Bike 751–800

Wuthering Dormice

(aka Easy As Falling Off A Bike)

Parts 751–800

by Angharad

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

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

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

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

Holly H. Hart

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


Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 751

I hugged Daddy and went back to bed and slept like a baby. I vaguely remember the three aliens arriving but something made them leave and I slept again.

I was walking down a long corridor, which seemed to spiral down like a staircase, only there were no steps. At the end of it was a door, which I opened and went through it. I was in a room which felt like it was a cathedral it was huge and at one end was massive stained glass window, painted in vivid shades of red and blue and yellow.

The moment I opened the door, I heard the heavenly chorus, it was singing what sounded like the Allegri Miserere. I knew the piece having sung it as a boy treble at Bristol Cathedral with the school choir—only this was better than anything our school choir could produce. Its ethereal quality was dreamlike and transcendent.

I was drawn to the area before the giant coloured window, where the sun streamed through casting coloured shapes upon the walls and the slabs of stone which constituted the floor. As I walked towards the altar, yes, it was an altar, I could hear my heels tapping on the stones echoing through the cavernous building despite the heavenly soundtrack which accompanied me.

Walking towards the window the light shone upon me and was blinding in its intensity. I covered my eyes as I felt compelled to approach it, and despite the rainbow window, the light which bathed me was white. It felt as if it was streaming straight through the thin white dress I wore, in fact it felt as if it was shining straight through my body. It didn’t feel warm, it was cool possibly even chilling and I should have felt goose-pimples rising on my arms and legs, but the only hair which was rising was that on the back of my neck, along with the electric shivers which ran up and down my spine. What was going on?

I felt afraid and yet thrilled at the same time as if I was about to meet something or someone special. But what? The cathedral-like building—it was just too corny for words. I don’t believe in all this stuff, I kept thinking, yet still the choir kept up their ethereal music, which was beautiful despite my agnosticism.

In my compulsion to approach the altar I couldn’t see anything much at all, the light was so blinding. Then, it seemed to ease I presume because I’d walked into the penumbra afforded by the wall under the window. I could see a figure standing before the altar whose back was towards me.

I stood before the altar and the figure who was wearing a white robe with a hood turned and I felt sick. “Hello, Cathy.”

“Ch–Charlie?” I said to myself, because the figure before me was me, only it wasn’t me—if you see what I mean.

“You look well,” said Charlie. “In fact, you’re beautiful.”

“You look awful,” I said, without it meaning to be an insult, he looked pale and drawn.

“I never could compete with you, could I? You were always going to win.”

“I didn’t know that. In fact, I didn’t think I’d ever be myself——”

“No, just imprisoned by me—a pale imitation of life. Why did you hate me so much?”

“Charlie, I didn’t hate you. I loved you, I just couldn’t be you—however much I tried.”

“You killed our mother.”

“What do you mean?”

“The shock of what you were doing—it killed her, and caused Dad to have a stroke.”

I was crying as I stood before myself, feeling this anger and guilt being heaped upon me. “I didn’t kill Mummy, she came to me after she died.”

“Like I am?”

“You’re not dead, Charlie, you’re part of me.”

“If that’s so, why aren’t you part of me?”

“I am.”

“It doesn’t feel like that.”

“It’s true, wherever I go, you’ll be there too.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Charlie, how can it not be so? You were me and I am you, we are each other.”

“No, I don’t want to be some stupid girl.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Yes, I do—I’m a boy, a boy dammit, not some stupid girl.”

“Charlie, we are one.” I held out my arms to embrace him.

“No, I don’t want this.”

“You can’t exist without me, you are me and I am you.”

“Yes I can, I was here first—I was here for twenty years before you came along.”

“Did you? I was there with you, growing stronger by the hour.”

“Eating away at me like some cancer, devouring me.”

“Charlie, I didn’t want this to happen, but it did. We were both in the same body only one of us was destined to succeed…”

“That was me, me.” He sank to his knees and cried out as if in pain.

“If I could give you back this body, I would.” I could feel his pain as if it was a fire burning away inside me, consuming my very being. I knelt with him and we embraced.

“You’d give it back to me, and go away…forever?”

“If I could—I’ve known your pain through my own, I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer it.”

“You’d be prepared to give up your claim to my body?”

“It was our body, Charlie, but as you seem to need it more than I do, yes I’d give it to you.”

“Promise?”

“If that’s what it takes, then that’s what I shall do.”

“I thought you hated me?”

“No Charlie, I loved you but not in a way you could understand, maybe this will help you to do that?”

“You loved me?”

“I still do.”

“What about your so-called children?”

“I hope Simon and Stella and Tom, will take care of them—at this moment your pain is paramount and I need to heal it.”

“Even if it kills you?”

“Yes. Be whole and be free—I give myself to you.” I felt myself collapse and fall to the cold stone floor.

As I felt myself growing fainter and fainter, I felt his strong arms pick me up and lift me on to the altar. Whether the sun had risen or not, I don’t know but I was suddenly bathed in the most wonderful light.

“Cathy, I can’t let you leave your children, I just can’t. Go back to your children, raise them as best you can. I love you. Now go.”

I felt the strength return to me and I managed to sit up on the altar, below me was an empty white robe. Charlie was gone, the Miserere began again and I walked away from that place, my tears leaving a sparkling trail of glittering diamonds where they fell upon the ground.

I awoke crying and clutching a dressing gown, a white one, was it just a dream—surely it had to be? At the same time, I knew that my indecision was over, Charlie had sacrificed himself for me even though I had offered to do the same for him. It seemed that he loved my children too and could see what the priority was. I bawled my head off for almost an hour as I mourned his passing—he was gone forever, except for a small place in my heart.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 752

I discussed my dream with no one, though I made some notes about it while I could remember it. The white robe was one I had an argument with Simon about. He jokingly told me that he’d taken it from a hotel, it had the hotel name on the pocket. What he failed to tell me was that his family owned said hotel. I was naively annoyed by his blatant dishonesty, always trying to tell the truth and act honestly and with respect to other people’s property. I was still insisting it was how we brought up the children—with my Sagittarian brutal honesty rather than his diplomatic variety.

The next few days flew by, Simon came home for the bank holiday and we spent a nice weekend as a family. It was amazing how different it was when he was there, the girls flirted with him outrageously, even Trish had more idea of it than I did—but it was so nice to see the father daughter relationship developing with all three of them.

“I take it you won’t want to get married before the Olympics?”

“Olympics? You’ve lost me,” I confessed to his cryptic statement.

“Yes, in case you decide to compete.”

This had to be a wind up but I was committed to finding out. “Compete? In what?”

“The cycling? The 800 metres.”

“I didn’t think I was allowed to?”

“Oh yeah, two years after your op and hormones.”

“Why the 800 metres?”

“Well that’s the one with all the controversy, isn’t it?”

“Simon, from you of all people, that’s a bit below the belt.”

He lay back in the bed and roared with laughter, “Your face.”

“What about my face?”

“It’s beautiful,” he said and kissed me.

“Am I going to be subject to these innuendoes all my life?”

“Probably, why? I fully expect to be hit with boy or man jokes, at every opportunity.”

“That’s Stella more than me.”

“You indulge in them too.”

“Just bonding with Stella—it’s a girl thing,” I was fighting back.

“Bonding with Stella, you’re practically like Siamese twins.”

“So, you jealous?”

“I don’t think so, if she’s bonding with you, she might just be leaving me or some other defenceless male alone. Did she tell you about the time at school she and a couple of other girls did a bonding ceremony?”

“No.”

“Well she’d heard about the boys, cutting fingers and mixing blood, you know blood brother stuff?” I nodded that I’d heard of it, “Well she wasn’t happy with the idea of catching some awful bug like HIV from someone’s blood, so they did it with superglue.”

“Superglue?” my little mind boggled.

“Yep, superglue. It took the doctors at casualty over two hours to free them all. So I’m afraid I see female bonding as a joke.”

“I don’t, and mine with Stella is special.”

“Yeah okay, I know the big sister bit.”

“I owe her a lot, Simon, without her, I’d probably still be hiding away in a bed-sit somewhere.”

“Really? Surely, you’d have done something to sort your life out by now.”

“I don’t know, Si, she sort of catapulted me out of my indecisiveness.”

“Maybe I should get her to run you over again with regard to the wedding?”

“Very funny. I didn’t think you were that worried about how long we took.”

“Not we, paleface—you. If you recall, I did my bit by asking you.”

“I see, blame me.”

“Cathy, I proposed to you, at least twice if not three times, what more should I do?”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well, more does tend to indicate that you had something in mind.”

“Like what?”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“You’re supposed to be the man, I’m supposed to follow you.”

“Stop using semantics, they lead to circular arguments.”

“Okay, I’ll just let us go round and round then, like usual.”

“Very funny.”

“Nah, just moderately so.”

“Can’t we just have sex and stop all this talking?”

“Oh okay.” So we did.

Afterwards he said, “I nearly got a special licence, yesterday.”

“For what?” I was lying there in a post orgasmic blissful haze.

“Marriage, what else?”

“Why, who were you going to marry?”

“Tom.”

“Yeah that would be special. Ouch,” he slapped me across my bum.

“I thought we could slip off to a register office, somewhere.”

“What you and Tom? Bit bizarre, innit?”

“No you silly cow, you and me.”

“Dunno, I’m busy this weekend, gotta wash my hair.” He sat up and frowned at me, which made me giggle and then having been ravaged down below, I had to run to the loo. Goodness, I was sore.

Anyway, the weekend went and Simon dashed back up to London and his job. To hear him talk, you’d think that he and Gordon had saved the world between them, of course, Simon had the major part in the enterprise but he let Gordon take all the kudos, so if it went wrong, he, Simon, was in the clear. Talk about cynicism.

It was Tuesday morning and I was sitting waiting outside Dr Thomas’ office with my notes from my dream and a few others I’d scribbled over the weeks. The door cracked open and out walked the previous patient, I was next—oh shit.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 753

I was almost shaking as I sat there waiting—why did I feel so nervous? I couldn’t answer that. I hoped that what I was wearing conveyed the statement I wanted to make: that I was moderately successful and contented and messed up. Did I want to include that last bit? I didn’t think so.

“Cathy, would you like to come in?” I was so wrapped in my own thoughts I nearly wet myself when she called me. I rose slowly from the chair, I was wearing a top and skirt under a raincoat. In my hand I held a hat and my bag, inside which were my book and my account of the dream.

Once inside the door, she offered her hand which I shook gently—I had a very girly handshake anyway, but so did she so I didn’t think any more about it. “I’m just going to have some coffee, would you like some?”

“Thank you,” I hope she wasn’t seeing this as a social meeting—surely not? I mean, I’m her patient, not a friend. She handed me a cup of dark fluid—a white bone china one with gold band around the rim. Milk was on the coffee table as was sugar. I added a moderate amount of cow juice and sat myself down as elegantly as I could.

“Honestly, how you young women walk on those things, I’ll never know,” she was referring to my red heeled shoes, the same ones that had got Trish walking again. They had a three-inch heel which I didn’t see as excessive in the current climate.

“I’ll bet you wore them this high when you were younger,” I challenged back.

“That was quite a while ago, Cathy.” She seated herself opposite me and asked, “And how is motherhood and apple pie?”

“It’s okay, hard work but I’m coping, I think.” I paused to sip my coffee. “This is very mellow coffee.”

“Yes, I have it blended for me.”

“Hmmm, it’s really nice.”

“I’m sure you didn’t come to see me just to bag a cup of coffee, did you?”

“No, I had a peculiar dream the other night and wrote it down,” I handed her the sheet of paper. She took it and read it.

“I’m surprised that you hadn’t integrated Charlie into your new life ages ago. I suspect if I’d known this before, I may have asked you to wait for surgery.”

“Oh, I don’t regret that in any way, so I’m glad that didn’t happen.”

“So what do you think it means? What do you think provoked it?”

I explained about Simon’s visit to the States and the Christmas ball and how it had precipitated thoughts about getting married. “So do you want to get married?”

“Yes, I do.”

“What’s the problem then?”

“I don’t know.”

“I see your unconscious pulled up the idea of Charlie not being integrated, which I think is possibly symbolism for you not feeling entirely committed.”

“But I am, Dr Thomas.”

“Are you? So why is this happening?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sure you made the right decision?”

“About what?”

“Becoming Cathy?”

“Yes, that’s who I am. I have absolutely no regrets.”

“So if you died tomorrow, you’d die happy, would you?”

“No.”

“Why is that?”

“Because I’d be worried who was going to take care of my children and Simon.”

“Wouldn’t he take care of them?”

“I don’t know if he’d be allowed to, they were awarded to me. If he was allowed to he’d do his best. I love to see him interact with the girls. They love him almost as much as he loves them—he spoils them rotten.”

“Are you jealous of them?”

“Who?”

“The girls, the relationship they have with Simon?”

“No, on the contrary, as I can’t give him children, I’m pleased to see him adapting to love those I have managed to acquire.”

“How sad are you that they aren’t actually your children?”

“It’s a minor point—I can’t have children, and if I could, I doubt they’d be any better than the ones I have now. I don’t think I could love them any more or them me.”

“So what precipitated this dream?”

“I have no idea.”

“You’re a beautiful young woman, so what aren’t you telling me?”

“I don’t know. Everyone tells me that I’m fairly attractive as a woman…”

“But?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you don’t believe them, is that it?”

“Sort of…yeah, that’s about it.”

“Have you looked at yourself recently?”

“I see myself everyday in the mirror, when I dress or do my hair or clean my teeth and so on.”

“You see yourself, but do you?”

“If I’m doing my hair or putting on makeup, of course I do.”

“What colour are your eyes?”

“Green mainly, with brown bits, why?”

“Okay, which of your eyebrows is slightly higher than the other?”

“I don’t know, I’d forgotten about that.”

“Had you, to my eye, they look the same. You haven’t really looked at yourself, have you?”

“Enough to know I’m getting fat.”

“Where?”

“Around my bum and my waist isn’t as narrow as it was.”

“Are you cycling?”

“Not very often, too busy with the kids.”

“That might explain a little weight gain.”

“Yeah, could be.”

“Cathy, there’s a mirror over there above the fireplace, would you stand far enough away to see your whole self in it.” I did as she requested. “Can you see your whole body?”

“Yes.”

“Describe yourself to me.”

“What? This is silly.”

“Why is that? Don’t you like what you see?”

“Of course I do.”

“So why can’t you do as I ask?”

“I feel silly.”

“Why is that?”

“Well I know what I look like and what I’m wearing.”

“What colour bra and knickers have you got on?”

“Red.”

“Okay, so describe the rest.”

“This is silly.”

“Humour me.”

“Okay, I’m wearing a red top with a red skirt and red shoes.”

“Describe yourself inside those clothes.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your hair, eyes, mouth, breasts that sort of thing.”

“Okay, I have mousy fair hair with auburn bits in it. I have green eyes with brown flecks in them. My mouth is okay, I suppose, except it says stupid things too often.”

“Carry on.”

“I’m wearing a red skirt and top over my red underwear. The top is scooped and shows my cleavage. The top of the skirt has a black belt a couple of inches wide, which makes my waist look more slender than it is, and consequently my hips look wider too—because I’m too fat. My legs are freckled rather than brown and my shoes are red courts.”

“Is the woman you describe, attractive?”

“So they say.”

“I didn’t ask them, I asked you?”

“She’s okay, I guess.”

“What would make her more attractive?”

“I don’t know.”

“Being prettier?”

“Probably.”

“Having a more sensual mouth?”

“Yeah, probably.”

“Better figure?”

“Definitely.”

“What is yours, Cathy?”

“What do you mean?”

“What size are you?”

“A UK size 12/14, why?”

“Which is what in vital statistics?”

“Not sure, probably 36 -24-37, something like that.”

“If I told you something, would you believe me?”

“Probably.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

“Yes, of course I do.”

“So if I told you something, you’d believe me?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Oh don’t do me any favours, Cathy, either you will or won’t.”

“Okay, I would believe you.”

“Listen carefully, you are absolutely drop dead gorgeous. You have beautiful green eyes, a sensual mouth, lovely thick hair, a figure to die for and relatively small hands and feet. Do you believe me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you see yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Do you agree?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you disagree with, then?”

“Nothing I guess.”

“So what is your problem?”

“I don’t know.”

“Cathy, there are thousands, nay millions of women out there who would kill to look like you do, you are beautiful, just look at yourself. You are one of the most attractive women in Portsmouth, and a loving mother and dutiful fiancée. So what is wrong, what are you not telling me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, let’s call it a day. I want to see you next week and I want you to think about why you can’t see what everyone else does?”

“Couldn’t they all just be wrong?”

“Spoken like a true psychotic, which you’re not. I don’t think everyone else is wrong, do you?”

“Probably not.”

“Go on, and give those kids a hug from me. See you next week.”

“I’m sorry, Dr Thomas, thank you for your time.”

“Sorry for what?”

“For being difficult.”

“Difficult? Ha—yesterday, I had to press my panic button because some psycho had me up against the wall threatening to punch my lights out. You’re sweet and kind by comparison. Off you go.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 754

I drove home feeling that I was incurable—whatever this thing that resided in me, or my mind, was—I began to think I’d never know. It seemed like I had some sort of switch which kicked in whenever happiness threatened to raise its lovely head. I didn’t need it to rain on my parade, I seemed to have a built in black cloud which followed me around.

I was therefore quite gloomy when I returned and even the effusive welcomes from three mini terrorists, failed to lift my spirits. I was beginning to feel like a heroine from a nineteenth century gothic novel. The difference was I got Mr Darcy in the first part of the book and it had gone wrong ever since—damn, if Charlotte Bronte wasn’t long dead, I could have asked her to do me a script where it all ends happily ever after. It didn’t for her, so maybe I wouldn’t bother her.

I got us some lunch, still preoccupied with my conundrum—Jan Morris had one of those and turned it into a book—ha, who’s going to write about my life, pathetic little worm I am. I’ve never been half way up Everest with a beard like a yeti’s pubes, I can’t grow one, never could, so that’s where JM and I take different paths.

“Mummy, can we burn the house down and have an orgy?” asked Trish.

“If you like dear,” I said without really listening to the question.

“Do you have any cabanis?”

“Do I have any what?”

“Cabanis?”

“Do you mean cannabis?”

“Pot? Is that the same?”

“How do you know about these things, and more importantly, why do you want it?”

“I was going to tell you to take some, it’s supposed to make you happy, isn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t know, I’ve never tried it—nor do I have any intention of doing so, and young woman, if ever I find you have, regardless of your age, I shall tan-fiddle your backside so hard, you won’t sit down for a fortnight. Do you hear me?”

“I was only joking, Mummy.” Trish screwed up her eyes, she hugged me tightly and sobbing said, “You looked so sad, I was only trying to cheer you up.”

“I know, sweetheart, I’m a bit of a wet blanket today. I’ll try and cheer up, okay?” She hugged me again by way of an answer.

“Mummy, wossan orjeum?”

“I have no idea, Meems, where did you hear that?”

“Twish asked if she could have an orjeum, I wann one too.”

“I said an orgy, Meems,” Trish corrected her from her hug with me.

“Awight, an orgy, I wanna orgy.”

Of course, this was when Stella arrived. “Nice children you have, Cathy, I don’t think social services would agree, but I’ve always been partial to orgies, as long as they were by invitation only.” She laughed to herself and was gone before I could think of a suitably acerbic response.

“Where did you hear of orgies?” I asked Trish, who was trying to hide inside my clothes, except my body took up most of the room available.

“In school, the Romans had them.”

“Okay, Meems, an orgy is a party for people who do everything by excess.”

“Does that mean they’d all be sick from too much ice cream, Mummy?” Trish asked.

“I don’t think the Romans had ice cream, sweetheart.”

“No but they’ve made up selling it ever since,” said Stella breezing past carrying a bottle for Puddin’.

“That was racist,” I yelled after her.

“Just one cornetto…” she sang, mimicking the ice cream advert.

“Canni’ve some ice cream, Mummy?” Livvie asked coming into this semi-surreal conversation.

I gave up on my explanations of excess in the Roman empire in case one of them played the violin while the other two set fire to the house. Instead, I gave them a small dish of ice cream each, and cleaned up the kitchen. I noticed the rain had stopped and the sun was shining, the drive looked almost dry, so I got their bikes out for them, attached Meems trailer bike to my MTB and changed into some jeans and a sweatshirt, and we all went off for a short ride.

The two older girls raced along the pavements as Meems and I tootled along the road with them. Despite Meems urging me to go ever faster, we didn’t. The girls enjoyed their longer than usual ride—it must get boring riding up and down the drive.

We were out for an hour and by the time we came back all three of them had rosy cheeks. “That was good fun, Mummy,” said Livvie.

“Yes, it was brill, Mummy,” agreed Trish. Meems seemed lost for words and just hugged me. I’d done something right at last.

By dinner time I felt a bit happier. I hadn’t worked out anything, but I was at least able to interact normally with the children. After dinner, we had a cottage pie, which I made from scratch—even growing the reeds for the thatch, Tom amused the girls while I cleaned things up and then they asked me to tell them a story.

“You want me to make one up rather than read you one?” They all agreed that they did. “Okay, what sort of story would you like?”

“Can you tell us one about Spike, Mummy.”

“Spike, my dormouse?”

“Yes,” they all said.

“Okay. Once upon a time Spike was helping me in the university laboratory, we were counting up my statistics from my fieldwork and she was sitting on my desk eating a brazil nut. I was so involved with my paper that I didn’t see a large cat walk in to the laboratory.”

“Wike Bonzi, the wady’s cat on the puta?” Meems asked.

“Yes, a bit like Bonzi, except he’d never harm a dormouse because Angharad who looks after him would tell him it was against the law, and I expect Bonzi is very law abiding. However, the cat who walked in looked lean, mean and hungry and he miaowed with an American, no a Milwakee accent…”

“How was your session with the shrink?” Stella asked, as we relaxed with a glass of wine after I had put the girls’ light out.

“She gave me something to think about, I suppose.”

“Isn’t that the point of Cognitive whatever therapy? Isn’t that what they all do?”

“I dunno, I’m a biologist not a psychologist, but it didn’t strike me as being CBT that she was doing.”

“Oh, oh well, I suppose she knows what she’s doing even if we don’t.”

“Whit did she dae with ye?” asked Tom, reaching over for the bottle of Rioja.

“She seems to think I have some block about accepting myself.”

“Acceptin’ yersel’? Aye, mebbe she’s richt. It’s a sair fecht.”

“Well I don’t think that I have.” I pouted at the other two.

“Cathy, we are always telling you why men make passes at you—because you’re beautiful and charming—and you never believe us, do you?”

“No, because half the time you’re taking the piss.”

“Who me?” squeaked Stella with a look of astonishment.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 755

I was missing Simon, okay so I wouldn’t admit it to him exactly, but he was rather useful as a distraction in bed. I couldn’t sleep. What if they were right and I did have a problem accepting myself?

I thought I’d done pretty well all told. I mean, I’d been thrown into womanhood at the deep end, from the high board, without a lifebelt, parachute or crash helmet. I know I’d been practicing much of my life, but doing things in private is hardly the same as doing it for real in front of the unsuspecting public.

True, Stella helped me at first, but I was soon flying by myself—was I as natural as Stella kept telling me—or was she just being encouraging? Damn, now I didn’t know. Maybe I wasn’t very good? So did people just humour me? Surely not? Most of them don’t know my history, so are they just being polite when this lumbering person, obviously a man in a dress, comes by. Have I been deluding myself all this time? I thought I looked and acted like an ordinary woman—oh shit! I began to cry quietly to myself. Had I made an awful mistake? And I was not only in possession of a nominally female body, but I was one legally too. Life seemed so cruel—to lure me into a point of no return—then cut the cord, burn the boat or bridge or whatever. I was in deep doo-doo.

I resolved I would apologise to Stella and Tom, ask them to take care of the girls and top myself. I’d scribble a note to Simon, he’d get over me in a few months and I‘d ask him to adopt the girls and help Trish through her transition. I’d also tell him that they needed a mummy, and to get married to someone else. I’d drive out to some cliffs, like Beachy Head and let the car drive over the top—a few minutes of terror and I’d be out of my misery and all those people who’d been so kind and polite to me, wouldn’t have to do so any more, they could all then gossip and say how ghastly I’d been, and what a mistake I’d made, which they could always see would end in tragedy. At least I’d get that bit right. I wasn’t a woman, I was an aberrant man—something I couldn’t live with. Pity they found me the night my father beat me, all this could have been avoided—I couldn’t even do that properly.

I stared out of the bedroom window into the stygian gloom. Part of me wanted to do it now and get it over with. But then driving to Sussex in the dark was dangerous and I might have an accident. I laughed at this—going to kill myself and I was worried I might have an accident? What a lovely thing irony was.

However, I changed my mind and decided that I would do it tonight. I dressed quickly, in trousers—only women wear skirts. Grabbed my handbag—well I didn’t have enough pockets, did I? Stole downstairs, and collecting my car keys slipped out of the door and into my car.

It was three in the morning. Now then Beachy Head, It’s near um, oh just head east. Eastbourne, that’s the place, get onto the motorway and then down the A27. Hopefully I’ll be able to find it from there. I hadn’t written a note for Simon, but I had my Filofax with me, I could scribble something in there.

I started the car, hoping I had enough fuel—half a tank. Enough? I hoped so I didn’t want to lay too many trails for people to follow. If the car got submerged it could be years before they found it, by which time I’d be long gone as fish food. Maybe I’d do a Thelma and Louise and roar off the cliff, that would give me a chance to hit the water and submerge the car. Good plan, but only if the tide is in. Oh sod it, I’m gonna do it anyway.

I was heading out of Portsmouth towards the motorway when disaster struck. Behind me were flashing blue lights. I couldn’t remember if I had my licence with me. I haven’t been stopped by the police for years and it has to happen now. I could try to outrun them, but it’s probably a big BMW or Jaguar and they’d catch me, and it would just piss them off, better stop. I did.

“Hello, Miss, what are you doing out at this hour of the night?”

“It’s not miss, it’s mister.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m a man, okay?”

“You’re joking?”

“It’s okay, you don’t have to be polite I know you can tell.”

“Okay, Sir, do you have your driving licence with you?” I fiddled in my bag and it was there, I handed it to him. “Is this yours?”

“Yes.”

“It says your name is Catherine Watts, is that correct?”

“If that’s what it says.”

He leant in and took the keys out of the ignition. “Would you step out of the car please, Catherine.” I did as he asked. “Please accompany me to the patrol car and sit in the back.” He opened the door and, in a daze, I complied: I could feel wetness on my face and it wasn’t raining, so I must be crying.

“Yeah, we found the car heading towards the motorway—it’s bloody weird, we’ve got this drop dead gorgeous woman driving it and she claims she’s a man—like who is she trying to fool? Name? Yeah, Watts Catherine, that’s the one is it? Okay I’ll lock up her car and bring her in, see you in a bit.”

“Is there anything you need from your car?”

“No,” I mouthed back and shook my head. I saw the indicators flash indicating he’d locked it. His mate was in the car all the time, but he said nothing just taking surreptitious glances at me—he obviously knew.

They drove me back towards Portsmouth and to my horror but hardly my surprise, he drove into the central police station. Wonderful, now I’d get locked up with all the drunks, looking like this. I was sure to get assaulted.

“This way please, Catherine.” No one ever calls me that. They led me into the building and after taking my details from my driving licence, they took me to an interview room. I suppose they were going to beat me up first them throw me in with the drunks. I got all I knew about the police from watching telly.

A woman walked in. “Hello, Miss Watts, I’m Dr Fisher, one of the police surgeons. Can you give me your name and date of birth?” I told her, sticking with Catherine rather than Charlie, I’d tell her that as soon as she spotted me as an impostor.

“Are you taking any medicines or drugs from your doctor?”

“Oestrogens.”

“You’re on the pill?”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” humour her, it’s the best policy. She wrote something down on a chart.

“Have you a history of any illness?”

“Had a few accidents and been stabbed once.”

“You’re not diabetic or suffer from any illness?”

“No.”

“Okay, what about mental health?” Here we go, she knows, but I’ve decided she can work for it. “Have you suffered from any mental disorder, like depression?”

“No more than anyone else.”

“Are you quite sure?”

“Okay, maybe I have.”

“You see a psychiatrist, don’t you?”

“So?”

“Have you ever had thoughts of killing yourself?”

That did it, she’d read my bloody mind. I broke down and burst into tears. She put a hand on my shoulder. “It’s okay, you’re safe now, young lady.”

Young lady? I suppose she was being polite, she can’t have met too many men who call themselves Catherine. “What’s going to happen to me?”

“I’m going to give you some tablets to help you sleep and your father is coming to get you. He might actually be here. I’ll just check.” She walked to the door and spoke with someone. “Yes, Professor Agnew is here. Come along, and he can take you home.”

“You’re letting me go?”

“Yes, you hadn’t actually committed an offence, had you?”

“Only masquerading as a woman.”

“Catherine, you are a woman, so it’s not a masquerade is it? This is part of your illness.”

“I’m not ill, doctor.”

“No, just overwrought I expect, like so many young mums. Ah, here he is.” I was handed over to Tom, like I was a kid. He looked as if he’d been crying. Wonder what that was about? “Make sure she sees her own doctor tomorrow, and she can take two of these to help her sleep.”

“Thank ye, Doctor, Och, Cathy, we’ve bin sae worried aboot ye.” He wrapped me in a monster hug and led me to the car park.

“What about my car?” I asked suddenly remembering it.

“Och, we’ll get that tomorrow.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 756

“How did the police know about me?” I asked Tom as he drove me home.

“I saw you drive off and got worried. When I saw you hadn’t left a note, I got very worried and called them.”

“Oh,” grassed up by my own family.

“Cathy, I lost one daughter, I couldnae bear to lose anither. I’d rather die mesel’.”

“You? But I’d need you to help Simon look after the girls.”

“Cathy, get real, will ye, if anythin’ happen’d tae ye, the social services would tak’ the girls back immediately.”

“No,” I shouted and banged the dash board, “they mustn’t, those girls would be so unhappy.”

“Don’t ye think they’d be unhappy if anythin’ happen’d tae ye?”

“I’m sure they’d cope.”

“Cathy, please for all oor sakes, please dinnae dae anythin’ tae yersel’, it wid kill me.”

Goodness, is he just bluffing me or is he serious. Crikey, he’s crying. Tom doesn’t cry—he must be serious. He’s such a kindly old man, I’d hate to hurt him. Dammit, why does life always get you in these double binds?

“Okay, Daddy, I won’t,” for now anyway.

“Whit possessed ye tae even contemplate daein’ anythin’?”

“I don’t know, maybe I’m just tired of this masquerade.”

“Whit masquerade?” he rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand.

“Pretending I’m something I’m obviously not.”

“Whit’s that?”

“Pretending I’m a woman—what else?”

“Och ye’re nae still on aboot that are ye?”

“It happens to be important to me.”

“But it isnae true, ye are a woman. Ye hae tae be, only a woman would even doubt it. No man would even think of it.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but it’s what goes on up here,” I pointed to my head, “that matters—and it tells me different.”

“Cathy, I dinnae ken whit’s wrang wi’ ye, but ye’re nae thinking straight. If ye weren’t a woman don’t ye think yon girls wid hae telt ye? Widnae Stella hae noticed, an’ whit aboot Simon, fer God’s sake lassie, ye’ve made love wi’ him. I ken he’s a bit daft at times, but I’m sure he’d hae noticed if he wis makin’ love wi’ a man. Besides, I’m a biologist tae, an’ I ken the difference frae men an’ women.”

He was trying so hard, but I wasn’t going to listen to him. I knew what was what, and that was that. We arrived back at Tom’s house. Stella was up and I was concerned about waking up the children. They watched while I took the two tablets and Stella watched as I got into bed. “Will you promise me that you won’t try and run off again?”

“Tonight I will. Go to bed Stella, you look exhausted.”

“Cathy, I need your promise that you won’t do anything without saying goodbye to me in person first.”

“I can’t give you that promise.”

“If you do anything to yourself, then I may well follow you to hell.”

“There is no such place, Stella—when we’re dead that’s it—end of story, end of pain.”

“Just think on this, Catherine Watts—if you kill yourself, I will follow you and make anything in this life a thousand times harder in the next.”

“There is no next life.”

“I don’t give a shit! You listen to me you stupid cow, I will pursue you and punish you until the end of time—think about that, and think about the whys—three little girls who call you their mother. Whether you consider yourself a woman or not, is totally and utterly irrelevant—it’s what they think that counts and all three of them have been let down by so called mothers—it’s how you got the job—remember? If you hurt those children—you’ll regret it, I swear you will.”

“I love them, Stella—I love you all.” I burst into tears and the tigress who was threatening me sat on the bed and hugged me.

“So why are you even thinking of doing something stupid?”

“I can’t cope with this deception any longer.”

“What deception? Cathy, please believe me, you are as female as I am. If it wasn’t true don’t you think I’d tell you. I helped lift the scales from your eyes before, please believe me—you are female, if you can’t see that—then—then go see an optician because your eyes must be defective.”

“Thanks for your support and for caring.” I hugged her and we were both crying.

“Oh shit, move over I’ll sleep here tonight, I need to feel a warm body next to mine.”

“What if Puddin’ wakes up?”

“She’ll scream loud enough to wake me, don’t you worry.”

We lay down together, Stella spooned around the outside of me, holding on tightly to me. “Good night,” I said as I felt sleep overwhelming me.

“Good night, Sis,” I heard her say as I drifted off into darkness.

I woke up with a sense of something having been lifted off me. I couldn’t tell you what it was, but my heart felt lighter. I looked at the clock, it was eleven and the sun was streaming in through the edges of the curtains. I sat up and got out of bed, then showered and dressed.

Downstairs, Stella was feeding Puddin’. “How do you feel?” she asked me.

“Okay, I think—yourself?”

“I’m knackered, some idiot kept me awake half the bloody night.”

I blushed, “Yeah, I’m sorry about that.”

“If you feel better, I suppose it’s worthwhile.”

“I hope so, but don’t take that as gospel.” I looked around, “Where are the girls?”

“Simon came home and took them off for a couple of days.”

“What—and no one woke me?”

“We did try, you told us to eff off.”

I blushed again, “Oh, did I? Sorry about that.”

“S’okay.”

“Where’s he taken them?” I began to worry.

“Up to Hampstead, don’t worry, they’re perfectly safe—Monica won’t eat them.”

“Why? I mean why has he taken them?”

“I’d have thought that was obvious.”

“No it isn’t.”

“To give you a break.”

“Oh. Where’s Tom?”

“Gone to his doctor.”

“His doctor?”

“Yes, your antics last night brought on an angina attack.”

I felt myself grow smaller and wished the floor would open and swallow me. “I hope he’s all right.”

“It’s a bit late for that if he isn’t.” Stella wasn’t pulling her punches.

“I’m sorry, okay? The only one I wanted to hurt last night was me, okay?”

“Cathy, can’t you get it into your thick stupid skull—we are a family, if one is hurt we all feel the pain. You are the sun around whom we all orbit. If you go out, there is only darkness left—now do you understand?”

“No one is that important, surely?”

“Maybe it’s a unique characteristic of this family, but it happens to be true.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it? Many families revolve around the mother figure—she holds them together. You’re the mother figure here—sorry, an’ all that, if you don’t like it, but that’s how it is.”

