Bike 1,051–1,100

The Daily

Dormouse

(aka Bike)

Parts 1,051–1,100

by Angharad

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


The Daily Dormouse Part 1051

From the conversation I had with Trish a little later, it seems any hurt Simon had caused was forgiven—she sold her worries for an ice cream. Sounds good to me, pity we can’t all do it.

Julie was very pleased to ride home in the Jaguar, and doubly so because the other apprentice saw her getting into it. At least she hadn’t got any further piercings. Simon did notice and apparently made some comment about them, which irritated her, according to Trish.

I pushed no further with my questioning. At last, Simon seemed to be supporting me in my efforts to keep the kids on the straight and narrow. As I was preparing the dinner, I saw a strange car come into the drive, or it was strange until I saw the occupant get out and walk up the drive.

The doorbell sounded and I let someone else answer. Judging by the voices at the door it was Julie and they chatted for a little while before I heard footsteps come to the kitchen. “Look who’s here, Mummy.”

I turned around and feigned surprise, “Maureen, how lovely to see you again.”

“And you too, ma’am.”

I walked over to her and initiated a hug. She is so much bigger than I am, so it was like being engulfed by a bear. “Are you really recovered now?”

“More or less, ma’am.”

“I’m so glad to hear that.”

“I could start back to work on Monday.”

“Okay, but I only want you to work part-time, although we’ll still pay you your full hours.”

“You can’t do that, ma’am.”

“Try me.”

“Don’t argue with her, Mo, you won’t win.” Julie winked at me as she offered her advice.

“Are you staying to dinner?”

“I shouldn’t like to put you to any trouble, ma’am.”

“No trouble—be ready in about forty minutes. Julie, send Trish and Billie in, would you?”

“Sure, Mummy,” she started to the door.

“Oh, and Livvie, as well.”

“’Kay, c’mon Mo, tell me about the fight.”

“Julie, behave yourself,” I called after her.

“Only joking,” she called back.

The three girls arrived and I detailed them their chores, with Livvie helping me directly in the kitchen—to avoid any claims of favouritism. Trish is more use: she seems to have grasped the bits of cookery that I tried to teach her, whereas Livvie isn’t really interested. That makes it harder work to get things done, but I have to be seen to be fair to all of them.

Danny popped in to ask about something and I told him he was clearing the table and washing up—loading the dishwasher—so nothing too arduous for the young man. At least he knows how to use it, which is more than Simon does—or claims to know. Sometimes I think, ignorance is bliss with my hubby, so he pretends not to know.

Over dinner, Maureen told us how she recalled having vivid dreams about me calling her back from the void. She was convinced she’d have died without my help to heal her. The girls all told her bits about different things they’d witnessed, and of course Trish and Julie claimed to have magical powers, which I refused to admit about myself, because I believed there was something scientific which would explain it all one day.

Maureen was convinced I had the healing skills of an angel, which of course Trish whipped up to a frenzy level. I continued to deny all of it.

Maureen insisted she wouldn’t have got her recovery as quickly without me. “When you were workin’ on my back, ma’am, an’ I ’ad no feelin’ in me legs like, then suddenly things started to work again, but only after you done something to me back.”

“I’m sure that was pure coincidence, Maureen.”

“Me specialist didn’t think so, he said you was like an angel.”

“He obviously doesn’t know me, does he?”

“Aye, that’s true, alricht,” Tom chuckled.

“In the kitchen you’re an angel,” offered Simon, and I began to feel a cringe coming on. I wasn’t to be disappointed, “In the bedroom, you’re a veritable demon.”

I blushed and promised myself, I’d rip out his liver and eat it when we got to bed, which would surprise him more than a little—on the other hand, that would make an awful mess in the bed—I wondered if I could lure him into the bathroom—easier to clean up.

After we finished, Danny cleared the table and put the dishes into the washer as I’d asked him, and the rest of us went into the lounge while Simon, Daddy and Maureen talked about the contract with the bank. I wondered if I’d ever get my sheds finished.

The kids played snakes and ladders while Stella and I drank some tea and chatted. I think we were both happy just to have some adult female company to chat with. She was saying she needed to get some new clothes for Puddin’ and could do with something herself. We discussed what various experts were recommending as fashionable—not that I always agreed with them.

Stella decided she wanted a new outfit plus some new jeans. Seeing as she has at least a dozen pairs that I know about, plus probably some I don’t, I wasn’t sure what she was buying them for.

Then she let drop that she had a date next week. Julie heard that bit and began questioning her. Stella blushed and said it was just an evening out with a man friend.

“What’s his name then?”

“Rob.”

“Rob what?”

“Rob a bank?” was my contribution

“Very funny, he works in banking.”

“Not for High Street, I hope.”

“Don’t be silly, he works for Barclays.”

“Not looking to change ships, is he?” I asked.

“What d’you mean?”

“Maybe he thinks you could give his career a leg up?”

“I don’t have anything to do with the bank, do I?”

“No, but your father and brother do.”

“Meaning what?” she became indignant.

“Nothing in particular, but you do have some very powerful contacts.”

“When has my father ever listened to me?”

“Quite regularly, in my recollection.”

“Not about business—that’s Si’s bag.”

“What is?” Simon asked coming into the room—“Maureen is going.”

“Oh okay, I’ll come and say goodnight.” I stepped out of the lounge to be followed by a flock, or perhaps more truthfully, a swarm of children, who beat me to the dining room and then swarmed all over Maureen. It was fully ten minutes before she got rid of them all, and she seemed to enjoy every moment of it.

She left promising to come over on Monday to discuss what I wanted to do to the sheds—I thought we’d already done that months ago, but she’d obviously forgotten—not surprising given the beating she took from those thugs.

Once I got the kids all in bed, I called up a website and ordered a few things. “What are you doin’, Babes?”

“Ordering some new wheels, or bits of.”

“Bits of?”

“Yeah, I’m going to build some new wheels for the Scott.”

“What’s wrong with the ones on it?”

“Nothing, except I can do some better ones.”

“You can do?”

“Yeah, I’ve ordered rims, hubs and spokes.”

“You’re going to build them, yourself?”

“Yeah, who d’you think built the last ones?”

“You did?”

“Sometimes your perception verges on paranormal, Simon.”

“You’re taking the piss.”

Me? I wouldn’t dream of it.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1052

The next morning was Sunday, I woke Billie gently and told her to get dressed in her cycling togs. After a quick breakfast we were off out and trundling along at over ten miles an hour. Billie seemed comfortable so I pushed it up a couple more and before long we were doing twelve and she wasn’t aware of it apparently. I kept the speed fairly constant and five miles later, she was still hanging on to my back wheel. I signalled a stop for her to rest a moment and drink. I was just warming up nicely.

“We’re going up on the downs in a minute.”

“Um—do we have to?”

“Yes, I want you to be able to climb a bit and that only comes from practice. Now don’t worry, I’m going to talk you up the hill.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I’ll show you, it’s easier than trying to explain it to you.” So I did. Basically, it’s simply about distracting someone from what they’re doing until it’s finished. When I first learned to cycle my dad did it to me, and then after a while, a sense of competition came into our cycling and I was able to out-climb him by the time I was about thirteen. I still wasn’t a strong rider and even though I kept up my riding, I felt too shy to join a racing club, so went and joined the CTC—The Cyclist’s Touring Club, sometimes called the Cafe to Cafe club or the Cake to Cake club, given their enjoyment of tea and cake stops.

By the time I left home and went to university in Sussex, I could ride all day at a reasonable touring speed and climbed as well as the others in the club did—sadly this wasn’t enough to qualify for the cycling club at uni, because it was a racing club. In fact, when I went out with them a few times on training rides, they left me behind and then told me to check out the girls’ team as they were sure I’d fit in there much better.

I did coincide a ride or two when the girls were out and I couldn’t even stay with them, so I went off got some advice about training and did so with a sort of zeal that I’d only ever thought of as being religious.

I rode three times a week, did some gym exercises and running. I got a bit stronger but still had no muscle definition, and at five foot seven weighed nine stone or a hundred and twenty six pounds, dripping wet. In the words of my mother, I was like a matchstick with the wood scraped off.

In some ways I was pleased to be thin: my shape was like a prepubescent child, albeit a tall and quite toned one. I felt like a girl inside but was too embarrassed to do much about it or even think about it—well consciously, I was. In my daydreams, I was already a girl and looking increasingly like one.

I was fortunate in having thick luxuriant hair, which my ex-school friend Siân had encouraged me to grow and have cut like a girl’s. Even tied up in a ponytail it looked girlish against my narrow shoulders and I was frequently assumed to be female from behind. It secretly thrilled me but embarrassed me when others were about.

Of course, when I eventually took oestrogen, it kick started a puberty—a female one and my hips broadened a little and I grew breasts with large nipples—I didn’t however, grow any taller just more female. It was at this point that my homicidal sister-in-law and I bumped into each other.

I’m grateful for the bump-start she gave my new persona, because without her I might still be sitting in my room plotting my changeover instead of doing it. I lacked courage, she lacked restraint and between us Cathy was launched into the world.

I talked to Billie about what she wanted to do with her life, and the school thing in particular. She seemed set on going to the St Nicholas Convent School. She seemed quite confident in her decision, that she wanted to go to school as a girl with other girls. I didn’t challenge anything and found that her body coped easily with the climbing while she was distracted. Much of hill climbing is about attitude: think you can’t do it and you won’t. When we stopped at the viewing point a little later, she was surprised she’d climbed without noticing it.

We rested and looked across over the city and out to the English Channel beyond, then when she’d got her breath back, we shot back down the hill and she squealed all the way down—but, her pretended terror was really elation. She managed to stay in the saddle, because on a fast downhill, a few road bumps and you can bounce out off it very easily. I’ve even bounced out of my clipless pedals.

I complimented her on her ride both up and down the hill, she’d done really well for a novice and we rode home even faster than we left. Billie stayed with me and seemed pleased with herself, which I encouraged. I could still leave her for dead, but proving it would do what, possibly destroy the nascent rider inside her?

“Mummy, Maureen was looking much prettier yesterday, wasn’t she?”

I had to think for a moment—she’d had some facial reconstruction after the beating and her jaw was narrower and her cheekbones higher. She looked much better but I hadn’t noticed—so much for my observational skills.

Back in the drive, Trish and Livvie were racing each other up and down the tarmac watched by a bemused Gramps. It appeared Trish wanted to improve her cycling skills and strength so she’d be ready to ride with me. I admired her dedication and spirit and told her if she was still keen at Christmas, I’d either buy her a child’s road bike or make her one. She rushed off like a lunatic and nearly ended up in the fishpond.

Livvie told me she wanted the same for Christmas as well and that she was going to be the next winner of the Tour de France. I tried to point out that the TdF was for men and she protested that it wasn’t fair, girls should be allowed too. I tried to explain about the Grande Boucle but she’d zipped off after Trish and also barely avoided the fish pond. Oh well, one of them might stick at it. Two minutes later, Trish came back hauling her bike—the front wheel was buckled and she had scratches on her leg and arm and was holding back the tears very well. It looked like I had some wheel repairing to do, but first I gave her a hug and kissed her injuries better.

While I was trying to straighten the rim of the wheel, I heard a car pull into the driveway—a very quiet car. I peeped out and saw Henry alight from it. He spoke with Tom and walked into my workshop.

“How’s my favourite daughter-in-law?”

“Fine, thank you Henry, and you?”

“I’m okay. Look, we have a small dilemma.”

“So, are you here to see Simon?”

“No, it’s one that needs your assistance.”

“What’s happened; dormice in a hedgerow where you want to build?”

“A bit more international than that.”

“Oh, sounds intriguing.”

“I have the possibility of handling all the United Nations accounts in Europe.”

“So?”

“It appears they’re still looking to fill an ecology post.”

“So? I turned it down.”

“Apparently if I’m able to persuade the top candidate to accept the interview, they would look more favourably to engaging the bank for their routine currency transfers and other bread and butter stuff.”

“Not interested.”

“Cathy, this is worth several million to us plus the kudos of serving the UN will open doors all over the world.”

“Tough—I’m not interested.”

“Cathy, I’m asking you to at least attend for interview.”

“What for? I don’t want the job—I have six children here who need me.”

“What if I could demonstrate that they’d cope with some extra help in the house and that they’d want you to do it?”

“What if you can’t?”

“I’ll have to accept your refusal.”

“If they say no, then it’s definitely over?”

“Absolutely.”

“Okay—ask them.” Why did I wonder if I’d done the wrong thing?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1053

I carried on straightening the wheel from Trish’s bike, hoping that Henry wouldn’t use too much bribery and corruption. Of course he did, and for the most part succeeded; he ran into some trouble when he asked Trish.

She happened to be standing outside my workshop when he spoke to her, so I heard the whole thing.

“Hello Trish, how ya doing?”

“I’m fine, Gramps.”

“Good, how would you like a trip up to Scotland to the castle?”

“No thanks—we went there before and people were trying to hurt Mummy and me.”

“I promise there won’t be any this time.”

“I don’t want to, Gramps.”

“Why not, you’ll have a wonderful time.”

“I don’t like your castle, Gramps.”

“Look, Mummy is going to take the United Nations job and so we need to help her. If you come up to Scotland with the rest of the family, she’ll have time to do her job properly, won’t she?”

“She doesn’t want to do that job, she told me.”

“A girl can change her mind, can’t she?”

“Yes Gramps, but Mummy doesn’t do things like that.”

“Oh, so when did you become an expert on your mother?”

“I’m not an expert on anything Gramps, are you?”

“Only banking, I’m afraid, why?”

“So you’re not an expert on Mummy?”

“No, but then neither are you.”

“I’m not Gramps, but I didn’t say I was an’ I know she doesn’t want to do this job. Dr Gareth asked her and she likes him very much.”

“How do you know that?”

“I heard her tell Auntie Stella that she had the hots for him but it was never going to work because she loved Daddy.”

“Who is Dr Gareth?”

“He’s a nice man who Auntie Stella also fancies.”

“What? Both of them like him?”

“Yes, he’s very good looking, even Daddy said that.”

“What—Simon knows this man too?”

“Oh yes they met and liked each other—Dr Gareth is really nice, you’d like him too.”

“Would I now?”

“Oh yes, everyone likes him.”

“So do you like him?”

“Not especially.”

“Why not?”

“Because he wanted Mummy to do that stupid job.”

“What stupid job?”

“The same one you want her to do.”

“How do you know that?”

“She discussed it with Daddy and he thought she should do it and she said she didn’t want to because she had six children to look after who needed her more than the United Nations.”

“I see, but if she had some help about the house, you wouldn’t need her so much would you?”

“I don’t understand, Gramps.”

“If someone helped her with the housework and cooking, took you to school and so on, she’d have more time to do the job wouldn’t she?”

“I like my Mummy to take me to school and she’s a good cook.”

“I’m sure she is, but she’s a very special lady and the rest of the world needs her to help them to protect wild animals which are becoming extinct—do you know what I mean by extinct?”

“Is that the same as endangered as they mention in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red Data Book?”

“You what?” spluttered Henry and I nearly wet myself eavesdropping inside my workshop. “How do you know about all that?”

“Mummy told me and I read it in one of her books.”

“You read her books?”

“She gets all sorts of nice books—really magazines from the Mammal Society and she has one all the time called Nature, but it’s got too many hard words in it so I don’t see it too often. Grampa Tom reads that one too.”

“You read Nature?”

“Only bits of it, it’s too hard really, I much prefer Gaby stories.”

“What are they?”

“About a boy who’s really a girl but he doesn’t know it until about book seven, who’s very good at bike racing—his mum is the world champion bike racer—in the books of course.”

“I see, a boy who’s really a girl who’s world champion—maybe I can see why you read Nature.

“The book from the Department of the Environment was nicer, that was on dormice. Have you met Spike? She’s really nice—oh, she’s a dormouse—that’s dor with one ‘O’ not two, because it comes from the French: Dormier means to sleep, from the Latin, Dormio, because they sleep half their lives.”

“Goodness child, you know an awful lot for your age.”

“Not really, I like to read a lot. Did you know Mummy played Lady Macbeth when she was in school and got a very nice review in the local paper?”

“No I didn’t.”

“They could tell she was really a girl because they thought her name was Charlotte.”

“Did they? How do you know?”

“Julie found it on the Internet and printed it off. She had long red hair in those days—she dyed it of course.”

“When she was in school?”

“Yes.”

“I thought she went to a bo… never mind.”

“She did go to a boy’s school because they didn’t know she was a really a girl.”

“Like your Gaby character?”

“Yes, only Gaby is a better racer and she turns into a girl spontenously.”

“Do you mean spontaneously?”

“Probably, I sometimes get big words mixed up a bit but I know Muscardinus Avellanarius, because I practiced that one.”

“Mustard what?” asked an awestricken Henry.

“Muscardinus not mustard Gramps, it’s a dormouse. If you come inside I can show you a picture of one in Mummy’s book.”

“That’s okay Trish, I know what they look like, I just didn’t know their Latin name.”

“You do now.” I imagined she was beaming at him, she always does when she’s embarrassed you with her intellect. “I have to see if Mummy has mended my bike wheel—I crashed it. She says she’s going to buy me a racer like Billie’s—she’s such a lucky girl.”

“Doesn’t it worry you that a couple of weeks ago she was a boy?”

“No, I knew she would be more comfortable as a girl: girls can tell you know.”

“Ah, that would explain why it was such a surprise to me. It’s not going to happen to Danny as well is it?”

“Oh no Gramps, he’s a proper boy—Mummy didn’t want Billie to be a girl, she liked him as a boy.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, Billie had to work really hard to convince her.”

“I don’t suppose you helped her, did you?”

“Only a little bit, she’s too girly for me.”

I snorted at this and they realised I was possibly listening so I walked out into the drive—“Goodness bending over that truing vice doesn’t half hurt your back.” I groaned holding my lower back.

“Did you realise this child reads your professional journals?”

“Henry, nothing surprises me about Trish.”

“That’s a very lackadaisical attitude, young lady—if she’s reading those what else could she be reading?”

“Like the annual report of your bank, you mean?”

“Ha bloody ha, no—like adult only material.”

“I wasn’t aware we had any of that here, why?”

“Well she hardly reads age-appropriate stuff does she?”

“She does Henry, but it bores her—she gets through a Famous Five book in a morning—my journals keep her going for a bit longer because she has to look words up.”

“Surely she doesn’t understand them, does she?”

“Not all of it, but she often gets the gist of it.”

“How d’you know?”

“She asks me questions if she gets stuck, or she’ll speak to Tom about it.”

“That’s not natural—is it?”

“It is for a kid with an IQ of above one sixty.”

“Oh!”

“Absolutely. So did you ask them?”

“Oh about the job? They all seemed happy with it.”

“I thought Trish said no?”

“So you could hear us?”

“I could hear her.”

“Well the majority wins anyway.”

“I thought it had to be unanimous to win.”

“I don’t recall saying that.”

“You implied it.”

“I think you misheard me, Cathy—or is it Charlotte Macbeth?”

“Oh she told you about that did she?”

“She did. Your hair was long in those days then?”

“Longer than it is now. I got it cut when I went to Sussex, didn’t want to give them the wrong idea.”

“If you’d left it, they would have got the right idea a lot quicker.”

“Yeah, perhaps you’re right.”

“Invariably, my dear girl,” he said with an insufferable smugness.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1054

“Have you done my wheel Mummy?” Trish pestered as I was talking to Henry.

“More or less, don’t bash it again, or you’ll have to wait for a new wheel.”

“Okay Mummy,” she grinned and I gave her a Paddington hard stare but it was wasted on her. I restored the wheel to the bike, checked the brakes and gave it back to her.

Henry watched me and poked about in my tools and equipment. “You seem to know your way around a bike.”

“Sort of, why?” I asked him back.

“I used to find it very therapeutic to come home from a hard day and tinker with a bike or two.”

“Depends upon what’s wrong with it: some jobs can be challenging and I prefer to be in an even mood to deal with them, nothing like dropping a pile of ball-bearings to improve a temper.”

He smirked, “Been there done that—I never did a job like that without having some spares, just in case I dropped them. Just poking round here, you have spare cables and bearings, brake pads—it’s like a professional bike tech’s workshop.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment—after I found the shops were closed whenever I needed a new part, I decided to keep a few in stock of the most likely ones to need replacing.”

“So I see—you have a very practical mind, Cathy. I like to see that in people I employ.”

“I see, so this where you crank up the pressure is it?”

“No, because I think that if you really thought about the UN job, you’d see it was made for you.”

“Before my children, maybe I’d have agreed with you, except I feel inexperienced for such a role—it should go to a respected expert in the field, someone who has an international reputation—like a professor—such as Esmond Herbert.”

“You realise he’s one of the panel who considered you should be approached?”

“No I didn’t—why did he do that?”

“He heard you talk at that evening thing you did there and he thought you were a good candidate.”

“Oh come off it Henry, how could he decide that after one casual talk I did?”

“He has been watching your career more closely than you think—although he did have some confusion at one point: he thought you were two people.”

“With the amount of things I have to do, it might be easier if I were.”

“Look Cathy, you need help about the house—someone to do the donkey work and for you to have what time you have spare as quality time with your family.”

“I’m too young and inexperienced to do this job—how do I deal with top politicians and captains of industry? They’ll treat me like a child.”

“If they do, I’m pretty sure you’ll make them regret it—otherwise use your charm and grace and they’ll all be eating out of your hand. Beautiful women can twist men around their little fingers.”

“Well maybe you should get Cheryl Cole to do it, then.”

“Don’t be silly—we want someone who knows all about ecology, about the mechanisms involved in conserving habitats and thus species.”

“You’ve been well briefed.”

“Well of course, I’m trying to persuade someone who I know will tie me in knots if I’m not.”

“Henry, I wouldn’t do that to you—I respect you far too much, and besides as my pa-in-law, I’m very fond of you.” I pecked him on the cheek—“Let’s go and get a cuppa.”

We sat in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting. “May I ask you something?”

“You can ask but I won’t guarantee an answer you’ll like.”

“What do you really think of the world?”

“It’s a lovely place that we’re rapidly destroying.”

“So what can we do about it?”

“Be less interested in greed and be more conscious of the fact that if the wildlife goes, we’re probably not too far behind it in the extinction stakes.”

“Why should that worry us?”

“Apart from the fact that we’re destroying our children’s heritage, we’re also destroying the biosphere—it only becomes a matter of time before we destroy ourselves. Countless species are disappearing which we’ll never see or analyse and which might provide us with new resources or drugs if we had the time to conserve them. It’s probably too late already for many of them.”

“So you don’t think we’ll be able to clone them back into existence?”

“I don’t know, but it might be possible in a few hundred years, by which time we’ll have reduced the planet to miles and miles of monoculture: rice and wheat or soya to feed the dozen billion parasites of which species we are members.”

“So how do we stop it happening?”

“It’s too late, we can’t.”

“It’s never too late Cathy, there is always something one can do.”

“To achieve what, a solitary dormouse which can’t breed by itself; or some exotic bird in what was the tropical rainforest. It’s too late, we had our chance and decided we wanted petrochemicals and money or power.”

“Ouch.”

“It’s nothing personal Henry, you’re generally a good man—it’s mankind, ever since they escaped from the slavery of the Garden of Eden, they’ve been multiplying and consuming resources. With too few natural predators, and too little disease, we’ve multiplied until we’ve become the problem.”

“Garden of Eden? I didn’t think you believed all that stuff?”

“I don’t, but it serves as an analogy which others can understand.”

“So you’d stop it if you could?”

“Stop what?”

“The destruction of the planet.”

“Weren’t you listening? It’s too late already.”

“I told you it’s never too late to do some good.”

“Well I think it is.”

“So that’s it then?”

“Yep.”

“So you don’t care about your children?”

“What’s it got to do with them?”

“Well from your devilish scenario of an end to the world, it’s bound to affect them.”

“It won’t happen for a generation or two, they’ll be okay—in the short term anyway.”

“Isn’t that hypocrisy?”

“What is?”

“Pretending you care.”

“I do care.”

“About yourself.”

“I thought that was your mantra, Henry.”

“At least I’m up front about it, Cathy dearest, whereas you preach but don’t practise.”

“What do you mean? The mammal survey is going to help save what we can.”

“Oh whoopee doo, the mammal survey—so listing a few mangy foxes is going to save the world, is it?”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I felt myself getting very hot under the collar as my temper began to rise.

“Your survey is hardly going to save anything is it—the most it will do is show how woeful the position is.”

“Isn’t that a starting point? Without knowing what the position is, how can we convince governments to act? They won’t do anything until we can prove what is most effective in countering the problem.”

“You just told me it was all a waste of time.”

“It is, to a large extent.”

“That isn’t the same as a total waste is it?”

“What are you trying to prove, Henry?”

“That you can make a difference, that it isn’t too late.”

“Okay, explain to me how I do that, then?”

“You play upon the largest stage you can; you take your case to the highest courts to the most powerful governments; you use the organisations that can get you heard. You educate and influence; you keep researching and proving your case; and you keep shouting it to the world—eventually people will listen.”

“Will they? Who is going to listen to a transsexual—a freak, the tabloids will have a field day. Then my children will be at risk again—it’s no use.”

“So why did you make the dormouse film?”

“Because you asked me to.”

“No, you sold me the idea—I merely helped to fund it.”

“I wanted to share my love of small furry critters which happen to be the most loveable and inoffensive animals in the country. I knew I could do that.”

“Didn’t you risk being exposed?”

“Yeah, but I agreed it with Simon and Tom and the kids.”

“Did it happen?”

“No, you know it didn’t.”

“No, you charmed the whole country with a presentation that was as cute and sexy as your little furry charmers. Every man between the age of fifteen and ninety-five wanted to sleep with you, every woman wanted to hold a dormouse and look as sexy as you did. Cathy, you charmed the country and subsequently, many other places. You could do this to the whole world if you tried.”

“What, by making another film?”

“Not necessarily, you could do it by using the world’s largest conservation organisation.”

“Who’s that, WWF?”

“One with more clout than them, one who gets the attention of world leaders and of governments, one which…”

“I can see where this is going, sorry Henry. I can’t do it.”

“You could, what you’re saying is you won’t.”

“Okay, I won’t.”

“Fine just don’t cry any more crocodile tears about extinctions—because you had a chance to do something and chose not to take it. Like I said earlier, you’re a hypocrite. I have to go, thanks for the tea.”

He looked reproachfully at me and walked to the door.

I sat at the table and burst into tears.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1055

“Why are you crying, Mummy?” Livvie came into the kitchen and hugged me.

“It’s nothing sweetheart, I just feel sad.”

“Grampa Henry didn’t upset you, did he?”

“He’s part of it, but it wasn’t just him.”

“Why does he want to take us to Scotland?”

“I think he thought you might like to stay at his castle.”

“Are you coming?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’m not going then and I’ll bet Trish won’t either.”

“It might be nice to get a break from me for a little while.”

“No it won’t, I like having you as my Mummy. Are you going to take that stupid job?”

“What do you think I should do?”

“I don’t want you to Mummy. I don’t want someone else taking me to school or making my dinner.”

“Unfortunately we can’t always have everything as we’d like it.”

“I know that Mummy, but I’ve lost one mummy, I don’t want to lose you as well. That would be horrid.”

“You aren’t going to lose me, darling.” I hugged her to give some physical reassurance.

“I hope not Mummy, that would be awful, really awful.”

“I promise, darling.”

“What’s the matter?” asked Billie wandering in as Livvie and I hugged.

“Gramps wants Mummy to take that job, and she might leave us,” wailed Livvie.

“Oh no, you can’t do that Mummy.” Billie immediately burst into tears and I put my arm around her.

“Liv are you comin’—wassup, why are you cryin’?” asked Trish. I was fast running out of arms.

“Mummy’s gonna take that job an’ leave us,” it was Billie’s turn to grizzle.

“You’re not are you? That would be so unfortunate,” stated Trish. She came and hugged me from behind.

“’Snot fair,” wailed Livvie.

“What isn’t fair?” asked Danny.

“Mummy’s gonna leave us,” wailed Livvie like an upset banshee.

“Why?” he asked in return.

“She’s gonna take that job.”

“Oh—well I suppose she could save more animals that way.”

“What about saving her children?” Livvie asked the awkward questions.

“She’s already done that, we’re all safe here, aren’t we?”

“I s’pose so,” agreed Livvie.

“Of course you’re all safe and I haven’t decided if I want to take the job or not.”

“Yeah, but we get to stay in a real castle,” beamed Danny, “I’ll bet it’s got suits of armour and swords an’ things.”

“It has, big deal,” Trish was unimpressed.

“I wonder if Gramps would let me wear one?”

“No—they’d be too big for you—you’re only a kid, they were made for men,” Trish chided her brother.

“Yeah, I knew that,” Danny blushed.

“No you didn’t or you wouldn’t have said such a dumb thing.” Trish was on the offensive.

“Course I did, I was just thinkin’.”

“That’ll be a first then,” Trish continued.

“Hey, that’s enough,” I said loudly.

“Well he didn’t know,” complained Trish.

“Never mind, it’s not important.” I tried to calm things down—the way I felt, the last thing I needed was squabbling siblings.

“I did so,” Danny insisted back.

“No you didn’t—an’ I know, ’cos I’ve been there, haven’t I Mummy?” Trish tried to cause me to take sides.

“You have been there but I said it wasn’t important.” I tried desperately to stay neutral.

“I knew she’d take your side, ’cos you’re a bloody girl.”

“Danny, I did not,” but he wouldn’t have heard me: he went dashing out of the door.

“Right, that’s it—all of you out of here now—give me some peace and quiet. Go on, everyone out.” I shooed them all out of my kitchen and shut the door. I began to clean and peel vegetables, trying to think while I did them.

There was no reason why any of those who wanted to, couldn’t go to the castle when school broke up anyway—that had nothing to do with the job. They’d all get a chance to see the castle when we did the wedding blessing—hell, the way things were going it would be in time for Hogmanay.

Why did they all want me to take this job? What was Henry’s real motive? It wasn’t money, he argued too passionately for that—he’s usually quite cold blooded about money. Did he have any real feelings for the planet? If so, why did he cut down a stand of trees last year?

I’m not the only person who could do the job, there must be thousands of ecologists who are as well qualified as I am, some of whom would be better qualified or more experienced, so why me?

Few if any of them will have the history I have, so would actually be a safer bet than I am. Okay, I have a title—through my husband, so hardly to my credit—but I suppose it would sound impressive, but then Monica would be more so, as the Viscountess of Stanebury—I’m only Lady Cameron.

I made my mind up weeks ago: I said no, so why can’t they accept that? At the same time, Henry said some quite important things—do I really want to save the planet or am I content to fiddle while it all burns?

Some of it is beyond redemption, and money will continue to allow illegal logging and beef farming in South America, although we now know it isn’t just for burger chains. My dormice are probably safe partly because of legislation and partly because they are a high profile animal, whose cuteness makes them easily marketable in the conservation stakes. My posters have excited a huge amount of interest—mainly because of the cuteness of Spike and my YSL suit.

Was Henry correct in describing me as a beautiful woman? It’s a nice thought, although I don’t necessarily accept it. Goodness, I need to think and I could do with talking to someone outside of it, but who knows enough to offer a reasonable opinion.

I took my address book out of my bag, and after consulting it tapped in some digits on the phone. “Hello, Abi?”

“Yes, who’s that?”

“It’s Cathy Cameron.”

“Cathy, hi, how are you?”

“Have you got a few minutes?”

“A few, why?”

“I’d like your opinion on this UN job they’ve advertised.”

“They haven’t advertised it: it’ll be a shoe-in.”

“Oh.”

“Why?”

“Gareth Sage asked me to apply for it.”

“Oh did he now? I know they contacted Esmond about it, and he was miffed they didn’t ask him to do it.”

“I’d have thought he’d be a better candidate than I am.”

“Dunno, that was a pretty good talk you did down here—they’re still talking about it, although they know you’re an alumna, no one remembers you, and if they did they’d have a problem equating Charlie with the beautiful Lady Cameron.”

“I’m not beautiful Abi,” I blushed.

“Okay you’re not—not my problem if you want to deny your good looks, why d’you think Dilly was so unpleasant? She was jealous.”

“Oh no, how can she be jealous of me?”

“Quite easily, you have looks and money, a readymade family and a title to boot. All that’s missing is a top job, so it’s the UN for a couple of years and a chair here when Esmond retires.”

“You don’t actually believe that, do you?”

“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t.”

“You won’t have heard that I said no.”

“You did what?” she almost shrieked down the phone, “Don’t be so bloody stupid, woman, go for it. Don’t you see how this could raise the profile of women in academia?”

“Oh come on Abi, to start with my history hardly does justice to the feminist cause does it—and universities have had an equal opportunities policy for years.”

“Cathy, I don’t care if your path to womanhood was the usual or otherwise, I don’t give a toss if you came from the planet Zog, officially you’re female, and a beautiful one, so go for it. As for universities having equal ops policies, yes they have but they nearly always appoint men. Shatter the glass ceiling if you have the chance—you have daughters don’t you?”

“Yes, five.”

“Bloody hell, what are you doing, cloning them or have you got a photocopier?”

“No, they just happened. This place is like the old woman who lived in a shoe.”

“Well think of them, they might become academics and if they’re as clever as their mum, they could well become professors.”

“Two of them are extremely bright, one is already super-bright.”

“There’s your answer—do it for them.”

“I was turning it down for them.”

“What are you, stupid? I have to go—we have guests, byee.”

I put the phone down—she seemed to think my first duty to my kids was to take the job. Bugger, why does everything have to be so complicated?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1056

I put the dinner on to cook and sent an email to Gareth asking to see the revised job description. I then started to draw up a job description for someone to work for me in the house.

My machine peeped to indicate a new email, it was Gareth.

“Dear Cathy,
Sorry but you gave me to believe you weren’t interested, so we’ve offered the job to someone else. Gareth.

I couldn’t believe what I’d just read—all that soul searching and the swine had asked someone else. Bloody typical. I felt completely let down by him, then when my anger had abated, I realised I had brought about my own downfall. If I’d really wanted the job, I’d have gone for it from the beginning.

I wondered how much power a UN adviser would actually have—probably very little, less possibly than a top professor, especially one who enjoyed sparring with the media. In which case I needed to firm up my act and get myself noticed as an academic.

While the meal cooked, I schemed—I was going to use the mammal survey and a handful of articles from it to remind everyone I was still here, still researching and running a household.

When Simon came in for dinner, I gave him the job description and asked him what he thought. He approved, judging by the smile he had at the end of reading it. He nodded and I knew then he’d fund it. After dinner, while I was cleaning up he asked me what it was all about. I told him I was going back to work as soon as we had some help.

“What sort of work?”

“I have a film on harvest mice to make: that will take a year, and I need to organise somewhere to do the breeding, we’re going to do most of it in a studio sort of setting.”

“Isn’t that going to show compared to your other film which was mostly filmed in the field?”

“Not really, we’ll do the close-up stuff, then film the outdoor sections and combine them. Effectively, I’m going to grow some corn in a glass house to which we’ve introduced a few harvest mice, then we can film them in close-up, pan out and mix with genuine field shots. I’ll give Alan a shout and set up a meeting.”

“Where are you going to do that?”

“Haven’t decided yet, I’ll have to set up some technicians to keep it all looking natural, cost it all and see who I can sell it to.”

“Before you’ve made it?”

“I think the BBC will be interested, especially if I do the narrative myself, in short skirts or shorts.”

You, using sex to sell something? What about your feminist principles?”

“I’m going to make them regret not waiting for me at the UN.”

“What do you mean, not waiting?”

“They’ve offered it to someone else.”

“Oh, bad luck, you should have gone for it at the start.”

“Nah, this is going to be better, I’m going to resume my teaching in September.”

“And make a film—bit of a tall order isn’t it?”

“Not really, Alan will do much of the filming without me, once I tell him what I want, then we do the outside work. In the meantime, I’ll be involved with the survey and doing a little teaching, mainly to keep my dormouse project running.

“With regard to my feminist principles, conserving the planet for the future of all its inhabitants is the ultimate in feminism, my films, my survey and the opportunities they will give me for building a public platform to protest at government and industrial policies and how they impact on the environment.”

“I see—wouldn’t that have been easier from the UN?”

“Maybe, very often these posts are tied to certain policies and thus in hock to governments who are usually more interested in their economic policies than making sure there’s a world there for them to enact them in. Obama came in full of what he was going to do—apart from castigate BP he’s done very little—the US is still one of the largest polluters and consumers of fossil fuels.”

“Don’t go picking a fight with him, Cathy—we still do loads of business with US firms, I don’t want to be on his kicking list.”

“I won’t be fighting with him directly, unless he starts it—just reminding him and his countrymen of their obligations to the planet and challenging him to put his money where his mouth is.”

“I know I should have gone to that reception when I had the chance, now we’re more likely to have the CIA watching us.”

“Why?”

“If you annoy their president, they tend to get a bit upset.”

“I won’t be annoying him, just reminding him of his obligations, or that of his government. Personally, I think he’s a big disappointment, but that’s just my opinion.”

“Well, BP shares have partly recovered. We bought a pile when they went down the other week and have made a modest profit.”

“Who’s we?” I asked him.

“Me, I suppose.”

“Is this the bank or you personally?”

“Me, the bank wasn’t interested.”

“How much did you make?”

“About a million.”

“You made a million dollars trading BP shares?”

“Pounds—and yes I did.”

“Wow, you clever boy.” I kissed him.

“There’ll be capital gains to pay, but we’ll make a reasonable profit even after that.”

“Is this just opportunism?”

“Sort of, but I thought I ought to be putting some pennies aside for the wedding thing and also to set the kids up when they’re older without eating into our own money.”

“But didn’t you feel you were risking some money on buying shares?”

“Babes, BP is one of the most reliable companies in the world: it will always recover from such a position—it always does. Shell is the other one who innovates a bit as well.”

