Bike 951–1,000

Wuthering Dormice

(aka Easy As Falling Off A Bike)

Parts 951–1,000

by Angharad

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Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 951

I awoke on the morning of Good Friday. What a strange name for the day upon which they executed a god/king—I mean, it’s not as if it was some pagan they were talking about—unless you examine the rituals: it’s all very pagan. Still back in the first century Current Era, Jesus wasn’t a god, just the founder of a new sect.

Anyway enough of history and distortion, back to the future—hey, that’d be a good name for a film. I smirked at my own silliness. Simon would be home later—oh pooh, I forgot to tell him about Maureen’s visit—oops.

I couldn’t sleep any longer and it was daylight, so I got up. The aliens were still in the land of nod—with or without Enoch. I went down and made myself some breakfast. Actually it was tea I made, then some toast—I couldn’t fancy much else—too uptight.

I sat and drank my tea wondering if I’d made a mistake—had my almost compulsion to do good works, got me into trouble? Had I done it once too often? I was roasting a chicken and using a recipe Delia Smith had shown us on the telly, with grapes as part of the stuffing, with shallots and tarragon. I had a bottle of Riesling, which the sauce required, so it looked interesting.

Julie came down and sat beside me. “I’m sorry, Mummy,” she linked her arm through mine and leant against me.

“Why, what have you done?”

“For copping out with your latest project.”

“It’s not a project, it’s a person—Maureen.” Mind you, I’d never think of that name in the same light again.

“Yeah, whatever—anyway, I still can’t face it, her, whatever.”

“That’s up to you—it’s not compulsory. Tell me, why are you frightened of her?”

“Who said I was frightened?”

“Aren’t you?”

She leant her head against my shoulder, and began to sob. “Yes I am frightened, frightened that people will see her and me together and think we’re the same.”

“Essentially, you are—so am I.”

“No you’re not, Mummy, you’re a woman now—you’ve got paper to say you’re female—and you’re married. You’re not the same.”

“Given that we’re all individuals and have individual differences, I’m still the same as her, just surgically transformed into something more acceptable to most people and to me.”

“No, Mummy—you never were a boy—you’re far too pretty to have ever been one.”

“I was as far as the rest of the world was concerned—well mostly, some of my peers found it fun to humiliate and torment me, but my parents were convinced they had a son.”

“So—they were wrong—look I know about these things.” She sounded deadly serious until the edges of her mouth went up and she began to snigger. “I don’t know anything, do I?”

“You must be the only teenager who doesn’t.”

“Oh—well, I’m as unique as you then?”

“Yep, you’re unique—just like everyone else.”

“Hey, that’s clever.”

“It was, but I didn’t think of it, I saw it on something years ago.”

“Pity—it’s really good.”

“Enough of that, what are you going to do about lunch?”

“I dunno—can I have Shelley an’ Tracie around again sometime?”

“Of course you can, if they don’t think I’m too posh. Now, what about lunch?”

“Can’t you just leave some in the kitchen and I’ll take it up to my room?”

“I’m not sure I’m very happy about you eating in your bedroom.”

“All teenagers do it—you know find half-eaten meals and dead cats under the bed on the annual bedroom clean.”

“I knew there was a good reason why you’re not eating it upstairs. You’ll have to eat it in the kitchen or wait until she goes.”

“Aww, Mummy, that’s like so unfair. I mean, I like live here…”

“I know that, but I make the rules.”

She put her arms on the table and put her head down on them. “That is like so unfair.”

“Yep—I do it deliberately, just to make you angry and frustrated.”

“Some days I think you do?”

“Have some breakfast. Have you taken your pill?”

“My girly pill? Yeah.”

“Well I suspect it’s better absorbed with food. So have some cereal.”

Tom came into the kitchen, so the conversation changed somewhat.

“Whit time’s yon guest arrivin’ fa’ lunch?”

“About twelve—thought we’d eat, half twelve, oneish—is that okay?”

“Aye fine b’me. Whit wis Stella sayin’ aboot her bein’ like a wrestler in drag?”

I’ll shoot that woman one day—“Maureen, is transitioning, she’s not very feminine-looking—but I’m hoping we can help her with that.”

“Whit’s this aboot ye afferin’ her a job?”

“She’s unemployed, so I thought we could get some of the outbuildings renovated, painted and so on.”

“Whit fa’ is Leon paid?”

“Maureen used to be a welder, so she has some skills in engineering—so I suspect she knows one end of a paintbrush from the other unlike Leon—who I thought you’d like to have do more gardening for you, Daddy.”

“Aye alricht—mind ye, I’ll pay Leon.”

I shrugged—“If that’s what you’re happiest with, that’s fine with me.”

“Och—if yon welder’s mendin’ ma gates an’ oothooses, I’ll pay her tae.”

“How about we go halves?” I knew any sort of refusal would be met with intransigence, so I offered a compromise.

“Aye, alricht, but mind we due.”

I was about to think it was a good idea as the girls’ school fees would be due after Easter, but Henry paid most of that—sweetie that he is. He loves the kids and they love him, because he spoils them rotten.

I was just thinking about this when the phone rang. Julie jumped up and answered it. “Mummy, it’s for you-hoo,” she almost sang at me.

“Who is it?”

“Grampa Henry.”

“Oh, okay.” I took the handset, “Hello, Henry—you won’t believe this but I was just thinking about you.”

“With you, Cathy dearest, I’d believe absolutely anything—obviously your thoughts forced me to pick up the phone and call you.”

“But of course, Henry—you are completely in my power.”

“Oh, yes please,” he said back.

“You silly old goat.”

“Hey, less of the old.”

“Anyway, I’m sure this is more than just a simple social call?”

“Yes and no, Monica and I will be down at the hotel for the Easter weekend—I canna go skiin’ wi’ ma baddy legs, sae there’s nae point in gang a’ the way tae Scotland, the noo, is there?”

“When you put it like that, Henry, I don’t suppose there is.”

“So, what time dearest daughter-in-law would you like to come over with your massive brood?”

“Oh—um—I have someone coming to lunch.”

“Whit’re ye cookin’ hen?”

“Actually yes, roast.”

“What?”

“I doing a hen—well, chicken, with grape and tarragon stuffing.”

“Oh that sounds nice—got enough for two more?”

“Yes, on the understanding that you appreciate I’ve invited someone who is transitioning.”

“Transitioning? What does that mean?”

“They’re changing sex, but in the very early stages—so they still look very male.”

“No problem—are the kids all right with that?”

“Julie isn’t—but I’m hoping she might come round—it’s up to her.”

“Why are they coming to dinner, I thought you’d finished with all that except with your kids?”

“I met her at the doctors and she’s out of work, so I’m offering her a job.”

“Doing what?”

“Well, she’s a trained welder, so I thought I’d get some jobs done outside to the outbuildings and garages.”

“Hmm—okay, what time’s lunch?”

“Twelve to half past?”

“Fine—I’ll bring some wine—whad’ya fancy?”

“Some Chablis would be nice, father-in-law dearest.”

“You drive a hard bargain, but it shall be so.”

The rest of the morning was a blur, and after dealing with what seemed like a hundred children, I showered and changed and began sorting the lunch. I made the stuffing and then sorted the veg. New potatoes, baby carrots, and petite pois. The peas were frozen, but the rest was fresh.

At eleven, I popped it in a hot oven as per Delia’s recipe and waited for either it to be cooked or my visitor to arrive. I admit my tummy was churning a bit. It was raining, so the girls were all upstairs and the boys were in the lounge playing cards or something—I hoped they weren’t making too much of a mess.

Trish had helped me lay the table and Tom had sacrificed a few daffs and crocuses for my table display. I waited on either the cooker or the doorbell to ring—and waited.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 952

The cooker was first, pinging away in the kitchen; in crossing the floor to get to it, I saw an old banger turn into the driveway followed by Simon’s Jaguar. Oh shit—I’d forgotten to tell him.

“Trish,” I called and she came trotting into the kitchen, “Run down and tell Daddy that the person in the old car is a guest for lunch, I can’t stop, I’m making Delia’s sauce.”

“Okay, Mummy,” she trotted out of the back door and raced down the drive; I had a glance and saw Simon scoop her up and swing her round. Then she spoke with him. He looked at the other car—I couldn’t see if he was surprised as he had his back to me. However, he spoke to the driver then turned back to his car, grabbed his case and his laptop and gave the laptop to Trish to carry; he also gave her flowers to carry. Then he pulled out a large box from the boot of the car—which I suspect was full of Easter Eggs.

Maureen was wearing a skirt and a jacket and certainly looked better than the last time I’d seen her. She took Simon’s case for him and carried it more easily than I would. She also had flowers in her hand. I went back to my sauce when I saw they were chatting quite comfortably as they walked up the drive together.

Henry’s Mercedes flashed into the drive and pulled in beside the Jaguar. I poured the Riesling into the tray of chicken juices, and added the grapes and other stuffing ingredients. It had to reduce to half its volume. I checked the veg and drained them—they were all ready. Then I chopped up the chicken with the catering equivalent of tin-snips.

It was good-sized one—oh well, it’d have to do. Keeping it all warm was possibly going to be a nuisance—especially when Simon came into the kitchen and wanted to kiss me. I let him have one kiss, then had to get back to the dinner—the cream went into the sauce and I stirred it around then I dished up the meat for everyone and poured some of the sauce over it—it smelt really good.

“Who’s your—um—friend?” Simon asked as he pinched a piece of chicken. He squawked when I smacked his fingers with my wooden spoon.

“Maureen—I meant to warn you.”

“It woulda been nice—but she seems harmless, she said something about you offering her a job.”

“Yeah, she’s an ex-dockyard welder, so I thought she could do some odd jobs about the place.”

“If you say so—um—this chicken is really good.”

“Thank Delia.”

“I thought you’d cooked it.”

“I did but I’d never have thought of making a grape and tarragon stuffing.”

“Uh—yes, quite. Wanna hand with these?”

“Yes please.”

“Why are you dishing up one lot of vegetables?”

“It’s for Julie who decided she didn’t want to meet Maureen.”

“Why—well okay, she looks a bit—you know, but she seems okay.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

“Dad and Monica seem to get on all right with her.”

“Of course, Henry could charm the milk out of your tea. If you can take the veg in, I’ll start bringing in the chicken.”

When I called everyone to the table—sending the boys to wash their hands, the girls had already gone to do theirs—Maureen seemed to be quite popular with the rest of my family. So, one of my worries disappeared.

Simon opened some of the wine which Henry had brought and was pouring it in all the adult’s glasses. Maureen declined, so I offered fruit juice which she accepted. Tom said grace, which sometimes surprises me—but it was Good Friday.

The meal went down really well, with Monica asking me for the recipe for the chicken. “It’s one of Delia’s,” said Simon loudly, thereby undermining my moment of culinary triumph.

“It was lovely ma’am,” said Maureen passing me her dirty plate. Dessert was baked apple stuffed with sultanas, cinnamon and brown sugar and served with ice cream—it wasn’t too onerous and the kids seemed to like it and I didn’t notice any of the adults leave much either.

Stella offered to make the coffee whilst I collected the dirty dessert dishes. Simon went round with a top up of wine. The rain lashed down in a series of heavy showers, but then it was April after all.

It was Robert Browning who wrote: ‘O, to be in England now that April’s there.’ I don’t know if he ever lived near Portsmouth, but I think I’d rather be somewhere warmer and drier. He was after he pushed off to Pisa, but was very homesick—I’ve never been away long enough to feel that.

Robert Browning

Home Thoughts, from Abroad

O, TO be in England
Now that April ‘s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That ‘s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Thinking of Browning for a moment reminded me of some implausible serial I read on the Internet about some transgendered character whose father was doing a biography on Browning. Couldn’t remember anything other than she races round the place zapping people with the help of some Egyptian goddess or other oh, and trying to save the US president.

“She’s not that bad,” Stella hissed as she poured coffees.

I was still thinking about this character rushing about incinerating people—“I dunno, I thought it was implausible.”

“Eh? I’m talking about your friend, Maureen.”

“Oh sorry, I was thinking about Robert Browning.”

“Robert Browning—might I ask why?”

“O, to be in England.”

“Now the monsoon’s here, washing all the bunnies out and drowning all the deer.” She laughed at her parody.

“Yes, very funny, except it’s there not here.”

“What is?”

“O, to be in England now that April’s there,” I corrected her.

“Oh, okay you pedant. Um—all right, O, to be in Portsmouth ’cos it’s Easter there, it’s pissing down an’ I feel cold, ’cos I forgot my underwear.”

“Stella, do you realise you could be the next Elizabeth Barrett-Browning.”

“But she’s dead.”

“Exactly my point.”

“I take it you’re averse to verse in these adverse conditions.”

I groaned but declined to try and out-pun her. We carried the coffees in and Henry and Maureen were in deep discussions.

“So if we got a surveyor to go round with you, you could decide what work was needed and arrange to do it for us?”

“Yes, sir, I’d be delighted to do that for you.”

“You realise we have about four hundred branches.”

“Oh—I’m sorry, sir, I thought it was a local branch you meant.”

“Maureen, do you know who you’re talking with?” I asked.

“Um, not really, ma’am,” she blushed, “other than someone who runs a bigger company than I thought.”

“Probably, Henry is my father-in-law, and he’s chairman of High St Banks.”

“Damn, now she’ll think I’m one of those overpaid buggers, who caused the financial crash.”

“You said it, Dad,” chirped Simon who had Mima on his knee and was reading a book with her.

“Thank you son, maybe I’ll offer Maureen your old job.”

“Which one is that, then?” queried Simon.

“The one I sacked you from two seconds ago.”

Stella sniggered while Simon laughed—“The only reason I’m doing it is because you can’t get anyone to do it for you.” He poked his tongue at his father to emphasise the point.

“Cathy?” Henry said looking at me.

“Don’t look at me, Henry, I know nothing about running a commodities brokerage.”

“Neither does my son,” sighed Henry. “Do you, Maureen?”

“I’m afraid not, sir—welding is my bag.”

“Okay, welding it is—if you give me a contact number, I’ll have one of my surveyors contact you about inspecting all the Hampshire branches—I’m sure we can save something on our insurance for that.”

“Thank you, sir, I won’t let you down.” I could see that Maureen was close to tears.

“When is this going to be?” I asked, “I hope it doesn’t interfere with my maintenance programme here?”

“Oh no, we’re talking at least a month to get my surveyor off his arse.”

“Good,” I asserted, “when you’ve drunk your coffee, Maureen, I’ll show you the outbuildings.”

“Certainly, ma’am an’ thank you for a crackin’ lunch, best I’ve ’ad in years.” Maureen rose from the table and handed me a bunch of daffodils.

“Why thank you, Maureen, they’re lovely.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 953

We donned our coats, and clutching an umbrella that threatened to turn inside out at any moment, I showed Maureen around the yard. Bearing in mind this is an old farmhouse, some of the original outbuildings survive. An old barn, where Tom used to keep his old Land Rover, four garages, which used to be storage or stables, and a few sheds.

She suggested what we could do, to tidy up several of the buildings—most of them are stone or brick—it hasn’t been a farm for a long time, but there are still fields around it which Tom owns, although they’re leased by a neighbour. The orchard survives, although it’s in need of some TLC—but that will be a job for Leon, once we get the rest of the garden sorted.

Maureen pointed out the greenhouse was on its last legs, but she could probably sort that with some additional strengthening. I took the point on board.

“Right you’ve seen how dilapidated things are—do you fancy trying to sort them? I did warn you it’s not exactly women’s work—but these days, we girls do more or less what we want—even fly with the Red Arrows.”

“I’d love to work for you.”

“Even though it might play havoc with your manicure?”

“Despite that—an’ I can always wear gloves.”

“I knew you could. Now we need to talk terms?”

“Before we do, ma’am, might I say what a lovely family you have.”

“Hmm, I hope this isn’t an attempt to get me to offer more money,” I joked but Maureen blushed.

“No, of course not—almost anything’s got to be better than what I get from the social.”

“Well despite being from a banking family, this house belongs to Professor Agnew, who is both my boss and my unofficial adoptive father—so we’re not made of money.”

“I understand.”

“I thought maybe I could offer twenty hours per week at ten pounds per hour. Interested?”

“Definitely, I could pay off some of my debts eventually and maybe improve my wardrobe a bit more—I’m tired of charity shops, especially being this size, although one or two of them keep stuff back for me now. I suspect they feel sorry for me.”

“I’m not doing this out of sympathy, it’s because I need the work done and I thought you might do a better job than some cowboy builder.”

“I’m not a builder though, ma’am—so if you’d prefer to engage one of those, I’d understand.”

“I’m possibly not making myself clear here, I assumed someone with a Royal Naval background and working in the shipyard would provide you with a number of practical skills. Am I right so far?”

“I s’pose so, ma’am.” She looked at the ground and blushed.

“So, could you do the work?”

“Most of it, I think, ma’am.”

“Is the money, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Can you do twenty hours?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“What about thirty hours—or is that too much?”

“Some weeks I could, would depend upon the job I was doin’ and materials.”

“We’ll provide the materials, naturally.”

“Sure, I can do it then?”

“When can you start?”

“When do you want me to?”

“Have you any things you need to sort out first?”

“Nothin’ that would take more than a few days, ma’am.”

“Good—oh, I lied, it’s thirty hours a week.”

“That would really help me sort out my finances.”

“Might be worth talking with Simon about that—he knows the local bank people better than I do, they might be able to cobble together a single loan to pay things off. If you’ve used your credit card—it gets expensive—I know, I was a student.”

“I didn’t think they gave ’em to students?”

“Um—we did a fiddle, it was nominally my dad’s, my real dad’s, and he used to pay it off but I had to pay him back. So I had to watch what I bought and how much debt I ran up—at times it was really hard.”

“Have I seen your picture at the bank, ma’am?”

“With a dormouse?” I asked—now it was my turn to blush.

She nodded.

“Yes, that was me—they used the pictures before they asked me, I was furious.”

“I can appreciate that. Was that you who did the documentary on dormice?”

“Guilty as charged, I study them for a living—when I have time.”

“It was a lovely programme—anyone could see you love them critters.”

“I do have a soft spot for them.”

“You teach at the university, do you?”

“Supposedly—although I’m on secondment to the bank and Defra, to make another film—harvest mice, this time. Haven’t even scripted it yet.”

“How do you manage with all the children—I didn’t see no hired help.”

“With difficulties, at times. Sadly, I don’t have much chance to ride either.”

“You got an ’orse?”

“Good lord no, a bicycle—I ride bikes.”

“I used to love me bike, before I joined up like.”

“Would you like to see mine?”

“Yes please.”

I led her to the garage which is my bike shed and workshop, she was suitably impressed.

“Whose is the workshop, yer ’usband’s?”

I laughed, “Simon would have problems repairing a puncture, this is my space and they all know to let me be while I’m in here.”

“Cor, lovely bit o’kit. Park tools, too. An’ you do wheel truin’ as well?”

“Occasionally, I have to repair a wheel or build a new one.”

“This is bloomin’ good, innit? A woman who knows ’er way round a workshop. I like that, ma’am.”

I blushed again—“My father’s influence, when we rode I had to do my own repairs, he showed me then I had to do it. I’ve branched out a bit since then, used to help in a bike shop and they taught me a few new tricks.”

“It’s good for girls to learn about doin’ things themselves, makes ’em less dependent on boys.”

“I think we’re going to get on fine, Maureen.”

“Me too, ma’am.”

We walked back into the house just as Julie was having a tantrum. “Look at it—it’s bloody ruined…”

“What is?”

“This MP3, the stupid thing broke off.”

“This, Maureen, is Julie.”

“Hello Julie,” she said.

Julie looked at her and then at me but only said, “Hi.”

“Have you got the bits?” I asked and Julie placed them in my hand not too gently. Some sort of lug had broken off where she inserted her headphones.

“Might I see that?” Maureen asked holding out a large hand. I passed her the bits.

“Did I see a soldering iron in your workshop?”

“Yes, yes you did.”

“I think I might be able to repair it.”

“You can?” said Julie loudly, “can you try?”

“What, like now?” asked Maureen.

“Well yes, my life will be over without my music.” Julie always was a bit of a drama queen.

“If your mum says it’s okay to use her stuff.”

“Of course, but don’t let her talk you into things.”

“I’m not—an’ it shouldn’t take too long.”

I handed them the key and watched them set off together to my workshop.

They were gone about half an hour, I was a little worried, wondering if Maureen had perhaps killed Miss Stroppy and was burying her under my workshop—I mean the smell in the summer would be awful, wouldn’t it?

I walked over to see what was happening. “Everything all right?” I asked walking into the garage.

“Yeah, me an’ Maureen was just talkin’, is that like okay?”

“Certainly, did you manage to fix her player?” I asked Maureen.

Before Maureen could answer, Julie interrupted—“Yeah, good as new, brill in’t she?”

“I’m sure she is, right, I’m making some tea, it’ll be ready in ten minutes.”

“Okay, Mummy.”

“Right y’are, ma’am.”

I walked back to my kitchen lost in thought. “Penny for ’em,” said Simon looking for the corkscrew.

“Julie was worried about meeting Maureen, until she broke her player thingy—Maureen fixed it and they’re both over there chatting like old friends.”

“Probably good for both of them. Do they know about each other?”

“Well, it’s pretty obvious about Maureen, but I don’t know if Julie has told her about herself.”

“I suppose that’s up to her, isn’t it?”

“Entirely, but I do wish she’d tell me first, so I know what’s going on. What do you want the corkscrew for anyway?”

“Well, I reckon I’ll know I’ve had enough when I start to fancy Maureen.”

“Simon, you are rotten—R-O-two tees and a-ten.”

“Where does that come from?”

“Eyeore or piglet, I think.”

“I shoulda guessed.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 954

“Remember your liver, darling,” I smiled at him and he gave me a very embarrassed look.

“More coffee then?”

“You know where all the stuff is,” I smiled at him, “perhaps you could make some for Henry and Monica as well.” I left before he could reply.

It was about an hour later that Julie and Maureen came back from my workshop, dashing in through the back door as the rain lashed down again.

“Everything, okay?” I asked.

“Yeah, fine, Maureen is gonna phone the shop tomorrow, see if we can fit her in for restyling.”

“Oh, okay—just remember she’s not made of money.”

“That’s okay, I’ll sort it out with the girls,” winked Julie.

I shook my head and refilled the kettle to make tea. No one was hungry, so I made tea and put out the cakes Trish had helped me make yesterday. They all had one of those, except me—they were all gone before I had a chance—oh well, less food to work off.

The youngsters then dominated things—apparently Trish and Livvie had written a play—remember they’re only six. The others had helped, but we all had to sit while they made last minute adjustments to the lounge, which was their theatre.

What they did was to concoct a story from nursery tales, mixing them up where they felt it necessary, so Bo peep found little Jack Horner instead of her sheep. They used one of Tom’s walking sticks as a shepherd’s crook. They consulted Old Mother Hubbard, who went to the freezer and found it full of frozen lamb, sold to her by Tom Tom the butcher’s son.

We were soon in fits of laughter, as they continued reconstructing Little Miss Muffet, sitting on a tuffet eating a milky way? Mima sat munching and pretending to read a book. Danny lowered one of those rubber spider things and she grabbed it and pretended to eat it. “Spiders, the snack you can eat between meals,” she managed to get right at the fourth attempt, which had us falling off our chairs.

Henry was filming it on his camcorder so the kids were likely to be embarrassed by it for years to come. Trish came rushing in with my red duffle coat, hood up, draped around her and one of my shopping bags draped over her arm.

“I must hurry to see Grandma, but this forest is very dark and full of wolves.”

The next moment Danny jumped out in front of her howling and growling, obviously one of said wolves. She reached in her bag pulled out a pretend gun, and shot him. He howled once more—very tragically, and keeled over. I recognised the plot as in Roald Dahl’s fairy stories.

Finally, Livvie was Sleeping Beauty, and Billy was Prince Charming or whatever and he kissed the sleeping maiden, who yawned, stretched, yawned again and said, “Merci, monsieur,” Billy shrugged his shoulders and said, “You have to kiss a few frogs.”

We all fell about laughing but I was astonished as well—it eventually transpired where Stella had been, helping them write it and direct it. She insisted the kids had produced the ideas, except the last one. I was still, most impressed—perhaps Shakespeare won’t be the most famous English playwright after all?

Maureen left and the party started to break up. Henry and Monica distributed Easter Eggs, Stella and I got one, too. Simon was given a bar of chocolate and Tom a bottle of his favourite single malt Laphroaig, from Islay. He immediately offered Henry a nip, and Simon smiled as well. I went to put the kettle on again and carried the dirty cups and plates out to the kitchen.

Later that night, Simon talked to me about Julie, “Why was Julie absent at lunch?”

I sighed, “She was nervous of meeting Maureen.”

“But why? They seemed like old friends a bit later.”

“I know—look it’s a tranny thing, they don’t like being seen together except to compare notes. The younger ones are sometimes horrified at those who transition later and look more masculine.”

“Why?”

“Partly because they consider they’re being compared with the less adapted people and it makes them feel uncomfortable, and secondly, if they aren’t very early transitioning, it could make them more likely to be read.”

“Read—what, you mean twigged as transsexuals?”

“Yeah, exactly that.”

“Well until you opened the house to these people, I wouldn’t have noticed them if they walked past me in the street.”

“Even Maureen?”

“Okay, I might have considered she was a bit ugly, and the blue shadow might have caused me to read her, as you say.”

“Darling, I think you would have noticed.”

“That would depend on what I was doing, wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose so, you mean like standing at a bus stop.”

“A bus stop? What is that?” He started to tickle me, and I was laughing already at his horrified tone.

“You sounded like Lady Bracknell,” I teased in between giggles.

“A hendbeg?” he said in a falsetto with plum and I was in danger of wetting myself I was laughing so much, my eyes were running and I had to struggle to the loo, I had a stitch from laughing.

“I was very impressed by the children and their play, Nutty Nursery Rhymes.”

“That was quite remarkable—I know Dad will be showing that around the office after the holiday.”

“I loved the twist on the kissing frogs—but that was Stella, I suspect.”

“She said, Trish and Livvie were almost there by themselves, but they were going to do it with amphibians—she made it a little more subtle.”

“Does she speak much French?” I asked him.

“She speaks it like a native…” he replied.

“Oh,” I was further impressed.

“A native of Peru.” He laughed at his own joke and began stroking my breast.

Despite the lubrication, I still got sore, but then I wasn’t dilating much these days—I relied on him to do it for me, which I must admit was a chore he was happy to fulfil, he can be so helpful at times.

The Saturday, it poured again—I was too uncomfortable to go cycling anyway, but the weather would have made a saint swear—and I’m well below them on the list.

“This bloody weather,” I said to Simon who was finishing his breakfast, “is just ridiculous.”

“Hmm,” he mumbled back, his head in the Financial Times.

“I said, I’m going to take all my clothes off and run down the street.”

“Don’t forget to wipe your feet on the mat when you come back, dear,” he muttered back. Obviously, he can carry on a conversation without his brain being involved.

“I’ve been having an affair with Henry,” I tried again.

“Yes dear, I hope it was nice.” Then a moment later—“Bloody hell,” he said loudly.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, wondering if he’d processed my last remark.

“The pound has gained a whole cent against the Euro.”

“Oh, is that bad?”

“No, unless you export things, but it’ll make it cheaper to buy Euros—I’ll organise a couple of million.”

“Just like that?”

“Yeah—we have to hold them for punters anyway—so, if we have loads, the next time the pound falls, we profit by whatever that amount is when we sell to punters later.”

“Is it worth it for a cent.”

“Ah but if it falls a couple of cents, we make a reasonable profit.”

“What two per cent?”

“As we’re providing the service anyway, we make a profit as it is—this adds a couple of pence per Euro. When it’s duplicated a couple of million times, we make a few quid extra.”

“Is there anything you don’t make money on?”

“Not if I can help it. Oh, there is one thing we lose heavily on.”

“Have you got to provide the service?”

“Yeah, otherwise we have to pay someone else.”

“For what?”

“Ah—that would be revealing too much.”

“So what do you lose heavily on?”

“Wives and girlfriends—they cost a fortune.”

“So who else would you have to pay?” I goaded him.

“Physiotherapists.”

Physiotherapists—why?”

“To sort out my sore hand.”

I dropped the plate I was taking out of the dishwasher.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 955

Julie phoned from the salon for me to go and get her as we’d arranged. “I’ll go if you want to get on with dinner,” offered Simon.

“Okay, darling, we’ve got pork chops—I’ll do something different with them.”

“My life, already,” he said sounding like a poor man’s Fagin, “no matter vot you do, the rabbi von’t like it.”

“It’s okay, it’s special kosher pork,” I joked back, “I got it from the halal shop.”

“Okay, fine—see you later.”

I snorted to myself—halal meat is prepared according to Islamic law, and pork is unlikely to figure very much there, any more than it would in a kosher butchers. Having said that I remember a friend of my dad who worked out in Saudi Arabia telling stories of Saudis eating ‘holiday’ meat—which was pork. I have also met Jews who love bacon—the piggy-wiggy meat, not the painter, poet or philosopher.

After dipping the chops in cornflour, then beaten egg I covered them in some sage and onion stuffing mix. Then after spraying them with olive oil, popped them in a fairly hot oven, in the bottom of which, I had several good size jacket potatoes and some beetroot which were baking nicely. The rest of the roughage was provided by a green salad I made from a mix of watercress, lettuce and lambs tongue.

Dessert would be a rice pudding that was cooking gently in the Aga, and had been for several hours. If they were really good, they could have a scoop of ice cream in it, too.

Danny had helped me make the rice pud, a favourite of Stella’s—they had it regularly at her school—although I think mine is probably nicer and healthier—until you add the ice cream or even clotted cream.

Leon and Tom came in from the garden, they were both quite muddy—it had rained on and off in the morning, but seemed to dry up in the afternoon a bit more so they started putting in some plants—at least they didn’t need to water them in. The morning was taken up by checking over the mower, which I believe Leon enjoyed more than planting stuff.

The bit of the garden I can see from the kitchen is now covered in cloches or has netting over it, and regular deposits of slug pellets. I keep trying to get Tom to use the beer method of killing slugs—where you use a container with stale beer in it and they are attracted by the smell, fall in, become intoxicated and drown. Probably nicer than chemical poisons and less dangerous to creatures like hedgehogs which eat slugs and snails. The netting is to keep birds like sparrows and pigeons off the new plants.

Whilst I waited for the muddy gardeners to clean themselves up—they went for showers, having hosed down their waterproof suits and wellies—they looked like green astronauts without the helmets—I went online and ordered some of the slug traps which use beer.

Burying jars in the garden reminded me of experiments we did in checking populations of invertebrates, by planting jars level with their tops in soil and waiting for insects and other critters to fall in and drown in the chemical soup contained in the jars. It’s amazing what you find the next day—ants of umpteen species, spiders, centipedes, springtails, caterpillars, slugs and snails and so on—there were no puppy dog’s tails—I did check very carefully.

Simon and Julie were back just in time for Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to emerge from the showers. It always made me smile that only NASA could land someone on the moon using a mission named after the Greek god of the sun—Apollo. There’s a huge ruined temple to him on Cyprus, which coincidentally is where Aphrodite is said to have emerged from the sea.

Dinner was a reasonable success, and I even got agreement to try the beer traps from a reluctant Tom. The chops went down very well, with the exception that the kids found it annoying to have bone under the coating—but the adults loved them. One or two of them also loved the rice pudding.

That night, everyone seemed very tired and went to bed early on a promise that on Monday, we’d go to see Henry and Monica at the hotel at Southsea. Julie and Leon decamped to the garden, there’s a little bower seat with some protection over it, where they went to suck out each other’s tonsils much to the amusement of the younger children. I put them to bed, the younger children—duh—and read to them.

At nine, Tom took Leon back home with his bike in the back of the Mondeo, and I had a cuppa and wandered off to bed to read my book, a whodunit by Simon Brett based at an imaginary sea-side town just along the coast in West Sussex, called Fethering. They are very corny, but so well written and despite them being murder stories, they can be very funny—laughing at Middle England and some of its eccentric characters. I picked up a book in a charity shop, The Body on the Beach, which was book one in the Fethering series, so was likely to read some of the others. My time is so limited, reading for pleasure is such a luxury, that I revel in it, much to Simon’s disgust—he was watching the football, I think. Actually, I didn’t care—I was in bed with the urbane and erudite, Simon Brett.

So much for reading—two chapters and I zonked. It wasn’t the book, it was total knackerdom, I couldn’t stay awake. Simon, that is, my husband Simon, removed the book from my clammy little paw when he came to bed at midnight. He even marked my page with a chocolate bar wrapper he found on the floor by the bed—I did say, it was pure pleasure. The sweetie paper must have fallen off when I zonked.

I apparently didn’t even wake while he read for half an hour when he came to bed. I only learned this the next morning, when he told me. I suspect he was hoping I’d wake up and make his night for him—no way—I was still sore from Friday’s efforts.

I woke up with the sun shining through the crack in the curtains, although the forecast said it would be windy. I think I heard the door shutting as Tom went off to church. He wasn’t a regular churchgoer, but Christmas and Easter and now and again was his routine. In short, he went when he felt inclined, which sounds better to me than attendance based on autopilot. He said one day he would take the girls—although their attendance at a Catholic school, I suspect put him off.

He’d obviously gone to the early service—so I got up and started some coffee for him—he didn’t eat or drink anything before he went—and I had the bread maker on, so the kitchen smelt wonderful.

The boys were first down, which was unusual—they wanted to ride their bikes, so after a decent breakfast they did just that, going up and down the cycle path near the house. The girls arrived and decided they wanted to ride their bikes too, so they did up and down the drive. Julie managed to rise about lunchtime.

The leg of lamb was roasting in the slow oven of the Aga along with some onions and carrots. I asked Tom if he’d intended to visit the cemetery and he nodded as he ate his toast. I asked if he’d like company. He nodded again.

We slipped away, telling Simon where we were going, but eluding the children who were quite happy on their bikes. I wished I was riding my own, but in some ways, I felt it was also important to show support for Tom and his loss. No matter how long they’d been dead, he still mourned them, but with dignity and respect and love. I hoped I supported him with the same dignity and respect and love.

We placed the flowers on the grave and I stood back while he talked quietly with his wife and daughter. He then asked me to go and talk with them. It was always a slightly surreal experience for me. I don’t believe in life after death and all that stuff, let alone heaven and hell. However, I know by indulging him, he felt some comfort from me, and he said his wife and daughter did too. I can’t comment on that—except to say if I allowed my imagination to drift, I could sense a form of affection near the grave—so maybe he was right and I was wrong. Oh well, one day I suppose we all find out, one way or another.

The rest of the day was quite mundane. We had dinner in the early evening and the kids again went to bed on the promise of Southsea tomorrow. I spent some more time with Simon—my husband, not Brett, and he was more physical than erudite, but he’s quite practised at his art and I’m not complaining.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 956

The sun was shining as we trooped out to the cars. The problem is we need a minibus if we go anywhere en famille. I drove Tom’s Mondeo, and Simon drove Tom’s Freelander. Julie was miffed Simon wasn’t taking the Jaguar, she rather fancied herself riding round in it.

Simon took, Tom, Stella and Puddin’, Julie and Danny—who insisted on sitting next to Julie. He still fancies her like mad, mind you she is a pretty young thing. I had the rest with me, plus oodles of clothing, swimsuits and so on.

They were all so excited—you’d think we were going on holiday, not just away for the day. I think Julie was hoping to wear her new swimsuit, which accentuates her good points and hides the embarrassing ones. I packed mine, but I doubt I’ll wear it; just keeping an eye on six kids is enough.

We got to Southsea at about eleven—it took nearly two hours—there was some sort of road traffic accident—it’s a bank holiday, they’re virtually compulsory. There was so much traffic—I began to think everyone with a car was in or near Portsmouth. The kids were getting fractious it was taking so long and I was feeling frazzled, trying to keep everyone calm.

We were on the second disc of the Philip Pullman, Northern Lights trilogy, when we managed to arrive at the hotel. Simon had got there maybe ten minutes before us—no doubt due to his superior driving skills. I remember when he once said this in front of a group of people, I told him I didn’t play golf and walked away. They laughed for several minutes.

Henry and Monica came down to see us in reception, “Where have you all been?” he asked.

“There’s been an accident somewhere, screwed all the roads up,” said Simon, “we saw an ambulance screaming past. So it might have been whoever was involved in it.”

“Oh, we heard something on the radio—wasn’t really listening where it was. They’re all over the place, nasty one on the A31 near the New Forest. Too many cars: too few driving skills,” observed Henry.

“Come on kids, let’s play,” said Monica, taking Trish and Livvie by the hand—swimming pool or bouncy castle?”

“Swimming,” they both shouted and took their swimwear. Danny and Billy followed them, with Mima running along behind.

“You going in?” Stella asked me.

“No fear,” I answered, I’m not the world’s most convincing swimmer.

“How about a turn in the gym, use the stationary bikes—it’s all been revamped, so two or more can race against each other.” Henry was quite enthusiastic.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get all sweaty, despite my body needing a workout.

“C’mon, Babes, give it a go.” Simon seemed unusually enthusiastic.

“Um—no, I’ll go and watch the kids in the pool,” I smiled at him and he asked Julie. She said she was going for a swim before lunch; she might do the bikes afterwards. Simon looked crestfallen. Tom decided to come and watch the antics in the pool with me.

I was most delighted to see Mima learning to swim, almost as well as I did. She seemed to have overcome any anxieties she had about the water, which said loads about her courage.

Despite my enjoyment of the children’s fun, I felt as if I had my own black cloud blotting out the brilliant sunshine which everyone else was enjoying. Tom looked at me and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t tell him—I didn’t know, but something was most definitely not right.

I saw the policeman walking towards us and wondered why he was here, I mean I have no relatives of any closeness, and surely my driving wasn’t that bad that I was going to be arrested. I didn’t see the WPC walking behind him.

“Cathy Cameron?” asked the copper.

“Yes, that’s me.” My stomach flipped.

“Could we have a word, Cathy?”

“Have I done something wrong?” I was feeling very anxious.

“Whit’s up?” asked Tom.

“And you are, sir?” the policeman asked in a forceful but polite manner.

“He’s my father.”

“Could we talk somewhere privately?”

I saw Henry walking towards the pool, “Just a moment, I’ll ask if we can use a room somewhere—Henry?” I called and ran towards him.

“What are the police doing here?” he asked less than happy about uniformed coppers strolling about the place.

“They want to talk to me.”

“What for?”

“I have no idea. Have you a private room we might use?”

“Yes, follow me,” he beckoned to the coppers and Tom walked with them.

Henry led us into a small room off the conference suite, telling reception we weren’t to be disturbed. He invited himself in on the ‘private’ word.

“Who are you, sir?” asked the copper.

“I happen to own this place…”

“He’s also my father-in-law—you may speak in front of him.” I answered before Henry lit his blue touch paper.

“There was an accident on the main road into Fratton a couple or so hours ago.”

“Yes, we were held up by it, what does it have to do with me?”

“There was a fatality.”

“I’m sorry, I still don’t see what this has to do with me.” As I said this my stomach was jumping like crazy and I felt quite sick.

