Bike 1,201–1,250

The Daily

Dormouse

(aka Bike)

Parts 1,201–1,250

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 1201

“What’s happening now?” I asked, returning from the cloakroom.

“Their camera van went up in a puff of smoke, so we don’t know what’s happening.”

“I need to get there.”

“How are you going to do that—the roads will all be blocked by traffic, police or sightseers.”

“My children are in there?”

“You think.”

“I know.”

“Why have terrorists attacked a Portsmouth bank and not the railway or the power station or even the refinery at Fawley?”

“How do I know? I only work for them not sit on the board.”

I grabbed my jacket and the key for the bike workshop. Two minutes later, I was on my mountain bike and pedalling as fast as I could towards town. Jim agreed to stay and watch the house and the others. I presumed Stella was upstairs—she rarely watched telly.

Twenty minutes later, I met the traffic jams and wound my way through it until I could see the smoke and flames ahead of me and the police cordon. “Excuse me officer, I have to get through, my children are in that building.”

“Sorry, Miss, no one’s allowed through—it’s too dangerous.”

“Oh, if you say so, could you hold my bike a second while I move my bag.” I let go the bicycle and as he grabbed it, I dodged past him ignoring his threats as I ran on towards the fire.

As I neared the centre of the action, I could see several burnt out cars and vans, including an ambulance. The helicopter was still trying to fan the flames downwards and another was trying to winch people up. It looked like a naval chopper—I suppose they only are down the road. A couple more began circling waiting for the first one to leave.

It was painfully slow and I died a hundred deaths watching the little I could see from the road. The fire service were doing a sterling job trying to contain the fire but I needed to be up where the action was to check on my family. I slipped into an adjacent building and began the slow climb up the stairs towards the roof. It seemed to take an age even with all the adrenalin flowing through my veins, and by the time I got to the top floor and then found the roof access, which was locked I was exhausted and almost ready to cry.

Then a group of firemen came rushing up carrying hoses and connected them to the hydrant in this building and then opening the roof access, climbed up trailing their hoses behind them. I sneaked through and standing well back watched them playing their hoses on the flames as they licked against the outside of the building.

There was a loud crack as several windows exploded and the fire tried to gain access through their broken panes—the firemen immediately responded and hosed down the offending area. They were working flat out but only just managing to hold the flames which were threatening to engulf the entire lower parts of the building and presumably then on, the whole thing. Despite the heat, I felt my blood run cold.

I approached the senior officer on the roof, “Where are they taking the evacuees?”

“Back to the naval base why?”

“Why couldn’t they land them here and get in ten times as many flights?”

“What if this one catches fire?”

“It won’t.”

“How d’you know?”

“I’ve watched all the Superman films.”

“Thompson, get rid of this woman, will you?”

“Look, Chief, or whoever you are, those are my children in that mess over there.”

“So what? Thompson get rid of her.”

“C’mon, Luv, let’s be ’avin’ yer.”

“Please, Mr Thompson, let me stay.”

“C’mon now, I don’t wanna hurt you.”

“Nor I you.”

He laughed, just before I dropped him. He wasn’t hurt, just stunned.

“Get me some police up here, we’ve got a woman lunatic running riot, she just decked sixteen stone of firefighter.”

I grabbed his radio, “Hey you, up in the choppers, bring the evacuees to this roof, I’ll take them down to the street.”

“Give me back my radio, you bitch.” He started to chase me round the roof. However, the chopper started to move to our roof, and we both ran to stand against a wall as ten people jumped out and as promised, I led them to the stairs. Another, bigger copter was hovering just feet above the bank building and people were diving into it. Two minutes later, it was hovering above us and evacuees were emerging from it; I pointed them to the stairs, where a policeman was directing them earthwards.

For the next hour, we watched as the helicopters carrying twenty or so people at a time dumped them on our roof and they all managed to walk down the stairs, although some looked very distraught.

Finally, a chopper disgorged my children and we hugged and wept together. “Where’s Daddy?” I asked, and a tearful Trish answered me.

“He’s stayed behind to help the injured, to load them into the helicopters.”

“C’mon, we need to get you down from here.” I led them to the stairs and slowly we descended holding hands. I offered prayers for the safe delivery of the man I loved, overwhelmed by his courage in holding back his own fear to help others. Safely on the street level, we were led away and a paramedic checked them all and gave them some oxygen to breathe.