“What about Exxon and the other oil giants?”

“No thanks—Shell and BP are as far as I go, apart from a few smaller British companies—we’ve got some interest in one in the North Sea, who’ve just hit some more oil and gas.”

“How do you pick them?”

“Very carefully, if it’s my money.”

“Goodness, I’ll never contribute that much to our children’s inheritance.”

“You don’t need to Babes, you’re going to give them another sort of inheritance, the eco-warrior queen who saved the world—the bits we don’t own.”

“Bits we don’t own?”

“Yeah, the bank has been buying up agricultural land as an investment: we own a few thousand hectares.”

“So I could end up filming on our own land?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Shouldn’t I be consulted about maintaining an ecological balance, as your advisor?”

“Yeah, why haven’t you advised us?”

“I am—cut me in or get very lonely in bed.”

“That’s a bit primitive for a sophisticate like you, Cathy.”

“Yeah, well I’m relying on communicating with your primitive urges to negotiate my corner.”

“Fine with me—wanna see some of our stuff on Google?”

“You bet I do.” I put my arm through his and we went off to play with the computer.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1057

“This is all owned by the bank?” I asked, as he pointed out a significant swathe of farmland and what looked like woodland attached.

“Yes, least I think so. I’ll get them to send you a list, then if you want to start exploring to see where you might find harvest mice, we’ll write to the tenants and ask for their cooperation.”

“Where is it?” I asked.

“Sussex I think, you looking for more dormice?”

“If it hasn’t been surveyed, I might run my eye over the woodland.”

“How long would that take?”

“The official Mammal Society guide is to look for the most promising parts and give them twenty minutes each. If you find discarded hazel shells or acorns with the dormouse trademark hole, then you know you have a strong likelihood of them being there. Then you put up long boxes, and if there’s nest material in them after a month or two, it gives more likelihood, then you do nest boxes.”

“What about harvest mice?”

“They make nests in corn and in the under-layer of woodland, such as brambles. The mice are smaller than dormice and are in fact, the smallest rodents in Britain.”

“What, smaller than shrews?”

“Shrews aren’t rodents, they’re insectivores.”

“They’re all little furry things to me.”

“Each to his own, darling; all stocks and shares look the same to me.”

“If you say so,” then he made some improper suggestions and we went to bed. I fell asleep before he finished which annoyed him more than a little. I woke as he was making a withdrawal and he dripped some goo down my leg. I know, we’re not supposed to talk about these things, but they do happen—like when you turn over and it all runs out of you—all good fun.

I was very sore the next morning. Simon had an early start and I’m not sure he’d actually forgiven me although he did kiss me before he left. I showered and very gingerly dried myself, then after dressing and doing my hair, got the kids up for their final week of school.

I took Billie with me when I transported the three mouseketeers to school. I had some food shopping to do, and thought the exposure to the public would do her good. Because she’s quite delicately built, she looks the part, especially since Stella cut her hair in a more feminine style. Also, her voice is quite squeaky as boys are frequently at that age.

After wandering around the supermarket, we had a drink and a biscuit in the cafeteria and then popped the shopping in the car. I really like the new Mercedes, and while my favourite mode of transport will always be a bike, this car was fast moving into second place.

Back at home, I was surprised to hear that Henry had phoned and I was to call him back. When I did he was in a meeting but his secretary told me she’d get him to call me as soon as he came back to the office.

I’d set Billie and Julie some chores to do and was busy looking over survey entries when the phone rang. I picked it up to find as expected, that it was Henry.

“Cathy?”

“Hi, pa-in-law.”

“Simon told me about the UN job.”

“I didn’t really want it in the first place.”

“That’s beside the point: you’re the best person for it.”

“I doubt it, there’s no shortage of ecologists these days.”

“There are with your pedigree.”

“Oh come off it Henry, you do tend to overestimate my very modest experience.”

“I speak my mind, and you’d be good at the job.”

“Well they’ve offered it to someone else, so stop worrying about it. I’ve decided that I’m going to make the harvest mouse film and do a few papers on the early survey results. Much more kosher in academic circles than being ‘tosser in chief’ in an antiquated and much-loathed organisation.”

“It’s still an upward step for you, young lady.”

“I’m not so sure. Now what’s this about the bank buying up agricultural land?”

“It’s been a good investment recently, why?”

“Because I think you should be taking advantage of having an ecologist on the staff to get it looked at and seeing where you might offer grants towards things like hedge laying and tree planting.”

“Good idea, what’s it going to cost?”

“Dunno, I’d need to see the land and what was needed where. There might be grants available from Defra or Natural England, so you could possibly use those or improve them—make a competition with cash prizes, plenty of options. You can use it then as your green credentials or even on your advertising as the greenest bank.”

“I like having you as my ecology adviser Cathy, you are always full of good ideas.”

“So is Simon, but you don’t always listen.”

“It’s nice to hear you defend your husband Cathy, but he’s wrong quite often too.”

“He wasn’t with the BP shares, was he?”

“He told me he was looking to set up some trust funds for the kids, so I didn’t insist he did it for the bank.”

“Oh, you let him do the deal privately?”

“Yes, I want my grandchildren to prosper.”

“I’m delighted by the way that you and Tom have taken my assorted waifs and strays to your bosoms and called them family.”

“I’ll leave the bosom bit to you Cathy, you’re somewhat better equipped in that department. As for adopting them as my grandchildren—of course I did—I feel as much for them as I do for Desiree.”

“I also think you’re absolutely brilliant with accepting the gender-variant ones.”

“Cathy, they are kids—full stop. I’d love ’em if they had one leg and two heads…”

“Oh good, because I was called by a children’s home where they had a child just like that…”

“I was being metaphorical, Cathy. Don’t take me so literally.”

“So you aren’t completely open to children?”

“Never mind your hypothetical moral questions, what about the UN job? No one has been appointed yet.”

“I don’t care, I’ve decided what I’m doing and that’s an end to it as far as I’m concerned.”

“We’ll see about that—if it’s still vacant, I want your arse behind that desk.”

“Henry, I’m too busy.”

“No you aren’t kid—everything else can wait, if that seat’s still empty.”

“You’re not listening Henry, I am very busy and I don’t want the job.”

“We’ll see, gotta go, ’nother meeting.”

“Bye,” I said to an empty line, then muttered to myself, “Henry, I don’t care what you think, I know what I’m doing and it ain’t that stupid job, as Trish called it.”

“We’ve finished Mummy,” Billie came to tell me that they had completed the ironing.

“Did you get to have a go?”

“Yes Mummy, it was great fun.” We all think that the first time we do it, but it palls after a few hundred hours have been spent taking the creases out of something which as soon as it’s worn will have just as many creases as it did before you ironed it.

“Okay, take it up to the various bedrooms and lay it carefully on the beds. They can each put it away later.”

“Okay Mummy.” She trotted off like a pixie in a trance: give it a few more days and she’ll be as sick of housework as the rest of us.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1058

On the Tuesday, after dropping the girls to school, I took Billie out for a ride—we did fifteen miles and she seemed to cope quite well. We bumped into Anne Summers who does triathlons and other silly things. She told me that they needed members to restart the university cycling club.

“I haven’t done any regular cycling for a year or two, let alone any racing.”

“It doesn’t matter, come out for a few training rides—it’ll be nice to have an aristocrat on our team sheet.”

“Don’t you dare! If I race it’ll be under my maiden name, but I don’t have a licence, and I’m too busy Anne. It’s a lovely idea but with a houseful of kids, it’s not really practicable.”

“Get them to come out with you, like this young un. I’m Anne, what’s your name?”

“Billie,” she said very shyly, blushing furiously.

“Do you think your mum should come out with us?”

“Don’t know,” she said looking at the road as she stood precariously with her legs either side of the crossbar.

“Do you like riding?”

“Yes I do,” she took a sneaky peep at her inquisitor.

“So would you like to ride with us when you’re a bit faster?”

“I dunno—maybe.”

“For goodness sake Anne, she’s only nine.”

“Nine and she has a road bike?”

“It’s what she wanted.”

“Cor, your mother spoils you girl—I wish I’d had one at your age.”

“She’s going to buy one for Trish too.”

“You got shares in a bikeshop?” she joked.

“No, but it was a grave mistake I didn’t.”

“Mummy mends bikes, don’t you Mummy?”

Now it was my turn to blush.

“You could be our mechanic Cathy, if you like playing with bikes.”

“I haven’t got time—I’ve another film to organise plus my teaching duties and six kids to look after.”

Six? Jeez girl, how did you manage six at your age?”

“I adopted them.”

“You’re a glutton for punishment.”

“That’s as maybe, but they needed a loving home, and I try to give them one.”

“Six kids, talk about a challenge—is she a good mum?” Anne asked Billie.

“No.” As Billie said this I waited for the other shoe to drop and nearly fell off my perch. “She’s the best mummy in the world.” She smirked at me, but then beamed at Anne.

“I reckon she must be to adopt six kids.”

“It all works very well most of the time, they’re all pretty good—because if they’re not, I flog them and lock them in the garden shed which is full of cobwebs and spiders and the roof leaks when it rains. Isn’t it so, young lady?”

“No, she never hits us and doesn’t even shout very often except at Daddy, and usually he’s asked for it.”

“So she’s really an angel in disguise is she?”

“Actually she is, and she uses her powers to make people better.” I was blushing but couldn’t stop Billie gushing without drawing attention to myself.

“D’ya think she could use her powers to make me a better cyclist?” asked Anne, and completely confused Billie.

“No she only does it if you’re ill or hurt.”

“Like the healing angel person who appears at the hospital now and again?”

“That’s her,” Billie pointed at me.

“What, your mum?” gasped Anne.

“Don’t be silly Billie—she’s pulling your leg,” I joked.

“I’m not…”

“Because a kiss and a hug makes them all feel so much better when they feel ill or bash themselves, that’s what she means.” I glared at Billie who went quiet.

“For a moment there I thought I was going to have to check you for wings,” smiled Anne.

“Nah, not me—you’re more likely to find a pair of horns and cloven feet.”

Anne looked at her watch, “Crikey, is that the time? I’ve got to go.”

I looked at mine, “Oops, we have to as well, see you.” I nodded at Billie who remounted her steed and we trundled back home.

“I wasn’t lying Mummy,” Billie said as we rode.

“I know sweetheart, but remember you’re not supposed to say anything about that to anyone.”

“But she’s a friend of yours.”

“She’s more of an acquaintance, kiddo. I don’t know her that well; I’ve only ridden with her a few times, that’s all. She’s a good rider, but she’s also a nurse tutor or something, so she could say something unwittingly and then we’d have the press knocking on the door again.”

“I’m sorry Mummy, I was only trying to say how special you are.”

“I know darling, but maybe next time just think before you say anything. Like I have to when I introduce you as my daughter instead of my son.”

“But I am your daughter now.”

“Yeah, but you were my son for a bit longer, so I have to think what I say about you.”

“Oh, I see.”

“Come on, it looks like rain.” We put on a bit of a spurt and got the bikes back in the shed just as drops of heavy rain began to fall. “Oh well, it’s what the gardeners were praying for,” I said as we walked back to the house.

It rained off and on for the rest of the day, and much to my embarrassment, it took me several minutes to find the windscreen wipers on the new car. Billie stayed home with Julie, and when I left they were loading the bread machine—so hopefully we’ll have some fresh bread for breakfast tomorrow, if the scavengers don’t eat it all before then.

“Can you play chess Mummy?” Trish asked as we scampered to the car.

“Why, darling?”

“Sister Maria was showing us how to do it. I like the horsey ones best.”

“Were you playing too, Livvie?”

“Yeah, my old dad showed me the moves, but I think it’s boring.”

“Daddy plays, I think, and I expect Gramps does too.”

“Can’t you, Mummy? I’ll show you, the horse moves forward one and then goes two to the side, or forward two and one to the side. Oh it can go backwards too, Mummy. Mummy?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“It’s the only the horsey that can jump over the others.”

“It’s not a horse, it’s called a knight,” Livvie said loudly and Trish shut up for two seconds.

“What’s going on over there?” I asked out loud, puzzled by a young man and an older woman who were having an animated conversation with lots of gesticulating going on. “Something not right.” Then in the next moment, he pushed her and she fell over and he ran off with her bag.

I stopped the car and told the kids to stay put, while I struggled with my coat in the wind and rain. The woman didn’t appear to be moving. I looked back to the car, “Trish, call for an ambulance,” I shouted back to her.

I bent down to examine her and could see blood oozing out from the back of her head, she had a pulse but it was quite weak but she was still breathing. I had nothing with me to use as a dressing and I wasn’t wearing a skirt, so I couldn’t do the bit they do in the cowboy films and rip off half my petticoat and bind her head.

Trish called back to ask where we were for the ambulance, and I glanced up at a street sign and shouted back. By now, a group of people were gathering, and we managed to hold a couple of umbrellas over the supine woman.

Someone suggested putting a coat under her head, but I advised against moving her as we didn’t know what injuries she had. The blood was oozing faster now and I felt very concerned.

“They’re coming, Mummy,” Trish yelled from the car. A couple of minutes later sirens were heard and a police car arrived, he put his waterproof over the woman and realising he couldn’t do anything else he asked if anyone saw what happened.

“I did, a young man was arguing with her and he pushed her, she fell and I think she must have banged her head. He ran off with her bag.”

“Can I take your name, madam?”

“Sure, it’s Cathy Cameron.”

“That’s not Lady Cameron, is it?”

“Yes, why?”

“Things do seem to happen when you’re about, don’t they?”

“Really? It’s just coincidence, you know.”

“I’m sure it is, Lady Cameron.”

Sirens sounded and an ambulance arrived and we all stepped aside for the paramedics to do their job. They seemed to know the policeman.

As I went back to my car having given my address to the young copper, Trish announced, “I took a picture of it.”

“Of what, sweetheart?”

“The man knocking the old lady down.”

“Show me,” I urged hoping she hadn’t, but she had. In fact she had done it on video so we had the whole episode. I was obviously honour bound to show the policeman and took it from her to show him.

He walked over to the car and said to her, “Hello, Trish—well you’re a clever young lady, aren’t you.”

“My teacher says so. I beat her at chess today.”

I shook my head, why didn’t it surprise me? And worse, she wanted me to admit I could play—no way. The way I play, she’d humiliate me in a few games.

“Do you mind if I borrow your phone to show my boss these pictures?” asked the copper.

“I suppose so,” sighed Trish, probably unaware that her cleverness had put her in an invidious position. She is very possessive of her phone.

“I’ll bring it back when we’ve finished.”

Yeah, I thought, in six months time.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1059

“When will I get my phone back Mummy?” asked Trish.

“I don’t know sweetheart,” I replied, hoping it wouldn’t be very long as they can copy these things so quickly these days, and I could see no merit in keeping the original but then maybe that’s why I’m not a policewoman.

“’Snot fair, I help them and they keep my phone,” she sulked and pouted as we walked into the house.

“We saw a mugging Gramps,” Livvie excitedly told Tom.

“An’ the rotten police kept my phone.”

“Whit fa did thae polis keep yer phone?”

“’Cos I filmed the man bash the old woman. Mummy gave it to the policeman, Gramps—it’s snot fair.”

“They’ll gi’ it back when thae money’s run oot,” he teased her.

“They’d better not, I spent last week’s pocket money topping it up.”

“Och, they’ll love ye, bonnie lassie.”

Trish didn’t approve of his teasing and flounced off much to his surprise. “We saw the dirty rotten mugger run away, and Mummy said the old lady’s brains were all over the pavement.”

“A slight exaggeration,” I added as I went to make some tea.

“Oh the police phoned Mummy, can you pop down the nick to give a statement?”

Tom looked anxiously at me. He was aware that I’d been beaten up by some rogue coppers some while ago.

“No, if they want to speak to me, they can come here. Did they leave a number?” Julie nodded and handed me the scrap of paper on which she’d written it. I dialled the number and was eventually put through to an inspector.

“Thanks for calling Lady Cameron, when could you pop in to make a statement?”

“When hell freezes over plus a few millennia.”

“Oh, did I say something wrong?”

“No you didn’t, but I was badly beaten while under false arrest by two of your colleagues. The settlement I got pays for my children to attend private school, but there is no way I will ever set foot in your HQ again.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, I’m fairly new here. Do you mind if I send someone to your house to take one?”

“Not at all Inspector Plummer. By the way, any chance they could return my little girl’s phone, she’s nagging me about it already.”

“I’ll see what I can do to expedite things. My kids are as bad, if I threaten to confiscate their mobiles, they soon toe the line.”

I thanked him and informed Trish that they would return it as soon as they could. She thanked me and went upstairs to change. I got on with sorting the meal, a cheese soufflé and salad.

We hadn’t long finished eating when the doorbell rang and Julie who answered it called me. I went along to find two police officers standing there. I invited them in and we went into the dining room.

They were direct and to the point. I made the statement and then called in the three girls. Mima saw nothing much—she was looking out the other side of the car. Livvie who was sitting in the middle seat, only watched when Trish started filming it, and Trish asked where her phone was.

“Is this it?” asked the younger of the two coppers producing her Nokia from his pocket. She looked at it, then took it and switched it on. The film was missing but she still had all her credit and her address book.

“Thank you,” she said, “What do you want to know?”

She actually described in detail what she saw, which was more than I remembered. I suppose she does have slightly less to think about than I do. After she spoke to them, I signed it on her behalf and she skipped away very happy with her recovered property.

“She’s a live wire,” said the woman police officer.

“Don’t tell her you play chess, she’s warming up to take on the world champion next week.”

The WPC laughed, “She’s just learned to play has she?”

“In school, today. I think I’ve got a computer programme somewhere if she gets really bored.”

“She sounds pretty bright,” commented the younger one.

“She is extremely bright, IQ well above the norm, makes me feel inadequate at times.”

“What? I thought you were a university teacher?” he said looking aghast.

“I am, but even I know when I’m outgunned. Fortunately she doesn’t know it yet: when she gets to her teens, she will be a real trial, I suspect.”

“Yeah, I guess she will.”

“How is the old lady who was mugged?”

“If I say this now a murder enquiry, does that answer your question?”

“Oh no,” I gasped and felt myself go cold.

“I’m afraid so, she died from a nasty head wound—brought on a stroke.”

“I am sorry.”

“You did all you could ma’am, but you’ll appreciate we’re looking for this guy as a priority now.”

“I can imagine. Did the film help?”

“Oh definitely, but it’s not quite clear enough to identify him—his hoodie hides most of his face.”

I frowned, could I have done more for her? Was it her time to go? Oh boy—I wish I’d tried now.

“We have to go, there’ll be a big press conference tomorrow. We hope someone saw or knows him. They’ll show the film then and hope it brings in some help from the public.”

“How old was the lady?”

“Seventy nine I think, her husband was rushed into hospital when he was told. She only went out to get an Echo. He’s apparently in a bad way—heart attack, poor bugger.”

“So in a single act of violence, he could have killed two people,” I observed and felt even worse for not trying to save her.

“Yeah, these punks are a real pain, usually feeding a habit of some sort. I’d hang the bloody lot of them.”

After expressing his opinion and radical solution, the two coppers left taking the statements with them. I felt very guilty: I had declined to use my healing because a crowd was gathering. I sat at the table and felt a tear run down my face.

Trish came in, “Wassup Mummy?”

“That old lady died.”

“The one we saw pushed over?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, that shouldn’ta happened, I sent her blue light.”

“Sweetheart, it doesn’t always work like that.”

“What’s the point then?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t.”

“She should be gettin’ better not deader.”

“I shouldn’t think the police made a mistake.”

“But I sent her blue light Mummy, she should have got better.”

“Sometimes people die anyway, darling.”

“But they shouldn’t, not when I heal on them.” She was quite indignant, as if the old lady dying was an affront to her specialness.

“These things happen.”

“But they shouldn’t—did you heal on her?”

“No I didn’t, I was too busy trying to organise help.”

“Oh well that’s why, if you had she’d have been okay.”

“Trish, you can’t possibly know that.”

“Seems that’s what happened. Oh well, better luck next time.” She went off again completely devoid of any guilt or sense of loss or even failure.

I was left wondering if she or I had the more correct attitude.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1060

I took the girls to school next morning, and dashed back home to watch the press conference on the local TV channel. Julie and Billie were pestering me to let them go shopping, and as they had their own money to spend, I agreed they could go. There was a bus in about ten minutes. Seeing as Julie is sixteen and Billie nine, I thought they’d be okay on their own—Julie has so much confidence now, she’d be okay with Billie and besides, they could phone me if there was a problem.

I sat glued to the box, and watched while a senior officer spoke about the old lady and how she’d been brutally murdered for her purse and the fifty pounds it contained and how her murder had led to the death of her husband who collapsed and died when he received the bad news.

I’m not sure I’d have described the murder as brutal—more accidental but the robbery was directly responsible for the death, so it was murder. They played Trish’s video and attributed it to her, describing her as a very intelligent six-year-old daughter of a university teacher.

As there must be dozens if not hundreds of university teachers in or around Portsmouth or Southampton. I didn’t feel too aggrieved at the description in identifying us as a family.

The man was at the time I was watching the press conference, still at large although the police were very confident they would identify him in the next day or so and then catch him soon after. I switched off the telly and got on with some admin work on the survey—I had some letters for Tom to comment on before I responded.

On the sightings of weird and wonderful things, we had the usual large black cat killing sheep reports from Cornwall and Somerset, which I discounted, despite the photos one of the reports included. Anyone who knows anything about how big cats kill should know that they ankle tap the victim, crush the chest with a thump from a front paw, and then asphyxiate by clamping on the trachea with their powerful jaws.

Dogs however, attack anywhere they can get a hold and will rip the throat out of a poor sheep to kill it. The photos showed just that, a dog kill—the report went into the reject box.

Stella and I had a sandwich for lunch and so did Puddin’, who was now crawling a bit. She sat and chewed and sucked on the crust of bread she had. She was teething and biting anything and everything.

“Where’s Julie and Billie?” she asked, Stella not Puddin’.

“They went shopping: Julie wants a new skirt or something and Billie just wants to look round the shops—they’ve both got some money, so why not?”

“Have they caught that bloke yet?”

“The mugger?”

“Yep, him.”

“Dunno, they hadn’t this morning.”

“Put the news on.”

So I switched on the local radio programme for the one o’clock news. According to that, the police had had hundreds of calls identifying the mugger and were hoping to make an arrest soon.

“The old chap died as well then?”

“Yes, he died of shock I suppose, he was eighty-two or something.”

“Two birds with one stone,” commented Stella, “or a double whammy.”

“Sadly, yes,” I agreed.

“When do the kids break up?”

“The girls tomorrow, Danny on Friday.”

“Any plans?”

“Sometime I have to organise a wedding blessing.”

“Got your dress yet?”

“You know I haven’t.”

“Perhaps we should go looking very soon.”

“Who’s going to look after the kids?”

“Julie can, she is sixteen and being paid for the privilege. What about this home help you keep on about?”

“I gave Simon the job description, he was supposed to be drawing up some adverts and publishing them in the local paper.”

“I’ll remind him when he comes home,” she grinned. Any chance she had to nag Simon, she loved, especially if she could tease him as well.

I cleared up, Stella changed Puddin’ and put her down for a nap.

“What d’you think of these short shorts all the youngsters are wearing?” Stella asked showing me a picture of some Hollywood starlet looking absolutely ghastly in them.

“If you have the legs for them, I suppose they’re all right.”

“You have nice legs, why don’t you get a pair?”

“I’m twenty-five Stella, not fifteen.”

“Sorry, I forgot you were so elderly—twenty-five year olds are wearing them, you muppet.”

“Not bankers’ wives with millions of kids.”

“Why not? You act as if you were a hundred and twenty-five. Simon is twenty-nine, not ninety-nine.”

“I have a wedding dress to sort out when I have time to shop for clothes.”

“You won’t find one of those in bloody Asda.”

“Why, have you been looking in there?” I teased.

Her eyes narrowed, “No, but I checked in Tesco for you.” She finished up with a tongue poking. I chose to ignore her.

“Have you looked online?” she said, after thinking for a moment.

“What, on Tesco?”

“No you muppet, in various bridal shops—there’s quite a few online.” So that’s what we did. I was astonished at the range available, some of which were pure delight, and others I wouldn’t have been seen dead wearing.

“Do you want a train?”

“I thought we were going by car,” I replied playing dumb.

Stella glared, “I suppose I asked for that. Oh look at this one.” She pointed to a rather delicious looking dress with a scooped neck and long narrow sleeves which came to a point on the back of the hand. The skirt was quite full and gave way to short train. “You would look lovely in that.”

“I dunno Stel, I look all arse and tits.”

“So? Simon would enjoy it.”

“I thought he’d be wearing a suit, but I don’t care…”

She slapped me on the arm, “Here, what time have you got to get the girls?”

I glanced at my watch, “Damn, I’ll have to go in a moment—don’t get them on this, we’ll never get the computer back, and I want to make the choice not them.”

“Okay, okay—keep your ’air on, missus.”

It was still raining so I pulled on my thin jacket which was supposed to be shower resistant. I wondered if that included wedding showers, whatever they were—something American. Well I wasn’t having one, that was for sure. Once we’d sorted a date, we’d have to ask that little girl from the hospital—Daisy—if she still wanted to be a bridesmaid. Oh boy, why didn’t we just forget it, after all we’ve been married for a few months now—and this would be just a pointless expense.

I was absently walking towards the door when the phone rang. “Hello?”

“Mummy, help.”

“Billie?” My heart almost stopped. “Billie, are you all right?”

“Listen good, bitch,” said a male voice and I felt physically sick. “I have your two girls. If you testify—they die, understand?”

The phone went dead…

The Daily Dormouse Part 1061

I was totally devastated, who was this person who somehow had my children. Stella came to see why I was standing with a strange expression on my face and tears running down it.

“Aren’t you going to—what’s wrong, Cathy?”

“Some bloke has got Julie and Billie.”

“How do you mean—like, kidnapped?”

I nodded.

“Why?”

“He told me not to testify.”

“The bloke who killed the old lady?”

“I don’t know, but I presume so.”

“How did he find them?”

“I have no idea. What are we going to do?”

“I know exactly what to do.” She picked up the phone and dialled, triple nine. “Police,” she said. Then a pause and she said, “This is Stella Cameron, my sister-in-law and her children witnessed the mugging of the old lady yesterday, two of her children appear to have been kidnapped by someone telling her not to testify.” She was then put through to a police officer dealing with the case, who said they would send someone straight over.

She then phoned Tom, explained what had happened and he agreed to collect the girls. She then left messages for Simon and Henry. Finally she took me by the hand and led me into the kitchen, sat me at the table and put the kettle on. As it boiled we heard a car speedily pull into the drive and two men and a woman walked quickly up to the door.

Stella led them into the kitchen and they introduced themselves, although my shocked brain couldn’t take any new information on board. All I could hear was Billie calling me for help and the man’s coarse accent.

Over a cup of tea, I managed to explain what had happened as I understood it, though at times I suspect I probably sounded incoherent. The police looked quite concerned.

“Right Cathy, if I might call you that, I don’t know what this call is all about. To start with, we have the crime on film, we have your statements to say when and where it happened, and the film itself has a date and time on it. As it was shown to an officer within minutes of the offence, we know it hasn’t been tampered with and enough of it has been shown for it to enable over a hundred people to identify the man.”

“Who was it?”

“We believe it’s a low life called Donny Baker. He’s done time for this sort of thing before to feed his habit, of heroin, coke, smack in fact anything he can ingest or inject. Not to put too fine a point on it, he’s a total shithead.”

“Why has he got my girls?”

“Good question, we didn’t identify you or them, so I don’t know—but I intend to make it my business to find out as soon as I can. Where were they going?”

“They went out to catch the bus while your press conference was on this morning, they were going shopping.”

“To town?”

“Yes, I think so. Julie is sixteen and Billie is nine, so I thought they should be able to go together quite safely. I was wrong.”

“I have two daughters who are younger than yours and they go to town by themselves most weekends, it’s where they hang out with their pals.”

“I shouldn’t have let them go.”

“Why not? I mean how were you to know they’d run into Donny or one of his friends?”

“That’s what I keep telling her,” added Stella, pouring more tea.

“But how did he know they were my kids, unless he saw them leaving here and how did he know where we lived?”

“I have no idea, Cathy,” said the more senior policeman. He’d checked the number display on my handset and I identified it as Billie’s mobile. “It’s obviously off now, because we can’t trace any sort of signal. I’m going to leave my colleague here with you, and we’ll introduce a phone tap in case he calls again. Do you have any up to date photos?”

I flicked on my computer and skimming them quickly, so they didn’t see Billie in her previous manifestation, and printed them off a copy of her and Julie.

“The older one is quite is a very pretty young woman.”

“I think so, but then all my kids are lovely.”

“You don’t look old enough to have a sixteen-year-old daughter,” observed the senior flatfoot.

“They’re adopted, Chief Inspector,” explained Stella, “and the reason is, they’re both transgendered, Cathy is their umpteenth foster mother and she decided to adopt them.”

“You mean these are two boys?”

“No, they’re two girls with a plumbing problem,” Stella explained.

The copper looked baffled for a moment, then the penny dropped and he smirked and nodded. “So are all your kids transgendered?”

“No, just three of six.”

“That’s a pretty high ratio for the average family.”

“There’s nothing average about the Camerons, Chief Inspector, we don’t do anything by half,” commented Stella.

“So I’m beginning to understand—you’re not related to the banking people are you?”

“We are the bank, Chief Inspector, my father is the chairman.”

“So could the reason for the kidnap be monetary or even revenge, someone whose mortgage you called in?”

“How would I know?” Stella shrugged.

“If I don’t need to testify, why did he take them?” I mumbled in the background.

“You’re the woman who did the dormouse film,” said the Chief Inspector.

“Yes, don’t tell me you’ve seen it on YouTube?”

“YouTube? I meant the one they showed on the BBC—my daughter wanted to become a biologist if she could play with dormice all day.”

“It’s what I did for a couple of years, it was good fun.” I smiled as I reflected on it.

“Are you making any new films?” he asked.

“Trying to do one on the harvest mouse, the smallest of the rodentia in this country.”

“They’re cute little critters, too.”

“Very, with prehensile tails unlike dormice, who have fleshier hairy tails.”

“And those big eyes.”

“Indeed.” I smiled thinking about Spike and bygone days, everything seemed so simple in those times.

Tom arrived with Trish, Livvie and Meems. They all rushed in, not sure what had happened, and when we explained they were all aghast and then in tears. I had a massive hug from all three of them. Danny was collected from the school bus by a policeman and we had to explain what had happened to him. He was mortified too.

“So what do we do now?” he asked the Chief.

“I’m afraid we wait.”

“He could be killing them for all we know.”

The older man nodded.

“Well get out there and stop him.”

“Out where?”

“You must know where this Donny Baker bloke hangs out.”

“We do, and don’t worry we have teams out looking for him, but we don’t know it’s him who has your sisters.”

“Well it sounds much like it to me, I feel like goin’ out there an’ lookin’.”

“Danny, please stay here, I don’t want anyone else to be at risk.”

“Worrabout school?”

“Unless this thing ends tonight, then I think you finished earlier than the others.”

“Yessssss,” he punched the air. I suppose from his point of view there was a silver lining to this particular black cloud.

The phone rang and we all jumped. The Chief Inspector counted me down to answering it.

“Hello?”

“Hi Babes, any news?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1062

“Hello darling, no there’s no news at all.”

“You told the plod?”

“I have some very nice policemen and women here now. They think they know the name of the man we saw assault the old lady, but so far they haven’t located him or the children.”

“I have an important meeting tomorrow morning but I’ll be home as quickly as I can afterwards. I wish I could be with you now.”

“So do I, darling, see you tomorrow.”

He rang off and I suspect he’d kept the call brief in case the police were monitoring the calls but also in case the kidnapper was trying to call. He didn’t, at least not for a couple of hours by which time I was becoming slightly hysterical.

The phone rang and I snatched it up before the copper could count me in. “Hello?”

“Hello, Mummy can you come and get me?”

“Where are you?”

“By the back of Debenhams.”

The Chief Inspector pointed at two of his people and they ran off like scalded cats.

“Are you both okay?”

“It’s only me Mummy, he still has Julie.”

“Okay darling, go into the shop and wait by the counter until the police arrive, they’re coming to bring you home.”

“I was so frightened Mummy,” and she began to cry.

“It’s okay, darling.” I heard a police radio crackle behind me. “There’s a policewoman looking for you, when you see her go to her, she’ll bring you home safely.”

“I can see her Mummy, she looks a nice lady.” Then the phone went dead.

The police radio crackled, ‘Got her, guv, we’re on our way back to the house.’

We all breathed a sigh of relief. We were still concerned for Julie, but I felt she had a slightly better chance of survival than a nine-year-old—well until he tore her knickers off, then he might have a bit of a surprise.

The twenty minutes it took for Billie to come home was like a life sentence. I have never known time go so slowly—it was even worse than listening to Simon snoring while watching the clock tick by. Finally, a marked police vehicle with blue lights flashing burst into the drive and pulled up by my car. I opened the front door and Billie broke away from the policewoman to almost jump into my arms.

Billie was very distraught for several minutes, and we couldn’t ask her any questions until she’d calmed down. Apparently, they’d been watching Trish’s video on the news in shop and she had said it was Trish’s video to Julie. Some man had overheard her and the next minute, they were standing by the roadside waiting to cross and a van drew up in front of them and they were pushed inside it by two big men. It sped off and they’d spent all afternoon in it.

That explained how they’d been identified, pure bad luck in having one of Donny Baker’s friends nearby when she commented on the film. He’d obviously followed them and arranged the kidnapping. I suppose it could almost have been Baker himself, for all we knew.

They’d been blindfolded and so didn’t see the men who grabbed them, other than they were rather big. But at nine, most adults probably do seem quite big. The van was dark coloured, which wasn’t much help. If they’d snatched Danny and released him, he’d have known which model and year it was—there aren’t many cars he doesn’t recognise. Billie is more of a girl unsurprisingly, and seems to have little interest in cars and things—though she does seem to like bikes, which makes me rather pleased.

She still had her bag with her and she handed me a note. It was a piece of plain paper with the note scribbled in pencil.

Lady Camron, Dident know you was a lady, an a rich bitch. Games changed. Im sending back the scrawny one, you have two hours to hand over £250,000 if you want the pritty one back unharmed. Dont try to delay, or she wont be so pritty no more. Keep the cops of the fone.’

“How am I going to get my hands on that sort of money?” I cried, if he harmed Julie I’d have him tracked down and disposed of.

“I’ll give Daddy a ring.” Stella went off to speak on her mobile to Henry.

“There are ways to raise a ransom, but it usually takes a few days,” said the Chief Inspector.

“One advantage of having your in-laws own a bank.”

“It’s a bit low, isn’t it sir?” asked one of the younger officers.

“I think he’s looking to do a runner, false passport across to France or Spain and off he goes into the distance.

“What does he look like, and is he as uneducated as his letter suggests?”

One of the underlings tapped away on a computer and up came a picture of our most wanted. The best word I can think of to describe him is, nondescript. According to the details he was about five feet eight, slim and a rather bland face with long blond hair. There was something about him that struck me and I tested my theory.

“Has he ever been known to wear women’s clothes?”

The one on the computer tapped away and shook his head. His boss shrugged and said, “If he has we don’t know about it, why?”

“I’ve got a feeling that’s how he plans on escaping.”

“What—in drag?” gasped the younger copper and chuckled, “he won’t keep his hard man image then, will he?”

“Not if they find out in the nick,” chuckled back the Chief Inspector. “Can’t see how you can guess that,” he added, “though he has been known to use disguise before on a job.”

“I have a feeling in my water,” I added and went off to wee. Afterwards, the feeling was just as strong. Stella returned and confirmed the bank was putting together a special consignment for us. It would be treated with a special dye, so ten minutes after exposure to air, the notes would become bright green and any handling after this would make the hands green as well. The dye is indelible and lasts for several days. A special courier was on his way to the house.

An hour later I received an email from a Google account. ‘Bring the money yourself to the HS bank and put it in the rubbish bin outside. Once i seen you done it, I’ll let the prity one go—probably. If I so much as smell the filth, she won’t be prity no more. Be there by 6pm tonite.’

“You can’t do it, I’ll have one of my women officers go in mufti,” declared the Chief Inspector.

“I shall do it. But we can’t put a brief case in a rubbish bin. Call Henry, Stella, and tell him not to use the dye, we’ll have to use a plastic bag.”

“But if the guy gets away he can use the money.”

“He won’t get away,” I said through my teeth.

“Lady Cameron, you will deposit the money and walk away or I’ll get one of team to do it. I give the orders on this one.”

“Chief Inspector, I’m not one of your team—so stick your orders.”

“Carry on like this and I’ll have you arrested for jeopardising and obstructing a police operation.”

“If you do, you’ll be drawing unemployment tomorrow.”

“It’s an offence to bribe or threaten an officer.”

“I’m not making threats, I’m stating a fact.”

“Please do as I ask, I want your child returned safely.”

“You think I don’t, Inspector?”

“Of course not.”

“I want her safe and him in custody for a very long time.”

“So do I,” agreed the Chief Inspector, “we don’t have much time either.”

I glanced at my watch, it was nearly five o’clock.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1063

Part of me just wanted to get out to the waste bin by the bank and do the drop. However, if I thought that creep was watching me, as well as half the Hampshire Constabulary, I wanted to look like a lady—by that I meant someone of status and elegance. I brushed my hair, checked my makeup and my clothes—I’d exchanged the jeans for a free flowing skirt and a matching jacket. Finally I sprayed some perfume on myself and grabbed my bag. I took the bag of money from the courier, it was all cling filmed together, piles of fifty pound notes—five thousand of them. They’d sealed them in such a way as to be amenable to shoving into a bin, and they were in a black drawstring carrier bag.