“But I can’t be the mother is…”

“Oh stop all that crap, Cathy, you’re female—too bad if you don’t like it, you should have told me before I pushed you through the portal, but it was a one way trip and you are stuck here, girl. So if I were you, I’d get used to it. Now, to more serious matters, are you going to stand there all day or are you going to put the kettle on?”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 757

I made us a cup of tea and sat at the kitchen table while Stella fed Puddin’. She was turning into a lovely little girl, and Stella was doing a very good job as a mum—I felt really proud of her. Sitting watching the two of them was a nice interlude from my own thoughts. It struck me that Stella and I had almost swapped roles in the past few days—she was looking after me.

I thought on what she’d said, she had surprised me with her description of me being the sun around whom they all orbited. That could be construed as frightening in some ways, but when I thought about it, she was right—that was how things were or had been—were they about to change, and was she going to take up that role? I suppose we’d have to wait and see. I had looked after everyone for the past couple of years, maybe it was her turn.

“How about we take Puddin’ for a walk this afternoon?” I suggested.

“We have to be back for you to see Dr Thomas at four.”

“No, that’s next week.”

“It isn’t, Cathy, I made it this morning.”

“You did what?”

“The police requested you see someone, and we only got the appointment because of their mention.”

“Oh great, so now they’ll all know I’m potty.”

“Cathy, one of the things that I was made aware of when I was at that clinic, was that it’s no shame to have an episode of mental health issue. One in three or four of us will.”

“Yeah, but that still makes two or three who don’t.”

“Oh yeah, so it does. You’re so clever, Cathy, always seeing the alternative side of things.”

“You trying to tell me I’m crazy, because it isn’t news.”

“No, I was trying to tell you that you had spotted a perspective which I’d not noticed. I was so busy accepting that yeah, the majority will have some sort of problem—usually depression—and then you turn it on its head and show that most people don’t suffer a problem.”

“Which means that we crazies are a minority.”

“You’re right again, girl, we crazies need to stick together.”

“I’d always worked on the premise that if you were compos enough to know you were mad, you probably weren’t. Maybe I was wrong.” I shrugged.

“No, that sounds really good, if you know you’re barmy—you aren’t.”

“Let’s go for that walk, shall we?”

Which is what we did, we only were out for an hour but it made me feel so much better, some fresh air and exercise usually does. It was good to feel the sun on my face for a few minutes, although we had to keep Puddin’ covered up against it.

We’d taken a sandwich with us, so we stopped and had a picnic of sorts, then walked home. I changed and after a cuppa at home, went off to see Dr Thomas again. I wasn’t looking forward to it—not one bit.

“Okay, so what happened,” she said her voice laden with disappointment.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?” she asked and I nodded in agreement. “So how did the police get involved?”

“I couldn’t sleep, felt very down and decided on a whim to drive to Beachy Head.”

“What time was this?”

“’Bout three.”

“AM or PM?”

“AM.”

So you were going to admire the view were you?”

“Sort of.”

“In the dark?”

“Um,” I felt myself blush.

“People go to Beachy Head for one purpose only?”

“It’s a beauty spot,” I protested.

“Yeah, with a call box with a line to the Samaritans.”

“Is there?”

“I thought you knew Sussex?”

“Bits of, didn’t know Eastbourne that well.”

“So why were you going to kill yourself?”

“I thought it was an answer to my problems.”

“Thought—does that mean you no longer think it?”

“No, I don’t.”

“What changed your mind?”

“Stella.”

“How did she do that?”

“She pointed out that no matter what I thought, the reality was that I was legally and physically more female than anything and whether I liked it or not, that was my situation.”

“What did you think of that?”

“Logically, she was right.”

“And emotionally?”

“It felt okay.”

“Good. Now tell me the truth.”

“It is true, she told me that I had three kids who’d all had poor experiences of their mothers, she wasn’t going to let me fail them. I had to agree. They deserved better, and they call me their mother—I have a duty to do towards them.”

“You do, don’t you?”

“I won’t let them down again.”

“That sounds more like the old Cathy.”

“Simon has taken the girls away for a couple of days for me to rest and think.”

“Goodness, he’s growing up faster than the children.” I chuckled at this remark, maybe I should have been defending him, but I didn’t.

“He’s great with the girls, they love him.”

“I thought they loved you too?”

“They do, but it’s nice to see him with them—makes me feel good inside. Like a warmth inside me.”

“Why do you think that is?”

“I don’t know, but it’s what I feel.”

“I suspect that it’s love you’re feeling, Cathy—seeing the people you most love together and interacting happily. It’s what happy families do, produce an environment of love and nurturing for everyone to grow. Sounds like you’re doing quite well.”

“Yeah, maybe I am.”

“Cathy, go on home and celebrate your success, you’re doing something many families don’t or can’t. Just keep doing what you’re doing and things will sort themselves out.”

“Do you want to see me next week?”

“Yes, just to make sure everything is okay.”

“Thanks, Dr Thomas.”

“You’re welcome, young lady.” I blushed but accepted the epithet.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 758

I had just got home and was about to organise the evening meal when the phone rang. “Hello can I speak with Cathy Watts or Stella Cameron please?”

“This is Cathy Watts, what do you want?”

“This the sister on the coronary care ward.” My blood ran cold.

“Yes?”

“We have admitted Professor Agnew, he gave you as his daughter and next of kin.”

“How is he?”

“He’s okay, although he has what we call unstable angina.”

“What’s that?”

“Angina brought on during rest.”

“So does he still have it?”

“He’s improving, although he has to have some more tests and may require an operation.” This wasn’t making me feel any better.

“Can I see him?”

“Of course you can, in fact I know he is hoping you’d want to come in, he’d like you to bring his pyjamas and some toiletries, you know the sort of stuff he’ll need.”

“Um—yes, of course, I’ll see to it right away.” I put the phone down and shuddered. If he dies, it’s entirely my fault. I stood in the hallway and burst into tears.

“What’s the matter?” asked Stella rushing to see me.

“Tom is in hospital and it’s all my fault.”

“He was rushing about this morning.”

“Doing what?”

“Well, we had to get your car back for starters. I drove him out there and he brought yours back. Then he was going to go to the uni when his chest pain got worse.”

“You mean he had it already?”

“Yes.”

“I didn’t know, why didn’t someone tell me?”

“You were too busy being the world’s victim.”

“I wish you’d told me.”

“Why? What difference would it have made?”

“I’d have been upset.”

“Yeah, and in your state would probably have made it to Beachy bloody Head.”

“No I wouldn’t.”

“We can argue that later, what does he need?”

“I’ll go and pack it.”

“Well hurry up while I get Puddin’ ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“To come with us.”

“They won’t let you take babies into hospital.”

“Why not, it’s where most of them are born?”

“Infection risk.”

“That’s new, they didn’t enforce it when I was nursing.”

“They do now, I nearly got refused permission to take Meems in with me and she was three.”

“That is ridiculous.”

“It might well be, anyway, I have to pack his jim-jams amongst other things.” Which was precisely what I did. Then as Stella wasn’t able to leave Puddin’ at the local cattery, I drove on to the hospital and practically ran up to the ward.

After speaking with the nurse—I had to beg permission to get on the ward as it wasn’t officially visiting time. Tom was eating when I walked up to his bed.

“Daddy, I’m so sorry,” I said blubbing all over him.

“Och that’s okay, jest lemme finish ma piece,” he said tucking into a slice of bread and jam.

I got a stacking plastic chair and took it to his bedside. After sitting on it for a few minutes he looked at me and winked. “Cathy, did ye bring in my jammies?”

“Yes, Daddy, I think I’ve brought everything you’ll need.”

“Och, ye’re a guid lassie.”

“If I was, you wouldn’t be in here, would you?”

“Ach, ye canna blame yersel’ for whit happens tae others.”

“I can when it’s my daddy.”

He held out his arms to give me a hug and I almost dived into them, so hungry was I for his forgiveness. “Ye did naethin’ wrang.”

“I did, I almost worried you to death.”

“I wis a wee bitty worried, that’s true.”

“Well I’m more than a wee bitty worried for you, you silly old goat.”

He laughed at my joke, then he turned very pale and pointed to a papier mache receiver on top of his locker. I passed it to him and he was sick. He looked very pale and was breathing hard and sweating. He lay back and seemed to be drifting off to sleep—then he stopped breathing. Least I think he did—I pressed the nurse call and when I screeched at her that he’d stopped breathing things happened very quickly, including throwing me out of the ward.

Doctors appeared running from every direction within a couple of minutes. I hoped the crash team had done their job. I was too frightened to cry and paralysed by a fear that if I did anything other than sit there and worry, he’d die. I didn’t even call Stella, she couldn’t do anything and I suspect she was worried enough anyway.

My phone beeped and it was a message from Simon:

Hi Babes, how is tom? Girls R well, talk L8ter. Si.

I didn’t know what to say or do. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead—I mean, how do you tell someone in text that he’s very ill, without worrying them half to death? I wanted my girls home, I wanted Simon’s shoulder to cry on, but most of all, I wanted Tom to recover. If he died, something inside me would die as well, and I’d never forgive myself.

I did nothing with the reply to Simon, I simply sat and waited for news about my adoptive father.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 759

The minutes ticked by, each one seeming like an eternity and I sat there grinding my teeth—until I noticed, then I stopped and clenching my mobile so hard my hand hurt.

I rose from my chair and walked up and down for a few minutes. Still no news—was that good or bad? I pocketed my phone and held myself, both arms thrown across my chest, fingers gripping near my shoulder blades. I had no one to hug me, so I was hugging myself—or so I rationalised. If Tom survived, I would behave myself and try not to cause him any more grief. God, I was a liability—what a stupid bitch I am. I had everything going for me and I want to spoil it because it doesn’t fit my whimsical view of reality. My big fat arse deserved a long hard kick.

If only I could help him? But how? I had rejected the healing powers I seemed to have and told them to go away. I would try once more to use them and that would be it. Like everything else, I wanted them on my terms—seems that life isn’t like that—stupid universe.

I sat down and began to concentrate seeing Tom lying on the bed surrounded by the blue light which was permeating and infusing his heart and circulatory system, repairing damage and making him as good as new. Okay, so I’m not very good at this, am I?

I went into an almost meditative state seeing just Tom and the blue light, seeing them interacting and him recovering. Faint heart never won fair maiden, so my mother used to tell me, though what relevance it had to my current situation, wasn’t clear to me and it was a distraction from my meditation. I began a mantra to help my concentration, “I send this love to heal you, Tom.”

I don’t know how long I was sitting there doing it, but at one point I thought I heard him reply to my mantra. I opened my eyes and standing before me was a nice looking i.e. tall dark and handsome man in theatre scrubs.

“Miss Watts?”

I opened my eyes which were sticking together from tears and being shut for some time. “Um—yes?”

“Your father is…” This pause lasted for an age, one counted in geological time. “…in intensive care. He’s a tough old bird, although we thought we’d lost him at one time. However, his heart started and went into sinus rhythm well, you’d think there was nothing wrong with it—amazing. Alas, we can’t say the same for his coronary arteries which are somewhat clogged, hence his MI today.”

“MI?” I queried.

“Myocardial infarct—except, somehow his heart doesn’t seem to have been damaged by its rather long pause. Very unusual. Anyway, I think he’s going to need a triple or possibly quadruple bypass operation, as soon as he’s up to it.”

“Right. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Go and see him, he’s been asking for you ever since he came back round, although we’ve given him some sedation so he’ll be a little sleepy.”

“Thank you, Dr—um?”

“Charlie Wavell, I’m an anaesthetist.”

“Ah, crash team man?”

“One of, rather a junior one.”

“But probably the most handsome member.”

He blushed—I’d embarrassed him, I hoped he didn’t think I was chatting him up. “I have to go.” He started to withdraw.

“I’d better call my fiancé and tell him the good news,” I said pulling the mobile from my pocket. “Thanks for coming to tell me.”

He nodded and said, “You’d better make that call.” Then he was gone.

I walked towards ICU and gave my name to the nurse in charge. “To see who?”

“My father has just been admitted from coronary care, he’s just had an MI. Dr Wavell told me to come and see him.”

“Our very own Dr Kildare, see his hairy chest?”

“No I didn’t actually, I was staring into his blue eyes—they are so bright blue, they look like two sapphires.”

“Yeah, I suppose they do now you mention it.”

“Or lapis.”

“Lapis?”

“Lapis lazuli, a semi precious stone used for making pigments in Roman times and up to the nineteenth century—it’s a real bright blue.”

“Are you a historian or something, ’cos your dad’s a professor, isn’t he?”

“Yes, he is but we’re both biologists.”

“What boiling things in test tubes and dissecting them?”

Ugh no, I do things like count dormice and watch to see what environmental factors affect them.”

“That sounds fun.”

“They’re nocturnal, so trying to do it in the middle of the night in a thunderstorm isn’t such fun.”

“No I suppose not, hey, did you see that film on dormice recently—it was really good, it was presented by some woman—my boyfriend was drooling all over her—all tits and talent, he said.”

“No I must have missed that one. Can I see Daddy?”

“Yeah, second cubical along, try not to excite him will you, he’s supposed to lie quietly.”

“Yeah, I know the drill.”

I went and found him, then put a chair alongside his bed and sat holding his hand—the one which didn’t have a drip attached, and set myself to concentrate on healing him. I tried to imagine the energy moving through me and via our hands into him. I was there for ages when a familiar voice said, “Trust ma luck, she gie’s me a heart attack then goes tae sleep.”

“I am not asleep, I’m trying to clear your coronary arteries,” I said back without opening my eyes.

“Oh with yer magic light?”

“No, a pipe cleaner and some caustic soda.”

“Is it working?”

“Dunno, they wouldn’t let me inject caustic soda into your arteries.”

“Thank thae Laird fer sma’ mercies.”

“Oh well, plan B, then.”

“What’s that?”

“I get Dynorod in with one of their drain cleaning machines—that should finish things.”

“Aye, but whit are ye tryin’ tae finish?”

“That would be telling, Daddy.”

“It wid, widnae it?”

“Yep, so lie back and think of Eng…”

“No way, Scotland, if ye please?”

“Bloody foreigners.”

“I’ll hae ye ken ma ancestors were here while you Sassenachs were still on the boat frae Germany.”

“I thought the Scots came about the same time or after the Saxons? Before that it was Picts and British, or Romano-British. The Scots came over from Ireland, if you remember.”

“Cathy, I thocht ye were a biologist no a bloody anthropologist?”

“See what watching dormice can teach you?”

“I cannae see the link there, somehoo. Hoo dae dormice teach ye onything? Ye always seemed uninformed aboot onythin’ but yer bloody dormice.”

“Nah, you just didn’t know which questions to ask?”

“Aye, sae it wid seem,” he said with a chuckle.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 760

I’d read stories of people clearing blocked arteries by changing their diets, I’m sure Tom’s habit of chicken curries can’t have helped anything, at the same time, if I switched him to a radical diet at home, he’d tell me that it didn’t make him live longer, it would just feel like it. He’s not the easiest person to accommodate change.

So I kept pushing light into his coronary arteries, or I hoped I was. I still can’t see it, so I had no idea if anything was happening apart from me getting a headache.

The cardiologist arrived with his entourage and I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and left. Back at the car I sent Simon a text to let him know Tom was okay but possibly required a by-pass.

He texted back asking if they asked the Department of Transport before they did said by-pass. Simon can be very droll when the mood takes him—which isn’t often—today was a case in point.

Back at home, I made a meal for us while Stella got Puddin’ ready for bed. It had been a long and emotional day—all I wanted was my bed, except Stella wanted to hear chapter and verse about Tom and what I’d done to help.

“I can’t help, except to take in his clean underpants.”

“What about this mythical miracle worker and her blue flashing lights?”

“That is just a myth.”

“Not a myth-ter, then?”

“Ha ha, no we’ve discussed that, and I’m stuck like this whether or not I want it.”

“You sound as if you’re not sure?”

“No, I’m fine. My silliness caused Tom to have his heart attack, so I accept who I am.”

“Out of a sense of guilt?”

“No, that just helped me to see that my life affected others, and the impact my decisions and behaviour can have.”

“Gosh, grown up stuff, Cathy; are you sure you’re up to this?”

“Yes, I am, why?”

“I’m pleased for you. Your decisions affect more people than you will ever realise.”

“I doubt that, but I have three little ones who are bound to be affected by anything I say or do. Then there’s Simon, Tom and you. I know you’re all independent adults, but we are one family in effect, sharing this one house. So we need to work together for each other.”

“I thought that was how you were doing things anyway?”

“Maybe, I don’t know, the past seems a long time ago, even yesterday seems months past. I don’t know if I’ve changed or what, but I don’t intend to make those mistakes again.”

“So are you any more secure in your femininity?”

“Me? I’m hardly what I’d describe as feminine—I mean, bike racing and field biology is hardly girly stuff is it?”

“You are, Cathy; you’re the girliest girl I know.”

“That’s rich coming from you, frilly dilly.”

“Frilly dilly, and that coming from the heaving bosom.

“I beg your pardon? Just what is that supposed to mean?”

“Exactly what it says on the tin.” She poked out her tongue for effect.

“Heaving bosom? Are you mad or just poor sighted?”

“Compared to me, Cathy dearest, your bosoms are heaving.”

“No they’re not. That was something from penny dreadfuls in the nineteenth century, caused by corsets and high emotion—Victorian melodrama, that sort of stuff. All swoons and no sex.”

As I finished this statement, Stella roared with laughter, “All swoons and no sex—that’s priceless.”

“Well the ideal Victorian/Edwardian novel comprised unrequited love and sexual frustrations.”

“Heaving bosoms and innuendo.”

“Yep, they’d have spoken to swoon.”

“Oh, Cathy, that was dreadful and nowhere near worth a penny.”

“Huh! My humour is nearly as drop dead gorgeous as I am.”

“Both are in the eye of the beholder, and from where I’m sitting, as a comedienne, you’d make a good model—especially with those heaving bosoms.” She sniggered and then laughed loudly which woke Puddin’ so that served her right. Heaving bosoms—my arse.

I’d tidied up a few things in the kitchen when she came back, “Right, where were we?”

“I was going to bed.”

“What for?”

“To rest my heaving bosoms and the rest of my aching body.” Stella giggled and wished me good night.

“Fancy some company?”

“Why?”

“Well, it gets lonely sometimes.”

“Will you actually stop talking?”

Me? she gasped.

“Yes you, I’m tired and need to sleep.”

“Of course.”

“What about Puddin’?”

“I can always bring her in, too.”

“No thanks, we’ll leave the door open.”

“You could always go and sort her out if she wakes, you know?”

“No I can’t, if you weren’t here maybe——”

“You’d have to, can’t expect the boys to do it.”

“Okay, if you weren’t here, I would, but you are here—so it’s your job.”

“You heartless woman,” she pretended to sneer at me.

“Yep, that’s me—just you remember it, and yes woman, not man.”

“Welcome back, Cathy, we’ve missed you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I said knowing full well what she meant, but I wondered if I could get her to qualify it.

“You know damn well what I mean. C’mon, bed time.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 761

It felt strange waking up with someone other than Simon or the three musketeers in my bed. I woke aware that someone was watching me. It was Stella of course.

“Hello,” I said smiling at her.

“Hi,” she said back to me, “have you ever thought of doing it with a woman?” I literally flew out of the bed and she lay there giggling. “Now you’re up, make some tea will ya?”

“You bitch,” I spat at her then laughed as I went downstairs. I’d never have thought of that, and I wonder what would have happened if I’d called her bluff? I would have to ask her.

By the time I got back upstairs with two mugs of tea, she was sitting on the bed holding Puddin’. “Just my luck,” she said, “I thought I was going to get a little lie in.”

“What would have happened if I’d called your bluff?” I asked blushing.

“Try it and find out,” she winked back at me, “you never know, you might enjoy it.”

“What?” I gasped spitting tea all over the bedroom.

“I thought you were an expansive thinker, Cathy: how do you think all those nuns cope in convents?”

“I never think about it.”

“Well how do you think they cope?”

“I have no idea—the joke was doing press-ups in the cucumber patch.”

“Yeah okay, or lights out candles in, I’ve heard those too.”

“I always assumed they were made of something special, and weren’t into carnal pleasures.”

“You are naïve, Cathy, so naïve.”

“Well until I met up with you and Simon, I was unaware of sex and its possible pleasures.”

“What, you mean you weren’t busy exercising one hand while reading Penthouse when you were a kid? Then again the way you became airborne when I spoke to you, that doesn’t entirely surprise me.”

“I’ve never seen Penthouse or any of those top shelf magazines—no desire to. There’s enough nudity in women’s magazines or the ordinary press.”

“Doesn’t it do anything for you?”

“What?”

“Duh! Nudity, you dopey nit.”

“No, not really.”

“Not even men?”

“Can’t say I’m that interested.”

“Jeez girl, I am.”

“Well, I’m obviously someone with a low libido.”

“You sure it hasn’t died?”

“No, Simon is usually able to resuscitate it enough to please both of us, why?”

“You are odd.”

“Well we know that, except when I say it, everyone complains that I’m putting myself down.”

“But don’t you like, get urges now and again?”

“Very occasionally, but they soon go.”

“You’re not tempted to get a—you know.”

“Know what?”

“A mechanical aid, you know, a girl’s best friend.”

“What for?”

“Cathy—have you completely missed the point of the last few minutes of conversation?”

“Oh, that sort of aid—when you said mechanical, I was trying to think if you meant something for the kitchen or my bikes.”

“Talking of bikes, there was a letter downstairs which looked like it was from an insurance company.”

“When did that come?”

“Yesterday, you were out, I forgot—a bit like your libido.” I blushed, she was mean at times and I still didn’t know if she was joking or not. “Still, anytime you fancy being a bit more adventurous—let me know,” she winked as she left and I coughed and spluttered and blushed.

It was something which really hadn’t more than crossed my mind. I wasn’t telling lies when I told her that I was low sexed, I think I am, although Simon can have me flying high enough when he really tries. But doing it with women, or more correctly, with another woman—well, I mean, don’t I? But what do I mean? I have no idea, but that would be infidelity to Simon. No I couldn’t do that not for anything.

I’d heard a sad tale when I was in Uni, the first time—a girl I knew who had to leave because she got pregnant at seventeen, and whose mother had had her at a similar age had the misfortune to visit home and her mother had killed herself. Apparently, after being married and the bloke pushing off, like they often do, leaving her with a baby, she had a relationship with another woman. It apparently lasted a few years, then the other woman moved on and the girl’s mum did the deed. The daughter, quite understandably, was bereft.

I knew several girls who lived together, and I thought they were just flat mates, so when I used to hear stories about them or some lads who also seemed to be more than good friends, it used to astonish me—possibly even horrify me. But then sex was something that happened in marriage or between those who couldn’t control their animal urges. Conditioning is a wonderful thing—once you get rid of it. I mean, I’d be a total hypocrite, because I’m not married and have slept with Simon many times—as you know. Oh sod it, finish my tea and get up.

By the time I showered and dressed myself, Stella was dressed and changing Puddin’, she’d obviously got herself in gear this morning. “The look on your face,” she said smirking.

“Oh belt up,” I said back, I’m so original in my replies.

“Reminds me of that first night, do you remember?”

“What first night?” I suspect my blushes showed I remembered quite clearly.

“When we went to the ladies in the pub.”

“You tried to shut my head in the door if I remember correctly.”

“No, I opened the door of the cubicle on your head.”

“Same difference, I’m probably scarred for life.”

“You were absolutely sh…”

“Thank you, Stella, that baby of yours is going to grow up all bitter and twisted because of her mother.”

“You what? She’ll be the most well adjusted kid on the planet, where nothing will shock her and she’ll have fun with anyone, unlike her uptight auntie.”

“Stella, I am not uptight, just not interested.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot, No sex please, we’re British.

“Wasn’t that the name of a play or a farce?” I had vague recollections of the title.

“The sex lives of many Brits is a farce.”

“Would you like jam on your toast or marmalade?” I asked, moving towards the toaster and the cupboard.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 762

“Where did you put that letter from the insurance company?” I asked Stella.

“On the table in the hallway.” I walked out and picked up the brown envelope and tore it open.

“They’re going to give me a new bike, same or better than the old one.”

“Is that what you wanted?”

“Yeah. I suppose so.”

“Oh well, that’s all right then. Are you going to see Tom this afters?”

“Yep, straight after lunch.”

“Won’t they let me take Puddin’ in?”

“No, but we could share her, I’ll have her for a bit while you’re in with Tom and then we swap over.”

“What, you go in with her while Tom and I come out?”

“Yes—uh? No, you twit, then you come and look after your own bloody offspring while I go and see him.”

“I’m glad you didn’t say idiot offspring, then I should have got cross.”

“Nothing wrong with Pud, it’s her parent who’s an idiot.”

“Jealousy will get you nowhere.”

“Look, I need to make some bread for lunch, so can we talk later?” I strolled out to the kitchen. Once I’d got the bread machine working, I reread the letter in a more leisurely and thorough manner. They were going to provide me with a new Scott which would be delivered within three weeks—so it’s just as well I wasn’t waiting to go for a ride.

Stella had Puddin’ down for a sleep and I showed her the letter. “Better late than never, I suppose.”

“Yeah, but they take your money fast enough, don’t they? I hope it’s still in the yellow colours of Saunier Duval.”

“Do they still do them like that?”

“I doubt it. The team packed up, but I still like Dave Millar, he’s going to captain the British road race team at the worlds.”

“Isn’t he the one who got struck off for taking EPO or whatever they call it?”

“He was suspended or banned for two years, nearly destroyed him—he was such a fool, he lost his World Time Trial championship too, and ensured he’d never ride in an Olympics again—silly fool.”

“So how come he can ride in the world championships?”

“They’re a bit more forgiving, and I think he’s learnt his lesson—he’s now very anti-drugs.”

“What, poacher turned gamekeeper?”

“Sort of, although I dunno if the analogy stretches that far.”

“Wot no lycra?” Stella made this silly face and I laughed out loud. “I thought you lot were born in lycra?”

“Very funny, you wear as much of it as I do.”

“Oh yeah, I’m always in tight fitting clothes—I’ve had a baby, remember—got the stretch marks to prove it.”

I decided I wasn’t going to respond to this line of conversation—I was sure there was no deliberate attempt to poke the finger at me, and whilst I could have made a joke of it, I decided to ignore it. “You have a super figure, Stella. I’m fatter than you.”

“Oh well, you’ve got three babies haven’t you.”

“I’ll take that as an offering without malice.”

“Malice, Cathy, of course there’s none, I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“It’s just that when you go on about babies…”

“Oh pooh, I keep doing that don’t I? I don’t mean to, kiddo. I just forget that they’re not yours in the literal sense—or do I mean biological sense. Yeah, that’ll do. I’ll shut up now.”

We hugged, it was safer than hitting her or drowning her in my tears, and I felt that she hadn’t really intended it. Hey ho, back to my bread.

“So you don’t know what colour the bike is going to be?”

“No, the colour isn’t that important, but I must get back into riding again.”

“Ride to the hospital, I’ll drive with Puddin’ and we’ll meet you there.”

“It’s not supposed to rain is it?”

“Not according to the forecast, but you take that as you want.”

“I’ll go and check my bike—oh and Stella?”

“Yes?”

“Thanks.”

She beamed back a smile. I went out to the garage the bikes were in and checked the tyres which were softish—they need to be at least one hundred pounds per square inch or PSI or they don’t function properly. I also quickly checked the brakes and made sure I had a chain with me. Four grand of carbon fibre is a bit too valuable to leave just lying anywhere. After discussion with Stella, she was going to drive my dad’s old car, the Mondeo and I’d whip the wheel off the front and shove it in the boot when she got there—the bike wheel, that is.

That was effectively what we did. She got caught in the traffic—the schools are back—I had informed Sister Maria about our two, so that was okay. I was waiting at the hospital car park for about five minutes ahead of the car. Mind you, I nearly hit some kid on a crossing—he was messing about and I came through just as he decided to race across. My swerve was spectacular—brakes full on and my back wheel nearly came around to the front.

“Shouldn’t be going so fast,” claimed the cheeky little sod.

“Don’t worry, you little turd, I’ll get you next time,” I spat back. Why is that pedestrians don’t see cyclists? I know kids don’t even see trucks when they’re messing about, let alone we lesser beings. But even adults, especially people shopping or elderly folk, simply don’t look unless they hear an engine. If there’s a big Merc or a Rolls Royce coming along, they won’t hear it either, so they should look.

In my book, unless cyclists have jumped a red light, then they should be the same as any other idiot with regard to the law and be prosecuted, but otherwise, any cyclist involved with a vehicle or pedestrian on the road, is likely to be the victim of other’s stupidity.

I know we all get the odd stupid cyclist, usually young men, who are stupid full stop; and who do silly things. Teenagers are unable to see consequences, especially boys, they do things and repent at leisure, if they do at all.

I cycle within the law and with reasonable care. I’ve been knocked off several times and none of them have been my fault, unless you count the time I got my cleat stuck in the pedal and I went down. The road is harder than I am—surprisingly and it bloody hurts. I’m willing to bet even a carbon fibre frame is harder than a cocky seven year old, but it could have bent one of my Roval wheels.

Tom was in reasonable mood, they were still doing tests, much to their embarrassment, they had diagnosed a myocardial infarct but now were finding some difficulty in locating where or what had happened. They were also a bit concerned about their diagnosis on his coronary arteries. They were doing a series of scans tomorrow and if he was as well as he seemed today, they could send him home. I must admit I grinned, it appeared that my efforts had been successful. How much Tom appreciated, I wasn’t sure, but Stella had come out smirking when she took back control of Puddin’, who was fast asleep in the car seat.

“So the blue light strikes again?” she said sniggering at me.

“Does it? I’ll go and see him and see what they say.”

“Looks like he’s going to be out tomorrow or the next day. When are the girls back?” “

“Tomorrow, I think, I’ll check with Simon. He was taking them to the Tower, today.”

“Yeah, but are they coming back from there or are they going to be incarcerated in there?”

“That depends upon how much agro they gave the yeoman warders.”

“Who?” said Stella.

“Beefeaters, them in the fancy dress.”

“I thought that’s what they called ’em, sounds like a carvery, doesn’t it?”

“Could well be. Let me fix this wheel back on and I’ll race you home.” I tightened the quick release levers and closed the front brake. Then I jumped on the bike and shot out of the car park…

The cow beat me.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 763

“You must have driven like a demon,” I cussed under my breath, but there it was, my dad’s Mondeo was parked in the drive. The engine was still warm and ‘ticking’ as the metalwork cooled down. I hadn’t even seen her, she must have gone by another route.

I put the bike away and went into the house. “Well look who it is, baby Puddin’, it’s your Auntie Cathy, looking all hot and bothered, I wonder why. She looks as if she’s been rushing…” Puddin’ gurgled and laughed at Stella’s expression rather than what she’d said. I couldn’t stay cross looking at the smiling baby.

I know Stella is a significant road hazard, but even she would have been pushed to do it, I as good as asked her, but she wasn’t going to tell me. I went up to shower and change. Then it was down to sort out the dinner, talk to Simon and the girls on the phone and go to bed—alone. I decided my spirit of adventure wasn’t needing to have its horizons expanded just at the moment. I was really still coming to terms with being heterosexual, rather than asexual, so jumping to gay or bi—just wasn’t for me.

I shut my bedroom door when I went to bed although when I woke up I had another body with me. I peeked open one eye—I knew who it was, so quite why I was peeking, I don’t know.

“Hello, dearest sis-in-law.”

“What is wrong with your bed?”

“I got lonely, li’l sis.”

“It’s your turn to make the tea.”

“Why don’t we just lie here and have some fun?”

“I could do that on a bike while you fed Puddin’.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure?”

“I find cycling adventurous enough for me.”

“Cathy, you are so repressed.”

“Am I? I think I can live with it.” I jumped out of bed and after the loo, washed and dressed in my cycling kit. “See you in an hour,” I called to Stella who was muttering imprecations from the bed.

Once on the bike and out of the immediate heavy traffic, I had a moment to think. Was it a wind up? With Stella, you never knew, she was so good at it. If it wasn’t, was she being objectionable to keep on about it? Why was I so scared of it? It’s not as if I could get pregnant anyway, let alone with another woman—so what was the problem.

My fidelity to Simon was much of the reason, that and the fact that I didn’t think I really wanted to be intimate with her beyond a little cuddle. Perhaps I was wrong, but I knew I felt safe with cuddling her, girls do such things whereas boys don’t unless they are that way inclined. Somehow that didn’t seem fair—Queen Victoria had set back the cause of equality for centuries—for men at any rate.

Why was I complaining, it was no skin off my nose? Then again having suffered what would be broadly construed as homophobic attacks—even though I wasn’t gay, per se—that was how some people perceived me, or in those days. It makes me smile that some of the boys who would have happily killed me, would now fancy me—sadly, I’d still find them repulsive, so there’d be no payback except as a ball-breaker or prick-tease or whatever they call that sort of woman these days.

I was so lost in my thoughts that I only just managed to miss a driver’s door opened out into the carriageway as someone was getting out of their car. “Oi, watch what you’re doing,” I shouted—it could have been a lot worse.

“Who’s gonna make me?” said a beefy looking individual, who resembled a mobile block of flats. I said nothing but gave him the finger—well I was moving and he wasn’t. In the distance I heard an engine start up and tyres squealed. Oh pooh.

I stepped on it, I was still riding away from home, climbing and in the middle of nowhere. What do I do? I was probably still in sight of the moron—correction, angry moron, so diving into a field or hedge wouldn’t do any good any more than pointing out he was technically at fault. Somehow, he didn’t seem the type to consider legal niceties before he pulped someone.

If I was still on the bike, he’d probably knock me off or capture me against the hedge. I spotted a gateway to a field, pulled in and dismounted. Sure enough, a moment later the car pulled up trapping me inside the gateway, although I had put the bike over the gate I hadn’t had time to follow it, and his dog looked a nasty piece of work. I doffed my helmet and sunglasses. If he hadn’t noticed from body shape, hopefully he’d notice I was female from my hair and face—because that’s what most people see. He could just be so mad that he’d only recognise a face after he’d belted it.

As he alighted the car, I did wonder if I’d get over the gate and run far enough away before he set the dog after me. I froze to the spot in front of the gate.

“You cheeky cow, nearly took my door off.”

“You’re supposed to look before you open a car door.”

“You wanna argue about it?”

“What you mean here or in court?”

“Wassat supposed t’mean?”

“If you lay one finger on me or threaten me, I’ll call the police.”

“I am really frightened, just ’cos you talk posh don’t mean you’re important.”

“I think you’ll find out the hard way if you persist in menacing me.”

“Oh yeah, what you somefink on the telly, then?”

“Yes actually.”

“Ooh, now I’m really scared.”

“So you should be, but if you get back in your car and go there’ll be nothing more said about it.”

“Ooh, so ’ow you gonna talk wiv no teef?”

He was still the other side of the bonnet of the car, inside which his huge hound was going bananas. The engine was still running, and the dog was bouncing about—then something very funny happened. The dog ran his master over.

One minute I’m in fear and trembling for my life—the next, the excitable, blood thirsty hound fell off the seat and must have hit the handbrake, because the car jerked forwards and drove the thug into the hedge, which was mixed with hawthorn and sloe. I stood in stunned silence as he yelled and screamed as the car continued a slow crawl into the hedge, it’s paintwork protected by the large lout trapped in front of it and apparently driven by his dog. I’m sure that was illegal—unless the dog had a provisional licence and even then, matey should have been inside supervising or accidents happen.