“Are you alright, madam?” I heard him say from a distance and I felt someone catch me as I dropped.

Next moment I came to sitting in a chair with the policewoman rubbing my hand and calling me while a bunch of men looked on. “Wow, what happened?” I asked regaining control of myself.

“You fainted we think.”

“Goodness, what for?” I shrugged, feeling a bit washed out but otherwise okay.

“The accident, madam.”

“Oh yes, this morning.”

“The casualty was driving an old red Peugeot.”

I nodded to show I was listening. I knew someone with a car like that but who?

“They were carrying a note with your name and address on it. We traced you through that, and the car recognition cameras who saw two vehicles registered at that address heading for here.”

“How come you can track down the innocent but not ever see anyone doing anything illegal?” asked Henry aggressively.

“They tend not to do it in front of our cameras, sir.”

“Note, you say?” I confirmed. “Why are you coming to see me?”

“The individual involved appears not to have had any next of kin. We need to do an identification—sorry, you’re our best shot.”

“No friends?”

“Don’t know, madam—but you possibly knew them.”

“Who was this person with my name and address?”

“A Matthew Perkins.”

“Can’t say I know anyone of that name. Sorry, I can’t help you.”

“They might have called themselves something else—um—they were wearing women’s clothes.”

I promptly threw up all over the carpet before fainting again.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 957

When I finally was able to stand again, I apologised profusely to Henry for messing his carpet, and he was very good about it—but then, it wouldn’t be him who cleaned it up.

“Is this person Maureen?” he asked me quietly.

“I don’t know, could be I suppose, she had a red car—dunno what make.”

“Are ye alricht, Cathy?” asked Tom.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Wid ye like me tae come wi’ ye?”

“No, Daddy, you stay with Simon and keep an eye on the kids—make sure they don’t pull the plug on the swimming pool or whatever, and I’ll be back as quickly as I can.”

The police agreed to take me to the mortuary to identify the body and to bring me back to the hotel. What a wonderful afternoon I had in prospect. Maybe, I should have taken one of our cars instead of going in the police BMW—it looked as if I was under arrest.

The mortuary was at the QA hospital and my tummy gurgled and glugged like a Victorian plumbing system. Finally, I was led into a small room and behind a curtain I heard noises—obviously they were bringing in the body.

I’d never seen Maureen without makeup and jewellery. My tummy was gurgling like mad—I had no idea what I’d see.

“In a moment, the attendant will remove the cloth from the face of the person, we’d like you to tell us if it’s the person you think it is. A nod for yes, or shake your head for no will suffice. But we have to ask you the question. Is that okay? They might be quite bashed up in a car smash. Are you ready?”

I took a deep breath and nodded—I wasn’t good with death. The copper said, ‘Okay,’ and the curtain opened and the attendant removed the cloth. I took another deep breath and opened my eyes.

Before me lay the pitiful sight of a young person with lots of facial bruising, but even with that, I could see they’d have once been quite good looking. The thin plucked eyebrows and blonde hair gave the face a feminine quality which Maureen didn’t have and the bump at the thyroid cartilage showed it was a male.

“Sorry, I don’t know who this is, or was.”

The copper nodded to the attendant and the cloth was replaced, the curtain redrawn and I was led away.

“How was my address found?”

“In a red handbag, apparently.”

“The person I gave it to had a red handbag, I think. There was no one else in the car?”

“No, just the driver, as far as we know.”

“And he or she was wearing women’s clothes?” I asked, still dazed.

“Yes, according to the report,” replied the copper.

“So, Mrs Cameron, who did you think it was?” asked the WPC.

“I offered someone a job who was transitioning from male to female.”

“Oh—might I ask why?”

“Yes, they needed some help and I had some jobs that needed to be done.”

“Who were they?”

“Maureen Ferguson, was their current name—I don’t know what their previous name was—I was trying to support their current struggle.”

“Why employ one of those weirdos when you could get a normal person?” asked the copper. I saw his female colleague’s eyes widen in surprise when he asked this crass question.

“They were qualified to do the job and believe it or not, transgender people suffer tremendous prejudice from all sorts of quarters—most of it unjustified. I was trying to redress that balance.”

He blushed at me and escorted me out to the car. I was glad to be out in the fresh air again. The smell in the mortuary—of rancid copper—made me feel ill.

“Excuse me, Mrs Cameron, do you have an address for this Maureen Ferguson?” asked the woman police officer.

“I might have?” I rummaged about in my handbag and pulled out my Blackberry, and punched in the name and up came the phone number and address.

“Someone got killed for one of those the other day,” commented the male copper.

“Well I didn’t do it, my husband gave me this a year or two ago.” I pressed dial and within a few moments I could hear Maureen’s phone ringing.

“Hello?” said the unfortunate male sounding voice.

“Maureen?”

“Yes, who’s that?”

“Cathy Cameron.”

“Oh hello, ma’am, to what do I owe this pleasure? You haven’t changed your mind in the cool light of day, I hope?”

“No certainly not. It’s a serious business, I’m afraid. I’m with the police at the mortuary, someone was killed who was transgendered and my name and address were found on the body—or in a handbag to be precise. A red handbag.”

“What sort of car was it, ma’am?”

“A red Peugeot.”

“Oh fuck—oh, excuse me ma’am—I didn’t mean to be crude. I loaned my red bag to Mitzi Perkins, she didn’t have one and she was going to visit someone. I guess she didn’t make it?”

“I’m afraid it looks that way. Was she blonde?”

“Yeah, peroxide natch, but yeah. Oh shit—poor bugger.”

“Indeed, thanks for that, is there anyone who could identify the body?” I asked on being prompted by the police.

“I suppose I could, but they’d have to come and get me an’ take me ’ome,” I’ve ’ad a couple of beers so I’m not safe to drive.”

I explained this to the two constables, who took the phone and spoke with her. They arranged for someone to go and get her. Then they delivered me back to the hotel. I felt exhausted and ravenously hungry. I walked in and the manager saw me arrive. “Lady Cameron, are you all right, you look all in?”

“I am—is there any chance I could get a cuppa and a sandwich and a sit down in some peace and quiet?”

“But of course—what would you like in your sandwich?”

“Tuna salad.”

“And brown or white bread?”

“Wholemeal if poss.”

“Of course, and tea.”

“Have you any Lady Grey?”

“We do, please come through to the office.”

“Can we tell no one I’m here until after I’ve eaten and rested?”

“Of course, Lady Cameron.”

“Thank you.”

A sandwich and tea arrived about fifteen or twenty minutes later—I’d fallen asleep so was a little disoriented when they woke me. I woke myself up, ate and drank, poured myself another cuppa, drank it and decided I’d better see the rest of the family.

They were actually up in Henry’s private suite watching DVDs or chatting. Simon saw me first and rushed over to greet me. He gave me a huge hug which caused me to let go the tears. He then shepherded me out to a bedroom before the kids saw me.

“Why didn’t you send for me?”

“I needed someone to keep an eye on the children.”

“You, silly girl, I coulda gone instead of you. I think I’d have recognised her.”

“It wasn’t her, it was friend who’d borrowed her handbag.”

“Did you know them?”

I shook my head and tears flowed as I remembered that lifeless face.

“Well, it coulda been worse then?”

“Si, that person was only about my age—what a waste.”

He hugged me, “I’m afraid it happens, Babes, shit happens.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 958

Getting the children home from the hotel was not going to be easy. They’d had loads of fun and naturally wanted more. I tried to explain that their fun cost lots of money and therefore we’d have to save up again. I don’t think they believed me for one moment.

None of them were aware of the accident and because they didn’t see me go off with the police they were none the wiser about casualties. The agony we’d gone through when we’d thought it was Maureen, I was glad wasn’t shared with the children. Julie would have been very upset, now she’d gained Maureen as a friend.

The next day, Maureen called me to ask if she could come out to talk to me about things. I spoke briefly to Simon—it was his last day home, but he agreed to give me an hour when he’d look after the kids. In fact he took them cycling, although I had to check his bike was roadworthy. Whenever I do this it feels a bit like a role reversal thing, he’s the bloke he should be sorting the bikes. But it’s not like that in our house—I’m the bike mechanic, as well as everything else—he’s the bureaucrat.

At about ten, the doorbell rang and Maureen came in. Julie and the girls made quite a fuss of her—the boys were out in the garden with Tom planting potatoes or something.

The girls went out with Simon on their bikes. I took Maureen into the kitchen and closed the door on the hovering Julie. I didn’t want her involved at this stage, so I asked her to go and find something to do.

“Like what?” she pouted.

“Go and help Stella, or take Puddin’ out in the pram.” I didn’t care what she did as long as it wasn’t hurtful or harmful to her or anyone else.

I made some tea and Maureen and I sat at the table. “How did you get on with the police?” I asked.

“Well, ma’am, they were a bit awkward at first but when I mentioned I was on the police and minorities liaison committee, their manner improved.”

“Nice one, well done. Was it your friend?”

“Yes,” she nodded and began to weep. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. If it had been a girlfriend, I’d have given her a hug—but she was twice my size and I didn’t know if my arms would go round her to begin with. In the end I walked round behind her and put my hands on her shoulders and gently massaged them. It calmed her down and she was able to speak again.

“How did she end up with my address in her bag?” I knew the answer, I just wanted her to talk to express her emotion.

“She was going out on a date with a girl she knew before, who seemed to accept the changeover. She wanted to look smart and wear her new red shoes, she didn’t have a red bag so borrowed mine. It was all so fast that I didn’t have a chance to check I’d emptied it properly before I gave it to her.”

“Ah, it’s quite easily done—I tend to use the same handbag whatever I’m doing unless we go somewhere special, it saves an awful lot of messing about. Once before I went away and forgot my purse, it was in my other bag. So by using the same bag, I’m less inclined to lose things.”

“I’m a bit more old fashioned, ma’am, my ex used to have a bag for very pair of shoes or boots—so I do the same.”

“If that feels best, that’s fine.”

“It does.”

We sipped our teas, then she stated why she’d come. “Look, Mitzi won’t have many people at the crematorium, most of ’em’ll be from the local TG support group, so would you come, sort of as a respectable person?”

“Goodness, I’ve never thought of myself as respectable.”

“Well, you’re married to a lord, you work for the university, have loads of kids, help people like me an’ I’d like you to read the lesson if you would.”

You’d like me to read the lesson?”

“Yeah, she ’ad no family—they disowned ’er a couple a years ago.”

“What sort of lesson is it? I’m not religious—so I might be the wrong person to do this.”

“She weren’t neither, so it don’t matter, you’ve been more Christian to me than many who call themselves one.”

“I don’t see it that way, but when is the funeral and what lesson do you want me to read?”

“I dunno—I wonder if you could think of something, you like being an educated lady.”

“Mitzi—she wasn’t Jewish, was she?”

“Dunno, ma’am, she coulda been for all I know, why?”

“Well, I’d have to try and find something from the Old Testament or other Jewish texts. If she was Islamic, I’d have to find something suitable for that. It would be possibly considered insulting if she was Jewish to read from Omar Khayyam.”

“Oh gawd, I hadn’t thoughta that. ’Ow do I find out?”

“Was she employed?”

“No—she was still looking.”

“Because they might have been able to tell you.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to find something—a clever woman like you.”

“If I was that clever, how come I have six-year-olds regularly run rings round me?”

“Because you love ’em?”

“When is the funeral?”

“Next Monday, at eleven o’clock.”

“I’ll see what I can do. I’ll look for a couple of days—if I can’t find anything you might have to find someone else.”

“Nah—if you can’t find nothin’, no one else is gonna—are they?”

“Why not?”

“You’re the best educated person I know.”

“Oh dear, Tom and Henry are cleverer than I am, Stella and Simon both went to public school before university. They should be better educated.”

“Nah—I seen you in action, run rings round ’em.”

“I don’t think so, but I’m not going to argue. Okay I’ll read your lesson from a piece of my choosing.”

“Thank you, ma’am, I know Mitzi would be pleased to have someone of your position readin’ for her.”

“But I’m not am I? I’m doing it as favour to you.”

“You visited her yesterday, so she’s not a complete stranger, is she?”

“Almost, Maureen, she was deceased, albeit fairly recently.”

“Of course—would you come and speak to our group?”

“About what? My subject is dormice—can’t see what relevance that would have for transgendered people.”

“Perhaps just talk about your perceptions of them—as a natural woman, like.”

How do I get into these situations? I can’t accept the invite for all sorts of reasons including the fact that I’d be lying or wilfully misrepresenting myself. I’m not prepared to do that. “I don’t think so, Maureen—I’m flattered that you think my opinion is that important—but, I don’t think I want to do that. Sorry.”

“Okay—I have to go, eleven o’clock, Monday at the crem.”

“I’ll be there.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 959

The service was being run by some woman who seemed to have some familiarity of crematorium protocols. I was briefly introduced to her—Marjorie was her name. She wasn’t TG as far as I could tell.

It seemed to be a cross between a celebration of a life and a farewell to a friend. I explained that I wasn’t reading a lesson but a poem which I considered appropriate. She told me that was fine and she would ask me to do the reading as and when.

There was some music, some prayers, some singing and I was called to do the reading. “Lady Catherine Cameron will now do a reading.” She nodded at me and I walked to the front of the chapel.

“I’m sorry to say that I didn’t know your friend Mitzi, but my involvement was through one of her friends who loaned her a bag with my name and address in it. The police found this at the accident and I was asked to identify the body. So, sadly I met your friend once but after she had died. I was asked to do some sort of reading for this and after much searching for something suitable, I found this poem by the modern Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. It’s called, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

I read the poem, reasonably well—no hesitations, at a reasonable speed and my enunciation was reasonable too. People nodded to me as I went back to my seat, and Marjorie thanked me.

Marjorie then read some more prayers and did the committal part of the service, whereupon everyone was given the opportunity to file past the coffin and say a quick goodbye—it was very moving. There were loads of tears, then the curtain came across and the coffin was sent on its way to the fire.

It was just after half past eleven when we filed out the door and out into the area outside where people go to view the flowers. I had an envelope with some money in it to give to the undertaker if there was some charitable cause being supported.

My plan was to wait a few minutes then disappear as quickly as I could. Of course, the best laid plans… Maureen came to thank me for my reading, she thought it was beautiful—the only other stuff was more remote, and by John Donne—hence my choice of Dylan Thomas, whose poetry I enjoy.

While Maureen was still talking to me, one or two people, some obvious TG, some effeminate looking males—who were either cross-dressers or in drab, prior to transitioning—I assumed, because that was what it felt like.

I wasn’t very comfortable, I was amongst strangers with no clear role and I wanted to be on my way. However, it would have been rude to just dash off.

“That poem was brill, how did you find it?” asked someone whom I’d never met before.

“I did it in school,” I replied.

“I’ve never been one much for poetry, but that just hit the spot.”

“Yes, it often does when the words are speaking to the heart as well as the mind.”

“I’d never thought of it like that. Thank you.” They shook my hand and left.

“Aren’t you the lady who did the dormouse programme on the telly?”

I blushed, damn now they had something to track me down with, “Um, yes, I was involved with it.”

“Yeah, it was really good.”

“It was a team effort.” I tried to minimise my association with it the opposite to my usual position.

After several questions like this, Marjorie came to speak with me. “You don’t know who I am, do you?”

I was completely perplexed, I had no idea who she was. “In general or with regard to this morning?”

“Both.” She smiled enigmatically at me.

“No I don’t, although I think you did a wonderful job in there.”

“Cathy Cameron, nee Watts, I’ve watched your career for the last couple of years with interest. I’m the dean’s secretary, now do you recognise me.”

I felt the customary heat wave pass up from my feet to end somewhere about my scalp and I went very red. “Yes, now I do. I’m sorry I should have done so earlier but I don’t do much at the department at the moment.”

“No, I know, you have another film to make—how is that going?”

“Not very well—the weather has been awful and my cameraman has been ill. We haven’t even completed the final draft of the script yet, so can’t set our shooting schedule.”

“Never mind, it’s supposed to improve for a few days.”

“With six kids to look after, it’s not the highest priority.”

“Six, my goodness—you like to complicate your life don’t you?”

“I’ve just adopted three of them, with foster orders on the others.”

“I suppose you can’t have children.”

“Marjorie, I’d have thought you’d have known that.”

“I was just checking, you look so natural, I wondered if you were one of the intersex types.”

“No, and I’d be obliged if you don’t blow my cover now.”

“I won’t, although it’s in the public domain for those who wish to look, isn’t it?”

“Yes. Look, I have to go—Simon could only spare an hour or so to watch the kids.”

“Well thanks for your reading, it was splendid—you must have Welsh blood in you somewhere.”

“Possibly, I come from Bristol, and the buggers keep swimming the river to rape and pillage.”

“Isn’t there a bridge there now?” she looked astonished at my comment.

“Hush, don’t tell them, they’ll be over even more often.”

She laughed, “Thank you for coming.”

I gave her a hard look and hesitated, she cocked her head at me, inviting the question. “What are you to the deceased, to Mitzi?”

“I’m her grandmother,” a tear filled her eye and I gave my condolences and left.

There were probably about thirty people there, most were women or at least dressed as such, many were crying. There were a handful of men or I suspected, would be women, if they had the opportunity, perhaps having to dash off to work or lacking confidence. It remained to be seen, how many of them recognised me and put two and two together—oh well, if they do they do. I honoured a promise for good or bad.

I no longer feel a need to disclose my past to anyone who doesn’t absolutely need to know. No one there fell into that category. I drove home, glad to change out of the formal navy suit I wore and my hat. I hope I wasn’t overdressed, only one or two wore hats—but it was a chapel and traditionally women keep their heads covered, even us agnostics.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 960

The following day, I took five children to see some dormice—except they were all asleep still. I did handle one or two for them to actually see and touch, then I left them to Neal’s tender mercies. It’ll be good practice for when he and Gloria have babies. His face was a picture. Then when he powered up his computer, I knew he was going to YouTube. I went to the Dean’s office, or to be more precise, his secretary’s office.

I retrieved the bunch of flowers from the car and knocked on Marjorie’s door. I was suddenly overcome by a fit of giggles when I thought of the nursery rhyme, Seesaw Marjorie Daw, Johnnie shall have a new master. I was still in this idiotic phase when she called me to come in. It took me a moment to control myself.

“Something funny, Lady Cameron?”

“Only the electrical discharges in my brain which pass for thoughts.”

“I see, you had a funny thought?”

“Yes, I just deposited five of my six kids on Neal for a few minutes while I popped up here to see you. The look on his face.”

“Yes, I’m sure…” she chuckled.

“Oh these are for you,” I handed her the flowers.

“That’s very kind of you, is there a reason?”

“Just a gift and a thank you for your handling of yesterday’s funeral.”

“Shouldn’t I be giving you a gift, after all it was my granddaughter who died, and you did do us all a favour with your poem.”

“I’m glad it met the occasion.”

“It did, and so did you—what a difference with your jeans and sweatshirt compared to yesterday’s suit and hat.”

“It wasn’t over the top was it?”

“No, it was perfect and I know Mitzi would have been delighted to have seen it. You cut quite a dash, Lady Cameron.”

“You were suitably elegant yourself, Mrs Perkins.”

“Thank you. If you don’t mind, I have work to do and I’m sure Neal needs rescuing from your brood.”

“Of course—I’m really sorry you lost Mitzi. I’d like to have known her.”

“You would have liked her, although she wasn’t as female looking as you, you really are remarkably good aren’t you?”

“Am I? I don’t think about it,” I lied.

“Cathy Watts, even in her short time before her transition, looked quite feminine—I presume that was why you did the bike riding?”

“If it was it didn’t work—I wasn’t good enough to race with the men’s team.”

She looked at me as if I was stupid, “Wasn’t that always going to be obvious—you’re a female, they lack the musculature and strength, men are always going to win on those terms.”

“According to my legal status—I was a man.”

“Stuff and nonsense, if you were then there was something very wrong with your hormones. I’ve never seen someone who transitioned in their twenties develop hips like yours.”

“I don’t think I ever actually went through puberty—least, not when everyone else did. In those days, although I knew I should have been a girl, if my body had changed like the rest of the boys, I wouldn’t have been teased quite as much.”

“Ah, but to your great good fortune it didn’t, and you grew up a woman.”

“It would seem that way. Better rescue Neal.”

“Yes, oh and Cathy?”

“Yes, Marjorie?” I reciprocated her dropping of formal address.

“Nobody was any the wiser yesterday.”

“It’s not important, is it?”

“It’s important enough to bring you into the university to check though, isn’t it?”

Damn, am I that transparent? I shrugged, “No I came to speak to you, and see how you were.”

“You always were a poor liar, Catherine Watts. Off you go.” She winked at me as I left.

The children were collected, none had been fed to the dormice to boost their protein levels, so I took them—the children, not the dormice, they were still hibernating—do pay attention—for some pizza and ice cream. For them almost the ultimate treat.

After that, seeing as it was a fine day, I took them out to the coast and we had a walk along the shoreline looking for interesting things which get washed up and animals and birds we might see. I keep a pair of small binoculars in the car and we saw a few oystercatchers and other waders. The two boys were more interested than the girls which wasn’t entirely surprising—more men than women bird-watch—I just happen to be in a minority—nothing new there then.

Back to the house and dinner—I cooked chicken thighs in a casserole; it went down quite well, as did the yoghurts afterwards. Fresh air seemed to give them an appetite. Julie said she was quite happy at home with Stella and Puddin’ and they’d gone for a walk themselves with the baby in the push chair. She enjoyed her chicken too, Puddin’ that is. I liquidise some of it, and chop the meat very fine and she laps it up—well not literally, she’s not a kitten, oh forget it.

The rest of the week saw me trying to organise the house, the children and Maureen, who began to do a detailed costing of the parts we needed to do one or two jobs. She considered she had enough contacts to be able to get some of the supplies at wholesale prices—I just told her not to do anything illegal, because of the position of Simon and Tom and of course myself. She smiled and said, “Don’t worry, I won’t be doing anything to embarrass you.”

“Won’t most of your contacts be used to dealing with your previous persona?”

“Ma’am, I don’t look that much different, do I?”

“I don’t know, do I?—I didn’t know you before.”

“No, ma’am, by the way, that poem was just right for poor ol’ Mitzi.”

“Thank you, Maureen, I’m glad it seemed apposite.”

“Opposite? Nah it was perfect.”

“No, Maureen, apposite—fitting, appropriate.”

“Oh, I misheard you, ma’am, I thought you said, opposite.”

I left her to measure up some more lengths of wood and so on. I’d reminded Tom she would be there and he told me to let him know how much. He gave me access to a thousand pounds, which I gulped and matched for funding for Maureen’s time and materials. I asked her to complete a simple time sheet—not to check up on her but to make sure she wasn’t underpaid.

By the end of that week, her efforts were starting to take shape when Julie was persuaded to let her get on with things, instead of talking. As I needed help with the house, I did have grounds for asking her to lend a hand—besides which, Simon is paying her.

The salon asked her to go in on the Friday as well as the Saturday, which meant me taking and collecting her both days. Their trainee was apparently off sick, so she was doing shampooing as well as cleaning up the mess—she thought it was good fun. I reminded her to use a good hand cream as shampoos can dry the skin quite a lot.

On the Thursday before she did the two days at the salon, I was taking out some coffee for Maureen, when I overheard them chatting.

“Your mother is gorgeous, isn’t she?”

“I suppose so, I don’t like, think of her in those terms.”

“Nah, I s’pose not—but I think she’s amazing.”

“Oh she’s that all right. Have you noticed that any aches and pains you have when she’s around, just disappear?”

“I ’adn’t thought about it, but yeah, now you come to mention it, my shoulders used to play up somethink rotten, now they seem easier. Why’s that? Am I distracted by her beauty?”

“Possibly,” Julie allowed, “but Trish an’ me, we think she’s really an angel.” I blushed when I heard this.

“I think you’re probably right, girl, she’s been a Godsend to me any rate.”

At this point I pretended to have only just arrived with the coffee—thank goodness I cover the mug with one of the plastic lids off a Pringle’s tube, or the coffee would have been cold. I’d have to ask Julie not to drop me in it re the healing I do occasionally. Why is life so complicated—or is it just mine?

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 961

Goodness, was it Friday already? The children go back to school on Monday, maybe I’ll get something done then. Having said that, they are becoming more like a family every day—even the boys and Julie are growing closer to us and seeing themselves as siblings—including the odd squabble.

“Are you going to adopt the rest of us, too?” asked Julie as I drove her to the salon.

“I’m not sure what to do—at sixteen, you’re practically an adult, so it’s hardly worth it for you, is it? Besides, what would your previous parents think?” I had to word the last bit carefully.

“Who cares what they think? I might change my name to Cameron anyway, when I’m old enough. Then you’d have to adopt me.”

I snorted at her—I hoped she was only trying to wind me up. “Have you changed your name officially?”

“I dunno? I haven’t done anything—what do we have to do?”

“I’ll have to check, but it can be done by deed poll or statutory declaration. I don’t know if there’s an age limit on it.”

“Oh wow, can I change it to Julie Cameron?”

“In theory, I think you can call yourself anything you want, but what’s wrong with your old surname?”

“What’s wrong with it? What’s right with it—more like? I hate it because it reminds me of those two sickos, that’s what’s wrong with it—remember, he tried to cut my throat rather than let me stay with you?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, Julie, as long as I live.” I felt myself go cold, if I hadn’t been able to call upon the healing powers I’d been granted, she’d have bled to death—her father didn’t try, he succeeded in cutting her throat.

I shuddered at the memory and changed the subject. “Are you enjoying the shampooing—better than sweeping the floor, I’ll bet?”

“Yeah—it’s okay, and I’d like to learn lots more about hair care if only for looking after my own—where did you learn, Mummy?”

“Stella trained as a hairdresser before she went to nursing, she taught me most of what I know.”

“Everyone at home is clever, except me.”

“You’re quite bright too, girl. Remember you’ll get a chance to show that, when your course starts in September.”

“Yeah, I suppose—but if I don’t like it, I could do nursing too, couldn’t I?”

“Stella would be the best person to advise you on that—but it’s a degree course now so they want A-levels, or you’d have to do an entry course.”

“Maybe I’ll think about it.”

“Talk to Stella.”

“I gotta go, Mummy.” She kissed me on the cheek, “Will you collect me, too?”

“Ooh, I might if I don’t get a better offer.”

“Huh,” she flounced off into the shop and poked her tongue at me just as she went through the door. I pulled back out into the traffic and drove home.

By the time I got back, Maureen was there, measuring and sawing. She waved as I parked the car. “Morning, ma’am,” she said as I walked past her.

“Morning, Maureen, you’re nice and early.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’d like to complete this bit today.”

“Do we really need the ma’am bit now? I’m just Cathy.”

“Sorry, ma’am, it’s how we always addressed the officers.”

“But I’m not an officer, Maureen, I’m just a housewife.”

“An’ a lady, a teacher, filmmaker, mother of thousands, and my employer. You’re way above me in social standin’, and I like to show that, ma’am. It’s easier to remember than Lady Cameron.”

“I’m no more important than you are, Maureen. I believe we’re all equal as human beings.”

“No, ma’am, we’re not all equal—you’re special, and the lovely people who live with you. You’re better than equal.”

Whilst this offended my socialist tendencies, I decided I wouldn’t press the point. If I admitted it, I had previous on letting people call me what they wanted despite objecting—I lost the argument with a three year old—so I was unlikely to win against an ex-matelot.

“Would you like some coffee?” I asked, walking towards the back door.

“I’ll have some later, ma’am if that’s okay, I need to get on with this; if that’s okay?”

“Yes, that’s fine—did you remember to bring them?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Oh goody, I’ll see you later.” I went in and had five children bounce all over me, looking to be entertained. Maybe, I should feed ’em to the dormice.

“Has anyone got any homework to finish?” I asked the assembled throng. They all responded in the negative. “Okay, I have chores to do this morning.” This was answered by moans and groans. “But if you all help me, after lunch, we could go out on the bikes.” This was found to be more favourable to the electorate.

So I delegated. Trish was designated cook’s help, Livvie got to do the vacuuming, the boys had to strip and change their beds and Mima flitted about with a feather duster dusting ornaments. It was organised chaos, then when Stella took Puddin’ out in the pushchair, Meems defected and went out with them. It probably meant I wouldn’t have to try and repair as many ornaments as the last time she did the dusting.

Trish and I made bread and then we made a salad for lunch, with some homemade potato salad and quiche. I took Maureen a cup of coffee at eleven, and finally she showed me what she’d promised to bring.

We sat in the sunshine, drinking coffee and eating a biscuit, while browsing through some photos she had of Mitzi, and some of the others at the transgender support group. Mitzi was quite reasonable-looking compared to some of the others. Then Maureen had made quite a bit of progress herself, and her hair looked better since she’d been to the salon where Julie was doing her work experience.

“So tell me about Mitzi,” I asked Maureen. Why I had this urge to know about her, I didn’t have a clue. Normally, I keep clear of other TG folk, simply because I’d done my apprenticeship and was now entitled to call myself female—sort of. I’d not been involved with groups or even individuals—my path had been solitary, and in some ways, it possibly suited me better.

“She was the life and soul of the party an’ we all loved her in the group. She was good with the other young uns and especially with the new comers, who are sometimes a bit shy.”

“I can understand that—it must be a big step to take to go public.” I remembered my own, after falling all over Simon and spilling wine on his best shirt, we went out to that restaurant. How could he not see through my disguise? He never actually did—I had to tell him. Fortunately, he coped and we stayed together after he recovered from his shock.

“Yeah, I remember my own first time, ma’am.”

“Well come on, girl, tell me all the gory details.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she stood up and saluted me, “permission to speak, ma’am.”

“Granted—now get on with it.”

Maureen smiled and then chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I was just thinkin’, if I’d been dressed like this in the navy, they’d have hanged me from the yardarm.”

“Oh, they stopped keelhauling then or kissing the gunner’s daughter?”

“You know a bit about naval history?” her eyes sparkled.

“Not really—I know how Nelson sank half the French fleet at Trafalgar and paid for it with his life.”

“Aye, ma’am, a true legend.”

“And like all legends, died at the top of his fame—hence the fact that he still remains a hero while other equally crazy heroes are forgotten.”

“I suppose so, ma’am.”

“Come on then—your first time out as Maureen.”

“You don’t really want to know do you?”

“Of course I do.”

“Okay, I was lot younger an’ less masculine lookin’. I ’adn’t long joined me first ship—HMS Sheffield.”

“A type 42 destroyer?”

“Nah, I ain’t that old, she was sunk being towed back from the Falklands. The Shiny Sheff as we called it was a type 22 frigate.”

“The Shiny Sheff?” I queried.

“Yeah, she ’ad loadsa bits made in stainless steel from Sheffield.”

“Ah, I see now, okay carry on.”

“I was about seventeen, an’ ’ad been dressin’ in me mum’s stuff whenever I got the chance.”

“All girls do that, Maureen.”

“I was a boy, ma’am.”

“Oops!” I blushed.

“Anyway we sails into Singapore—cor, was it exotic compared to Pompey. They took us boys down to Bugis Street to see the ladyboys, who were tranny prostitutes. Some o’them were so feminine—all I wanted to do was jump ship an’ join ’em. I ’ad some photos but they got lost—you know ’ow it is?”

I nodded.

“Mummy—when is lunch ready?” called Mima, having returned from her walk.

I glanced at my watch—“Oops, in ten minutes, darling. We’ll talk again later, Maureen—are you coming in for lunch?”

“I really ought to lose some weight, ma’am.”

“It’s salad, and there’s plenty there.”

“Thank you, ma’am—I’ll be there, ten minutes did you say?”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 962

As I ate my lunch, I realised I wouldn’t hear the rest of Maureen’s story for a while. I’d agreed to take the children cycling—I had to keep my word. We cleared up, then changed and before we left on our version of the TdF, I paid Maureen in case she was gone before we got back.

I watched in fascination as the cyclist struggled against gravity and the heat as she tried gamely to climb the monster known as Ventoux. We called to encourage her, but she finally climbed off her bike, shouted at it and sat by the side of it and burst into tears. Thus Mima learned the joys of cycling up hills. It wasn’t much of one, barely a rise, but on her little bike—she wasn’t going to use the trailer bike—she felt it was too much, so I had to go and get her.

Livvie and Trish had made it, and the boys had gone up like rockets. On my mountain bike, I didn’t even change gear, but obviously it was too much for Meems. I walked her up to where the others were waiting, and they all clapped and cheered when I pushed her to the top. She thought it was funny then—fickle creature.

We did a couple of miles and then turned back to the house. It was four o’clock when we arrived at the house and I then had to collect Julie. I didn’t bother changing from my jeans and trainers, and while Stella distributed cold drinks and a biscuit, I got in the car and went off to the salon.

It had closed and Julie was waiting on the pavement, she was huddled in the doorway against the cool breeze. “You’re late,” she snapped accusingly.

“Am I? Most shops I know work until five or six on a Friday, sometimes later.”

“We stop at four on Fridays and Saturdays.” She grumbled and saying she was cold, she got in the car and moaned and groaned all the way home.

“How was work?” I asked trying to change the subject.

“All right until that stupid old cow came in.”

“Old cow?” I queried.

“She was ancient, at least thirty five.”

“And?”

“She complained I had the water too hot and scalded her.”

“Was it hot?”

“Not very hot, she was just a trouble maker—she got her hair cut for half price. I reckon she was conning them.”

“She might have been,” I agreed.

“Then she got into this big four wheel drive thingie, after she boasted about her garden centre.”

“Oh,” I asked, “did you catch her name?”

“Browne-Cow or something—she has a daughter called Petunia—I mean, like how dumb can you get?

“Wasn’t Browne-Coward, was it?”

“Something like that, why do you know her?”

“If it’s the one I’m thinking of, our paths have crossed.”

“Was she a right cow?”

“I won’t disagree with the description, and her daughter was a bully—ask Trish and Livvie.”

“They know her?”

“Yes, she used to go to their school.”

“Oh wow, she used to?”

“Yes, she had a rather public row with the headmistress and was asked to remove her child. It was about bullying.”

“Small world, like, isn’t it?”

“It is indeed. Just think, if she’d known you were related to me, she’d have insisted they sack you.”

“Huh, if she comes in again, I’ll like refuse to wash her hair.”

“I’m not sure if you can, but it might be a wise course of action.”

“Snotty ol’ git,” sighed Julie and we both burst out laughing.

We walked towards the house, “Oh, has Maureen gone?” groaned Julie.

“Yes, she went before I came to get you.”

“Huh, she works less hours than I do.”

“I doubt it, Julie—and she barely stops when she’s working.”

“So do I—look, shampoo hands.” She held out her hands which were a bit pinker than usual.

“We’ll have to get you some barrier cream or rubber gloves. Did you use the hand cream?”

“Yeah, but then I have to do another shampoo and it’s all washed off again.”

“I suspect a barrier cream might do the same. Looks like rubber gloves or a plastic equivalent.”

“I can’t wash women’s hair in me Marigolds?”

“Why not?”

“They wouldn’t like it.”

“They’d like it even less if you had a dermatitis or eczema.”

“Ewww don’t, we had a boy in school who had eczema—his name was Peel, we used to call him Orange.”

“Not Emma?”

“Emma? Who’s Emma?”

“Emma Peel—in The Avengers.”

“Uma Thurman—she was in Kill Bill.”

“The original and best was Diana Rigg—whom I so envied.”

“How could you envy anyone, Mummy? You’re like, beautiful.”

“I did in those days, when I was a kid—mind you, Dame Diana is in her sixties or seventies now, I should think.”

“So how did you see her?”

“A friend I had at the time had videos of the originals. Mind you I also wanted to be like Linda Thorson—she was more glamorous than Diana Rigg and had bigger boobs.”

“Oh, Mummy, you do make me laugh.”

“Don’t you have heroines you’d like to be or look like?”

“Yeah—that Megan Fox, is like totally kew-ell.”

“I know someone who thinks you’re quite a little fox, yourself,” I teased.

“Who’s that, Mummy?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you that, can I?”

“Why not?”

“Because it would be breaking a confidence, wouldn’t it?”

“Oh, like c’mon, Mummy, tell me—pulleaaaaase.”

“No—are you going to help me get the dinner?”

“Not unless you tell me who it is—someone I like, know?”

“I shouldn’t have told you, come on wash your hands.”

“I can’t they’re sore.”

“Oh well sit and talk to me.”

“Mummeeeeee,” the door burst open and Trish and Livvie bounced all over me like lovesick spaniels.

I hugged them and they went back to watching their programme.

“So who was it?” she asked, “Was he like, my age?”

“Was who?” I asked as I washed some potatoes.

“This boy who said I was a fox.”

“What boy is that then, dear?”

“Aarghh—you’re like so annoying,” she accused me jumping off her seat and stamping her feet.

“Don’t do that darling, I washed this floor earlier.”

She put her head in her hands and shook it, “You are so cruel—you horrible woman.”

“No one is forcing you to stay with me, if I am so bad.”

“See, now you’re throwing me on to the streets.”

“I was actually suggesting you go and watch television with the others.”

“Oh, all right,” she went out the door and then poked her head back inside the kitchen, “Who is he, Mummy?”

“I’m not telling you.”

She squealed again and went into the lounge. I chuckled to myself—I shouldn’t tease her, but she is so easy to get going—teenagers are because they’re so self-centred. Anything anyone says about them is snatched up and analysed and dissected until they can make themselves even more neurotic about it. Yep, they’re all angst and acne—although saying that, Julie doesn’t seem to have very much in the way of spots—maybe the hormones are helping. Her hair looks nice tonight, I wonder if they’ve given it a demiwave or something similar, seems to have more body.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 963

Simon came home on Friday evening, so I nearly overslept on Saturday morning. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be riding a bike today, even with a gel saddle—and Simon had that silly smirk on his face when he woke up.

I roused Julie, who had to rush to dress and apply her makeup whilst I made her breakfast and did her a packed lunch. The other girls came down just in time for me to tell them to get Simon up to get them breakfast while I drove Julie to work.

“So who’s this boy who thinks I’m a fox?”

“How can you be a fox? To start with if you were a fox, you’d be a vixen.”

“Okay, who thinks I’m a vixen?”

“No one as far as I know; why?”

“You told me yesterday that you knew someone who thought I was quite a fox.”

“Dunno who that was,” I shrugged as I was driving, swerving to miss a pheasant. “I don’t know, they grumble about a few daffodils planted in the countryside, but you rarely hear anything about the millions of pheasants released every year to keep the gunslingers happy.”

“What are you on about, mother dear?” said a bored face.

“Did you know you’d only put mascara on one eye?” I asked.

“Oh no, shit and double shit,” she said digging out the makeup from her bag, and pulling down the vanity mirror in the sun visor.

“Why don’t you wait until we get there? Less chance of you poking yourself in the eye.”

“I’m all right—hey, careful, I nearly had my eye out then…”

“Well get up earlier next time, then you wouldn’t have to rush.”

“I’d have got up earlier if my mother had woken me earlier.”

“Why is it always someone else’s fault?”

“Because it is—it can’t be mine, I’m nearly as perfect as my mother.” She snorted immediately after she said this, so I took it as just a bit of fun.

