Bike 1,101–1,150

The Daily

Dormouse

(aka Bike)

Parts 1,101–1,150

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 1101

“How old is the young woman concerned?” asked the police switchboard.

“Fifteen.”

“Oh, a teenager?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll have a car do a sweep along your road.”

“Is that all?”

“You have no reason to suggest she’s about to harm herself?”

“She did once before, but I found her in time.”

“She has probably gone off in a sulk, but we’ll have the car do a couple of sweeps. What was she wearing?”

“I don’t know, she left without me seeing her.”

“Okay, what’s her name?”

“Julie Kemp.”

“And you’re Mrs Kemp, I take it?”

“No, I’m her foster mother, my name’s Cathy Cameron.”

I checked the baby and then knocked on Tom’s door. I explained what had happened and that I was going checking for her myself. He sleepily agreed to listen out for the others. I dashed up to my room, found my image intensifier and slipping on a coat, put a torch in my pocket and with the dog on the lead, set off to look for her. I paused at the gate, asked the blue light which way and it seemed to indicate the direction towards town. I set off at a brisk pace, and the dog kept wanting to stop and sniff lampposts and telegraph poles. Eventually, she got the message that I was in a hurry and walked with me.

Thankfully I had a plastic bag with me, because she pooed a bit further on. I cursed her, then scooped it up and popped it in a litterbin—one more irritation and she’d be following it.

I decided that I’d walk fast for a couple of miles, because if she was beyond that, she’d have had to have had a lift. It was possible that she’d ordered a taxi or even hitched—neither were without risk to a young woman alone—but the latter would be verging on suicidal.

My heart was beating nineteen to the dozen as I now began to jog along, glad I’d worn trainers and jeans—although my heavy breasts bounced up and down in my bra—wonderful, I thought I could feel something damp running down my chest.

We got beyond the streetlights and I donned the image intensifier. As we walked, I scanned the fields. I stopped for a moment and asked the blue light which way, and again it directed me—I hoped in the right direction.

We came to a gateway with a footpath running through a field. Surely, she hadn’t come down this way. I consulted the light and it suggested she had. It was pretty dark and I was in danger of falling over the stupid mutt I’d brought with me. I had the dog whistle, so I let her off and concentrated on watching the path through the image intensifier. A little out of the lights from the road and passing traffic I saw something which looked like a group of people. My adrenalin started to flow and I slowed down to a near crawl.

As I got nearer, I could hear arguing—it sounded like a girl and a man, and the girl sounded remarkably like Julie. I crept forward a little further. I was sure it was Julie, but who were the blokes?

“Where’s the money?” asked the man roughly.

“You promised me a lift to the city centre and somewhere to stay.”

“Changed me mind—now gimme the money.”

“But you promised me,” Julie was nearly hysterical.

“Tough shit, you little tart,” he raised his arm and backhanded her across the face.

The fear that had been collecting in the pit of my stomach now turned to anger and I tried to assess what I had as weapons—mainly surprise and the dog’s lead—the plastic handle of the retractable lead.

I blew the whistle and heard barking not too far away.

“’Ere, wassat?” asked the other man.

“Some stupid dog, now bitch, where’s the dosh, or do I have to get really nasty.”

I heard Julie pleading not to hit her again. I got closer and realised they might see me against the light from the road. They seemed to have some sort of torch but it wasn’t very bright—a bit like the two assailants.

I circled round them and then crept in really close. I had my torch in one hand and the dog lead in the other. The nasty one was bent over Julie, so I ran in, kicked him hard between his legs from behind following it with another to his backside pushing him onto his face. He made an awful groaning noise as he went down.

The second man I caught full in the face with the dog lead—the plastic box bit, and then did a back kick to his chest. He fell over backwards, swearing at me.

I grabbed Julie and her bag and started running with her towards the road. “C’mon girl, leg it!”

“Mummy?” she asked still crying, blood on her face from the blow she’d received.

“Who else? Now run.” I switched on the torch and as we ran, Kiki found us and ran alongside us, barking.

We stopped at the gate and I looked behind us. The two would-be robbers were following us. We continued running down the road towards home when a police car hove into view. He pulled alongside us. “Everything all right?” Clearly it wasn’t.

Within minutes we had blue lights flashing all over the place and one of them was the dog handler, with two big German shepherds. I was almost hoping they met the two miscreants who’d pursued us.

We got a lift back and made statements at the house, where I made them coffee and sandwiches—they were going to miss their break in dealing with us. It bought us sympathy.

“How come you’ve got one of these?” asked the larger of the two plod, picking up the image intensifier.

“I’m a biologist and do work with dormice, which are nocturnal.”

“Did you see that film a while back about them? Well cool that bit of fluff who presented it.”

“That wis ma dochter,” Tom arrived and put his arm round my shoulders.

“Wow, it was a brill film, how d’ya do some of that close up stuff?”

“With great difficulty, I only presented the film, I didn’t film it myself.”

“Aye, she presented it, wrote it, directed it and co-produced it.”

“A very talented lady,” admitted the plod.

“Aye, she’s that a’richt.”

“And she’s your daughter?”

“Aye, and thae young lassie wha sterted a’ this is her dochter.”

“Well, either you had her very young, or you’re older than you look.”

“She’s my foster daughter. We had a bit of a row and she ran off.”

“So she was the reported runaway?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, a domestic—you didn’t hit her did you?”

“No, the larger of the two men who were arguing with her did that.”

“Then you clobbered them both, and the two of you ran off?”

“I told you this before.”

“Yes, I know Mrs Cameron, I’m just checking I understand it, because I have to write a report.”

His radio pipped and he excused himself to talk to it. He came back a few minutes later. “We have reports of two men seen running through people’s gardens not far from where we found you.”

“Which means?”

“It corroborates your story a bit more.”

“I’m no liar,” I asserted angrily.

“I didn’t say you were, but you’re saying who you really are, are you?”

“Yes, Cathy Cameron, and I’m a biologist at the university.”

“You’re also married to Lord Simon Cameron, so that makes you Lady Cameron if I’m not mistaken.”

“So?”

“You have something of a record with our department.”

“What, a criminal record?—I have not,” I almost screeched this at him.

“No madam, shall we say we seem to attend to events in which you feature, about ten times as often as the average godfather.”

“Are you implying that I’m a criminal?”

“Far from it, because usually someone gets busted, whether it’s a bent copper or a regular felon, don’t seem to matter. You’re a regular trouble magnet.”

“I am not, I mean, I didn’t ask those two men to accost my daughter.”

“No, you just rescued her and laid ’em out.”

“I temporarily disabled them so we could run away.”

“Yeah, with kicks in the goolies.”

“Do you have any better suggestions?”

“Not for temporarily disabling—none whatsoever,” he said with a smirk. “I’ve got a good idea who our Laurel and Hardy characters are, so tomorrow I’ll feel a couple of collars and one of them’s balls.”

“Do you have enough evidence for a conviction?”

“That’s not up to me, but I doubt it. However, when I tell him who beat the crap out of him, I doubt he’ll come anywhere near you again.”

“I’d prefer you didn’t, he might want revenge.”

“Nah—because if he even thinks about it, I’ll spread it around that he got duffed by a dolly-bird teacher. He’d never live it down.”

I made a disbelieving face.

“Trust me, I know these two—they’ll be telling stories of being done over by a whole gang to explain their bruises. If someone starts spreading rumours that it was woman who did them both, and singlehanded, they’ll be a laughing stock.”

“If you’re sure.”

“Don’t worry, these two pond scum won’t bother you or your family again—I mean, you might not show mercy next time.” He winked and both police officers left.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1102

“We need to talk in the morning, now off to bed with you.”

“Yes, Mummy,” Julie pecked me on the cheek and went up the stairs. I quickly cleared up the kitchen and expressed some of the milk from my breasts—they were feeling full and uncomfortable. I drank some water and washed out the pump, put the boob juice in the fridge and went up to bed.

I was just dropping off nicely when the baby started, whimpering then crying. I felt miles away and would have quite happily slipped off to sleep—instead I forced myself out of bed and after wrapping her to me with a towel, went back to bed and let her suckle me as I dozed. My biggest fear was actually falling asleep and rolling on to her, but I didn’t really sleep—just dozed. I switched breasts and she chewed up my other nipple.

It was four o’clock, no wonder I was so stupefied. I managed to change her and put her down again then literally fell back into bed and asleep.

I awoke with a shock at ten. Trish was standing beside the bed with a cuppa. “I must get up—I need to feed the baby,” my breasts felt huge and heavy.

“Auntie Stella’s done it, she’s downstairs in her carrycot.”

“Oh, what did she use?”

“The milk in the fridge.”

“Oh yeah,” I’d forgotten about it. “Where’s Julie?”

“She’s downstairs doing the ironing and she put some bread mix in the machine.”

“She’s doing the ironing?”

“Yeah, a big pile of it.”

“Oh all the bedding—I did it the other day.”

“She’s had Livvie doin’ the polishing, an’ me doin’ the dustin’ and Meems has been tidying the books down by the sofa.”

“What about Billie and Danny?”

“They’ve gone with Gramps to do some shopping.”

“I’d best get up—I need a wee and some breakfast.”

“Can I make you some toast, Mummy?”

“If you like, I’ll be down in ten minutes, so wait for five before you start—there’s nothing worse than cold toast,” I called to her shadow, but she’d gone. I quickly washed and dressed—I had a bruise on my instep from where I kicked the yobbo last night.

Stella made some fresh tea and Trish presented me with some cold toast, but I couldn’t be cross with her, and besides, Kiki helped me eat it—she didn’t seem to mind it cold.

“Thanks for doing the ironing, sweetheart,” I said to Julie.

“It’s part of my job, isn’t it?”

“Yes of course it is, but thanks anyway, it looks like you’ve made a good job of it.”

“An’, Mummy?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“I’ll do that course, you like, want me to do.”

“The hairdressing and beauty one?” I checked.

“Yes, Mummy.”

I made her put down the iron, and gave her a huge hug. “Julie, when you’re good, you’re an absolute angel.”

“Yeah, an’ when I’m bad, I’m a devil—I know.”

“No, you’re a teenager.”

“Isn’t that the same?” she sighed.

“No, not at all—you’re still a teenager now, but a helpful one and a caring one.”

“I learned some things last night, Mummy.”

“Did you, sweetheart—in which case it wasn’t a wasted evening, was it?”

“Don’t you want to hear what I learnt?”

“Only if you want to tell me.”

“One of them, I think I do.”

“Okay sweetheart, fire away.”

She swallowed and her eyes began to fill with tears. I felt for her and hugged her again.

“I realise,” she sobbed, “that you must really love me, and I’m like really sorry for messin’ up so often.”

I felt choked myself, and found it difficult to reply. “We all love you Julie, it’s one of the reasons I get so cross with you at times, because I know you’re capable of doing better.”

“I jus’ get so mixed up, Mummy—I feel so messed up inside, that I jus’ wanna hurt someone.”

“When I took you on as a foster child, I talked things over with Daddy and Gramps. We knew you had issues and that it would test us, but we resolved to cope with them. Last night, I failed you as a parent. I lost it and said some things I should never have said. I can’t take them back, but I apologise because I am wholeheartedly sorry for what I said.”

“You had a right to say them, Mummy—I was jus’ bummin’ about doin’ as little as possible, because someone else would always do it instead. I could see how busy you were, but even then I didn’t try to help—because, I’m lazy, I s’pose. Then when you could feed the baby—I felt you were more female than me, and I hated you for it.”

I nearly fell over. “You hated me for that?”

“I’m sorry Mummy, maybe I’d better leave—I don’t deserve your love.” She made to walk away from me.

“Julie, you get back here,” I said loudly.

“How dare you decide how and when I love people—and who deserves or doesn’t. Love is unconditional, it isn’t about deserving or being worthy, because love doesn’t work like that. Anything which does—isn’t love. Do you understand?”

She stood shocked at my outburst and nodded at me.

“I don’t choose who I love, love chooses that for me. I love all my children equally. You all have different needs, so it expresses itself in different ways—but I love you all as much as each other, from yourself down to baby Catherine.

“I accept that whilst I’m not your birth mother, each of you have found your way to me because you need me, and I in turn need something which you give to me. I can’t explain what exactly because I haven’t really thought this through, but I’d say you need my love and protection and perhaps guidance—and in return you give me a sense of fulfilment I wouldn’t otherwise have.”

“Do you think God or the blue light makes it happen, Mummy?”

“I don’t know if it has a name, and even if it does it’s irrelevant—I don’t even know if it’s all just fortunate coincidence—synchronicity, as Jung called it. I just don’t know.”

“I like the idea that God or the blue light made it happen.” Julie smiled.

“The Shekhinah,” I corrected.

“Wassat?”

“The feminine principle of the godhead, according to some authorities.”

“Hey, that sounds good—sounds like a pop singer—shake that booty, Shekhinah.”

“I think that might be seen as disrespectful by some.”

She blushed, “Yeah, sorry.”

“C’mon, finish the ironing and I’ll make us all some lunch.”

“Okay, Mummy. Oh an’, Mummy?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“I love you, too.”

I smiled with eyes brimming with tears and nodded before dashing into the loo to wipe my eyes. It wasn’t the end of our journey together, I knew that: we’d still have rows, and differences of opinion; but for now—we had a truce, where we managed to say to each other some important truths, which would make our next stage possibly a little less bumpy. All in all, it was turning out to be a better day than I anticipated at four o’clock this morning. Yeah, it was a good day.

“Mummy,” yelled Trish, “baby’s awake and she’s pooed herself.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1103

Dealing with tiny-wee—except her wees were anything but tiny—became the next priority. You can hardly explain to a three week old baby, ‘Sorry kid ya gorra wait, gorra feed the others first,’ can you? Besides, I felt as if my mammaries were becoming full close to capacity and it would be ironic if I was the first woman to be killed by them exploding.

I picked up my bundle of joy and she stopped crying, restarting when I decided it was better to change her than feed her first. I didn’t think poo would do her skin any good at all, and getting some into her bladder could cause all sorts of infection problems. So it was a change of nappy after a quick bum wipe/wash, then a feed.

Her priorities were different and she bawled the whole time until at last clean and dry, I undid the cover on my bra and she practically swallowed my boob. Okay, a slight exaggeration—but you get the picture.

Of course she was ravenous and took it down too quickly—I thought that only happened with bottles—apparently not. She stopped and I winded her, whereupon she gave a huge burp and brought up half her feed—all over both of us—the joys of motherhood. Stella stood watching and laughing, Julie wasn’t sure what to think and Trish was disgusted. “You need to teach that baby it’s rude to burp.”

I wiped myself down with a spare nappy, and we started again—on the feeding. It went easier this time, in fact she was so relaxed, she kept falling asleep and I had to stroke her cheek to keep her feeding. Of course, she pooped again and I changed her completely then—she grumbled rather than cried and after Julie gave her a cuddle—I was changing myself—we put her down to sleep and Trish helped me make some lunch.

Tom arrived with the other two as I made scrambled eggs on toast with chopped tomatoes for a bit of extra colour and flavour. After lunch I expressed some milk, watched by the three younger girls—they were fascinated that I could get milk out of my boobs and how big they seemed to be compared to usual.

Certainly they drew the attention of men. When I was last in a shop, the man serving me looked at my bulging chest the whole time. I wasn’t impressed and reminded him at the end that it was customary to look people in the eyes when you talk to them not talk to their chest. He blushed and stuttered an apology and hoped that I wouldn’t report him—I didn’t, I have better things to do.

The afternoon faded into evening and once more meals became my priority. Trish and Julie fed junior from the bottle while I started dinner. Trish had been itching to do this, since she’d fed Puddin’ by bottle in the hospital incubator. I sat her down and placed the baby in her arms, and showed her how to support her head. She clucked like a mother hen and Julie agreed to watch the two of them while I popped the chicken in the oven.

Julie burped her and I watched as Trish and Meems changed her nappy and cleaned her up. I was quite impressed—I don’t normally associate Trish with dolls—which she doesn’t really care for, but she does seem to like real babies. I wondered if she might like a life-size doll—but then rejected it. There is no substitute for the real thing, and that seems to be where her interest lies.

After a roast dinner, we settled down to watch a video of Fantasia, one of the best Disney cartoons ever made—considering it was made so long ago—the imagery and music combinations are absolute magic. The girls love it, and I promised they could watch it through to the end before they went to bed.

Billie and Livvie wanted to help feed and change Baby C tomorrow, and I promised they could if they behaved. Danny looked bored and asked if he could go and see his friends tomorrow. I told him I’d probably let him, depending upon the weather. Then after I got the girls in bed, I went to chat with him.

“You regretting coming to live with a bunch of women?”

“It can be a bit borin’, Mum.”

“You’re not enamoured of babies?”

“If that means do I like ’em? Not really, I’d rather be out playin’ footie or with the lads.”

“Where do you plan on meeting them?”

“Over by the rec. We’re gonna play football.”

“What time?”

“About ten, I think.”

“You could cycle there, couldn’t you?”

“On my MTB?”

“Yes, don’t forget to take a lock with you.”

“So I can go?”

“Yes, but don’t get into any trouble, will you?”

“Muuum,” he protested.

“Suuuuun,” I replied.

“Okay, I promise.”

“Take a change of clothing with you and some waterproofs—the forecast for tomorrow looks a bit iffy.”

“Okay—thanks, Mum.” I bent down to hug him and he kissed me on my cheek.

“Oh, by the way, if all goes well, the adoption should go through next week, according to the solicitor.”

“That’ll be good, can I change my name to Cameron?”

“I take it you mean your surname?”

“Muuum,” he protested, and I sniggered.

“See how you feel later, we’ll discuss it after the rest goes through.”

“Kewl,” he said with a big smile on his face.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about them giving up their old surnames, I suppose because I could see some benefit in keeping their links with their original families—perhaps I was wrong. I wouldn’t stop any of them from doing it, nor would I encourage it.

I loved all my charges, of that I was sure. I didn’t always like what they said or did, but loving and liking aren’t the same, as I tried to explain to Julie earlier. I felt sorry for Danny, given what had happened to the other boy who’d come to stay with us. I still wasn’t sure about Billie. So far she seemed to be enjoying being a girl—maybe when it got a bit more intensive such as school, she might change her mind and revert. I would have to arrange some extra appointments with Stephanie for her and also do one for Julie, perhaps Trish too—though she seemed to stay level-headed and cheerful.

I wondered if anyone had replied to my advert. I asked for it to be inserted for three nights—it was lovely having my own doll to play with, except she was hard work and the drawbacks from breastfeeding were becoming apparent—it was very time consuming, and unless I expressed enough to the bottle, also meant I couldn’t delegate much of it.

I wanted Simon to do some—bottle feeding, of course—you didn’t think I meant growing his own?—the mind boggles. I wanted him to feel a strong bond with the baby. I mean, he’s actually very good with all the kids, though I do wonder if he sees them as his kids, or an indulgence to me?

If that was the case, the latter, I mean, I’d be very disappointed in him. He’s so good with Meems—who’s his favourite. He tries with Danny, but isn’t very good at it, Trish terrifies him—she is so bright, and Livvie is a bit of it all—she’s bright but doesn’t know it quite as well as Trish, whose confidence seems to grow weekly. What she’ll be like in ten years—I dread to think—she’ll either be an absolute angel or a total monster.

I went to bed with this playing on my mind and was woken in the night by another little monster craving my flesh—well all right, certain fatty appendages which spout boob juice. Would I ever learn to cope with this disturbed nights bit?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1104

One of these days I would actually throw John Humphrys out of the window—not him personally, but the radio, through which his voice was irritating me. I groaned silently, afraid any noise would wake the baby—the excuse I needed to turn off Mr Humphrys. I leant over and reached for the radio and in my sleepy carelessness, I knocked over the bedside light, which clattered to the floor and woke up my baby.

I cursed, and swiped the radio off the bedside cabinet, somehow instead of the radio alone, I now had the radio and the alarm thing buzzing at me. Oh for a hammer, a big one.

Trish came rushing in to see what was happening, and helped me clear up the mess before I went for a wee and came back to see to the baby. Trish was already sitting on the end of my bed nursing her—in fact, she seemed as if she was trying to get the baby to suckle her flat chest.

“Um—what are you doing, Trish?” I asked and she nearly dropped the baby. I stepped forward and took her.

“Nothin’, honest, Mummy.”

“So why is your pyjama top rolled up your chest?”

“Um,” she started to sniff, and I invited her to come and sit with me. “I was seeing what it felt like to breast feed.”

I chuckled and ruffled her hair, “You silly goose, you have to have breasts first, and even then it’s a bit hit and miss.”

“How can you do it, Mummy?”

“I don’t know darling, I’m just lucky I guess.”

“I want to be able to do it too.”

“Well, by the time you’re grown up, it might well be possible for you to breast feed if you can find a baby to do it for.”

“I’ll find one okay.” She said that with a cold, calculating everyday sort of tone that made me shiver.

“Yes, I suspect you will.”

I opened up my pyjama top and then my night bra—yeah, I have to wear them all day and night or get milk down everything. I let the baby clamp onto my breast and while Trish sat and oohed and ahhed at this, I thought back to my wearing of bras.

I first wore them while I was at school—until my dad found out—apparently one of the teachers spotted it through my grey shirt and I had to surrender the two tee shirt bras I’d bought, which he cut up with scissors and handed back to me.

I spent the next few evenings sewing them back together, but they never did work again so I had to chuck them. I bought another and he chopped that up as well and gave me a hiding. He mistakenly thought he could knock my girlishness out of me—he failed and had the grace to admit he was wrong before he died.

Once I started the magic pills, my hips grew more than my boobs and my waist, which wasn’t very big got smaller. My nipples doubled in size and darkened in colour a bit—I’m quite fair skinned, so they didn’t go very dark. Eventually, I started to grow boobs after taking the pills for months—two fried eggs, but they were all mine and I was so chuffed to be wearing an A-cup. Of course, I then had to wear a sweater over my shirts or a jacket to hide my greatest achievements.

I eventually realised if I wore a sports bra or a bandage, I supported them and hid them, so until I was either in transition or practising for it, I tended to hide them. But, and here’s the irony, I couldn’t wait to have to wear a bra—I felt so fulfilled, even if it wasn’t. Then a year or so down the line and I have to wear one as breast growth really kicked in and I was living in role and discovered, like heeled shoes, the nicest things about bras is taking the damn things off as soon as you can. Now, I’m stuck wearing one because my boobs are so big and heavy they pull on my chest muscles, and secondly, I need something to hold the pads in place, or I leak milk everywhere.

I switched the baby to my other breast and felt something touch the other one. Trish was licking my other breast—what do I do now? She looked up at me and blushed. “Sorry, Mummy, I just wondered what it tasted like.”

I put my arm around her, “Okay, sweetheart, don’t cry—but don’t tell the others, okay?”

She nodded, and I hugged her with my free arm, while the baby clamped herself to my full breast. I disengaged her and burped her, she grumbled and I put her back on the second breast. She sucked away for all she was worth, then she started to go off to sleep, sucking just occasionally.

Trish spotted this and giggled, “She’s gone to sleep, Mummy.” Of course this woke up the wee yin, and she began sucking away again. When she was finished I put her down for a short while and cleaned myself up.

Then accompanied by Trish and Livvie, I went down and put the kettle on. I decided it was time I bathed our new arrival, I had done so before but not perhaps as often as I should.

With my two helpers, I put the water into the baby bath and put it on the kitchen table. Then alongside but not too close, I popped Baby C on the changing mat, stripped her off and removed the smelly nappy and babygro—the all in one suit thing she was wearing.

Having wiped off any residual poo or wee with baby wipes, I picked her up and checking the water again, put her gently into the bath, holding her head and neck with my left hand. Then while I talked to her, I wiped her hair and body with a flannel with some baby wash on it; then rinsed it off—which was the bit she didn’t like. Until then she’d giggled and kicked and laughed at Trish and Livvie who tickled her and made silly noises.

At one point, she kicked as Trish was bending down over her, and she ended up with a face-full of water. Livvie laughed until the baby kicked again and she got splashed all down her pyjamas.

Once she was clean, I lifted her out on to a towel which I’d laid out on the changing mat and I let the two girls pat her dry, I don’t know who was chuckling the most the girls or the baby. Then we creamed and powdered her, with Trish being fascinated by her groin.

“What you looking at?” asked Livvie.

“Nothing,” she said in a normal voice but under breath, I heard, “I wish I had one.”

“What a front bum?” said Livvie, obviously hearing it as well.

“Yeah,” she said and ran off upstairs.

I dressed Baby C and after a quick top up, put her down to sleep while first, I went to see where Trish was, and secondly, to get the others up and breakfasted.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1105

I searched upstairs but couldn’t find Trish—where was she? Maybe she hadn’t gone upstairs. I roused the rest of them, and for the moment Trish was a secondary concern.

Once they were all stuck into their breakfasts, I asked Livvie where Trish was. She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. A lot of use that was. I asked the rest of my huge brood and none of them had seen her.

I called upstairs but there was no response. I asked Stella to keep an eye on the rest and went to look for her. Julie sensed my now growing unease and came outside with me. We walked up and down the garden calling her name but nothing: we neither saw nor heard her.

I now began to worry. She was very clever intellectually, but she was still only six years old, a child in anyone’s currency.

I went back indoors and called her again. Julie stayed out and began looking through the sheds and outhouses. Why was she so upset? She’s seen the other girls when they’ve been in the bath or shower and okay, there’s sometimes a bit of teasing goes on about her outie rather than an innie. She always seemed to take it in good heart—she knows they wouldn’t wish her any harm. But then she knows that when she’s old enough, if she still feels the same, we’ll have her see the best surgeon we can afford wherever and whoever that is. The same will be true for Julie and Billie—although, I do have doubts about Billie—in some ways I see her as a failed boy rather than a girl, if that doesn’t sound too patronising. Trish, I see as a real girl, who has held that conviction since she was a toddler according to the home.

Still philosophy wasn’t going to find this little girl. I began to look upstairs again. I started at the top of the house and worked my way down: no sign of her. I spoke with Julie—she wasn’t anywhere in the outbuildings.

By now, Tom and Danny—who was miffed he was missing his football—led a search of the garden and orchard, helped by Billie and Livvie. Meems helped Stella watch Puddin’ and Baby C. They were to shout if they found her.

My anxiety was rising faster than a Saturn V rocket. Where on earth could she be? I went upstairs again. She wasn’t in the girl’s room, I even tried under the beds—except they’re all drawer divans, so she’d be pushed to get under one of those.

Bathroom? I checked their bathroom: she wasn’t there, mind you someone had left the hot tap running. I called her again and again, pleading with her to show herself.

I went up to the attic floor again and called—no sign. Back down to the first floor—again nothing. I looked in my room, even in the wardrobe—the cupboard was bare. I decided whilst I was there I’d have a quick wee and try and rethink where she might be.

I walked into the bathroom sat on the loo and nearly died. There poking out from the shower curtain over the bath was a pair of feet and legs. I jumped up, almost weeing in my pants. I drew back the curtain and screamed.

Stella came rushing up and sat me down on the loo while she examined the body. “Ambulance,” she said into the phone, whilst I threw up into the washbasin. She said who she was and where she was. “We have an accident, a child has got a severe laceration and is bleeding profusely, yes, I’ll try and stop it, just get a wagon here quickly.”

I sat there crying when Stella turned and smacked me across the face—“For Chrissake, Cathy, do something to help or this child’s going to die.”

Her tone and the slap woke me from my stupor and I grabbed some sanitary towels and held them against the wound. From my muddled understandings, it looked as if she’d tried to castrate herself, from behind her little scrotum. There was a vegetable knife lying beside her.

Sirens sounded what seemed like hours later, though it was only minutes, and moments after that, two paramedics came dashing up the stairs with their boxes of stuff.

“How long has she been like this?”

“I don’t know, we’ve been looking for her for maybe twenty or thirty minutes.”

“So, she is actually a boy?” he asked.

“She’s transgendered, she sees a psychiatrist, but lives entirely as female.”

“Okay, her BP is very low, we’ll need to set up a drip to try and stabilise her, then off to the QA. Get a coat.”

They had a drip up in minutes and then he carried her out to the ambulance while his colleague held the drip. I carried their cases down for them, then climbed in the ambulance with her.

“Is she your daughter,” the paramedic asked as his colleague drove like a demon to A&E.

“My adopted daughter, is she going to be okay?”

He shrugged.

They rushed her into A&E and I was made to go to the waiting room, where ten minutes later, Tom arrived looking as worried as I was.

“I called Simon. He’s on his way. Whit fa’ did she do this, hen?”

“I don’t know, Daddy,” I sobbed as he put his arm round me. I was so glad he was with me.

Eventually I was summoned to an interview room. “I’m afraid the police will have to be informed.”

I nodded.

“It’s only a formality, she’s in surgery—but it looks like she’ll lose one if not both testes. I take it she did this herself?” He looked at me and I nodded. “She has a history of gender dysphoria. Are you her mother?”

“Her adopted mother.”

“I see Dr Rose is one of her consultants—do you mind if I bleep him?”

I shook my head. He dialled and a couple of minutes later the phone rang.

“Hi, Sam, it’s Pete Woods, I’ve got one of yours just admitted in theatre.”

I assumed Sam asked who.

“Trish Watts, yeah attempted DIY sex change. See you in a few then.” He looked at me, “He’s coming down.” I nodded my understanding.

A little later sipping a cup of tea I related the morning’s events. Sam Rose was astonished at my feeding a baby without any chemical help, and then nodded when I mentioned seeing Trish trying to do it and them being upset at looking at the baby’s genitals.

“I can see why she might have done it, but normally she’s so level-headed,” Sam observed and I nodded. A woman police officer arrived and I had visions of being taken out in handcuffs for child neglect.

However, statements were made and I was told to expect a visit from a senior officer who would decide if charges were to be made, and of course good ol’ Social Services. She then left.

“If you need support, let me know Cathy, I’ll happily stand up in any court in this land and tell them what a splendid mother you are.”

“Thanks, Sam.” He gave me a hug and left.

Simon arrived a little while after we were allowed up to Trish’s room. I sat and held her hand and talked to her as she slept. She was now a castrati, but as far as they could tell, the wound was clean and they’d stopped the bleeding.

Simon kissed and hugged me, shook hands with Tom, and then kissed his daughter, “It’s okay, sweety-pie, Daddy’s here,” he said to her and stroked her cheek, I’m sure I saw her smile for a moment.

I told him what we surmised had happened and he shook his head. “Is that Stephanie woman, any bloody good?”

“Yes, and the kids all like her.”

“So how come this has happened, then?”

“I don’t know—I’m half sure that Trish won’t really know either. I think she’s felt so handicapped by her anatomy, that she saw the baby and just flipped.”

“But without taking her panties off, you wouldn’t know, would you—so why the rush to chop off her nuts?”

“I think they’d only just descended and she was very conscious of them, hating them.”

“So did you, but you didn’t try a DIY job, did you?”

“Only because I knew it would count against me—it was very tempting, very often.” I hung my head.

“Geez—zus,” was all Simon said.

Tom nodded sagely, he’d seen his own daughter go through all of this, so he had some insight. “Mebbe, I’d better go an’ help at hame.” He hugged me and then patted Simon on the shoulder. Then he leant over and kissed Trish before leaving.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1106

I sat holding Trish’s hand as she slept. One thing was certain, she would never be a boy again. However, while her full recovery was of paramount importance I had some other fish to fry, as they say.

“Social Services are going to be a pain,” I said to Simon, hopefully out of Trish’s hearing.

“Why? These things happen.”

“Do they? How many six-year-olds castrate themselves in your social group?”

“Um—okay, it’s an unusual occurrence.”

“They’ll try to prove I’m an unsuitable person as a mother and take the kids off me.”

“What? That’s ridiculous—you’re a brilliant mother.”

“Yeah, here’s the evidence,” I nodded at Trish.

“But that could have happened any time.”

“I know, but they’ll still try neglect or insufficient supervision or some such thing.”

“Okay, Sam Rose is on your side, so will Stephanie. I need to make a phone call.” He nipped out of the little room and I concentrated on Trish.

“Come on, sweetheart, get yourself better.” I stroked her forehead.

Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled and said, “Mummy,” then they closed and she drifted off again.

“Okay, we have a barrister standing by, she specialises in child custody cases.” Simon looked pleased with himself.

“How much will that cost?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, because I don’t know if it’ll work.”

“You have a better suggestion?”

“Not at the moment, but we have to make sure the judge or whoever, doesn’t think we’re using money to steamroller all before us.”

“But we are.”

“I know, but I’d prefer it was done with subtlety.”

“If it worked, I’d nuke the whole county council.”

“Yeah, I expect you would,” I sighed and mumbled.

“What?”

“It’s got to be good,” I lied, but he was quite happy with the deception.

We sat with our baby for a couple of hours. She did wake and apologise and we both forgave her and told her that her recovery was all that mattered. She cried and went back to sleep.

Sam Rose came to see her and me, and reiterated his willingness to act as a professional witness if necessary. I hugged him and thanked him.

A little later, Julie came up with the baby in a carrycot and a bag containing all sorts of things. “We haven’t got any more milk,” she said handing me the baby. I opened my bra and she sucked on my nipple so hard, I suspect when she let go, it would be about three feet long. Julie handed me a note from Stella which I read while feeding the baby.

‘Cathy,

I hope Trish is okay, she lost a lot of blood. I’ve taken the liberty to engage a nanny to help look after the kids. The contract will last or a month with an option to renew, Daddy’s picking up the bill for now.

Love,

Stella.’

Suddenly everyone wants to help—I hope because they can see this is serious and not just because Trish was ill.

Simon came back with a tray of tea and some sandwiches, “Oh hello, Julie, d’you want a cuppa?”

“No thanks Daddy, I’ve got to dash back, Gramps is waiting in the car park. See you later, Mummy.”

She pecked me on the cheek and ran off.

“Oh, you have your hands full.”

“I can still manage a cuppa,” I stated, grabbing one of the teas.

“I need to get a photo of you doing that, it’s just so beautiful.” Simon was in raptures, but then it wasn’t his lungs being sucked out via his nipples. I began to wonder if Baby C was some sort of alien, like in all those B-movies.

I showed him the note. “Good idea, my sister is starting to use her brain for more than stopping her eyeballs rattling about in her skull.”

“Stella has done more for me since I’ve been looking after the baby, than since she knocked me off my bike that time.”

“That was three years ago.” He shook his head, “Three bloody years ago.”

“Never mind, another eleven and they’ll give you parole,” I suggested, switching the baby to my other boob after burping her. She whimpered then gave a huge burrrp and began to hiccup. Simon thought that was hilarious.

She sat in my arms trying to focus on the noise of him laughing, only to jerk each time one of the peristaltic convulsions occurred. He roared with laughter and she began to cry. I put her back on my breast and she calmed down immediately.

“Mummy, can I hear the baby?” a weak little voice came from the bed.

“Yes, darling, I’m feeding her at the moment.”

“Oh, can I go to my own bed then, this one’s very hard?” Then she went off to sleep again.

A nurse came in and wasn’t at all sure about a young baby on a ward. I explained I had to feed her and she tutted and left after checking on Trish. I shoved her down in her carrycot and she slept. I drank a few glasses of water and sure enough, began to leak from my udders.

I expressed quite a lot of milk and stored it in the bottle Stella had packed in the bag.

“Why don’t you take her home and get some rest, I’ll stay with Trish,” offered Simon.

“Unless you take her, remember to put the milk in the fridge.”

“No you go, here.” He dangled his car keys in front of me.

“You mean I get to drive the Jag?”

“No, you can catch a bus—of course you get to drive my car, just take care of it.”

“It would be better if I stayed and you took tiny wee home.”

“Don’t be ridiculous—now you promised to love honour and obey—so do it.”

“I did no such thing, and I’ll do no such thing. I’m an independent woman.”

“I thought you read the Guardian,” he joked.

“Ha ha.” It was better than his usual fare.

“Go on, get some sleep, see you later—oh and save some milkshakes for me.”

“On yer bike,” I said back to him, and picking up the carrycot and the other bag, struggled down to the lift and thence to the car park.

I drove home worrying too much to think about which car I was driving, it was a means to an end, nothing more. I felt shattered but we got home safely and I handed the baby over to Julie while Danny grabbed the bag and carried it in.

I gave them all a quick resume of what had happened so far and then went off for a little snooze. Livvie came and lay alongside me—she was very worried about her sister.

A couple of hours later, a strange woman brought me in a cuppa, “Hello, Lady Cameron, I’m Jenny Bell, your nanny—if you express some milk, I’ll feed the little one for you.”

“There’s some in the fridge I hope, I did half a bottle before we left hospital.”

“I’ll go and look, you stay and rest.”

I lay back on the bed and seconds later, I was comatose again.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1107

“Excuse me Lady Cameron, but you’re going to need to express some more milk.” Jenny Bell produced a tray with the pump and a bottle on it, plus another cup of tea. “Have you tried the battery ones, they’re much quicker?”

“No I usually use the baby powered one,” I threw back at her.

She smiled and left. I drank the tea, went to the loo and began sucking out the precious fluid. It came out in buckets—well, okay, that’s an exaggeration but it certainly flowed faster than previously and it felt quite a relief when it was done.

I went for a shower, then took it down to the kitchen and popped it in the fridge, it was pretty well a whole bottle full. I drank some water and felt my boobs filling up with baby juice again. At this moment, I had great sympathy with dairy cows.

After tidying myself up somewhat, I set off for the hospital in Simon’s totty mobile and after parking it went up to the ward where I saw Simon and Trish in deep conversation.

“Muuummmeee,” she squealed and probably shattered windows on three floors.

I rushed in and gave her a hug and a kiss. “How do you feel, sweetheart?”

“A bit sore.”

“So you won’t be trying that again, will you?” I gently chided.

“I won’t need to: my goolies are gone for good.”

I shook my head and gave Simon a kiss and a hug. “How long has she been awake?”

“About half an hour, she hasn’t stopped talking ever since.”

I glanced at Trish: she blushed and giggled. I wondered what sort of hormone therapy she’d need as she grew up—she sure wouldn’t be having a male puberty and I remember reading about how injecting male hormones into girls masculinises them but also stunts their physical height. I wondered if the same happened with biological males or would they just go for a female model of development?