I walked to my car and drove into town, I was told to park a short walk from the bank, to go into the shop next door, buy a newspaper and then throw the bag in the bin and put the newspaper over it as casually as I could.

My shoes clomped as I walked nervously up the street, I went into the shop bought an Echo, and pretended to read it, then as I got to the bank I tipped the bag of money in it and threw in the opened newspaper. I then walked on. I knew the police were watching, so I went on to the public loo and dashed inside. The skirt and jacket were reversible, in a different colour. I wrapped a scarf around my hair and pulled on a pair of sunglasses, then went back towards the bank, my handbag inside a cheap cotton shopping bag. I hoped I looked very different.

I stepped aside for a scruffy bag-lady who smelt like last week’s fish pie, and who swore at me in an incoherent way. I watched her lumber past and go towards the bin. My heart was in my mouth. Was a police trap going to be spoilt by some dirty old crone.

She abused some more people near the bank and picked up some fag ends from the gutter, then went to the bin. I froze in horror, she was going to take the bag. In my almost torpid state I saw something I hadn’t noticed before, she had on a pair of relatively new trainers on her feet. She was the pickup and probably a man, not a woman.

I shook myself: she was digging in the bin but walked on without taking much if anything out of it. Was this a recce? She moved on, swearing at people and I noticed at least two men stiffen then relax.

She knew it was there, when would it be collected? I went back to my car and sat with the engine running. I was there for half an hour and it was getting very warm. Then I saw the dark van emerge, driving slowly down the street behind me. It rang some bells with Billie’s description. This could be the hit.

It cruised up to the bank and the next minute, something was thrown out of it on the one side and someone slipped out of the near side and grabbed the bin, then it accelerated away from the area. I drove as quickly as I could behind it.

The item jettisoned was Julie, she was staggering about in a daze. I pulled up alongside her and shouted at her to get in. She did, and I screamed off after the van.

“Are you all right, flower?”

“No, it was horrible, they threatened to kill me.”

“You’re safe now,” I commented accelerating after the van.

“That’s their van Mummy, why are you following it?”

“I have some unfinished business with them.”

“I don’t, Mummy.”

“You can stay in the car, then.”

The van headed for the motorway, which was when I spotted the police helicopter, high up in the sky. Behind me appeared a rather powerful BMW which I suspected was an unmarked pursuit car. I let it come past me, but kept on the tail of the van which was now speeding well above the legal limit.

A police car appeared behind me with blue lights flashing, he signalled for me to pull over. I decided to comply.

“Excuse me, madam, but did you know you were exceeding the speed limit?”

“Was I officer? In which case you were too, even more than I was because you caught me up.”

“Ah but I’m allowed to in the pursuit of my duty.”

“Are you? How nice. Well it’s been lovely talking to you.” I slammed my foot down and sped off. I knew it was likely to be filmed and charges could be made against me, but I was prepared to take the risk. I decided they were pulling me over to keep me out of the hunt. I wasn’t going to play.

Of course, he came after us and I quite happily led him out to the motorway, where the helicopter was circling ahead. I hammered towards Southampton, which was where I felt they were going. Julie sat quietly, her knuckles white with tension.

In the distance I spotted the dark van, the BMW was right behind it and looked powerful enough to stay there—that was until they threw the waste bin out of the van, which bounced once and took out the windscreen of the police car which then swerved and hit a truck, a wheel flying off it meaning an end to its participation in the hunt.

We managed to avoid the debris, although it was touch and go at one point and I suspect a few more shunts occurred. I had to swerve first one way then the other to avoid a car in front.

The police car which had been chasing me no longer appeared in the rear view mirror, so I presumed he’d either been damaged or stopped to help clear up the mess. I knew more were likely to appear at the next junction but I kept going shadowing the van.

I removed my headscarf, hoping I looked slightly different yet again. The two litres of turbo charged diesel engine were likely to be able to stay with a Ford transit, so we kept it in sight.

Sure enough at the next junction a pursuit car appeared, a Jaguar this time and he went screaming after the van, this time the van seemed to throw some paint at them and it splattered across the windscreen and the powerful Jag crashed into the barrier and ground to a halt.

“Why are we following them, Mummy?”

“Somebody has to,” I replied, wondering how we were going to stop them. The road ahead seemed to clear of traffic and I formed a plan. I drew level with the van and saw the window was open on the near side. I dropped back and made Julie put on my scarf, so they didn’t see her until we were right up with them. Then we pulled level and I opened my window, pulled the pin on my powder fire extinguisher and lobbed in through their open window, I immediately dropped back and changed lanes as I watched the van swerve, and drive across the carriageways before hurtling up the bank and flipping over on its side.

A police car was hammering up behind us in the distance and I drove on to the next junction and left the motorway taking us back to Portsmouth by the back roads.

I knew the police wouldn’t be too happy with me, but I did sort of even things out somewhat—I also thought I’d better get Henry to bring his counsel with him to the house. It was going to be a less than pleasant evening.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1064

“Are we safe now, Mummy?”

“I think so, sweetie—well, you will be. I suspect the police may want to roast my arse somewhat.”

“Why?”

“I sort of interrupted their game.”

“Aren’t girls allowed to play it then?”

“Only if you’re in the official team.”

We pulled into the drive and immediately a police officer asked me to go with him. I followed him into the study. The Chief Inspector was there.

“You couldn’t resist getting involved, could you?”

“He had one of my children.”

“I don’t care if he had you by the balls, you should have kept out of it. I told you that pretty directly.”

“Chief Inspector, with all due respect he managed to evade two of your pursuit cars.”

“I’m aware of that, but we had him under obs via the helicopter. What did you throw into his van before he crashed?”

“A fire extinguisher, why?”

“What sort?”

“A powder one, once you pull the pin out it doesn’t stop until it’s empty.”

“That would explain why he ran up the embankment. It was very clever trick but it could have been a lethal one.”

“I noticed that the road was practically clear of traffic.”

“We had a stinger set up down the road.”

“So how come I didn’t see it?”

“We withdrew it as soon as we realised you’d stopped him. You interfered in a police operation, you could have been hurt, so could the daughter you so wanted to protect. I thought you were intelligent, Lady Cameron, I seem to have misapprehended you.”

“What happens now?”

“I want to talk to your daughter and get a statement. Then we all go home. I shall talk with my superiors and what they recommend is what will happen. If that means prosecuting you, then it’s your own fault.”

“I accept that risk. Do you know how the people in the van are? There had to be at least three of them.”

“They managed to survive your attack and the crash only gave them cuts and bruises—thankfully. If they’d been badly injured, it could have resulted in my arresting you.”

“What about the two pursuit cars—how are they?”

“I don’t know, one was hurt, we’re still waiting on that. The bin went through the windscreen.”

“I know, I saw it.”

“And still you went on the attack?”

“I let you have a second go before I did.”

“Oh thanks, you were too kind.”

I shrugged.

“This isn’t over yet, and don’t think your in-laws will save you just because they own a bank.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it. I acted on my own—I’ll defend myself if necessary.”

“Please send in your daughter.”

I went and spoke with Tom and then saw the rest of the kids. They all hugged me, especially Billie. “I’m glad you’re both safe, Mummy.”

“Me too,” I replied and hugged her, “Sorry I had to dash off to drop the money.”

“That’s okay, Mummy.” We hugged again.

“Mummy?” Trish had a puzzled look on her face.

“Yes, darling.”

“They said you stopped the van from escaping—how did you do it?”

I explained what had happened and the trick with the extinguisher.

“That was so kewl, Mummy.” Trish seemed in genuine awe.

“Not really, the police seemed to consider I was being foolhardy, and possibly if I hadn’t been so cross with the man, I might agree with them.”

“He wasn’t very nice, was he?”

“No sweetheart, he wasn’t. He shouldn’t have pushed the old lady down, in doing so he caused two people to die. Then when he kidnapped two of my girls, I’m afraid I had to become actively involved.”

“You’re like Nepotism, the ancient god of revenge,” suggested Trish.

“I think you might mean Nemesis, nepotism is something else entirely,” I corrected her.

She looked confused, “What’s nepotism then, Mummy?”

“In simple terms, jobs for the boys.”

“Does that mean girls don’t get them?”

“No, it could mean jobs for the girls too. It’s people getting jobs or positions of power because of who they are rather than what they are or what they can do. So it’s like Sadam Hussain making his sons head of this or that because they were his sons not because they were the best people to do the job.”

“Is that like Grampa Henry giving Daddy his job?” asked Trish trying to work through things.

“I don’t think either of them would like it if you suggested it, and I suspect it isn’t quite true—remember Daddy has a degree in economics, so he is qualified to do his job.”

“Do you have a degree, Mummy?”

“Yes sweetheart, I have two, a BSc and an MSc.”

“Is that why you work for the bank too?”

“Partly, they needed an ecological adviser and I was asked to do it.”

“Do you think Gramps will give me a job?”

“I don’t know sweetheart, what are you going to study?”

Trish rubbed her chin for a moment, “I don’t know Mummy, maybe I’ll count dormice too.”

“Well, my study areas are changing, now we’ve got the go ahead to microchip them, we’ll have far more information about individual animals.”

“I wanna win the bike race,” said Billie.

“Which one?” asked Trish.

“The big one.”

“Like the Tour de France?” asked Trish, waiting to pounce.

“Yeah, that one.”

“You can’t, dummy, it’s for men only.”

“Yeah, well that’s not fair—so I’m gonna be the first lady to win it.”

“You can’t dummy, it’s only for men to ride in.”

“Yeah, you said that an’ I don’t care, ’cos I’m gonna win it.”

“How are you gonna beat men, even Mummy can’t beat men racing.”

“She beat Daddy.”

“He doesn’t count,” Trish was getting into killer mode and I needed to stop it.

“Right, who’s for pizza tonight?” It worked like a charm even if it meant I’d have to eat cardboard for dinner.

While we were waiting for it to arrive, I sent a text to Simon: ‘Got girls back, plod not impressd wiv my initiativ. Luv C xxx.’

He sent one back a little while later. ‘Sod plod, have QC will travel if nec. Si xxx’

I replied, ‘Ty, lol, C xxx.’

The police packed up and as they left, the Chief Inspector asked me if I’d had Julie checked over by a doctor. I asked why, and he suggested I speak with her.

After dinner—I don’t like pizza—I drew Julie to one side, “The police suggested you should have a check up by a doctor. Why, what happened?”

She blushed and tears formed in her eyes.

“What happened sweetheart, did he hurt you?”

She blushed and tears ran down her face, “He made me have sex with him.”

I hugged her, “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry.”

“I told him I was on, so he did it up my back end.”

I began to wish he had been hurt, like enough to kill him. I got Stella to watch the others while I went and talked with Julie. He’d apparently fancied her as soon as he saw her, and it was one of the reasons for letting Billie go, Julie had told him she’d do it with him if he let Billie go.

I hugged her and thanked her for protecting her sister. I also decided that I would take her to the hospital.

“What for? I’m not bleeding that much.”

“He’s a known drug abuser, he could be carrying all sorts of diseases.”

“Oh, does that mean I’m going to die?”

“No of course not, but the sooner we get them to do some tests, the quicker we can sort you out. Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”

“You’d have killed him.”

“Absolutely.”

“That’s why.”

“C’mon, let’s get you down the hospital and get some advice.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1065

I waited in casualty, while the medics gave me funny looks after I explained what had happened to my foster child.

“Let me get this straight, this girl isn’t a girl, but a boy who lives as a girl and has been kidnapped and buggered by the kidnapper, who’s a known drug user?”

“Mostly right, except Julie isn’t a boy, she’s transitioning to female and is doing her real life test.”

“So she’s a transsexual?”

“Yes, you have a problem with that?”

“Obviously you don’t,” said the doctor.

“Why should I?”

“Well, was she held to ransom, or is she just gay and selling you a line?”

“As I was carrying a quarter of a million pounds about to get her back earlier this evening, and half the Hampshire Constabulary were hunting for her—I don’t think she was telling me fibs. Please examine her and do whatever tests you have to do to make sure he hasn’t given her any nasty diseases.”

He actually did so and returned about half an hour later. “Her rectum has received quite a savage assault, I’m sorry that I doubted you before. I’ve called in a surgeon to check her out, she may need to stay overnight. I’ve started her on retrovirals, so hopefully that should help prevent HIV, and we’re running tests for Hepatitis A, B and C.”

“Okay, thanks for that.”

“Did you know that three men assaulted her?”

“Three? No, I didn’t.”

“If we could get any health records from them, it would help.”

“They’re all in custody, I’ll see what I can do.”

I tried in vain to get to speak to someone who could help from the police, either they couldn’t help or weren’t senior enough, couldn’t divulge confidential information even if they knew it. I left threatening lawsuits and called Henry.

While the political flavour of ministers and Secretaries of State changes, the civil service doesn’t. Henry knows several at the top end and within half an hour of speaking with him, the hospital had a printout of the health records of all of the three prisoners.

The doctor was hopeful that the drugs would protect her, and the surgeon wanted to try and do a repair the next day—she was quite badly torn apparently. I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t complaining about it more than she had, maybe she’s tougher than I thought.

I went and sat with her. “Why didn’t you tell me about this assault?”

“You didn’t ask.”

“No I didn’t because it came as something of a shock to me. Now tell me the real reason.”

“I was ashamed, Mummy.”

“Why should you be ashamed? You were the innocent party, weren’t you?”

She sobbed and nodded.

“Did it hurt?”

She nodded, “Like buggery,” she added and smirked.

I snorted, and squeezed her hand.

“Did you enjoy it?”

That broke the dam, apparently part of her did. She saw it as confirmation of her attractiveness to men, except it hurt more than she thought it would and then some. It also was more prolonged than she thought and when the other two joined the assault, she tried to dissociate from her body. Now it was hurting like hell, even though they’d packed it with dressings and antiseptics.

Tomorrow, according to the surgeon, they were going to do a bowel wash and then he was hoping to be able to repair the worst of the tears. She was understandably anxious.

She was partly disgusted because she had agreed to do it. I reminded her why—to save her younger sister. I did wonder if part of her was curious about being penetrated to feel some sort of vindication of her gender belief. It was going to be a job for Stephanie: all I could do was be supportive and protective. Vindictive would happen later.

I wasn’t to know it, but apparently on remand a few days later, when it got out what the three abductors had done, Donny Baker had a mishap with some hot water—he managed to drop quite a lot of it in his groin—did I mention it was very hot, like boiling. There were stories that the doctors had to amputate his dangly bits, but they might have been simply stories. I suspect the blue light wouldn’t have helped too much had I been near, probably because I would have refused to let it.

I got Julie home the next day—she was quite dopey and slept most of the time. She had to be on a residue free diet for a couple of days and then eased back into a normal diet plus the use of mild laxatives to avoid straining.

I’d love to say she was an exemplary patient, but she wasn’t—she was in pain and she let us know about it. She reckoned it hurt more after the repairs than it had before. I took her back for a check up and the surgeon was very pleased with the results so far, so he said to me. Julie however, gave him a piece of her mind to go with the piece of her arse, he already had.

The salt baths helped and brought back memories of my SRS, that and the non-residue diet. I hoped she would cope better with that if and when it happened. She still had nearly six months to go of her life test.

The other children were, as expected, very supportive of their big sister whom they revered as a heroine. Billie was especially attentive, fetching and carrying like a personal slave and that was despite me telling her not to. I suppose she felt guilty.

We decided to let the others know what had happened to her. The younger ones thought it was dreadful if not impossible, Trish nearly went into convulsions over it trying to work out how it could happen—it seemed not to compute in her map of the world and she got quite worked up at one point.

“Is that what you do with Daddy?” she asked me when we were on our own.

“No it isn’t, but we do have penetrative sex sometimes.”

“What does he do?” she looked completely baffled.

“He comes inside me, in my vagina in the same way that most men and women have intercourse.”

“Doesn’t it hurt?” she looked a bit disappointed.

“Sometimes.”

“I don’t think I’ll be doing that—too gross.”

“It can be something beautiful as well, Trish.”

“Ugh! I don’t think so.”

“Not too many years ago, I’d have agreed with you, but these days I can see something more in it and it can also be very pleasurable.”

“You said it hurts, Mummy.”

“Not always, and I’m doing something very personal for Daddy, which I know he loves.”

“He wees in your wotsit and you enjoy it?”

“No he doesn’t wee, he produces special fluids, which if I were fertile could combine with eggs to produce babies.”

“You said he sticks his willie inside you—willies are for weeing through.”

“Not only for weeing, Trish.” Oh boy, how do I get these jobs? I got the laptop out and we called up a few sites on the Internet and she eventually got the idea. She still thought it was gross, but then at her age, I had no idea it went on. When I did eventually find out what happened and who put what, where—I thought it was pretty gross, my contemporaries thought I was probably gay, so I didn’t discuss it much with them. My puberty seemed to be delayed anyway and I only recalled my first orgasm because it was so unusual happening in Simon’s car while he was standing outside it and that cheeky mechanic kissed me and it happened spontaneously. Not exactly how I expected things to be, but until then, I considered myself asexual—I think I’m quite happy I got that diagnosis wrong.

Trish might well consider herself as I did myself, but if I’m honest, I hope she’s wrong and is able to find someone she loves and who loves her and that they can have some sort of physical relationship—it is important for most people.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1066

With all the work Stephanie was doing with my kids, I almost felt like her employer. Trish was just a question of keeping her stabilised, she’d done really well in school finishing top of the class and Livvie was tenth. I was so pleased with both of them.

Billie was dealing with issues of abuse and Julie had the trauma of the rape to deal with. The surgery had worked really well, that surgeon chap was absolutely brill, and within a week, she had more or less normal function in her derrière helped with moderate applications of laxatives.

I saw the young doctor who’d initially treated her and he came over to apologise while we were waiting for her surgery follow up. He told us that his girlfriend was a nurse and they were working nights together and when he mentioned Julie’s case to her, she told him to do swabs for the police for prosecution—which he did. She also told him to refer Julie to the rape counsellor, but apparently Julie declined—all this was news to me.

Finally he looked at Julie, “My chat with Claire, my girlfriend opened my eyes a bit to what you’d gone through—I’d been on duty for the best part of twenty hours, so I wasn’t at my best. I’m sorry, Julie, I wasn’t as helpful as I might have been nor as accepting as I should have been. I’m sorry, and I will understand if you wish to complain about it.”

Julie looked most embarrassed and looked at me for guidance. “I take it you’ll be a bit more understanding of the next transgender person you see?”

“She isn’t the first I’ve met, but she is one of the prettiest—you obviously take after your mum,” he said flannelling both of us. Julie blushed like a light bulb—one in a stop light. “If they’re like her, I might not just be nicer, I might fancy them.”

“She’s only fifteen, so before you say something you regret, it might be best if we say we accept your apology.” I looked at Julie who was still blushing but nodded her agreement.

“Thank you gracious ladies,” he bowed and walked away.

“What a tosser,” I said to Julie.

“Oh I dunno, I thought he was quite dishy.”

“Yeah—like syrup pancake, sickly sweet and no substance.”

“So why did you accept his apology?”

“Because if we did any other, it would have caused more trouble than it was worth, plus you could have been a marked patient next time you needed this place.”

“Oh, I see. The surgeon was quite nice, he told me he thought I was very convincing as a girl.”

“I should hope so with all the coaching Trish and I have given you.”

“Trish?” she gasped.

“Yes, Trish, she has been a girl a bit longer than you,” and while we’re at it, Livvie has been one for longer than I, but no one has twigged me yet.

She was discharged as treatment complete and we went home. It was ten in the morning and as the day was turning warm, I asked the kids if they’d like to go anywhere. They wanted to go to the beach—but not Southsea—‘we always go there.’

“I suppose we could go to Hayling Island,” I proffered.

“Why can’t we go to Hastings and invade like Willie the Conk did?” Trish does enjoy her little jokes.

“Who wants to go?” I asked and they all did, including Julie. I felt like asking why, instead I asked them to pack a towel, their bathing costumes, some sun cream and a change of clothes and a coat in case it turned cooler.

It looked like we were off to Hastings.

We used the Mondeo, because it was the only thing big enough to take them all. We put two seats in the boot, they lock in, and there are two seat belts—Tom had this done especially for us to carry everyone. Trish and Livvie sat in the back, Danny and Billie sat with Meems in the back seat and Julie sat very gingerly in the front passenger seat.

We arrived at Hastings about lunchtime, and after parking the car at exorbitant cost, traipsed off to find some food. Despite my protestations we ended up in McBurgers and they had burgers and fries. I had the sandwich I’d smuggled in plus a tea, which I hadn’t. Then it was off to the beach.

It’s mainly a shingle beach so the kids were disappointed. Trish and Livvie wanted to know where William landed. I told her I thought it was a bit further east at Norman’s Bay. The battle took place at somewhere called Senlac Hill which is near Battle, named after the Battle of Hastings where William of Normandy defeated Harold Godwinston, an abbey was built there and it’s now a school.

Of course, after they’d finished messing about on the beach, Julie, lolling about in her bikini enjoying all the attention she was getting from adolescent males, Trish, Livvie and Mima running in and out of the sea and squealing, while Billie and Danny swam a bit. I think he was worried her boy bits might show under cossie, but they didn’t.

Julie lay on the beach sunbathing and getting her first tan lines, whilst I sat under the umbrella I’d brought with us keeping out of the sun. The boys who were ogling her didn’t know the cleavage she was showing was mainly courtesy of the bikini bra, but it did her self esteem some good I hoped. The cleavage I was showing was all organic and home grown, as were the wrinkles and cellulite.

At one point, Julie was blissfully snoozing lying protrate her bra undone for a better tan, and Danny ran up with a cup of seawater and poured it on her back. She jumped up and squealed, then screamed at him in less than ladylike language, realised she was flashing her less impressive chest and wrapped a towel round her while sitting and fuming.

I couldn’t do anything for trying to stifle the sniggers I was suffering—it was quite funny. She had her own back when some bloke tried to accost me as I was sitting reading the Guardian.

“You’re quite a stunner, aren’t you?” said this rather lethargic Lothario.

“My husband seems to think so.”

“You jest, you’re far too young to be married, I suspect you’re still at university.”

“I am at a university but teaching there, and I am married with six kids—I’m older than I look.”

“Mummy, may I have an ice cream,” said Julie in her best little girl voice, getting her own back.

“That’s your daughter?” he gasped.

“One of them—I was very young.”

“Yeah, so I see.”

“What time is Daddy collecting us?”

“When he gets off duty, darling.”

“Off duty, what does he do?” asked our would-be chat up master.

“He’s a chief inspector of police, why?”

“Give him my best,” said the drippy guy and he beat a hasty retreat.

“That was a lie, Mummy dearest.”

“Yeah, so?” I snapped back, “It had the desired effect.”

“That is very true.”

After the beach, we went in search of ice creams and after ingesting them, set off for the town of Battle, where the demise of Harold happened.

We had a quick look at Battle Abbey school, and then walked up the hill where it all happened. The kids were running about when Trish suddenly stopped them. “Mummy, is this where King Harold died?”

“I believe they said it was under the high altar of the abbey, but lots of other men died here as well.”

“Are we like walking on graves?” asked Billie.

“I doubt it, but I don’t know—it was a long time ago, nearly a thousand years. So if you are I’m sure the occupants won’t mind.”

However, they decided that they didn’t want to visit a battlefield anymore and asked me to take them home. I actually agreed with them, battlefields aren’t places for children unless it’s to teach them respect for those who perished there and the futility of much of it.

On the way home I explained what I remembered from history that the English had marched from near Newcastle in three weeks having defeated a Viking army there, to fight another battle here in Sussex. They should have won, but William tricked them and Harold was killed, leaving things open to a Norman invasion and generations of virtual slavery of the common folk.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1067

The day after our jaunt to Hastings, we were back to earth with a bump, when I was clearing up the dishes and a policeman knocked on the door. “Lady Catherine Cameron, I have a warrant for your arrest…” he went on to caution me.

I asked him if he minded waiting a few minutes whilst I changed—I was wearing jeans and a tee shirt. He ummed and aahed and then said, ‘okay.’

I asked Stella to call Henry and tell him what had happened, then leaving Julie in charge, I changed into a skirt suit, grabbed my handbag and went with him in the police car.

At the station, I had to surrender my bag and any objects in my pockets—they placed them in a locker and I was taken to an interview room. The Chief Inspector arrived with another man in a grey suit. He was introduced as Superintendent Chivers.

“You are allowed a single phone call, do you wish to call someone?”

“I did that before I left home, thank you.”

“The Cameron money won’t get you out of this one, Lady Catherine,” said the Chief Inspector.

“Can we have that remark recorded?” I asked firmly and he gave me a very old-fashioned look.

“This is an exploratory interview, you may well be charged at the end of it, but at the moment it’s informal,” explained the Superintendent.

“I don’t see any point to this, if you believe I’ve committed an offence, please charge me so I can be bailed to instruct my own counsel on your failure to follow protocols and procedures as laid down in the Home Office Manual of Policing Guidelines. You might succeed in a minor charge of interrupting a police operation, while I sue you for a huge settlement which will probably mean you have to lay off half your workforce.”

“You think that’s clever do you?” asked the Superintendent sarcastically.

“No, I think it’s dreadful, but it’s what your negligence and lack of proper procedures warrants. Nice word warrants, I was presented with one this morning. I’m just repaying the compliment.”

“Your type make me sick, this is all a game to you isn’t it because at the end of the day you can just buy justice as you feel like it.”

“Superintendent, this isn’t a game. Firstly, I don’t like being threatened, secondly the way my daughter was treated by the man sitting next to you is disgraceful—she suffered a serious sexual assault which required surgery and yet he did nothing to help facilitate this, nor consider an examination and or taking of swabs for DNA of the perpetrators, or for her to see a therapist or counsellor for this assault.”

“Is this true?” asked the Superintendent and the Chief Inspector shrugged.

“My original involvement in this case was as a witness of the assault on the old lady by Donny Baker, and my daughter’s capture of it on her mobile phone. Then two of my girls were abducted by Baker or his accomplices and a demand for a ransom made. I was asked to act as courier for this ransom to the drop and one of my girls was released in giving me instructions. After the money was retrieved, my remaining daughter was thrown out of the van and I went and collected her. I pursued the van because I was unaware of any police vehicles doing so.

“We followed at a distance and saw two police pursuers being stopped by the escaping gang, in fact possibly some of the officers were injured in their attempts to stop the van.

“I saw the gang escaping as the police seemed to have withdrawn, so I interceded and caused the van to pull off the road—the motorway was quiet at the time—and crash on the embankment, whereupon more police arrived to deal with the event.

“I then came home and made myself and my daughter available for police interview, being unaware at that stage that she had been sexually assaulted. This was rather casually brought to my attention by the Chief Inspector and I took her to the hospital for necessary treatment. I have since been arrested and here I am.”

The door was knocked and a young policewoman came in and handed a note to the superintendent. “Your counsel has apparently arrived, I’d be grateful if you could make a statement of all that you have just told me, and for the moment I am suspending the arrest warrant while I investigate your claim. Once you have made the statement, you are free to go.”

He rose and practically hauled his colleague through the door. In came my legal help and we drafted the statement and I signed it, he witnessed it and we handed it in. He gave me his card and told me that if the police attempted to talk to me about this, I was to inform him immediately and he would sit in on it or ask a colleague if he was in court. He seemed really nice but like most QCs underneath would be a very quick mind and a ruthlessness that is very good to have on your side. He also complimented me on coping on my own and passing the ball back to the police. So instead of coming home as a future jailbird, I considered I’d done reasonably well in fending off an attack.

The girls were pleased to see me. Danny had gone to play football with some friends, which Stella had agreed to. Julie was waiting for Leon to arrive for some tongue wrestling, and had posted the picture Trish had taken surreptitiously of her and me sitting on the beach in our bikinis, on her Facebook page. One of these days, that Trish and her camera-phone are going to come to a sticky end.

I took Billie out for a bike ride later and when we got back I had a box of bits from the cycle shop for my new wheels, when I had time to get round to making them. I then had to take Trish and Livvie and Meems out for a bike ride, on which Billie accompanied us. Trish seemed quite jealous of Billie’s new bike and it looked very likely she would be getting one for her birthday or Christmas.

Simon arrived during the late afternoon, and so did Stephanie to see Julie—who resented that she was separated from Leon to go and speak with her. While she was with us, I had her see Trish and Billie.

By the time she’d finished it was dinnertime and I served a roast chicken with various vegetables, which Tom carved and the gannets in my family gorged upon. Even a five-pound chicken does one real meal with this hungry crowd, led by Simon who licked his lips in anticipation.

I chatted with Stephanie a bit later: she seemed to think that Julie had coped really well with the assault and that Billie was doing fine too, despite her abduction. Trish was as clever as ever, and perhaps needed watching for prevention of trouble due to her cleverness.

“What d’you mean?” I asked.

“Clever kids get very easily bored and they sometimes use other children as counters in a sort of abstract chess game. The problem is they don’t associate the misfortunes that might befall their ‘counters’ as happening to real people, because all that matters is the game and possibly winning it.”

“So they don’t see the consequences of their actions?”

“Yeah, exactly that because it’s an intellectual, rather than emotional thing so they don’t engage emotionally.”

“But Trish does engage emotionally, she’s very aware of the feelings of others.”

“Good, keep reinforcing that, just be aware that teenagers sometimes seem to lose that engagement and it can get very unpleasant.”

“Are we talking Midwich Cuckoos here?”

“Um, I don’t think she’s telepathic is she?” Stephanie laughed and we went to have a cuppa before she left.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1068

I woke the next morning determined that Simon could have the pleasure of babysitting. Julie would be there, she was still on sick leave from the salon, so he wouldn’t be on his own, Tom was about as well, so between them they should be able to cope. The alternative was to place Trish in charge, but I wasn’t sure I wanted my own inadequacies as a housekeeper and parent shown up.

I had a reason for my subterfuge: Stella and I were going shopping in Southampton. She quickly warmed to the idea over an early breakfast, and we were gone practically before the others were awake.

I’d chosen Southampton because it had more of the particular shops I wanted to visit, and because I knew I might be trying things on, I dressed accordingly, some fairly low court shoes, no stockings or tights, a wraparound skirt and a thin cotton top plus some of my nicer underwear.

After parking the car for the day—that was going to double the cost of my purchase—how can these car park people sleep at night? As the old joke goes, ‘At least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask when he robbed you.’

Actually he was a thug who murdered several people including an old woman whose brains he dashed against a chimney breast because she wouldn’t tell him where her money was. He was hanged—just desserts in those days.

We then had to have a cup of coffee and a cake before we moved on to the main event—shopping. The latté was okay and the almond slice was nice but I needed to get stuck in or I’d give up. Stella grasped my elbow and we set off for our day of exploration.

In the first shop we tried, I thought the prices were far too high and the merchandise too fiddly for my taste—Stella muttered at me as we left.

“Look, Stella, even if I saw what I was looking for, I’d still want to see the other shops just in case they had something even nicer.”

“Or cheaper, knowing you. I can tell you were born in Scotland.”

“The price is important but not at the expense—no pun intended—of everything else. If I see what I want then we’ll look at the others and come back if nothing beats it.”

“So what are you looking for exactly?” she queried.

“I’ll tell you when I see it.”

“That really helps me to help you find it,” she muttered.

“Look, you’re here as a second opinion, for which I shall buy you a reasonable lunch.”

“Not a slap up meal then?”

“No, with me it’s simple bribery and poor luncheon.”

She groaned, obviously suitably impressed and we went on to the next shop.

“That would suit you,” she suggested pointing at a mannequin.

“It isn’t really what I wanted.”

“Never mind, try it on.”

“You serious?” I challenged.

“Absolutely.”

So I did, unfortunately they had a fourteen in stock, and I admit I was more impressed than I thought I’d be. But it wasn’t what I wanted. The trouble was I knew what I had in mind but I couldn’t describe it.

I tried on something else which I like better but she didn’t—I thought she had taste, perhaps I was wrong. Mind you, it was a bit tight over the bum—so did it look big in this—yes it did. On to the next emporium.

Whoever says they really enjoy shopping, could be telling fibs. My little toes were getting sore, so I had to stop at a chemist’s shop and buy some blister plasters and stick them on my toes. It felt much better—my own stupid fault, wearing a tight shoe without stockings on a warm day. They were bound to rub.

Shop number three had some lovely stock but the only one I liked they didn’t have in my size, I did squeeze into a twelve which Stella liked, but I’d never be able to breathe in while wearing it.

Shop four had exactly what I wanted but not in my size—in fact they only had one and that was a poxy size ten, that’s okay if you’re an anorexic dwarf, but not for me. The woman offered to get me one in two weeks, but I declined for now.

The fifth shop was very disappointing and we went for some badly needed lunch and an even more needed rest for my sore toes. In a pub called the Duke of —ellington, which some vandal had removed the ‘W’, perhaps a jazz fan—we settled down to have, steak and ale pie with new potatoes and salad. Stella sipped a buck’s fizz, whilst I rehydrated with a lemonade and orange juice.

“Did you tell the others what you were looking for?” asked Stella.

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

“Because we’d have had at least five volunteers to help us and we’d have gotten nowhere fast.”

“We aren’t now are we?”

“We don’t appear to be do we? Still we have at least four more shops to do.”

“But how can you possibly find something you can’t even recognise?”

“I shall recognise it, I just can’t describe it.”

“A fiver says you don’t.” Stella decided to try and call my perceived bluff.

“A tenner says I will, although I can’t guarantee they’ll have my size.”

“Fair enough, a tenner it is.” We shook hands and the bet was sealed.

The pie was okay, though I suspected I could make a better one myself—at least I didn’t have to cook it. We finished our drinks and set off for more shops.

In the next three, despite there being a huge selection, nothing took my eye. The fourth was actually closed when we got there—how frustrating. According to the notice, they closed at lunchtime on Saturdays. Wonderful.

As we strolled back, I went in a charity shop, as much as anything to see if they had any shoes in my size as my toes were rubbed raw, even with the plasters. I found some hardly worn casuals and bought them on the spot.

“Seen this, Cathy?” Stella pointed to a dummy in the window. She was joking but as soon as I saw it, I knew it was the one.

“What size is that dress?” I asked pointing to it.

“A twelve I think, want to try it?”

“If you don’t mind, I should.”

“Gi’me a couple of minutes.” The elderly lady cleared the window and pulled the dummy out, then proceeded to undress it and after some ten minutes, she passed me the dress. “Fittin’ room’s in the corner.”

Stella throughout this operation was sniggering quietly to herself—I could hear her in my mind—‘a charity shop’—she’d say in a voice which Dame Edith Evans would be pleased to produce as a Lady Bracknell character.

I struggled into the dress, it was big enough or would have been comfortably so if Stella hadn’t forced me to eat the profiteroles with cream. She practically made me eat them so she could have the lemon meringue.

“You all right in there m’dear?” asked the elderly shop assistant.

“Fine, thank you, the zip is harder to do up than I thought.”

“What size shoe are you?” she enquired as she pulled the zip up to the top of the neck.

“Six, why?”

“I think we have the originals to match it, hold on, I’ll look.”

I waited and could hear Stella tapping her heels as she got bored looking at the books. The old lady reappeared, “You’re in luck, they’re a six.” I slipped them on and they were so soft. I looked at myself in the mirror once more then stepped out into the shop, Stella was looking out of the window watching the traffic.

“Well—what do you think?”

“Sorry,” she muttered as she spun around. “Oh my giddy aunt—that’s it, Cathy—that is it.”

I agreed entirely, so I bought my wedding dress and shoes for twenty-five quid. Next week, we would bring the girls and organise the bridesmaids’ dresses and order Danny’s kilt.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1069

We hung the bridal gown in Stella’s room as it was less likely to meet with prying eyes. They were all playing in the garden when we got home and we got the most cursory of welcomes—a wave from one or two of the girls as we walked from the car to the house.

In the cold light of day, we examined the dress and could find nothing wrong with it at all—the old lady who’d sold it to us told us they’d had it cleaned, so I felt really pleased with it. We placed it in a dress bag and hung it in Stella’s wardrobe and then after putting on some jeans and checking my sore toes, went out to see what was going on in the orchard.

They were all looking for something—it turned out to be Leon’s watch, it had fallen off his wrist while he was carrying stuff to the compost heap and he wasn’t sure where. It was one his mum had given him so it had enormous sentimental value. Sighing, I joined the hunt.

I rarely went into the orchard, too many stinging nettles and so on, but before long the kids had me identifying caterpillars and wild flowers. Danny even caught a grass snake by the compost heap before I could warn him to watch out for its stink glands. European grass snakes can bite but they’re not venomous unlike the adder or viper. Their main defence is to secrete absolutely stinking fluid which you don’t want to get on you or your clothing—Danny achieved both.

I sent him indoors and made him chuck his clothes in a bucket of soapy water and to go and shower until he smelt normal again. In the end, Tom went and borrowed a metal detector from a friend and even then it took over half an hour to find it. Thankfully it was still working.

Dinnertime, I ordered an Indian meal for the others—which Simon and Tom thought was wonderful. Stella had some, but I made do with a sandwich being still full of profiteroles and steak and ale pie. I also thought I might want to wear that dress again in a month or so and I needed to keep my weight stable if not lose a few pounds. I told Billie, we’d be riding most mornings but early—she rolled her eyes and grinned. Trish wanted in as well but her bike was too small to keep up with us. I tried her on Billie’s old MTB, and thought if I replaced the tyres it would be easier for her to ride.

So taking her with me, we set off for the supermarket and hopefully some new tyres, which I could fit and give her a bit more opportunity to ride at a more reasonable speed.

We drove past Paget’s Cycles (est. 1976) and the lights were all on. I stopped the car and told Trish to stay put in the locked car. I squinted through the window and two or three men were removing bikes—and what looked like good bikes. I called the police, and then noticed a mobile number on the front door. I called that and asked if they were having workmen in over the weekend.

