy?” the way she said it, it was half in astonishment. “What? Mummy bought the bike?”

“Yes, I did, why the surprise?”

“Of course, you like to ride sometimes don’t you?”

“I do, when I have time.” I thought back to the days when I could ride almost anytime, they seemed a long time ago.

“I think a thank you might be in order, young lady,” said Simon.

“Oh yes, thank you, Daddy.”

“Not me, you nit, your mother.”

“Oops!” Trish put both her hands over her mouth and blushed, “Soz, Mummy, thank you for the bike.” She reached up and gave me a kiss and a hug, then Livvie did the same. A thunder of tiny hooves and they were off out again.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 666

Sunday was mainly dry and the girls spent much of the time riding up and down the drive—requests to go out on the road, having been turned down, didn’t arise again. Mima played with her dolls and helped Stella. Since Livvie had arrived, Trish didn’t seem interested in much besides playing with her. Given her history of being bullied at the children’s home, I suppose she was relieved to be able to play safely with someone of her own age, and was making the most of it while she could.

The planetoid was heading straight towards the earth and nobody seemed able to do anything about it so this time around, a Bruce Willis figure—in real life—couldn’t be found. The Americans had fired several nuclear devices at it, but none of them worked. We had about three days to live.

I was panicking, what if Livvie’s mum couldn’t get back? What were we going to do? Simon was suggesting we went up to Scotland and into the cellars of the family castle. They could be blocked up and he was sure some sort of air purifier could be rigged up to keep out the radiation from the explosion.

It was suggested that the site of impact was likely to be Russo-Chinese border. The Northern hemisphere would take the brunt of it. Pandas would probably become extinct in the wild and humans would be thinned out too. I was wanting to take some dormice with us, because with a cooling caused by a nuclear winter, they’d likely be as viable as dodos.

Simon had chartered a helicopter to take us up to Scotland, I cycled into the university and emerged with a rucksack full of dormice, a bar bag full of nuts and acorns and panniers full of other food items for them. I was going to do my best to help them survive, assuming we did of course.

The helicopter was just about cleared for takeoff and we’d just left the ground when I spotted Livvie’s mum running towards us, she was screaming at us to take her with us but we didn’t she just got smaller and smaller as we soared into the sky. I noticed Livvie waving to her and she was crying silently. My phone rang inside my handbag and I reached to answer it.

“What are you doing?” asked Simon, I heard a phone ring and put my hand down to what I thought was my hand bag only to make contact with a hairy part of his anatomy, which apparently woke him up.

“Uh what?” I answered waking up. I reached over to the phone, it was nearly seven in the morning. “Hello?”

“Is that Cathy?” asked an educated voice.

“Who wants her?”

“This is Tony Richards, Peaches’ father.”

“Oh hello, sorry about that, just woke up.”

“Yeah, that’s okay, look could you keep Peaches with you for a bit longer?”

“I don’t know, I…”

“There’s been an accident…” his voice broke down, “the police are on their way here now, so I don’t have much time.”

“No of course, is Laura alright?”

“No. That’s why I’m asking you to keep Peaches.”

“Of course I will, until you can make other arrangements.”

“Can I speak with her?”

“Yes, I’ll go and get her.” I jumped out of the bed, and gave her the phone, she was still quite sleepy. “It’s your daddy.”

She looked confused but took the cordless phone and said, “Hello, Daddy, I’m having a super time with Auntie Cathy and Trish and Mima, and Uncle Simon and Auntie Stella and Grampa Tom…” She paused for a moment and said, “Oh, oh okay,” and nodded. She handed me back the phone and said, “Mummy is injured in an accident, Daddy said I have to stay with you until he can come and get me. Is that alright?”

“Of course, sweetheart,” I hugged her with one arm while I held the receiver to my ear.

“Look, I’m organising my solicitor to make payments for her school fees and some sort of contribution towards her keep. Please, you’ll take care of her, won’t you? She’s a nice kid.”

“Of course I will, what happened to Laura?”

“Damn, there’s the police, look I have to go. I’ll call when I can.”

“Tony?” I called but he rang off. What on earth was going on? Police? If she was injured why isn’t he waiting for the ambulance? It all sounded rather bizarre and guess who got lumbered again? When he phones again, I’ll demand to know exactly what is happening.

“Is Mummy gonna be alright, Auntie Cathy?” asked Livvie, tears running down her face.

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I sincerely hope so.”

“Can I stay with you and Trish and Mima?”

“Of course you can,” I hugged her to me and she sobbed into my chest.

“Is everything alright?” asked Simon poking his head around the door.

I shook my head, “Get the girls up and showered will you?”

“Yeah okay, is Livvie okay?” I waved him away and he gently closed the door. I sat and hugged her for five or ten minutes. Maybe it was longer. At about half past seven, I showered her and after wrapping her in a big soft towel, I showered myself and then combed and dried our hair. I thought it best if she went to school and she agreed that I would come and get her if I needed to.

Simon took the two girls to school, and I cleaned up the breakfast dishes. I was still puzzling over the strange phone call. I’d tried to call it back but the number was withheld, so until they contacted me, there was little I could do.

I started the washing machine, having marked Livvie’s school uniforms with a safety pin. Her underwear was quite different to Trish’s and Mima’s, so that was easy enough to identify. I was about to make myself a cuppa and ask Stella if she wanted one, when the doorbell rang.

I assumed it was probably the postman or some other sort of delivery. Tom was waiting for a book or something similar, he had said but I wasn’t listening. I opened the door and before me stood two police officers.

“Oh God, Simon? Is he alright?”

“Hello, Cathy,” said a familiar voice. It belonged to PC Bond. “Can we come in?”

“Of course,” I opened the door, and led them through to the lounge. “I was just going to make a cup of tea, would you like one?” They both nodded. “Simon is okay?”

“As far as we know,” replied Andy Bond.

I made a large pot of tea and took it through with mugs and milk and sugar and a tin of biscuits. I stirred the pot and poured us each a cup. “How can I help you, Andy?” I asked.

“Did Tony Richards call here this morning?”

“Yes, why?”

“What time was it?”

“About seven, he said his wife had had some sort of accident and could I keep Livvie, or Peaches, as they call her.”

“I see, he didn’t tell you anything about the nature of the accident?”

“No, he said he was waiting for the police to arrive and they did as he was talking to Livvie.”

“Livvie? We have the daughter down as Peaches.”

“She asked us to call her Livvie, she doesn’t like Peaches and her second name is Olivia, hence Livvie.”

“Ah, I gotcha. He didn’t tell her anything either?”

“As far as I’m aware he just told her to stay with me until he could arrange to collect her. He said he’d arranged for his solicitor to pay her school fees and something towards her keep. I thought it was odd at the time, but I was half asleep and he was obviously under pressure and Livvie was getting upset, so it was all a bit of a blur.”

“I understand, Cathy.”

“What exactly has happened?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you the details; they are the subject of a police investigation.”

“Is Laura, alright?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Is she dead?”

“Yes.”

“Oh geez, that poor little kid, what am I supposed to tell her? Is her father coming to see her?”

“I’m afraid not. He’s in custody and likely to remain there.”

“Oh geez, is he responsible for her accident?”

“Officially, Cathy, I can’t tell you anything, you understand?”

I nodded, “Yes, of course.”

“Unofficially, yes he’s being held on suspicion of causing her death.”

“Bloody hell,” I blushed, “’scuse my French, he killed her?”

Andy Bond shrugged but would say no more. He sipped his tea.

“Who’s going to tell Livvie?”

“We will if you want, but you know her better than I do.”

“You want me to do it? You want me to tell the poor kid that her father killed her mother?”

Andy Bond sipped his tea impassively. “Somebody has to.”

“And I’m it?”

“It might come easier from you.”

“Gee whiz, what am I supposed to tell her?”

“That her mother has had an accident and her father is busy helping the authorities to sort it out.”

“I still have to tell her that her mother is dead.”

“Sorry, Cathy.”

“And I know that her father killed her mother,” I felt tears run down my face, “Geez, how do I cope with that?”

Andy Bond shrugged, “I don’t know, Cathy. I wish I did.”

I nodded, “Okay, I’ll tell her.” I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. “Are there any grandparents?”

“I don’t know, Cathy, we haven’t been told of any, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.”

“I’ll have to ask her—Livvie, I mean.” PC Bond nodded. “Why did Tony Richards ask me to look after her?”

“I have no idea, maybe they’re abroad or very old,” he suggested.

“I wonder if they’re going to come looking to take custody of her?”

“They could, but in the interim, her dad’s asked you specifically to look after her. Isn’t that how you got the first of your kids?” he asked me.

“Something like that, Meems’ parents are on the run abroad somewhere, unless some irate African megalomaniac has got to them first.”

“Oh dear, you haven’t heard from them, then?”

“No, and the courts awarded me custody until they come to claim her in person.”

“Right, she’ll be a pensioner by then, won’t she?”

“She won’t, but I might be.”

Just then Simon arrived back and the police decided to leave, asking me to report anything I remembered that Tony Richards had said, which I hadn’t told them. I then had to tell Simon what was happening and he hugged me and said, “Well, unless some grandparents turn up to take her, it looks like we’ve gained another lodger.”

“Yeah, I suppose we’ll have to explain about Trish, sometime.”

“Let’s deal with this traumatic news first. When do you want to go and tell her?”

“I’ll speak with the headmistress and ask her advice.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 667

Simon drove us to the school. It was lunchtime and the headmistress had suggested we do it quickly and quietly, then take her home to our house. Of course, Trish would have to come home as well, because I couldn’t cope with having to come to get her later. Also, this was like a family crisis, and it required all the members to be present to deal with it.

Mima had been briefed and understood in a limited way what had happened. She burst into tears and it took a little while to calm her down. How Livvie would take it—I had no idea, although I suspected Trish would be quite tearful, not because she would miss the woman, but because her friend would be hurting.

Simon and I followed the headmistress into her office. “I hate moments like this,” she said as she arranged the seats. “As acting parents, I’m happy—no that’s the wrong word, but you know what I mean—for you to break the news.”

‘Coward’, is what I thought, but I nodded all the same. Someone had to do it, and it would possibly be better coming from me than the authority figure the headmistress represented.

Livvie had been summoned and she was brought to the office where she knocked and entered. When she saw me there, her face moved from showing fear to mortal terror.

“Headmistress,” she said bobbing a curtsey, “Auntie Cathy, Uncle Simon, have I done something wrong?”

“No sweetheart, but we have some bad news for you.”

“Oh, has Mummy died?”

I nearly fell over. She knew her mother had been involved in an accident of some sort, so it made some logical sense.

“I’m afraid so,” I opened my arms to offer a hug and she slowly came to me.

“Does this mean I have to go and live with Daddy?”

“Not for the moment,” I answered.

“Can I stay with you, Auntie Cathy?”

“For the moment. Do you have any grandparents?”

“Not really, Daddy’s parents divorced when he was little and we don’t even know where they are. They’ve never been to see us.”

“What about Mummy’s parents?” I asked.

“They’re dead.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I felt myself blush and she walked up to me and allowed me to hug her.

“Please, I’d like to live with you, Auntie Cathy.”

“You can until we sort something out with your daddy.”

“He doesn’t care about me, he’s only seen me twice in the past year. I’d like to stay with you. Trish said you weren’t her real mummy, but she’s allowed to stay with you, so why can’t I?” This was when the tears started, her first then me and then the headmistress. Simon ran out of hankies, and he was moist-eyed, too.

“Would you like to come home with us now?” I asked.

“I won’t have to go to bloody Scotland, will I?” she said and I nearly fell over trying not to laugh, which would have been so inappropriate, but being on a knife edge, it’s easy to do the wrong thing.

“No, not unless you want to.”

“I’d like to see the castle that Trish’s gramps owns, but not my daddy’s flat. It’s horrid.”

“We have to get Trish, so we’ll be ready to go in a minute.” I said as the headmistress summoned my foster daughter. She appeared with a worried look on her face as well and when she saw Livvie, she knew that there was a problem with her mummy.

“Trish, Livvie’s mummy has died in an accident, so we’re all going home.”

“Oh sorry, Livvie,” she offered her friend a hug and they both cried together for a moment. I couldn’t avoid the tears myself, it was such a touching embrace—and only little girls could have done it together. Even Simon was sniffing.

We escaped through the playground while the children were being called to start the next lesson. The drive home was pretty well in silence. I sat in the back of the car with a child on either side of me, an arm around each. It was probably the saddest journey I have ever made.

“How did she die—Mummy, I mean?” asked Livvie as we stopped at roadworks.

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I expect we’ll find out in a short time.”

“I don’t want to know. Did Daddy kill her?”

I felt my heart miss a beat, “I don’t know anything, sweetheart.” I lied to this child, and I felt myself get hot and bothered. It was the appropriate thing to do at that moment, she didn’t need to know, and officially, I didn’t know anyway.

Simon put the car radio on, it was two o’clock and we got the news headlines. Most of it was about the Prime Minister surviving an attempted coup by some of his backbenchers. Then: ‘Police in Edinburgh, investigating the death of a woman who fell from a third floor balcony, have arrested her estranged husband on suspicion of manslaughter.’

“What’s manslaughter, Auntie Cathy?”

“It’s a criminal charge brought by the police when someone unintentionally kills someone else. Like if we were to knock someone down on the way home, we could be guilty of manslaughter. It’s a form of unlawful killing.”

“So Daddy did kill her, then?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I didn’t even know she’d fallen from the balcony. All I knew, was she had died.”

Trish was sniffing, but Livvie stayed quiet, almost in repose. “I wanted to come and live with you before she died.”

“What?” I gasped and Simon swerved.

“I told Trish, I wanted you to be my mummy. She says you love her. Nobody loves me—not my mummy or my daddy. I’m only in the way.”

I hugged her tightly to me, partly because I so wanted her to feel she was loved and partly because I was weeping freely and I didn’t want her to see me. I let go Trish and put two arms around Livvie.

“Sweetheart, we love you, Trish, Mima, Simon and me, we all love you. Grampa Tom, also loves you. I’m sure your mummy loved you too.”

“No she didn’t, she told me I was a ‘bloody’ nuisance often enough, and Daddy didn’t want me, he’s got a girlfriend and she wouldn’t want me. So can I stay with you, will you be my mummy too, like you are with Trish and Meems?”

“She’s not my real mummy, she’s my foster mummy, but she’s wonderful,” said Trish, “I’m sure she could foster you too if you asked her nicely, and we know a judge. He said I could stay with Mummy, didn’t he, Mummy?”

“Yes, darling, he did.” I wondered if she would be subject to Scottish law or English, and if there was any difference. If she really wanted to stay, I’d have to try and help her. I really didn’t need another child to look after. Thank goodness, Stella was available to help, even in a limited sense. It looked increasingly as if my career was on hold until we sorted out Livvie, not entirely what I’d have asked for, but somehow we’d have to cope. Quite how, I hadn’t yet figured out.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 668

The afternoon was spent comforting Livvie and trying to cheer up my two girls, who frankly, seemed more upset than our guest did. She changed into her shorts and tee shirt and wanted to go out on the bike, so with some reluctance, Trish did the same. Mima, seemed all cried out and fell into a sleep on the sofa. I wondered if it raised questions about her real mother, especially as we didn’t know if she was alive or dead.

While I wasn’t complaining, fostering is a problem. It meant I got to play mummy to some kids, but, theoretically, they could be removed from me at a moment’s notice. Then there was the problem of Trish’s little anatomical difficulty. What would Livvie say if she saw it or suspected anything? Given her almost dismissive response to the news of her mother’s death and father’s arrest for manslaughter, I wouldn’t like to predict anything about the girl. I would try and spend some time with her over the next few days and see if I could encourage her to open her barriers and let us in, as a family.

I suppose the bottom line is that she integrates into our household and family, or she goes somewhere else. Integrating means accepting Trish for who she says she is. As for what I do with my career? That looks as if it’s on hold for the foreseeable future. I don’t know how I feel about it. I was set to become a leading mammal researcher and now, it looks like sorting out three waifs and strays have become the priority. I need to talk with Simon and Tom as soon as we can all get together, probably after the kids are in bed.

I set to making a light dinner. I wasn’t very hungry, too wrapped in my childcare worries. Stella came down and found me in the kitchen preparing chicken breasts.

“Well, our little visitor doesn’t seem to be too upset about being half an orphan, does she?”

“It could be that the reality hasn’t penetrated beneath her defences, yet.” I carried on rolling them in breadcrumbs after dipping them in egg.

“Hmm, that smells nice, what is it?”

“That’s beaten egg, the rest is breadcrumbs with garlic and a few herbs, plus some pepper and a little salt.”

She sniffed over the breadcrumbs. “I thought breadcrumbs for cooking were orange coloured?”

“Not if you make them yourself.”

“Oh, you are a clever dick, aren’t you?”

“Actually no, that’s one thing I can’t be accused of.” I laughed as I said this and she groaned.

“You know perfectly well what I mean, you silly twat.”

“That I can accept; and yes I do know.” I poked out my tongue and she laughed. “Put the kettle on, will ya?”

Once I’d coated the chicken breasts in oil and shoved them in the oven, we settled to drink our tea. “Where’s Simon?” I knew he was in the house.

“I think he’s been using the study, sort of working.”

“Oh, I wonder if he wants a cuppa?” I got up and went into the study, Simon was on the phone. I made a T shape with my hands and he nodded and gave me a thumbs up.

I poured him a cup and took it into him, he was just putting the phone down. “I’ve been talking to our advocate in Edinburgh.”

“Advocate?” I asked.

“Yeah, lawyer, expert in Scottish law and so on, bloody good golfer, too.”

“And?”

“He seems to think that if Tony Richards asks you officially to foster his child, the law will rubber stamp it.”

“Until he wants her back?”

“Don’t think it’s that straightforward, especially if we make a case that she thinks he killed her mother and is frightened of him.”

“I don’t think she’s frightened of him, more she feels unloved by him,” I mused.

“I’m not too worried about the exactitudes, rather that we get her a stable family to live with.”

“What a group of horses?” I gasped.

He shook his head, “Cathy, don’t take everything so literally, will you? You know what I mean, a stable family…”

“Like us?”

“Yes, why…why are you laughing?” he began to go red probably with embarrassed anger.

“Stable, we’re all bloody nutcases. I mean, you’re a rich eccentric, Stella is barking, I’m transsexual so is Trish and Mima may be nearly normal.”

“What about Tom? You forgot him.”

“Tom is the archetypal nutty professor.”

“So you think little Livvie will fit right in then?”

“Probably. We’re far from normal, but at least we’ll show her some affection.”

“Absolutely. Let’s face it, it’s either that or a children’s home or fostering with people she doesn’t know.” He paused to drink his tea. “This is good, did you make it?”

“Yes I did, why?”

“Well normally you make tea like gnat’s pee, this is almost drinkable.”

“I don’t like it too strong,” I protested.

“Weak hardly describes it, helpless might be more appropriate.”

“I suppose you don’t like my cooking either then?”

“Why? What are we having tonight?”

“As I can’t be trusted making tea, let alone baked chicken breasts.”

“Ooh,” he gasped, can we have chips with them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Oh please, I love your chicken breasts.”

I looked down at my chest, “Oh, I thought my boobs were okay.”

“You know what I mean, I’ll put the girls to bed if you make chips, and proper ones not those oven things.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“So are we going to take on Livvie?”

“We have a choice?” I asked.

“In principle, yes, but she’s already indicated she wants to come here.” He shrugged, “I think we’re outvoted.”

“Look, I’m not running a children’s home, so this is the last waif we take in. I want to keep some sort of career in sight.”

“I hate to say it, but when we marry, things will get better and worse.”

“Oh, how so?” I asked wondering if I could do a runner.

“Well, you’d be able to employ helps around the house, but you’d also be expected to do certain things like opening fetes and hosting dinner parties.”

“What, just ’cos I married you?”

“Yep,” he smiled.

“Maybe we’ll stay engaged until the girls are grown up?” I hypothesised.

“You’re breaking my heart,” he said, pretending to cry.

“Go on, yours is made of flint, albeit ten carat, and those tears are crocodile if not alligator.”

“You’re a hard woman, Cathy Watts.”

“So you keep telling me. I wonder if the girls would like chips?”

“I do love you, though,” he said smiling insincerely. As they say, a way to a man’s heart…

I finished the dinner a bit later. Everyone said yes to chips—I can’t understand the attraction—now chocolate, that’s different.

After dinner, I cleared up and asked Trish and Livvie to help me. They carried stuff out to the kitchen and after I rinsed off the dishes, Trish put them in the machine.

“Would you like me to find out if there’s any news on your daddy?” I enquired.

“No thank you, Auntie Ca… can I call you Mummy, now?”

I blushed, “I um, don’t know if it’s a bit too soon for that, Livvie. I mean your real mother has hardly been dead a day yet.”

“Yes, but you’re more like a real mummy than she was.”

“I think you should show her a little more respect than that, Livvie. She was your mother, after all.”

“I told you, she thought I was a nuisance, and so did he. He preferred to be with his girlfriend than stay with Mummy and me. She thought it was because of me, and hated me for it. I hated both of them.” There wasn’t a tear to be seen, what had they done to this kid?

“Will you hate me too, if I fail you?”

“I don’t know what you mean, but I see the way you love Trish and Mima and they aren’t even your children.”

“Only by birth, we love each other like a family.”

“Can you love me, too?” Now came some tears, “or am I unlovable?”

I held her in a huge hug, “No, darling, we love you here, welcome to your new family.”

“Thank you, Mummy.”

I felt myself wince slightly and blush, “You’re welcome, my child.” She hugged me tightly and sobbed.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 669

I lay in my bed and wondered if we were doing the right thing for Livvie. Was she a complication too far for Trish? If and when she found out, would she be supportive? I’d already decided and discussed with Simon, that there would be no talk of Trish ‘used to be a boy’, rather that she’s a girl with a plumbing problem, which will be sorted.

I tried to think if there was anything she did which might give her away, but there was nothing which jumped out at me. She was just as feminine as Mima, and probably more so than I was. I was the bike nut who enjoyed getting oil all over me—well, not entirely true, I hate getting dirty, but I do enjoy tinkering. However, tinkering with bikes is not gender specific, is it? And if you ride, it makes sense to be able to fix most of the simple things, like punctures and broken chains, or cables.

Sadly, the time available for riding was going to be even less than it was with two kids, which was less than one. What have I done? Bitten off more than I can chew? What happens if Livvie finds out about my past? Would that damage her? Why is it always so complicated with children?

Then I thought back to her defences actually crumbling when she asked why no one loved her. I felt my eyes welling up with tears again. It was two o’clock, Simon was fast asleep and I had yet to close my eyes. I slipped out of bed and crept downstairs to make a cuppa—maybe it would help me relax.

I was boiling the kettle when Tom appeared, “Make that twa cups, lassie.”

“Sorry, Daddy, I couldn’t sleep.”

“I needed the loo, and decided I’d come and speak wi’ ye.”

“Do you think I’m doing the wrong thing, letting Livvie stay here?”

“That’s not for me to say, lassie, all I can say is I’ll support whit ever decision ye mak.”

I hugged him, and felt his old but strong arms around me. I relaxed into his embrace and felt safe and loved. This was what was missing from Livvie’s little life—what right did I have to deny her that basic human need—to be loved? “Thank you, Daddy.”

“Whit fer?” he asked.

“For helping me decide.”

“I did—I did? Whit did I dae?”

“You showed me love, that’s what.”

“Aye, so?”

“It’s what Livvie needs, some love.”

“Aye, but dinna ferget, Trish an Mima, also need yer love?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t forget those two either. To start with, they’ll make sure of that.”

“Aye, noo whaur’s yon tea?”

I wasn’t sure I needed it anymore, but I made us some all the same and I sat and drank it with Tom. How did he know just what to do to help me? Was he simply being a loving parent, himself? If so, he seemed better at it than I was—which didn’t take much.

I finished my tea and we made small talk and then went back to bed. It was after three and the sky was lightening—I’d be knackered when I woke up. Oh joy. I zonked almost as soon as my head hit the pillow and amazingly, I felt okay the next morning. Four hour’s sleep seemed to suit me, at least until breakfast.

James Naughty (pronounced Noch-tee) was having a go at the shadow chancellor, who was digging a large pit for himself over what the Tories would do with spending cuts. It sounded pretty awful, but then as a Guardian reader, I vote left of centre. I don’t expect to change even if I do eventually get around to marrying Simon—but he knows that anyway, as does Henry.

I got our two schoolgirls ready and took them to school after breakfast and packing their lunches. They had cheese salads today. Mima stayed with Simon, who wasn’t going to work until I got back. Tom had already gone—I hope I have as much energy at his age. What am I saying? He’s got more than I have now.

I let the girls go into their classes and then popped to see the headmistress. I explained that Livvie would be staying with us pro tem, at which the headmistress nodded.

“She’s a funny child, almost as if she has been here before.”

“I know what you mean, an old head on young shoulders.”

“Absolutely, that completely sums her up. Very succinct, Mrs Watts or is it soon to be Lady Cameron?”

“I haven’t got time to arrange a bike ride, let alone a wedding—and I can’t see it getting any better, any time soon.”

“Well, you won’t be short of bridesmaids.”

“I suppose not, heavens—what a thought?” I mused on seeing the three of them in matching dresses, could be cute or awful. I mused on and decided to share my new understanding of Livvie’s position with the headmistress.

“She’s been abused by virtue of both her parents being more interested in their own lives than hers. She asked me if she was unlovable.”

“Oh my, the poor little thing?”

“It had me in tears, I can tell you. Then when I said we loved her and hugged her, the defences crumbled and she cried and asked me to be her mummy. What could I say? I feel uncomfortable with you calling me that?”

“Hardly, gosh things are really moving for her—if I or the school can help, do let me know, won’t you?”

“Yes, thanks. I thought I’d fill you in a little on what’s happening with her. Of course she doesn’t know about Trish, and I see no need for her to at the moment.”

“Exactly…”

“However, I have a contingency plan in mind, and that is to come from the angle that Trish is a girl with a plumbing problem, not a failed boy.”

“That fits in nicely with our take on her situation too, so if she does discover it and mentions it in school, we can support the same line you’re using.”

“In Trish’s case, I actually think it’s correct, she is so girly most of the time, much more so than I am.”

“Do you need to act girly to be female, Lady Catherine? I think not. You seem so natural as a mother, you look the part and act it without any effort. You don’t need to be girly and frilly and feminine, just be true to yourself—as female.”

I blushed and thanked her. I rushed off to get home to let Simon go to work. When I got there, he’d already left and Mima was helping Stella change Puddin’. I mean change her nappy. I wouldn’t want to change anything else about her, she is such a lovely baby and so happy.

Mima seemed absolutely enthralled by helping to stick the disposable nappy together. I wasn’t, they take almost as long as nuclear waste to break down in landfill sites, not that nuclear waste should be in landfills, but remember I am an ecologist.