I sat hugging her while she sobbed onto my chest, and I wondered if I’d be allowed to keep her. If Social Services got their way, it was anyone’s guess. I had some enemies there. I felt like telling Trish how she could have jeopardised everyone’s future—but what would be the point? She is six years old and looked very small in that hospital bed.

Simon decided he’d go home and have shower and an hour’s kip. He’d come to collect me at nine o’clock when the visiting ended. Trish was upset when she realised she’d have to stay overnight.

Sam Rose came by a little later and once again offered his help. Trish overheard the conversation. “What do you mean, Mummy?”

“What’s that, darling?”

“About Social Services—I won’t go with them again, if I can’t stay with you—I’d rather die.” With that, she began to climb out of bed, and Sam was pushed to calm her down and get her back into bed.

“I think you’d better get Stephanie here, PDQ,” he said very quietly to me.

“Could you give her a shout for me?” I pleaded to him with my eyes.

“Okay, Cathy. I’ll see if she’s about this evening.” He left us after kissing Trish and hugging me. I pecked him on the cheek and thanked him.

I’d managed to calm Trish down, telling her that I wasn’t planning on letting anyone take anybody anywhere, but we might have to fight to stay together. She realised that she had caused this crisis with her DIY surgery and I argued with her that it was nothing to do with that, but an ongoing spat with Social Services. She didn’t look convinced.

A short time later, Stephanie poked her head round the door, “Is this a private party or is anyone invited?”

We invited her in and she went and hugged Trish, then came and gave me a similar greeting, before telling me to go and get myself a cuppa. Trish looked more than a bit anxious, “You’re not going to send me away?” she wailed.

“No, why should I do that?” queried Stephanie.

“Mummy and Uncle Sam were talking earlier.”

Stephanie gave me a vexed look. “I promise we’ll both still be here when Mummy comes back, okay?”

“Okay,” Trish reluctantly agreed.

“Thirty?” I asked pointing at my watch.

“Um—yeah okay, she’s looking tired.”

I wandered up to the hospital canteen and got myself a cuppa and a sandwich, I hadn’t eaten for a while and felt hungry and exhausted. I looked at my watch—fifteen minutes and I’d eaten the tasteless bit of bread and whatever they put inside it, and drunk the tea. I began to stroll back towards the children’s ward.

I wandered into the cubicle which they called a private room and neither Trish nor Stephanie were there. My heart nearly stopped and I had an icy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I rushed out only to see Stephanie walking Trish back from the loos. Panic over—I felt some milk run down my chest—great.

I let them back into the room, “’Scuse me, I’m leaking,” I went to go to the loo when Stephanie stopped me.

“So it’s true then?”

“What is?”

“You’re breast-feeding the baby?”

“Yes, so?”

“And without any external help?”

“Other than a baby suckling, no—why?”

“It’s fascinating, that’s all.”

I went and wiped myself down with some paper towels and changed the pads. I kept some in my bag just in case.

I fed Trish her tea while talking with Stephanie about nothing in particular, after which we spoke outside the room.

“She is paranoid that Social Services are going to try and take her away from you, or some of the other children.”

“Wouldn’t they have grounds to do that?”

“I don’t think so, none of the children are particularly at risk, which I think Sam and I could argue comprehensively.”

“But, letting Trish self harm is hardly a vote of confidence in my motherhood abilities, is it?”

“Did you let her? She hid from you and did it herself, with a kitchen knife.”

“Well I didn’t stop her, did I?”

“That’s not the same is it? You didn’t know she was going to do it, or you would have stopped her.”

“Of course. I nearly died when I saw her.”

“Is she your favourite?”

“Stephanie, I have no favourites, but each has a special relationship with me and probably with each other and the rest of the adults. Trish has a developing intellect which is way above anyone I know. The baby has a helplessness about her, much like Simon.”

Stephanie looked at me then creased up with laughter. “You are wicked,” she said then creased up again.

We talked a little longer, then she said, “This child is no more at risk from you or anyone else at your home than any other child in a safe and loving family. Now you have your nanny, I am happy that she should stay with you and the others, after all, she achieved what she wanted.”

“I thought she was trying to create a female pudenda?”

“You’re right, she is far cleverer than you, Cathy. She knew she couldn’t do that herself but she wanted to stop being at risk of growing into a boy. She knew from somewhere that her testes were the primary cause of male hormones, so she set out to destroy them, hence the bleeding.”

“Did she just tell you that?”

“Indirectly, yes.”

“My god, she is brighter than I am—except she could have bled to death.”

“Yes, that I think was a miscalculation.”

“The little minx,” I wondered just what went on in that head of hers.

Stephanie shrugged. “You have my mobile number, give me a shout if the SS try anything.”

“The SS?” then the penny dropped, Social Services. “Gotcha, thanks Steph.”

“You owe me a nice dinner.”

“When this is over, I’ll do you one.”

“You’d better or I’ll have you sectioned,” she sniggered and after waving goodbye to Trish, left.

I settled down to read to her, when Sam Rose returned and had with him Dr Woods the casualty consultant. “Hello, young lady, you don’t remember me, do you?”

“Are you the one with cold hands?” she asked and he laughed and explained they’d used ice to slow the bleeding before she went into surgery. They both examined her and spoke for few minutes.

“Right, young un, if I let you go home tonight, do you promise to take things easy and not pull your stitches?”

Trish looked at him in disbelief, “I can go home, with Mummy?”

“Well, I was rather counting on her being there too.”

I felt tears fill my eyes and I thanked Sam who winked at me.

“You have to do very little walking for a day or so and if it starts to bleed or feel sore, you must tell your mummy so she can bring you back for me to see it.”

“What happens if you’re not here?” asked Trish.

“One of my team will see it for me—that good enough?”

“Okay.” She held out her hand and Dr Woods shook it. Sam stood behind him trying not to laugh his body was quaking with the effort and tears were rolling down my cheeks, I felt so emotionally wound up.

“Take her down in a chair, she is not to do excessive walking and certainly no running for a few days. She’ll need an iron supplement, she has quite a bit of blood to make up, so she’s going to be tired. But you can take her home. Bring her in to see Sam next week, okay?” he looked across to Sam who nodded.

“Thank you,” was all I could get out I felt so choked.

“I’m releasing her to your custody, which means I have every confidence in you as her mother and your family. I’m sure this is a one off.”

“Actually it was a two off,” said Sam sniggering.

“Smart arse, you know what I mean—she can’t actually do it again, can she?” continued Dr Woods.

“I promised you I wouldn’t do anything like this ever again,” piped a little voice from the bed.

“That’s right and we shook on it, so make sure you don’t.”

“I keep my word, ladies do, don’t they Mummy?”

“Yes they do, sweetheart.”

“Goodnight, Lady Tricia.” The good doctor bowed to the bed and left laughing to himself.

I hugged Sam and thanked him. “Stephanie is coming for a meal soon, will you come too?”

“Cathy, don’t you have enough to do?”

“We have a nanny now, so things will be a little easier—please say you will.”

“Okay, but let’s all get over this first, right?”

I caught sight of movement behind Sam, and Simon hove into view, “Dr Woods told me you needed a ride home.”

“Yes we do, Daddy, but you’ll have to drive tonight, I’m not allowed to exert myself,” answered a voice from the bed and we all fell about laughing.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1108

Despite Trish’s cheery efforts earlier, she was in some pain as we took her home, and she spent most of the drive home cuddled into me in the back of Simon’s Jag. He carried her into the house and after she spoke quickly to the others, she was clearly very tired and went straight to bed.

The others were warned of severe consequences if they woke her and being reasonably obedient, they were very quiet when they went to bed a short time later.

Jenny the nanny, seems to be settling in quite well and takes no messing about from the kids, although she is impressed by the cognitive skills of Livvie—wait till she gets to know Trish.

She was, after accepting a confidentiality clause, let into the secret of some of our kids. She was surprised rather than shocked, more by the numbers than the transgenderism. Stella told her that as we’d dealt with one, a couple more became no big deal. My past wasn’t mentioned, nor should it be.

I suppose Jenny is about my age, and has done her job for about five years. She had encountered a transgender kid before, although it wasn’t one of her charges, and that was a girl who felt she should be a boy.

I explained what had happened to Trish and she was suitably horrified, although she told me that she had met self-harm before, but usually in older children, unless it was by accident. I introduced her to Trish, who was still very tired the next morning.

“Trish, this nice lady is Jenny, she’s going to help me look after my gang of ruffians.”

“There’s no one here called Ian,” she said, “so, there’s no rough ones,” she informed me before yawning.

“This, Jenny, is my daughter Trish, otherwise known as motor mouth. If you play cards or chess with her, don’t do it for money.”

“Oh, Mummy, you’re always warning off other people, how am I gonna get the money for a boob job?”

“You can sell your body when you’re a teenager,” I responded.

“Is that by the kilo, Mummy?”

“See what I mean?” I said to Jenny. “Brain the size of a small planet parking cars.” I probably misquoted Douglas Adams, but felt it was appropriate.

“You like the Hitchhiker’s Guide?”she asked me.

“Yes, although I read it when I was an undergrad.”

“Where was that, Lady C?”

“Sussex.”

“Oh, we used to live near Eastbourne.”

“Nice place, but Sussex Uni is nearer to Brighton.”

“We had a place in Meads Village.”

“Oh, very nice.”

“Woss Meads Village, Mummy,” Trish decided she wanted back into the conversation.

“It’s part of Eastbourne which is near the downs and yet only down the road from the beach.”

“Yeah, nothing like, ever happened there and suddenly someone was set on fire on the coastal path and like, suddenly it’s all nasty. My parents left and went to live in Cheltenham, and that’s where I trained for my NNEB and my Nanny’s diploma.”

“Gosh, I haven’t been to Cheltenham for yonks,” I said, “I used to live in Bristol.”

“Oh, like wow, practically neighbours, seeing as Bristol used to be in Gloucestershire.”

“Sort of, it was its own county borough and still is, I think. England’s second city for many years,” I added.

“Was it?” Jenny seemed surprised, “I’d ha’ thought Birmingham or Manchester woulda been.”

“Ah, that was later, Bristol was a very important port, remember they had to dig a canal to Manchester.”

“Mummy, didn’t you tell us about the slaves coming and going through Bristol?”

“Fancy you remembering that, darling.”

“I remember everything you tell me, Mummy.”

“Ha ha, you don’t listen to half of what I say to you.”

“Yes I do, Mummy—it’s just sometimes I have it on my pause button beforehand.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right, you cheeky monkey.”

“Lady C, would you like me to get the baby up and feed her?”

“Please, I expressed some milk earlier, it’s in the fridge.” She went off and left me alone with Trish.

“She seems very nice, Mummy.”

“Yes, she does—I’m glad you like her, she’s here for a month and then we see where we go from there.”

“Does she know about my—um—accident?”

Accident? I don’t think that’s quite how I would have described it, Trish; but yes, she does know and it isn’t a problem.”

“Oh good,” replied the blushing child.

“How is it this morning?”

“A bit sore.”

“D’you want to get up for some breakfast?”

“I’d rather be your little baby and you feed me boob milk.”

“I’d have to put you back in nappies then, and you’d have to go to bed much of the day and no telly or books, just a dummy and a mobile.”

“My mobile phone?”

“No, one of those dangly things you hang over a cot.”

“Oh—yuck, in which case I’ll come an’ have some toast.” I’d called her bluff, besides at six years old, I’m not at all sure how appropriate breast feeding would be. The conversation almost became surreal for a moment, and I had visions of these porn stories where grown men dress up like babies and poo themselves—yuck.

You also hear stories of women breast feeding children until they’re far too old to need it—and okay, it’s quite a pleasant thing to do, it’s surely not necessary after the age of a year or so—by that time, I expect our baby girl to be on bacon sarnies washed down with a pint of Guinness; and Trish to be doing her PhD at Oxford.

I was helping Trish downstairs when the doorbell rang, as I was closest to the door, I answered it. A woman I’d not met before flashed a name badge at me, “Mrs Cameron? Pauline Hewitt, Social Services.” Oh just great—exactly what I need at nine o’clock in the morning.

“You’d better come in, please go in there,” I indicated the dining room, “I’ll be with you in a moment or two. Would you like a cuppa?”

“That would be nice, coffee if you have some, black no sugar.”

“Fine, I’ll be with you in a moment, come along Trish, let’s get you sorted for breakfast. Julie?” I called for the teenager to come forth.

“Yes, Mummy?”

“Can you give Trish some cereal and toast for breakfast, I have to see a lady from Social Services.”

“Yes, of course I will,” she winked and knew I meant her to find Simon. She escorted Trish into the kitchen, where I made myself a cup of tea and Ms Hewitt a coffee.

I took them through to the dining room and shut the door. I passed over her coffee.

“Thank you, I expect you know why I’m here?”

“I can guess.”

“One of your foster children was seriously injured and is in hospital.”

“May I correct you there, Trish is my adopted daughter, and is no longer in hospital, that was her I was helping down the stairs for her breakfast.”

“Oh, I was given to understand she was at death’s door.”

“No, she came home last night.”

“Oh, we weren’t told.”

“Once we’ve had our drink, you can speak with her if you wish.”

“Um—yes, okay. Can you tell me what happened?”

I ran through the events of that morning, including my breast-feeding the baby to finding Trish later in my bath. I explained that she was transgender and what that really meant.

“You have three children who are reportedly transgendered? Isn’t that rather a cluster effect given how uncommon it usually is?”

“I suppose because we proved sympathetic to Trish, we found others coming to us. Billie, I’m not sure about, so I’m giving her space to explore her gender needs.”

“So if she isn’t transgendered, what is she?”

“She could well be transgendered, given it’s an umbrella term, so exactly how, we have yet to determine. Trish is definitely GID and wants surgery.”

“Which she started herself…?”

“Yes, but as she’s six, I don’t know how much of the consequences she understands as yet.”

“You don’t think your own transgendered history affects your children?”

“No, because I don’t consider myself transgendered any more—I’m legally female, so end of process, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Couldn’t that be seen as almost self-delusional, just because you’ve had your bits removed doesn’t make you female, does it?”

“Depends upon your definition of female.”

“Someone with XX chromosomes.”

“What about AIS or intersexed.”

“Can they give birth?”

“I don’t know, perhaps the latter can, but not all XX women can give birth. Your definition is very narrow.”

“Works for me.”

“Fine, mine works for me and for most people I know.”

“Shall we see the child now? The injured one?”

“Trish, you mean?”

“Yes, that one.”

“I’ll go and see if she’s finished breakfast.”

“Can’t one of the others bring her through?”

“Yes, okay: I’ll ask Jenny, our nanny, to do it.” I called Jenny to bring Trish through.

“Nanny, I have no notice of a nanny in my notes.”

“I don’t know, you haven’t really done your homework have you?” I smiled sweetly and waited with the enemy for Jenny to bring in Trish.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1109

“Lady Cameron, you’ll have to feed this baby or produce some milk for someone else to do so.” Jenny appeared with baby C.

“D’you mind?” I asked Ms Hewitt, who shook her head. She had an expression which looked as if she thought I was going to sit there with a bottle to show how femmy I am. Oh well, this should take the look off her vacuous visage.

Jenny handed me the baby who immediately started looking for my boob. I lifted up my jumper popped open my bra and she clamped on—ouch, you little bugger, I think you’ve got a tooth coming.

Pauline Hewitt was gobsmacked, not to put too fine a point on it. “Well, I wasn’t expecting that, I must say. Did you have to take something?”

“No, believe it or not, it seemed to start spontaneously,” I replied unconcerned if she believed me or not. “Where is Trish, Jenny?”

“Cleaning her teeth, she’ll be with you in a moment.” Jenny fetched the rest of the feeding clutter, including a cloth for wiping things which get spotted with milk.

“Are you enjoying it?”

“Yes, except she bites sometimes and I think she’s got some teeth coming.” The suckling lessened as Catherine started to doze off. I stroked her cheek and she chomped, chomped chomped again, her cheeks going in and out as she sucked out my milk.

I was patting her over my shoulder to burp her when Trish came in. “Hello, tiny wee,” she said to the baby and began making silly faces at her, which got the desired effect of gurgling, followed by a burp.

“Manners,” Trish pretended to scold her, but her tone and the silly face meant the baby shrieked with laughter.

After presenting my other breast to the baby and therefore quietening her, I introduced Ms Hewitt to Trish. “Trish, this lady is from Social Services.”

“Hello, Trish, how are you?”

“All right, not that you care.”

“Trish, please be polite,” I instructed her.

“Why? She wants to take me away—well, I’m not going, so there.” She jumped back to me and linked her arm through mine.

“Trish, please.” I said and indicated she should sit next to me on the sofa.

“I’m not here to take you away,” said Pauline Hewitt, quietly.

“Why are you here then?”

“Trish, it’s my job to check that children who have been hurt are safe.”

“I did it myself, no one else hurt me. Mummy an’ Daddy wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“I’m sure they wouldn’t. So you hurt yourself? Why did you do that?”

Trish looked at me, “It’s all right, sweetheart, Ms Hewitt knows about your history.”

“’Cos I don’ wannabe a boy, all right?” she almost spat this out and then ran away.

“Oh, she is sensitive,” observed our social worker, who I was beginning to reappraise.

“Yes, she’s terrified she’ll be taken from us—she was abused in a children’s home before and she’s come on leaps and bounds since we’ve allowed her to be herself. However, it was like this the day she did it—I was busy with the baby and she ran off.”

“Gosh, you don’t think she’d do it again, do you?”

“No, she promised not to.”

“You’re very trusting of a six-year-old.”

“Trish has a very strong sense of honour, she’ll stick by her word even if it causes her pain. She knows what she stirred up, now.”

“I doubt a six-year-old would understand that, Mrs Cameron—did your nanny call you, Lady Cameron?”

“Isn’t that in your notes?”

“I don’t know—I’m going with what I’m seeing here.”

“Oh,” I unstuck my little boob-sucker, and after a sleepy burp, she went down in her carrycot and straight off to sleep. I wiped my breasts and redressed myself. “I’ll go and get her.”

“Do you mind if I meet your other children?”

“Depending upon who’s about, no—Julie, can you bring the other kids in to meet, Ms Hewitt, while I deal with Trish?”

“Muuum,” protested Danny, “I’m gonna play football, remember?”

“Not until you’ve spoken with Ms Hewitt,” I insisted.

“But she’s a social worker—it’s a waste of time.”

“And how would you know that, you haven’t met her yet?”

“’Cos I’ve seen loads of ’em, total waste of space, the lot of ’em.”

“Danny, you will go and speak with her and, furthermore you will apologise for your rudeness, or you won’t be playing anything today.”

“Muum.”

“Now, Danny,” I pointed at the dining room door. He scowled but went in and I heard his stuttered apology.

Trish was upstairs with Stella and it took me ten minutes to persuade her to come back down. I insisted she apologise for her rudeness, which she did, sniffing back the tears.

Ms Hewitt asked her one or two other questions, mainly about school and her manner bounced back and she talked with enthusiasm about going back to school until she remembered she had to try girls’ soccer. She wasn’t fussed on that at all.

Once Ms Hewitt had ascertained that we weren’t doing sex changes in the garage, and the children were all safe and happy, I showed her over the house and yard. When we got to my bike workshop: “Is this where your husband comes to hide for a quiet few minutes?” she asked.

“Good lord, no. This is my shop. Simon only comes in here when he wants me to mend something.”

“Oh,” she seemed visibly surprised by that.

“Some women enjoy tinkering with bikes, you know.”

“I suppose they do, it’s just you were the essence of femininity with the baby and your strong but loving control of the children, was real motherhood and apple pie—an’ then this.”

“If it’s any consolation, I do the apple pies as well—I’m the primary cook and housekeeper.”

“It suits you, though I don’t know if Trish will be happy to be such—she’s quite articulate for a six-year-old.”

Quite? You don’t know the half of it. They had a lesson on the creation which didn’t suit her at all, so she came home, went on the Internet, downloaded piles of stuff on Darwin and evolution—went back to school the next day and absolutely destroyed the teacher during the first lesson.”

“At age six?”

“Yes, at age six. She has an IQ almost off the scale—it’s frightening at times, she’s far cleverer than you or I.”

“I have a degree, you know.”

“Congratulations, I have two and am trying to find time to finish my PhD, I teach at a university when I get some time back for myself.”

“Oh—obviously Trish takes after you.”

“How can she—she’s adopted?”

“Oh yes, silly me,” she blushed a brighter red than a brake light.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?” I asked as we walked back to the house.

“I wish you didn’t have so many children,” she replied to me.

“Why? Don’t you think we cope?”

“Yes, that’s why I said it, I have several who’d love to be in an environment like this. No one is going to take your children, though we will check back to see how everyone is progressing.”

“That’s your right and duty. Sorry, but I really couldn’t cope with any more kids, much as I love them—we don’t have space for any more.”

“No, I realise that. I’m sorry I questioned your gender change—I appreciate now, that you’re female, whatever previous records said and a very proud mother.”

“Yes, I am. They’re all adopted, but we all love each other as if we were a biological family. The kids are so supportive of each other—okay we have the odd disagreement, but that’s healthy.”

“Of course,” she agreed. We shook hands and she left carrying her briefcase and armful of files. I stood and waved her off, then realised I needed to feed the baby again—whose idea was this breast-feeding lark?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1110

“How did it go?” asked Simon.

“Actually, it went okay.”

He did a double take—“Hello,” he said loudly.

“It went okay, whether things will change, I have no idea, but she was very nice.”

“Are we talking social workers, here?”

“No, we were talking about England’s chances in the European championships.”

“You were?”

“No, you dimwit, of course she’s a social worker.”

“What: like an ant or a bee?”

I laughed at his joke, which for him was exceptionally good. “No she wasn’t a hymenopteran.”

“Who?”

“An ant or bee or wasp—the Hymenoptera, or wasp waists.”

“Yes of course, silly me—you can tell your mother did biology, can’t you?” he said to the baby.

Trish came in and he walked out down the garden with her, holding her hand—they looked a really odd couple, her tiny and him over six feet tall. I had no idea where they were going but my next job was to shove my chest in the mouth of the ever-hungry bundle of fun who was stirring in her carrycot.

Stella came down with Puddin’ who was toddling around the place and falling over, the way that toddlers do, her legs stretched obscenely wide by the bulky nappy between them.

“Babby,” she said pointing at baby Catherine.

“Yes, that’s right, Auntie Cathy’s got her baby hasn’t she? Don’t want to adopt another do you?” she asked after she’d rushed forward to take sticky little fingers off the video player.

“Why, what has she done now?”

“Dropped my Rolex in the fish tank and knocked the head off my Royal Doulton figurine.”

“Not the ballet dancer?”

“Yep, that one.”

“You might get away with justifiable homicide,” I suggested.

“Nah, I’ll wait until you murder this one and I claim you killed mine too.” Stella made funny faces at my baby.

“I wouldn’t ever murder you, would I?” I asked the baby, who waved her arms up and down as she chewed on my nipple.

“Just wait until she strangles one of your precious dormice.”

“Don’t listen to that nasty lady, precious, don’t listen to her.”

“Precious? You sound like thingamy from Lord of the Rings.”

“What, Gollom?”

“Yeah, my pwecious, we shall have to kill him, my pwecious.”

I laughed but, I’ve seen the films—baby Catherine was signally unimpressed at her auntie’s antics and definitely more interested in sucking my boobs inside out.

Simon and Stella met in the hallway outside the kitchen—“What’s got into her?” he asked, obviously not picking up on her very poor impersonation.

“Dunno, she wasn’t Tolkein to me,” I joked, but it went over his head.

“Daddy is going into town, may I go with him, please, Mummy?” asked Trish.

“If you want to, I hope you’re not going to be walking her too far, are you Simon?”

“No—I’m popping into one of the banks to check out a couple of things, then we’ll be back—hour tops.”

“What about her lunch?”

“We’ll be back before lunch.”

I glanced at the clock, crikey, it’s only eleven—why do I feel so hungry? Ah, I forgot my breakfast. “Si, could you pass me in a banana? I don’t remember having any breakfast.”

“You didn’t—so how are you going to feed little un here, if you’re neglecting yourself?—good job I’m not your social worker…”

“No, ’cos you’d need a corset for a wasp waist,” I threw back at him.

“You can bloody talk,” he said back.

“I thought you liked a bit of fat with your meat?”

“Cathy, I do—not meat with my fat.”

“Ouch, are you implying something?”

“Well if I was asked if I wanted a leg or a breast, these days there’d be very little difference—apart from the hairs on the leg.”

“You cheeky sod, wait till you want a milkshake.”

“Hmm—they could be fattening,” he said, and they went out to his car.

I chatted with the baby, who has very little conversation, except loud burps and the odd gurgle—little mother sucker.

I finished feeding her, changed her and put her in her baby seat thing, which is like a recumbent with a strap between the legs to stop her sliding through. She can watch me and bounce a little herself.

I sat her on the floor watching me make soup for dinner plus putting a bread mix in the machine. I had some Panini in the freezer, so defrosted them in the oven. The soup was chicken, made from leftover bits and few vegetables, stock from cooking the vegetables the day before to which I added a little of the jelly from the chicken. I tasted it whilst it was cooking, and after a careful addition of salt and pepper, it tasted pretty good.

Billie came in and asked where Danny was. “He’s playing football, as far as I know. Tomorrow kiddo, we’ll have to go and get your uniform.”

“Uniform?”

“For the convent.”

“Will they really take me, Mummy?”

“They had better, I sent them a cheque a few days ago.”

She came and hugged me, “Thank you.”

“It’s okay, just do your best when you get there.”

“I will, Mummy, I will.”

“Watch, tiny wee for me, will you?—I need to go to the loo.” I went off to the toilet and when I came back, the phone rang. “Can you get that, Billie?”

“Do I have to?”

“If you would?” I deliberately ask her sometimes, because she’s embarrassed to talk on the phone. She thinks people think she’s a boy. As she has a squeaky voice, I don’t know why.

“Hello, Cameron residence, Billie speaking.” She paused, then said, “Oh, I think you’d better talk to my mummy.” She handed me the phone.

“Hello, Cathy Cameron, what d’you want?”

“Hello, Mrs Cameron, we have a boy here who seems to have fractured his ankle, he says he fell off his bike.”

“Is his name, Danny?”

“Yes, he said Danny Cameron, but we have no record of a Danny Cameron—just a Danny Maiden.”

“That’s him, he’s adopted.”

“Okay, we need someone to come and sign the consent forms.”

“What for?”

“His ankle will need surgery.”

“Geez, okay—I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Billie, go and find Auntie Stella or Gramps.”

I got the breast pump and expressed some more milk, then shoved it in the fridge and put new pads in my bra. I put the baby in her cot. Jenny came through, “Everything okay, Lady C?”

“No, Danny’s broken his ankle apparently. I have to go and sort things out. I’ve done some milk, can you feed her when she wakes?”

“Of course—anything else?”

“Yes, there’s soup for everyone here with Panini, they’re in the oven defrosting.”

“Hmmm, smells heavenly.”

“I have to dash.” I grabbed my coat and bag and ran off to the car. If I go to this hospital much more often, they’ll be asking me to join their superannuation scheme. Once I was in the car and concentrating on Danny, I picked up on his pain—it was his left leg. I started to send in the blue light—why hadn’t that happened with Trish?

By the time I’d parked the car, I was very centred on him, concentrating on his leg, which I even managed to do while talking to reception. “Not you again?” said Peter Woods in A&E.

“Oh, you’ve got quite a few to get through yet,” I joked.

“How many kids have you got?”

“Seven.”

“Seven?” he gasped, “I can’t cope with two.”

“Have you operated?” I asked.

“No, not yet why?”

“His leg’s improving.”

“Nope—not without surgery.”

“I think you’ll find it is.”

“Okay, you seem adamant about it, let’s go and see.” He led me to a cubicle.

“Hello, son,” I said walking up and ruffling his hair.

“Hi, Mum, sorry, I fell off my bike, got my foot caught. Doesn’t hurt now.”

“This is remarkable,” Peter Woods looked at the ankle. “Where’s all the swelling gone? Is this the same patient?” he asked one of the nurses.

“Yes, Danny Maiden,” she looked through the curtain, “Yes, it’s him, why?”

Dr Woods showed her the boy’s ankle, which I continued to send healing to.”

“I want this re-X-rayed immediately, please. Sorry, Lady Cameron, you’ll have to go back to the waiting room.”

“Can I go with her?” asked Danny, walking round the side of his bed.

“No—what are you doing, standing on it? Get back on your bed immediately.”

“It don’t hurt,” declared Danny, “See?” he stood on his bad leg.

“Bloody hell—I think I need a holiday,” said Peter Woods.

“You just had one,” said the nurse’s voice from the next cubicle. “Oh, that’s interesting, Dr Woods, look at this.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1111

“Will you get back on that plinth,” shouted Dr Woods, who seemed as if he was fast losing it. “X-ray, please,” he pointed at Danny and the porter grabbed the boy and helped him into a wheelchair.

“Can you explain what is happening here?” asked Dr Woods, standing between me and the door.

“Not really,” I shrugged.

“So how come you predicted your son’s leg would be better?”

“Lucky guess?”

“And what about the person in the next cubicle?”

“The one with the facial injury?” I asked.

“How d’you know it’s a facial injury?”

“You must have told me.”

“I did no such thing—who are you and perhaps more importantly, just what are you? Because I’m sure none of this happened before you got here.”

“I thought strange miracles happened here from time to time, according to the paper.”

“Yes, but if that was the case, why aren’t you surprised?”

“Gosh, is my son’s leg getting better—you’re obviously an ace doctor to fix him so quickly,” I gasped melodramatically.

“Very funny—so how come you couldn’t fix your other kid?”

“There we are, see, I didn’t do any of it.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“That’s your problem.”

“No—people who’ve gone through the windscreen of a car don’t heal spontaneously, they end up with hours of plastic surgery and faces like rail networks. That woman probably looks better now than she did this morning when she left home.”

“Oh well, lucky her.”

“Mrs Cameron, please stop being flippant and tell me what’s happening.” His bleeper went off—“I’ll be right back, you wait here please.” He ran off to the phone, and he returned two minutes later.

“Okay, your son who had a clear fracture of the fibula, now has a healthy bone according to radiology. What happened?”

“How would I know?”

“Oh God,” he practically hit me he felt so frustrated, “Look, woman, for God’s sake tell me what the hell is going on.”

“I’m a scientist, Dr Woods, I have no idea what is going on.”

“But you’re causing it, aren’t you?”

“Am I?” I shrugged, “You show me how this can be happening with a scientific explanation, and I’ll tell you if I’m involved.”

“So what else is there? You telling me some sort of miraculous cure is happening; some supernatural event?”

“I’m not telling you anything—I specialise in dormice—this is clearly not created by dormice is it?”

“Dormice? What the hell’re you talking about?”

“I study dormice—that’s all I know about.”

“Is this a miracle?”

“Depends upon your definition of miracle—so that’s up to you.”

“No—look, I could have you arrested.”

“What for—saving a life?”

“Whose life did you save? Neither of them were at that degree of risk.”

“So the woman’s sub-arachnoid is okay then is it?”

“Sub-arachnoid? What sub-arachnoid?”

“The one you missed, perhaps?”

“Oh shit, I didn’t, did I?”

I nodded.

“How do you know this?”

“I could say, it’s the voices, but that would freak you out—it would also be a lie. I don’t know how I know.”

“You are a human—not some reincarnation of Jesus or someone?”

“Not as far as I know—no, I’m perfectly ordinary, apart from being married to a banker.”

“Dr Woods? The lady is asking if she can be discharged, she feels okay now,” asked the nurse.

“Is she okay?” he asked me.

“You’re the doctor,” I gave back to him.

“Look, I’m having difficulty holding on to reality here—is she okay? I mean can I discharge her?”

“As far as I know, she’s healed.”

“Thank you.” He nodded to the nurse who went to see the patient.

“Can I take my boy home, now?”

“You’re the mystery healer, aren’t you?”

“Am I?”

“Yes—I just wish I knew how you do it?”

“Perhaps I don’t.”

“But you do—don’t you?”

“Do I? I don’t think so. There’s a lot of poor observation in science, or poor attribution or association. We see what we want to see. Ah, Danny, c’mon flower, let’s see if we can get home before all the soup is gone.”

He loaded his bike into the boot of the car. I could see I had a wheel to straighten. Then straight home and we just managed to grab some soup and a panino before Simon scoffed the lot.

“Billie seemed to think Dan had broken his leg,” Simon posited.

“She must have got it wrong.”

“Yes, or did you do some more interfering there?”

“How would I do that?”

“With that blue light stuff, that’s how.”

“Allegedly,” I replied.

“I’ve seen it emanating from you.”

“Sure you have, you think you have—you can’t be certain, can you?”

“My eyes don’t lie to me, Cathy—I know what I saw.”

“No, we see what we expect to see, things that we don’t expect we don’t see.”

“How is new phenomenon discovered then—if no one sees what they aren’t looking for?”

“Because some people can see beyond the obvious, but they’re very few and far between. Most of us will see what we are conditioned to see. Take me as an example—what do you see?” I indicated myself.

“A very beautiful woman—you know what I see.”

“But I’m not am I? I’m actually a male with secondary female sexual characteristics.”

“You may think that, as far as I’m concerned, you’re all woman—now about these milkshakes…”

“Cathy—phone, it’s Sam Rose.”

“Saved by the bell,” I smiled sweetly at Simon and took the phone. “Hi Sam.”

“Cathy, you’ve been at it again—Pete Woods has had to go home.”

“Why?”

“He’s just in meltdown—what did you do?”

“Like I told him, I don’t do anything, the energy decides who and when it will heal.”

“You don’t direct it at all?”

“Would you direct the Shekhinah?”

“Ah—is that what you think it is?”

“That’s what it has told me it is.”

“Fine—okay—just be careful.”

“Sam, what d’you mean. Sam? Sam?” The good doctor had rung off. Just what did he mean? Is he just an MCP—nah, not Sam—he’s a nice guy. Maybe I need to stop all this healing lark—after all, it’s always a bit risky. I’ll just do it for the family from now on—yeah, that’s what I’ll do—just the family. I felt better already. I wondered about the injured woman—would she be okay? I sincerely hoped so.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1112

I puzzled some more about what Sam Rose had said about being careful with the Shekhinah—but without speaking to him again, I really didn’t know and speculating is simply a waste of time.

The next day, Danny’s leg seemed okay as far as I could tell: he was running about as per usual and grumbled when I refused to let him play footie again. He kept saying it was unfair. Okay, so he’d hurt his leg falling off a bike—seems to be a recurrent theme in this family—rather than kicking a ball about, but I didn’t know how strong his leg would be, and decided to err on the side of caution. I made him stay home.

Of course, I had to take Billie shopping for her uniform and that took three hours and loadsa dosh. Some of it strikes me as ridiculous—why does she need three pairs of gym knickers? ‘Passion killers’ the girls I knew in school called them—mind you at that age, I’d have loved to have had to wear them. So do I feel deprived by not having had a girlhood?—Sometimes. You can’t relive the past, all you can do is correct the mistakes for those coming afterwards. I was therefore determined for Trish, Billie and in some ways Julie, from missing out on these formative years.

I mean, girls learn how to relate to other girls and boys from childhood—I had to learn quickly at the tender age of twenty, some do it even later—what chance a normal relationship then? I know, what is normal?—we won’t go there again, it’s a convoluted argument.

“Do I get a milkshake tonight for being a good boy, Mummy?”

Simon, grow up will you?”

“I will if I get a milkshake, later, hint hint.”

“It’s not supposed to be for your benefit, is it?”

“I thought as a banker, everything was for my benefit—did I get it wrong somewhere along the line?”

“No, I think that just about sums it up.”

“Hmm—I was being ironic, you know?”

“Gosh, were you?—I’d never have guessed.”

“You can be so cutting at times.”

“Yeah, so?”

“What’s gotten into you?” He seemed a bit uptight today—not like Simon.

“Gotten into me—what about you?” I challenged back.

“I’m not the one casting nasturtiums,” he complained.

“Not much—woe is me—canni’ve a milkshake, Mummy? Don’t you think it’s bad enough actually having my tits sucked inside out by a two-month-old, to want to offer them to the world at large.”

“Don’t bother then.”

“Simon, don’t go all schoolgirl on me.”

“Schoolgirl?”

“Yes, all pouts and self pity.”

“Self pity?”

“Must you repeat everything I say?”

“Must I what?”

This was driving me nuts—and the most frightening part was I didn’t think he was doing it deliberately. He’d gotten stuck in that defensive mode which throws back most of what is being hurled at him.

“I have to go and do a stew for this evening.” I walked into the kitchen and of course the baby started up. Their timing is amazing—maximum effect with minimal effort. But she’d have to wait, I was busy.

“Can’t you hear this baby crying?” Simon said, marching into the kitchen.

“Yes, my hearing is every bit as good as yours.”

“So do something about it.”

“Can’t you see I’m busy for a moment?” I was browning the meat for the stew, to seal in the juices.

“I thought this child had priority over everything else?”

“No, she’s a baby and important—but she has to get in the queue like everyone else.”

“Well, I was in the queue before her,” he said petulantly.

I couldn’t believe his attitude. I added the chopped onions to the meat and fried them together in the pan. For ten of us, it requires quite a lot of meat and two onions, plus garlic and some pepper.

“Well, are you going to see to her?”

“There’s some milk in the fridge, it wouldn’t kill you to warm it and feed her,” I threw back at him.

“Why should I?”

“Because she’s a child of this household, and you’re nominally her foster father.”

“Tough,” he turned on his heel and stamped off.

“Oh boy—gimme strength,” I said to no one in particular, but felt this calmness inside me as if something inside me was damping down my desire to get angry or even hurt from his childishness. I called Julie: she was doing Trish’s hair in a French plait, so shouted back she was busy. Great.

I tried to imagine baby C watching her mobile and gurgling at it, rather than screaming for my milk. Then I continued my preparations, adding the chopped carrots and tomatoes, then the mushrooms and setting it to simmer, I went to sort out the wain.