“What did they do to your hair yesterday?—it looks really nice.”

“I’m not telling you unless you say who told you I was a fox.”

“Suit yourself, but it looks like a demiwave to me.”

“Yeah, but you’re a stupid old woman—like Browne—moo-cow.”

“I suppose I am giving up my lie in on a Saturday to drive ungrateful teenagers about. I hope you enjoy your walk home.”

“What? You’re like gonna make me walk home?”

“I’m not forcing you to do anything, Julie—I’m just informing you that I shall be too busy to come and get you later.”

“What? You promised to come an’ get me.”

“When did I promise that?”

“Um—I can’t remember.” She blushed and looked aghast.

“I don’t remember saying any such thing.”

“I can’t like, walk home in these.” She pointed at her heeled shoes.

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d be able to stand about all day in them either.”

“Well, I didn’t know that you’d make me walk home, like, did I?”

“Obviously.”

I pulled up at the salon and she got out, slammed the door of the car and walked away without waving, storming into the shop and shutting the door of the shop without looking back to me. I drove home.

“What’s the matter with you?” asked Simon.

“Julie and I had a bit of a set to in the car.”

“So? She’ll have forgotten by tea time.”

“Um—not necessarily.”

“Why?”

“I told her she could walk home, I was too busy.”

“Are you?”

“No, but she cheeked me.”

“So—teenagers are like spaniels, they crap on your carpet one moment and have forgotten by the next.”

“Not if you rub their noses in it while it’s still warm.”

“You did?”

“Metaphorically, of course.”

“I suppose I’ll have to go and get her then?”

“That’s up to you, but it could give her ideas of divide and conquer.”

“Not necessarily, I shall say I came because you asked me to.”

You as in her or me?” I asked.

“You—as my wife and lover.”

“I’d leave the last bit off if you’re speaking to her—she’s sex-crazed enough now.”

“She’s a teenager, Cathy.”

“Don’t I know it?”

“Could she walk home from there?”

“She could if she’d worn comfortable shoes, but not in the heels she wore today.”

“I thought she spent all her time standing or walking about in the shop?” Simon looked confused.

“So did I, so why has she worn silly shoes—I have no idea.”

“When do you wear silly shoes?” he asked me.

“Usually when I’m going to silly things where they expect me to be wearing them, such as meeting my husband, attending meetings, giving lectures, appearing on television…”

“Okay, you’ve made your point—which of those applies to Julie?”

“None that I’m aware of—unless she’s meeting up with someone at lunch?”

“Like who?”

“I don’t know, Simon—it’s not Leon.”

“How d’you know that?”

“He’s just arrived here.” I watched him park his bike and chain it by the garage. Tom walked up to meet him and they walked off towards his vegetable garden.

Simon turned to look out of the window—“Oh, has someone put new fillets on the garage roof?”

“It’s under the edge of the roof, Simon—but yes, Maureen spent much of the week doing it.”

“By herself?”

“No she had and an army of seven foot tall, naked Amazons to help her, why?”

“Oh,” he said and his eyes widened, “I wish I’d come home earlier.”

“Only women can see them.”

“Bloody typical. Right, have you got that shopping list?”

I passed him the sheet of paper with the list of items I required from the supermarket. “Thanks, darling.”

“You said you had loads of washing to do.”

“I have—why not take the boys with you?”

“To a supermarket?”

“Yes—male solidarity—or something.”

“They won’t want to come shopping with me—will they?”

“You won’t know until you ask them—unless you’re taking the Jag, then they’ll go.”

“They won’t will they?”

“I’m willing to bet they will.”

“How much?” Simon’s eyes gleamed.

“You’re a millionaire, Si, what do you want money for?”

“Okay—if I win and they turn down the shopping even with the Jag—you can wear silly shoes and sexy underwear all day.”

“Under my clothes, I hope?”

“Duh?—Of course, what d’ya think I am?”

“Can I plead the fifth amendment?”

“Ha ha—an’ if I lose, and they come with me—I’ll buy you some nice stockings while we’re out.”

“That’s a win—win for you, isn’t it?”

“I have to pay for the stockings, don’t I?”

“Yeah, a couple of quid, I have to stand about in silly shoes all day doing the washing—you should try it, some time.”

“No thanks—okay, I’ll be your love slave all night—how’s that?”

“I’m still sore from last night.”

“Jeez, Cathy, help me here—what is you want me to do if I lose?”

“Wash my car and clean it inside as well.”

“If I know you’re wearing sexy undies, I will anyway.” He pulled a silly face—actually it looked remarkably like his normal one—oh.

“I am actually.”

“You are what?”

“Wearing sexy undies.”

“Prove it,” he challenged.

“Go and ask the boys if they’re going with you?”

“Lemme see your undies then.”

Simon grow up.”

“Spoilsport.”

“If I remember correctly, you told me I could make any item of clothing look sexy.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I think you’ve just been hoist by your own petard.”

“I think you could be right—have we got any car wash?”

“Yes—boys, do you want to go out with Daddy in the Jaguar?”

“Yes please, Mummy,” came back the unanimous reply.

“Is that two nil?” I asked.

“Looks like—why?”

“The Mondeo could do with a wash, too.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 964

After lunch, Simon and the boys washed and cleaned all the cars, before he dashed off at four to collect Julie. It transpired she was still mad at me, which manifested as ignoring me when I spoke to her. I let it pass—I also let her pass, she stamped up to her room in less than elegant style presumably because her feet were sore.

“Did she say anything?” I asked Simon.

He shrugged and replied, “Nothing that bears repeating.”

“Oh, so she was complaining about her horrible foster mum?”

“I said it wasn’t worth repeating.” It was obvious he wasn’t going to be drawn.

“Simon, if I’m to deal with her, I need to know what she’s thinking.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why?”

“It would only distress you to know what she’s thinking.”

“Oh.” It did distress me, and I could only guess what she’s thinking.

“Perhaps I’d better go and talk to her.”

“I think I’d let things cool down first if I were you.”

“Oh—all right, I’ll leave her alone then.”

“I think that’s a very good idea.”

“It’s all a storm in a teacup.”

“It always is with women, except they cause most of the grief in families.”

“Oh thanks, Si, that really makes me feel better.”

“It’s my humble opinion—what’s for dinner?”

“Home made steak and kidney pie.”

“Snake and pygmy, my favourite. When do we eat?”

“About six,” I suggested.

“Where’s Julie, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“Up in her room—she’s not in a very good mood.”

Trish looked displeased by this news—“May I go and see her?”

“That’s up to you, but be warned.”

“Okay, Mummy,” and she trotted up the stairs.

“Are Kate and Sidney coming to tea, Mummy?” asked Mima.

“Who told you that—Daddy?”

“Yes he did.”

“He was joking, we’re having steak and kidney pie for dinner, a silly name for it is Kate and Sidney pie, or even snake and pygmy pie.”

“Eeuch—that is siwwy, Mummy.” She then turned around as if to give Simon a piece of her mind.

Leon came in with Tom, they were both pretty grubby having spent most of the day in the garden. After reassuring me he had a change of clothes with him, Leon went to shower. He had asked if Julie was home, and when I confirmed it, he looked very pleased with himself.

I sent Mima up to tell Julie that Leon was staying for dinner and that she should come down and entertain him.

Meems returned with the message that Julie hadn’t invited him, so she wasn’t responsible for entertaining him. That puzzled me unless it was simply cutting off her nose to spite her face.

I complained to Simon to take her in hand—he said it was nothing to do with him. It began to look as if I would have to sort this out myself. I put the vegetables on to cook, and went upstairs—there was laughter coming from Julie’s bedroom.

I knocked and entered—it stopped immediately. “I’d like to speak with you, Julie. Trish, please go and set the table.” Trish was about to protest when my look cut her dead and she left rapidly.

Julie was sitting on her bed, she folded her arms and crossed her legs—this was not going to be easy. “If you want to be taken as a young adult, you’d better start acting like one.”

“If you want to be taken as a mother, you’d better start acting like one then, too.” The remark cut straight through me and it was as much as I could do not to burst into tears. My best strategy was to ignore the hurt and keep being reasonable.

“I’d like to know why you’re behaving so horribly to me.”

“Because you’re horrible to me.”

“If I am, and you consider it unwarranted—then I apologise.”

“You can’t just do that,” she snapped.

“I’m sorry, darling, but I have.”

“But…”

“It’s spoilt a good strop?”

“Yes—no,” she pouted.

“Julie, I don’t want to fight with you—at the same time when you cheek me or disrespect me, I am entitled to take action against you.”

“You disrespected me, first.”

“No, I teased you a little—you were the one who got rude and nasty. I took you to work, I arranged for Daddy to collect you and for Leon to stay for tea. I did so because I love you—to love is to respect someone.”

“That’s unfair—you always play the love card.”

“It’s the only card I have to play, darling. It’s the reason you’re here.”

“So why did you tease me?” her voice became squeaky as she started to weep.

“It was meant to be a bit of fun, sweetheart.”

“But you hurt me, and you said you loved me—that’s not nice.”

“I apologise, I would have hoped that by now you would know that we all love you and that any teasing was meant in fun. I have no enjoyment from seeing you hurt—if that happens it’s no longer fun—is it?”

I opened my arms and she crawled across the bed and cuddled into me. “It was mean of you, Mummy.”

“I didn’t intend it to be mean.”

“Well it was.”

“I’ve told you I’m sorry, I can’t do anything else.”

“You could let me have Leon up here with me.”

“I hope you’re joking.”

“No I’m not, I mean it’s hardly like we can, like do anything, is it?”

“Nothing will happen because I’m not allowing it.”

“I thought you said you loved me?”

“I do, that’s why—there are no boys in the bedroom until you’re eighteen.”

“That’s like two years away—I can have sex by law at sixteen.”

“Not in this house you don’t—and I think you’ll find Daddy and Gramps feel the same way.”

“This is my room—I should be able to do what I like in it.”

“Julie, it might be your room, but the whole house is my responsibility, and I’m telling you it isn’t on. You’d be dishonouring me and Gramps if you did as you seem to want. I can’t understand you—I’d have thought you’d have wanted to wait until after surgery.”

“I’ll be too bloody old then,” she pulled away from me—“like you are.”

“Well thank you, Julie—now I know where I stand.” I glanced at my watch, “I’m going to dish up—dinner is in ten minutes, don’t be late.”

“I’m not hungry.” She sat back on the bed and crossed her arms and legs again.

“Ten minutes,” I repeated and went downstairs.

“Why is Julie in a strop, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“Because she’s a teenager, Trish, it happens I’m afraid and sometimes we adults miss the signs to head it off.”

“I’m not going to get stroppy when I’m a teenager.”

“That’s very good news, Trish, you’ll be the first one in history—I’ll inform the Guinness Book of Records.”

She gave me a peculiar look, “Are you dissing me, Mummy?”

‘Here we go again…” I said to myself.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 965

“Julie, your dinner is getting cold—so please come now.” Simon called up the stairs from the landing below hers. He came back down and shrugged his shoulders. “You women and your silly feuds.”

“Thanks, Si, I really appreciate your total support.” I dished out portions of pie to all those who had decided to come to the table, which was everyone bar Julie.

“That smells delish, Babes,” Simon licked his lips.

“It does smell nice, Mummy,” agreed Livvie.

“Which can I smell, Mummy—Kate or pygmy?” Trish are you dissing me Watts, asked.

“That’s the snake,” teased Simon.

“Eewwch,” groaned Livvie, “it’s not really snake, is it?”

“Aye,” winked Tom, “it’s a wee bitty o’adder, tae help wi’ yer maths.”

“Oh it isn’t is it?” Livvie looked quite worried about it.

“Them is siwwy names, vat’s aww.” Meems sat with her arms folded on the table looking intently at the pie as if she was checking there was no snake or pygmy in it.

“It looks good to me, Lady C,” offered Leon, who accepted the large lump of the said pie I offered him on the plate. He helped himself to potatoes and vegetables, which were carrots and petits pois.

I saved some of the pie for Julie, who arrived at the table just when I was about to give her up. I said nothing, although I felt like slapping her.

“Sorry I’m late, Daddy, I had to sort my eye makeup—it got smeared.”

Simon grunted some sort of response which would probably have made more sense to a giant hedgehog than it did to any of us seated at the table. I passed Julie some pie and she took it without any word at all. That was impolite and discourteous, but I let it go this time.

“Say thank you to Mummy,” criticised Trish.

“Um—yeah, thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Julie, I hope you enjoy it.”

“This is pretty damn good, Cathy—you’ll have to teach me to cook, one of these days.”

“Och, she still canna mak’ a decent curry.” Tom voiced his opinion and Simon nearly choked.

“Madras or Vindaloo?” teased Simon.

“In the loo?—Eeeuch,” squealed Trish and all the kids giggled.

“That’s where he ends up after one,” I said and smiled at Tom, who was trying not to laugh and was blushing furiously. Even Julie smirked.

“Dis pie is good, Lady C,” said Leon disappointed that there were no seconds.

“What’s for dessert, babes?”

“Homemade yoghurt and fresh fruit.”

“You make ya own yoghurt?” Leon was astonished—“I tought it just came in tubs from da supermarket.”

“That’s a perfectly acceptable form of the stuff, but we make our own in a large thermos flask. Danny made this last lot.”

“Arrgh!” squealed Billy pretending to be poisoned, though while he was playing possum, Danny sprinkled more pepper on his dinner. Everyone laughed when he discovered the difference, and especially when he sneezed all over Danny and sprayed him with a mouthful of food.

Simon made them both clean up the mess before they could have any dessert.

“Is it just desserts—or may I have some cheese and biccies?” Stella delivered this dreadful pun with a straight face.

“No they’re definitely unjust ones and yes you may. Trish, would you get some cheese and crackers for Auntie Stella?”

“On second thoughts, my trousers feel tight enough now, so I’ll pass on pudding.”

“Is that pudding or Puddin’ or both?” asked Simon.

“Both if someone will babysit for an hour.”

“I’ll do it, Auntie Stella,” offered Livvie. I looked twice to see if it was one of the others throwing their voice.

“We’ll do it,” Trish added her support for her sister.

“It’s okay, we’ll do it,” volunteered Julie, “me an’ Leon, that is.”

Leon had just taken a mouthful of water and started to cough. Simon had to slap him on the back in the end. “We?” he managed to get out before coughing again, much to the amusement of the two boys.

“Yes, you an’ me—duh.” Julie rolled her eyes and I wondered why the offer was made.

“Why not just bring her down here, Stella, and we’ll all keep an eye on her.” I remembered there was a bed in Stella’s room.

“C’mon,” Julie rose from the table and half-dragged Leon off his chair.

“Wossgoin’on?” he challenged before he actually fell off the chair.

“We’re goin’ for a walk,” announced Julie.

“Would you mind waiting until everyone has finished?” I asked her politely.

She threw herself back down in the chair and huffed for a minute or two.

“I dinna ken whit’s gang on here, but ye twa haed best sort it oot, an’ quickly.”

“Nothing,” we both said together and then laughed. We high fived and then hugged and the row was over—until next time. They did go for a walk, and we did babysit Puddin’ while Stella went out for a couple of hours.

This of course gave time for the gossips in the family to practice the noble art of character assassination in her absence. The worst offender, someone who never gossips—her own brother.

“So do you reckon she’s got a bit of fluff, then?” teased Simon.

“I thocht, a piece o’ fluff, referred tae lassies?”

“Well maybe she’s um—a spinster gay, if you know what I mean,” Simon pointed at the three girls who were playing with dolls in front of him.

“Auntie Stella’s not gay, Daddy,” announced Trish and carried on playing with her doll as if nothing had happened.

Tom stifled a snigger and Simon’s eyebrows nearly shot off the top of his head.

“Wee piggies hae muckle lugs,” I said to Simon nodding at the girls. Tom laughed out loudly and Simon nodded and laughed as well.

Julie and Leon came back first and Simon took him home in the Mondeo. He came in fuming accompanied by Julie, who was sniggering.

“What’s the problem?” I asked him. Julie had to look away.

“Bloody birds.”

I stared at him, “Yes? What about birds?”

“They crapped all over the bloody cars.”

“Precision poohing,” said Julie and cracked up laughing.

“Yeah, but you didn’t spend half the day washing the sodding things, did you?”

“No, I was washing my hands red raw on stupid women’s heads.”

Simon stared at her for a moment before he worked out what she had said. She waved her still pink paws in front of him.

“Have you changed your nail polish?” I asked.

“Yes, why?”

“That’s why you took so long to come down for dinner, wasn’t it?”

“It mighta been,” she blushed.

“And there was me thinking you were trying to starve yourself…”

“Me? Starve? No fear—not while you’re like, doing the cooking, Mummy. That pie was pretty good.”

“Leon seemed to think so.”

“Yeah, well boys will eat anything as long as there’s lots of it.”

“The Jules giveth and the Jules taketh away,” I sighed.

Julie looked at me in puzzlement, then at Simon who was smirking.

“You told your mother how good a cook she was then implied Leon would eat anything.”

“Yeah—so?”

“Think about it.”

“Oh yeah,” she tittered, “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“I should hope not, or it’s bread and water for you from now on,” I teased.

“If it’s homemade bread, it’ll be like, okay—can I have sparkling water though?” With that she kissed me and then Simon and went up to her bed.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 966

Sunday was supposedly a day of rest, although it was also a day of preparing for Monday morning, when Simon would go back to London, and I would brave myself to get the children back to school. I had also set myself another task.

Meems, Trish and Livvie were now legally adopted by us—that’s Simon and me—which meant that without recourse to the courts to rescind the adoption order, they were ours for keeps. We’d kept it low key because we still had three other children who were in a more precarious position, however, at some point we had to bite the bullet and decide what to do.

At Sunday lunch—okay, it was a roast meal, so it was the main one of the day and afterwards, with agreement of Simon, I asked for a family meeting with the children. Tom and Stella were invited to be there too, but to take a non-participatory role, perhaps offering an opinion if asked.

We were all seated at the dining table with cups of tea or glasses of water or pop. I asked that no alcohol be used so we kept clear minds. As the convenor, I started the ball rolling.

“Just before Easter, the courts agreed to the petition for adoption for Mima, Livvie and Trish. That means they are officially our children.”

“Forever?” asked Trish and I nodded my agreement. The three of them shrieked and yelled and danced about the place. They hugged us, then Tom and the boys and Julie.

After a few minutes, I got them to calm down and return to their seats. I noticed the tears in Billy’s eyes, and the sad look on Danny’s face, not to mention the almost disinterested look in Julie’s eyes—no it was a dissociation, she wasn’t listening, or observing, she’d totally switched off.

“What I need to discuss now, is what we do next.”

“What do you mean?” asked Danny.

“I mean, and I can’t make promises here because it might not be possible, would you and Billy like us to apply for adoption for you as well. You don’t have to answer now, because you might like to think about it, and to answer in front of everyone could be intimidating.”

“Do I like, wanna have you as my mum and dad?” asked Danny.

“Yes.”

“You bet.”

“Me too,” said Billy enthusiastically.

“In which case, I’ll speak to the solicitor and start the application.” As I spoke I glanced at Julie and watched a tear run down her face and on to the table.

“Juwee’s cwyin’, Mummy.”

“Yes, I know, Mima, I was going to speak to Julie next.”

“You don’t want me, do you?” she spoke in a flat monotone and rose from her seat.

“Julie, please sit down.”

“Go t’hell,” she shouted as she stormed from the room.

I rose to follow her but Simon pushed me back in the seat—“I’ll go,” and he set off after her.

“What’s goin’ to happen with Julie?”

“I don’t know, Livvie, I want her to stay with us and I’d like to adopt her as well, but I suspect her parents would fight it.”

“But she’d be unhappy with them,” Trish offered her opinion.

“I know, darling, and even if I can’t adopt her, I shall still see her as every bit as much one of my children as any of you. We don’t know what will happen with Danny and Billy yet—their parents may oppose adoption.”

“Why?” asked Billy.

“I don’t know, possibly because it might make them remember you or it might remind them of their failure with you, and they might want to try again.”

“No way,” shouted Danny, “I ain’t goin’ back to ’em and that’s final. You’re my Mum now—an’ I don’t care what that cow says, I ain’t goin’ back.”

“Me neither,” said Billy loudly in support of his ‘brother.’

“I hope that won’t be necessary. As far as I’m aware, the foster order stays indefinitely, but an adoption would make it permanent, hence my desire to go for one. It makes your positions here stronger and more secure.”

“What about Julie?” asked Trish, looking very sad.

“I can’t discuss her case without her being here, but as I said before, I see her as part of this family.”

Simon came back into the room with a red-eyed Julie. They were holding hands. He led her back to her seat and she sat, then he returned to his.

“Welcome back, darling,” I said to her and she nodded back to me. “I left you to last because your position is a bit different. You are as much a part of this family as anyone else. No matter what the legal position is, that’s how we see it—agreed everyone?”

I looked around the table and there were nods and murmurs of consent all round. “So if you’re in agreement with the rest of us, I’d like to get some legal advice on what we might best do next.” There were more murmurs of agreement.

“Because Julie is a bit older and we know her parents would object, an adoption might prove difficult—but I want an opinion to see how we might minimise the risk and maximise the outcome we want—in other words, officially making Julie your big sister.”

“Yay,” they all shouted and we had bedlam for a moment longer.

“The other thing, is because Julie hasn’t been here as long, they might query it—but I think the history of violence would help us tremendously. However, the reason for asking all the children to come was to ask them if it’s what they want. I think we can agree it is.”

“He tried to kill me; I think I have grounds for wanting to stay here permanently.”

“I think you have, darling, but we have to play it carefully. Remember the only outcome we want is one that allows you to stay here as long as you want.”

“Can’t you use your blue light to influence things?”

“No, it doesn’t work like that and that would be abuse of it.”

“I just wanna be a normal girl and get on with my life,” Julie sighed, “Why won’t the system let me?”

“I’m doing all I can to enable that to happen.” Sadly, I don’t have the final say in the running of the universe.

Our little meeting broke up and the kids went off to play and Tom went to his study. I made some more tea and sat with Simon and Julie to talk. She was still full of a mixture of anger and sullenness, talking aggressively one moment and pouting silently the next.

I sipped my tea—had the meeting been a good thing? In the end, it meant we were all unanimous in what we wanted for the family, and whilst bits of paper aren’t important on a day-to-day basis, they can undermine or strengthen the positions of each member of the family. I realised that in being married to Simon, I was in a much stronger position to petition for adoptions than I’d been before. Julie was nearly an adult in her own right, which was another factor which may or may not make things easier.

Mentally, I was still grasping these nettles when the phone rang. I absently rose and picked up the handset, “Hello?”

“Charlie—it’s Auntie Doreen, we’re in your area for a few days and thought we’d come and see you—be there in ten, see you.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 967

“What’s the matter?” asked Simon seeing the look on my face.

“That was my Auntie.”

“I didn’t know you had any aunties,” he said in surprise.

“Yeah, you told her off on the phone, remember?”

“Did I? Oh yes, she was the one I told we were married.”

“Yes—remember she passed out in the loos at my dad’s funeral, Stella stayed with her.”

“Of course, we didn’t meet her, did we?”

“Stella and I did, you stayed out in the chapel.”

“Self-sacrifice again, you take it all for granted.”

“I know, Si, you are such a martyr, in fact you are double that, a two-martyr.”

“Very bloody funny—what about this ’ere aunt of yours? Didn’t you tell her you’d been fixed?”

“Yes, that’s why she fainted at the funeral.”

“Oh boy, this is gonna be fun, what d’you think she’s after?”

“Search me,” I shrugged.

“I will—but after she’s gone.”

“You are so considerate,” I smirked at him.

“Full body search, missus.”

“I suppose you’ll want some of those rubber gloves vets use.”

“Certainly not, since when have you been into rubber?”

“I beg your pardon?” I tried to add indignation in my tone, but probably failed.

“Well only vets and perverts use those gloves.”

“Yeah, so?”

“Well, what are you doing with them?”

“I haven’t got any, I thought you had.” This was wasting time.

“No, why should I?” he shrugged.

“Look, Auntie bloody Doreen is going to be here any moment, I need to change into something more aristocratic.”

“Try your birthday suit.”

“Thanks for the advice, Simon, but no thanks.” I dashed upstairs, grabbed a dress from the wardrobe, and shrugging off my jeans and top pulled it on over my bra and pants. I checked in the wardrobe—it looked okay. I put on some lipstick and squirted some perfume. I was ready.

Julie came past my room—“I hate to say it, Mummy dearest, but that dress is a no-no with trainers.”

Pooh, I took them off and slipped on a comfortable pair of court shoes. I hoped I looked sufficiently patrician to see the old bugger off, without having the kids laughing at me. I checked the mirror again—I looked like my mother.

I had literally just reached the foot of the stairs when the doorbell rang—damn, it was them: Do and Arthur, and I hadn’t briefed the kids.

I opened the door, and she stood there looking a bit older than she had before she collapsed at the crematorium. “Hello, Charlie.”

“My name is Catherine now.”

“You were baptised Charlie, so that’s what you’ll always be.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m not anymore and unless you can get that into your head, then you’re not welcome at my home.”

“Oh stuff and nonsense, I’m your only living relation.”

“So?”

“Well open the door, let’s see this little home you have.”

“It actually belongs to Professor Agnew.”

“Who’s he when he’s at home?”

“Why have you come?”

“To see you, now are you going to let us in or are we going to talk on the doorstep?”

“Mummy, who’s this?” Trish had just wandered up from behind my aunt and uncle.

Mummy? Ha, that’s a laugh.”

“My mummy isn’t a laugh you silly old woman.”

“Here, who do you think you’re talking to?”

“Someone who is calling my mummy names.”

“This is your mummy? Charlie is your mummy?” Aunt Do’s eyes nearly popped out of her head.

“Of course she is, why else would I call her mummy, are you stupid or something? Her name is Catherine, Lady Catherine—and I’m her daughter, Lady Patricia.”

“Is she really your daughter? Cha—I mean, Catherine?”

“Yes, she isn’t given to lying.”

“But how can she be? I mean—you were a boy.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, how could my mummy be a boy?” Trish was still defending me, “I have a twin sister and a younger sister as well.”

“These are really your girls?”

“Yes, Auntie Do.”

“Is your name really Dodo?” Trish asked mercilessly.

“This is my aunt, Trish, Mrs Doreen Porter and her husband, my uncle Arthur.”

“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure. Mummy, can I go on the Internet again if I keep off the porn sites this time?”

I nearly died, even Uncle Arthur’s eyes widened this time. “She’s such a tease,” I shrugged and pretended it wasn’t said. Mind you, I’ll have something to say later, especially if she actually knows what a porn site is. It felt like my children had just arrived courtesy of the Addams family.

I led the two bewildered visitors into the lounge. It’s a large room with very high ornate ceilings, my aunt’s eyes were everywhere. “You actually live here?”

“Yes, while the girls are at school, we go up to the castle in the summer for the grouse shooting.”

“Grouse shooting? When you were a kid, you bawled your eyes out if anyone so much as stepped on a bug. Perhaps you were really a girl, after all.”

“Would you like some tea? I’ll have to make it—the maid has the day off.” Just then there was a knock at the door.

“Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am, would you like me to make teas for your visitors?” Julie was standing there in a black skirt, with a white blouse and white pinny.

“Could you, Julie, I thought it was your day off?”

“No ma’am, we swapped it if you remember, I’m off tomorrow for my ante-natal appointment.”

“Of course—you’re sure it’s Alfie’s baby?”

“Either that or Roger or maybe Walter, can’t remember, ma’am.”

“Oh well, I suppose you want me to pay for another DNA test when it’s born.”

“Thank you, ma’am—I’ll get the tea.” She bobbed and went out of the room. I had no idea who was organising this, but it smacked of Stella.

“Your maid is pregnant and she doesn’t even know who the father is—goodness she only looks about fifteen,” Auntie Do said with disgust.

“I know, but she’s very good at her job—sometimes—but you know how hard it is to get and keep staff, especially on what we pay her.”

Simon walked in wearing a pin striped suit, “Oh sorry, darling, I didn’t realise we had company. Who is this?”

“Simon, this is my Auntie Doreen and Uncle Arthur, Auntie Do, this is my husband, Lord Simon Cameron.”

“How d’ya do?” he said and shook their hands vigorously. “Sorry, darling, but my favourite gun, there’s something wrong with the mechanism—I’ve instructed the gunsmith to open for me and he’s going to sort it. Sorry an’ all that, have to toddle. Nice to meet you—um—yes.” He walked quickly out of the room before he began to laugh. Then the front door shut and a car started up—I hoped he took several children with him.

Julie called us to the dining room, where again I smelt the hand of Stella, the silver tea set was on the table—I’d only cleaned it a couple of weeks ago.

After tea, which I let Julie serve—she actually did it like a proper maid, again Stella must have instructed her. If this façade went wrong, I was going to start killing my in-laws and children—slowly.

After some small talk over hobnobs and tea, we got to the nitty-gritty. “Tell me Catherine, Derek didn’t show you some pearls did he? I loaned them to your mother some time ago and I’d like them back.”

“Pearls? No. I don’t remember Mummy wearing pearls, ever.”

“Oh dear, I’m sure I loaned them to Derek for your mother, they were given to me by my grandmother.” I knew she was lying but it explained her presence.

“How did you find me?”

“I spoke to one of your neighbours in Bristol, you’d given her your address and phone number.”

Obviously one of those I asked to keep an eye on the house.

“This is a lovely house, Catherine, even if it isn’t yours.”

“It sort of is, but the professor still stays here when he’s in the country.”

“What’s he a professor of?” asked Uncle Arthur.

“He’s a biologist like me.”

“Oh—of course, you did that dormouse film. It was you, wasn’t it?” Uncle Arthur’s solitary brain cell had woken up.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 968

“Yes it was I who did the dormouse film.”

“How did you train it to jump down your blouse?”

“This isn’t one of your dirty little films, is it, Arthur?”

He blushed, “No, dear, it was on the computer, on YouTube.”

“That happened during a press conference on my campaign for saving British mammals, she was spooked by the flashes of the cameras.”

“She went somewhere nice and warm to hide.” Uncle Arthur almost licked his lips and I felt rather vulnerable as well as disgusted.

“I thought you meant my dormouse film, the one the BBC showed.”

“You made a film for the BBC?” Auntie Do seemed impressed suddenly.

I blushed, “Yes, they want me to do one on harvest mice.”

“So you make lots of money?” she queried.

“No, my aim is to raise awareness of the plight of these creatures—there is talk that a programme on the Scottish Wild Cat, might also be on the cards.” I heard the phone ringing and thought one of the others could answer it.

A moment later there was a knock on the door, and in bobbed Julie, “Excuse me, ma’am, it’s the controller of BBC television, he would like to talk to you about your film on Wild Cats.”

“Eh? Excuse me, Auntie Do, Uncle Arthur—do have another hobnob.” I followed Julie out of the room and into Tom’s study. Stella was there holding Puddin’ on her knee.

“You buggers can hear what we’re saying, can’t you?” I remarked.

“Yes, an’ it’s so funny, Cathy—stuck up old prude she is,” Stella laughed.

We listened, “She doesn’t seem to know anything about the pearls, I don’t know if she’s just stupid or if her idiot father pawned them.”

“I told you it was waste of time,” Arthur whined.

“They’re part of my birthright, why should that disgusting creature have them?”

“She’s had three babies, Doreen.”

“So she says, I think she’s got too good a figure to have had three babies.”

“She has got a nice figure,” Arthur said wistfully.

“Just you remember she used to be a boy.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Right, here you go, Julie, don’t you dare drop her.” Stella handed the baby to Julie and Puddin’ immediately began to chuckle as if she was in on the joke.

“What’s going on?”

“Listen,” she hissed and I heard the door open and Julie’s voice, say, “Sorry, um, Mr and Mrs Porter, my babysitter let me down, would you like any more tea?”

“That’s your baby?”

“Um, yes, Mrs Porter.”

“What’s her name?”

“It’s a boy, Mrs Porter.” I gasped as I listened.

“Why is sh—he wearing a pink dress?”

“It’s a tradition of the Camerons, all children are dressed as girls until they’re six years old and they get sent to boarding school.”

“But he or she isn’t a Cameron baby is it, he’s yours?”

“Yes and yes.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well, Master Simon is the daddy.”

“But you’re the mother?”

“Yes, and he’s due his feed in a moment, I hope you don’t mind.”

“What’s she doing?” I whispered to Stella.

“Pretending she’s going to breastfeed Pud.”

“That should make Uncle Arthur’s day.” I smirked.

“In you go—chase her out.” Stella pushed me towards the dining room door.

I swept back into the room, as Julie started to unbutton her blouse. “Julie, please—do that somewhere else, if you don’t mind.”

“Sorry, ma’am, but you know Master Simon said we weren’t to leave anyone unattended in the house.”

“That’s very kind of your maid, Catherine.”

“No, Mrs Porter, it was after we ’ad some silverware stolen, don’t trust nobody, says the master.” She sounded like something out a Dickens novel.

“That was strangers, Julie, these are my relations, surely you don’t think they’d be trying to steal anything—do you?”

“Dunno, ma’am, the master is a relation too, and he took something.”

“What? What did he purportedly take?”

“Me knickers, ma’am.”

I think Auntie Do stopped breathing—I must admit; I nearly did too. “Simon took your knickers, girl?”

Julie nodded vigorously.

“How can you be so sure he took them?” I demanded.

“I was wearin’ them at the time, ma’am.”

Really,” gasped Auntie Do, “Catherine I think you need to have words with your so called husband and this—this trollop. Come Arthur, I think we need to give her the room to do it.”

“Can’t you stay for dinner, we’re having stewed badger,” I smiled at my visitors.

“Stewed badger—you can’t eat badger.”

“You get used to it after a while.”

“Good gracious—what’s wrong with a joint of beef or chicken?” Auntie Do protested.

“We have to eat whatever Simon shoots, he was aiming at a pheasant and hit the badger,” I explained.

“Thank you but no, Catherine, we have to be getting back to Swindon.”

“How is the place of roundabouts?”

“It’s very nice there, Catherine, maybe you should bring your little girls up to see us sometime.”

“They do like their badger burgers but fox fingers are their favourite. Are you all right, Uncle Arthur, you do look rather pale?”

“He’ll be fine as soon as we get him into the fresh air—put your breast away young woman,” she snapped at Julie who was pulling her bra down under her boob. I had to rush them to the door, I needed a wee and if I started laughing I’d wet my drawers.

“Would Great Aunt Dodo like some of my cannabis cakes, Mummy?” Trish appeared by the front door with a cake tin in her hand—we’d made rock cakes the other day.

“Cannabis?” Auntie Doreen glared at me.

“It’s good for my period pain,” I chipped in.

“Thank you, but no, Patricia.”

“The ecstasy helps you to lose weight, doesn’t it, Mummy? And you look as if you could do with some help, Great Aunt Dodo.”

“Ecstasy?”

“Don’t worry, there’s only one tablet per cake—we ran out of amphetamines,” Trish grinned.

“You’re giving your children drugs?” Auntie Do’s face was contorted in horror.

“Only when they’re really good,” I smiled.

“Here, Mummy,” Trish shoved the tin in my hands, “I gotta go and bookmark this site for Daddy, there’s a woman there with the biggest boobies I’ve ever seen.”

Trish skipped off the epitome of innocence, “And don’t hack into the police computer again,” I called after her. “She’s a rascal sometimes when she gets on a computer. Oh would you like some cakes?”

“NO THANK YOU,” she said loud enough for Stella to hear it without her baby alarm, which was what they were listening on. “Come along, Arthur, never mind watching that trollop’s chest, take me home to Swindon—ARTHUR, NOW,” she bellowed.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 969

After my unwanted visitors drove off into the sunset—well, okay into the little black cloud they’d brought with them—thank goodness they weren’t flying, we could have been stuck with them for weeks—I went to speak with my co-conspirators.

“I’m impressed by the improvised acting, even if all it needed was Brian Rix to lose his trousers to complete everything. Where are the others?”

“Simon took the others off with him for an ice cream somewhere,” Stella shrugged.

“So you three missed out on ice creams?” I clarified.

“Yes, Mummy,” said our youngest nominee for best supporting actress.

“Okay, well when we get a chance, I’ll take you three out for one.”

“Thank you, Mummy, that’ll be nice,” declared my new, if temporary maid.

“Where did you get the outfit?”

“The blouse and skirt are mine,” Stella said, “as we didn’t have a frilly apron, we had to improvise—it’s actually a pillowcase we pinned on to the skirt.”

“I’m just glad you didn’t wear a black or coloured bra under the blouse,” I told Julie.

“I was going to, but Auntie Stella said she thought it would be too common.”

“Whose idea was the pregnancy?”

“Oh that was off the cuff,” beamed our resident teen, “but as Puddin’ was down here with Auntie Stella, we decided to use her as a prop to keep the joke goin’.”

“Their faces when you made like you were going to breastfeed—that was a Kodak moment if ever I saw one, unfortunately I didn’t have a camera. How come the baby alarm thing was in the dining room?”

“I was in there with Puddin’ earlier on, or should I say she was in there and the lounge. I like to keep tabs on her, so…”

“Did you hear everything?” I asked, and Stella nodded.

“Mummy what’s porn, is it bare boobs an’ things?”

“Sort of, usually ruder than that.”

“What, kissin’ an’ things?”

“Yeah, that sort of thing.”

“Thank you, Mummy.” Trish seemed happy with my answer, inadequate though it was.

“Why only the three of you?”

“The others, except Si, don’t know about Charlie, they could have put their big feet in their even bigger gobs.”

“Oh,” I blushed, “I’d forgotten about that. Well thanks for protecting me from my family.”

“Nah, we’re family, they’re only rellies,” Julie gave me a hug.

“I’m not sure I should let my staff become too familiar, do you Lady Stella?”

“Definitely not, Lady Catherine,” Stella replied winking at me.

“Sorry, ma’am. Will that be all, ma’am?” Julie bobbed as she spoke and Stella roared with laughter.

“We’ll make a maid of you yet, m’ gel,” added Stella.

“Hang on, this is beginning to look like some fetish story, with French maids and whatever.”

“You’re not a French maid are you Fi-Fi?” teased Stella.

“Non, mademoiselle; je suis from Pompey.” Julie for a moment sounded like a stevedore from the docks and my wide-eyed look must have embarrassed her because she went a beautiful shade of tomato.

“Where did that voice come from?” I asked, still more than a little surprised by it.

“My dad, the old one, he used to work at the port.”

“Goodness, I hope I don’t hear that again,” I shivered.

“Sorry, Mummy.” She flung her arms around me and hugged me tightly. “I won’t ever do it again.”

“Go and change sweetheart,” I kissed her on the cheek, and she bobbed and went upstairs.

“Did you like my Lady Patricia?” asked Trish.

“I think you stole the show my darling,” and I gave her a hug. “Tell me, how do you know about cannabis and amphetamines?”

“That was my fault,” confessed her auntie, “I gave her the essence of the message and she improvised.”

“Watch out the West End,” I said and hugged her again.

“Hollywood,” suggested Stella, “I think she’d take MGM by storm.”

“I thought they went bust.”