I had a cuppa with Stella and then Mima and I did some vacuuming, me with Mr Dyson’s invention and her with one from Fisher Price—a mini carpet sweeper. She wasn’t much help, and nearly broke one of Tom’s heirlooms, an ancient Chinese vase, which was balanced on a low window sill on the stairs. I caught it by reflex, hardly seeing it even fall. After that, I sent her to check on Stella and to ask her to put the kettle on for more tea, while I replaced the oriental vase to its perching place, my heart beating far faster and louder than it should have been and my hands becoming moist with sweat. And now I had three domestic terrorists to supervise—what fun!

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 670

After lunch, Mima and I sat down on the sofa and we both fell fast asleep. I suppose exhaustion caught up with both of us, and it was good that we’d spent some time together. I know that the younger child is usually thought of as favoured in being at home with their mother, but Mima seemed to have less time with me these days.

Stella woke me at half past two and I left Mima snoozing while I had a cuppa to wake me up. I chatted with Stella while we drank the life-saving fluid, and then went off to get the girls.

I saw the Range Rover of my least favourite schoolchild’s mother. My stomach began to flip. I walked into the yard and waited for my two. There were one or two other mothers waiting and I stood on the edge of a group. There was a conversation in progress: “They say her father killed her mother, up in Scotland, somewhere.”

“What? And they’re allowing a child like that to stay here? Like father like daughter.”

I could feel the pulse in my neck twitching with anger. These people had little idea of inherited traits, and even less about the facts of the case they were discussing. There was an irony here. They were standing discussing the possibility of a child inheriting some form of sociopathic behaviour while standing next to someone, who unbeknownst to them, had already killed. I resisted the urge to tell them, because it could only be counterproductive and they wouldn’t see the irony. I really didn’t need to make enemies amongst the other mothers, at the same time, I couldn’t let their whispering campaign go unchallenged.

“I’m sorry, but there is as yet no evidence to suggest anyone killed anyone else.”

“They said he’d been arrested on suspicion.”

“That isn’t quite the same as a conviction.”

“No, but, no smoke without fire, is there?”

“Isn’t there? What about carbon dioxide as dry ice, that produces a smoke like substance and there’s definitely no fire.”

“You know what I meant.”

“Do I? You mean maligning a five year old because of some poorly reported manslaughter charge relating to her father? Remember, half her genes came from her mother, but that doesn’t mean someone’s going to kill her, does it?”

“But it said on the telly…”

“He has been charged not convicted.”

“Are you defending him?”

“No, I’m trying to stop a whispering campaign against a delightful child who has done nothing wrong.” I saw them begin to blush.

“How do you know it’s not in her genes?”

“I’m a biologist by training, so I know a thing or two about genetics. What’s your qualification in?”

“I’m a hairdresser, why? What’s that got to do with it?”

“Nothing, I’m sure you’re a very fine hairdresser, but possibly lacking in the latest trends in the human genome project.”

“The what?”

“I think I’ve made my point.”

“’Ere, weren’t you on the telly the other night?” said another woman in the group, “you made that film about rats?”

“Dormice, yes.”

“I thought so. She does know something about breedin’, she breeds them rat things.”

“Dormice,” I corrected again.

“Well them’s rodents in’t they?”

I wondered how someone with such a poor command of grammar could afford to send her child to a private school, then remembered that money and breeding don’t always go together, the Browne-Cowards being a case in point.

Thankfully, most of them had gone before Trish and Livvie appeared. Although one glance showed she’d been crying. I walked quickly up to them and put a protective arm around each of them. “C’mon, girls, let’s get home and have some ice cream.”

In the car Trish explained that Livvie had been bullied because of what happened to her mother. Maybe they were correct, the mums I’d spoken to, maybe there was some evidence to demonstrate the inherited nastiness some people have to show prejudice on an irrational level. The playground was full of it.

“Do we know who did the bullying?” I asked.

“Yes, Mummy,” said Trish.

“Who was it?”

“Petunia,” said Trish in a quiet voice.

“Petunia Browne-Cow?” I said deliberately shortening the name.

“Yes, Mummy, that is so funny,” she chortled to herself.

I was beginning to worry. Another piece of observed evidence of mother-daughter inheritance. Then of course, I rationalised it. There could be some inherited behaviour, but there is almost certainly some observed and mimicked behaviour—it’s how children learn—the inheritance being psychic rather than physical. That cheered me up a little.

By the time we’d got home we all felt a bit better, and I resolved to speak with the headmistress on the Monday. I had yet to discover the date and time of the funeral, which Livvie might want to attend, and which I should anyway. Bugger, it’s such a long way away. Maybe we could fly from Southampton and hire a car at Edinburgh?

I only had enough ice cream for the children, so Stella and I had to go without until I next bought some. While the girls were eating, I filled Stella in on the fine details. She was irritated by the attitude of some people.

It meant I had to watch her the next day as well as the children. The last thing I needed was her to flip again. I wouldn’t be able to cope, I really wouldn’t.

Trish finished first—she’s a regular gannet when it comes to ice cream—practically swallows it whole. While she went up to change, I had a chat with Livvie.

“Don’t let them bully you, Livvie, especially as you’ve done nothing wrong.”

“I try not to, Mummy.” I blushed and the hair on the back of my neck stood up on end. Without thinking, I nearly said, “I’m not your mother, Livvie,” but as far as she was concerned, I was, so I was pleased I hadn’t opened my stupid mouth.

We had a hug and a cuddle and after she’d cried a bit, she nodded off in my arms, so I was stuck there for another half an hour. Not wishing to waste valuable sleeping time, I followed suit and had a lovely nap.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 671

“Aw look, a pair of dormice,” in my semi-somnolent state I half recognised Stella’s voice. I also heard Mima and Trish giggling.

“Wake up, Mummy,” called Mima, planting a kiss on my cheek. I fluttered open my eyelids, I could easily have slept for another hour or two—I seem to be so tired all the time.

“Oh my goodness, a reception committee, so who played Prince Charming and woke Sleeping Beauty?”

“I did,” shouted Mima, and I felt glad that Spike wasn’t within earshot.

“Ah, so I’ve been awakened by Princess Charming?”

“Is the feminist version with sperm donors and in vitro pregnancies?” asked Stella who was, with difficulty, holding back her laughter.

“Absolutely,” I said, which woke up Livvie, who yawned and stretched. “Hello, sweetheart, have a nice snooze.”

“Mmm,” she said, yawned again as she nodded, curled up in my lap and fell asleep again.

“Oh,” said Stella, “that wasn’t supposed to happen, I’ll make you a cuppa so you can think of a solution.”

“Why can’t you think of one?” I asked.

“You’re the teacher, me? I’m just ritter glasshoppel.” She scurried off chortling while I tried to make some sense of what she said. If it was relating to the corny Kung Fu show which was on telly before I was born, it almost made sense. I saw some repeats years ago, yeah sure, someone can move faster than a speeding bullet—he’s called Superman.

She returned ten minutes later with a cup of tea for me and a chocolate biscuit for the girls. “Who’d like a chocolate biscuit?” she asked loudly and a voice from my lap, replied, “me please.”

I drank the tea, while Stella went off to feed Puddin’. “May I help feed her?” called Trish who galloped off after my sister-in-law to be. I was left with two demons, both getting covered in chocolate and who would be ready to eat their tea very shortly.

“Who wants sausage and chips?” I asked and two little bodies did a quick jig. I put the oven on and with two bodyguards, I drove to the local fish and chip shop. I fancied egg and chips and they both decided they’d rather have that too. So we stopped en route and bought a dozen eggs, then we went on to the chippy and bought enough chips to repeat the miracle of feeding the five thousand.

Back home, I dumped the chips in the oven and began frying eggs and heating up some tins of baked beans. Simon arrived just after Tom, who approved of my semi-unhealthy eating. In fact both the men did, ‘real food’ I think I heard Tom referring to it. Death on a plate may be a better description, but it happened to be a favourite of mine.

Stella came back with Trish and baby Puddin’ as I fried the last egg. I apportioned the chips and the coagulated poultry protein—doesn’t sound so appetising, does it? Deep fried potato slices and heat coagulated poultry protein—nah egg ’n chips, that’s better.

Which was what he had, well egg, beans and chips with bread and butter and salt and vinegar. Trish had ketchup on hers, so Mima and then Livvie followed suit. Simon tutted, Tom sniggered and Stella choked on a chip and I had to bang her on the back. She coughed for several minutes and came back to the table with red watery eyes. She glared at Tom, who’d been the one to make her laugh while she was swallowing. I’d have to explain to her that egg and chips is best swallowed not inhaled.

“So how was school?” Simon asked, before I could kick him under the table.

“Who? Me?” asked Trish, pointing to herself while wolfing down another chip.

“Yes you, madam,” Si replied, smiling.

“’Salright, I s’pose,” said Trish before snaffling another chip and swallowing without chewing properly.

“Chew things properly, Trish, if you don’t mind,” I said and she blushed and nodded.

“What about, Livvie, how was your day?” Simon continued despite my trying to catch his eye.

“I got bullied by Petunia Browne-Cow,” said Livvie and Trish and Mima snorted. I had to wipe Mima’s nose for the sake of decency and hygiene. Then the giggling started.

I know from my own experiences as an inveterate giggler, that the worst thing you can do is try to stop giggle-fits at the table. It’s like trying to stop a forest fire with a CO2 extinguisher—it’s pointless. However, there is always someone who tries. I’m just glad it wasn’t me.

“Come on now, girls, behave at the table.” Simon tried to play the authoritarian paternal figure—I could have told him he was wasting his time and breath. The giggles will only stop when the gigglers leave the table. Three of them were now rocking in their seats and Mima once again needed some nasal hygiene.

Simon was becoming exasperated, and I left the table and got him a glass of wine, one for him and one for Tom. I worked on the basis that he couldn’t sip and shout at the same time. He got hiccups, didn’t he, so now, two adult women were sniggering and tears were running down our cheeks. Stella looked at me and we were both off giggling, which of course set off the girls again. Mayhem—doesn’t really do it justice, but you get the idea.

I think I saw Tom chuckling at one point while Simon, eventually rose from the table and stomped off into the kitchen and poured himself some more wine. I dismissed the girls and they went off to play with their dolls. Trish remembered her makeup set and she and Livvie practiced painting each other’s face, while Mima played with her dolls.

Simon and I talked over how we best stop the bullying. I said I’d speak with the headmistress, but ultimately bullies only stop when their victims turn and fight back, or they decide the return isn’t worth the outlay and go and find another victim who is.

I wasn’t going to condone violence, even though Simon thought it reasonable. I tried to explain about the conversation I had with the other mums and he zoned out and went to sleep. As far as he was concerned, ‘smack ’em one and forget it—end of problem’.

I wasn’t sure that worked in a boy’s school, because the only time I stood up to a bully, I got flattened. I possibly would have been quite badly beaten if some older boys hadn’t stopped the massacre. I’d ended up on the floor in the legs up arms around head, defensive position, while the larger boy kicked and stamped on me, thankfully rather ineffectually.

After that my father tried to teach me to box, at which I was total rubbish. “You hit like a bloody girl,” he kept telling me, which was probably about right—I was a girl, only he didn’t know it then, and I wasn’t too sure of the idea myself. Actually, I was, but I was in denial big time, which was what got me into the fight in the first place.

‘Snotty Trotter’ was the bully involved who tried to part a little girly, viz. moi, from her dinner money. I had surrendered it before but I was sick of the girly jibes, and the way the whole class laughed at me.

“Come on, Nancy, hand over the dosh,” he said in a horrible Bristol accent. We’d been doing Dickens and the interaction between Sykes and Nancy, before he killed her. So the allusion to Nancy and my probable bloody demise, excited my pubescent school mates into a blood lust. At least that was possibly why they were chanting ‘fight’ instead of stopping it. And they wondered why I wanted to be a girl.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 672

Nothing happened for the rest of the week, Petunia, it transpired was ill with a bad attack of greenfly, which meant that Trish and Livvie were able to successfully mount a campaign to make friends in school, and thereby help to prevent further bullying.

In fact the school, after a little suggestion from me, started a campaign which they called GLOBE – Girls Learning (to) Overcome Bullying Everywhere. They had lessons, to instigate and plan how each class would deal with the matter of bullying in school, and as individuals they would learn how to cope with it outside school.

The next day, when I was laying down the law at home after dinner, Trish had the cheek to threaten to report me for bullying, because she wanted to play with her makeup and I wanted her to help me tidy her bedroom.

I tried to explain that being her foster parent gave me the authority to make her do things she may not want to do. It was called life, and life was full of things we didn’t want to do as well as the good things.

Despite her apparent intellect, Trish seemed unable, or more probably, unwilling, to understand this argument. So I explained it once again. “Trish, I am your foster parent. In that capacity, I make the rules, and you, as my foster child, obey them. Right?”

“Mummy, we were told that bullying was being made to do things against our will.”

“I hate to say this, kiddo, but your definition of bullying is a bit vague. The government makes us do things we don’t want to do, like paying taxes and sending children to school. It isn’t usually considered bullying, so cut the lip and help me tidy your bedroom.”

“But I don’t want to, Mummy.”

“Would you prefer to sleep in the garage?” I said, standing with my arms crossed to stop me strangling her.

“I might,” she replied defiantly.

“Okay, you can, just make sure you shake all the spiders out of your hair before you come in in the morning.” I said moving towards her bedroom, “I think we have a sleeping bag you can use.”

She went visibly pale, and I could almost hear the cogs whizzing around in her head. “Are there really lots of spiders in the garage?”

“Yep, some of the female Tegenaria are quite big too.”

“What are they?”

“House and garage spiders, they make messy webs compared to the Orb web spiders, the Araenidae. Why?”

“I don’t want spiders in my hair.”

“I suppose you could sleep in the car, but it would be rather cramped and cold at night, oh, and people would be able to see in.”

“I think, I’d rather sleep in my bedroom with Mima.”

“Um, well that might be a problem.”

“Oh,” she said and went very pale.

“You see, I need someone to help me tidy it or there won’t be room for you to sleep there.”

“I think, I’d better help you then, Mummy.”

“That sounds like a good idea, thank you.” We went up to her room and in half an hour had the chaos under control, including sorting out her wardrobe. “There that wasn’t so bad was it?” I said as we finished.

“No, Mummy.”

“And did I bully you?”

“No, Mummy, you didn’t.”

“So next time you want to argue, perhaps you’d better think a bit more about just what you’re trying to achieve. We all have to do things we don’t want to do. I didn’t want to spend my evening tidying your room either, I’ve been working in the house all day. I’m tired and would like to do something I want to do.”

“What do you want to do, Mummy?” she asked almost reversing our roles—little monkey.

“I’d maybe like to ride my bike now and again.”

“If we promise to behave, maybe Gramps could put us to bed and you could go for a ride.”

“You might have a good idea there. Hmmm, okay, come on downstairs for your milk and biscuit, then bed.”

They were meant to be in bed by eight, Mima, if she looked tired sometimes a bit earlier. It would be light for another hour and a half. I could get in a ride if the others cooperated. I went to see Simon and Tom.

I decided from now on, that once a week someone else should put the kids to bed. In the summer, I could go for a ride or just tinker with my bikes or do something for an hour or two, that I wanted to do.

I took the Specialized out for a ride, it’s tyres were harder than the Scott, and took less pumping to get them up to above a hundred pounds per square inch. Anything much less than that and the tyres don’t work properly. I think the Scott could have a puncture in the back tyre.

The ride was nice, although I’d lost much of my fitness. I did a twenty mile round trip in an hour and a half. I wasn’t rushing and I was getting hot and sweaty enough without trying. The hill climb I did really tormented my legs, my thighs burning and as well I noticed my chest didn’t like it too much, where I was stabbed that time. I think it could be a useful thing to get a check up on that, just in case there’s a problem coming.

While I was riding around, I decided I would take the girls up to Bristol at the weekend, and they could see my parent’s house and possibly Des’ house as well. I began to think, I’d let that one out as it would at least have it occupied and thus help prevent damp and things, as well as bringing in an income, which could help with school fees or saving for them for when Mima started.

The ride helped me to think, it’s really funny, because you’re obviously also alert to dangers on the road and direction and stuff, but while your body is occupied turning the pedals, it gives you time to think. Paradoxical? Could be, but it works for me.

When I’d got back the girls were all asleep, I checked when I went up for a shower. They all looked so innocent and small, like cherubs tucked up in their beds. I kissed each one and spoke quietly to them, telling them they were loved and valued; that they were here because we wanted them to be with us. All three smiled as I spoke to them.

When I went downstairs, Simon made me a nightcap. I didn’t really want alcohol, but as he’d made me a drink, I thought it would be polite to drink it. While I did, I checked my emails, there was one from Tony Richards’ lawyer.

‘Re: custody of Peaches Olivia Richards.

Owing to the indisposition of our client, he has repeatedly asked that you continue fostering his daughter, Peaches Olivia Richards, until such a time as he is able to provide a home for her. He has asked us to convey his grateful thanks for helping his daughter at this difficult time. He has also authorised us to make monthly payments to contribute towards her upkeep, and we have arranged with the school to cover her education costs.

We shall be in touch if there are any changes to these arrangements or our client is released from a custody which we consider to be wholly inappropriate.

There is as yet, no firm date for the funeral and cremation of Laura Richards, the deceased wife of the above, Tony Richards.

Yours,

Crabtree, McCulloch and Sterling, Attorneys At Law.’

I showed it to Simon and Tom. “Looks like she could be with us some time.”

“So, she fits in quite well most of the time, and let’s face it, she’s having a difficult time,” Simon mused and I put my arm around him.

“Sometimes I think I know why I find you so irresistible.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, but today isn’t one of them, so maybe you’ll just have to work on it when we get to bed.” I said as sexily as I could.

“When are you thinking about going to bed, then?”

“Five minutes ago,” I said throwing back my head and flipping my hair. He grabbed his drink and keeping his eyes on me the whole time swallowed it down in one big gulp.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 673

Petunia’s greenfly turned out to be pig flu, so the school was closed by the local authority. There was total mayhem the next morning as we’d left before the school phoned. Some other mothers were also there and the discussions were heated. I stayed on the periphery and nodded to the headmistress as she approached the angry mothers, some of whom would now have to take time off work. In that regard I was lucky. However, I wasn’t sure how lucky we’d be about avoiding the newly classified pandemic.

I felt most worried about Stella and Puddin’ as they were likely to be most at risk. I decided I’d take the kids to Bristol for the interim. If they didn’t start sneezing or growing curly tails for a few days, we were probably okay.

I phoned Simon and told him what we were going to do, he wasn’t too pleased. Stella thought it was highly improbable that she’d caught the flu bug or that the children had either. Tom was in work and I thought I’d leave him a note.

I had decided, and packed as many clothes and toys as I could squeeze into my car. Even with the roof rack, I couldn’t take them all. I did manage the two girl’s bikes and Mima’s push chair. They were actually tied on to my bike rack–okay, I took the Specialized with me, though I couldn’t see how I’d be able to find time to ride it.

I packed the kids next. What was I doing? Three children on my own—I’d be a basket case in a couple of days, and they’d all be beaten to death. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all? Too late now, they were all excited about seeing my house in Bristol. I packed even more stuff inside the car, soft stuff that would protect rather than ricochet around the car in the event of an impact. Then we left.

The journey was quicker than usual—perhaps I was meant to go home? The children rushed about the place as soon as I opened the door and then they were squabbling about whose bedroom was whose? We solved that problem. All the girls would sleep in the spare room, in sleeping bags. They thought it was going to be an adventure—it now seemed more like an ill-thought-out nightmare to me.

Once we’d unloaded the car—how did I get that much in in the first place?—I decided we’d get the shopping over. Three of them on my own in Asda? Not good policy. At one point I did think of buying three toddler harnesses and linking them to the front of the trolley, like a dog team. “Go to meat and poultry, mush!” It was certainly a happier scenario than the three of them running amok—“No you can’t have one, put it back,” and words to that effect.

I took them into the cafeteria and got them each a drink, while I had a cuppa. I read the riot act. “Now look, you three have done nothing but run about and generally misbehave ever since we got here. I know you don’t like shopping—neither do I—but we need to do some or we won’t have any food. I was going to buy you some treats, but frankly you don’t deserve any. I’m ashamed of the three of you. If you don’t behave, I shall take you home and you’ll all go to bed without any food until tomorrow. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Mummy,” was murmured back at me. The woman on the next table was killing herself laughing at my plight. I could almost feel her saying, “Stupid single parent, that’ll teach her to have three children, all by different fathers, no doubt.” In some ways I wished she had, then I could have told her she was correct, they are all by different fathers, oh and different mothers, too.

We moved on, paid for the groceries and the girls were much better behaved. We filled up with fuel, too, at the supermarket, it was slightly cheaper although the trend was upwards. Did they increase the fuel tax recently?

Back at my house, they helped me unload and finally, I allowed them to go and play. Because it’s a cul-de-sac, they were delighted to be able to ride their bikes on the pavement and even the road—Trish and Livvie were becoming a little too adventurous. I called at them to be careful, but it fell on stony ground—the problem was, so did Trish. She hit the kerb and fell off, grazing her hand, knee and elbow. She came wailing into the house.

It was going to be a long few days. I patched her up with Bandaids and Elastoplast and she went back out and seemed just as reckless as before. Livvie was no better and it only seemed a matter of time before she came a cropper too.

I made sandwiches for lunch, we’d have a Bolognese for supper, it was quick and easy, if a little messy for them to eat. I set up the bread maker, it was still working, and at least later we’d have some new made bread. Meanwhile, we’d have to cope with the sliced loaf I’d bought earlier.

I made a temporary cot for Mima’s dolls out of a couple of shoe boxes, and she made a beeline for my Paddington Bear. He was about the only thing I managed to save from my car when it caught fire on the motorway.

“Can I pway wiv him, Mummy?”

“No, darling, he isn’t a toy.”

“He’s a teddy beaw, Mummy.”

“Daddy Simon bought him for me when we first went out together.”

“I want him,” she said angrily.

“I said, no. It means no, so you can want all you like, you won’t have it.” She sulked after that and I had some space for the rest of the afternoon. A bit later, I was carrying stuff up to my bedroom and Paddington was gone. I found him tucked into her bed, still wearing his sou’wester and wellies. I felt very cross but instead of fomenting the problem, I put the bear into my wardrobe and locked it.

At bedtime, Mima acted very strangely. She was trying to stop me noticing about my bear. Then she had a shock, it wasn’t in her bed. She went absolutely frantic searching the house for him before I realised what she was doing.

“What are you doing?” I asked Mima. She shrugged her arms and kept searching the house. When I grabbed her and demanded to know what she was doing she told me. I then informed her, Paddington wasn’t a toy and that I had put him safe. She cried and demanded I give him back to her.

“It wasn’t yours in the first place, you took it from me, that’s stealing, especially as I asked you not to.” She responded with a wobbly and I sent her to bed, checking on her ten minutes later—she was fast asleep. I began to wonder if she did have the flu.

She seemed to sleep through tea, even though I went up to wake her myself. She had no temperature and I couldn’t think what was wrong with her. I left her a bit longer and the next thing I knew, she was back down and bouncing around like Tigger. I had kept her some food in the oven, and she ate it like there was no tomorrow. I was so pleased that she hadn’t got any of the Bolognese sauce on her clothes when she managed to catch the plate as she left the table and it smeared all over her top and shorts.

The older girls decided to play with my mother’s old makeup, even painting each other’s nails as well as the dressing-table top. When I found them, I could have murdered them. By the time I’d cleaned them up, Mima was missing.

We found her ten minutes later walking her dolly up and down the road in a pushchair. Despite wanting to terminate her existence, I realised how worried I’d been. Much more of this and I’d be taking them back to Portsmouth whether or not they had swine flu. Maybe they did, they were all behaving like little swines.

I slept badly, worrying about them. They all seemed to be asleep as soon as they got into their sleeping bags. I had horrible dreams of losing them and them all turning into pigs and while I tried to argue that they didn’t have pig flu. At the time it was awful, in the morning it seemed rather silly.

They breakfasted on cereal and toast, and I took them around Bristol. They seemed genuinely excited and I took them over Brunel’s bridge or the Clifton suspension bridge, to give it its full name. They seemed quite in awe of it and Mima was too frightened to walk across it without holding my hand.

That night seemed okay, then on Sunday, I took them to Bristol Zoo, hoping to trade them in for something less trouble, a baby gorilla would have been a decent swap, but they were fresh out of them.

I visited the polar bears, where years ago I’d watched a polar bear walk three paces forward and three back for half an hour. He did it so often, there were steps worn in the concrete of their enclosure. I remember suggesting that he was mentally ill, they are supposed to roam over hundreds of square miles hunting seals and anything else small enough to kill and eat. I learned later a vet agreed with my diagnosis and the poor creature was put down.

The girls enjoyed the zoo and I must admit, so did I. We all slept well that night.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 674

I woke up with three giggling bodies, all with cold feet, wriggling their way into my bed. The aliens had found me, and were talking in that giggling language they had. I tried to ignore them, but they were touching me and giggling.

“Do you know what time it is?” I asked sleepily.

It was a mistake, because my smart arse foster kid replied, “Yes, Mummy, it’s half past six.”

I groaned, it was a weekend and I was being woken at six thirty. Maybe I shoulda fed them all to the lions—nah, the zoo would have prosecuted me for trying to poison their animals.

“It is too early to get up yet, so please let me sleep a bit longer.” I knew my pleas were in vain, they were awake and wanted me to be in the same state. At this moment, the state I’d like them to be in, is California, while I stay here. However, it wasn’t to be. They settled down but I was now awake and they kept making silly noises, so I resigned myself to my fate and got up.

The troop of monkeys followed me down the stairs—I really would have to check, the zoo didn’t do a swap with any of my kids. They ate breakfast and squabbled while I drank my first cuppa—that almost made things feel better.

I made some toast and ate it after I’d made some for the girls. I wasn’t very hungry and had to force it down. I knew it wasn’t pig flu, just tiredness and the stress of dealing with three mischievous monkeys, all of whom seemed to have five hands each.

“Please respect this place, it was my parent’s home and is as yet much as it was when they were living here. So, I don’t want sticky fingers everywhere or anything broken.”

“Yes, Mummy,” Trish sighed. I made another mug of tea and drank it, while I finished my toast. There was a crash from the lounge and the sound of squabbling and blame being apportioned. By the time I got there, Mima was in tears and Trish was saying accusative things to her. “She did it, Mummy,” Trish pointed her finger at Mima.

“What am I going to do with you lot? I asked you to be careful. What have you broken?” It was a Royal Wedding plate, celebrating the marriage of Charles and Diana. My mother was fond of the royals, I’m not particularly, so I was irritated more than really cross. “Anything else, you lot break and I shall deduct the value from your pocket money.” I went and got some newspaper and wrapped up the fragments and dumped them in the bin. Then I got out Mum’s Dyson and practically sucked the carpets off the floor. It certainly got up the tiny fragments which one can miss with a brush and pan.