“Get it off me,” he was screaming, but there was no way I was putting my hand inside that car—not with the Hound of the Baskervilles running about inside. I could only stand and watch in bemused horror. I didn’t even have my mobile with me.

Just then a tractor came along and I flagged it down. He called the police and between us we tried to work out how to stop the car’s persistent crawl over its owner’s body. He was still alive by the sounds of agony coming from the front of the car under the gently running engine.

We, that is, the farmer and I, decided neither of us wanted to incur the wrath of the incensed canine, who was still barking madly inside the slow moving car. Sirens were heard in the distance and a couple of minutes later a police car arrived. He called for a dog handler. By now the car had come to a stop against thicker branches of the hedge. The man was still alive, although he was complaining about a branch sticking up his bum—the farmer and I had to look away.

Eventually, the fire brigade arrived with moments later a dog handler. By that time, the young copper had thrown a blanket over the dog and I’d slipped in and switched off the engine, shutting the door very quickly after me. The pincer movement had worked and while the dog had attacked the blanket, I’d killed the engine.

We then stood around watching the fire brigade raise the car off its unfortunate owner and he was taken off to hospital. One of the firemen laughed as they lowered the car down again.

“What’s so funny?” asked the first copper.

“The dog’s eaten half the driver’s seat.”

I gave a statement as best I could recall it, and the copper sniggered as he took it down. “So he was gonna beat you up, you reckon?”

“I think he was making like he was going to.”

“Do you want to press charges?”

“Not really, not any more than I’d offer to look after his dog while he’s in hospital. I think he’s got enough troubles, don’t you?”

“Yeah, he’s got an out-of-date tax disc, his insurance is iffy and that tyre looks suspiciously thin for tread.”

I nodded and went to leave. The farmer approached me, “I know you, don’t I?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I offered putting my helmet on.

“I’m sure I’ve seen you on telly—didn’t you do a nature film?”

“Yeah, dormice. You’ve got a good memory.”

“For a pretty girl, always—hey, could you come and talk to our Young Farmers group about making your film, I’m sure they’d enjoy it.”

“Give me a shout via the university, I’ll see what I can do. I have to go.” I hopped back on the bike and my legs complained at the stiffness in my thigh muscles.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 764

“Where on earth have you been?” ranted Stella when I turned up at half past eleven.

“Out for a ride, I told you.”

“You said an hour, that was three hours ago.”

“So?”

“I was worried about you, especially on a bloody bicycle—dangerous bloody contraptions.”

“No, cars are dangerous, they kill cyclists, bikes generally don’t.”

“So, are you going to tell me where you’ve been?”

“Certainly not, you’re not my mother, Stella, just my bossy sister-in-law-to-be.”

“I was worried about you, you’re not usually this late—are you?”

“Your neurosis doesn’t control my life, Stella. I am a free agent unless the girls are here.”

“You ran into trouble, didn’t you?”

“How do you know?”

“You have a large piece of shrubbery stuck to your jumper.”

“Oh bugger—I thought I got it all off.”

“Okay, girl, spill the beans.”

“And if I choose not to?”

“It wasn’t a request.”

“Oh, all right you fascist.”

“At last you’re getting to know me,” Stella beamed.

I told her about the encounter this morning. Her expression went from concern to weeping with laughter. “This bloke got run over by his dog?”

“Exactly.”

“Cathy, that sort of thing only ever happens in America.”

“This was decidedly Hampshire in its location.”

“That’s just bloody unbelievable.”

“For something to be true it doesn’t have to be probable or even vaguely possible. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have manned flight, let alone jumbo jets.” I felt I had to make a point of logic here.

“But I mean, getting run over by your dog is just too weird.”

“It was probably preferable to being run over myself.”

“Indeed.”

“I’m going to shower then I’ll make some lunch.” Which is what I did. Thence we went to see Tom, who had baffled medical science—which pleased him no end. To be an enigmatic anomaly wrapped up in a conundrum, as the consultant described him, chuffed our ancient bastion of learning, no end.

“What exactly does that mean?” I asked.

“What does what mean?”

“The anomaly bit?”

“The enigmatic anomaly wrapped in a conundrum?”

“Yeah, that bit.”

“I haven’t got the foggiest idea—unfortunately, neither do they—the medical establishment.”

“It’s not Cathy and her blue lights, is it?” asked Stella.

“Be sensible, Stella. Cathy can work a few con tricks on children, but not an auld sceptic like me.”

“I think she managed to help a bit more than a placebo effect.”

“Perhaps.”

“Tom, you were only saying a few weeks ago that she had a gift and ought to use it. She did on you, how do you think you’re home now, not still in ICU?”

“There isnae one shred of evidence supporting this sort of claim, is there?”

“Isn’t there? What about the kid whose brain tumour went into remission when they were expecting him to die? Or the kiddie with the wonky kidneys? The injured children she’s got walking again including her own.”

“Pure suggestion.”

“So she suggested that Puddin’ make herself better, is that it?”

“She micht hae done.”

“This was a premature baby, Tom, whose mother—me—was sick. That woman is a miracle worker, she worked all day on you.”

“I don’t recall her being there for the first few days.”

“Ah, so you were very ill, Tom, our Cathy saved you.”

“Modern technology saved me,” Tom insisted.

Stella looked as if she was going to blow a fuse, so I calmed her down. “No, I expect Tom is right, Stella. I didn’t do anything.”

Her eyes narrowed but she nodded at my glance.

“I can come home whenever you’re ready,” said Tom, smiling.

“Fine, I’ll go and get the car.” I left Stella waiting with him while Puddin’ and I went to get the car. She loves her pushchair, especially when I pretended we were at Monza and made silly racing car noises as we trotted down to the car park. She was squealing with pleasure as we got to the car. I popped her in the car seat, which is tilted for her easy occupation, and she was still laughing so I made some more silly F1 type noises. I dumped the pushchair in the boot and off we went to pick up Tom and Stella.

They had no more than entered the car when the mobile beeped with a text. Simon was home with the girls. Oh well, my little break was over and in lots of ways, whilst I was glad to have had it, I was pleased to have my babies back.

We got home and the girls swarmed over me like a disturbed ants nest. They squealed and shrieked and reached up to kiss me and hug me. I think they might have been pleased to see me. They had piles of goodies, where Henry and Monica had spoiled them—DVDs, jewellery, computer games, clothes and shoes.

I winked at Simon, “Is Henry trying to spend his way out of the recession?”

“The recession is over, Babes—I told you Gordon would pull it off.”

“With a little help from his friends.”

“Friend, I think would be more apposite.”

“That bad, eh?”

“Dead man walking, if you listen to the pundits.”

“What do you think?” I asked him.

“Never underestimate him.”

“I’d have thought you we’re supporting your namesake on the other side?” I teased Simon.

“Him no. God I hope we’re not related, Eton? No thank you.”

“That’s up by Windsor, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, near the river.”

“So you don’t like Old Etonians? And I thought it was I who had the socialist leanings?”

“Me, I’m a capitalist, an opportunist but one with style and panache—that man is a chancer who doesn’t know which way is up.”

“He could still be the next prime minister.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right, Babes.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 765

“Did ya miss me?” said Simon cuddling up close to me, leaning his head on his hand, his other hand gently stroking my tummy.

“I had your sister keep me company one or two nights.”

“Is she still doing that? Used to drive my parents nuts.”

“She said she gets lonely.”

“Tell her to find someone then and leave my bed-mate alone.”

“Nothing happened.” I blushed and looked at the ceiling.

“I should hope not—you’re not—you know…”

“Pregnant? No, don’t be silly.”

Now he looked flustered. “No, you daft bugger, I’m well aware of that—I meant—um—how do I put this?”

“Lesbian or bi or AC/DC; swing both ways, do it with women—any more…?”

“You can be quite cruel sometimes, Cathy.”

“Cruel? I’m not asking you if you’re gay, am I?”

“Um—no,” he was bright scarlet. “I didn’t mean it like that…”

“No, I saw that twinkle as you imagined me getting it on with another woman.” He was silent but his loss of eye contact told me I wasn’t far wide of the mark. “It’s true isn’t it?”

He nodded and there were tears—oh shit. “I’m sorry,” he managed to croak. Then he rolled over and got out of bed and went to the bathroom. I wasn’t sure what I felt other than confusion. Part of me wanted to be cross—I’d kept my faithfulness to him, was he betraying mine by having erotic thoughts involving others? Were they just generic male thoughts—always looking for something a bit different?

I left him alone for a few minutes then went to see what was happening. He was sitting on the loo cover weeping to himself. I was momentarily shocked, here was my big strong man bawling his head off.

I stepped quietly into the loo and touched him gently on the shoulder, “What’s the matter, Si?”

He sobbed and shook his head. I crouched in front of him and took both his hands in mine. He was still avoiding eye contact and he had to wipe his wet face on his upper arms. “I love you,” I said squeezing his hands.

“I don’t know why,” he said almost with an air of self-pity.

“Neither do I, but that’s one of the mysteries of human chemistry.”

“I’m sorry,” he said and tears ran down his face again.

“Don’t be, it’s as much my fault as yours.”

“No it isn’t, you weren’t the one having sick fantasies…”

“Well depending upon what you were fantasising, erotic thoughts as far as I know are quite normal, especially in men.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t keep apologising, Simon. If it was sick, then please don’t tell me about it. If it was mildly erotic, then while I won’t promise to indulge you, I will at least listen.”

“I feel too ashamed to tell you.”

“I presume it was between consenting adults only?”

“Of course—I’m not some pervert.”

“I didn’t think you were, I was just clearing the way for you to be able to tell me if you’d like to.”

“Oh, sorry, I thought you were judging me.”

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, Si.”

“Eh, you’re a normal hetero female, aren’t you?”

“Now, yes—but it wasn’t always thus—was it?”

“No, I s’pose not.”

“Come on, let’s go back to bed, my knees are hurting.” He helped me up and I led him back to bed. It was getting cooler at night and I wanted to get back to bed and the warmth it offered—or would once we snuggled down again.

We lay together for maybe ten or fifteen minutes before he said, “I love you too, Cathy.”

“Good,” I replied and snuggled tightly against him. “So, are you going to tell me, or not?”

“I feel ashamed.”

“Don’t.”

“I just had a fantasy of you and another woman having sex while I watched in the bed, then joined in.”

“I believe that’s a fairly common fantasy.”

“Yeah, I s’pose so. It doesn’t shock you?”

“Not really, it certainly didn’t warrant the upset you felt. Is there something you haven’t told me?”

He paused for maybe half a minute before he spoke, “Yeah, how do you always know?”

“Know what, sweetheart?”

“That I’m holding something back.”

“I didn’t know, that’s why I asked you.”

“Oh, I see. Now I feel even more stupid.”

“Don’t on my account.”

“When I was about sixteen, I saw Monica and another woman together.”

“You what?”

“I wasn’t spying on them, it was at the hotel and I was in an adjoining room, they must have thought I was out—I was, out for the count. I’d had too much to drink and must have zonked and slept around the clock or something—anyway, I woke up and was getting my bearings when I heard voices in my parent’s bedroom. I thought it could be Monica talking with a chambermaid or something—she was, but not discussing the laundry. They were—um…”

“At it?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t move, my eyes wouldn’t come away from the scene before them—it was just sooo erotic.”

“So they didn’t see you?”

“Good God, no.”

“So then you went and beat off in the bathroom?”

“Yeah…”

“Several times, I expect.”

“Yeah, how did you know that?”

“I didn’t, it was a calculated estimate.”

“You’re rotten aren’t you?”

“Yeah, probably, but I still love you.”

“I know, so what about your deep dark fantasies then?”

“I’m living those already—I don’t possess or need your level of imagination.”

“Oh, so this doesn’t grab your imagination then,” he whispered as his hand played delicately with my nipple…

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 766

I awoke aware that something was trying to insert itself between Simon and myself. Part of me felt irritated—I was tired. Last night had been emotionally tiring for both of us as well as rewarding. Now, all I wanted to do was sleep—but only for about a week. I tried to ignore the aliens—it was those ones who speak in a giggle language, who also have very cold feet which they shove in inconvenient places.

For a while it went quiet, then Messrs Humphrys and Naughty* got going and suddenly I had to survive in the real world again. Next time they are giving children away, I won’t go for the buy one get one free offer—it’s too much hard work.

I came to and decided it was probably easier to leave the aliens pestering their pa, while I went and sorted out breakfast, than it was to stay there and get poked and tickled. I sloped off to the shower, maybe I’d get a few minutes peace and quiet there.

I was washing my hair, so had my eyes shut when the door opened and someone obviously entered, I felt the coolness of the draught. “Who’s that?” I asked rinsing the shampoo out of my hair.

“Mummy, can I shower with you?”

“Yes, Trish—tell me if the water’s too hot.” I felt her little body stand alongside mine and I reached for a flannel to wipe my face. “Hello, sweetie-pie.” I said and rubbed some shampoo into her hair. It was getting quite long, I’d have to ask Stella to tidy it up for her. I should really ask her to do mine as well.

“I missed you, Mummy,” she said hanging on to my waist as I washed the soap out of her tresses. Then I conditioned us both and a minute or two later rinsed that out as well.

We have a rule that we only touch the girls below the waist if there is a need, otherwise, I soap up a cloth and they wash themselves. Trish was doing this now—she was so girlish and yet her little winky dangled there contrary to what was otherwise so manifest. I needed to take her to see her shrink again soon, I’d have to check that date when I went downstairs.

We towelled off and dressed. The others had gone back to sleep, so it was just Trish and I, along with Tom who had breakfast. It was only half past seven when we’d finished, and I dug Livvie out of the bed and after processing her in the shower, got her dried and dressed.

“Do we have to go to school, Mummy?” she asked in a whiney sort of voice which was unusual for her.

“Yes, you know you do, you’ve already missed a couple or more days, so be thankful for small mercies.”

“Where’s Trish?” she asked suddenly realising that her sister wasn’t with her.

“Finishing her breakfast with Grampa Tom.”

She yawned as I brushed her air and dried it, before putting it into a ponytail. She had lovely hair, thick and strong. My own was quite good, but Livvie’s was something else, better than Trish’s and even hers was pretty thick. Then there was Mima, hers was dark as coal and grew like weeds.

As far as I knew, Mima and Simon were still in bed when I took the girls to school. It made me feel very sad when they trotted off clutching their lunch boxes. However, I had loads to do, so I didn’t linger with my emotions and instead drove straight back home and got stuck into the housework.

Simon and Meems deigned to visit with us a short time after Stella and Puddin’ came down, which was a few minutes after I’d started the vacuum cleaner. It was half past nine, if Tom could get off his sick bed before then, surely the others could, too.

Simon was very quiet, almost subdued in his manner. He was still courteous and polite as usual, but even Stella avoided her usual barbs with him. He clearly had something on his mind. I left him to think about it and went back to vacuuming everything that wasn’t screwed down. An hour later, I’d visited every room, and was busy stripping beds according to my usual rota. This was followed by loading the washing machine and starting to think if we needed bread—we did, so I filled the machine and set it going.

“Stel, can you have a look at the girl’s hair when they come back from school?”

“What, a tidy up?”

“If you could?”

“Yeah, no problemo.” She grabbed Meems and marched her off to the kitchen, a quarter of an hour later, she came back trimmed—not much, but I could see how much tidier it looked. I thanked her and made some tea.

Simon went up to shower and reluctantly took Meems up with him. He was a little unsure about showering with a little girl with him. In the end I sent him off to shower and I did her when he’d finished. I dried her and her hair; Stella had given it a lovely shape. She was actually a very good cutter of hair.

Meems went off to play with her Grampa so I was able to get Simon to one side. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong or have I got to play guessing games?”

“You know what’s wrong. I betrayed you last night.”

“Simon, sometimes I feel as if I’m in a parallel universe to the one you’re inhabiting.”

“What d’you mean?”

“We discussed last night and I thought we’d resolved it.”

“You did, I still feel guilty.”

“Why, for God’s sake?”

“I don’t actually know. Maybe it’s something to do with seeing Monica years ago.”

“I have to take Trish to Dr Henshell next week, maybe I should make an appointment for you as well.”

“Very funny.”

“Maybe you need to talk it through with someone, sounds like unfinished business to me. What about your natural mother? You never speak of her.”

“She’s dead, about four years ago. She and Dad split up about fifteen years ago—they were both having affairs—like Monica and he do now.”

“I’ve never understood that—sexual profligacy.”

“It seems innate in some people, like other are eaters or drinkers.”

“Perhaps it just seems so alien to my world, I mean, I don’t think my parents had sex with anyone other than each other. In fact I’m pretty sure of it.”

“Yeah well, once they had Stella and me, they had sex with anyone but each other. Takes all sorts I suppose.”

“I’m trying not to judge anyone, Simon, but it’s very difficult when it’s so alien to one’s own values.”

“My grandfather was the same—randy old bastard. They reckoned half of the villages around the estate are his descendants.”

I winced and he laughed. “It’s good to see and hear you laugh,” I smiled at him and kissed him. “Can we put last night to one side, you agonising over it is making me feel really confused.”

“Confused? I thought that was my position.”

“No—oh, I don’t know, maybe I’m picking up your confusion and it’s affecting my own ambivalences. All I know is that I love you and I want us to work as a relationship.”

“For the girls’ sake?”

“Mainly for our sakes, Si, the girls are a bonus in this life. We were together before they came to us and although we have to take the responsibility they bring, very seriously, I like to think we’re together because we—um—love each other and also like each other.”

“Yeah, we do love each other and we are a good team, as well as being good for the girls, for our girls. Yeah, sod it let’s stop looking at our faults and count our blessings—eh, girl?”

“That sounds more like my Simon, trying to market optimism.”

“Absolutely,” he said then drew me to him and kissed me.

*Presenters of Radio 4’s Today programme.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 767

The rest of the day went normally after Simon brightened up—and before long, he and Stella were swapping poison coated barbs although, thankfully, no one got a direct hit. As for me? Well I continued doing my household chores and then went and collected the girls from school. They had a bit of homework to catch up with, and also Stella nabbed them and chopped their hairs. By the time she’d finished, dinner was more or less ready. We had grilled salmon with jacket potatoes and salad.

I’d finally remembered Trish had to see her shrink on Monday, today was Thursday, and on Saturday, the Tour of Britain road race started. If I get a chance I’ll have to see if I can catch it on the box, seeing as it comes nowhere near here this year. I have marshalled on it before—standing around wearing a yellow hi-vis vest and doing very little else, oh except stopping people from crossing in front of the cyclists who are generally travelling rather quicker than people think, or the support/team cars, who definitely are.

That night, Simon lost his inhibitions from the previous night and I ended up being both sore and tired as a consequence. He fell asleep with a very smug grin on his face—but then he isn’t the one left with the little hygiene matter to clean up. By the time I get back from the bathroom, he’s zonked and I’m cold and sore. It’s been drier but quite cool at times, especially at night. That night I was very glad to have a nice warm body to cuddle with, even if he was fast asleep.

The Friday was normal, or as much as we ever get to it, and the weekend flew by—like they do. Tom is feeling much better and no amount of tests confirm what we know—that he had another heart attack. He’s planning on going back to work, mornings only, for a few days to see how he gets on.

All too soon it was Monday and Trish and I were waiting outside Dr Henschelwood’s room. He was running late and Trish was becoming a little anxious. I got her to read to me, but in her agitated state she made loads more mistakes than she usually does. It helped to occupy her so by the time he called us in, she was reasonably calm.

“So, how are you?” the good doctor asked Trish and she told him at length. Well, he did ask and she does what she’s asked—sometimes. She told him about going away for a few days with her paternal foster grandparents and how much fun all the girls had had.

“You are lucky to have such generous grandparents.”

“Yes we are, but we have very nice parents and Grampa Tom, is really nice too, he’s a professor and although he earns quite a lot of money, it isn’t like owning your own bank, is it?” I did manage to keep a straight face as the shrink handled it very matter of fact way.

He asked her how she was doing in school and how she was coping living fulltime as a schoolgirl. She replied very coolly, that as she was a girl, why was she supposed to find it difficult? Once more I didn’t laugh, although I had great difficulty distracting myself.

Then she asked him when she could have hormones. He glanced at me and I was registering as big a surprise as he must have felt. “Young lady, I’m afraid that hormones are not something we can discuss for a number of years. If you were a normal female, you wouldn’t be experiencing the effects of hormones for a number of years yet.”

“So how long is that?” she asked very seriously.

“Not before you’re at least twelve, if not older. Around that age we can prescribe a drug to block any male hormones your body might produce.”

“Where are they made?”

“Which the hormones or the drugs?”

“The hormones, can’t you cut that bit off?”

“I’m afraid not, not until you’re much older.”

“Why not?”

“We have set of rules to follow; that’s what they say.”

“Well your rules are wrong,” Trish sounded like a five year old at this moment and I nodded at the doctor to bring it to a conclusion. He asked us to come back in a month’s time.

He also asked me to phone him so he could discuss one or two things when Trish wasn’t present. When we left a moment or two later, she dragged me around the shops for an hour to spoil going back to school until after lunch.

Despite her attempts to coerce, persuade, cajole, and blackmail I didn’t buy her anything, partly because she didn’t need anything and partly because the other two weren’t present to have something too. She got quite sulky at that.

I did buy her lunch while we were out and took her back after we’d eaten. I’d tried taping the bike race, but couldn’t get a picture that was worth watching. I was therefore no wiser until I got home and called up Cycling Weekly who always had the most info for a small site. Looked like some Norwegian was trying to dominate the race, and not the one who messes up Cavendish’s sprints if he gets the chance—a real pain.

Next I hear that Wiggo is ceasing the Tour to train for his world time trial championship, which will weaken his Garmin-Slipsteam-Chipotle team. I personally can’t see him beating Cancellara, but who knows? Cycling is a funny sport.

When I collected them from school, things were rather subdued. I asked Livvie what was happening. She was very reluctant to say anything. I didn’t push it until we were home. I very casually separated her from the other two and she eventually told me that someone found out Trish was seeing a shrink and teased her. I offered to see the headmistress but Livvie said, no, Trish was dealing with it herself. When I asked what she meant, she said she didn’t know. I left our little meeting feeling very concerned.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 768

I was mulling things over when Simon came by. “What’s the matter, Babes?”

“I’m not sure. Someone in Trish’s class knows she’s seeing a psychiatrist.”

“How do you know?”

“Livvie told me.”

“Oh, what do we do about it?”

“I don’t know. The last thing I want to do is make things worse.”

“That goes without saying; do we know who it is?”

“Not yet, but I will.”

“How?”

“I’ll speak to Sister Maria, the headmistress.”

“Is she going to be able to stop it?”

“I don’t know, but she needs to know.”

“Okay, Babes, I’ll leave it with you. I have to go into the office tomorrow, otherwise I’d come with you.”

“Okay, sweetie, I’ll see what the school has to say about it. I just can’t understand how they know. Surely the school wouldn’t tell them, and I know Livvie wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“So it’s someone at the hospital or the school?”

“Yes, but surely if that was the case, they’d know about her little anomaly wouldn’t they?”

“Dunno, maybe?”

“And anyone from either the school or the hospital would be aware that disclosure of confidential information is a criminal offence.”

“A bit like banks?”

“I suppose it is, Si, only it tends to be financial information that’s protected there.”

“We hold all sorts of stuff on our clients, so a change of identity such as yours could also turn up.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.”

“IDs are important, they can enable thieves and fraudsters to access bank accounts.”

“Yeah, I see what you mean. I wonder if someone was passing through who recognised her or me, at the hospital I mean.”

“What like a patient themselves?”

“Or visiting someone? The children’s unit has a suite of rooms which are accessed by different disciplines on different days, or by different consultants except two—Dr Rose, who is director of the unit and Dr Henschelwood, who is his deputy.”

“But wouldn’t you have seen whoever saw you?”

“Not necessarily, they might have walked by as we were going in or leaving, in which case my attention wouldn’t have picked up on them; besides, what if they know us but we don’t know them?”

“What from your television work?”

“Could be anything, Si: they keep calling me Lady Cameron to start with.”

“Ah, that could be it then, you’re seen as a member of a notorious banking family, which since the credit crunch is viewed as the only legal, organised crime.”

“That’s an interesting way to see things, Simon. Does that mean Henry is the local equivalent of the Godfather?”

“Actually he’s godfather to one or two cousin’s kids, so it could be.”

“Like you’ll be to Puddin’?”

“So will you.”

“Si, I hate to tell you, but I’d fail the physical as a godfather, no matter how emancipated women become, I think I’d pass on that one.”

“You knew what I meant—goodness, you can be so literal at times, Cathy.”

“Only sometimes?” I pouted and he groaned.

When I put the girls to bed that night, I asked Trish if she’d caught up on all her schoolwork. She was very vague which is unusual for her, she is usually as precise as a scalpel.

“Are you looking forward to being back in school?”

“S’alright.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, you’re usually raring to go.”

“I’m all right.”

“You don’t sound like it.”

“I’m okay, Mummy.”

“If you weren’t, you’d tell me, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Promise and cross your heart?”

“Promise.” This sounded so halfhearted and so unlike her I was becoming upset.

“And cross your heart?”

“And—oh Mummy, I can’t promise you.” She started to cry, Livvie and Mima began to get restless.”

I picked up Trish and called Simon up to read the girls a story. Which he did, despite the fact he was watching the football on telly. I carried Trish off to our bedroom. I laid her on our bed and cuddled her. “Right, will you please tell me what’s happening?”

“Nothing, Mummy.”

“Trish, I didn’t come down in the last shower of rain, I know when you’re holding back on me. Now I need you to tell me what’s going on.”

“I don’t want to, Mummy.”

“Trish, I thought we had an understanding, that we’d all stand by each other whatever the problem. In order for that to be the case, I need to know what that problem is.”

“It’s nothing, Mummy.” She began to cry.

“If it’s nothing why are you crying?” I hugged her, “You silly sausage, I can help, but you must trust me.”

“I do, Mummy,” she sniffed.

“You don’t, Trish, or you’d tell me.”

“I can’t, she’ll get me.”

“Who? Who will get you?”

“Petunia.”

“Browne-Coward?”

“Yes,” she sobbed.

“She’s been bullying you again?”

“Yes, teasing me.”

“Why?”

“Because they don’t like us. Her mummy is jealous of mine, because you’re prettier than her and younger and you’re a lady, or will be.”

“How is she teasing you?”

“She knows I see a shrink.”

“How does she know?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, sweetheart, leave it with me. You go back to school but ignore her.”

“I can’t, she’ll say I’m mad or something.”

“If she does, I’ll get mad and she’ll wish she’d kept her dainty great cakehole shut.” Trish actually sniggered at my description of Petunia. “You’re prettier than Petunia.”

“Am I, Mummy?”

“Very much, my darling girl.”

“I love you, Mummy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart. Oh, she doesn’t know why you see Dr Henschelwood, does she?”

“She hasn’t said and I’m sure she would if she knew.”

“So am I. Okay, sweetheart, try not to get upset—I’ll sort it out. I suspect even if her mother knew about this, she wouldn’t let her tease you with it.”

“Her mother’s horrible, too.”

“I don’t think she’d allow that, it’s below the belt. I could be wrong, but if she doesn’t stop it, she’s going to find life very uncomfortable very quickly.”

“Are you going to get her, Mummy?”

“No, I’m going to stop her teasing you. If she wants to make something of it, she’ll regret it. I don’t think I need to say anything else, do I?”

“No, Mummy—please get her and make her stop.”

“I’ll make her stop, that I promise. Now, back to bed with you and rest assured, it will stop and quickly.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 769

We were at school quite early the next morning—in truth, I’d been awake half the night working out what I was going to do while Simon snored like a demented lawn mower. Normally it didn’t worry me too much, but that night it did and he got several pokes in the ribs from my elbows.

What really took the biscuit however, was I had lain there watching the clock tick around and he had the gall the next morning to say he hadn’t slept a wink. I said nothing, as being arrested for manslaughter, even under provocation, would have stopped me getting to school early.

I took the girls into the playground and went in search of the headmistress, Sister Maria. I found her and asked to see her urgently. She asked me to wait until after assembly. I went back out to the yard in time to see a slanging match begin between Livvie and Petunia. Trish was standing behind her sister and it looked as if she was crying.

As I walked towards the disturbance, loads of other girls were standing around watching the event, and roughly forming up behind the two camps. There was lots of name-calling going on, and I was delighted and concerned that Livvie had got directly involved. Before I could do anything about it, a teacher intervened and the girls were told to be quiet, and to shake hands and apologise to each other. I stayed back not wishing to interfere in the internal workings of the school.

The two girls stood rigidly staring at each other, the teacher insisted that they shake hands, and I watched as Petunia held out her hand and when Livvie put hers out Petunia took it and nearly pulled her over. How Livvie managed not to retaliate, I’ll never know but she didn’t and Petunia got told to wait outside the headmistress’ office. I was really impressed by my daughter in sticking up for her sister but knowing when to play by the rules. Petunia was in trouble anyway, now she was in bigger or deeper varieties.

Once the fracas was over, Livvie went to comfort her sister. Things seemed to be under control, so I returned inside the school, where another teacher was informing the headmistress of the reason for Petunia to be seated outside her office. Sister Maria was not impressed by the girl and I heard raised voices for a few moments before the girl came out crying, and ran past me, I’m sure without seeing me.

I went to wait for my informal chat with the headmistress. She came back after about fifteen minutes. “How can I help you, Lady Cameron?”

“I’m not yet, although we’re working on it.”

“Oh how lovely, where are you doing the deed?”

“At a little church near Bristol, I know the vicar there and she’s agreed to marry us.”

“What a pity, if it was more local, I’d have come to see the ceremony.”

“When it happens, Sister Maria, you would be very welcome to come as one of our guests.”

“Oh, goodness, God does move in mysterious ways—I wasn’t fishing for an invite.”

“I know, I also know if you’re there the girls will behave.” As I said this she gave me an old-fashioned look and then laughed. It was meant as a joke and thankfully, she took it as one rather than an invite to sing for her supper.

“Anyway, I take it that wasn’t why you came to see me?”

“No, to cut to the chase, Trish is being bullied by Petunia. Somehow she’s found out that Trish sees a psychiatrist and has been tormenting her about it.”

“Ah, that’s why Olivia has entered the fray. Protecting her sister?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Well, I’ve already given Petunia a flea in her ear, how does she know about Trish’s appointments?”

“I don’t know. We’re not sure if she knows why Trish goes, but even without that it could get quite unpleasant and Trish has been quite upset.”

“I can see why. It isn’t unusual for a child who has been in care to need some assistance in living with a family again. Given what you told me of her background and her maternal neglect, it’s a tribute to her resilience and your support that she’s as normal as she is.”

“I sent Dr Henschelwood an email to let him know that there might have been a breach of confidentiality somewhere.”

“But you don’t know where?”

“No, hospitals are public places and I could have been recognised there or we could have been seen by someone passing through. I think that’s more likely than a breach of confidentiality but I felt I had to inform the good doctor.”

“Absolutely, especially as it could feature in a future issue to resolve.”

“Yes, and she was doing so well.”

“She’s a good kid, she’ll make it—she’s bright and tough, like her foster mother, and with whose support, she’ll be unstoppable.”

“What about Livvie?”

“I shall send for her and ask her for her side of things. She has nothing to worry about. My colleague said that she asked the girls to shake hands and apologise and that Olivia seemed prepared, albeit reluctantly, to do so and Petunia, pushed or pulled her.”

“Pulled her I think,” I wasn’t completely sure now I thought about it.

“Either way, such aggression is not to be tolerated here. She will be punished and Olivia will help me prosecute the affair. How is Trish?”

“I kept out of it, if she’d seen me there, she’d have cried even more and then I’d have had to take her home. She has to learn to cope with these malcontents otherwise she won’t make it as a woman.”

“Is it that difficult to be a woman?” Sister Maria was thinking out loud, “I suppose it is full stop, from yours and her point of view, it must be very difficult. I don’t envy either of you, but I must say you always seem to be on top of things, and you’re a very beautiful and elegant lady.”

Given that I was dressed for quickness in jeans and a pullover, with a scarf around my neck, I wouldn’t have considered I was even tidy, let alone elegant. I blushed at these compliments but had resolved to accept them at face value. I thanked the headmistress and then went back home leaving her to make her investigations and apportion blame and punishment.

Back at home I discussed the situation with Stella and Tom over a cuppa. They were both impressed with Livvie as was I. I knew she had the ability to become a regular spitfire, but to see it in action was overwhelming.

We’d all have to wait for Sister Maria to carry out her investigations and to pass sentence. Personally, I didn’t want any of this to happen—because it has it has to be worked through—once we come out the other side, things will be much better, but that could be days or weeks away.

I went to make some bread rolls, the old-fashioned way, as kneading the dough helped unleash a degree of hostility within me.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 770

I spent a good hour working the dough for the bread rolls, and by the end of it, my temper had eased. I couldn’t do anything until Sister Maria had spoken to all concerned. I had confidence in her to do her best, but I was also concerned that Mrs B-C would be less than helpful.

I spent the rest of the day doing housework or amusing Mima. I’d forgotten to organise her nursery place, another thing that would require speaking with Sister Maria. I was obviously losing the plot somewhere along the line—I mean how can anyone forget to organise one’s daughter’s nursery place?

I called the school and spoke with the secretary. She could do the organising for me, but she felt I ought to read the guide to the school’s fees etcetera. How do you explain that money shouldn’t be a problem as the family owns a bank? I didn’t, I accepted that she would leave a pack for me for when I came to collect the girls in the afternoon. I thanked her, at least the registration system had been started.

I explained what I’d done to Stella at lunch time, she said she was putting Puddin’ down for Eton and The Guards. “Stella, I think she might have problems with the physical, especially for the Guards,”—usually, that meant the Coldstream or Grenadier Guards, although there was also the Scots, Welsh and Irish to chose from.

I somehow couldn’t see Puddin’ marching up and down outside Buckingham Palace wearing a red tunic and bearskin—the busby or headdress of the guards’ uniform. Still, who knows where equality and emancipation will take the next generation of women, probably beyond mine.

Then again, as a previous transsexual woman, I might be expected to have hang-ups about doing masculine things, such as joining the military, fighting, playing football and farting. Yet I know that in recent years more and more women have been doing all of those except perhaps the flatulence.

I fiddle with bikes and ride them, and if I’m correct could actually race them as a woman, being post op and taking hormones for a couple of years. Whether my body produces more testosterone than a normal female, I have no idea and I’m not sure I want to know. I know that I probably have a slightly larger heart and lungs, but given my lack of muscle—it might be irrelevant in any case.

I suppose the truth is stereotyping roles is anachronistic; there are househusbands, male midwives and heath visitors, in the same way we have women fighter pilots and boxers. I was horrified to hear that women’s boxing will be an exhibition event at the London Olympics—call me old fashioned, but the idea of two grown men knocking seven bells out of each other is distasteful—so to have two women doing it beggars belief. Yeah, okay, I’m old fashioned but I think violence is rather primitive—but then so are humans.

I heard today of a little girl who jumped off a road bridge because other girls were bullying her, to her face and via various networking sites. She ended her life because it seems she couldn’t cope with it. It strikes me as dreadful that other children can do such a thing and will probably then declare it was nothing to do with them. I hope they’re happy now and this stain remains with them for the rest of their lives.