“Oh did they?”

“Yeah, the next Bond movie is on hold or something because they can’t finance it.”

“Crikey, and they always make money.”

“Well Daniel Craig is rather scrumptious,” I agreed.

“Yes, very much so.”

“What’s a Bond movie, Mummy?” asked Trish reminding us she was only six.

“It’s a series of films based on the adventures of James Bond, a fictional spy who works for MI6 and is the best spy and assassin in the whole spying game.”

“MI6?” she looked perplexed.

“It’s one of the British secret service departments, deals with espionage—never mind, he’s the good guy because he’s a Brit.”

“Oh okay, Mummy—what’s a sassin?”

“Um…” do you ever wish you hadn’t started something? “It’s someone who’s employed to kill someone else.”

“Isn’t that a nasty thing, a bad thing, Mummy? The Bible says we mustn’t kill.”

“Indeed it does, darling, and generally it’s true—however, the stories of James Bond aren’t real, they’re just fiction—like the Gaby stories you like so much.”

“Gaby isn’t real?”

“No, sweetheart, it’s just someone’s idea of a fun story.”

“Oh. Can we have some more of them?”

“I think you’ve seen them all now, unless we get some by the other authors—there’s a couple by some Welsh woman—I suppose we could try those.”

“Yes please, Mummy.”

“Okay, I’ll order them, but they possibly won’t be as good as the original ones—still they’re set in Dorset, so they’re a bit closer than the other ones are in Warsop or Germany.”

“Thank you, Mummy—I’ll tell the others, they like them too.”

“What, about a boy who keeps being mistaken for a girl?”

“Yes, they think they’re funny, and because Gaby always wins, it makes me feel better too.”

“Except there’s a difference between you and Gaby, isn’t there?”

“Yes, she’s got girly bits and I haven’t.”

“We don’t know that for certain do we?”

“I’ve been in hospital, haven’t I?”

“Yes, but if they weren’t looking for them were they?”

“I wish I had some girly bits.”

“Yes but remember, Drew would prefer to be a boy most of the time, you like to be a girl, don’t you?”

“I am a girl, Mummy.”

“That’s what I mean, sweetheart.” I hugged her and she almost purred.

I heard a car arrive in the drive and glanced out the window. It was the police—I gasped—“Oh God, I hope nothing’s happened to the others.”

Stella saw me react to the window and said, “What do they want?”

I rushed to the door, “Lady Cameron?”

“Yes, officer, that’s me.”

“We’ve had a report that you offered someone some cakes containing cannabis and amphetamine—is that true?”

“We were joking.”

“It isn’t very funny to us, madam.”

“I’m sorry—would you like to come in?”

The young officer and his companion walked into the house. “There was also mention of a child accessing pornography on the Internet and hacking into police files. Is this true?”

“Please have a seat gentlemen, this is going to take some explaining… Trish, go and bring in the cake tin you offered to Auntie Do.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 970

I spent over an hour explaining to the police what had actually happened and eventually managed to convince them we were harmless and mostly law abiding as a household.

“So where is this pearl necklace they were after?” asked the younger of the two police officers.

“In a bank deposit box.”

“Have you had it valued?”

“We meant to, for insurance purposes, but in terms of value it’s worth far more to me as a link with my great grandmother than it is in purely monetary value.”

The young copper shook his head, “You can say that because you’re obviously well off, if you were poorer you may well think differently.”

“My uncle and aunt aren’t exactly poor, he had his own business.”

“Doing what?”

“He ran an abattoir.”

“Lovely,” said the copper.

“I suppose someone has to do it, or we’d all have to be vegetarians. I don’t think Uncle Arthur actually killed anything, he just owned it and organised things. Auntie Do wouldn’t have let him do anything which made his hands dirty.”

“Did they have children?”

“Not as far as I know—so I suppose our little game must have seemed a bit too much for them.”

“Well your little girl is quite an actress, how do we know she’s not acting now?”

“Ask her, she’s truthful to the point of being painful.”

“One last question, Lady Cameron, why did they say you were their nephew?”

“Pure spitefulness, I suppose. They didn’t get what they wanted so they decided to try and queer my pitch.”

“But it’s an odd remark to make—I take it you’re not their nephew.”

“I think after this, I shall cut all ties with them.”

“You’re not answering the question—quite clearly you don’t appear to be male, so why would they say it?”

“They thought I was boy when I was born—that has since been corrected.”

“Looks like they made the right decision in the end then.”

“Was there any doubt?” I asked.

“No, but I wondered if you’d perhaps pulled more pranks on your aunt and uncle.”

“Not me, guv;” I joked, “Seriously, I don’t mess with the police, it would only cause trouble later.”

“Absolutely,” the copper stood up and, walking to the door said, “I see you’ve had dealings with us before, a regular crime-buster and life saver.”

“Why would you have records of that—as far as I know I broke no laws.”

“We keep records of everything. You don’t happen to know the woman who saved my nephew, do you? He was pretty broken up after a sledging accident according to the paramedics, yet he walked out of the hospital a couple of days later.”

“Me? I doubt it, I’m into dormice not hospitals.”

“The description given was a bit like you.”

“I’m average—so it probably would be.”

“Average? I don’t think so, Lady Cameron. You’re very beautiful, very clever by all accounts and married to a millionaire—hardly average, is it?”

“I couldn’t possibly comment on any of those.”

“So you don’t know this woman miracle worker, then?”

“That’s what I said.”

“Oh well, if ever you do meet her, tell her thanks from my brother and from his boy.”

“I doubt that will happen, but if it does, I will.”

“Thanks.” The two policemen left the house and went back to their car just as Simon pulled up with a car load of children. He sent the kids on ahead and stopped to talk with the policemen. I didn’t notice how long they were talking but I know I’d talked to all the kids for several minutes before he came in.

“What was all that about?” I asked him.

“They’re on to you, my gel.”

“I’ll come quietly, copper,” I said as vulgarly as I could.

“I mean it,” he emphasised.

“But I ain’t done nuffin’ wrong, ’ave I?”

“They know you’re the phantom healer or whatever.”

“How can they know that?”

“Your car was at the hospital each time a miracle happened.”

“No it wasn’t, so that shoots that theory down, when his nephew was injured, I couldn’t get the car out for the snow.”

“Oh yes, you’re quite right.”

“I know, so he’s guessing—I hope you didn’t confirm anything?”

He went bright red, “Um, only that you were all woman.”

“What business is that of his anyway? I think I’ll put in a formal complaint.”

“No need Babes, I sent them off with a flea in their ears.”

“So why don’t I believe you?”

“How would I know?”

“What did you talk about then?”

“He asked me if you were the miracle woman. I told him you were a miracle to me and the kids.”

“That’s very kind of you, darling.”

“Nothing is too much for you, Babes.”

Why don’t I believe you, Simon? “You’re too kind, darling. Now what did he say?”

“He asked about your visitors and I told him I went out with some of the kids just after they arrived. Then he asked if you ever took drugs—an’ naturally I said, of course she does.”

“Simon, how could you?”

“But only when she’s ill and goes to see the doctor.” He chuckled and I felt like slapping him one.

“He asked about accessing porn sites, an’ I told him he’d come to the wrong house. I said we don’t do drink, drugs, porn or sex.”

Simon, you lying toad.”

“Oh yeah, we have some wine occasionally.” He snorted and only my gracious generosity spared his measly little life.

I raised my hand to slap him, “Ah ah, that is so uncouth.”

“You—you, hypocrite.” I felt totally exasperated by him and all he did was laugh.

“Babes, you need to calm down.”

Calm down? I want to kill someone—you haven’t had two policemen asking you embarrassing questions for the past hour or so—just because that stupid Aunt and Uncle of mine believed what we told them.”

“You have such an honest face, of course they believed you.” He said this deadpan, then snorted and cracked up laughing.

“You rotten pig,” I said loudly, and he just made pig like grunts and nodded at me.

“What’s happening?” asked his arch nemesis.

“He’s pushing my buttons, Stella, that’s what.”

“Leave my sister alone or deal with me, you muckle heid.”

“Me a muckle head, ha—well you’re a muckle gob.”

At this point we began to attract an audience, of children. “I think that’s enough now,” I said loudly and nodded at the kids.

“Are you fighting?” asked Trish looking concerned.

“No, we’re just talking,” I replied.

“You were talking very loudly, we hardly needed the baby alarm.”

“You listened in to all that?”

“Um,” blushed Trish and Livvie and the two boys edged towards the door.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 971

Monday came and we got back to normal—I know it’s a relative a term, but as far as normal goes, we went back to it. This meant five out of six children back in school and Julie and I slaving over a large farmhouse.

Her ironing skills had improved significantly, and I was trying to teach her some basic cooking. I decided that it was probably better for her to poison Stella and me, than to kill the whole family, so she made lunches from now on. This meant planning the menu, purchasing the items and then cooking it.

She had to check the fridge or store cupboard every few days to make sure she had everything that was necessary and did she complain. “This is like, so unfair, I don’t see you checking your cupboard every time you make dinner.”

“I know what’s in there.”

“How come you do and I don’t?”

“I’ve been doing it longer than you.”

“Did your mother make you do this?”

“Not quite, but then she didn’t plan on raising a daughter, she was teaching a son to be independent—I’m teaching you to be both independent and skilled enough to run a house if you need to.”

“Maybe I’ll be a lesbian and get my partner to do it all.”

“That sounds like a boy talking.” It was a little sharp of me, but if she wants to be a girl, she has to take her medicine like one. I may be somewhat stereotyped, but most men leave the bulk of housework to their female partners.

“Oh,” she blushed, “I suppose it did.”

“That’s fine, if you want to be a boy again—it’s okay with me and I’m sure the others would adapt after a few weeks.”

“Be a boy again? Oh, Mummy, no I don’t want that.”

“Well in which case I shall treat you like a girl.”

“Yes please.”

“So plan your menu, check your cupboards and get on with it.”

“Yes, Mummy,” she sighed.

There are loads of girls who can barely make tea, let alone make a dinner or bake a cake. Housework is derided these days—everyone has to be too important to do it, get in some poor thing from down the road to do it for you. So what happens if you can’t work the vacuum cleaner or the washing machine, or your favourite blouse or bra needs washing and drying? Or horror upon horror, a button comes off—if you don’t know where the mending kit is or can’t thread a needle—you are stuck.

So many people can’t be bothered, so they donate to Oxfam rather than repair things—no wonder the world is in such a mess. We’d rather throw something worth tens or hundreds of pounds away, than sit down for half an hour and mend it.

After an early lunch of omelettes and salad, which was pretty good, we did an hour’s sewing. I’m teaching Julie to make dolls clothes, so that will involve using or even making patterns, cutting out, tacking and sewing and knitting or crocheting. I think she’d rather push the vacuum cleaner round, it takes less concentration. It’s certainly easier to teach students biology than Julie sewing.

At two, I stood up and popped on some lipstick and brushed my hair. “Have you got your list?”

“Um—I haven’t had time to do it, Mummy.”

“Why not—I know what I need to replace or top up for the dinners and breakfasts.”

“You said you’d had more practice.”

“And you, young lady, have two minutes before I go to the supermarket, I’d hurry if I were you.”

“Why can’t we have sandwiches for lunch?” she grumbled in the car as I drove to the shops.

“We can, but you’ll need to have lots of variations in bread and fillings.”

“Why not a pack of ham and a sliced loaf?”

“Fine, but you can eat it all yourself.”

“It would be cheaper.”

“Yes, I did it for three years at university—at the end of the month, I was often living on toast, with the occasional tin of beans.”

“Well you turned out all right.”

“So do you want to learn to live very frugally or develop housekeeping skills?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you want to live like a student, that can be arranged, I’ll give you a couple of pounds a day to live on and you can do all your cooking, and I’ll look after the rest.”

“But Daddy gives me enough to mean that isn’t necessary.”

“I can arrange for him to stop that, I’ll call him when we get to the shop.”

“No, please don’t, Mummy. I need the money for clothes and things.”

“If you’re living frugally, you can’t afford new stuff, you have to do charity shops or make changes to old stuff.”

“No thanks.”

“It’s what happens in wartime, when supplies are short. We’ve become too dependent upon waste, far too fickle for novelty and change.”

“Well, you’re always buying clothes.”

“Not as many as you, girl,” I knew my wardrobe was much bigger than hers, I’d been collecting it for longer and some of it was still Stella cast-offs.

“I think it’s unfair, the boys aren’t bullied as much as me.”

“The boys are still in school, but they do chores when they’re home and they get a bit of training too. I want them to be able to cope with looking after themselves if they go away from home, such as college or university.”

“But they could end up marrying a girl or living with one who does it all differently.”

“So, that’s for them to sort out.”

“What if I live with a boy who likes to do housework?”

“Then you give thanks and grab him quickly, but you may well find there’s a reason why he likes housework.”

“Like what?”

“Think about it—here we are, come on we’ll have to get a move on or we’ll be late collecting the three mouseketeers.”

We grabbed a trolley and entered the emporium—the temple of consumerism. “Where’s your list, Mummy?”

“In my head—I know what we’re eating, and what I need to get. Where’s yours?”

“Um—in the kitchen,” she looked very embarrassed.

“Oh well, let’s see how much you can remember.” It was actually in my pocket, she’d forgotten it and I picked it up as we left. I’d give it to her afterwards, but I wanted her to deal with a bit of pressure. Prioritising, time management and so on are useful in everything. Later on, when she gets better at it, I’ll give her a budget to manage as well. By that time, she’ll be able to look after a house or even The House, perhaps as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

We were concentrating on her shopping, I’d finished mine and I’d given her the list she’d forgotten and were debating over the pros and cons of plain flour over corn flour for sauce making, when I saw her father turn into our aisle. It was not what I would have chosen to happen, especially as we needed to collect the girls. I pretended not to notice him but he saw us and headed straight for us.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 972

I looked at Julie: she was more interested in reading packet ingredients than looking around.

“If I give the word, be prepared to move quickly,” I hissed at her.

“Why?” She glanced at me then up the aisle, “Oh shit—what does he want.” The colour drained from her face.

“Be ready.”

“I feel strange,” the next moment there was a crash as she fell back against the shelving, knocking cartons and tins all over the place.

I stretched forward and caught her before her head hit the ground and her father let go of his trolley and rushed over to us. “Is she all right?” he asked anxiously.

“Do you really care?” I snapped back.

“Yes I do.” He started clearing packets and tins out of the way so we could sit her down more comfortably. By now, a small crowd had gathered and staff were flapping around.

“An ambulance is on its way,” said someone authoritatively.

“I think she’ll be okay, she just fainted.” I stroked her face and her eyes fluttered.

“We have a sick bay upstairs,” said the voice, still behind me.

“I don’t think she could walk up there right now.”

“C’mon, I’ll carry her,” with that Brad Kemp abandoned his shopping and picked up his daughter like she was a teddy bear. We followed the management type who took us to a lift and thence to the sick room.

It was appropriately named, just after we got there, she brought up her lunch. Thankfully, I was able to grab a bowl and shove it in front of her.

“Are you all right, um—Julie, isn’t it?” asked her erstwhile father.

“I think so,” she still looked very pale, “but since when did you care?”

“Okay, maybe I’d best go.”

“Yes, maybe you had.”

“We still love you, you know?” he said to her, “Yer mum an’ me.”

“Cathy’s my mum now.”

“Okay—I’d best go, take care, um—girl.” I escorted him to the door, “Didn’t I see you in hospital?”

“Possibly, my sister-in-law is a nurse,” it was partly true.

He shook his head, “I recognise your voice too, I’m sure I do.”

“You might have seen my television documentary.”

“Might of,” he said ungrammatically. “But it feels like hospital to me—I nearly died and some woman brought me back from the dead—magical she was.”

“That lets me out, I was there when you tried to harm Julie—so yes you would have heard my voice calling you all the shits under the sun. My opinion hasn’t changed, save for this one gesture of kindness of carrying her up here. Then that has to be balanced against the fact that a fear of you caused her to faint.”

“Why is she scared of me—I’m her dad?”

“I think some scarring across her throat might explain the reason.”

“You saved her that day didn’t you?”

“I got her away from you, if that’s what you mean?”

“I succeeded, didn’t I, and you stopped it bleeding—didn’t you?”

“The police and paramedics were there, too.”

“I’ve spoken with them, you saved her life and mine—it was you wasn’t it?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, I want to thank you for both, but mainly for her.”

“I don’t need your thanks to do things for Julie.”

“Okay, okay, keep your hair on, missus, I’m pleased she’s having a chance to do what she wants—I never thought I’d be able to say that, but I dunno what you done to me in that ’ospital, but I’m different now. ’Onest I am.”

“Sorry, but you were just going—remember?” I bustled him out of the door. “Okay, I gave you back your life—but what I did can be undone, if ever you hurt her again—you’ll die within moments—your heart will stop. Got it?”

“Jeez, you don’t mince words, do you?”

“You tried to kill her as an act of spite, if it wasn’t for me, she’d be dead and you’d be serving a life sentence. So don’t try to tell me anything, mister.”

He walked away in no doubt about my feelings towards him. As I went back to the sick room, a paramedic came dashing up the stairs with his bag of tricks. I showed him where his patient was and in ten minutes he’d decided she was okay and we were able to go finally and collect the girls from school.

On my suggestion, we simply said that Julie was taken unwell in the shop, we didn’t tell Trish and co why she became ill.

That night, she slept in my bed—coming to my room in the middle of the night saying she’d dreamt he’d cut her throat. This was how I imagined people who’d been abused as children were, dreaming of the past and waking in a sweat.

Once she’d settled down she went off to sleep without incident.

The next day we listened as all flights in and out of the country were suspended because some Icelandic volcano with an unpronounceable name spewed ash into British and European airspace. The irony being, planes were still taking off in Iceland.

Remembering that they still hunt whales, I think we should nuke Iceland and their sodding volcano. I mean the place is nothing but bad news to us Brits. If it wasn’t volcanoes then it was bloody Vikings, then the cod war, then the Icelandic banks wouldn’t pay up their debts and now we’re getting their stupid fall-out. Next time they annoy us, I think we should sink their silly island.

I tittered to myself as I filled the dishwasher, these xenophobic thoughts were flashing through my mind, after Iceland where would the British Empire strike next? I suppose we could repossess India and Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—at least we’d be guaranteed fresh tea. Then Oz and New Zealand, Canada and half of Africa, most of the Caribbean, parts of South America and would we want the US again?—probably not, they’re still revolting (against their own government. Let’s face it, the ’Mericans are ungovernable, full stop).

I’m not sure we’d want the Palestine Mandate either, although Iraqi oil would be nice as would Saudi Arabia for the same reason. Quite how we’d run the world again, I have no idea—I can’t believe anyone would want to be Prime Minister, it’s an impossible job with no thanks but plenty of wannabes. Ooh, mustn’t forget Hong Kong and Gibraltar. I suspect China would take more than a couple of weeks to overcome these days, since the Opium war or the War of Jenkin’s Ear, when the Royal Navy sank the Chinese fleet and we walked all over them, we also sank a Turkish fleet and generally anyone who annoyed us. No wonder old people think the British were superior, a bit like some Americans are arrogant today, we must have been insufferable.

A piddling little island in a cold sea conquered one way or another, over a quarter of the world’s surface. Through technology, and English as the official language of science and technology, we’ve pretty well conquered the rest of the planet too, albeit with a bit of help from the Americans.

“Are you going to be any longer, Mummy?” asked Julie’s voice.

“Eh, oh I was miles away.”

“Yes, I’d noticed—they say it happens when you get old.”

I narrowed my eyes, “Whad’ya want anyway?”

“I have to do omelettes for lunch—um, will you show me what to do?”

“After you accused me of being an old fart—why should I?”

“It was a joke, Mummy—honest, it was.”

“Hmm, make me a cuppa and I’ll think about it while I drink it.”

“Okay, Mummy, you will help won’t you?”

“I’ll see, where’s this tea then?” I smirked, the sense of power was exquisite.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 973

The omelettes were passable: apparently one should never add milk, just a drop of water. I now needed more eggs, only somehow, I have a feeling Julie wouldn’t want to go to the supermarket again. It so happens, our local corner shop—about a mile down the road—did free range eggs. I like to keep some in the cupboard, because if all else fails you can always make a meal with eggs.

“So what happened with Julie?” Stella asked as I was emptying the dishwasher.

“We met her father in the supermarket.”

“And?” she leant against the worktop and folded her arms.

“Julie fainted and bumped her head, so we had to take her to the sick room and wait for the ambulance.”

“You made her walk?”

“No, he carried her.”

“You let him touch her?”

“I couldn’t have carried her upstairs, could I?”

“I don’t know, you managed to carry her back from one of the fields.”

“That was different, I wasn’t climbing stairs.”

“You didn’t use a lift—most shops have one?”

“Yes, oh shut up, Stella. He wanted to help.”

“Last time he wanted to help he cut her throat.”

“Hush—she doesn’t know that.”

“I do now, Mummy, why didn’t you tell me?” Julie walked into the kitchen.

“Tell you what, sweetheart?”

“That my former father cut my throat.”

“It was only a scratch and it healed pretty quickly.”

“That isn’t how I remember it.”

“You remember it?” I was aghast, I thought the healing would deal with that as well—obviously not.

“Yes, I dream it quite often and I see the blood spurt everywhere and know I’m going to die.”

“But you didn’t die—did you?”

“No, but…”

“You didn’t, you’re obviously catastrophising from a part memory.”

“Like, what does that mean?”

“He wanted to cut your throat, but he obviously couldn’t, or didn’t and we managed to overpower him and rescue you.”

“Why was my throat, like so sore for days?”

“He must have grabbed you there.”

“No, I remember it, the blood spurted—he tried to kill me, didn’t he?”

“What’s the point of me answering the question—you’ve made up your mind as to the answer, so whatever I say is irrelevant.”

“Mummy, I want to know.”

“What good will knowing achieve? It won’t stop the dreams, it won’t make you forgive him—will it?”

“Never, the bastard.”

“So, all it’s going to do is make you bitter and resentful towards him. Just what you need to carry all your life to twist your feelings and poison your heart.”

“The child deserves to know the truth,” said Stella, taking an unusually moral stance.

“Does she? How does she know I’m not telling the truth? Would I lie to her?”

“Yes you would if you thought it would do her harm to know the truth—what if he tells her in the future?” Stella kept up the pressure.

“I’m not goin’ anywhere near him or his sick wife, they’re bloody maniacs.”

I shrugged, “‘And the truth will make you free’, John eight, thirty two.”

“You are fascinating,” Stella observed, “You don’t believe but you can quote chapter and verse.”

“‘There is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own:’ That’s verse forty four.” I shrugged.

“What are you on about, Mummy?” Julie seemed lost in our higher debate.

“Make her free—tell her the truth,” urged Stella, almost goading me.

“How does she know it isn’t a lie?”

“Because when it comes to it, you won’t tell her a lie.”

“According to you, I already have.”

“I think you avoided the truth rather than lied. If she asks you outright, you won’t lie to her, will you?—it offends all you believe in.”

It seems I was to be hoist by my own petard, which means blown up by my own bomb—a petard being a sort of bomb or mine which was used to blow up the gates of fortresses or undermine enemy positions; in the days before cannon fire was so effective.

“No I won’t lie to you Julie.” Now I had painted myself into a corner, helped by Stella.

“He did cut my throat, didn’t he, Mummy?”

“Do you really want to know the answer?”

“Answer her, for God’s sake, Cathy.”

“Julie?” I prompted.

“Yes,” she said quietly and tears ran down her face. “Yes, I need to know.”

“Okay, but this is against my better judgement—yes he did.”

“Oh my God,” she said before spewing all over the kitchen and falling backward into Stella’s arms.

I grabbed a towel and wiped her face, “Happy, now?” I hissed at Stella.

“Yes,” she spat back.

We sat the young woman on a kitchen chair and I gave her a bucket, while I mopped up the mess. She sat shaking and sobbing while Stella held her shoulders and spoke quietly to her.

“He wanted to kill me,” Julie sobbed.

“He didn’t want you to live with Cathy.”

“Why? Why would anyone want to kill me? What had I done to him?”

“You didn’t meet with his expectations and you might have embarrassed him—I don’t know, Julie,” Stella was shaking her head as she spoke, even though Julie couldn’t see her as she was standing behind her with hands still on Julie’s shoulders.

“Embarrass him? Jesus, Auntie Stella that gives him the right to kill me?”

“No, sweetie, nothing gives him that right. Cathy, you were there, why don’t you tell her?”

“This is all I’m saying about it: he said he didn’t want anyone to have you if he couldn’t.”

“That is so mean and selfish,” said Stella.

“I shall be in the dining room doing some survey work—I’m not prepared to speak about this again. You stirred it up,” I said to Stella, “You can calm it down.” I walked angrily out of the room and called Stephanie on my mobile.

“Bring her in about five, I’ll see her before I finish.”

“I’m doing duck in orange sauce if you’d like to come to dinner?”

“Oh you temptress, I shouldn’t really, I’m trying to lose weight.”

“Do it here then instead of the hospital?”

“After dinner?”

“Could do.”

“What time’s food?”

“Six-ish.”

“Okay Cathy, if I can borrow a room.”

“See you when you get here.” I switched off the phone and picked up my laptop. I could get dinner after collecting the kids, I had an hour to go before that. I dealt with my survey queries.

Bloody hell, wallabies in Dorset? Ha, pull the other one. Oh this was from the RSPCA—since when have they been sending us stuff? It’s obviously an escape, either that or it must be a very strong swimmer.

“She’s crying uncontrollably,” said Stella.

“That’s your problem.”

“Cathy, she’s your responsibility.”

“No—you stirred this up, that’s yours.”

“I can’t calm her down.”

“Next time you bloody well listen and when I say not to do something, if you insist on it—you can clean up the fucking mess—now get out of my way,” I pushed her aside and went into the sobbing teenager.

“It’s okay, it’s over—he won’t hurt you now—he can’t hurt you now. I won’t let him. I’ve invited Stephanie over this evening to see you. So come on, dry those tears.”

“I can’t believe someone hated me so much they wanted to kill me,” she sobbed.

“He doesn’t—he loves you, so much he didn’t want to share you.”

“So how could he hurt me?”

I sat next to her and she stood up and plonked herself down on my lap and sobbed on my shoulder.

“Sometimes love is a very difficult emotion to handle and some people put conditions on it that it should never carry, but that seems to be the only way they can cope with it. Love, in my estimation should be inclusive and expansive—but that’s just my take on it. It isn’t definitive. Your dad’s was obviously much more possessive and he’s paying for it now—he’s lost you.”

“I’m so glad you found me, Mummy, I’d be dead so many times—wouldn’t I?”

“I can’t answer that, can I? But I’m glad I found you too.”

“You’ve taught me so much—you’re such a wise lady.”

Me? I’m not, you’ve taught me a load of things too, so I propose we carry on educating each other for the next umpteen years—hopefully then we’ll both be a bit wiser, won’t we?”

“I love you, Mummy.”

“I love you too, sweetheart—but I have to go and collect the girls and some stuff for dinner.”

“Can I come too?”

“If you hurry.”

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 974

We drove in silence for a short while; the pieces of duck had defrosted overnight and were waiting in the fridge to be cooked. I needed one or two things for the sauce and that needed a supermarket.

“I’m going to have to go to Tesco or Asda to get one or two things.” I watched Julie flinch as I said this. “Do you want to stay in the car, I can lock it?”

“I’ll come with you—I’ll feel safer.”

“Okay, sweetheart.”

She held on to my arm as we walked to the store and also while we did the shopping. Julie held the basket while I put a few items in it including some strawberries and melon for the dessert. I paid and we got back to the car. Once inside it, Julie seemed to relax a little and I heard her breathe out quite loudly.

“Okay?” I asked and she nodded. “I know it’s all very raw again, but it is going to get easier—I promise I’ll do all I can.”

“I know, Mummy, if it weren’t for you I’d probably be dead anyway.”

“Not necessarily, some other good Samaritan might have taken you in.”

“I doubt it, I’d have ended up on the street, nicking stuff to stay alive or selling my body. I wouldn’t have got hormones or the comfortable home with people I love, would I?”

“I don’t know, darling, look you can speculate all you want and never know the answer. Just try and accept what you have, which is security and love and take it from there. You’re safe, you’re wanted and you’re loved—what else could a girl want?”

“A boy or girlfriend,” she said quietly.

“You have Leon, who is very fond of you, and you have your two girl pals, too.”

“Shelley and Tracie? Yeah, I suppose, ’cept they haven’t been in touch for a week or two.”

“They could just be busy—didn’t they see you at the salon?”

“Yeah—they could also have decided I’m a loser and moved on.”

“A loser?” I stopped the car, “Now listen here young woman, you are not a loser. You are going to make something of your life and we’re all going to help you as you need us.”

“It’s all right for you, you’ve got Daddy and all his money.”

“I didn’t when I started, I was post grad student with barely two pennies to rub together—remember, I was estranged from my parents too, so their financial support stopped when we fell out. I only survived because the bursar at the university managed to find some obscure charity which gave me a thousand pounds a year and paid for my bedsit.”

“A thousand pounds—is that all?”

“I spent most of it on food, I also had a student loan which enabled me to buy one or two luxuries.”

“A thousand pounds, that’s like less than twenty pounds a week.”

“Yes, it is. I lived on things like beans on toast, mince and jacket spuds, and salad when it was cheap.”

“So you’ve had it tough then?”

“Not as hard as many, I accept, but I lived on a couple of pounds a day most days, used a bike for transport in all weathers and didn’t bother much with luxuries, such as chocolate.”

“Chocolate is a luxury?” She almost gasped, and I was pleased I’d moved her away from her anxious state.

“It was then, and as for alcohol—it was a non-starter. Mind you all that and the exercise kept my weight down and the pills rearranged what fat I already had into a more acceptable form. Amazingly, my hips also widened a little even though I didn’t expect them to.”

“That’s because you never were a boy. You just needed the ’mones to kick-start a proper puberty.”

“Maybe, ah, here they are.” The three girls had walked out to meet us and quickly got in the car.

“Is Julie all right?” asked Trish.

“I’m fine,” she replied, “I banged my elbow earlier, made me cry.”

“Is it all right now—do you need me to heal it for you?” offered our trainee miracle worker.

“Um—no, it’s okay, Mummy blue-lighted it.”

“Spoilsport,” was muttered from the back seat and Julie and I smirked.

Back home, I made the girls change into their playing clothes and then do any homework they needed to. Julie asked to help me with dinner—she seemed to want to be very close to me—so we turned it into an impromptu cookery lesson.

The duck went in the oven, the veg were prepared, mushrooms peeled and sliced, broccoli and carrots washed and sliced, and finally the potatoes were scraped and popped in the saucepan of water.

Next, we cleaned and prepared the fruit. I had some nice locally made ice cream we were going to have with it. As we worked, I said, “Gramps will complain.”

“Why? I think it’s a lovely menu.”

“Yes but he sees all poultry as only having one function.”

“What’s that?”

“Being curried. If someone ever invents a chicken which hatches freshly curried from the egg, Gramps will buy some.”

Julie laughed and asked if she should lay the table.

“No, that’s Trish’s job, if you muscle in on it, she’ll go spare. Watch and learn.” I walked into the lounge where the girls were doing some maths homework. “Trish, is it okay if Julie lays the table?”

“Yeah, that’s okay, Mummy—make sure she does it right though, I don’t want anyone besmirching my reputation.”

“You what?”

Giggling, she repeated what she’d said before. Julie and Livvie were almost helpless with laughter.

“Besmirching? Where did you get that from?”

“They were talking about the election and how politicians try to besmirch each other to win votes. I think it’s perfectly horrid.”

“Who was talking?”

“The nuns—like, who else?” she rolled her eyes and I glowered at her. “Sorry, Mummy.”

I nodded to accept her apology. Livvie had to run to the cloakroom.

“Right girls, Dr Cauldwell is coming to dinner tonight, so I want you to behave.”

“We shall, impeccably,” declared Trish.

“You can’t peck anyone, you haven’t got a beak, siwwy Twish,” Mima stated and ran out before Trish could get off her chair.

I prevented the riot starting and sent Mima upstairs to tidy her bed—she’d left her pyjamas on the floor and I decided she was old enough to pick them up herself. She grumbled but the noises from the lounge suggested one of her siblings felt it was poetic justice.

The boys were upstairs doing their homework and listening to their mini music centre—a CD player with speakers loud enough to annoy Julie at times, but seeing as she was down helping me, they were blasting it a bit louder than they usually did. How anyone can work in such a row, baffles me.

“Are you going to change?” I asked Julie at a quarter to six.

“Do I need to?”

“No, but you’ve got some new jeans you could wear with that cotton striped top—what about makeup, are you wearing any?”

“I wasn’t sure, Mummy, what if I cry?”

“Use the waterproof mascara.”

“It isn’t really waterproof, is it?”

“Nah, but it takes longer to migrate over your face than the ordinary—have you got some waterproof?”

“Yes, Mummy, you bought me some ages ago.”

“I’m just too perfect for words.”

“Yes, Mummy, it comes with being old.” She pecked me on the cheek and ran up the stairs before I could swat her backside.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 975

If twenty-six is old to a sixteen-year-old, I must seem ancient to my other charges—and what of Stella and Simon? They’re both older than I am, and Tom must be the closest thing to Methuselah they’re ever likely meet.

Oh well, I’m sure age is one of those things whose perspective changes in respect to one’s own age. I’ll let you know in a decade or two—crikey, I’ll be mid forties then—shit, that is old.

I went into the kitchen and put the vegetables on to cook, then checked the duck, in addition to the sauce made with fresh orange juice and Courvoisier, I’d laid a slice of orange on each piece. It was all cooking nicely and would be ready in half an hour.

At almost exactly six the doorbell rang and Stephanie appeared as I opened the door. “Your punctuality is perfect,” I noted.

“Yes, I try to keep it punctilious, full stop,” she punctuated her response.

“Are all psychiatrists crazy?” I asked.

“Dotty as Dalmatians,” she laughed, “Comes from associating with strange people who masquerade as patients—I mean imagine anyone being daft enough to ask you to arrange someone to remove their gonads.”

“Ooh, that was below the belt,” I riposted.

“Well, that’s where gonads usually are. Right, how near is dinner?”

“Well literally, it’s about twenty feet away in the kitchen but we’ll be ingesting in there,” I pointed to the dining room.

“How near in time are we to dining?” she asked rephrasing her question.

“There’s a clock in the dining room, but the grandfather clock is here in the hall, so maybe twenty feet again.”

She glared at me, “What time do we eat?” she said loudly.

“Oh that? Whenever you’re ready—It’s all cooked, just needs to be dished up.”

“Okay, we’ll dine first then I’ll see Julie.”

“Fine—Trish,” I called my second in command, she came trotting out to the hall, “Show Dr Cauldwell to the table please and then call the others.”

I resumed my operations in the kitchen and a few minutes later carried out plates of food to the table. Everyone helped themselves to vegetables, although I noticed Julie was less exuberant over her food than she usually was.

Stephanie talked mainly to the children asking how school was and that sort of thing, but I was aware of a theme behind the way she questioned the children. Julie was left out of the questions except in a very general way, and conversation with the adults was very limited. She declined the wine that Tom offered because she was driving, instead accepting some apple juice which Stella passed around.

The object of her questions I don’t think ever noticed she was under inspection, and that was Trish. Stephanie asked her directly about school then confirmed things by talking with the other two girls. Then she checked out her social interactions by speaking with the boys. I can only assume that she was happy with the answers because she smiled at Trish and seemed contented afterwards.

The duck was delicious, even though I say so myself and the slice of orange on top of each portion added to the presentation of the meal which, with the exception of Julie, was eaten with gusto by the others.

“That was superb, Cathy, and where did you get that ice cream—ooh, if I eat any more I won’t fit any of my clothes.”

“Aren’t they supposed to fit you, not the other way round?” I asked.

“When they cost as much as they do—no; I try to fit them, it’s cheaper to lose weight than buy new.”

“It’s certainly cheaper—this constant need for novelty amongst consumers worries me as an ecologist.”

“Consumerism worries me as a human being, the suffix tending to indicate it’s a belief system—which I fear is probably true.”

“You fear the belief or that you are correct?” asked Stella.

Stephanie looked at her for a moment before saying, “A bit of both, materialism is self-destructive because it is ultimately insatiable, consumerism or consuming is an act of materialism. It all depends upon material wealth, which while we all need a certain amount, is taken to absurd levels by some people.”

“Are you trying to tell me that money can’t bring happiness?” Stella queried.

“In essence, yes, but that won’t stop people trying to find out the hard way.” Stephanie replied, “Many of the people I see as patients believe that unless they have loadsa money, they will be disempowered. They don’t see that if that is their goal, they should be building slowly in a career to achieve that—such as business or one of the higher paid professions. No they want it now, and they don’t seem to want to work for it—then they get depressed because they aren’t able to have the latest everything. It’s all so silly, but they get very distressed by it.”

“Isn’t that to do with advertising?” I chucked in my two penneth, “Selling dreams instead of reality, based on a system which common sense tells us is unsustainable.”

“Cathy the philosopher,” Stephanie smiled. “In one respect I agree entirely. However, my job is to help those who come unstuck and have emotional problems as a result.”

“But you’re treating symptoms, why not the cause?”

“Because yon whole bloody system’ll collapse, o’ course it’s built on sand, capitalism is unsoond, like ’n inverted pyramid, allus ready to fa’ doon on top o’ thae heids o’ thae lot o’ them. Serve ’em richt, tae.”

I wondered why I liked Tom so much, we held such similar views except on religion—he participated, I despised from a distance.

Stephanie took Julie off to Tom’s study as he was going out to a meeting, and after clearing up, we all played a game of Dingbats. No prizes for guessing that Trish would win and that either Billy or Meems would come last. However, they all had fun because they didn’t play in a competitive way and spent most of the time laughing.

I don’t know if you are familiar with the game where you have to guess a well known phrase or word from a pictogram. Some of them are easy some are quite obscure—none evaded the Trish, who trashed them easily; so much so that while Stella and I were making drinks, she suggested they rename the game, Trish-Trash.

“You realise she’s cleverer than the rest of us put together?” Stella opined.

“Don’t you think I know? Her headmistress reckons she has an IQ of between one forty and one sixty.”

“Isn’t that genius level?”

“Yep—real rocket scientist stuff.”

“So what will you do?”

“Try and keep her feet on the ground, stop her living in her head as she grows up. Remember very intelligent people still do stupid things, and are no better at controlling their feelings than those of us lesser mortals.”

“You’d think they would, wouldn’t you?”

“No, Stella, the two systems aren’t necessarily integrated, emotion is more primitive than intellect, and often dominant. Remember Isaac Newton was a nasty piece of work, despite his huge brain.”

“So they say, but I thought that was because he was a Capricorn.” Her smile conveyed an element of innocence but I saw the smirk underneath it and smiled back at her disguised disingenuousness.

“Yep, it’s all to do with our horoscopes,” I agreed sarcastically; “don’t blame me I’m a Sagittarian.”

“Exactly,” she said.

Wuthering Dormice (aka Bike) Part 976

I heard the door of Tom’s study close and feet rushing up the stairs, I went to investigate.