I showered the girls and then myself; next it was drying and tidying up their hair. This looking after girls is a real pain, maybe I should swap ’em for boys—maybe not.

We all dressed in jeans and tee shirts, and then we walked down the road to get a newspaper—Sundays, wouldn’t be the same without my Observer and its crossword, assuming I can stay awake long enough to do it. I got them each a lollipop which they sucked as we walked home. The older girls could have brought their bikes with them, I’d have to remember that next time.

I wondered what we would do today, apart from eat and clean up afterwards. I suppose I could just let the girls ride their bikes and Mima to play with her dolls—assuming that was what they wanted to do. Or, as it was quite nice, I could take them out somewhere.

We ended up going to Jeffrey Archer country, Weston-super-mare. He used to live there in the days before he became a peer, bestselling author and then jailbird. It’s on the Bristol Channel coastline, which means the tidal difference can be forty feet or more, one of the highest in the world. As the River Severn flows into the sea near there, it can also be very muddy.

The beach, such as it was, was okay for paddling, which the girls did, then they made sandcastles, while I sat on a towel and read my paper. I hadn’t quite decided how we’d manage to get Trish into a bathing suit without showing her plumbing problem, so they had to make do with rolling the legs of their jeans up to their knees. They all looked like pirates.

We did all the things people with kids do at the seaside, candyfloss, ice creams, we even bought a kite and flew it for a while, until Livvie lost control and it nearly pole-axed some little kid who was playing near the crash site.

His parents were not amused and told me so in irate Brissle accents. I decided arguing was pointless, so I accepted the rants and after suitably shrugging my shoulders and apologising, I took my kids away down the beach. They all had a go at flying the kite before it got too busy to be safe, and by that time I was ready for lunch.

Walking into the town, we found a pub with a beer garden, and the girls played on the swings and things while I went in and ordered some food. We had to have Sunday lunches, of roast beef or lamb. The girls all opted for beef until I said I was having lamb, then they changed their minds and ordered the same.

We ate it in the sunshine in the garden. Sadly, it didn’t make it taste any better and at the price they charged it was robbery. The lamb was one of those that they get who lived for about thirty years and died of old age, the veg were cooked to death, then resurrected and cooked some more, I don’t expect Yorkshire pudding with lamb, that should be beef. The mint sauce was okay, so if ever we come again, I’ll just order mint sauce.

We did a fun fair after lunch and all three of them were sick after some whirly ride they insisted upon trying. Thankfully, it wasn’t over themselves, but the people below might have had something to say if they’d known who was responsible. The rides were an extortionate price so we left soon after and went back to the car. On the drive home, it rained so they wouldn’t get out on their bikes today unless things changed for the better.

The showers were confined to the coastal area and our place was spared. So they did get to play outdoors while I made a chicken fricassee with rice. When I called them in, they ate it all without any questions asked and had fruit for dessert—they’d had enough rubbish for one day.

We played snakes and ladders after dinner, while the machine washed the dishes. Then it was time for bed and I read them some of the Gaby stories I had. Of course Livvie was new to the idea, and one of the reasons I did it was to gauge her reaction to the boy-girl concept. She seemed to accept the idea and even found it amusing in places. Trish and Mima love the stories anyway, so I knew they’d go down quite well.

I did get to finish my crossword—when I went to bed, I just managed to stay awake long enough to get the last anagram. Then it was lights out, quite literally and I zonked until the aliens came again.

Monday morning is usually crazy as I try and get Trish and Livvie ready for school. So I got up at seven, as per usual and got them ready as if for school. Instead of formal education, I took them when we were ready to the Explore at Bristol.

This is like a hands on science exhibition, where the kids can do things, and best of all they can touch things—in fact they are encouraged to touch things, which they did until they seemed ‘touched out’ when we went into the planetarium and they were able to see the night sky as it would be tonight, if it weren’t for the clouds and light pollution. Anyway, they all had a nice nap when the lights went out and I was able to enjoy the planetarium without questions being fired at me all the time.

After this it was time for a drink and some lunch—we had a sandwich each from a nearby supermarket, then went to look at some of the other museums and finally had a trip on the river.

When we got back, we were all so tired, it was a snack for tea and then they all went to bed and I wasn’t far behind them. I missed Simon’s call because I was asleep and my phone was switched off.

I slept very well and so did the girls. No one was showing signs of pig flu, and the next day we went to see Des’ house, the Des Res. The girls seemed to like it. I didn’t tell them it was Puddin’s father’s house. It was too complicated, so I said I was looking after it for a friend. I’d spoken to the local estate agent and he’d told me how much we could expect for the rent—it was quite frightening—I wasn’t paying Tom anything, and neither were the others. I felt I’d have to discuss it with him when we went back to Portsmouth.

Simon called again, and this time we were able to talk. Apparently, there was no swine flu, it was Petunia’s mother making a mountain out of a molehill, in her attention seeking way. The local paper took her to task according to Simon. He asked if I wanted to see a copy and I declined his offer. Nothing about that wretched woman was better than even bad news.

I told Simon we’d come home that afternoon, which he seemed pleased to hear.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 675

The rest of the day seemed to be taken up by packing the car and locking up the house—then driving back to Portsmouth. At least the girls had seen my own home, and also experienced a little of Bristol and thus my hometown. We’d had some fun and I’m sure they found it more enjoyable than school.

As we unloaded at the other end, Simon came out to meet us. He gave each of the girls a hug and a kiss while I stood and frowned at him. He poked out his tongue and pretended to ignore me. I therefore retaliated and ignored him.

A few moments later as I was walking towards the house, he ran up behind me and lifted me off the ground. “Put me down, you silly bugger,” I yelled at him and laughed.

“I’m just giving you your welcome home hug,” he said laughing.

“I’m facing the wrong way for a hug, now put me down, before you hurt yourself.” Amazingly, he complied. “Now you can hug me properly, and give me a kiss.”

He complied again, and then we kissed some more until we could feel little eyes boring into us, and then little voices saying, “Eeeeeewch.” It’s quite off-putting.

“Any more out of you lot and I’ll send you back to the dog’s home.”

“Dog’s home?” queried Trish, but we came from…”

“Don’t over analyse, Trish, it spoils my best jokes.” One of these days that kid is going to do her brain serious harm by over-engaging it, or me strangling her.

“Soz, Mummy, didn’t realise you knew any.” Simon cracked up at this and had to look away or he’d have wet himself, I suspect my expression was a picture. That child is gonna hafta go!

“Did ye hae a guid time, lassies?” asked Tom as we entered the house.

“What are you doing home, Daddy?” I asked.

“I live here, remember?”

“But you’re usually in work at this time?”

“So, it’s not just you who can knock off because you’re fed up or want to go shopping.”

“Huh!” I knew he was winding me up, but he always pushes the right buttons, unlike Si, who pushes the wrong ones. “So where have you been then, not shopping, surely?”

“Actually, yes, I needed some new shoes.”

“What?” I sat down with the shock of it, “but you haven’t bought a pair of shoes since I’ve known you.”

“That’s why I got these,” he pulled up his trouser legs a few inches to show me his new brown shoes, clumpy outdoor types, a bit like him.

“They look nice,” I said thinking something very different, “but not with black trousers.”

“I’m jest breakin’ ’em in,” he said sighing, “I’m no colour-blind, ye ken.”

I gave him a huge hug, which shut him up and made him laugh instead. When in doubt, hug ’em—my new motto.

“Sae, did ye hae a guid time?”

“’S’alright I s’pose,” said Trish, “She made us go to the beach and the fun fair and the exploratory, and a ride on a river boat, apart from that it was okay.”

“Ye whit?” he gasped, while I just laughed. Five years old and understanding irony more than a professor.

“She’s joking, Daddy,” I said quickly.

“I can see that,” he lied.

“Yeah, sure you can.”

“I can so,” he said and I almost waited for him to stamp his foot. It was quite funny to watch.

“They had a splendid time, didn’t you, girls?”

“We had a super time,” said Livvie, “thanks for asking, Gramps.”

I think the term of address made him gasp. Which made me laugh again. He’d found his nemesis in a five year old. Unless I wanted the same to happen to me, I needed to keep one step ahead of her—not the easiest job, especially as Trish was even brighter, so there were two of them to be treated with caution.

What worried me more than a possible lack of brainpower was the underlying anger which sometimes surfaced in both the five-year-olds. It didn’t surprise me, because I knew it was there, but just occasionally it showed. Given their histories, it was understandable—after all they had been betrayed by those whom they had trusted. To my mind, betrayal by a parent is perhaps one of the most destructive. I had no illusions about being able to heal this trauma, but I hoped in time I might ease it.

It brought back my own pain. I had felt betrayed by my parents, at least in the past, possibly they came good at the end, I don’t know about my mum, but my dad, certainly said he loved me as his daughter. At the same time, I also know his stroke altered his view of the world significantly, and we exchanged places in some ways, he became weak and I became stronger. I hope I didn’t abuse it like he had when I was trying to understand myself and where to go with things.

Some schools of thought suggest, those things we cannot resolve internally, will be exercised on a larger screen and force us to resolve externally. Maybe my fostering children will enable me to heal some of my own wounds as well as give me a sense of fulfilment I would otherwise not experience. I love children, even if I can’t have any of my own—life has many ironies.

Of course, all of this flashed through my mind in moments, as I hugged and kissed Tom. I also remembered we ought to talk about some form of rent, because it seemed unfair that we were living on his generosity when we could afford to pay something.

“Can I talk to you later, Daddy?”

“Aye, o’course ye can, whit’s it aboot?”

“Nothing urgent, but in case I forget, you can remind me.”

“Och, ye blether in riddles,” he returned his attention to the girls and they made a fuss of him whilst I helped Simon unload the car.

“Did you miss me?” I asked Simon.

“To be honest, it wasn’t until the second night you were away that I realised why it was so quiet in bed.” He ducked as he finished that statement, then ran up the drive with me chasing him. If he thought his luck was in tonight, he just thought wrong!

I put my bike away, feeling sad that I hadn’t ridden it at all. There was always tomorrow, I suppose, and maybe I could get Stella to watch Mima while I had a quick ride. I’d have to think about doing shorter more intense rides, perhaps even consider some time trialling—that’s pretty intensive stuff. I locked the garage and Simon put his arm around me. “I’ll watch ’em for an hour on the weekend so you can get in a ride.”

“Thanks, Si,” I said and kissed him, maybe his luck was in after all?

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 676

Tom helped put the wains to bed, reading them a story in the lounge first, then chasing them up to bed. Storytelling became more difficult with the two different bedrooms, although I don’t think I want three kids sleeping in one room, even if they are all girls—well, nearly—they’d be like a flock of starlings.

Tom read them some more of the Gaby book, I’d bought. Trish probably got the most out of it, but the other two wanted to know who won races and so on. Tom seemed quite taken with it, because he read two chapters instead of the usual one.

He later confided that he’d thought all transgender stories were likely to be pornographic, and aimed at adults. I pointed out that the Gaby stories were aimed at adults, but many of whose girlhoods never developed, so they could vicariously live them through such stories. I also tried to explain that most TG people were actually gentle and enjoyed reading about children.

“So why don’t you try writing some then?” he asked me.

“Meeee?” I gasped, “I can’t write fiction, I have enough trouble doing a scientific paper.”

“I don’t know, most of your stuff looks like a fairytale anyway.”

“Oh thanks, well you marked it and awarded the degree.”

“It was a sympathy thing,” he said winking and locking himself in his study. Like I said, he knows how to press my buttons.

I was sorting the washing when he emerged from his bunker. “Whit wis it ye wanted to talk aboot?”

I made some tea and bade him sit at the table. “This looks serious,” he observed as I poured the tea.

“Not really. Look, there are three of us sharing your house and none of us are paying you any rent.”

“An’ ye’re complaining?”

“Yes, it isn’t fair.”

“Whit wuld ye like me do aboot it, pay ye fer stayin’?”

“No, Daddy, we should be paying you.”

“Whit furr?”

“Using your house, your utilities and your patience.”

“Ma patience,” he roared with laughter, “aye, ye use up more o’ that than ye dae ma electric.”

I blushed at this although I could see how I’d walked into that one. “You get my drift?”

“Who’s idea wis this?”

“Mine, Daddy, why?”

“Ye call me yurr faither, yet expect me to start chargin’ ye rent? Ye’re a strange lassie, Catherine Watts: is that whit happened at hame afore?”

“No, I didn’t ever pay anything to my parents unless I asked for something special, and even then my mum used to give it back to me.”

“Well, I’m no yurr mither, but I am yurr adoptive faither, an’ I say no.”

“No what?”

“If ye must push a point, no thank ye.”

I blushed, he assumed I’d just corrected him like I do the kids. “Daddy, that isn’t what I meant, as you well know.”

He chortled. “Aye, I wis jest checkin’,” he laughed loudly, “ye’re so easy tae wind up, ye ken?”

“Grrr,” I said biting my tongue.

“Noo look here, ye dae ma cookin’, cleanin’, washin’. Ye’ve brought me a family, maybe only a temporary one, but it’s been wonderful. Ye’ve also brought yersel’ and that’s nothin’ short o’ miraculous. Apart frae cleanin’ this big auld place, ye fill it with life and love. I should be payin’ ye, no th’ aether wa’ aroond.”

I hugged him and felt my eyes fill up. “I love you, Daddy, you are so kind to me, an’ I don’t deserve it, I really don’t.”

“Ye don’t deserve it? How can ye say that? Ye deserve it more than anyone, ye silly goose.”

I hugged him and wept against his chest. I felt his strong arms around me and safe in his love, I let go and sobbed. All the things which had worried and beset me for months, perhaps years bubbled up and I cried and cried, secure in his arms and his love.

I learned later that Simon had heard me and come to see what was wrong, but Tom had waved him away. Stella had also come to see what was happening. When it was all over, I realised I’d spent half an hour crying into his chest, his shirt was all wet and gooey. I felt exhausted and embarrassed. Here I was twenty five years old and responsible for three children, crying like one of them, on the shoulder and chest of an old man. I felt ashamed.

“I’m sorry, Daddy, I don’t know what came over me.”

“Never apologise for being honest with those ye love.”

I nodded and fled to my bed. I was asleep by the time Simon worked out where I was. He cuddled me but I didn’t wake up until several hours later when my bladder achieved more than he could in rousing me.

I lay in bed with Simon curled around me, fast asleep but protective of me, his arm holding me around the waist. I pondered on what had happened earlier and how calm Tom had been. He must have been a wonderful dad; it was so sad his own daughter was taken from him, but now he had me—very much the second prize, if not the booby one—and I had three lovely children, with whom I hoped I had as good a relationship as Tom did with me.

I clasped Simon’s hand to my tummy, I wished I could have had babies of my own—of our own—but it wasn’t to be; instead I had the three babies whose mothers had failed to care properly for them, for whatever reason. I wasn’t looking to apportion blame, because I’m far from perfect myself, but those women’s loss was my gain. My eyes were sore from my tears earlier, but they became moist again as I realised how lucky I was. Many biological females can’t have babies, and here I was with three. Apart from happiness, what did I have to cry about?

I felt a warm glow inside me as I drifted off to sleep. Simon’s arm around me and my babies and my ‘father’ along the landing. I was the luckiest woman alive and I drifted off into dreams of sunshine and roses.

“You awake?” said a voice close to me—bugger it was Simon, I hoped that wasn’t Australian foreplay.

“I am now, why?” I half-slurred and grunted.

“What was all that about last night?”

“All what?” I said turning over on to my back, so he could stroke my chest—he liked doing it, and I quite enjoyed it too.

“The tears with Tom, he didn’t upset you did he?”

“No, far from it.”

“You’re not finding the three children too much are you?”

“Yes and no, they’re a handful, but they’re not too much, they’re lovely kids.”

“Thank God for that.”

“Yeah.” I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.

“So what was it all about? You’re not wanting out of the wedding are you?”

“Uh? What? No, ’course not, why would I?”

“I dunno, just trying to work out what was what, that’s all.”

“I don’t know what it was, perhaps stress, maybe it was the hormones, they tend to make one more emotional.”

“What like PMS?”

“Yeah, like that, can I sleep some more now?”

“Yeah, but it’s gone seven.”

“Whaaat? Where are the kids?”

“I left a note on the door, saying, Do not disturb.

“Shit, come on Si, I’ll need some help to get them ready for school.”

“There isn’t any.”

“Of course there is, the swine flu was a mistake by that stupid gardener’s wife.”

“He’s actually quite a wealthy business man.”

“Yeah, but she’s all tit and no class.”

“True, but she was nearly right in some ways.”

“How could she be right, she’s a moron?”

“Another child has gone down with suspected swine flu, didn’t I tell you?”

I groaned and rolled over to sleep some more.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 677

I must have gone off to sleep properly, because I wasn’t awakened until ten by Simon bearing a cup of tea. “I thought you’d want to wake up before too long, or the day will be half over.”

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Ten, why?”

“Oh, okay.” I took the tea, then glanced at the clock, “But it’s ten o’clock, why did you let me sleep this late?”

“I just said it was ten o’clock, didn’t you believe me?”

“Sorry, darling, I was half-asleep. I have to get up, the girls will want…”

“The girls are out with Tom, he’s sneaked off work for the morning.”

“But they haven’t had breakfast…”

“Says who? I gave them breakfast myself.”

“Thank you, darling.”

“See, I’m not completely useless. If Stella can work out which end to put in the fuel and which end to remove waste, then I’m sure I can as well.”

“Looks like it. What are they wearing?”

“Who, Stella and Pudding?”

“No, my, I mean our girls.”

“Clothes, what did you think they were wearing?”

I drank my tea, if he knew what I was thinking, he’d throw a wobbly. I can’t remember if he’s ever dressed the girls without my supervision. I held my peace.

“They chose their own stuff, this morning after I rang the school and confirmed there was no tuition today. They suggested we let them read to us in lieu of schoolwork, so I thought you could do that after lunch—I’ve got to call in at our Gosport branch, something has gone awry and they want me to investigate.”

“You? But you’re a commodities broker?”

“Amongst other things, I’m a licensed auditor too.”

“In which case do you want to do a quick check and make sure I’m all there before you disappear?” I winked at him. I wasn’t really in the mood, but thought he deserved some encouragement for his efforts, he did seem to be doing his best. He moved towards the bed with a twinkle in his eye. “Perhaps you’d better lock the door, Si?”

We had just got downstairs after showering together—much more fun than with the girls—when Tom returned with the girls and Kiki. “Did you have a good time?” I asked the girls.

“Yes, we fed the ducks, except Mima couldn’t throw the bread far enough and the seagulls kept on getting it first,” said Livvie.

“Poor wee, Meems, never mind, the seagulls need to eat as well, don’t they sweetheart?” I gave her a hug.

“Siwwy ducks, they wouldn’t come an’ get the bwead,” she said indignantly.

“Never mind, sweetheart, you had a nice time though?”

“Oh yes, Mummy, some of the ducks was pwetty.”

“Did they have green heads?” I asked.

“Some of them did, Mummy,” suggested Trish, “some were all brown.”

“Those were the female ducks, the green ones were the drakes, or male ducks.”

“There were some white ones, too, Mummy,” Livvie informed me, “were they boys or girls, Mummy?”

“I don’t know, Livvie, they could be either.”

“You mean they could choose to be boys or girls? Did you hear that, Trish, wouldn’t that be fun, it would be like that Gaby girl in the stories, she gets to choose if she’s a boy or a girl. Would you like to be a boy sometimes? I think it could be fun.” I felt myself flinch and was pretty sure Trish did the same.

“Twish is a girw,” said Mima, a touch defensively, which I hoped Livvie didn’t pick up, and I prayed she wouldn’t say any more about. Thankfully she didn’t. I looked at Tom, who was also holding his breath. In some ways the sooner Livvie was told the state of play, the easier it could be, providing she was positive about it. If she was negative—it could be a real problem. I would wait and talk with Trish about it, after all, the consequences would be hers, primarily.

I made a salad for lunch, which Simon scooped up between two pieces of bread and scoffed unceremoniously, to my horror and the girls’ amusement. Tom had already gone, presumably for his chicken curry.

The girls went out to play in the garden, the older two riding their bikes—“You can be Gaby, I’ll be Drew,” called Livvie. Logically, it shouldn’t have been possible for a teenager to race him/herself, but that was what was happening in the drive.

Meems had gone to help Stella with Puddin’, and seemed to be really enjoying playing with her ‘cousin’, presumably as a life size doll. While she was doing that, I found a few minutes to check my emails.

‘Hi Cathy,
I’ve been on to the BBC and cheques should be in the post for your cooperation the other week with their radio and TV interviews. Midweek has decided you’re too old news for them, but Start the Week, with Andrew Marr, is interested especially if you were to raise some topical subject like the mammal survey. It would mean going to London—don’t know if you’re interested or not. Remember, the higher your profile the more we’ll get for the Harvest Mice film, when you make it.

I’ve had enquiries from two independent wildlife film makers for you to do films with them, both on mammal subjects, one is about bats, and the other is about badgers and TB. Maybe we could get together to discuss things with one or other of them.

Hope all is well,

Erin’

Damn, all I needed was more media exposure. I hadn’t agreed to do the harvest mouse film yet, so she was jumping the gun, what she wanted for Andrew Marr’s show was Tom, he’s the lead scientist on the survey.

The idea of presenting or collaborating with other filmmakers filled me with dread. If I had no history waiting to jump out of the cupboard like a dog to bite me, then it might be a nice idea—but, because I had secrets which could affect others as well as me, it wasn’t such a good one. I had the children to protect now, Trish knew about me, Mima didn’t neither did Livvie, who might be most affected. Either way, I didn’t want to threaten their family bonding, even though I knew it could be making things worse down the line.

It was one of those Catch 22 situations where if you explained it all and they accepted it, things were fine. If they didn’t things could get very sticky very fast. Trish, would stay with me until they prised her away with crowbars. Mima would probably be similar, and as she has known me for some little while now, only sees me as female. Livvie, is the real problem. If she found out later from an external source, she might be unconcerned about it, she might be cross but cope or she could be very unhappy and feel betrayed, as if I’d lied to her.

Why do gender issues have these complications? Why can’t the world accept me as I am, and forget about my past which has little relevance any more, and why am I so frightened that Livvie would take things the wrong way about Trish or me? She seemed to cope with the Gaby/Drew duality, so why not Trish and me? I suppose because, if she changes her mind about the fictional character, she can stop reading. If she changes her mind about Trish or me, she has major consequences to deal with. Oh boy—why couldn’t I have been a normal female, and Trish the same?

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 678

The girls came in for a drink and a biscuit and I told them they each had to read to me, as per the instructions from the school. They grumbled but agreed. They each read a chapter of Maddy Bell’s ‘Anime days’, and they both did quite well in coping with ‘adult’ text. They also showed some reasonable comprehension of the stories and Livvie seemed quite happy for the Gaby/Drew duality to occur without too many questions.

She did query one point, “How come he says he doesn’t like wearing girls’ clothes but he always ends up in them?”

“I think he feels he ought to protest, but part of him likes it really.”

“How sensible,” she said, “otherwise he really would suffer, wouldn’t he, Mummy?”

“Suffer?” I queried.

“Well, yes, I mean if he like, really didn’t like wearing skirts and things, he’d be very uncomfortable, wouldn’t he?”

“I suppose he would.” I thought back to my first ventures in skirts, they weren’t particularly comfortable, especially in public. My first meeting with Simon, was a veritable nightmare–I spilt wine all over him, and fell over my own feet–so embarrassing. Now, I don’t take any notice. I wonder if Trish feels uncomfortable in the school dresses? I’m not sure she likes them particularly, but she hasn’t really objected either; seemingly accepting that they go with the territory.

“Doesn’t anybody recognise him?” asked Livvie, after a moment’s thought.

“Apparently not, presumably they’re seeing out of context, so they don’t realise who it is.”

“What’s context?” she asked.

“Let me see if I can explain it. It’s seeing something in its usual surroundings. So, if I was used to only seeing you in your school uniform, and then one day I saw you in your play clothes or even, your best clothes, I might not recognise you because you’d be out of your usual context. “I heard a lovely story about an ornithologist–that’s someone who studies…”

“Orniths?” suggested Trish.

“Birds.”

“What like sparrows and blackbirds?” asked Livvie.

“What like a birdwatcher?” asked Trish.

“Birdwatchers are usually ornithologists, because they study the habitats and things as well, so they can find the birds they want to see. Then, by watching them, you get to learn things about their habits as well as the places they live and feed, all about their mating habits and behaviours and if you’re really lucky, you may see them looking after their young. Other ornithologists might catch them and ring them.”

“What on the phone?” Livvie asked, chortling.

“Hello, is that Mrs Blackbird?” said Trish and they were off, giggling again.

When they were finished, I continued. “Ringing birds, is about putting a metal or plastic ring on the leg of the bird, noting the number on it and weighing it; sometimes they measure size of wings and so on. All this is made a note of, and then the bird is released.”

“Why do they do that?” asked Trish, “seems like a lot of bother for nothing.”

“If the bird is caught again, then it shows how far it’s travelled. In some species like Arctic terns, they travel right around the world, maybe ten or twelve thousand miles.”

“So?” said Trish, “Who cares?”

“Lots of people, and really we all should. A couple of hundred years ago, they thought that swallows hibernated in the winter under the mud of ponds.”

“That’s silly, even I know that,” Trish asserted.

“So where do they go in winter?” I asked.

“Africa.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw it on the telly, why?”

“The filmmakers would only know that the swallows they were filming came from Britain if they’d been ringed here. Without that, you wouldn’t know, would you?” I challenged.

“You could always follow them,” said Trish and I could almost hear the wheels turning.

“They often migrate at night, and two hundred years ago, they didn’t have aircraft.”

Trish blushed and stuck her finger in her mouth and made a silly noise. That made Livvie laugh and I had to restore order by telling them off. Once things were back to sensible, Livvie asked, “Why did they think swallows hibernated?”

“I don’t know for certain, but people knew that some animals did, and even some insects.”

“Insects?” said Trish.

“Yes, some butterflies do, dragonflies and a few other species. Can you think of larger animals that do it?”

“Bears,” offered Livvie.

“Good girl, what about you, Trish, can you think of any?”

“Um, no.”

“What animals do I study?” I prompted.

“Dormice–oops,” she blushed again, “we saw them on the telly, too.”

“Squirrels do, so do hedgehogs and most bats.”

“What about balls?” quipped Trish, who was showing off, “don’t they hibernate too?”

“What about the swallows and the mud, Mummy,” asked Livvie again.

“I suspect what happened, was that people noticed they all disappeared at the end of summer, and they had no idea where they went, but because they make nests out of mud, as do house martins, they probably found the odd dead bird in the mud.”