It makes me even more determined to stop the bullying of Trish or any of my children—it would also make me just as determined to stop my kids being the bullies. Bullying is unacceptable to me in any shape or form.

Finally, just as my nerves were fraying, it was time to go and get the girls. I arrived expecting to have to avoid broadsides from Mrs B-C, but the Range Rover wasn’t there, nor did I see Petunia come out of school. When my two emerged, they told me the headmistress wanted to see me. We went along to her office and knocked. On hearing a call of, “enter,” I did so.

“Ah, Lady Cameron, do come in. Girls, could you go and read a book for a few minutes while I talk with your mummy?” They both nodded and disappeared. “I’ve spoken with Petunia’s mother who claims that your girls have been picking on her. However, I have no substantiation for any of her claims—which is the opposite for Trish, there are loads of witnesses.”

“Have you asked Trish about it? She’s pretty honest, especially if you load the question first.”

“Oh yes, and I’m well aware of manipulating children; if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be much of a teacher, would I? Although I prefer to empower than manipulate them.”

“So what did Trish say?”

“She hasn’t bullied anyone, Petunia and one or two of her friends have and she gave me the names of some other children who have also been on the receiving end of bullying by Petunia’s coterie. Much of what Trish said has been verified. Now I’m aware that this could be a set up, Trish is very clever—certainly, far brighter than Petunia will ever be—although I read somewhere that transgendered children often are brighter than average—I don’t think it is. I’ve spoken with several parents of the children involved and they wondered if their girls were being bullied. So I’m fairly convinced Petunia is involved in disapproved activities.”

“Don’t you mean criminal activities?” I asked, upping the ante.

“I believe children have to be at least ten to recognise criminal behaviour.”

“Okay, but surely her mother is old enough?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I was sure that the girls were acting without their mother’s knowledge, I couldn’t believe that any mother would let their girl bully another if they became aware of it. Until you told me that she accused Trish of such behaviour, I wouldn’t have thought Petunia’s parents knew—now I’m not so sure.”

“I don’t understand what this is all about, Lady Cameron. Why have you two mothers got such a downer on each other?”

“Hang on Sister Maria, I don’t have a downer on anyone. The woman upset me the first time I brought the kids in. She was quarrelsome for no reason. I admit I didn’t like her manner but I didn’t retaliate until she became insufferable.”

“So it was you who let her tyres down?”

“I suspect it was someone who was fed up with her poor parking and selfish attitude.”

“Like you?”

“Yes, I am rather unimpressed by it.”

“I thought it was very funny, if a little juvenile.” I took this as a partial rebuke.

“So where do we go from here?” I asked changing the subject.

“Petunia has been withdrawn from the school for a couple of days at the behest of her mother.”

“Which achieves what, exactly?” I wasn’t sure I wanted the child excluded because that just means she takes her attitude somewhere else. I wanted her taught to change her behaviour.

“If the problem ceases, we’ll have more evidence to ask for an exclusion.”

“That’s poor scientific methodology.”

“Is it, how?”

“If you believe A and B are interrelated, and you take away A and observe B stops, then it could be coincidence, it could be because of C you didn’t know anything about, so you need to do more experimentation. You’d need to reinstate A and see if B starts up again, if it does then there is more of a proven relationship. If you remove or change B and A is the same, you could still be mistaken and so on.”

“No wonder you don’t believe in God, is this what you do at the university?”

“Sort of, when I’m not counting dormice or propagandising agnosticism.” She smiled at my joke.

“So how do I prove Petunia is the cause of the problem?”

“Indirect observation.”

“I can’t install cameras, that raises all sorts of problems.”

“You don’t need to. Direct observation is where the subject knows they are being observed; indirect is where they don’t. It just means you watch surreptitiously or less obviously.”

“It has a potential for being wrongly interpreted.”

“So does everything we do, especially with children. Look, I don’t want the girl to be kicked out, I want her to mend her ways but I suspect that means her mother has to first.”

“You obviously believe in miracles despite your agnosticism?”

“No, I believe in the power of education and persuasion.”

“And if that doesn’t work?”

“That isn’t an option, it has to.”

“But I suspect you have a fallback position?”

“Of course, but I’d prefer not to discuss that now. Tell the mother that her daughter has been bullying and it isn’t allowed and if it doesn’t stop there will be consequences.”

“Isn’t that threatening?”

“No, it’s pointing out cause and effect reasoning—very simplistic but effective. I have to go, the girls will be worrying and I have another child to look after, too.”

“Oh, there’s a package for you on the desk.” She indicated a large envelope.

“Thank you.”

“So are you going to send number three here, as well?”

“That was the plan, I might have to reconsider now.”

“That’s your prerogative.”

“Yes, I know, although I see it as my responsibility rather than prerogative.” We shook hands and I left to find my two, expecting them to be on tenterhooks—they were both sitting with their noses in a book and hardly heard me approach them, and grumbled when I made them come home. So much for knowing my own children.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 771

The drive home was quiet, the girls being reluctant to tell me what happened in the playground. In desperation I stopped the car in a lay-by and asked Trish what had happened.

“Petunia saw me in the playground and started calling me names, saying I was crazy or mad because I was seeing a shrink. She was horrible.”

“And what did you do in return?”

“I got upset and started to cry.”

“You didn’t say anything back?”

“No, Mummy, I was too upset.”

“So when did you get involved, Livvie?”

“When I heard Moo-cow calling Trish names.” She sniggered at her nickname for Petunia. Trish also sniggered, although I suspect she was still a little upset by the episode.

“And what did you do?”

“I stepped between Trish and Moo-cow, and called her names back.”

“I see, that’s when the teacher intervened?”

“Yes, Mummy, she wanted us to shake hands and apologise. I wasn’t very happy but I would do it because she asked me to. Moo-cow didn’t, she tried to bend my fingers and pull my arm.”

“Did she now? I think you were a big, brave girl for not reacting to her nastiness.” As I said this Trish laughed. “What’s the joke?”

“Livvie got her back later.”

“Tell me about it please, Livvie?”

“We were sent for by Sister Maria and we met in the corridor and she tried to grab my hand again.”

“What did you do?”

“I bit her.”

“You bit her on the hand?”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Livvie, that wasn’t very clever.”

“She was grabbing my arm, Mummy, and was going to bend my fingers.”

“Couldn’t you just pull free from her?”

“No, Mummy, she’s stronger than me. She wanted to hurt me and scare me before we saw the headmistress.”

“What happened after you bit her?”

“She squealed and cried.”

“Was she still crying when you saw the headmistress?”

“Yes, Mummy, she’s a wimp.”

“What did the headmistress say?”

“She asked why Moo-cow was crying, and I told her it was because she tried to grab me and so I bit her.”

“What did she say to that?”

“She said it served Moo-cow right, but that we were both wrong to be squabbling, and I said she started it by calling Trish names. Then Sister Maria asked Moo-cow if she started it and she said she didn’t, so I called her a fibber and she pushed me.”

“She pushed you in front of the headmistress?”

“Yes, Mummy and Sister Maria was ever so cross with her.”

“So what happened then?”

“She sent me back to my class.”

“And Petunia?”

“I dunno, Mummy, she was still there.”

“Okay sweetheart,” I started up the car again and drove us home. So Petunia was an archetypal bully. Hardly a surprise, what was a surprise was that Livvie was equal to the challenge she posed, even if Trish wasn’t for the moment.

What I didn’t know was why and when Petunia was taken home—was she taken or was she sent home? Whose decision was it? And the one that was wriggling about in the back of my mind, how did Petunia know Trish was seeing the psychiatrist?

We got home and I made us a meal which we were all present for, except Simon, who was on his way back from London. I wasn’t sure what to do next so would be glad of Simon’s opinion. After they’d played for a while with Mima, I got them all ready for bed and Tom read them a story. He was certainly looking better by the day.

He came down as I was dishing up Simon’s meal, so he sat with us and shared a glass of wine. Simon was most impressed with Livvie, whereas Tom was more circumspect.

I went off to check my emails, and to my surprise had one from Dr Rose asking me to phone him, which I did without delay.

“Hello, Cathy, how are the girls?”

“They’re okay, thank you.”

“I hear someone has been annoying Trish by telling people that she sees a psychiatrist?”

“Yes, she got quite upset about it.”

“So did Dorian and I, it could indicate we have someone who isn’t as committed to patient confidentiality as the rest of us—in which case, once we find them, they’ll be out on their ear.”

“We don’t know who it is, though do we? So it could be someone who doesn’t work there, who simply recognised Trish or me.”

“That’s always a possibility, but we’re conducting an enquiry and if we suspect it is one of our staff we’ve made it known there could be prosecutions.”

“Would you actually do that?”

“If we had enough proof, but it’s unlikely to be strong enough to stand up in a court of law. Meanwhile, we’ve changed things in the children’s unit to make it less noticeable that we have psychiatry there.”

“Okay, it certainly sounds as if you’re doing all you can, and I’m very grateful. How about you come for dinner some evening?”

“That would be lovely, Cathy, but I think with my current commitments it could be months before I’m free enough to enjoy an evening out.”

“Oh, poor you,” I purred over the phone.

“Don’t start that, Cathy, or I’ll be over before you put the phone down.”

“You’d be very welcome, though we’re only drinking a Pinot Noir.”

“A very nice wine, were it not for the fact that I’d have to drive myself home, I’d be right around.”

“You’re more than welcome, and we do have spare rooms you know.”

“I have to go, Cathy, as soon as I know anything I’ll let you know.” With that he rang off.

I went back to the kitchen and joined in the conversation which had changed to the banking crisis again.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 772

“I’m concerned about Livvie biting someone,” I said to Simon. He half grunted and half snored a response. We’d been lying in bed for about half an hour and I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want it generally known that Livvie was a biter; I had visions of her like David Copperfield, wearing a placard saying, ’I bite’.

Where did that come from? I haven’t thought of the book for about ten years when I had to do it for English Lit. Ultimately, it had a happy ending, so I lived in hopes and turned over to try and sleep. The only problem was Simon had rolled onto his back and was now snoring at mach five. I lifted the bed clothes and he rolled onto his side and peace reigned. I snuggled down and was drifting off when the lawn mower started again. Dammit. I poked him in the ribs—if I couldn’t sleep, why should he?

“Wassup?” he asked sleepily.

“You were snoring,” I complained to him.

“Yeah, okay,” he replied and immediately fell back to sleep, rolled onto his back and started again. I wearily accepted defeat and pulling on my dressing gown went downstairs and curled up on the sofa. Which is where I was when Tom got up to make himself some coffee.

“Whit ye’re daein’ doon here?” he asked, “ye havenae been fechtin’ wi’ Simon again hae ye?”

“No, Daddy, I haven’t—he was snoring so loudly I’m surprised you couldn’t hear him.”

“Och no, I sleep the sleep o’ the just, clear conscience, that’s me.”

“Like all psychopaths,” I muttered irritated.

“Whit’s that aboot cycle paths?”

“We could do with one out this way.”

“Aye we could, but whit’s that got tae dae wi’ Simon?”

“Nothing why?”

“Och, if I live to be a thoosan’, I’ll never understand wumen.”

“I could say the same about men, Daddy.”

“Aye, but then I’d hae tae disagree wi’ ye.”

“That’s okay, you’re entitled to your opinion—just don’t express it,” I muttered under my breath, “have you put the kettle on?”

“Aye, it’s bylin’.”

I yawned and got up off the sofa; I was stiff, not very warm and knackered. I drank the tea and only then noticed the time. Six o’ bloody clock–no wonder I was cream crackered. I suppose the only good thing was that I’d have the girls ready for school on time—assuming I managed to stay awake myself. I made some cereal and ate it while Tom drank another mug of the pond mud he called coffee.

At half six, I went up and showered, that woke me up a little although even the noise of the water and my subsequent dressing didn’t have a similar effect upon the somnolent Simon. At least the snoring reassured me that he wasn’t dead.

I ran a bath and dipped each one of the girls in it, starting with a sleepy Trish and finishing with a chuckling Mima. “When can I go to school, Mummy?”

“Nursery,” I corrected her, “as soon as I can arrange it, Meems.” She laughed and I lifted her out of the water and into a relatively huge fluffy pink towel. Breakfast went according to plan, and just before we were ready to leave, I took Stella and Simon up some tea. Neither was awake, although Puddin’ was chortling to herself.

I left the girls–Mima was home with Tom–in the playground and went in search of the school secretary; I’d left explicit instructions for Livvie not to eat anyone unless she cleaned her teeth afterwards.

I was busy enrolling Mima for nursery when Sister Maria came past. “Goodness, Lady C, you’re an early bird.”

“Well, there’re worms to be caught,” I replied wondering why I’d said it.

“I’m afraid we won’t be seeing Petunia for a while, I suspect her mother is going to place her elsewhere.”

“So she can practise her bullying elsewhere?”

“Perhaps, I expect a state school will make that less likely, don’t you?” she passed blithely on before I could answer. If I’d had the time, I’d have disagreed: I was the product of a state school, and I was bullied. Okay, so perhaps ultimately I survived it more or less intact, though quite why, I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. It still rankled me that the girls who’d bullied that young woman who’d jumped off the bridge would probably deny any involvement and get away with their nasty jibes and snipes undiscovered, because that’s usually the way it happens.

Perhaps I should just be contented that Trish’s bully had moved on when challenged, or her possible role model–Mrs Moo-cow, to use Livvie’s epithet, had withdrawn her from the field of battle just when the fight was going to change against them. I suppose it is ever thus. I’m not responsible for what they do just for my own kids and I watched them march in in single file as the assembly began. They didn’t see me, but I watched them chattering as they walked, and I felt a sense of pride well up inside me. They were two lovely kids and they deserved the best we could do for them.

I drove home with a newfound sense of purpose, announced to Mima that she’d be starting nursery school after half term, and we’d go out that afternoon and get her uniform. It would mean an early lunch, but that was okay–I’m the cook, so them that don’t like it gets their own!

A shot of caffeine in the form of a cup of coffee kept me going until our early lunch and Tom and I took Mima into town to get her uniform. He snuck off to get her birthday present while I distracted her with school dresses and hats–yes, they still wear hats. Then we all went off to collect the other two and took them for an ice cream on the way home.

“Why are we having ice cream, Mummy?”

“Because,” was all I said and they all giggled. Sometimes it’s difficult to express what you feel or the depth of the emotion. This was one such moment and all I can say was it was all very positive and wrapped up in that most wonderful of four letter words–love.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 773

The next few days stayed surprisingly fine despite the onset of autumn and the shortening of the days. The girls played outside whenever they could and I encouraged them to do so—it would be dark and wet far too soon.

Trish seemed to settle back into school after the absence of Petunia and whilst I regretted not solving the problem, I was glad she no longer had to deal with it. I was relieved to hear that a significant number of girls at the school are receiving or have received some form of psychotherapy; mostly for marital break ups with the parents, but occasionally for other things as well.

I’d organised a small tea party for Mima’s birthday. The older girls had chosen presents for her, but at only four, I considered an I-phone was inappropriate, we did however, get her an MP3 on the understanding she didn’t use it too long or too loud. Trish had discovered she could download music via my computer, so she was put in charge of putting some music on it.

Livvie continued to lobby for some form of mobile phone. I continued to argue that a four year old doesn’t need a mobile. In the end I got her a cheap top up one. Apparently even four year olds now have their own mobiles—a situation I considered ridiculous, but who listens to me?

One morning after taking the girls to school, I took Meems to the university with me. Everyone made a fuss of her and we checked out the dormouse cages. Despite my forebodings, it seemed everything was working well. Neal told me to see it as the ultimate accolade, that it was so well designed it ran without me. Personally, I thought he was talking a load of bull.

The summer had been a good one and they had managed to breed twenty dormice and they were pleased I’d called in to discuss about release sites. Meems seemed quite happy looking at the dormice climbing up the frame we’d made for them—basically a wire mesh with plants growing up it and food left in places for them to find. Also these dormice had not been handled for some weeks so they were less comfortable with humans than imprinted animals like Spike.

I checked on Spike, she was fine and had added a further five to the release pool–she was a regular super mum, if that doesn’t sound too much of a contradiction.

Neal and I went through the distribution of the existing dormice and where to allocate the new ones, we were in total agreement in the matter and he went off to make us a cuppa to celebrate. I turned around to find Meems and she wasn’t there. I had one of those horror moments when the whole of your life flashes before you while your stomach twitches and feels cold.

I started running around the lab calling her frantically, I dashed in and out of the store rooms, had she got herself shut inside one? No; she was nowhere to be seen. I hate to think what my blood pressure and heart rate were doing as the adrenalin began to flow.

I heard Neal call me, and I rushed back in the hope he’d found her. “Is she here?” I gasped rushing back to the lab.

“Is who, here?”

“Meems, my little girl.”

“No, oh Geez, she couldn’t have got out of the building could she?”

“What?” this was unbelievable, the doors are locked during term time and outside it as well, basic security.

“We had a delivery a while ago, not to this lab to the one next door.”

“What the door was open? It’s supposed to be kept locked at all times.”

“The bloke had to bring the stuff in, Cathy. He wasn’t to know we had a child running loose in here, was he?”

“No, it’s my fault, I got so absorbed in the project I forgot she was here.”

“Come on, she can’t have got that far, can she?”

“You’d be surprised how far her little legs can carry her.”

We ran out of the lab and began searching rooms, calling her name and looking everywhere. My anxiety was increasing by the moment, matched only by the intensity of my sense of guilt—I had brought the child with me and had then failed to watch her. I’d always felt a sense of anger at the way that child had been taken from the room in Portugal when her parents had left to enjoy drinks and tapas with their friends instead of staying with the children. Now I was in danger of doing something equally silly and negligent.

Then on top of that, children shouldn’t really be unsupervised in a laboratory, they can be dangerous places full of chemicals and equipment which could cause a tragedy so easily. Why oh why did we come here today? I could feel my eyes filling with tears as my body was running more of emotion than logic, and the strongest one of those was dread coupled with self pity. Where could she be? Each person we met we asked if they’d seen her—no one had. How can a child disappear into thin air? It was impossible but it seemed to have happened and it only takes two seconds.

“When do we call the police?” asked Neal.

“Oh God, I don’t know, she’s got to be here—somewhere.” I felt the tears running down my face, “Oh, Neal, what do we do?”

“I have no bloody idea, kiddo. Let’s go back to the lab and work this out a bit more logically.”

“But we’ve looked everywhere,” I was almost whining I felt so abject.

“If we’d looked everywhere we’d have found her, wouldn’t we?” A statement of masculine logic, not what I really wanted to hear. What I wanted was a strong arm around me to support me until we found her, what I was getting was a detached and relatively objective opinion corresponding with my subjective, emotionally driven disaster scenario. It should have helped me—instead it was making me feel even more inadequate than I usually did.

Then he put his arm around me, “C’mon,” he said, “let’s get back to the lab and sort this mess out.” For a moment he took control and we walked back together and for a moment I felt comforted—someone was taking the responsibility for a moment—enough for me to get my breath back and my brain in gear. Recover my composure is the phrase they frequently use. It certainly did need recovery, it had skedaddled along with Meems, wherever she was. Thinking this made me feel sad again and I started to weep and then sob.

By the time we were back in the lab, I felt even worse. Her little coat was lying on one of the desks and seeing it made me lose control completely. I broke down and howled. Neal had no idea how to deal with me—I had no idea how to deal with me, so I didn’t.

“I’m sure we’ll find her, Cathy, but getting all upset isn’t going to help is it?” He was absolutely right, but that isn’t how female logic works: instead of helping it made me feel patronised and more upset. He rested his hand on my shoulder, “Cathy, come on pull yourself together—we need you to be strong to sort this. Now where was she when you last saw her?”

“I don’t know—I mean, I can’t remember.” I racked the few remaining brain cells I had that were actually working. “Over there, by the dormouse cages, I think.”

“Yes, she was over there—you did look over there, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did,” was he implying I was stupid or something?

“Okay, okay, keep your ’air on.” He walked back and forth, talking to himself as he thought out loud. “She was over there so she could have gone to…nah, that door is locked. Hmmm, could she have gone through there?” he wandered up the far end of the lab still musing.

I walked over to the desk and picked up her little coat–I felt almost sick with worry, where on earth could she be? Had she wandered off? Had she been abducted—you hear such awful stories and although I tried not to think about them, they come to the fore when anything untoward happens to a child. Geez, I can’t take much more of this. I held the coat up to my face and sniffed the smells of soap and shampoo that so much constituted the aroma of a little girl. Then I felt completely and utterly helpless and filled with the emptiness—if that’s not an oxymoron—of despair.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 774

My sense of panic and despair rose as we searched high and low and still no sign of her. I cursed my stupidity—how could I have got so absorbed that I didn’t see her leave the lab. The doors had been shut and they are quite heavy fire doors, so how did she get out?

We called in a few other technicians and students who happened to be in the building and we searched it from top to bottom. It was now an hour since I’d noticed she was missing. Tom had got wind of what had happened and came in to see how we were doing. He took control to take some of the pressure off me—least I think that’s why he did it.

He again organised the search parties, this time with staff who had pass keys to make sure she couldn’t have got herself accidentally locked in a store room or cupboard. Our search party was now ten. I was told to stay in the lab just in case she’d wandered off and came back by herself—I suppose, it also meant I was out of everyone’s way while they got on with the job of searching. I couldn’t see for tears anyway.

I perched on a lab stool, reminiscing about my time with Mima. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Then I laughed when I recalled her visit and the day Spike went missing, only to parachute down on top of me a few days later. If only Meems could do the same, survive for a couple of days in the air vents. How would she get into one? Mind you, how did Spike for that matter?

Then the dread of having to inform the police, who may inform social services and as they have an axe to grind, could try to remove Trish and Livvie. Then my life really would feel over. How could I have been so stupid?

I tried to snap out of the self-pity that was multiplying inside like a fast breeder. It wouldn’t help anyone, especially Mima; besides, if there were outcomes they should be for the benefit of my children, Mima especially, so my feelings were very secondary. Even so, things could get worse. How is it I seem to lurch from crisis to crisis? Just when things are beginning to sort themselves out or on an even keel for five minutes, somebody screws it up—usually me.

I needed to learn lessons from this, the first being not to let any of them out of my sight ever again—except that isn’t feasible, children learn from taking risks. If they fall off their bikes a few times, they generally become better riders. We learn from our mistakes—well most of us do, sometimes painfully, as I was at this moment.

Oh where could she be? How will I be able to face Trish and Livvie, when they ask where their sister is and I tell them, I lost her. They won’t believe me and why should they? It seems too ridiculous for words, but tell that to the hundreds of parents every year whose children go missing, for all sorts of reasons.

If she got outside the building, it could only have been when the deliveryman was here, and I can’t believe he was here for long—but then how long does it take for a child to disappear? Milliseconds.

I went to see Spike, trying to recapture in my mind the fun Mima had on the few occasions when she’s seen my favourite dormouse. I walked up to the cages, Spike was nibbling on a nut of some sort. She should be asleep or at least quiescent, but no, greedy little tyke was eating.

Under the cages, are a system of cupboards, a bit like the cupboards under a domestic kitchen sink. We keep some of the food in there and other bits and pieces. I decided while I was there, I’d fill up the feeding dishes. I opened the first cupboard and brought out a sack of nuts and filled a couple of feeders. I replaced it and decided I’d scatter some berries into the release pen—this is the one with the framework where they get a chance to improve climbing and foraging skills and lose their familiarity with humans.

I opened the cupboard where the berries were kept and much to my astonishment discovered a small child, fast asleep with MP3 player plugged into her ears, so she wouldn’t have heard us calling her. For a moment time stood still—I couldn’t believe what I’d found, then I realised I wasn’t hallucinating when she opened her eyes, rubbed them and said, “Hewwo, Mummy.”

I pulled her out and hugged her to me, almost dancing around the place with a sense of joy—I’d been given a second chance. Total nonsense, but these things go through one’s head. “Canni’ve a dwink, Mummy?”

“Yes, Darling, in a moment. Let me just call Grampa Tom.” I held on to her with one hand while speed dialling with the other. “Daddy, yes, I’ve found her. She was in one of the cupboards under the cages, yes, call off the search.”

“Aye, that’s guid news, okay, I’ll tell the others. See ye in a few minutes.”

I took the bottle of milky drink out of my bag and she accepted it. “Have you been cwyin’, Mummy?”

“Yes, silly me. I thought we’d lost you.”

“I went into the cupboard, wike a do’mouse, it was my nest.”

“So I see, darling. You were playing your music were you?”

“Yes, Mummy, the music Twish put on fo’ me.”

“And you fell asleep?”

“Yes, Mummy, it was dark in the cupboard and I got vewy sweepy. Is you cwoss wiv me?”

“No, Darling, you’re safe that’s all that matters.”

Of course, Neal and I had to face the sharp edge of Tom’s tongue, nearly losing one of his grandchildren—children in the labs and all that. He did go on, but I felt happy to take the tongue lashing, because it sort of expiated some of the guilt I’d felt. Mima is only just four years old, she isn’t responsible for much of what she does—I am, for what I do and what she does. The same goes for the other two children. It was a salutary lesson and one I won’t have to repeat.

We have children—albeit usually from our own couplings, but those of us who take on the offspring of others as our own or natural parents—have a greater responsibility than we ever realise. It’s bad enough being responsible for a dog or cat, or in my case a pile of dormice, let alone small humans. Being a parent is such a responsibility, yet we take it on with very little thought most of the time. It’s also a tremendous privilege, to accept the trust and love they give us in return for loving and protecting them—when they aren’t hiding in cupboards.

All too often we see children running amok or being screamed at by their parents, frequently because the same parents have little idea of parenting, perhaps because their parents did a poor job. When they’re shouting at them or being abusive to them generally, they overlook the honour and privilege it is to have children.

I didn’t honestly ever think I’d have the care of any—obviously, I couldn’t have any of my own, as is the case with many transgender people—and I didn’t think adoption services would look too kindly upon me, for the same reason, even though I believe legally they aren’t supposed to, officially anyway. But there’s a shortage of young babies for adoption for normal couples, so what chance special people like me? Very little, unless they have problem children or those with special needs—usually psychiatric problems or physical handicaps. In the end they all need homes with loving parents or significant adults. Without that grounding, we sometimes fail to learn to love or trust—essential in relationship formation—and also how to pass on our learning and skills to the next generation.

I was fortunate in lots of ways, my early home life was loving albeit quite strict. The problems came after I’d bonded with my parents and learned a few boundaries—sadly, in regard to my identity and my gender behaviour, my internal guidance system and that of my family’s expectations were different and caused the problems I’ve mentioned earlier. That won’t happen with my kids—whatever they do, I’m going to love them to bits.

We told the other two what had happened and they thought it was quite funny. I only remember the pain and then the relief of finding her safe and sound. We have new rules about MP3 players and hiding places and I hope I impressed upon all three of them how important it is to let me know where they are—I can’t say at all times, because it isn’t practicable—most of the time/where practicable. It might save them a whole pile of trouble and me much pain and anxiety.

Tom had informed Simon, who came home that night to comfort me, which I thought was really nice of him—he’s a real gem, most of the time. I was glad of his strong arms around me when I woke up with horrible dreams—I’ll let you decide what they were about. I am so lucky to have him, Tom, Stella and my three girls, plus little Puddin’ of course. I must try and count my blessings more often, albeit in my own way.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 775

After a poor night’s sleep and the excitement of the day before, I felt like a lie in—it wasn’t to be of course; I had three girls to look after and Simon. I rose from the bed in time to catch the aliens en route and divert them to the bathroom and the shower. Then it was a case of combing and drying hair which I put into pigtails with green ribbons. My own hair, I dried and tied back in a ponytail, dressed in jeans and a long sleeved tee shirt, slipped on my trainers and went down to start breakfasts and packed lunches.

After the girls were busy with their breakfasts I took Simon up a cup of coffee and made some for Tom as well. Tom’s is like river mud, I should know I spent two weeks in Sussex playing with the smelly stuff and a microscope. It helped me decide I wanted to study mammals rather than estuarine crustaceans and plankton.

I’ve known grown men who’d get so excited talking about krill—the shrimp like creatures which are a major food source of the baleen whales—but the idea of cuddling a shrimp hardly compares to my little critters. So the dormeece won hands down. However, on occasion the thought of being in the Arctic Ocean or even the Southern Ocean, on a floating laboratory, away from everything else does have its attractions. But, I’m a landlubber, so I’ll stick with what I know, it’s safer.

“Mummy, are we going to school?” Trish disturbed my reverie and a quick glance at the clock meant we had to dash. I took Meems with me—I had half thought about one of those wrist things, where you attach one of their wrists to a leash like thing and the put the other end around your own wrist. Knowing my luck we’d end up tripping people up or going round opposite sides of a post when we went shopping.

After dropping the students off at their institution of educational facilities, Meems and I went for therapy of a retail nature. I decided to treat myself to a new pair of shoes—because a girl can’t have too many. Meems loves shoes too, if you recall it was her playing with a pair of my red stilettos that got Trish walking again.

In a local department store’s shoe and boot department, I found a pair of knee boots that wanted to come home with me, in chocolate brown leather made by the Scandinavian firm Ecco. I also found a matching bag and pair of black courts which had a three inch heel—the same as the boots. The boots, I decided needed to be worn home to acclimatise to them. Meems, blackmailed me into buying her a pair of boots, also in brown, obviously with flat heels and bows stitched on the outside of the legs.

After this we went to Morrison’s and did some food shopping, filled the tank with diesel, and drove home. On the car radio were reports of the earthquakes in Sumatra and the fact that a hospital had collapsed on hundreds of people. It made me shudder.

The picture of whole villages being swallowed by the earth was so disgusting to contemplate that I switched the radio off. We in the west have so little to worry about by comparison to those in the third world and yet we have higher levels of mental illness and unhappiness.

I thought about all those poor people who have nothing, having even that taken from them in disasters of Biblical proportions. At the back of my mind I had vague recollections of somewhere in the Bible it saying, ‘To them who hath, shall be given. To them that hath not shall be taken away.’ I tried to equate this with, the meek inheriting the earth—somehow, it wouldn’t. And people wonder why I’m agnostic.

The fun I’d felt through my retail therapy was so superficial and I sent a donation of the same amount as my boots and bag cost to the Disasters Emergency Fund.

Simon had taken the day off and earned brownie points by noticing my new boots. If I’d worn nothing else, I’d have considered he’d see them—eventually. So for him to notice them almost as soon as I went in, was a huge surprise. He got a kiss and a cuddle for that and a promise of more tonight. At lunch, I learned that Mima had told him we both had new boots—so much for my Renaissance Man.

“What happened with the school bully?” Simon asked at lunch.

“Her mother pulled her out of the school.”

“Oh good-o,” said Simon beaming.

“Hardly, she’ll just go on and do it elsewhere. I’d have preferred she’d stayed and we’d changed her behaviour for the better. Bullies are often victims, too.”

“Cathy, be thankful for small mercies—it’s no longer our problem.”

“No, it’s someone else’s, which can sometimes come back to bite you on the bum when you’re not looking.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist. I can see of no reason why she should be a cause of any concern to us in the future.”

“She hasn’t left the area, so we could still meet, or more importantly, the girls could still meet and she could still insult or intimidate Trish in front of others.”

“From what I heard, Livvie did a good job of defending her sister.”

“That’s beside the point. The only way to stop bullying is to re-educate the bully and help them to understand what they’re doing wrong and how to change it.”

“In my day, you just gave ’em a thick lip or a bloody nose.”

“That’s hardly setting a good example, is it, violence just begets more violence.”

“Yeah, but it works—give ’em a black-eye and they leave you in peace.”

“And predate other weaker children—no—they have to be changed…”

“Okay, cut their nadgers off…” he laughed at his own joke and Stella rolled her eyes.”

“Talking of removing nadgers, did you read that bit in Dan Brown’s new book about various priestly cults self castrating, and he suggested that they do it to show control over their bodies. He mentioned transgendered types doing it for the same reasons.”

“I think he’s confusing anorexia with transgenderism,” was my response. “I didn’t want to control my body, just make it more comfortable with the rest of my identity.”

“Isn’t that a form of control?” asked Simon.

“No, I wanted to appear to be outside what I felt was happening inside.”

“But would many people see that?” he continued his argument.

“No, but I would know that it resembled as much as possible a natural female and would give me confidence to act with relative freedom.”

“Didn’t you act with freedom before?”

“Simon, not entirely. I couldn’t have gone swimming or joined a gym. I couldn’t have sex…um…” I blushed and went quiet. So did he.

“Aren’t there parallels with body dysmorphophobias and gender identity disorders?” Stella weighed in on the argument.

“I think it’s a form of similarity of symptoms, but the causes are different. The symptom being a discomfort with one’s gender via the secondary sexual characteristics could be argued as similar to hating bits of one’s body—but some of them are bizarre, wanting to chop off healthy limbs and so on.”

“Didn’t you want to chop off healthy tissue?” she continued.

“No, I wanted mine modified to resemble something else in as functional a form as possible. It’s the hijras in India just lop things off, and I’m sure many of them would prefer a proper surgical conversion like mine to a puckered piece of scar tissue. Mine was recycling, not disposal—much more ecological.”

They both laughed, and Simon said quietly, “Well I for one am glad you did.” I had to admit so did I, although I did wonder if he was thinking about tonight or past events.

“Aren’t you going to collect the girls?” Stella said looking at her watch.

I glanced at mine and after muttering, “Oh shit,” I grabbed my car keys and bag and ran off to collect them.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 776

That night after Simon had had his wicked way, and I’d had a little wash, we settled down for a cuddle and a sleep. For a change, I slept well and woke feeling shattered. Why is it that a good night’s sleep leaves you feeling more tired than a poor one? Life is full of paradoxes and I had bigger fish to fry, such as three kids. Talking of which, they materialised as the radio alarm came on, so I whisked them off to the bathroom and scrubbed them from head to foot.

After the usual morning processes of breakfast and packed lunches—why won’t my kids eat school food?—I took them off to school. I needed flour and yeast for the bread machine, so trundled into the supermarket on the way home, accompanied by Meems—well if she was with me, it may be harder to lose her, although I’d nearly managed it the other day.

When halfway down the baking supplies aisle, we met a familiar face if not particularly welcome one. “Good morning,” I said as we passed and she chose to ignore me. I shrugged and walked on.

We met again at the end of the toilet rolls and tissues. This time I ignored her, and she said loudly at me, “I don’t know how you can live with yourself!” I carried on. “My daughter has been asked to leave that wretched school, all because of you and your crazy children.”

I should have carried on walking and ignored her, but you know me, no one impugns my girls and gets away with it. “Mrs Browne-Coward, I think you’d better keep your stupid thoughts to yourself, unless you want to face my lawyers across a court room.”

“You can’t sue me for telling the truth.”

“Who said I would?” I was building up to becoming vindictive, not my usual modus operandi.

“Your child is attending a psychiatrist, so must have mental problems.”

“Your daughter is a bully and nasty piece of work, so must follow the family model.” Two can play at this game.

“My Petunia is a perfect young woman without a modicum of malice in her whole body. It’s your crazy daughter who is the problem.”

“Your Petunia is an obnoxious little weed with an obvious personality disorder. Trish is by no means perfect, but if she was the problem they’d have asked me to remove her, not your precious Petunia.”