“Ah, Cathy, can I have a word?” asked Stephanie.

I nodded and followed her into the study. “Where’s Julie?” I asked.

“She’s a bit upset, she’s gone up to her room for moment to calm down.”

“Is she all right?”

“She’ll be fine. However she has this delusion that her father cut her throat and she sees the blood spurting as would happen, except she’d be dead within minutes.”

“It’s not a delusion, he cut her throat—I was there.”

“So how did she survive? Or was it not as bad as she imagines.”

“It was exactly as she describes.”

“That’s impossible—she’d bleed to death in minutes, and lose consciousness in seconds.”

“I know.”

“So how can it have happened?”

“It did.”

“So how come she didn’t bleed to death?”

“I managed to stop the bleeding.”

“Without an operating theatre and a vascular surgeon present, that wouldn’t have been possible.”

“If you don’t want to believe, that’s fine. I was there and I know what happened.”

“So you expect me to believe you stopped severed arteries from bleeding?”

“I expect nothing, Stephanie—at the same time I won’t lie to you just so you can believe me.”

“I’ve just told the girl she must have imagined it and she insisted you said it had happened. I suggested you were dramatising it. Now what do I do?”

“Can I tell you something in confidence?”

“Like what?”

“Have you heard stories of someone doing miraculous healings at the QA?”

“Yes, but no one pays any attention to such things do they?”

“The hospital tries to talk them down.”

“Well they can’t be real, let’s face it, can they?”

“Speak to Sam Rose or Ken Nicholls—tell them you have my permission to discuss it.”

“What are they going to tell me?”

“The truth.”

“With your permission? So—my God, you’re the miracle worker?”

“Yes, but I’d like you to keep it to yourself.”

“You stopped the bleeding and healed the wounds?”

“Apparently.”

“Good grief, what a gift—do you realise what you could do with it?”

“It’s a curse, and I know what I’d like to do with it.”

“A curse? Did I hear you correctly, Cathy?”

“You did. Do you realise what your life is like if it gets out. People will travel the world to see you and focused only on their needs, they forget you might have some. Plus the fact that the tabloid press hound you day and night. You take my word for it—it’s a curse.”

“When did you realise you could do this?”

“A while back, after my dad died, so I couldn’t heal him or my mum. But since then I’ve saved, Mima, Tom, Henry, Stella, Simon, Julie twice, and a few others.”

“What do you mean, saved? That has religious overtones.”

“Saved them from a lethal condition.”

“This is getting too mind blowing for me to handle, you’re like a latter day Jesus Christ.”

“Your analogy not mine.”

“Bloody hell, you are full of surprises.”

“I try to amuse my guests.”

Stephanie sat down and shook her head—“Is this something to do with the gender imbalance?”

“I don’t feel imbalanced now, I feel I’m what I was meant to be.”

“Yes, but people who are in some sort of internal conflict often seem to have some gift or other which makes them special.”

“Like Trish and her IQ?” I asked.

“Yes, she’s a bright spark, isn’t she?”

“She’s also got the healing gift.”

“What? She can save lives too?”

“I don’t know if she can do that yet, but she’s doing little things—healing cuts and bruises.”

“Like mother like daughter.”

“She’s my adopted daughter, remember—even I can’t produce real children myself.”

“But she even looks like you.”

“Does she?” I hadn’t noticed that.

“So does Livvie—it is Livvie isn’t it, your other daughter?”

“I suppose they look similar because they dress similarly and I do their hair.”

“Come off it, Cathy, they look similar facially and in colouring.”

“They aren’t related, it’s pure coincidence. I suppose next you’re going to tell me that Julie looks like me too.”

“Only in that she could be your younger sister.”

“Stephanie that is bullshit and you know it.”

“Yes, okay.” She blushed.

“I’m going to see how Julie is, feel free to call one of your aforementioned colleagues if you don’t believe me.” I handed her the phone and ran up to Julie’s room. Given her propensity to self-destruct, I wasn’t sure what I’d see.

I knocked and entered her room. She was sitting on her bed hugging her teddy bear and sobbing quietly. I sat down beside her and put my arm around her. “Hello, sweetheart.”

“She didn’t believe me, Mummy. She thinks I dreamt it.”

“I’ve put her right on that, sweetheart, so don’t upset yourself. Remember, we have to interact with people who won’t understand us or believe us, not because they don’t want to, but because it’s beyond their imaginations to conceive. Some of those are going to be the typical narrow minded sorts, and some are going to be professionals of whom you’d expect more.”

“Dr Stephanie is fine with my gender stuff, it was my injury she couldn’t believe.”

“I’ve put her right on that. Would you like a drink?”

“A large vodka, please.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Are you making tea?”

“I could do, would you like a cup?”

“Yes please, Mummy.”

I left her to go and make the tea. Stephanie came out into the kitchen. “I’ve spoken to Sam Rose, he confirmed what you said. I apologise for doubting you.”

“It wasn’t me who got upset with you, was it?”

“Do you mind if I go up to speak with her?” Stephanie asked me.

“I think it would be better if she came down—leave her her bolt hole.”

“That’s fine with me.”

“Do you mind if I sit in this time?”

“I’d prefer it if you didn’t.”

I went and got Julie, who came down hugging the teddy.

Stephanie made a fuss of the teddy and then of Julie, then the door shut. I re-boiled the kettle and made some tea. Then I poured myself one and as I began to drink it, the study door opened and they came out together.

“Better?” I asked Julie, and she nodded. I poured her a cup of tea and she took it upstairs with her.

Stephanie declined the offer of tea and took her leave. As she went, I asked her, “Is Julie likely to suffer any PTSD as a result of this attack by her father?”

“She could—I’m seeing her in two days to make sure she’s got over this episode. I’ll get my secretary to call her with an appointment. Fundamentally, she’s quite a strong character, but she has obvious issues with her dad, which we’ll need to work through.”

“He seemed to have changed the last time I saw him.”

“She told me you saved his life as well.”

“So it seems. He didn’t change that much after it, but the last time he was much better—however she still threw a wobbly and passed out. So you probably have loads to work with.”

“I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Middle of the day is easiest or after four, I have to deliver and collect school girls.”

“Okay, Cathy, I’ll see what I can do. Oh by the way, you realise she and Trish consider you’re really an angel.”

“Oh that nonsense, yes they’ve said it before.”

“I might not disagree with them, byeeee.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 977

Just bloody wonderful, now I have a shrink who thinks I’m angelic—well they’re all barmy anyway. I shrugged and set about getting the younger generation off to bed. By the time I’d finished—the last one was Julie, I was knackered and as I came downstairs to make my last cuppa of the night, Tom returned from his meeting.

Stella came in from the utility room, she’d been drying nappies in the tumble drier, “I like Stephanie,” she chuckled, “she’s as nutty as a fruit cake.”

“Aye, nutty as a dormoose dinner, according to ma dochter.”

“Oh yes, the Dumfries Dormouse counter.” I didn’t know why Stella had suddenly remembered I’d been born in Scotland.

“What has my place of birth to do with anything?” I asked feeling a bit defensive—Stella can be quite cruel when she gets going.

“Och, it means ye canna be a’ bad.”

“Very funny,” I responded to Tom.

“Weel it’s true, lassie.”

“As my daughter seems to think I’m an angel, who am I to argue—especially when her psychiatrist seems to agree.”

“But we’re agreed she’s as barking as a bus load of spaniels.”

“Ye leave ma Kiki oot o’ this, she’s no barking.”

As if to prove him wrong, Kiki started to bark in the conservatory where she presumably wanted to go out. We both broke into laughter and Tom sullenly went off to deal with his dog.

“Why are you embarrassed about being Scottish?” asked Stella folding the last of the nappies.

“I’m not.”

“Not what—embarrassed or Scottish?”

“Both, I’m not embarrassed nor am I Scottish.”

“But if you were born there, surely you are.”

“No—loads of Brits were born abroad in places like Germany because their parents were in the army, they’re still Brits aren’t they, they’re not German.”

“Unless they want to be—dunno about the army, but if anyone is born somewhere to parents of a different nationality to that country, don’t they have dual nationality.”

“I don’t know and care even less. I’ve lived all my life except a few weeks in the beginning, in England. ‘So God for Harry, England and St George’.”

“Who d’you think you are? Kenneth Brannagh?”

“Why, did he do Joan of Arc?”

“I hate to say this, but she was French.”

“I thought she was Noah’s wife.” I fought hard to keep my face straight.

“Noah’s wife? Eh?” she looked confused for a moment then began to laugh. “Wrong ark, you pillock.”

“I’m a pillock of the community,” I said proudly thrusting my chest out. Stella cackled like an old witch and plonking the basket of nappies down ran off to the loo.

“Whit’s thae matter wi’ her?” asked Tom being bustled out of the way as he came back to the kitchen.

“I think her sense of humour is stronger than her bladder.”

He chuckled, “Nivver become a professor, unless ye want tae be in meetin’s wi’ constipated ol’ farts, wha dinna hae thae brains they were born wi’. I’m gang tae hae a wee dram before I gang as crazy as them.”

“Good meeting then,” I smirked at him.

“Och, yer scunner.” He went into his study to pour himself a glass. Have I mentioned he has one of those large globe things which opens to reveal bottles of booze and some glasses. They were popular in the seventies I think. I switched on the kettle and pulled out two mugs from the cupboard.

“Are you making tea?” said Stella coming back to the kitchen to collect her nappies. They’re not actually her nappies, they belong to Puddin’ although Stella bought them, so I suppose they are hers but it’s Puddin’ who wears them. I’m glad I cleared that up.

“I’ve got a mug for you,” I replied.

“Good-o, be back in a sec.” She ran off to put the nappies in the airing cupboard. Have a mentioned the airing cupboard? It’s quite large, like a walk in closet with shelves on both sides and the hot water tank at the end. It also has one of those wooden drying rails suspended from the ceiling.

I made the tea and poured two mugs, then sat at the table to drink mine. Stella came back first and sat with me, “I think you may have company tonight.” She smiled benignly which was probably the opposite to her tone.

“Which one is it?”

“The big one.”

“I’m not surprised: I think Stephanie stirred up as much as she sorted.”

“They do sometimes—you know doctors, the more pain the greater the gain.”

“In psychiatry, I’d have thought that was completely wrong—in fact in most medical situations.”

“Can you have a medical situation—apart from employing a doctor?”

“Well treatment or therapy or whatever they call it—you’re the nurse, you should know.”

“Medical procedure, perhaps?” she virtually crowed. Much more of this and I’ll feed her to the dormice.

“Pooh, I’ve forgotten what we were talking about now.”

“So’ve I,” she laughed and I did too.

“I’m glad ye twa can find thae energy t’ laugh.”

“Well we haven’t been with a dozen dry as dust professors, have we?” I offered.

“Jest eleven o’them we’re dry as dust, I’m weel moisturised, I’ll hae ye ken.” That cracked both of us up and I went to bed still chuckling at Tom’s Edinburgh accent talking about being moisturised. Does that make him a wet?

I cracked open my bedroom door and Julie was fast asleep in my bed. I changed into my pyjamas and cleaned my teeth as quickly and quietly as I could and slipped into bed. I left the bedside lamp on as I tried to concentrate on my book, but my mind was flitting to the next day and also to the softly breathing form lying next to me.

Tomorrow Maureen would be back: she’d been off organising stuff for some of the banks most of the weekend. I suspect she would be glad of the money which Henry would arrange to pay her quickly being aware of her financial predicament. If she was going to get in thirty hours for me this week, she’d need to work pretty well fulltime for the next four days. That’s for her to sort out, I have enough on my plate.

I switched off the light, then nearly jumped out of bed—it was Livvie’s birthday at the weekend. I’ll have to get her presents from the others and Simon and myself. I knew what I’d be doing tomorrow—more blessed shopping. She could do with a new watch, so maybe I’ll get her a nice one, but not too nice—it’s only likely to get stolen or lost. She could also do with a new school bag and some new trainers. Must get her a card and some wrapping paper, too.

I was nudged out of my reverie by a funny noise. I stopped to listen and discovered it was a sob coming from my left. I switched the light back on, Julie was fast asleep but she was sobbing.

I stroked her head and told her she was safe and secure with me. It took a little while but she eventually reverted to ordinary sleep and the crying stopped. Perhaps it was just as well she had come to sleep with me. This poor kid has undergone so much trauma in her short life—I hoped and prayed that she might be spared the PTSD that could occur from it all, and tried to send the blue light into her dreams to make them restful ones which would help her forget the problems she’d had. I wasn’t confident it would work, but I knew it would do no harm.

I was sending her love when I fell asleep myself, because I awoke a couple of hours later with the bedside light still burning and a stiff neck.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 978

When morning deigned to show up, it was in a better state than I was—I was tired—not to put too fine a point on it. I dragged myself from the bed leaving Miss Sweet Sixteen, still asleep. Then it was get the chores organised, kids to school and sort out Livvie’s birthday.

As if life was agreeing with my choice of present for her, her watchstrap broke as she was doing it up before going to school. I managed to repair it with some sticky tape, but it was only a temporary job—which didn’t worry me. She was probably old enough now to have something better than the Care Bears.

I got them to school, then came back and dug Julie out of my bed and sent her off to shower, especially if she was coming shopping with me. Stella suggested that Julie babysat for her and she would come shopping with me. I left Stella and Julie to discuss the level of bribe required.

Maureen came, measured up some things and disappeared—presumably to get whatever it was that was required. I reminded Julie that her primary responsibility was Puddin’ while we were out, not chatting to Maureen. She assured me she would do her duty. I left a note for Maureen asking her to make sure Julie did.

Then after making sure there was something for lunch—some curry in the freezer which they’d only have to defrost and warm in the microwave, and boil some rice—hardly good enough to win a basic badge in the girl guides, we left.

Talking of which, it seems we have a local branch of the Guides and Brownies not too far away, however, I’m not at all sure what their attitude to transgendered children would be, so I’ve pooh-poohed any suggestions for any of the girls to join. If they persist I might have to tell them why, which I’m sure they’d understand—the girls, that is. The Girl Guides, I’m not sure about.

As we were two ladies who lunch, Stella and I dressed up just a trifle—okay we left off the mink and the Gucci dresses and wore jeans and jackets. Stella’s was red leather, mine an embroidered denim. Underneath I wore a long sleeved tee shirt top and a scarf. It is only April after all and despite the sunshine, still cool enough to raise goose-pimples.

I got the watch in the second jewellers we visited, it was thirty pounds—as I’d decided, good enough to make an impression, but not enough to worry about if it gets broken or stolen.

Stella bought her a silver bangle which was diamond cut and shone beautifully in the sunshine. We bought the trainers I thought she’d like, and a new bag for school. I also bought a hair care set, with Alice bands and brushes and combs which I thought Tom would like to give her.

I’d texted Simon to remind him and he replied he’d buy her something himself, so I told him what we’d got.

Over lunch, a rather nice tuna jacket for me and a small pasta dish for Stella, we decided if we were going to have a party, if so it would have to be on the weekend, and maybe I’d ask Si to see if the hotel would be available for half a dozen screaming kids, plus our own half a dozen. I sent him a text to make the enquiry.

While we were in Knight & Lee, which is actually part of the John Lewis partnership, my mobile beeped. Simon said the hotel was happy to see us, could I contact them to give them details? Even with my left wing leanings, it comes in handy being part of a family who own a hotel complex.

I mentioned this to Stella who suggested we called round to the hotel as we were already in Southsea, so that’s what we did.

We wandered into reception and were recognised immediately. “Lady Cameron,” said the receptionist and nodded to both of us.

“Good afternoon, my husband contacted you to enquire about use of your facilities for a children’s party—use of the swimming pool and gym, that sort of thing, plus some sort of snack meal.”

“Of course, Lady Cameron, I’ll ask the events coordinator to come and speak with you.”

“Events?” I queried.

“Yes, any sort of booking is viewed as an event, whether it’s something as simple as a birthday party or dinner, or wedding reception with all the trimmings.”

“Okay, I was thinking formal situations, but I suppose a birthday is an event for a five-year-old.”

“I thought she was coming up six?” corrected Stella.

“Yes, she will,” I answered and Stella nodded.

“Five or six, a birthday party is such a social occasion, isn’t it?” offered the receptionist.

“It was in my day.”

“Well you’re so old nowadays aren’t you, Cathy?” Stella mocked, “An old married woman.”

It would have been so easy for me to retaliate by suggesting she was both older and unmarried, but I bit my tongue. She had enough problems being a single mum, which was another sleight I could have tossed at her.

The Events Coordinator turned out to be a very attractive blonde, who was nearly six feet tall and towered over both of us. She wore the unofficial uniform of lower/middle management of a suit and blouse, which fitted her quite nicely. In fact, I felt almost scruffy to this well turned out woman, who was probably about my own age.

We got down to the nitty-gritty straight away after minimal formalities. What date, time and how many attending? Which facilities? Did we want them to do goody-bags: how many boys/girls attending and age group, and finally how much did we want to spend on each bag. Then, did we want toys or sweeties, vouchers that sort of stuff?

Did we want music and some space for dancing—“Girls like to dance after their teas,” we were assured. I hoped they weren’t so full of pop that they weren’t all sick.

The food menu was discussed, sandwiches, sausage rolls, jelly and ice cream, a birthday cake—all this was considered plus countless other things. We opted for the Saturday afternoon and early evening, with a party organiser/entertainer to amuse the children, and for them to do the food and the goody-bags—I was to confirm numbers, ages and sexes of the children.

Could she take a deposit? Stella’s eyes widened.

“Do you realise who we are?”

“Lady Cameron, is I presume the person organising the party, I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are, madam.”

“This is my sister-in-law, Lady Stella Cameron,” I introduced Stella. I began to blush, Stella was going to make an issue out of this.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see the significance,” our coordinated coordinator began to look flustered.

“How long have you worked here?” asked Stella.

“A couple of months, I suppose.”

“Do you know who owns this place?”

“It’s part of the High St group, why?”

“Do you know who owns them?” Stella asked.

“Not off-hand, it’s a bank isn’t it?”

“Yes, and…”

“Stella’s family own the High St Group,” I interjected.

“Oh, I see,” she blushed profusely. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Don’t worry,” I tried to smooth over the wrinkles. “I’m happy to pay a deposit,” I said and Stella snorted.

In the end, she decided she would speak with the manager and she’d get back to me. So I left without having spent any money there at all.

Stella moaned about it all the way home, and how she was going to get her shot at dawn. I told her to stop being such a fantasist and we called by the school to collect our three waifs and strays.

I asked Livvie if she’d like a party and she practically leapt out of the car with excitement. She had apparently never had a proper party before. When she learned it was to be at the hotel, she was so excited she was nearly sick. What I wanted was numbers of the kids she wanted to come—she could have up to six school chums. It turned into nearly twenty—she invited the whole class. So for her nerve, I made her write out every invitation herself or with Trish’s help. I printed them off from the computer and she wrote names on them and addressed the envelopes.

Oh boy—what hard work this raising children is.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 979

“I’m going to see about having her removed,” grumbled Stella, still whingeing about the young woman at the hotel.

“She’s only been there a couple of months, give her a chance for goodness sake.”

“Give her a chance to do what?”

“To learn her job. It takes time you know—I’ll bet you weren’t an expert nurse in five minutes.”

“No, it took me at least six.” She grinned at me, “How tall do you reckon she was?”

“Oh give over, the poor kid can’t help being tall.”

“She towered over you.”

“So? What is your point?”

“Well with all these weirdos changing sex, she wasn’t another one was she?”

“No.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“She has a young child.”

“How do you know?”

“I saw a photo in her purse.”

“I don’t remember her getting her purse out.”

“She lifted it out of her bag to get her pen which had fallen to the bottom of her bag. You probably couldn’t see it, but she has a youngster—a boy I think.”

“Well maybe she should go home and look after him instead of mucking up her job. I think it’s ridiculous that we should have to pay to use our own hotel.”

“Stella, the place is a business, we’ll get it at a discount anyway. Why should they give it to us free of charge?”

“Because the family owns it.”

“But if they owned a supermarket, would you expect to get free goods from it?”

“That’s different.”

“No it isn’t, they have to pay their staff, they have to pay for goods and food. I’m happy with the discount she thought was possible.”

“No wonder we lost the British Empire, people like you and Chris Patten gave it away.”

“Chris Patten was governor of Hong Kong, I’m a housewife. I don’t see the comparison.”

“He gave away Hong Kong, you’re giving away your heritage as a member of the Cameron family.”

“That’s a very tenuous association, Stella, besides he’s a Tory—I’m a card-carrying Guardian reader.”

“You’re certainly Bolshie enough.”

“Nah, I’m more Liberty, Egality, Fraternity and the pursuit of dormice.”

“Dormice? Shouldn’t that be happiness?”

“Only if you’re American; besides I’m happy when pursuing dormice.”

“I thought it was when you were with your children, or riding your bike, or with Simon?”

“I guess I lucked out on happiness.”

“You’re a jammy sod, Cathy, imagine all the drivers in all the world and you had to crash into me—the one person who could offer you a portal to complete fulfilment and happiness.”

“As I recall, Stella—it was you who crashed into me.”

“That’s a mere detail.”

“Mere details can be quite important in apportioning blame, Stella.”

“Ah, you’re no better than all the rest, blaming someone, anyone as long as it isn’t you. No wonder the country’s in such a mess, what with you and that Chris Patten bloke.”

“Isn’t Lord Patten Chancellor of Oxford University?” I challenged.

“Probably, those failed politician types always come out on top.”

“For a failure, he’s been remarkably successful.”

“Fiddlesticks,” she grumbled and went off to check on Puddin’.

“I’ve done my invites, Mummy.” Livvie handed me a pile of envelopes. I counted twenty-four.

“You’re inviting your teacher and Sister Maria?” I asked in surprise.

“Yes, Mummy, I think they could do with a nice party and they could help with the washing up afterwards.”

“No, you and Trish have to do that—it should only take you about three hours if you take it in turn to wash and wipe, say every hour.”

She looked at me with a pout and then laughed, “You’re telling me fibs, Mummy.”

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“Do you have to do the washing up with Daddy and Auntie Stella?”

“Only if the cheque bounces, kiddo.”

“What’s a cheque?”

“Never mind, it’s a way of paying for things—but I don’t use them very often these days.”

“You have to pay?”

“Yes, darling, someone has to pay for your party.”

“Oh, I thought it was free.”

It was me who adopted her not Stella, wasn’t it? “No, sweetheart, everything has to be paid for—very little is free, only fresh air and love.”

“Is it going to cost you a lot of cheques?”

“It’s quite expensive, so enjoy it while you can. Next year may be scaled down significantly.”

“What do you mean, Mummy?”

“You might have to make do with something smaller, it depends upon how much money we have for parties and things next year.”

“Will you be poor next year?”

“I don’t know, darling.” Just then my mobile rang. “Hello?”

“Hey Babes, put the telly on, I’m in the news.”

“You haven’t done anything awful have you?”

“Just watch the telly, BBC1.”

“But the news is on.”

“Well—duh, news usually is on a news bulletin.”

Still holding my phone, I went into the lounge where I changed channels much to the annoyance of the children.

“High Street Banks report a record profit for the first quarter of this year, of four billion pounds, most of which comes from their investment section. The chairman Lord Stanebury, said he was very pleased with their performance which was up a third on the same time last year considering the challenging trading conditions. High Street is the largest privately owned bank in the UK and possibly, the whole of Europe.

“Reports that it’s ripe for a takeover by a larger European or US bank have been rejected by Lord Stanebury, who is the largest shareholder in this family-owned bank. ‘There’s no one we would consider worthy of looking after our clients as well as we do. Besides, I wouldn’t sell for all the tea in China.’

“Simon Cameron, who runs the investment side of the bank, said he was very pleased by the upturn in business and the support the government had shown to the banking industry. He also said High St had been fortunate in not becoming involved with toxic loans from the US prime mortgage affair, which had given it a flying start over the other banks.

“Was that Daddy on the news?” asked Trish.

“Yes, sweetheart.”

“Is he famous?”

“He’s respected in his field.”

“Daddy’s in a field?”

“Not literally, darling.” Why do I dig these holes for myself? “It’s an expression which means the type of work he does.”

“I thought he worked in a bank not a field, Mummy?”

Oh boy, maybe I should just go to bed and stay there until they’re all at least twenty-five.

“Why is he inspected, Mummy?”

“Not inspected, respected. He’s made his bank a lot of money.”

“Does that mean you can pay for my party?” asked Livvie.

“I hope so, I sincerely hope so.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 980

Simon had told Henry that it was Livvie’s birthday and the next morning which was her birthday, a parcel arrived by courier. It was a quarter to eight in the morning; I was making sandwiches when the door bell rang.

I answered it as much out of curiosity as anything; I mean, who calls at that time of the day?

“Parcel for Miss Livvie Richards,” the deliveryman handed me his handheld computer thing to sign.

“You’re up early,” I commented.

“Delivery instructions, to be here before oh eight hundred.”

“Mission accomplished,” I observed looking at my watch. He nodded to me and ran back to his van, before driving off into the rush hour traffic.

I put the parcel on the table with her other presents; the three girls eventually came down, singing happy birthday to Livvie. The boys had wrapped a trainer each and the girls had wrapped the new school bag. They’d all signed the card and that was waiting for her too. The boys arrived moments after the girls and we had all the variations of happy birthday, squashed tomatoes, etcetera.

I made them all eat breakfast first, then she unwrapped the presents. She was so excited she giggled all the way through the ordeal. The parcel from Henry she left until last—inside was a brand new i-pod. She was well pleased with that, mind you, so would I have been.

Tom popped out form his study and demanded a kiss from our birthday girl. She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him a smacker on his cheek. He then gave her a card and a present. I knew what was in that one, I’d bought it—the hair care set.

I finished the packed lunches, sent the boys to catch their bus and took the girls off to school, complete with her sackful of invitations. Stella hadn’t come down in time to give her her present before we left—I don’t know what that woman does some days, in fact most days.

I dashed back home to clear up and remind Julie we had an appointment with Stephanie at half past ten. She was in the shower, so at least she was awake—at least I presumed one couldn’t shower while sleepwalking, but I hadn’t spoken to her so possibly I was wrong. I am about once a year.

I went up to change after clearing up the kitchen, I showered and changed into a skirt suit. Julie had yet to get a present for Livvie, so that would be the second thing on the agenda.

I dried and styled my hair—how did we manage before mousse and gels and stuff? I threw on some makeup, a squirt of perfume, slipped on my shoes and I was ready, inserting some drop earrings as I went down the stairs.

Julie was pouring herself some cereal into a dish. “You had remembered your appointment?” I asked her.

“What appointment—oh going out to lunch with Maureen?”

I scowled at her, “No, with Dr Cauldwell.”

“Oh no,” she raised her hands to her face and I knew she was trying to press my buttons.

“We have exactly an hour to get there, be ready in twenty minutes.”

“Yes, Mummy dear.”

“Less of the sarcasm or I’ll drop you off at A&E instead.”

“Why?”

“To see if they can put you back together.”

“Oh,” her face fell, “You’re quite violent aren’t you?”

“Me? Oh, how could you say that? Now eat your cereal while you’ve still got enough teeth to chew.”

Unfortunately, she had just taken a mouthful of food and sprayed it all over the table.

“I hope you’re going to clean that up,” I half-threatened.

“It’s your fault,” she replied, “making me laugh.”

“Well some folk will laugh at anything.” I put a couple of slices of bread in the toaster and waited for it to brown and pop out again. When you’re waiting, it takes forever.

I made myself a banana toasted sandwich, which was actually rather nice and just hit the spot with another cuppa. As we finished Stella manifested in the kitchen. “Hurry up Julie, we must be later than I thought,” I lobbed at her.

“Ha bloody ha, I didn’t sleep—okay.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I kept remembering my time with the Russians.”

“Oh—you okay now?”

“I have to be, you’re going out, aren’t you?” It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce Julie and I were wearing nicer clothes than we did for housework, and I was wearing makeup—Julie possibly had less on than she usually wears—makeup, I mean. She’s going through the teenage phase of slapping it on thick not realising it makes her look like something out of a silent film—Dracula.

“Yes, Julie has to see Stephanie.”

“Of course—I’d forgotten, is Maureen coming today?”

“She has to get some wood,” Julie said before disappearing upstairs presumably to add another layer of mascara.

I poured Stella some tea and she sat down looking shattered. “What’s all this?” she pointed to the debris of Livvie’s unwrapping. “Oh no, it’s her birthday—damn, I forgot all about it.”

“You bought her that bangle thing if you remember?”

“Yeah, I’ll have to wrap it and write the card. That wretched dream woke me about one, and I couldn’t get back to sleep.”

“Why didn’t you wake me?”

“You’ve had your hands full with Julie, haven’t you?”

“She stayed in her own bed last night, so hopefully she’s over the trauma for now.”

“Until Stephanie stirs it up again.”

“I hope not, because Simon should be home tonight for Livvie’s birthday.”

“If the press will let him come.”

“If they don’t, I shall be very cross.”

“He had to do that press conference thing—it’s worth a fortune in advertising and brings in loads of new investors all hoping to make a fortune for nothing.”

“While my Simon slaves over a hot computer screen?”

“Probably—at least he doesn’t get as worried about being on the telly as he used to.”

“What was he on telly for?”

“He used to be the bank’s spokesman.”

“He was a bit young for that, wasn’t he?”

“Nah, he was the only one who could read Dad’s writing.”

Julie reappeared and we left. Having missed the rush hour, we made it to the clinic in good time—in fact, she went in early because the previous one didn’t come. I sat and scanned the Guardian, but most of it was about the blessed election. Thank goodness Mima hadn’t noticed there was a general election in progress, she’d have a stroke trying to say it.

I started doing the crossword—it was more interesting than the news, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was enough to make you want to weep, and of course it had to be BP didn’t it?

I glanced at my watch—crikey, Julie had been in there nearly an hour. I hope everything is okay. As if hearing my thoughts, Stephanie’s door opened and she stepped out, “Cathy, could you come in a moment?”

I rose and walked to her door, Stephanie did not look happy. “Is everything all right?” I enquired.

“Not quite, um, come on in.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 981

I entered the consulting room not sure what I would see. I was astonished to see Julie kneeling on the floor playing with some dolls. “Look, Mummy, I can change their clothes—aren’t I a clever girl?”

My eyes must have widened because Stephanie said, “I did some regression with her, she was telling me how her mother used to beat her when she wanted to play with dolls and be girlish: I presume trying to make her into a boy. Then she just sort of flipped and stayed there.”

“You’re supposed to make her better not worse,” I groaned, wondering what the hell I could do.

“She seems fixated on you as her mother.”

“How do you know?”

“I asked her what her mother’s name was, and she named you, she said her name was Julie Cameron, and her daddy’s name was Simon.”

“How long before your next patient?”

“It’s my lunchtime, so that’s not an issue.”

“What have you tried?”

“I didn’t want to upset her, so really all I’ve done is to try to coax her back to reality. It hasn’t worked.”

“So I see. It’s Livvie’s birthday today, I wonder how if that’s a factor?”

“Could be, a sort of jealousy of a natural girlhood—an interesting idea.”

“How old are you, Julie?” I asked her.

“Silly Mummy not knowing how old her Julie is.”

“Yes I am silly, so you’ll have to help me won’t you?”

“I might, Mummy.”

“Oh I know, you can’t remember how old you are, can you?”

“Yes, I can—I’m six, so there,” she poked her tongue out to make her point.

“So you are,” I responded; “What would you like to be when you grow up?”

“A lady like my mummy and have lots of babies like she does. My mummy likes babies. These are my babies, Mummy.”

“These are your babies are they, Julie?” I pointed at the dolls.

“Yes they are, I need to take them home to give them lunch.”

“I thought they were Stephanie’s babies, yours are at home waiting for you to come and feed them.”

“No, these are mine.”

“They’re not, Julie, I’m your mummy, and I know whose babies are whose.”

“But I wanna keep ’em,” she began to bawl—loudly.

“Come and sit with me, a moment,” I sat and patted my lap.

“No, you jus’ wanna take my babies from me.”

“I promise I won’t.”

“You’re like my other mummy, she used to beat me and take my dollies from me.”

“Come and sit with me and bring your favourite dolly with you, I promise I won’t try and take it.”

“Promise?”

“I promise, scouts honour.”

“Silly Mummy was never a scout.”

“You’re too clever for me, come and sit on my lap and tell me about your dolly.”

“You promise you won’t try and take her?”

“I’m your mummy, aren’t I? I won’t do anything to hurt you.”

She thought for a moment and then acting like a bashful six-year-old she came and sat on my lap.

“Give me a nice cuddle, I haven’t had a nice cuddle since Daddy went back to work.”

She put her arm around me and rested her head on my shoulder, I began to stroke her hair and talk quietly to her. She slowly relaxed and I told her to go to sleep, into a deep, deep sleep.

“That’s right, you sleep deeply taking away all nasty things which worry you. I’m here so you’re perfectly safe and secure—nothing can or will hurt you. I’m here to protect you—so just sleep.

“I want to talk to Julie aged sixteen, is she there?”

“She might be,” teased the little girl.

“Tell her, her mummy needs to talk to her, it’s very important.”

I glanced up at Stephanie who was nodding and encouraging me to go on.

“Hello, Mummy, it’s Julie—what’s so important?”

“Hello, darling—I need you to look after six-year-old Julie.”

“I’m busy Mummy, isn’t that your job?” Spoken like a true adolescent.

“It is, but you promised to help me, remember? Daddy is also paying you to do it.”

“Oh, I suppose so,” she sighed.

“Will you promise me that you’ll protect her and look after her?”

“If I must,” she sighed.

“Yes you must, and I want you to nurture her.”

“Why?” she whinged.

“Because it’s important, and because you love her, don’t you?”

“I suppose so,” another deep sigh.

“I’ll make a deal with you,” I said quietly.

“Yeah, like what?”

“If you look after young Julie, I’ll look after you.”

“Aren’t you like, supposed to anyway?”

“No more than you are to care for young Julie.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life isn’t fair, but it’s the best I’m going to offer.”

She sat still but huffed. “What if I say no?”

“Then I’m under no obligation to look after you anymore.”

“You would, like, throw me out?”

“I don’t know about that, but I’d stop helping you and feeding you—so you’d have to get a job and buy all your own clothes and food. I’d also have to stop being your mummy.”

“But that’s not fair,” she said loudly and began crying.

“Life isn’t always fair, sweetheart.”

“You’re a rotten mummy.”

“I probably am—so do we have a deal?”

“I don’t know.”

“Talk to young Julie and see what she thinks, then come back and tell me.”

“All right—you’ll wait won’t you?”

“Yes, oh and tell her she can keep the doll she’s holding if you agree, if not she has to give it back to Stephanie.”

“Huh!”

I looked at Stephanie who was still encouraging me.

“I’m back.”

“Which one is that?” I asked to clarify to which of Julie’s personae I was talking.

“Like duh, it’s me, Julie, you like, forgotten me already?”

“That could only be my daughter, sweet sixteen Julie.”

“Like any quicker, Mummy, and you might be able to catch a slug.”

“If I did, I might be tempted to give it to you in a sandwich.”

“Like gross, Mummy, yuck and double yuck.”

“Do we have a deal?”

“Only if she can keep the doll.”

“She can, and Stephanie is nodding too.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Julie, I want you to go back into your deep sleep, is that okay?”

“Yeah, okay.”

“Right as I count to three, you’ll become sleepier and sleepier but still able to hear me. One, two, three.” I felt her slump in my arms. “You can still hear me. I want you to take young Julie into your arms and hold onto her tightly. Now you can see the blue light coming from you and wrapping her to your body. The blue light is swishing round you faster and faster and as it does, her body is merging with yours, which means you will always protect her. You will always know she is inside you, and you will nurture her so she can reach the same age as you. As you look at yourself, you can see the blue light is still there, then suddenly it seems to enter your body and goes into your heart.

“I want you to come back to real time and now to this day. I’m going to count to three and when I get to three, you’ll open your eyes and feel good about everything, yet you’ll also remember young Julie inside you and how you’re going to care for her.

“One, two, three open your eyes and back to normal and to real time.”

“Oh, hi Dr Cauldwell, what are you doing here?”

“Just watching an expert at work,” Stephanie replied, making me blush.

“Hi Mummy, why am I sitting on your lap?”

“I was teaching you how to use the blue energy—don’t you remember?”

“Oh it’s Julie’s doll,” she said, “why have I got it?”

“You were practising on it.”

“Oh yeah, hey that’s like kewl, I can do the healing, can’t I?”

“As long as you keep it small until it’s ready.”

“How will I know it’s ready?”

“It will make itself known.”

“Hey that’s really kewl, waddya think Dr Stephanie?”

“I think it’s really kewl, too. Julie can I just have a word with Cathy for a moment?”

“Yeah, sure—I’ll wait outside.” She went out the door and closed it behind her.

“That was absolutely brilliant—where did you learn to do that?”

“Learn? I made that up as I went along.”

“That was classic psychotherapy—you are wasted on dormice, you should be a therapist.”

“What, do that every day?—you have to be joking. Nah, I’ll stick to dormice—they don’t have hang-ups, well except with their tails on trees.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 982

Julie had recovered enough for us to have a light lunch and go shopping for something for Livvie. She bought her a new doll and change of clothing. Sometimes I forget the two girls are only six and like to play with dolls sometimes—although the real doll girl is Meems, who plays with them most days. Having said that, she is increasingly interested in books and I encourage all of them to read to one another and help each other with big or new words. We have the Oxford Children’s Dictionary in the lounge and they make quite good use of it, as do the boys.

While I did the supermarket shopping, Julie snoozed in the car, her therapy this morning had exhausted her and she looked and acted very tired. She barely woke when I got back in the car and dozed until I got the girls. The shop had gift-wrapped the present, so she was able to give it to Livvie when they came back to the car.

Back at home, they all helped me carry the shopping in, Livvie carrying the shop bought cake I’d bought for her—I know, I’m a failure as a mother, but I haven’t had time to do anything lately.

I vaguely looked around the yard when we got back and decided that I couldn’t see what Maureen had been doing today—it doesn’t always show. Stella greeted Livvie and gave her the bangle and I started to sort things out for tea.

“Oh, by the way, Maureen didn’t come today.”

“Did she phone?”

“Not as far as I know, I haven’t been far and there were no messages on the ansafone.”

I felt worried, “I hope she’s all right, she usually lets me know if there’s something wrong.”

I speed dialled her number on my mobile—it’s perhaps crazy, but although we’re not short of money, to call from a landline to a mobile costs much more than calling from my mobile. Okay, so I’m a penny pincher, whenever I see penny, I pinch her—but that’s another story.

The phone rang for ages, the voicemail was turned off. Something was very unusual here and I felt very concerned for Maureen. I decided I’d try again later. Livvie got to choose the menu for tonight—she wanted egg and chips, then jelly and ice cream. I suppose once a year won’t hurt her.

I dashed off to get a pile of chips from our local fish and chip shop, I got a piece of fish for Tom and some curry sauce. I got the same for Simon and popped them in the oven when I got back. All these lovely things in the fridge and she wants egg and chips—oh well, that’s kids for you.