“Workmen—no, why?”

“Because there’s a gang of men removing bikes.”

“Are you for real?”

“Yes, it’s Cathy Cameron, you’ve sold me and my family several bikes.”

“Oh yes, I remember you now.”

“I’ve called the police, but I thought you might want to know.”

“I’m on my way.”

I ran round the block there was a large transit van parked outside and they were loading bikes into it. I made Trish get out of my car and parked it in the middle of the lane so the van couldn’t leave by one end.

Sirens wailing introduced the police and I sent them down to the other end of the lane. The van was intercepted and two of the three men were caught. The third came running up the lane and seemed to fall over something, it might have been my foot, I seem to be careless with them these days. I sat on him and a breathless policeman came trotting up behind, “I’m getting too old for this,” he puffed.

The owner of the shop arrived a short time later. I helped him unload the van and to catalogue with the police what the robbers had tried to steal. It took us a good half an hour.

“How can I ever thank you, Mrs Cameron?”

“Well, this is going to sound bizarre, but I was just going to the supermarket to see if they had some tyres for a child’s MTB.”

“I’m sure we have some somewhere.”

“Actually, what I’d really like is a road bike to fit her ladyship,” I nodded at Trish.

“Oh,” he almost blanched as he took on board what I’d said.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m happy to pay, but if I could take it with me tonight because I’m taking one of my other girls out for a ride tomorrow and she wants to come as well.”

“I’ve got an ATB boxed upstairs, but I haven’t got time to assemble it tonight—I have to wait for the locksmith to come and repair the back door.”

“That’s fine, if you have one in her size, I’ll assemble it—no problem.”

“You know a bit about bikes then?”

“Enough to assemble one, yes.”

“Mummy has her own workshop and she’s making some wheels for her bike.”

“You build your own wheels?”

“Yes.”

“Unusual for a woman.”

“My mummy’s a lady,” piped Trish.

“Yes, I know that, young un.”

“She’s Lady Cameron.”

“Lady Cameron?” the bike shop man looked confused.

“Yes, she’s Lady Catherine Cameron, aren’t you, Mummy?”

“The dormouse lady?”

I blushed and nodded.

“Of course you are, you look different to your film.”

Well that was a backhanded compliment if ever I heard one. “Probably, I’m not wearing shorts am I?”

“Nor the mini skirt,” he had a faraway look for a moment. “Just what are you looking for?”

“A bike that Trish can use to come with us tomorrow, she has a Barbie thing at present.”

“What about a trailer bike?”

“I have one of those, all it does is slow me down.”

“How old are you, missy?” he asked Trish.

“Six, why?”

“They really don’t do much more than an ATB for kids her age, a road bike would be too expensive. You could put road tyres on it.”

“I’ve already got one she could use, twenty inch wheels. If you have some high pressure tyres for one of those…?”

“Not really, but I do have road tyres.”

“I’ll leave it. Thanks anyway.”

“She’s just too small for standard equipment.”

“I’ll have to think about building her a bike.”

“Even that would pose a challenge, let me know if we can help—if you still want those tyres?”

“I’ll take some—but I insist on paying for them.”

“Pop by sometime then and we’ll settle up, thanks for saving my stock.”

“Bikes are sacred, this was like robbing a bookshop or a church.”

He laughed, “You certainly have your priorities right, Lady Cameron.”

“My friends call me Cathy.”

“I’m Roger.” We shook hands and I left with my tyres.

“Where have you been?” demanded Simon.

“Getting some tyres for a bike.”

“That took nearly two hours?”

“Well there were two tyres,” I joked, but he didn’t seem to share my humour.

“We were worried sick given the recent events, couldn’t you have phoned?”

“I’m sorry, Si, the bike shop was having a few problems.”

“Bike shop? They close at five thirty…”

“Mummy an’ me caught some baddies robbin’ the bike shop.”

“Cathy—is this true?”

“I just need to do these tyres, can you put her to bed?” I said, and slipped out the door.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1070

I had changed one tyre by the time Simon caught up with me. “Right, missus, what is this about preventing a robbery at Paget’s?”

“Pass the tyre lever, will you?” I held out my hand and he grudgingly placed the blue piece of plastic in my hand. I slipped it around the deflated tyre rim and after a small amount of fiddling removed the tyre.

“I’m waiting,” he said impatiently.

“I expect Trish gave you chapter and verse, I didn’t do much except my civic duty and call the plod.”

“She said you tripped one and sat on him.”

“I might have done, can’t remember.”

“Cathy, what if he’d roughed you up.”

“He was winded by his fall and lay there groaning. I simply helped him lie still while we waited for the plod to arrive.”

“You take too many risks, Cathy. You have children to consider now.”

“I’m well aware I have children to consider, but I want them to grow up with a firm idea of right and wrong, and not to be the sort of person who stands by when wrong is done.”

“If they’re like you, they’d be lucky to make it to maturity.”

“Better that than to live to old age regretting one’s impotence.”

“Eh? I thought only boys suffered from impotence.”

“That is a very specific use of the word—I was using it much more generally.”

“Don’t try to confuse me with semantics, young lady, I’m concerned about your continual risk taking.”

“Yes father, I’m well aware that you’re trying to control me.”

“Very funny—control you? Ha, more chance of training a polar bear.”

“They’re very intelligent animals.”

“Read the Guardian, do they?”

“Yes, the Arctic edition, but they can’t do the crossword.”

“Why?”

“They can’t hold a pencil, can they?”

“How would I know? You’re the mammal expert.”

I shrugged. “Did Trish go off to bed okay?”

“Yes, I gave her a little cuddle. She wanted to read but I said it was past lights out, and she said, ‘Lights out at nine candles out at ten.’ Where does she get these things?”

“You’re asking me? Try Stella—sounds like one of her dormitory stories.”

“Why would they be using candles in a bedroom, they’d be a fire risk, wouldn’t they?” His face was deadpan so if he was playing stupid he was doing a very good job of it. “And wouldn’t the house mistress, or whatever see the light flickering?”

“Simon, I think it refers to a different use of candles.”

“What else could you use them for—cooking something? You know midnight feasts.”

“Simon, I accept that young adolescent women might well be snacking after they’ve gone to bed, but I suspect the use of candles in that phrase which I believe is an urban myth about Roedean School, is somewhat different to your understanding.”

“Like what?”

“Use your head Si, oh pass me that pump will you?”

“My head?”

“What do young adolescents think about most of their waking hours and dream about at night?”

“Sex?”

I nodded.

“Good lord, what is Trish thinking about—you need to talk to that daughter of ours.”

“I don’t think six year olds are consumed by sex, even in this family. I suspect she was repeating something she’s heard Stella say, given the feed line you offered of lights out.”

“Oh—maybe you should have words with her just in case.”

“I had words with her last week: she thinks sex is disgusting. Mind you, so did I until a year or two ago.”

“Before you met me?” Simon smiled blithely.

“Actually no, it was Kevin.”

“Cathy Watts, you told me you were a virgin when we got together.”

“I was—do you remember the roughneck who kissed me in your car, when it broke down?”

“Vaguely, why?”

“He didn’t peck me on the cheek like I said he did, he kissed me on the mouth and it caused me to do something I’d never experienced before.”

“Oh yeah, which was?”

“I had my first orgasm,” I blushed trying to hide it by bending over to pump up the tyre.

“You had you first orgasm in my car while being kissed by a bit of rough? I can’t believe that—that is sick.”

“I thought it was rather beautiful,” I thought back to it and a warm glow suffused my body.

“Didn’t you do it in the bath or in bed while having fantasies of um—Lance Armstrong or Eddy Merckx?”

“No I did not, now that would be sick.”

“I’d have thought you’d have fancied a young virile cycling champ.”

“Simon, I was so naïve, it was unbelievable—I had no feelings for anything, let alone men. They were big hairy arsed things who called me names and hit me from time to time.”

“And Kev’s kiss lit your fire did it?”

“I don’t know what it did except confuse me. If you recall, I said virtually nothing in the car all the way back to the bike shop.”

“I thought you were a girl then.”

“I was—with a plumbing problem, if you recall?”

“Oh I remember all right, gave me quite a shock when you told me the truth.”

“It gave me quite a shock when you said you fancied me. You and Kev were the first to ever say such a nice thing to me.”

“Was I?” he beamed, “I was the first? Really?”

I nodded. I couldn’t remember who said what first, not that it matters. “The only terms used to describe me until then were pejorative ones. You saw me as I really was, whereas others had seen me in the wrong context, so drew the wrong conclusions. In some ways, I’ve quite enjoyed seeing them again where they haven’t recognised me from before and looked at me with lust in their eyes. If they knew, they’d get quite a shock.”

“That’s all in the past isn’t it, Babes?” he put his arms round me as I was fitting the wheel back on the bike. “I mean you don’t see Kev now, do you?”

“See Kev? Why, are you jealous?”

“Of course not—young whippersnapper—you’re my wife, so I have you safely…”

“I’m your wife Simon, but you don’t actually own me, you know?”

“Of course not, I wasn’t going to say that as it happens.”

“I’m glad to hear it; now let me just put the brakes back together.” I bent down to do up the quick release on the vee brakes, when he stroked my bottom. “Ouch, bugger, I’ve cut my finger.” I shouted and jumped as he tickled my rump. “Look what you made me do.” I held up my finger dripping with blood.

“Sorry, babes, but your bum looked so sexy bent over like that.”

“Well pass me a tissue then, I don’t want blood everywhere.” He did so and I wrapped my finger in it, “Damn, that hurts.”

“Shall I kiss it better for you?”

“Not unless you fancy a mouthful of oily blood.”

“Not really.”

“Right well you reset that brake and I’ll go and stick this under the tap.”

I walked to the sink in the corner of my workshop and stuck the bloody finger under the cold tap. It stung.

“Um—Babes—um—what am I supposed to do?”

“Good grief, have you never reset the quick release on bicycle brakes before?”

He shook his head.

“Not even on side-pull?”

He shook his head again.

“So who did yours when you were a kid?”

“Dad was the bike rider, he always did it.”

“Weren’t you curious about what to do?”

“If I was, it became expedient to let him do it.”

“Simon, I am disappointed in you.” I wrapped a sticking plaster around the injured part and showed him how to reset the brake. “See, easy isn’t it?”

“If you’re into such things.”

“Want me to show you how to do it on the side-pulls?”

“No, how about showing me your quick release?” he said and pulled me into him and kissed me.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1071

Billie and I came back from our ride. She was doing quite well, another ten miler and I pushed the speed a little on the way back. We collected Trish on her mountain bike and we went off again. I spent a little while with Trish explaining how the gears worked as her previous bike had none, being the single speed Barbie thing. I also had the saddle on its lowest setting and she was just able to reach the pedals.

Billie and I used Trish’s ride as a warm down. She was working hard to make much more than ten miles an hour, and I thought she’d get fed up but she didn’t. We did five miles in a circle and she agreed it was enough when we arrived back at the house.

When we got there, Danny was busy pumping up the tyres on Stella’s bike, which he could just ride with the saddle down low. I also moved it forward for him. “I hope she said you could borrow her bike, because your perfectly good one is over there.”

“Yes, she said I could try it—I’ve never ridden a racer, can we give it a go, Mum?”

The other two were tired by now and I nodded. I gave him a quick run over the gears and brakes: he’d never used flight deck compatible ones before—these are combined brakes and gear changer levers—the brake levers push sideways to either raise or lower the gears, and the brakes are conventionally pulled to stop the bike. I have problems with these sometimes because my hands are small.

Danny picked up the mechanics of the system quite quickly, as had Trish with the idea of gears—I know some adults who seem unable to work out how to ride with gears, which like a car you change up or down depending upon engine noise, or the engine driving the bike, your legs and body. If it’s going too easy go up a gear, if it’s too hard go down a gear or more. If you want to go faster pedal harder or go up a gear and so on.

I took Danny out for the same ride I’d done with Billie and he coped quite well: he said he was game for next time. Finding him some shorts wasn’t going to be easy locally, so when I had a spare few minutes I’d look on the Internet. Having said that, he seemed to cope with the saddle with no problems so maybe until we rode further, he wouldn’t need padded shorts. I rarely ride without them but then my modified bits can get a bit tender on a race-type saddle.

At about ten thirty, just after I came out of the shower, I was called downstairs to receive a bouquet of flowers from Paget’s Cycles (est. 1976), for saving their stock. I was rather pleased and sent them an email thanking them.

“They coulda given you a bike Mum,” grumbled Danny as he read the card attached to the flowers.

“They could also have given me nothing. I didn’t ask for anything, which reminds me, I owe them for two tyres. I’m going to check on the dormice at the uni, anyone coming?”

How can I explain six children following me through the staff entrance? They all wanted to come. It was a warm day and I managed to find a torpid one for them to each hold for a few moments before we put it back into the nest box in the breeding area.

Gloria was on duty that day and she looked aghast at all my group. While they were busy counting things, she spoke with me. “Are they all yours?”

“’Fraid so, I’m going to see if I can trade them in at the monkey house later.”

“How do you cope with six kids?”

“Some days better than others. On a bad one I have seven if you include Simon.”

“I hear you’re talking about coming back in October,” Gloria checked the validity of the grapevine.

“That’s the plan. I’m also trying to do the start of the harvest mouse film and organise a wedding blessing up in Scotland.”

“What’re you doin’ with all that spare time?”

“Trying to get back to some cycling fitness.”

“Oh, so when’s the blessing?”

“I haven’t actually arranged a date yet but before the start of term and after the midges have gone over.”

“Oh.”

“I’ve got my dress, so that’s one thing sorted. Simon is looking after the kilt for Danny, and Stella and I will sort out the bridesmaids soon, I hope.”

“How many are you having then?”

“One, two, three, four, five plus another possible.”

“Six—crikey, I’d be lucky to afford two.”

“Not set a date then?”

“No, we can’t afford it.”

“How much do you need?”

“Cathy, I have no idea—depends where we go for the wedding and the honeymoon.”

“Would you consider somewhere like Southsea for the wedding?”

“Of course I would, but where?”

“A hotel—I know the owner, I’ll see if I can get you a special rate.”

“I’ll have to speak with Neal, but I’m sure he’d be happy.”

“If you want a church wedding, I can’t help but a hotel I can and I suspect I can get at least twenty per cent off the usual price, and the food is delish. Keep an eye on the kids, while I make a phone call.”

I spoke to the general manager of the hotel and explained my predicament—well Gloria’s. He recognised me and told me that depending upon the actual date he could offer between twenty and forty per cent discount. I thanked him and went back to Gloria. She was suitably impressed and promised to get back to me. I told her it was the manager she needed to see and she took the phone number.

By now the kids were getting a little bored—even dormice won’t entertain them for very long unless they’re running about. I noticed a couple of youngsters climbing up some wire inside the cage and Mima let go one of her ear-shattering laughs. I didn’t realise dormice could move so fast.

Before we came out, I’d asked Stella to research available dates up in Scotland for our nuptials. When we got back, she’d left a list of dates on the fridge door. Apparently, she’d taken Puddin’ to the baby clinic—which was the first I’d heard of it.

I glanced at the list and crossed out one immediately. “What’re you doin’, Mummy?”

“Looking at dates to go up to Scotland.”

“Why did you cross that one out?”

“Same week as the Tour of Britain.”

“Oh, what’s that?” Billie ducked as I pretended to swipe her.

“Can we go and see some?”

“The race?”

“Yes Mummy, the race.”

“Perhaps, you might be in school then.”

“Who might be in school, Mummy?” Big ears arrived.

“You and Billie.”

“When?”

“Trish, when the Tour of Britain bike race is on.”

“Oh—can’t we go and see some?”

“I don’t know if you’ll actually enjoy it—there’s a lot of standing round and the race comes through quite quickly—the whole thing passes through in fifteen or thirty minutes.”

“Is Wiggley Braddings riding?”

“Do you mean Bradley Wiggins?”

“I might, and the boy racer.”

“Boy racer?” I looked blankly at her.

“The book you bought the other week.”

“Oh, Mark Cavendish, you mean?”

“Yeah, that’s the one.”

“Winner of fifteen stages in the Tour de France.”

“Is that good Mummy?” Trish looked at me with genuine curiosity.

“I’ll say; it’s twice as many as any other British rider has achieved.”

“So, will we see him Mummy?”

“No.”

“Is he that fast?”

“Perhaps, I suspect some of the other riders think so. But, he won’t be there, he’ll be riding in America.”

“Oh, pooh.”

“Geraint Thomas will be there—he’s an Olympic gold medallist.”

“Is he fast?”

“Oh yes, very fast especially when he’s riding team pursuit.”

“What’s that, Mummy?”

I knew I shouldn’t have said anything, oh well, here goes. “You know when you see them riding in groups around a velodrome…”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1072

Whilst we were eating lunch, I glanced at the dates Stella had left for me. Nosey glanced at them too, “What are those, Mummy?”

“What do they look like?”

“Um—dates of the year.” Trish beamed.

“So now you know.” I wasn’t going to talk without being tortured.

“Dates for what, Mummy?”

“Just dates, why do you want to know?”

“’Cos I do.”

“Because you’re a nosey-parker, more like.”

“I’m not,” she blushed, “You’re a meanie.”

“I’m not just a meanie, I’m a meanie with secrets.” I smirked and she pouted.

“You are a meanie.”

“And you’re nosey.”

“So? I’m interested.”

“In other people’s business.”

“No, I’m not, you meanie.”

“If this was your business, you’d know what it was all about, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, course I would.”

“Therefore, if you don’t know, it can’t be any of your business, can it?”

“No, I s’pose not,” she huffed away from the table and I smirked again. Julie grabbed her and whispered something in her ear and her face lit up. She walked back to me and said, “If it’s something to do with you, then it will have a knock on effect upon us, so we need to know.”

“If I’m badgered mercilessly, I might tell you but then I might change my mind and scrap the whole idea, so you’d be no better off, would you?” I scowled at her.

“So these dates are about something you’re going to do on one of them?” she was walking up and down like Perry Mason before a jury.

“Objection,” I exclaimed.

“Overruled,” said Julie who was pretending to be a judge and she banged the table with her spoon.

“Oh is it now, if you lot aren’t careful I’ll introduce Sharia Law, bundle you up in burkahs and sell you off as child brides.”

“No way, am I wearing a burket, or whatever they call ’em,” said Danny.

“They’d have a bit of a surprise when they undid the wrapping,” said Julie and they all sniggered.

“Are they like a Barbour, Mummy?” asked Livvie.

“Yeah, they ’ave a ’ood, but they’re not waterproof.” Julie was having some fun with the ignorance of the younger ones.

“Not really Liv, a Barbour is a waxed cotton jacket, a burkah is an all encompassing cloak thing through which only your eyes can be seen via a slit.”

“Ugh, sounds horrible, Mummy.”

“Lots of women wear them in Arab countries,” I informed them.

“We’s not going to a Awab countwy ah we, Mummy?” Meems decided to increase the confusion.

“That’s what the dates are for, there’s six of them, she gonna sell each one of us off as child brides,” Julie stirred the cauldron and cackled.

“You’re not are you, Mummy?” Trish began to look a little anxious.

“Is that what you think?” I challenged.

“I dunno,” shrugged Trish.

“Do you honestly think that I’ve gone to the bother of adopting you all or trying to, just to sell you off?”

“No, not really Mummy.” Trish went for reconciliation and part of me wanted to frighten them all—just for a moment—but I remembered it would be me who had to deal with bad dreams and wet beds, so I resisted my horrible urges.

“You might have done,” stirred Julie.

“No she didn’t,” shouted Trish, becoming angry with her elder sibling.

“How do you know?” Julie threw back at her. “You don’t know what those dates are for any more than we do.”

“I know Mummy wouldn’t do anything nasty to us.”

“Only because she hasn’t so far.” Julie’s reasoning was superior in its cynicism to Trish’s.

“She loves us, don’t you Mummy?” Things were getting a bit out of hand and I noticed a few trembling lower lips amongst the younger age group.

“Of course I do.”

“You only have her word for that…” continued Julie, but I was being hugged to death by the others, who felt a need to physically touch me for their comfort and reassurance.

“Oh shut it Julie,” spat Danny, who was the last to join the group hug.

Once it was over and the kinder reassured, I decided I would spill some of the beans, besides which Stella was parking her car and she’d tell them anyway.

“Okay, these are possible dates for our holiday.”

“Yeh,” squealed Billie, “Where are we going, Mummy?”

“Scotland,” scowled Trish, “to that rotten castle.” She sat with her bad face on and her arms folded.

“The castle—oh wow, can we go Mummy?” Suddenly Danny was all ears.

“I don’t wanna go,” sulked Trish.

“It’ll be an adventure,” suggested Billie.

“It was an adventure last time, they tried to kill us, didn’t they Mummy?”

“What, the ghosts?” piped Danny, going off on his own fantasy.

“There aren’t any ghosts, the nasty people were Russians, weren’t they Mummy?”

“They were gangsters, and they won’t trouble us again Trish.”

“Mummy killed ’em all,” sang Danny as he danced around in a circle.

“No she didn’t,” protested Trish, “It was the soldiers who got them.”

“They have soldiers at your castle Mummy, like at the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace?”

“Don’t be silly, they were out in the woods waiting for the Russians.”

“There are woods?” Danny seemed to be excited by all the possible things his fantasy castle could provide.

“Is there a dungeon or dragons, Mummy?” Billie enquired.

“I met no dragons, except a Russian one, and I don’t remember about dungeons—but they could be useful for keeping you lot under control.”

“Did you slay the dragon, Mummy?” asked dancing Danny with great excitement as he re-enacted the slashing and stabbing of something with his imaginary sword.

“No I didn’t, and she went back to Russia.”

“She flew to Russia?” his eyes were as big as saucers, “Did they pick her up on radar?”

Trish rolled her eyes and I nodded to him.

“Did you get any photos, did she breathe flames an’ things?”

“No such thing as dragons,” announced Julie as Stella came through the door with Baby Puddin’, is there Auntie S?”

“Is there what?” asked a harassed-looking Stella—“I’ve been down that clinic for two bloody hours just to get her weighed, I coulda stayed home and done it. Bloody health visitors get on my tits.”

At this, all the kids burst out laughing and Stella stood in the middle of the noise looking totally bemused. “What did I say?”

“You said the T word,” I shrugged at her.

“What are the dates for, Auntie Stella?”

“Cathy and Simon’s wedding up in Scotland, why?”

Silence fell amongst the throng.

“Thanks Stella,” I said and wondered how we’d deal with the next group of questions.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1073

There was a short lull before a cacophony of voices yelled, “Can I be a bridesmaid?”

“Did I say something wrong?” mouthed Stella to me.

“QUIET,” I shouted and there was a moment of silence followed once more by raucous noise. I shouted again and silence fell once more. “Thank you,” I said quietly. “You can all be bridesmaids, but we don’t have a date until I discuss it with Daddy, and we have to ask Daisy if she’d like to come and be one too.”

“I don’t wanna be a bloody bridesmaid,” said Danny.

“Aww go on, it’ll be fun,” teased Julie. Danny ran off out into the garden.

“Mummy, who is Daisy?” asked Trish.

“Daisy is a little girl I met in hospital who wants to be a bridesmaid and I invited her to be one when I got married.”

“Did you make her better?”

“I might have helped.” I shrugged. I remembered avoiding her and her dad, Paul and the surgeon whatever his name was. I collapsed trying to heal another kid and she died. Stella called the ambulance and I ended up in A&E. I almost ran away because I couldn’t face promising to heal his wife. I was a coward. Part of me seemed suited to the role, because I didn’t want to ask her now, I felt ashamed of my fear of responsibility for something I had little or no control over.

I left them asking Stella questions while I called Sam Rose.

“This is an unexpected pleasure,” said Sam.

“Do you remember a Daisy Drummond?”

“Of course I do, you made her walk again.”

“I didn’t make her do anything—she just got off the bed and walked.”

“You sure it wasn’t, ‘picked up her bed and walked’?”

“Sam, unless you were built like Samson, you wouldn’t be able to lift it let alone pick it up, hospital beds weigh a ton.”

“Why are you asking about Daisy Drummond?”

“I promised to have her as one of my bridesmaids.”

“I thought you were married?”

“I am, but the family expects a big church thing up in Scotland, so we’re doing a blessing with all the trimmings.”

“And you wonder if she wants to be a bridesmaid?”

“If she’ll forgive me.”

Forgive you?”

“Yes, I ran away if you remember.”

“You weren’t very well if I remember.”

“I was scared shitless.”

“A very precise medical term.”

“What is?”

“Being scared shitless, it happens to doctors all the time, especially paediatricians who are frequently unable to do much for their young charges.”

“Sam, you are a wonderful doctor.”

“Why thank you, Lady Cameron, you’re no bad yersel.” He affected a very poor Scottish accent. “Together, we could be unbeatable.”

“Sam, you’d get yourself struck off for superstition.”

“I don’t know if that is actually a capital offence, but they’d probably lump it under gross misconduct and ask me to fall on my sword.”

“Shouldn’t you fall on your stethoscope, being a doc an’ all?”

“I think it takes a long time to kill you that way, in fact you’d probably get through a few years’ pension first.”

“Oh, then the government wouldn’t like you.”

“No they wouldn’t, to them money always comes first.”

“A bit like bankers,” I teased.

“Don’t get me started on them, they’re responsible for all…”

“Sam,” I interrupted, “Simon is a banker, and my outlaws own a rather large edifice which deals with money: in fact; quite a few of them.”

“Oh yes, I forgot.”

“Yes, I’ve married a long line of usurers.”

He laughed, “Not that bad is it?”

“Not at all, I can have all the money I want—except I don’t want it, I want my children to grow up to be happy and contented adults, doing useful jobs and being aware of the needs of others as well as their own—and I hope that of the other denizens of this planet.”

“What a refreshing young woman you are, Cathy. If you ever get fed up with Lord wossisname, come and live with me.”

I actually blushed over the phone, is that possible?

“You still there, Cathy?”

“Yes, I’m still here—one of the kids wanted something,” I lied.

“What do you want to do about Daisy?”

“I’d like to contact her and ask her if she’d still like to be a bridesmaid.”

“Would you like me to ask her parents to call you?”

“That would resolve my dilemma in some ways, wouldn’t it?”

“Are you happy that I tell them about your reason for wanting contact?”

“That’s fine Sam, tell them whatever you like, and if I don’t hear in a day or two, I’ll know she doesn’t want to be involved with me—which is fine.” I felt a tear roll down my face. I felt so ashamed of running away, that part of me hoped they wouldn’t call.

I left it with Sam and went back to the kitchen where Stella was still besieged by barbarians; they were using weapons of math disruption, trying to browbeat Stella into giving them which date was most likely.

They were all talking at once so I slammed the kitchen door and they all jumped, including Stella. “You mother’s here, she can deal with it now,” she said, and disappeared rapidly.

“Right you lot, first things first: I haven’t decided a date, so no amount of annoying me will produce one faster and could result in me cancelling the whole thing. I haven’t decided on a colour scheme, but I will and you will wear it, you will also wear whatever style I decide on. This is my wedding blessing if you want to do all the choosing, you’ll have to wait until you get married yourself. Now, go and play while I make the dinner.”

I went and found Danny who was polishing Stella’s bike. “Don’t let them get to you because you’re the only boy. You’ll look dashing in a kilt.”

“I’m not wearing a bloody skirt.”

“Danny, I thought we’d agreed that all the men would wear dress tartan kilts with sporrans and all the trimmings.”

“I’m no bloody fairy despite living here.”

“Is that what you think the rest of them are?”

“I dunno—I’m sorry Mum, I jus’ don’ wanna be laughed at.”

I hugged him as he cried on my shoulder, he was nearly as tall as I was. “Danny, the event is taking place in Scotland; all the men will be wearing kilts, showing off their hairy legs and knobbly knees, with various knives and daggers stuffed in their socks.”

“In their socks?”

“Yes, ask Daddy or Gramps to show you their ceremonial knives.”

“Would I have one of those too?”

“I don’t know what the age limit is on allowing boys to wear one, but providing you promise to take care of it and not do anything silly with it, I’m sure Daddy would get you one as well. But ye cannae wear ain wi trewsers, only wi a kilt, dae ye ken?” My Lallans is pure rubbish, despite being born in Dumfries waur Rabbie Burns died.

“Okay, if I can have one of the knives, I’ll wear a skir—I mean kilt.”

“You’ll need to talk with Daddy, but I’m sure he’ll sort it out to both your satisfactions.”

“I hope so, Mummy,” he hugged me not realising he’d lapsed into a more juvenile form of address despite being the great age of ten going on eleven.

I left him polishing the bike and a promise to clean mine too—can’t be bad. I’d just arrived back at the kitchen when Stella called me. “Cathy, it’s Maria Drummond.”

“Who?” then the penny dropped, my tummy convulsed and I took the receiver. “Hello?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1074

“H… h… hello?” I squeaked down the phone.

“Hello, is that Cathy? I’m sorry I don’t have your other name.”

“Yes, I’m Cathy, Cathy Cameron.”

“I don’t think we’ve met but I feel I almost know you.” She sounded confident compared to my terrified state.

“You do?” my voice went squeaky again, so what must she have thought of me.

“Oh yes, Daisy and Paul told me so much about you and how you helped both of them to cope with the accident, and how you helped me too.”

“Did I?”

“Yes you did, and I’m grateful to be able to say thank you personally.”

“I don’t think I did very much.”

“Dr Rose said you were very self-effacing.”

“He did? I mean, did he?”

“He also said you were honouring a promise you made to Daisy when she was in hospital.”

“I did say that when I got married she could be one of my bridesmaids, it was offered as a promise.”

“I think it’s incredibly sweet of you. I’m sure she’d love to, if only to thank you for the help you gave her.”

“I was hoping she might find the experience fun as well.”

“I’m sure she will. When is the wedding?”

“It isn’t actually a wedding, it’s a wedding blessing—but with all the trimmings. We actually got married a few months ago, but my in-laws wanted to put on a bit of a show, so we’re organising one for them. I haven’t got a date yet but it will be end of August early September.”

“Oh okay, as far as I know we’re available. Where is it?”

“At Stanebury.”

“Where’s Stanebury, it sounds like Wiltshire.”

“No, it’s a little further north than Wiltshire, it’s in Scotland.”

“Scotland—that’s funny, because we nearly went to Scotland for our holiday this year. Your in-laws live up there do they?”

“They have a place up there,” I tried not to frighten her off. When you tell people it’s a castle they tend to go all funny and run away.

“Oh well, we get to see a bit of Scotland, a few old castles and things.”

“Indeed, there’s a castle at Stanebury.”

“This isn’t going to be in the castle is it?”

“Actually, yes.”

“Crikey, how posh—Daisy will be impressed. She’s never been to an event in a castle. Your in-laws must be quite rich.”

“They’re quite comfortable, I think the phrase is and as they want this blessing up there, they’re paying for most of it.”

“Wow, I wish my parents-in-law had been, we scrimped and saved for all ours ourselves.”

“Our actual wedding was a relatively small affair, this will be a bit grander.”

“How many bridesmaids are you having?”

“Six.”

“Cor, what ages are they?”

“One of sixteen, one of ten, two aged six and one five year old; plus Daisy if she wants to come.”

“I’m sure she will. Look could we meet sometime—I’m happy to come to you if you’re busy, or we could meet somewhere convenient to both of us.”

“I have the girls off school at the moment, though Julie could watch them for an hour, but maybe Daisy would like to meet them as they’ll be her fellow bridesmaids, or should that be sister bridesmaids? So would you like to come over?”

“I’d love to.”

“What about lunch tomorrow?”

“I don’t want to put you to any bother.”

“Come for lunch tomorrow, say about half past twelve?”

“That’s really kind of you. Daisy said you were a nice lady, she was right.”

“I try to be—I don’t always succeed, but I try.”

“Is that more self-effacement?”

“I like to believe it’s honesty, admitting my flaws.”

“As long as they don’t blind you to your good points.”

I gave her directions and we agreed to meet tomorrow. I got on with preparing the dinner, a lasagne with a fresh fruit salad dessert. I’d tell the others over dinner what was happening tomorrow.

They were all happy with my arrangements, only Stella had anything to ask perhaps because she’s lived with the Cameron wealth for her whole life, she knew some of the pitfalls attached to it. “You told them we were using a castle as a venue, you didn’t mention it was our castle, did you?”

“No, I thought that might scare her off.”

“It does, they either think you’re some relic of the late mediaeval period or some nouveau riche who acquired their money selling drugs or guns.”

“You mean you’re not?”

“Good lord no, we did it when it was both fashionable and legal, now it’s neither besides being so passé.” Goodness, how can you be so snobbish about snobbery?

So the next morning, we set off with the Cameron cycling club and did a ten mile ride, came back had breakfast and after showering and dressing, I set the chores each would do.

Although the weather was warm, I was going to do soup. Trish was in charge of making a loaf for the purpose. Livvie was looking after tidying up and Billie and Danny helping me make the soup.

Julie went with Stella to the supermarket to get the necessary constituents for a new fresh fruit salad, melon, kiwifruit, apple, that sort of stuff; plus some fresh double cream and some butter for the bread—we always use Flora, but it’s nice to have the choice of butter if you prefer it.

When they got back, Julie and Mima did the fruit salad, and we left the soup—carrot and coriander—to keep warm. I did a second loaf because I felt with all of us there, we could quite easily run out of bread.

By midday we were pretty well ready to receive visitors, the place looked tidy, we some fresh flowers in the vase as a table centre, the place looked and smelt clean—in fact it smelt of fresh baked bread, yummy.

The kids were all clean and tidy, the girls were all wearing a little bit of makeup and some perfume, Danny was in his clean jeans—did I have to plead with him? He succumbed to threats about sharp pointy bits of metal to stick in his socks, or a lack of them if he misbehaved—I won’t be able to use that too often.

The food was ready, and I suddenly looked at my own clothes—I was wearing my jeans and old tee shirt—pooh. I ran upstairs and changed into a pair of cut-offs in green embroidered material and a near enough matching shirt top. I threw on some makeup and a squirt of smellies, put on some jewellery and my watch, tidied up my hair and went down.

“I do like Calvin Klein clothes on you,” said Stella.

“Are they? I hadn’t noticed—they just saved me having to shave my legs.”

“A likely story,” she huffed and just then a car drove into the driveway and parked alongside Stella’s Ford.

“They’re here,” shouted an excited Trish.

“I take it, that’s them,” observed Stella as we watched a woman—heavily pregnant, waddle up the drive holding hands with a girl aged about six.

“She didn’t say anything about being pregnant,” I commented.

“Does that make a difference?” asked Stella.

“Of course not, but we could have gone to her to make it easier.”

“Would it be easier to feed the five thousand or drive a couple of miles to meet them?” Stella asked drily.

“Oh well, here goes, stand by your beds, guys,” I shouted to the kids who looked at me as if I was completely barmy. Sometimes I think I am.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1075

The doorbell rang and as I walked to it, I quickly checked myself in the hall mirror—no bits of cabbage stuck to my teeth—after breakfast? I am going barmy. I opened the door and welcomed our visitors in.

“Hello Daisy, and you must be Maria,” we shook hands, “I’m Cathy, do come in.”

Daisy handed me the bunch of flowers she was holding, “These are for you, Auntie Cathy.”

“Why thank you, Daisy.”

I was astonished but secretly delighted that my brood had waited until I brought the visitors in to meet them. I led Maria and Daisy into meet the other bridesmaids, Danny and Stella.

The kids seemed to get on quite well and Trish and Livvie were soon taking Daisy off to see their doll collection, with Billie and Meems tagging along behind.

“It’s so nice to put a face to the name at last.” Maria sat down quite elegantly given her size. “You were so kind to Daisy in hospital,” she winced and made a face. “My sprog is kicking I’m sure he’s going to be a footballer.” We all smiled politely.

“Whose are all the children?” she asked after adjusting her position on the chair.

“Mine,” I smiled waiting for the inevitable statement of surprise.

“Even the teenager?”

“Yes, sort of.”

“Sort of?” she looked questioningly at me.

“Yes, she’s my foster daughter,” I smiled, I didn’t want to give too much information away and besides I was sure that Maria was too polite to ask too many questions.

“Teenagers can be so challenging,” she sighed.

“Is that the voice of experience?” I asked.

“I have a sister aged sixteen, she is the bane of my mother’s life.”

“Oh,” I noted politely, knowing that I would hear as much as she wanted to disclose.

“Her name is Theresa, but she calls herself Tess, mum found out she was on the pill about a month ago.”

I was about to say it was better than unwanted pregnancies, but the size of my guest reminded me to avoid the topic. “She didn’t tell her, your sister didn’t tell your mum, I mean.”

“Goodness no, we’re a family of devout Roman Catholics, she nearly had a stroke.” With names like Maria and Theresa, it was hardly a surprise, however I did refrain from claiming to be a devout agnostic. Instead, I looked at the woman in front of me, her short dark hair was nicely cut, and her maternity dress looked like it was from the Next catalogue.

“What did she do—your mother?” I asked.

“Nothing—not until she consulted the Father.”

“The father? Is she not…”

Maria blushed, “You’re not Catholics are you?”

I blushed more from my thoughts than my reply, “Um, no,” thank goodness.

“Mum went to see our priest, Father O’Malley.”

“Of course, ’scuse my ignorance, we’re rather secular here.”

More embarrassed silences and blushes.

“Shall we eat?” I called the children. Danny and Julie were already in the dining room and I asked them to supervise the hand washing of the others.

“Can I smell fresh baked bread?” asked Maria sniffing.

“I have a bread machine.”

“Oh goodness, I was talking to Paul about one of those only the other day. Do you—um—I suppose you do find them good.”

“They have one drawback.”

“They do?” she looked worried.

“Yes, it smells so nice that everyone eats more bread than is possibly good for them.” I smiled and she relaxed and smiled back.