“Have you any helium?” asked Trish, “It makes your voice go like Minnie Mouse.” She had to make do with oxygen.

We waited, light blue blankets wrapped round us, for Simon. The hovering stopped and there was another huge bang and we had to run to avoid glass from the exploding windows. These firemen really earned their money.

A woman was dragged on a stretcher to the paramedic who shook his head after checking her vitals. I nodded to Trish and as soon as the lady was covered up, we started to blue light her. I tried to enter into her world and see where she was, while Trish concentrated on shifting the clot which had formed in her coronary artery.

In twenty minutes we were nearly there, and just as the paramedic was about to put her in a body bag, she coughed and he paused in shock for a moment then leaped into action to attend to her.

A group of firemen came from the roof and with them the last of the evacuees. Simon wasn’t there. I ran up to them, “Where’s Simon, where’s my husband?”

“Sorry, Lady, this is all there is.”

“But it can’t be, my husband was on that roof helping the injured.”

“There’s no one left there now, please clear the area, the fire is worsening.” There was an enormous boom and the ground shook and the flames shot higher into the sky.

“Where’s my husband?” I screamed at them and they just shrugged.

“That’s her,” said a loud voice, “arrest her, she countermanded my orders.” The fire chief pointed at me and two policemen walked towards me.

Just then, a man with a white helmet walked between us, “Walker, I think we’ll forget it this once. Look, Luv, take your kids and get off home.”

“I want to know where my husband is, he was with the children until they got in the helicopter.”

“What’s his name?”

“Simon Cameron.”

He picked up his radio, “Any news on a Simon Cameron, was on the roof of the bank?”

“Not yet, okay, thanks.” He looked at me, “Sorry, luv, I don’t know where he is.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1202

“Girls, where did Grampa Henry go?” I’d been so worried about Simon that I’d forgotten it was he who’d taken them to town.

“Dunno,” said Trish and she shrugged.

“What you mean he was in that fire?”

“No, he left ages ago, we stayed with Daddy.”

“Daddy asked him to get something,” offered Livvie.

“But you don’t know what?” I asked.

“No, ’course not,” she had her hands clasped in front of her and she was twisting her body from side to side in real, little girl mode. She was also blushing, so I knew she wasn’t telling me everything.

“But you think, Grampa is safe?”

They all nodded.

As we walked away from the area, I managed to find my bicycle—I was surprised that no one had taken it, or even the lights or the computer.

“How are we going to get home, Mummy—we can’t all sit on your crossbar?” It’s a ladies’ bike so has a sloping bar and even carrying one might have proved difficult. Just then, a taxi dropped off a customer, and I managed to stop him. By taking off my front wheel, the bike went in the boot and we all rode home together.

It was during this ride that my mobile rang and Henry spoke to me. “What the hell happened? I turn my back for two seconds and that idiot son of mine burns the office block down.”

“Your idiot son is still missing,” I said tersely.

“Oh, are the girls all right?”

“Yes, I’ve managed to round them up, I’m taking them home at the moment.”

“Don’t they know what happened to Simon?” His tone was much more conciliatory this time.

“He apparently stayed behind to help injured people into the helicopter—no one’s seen him since.”

“Silly bugger didn’t forget to hitch a ride himself did he?”

“Henry, this is my husband we’re talking about who at this moment is the equivalent of MIA. I’d be grateful if you showed some respect for him and some feelings for me and the girls.”

“With all due respect, Cathy, I’ve known him longer than you have and I know what a twit he is. When he flew out to join us one year on holiday, because he had to attend some pop concert instead of coming out with us, the idiot got on the wrong blessed plane—took the British consul and his staff two ruddy days to find him. Instead of Menorca, the idiot had got on a plane to Morocco.”

“I don’t think he had much choice of helicopters today.”

“Perhaps he’s at the airbase or a hospital—probably one in Nova Scotia, knowing him.”

“By helicopter?” I asked angrily.

“Okay, Haverford bloody West, then.”

“I’m going now, Henry, in case my idiot husband should be trying to contact me.”

“What, one knock for yes and two for no?”

“Henry, that is cruel.”

“Okay, I’m off to the hotel if you want me. When he turns up, tell him to give me a ring.”

“Don’t you mean if he turns up?”