“Why would they find dead birds in the mud, Mummy?”

“I don’t know, but swallows and martins feed on flying insects. They often collect over water, so the birds fly after them. Occasionally birds will be old or weak and be unable to fly and if that happens over water, they drown or fall in the mud, or they could have got stuck in the mud while collecting it for their nest.”

“That’s really sad, Mummy.” Livvie voiced her emotions and Trish actually stopped fooling about.

“I’m afraid the life of many birds, animals and plants is very fragile. Loads of migrating birds die on their travels, especially over seas or oceans or deserts. The Sahara desert is growing all the time and many birds have to cross it without a chance to feed or rest. Then there are man-made hazards, spraying chemicals or destroying woodlands, draining lakes or simply catching or shooting them.”

“People shoot swallows?” asked Trish in disgust, “That’s silly.”

“It’s disgraceful, but yes, they do it in several Mediterranean countries. Years ago, I nearly got into a fight with someone over it in Malta.”

“You nearly got into a fight with someone?” gasped Livvie.

“Yes, the man was shooting songbirds, or wanted to and my walking past his garden was preventing them from landing, so he got cross with me, and I got cross with him. He shouted at me in Maltese and I shouted something very rude back to him in old English.”

“Can you talk in Old English, Mummy?” Livvie seemed well impressed.

“Sadly, no, sweetheart, just a few words of abuse, like most adults. Many of the swear words we use, come from older versions of English, sometimes Old French.”

“My old mummy, used to say it was unladylike to swear,” Livvie looked wistfully into the distance.

“She was quite right, people who used to swear were called fishwives.”

“Do fish have wives then?” Trish was in interrogation mode.

“Yes, mermaids,” said Livvie and laughed. I chuckled too.

“Fishwives were the wives of fishermen, years ago. Generally, they lived very hard lives, and drowning was common amongst fishermen, so the poor women had to bring up their families with very little money. Often they lived in small communities near the harbours and in those days, lots of them drank too much gin. The combination of lack of money, poor education and probably a rough time with their husbands–husbands often used to beat their wives, in those days–made them rather foul-mouthed.”

“Gosh, you know so much about everything, don’t you, Mummy?”

“Not really, Livvie, I’ve just been around a bit longer than you and had more time to learn things, plus I used to read rather a lot.”

“I like reading, too. I hope I’m as brainy as you are, Mummy.”

“Me, too,” agreed Trish.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 679

I suppose all children think their parents are clever, until during their teens when the reverse happens, and they think their parents are so stupid that they don’t know anything. Of course, teenagers know everything, so they must be correct–but until my fortunes inevitably change, I’m going to enjoy my moment of exultation.

Usually, kids think their dads are clever and their mums are beautiful. In my case it seems I’m clever, so I can’t even get that right as far as the stereotypes go, I’m obviously beyond help.

When Simon came home, I decided to try and separate the dynamic duo, so I could talk with Trish. My ruse involved Simon taking Livvie out into the garden to see how well she could ride, possibly even take off the stabiliser wheels–I think he was capable of that, if not, she probably was.

It worked like a dream, I grabbed Trish as soon as Simon had convinced Livvie to go outdoors. “I’d like a quick talk with you, Trish.”

“Have I done something wrong, Mummy?”

“No, of course not.”

“Well, Livvie’s playing with Daddy on the bikes, and I’ve been kept indoors.”

“I need to speak with you about Livvie.”

“Oh, you’re not going to make her go are you?” she asked anxiously.

“No, why?”

“Is her horrible father going to make you send her to Scotland?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“So she can stay?”

“For the moment, yes.”

“Oh good, can I go out now?”

“No.”

“Ohhhhhhhhhh, Mummmmmmmmmmmy,” Trish whined.

“Look, we need to talk about your little secret and Livvie.”

Trish blushed and said, “Oh,” and looked away.

“Is there a problem?” I felt quite concerned.

“You aren’t going to be cross are you?”

“I don’t know, it depends upon what you’ve done.”

“I told her about me.”

“You what?” I was shocked, here I was pussyfooting around trying not to give hints and she’s already told the bloody girl.

“You’re cross, aren’t you?”

“No, I’m completely gobsmacked,” I felt totally out-manoeuvred by a five-year-old. She began to cry so I hugged her.

“I’m a bad girl, aren’t I?”

“Are you?” I asked wondering what other revelation might manifest itself.

“Yes, you told me not to tell anyone, and I told Livvie.”

“I’d have preferred you had let me know about it.” She cried some more: “When did you tell her?”

“In Bristol, at your house.”

“I see, what did you tell her?”

“I told her that I was a girl with a funny fanny.”

“You told her what?” How I kept a straight face, I’ll never know.

“I told her I had a sticky outie, rather than an innie, but that when I was older, they could sort it for me.”

“Did you mention you were considered a boy before?”

“Sort of, I told her my mother had always wanted a boy and she wanted me to be one. I told her that you had allowed me to be a girl, because that’s what I am.”

“Indeed you are, sweetheart, I just wish you’d let me know.”

“I thought you’d be cross with me.”

“Why?” I hugged her tightly to me.

“You’ve been ever so grumpy lately.”

“Have I? I’m sorry, sweetheart, but with three of you to look after, life is a bit harder to deal with.”

“Livvie can stay, can’t she?”

“As far as I know, yes. What did she say in response to your telling her?”

“She said it was okay, she knew I was a girl even if I did have boy parts. She said her previous mother said there was someone who’d been on telly who’d been born like that and now she was going to marry a peer. That’s you, isn’t it, Mummy?”

“Yes, I’m afraid Livvie’s mummy wasn’t very nice at times and was planning on blackmailing me.”

“What’s blackmail, Mummy?”

“It’s a crime, where someone has something which can embarrass or hurt someone else. Usually it’s a secret that has been kept for ages, and when the blackmailer gets hold of it, they demand money or favours from their victim.”

“Was Livvie’s mummy blackmailing you, Mummy?”

“She was trying to.”

“That’s horrible, Mummy.”

“Yes, it isn’t very nice. Unfortunately, her husband killed her.”

“Did he mean to?”

“I don’t know, Trish. Do I need to speak with Livvie?”

“Yes please, Mummy.” I hugged her until she stopped crying, then we went out to find Simon and Portsmouth’s answer to Lance Armstrong.

“Watch this, Cathy,” said a sweating Simon as he ran up and down the drive alongside Livvie, who was without stabiliser wheels.

“Gosh, that’s very good, well done, Livvie, well done, Simon. I need to speak with Livvie, and I think it might be a good idea if you were also there, Simon.”

His expression of triumph dropped instantly. “Can I get a drink first?”

“Of course you can.” We walked back to the house together.

“Funeral arrangements?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I said as we reached the door to the house.

“Oh, what then?”

“Wait and see. Go and get your drink. Better get one for your pupil as well.”

“My wha … oh, yeah, you want anything?”

“No, I’ll have a cuppa later.”

“That bad, eh?” he went off to the kitchen and I took the two girls into the dining room.

Once we were all settled around the table, I held Trish’s hand. I opened the proceedings, “Livvie, I believe Trish told you a secret about herself while you were up in Bristol?”

“Did she? I can’t remember.”

“Livvie, she has told me she told you, and Trish isn’t given to telling lies. I thought you were the same.”

She frowned as if I was wanting her shoot herself, clearly there was a huge internal struggle going on. “I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone–sorry, Trish.” She burst into tears.

“Okay, sweetheart, I understand what’s happened. It’s okay, you can talk about it with us, can’t she, Trish?”

“Yes, Mummy, this is different.” What an understatement!

After she calmed down, she said, “Trish said she had boy bits, instead of girl’s ones. I said it was okay, she was a girl as far as I was concerned and I wouldn’t tell anyone, and now I have.” She cried, and Simon picked her up and hugged her.

“Livvie, it’s important that you keep your promise in the future, except to us. Sometimes we need to know things. You are, however, right. Trish has a problem but she is still a girl, and one day, when she’s old enough, I hope they can sort things for her.”

“I know, Mummy said you were the same, only you’d had yours done. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone–I want you to be my mummy, because you are the nicest lady I know.”

Simon had her sitting on his lap as she revealed this latest bombshell. He nearly dropped her. I felt glad that Trish already knew so at least she wouldn’t be surprised.

“I see,” I began to feel that she could be in a similar position of power to that of her late mother, and I didn’t want to be in line for further blackmail.

Then she changed everything. “I told my old mummy, I didn’t believe her, because you are a real lady, aren’t you, Mummy.”

I didn’t know what to say, then Simon said, “You are absolutely right, young lady. Now how about we have another drink and let Mummy make herself a cuppa.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 680

The girls went out to play on their bikes, Livvie somehow managing to continue her two-wheeled riding, whilst Trish followed along on stabilisers. Simon watched from the window as I made my tea. “That was easier than I thought,” he said.

“Teaching her to ride a bike or discovering that she already knew about Trish?”

“Who knows about Trish?” asked Stella as she came into the kitchen.

“Smelt the teapot, have you?”

“Ooh lovely, how’s that for timing?”

“Where were you when we needed you?” I asked, pouring a cup of tea and passing it to her.

“Needed me–with Simon there?”

“Trish told Livvie about herself, while we were in Bristol, we just found out.”

“Ah. Is that good or bad?”

“Both and neither,” I replied sipping my tea.

“One of those paradoxical situations, is it?”

“Sort of: if Trish hadn’t told her, we’d have had to do it at some point and probably sooner rather than later.”

“Yeah, I can see that; so the big question, how did she take it?”

“In her stride,” beamed Simon; I’d almost forgotten he was still there.

“You’re only saying that because you taught her how to ride a bike while I was interrogating Trish.”

“You were interrogating Trish?” asked Stella, looking aghast.

“I was going to ask her if she wanted me to tell Livvie, about her deep, dark secret.”

“And she beat you to it?” Stella laughed and had to put down her cup, “Serves you right, it’s no big deal to them, she’s a just a girl with a giant clit.”

“A what?” I gasped back, while Simon guffawed behind me. “Since when have girls weed through their clits?”

“You know what I mean, she’s got a minor deformity down there, no big deal.”

“It will eventually contain her gonads, least the little bag attached to her clit, will.”

“Yeah, so?”

“She’s supposed to be a girl, they don’t have any–least, not of that particular variety.”

“I’m a nurse specialist in urology, remember? I think I’ve seen more willies and fannies than you’ve had hot dinners…”

“Trish apparently told Livvie, she had a ‘funny fanny’,” I interrupted, and we all sniggered. “I don’t know how I kept a straight face.” I couldn’t now, I chortled with the rest of them.

“I didn’t know our children were alliterate,” said Simon.

“Ha ha, how humorous,” I shot back at him.

“I think I can see where they get it,” suggested Stella, “are you sure they’re not your real children?”

“Oh yeah, these are some I made earlier. Where do you think you are, Blue Peter?” I scorned Stella’s remark.

“Nah, if I was, you’d have made them from washing up liquid containers and the centres from old loo rolls.” Stella was enjoying herself, and it felt good to have some of the old one back.

“How do they recycle them?” asked Simon, looking perplexed.

“Recycle what?” we both asked him.

“Loo paper,” he replied, smiling and I knew he was going to make a schoolboy joke but couldn’t think of a way to stop him.

“They don’t, do they?” Stella looked suspicious, she knew what was coming as well.

“They must, because the loo rolls Cathy buys are all recycled. How do they get the sh…?”

“Simon, go and check on the girls please.” I didn’t so much as request as instruct him to leave and take his silly questions with him. Once he’d gone, I said, “Some days think I understand why he was called, Simon.”

“As in, Simple?

“Got it in one?” I replied.

“Yes, I know what you mean, if my parents showed foresight or did the name influence him?”

“More or less, it’s a bit like the debate over GID, is it physiological or nurture?”

“Are you trying to tell me, that you and Trish were encouraged to become girls?”

“Not as far as I know, least ways, not in my case. If anything, it was the opposite.”

“So why even consider the question?”

“I’m trying to be even handed here, see both sides of the argument.”

“There aren’t any, it’s bio–bloody–logical, and in your case, very much so. You look better than half the so called natural women.”

“Thanks for the compliment, but excuse me while I puke.” I blushed, I hadn’t intended for it to come out like that.

“Why? It isn’t a compliment, well okay, a back-handed one, it was meant as a statement of fact. If your hormones or genes weren’t all screwed up, then why do you look so female?”

“I took hormones quite young.”

“Not at the age of puberty.”

“No, except, I’m not sure I had one.”

“One?”

“Puberty, I don’t recall my voice breaking or getting hair on my body or my face, nor did I get any zits, not that I remember anyway. Hang on, yes I did–I had a few when I started taking the hormones.”

“You had a female puberty, then?”

“I don’t know, I suppose I must have.” I’d never thought of that, not in that way. Once on the pills, my breasts grew and so did my hips, and my waist correspondingly seemed to shrink. Gosh, I’m more female than I thought.

“Oestrogen receptors,” said Stella.

“Sensitive ones, too. I blossomed quite quickly.”

“And you have the nerve to tell me you’re not a woman, or female?”

“I am now, I have a piece of paper that says so.”

“Duh!” Stella slapped her forehead, “I don’t know what we are going to do with you, girl, because that is what you are, got it?”

“I might just be androgen insensitive?”

“So what?”

“Well maybe that’s why, I am what I am?”

“Geez, Cathy, if that isn’t biological what is?”

“Oh,” I blushed feeling rather stupid–my usual state, these days.

“Q.E.D.” Said Stella dusting off her hands as if job done. Then she hugged me. “It’s alright, you know.”

“What? To be a freak?”

“Geez–uz, Cathy, if you’re a freak, then so are huge numbers of women. Just enjoy your birthright, you were meant to be you, enjoy it.” She mashed me into a huge hug and I tried not to cry.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 681

I reflected upon my afternoon as I made dinner. For a change I was doing some tuna fish, in a pasta bake. Okay, I know I like it and probably eat too much, this was skipjack, which is supposed to be less endangered. I’d just put it in the oven and was making up the fresh fruit salad for pudding–not baby Puddin’, but dessert pudding. I don’t do starters, and not that often do a dessert, but with strawberries in reasonable profusion and some melon, I had the beginnings of a fresh fruit salad, to which I added banana, orange and some apple, then drowned it all in apple juice.

I suppose it went really well with Livvie regarding Trish’s anatomical problem, I’m so glad it’s over–well at this stage anyway; we still have a long way to go. They only need to squabble and have it thrown around in the hearing of others, and it could yet end in tears. Assuming, Trish is allowed to stay with me, then I shall do my best to help her through to her surgery and beyond. Hopefully, she’ll eventually settle down with someone and reach her full potential on all levels. The same of course with Mima and Livvie, depending upon how long she stays with me.

It’s lovely that she wants to call me ‘Mummy’, but so sad for Laura, who is going to miss out on so much, so is Livvie’s dad. I wish we could get some details on what happened. Manslaughter? That could mean anything from drink driving to bashing her. I wonder when the funeral will be.

There was so much unfinished business with that little girl, I must say she seemed to cope with it so well–better than I would. I thought back to my mother’s funeral, I didn’t connect with it really–I was there, but in a sort of trance. Stella was there with me, she is such brick when she’s well. She is coping with her baby, so much better than I thought she would, it has helped her to get back into something like her old self. That gave me a warm feeling, the four of us, Simon, Stella, Tom and me–make a formidable team.

Then the three girls, plus Puddin’ when she grows a bit, will hopefully all bond together and support each other when they don’t need to involve the adults or we’re not available. So far the three musketeer(ettes?) are doing well together–Meems is a little young, but they do include her sometimes and she loves playing with Puddin’, which pleases Stella no end.

I glanced out the window and Simon was red-faced and puffing as he ran alongside Trish riding without stabilisers, so she’s cracked it too. I think I was about five or six when I learned to ride a bike, it’s so much better without those stupid little wheels attached.

Simon has done really well today, getting them both riding–mind you he could do with some exercise. I’ll bet he’s asleep early tonight–he might even go to bed early to avoid me, and my animal passions–I chuckled at my own joke. I enjoyed our sex, but I would suggest Simon was usually the initiator. Then life is more than sex, although in an intimate relationship it is important, and it can make or destroy the relationship if it’s a problem.

Some of this, the sex bit I mean, is part of my difficulty with accepting myself as properly female. I still feel a bit inferior to biological women, even though the likes of Stella and Simon suggest I shouldn’t. I think anyone coming from my sort of origins would understand this point, I’m not a perfect female because most of the things which would make me so are missing. I don’t have ovaries or ova, my genes only have one X chromosome instead of two, and well, you know the rest.

I try to console myself with the other side of the coin, living as a female is different to being one biologically. Okay, so I don’t have the worry of periods or pregnancy, sadly, though I do seem to get cycles of moodiness and my breasts can feel bigger or tender at times. I can do girly when the mood takes me, but mostly I’m just me, as happy fiddling with bikes as sewing things or wearing dresses. What is important, is having the choice.

I have to give my girls some sort of role model, which I hope will mean they can also take from Stella and other adult women. My priorities now start with looking after my family, while trying to keep open my career, because motherhood is a little tenuous in my case and all of the children I foster could be removed from me. I’m constantly aware of this fact, which I hope I don’t convey to the girls unconsciously, they need to feel secure and we all do our best to provide that.

I remember feeling very secure with my parents until I realised I wanted to be a girl and began to give mixed messages to them and to my peers. I know I received plenty of beatings because of it. In some ways, I’m surprised I didn’t suffer brain damage or physical deformity because of it–hang on, Roddy and Big Ears beat me up when I was about ten, Mum had to take me to the doctor because I was so bruised down below. I told her I fell on to the crossbar of my bike.

Roddy and his brother Nigel Blyton, he nearly got called Enid, but his ears were huge so the joke was Roddy and Big Ears, not Noddy and B.E. Kids can be cruel, we were all horrible little pigs to each other. I got called all sorts of names including Uno, which became Fiat, this became Fiona besides the obvious Charlotte and variations on that. At one point I almost asked if I could change my name to ‘punch-bag’ I was getting hit so often.

Anyway, back to my visit to the quack with a blue-black willie–it looked as if I’d dipped it in an inkwell, except it was hardly long enough to reach. I can remember walking strangely for a few days after that and sitting with an ice-pack on it hoping it would get cold enough to fall off. It didn’t. I wasn’t allowed to do games for a month and was sent to the library to study.

My dad had already aroused an interest in nature; he was an outdoors person, liked walking in the countryside and playing sport. We also used to ride out into the countryside and I can remember whining that I was cold or tired, but it didn’t make any difference. Once I got a puncture and he stood and made me fix it myself. It made me more self-sufficient, but it took me a few years to realise the advantages of it. I didn’t enjoy riding bikes until I went out by myself and then saw I could race them, which meant I could possibly improve my standing in my father’s eyes. Why do we need to please them so much?

Of course I was total rubbish, like I was at every other sport. I’ve previously said how my university cycling club told me to go play with the girls. I would have done, except they wouldn’t let me play either. Then I bought my Scott Addict, using my student loan, and got serious about training and riding. From fifty miles per week at weekends, I was doing over two hundred miles a week. However, I never did get into the cycle team–reputations are hard to shift.

Back to Roddy and Big Ears, my beating, possibly not helped by a racing saddle could explain why my male puberty was non-existent, they pulped my goolies so lots of nasty testosterone didn’t get produced and I stayed smaller and pre-pubescent. It could be true, if ever I meet those two psycho brothers again, I must thank them–maybe not. I could just as easily be androgen insensitive, who cares, I need to look forwards not back. My future involves two five year olds and a nearly four year old; plus some adults, some dormice and possibly some harvest mice as well. I’ve got enough to think about without stirring up old traumas.

I glanced out of the window, two coppers were talking to Simon. What had happened now? Tom was out at an evening meeting–oh shit! I rushed out to the drive, “Is everything all right?”

“Mrs Watts, could we have a word?”

“Yes of course, it’s not about Professor Agnew is it?” my heart was thumping so hard it was threatening to come through my ribs.

“No, could we talk inside, away from little ears.”

“Si, can you come in too, please?” I asked him, and he disentangled himself from the kids.

We went into the lounge. “Mrs Watts, we believe you are fostering one Peaches Olivia Richards?”

“Yes. Oh God, you haven’t come to take her back have you?” I felt tears rushing down my face.

“Take her back?” the woman police officer looked strangely at me.

“Yes, her father was being investigated for manslaughter of her mother, up in Edinburgh. I assumed he wanted her back. She doesn’t want to go; she wants to stay here with us…”

“Mrs Watts, please, if I could say something?” said the male officer.

“I’m sorry, I just thought…,” I held tightly on to Simon, feeling almost faint.

“I have to inform you that Dr Anthony Richards is deceased.”

“What?”

“I’m afraid, it looks as if he took his own life this morning.”

“Oh my God, what do we tell Livvie?” I gasped, swaying so much that Simon actually put his arm around me to hold me up.

“Livvie?” asked the officer.

“Olivia, she doesn’t like being called Peaches.”

“I see, can’t say I blame her. Would you like us to stay while you tell her?”

“Before we do anything, where do we stand legally with her? I’m fostering her at the behest of her father.”

“I think that will need to be sorted afterwards. So you hang on to her for now.”

“He seemed rather organised before,” said Simon, “maybe he’s sorted that with his solicitor again.”

“That, I couldn’t say, sir, our job is to inform you of the event and ask you to pass this information on to the child, as her in loco parentis.”

“How did he die?” asked Simon, I was too shocked to say much at all.

“Officially, we can’t tell you, but the word is he hanged himself.”

“Poor Livvie, we don’t even know how her mother died, yet, nor when the funeral is.”

“Again, I’ve only got rumours, Mrs Watts, but they say they had a fight and he hit her and she fell off a veranda, bashed her head.”

“Oh!” I gasped, “that poor child.”

“Quite. Are you sure you’re able to deal with this without help?”

I nodded. “She’ll be okay in a minute, officer,” Simon added to my gesture.

“Very well, we’ll get on with our work then.” Simon saw them out and I heard Livvie say how she was a big girl and could ride a bike like her new mummy. “Who’s your new mummy?” said the copper.

“You just been talking to her, Mummy Cathy,” said Livvie, and I felt tears running down my face. “She’s a lovely mummy, better ’an my old one.”

“Aren’t you a lucky girl, to have a nice new mummy?” said the woman copper.

“Yes, I am,” replied Livvie.

“So’s Mima an’ me, we like our new mummy, too,” piped Trish, “she’s a super mummy, an’ my gramps has got a castle in Scotland.”

“Gosh, you are lucky, aren’t you?”

“He’ll be my gramps too, now won’t he, ’cept I haven’t seen the castle yet.” I didn’t hear any more, I staggered to the cloakroom and was violently ill. Simon found me a little later, I think I’d passed out.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 682

I came round lying on our bed, with Simon standing over me. “Uh? How did I get here?”

“I found you slumped in the cloakroom after the coppers visited, remember?”

“About Tony Richards?” I asked and he nodded. “My mouth tastes foul, oh I was sick, wasn’t I?”

“It sure smelt like it.”

“Sorry, I don’t know what happened, I just went out, like the proverbial light.”

“Stella’s putting Puddin’ down, she’ll be in to check you over in a short time, I’ve got to get back to the girls.”

“I’ll be alright, once the headache clears.” I made to get off the bed and he stopped me.

“I think you banged your head on the cloakroom door,” he said.

“I did, or you did?”

“No it was definitely your head that was banged.”

“By me or by you?”

“Um, by me, sorry, Babes,” he blushed, “shall I get you some paracetamol?”

I shook my head in disbelief, except that made the pain worse. “Yes please, two tablets.” He went off and got them, with a glass of water. My mouth tasted awful, so the water helped that somewhat, and somehow I managed to swallow the pills without either dissolving in my mouth or sticking in my throat. I lay back, my head was pounding and somehow I had to tell Livvie that she was officially an orphan. Worse, I didn’t know what her father had set up.

I tried to remember the one and only short conversation I’d had with him. He asked me to look after her until he was able to come and get her, and he’d make arrangements to pay for her keep and her schooling. Hopefully she would get the estates of both parents. Now, about grandparents–I suppose I should encourage the solicitor to contact them. Suicide is such a pointless exercise, it causes massive upset in everyone else’s life.

I didn’t know who the solicitor involved was, or did I? I couldn’t remember and my head was pounding, which made thinking even harder. I think, I must have fallen asleep because I woke up feeling worse.

The reason I awoke was in response to Stella shaking my arm, “How do you feel now?”

“Awful, why?”

“Do you need the doctor?”

“I don’t think so, did Si tell you about the police visit?”

“Yeah, looks like you have another difficult job to do.”

“Indeed. I need to get up and do it.”

“Can’t it wait, at least until tomorrow?”

“What happens if she hears it on the radio again?”

“Is that likely?”

“How do I know? Let me up and I’ll tell her.”

Stella tutted but helped me up, and I staggered into the bathroom. I had a very tender ‘egg’ on the side of my head, but after washing my face and hands and cleaning my teeth, I almost felt human again.

It was nearly five in the evening and although I found the letter from Crabtree, McCulloch and Sterling, I doubted there’d be anyone there. I was proved wrong and was put through to Mr Sterling, who was now the senior partner and coincidentally, Tony Richards’ personal advocate.

“Ah, Mrs Watts, there is a letter on its way to you. It’s a very tragic case for the young lady, to lose two parents in such a manner, it’s plain awful. We are his executors although the will will take some time to sort out and the flat has to be sold and so on, creditors paid off and so forth. For the moment the status quo shall remain as far as I am aware, including payments from the estate. Dr Richards did leave you a personal letter and one for his daughter, which I am afraid are in the hands of the police. It was a clear suicide, he was so beset by remorse for killing his ex-wife. Even there, I’m not sure how much of an accident it was—but we shall never know now. There will be some personal bequests of articles to his daughter, Peaches…”

“She hates that name, and asked us to call her Livvie.”

“I don’t doubt it, Mrs Watts. She sounds a delightful child.”

“She’s a nice kid who has slotted in with the other girls, so well, you’d think they’d been together for months not just a week or two. Any news on grandparents, I don’t want to be seen to be pulling their beards?”

“That will become clearer when you receive my letter, as will his wishes.”

“What about Laura’s funeral?” I enquired.

“There is talk of a double funeral, so it’s been held over.”

“Could you let me know where, what and when? I’ll arrange to fly up with Livvie for it.”

“I shall, of course keep you informed. I’m sorry, but it seems I have a call waiting on the other line.”

“Okay, thanks for your help.”

“Mrs Watts, it has been a pleasure.” He rang off, presumably to get off home through the Edinburgh traffic, unless the other call was genuine, which I suspected it wasn’t.

I felt a bit better, especially as Stella brought me in a mug of steaming tea. After drinking that, I was ready for–another one, instead I called Livvie in to see me. She was puzzled and also hot and sweaty. I gave her a cold drink.

“Will I have to go to my daddy’s up in Scotland?”