I dished up the soup at the table and Trish wandered round carrying a basket of freshly sliced wholemeal bread—it was still warm. Then she sat next to Daisy and they were gabbling away like two old friends.

The meal was a success, and we did start the second loaf as my lot had seconds of soup—greedy hounds. Then the fruit salad and cream disappeared in record time, Daisy and her mum tucking in with the rest of them. Stella and Maria chatted easily and I felt able to slip back and fore to the kitchen without being noticed, mainly to make drinks for everyone. Julie and the adults had tea, the kids some orange juice.

“May we leave the table, Mummy?” Trish was being extra polite in front of Daisy, perhaps she should come again.

“Yes darling, show Daisy your computer.” They all thundered off to play.

“How old are you Julie?” asked Maria.

“Sixteen.”

“Can I ask, would you go on the pill without your mother’s consent?”

I nearly swallowed the cup as well as the tea.

“Um—not really,” blushed a very embarrassed Julie.

“She’s on the pill, she had a slight hormone imbalance,” I intervened to save further embarrassment. It was sort of half true.

“Oh,” gasped Maria.

“Yes, doctors prescribe it for irregular periods and so on.” I was heading into potentially dangerous territory but I was hoping that politeness would steer us clear of too much on that subject.

“Of course they do, I’m sorry Julie.”

“When’s the baby due?” I asked changing the subject.

“Anytime now, they gave me the eighth as the actual day, but I don’t think I’ll go that long.”

“What is it—do you know?” Julie decided to stay rather than hide up in her room.

“Definitely a baby,” joked Maria and we all chortled, “though sometimes it feels like a baby elephant, an eight legged one, who delights on dancing on my bladder—talking of which—where’s the…?”

I directed her to the cloakroom.

“Can I go out on Auntie Stella’s bike Mummy?” Danny was bored with the female company.

I looked at Stella who nodded, “If you take care and stay on the cycle path. Don’t go too far.”

“Thanks, Mum, Auntie Stel.” He was gone before Maria came back.

I glanced at my watch, she’d been gone ten minutes, a long wee? I’d wait a couple more minutes and then go and see.“D’you think she’s okay?” I asked Stella, it was now nearly fifteen minutes.

“Better check, I suppose.” She rose from the table and went to the cloakroom and I cleared up the dirty crocks.

Moments after I’d loaded the dishwasher Stella poked her head round the door and said, “Houston, we have a prarlm.”

“Wossup?”

“I think she’s going into labour.”

“Well you’re the expert, I’ve only delivered dormice.”

“C’mon Cathy, I haven’t done anything for the last couple of years and that was advising people how to avoid the pox. I last did maternity, about seven years ago.”

“Stella, the only time I’ve been in maternity, I was the parcel being delivered.”

“You came to see me.”

“I was only visiting then.”

I accompanied her to the cloakroom, Maria was groaning. I then did the usual and inappropriate thing, “Are you all right, Maria?” it was quite obvious she wasn’t.

“My waters have broken and the contractions are coming thick and fast.”

“Is there anything you want me to do—call an ambulance?”

“Oh—OH, I think it’s coming.”

“We need to get her out of the cloakroom, Stella and we need an ambulance.”

More groans were emanating from behind the cloakroom door.

“Can I call your husband?” I asked in between groans. There was a horrible thump sound and the groans stopped.

“Maria, are you okay?” I shouted, “Can you open the door?”

A soft groaning noise came from the other side of it.

“I think she’s fallen off the toilet.”

“I’ll call the ambulance,” said Stella rushing back to the kitchen.

I stood looking at the lock on the cloakroom door. Even if I managed to force it, she was likely to be lying behind it. Oh shit.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1076

“Call the police as well,” I shouted after her. My brain began to work again, time was of the essence—this woman could die and so could her baby.

I ran outside to the window, it had bars on it, on the outside and even if I could remove them, there was a lock on the inside of the quarter-light. Bugger, this was getting worse. Entry had to be via the door, how else could we do it? The door was solid, a proper wooden one. The floor was solid, the ceiling?

I tried to visualise what was directly above our cloakroom, the top of the stairs. I ran back out and grabbed a hammer and cold chisel: a wide one called a feather-splitter and designed for lifting things like floorboards. I remembered my dad lifting floorboards when he wired in something like a light. I rushed upstairs and by this time Julie had realised something was up.

Julie somehow understood my garbled message and helped me tear up the landing carpet, we ripped it back and began bashing the chisel with the hammer lifting up the ancient boards. The first was the hardest and by the time we had a second up we were getting the hang of it. Underneath, the ceiling was made of lath and plaster stuck on with horrible black mortar. I knocked a hole through and could see we were at least in the right place. I then smashed away for all I was worth knocking a hole big enough for me to drop through. The mess down below was dreadful and Tom would have a fit when he came home.

Then finally, ruining a pair of CK pants and top, I wriggled through the hole feet first and lowered myself down onto the toilet cistern and then, via the pan to the floor. I wasn’t sure if Maria was breathing or not, and she was covered in the horrid black dust from the ceiling.

Moving her in the small space was going to be a challenge and I was trying not to hurt her then thought, what the hell, and yanked her leg out of the way, pulled open the door and with Julie’s help, manhandled her out on to the hallway.

At this point several of the girls appeared to see what all the noise was, “Keep them away,” I shouted and Julie shooed them back into the lounge where they’d been playing. Stella went in with them, picking up Daisy and taking her with them despite her protests and screams for her mother.

We laid Maria on her back and I tried to see if she was breathing, there was vomit all down the front of her, so I really hoped she was. I asked Julie to get a cloth and some towels and she hared off faster than I’ve ever seen her run. She was back as I decided Maria had stopped breathing. I asked Julie to clean up her face and mouth, while I began chest compressions—apparently that’s what you do these days.

At this point, the paramedic arrived, a single one on a motorbike—an ambulance was apparently on its way, stuck in traffic. With a stomach that really didn’t want me to touch her mouth, I held her nose and blew twice into her mouth, I saw the chest rise and fall.

I started the compressions again as the paramedic pulled out his scissors and began cutting open her dress, then her bra and I had to stop while he placed electrodes over various bits of her body and plugged them into his defibrillator. He urged me to continue, so I did, compressing her ribs and praying I wasn’t hurting the baby.

The machine decided it wasn’t ready to shock, and the young paramedic took over the compressions, really bashing them in, he pressed the machine again and after an electronic voice said, ‘analysing’ he continued. Then it told him to administer a shock, we stood clear and her body jolted with the force of the surge of energy.

He continued his compressions, and handed me a mask to put over her mouth and nose which had a bag attached, to breathe for her. I compressed the bag and I think I saw her chest rise. The machine suggested we had some heart activity and told us to stop. Her heart was beating and I felt such relief. I was tired and filthy dirty and had ruined goodness knows how much clothing, when the paramedic shouted at me to continue with the bag I nearly burst into tears.

The ambulance finally arrived and they loaded her up and drove off within moments, with words like ‘Caesarean’ being mentioned. I sat in a heap and sobbed.

“Is she gonna make it?” asked Julie.

I shrugged, I had no idea—nor about the baby.

I called Maureen and asked her to come asap to examine the mess I’d made, and I went upstairs to shower—I felt so dirty. I also cleaned my teeth and used a mouthwash. My hair still damp, I dressed and went down to see to Daisy.

It’s so difficult explaining to a six-year-old what had happened; made more difficult by not knowing if either her mother or new sibling would survive the ordeal.

Using Maria’s mobile we managed to get hold of Paul and told him what had happened; he was in Northumberland and would take hours to get home. I told him to see about flying down from Newcastle to Southampton and someone would collect him. He told me he’d call me back on her mobile.

I took Daisy into the hospital to see if there was any news about her mother. The roads were still clogged: I suppose the kids were on holiday and every parent with a car was using it to block the roads. I’d have been quicker cycling but couldn’t have taken Daisy with me.

Whilst the reception staff were sympathetic, they couldn’t seem to get any news other than someone had been rushed into theatre who had come in by ambulance. We sat and waited.

When Paul phoned to say he could get a flight and be down around six in the evening, I told him Tom would collect him. I then phoned Tom and told him briefly what had happened. He immediately agreed to collect Paul and bring him to the hospital.

It seemed I only met Maria in emergencies, last time she’d crashed her car, and my bike had been wrecked. Back at home, Maureen had come, cleaned up the mess and re-laid the floorboards. Apparently, the whole ceiling would need to come down and be replaced. She would do it next week but would need to speak with Tom first, or so Stella told us later.

We waited, cuddling together hoping that Maria and the baby would be okay. I was praying, but I’m not sure to who or what. Finally, after we’d been there an hour or more, probably longer, I was called and led to an interview room. We walked hand in hand and I felt Daisy’s nails cutting into my skin, she was gripping so tightly.

We were taken into a small consulting room. “You are?” asked a man in blue scrubs.

“I’m Cathy Cameron, and this is Daisy, Maria Drummond’s daughter.”

“You’re a friend, I take it?”

“Yes, she was taken ill at my house, I had to smash in through the ceiling to get her out of my cloakroom, she’d fallen across the door.”

“Ah, that would explain why she was covered in black dust—lath and plaster I take it?”

I nodded, “Her husband is in Northumberland but gets back to Southampton airport at about six, my father is going to collect him.”

He nodded, “Okay, the state of play is this—we have a very sick newborn, who may or may not make it, and we have a very sick mother, who may or may not make it. It’s in the lap of the gods, I’m afraid. They’re both in intensive care. I’m sorry, but we’ve done what we can.”

“Can we see them?”

“You can see the mother, I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for the young un, she’s pretty sick.”

“She’s dealt with it before, her mother had a nasty accident a year or so ago and ended up in the neurological unit at Southampton. Daisy was quite badly injured herself, weren’t you, sweetheart?”

“Yes, Auntie Cathy fixed my legs and helped Mummy, didn’t you?”

I blushed by way of an answer.

“This is the young lady whose legs spontaneously healed and she walked about a short while later?”

Blushing still, I nodded again.

“Are you the one who has done a few minor miracles here?”

“I wouldn’t say I did anything, but it seems to happen near me.”

“Right, young woman—Nurse, take her up to see Mrs Drummond and also to the baby if she can. I have to go, another emergency—do what you can, eh?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1077

Maria Drummond was asleep or unconscious with a large dressing across her tummy, presumably where the caesarean section had been performed. I held Daisy close to me and felt her body tremble as she whimpered, “Mummy,” and began to sob.

“C’mon girl, let’s see if we can help her get better,” I said to her, and gave her a squeeze.

“Like you did before?” she looked up at me with big, round red eyes framed by tears.

“Like we did before,” and before she could challenge the, we, I reminded her that it was her who insisted I help her mother last time.

I sent her round the bed and told her to hold her mother’s hand. I clasped the other one and watched suspiciously by the nurse, began talking to Maria.

“Maria, it’s Cathy, remember you were in my house when you were taken ill. Your baby is born and is fine, so we need you to concentrate on getting well again, so you can look after your two lovely children. Daisy is here with me, and between us we’re going to make you well again.

“At this moment, you are surrounded by a blue light…”

“I can see it Mummy,” squealed Daisy, “it’s very pretty and sparkly.” I smiled at her description.

The nurse was less enthusiastic but equally impressed, “Holy shit,” she exclaimed, “How do you do that?”

I closed my eyes and ramped up the power—well, I imagined it was flowing through me to my patient and that it was concentrating where it was needed and healing all the parts of Maria which were damaged.

She’d been without oxygen for several minutes, so was she brain damaged? How damaged was she inside with a baby on its way down her canal only for it to become stuck as she passed out? Had all the placenta come away and was she bleeding internally, not to mention her body chemistry and the effects of anaesthetics and other drugs.

I asked the blue light to correct all that wasn’t healthy and my whole body tingled with the power as it moved through me. I lost an awareness of where I was and began to float into a dark space where the only light was coming from me. I was aware I was wearing a Persil-white gown and my wings carried me effortlessly to where I needed to be.

Floating before me was a baby girl; she was attached by a long thin string of light to something which I assumed was her physical body. The distance was increasing by the moment as she floated up past me and nearly out of sight, the cord holding her becoming finer and more strained by the moment.

I flexed my wings and flew off after her, realising how important time was, and how fast she was drifting upwards. I was flying at my fastest speed and I became anxious I was too slow, and she would pass from the physical world into this void of darkness.

I redoubled my efforts, throwing love and light at her, trying to pull her back or slow down her progress. I closed in on the infant, and after what seemed like hours later clasped her to me, careful not to break the silver cord which attached her.

I kissed her and transferred some light into her flaccid body and as I swooped down carrying her ethereal body back to her physical one, I talked to her—telling her that in few moments she would feel a horrible pain as she rejoined her body, but that would be necessary for her heal and for her to start breathing. I kissed her again, told her she was much loved and allowed her physical body to draw her ethereal one back into itself. I stood alongside as the two merged and she cried causing a midwife to look up and come rushing over to the incubator. I knew she was going to be safe now and sped back to her mother.

Maria was lying motionless, her body monitored and assisted by machines. Daisy was clasping her mother’s hand in both of hers and praying for her mother to recover and wake. I could see my own body sitting in a trance holding on to Maria’s other hand.

Standing at the foot of the bed was a large dark thing—yes, thing. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was moving on to the bed and was going to suck the life out of Maria. I placed myself in front of it between its rank presence and the body of my patient. I could feel it trying to make me disappear. I looked and the blue light was fading inside me and I felt myself growing weaker.

“Mummy, you must get better—please Auntie Cathy, please help her,” Daisy wailed and I focused my attention once again on protecting Maria from this vampire.

Once more I felt the darkness trying to crush me, and I imagined a lamp inside me being turned up, being transformed from a little candle into a hugely powerful mercury vapour lamp. It took several moments and I thought I was going to succumb to the darkness, then gradually I managed to concentrate more and more on the light increasing to the point my eyes were hurting it was so intense.

Suddenly, there was a surge of the power as if the sun itself had come to visit us and I heard an enormous bang, then all the machines began beeping furiously and the nurse was rushing round like the proverbial blue-arsed fly.

“Auntie Cathy,” I heard a voice calling me back into myself, and I slowly opened my eyes.

“Hello Poppet, did I nod off?”

The machines had stabilised as sister came into the room and switched them off and back on.

“What the hell happened?” she asked the nurse.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you?” gasped the nurse who looked rather pale.

“Try me,” demanded the sister.

“I don’t know if I can describe it, but the lady sat by the bed seemed to be throwing out this blue light all over the patient and her daughter.”

“What d’ya mean throwing?”

“Well this blue light came out of her and into the patient, then she had this thing standing behind her.”

“What thing?”

“I dunno, some tall thing with wings, like an angel—whose smile and eyes made me feel very strange.”

“Oh come off it, you’ve been watching too much bloody Dr Who.”

“No, honestly, I felt reassured that everything would be all right. Then the machines began to show the patient was in distress but I couldn’t move to do anything, like I was held by some invisible force. Then the angel seemed to be fading and I began to wonder if the patient was dying. That seemed to last for ages, then suddenly everything went very cold and I felt the angel was growing bright again—then bang—there was like a power surge which made me see stars, the machines went bananas and the angel was gone, but the patient’s vitals were all normal, for the first time since she’s been here.”

“Mummy,” squealed Daisy, and we turned to look at the bed. Maria had opened her eyes and was smiling, albeit weakly at her daughter. Daisy hugged and kissed her mother. “I love you Mummy,” she said.

“I love you too, flower,” she smiled back. She turned her gaze to the sister, “How is my baby?”

Before the sister could respond I interjected, “She’s fine.”

She looked over to me, “Thank you,” she said before closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1078

Daisy spent the night at our house, Paul spent much of the evening with Maria, sitting at her bedside while she slept.

On the way out we went to see the baby, a little girl as I’d seen in my astral travels. As we were shown the baby, the nurse or midwife on the unit said loudly, “That’s her, how did she get in?”

“What d’you mean?” asked the senior midwife who’d shown us in.

“You know that child had breathing difficulties.”

“Yes,” agreed the senior midwife.

“Well, I heard the baby cry—I mean, I was more expecting the poor little mite to die and she…” the woman pointed at me, “was standing there, with some tall white thing behind her; she looked straight at me, smiled and disappeared. How did she do that? The unit is locked to outsiders.”

“Clearly you were mistaken,” I tried bluffing, “I was sitting with my friend the child’s mother, and Daisy, the baby’s sister. I didn’t leave the room, did I Daisy?”

“No, Auntie Cathy, but the angel did.” She smiled, no, positively beamed at me. Never expect children to back you when you are obviously lying.

“I didn’t see any angels Daisy, you must have dreamt it.”

“I did not, Auntie Cathy, it was you who fell asleep: remember?”

“Oh, maybe I did.” I smiled. Anyway, Sprog Drummond was doing all right, so Daisy and I went home and she slept in my bed, I kipped on the couch in the lounge. Well, wouldn’t want the neighbours to talk.

Paul Drummond came round at about ten. He looked like someone who’d spent a night under a hedge, having lost a fight with a cat first.

He hugged me after he’d given Daisy the most all engulfing hug I’ve ever seen. The poor thing completely disappeared for several moments and I wondered if I’d have to do CPR. She popped out, crying with joy—her daddy was here, and she’d seen an angel and couldn’t wait to tell him.

I made them both sit down and gave him a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich, while she had some cereal and toast.

“Maria told me you’d pulled her back from the void, again—that’s twice now.”

“Tell her, third time unlucky—I won’t be allowed to do it again.”

“You won’t be allowed? Does someone give you orders?”

“It wasn’t I who saved her, the universe did—possibly because it has plans for her or has need of her. Maybe your new daughter is someone special.”

“You are assisted by angels, surely this means God sends you to help people.”

“A thousand people died in Pakistan this week, why should he save two people in Britain, one of whom is only hours old? Why didn’t he save the thousand and let the two perish?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

“Neither do I, and please don’t go on about mysterious ways, because it’s a load of cobblers.”

“But don’t angels belong to God, they work for him don’t they?”

This was a tedious argument, because I’d been through it before. “Angel comes from the Greek and means messenger. References to angels vary, what people see or experience is different, and that is as much a cultural reference as anything else.”

He looked blankly at me, “Lady Cathy, Daisy is six, she hasn’t had too much in the way of exposure to culture, has she?”

“She’s had enough, you’re Catholic, so there are images of angels everywhere, in churches, books, television, even the Internet. She’ll have seen them. She experienced the energy of angelic form last night, it resonated with her and she interpreted that unconsciously with angels.”

“So, what are you getting at?”

“If you’d been brought up to believe it was something different, you see or feel something different. Most people are insensitive to natural energies, they screen or filter them out unless you tell them they’re there. Then, they see or feel all sorts of things—like fairies or sprites, or angels—depending on how they recognise their folk heritage.”

“I thought fairies were—um—fairy tales?”

“So where did the fairy tales originate and why are they so universal?”

“I don’t know—I’ve never thought about it before.”

“Are there any energies in this room?”

“I expect so, there’s electric appliances, so background radiation and so on.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, there’s you and me?”

“Anything else?”

“Not that I can think of.”

“Okay, there are two lines which run through this room, one goes that way and the other flows in the opposite direction. You can’t see them, can you?”

“No, of course I can’t.”

“But they’re there, right?”

“If you say so.”

“You don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know what I believe.”

“Fine, I’ll show you them.”

“How are you gonna do that?”

“With these,” I picked up two brazing rods, in which the end had been bent over to produce a handle. “Dowsing rods.”

“You gonna find water?”

“You can find most things with these, so I am told. I have searched for water and pipes and wires. Our plumber showed me how to do it when I was a kid; I’ve done it on and off ever since. Oh this line is red, and that one is green.” I moved onto both lines and the rods moved to indicate flow. “Like to try?”

“I don’t know what this has got to do with Maria and our baby.”

“Nothing, but I’m trying to prove a simple point at the moment.”

I showed him how to loosely hold the rods and they moved in his hands, he was less sceptical now. I showed him how to get the rods to indicate direction of the energy. He was quite impressed. Sceptics always are when they can’t explain something.

“They are picking up on energy, probably electromagnetic and possibly caused by water movement, or the spinning of the earth or some other such mechanism. Let’s face it, the earth is one big electromagnetic generator—a gigantic dynamo. It has pathways for the energy to move, over a sort of grid system, these are two such lines.”

“Can you dowse for angels?”

“I expect so, although I can’t say I ever have; you can try if you want. I’ll see if I can call up the energy. Stand away from the lines and when you feel something is happening see if the rods will point to it. Ready?”

He nodded, and I sat down and began to think about Maria and her baby, I felt the energy coming, flowing into me and I heard him mumbling something to himself and standing at various angles to me. I became aware of the mysterious tall creature which was almost overshadowing me, as they say in mediumistic circles.

“Bloody hell,” I heard him say and it broke my concentration. The presence faded.

“Something wrong?”

“No, I saw it with my own eyes, I looked into her eyes and I felt reassurance and peace: my family will be okay. Thank you, Cathy, you might not think it but you do God’s work.”

“I’d have to disagree on the semantics.”

“You know what I mean, those eyes were so beautiful, they were so full of love.”

“Shouldn’t they be?”

“The universe doesn’t love anyone.”

“How do you know?”

“How can it?”

“Same way your god does, only I see positive energy instead of anthropomorphised love.”

“But those eyes were love, absolutely full of it.”

“Did you ask them why all those people died in Pakistan—and please don’t me tell they were the wrong religion, because to me they’re all wrong.”

“No I didn’t.”

“I think we’d better leave it there. I’m not trying to disprove anything, just enabling you to see things differently if you want to.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1079

“What would you like to do with Daisy?” I asked Paul.

“I don’t know, I hadn’t really given it much thought, I’m afraid.”

“She can stay here, assuming she wants to, until you have organised yourself and Maria. There’s no hurry to take her back for the moment, unless either you or she feel a need.”

“I can’t believe someone would walk into my life and save my daughter and my wife, then do it again with a different daughter.”

“Oh well, sorry if I’m becoming predictable.”

“Predictable? You are the most amazing woman I’ve ever met you are so generous that I feel overwhelmed.”

“I’m sorry, if you’d rather take Daisy and go.”

“I’m the one who’s sorry. Forgive me, I sound ungrateful for all the help you’ve given us—it isn’t true. The truth is I feel embarrassed because I shall never be able to pay back the things you have given us…”

I put my finger to my lips to indicate he should be quiet.

“You owe me nothing, I was simply being a good neighbour and there is nothing to forgive. Now, go and see Daisy and talk it over with her and see what suits you both best. Either way, I won’t be offended.”

He went off to speak with his daughter and I cleared up the remains of the dishes and started the machine. I saw them go out to the garden, possibly for some privacy and Trish came in to see me.

“Is Daisy going to stay with us, Mummy?”

“I don’t know sweetheart. If she does it’s only until she can go home with her parents.”

“Yes I know that, Mummy. If she does, she can sleep with us.”

I wasn’t sure that was such a good idea given Trish’s little anomaly, and as for them all in the bath or shower together—that was a definite no-no. I quickly explained this to Trish, who understood very quickly what I meant.

If Daisy did stay, then I might need to reorganise the sleeping arrangements for the period. I tried to think what I should do.

Billie came in and asked if we would ride tomorrow. I told her that I wasn’t sure as it would depend upon whether or not Daisy stayed with us. If she didn’t, then we’d do so again as soon as we could.

Just then, Danny came in and asked to borrow Stella’s bike and I mentioned Billie wanted to ride, so he went off to find her. Trish thought she was missing something and asked where Billie and Danny were going. I told her and she wanted to go as well. I asked her to wait until I could take her myself. She shrugged, ‘Okay’ and went back to whatever she was doing before.

I was making bread—actually, I wasn’t, I was filling the machine to make some more as we were down to less than half a loaf. I looked in the freezer, we had some shop-bought bread, which could mean I did something on toast, like eggs or sardines for lunch. Before then I needed to know if Paul and Daisy were staying for lunch, however, I didn’t like to interrupt them.

I began to poke about in the freezer, I was sure some of this stuff had been in here since the last ice age, ten thousand years ago. However, I didn’t find any bag or tub labelled Woolly Mammoth in Tom’s inimitable hand. I did uncover some ice cream which was probably stored during the Devonian period, when the country was a hot desert. This cold dessert had shrivelled to a creamy yellow goo which would probably stick down ceramic floor tiles. I chucked it in the bin before it began marching across the floor and ate the dog.

Paul and Daisy walked back in while I was reaching in to the bottom of the old chest freezer, as opposed to the standing fridge-freezer. Daisy came rushing in shouting, “Auntie Cathy,” just in time to see me lose my footing and fall headlong into the wretched appliance and the lid shut on top of me.

It was dark, I was wedged upside down with ice particles from the lid going down the back of my tee-shirt, my face was also dangerously close to some unknown fish component that was probably as old as I was.

The lid lifted and Paul peered inside. “Are you okay?”

“I think I’ll finish the rest of my yoga practice somewhere warmer, if you don’t mind.”

He laughed and helped me out, grabbing the back of my jeans and yanking. I thanked him and wiped my hair with a towel.

“You do lead an exciting life, Lady Catherine,” he said.

“I know, I’m trying to cut down on the adrenalin but it seems to follow me round. How about some tea?”

He nodded and I went and made some. I waited for him to broach the subject and made small talk, which bores me silly.

“If your offer still stands, could you have Daisy for a few days until we get the baby and Maria home? Then I’ll take over.”

“Of course, is there anything Maria needs, toiletries, nightdresses and so on?”

“No, I’ll go home and get all those and some more stuff for Daisy and I’ll take her in to see her mum, then bring her back here later if that’s okay with you?”

“Of course. Will you both need to eat—later I mean?”

“I hadn’t even thought of food to be honest.”

“I’ll do some dinner for six o’clock.”

“That would be brilliant. Look, I hope you don’t mind, but we’re thinking of calling our daughter, Catherine.”

I blushed, “Not after someone I know is it?”

“She’s a bit of a saint in her own way.”

“Nah, I wouldn’t know her then.”

“You don’t mind do you?”

“I’d feel honoured.”

Now he blushed, “It was Maria’s idea; she said without your help, neither of them would be here.”

“An exaggeration, I’m sure.” Cor, it was getting warm in here.

He went off with his daughter and I thought of my girls’ relationship with Simon. Part of me felt a little jealous—a father-daughter relationship is something special. He took Maria’s car, which had been in the drive since she’d arrived in it with Daisy.

I spent the rest of the time with Julie and Stella moving beds and things to different rooms. I agreed in the end that Daisy could sleep in the same room as the three younger girls and impressed upon them about Trish’s and Billie’s secret. So while Daisy was here there’d be no mass baths or showers, and I wouldn’t be showering with them either. There were grumbles but I explained that her parents might do things differently and while there were no rights and wrongs in how people dealt with nudity within the family: families were different and we’d play safe. I think they understood—Mima was always the one who concerned me. She had a very perplexed look upon her face.

“Woss wong wiv Biwwie’s wiwwie? She awways had one? So has Twish.”

Oh boy, some days I think I’ll do something simple like peace envoy in the Middle East or Afghanistan.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1080

I think Meems eventually understood what I was trying to say about keeping some secrets in the family, securely in the family. It had probably taken about ten or fifteen minutes—it felt as if it had reduced my life expectancy by as many years. Oh well, if she blabs, she blabs. I’ll kill her later and feed her to the stuff in that ice cream tub—I’m sure it’s a manifestation of The Blob or Creature from the Black Lagoon. You can see how I spent some of my grant—watching B-movies at the SU film club.

I remember coming out from watching a film at the student’s union based on a story by John Wyndham, which we all thought was triffid. We saw Myra Breckenridge amongst others, and I dreamt about looking like Raquel Welch—if only—that would have been an Incredible Journey, wouldn’t it? I suppose I shouldn’t complain, I’ve done all right really—in fact I’ve done better than most genetic females when I look at all my blessings—but this won’t get dinner cooked so I’d better get stuck in.

I roasted a chicken for dinner, and with our assembled throng, the poor little five pounds of cluck, wouldn’t go very far, so I added some sausage meat stuffing mixed with mushrooms and sage and onion. I roasted a whole kilo of potatoes, and did carrots and broccoli for the other veg. The dessert would be strawberries and cream if anyone survived the main course. I didn’t bother with a starter—for ten or otherwise.

At six the meal was ready and we waited for our guests. Tom was back from uni, Stella had scrubbed Puddin’ until she shone, my lot were washed and dressed in suitably clean clothes, even I had changed so I no longer resembled a refugee from Oxfam. I was wearing a skirt for a change and Stella, who was in trousers, kept calling me a tranny—until Julie had a word with her and she blushed and apologised. One day she’ll grow up and I’ll wake up and find the past three years has been a dream.

At half past six, I aborted politeness and we served dinner. I dished up two portions and kept them in the cooler oven of the Aga. I was surprised at Paul’s lack of communication—he had a mobile, I’d called it from Maria’s.

We all ate and I saved some strawberries and cream for them to follow the two meals which were beginning to dry up a little despite me covering them. I rang the hospital while Julie made drinks for everyone.

“Hello, it’s Cathy Cameron—I’ve been expecting Paul Drummond to come here for dinner and drop off his daughter as she’s supposed to be staying for a few days: so he could spend more time with Maria and the baby. Nothing has gone wrong with either has it?”

“As you’re not a relative I can’t give you any info about our patients, but we haven’t seen Mr Drummond all day.”

“Are you sure? He left here before lunch and took Daisy with him to collect some clothes to bring back with her so she could stay here for the next few days.”

“I’m pretty sure, hang on I’ll go and check for you.” She went off and I could hear various hospital noises in the background—I could almost smell the tangy antiseptic odour which also tends to linger especially in older hospitals. “No, he hasn’t been in since he left this morning.”

“If he does come in, could you ask him to call me, he should have my number.”

“I’ll leave a message with Mrs Drummond for him to call you.”

“Thank you.” I rang off wondering about the wisdom of telling her anything, she’ll probably worry herself sick now.

I’d put the girls to bed and was gazing at the empty bed in their room when Tom came up the stairs, “Cathy, I think ye’d better come doonstairs.”

He had a very grave look on his face and my tummy flipped over as I followed him down the stairs. In the hallway stood PC Andy Bond and he didn’t exactly look happy with life.

“Andy,” I said acknowledging his presence.

“Lady Cameron,” he replied in a very formal manner.

“To what do we owe this honour?” I joked trying to lift the gravity of the situation.

“It’s no honour—we found your address amongst the wreckage of a car.”

My whole body shook and Tom put his arm round me.

“What happened?”

“We’re making enquiries at the moment, hence my visit here.”

“Was it a small red one, the car I mean?”

“It was a Peugeot 105 and it was red.”

“What time was this—the accident I mean?”

“About eleven thirty. There were no survivors.”

The room spun round and round and I felt myself fall backwards. Tom caught me, or at least slowed down my descent and Andy grabbed me before I hit the deck. I found myself sitting on the hall carpet, propped against the wall with my head bent over a bucket and Stella rubbing my cheek.

“C’mon, Cathy, you’ve had a bit of a shock.” My response—to throw-up my dinner into the bucket.

My head was pounding as I tried to integrate the new information into the database stored between my ears. I think they were trying to tell me that Daisy and Paul were involved in an accident and neither survived it.

“She was six years old,” I said and the tears started, “and he’d just got a new baby.”

“I’m sorry, Lady Catherine, but that’s how it looks. We’ve obviously been to the registered address but there’s no one there.”

“No there wouldn’t be, his wife’s in hospital, she’s just had a baby.”

“In Portsmouth?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll need to inform her.”

“She’s been very ill herself, this could cause a relapse.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s my duty to inform the next of kin.”

“Even when it might add to the body count?”

“We tell the hospital, it’s up to them what happens after that.”

“Are you sure it was Paul and Daisy?”

“The bodies of a man and child were found in the red Peugeot, and an elderly couple died in the other vehicle.”

“What happened?”

“A head-on collision. No survivors. We’re still trying to put together the events leading up to the accident. I’ll need to inform any other family.”

“I got the impression that there weren’t any other family, but I’m not sure.”

“We’ll check with the hospital.”

“Ask them if they want me to come in to be with her.”

“Is she a close friend?”

“Not until very recently, but if there’s no one else I’m available.”

“Thanks—are you going to be all right, Cathy?” His concern meant he forgot his formality for a moment.

“I’ll be okay, I hope Maria and baby Catherine will be.”

Andy Bond left and I sat and howled, by myself in the kitchen. Life was such a bitch and all that stuff about the universe and positive energies was total fucking crap. How could there be anything positive about this shithole we call earth when little girls die in such horrid circumstances. Where’s the justice in that? Where’s this bloody god they all believe in? Some fucking good he did.

I sat and cried and fumed and ranted at the dishwasher—well, it was as useful as anything else to shout at. Finally, I sat and cried and was actually dozing I think when Stella came in.

“The hospital’s phoned…” she said.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1081

“The hospital?” I asked almost absently; to say I felt distracted would be an understatement of herculean proportions.

“Yes, the hospital, apparently Maria is asking for you.”

“What can I do? The poor man went off to his death thinking that his god had reassured him that he and his family would be okay. What can I do except mislead people?”

“Oh stop feeling sorry for yourself, you didn’t cause the accident—but you can help the surviving members of the family.”

“But he thought he saw an angel.”

“That’s in the past Cathy, let’s focus on the present and plan for the future shall we?”

“But he was misled.”

“So bloody what? Forget it and go and help Maria and her baby, she needs you more than ever.”

“What if she doesn’t know—about the accident—I mean.”

“She does.”

“How do you know?”

“The police told her.”

“Why? That has to be the biggest act of insensitivity I can think of—what are they playing at? Trying to kill her?”

“I don’t know, but she is asking for you.”

“I’ll go in the morning.”

“You are going now—go on, get off your misery train and go and help her and her lovely baby.”

“How d’you know she’s a lovely baby?”

“All babies are lovely.”

“To their mothers.”

“Yes, to their mothers.”

“I was apparently an ugly little sod.”

“Nothing new there then—go on, d’you want me to call you a cab?”

“No, I think I can find the hospital, I seem to spend half my life there.”

“Yeah, well drive carefully—remember you have six kids not counting Simon.”

“Okay, I’m not going to alleviate my guilt by killing myself.”

“What guilt? You didn’t do anything you stupid cow, now go and see if you can help Maria.”

“If I hadn’t invited her that day, none of this would have happened.”

“Don’t talk so ridiculously.”

“Well it’s true.”

“Where’s your evidence? It’s poor logic, Cathy, and even worse science.”

“It’s cause and effect. If she hadn’t come here she wouldn’t have been taken ill, the baby would have come on time and Paul and Daisy wouldn’t have driven on that road and been killed.”

“So, what about the sun?”

“The sun, are we talking big ball of fire in sky or raggy newspaper?”

“I was thinking solar powered celestial object, but it might also apply to the tabloid toilet paper.”

“Yeah, so? I see no relevance to either.”

“Well they both came out that morning, so they must be responsible too.”

“Stella, I was talking to the man shortly before he died.”

“So? How do you know the others weren’t as well?”

“That is fallacious logic.”

“So is yours—unless you directly caused his accident, you can’t be guilty of anything but self-centred, self indulgence.”

“Don’t hold back anything here, Stella, let it all out.”

“Oh I will, now get over to that hospital before it gets too late.”

I did as she told me—well, twice in my life doesn’t show any traceable patterns does it? Of course I went to ICU only to be referred to maternity and thence to Obs & Gynae. I’d probably walked about half a mile by the time I found her.

“Visiting was over hours ago,” said the nurse as I walked up to the nurse’s station.

“I was asked to come to see Maria Drummond.”

“Who are you—some sort of counsellor?”

“More of a friend.”

She went off to speak with a colleague. “You’re that freaky woman who does strange things, aren’t you?”

“Do you mean like writing letters of complaint about impertinent nursing staff? If so, that’s me.”

The nurse went bright red and momentarily shook with anger, then controlled herself and her stupid tongue and told me she’d go and see if Maria was still awake. She was gone a few minutes and I began to wonder if I was wasting my time.

“This way,” said the snotty nurse leading me down to a private room.

“Any chance of a cuppa? I’m sure Maria would love one too.” I asked not so much as a deliberate wind up but because I felt in need of one.

She glowered at me but after shrugging went off I hoped to make one for us.

Maria was lying in bed and looked about bad as I felt. It wasn’t so much that she had an air of gloom and despondency and unfathomable sadness, so much as she seemed to personify those human emotions.

She looked up and saw me, then burst into tears, “Oh, Cathy, what am I to do?”

“I am so sorry this has happened,” I said hugging her, and we both cried for several minutes.

“Why? Why has God done this to me?”

“I don’t think it works like that Maria, it’s just one of those things—an accident.” Either that or the Demi-urge is as imperfect as the Gnostics claimed.

“But why save us, the baby and I, for the two most wonderful people to be taken instead?”

“Like I said Maria, I don’t think it works like that.”

“Is that because you have no faith?”

“No, funnily enough but it does enable me to see it slightly more clearly as simply some bad luck, a random accident which could happen to anyone at anytime.”

“But why us, and why now?”

“The answer to that is, why not?”

“How can God let such awful things happen?”

“If there is one, and have grave doubts, perhaps he’s powerless to stop it?”

“How do you mean?” Then before I could say anything useful, she stopped and said, “Oh the Jesus model—he died for our sins, he stays with us in our suffering and somehow shares it—you are such a comfort, Cathy.”

How could I tell her that wasn’t any of how I meant things? Therefore, I didn’t, I just shrugged.

“When they told me, I wanted to die—but that’s sinful, isn’t it?”

“No, that’s normal and part of the grieving process along with the shock of receiving the news.”

“I can’t believe they’re dead.”

“Neither can I,” I agreed.

“Will you help me look after baby Catherine?”

“I’ll do what I can, did you have something particular in mind?”