She was still screaming the odds, the first time I’d seen her as upset as this, then realised she had a bit of a cold about her—her nose seemed bunged and her breathing was less than comfortable. I bared my breast and she chewed hard on it—damn, that hurt. I pulled her off and she struggled to reattach. I ran a finger around her gums—she was definitely teething, so was the cold a teething one? Nobody else had one as far as I knew, so where would she catch it?

“What did you want me for?” asked Julie, coming now it was too late.

“I wanted you to feed Catherine.”

“Oh sorry, I was doing Trish’s hair—waddya think?” I smiled, her hair was getting quite long and it made her look more than a couple of years older.

“I think it looks lovely. Where’s Jenny?”

“It’s her day off.”

“Oh of course it is. Is she back for dinner?”

“I dunno, do I?”

Teenagers can be so helpful.

“Can you check the stew, please.”

She went off to the kitchen and called back it was fine. I burped Catherine and then put her on the other breast, the first one was quite sore and I thought I could see tooth marks in my nipple—no wonder it bloody well hurt—little carnivore.

Tom came back from walking the dog and checked the potatoes for me, Julie had disappeared again—I learned later that she was doing Livvie’s hair, then Mima’s and finally the shorter tresses of Billie.

I eventually sorted out the little one, changed her and put her back down—then finished the stew—thickening it and dishing it up with an oven done jacket potato.

Everyone seemed to enjoy it bar Simon, who was still pouting and sulking. I tried to ignore it and with two of the girls helping me to clear up, left Tom to amuse him. A little later, Tom told me Simon thought I was neglecting him, and that the children were coming first every time. I felt like clocking him one, but what would that achieve?

I wasn’t looking forward to tonight—I felt like Snow White, going to bed with Grumpy.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1113

The night passed without note. Simon grunted in his sleep when I woke to feed the wain, but otherwise he was a slightly distant normal. I wondered if Tom or Stella had said something to him, but there was no way I was going to ask.

I saw in Cycling Weekly that Cavendish had done well, winning some back-to-back stages of the Vuelta—so is first Brit since Robert Millar, to win stages on all three of the big tours. I was reading the CW when the girls came down for breakfast.

“Other girls’ mothers read newspapers at breakfast,” commented Trish.

“I can’t help that, sweetheart, they obviously don’t know what they’re missing.”

“Hmm,” she thought for a minute, “perhaps they don’t like bikes,” she suggested.

“Don’t like bikes?” I pretended to be horrified: “But everyone likes bikes—don’t they?”

Trish was in earnest mode, and the fact I was teasing her went straight over her head. Livvie however, noticed and smirked at me, hiding her expression behind her hand.

“Not everyone will like bicycles, Mummy—I mean, not everyone likes chocolate or ice cream.”

“They don’t?” I gasped.

“No they don’t,” continued Trish, chattering like someone in their sixties.

“Why don’t they?”

“It comes down to a matter of taste,” she continued.

“Are you inferring I don’t have taste?” I challenged her.

“No, Mummy, ’course not—you have exquisite taste.”

“We learned that in English before the holidays,” betrayed Livvie.

“What’s this about a major incident in Portsmouth at the weekend?” interrupted Simon.

“I have no idea—what sort of incident?”

“It was on the radio, an earthquake or something?”

“Oh that—it was…” I began.

“A stimulation,” Trish threw in before I could finish.

“A what?” asked Simon.

“A stimulation, really, Daddy, you should know that—it’s a pretend thing, so they know what to do in case it happens for real.”

“That’s a stimulation is it?” Simon asked.

“Yes, silly Daddy,” she said, walking away from the table.

“Did the FT arrive?” Si asked me.”

“Did you order one?”

“No, I asked Bev to do that for me.”

“Your long suffering secretary has plenty to do if I know you.”

“As secretaries go, she is well-remunerated.”

“So she’s a well-paid slave, then?”

“Don’t be ridiculous Cathy, she gets weekends off, so how can she be a slave?”

“I don’t,” I sighed.

“You don’t what?”

“I don’t remember seeing the Financial Times on the door mat, this morning.”

“That’s not good enough,” he picked up his mobile and whilst I poured him coffee, he sent a snotty text to his secretary. His phone peeped a few moments later and he said, “I might have known, it’s the newsagents—they didn’t have one. We’ll have to get a new supplier.”

“No we won’t,” I told him, “They send my Guardian every day, they remember the children’s various comics and Tom’s Independent. If you put in a regular order, they’d get it for you.”

“Hmmph,” he seemed livid. “They send trashy things like your Cycling Weekly, but forget the best newspaper on the planet.”

“I get this direct from the publishers each week.”

“Well there you are then, finished looking at the pictures, have we?”

“Why, do you want to look at them?”

“No, I’ll have a quick squint at this rag.” He picked up my Guardian and began leafing through it.

“It might be a rag, but they were the only one to approve of your advising Gordon Brown.”

“Not the only one, the FT did as well.”

“Bloody pink papers—I thought that was a term relating to gay newspapers?” I attacked.

“No, that is the pink press; the FT was printed on pink paper long before such things existed.”

I decided, that given my own situation, I wasn’t going to throw stones whilst living in a greenhouse. “Well, if you put in a regular order with the newsagents, I’m sure they’ll get you one each time.”

“I’ll make do with this now,” he started leafing through my Guardian. I walked away before I hit him—patronising twit. Where was the man I married, why the change? Maybe I’d speak with Bev and see if there was a reason for it from the bank. If I talked to Henry, he’d give Simon a rollicking, which won’t achieve anything. I want to make things better, not worse.

I fed the others and even offered Simon something cooked, but he stuck with toast and marmalade plus some cereal and half a pot of coffee. If I drank that much, I’d be twitchy and hyper. He wasn’t, unless this recent outburst was an example of that—something to think about, all the same.

A day of domestic chores and keeping out of Simon’s way. He went off to the bank about ten; he was chairing some high-powered meeting with the council and spending cuts. They use his bank, which brings in income, so he has to sweet talk them—even though it’s not his usual area. If the Chairman’s son is involved—it’s got to be good for customer confidence.

I suppose he’s under a lot of pressure—they made four billion profit since April, not as much as the very big banks, but enough to be next in the ratings after the big four—and growing more rapidly, even in bad times—or are those yet to visit us?

I’m convinced the government are setting us, the public, up for an asset strip of public sector resources. They won’t go short that’s for sure—whingeing about expenses, after what went on before, haven’t MPs and the banks got the message yet?

I fed my wain again and played games with the kids while the washing did itself, then found a few moments to call Bev, Simon’s secretary.

“Hi Bev, it’s Cathy Cameron, Simon’s wife.”

“Good morning Lady Catherine, what can I do for you?”

“Simon’s been like a bear with a sore head, is there anything at work which might be helping to cause it?”

“I can’t give details of bank stuff, I’m sorry—he’d shoot me.”

“Only if he found out.”

“This is true—I don’t know, it hasn’t got in the press yet.”

“What hasn’t?”

“Okay, but you didn’t hear it from me—okay?”

“Guides honour,” I said back, even though I’d never been one.

“Okay—he’s got to make several people in his division redundant.”

“Ah, that might explain his strange behaviour.”

“One of them is a very old friend.”

“Oh dear.” That could explain why he’s been a bit strange, if I had to sack anyone, I’d be a nervous wreck.

“Yes, the poor chap has no idea what’s coming.”

“I thought the bank had done quite well?” but who was I to know these things?

“We have, and being spare of staff has kept us in the hunt. However, Lord Simon doesn’t like doing it; he’s clever but not ruthless. He’s far too nice to be a banker.”

“Is he now? I suppose he is. Thanks Bev.” Well that explained some of it—maybe he’s on the male menopause or whatever they call it? Anyway, I’ll try and avoid any extra pressure on him for a few days and see if he talks to me. Food for thought—now—food for kids—lunch.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1114

Simon called late afternoon to tell me he wouldn’t be home for dinner—he was dining with some of the people from the meeting. He sounded thoroughly fed up, so he got my sympathy.

He arrived home about ten that evening looking totally worn out—the councillors felt they could keep squeezing until the pips squeaked—however, Si apparently told them he was going to cancel their accounts, as there was no profit in them.

When I asked him about the four billion, he told me that was the investment part of the bank; apparently, the high street stuff doesn’t make anything like as much money, but is a facility they offer for customers hoping they’ll make investments or leave large balances in current accounts—such as the council.

In the end, by calling their bluff, Si saved the account—worth tens of millions of pounds—but he had to pay for dinner as an act of goodwill. Good ol’ bribery and corruption are alive and well and happening in a council near you.

I expressed some milk for tomorrow and we went to bed. I reminded him that if the job was getting to him, he needed to talk to someone. I even suggested if necessary, he could do something else and we’d get by on my pay. He laughed and said something about seven children.

“We could live on my pay, if you want to do something else, or train for it.”

“Yeah, pay school fees and feed our brood on the chicken feed you earn?”

“The kids could always go to state schools.”

“I thought the fact that they don’t is because they wouldn’t take transgender kids?”

I blushed, “Okay.”

“Besides, what happens if they decide they could cope without an environmental advisor?”

“I’ll have to live on less, won’t I, I’ve done it before.”

“Sure, you wouldn’t have a great deal of choice would you?”

“I thought I’d saved them a whole lot of money and so paid for myself.”

“You think you can do that every year?”

“Um—probably not.”

“You won’t, however, Dad appointed you, so no one is going to suggest we don’t need you.”

“But if you’re finding it too stressful Si, you need to think about doing something else.”

“I actually like much of my job,” he said kissing me.

“Much?”

“Do you enjoy all of yours?”

“Not really, I hate marking.”

“I hate sacking people.”

“Have you got to do that, then?”

“Yep—next week. I have to call an old friend into the office, and after the usual pleasantries, tell him to clear his desk and leave. In fact they don’t even clear their own desks—someone does it as soon as they come to my office.”

“Why are you sacking him or is too personal?”

“If I dump him now, I don’t have to pay him as much as I would in two years, if I did it then.”

“Is this purely motivated by money?”

“Not entirely, but we are a bank in a capitalist society, so it is important.”

“Why else then?”

“You don’t wanna know.”

“Yes I do.”

“You don’t,” he reiterated.

“Why don’t I?”

“Okay—I’ll tell you. I’m breaking a confidence to do so, so please respect that.”

“Not a word shall pass my lips.”

“Yeah sure.”

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

“No—but then I know what I’m going to say.”

“It helps if you want to speak coherently.”

He gave me a filthy look—“Look here, little miss scatterbrain—I’m not the one whose conversation flits about like butterfly with St Vitus dance.”

“Sydenham’s chorea,” I corrected and smiled.

“What is?”

“The proper name for St Vitus dance.”

“How d’you know that?”

“We had a kid in primary school who had it, after rheumatic fever.”

“And you remembered it?”

“Obviously.” I rolled my eyes.

“Babes, I am a banker, I remember interest rates and the prices of commodities, or the FT Index—obscure Latin names for even more obscure diseases is not my thing at all.”

“So why are you going to sack him?”

“He’s homophobic—he cancelled someone’s overdraft because he found out they were gay, and he also got rid of a lesbian woman who was still within the first few months of employment, and less protected.”

“Presumably he gave a different reason?” I asked.

“Yes—unsuited to the job.”

“And instead of confronting him, you’re going to make him redundant?”

“We have an equal opportunities policy for customers and staff. Even before I met you, I campaigned for equality for all without conditions. Dad saw the potential in it and we vigorously enforce it—as my ex-friend will learn next week.”

“He doesn’t sound as if he’s really equipped to deal with people.” That was my observation for what it’s worth.

“Oh I missed the best bit.”

“There’s more?”

“Oh yeah, and I can even tell you what your comment will be, when I do.”

“Oh yeah, I’ll bet you can’t.” I felt I could hold it together to say something off the wall and collect the bet—such as, ‘my dromedary has been struck by lightning.’

“So what’s the wager, then?” he asked.

“A tenner?”

“Come off it, Babes, a tenner would hardly register—no, money’s no fun. Something else.”

“Like what?” I asked having a horrible feeling I knew what he wanted.

“A milkshake—if you lose, and if you win—what d’you want?”

I thought for a moment, “Okay, I’ve got something.”

“Which is?”

“If I win, you stop asking for them.”

He gave a very hurt look, but his keeping on about it all the time was so irritating. “If that’s what you want.” He took a piece of paper and wrote something down. “That’s what I predict you’ll say—I hope you have loadsa milk,” he smirked.

“Is this some sort of trick?” I asked.

“No, it’s what I suspect you’ll say when you hear what I’m going to tell you.”

I now felt less sure of things—no, I could remember my dromedary—so I should be okay. We shook on the deal and my stomach flipped.

“A year or so ago, we had a young woman apply for a job. She was the best qualified for it and interviewed really well.”

“You were there, were you?”

“No I was told later by two other members of the interview panel.”

“Carry on.”

“At the end of the interview, she was invited to ask questions, which she did—intelligent ones too. She wasn’t exactly model quality, but attractive in a boyish sort of way. She asked one final question, after she’d asked about equal opportunities—it’s law anyway, but she confirmed it, then asked if it made any difference to her job prospects that she was a pre-op transsexual. Up to then, she had a job offer almost written, after that he, my friend, or ex-friend vetoed her appointment and they gave it to a bloke instead.”

“The bastard,” I said, before I thought.

“Dah-dah,” he showed me the piece of paper. “D’you do strawberry ones?” he smirked.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1115

“What happened to the pre-op girl you nearly employed?” I asked Simon, who was in danger of drifting off to sleep.”

“Mmm—what?”

“The pre-op transsexual, what happened to her?”

“I have no idea—I wasn’t involved, didn’t find out about it till fairly recently, since then I’ve been building a case against him.”

“Do you mind if I get involved?”

“You can’t—you’re an advisor, you don’t actually work at the bank, do you?”

“No, I suppose not. Oh well, that’s the end of that then.”

“End of what?”

“I just thought it might be interesting to see what happened if you employed her.”

“She’s probably got a job by now, she seemed to be something of high flier potential.”

“All the more reason to nab her then.”

“It’s probably too late.”

“You can try, Simon, for me…” I opened my bra again.

“You are such a temptress at times, totally wicked.” He kissed me lightly on my damp nipple. “However, seeing as if I’d have lost the bet, these mommas would have been off limits, maybe you don’t like me sucking on them.”

“I have to be in the mood—which I am, just don’t suck too hard and remember, tiny wee needs this—but it’s a luxury item for you.”

“Yeah, but we all need a bit of luxury, now and again.” He clamped his lips gently over my left breast and ticked the nipple with his tongue—as he kept up this torment, I felt a rippling effect arise in my groin and slowly burn its way up to my breasts—it was so delicious I nearly floated out of my body, and I could feel milk oozing out of my right breast and dribbling down my ribs onto the bed—but I was paralysed with pleasure.

He pulled off my left breast and noticing the milk began lapping at my right. “I think you enjoyed that, didn’t you?”

“Hmmm,” was all I could say, before I drifted off into a post orgasmic stupor and fell asleep.

I awoke a little later with a towel over me, and whimperings emanating from the cot. I slipped out of bed and picked up the baby who smelt as if she needed changing, then stole downstairs to sort her out.

I cleaned her up and fed her—sadly, but perhaps fortuitously, she didn’t have quite the same technique as Simon—because I could have dropped her.

I got back to bed three quarters of an hour later and slept in. Jenny apparently collected the baby and fed her—Simon had given instructions for her to do it and not to disturb me. Some days I really do understand why I married him.

The kids were actually tidying up when I got downstairs, the younger ones in the house, Julie and Danny helping Tom pick the last of the tomatoes, he asked me if I could make chutney. I agreed to try, I mean if I get into a pickle over it…

I sniggered at my own joke and caught Jenny watching me, I’m sure she thinks I’m as crazy as the rest of the inmates of this house. “Enjoy your snooze?” she asked.

“I did, I’m going to have a cuppa and a piece of toast and get stuck in.”

“I think our task force has done most of it Lady Catherine, but that’s for you to decide.”

“Jenny, I’m not into titles, everyone else calls me Cathy, so maybe you should as well, unless we’re in something formal.”

“Thank you, Cathy, I shall. I was going to take the baby out in the pram if that’s okay?”

“Fine with me, if you harness up the other six, they could pull it for you.”

She laughed at my joke, “I’ll take the four younger girls with me, I thought we could walk to the park and back. I’ll take an apple for them and a small drink.”

“Fine, sounds like a good idea and the sun is shining.” I smiled at her and she rounded up the netball team to go out with her.

I was just finishing my toast when the phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hi, Babes, you woke up then?”

“Oh goodness yes, I’ve been busy since just after you left,” I lied.

“’Course you have, so Jenny must have been lying when I asked her to go and sort out the baby for you, and she said you were still zonked.”

“Um—” I felt myself blushing—the pig.

“I won’t keep you, I’m sure you have some shopping to do or other means of spending my money. I’ve had Bev track down our missing high flier and called her. She’s coming in for an interview tomorrow—you’re on the panel, so am I, so is Howard.”

“Who’s Howard?”

“The guy I’m going to sack.”

“Oh? Is that wise?”

“Look I’m rich and powerful, do I have to be wise as well?”

“How would I know, I only know about dormice.”

“Could be useful if ever we start taking acorns as investments.”

“At branches everywhere,” I squeaked already laughing at my own joke.

“Oh, yeah, you’re on the panel as Cathy Watts, I don’t want Howard to realise we’re doing a pincer movement on him. Oh, she’s interviewing for your liaison officer and PA, so I want a job description and so on from you.”

“Eh? What do I need an assistant for?”

“Never mind that, I’m sure you’ll think of something—email it to Bev before four, oh and remember, it’s important that you make it sound urgent, because we’ve pulled all this together so quickly, so think of something for that too. Oh she’s got degree in biology, hence the environmental bit.”

“I thought I was down as your wife on the list of advisors?”

“No, Dad appointed you before we got married and we tend to leave things alone unless individuals ask us to change them.”

“Fine with me. Let’s hope Howard doesn’t remember me from the dormouse film.”

“I don’t think he saw it—he’s more your beer and football type.”

“Lovely,” I sighed back, “Is she the only candidate?”

“In reality, yeah, I’ve asked a couple of others to come and pretend they’re trying for it, just to make up the numbers. What’s for dinner?”

“I see, the way to a man’s heart is it?”

“Natch.”

“I think I’ll do some baked Dover sole.”

“I’ll be there—keep me some.”

I put the phone down and phoned Morrisons—reserving enough to feed the brood, although the kids would just as happily eat fish fingers—very few social graces amongst the lot of them—I suppose that’s my job.

I dashed out to the supermarket after lunch and collected my fish; I also bought some salad stuff and new potatoes, which were the other components of the meal. Danny grumbled, especially when I laid fish knives and forks.

“What are these for?”

“It’s cutlery, what’s it look like,” Simon responded.

“Where’s the normal knives and forks?”

“Those are specially designed for eating fish.”

“An’ chips?”

“No, not chips,” I started putting down the bowls of salad and then the hot buttered new potatoes.

“Oh rabbit food—great, I’m not a stupid rodent.”

“Neither are rabbits.”

“What are they then?”

“They’re lagomorphs of the family, Leporidae, like hares.” I hate to waste an opportunity to show my education.

“They’re leopards, stooped…” called Billie, and all the girls laughed.

“No they’re not, you’re stooopid.”

“Children, please,” Simon asserted himself but the name-calling continued.

Jenny walked in, “QUIET,” she shouted, and the kids stopped instantly. “Thank you.”

Simon sat there with his mouth open.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1116

The next morning, after doing my bit towards sorting the children, I went upstairs and had a luxuriant shower. After moussing my hair, depilating my legs and underarms, I rubbed in some nice creams, did my hair, then my makeup and dressed in my YSL suit and blouse, to which I added my red court shoes. A squirt of perfume, and after being told by my kids, “You look nice, Mummy,” which boosted my ego, I went to the office building where the divisional headquarters of High St Bank was located. It was twelve o’clock and Simon had told me that we’d have lunch, a short meeting to discuss the job we were interviewing to fill, and I’d have a chance to suss out Howard Sutcliffe, the man Simon wanted to dump.

Simon insisted that no matter what happened, I wasn’t to disclose we were married, nor was I to reveal my own gender history. I was an ecologist who advised the bank and they were looking for someone to assist me in developing policies and implementing them. I couldn’t complain, I wrote the job description.

I parked my car and tottered to the reception desk, then took the lift to the fifth floor. The bank apparently owns this building, but only uses the fifth floor. However, as the local council were pulling out of the floor below, Henry was considering moving some more of the HQ staff to Portsmouth. Simon was half-hoping he might be able to work from there himself with adequate computer support. Besides, he was doing less speculation and more management these days, so theoretically, unless he physically had to go somewhere, he could do much more from Portsmouth than he’d once been able to do. The added incentive of the council offering some relaxation in business rates to businesses moving to Portsmouth also tempted them. I’d be pleased if he didn’t have to go up to town so often.

I was given my visitor’s ID card and escorted to the office we were using as a pre-lunch venue, then in half an hour we’d have a buffet and do the interviews. I led into the room, “Ah, Cathy, how nice to see you again.” Simon embraced me and it was all I could do not to giggle. “This is Howard Sutcliffe, the third member of our panel.” I shook hands with him and felt my skin crawl. There was something wrong with him, physically—something very wrong. He looked quite well, but the tan was from a sun bed, not a natural—outdoors, variety.

“So we’re looking for an assistant for you?” he asked in an unconvinced tone.

“That’s the plan—I’m too busy with my university stuff to do more than advise on environmental issues, so I need someone to implement policies the board agrees upon or are forced on us by government.”

“This a full time or part time post?”

“A full time one,” Simon answered for me. “I might combine it with one or two other bits and pieces.”

“This one of Henry’s ideas?” asked Howard.

“Yep, so let’s not disappoint him and we’ll all keep our jobs.”

“With all due respect to Miss Watts, why do we need an environmental advisor? I shouldn’t think they come too cheaply, do they?”

Before I could say anything, Simon answered, “She saved us over a million pounds last year. What we pay her in return, is peanuts.”

“I stand corrected.”

We sat down at the table and over cups of coffee or bottled water, we assessed the three candidates. A man and two women, one of whom was the transgender one.

“I think I’ve seen this one before.” Howard held up the application form from Erica Heath. “If it’s the one I’m thinking of, she’s bad news.”

“Why’s that?” asked Simon, as I felt myself growing hot.

“She’s actually a he, one of those transvestite types, wants a sex change.”

“Does it matter? If she can do the job?” I asked, trying not to sound more than a broad-minded liberal.

“Do you want these people representing you? Or the bank?”

“I don’t have a problem with it, do you?” I threw back at him.

“But she’s a bloke in a dress.”

“So? I’m not too worried about that, I’ve dealt with transgendered students before, and they caused no more hassle than ordinary ones.”

“It’s okay for you, Miss Watts. With your looks, you bring a sophisticated elegance to our image, but this one looks like a bloke in a dress,” he pointed at the application form.

“Maybe, with a bit of help, so will she.”

“You haven’t seen him, I have.”

“We have an equal opportunities policy, Howard,” Simon reminded his ex-friend.

“Stuff and nonsense! Why should we employ these freaks?”

“Because our policies say we have to, and so does government.”

“I can’t see what difference gender makes to the job,” I asserted.

“Not for natural men or women, like us—but for those weirdos, how can they deal with the public?”

“I still don’t see the problem.” I felt very vexed with this dimwit, and what was wrong with him? He was on steroids, and his face was a bit bloated. He was also on other drugs but what for? Retrovirals? Shit—he’s got HIV. Yep, that’s what it is—HIV, so is he a closet gay or just stupid with sex?

“I think we need to move on to the others.” Simon was chairing the meeting. “This chappie, Eldridge Cumberland, now there’s a name to conjure with.”

“A background in sociology and personal grooming—what sort of degree is that?” Howard was off again. Simon had confided that Eldridge was gay, and would mention it during the interview—he was also black and from Trinidad originally.

“Who’s the other one?” I asked.

“Rita von Dieter,” Simon managed to say without laughing. I didn’t say anything, but burst out laughing, as the names nearly rhymed.

“Christ—she did women and gender studies, another waste of time.”

“Are you always this judgemental?” I asked Howard.

“You laughed at her,” he replied defensively.

“I laughed at the way Simon said her name.” I heard him chuckle at that.

There was a knock at the door and in walked two ladies with a trolley and several plates. We withdrew our papers from the table and they proceeded to lay a cloth and plates of salad, cold meats and fish, sandwiches and other cold delicacies, then some cake and desserts, like gateau and fruit salad. There was enough for ten here to be eaten or left by three of us.

“Pity they didn’t invite the candidates for lunch, there’s enough food here for them and us,” I suggested, too late to be of any use—well, I’m an ecologist, we always get there too late.

“Yeah, we could have seen if any of them can use a knife and fork properly,” said Howard, using a knife like a pen, which wasn’t how I was taught to use one. Simon must have seen the astonishment in my face at Howard’s double standards.

Howard went off to the loo, and at last I could speak to Simon, “You know he’s got HIV?”

“You what? You’re joking? You’re not joking? Oh shit—that means I can’t fire him.”

“Isn’t he supposed to tell you if he suffers from any long-term condition?”

“People don’t, even though we have loads of ways of hiding it from casual detection.”

“All three are out there,” remarked Howard, as he picked up his plate again.

“I’ll get the girls to send them in. We get the chance to have a look at them, and they get a free lunch.” Simon shot off before anyone could object—well before Howard could. “They’ll be here in a moment.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1117

The first through the door was a tall black man, whom I presumed was Eldridge. He held open the door for his two companions: a rather plump blonde girl and a red head, who was taller, thinner and boyish looking. I think I knew who was who.

“Right girls and boys,” called Simon clapping his hands together. “This is Eldridge, Erica and Rita, did I get that right?” he asked one of the candidates. “I’m Simon Cameron, the lovely lady, is my—I thought he was going to give it away—associate, Cathy Watts, and the ugly one’s Howard—even his mother didn’t love him.”

“Thanks Simon, at least my parents were married,” Howard rebuked.

“I didn’t think it was legal with monkeys,” Simon threw back and I felt a need to intervene.

“Children, please, can we have a bit of decorum—you’re senior managers, what are these young people going to think about this organisation?”

“Yes Mummy,” Simon winked at me as he spoke. I scowled in return, if he was going to sack Howard anytime soon, the last thing he needs is to be cracking jokes with him.

Howard nodded, and moved towards the food, avoiding our candidates as if touching one would contaminate him.

“Are you the dormouse lady?” asked Erica approaching me—“I saw your posters and leaflets in the bank and I watched your film, too.”

“Ah, but did you learn anything from it?”

“It was immensely entertaining as well as presenting facts rather succinctly—though I didn’t go much on the fact that wood mice will eat the brains out of torpid dormice if they find them.”

“Yes, it was a bit gruesome, but I wanted to show how defenceless they are even with species we don’t associate with predation.”

“So it’s a mouse eat mouse world out there,” offered Erica blushing.

“Very, do come and have some food.” I invited her to the table.

“I don’t think I could eat anything, I’m too nervous.”

“You should, it’s pretty good and you need some carbs to keep you alert.”

“Do you?” she seemed surprised.

“Yes, they found that girls who skipped breakfast didn’t do as well in exams as those who did eat some.”

“Is that right?—oh well, I’d better have something.”

“Besides, we’re just as nervous as you—aren’t we Howard?”

“Aren’t we what?” He was sat on his own at the end of the table.

“As nervous as the candidates?” I repeated.

“If you say so.” He precluded any further discussion by stuffing half a roll into his mouth.

“Cathy, are you the one who made that absolutely adorable film about dormice?” asked Eldridge approaching me. He was flamboyantly dressed, but on him it didn’t look outrageous. However, his mannerisms were camp and I could see Howard appearing very edgy as he glanced at us.

“Yes, did you enjoy it?”

“Oh it was so cute, and you in your shorts and that top were to die for—didn’t the mozzies eat you though?” He smiled with huge Persil white teeth.

“Insect repellent—keeps most things away, so did a good dish of garlic bread.”

“Including your boyfriend, I’d guess.”

“Nah, nothing much keeps him away.” I avoided looking at Simon who was busy talking with Rita.

“Ooh, lucky you,” squealed Eldridge and Howard cringed. I smiled and blushed.

Eventually I rubbed shoulders with Rita. She was very interesting to talk to—a radical feminist who felt modern women, pop stars and actors were letting the side down. She was also appalled by the objectification of children, turning six-year-olds into Lolitas. I was inclined to agree with her.

“Yes, I have to keep my two six-year-olds on a tight leash when we’re shopping, they all want to look like Cheryl Cole who is quite a pretty girl, but sells herself to the youngsters in a very sexual way.”

“I agree,” said Rita, “she’s sending them the wrong messages—sex can’t get you everything, only hard work can do that.”

“Thankfully, my two are pretty bright and should do well in school, however the nine-year-old worries me.”

“How many have you got?”

“Children? Seven.”

“At your age? Did you have a litter?”

“No, we adopted several.”

“Oh—that makes more sense,” she seemed to be weighing me up. “You’re far too young to have had seven children unless it was one of those fertility drug births.”

“No, we adopted.”

“Right people, it’s time to get professional and personal. We’re interviewing Rita, Eldridge and then Erica.” Simon drew the lunch to a close, and the panel took its place in a sort of semi-circle, the candidate sitting before us.

The interviews were much like any interviews: nervous candidates being questioned by nervous interviewers. I don’t like doing it, neither does Howard—he asked very little of any of the candidates. Simon however, did very well as chairman and also as lead interviewer.

I concentrated on academic matters, asking about education and how suited they were to the job being offered. Eldridge had a ball, several times when he talked with Simon it was very funny.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” asked Simon.

“Lying on a beach in Bermuda, watchin’ the triangles.”

“Is there more than one triangle in Bermuda?”

“Oh yeah, there’s loads, three on every bikini, to start with.”

With my boobs and bum, I’d need pretty big triangles, I thought to myself.

Rita went on about the exploitation of women and quoted John Lennon’s song, which I hadn’t heard for a long time, but which I certainly wouldn’t want to sing in front of Eldridge. Simon talked with her for several minutes about how best to avoid being seen as an exploitative employer. Howard almost protested, until he remembered just who Simon was—the boss’s kid.

Erica, was as far as I knew, the only genuine candidate and she seemed the best suited for the job. She was shy and easily embarrassed.

When Simon asked her, as he had the other two, was there anything she’d like to ask us, she dropped her bombshell again.

“Yes, I’m transsexual, does your bank have an equal opportunities policy to deal with gender different people?”

Howard wanted to run out screaming. I blushed—though I don’t know why, and Simon was cool as a cucumber.

“We do, it’s not an issue and we have employed transgendered people before. We don’t discriminate on the grounds of gender, colour, sexuality or preference. We also have similar policies on race, ethnic origins, some cultural matters and some religious ones. Obviously we can’t have every Muslim employee disappearing five times on a Friday, but we do try to enable them to practice their religion where it’s practicable.

“The same for people changing gender, we’ve allowed time off for hospital appointments and encouraged them to integrate with the rest of the staff—we actually have very few bigots employed, and any bad apples are removed before they make the rest of the barrel rotten. Is that not so, Howard?”

“Um—what? Oh yes, spot on, Simon.”

“How does the lady of the panel feel about transsexuals?”

“What d’you mean? I don’t have a problem if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I presume I’d be working with you quite a lot?”

“To some extent, yes,” I agreed.

“So are you happy to be working with someone who was supposed once to be a boy?”

“Why shouldn’t I? Providing you do your best, I really have no issues with someone who is gay, straight, transsexual, Martian or mermaid. What I do have problems with is someone who doesn’t pull their weight, or who lies or hides things from me. That you’ve revealed yourself at this stage, tends to indicate you won’t do any of those things.”

“I hope not. I had an interview with this bank before. I didn’t get the job—possibly because I told them I was TS then as well. This time, I feel it really isn’t an issue, thank you.”

“It really isn’t—not these days. There are some very talented people out there who previously were neglected or lived very constrained or nervous lives because of the fear of exposure. When the head of BP can come out as gay, and half the bloody government, why worry? We’re looking to employ whoever we appoint to do the job we’ve outlined in the job description, not to worry about what gender you are. Providing you comport yourself in your preferred role in a proper manner, this bank will support you all the way. Anything you’d like to add, Howard?”

“No, I agree with every word you’ve said Simon, and also with you, Cathy. I don’t think I have anything to add, other than to wish you well with your gender adventure.”

I glanced at Simon who nearly fell off his seat.

The interview finished and we quickly agreed Erica was the only satisfactory candidate. As they’d been asked to wait, she was called back in and offered the job, which she accepted and left in tears. The other two weren’t at all put out and accepted the expenses cheques quite happily. A hundred quid each seemed very generous to me, but I wasn’t supposed to see that.

Simon was concluding the proceedings when Howard caught him completely by surprise. “Can I give you this?” he passed an envelope to Simon.

“What is it?”

“My resignation.”

“Your what?” Simon was totally taken aback.

“Would you like me to leave?” I asked.

“No, Lady Cameron, you might as well hear this too.”

“Oh,” I blushed and felt very uncomfortable.

“About twelve years ago, I went to Kenya for the bank, we were setting up a branch in Nairobi through the Bank of Nairobi. I got lonely one night and saw this drop dead gorgeous girl—well one thing led to another and we had sex—several times in fact. She was one of the best lays I’ve ever had, however, I paid for it—the bitch gave me HIV. Thankfully it’s been held by retrovirals, but I thought I might not be here forever and quite frankly, I’ve had enough of banks and especially this one—though their pension plan is good.

“So, before you sack me, Simon—I’m not stupid, and I heard that you were gunning for me, despite old times…”

“Sorry, Howard, I can’t stand bigotry, especially in those I think should know better.”

“If you get HIV, maybe you’ll develop some dislike of people with coloured skins or queers.”

“Howard, if you got something from practising unsafe sex—you’ve only yourself to blame. Most of the prostitutes in Africa have HIV or AIDS, or hepatitis—it was your own weakness or stupidity which caused you to catch it, so don’t blame the world. I suspect the poor woman you caught it from is dead now.”

“I hope so, the bitch,” snapped Howard and left. “Oh, I cleared my desk earlier, bye.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1118

I wasn’t entirely surprised that Howard knew I was Simon’s wife, and hadn’t been convinced that the pretence was a good idea. That he had walked rather than been fired seemed to resolve one problem—his vacancy would produce another.

Simon left me after a quick hug and a kiss, mainly to see who could be temporarily promoted to fill the gap. I went food shopping, although I did feel a bit overdressed for it. Most other women were in jeans and I was tottering about in four-inch heels and designer suit.

As I paid for a large trolley load of food and cleaning supplies, the woman behind admired my suit.

“I do like your suit, my dear,” she said tapping me gently on the arm.

“Thank you, I’m quite fond of it myself.”

“You don’t see many women actually dressed up these days, it’s all slopping about in jeans and saggy tee shirts, or shorts and tights under a dress—I ask you, do they feel the cold or something?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, “I know my own daughters wear things I wouldn’t put together, but surely some of that is generation gap and its application to fashions. I know I’ve worn things which I’m sure upset my own mother.”

She looked at me sideways, “I know you from somewhere, don’t I?”

“Do you? I don’t know. I’m Cathy Cameron.”

“Oh, for a moment, I thought you were another Cathy, someone to whom I owe my life.”

“I’m not aware of anyone owing me anything much at all, let alone their life.” I blushed.

“Well, this young woman hauled me out of the river with her dog’s lead.”

“Oh,” I said and blushed. “You’re not the newspaper chap’s wife are you?”

“It was you?” Her eyes sparkled, “Fancy meeting you in here. Look, let’s go for a coffee, the restaurant isn’t brilliant, but it’s clean.”

I looked at my watch, “I really ought to be going,” I blushed, I should be at home and these shoes were crippling me.

“Oh do come for a coffee, won’t take long.”

Weak willed as ever, I allowed myself to be dragged to the cafeteria and while I watched the shopping, she bought us afternoon tea—minus the seed cake. Why is it that these things happen to me? I mean Simon is far more famous than I and no one ever accosts him and asks if he’s Simon Cameron—perhaps they don’t do that in the city unless they’re serving a summons.”

“I’ve never had a chance to thank you for pulling me out.”

“I didn’t, that was the fire service, all I did was hang on to you until they arrived—nothing really.”

“If you hadn’t, I’d be dead now.”

“In which case, I’m extremely glad I did.” I smiled at her and sipped my tea, which for supermarket stuff, wasn’t too bad.

“Your name was different then wasn’t it?”

I blushed and had to think, I wasn’t Charlie then, was I? No, I was definitely me, because I had Trish with me. “Oh yes, I was Cathy Watts then, I’ve married since.”

“Yes, to a very fortunate Mr Cameron.”

“I hope Simon thinks he’s fortunate.”

“Simon Cameron? Not Henry Cameron’s boy? The banker?”

“Yes, Henry’s my pa-in-law.”

“I remember Simon and Stella growing up, we were acquaintances of the Camerons, so you’re Lady Cameron, now?”

“So they say—I’m not convinced that it isn’t all hogwash perpetuated by a social elite against the ordinary people.”

“Absolutely, which is fine as long as you’re in—hell if you’re not.”

“I feel in no man’s land, because I don’t fit with the cocktail set, but I don’t regard myself a peasant either.”

“I know the feeling, look why don’t you come to dinner, with hubby of course and I’ll introduce you to some really nice people.”

“It’s very kind of you to ask, but I really don’t have time.”

“Oh, my dear you must make time—mixing is very important and to be seen to be mixing equally important.”

“Lady Townsend, with all due respect, I don’t mix—I just don’t have time. I have seven children to look after plus some work I do for the National Mammal Survey, I’m also trying to produce another film.”

“My dear, you are busy—seven children? Not all yours, I hope—if they are you’ve kept your figure remarkably well.”

“They’re all adopted, but we love them as our own, and I try to spend time with them each day.”

“What sort of ages are they?”

“Three weeks to sixteen years.”

“Goodness, that’s a challenge, but then a young woman like you, I’m sure you’re up to it—at the same time, I hope you have some help. I’m sure Simon can afford it.”

“Yes, I do, and Simon is very generous.”