“No, that will not happen now.”

“Oh goody gumdrops,” she said clapping her hands together.

“I have some sad news for you, Livvie.”

“You’re making me leave?” she started to cry and threw herself on top of me hugging me tightly. “Don’t make me go, Mummy, I don’t wanna go, I wanna stay here with you and my sisters.” She sobbed and trembled.

I felt myself almost in tears at her distress. “No one is making you go anywhere, and I’d like you to stay here as long as you like.”

“Really? I can stay?”

“Of course you can. However, I have some sad news, your daddy has died.”

“Has he? Did he kill my mummy?”

“I don’t know, but it rather looks that way.”

“Good, I’m glad he’s dead, then.”

“Livvie, please don’t prejudge the issue, we don’t know what happened or what led up to it, so life will be easier in the long run if you remember something positive about your old mummy and daddy.”

“They didn’t love me like you do, and my new daddy does.”

“They probably did, they perhaps couldn’t show it.”

“I don’t believe it, they loved their work more than me.”

“I’m sure they didn’t. Some people have difficulty in showing their loved ones that they do love them.”

“They should learn then, shouldn’t they?”

“Maybe in time they would have.”

“Huh,” she paused, “I have no mummy or daddy except you and Daddy Simon, will you be my mummy, please Mummy Cathy?”

“Yes, if you promise me one thing?”

“What?”

“That you try and not prejudge your late parents until you know all the facts about them.”

“Alright, I like you better as my mummy, Mummy.”

We hugged for several minutes, and I stroked her sweaty hair. “How about you have a quick shower before I serve tea?”

“Please may I have a bath instead, with lots of bubbles?”

“As long as you don’t mess about in it and get out when I ask you to.”

“Yes, Mummy, I always do what you ask me to.”

“Sure you do,” I nearly laughed and added, when it suits you, but resisted the temptation.

Once I got her out of the bath, Simon brought the other two in, and they got dumped in a bubble bath as well. By the time we’d sorted them out and got them dressed in their pyjamas, it was dinner time–later than I’d intended.

We informed the other girls and Tom, who’d come home at last, of Livvie’s second bereavement. Both Trish and Mima burst into tears, declaring how sad it was. I cried with them, because I agreed. Livvie sat impassively throughout. Her grief might surface later, I hoped I’d be able to contain it for her, if and when it did.

That night, despite my residual headache, I put them all to bed and read them a story. I think they appreciated it, as I had a loving hug and kiss from each of them.

“Is Livvie okay, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“I hope so, your love and friendship are going to be important over the coming months, hopefully we can all help her get through it.”

“We’ll try, won’t we Meems?” said Trish.

“Yes, we wiww, poow Wivvie.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 683

“I’m worried about that child,” I said as I snuggled up to Simon, in our bed.

“Which one? I have three to guess from.”

“Which one do you think?”

“I thought you did the thinking, I fund it.”

“Simon, behave–besides, I pay my way.”

“Okay, okay, I was only joking. I presume you mean our latest acquisition?”

“Simon, we’re talking about children, not furniture or other possessions,” I snapped, admonishing him.

“Hey, calm down, I didn’t mean it like that, as you well know.”

“I’m sorry, I just feel worried.”

“Well she has just lost both her parents, you can hardly expect her to act normally, can you?”

“That’s what I’m worried about, she’s acting as if I just told her she lost pair of shoes, not the flesh and blood humans who brought her into this world.”

“Maybe she’s in shock?”

“She’s not even acting like that, she’s behaving as if nothing much has happened.”

“Maybe to her it didn’t.”

“And yet, when she thought I was going to make her leave, she got very upset.”

“So her current security is of paramount importance to her. What’s that guy and his thingy of needs?”

“Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.”

“That’s the fella, how come you know what I’m talking about, but I never have a clue about you?”

“You’re a bloke, Simon–you don’t listen half the time, and the rest of the time, you change the message to fit what you want to hear.”

“So you don’t want sex tonight, then?” He started to chuckle.

“Simon, will you behave, this is serious.”

“Sex always is, Babes.”

“I can’t; I have a headache.”

“Paracetamol?”

“No! Now behave–you overgrown schoolboy.”

“Damn, you understand me so well.” He kept his laughter silent but the way the bed was shaking, he was sniggering or having a fit. I suppose he could have been doing something unhygienic, but it was unlikely as I had my hand on the top of his pyjama bottoms.

“I know you are a tremendous piss-taker, now please, either help me with this matter or go to sleep, so I can worry in peace.”

“Okay, what do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know, that’s the problem. I suppose we have to just go with what happens, and if it looks to be getting messy, get her some professional help.”

“I don’t know what’s in the letter he wrote to his advocate chappie, nor the one to me or Livvie–the police have ours, so we might never get to see them.”

“Let the old man know if you have a problem with anything Scottish, he does carry a load of influence up there.”

“Maybe later, I need to see what’s happening by itself first, before I try to change things to suit our needs better, especially those of Livvie, it’s her future we’re talking about, after all.”

“Sounds to me, as if you have it organised, Babes, so if you still have a headache, I’ll go to sleep.”

“Sometimes rubbing my breasts makes a headache ease…”

“Does it now, shall we do some empirical research?…”

Despite Simon’s best efforts, my headache remained and I had to go and get some pills for it. I was sure my bantam’s egg was fast approaching ostrich size. It certainly felt like it. Simon fell asleep and I went down to make myself a cuppa and take a painkiller.

Tom came down to see who was up and share in a cuppa. “I ken it’d be ye, ye’re worried aboot wee Livvie?”

“Yes, Daddy. Look there’s no need for two of us to lose our beauty sleep is there?”

“Sae, ye go back tae bed, and let me worry aboot it.”

“No way, this is my problem, I’ll solve it.”

“Hang aboot, we’re a team, are we no? Sae we work t’gether.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, I’m worried she could be taken off me, which really would create problems for her.”

“Aye, I can see that, she loves ye like ye’re her real mither, no the woman ye replaced who happened tae be there when she wis born.”

“Sort of, but I’m worried that she seems to have no affection for these two people who created her and whom she’ll never see again.”

“Mebbe one day, she’ll feel something, and then we can help her, but until she does, we hav’nae ony richt tae interfere.”

“I know, Daddy, that’s the problem, if I’m her acting parent, I want to make it all better for her. I’d love to be able to mend her relationships with her parents.”

“Aye, but ye’d miss oot then?”

“So, it would have been so much better for her natural parents to value her and treat her as if they did.”

“Aren’t ye bein’ a trifle judgemental?”

“I thought I was being objective, in wanting what is best for the child.”

“No, ye’re wantin’ whit ye think is best, which may no be the same as whit is actually best.”

I sipped my tea, “My head is spinning with all this, I think I need to go back to bed.”

“Ye’re no on yer ain wi’ this, ye ken?”

“I know, and thank you, Daddy.”

“Wi’oot bein’ personal, ye hae nae difficulty in callin’ me, Daddy, an’ yet ye had a faither o’ yer ain.”

“Yeah, so?” My head was throbbing and all I wanted was to sleep and ease it.

“Jest ye think on it.”

“Yeah, yeah, I will. Good night, Daddy.” I kissed him, “I do appreciate your help, even if I don’t always show it.”

“Aye, well think on that, tae.”

I staggered into the bedroom and crawled under the duvet and snuggled against Simon. No it wasn’t Simon, it was–who the hell was it? I switched on the bedside light, it was Livvie. I was too tired to argue and felt less than well myself. If she got too hot, she’d have to go back to her own bed. Finding her there sleeping with Simon, totally threw me. These bloody kids, they used to be predictable–now, I’m out-manoeuvred by five year olds.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 684

I wondered about sleeping in Livvie’s bed as she was in mine, then wondered if it would be seen as a form of rejection, plus if she was left alone with Simon, could that put him in a compromising situation? Reluctantly, I got into bed.

Livvie was snuggled into Simon’s back and facing away from me. I slipped carefully into the bed and pulled the lightweight duvet over me, then turned away from the child. I was sleeping on the edge of the bed, and unlike the joke, didn’t drop off–not easily.

I woke at one point feeling a small hand clasp me round the waist and a sleepy voice sigh, “Mummy.” I tried to get back to sleep but my mind was in turmoil and my head was still tender from the bashing Simon had given it.

Mostly I was irritated by finding the child in my bed. I was tired and wanted to sleep, which really meant wanting her out and in her own bed. Bloody Simon was fast asleep and oblivious to what was happening and in my stupefied state, I resented that, too. Why do these things happen to me? I kept asking myself, feeling very full of self-pity.

The answer that came back was one of two, that interchanged depending upon how awake I was. The first answer was simple logic, it happens because it can: the second, was less logical and more emotional. It happens to me because I have the capacity to deal with it. I am lumbered with three kids because the universe thinks I can care for them. At times I feel in agreement, at others, I feel at odds. Tonight, I’m so tired, I don’t know what I feel.

I did sleep eventually, not because I’d resolved anything, rather exhaustion had meant I could no longer stay awake to think. I drifted off very aware of the hand around my waist and the warm little body clamped to me.

I awoke with Simon and Livvie talking to each other. He was lying on his back and must have gone to the loo already, because he usually wakes up with a large boner, I believe is the term, and that would not be very appropriate with a child in the bed.

I tried to screen them out, sneaking a glance at the clock, it was only half six, she had robbed me of most of the night’s sleep, one way and another. Okay, none of it was deliberate, but I was still very tired, which fuelled my resentment. Do all parents feel like this? If so, no wonder so many kids get battered. I’m not condoning it, rather explaining why some people lose it with their otherwise much loved children.

“When do we have to go back to school, Daddy?”

“When the swine flu business is over, whenever that is.”

“When will that be?”

“I don’t know, Liv, keep your voice down you’ll wake Cathy.” I felt like purring at him for thinking of me. However, a moment later I could have hit him. “You know what’s she’s like when you wake her up–crabby as a lobster.”

‘And you’re never grumpy, Simon Cameron?’ I thought, pulling the duvet tightly around me.

“Did Mummy hear you, Daddy?”

“Nah, she’s fast asleep,” he whispered at about the same number of decibels that Sharapova produces when serving an ace. Bugger it’s Wimbledon and I haven’t seen any yet, let alone Andy Murray winning anything. I keep up-to-date via the radio, which tells me briefly who beat whom, but it’s much better to see it happen on TV.

I was drifting back off again when the radio alarm went off, and Jim Naughty was asking someone awkward questions, about Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson? My tired little brain tried to sort it out. What’s he in the news for? Oh, he’s doing all those concerts in July. Then I dreamt he was dead.

I know I was dreaming, he’s doing all those concerts in London, and Simon had half-promised to take me to one–he had a contact for tickets. I hope he does some of his Killer stuff, with the moon-walking, which I think is so clever.

Jim Naughty seemed intent on spoiling my dream, because he asked someone in LA, where this happened, what was known to have happened. Some sort of cardiac arrest, possibly from an overdose of painkillers. My dream seemed particularly weird, and I felt myself crying, even though I was half-asleep.

“You all right, Babes?” he said loudly to me.

I burst into floods of tears, “Michael Jackson’s dead. You were going to take me, remember?”

“Yeah, I expect it’s a mistake.”

“I doubt it, he really is dead.”

The news headlines were repeated and this time he heard them. “Bloody hell, Jacko is a gonner, oh shit! Sorry, Babes, unless this is a hoax, that concert looks unlikely.”

“It’s June not April,” I grumbled back.

“I know, I do paperwork, remember?”

“Bloody pen-pusher,” I snapped.

“Well it keeps you in dolly mixtures,” he said back at me.

“If you say so, I thought I bought my own.”

We were startled by the sound of weeping from between us. Livvie. I turned over and said, “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“I don’t like you fighting, my old Mummy and Daddy, used to do that all the time.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart, it wasn’t meant to be like this.”

“Yeah, don’t take any notice of us, it’s not real fighting,” quipped Simon, “she’s just crabby ’cos she can’t see a music show.”

If that were all, I’d feel much easier about things, but I chose not to reveal anything else of my misgivings and resentment. It was near enough time to wake and think about how I could convince Simon to take Livvie down for breakfast and allow me to sleep bit longer. Normally, I can wrap him around my finger, today he seems a bit bolshie.

Two minutes later, the other two musketeerettes arrived and the morning lie-in was forgotten. Bloody children!

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 685

I let the aliens play for a bit before I got up and showered each one of the girls separately. I wasn’t sure if Livvie had actually seen Trish’s naked body, and wasn’t about to give her the opportunity. I had a horrible feeling that the theory and actuality might have a different outcome; as we were okay with the theory, I left it at that.

Simon went downstairs to start the breakfast. All the media were full of tributes to Michael Jackson, which I understood, but quickly reached saturation point. We did have one bit of humour: the elder girls were trying to copy Jackson’s famous moonwalk, which was better than I could do, and sadly more effective than Mima’s. She had us all in stitches, laughing at herself as she went along.

I showered and dressed after breakfast and made the girls sit and read to me. They wanted another Gaby story, but in case I was accused of influencing them, I made them read me some Anne of Green Gables. Then I asked them questions about what they’d read to check interpretation. Even Meems could do some of that, and her comprehension was quite good for one so young.

By the time I’d finished their English lesson, it was nearly lunch time. It was clear that the two five year olds, had a reading age well above their physical age, and even Mima was able to recognise some words. I left them teaching her some new ones.

After lunch, we all went for a walk and they asked if we could get a paddling pool. I said I’d have to ask Gramps, as it was his house. It was only a formality but one I felt was necessary to show him due courtesy and respect. I did suggest we could go to the swimming baths, which we did at the hotel owned by the bank. As soon as I parked the car, they seemed to know I was there.

According to Simon, they have all the family’s car numbers which are read by a computer system and staff alerted. As we walked into the hotel complex, the manager popped over to greet us, “Lady Cameron, how nice to see you again, and these are?”

“Our foster children,” I introduced each one and they shook hands, even Mima. “Is it all right if we use the pool?”

“But of course, I’ll have some towels and costumes organised immediately.”

“No thanks, I’ve brought those myself.”

“As you wish, Lady Catherine, perhaps I could have a tray of soft drinks sent down for you and the children.”

“That would be very kind of you, thank you.” We were led down to the leisure complex part of the hotel by a porter, who insisted on carrying the large canvas bag bearing our swimming costumes. Apparently, the Cameron family had their own changing room suite, which locked. They gave me a key for my own personal use.

“Why are we swimming here, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“Grampa Henry’s bank owns this hotel, and I thought it would be nicer than the municipal pool.”

“It’s wuvvwie, Mummy,” Mima offered as she wandered around the room opening and shutting lockers.

“Will we have lockers, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I suppose it depends upon how often we use it. Come on, let’s get everyone changed.” I’d already changed them into their cozzies back at the house, so we avoided that problem. There were only one or two others using the pool, so we had the shallow end more or less to ourselves.

I discovered that none of the girls could actually swim, and thankfully none had a fear of water, they had to wait while I organised some flotation devices for them. Along came a young man and woman in swimming costumes with tee shirts over them, and in the next moment, they were in the water helping the girls learn to swim.

I thought I’d be stuck with Meems, but they insisted that they could cope with the three of them and I was invited to do my own thing, including using the spa, if I so wanted. I didn’t so instead swam some lengths. I’m not a good swimmer, so will never make a triathlete, and before the end of the session, I was getting some tuition as well, which did make a difference. I don’t use my legs enough, apparently.

When we went back to the changing room, there was an assortment of soft drinks available with some fresh fruit and some flowers. They really know how to put on the style at this place. Part of it was wonderful and part offended my socialist tendencies. I decided to go with the flow, and remark to Henry how well we were treated, which would hopefully get one or two of the staff some bonuses.

The two older girls were impressed with how much nicer the experience was than using the council-owned swimming pool, and they ate some fruit and drank a glass of pop each.

While we were sitting and refreshing ourselves, I sent Henry a text telling him how impressed I was. While we were changing, he replied.

‘Glad 2 C U using the family facilities. If it was N E thing less than perfect let me know. H.’

I replied, ‘It is perfect, may cum agen, C xxx.’

‘Gud, use as of10 as U like, H xxx.’

I helped each of the girls shower and dry themselves, there is even a hair drier there—why did that surprise me? With everything they had done for us, I shouldn’t have been.

Anyway, Trish’s modesty was preserved and we left after I offered the staff some money for tips, which they refused. “Look, I’d like to say thank you to you all, you’ve been fabulous.”

“Write and tell Lord Henry, that way we know our jobs are safe.”

“Aren’t they, anyway?” I asked, perhaps naively.

“Goodness no. If we serve a member of the family and they aren’t happy, heads roll.”

“You make it sound positively mediaeval.” I was horrified.

“I won’t comment on that, for obvious reasons, Lady Catherine.”

“Feel free, it won’t get back to Henry.”

“Thanks for the offer, Lady Catherine, but I really would prefer not to say anything.”

“As you wish. Right, kiddiewinks, let’s go home.”

“Your next appointment with the coaching staff.” He handed me an embossed appointment card, to which he’d added his mobile number. “Any problems, let me know.”

“Yes, thank you, you’ve been excellent in looking after us.”

“Thank you for saying so.”

As we drove home, I informed the girls we had a swimming lesson every week, at which they cheered themselves silly.

When we got home, I got straight into organising dinner. Simon, when he arrived, asked how we’d got on. I told him that I was most impressed.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 686

“There’s some post for you,” said Simon, handing me a pile of letters. One was bearing an Edinburgh postmark, so I put the others down and slit it open with a kitchen knife. It was from Crabtree, McCulloch and Sterling.

‘Dear Mrs Watts,

Re: Last will & testament of Dr Anthony Richards, deceased.

I am instructed to write to you by our client, the late Dr Anthony (Tony) Richards, the father of Peaches Olivia Richards. The instruction is posthumous, our client having taken his own life. He considered that his daughter, Peaches, seemed happier with you, and hoped that you continue to look after her until she reached an age of independence, or decided to live elsewhere: in which case he hoped you would agree to her wishes, however unlikely it seemed. He also suggests that he wouldn’t have been opposed to you formally adopting her, as neither he nor his late ex-wife, Peaches’ mother, seemed particularly suited to parenthood.

Our client has instructed this firm to administer and manage his estate, which is significant. We are instructed to inform you that, until Peaches reaches majority, or leaves your care, you will be paid a monthly sum which will be index-linked, plus all school fees will be paid directly to the school. Should this venue change, or Peaches achieve a university place, any fees incurred should be charged directly to us.

If adoption doesn’t take place, then we require an annual interview with Peaches to ensure she is happy in your household. We hope this will be a mere formality, and that you appreciate it as a condition of the will. Peaches should realise that as sole beneficiary, she will inherit the rest of the estate upon reaching the age of twenty-five years.

We are also empowered to grant monies for special purchases, such as clothing or computers, for Peaches’ use. If you have any queries concerning this or other points arising from this letter, please do let us know and we shall do all we can to resolve them.

Thank you for looking after Peaches, our client is most grateful for your assistance.

Yours sincerely,

Duncan Sterling.’

I read the letter two or three times, and showed it to Simon. Then Tom saw it. “Are ye gonna adopt her?”

“In time possibly, but just think what the other two would feel like if we did?”

“Aye, ’tis a tricky wee spot tae be in.”

“I hope they invest her money for her, if they’re administering the will, they’ll charge a fortune.” I was concerned for the child that the money could run out before she got any.

“Whit aboot the mither’s money, whit’s happened tae it?”

“I don’t know, but if we don’t hear soon, I shall ask Mr Sterling to investigate on her behalf.”

“Aye, for anither fat fee.”

“Possibly, I don’t know, but I don’t know how to do it, and it should be part of his job, shouldn’t it, representing his client’s child?”

“Aye, I suppose so.”

I made us a light evening meal of salad and pasta. The girls enjoyed it more than Simon and Tom, who complained that they weren’t Italian rabbits. As head cook and bottle washer, I ignored their comments.

I managed to get Livvie on her own and nodded her through into the study. “I’ve heard from your late father’s advocate. He tells me that he will administer your father’s will, which includes you being funded to stay at the school, if you so wish.”

“Can I stay with you, Mummy?”

“I was just about to say, it also permits that.”

“Will you adopt me?”

“Not for the moment Livvie, I couldn’t adopt you and not do the same to Trish and Mima, could I?”

“No, Mummy.”

“But that doesn’t mean we won’t at some point in the future, if you’re still happy with the idea.”

“But I am, Mummy,” she looked at me with pleading eyes, which I tried to ignore, it was hard.

“That’s now, Livvie, you could change your mind in a year or so.”

“No I won’t.”

“Livvie, please accept what I say as fact. Young people often change their minds after thinking they know what they want.”

“But, I do want…”

“You might change your mind tomorrow, but neither your father’s advocate nor Simon and I, believe you will. However, sweetheart, we don’t want to reduce the choices you could have.”

“I know what I want,” she protested and I hugged her, hoping it would shut her up.

“Let’s just wait and see a while shall we?”

“But I know, Mummy.”

“You think you do, which is fine with me, but the courts wouldn’t necessarily agree. Leave it to the experts, besides I think we have to wait a year or so.”

“That’s not fair,” she pouted and began to cry. I hugged her again and in my heart agreed with her.

The thought of adoption—and making a child, ours to keep, until they grew up or decided to move on—wonderful. Whether the courts would agree is another matter, which I don’t want to face at present. I’ll ask Mr Sterling if we have to do anything to keep custody of Livvie and to get on and do it.

I sent an email to his address asking just that, and waited to see how long it took for a response. It came as I was about to go up to bed, so he worked fairly long hours. He suggested it was all in hand. As I thought of the double entendre of the statement, I went to bed smirking and occasionally giggling.

A thought that crossed my mind, was, how my favourite judge might advise us to proceed towards adopting the three of them, and if he would advise us?

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 687

In bed, Simon and I discussed what seemed to be happening. “Why is she talking about adoption?” he asked.

“I don’t know, unless she feels insecure, although I’ve tried to reassure her that she can stay as long as she likes.”

“What if she’s still with us at age thirty five?”

“I suspect she’ll be off long before that.” I felt quite sad at the prospect. “I mean, once they go to uni and feel the freedom, they don’t want to come home again and live under someone else’s rules.”

“Yeah, what about the boomerang kids?”

“Who? Is this some Australian problem?” I was unaware of who and what they were.

“No, it happens all over. It’s kids you thought you’d got rid of, who come back home with debts and dirty washing, to be kept by you: either because they can’t or won’t get a job, and also because it’s cheaper to let you keep them.”

“Are you suggesting that I should wrap their sandwiches in Situations Vacant adverts or travel brochures?”

“Very funny,” he chuckled, then he got very serious, “How about this?” he asked placing my hand on a certain part of his body.

“I don’t think they’d be too fond of sausage sandwiches,” I replied in deadpan fashion. Thankfully he laughed so much, he nearly fell out of bed. When he’d calmed down, he made more sensitive approaches, verging on foreplay. I teased him for a while, simply because I can, then when it suited me, I let him have his wicked way, while I tried to work out what was the best way to protect our custody of the children.

In some ways, I suppose marriage would tend to indicate a stable relationship, or at least the intention of one, which to me showed how shallow the system was. Maybe I should speak to our solicitor, the one who helped us with the court case to keep Mima and then Trish.

I began to feel very hot, I know having Simon bouncing on top of me, plus a small area of friction, would encourage body temperature to rise somewhat, but the bedroom seemed to get very oppressive. Then the flash of lightning happened, followed by the crash of thunder. It must have been loud—it made Simon stop in mid-thrust. I was bored with his efforts and the thunderstorm gave me the excuse to push him off and go to the bathroom. I know he felt a little peeved, but that was his problem.

I stood and watched the thunderstorm for a few minutes, only to jump out of my skin when something tapped me on the bum. It was Livvie. “Mummy, I’m frightened.”

“Of what?”

“Of the noises and the flashing lights.”

“You mean the thunderstorm?”

“Yes, it means God is cross with us.”

“Who told you that?” I turned and cuddled her.

“In Sunday School, it said something about it in the Bible.”

“And why should God be cross with us?” I asked wanting to add, ‘assuming there is such a thing as God.’

“He’s cross with my daddy for killing my mummy and then killing himself; it’s a sin.”

“It’s more than a sin, sweetheart, it’s illegal. Thankfully, they can’t charge you for Biblical sins, but they can for breaking the law.”

“The Ten Commandments, thou shalt not kill. Daddy broke one of the Ten Commandments.”

“Hold on, we’re not being just a trifle judgemental here, are we? Besides, in killing himself, didn’t he expiate his sins?”

“What does that mean, Mummy?”

“It means in taking his life, didn’t he pay for possibly killing your mother?”

“Do you mean, God punished him by making him kill himself?”

“Not really, sweetheart, not believing in any sort of God, I miss out on some of the special offers they have. You know, Absolution, buy one get one free?”

Livvie laughed, quite a dirty laugh for her age, I was half-sure she had little idea of what I was talking about. But I’d need to check that out later. Now I was tired and wanting my bed, I yawned to emphasise the fact.

“Come on, kiddo, let’s get you back to bed.”

“I can’t, in case she comes into me again.”

“In case, who comes into you?”

“My old mummy.”

“What she came here, did she?”

“Yes, last night.” Just then, a huge crash of thunder occurred overhead, and she froze, then bursting into tears said, “Don’t let her get me will you, Mummy?”

“There’s nobody there, Livvie, it’s just the storm, hot and cold air meeting.”

“Don’t let her get me, Mummy,” she was becoming increasingly agitated.

“Sweetheart,” I grasped her shoulders and forced her to look in my eyes. “There is no one else here, nothing can hurt you while Simon and I are here. Do you understand?”

She was too upset to try and reason with her. It sounded as if she’d had a bad dream. It seemed easier to let her get into bed with us, than argue about bad dreams.

I noticed Simon fumbling under the bed clothes to put his pyjama bottoms back on. Normally, that would have been very funny, tonight it was a nuisance because it was stopping me from getting back into bed. When he ceased wriggling, I let her jump into bed and then followed her. She lay quite still and I fell asleep quite quickly. She also acted as the best contraception I could think of, so Simon sulked for a short time before falling asleep.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 688

I lay there with the two sleepers, feeling hot and bothered and really wanting to get up and make a cuppa. The storm had abated but it was still very warm and humid. I was tired to the point of exhaustion, but my mind was playing over what Livie had said.

Okay, it’s natural to be nervous of things bigger than us, and thunderstorms can be dangerous, some young lad died this week after being struck by lightning. Was her mother’s visit just a dream? It had to be, dead people are dead—aren’t they? All this mumbo jumbo rubbish, ghosts and gods—it’s all superstitious nonsense. Even this business with Puddin’ and the blue light Trish could see, pure imagination, the baby just responded to my voice and touch, which she received in loco parentis.