“Fat chance, money talks and you lot have loads of it, so my poor Petunia takes the blame for your family of vipers.”

“You stupid, obese, social-climbing, arse kissing, moron. Take a look in the mirror if you want to see who’s to blame for your daughter’s behavioural problems.”

“How dare you?” she squared up to me as if she was preparing to fight.

“You started it with your insinuations.”

“Your daughter started it, by attacking my poor Petunia.”

“Trish is the victim, not the aggressor in all of this. Your precious Petunia is the villain of the piece.”

“That’s right ignore the truth, all you upper classes are the same—blame the poor workers, instead of all you shirkers.”

“You appear to suffer from gross stereotyping, all of which is ill-informed. This is the twenty first century, for goodness sake. Grow up and keep your hideous offspring away from my children.”

“My Petunia isn’t hideous, she’s beautiful—you, you horrible aristocrat.” With that, she hit me in the kitchen rolls—or should I have said, into the kitchen rolls. Meems started to cry and two members of staff rushed to help me up and take Mrs Browne-Coward away from me.

“You all right, madam?” one of the shop staff asks me.

“I’m fine, but I’m afraid I’ve squashed some of your kitchen rolls.”

“That’s okay, madam, are you sure you’re not hurt?”

“Perfectly sure, thank you.”

“Did she assault you?”

“It’s okay, her daughter has been suspended from school for intimidating and bullying several kids including one of mine. She obviously felt it was my fault.”

“Like mother like daughter,” said the shop-girl.

“I won’t pass judgement,” I said trying to be magnanimous.

“Well you can stuff your stupid supermarket then,” shouted a familiar voice and she rammed her trolley into the display of dog food, bringing it cascading down and rolling around the aisle. Then she stormed off as the security guard appeared on the scene.

I was led to the manager to explain what had happened and I tried to in as matter of fact a way as I could without any points scoring. I know if the position had been reversed, she may well have gone for the sympathy vote, I tried to stick to the facts as I knew them.

“Well, in view of the way she acted, we’ve banned her as well. Normally, I would ask you to take your custom elsewhere as well, to make sure we act fairly.”

“If that’s what you’d like me to do, I’ll comply, albeit with some degree of sadness because this is quite a good supermarket.”

“I did say, normally I’d ask you to go elsewhere, but this time I think the other woman was in the wrong. I will not, therefore ask you to stop visiting us.”

“Weren’t you the lady in the dormouse film?” asked one of the staff who’d witnessed the incident.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, blushing.

“My mummy wikes do’mices,” added Mima, having recovered from her shock at seeing me assaulted.

“Good gracious, I didn’t realise we had a celebrity shopping in our store,” said the manager in surprise, “that was a cracking film.”

“I don’t think one documentary constitutes celebrity,” I replied trying to play things down.

“Ah, but you wrote and produced it as well.”

“With some help from my friends.”

“I believe the BBC are bringing it out on DVD, and may be showing it again over Christmas.”

“How do you know? I made the film and they haven’t told me.” I was disgusted.

A short time later I managed to escape the supermarket, replete with my shopping and a bunch of flowers courtesy of the manager for my upset with the other customer. They have such a way with words—I don’t think.

“Waiting for the yeast to grow were you?” asked Simon as we got home.

“No, the flour to be milled, why?”

“I wondered why you were so late.”

“I encountered Mrs Brown-Cow in the supermarket.”

“And?”

“She started shooting her mouth off.”

“Oh and you just ignored her, I suppose?”

“Not when she insulted my children, no. I told her what I thought of her—all polite and above-board.”

“I don’t believe that for one moment, Cathy Watts. I’ve heard you when you get going, and it’s not pretty, although the expressions are sometimes imaginative.”

“What are you implying, Simon?”

“Tell the truth, Cathy, what did you call her?”

“I don’t remember, but moron featured large in what I do remember.”

“No wonder she hit you.”

“I think I might have implied she was a brown-noser, too.”

“Cathy, that is not said in polite company.”

“Polite company? She was the one doing all the swearing, and she hardly invokes the word—polite—anyway.”

“Oh that’s different, then.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 777

“Hang on, how did you know she’d hit me?” I asked him.

“Because I know you, and once provoked, you’d give as good as you got; however, you’d also be aware that if you provoked her back you’d win the argument, moral and actual.”

“Simon, that is very deep for you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Normally, you don’t expound such thoughts.”

“I see, getting intellectualist are we?”

“Getting what? Simon, I’ve just had run in with one obnoxious personage; I really don’t need to fight with you when I come home.”

“This isn’t a fight, it’s an exchange of information, views, opinions…”

“Bullshit?”

“Not on my part, my dear.” His eyes danced as he spoke, another wind up—the pig, he deserves to get swine flu or whatever they call it.

“Would you like some lunch?”

“Yes please, Babes.”

“Well stop the wind up or you’ll be wearing it.” I didn’t wait for a response I went out into the kitchen to start making a new loaf as we only had about half of one left. He came out as I was putting the ingredients into the machine.

Pax?” he said waving a tissue.

“Are we doing the Latin bit?”

“Yes, I’ll say truce if you’d prefer a French influence.”

“As I’m feeling magnanimous, I’ll accept unconditional surrender.” I had my back turned to him as I finished sorting the machine.

“You’ll accept what?” he gasped verging I suspect on apoplexy.

“Your unconditional surrender.” I still kept my back to him.

He seemed to mull over this for a few moments, “Does this mean I get lunch?”

“Of course, I’m always generous in victory.”

“Victory?” He paused, then added, “What is for lunch?”

“Ham and cheese omelette.”

“Hmmm… Okay, I surrender, plenty of cheese in mine, please.”

“I always put loads of cheese in yours.”

“I know, I was just checking out on the generous bit.”

“Generous? What are you talking about?” Sometimes I’m sure we’re actually in different but parallel universes which coincide every now and again.

“Your earlier statement; you claimed you were generous in victory—I just wondered if your generosity ran to cheese?”

“Simon, you are completely barmy.”

“Does that mean I’ll get my cheese or not?”

I turned around and threw my arms around him and kissed him. “Does that answer your question?”

“Hmm, can you repeat your answer, I don’t think I quite caught it the first time?” I frowned at him, then kissed him again.

“Now, go and keep an eye on Houdini before she does another runner.”

“Houdini?”

“Mima, you twit.”

“She’s sat on the sofa listening to her music player.”

“That’s what she was doing yesterday before she vanished into thin air.”

“Okay, I’ll go and check she’s still there.” He went off to the lounge. I carried on getting the pan and the eggs ready to make the omelettes. He didn’t come back so I assumed he’d either disappeared as well as Meems or, she was there and he was having a crafty cuddle. I sneaked in to the hallway and peeped through the crack down the edge of the door, she was sitting on his lap and he was reading to her, I smiled because I felt a lovely sense of warmth from seeing them together. He loved the kids and they loved him in return.

About twenty minutes later I produced omelettes for everyone—Tom, Simon, Stella, Meems and myself. I also did a little one with just some cheese in it for Puddin’. They weren’t too bad—in fact I’ve had worse in a restaurant.

My mind drifted back to one day before we had the kids—Simon had met me for lunch and we’d gone to this pub with restaurant. I ordered a Spanish omelette and what they served was horrible. I sent it back and two minutes later the chef appeared asking what was wrong with it. So I told him. He asked me if I could do better and I accepted this as a challenge. He was so cross that he led me back to the kitchen, gave me a pinafore to put on and pointed to the range. I nodded and within about twelve minutes had produced an entirely better product than he had. He was gracious enough to concede defeat and further more we weren’t billed for either meal. He also offered me a job which I declined, the pay would be worse than the remuneration for corrupting the minds of young people. As we left he asked me where I’d learned to make omelettes—my reply was simple, my mother showed me how to do them when I was about fifteen, I’d been practicing ever since.

“A penny for them,” said Stella.

“Uh, what?” I was miles away.

“For your thoughts, they were obviously more interesting than the conversation around the table.

“How would you know that?” I wasn’t really sure what she was on about.

“Well they captivated you completely, you’ve not said anything for several minutes since you took a portion of omelette—which incidentally, is very good, but then yours always are.”

“I know what she was thinking,” said Si smirking.

“This I have to hear,” replied Stella, “seeing as you usually have about as much idea about what women are thinking as I do about the ruminations of the average camel.”

“Wasn’t Mel Gibson in some stupid film about what women want?” I added changing the subject.

“Coulda been,” said Stella, “he’s made a few duff films.”

“Och, he wis quiet guid in Braveheart,” Tom had finished his meal and was picking bits of salad out of his teeth with a cocktail stick which he kept as an impromptu toothpick.

“Wasn’t he a Glasgow Rangers fan in that?” asked Simon.

“Whit’re ye on aboot?” Tom looked completely perplexed by Simon’s statement.

Just before Simon finished his set up for a pun, I got the joke. “Well he was covered in blue stuff, Tom, so I assumed that was Rangers.”

“That wis woad, ye stupid bugger.”

“I thought that only applied to the Welsh—I mean they’re the remnants of the Ancient Brits, aren’t they—along with the Cornish?” As far as I knew it was so.

“The Romano-British, included a tribe who held ground up near Edinburgh sae it’s quite feasible the Scots wuid hae carried on the custom.”

I didn’t feel like arguing, so I finished my lunch and left the field of battle to make some tea. I didn’t particularly like the film Braveheart, it broke one of my childhood dreams, Patrick McGoohan played Edward Longshanks and was a real pig, so different from his gentleman spy in Dangerman and The Prisoner. I suppose life is full of such realisations, though we don’t have to like them.

I made the tea.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 778

After lunch, I went to get the girls from school, taking Meems with me. We stopped and I got them an ice cream on the way back. The two girls were excited because it would soon be half term. To my mind they’d only been back in school a very short time, but when I thought about it, they had started later than everyone else but according to their teachers, had caught up with the rest of the class. They were two very bright cookies.

I decided I wanted the two older girls to read a whole book over half term: not a particularly challenging task as they both read well above their ages. I wanted to keep the momentum progressing, however, when I asked for suitable titles from the teachers they were of the opinion that I was pushing the girls too hard.

I decided to ignore their counsel—wise or otherwise—and press ahead with finding them a suitable book each. Then I thought it might be better if they worked together on reading the book—helping each other to understand it, and knowing Meems, she’d be interested too. For this to work it would really mean I’d have to be involved too, so my housework would just have to wait while I supervised the initial stages after which I could see how it went.

I decided to get them to read, Wind in the Willows, a story they’d have the outline of from my reading bits to them, and seeing the film on telly. The language would be a little more challenging than modern prose being a little dated, but that would add to their learning opportunity. By the time we were home, I’d decided what and how much they’d read—the day wasn’t completely wasted.

Simon made a huge fuss of the kids and they of him. It was I who got the drinks but Simon who got the attention—bloody typical. Then they went off to change and do what homework they’d been set while I got the dinner.

Tonight it was pork chops which I did in an apple gravy, with cream and white wine. I cooked jacket potatoes and sliced green beans and mushrooms to go with it. Well, I’m not sure how much anyone enjoyed the meal save it disappearing off the plates at quite a lick.

Stella did mention when I was loading the dishwasher that she’d enjoyed it, but no one else said anything. Sometimes being a wife and mother must be very frustrating—and I’m only rehearsing the role at the present.

At bedtime, Tom volunteered to read the bedtime story, a contemporary one which he’d found in the library. They seemed to enjoy it, and I was pleased he’d had the gumption to do more than look on the children’s bookshelf in the house—which was all Simon usually did.

I felt quite tired and after a cuppa and chat with Tom and Stella, went up to bed. Simon had disappeared into the study to deal with some query from the bank, so at nine o clock, I went up to bed by myself.

I always used to smile at people who crawled off to bed so early, but it was clear to me that if one is tired, there is absolutely no place like bed. I zonked soon after getting between the sheets I’d changed that morning. I was vaguely aware of Simon climbing into bed but I had no idea of time. I felt his arm around me and I slipped back into a deeper slumber.

I was passing through a valley—it was like something out of a horror film—all mist and large boulders everywhere—giving the nasties places to hide. I was armed with a bow and arrows, but only had three arrows left. I felt like an elf from Lord of the Rings. Each time we passed a large boulder, I was on alert and pointed my bow at it. The problem was that when a large nasty appeared behind me, I loosed my arrow only to waste it and I also suspect that I did something wet in my knickers.

How did I know it was behind me? I could hear its roaring snorting noise and then it touched me and I was sure I left a fluid deposit in my panties.

I struggled out of bed and into the bathroom, walking into the door post on the way into the bathroom as I was still half-asleep until a moment after the impact—then I was wide-awake very rapidly and very sore.

Much to my relief, my knickers were still dry although the suggestion in the dream was very real. I crept back to bed and snuggled in against Simon who seemed unaware I’d even left let alone returned. I’m almost sure he could sleep on a clothesline, whereas I needed comfort and quietude. I seemed much less relaxed than he was and I wasn’t sure if I’d always been a light sleeper or whether it was something I’d developed since having the children with us—they certainly didn’t help in alleviating it.

I certainly didn’t want to relive the dream I’d been having but contrary to my desires that was exactly what happened. I was back to the boulders and mists.

I was now down to my last two arrows, what I needed was some sort of sword or large dagger to protect myself. Unfortunately, I had neither until I came across a dead warrior—probably one of ours—how did I know that? I didn’t. The sword was smaller than I’d have expected to see but it was big enough for me to wield, at least in regard to weight and my strength.

I felt a little more confident in protecting myself and put the bow over my head and one arm. I walked on towards the next boulder and out rushed an ogress—a giant of a woman—who resembled Mrs Brown–Cow in more than a passing likeness.

I drew my sword and for a moment compared it to her much larger and heavier blade. I threw mine at her and tried to run, but my bow caught in an overhanging branch and I was stuck.

I felt an arm around my shoulder so I rolled onto my back and brandished the sword only to have my arm trapped and then I knew I was going to die—a horrible feeling although I was serenely calm, which confused everyone including me.

I waited for the ogress to come closer and lashed out with all my strength hitting her in the face.

I heard Simon yell and fall out of bed. He had a black eye, which he couldn’t explain nor could I, neither could he understand how he fell out of bed, but I suspect he must have bashed his face as he fell. I certainly can’t think of anything else that could have caused it.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 779

At breakfast the next morning, neither Simon nor I could explain how he’d got the bruise around his eye, a real keeker according to Tom. Stella, of course, had a field day making all sorts of suggestions about my beating up my boyfriend—all of which were quite outrageous. The very thought of me actually hitting Simon, is just unthinkable. We discussed it and decided that he must have hit his face as he fell out of bed.

I didn’t mention my sore knuckles—they’d only think I was looking for sympathy—and I’d obviously bumped them on the bedside cupboard or headboard. I mean how else could I have hurt them—oh, I’ve just had a thought, maybe Simon or I lay on my hand when we were asleep. Oh well, I had to get the girls ready for school.

In a discussion with Tom earlier, I’d suggested that once Mima went to nursery, I’d have the best part of three hours every morning to assist with the national mammal survey. He thought it sounded like a good idea as they were well behind on everything since I’d left to make my film. So, if I could get her in after half term, I could start at the end of the month. It was certainly appealing.

I was just about to leave with the girls when the phone rang—it was the bike shop, my Scott was finally in, apparently the problem had been the paint job. I’d asked for one in the same colours as before—the yellow of Saunier Duval. I arranged to collect it later. I yelled to Simon it was in as we went through the front door.

After depositing the two schoolgirls in the establishment of learning, I went and spoke with the school secretary, who called the headmistress into the discussion. It seems it was possible to get Meems in after half term. I made the arrangement and signed the forms. I felt quite excited about it as I drove home, I was going to be working again, even if it was only part time—and as I’d been so involved in setting up the framework for the survey, it was like coming home to a neglected baby. I was even going to be able to use my old office—that was wonderful.

I should have taken the bike rack to get the Scott, but I decided on impulse to go and get the yellow flying machine. As I drove into Portsmouth to the bike shop, I reflected on the problems I’d had in getting the first bike in yellow. “They don’t make ladies bikes in those colours, madam.” It had made me smile, I was supposedly still pretending to be male then, but I was buying a women’s bike—they fitted me better with their shorter crossbar. The other thing was the smaller handlebars and brake levers—my hands were too small to pull the brakes on a men’s bike.

“Ah, Lady Cameron, how nice to see you again. It’s all ready for you, all you have to do is sign here and here,” he pointed at two places on the form. I ignored him and looked at the bike. I checked the wheels and the brakes, then the gears.

“I’ll just take it for a quick test ride up the road if that’s okay?” I didn’t give him a chance to argue, but was out the door and pedalling up the road, clicking up and down the gears. Everything felt like it should and was possibly even better than before.

I hopped off as I took it back into the shop, “Okay?” he asked as I leant it back against the counter.

“Yes, the Dura Ace may need a little adjustment,” I said, although I wasn’t entirely sure it was necessary, but it took the smirk off his face.

“Oh, are you sure? I set them up myself yesterday.”

“Not sure—until I ride them with the proper kit and especially the shoes—I won’t really know.”

“Feel free to bring it back if you have any worries.”

“I can probably sort that myself,” I said smugly, and it was true—I’d set up the gears on the previous bike when the original bike shop in Brighton had messed it up.

“You’re very unusual then, my dear, most women don’t have a clue about bike repairs.” Unusual—ha—you don’t know the half of it. I signed and wheeled the bike out to the car, put the back seat down and took the front wheel off the bike. Plenty of room.

“I was home some twenty minutes later and five after that I had the wheel back on and the car seat back up. I locked the car, took the bike to the garage and went indoors to get the key. In two more minutes, I’d got the serial number and locked the bike up in the garage alongside the others.

I went in and began sorting out the flour and yeast for the bread machine. “I’d have thought you’d be wanting to get your new bike,” said Simon lounging against the door frame.

“I’ve got it and it’s locked up in the garage.”

“You went and got it?”

“That’s what I just said, ooh that eye looks sore, darling.”

“It’s not too bad, had worse on a rugger pitch.”

“Yeah, but aren’t beds supposed to be safer than rugby pitches?”

“Beds? Good God no—I mean most people die in them don’t they?” He had a point, I’d never thought of it that way, although I suspect it was one which needed qualifying. I mean, beds themselves aren’t inherently dangerous unless they were dropped on one, or one fell out of one and blacked one’s eye. Hmm, maybe they were dangerous. Come to think of it, most women get pregnant after lying on one—maybe he did have a point.

“Have you ridden the mean machine yet?”

“Only up and down the road outside the shop; need to check the set up, saddle height and so on.”

“If you like, I could give you an hour after lunch.”

“What, look after Mima?”

“Yeah, I’ll take her out for an hour in the Jag, she likes that.”

“They all like going out in that toy car of yours. Can’t think why?” I knew damn well why, it’s a lovely car and makes you feel…I dunno…empowered?

“What time?”

“I’ll need to be changed and back to collect the girls at three.”

“What time is lunch?” he asked.

“I’ll make some leek and potato soup, say twelvish.”

“Okay, I’ve got a few things to sort out, I’ll be back by twelve.” He pecked me on the cheek and went out.

The next ninety minutes were filled by chopping spuds and leeks, onions, garlic and so on, and cooking them all in Tom’s pressure cooker—it halved the cooking time and meant I could make enough for the girls for dinner, or even freeze it for later use.

It was ready on time and so was Simon, who brought me a large bouquet of flowers. “What are these for?” I asked him.

“Because it’s Friday.”

“Oh—okay, but I didn’t get any last week, and that had a Friday, I believe.”

“Don’t look a gift horse…” he said tersely. I shrugged and popped them in some water.

We dined on the soup and fresh bread—a veritable feast, fit for a peer if not a king. Then after clearing up, I went and changed and set off for my ride after adjusting the saddle height.

I’d not eaten much for lunch, not wanting to feel too heavy when I rode—I mean in terms of feeling bloated or too full rather than body weight. I did about seventeen miles—I was out of condition and certainly out of practice. I showered and changed and after drying my hair and putting on a skirt and top with some boots, slapped on some quick makeup—for the first time in days—a quick squirt of Coco and I was off to get the girls.

“You look nice, Mummy,” observed Trish.

“Well thank you, young lady, you look pretty good yourself.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 780

I hugged both my schoolgirl daughters—I wanted them to know I loved them. In turn they hugged me back and made happy sounds. I felt good about them and about myself—I suppose that was why I’d bothered to put some makeup on and to wear a skirt.

“I got my new bike today, you know, to replace the one the car ran over.”

“Is it yellow like the old one, Mummy?” asked Trish, who always seemed to notice things.

“Yes, sweetheart, it’s pretty well a copy of the old one.”

“Did you ride it yet?” she asked me.

“Have I ridden it yet? Yes, sweetie, Daddy looked after Meems while I took it out for a test ride.”

“I wish I could have come as well,” she looked wistfully at me.

“Don’t be silly,” chided Livvie, “Mummy goes far too fast for you.”

“I can ride fast, too,” she pouted at her sister.

“Not as fast as Mummy can, so there,” Livvie stood with her hands on her hips and spoke in an aggressive tone.

“How d’you know how fast I can ride?” snapped back Trish, almost in a boy type response.

“’Cos I can ride as fast as you,” Livvie sneered this time.

I intervened—“Hey, what is this? You two are supposed to be sisters.” In reality this meant they would probably be ripping each other’s eyeballs out by now, so the fact they were still only exchanging verbals meant I could probably stop it. They both glared at me. “Now come on, in this family we help each other not fight each other.”

“So how come you gave Daddy a black eye?” asked Livvie.

“What do you mean? I didn’t hit your daddy,” as far as I know.

“Oh, we thought you did.” Livvie started looking at the ground.

“Well you thought wrong, didn’t you?” I said firmly, I know it was ungrammatical but that’s what my mother used to say to me.

“Yes, Mummy,” this was said more quietly than a dormouse squeak, and probably needed an owl to hear it. “I’m sorry, Mummy,” a slightly more audible remark followed by her grabbing me around the waist and bursting into tears. Trish looked on in confusion.

“It’s okay, but I think it’s Trish you need to apologise to, not me.”

A rather soggy, “Sorry, Trish,” was sort of half-sobbed or sniffed from my midriff.

“’S’okay,” was her response and I placed a hand on both of their heads and gently ruffled their hair. I smiled at her and she shrugged back at me.

“What am I going to do with you two?” I asked.

“Dunno,” was the stereo reply, one speaker having more of a damper than the other. I hugged them both and we stood for a couple of minutes before getting into the car. The crisis was over I hoped, I was bemused by the event, were they tired or coming down with something? I had no idea—least not yet.

“Trish, we have to see Dr Henshelwood tomorrow.”

“I know,” said a weary voice from the back of the car.

“Can I come, too?” asked a different voice.

“I don’t think so, Livvie.”

“Oh, pooh.”

“Why not, Mummy? I don’t mind and she’s as mad as me.”

“Trish, neither of you are mad.”

“Well, Louise Mayer says I am—she’s a friend of Petunia.” Trish’s tone was brave trying to avoid showing the hurt she was feeling.

“Don’t let them get to you girls, half of them are seeing a therapist as well.”

“So why do they tease me?” sobbed Trish and I could see Livvie hold out her hand to her sister.

“I don’t know, luvvie, it’s something some children and some adults do. It’s unkind and mean, but that doesn’t stop them. Sometimes it’s because they have problems of their own and they’re trying to divert attention from themselves by pointing the finger at someone else.” I was torn by a desire to seethe and then slap the kids who were perpetrating this bullying, and that to stop and hug my two until all the pain went away. The latter was winning and I pulled over at a bus stop and leaning back squeezed them both on the leg. “You okay to continue home?”

Trish nodded and Livvie voiced an affirmative, so I set off again. I still didn’t know who or how these kids knew about Trish’s visits to her shrink, but I would certainly take it up with the good doctor tomorrow.

It was actually a Saturday, tomorrow, that is. He was going on holiday but he wanted to see Trish before he went; he was going for a fortnight to the Caribbean—lucky sausage—we had a week in Bristol, unless you count a few days in Scotland while someone was trying to kill us.

After dinner, where Livvie didn’t show her customary appetite, pushing her food around the plate, it became obvious that she was incubating something. I put her to bed with a glass of milk and she slept very quickly. I hoped it was nothing more than a cold, but her eyes looked a bit pink, which could be measles—that was all I needed. I had no idea what inoculations she’d had, so had she had the MMR jabs or not? All the hype about the risks of getting autism from it had maybe stopped her mother having her done. Recent research had shown the risk to be infinitely small unless one had an allergy to eggs or some other unusual reaction. I wondered if our doctors would know what each of them had had or not, as the case may be. I would try and speak to them next week.

Trish did perk up a bit later on, when Simon took her out with him when he popped out to get some more milk. A ride in Daddy’s sports car—just what a girl needs. While they were out I sat with Meems on my lap and we read a book of nursery rhymes together. It was quite funny, because half the time we knew them by heart and hardly had to look at the book. It amused Stella who was sitting opposite us giving Puddin’ her evening bottle.

Then the wanderers returned and after a biscuit and drop of cow juice, I put them to bed in the other room. Whatever Livvie had, I wasn’t sure I wanted them to catch—although I know loads of people deliberately bed them together so second child will catch it too. Apparently the reasoning is, it’s no harder looking after two sick kids than one. I don’t know, and I don’t really want to find out.

I read them a story in almost a whisper and tucked them in. Then I stole downstairs like a thief, trying not to step on the creaky stairs. Simon was quite concerned too, though I wasn’t able to discover if this was a concern for the girls or one for himself.

My sleep was disturbed by Livvie coughing and asking for drinks. I made her get up and use the loo, which I thought was better than having her wet the bed—mainly because she would be mortified, she is so clean. When she was sick a bit later, I nearly threw up with her—the smell in the bucket was revolting. I thought it had all gone in the bucket but I was wrong, as Simon pointed out to me when I got back into bed.

“Well go and wash it off then and change your nightie,” he said shooing me out of the bed.

“All right, I’m going,” I said rattily, “I didn’t see you rushing to go to see her?”

“Well, she wanted her mother, not me. It was you she called for,” he said smugly and I felt like blacking his other eye. Part of me hoped I had done the first one, smug bastard.

The rest of the night was a nightmare, Livvie was sick again and the other two complained of feeling ill, as well. I was in and out of bed like a yo-yo. What with Simon grumbling that he had to get up in the morning and the dawn chorus of ‘huey’ from the kids, I didn’t know which way to turn. When Meems was sick in her bed and then burst into tears, I nearly joined her.

When he discovered it was Saturday, Simon decided as he’d had a disturbed night, he’d have a lie in. At this point I stormed out of our bedroom and slammed the door so hard I broke the lock on it. I went and sat in the kids room and slept in the chair wrapped in a blanket, which was where I was when Tom came up to see why I ‘hadnae come doon fer breakfast.’ He brought me up a cuppa and later mended the door.

Simon stayed well away from me, perhaps fearful of a tongue lashing or actual bodily harm. He did eventually reappear in the evening with three small bunches of flowers and a small box of sweeties for each of the girls, and a significantly larger bouquet and box of chocolates for their enraged ‘mother’. I sent him out to buy some ice cream as they all had sore throats and were only sipping tiny amounts of fluid. At least the sickness had stopped—for the time being anyway.

What I was doing was nothing new, millions of women and quite a few men, deal with sick children every day and presumably every night, as well. It was nothing special, didn’t require any great skill just loads of love and patience. Yes, I was tired and irritable with the adults, or one in particular—Tom showed his experience and kept us topped up with drinks and he even made a sandwich for me at lunchtime. He ‘wisnae afraid o’ thon bug,’ thank goodness. Stella kept her distance, which was more understandable than her brother’s behaviour.

When the diarrhoea started, I wondered if Simon had the right idea—the smell was something else, and both Livvie and Mima had accidents, got very upset and had to be dumped in the bath, while I ran downstairs, rinsed out their clothes and shoved them in the washing machine. Then I was worried about it causing them a urinary infection, as most of those are caused by coliforms—the bugs in the bowel. Trish thankfully, always made it to the loo in time, although she was quite wobbly on her legs.

I spent ages washing my hands in between tending my charges, then rubbing that alcohol gel on them—well they say, most of these bugs are passed on by poor hygiene. I also swabbed down door handles and the toilet seat every time the bathroom was used. The place smelt like an episode from ER—if only George Clooney could walk in now—oh if only? Ha, with my luck it would more likely be George Formby.

They say, ‘all good things come to an end’, which is true, it’s the same for bad things too. After a frantic weekend, the girls were nearly better by Sunday night, so I had intentions of sending them to school on Monday. I was so tired I could hardly stand up, then Simon began complaining of feeling sick…and so it went on.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 781

The next forty eight hours were a nightmare—Simon does not do illness. He ran me ragged, up and down stairs back and forth to the bathroom with the bucket, then when he got the squits—poor bugger messed his pants. He got so upset when he saw me snigger.

Tom was brilliant, he worked for school hours, so he took the girls to school and brought them home again. Stella and Puddin’ went into self-imposed exile, and any attempt to communicate with them other than by phone was met with squirts from a disinfectant bottle. After the third time, I gave up trying to speak with her.

Poor Si, really did have the bug quite badly—but not as badly as he made out. It was one of these 48 hour tummy bugs, you’d have thought he’d got amoebic dysentery and E. coli at the same time. The E stands for Escherichia, in case you need to know, and is the cause of most of the Montezuma’s Revenge caught by travellers and tourists.

He lay on the bed groaning and writhing—I didn’t know who to phone first, the doctor, the undertaker or theatre critic. When I told him it couldn’t be that bad, he played hell with me, calling me hardhearted, callous, uncaring and unsympathetic. Of course they were all true, if I showed any sympathy, the symptoms suddenly got worse. Mind you, I did walk past the bedroom ringing a small hand-bell and shouting, “Bring out your dead.” He didn’t think it was very funny, especially when I told him we were going to dig a plague pit in the garden. The way the press hyped swine flu, anyone would have thought we’d have to do it for that—millions were going to die and fit and healthy folk. So far, everyone in the UK who’s died has had an underlying health problem or been old or very young.

I know there’s still time for it revisit us, and they say it might in the winter, not much I can do about it except wash my hands regularly and avoid the coughs and sneezes of others.

I made some soup and bread and took him up a bowl, despite being at death’s door he managed to ask for seconds and promised not to die while I went and got it for him. Simon’s forty eight hours managed to be extended to ninety six—oh he wasn’t being sick or diarrhoeal, he had such a bad head. When I joked that he was just avoiding sex, he accused me of being cruel because he didn’t have the strength or stamina to do anything. Sometimes I wonder how many children I’m caring for.

No one else got the bug thankfully. Simon of course made mention of one of us being a carrier—I told him I was not, I was a Prada handbag. He didn’t get the joke until Trish pointed it out to him.

When I had a few minutes to glance through The Guardian, I could see the world hadn’t changed, idiots were still blowing themselves up and killing innocent bystanders—do they honestly believe they are doing God’s work? If so, it must be a strange god, not the Allah of the Quran, who I believe is more merciful than the major player in the Old Testament was—but what do I know? How can the same God who told Moses – thou shalt not kill, in the next breath talk about wiping out the enemies of the Israelites?

Ho hum, definitely the opium of the masses. I got about three clues done in the cryptic crossword when Simon banged on the floor—again. I wearily trudged up the stairs again and asked him what was wrong?

“Nothing, I just wondered if you’d seen my pencil anywhere, I wanted to do a Sudoku.”

“You mean, you dragged me all the way up here to find your stupid pencil?”

“It’s not stupid, and I had it a minute ago—it can’t be far away.”

“Why can’t you look for it?”

“I would, but it would mean getting out of bed.”

“Yeah——so?”

“Well, I’m ill, aren’t I?”

“You will be if you drag me up here again on a fool’s errand.”

“What?”

“Look for your own bloody pen.”

“It was a pencil, actually——”

“Grrrrr!” I turned on my heel and stormed out of the room.

“Are you cross with me, Cathy?” called a pathetic voice as I descended the stairs. I wasn’t cross, I was incandescent. How can he lie there and play the invalid when there is nothing whatsoever wrong with him.

“If you want any dinner, you can come down for it, you lazy hypochondriac.” I shouted this up the stairs before I went into the kitchen to take my temper out on a poor chicken, I was going to stuff. I looked at it and said, “You look healthier than he’d have me believe he is,” curiously, the chicken didn’t say much in return.

When Tom brought the girls back, Meems finally had someone to play with, no not Trish and Livvie, but her Grampa and he jumped at the chance. I had read to her or tried to but Simon kept disturbing us. I even suggested that he read to her as he wasn’t doing much other than banging on the floor. He couldn’t, he was much too ill. I felt like strangling him.

Meems helped me make some bread and scrape the potatoes—the girls are so good really, I try to make some of the chores seem like games and they take the bait every time—as none of them are stupid, I’m sure they only do it to humour me.

After a biscuit and a drink, Trish and Livvie sat down to do their homework, they had to colour in different types of shape. A precursor to geometry? No wonder they’re cleverer than I am—I wasn’t introduced to Euclid until I was eleven, let alone Pythagorus and his hippopotamus.

I asked them if anyone else had been sick at school, and Trish told me that six from her class alone were off ill. Livvie added that several had been sick over the weekend, same as they had.

“Well you avoided your appointment with Dr Henschelwood, so it wasn’t all bad, was it?”

Trish made a face and shook her head. Livvie laughed. I told them both that I’d made one for when he comes back, and Trish groaned—Livvie of course laughed again, so Trish pretended to cry but it was such a ham attempt, we both laughed even more.

“How come you and Gramps weren’t ill, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“Luck, sometimes you don’t actually catch the bug, or you have some immunity to it.”

“What’s immunity, Mummy?”

“It means your body has some defence against the germ, possibly because you’ve had it before or something similar and the defences recognise it and stop it.”

“How do they do that, Mummy?”

Geez, why not ask a difficult question? “It’s a bit complicated but we have mechanisms inside us which patrol our bodies waiting for germs to try and get in.”

“Like an anti-virus program on the computer?”

“Just like that, Trish, now finish your homework while I check the dinner,” I escaped before they wanted to know the wavelengths of the Aurora Borealis.

Simon did come down for dinner—mainly because it was the only way he was going to get any. I sent Meems up to tell him I was dishing up and he’d better get himself ready. He came down in his pyjamas and dressing gown—he hadn’t worn them since he was in hospital, until this major illness from which he was trying to recover.

Tom carved the chicken and my garlic and sage with mustard stuffing worked quite well. It was an experiment which I made up as I looked in the cupboard and found we had no onion or mushrooms. Actually we did have some spring onions, so I did use some of those and we did have some tinned sliced mushrooms, so they got used as well.

Simon was so poorly he could only eat two lots of dinner—he was trying to regain his strength, I think it was more likely he would regain all the weight he’d lost plus some extra.

The girls had a piece of fruit for dessert, Tom and I had nothing and Simon was going to have a tub of yoghurt until I suggested he’d eaten more than enough. He sulked off back to bed then.

After I put the girls to bed and read them a story, I went down to have a cuppa with Tom. “Did you see this?” He showed me a printout from the Internet.

“They could have told us,” I grumbled, “bloody Sussex.”

“They pass on their records to you anyway, don’t they?”

“Yeah, but a nutter’s walk to look for dormice—why didn’t we think of it?”