“So he should be, a fine gal like you needs hanging on to. Well, I’m sorry I can’t persuade you to a dinner party—we could do with some new blood, and someone with balls like you.”

Why did I blush? I can’t say I’m too pleased about the description of having balls or being spunky—because I worked hard not to be such these days. I know, it’s only an expression, and I’m hypersensitive. Maybe I am, but I don’t like the expression anyway—it sounds a bit common to me. Oops, am I a snob? Oh well, can’t be perfect all the time.

I got my shopping home after getting rid of the magnate’s missus. Actually, she was a nice old trout, but I don’t fit in her universe and I’m sure as hell not going to act as her latest show and tell object or curiosity.

Simon was home when I lugged bags of shopping into the kitchen. “Where have you been Babes, I left you three hours ago?”

“I’d have thought it was blindingly obvious,” I retorted stuffing a bag of groceries in his arms.

“Oh, it doesn’t usually take three hours, does it?”

Only when I have you with me, “No, but I ran into Lady Townsend.”

“What, Malcolm’s wife?”

“Sounds like something from Macbeth,” I laughed.

“She’s a sweetie.”

“That sweetie added half an hour on to my shopping time, and she was trying to inveigle me into going to one of her dinner parties.”

“Trying? People kill to be invited.”

“Not this people, I declined pleading seven kids, one of whom I must feed or explode.”

“Milking time, is it?” he smirked.

“I wish just for a few hours you could experience what having heavily laden breasts feels like, let alone some little horror using them as teething aids.”

“I think I’ll pass on that one, if you don’t mind. I can’t say the desire to breast feed has ever been on my list of things to do.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” I teased.

“I think I’ll cope with the ignorance.”

“Can you finish unloading the groceries, I need to change.”

“Don’t ever change, Cathy—we all love you as you are.”

“If I don’t, I’m going to have milk marks on this suit jacket.” I kicked off my shoes and picked them up before running upstairs, my feet felt so relieved to be free of their torment.

Ten minutes later, dressed in a far more comfortable shirt and jeans, I had tiny wee clamped to my breast and a sense of fulfilment which transcended even hauling rich old biddies from rivers could.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1119

Simon came and watched me feeding the wee yin, and again I asked him if he’d not like to be able to do it. He shook his head, “Nah, I’m just waiting to see if there’s enough for my cornflakes.”

“One of these days, O lord and master,” I began but then thought better of it.

“One of these days what?” he queried.

“Ouch, you little bugger—can’t remember, next time I want one of these without teeth,” I indicated the little baggage suckling my breast.

“That would mean she’d have to suckle you for a long time.”

“Um—true, okay, I’ll have to put up with IT,” I squealed as she chewed on my nipple again—not helped by the way she giggled afterwards, mind you, so did Simon.

“Is there anything to recommend being a woman?” he asked.

“I could say the same about men,” I retorted, hoping he wouldn’t bring up that I’d tried and failed miserably.

“That’s where you fail to see the delights of watching all this sort of stuff and enjoying it, but as a spectator sport. Plus of course, I get to make love to a beautiful woman reasonably often.”

“Does she know about your wife and wains?”

“Um—maybe not,” he sighed, “dammit, if she finds out it’ll be over.”

“I won’t say anything then.”

“I’d appreciate that.”

“Mummy would you like a cuppa, ’cos Auntie Stella’s making one?”

“Thank you, Billie, I’d love one.”

“Don’t I get one?” Simon piped up as Billie was heading back to the kitchen.

“Sorry, Daddy, she didn’t tell me ask you as well.”

He sighed and shook his head, “I hope your convent can induce some brain activity, because it looks as if the state system signally failed.”

I hushed him, “She’s got a big enough inferiority complex now, don’t make it bigger.”

“Sorreeee,” he whispered back at me.

Stella came in with two mugs of tea, “Wotcha last slave die of then?” she demanded of Simon.

“I didn’t beat her enough, apparently.”

“At what?” she asked back as quick as a flash.

“Ludo,” he said and sighed again.

“I see girls outnumber boys in every aspect of academia except failure.”

“I think that research is sexist,” complained Simon.

“Sexist? How can that be?”

“It’s not comparing like with like.”

“Yes it is, it’s comparing the statistics relating to the number of boys and girls taking exams and getting university places.”

“So are you telling me that boys and girls are the same?”

“Not at all. The exams they take are though.”

“Still like comparing apples and pears.” Simon was on a wind up, and for once Stella hadn’t spotted it. Mind you, he was dancing on thin ice, not simply treading on it.

I listened, because I couldn’t go anywhere and also because it can be quite funny at times. Today it wasn’t and she stormed out in a huff, whereupon he dissolved in a fit of laughter.

“One of these days, you two’ll grow up somewhat.”

“Heaven forbid,” he shot back, “having a sister has got to give you some perks.”

“What’s happening at the bank?” I asked, wishing to learn what was going to happen with our latest appointee and latest vacancy.

“Hopefully, it’s making loadsa money, it’s what they do,” he said blithely, and sipped his tea.

“I mean with Erica’s job and Howard’s absence.”

“Oh yes, I’m glad you mentioned it—I’m afraid I’ve had to scrap your PA’s job and Erica will help by covering some of Howard’s duties—under supervision of course.”

“Oh, glad you mentioned it.”

“Well, I know she was a bit in awe of my beautiful wife, so I thought it better she if she worked with someone else.”

“Very funny,” I replied sarcastically.

“Well it’s only due to my good lady’s intervention that this girl has a job at all.”

I couldn’t argue with that could I? “D’you think she’ll work out about my past?”

“Dunno—I mean it’s there if she looks for it, but why should she?”

“How would I know? Like you said, it’s out there if you know where to look.”

“Besides, it’s all ancient history now—I mean, you’re legally female—so who cares? If it’s still an issue, bring the baby in with you, and sit and breastfeed in the lobby. That should silence any dissenters.”

“Or fire them up.”

“C’mon Cathy, this is old stuff, do we have to revisit it every five minutes? We all love and accept you, so who the hell else matters?”

“Sorry, I guess my self-acceptance isn’t as complete as I thought.”

“Surely the fact that I married you says something, doesn’t it?”

“I hope it meant you loved me.”

“Yes, but that I loved you as my woman—I’m not into marrying men.”

“Maybe you should try it—works for me,” I teased back.

He glowered back at me, “I think I’ll pass on that.”

“No fighting, you two,” said Stella passing by the door.

“We’re not. We’re discussing the fall out over Howard’s resignation,” I corrected her.

“What—Howard the bigot has resigned? That’s got to be good, hasn’t it?”

“He’s got HIV,” Simon added.

“Oh—not so good—he’s not gay is he?”

“No, he caught it from a prostitute in Nairobi.”

“Stupid man, serves him right.”

“I did try to point that out to him,” said Simon, “that he had no one but himself to blame.”

“How long ago was that?”

“About five years, why?”

“He should have known that most prostitutes in Africa carry HIV-AIDS.”

“He said she was absolutely beautiful,” I suggested.

“So is fly agaric, but I wouldn’t eat it—would you?” she replied.

Amanita muscaria? No thanks, although they used to in Siberia or somewhere up that way, they used to dry it and eat it then drink their own urine because it makes the hallucinogens even stronger.”

“Silly buggers—I s’pose it passed the odd long dark winter’s night.”

“Apparently, it’s where the idea of Father Christmas coming down chimneys comes from, because these shaman types lived in huts where the chimney was a doorway.”

“Ugh—apart from the alkyloids in the fungus, I wonder if they could see across the room through all the smoke.”

“I’ll bet it was draughty,” I switched the snoozing baby to my other breast.

“Can we talk about something much more interesting?” asked Simon.

“Like what?” snapped Stella.

“Like—what’re we having for dinner?”

“I hadn’t actually decided,” I said, moving the baby again.

“How about pizzas? Simon’s turn to pay,” chuckled Stella, dodging the cushion he flung at her.

“Careful, you nearly hit the grandfather clock,” I blushed—if he had, Tom would not have been pleased. Stella picked up the cushion and blushing, handed it back to her sibling.

“How about a Chinese take away?” asked Simon.

“Okay,” I agreed, “there’s a menu by the phone.”

“Nah, I’ll order the set meal for six, that’ll feed about ten,” which is what he did and very nice it was too, even if it did set him back a fair bit—but they did deliver and all I had to do was help clear up afterwards, so almost a night off for me—and that meant I had extra time to do some work on the survey around putting the kids to bed. All in all, a fairly successful day.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1120

Life in the fast lane—yeah, sure, the only problem is I’m in the fast lane of a motorway riding a bicycle. The weekend was over and suddenly I was carrying four girls to the convent school. Billie was understandably nervous, though Trish and Livvie were trying to support her, but I suspect they were making things worse. By the time we were actually parking, she was ashen-faced and trembling.

“Take deep breaths,” I was saying to her, while Trish was saying something else, so I sent the other three off to find their new classes while I stayed with Billie to calm her down.

Just by holding her and talking to her gently and calmly, she calmed down. Whether any blue light moved between us, who’s to say, but whatever happened: it worked and I walked holding her hand into the school and the headmistress’s office. She was welcomed by Sister Maria who led her off to her new classroom.

I was asked to wait for her to speak with me when she’d finished settling Billie in to her new class. I had no idea what it was about, and I was occupied with thinking about the girls having school meals instead of packed lunches. Jenny was happy to help me make them, but I felt they were all old enough to have school meals and to choose something reasonably nutritious.

Julie, much against my better judgement had managed to persuade Simon to sub her for one of those motor scooter things: it will only do a maximum of thirty miles an hour, but it was the only way we could get her to go to college. Of course, she could have used the bus but no, she wanted independence. I can understand her, but I don’t have to like it. I suppose I have a natural anxiety about those things—even more than motorbikes—they have relatively small wheels.

On Saturday while I was busy with the younger children, Julie sweet-talked her foster dad to have a look at one of those machines as Leon had managed to get a second-hand one. I think Simon even had a go on it, so he was hooked: then when she suggested he could borrow it if she wasn’t using it, he agreed to buy her one. Then the helmet and a suitable jacket with over trousers; I didn’t ask what it all cost. Simon wasn’t so pleased with a pink scooter and helmet—somehow I couldn’t see him borrowing it too often.

I told her it was her birthday and Christmas present combined, but I knew he was just as generous with the other children, and Leon said he’d ride with her the first few times.

I hoped college would do several things—the most obvious being teaching her a skill and continuing some form of education, because they had to do other bits and pieces like English and business studies which included some book-keeping and spreadsheet usage. Secondly, I hoped she’d make some new friends, as she had a relatively poor social life and whilst I didn’t want her out every night on the town or clubbing or whatever teenagers do these days, I did hope she’d have some fun as well as learning something.

Now the kids are back in school, Jenny’s hours have changed, so she’s off between ten and three on a Monday to Friday, unless the kids are on holiday. It was her suggestion. If I wanted her to do some housework as well, she’d be paid overtime which seemed reasonable. Because I made my child slaves do it at weekends, the place didn’t look too bad.

Maureen came and did some decorating for us, slapping some paint about in the kitchen and bathroom, which are largely tiled anyway, but the ceiling being painted made quite a difference except that the paint made me sneeze for days.

At three thirty, I collected the girls from school and Billie was gabbling nineteen to the dozen, about this girl and that, and her form mistress, Sister Antoinette was the best teacher she’d ever had. It seemed all the worry in the morning was simply anxiety about the unknown, even though she’s spent a morning there before and apparently with her future class.

Trish was not at all happy about playing football at her next games lesson, but I told her she had promised to try it. In contrast, Livvie couldn’t wait to try nor could Mima who wouldn’t be able to until her next year. Danny had promised to give them some lessons and I watched them on the back lawn, while he did all sorts of tricks with the ball and they stood and looked on in awe.

Finally, they had a go and he had them kicking the ball to each other, passing I think they call it. Trish seemed to have two left feet and I wasn’t sure if it was a deliberate affectation, especially when he mocked her and she kicked the ball straight at him and into Tom’s greenhouse. Talk about Bend it like Beckham.

Afterwards, I asked her to try it for a term and if she really didn’t like it, she could do something else. She agreed, amazingly with no conditions attached. Billie wanted to do cycling instead of football or hockey, but that wasn’t allowed, the grounds didn’t have a cycle path round them and riding on the road was too dangerous, so she’d have to do that with me when I had time available.

The headmistress had asked me to stay to do her a favour. She wanted to do a showing of my dormouse film and then have me answer questions afterwards. This was fundraiser so parents and other riff raff were invited. I suggested I did it more or less the same as I’d done for Sussex university, with out-takes and bloomers on a DVD. She jumped at the offer. She proposed selling tickets at five pounds each, to which I suggested that they should be numbered and I’d provide three copies of my dormouse film for a draw afterwards. She overruled that and proposed a raffle as well with my film as the top prizes.

“No one is going to pay a fiver to hear me embarrass myself,” I declared in disbelief.

“Oh yes they will, if the Holy Father himself came, we wouldn’t get a bigger turnout.”

“Oh come off it, of course you would.”

“Nah, he’s not that popular with many Catholics, partly because of his handling of the paedophile priests, and partly because of his background—he’s a reactionary, and we need to move forward.”

“Well, I thought he was sold out over the weekend.”

“He’s not as funny to watch as you.”

“How d’you know that?”

“Speech day, if you remember? You enthralled them all and it was actually the PTA who suggested we ask you to come and talk to us again. Some of them are still chuckling about it.”

“Was it that bad, then?” I asked hanging my head.

“No, Lady C, it was that good.” I wondered if she’d been to the same talk that I was at.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1121

On the Tuesday, Jenny did most of the breakfast stuff while I emailed Alan to see if he had any more outtakes he could do for me. He replied, saying he’d look and see what he could do.

I took the girls to school and Danny went off to catch the bus. I always felt a little guilty that he went off on his own, and spent so much time on his own compared to the girls, who were like a pack of hyenas—they spent much of the time squabbling amongst themselves or giggling like demented pixies.

I did offer to take him for a ride in the mornings before school if he wanted, but he decided he wasn’t that keen, but I did promise him one for the weekend, depending upon the forecast. He was still using Stella’s bike and she seemed to let him borrow it as he wanted it.

Trish had more or less healed from her DIY surgery, and she grumbled about playing football, which she’d have to do today. Livvie in contrast, was well up for it. I took Trish aside and explained to her that I knew she could play much better than she pretended, and I wanted her to do her best when she did play.

“But Mummy, it’s a boy’s game,” she protested.

“Are you playing against boys?”

“No, I s’pose not.”

“So it’s a girl’s game, and I want you to try your hardest. You’ll be at no advantage in having a sort of boy’s body, because at your age the sexes are very similar and when it’s time for puberty, they’ll be giving you a female one anyway. So get stuck in, the girls playing with you won’t be taking prisoners, so play as if you wanted to win. I know you can—so stop messing about—okay?”

“All right,” she sighed, “Don’t keep on about it.”

“I just want you to enjoy it as a game. It’s just that—a game, and increasingly is being played by women.”

“Okay, I said I’d try a bit harder.”

“No Trish, you said you’d do your best, and I’m holding you to that promise.”

She shrugged again and went off to join the others.

I didn’t feel I was bullying her, because I knew that she was holding back, hoping it didn’t make her seem too boyish. I hoped I’d shown her that it wouldn’t be boyish to do her best.

I pottered about mainly doing the mammal survey. Someone had sent in lovely photos of fallow deer, but they were from a deer park in Dorset, so they didn’t count in our survey. Another sent some pics of red deer from Leighton Moss RSPB reserve and they most certainly did count.

Red deer are the largest of the deer resident in the British Isles and are more common the further north you go, although I think they occur on Exmoor. They are so called because the colour of their coats is a rufous brown, and a big stag can be quite an awesome sight with five or more tines, and weighing up to 500 pounds, is a formidable animal especially to another stag. I have a vague recollection that while they’re growing antlers they don’t produce testosterone, but the antlers are caused by testosterone—so the biochem is quite complex. Some are unable to produce antlers, and are called hummels and one with antlers but no tines is called a switch. That’s about all I can remember, oh, and they would have been the deer hunted by Robin Hood, if he existed. Mind you, it would take some arrow to bring down a large stag, seeing as accuracy with long bows was poor, maybe they weren’t at as much risk as films and folklore would have us believe.

I’ve tried firing a long bow, and apart from having to be built like a circus strongman and be about seven feet tall, you’d be lucky to hit the castle, let alone anyone in it deliberately. The success of the longbow was its rate of fire: a mediaeval archer could loose an arrow every six seconds, so it was like machine gun fire. And they were often deformed, having a larger arm on one side than the other—a bit like tennis players and fiddler crabs, plus they could shoot an arrow a couple of hundred yards. In the mythology of archery, there is a report of a Welsh archer attacking a Norman castle, putting an arrow through a four-inch oak door and the hand of the defender trying to close it. It was Welsh archers who slaughtered the French knights at Agincourt and Harfleur and contributed to the English victory. The two-fingered wave usually seen as gesture of some rudeness is said to originate from archers waving to French soldiers—who cut off their first and second fingers to render them useless as bowmen. Another suggestion is that it was done by poachers against landowners, who would enact equally horrible punishments, such as chopping off fingers or putting out eyes. Lovely people our ancestors.

I collected the girls and Livvie was full of the football game, especially as her sister had scored a hat trick of goals. Trish was unusually quiet about her achievements so I left it until we were home and I asked her to help me in the kitchen, conveniently closing the door on the others. We have an unwritten rule, if the kitchen door is shut—keep out—Mum’s in a bad mood or doesn’t want to be disturbed.

“I hear you scored three goals: well done, young lady.”

“Yeah—it’s all your fault.”

“My fault? You scored them.”

“You made me promise to try my best.”

“Yes I did, and I’m glad you did—I’m really proud of you, my big girl.” I gave her a hug and she began to cry. “What’s the matter, poppet?”

“They want me to play for the school team.”

“Well that’s an honour, isn’t it?”

“But what if someone says I was a boy?”

“Let’s deal with that if and when it happens. In a couple of years or so, you’ll be starting low dosage hormones, which will make your body very female as you grow. As it is, your body won’t produce many male hormones now thanks to your DIY job, so you’ll have more oestrogens going around than testosterone.”

“Is that good, Mummy?”

“I don’t know, we’ll have to get advice on that, but I suspect it will start to make you less and less male as you get older, and then the supplement of medicinal hormones will certainly make you look and feel female.”

“Is that what happened to you, Mummy?”

“Sort of, if I was red deer, I’d be a hummel, one without antlers, because my body didn’t seem to recognise testosterone, so I remained neutral or slightly girlish in my body size and shape until I started hormones, which caused me to have a puberty in my late teens early twenties.”

“I think you look really nice, Mummy, I hope I grow up like you—into a proper lady.”

“Um…” I blushed in response. “Shall we get this dinner on the go?” I said, changing the subject.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1122

“Where’s Danny?” I asked the girls, after Trish and I got the dinner on the go.

“Daddy went to collect him,” said Livvie, barely looking up from her computer.

“Oh, and would someone care to tell me why?”

“He was playing football for the school,” offered Billie, “He did tell you—anyhow, Daddy went to watch him.”

“Oops, I clean forgot,” I blushed and felt so guilty.

“Does that mean you’d have dirty remembered?” queried our very own genius.

“Eh?” I asked absently, and dashed back to the kitchen. I’d written something on the calendar, I’m sure I had. I checked—oh shit, he is too. Damn, it’ll be over now.

Moments later Tom appeared, followed by Simon and Danny. “Hello, sweetheart, how did you get on?” I asked my son.

“As if you cared,” he said dumping his bag on the kitchen floor and running up the stairs.

“I forgot,” I mouthed to Simon.

He nodded, “I only remembered because Tom reminded me.”

“I’ve got so out of meetings and diaries, I must be more disciplined.”

“Let’s face it Babes, you’re busy much of the time. Anyway, the good news is, I’m relocating the office to Portsmouth.”

“Oh, are you?”

“I thought you’d be pleased—Dad wasn’t.”

“Well, of course I’m pleased—especially if that means you’ll be home more often.”

“That’s the idea Babes, now shall I go and have a word with that young man?”

“If you could that it would be wonderful—but don’t be hard on him will you, he’s finding it tough at the moment in a household which is rather skewed towards females.”

“Nah, I was gonna do some male bonding with him, and tell him that you do get very busy and can’t remember everything.”

“Thank you, darling.” I kissed him and we hugged before he went up to see Danny and I checked the dinner.

Trish laid the table in the kitchen and I began to dish up, sending one of the girls up to tell Simon that dinner was served. He came down a couple of minutes later with Danny, who looked rather tearful.

I placed my hand on his shoulder, “Is everything okay, sweetheart?”

He hugged me and apologised for being rude earlier. I glared at Simon who simply shrugged and shook his head—implying he wasn’t responsible for this.

I asked Stella to continue dishing up whilst I walked Danny out of the kitchen and into the dining room. “Are you sure everything is all right?”

“Yes Mummy, I’m sorry I was cheeky earlier—but I so wanted you at my football game.”

“I’m sorry sweetheart, it went completely out of my head—next time apart from writing it on the calendar, can you remind me the day before?”

“I did, Mummy,” he rolled his eyes, “you even packed my kit for me, didn’t you?”

“No, that wasn’t me.” If it was, I’m worse than I thought. “I think Jenny might have done it for you.”

“Oh, I thought you had, because of the chocolate bar wrapped in my towel.”

“No, I told Jenny that I always do that for all of you. Anyway, what happened with your match?” I asked him.

“We lost, but I scored a goal, they got a penalty in extra time—their player dived too.”

“Tell me about the goal you scored,” I insisted and he did. In the end, he had to cut it short because all the others were waiting to tuck into their steak and kidney casserole, so we had to go back to the table. He seemed to cheer up after that, so when he was told about Trish scoring her hat trick, he was suitably impressed and actually praised her.

I heard them talking after dinner was over, I was cleaning up in the kitchen and I don’t think they were aware I could hear them.

“You scored three goals—you musta changed, if anyone passed a ball anywhere near you at the home, you’d scream and run away.”

“So? I didn’t feel like it then.”

“You do now then, do you?”

“Not really, but Mummy made me promise to do my best—I did.”

“Yeah, but that’s against girls,” Danny brought her down to reality.

“Yeah so? I’m a girl too, remember?”

“Yeah, I know, but you weren’t in them days.”

“I was, or wanted to be—they kept confiscating any girl’s stuff I had.”

“You stole it from the other girls.”

“It was the only way I could get some.”

“It was still theft, Trish.”

“All right, already—what else was I supposed to do? No one would believe me until Nora came, she was a bit better.”

“Seeing as she got you one or two things and allowed you to wear them and stopped the other kids beating you up, I think things were a lot easier.”

“Yeah, until I like, came here, and Mummy and the other grown-ups were just so nice. D’you know I’ve never been a boy in this house?”

“Yeah, whatever turns you on. Still, three goals—pretty good going.”

“Except, they like, want me to play for the school team next week.”

“’Course they do.”

“I don’t wanna, like do it.”

“Why not? You could get school colours by the summer.”

“Don’t wannem.”

“Why not?”

“What if people start to say I’m a boy?”

“Oh yeah—I forgot—will that ever be finished?”

“Not till I’ve had surgery to make me like Mummy.”

“If you’re as pretty as Mummy, I’ll ask you out myself.”

At this point I found it necessary to go out to the utility room and load the washing machine before my head got too big to get through the door.

“Babes,” called Simon from the kitchen.

“I’m doing the laundry.”

“Where did I put my watch?”

“Wherever you left it.”

“I know that—but where was that?”

“You put it down Simon, why am I supposed to know where it is?”

“Do you know where it is?”

“Yes, on the window sill by the kitchen sink.”

“See, I knew you’d know.”

“Yes, dear.” I only knew because I’d shifted it when I wiped down the sink and draining boards—which was where he’d left it, stupid man.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1123

“D’you think Danny is okay?” I asked Simon when were in bed that night.

“How d’you mean?”

“Is he happy here?”

“As much as any eleven-year-old adopted child can be, why?”

“I wonder if we’re failing him.”

“How—he gets all he needs plus some, loads of kids get less.”

“He doesn’t get as much of our attention as he’d like.”

“None of ’em do, Babes; let’s face it, apart from that little baggage over in the corner, none of them do, they’d all have your undivided attention all day long if they could.”

“I know that, darling, but he seems to come off worst much of the time: the girls are easier to cater for because it’s almost like dealing with a herd of them, whereas he’s alone much of the time.”

“He’s got Tom here if he wants a man’s company, and I’m here at weekends—soon to be most nights.”

“Most nights? I thought you’d be home every night?”

“If I’m home every night, how am I supposed to see my piece of fluff?”

I sat up and hit him, “Your what?” I said loudly, hitting him again for good measure.

“Ouch, I was only joking—stop hitting me—ouch.”

“You rat—that’s not a joke,” I spat and hit him again.

“Ouch, stop it,” he grabbed my hand, pushed me flat on my back on the bed and began to lie on top of me.

“Get off, you big lump,” I complained while he attempted to kiss me. Obviously his plan was to indulge in a play fight, culminating in a quick bit of passion—however his planning and application were slightly adrift, and he either leant too far over or I’m stronger than he thought, because a moment later he ended up lying on his back on the bedroom carpet.

“Do you realise that is about the second or third time you’ve knocked me out of bed?” he said, after getting his breath back.

“Is it? If you’ve woken the baby, it could go up to four times,” I asserted.

“Is that a threat, missus?”

“I’d have said it was more of a promise.” I stopped talking almost holding my breath as a couple of soft whimpers emanated from the carrycot. They stopped a moment later.

There were a few more a minute later, and I got out of bed to see if she’d lost her dummy: she had, and I checked it for fluff and popped it back in her mouth, she sucked on it hard for a few seconds and seemed to settle back off to sleep.

“Is she all right?” asked Simon who continued to sprawl on the floor.

“Look, if you’re going to play at rugs, shouldn’t you be lying on your stomach?” I observed.

“Gee thanks, never mind the fact that I’ve fractured half my ribs and vertebrae.”

“Si, if you’d even bruised a few ribs you’d be rolling about in agony.”

“Some of us are simply born tougher than others.”

“And more stupid,” I said to myself.

“And more—what did you say?”

“I was agreeing with you, darling, you know as your little woman, I always do,” I said, and fell onto the bed giggling.

I heard him getting up off the floor, “My little woman—my arse. You’re the most argumentative baggage I know.”

“Meee? I’m not,” I continued laughing, “I’m a good girl, I am.”

He leant over me and began to tickle me, that was it—I squealed and giggled helplessly, trying to struggle to get off the bed because I was in danger of wetting myself—which was when my foot accidently made contact with his nether regions and he groaned then disappeared from view.

Initially, I didn’t realise what had happened, then finally managing to sit up, I saw him rolling about on the bedroom floor holding his groin. “What’s the matter?”

“You kicked me, you silly cow, that’s what.”

“I kicked you? Did I? Oops. Sorry about that—but you know I don’t like being tickled.”

“I do now, shit, this hurts.”

“Here, let me help you up,” I offered him a hand, whereupon he grabbed me and pulled me on top of him. “Works every time,” he declared, perhaps a moment too soon, because as I fell my knee caught him fair and square in his nadgers and this time there was no play acting, his rolling about trying to breathe was real. Naturally, being concerned, I couldn’t move for laughing and my bra having slipped in the struggle, he had milk running down his face, which made me laugh even louder and is what finally woke the baby up.

I quickly helped Simon up and then went to the loo, finally picking up tiny wee and feeding her. While he was a bit sore, a bruise was beginning to show, so he had the last laugh. He took a painkiller and went back to bed and sleep, whereas I was still feeding my brat half an hour later, because she’d suck twice and go to sleep, but woke immediately if I tried to put her back down in her cot.

I have no idea what time it was when I got back to bed. I was shattered and slept almost as soon as my head touched the pillow.

”Unless you start behaving, Danny, you give me no alternative but to send you back to the home.” I was giving him what for. He seemed older and much bigger, towering over me by two or three inches and much broader. He’d been smashing the place up—mainly his own stuff, but his room would need redecorating again. This was the second time he’d smashed up his room.

“Yeah, an’ what if I don’t wanna go?”

“I’m not prepared to allow you to destroy the house like this, you’re frightening the girls and me.”

“You? Ha—you’re not frightened of anything.”

“I am, I’m frightened of losing any of you.”

“That’s why you’re going to un-adopt me, is it?”

“I won’t do that, but I have to make you understand, you can’t do things like this without some sort of sanction.”

“You’ll be telling me you love me, next.”

“Danny, I do love you—I love all of my children.”

“No you don’t, you only love your girls or girly-boys, you don’t love me ’cos I don’t wanna be a girl.”

“Please, Danny, I do love you. This is all just because I missed that one football match.”

“Yeah, see if you’d cared, you’d have remembered.”

“I had a lot going on, Danny, I didn’t do it deliberately—to begin with, Billie had only started a new school the day before, and Trish was giving me grief over playing football. Plus the baby and the school asking me to do a talk, and my survey stuff—I was simply overloaded.”

“You still could have come to watch me.”

“If I’d remembered, yes, I could have seen some of your game—but I was too stressed to remember.”

“Well let this stress you, then.” He picked up a chair and threw it at me. I felt it hit my head and it threw me backwards down the stairs…

“Stop struggling Babes, it’s just a bad dream.” I heard Simon’s voice and I relaxed. “Come on wake up, you’re okay, just a bad dream.”

“Oh, it was horrid,” I said sobbing against him, “I must make more effort with Danny or we’re going to have trouble with him.”

“Hey, Babes, I’m here now, I’ll see he’s okay—promise, scout’s honour and all that.”

“You weren’t in the guides,” I mumbled, and slipped back into sleep.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1124

The next morning, I felt like—well let’s say I knew what a bit of wet rag feels like. I struggled to rouse the girls and of course trouble woke up too, and I hadn’t expressed any milk. Plan B, Jenny gets them up while I feed the baby, if necessary, she can take them to school as well.

I couldn’t do very much to help with a baby clamped to my tit, but I did call up to Danny, to make sure he was up. Sitting in the bedroom, I suddenly realised Simon wasn’t here. The dozy git had got himself up and out without waking me. No wonder I love him.

Danny looked in as he came downstairs—he saw me feeding guzzles, and apologised. I called him back and he didn’t look too happy. “Can you spare a minute?” I asked him.

“Um—yeah, okay.”

“Shut the door.” He did as I requested.

“I’m really sorry I missed your match last evening.”

“Yeah okay, is that it?”

“Not quite,” I said and he sighed. “Look we seem to have developed a problem with our relationship. I didn’t see it coming and I want to sort it as soon as we can. How d’you feel?”

He shrugged, “A bit left out most of the time.”

“You need to muscle in, don’t let the girls have it all their own way.”

“Yeah, but then you tell me off.”

I blushed, “Okay, I’ll try not to in future. I do love you, you know.”

“Yeah okay, I’ve gotta go.” He dashed out of my room and shut the door behind him. I felt a bit sad, I wasn’t sure I’d achieved what I wanted, which was a repair job—to build bridges between us. He tolerated my request rather than acceded to it. I wasn’t sure what to do next.

“Cathy,” called Stella, “I’ll take the girls, I need to go into town.”

“Okay, are you taking, Pud?”

“Yeah, nothing for you to do—see ya later.” I heard the car start up and drive off. I changed my baby, and took her downstairs where Jenny was washing up—well loading the machine.

“Oops—sorry Cathy, nearly forgot you.”

“Danny trying to do that is bad enough.”

“Oh, he’s still touchy is he?”

“Very, and I don’t know what to do next.”

“I think you’re doing really well as it is…”

We were interrupted by Julie dashing off to her scooter thing. She stopped, pecked me on the cheek and shouted, “Byeeeeeee,” as she went. Her scooter went putt-putt down the drive.

I made myself a cuppa and some toast which I ate with a banana. I wasn’t really hungry but I knew I’d be growling—or my tummy would—long before lunch.

“Anything you want me to do?” asked Jenny.

“I was going to strip my bed, I got some milk on the sheets.”

“I’ll do that, you look shattered.”

“I am—she woke up in the night and took ages to feed.”

“Oh, poor you.” I was in mid munch, so she’d run up the stairs before I could reply. I washed down the toast with my tea and I don’t remember nodding off, but I did, because Jenny woke me bringing the washing down. “Catching forty winks?” she smiled at me.

I yawned and nodded. I had a million things to do and was just engaging body and brain into the same manoeuvre when the doorbell rang. Thinking it was Stella forgetting her key again—she regularly does it—I opened the door. It was the postman.

I signed for the package for Tom, and took the half a dozen letters which accompanied it, all wrapped up in a red rubber band—you see discarded ones all over the UK, showing that we still have some sort of postal service, until it’s privatised.

In amongst my three letters was a DVD from Alan and note:

‘Dear Cathy,
I found a few more funnies including the one of you running round squealing with the large moth caught in your hair, the one of me stepping on the adder and it trying to bite through my boot, and you falling off the log across the stream—that’s a classic.

I await your schedule for harvest meeces.

Love,

Alan.’

I shoved the disc in my computer and cringed through the fifteen minutes of its showing. I’ll see what the kids think of it later: they’ll probably love it. I didn’t realise I was so girly when that moth got stuck in my hair—all I could hear was a whirring noise and felt this horrible sensation in my hair—ugh, it still makes me cringe. The one where I swallowed the insect was quite funny in retrospect. There I was doing my presenter bit, talking to camera and this stupid fly or whatever it was flew straight into my mouth and practically got inhaled. I stopped and coughed and coughed and coughed. Alan had to give me a drink of water—yuck, fresh killed insect.

I made Jenny and I some scrambled eggs for lunch—officially she was off duty but we were chatting so she stayed for lunch. She went off to see her boyfriend in the afternoon—he’s in the Royal Navy, I think. She doesn’t say and I don’t ask, when she’s ready she’ll tell me.

Stella called to say she was going to be coming back about the time the girls came out of school, would I like her get them. I grabbed it with both hands. I cleared up the lunch and felt a bit better, then dashed into town and got Danny a little present. I know it could be seen as buying his affection, but it isn’t, it’s something he will use. I got back just before he did and left it on his bed—so he wouldn’t see it until later.

He came in and I asked him how school had been, he shrugged and grunted. “I need some new footie boots Mum, can I have some?”

“If a please finds its way into your request, I’d think it was highly possible.”

“Yeah okay, pretty please with knobs on, may I have a new pair of football boots?” I glanced at the kitchen clock—“It’s only just four, c’mon, we’ll dash into town—or there’s that sports place out on the industrial estate, we’ll go there it’s quicker.”

I grabbed my bag and car keys, scribbled a note for Stella and dragged him off to the sports emporium. If I’d known his soccer boots would cost me nearly a hundred quid, I wouldn’t have bothered with the other prezzie. But there you go, that is life.

We got home and he had a grin from ear to ear, he’d got the Adidas boots he wanted—like David Beckham’s or some such thing. When he went upstairs, he shouted for joy and the girls went rushing to see what had happened—he came down in his favourite club football jersey—his other present.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1125

“I see the fairies must have been,” I smirked, seeing Danny so pleased with himself.

“Thank you Mum,” he gave me a huge hug.

“How d’you know it was me?”

“’Cos I do.”

I hugged him back, “Well don’t tell the others, they’ll all want one.”

“No I won’t,” spouted Trish, “stupid football—I hate it,” she added, and went out of the room.

“This is probably a guess, but I get a distinct impression that your sister doesn’t like football.”

Danny thought that was hugely funny and burst out laughing. “Yeah, but she’s like, quite good at it.”

“One of life’s little ironies.”

“What’s an irony, Mum?”

“It’s when things seem to happen that are opposite to what they should be, so it’s ironic that Trish is good at football but hates playing it.”

“Hey, that’s clever having a special word for it.”

“It’s been about for a long, long time, I think the root of the word is Greek meaning pretended ignorance, or something like that.”

“You’re so clever, Mum.”

“No I’m not; you confuse a good education with intellect. I had the former, I’m somewhat lacking in the latter.”

He went off shaking his head, so I think that went over his head, but at least he has some idea of what irony is.

I went in search of Trish who was doing her homework. The others had gone off somewhere else and I could hear giggling coming from upstairs. “How’s the down below, now?”

“Okay, thank you Mummy—it hasn’t hurt since they took the stitches out.” It worried me that the skin would shrink and be less for them to make labia from—but she made a decision to lose her testes and unfortunately will have to live with the consequences, for good or bad. I know that’s tough on a six-year-old, but sadly they couldn’t stick them back in.

“What homework are you doing?”

“Geography, we have to fill in the answers to questions.”

“Like what?”

“Which country has water features called fiords?”

“And which one has?” I asked her.

“Norway, that’s right isn’t it?”

“It is, but they also have them in Denmark, because I’ve sailed along one.”

“Oh, they never told us that.”

“Norway is the one with the spectacular scenery along the fiords, so I’d leave it like that.”

“I shall ask our teacher tomorrow,” she said, “Any of the others wrong?”

I glanced through them, “No they look fine to me.”

“Good, thank you Mummy.”

“You make me smile, girl.”

“Why?”

“Well you’re so competitive, but you don’t like doing it at sport, do you?”

“No, that’s for boys.”

“You tell that to Victoria Pendleton or Nicole Cooke.”

“I ’spect they’re clever as well.”

“Oh yes, they sure are.”

“Are you competi-wotsit?”

“Yes, I like to win when I enter something.”

“So maybe I take after you, Mummy.”

Sure you do—can hardly be an inherited factor—“Maybe, anyway, if you’ve finished you can lay the table for me.”

“What are we having, I’m starrrrrrrrrvin’?”

“Dromedary giblets on black bread, why?”

“Ewwwwww,” she said wrinkling up her face.

“Do you know how difficult it is to get bits of dead camel in Portsmouth?” I kept a straight face but she was screwing hers up in disgust.

“I don’t care, I’d rather have bread and jam than dromdy wibbles, or whatever you said, and I don’t mind brown bread, but black bread sounds horrible.”

“Okay, you can have a bit of bread and butter,” I said, trying to get to the kitchen before I started to laugh.

“What’s f’tea, Mummy?”