Then Sunday school—what sort of brain-dead moron would tell children, and very impressionable ones, that God was cross with them? Isn’t JC supposed to have said, ‘Suffer the children to come unto me?’ Where in his gospel is there this hatred and bigotry, so frequently associated with the religion of love?

I’d fail the interview as a Christian, can’t believe in the fundamentals; but I do agree with the socialism supposedly preached by the ‘Teacher of Men’. As a teen, I did some extra lessons in school, trying to understand what my parents believed, so maybe I could believe too. Then they might have accepted me as well, which was all I wanted. As a kid, all I wanted was to be loved and accepted by my parents. I suspect that Livvie may know the feeling all too well—so at least I could do something to help her.

I sat up in bed, and Simon sighed. Livvie turned to cuddle up to him. I watched the two of them together—he had all the makings of a wonderful dad, I just hoped I was a passable mum. I sat there, watching them in the gloom of the bedroom, for several minutes, a blissful domestic scene. I let my mind drift onto all sorts of things for quite a little while, I might even have dozed for a few moments. Then, Livvie turned to face me, and Simon turned behind her and put his arm around her, protecting her in his sleep. She seemed to be searching in the bed for something, feeling around with her hand.

“Mummy, MUMMY, MUMMY, WHERE ARE YOU?” she was shouting in her sleep, still fast asleep. Was she calling for Laura or me? I touched her hand and told her I was there. She grabbed my hand and pulled it towards her, then drifted off to sleep again. This time I lay down and eventually slept myself.

I awoke some hours later, a bath of sweat, a hot little body clamped to me like a giant limpet. I tried to move away a little but she was really stuck to me, and moved with me. I tried to wriggle free but she began to whimper and I stopped. Why couldn’t she have clamped to Simon, why always me?

Thankfully, the other two overslept or something, because when the radio came on at seven, they were nowhere to be seen. Simon swore and got out of bed and into the bathroom. Moments later the shower was heard. Livvie was still hanging on to me, like I was a life raft of some sort,  and she was a drowning girl. As soon as Simon came back I’d ask him to pull her towards him.

He didn’t come back, only to dress and then he went off downstairs to get his breakfast. The other two heard him and followed him down. Livvie stayed asleep and clamped to me like a ball and chain. Finally, my bladder forced me to move and she grumbled and complained as I wrenched myself free.

I left her complaining in her sleep while I emptied my bladder and switched off the radio. She was curled up in a foetal position. I sat on the bed, and stroked her hair, she began to sob in her sleep. This completely threw me.

After a moment of panic, I stroked her hair again and spoke to her, reassuring her that she was safe and loved by us all. I told her that she was wanted and that she could stay with us as long as she wanted. She gave one of those stuttering sorts of sighs, part sob, part hiccup and part sigh. Her whole body juddered and she curled up tightly again.

I got into the bed and pulled her to me, stroking her face gently and cooing to her, she grabbed my hand and began suckling on my thumb, using it as a soother. For a horrible moment I wondered if I’d remembered to wash it after using the loo—I had, so it probably tasted of liquid soap.

I sat there for maybe fifteen minutes before Simon appeared with a cup of tea and drink for Livvie. I looked at him and then at her. “Hmm, looks like she needs to talk some things through with someone,” he said looking concerned.

“I’ll speak with Dr Rose and see if he can suggest someone.”

“I doan wanna talk to anyone,” said Livvie yawning.

“You can’t go on like this, sweetheart, we need to understand what is worrying you, so we can put it right. You’ll like Dr Rose, he’s a lovely man. Trish and Mima think he’s wonderful.

“I want you to come with me, then or I won’t go.” She whined at me, which made me feel as if I should have said, ‘You’ll do what I want, missy,’ but then maybe she had her problem because her parents did just that, took no notice of what she wanted.

“I’ll come with you, of course I shall. I’ll ring his secretary later on, see when he can see us.” Livvie cuddled in tightly to me. “Can I drink my tea, sweetheart?” I asked and she released some of the clamps she had on me. Simon gave her a fruit flavoured milk drink, which she accepted and had to sit up to drink. Suddenly in doing so, she transformed from a baby into a young girl again. I needed to get up before she reverted again and trapped me for another long period. I would support her and protect her, but not encourage her babyish behaviour unless it was sanctioned by someone more knowledgeable than I was. Sam Rose, was possibly that person, at least I hoped so. As a paediatrician, he would have to know quite a bit about the psyche of children. He had to know more than I, as an inexperienced parent, did.

“Come on, kiddo, let’s be having you, into the shower and get dressed, then I’ve got to do the same with the other two.” What a lovely prospect—but that is what happened, and it took an hour too long since the other two played up because I was giving Livvie too much attention. I nearly sent ’em all back to the dog’s home.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 689

I felt tired and irritable as I tried to make contact with Sam Rose’s secretary. It took over an hour and I had nearly given up on the task, when she answered. I explained that I needed his advice urgently and she promised to get him to call me back as soon as he could.

Effectively, this meant that I was now tied to the phone, so the girls had to amuse themselves for an hour or two and I busied myself with making bread and cleaning the kitchen which seemed to be a pig sty. Stella came down with Puddin’ who was making great progress and as Mima was out with the other two, I could have a crafty cuddle without anyone else getting jealous.

The two older girls were riding their bikes and Meems was using a scooter, but it wouldn’t be long before she wanted a bike too. Stella and I chatted over a cup of coffee and the phone rang. I dashed to answer it, but it was only someone trying to sell me double-glazing–for an eighteenth century, grade II listed farmhouse–I don’t think so.

The second time the phone rang it was someone from a telecoms’ company promising me the earth if we used their service. I slammed the phone down and stormed back to the kitchen. I’d only just got back there when it rang again, I glanced at the caller display which read ‘withheld’ so I picked it up and ranted at it.

I blushed a moment later when a familiar voice said, “Cathy, is everything all right?”

“Oh, Sam, I’m so sorry, but I‘ve had a series of stupid calls today,” I felt about two centimetres high.

“Okay, you asked for some advice, you having problems? Not Trish, I hope?”

“Trish is fine, no I’ve acquired another five year old, a female whose mother and father have died in tragic circumstances…” I went on to explain briefly what had happened.

“Goodness, woman, you do know how to make life hard for yourself, don’t you?”

“Yeah, it keeps me from getting too bored.”

“So you have three under six, with two of them the equivalent of twins?”

“More or less. Livvie knows about Trish, so does Mima in a background sort of way.”

“So Livvie is coping with Trish’s medical condition?”

“Yeah, so far very easily.” As I said it I thought, there is loads of time for it go wrong.

“You want me to see Livvie and see if I think she needs some therapy?”

“In a nutshell, Sam.”

“Can you bring her in this afternoon, say half three.”

“To the usual place?”

“Yeah, hopefully I’ll be through most of my clinic by then.”

“Okay, Sam, I’ll bring her in–I might have to bring the others with me as well.”

“No prob, it’ll give me a chance to look them over while I’m at it.”

“Trish is now living 24/7 and attending a convent school.”

“Good, I look forward to hearing an update from her as well.

“See you at half three,” he rang off and I felt much better. It seemed to give the day more focus and after lunch, I had to start cleaning up the kids and myself. The girls I dressed in school uniform, and Mima in a tidy dress, which she objected to, until I explained we were seeing Dr Rose.”

“I wike him,” she said and beamed a smile at me.

Somehow, they all stayed clean until we got there and I registered at reception. I had the three of them around me as I read them a story, plus one or two other kids, which made me feel a bit self-conscious.

“Lady Cameron,” called the laid-back quack from his consulting room.

“Come, girls, let’s go and see the nice doctor man.” Mima and Trish almost dashed ahead and hugged him, while I walked a little behind holding the sweaty palm of Livvie. “He’s nice, you’ll see,” I tried to reassure her, but her hand clasped tighter around mine.

“Hello Cathy,” said Dr Rose giving me a quick hug, “this must be Olivia or Livvie?”

“It is indeed, Sam, you haven’t lost your powers of deduction.”

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” he said and laughed.

“I thought Watson was the doctor?” I replied, pretending to challenge his assertion.

“Oh dear, does that mean you get to be Holmes, again?”

“’Fraid so, Sherlock’s sister, Ideal.”

“Ideal Holmes?” He puzzled for a moment, then laughed, “Bit of an exhibitionist then?”

“Absolutely.” He and I laughed while the three stooges looked on with totally perplexed expressions.

Sam Rose cursorily examined Mima and Trish, the latter keen to tell him that she could ride a bike without stabiliser wheels. After, I asked Trish to pick a book in the waiting room and to read to Mima until we came out. Sam asked reception to keep an eye on them.

“So, it’s Peaches Olivia Richards, is it?” he said looking at Livvie.

“No, I’m Livvie, just Livvie Richards, and I want to be Livvie Watts or Cameron.” I blushed as she said this.

“Why? Richards is a fine name,” said Sam.

“You have it then, I want Mummy to adopt me.”

“I see, why is that?”

“My first Mummy and Daddy are dead.”

“I’m sorry,” said Sam.

“I’m not,” said Livvie.

“You’re not? Why is that?”

“Can I call you Peaches, Dr Rose?”

“Hmm, I think I’d prefer it if you didn’t,” he replied.

“They didn’t love me, they didn’t love each other, like Mummy and Daddy do.”

“Hang on, which mummy and daddy are we talking about?” Sam was confused.

“Mummy Cathy and Daddy Simon, they love each other, my other parents didn’t, they only loved themselves. My old daddy killed my old mummy, then killed himself. If he loved me he wouldn’t have done that, would he?”

“I doubt it, young lady.”

“So I want to be Mummy and Daddy’s girl like Trish and Mima. I want to be adopted, I don’t like being an orphan.”

“Does it matter who adopts you?” asked Dr Rose.

“Yes, I wanna be adopted by Mummy and Daddy,” she grasped hold of my hand and held on tightly.

“Do you sleep at night, young lady?”

“Yes, though sometimes I have bad dreams and see my mother.”

“Does she do anything bad to you?”

“She wants me to go with her.”

“Go where with her?”

“To hell, she’s going to go there.”

“How do you know?”

“Because we learned it in Sunday school.”

“One advantage of being Jewish,” said Sam as an aside to me.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 690

“I think the people in your Sunday school, might have been a bit extreme in what they taught you, Livvie.”

“They said it was all in the Bible, so God musta said it.”

The whole concept bridled within me and felt like saying to her, ‘Look it’s all bollocks, there is no God, so stop believing all this nonsense.’ Instead, I said, “No one is sure who said what, Livvie, it’s all lost in the mists of time, and people tend to interpret it as they wish. Can I give you another creed?”

“What’s a creed?” she asked looking perplexed.

“It’s basically what someone believes, comes from the Latin, credo I believe.”

“Gosh, you are clever, Mummy, speaking Latin.”

“No I’m not, and I don’t, I know a few words. My creed is not to hurt anyone or anything, if I can possibly help it, and to show love wherever I can.”

“I like your creed, Mummy.” Livvie squashed my hand tightly in hers.

“I think I do, too,” said Sam, smiling.

“I think it’s better than wishing awful things on people.”

“Is that what I’m doing, Mummy?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart, but let me run an idea past you. If you were angry with Laura, and Tony for not doing what you felt they should have done as your parents—and I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to feel angry or hurt by them—then, part of you might link on to the Old Testament stuff from your Bible study at Sunday school, and want to send them to hell, because part of you thinks they deserve it. And that might be right as well. However, part of you loves them and doesn’t want them to be harmed, so you have this conflict inside you. I know how this feels because I felt the same once, about my parents.”

Livvie looked at me as she processed what I’d said. Then tears began to flow and she hugged herself tightly against me, hiding her face in my clothing. I held her and stroked her back and head.

“I’m a bad girl,” she sobbed.

“No you’re not, you’re a lovely girl, who needs to work through some tough feelings.”

“Will you help me, Mummy? To stop being bad?”

“Hey, listen to me, will you, you aren’t bad, you’re good.”

“I want to be like you, Mummy,” she sobbed against me, “You’re a good lady.”

If only you knew, sweetheart, if only you knew. “I’d like to help you, sweetheart, but I think there are people who are better at it than I am. Would you allow Dr Rose to make arrangements for you to see someone?”

“I don’t know, Mummy, why can’t you do it?”

“I’ll come with you, if you want.”

“Why can’t you do it, Mummy?”

“I’m a biologist, Livvie, not a psychotherapist. I had to see someone to help with my problems.”

“You did?”

“Yes, that’s why I know a little bit about it.” Sam Rose stood watching us, nodding every now and again.

“Why don’t we dry your eyes and go and find the others, and Dr Rose can give me a call when he’s found someone to help us?”

“You will come with me?”

“I promise.”

“Okay.” I wet a paper towel with cold water and wiped her face, then gave her a fresh towel to dry herself.

“Sorry about that, Sam.”

“Not at all, I know you love your dormice, but you missed your vocation.”

“I did?”

“Yes, I think you should seriously consider training as a psychotherapist, especially a paediatric one.”

“No way, José. I have too many demons of my own to worry about without thinking about dealing with those of others. I’m not going to screw up other people’s children, because my childhood was a mess.”

“I’d have thought the fact that you are aware of that, would make it very unlikely.”

“Please don’t put ideas into my head, Sam, it’s full of dormouse fluff and that’s how I like it.” I took Livvie’s hand, “Let’s go and find the other two, and perhaps get some ice cream.”

“Oh yes, Mummy.”

“Which? Finding the other two or the ice cream?” I teased her.

“Both, Mummy, let’s find my sisters and get some ice cream for everyone.”

“Including me?” I said pulling a face.

“Yes, Mummy, ’cos you’re buying it.” There I was, outmanoeuvred again by a five-year-old, and Sam Rose was chortling away behind me.

The rest of the day was relatively quiet but before bedtime, I took Livvie aside and we wrote a letter to her parents.

‘Dear Mummy and Daddy,

I do love you and I don’t want you to go to hell. Mummy Cathy, has explained some things to me and I don’t feel so cross anymore.

Good bye,

Love,

Livvie xxx

When she had signed the letter and sealed it in an envelope the two of us went up to a quiet place in the orchard and we burned it.

“How do you know they will get it, Mummy?”

“Trust me, sweetheart, they will.”

We walked back to the garden and the other two joined us, “What y’doin’?” asked Trish.

“Livvie had something private to do.”

“Oh, does that mean you won’t tell us?”

“Yes, I’m afraid it does,” I answered.

“Why? I told her about my funny fanny?”

“That was your decision, and in time Livvie might tell you what we did, but tonight, I want you both to promise that you won’t badger her to tell you, because if you do, I shall be very cross with you. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Mummy,” said two dejected voices. I didn’t like laying down the law, but at times it was necessary.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 691

“What did Sam have to say about Livvie?” Simon asked as he rubbed my back. I’d spent an hour weeding the flower beds while the girls played in the drive.

“Oh that’s soooo good,” I purred.

“What? Sam said that?”

“No, you silly goose, I said that because it’s true. I think I might ask you to do that all night.”

“Yeah, right.” He slapped me hard on the bottom.

“Ouch,” I squealed and jumped.

“Could do that all night too, your bum is quite smackable.”

I rolled over to protect my saddle’s best friend, “No thank you. I’m not into pain, however so caused.”

“You’re no fun anymore,” he said pretending to sulk—least I hoped he was pretending, or we have problems.

“I suppose you want me to rub these,” he said putting his hand on my breast. I didn’t say anything but hold my breath as he gently squeezed and pulled on my nipples. I won’t dwell on the details but we both fell into an exhausted sleep about an hour later, sans clothing.

This would have been fine except Livvie strolled in about three o’clock and I felt her patting me on the shoulder. “Um—hello, darling, what’s the matter?”

“I’ve come to tell you, Mummy and Daddy got the letter and asked me to say thank you.”

“Eh? Um, oh okay,” in waking up, I became very aware that I was starkers under the bedclothes and in need of a little wash somewhere. I prayed she didn’t want to get into bed with us.

“You said, she’d get the letter, didn’t you?” She stood alongside the bed, I lay quite still hoping not to make any more mess in the bed than was already there.

“I did, see it worked, and very quickly.”

“Thank you, Mummy.” She kissed me on the cheek and went back to her own room.

“What was all that about?” asked Simon, who was now awake.

“I’ll tell you in a minute,” I said scrambling out of bed and into the bathroom.

Simon joined me a few moments later. “What’re you doing? Bit early to be washing isn’t it?”

“I’m all sticky,” I said, towelling myself dry, and he smirked.

“Aren’t you going to wash now you’re in here?”

“Nah, I used my underpants earlier.”

“Simon, you’re gross.”

“Yeah, but lovable with it.” I groaned and left him having a wee. I pulled on a nightie and went to make some tea. When I went back to the bathroom to ask if he wanted some, he was actually washing himself.

“Yeah okay, you’re getting me into bad habits.”

“Clean ones,” I snapped back.

“That’s what I mean, I suppose you’ll expect me to wear clean underpants tomorrow?” This was pure wind up, he showered every day and always wore clean clothing, he was doing this just to get a reaction.

“No, by all means wear the dirty ones, just stay downwind of me.”

“Go and make the tea,” he said flicking water at me.

Back in bed, he asked, “So what did Sam Rose say to you about Livvie?”

“He’d find her a therapist.”

“Okay, go private if you need to, I’ll get the bill.”

“That’s sweet of you, Si, but I’m tempted to bill Tony’s estate for the money. They screwed her up, they can pay for unscrewing her.”

“Whatever, anyway, the offer’s there.”

“You can be so nice sometimes,” I said kissing him.

“Sometimes?”

“Yes, sometimes you can be a total arsehole.”

“So, what does that make me—a nice arsehole?”

“If the cap—underpants fit, wear them.”

“You cheeky cow, any more out of you and I’ll give your udders a hard tweak.”

“Pull the udder one,” I joked and then squealed as he yanked hard on my boob. “Ow, you pig.” I slapped him on the shoulder, “That hurt,” I had tears in my eyes.

He pushed me back down on the bed, and lifted up my nightdress. “What are you doing? Get off, I’m too sore.”

“It’s okay,” he pulled my nightie up further.

“No it isn’t, stop it.”

“I’m only kissing it better.”

I protested, “Please don’t…stop, ooh, that is rather nice, Si.”

I was struggling to wake as the three aliens clambered into bed. “Mummy’s got no clothes on,” said Mima as I suspect the other two were slightly shocked, at least into speechlessness.

I rolled over onto my tummy and hid my nakedness, well the interesting bits. Someone put a freezing cold hand onto my bum. “Oh!” I gasped.

There was laughter from the aliens, then they say deep space is very cold, maybe they’re right. You’d think a life form clever enough to cross space would have invented gloves.

“You have a mark on your bum, Mummy.” I felt a slightly warmer hand tracing with feather-light contact, something on the cheeks of my buttocks.

“It’s a bruise,” said Trish’s voice. That wretched Simon, I’ll kill him! I knew he smacked me hard, the swine has bruised me.

“Let me see,” I heard Simon’s voice, “Oops, never mind.” I felt a bristly chin and then he kissed me on my bum. “That should do it,” and the girls giggled.

“Siwwy Daddy, kissed Mummy’s bum,” chanted Mima.

“Can we kiss her better too?” said Livvie’s voice and I felt three cold noses touch my bottom followed by the smack of lips as they attempted to kiss me better. It tickled and I was fighting hard not to laugh.

Soon after I was in the shower and all three of the girls were with me, Trish being rather discreet with hiding her ‘funny fanny’ behind her hands. Nothing was said, not by Livvie, who was more intrigued by staring at my pubic hair. I’d been relatively relaxed about nudity, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea with Livvie and her Sunday school teachings, they probably had a rule on feeling shame about the female body. I certainly wasn’t ashamed of mine—I chose it.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 692

After drying us all, and then drying the girl’s hair and plaiting it, I managed to dry my own hair and tied it back in a ponytail. It was getting quite long, so maybe I needed to speak with Stella, ask her to trim it.

I rubbed some arnica cream on my bruised backside—Simon would pay for that, the pig. Revenge is a dish, best served cold, besides I had to sort out three girls. I threw on jeans and tee shirt, after my customary bra and panties. These days, I probably needed a bra much of the time, I seemed to have had a growth spurt—in the chest, come to think of it, my bum seems a bit bigger too, stretching out the jeans I had on. Must be putting on some weight—I need to get back into riding again.

I asked Simon to check if the school was back or still off. He called back two minutes later, saying they were back. “Okay, girls, school uniform dresses, school is back in session,” except they break up for summer holiday in two or three weeks.

Mima, bless her, had dressed herself. She was actually quite adept, and wore a simple dress something like a school uniform. Next year, I’d get her into nursery, I believed they had one at the convent. At this rate it might be cheaper for Simon to buy the school outright.

I rushed them down to breakfast, which Simon had started making for them, and while they ate, I did their packed lunches—some fruit salad in little pots, some yoghurt, a sandwich each, an apple and small bag of crisps; plus of course the obligatory chocolate bar.

I barely had time for a cup of tea before whisking the girls off to go to school. Mima decided to come with us today, bringing along her little backpack, copying the others. I gave her an apple to put in hers.

The parking outside the school seemed very easy, we were the only vehicle there. I couldn’t understand it, so we all walked in to the school playground and towards the school. It was all locked up. What’s going on? I called home on my mobile and Stella answered. Simon had left. I tried his mobile, but if he’s driving and forgotten to wear his blue-tooth thingy, he won’t answer.

I got his voice mail, and left a message. Glancing at my phone I saw the time. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock, we were nearly an hour early. No wonder the radio hadn’t come on.

We got back in the car and I drove down to the nearest convenience store. I bought them each a cereal bar for elevenses, in case they were hungry. I ate mine in the car, well, I’d had no breakfast. After parking up again outside the school, I decided we’d play a story telling game, where each of us would add a line to that of the others. I knew it would get silly very quickly, but they would at least laugh and stay awake.

It went something like this: Once upon a time, there was a young lady who…
…wanted to grow up to be a princess…except her daddy wasn’t a king or anything…and she was ugwy, with a face wike a tomato…she went to see the local doctor…who sent her to the hospital…by ambulance, with the blue lights flashing…’cos she was so ugwy, they had to keep their eyes cwosed…Driving with their eyes closed meant they had to go very slowly…in case they crashed into other cars and things…they did crash, driving over a ditch they couldn’t see…and they aww died happiwy ever after.

Despite the tragedy of our tomato faced ugly princess, they all roared with laughter, so it seems I might be raising a brood of sociopaths. By the time we’d finished killing her off, I saw the headmistress drive into the school, then one or two others, I presumed were teachers.

When the first parent and child arrived, we disembarked and walked back to the school. The headmistress welcomed us back and asked Livvie how she felt. “I don’t hate my old mummy and daddy anymore, Mummy Cathy, helped me to write them a letter so they won’t come and frighten me when I sleep.”

“Your new mummy seems to be a clever lady, doesn’t she?”

“She is clever, she knows Latin.”

“That is clever indeed, all I ever managed to learn was the odd word.” She looked at me—oh poo.

What I should have said was anything, only in English, instead what came out was definitely not English. “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.” I blushed, well I was to blame for the wrongful opinion of my foster child, but some days I didn’t help myself.

The kids looked on with astonishment all over their faces, “What does that mean, Mummy?”

“It’s my fault or blame, all my fault, or near enough, though that would be omnia, not maxima, wouldn’t it?”

The headmistress looked on in what looked like awe, she was nodding but I suspect she had no idea what I was talking about. “You wouldn’t like to teach some Latin here, would you?”

“Um, no, it’s not good enough for anything except the odd crossword and occasionally translating gravestones. As a Latin scholar, I made a good scientist.”

“You’re far too modest, Lady Cameron.” Oh poo, she will project that title on me.

“I tell you what, when they start labelling bicycle components in Latin, I’ll brush up on it and teach your kids. Until then, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your offer.”

“Decline, oh very funny,” it took me a moment to get the joke. It was too early in the morning, my sense of humour was still tucked up in bed like a hibernating dormouse.

We took our leave just as Mrs Browne-cow arrived. We nodded at each other with minimal politeness, and as I expected, she was parked so close, we had to climb in from the passenger side of the car. I quickly reversed out of the narrow space, and then nipped back in and deflated one of her tyres. We were gone before she came back, but I’ve seen how much effort is required to undo the wheel nuts on a 4×4, so that should keep her busy for a few minutes. I swore Mima to secrecy as we drove home, she thought it was hilarious.

Nobody had seen me, I hoped, and the half a minute it took, no one arrived or departed. Revenge is perhaps a dish most enjoyed if taken when hungry, but not ravenous.

As we drove home Simon called and I told him what I’d done. He laughed but warned me to be careful in future. I assured him I would, and to myself remembered he had a surprise coming soon too. All I had to do was think of one. Then in the supermarket, I hatched a plan, buying the essential ingredients.

That night after the girls were in bed, the wine flowed freely, at least with Simon and Tom, it did. They both went to bed almost legless, and once in bed, Simon almost went into a coma. I set to work. It took me a good half an hour and I was surprised he didn’t wake up. I hid all the things, and went to bed. I was almost too excited for when he woke up the next morning.

The girls invaded as usual, and this time I checked out the time. I got them all washed and dressed while Simon lay groaning in bed, it was some time since he’d got plastered. He still hadn’t spotted my modification on him. I sent the girls downstairs after they were dressed and Simon lumbered on unsteady feet towards the bathroom. I stood at the top of the stairs. I heard him use the toilet and was amazed he hadn’t noticed. Then the shower began to run and I heard him call, “CATHY—what the hell have you done…?” I didn’t hear anymore, I was flying down the stairs.

The girls were busy eating their breakfasts when he came down, he looked daggers at me, “I’ll see you later,” he snapped.

“Don’t I even get a goodbye kiss?”

He ignored me and bustled past. Stella came into the kitchen yawning. “What’s up with him? I heard him yelling.”

“He’s had a bit of a surprise,” I said innocently.

“What have you done?”

We moved out of earshot, and I told her. “You didn’t?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Pink?”

“Yes, I thought it would look spectacular.”

“If only I’d had the chance when we used to do things to each other.”

“He started it, marking my bottom.”

“So you marked his front?”

“I had to, he was lying on his back.”

“But bright pink, Cathy, it’s pure malicious genius.”

“Of course.”

“And he didn’t wake while you were trimming it?”

“No, he didn’t even notice when he went to the loo. But he did when he got in the shower.”

“I’ll bet he did, bright pink, heart shaped pubes—that is so funny, pity you didn’t get a photo.”

“Who says I didn’t?”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 693

Unsurprisingly, Simon seemed reluctant to allow me near him in bed that night. However, I found pink hairs in his razor, so I suspect he was a wee bit bald down below. He had his pyjamas on when I got to bed, which was unusual, he’s usually last into bed, and he turned over when I got into bed. I took my MP3 player with me and while he was pretending to sleep, I said out loud, “God, this music always makes me feel randy.” I’m sure I felt him flinch.