Once the meal was over, I brought in the cake with candles attached and ready lighted. What Livvie didn’t know was that they were the joke candles, which relight themselves after you blow them out. We all sang Happy Birthday, and she blew out the candles, we all shouted hooray, and of course the candles lit up again. There was lots of laughter and Livvie blew them out again, and they lit again.

She stood by the cake looking very confused by the seemingly inextinguishable candles, laughing but blushing. The boys thought it was hilarious but they couldn’t blow them out either.

In the end, I explained they were trick candles and after Livvie told me off, we all laughed again, and I cut the cake for her and we all had a slice. At this point Simon and Tom came in almost together. They laughed while Livvie told them about the candles and I got their meals from the kitchen.

Simon gave Livvie a jewellery making set, plus some vouchers for CDs or DVDs from one of the leading stores. I felt disappointed, until he went out to the car and came back with a large box and it was a CD/Minidisc/radio music centre, which she loved. He promised he’d set it up in their bedroom after dinner. All the girls were excited at this they’d been jealous of the boy’s one since Christmas and now they had their own, or Livvie did, but she agreed to share it with the others.

After the two men had eaten and Tom took over entertaining the children, Julie went up to bed and when I asked her how she was, she told me she was fine, just tired. She asked about Maureen and I was reminded to try calling again.

I told Simon that Maureen hadn’t arrived for work and he was more upbeat. “Maybe she drank too much last night, or has one of those tummy bugs or had a friend turn up at short notice. She’ll be here tomorrow, I expect. You worry too much.”

I tried her mobile again—same result, no voicemail and no answer. My tummy felt very strange and I knew it wasn’t the egg and chips.

Livvie played with her presents and Simon fixed up the music centre for the girls helped by bossy boots Trish. The boys were finishing their homework and Julie was fast asleep. I told Stella about her therapy session.

“So have we got another miracle worker?” she asked.

“Sort of, I sent it to her and she saw it working both on her and for her. If she treats it with respect, she might well become a good healer.”

“Are there bad ones then?” she smirked.

“I meant, a capable one—the same sort of potential as Trish, who seems to have forgotten about her abilities.” I heaved a sigh of relief at this, the novelty had passed and Trish didn’t do much, so it was waiting dormant in her for her to be mature enough to cope with its full measure. I expected something similar to happen with Julie.

“So how come it came to you so late, and why doesn’t it seem to happen to us bio females?”

“I don’t know—I know very little about it, except one day it seemed to happen and went from there.”

“When I was ill, it wasn’t there was it?”

“Not the first time, anymore than it was able to save my mum or dad.”

“Maybe it was their time—as they say.”

“Whatever that means.”

“Did you speak with Maureen?”

“No, she’s not answering her phone.”

“Perhaps she’s got a boyfriend staying?” Stella teased.

“I don’t think she’s interested in boys.”

“Oh, perhaps I’d better not flirt with her next time then.”

“Is that why she isn’t here? You embarrassed her to death?”

“Oh very funny. I’m going to put my baby to bed—shouldn’t some of yours do similar?”

I glanced at the clock—it was half past eight. The girls grumbled but agreed to go to bed and I played a CD of Winnie the Pooh stories. I went up to check a while later and they were all asleep, so I switched off the player and rounded up the boys.

They each read to me, a chapter of Biggles and then after tucking them in and a kiss on the cheek they went off to sleep as well. Julie was still asleep when I checked and as far as I know she was okay.

It looked as if I was going to be able to have a quiet night in with my husband for a change. Stella was watching the telly and Tom was in his study, probably ‘havin’ a wee dram’ so Simon and I sat and talked across the dining room table, holding hands and rubbing feet up each other’s leg. It felt old fashioned and romantic. We avoided talk of money and banks, politics and anything else, just gazed into each other’s eyes and felt warm and soppy. What was going to happen was as inevitable as night follows day, as he began to make hints about going to bed early.

Of course, I hadn’t counted on the universe having different plans in the form of my mobile ringing.

“Ignore it, they’ll can call again tomorrow,” exhorted my husband his mind firmly fixed on his nooky.

“I can’t, it could be Maureen.”

“So you can bollock her tomorrow.”

“I’m not going to bo—tell her off, I’m too worried.”

“Maybe she got plastered, she used to drink didn’t she?”

“There’s an easy way to find out.” I picked up my cell phone and answered it—I didn’t recognise the number. “Hello?”

“Is that Cathy?” asked a strange voice. I couldn’t make out if it was male or female.

“Who is that?” I asked back.

“I’m Becky, a friend of Maureen’s.”

“Is she all right?”

“I’m afraid she isn’t.”

“Oh no, what’s happened?”

“She’s in hospital, in intensive care—a group of yobbos got her last night and beat her really badly.”

“Which hospital?”

“Southampton.”

“Southampton? What’s wrong with Portsmouth?”

“She’s in the neurological unit—they kicked her head pretty bad.”

“I’m on my way.”

“What can you do?”

“I don’t know until get there, thanks for letting me know.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 983

“I have to go to Southampton,” I informed Simon.

“Eh? Why?”

“Maureen is in hospital, she’s been badly beaten.”

“By whom?”

“A gang of yobs, she’s in the neurological unit at Southampton General.”

“Oh, poor Maureen. Do want me to take you?”

“Who’s going to look after the kids?”

“I’ll ask Tom, go and get ready.”

I ran up to the bathroom and wiped my face and had a pee, combed my hair and shoved some lippy on. I also popped across to Stella who was listening to her iPod and explained what was happening.

“Off you go, I’ll keep an eye on the kiddiwinks.”

“Thanks, big sis.”

She winked back at me, “Never know when I might need a favour in return, you know.”

“You have something in mind, don’t you?”

“I might have,” she smiled like the cat who got the cream—except I’ve never seen a cat actually smile, nor a dormouse if it comes to it.

I dashed down the stairs, scribbled a quick note and stuck it on the fridge door. Then I was about to walk to my little Audi and Simon bleeped the locks on his Jaguar. Oh well, we’re going to travel in style.

As we drove through the night, racing down the M27, Simon asked me what I planned to do when I got there?

“First of all, I have to blag my way in.”

“Just tell ’em you’re a visiting angel who thought she could help.”

“You’re as bad as Trish,” I chuckled, although my mood was far from happy.

“Oh, there’s a funny story attached to that one.”

“Is there, what are we talking about, Trish or angels?”

“Trish and angels,” he replied.

“Oh, buy one get one free?” I chose to be facetious.

“Exactly, now do you want to hear it or not?”

“Go on, I can hardly go anywhere, can I?”

“Gee thanks, Cathy, here I am trying to entertain you and you find fault.”

“Sorry, tell me about our lovely daughter.”

“She wrote in one of her essays about her remarkable mother, who she said was her guardian angela. Her teacher queried it saying, I thought your mother’s name was Cathy.”

“Yeah, she told me about it.” I sighed and then yawned.

“Sorry, I didn’t appreciate I was repeating a story, I’ll try not to do so again, your majesty.”

“See you don’t, Cameron, us royals leads busy lives, see.”

“Very good, ma’am…”

“Oh don’t, Maureen always called me that.”

“Well hopefully, she will again.”

“Oh goodness, I do hope so, she’s had such a raw deal, hasn’t she?”

“I suppose so, she isn’t exactly an oil painting, is she?”

“I doubt getting your head kicked in would help that,” I muttered as Simon parked the car and we walked off towards intensive care.

“Excuse me, I’ve come to see Maureen Ferguson.”

“Visiting time is over—it’s gone ten o’clock.”

“Look, I only found out my cousin was in hospital an hour ago.”

“She’s your cousin?”

“Yes, I’m also her employer.”

“She’s in a bit of a mess.”

“Could I just see her, go and talk to her—she’s knows me, so she’ll listen to me.”

“She’s in quite a deep coma, which they’ve deepened to try and allow the brain to shrink back down.”

I shuddered.

“They reduced one haematoma—that’s like a blood swelling on the brain, which can cause long term problems if they don’t operate.”

“Is that trepanning?”

“That’s one name for it.”

“Goodness, my ancestors used to do that.”

“Were they neuro-surgeons?”

“No cavemen.”

It took a moment for the nurse to get the joke by which time it was rather old. Simon was sniggering in the background, but whether he was laughing at the joke or the nurse—you’d have to ask him.

She led us to a bay at the end of the unit, where an unrecognisable featured face, swathed in bandages, was attached to drains and catheters as well as a large body, which was also connected up to goodness knows how many wires and things.

Her hands had drips in them at the wrist and I noticed her knuckles were all grazed—so she hadn’t gone quietly—good for her. I grabbed one of her large hands and held it in mine, my fingers buzzed immediately.

“Hello, Maureen, it’s Cathy. I’m not sure if you can hear me, but I came as soon as I heard you were in here. I’m not sure what I can do, but Simon and I will do all we can to help you and to catch the people who did this to you. And don’t worry about your job, that will be waiting for you if it you still want it, no matter how long this all takes for you to recover.

“Now I want you to focus on my voice, come towards my voice and look for the blue star as you approach it, when you see the star allow its light to come to you because it will help your healing. I’m just going to sit here with you a minute and give you my hand in friendship and love.” I felt the fingers grip me very lightly and then release me.

“Could you hear me?” The fingers once again twitched.

“Look for the blue star, I’ll make it as big as I can, feel its energy helping to heal you.”

The nurse, unbeknownst to me, stood at the doorway and watched, according to Simon, ‘with her gob wide open and rubbing her eyes.’

I sat there for about an hour pouring in the blue energy as love. Part of me wondered if there was brain or neurological damage, and her face all bandages and horrible bruising, looked ghastly. Poor Maureen, how did she deserve this?

Finally, when I felt the energy stopping, I glanced at the monitors and she was still had a heartbeat and some sort of blood pressure—if it gets too high or too low it damages the kidneys.

Simon helped me up, and it took me a moment to get the stiffness out of my legs, I’d barely moved for an hour.

“Have you come far?” asked the nurse as we passed the nurse’s station at the entrance to the unit proper.

“Portsmouth, why?”

“I just wondered.”

“About what?” Now I was wondering, too.

“You’re that healer woman, aren’t you?”

“No, I told you, I’m her employer and a second cousin.”

“So her cross dressing stuff doesn’t worry you then?”

“No, why should it? She has a right to be herself as much as you or I, doesn’t she?”

“Oh absolutely, but I know some people have a problem with it.”

“I think the evidence for that is lying in the bruises on her face.”

“Mind you, she had a plastic surgeon working to try and repair some of the damage this morning.”

“Poor Maureen, as gentle and as helpful as anyone, why couldn’t these thugs just leave her alone?”

“They’ve arrested one of them,” offered the nurse.

“Oh—good for the police.”

“Well he had her blood on him, and a broken jaw—teeth all over the road apparently.”

“Serves him bloody well right. I hope he squawks and they get the rest of them.”

“I’m going to offer a reward,” Simon came into the conversation, “a couple of thousand for the names of everyone involved.”

“Is that enough?” I asked worried that it mightn’t cause anyone to grass up their acquaintances.

“What a couple of grand for each name—I think it’s plenty. Payable on conviction, of course.”

“Of course, I agreed.”

“How do you do it?” the nurse asked me.

“You pay them after the court proceedings.”

“No, the healing thing—there was a bright blue light all around you and it was flowing into your friend. She’s not your cousin is she?”

“Twice removed,” I winced.

“So, can anyone do it?”

“I have no idea, I didn’t know I could until fairly recently.”

“You saved that kid on the sledge, didn’t you?”

“Nah, that was the paramedics and the surgeons.”

“Not according to my sister, she’s on A&E, works with Ken Nicholls. He won’t say anything about it, apparently to protect you. You’re Lady somebody, aren’t you?”

“Me, nah, I’m just a poor housewife.”

“Whose poor husband drives a Jaguar, and who wears Gucci jeans and expensive perfume.”

“Oh,” I said, “Please don’t say anything about this will you?”

“I won’t if she gets better. You know what the chances are?”

“Of her making a complete recovery?” I clarified.

“Yep.”

“Fifty fifty?”

“About five per cent.”

“Oh.”

“So let’s see what happens after your blue light intervention.”

“Are you on tomorrow night?” I asked the nurse.

“Yeah, but not the following night.”

“Do you mind if I come again, tomorrow night.”

“She needs all the help she can get, so if you have some direct line to God, put in a word for her, won’t you?”

“Of course, see you tomorrow.”

“Yeah, sure.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 984

“But I want to go and see her.”

“Julie, I’m going this evening, I might take you then.”

“Huh—you’re jealous, I have the healing gift now, so I might save her instead of you doing it. You’ve got to be centre of attention haven’t you?”

“I am busy trying to get five children ready for school, if you can’t help then please go to your room and stay there.”

Sometimes she made me so cross, stupid girl. I already had an arrangement where I might be able to help Maureen without drawing attention to myself. Besides, Julie was a total novice—why can’t giving them a zap as teenagers make them reasonable? I also didn’t want her to see Maureen looking like a multicoloured punch-bag. Children should be spared such traumas if possible, and that included teenage ones however mature they think they are.

Breakfast seemed to take forever, the girls were lethargic and the boys were comatose—they went to bed at a reasonable time, so I had no idea why. I managed to get the boys out the door just in time to catch their bus—to have had to run them to school as well would have meant either they or the girls would be late.

Simon ambled down as I went out of the door with the girls—I only had time to wave as we were running very late.

Meems was clingy, she didn’t want to go to school today—I had no idea why, but I struggled with her to the nursery class and spoke briefly with the teacher, who had no idea why she should be so whiney today. The teacher also promised to keep an eye on her and to give her a little cuddle if she needed one.

I drove home stopping en route to pick up one or two things from the corner shop as I went. Back home, I called to Simon, but no answer and then I realised his car was gone. I wondered if he’d gone to get fuel or something else—he is after all almost grown up—or as much as he’s going to be.

I popped the kettle on and rinsed out the teapot—I needed some tea therapy before I started the day’s chores, the first of which was to make some more bread. While the kettle boiled I chucked in the constituents to make a fresh loaf and switched on the machine. I turned back to the kettle and Stella was in the kitchen with Puddin’.

Stella passed the baby to me to have a little cuddle and I hugged her and made silly faces and blew raspberries, the usual stuff that works with Simon, so I knew it would amuse Pud. It did and very soon she was giggling and shrieking.

“If you hang on to her, I’ll make the tea,” offered Stella, so I sat down and balanced my precious cargo on my knee and gently bounced her up and down. After a whopping burp up came the sick, which I just managed to catch in my hand and wash down the sink.

“I don’t know how you can do that?” Stella made faces from the other side of the room.

“It’s easier washing my hands than these trousers—didn’t you burp her?”

“Of course, but she likes to keep life interesting.”

Puddin’ and I giggled at that, especially when I told her she was wicked. She snorted, then sneezed spraying me with baby snot—just what I always wanted. I wiped my face with a tissue and Puddin’ sneezed again, then looked anxious and her bottom lip trembled. I wiped my face and played peekaboo which made Puddin’ forget her fears and chuckle loudly.

“You’re good with babies,” said Stella placing my mug of tea within reach of me but beyond that of her daughter, “Seems ironic you couldn’t have any.”

I made more silly noises to Pudding who was now giggling again, “Oh well; life is one big irony, isn’t it?”

“That makes as much sense as anything else you’ve said.”

“Oh thanks, Stella.” Then to Puddin’ I offered, “Your mummy is not very nice to her younger sister is she?” I made another funny noise and Puddin’ wriggled about with laughter.

“Did you change her?” I asked Stella.

“Yes, just before I brought her down, why?”

“She doesn’t smell entirely wholesome.”

“Oh bugger, that’s your fault making her excited.”

“Oh thanks, Stella, a bad workman always blames his tools.”

“What’s that go to do with babies?” she snapped back.

“Nothing, why?”

“Oh,” she said and reached down to take her baby back for changing.

“I suppose I’d better go up and make my peace with our resident teenager.”

“You’ll have a job.”

“Why?”

“She went off with Simon, an hour ago.”

“Where?”

“To see Maureen.”

“She what?”

“She went off to see Maureen, I assumed you knew.”

“I specifically asked her not to go.”

“Oh, sorry, I assumed you were okay with it. Or I’d have mentioned it earlier.”

“Damn and double damn, I’ll murder her when she gets back—she could mess up the tacit agreement I had with the night sister on the ICU.”

“Well phone her and call her back.”

“That would just make her worse, pig-headed little…”

“Pig?”

“I was thinking more of swine, but it’ll do.”

“It’s a bit repetitive, you’re usually more inventive in your invective.”

“Am I?”

“Well call Simon, he’s presumably with her.”

“The silly little cow seems to think she can raise the dead seeing as she’s got a little of the blue energy with her.”

“I see, well maybe she’ll learn a bit of lesson today then.”

“As long as she doesn’t queer my pitch for later.”

“Phone Simon.”

“He’s probably in there with her, so he’ll have turned off his mobile won’t he?”

“You don’t know that for certain do you?”

“Okay,” I picked up my bag and within a second or two had dialled Simon’s mobile.

“Hello, Babes, howya doin’?”

“Where are you?”

“Wandering around Southampton General’s grounds, why?”

“Where’s Julie?”

“In with Maureen, why?”

“I told her explicitly to wait until I went tonight. She has deliberately disobeyed my instructions.”

“Oh, that’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

“Did she ask you to take her to the hospital?”

“Yes, why?”

“Tell her to arrange another ICU bed for herself, she’s going to need it when I’ve finished with her.”

“Cathy, that isn’t very nurturing of you.”

“Nurturing, be buggered—I’m heading off a mutiny.”

“Look, I’ll have a word with her, I’m sure she’ll understand.”

“If you come back without her head on a pole, then I’ll know you weren’t strict enough.”

“Cathy, calm down.”

“She has deliberately ignored my instructions.”

“She’s a teenager, for goodness sake.”

“Only until I get my hands on her.”

“But they do things like this.”

“Only if you let them. Give her a bollocking by all means, advise her she has a very limited life span, but don’t get between us when you bring her home, or yours will be even shorter.”

“Cathy, stop being ridiculous.”

“Ridiculous? What if that little tart messes up and they stop Maureen’s visitors? I had an arrangement with the night sister if you recall. If Julie has messed that up, she’s grounded until she gets her pension assuming I don’t actually kill her as soon she walks in.”

“You don’t seem to understand adolescents, do you?”

I married one, “Don’t patronise me, Simon.”

“Go and have some tea and calm down.”

“I will after I’ve passed sentence and delivered the punishment.”

“Don’t be so silly, how can you save life when you threaten to take it?”

“I’ll resuscitate her so I can kill her again.”

“Very spiritual.”

“Oh, I’ll do with love, my father showed me how.” I rang off and seethed in silence.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 985

I vented my anger on my chores, charging round with the vacuum cleaner, slinging things into the washing machine, banging pots around in the kitchen. I emptied the bread machine and began another loaf.

Simon called towards the end of the morning. “Is it safe to come home?”

“You’ll always be safe with me, my darling,” I purred down the phone.

“Is Julie going to be safe?”

“If she apologises, I might spare her, why?”

“I’ve given her a stiff talking to, she’s sitting in the car now sobbing her heart out.”

“Why?”

“Because I gave her a talking to—I’ve sacked a few people in my time you know.”

“Okay, how long are you going to be?”

“An hour tops, I hope—depends on the traffic.”

“I’ll make some soup.”

“Any fresh bread?”

“Yes, but you’re not to eat it all.”

“I’ll try not to.”

I made a thick soup with chicken stock and loads of veg plus quite a bit of pasta. I cooked some rice separately and flavoured it with more stock. After the soup was cooked, I zapped it with my hand blender and kept it warm on the hob, the rice I kept warm by cooking it very slowly.

I heard the Jaguar come into the drive. I waited blocking the stairs—I was going to have it out with her one way or another. I noticed Stella disappeared as soon as it became obvious that High Noon had come to Portsmouth—only in my version, Grace Kelly was carrying a gun not a parasol.

The back door opened and Simon said something quietly, presumably to Julie. Then the door shut. “Hmm, that smells good, Babes.” He strolled into the hall and saw me standing with my arms folded in front of the stairs. He stared at me, “No rolling pin, then?”

“Where is she?” I spat.

“Julie, you might as well come out and get it over and done with.” He stepped back into the kitchen and pulled her out into the hallway. I felt like a hungry tigress about to devour a goat.

“I’m sorry, Mummy,” She burst into tears and ran towards me catching me completely by surprise because the next thing I knew I was hugging her tightly while she convulsed with sobs against my chest. “I wanted to help her, she looked awful, like a horror movie.”

“Did you do any healing on her?”

“No, Mummy, I couldn’t bear to see her, all black and blue and bandaged. I had to leave because I was sick.”

“Oh, do you feel all right now?”

She nodded, still sobbing. “Daddy took me for a cup of tea,” she gave a huge shudder.

“Did he tell you off?”

“He didn’t need to, I feel so awful. Maureen needs our help and I couldn’t…” She burst out sobbing again.

“You deliberately disobeyed me and led Daddy into thinking I’d allowed you to ask him to take you. You lied to him, Julie.”

“I’m really sorry, Mummy.”

“Apologies are not enough, I’m afraid, you’ve broken the trust we offered you. In my eyes that’s a serious offence.”

“I’m sorry, Mummy, please don’t make me leave, even if I deserve to. I’d rather die than leave you.”

“I wish you’d thought about things like that earlier.” I continued to hold her although I was trying not to feel too soft and sensitive even though this was breaking my heart as much as hers.

“So do I; I’m sorry, Mummy,” she sobbed and pushed herself from my arms, “Shall I go and pack?”

“And just where are you going?” I challenged.

“You told me I don’t deserve to stay here.”

“No I didn’t, I told you that you had deceived us and disobeyed me.”

“I’m sorry,” she sniffed, “I assumed you wanted me to go.”

“A while ago, I told you that you had a home here as long as you wanted to stay. Unlike some people, my word is my bond.”

“You mean I don’t have to leave,” she rubbed her eyes and looked at me in gratitude.

“That’s what I said. However, neither Daddy nor I will tolerate such behaviour without some form of consequences.”

“Oh, you’re not gonna make me go back to being a boy, are you?” Her face fell.

“Don’t be ridiculous, but you will be punished.”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“You’ll lose all privileges for a whole week and you will work unpaid for that week. If I don’t consider you have learned your lesson sufficiently, I might extend that to a second week. I will brook no dissent, is that understood?”

“Yes, Mummy.” She sniffed and shuddered again.

“Now go and clean up and be down here in ten minutes for some lunch.”

“Yes, Mummy.”

“Oh, and Julie, just because you’re a silly little fool, doesn’t stop me loving you. However, loving you doesn’t stop me disciplining you. In fact, it makes it necessary. We have boundaries to maintain, I can’t have you trampling over mine when you feel like it.” I nodded at the stairs, “Ten minutes.” She fled up the stairs still sniffing and sobbing.

“You missed your calling—you should have run a military prison.”

“Simon, she committed numerous offences—serious ones.”

“She’s a kid, with an abusive background—give her some leeway, will you?”

“I have, she needs strong boundaries to hold her. So do I. You’re not here most of the time, I have to keep her safe until she grows up—and I mean that in several senses. She is very vulnerable and at times very headstrong.”

“Yeah, so were you.”

“Exactly, so I know what I’m doing.”

“That’s a matter of opinion,” he said as he walked away.

“Simon, we need to be united on how we bring these kids up.”

“I thought you just told me I’m never here.”

“Don’t split hairs, I need you to back me up.”

“Do you? I think you could have frightened a company of Royal Marines—she’s a kid, just a kid.”

I stormed into my kitchen, shut the door and burst into tears, leaning against it. Was I too hard on her? Am I out of touch? Am I a bully?

Why did she have to provoke me, to challenge my authority and to do so in such a devious way, involving Simon as well—or was that part of her plan, to involve him to try and minimalise the consequences? Was she clever enough to do that? I wasn’t at all sure.

I wiped my eyes, warmed the soup and drained the rice, then began to dish it up. “Lunch is ready,” I called. I wondered how many of them would come for it.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 986

Stella came down followed by Julie, the latter having changed into jeans and top and had washed her face and reapplied her makeup, looked more like her usual self. Simon crawled in after everyone else. I ladled the soup into bowls and sliced several pieces of bread from the loaf.

We sat eating in relative silence. I could still feel an icy blast coming from Simon.

“May I have some more bread, Mummy?” asked Julie. I picked up the knife and the loaf and cut her another slice, Stella also asked for one and eventually just before I put the knife down Simon requested another piece.

I finished my soup, I wasn’t really hungry after the morning’s events, so it was more a case of eating it because I knew I’d be very hungry if I didn’t. I rose and switched on the kettle, then made a pot of tea when it had boiled. Everyone nodded for tea, so I poured them one each. Stella and Julie had fruit after their soup, while Simon and I both sipped our cups of tea.

“How was Maureen,” I asked Julie.

“She looked awful, Mummy, I hardly recognised her, an’ I didn’t stay long.”

“You didn’t talk to her or touch her?”

“No way,” she had tears in her eyes, “I mean she looked like some road kill.”

“Ughhh,” said Stella, “Do you mind? I’m still eating.”

Simon snorted at this and had tea escape though his nose. It didn’t look too elegant and made Stella and Julie snigger. He left his tea and stormed out of the kitchen. This was going to be a lovely weekend.

“What time do they want you at the salon tomorrow?” I asked Julie.

“Oh pooh, it’s Friday tomorrow, isn’t it?”

“’Fraid so,” I smiled at her.

“Half past eight, I suppose.”

“Make sure you wear your comfy shoes,” I warned her.

“Oh don’t worry Mummy, that was one lesson I did learn. I’m gonna wear my long skinny jumper with my footless tights.”

“And what shoes?”

“My ballet-type ones.”

“Sounds sensible, as it isn’t that warm, you won’t be too hot either.”

“Dunno, it can get quite warm in there, ’specially when I’m doing shampoos.”

“Why don’t you wear that long skinny tee shirt and put a cardi or jumper on top of it?”

“Hey, yeah, I could wear my sleeveless cardi, I haven’t, like, worn it at all yet.”

“What’s up with Mr Happy?” Stella asked nodding towards the door.

“We had a difference of opinion.”

“About what?”

“Does it matter?” I asked.

“Nah, I suppose not.”

“It’s all my fault, Mummy told me off, an’ Daddy like told her off for tellin’ me off.”

“Did you agree with your mother?” asked Stella.

“Yeah, I was, like, kinda stupid.”

“So why don’t you go and talk to your father and tell him so. Then maybe he’ll stop having a longer face than the average horse.”

“I um…” Julie hesitated.

“Go on, you wuss, your mother’s the more dangerous of the two, he’s a pushover, or should be, you’re a girl.”

Reluctantly Julie left the table and went in search of Simon. We heard voices but not what they were saying, so they weren’t raised. Stella and I chatted about this and that and suddenly I realised May was nearly here.

“Shit—I’m going to have to organise something about the wedding blessing soon.”

“How about doing something on the solstice—very magical.”

“That’s a Monday,” I replied glancing at the calendar.

“So? Do it on the Sunday.”

“I’ll have to see if Marguerite is free.”

“No time like the present.”

“You’re a bully, Stella Cameron.”

“Nah, just pushy.” She smirked, “What about colour schemes for the bridesmaids?”

“Well as it’s up in Scotland, I thought I’d give it a Scots flavour. I’m going to suggest a plain blue dress for the bridesmaids with a tartan shawl or sash in Watt tartan, which is mainly blue, the boys I thought could wear Cameron kilts.”

“And the bride?”

“Haven’t made my mind up yet, I’d half a mind to wear a shawl with both tartans one on either side and reverse them after the service.”

“Different,” said Stella looking anything but keen, “You gonna have a posy of thistles too?”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that, what a good idea.” It wasn’t but I thought I’d call her bluff.

Simon walked into the kitchen, “Your agent has done her bit—okay, I was a bit hard on you, but I still think you were on her.”

“Is that an apology?” asked Stella.

“What’s it got to do with you?” snapped Simon.

“What sort of delivery time is there on kilts, these days?” she fired back at him completely distracting him.

“Depends upon the tartan, why?”

“We need two Cameron kilts for the boys by the middle of June.”

“What for?”

“Your wedding blessing.”

“Oh that?”

“Well we girls happen to think it’s important.”

“I’d get the orders in soon, if I were you. Are the girls going to wear kilts too?”

“Ugh no, they’d look like they were going to school, or worse, Japanese teenagers.”

“Oh, so what are they going to wear?”

“Blue dresses and plaids.”

“That’ll be different. And the bride?” he looked at me.

“I thought I’d wear a flesh coloured body stocking, while riding side-saddle on a white Arab stallion.”

“That’d be one less car to order.”

“Spoken like a true Scot,” said Stella.

“She’s as Scots as we are,” Simon pointed at me.

“I’m a Bristolian,” I protested.

“Who so happened to be born in Dumfries.”

“I can hardly be blamed for that, can I?”

“Ye’re a wee haggis, like thae rest o’us,” Stella’s command of Lallans was worse than mine.

“Who’s gonna lead the horsey, Mummy?” said a small voice behind Simon, which belonged to Julie.

“Are you volunteering?” I challenged.

“I’m game if you are?” she riposted and Simon and Stella roared with laughter. For that I sent Simon to collect the girls from school—knowing of course that they’d love it as much as he did.

“Are you going to see Maureen tonight, Mummy?”

“I was intending to, why?”

“If you go, can I come with you?”

“Is that a good idea?”

“Um—I don’t know,” she stared at the floor and I saw the tear drip off her nose and on to the floor. “I feel I owe it to her not to run away this time.”

“I’m sure she’d understand.”

“No, it was cowardly of me and I need to show her some respect.”

“So, do you mean to go in alone or with me?”

“It would be easier with you, but if I have to, I’ll go in by myself.”

“Okay, we’ll see after dinner—speaking of which, I suppose I’d better sort out what we’re having. Oh, I’ve got some boiling ham, we’ll have that with parsley sauce. C’mon I’ll show you how to make it.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 987

After dinner, Simon asked if I wanted him to take me to Southampton or to stay and organise the children. I was quite capable of driving myself, but I’m often so tired after healing that someone to bring me home sounded good.

“That would be super, thank you, darling.” I almost purred at him trying to restore our relationship to ‘pre Julie bollocking’ levels.

“Can I come too?” asked Julie. She was pleading with her eyes and while part of me thought she would be in the way, she had a point to prove to herself, and such things help in growing up.

“On one condition,” I stipulated.

“Okay,” she nodded to give emphasis to her answer.

“You do exactly what I say, and I mean exactly, do you understand?”

“Yes Mummy, I promise I will.”

“I hope that you actually mean it this time.”

She looked very chastened and Simon was about to say something but bit his tongue. “I do Mummy, I swear I do.”

I nodded at Simon, who said nothing, his expression looking irritated and I presumed with me, but I felt a need to make sure Julie knew what she was saying, and as a sub-adult, she should understand my point and her answer.

I asked Stella and Tom if they would do the honours. Tom was quite happy, it had been a while since he’d put the children to bed. Stella was less pleased but seeing as she knew how serious things were, she’d help out. I presumed she meant Maureen’s condition, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I didn’t seek clarification.

The journey to Southampton, about twenty miles, was mostly in silence. Julie sat quietly in the back of Simon’s Jaguar, and Simon only spoke when pointing out something as we passed it. We arrived in Southampton about eight and discovered that the afternoon staff were still on duty, and the sister was adamant that visiting time was over. Despite my attempts to wheedle my way in, we were turned away.

After a brief discussion, we considered either a pub or the cinema. Julie and Simon fancied watching Ironman—some corny superhero film sequel. I agreed and slept through most of it even if the attractive Robert Downey Jr. was in it. I still hadn’t forgiven him for his absurd portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

At approximately ten thirty, we tried again and were more successful. I explained to the night sister that we had been turned away earlier and she nodded us in. “Just don’t embarrass me with any miracles tonight; I don’t want her walking back to Portsmouth with you, okay?”

“I’m only interested in stabilising her, so her body can do the rest.”

“I suppose you’re standing for Raphael, are you?”

“Who?” I asked completely unaware of what she was talking about.

“The Archangel Raphael, isn’t he the healer?”

“Is he? Oh yes, in the Apocrypha.”

“You know your Bible lady, why doesn’t that surprise me?”

“It doesn’t mean that I actually believe any of it though, does it? It was shoved down my throat as a child—my neck is still sore.”

“Pity, there’s wisdom there as well as nonsense.”

“Probably—look much as I’d love a discourse on the merits of the King James over the Standard English versions, I really need to see my cousin.”

“You know where she is—oh who’s this, another cousin?”

“It would be a third cousin then. This is my adopted daughter, Julie.”

“I was going to say, if she’s your daughter you must have been a child bride or certainly a gymslip mother.”

“Neither,” I smiled and Simon was smirking behind her. “She’s adopted as I said, she ran away from religious parents and ended up with me, a real sinner.”

“Oh I’m sure you’re an awful woman.”

“I suspect I’d be an even worse man.”

She roared with laughter and Simon and Julie nearly wet themselves. Simon stood with his arm around Julie, so perhaps he was unconsciously protecting her. He left me to fend for myself. It was good to see them bonding, but I’m supposed to be his bloody wife.

I entered the small side room in which Maureen lay. The bruising looked even more Technicolor than yesterday. I could quite easily see how Julie had run away, but I tried to focus on the person underneath all the bruising.

I sat and held her hand, “Hello, Maureen, it’s Cathy come back to torment you again.” Her hand twitched which I’m sure was her trying to squeeze my hand. “Did you try to squeeze my hand?”

Her reply, at least I hoped it was rather than just an uncontrolled reflex, was another faint squeeze. “I hope that means you can hear me.”

Another twitch and I was pretty sure we had some communication. “I’ve brought Julie with me, is it all right if she sits in with us?” The hand twitched again. “Is that a yes?” Another twitch.

“Hello Maureen, it’s Julie,” she said very timidly in a voice which was almost shaking with emotion.

“Do you mind if she holds your other hand for a bit?” I asked. The hand twitched.

Julie gave me a horrified look and I hissed at her to exactly as I said. She sat the other side of the bed and reluctantly held the discoloured and bandaged hand, the drip emerging from the wrist and a pulse meter thing on her finger.

I waited until Julie got herself—comfortable—was probably the wrong word—but you know what I mean. She stopped fidgeting and I began what I hoped would be a healing session.

“Listen to my voice, and only my voice, Maureen. As I talk, come as close as you can to me from wherever you currently are. Follow my voice, it will lead you to the light. Can you hear me clearly?” The hand twitched. “Good, now tune into my voice and come towards me, look for the blue or white light, when you see it, let me know.” I continued saying this and after a few minutes, another twitch. “Can you see a light?” I got a response. “Is it blue?” Nothing happened. “Is it white?” a definite response. Apparently in hypnotherapy, this is known as an IMR, an ideo motor response. How do I know? I read an article on it a while back.

I continued with my healing, noticing that Julie was slumped in the chair still holding Maureen’s hand, but her eyes were closed. I wondered if she was asleep—apparently she wasn’t, but more of that in a moment.

I led Maureen from wherever she was towards the light, rising on it to come closer to consciousness when she felt able, but to allow the light to heal her, even when I wasn’t there in person, I had established a link with the universe so it would be permeating her body all the time, helping to heal her more quickly.

I sat quietly for a moment trying to tune into her energies so I could help the light get into her, and it would show me where she was in the healing cycle—don’t ask, I know what I mean.

Suddenly, I got a very lucid impression of Julie floundering in like deep water, surrounded by strange creatures which I could only describe as fishy demons. As I seemed to drift towards her, someone else swam—I think that’s the correct term—and attacked the demons. It was Maureen—and she was fighting for Julie, not the other way round. What was going on?

As I got closer, and no amount of effort on my part would speed up my approach, Maureen pushed or threw Julie towards me, and I grabbed her and pulled her into the light, taking her up to the surface, where Simon took her into a small boat.

I immediately descended into the depths again, my light scanning for Maureen, but I could see neither her nor the demons, whom I presume had taken her. I felt my heart sink and tears ran down my face. I spun around and shone my light but it seemed ineffectual in the darkness that surrounded me. It was my fault, if I hadn’t brought Julie…

I searched high and low, mainly low, my light seeming to grow fainter as my despair grew. It was like a very lucid dream, somewhere in the bathysphere, where such odd things as luminous fish occur and the pressure from the depth is incredible.

I began to think I would never find her and blamed myself, then something wonderful happened. Just as I was feeling as depressed as I think I’d ever felt, I saw a tiny blue light. I turned and realising it was something guiding me, I followed as quickly as I could.

I began to feel hope rising in me and my light began to shine more brightly again, which again increased my confidence and this in turn made me stronger and naturally the light grew stronger too.

The tiny light descended and I followed, moving more quickly and feeling so much stronger. Suddenly before me in a cave I saw Maureen, about to be devoured by the demons and my bubble of light was too big to enter. I had got here but was going to have to simply watch as I failed her again.

The little light floated into the cave, which in the beam of my light turned out to be a starfish. One of the demons grabbed it and was about to put it in its mouth when my anger boiled and I broke out of my bubble and convincing myself I carried the light within me, swam into the cave, snatched the starfish back and pushed the demon away. Where I’d touched him, a blue flame began and he began to be consumed by it.

His companions turned from the hapless Maureen and came at me. I lost count of how many there were, they grabbed and snapped at me, and each time, I touched them they combusted into this blue fire.

Fearing that I might also damage or harm Maureen, I very carefully manoeuvred her into the bubble, and followed the starfish back up to the surface, where once again Simon was waiting for me.

He touched me on the shoulder and I jumped back into wakefulness. “What?” I gasped.

“Hey Babes, it looked like you were having a nightmare.”

“Oh Mummy, that was a horrible dream, but you and Maureen saved me.”

“Don’t forget Daddy, he was there, too.”

“Of course, thank you Daddy.”

“What did I do?” asked Simon looking perplexed.

“You were there, Darling, you were there for us all.”

“I was? Um, yes, I was,” he said, puffing his chest out.

Maureen’s hand closed tightly on mine, squeezed twice and then relaxed. I knew then she was on the mend.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 988

“Did you see those monsters, Mummy?” Julie shuddered, “They’d have carried me off and eaten me.”

“The demons on the seabed?” I asked to clarify, if maybe we had just shared this dream.

“Yes, an’ like, Maureen an’ you saved me.”

“Monsters, demons?” Simon raised an eyebrow, but he still failed to look like Roger Moore.

“I think perhaps the energy was telling you that you were out of your depth, young woman.”

“Is that what it’s like when you do healing?” Julie sounded anxious.

“Not every time,” it was a partial truth which I hoped would stop her using it without care.

“Maybe I like, don’t wanna be a healer, like, after all.”

“It chooses you, not the other way round.”

“Maybe if I, like, ignore it, it will, like, go away.”

“If you’re found unworthy or lacking, it most certainly will.” I tried to reassure her but wasn’t doing too good a job.

“Yeah, like, that’s me, unlacking or whatever you, like, said.

Simon sniggered at her malapropism, “You’re okay, kiddo,” he said and hugged her.