“Forty is two twenties, why?”

“No—for tea, Mummy?”

“I told you, forty is two twenties.”

Livvie was starting to get irritated by my apparent stupidity, “Muuuuummy, don’t be so silly, what are we going to eat for our tea?”

“I’m being silly, well it made you think how to rephrase the question, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, so?” she shrugged.

“It challenges you to speak more correctly and to be more explicit in your questions.”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, and I almost saw my statement go washing over her head without her taking any of it on board.

“We’re havin’ dromdy wiggles or something, aren’t we, Mummy? I’m not, I’m havin’ bread and butter.”

“What’s dromdy wiggles?” asked Livvie.

“Bits of dead camel.”

“Yuck, that sounds like, totally disgusting. Can I have bread and butter too, Mummy?”

“If you wish.” I left the two of them chatting together while I finished the grated cheese which was going on the jacket potatoes. Dromdy wiggles indeed.

I quickly placed a salad garnish on each plate, popped the potato in the middle, sprinkled on the cheese and began carrying them to the table. I called them all once the first plates were on the table and they arrived in dribs and drabs afterwards.

“This isn’t dromdy wiggles,” stated Trish.

“Would you prefer them?” I shot back at her.

“Um, no thank you, silly Mummy.”

“What on earth are dromdy wiggles?” asked Stella, trying to work out what Trish had mashed this time.

“Bits of dead camel,” offered Livvie.

“You mean dromedary something or others?”

“Dromedary,” said Trish, “Could be? Is that right, Mummy?”

“Absolutely.”

“Are they the one or two humped camels?” Stella enquired.

“Dromedaries are single humps—they also call them Arabian camels—the others are Bactrian.”

“Are they?” Stella wasn’t up on exotic ruminants. Then she said to Trish, “If a dromedary has one hump, and a Bactrian has two, what do you call a camel with three humps?”

“Pretty uncomfortable, I ’spect.”

“No, Humphrey.”

“Why Humphrey, Auntie Stella?” asked Livvie.

“Three humps—hump-free—hump-three, now do you get it?”

“Oh yes, Auntie Stella, that is so clever,” Livvie beamed at her auntie.

“Have you ever tasted camel milk cheese?” I asked Stella.

“Ugh, no.” She made a funny face and the kids laughed like mad at her.

“This isn’t camel’s cheese is it?” asked Danny poking at his potato.

“No, this is ordinary mousetrap,” I replied.

“Mousetrap, eeeewwwch,” said the girls in unison.

“Camel cheese is very difficult to get, because it’s difficult to make, it’s very low in cholesterol.”

“Yeah, okay—I’ll stick to this, thank you,” said Stella.

“Tomorrow, we’re having wallaby steaks,” I teased the girls.

“Wobbly steaks?” Trish’s eyes were like saucers, “What, you mean they wobble?” Before I could answer they were all giggling including Stella, who was shaking her head and tears were rolling down her face, so I guess she found that rather funny.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1126

Simon was back in London and I missed him: the bed felt cold when I got back into it after feeding the baby. I still love doing it, but it is taking its toll of me. I seem perpetually knackered. I only had just got back into bed and the bloody radio seemed to come on, grrrr some days I just hate Jim Naughtie. I mean he has to get up about four o’clock every morning, how can he be that cheerful and alert? Maybe he’s on something more than strong tea or coffee?

I rolled out of bed and staggered to the loo. Then got in the shower before I realised I hadn’t taken my knickers off. Oh sod it. Usually it’s earrings or my watch—which thankfully is water resistant. I did once go in there wearing my nightie, but that was proving a point to Simon so was deliberate on my part, although he still doesn’t know that—you know what men are like.

I dried myself off and rinsed off my knickers in the washbasin, wrung them out and left them to drip dry over the bath. After chucking on some clothes I woke the girls and sorted them after they showered, by which time I’d combed my hair out and tied it back in a ponytail. Once dried and in their undies, I blow dried their hair and styled it very simply. Trish and Livvie like ponytails, while Billie has two pigtails. They finished dressing while I dried my own hair, re-tied it up and went down to feed them.

Danny usually gets up whilst I’m sorting the girls, in that way he’s quite good. Julie is supposed to get him up, but it’s normally the other way round—he wakes her. I gave him a quick hug while the girls were squabbling over their cereal. He was pleased, he was taking his new football boots to school for a training session.

While they were all eating and talking, I expressed some milk for the baby and left it in the fridge. I managed to drink a cuppa while I did so, and scoffed a slice of toast as we walked down the drive to the car—Meems holding my other hand, Billie carrying my handbag and Trish running on ahead to zap the locks so we could get in.

We drove through the rush hour traffic, full of four-wheel drives containing one child and driven by a twenty something woman, presumably the mother. The road works cost us a few minutes and did nothing for my temper, when as I was pulling out past the temporary traffic lights a motor bike came screaming past us horn blaring. I didn’t see him coming and I still believe I had right of way. He obviously came up the outside of the traffic queue and pushed his way past us. I was fuming—I mean, I could have knocked him off—or worse, scratched my paintwork.

I know we all get impatient, and on my bicycle, I do occasionally work my way past queues of traffic, but not when someone is pulling out. The last time I rode on my own, I nearly got doored by an obese middle aged lard-ball, who opened his car door without looking in his mirror. He didn’t like my greeting too much either, the fat moron—I expect he was going to get his newspaper and fags. He probably lives about two minutes walk away from the shop, silly man—the exercise would do him good—on second thoughts it might prolong his life, so forget that.

I walked the girls into school and after they’d gone off to their respective classes, I went to see the headmistress. “Ah, Lady C, how nice to see you—we have a date for your talk.”

“Do we? When is it?” I asked, temporarily having forgotten about it.

“Friday the twenty-sixth of November.”

“A week before my birthday—yeah okay, what time?”

“Seven o’clock, so some of the kids can come and see it.”

“Fine, I haven’t got my diary with me,” and before I could say out-takes, she’d scribbled it very neatly on a piece of paper and handed it to me.

“From your surprise, I take it that wasn’t why you’d come to see me?”

“Um—no, it was Trish’s games lessons.”

“Ah yes, the Wayne Rooney of St Claire’s.”

“She doesn’t like playing it.”

“What? According to my games teacher, she was one of the few girls who seemed to have some idea of what soccer is about. Most of them run round in circles giggling.”

“They are only six years old.”

“Yes, but she could be the star of our team.”

“I don’t think so—she said she hated it and only did her best because I made her promise to.”

“Oh, I see—d’you mind if I speak with her about this, perhaps at lunchtime?”

“Not at all, but if she’s really unhappy, I think I’d like to see what other games are available.”

“I take it she won’t like rugby either?” said the headmistress very quietly and sniggered.

“Rugby? I hope you’re joking.”

She nodded laughing so much she couldn’t speak. Once sanity returned, we discussed options. Hockey, or field hockey as they call it across the pond, was the other main winter game, with netball a second choice—they apparently play a basics game called First Step Netball and go on to High Five Netball once they’ve got the idea of the game—it’s a five-a-side game instead of the usual seven in the more grown up form.

I left it to the headmistress to speak with Trish, who would then tell me what she’d like to do. Netball brought back memories of humiliation in school. I think I mentioned that I refused to cut my hair and dyed it bright auburn for the Lady Macbeth thing I did. Well, they made me wear women’s clothes to school during the play’s run including the week before, from the dress rehearsal—so I could acclimatise to wearing skirts. If it hadn’t been so public a humiliation, I could have quite enjoyed myself, and getting ready before school and after getting home, I kept my school uniform on—it was made up of stuff from the lost property in the girl’s school.

Of course wearing a skirt meant I was exempt games, to avoid bullying in the changing rooms, or so I thought. Instead, I was told to go over to the girl’s school to play netball. They provided the little skirt and passion killer knickers all in navy, plus a top. I protested and was escorted to the girl’s school by a teacher who made derogatory remarks the whole way, including suggesting I stay with the girls once I got there. I asked him if he was going to play Lady Macbeth in my absence. He nearly struck me.

The girl’s PE mistress thought it was real hoot to have a boy, dressed as a girl, playing netball. Never having played it before, I was total rubbish—I kept getting my feet wrong, stepping out of circles and so on, including dropping the ball several times. Altogether, I went three times and each time I came away almost in tears. However, being totally pig-headed, I wasn’t going to back down and wearing the netball kit and the school uniform really pissed off my dad, who thought being made to wear them would cure me of my girlish tendencies. Did it hell? No way.

I sat for a few moments before driving home, thinking about my school days—Tom Brown’s they definitely weren’t and I sincerely hoped that Trish would do better than I did if she plays netball. My experience couldn’t have been any worse if I’d been asked to go to cheerleading with a girls’ squad.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1127

I eventually pulled myself together and drove home after my reverie. I needed to make some more bread amongst other things. I made a new loaf and after a few more chores lunched with Jenny and Stella on tuna salad. I fed the wee yin, and put her down after playing and talking to her. She’s becoming much more responsive and gurgles when she sees me. I suppose she thinks I’m a walking milk churn.

Stella had some shopping to do and offered to pick up the girls as she had to pass the school. I accepted her offer and soon after she went, I set off to collect Danny from his school, something I don’t think I’ve done more than very occasionally. It was raining and I knew he’d be pleased to see me.

I parked as near as I could and watched for him but didn’t see him exit the building at all. He wasn’t at the bus stop, so where was he—football practice? I waited around and there was no sign of him—I was now feeling very concerned.

I walked into the building and there were now very few people about at all. It felt so strange to be in a relatively modern school and feel a total detachment from it. My own was an old building and wholly inadequate but we managed. How I’d manage in this place, I didn’t like to think. It had no character or soul—that was it, no soul to the place, no genius.

“Can I help you?” said a quiet voice from behind me but it made me jump all the same.

“Yes, I’m looking for my son, Danny Maiden.”

The voice belonged to quite an attractive middle-aged man who was running his eye up and down me with an expression declaring me to either be older than I looked or to be lying. “Daniel Maiden, hmmm, I think he’s in detention, please wait here I’ll be straight back.” He walked off briskly up the corridor leaving me to ponder why Danny was in detention—I hoped it wasn’t fighting again.

No more than five minutes later, the man returned with Danny. I knew something was amiss when Danny refused eye contact with me—was it just a bit of embarrassment?

“Would you care to come into my office for a moment, Mrs Maiden?” and he led us through a door marked, R E Edwards, Deputy Headmaster.

He indicated I should sit and Danny was made to sit beside me. “Well, Mrs Maiden…”

“I’m not Mrs Maiden, my name is Cameron, Danny is adopted.” I felt myself growing warm yet the teacher blushed even brighter than I did.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mrs Cameron, Danny has been in trouble for fighting.”

“I see—do we know who started it?”

“Danny?” Mr Edwards gave my boy a chance to say something at last.

“It was after practice, I was in the showers and some shit took my boots. I think it was Mowlam, an’ I confronted him.”

“Someone took your new football boots?”

“Yes,” he said in a very choked voice and started crying.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this theft—are you sure you had them with you?” Edwards asked the boy.

“He did, because he left home with them this morning—I only bought them for him yesterday, and they cost over a hundred pounds. So I hope you’re going to make every effort to recover them.”

“Mrs Cameron, I assure you we will do everything to investigate this matter, which I’d prefer to keep between us.”

I handed him my card, the posh one.

“Lady Cameron? No relation to the banking people?”

“Yes, my father-in-law is the chairman. If necessary, I want the police involved and I’d like you to get back to me on this within the week or I shall start asking embarrassing questions on high. Thank you, Mr Edwards, I’ll take him home now if you don’t mind.”

I left grabbing Danny by the hand and half-dragging him back to the car. Back in the privacy of the car I asked Danny to explain what had happened. He’d done his training in his games session after lunch and left his kit by the bench as he always did and went to shower. When he came back, his new boots were missing. He didn’t know who had taken them but he didn’t like this boy, Gregory Mowlam, who was always teasing him and was a bit bigger, but Danny jumped on him when Mowlam asked him if he’d lost something and found it funny. They both got detention but the games teacher wouldn’t allow Danny to say his boots had been taken. I was very cross at this but when I saw Mr Edwards driving hastily out of the staff car park, I decided it would wait until the morning.

“Hopefully, we’ll get them back—if not, we’ll have to get you some more.”

“I’m sorry, Mummy, I really am,” he sobbed and I put my arm round him and gave him a quick hug before we drove home. This incident had really upset him, and because he was upset, so was I—and when that happens things take note.

We drove for the most part in silence until Danny looked at me and smirked, “Did you see old Eddy’s face when he read your card, ‘Lady Cameron’,” he chuckled as he mimicked the Deputy Head. “He’ll learn you don’t mess with us Camerons, especially my mum.”

“Hopefully he’ll do his job and we’ll get the boots back undamaged.”

“Yeah or you’ll get him.”

“Danny, I don’t get people, I’m a responsible adult, we don’t do things the way you do them in the playground. Having said that, if I need to exert a little pressure on him to achieve our end: I will.”

“Yeah, you’ll get him.”

“That makes me sound like the Godfather, I won’t get him, I’ll simply remind him that I’m waiting for the results of his investigations.”

I stopped on the way back to buy him some cheaper boots, if he was playing that regularly, he’d need another pair—they weren’t that much cheaper but at least I knew he could continue doing something he enjoyed.

“Thanks, Mum, you’re the best mum in the world.”

“No I’m not, but I try to do my best which at times is sadly lacking.”

“No one else would have bought me more boots after I lost the first pair.”

“Let’s not go down that road, shall we? It’s important that you keep playing because I know how much you enjoy it.”

“It’s the thing I enjoy most.”

“Yes, I know—don’t lose those ones, or you’ll have to buy the next ones yourself.”

“I won’t, Mum, I promise I’ll keep these under lock and key if I need to.”

“Oh, and no more fighting—it doesn’t become a Cameron.” I knew I was lying, I’ll bet Simon’s ancestors were out bashing seven bells out of each other with great big claymores, only a couple of hundred years ago—while mine were inventing steam engines—only joking, I have no idea if I’m related to James Watt or not—probably not.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1128

Later that evening Simon phoned and I told him about the stolen boots. “What d’you expect? It’s a council school.”

“Yes, well I went to one of those as well, so don’t get all elitist on me. Not everyone wants to go to Eton and the Household Cavalry, even if they are stupid chinless wonders.”

“Eton and the Household Cavalry? Good gracious, woman, casting nasturtiums like that, what happens the next time we need HM escorted to parliament or trooping the colour?”

“Perhaps the Queen could catch a bus, like lots of other Londoners, it would be quite a novelty for her and she’s eligible for a bus pass at her age—perhaps she doesn’t know about free bus passes for pensioners; although I’ve heard tell she has an eye for a bargain—and they don’t come better than gratis.”

“This is sedition, ol’ girl, if MI5 are listening you’ll be locked up in the tower.”

“I doubt it, the local council would have to pay for the care of all our children, which would double the Budget Deficit.”

“Hmm, with this lot in power you might be right. Besides, it would be a first offence.”

“I do have the consolation that if they sentence me to be beheaded, because I’m the wife of a peer, they’d do it with a sword not an axe.”

“That’s a consolation?”

“Well yes, the sword can chop you in one hit, the axe can take several.”

“I don’t think I like this conversation, wee wifie o’mine.”

“It is a bit morbid, I suppose.”

“More than a bit, it’s positively full of morbidity.”

“Well okay, let’s talk about lessbid, then.”

“About lesbians?” he asked in a very perplexed manner.

“Lesbians? Who mentioned lesbians—I didn’t.”

Just then Trish walked past: “Lesbians? Billie said she would probably be a lesbian. What’s a lesbian, Mummy?”

I put my hand over the microphone of the handset. “If you didn’t know you wouldn’t be asking. Be off with you, you scallywag.” She disappeared giggling.

“Who was that?” asked Simon.

“It was Trish, trying to yank my chain.”

“Oh, she’s a girl isn’t she?”

“Yes, I think that’s pretty well official these days.”

“You know what I mean, Babes, so stop trying to pull mine. What are you planning to do about Danny’s boots?”

“Wait and see what the school does next. It’s Friday tomorrow, so they’ll have a weekend to sort themselves. I’ll start asking awkward questions on Monday.”

“I thought you were against the idea of using titles?”

“When it suits me, I’m happy to use them and it seemed to impress the deputy headmaster. What I don’t understand is why the games master didn’t take Danny’s claim of theft seriously—so I’d like to meet him and ask him why.”

“Well don’t go pissing him off too much, he’s in a position to make life difficult for Danny.”

“If he does that, I’ll make all sorts of noises, including rude ones until he gets the message. I’ll also send Danny to a private school.”

“And who’s going to pay for all this?”

“How much money did you make today?”

“Before lunch, a few hundred million.”

“Well then? I rest my case.”

“Ah, but I lost most of it after lunch.”

“So how much profit did the bank make from your connivances?”

“Twenty million, net I suppose.”

“And you’ll have a sizeable proportion of that.”

“A bit, shall we say, yes.”

“Your quarterly bonus would pay for all the kids to be schooled privately.”

“Just remember the kids are dirt cheap, it’s my wife who costs me a fortune.”

“I’ll remember that, darling, and make sure it’s true.”

He rang off before he had a nervous breakdown. He’s probably one of the most generous men on this planet, but he likes to have a moan—so I indulge him, then indulge myself—usually at his expense—and he has never once complained, but then Stella had pretty well trained him before I came along.

The next morning, Tom took the girls to school, Jenny cleared up after breakfast and I took Danny to school, asking him to show me the way to the games teacher’s office. He was there, and I knocked and entered before he could say anything.

“Mr Bailey, I’m Danny Maiden’s mother.”

“Oh, the boy I stuck in detention for fighting?”

“Yes, that Danny Maiden.”

“It’s school policy, and I did the same to the other boy as well.”

“I have no quarrel with you over that, but I do with the apparent theft of a valuable pair of football boots, which I’d only bought the day before.”

“He didn’t say anything about a pair of boots—mind you, you gotta watch them round ’ere, they’d steal the milk from yer tea. Dunno why he didn’t say anything about them.”

“Apparently you wouldn’t let him say anything.”

“What, the little liar,” he went crimson in the face.

“Mr Bailey, Danny is many things but a liar is not one of them.”

“You don’t know these kids like I do…”

“That is a patently absurd statement: he lives with me, I think I know him better than you.”

“You only see one side of him.”

“I think the same could be said for you—you only see the young man who lives and dies football, whose valuable boots were taken while he showered. Aren’t you supposed to supervise changing rooms?”

“I ’ad to come and get something from the office—besides, it don’t do to hang around with thirty naked kids—gets you a bad name.”

I left him preserving his image as best he could—I didn’t think for one minute he was a pervert, just lazy and uninterested. I walked back towards the exit and bumped into Mr Edwards.

“Good morning, Mr Edwards.”

“Lady Cameron, how nice to see you again,” he lied.

“I went to have a word with Mr Bailey.”

“Just where I was going myself.”

“I’m sure you know the way.”

“I do, Lady Cameron, having worked here for twenty years, I think I do.”

“Any progress with Danny’s boots?”

“My investigations are still ongoing, Lady Cameron, but I’ll do my best.”

“I do hope so, Mr Edwards, I do hope so.” I said it in a way which almost made it a veiled threat. I hoped he got the message, because, if anyone could resolve this, it was probably him.

I left and drove to the supermarket and did some shopping. I had stirred the pot sufficiently for the moment. I’d put the two teachers under pressure and led them to believe I’d keep the pressure on until I got a satisfactory resolution. It was all bluff, but they didn’t know that, did they?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1129

Simon came home on the Friday evening and the extra pair of hands meant I had more time to catch up with the rest of the children. Trish assured me she had healed from her DIY surgery, but agreed to show me when she went to bed.

“What happened with the Headmistress?”

“Nothing, why Mummy?”

“Football or netball?”

“I’m going to play both, see if I prefer one over the other.”

“I didn’t have much choice: it was play it or be in trouble.”

“Your school sounds horrible, Mummy.”

“Things were different then, they’re becoming a little enlightened these days but not enough to say things are okay, especially for children like you and Billie.”

“I’m quite happy Mummy, my school is very nice.”

“Yes I know sweetheart, but I pay for your schooling so I’d expect some degree of cooperation from them. Danny’s school isn’t nearly so helpful.”

“Aren’t you sorting them out? Danny said you were.”

“Did he now? I’m merely trying to get his football boots back because they were quite expensive.”

“Were mine expensive?”

“I can’t remember darling, I asked Danny which ones to get for you and those are the ones he recommended.”

“Doesn’t he have some the same?”

“I don’t know—I have very little interest in football, now cycling shoes, I can talk about intelligently.”

“You are clever Mummy.”

“Me? Nah, you’re just too young to spot me. When do you have to play football again?”

“On Tuesday and netball is Thursday. They want me to train for football as well as play in games.”

“How often is that?”

“Once a week. If we have any matches with other schools, they’re on a Saturday and that would mean I’ll have played rotten football three times in a week.” She sat on the bed and affected a very hard done by pose.

I laughed at her, “Trish, you are a real ham.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,” she said pushing her hair off her forehead with a huge sweeping gesture.

I fell about laughing, thinking she should be taking drama lessons not football—she’s a natural actress. Still, I mustn’t put ideas in her mind, her choice of career must come from her not me or anyone else who isn’t qualified to give advice.

Simon and I didn’t have much chance to talk until later, when I brought him up to date on the rest of the brood.

“I’m disappointed with our Trish,” he said, gently stroking my neck.

“Why?”

“Her aptitude for sport.”

“Oh c’mon Simon, she’s trying football and netball—give her a break.”

“I feel I should have been signing her up for London Scottish.”

“That sounds like an insurance company.”

He guffawed, “You really are precious sometimes, Babes.”

“What have I done now?”

“An insurance company? They’re a rugby team.”

“Oops,” I blushed—well how was I to know. “I see Emma Pooley did well.”

“Is she in Trish’s class?” he asked.

Now it was time for me to laugh, “No, silly, she’s just won the elite women’s world time trial race in Australia.”

“I thought you were too busy to take any notice of anything much.”

“It was on the radio this morning.”

“You have time to listen to the radio?”

“Yes, while I’m feeding tiny wee.”

“A likely tale,” he huffed in mock disbelief.

I’d expressed some milk for the morning so Jenny could do the feed, and I’d done the night feed again—when is this little sod going to sleep all night? I snuggled back down and it seemed no time later that we got an invasion of four girls because daddy was home. He’d slept quite well, I was still knackered—I almost sloped off to Trish’s bed while they all cuddled with Simon.

Jenny took the baby and gave her a bottle, and I stumbled about trying to help the kids have breakfast. Danny, it transpired, had a football match so I agreed to take him along with his personal cheer team. We left Jenny to look after the baby, and all trooped off in the Mondeo, which Simon drove to watch Danny play.

The only consolation was seeing the games teacher look guilty when he spotted me standing on the touchline. I was so tired, I nearly fell asleep standing with Simon, leaning against him in the cool breeze, while the girls squealed with delight every time Danny touched the ball. In the first half he made a goal saving tackle—according to Simon—in the second half: he scored the winning goal. He came off the pitch with a smile that threatened to split his face it was so big, he’d proven his worth to the team, and done it in front of the people he most wanted to—his family, to wit, us.

We took Portsmouth’s answer to David Beckham home, and despite the noise, I dozed off in the chair—which apparently they noticed and left me for an hour. I was awakened to be told that Stella had done scrambled eggs on toast for lunch and to come and eat it before it got cold. I think I spent the rest of the day in shock at Stella cooking something.

In the afternoon, Simon did the food shopping for me—with a list—while I took those who wanted to come for a ride. We did a few miles before turning back and had just garaged the bikes when the rain started, lashing down in torrents. I decided it was my lucky day—on a bad one it would have started at the furthest point from home.

We all scrambled back into the house and I put the kettle on. Simon came back just after, running in with the shopping. How someone can carry eight bags of groceries, I don’t know, but he did, dashing into the house while the girls held the door open for him. The girls helped me put it away, while Danny downloaded photos to his computer that Simon had taken while he was playing football. He was very pleased with that, especially as the goal saving tackle and his goal were both recorded.

Julie was wrapped up like ‘The Mummy,’ when she came back from her salon. Leon was unwell with some sort of flu bug, so hadn’t come today, the consequence of which was that after dinner, she showed Danny how to do some basic Photoshop to his photos, adding captions as well as erasing ugly bits—that sort of thing. They worked together quite happily. Trish and Billie helped me in the kitchen whilst Meems and Livvie sat chatting with Simon. Tom and Stella were talking as they watched Puddin’ in the baby-bouncer thing: she was shrieking at the top of her voice, she was so excited.

After checking the baby, I made us all a drink and I’d quickly baked a sponge while the oven was on, so we had a drink and a small slice of cake. I glanced about the house and thought, ‘This is how it should be—all of us interacting with other members of the family, and enjoying it.’ Would that it was always like it, but then I suppose we’d be like the bloody Waltons.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1130

Sunday, was a family day, a mixture of chores and interactions in the household. Simon washed the cars helped by Danny and Julie: she also washed her scooter thing.

I washed all sorts of things, including the laundry aided and abetted by Trish and Livvie, who took it in turns to fill and empty the machine, sort the washing and fold it afterwards. Between them, they can even cope with a sheet or duvet cover and we have a large machine, which wouldn’t look out of place in a hotel or commercial laundry. Simon and Tom bought it between them when it became obvious that our burgeoning family needed more than the old Hotpoint, Tom had had for years.

Billie and Meems were helping me wash down the kitchen: they can get down to skirting boards and the bottom of doors more easily than I can. We were accompanied by the delicious smell of bread baking as we worked, which did nothing for my recent resolution to eat less and exercise more.

The final act of ablution was for me to wash the floor, which I did, restoring it to its pristine condition—I’m lying, but it was cleaner than before. Simon and his car wash team were instructed to enter by the front door to avoid walking near the wet kitchen floor. Unfortunately, I hadn’t told Tom, who’d taken Kiki for a walk and her great big spaniel sized feet left footprints all over the kitchen floor. Some days I really don’t know why I bother.

I was cooking a roast lunch of Welsh leg of lamb, the cooker helped the floor to dry after I re-mopped it following Kiki’s dance all over it. We ate the aforementioned piece of meat with all the trimmings—fresh made mint sauce, roast spuds, roast carrots, cauliflower and the last of the runner beans from the garden. We were all so stuffed, I wondered if I should resolve to eat more and exercise less—it seemed easier. There was ice cream for pudding, which I did resist and which was more than Simon did: he had my portion as well.

We all went for a walk that late afternoon which was quite warm, although there was rain forecast and it arrived after we got back. It teemed down all night, and at one point, Simon and I lay listening to the rain lashing against the windows.

When I was a kid, I used to love hearing the rain, and sometimes would even sit in the car by myself listening to it, until I fell asleep, which I invariably did. Listening to it with Simon took me back to my childhood and gave me a sense of security, lying there in his arms. I slept well that night and tiny wee didn’t wake until nearly six, when Simon had to rise anyway.

I fed her while he showered and then made us both a cuppa—he has his uses now and again. I changed the baby and brought her down while he had his breakfast; I had some toast while I watched her in the recliner.

Simon left at quarter to seven, promising to get the transfer to Portsmouth up and running in November or early December. I suppose it could be my early birthday present, and it really would be—I do miss him when he’s up in London.

I put the baby down for another sleep, and showered myself before rousing the girls, then Julie and Danny. They all showered and I sorted various hairstyles, dressing as they showered. Once that was done, Jenny, who’d come down, helped with breakfasts and agreed to take the girls to school while I continued pressuring Danny’s school to return his stolen football boots. I was quite looking forward to seeing Mr Edwards squirm, because I was sure he hadn’t recovered them yet.

I sat in the car waiting for the school to do registrations and assembly, then settle down to lessons. I waited for twenty minutes, listening to Radio 4 and Start the Week: then I strolled into the school and to Mr Edwards door, upon which I knocked.

I was quite surprised when a strange man opened the door. “Yes, what d’ya want?”

“I wanted to speak with Mr Edwards.”

“He’s not here.”

“I can see that.”

“You are?”

“I’m Cathy Cameron, who are you?”

“Inspector Old, Hampshire Constabulary; what did you want him for?”

“My son had his brand new football boots taken from the changing room last week, Mr Edwards was trying to recover them.”

“Right, hang on, I saw a pair of boots in a bag just now.” He disappeared back into the office and came out with a clear plastic bag containing a pair of boots and Danny’s name on it. “Just a minute, these belong to Danny Maiden.”

“Yes, my son—he’s adopted and we didn’t change his name.”

“I suppose I can trust you.”

“I did mention football boots before you picked them up.”

“Okay, here y’are then.”

“Why are the police here, and where is Mr Edwards?”

“Look, Mrs Maiden—no, it was…”

“Cameron, Cathy Cameron.”

“That name sounds familiar, we haven’t met before have we?”

“Not that I’m aware.”

“I’ve got it, it’s not the name that’s familiar, it’s you on the posters in the bank, isn’t it?”

I blushed, not many people seem to recognise me from them. “Yes, you’re very astute.”

“Ah, I’m good with faces—now you were holding some small furry thing—um, oh yeah, a dormouse.”

“I’m very impressed with your powers of observation and recall.”

“It’s me job, I’m a detective, so observation is part of my work.”

“I’m a scientist and it’s part of mine too. I also ask questions, so where is Mr Edwards—not run off with the school funds, I hope?”

“He ain’t running anywhere any more, you have your boots, I think you’d better go.”

“Very well, thank you Inspector Old.”

“Nice to meet you, Mrs Cameron.”

I took the boots back to the car and went on to the local radio station where apart from inane pop music, there was more likelihood of hearing if something was amiss at the school.

I had arrived at home and was parking the car when the ten o’clock news came on. ‘News is still coming in about the suspicious death of a teacher from Portsmouth who was found at his home late last night having apparently drowned in his own fish pond. Police are still at his home and haven’t released his identity. Local sources suggest it’s a Mr Reg Edwards, a teacher in Portsmouth, aged fifty-one. We hope to have more news on that in our later bulletins. On to the weekend sport…’

So he was dead, a coincidence or what? Was it an accident—maybe he’d had a drink and fell into his fishpond, or was he pushed? My curiosity was piqued to say the least, although I realised that as a breastfeeding mother of a two-month-old baby, I wasn’t most suited to investigating someone’s sudden death, but it concerned me because I’d met the man and although he was a trifle pompous, he had got the boots back, so maybe we owed him.

I went into the house deep in thought. “Oh you got them back then?” said Stella.

“What?”

“Danny’s football boots, you got them back?” she pointed at the bag.

“Yes, but the man who recovered them is dead.”

“Dangerous was it?”

“What?”

“Getting them back.”

“I have no idea, but I do intend to find out,” I said firmly, putting the boots on the kitchen floor.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1131

The probability of Danny’s boots and the death of Reg Edwards being connected was very small. I know people get murdered for less, and not necessarily in exotic places like Haiti, it can happen here too. Most years you hear stories of folk being killed or injured for their mobile phones or their training shoes, so it’s possible but unlikely. I mean, they weren’t his football boots and I can’t see some arch criminal figure building an empire on stolen football boots—hardly Moriarty style is it, more Fagin and Artful Dodger, definitely down market.

I need to establish if the death was accidental or deliberate, which could include suicide but rather an inconclusive way to do it. From what I’d seen of Reg Edwards, he was more driving his car into a motorway bridge type, or even pills and booze—not see how long I can hold my breath in the fishpond, sort.

Despite my run-ins with the plod, they were the people best able to decide cause of death and whether it was suspicious or not. I sent Danny a text and told him to listen to any rumours circulating about the death, it would be all over the school by lunchtime.

I then had the local radio on most of the day, but they didn’t have any more detail than the bulletin in the morning, they just rehashed it and mentioned the name of the school, which would have reporters waiting outside to talk to people, parents, staff and even pupils.

It was raining when I got there so I managed to hide under my hat and umbrella, escorting Danny back to the car and thence home. He had a fistful of rumours but nothing rang true. Perhaps it was an accident after all.

I got them to call me for the news report on the telly. I was otherwise getting the dinner—some chicken portions, which I was doing in white wine sauce with cream—I spoil these kids, yet they would eat beans on toast with just as much relish. So generally, they’re easy to please most of the time.

I had just checked the chicken when they called me, so I shoved it quickly back in the oven and nearly fell over the dog in my haste to get to the lounge. There was nothing mentioned on the national news—hardly surprising, unless they mention suspicious circumstances. I went back to finish cooking the dinner—new potatoes with baby carrots and peas, and they called me back again.

It was the local news, for Southern England, and it was the third news story, so quite important in the editor’s or producer’s eyes. They suggested foul play hadn’t been ruled out and suggested some sort of head injury as well. The police weren’t saying anything—not an unusual event at this stage of an investigation.

I decided that he could have hit his head as he fell or he could have been hit on the head and then fell and drowned. Still nothing to go on. While I waited for the dinner to finish cooking, I was able to check news sites on the net, and found all sorts of speculation there: some labelled it a tragic accident, others, a possible murder. I tended to expect it to be the former, but they showed his house and the police walking in and out wearing those horrible overall things. For me, the important thing was I thought I recognised the road, so I’d take a drive down there tomorrow—a bit ghoulish, I know, but all in the name of research.

We had dinner, which was actually very good even if I say so myself. Stella did actually comment positively about it, which isn’t that unusual, then when the kids went off to finish homework or play, she added, “So, how’s the case developing, Sherlock Cameron?”

Jenny asked her what she meant, and she continued, “Well this teacher bloke who fell in his fishpond and drowned…”

“Oh yes, I heard about that on the news when I was taking the girls to school,” Jenny interrupted, “Just a nasty accident, isn’t it?”

“If it was, why don’t the police say so? It could be, but I don’t know, I have this funny feeling that it isn’t as straightforward as everyone would like to make it appear,” was my contribution.

“Cathy gets these funny feelings,” said Stella, “I keep telling her it’s irritable bowel or just not eating enough.” They both laughed.

“It’s okay for you to laugh, Stel, but what if I’m right?”

“You get to go on Mastermind and answer questions on it?” she threw back at me.

“Don’t be so silly, I simply hope it’s investigated thoroughly.”

“Why shouldn’t it be?” asked Jenny.

“We’ve all had experience of the Portsmouth plod, and they seem especially inept at times, especially when Cathy gets involved, isn’t that right, Sis?”

“We haven’t always had the most encouraging of experiences with them.” I blushed when I thought about the times I’d crossed swords with police up and down the country, including Scotland.

“Oh do tell,” said Jenny, settling down for a good gossip session.

“You can tell her, Stella, I’ve got things to do.”

“If you start playing your fiddle, I’ll know you’ve got it worked out, just don’t start smoking that awful pipe again.”

“Very funny, Watson, ‘the games afoot,’” I offered as I left, probably misquoting Conan Doyle.

“So what are you then, a bloody chiropodist?” laughed Stella as I departed for my kitchen and some space to think.

After clearing up and clearing the kids off to bed, I wanted to deal with some emails and hopefully surf the web for any more titbits. Danny wanted to talk when I went in to tuck him in.

“So d’you think ol’ Reg was murdered?” he asked.

“What, by a ten-foot goldfish called, Jaws?”

He laughed, “Hey that would be a good one, I like saw this film at Jack’s about all these piranhas getting into the water system and eating people in their bath.”

“I see, so a ten-inch fish manages to swim down a half inch pipe, that would take some special effects, especially when it came to the shower nozzle.”

“I think it might have been a river or lake.”

“Someone dumped one in a lake here, it was caught by an angler.”

“Yuck, I don’t think I want to swim in a river or lake anyway.”

“It’s not always a good idea, partly because the water is rather cold and secondly, if it warms up, it tends to develop strange algae that kill people and dogs.”

“Maybe it was algae that killed ol’ wossisface?”

“I sincerely doubt it. The ten-foot goldfish is more plausible than that.” We both chuckled.

“D’ya want me to listen out for any more gossip?”

“Yes, please do. It will probably be just that, but you never know.”

“Cor, my mum the detective.”

“Don’t be silly, Danny, I’m just interested in what happened to him, and he did get your boots back.”

“Yeah, I s’pose he was all right, really.”

“Goodnight, son,” I pecked him on the cheek.

“Night, Mum—oh, Mum?”

“If you need football kit to be washed for the morning, you can go and whistle for it.”

“No, least I don’t think so.”

“Good, I might let you live until the morning then.”

He laughed, “No, I was gonna say, you’re the best mum in the world, least me an’ the girls think so.”

It was a good job it was dark, I was blushing and my eyes were very moist. “Go to sleep,” I threw back at him before he saw me sniffing.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1132

There were no reporters about when I took Danny to school the next day, and the television van was also gone. Maybe it was an accident after all—probably the most likely scenario, I mean this is Portsmouth, not downtown Washington DC or even London, where the body count rises nightly. Yet there was something niggling away at me, making me want to question things, but how?

I drove out to Mr Edwards’s house: it was where I’d thought it would be, a detached house with a reasonable sized garden. I didn’t see any police in evidence, so with my camera hidden in my pocket, I parked the car and walked over to the house.

I wanted to see the fishpond, not for any gruesome enjoyment, but to see if it looked likely that he fell into it. It wasn’t visible from the road, and it was surrounded by gardens on three sides, at some point I’d have to trespass.

I walked in and up to the front door and rang the bell. There was no answer. If there had been, I’m not sure what I’d have said. So I casually walked round the house to the rear garden.

There was the fishpond with police tape round it and keep out notices. I ducked under the tape and took some pictures of the pond. Some stones were misaligned at the one edge. I wondered if it was where he fell. I closed my eyes and I thought I got an impression of him being hit on the back of the head before he fell. I also got the distinct smell of cigarettes, so either he or his assailant smoked, perhaps both.

I turned round and Inspector Old was standing the other side of the tape. “Can’t you read?” he asked me.

“Sorry, I needed to see the pond.”

“Funny, you don’t look much like the average ghoul.”

“I’m not, I needed to see it. He was struck from behind with a piece of stone, the assailant smoked.”

“I see, and how do you know that?”

“Which?”

“All of it.”

“I had a vision of it happening just before you spoke to me.”