When I ran my fingers across his bottom, he grumbled that he had a headache and I almost fell out of bed laughing. “Would you like me to get you an aspirin?” I asked innocently, while restraining the giggles that were almost threatening to escape.

“No thank you, I think a good night’s sleep will do the trick.”

“I know a good way to get to sleep, Simon, you nearly always go off immediately afterwards.”

“No thanks.”

I’m sure the bed was shaking with my repressed laughter. Poor Simon, that’ll maybe teach him not to smack my bum again. Of course in shaving off his pubes, in a day or two, he’ll be as itchy as hell as the stubble grows—I was post op, although the discomfort elsewhere tended to take my mind off it. If he was depilating, waxing would have been better. “Si, do you think I should get a Brazilian for the summer?”

“Oh shut up,” he snapped back.

“Well, I was just thinking about wearing a bikini, it’s alright for you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” he snapped turning back to face me.

“Well, your bathing shorts don’t show anything anyway, do they?”

“Are you implying I’m somewhat inadequate?”

“Not at all, what I’m saying is that men’s shorts or trunks don’t show everyone if they’re a real blonde or not—unlike ladies’ ones.”

“So you’re going to twist the knife all night are you? Not good enough that you marked me for life is it?”

“Marked you for life? Come off it, Simon, it would last days that’s all.”

“Well I didn’t think it was funny.”

“Neither was smacking my bum so hard that it left a mark the next morning.”

“You didn’t complain at the time—just like a bloody woman.”

“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”

“Well you are, whingeing and whining after the event.”

“So what are you doing, then?”

“What d’you mean?”

“What is all this about, this whingeing and whining that you’re doing now?”

“I am not.”

“Aren’t you? Coulda fooled me.”

“You are the giddy limit.”

“Am I? Well maybe it’s because I care about you…”

“Care about me? Ha! You humiliated me after your assault.”

“So sue me, I’ll happily plead guilty and have my day in court. I think your smack is a greater assault.”

“That was a thing of the moment, yours was premeditated.”

“Prove it. How are you going to prove any of it happened?”

“I have proof.”

“Do you? I hope you put some talc on it.”

“On what?”

“The bit you shaved earlier, ’cos it’s gonna itch tomorrow.”

“You bitch!”

“No, I said itch, there’s no ‘B’ in it as far as I know.”

“I suppose you think it’s really funny.”

“I do actually,” I stifled a snigger—now was not the time for a laugh, he was very angry.

“Yeah, well you wouldn’t if it happened to you. I spent all day worrying that someone would see it.”

“What? You stupid man, how would anyone see it, unless you showed it to them?”

“I could have had an accident.”

“I’m sure paramedics have seen worse than a few pink hairs.”

“It’s an affront to my dignity.”

“Don’t be such a pompous prig, the only one who would expect to see it, is me.”

“What about my doctor?”

“What about him? You’re not having an affair with him behind my back are you?”

“That’s right, belittle me at every opportunity.”

“Simon, please think before you reply. If that is what you honestly think, then we have little or no future together.”

“Oh that’s right, threaten to walk out on me again, typical bloody woman.”

“I don’t make threats, I act, as you well know, or you should. If you don’t, then you are more stupid than I gave you credit for. If I remember, it wasn’t me who tried to kill themselves after we last rowed.”

“Oh, you’re going to throw that in my face are you?”

“Simon, I love you very, very much. However, I have three children to care for…”

“So, I’m superfluous to needs, am I?”

“Please stop talking through your arse and think before you exhale—I’m trying to say how important you are to all of us, but I’m not prepared to trade insults or accusations with you. If you want out, feel free. I’m going in to sleep in the spare bed in Livvie’s room.”

“What’s wrong with this bed?” he asked angrily.

“Nothing, except my presence here seems to be setting you off.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“You are fit to blow, Simon, I can almost see the vein in your neck throbbing, and it’s dark.”

“Your exaggerations drive me crazy.”

“In which case, I’ll take them away and save your sanity, the little you seem to have left.” The snipe was unnecessary but he was beginning to annoy me and that isn’t a healthy thing to do, but he’ll never learn.

I started to get out of the bed. “Wait,” he exhorted.

“What for?”

“Can we call a truce?” he said quietly and I think he meant it. There were all sorts of put downs flying through my mind, but I resisted the urge to score points.

“Okay. It’s your call,” I handed him back the ball.

“Um, look I was really angry, I think your response was OTT.”

“I wasn’t too pleased when the girls saw a bruise on my bum, if they ask me, how do I tell them it got there? Say, ‘Daddy hit me?’ I don’t think so, do you?”

“I’m sorry, it wasn’t meant to happen, I couldn’t resist the temptation. I won’t do it again.”

“Si, I don’t particularly enjoy having my bottom slapped or smacked, but if you must occasionally do it, don’t mark me, all right?”

“I won’t, I promise.”

“And I won’t retaliate with the Pubic Wars—hey, didn’t Caesar write something about that? Oh I know, it was the Punic Wars, you know against Hannibal. Maybe Hannibal was better endowed? Now that would be the Pubic Wars.”

“What are you on about?”

“Nothing, why?”

“Well shut up then and kiss me.”

“My lord and master has spoken. I must obey,” I had my fingers crossed as I said this, and the sarcasm was spread inches thick.

“Yes and don’t you forget it, wench.”

“’Cos I’m so accommodating, does that make me an adjustable wench?” It was at this point he fell out of bed, laughing.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 694

We were back to normal, as normal as we ever get or are likely to. Simon spooned around me and I kept my hands off his stubbly groin. He was either going to have to keep it shaven or waxed, or let it grow through the itchy stage.

We’d talked well into the night, like we did before the kids happened. Listen to me, I sound like an old woman—before the kids happened—ha, sounds as if I had them myself, doesn’t it. Maybe I’ll keep that as one of my deliberately vague statements, answering questions like, ‘When did you lose your figure?’ Well, it was after the kids happened… Yeah sounds good.

It was also good that we seemed able to resolve a squabble without handing rings back or walking out on each other, or worse. Simon probably won’t be able to use paracetamol again, don’t know if his liver would tolerate it.

We talked about loads of things, top of which was, ‘Did I still love him and want to marry him?’ The obvious answer is no, which was why I didn’t walk out on him, or throw his ring at him. The stupid man—what a ridiculous question, is he that insecure?

I suppose as well he could have attacked my one area of weakness, my journey to womanhood, but he seems to forget that. I suppose it would be self-defeating, because it could suggest he was gay or something, unless it just means he ignores it because he doesn’t see me in that way, and considers me a normal woman. I don’t think I’ll ask him tonight, partly because I’m not sure I want to know.

Of course I want to be his wife, but the thought of organising a wedding terrifies me. I have no experience of it, and I know Stella and Monica would help, but I’m still scared. At the moment, I simply don’t have time, looking after three kids is all consuming. I suppose it could just mean I’m terribly inefficient, or inexperienced, but I seem so tired all the time.

I must take Trish to her therapist soon, and now I have to take Livvie to one as well. It just goes on and on. I seem as if I’m never satisfied. I wanted children, and never thought for one minute I’d ever have any, so even my surrogate kids are so welcome, and I shouldn’t complain, but it all seemed to have happened so quickly. One day I have no kids, then a few months later and I have three. I love them all and want to keep them as long as I can—well, until they’re grown up; then they can decide if they still want to keep in contact.

The idea of adoption sounds really good, and I know Livvie wants it. Possibly Trish and Mima do as well, except they’re too young to ask objectively. I could ask them the question any time and manipulate the answer I want out of all of them. So I think we wait, at least until after the wedding—assuming we ever manage it.

Back to square one—the wedding—no wonder I can’t sleep, I keep thinking about this and more in dread than anticipation. Am I marrying Simon because I love him or because I want to be married, to prove a point—not many boys get to be Mrs or Lady So’n’so. It wasn’t something I aspired to, not until I read Jane Austen, and worse, saw the films. Smouldering Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in his wet shirt—I’m getting palpitations. Simon actually is almost as good looking, and in riding breeches and tight shirt, would look equally good. I am now feeling less like sleeping than I did when we came to bed. I can hear Simon gently snoring behind me. Damn, that is like, so inconsiderate of him, and I quite fancy the idea of making love to him bald—you know what I mean. I wonder if it’s possible to do it without him waking up? Nah, it’s women who sleep through it, not men—not even if I put a rubber band around it.

I tossed and turned in mild frustration, I’m not usually like this—okay, I get a bit turned on now and again, but this is like, well, like nothing I can honestly remember before. My whole body is wanting him, or Colin Firth, I’m not that choosy. What is going on?

I got up and went downstairs for a cuppa—when in doubt, put the kettle on. As I made some tea, Stella appeared. “What’re you doing up?” we said almost simultaneously.

“I couldn’t sleep, Pud was restless and kept waking up, she’s gone off now. You?”

“No, I haven’t gone off,” I replied.

“You dopey cow, why are you up?” asked Stella grabbing the first mug of tea I poured.

“Si and I had a squabble.”

“Not again, doesn’t he like his pink pubes?” she sniggered.

“He’s shaved them off.”

“Ooh, sexy,” she chortled.

“That’s what I thought, and ever since I’ve been consumed by lust in a way I’ve never felt before.”

“What? You’re joking?”

“Stella, I never joke about such things. I was thinking about one or two things and suddenly thought about Jane Austen, then Colin Firth and then Simon, ’cos he looks a bit like Colin Firth. Anyway, what do you mean, sexy? He’s your brother for God’s sake.”

“I’m not surprised you thought about Simon after Colin Firth, but I mean, how could anyone fancy Jane Austen?”

“Jane Austen? I don’t fancy Jane Austen. I was thinking about the wedding and being Colin’s, I mean Simon’s wife…”

“Ha ha, Freudian slip.”

“Oh shut up, I was thinking about weddings and things and for some reason Pride and Prejudice, came into my mind and Colin Firth, and my hormones kept squealing that they wanted a ‘good seeing to’ which I believe is the vernacular.

“Have you been sniffing something?”

“Don’t be silly, Stella, I just got randier than ever before. Normally, it’s just an itch somewhere that Simon has the requisite instrument for scratching, but tonight, my whole being was aching for it.”

“You haven’t had any blood showing anywhere have you?”

“Blood? Where?”

“Where do you think?”

“What? Down there?”

“Yes.”

“Don’t be daft, it’s a dead end. The only time it bleeds is if Simon gets too enthusiastic.”

“Sounds to me, like someone who’s in ovulation.” Stunned, I dropped the mug and splashed tea all up my legs and over my slippers.

As we cleared up the mess, I asked if there could be any other reason why this happened tonight, I mean even if I were female in a biological sense, I’d have been ovulating for years not starting at twenty four.  Stella couldn’t think of one.

I cleaned up the mess and decided I was deluding myself. It wasn’t real, just my silly mind trying to make me feel more authentic and pulling up stuff I’d probably read elsewhere during my biology training.

It was two o’clock before I got back to bed, and Simon grunted as I snuggled up beside him. I wondered if Colin Firth snored.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 695

For some reason, I couldn’t sleep. I was tired, perhaps overtired, so my mind drifted in all directions, except to relax and allow me to sleep. Obviously, Stella’s suggestion crossed my mind several times. It was a lovely thought, I’d been right all along, but I knew it was fallacious. I was biologically male, or shall we say, I used to be, now I was physically, a eunuch but one with a penetrable pudenda, so it was effectively functional.

That was the reality. So talk of ovulation was nonsense—except my mind kept saying, ‘but what if it wasn’t?’ Of course it was. I had no ovaries, unless they’d spontaneously generated from somewhere, I had no fallopian tubes for these miraculous eggs to convey themselves to my non-existent womb. As well there was no cervix and my vagina—yes I have one of those—is a cul-de-sac.

As I’ve said before, I’m pure Darwinian when it comes to miracles. If they’d existed in Darwin’s time, his daughter’s life would have been saved. They don’t, so for some reason, I seem to have got turned on my Simon’s hairless willie. There ain’t no eggs, so there’s no ovulation.

I don’t remember falling asleep, we don’t do we, it’s waking up which is remembered, especially when you feel like death. I was so tired, and those three monsters arrived at about six. I’d had three hour’s sleep. No wonder I was crabby and unable to wake myself.

When the radio came on at seven, I hit it harder than I needed to, to terminate its noise. Even if they had started the headlines with, Cavendish wins the TdF, I couldn’t have given a damn. I sank into slumber once again.

At eight, Simon woke me with a cuppa, to say he’d sort of supervised the girls in washing and dressing, but he couldn’t do their hair. I looked at him blankly as if he was talking a foreign language. I saw the tea and accepted it.

“It’s gone eight,” he repeated and I smiled at him. I sipped the tea and glanced at the clock, it was ten past eight. Oh bugger. I gulped down the tea and jumped out of bed berating him for letting me sleep. “I tried to wake you, we thought you were dead at one point.”

“Wishful thinking,” I snapped back.

“Maybe,” he sighed and left me to quickly wash and dress.

I was downstairs about twelve minutes later, wearing the first thing that fell out of my wardrobe, jeans and a jumper. It wasn’t very warm, so maybe it was a fortuitous choice. I literally threw two sandwiches together for the girl’s lunches, and chucked in a few assorted bits and pieces. They were lucky they didn’t get some dog biscuits.

We made it to school on time, but only just. I parked alongside a 4×4, one I recognised and shuddered as I did so. As we rushed into the school entrance Mrs Browne-Coward was leaving. “Lady Cameron.”

“Mrs Browne-Coward,” I acknowledged.

“You didn’t see anyone near my car yesterday, did you?”

“Which one is yours, again?”

“The Evening Sunset Range Rover.”

“The orange 4×4? No has someone scratched it?”

“No, thank God, but one of the tyres was flat, yesterday.”

“Was it? Mind you they do that now and again, slow punctures or faulty valves. I had one myself recently, took the garage ages to sort it out. Can’t get the service nowadays, can one?” My little heart was racing nineteen to the dozen as I traded lies with this oaf of a woman. “I went off four wheel drives after I crashed Simon’s Porsche into his Boxster.”

“Isn’t the Boxster the Porsche?” she queried.

“Yes, so was the four wheel drive, had to get the muse cottage rebuilt, he was quite upset at the time, his nanny lived there.” Where was all this rubbish coming from and did she believe me?

“You smashed up two Porsches and a cottage?”

“Yes, up in Scotland, on the family’s estate, they won’t let me take my car into the castle grounds now. Simon says, I’m safer on a bicycle, but I made him buy me another car. I’d like another Mercedes, but that one caught fire on the motorway…”

“Nice to see you Lady Cameron, better move my car, in case I’m blocking someone else in. Bye.” She practically fled the field of battle. I think she believed me because people tend to lie the other way, making themselves seem better than they are, not worse. Oh well, at least she’ll be gone before I go back to the car.

“Hello, Lady Cameron,” said a familiar voice.

“Headmistress, good morning.”

“Did I see you talking to Mrs B-C?”

“Yes, she apparently had a flat tyre, yesterday.”

“Indeed, took her three hours to get it fixed.”

“That’s the problem with those things, the wheels are so big and heavy as are the nuts behind the wheel—I mean holding the wheels on.”

“I’m sure you do,” she smirked.

“How is the little girl who had swine fever?”

“Swine flu, Lady C.”

“Isn’t that what I said?”

“No, you said, swine fever.”

“Goodness, I’m definitely losing it.”

“I doubt it. From what I hear, you are one of the strongest people around.”

“Who told you that? Trish?”

“No, it was a very reliable source. Did you manage to get the girls reading to you every day while they were off?”

“Yes, they nearly completed the Well of Loneliness during the week.”

“Did they now? It took me a great deal longer and I was seventeen and wonderin’ what was so awful about it. I found out, the laborious prose.”

“Wrong book, they were reading some Famous Five thing, about a well.”

“I see, that sounds a bit more suitable for young minds than Radclyffe Hall.”

“A stately home, is it?”

“No, Cathy, she’s the author of, Well of Loneliness a rather ponderous lesbian story.”

“Oh, that Radclyffe Hall.” I’d never heard of her, yes I had, but I’d never read the book, didn’t think I’d bother now.

“It would have been easier to visit a stately home than read the book, I can tell you,” the headmistress smiled. The fact that she was a nun and reading such literature, did that make her gay? Is that what she was telling me? Did that mean she fancied me? Oh shit, let’s get out of here.

“Oh, look at the time, I must go, headmistress.” I nodded at her and ran out of the school. Driving home I stopped at a little café and had an espresso and some toast. By the time I got home, I’d probably be hyper on some sort of caffeine trip, but it was either that or wander about like a zombie all day. I mean, I don’t even like espresso, so it was pure self sacrifice.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 696

By the time I got home, I was twitchy—I don’t mean my head jerked in a nervous tic or an eye kept winking, or anything like that, but I was definitely twitchy. I was tired but the caffeine kept me awake and somewhere not entirely alert but my reactions were hyper. My legs felt restless and I couldn’t stand or sit comfortably, they kept wanting me to move them.

“Why don’t you go for a ride?” Stella suggested, “I’ll watch Meems.” The youngest of my charges was busy painting a picture of something known only to her. It looked like it might have come from another planet, it had three legs to start with. Mark Cavendish is from the Isle of Man, where the triskele is the official logo, but as far as I know, he only has two—I was going to say the same as everyone else, but Cav isn’t. He has the ability to go from cruising speed to forty miles an hour in a very short distance.

Before Stella could withdraw her largesse, I ran upstairs and changed into some shorts and a shirt, pulled on my cycle shoes and grabbing a water bottle, filled it at the sink. I told Mima I’d be back soon, and I don’t think she even noticed I’d entered the room, let alone spoken to her. Glancing at her painting once again—Pre-Raphaelite, it wasn’t.

The tyres on both my bikes needed some air, so I did all of the tyres, it helps to prevent the rubber perishing. Then taking the Scott, I tightened my helmet strap and set off for the downs. In about ten minutes, I was out of the city and up into the countryside, or as close as one can get to it in a sub-urban environment.

The first climb had me puffing like an asthmatic steam engine and my legs were burning. Instead of continuing the climb, I went along a fairly level road for a breather, then climbed again eventually reaching the top of the escarpment and a viewpoint where I stopped and drank some water. I removed my helmet and cooled off as much as I could. Apart from an ice cream van, I seemed to be the only other occupant of the car park.

I took another swallow of water. “You haven’t just climbed that hill on that, have you?” asked the ice cream vendor, nodding at my bike. I wondered if he was stupid or just making conversation—I mean I was dressed like a cyclist, red faced and sweating, and holding a bike at the top of a hill.

“No, I just parachuted in, I’m an illegal alien, the bike is just a ruse.”

“I thought so, you’re far too pretty to be a cyclist, they’re all ugly as sin.”

“I hope you aren’t including Vicky Pendleton or Nicole Cooke in that statement.”

“Who?”

“Olympic gold medallists for cycling.”

“Are they? I wouldn’t know ’em if I sold ’em an ice cream. Wanna buy one, I can do you a special offer?”

“I didn’t bring any money with me, so I’m sorry I can’t.”

“Tell you what, I’ll give you an ice cream, if you…”

“I think this car park is getting very crowded all of a sudden.” I put my bottle back in the rack and put my helmet back on.

“’Ang on a minute, I’m only joking, ya know.”

“I don’t eat ice cream,” I lied, my stomach rumbling in protest at my deceit.

“I don’t believe you, a pretty woman like you, they all like ice cream.”

“I’m not a woman, I’m a boy.” I was telling the truth and I knew he wouldn’t believe me, they never do.

“Yeah, sure you are, with ti—a chest like that, and a bum to die for.”

“The chest is silicon and the bum is all padding,” I lied.

“If that’s the case, I think I might be turning gay.”

“What’s wrong with that? Might improve your perspective on life and stop you accosting women.”

“See I knew you was teasin’ me.”

I heard the sound of tyres and to my horror, a Sunset red Range Rover turned into the car park and on stopping, out jumped a yappy terrier, followed a moment later by Mrs B-C in her green wellies. “Good Lord, Lady Cameron, fancy seeing you here.”

“See, I knew you was a woman.”

“What is this man saying? Knew you were a woman, she’s married to Lord Cameron, who probably owns your overdraft, you moron.”

“It’s my fault, Mrs Browne-Coward, he was trying to chat me up, so I told him I was a boy.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever disguise that figure as anything but delightfully female. Really, my dear, have you ever thought of modelling?”

“Cameron, as in bank?” interrupted the ice cream man.

“Yes, you oaf, maybe you need to go to the optician, get your ears checked, too.”

“Bloody ’ell. You can pay for your own bloody ice cream, the interest you lot are charging me.”

“You can stick your ice cream,” I replied, “I’m off to increase your bank charges.”

“Bitch,” I heard called after me as I waved goodbye to Petunia’s mother and clipped into the pedals.

The downhill ride was easier in terms of physical effort, although some gravel which had collected in the middle of the road caused my back wheel to flip out at one point, which at fifty miles an hour is quite scary, especially while bouncing in the saddle on the unevenness of the road surface.

To cap it all, a boy racer decided to overtake me. There I am doing fifty on quite a narrow country lane, and testosterone knickers, decides whatever I can do, he can do faster. He was in one of those Subaru death machines, the one with the IQ of the driver indicated by the number of stars on the front grill.

Anyway, as we are approaching a crossroads, with admittedly right of way in our favour, I’m still zipping along with the metallic blue kamikaze hard on my heels, waiting for the smallest opportunity to overtake. Then maybe thirty or forty yards before the junction he revved furiously and passed me, just as a white van decides to cross the junction. In the UK ‘white van man’ is used ubiquitously to describe appalling driving. This one was well below par.

As the van crossed the junction, boy racer clipped his rear. The Subaru went up on the bank and through a hedge, the white van spun round ninety degrees and came straight at me, the driver wrestling with the wheel as he plunged headlong at me. I had no option but to fling myself off the bike and into the hedgerow and I heard the van drive over my Scott and smash into the banking—all of this as I cannoned off the banking and onto the gravely road, leaving a few bits of skin and lycra on the tarmac.

Dazed and shaking, I rose to my feet and tried to assess the situation. The engine of the van was still revving although the van was stuck in the bank, the driver was half through the windscreen a large tree having stopped his progress, but probably killed him at the same time.

I leant in through the broken window in the door and switched off the engine. Diesel was seeping all over the road. I picked up my bike, the frame was smashed. Crossing the road I looked through the hole in the hedgerow, the blue chariot was upside down and looked as if it had rolled several times.

New arrivals on the scene started to take some charge of the situation. “You alright, luv?”

I wasn’t, my favourite bike was wrecked and so was my matching strip, and I realised my leg and buttock were painful and bleeding, so was my elbow. “What happened?” asked another newcomer.

“I was coming down the hill at quite a lick, the car in the field overtook me just as the van crossed the junction, he caught the tail of it, the van spun round and nearly hit me. I jumped off but the bastard got my bike.”

“It’s only a bike, luv.”

“Only a bike, it’s six thousand quid’s worth of bike.”

“What! You’re joking?”

“No I’m bloody well not. And the bastard who caused it is probably dead, so I can’t even sue him.”

“That’s rather harsh, isn’t it?”

“Look, mister, if some halfwit in a van had just tried to kill you, I doubt you’d feel kindly towards him either.”

“This one’s alive,” called someone over in the field.

The sound of sirens began to fill the air and as I realised what had happened, I began to feel very sick and started to shake. Next moment I was chucking up my meagre breakfast and collapsing onto the bank.

I didn’t feel them take me into an ambulance, but I was awake when we got to the hospital. I could just see them now, “Not you again?”

To cut a long story short. After a cursory exam, I was sent for x-rays and a scan of my abdomen. “You’re not pregnant, luv, are you?” I shook my head. “’cos we need to check your spleen.” I nodded my understanding.

An hour later, a familiar face came around the curtain, “What on earth are you doing here?”

“Go away, I’m too old for a paediatrician,” I said back to him.

“What happened?” I told him and he said he’d been passing when they called him in to look at an injured child.

“Not in a blue Subaru, was it?”

“Yeah, her mother was driving it.”

“It was a woman driving?”

“Yeah, why?”

“She was driving like boy racer.”

“Well, you can get girl racers, too. Looking at your kit, you’re one.”

“That’s different. I had right of way, the car shouldn’t have tried to overtake at a junction, and the van should have stopped.”

“There’s a copper waiting to see you, seems like you’re the only witness.”

“What about the woman driver?”

“She’s in theatre, blood clot on the brain, there’s a helicopter en route to take her to Southampton neuro unit.”

“And the kid?”

“Multiple fractures.”

“I’m not fostering anymore,” I said almost laughing.

“No need, the father is on his way, and Simon is on his to collect you.”

“The van driver?”

“DOA, left half his cerebellum in a tree, according to the paramedics.”

“It was his own fault, the bastard wrecked my bike.”

“I suspect he did the same to his van.”

“My bike is worth more than his stupid van.”

“Surely not?” Sam Rose looked horrified.

“A 2009 model is around seven grand.”

“Seven thousand quid for a push bike? What is it, gold plated?”

“No carbon fibre.”

“Even so, seven thousand—that’s a lot of money.”

“It was a lot of bike.”

“Can’t you reuse any of it?”

“Chummy drove his van over it, broke everything, including the wheels.”

“You weren’t on it at the time were you?”

“No, I threw myself off it, hence the tarmac burns.”

“And the broken fingers.”

“What?”

“You’ve got two broken fingers on your left hand.” I looked at my hand, two fingers were strapped together. “I did a similar thing playing rugger.”

“Wonderful,” I said and felt a few tears run down my face.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 697

“Miss Watts, the poor man died.”

“Whose fault was that? I nearly got killed too.”

“Yes, but a bike is replaceable.”

“What if he had killed me, too, or instead?”

“Then I wouldn’t be talking to you now, would I?”

“Just a minute, Sergeant, I am going about my own business and quite legitimately, when two mistakes by fools in motor vehicles nearly kills four of us. I am angry that I nearly got killed, and I’m really pissed that a very valuable bike got trashed, all because two fools couldn’t wait a few seconds.”

“The one paid with his life, the other is very poorly and her daughter could be deprived of a mother.”

“To be driving like that with a child in the car was stupid. Practically every time I ride a bike some homicidal maniac in a car or van or truck tries to kill me. What do you lot do about it? Bugger all. Even when one of them nearly succeeds, all you seem to have is sympathy that he missed and killed himself instead.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. We accept your account of the accident, and our crash investigation team will check it out.”

“So you don’t believe me?”

“I just said we did, but witnesses, especially in the heat of the moment, can get things wrong.”

“I didn’t. I saw what was going to happen as soon as the blue car passed me, and tried to take avoiding action, but side-pull brakes don’t stop you that quickly and it was only because I was still moving that I managed to avoid the van. He just spun around as the car hit his back end, and then he came straight at me. I unclipped and let go the bike at the same time, falling into the bank and bouncing along it, the van came past and trashed my bike and I bounced along behind him leaving a few bits on skin and lycra on the road. It bloody well hurts.”