“Too late now, PTES* got there first.”

“I suppose I’ll get the records eventually,” just as I was gearing myself up to get back into the fray and I get pipped by a charity—bloody typical, absolutely bloody typical.

*PTES = People’s Trust for Endangered Species (mammals).

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 782

I couldn’t believe that we hadn’t thought of doing a campaign to look for chewed hazelnuts or acorns and spread a few silver or gold nuts to encourage people to look. Of course those with metal detectors will find them most quickly, so it could be self-defeating—maybe a plastic token which could be redeemed for a silver acorn would be better. Oh well, if they’re doing survey work, they’re going to be feeding me data—as far as I know, I’m still the UK lead for dormouse records, but I’ll check with Natural England—the government agency which licences all of this.

Maybe, we should run some walks—run walks? Yeah, well I know what I mean and probably three million Irish will too, it’s perfectly clear which is the noun and which the verb—to me at any rate. I mean how can you have a walks run? Don’t answer that.

I went to bed still wondering about getting back to work and how many records I’d have to deal with. Simon had gone off in high dudgeon after I’d explained the facts of life to him, so do I go up to our bed or sleep somewhere else?

My mother had always told me that when I got married, I should never sleep on a quarrel—when I looked puzzled, she explained that one should always make up before going to bed. As I didn’t wear makeup in those days—as far as she knew anyway—I presume she meant as in kiss and make up. I took a deep breath and went up to the bedroom, which was in darkness and I could hear Simon’s regular breathing suggesting he was asleep.

I undressed in the bathroom and after cleaning my teeth slipped my cold feet into the bed against his warm ones and my cooler body against his well cooked one. I got something I didn’t expect—he squealed and we both ended up on the floor, on opposite sides of the bed.

“Cathy? Is that you?”

“Who else were you expecting?”

“Don’t be like that, I was walking across the ice when this polar bear made a grab at me,” he paused and his breathing was rapid, “then I felt this cold thing touch my leg and more cold stuff touched my body, and in my dream the bear had got me.”

“That would explain the scream,” I said standing upright and switching on the light.

“You scared me to death,” he said still sitting on the floor.

“For a corpse you have a lot to say.”

“What?”

“You implied you had died of fright.”

“Very funny.”

“I didn’t think so, but if you do, that’s fine.”

“Did you come to bed looking for a fight?”

“No, I came looking for a cuddle.”

“So why did you put your cold feet on me then? To deliberately wake me up and shock me?”

“No—simply to warm them.”

“Even though you knew it would wake me up?”

“It doesn’t usually, but if you think that, maybe I’d better go and sleep elsewhere.”

“The damage is done now.”

“What damage?”

“Waking me up.”

“Seeing as you thought you were about to become a polar bear’s packed lunch perhaps I did you a favour.”

“Did me a favour, how?”

“I have heard of people who have actually died in bed through a bad dream.” This was total B-S, but he didn’t know that.

“Have you? I suppose it was pretty frightening—so I could believe it.”

“So—did I do you a favour?”

“Perhaps—perhaps you did.”

“So—do you want me to sleep elsewhere?”

“I s’pose not, no let’s go to bed, shall we?”

I thought he’d never ask, “I think that is one of your better ideas, Simon.” He got up and we both clambered into bed, by now he was nearly as cold as I was—consequently, we cuddled up close together.

“What would you think if I told you the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species were scattering silver and gold nuts in woodlands to get people looking for dormice?”

“I’d think they were nuts, why?”

“That’s what they’re planning to do.”

“What’s this, dormice spotting with metal detectors?”

“Yeah, get them to eat the metal nut and then track them with metal detectors.”

“Is this your latest project?”

“No—PTES are doing it. We did some radio tracking a few years ago, while I was still in Sussex—I did part of my degree on it. I got some special collars made and we set up a tracking station which the IT people wrote a special program for—we were able to show a sort of map of where individuals went over a period of three weeks.”

“Why only three weeks?”

“We had to consider if they were under stress from wearing the collars—actually a small harness thing—I made them myself from little elastic straps with special thread that dissolved after about a month. We had a wet period and they only lasted three weeks. I was asked to do a PhD on it, but I got bored with all the jibes about my lack of masculinity and came to Portsmouth.”

“Tom tells me you cycled from Brighton down to Portsmouth to hear him do a talk?”

“It’s not that far and I did stop for wee on the way.”

He looked at me and burst out laughing. “You were just as crazy before you changed your body, weren’t you?”

“If you say so. I had a point to prove, they didn’t think I could ride that far so I did it to show them I could.”

“Wonder woman, you’re my heroine.” He batted his eyelashes at me.

“Want me to black the other one for you?”

“So it was you who did the first one?”

“Would I hit you, Simon?”

“You just threatened me, so I s’pose you might.”

“Huh,” I pouted, then added, “Just remember it’s a long night.”

“Not any more it ain’t, it’s one o’ bloody clock in the morning.”

I switched off the light, and we both lay down, after a few minutes I whined, “You didn’t kiss me goodnight.”

“Oh bugger,” I heard muttered from alongside me. Then as I sat up to kiss him, he did the same to me only slightly faster and we cracked heads—his nose against my head.

His nose stopped bleeding at about two o’clock.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 783

Both of us were like wet rags the next morning. Simon had more bruising on his face and delighted in telling everyone I had hit him. He very nearly collected another bruise for his troubles.

I struggled to take the girls to school while Simon snoozed with Mima—he snoozed while she played with her pushchair and dollies, watched more by Stella than her foster pa.

On the way home my little Golf was passed by a large 4×4, which nearly forced me off the road. I was so shocked by it, I failed to get the number. Naturally, there were no other witnesses. I pulled over and sat there shaking. It was similar in colour to Mrs Browne-Coward’s, but was it the same? I couldn’t tell, but it seemed to come from nowhere.

I’m not exactly new to having people trying to kill me, but it has been a while and this took me so by surprise. Was it an accident? Or was someone trying to kill or injure or scare me? Either way, I was still shaking when I got home and it was bad enough for Simon to notice.

“You all right, Babes?” he asked me.

“No,” I said and burst into tears.

“Hey, wassup?” he said hugging me tightly.

“Somebody tried to run me off the road.”

“Where?”

“I was coming back from the school and it happened about a mile up the road.”

“From here?”

“Yes,” I sniffed and snorted and held on to him as if I would fall down without his support.

“What sort of vehicle?” he asked.

“A large 4×4, I didn’t see the make or the number.”

“Anyone you know who owns one?”

“Mrs Browne-Cow.”

“Anyone else?”

“Not as far as I know.”

“Was it deliberate or just poor driving?”

“I don’t know,” I said bursting into tears again.

“Want me to call the police?”

“We can’t just on my suspicions, can we?”

“Not unless they cause another accident, in which case we know they were driving badly, perhaps under the influence. What time was it?”

“About ten minutes before I came in here.”

“Hmm, about half an hour ago. Stell, make Cathy a cuppa while I make a phone call.”

“Yes, O great master,” she gave an exaggerated curtsey.

“Oh grow up you silly bitch, and make that bloody tea.”

She muttered something under her breath and slunk out to the kitchen, Mima came up and took my hand and led me to the sofa. “Is you aw-wight, Mummy?”

I held her to me and said, “Yes, Darling, I am now with you to look after me.” She put her arms around me and after kissing me on the cheek hugged me.

“Did sumfin’ nasty ’appen, Mummy?”

“I nearly had a car crash, sweetheart, it frightened me, I’ll be all right in a little while.”

“Do you want me to get Twish and Wivvie?”

I wanted to laugh and at the same cry at her generosity of spirit. “I think, Gramps might go and get them if I ask him, but thank you for your very generous offer.”

“’Saw-wight,” she said and hugged me again. I was close to tears I loved her so much.

“Tea for modom,” said Stella, camping it up as a nippy. Then just before I took a sip, she added, “I’ve put in five spoonfuls of sugar—they say it’s good for shock.”

“Then I can’t drink it, Stella.” I offered it back to her.

“Only joking, cor, Cathy, when you’re upset you’re no fun at all.”

“Sorry about that, I’ll try and do better in future.”

“From what I overheard, you might not have one.”

“Gee thanks, Stella, speculate in front of my child why don’t you?”

“Sorry about that, but hopefully it was oblique enough to not be understood.”

Mima was looking very thoughtful, almost as if she was trying to make sense of Stella’s oblique comment. Were it Trish, she’d have understood as quickly as I did—that child is phenomenally bright and Livvie isn’t too far behind.

“So who was it this time?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s kinda everyday stuff for the Woman from Dormouse, da da da da-da,” she sang.

“Woman from dormouse?”

“Well I couldn’t say uncle could I?”

“Oh God, that dreadful sixties series with Stephanie wossername?”

“Stephanie Powers and Simon has both series on DVD somewhere.”

“The nineteen sixties? So how do I know it?”

“Dunno, Cathy, unless they did repeats.”

“Could be, but it’s like twenty years before I was born.”

“So, think about Gone with the Wind, how many times have you seen that?”

“Once I think maybe twice, but I don’t give a damn.”

“Yeah, very clever—I always thought Frankly was a funny name for a girl.”

“Eh?”

“Well wossisname says to her, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. So her name must have been Frankly.”

“You silly moo, her name was Scarlett.”

“She wasn’t a captain was she?”

“What?” I felt completely bemused by her, then the penny dropped, Captain Scarlet a puppet thing from way back. “Oh very funny, Miss Teron,” I threw back at her.

“Very clever, Lady Penny-Lope.”

“That was the other one, the international rescue one.”

“Ah, but which one?”

“Thunderbirds—didn’t they do a film of it a year or two ago?”

“And here is your next starter for ten, who starred in it?”

“I have no idea—wasn’t Tom Cruise was it, he’s about the same size as one of those puppets?”

“Ooh, he’ll love you for saying that.”

“Look, if he can pretend to be serious about the L. Ron Hubbard stuff, he’s got to have a wonderful sense of humour.”

“Either you are making a very sophisticated joke here, Missus, or you are extremely ill-informed.”

“Probably the latter, why is it, Mission Impossible?”

“For you, probably.” She smirked as she replied, “how many more puns can you come up with?”

“Puns? What Puns? I suppose you think I was born on the fourth of July, or a top gun?”

“Very good.”

“The police have made a note of the incident, I’ve written down the number. They’re not aware of anything else happening, which means it could be something or nothing, but they did advise taking another route to school tomorrow.”

“Oh you’ve spoilt it now, Si,” complained Stella.

“Spoilt what?”

“I was getting Cathy to make puns on Tom Cruise movies.”

“She was having an interview with an umpire,” I said and he looked completely baffled but Stella laughed uproariously.

“Best one yet, girl,” she said laughing.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 784

Despite his strange ideas on religion, I thought Tom Cruise was physically rather dishy, and he’s probably taller than my five foot seven, not that I’m ever likely to meet him anyway.

“I’ve asked Tom to collect the girls which he’s happy to do.”

“How much did you tell him?”

“Only that you had a near accident and were a bit shaken up by it.”

“If they’re after me, couldn’t they also go after Tom?”

“We can’t all be followed, and he’s going from the university to the school, so they won’t know him.”

“If they were watching the school, he could be in danger.”

“They’d have to be very single minded for that.”

“Not really, if they know what time it finishes, they’d only have to wait and watch. If they know our kids, they could follow Tom quite easily.”

“If they were after our kids, why did they ambush you when you were on your own?”

“Because they didn’t know where I lived or because they were watching from the school.”

“Perhaps it’s just a bit of bad driving?” Simon suggested without conviction.

“It could be,” agreed Stella, “just some boy-racer, or other.”

“All right, I hear you, maybe I’m just paranoid, we’ll see. I could always go to the school as well and see what happens. “

“What’s the point of me asking Tom?” Simon was getting cross.

“If it’s me they’re after, it would mean the girls would be safe.”

“Would they? What if they witnessed you having an accident, how do you think they’d feel then?” Simon’s attack hit home and I felt awful.

“What am I supposed to do, sit around and wait?”

“Yes,” Simon and Stella both said in unison.

“That isn’t my style—you know that?”

“Babes, in this case I think you need to sit it out. Let’s take a scenario—suppose the driver was Brown-Cow in her Range Rover, she might have become as frightened of the near miss as you were—so another attempt may never be made. If she simply wanted to upset you, she succeeded—so she might have achieved what she wanted, anyway.”

“Simon, you can speculate all you want, I’m going to make some dinner.”

“We haven’t had lunch yet, have we—my stomach seems to think my throat’s been cut.”

“I could oblige,” said Stella.

“Shove off, you psycho,” I heard him reply.

Using some stale bread and grated cheese I did us cheese on toast for lunch. I wasn’t really hungry, or I thought I wasn’t until I started eating, then it went down very well. Simon wolfed his down—were he one of my kids, I’d have corrected his table manners. However, it wouldn’t be very nice to do it to an adult. He might also have been as hungry as he said.

For dinner, I made us a cottage pie using minced pork—maybe I should rename it sty-pie? Yeah, market it as Cathy’s Sty Pie, made with real piggy-wiggy. I wonder if dormouse pie would sell just as well? Not made with real dormice, like some crisps that were sold earlier this year, which claimed to be hedgehog flavoured, but it was just a joke.

Simon went back to his computer, Stella her baby and Meems and I went back to our cottage. She helped me peel the spuds, which I boiled then mashed and creamed. In between which I also cooked the pork with chopped onions, carrots and garlic. I drained off some of the liquor from the meat—partly fat—and after tipping it into a large ovenproof bowl, topped it with the potato and smeared it with some butter before popping in a fairly hot oven.

All I needed now was for it to brown and then add diners. We’d eat it with mixed vegetables, which I started preparing from scratch. It kept me busy, and Meems helped me—so it kept both of us busy and I didn’t have time to muse on my incident.

Mima helped me lay the table which we’d just finished doing when Tom drove up with the girls. I hugged them and felt relief that nothing untoward had happened on their journey.

Simon told Tom what had happened while I gave the girls a drink of squash and a biscuit. I know, it could spoil their appetite—except I know these two—they’re like giant piranhas.

Dinner went down quite well, with fruit and ice cream for dessert. Puddin’ was cooing as she ate her ice cream, she’d had some of my cottage pie as well, and I think she was growing a little from eating ordinary food rather than commercial baby muck Stella used to buy. Now it just requires the hand blender thingy and in two ticks you have baby nosh for the eating of.

Simon did the storytelling and Tom helped me clear up, but only so he could quiz me about the near miss this morning. Like everyone else, he had no clear opinion about it—it could have been anything—however, he insisted that he take the girls to school tomorrow and collect them.

“And just what am I supposed to do?” I pouted at him.

“Wait here a tick,” he said, disappeared out the front door and came back with a data box, “Ye can sort through this lot.” He dumped the box on the kitchen table. I opened the lid and saw it was full of records of mammal sightings.

“What are these?” I asked.

“Records of yer blasted vermin,” he smiled and went off to his study for his nip of single malt.

I lifted off a couple from the top, they were dormouse sightings with photos, drawings, maps and grid references. The odd one had a chewed acorn or hazel nut attached which confirmed that some at least had an idea for what they were searching.

Before long, I was seated at the table sorting through the records and categorising them as possibles or not. At nearly midnight, Simon appeared and asked if I was going to do this all night. I had become completely distracted by my work—and I felt quite good about it.

“Forecast is quite good tomorrow, so why don’t you get a quick ride in while I watch Meems, then you can play with her a bit and get on with your records.”

“Hmm, that sounds like a great idea, Si.” I stood up and kissed him, he pulled me to him and kissed me back.

“Let’s go to bed, Babes.”

I hope this doesn’t make me sore for tomorrow, went through my little mind, but seeing as I’d neglected him all evening, my guilt allowed him to convince me to take the risk. Trust me to be faced with such dilemmas. In the end it wasn’t a problem—he got himself so excited that he managed to spill his load before he actually got inside me. Okay so I had to clean up the bed, but I was safe for the morning and I only needed a pee before sleeping rather than a sloosh down below.

The next day I awoke feeling as invigorated as if I’d had a holiday and it was with a spring in my step that I got the girls up and made their packed lunches. I hugged them before they went off to school and Simon appeared just in time to kiss them goodbye before they went.

I was about to go upstairs and change into some old cycling togs when he produced a package from the study. He handed it towards me. “What’s this?” I asked him.

“Open it and see.”

It felt soft, like clothing, I felt excited—I love clothes, in case you hadn’t noticed. I tore open the package and pulled out a yellow jersey and shorts. For a moment I thought it was Saunier Duvall, but it wasn’t it was Columbia Highroad, as worn by Mark Cavendish and Boasson Hagen.

“I couldn’t get the same as the old one, and this is the only really yellow one. I hope it’s all right.”

I blinked away the disappointment I’d initially felt. “Simon, it’s absolutely wonderful.” I threw my arms around his neck and kissed him, “Thank you so much.”

“Go and change and have your ride—but be careful.”

“I will,” I said kissing him again.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 785

I stood before the bedroom mirror and donned the racing skins. Zipping up the shirt I mused, “I’ll bet Mark Cavendish’s chest doesn’t look like this.” If it did his girlfriend would probably be disappointed.

I pulled on my cycling shoes over white socks—unlike the dreadful black things young Cavendish wears. I stood before the mirror once again and surveyed the vision before me. I couldn’t think what Simon saw in me, but then beauty is allegedly in the eye of the beholder. Time was ticking on, so I dashed downstairs, clomping as the cleats in my shoes bumped on the ancient treads.

“Whaddya think?” I said to Simon, giving him a twirl.

“I’d prefer it without the ponytail and the armour plate at the crutch, but the top looks nice.” He leant over to kiss me and craftily touched my nipples which stood to attention and poked out through my bra and top. “Yes, much better,” he said and smirked. Blushing, I went out to get my bike.

After doing a quick check and putting a little air in the tyres, I wheeled the bike out into the drive and mounted it, just clipping in my right shoe as I like to put my left down on the ground for balance when stationary. The road was clear and off I went.

It was relatively warm for October, otherwise I’d have needed arm and leg warmers and possibly a jacket. It’s irritating, you start riding and it feels freezing. After a short time you start to warm up and it feels fine. Then you do some hill work and suddenly you are nearly expiring from the heat or in grave danger of spontaneous combustion.

I remember on one occasion, taking my shirt off and my helmet, and cycling in my sports bra, I’d got so hot. Got a few comments from motorists, mainly suggestive verging on obscene, which I ignored. No chance of that today, it was too parky for striptease.

I headed up towards the downs—yeah, I know up the downs—but this is England, we invented the language that most Americans can’t speak—and I know what I mean. Before we go down the road of saying the opposite of what we mean—look out—when we mean, look in and so forth; most Brits know what I mean, innit?

Goodness this hill has grown since I last rode it. I do enjoy little dialogues with myself in my head, takes away the pain of climbing up bloody hills, and this one has definitely got steeper since last time I rode. I was out of the saddle and dancing on the pedals—yeah, right, a foxtrot—I believe that’s a slow one, it sure wasn’t a quickstep.

By the time I’d laboured my way to the top, I was sweating and puffing and certainly not in need of extra lagging—maybe air-conditioning. Now that’s an idea to conjure with—air conditioning for bicycles.

I chuckled to myself as I pulled into the car park on the top and gazed at the view—it was pretty impressive, Portsmouth lay before me and beyond that, the beautiful briny, glistening in the sunshine. Sadly, the ice cream van wasn’t here although there were one or two cars and a camper van. A gulp of water from my bottle made me cough—sip it next time.

My cycle computer showed six miles and an average speed of twelve point nine miles per hour—given I only had twenty seven miles on the thing altogether, the seven I’d just done at tortoise speed—I wasn’t too worried about my average. I hadn’t ridden regularly for months.

I couldn’t remember how many miles the other bike had done, but I thought it was nine or ten thousand, it was a few years old. When I bought it, the guy in the shop thought I was a woman, so I was okay buying a ladies bike. Getting the colour I wanted, now that was something else and it cost me another two hundred—as a bribe I think to Scott, who were actually quite good when I communicated with them personally.

To think that much-loved machine is now in a landfill somewhere, or the bits of it are. Sometimes I think cycling is dangerous, then I remember what joy I get from it. The struggle up the hill for the whizz down the other side, makes everything so worthwhile. When you are careering down a hill in excess of forty miles an hour—sometimes ten or twenty miles on top of that—it is total adrenalin. One small mistake and you are off and the only query is what is going to break first—you or the bike? Tarmac rash at that speed is going to strip the meat off the bones. So why do I do it? Same reason people climb mountains or bungee jump—the emotion is real and intense.

Another pull on my bottle and then I set off across the downs turning back down towards home a couple of miles further on. I was pumping the pedals hard as I went up and down the switchback across the top of the ridge, then turned off left and cranking up the gears, went for the descent. Geez, this thing can fly or wants to, and I’m having difficulty keeping the front wheel on the deck. Whoops—that pothole nearly had me off. Yippee—fifty five miles an hour, I am now in the big chain ring and the eleven toothed small one on the back—my legs are screaming with the effort—fifty seven—eight—nine—shit, I can’t do it.

Overtook a car, he’s still twitching—didn’t see me coming screaming down behind, whoops—that was close, he didn’t see me either—what is he—friggin’ colour blind? And he was coming up the bloody hill.

I am frozen—the wind resistance is like a freezer—I’ve heard stories that the famous Indurain, used to take magazines or newspapers from spectators on the tops of mountains and shove them down his jumper for the descents—stop the cold wind. I am shivering now and my nipples look like—well use your imagination. I wonder if Nicole Cooke has this problem?

Brrr, it’s damned cold even in the sunshine, I change down into a more realistic gear—on the flat, I can hardly turn the pedals in that maximum gear. I push the pace to try and warm myself, my legs don’t approve but the rest of me feels more comfortable and I’m churning out a steady twenty two—not bad for someone well out of practice and probably, a reasonable race speed for women on a hilly course.

As the urban sprawl of Portsmouth approaches I turn off towards Tom’s house and I see it—the 4×4, parked in a lay-by. Is it the same one or am I paranoid? I’m shivering again and I don’t think it’s the wind this time. The point is, have they seen me? Oh shit—yeah, after seeing that I probably need one.

I’m two miles from home—how much is left in the tank? I drop to racing crouch—not my favourite stance on a bike, it hurts my neck after a while and my boobs get in the way—and go for it.

Twenty two becomes twenty four touching five at times, my back is hurting and my legs are moving jellies and I have a bit of a hill to get up yet. I glance behind. Oh shit, the Range Rover is pulling out and following me.

Two miles is a long way in this sort of situation. I try to get my legs to go faster, I feel so exposed—it’s gaining on me—bugger, my legs are seizing up. I unclip and pull off the road, my legs can barely hold me up. I feel sick and up comes my breakfast.

I glance up and the car is moving towards me, I’m standing on the grass verge, there is nowhere to go, behind me an impenetrable hedge of hawthorn and probably a barbed wire fence behind it, in front of me a couple of feet of grass and the kerb. Is this it? Is this how I’m going to die crushed by a large car against a hedgerow?

I throw up again, the car is speeding up—at least it’ll be quick. My legs are shaking and my stomach hurls again, only the bike is holding me upright my legs feel so shaky.

I think the most ridiculous thoughts, like: this skin suit is brand new and given to me by Simon—how dare you damage it? My anger gives me strength, my brain begins to work again and my legs stop shaking.

As the car closes in on me, I throw myself on the bike and ride straight across the road, it swerves at me but then has to swerve back because of the truck coming the other way. I ride straight into a gateway and throw myself off the bike and over it hitting the ground with a thump. A scream of brakes follows and while I’m lying there trying to ascertain if I’ve broken anything, I hear footsteps and a voice yelling obscenities at me. “What the ***king hell are you playing at you stupid sod?”

I lift myself to my feet to face my abuser. It’s the lorry driver. He notices that I’m female. “Look I know women drivers are crap, looks like women cyclists are too, what are you playing at, I coulda killed you?”

I burst into tears, “That other car was trying too, that’s why?”

“What the 4×4?” he asked suddenly quieter.

“Yes, it tried yesterday.”

“Have you told the cops?”

“Yes.”

“Where you gotta go?”

“About a couple of miles up the road.”

“Can you take the front wheel off this thing—geez, it’s light, innit?”

I clamber over the fence and notice, I’ve ripped the back of my shirt—Simon will kill me. The lorry driver helps me down the other side.

“You sure he was trying to kill ya?”

“As sure as I can be without letting him do it.”

“Come on, let’s get you and this thing in the cab, I’ll run you home.”

“I’ll probably be all right now.”

“No way, get in the cab.”

I took off the front wheel and he hefted me and then the bike up into his warm cab, then he clambered up the other side. “I’ll go up to the roundabout and turn round, you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I lied, I felt awful.

“You look like shit, luv,” he said as he started off and back onto the road.

“What’s happened?” asked Simon as the lorry backed into our drive. When I emerged from the cab all tattered and torn, he was going to complain then realised I was likely to be torn inside the shirt. “Geez-uz, Cathy, have you come off again—it’s no good, you are banned from cycling.”

“Here, matey,” called the driver handing down my bike, “light innit?”

“What happened?” asked Simon, putting the bike down so he could put his arm around me.

“Some bugger in a Range Rover tried to run her down—she’s got loads a bottle that one.”

Simon invited him in and asked that he give a statement to the police. The man declined. Simon told him he could force him, to which the man replied—next time he’d leave me there. He told us he had a delivery to make and Simon offered him money for his trouble. He refused and I thanked him with a peck on the cheek.

“Gotta go, running late now,” with that he climbed back into his cab and drove off.

“A real knight of the road,” I said as Simon helped me back into the house.

“Sounds if you were lucky, kiddo.”

“Yeah, luckier than the shirt you gave me.”

“Hmm, I think I’d rather see the shirt torn than you.”

“I might be able to mend it, darling.”

“Come on in and have a cuppa, while I call the police.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 786

“Let me get this clear, Miss Watts; you cycled across in front of the traffic—including the car you allege was trying to run you down—and this mysterious truck driver, who brought you home?”

“Yes, I thought I was I was toast anyway, so I went for it.” I watched as he laboriously wrote down what I said.

“What happened next?” he said licking his pencil ready for my subsequent action.

“I made it across the road,” I said as he wrote it down.

“Obviously,” he looked at me ready for my next confession.

“Look, if you don’t believe me why are you bothering to note this?”

“Evidence.”

“Evidence of what?”

“Wasting police time.”

“I beg your pardon?” I was now close to exploding and he’d be the first casualty.

“Well it’s quite obvious you made up this story to cover up that you fell off your bike.”

“I did no such thing, it happened exactly as I described.” I was closing the release valve so it would be a big bang when I blew.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of calls we get from fantasists every day of the week—worse at weekends.”

“I’m sorry, that I’m wasting your time, constable.” I was so polite he wouldn’t feel my metaphorical dagger slip between his ribs and into his spine—into the heart kills them too quickly.

“Well, I’ll be off, then.”

“When they find my body in some ditch, you’ll believe me, I suppose?”

“They always say that, Miss, we never do.”

Simon sat impassively, except for his darting eyes which were registering fury, he stayed quiet. The officer rose to leave and Simon rose too, I just prayed he wasn’t going to assault the clown—who gave the name ‘plod’ a bad reputation. He didn’t, he escorted him from the room and as they left, I heard him say, “…if I could just have a few minutes of your time.”

I bustled about the kitchen, I’d showered while we waited for Starsky and Hutch, in the end only PC Plod turned up—Noddy must have loaned him his car for the day. I came down minutes before he arrived. My hair was still in a ponytail after washing it, I left it in one while I boiled the kettle—a cuppa might just soothe my ruffled brow and help Simon live with the disappointment of not terminating the moron’s sad existence.

I’d drunk my tea and boiled the kettle again for Simon before he reappeared, when he did the copper was still with him—why? “I think our upholder of the law would like to say something to you, Cathy.”

The policeman blushed, “I’m, er—um, sorry, I misunderstood what you were telling me.”

I suspect I was close to breaking my jaw, as it dropped almost low enough to hit the floor. He must have spotted the look of astonishment on my face. I said nothing, mute from shock as much as anything.

“I’ll um, get straight on it—processing your statement, I’ve given Lord Cameron the incident number should you need to quote it.” He couldn’t get out fast enough. Simon escorted him to the door and he bolted like a deranged rabbit back to his car and relative safety.

“What did you say to him?” I asked, “I thought you were going to hit him at one point.”

“So did I, what a dickhead!”

“I’m pleased you didn’t—what did you say to change his mind?”

“Yeah, so am I, assaulting a copper is a serious matter.”

“We coulda buried the body under the shed,” I joked.

“Don’t tempt me—nah, they knew he was coming here, someone would have seen his car.”

“We coulda torched his car with him inside, destroyed the evidence.”

“Probably wouldn’t get hot enough, Babes, however tempting and murder does carry a custodial sentence.”

“I’m sure his colleagues would have ignored the evidence to get rid of him.”

“You can never be sure with coppers—unpredictable lot. Anyway, I told him the facts of life and showed him a few press cuttings.”

“Cuttings of what?”

“Your deeds of derring-do.” He smiled to himself, “Yes, I like that, nice bit of alliteration, deeds of derring-do. In the past tense, would they be derring-done?”

“I don’t know and care even less—what exactly did you show him?”

“The rescue of the woman from the river, the rescue of the baby from the burning car, the rescue of Stella and the rescue of his career.”

“His career?”

“Yes, I pointed out I was a personal friend of his chief constable, and that his force banked with us, so his pay cheque could mysteriously go missing for weeks on end—possibly never to return.”

“Isn’t that a veiled threat, Si? If he was recording it, you’d be up a gum tree.”

“I was recording it, hidden camera on the bookshelves.”

“Si, that’s illegal.”

“Tough.”

“How do you reckon, they—whoever they are—knew where I’d be at a particular time?”

“Easy.”

“Stop teasing me, Simon Cameron, and tell me how they could have done it?”

“Easy, they had a camera in the bushes opposite”

“Come on, Si, get real,” I chided him.

“No, they did, I’ve found it since and been cleaning up the old pot. I found it hidden in an old can—I’ll bet there’s one at the school or nearby.”

“I can’t see Brown-Cow setting up that sort of sophistication, can you?”

“Not really, but she knows a man who could.”

“How do you know that?”

“The garden centre her hubby runs, they have cameras everywhere.”

“Don’t shops and things have those rather obvious ones to stop people filching their pots and plants.”

“Yes, but they also have tiny ones in more confined places.”

“Keep talking, Si, I’m enjoying this.”

“I’ve arranged for us to have a few of our own.”

“What d’you mean?”

“The one opposite would record us setting up one ourselves, so I’ve got a friend coming over to set them up covertly.”

“Oh?”

“Yep, they’ll be here this afternoon, to re-point the gate posts. Their van will obscure what their actually doing and ours will have infrared recording too, so we can film any changes to theirs.”

“I like it, Si, I really like it.”

“Yeah, I like it when a plan comes together.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 787

“What would happen if we put a photo in front of their camera?” I asked.

“Photo of what?”

“One of roughly the same view as it would see.”

“If it fooled them at all, it wouldn’t after dark, would it?”

“I suppose not.” I walked about despondently, “It practically makes me a prisoner.”

“Once they know we’re on to them, they’ll be off and we’ll never catch them.”

“Did you tell the police about this?”

“Of course. I even sent them photos of the camera.”

“Isn’t this illegal?”

“I should think so.”

“So why aren’t they doing anything about it?”

“They are, allowing me to monitor the stalkers on the understanding that we call them in when someone comes to retrieve the camera.”

“By the time they get here, the camera collector will be in the next county.”

“Not quite.”

“You’ve got something up your sleeve other than your arm, haven’t you?”

“Wait and see.”

“There’s a van pulled up outside, Simon.”

“Ah yes, Bill and his covert surveillance team.”

“Team? I thought they were just going to plant some cameras while pretending to repaint the wall?”

“Yes, but they are also checking for signals from the camera opposite. Inside that van, is a pile of electronic equipment.”

“Like a CD player?”

“You know damn well what I mean, they’ve got some sort of tracking device which they hope will reveal where our stalker is hiding with his laptop.”

“And?”

“Well, the plan is if they can’t detect him, they’ll set up a trap for when he collects the camera.”

“He might not show for days.”

“They’ll wait, they’re a patient lot.”

“Are you paying for this?”

“Shall we say, the bank takes good care of its employees.”

“So Henry is paying for it?”

“His grandchildren are here.”

“Not to mention his heirs.”

“That as well, but given that they were frequently sent to join the army and get themselves killed on some foreign field, the family doesn’t have a particularly good record on heirs.”

“Well Henry did tell me he didn’t pay much attention to heirs and graces.” I smirked and Simon glared at me.

“It’s puns like that that lost us the empire—and the Gaumont, the Tivoli…”

“Simon, that was worse than mine.”

“Just trying to keep you in the pictures.”

“Oh God, that was dreadful,” I pretended to retch.

“What do you expect from a public school education?”

“I don’t know, a better class of sodomy?”

“Bugger that,” he snapped back.

“Can’t, don’t have the equipment.” I decided two could play at silly bu…on second thoughts, I’ll rephrase that.

The doorbell rang, and Bill entered at Simon’s invitation. “Your Lordship, Ma’am.”

“Please, we don’t dwell on ceremony here, I’m Cathy, and he’s Simon, when I’m not calling him something worse.”

Bill smiled at my joke but his expression was to Simon, checking out if what I said was okay. Simon nodded and Bill smiled and accepted my informal introductions. “I’m Bill,” he said looking a little uncomfortable. “We’ve started repointing and have placed three cameras in the walls.”

“Three?” I queried.

“Yes ma’am—I mean Cathy, one watching our target and the others facing in each direction.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Will you be recording this?”

“It’s on motion or temperature control.”

“What you mean it doesn’t work if it’s cold.”

“No it’s activated by body temperatures near the target site.”

“Oh, I see—that’s clever. I’ll have to get some information from you as we could use it for dormouse detection.”

“Dunno if it’s sensitive enough for dormices, will show up a fox though. ’Ow big is a dormice?”

“A dormouse is a couple of inches long plus a couple more for tail.”

“Nah, you’d need something more powerful than our stuff, but then we ain’t tryin’ to catch mices.”

“Quite, rats perhaps.” I suggested.

He gave me lovely smile showing higgledy-piggledy teeth which were real Persil white.

“D’you do much of this sort of thing?”

“We do in the firm.”

“Which firm is that, Bill?” I asked.

“Cathy, a moment please.” Simon grabbed me by the arm and pulled me out of earshot. “He’s not allowed to tell you for whom he works.”

“That’s a bit strange isn’t it?”

“No, his firm doesn’t exist officially.”

“Is that to do with the tax man?”

“Tax evasion? No, it doesn’t exist for other reasons.”

“Other reasons?” I gave him one of my curious glances.

He shook his head, “Look you silly cow, what’s so difficult about something not existing?”

“It doesn’t make sense—that’s what—and don’t call me a silly cow.” I narrowed my eyes at him, “Anyone would think you were on about MI5.”

“I am, you silly cow.”

“Oh! How did you get them? I thought they dealt with terrorists and serious crime?”

“They do, and because we both work for a bank and Dad is fairly important, they got involved.”

“I see, so where’s James Bond?”

“That’s MI6, you nit and he’s a fictional character.”

“Goodness, is he?” I gasped.