“Oh and did your vision let you see the killer?”

“Not quite, but it was a man who was taller than him and I think he might have been left-handed, at least I think he was hit by the left hand.”

“I presume you deduced this from the way the footmarks in the grass looked, or was it from a freshly slaughtered sheep’s liver.”

“I’m not a haruspex.”

He gave me a quizzical look. “Not many people would be familiar with such a term.”

“I read a lot.”

“So it would appear.”

I shrugged, “You’re obviously an accomplished detective.”

“Unlike you, Mrs Cameron, or should that be Lady Cameron? Now, do I arrest you for interfering with a crime scene?”

“Interfering? All I’ve done is examine it.”

“No magnifying glass, Dr Watson will be disappointed.”

“The sort I use means you need to be about two inches away from the subject you wish to examine.”

“Ah, yes, your dormice—what do look at, the faeces?”

“Only ever find those in captive animals, they spend most of their time in the tree canopy when they’re awake, so can poop anywhere. No, we examine the shells of the nuts they’ve been eating.”

“Ah, tooth marks?”

“Yes, dormice have a particular way of eating hazel nuts and acorns.”

“Fascinating, now do I arrest you?” He nodded me to leave the pond side, lifting the tape for me to duck under.

“I’ll come quietly guv’nor,” I said holding my wrists out in front of me for easy cuffing.

“I did a little research on you after yesterday; it seems that few of my colleagues manage to reach pensionable age without some catastrophe happening to their careers once they meet you.”

“Must be all that liver gazing I do.”

“Shouldn’t think a dormouse has a very big one, has it?”

“No, but then with my lens, I might just be able to make out some minuscule message that everyone else misses.”

“Like today.”

“No, I didn’t have my lens with me today.”

“Pity, although Inspector Morse could solve the most outlandish crimes in two hours, including the adverts, alas, I take much longer.”

“Yes, but you don’t have Sergeant Lewis to help you.”

“How true, it would seem I now have a Lady Dormouse, instead. There’s a reasonable coffee shop just a few minutes away, would you care to share notes?”

I nearly fell in the fishpond myself: here was a copper doing all the wrong things—was it just to wrong-foot me, or to discover what I knew? I’d have to watch this guy, he was very clever.

“Um—yes, okay. I’ll follow you then.”

“Is that so you can hide your camera in the car?”

Damn, he’d seen me taking the photos. “Okay, we’ll take one car, if you want.”

“No, we’ll take two, I have places to go after here, and I’m sure you do with dozens of adopted children. Tell me, did Charlie want so many children?”

“Charlie who?” I blushed.

“Charles Watts, noted authority on dormeece, suddenly disappears as you mysteriously appear. Then I look on the Internet and after a bit of digging, I see why he had to go. I suspect you made the right decision, at least from where I’m standing, and the fact that you’re married, means you’ve done the gender panel thing. I’ve met the odd transvestite and even one or two transsexuals, but you take the biscuit, I’d never have known without my research.”

“But you just had to bring it up to show me how clever you are, didn’t you? I think I’ve changed my mind about the coffee. I’m a bit choosy with whom I take coffee.”

“Ouch, still a bit touchy are we? You will come to coffee with me, and you’ll also bring your camera with you—I want to see what you photographed. Follow me, and please no funny business, or you will end up in irons.”

I stormed my way back to the car—impudent prig, just who does he think he is? I turned my car round and followed him the half a mile to the café, parking next to him. We entered together and he led me to a quiet table in the corner. “How do you take your poison?”

“Latte,” I answered and switched on the camera. He looked at the pictures and shook his head.

“What were you photographing, I can’t see anything here?”

“The damaged or displaced stone along the side of the pool, it’s very recent.”

“Yes I know, our SOCO people examined every square inch of the place.”

“It’s murder though isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“And I’m right about the left-handed man and the weapon, aren’t I?”

“Yes, how do you know that, are you an accomplice of the assailant?”

“No, I told you, I saw it happen in my mind’s eye. The blow was from behind and on the left side of Mr Edwards head. I saw the hand of the attacker.”

“Are you sure you weren’t there?” He went quiet as the coffee was delivered, he had an espresso, so he was probably a caffeine freak, too.

“No, only just now, but I had a colleague whose parents lived just round the corner.”

“Ah, so you know the area?”

“I wouldn’t say I know it, but I’ve cycled down this road a few times.”

“Ah, before you married into money?”

“Don’t be so insulting, I had a very nice bike before I met Simon, in fact it was his sister knocking me off it that caused us to meet.”

“Oh, not so good.”

“The original impact wasn’t but the consequences have been very good on the whole and I love him very much.”

“I presume he knows about—um—your past?”

“No, of course not—do you think I’m stupid—of course he knows. He might not be a genius, but he’s one of the nicest men alive.”

“Good, I’m pleased for you—it must be difficult—um doing what you did.”

“It’s not easy, but I’ve been fortunate. Now you know all about me, how about some self revelation?”

“Sorry, me copper, you assisting my enquiries, I do the questions, you answer them.”

“I could report you for being a patronising twat.”

“Feel free, won’t be the first time.”

“No but my complaints tend to carry a bit of weight.”

“Now who’s showing off?”

“Your wife’s name—no, you’re not married, you live with Martina, who’s from abroad and you have one child a boy called Gavin.” The information seemed to present itself in my mind.

“You’ve done your research, too? I’m impressed.”

“You had an injury here,” I touched his left shoulder, “It still gives you trouble.” I laid my hand on his shoulder and he winced.

“Jeez, your hand is hot, ouch it’s burning.”

“Keep still,” I chided him.

“Bloody hell, who are you?” he touched his injured shoulder and moved his arm up and down. “The pain’s gone—just who or what are you?”

“Not someone you want to mess with.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No, simply some friendly advice. Tell Martina to keep Gavin off gluten, he’s developing an allergy to it.” I rose from the table, “Thanks for the coffee,” and left not having drunk any of it.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1133

The rest of the day went more or less as planned, but it was after dinner before I had a chance to load the photos and examine them. I was poring over them when Trish came in. “What ya doin’, Mummy?”

“Looking at these photos, there’s something wrong here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

She gave the photo a cursory glance and asked, “Why is that stone back to front?”

“What d’you mean?” I asked in clarification. I was aware that one had been moved, but I presumed that was during the assault. As the police had examined the area, surely they wouldn’t have missed it, or maybe even caused it, moving the stone then putting it down incorrectly.

“The edge is on the wrong side, see, compared to all the others.” She pointed this out with her finger, then skipped off to annoy one of the others. I hadn’t noticed, the stone was practically rectangular, but there was a distinct line on the edge which was nearest the pond, and the displaced stone was, as Trish had said, the wrong way round.

I didn’t know if it was important or not. I blew up the picture and the water edge had a distinct green tinge to it, whereas the side away from the pool was reddish. I thought my colour vision was pretty good—I’m good at matching clothes or materials and wall paper, that sort of thing—so why hadn’t I seen it? Senility—yeah, possibly brought on by lack of sleep.

I went to check on the cause of my disturbed nights. Mima was playing with her in her cot. Of all the girls, Mima is probably the most maternal—at least at this stage of their development. She does far more for both the babies, Puddin’ and tiny wee. Trish seemed to lose interest after she discovered she wouldn’t be able to breast feed until she actually had breasts, although she still liked to watch me feeding the baby.

I got them all to bed and was thinking of turning in after I fed the baby, when there was a ring at the bell. It was nearly ten o’clock and I wasn’t at all sure about opening the door.

The door is pretty solid, made of oak and several inches thick, so there is no lens to look through, you just have to open it and see who’s there. I engaged the chain and peeped round the edge of the door hoping someone didn’t throw acid in my face or stab me.

“It’s me, Inspector Old.”

“D’you know what time it is?”

“I do, and I apologise, but I’d like a quick word if you don’t mind.”

I let him in and as I did so, the baby woke up. I picked her out and told him if he wanted a drink he’d have to make it. I led him through to the kitchen and he seemed quite happy making a pot of tea. I sat down opened my bra and attached the sucking device—to wit, one infant. His eyes nearly came out on stalks.

“Why didn’t you tell me I was wrong this morning?” he said handing me a mug of tea.

“Wrong about what?”

“You—you’re a real woman aren’t you? No man could do that, not the way you’re doing it.”

“If he grew boobs he could.”

“I doubt it—anyway, I’m sorry I got it wrong.”

“It’s irrelevant, now why did you come to see me?”

“To show you these.” He spread out a row of very good photographs of the fishpond, including one with Edwards’s body lying face down in it. It was most unpleasant. “Notice anything?” he asked.

I changed breasts for the human vacuum cleaner, “What am I looking for?”

“Oh, Sherlock, you do disappoint.”

I looked with renewed enthusiasm and finally spotted it. “The stone hasn’t been moved.”

“Exactly, you kept on about the stone, so I got the SOCO pix and when I looked, it hadn’t been moved and I checked with the investigation team, they hadn’t moved it, so somebody had.”

“It wasn’t me.”

“I wasn’t accusing you, Lady Cameron.”

“Call me Cathy, I only use the title to get better tables in restaurants.”

“I’m Tobias, but prefer Toby.”

“I’ll bet you went to a private school, didn’t you?”

“Don’t tell anyone, but yes, I went to Winchester College. I suppose you went somewhere like Cheltenham Ladies College?”

“No, just Bristol Grammar School.”

“Well you’re a real tribute to them.”

“Never mind the flattery, what about this ’ere stone?”

“What about it? I found out about an hour ago that we hadn’t moved it. I wondered if you fancied taking a look before it gets any later?”

Tonight?

“Yes, is that a problem?”

“Doesn’t Martina get fed up with your strange office hours?”

“It’s why she left me.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Oh I told her about the gluten, and she’s superstitious enough to believe you.”

“How’s the shoulder?”

“Much better, thank you—how did you do that?”

“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”

“Maybe not.”

“We’re looking for a colour-blind murderer.”

“How d’you know?”

“Look at the colour of the stone’s edge. It is definitely green, and the other edge is reddish. They’ve been laid with great care.” I pointed to the picture on my computer, “That one is back to front, the red colour is nearest the water.”

“So it is—your reputation is redeemed, Sherlock.”

“It was my daughter, Trish, who spotted it.”

“A chip off the old block, eh? Like mother like daughter.”

“Perhaps,” I chose not to elaborate.

After changing and burping the baby, I put her down and asked Stella, who was watching telly in her room, to keep an eye on my wain. I told her I was popping out with a copper.

“Just watch he’s not into rough stuff, because Simon will bend him into all sorts of unimaginable shapes if another one of them lays a finger on you.”

“I think this one is safe enough, and is probably more frightened of me than I am of him.”

“Good God, sensible plod—an unusual bod.”

“Before you run out of rhymes, I have to go, I’d like to get to bed tonight.”

With the copper?”

“No—don’t be silly. Having said that he’s quite tasty.”

“You jammy sod.”

“Found another rhyme then?” I laughed and shut the door just before the soft toy hit it.

I pulled on a fleece jacket, as the evening was getting cooler, and grabbed my handbag and camera and also my powerful little LED torch. Then a few minutes later, I was being driven away by Toby Old in his Saab.

“Tell me, what happened to the Southsea dinosaur?” I asked my chauffeur.

“It was burned down, possibly by students—senseless vandalism—seems to be what boys get up to after they’ve had a few drinks. If it was up to me, I raise the age for alcohol to fifty and bring back national service.”

“If they did the former, you’d have a long wait for a drink.”

“Cathy, I couldn’t care if I never had another drop—it causes so much trouble in the world, we’d be better off without it.”

“I quite agree, but I never thought I’d hear a policeman say so.”

“Ah, but I’m a slightly unusual copper.”

“Is that the great British understatement?” I asked, as we pulled up outside Mr Edwards’s house.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1134

We parked outside Reg Edwards’s house. “Why couldn’t this have waited until daylight tomorrow?”

“I’m an obsessive, I couldn’t actually wait until tomorrow, and seeing as you were seemingly interested in the case, and were trying to make something of the stone being disturbed, I thought you’d be interested too.”

“I am, but I’m a little concerned that whoever bashed old Edwards might want to bash anyone who comes here at night.”

“You have the long arm of the law to protect you, and my arms are very long.”

“Thanks Toby, I really needed to know you walked on your knuckles,” I sniggered, probably from the fact that I was more than a little frightened. He roared with laughter. “Plus, as we don’t know who the killer is other than he’s left-handed and colour-blind, it could even be you, couldn’t it?”

“Oh thanks a lot Cathy, I’m investigating this, not the suspect.”

“Perhaps I’ve seen too many thrillers, but their witnesses or investigators are often led to see something, only to be confronted by the killer, who then does what he does best and they follow suit of the earlier victim.”

“You have been watching too many films.”

“But for instance, you’re left-handed.”

“How do you know that?”

“You did everything with your left hand and you’re wearing a watch on your right wrist.”

“Well Sherlock, the art of observation isn’t dead.”

“But I will be soon, is that it?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, I’m a copper, not a villain.”

“They can be the same, and you are red-green colour-blind.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

“You couldn’t see the difference in the stones.”

“You pointed out which was the problem one anyway, so I wouldn’t need to see it.”

“Except, I’d reversed it, so the stone was the right way round not the wrong way. You couldn’t tell.”

“Oh dear, you’re a clever woman, too clever by far.”

“So are you going to tell me what it’s all about before you kill me?”

“Why should I? Knowing isn’t going to save you—assuming I am the killer.”

“I’m curious, that’s why.”

“Curiosity killed the cat.”

“Satisfaction brought him back.”

“That’s only in nursery rhyme land.”

“Damn, you have just totally disillusioned me. Toby Old, if I thought you were the killer, I’d have left here some while ago, in fact I wouldn’t have got in the car with you.”

“How would you know, if I was or wasn’t?”

“You match the profile to some extent, but Reg Edwards was quite tall. The killer would have to be at least six foot two—you’re what, five eleven or barely six feet?”

“I might have been on tiptoe or wearing high heels.”

“If you’d been wearing high heels, he’d have heard you coming and I suspect the SOCO people would have found evidence, so they might have been looking for a very tall woman.”

“Damn, next time I’ll have to wear high heels.”

“Have you worn them before?”

“Do I look like someone who ponces about in high heels?”

“Not without a lot of imagination, no you don’t.”

“I’ll take that as a negative.”

“Are we going to look at this stone at the pond?”

“Do you honestly think I’m the killer?” He looked shifty enough to be one.

“No. No I don’t.”

We got out of the car and although I was almost sure he was no danger to me, I still felt uneasy about being out in the dark, where an assailant could jump us quite easily.

We walked to the fishpond, torches cutting through the gloom like knives, the lights mainly playing on the ground beneath us because it was so uneven. Finally we got there, and Toby pulled on a pair of latex examination gloves and lifted up the stone which I indicated as being the wrong way round. There was nothing underneath it, so nothing had been buried or hidden there. It was probably the murder weapon—and a very effective one, being twelve inches long and weighing a couple of pounds, like a piece of thin kerb stone—the sort people use to line garden paths or fishpond edges.

Toby was putting it back in place and then he stood up when all hell broke loose. Toby straightened and suddenly someone ran between us and stabbed him. I watched as he seemed to fall backwards in slow motion, into the fishpond.

I shone my light at the attacker who was wearing a ski mask, and who now came rushing at me waving a large-bladed knife. Thankfully I reacted, rather than thought about things, and as he approached I threw my bag at his face which distracted him and I did a flying kick which caught him in the chest. He fell backwards and stumbled off over the garden fence and to his escape.

My next task was to haul Toby out of the pond. He was bleeding profusely and was nearly unconscious. Then, recovering my bag I called for help on my mobile phone. Once an ambulance was on its way, I tried to staunch the wound.

In the darkness, even I could see the blue light pouring from my hands into his abdomen—whether it was too little too late, I have no idea. From the amount of blood, I reckon he was caught in or near the liver—he could bleed to death if it got a blood vessel.

I kept urging Toby to stay with me, not to sleep—for he could die. He struggled and even asked about the blue stuff. In the distance, I could hear the ambulance. I hoped they’d find us in time.

I concentrated on stopping the bleed and shoved some tissues into the wound, imagining them like a plug. The bleeding slowed to a trickle and then stopped.

Two paramedics came rushing in with a stretcher, and minutes later they’d attached a drip and he was being taken out to their van. I ran behind, holding the keys of his Saab—I still had to get home. Under the streetlights, I could see I was covered in blood—wonderful, another outfit ruined. I found a newspaper on the backseat of the car and sat on it to try and avoid staining the leather seats.

I wasn’t going to enjoy the questions the police were going to fire at me, and yet the thing that concerned me most was the survival of Toby. Now I knew he wasn’t the killer, but that was all I knew. In the dark, the man who attacked us could have been over six feet or not. I couldn’t tell—it all happened so quickly.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital where I knew I’d soon be met by police. I called home to tell Stella what had happened and for her to ask Tom to bring me a complete change of clothes and footwear to the hospital—boy, what a mess!

My feet were wet, so were my trousers from hauling Toby out of the water, and the front of me was covered in blood. I was anything but the picture of propriety befitting a peer’s wife, and by the look of my reception committee, my sartorial elegance was going to be the last item on their list of questions.

It was going to be a long night, and I hoped we had enough expressed milk for the baby.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1135

“Ah, Lady Cameron—that explains things.” The voice I half-recognised, the police superintendent in front of me didn’t.

“Explains what?” demanded the police super.

“Why you have one of your men now recovering from an operation and not waiting for a post mortem.”

“Explain,” demanded the copper.

“I’m the consultant surgeon who has just cleaned up the wound to your man. He should have died—a stab wound like the one he received caught his liver and just missed his spleen. Quick thinking by Lady Cameron here, in staunching the wound helped to stop the bleed and save his life.” He winked at me, indicating that he knew there was more to tell but his lips were sealed.

“Well done, Lady Cameron, but what were you two doing in Mr Edwards’s garden at ten o’clock at night?” asked the senior copper. I explained what I knew and he nodded and hummed and ha’d as I told my story. “He is a bit of a workaholic, but why he took you and not another colleague, I shall have to wait for him to tell me.”

“I suppose because I was able to tell him he was looking for a six foot or taller, left-handed, red-green colour-blind murderer.”

“Much of which fitted him?”

“Yes, so perhaps there are lots of them about.” I shrugged.

“How did he know you were going to be there?” asked the copper, relating to the attacker.

“How would I know?” I shrugged again. I mean, if I knew, I’d have told him.

Someone came and spoke quietly to the senior copper and he looked disappointed. “The dog followed his trail across three gardens and it seemed to disappear.”

“Perhaps that was where he parked his car?” I offered.

“Possibly. We’ll have house to house enquiries in that road to check it out first thing tomorrow.”

“Did you find the knife, because I was sure he dropped it when I kicked him?”

“Not yet, of course he might have come back for it as soon as you left.”

“Why would someone want to kill Mr Edwards in the first place?” I asked.

“We’re not sure, and as the investigation is ongoing, I can’t tell you what we suspect.”

“Well I suppose drugs has to be the primary cause of violence these days.”

“That or drink.”

“Is there any record of Mr Edwards being involved with anything illicit like drugs, because he doesn’t seem the type?” I asked the superintendent, hoping he’d tell me a few things before he realised I wasn’t one of his team.

“None, absolutely nothing.”

“So was he trying to stop one?”

“That is the line we’re taking at the moment.”

Tom arrived with my clothes. “Ah, here ye are, fresh clothing fa ye.”

“Thanks, Daddy,” I said and pecked him on the cheek.

“Ye wee yin is greetin’ fa ye.”

“If this gentleman says I can go, I‘ll come home to feed her.”

“Who’ve you got to feed?” asked the super.

“She’s breast-feeding a bairn, so she is.”

“You have a baby to feed?”

“That’s whit I jest said,” Tom emphasised angrily.

“Then you must go, we know where to find you.”

I went off to the loos, washed down quickly and changed into the dry clothing. Tom took me straight home, where I showered and then fed mighty mouth.

“Whit we’re ye thinkin, tae gae oot at sic a time?”

“I know, Daddy, but Toby is a bit impulsive and we had to go now. He couldn’t wait until the morning.”

“At least in daylight, ye’d hae seen thae ither fellow comin’.”

“Well in October he’d have looked a bit odd walking round in a ski mask wouldn’t he? Therefore, people might have noticed what sort of car he had.”

“Dinna believe it, most folk canna remember whit they saw on thae breakfast packet they stared at fa ten minutes this morn.”

I switched the baby to my other breast, “I’m inclined to agree with you, sadly, people aren’t very observant, and only see what they’re told to see or expect to see.”

“Aye, there’s several things on YouTube tae show that.”

“Yes, I’ve seen some of them, but it also applies to drivers not seeing motorbikes or bicycles because they aren’t looking for them.”

Tom watched me feeding the baby with a strange smile on his face. “Ye look sae natural daein’ that.”

I blushed.

I took the girls to school the next day and Tom ran Danny to school, where he was asked to keep his eyes and ears open. As he didn’t like the games teacher, he was inclined to want him to be guilty of some heinous crime, and I had to remind him it required evidence and proof.

At lunchtime I had a phone call from the headmaster to come and collect him, he’d been discovered looking through Mr Bailey’s things, and was being suspended.

In front of the headmaster, I had to be seen to be angry or disappointed with Danny, but in the car on the way home, I told him what a twit he was to be caught.

“Well you told me you wanted evidence, I was trying to find some,” he protested.

“Danny, you have to think more widely. Bailey might be involved but he’s hardly going to have left evidence lying about in school where others might see it.”

“Let’s go do over his house then, I know where he lives.”

“Danny, don’t you ever learn? If we did such a thing, he’d know where to come looking for suspects.”

“I could wear a disguise.”

“Like what—a false nose and moustache?”

“I dunno, maybe a wig and different clothes.”

“The only wig we have is a girl’s one and the only different clothes are girl’s ones. Don’t tell me you’d be prepared to wear those?”

He blushed like a traffic light. “Okay—I wouldn’t, like, normally, but I might be prepared to get evidence on old Bailey.”

“There is no way you are dressing up in girl’s clothes—end of story.” Having seen almost everyone except Tom and Simon end up preferring skirts to trousers, there was no way I was going to add to the numbers of defectors, especially as Danny had protested his masculinity.

I mused over the facts as I knew them. There was a good chance the school was somehow involved in the circumstances or events leading to Mr Edwards’s death. However, it wasn’t a certainty. I needed more information, but where to get it? An hour later, I was holding a bag of grapes and sitting by Toby’s bedside opposite Martina, who glared at me.

“Martina, this is Cathy: Cathy this is Martina.” Despite Toby’s introductions we sat and glared at each other. She presumably wanted to talk domestic stuff while I wanted to talk about the case.

“Cathy saved my life, she plugged the stab wound after fishing me out of the pond.” Toby tried to enthuse some affection for me from Martina, who nodded and turned her glower into a grade two scowl. If I disappeared in a puff of smoke, she’d possibly smile. What did he see in her? If her eyebrows and forearms were anything to go by, she probably had hairier legs than Kiki.

“Have you managed to put your boy on a gluten-free diet?” I asked trying to break the ice.

“Not yet, I’m waiting for the doctor to say something.”

“He could be heading for coeliac disease.”

“I’ll wait to see what the doctor says.” Martina could be stubborn.

“Cathy gets these insights, darling, I think you should see the doctor about it.” Toby tried to bridge the distance which was increasing between us.

“I don’t believe in witches and old wives’ tales,” she snapped back.

“Fine by me, I’m neither—but while you’re at the doctor get him to check out your latest pregnancy, the embryo is looking a little odd.” Two can play dirty.

“What? You’re pregnant?” gasped Toby.

“No, of course not. She’s trying to split us apart.”

“Does Ricky know you’re carrying his baby?” I offered in an innocent tone which was laced with poison.

“Who’s Ricky, darling?”

“I have to go—witch,” she spat at me.

“Is she pregnant?” Toby asked me after an uncomfortable silence.

“Probably, but she’s going to lose it if she doesn’t take care—she’s drinking too much.”

“Shit,” he said loudly and began to sob.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1136

I consoled Toby for a short while and when he calmed down I asked him who he thought might want to kill or injure him. “Apart from Martina, you mean?” he joked, although I didn’t consider it terribly funny.

He considered a whole pile of criminals he’d caught might like to do it, but very few would have the actual bottle to try it. He admitted he’d not thought of it that way assuming the attempt was connected to the Edwards murder, but he’d give some consideration to it just in case.

Personally, I maintained an open mind, probably because I didn’t have a clue, so suspected most of the six billion people known to inhabit the planet at present, at least that way I’d be right on one occasion.

Essentially, Toby didn’t know any more than I did, so having settled him down, I left and went to go home. I was accosted in the car park by Martina.

“Just what are you after?” she spat at me, “You and your mind reading games.”

“I want to see the person or persons who murdered Reg Edwards brought to justice.”

“Who’s he?”

“My son’s deputy headmaster.”

“Your son’s—you’re not after Toby…?”

“Sweet as Toby is, no, I’m happily married. However, I think sleeping with Ricky hasn’t advanced your cause.”

“What’s it to you, anyhow?”

“It is absolutely nothing to do with me, but I don’t like being glared at by someone who has even less moral high ground than I do.”

“You think you’re so clever don’t you?”

“No, but I’m studying for a PhD so I suppose it makes me brighter than you.”

“Just watch someone doesn’t mark that pretty face of yours.”

“Please don’t make threats at me because you don’t know who you’re messing with. I have the connections to destroy everything and everyone you hold dear.”

“I’d watch that son of yours, he might just meet with an accident.”

This pushed all my buttons at once and I turned quickly and slapped her. It wasn’t that hard but it was enough of a shock to nearly knock her off her feet. “Keep away from me and my family, you drunken slag.” I turned on my heel and walked away before I really hurt her. She called me names and threatened all sorts of retribution but I kept walking and just, kept my temper.

I drove home and it was only when I got there I realised how upset I actually was. I immediately called the superintendent whom I’d met at the hospital and told him what had happened. He cautioned me not to take the law into my own hands and to beware Martina, who was as Latin-tempered as her name suggested. He also promised to keep an eye out for her making a complaint, although he doubted she would; he confided that he’d have loved to slap her himself for the grief she’d caused Toby.

I collected the girls myself, seeing as Danny was now home, and on the way back stopped at Reg Edwards’s house. I wanted Trish to see the site and if I’d missed anything.

I got the other three to wait in the car which I locked, and with Trish firmly holding my hand, I walked briskly round to the back garden and the pond. The stone was now back in its original place and although we removed it, there wasn’t any room under it to secrete anything but perhaps a sheet of paper or equivalent.

“Maybe it’s a marker,” she suggested looking into the pond.

“Marker—like for something in the pond?”

“Yes, or in the garden.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” I’d seen a garden rake leaning up against the wall, so fetched it and began dragging the pond. Nothing except old leaves turned up until I did a place directly under the stone, pulling the rake almost vertically up the side of the fish pond. As I drew the rake up, Trish grabbed the jar—a Kilner type, one of those with a plastic seal and a wire spring to keep it firmly closed. Inside was what looked like a roll of money and something else inside it. We popped it in a plastic bag I happened to have in my pocket and dashed back to the car.

Once safely ensconced in the car, I called our Superintendent again. He was just about to leave and asked me to go straight round to the police HQ with our find. He also cautioned me not to put any more prints on it than I could help.

I asked the girls if they minded, and they all agreed they didn’t, especially for the ice cream I promised them afterwards. A little later, we were at the police HQ and for once the police were nice to me and the girls.

“I should be cross with you, Lady Cameron, you trespassed on a crime scene yet again, and interfered with it.”

“I can always take this to the local paper or TV station, if you’d prefer it.”

“Then I should have to arrest you.”

“Okay, you can have it but I want to see what’s in it.”

“I don’t know about that, as your dabbling so far has caused you to be attacked and one of my officers to become stabbed.”

“That had little or nothing to do with me, Superintendent, I was nearly stabbed too.”

“I’m well aware of that.”

I handed him the bag and its potentially precious contents. He made a short telephone call and a few minutes later, a woman arrived wearing one of those funny all in one things they wear at crime scenes. She produced a plastic tray from a plastic bag and placed the bag with the jar on it. She then removed the jar and opened it—with some difficulty. Inside was a roll of twenty pound notes, which she counted: it was about ten thousand pounds. The bit in the middle was an old 35mm film canister inside which was a pile of diamonds. Even I knew they were worth thousands. The girls who until now had watched in silence gasped at the sparkling contents of the canister.

“Now then, how would a middle-aged deputy headmaster, earning forty thousand a year manage to acquire such a fortune?” asked the super.

“I have no idea, but then, do we know it was his, or was it just a convenient place to stash the loot, of which he may or may not have been aware?”

“Good question. Our lab people will do a toothcomb job on it all and see if there’s anything outstanding in the area which could relate to this. Thank you for your persistence, although I would caution you to keep away from the house and the pond from now on. In fact, if you go there again without police permission, I’ll have you arrested.”

“I don’t think I have to, do I?”

“Probably not—and you, young lady,” he addressed Sherlock Watts, aged six: “If you’re looking for a career, the police can be a very interesting job, and we could do with someone of your perspicacity.”

“What does that mean, Mummy?”

“You’re a smart arse, why?”

“I take after you, don’t I Mummy—you’re Perspex too?”

“Absolutely, you can see straight through me,” I replied and the superintendent nearly choked laughing. I kept my word and we went to a nearby café and they all had ice-cream sundaes.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1137

“Mummy, woss vose sparky fings?” asked Mima as they ate their ice cream.

“Diamonds, sweetheart.”

“Woss diamons?”

“Diamonds are jewels, which can be very valuable. Usually only the best ones become jewellery, but very small ones are use to make drills and things, because they are so hard. My nail file is lined with diamond dust.” I took the file out of my bag and showed it to the girls.

“Is this very valuable, Mummy,” asked Livvie.

“Not really, certainly those diamonds aren’t but they are useful because they will take years of filing my nails before they wear out.”

“Why did the men kill Mr Edwards?” asked Billie.

“I don’t honestly know. Perhaps he saw then using his pond or something like that. We don’t know if the diamonds are stolen or smuggled into this country. In fact we know very little, except we have the money and the stones.”

“What stones, Mummy?” Trish now wanted clarification.

“Diamonds are gemstones, so for quickness I called them stones,” which was a waste of time because then I had to explain it.

“Why are diamonds valuable?” asked Trish.

“Because they are quite rare, at least the better ones are. They come out of the ground and have to be cut by experts in order to show their structure and then they are categorised by how many carats they weigh.”

“Carrots?” laughed Trish, “That’s silly, why not potatoes?”

“Not carrots but carats, it’s a system of valuing diamonds and other precious stones, and in a different way the purity of gold.”

“Your ring is silver isn’t it?” Billie pointed at my wedding ring.

“No, it’s white gold, which means they’ve added another semi-precious metal to the gold to make it appear silver not gold. I think it’s rhodium they use.”

“Why can’t they just use silver, sounds silly to me.”

“I believe gold and silver have different properties when they use them for making jewellery.”

“It all sounds silly to me,” said the perspicacity kid.

“Well that’s people for you,” I declared before escorting them back to the car, just in time to see Martina drive past. She was so absorbed in me with part of my brood that she very nearly crashed into the car in front and had to do an emergency stop.

I hoped she thought some of the girls were friends rather than my children and I felt a little afraid for them. I quickly got them into the car and drove home. I’d thought about getting some shopping, instead I ordered a take away from the local Indian restaurant and everyone but I was happy to have some curry. I made do with a poached egg on toast.

Simon called that night and I explained how Trish had helped me find the money and diamonds. He was suitably impressed, and wondered how long it would be before she was running the bank. I told him I hoped she’d take on an academic career because it would do much more good than simply making money. He countered suggesting that the money she would need for pay and resources had to come from somewhere and banking made a load more than manufacturing.

I pointed out that hedge funds had helped an indebted US company acquire a healthy British one, so not all banking and finance was good for us, meaning Kraft and Cadbury. He passed that off as a government mistake, which would never have got past the monopolies commission had he been the trade minister but at the end of the day, capitalism is often seen as greed, and occasionally it is, as my example proved. However, British governments of all persuasions had thought it appropriate to allow the markets to reign supreme when they sometimes needed regulation, and it was also often a case of double standards: like the US government calling for free markets while whacking on trade tariffs.

After I spoke with Simon, I read the news on the Internet and saw that the Nobel peace prize had gone to a Chinese dissident, which the Chinese government declared a ridiculous thing to do. Personally, I thought it was brilliant and better than giving it to Mr Obama whose main peace offering had been to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan.

The Commonwealth Games were producing some excitement, but my mind was fixed on different things—like the death of a schoolteacher and Martina and her threat risk to my kids.

That night I dreamt I was in the orchard calling for Trish and Danny and I heard Martina’s voice saying I wouldn’t find them. I woke up feeling very anxious. Despite this, I went to see Toby after dropping the girls off to school, and brought him up to date on the findings from the pond.

“So is that it then—a storage place for criminals which he happened to see by chance and they killed him?”

“It could be, I suppose if they used it by day, he’d be in school most of the time. Who looked after his garden, it looked far too well cared for a busy man to be doing it?”

“I dunno, why?”

“Well, wouldn’t they be the obvious person to investigate?” I offered.

“Yeah, could be.”

“Aren’t you going to be suggesting it to your super?”

“He’s probably done it by now.”

“What if he hasn’t?”

“I can hardly do it can I?”

“No, but you could suggest it if he hasn’t.” I offered him my phone and he rang his office and spoke with his sergeant. They chatted for some time and finally, he said, ‘Oh’ with a degree of displeasure.

“What happened?” I asked him.

“The gardener has turned up dead.”

“Oh,” I said feeling a degree of disappointment.

“He got mowed down,” said Toby chortling, before his laughter caused his wound to hurt.

I didn’t laugh at his sick joke, as it sounded as if another human had become yet one more murder statistic and that was a reason for sadness not humour, more myrrh than mirth.

“So was he murdered?” I asked. He could have fallen down the stairs or died in his own bed for all I knew.

“Looks like, unless you happen to sleep with a knife in your bed and roll on top of it, several times with your hands tied together.”

“A very determined suicide, then?” I said smirking.

“Yep, a bad case of gardener’s prune.”

“You mean where the gardener gets pruned,” I suggested.

“Yeah, I wonder if he was stoned first?”

“Oh, Toby, that is so bad.” I groaned, and we both laughed.

Unbeknownst to either of us, Martina must have been watching because when I went back to my car, the tyres had been slashed. It cost me two hundred quid and a call to the police to get my car back to driveable. When I saw her again, I’d have something to say to her and it wouldn’t necessarily be polite.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1138

“You’re late,” observed Stella.

“I am well aware of that, some bastard slashed my tyres in the hospital car park.”

“Oh, what for?”

“If I knew that, I could send them the bill for the new ones.”

“You do seem to have an ability to make enemies, Cathy.”

“What? I spend all my time being nice to everyone, trying to keep the peace between the kids and this happens.”

“I don’t think the kids had anything to do with it, did they?”

“Of course not, but I try to help people, stand up for what I believe in and some arsehole with a penknife cost me two hundred and fifty flipping quid.”

“They did all four?”

“Yes, I had to call out a garage to replace them, luckily they had four suitable tyres available.”

“Did you call the police?”

“Yes, I thought it needed to be logged, but they sent someone out to see it anyway. He took some photos of it.”

“So who d’ya think did it?”

“Well, that Martina woman, Toby’s ex, has a screw loose and threatened my kids.”

“Not the cleverest thing to do to you; but would a woman be able to slash tyres?”

“I don’t see why not, don’t you think so?”

“I don’t think I could, could you?”

“I’ve no idea, why d’ya wanna go out and see if we can on your car?”

“Really Cathy, that isn’t funny.”

“I was joking,” I teased.

“God, I hope so—but then, you are a registered psycho.”

“No, I’m a licensed one.”

“I thought that was the same.”

“Yeah whatever.”

“Mummy, when we ’avin’ tea?” asked Mima.

“I’ll get it underway.” I retreated to the kitchen and started banging pots and pans about, and half an hour later, I was nearly ready to serve a chicken risotto. Tom of course grumbled that chicken and rice should be served only as curry, which prompted some discussion, but as the kids seemed to enjoy both, they managed to dissipate any strong feelings.

Sometimes I feel taken for granted and after the attack upon my car my skin felt rather thin and I was quite close to leaving the table and stamping up to my room. Trish seemed to recognise things weren’t entirely happy and started talking about how nice both were and that we hadn’t had risotto for ages.

I think I was very sensitive, but also surprised that I didn’t feel Tom was joking like he usually does, so maybe he’s had a hard time too. I didn’t enquire and he didn’t tell, but I noticed him staggering up to his bed after a couple of hours swigging a single malt in his study. I haven’t seen him like that for ages so something must be getting to him, I hope it’s not me.

By the time the kids were all in bed and I’d done the tucking in and storytelling bit, I was ready for my own bed, and I was asleep within ten minutes of crawling into it. Of course, Simon had to phone about ten minutes after that and was a little put out that I didn’t want to talk. I had sent him a photo of the tyres, so he wanted to discuss it. I promised to call him tomorrow and rang off—then spent an hour watching the clock. It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t know I’d gone to bed—he’d been in a meeting most of the evening, trying to predict what this loony government is going to do next and whether the pound was going to take a bashing against other currencies. If the exchange rate goes down against the pound the bank loses money unlike manufacturers who export things more cheaply—however, no one seems to take on board that exports might be cheaper and thus more competitive but imported raw materials are dearer. Still, what do I know? I’m only a stupid housewife whose food bills are increasing weekly.

I woke early, obviously worrying about who had attacked my car and worrying if they might do so again or possibly the children next time. That frightened me more than anything else. I called Simon, who always seems to be up early unless he’s been drinking.

“I’m sorry I was short with you last night, but you had woken me up.”

“Sorry Babes, that was the first time I could get back to you. You got the tyres sorted?”

“Yeah, cost me two hundred and fifty though.”

“Yeah, but as long as you’re okay, what’s it matter?”

“It matters because it was an unprovoked attack upon my property, and I’m not sure why.”

“I thought you said it was this madwoman, Martini or whatever.”