“And how is the patient?” In facing the other way, I didn’t see the sister approach. I jumped out of my skin, which made Simon laugh—the pig.

“She’s resting, but she’s going to recover,” was my prognosis.

“I’m glad to hear it, it’s quiet, would you like a cuppa?”

“Much as I’d love one, I have to be up early to get my kids off to school.”

“How many have you got?”

“Besides this one—another five.” I grinned and shrugged my shoulders, “three girls and two boys.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she gasped, “are they yours or adopted?”

“Adopted, I’m afraid—I can’t have my own.”

“No, they say angels don’t procreate.” She looked at me very seriously then her face broke into a huge smile. “Or maybe you’ll have your very own miracle one day.”

“I doubt it; my breeding bits were removed a while back.”

“Oh, I am sorry, a lovely, young woman like you too: I’ll pray for you and maybe a real miracle will happen.”

I thanked her and we left. I wasn’t sure when I’d be back or if I actually needed to return, except as a friend and employer. In the latter sense, I didn’t want to put any pressure on Maureen to return to work.

Back in the car, my tiredness caught up with me and Simon had to wake me when we got home. He half-carried me into the house—sometimes his size and strength is a positive boon.

The radio alarm was going off and the lead story on the local news apart from the stupid election, was a fourteen-year-old boy fell to his death during celebrations to mark the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Sea Cadets. He was up one of the masts and out on the rigging helping to fold up the sails or whatever they call it. He apparently fell into the sea and was dead on arrival at the hospital.

I was far from happy that either of my two boys or the girls for that matter, should join the sea cadets, so I switched off the radio. Fourteen, what a rotten waste of a life, I felt awful for his parents and family. I wondered if Maureen had been a sea cadet: somehow it would fit with what she told me of her life.

I gingerly crawled out of bed. I was still quite tired, and lurched into the bathroom sat on the loo and yawned until my eyes ran. The shower woke me up and I staggered back into the bedroom and began dressing.

“It’s Saturday, isn’t it?” Simon looked through bleary eyes.

“Could be,” I shrugged. “If it isn’t I need to get the kids up.”

“Oh,” he looked at his watch, “bloody eyes don’t work this time of the day,” he grumbled and moved his watch to and from his eyes. “It says May the first.”

“May the first what?” I asked.

“No you nit, it’s the first of May, May Day, shouldn’t you be out dancing around the maypole?”

“You told me you didn’t want me doing pole dancing,” I quipped back.

“It’s not that sort of dance is it?”

“It’s all fertility stuff isn’t it?”

“Oh is it? Perhaps we should try for a baby, just in case that nurse was right and a miracle happens.”

“Simon, you have come up with some pretty awful pickup lines before now, but that has to be the least aphrodisiac yet.”

“It’s no worse than the excuses you use for buying shoes.”

“I beg your pardon, shoes are essential to life.”

“What, dozens of pairs?”

“In my case, my life would be much impoverished by diminishing the size of my shoe collection.”

“Gee-whizz, the Imelda Marcos of Portsmouth has spoken. A girl can’t have too many,” he said in a silly voice, mocking me.

“Absolutely, shoes and bicycles.”

“Shoes and bicycles? What the bloody hell does that mean?”

“Exactly what it says, a girl can’t have too many of either.”

“That is total rubbish, and you know it. I mean you’ve only got one arse and one pair of feet, so why do you need dozens of pairs of shoes or several bikes?”

“The bikes all give different types of ride.”

“Two of them are the same.”

“No they’re not, one is a Scott and the other a Specialized, with very different feels to them.”

“If I catch them feeling you, I’ll take them down to the dump.”

“Very funny.”

“Okay, so you haven’t got that many bikes, what about shoes?” He jumped out of bed and pulled open my wardrobe doors. “Look,” he counted, “there’s at least twenty odd pairs in here. Why do you need all those?”

“What’s it to do with you anyway?”

“Ah, going defensive are we, see you can’t justify it.”

“Just watch me. These are the same colour but different heel heights, usually the higher heels are for more formal wear or because I’m feeling sexy. Then there’s the type of thing I’m doing. If I’m going out dressed up, I’ll wear something smart, probably with a heel but not always so—there could be a lot of walking. If I’m working in the house I might have flatties or even trainers on. If I’m riding I’ll be wearing cycling shoes—duh! The colour of the shoes has also to be matched to the outfit…”

“Enough, I’m losing the will to live here.”

“I’m not even halfway through yet.”

“Okay, I surrender, keep your shoes.”

“I take it you’ve lost interest then?”

“Yes, I have—it’s boring.”

“Pity, I was feeling quite randy until you got me started on shoes and my desire for shoes is greater than my libido.” I finished dressing and went downstairs.

“Story of my bloody life…” he yelled after me.

“Keep your voice down,” urged Stella, “and what was that about your wife?”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 989

Amazingly, it was actually Saturday. Had I known I could have stayed in bed a little longer, but now I was up I boiled the kettle, sorted the washing and started the first load. It was a bank holiday on Monday, so I’d have Simon for a longer weekend and so would the kids. If I play my cards right, I might even be able to wangle an hour or two for a bike ride—hmmm.

Tea and toast consumed, I cracked on with the chores. Trish was the first down. She managed to help herself to some cereal and sat eating it while I switched on the bread machine. She was a little miffed that she didn’t get to do it herself.

Next down was Meems, and Trish helped her get her cereal. The two boys happened after Meems began chomping her way through the milk and oats. “Where’s Livvie?” I asked, surely she wasn’t still asleep?

“She’s cwtching with Daddy,” Trish finished her cereal, “Can I make some toast?”

“Use the sliced loaf—how come you two aren’t?”

“We were hungry and she said she could talk him into taking us out in the Jaguar.” Trish popped the thick sliced wholemeal into the toaster. “You want one o’ these?” she asked of Meems, who nodded back. “Can I eat mine with some ’nana?”

“Does Meems want some too?” I asked and she nodded, still chewing her cereal. I cut a banana in half and told Trish to use one part for her and the other for Meems. I watched as she juggled each piece of the hot toast out of the toaster and onto a plate where she buttered it. Then she thinly sliced the banana with the knife and gave one to Meems and took the other herself.

I congratulated her on her effort and explained that the next time she did it, if she used a fork to mash the banana, it was even sweeter. She indicated she understood even though her mouth was full. Then in a pause before the next mouthful, she explained she’d thought of that, but it would make the plate very messy. She chomped on the next bit of her toastie.

“I think the machine will cope with that, kiddo, and you could always rinse it off while it’s still soft—if it dries, then it could be a problem.” It seems to cope with dried on egg yolk, so it does well anyway.

I made myself another tea while the boys bickered over which cereal they would eat. I made irritated noises and they quietened down. They asked if they could play on their bikes and as the weather didn’t look too bad, I agreed. This suited the girls because it reduced the competition for their father’s attention. I wondered if I could forsake my solitary ride to escort the boys a bit, so they could go a bit further than they usually did. I knew they were quite happy to zip up and down the bike path near the house, but a ride with a hill and a challenge of distance might make it more interesting for them.

Julie was the last of the youngsters to come down—she followed Livvie who high fived with Trish and then Meems and they all giggled. Non verbals for, ‘mission accomplished’ I suspect.

Julie ate some fruit—she’s got this idea in her head that she’s fat. She is rounding out a bit, but that’s the hormones. No matter what I say, she doesn’t believe me. Leon arrived and Daddy came out of his study to tell Leon what they were going to do next. Julie decided she was happy to stay at home and do a few chores, she said this while looking at Leon, and not once at me—to whom she was talking. I suspect the operative word for the chores is few. I suppose I was young once, although I wasn’t in love or even lust, that didn’t happen until Kev the mechanic kissed me that day. Ooh, I’ve gone all goose pimply. Perhaps I will think about joining a cycling club.

I sent the girls up to wash and dress, tried to break into Julie’s libidinous dreams—but she was too far gone, and asked the boys if they’d like me to escort them for a ride. They practically bounced off the table.

“Yay, Mummy’s coming out on the bike with us,” they rushed around the kitchen and out into the garden to tell Leon and Tom. Then they rushed back in again. I sent them up to wash their faces and hands—they were all sticky with jam. I followed them upstairs as far as my own room where I changed while Simon was still in the shower.

“Gee whizz, it’s David Millar,” he joked as he came out and I was dressed in yellow cycling kit.

“David Millar is six feet four, I’m five feet seven on a tall day, besides he rides for Garmin, this is HTC-Columbia-High Road, more Mark Cavendish.”

“He’s not six feet four is he?”

“No, he’s about five seven, too.”

“Oh, you have much in common with him then.”

“I’m not a foul-mouthed sprinter of exceptional ability.”

“That’s true,” Simon agreed then squawked as I pulled his towel away, as I stamped out of the bedroom. He was lucky, I could have stepped on his toes in cycling shoes—he wouldn’t have enjoyed that one bit.

To cut a long story short, I checked out the bikes, put some air in mine and after donning arm and leg warmers and my helmet, the boys and I set off for a reasonable ride.

I set them a pace of ten miles an hour for nearly a mile by which time they were starting to flag a little. I rode on and waited for them to catch me up. They were both blowing quite hard and grumbled that it was easy for me with bigger wheels.

They were probably correct, but then I was bigger too, and presumably as strong if not stronger—so, I had all the advantages. I asked them if they wanted to keep going and they both emphatically agreed they did. I therefore suggested that I rode back a bit and they continued on and I would attempt to catch them before we got to the pub. If they won, I’d buy the lemonades, if I won—they would have to pay.

They asked how far I would go back, and I suggested that I’d go back to the house and turn round and come after them, except I’d be on the road not the cycle path. Once I’d assured them I’d be careful, they agreed to it.

I was about two miles from home and they had two miles to go to the pub including a short but stiff climb up a hill, which I didn’t mention. Besides, they were on mountain bikes with granny gears against my race type compact chain set, admittedly on a carbon fibre bike. I was giving them a four-mile start on a six-mile race.

I set off away from them and they shot off, legs spinning to try and cause me to pay up for the drinks. I gradually built up my speed—I hadn’t even worked up a sweat yet. I did a few minutes later when I was doing nearly twenty-five miles on the flat and holding it, albeit with effort. I got to the house and turned round in a big circle and really went for it. I had four miles to cover against what was probably the boy’s one.

I got back to the spot where we’d separated and kept my cadence going—I was still doing over twenty and now riding into a headwind. I consoled myself that they would be too. Three minutes later, I spotted them—they were struggling on the hill—Danny was still riding but Billy had dismounted and was in walking gear.

The hill and the wind cut into my speed and despite standing on the pedals, and dropping several gears, I was struggling to make any sort of speed—I’d lost that much fitness, not riding. In days of old, I’d actually flown up this hill at fifteen plus miles an hour—today, I was struggling to achieve ten.

I turned into the pub car park as the boys reached it—it was draw, probably the best result, and from the looks on their faces—one they felt they could improve on. I had a feeling we’d be doing this again—so I needed to get the turbo out.

I’d have won the race back with ease. They were both so tired, that they struggled to maintain any sort of momentum home. Back there, they both zonked on the couch while I prepared lunch. I took a quick photo while they were asleep.

One episode to report: when I walked into the pub to get the drinks, which we consumed in their garden in the sunshine, one of the wags in the bar said, “Look out, here comes Mark Cavendish.”

His mate said, “Oh yeah, you know why he wins all them sprints?”

“Yeah ’cos he’s the best.”

“Nah, if you look you can see he’s got tits, so his chest gets there before all the others.”

At this point, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or hit them, so I removed my helmet and pushed my sunglasses up on to my hair, which was tied back in a ponytail, and the first one said, “Oh, it’s not Cavendish.”

The other laughed, and said to him, “No wonder you can’t get laid, you can’t tell the difference between men and women.”

I decided I would say something to them, as their sexism was irritating me. “Excuse me, but I think I can tell you why your friend can’t get laid.”

“Oh yeah, why’s that then?”

“He won’t find a chicken with a big enough arse.”

The friend and the landlord thought it was hilarious, and I’d intended to suggest that he would be laid like an egg. He obviously thought I was implying he was either gay or into bestiality or something. He got quite angry and implied if I was a bloke he’d be asking me outside.

If he did, he’d get a surprise just before I began breaking his ribs, my biggest danger was my foot sinking up to the knee in his beer belly. However, women don’t fight unless attacked, and certainly not in front of my children.

The landlord and his friend calmed him down and I took my drinks outside to the garden and the children.

Riding home, I did hope they weren’t travelling the same way and in a car. Thankfully, they didn’t seem to be and we got back safely.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 990

The weekend passed without much to mention. I did visit Maureen again but the sympathetic nurse wasn’t there, so I just sat and talked to her, whilst holding her hand—low key lifesaving.

On Monday, she opened her eyes and the hospital was very pleased with her progress—I said nothing. Her bruising was coming down very quickly—obviously she heals fast. Julie wanted to come, but not as much as she wanted to tongue wrestle with Leon.

On Sunday, Simon took the boys out for a ride—they came back miffed that he hadn’t taken them to the pub nor raced them. He grumbled at me when he came back.

I did manage a ride on Sunday by myself and did a quick ten miler while Simon looked after breakfast. I was sore before I got on the saddle—hence the ten miles only—so you can imagine what I had to trade for his breakfast supervision.

Monday evening Si went back to London and I went back to being a banking widow, and that is not a spoonerism, dirty-minded lot.

Tuesday, the kids were back to school so the usual routine continued. After it, Julie mentioned she wanted to save for a moped. I told her that two wheels are supposed to be powered by the rider. She asked about motorbikes and I told her that they were death traps.

She told me that Simon had thought she might have one. I refuted it, and overruled it. If she wanted to be a biker chick, she could do it when she left my house. Here there would be no motorbikes, except the battery-powered pushbikes—which she described as naff. I was inclined to agree with her, but didn’t say so.

Wednesday, she tried for the moped again and I refused. “Even if I pay for it?”

“I think they’re dangerous.”

“You’re being an old fuddy-duddy, you’re like worse than Gramps.”

“The figures for serious injuries and fatalities on motorbikes are far worse than for cycling, and those are bad enough. We’ll get you driving lessons when you’re old enough, until then you’ll have to use public transport or a bicycle, or possibly walk—it could be why we evolved legs.”

“Huh, I thought you’d have told me we had two legs because that’s like, how many pedals there are on a bike.”

“I think it might be the other way round, bikes these days are far more advanced than humans.”

“Is that because God didn’t have a computer? Oh, sorry, you don’t believe in God do you?”

“It depends upon whether you consider binary and sexual duality are coincidental or deliberate.”

“What?”

“I take it you don’t have an opinion on the matter?”

“You’re smart-arsing me, aren’t you?”

“You started it. Now, what about lunch?”

The phone rang and I ambled over to answer it. It was Tom. “Cathy, can ye tak this somewhere private?”

“Hold on Daddy, I’ll just look in the study.” I popped into his sanctum and shut the door. “What’s the matter Daddy, has something happened?” My stomach was flipping over like a waterwheel.

“Are ye on yer ain?”

“Yes, what’s happened?” I asked again feeling very nervous.

“Ye’ve bin nominated fa anither job.”

“I can’t do anything else, I barely manage now.”

“I dinna think ye can turn this doon.”

“What d’you mean?”

“Ye’ve bin nominated as pert o’ thae UK team tae work wi’ thae United Nations on conserving ecosystems.”

“You’re joking aren’t you? I’m a greenhorn—there are loads of people better suited to it than I am. I’ve got five children in school, how am I supposed to cope with something new?”

“I dinna ken, Cathy, but I doo ken it’s a tremendous honour.”

“How do you know before they ask me?”

“Thae letter’s in thae post.”

“Did you nominate me?”

“Dinna be a numpty, I’d hae pit ma ain name doon first, widnae I?”

“So who did? I’ll kill them.”

“Dinna be sae hasty, this micht hae cam fro’ government.”

“I don’t know anyone in government.”

“Ye’ve met various government ministers.”

“I met one at this house, gosh that must be a couple of years ago.”

“Aye, an yer hubby hobnobs wi’ Prime Ministers an’ sae does yer faither-in-law.”

“I can’t do it Daddy, I physically can’t do it.”

“It wid look guid on yer CV.”

“Is that before or after my funeral?”

“Och dinna be sae pessimistic, ye’ll cope.”

“Only because I’m not interested. No, is my final answer. I have to go Daddy.” I replaced the phone.

“What’s the matter, Mummy?”

“That was Gramps, he called to tell me they want me to work with the UN on ecology.”

“Wow, does that mean you’ll have to go to New York?”

“What for?”

“Oh, I always wanted to go up the Empire State Building.”

“Don’t tell me, assisted by a fifty-foot gorilla?”

“Absolutely, like how did you know?”

“It was an inspired guess,” I shook my head. “What am I supposed to do about five school children who are my responsibility?”

“I’m sure they’d like to go to New York, as well.”

“Look, I hate to disappoint but it’s more likely to be based here than the US. It will be about running teams of pen pushers and writing policy statements. Sitting in boring meetings and trying to stay awake; that sort of thing.”

“Oh, I thought the UN was very glam.”

“Tell that to the people who died on Haiti.”

“Oh.”

“What about the fact that the country which destroyed proportionally more of its forests than anyone else between 2000 and 2005 was the US—how do we deal with that?”

“Oh, I’d have thought it was Brazil.”

“The deforestation there is still going on apace as well.” As we were talking, the doorbell rang. It was the postman requiring a signature for a package. I signed and took it inside.

It was one of those with a plastic security bag surrounding what looked like a small box file. The return address was a PO Box number. It told me nothing. I looked at the delivery address—it was to Lady Catherine Cameron and my home address.

There was nothing for it but to cut it open and see what was inside. I knew who it was from; Tom’s call had ensured that, so at least it wasn’t entirely a surprise.

I read the bumf letter attached to the front of the file. It explained that the government through Defra and Natural England had recommended me for this post of Ecology Team Leader. It listed the other members of my team: there were two professors, a number of well-known scientists and a leading natural history writer/broadcaster. I was probably the least qualified to do this—so why had they picked on me?

The contact number was Gareth Sage. I was going to tear him into shreds—no—I was going to chop him up with a pound of onions and stuff him up a chicken’s bum. I put the documents safe and went to show Julie how to make chicken soup. She was filling the bread machine, so that meant I’d let her live at least until after lunch.

“Okay, kiddo, let’s see what veg we have…”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 991

I was dishing up the soup—I know, Julie should be doing it, but she makes such a mess and I have yet to chop that herb Sage, into a million bits.

The doorbell rang—actually somebody rang the doorbell, it doesn’t usually ring by itself, but as it’s sort of implicit that someone rang it or at least pushed the bell push, it seems hardly worth noting it except for accuracy—um, shall I run that past you one more time? I thought not.

“I wonder who that is?” asked Julie.

“Duh—go and see, or are you practising your remote viewing?”

“What’s remote viewing?” asked Stella passing out some spoons.

“It’s using a psychic technique to project the mind to a specific place—haven’t you seen, Men who stare at goats?

“They give films such stupid names these days,” she opined.

“It’s someone to see you, Mummy.”

“Bloody typical, just as we’re eating,” I hissed to Stella. “Are they good looking?” I called to Julie, imagining they were probably political canvassers.

“Yes, very.” Her reply sounded like I should go and look for myself, perhaps George Clooney had got himself lost while filming, or even Johnny Depp—I went all goose bumps.

Abandoning my soup, I set off down the hall and stopped suddenly. “Oh, Dr Sage—I have a bone to pick with you.”

“Oh, it’s arrived. I asked them to wait until I’d spoken to you.”

“What for?”

“Cathy, I’d like a chance to talk to you about this, I know you’re busy and all that…”

“Yes, far too busy.”

“Please let me talk to you first.”

“You’re wasting your time, Gareth.”

“Can you decide that after we’ve spoken.”

“We were about to eat, would you like to have some soup?”

“I um, don’t want to put you to any trouble…”

“Feeding you is no trouble, explaining why I won’t do what you want might be.”

I led him through to the kitchen and gave him a bowl of soup and sliced off some bread. Stella suddenly seemed to glow with happiness and went to get him a plate and a knife to butter his bread, then walked into a cupboard door she didn’t see—perhaps she was looking at something or somebody else?

Gareth jumped up to help her and I felt like saying, ‘Don’t encourage her,’ but then if he dated her a couple of times, it would cheer her up and serve him right for coming around here to annoy me.

The conversation over lunch was light and Stella flirted outrageously with Gareth—even Julie was embarrassed. After we ate, I made tea and Gareth and I withdrew to the dining room to talk business.

We sat at the table and sipped our tea. “Before you shout me down, please listen to why you were nominated.”

I sat and glowered at him.

“Believe it or not, you weren’t the original choice.”

“Oh that makes me feel really wanted,” I pouted at him.

“Sorry an’ all that; David Attenborough was first choice.”

“So why didn’t he agree to do it?”

“This is a long term project—he’s getting on a bit.”

“He’s only eighty-four—he could live another ten years or more.”

“Yeah, he could also keel over tomorrow, which is what he said and told us to ask you.”

“Why me?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Yes, I do.”

“He said you had a better set of um—you know,” he pointed at my chest.

“You’re joking?”

“Would I joke about such a thing?”

“Yes you, Welsh wotsit, you would.”

“Okay, so I’m joking.”

I laughed and wanted to slap him at the same time. “Now tell me who nominated me, so I can kill them, slowly.”

“He did.”

“His holiness, the Attenborough, now I know you are joking.”

“I’m not, okay he couldn’t remember your name, except that it was Cathy something. Then he mentioned the dormouse film as being one of the most charming he’d ever seen and the presenter as being one of the sexiest and most beautiful he’d seen.”

“He said that?”

“No, but I thought it would get your attention.”

“You are asking for a hard slap, Dr Sage.”

“He suggested that we needed someone with media experience, you’ve been on telly, done your own film with suitable acclaim, and have a title—which believe it or not still carries weight in the world.”

“Why? If I saw some committee headed by Lord Knows-who, unless he had some credibility in the field, it wouldn’t impress me.”

“Ah—but you do have a track record. You’re published on the dormouse, you’ve done media stuff and you even taught ecology, you should know something.”

“Not necessarily, remember the old adage—those who can do, those who can’t teach, and those who can’t even teach, write books about it—or in my case make films.”

“Cathy, that is total bollocks and you know it. Okay, if you’d written books or a book you could have cribbed everyone else’s material and rehashed it. You didn’t, you went out, found dormouse sites and filmed them. Not only that but you raised public awareness of the cuddly little buggers, so much so that anyone who admitted to having so much as looked at one the wrong way is likely to be lynched.”

“A slight exaggeration, if I might say so.”

“It isn’t—your film was really well received, did you know the BBC are thinking of re-running it?”

“No, I wonder if I get a repeat royalty?”

“I doubt it, they tie that up in the first contract.”

“Damn, something for nothing would be nice.”

“I suppose it would, you should have offered them an update—instead they’ll do it as Springwatch or something similar.”

“When have I got the time to do updates? I suppose I’d have more time if I threw you and your silly offer out on your big fat bums.”

“I don’t think you will when I tell you why I endorsed the view of the Attenborough.”

“Ah, so it’s your fault? Prepare to die.”

“Cathy, put down that banana.”

“Well I couldn’t find a pointed stick.”

He laughed, “I didn’t know you were into Monty Python.”

“Yeah, and being married to Simon—well, he’s a Python nut.”

“Pity,” he mused then blushed.

“What is?”

“Um—nothing,” he blushed again.

I tried to remember what I said, being married to Simon who’s a Python nut. I was pretty sure it had little to do with Monty Python, so it had to be my marriage to Simon. Now it was my turn to blush.

“I didn’t know you fancied boys?”

“I don’t—what are you talking about?”

“Me—would the UN be interested in being fronted by a tranny?”

“I thought we’d discussed this already. I know you’re only trying to paint yourself as negatively as possible so I find someone else to do this.”

“No, I’m trying to see all the angles including what could happen with the media.”

“They could have roasted you any time they wanted, so why now?”

“Because this would be the biggest thing I’d done yet.”

“I doubt it, to the tabloids, marrying a peer and adopting children, let alone making a film and presenting it, are all fair game. That they’ve largely left you alone must demonstrate an element of restraint on their part.”

“Do me a favour—the only reason is Henry Cameron, and the clout he carries—now there would be a distinguished chairman for you.”

“Like David Attenborough said, you’ve got the better tits.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 992

“If the size of my breasts is the criterion for selection, wouldn’t Katie Price be a better candidate?”

“Who?” Gareth obviously didn’t recognise the name.

“The glamour model otherwise known as Jordan.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, what does she know about ecology?”

“Very little I should imagine. Look, I’m a lecturer in biological science, specialising in ecology with an interest in mammals and a particular interest in dormouse ecology and population studies. It would be an insult to the more qualified members of that team for me to lead it.”

“So if that was the only problem, you’d consider it?”

“What do you mean—and why do I smell a rat?”

“Perhaps you have more acute olfactory organs than I do, I can’t smell anything but your perfume. What do I mean? I mean if the others were amenable to you leading the team, would you consider doing so?”

“There are two professors on this list—surely they should lead it?”

“Ah, but if we pick one, we alienate the other.”

“Oh come off it, they’re not going to be that childish. Appoint the one with the greater seniority—you know, older uni or been in post longer, or published more papers. Why am I saying all this? You know which one it would be.”

“Both are very senior, possibly about to become emeritus professors within the next year or two.”

“Well there you are—question answered. They’d have the time to sleep on committee meetings, I mean sit on meetings or committees or both.”

“They all agreed it needed someone dynamic to lead it.”

“That lets me out then, I’m not at all dynamic.”

“That’s a matter of opinion.”

“Yeah, my opinion.”

“Cathy, this is the most important job you’ll ever have.”

“Second most important job,” I corrected.

“What is going to be more important? This is even bigger, potentially than a chair at Oxbridge.”

“I don’t want a chair at Oxbridge—if I wanted one at all, it would be my alma mater, I’d want.”

“Sussex?”

“Yes.”

“You could have a bit of a wait for that, but coming from leading a UN committee would be quite a leg up in such a later selection.”

“Even that isn’t the biggest job for me.”

“Okay, what is it then? Compare it to the UN one.”

“There is no comparison.”

“There has to be, is it Yale or Harvard, or Stanford?”

“No—it’s being a wife and mother. The pension plan isn’t as good, and I don’t get to write many papers, but it’s the most rewarding study area of them all.” I beamed at Gareth and I think he blushed.

“Why do women always outmanoeuvre men?”

“They don’t, men tend to paint themselves into corners by being too didactic.”

“Are you suggesting that women are more flexible?”

“Are we talking about physical characteristics or mental?”

“Women are definitely more mental,” he winked at me so I ignored both the comment and the gesture.

“Women are more flexible thinkers.”

“Aren’t they just, a previous girlfriend was the most flexible thinker I’ve ever met. She could think no meant yes when it applied to using my credit card and be saying yes with her body language while saying no verbally.”

“Oh, that’s the first time you’ve ever mentioned a girl friend.”

“Is it—hardly appropriate in the conversations we have is it?”

“I don’t know, that would depend on if you wanted to talk about it or not.”

“I think we’d be better leaving that particular topic in the history books.”

“Fine, more tea, then I shall have to collect some children.”

He glanced at his watch, “Yes, I’d like some more tea.”

“If you’re not tied up at the moment, why not take Stella out.”

“She wouldn’t want to go out with me.”

“No, that’s why she’s been rubbing herself against you like a cat in heat.”

“Sorry, I wasn’t looking.”

“Why was that?” I wondered if he was gay or something despite having had a girlfriend.

“Truthfully?”

“Of course.”

“The woman I fancy most is married.”

“Gareth, is this someone I know?”

“Could be.”

“She wouldn’t happen to have a husband called Simon and loads of children, would she?”

“She could, do you know her then?”

“I have a horrible feeling I do.” I blushed and rose to make the tea. He got up to help me. “Um—you stay here Gareth, I need a moment to think.”

I almost ran out to the kitchen. I was in such a dither that I didn’t notice Julie standing at the ironing board. “Will you do one for me, too?”

I started, and jumped around to face her, “Sorry, darling, I didn’t see you there.”

“Too busy dreaming about Gareth were we?”

“Certainly not, I’m a married woman.”

“Doesn’t stop him mooning over you though, does it? D’you think I’ll ever get married.”

“What do you mean, him mooning over me?”

“Geez Mummy, I thought I was supposed to be the novice here.”

I went hotter than the water in the boiling kettle. “Just what do you mean?”

“He fancies you.”

“How can anyone fancy someone they know used to be a boy?”

“Quite easily by the looks he gives you.”

I blushed even hotter and poured hot water into the teapot.

“Don’t you usually put some teabags in there as well?” teased Julie.

I glanced into the steaming teapot. “Of course, silly me.”

“It’s quite funny watching Auntie Stella frothing at the knickers to attract his attention and all the time he’s watching you.”

“Oh no, not a rerun of Des?” I said to myself.

“Who’s Des?”

“Never you mind.” I clattered mugs on to the tray.

“I’ll just ask Auntie Stella, shall I?”

“Don’t you dare or I really will get cross.”

“Well, tell me then.”

“Not now, I won’t.”

“Okay, later then?”

“Perhaps—I don’t know if I can trust you to keep your trap shut.”

“Gee thanks, Mummy.”

“This isn’t some game played by teenagers, this is family-destroying stuff.”

Julie stepped back. “Why do you always have to put me down?”

“I’m not, darling, I’m just trying to make you aware of the consequences that sometimes attach themselves to these events.”

“You fancy him too, don’t you?”

“I’m a healthy, red blooded woman, of course I fancy him, but in the same way I would George Clooney. It’s just a fanciful idea, a daydream—I love your Daddy, and that’s what counts.”

“Are you going to take your dream-boat a cuppa then?” She smirked and I walked briskly out of the kitchen—so briskly, I forgot the milk and sugar. Julie appeared with them a moment later and an empty mug. I poured her some tea and she winked at me as she left.

“You think I should ask Stella out, do you?”

“I think that would be an excellent idea, certainly a better one than trying to get me to lead this UN thing.”

“I still think you’d be brilliant at it.”

“I think I know myself better than you do. First, I don’t have the time; second, it could become very embarrassing if the tabloids worked out who I am, or shall we say, what I was. So ask one of the others.”

“What if they said you were the best for the job?”

“But they won’t unless they’re crazy, and certainly wouldn’t if they knew about me, would they?”

“They do know about you—remember biology is a small world—and they still think you’re the best for the job.”

“Prove it.” I dared him because I knew he was bluffing.

He reached into his brief case and handed me a sheaf of paper, printed emails. “That proof enough?”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 993

I leafed through the papers—they all described me as an excellent choice. One even described me as, ‘a nice piece of totty who shouldn’t be too much trouble to manoeuvre at meetings.’

“Who is Gordon Clegg?” I asked.

“He’s professor of ecology at Cambridge.”

“Which college?”

“St James, why?”

“If he’s such a leading light, how come I haven’t heard of him?”

“He’s been quiet for the last few years, but accepted the nomination for the committee.”

“Why does he think I’m a piece of totty?”

“Compared to him, you’re young, attractive and sexy—he has seen your dormouse programme, and he thinks you’d present the committee equally well.”

“You mean he thinks I’m a mini-skirted bimbo?”

Gareth blushed, “Um.”

“So is that what the others think I am?”

He was still blushing furiously, “No, of course not.”

“None of them mention my fieldwork, only the film. They do think I’m just a token woman for them all to issue orders to while I make the tea.”

“I’m sure they don’t.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Good grief, no. I’ve seen you in action and I’m aware how talented you are. I really want you to do this.”

“I’m tempted just to show that bunch of old farts that women can run things besides dinner parties.”

“Why don’t you then, or are you all talk, like them?”

“I have to go and collect three little maids from school.”

“Take this job Cathy. After your family, it could be the most important thing you do to save the planet and your beloved dormice.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Apart from missing out on the biggest professional thing you’d ever do, the committee would miss out on having one of the most intelligent and articulate spokeswomen it could possibly have.”

“You forgot, big tits.”

He blushed and spluttered. “That isn’t a consideration in my book. But to see a woman breaking though the glass ceiling is.”

“What, even a fake one?”

“I wish you wouldn’t do this to yourself, Cathy. You’re as real as any other woman I know; so why do you have to keep beating yourself up about your past?”

“Habit, I suppose—I have to go.”

“What about the committee?”

“What about it?” I called back.

“Will you do it?”

“I might.” I closed the front door and was in my car and out of the drive before he could move.

Silly old fools, women are just as clever as they are, so one of them can make the tea. I’ve got a damn good mind to do it just to show them what sexist morons they are. Now to the important stuff—do I wear a plunge top and miniskirt to the first meeting?

“Hello, Mummy, Trish is still talking to the teacher,” announced Livvie as I went to collect them.

“What about?”

“She thinks that God is as wicked as people are or he’d have turned off the volcano which is stopping people from going on holiday and working.”

“I hope she didn’t say so?”

“She did. The teacher was furious.”

“I’m not surprised.”

The headmistress came out of her office and called over to us. “I think you need to have words with your Patricia, she’s disrupting our religious education classes more than John Knox and Attila the Hun did together.”

“Can she not just miss out on them?”

“No, they are part of the curriculum.”

“Isn’t a challenging and questioning mind a good thing?” I asked, I hoped in a neutral way.

“Yes, but not in the context of stirring up dissent amongst her fellow pupils, and causing two of my staff to have crises of faith.”

“She is six years old.”

“Jesus was only twelve when He held discourses in the temple.”

“That’s twice Trish’s age and the Jewish tradition encouraged religious argument.”

“Yes, but Trish has the advantage of being female.” She muttered a little prayer presumably for her blasphemy.

“So do most of your teachers.”

“The little divil is far cleverer than most o’them, and twice as determined. Only last week she asked how Noah could have put lions and zebras together in the same boat, and what happened to the woodworm?”

“I always wondered where the gophers were in the wood he ordered.”

“I can see where she gets it from, like mother like daughter.”

I blushed and Livvie squeezed my hand and smirked.

“So how come you’re not with your sister?” I asked her, “You’re just as challenging as she is.”

“This one’s speciality is arithmetic and spelling. She’s corrected her teacher twice on both spelling and addition mistakes, haven’t you Livvie?”

“Is that correct?” not that I doubted the veracity of Sister Maria’s statement, but I had to have something to say to the child.

Livvie fidgeted uncomfortably and avoided eye contact, eventually nodding to answer my question.

“What was the word she spelt wrongly?”

“Potato.”

“She added an extra ‘e’ did she?” I asked.

Livvie nodded, and told me that the sum she corrected was because the teacher forgot to carry two over.

Mima walked over towards us and Livvie slipped her hand out of mine and ran to play with her. “You are going to have some challenging experiences of motherhood when those two little madams grow a bit.”

“They read voraciously, and it’s off-putting to be challenged on your decision because the Children’s Britannica says something different.”

“I’m sure you did the same, oh and congratulations on your appointment. Now you really must come and speak to our speech day assembly.”

“My appointment?”

“Yes, your job with the United Nations. It was front page news in the Echo.”

“Was it now?”

“Oh dear, have I said the wrong thing?”

“No, not at all, except they might have jumped the gun a trifle.”

“In what way?”

“I haven’t agreed to do it yet.”

“Oh, well someone has got hold of the wrong end of the stick, because it said how delighted your family was and what prestige it bestowed on the university and your mammal survey.”

“D’you mind if I collect my little philosopher and go home, I have some phone calls to make.”

“I’ll go and get her,” Sister Maria marched off to the classroom where Trish was probably still arguing the toss.

“Did we get you into trouble Mummy?” asked the breathless Livvie.

“No sweetheart, I do most of it myself.”

“Oh, are you in trouble Mummy?”

“Only if I commit the murders I’m thinking about.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 994

We drove back to the house, once we had disengaged Trish from her arguing gear. She was rather full of herself, suggesting what she’d read about Kierkegaard had helped her in outflanking the nun, whereas Nietzsche’s ideas hadn’t.

I looked in the rear-view mirror, wondering if I’d actually picked up an alien by mistake—I mean, it happens all the time in sci-fi stories, perhaps we’d just wandered into one. Nah—damn it, it was Trish. Precocious doesn’t seem to cover it.

Gareth’s four by four was still in the drive; good—it would make killing him easier. Tom was home, he could help me dig the hole afterwards. I let the children in and asked them to find Julie for a drink and a biscuit. I’d get dinner sorted shortly—I had an act of murder to perform, but it shouldn’t take long.

“You snake in the grass,” I said loudly at Gareth.

“Me? Why?”

“You told the Echo, and don’t tell me you didn’t, because it could only have been you.”

“It wasn’t me, what’s the Echo got to do with it?”

“You thought I’d agree to do it to save face of all concerned—well tough, I’m not doing it.”

“I’m still waiting on your answer, so how could I tell the Echo?”

“Don’t gimme that rubbish, you told them—I’m sure of it.”

“I didn’t, I wouldn’t—not without your agreement.”

“Sorry, Gareth, I don’t believe you and I thought you were such a sweet man. Seems I was wrong.”

“I haven’t told anyone, honestly.”

“Yes, Taffy was Welshman, Taffy was a liar, Taffy I hope your pants are on fire.”

“They’re not actually, I didn’t tell any lies. I’d never lie to you—I respect you too much.”

“What about all the fake emails, the reverse psychology—it nearly worked. You nearly had me going.”

“Tom said it would.”

“You discussed this with Tom—before you even came to see me?” I gasped, I was horrified.

“He was in on the nomination—who do you think recommended you?”

“Did he fake the emails, too?”

“The emails aren’t fake, they’re real—they all want you to do it.”

“But they think I’m some sort of bimbo, don’t they?”

“No, I asked Gordon to do that, he was my prof at Cambridge.”

“You tried to trick me,” I accused, “how can I trust you?”

“It wasn’t my idea, and I’m sorry.”

“Whose idea was it so I can kill them—slowly?”

“Och, that wis mine, hen. I thocht ye’d go fa it.”

“Daddy, how could you?”

“I wanted ye tae dae this job, it’s sae important, it needs someone who’s up tae it.”

“There are six people on the list, all with greater experience than I, why not one of them?”

“Because, ye’re thae best, Cathy. Is that guid enough fer ye?”

“It’s not about being an academic,” interjected Gareth, “or not just that, it’s about being the front person for the committee—for that we needed someone who was presentable and articulate and who could communicate. You are so good at that, as your dormouse film showed. As Tom said, you’re the best.”

“But I hadn’t agreed, so why did you tell the Echo?” I accused Gareth again.

“I didn’t, I keep telling…”

“Um, that wis me.”

I turned to face Tom, “Daddy, how could you?”

“I thocht young Gareth would convince ye tae dae it. I never dreamt fer one second ye’d turn him doon.”

I felt completely stunned by this revelation, I’d been betrayed by my own family and I’d accused the wrong person.

“I owe you an apology, Gareth, for the Echo business, but you were all scheming to manipulate me into the position—so I have to say no. If you’d asked me properly, I would have considered it.”

“Tom is going to have a lot of egg on his face,” Gareth said quietly to me.

“That’s not my problem.”

“It could cost him his job.”