“I don’t know, I just don’t fancy going back to that house—all it will do is remind me of those who aren’t there—and I don’t think I could stand it.”

“You’ll have to face it sometime Maria, or let it dominate your life.”

“I know, but not just yet. I need time to take it on board.”

“I can understand that, it’s an enormous shock. Do you have any family you could stay with?”

She began to cry and shook her head. “They died in a plane crash when I was young.”

“Your parents?” I asked, and she nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“I grew up in a children’s home and so did Paul, so we were determined to give our kids a normal family life in their own home. Why did God do this to me?”

“I don’t think it has to do with any gods, just two cars and some unfortunate driving.”

“Paul was such a good driver, so it must be the other one’s fault.”

“The accident investigation will show who if anyone was at fault.”

“Have I been so wicked to have all this punishment placed upon me?”

“Maria, I know they say Catholicism is founded on guilt, but none of this is a judgement on anyone. Can you think of anyone more innocent than Daisy? Is she being punished as well?”

“I don’t know, maybe it’s done to punish me?”

“Maria, I can’t prove it, but I am sure that the system doesn’t work like that—didn’t your god say, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’?

“Yes and I know both Daisy and Paul are with Jesus now.”

How can I argue with that?—even though there is no evidence for any of it—I suppose if it brings her relief, I’ll agree. I nodded and sniffed back the tears.

“Cathy, can I ask you a huge favour?” she said after pausing for a short time.

“Of course you can, though I can’t promise to deliver.”

“This you can, if you want to.”

I was intrigued by her question and its enigmatic rider. “Go on,” I added.

“If anything happens to me, will you look after my baby?”

You know that feeling when you sit on something cold and wet?—well it happened to me just then. “What’s going to happen to you?” I asked, aghast at her suggestion.

“Nothing if I can help it, I have to live to look after my baby—but given what’s happened today, and my past record, would you—like bring her up, even adopt her?”

“But nothing is going to happen, Maria. Surely lightning can’t strike three times can it? I mean, the odds are infinitesimal.”

“I need to know Cathy, for my own peace of mind—please, do this for me?”

“On the basis that you don’t do anything to accelerate any process—all right.”

“You surely don’t think?—that’s a mortal sin, Cathy. I’d go straight to hell and never see my lovely daughter and my beautiful husband again.”

I nodded, in the hope it might just stop her doing something unfortunate to herself or the baby.

She became very tired and despite the cup that cheers eventually being delivered by another nurse, I left her to sleep and went home, my head buzzing and my stomach churning.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1082

I spent an anxious night dreaming about car crashes and being unable to prevent them. I kept seeing Paul and Daisy going off to their deaths and couldn’t make them hear me. I woke the next morning with Trish snuggled into the back of me.

“What are you doing in here?” I asked, when she opened one eye to take a peep at me.

“You were making such noise, it was the only way I was going to get some sleep, Mummy.”

“What d’you mean?”

“When I came into bed with you, you calmed down and went to sleep.”

“Oh did I?”

“Yes,” she yawned.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about being mothered by a six-year-old. “I suppose that now we’re awake, we’d better get up and have some breakfast.”

“What time is it Mummy?”

“Six o’clock, why?”

“I’m going back to sleep, night night.”

I turned over and cuddled round her, “Thank you, missy mouse.”

“Uh?”

“For being a lovely daughter.”

“Oh—you’re welcome,” she yawned and within a few minutes seemed to go off to sleep or was faking it. I stayed spooned round her and realised what Maria had lost. I wept silently for her and eventually slept myself.

Stella woke me with a cup of tea, which was nice of her. It was ten o’clock and Trish had gone down and had had her breakfast without waking me. They were all being very nice to me, but I still felt like shit.

I skipped breakfast and had Julie berating me—“It’s the most important meal of the day.”

“So how come you skip it, then?” I riposted.

“I don’t Mummy, you won’t let me—so why should you be allowed to?”

“Because I’m the big cheese round here, that’s why.”

“That’s not fair,” she pouted.

“Tough, that’s what you signed up for—read the small print.”

“I didn’t sign anything.”

“That’s what they all say, but it’s a watertight contract.”

“What is?”

“I see, trying to use the ignorance is bliss defence—that won’t stand up in court, either.”

“I’m going to play on the motorway, it’s safer than arguing with you.” She turned on her heel and strode out of the room. I sniggered then ate a banana—apparently they contain vitamin C, potassium and calcium. I now contained it.

Lunch would be needing some planning: I shoved the bread machine on and while it was starting looked to see what I could use to make soup. I had some leeks and loads of potatoes, garlic and stock—we had a soup in all but completion.

While it was all cooking, I sat and read some of my Guardian. A new health scare, a Neolithic house and more misery from the government—nothing new there then. Maybe they should publish a headline as a wealth scare, although the way things were going only the wealthy will be able to live here—which is perhaps how the Tories would like it.

My phone peeped and one of my students sent me a link to the Daily Telegraph. I smiled as it appeared some dormice were holding up the planning process for a supermarket in Cornwall. They had a so called ‘expert’ sussing the place—pity they didn’t give me a shout. I like Cornwall, and maybe the events of the last couple of days would have been avoided.

No matter how I looked at it, I couldn’t change the past; even Superman was pushed to make the earth spin backwards. Of course in doing so he’d have destroyed the planet and killed everyone but Lois Lane, but he was in love… That reminds me, I used to have a Superman tee at one time, can’t remember when I last saw it let alone wore it. Maybe I should find it, the kids would laugh—or would they? Have they seen or heard of Superman? Julie should have, but the others?—I don’t know, maybe Danny, but the rest are too young.

I sat and did the crossword, well the easy one—and I struggled with that. The kids had either forgotten me or were under instructions to give me some space. I found some ironing that Julie hadn’t done and set to. A while later, it was all done and so was the soup and the bread. Hot bread with soup—it doesn’t come any better.

I called in rent-a-mob and we ate. They were all polite, but no one said much about anything to me. I presume my recent experience was the elephant in the room, and no one was going to admit they could see it.

After lunch, I showered and went to see Maria. She looked ill, with dark rings under her eyes. Mind you, I suspect I didn’t look much better. The baby looked to be improving and I hoped she’d make a suitable substitute for Daisy—not that anyone can replace a lost child.

She talked endlessly about the plans they all had, which were now consigned to the dustbin. She also asked me if I was strong enough to identify the bodies, as she wasn’t, and the police were pressing to start an inquest. My guilt made me agree to do it, although I berated myself all the way home. Surely things like dental records and the circumstantial evidence of the registered keeper of the car, was enough. However, I said I’d do it, so do it I would.

I left Maria after an hour, called the police on the way home and asked them if they could take me to and from home if I agreed to do it. Reluctantly they agreed, after whingeing that they weren’t a taxi firm, and I retaliated by informing them that I didn’t have to do this at all.

All the way to the mortuary I hoped that the bodies would be of someone else. I didn’t care who as long as I didn’t know them—then I realised that meant someone else would have had to die and if they had, where were Daisy and her dad?

I threw up—I couldn’t help it. It was them, only it wasn’t them any more—just empty bodies, cold and with unseeing eyes. I won’t describe the injuries, but that’s why I threw up. I wanted to hug the little mite, cold as she was but they told me it wasn’t a good idea. Instead I stroked her face and kissed her icy cheek. I also kissed Paul’s cheek and then left. I was distraught all the way home and had to go and lie down for an hour when I got there. Stella gave me a stiff brandy to drink and after a short time I fell asleep. She ordered a takeaway and my family dined while I slept.

They say if you kiss the dead, you don’t dream of them—it worked that evening and I slept right through the night, waking the next morning to find bossy-boots once again my bedmate.

“Did I keep you awake last night?”

“Your snoring did for a time,” she yawned. I hugged her and told her I loved her.

“If it had been Daddy and me instead, would Maria have identified us for you?”

What a profound question from one so young—I hoped my answer was up to it. “No, I’d have had to do it myself.”

“I’m glad of that,” she said and I knew she was worried that her little secret could be revealed even after death. How sad is that?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1083

The next day was a Friday, and after dropping Julie off to the salon, Trish, Livvie and I did a supermarket shop. Not the most exciting thing to do, but they all like eating and someone has to bring home the bacon. As well as bacon, we bought eggs and loads of other things.

After lunch—would you believe a bacon sarnie?—I went to see Maria, and Trish asked me if she could come too as she’d liked Daisy. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not—she could construe it as demonstrating what she’d lost and I still had. However, Trish practically begged me to take her although I had to stop the others also coming drawing the line at Trish.

I let her dress as she wanted: she wore jeggings with a dress over the top and her trainers. Not my idea of fashion, but I suppose it’s the generation gap thing. I put her hair in a plait and we left. Oh, I was in what I think the ’mericans call clam diggers—but we don’t have many clams in Portsmouth—with a white cotton button up top over a lacy vest thing.

Why am I telling you this? Well, on the drive to the hospital, I managed to get some chocolate down the front of the white top and ended up going in wearing just the vest—yeah, I know, I shouldn’t be eating chocolate but you can ask Trish about that, she brought it with her.

Maria looked even lower in spirits than the day before, if that was possible. She gazed at us with dull eyes, that to me showed that her internal light was almost extinguished.

Trish walked up to her, put her arm around her and kissed her. Maria regarded her for a moment as if she’d just come out of a trance. “Daisy, is that you?”

Trish glanced at me and I wasn’t sure what to say, but she was working to her own agenda. “No Maria, it’s Trish, Daisy’s friend.”

“Oh,” the tears began to roll down the woman’s face. “I thought you were Daisy for a moment.”

“I’m afraid Daisy isn’t here anymore, but I came to see you because you’re a nice lady and I know that you feel very sad.”

“Do I?” she replied almost vacantly, “I don’t think I feel anything anymore.”

“But you must, Maria, you have a baby who needs you.” I noticed that Trish maintained some sort of contact with Maria all the time she was talking—so I knew exactly what she was doing. I tried to visualise my own energy boosting that of my daughter, so as not to complicate things.

“What do you know? You’re too young to know what you’re talking about.”

“I don’t know what you’re feeling, Maria, but I do know what it’s like to lose my mummy.” She paused for this to sink in, “And if Mummy Cathy hadn’t found me, I know my life wouldn’t have been as happy as it is. I’d have been very sad all the time and maybe want to stop living.”

“That’s how I feel: I want to stop living and having all this pain.”

“That’s how I felt, Maria,” Trish was gently rubbing her hand up and down Maria’s back, “I never ever thought I’d feel good or happy again. I was sent to a children’s home where they bullied me and one day one of the boys pushed me down the stairs and I hurt my head and my legs wouldn’t work. It was horrid.”

Maria was looking at this little girl—this amazing little girl—with the stirrings of something in her eyes. She put her arm round Trish and pulled her close. “I had to go to a children’s home too, my parents were killed in a plane crash. My daddy was an engineer, quite a clever one and he was going out to Africa to help them do something or other and Mummy went with him, for a week or two,” she looked into the distance, “the plane crashed into a mountain.”

“You were left on your own?” said Trish with eyes as big as dinner plates.

“I was staying with our neighbours and they told me I couldn’t stay with them any longer, so they put me in a home. I hated it, I ran away twice.”

“I did that too, but they caught me,” said Trish, “an’ I didn’t have any treats for a month.”

I sat totally transfixed by this child prodigy who was finding ways to communicate with this bereft woman that I’d never have thought of, and I knew she’d been in a home as a child. I wondered how much of it was innate or even instinctual and how much was from somewhere else. Did the blue energy which she was pushing into Maria, help her to plug into Maria’s needs and so approach her through them? Whatever was happening, it was fascinating to watch.

“When did you leave the home?” asked Trish.

“When I was nineteen, I met Paul—he was at another home and it was love at first sight. We got married two months later and lived in a pokey little flat. He got some qualifications and I got pregnant, but our lives seemed to take off and we moved to a small but modern house and managed to afford his dream car—the Subaru. It was too fast for me and I crashed it, ended up in Southampton neuro unit where I would have died if your new mummy hadn’t helped me.”

“I still couldn’t walk when they sent me back to the home and Dr Rose asked Mummy to take me for a short time to see if she could get me walking. I didn’t really care—I thought if I couldn’t walk they wouldn’t bully me. I met my new mummy and we had the same surname, which was funny.”

They both chuckled at this. “Like a sort of sign, was it?”

“I don’t know, but she was such a lovely lady but she’s sneaky, she tricked me into walking by having Mima leave a pair of high heeled shoes in the lounge and then she teased me into trying them.”

“Cathy teased you?”

“No, Mummy wouldn’t do a thing like that, it was Mima who teased me. Mummy had me walking by the end of the day.”

“Your sneaky mummy didn’t bring you to get round me, did she?”

“Oh no, she isn’t clever enough to do that—coming to see you was my idea.”

“Do I believe you, Trish?” asked Maria.

“It was her idea entirely. I didn’t think it was a good idea and then when she got chocolate on my top, I began to wonder if it was a big mistake. It seems not.”

“I can’t believe a child of six could reach inside me like that and light something which I thought was dead.”

“When I went for judicial review regarding my fostering of Trish and Mima, because I fell out with a social worker who then was determined to stop me, Trish went after the judge and asked him to let her stay with me—she followed him into his chambers.”

“What? You didn’t, did you girl?”

“I could see he was a nice man and that he liked my mummy, so I went and asked him—he was okay about it.”

“Wow, I can see you’re a real live wire.” Maria smiled and her eyes lit up perhaps from the energy provided by this live wire—whom I sometimes viewed as a loose cannon, probably self-loading and computer-controlled. “Will you come and see me again?”

“If you promise to get better, I will.”

“I’ll try.”

“Is that a promise?” asked Trish.

“Yes, okay—it’s a promise.”

“Then I will, remember you have a baby to look after.”

“I know, Trish, I know.” Maria looked at me, “Does she always work you like this?”

“No, she’s been especially gentle on you—just don’t play cards or chess with her and never for money.”

“Awwww Mummmmeeeee,” complained a certain young lady.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1084

“Are you going to help Maria, Mummy?” Trish said, as we drove home.

“If I can—but you know that already. Why did you ask?”

“If she doesn’t want to live at her house any more, she could stay with us.”

“Trish, if we have any more people staying at our house it will look like an evacuation centre for refugees. All we need is for someone to turn up with their goat…”

“It would eat all Gramps vegetables and flooers as he calls them.”

“Probably, they tend to be quite good at eating all the things they’re not supposed to.”

“It would be quite nice to have our own billy goat. We could call it Gruff, like the fairy tale. Would we get milk from it? People have goat’s milk don’t they?”

“I’m afraid billy goats don’t give milk, they’re boys.”

“Does that mean I won’t have milk, because I’m a boy too, really?”

“Um—usually lactation—that’s producing milk occurs after pregnancy.”

“Oh,” Trish looked down at the foot well of the car.

“I’m not sure why you’d want to, but in theory, it is possible to cause some male breasts to produce milk, by giving the right hormones.”

“So I could do it then?”

“Shall we say it’s not impossible, and leave it at that?” I had no idea why she should suddenly be wanting to breastfeed and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to ask. If and when she was ready, she’d tell me.”

“When can I start taking the pills to make milk, Mummy?”

I nearly ran into the back of a van in front of me. “What did you say?”

“Maria is going to need help feeding her baby, and it would help if I could do some for her.”

I wanted to scoop her up in a hug and squeeze her to show how much I loved her. “That’s very kind of you, Trish, but I think Maria knows what she’s doing and the healing you gave her seemed to do her a lot of good.”

“I did do some good, didn’t I, Mummy?”

More than you’ll ever know, sweetheart. “Yes, darling, you did lots of good.”

“Why did you tell her not to play me at chess?”

“I was joking with her, it was a way of playfully telling her how clever you are.”

“Am I clever, Mummy?”

Only about two points below genius—“Yes, darling, you’re very clever.”

She smiled and clapped her hands together and I could see her milk teeth in the rear view mirror and I had to consciously remember that this was a six not a sixteen-year-old.

“I think Maria would do nicely,” she whispered to herself.

“Do nicely at what?”

She hadn’t meant me to hear that bit and she went a lovely shade of pink. “Um—nothing, Mummy.”

“Tricia Watts, don’t tell fibs, spit it out.”

She went even deeper pink and finally spluttered her way through her idea that Maria could help me in the house and I could do some dormouse counting. Seeing as I’d been thinking along similar lines I wasn’t sure if this was convergent thinking or what.

However, the first priority was to get her well again and the baby safely looked after, the whys and wherefores were less important at this stage. Once she was well again, then we could see what she wanted to do—she could turn us down.

“When can I take the pills then, Mummy—to give me milky titties?” She thought that was very funny and chuckled away to herself.

“When you’re grown up, if you grew milk carrying breasts you’d look like a hunchback in a fortnight, assuming you didn’t fall flat on your face at the beginning. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“I just want to be like a mummy, Mummy.” She looked hurt by my remark as if she’d said something wrong.

“You can do the same as I’ve done, fostering or adopting children who need mummies and or daddies.”

“But you don’t have any babies.”

“No, I have you and the others instead, and I wouldn’t swap you for anyone.”

I glanced in the mirror and she was smiling through very watery eyes.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1085

I wondered what would happen about funerals for Paul and Daisy, as they would need post mortems and inquests. Officially it wasn’t my problem, but seeing that woman in that hospital bed looking forlorn until Trish did her magic, made me realise that she would need support to get through it all. In some ways, I’d be delighted if she had someone who could help her organise it, but I very much doubted it; which meant yours truly would get involved. I never learn do I?

In my short lifetime, perhaps the most important of the parables from the New Testament is that of the Good Samaritan. I was brought up to believe in helping others—we collected money for starving people in Africa, for oppressed peoples in other places—it seemed the only people my parents wouldn’t help were those who were different.

So gays, transgendered and others of different life choices were seen as beyond the pale; which attitude presumably they chose, my parents that is. So while they raised money for people in Africa they’d never met, they couldn’t even raise a smile for their transsexual child because I’d chosen the wrong path.

We all make judgements about people, if they appear to be a threat or a friend, or a potential mate at the most basic of levels, but to my mind being judgemental is plain wrong and when I am judged by others and they make an erroneous job of it, I really enjoy proving them wrong.

Anyway, with my upbringing to believe in the story of the man from Samaria who would be a second-class citizen to most Judeans or Galileans, I felt a comfortableness—I too was second-class citizen or outsider to most normal people. But the important thing was despite this being how we might be perceived, it didn’t affect my capacity to do what I considered as good deeds for others—a belief I still have.

I was running these things through my mind when Stella offered me a cup of tea. I knew that she too could be as helpful except she perhaps wasn’t as practised in the art of noticing other’s needs—perhaps she wasn’t needy herself.

“Are you collecting Julie?”

I looked at my watch: I had an hour to go before I needed to. “Yeah, I’ll do it, I just want to sort my emails and do a bit of the survey stuff.”

“Don’t forget the time,” she said, handing me the mug of tea.

“I’ll set my phone alarm,” I replied, but forgot. The result was that Julie phoned and I then had to rush to collect her while she waited outside the salon wearing a very short skirt and footless tights.

“You’re late,” she said crossly to me.

“I’m sorry, I got into something and the time just flew.”

She huffed and puffed, “Can’t wait till I’m seventeen and I can get a car of my own.”

I felt the same, but I thought I’d challenge her assumptions. “You could always cycle to the salon.”

“What? It must be at least ten miles.”

“It’s three,” I corrected.

“I’d be all sweaty and smelly.”

“Not if you didn’t rush.”

“What about in the rain.”

“You can get waterproofs.”

“No thank you, I’d rather walk.”

“Shall I stop the car so you can get some practice in?”

“Mummy—why are you being so mean to me?” She pouted and looked about eleven.

“I’m not. How much have you saved towards a car?”

“Nothing yet, why?”

“I suppose you were hoping you’d find Simon in a generous mood were you?”

“Maybe,” she blushed, “Or you’d let me borrow yours.”

“Think again,” I said feeling protective of my little Merc. We’d have to get her an old banger if we did allow her to drive.

“Huh—that’s just typical isn’t it? I’ll bet you got to drive your mother’s car.”

“Yes I did.”

“So why can’t you continue the tradition?”

“My mother’s car was an old Ford Escort, not a Mercedes. If I’d bashed it, it wouldn’t have mattered too much, but if this car was damaged it would cost a lot to repair.”

“Oh I see, so it’s all about money is it, not about your daughter’s happiness or safety?”

Oh this was such good teenage guilt throwing—didn’t I do some at her age, although I could never be as honest with my parents. I can remember having a row with my dad about getting driving lessons.

“What’s wrong with your bike—plus if it breaks down you can usually repair it?”

“If I was a girl I bet you wouldn’t be saying that, would you?”

“Charlie, you aren’t a girl, except maybe you nag and whinge like one, so the point is irrelevant.” Ten years later, he had to reassess the situation and in fact gave me his car.

Perhaps I need to keep a more flexible attitude myself, although playing the good Samaritan didn’t necessarily mean splashing out for cars for wayward daughters.

“Let’s wait until you’re seventeen shall we and see what Daddy says?”

She looked at me in total disbelief, “Mummy, you weren’t like listening were you? I just like, said that, not two minutes ago.”

“Sorry dear, had to concentrate on the road,” I sighed with relief.

“What for the traffic?”

“Indeed.”

“There hasn’t, like, been any for ten minutes.”

“Ah but it’s all about anticipation—reading the road and being alert to it.”

She mouthed, ‘Bullshit’ and I smirked—she was right but there was no way I’d admit it.

“So I can go out tonight, then?”

“Go where?”

“I just told you, the other girls, we’re going out to celebrate Lyndsey’s birthday.”

“Where?”

“Some wine bar in town.”

“You’re not eighteen yet.”

“I’ll bet you used to go to pubs before you were eighteen.”

I did but got thrown out even after I was eighteen, being baby-faced. I shouldn’t complain, it’s done me good ever since.

“I tried but was never served, even at uni I used to be challenged and had to carry an ID card.”

“A bit of makeup would have sorted that.”

“I didn’t wear it in those days.”

“Why ever not?”

“My parents wouldn’t have approved.”

“Gor blimey, maybe I should be glad for small mercies then?”

“It might be useful to reflect upon that.” I hinted that her parents wouldn’t have approved either.

“In some ways, you and Daddy are quite good parents, ya know.”

“Oh, I’m glad we get some things right,” I said while thinking, ‘snotty little mare.’

“Can I go then?”

“How are you going and coming back?”

“We’re gonna get a cab both ways.”

“Okay, if that’s how you do it, be home by half past midnight.”

“Oh, Mum, come off it, I’m not gonna be ready ’til nine.”

I glanced at the clock in the car, “It’s going to take you three hours to get ready?”

“Well—yeah.”

I shook my head, “Half past twelve is your curfew, if you’re not back you can kiss any support from me for your own car.”

“So, if I’m like, back home by half twelve you’ll like, help me get a car?”

“I’ll speak with Simon, that’s all I’m promising.”

“Yes,” she exclaimed and punched the air.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1086

I realised that arguing with teenagers is like trying to prove a cat wrong—neither have any concept of it, and both are entirely self-absorbed—it therefore becomes an object lesson in futility. However, if I strongly disagree on grounds of safety or morality, then I can be just as obstinate and I have greater firepower via my some degree of holding the purse strings. Simon might be the banker, I run the house even though Tom owns it.

I thought back to that first time I came here, when Tom asked me to be his hostess. How naïve I was back then, how naïve I am still, seeing myself as comparable with the Good Samaritan. I obviously have a healthy ego, which is probably necessary to make it through transition—you have to believe in yourself a certain amount or you ain’t gonna make it. Being reasonably presentable as what you are trying to portray helps, but it isn’t everything; at the same time I recognise the assistance I’ve had from my family—my current family, who have closed ranks and supported me more than I can ever repay.

“You’re looking wistful,” remarked Stella.

“I was thinking back to the first time I came to this house, Tom asked me to act as hostess to a very important dinner party.”

“He knew a bit of totty would give him the edge over the others.”

“I beg your pardon—bit of totty?—explain yourself, madam.”

She sniggered then roared with laughter.

“Bitch,” I muttered and then laughed too.

“So who was there then?”

“The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, some lovely Spanish chap who looked like Antonio Baderas, and some bloke from a bank whose name escapes me.”

“Oh, that bad, eh?”

“Well yeah, you see one banker see ’em all.”

“Oh come off it, they can’t all be as boring as my big bruv.”

“No that’s true, and I did end up sleeping with the banker—apparently we needed the funding.”

“That was before you’d had…” she made scissor-like actions with her fingers.

“Yes.”

“So how did you manage?” She blushed and so did I, however in for a penny…

“He’d had so much to drink he fell asleep. I told him the next day what a stud he was and he went away quite happy.”

“Clever you, that always works providing they are very drunk, but you have to be careful they don’t want to do a repeat in the morning.”

“I’d have said I was too sore because of his size.” I was now as red as a pillar-box.

She sniggered, “I’ll have to keep that one in mind.”

“Just make sure they don’t want to kiss it better.”

That did it, she almost collapsed laughing. “Can you remember what you wore?” she asked when she’d recovered.

“Yes.”

“Well—what was it?”

“A dress.”

“Duh,” she looked at me and shook her head, “I knew that stoopid, what dress.”

“Oh, one some old tart gave me with poppies on it.”

“Is that the one I gave you?”

Now it was my turn, “Duh, like how many old tarts do I know whose clothes fit me?”

“I bought that in Paris, I’ll have you know. Never got round to wearing it.”

“Well I did and I felt the bees-knees in it.”

“So what other women were there?”

“Only the caterers.”

“What, you got to strut your stuff in front of a cabinet minister, a top banker and some guy from the EU? And you end up sleeping with the banker who turned out to be a total wan—banker?”

“More or less.”

“What was wrong with the Spanish Inquisition?”

“All he was interested in was taking cuttings from Tom’s garden.”

“A vegetarian, but he didn’t want to pollinate you?”

“No—but he was rather dishy, what I remember of him.”

“So, who else fancied you?”

“Apart from Tom, I have no idea—I mean I could hardly ask them could I?”

“No, but if they have a lump in their pants when they say goodnight, you get a fair idea, don’t you?”

“Stella, I don’t go around staring at men’s crotches.”

“Don’t you? I do and their bums when they’ve gone past.”

As we were talking, Simon appeared, “Hello, Babes,” he kissed me.

“Did you know your better ’arf ’ere, was unfaithful to you in this very house the first time she entered it?”

He did a double take, “No, when was this?”

“At some dinner party with politicians and a banker, who apparently gave her more than his funding.”

“What, you mean Tom gave a dinner party?”

“Yes,” said Stella, nodding for emphasis.

“So? Was he a good screw?” he asked looking at me.

“Definitely,” I said.

“Oh well that’s all right then, what’s for dinner, I’m starving?”

“I haven’t started it yet.”

“Get a Chinese delivered, you like those don’t you?”

“Yeah, but I’m happy to make something.”

“No, order one in, I’d like to talk to my harlot wife—upstairs.”

I did as I was asked and ordered the set meal for seventy-five—only joking, got the set meal for six, it would there in half an hour. Mind you, it cost seventy-five pounds.

“So what’s this all about Miss Watts?”

“Oh I was reminiscing about the first time I came into this house and she asked me. I decided I’d wind her up and told her I slept with the banker.”

“You did.”

“So it was all half-truths, well that bit was.”

“I remember you wanting to tell me something but I was so gone on you that I didn’t let you tell me—I am so glad I didn’t.”

“Why?” I asked, although the answer was obvious.

“Because I might have lost you.”

“I love you,” I said, and jumped onto him and he fell backwards onto the bed with me still on top of him.

“Everyone does,” he said smirking and I began hitting him.

The takeaway arrived before I could do any serious damage, he was laughing so much there was more chance of him overdosing on endorphins than me hurting him.

Julie came down wearing an outrageous outfit which left very little to the imagination and Simon and I said simultaneously, “You’re not going out like that.” At that, she burst into tears and flounced upstairs slamming the door behind her.

“You’re her mother—go and deal with it,” my lord and master commanded.

“Yes, but it’s you she wants to buy her a car, you have the stronger negotiating position.”

“I don’t do tearful women.”

“She isn’t a woman yet, she’s a spoilt brat throwing a tantrum.”

“I don’t think I can differentiate, so you’d better go.”

“I’ll go,” said Trish, rolling her eyes and sighing, at which Simon snorted soy sauce all over his clean shirt and I gasped.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1087

“I wonder what Trish said to her,” pondered Simon as we lay in bed.

“I can guess at the message, if not the wording,” I offered.

“At least she had some of her body covered the second time she came down, so whatever it was, it worked.”

“I find it quite frightening at times that in a few years she’ll be telling us all what to do.”

“She does already,” chuckled Simon. “D’you know she has an opinion on the economy?”

“No?” I gasped.

“Yes, she read some article in your bloody Guardian about what Osborne was doing wrong with his cuts, and she agrees with the author.”

“Yeah, I saw that, was by their financial editor or some such, made sense while I read it.”

“She’s absolutely right: this coalition shower couldn’t run a bath.”

“Ah, but they’re going to bash the bankers, so that’ll be popular.”

“Yeah, and who’s gonna make their money for them? Manufacturing? Ha, no wonder the Germans are doing so well with exports and so are the Frogs, they still make cars to export. What cars do we make? Even Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by the Indians. We don’t make any now.”

“What about Moggies and Supersevens?” I ventured, though I wasn’t sure.

“Yes, Morgan and Lotus are still British made, and half the F1 cars are run from over here.”

“I used to know a girl who was a computer tech with one of the F1 teams.”

“How did you know someone on a F1 team?”

“She was TS as well, used to ride a bloody big motorbike.”

“At least Julie made her curfew,” he sighed.

“Only just, and she was pie-eyed.”

“Drunk as a lord—and being one, I ought to know.” Simon laughed at his own joke and so did I, though I’m not sure if I was laughing at the bed bouncing up and down with his laughing, or at his joke.

“I’m going to sleep now, darling,” I pecked him on the cheek and turned over to face away from him. I hope to beat him to sleep because once he started to snore, I’d be climbing the walls unless I was also asleep.

He muttered to himself for a few minutes, probably because he hadn’t got his wicked way with me. I was far too tired, and at the moment with all that was going on, just staying awake was as much as I could manage.

I drifted off thinking about how I could take Trish and Billie out for a ride, I was also wondering if it would be worth me trying to build a bike for Trish.

”Hurry up, Mummy, you’re slowing down my averages,” Trish called back to me as I tried to keep up with her. We’d come a long way since she’d started racing on the bike I made for her. Now she had her own workshop and was making her own bikes and racing them, with interest from a sponsor to take her on to his team—although she was more interested in finishing her master’s degree—not bad going for sixteen. It was funny that cycling got her interested in engineering, and I know that Aerospace were making overtures to her university—bloody Cambridge.

I’d been doing some regular riding, but ever since she’d had her op in Holland, she hadn’t looked back, and there was always a load of boys hanging around her—mind you she’s blossomed into a very attractive young woman.

She still tells Julie what to do, although Julie has been married a couple of years now, runs her own salon and does the works from pedicures to hair extensions. Simon set her up with a few months rent and a loan to take over a rundown business and she’s doing very well. Her hubby runs his own specialist bakery business, ‘Knead the Dough’.

Billie’s doing okay, but very quietly. She’s training as a paediatric nurse, a choice she made after Stella had her second baby—when she married Ken. Ken’s been a great support for Billie, encouraging her to complete her nursing degree.

Only Meems left now, Danny went off to the Royal Air Force and became a pilot—he’s married, with one little boy, though we hardly ever see them these days. He does see Trish now and again when she’s at uni, because Danny’s based at a station in Suffolk. Neither Simon nor I were in favour of him joining up, but he was eighteen and we couldn’t stop him. I suspect he only did it to get away from all the women in the house—mind you when they weren’t nagging him, they were spoiling him.

Henry’s practically retired now, so Simon is chairman in all but name. We see each other once every week or two, when I’m not flying to Geneva or New York—well the United Nations is such a pain to work for. Still another year and it’s rumoured that a certain university in the south east with whom I had some contact as an undergrad will be looking for a professor of mammalian biology and ecology.

“Come on, Mummy,” said Trish’s voice. Then suddenly she was pulling on my arm—I was falling off my bed? “Mummy, Meems has been sick in her bed.”

I struggled out of bed and staggered into the girl’s bedroom. Mima was sitting in a pile of vomit and crying to herself. The smell—ugh. I took her into the bathroom and cleaned her up, sat her on the loo and wrapped her in a spare towel while I remade her bed and settled her down again, then put her bedding in the washing machine. It was three o’clock when I got back to bed and Simon was lying on his back snoring Colonel Bogey.

I crawled back into bed and five minutes later Trish came in beside me. “What’s the matter with you?”

“It smells in there,” she said and cuddled in between Simon and I. A little later a tapping on my back just as I was going off, “Does, Daddy, always snore like this?”

“No, sometimes it’s worse,” I hissed back.

“What, whoa, hold him, Stella, while I get back on…” Simon suddenly said and both Trish and I dissolved in laughter. “Hold still you swine…” Simon continued his problems with a recalcitrant horse—maybe it was a night mare? I snorted at my own joke and Trish giggled behind me.

“Have you ever thought about becoming an engineer?” I whispered to Trish.

“What do they do?”

“They design or make machines, or buildings and so on.”

“Dunno,” she yawned, “do they make bikes?” she asked sleepily and next thing she was fast asleep while I lay there listening to Simon playing all the parts of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony. It was going to be another long night.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1088

“I think we’ll have to postpone the wedding blessing,” I said to Simon over Trish’s head.

“This mattress feels like I had someone’s knees in my back all night,” Simon said loudly, knowing full well we had an alien in the bed. Some giggling emanated from between us. It got worse when he started to tickle her and she had to rush off to the loo or wet herself.

“You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” I accused him.

“Did what on purpose?”

“Tickled her, because you knew she’d have to wee if you did.”

“Oh, so that’s wrong now is it?”

“No, I’m astonished.”

He looked over at me, “Why?”

“Because you actually are capable of reasoning things through with the children.”

“Eh?” now he looked astonished.

“You had obviously considered that little bony knees needed a wee, so a quick tickle and off she goes.”

“Yes, why?”

“Oh nothing, but obviously I can leave the children under your careful gaze while I go and see Maria.”

“What was that about weddings earlier?”

“Oh, we can hardly hold the blessing if Maria is staying here, can we?”

“When did you decide that?”

“Trish did the other day, why?”

“Does Tom know, it’s his house after all?”

“Yes and he’s quite happy.”

“So are you going to invite her today?”

“That’s the plan, dunno when she’ll be discharged from hospital.”

Trish came back in, “Mima’s been sick again,” she announced and I groaned and jumped out of bed. When I went into the girl’s room, she was still fast asleep and hadn’t been sick. I went back to the bedroom and Trish was cuddled up to Simon.

“You little minx, she hasn’t been sick at all,” I glared at her.

She giggled, “Saved me having to climb over you.”

“You asked for that,” said Simon roaring with laughter.

I knew when I was outgunned, so I went down to have my breakfast in relative peace and quiet. Tom was drinking the liquid mud he called coffee.

“Morning Daddy,” I said and pecked him on the cheek.

“Aye,” he said, and nodded back.

“Meems was sick in the night, I had to change her and the bed—oh pooh, the machine.”

“I wondered why there wis beddin’ in it.”

“Now you know as much as I do.”

“Whit’s wrang wi’ her?”

“No idea, could be a bug; she could have eaten something; I really don’t know.”

“Puir wee lassie,” he sipped his coffee.

“I thought it was always, puir wee soul.”

“Are ye accusin’ me af nae bein’ able tae speak ma ain language?”

Only the twinkle in his eye stopped me from bursting into tears. When I didn’t reply, he looked more kindly at me, “Whit’s wrang, lassie?”

“Nothing Daddy, I’m just tired and as soon as I try to enact my plans someone up there shits all over them.”

“Och, dinna be upset, it happens tae us all.”

“Yeah, I know—but for believers—they can always complain; me—where do I write?”

“Jes’ ask yer question in yer hairt, ye’ll get an answer.”

“That presupposes there’s something there to reply.”

“Does it? Och weel, perhaps ye won’t then, yer choice.”

“Talking of choices, before you dash off, it is all right if I ask Maria if she’d like to come here for a bit?”

“Aye, as lang as I hae ma pit an’ ma study, I dinna care wha comes.”

“She could become a long term investment.”

“Whit d’ye mean, lang tair-rum?”

“Well, if it seems to be working out, I thought we could invite her to become housekeeper, so I can go back to work.”

“Aye, guid idea, Trish’s wis it?”

“That little minx…” I told him how she’d tricked me out of bed and he laughed loudly and warned me that, ‘I’d hae tae watch that yin.’ As if I didn’t know already.

Two hours later, Minnie the minx and I were shopping before going to see Maria. I’d taken her because she’d asked me. Meems seemed okay, not covered in spots or anything, and no temperature. Simon said he’d keep an eye on her, so we’d have to wait and see. If she did have something we’d have to postpone Maria with her new baby until it was sorted.

After a quick lunch at a little place off the high street, we arrived at the hospital. Maria wasn’t there, neither was the baby. I spoke to the nurse, ‘She’d been discharged.’

I rang her mobile, she didn’t answer. I could only assume she’d gone home. Suddenly one of those very cold sensations in the pit of my stomach happened. I grabbed Trish and we ran like mad to the car.

“What’s the matter, Mummy?”

“Probably nothing, do up your seat belt.” I drove very quickly out of the car park and off towards her house. Of course, the usual Saturday afternoon traffic was clogging up the streets and it seemed to take forever to get there.

We turned into her road, a little cul-de-sac of terraced houses presumably originally inhabited by dockers and shipyard workers—some looked veritable palaces. Then we saw the ambulance and my blood ran cold. I slammed on the brakes and throwing Trish the keys ran down the street. I stopped just in time to avoid making a fool of myself as two paramedics came out with an elderly man on a stretcher chair, complete with oxygen and facemask.