“I still think she could be responsible, but I’m not as convinced as before.”

“Why not?”

“Because it takes quite a lot of strength to slash a tyre.”

“Does it? I wouldn’t have thought so with a carpet knife, it’s not like you’re cutting through the tread where most of the steel is.”

“They were quite heavily slashed.”

“She could have got her boyfriend to do it for her.”

“Simon, you aren’t helping me to feel any better.”

“Sorry Babes.”

“Tom was a bit funny last night, he got stewed before he went to bed.”

“They’re probably cutting his budgets.”

“Oh hell, I hadn’t even thought of that.”

“It’s all you hear on the news, so I wouldn’t have expected you to think of it, Babes.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” I snapped, quoting my mother.

“Yeah, but wit is the highest form of humour,” he threw straight back at me. Why hadn’t I thought of that when my mother scorned me?

I ended the call and went and showered, then got the girls up—their hair wasn’t too bad so I just combed it rather than washed it. Then after waking Danny and Julie, we went downstairs for breakfast. Tom was just finishing as we arrived in the kitchen.

“Is everything all right, Daddy?” I asked of him.

He stopped looked at me and said, “Aye, it’s chust fine.”

“I thought I might have upset you yesterday.”

“Och weel, if ye’re gang tae serve foreign food, I prefer curry, ye ken.”

“Yes, I ken very well.”

“Och, weel that’s a’richt then.” He pecked me on the cheek and picking up his briefcase and jacket, left by the back door to go to the university. I continued pouring cereals and making toast. About ten minutes later, he came back in.

“Have you forgotten something, Daddy?”

“Nay, I havnae, ye’ll need tae use the Mondeo the morn, they’ve done yer tyres again.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1139

Jenny took the girls to school with Tom in his Freelander while I waited for the police. Something which surprised me was the arrival of the superintendent, whom I’d have thought had better things to do than investigate vandalism to my car.

“Our paths seem to cross continually,” he observed drily.

“Who is doing this? Apart from costing me a fortune, it’s beginning to frighten me.”

“Isn’t that the whole point—to scare you, show you that they can harm you even when you think you’re safe.”

“If they touch any of my children, I won’t be answerable for the consequences.”

“That makes you as bad as them, though, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t claim to be better than them.”

“Don’t you? You saved young Old’s life—I’ve since spoken to the surgeon, a Mr Nicholls, he swore me to secrecy, which I respect—but you’re something special aren’t you, Lady Cameron?”

“Oh sure, maybe Dan Brown got it wrong, instead of Audrey Tautou being the last in the bloodline of Jesus, maybe it’s me. After all, I was born in Dumfries, which is closer to Rosslyn Chapel than Paris is.”

“I don’t think I’d base too much on Dan Brown’s ramblings, Lady Cameron, I believe they’ve been shown to be wild speculation formed from poor research, however, they are good cliffhangers or page turners.”

“Okay, so I can’t walk on water either, but then I don’t believe anyone ever could without the aid of technology. Now what about my tyres?”

“I think you’ll need some new ones.”

“I know that—what about protecting the new ones?”

“Perhaps putting it in the garage, or even closing the gates—it all helps you know.”

“What if they attack another vehicle then, like Daddy’s or Stella’s? I pointed to the other cars.”

“Who knows what they’ll do next, I certainly don’t.”

“Have you spoken with Martina whatever-her-name-is?”

“Toby’s ex, yes I have, she’s in the clear for this one.”

“How d’you know?”

“She was in hospital, she was drunk and slipped and twisted her ankle.”

“Who’s looking after her little boy?”

“Her mother, but I’m sure she’d be touched by your concern.”

“I think she’s touched already, stupid woman is going to lose her baby if she isn’t careful.”

“Oh, is she pregnant again?”

“I think so and I don’t think Toby had anything to do with it.”

“She used to be a nice girl you know, until they split up and she took to the drink.”

“So, if it’s not mad Martina, who is it? This I mean?” I pointed at the tyres which had had the walls ripped out of them.

“I don’t know, perhaps your mysterious attacker, the sinister, colour-challenged one.”

“Anything on the diamonds? I hope they’re not blood stones from Liberia or Congo or somewhere?”

“They’re being examined to try and trace their provenance, a conservative estimate, is that they were worth between two and three hundred thousand.”

“Pounds?”

“Of course, I don’t deal in these new fangled currencies like Euros and Dollars.”

“A quarter of a million hidden in someone’s garden pond—what the hell is that all about? Why not just put them in a safe deposit box?”

“I don’t know, we assume it’s some form of money laundering.”

“What, drug money?”

“Could be, or extortion or prostitution or any other of the myriad ways that organised crime makes its ill gotten gains.”

“Organised crime—you mean like the mafia?”

“Lady Cameron, are you all right? You’ve gone rather pale.”

He helped me over to a seat in the garden, “D’you want a glass of water?”

“No, I shall be fine, thank you.”

“You’ve encountered Mafiosi before?”

“If you’ve read anything about me you know I have.”

“They tend to come off worse, if I remember correctly.”

“So far, I thought we were beyond all that—perhaps they’ll never leave us alone.”

“I’m not aware of any intelligence which suggests there are Russians roaming the country looking to kill people.”

“Did they before then?”

“The powers that be knew, why?”

“They could have told me, the bastards.”

“My thoughts entirely, we didn’t know until it all erupted on our patch—not nice.”

“Try being their target.”

“I’ll pass on that, if it’s okay.”

“What about the gardener?”

“Which gardener is that, Lady Cameron?”

“Mr Edwards’s, Toby told me he died suddenly.”

“He did, suddenly and violently—he was stabbed probably by the same or similar weapon to the one which perforated my inspector.”

“Do we know why?”

“This is confidential information, Lady Cameron.”

“So? It concerns me, and without me and Sherlock Watts, you wouldn’t have the diamonds or the money.”

“True—okay, but this goes no further and I won’t brook any meddling from you, so be warned—next time I’ll arrest you.”

“I’m not promising anything.”

“You don’t make my life any easier, Lady Cameron.”

“Nor you mine, so tell me about Percy Thrower.”

“Percy Thrower, you’re not old enough to remember him are you?”

“Yes, he set up the Blue Peter garden; I was an avid Blue Peter fan.”

“Our gardener is a Norman Cashman. We don’t actually know anything much about him other than his cause of death and he did several gardens for the great and the good, and Mr Edwards. He apparently did a few town gardens for a few pop stars and actors, TV presenters, you know the sort.”

“Like Alan Titchmarsh?”

“Yes—No, I’d hope he’d do his own—oh very funny,” he said, as I sniggered.

“Do any of them have ponds?”

“They’ve been checked, don’t you worry—we found nothing.”

“You didn’t find much when you searched the Edwards’s house and garden.”

“We drained the others—no messing this time—there was nothing.”

“I don’t know, MI5 up the road and we still have organised crime—makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

“Lady Cameron, most of the crimes solved in this country are solved by simple, old fashioned, coppers—doing what they do day in and day out. MI5 tend to operate on big stuff like terrorism, with Special Branch.”

“Yeah, and shoot the wrong guys.”

“The Brazilian chappy—that was unfortunate, but he could have been a terrorist and been carrying a bomb.”

“Rubbish—he wasn’t wearing a loose fitting coat or carrying a rucksack—they panicked and got it wrong.”

“Were you there?”

“No, of course not.”

“Neither was I, so I’ll advise you not to base your judgement on third party hearsay. A mistake was made, but those blokes are risking their lives every day for the rest of us. Just because they got it wrong that time doesn’t mean they do every time.”

“Spare me the lecture, Superintendent. To recap, Norman Cashman seems to only be related to the rest of this because he’s been killed by a similar knife to the one which stabbed Toby and because he looked after Mr Edwards’s garden and fishpond?”

“Yes.”

“And we don’t know if my tyres being slashed are related to any of it?”

“No.”

“Well, thanks for coming, give my regards to Mrs Superintendent.”

“Her name is, Caprice.”

“I’m sure she’s as individual as her name.”

“She is indeed.”

“Oh, Superintendent, tell her to see the doctor about her itchy nipple—it might be more serious than she thinks, but perfectly treatable.”

“What do you know about my wife?” He suddenly seemed very serious, almost threatening.

“Only what I told you.”

“How do you know?”

“I get these ideas—dunno whence they come or why, but they tend to be right most of the time. I have to go and phone the garage, goodbye, Superintendent.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1140

On the Friday evening, Simon came home and I felt much safer, almost able to relax for the first time in days. Arguably, I can ‘look after myself’ but being a woman does tend to make me feel vulnerable, especially as the men these days seem to be growing so big. Six feet tall seems nothing these days, so my five foot seven is absolutely nothing. True lots of women are smaller, but there are quite a few who are much taller too. Anyway, I was glad that Simon was home, and he glossed over the fact that I’d spent nearly five hundred pounds on tyres during the last week.

The gates were now kept locked and we had installed tiny little spy cameras all over the place, which radioed back to a central computer. They were like security lights, in that they were activated by movement. I’d have liked ones which were activated thermally, and took infrared pictures, but they were too expensive.

In one of the outhouses—remember this place was a working farm sixty or so years ago, so in one with basically a roof and walls on it—I left an archery target prominently displayed. I didn’t really have any intention of shooting anyone, unless I caught them slashing my tyres or damaging the cars, and then I’d have loved to shoot them up the arse while they bent over—or perhaps a little in front of it—it might discourage them from breeding.

Toby was ready to be discharged from hospital, but couldn’t because he would be at home alone. I agreed with Simon, that Stella, Jenny, Julie and I would call in on a rota basis to cook him a meal and pick up any washing. We’d also spend a couple of hours with him. He was moving around better but still having some difficulty standing up straight—although the doctors said it was more psychological than a real fear his wound would open again.

Julie had been to see Toby in the morning on her way to the salon. She liked him and he, being unaware of her original gender, flirted with her which she loved. I had made her promise that she didn’t do anything with him—he was at least ten years older than her, probably more and despite his apparent sophistication, he might still feel angry if he thought she was offering more than she could deliver. She seemed to understand and promised not to get compromised, but she did enjoy flirting with him. Her body was increasingly feminine and her hair, which changed either colour or style quite frequently, made her look very convincing as a female.

Simon had actually made suggestions that he would fund surgery for her for an eighteenth birthday present. I’d thought she was hoping he’d buy her a car. Oh well, given she isn’t seventeen yet, it’s a while off and lots could happen before then.

After feeding the brood, Simon and I went over to Toby’s house to feed him and pick up any washing. Trish and Livvie were doing it for pocket money and Billie was ironing it. I’d had to let Mima take over cleaning Tom’s desk or World War Three would have broken out. Danny decided he wasn’t doing domestic chores for someone else, and we left him doing gardening for Tom to earn his pocket money.

We arrived at Toby’s about seven, just as the daylight was fading. I asked him how he was and he said his boss had been to visit and had I felt my ears burning. I asked why.

“Well you said something about his wife needing to get her breast checked out.”

“Did I?”

“Yeah, she had a persistently itchy nipple or something.”

“I can’t remember—once I’ve passed on the message, it seems to fade from my mind.”

“Well, he made her go and see the doctor who referred her almost immediately to see a breast surgeon—she has Paget’s disease of the nipple.”

“What’s that?” I asked. I’d only ever heard of Paget’s disease affecting legs, and that was because we had an old neighbour whose leg was horribly deformed by it.

“Some sort of tumour of the nipple.”

“Yuck, sounds horrible.”

“She thought she had a touch of eczema, but it was this Paget’s thingy.”

“Oh, so what happens now?”

“She’s going in for surgery in a fortnight’s time. He knew you were coming to see me tonight, so he’s left a note from his wife for you.” Toby handed me an envelope which obviously contained a card of some sort. I opened it.

‘Dear Lady Cameron,

My husband told me about your hunches regarding people’s health, and that you’d suggested to him that I might have a problem with one of my breasts. He urged me to see the doctor, which I’ve done. There is indeed a problem, which I might have prevaricated about without your urging. I’m hoping that we’ve caught it in time and I’ll make a full recovery.

Thank you so much for your help, it’s much appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Caprice Wetherspoon.’

“Goodness, people don’t usually write me things, they’re effusive in their thanks until they leave hospital and then forget all about it, which might not be a bad thing.”

“The Boss seemed to think you’d actually saved my life.”

“I’m sure he’s exaggerating.”

“Um—the surgeon agreed, he told me in confidence…”

“Which you’re breaking,” I interrupted.

“…not really, anyway, he confided that you’d actually stopped the bleeding before I got to the hospital—something about your magical touch.”

“Was that Ken Nicholls?”

“Yes.”

“He thinks I can do all sorts of things including leap tall buildings at a single bound, fly faster than a speeding bullet and so on.”

“Ouch—don’t make me laugh, Cathy, but you are funny.”

“Are you being insulting to my good lady?” teased Simon, pouring himself one of Toby’s beers.

“Wouldn’t dream of it squire,” Toby cheeked back.

I warmed up the meal I’d taken over to his house in his microwave, and served it a few minutes later. He was quite appreciative. “That is so much better than the ready meal I’d have bought from Waitrose or Tesco,” he said licking his lips.

“Don’t get too used to it, you should be able to look after yourself in a few days according to the hospital.”

“Nah, it’s gonna take months of your cooking to get me fit again, isn’t that right Simon?”

“Dunno, mate, could depend upon what beer you have in, this stuff is very average.”

I knew they were winding me up, so I insisted on watching Coronation Street, which is a programme I loathe, but I knew they’d hate it even more. Sometimes, you have to cut off your nose to spite your face just to get even.

I washed up his dishes—this guy is having a laugh, isn’t he—while he chatted with Simon, and we were ready to leave at about nine. I collected his washing and my handbag and was following Simon out of the door when he suddenly raised his hands above his head and began walking backwards back into the house. I glanced past him and saw two men wearing ski masks and holding sawn-off shotguns.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1141

With Simon blocking my view of them and hopefully, theirs of me, I dashed back into the kitchen, dumped the washing and after quietly closing the inner door, grabbed my phone and unlocked the door to the garden. I fled down the garden and out of the back gate and into a lane beyond.

I dialled 999 and was challenged then was given another number to ring. I did, good job it wasn’t an emergency.

“Emergency, which service?”

“Police, and hurry.”

“Connecting you.”

“Hello, police, what is your name.”

“I’m Lady Catherine Cameron, I’m calling from outside Inspector Toby Old’s house. Two men wearing ski masks and carrying sawn off shotguns have pushed their way in. My husband and Inspector Old are in there with them, please hurry.”

“A response vehicle is on its way.”

“I hope it’s an armed response vehicle. Get Superintendent Wetherspoon, he knows about this.”

“Lady Cameron, please stay calm and wait for the response vehicle to arrive.”

“Yeah, sure.”

At least there had been no shooting so far—which had to be a good sign. I felt like an awful coward, but someone had to raise the alarm. I wondered who the target was—if it was me, the other two should be okay. If it was Toby—not so good. They could have stabbed them both and be walking away from the scene. I dashed round to the front of the house. No one seemed to be leaving it.

A police car with blue lights flashing pulled up down the road, another blocked the other end and then as I darted back to the rear of the house, I heard the helicopter buzzing towards us like a giant dragonfly. It would alert everyone that something was going down, including the villains inside.

Back in the garden, I found some twine and tied it about a foot above the ground just outside the back door—I hoped Simon and Toby weren’t first out of the door. I presumed the police were evacuating neighbours, just in case. I spotted an open window, and along the garden wall, a ladder—some security expert, our Inspector Old.

I just about managed to carry the ladder to the house and push it up to the window. My hands were filthy—I made a note to complain to Toby for future use. Then I started up the ladder when two coppers came rushing into the garden.

“What the hell are you doing?” one of them hissed at me.

“What’s it look like—can’t you see how dirty the windows are?” I hissed back.

“Get down, you silly bitch! You’ll get yourself hurt.”

“Only if I fall off. Be a dear and stand on the bottom will you?”

By this time I was up to the bathroom window and managed to pull it open and began to slither inside, trying not to grunt out loud with the effort. I pulled myself in, and almost doing a handstand on the washbasin, carefully eased my legs down and on to the floor.

I could hear voices from downstairs. They knew the police were outside. I had to be very careful now or we could all get killed. I did wonder about sliding back out the window and down to the garden.

The phone rang. I knew it would be the police trying to get the gunmen to surrender. I heard Toby answer it. He handed it to one of the gunmen.

I heard him speak to the police and they must have told him they were seen entering because that’s what he called to his mate. “The police say we were seen entering, so they were telling the truth, the bitch wasn’t here after all.”

“Pity, I’d like to give her a good seeing to before I killed her.” Ironic or what? A would be murderer fancies me. I’d like a few minutes alone with him, preferably with a small sharp knife and his genitals in my hand.

I looked in the bathroom—nothing much I could use in terms of arming myself. I crept carefully into the bedroom: nothing much except some men’s smellies and a bottle of brandy. I also found a cigarette lighter by some candles. A plan was forming.

The conversation with the gunman had been short and sweet. He’d laughed at the policeman calling him and put the phone down, saying something about hostages.

I could actually see him on the phone, because it was in the hallway underneath me. I needed something to make a hole in the bottle’s top. In the bedroom, in the drawer of the bedside table I found a penknife, Swiss Army type and within a few moments had made a hole in the bottle, then using a box of plastic drinking straws I made a long tube by forcing the end of one inside another. I then jammed the end into the bottle after unravelling a few yards of thread from a hand knitted sweater which I tied to a piece of paper.

Then after this, I speed dialled Toby’s number. To my amazement the phone began to ring and one of the gunmen picked it up. I carefully tipped the brandy and steered the straw tube over his head, if he felt anything he didn’t say anything. I lit the paper and lowered it burning close to him.

Somehow he wasn’t looking, and either didn’t see or smell the brandy, until he became a human flambeau, to which he reacted by dropping his gun and racing round in a blind panic, screaming.

His partner seemed equally perplexed, and then began beating him with a cloth, during which time I sneaked down the stairs, ran down the hallway and picked up the dropped shotgun. I still hadn’t been seen. The smell of burning material, hair and skin was horrible, and activated the smoke alarm in Toby’s hallway.

At this point, the unhurt gunman walked out to the hallway and reached up smash the smoke alarm which was peeping loudly and irritatingly. I whacked him on the head with the other gun and he dropped like a stone.

The burnt gunman must have seen me take out his pal and came rushing at me like a lunatic, brandishing a knife which looked like the one which had stabbed Toby. It was a dagger type. I was holding a gun and he was charging at me, so I pulled the triggers. The blast knocked me backwards and blew him across the room as he took the full force of it in his chest.

I lay on the hallway carpet as the police came charging through the door, presumably after hearing the shot. I was arrested and ambulances were called.

Back at the police station, Superintendent Wetherspoon kept shouting at me until I began to cry. “What the hell were you thinking of? Why did you go in there? You’ve interfered once too often—now you’ve killed someone. I’m going to charge you with manslaughter.”

Why did I go back in there? Because I knew they were going to try and kill Simon or Toby. I also knew they were after me. The concussed baddy was the games teacher, who had spotted the potential for the fishpond when he recognised the gardener at a visit to Edwards house for a staff barbecue. Apparently he’d taught him as a kid and known he was a bad ’un.

They were smuggling diamonds, according to Toby, which they did in items like sportswear, hence the missing boots—put in a false insole and you can glue thousands of pounds of diamonds to the underside of it.

I was spared the charges apparently, because Toby and Simon both testified that the gunmen were going to kill them, and that the one I shot was charging at me with a knife—which was the same one which had killed the gardener and stabbed Toby.

I was let off with a police caution to keep out of their way in future—there’s gratitude for you.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1142

The next few days were filled with mundane matters such as caring for the children. I never did go back to Toby’s house because I kept thinking about the man who got shot. Should I have tried to save him? I felt quite guilty about it all.

The police were frequent visitors and they explained that the games teacher and a gang of accomplices had been smuggling diamonds from West Africa for a couple of years. The usual method was in footwear, usually sports shoes or boots, where they attached them to a false insole.

Through his connections the games master had set up a series of sports groups who invited teams of athletes from Africa to this country. Each team had a mule or carrier of the contraband diamonds, and their boots would be exchanged for new ones, the old ones being full of diamonds.

Most of the athletes invited over were genuine, as were most of the people inviting them, and the inviters helped, coaching and supplying their visitors with new kit or equipment—so lots of good came from it.

Bailey wasn’t the brains behind it, he wasn’t clever enough, but he was a major player in the group, being the one who supposedly felt passionate about the lack of resources people in the Congo and other African states had to suffer. He helped to create the groups in this country of footballers, basketball players, together with track and field athletes who set up the support groups and genuinely wanted to help their fellow athletes in Africa.

As they say, it’s an ill wind which doesn’t do someone some good. This was an ill wind okay, of cynical abusers of a system which dealt in blood diamonds, smuggled out from countries split by civil wars or invasions by militias, to pay for weapons and other items the various factions needed to pursue their illegal or immoral aims and murderous activities.

I vividly recalled hearing an interview with a woman who’d been raped and forced to watch her whole family being slaughtered—it made me feel a mixture of outrage and compassion. I sent some money but now it seemed I’d done something more direct—I’d stopped, or at least slowed down some of those dealing in blood diamonds. I’m not naïve enough to believe I make more than a ripple on the pond, but every bit helps.

The man who got shot trying to stab me was eventually identified as the gardener’s brother-in-law, a Wayne Wykeham—when I heard his name, I thought it might explain his antisocial behaviour.

According to the plod, he was a long time loser—drug and alcohol abuser, dabbling in petty crime, assault and prostitution, with convictions for all of these. His departure from the scene wouldn’t be missed by many, although it annoyed me that we write people off in their teens when we should be trying to rehabilitate them. End of sermon.

I saw Dr Thomas because I felt I needed to discuss my past few weeks. She seemed to think I was doing all right considering the stress I was under. When I revealed I killed someone, she was visibly shocked—she calmed down when I explained what had happened.

“Why didn’t you just wait for the police to resolve the problem?”

“I was worried for Simon, and also for Toby, given that they’d already stabbed him once—if he was the target, he could have already been dying in his own house.”

“You seem to take awful risks, Cathy, which is very much more boy behaviour than girl.”

“I do what I feel is necessary when those I love are threatened.”

“Like any other lioness, eh?”

“If you say so.”

After I spoke with the school, where a tribute to Reg Edwards was being planned, Danny was reinstated. He wasn’t overly pleased to go back there until he discovered he had a bit of a following after his fight and suspension.

Talking of the erstwhile deputy head, it seemed he was an innocent in the diamond business, and his first encounter with it proved to be his last. It seemed his gardener had built a few cavities in the sides of his fishpond, and given that diamonds are virtually indestructible, they could stay there indefinitely.

The money was payment for a small shipment they had sent out. They had contacts in the UK and European gems industries and seemed to move their merchandise about the place with minimal notice by police or customs and excise.

Once things settled down I seemed to go into a lethargy or depression, doing just enough to keep the kids and house clean and tidy, but not a lot else. Simon was convinced it was a reaction to the shooting of that man. I felt it was just a general staleness.

In the end, I took the baby and went off to Bristol for a few days while he got Jenny to look after the others, himself included while I was away.

I had a paid cleaner to keep an eye on the place—my house in Bristol, I mean, and her husband kept the garden in reasonable care, so it didn’t look empty.

When the girls found out I was going to Bristol they were quite upset, but when I explained it was only for a couple or three nights, they seemed happier—notice I said happier, they certainly weren’t happy—Trish almost implying that it was tantamount to child neglect.

Once we arrived, I made myself a cuppa and fed my boob-sucker, who then gurgled and cooed as I showed her round the place, before throwing up as we came down the stairs. It took me over an hour to clean it up while she sat and bounced in her recliner, making encouraging noises. I did manage to keep my temper, and after eating and reading, had an early night. I fed the demon before bed and she seemed to sleep most of the night, waking at seven.

I didn’t know if was the fact that I was home which helped me to sleep, or if it was just the break from the stress at home. I did things like spring-cleaning, even though it was October and really autumn. The weather was dry and sunny with a stiff breeze, so I washed loads of bedding and dried it. I cleaned carpets as well, with a machine I hired from a local shop. The dirt that came out of them with the steam cleaner thing was frightening, especially as they didn’t look dirty to begin with. The stair carpet was the dirtiest and it looked brand new after I’d finished.

I used up some items in the freezer, which together with some fresh veg made a tasty stew and that was converted to a rich stock and subsequently a pan of soup after it met with my hand blender, being delicious with the bread I made in the machine I’d bought to take my father loaves in hospital.

The thought of that made me feel his loss again, and that made me think about Mum, and by the time I went to bed that night, I was really down in the dumps. However, during the night I had a dream in which my mother told me to count my blessings and to care for my baby and other children, and not feel sorry for myself.

I awoke with a strong recollection of the dream, and considered my wrist well and truly slapped. We went home the next day with a little more energy and commitment, at least from me if not the baby—well, there’s always one isn’t there?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1143

We got held up at road works and nothing moved for about ten minutes, which gave me time to muse on my dream. I can’t say I remember much of it, other than my mother telling me that I had a baby and other children to look after and that they needed me to get my act in gear and pull my finger out and so on.

Dreams involving my mother seem to fall into two categories: those which seemed to show her in a negative light and those which did the exact opposite. I was happy to feel that in the past year, although the dreams had been few and far between, they’d all been positive.

I was convinced that all of them were due to my unconscious reprogramming events recorded in my brain, and that because in most regards I felt easier about myself, I could feel easier about others, including my father. It was a happy fact that I do believe my dad did come round to accepting me as his daughter and that Simon and I were an item. A few years before, he’d have flown into a homophobic rage and tried to kill me, yet when he met Simon, he seemed to like him and he gave his blessing to my being engaged. I admit I had a very strong negotiating position and his was very weak, but he honestly seemed to change when he saw how happy I was. I’m not religious as you know, but I like to believe that everyone should be allowed redemption, or the opportunity for it.

Because I thought better of Dad, I suspect the same happened for Mum, and as my feelings were more relaxed and I’d worked through some of my anger at their bigotry, I found it easier to see her in a new and more positive light. That had to be it, anything else wouldn’t compute in my map of the world. However, the anomalies of her telling me I’d have loads of children and about the key under the dressing table were just that—anomalous. Where they came from, I don’t know, though I’d guess they’d be wishful thinking and fragments of memory of the safe place under the floorboards in the bedroom.

The car behind beeped and I realised I was holding up the traffic, so I let out the clutch and drove through the road works—worn out carriageway, apparently.

I didn’t hurry back, so we stopped near Salisbury and met up with Siân. I sent her a text and told her I’d be bringing the youngest of my kids with me. When she opened the door and saw me with a baby, her eyes came out on stalks.

“This isn’t yours, is it?” she asked.

“Yes—I’m her foster mother, why?” I smirked.

“For a moment, I began to wonder—you were always so girly when you were younger, it wouldn’t have surprised me if you’d had some girly bits as well.”

“No, but I do need to feed her, or will in a few moments,” I could see her stirring since the car had stopped.

“Sure, d’you want me to warm the bottle?”

“No need.”

“Oh you have one of those automatic travel ones do you?”

“Yes, the original ones.”

“Which ones are those—Cow and Gate?”

“No, d’you mind if I sit down to do this?”

“No, course not, come on in.”

I carried the bag of changing things, the mat, clean nappies, liners and so forth, plus clothes and some wipes. I picked up the baby in my left arm, undid my blouse and bra and let her clamp on to me. Siân’s eyes nearly popped out for the second time.

“You’re feeding her yourself?”

“Duh? What’s it look like?”

“Crikey, what did you have to take to do that?”

“Nothing—it happened spontaneously.”

“What—? But that’s impossible.”

“No, it’s improbable, but it’s what happened.”

“Had you let her suck your breast before?”

“No—my boobs just began to leak milk and when she started to suck, they positively flowed with the stuff. I went and saw my GP who shrugged and said it was breast milk okay, and to see what happened. Here we are, months later.”

“Good God, that’s simply amazing.”

“I don’t know if any gods had a part in it, but if they did I’m extremely grateful, and this little monkey even more so.”

“I was going to suggest we went out to lunch because I thought you’d have a five year old with you, not an infant. So, I’ll knock us up a quick snack if that’s okay?”

“Fine with me, I’ll have to cook when I get home anyway.”

“So how did you get her, I mean she must have been a newborn.”

“It’s a very sad story,” and while she prepared some jacket potatoes with cheese and salad, I told her the outline.

“Oh my God, so she killed herself, the baby’s mother? Oh how awful.”

I had tears in my eyes and just nodded, for a moment I was too choked to speak as I relived that horrible period when Trish and I discovered Maria Drummond.

“She took an awful risk,” said Siân, “what if you hadn’t rushed round to her house—the baby could have been very sick or even dead?”

“I hate to think, but she left me a note to ask me to look after baby Catherine, so how could I do any other?”

“Absolutely, and girl, I hate to say it, but motherhood suits you.”

“You always did talk in clichés,” I teased her.

“I’m a GP, patients understand them.”

I sipped at the water she’d given me. “When’s lunch, I’m starving?” I declared, ready to eat a horse.

“You always could stuff like a pig and yet remain thin—it would serve you right if you end up with boobs like pumpkins after all this feeding lark.”

“Jealous are we?” I threw back at her.

She pouted and said, “No of course not—yes you bitch, of course I’m jealous.”

“I’ll send Simon round if you want a…”

“Cathy, I’m not into men if you remember, so kind as it might seem, I couldn’t let Simon shag me even for a baby.”

“I was going to say, if you’d only let me finish—if you wanted a sperm donor.” She blushed like traffic light (yes the one that was changing) and then we both laughed.

“Where’s Kirsty?” I asked, as I changed the baby.

“She’s on a course all day, so when you texted me, I was rather pleased, now I just feel broody—you horrible woman.”

“D’you mind if I gloat for a few moments, it’s such an unusual feeling and I’d like to enjoy it?”

“Bitch,” she snapped in mock anger, then we both dissolved in laughter just like old times.

I put tiny wee down for a sleep and Siân and I chatted for a couple of hours—Jenny was collecting the girls—with lots of laughter. “You know, when I look back to when we were in school, I can’t remember you as a boy at all. I mean we used to laugh like schoolgirls back then. No wonder some of our contemporaries wondered about you—what with your long hair and girlish body.”

“I didn’t see it as girlish, but I was lucky that I didn’t develop as male, so when I got oestrogens, it kick started a female puberty.”

“Given how you felt inside, I think you’ve been very fortunate. You know I had a youngster turn up with her mother, and knowing you made it so much easier to feel positive about being involved with the journey into womanhood. I was able to say that I had a good friend who’d done it, and because the kid was only eleven, I felt there was an opportunity for good transition—although I’d need some expert help to guide us all.”

“Did I tell you, that Billie has defected?”

“In what way?” she looked very concerned.

“Left the boy camp and joined the girls.”

“You mean, he’s living as she?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, so how d’you feel about that?”

“When it happened I was anything but happy, having Julie and Trish already, but it seems to be working out so far, she sees Stephanie.”

“Gosh—what are the chances of that happening, I mean four transgendered people in a group of six or seven? Phenomenally against, I’d think.”

“Oh well, obviously it was meant to be.” I glanced up at the clock, “Goodness, look at the time, I have to dash.”

I’d had a lovely time with Siân and we both promised to do so again. We hugged then I got in the car and headed for home, hoping to beat the rush hour traffic but knowing I was too late for that.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1144

It was three o’clock as we began to leave Salisbury on the A36 when it began to rain. It had been a fine morning so loads of the school kids were caught without umbrellas or raincoats—not that some of them bothered, wearing just shirts or blouses. They’d have been in deepest doo-doo in my days: detention for not wearing the proper uniform.

On the outskirts of the city we passed someone holding a card saying Portsmouth, please. It was young woman of about sixteen and she was soaking wet. I stopped the car and she came running up to it.

“I can take you to the city centre, is that any use?”

“That would be brill,” she said her whole face lighting up.

“Hop in then.”

She got in and I introduced myself as Cathy, she said her name was Phoebe.

“So do you know Portsmouth?” I asked making conversation, the baby having gone off to sleep as soon as the car started moving.

“I’ve been there a few times.”

“Where are you staying?” I asked aware that she only had a small grip with her.

“With my brother.”

“Where does he work, the dockyard?”

“No way, he works at the university, in the biology department.”

“Oh, I know some of them, what’s his name?”

“Neal.”

“Neal, what’s he do?”

“He’s a technician.”

“Is he, can’t say I know too many of them.”

“Apparently, he works with this woman—well she used to be a man—but he says she’s drop dead gorgeous since she had a sex change, so I don’t suppose she has had a sex-change, I mean, you can’t make a beautiful woman out of a man can you. She’s been on the telly, too, she’s an expert on dormice and she’s always in trouble—she’s like a crime fighter.”

“So she’s beautiful, a crime fighter, on the telly and had a sex change—she sounds pretty busy?”

“I’d love to meet her, I’d be able to tell in a moment if she’d been a bloke.”

“Well you’re cleverer than I am, I just accept people for who they want to be.”

“Yeah, I suppose I do too—we’ve got this boy in school, they say he wears girl’s clothes when he’s not in school. He gets bullied all the time.”

“Do you bully him?”

“No, me and a group of us girls, we sometimes let him hang out with us to keep him from being beat up. He’s all right I suppose, his name’s Steve and we often call him Stephanie.”

“What’s he say to that?”

“He doesn’t seem to mind—he might even like it.”

“Have you asked him?”

“No.”

“It could be a good thing to do, and then if he doesn’t like it, perhaps you could stop teasing him.”

“Yeah, I might.”

“Is Neal working at the university, today?”

“I s’pose so, it’s his birthday so my visit’s a surprise.”

“Perhaps you should let him know—what if he’s got something planned?”

“He won’t mind, nor will Glo—Gloria, they share a house, well they live together—she’s nice, although she seems to spend all her time looking after dormice.”

“For the crime fighting woman?”

“Yeah, I s’pose so.”

“Don’t you think you should call him, just in case?”

“Nah, I’ll do it from the city centre, he can get me on his way home.”

“I think you ought to call now.”

“Nah, I’ll do it later.”

“What if he’s away for his birthday?” I happened to know he was in Brussels with Gloria—she told me about it ages ago.

“He never goes away.”

“I’ve got a horrible feeling, someone told me Gloria was going away,” I dropped a hint like a brick.

“She wouldn’t go away on his birthday, she’d never do that.”

“She would if he went with her.”

“Oh crap,” she picked out her phone and discovered it had a nearly flat battery. “Oh crap and double crap—oops, sorry, um, Cathy.”

“It’s okay, here use mine, d’you know his number?”

“Oh, a Blackberry, nice.” She accepted my phone and dialled before I realised something.

“Cathy? No it’s Phoebe.” She put it on speaker.

“What are you calling from Cathy’s phone for?”

“Mine’s got a flat battery.”

“Yeah, but how do you know Cathy?”

“She’s giving me a lift to see you.”

“Where?”

“To, like, Portsmouth, stupid.”

“Who are you calling stupid? I’m not in Portsmouth, I’m in Brussels. So now who’s stupid?”

“Oh, crap, you’re not are you? Like where am I gonna stay?”

“Let me speak to Cathy.”

“He wants to talk to you.”

“Tell him to hold on a second, I’ll pull over here.”

“Cathy, is that you?”

“Yes Neal, hold on I’m pulling over to a rest area.”

“You said you didn’t know him.”

“Short term memory loss, didn’t sleep too much last night—’cos of her.” I indicated the sleeping infant.

“Ah, isn’t she lovely?”

“Not at three in the morning.”

“Cathy, c’mon this call’s costin’ me a fortune,” Neal complained.

I took the phone. “It isn’t Neal, I’m paying for it. Now what d’you want me to do with Phoebe?” She sat with her arms folded and pouted.

“Apart from strangling her?” he joked.

“She was trying to surprise you for your birthday.”

“She succeeded too—stupid girl.”

“I could put her up, for the night.”

“Would you? That’d be brilliant, Cathy.”

“Yes, she can decide what she wants to do in the morning, as long as she doesn’t eat too much.”

“She does, she eats like a bloody horse.”

“I’ll see if I can find a spare nose bag.”

“Thanks, Cathy—can I speak to her again?”

“Of course, have a nice weekend, and don’t worry about her, she’ll be fine.”

I handed the phone back to Phoebe, who put it on speaker again.

“It’s me,” she said.

“You idiot for not letting me know, you behave yourself for Lady Cameron.”

“Who’s she?”

“The person whose phone you’re using.”

“Lady?”

“Yes, she’s married to a lord, he’s a nice bloke, called Simon.”

“Wow,” was all she said.

“So behave, Phoebs or I’ll tell Mum what a twit you are.”

“I’ll behave, have a nice birthday.”

Neal rang off and Phoebe handed me back the Blackberry.

“I take it you’re happy to slum it with me.”

“Ha ha, you’re Lady something or other, so where d’you live? A stately home, with a butler and loads a servants?”

“Not quite, I live in an old farmhouse, which belongs to Professor Agnew.”

“That’s Neal’s prof—he said that woman, the beautiful one lived with his prof.”

“Oops, perhaps I’d better do some crime fighting—I know, I’ll arrest a dormouse, how about that?”

“I don’t like mice.”

“Dormice aren’t like house mice.”

“Aren’t they?”

“No, maybe I’ll show you one tomorrow.”

“If that’s your baby, you can’t have had a sex change—I’ll kill Neal when I see him.”

“Perhaps he meant someone else.”

“Yeah, mustadone, though you are quite beautiful.”

“Oh well, if I’m only quite beautiful and your weirdo was drop dead gorgeous, it must be someone else.”

We rejoined the motorway, and were home about twenty minutes later. As soon as I walked in I had an avalanche of children wash all over me. After dealing with that, I introduced Phoebe to the girls and to Danny as he walked through. His eyes were as big as saucers, and I think I recognised love or lust in them—she was quite a pretty girl.

I sent her up to shower and change while I shoved her clothes in the washing machine—they were quite damp, so unfortunately were her spare clothes, her bag wasn’t very waterproof. I loaned her some of Julie’s stuff as they were about the same size.