“He’ll turn up, believe me. Bye.”

I was really cross with his insensitivity, I could be a widow as we speak and he’s joking about it.

“Was that Gwamps, Mummy?”

“Yes, Meems.”

“Did he get the…”

The question was never finished as three other girls shouted at her, “Hush.” Consequently she burst into tears and then Livvie who was next to her had to give her a hug to shut her up.

“Are they all yours?” asked the Cabbie.

“Yes, plus two more at home.”

“Bloody Catholics,” he muttered under his breath.

“We’re not actually, we’re from the Church of St Mammon and St Croesus.”

“Where’s that then, I thought I knew all the Portsmouth and Southsea churches?”

“It just burnt down.”

He pulled into the drive and we exited the vehicle, “But that was a bank, wasn’t it?”

“Spot on,” I paid him but the tip was only half of what it would have been had he been less prejudiced.

Once indoors, I sent the children up to shower and went with them, they smelt of smoke and other things. Once dried, they came down for a supper and a big hug. It was while we were doing this my mobile rang, this time it was Simon.

“Hi, Babes.”

“Where are you, I’ve been out of mind with worry about you?”

“Yeah, sorry about that, I’m at Southampton.”

“Don’t tell me, you got the wrong helicopter, Henry said you would.”

“Oh did he, he’s never going to let me forget that is he?”

“I neither know nor care, I’m just so pleased to hear you’re okay.”

“I’m fine, my suit is wrecked, look, the chopper crew are going to bring me back to Pompey, I’ll get a cab from there back to the car park and pick up my car.”

“I don’t think so, there was a very large bang, so your car might be under a heap of rubble now.”

“Okay, I’ll get a cab home then.”

“Do you want someone to collect you from the naval station?”

“No, dunno how long this is going to take, I’ll get back when I can.”

“Be careful, oh and Si?”

“Yeah?”

“Love you.”

“I love you too, Babes.”

“Oh—nearly forgot—will you call Henry on his mobile, he’s staying at the hotel tonight, needs to see the damage in the morning.”

“Will do—gotta go, they’re calling my flight.”

I breathed an enormous sigh of relief. He was safe, mind you if they find out he’s a banker they might chuck him out over the sea. What on earth was he doing at Southampton and would he have been quicker coming back on the train?

I let the kids stay up a little later that night, they were all in bed by the time Simon got home and he smelt of a combination of smoke, some sort of fuel—presumably what helicopters use, whatever that is? The final constituent was drink—he was a tad merry and very verbose. At least he doesn’t want to hit me when he’s drunk, just talk me to death—just as painful but takes longer.

“Simon, it’s nearly midnight, where have you been?”

“Well I ’ad to buy the guys a drink, now didn’t I? One thing led to another and we ended up in the Ward Room—well the station commander came to see me, an’ he had a drink and then he bought me one—I’m a hero, d’ya know?”

What for living with me and six kids? Is what went through my mind, but what I said was, “How would I know, Si? I haven’t seen you since this morning.”

He then went on to explain in great and rambling detail how he saved all the people from the roof, going last himself like a captain leaving a sinking ship. I pointed out that captains are supposed to go down with their ships. His answer was unprintable ‘fa a game o’ sojers’ and was probably the first time I ever heard him use a Scottisism.

Once he’d eaten he fell asleep in the chair, so I threw a blanket round him and left him to sleep it off in the chair—I went to bed and tossed and turned half the bloody night. In one event, more than half my family could have been annihilated—I was frightened more than I have ever been and we have no news of what happened or why?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1203

I slept poorly that night so when I had four or five visitors round my bed the next morning singing Happy Birthday, I wasn’t as pleased as I might have been. However, it’s difficult to be grumpy when they’re all shoving cards under your nose and telling you that you’re the bestest mummy in the world.

I dragged myself to a sitting position and opened my eyes. It was white outside from the way the light was coming in through the window. I looked at the clock, it was seven. I groaned—I think I might hide on Christmas eve/morning.

I had to open the cards, Danny and Julie had bought theirs, the others had made their own on the computer, with virtually every known picture of dormice from the Internet being used. Clever-dick Trish had managed to get into my own stash of photos on the Internet via the university site and used several of those for her picture.

“How did you get into my pictures?” I asked her.