Phew, what a relief.

“Did you think that Auntie Maria was in that ambulance?”

“For a horrible moment I did, sweetheart.”

“Which is her house?”

“I can’t remember the number, but it has a red front door—I’ve only been down here once before.”

“None of them have a red front door, Mummy.”

“Um—no they don’t, sweetheart.”

“Is this the right street, Mummy?”

I blushed, felt stupid and answered, “Um—maybe not.”

“You’re worried about her aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Well don’t, she’s being looked after by a lovely angel.”

I nearly threw up, “What did you say?”

“She’s being looked after by a lovely angel and she says she’s okay.”

“How do you know?”

“I just saw her, her road is the next one over. She said the door is unlocked.”

“What about the baby? Did you see the baby?”

“She said Baby Catherine was safe and waiting for you.”

“Trish,” I gasped as tears began to run down my cheeks, “If this is some game, I am going to be so cross.”

“It’s not a game, Mummy, I seen her, honest.”

“Come on,” I grabbed her hand and started to run, I was in no mood to mess about moving the car.

We arrived in the street and I ran down it, Trish was having difficulty keeping up with me. I saw the red door and tried it: it opened first time. “Maria,” I shouted as I went in and began searching the house. “Stay there,” I snapped at Trish, who was now snivelling unaware of what might have happened.

It was in the main bedroom I found her. She was in her wedding dress, clasping a photo of Paul and Daisy. A bottle of pills lay beside her and a note addressed to me.

Dearest Cathy, Thank you so much for your friendship, it means such a lot to me. Baby Catherine is in the back bedroom, I gave her a good feed and there’s a spare bottle in the fridge. Please take good care of her, she’s yours now—you said you’d always wanted a baby. I’m with Paul and Daisy and I’m happy again now. Please don’t be cross with me.

Love,

Maria.

I felt her, she was nearly cold. I ran into the back room and the baby was just waking up. I made it to the bathroom just in time to get my lunch down the loo. I don’t think I’d ever felt so devastated in my whole life. If only we’d gone to the hospital a bit earlier, or not had lunch or…

I dialled 999, “Hello, police please.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1089

After the recent run of tragedy, the gods of whatever spared us the indignity of an officious policeman. The two who turned up were Andy Bond and a very nice WPC, called Trina.

By that time, I’d carried the baby downstairs and was warming the milk. “Where’s Maria, Mummy?”

“She’s upstairs.”

“Can I go and see her?”

“I’m afraid not, sweetheart.”

“But maybe I could cheer her up again.”

“I’m afraid no one will ever cheer her up again, darling, she has died.”

Trish looked at me in total disbelief, “NO,” she shouted and ran upstairs before I could stop her. I had the baby in one hand and a bottle in the other, when the doorbell rang and in walked the police.

I handed the bottle to Andy and the baby to Trina, “Hold these, I have to bring Trish down.” I fairly flew up the stairs and found a sobbing Trish kneeling by the side of the deceased woman. “Come on darling, you can’t do anything more for her.”

“But the angel said she would be all right,” cried Trish, almost banging on the bed in anger.

“She is now, sweetheart. She no longer wanted to be alive, darling, and she believed she would be reunited with Paul and Daisy when she died.”

“Will she?”

I looked into her sad eyes, “I don’t know, sweetheart.” She let me take her hand and I picked her up and carried her downstairs.

Downstairs, Andy was feeding the baby, and as soon as we were back, Trina ran upstairs and I heard her talking on her radio. “What brings you here, Lady C?” asked Andy.

“I came to offer her a temporary home and a job.”

“Hello, young Trish,” he smiled at her.

“Hello, Mr Bond.”

Trina came down, “How long have you been here, madam?”

“Sorry, Treen, this Lady Catherine Cameron, and her daughter, the delightful Trish.”

“Lady Cameron, how long have you been here.”

“I don’t really know, about ten or fifteen minutes, I think.”

At this point we were distracted by baby Catherine giving an enormous burp and throwing up all over Andy’s uniform. Given the tension in the house, we all laughed.

I took over the baby feeding with Trish helping while Trina showed the note to Andy.

“Is this her writing?” he asked holding up the note.

“I don’t know, I can’t say I’ve ever seen it before, but when I read it, I assumed it was from her as it suggests. Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Just tying up loose ends, Cathy.”

“Have a look in her address book, that’ll give you something to compare it with,” I suggested.

“Good idea,” Trina replied and went looking for said book. “Got it,” she called from the hallway.

“What happens to the baby?” I asked.

“If your friend’s wishes are followed, she goes to you.”

“I’d like to take Trish home in a minute, if that’s all right?”

“Of course, we know where you live, Cathy.”

“What about the baby?”

“I’ve called Social Services, it’s the rules I’m afraid,” Trina shrugged.

“Look, while we’re waiting, can I get some advice from the maternity unit at the hospital?”

“About what?”

“This little mite, she was there until last night or this morning.”

“Oh, okay, carry on.” I carried the sleepy baby through to the hallway and looked up the hospital number. They offered some bottles of breast milk if I needed it and the name of a popular brand of formula baby milk.

I placed the baby in her carrycot and tucked her in, then began looking for spare clothing and nappies and began to pack a bag either for me or for the duty social worker.

A doctor arrived and certified the body as extinct of life, and the police could then arrange for it to be removed. I asked if I could go and wash her before she was moved, and Andy nodded. I pointed at Trish and he called her to him. Amazingly, Trina came and helped me.

The sad thing is that upon death, bodies tend to void contents of bladders and bowels, and so need to be washed. After we’d done it, it struck me that perhaps Trina wasn’t necessarily being so nice, as vigilant—after all, if I’d killed her, I could be removing the evidence.

She went white when we rolled the body over and air was dislodged making a groaning noise. I knew it was coming, but it still made me jump a little. Afterwards I combed her hair and placed a clean nightdress upon her. I knew there’d be a post mortem, so this lovely young body would be cut about. I also stripped and remade the bed, removing the dirty linen to the washing machine.

I called Stella who asked Tom to collect some milk from the hospital for the baby—she was very upset to hear of the continuing tragedy. I decided if the baby was given to my safekeeping, I’d try to make sure we had some nice photos of her original family so she’d never lose a knowledge of her identity and her roots.

I found a card from an undertakers and called them: they were dealing with Daisy and Paul. They’d had a call from the police, so were expecting to collect Maria as well.

“Who’s organising the funerals?”

“Until now, Mrs Drummond, is there a near relative?”

“I don’t think so, but I don’t honestly know. I’m prepared to do it for them, because I knew them and this is all so sad. If a relative or someone with more claim on the responsibility turns up, I’ll happily stand aside.”

“Well we’ll work with you then, Lady Cameron.”

“I’m also prepared to stand the cost if necessary.”

“I doubt anyone else will challenge you on that, my dear.”

“Daisy was going to be a bridesmaid for me—I was married months ago, but we’re having a formal blessing and I’d promised her she could be one of my bridesmaids.”

“That’s very sad.”

“Look, if I was to organise a dress and floral headdress, could she be buried in it, so she’d finally get her wish?”

“I don’t see why not, unless someone else turns up to challenge it. I think it’s a lovely idea.”

“They’re Catholic, so that means burial doesn’t it?”

“Usually, but not always—if the lady is proven to have taken her own life, it might be an issue.”

“I think the coroner would find it would be while the balance of her mind was disturbed through grief and recent traumatic childbirth.”

“Oh the poor girl,” said the man from the undertakers.

“We’ve cleaned her up and put her in a clean nightdress.”

“The private ambulance is on its way.”

It arrived moments later, while a small crowd of neighbours gathered outside and net curtains twitched across the road. The body was removed and Trish had fallen asleep sitting on Andy Bond’s lap while we waited.

Finally, a very harassed social worker arrived. “I have no idea where I’m going to place her, my usual neonate foster family are away this week.”

“I’m happy to take her, you can always come and get her from me if it’s deemed necessary.”

“Are you on our list?”

“Only a black one, why?”

“The deceased did leave a note requesting Lady Cameron had custody of the baby.”

“Oh did she now? Why involve me then if you’ve decided everything?” she said very snottily.

“Because the law demands it. Personally, I can vouch for Lady Cameron as being a suitable person,” offered Andy Bond, “and we know where she lives.”

“What are you going to feed her on?”

“I asked my father to collect some breast milk from the bank at the hospital.”

“Oh, so you assumed you were going to have her, did you?” she asked aggressively.

“On the contrary, I knew how busy you’d be, so thought I could save you a few minutes if you felt you had to remove her. She’ll want another feed within an hour, and this time she’ll need changing.”

“You mean you didn’t change her when you fed her?”

“No, she went off to sleep and the nappy wasn’t dirty, just a bit of wee in it.”

“There are some clean nappies, I take it?”

“Of course there are. Maria might have been distraught about the death of her husband and daughter, but she was a good mother.”

“Oh, she’s that Mrs Drummond?”

“Yes, her husband and daughter were killed a few days ago.”

“Oh, poor girl, you may take the baby with you until more permanent arrangements are made. Be prepared for an inspection, she is very young.”

“Very well—look I’d like to see if I can assemble an album of photos of her real family so she knows who she is, is that okay?”

“Jolly good idea—you’ve done this before, haven’t you?”

“I have several adopted children. I try to encourage them to be true to themselves.”

“Take good care of her, won’t you?” she offered me her hand and I shook it warmly.

“I will, I hope your day improves.”

She looked at the sleeping baby and stroked her face, “You be good for your new foster mum, won’t you?” Then to me she said, “She’s gorgeous isn’t she?” I nodded. “Her name is the same as yours, isn’t it—is that a coincidence?”

“No, it’s the greatest honour I’ve ever been accorded.” I sniffed when I remembered Paul telling me.

“Good girl,” she nodded and left to bustle up someone else’s path.

Andy went and got my car, Trish helped me pack everything we could find for the baby, including a collection of photos of Daisy and Paul and Maria. I even took their slim volume of wedding photos. I wanted the name of the priest who married them if the undertakers knew it. He’d be the right one to do the funeral.

Then after we packed up the car, Tom arrived with the milk and took a few more things, then the police locked up the house and we drove away back to our farmhouse. I was exhausted, but determined if necessary to fight legally to honour Maria’s last request—to look after her baby.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1090

I was really glad that Tom had turned up. We were able to load the cot plus a few other bits and pieces in his car. He’d brought enough milk to last three or four days. As the baby was quite small, she was only likely to take small feeds every three or four hours. The carrycot was the sort that fitted to a wheelbase so could be used as a pram. This baby was no more than a week old—suddenly I realised what I was taking on and felt a twinge of panic.

I had just strapped the carrycot into the car and loaded the folded wheels in the foot well in front of it. Trish was sitting on her booster cushion, peering into the cot with such love. “Don’t worry, baby Catherine, my mummy will look after you—she’s the best mummy in the world; an’ I ’spect Auntie Stella will help too. I know I’m going to enjoy being your big sister, and Livvie, Meems and Billie will love you too. I dunno about Julie, don’t think she’s into babies too much—she’s into boys.” She rolled her eyes in mock disgust.

“Whit’s thae matter?” Tom asked seeing me standing and trembling.

“I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Why not?”

“She is so small and vulnerable.”

“Aye, she is, sae ye’ll hae tae be carefu’, won’t ye?”

“I don’t know if I’m capable of it, Daddy, I really don’t.” I felt a tear form and run down my cheek.

He hugged me. “Ye’ve no din sae bad sae far.”

“But she is just so small.”

“Stella managed, wi’ yer help, I think ye can dae onythin’ ye set yer mind tae.”

“It’s the end of my career, isn’t it?”

“That’s fa’ ye tae decide, noo is not thae time—c’mon, let’s get yon wains hame.” He hugged me again, and I dried my eyes, nodded and got into my car. I followed him back to the farmhouse.

One of the advantages of a house full of young women is there is no shortage of willing baby feeders or sitters. Unfortunately, with the baby being so small, feeding her required an adult. Stella offered to do the first one whilst I got the evening meal.

I called Stephanie and told her what had happened, especially Trish’s part and she said she’d try and call by tomorrow depending upon what was for dinner. I reminded her I was foster mother to a week old baby and she said she’d be over tomorrow for certain.

I asked her what to do tonight if there were any bad dreams, and she asked for whom. I told her Trish, and she asked if I was sure if that was who I really meant?

“What d’you mean?”

“I believe you have some issues about death, don’t you?”

“Do I?” Was she reading my mind, or acting on information she’d gleaned.

“You’ve had a fair few these past couple of years, including close family and friends and children. Children’s deaths are always traumatic for adults, even those unrelated to them.”

“I can’t say I was that close to Maria or Daisy, or Paul, for that matter.”

“Didn’t you save their lives?”

“I helped a bit,” I blushed as I deliberately understated my part.

“Sure you did—so you had an investment in them. Just as we get a high from seeing somebody get better from our efforts; whether that’s as parents, teachers or healers, our act of giving means we are investing in them. The fact that you were going to offer her a job, that you felt guilty for her traumatic birth and the death of her family, shows you felt a great deal for her. You need to deal with your pain as well as that of others, you know.”

“Are you just touting for more custom?” I cheeked her back, trying to hide my vulnerability.

“I wouldn’t see you anyway, too many potentials for crossed boundaries.”

“Perhaps I should give Dr Thomas a call.”

“By all means, do that, but with all due respect, I suspect you need a counsellor or psychotherapist, not a psychiatrist, you’re not barmy are you?”

“That’s a matter of opinion—I mean, who in their right mind would take on board a week old baby when they can’t cope with six existing kids?”

“Somebody who has a great love for the baby and compassion for her mother and other family, and who has an oddly old-fashioned view of honour in this time of designer labels and disposable morals.”

“Are you saying I’m a dinosaur?”

“No, you silly sod, I’m saying you’re a woman of great compassion and principle.”

“Oh,” I blushed and remained silent.

“Cathy, if we had more like you in our world, we could right so many wrongs—now I’m preaching. I’m getting jaded by the endless streams of teenage mums who haven’t got a clue of how they’ve messed up their lives and that of their baby, because they don’t know any better. I’ve got an ex-patient who is a grandmother at twenty-nine. What chance have these kids got? At least yours will have some sense of right and wrong, of being loved and wanted and of self-value. They’ll have role models who are successful and have done something with their lives, and they have a whole family of adults who love them and support them. There are thousands of children and babies in this country, who, if they had a mother like you would do all right for themselves. The tragedy is, they won’t.”

I felt myself feeling very warm and squirming—I still found it hard to take compliments. “Thank you, I think.”

“You’re a very special lady, keep it that way. Now what’s for dinner tomorrow?”

“What do you fancy, pork or lamb?”

“Yeah, they’ll do,” I heard her chortle.

“This isn’t Cathy’s carvery, you know?”

“I know it’s the Cameron home for waifs and strays, isn’t it?”

“It’s beginning to feel like it.”

“Look, I’ve got a friend who’s a psychotherapist, she doesn’t come cheap but she’s very good. I’ll ask her if she’s got room for a new client—that’s if you’d like me to?”

“I suppose I have to start somewhere, should I tell Dr Thomas what I’m doing?”

“You can do, up to you—but I can guarantee she won’t mind one bit.”

“How can you do that?” I asked.

“She’s sitting opposite me drinking my best Merlot—want a word?”

“Is that appropriate, I mean she’s off-duty?”

“Hello, Cathy, how are you?” came the familiar voice of the woman who’d saved my life and my sanity.

“I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”

“Fine are you? Just from the gist of what I’ve heard now, you’re saving the world again.”

“If only, Dr Thomas, or just three individuals—I’d settle for that.”

“We rarely get what we want, Cathy, and when we do it rarely seems to be what we thought we wanted. You always wanted a baby, I can remember you saying so—a week old infant is as close as you’re ever going to get. Love her, protect her but also enjoy her. It’s dreadful that in the universe granting your wish, that someone had to give up a baby, especially in such sad circumstances, but make the most of it you may never get another chance to shape a life quite as completely as this one. Your other children call you Mummy, but they have known another parent, albeit an unsatisfactory one for the most part. This little one won’t. Despite you telling her about her birth mother, it’s you she’ll see in that role—enjoy it, you were made for it.”

“Are you suggesting I brought this about by wishing for it?”

“No, I didn’t mean that at all. I’m saying it was your dearest wish to have a baby—you have one—take the opportunity in both hands and enjoy motherhood from practically the beginning—but make sure you have some time for you. See Stephanie’s friend, but make that hour your time. I have to go, take care—oh and you know where I am if you need me.”

“Yes, thanks—bye.”

I stood there wondering what all that was about—did I wish for this? If so, did I cause it to happen? If I did that would make me a monster, causing the deaths of three lovely people just so I could feed and change nappies on a baby. Oh shit!

The Daily Dormouse Part 1091

There were no bad dreams that night, unless you count mine and I’ll save those for my therapist, who apparently could see me on Monday, such is Stephanie’s power of persuasion. Talking of the good doctor, she duly appeared on Sunday afternoon and after eating her share of a leg of lamb, took Trish with her into the study and spent an hour with her.

I didn’t see her go, I was doing my bit with our new arrival, feeding and cleaning up the mess afterwards. I redid her nappy and sang her to sleep, rocking her gently in my arms—finally laying her in her cot when she’d gone off. I turned round and nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Simon—how long have you been there?”

“Long enough,” he said, “to wish you were my mummy.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I saw the bond that seemed to be forming between you two already—you’re not going to give her up, are you?”

I motioned him to come from our bedroom, which looked almost like a cross between a nursery and a Mothercare storeroom. “Look, when that child is old enough to ask questions about her real mother, I’d like to be able to say that I knew her and what a wonderful woman she was, and who simply died from a broken heart.”

“She’s young enough not to have anything said to her—she’ll take you as her mother anyway—so why bother with complications?”

“Si, I’m not her mother, I’m her foster mother and at most could only be her adopted mother.”

“But she doesn’t know that, does she?”

“But she will one day and then she’ll know we deceived her.”

“How will she find out?”

“Because the paperwork will say so—and I’ll tell her.”

“Isn’t it just an unnecessary complication? What good will knowing do her?”

“The relationship between parent and child is sacred, building it on lies is unforgiveable. I want her to know who her mother was, like I do all the children here. If they choose to call me mummy after that, that’s their decision.”

“I still think it’s over-complicating things, somewhat.”

“You’re entitled to your opinion, dear husband, but I’m the one who’ll be stuck with dealing with it and that’s how I’ve decided to do so.”

“Very good, milady, I’ll inform the other staff,” he said bowing to me. I slapped him on the arm as he left.

On Monday, I took the baby with me as I went for therapy. I knew it wouldn’t be appreciated by Jane Stanley, the psychotherapist, but I decided the baby would stay with me even though Stella told me she’d cope for an hour.

“Cathy?” asked the tall woman, who was wearing a pair of designer jeans and Ralph Lauren top. She had short grey hair, wore tiny diamond ear studs and a gold bangle on her right wrist. “I’m Jane Stanley, come on in.”

I picked up the carrycot and she visibly winced. Tough, I thought.

I set the carrycot down by the side of an easy chair and made myself comfortable. Jane came in and sat opposite me, picking up a file.

She told me about herself, at least her professional self, and explained her boundaries. She then asked me to tell her a bit about myself and what I felt wanted out of seeing her.

I wasn’t sure I liked her and felt defensive. “I’m Cathy Cameron, married to Simon we’ve been married about six months.”

“Is this your first baby?” she nodded at Catherine.

“She’s not mine, well she is for the moment, her mother died on Saturday and asked me to take care of her. So I’m fostering her and will look to make the arrangement more permanent as soon as I can get my solicitor on it.”

“Was this a close friend, the baby’s mother?”

“Not especially, we hadn’t known each other that long, but she’d started her labour in my cloakroom and then her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident a day or so later after leaving my house.”

“So there are issues of guilt?”

“Yes.”

“What do you do as an occupation?”

“I’m an ecologist and teach at the university, help to supervise the British Mammal Survey and make documentary films.”

“You lead a busy life then—and of course, your new addition will complicate things a bit more?”

“Yes but the other kids will help.”

“You have other children?”

“Yes, six.”

Six?” her jaw dropped a little and I hope she didn’t see me snigger.

“Yes, until now, Mima was the youngest at five, then Livvie, Trish, Billie, Danny and Julie who’s sixteen.”

“How can you have a child of sixteen—you’re what—twenty-five or six?”

“Twenty-six.”

“Don’t tell me you conceived at age ten, because I don’t think I’d believe you.”

“Me? No, none of them are mine—I’ve either fostered or adopted them.”

“Why six—it’s quite a large number by modern standards?”

I nodded at the carrycot, “Seven,” I corrected her.

“Quite—why?”

“Because they needed me.”

“So it was their need, not yours?”

“I accept I have needs too, but one or two would have met those.”

“So why the football team?”

“Circumstances arose where they stayed with me and didn’t want to leave.”

“Or you didn’t want them to leave?”

“Some of it, but I guess they enjoyed being a part of a family rather than living in a home or a dysfunctional family.”

“So you take on other people’s problems?”

“I try to help.”

“And who helps you?”

“My husband when he’s there, my adopted father, my sister-in-law and my kids.”

“Friends not help too much, then?”

“Most of them live away from here, so they can’t.”

“Your adopted father—are you adopted?”

“Not really—my dad died after a stroke, which happened after my mother died suddenly. He died about a year or so ago and my professor, sort of became my father figure. He asked me to move in with him as he had a large house and he sort of became my adopted father. It’s not a legal thing, but he sees me as his daughter and I call him, Daddy. The kids all call him, Gramps, and he feels part of the family.”

“He has no family of his own?”

“No his wife died and his daughter was killed in a car smash.”

“Repeating themes,” she said to herself, “So you sort of adopted each other and fulfil a need in each other’s lives?”

“The house is full of people who help each other along. The children all decided they would be siblings even though they’re all from different families, they decided they’d call me Mummy and Simon, Daddy, Stella, Auntie Stella, and Tom, Gramps. It was their decision which we all accepted after discussing it with them.”

“So you didn’t ask them to call you, Mummy?”

“No, I thought Auntie Cathy was sufficient, they decided it wasn’t. They wanted me as a mother in name as well as role.”

“And you agreed?”

“Eventually: I wasn’t too happy to begin and tried correcting them, explaining that they had mothers and I didn’t want them to lose sight of that. One had been abused by the birth mother and said she didn’t want to remember, she wanted me to be her new mummy.”

“And you agreed?”

“Yes.”

“Are you always so amenable to suggestion?”

“What d’you mean?”

“Say, I wanted to call you Mummy, too—how would you feel about that?”

“Embarrassed,” I felt myself blushing.

“But you let other people call you it, why not me?”

“You’re older than I am to start with, they were all children.”

“Including the sixteen-year-old, to whom you’re more like a big sister in age terms?”

“I’m sorry, but this line of conversation is annoying me, I’m leaving now.”

I stood up and pulled on my light jacket.

“Sit down Cathy, we haven’t finished.”

“You might not have done, I have. Send me the bill, because I won’t be back.”

“At least tell me why?”

“I came here to deal with my guilt and grief, all you’ve done is to undermine what self esteem I have. Okay, I can’t have kids myself, but I can still be a mother to some who need one—you don’t actually have to have delivered them yourself to bond with them and give them a chance to grow into decent adults.”

“You’re a one woman charity, aren’t you? Out to save the world?”

“No, I can’t save the world against the other six billion morons who are trying to destroy it; or save all the abused or damaged children even in this town—but those who have found their way to me—I’ll do my damnedest to protect and nurture until they can look after themselves.”

“Are you a religious person, Cathy?”

“Religion? Ha bloody ha, yes—I’m a fundamentalist agnostic. I’m a scientist, I believe what I can see with my own eyes and can test or replicate.”

“Is your husband a scientist, too?”

“No? He’s a banker, why?”

“Simon Cameron,” she said quietly to herself, “Not the Simon Cameron?”

“Is there another?” I picked up my handbag.

“So you’re Lady Catherine Cameron, the dormouse lady?”

I blushed, “Yes.”

“Ah, some of it makes sense now.” She had a gleam of triumph in her eyes.

“I’m glad it makes one to you, goodbye.” I picked up my baby in the carrycot and walked towards the door.

“Oh, you’ll be back,” she said to my back.

“Don’t bet on it, missus,” I spat as I left.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1092

By the time I arrived at home I’d calmed down and didn’t want to dot a certain therapist in the nose.

“How’d it go?” asked Stella.

“Bloody awful—won’t be going back there again.”

“Why?”

“Didn’t like her.”

“I thought people fell in love with their therapists?”

“Eh—nah, she’s not my type—never did go for supercilious old bags.”

“She made that good an impression?” Stella disappeared before I could respond, emerging moments later with a mug of tea. “How’s junior?”

“She’s adorable, and slept ever since I left home—she grizzled in the car then zonked and has been asleep ever since.” For a moment I scared myself, then heard her make a whimpering sound. “Hungry, I expect.”

“She’s made an impression on you, Cathy Cameron.”

“Yep, she sure has.” I picked her out of the carrycot and she glowered at me, her hair all standing up and her rear end smelling of happier times. I hugged her, and laid her on the changing mat.

“Can I help feed her?” called Trish, who was the first through the kitchen door, followed by a herd of elephants all trumpeting similar messages.

“Not yet, she’s too little, but when she’s a bit older, you can all have a try, but only if Auntie Stella or I am here to supervise, okay?”

They all agreed, albeit reluctantly.

“Small babies need special support when you hold them, because their heads are too heavy for their neck muscles and they roll about which could injure them.”

None of them seemed aware of this. I put the bottle of milk to warm in the little heater thing and started to change her. “Trish, find me a clean nappy; Livvie, the wet wipes please; Meems, the nappy liners; Billie, the bum cream; Danny…” he just waved and disappeared. “Jules, can you pass me a clean babygro and pants?” She brought them over.

“Hey,” grumbled Stella, “I have to do all this by myself.”

“Learn to delegate—it has its advantages.” I was joking, because the novelty would soon pass, they just wanted to be part of the newest inmate, like they would a new puppy or kitten. Then it gets boring and finally a chore—at least that’s what happens to rabbits and guinea pigs—maybe it’s different with babies, especially in a house primarily filled with supposed females. I wonder if this could be used as some test of genuineness of true gender difference. Probably not. Not all bio females are into babies, and some find them a total turnoff. Personally, I was in my element—even better than dormice—well at the moment—in the middle of the night it might be different. I wonder if I had to electronically tag this one and weigh her each time I take her out of her nest box?

I cleaned her up, fed her and after winding her carried her about for a bit trying not to have too big a grin on my face. I was feeling a sense of fulfilment I’d not had with any of the other kids—I looked up at the sky and prayed to a god I didn’t believe in, for her to be allowed to stay with me. Talk about bonding—I was super-glued to her.

Trish took some photos of me holding her—all without a flash. Then I let each one of them hold her for a bit, even Meems, the real doll girl.

“She’s got my finger,” squealed Livvie and the baby shuddered in Meem’s arms: she nearly dropped her, so I took her back.

“Please all of you, don’t shout or squeal near her, she can’t really see you yet but her hearing is very good, so you frighten her.” The baby—my baby—oh please God—was yawning, so after talking to her, I put her in the cot and rocked her off to sleep.

My life was going to get so mundane but I was loving it. Who ever thought I’d get a week-old baby to look after like my own? Then I thought about the cost and my joy was cut short, replaced by a sense of guilt. The reality was, I was here for her needs, not the other way round.

Life is strange, so are humans, we interpret things for our own ends, just as I had then—but it’s what keeps us human, if egocentric.

After lunch, and with Stella’s assistance, I took the rest of the brood—who wanted to come—for a bike ride. All but Mima came, and she was happy to stay at home and help Stella with her new sister.

Trish struggled on the ride. I let Danny and Billie go off ahead whilst Livvie and Trish rode with me on the boys old mountain bikes—only just coping with the size of them. I had changed the tyres to make it easier for them, but they still struggled.

The girls seemed to enjoy the challenge and weren’t complaining, so I shelved my idea to ride with the two older kids first and then take the rest out afterwards, the older ones getting a second ride—obviously at a slower pace.

In the evening after the kids were in bed, I went looking on eBay for second-hand bikes in more suitable sizes and managed to find some with twenty-six inch wheels but with quite small frames. They were only a tenner each, and all I wanted was the frames—the rest I could build myself—probably at night, instead of sleeping. I also set up my turbo in the spare garage and was going to try and do half an hour a day on it to try and get my legs back in shape—for cycling again.

Simon thinks I’ve got quite nice legs, so who am I to argue? I checked my emails before I shut down the computer. The funeral director had sent me an message.

“Hi Lady C, How did he know that?

Funeral is at Our Lady of Sorrows, on Thursday next at 2.00pm, with committal at the municipal cemetery afterwards. Usually, that’s for family and gentlemen only. I have arranged for refreshments to be made available at the public house down the road from the church, The Royal George, for 3.00pm. It will be a family (multiple) burial and I will need the dress for the little girl. What about her parents?

I decided that I’d try and get Maria’s wedding dress cleaned up so she could wear that, and I’d see if Paul had a nice suit he could wear for his final journey. Tomorrow, Livvie and I would go and look for a suitable bridesmaid’s dress for Daisy. I would take Livvie because she was closest in size in my estimation for trying on dresses for fit. I’ll ask her first of course, but I think she’ll be pleased to do it. If not, it’ll have to be Trish, but she is a little taller than Livvie—not that dress length will matter too much for someone lying down—dammit—this was important, the most important outfit of this child’s life and she happens to be dead, but it is important—so no corners will be cut.

I emailed the undertaker back and asked him for measurements, especially height for Daisy and told him everything else seemed in order. He’d asked the priest at the church, who apparently knew the family slightly, to do the service—better than nothing I suppose. It looked like I was still chief mourner.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1093

The next morning I spoke with Andy Bond, explaining that I needed to gain access to the Drummond’s house to provide clothing to the undertaker. He went off and found some information about their solicitor, so I called them.

I spoke to a Mr Harper, who again consulted some documents. “Ah, Mrs Cameron, you wish to gain access to the property to provide the undertakers with clothing for the various funerals of my clients.”

“Yes, the police suggested you might have a key.”

“We do indeed, I also have an amendment to her will naming you as executrix of her estate and any surviving children as major beneficiaries. She asked me to attend her in hospital—she was much taken with you, Mrs Cameron, because she stipulates that any remaining children be awarded to your care and custody. In return, once her estate is liquidated, you should be paid ten thousand a year towards the cost of maintaining her child or children. On achieving the age of majority, they will then receive the remainder of her estate.

“We are charged with investing her assets to maintain a maximum return. If the child doesn’t achieve majority, the residue of the estate comes to you or your children.”

“I don’t need her money.”

“Possibly not, but on behalf of her surviving daughter, we are pursuing a claim against the driver who caused the deaths of her husband and elder daughter. It could be worth many thousands of pounds.”

“I’m sure little Catherine will be glad of it later, although I’m sure she’d have preferred to have her parents and older sister.”

“Quite, it’s a very sad case.”

“Anyway, if I call by, I can borrow the key.”

“As you will be disposing of the estate on her behalf, you can keep it—all we require are a copy of any accounts produced by disposal of her assets. You are entitled to claim expenses. Oh, please bring some form of ID with you, preferably with a photograph.”

“Will my university ID badge do?”

“I’m sure that will be fine, we’ll need an address too, for correspondence.”

“Fine, I’ll bring over a letterhead.”

“Splendid, we look forward to meeting you, Mrs Cameron.”

I wasn’t sure if he was being snotty or was just maintaining a professional reserve and distance. Oh well, did it matter? I can’t sack him anyway, and I’ll bet he creams off loads from the investments—Simon could have got the bank to do it for far less—you can do that when you own it.

I asked Livvie during breakfast if she would mind helping me with Daisy’s dress and she agreed with enthusiasm. Trish was a bit put out that I was only taking Livvie with me as she felt some link with the family having met Maria a couple of times. I told her she could help Stella feed baby Catherine if I wasn’t back in time. She huffed and puffed, but she acquiesced eventually.

Stella was being an absolute brick through all this and her recent practice with a baby was so useful, not to mention having plenty of spare clothes, which had hardly been used. Whilst I enjoyed playing with my new dolly, I had loads to do to try and deal with other issues and also with trying to keep her.

Of course, social services called while I was out, but Stella dealt with them and they seemed happy with our care of the baby. I primed my own solicitor to start exploring if we could foster on a long-term basis or adopt. Knowing how much he got paid last time, he was quite keen to accept the instruction.

I collected the key after I showed my University of Portsmouth staff ID badge, not realising that when they updated it after my marriage, they included the title Lady, not Mrs. It caused a few deep breaths, especially when they twigged just to whom I was married. ‘Oh that, Simon Cameron, the banker.’ Especially as I was wearing jeans, an old shirt and a denim jacket—I probably looked like any other punter who has access to assets of many billions of pounds—it doesn’t sound so much if you say it quickly.

I rushed about the house with Livvie, collecting the soiled wedding dress and a suit from Paul’s wardrobe. I hoped it fitted him; I added a shirt and tie and some shoes socks and underpants.

For Maria, I took the lingerie she’d been wearing when we found her and had washed them in the machine. They were dry now, and I’d iron any wrinkles which had appeared. We dropped the dress at a cleaners who after checking it, said they could do it but it would need at least two days and would cost fifty pounds. I nodded my agreement, offering an extra ten if they could remove the stain completely from the back. They seemed happy to try, but on the grounds they didn’t damage the material. I got Paul’s suit cleaned as well, it seemed mean not to.

Then we went to some bridal shops. Stella and I had done this earlier, so I knew what I wanted. I found a pretty pink long dress which fitted Livvie quite well. I phoned the undertakers on my mobile and they gave me the exact measurements I’d wanted—in fact, they emailed them to my Blackberry. The dress would fit without any alterations, and we bought some shoes to go with it and some pretty underwear. It seemed so ironic that the poor kid had to be dead to wear the wretched dress. At least I felt I’d made the effort. I paid for the dress, which caused some excitement in the shop.

“That’s a lovely dress, isn’t it? You’re a very lucky girl,” the shop assistant said to Livvie.

“Oh, it’s not for me, it’s for someone else,” answered my adopted daughter.

“Oh, well she’s very lucky then.”

“No she isn’t, she died last week and so did her daddy, and her mummy died a couple of days ago.”

The woman blushed so red, I almost posted a letter in her open mouth.

“We have to go,” I said, snatching my card back and picking up the dress and other things. Back in the car, I said to Livvie, “You don’t have to explain everything each time—it was too much information.”

“So what should I have said, Mummy?”

“Perhaps just agreed when she assumed it was for you.”

“But that would be dishonest Mummy, and you said you hated it when we told lies.”

So there I was once again hoist by my own petard—wonderful. Still we were going home to see the others and feed the baby—my baby.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1094

I dropped the clothing into the undertakers and suddenly it was Thursday. I was getting the hang of having a young baby, with Stella’s help, and here I was leaving her to Stella’s tender mercies while I went off to the funeral. Trish wanted to come as well, but I didn’t think a funeral service would be any place for a child. There were protests and tears, but I held firm and went alone.

I wore a dark suit and a raincoat—the weather had turned unsettled and it wasn’t as warm as August is generally expected to be. On my feet, I wore boots with modest heels. I would attend at the graveside and drop in the few flowers I carried with me. I made sure my makeup was waterproof, but even then there was a risk that I’d smudge it all over.

Inside each of the coffins I had placed a small gift, a teddy for Daisy, a wedding posy for Maria and a golfing glove for Paul—he was apparently very fond of his game. I also put in a photo of the baby for each of them. I was invited to the undertaker’s to see them all before they sealed the caskets and while I was afraid what I’d see, I actually went and said a personal goodbye and gave them their gifts. I also kissed each one of them on the forehead and left. It was an hour before I got home, I was so upset. That was on the Wednesday and here it was, the funeral.

The priest did a good job and I stood and sat at the appropriate times, and even managed the odd amen. The church bore a respectable crowd and I was a little concerned that I appeared to be sitting on my own in the front row.

The eulogy was very moving although I couldn’t go with the ‘being called to Jesus’ bit, but then it wasn’t my show. Otherwise, I sat quietly and wept with most of the other people who were there. I glanced around at the decor of the place and felt totally alienated by the iconography— it did nothing for me, let alone console me.

After, at the committal, I stood in the rain holding my umbrella in one hand and my three flowers in the other—a white rose, a red rose and a large ornamental daisy. On the signal from the priest, I dropped my flowers one at a time onto the coffins and then walked from the grave. Others did similarly and followed me away. Afterwards, the priest and I thanked everyone for coming and then invited them back to the Royal George for refreshments.

“Are you Maria’s sister?” asked several of the mourners, and seemed surprised when I said I was just a friend.

I was pleased to see Andy Bond there, and he explained he always tried to attend a funeral for anyone with whom he’d been involved. The refreshments were the standard fare of tea and sandwiches. I wasn’t hungry and the lump in my throat made swallowing even the tea difficult.

How could a whole family be wiped out in such a short time? All that was left was the little bundle of joy in my house, and I would do all I could to help her understand her past.

The funeral director spoke to me afterwards. “I think your idea of dressing them in their wedding things and the little girl in the bridesmaid’s dress was delightful—d’you know, I’m sure after we did it, the whole place felt lighter, as if they approved.”

I shrugged, “I don’t know if they did or not but to me it seemed to be appropriate.”

“How is the baby?”

“She’s fine, she’s doing well on the hospital milk—I get fresh breast milk from the hospital although we have to try and get her on to a formula one next week. Apparently, they can only supply it for so long.”

“I think you’re very brave to take on someone’s baby, especially as you lead such a busy life.”

“She is such a sweetheart, she wakes once in the night and takes her feed very nicely and goes back off no problem.”