“I’m sure it does.”

“Plus I broke two fingers.”

“The van driver was killed.”

“I know that, I saw his brains all over the tree. I switched off his engine to reduce the risk of fire. It was his own stupid fault.”

“What if he left a widow and children?”

“Then perhaps he should have thought more about them before he drove so stupidly.”

“If you hadn’t been going so fast, he might have made it across the road, or the Subaru might have been able to overtake you and clear the junction?”

“Yeah, and if he hadn’t been born, it wouldn’t have happened—what sort of logic is that? I had right of way, I was riding safely, the two drivers were at fault. You know as well as I do that ninety nine percent of accidents involving cyclists are the driver’s fault.”

“Just a wee bit biased there, aren’t we?” said the copper, who with his mate were making loads of notes.

“No, there are statistics to back it up, and most of the time the driver gets away with it. Look at that prat up in North Wales a year or so ago, killed four cyclists and injured several others, driving on bald tyres on icy roads, and he got fined a few hundred quid. He should have been doing time for multiple manslaughter—except cyclists don’t count as humans.”

“Calm down, Miss Watts, cyclists do count and we take incidents involving them very seriously.”

“Calm down, it’s not you who will wake up seeing a van coming at you every night, is it? And what about my children? Or don’t they count either? I’ve said all I’m going to, if you want any more contact my solicitor.”

Just then Simon arrived. “I thought I could hear your voice,” he said then looking at the burly police sergeant who’d been taking my statement, said, “Bloody hell, Masher.”

“Stone me, Cameron, the human battering ram, what are you doing here?”

“Collecting my fiancée, what about you?”

“Collecting a statement about a fatal.” He looked at Simon and then at me. “That’s your fiancée?”

“Yeah, the lovely, Cathy.”

“Good luck, mate, you’ll need it.” He went past Simon who was looking perplexed.

“What’s all that about?” he asked me.

“It seems everyone wants me to feel sorry about some dickhead who tried to climb a tree with a van, nearly killing me in the process.”

“Oh, what happened?” Although it was becoming tedious, I told him the same account as I had told everyone else. “God, you were lucky.”

“Yes, I was, whether God had anything to do with it, is another matter.”

“What?” he said but I declined to repeat my possible blasphemy, not because I was ashamed of it but I was tired and hurting. I was still waiting for the scan results.

A doctor poked his head in the cubicle, “Sorry, the scan isn’t as clear as we wanted, I’m sending you down for an ultrasound.”

“I thought they used those for pregnancies?” I asked.

“We do.”

“But I’m not pregnant, I can’t be.”

“I didn’t say we were doing it for pregnancy, I’m trying to discover if you have a rupture of the spleen.”

“If I did, wouldn’t I have bled to death by now?”

“Not necessarily, sometimes they take a few hours to happen.”

“You know best,” I said surrendering.

“Get that in writing,” called Simon, ever supportive of me—the swine.

I was pushed on a trolley down towards X-ray again, only this time, I had cold goo smeared all over my belly and some sort of transducer was moved back and fore over my abdomen.

“Interesting,” said the radiographer.

“What is?” I asked trying to see the screen of the machine.

“You look perfectly normal.”

“Do I, shows how deceptive appearances can be, doesn’t it?”

“How did they do the hysterectomy, there’s no scar?”

“There was no hysterectomy, I have XY chromosomes.”

“Oh, androgen insensitive?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Okay, I can’t see anything wrong with your spleen, although you will have some bruising.”

“Yeah, like all over.”

“What did you do?”

“Avoided being hit by a van on a country lane.”

“What in a car?”

“No, a bike.”

“A motor bike?”

“No—a bicycle, I sort of opted to crash into the bank at thirty miles an hour.”

“Can they go that fast?”

“Yeah, moments before I was doing over fifty, but it was downhill.”

“Gosh, you are lucky.”

“Yeah, my bike wasn’t.”

“Oh, did you break it?”

“No, I didn’t the van driver drove over it.”

“Oh, still, maybe it can be repaired.”

“Noooo,” I said shaking my head, “it’s six thousand pounds worth of carbon fibre, it’s in bits.”

“Six thousand, oh dear, that’s a lot of money.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

“Won’t the van driver’s insurance pay for it?”

“I don’t know, because he’s in a worse shape than my bike.” She looked strangely at me, obviously trying to understand what I meant. “He hit a tree—head first.”

“Oh,” she said.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 698

Simon took me home, I was getting stiff and sore and covered in bits of sticky tape or butterfly strips. “How d’you know that copper?” I asked him as we drove.

“Masher? He used to be a good prop forward.”

“He’s huge.”

“Yeah, he’s put on a lot of weight, he was down to about eighteen stone when I knew him.”

“Eighteen stone, God, that’s um two hundred…”

“And fifty two pounds.”

“His poor knees must suffer, and he’ll be diabetic if he carries on.”

“Since when did you care, you were arguing with him.”

“I was cross that the police don’t take the risk to cyclists seriously enough.”

“They brought in a twenty mile an hour speed limit didn’t they?”

“In residential areas, but no one observes it.”

“You do, don’t you?”

“Mostly, especially when I have the girls with me.”

“I suppose I’d better collect them tonight.”

“What is the time?” I asked, relying on my bike computer for such things.

“Oops, I need to change the car.” He accelerated his Jaguar and despite my protests, drove like a lunatic to the house where, he practically carried me indoors and dashed off in my Golf, to fetch the girls.

“What happened?” asked Stella making me a cuppa.

“Mummy, Mummy, yous hurted.” Mima threw herself at me like a wraparound cannonball.

I explained the incident to Stella, who looked very upset. “That poor man.”

“What about the woman and her daughter, and more to the point, what about me and my poor bike?”

“You’re like Supergirl, unkillable or whatever it is?”

“Invincible, I think might be the term you’re looking for?”

“That’s the one, invincible Super Cathy.”

“Yeah, but the van could have been carrying kryptonite for all I knew.”

“But your X-ray vision would have detected it…”

“Not if it was lined with lead.”

“I hadn’t thought of that…” Stella paused.

“Mummy,” said Mima sitting on my lap, “wass kwiptite?”

“Kryptonite is a substance that is supposed to be able to poison Superman. Nothing else can hurt him…”

“Except Lois Lane,” quipped Stella.

“Who Wose Wane?”

“His girlfriend.”

“I’d wike to be Superman’s girwfwiend, when I gwow up.”

“He doesn’t actually exist, he’s a character in comics, books and films. He’s not real like you, Meems.”

“Oh bwow, I wike him.”

“Another day dream shattered,” sighed Stella, “you really are cruel to those kids of yours.”

“I suppose it’s better to let them believe in fairytales?”

“Sometimes, let them gently into it.”

“Stel, he’s a fictional character, let’s face it, when did you last see anyone running about the place in blue tights with red knickers over them?”

“In the ‘Fun Run’ the other week, why?”

I shook my head, why has she always got an answer? I mean, it’s hardly normal kit even for a charity run, most people wear tee shirts and shorts, not full on Superman outfits.

I managed to limp upstairs and take a cool shower without disrupting too many sticky things. Meems helped me to dress in shorts and tee shirt and my sandals. The hardest bit was drying myself, then pulling on a bra and panties. Meems did really well for a young un.

I combed my hair and let it dry naturally, it wasn’t a cold day, and once it was half dry I tied it up in a ponytail. The girls arrived with Simon, soon after I got down from the shower. The first thing I saw was a moving bunch of flowers. I know it sounds silly, but the door opened and in walked this bunch of flowers. It was a large bunch and carried by Trish, Livvie bore a small basket of fruit.

Once they saw me, they dumped their respective loads and rushed towards me. “Mummy,” they both yelled and almost jumped on me. “Are you alright?”

If you two don’t kill me—“Yes,” was all I could answer, they were both in tears.

“What’s the matter?” I asked hugging them both.

“Your bike was smashed, Daddy told us you were hurt, too. I thought you might have been smashed as well as your bike, I’m so glad you’re not.” Trish was really upset and held on to me tightly.

“Yes, Daddy said a man was killed and a lady was very ill, we thought he meant you,” Livvie was also sobbing.

“No that’s someone else’s mummy, a little girl who was also hurt in the crash.”

“Can we send her some flowers, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“I hadn’t thought to, but yes, let’s do that, except I don’t know her name.”

“I’ll find out for you,” said Stella and went off to the phone.

Simon picked up the flowers and the fruit, I hugged him as best I could and accepted his gifts. Stella would have to help me put them in some vases, my fingers were swollen and sore.

“What’ya done to your fingers, Mummy?” Trish noticed me wincing.

“I broke two of them, darling. Everyone else was much worse. So I shouldn’t complain.”

“You were an hour ago,” mumbled Simon.

“I was getting over the shock of losing an old friend.”

“Who was that, Mummy,” Trish wasn’t moving far away from me at all.

“My bicycle, my Scott. I was very fond of it.”

“The insurance will pay for a new one. I’ll get our people to sort it out for you.”

“I don’t even know if I can find the receipt now, God knows where it is?”

“Don’t worry, no one argues with our people,” Simon wasn’t joking. “Anyway, you’ve still got the Ruby, so we could go for a ride tomorrow if you want.” With two broken fingers he knew he was safe.

“No, Mummy, don’t go out again tomorrow, I don’t want you to get hurt again.” Livvie was now clinging like Trish.

“Daddy’s only joking, darlings, can you hug me a little less tightly, it hurts a bit.”

The phone rang and I presume Stella answered it. She came in a few minutes later. “That was Tom, he’s bringing in a Chinese take away for Cathy and the girls and curries for the real men.”

“What you and Simon?” I said to Stella, who gave me a look which said if you weren’t already injured, you would be in a couple of minutes.

“Silly Mummy, Auntie Stella isn’t a man—she’s had a baby.” Trish liked to keep gender stuff black and white.

“Nah, we bought that in Tesco on the way back from the hospital, it was the last one, or we’d have got one free as well.”

“Silly Mummy,” said Trish and she flipped me on my injured arm, I squealed a bit and she burst into tears. It was going to be a good evening by the looks of things.

“Daisy Drummond,” said Stella.

“What is?” I asked.

“The little girl in the car, she has multiple fractures of both legs and possible spinal injuries. Her mother’s been airlifted to Southampton—doesn’t look good at all.”

“Oh dear, she drove like a lunatic, why couldn’t she just have waited a moment? Why couldn’t that fool in the van have stopped? It was all so unnecessary.”

“Why were you going so fast?” Stella challenged.

“I was entitled to.”

“Speed limits?”

“Don’t apply to bikes, except on specific bike paths, oh, and Bournemouth esplanade.”

“Bikes aren’t subject to speed limits?”

“Nope, they’re not vehicles. However, they can do you for reckless riding.”

“Let’s wait for the summons then,” said Stella, smirking as she carried away the flowers.

“They’d better not,” I muttered to myself. That would be adding insult to injury.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 699

Everything stopped when Tom arrived bearing gifts in the shape of food. The three girls and I had a Chinese, there was plenty for the others too, so they had a mixture of curry and Chinese. Mind you the girls experimented with Stella’s korma—I didn’t, I don’t like the smell. The kids didn’t go much on Si and Tom’s Madras curries.

“Have you had two curries today, Daddy?” I asked Tom.

“Aye, whit o’ it?”

“Nothing, your stomach must be lined with the equivalent of asbestos.”

“Aye, porridge.” Everyone laughed at his answer, and I couldn’t even wave two fingers at him—what is the world coming to?

Tom and Simon put the girls to bed and did the bedtime story. I was quite happy to leave it to them. I was sore and stiff and my hand was throbbing. Damn, I bet my nails go all black and ’orrible. My fingers, what I could see of them, looked a mixture of green and purple. I’ll bet my bum didn’t look much better. At least I could think about the accident without wanting to bash the van driver, and I was coming to terms with losing my Scott. I did see a place in Cycling Weekly, or in my case cycling weakly, offering to repair carbon fibre damage. I suspect unless they do miracles mine is too bad to for repair.

I’d leave the insurance claim to Simon, he promised to speak to CTC, the Cyclist’s Touring Club, the largest cycling organisation in the UK who also offer legal advice to members. He’s a member too, so I hope he can ask on my behalf.

“You look tired,” said Stella loading the dishwasher.

“I am, things are starting to hurt again, too. I suspect an early night is in order.”

“Could be a good idea.”

“Yes, big sister-in-law.” She flipped water at me instead of replying and went off to feed Puddin’. I wonder if she kept her some curry? If so, I hoped she wouldn’t wake me up in the middle of the night.

I waited for Simon to come down and retired for bed. He came up with me to help me undress. “We’re like an old married couple,” I teased him.

“You could always ask Tom.”

“I don’t think so Si, it wouldn’t be fair on him, apart from getting him too excited.”

“Would he get excited? I mean he’s supposed to be your stepfather.”

“Eh? He didn’t marry my mother.”

“Okay, adopted father.”

“Yeah, so?”

“He shouldn’t get excited by his daughter’s body, should he?”

“I don’t know, he is adopted not my biological dad.”

“Yeah but what would you say if I started looking strangely at our three girls?”

“I’d be very concerned.”

“Well then.”

“They’re all children.”

“I know, but in fifteen or twenty years?”

“As you could well be paying their university fees, I’d have thought you’d be more interested in getting rid of them than ogling them—besides, you’ll need all your energy to ogle me.”

“Ogle-ogle,” he said repetitively as he left the room. I snorted at him and got into bed. I was loaded with painkillers so did go to sleep. Simon awoke me at one point when he came to bed, but I went off again. I eventually woke about five. It was light and I was so stiff and sore I felt like I’d been dropped down a cliff face. I crawled out of bed to the loo, and tried to cuddle up against Simon, except he kept putting his arm around me on a sore bit. He woke up, swore at me and went back to sleep, I started to cry.

I don’t know how long I wept, it felt like forever. Simon eventually rolled over and half sitting up on his elbow asked what was wrong? I couldn’t tell him, because I didn’t know. I just felt awful, sore and stiff and he’d shouted at me, and I just felt like shit. I could see him getting cross because I couldn’t talk coherently to him.

“Wanna cuppa?”

“I don’t know,” I whined.

“I’ll go and make one, then you can drink it if you want.” I wanted him to cuddle me, but I was too sore. I hoped someone got the number of the train that hit me, ’cos that’s what it felt like.

He came back ten minutes later and I cried again. “What is the matter?” he asked completely bemused.

Sobbing and hiccupping, I managed to say, “I want you to cuddle me, but I am so sore.”

“Okay, there’s no need to get upset. Here, drink your tea.” He handed me a mug and I managed to sit upright enough to drink it. He had one, too. After I’d finished, I only wanted half of it, he bid me lie down and back into him. I did very gently, and he then told me to put his arm wherever it was comfortable to do so. I did and after thanking him, fell asleep.

I expected to wake when the aliens arrived, but I didn’t—or they didn’t. When I did wake and looked at the clock it was after ten. I was horrified, had the girls got to school? Who did their packed lunch? I leapt out of bed like cripple—in slow motion—you know the sort of high-speed camera they slow down to show clouds moving or flowers blooming. I was so slow and it took me forever to get my dressing gown on. Then after limping down the stairs I discovered Tom had taken the girls to school, in my dad’s old Mondeo. Simon had taken Mima to work with him and Stella had made up the girls’ packed lunches. She was feeding Puddin’ when I got down.

I crawled out to the kitchen and switched on the kettle and made us both some tea. I had some fruit, I didn’t feel very hungry, too sore to eat much. Then she came and drank her tea while she burped Pud, who was as good as gold.

I wasn’t well enough to do housework or go to help Tom, so I pottered about while I was awake and slept when I wasn’t. I found some sources for harvest mice and ordered some books from a firm in Devon who specialise in natural history subjects, including one on dormice. I watched some of the Tour de France on the telly, but kept falling asleep. I was still in my pyjamas when the girls got home with Tom. “Pippa sends her love,” he said. The rest was lost as the girls squealed and made painful fusses of me.

Stella had made a casserole, much to my surprise. But it tasted okay, and we were all still alive a day or two later. By then I felt much better and was able to drive again and move about a bit.

I took Mima with me to the hospital. After talking with the sister on the trauma ward—she recognised Mima—we were allowed to enter and take our flowers to the bedside of a little girl. A man was sitting alongside her, his head was drooping in sleep.

“We’ve bwought you fwowers, Daisy Dwummond,” boomed Mima before I could stop her.

“Uh, what?” said the man waking up quickly and looking even worse. “Who are you?”

“Cathy Watts, I was the cyclist the van driver hit.”

He looked at me. “Cyclist? Van driver?”

“I believe your wife was involved in a crash a few days ago, with a van and cyclist. I heard she and your daughter were quite poorly, but I wasn’t well enough to come before, getting over my own injuries.”

“Oh, yeah.” He regarded my various bits of sticky and my strapped up fingers with a bit of suspicion.

“How is your wife?”

“In a coma at Southampton. I came here to see Daisy, at least she’s awake some of the time.”

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come. We brought her some flowers.” I handed him the vase.

“Yeah, thanks.” He took them and put them on the top of the locker at his daughter’s bedside.

“How are you managing?” I asked him, he looked all in.

“With difficulty. I spend most of the days here and nights at Southampton. It’s killing me.”

“What’s the prognosis on each?” I asked as matter of fact as I could.

“Daisy might walk again, but it’s gonna be a long job. Maria, might wake up one day, they don’t know.”

“I am sorry,” I touched his shoulder and he burst into tears.

“I don’t know how much longer I can do this, it’s killing me…”

I patted his shoulder, “Hey, come on, let’s go and get a coffee, Daisy is still asleep and I’m sure Mima would like a drink and a biscuit?”

He protested but in a couple of minutes of gentle persuasion, he agreed to come up to the hospital refectory and was drinking a coffee and eating some sandwiches. Mima seemed to know to keep quiet and she just sat close to me and ate her biscuit.

“I can’t go on like this, it’s too much,” Paul, for that was his name, said.

After we’d eaten, I got him to introduce us to his daughter. She was six, and very pale with a few freckles and light ginger hair. She was a bit tearful at my suggestion. It had transpired that Paul, Maria and Daisy were a small family who had no grandparents or other relatives. He and Maria had met in children’s homes and they had each other and then Daisy. However, when it all went wrong, they only had each other and with two out of three injured, he couldn’t cope with all the visiting he needed to do.

“Look, now I’ve met Daisy and seen what a lovely young lady she is, how about I come in every other day and you could then either stay with Maria or get some sleep. If you carry on like this you’re going to be in hospital yourself.” At this point, Daisy agreed to give it a try.

We shook on it, Daisy and me, and I promised to bring in a few books and read with her. That went down well. On the way home, Mima who’d been thinking about something to say for little while suddenly said, “You a vewy kind wady, Mummy. Can I come too, to see Daisy?”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 700

When we got home, Stella was interested to hear how we got on. I explained how we’d met the unfortunate father of the little girl and his double tragedy with his wife.

“So what did you volunteer?”

“I said I would go and see Daisy every other day, to give him some breathing space. The poor man was at his wit’s end.”

“Gonna do some of your magic healing are you?” Stella was holding Puddin’, “’Cos it certainly helped you, little lady, didn’t it?”

“I wasn’t thinking of that at all, you know I don’t believe any of it. On the other hand if my presence helps Daisy to, how shall I say, blossom? then good for her.”

“That was a dreadful pun, Cathy—Daisy blossom, oh God, that’s awful.”

“No worse than some of yours, missus.”

“Ooh, that’s a lie, I deny it all. Did you hear what that horrible woman said about your mother, Puddie?” The baby gurgled at all Stella’s antics, and Mima laughed, which made Puddin’ start to giggle, so Mima did as well. Then Puddin’ was sick and I didn’t see what happened next because I went to get a cloth from the kitchen.

Tom brought the girls home from school and I explained that I was going to be visiting Daisy on a regular basis, so we’d have to organise a rota to collect them in the afternoons. They didn’t seem to mind and Tom, although I suspect he had reservations, agreed to go along with it.

When I spoke to him later, his main concern was that I was giving time to someone who’d nearly killed me. I argued that neither Paul nor Daisy had caused the accident nor, to some extent, had Maria. Besides, he was a fine one to talk about helping people, as I was his principal waif and stray and was only following in his footsteps. He gave up after that.

I discussed with Trish and Livvie the sort of stories I should take with me. I had already collected a couple to use, but they disappeared and came back with a handful each. I’m not sure how long they thought I was going to visit, but it seemed longer than I had in mind—which was a temporary thing to give Paul a chance for respite, maybe a few weeks.

“Are you going to zap, Daisy?” asked Trish.

“Zap Daisy? What, like plug her into the mains?”

“No, zap her with your blue light?”

“Not particularly, Trish, you know I don’t believe in all that. I think your eyes were playing tricks on you.”

“If you say so, Mummy.” She smiled and walked away. Then ten minutes later she came back with Livvie. “Can we come in to meet Daisy, one day, Mummy?”

“Perhaps; we’ll have to see. Thank you for loaning me all these books.” I looked at the pile before me, Simon, Stella, Tom and I all bought them books on a regular basis, including one day Simon came home with a large box of them. A woman from work was getting rid of them and she’d learned about us fostering children and gave him the books. Her children were significantly older. The books were in pristine condition, something which I’d encouraged in Mima and Trish—the respect for books. Livvie had taken to the regime very quickly.

The day I went to see Daisy, which was the day following my original visit to her, and which I’d agreed with Paul, I collected a couple of books and some sweeties, and a few other bits and pieces, like soap and shampoo, a hair brush and comb, and a small teddy bear I got at a toy shop en route.

I arrived just after lunch. She was snoozing and from the tray on her bedside table, she didn’t appear to have eaten very much. She’d been moved to paediatrics, although she was still under the care of the orthopods and in particular the spinal surgeon. So it was a complicated mix. However, when I walked on to the ward, the sister there recognised me.

“Lady Catherine, how nice to see you again, how are Mima and Trish—it was Trish, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, it was Trish and they are both fine, thank you.”

“What are you doing here, then?”

“I’ve come to visit Daisy—give her dad a break.”

“She only came down this morning, from orthopaedics. Poor little mite, are you going to be able to help her walk again, like the others?”

“If that happens, wonderful, but I came in primarily to try and keep her spirits up, given how her mum is and how busy her dad is.”

“Oh, okay. You found her bed then?”

“Yes, the other ward directed me here.”

“Have a seat with her, would you like me to wake her?”

“No, I’m sure rest is important to her, it supposedly helps healing too, doesn’t it?”

“So they say, I’ll bring you round a cuppa, later.” With that, the ward sister was gone, bustling around the ward checking on her patients and the other nurses she had working with her.

I seated myself in the chair alongside the bed and chose which story I wanted to read to Daisy. It was The Wind in the Willows, and I scanned through the first few pages.

I was sitting reading when I became aware of something watching me. I glanced at Daisy and her big green eyes were watching me carefully. “Hello, Daisy,” I smiled at her. She looked at me and tears filled her eyes. “Hey, I thought we had a deal?”

“I hoped my daddy would be sitting there when I woke up.”

“Oh, sweetheart, I’m sorry it’s just me, but I hope I can help you to feel a bit better. I’ve brought you a few things.” I handed her the bag of goodies and she smiled as she unpacked brushes and hair bands, shampoo and finally the sweets and teddy bear.

“Thank you, um, what do I call you?”

“My name is Catherine, how about Cathy?”

“Can I call you Auntie Cathy? Because I don’t have any aunties.”

“Oh, sweetheart, of course you can. I’d feel very privileged to be your honorary auntie.” We chatted for a little while and I told her about my three girls. I also told her that the two older ones wanted to meet her and had sorted through a pile of books for her. She wanted to meet them, too. So I agreed I’d bring them in one weekend, unless she recovered before then.

She began to cry again. When I asked her what was the matter, she said, “Auntie Cathy, they said I could be in here for ages.”

“We’ll see, sometimes the doctors are wrong and people get better quicker than they think.”

“And sometimes they die,” she said back to me. I felt myself get hot and bothered and a bit lost for words.

“That isn’t going to happen to you, sweetheart, we have some good doctors here.”

“What about my mummy? Is she going to die?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart, I don’t know. All I do know is that she’s in the best place she can be for now, with some very clever doctors. All we can do is hope and pray for her.”

“Will you pray with me, Auntie Cathy?” Why do kids do this—undress you as a fraud in front of the whole world. What could I say?

“Of course I will, what would you like to say?”

She put her hands together and closed her eyes, “Jesus, please help my mummy, who is in Southampton Hospital, her name is Maria and she is very ill. I know you can make her better, please do it for me. My name is Daisy, thank you, Amen.”

I felt my stomach flip and my throat formed a lump the size of a grapefruit. I know I had tears in my eyes, and although I’m an unbeliever, her innocence was touching. I said, “Amen,” with her and she smiled at me.

“Do you think it will help, Auntie Cathy? My prayer, I mean?”

“I’m sure it will, Daisy. I mean how could Jesus turn down a request like that? But these things often take some time to happen, so don’t expect miracles to happen suddenly, it might take some time.” I didn’t want to disillusion her if things didn’t go as she wanted. If her faith helped her, who was I to tell her she was wrong.

She held out her hand to me and I grasped it and held it for the rest of my stay, or until the cup of tea arrived. “Lady Catherine, sugar?” asked the Sister.

“No thanks,” I accepted the tea and was glad to drink it, my throat was quite dry. I helped Daisy drink her cold drink, with a straw.

“Lady Catherine? Are you a princess or something?” asked Daisy looking suspiciously at me.

“No, they all seem to call me Lady Catherine, because my fiancé is a lord; so when we marry I shall become Lady Catherine. Actually, I prefer Auntie Cathy.” She smirked and laughed with me.

“When you get married, can I be a bridesmaid, I’ve never been a bridesmaid before?”

“You can indeed.”

“If I ever get out of this place?”

“In which case, we’ll wait until you do.”

“You’ll wait for me, to walk again?”

“I hope you’ll walk again and soon, but I’ll certainly hold the wedding until you are able to come and be one of my bridesmaids. I promise, is that good enough?”

“Oh yes, you wait until Daddy comes in tomorrow, I can’t wait to tell him.”

“I have to go now, Daisy, but I’ll call in again in a couple of days. If I leave you the book, can you read it by yourself?” She nodded and tears began to run down her cheeks. “Hey, don’t cry, a couple of hours ago, you weren’t sure you wanted me to be here. Now you need a rest, so have a little snooze and I’m sure you’ll feel better. Dream about being a bridesmaid.”

I kissed her goodbye and waved as I left the ward. The sister accosted me as I went. “That child’s spirits have soared since you came, do you know that?”

“All part of the service, sister.”

“I don’t know what you do to the children you help, but I wish we could bottle it and give it on prescription.”

I shrugged and left, it’s all just a placebo effect, why can’t they see it for what it is?

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