“He should have thought of that, shouldn’t he?”

“Perhaps, but it’s also going to make the university position pretty dire.”

“None of which is my fault.”

“What if the dormice have to go—they could anyway in the drive for efficiencies.”

“They’d better not, because I’ll get the whole place closed down.”

“A whole university? Come off it, Cathy, no one has that sort of influence.”

“Don’t bet on it.”

“With you about, I wouldn’t dream of it. Look, just saying yes would resolve all of these things and instead of failure, Tom is seen as a saviour of the university, the dormouse project and the mammal mapping scheme.”

“That’s tantamount to blackmail.”

“Absolutely.”

“How can I believe you after all the deceit?”

“I’m telling the truth.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Yes would be the obvious answer.”

“Why should I?”

“To protect all you value, your family, your work, the planet and not forgetting the dormice.”

“It is blackmail.”

“No—it’s your choice.”

“What about all my other responsibilities?”

“You could pass some of those on to others.”

“Oh yeah, bring in a nanny—that’ll make me look really good to my detractors, won’t it?”

“You could get a live-in help, to do your chores and help with the household.”

“The whole point of having the children was to give them a home with stable parents—only one of them isn’t often here.”

“I’m sure when he is, it’s worth it.”

“Sometimes. Look, what is this wretched post going to involve?”

“Coordinating the ecological future of Europe. You’d be looking at threats and solutions to protect and conserve species and habitats. We need to know what’s under threat—it’s fine to say wetlands, but exactly what is a wetland and what is threatening it?

“The funding which is pretty tight, would mean delegating research and coordinating it and the results. The mammal survey you’re doing is going to provide us with a super database for modelling change. That’s been done for only a few million pounds which is small beer at this level.”

“How much time will I need to do it?”

“Couple of days a week, depends on how good you are at delegating.”

“Where are we going to be based?”

“Southampton.”

“If I’m chair, who will be secretary?”

“Um—I am, unless that’s a problem.”

“I need to speak to the children. I need their agreement before I can say yes.”

“You want me to come back?”

“Could you give me an hour?”

“Yeah sure—you won’t regret this.”

“I haven’t said yes—yet.”

He let himself out and I asked Julie to make me some tea. I had some strong words with Tom and told him that he’d really dropped me in it. He looked really down after I’d given him the only piece of my mind I could spare.

“If only you’d spoken to me, Daddy, that’s what hurts. I know you thought you were trying to help my career, but my children are part of it and it’s going to be very difficult for them as well. I really wished you had spoken to me.”

He apologised and there were tears in his eyes when I left his study. I stopped and turned back to hug him. “I’m goin’ tae resign, I’m tae auld fer this. I’m a daft auld gowk.”

With tears now in my eyes, I said, “Daddy, if you resign, I won’t even consider the job. If I’ve got to do this shit, so can you—besides, you can help pay for someone to help run this place.”

“Aye alricht.”

“And I know just the person, if she’ll take the job.”

The Sunday Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 995

I gathered the children together, excluding Tom and Stella at this point. I explained what had happened, that I’d been nominated for a very important job which Gramps and Simon would want me to take, and probably Stella, too. Certainly, Gareth Sage had said so.

The problem was, I would be more busy than I am normally am, and would need their cooperation to be able to do it. I’d also need to employ someone to help.

“Why can’t Julie do it?” asked Livvie.

“Perhaps you’d like to answer that, Julie?” As she still didn’t do as much as she’s supposed to, I thought I’d see if the youngsters would possibly prick her conscience—although most teens are psychopaths, having little or no conscience, unless they are working on yours.

“I’m doin’ the salon on Fridays and Saturdays, an’ things.”

“What about, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays?” Livvie was obviously heading for the bar and continued grilling her witness.

“Well, I help then, don’t I?” Julie looked at me.

“Not as much as you could or even should.”

“Who are you thinking of getting in to help?” Trish entered the arena—if she mentions Kierkegaard, I’m outta here.

“I can’t tell you at the moment because I haven’t asked the person I have in mind.”

“Oh, who is it anyway?” asked Trish.

“I just told you, I can’t tell you, so stop trying to worm it out of me.”

“Is it—?” she continued.

“Trish, don’t keep on—guessing will get us nowhere, so just be patient,” and stop grilling me because you’re likely to work it out, little brain box.

“Why is you gotta work extwa, Mummy?”

“The job is with the United Nations. Do you know what that is?”

They didn’t, so I explained about the inter-national aspect of the organisation and its responsibilities, most of which seem to be ignored by its member nations—otherwise things like Rwanda and Darfur wouldn’t happen. However appalling such massacres are, my professional interest was in conserving habitats and thus species. So what was good for certain plant species would enable various insects, birds, reptiles and mammals to flourish, and given that the Mammal Society has its offices down the road in Southampton, I suppose I have some incentive to do it to the best of my ability.

I actually had a half written article for them on the mammal survey, the Mammal Society, I mean; for their journal Mammal Review, which is a professional scientific journal on mammals, funnily enough. So it actually does what it says on the cover.

I talked to the children for about fifteen or so minutes, the boys seemed very quiet. I asked them if everything was okay? Billy avoided eye contact with me then began to sniff. I took him outside to try and find out what the problem was.

“You’re gonna get rid of us, aren’t you?”

“If I was, d’you think I’d be paying a solicitor lots of money to adopt you?”

“You said that ages ago.”

“I asked you to be patient, it takes a long time—because we don’t want anything to stop us when the application goes ahead. That bit doesn’t take so long but the solicitor feeling the way and building up a background case can—and is. It took ages for the girls to be adopted and two of them had virtually been suggested by their parents.”

“I thought you was going to be too busy for me an’ Danny. You prefer girls don’tcha?”

“No I don’t. If I hadn’t wanted you to stay here as my children, I’d have sent you back to the home a long time ago. I love both you and Danny very much—just as much as I love the girls.”

“So we don’t have to turn into girls then?”

“Turn into girls?” What was going through his little mind?

“Yeah, Trish an’ Julie used to be boys, me an’ Danny wondered if ’cos you weren’t turnin’ us into girls, whether you was gonna get rid of us?”

“Wait here.” I went and fetched Danny. “Now what is this about you thinking I turn boys into girls?”

Danny blushed and looked daggers at Billy—“You stupid nit, now she’ll get rid of us.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Because we know what you wanna do.”

“Do you really believe that?” I felt gutted—had I really given that impression to the two boys.

They both nodded.

I felt tears welling up, and couldn’t stop them dribbling down my face.

“Ya stupid git, now you’ve made her cry,” Billy berated his ‘brother.’

“Please, no squabbling.” I couldn’t have stood it—this bombshell completely blew me away. I thought we’d sorted this so long ago—obviously we hadn’t, least not to their understanding.

“Don’t cry, Mummy.” Billy put his arm around me and I felt his body jerk as he tried to hit Danny.

I cuddled them both, “I seem to have failed you both, I’m sorry.”

“No you ’aven’t, we jus’ don’t wanna be girls, least I don’t, dunno about ’im,” Billy tormented Danny.

“I don’t wanna be a flippin’ girl, do I, pig breath?”

“Boys please—I don’t want either of you to be girls.”

“You don’t?” they both squeaked.

“No, I thought that was clear from the beginning. I took you on as a favour to the home. So then you were only temporary residents here. They knew you were better off here than in a home, so they conned me into keeping you.” I felt them both droop a little. “However, seeing as you both seemed happy and the girls were happy for you to stay, I negotiated with the home and here you are.

“I haven’t tried to turn anybody into anything they didn’t want to be. Trish and Julie were both wanting to be girls for a long time before I ever met them. All I and the other adults here have done, is to help them be what they wanted. We’ve treated them like girls and allowed them to try living as their preferred gender. So far they seem to be better off than they were.

“In lots of ways having you here as boys has been helpful to them because they’ve learned not all boys want to beat them up, and in fact some boys are really quite nice. I watched you all knit together as a family, as brothers and sisters and I thought all that was sorted. After we got the girls adopted, I asked the solicitor to start doing the preliminaries to try and adopt you two as well. If you remember, I did ask you if you still wanted it. I take it you do, but that is as my sons—I have enough daughters. Having said that, and I’m saying this for completeness, so it isn’t a suggestion or anything else; if you did have some problem of gender or sexuality, then I hope we could accommodate it and help you to grow as a person. I take it at the moment you don’t?”

“No,” they both said in between sniffs.

“You’re really gonna adopt us?” asked Danny.

“I’m trying my best to do that, yes.”

“So you don’t wanna get rid of us?”

“No, most definitely not. I want you to stay as my sons, and I apologise if I ever gave you any other indications. I like having boys here as well as girls, and I know Gramps and Simon do, too.”

“I like Gramps and Daddy,” Billy sniffed.

“I like Mummy, too,” asserted Danny.

“Yeah, an’ me.”

“Right, dry your eyes and come back into the room with the others. I won’t say anything to them about this, whether or not you two do, is entirely up to you, but I hope you now realise that you are loved here and very much wanted—and as yourselves, two boys.”

They both wiped their eyes and holding my hand we went back in to speak with the rest of the family about my impending job change.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 996

“What were you talking about?” Trish asked Billy.

“We told Mummy we didn’t wanna be girls.”

“Why? Being a girl is fun, you get lots of nice clothes and dolls to play with…”

“Trish, I think just because you enjoy being a girl doesn’t mean everyone would. Danny and Billy are happy to be boys.”

“Yuck, slugs and snails.”

“Trish, please don’t be silly—in this house, unlike many, you at least have a chance to see if you like being who you think you should be. In your case, Trish, it seems to be working,” I pronounced.

“Does that mean, it isn’t for me?” wailed Julie.

“No, I think you’re doing quite well too. Now back to business—I have to let Gareth know if I’m going to do this job or not. Like I said before, it isn’t just up to me—I need your help and your support to do it.”

“I dunno Mummy, will you be away a lot?”

“I’m not entirely sure—so I can’t tell you for definite.”

“Who’s gonna look after us when you’re not here?” asked Livvie.

“That’s the awkward question, and the truthful answer is, I don’t yet know. I have to ask one or two people—whom I trust, so I know you’ll be safe with them.”

“That’s good, you trust them but not us enough to tell us who you have in mind.” Julie was having one of her negative moments.

“You’ll have to wait a day or two. The job doesn’t start until the end of July, in any case, except to recruit staff like a secretary.”

“So why can’t you tell us now?” Trish echoed Livvie’s thoughts.

“I’ll tell you when I’m good and ready. Now, are you prepared to help me get this job?”

“I’ll tell you when I’m ready,” snapped back Trish.

“Trish, if you don’t behave, you’ll be having an early to bed night.”

She scowled at me and sat down with her arms folded, glaring her defiance.

“I need to ask if you’ll support me or not? I can’t do it without you?”

All but Trish put their hands up, she kept her arms folded.

“Are you abstaining, Trish?”

“I’m not staining nothing,” was her reply and Tom sniggered. “Nietzsche would have had an answer, but I don’t.” She burst into tears and rushed out of the room. Danny ran after her and I heard the hoof beats run up the stairs.

“Gareth will be here soon, Daddy, could you order some pizzas to be delivered. I’m going to talk with Trish.”

I swept up the stairs pausing at the top when I heard voices. “Did you always want to be a girl?”

“Yeah, as long as I can remember,” Trish answered him, “Why, did you think Mummy wanted to turn you and Billy into girls?”

“I dunno, Billy seemed to think so.”

“I don’t think she did, she didn’t turn me into a girl, I’m a girl already, I just have an outie when it should be an innie.”

“What, you’d like them to cut it off?”

“Yeah, if they can give me an innie like other girls.”

“Ugh, that sounds dead awful, I mean, I caught mine in the zip once and that like really hurt—so having it cut off…” I could almost feel Danny wincing.

“I don’t care—and I think they put a plaster on it anyway.”

“Good—but I’ll bet it still bloody hurts.”

“Usually when I have a bit that hurts and Mummy puts a plaster on it, it stops hurting quite quickly. D’you think that’s the plaster or Mummy being an angel?”

“Mummy’s an angel?”

“Yeah, how d’you think she can do all that healing stuff?”

“I dunno, do I? But I thought angels had wings—never seen none on Mummy, have you?”

“No, but I don’t think all angels have wings, or p’raps they have invisible ones.”

“So what do your experts say about that then?”

“I don’t know Danny, but they had a whole conference about how many angels could balance on the head of a pin? Do you know what a conference is?”

“No I don’t, but I know lotsa people go to them.”

“Me neither, but how can you balance anything on a pinhead, it’s like this small.”

“I know how big a pinhead is, Billy’s got one.” They both laughed at his remark. “You happy about Mummy doing this new job?”

“Not really, I think she might be away too much an’ all I wanted was to be a girl and live with a mummy an’ daddy, like everyone else.”

I felt my eyes moisten.

“Not everyone, Trish, I never ’ad a proper Mummy and Daddy until I came here. I couldn’t believe how lucky you were, you ’ad like, everythin’. When Mummy said she was gonna try to like, adopt us—it’s like wow, the best thin’ that ever, like happened.”

“She’s the best Mummy in the world, she loves everyone and Daddy isn’t as smart, but he’s so rich, it doesn’t matter.” Trish giggled as she said this, and I heard Danny laugh as well.

“Daddy’s all right, pity he’s away so much.”

“I like to cuddle with him when he’s home, but Mima’s his favourite, probably because she’s a proper girl, she’s got an innie.”

“I think you’re a proper girl, too. I like, always have—well since I’ve known you, you know.”

“Thank you Danny, you’re a good brother.”

I heard them hug and she—I think—kissed him.

“D’you think I’m pretty?”

I began to wonder where this was leading.

“Yeah, why?”

“I just wondered, one magazine I read said girls like to be told how pretty or beautiful they are, and boys like to be told they’re handsome or rugged looking. You don’t look much like a rug to me.”

“I think rugged means, sort of strong and tough,” Danny showed his greater education.

“I know—I was having a joke.” Trish giggled again and then laughed uncontrollably as he started to tickle her. At this point, I went back downstairs.

Gareth arrived at the same time as the pizzas. “Och I didnae ken ye were comin’,” complained Tom.

“He can have mine, I prefer my cardboard in boxes: I’ll have a piece of toast.” I swept into the kitchen where I found four large pizzas stacked on top of one another. I quickly heated some plates in the microwave and with the cutter thingy, put a selection of slices on the plates then carried them into the dining room, where Livvie was laying out knives and forks and Julie was putting down placemats.

“So have you decided?” asked Gareth.

“Look, can we deal with eating this while it’s hot?” I sidestepped his question and handed him some condiments to carry through, including tomato ketchup which Billy likes on most things except his breakfast cereal.

I heard Tom ask Gareth if he wanted red or white, and Gareth telling him he was driving, so neither.

I felt so much on the horns of a dilemma and while the others were busy feeding their faces, I crept up to my bedroom and called Simon, praying he’d be available to talk.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 997

Downstairs the others were in a feeding frenzy while I sat on my bed listening to Simon’s phone ring. Tomorrow was Livvie’s party at the hotel, God I needed him home. In all fairness, he had told me he wouldn’t be home before the party, but he would get to the party. With all the intrigue, it had almost slipped my mind.

Why wasn’t he answering? “Come on, Simon, answer your bloody phone,” I urged him. I had no idea where he was or what he was doing. Damn, I have to vote next week too. I felt completely overwhelmed by life—I only had one pair of hands and contrary to popular understanding, transsexuals only have one head, so getting it round all the dilemmas I was facing was a real problem.

Tom wanted me to take the UN job, I suspected Simon would as well, but he’d pass it back to me, so I couldn’t blame him later. What’s the point of having men if you can’t blame them for everything? What’s the point of being married when you have no idea where your husband is or what he’s doing? What’s the point of having children—they break your bank account and your heart? What’s the point of living? Not much—we’re born, grow, consume, pollute, destroy and die.

A tear ran down my cheek, the phone rang and I scooped it up, “Si?” I gasped but it wasn’t, it was some little Indian bloke asking if I was having a good day and could he talk to me about broadband. I told him, I was having a bloody awful day and if he didn’t piss off, I’d shoot him. Funnily enough, he didn’t stop to ask what was wrong with my day.

I dialled Simon’s mobile, his office, and his flat. In the end, I sought counsel from Henry.

“Hi, Henry, it’s Cathy.”

“This is an unexpected pleasure from my favourite daughter-in-law, to what might I owe it?”

“Have you got a few minutes?” I asked.

“For you, Cathy, I have the rest of my life—what’s the problem, there is one, isn’t there?”

I of course being a true scientist, faced with the opportunity to put pro and contra reasons for an argument, burst into tears.

“Goodness girl, what is so important that you’re upset about it—the children are all okay?”

I nodded before remembering he couldn’t see me. “No everyone is fine. It’s about a job offer.”

“Oh, before you tell me anymore, do you want to do it?”

“I don’t know Henry, that’s why I’m phoning you.”

“If you don’t know, don’t do it.”

“You don’t know what it is yet?”

“I don’t care, if it upsets you that much, I’d say it wasn’t right for you.”

“You won’t when you hear what it is.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“Leading the European team of the UN environmental investigation.”

“The UN?”

“Yes.”

“Shouldn’t you be a crusty old professor with a beard and bad breath?”

“It might help.”

“How much are they paying?”

“Not as much as the aggro seems to be.”

“The UN, eh? Crikey girl, no wonder you’re crying. It doesn’t get any bigger does it?”

“Not from an ecological point of view, no.”

“So what’s stopping you?”

“I love my children,” I mumbled and burst into tears again.

“Spoken like a true mother, now c’mon, pull yourself together and tell me which is more important to you—your children or your career?”

“My children,” I sobbed and collapsed into tears again.

“What happened to Cathy Watts, ninja warrior?”

“She married your son, remember?” I sniffed at him.

“Oh yeah, you realise we only kept him so he might marry an intelligent and beautiful woman, whom I could lust over till the end of my life.”

“Don’t be silly, you daft bugger.”

“Honestly, he was five minutes away from being donated to Barnardo’s.”

“Don’t be silly.”

“I’m not.”

“You are, you love children.”

“I didn’t my own. Okay it was easier with Stella, she was cute—Simon looked like a cross between a pig and an ape.”

“You’re talking about the man I love,” I gently scolded him.

“Good job someone does.”

“You do too, I remember how concerned you were when he was shot.”

“Yes, I was going to have to pay for his funeral.”

“Henry, you are a real case.”

“For you my darling, I’d be anything, just dump Simon and run away with me.”

“Don’t be silly, now what should I do?”

“All you do is insult me, so why should I tell you?”

“Because you fancy me rotten and know you can never have me.”

“I’ll hire a hit squad to kidnap you and take to my secret lair, my seraglio.”

“Oh very Mozart.”

“You’re the first person I’ve ever met who knew that. See we’re soul mates—dump the dummy and elope with me.”

“No, certainly not, he’s my husband.”

“Damn, well I tried.”

“Are you coming to Livvie’s party tomorrow?”

“Try stopping me, especially if her sexy mother’s there.”

“One of these days your son is going to thump you.”

“For a taste of your forbidden fruits, it would be worth it.”

“Henry, you are full of more shit than Simon.”

“Dammit, you noticed—normally people mistake it for charisma.”

“I’m a scientist, remember.”

“I keep forgetting, all I see is you—unadulterated by clothing, except maybe a small corset and stockings and…”

“Henry, grow up. Now what should I do?”

“I keep telling you, run away with me.”

“About my job, stupid?”

“Oh that? Tell them maybe next year—then run away with me.”

“Thank you Henry, love you lots for an old man.”

“Hang on, I may be experienced but everything is working under my kilt, ye ken, hen.”

“Go and talk to Monica.”

“I can’t she’s shagging the footmen.”

“Don’t be so crude.”

“I’m not, if I was, I’d have said—”

“I don’t wish to know that, goodnight, Henry.” I clicked off the handset. I loved him to bits but he was hard work.

I went into the bathroom and washed my eyes, when I came out, Trish was sitting on the bed. “We was missing you, Mummy.”

“Okay, sweetheart, let’s go down and get it over with.”

I held her hand as we descended the stairs, what had felt so right while talking to Henry now felt riddled with doubts. If I felt like this now, what happens when I face Tom and Gareth, or the children with the opposite argument? I squeezed Trish’s hand and she squeezed me back and a sense of calmness flowed from her hand.

“Oh there you are, have you decided.”

“O’ course she has, I telt ye earlier.”

“I have decided and this isn’t for discussion, I’m saying no, Gareth, my children are more important than a job. There are a number of people who would do it very well and I’ll certainly help with presenting its findings because that’s all you wanted me to do. I’m conceited enough to think that not many could bring up my kids as I want them to be, so I’m putting them before my career. I’m sorry if that embarrasses you, but you did try to deceive me, so it’s hard cheese.”

“I think you’ll regret this, Cathy.”

“No I won’t, because I’m not going to even think about it unless you need help with talking to the media.”

Tom looked devastated, but that was his own fault, he should have talked to me. I smiled at him.

“Ye get mair an’ mair like ma Catherine, she wis wilful, too.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy, but you should have asked me.”

“Och weel, mebbe it’s time I retired, efter a’.”

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 998

“I don’t want you to retire, Daddy,” although I suppose after I’d ignored his wishes I could hardly expect him to consider mine.

“I may not hae a choice, they ken it wis me who telt the paper.”

“Tell them I changed my mind.”

“I wish you would, Cathy,” complained Gareth.

“Sorry, I’ve made my mind up—the kids come first.”

“I thought you were a career woman,” opined Stella wiping the pizza crumbs from her face with her napkin.

“I am.”

“Well you’re missing out on the biggest single step in it, aren’t you?” she challenged, and Gareth nodded.

“Well that’s my loss, isn’t it?”

“And that of women in general.”

“How do you work that out?” I replied to Stella’s unexpected feminist attack.

“How many women lead international teams of scientists?”

“I have no idea, and to be honest, I don’t exactly care.”

“Ooh Cathy, how can you be so unsympathetic?”

“Oh shut up, Stella—you’re a convenience convert to the cause, aren’t you?”

“Oh listen to Mother Teresa,” Stella switched to sarcasm.

“Look, I’ve made my decision, why can’t you all accept and respect it?”

“Because we think you could have done better.” Stella was not going to let things rest, which coming from her irritated more than sitting in a nettle patch. Don’t ask me how I know.

“I don’t keep asking you why you don’t go back to nursing, because I respect your right to choose.”

She gave me a filthy look and flounced out of the room—one down, two to go. Trish came and stood by me.

“I’m glad my mummy isn’t going to be going away all the time.”

“So am I,” said the two boys and the other two girls.

“I respect your right to choose,” said Julie trying to keep everyone on board, including Gareth, at whom she was making eyes while he was totally ignoring her.

“Right you lot, time for bed.” It was a bit early, but I felt knackered and couldn’t go myself until they were in bed.

The phone rang. Julie answered it, “It’s Daddy.”

I took the cordless handset and walked into the lounge for a little privacy. “You been trying to get me, Babes?”

“Yes, where have you been?”

“One of my team was leaving, so we all went out for dinner.”

“You’re back early?”

“Well, I want to be down for Livvie’s party, and I’ve got a few things to do first thing.”

“Have you? Oh well see you at the hotel then.”

“What did you ring for?”

“Oh, I’ve made a decision now.”

“On what?”

“A job offer, why?”

“Who with?”

“The UN.”

“As in United Nations?”

“No, as in unlisted numbskulls—what else?”

“What do they want you for?”

“They’re starting an investigation into the ecology of the planet. I was asked to lead the European team.”

“Congratulations.”

“What for?”

“The new job.”

“I turned it down.”

“Playing them for a pay rise, are you?—clever girl.”

“No, I said I didn’t want it.”

“Why ever not—wouldn’t it look rather good on your CV?”

“Underneath child neglect and poor mothering skills?”

“What are you on about, Babes?”

“We have five children.”

“I can count to five, I’m a banker.”

“They need someone to look after them until they either grow up or leave home or both.”

“Yeah, I’ve also been a child, I know about these things.”

“Children need parents—the reason we have them all here is that they need us.”

“Well you’d only be working, it’s hardly a lifetime’s commitment is it?”

“My commitment to them is unconditional.”

“Why do I feel like you’re trying to make me feel guilty?”

“I’m not but you’re only here at weekends most of the time.”

“Yeah, don’t you think I know that—I miss you all more than I can say, but someone has to do my job and at my salary, we all enjoy the benefits.”

“Yes, I know darling, I’m not criticising, I’m saying one of us needs to be here, and as you have a commitment to your job and to the family business, it has to be me—and I’m not too displeased with that—I like being with our kids.”

“So it’s goodbye to job prospects then?”

“No, I have plenty to do—and I’m beginning to think there are more important things than a career—being happy in what I do is one of them.”

“If you say so Babes, but I thought saving the world was another.”

“There are loads of people who can help to save the world, it doesn’t especially need me—that was just an egoistic delusion.”

“Can you put that in writing so when you’ve changed your mind next week, I can show it to you?”

“Simon, aren’t you supposed to be supporting me?”

“Yeah, to the tune of a couple o’ thousand a month, why?”

“I meant, morally and emotionally backing my decision, that sort of thing.”

“Oh I do Babes, but when someone else is doing it, I don’t want you grumbling what a mess they’re making and you would have done it better.”

“I don’t do that, do I?”

“Not all the time no: look, I need to go I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay darling, I love you.”

“Yeah, okay, see ya.”

I wondered if he had someone else, he doesn’t seem to be half as affectionate as he usually is. I know I keep on about this, and my being less than perfect and then he denies it and reassures me I’m perfect for him. But I do worry; I’d be lost without him.

“Mummy, we’re ready for our story now,” Trish was in her pyjamas and poking me on the hip.

“Have you cleaned your teeth?”

She bared them at me and I could see bits of toothpaste on the edges of her lips.

“Come on then sweetheart, do you know what you want me to read?”

“Can we do Twice Upon A Time?”

“Of course we can.”

As we went upstairs, I saw Gareth and Stella were in deep conversation, so maybe my hints had done some good. Trish pulled at my hand and I settled down to begin reading the children’s story set in the Second World War.

The Daily Dormouse (aka Bike) Part 999

By the time I’d got the boys to bed I was practically sleepwalking myself. I changed, quickly and probably inadequately brushed my teeth, and fell into bed—whereupon my mind began to whirl and question my decision about the job.

I must have fallen asleep because I woke up aware of another body in the bed. I turned expecting it to be Julie, and was surprised to see it was Billy. I glanced at the clock—it was six in the morning and the sun was shining through a crack in the curtains, which was probably what had woken me up.

I could have gone back to sleep for another hour or so. Instead, I lay there wondering why Billy had come into my bed, and was he going to make a habit of it? It seems I just manage to get rid of one of the kids and another takes advantage of it.

I suppose my movement must have woken him because his eyes flickered and opened, “Hello, Mummy,” he offered sleepily.

“Hello sweetheart, why are you sleeping in my bed?”

“I—um—couldn’t sleep.”

“Why?”

“I dunno, do I?”

“I don’t know either, which is why I was asking you.”

“Oh yeah, I suppose so.”

“You haven’t answered me, have you?”

“No, Mummy.”

“Are you worried about something?”

“Don’t think so.”

“Nothing worrying you in school?”

“No more than usual.”

“Anything I should know about?”

“Don’t think so.”

“So what are you worrying about?”

“Nothin’,” he said and began to sob.

Wonderful, just what I need with so much to do today. “If it’s nothing, why are you crying?”

“I’m embarrassed to tell you.”

“Why should you be embarrassed? I’d hope you could tell me anything without fear of embarrassment or rejection.”

“Because it sounds silly.”

“Things which we fear often sound silly when taken out of context, but I hope you feel safe enough with me to be able to tell me. Do you?”

He paused and sniffed, wiped his eyes and nose on the back of his hand until I reached over and handed him a paper tissue.

“Right, what’s the problem?”

“It’s silly.”

“I like silly ones, I can usually sort those.”

He blew his nose. “You’re the first real mummy, I’ve ever had.”

I smiled at him and brushed his hair off his face, “Thank you, sweetheart, that’s made my day.”

He smiled but tears filled his eyes again and he sobbed once more.

“Hey, c’mon, no need for tears, besides you’ll shrink the pillows.”

He sniggered and wiped his eyes with the tissue.

“Right, now slowly and gently, tell me, what’s the problem. There is no need to cry I won’t tell anyone else, so you needn’t feel embarrassed. Take a deep breath and tell me.”

He sucked in half the available oxygen in southern England and spoke very rapidly. So I stopped him, made him take a smaller, deep breath and start again.

“Danny an’ me think you’d like us better if we was girls.” He blushed bright red.

I looked at him trying to think what to say. It was partly true, insofar as it would make some things easier, but it would also make one or two things harder. But I had no desire for any more girls in the house, fighting for the bathroom was hard enough now.

“Do you really think that?” I asked him, feeling guilty.

“Dunno,” he said almost furtively.

“Look, the other day you suggested you were worried that I wanted to turn you into girls. I’d hoped we’d discussed that enough for you to realise it wasn’t the case. Or don’t you believe me?”

“I do believe you Mummy, but I think you like girls more than boys.”

“I can assure you I don’t, and I apologise if I gave that impression. I find it easier to cope with girls, but that’s because I’m a woman, but I love you just as much as the other children.”

“Danny an’ me aren’t sure that you like boys.”

“What have I got to do to prove it to you?”

He looked away, and with embarrassment said, “I dunno.”

“I’m sorry if I’m not very good with boy things, and the girls do tend to grab much of my attention, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love you—just that I find it harder to show it to you because I’m unsure how you want me to do it.”

I bent over him and kissed him on the forehead. “I’m doing all I can to adopt you, does that show you anything? I hope it’s what you want.”

“It is, Mummy.”

“Will that make you feel more equal to the girls?”

“I s’pose so.”

“Look, I didn’t start the adoption process as quickly with you because I’d already had the girls here for some while before you and Danny came to live with us. We all had to see how we got on before we could even arrange for you to stay on a longer-term basis. If you remember, you were sent here just for a Christmas holiday, and that was nearly six months ago. I’m happy to say you both settled in very quickly and I like to think I have six children here, four girls and two boys.”

“’Cept two of the girls were boys.”

“I didn’t turn them into girls—they were already calling themselves girls before I met them. Both of them had injuries and they recovered while with me. I didn’t make them into girls, I just provided a safe place for them to see if that was what they wanted to do. It turned out, or at least so far it has, that it is what they want to do. And if you, or Danny, decided it was also what you wanted to do, I’d help you as well although I think I’d be happier if you were just normal boys. You don’t want to be a girl—do you?”

“If you and Daddy loved me more, I would,” he began to cry again.

I put my arm around him, “C’mon, don’t be silly—I wouldn’t love you any more than I do now, but if you want to try being a girl, you can.” I hoped that such a suggestion would put him off rather than encourage him, because I didn’t think for one minute it was what he wanted or needed.

“I don’t know,” he sniffed.

“C’mon up you get, we’ll have some breakfast and then we’ll pop into the shops and get you a nice dress or a skirt and top, oh and a swimsuit for the party this afternoon, and perhaps some nice pink nail varnish for your fingers and toes. Would you like that?”

He lay there and cried. Just what I needed. I could understand he was anxious, although I was trying to reassure him that he was wanted and loved by all of us. Maybe I was being a bit cruel, but I felt some of this was attention seeking—not entirely unexpected given his insecurity—and needed to be challenged.

“Let’s go and get some breakfast while you decide what you want to be today, Billy the boy or Billie the girl. I don’t mind and I’m sure none of the others will, although they might be surprised if you did change over—but feel free to experiment if it’s what you want to do. But I don’t have anything in your size, so we need to go and buy it and soon, before the rush hour starts.”

I went into the bathroom and left him to make his own decision, secretly dreading it if he decided he’d call my bluff and I’d have to take him out to buy a skirt.

The Daily Dormouse Millenial Edition (aka Bike)

Part 1000

When I came back from the bathroom, Billy was still lying in the bed crying. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. He was face down on the bed, hugging his pillow and sobbing quietly. I sat beside him and ruffled his hair, “What’s the problem?”

It took him several minutes to control himself and finally he blurted out, “I don’t want to wear a dress.”

“Do I take it you’ve gone off the idea of being a girl?”

He nodded and spluttered something which I assumed was yes.

“That’s okay, in fact, I’m actually pleased.”

He gave me a curious sort of glance.

“I’ve actually got enough daughters, which was what I tried to tell you earlier. I’m pleased that you’re one of my sons. All mothers love their sons you know, sadly not all sons love their mothers.”

“I love you Mummy,” he hiccoughed.

“I know you do son—so much in fact, you thought I’d prefer you as a girl. That’s quite a sacrifice to make, but the truth is, it would upset me more than please me. I’d still love you, but I’d be sad.”

“Why, Mummy?”

“Because it would show I’d failed to give you enough love as a boy to want to remain one.”

“But what about Trish and Julie?”

“I keep telling you, they have always wanted to be girls and hate being boys. I really think of them as girls with a small anatomical problem rather than girls stuck in a boy’s body—which doesn’t explain anything really.”

“So you don’t love them any more than you love me an’ Danny?”

“No. I love you all the same. I just find it harder to gel with boys because I’m not one, but I shall try harder. Do you forgive me for getting it wrong?”

He sat up and put his arms round me, sniffing into my ample chest, “I love you Mummy, you’re the best Mummy there is.”

“And I love you too, Billy boy, you’re one of the best sons there is.” I hugged him tightly and kissed the top of his head.

“I was silly, wasn’t I?”

“No, son, you were anxious and scared. I was the silly one.”

Thankfully the rest of the day was easier and I managed to persuade them all to muck in and help. The morning was busy but by lunchtime, we were nearly ready to go to Southsea.

I packed the car full of towels and changes of clothes and with the girls in my car, the boys and Julie in Tom’s, Stella had Puddin’ and spare everythings. We set off for the party and hoped to meet Simon there a little later.

The journey with three excited kids in the car was far from easy—they kept complaining about the traffic and wanting to bounce about in the back seat, while I deprived of sleep, was struggling to stay even tempered. We eventually got to the hotel and almost as soon as I stopped the car, the girls were off and I had to call them back.

“Don’t you dare go running off like that, you could have been knocked down.” They all stood with hands in front of them and eyes fixed on the floor. “Take a bag each and carry them into the party room.” They did and once again scampered into the hotel. Stella came in next and parked beside me, and I carried Puddin’ while she grabbed several bags and hauled them into the foyer.

As befits the owner’s family, we were immediately assisted by two porters who took all the bags and led us through to the party room, which is their events room, but it was done up like a dog’s dinner with pink balloons and ribbons and a big banner saying, Happy Birthday Livvie. I met the young couple who were going to entertain the kids, and they told me to relax and enjoy myself. If I could have booked into a bedroom and slept for a couple of hours, I could have relaxed and enjoyed myself.

Tom and the boys arrived with Leon and Julie—they seem to come as a pair these days. Somehow, Julie had purchased one of these artificial vagina things and had glued it on, calling me to see it before she dressed again.

I was shocked initially, then cross that she’d spent so much money—I asked her how she’d managed it? She’d gone in cahoots with Stella, who’d helped her apply it. The manufacturers claimed it could be used for swimming, so we’d soon find out—I had a surreal moment when I imagined the lifeguards seeing this thing floating in the pool and wondering what the hell it was. I had great difficulty not sniggering at the thought—just the silliness of it. Anyway hopefully, it won’t happen and Julie will keep her virtue and her little secret safe. I did tell her I took a dim view of any sort of full on sex, even with a rubber fanny. She poked her tongue out at me in dissent and told me to ‘wise up.’ I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.

The other children arrived from three o’clock onwards and the drips and drabs became a full torrent. I was delighted that Sister Maria did come and told me she had her swimming cossie with her and intended to wear it. I admired her for her fortitude, not that she had a bad figure, and it was nice to see her in jeans and a top—being off duty.

By the time everyone was there, we had probably twenty kids plus at least twenty adults if not more. The timetable was, play in the pool for an hour, then some snacks and pop, some entertainment and games, then the official tea and finally the cake and blowing out of the candles, cutting the cake and everyone having a bit with distribution of the goody bags.

Even with our discount, it was costing several hundred pounds, so I thought they could each have one such party and that’s it. I gave the timetable to the adults and followed the shrieking horde as it went down to the swimming pool, of which we had exclusive use. There is another member’s pool attached to the gym, but we wouldn’t be using that today.

I changed and swam a bit, but mostly played with the girls. The boys seemed happy messing about with Leon and Julie, who actually looked very nice in her bikini—one with a tiny skirt to ‘give’ her bigger hips.

An hour later, the senior poolside lifeguard blew his whistle and everyone was asked to leave the pool and to get dried and dressed for the next part of the party. I was intrigued as to how they were going to do things, but then had to concentrate on drying my hair and that of three girls. We all dressed and were collected a short time later and led to the function room, where the kids had a glass of juice and a biscuit.

Next the young couple entertained us with comedy and juggling, a unicycle and some songs—he played the piano accordion and all the kids were singing along with him and his partner.

It was now half past four and still no sign of Simon. I began to worry that he might have had an accident, then I got dragged off to play in some of the games against the other parents.

Henry and Monica arrived and after greeting them, I asked if they knew where my husband was. They didn’t—assuming he’d be here by now, if not earlier. My fears were not alleviated despite Henry’s cheery reassurance. Once the kids spotted them, they were caught in an avalanche of grandchildren, which they both enjoyed.

After they’d run off some high spirits, we had a sit down meal at two long trestle tables, and the kids were offered a variety of snacks such as sandwiches, sausage rolls, sausages on sticks, crisps, fruit and jelly and ice cream. There were numerous other snacks, some of which were aimed more at the adults than the children, so everyone should have been able to find something they liked. I had a tuna roll, just to keep me going—long enough to eat a second.

We then had a hiatus while faces were stuffed and the noise actually dropped significantly. Then the cake with candles burning was brought in and Livvie blew out the candles in two goes, while we all sang Happy Birthday.

As the goody-bags were being distributed, my mobile rang and I recognised Simon’s number.

“Simon, where are you, the party’s nearly over?”

“It is for you, darlin’,” said a woman’s voice I didn’t recognise.

“Who are you?” I asked angrily, “And where is my husband?”

“Keep your wig on lady boy, hey that’s good, lady boy, ha ha.”

“Who are you and what are you doing with Simon’s phone?”

“Oh he gave it to me to ask me to phone you.”

My tummy flipped, who the hell was she? “To phone me about what?”

“To say he’s fed up with a fake female, so girly-boy, he’s coming away with me.”

“Where is he? Let me speak to him.”

“He’s fine, he’s just picking up the rest of his stuff from your house.”

“Let me speak to him,” I demanded but tears were streaming down my face.

“No time, girly-boy, byeee.”

I snatched up my bag, asked Henry to get the kids home safely and charged out to the car. I nearly bumped another one as I screamed out of the car park, then I was on the main road and heading back to Portsmouth. My eyes were streaming and felt so sick and angry both at the same time. If I hurried, I might just catch him and find out what was really happening.

I didn’t see the van, not until it crushed in the side of my Audi and I felt myself being turned upside down and scraped along the road. Then while I was still moving, everything went black…

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