“When the password was dormouse, it wasn’t very hard, Mummy.”

I groaned again.

“Can we give you our presents now, Mummy?” asked Billie.

“Shall we wait until we’ve had breakfast?” Ever the grown up, I led them downstairs where sleeping beauty was just coming to in his chair. I thought I’d let him go up and shower first before I did anything.

They gobbled down their food and while I was still only half way through mine they all dashed off and came rushing back with various sized packages. Trish gave me a new hairbrush and handbag mirror; Meems gave me a pot plant which was almost as big as her—an orchid—it was beautiful lilac coloured flowers with yellow and white centres—Billie gave me some new cycling gloves with fingers in for the colder weather; Danny gave me a balaclava for cycling or walking in cold weather; Julie got me a new hair drier and Livvie staggered up with a large box inside which were some new tyres for my road bike. How they’d managed to keep things hidden from me didn’t become clear until Stella came smirking down and gave me a bottle of perfume and a card.

Unbeknownst to me Simon had been up and showered and shaved, and although he was still hung-over, he presented me with an academic diary with tonight showing a booking for half past seven for dinner at a very nice restaurant.

I heard something pulling into our drive and saw Gareth’s Land Rover come into view. I assumed he’d come to see Stella so didn’t pay any more attention to him, deciding I’d better feed the baby and get her dressed, then I could go and dress myself after showering.

He came in and gave me a card and a very nice ball pen and pencil set. I fed baby C and bathed her, then went up stairs to shower, the others were all talking and there were lots of giggles and hushes going on.

I hoped they weren’t going to produce a birthday cake and embarrass me again with their off key singing. I dried my hair and brushed it back into a ponytail then dressed in jeans and shirt and a jumper on top of it in case we went out in the snow.

Downstairs after asking Gareth who was still there if anyone had offered him a drink, I put the kettle on and the whispers were still doing the rounds.

“Okay, what’s going on?” I demanded and silence fell.

Simon stood up and asked the assembled throng, “Shall we tell her?”

“Tell me what?” I asked looking at him with great suspicion.

“Close your eyes,” he said and took my hand, “Now keep them closed until I tell you to open them.”

He led me stumbling to the front door, someone rushed past us whom I suspect was Trish—it’s always Trish. I heard the front door open and I shivered in the cold air and could feel the snow crunching underfoot. I was so tempted to open my eyes but I maintained wifely obedience and kept my peepers shut.

“Okay, you can open them now,” I did so and saw Henry’s Audi pull into the drive. “Trust him to spoil it,” muttered Simon.

Then I looked behind Gareth’s Land Rover and there on the back of a trailer was a large four-wheel drive with a big ribbon tied round it and Happy Birthday on a large piece of card hung from the door.

“You managed to get it here then?” said Henry loudly.

“Looks like it,” Simon said back.

“I don’t understand,” I said feeling rather bemused.

“You wanted a Porsche, you gotta Porsche.”

“I was joking, Simon.”

“Now you bloody tell me.”

“Jim’s car was lovely, but I’m quite content with my little Mercedes.”

“Ah,” said Simon.

“What’s happened to it now?”

“Nothing, except I traded it in against this one.”

“How many gallons does that do to the mile?”

“Actually, it’s better than you think and of course depends upon how you drive it.”

“I didn’t want anything that big.”

“It’s the only Porsche that will carry the kids to school, the 911 or 997 as it really is now is theoretically a four-seater but only with two toddlers in the back. This thing will carry five or six adults and it’s yours.” He held out a set of keys.

“Take it, Cathy, it’s about time he spent his bonus on you.” Henry came up and hugged me, “Happy Birthday,” he handed me a card. Inside was credit card type fuel card. “This might help your gas guzzling.”

“How am I supposed to have credibility in ecology circles when they find out I drive a gas guzzler with an engine the same size as a forty-ton truck?”

“But you said you wanted a Porsche,” Simon looked and sounded exasperated.

“I was joking, I loved driving Jim’s Boxer was it?”

“Boxster,” corrected Simon. “You said it several times, you wanted a Porsche.”

“One like Jim had.”

“How are you going to take the girls to school?”

“That,” I pointed at the Mondeo.

“Why not that?” Si pointed at the shiny new car on the back of Gareth’s trailer.

“I just told you—I’d lose all credibility with my ecological colleagues.”