“You’re very lucky, all mine played hell during the night, and one used to get colic.” A tall woman stood next to me. She looked me up and down, “Are you the Cathy who helped Maria after the car accident?”

“Only insofar as I went to see Daisy each day to let Paul spend time with Maria.”

“I heard you’re something of a healer or a witch.”

“I’m actually a biologist, so I think you may have the wrong Cathy.”

“No, I think you’re the right one and you were very uncomfortable in church, why was that?”

“I’m agnostic.”

“Um—that’s interesting, you’re not into the goddess, then?”

“Goddess? No, I don’t believe any of that mumbo-jumbo stuff, it’s just words.”

“Is it? Her presence in you is very strong.”

“Is it? Sorry I don’t feel it.”

“Just relax and let it come through, she will guide you.”

“I’m doing all right by myself so far, at least I think so.”

“Well, she has told me to inform you she is waiting when you change your mind. Rejoice in her, she only comes to those females she judges worthy of her help and never to men. Let me know if I can be of assistance.” She shoved a business card in my hand and left. I shoved it in my pocket—the last thing I needed at the moment was being admitted to a coven or something similar, especially to worship a goddess who couldn’t tell a real female from a wannabe. I was getting tetchy. I tried to eat something— a small tuna finger roll—hoping it would boost my blood sugars, as that could explain my crabbiness.

I spoke with several other mourners, one who’d worked with Paul who told me several stories, which I’d have to document, so I could pass them on to Catherine. One or two were friends of Maria, and again I was asked if I was a relative, although the priest had said both Paul and Maria were raised in children’s homes. So maybe it wasn’t just me who failed to listen properly to the eulogy.

I did try to listen to the bit about Daisy, but the, ‘suffer the little children’ made me feel angry. Then when he went on about how both Maria and she had recovered miraculously from earlier injuries, ‘they were surely blessed.’ I felt like standing up and asking if they were, how come we were attending their funerals?

I didn’t of course, it would serve no purpose except to upset people who were upset enough. Maybe they had been blessed, who was I to disagree? After people began to leave, I thanked the pub landlord for the spread and left.

I drove up onto the downs, parked in a viewpoint and howled for half an hour at the injustice of life, at its unfairness and how could any god or goddess, for that matter, take the life of a six-year-old child?

After I’d totally ruined my eye makeup, I wiped my face and went home to try and recover from my sadness.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1095

Stella and the baby got me through the rest of that day. The other children seemed to get on my nerves, and it was only at bedtime that I was able to apologise to them for my bad mood. I explained that seeing a little coffin alongside two big ones brings home what is inside—a dead child—and it upset me.

It would have been nice to have had Simon home with me, but he was busy advising a financial think-tank which suggested what we all knew anyway—that the proposed government cuts were going to hit the poorest hardest. It seems these days that he’s much more involved in financial strategies than commodities. I hope he doesn’t spin off into politics which seems to be the way he’s going. Hopefully, he’ll be home tomorrow night or Saturday.

I did eventually sleep, although I kept seeing the coffins. I was walking along a dark country lane which felt more Mediterranean than England, and the tall hedges behind the stone wall which lined both sides of the lane, seemed like olive trees or figs—I don’t like either, so I wasn’t tempted to try them.

I became aware of something stalking me from beyond the trees and the hairs on my neck stood on end. I carried on walking, though I picked up a piece of stick which felt like olive wood, to use as a cudgel if necessary were I attacked.

The light was fading as I trudged along the lane and the lane descended into a sort of valley before rising in the distance up the other side. I wasn’t sure where I was going but I seemed to know I had to go through this dip before I could rise up the other side.

I wanted to run, but the surface of the lane was far from even, and I worried about falling and being an easy target for whatever was stalking me. At the bottom of the dip, I came across a gateway, and there leaning against the gate was a beautiful woman, with long dark hair. Her eyes were blazing like two emeralds, and I was a bit afraid to gaze into them, however, I felt politeness was important and I wished her a good evening.

“A good evening to you too, Catherine.”

I had to stop and face her, “You know my name, madam,” I replied keeping things very formal and polite.

“I know all about you, Catherine.”

“Might I ask how or why, as I don’t consider myself important enough to be worthy of such study.”

“Every woman is important to me.”

“That’s good to know, madam.”

“Even those who bear my essence but have to labour to express it.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”

“Those who like yourself came to womanhood by a less traditional route.”

“Oh that,” I felt myself blushing.

“Yes that, you’ve had to fight for recognition of your female spirit.”

“I suppose that’s a succinct way of saying it, yes.”

“Oh, I’m very succinct—it comes with age.”

“Well, I must say you don’t seem that old to my eyes, but I have a sense that you might be ageless,” I was feeling less threatened, but felt something very unworldly about this lady.

“Ageless, yes, that will do nicely: you’re a good woman Catherine, even if you struggle to accept your own spirit of femaleness.”

“I’m sorry madam, but I’m not sure I understand you.”

“Accept who and what you are.”

“I do, madam.”

“Do you? If so, how did you have the impertinence to consider that I, of all divine beings, couldn’t distinguish between a real female and a wannabe?”

I blushed brightly enough to be seen in the dark. “Um—I’m sorry if I offended you, it was unintentional.”

“So do you retract what you said?”

“I do if it caused offence, madam.”

“My essence is strong in you, therefore you must be female—quod erat demonstrandum—or don’t you understand these modern languages?”

“I understand, madam.”

“Good, listen to my voice when I speak to you in future.”

“I shall try madam, how will I know it is you, and not my mind playing tricks on me?” I thought I answered that quite well.

“Oh we have a real doubter here—your name didn’t used to be Thomas, did it?” She laughed, and I felt the whole place echo with it. I felt my erector pilorae muscles pulling on the hairs of my skin giving me goosebumps.

“I’m sorry madam, I didn’t mean to cause offence.”

“Didn’t you? Believe in yourself and your female essence.”

“I shall try, madam.”

“And listen to that small still voice inside which comes from deep within, from a place of calmness and tranquillity.”

“There isn’t much tranquillity in my life at present, madam.”

“Which is why I am here addressing you now—for an intelligent woman, you can be very slow Catherine.”

“I’m sorry madam, it’s been a very tiring day.”

“You make excuses.”

“No madam, but I find the death of children very distressing.”

“Ah, but only if you believe in the limitations of the physical world and not look beyond it.”

“Madam, I’m sorry but I’m a scientist, trained to investigate the physical world.”

“And yet you use the healing energy I give you.”

“You give me?” I spluttered.

“Yes, where did you think it came from?”

“I didn’t know, I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t abused it or failed in using it?”

“I don’t think so—no, your restraint has been commendable, and you have helped those of your daughters who also bear my gift, to show restraint also.”

“Thank you.”

“You are welcome, continue to exercise my gift to you intelligently, but listen to my voice guiding you.”

“I will try—might I ask your name, madam?”

“Of course, you don’t know, do you?” She laughed, and the valley echoed her laughter.

“I’m sorry, madam, I don’t.”

“I am Shekhinah.”

“Thank you, I’ll remember it.”

“Yes you will—now sleep and feel my essence in you.”

I woke the next morning knowing that something had happened during my sleep. It was six in the morning and yet I felt myself buzzing with energy—I heard baby C gurgling as if someone was entertaining her, yet when I looked there was no one there. I got up and lifted her from the cot, she squealed and gurgled at me in recognition, and I held her to me.

“You know, wee yin, something happened in my sleep and didn’t understand a word of it. I held her to me and she began to suck my breast through my nightdress. “You’re wasting your time there, sweetheart,” I said to her before feeling a wetness and strange sense of pleasure from her sucking. “Yuck, you’ve made me all wet now,” I said looking down at my nightdress only to realise something else was happening—I was wet at both nipples—I was lactating—spontaneously? Then in my head, I thought I heard feminine laughter and a cold shiver ran down my spine.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1096

The baby was gurgling and shrieking and I was crying when Stella staggered in, “D’you know what time it is?” she growled at us.

“Look, Stella, look,” I pointed at my wet nightie.

“Look at what, she’s been sick down you has she?”

“No, here, you hold her a moment.” I passed the baby to her, then pulled off my nightie, standing there in a just a pair of panties. “Look,” I repeated and squeezed my nipple and a drop of fluid appeared at its tip.

She dabbed a finger against it and my nipple hardened and another drip appeared. She tasted her finger, “Hmm, I think it’s milk—have you been on anything, like FSH?”

It took a moment for me to understand what she meant, “No, nor prolactin,” I shrugged and two drips of milk fell from my breasts.

“Here,” she handed me back the baby who latched onto my breast and began sucking. For a moment it felt very uncomfortable as if they were being turned inside out, then that eased presumably as the milk began to flow and became almost pleasurable.

I sat on the bed feeling a lovely sort of exhilarated bemusement with this wonderful baby sucking and chewing on my nipple. Stella picked up my nightdress and draped it around my shoulders.

“Are you sure you haven’t been taking anything?”

“No, I swear it seems to have just happened.”

“Did your breasts feel funny or anything, swollen or tender?”

“I can’t honestly say I noticed—hang about, my bra felt a bit tight when I dressed yesterday, so I changed it for another one—but that happens sometimes.”

“It happens to biological females, why should it happen to you? You don’t get periods, do you—or do you?”

“No, of course not. But my body sometimes feels like it has its own rhythm or cycle—I mean I feel randy every so often, or grumpy.”

“Just like a menstrual cycle—but no menses?”

“I wish—no. Just the bloating and mood changes.”

“So what’s caused this—and don’t tell me your blue light did it?”

“I have no idea,” I swapped the baby to my other breast, “Ouch, you little bugger, don’t bite.”

Stella chuckled an evil laugh.

“Well I had this funny dream last night.”

Stella yawned, “Go on, I’ll buy it.”

“No—seriously, it was weird, seriously weird.” I went on and described what I could remember from the earlier slumber.

“What was this fairy or angel’s name?” she asked me.

“Sheck or something like that only longer.”

“Shrek, oh that is so funny—she wasn’t ten feet tall and green was she?” Stella fell backwards on the bed causing the bed to vibrate which in turn woke up the baby and she began suckling again.

“Shek, not Shrek, you idiot, something like, Shek-nah, no Shekhinah that was it, Shekhinah.”

“Where did you dream that up from?” Stella wasn’t impressed by my dreams, “Not the same place as the one when you were crawling under your bed trying to find your bike?”

“How d’you know about that one? I’ll murder Simon when he comes home.”

“He’ll be pleased about the express dairies,” she laughed.

“He can get his own, this is all reserved for wee yin, here.” I stroked her head and she began suckling again.

“Did she fall asleep?” Stella laughed at the baby.

“I could murder a cuppa, Stel,” I said hinting strongly.

“All right, I’m not going to get much more sleep now anyway. I’ll bring Pud down and we can change them in the kitchen and have tea at the same time.”

So that is what we did. I popped on a bra and shoved some tissues in the cups and pulled on a top and a pair of jogging bottoms. My breasts felt really strange, like they’d had the centres sucked out of them—I suppose they had in some ways. I was still bemused when I got down and Stella had Puddin’ on the changing mat and was putting a new nappy on her.

“Phwoar, she doesn’t smell too fresh, Stella.”

“Neither would you if you’d spent all night in the same nappy.”

“I’ve had these panties on all night and I don’t smell like that,” I accused jokingly.

“I see, I suppose you and Baby Cheeses there, along with Shrek-wossit, have clean dry nappies.”

“Um—not quite, little Katie here, has done a whoopsie—lovely, looks like mustard.”

“I’ll bet it doesn’t smell like mustard.”

“Mustard gas, maybe,” I laughed dumping the nappy liner in the bin then putting the nappy in the bucket of nappy cleanser.

We sipped teas and chatted while I burped baby C and Stella fed Puddin’. Puddin’ was now having some solids as well as milk, and she had grown quite a bit compared to the small size of my charge.

I laid my baby down in her carrycot and she went off to sleep again, and Stella popped Puddin’ in the high chair, where she played with a spoon and the empty dish of whatever puree she’d been eating. Stella sat at my computer and asked for the name of the creature in my dream. I told her and she typed it into Google, apparently there are several ways of spelling it.

“What did you find?” I asked unable to see the screen from where I was sitting.

“You didn’t make the name up did you?”

“I have no idea—why?”

“You must have heard or read it somewhere,” she asserted.

“I could have done, why?”

“Well, if that weird dream of yours wasn’t just eating too much cheese…”

“I didn’t have any cheese yesterday, did I? No, I didn’t.”

“Like I said, if any of that was more than just a weird dream…”

“Yeah—well come on—tell me what you’ve found,” I urged her.

“Your little friend with the green headlights is heavy stuff.”

“What are you on about?”

“It’s Hebrew-Judaism stuff.”

“What Lillith and that sort?”

“No, more fundamental than that, the Shekhinah is the feminine principle of the godhead.”

“What does that mean?” I was even more confused.

“The female face of God.”

“In Hebrew mythology,” I asserted determined not to take the religious stuff seriously, “it’s just a myth, a fairytale—and they talk to the universal unconscious. It’s all archetype stuff—Freud and Jung—that’s all it is.”

“Yeah sure, so you meet this goddess in your dream and the next moment you’re carrying more milk than a five gallon churn. Coincidence or what?”

“It’s pure coincidence—the dream was all archetype stuff, going down into the unconscious, a full moon, gateways, olive and fig trees. All well known symbolism, that’s all it was. The lactation may or may not last and could have been caused by all sorts of things.”

“Including Divine intervention?” Stella looked quite serious.

“No—that I don’t accept—for starters, how could something that doesn’t exist in any shape or form intervene? No way.”

“I suppose if you allowed the possibility of it, they’d throw you out of the Richard Dawkins fan club,” teased Stella.

“Yeah, that too.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1097

Tom was the first to come down, and asked why we were up so early, so I told him. He nodded as if it were an everyday occurrence that a previous male was breastfeeding. When I asked him if he didn’t think it was a little unusual, he simply shrugged and told me that the usual was the rare event these days, especially since I’d lived with him.

Stella had gone back upstairs as Tom and I spoke, and I asked him if he was growing tired of my living with him. He suddenly looked at me and said, “Hen, if ye hadnae come tae stay, I’d hae lang ago drank mesel’ tae ma grave.”

“I sometimes wonder if we’re all a bit much for you to cope with, the noise and the hustle and bustle.”

“Ye’re a’ fine, I like it like that. I’ll be a lang time deid, it’ll be quiet enough then.” He placed his hand over mine and squeezed gently. “Ye mean thae world tae me, ye an’ a’ yer bairns. Ye’re ma family, ye ken.”

“I know, Daddy, I just don’t want you to think I take you for granted.”

“Jest a wee bittee, but I like that because that’s hoo families ought t’be.”

“I suppose so, what would you like for dinner tonight?”

“Is chicken curry oot o’ the question?”

I shook my head, “I’ll do you a chicken curry if that’s what you fancy.”

“Aye, weel jest mind ye put some curry in it this time, ye fergot last.”

I spluttered instead of answering him and he chuckled. I kissed him on his cheek—an unusually unshaven one, before I went to see where my tribe was, especially Julie who had to go to work.

I woke Julie and took a look at the others: they were all asleep. Essentially, they were all capable of making themselves a small amount of breakfast cereal and even making some toast in the toaster. They could all also wash themselves or help each other to wash and dress in my absence. I was a firm believer in making children independent for reasons of their own self-esteem, and also to save my time and energy for more important things. I suppose the influence of my mother was coming through, which had helped me more than a little. As I came downstairs, I did wonder what she’d think of my brood—probably run off in horror. Nah—she’d love ’em.

While Julie breakfasted, I quickly washed and dressed, replacing the tissue in my bra. I really needed to get some nursing ones, and also some proper pads. Oh boy, what fun!

An hour later, I was in Mothercare, looking at nursing bras and tried one or two on, trying not to leak on them—I hadn’t thought about that element of breast feeding, ruining all my clothes. I also bought some wipes, some cream and took a leaflet on it. On Monday, I thought I’d better give my GP a call and get some advice.

I bought four bras and a big box of pads. The size which seemed to fit was—to my horror—a D cup. I felt like I had a set of bumpers on the front of my chest, which every time I moved dripped. Was this a blessing or a divine joke? Yeah, Shekie old girl, I have so much female essence in me, my cup runneth over—a D cup to be precise. I chuckled to myself as I left the shop convinced the woman I walked past thought I was barmy.

I bought a couple of things for our new arrival and an extra pack of terry towel nappies, the Gold Seal ones, or best on the market. Then I grabbed a couple of cheap tops just in case the milk did ruin my clothes. My breasts felt heavy and tender as I bought groceries and the tops in the supermarket. I had enough for three or four meals, including some chopped turkey for Tom’s curry, plus curry powder, chilli powder and some turmeric.

I would have a jacket potato for my meal, the others could have a mild curry, but Tom’s I would spice up a bit because I know he’d enjoy it. Quite how much to use, I wasn’t sure, I’d have to see as I went along.

I also got them poppadoms and loads of basmati rice, plus some chutney and plain yoghurt. I seemed to spend my whole life shopping or doing housework—maybe I did need to get some help, even if I wasn’t planning on doing much paid work for a few months. I suppose the universe, or Shekhinah or whatever had made sure the baby was my priority—at least that was what I told myself.

In the supermarket pharmacy, I enquired about a breast pump and they had one, so I bought it, at least I wouldn’t be tied to little Cat, all the time. Mind you, the way my bra was feeling, I began to wish she was with me so she could have relieved the pressure. I began to get an appreciation of how domestic dairy cows must feel when it gets close to milking time.

I dashed home and delegated the unloading of the shopping to Trish and Billie who had the misfortune to be standing about doing nothing. I ran upstairs, changed into a proper nursing bra, grabbed a handful of pads and dashed down again.

Little Topsy was stirring and I picked her up and spoke to her. Her face lit up, and she was nuzzling against me trying to find my breast. I sat down, pulled up my top and opened the cup of the bra and she was on my nipple like a clamp. She sucked so hard it hurt and I stroked her face telling her to take it easy.

“Where do these go, Mu—wowee.” Trish came up to me and gasped as she saw my breast in the baby’s mouth. She plonked the shopping down on the kitchen table and stood and stared, her eyes wide and her mouth agape.

Billie came in and followed suit. They watched in awed silence, gasping when I switched breasts and popped the baby on t’other one. Eventually, Trish asked the obvious, “Will I be able to do that one day?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart, until this morning, I didn’t think I could.”

“How did it happen?” asked Billie.

“I don’t know, spontaneous emission?”

I was aware of a noise behind me and footsteps. “Hi Babes, I’m ho…” Simon stood behind the two girls his eyes out on stalks.

“Don’t I get a kiss then?” I pouted at my husband.

He pointed at me still feeding the baby and with astonishment in his whole expression seemed lost for words.

“Spontaneymus missiles,” suggested Trish to her father’s surprise, which baffled him even more.

“I think she might mean, spontaneous emission,” I suggested.

“I think I prefer her phrasing, and you can point them at me any time you like,” Simon said with a strange expression of future bliss in his eyes, “Do you do deliveries?”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1098

It took a little while for everyone in the family to learn of my little miracle in turning into a feeding station for the baby. Julie was disgusted that I hadn’t told her at breakfast and sulked.

When I popped out my queen-sized boobs for the baby to suck on, I seemed to replace the television as the entertainment for the night. “Can I have boobies too, Mummy?” asked Trish pulling up her top and showing a flat chest.

“Me too, Mummy,” said Livvie doing the same.

“I wannem too,” added Mima and Billie stood behind her nodding furiously.

“What’s made it happen?” asked Simon, his eyes absolutely riveted to my exposed breast. I shrugged because I didn’t know the answer.

“Um—I did it,” said Trish blushing.

“How did you do that?” asked Billie.

“I asked Jesus to help us feed Baby Catherine.”

I was a bit alarmed at the religious implication, which I assumed was a red herring, but if Trish believes in such superstitious outcomes, she’ll be hooked on it for life. Now wasn’t either the time or place to have a word with her, and even if I did it wasn’t guaranteed to have much effect.

In a recent study, people were shown to hold fast to erroneous views even after they were shown evidence which proved them wrong, and this was based on an emotional judgement not a cognitive one. So if you believe something, even if it’s wrong, you’ll still believe it after being shown it’s wrong.

Simon looked at her in astonishment, “Pity Gordon Brown didn’t know you a few months ago,” he added and smirked.

“Did he want to breast feed? I could still ask for him,” Trish volunteered.

“No, doesn’t matter now, we have a right tit in his place instead,” Simon opined and I cringed at his language. “Still maybe you could do it for Dave the Chameleon instead, he’s got a new baby—yeah, give his wife a hand with feeding his baby.”

“I’ll ask tonight Daddy, when I say my prayers.”

This was news to me, but I couldn’t let Simon make her a butt of his jokes. “Don’t be silly, Simon—Daddy’s joking Trish, he doesn’t mean it.” I glowered at Si who got the message, that if he wanted a milk shake tonight, he’d better behave.

“Yeah, I’m only joking, kiddo.”

Trish folded her arms and huffed and puffed before deciding that the bag of sweets he was offering as a bribe was sufficient compensation. It took her at least two nanoseconds; then she snatched them from his hand and she and Livvie, Mima and Billie went off to eat them.

Danny came home and asked what was for tea. “Milk shakes, get in the queue,” said Simon as he noticed what I was doing.

“Is that—um, I mean—are those real?” gasped Danny nearly walking into the back of a dining chair.

“Yes, what did you think they were—oxygen tanks?” I said back.

“Wow, kewl.” I unplugged the baby and he saw my nipple—“Yeah, really kewl.” He ran off up the stairs to do what—I didn’t want to know. He reappeared ten minutes later looking very flushed and Simon sniggered. I was too busy changing the baby’s nappy to say anything.

It took me three quarters of an hour to prepare the curry and I made two lots, adding some stronger spices to that meant for Simon and Tom. I ladled in a few large spoonfuls of curry powder and chilli, mixing it into the sauce and simmered for a few minutes. Then I dished it up for everyone—the rest getting the mild one, the two men the stronger version.

I sat down and ate a jacket potato with some of the chopped turkey I’d baked in a gravy sauce. “I hope it’s not too hot,” I said to Simon, who sniggered, and Tom also smirked.

“It cannae be tae hot, lassie,” commented Tom.

“You’re absolutely right there, Gramps,” agreed Simon.

They took well-loaded forkfuls and a moment later they gave me a very strange look. “I did warn you it was hot.”

Mima sniggered and Trish smirked.

Simon fanned his open mouth with his hand, then gulped down a glass of wine. Not the best thing to do to cool one’s gullet.

“Yoghurt,” I spluttered through a mouthful of potato.

By this time, Tom was looking decidedly red faced, so I plonked the carton of yoghurt in front of him. He tore it open and dumped a pile on his plate, which he then shovelled down his throat. Simon grabbed the carton and swallowed down the yoghurt. It wasn’t true that you could hear his throat sizzling as he swallowed.

Neither men ate anything else that night, and Tom didn’t even have his usual tot of whisky, he just sipped ice water for the rest of the evening and neither seemed to want to talk much either.

The girls thought it was hilarious, and even Danny, who enjoyed his curry chuckled, “It cannae be too hot, lassie,” he joked in a very poor Scots accent.

“You be careful, I don’t think Gramps is feeling in a good mood,” I cautioned him. He giggled then went very red and left the room.

After all that, my jacket potato was very nice.

In bed later that night, I expressed some milk into a bottle with Simon hovering obviously wanting to be involved but being a bit schoolboyish about asserting himself.

“Oh for goodness sake Simon, if you want to work the pump, do so—don’t faff about like an ataxic melon.”

“Like a what?” he blushed.

“Here, stick this over my nipple and squeeze the rubber bulb,” I handed him the pump, “Gently—geez, you don’t know your own strength—you nearly sucked out my thymus then.”

He blushed and with shaking hands tried again. The power—I realised suddenly—I had over this lump, who was nearly twice my size and strength, made my head swim. He was absolutely fascinated by a simple act of nature—well okay hardly simple in my case, but the only chance he’s likely to get to play with a pair of lactating boobs.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this?”

“Why? Who else should I ask?”

“No, I mean—I never thought you’d be able to do this.”

“I’m not, you are.” I knew perfectly well what he meant but I was in need of a bit of play.

“No, you, producing milk. I mean, how did you manage that?”

“I have no idea, maybe Trish was right.” I shrugged and the pump slipped off my breast and he nearly spilt it.

“Can I try some?” he asked blushing and almost squirming.

“Let’s see how much we have first.” I took the pump and tipped it into the bottle. I had about half a bottle. It would do for a small feed. “Pop that in the fridge for me will you, oh and rinse out the pump and pop it in the Milton box. (A chemical disinfection container for bottles and other baby things).

While he was gone I drank half a glass of water, I knew I had to keep hydrated if I wanted the milk to continue flowing. He came rushing back puffing and blowing like an old man.

“Where’s my taster?” he said looking at the bedside table for a glass of my magic juice.

“Still in the box,” I said and smiled flirtatiously at him.

“Oh, I see,” he said and climbed on the bed.

“You’re going to have to earn it.”

“I just did, I took the stuff downstairs for you.”

“Huh, I could have got one of the kids to do that and they wouldn’t expect any reward, they’re happy just to help.”

“Cut to the breast—I mean chest—I mean chase,” he spluttered and I giggled so much that some milk oozed out.

“Help yourself—the milky bars are on me!” I giggled, and you can imagine what happened next.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1099

I’ve discovered another disadvantage to this breast feeding lark—unless I wear a wet suit, we both get covered in sticky fluid when making love. Not a lot, but enough to make a shower necessary before going to sleep—which meant drying my hair and combing it and by which time, tiny wee yin was awake again and looking for a pre-breakfast snack.

Simon of course went to bed and was asleep quite quickly, whilst I sat there nodding off as the baby emptied my flotation tanks. In the end, I wrapped a towel around her in case I did drop off, so she wouldn’t fall.

I did nod for a few moments and her chewing my nipple woke me—I think she wanted the other one or a bacon sandwich—anyway, she got the former. She fell asleep on my breast, so did I. We woke with quite a start when Simon, woken by the light still on, came to see why I was sitting in the chair rather than sleeping.

I changed the baby’s nappy and put her down to sleep—it was nearly three o’clock and I had no idea how long I’d sat there. I pulled on my nursing passion killer with its pads and almost fell into bed, drifting off virtually as soon as my head touched the pillow, ignoring Simon’s request for a top up.

The next day, it didn’t rain, so we all went for a walk—except Julie, who was waiting for Leon to arrive—waiting in bed, so I told her in no uncertain terms she needed to get up and dressed. In response, she pulled the duvet over her head. So I locked both back and front doors and took the keys with me. Knowing Leon, he’d get on with some gardening when he arrived.

In the end, we met him as he was riding to the house and Tom gave him instructions on what he wanted done. Danny decided he’d go back with Leon. I guessed he needed some male bonding, so I let him go. He’d also act as a gooseberry to the young lovers.

We were out for an hour or so, enjoying the sunshine if not the cool breeze, Simon pushing the pram like a proud father and me holding hands with as many of my kids as I could. They’d change over every so often, so Trish would hold one hand and Livvie my other, and Mima would hold her hand and Billie would hang on to Trish. Then ten minutes later, they’d all swap round and someone would push Puddin’ and another would hold Stella’s hand. The only one who wouldn’t change was Simon, he was hanging on to the pram for grim death.

When I asked him later, I knew the answer was really, that this was the closest thing we’d ever have to our own baby, but his answer in typical flippant schoolboy style was, “I have to protect the owner of the milkshake factory.”

“That’s me,” I scolded.

“No, that’s her,” he pointed to the pram, “you are the factory.”

“Oh great, I love it when men objectify women.”

“Don’t go all feminist on me.”

“Oh, I see, it’s okay for you to go all macho male chauvinist but not for me to defend myself.”

Me, male chauvinist? Is that what you think? Here take your bloody baby.” With that, he turned on his heel abandoning the pram and Trish and Livvie squabbled over who was going to push it. I simply stood there with eyes filling with tears—not sure if I was hurt or angry.

“Don’t cwy, Mummy,” said Mima, holding my hand and Puddin’s pram with the other. I smiled at her and nodded, although a tear did escape and run down my face to drop onto the pavement.

Stella and Simon were fifty yards down the road and she was letting rip at him. We walked on slowly and Tom put his arm round me, “Storm in a teacup,” he said and we walked on.

It was always stupid little things we fought about, though rarely in front of the kids. I was as guilty of starting them as he was. So when he came back, marched back by his ‘prefect’ sister, I apologised before he could say anything.

“I’m sorry, darling, I’m just a bit tired and tetchy this morning, so I’m sorry for upsetting you.”

“As much my fault—you know I don’t think of you as a sex object—you’re a wonderful person, and I love you.”

“I love you, too.” I kissed him and all the kids cheered, talk about embarrassing.

A bit later we bumped into an old lady, “Lovely mornin’,” she observed.

“Yes, just right for a walk,” I replied.

“You doin’ the Sunday School walk?” she enquired.

It took a moment for me to understand what she said. “Oh no, these are all mine,” I smiled.

She looked horrified, “You need to learn to say no to him,” she advised and bustled on.

I smirked and Trish pulled on my sleeve and asked, “What did she mean, Mummy?”

“I think she thought I had enough children.”

“Oh a girl can’t have too many children, Mummy.”

“We’re not talking about shoes, Trish. Children are a responsibility: they take time and effort, not to mention money.”

“But we’re worth it,” she sighed.

I hugged her and agreed. Then of course I had to hug Mima, who then went back to holding Simon’s hand—he was walking with Tom and hadn’t heard my conversation with the old lady.

We walked in a big circle coming back to the house via the cemetery, where Tom laid some flowers on his wife and daughter’s grave. We all stood back while he did this, then he picked up the baby and carried her to the grave.

“What’s he doing?” asked Livvie.

“He’s telling his wife and daughter about his latest granddaughter.”

“Oh—but they’re…”

“Yes, it helps him cope with his loss to tell them anyway and it harms no one does it?”

“No, I s’pose not,” Livvie accepted.

Simon put his arm around Livvie’s shoulder and began to walk away, “Some people believe they can talk to their dead loved ones, and who are we to say they can’t? As Mummy said, it does no harm and perhaps makes him feel better.”

“Okay, Daddy,” she answered before they’d gone out of earshot.

“They think she’s bonny,” Tom handed me back my bundle of joy. “They also think it’s lovely that ye can breast her.”

Trish gave me a funny look as she stood holding the pram waiting for the return of its occupant—it was her turn to chauffeur her sister about. My expression back to her meant not to say anything and she shrugged.

“I think so too, Daddy and I’m glad they approve.”

“Och, they do that alricht, ye ken—but then they think thae wurrld o’ma dochter an’ a’ her bairns.”

I linked arms with him as we walked away from the graves, “You’re a wonderful man, Tom Agnew.”

“Aye, sae Celia used tae say—ye’ve no’ bin talkin’ wi’ her?”

We both laughed and walked on with a bemused Trish pushing the pram in front of us.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1100

On the Monday, I contacted the school and left a message for the headmistress or school secretary to call me back. At about eleven, the headmistress rang.

“Hello Sister Maria, you remember my new daughter Billie? Well if your offer still holds, I’d like to enrol her at the convent.”

“The offer still stands, Lady Cameron, and if I remember she has a similar plumbing anomaly to Trish?”

“Very succinctly put.”

“I’ll arrange for the forms to be sent to you. I hope she’ll like it and settle in as well as her sisters—I’m afraid if she doesn’t you will be liable the whole term’s fees.”

“Yes, I understand, will you send me a list of what the uniform needs are again?”

“I will, indeed.”

“Thanks, that’s one more thing off my list.”

“I look forward to welcoming all four of your daughters next month.”

“In a few years there could be another one.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, I have care of a baby, whose parents actually were Catholics, so assuming she’s still with me, she’ll come to you as well.”

“I hope you’re having her baptised.”

“Not for the moment—I just haven’t got time, besides I’ll have to check if she’s already been done.”

“How old is she?”

“Three or four weeks.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, that is young.”

“Sadly her parents are both dead and the mother asked me to look after her.”

“Goodness, see your fame as a Good Samaritan spreads far an’ wide.”

“I think my reputation as a soft touch is probably even more widespread.”

“You are far too self-deprecating, is the baby taking to the bottle?”

“I don’t know, at the moment I’m feeding her myself.”

“You’re breast feeding her?”

“Yes.”

“But I thought you said…”

“Yes, I did—but somehow it started spontaneously.”

“The Lord be praised, this is a minor miracle.”

“Well please keep it under your hat, I don’t want it generally known what’s happened.”

“God moves in mysterious ways, Lady Catherine.”

“So I’m told.”

“Maybe all those miracles you perform for others have caused another to made for you. You certainly deserve it.”

“I see it rather more mundanely than that, but if miracles are being given, then the recipient is the baby more than I, and after losing the rest of her family, she deserves a break.”

“Indeed she does, poor little mite.”

“I’ll await the forms.”

“I’ll post them meself,” she assured me and I rang off.

Next, I spoke briefly with my GP and asked him to call me back. He did at the end of his surgery. After a quick chat, he offered to come by on his way home for lunch, which he did.

He examined me and the baby and concluded she was okay and that I indeed was producing milk—in sufficient quantity to feed her. He also agreed to take her on as a patient. He spoke to most of the other children and agreed that Billie seemed to look far happier as a girl. I explained about the new school and he grimaced—I know what the fees are like, I’ve got two at a private school.”

“You could have stayed for lunch,” I said as he was leaving.

“I think you have enough to do, besides I have to walk the dog.”

“You must be a dedicated pet lover,” I teased.

“Me? No, I need the walk more than him, it de-stresses me, so I do it morning, noon and night.”

“I use a bicycle for the same thing.”

“With seven children, how do you find time to ride a bike?”

“With difficulty,” I smiled and shrugged. He left, urging me not to overdo things. I promised him I was looking for some help around the house.

After lunch, I sent an advert to the local paper requesting a box number. It went:

Help needed running a busy professional household, with several children. Experience necessary, references required. Will need to be cleared by a CRB check. Apply in writing with CV to Box no. ???

Later on, Maureen appeared and I asked her about converting the room above the old stables into a small flat. She knew a builder who could do it, I asked her to get me a quote. I’d spoken of doing this before with Tom, who’d agreed in principle, but it was still his property and he’d need to agree. We couldn’t extend the house, it was a listed building, grade II. I suspected the stables were too, but with Maureen on the job, I felt sure we could get someone to do a decent job and not annoy the planning authority. I decided if we could offer accommodation, we’d find it easier to fill the vacancy—although that in itself created new complications as well. I would have to get any sort of lease organised by the solicitor, and it needed to be tied to the job. The last thing I needed was someone in the flat who was no longer doing the job, because evicting tenants can be a real pain.

Some of you might wonder what happened to Simon’s cottage—well, he let it out and had trouble with one tenant who defaulted on the rent but refused to accept the eviction notice we tried to serve on him.

I’m not sure how Simon got rid of him in the end, and I’m not sure I want to know. What I do know is how exercised Simon was by the experience, and how close he was to murdering the individual, who was a right pain.

The people in there now are delightful and no problem at all. Mind you, I’ve been lucky with the tenants of Des’s old place—so far they’ve been model ones. Mind you, he worked at Bristol University, a reader or something.

I fed the baby—I was getting used to sopping wet nipples and using pads. I expressed some milk most days and there was still plenty for tiny wee yin. In a few more weeks, the younger children could help me feed her with a bottle, but for the moment it was adults only, which included Julie.

She was a bit of help around the house, but I informed her she was doing beauty and hairdressing at college from September. She flounced about the place, but I held firm and eventually she agreed to give it a go. I wasn’t sure how committed she was to anything but lazing about and tongue wrestling with Leon, but then she is a teenager, although some of those are absolutely driven to achieve something with their lives, Julie wasn’t one.

“Well you did all right, marrying into money.”

“I have two degrees, Julie, and I worked full time until fairly recently, and still have part time jobs with the survey and the bank.”

“Both of those are a doddle aren’t they—money for old rope.”

“Are they? I spend a couple of hours a day doing them, usually after you’ve gone to bed. No, the money Simon pays you lying in your bed when you’re supposed to be helping me, now that is a doddle.

“Perhaps you will find some man to keep you in your idleness, but I doubt it—so as I have a commitment to at least making you qualified to earn your own way in this world, you are going to college to learn a skill.”

“I think I wanna do tattooing and piercing.”

“Fine, but you’re doing hair and beauty first.”

“What if I don’t wanna do it?”

“I’ll cut off your allowance and only feed and clothe you for work you do at home. Oh and I’ll only pay the minimum rate.”

“Now you’re getting mean.”

“No, I’m getting tough. You don’t seem to learn the easy way, so I’m going to make you do it the hard way—it’s your choice, but learn you will.”

“Wanna bet?” she mouthed as she left.

“I’m willing to bet your room here, that you mend your ways or look for another billet. I can let your room to my new help.”

She burst into tears and ran up the stairs, slamming the door.

“Wassamatta with Julie?” asked Trish.

“I just gave her a reality check.”

“Wassat?”

“Okay, basically I told her if she didn’t shape up, she could ship out.”

“You can’t do that Mummy, you promised us we had a home for life with you.”

“I promised you a home for as long as you needed one: in return you lived by my rules. Julie seems incapable of doing so, so I’ve given her a final warning.”

“But you can’t throw her out, Mummy.” Now Trish was in tears.

“I didn’t say I was going to throw her out, I implied it, because I wanted to get her attention. Now she might listen.”

That night I was just putting the baby down after a late feed when I thought I heard the front door close. I ran downstairs and the chain wasn’t on it. Someone had gone out. I couldn’t see anyone in the drive. I raced upstairs and checked all the rooms—Julie’s bed hadn’t been slept in and there was a note on it.

‘You made me do this. J.’

Oh great, just what I need. I picked up the phone and called the police.

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