“Cathy stop taking the piss…”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 788

“I thought MI5 were all ex-public school wallahs, I suspect Bill is more your comprehensive type—not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.”

“If you had someone doing your brickwork who spoke with a plum in his mouth, what would you think?” asked Simon, challenging my observation.

“Oh, I see what you mean.”

“Bill, Cathy is confused—she has this weird suspicion that you aren’t all you purport to be.”

He looked uncomfortable and shrugged a what-do-you-expect-me-to-do-about-it expression. “Sorry, yer Lordship, Ma’am.”

“Drop the pleb accent old fruit, it’s making the missus uncomfortable,” Simon urged.

“This is me usual accent,” he looked horrified.

“Cobblers—I happen to know you went to Harrow.” Simon was beginning to get irked.

“’oo told yer that?”

“Your senior officer.”

“What—the foreman?”

“Bill, please answer the question, we know you’re working for the secret service and in role, but I’d be grateful if you’d be honest with us.”

“Is this some sort of test, yer Ladyship?”

“Of course it isn’t. I’ve got a headache, I’m going to lie down for a bit, can you watch Meems, Simon?”

“Sure.”

I didn’t have a headache any more than Bill was a builder. To start with, if he was a builder his name would be Bob. I know these things. Also, I suspected if I gave the boys a bit of space, they would probably talk more freely.

I took my laptop upstairs with me and processed a few more records, I was delighted to see some new records from Wales, just across the border from Bristol. Although I knew that dormice were threatened, hence their protection, I was also fairly sure they were more numerous than we thought, simply because of poor observation. I mean according to the records in the county before I came here, we had very few sightings—mainly because people were trying to find nests or see the actual critters, rather than look for signs such as the chewed nuts or acorns. In less than a year, I’d trebled the number of records, because I know what to look for. When I wrote about this in a journal, it encouraged others to go and look for the signs.

It isn’t rocket science—they’ve been counting otters by the number of spraints they leave—this is piles of poo, left on a very obvious place—mainly to advise other otters of the existence of the owner of said poo. I remember one fieldworker who told us that you pick them up and sniff them to see how fresh they are. He ended up in casualty with fish bones up his nose—the nurse found it very amusing to hear how they got there. Thankfully, I don’t have to sniff dormouse droppings.

Anyway, otters are more numerous than we originally thought which does two things—it shows that conservation can work—and they are the best way to keep feral mink at bay. Both are in competition for the same food and territories. Otters are bigger and stronger and will kill mink if they see them. Natural control is by far the best way—unfortunately, the opposite is probably true for squirrels—the American Grey is driving the native Red squirrel into oblivion. I know it’s difficult to see it that way when you see the grey ones running about on the ground and scampering up trees or even doing acrobatics on overhead power lines. They spend much more time scavenging on the ground than reds do, although on one or two islands, like Brownsea or the Isle of Wight, where the greys haven’t colonised, it is possible to see reds. On Brownsea, they have feeding stations so it’s almost impossible to miss them during the spring and summer.

I did an hour of record processing—I didn’t challenge any today—I don’t know if I’m going soft or the records were better. Most of the stuff is chewed acorns or hazel nuts with occasional nest box records with exact numbers. My distribution map is looking better every year.

I went downstairs feeling so much better—until I got into the kitchen. Simon had gone outside with Bill and Meems had decided to make some bread ‘as a surprise for Mummy.’ It was too.

I had at least a pound of flour over the kitchen floor with footprints leading into the lounge, having walked through a wet patch. The bread machine was making all sorts of funny noises and I dreaded—rather than breaded—opening it when it peeped.

I had to take her up and bath her she was covered in flour and jam—she was trying to make a loaf which gave her jam sandwiches. I put the empty jar in the recycling box.

When Simon returned, I made him clear up the mess. It would mean I’d have to do it myself afterwards—Simon must have been brought up in circular rooms, because he never looks in the corners, let alone cleans in them. I suspect too, that all their furniture must either have been very heavy or screwed to the floor, because he never moves any when he cleans up. However, I wanted him to suffer just a bit for his negligence.

Tom was bringing the other two home when I brought Mima down from the bathroom. I did have to do the kitchen and I got Trish to push the vacuum cleaner over the lounge carpet—she does a better job than her Dad.

Livvie helped me mop the kitchen floor and while she was busy I quietly dumped Mima’s loaf—throwing it out for the birds would probably have killed off quite a few of them. I then got on with making the dinner which we had half an hour later.

Stella got very cross when she found she couldn’t take Puddin’ out in her pram. “That is disgraceful, I feel like a wretched prisoner—I had more freedom in that clinic.”

I managed to stop Simon suggesting she go back there by interrupting her with an agreement that I felt the same. It was a real nuisance.

“At least you got to go out on your stupid bike—that’s what probably started it all, you and that stupid bike.”

I rushed out to the kitchen in tears, well aware that Simon would wipe the floor with her—the two older girls followed me—“Don’t cry Mummy,” they said in unison. I felt so hurt by Stella’s thoughtlessness. The two girls comforted me and Simon came out shortly afterwards.

“You okay, Babes?”

I dried my eyes and blew my nose. “I’ll live,” I said.

“I read her the riot act, she said she’d apologise later.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

He hugged me. “Look, I know this is all very tiresome but hopefully they’ll find who is behind all this.”

“It isn’t the Browne-Cowards, is it?”

“No, they have them under surveillance, they haven’t moved.”

“So who is it? Not more Russians?”

“Most probably.”

“Why are they targeting me?”

“Partly because they find you the easiest to follow, back and forth to school, round the shops and then out on your bike. Loads of people know you like to cycle—so anyone coming out of here on a bike is likely to be you.”

“What do we do—back to the hotel?”

“Um no—there was an explosion there this afternoon. They think it was deliberate.”

“What? That is dreadful, Si.” I put my hands up to my face in shock. “Anyone hurt?”

“Two killed, three in hospital.”

“Oh my God! Were they after us?”

“I don’t know—but it’s a fair bet they were after the family.”

“I thought that was all over.”

“Not while the current regime is in power—it’s run by organised crime.”

“I thought they were tough guys and had pledged to eliminate the gangsters.”

“They are gangsters.”

“What do we do, Simon, we have four children here? We can’t let them hurt the children.”

“We’re in good hands, Babes.”

‘I hope they weren’t guarding the hotel’, I said to myself, still shocked by the news.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 789

“Why are we being targeted at all?” It seemed so unjust to me—I know I’d caused some problems to the Russian mafia before, but they started it, mine was purely defensive.

“They’re after the bank again.”

“So two people had to die for a bank?” I was horrified, to my mind life was infinitely more valuable than money. Money is an enabler, without life it’s somewhat pointless. I suppose I’ve always had a philosophical view of wealth—not really desirous of it—yet it seems to have sought me out. My parents have left me comfortable, though I’d still have to work, I’ve quite a cushion if I need it, plus a house that’s paid for.

“Both were terrorists, they think.” Simon was remaining aloof from the emotions of this, unlike me. I was fizzing—with fear and anger.

“So two arseholes blow themselves up trying to do what?”

“Frighten us—Dad was supposed to be entertaining one of the treasury ministers at the hotel at the weekend.”

“I thought bribery and corruption were things of the past?”

“He was also going to be hosting unofficial talks between the minister and several chief execs of the big clearing banks. There was supposed to be no publicity and the details were top secret, so we don’t know how they got out.”

“But the Russians knew, somehow?”

“Looks like it. Bill, tell her what you can.”

Bill the builder, who looks nothing like Daniel Craig—more like Guy the Gorilla—had come into the house to speak with Simon. He looked uncomfortable but nodded to Simon. “Looks like we have a situation on our hands.” Gone was the working class accent instead there was a neutral, Southern British one. He could be from anywhere, even Bristol.

“Cathy, you are all at risk.”

“Why are they doing this to us?”

“They want the bank, probably for money laundering. Several Russians banks spend more time doing the laundry than things one would normally expect from banks. They’re making loads from gas and oil exports and much of it goes into the pockets of very few individuals.”

“Nothing new there then,” I interjected, “I suppose, some of them might just be politicians with a great deal of power, and one in particular who fancies himself as a pin up—personally, I’d rather have Will Smith or Daniel Craig.”

“I can’t comment on personalities, Cathy,” continued Bill, “but we do know they are trying to destabilise the bank again so they can buy it at well below its true value.”

“And that includes putting the frighteners on the family?”

“It looks that way.”

“I suppose fleeing the country isn’t a good idea?” I asked, wondering where I’d like to go.”

“We couldn’t protect you then.”

“So far, I’m not terribly impressed, Bill. They nearly had me yesterday.”

“We didn’t realise you could ride so fast—we assumed women rode slower than men.”

“Tell that to Nicole Cooke or Vickie Pendleton.”

“Yes, but you’re not exactly Team GB, are you?”

“Point taken,” I fumed quietly.

“We were actually shadowing you until you turned off up those lanes, then somehow you lost us on the downhill bit, in fact you came from behind and overtook your protection vehicle.”

“Perhaps it would have helped if you’d told me before hand.”

“If we had, you wouldn’t have gone for the ride or behaved normally.”

“No I bloody well wouldn’t, I’d have stayed home and begun building barricades.”

“Then they would have known you were on to them.”

“So what? I consider my life is worth more than political gestures.”

“Cathy, please, the service is apolitical, we’re here to serve the country and its people.”

I apologised, I was just angry. “Every bloody time things seem to be going well, some miserable pig upsets it.”

“That’s life, I’m afraid.”

“But it isn’t fair.”

“No it isn’t, Babes, but it’s a fact of life—so it’s sink or swim time.”

“How do we protect our children?”

“Carry on as normal, we’ll shadow you and agree a route for the day.”

“Are the phone and emails safe?” I asked.

“Possibly not, both can be intercepted.”

“And they can put listening devices inside the house too, so they may even know what we’re talking about.” I’d seen these things on television.

“Um—no, we did a sweep earlier, there are no devices in the house or garden.”

“You didn’t do my bedroom?”

“We did.”

“When?” I was horrified, how intrusive are these blokes?

“Don’t worry, we did from outside on the pretext of checking the walls.”

“You can do it from outside? Is that clever or creepy?”

“We prefer to believe it’s clever.”

“Of course—so what happens next?”

“You carry on doing what you normally do.”

“Like tying a goat to a tree to hunt tigers?”

“I like to think it’s more humane than that.” Bill smiled, his face had changed as well as his voice. He was actually not bad looking—still no Daniel Craig, but you know if I was in need of physical comfort…um…don’t be like that.

“You didn’t get cast as the goat,” I sniped.

“True,” he agreed, “but then I believe you don’t like guns.”

“Touché,” I conceded.

“Your shadows will have at least one firearms officer with them, you and your children should be safe.”

“The only reason we were safe last time was we had half the British Army there.”

“So I heard, I’m not sure it would be feasible in this time of fiscal austerity to have a unit of Royal Marine Commandos following you around.”

“I don’t know, I pay enough bloody taxes,” quipped Simon.

“Instead we have Bob the builder and his merry men,” I sighed.

“It gets worse, Babes, one of his colleagues is called Ben.”

“Oh shit! That’s all we need, Bill and bloody Ben*, I suppose Andy Pandy* is down there somewhere? That makes me feel really safe,” I snapped.

*Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, and Andy Pandy were children’s programmes on BBC television some years ago.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 790

“So what do Bill and Ben suggest we do next?” I asked and Bill rolled his eyes.

“Do as I asked before, use different routes but obviously let us know which way you intend to go.”

“What about Simon and Tom? They have to go out as well.”

“Simon is much more at risk than Professor Agnew; he is a direct member of the Cameron family, whereas the Professor is only by association.”

“He’s my father,” I groaned.

“Not according to our records, that was Derek Watts.”

“He adopted me.”

“Not according to our records.”

“What about the children? What do your records show for them?”

“They show that you have legal guardianship of them for various reasons and are acting as foster mother. The decision was challenged in court and the judge came down very heavily in your favour. It would take a higher court to revoke it, so effectively you and the kids are stuck with each other for the duration.”

“Did it say why it was challenged?”

“What? The sex change business? It’s of no consequence to us, you have legal status as female so are free to marry your fiancé and he you. I believe one of your children is also transgendered. Does that answer your question?”

“So what else did it say about me?”

“Really, Cathy, we have more important things to do than talk about you.” He turned on his heel and went out while I was left speechless for the moment. Simon sniggered behind me and I went into the kitchen and banged a few pots and pans around while I dealt with my annoyance. How dare he accuse me of being self-absorbed? The sooner they are out of my hair the better, so we need to get these foreign bandits rounded up and dealt with.

“What exactly is happening with the bank?” I asked Simon.

“Shares have been suspended.”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“You can’t buy or sell them until things are sorted out.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Both—it means they can’t acquire any—least, not legally. At the same time it tends to lose them value.”

“So that drops the share price?”

“It does, people will sell as soon as they can. Which means they often do at a loss. What we try to do in such circumstances is to buy back the shares, which a couple of hours or so later drives the price up again.”

“Sounds a bit high-risk to me,” shares and things were matters I had very little idea of, I planned to keep it that way as long as Simon was with me, he knows far more than I do or am ever likely to.

“It has a certain risk factor, so far on the two occasions when it has happened, we made a few million in a matter of minutes, and reclaimed further control over the bank. It’s pretty well the last one in the west that is still owned by a family, other than some very small fry in the US and places like Italy.”

“What do we do to get these monkeys off our backs?” I asked him thinking he probably had no more idea than I did.”

“I’ve got a friend coming over to install an encrypter on the phone line.”

“Will that make much difference?” I assumed if someone could think of these things someone else can do the same only for profit.

“Oh yes, it will also piss off our uncivil servants, because it will take them time to decode it.”

“Meaning?”

“We could well have invaded Russia by that time.”

“Napoleon and Hitler came unstuck there, Simon, so I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“We actually do quite a bit of business there.”

“Which is why they want your bank so much.”

“Possibly, it’s also a very profitable place to invest apart from all the corruption.”

“So why don’t you pull out?”

“Because it would cost us loads of money.”

“It could anyway, if they get control of the bank.”

“It would also cause horrendous problems on the world’s financial stage.”

“Would it cause the Russian government problems?”

“It could bring them down.”

I picked up the phone—“Tell Henry it’s what you should do.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Cathy, this could cost us billions.”

“It would show the Russian government that you don’t do victimhood.”

“I don’t wear any hoods—oh yeah, got you.”

“What if it brings down the government?”

“Ours or theirs?”

“Either, but primarily theirs.”

“Tough.”

“Geez, Cathy, since when did you get all militant?”

“When my family are threatened—desperate problems require desperate solutions.”

“Are we at desperate, yet?”

“Simon, you might not have noticed we have MI-bloody-5 camped on our doorstep for problems caused by the bandits who profess to be the Russian government. If you threaten to destabilise said government, maybe they’ll think twice and withdraw the gangsters.”

“They could also threaten to nationalise us, or kill us.”

“If they nationalised you, there’d be an international hue and cry which would cause enormous ructions. The international community wouldn’t let that happen.”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t. You’re the expert, but it’s how I see it myself.”

“Even if you’re right, what’s to stop them killing us?”

“Bill and Ben.” He looked into my eyes and we both started to snigger, which went on to become a full blown guffaw.

“That’s all right then,” he added while I wiped the tears from my face.

Tom arrived with the girls who were full of questions about the men mending the walls. I explained that there were some nasty men out there who were intent on harming us if they could, so to be extra careful. Simon got them all together with him and read them some stories while Stella and I went over to the garage and did some kick-box exercises. These culminated in us being exhausted, sweaty and sore, but it reminded me just how useful it can be.

If the bad guys had done their homework, they wouldn’t come close enough to get their heads kicked off—I was sincerely hoping they hadn’t done all their homework.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 791

After my exertions in our makeshift gymnasium, I showered and dressed casually. Then on a whim I called Henry.

“Hello, Cathy; how is my favourite daughter-in-law to be?”

“Worried.”

“Understandably so—you realise this line isn’t secured.”

“Yes.”

“Did you want anything in particular?”

“Yes, I want these stupid attacks on me and mine to stop.”

“Don’t we all?”

“Yes, but we don’t all have the power to make it so.”

“Very true.”

“Henry, you do.”

“What? Good lord, you don’t really believe that do you?”

“Yes.”

“So what do you want me to do, roll over and give them the bank?”

“No.”

“Oh, so what did you have in mind—that I put my underpants on top of my trousers and fly out there and bash them a la Superman?”

“No, you pull the plug on them.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You tell the Russian government to call off their dogs or you bring them down.”

“You don’t seriously believe that do you?”

“Henry, I am neither daft nor blind. I can see the solution—all it takes is the courage to do it.”

“If they thought for one moment that I could do it, they’d have had killed me months ago. All it would do is destroy the bank and lose investors and shareholders a great deal of money.”

“Henry, that is going to happen anyway, they will kill you if they get the chance—full stop. Why not fight back?”

“It isn’t possible, Cathy, it’s just a romantic speculation I’m afraid.”

“I thought you had the balls to go for it Henry—obviously, I was wrong. I’m sorry I troubled you.” I clicked the phone off.

Then I sat on the bed and tried to see how I could start to make things happen in our favour. After several minutes, I had no idea whatsoever, so I went downstairs again. Dinner was a sombre event, the children seemed to know something was afoot and were extremely quiet.

Tom put them to bed while I cleared up the mess with help from Simon. “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to call Dad?”

“I did it on a whim.”

“You asked him to destroy the bank.”

“No, I asked him to destroy a rotten and corrupt government or to threaten to do so.”

“He thought it was more than a threat.”

“He’s entitled to his opinion.”

“What did you say?”

“I told him if he had the balls he’d do it to save his grandchildren.”

“Nothing too much then? Cathy, I asked you not to interfere—it isn’t at all straightforward or simple, it’s all wheels within wheels.”

“Rubbish—it’s black and white—stop them or they get us.”

“That’s so simplistic, Cathy.”

“It isn’t, it’s us versus them, good versus evil. We’re the good guys. They have to be stopped. If it brings down a bank, too bad, it’s worth it to save my children—I mean our children.”

“I wish it was that simple, Cathy, I’d be all for it.”

“It is, you close down in Russia and call in the debts they owe you. You question the financial stability of Russia who will be forced to inject loads of money they haven’t got, or to borrow it. You put the word out that they’re a bad risk.”

“And then what?”

“You watch while they struggle and as things fall apart over there, then you make your bargain with them—they call off their dogs, you untwist their financial knickers—quid pro quo.”

“What’s to stop the KGB, or whatever they call themselves these days, from eliminating us?”

“They might or they’ll threaten to, but given they’re already trying to do it, what have you lost?”

“About four billion pounds worth of loans.”

“It’s only money, Simon—would it help if I offered to pay it back by monthly instalments?”

He gave me a very old-fashioned look, then burst out laughing—“Very funny, Cathy.” Then he looked bemused, “It was a joke, wasn’t it? You’re not laughing, Cathy.”

“Actually, Simon—yes it was.”

“Phew, you had me worried for a moment.”

“I’m worried all the time about the girls and Puddin’, not to mention the adults in my life.”

“We’ll come through this, just you wait and see—Butcher Cumberland thought he could destroy us after Culloden, but we were too quick for him.”

“This is 2009 not 1745, Simon. The Russians are professionals not some brown-nosed cousin of the King who does a happy line in genocide. These guys will kill us all, unless we hit them first.”

“I’m arranging for some weapons to be brought into the house.”

“What? Peashooters and water pistols?”

“No, some automatic pistols.”

“They’re illegal in this country, Simon.”

“So? So is murder as far as I know, I’d rather be prosecuted than posthumous.”

I shook my head, “I don’t want one.”

“Eh?”

“I don’t ever want to see another gun as long as I live. Shooting it out with them will only result in deaths and serious injury.”

“If it’s all on their side, good. Don’t go all girly on me, Cathy.”

“We have children here, we can’t have shoot outs, sooner or later one of them is going to cop a bullet or be psychologically damaged. This is Hampshire not Afghanistan.”

“I’m well aware of where we are, I’ve ordered you a Glock.”

“Clock? What do I need a clock for?” I couldn’t believe him at times.

“Not a clock—a Glock, a gun.”

“I told you I don’t want one.”

“What if they get in here and want to kill your kids?”

“Do you mean, our kids?”

“Yes, sorry, our children—what are you going to do?”

“If they get in here and threaten our children, it will mean I’m already dead.”

“But with a gun, you could stop them.”

“With the bank doing the right thing, I can stop them and no one gets killed.”

“If we kill them, it ends.”

“Simon, you can’t honestly believe that, they’ll just send more thugs—their secret service is full of them, I’ll bet. We have to destroy their power base, cut off their head—metaphorically, of course.”

“You’re completely mad, but I love you.”

“I love you too, Simon.” We kissed and he held me tightly. “It’s your dad I’m going off.”

“I’m off in an hour’s time,” he said.

“Where are you going? It’s dark.”

“London, I’m going to see if I can persuade Dad to risk two hundred years of family business on one madcap idea.”

I looked at him in astonishment. “I love you, Simon.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 792

I felt incredibly close to Simon as I watched him shower and change to go to London. He wore his black leather jacket and grey trousers, with a tidy striped shirt, he rolled a tie and shoved it in his jacket pocket. I packed his overnight case and felt a pang of guilt—he was going as a favour to me.

“Drive carefully,” I said, unable to restrain the tears which broke over the dam and flowed freely down my face.

“Hey, Babes, why the wet stuff?”

“I’m worried for you.”

“This baby will outrun most things,” he said tapping the car fondly. I wasn’t sure I entirely agreed, James Bond’s Aston Martin dealt with one in Casino Royale, I think. Still, I didn’t think the KGB ran to Astons, or even Porsches, so maybe he was right?

“I love you.”

“So you said,” he replied winking at me.

“Come back safe and soon.” I kissed him passionately to emphasise the point.

“If there’s more where that came from, I’ll be back as soon as I can. Did you pack my navy suit?”

“Yes, darling and your black shoes, you’ve packed your laptop, so you should have everything.”

We kissed again and the MI5 people parked a van in front of the camera so he could steal a march on them. He promised to phone as soon as he got there, and with a squeal of tyres, he screamed up the road with an escort vehicle behind him—a large dark BMW. I suspected it carried an armed passenger.

With the girls asleep in bed, Stella watching the telly and Tom working in his den, I felt somewhat alone. At a loose end and not feeling much like doing anything which required any thought, I went up and had a soak in the bath and shaved my legs.

An hour later I came down, feeling physically relaxed but also still worried about Simon. Tom was pouring himself a whisky and offered me one. I can’t stand the smell let alone the taste, so I had a cuppa. Stella joined me in sharing a teabag.

“Whaur’s Simon gone?”

“Up to see Henry.”

“Whit fer?”

“To discuss my idea with him.”

“Whit idea is that?”

“To threaten to close their bank in Russia unless the Russian government pull out their hit squads.”

“Ye think this is official Russian policy?”

“MI5 do, which is why they’re here.”

“They’re no very efficient, are they?”

“That had occurred to me, Daddy.”

“I could hae knocked ye off yer bike nae bother, an’ I’m no a trained assassin.”

“Maybe it was a warning, this is what will happen if you don’t do as we want.”

“Aye, mebbe.”

“Yeah, but why target you, Cathy, I’d have thought Simon or Daddy would be more appropriate ones?”

“Yes, Stella, but it would depend upon how you view things. If they’d got me, it would show a determination of purpose without hitting the main players. If they still wouldn’t play ball, presumably they hit one or other of them, or even you.”

“Geez, Cathy, that is too scary to contemplate. Here I was thinking, I’m glad I’m not involved, but I guess I am just by being a Cameron?”

“Sadly yes, so is Puddin’.”

“They’d better not lay one finger on my baby, or I shall go ballistic.”

“Which is why I’m trying to get the Russian government involved directly.”

“They’re hardly going to talk to a little old English bank, are they?”

“According to Simon, they owe your bank over a billion pounds; if Henry declares he’s going to call in the loan for whatever reason, other banks will start to worry and before long a snowball effect begins. If it starts it could bankrupt Russia and bring down the government with a bump.

“Do you really think that could happen?”

“I don’t know, but I’d like to try it if Henry will do it.”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

“Because it could destroy his bank and the assassins will travel over here in large numbers.”

“Maybe we should flee to South America.”

“That didn’t save Trotsky, did it?” I sighed.

“How would I know?” she responded. “He was before my time.”

“Stalin had his assassins track him down and they bashed his head in with an ice pick.”

“I thought it wis Mexico, no South America.” Tom stared at the golden fluid in his glass.”

“I can’t remember, it’s a long time since I did history,” I conceded.

“Think hoo I feel then,” said Tom, looking saddened.

“What d’you mean, Daddy?”

“Whit you studied as history, I wis livin’.” He sipped his malt whisky and winked at me. I glanced at Stella who smirked and in seconds we were both giggling like two schoolgirls.

The phone rang and I jumped up so quickly that the chair fell over behind me. I ignored it and ran to the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, Babes, I’m here—without incident.”

“Oh, thank goodness for that, love you.”

“Love you too, Babes, take care of the girls won’t you?”

“Of course I will…Simon? Simon?” the phone was dead. The last expression, take care of the girls, had done it. Until then, I’d have believed what he was saying at face value. Now I wanted to get my car out and drive up to London, to find him. Where was the escort? My heart flipped over and over.

“Was it Simon?” asked Stella coming to find me.

“Yes, yes it was.”

“Oh good, he’s arrived then?”

“So he said,” I felt a huge tear run down my face.

“So why are you crying?”

“I think he’s in trouble.”

“How d’you mean? With Daddy?”

“No, I think they’ve got him.”

“Who?” a look of realisation came over her face, “The Russians?”

“Yes.” I replied grimly.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 793

“Jes’ whit did he say?” asked Daddy, standing before me and holding me by my shoulders.

“He told me to take care of the girls,” I sobbed.

“Sae whit’s yer problem?”

“It’s not something he would say, not then.”

“How d’ye ken that?”

“I know Simon, Daddy, I know what he’d say.”

“Alricht, whit aboot the MI5 men, whaur are they?”

Stella went out and down the drive to see if they were about. Naturally, they weren’t. I phoned Henry—his phone was unavailable and I had to leave a message. I simply asked him to call me urgently, irrespective of time.

“What if Bill and his buddies weren’t MI5?” I asked, wiping my eyes on my sleeve.

“You mean, we’ve been suckered?” Stella gasped and looked quite ill. “Nah, they’ve gotta be. I mean they knew so much about the Russians.”

“So would the Russians,” I said grimly.

“Oh pooh and double pooh,” she said stamping her foot.

“It looks like it’s hit the fan. What do we do, go for a siege or do a runner?”

“With fower bairns?” asked Tom shrugging. “If twa o’ us look efter the bairns, one might escape and raise help.” Tom was thinking more clearly than I was.

“You go, we two girls will stay with the babies.”

“Me? Och I’m far too auld. Ye’re the fittest, Cathy, ye go.”

“I can’t leave three children here?”

“Why? It’s oor only chance.”

“You must try, Cathy.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Just try and break the cordon they’ll no doubt have thrown around us.”

“I’ll go and change,” I ran upstairs and changed into some black lycra cycling clothes, a balaclava and my helmet. I pulled on my cycling shoes, and after kissing all my babies goodbye, I got the compound bow from the back of my wardrobe, a quiver of arrows and the image intensifier.

I checked the phones, none were working—they were jamming any mobile signals and had presumably cut the landline. Tom was bemused by my appearance, but made no comment except to wish me luck. Stella and I had a tearful embrace and I begged them both to look after my babies. We switched off the lights and after waiting a few minutes to allow my eyes to adjust to the darkness, I slipped out and got the old mountain bike out of the garage.

I decided they’d expect me to go for it by car or on foot, not by bike and probably not off road. I included a knife in my armament, I wasn’t going to go easily if they did jump me. Progress was painfully slow, moving from bush to bush, fence to fence staying away from street lights and roads. With the image intensifier, I saw three of them without them seeing me and I managed to slip past them.

I knew even if I got beyond the blocking of my mobile, it would also enable them to find me, perhaps before I got a decent message out to the police—who were bound to query it—it is pretty bizarre by any stretch of the imagination. My skills acquired of moving quietly around woodlands in the dark were proving rather useful just now, and I slipped past yet another hostile without him seeing or hearing me or the bike. I rested about a mile into the countryside, hoping I was through the cordon, although if they went to the farmhouse, they’d soon know I was free and it wouldn’t take much to make either Tom or Stella talk, which was why I made them think I was going by one of the faster road bikes.

Making sure I wasn’t observed—as best I could—I climbed on the bike and rode towards Portsmouth police station. I’d left the bow in the garage—it would slow me down and they’d be looking for someone cycling with a bow on their back.

With no lights on the bike, I was in danger of being knocked down by careless motorists, but I didn’t have much option. Then my luck changed, I got pulled by a police patrol car for riding with no lights.

“Okay mate, stop here.” The rather large and corpulent copper pointed to the kerb.

I got off the bike, “Thank God, please take me to the station, I need to speak with the most senior officer I can.”

“Bloody ’ell, it’s a girl.”

“Yes, look please this is a matter of life and death.”

“Have you been drinkin’ luv?”

“No, I’ve spent the last two hours evading a bunch of Russian secret service to raise the alarm.”

“Of course you have, they’re a real pain around here, now why don’t you turn around and walk the bike home.”

“I can’t, they’ve probably taken the house by now and my children are inside.”

“What have you been taking, luv?”

“You stupid man…”

“Watch it, luv, or we’ll ’ave to arrest you.”

“Fine arrest me, if that’s what it takes to get help for my family.”

“’Ere Jim, she looks familiar, it’s that bint off the telly.”

“Yeah sure, which one?”

“The dormouse one, it is you, innit?”

“Yes, I’m Cathy Watts, look I’m telling the truth, and I think they’ve kidnapped my fiancé too.”

“What the dormice?” said the fat one, laughing. “Why don’t I just take you back home and we’ll sort out whatever sort of tiff you’ve ’ad with your bloke?”

“Look here, I am demanding that I see a senior officer now.”

“Don’t get all ’oighty-toighty wiv me, luv.”

“Is your radio working?”

“Course.”

“Prove it?” I demanded.

He gave me a filthy look but clicked on his radio and spoke into it, “This is Sierra Echo X-ray Yankee, over.” Nothing happened, so he tried again—still nothing. His friend tried and nothing there either.

“Funny, never ’ad ’em both go togever, you some sort of witch?”

“Yeah, my broomstick’s broken so I had to use the bike. They’re jamming you, please take me now or it’ll be too late and I can promise you you’ll be unemployed by the morning.”

“Ooh, threats now.”

The car was parked with the engine running, I threw my bike at the smaller copper and planted the larger one with a kick to the chest, he stopped in his tracks and then fell backwards groaning. In two steps I was at the car and a moment later I was speeding away in it with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring. Twenty minutes later I was at the police headquarters, under arrest for assault and stealing a police car and the most senior officer I’d seen was the custody sergeant. My luck wasn’t changing.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 794

I had cried myself hoarse and grazed my knuckles on the door of the cell. Sitting on the edge of the mattress, I wept. There was nothing I could do until I was released, except to send psychic curses to most of the Hampshire Constabulary, who had, it seemed, IQs in single figures. There would be some ructions once I got free.

Until then it seemed all I could think was how an hour ago, I had been able to take options, now I felt like killing many people. I had chucked the knife, before I drove into the police HQ, because I could be charged with carrying an offensive weapon. It now looked as if a bicycle could be described in the same terms.

All sorts of ideas swirled around my head: had the Russians really got Simon, or was it a faked call? Did they let me escape to make it easier to take Tom and the others? It seemed absurd, after all, I was hardly what might be described as a risk factor to them, was I? Without a weapon, I was pretty well useless. Despair began to settle upon me like a blanket of darkness.

“Not so clever now, are you?” said a male voice. The door opened and the two coppers whose car I’d borrowed stood in the doorway of the cell. I looked at them and continued my weeping. The big one approached me, “See the bruises I’ve got after meeting you, bitch.” I ignored him or tried to, but my senses were on such a heightened awareness, that I could hear my tears dipping on the floor.

He stood in front of me and I was aware that his friend was still by the door—I suspected I was about to get a going over while his friend kept watch. I still refused to look at him.

The next moment I was lifted by my hair until I was standing and he jerked me against a wall. I felt a thump against my back which winded me and then its coldness against my back.

He held me against the wall by the throat, his other hand poised to hit me, probably in the breast, where it would hurt but not necessarily show immediately. His hand was choking me and the blood pounding in my head meant I couldn’t hear what he was saying to me. I nearly collapsed but he reduced the pressure enough for me breathe again. I had to make a decision, to stand there and let him hit me or to make a stand, in which case his mate might start on me as well.

My head started swimming as he slowly strangled me, and my body reacted. My knee came up and hit his groin rather hard. As he reacted to that by releasing my throat, I hit him on both temples with my thumbs. He dropped like a stone, groaning.

For a moment, time seemed to stand still. His mate stood and watched his friend fall to the ground. “You bitch, “ he yelled and rushing at me he aimed a punch at my head which I sidestepped and he hit the wall, two kicks later and he was lying on top of his friend. A quick search of them and I managed to handcuff them to each other and to the bed. I walked out of the cell and past the custody sergeant who was busily engaged in an argument with another officer.

I knew the alarm would be sounded in a few minutes, and therefore trying to escape would be useless. I therefore followed a copper through a security coded door—well he stood to one side as he tapped in the code. On the other side of the door I found myself in the admin side of the building and after exploring a few corridors found a door which had the name, Superintendent Strange, on it. It seemed occupied, so I knocked on it and was bid enter.

“Who are you?” he said looking at me, then, “are you all right?”

“I’m okay,” I said then sat in the chair opposite him, “please listen to me, I’m not crazy, nor am I lying.” I then poured out my story and he sat there listening to my every word.

“I know you,” he said, “not personally, but I read the reports on the previous attack on your house. You acquitted yourself rather well. Let’s see what we can do to even things up a bit.”

He picked up the phone, “I want as many men as we can raise, including an armed response unit ready within the hour. He gave the address of the farmhouse. I want a low profile surveillance unit there now and reports to me as soon as they get there.

“In the cells are two injured officers, get them checked out for injuries and detain them, they’re suspended from this moment. I want the tapes from the cells CCTV on my desk in two minutes, and if they don’t contain what I believe they will, your arse is toast.

“Get me a cup of tea sent up here immediately,” he covered the handset, “anything else we need?”

“Were MI5 involved or not?” I asked him.

“Get me Special Branch liaison.” He put his phone down, “If anyone knows they will.”

His phone rang as a WPC arrived with a cup of tea, which he indicated was for me. I took it from the policewoman. The custody sergeant came dashing in with a videotape, and put it on his desk.
“Superintendent Strange,” he said into the phone, “ah, Harry, how good of you to call back—need a favour, are MI5 busy on my patch?” I could hear the noise of a voice but not what it was saying. “We think some Russian agents cum mafia types are very active, yeah, after the Camerons again, no not him, the banking family. Yes, I know, we all thought that was over, except it seems the Russians don’t. Okay, ten minutes then, bye.”

I sat sipping my tea, which was grotty compared to the Twinings I normally drank at home, yet it tasted like nectar and eased my throat, which was feeling quite sore. He rose from his desk and took the film which he locked in a filing cabinet.