Jenny looked quite tired and I gave her the evening off, so she left minutes later.

“Who’s Phoebe?” Trish asked on behalf of the interrogation committee, “She’s not comin’ to live here too, is she?”

“No, she came to see her brother, Neal, one of the university technicians but he’s away, so she’s staying the night.”

“Oh, that’s okay then.”

“I’m glad to hear it.” Cheeky madam.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1145

Phoebe arrived downstairs about the same time Julie came in. I did manage to say that I’d loaned her some clothes before Julie started on like a character from the three bears—who’s been wearing my jeans?

Once Julie had changed—she was a bit scruffy after her ride in the rain, I properly introduced them, then left them to it.

Trish, the self-appointed spokesperson for the rest of the family, followed me out to the kitchen. “How long is Phoebe staying?”

“I don’t know, tonight, possibly tomorrow: why?”

She blushed, “I—um wondered if it was worth getting to know her.”

“Of course it is, she might be very interesting, Julie seemed to think she was worth the effort.” Just then Julie came into the kitchen.

“Mummy, can me an’ Phoebe go into town?”

“I’m just about to get dinner.”

“We’ll get a burger.”

“I don’t know Julie, I promised Neal that I’d look after his sister—has she told her mother she’s staying with us?”

“I dunno, do I?”

“Please ask her to do so.”

“Can we go out then?”

“Remember you’re working tomorrow, and no alcohol; oh and take your phone with you. Make sure Phoebe’s mum has our phone number.”

“You worry too much.”

“It’s my job, make sure you do what I say or I won’t let either of you go. Oh and do any of you have a charger for Phoebe’s phone?”

“It’s the same as Livvie’s an’ it’s on charge now.” Julie scampered off while I worried if I’d done the right thing. I’d only moments before got the dinner on, when Simon arrived and then the baby wanted a feed.

I greeted Si with a kiss which had Trish tutting like an old woman, then I got the baby and started to feed her. “We have a visitor,” I told Simon as he sat watching me feed baby Catherine.

“Where, I don’t see anyone.”

“Neal, the lab tech from the Uni, his younger sister, Phoebe.”

“Where’s she going to stay?”

“With Julie, on the blow up mattress, if you could blow it up for me.”

“I suppose.”

“Well my hands are rather full at the moment.”

“Tell you what, send the baby to do the mattress and I’ll suckle you.” He grinned and stepped back out of range.

As he turned to go out of the kitchen, so Julie and Phoebe came in. “Oh, hi Daddy,” offered Julie to an astonished Simon. “We’re off out in a mo, can we ’ave some dosh for the burgers?”

“But your mother is cooking.”

“Yeah, I know, she said we could go,” argued Julie and Simon surrendered and gave her ten pounds. Phoebe was absolutely transfixed watching me breast feeding.

“Anything wrong?” I asked her.

“Uh—what? Um no, I’ve never seen it before, that’s all,” she blushed.

“Can you save some for me cornflakes?” cheeked Julie, and Phoebe’s jaw dropped.

“Don’t you listen to her Phoebe—she’s an awful teaser,” I cautioned.

“Where are you going?” asked Simon.

“The Sailor’s Return, they have live music on Fridays.”

“It’s raining, c’mon, I’ll drive you there?”

“What, in the Jag?” asked Julie expectantly.

“No, I’ll use your mother’s car—I’m low on fuel.” His reply caused Julie’s face to fall.

By the time he returned dinner was ready to serve and I delegated laying tables and so on to the girls who seemed happy to assist once the older competition was out of the way.

“I don’t know about Julie and Phoebe sharing, I mean technically, Julie is still…” worried Simon.

“A boy, I know, but the pills she’s been taking mean it’s all but redundant. She couldn’t get it up with a forklift.”

He nearly choked on the bottle of beer he was drinking

“Besides, where else could she stay? Jenny has the spare room.”

“Okay, you’ve convinced me.”

Stella came down with Puddin’ who seemed too sleepy to eat very much.”

“What’s the matter with Pud?” I asked her.

“I think she has a teething cold, she kept me awake much of the night.”

“Och it wis yers I could hear, I thocht it wis Cathy’s.”

“Sorry, Tom,” Stella shrugged.

“Och, it’s alricht, they cannae help it.”

“There’s some rugger on Sky tonight Tom, if you’re interested?” Simon mentioned to our landlord.

“Aye, I could be.”

While Stella and I cleared up the girls went off to the dining room to play on their computers and Tom, Si and Danny went to watch the rugby—Heineken Cup or something.

“So where did you pick up the latest waif and stray?”

“Outskirts of Salisbury, she had a card asking for Portsmouth and it was peeing down.”

“She could have been a druggy or mugger or anything.”

“Phoebe is Neal’s younger sister.”

“But you didn’t know that, did you?”

“No I didn’t, but she was a drenched kid, who looked about Julie’s age and I didn’t want her catching pneumonia while I had a spare seat and was going to the same place she wanted.”

“You’re too soft, you can’t save the world, you know.”

“I’m not trying to, I’m just looking out for a young woman who could have been a wrong ’un, but she wasn’t. Her mother knows where she’s staying and so does Neal.”

“You got off lucky this time.”

“Stella, I think I could handle myself against a kid.”

“What if she grabbed your baby, if you were driving she could have done all sorts of things to her before you could intervene.”

“Phoebe was sitting in the front with me, tiny wee, was on the back seat behind me. She was perfectly safe.”

“She could have attacked you as you drove, stabbing you or blinding you.”

“In which case she’d have killed or hurt herself, wouldn’t she? I appreciate your concern big sister, but it is unwarranted. She’s probably at more risk now out with Julie at a pub.”

“Does she know about Julie?”

“I haven’t told her, and have no intention of doing so.”

“What if she sees her in the shower?”

“The bathroom door does have a lock you know.”

“I don’t know, Julie is a bit slack sometimes.”

“That’s up to her isn’t it?”

“So you don’t mind if she’s discovered to be a girl with something extra?”

“She has to learn to take responsibility for herself, Stella, otherwise she’ll never learn. If she chooses to tell Phoebe—which I think would be unnecessary—she has to live with the consequences.”

“But if she finds out half the kids here aren’t what they claim to be?”

“Stella, I thought you knew better than that—they are exactly what they claim to be, and I’d be grateful if you’d remember it.”

“I didn’t mean it like that…”

“I don’t care how you meant it, the fact that you thought it hurt me.”

“I’m sorry Cathy, I was trying to protect them—that’s all.”

“I know, but sometimes the best way to protect them is to allow them to live as they wish, so they grow into the role rather than rush it later in life, like I had to.”

“Sorry, I forgot you were so old, girl.” She poked her tongue out at me.

“C’mon, let’s have a cuppa while it’s quiet,” I suggested and switched on the kettle.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1146

“What time did you tell them to be home?” I asked Simon.

“I didn’t, I assumed you’d done that.”

“It’s eleven o’clock, d’you think you should go and find them?” It was more of a huge hint than a question.

“I expect they’ll be all right,” he said his attention going back to his book.

“They’re only sixteen, Simon.”

“Call Julie and tell her to get her arse back here pronto.”

“I expect she’ll have switched off her phone.”

“You won’t know until you try.”

“All right, already,” I said dialling her mobile number. It came back as unavailable. “She’s switched it off.”

“They’ll be all right.”

“I do worry about them, especially as one of them is a guest here.”

“Yes I know, I hurt my back pumping up that ruddy mattress.” He looked irritated by me.

“There’s an electric pump in the workshop for those sorts of things.”

“Now you tell me,” he sighed.

“I told you when I bought it.”

“When was that?”

“Months ago, it was when I bought the mattress.”

“Well that was still in the box.”

“Yeah, it would be as we haven’t used it. The pump is the same, although I think you can use it for car and bike tyres.

“Cathy, I can’t remember all these gadgets you buy, I have more important things to think about.”

“I buy them to try and make all our lives easier.”

“Yeah, I expect you do, but it’s like your pen knife—it has so many gadgets on it, even one for getting boy scouts out of horses’ hooves. I’ll bet you can’t remember when you last used it?”

“Oh I’ve got a battery powered one now, also gets girl guides out of sticky situations, wanna see it?”

“Girl guides in sticky situations—the mind boggles.”

“You know, up to their wellies in mud, that sort of thing.”

“How does it work?”

“Like a miniature helicopter.”

“Cathy, that is a personal fan.”

“Oh, I thought it was a bit small to get a Spitfire off the ground.”

“I think you’ll find a Merlin engine requires more than two AA batteries to get it going.”

“Perhaps you’re right, what about the girls?” Sometimes if I play stupid and let him lecture me it gets him in a good mood and he’ll do what I ask him to.

“Hmm, it’s half past eleven and Julie’s working tomorrow you say?”

“Yes.”

Just then Jenny came in. “Hi, I’m surprised you’re still up.”

“We’re waiting for Julie and Phoebe to come home.”

“Where are they?”

“In town, went to the Sailor’s Return for the music.”

“Gosh, that’s a bit rough, and I think I heard someone say there was a big fight there or outside, the Naval Provost was out and the police. Oh well, I’m off to bed.”

“Jenny, could you keep an ear open for the baby, I think we’d better go and find the girls.”

“If you want, don’t be too late though, will you?”

“Be back as quick as we can. C’mon, Si, get your shoes on.”

“Oh bugger,” he grumbled as he roused himself from his book and his chair.

Twenty minutes later we were near the pub—or as near as we would get by car. The police were out in numbers as were the Naval Provost. Simon parked the car and we started to walk.

“Where are you headed?” asked a young policeman.

“My daughter and her friend went to the Sailor’s Return to listen to the live music,” I said innocently.

“I wouldn’t let any daughter of mine go near the place, full of drunken matelots.”

“Surely they wouldn’t touch two youngsters, would they?”

“They’d touch anything and everything, madam.”

“Can we get through to find them?”

“I doubt it, there’s been a stabbing.”

“Surely my two aren’t involved in that?”

“I don’t know madam, they could be witnesses.”

“C’mon Si, let’s see how close we can get, we might be able to see them.”

The young copper shook his head but we walked on. A hundred yards closer we were challenged again. This time the copper was not going to let us through. “Sorry lady, there’s been a fatality—it’s a crime scene, can’t let you through.”

“But my daughter and her friend were here and they haven’t got home yet.”

“What’s her name?”

“Julie Kemp and her friend is Phoebe Allen.”

“Okay Mrs Kemp, wait here.” He went off a few yards and spoke into his radio for a couple of minutes.

“Someone is seeing if they can find the two youngsters. Personally, I wouldn’t let my daughter come anywhere near here.”

“Was it a man or woman who was stabbed?” I asked feeling very anxious.

“A woman, why?”

“Oh, God, Simon, it couldn’t be Julie or Phoebe, could it?”

“I expect they’ll be okay, Babes, they both sounded pretty sensible to me when I brought them in.”

The policeman’s radio peeped and he excused himself again, then returned. “They haven’t got any one of those names still on site, so they’re either down the station or somewhere else.”

“If I call the station would they know if they’re there?”

“They might if you can get through, they were taking them off by the busload.”

“Have they caught the killer?”

“I can’t tell you, madam, even if I know.”

He gave me the phone number for the central police station and I called them, they took ages to answer and said they didn’t know as they were still processing the people they’d pulled in for questioning.

I asked him to make some enquiries and call me back. He said he couldn’t promise anything they were so short staffed. “Will you take my name and mobile number?”

“Okay, but I’m not promising anything.”

“It’s Cameron, Lady Catherine Cameron.”

His tone changed immediately, “Is that the Lady Cameron?”

“As far as I know it is.”

“Give me five minutes and I’ll get back to you.”

“I thought you said name dropping was common?” Simon teased.

“There is a time and place for everything, this was it.”

“I see,” he smiled.

“Don’t you agree?” I asked him feeling I’d transgressed some unwritten law, not that I was terribly bothered by protocols unless they helped me find the girls safe and sound.

“Oh absolutely.”

“So why the snotty question?”

“I just wondered, that was all.”

My phone rang and I had it up to my ear before a second ring. “Hello?”

“Hello, Lady Cameron, I’ve been right through all the females here and neither of your two are here. Two young women were seen running off after the stabbing with some bloke chasing them.”

“Not the killer, I hope?”

“That I don’t know, but we know they weren’t the victim, she was in her twenties.”

“You don’t know which direction they were seen running?”

“I don’t, Lady Cameron, I have to go it’s bedlam here.” He rang off before I could thank him.

“They’ll be all right; there’ll be coppers around half the night if not all of it.”

Simon’s words didn’t reassure me or the knot which was tying and untying itself in the pit of my stomach. “Yes, so will the killer if they haven’t caught him. What if it was him who chased the girls?”

“Don’t torture yourself, Babes, we don’t know anything so let’s not speculate on what we don’t know.”

“Oh, Simon, I have a bad feeling about this.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1147

“I’m sure they’ll be perfectly okay, they’re both intelligent kids.” Simon was trying to reassure me, and he was probably correct, but I had this niggling worry gnawing away at my guts that he could be wrong.

“We don’t know in which direction they ran, if we did we might have a chance of finding them,” I mused out loud.

“Can’t you home in on Julie and find her?”

“No, because we haven’t actually been anywhere that she has been; I sort of need to pick up her scent.”

“Is that why you used to smell my shirts?”

“No, that was for purely carnal reasons. Now stop interrupting me.”

“Sorry for breathing.”

“Will you hush, how can I concentrate with all this noise?” I tried to concentrate on Julie and seeing her sending me a blue light beacon so I could locate her. She still wasn’t answering her phone.

I imagined seeing all round myself, scanning like a radarscope, and then I saw it, a very faint blue glow. I moved round to face it and saw I was facing in the direction of the docks—probably the least safe place to run.

Simon watched me walk in the direction of the docks and ran alongside me. “Where are you going?”

“To find Julie, where else?”

“You have a lead?”

“I sincerely hope so.” I was sending out my own signal to the beacon hoping she was okay and to try and reassure her that I was searching for her.

“Should we use the car?”

“Hush, Simon, the trail is very faint, I need to concentrate—and no, we need to walk.”

After ten or twelve minutes, I felt the signal was stronger, but she was inside somewhere, hiding, which explained why her phone didn’t work.”

The landscape became noticeably more industrial, and Simon was sure we were going in the wrong direction. I paused and the signal meant we turned left, which we did. It was getting stronger, we were closing in on it. Another five minutes and I knew she was in one of two old and derelict warehouses—it felt like a set from a crime film.

“She’s in one of these old warehouses.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do, but I suspect the person who’s chasing her is also still about.”

“Why not call the police, then?”

“Would you come on the hunch of someone you don’t know?”

“No, but they do know you.”

“Sure they do, and if I’m wrong, they’d love it, assuming they came at all.”

“So what do we do now?”

“We wait and watch for activity.”

“Oh great, why can’t we just walk in and call them?”

“There could be a bloke with a knife hiding there as well—remember he’s already killed one person.”

“Yeah, but that was a woman.”

“So, does that make her less than a man?”

“No, it means he can beat women, I doubt he’d do it to me.”

“Si, if he sticks a knife in you, I suspect you’ll bleed just as much as I would.”

“Ah but the point is…”

“The point is the bit he’d stick in you, Si.”

“Very funny.”

“Hush, look over there,” I pointed to the further away of the two warehouses, “Is that someone moving about?”

“Cor, you must eat loads of carrots, I can’t see anything much at all.”

“C’mon, I think we might have our killer and our two girls.” Keeping in the shadows, I trotted towards the derelict building. Trying not to give myself away by heavy breathing, I paused before I crept across the road, Simon a couple of steps behind me.

Someone was shining a torch about the place and now we could hear him too. “C’mon girls, I won’t hurt you. I know you’re in here, come out now before I get cross.”

His voice made my flesh creep and I wanted to kick him right where it would stop him breeding. I felt Simon tense behind me and knew that he was having difficulty in staying still, he wanted to hit the guy.

I was glad we stayed hiding because it became obvious the man wasn’t alone. There appeared to be three of them and they were splitting up to search the site, which meant the girls might be discovered. We were too close for me to risk phoning, they’d hear my keypad peeping.

If we could take out one of them, that would leave one each to deal with. The problem was we didn’t know if they were armed and if so, with what? These days it could be guns or knives.

Simon spotted an old shovel and reached it back to us, asking if I wanted it as a weapon. I shook my head: I’d already seen a piece of scaffolding pole. I reached for it, but it was stuck to the ground, not only that but it made a noise and one of the men heard us. I sat there making cat noises for a couple of moments before he recognised them for what they were supposed to be. He then went back to his search.

I tapped Simon and pointed to the left side of the building, then pointed to myself and the right side. I kept myself bent over and ran as quickly as I could and hid in the shadows, watching Simon disappear into the darkness at the other side.

I half-knelt waiting for an opportunity to attack when I heard a metal clang followed by a yell, another clang and the sound of someone falling over. I guess he met Simon’s shovel.

This agitated the other two who were calling out and shining their torches everywhere until they found their injured and unconscious colleague. Then I saw the gun, its barrel glinting in the torch beam.

I picked up a piece of brick, waiting for him to walk towards me. After what felt like hours he did, moving his torch around like a searchlight. I picked up another smaller brick and lobbed it behind him. In the relative quiet, it sounded like a bomb going off. He turned and fired his gun in the direction of my brick’s impact. I threw the other one at his head, missing slightly and hitting him on the top of his back. He spun round and fired, I ducked just in time, grabbing another brick as I did.

There was another clang of the shovel and I heard him fire again, I jumped up and threw again, this time catching him on the side of his face. He yelled and fired back towards me, the bullet zinging above me. I grabbed another brick. I could see the torch beam heading my way, and I crawled away to circle it. As he shone his light away from me, I hit him again with a brick and he screamed in pain and then called to me to show myself. Like I was going to—duh!

The shovel clanged again, only this time I heard voices and saw the torch. Simon and the other man were fighting, only the gunman was moving towards them. I ran after him, releasing my final brick a matter of a couple of yards away. It hit him on the back of the head: he staggered, turned round and I hit him with an improvised rugby tackle, trying to grab the gun and him with different hands. As we hit the ground, the gun went off and I smacked his wrist against the concrete floor with my right hand, and poked the fingers of my left hand in his face—hoping it was his eyes I met not his mouth.

He groaned and I felt his head go down on the hard surface, whereupon I pulled at his hair and smacked it down even harder. I felt his body go limp. I was picking the gun up off the floor when Simon shouted, “Watch out, Cathy.”

He was too late, and the man’s boot caught me in the ribs and I went down quite hard. I heard Simon swear at him and felt rather than saw him lumbering towards the man. There was a tremendous clang and I felt a body fall over me, landing very hard beyond me.

“You all right, Babes?”

“I think he’s hurt my ribs,” and I groaned and yelled as Simon lifted me up. God it hurt.

“Girls, it’s us Simon and Cathy, c’mon out it’s safe now,” Simon called to the darkness about us.

I began dialling 999 to call for help when I heard a young voice call back, “Is that you, Daddy?”

“Yes, it’s us, sweetheart,” I shouted back before making contact with the emergency services. The police were with us within ten minutes and an ambulance seconds later.

Simon had a stab wound in his left arm, the knife was lying near the outstretched attacker. That was the one who’d kicked me as I grappled with the gunman, and who received the focus of Simon’s wrath and the sharp end of the shovel. Si had nearly knocked his head off he was so angry at him hurting me.

Statements were taken, and Simon’s wound was dressed. It was decided I had some bruised, but not broken ribs—all I knew was it bloody hurt. Julie and Phoebe were both safe and well, although the men were close to finding them a couple of times. The most they suffered were some scuffed shoes and torn tights where they’d been kneeling behind a small wall.

“She is, like, a crime fighter in’t she?” said Phoebe to Julie.

“Nah, she wasn’t really trying tonight, there were only three of them and she had Daddy’s help.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1148

Once we got home and discussed what had happened, it transpired that the girls knew nothing about the murder: they’d seen someone dealing drugs and had reported it to the landlady. She had gone to investigate and had been the stabbing victim.

Meanwhile, one of the drug dealers had seen them again and chased them. When they discovered they were being chased by more than one person, they simply fled without any thought of where they were going. They hid in the derelict warehouse, but couldn’t get a signal on the phone to say where they were. However, Julie had wished for me to find them and had kept seeing me coming towards her. So we had effectively picked up on each other’s thoughts. I don’t know how proven telepathy is, but it obviously works for some people.

The police almost considered charging us with assault until we showed them the gun and the knives the bad guys had, and as all handguns are banned in the UK, owning or possessing one is a serious criminal offence.

The one Simon had poleaxed because he kicked me was the most hurt. Seeing the bruises coming out on my side, I didn’t have too much sympathy for him, and thankfully neither did the police.

The issue of the kids going to that pub again never arose, what with the murder of the landlady and the fright they got, it’s unlikely they’d ever want to go near the place again. But until they got involved with the druggies, they had been enjoying themselves and liked the music.

Phoebe asked if she could stay over until Monday, and I told her not without my talking to her mother, which I said I would in the morning. Actually, it was already the morning, being nearly one before we got home. Jenny had fed the baby with a bottle and thank goodness, she slept through until seven. I was still exhausted and my side was very sore, but things could have been worse.

After breakfast, Trish and a soak in the bath helped ease the bruising although we took some photos and Jenny and Stella witnessed them. The rainbow colours all round me were very photogenic, contrasting with my white bra and pants.

I spoke with Iris Allen, Phoebe’s mum, who said she wanted her home on Sunday night as she had school the next day—I said I would send her home after lunch, but that she was welcome to come again but not by hitchhiking.

Her mother was very cross, having given her the bus fare, which she pocketed. As I’d done that myself when I was a kid, I could hardly complain. It was how I funded my first pair of heels, only my dad found them and chucked them out. Hiding my girl stuff when I lived at home was very difficult as both Mum and Dad went looking for it. Except for the time when I did the Lady Macbeth, they did everything they could to stop me. They pretty well succeeded until I went to university—and even then, my opportunities were very limited until my final year—when I did have my own room and managed to collect a skirt and top, plus some shoes and undies and one or two bits of makeup.

However, the hours I spent locked in my room so I could wear them meant I did do loads of work, and perhaps explains why I got a good degree.

On the basis that Simon could have his wicked way with me if he took Phoebe home on the Sunday, he agreed—so any problem of her spending bus or train fares was negated. When she heard it was likely to be in the Jaguar, she handled her disappointment very well. So it does seem that expensive sports cars are girl pullers, not that they attract me—but then bikes do—okay, so I’m different—get over it.

After feeding the wain, I took a busload of girls shopping with Stella. She’d managed to bribe Jenny to babysit Puddin’, so was able to come with us. Of course, Julie was not impressed as she had to work, but at least she had her little scooter thing to use to get there.

I bought Phoebe one of those long scarf things with tassels all over it. When she wrapped it round her neck, her head disappeared in a mass of cloth. However, it was what she wanted and cost me less than a tenner, so I felt quite happy with it. I got a similar one for Julie.

The rest of my brood cost me a fortune—Simon got off lightly, he went to watch Danny play football—they lost even though he scored a goal. Danny seemed to understand that I couldn’t go and asked me get him some new football socks—he was quite content with those, but I got him a new pair of shorts as well.

Billie wanted a new coat, and Livvie some shoes. Trish had some new boots, those ugly things, but she’d certainly worn the old ones with her skinny jeans and even with skirts and tights. I hadn’t heard anymore about the football team, and when Phoebe said she used to play for one, Trish seemed slightly less put off by it. I expected comments when we got Danny’s kit, but she didn’t say anything at all.

I asked Phoebe would she rather have gone to watch Danny and she waved her scarf about and said ‘no,’ very decidedly. For most teen girls, I think shopping is their main form of sport, and if some of them applied the same degree of dedication to sport as they did to poking round shops, we’d have a few more champions.

By lunch, my side felt much better and Trish had a silly grin on her face. I wondered why she wanted to hold onto my arm all the time. I’d been too preoccupied with everyone to take too much notice and her energy is very gentle. I tried on a top, or pretended to, so I could use the changing room mirror and the Technicolor was fading quite rapidly.

Tom and Simon took over the babysitting, Simon getting to feed tiny wee, while Jenny supervised and he also managed to change her. Much to his disgust, he actually enjoyed it, or so he confided later on—but by then, I’d got him so turned on he’d have pleaded guilty to assassinating Abe Lincoln if he could taste a little of my milk. I made him wait until after the baby had been fed and changed—he changed her, and did it really well—then I let him have his wicked way, which I quite enjoyed too.

On Sunday, I went to check the dormice accompanied by a posse of children, all but one of which, seemed to be mine. When they all come out with me, even the Mondeo struggles to accommodate everyone—perhaps we need a minibus not a car?

Spike was still with us and took some dried fruit from each of the kids—she was well above her hibernation weight, as were most of the others, and the breeding season had been good: all our breeding females had produced four young and of the twenty born, only two hadn’t made it to hibernation time.

We were introducing a chipping system, whereby we inserted a silicon chip under the scruff of the neck of each dormouse, which could be read like a bar code by a special reader device. It’s very similar to those used in dogs and cats to prove ownership. The idea was that the chips would demonstrate each individual, so the data would be more accurate and in tests elsewhere, the chips seemed not to affect the dormice too much. Part of the reason for doing all our campus-bred ones was to enable some of the students to learn the technique so they could do so on the woodland sites. I would do the odd one to keep my hand in, but my role was increasingly supervisory. I felt a touch of regret, but I didn’t have the time at present for all the field work. However, I did have time to collate records and do some of the supervision—not bad with half a dozen kids—maybe I should chip them.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1149

“Mummy, where do dormice live?” asked Livvie—she obviously didn’t remember seeing the film I made.

“They are so cute,” sighed Phoebe, “Where do they live, apart from university departments—fairy castles?”

“Don’t be silly,” scolded Trish, “they live in woodlands, don’t they, Mummy?”

“Mostly, yes, but they’re nocturnal so you won’t see them, just signs of them,” I added, trying not to make it sound as if I was narrating a documentary.

“Can we go and see some?” asked Phoebe.

“We can’t go and see any more dormice because they’re too close to hibernating now, and they need to save all the energy they can without our disturbing them. I could show you a woodland where there are some but all we can do is look for signs that they’ve been there.”

“Can we do that?” asked Phoebe.

“It’s just acorns and hazel nuts they’ve eaten.”

“There’s a special way they eat them?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Trish, “they use nutcrackers.”

“Do they?” said Phoebe aghast.

“Yes,” said Trish, “they put them on a flat stone and bang them with another stone.”

“Gosh,” said Phoebe, “they don’t look big enough to do that; that’s really clever.”

“You are a fibber, Trish Watts, you know jolly well they eat through the top of the shell.”

Phoebe, realising she’d been had, blushed while Trish cackled with delight.

It had been dry for a couple of days so I decided we could visit a woodland where it was fairly quick draining. We all piled into the car and half an hour later were disembarking and walking up a woodland ride. The late afternoon sun wasn’t terribly warming but it gave everything a lovely orange-golden glow.

I pointed out different plants and Trish discovered some Amanita muscaria or fly agaric, which is the one with the bright red top, usually with a few fragments of the white veil left on it. We also found some huge bracket fungi on a dying tree, this forms like dull rainbow coloured semicircles sticking out from the wood of the tree.

A party of mixed tits were feeding high up in the branches and occasionally scolding us as we walked along. Most were coal tits and blue tits, but occasionally the louder call of the great tit was also heard. In the distance, a great spotted woodpecker called and overhead a family of buzzards circled, mewing as they rode the thermals. It was a lovely autumn afternoon and I was close to feeling blissful: a whole pile of kids and they were all enjoying themselves—no whingeing about how far they’d walked or anything—it was pure pleasure.

As we strolled towards the reserve within the woodland, the sun and its golden tones, the birdsong, life felt so good—this is what it’s all about, the simple pleasures and as always I felt the rider to it—watch some bastard spoil it.

At first I couldn’t decide where the sound of the chainsaws were coming from, as the noise can echo or be disguised by the trees and bushes—then, with horror, I saw they were in the protected area.

I rounded up the children and made them stay together and wait for me. Tree felling is potentially very dangerous. Then I ran shouting towards the men, three of them one with a saw, the others cleaning up the timber.

“Hey, you can’t do that here,” I shouted at them.

“Yeah, sez who?”

“It’s a nature reserve with protected species,” I remonstrated.

“Like what?”

“Like bats and dormice.”

“Tough, bloody vermin the lot of them.”

“What permission do you have to fell here?”

“Plenty, why?”

“I’m calling the police.”

“Feel free.”

“As someone who is registered to use this woodland, I’m making a citizen’s arrest of you three men. Please stay here while the police come.”

“Are bats protected then?” one of the workmen asked his colleague.

“Don’t be daft, they’re just flying mice in they?”

“Bats are insectivores, not mice, and yes they and dormice are protected with fines of up to a thousand pounds per animal. There are nest boxes of both in this area and I would support Natural England in prosecuting you.”

“Oo the ’ell are they?”

“Natural England is the government agency which protects the countryside, used to be called the Nature Conservancy Council.”

“Oo-er,” said the smallest of the three men, and he towered over me. I reckon they were illegally collecting timber for wood burning stoves, because the Forestry Commission who own the woodland wouldn’t permit felling in this area because of the dormice.

I dialled the police: I had their regular number these days. Before I could say anything, one of them snatched my Blackberry and threw it into the undergrowth and another pushed me over, while they jumped into their truck and started it up. They turned it round as I extracted myself from the bush into which they’d pushed me.

I stood and shouted at them, only to realise in horror that they were coming back at me. I jumped aside at the last moment and revisited the bush I’d fallen into before. As I jumped up again, I saw them heading for the group of girls, who all ran to either side of the truck but pelted it with sticks and stones as it went past. I tried to get the number but it was gone before I could see it fully.

I walked down to the girls, my ankle was hurting where I’d landed awkwardly so my progress was slow and Trish realising something was wrong rushed up to me. “Are you okay, Mummy?”

“No I’m not, look at the mess—they’ve taken down half a dozen nest boxes and dozens of trees, tried to kill me and run you lot down as well. Then to cap it all, I’ve twisted my ankle and they threw my phone into the bushes.”

“Poor, Mummy,” said Trish and she wandered up to the cleared site.

“Are you okay, Lady Cameron?” asked Phoebe, “You do lead an exciting life.”

“Don’t I just—thanks for suggesting we come here, the damage could have been a lot worse if we hadn’t.”

“Where’s Trish gone?” asked Livvie.

We looked around and she wasn’t to be seen. Damn, all I needed was for her to be kidnapped by elves to completely make my sodding day.

“Trish,” I yelled, it echoing round the trees.

A moment later, she emerged from some bushes holding up something. It turned out to be my Blackberry. “Here you are, Mummy,” she said handing it back to me.

“How did you find it?” I asked in relative astonishment.

“I called it on my phone and went to the ring, it was easy, really.”

“Clever clogs,” I said hugging her, partly from relief that she was safe and partly because the Blackberry was a present from Simon. “I don’t suppose you got the number of the truck as well, did you?”

She nodded, and showed me the photo of the truck, clearly displaying a number plate; her phone also had a video of the truck trying to run me down. She really was a clever clogs, far more so than I was.

We sat down and I did phone the police. As soon as I said my name, I heard a sigh from the other end. I did tend to have a bit too frequent contact with them. However, when I explained what had happened, they promised to send a car as quickly as they could. It was beginning to get dark and I told them we’d walk back to our car.

My ankle was becoming very sore, and I had to use a stick to walk at all. I did call Gareth Sage and report the event to him. As the Hampshire officer, he would need to know. He rang me back a moment later and said he was on his way, he knew exactly where I’d described to him.

It was dark by the time we got back to the car, and Gareth arrived a few minutes later. My ankle was really swollen and it was obvious I couldn’t drive home. The police came a little later and told me one of them would drive my car home, the other would take me to the hospital—they insisted.

The girls and I waited while Gareth and the coppers drove up to the felled site, then returned. They saw enough to know that the area was badly damaged, Gareth was very angry at the damage and the attempt to hurt the kids and I. The police were shrugging their shoulders, until I asked Trish to show them her phone and its evidence. Given that she’d had one borrowed by the police before, she was a little reluctant. However, once they saw the truck, the number of it and the attempt to squash me, they almost licked their lips with anticipation.

“How much per animal?” asked the older copper.

“At least a thousand pounds or a couple of years in prison. Why?” asked Gareth.

“Oh good,” replied the copper, “This is Digger Mackay, he’s so called because he used to dig badgers and put them against dogs. When that got too hairy, he went over to illegal logging for firewood, but we never managed to pin much on him. This little lady has just guaranteed him a nice holiday courtesy of Her Majesty.”

“Trish and her mum are like Batman and Robin, aren’t they?” Phoebe said quietly to Billie, but loudly enough for most of us to hear it, and the two policemen laughed loudly.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1150

I arrived home from the hospital swathed in bandages with an ankle that was diagnosed as sprained. It ached abominably and all I wanted to do was go to bed. Sadly, the children and especially the baby thought otherwise.

I was swamped with sympathy, then Stella presented me with a hungry baby and I couldn’t avoid feeding her because I had a bad ankle—in other words I had to get on with it.

Simon was livid that the wood thieves seemed to be getting away with things and immediately went to see if they owed the bank anything. He came back ten minutes later and explained that their mortgage was with another bank, although he’d talk to their chairman tomorrow and see if he could get it called in.

Whilst I was all in favour of a little revenge, I felt he was acting unprofessionally using the bank to further personal arguments. We discussed it and he actually told me that morally I was quite right, but he was still after blood—theirs. I told him that if I really wanted to get my own back, I’d leave the children there for a few days. Simon sniggered and told me he didn’t hate anyone enough to do that. Then seeing I was indisposed, he ordered pizza for everyone. I told him I’d have a sandwich later: he shrugged and went to see what the kids wanted as toppings.

The next morning, my ankle felt much easier so I suspect Trish had been busy sending me healing whilst she slept. She seems to be fast getting the idea of healing.

Whilst I was making a roast dinner, a traditional Sunday roast, Gareth arrived and reported on the damage to the woodland. He counted up to fifty trees felled and while they were a variety of species, and undoubtedly some nest boxes had been damaged or lost, he thought the site would recover if some planting took place quickly. Apparently he hoped to embarrass the Forestry Commission into funding it.

He also announced that the police had pounced on the house and yard of Digger Mackay and that evidence had been removed and arrests made. He told me they’d left their chainsaw in the woods because they’d run off so quickly after I caught them. It seems that the gang were caught about to leave the yard, so possibly were going back to the same piece of woodland again.

Trish’s video was pretty damning evidence and the police were cock-a-hoop with it, as they’d been trying to get a conviction for years. Witnesses were usually intimidated into revoking their statements by claiming they were given under duress by the police. I assured him that no such event would happen here, and we’d stay with the case until he went down, hopefully for a long time.

About six nest boxes were destroyed, Gareth decided, and he was going to prosecute on probability that at least one if not two were occupied, because my data tended to indicate that was the usual level. He’d apparently found all six, and three of them had nesting material in them. He found no casualties in them either.

I started up my computer and he showed me a list of the nest boxes he’d found. I suspected that at least two more were involved. Had he checked the yard for them? He hadn’t and after a call to the police, he went off to do so. He was back an hour later—they found them both, and inside one was a dead mother and four babies. He was prosecuting for five animals and the probability of injured or killed bats as well.

The police were looking to charge them with attempting to kill me and injure my children, as the video showed and as the number of the truck was so clear, it was unequivocally his, so bail was withheld. I’d have been quite happy for him to try and intimidate me—I suspect I might have had a very robust response. Thankfully, it wasn’t a question of finding out. If he’d hurt my children, I’d have had him hunted down and stuffed on top of a bonfire in his own yard.

I asked Simon if the bank might sponsor a fence around the site in the woodland, to keep deer out, as well as poachers and thieves. He said he’d see what they could do, and what publicity they could get from it.

Gareth stayed for lunch and was squabbled over by Julie, Phoebe and Stella. I kept out of it, not having quite forgiven him for the UN thing. He was still on about it, but with a young baby whom I was feeding myself, it wasn’t a good idea and even he could see that—once he’d seen it, me breastfeeding, that is.

Simon took Phoebe home to Salisbury as Julie became occupied with Leon—I think she challenged him to a tongue wrestling match—and Phoebe asked if she might come and visit again.

“If you’d like to—although after what happened, I’d have thought you’d be staying well clear of us,” I answered her question.

“Oh no, it’s the most exciting weekend I’ve spent since I went skiing with the school and four of the girls got caught in an avalanche. That was like, brill, too!” She seemed such a nice kid for an adrenalin junkie.

Gareth left promising to come and see Stella one evening, which I think pleased everyone, especially as it gave him a link to the bank and their conservation fund, from which I was hoping they’d pay for the fencing of the dormouse site.

We were discussing it over lunch and Trish asked if the dormice would all have keys to get through the gate. I told her they wouldn’t, because they were dormice, not gate mice. I think I’ll put it in my diary: I actually got one over on her.

Gareth declared that during the summer no one would need a key. When I asked why, he told me that some gatekeeper butterflies would open and shut the gate for us. I chuckled, but none of the others got it.

The gatekeeper or hedge brown butterfly is common along hedgerows and frequently appears near gates, hence its name. We get them in the garden, especially down by the orchard, where we also have meadow browns and wall butterflies or wall browns. We do quite well for butterflies because we have a range of habitats, although Tom doesn’t welcome the cabbage whites terribly much, except to spray them with soapy water, helped by various birds which feed on the caterpillars as they hatch. We never seem too short of cabbages, broccoli or kale, so Tom must be doing something right.

Of the various garden pests, the one I wanted to see ever since I was kid, is the Death’s-head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos which lays its eggs on potatoes, although the adults will feed on honey in beehives or bees’ nests—it appears impervious to their stings.

Oh well, back to normal tomorrow—school and a bit more on my survey work, once I’ve contacted Henry in a professional capacity to see how we—the bank—could get publicity for protecting the poor dormeeces. What’s the bet it’s my photo they use not his?

Lepidoptera Links on Wikipedia:

Unfortunately, Wikipedia can’t seem to distinguish between the Wall (brown) and Speckled Wood which are two distinct species.

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