“You’d better come with me, as I brief whatever ragbag assemblage we have here. The object is to assess if your family are still in there and if they’re alone.”

“How will we know?”

“We can try and sneak as close as possible, sadly we have little specialist equipment, that usually comes from Winchester, along with the siege team. They deal with hostage situations. While I talk to the troops, could you draw me a rough plan of the house on a flip chart?”

“Um, I think so. Don’t you have plans and things from last time?”

“They’ll be in the archives, by the time we get them, these guys could have killed all your family and legged it.” His phone rang and he told me his surveillance team was in position.

In a large room, he stood and addressed about twenty coppers—men and women. While he explained his take on the situation, I drew a plan on the flip chart. They called up Google Earth and got a satellite photo of the house and garden. My plan showed what was where inside the house.

Half an hour later, we swept out in three police vans, blue lights flashing but no sirens. Behind us was a large Range Rover with a SWAT team in it. I wasn’t sure if that reassured or caused me more anxiety having grown up with the idea that British bobbies did not carry guns, let alone Heckler and Koch machine guns. Even I wore a bulletproof vest, although I was told my role was purely as a spectator or local advisor. Under no circumstances was I to do anything other than sit in the van and behave myself.

“Is she the one who decked Cooksey?” asked someone behind me.

“Yeah, she dumped him and Illingworth.”

“You’re jokin’?”

“No I ain’t, they’re up to their necks in shit for trying to assault a prisoner.”

“I heard they ’ad to walk back, ’cos someone took their car, wasn’t ’er was it?”

“Think so, apparently she’s an undercover agent or something.” I had to squeeze my hand very tightly to stop myself laughing. I’d heard the briefing and while it hinted we could be dealing with a foreign secret service and or the mafia, a sort of Comrade nostra, they didn’t describe me as anything other than a victim who’d escaped the blockade. The emphasis was on not underestimating the enemy, and the fact we could have six hostages inside, four of whom were children. When they heard that, they were all fired up to help and I felt proud of them, and equally fired up. To sit this out was going to kill me.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 795

We stopped about a quarter of a mile from the house, pulled into a field and parked discreetly behind a hedge. The various teams then broke up and after a quick briefing, set off at a trot to take up their positions. In case the enemy had radio scanners, a number of preset signals had been agreed beforehand.

The surveillance team came and reported to the superintendent. “There is no sign of life at all, except possibly a dog around the back of the house.”

“Is there a dog?” asked the Superintendent.

“Yes, a cocker spaniel, she’s very good, if you want I’ll go in with your men to collect her.”

“I told you to stay here, we’ll bring the dog out to you.” He fixed me with a stare that would melt iron and I squirmed in my seat. I had after all asked him for help. His mobile rang and he snapped an answer, “That’s no bloody good, I need chapter and verse.” He clicked his phone off, “Bloody spooks.”

His phone rang again, “Okay, hit it both sides at once, watch out for booby traps and collateral damage.”

“You think they’ve either been killed or moved, don’t you?” I asked feeling very small and afraid.

“I’m only thinking what we need to do, I don’t know what has happened any more than I know what will happen. Now if you’ll let me get on with my job.”

The Range Rover screamed out of the field and I knew the armed response unit was going in first. I felt the tears start and tried not to show my weakness. I failed because he passed me some tissues. “Look, I didn’t mean to shout at you.”

I sat nodding at him like one of those dog things you put in the back of your car. “Sorry,” I sniffed, inwardly cursing my weakness.

“It’s okay, it must be a very worrying time for you.”

I nodded again, “Yes, if they’ve harmed any of them, I’ll kill them all.”

“Hey, that’s fighting talk and not wise to say in front of a police officer.” His phone bleeped and he answered it, “They’re in, so far so good.”

I sat wringing my hands as I listened to his step-by-step narrative, tears pouring down my face and my heart racing. I felt very sick and once had to get up to puke. This was so hard.

“It’s clear, there’s no one there.”

“Where are they then?” I cried feeling a mixture of relief and anguish, I hoped that they’d managed to get away somehow, but I had my doubts.

“I don’t know, we’ll go and take a look as soon as it’s been checked for safety.” The minutes dragged by and it seemed like hours before we received a call and the van started up and drove to the house.

“Is there anything that looks different?” they kept asking as I looked around the house. There wasn’t. The Mondeo was missing; otherwise, there was no one around. A locksmith was summoned to fix the broken doors and secure the house.

The phone was still dead, but at least I could call Henry on a mobile—he was in a meeting. Sadly, they wouldn’t tell me with whom, nor would they tell the superintendent. I was furious.

“So we don’t know if they have the family and Simon?” I said feeling as helpless as a baby.

“Not yet, but we will.”

“How can you be sure?” I asked

“They’ll call with their ransom demand.”

“That might be difficult, they cut the phones.”

“Won’t take long to fix.” He was called outside the house and I sat in my kitchen feeling so alone. My amusement over the next hour was watching the locksmith as he fixed both doors. He was very good and he handed me the replacement keys and left.

The phone tinkled and I picked it up, there was no one there but at least I had a dialling tone. I knew the police would have an intercept on it, but so would the Russians.

“I’m arranging for two officers to stay with you, including a liaison officer,” he introduced a man and a woman police officer to me.

“I’ll be okay on my own,” I said, just wanting to be alone with my grief. Even if the loss was temporary, it was still a loss.

The phone rang and he nodded for me to pick it up, I did with trembling hand. “Hello?” I said in a wavering voice.

“Hello, Cathy.” It was Henry.

“Henry, is Simon with you?”

“No, they’ve got him.”

“Oh no,” I screamed and nearly dropped the phone, my nightmare was still happening.

“I was in talks with the security services, I might have to give them the bank, what’s money compared to flesh and blood.” I couldn’t speak, I was so consumed with grief and shock. “You’re all right?” I couldn’t answer him and handed it to the superintendent who took it and introduced himself. He brought Henry up to date and the realisation that the Russians could have both his children and his natural and adopted grandchildren.

I knew what he was feeling, a pit of emptiness that was consuming my whole body. We had no bargaining position, they had all the aces and had to hope they would honour any agreement we made, at the same time we knew they could do anything they damn well pleased.

I wanted to feel angry, to mobilise myself to go and look for my missing children and lover. I wanted to find the energy to get up and go seeking vengeance, killing as many of them as I could. All I could actually feel was a nothingness, my body was numb and my brain refused to engage and do something useful. I felt like I wanted to die to ease my pain, it seemed unbearable at the moment.

My mind was drifting, I picked up some of the girl’s toys and held them to me. I might never see them again. I felt so sad but my eyes refused to weep, they were dry and red. Some stranger was brought to me, he said he was a doctor. He gave me some pills to help me sleep and then an injection. I was left to lie on the couch in the lounge and did sleep.

It was dark when I woke, the clock was striking three. I had no idea how long I’d been asleep or even what day it was, but my throat was dry and I needed a drink. I staggered into the kitchen and one of the two coppers came to see I was all right. He offered to make me a cuppa, so I let him, flopping down in the chair.

“Any news?” I croaked while we waited for the kettle to boil.

“Not as far as I know,” he continued making the tea and produced a reasonable mug which I sipped while it was too hot and burned my tongue.

“Could they have got away?” I mused out loud.

“Dunno,” he replied, “If they did, why haven’t they contacted the police?”

“Dunno,” I said, feeling tears start again.

He reached across the table and held my hand, “Hey, we’ll find them, okay.”

“Promise?” I asked back.

“Promise,” he smiled back, “for a pretty girl like you, a double promise.” He smiled again and I burst into tears sobbing uncontrollably for several minutes.

“I should have stayed, I should have been with them.”

“You escaped to try and help them, if you’d stayed what could you have done?”

“At least been with them, comforting my children. I failed them.”

“You did what you thought was best.”

“It wasn’t though, was it? I should have stayed.”

“No, you can help us.”

“How can I help you, I can’t even help my children. I failed them.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 796

I was eventually persuaded to go to bed and after taking a pill did sleep. According to the bedside clock, it was seven when I awoke and lay listening to the voices on the radio without actually hearing what they were saying. I stumbled into the shower and cleaned myself up, letting the water wash away my sadness.

I dressed in some stretch jeans and a long-sleeved top with a fleece waistcoat thing on top and trainers on my feet. I wanted to be ready for action if it was necessary. Inside I felt a total void, but with my energy levels a little repaired by the rest, I was now capable of doing more than just crying to myself with self-pity.

I went down and found both the coppers fast asleep, she on the couch and he on the floor with a cushion under his head. I filled the kettle and shut a couple of cupboard doors rather noisily, giving them a chance to wake. The kettle boiled and I expected them to come and see what all the noise was, they didn’t. I stamped into the lounge and shouted at them, they didn’t move. I touched the face of the policewomen on the sofa, it was as cold as marble which made me gasp. She was dead. So was he. I couldn’t see how they’d been killed and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to know. The phone was dead again but there was a note attached to the inside of the front door.

‘Go to your house in Bristol at once if you want to save the lives of your family. Tell no one and destroy this note.’

My heart told me to go at once, my head told me I’d perform better after some food and drink, it was a while since I’d eaten. So I made some toast and drank a cup of tea, then I grabbed a jacket, my handbag and the bow and quiver of arrows. I left the house unlocked, so the police wouldn’t have to break down the door again.

Slumped inside their car were two other coppers, this time I could see a row of holes across the windscreen and splashes of blood inside the car. I felt a shudder and loaded my stuff into the Golf and screamed out of the drive and off towards Bristol.

If they had killed four police officers whilst I slept, why didn’t they kill me or even abduct me. They knew I was in the house—they left a note for me. What were they after? How long before the police came looking for me? And what on earth were the Russians doing at my house in Bristol? I didn’t even know if they knew of it. I drove as quickly as I could without risking a speeding ticket or drawing attention to myself. Was I heading into a trap with no likelihood of backup? If I was, how could I best defend myself? I had the bow but that would be useless against guns and modern technology. Besides, I didn’t even know how many there were of them and I only had about eight arrows.

I thought about stopping at Asda on the way into Bristol and buying a strong kitchen knife which I could strap to my leg or tuck into my jeans, but decided against it. Then as I approached the retail park at Cribbs Causeway, I changed my mind and bought a set of chef’s knives and roll of clear tape. Back in the car, I taped a six inch knife to my leg and put another ready to stick down the back of my jeans. The rest went into the boot of the car under a blanket I keep in there and next to my bow. They were good stainless steel knives and had cost me a hundred pounds. If they had hurt any of my family, I would do my utmost to make them hurt too. My mood felt more clinical than angry. I wasn’t a psychopath, well not as far as I knew, I wasn’t, I was merely controlled, saving my anger until it might be useful—for the moment, I felt detached and calm, I was doing something, even if it was likely to end in disaster—at least I had tried.

I kept a pair of binoculars in the glove compartment, when I was out in the countryside, they came in useful for identifying birds and so on. I was beginning to form some sort of plan, if only I could get near enough to the house. I had no idea who was on my side or if they were the enemy. Were Bill and Ben good or bad guys? If they were MI5, were they that incompetent or were they fakes? I couldn’t take a chance even if I met them again. Did they escort Simon, or merely trap him? I felt very wary of everyone except my family.

Were they alive or dead? If they were dead, I would kill as many of the Russians as I could before I died myself, or spend the rest of my days tracking them down and disposing of them. I would also spend my whole life trying to undermine anything Russian.

I stopped half a mile from my house and shoving the knife down the back of my jeans, pulled on my jacket to hide it. I put my bag on my back and with my binoculars, I ran to a spot I knew where I could see the front of my house, a small hill which was left as a sort of wild park. Hiding behind a tree, I scanned the house for signs of life. I couldn’t see anything, except the Mondeo was parked in the driveway. It didn’t necessarily mean anything.

I didn’t know what to do next and was still watching the house when a male voice behind me said, “Miss Watts, how nice to see you, so glad you could come.”

I spun around and faced the voice, it was one of the flowerpot men, Bill. “I’m not sure if I feel the same about you,” I spat back at him.

“Sorry you feel like that, but you need all the friends you can get.”

“If I have friends like you, I certainly won’t need enemies.”

“I can understand your anger, but we are on the same side, you know.”

“So how come they got Simon?”

“Ah, yes, most unfortunate. My colleagues in the escort got sidelined and he was snatched.”

“I thought you lot were supposed to be professionals?”

“Oh we are, dear lady. The problem is, so are they.”

“Gee thanks for telling me nothing.”

“I left you the note, inviting you to come up here.”

“Did you kill those police officers?”

“Kill cops? Me? Good lord no. That was one of their hit teams, it was meant to act as softener to you, frighten you a bit.”

“It had its desired effect.”

“Not surprised, a bit gross—but that’s Ruskies for you.”

“Why did they kill them?”

“It upsets the police and they tend to get careless when they’re after revenge. It also sends a message to everyone that they don’t mess around with this lot.”

“But the girl was only my age, and he wasn’t much older—it makes me feel angry.”

“Please control that emotion if you can, I need you to be calm if we are to have any chance of getting your family back alive.”

“You mean we have a chance?”

“As far as I know, they’re still alive, or were when they arrived last night.”

“How did you know where they’d go?”

“I didn’t, we followed them.”

“But no interception?”

“They are rather well armed and there are children present. I might not be James Bond, but that also applies to my sense of morality—he’s a cold blooded killer, I’m not.”

“Right now I feel I could do with him,” I said quietly.

“To make love to you or kill the bad guys?”

“What do you think?”

“I don’t know, Miss Watts, but I suspect to get the bad guys.”

“As the first priority, yes.”

“Miss Watts, you shock me.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 797

“How did you know I’d come?”

“My invitation was irresistible.”

“Think a lot of yourself, don’t you?”

“I have to, otherwise this business would kill me.”

“It might anyway.”

“Not if I can help it.”

“How do we get my family back safely?”

“That’s a tricky one.”

“I’m well aware of that, but you’re supposed to be the expert.”

“That is so true.”

“Did you follow me here?” I asked wondering if they saw me purchase the knives.

“No, we put a tracker on your car.”

“How did you know I’d come up here?”

“I didn’t, but from here I’d be able to see you approach the house, and it did occur to me you might come to reconnoitre.”

“I was praying for inspiration.”

“You found him.” Bill’s manner was irritating to say the least.

“I think I prefer James Bond.”

“The ladies always do, it’s a real travesty of justice.”

“I don’t know how you could let them kill four coppers and do nothing.”

“Sacrifices, sometimes there are sacrifices.”

“How do I know I’m not lined up as your next one?”

“You don’t.”

“For all I know, you could be one of them.”

“I could show you my ID.”

“I could show you my belly button but it wouldn’t mean anything, would it?”

“It’s probably more interesting than my ID. Are you sure you used to be a boy, you are such an attractive female.”

“If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

“Oh very droll, Miss Watts, yes very good.”

“I might not be joking.”

“I think you’ll find it harder to do than it looks—even with the knife shoved down your trousers.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged—I didn’t trust him any further than I could throw him.

“So do we wait until nightfall, or what?”

“They have infrared, not much point is there.”

“Except they’ll be more tired.”

“So will we,” I was tired now and it was only lunch time.

“We could go and rest up a little until after dark.”

“I think not.”

“Suit yourself,” he said casually.

“I will, Bill—hey that rhymes, nearly as good as kill Bill.”

“Fancy yourself as Uma Thurman, do you?”

“Not really.”

“Pity, you’re actually better looking.”

“I hope you don’t have a gun,” I said.

“Why?”

“With your defective vision, you could be dangerous.”

“Very funny, Cathy, yes very good. I’m entitled to my opinion, and I think you’re prettier.”

“We’ll have to agree to differ, then.”

“Have you always had a problem with compliments?”

This man was driving me nuts, much more and I would kill him. “What’s it to you?”

“Defensive behaviour, eh? Must be getting warm.”

“I’m not sticking around while you play mind games.”

“I’m a spook, it’s what we do.”

“Not with me you don’t. Goodbye.”

“Don’t you want to know where your family are?”

“I presume in my house.”

“It’s dangerous to assume.”

“Is it? I assume you’re a right pig—haven’t been wrong yet.”

“Touché, you’re a bit too aggressive at times, did you know?”

“You ain’t seen anything yet.”

“God, I’ll bet you’re beautiful when you’re angry.”

“I have killed someone, don’t push me to repeat the experience.”

“Yes I know, Cathy. I know all about you.”

“And I know nothing about you, do I?”

“What would you like to know?”

“Where are they holding my family?”

“You know, I’ve just forgotten.”

“You are a total shit, Bill. Yes Bill-shit, I like that.” I turned and he called something else but I ignored him. Given a chance, I’d beat him senseless and I suspect he’d do the same to me.

I walked back to my car and looked all over it, trying to find the tracking device. Eventually I found it under the bonnet, but kept looking in case there was a second. There was, under the tailgate. I stuck them on two different cars and drove off onto the Downs, to think and plan.

I ate a sandwich and drank some water, then went for it. I drove back to near my house and parked up near the back of the house. Bill could watch all he liked, he wouldn’t see anything from up there.

My plan was really very simple: across the garden of the house behind mine, then over the wall and hide behind the garden shed. Actually, there’s a loose panel at the back of the shed. I can remove it and sneak inside and watch them from inside it. There’s a small knothole in the door I can spy through and I can pick the lock from the inside quite easily.

It seemed as good a plan as I was going to make—it also gave me room for a tactical withdrawal if the odds were too overwhelming. I wasn’t the stuff of suicide bombers.

I made it across the garden and to my wall. I peeped over the top and I couldn’t see anyone watching me. I hopped over the wall and ran to the back of the shed. Using my Swiss Army knife, I pried off the loose panel and stepped into the shed carefully avoiding the lawn mower. Then I pushed the panel back into place. The whole manoeuvre had only taken me three or four minutes.

The knothole had been filled, then I remembered having done it back in the summer. More operations for my penknife and the hole was available for my voyeuristic intentions.

I peered through the hole for nearly ten minutes—my back was aching through bending down to look. I couldn’t see anything in terms of movement. Were they still there or was it a simply a trap? I cleared the stuff off a large wooden box and sat myself down to wait.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 798

It was dark in the shed so I had no idea of how long I’d been sitting in there. I peeped through the knothole and it was dark outside and more puzzlingly, dark inside the house as well. Now I was worried and worse, I rather badly needed a wee. Why do bladders want to empty as soon as one moves? I couldn’t see my watch, so I had no idea if it was six or ten o’clock, had I nodded off in the shed? Apart from the beating of my heart which sounded like the percussion section of an orchestra, all I could hear was the distant hum of the motorway and the occasional car passing the end of the road.

I wondered where my family were—were they safe or could the unthinkable have happened? Where was my mobile phone? Why do I get into these situations? Oh hell, I need a pee.

I gently undid the lock of the shed, even so, the noise seemed exaggerated in the wooden confines of my surroundings. The door creaked slightly as I inched it open, that’s a phrase you can’t decimalise, I mean, who’s going to centimetre a door open? Back to the suspense—I crept across to the kitchen window and peeped in from the corner. I couldn’t see anyone inside. I felt for my house keys in my bag and then quietly unlocked the back door. A moment later I was inside and feeling very scared.

I pulled the knife from my trousers and holding it under my jacket so it didn’t glint in any light that came into the house. I moved almost silently around the house checking out the downstairs rooms, there was nothing. The upstairs rooms were equally devoid of life so at least I was able to empty my badly straining bladder and then back downstairs to make myself a drink.

Clutching a mug of Bovril, I went into the hall and checked the phone—it was working. Wonderful. I called Henry but his number was engaged. I called his home number and Monica answered.

“Cathy, where are you? We’ve been so worried.”

“Any news of Simon?” I asked.

“No, not a word.”

“What are they playing at?” I mused aloud.

“I don’t know—how are the children?”

“I don’t know, Monica, they disappeared from Tom’s when I went back with the police. When I awoke this morning, they’d killed four coppers at the house.”

“Oh God, why?”

“I don’t know, they’re just gross.”

“So what are you going to do, Cathy?”

“I don’t know. I’ve got to go, but I’ll call Henry later.”

I finished my drink and rinsed the cup out. I heard a noise—shit—someone was coming in the front door. I ducked under the table clutching the knife. I vaguely made out a pair of legs walk into the kitchen and walk around, I heard them touch the kettle and curse in a foreign language. They went to the back door and opened it. They called something in what I assumed was Russian and somebody answered from outside. My heart was thumping so loudly I expected to feel the table shaking with it.

The legs moved out of the kitchen and I heard them moving around the house. I wondered how he hadn’t seen me. I stayed where I was. I heard footsteps above me in the bedrooms and clutched the knife even tighter.

I tried to work out what they were thinking, they’d spotted the warm kettle so they knew I’d been there. Did they think I was still around or what? That was the question. I decided that trying to fight them with my knife would be futile and I didn’t really want blood all over my kitchen. Besides, he’d probably shout if I stabbed him, and then I’d have to deal with his pal as well.

The footsteps came back into the kitchen and the way his legs moved it seemed as if he was looking around, then he went out the back door and shut it behind him and I heard him calling to his friend. Despite my screaming muscles and painful knees, I stayed where I was. By craning my neck I could just make out the kitchen clock with its luminous face. It was eight o’clock.

I stayed there for another hour hoping they’d left, because if I’d had to move in a hurry, I was likely to fall over as my legs were going numb. I crawled out backwards and very gingerly stretched my aching limbs, there were all sorts of grumbles from the stiff muscles plus some pins and needles in my feet. It was fully ten minutes before I was able to move freely.

Grabbing a couple of chocolate bars from the pantry I stole out through the back door, locking it quickly and quietly,I half expected a bullet to hit me at any moment, but it didn’t. Then I dashed over the lawn and though next door’s garden and ran up the road back to my car.

“Glad you could make it, Cathy.”

“Bill? Why don’t you piss off and do something useful?”

“I am, keeping you safe and at large.”

“Keeping me safe? You lying toad, I’ve just spent an hour hiding in a cramped space while one of them walked within inches of me. You did me a lot of good.”

“Who do you think called him off?”

“His mate, I suppose.”

“He thought it was his mate, he’s trussed up in the back of my car.”

“Where are my family?”

“Safe.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said with as much menace as I could muster.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” he shrugged.

“I don’t believe you have our illegal immigrant locked in your boot either.”

“Cathy, your cynicism is going to get you into trouble one of these days.”

“It could get you into a whole lot more, I still have a large knife.”

“Oh, still in ‘Kill Bill’ mode, are we?”

“Put it this way, as I’m unsure of your patronage, I know that if you were out of the picture, I wouldn’t have to worry about you.”

“Tut tut, such mechanical thinking, I’d have thought you were capable of much more creativity than that. I could be wearing an anti-stab vest.”

“And you think that would stop me?”

He looked at me as if assessing my strength, “Possibly not.”

“I can guarantee it.”

“Perhaps I should put you in touch with the manufacturers.”

“And perhaps I should nail you to a telegraph pole.”

“That’s fighting talk, Cathy. Don’t say anything you can’t back up with action.”

“Believe it or not, I’m not.”

“More dangerous people than you have tried to terminate me.”

“Any women?”

“No, now that you mention it, I don’t think there were.”

“That’s why you’re still walking around.”

“Thanks for the advice, I’ll bear it in mind.”

“Where’s this bloke in your boot—show me.”

“Sorry, I can’t do that.”

“I think you’re lying.”

He looked rather disappointed, “I’m very saddened by your determination to disbelieve anything I say. I’m telling you the truth, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. You refuse to show me the prisoner, and you also refuse to tell me where my kids are. Cross me again and I’ll turn you into kebabs.”

“I keep trying to advise you not to make idle threats.”

“Drop dead,” I spat at him as I got in the car and drove at him as I sped away. A mile or so down the road, I stopped in a supermarket car park and with my torch checked for tracking devices—I found two more. Then after another look, I found the one I’d missed the first time I’d checked, up under the wheel arch. I put it on an adjacent car and after filling up with fuel, bought some sandwiches and drove off to an electrical retailers and bought a new mobile, putting fifty pounds-worth of calls on it. After installing the SIM card, I set it charging off the cigarette lighter socket in the car. When I felt safe, I’d call Henry, until then I’d keep moving.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 799

I hoped I’d got some distance from all the other players in this drama. I drove down the Taunton road and checked in at the Holiday Inn, where I ate my sandwiches and made myself some tea. I wasn’t on the ground floor and as far as I could tell was nowhere near anything that could be scaled to attack me. I could also see my car from the window. I was becoming very fatigued and needing some sleep. If I could get four hours, I’d be ready for some more action.

I ate my sandwiches and called Henry—at last I was able to speak with him.

“Any news on Simon?”

“Yes they have him, they’re threatening to kill him unless I pass over a large number of share certificates to them, and a larger amount of money. What about the others?”

“The Mondeo was parked out the front of my house in Bristol, but no sign of Tom, Stella or the children. I did encounter one or two of the bogey-men, thankfully they didn’t see me.”

“Are you somewhere safe?”

“I hope so, but I can’t tell you where.”

“Okay, I’ve got your number, I’ll let you know if I learn anything new.”

“If they harm anyone, I will kill them all.” I felt very angry and anxious for my family.

“You can kill the ones I don’t get,” offered Henry.

“I’ll call tomorrow.”

“Be careful, Cathy.”

“You too, bye.” I rang off, I’d been on the phone less than a minute, I hoped that was too short to get a fix from, but I’m no expert in electronics.

I tried to sleep, but there was too much whizzing around my head. Were the family safe, was Bill on my side or was he with the enemy? Could he be from a third party? I mean were MI5 involved, or was he from some other security agency? If so, which? No wonder my brain was spinning—nothing made any sense—from start to finish.

I tried to set priorities, stay alive—that felt like a good idea, if it wasn’t achieved, lesser objectives were unlikely to be either. You couldn’t fault my logic on this one. Secondly—find the children, Stella and Tom and make sure they were safe. Finally, see what I could do to help Simon and prevent the takeover of the bank. Surely if that was achieved by foul methods it would be illegal? That was outside my knowledge—give me dormice any day.

Then I had a brainwave, I called Erin and explained my position to her and she came and got me and I spent the night at her house. She also had a spare car I could borrow, so I felt the next day would be a bit more in my favour.

I did eventually sleep, with her keeping a watch over me. Then after a light breakfast I set off in her second car, a BMW mini—very nice, and it complimented her other car, a bigger series 5 Beamer. Too big for me and far too ostentatious. I don’t need to say, ‘I’ve arrived,’ in fact at the moment, I’m trying to do the exact opposite.

Erin was going to speak with the Avon police—they look after Brissle—to try and discover where the family were. They could cover more ground than I could and they had several legal powers which I didn’t, such as power of arrest and to carry guns if necessary.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do next, until I got a text from Bill—how did he get my phone number? ‘Nice escape—meet me at Brunel bridge, 10 am, Bill.’

I was tempted to text back, ‘Why? but didn’t. Of course, I didn’t know if it was him or the Russians. Maybe they picked it up by monitoring Henry’s phone? The problem was I had no other leads to go on, so I was committed to taking the risk—or going to the police and letting them take it over. So far, they hadn’t done much better than I could by myself.

At nine, I was watching the bridge from some bushes a couple of hundred yards away. Okay, they could have been watching me or waiting even earlier, but at two minutes to ten, Bill walked across the bridge and towards me.

“Cathy, are you going to hide in those bushes all morning, or are we going to do this like adults?”

“Do what like adults?” I queried back.

“Sort out this problem with your family’s bank and this on-going difficulty with a certain Slavic country?”

“How do you propose we do that?” I called back from the bushes.

“I am not going to stand here pretending I’m Moses, talking to a bloody bush.”

“I thought it was burning bush, not a bloody one?” I called back, winding him up.

“I can arrange for it to be set on fire while you’re still in it, if you’d prefer to stay historically correct?”

“Okay, I’m coming out, don’t try anything.”

“Try anything? Like what did you have in mind?”

“I’ll kill you if I have to.” I said emerging from the bushes.

“So you keep telling me. It tends to have consequences in the United Kingdom.”

“Don’t tell me you have a licence to kill?” I sneered at him.

“No I don’t, but I suspect the authorities would be more sympathetic to one of its officials doing said dirty deed than a member of the public.”

“I would claim self-defence, because with you I think it would likely be true.”

“Cathy, I’m on your side.”

“So you keep saying, but where’s your evidence? Prove it. Where are my family?”

“They’re perfectly safe.”

“That isn’t good enough.”

“I can’t tell you, it would affect their safety.”

“How do I know you’re not lying to me?”

“You don’t, but they are safe, I promise you.”

“So why can’t you tell me?”

“If I did, we could be overheard.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere.” He was surely bullshitting me.

“With directional mics, they could overhear us talking a mile or so away.”

“So, write it down, I’ll read it and eat the paper.”

“You’ve been watching too many spy films. If you know they could get it out of you.”

“I’d never tell them,” I asserted and felt confident of it.

“They could inject you with drugs which would mean you’d tell them anything.”

“That’s cheating!” I exclaimed.

“Cathy, this is not a cricket match, it’s not even a bike race—it’s practically a war.”

“Okay, how about taking me to see them?”

“Listen to me, if they follow us, then they’d be at risk again.”

“We could go in your car?” I suggested.

“You don’t seem to get the point, woman. If they follow you, your family will be at risk. I can’t allow that.”

“How come Henry doesn’t know either you or Ben?”

“Why should he?”

“He’s been on House of Lords’ security committees.”

“We don’t inform those old farts of everything we do, or we’d spend more time in committee than we did operationally.”

“I find that attitude disrespectful of our system of government.”

“What? Don’t tell me you’re a democrat?”

“Yes, but not in the American sense.”

“Idealists, good Lord preserve me from idealists.”

“What’s wrong with having ideals?”

“Nothing, not until you try to implement them and find out they don’t work.”

“You’re just saying that to protect your spooky position of running amok behind the scenes.”

“Running amok? Dear lady, we are more constrained by this blessed government than we have ever been. Red tape is alive and well and wrapped around Whitehall in triplicate.”

“Now I know you’re lying, you lot aren’t at Whitehall anymore.”

“Sez who?”

“MI5 are in that horrible place down by the Festival Hall.”

“I’ve never said I was MI5.”

“Who are you then?”

“I work for an organisation that doesn’t exist.”

“I know, you told me before—now stop the bull, tell me who you work for?”

“I can’t, but I’m on your side, Cathy, believe me.”

“I can’t, Bill, I think you’re one of them.”

“No I’m not, I’ve got a girlfriend and we have a kiddie.”

“Not one of them, one of them—the Russians.”

“Oh, them? No I’m not,” he looked relieved and embarrassed at the same time. However, we were going around in circles.

“So what do we do next?” I asked.

“You allow the Russians to capture you.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 800

“I do what?” I gasped hoping I’d misheard him.

“You let the Russians capture you.”

“Seeing as they’ve been trying to kill me most of this week, I’m not sure it’s such a good idea.”

“If they were trying to kill you, I’d be attending your funeral not talking with you.”

“I don’t know, a few have tried.”

“Tried what?”

“Killing me.”

“Don’t tell the Russians, they may see it as a challenge.”

I glared back at him, do psychos have a good sense of humour?

“So do we lead you to the Russians?”

“I don’t like this idea very much, how are you going to follow me?”

“You swallow this capsule, it’s a mini-transmitter, works for up to three days.”

“Swallow that?” I gulped at the thought of it.

“I’m sure you’ve had worse things in your mouth, most women have.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Here,” he pulled a bottle of water from his coat pocket. “Take a swig of this, it’ll help.”

“I hope there’s no Mercury in this?”

“I haven’t got a clue.”

“I’ll bet you haven’t had to swallow one?”

“I have actually, and it saved my life.”

“Don’t tell me, it deflected the blade of a knife owned by a mad dervish in outer Mongolia, while you were on a field trip supposedly collecting butterflies.”

“Fossils, actually—and no, it didn’t stop me being stabbed, it meant that when my car was stolen by the clown who was supposed to be acting as my guide, and I was left wandering in the Gobi Desert, the Yanks were able to get a fix on me from a satellite and I was subsequently rescued.

I nearly said, ‘Pity’, but that would have been rude. Instead I asked if he was really into fossils and palaeontology? “You wouldn’t believe me if I said I was.”

“You do tend to lie or avoid giving me any proof of what you claim.”

“Okay, yes I’m into fossils, did palaeo at Cambridge for three years. Now you’re going to ask me if I knew so and so, and as soon as you can, you’ll call them and ask them if they knew me.”

“Unlikely. Can’t say I know anyone who went to Cambridge. Now, Oxford, that’s different.”

“You know people from Oxford?”

“Oh oodles. When were you at Cambridge?”

“Never mind—I could have been lying,” he said blushing.

Feeling that I’d actually managed for a moment to pierce the armour he wore, and get through to the real man, I felt quite pleased and not about to let go. “I don’t think you were, and all I have to do is ask which student got temporarily lost in the Gobi Desert, and maybe a name will just pop up.”

“I doubt it. Who said I was a student?”

“I have a friend who’s a geologist, she’ll know who you are.”

“I was lying, Cathy.”

“I don’t think you were, I think that’s the only bit of true information you’ve told me.”

“Swallow the transmitter—please.” He held it in his hand, it resembled a large capsule as in medicine, a couple of centimetres long and perhaps one wide.

“I don’t think I can.”

“Just deep throat it.”

“Just what?”

“You know when you’re um…you know?”

“No I don’t, what are you talking about?”

“Forget it.”

“No, what were you on about?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me,” I knew full well what he was meaning but by playing thick and innocent, I had him squirming.

“Look it up on the Internet.”

“Look up what?”

“Deep throating.”

“I thought that was the name of the guy in the Watergate scandal.”

“I don’t know.”

“He died earlier this year. Brought down Tricky Dicky, tipped off the Washington Post.”

“Did he? Will you swallow the capsule?”

“How long has it been in your pocket?”

“It’s been inside a little plastic box.”

“Prove it.”

“Cathy, swallow the bloody thing before I shove it up your arse, it’ll have exactly the same effect.”

I took it and nearly choked to death as it lodged in my oesophagus. Another sip of water and down it went. “Will it go ping when it comes out?”

“Oh it won’t come out.” He looked incredulously at me.

“What?” I had visions of needing surgery to remove it.

“The outer coating dissolves and then it breaks up.”

“What? You mean I’ll have all sorts of small sharp objects in my gut?”

“No, it’s designed not to damage you.”

“Were you crapping components for weeks then?”

“I didn’t actually look.”

“What? You don’t look down the loo when you’ve…”

“No, why should I?”

“Well, to see how much and what colour and…”

“Cathy, too much information. If it gives you pleasure, that’s fine.”

“I suppose you don’t look at the toilet paper either?”

“No, why should I? Where’s it going to get me?”

“Keeps your knickers cleaner.”

“With some of the situations I’ve found myself in, that was the least of my worries.”

“I have a feeling I’m going to understand that statement a little better in a rather short time.”

“Could be,” he said, “Shall we go?”

I went back to the Holiday Inn and in order to engage in detente with our Russian friends, I merely had to walk across the car park. As I went to get in my car, something hard was shoved in my back—I don’t think it was anything to do with deep throat, so that will dispel your concerns—“Please, Miss Watts, get into your car very slowly and quietly,” said gruff Russian accent.

“Who the hell are you?” I said pretending to be surprised—I was actually—but not buttock-clenchingly so.

“NOW,” he said firmly and poked the gun barrel a bit harder into my back.

Comments are closed.