“I’d have thought a four-wheel drive would be useful for a fieldworker.”

“What’s wrong with a Land Rover?”

“Okay, I’ll swap it for a Range Rover.”

“No—one like Gareth’s or Daddy’s.”

“They’re not Porsches, that’s what.”

“Duh, I can see that.”

“Look, take it for a test drive and see what you think.”

“In all this snow?” I challenged.

“Cathy, it’s a four-b’-four, it’s designed for this sort of thing.”

“It’s a Chelsea tractor, not a real four-wheel drive, it’s for suits or WAGs to drive.”

“Yeah and banker’s wives, now get your coat on, you’re taking it for a test drive.”

“But it uses so much fuel.”

“Dad just gave you a fuel card—he pays for the fuel as long as you have the car.”

“What? What happens if we should happen to drive to Scotland tomorrow in it?”

“He’ll pay for the juice. If you go to bloody Istanbul in it, he’ll cop for the diesel.”

“Oh it’s diesel, is it?”

“Yes, what difference does that make?”

“They’re more efficient aren’t they?”

“At polluting people’s lungs, yes—oh and yes, diesels are more efficient than petrol engines.”

“Can we come for a ride, Mummy?” asked Trish dancing round with Livvie and Billie.

“Later, darling.”

“Simon, get your arse in gear, we need to go and look at this office block,” Henry said.

“Cathy could take me in her new car, I’ll take my keys with me. I’ll bring the Jag back afterwards.”

I had a feeling he’d be disappointed, as to my reckoning it sounded very much as if his car was under thousands of tons of masonry and concrete, plus all the water from the hoses.

While I put on a coat and gloves and boots, they got the car off the trailer. I got into it with trepidation but apart from feeling like I was sitting in a lorry looking down on the world, it drove like a dream. Simon told me it would do sixty miles an hour in under eight seconds—obviously not in snow, but I suspect that’s fast enough for me, he also told me it has a 3.6L V6 engine, whatever that means he’d have liked the next one up, which had a 4.8L engine but they couldn’t get one in time. I told him this would be fine realising the pig had outmanoeuvred me again. Looks like I was stuck with an SUV having spent most of my recent years complaining about them.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1204

It was a beautiful ride, and I determined if I was going to keep it, I’d call it ‘Pepper’.

“So whadd’ya think?”

“It’s very nice, but I suspect it should be for what it cost. I’m not sure about Henry’s offer though—it seems too generous.”

“What? Take all you can from the old bugger, it’s not as if he can’t afford it, is it?”

“I have no idea, but I have qualms about taking advantage of anyone.”

“Cathy, you’d make a lousy banker, but a wonderful priest.”

“Eh?” I nearly lost it—the car I mean when he said that. “Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of requirement to believe in ancient sky gods for that job?”

“How would I know?—ask wossername.”

“Marguerite by any chance?”

“Dat’s da one,” he said blithely. “Oh there is one other factor which I’m not sure I should relate to you because it would mean you’d find in its favour and I wouldn’t want to unduly influence your judgement now, would I?”

“Simon, if I wasn’t driving this in ice and snow, I’d possibly be thumping you—now stop messing about and tell me what this factor is.”

“If you’re threatening me with physical violets, I’m too frightened to tell you.”

“I’m not a botanist, Si, I’m a zoologist so more likely to threaten to put a ferret down your trousers than hit you with a handful of violets, even if they were dog-violets.”

“Do they have cat ones, too?” he smirked.

“If they do, I’ll be sure to plant some on your grave—now tell me.”

“I thought I was going to be cremated?”

“No, an unmarked grave in the woods, they’ll never find the body.”

“You’d have to wait seven years before you could trade in my insurances or claim the estate.”

“That’s okay, I’m a relatively young woman—time is on my side.”

“I don’t think I will tell you now.”

“How about I say, I’m nearly happy with it and it would just need one more little thing to make it certain?”

“Certain of what?”

“That it has dormouse appeal.”

“How could that happen, they wouldn’t be able to reach the pedals and the steering wheel at the same time?”

“Are all bankers as literal as you?”

“No, not all are as well read as me.”

“I said literal not literate.”

“There’s a difference?”

“For you, obviously not.”

He sat and sniggered. I seethed, what was he holding back from me? The pig. If it was a bicycle I’d already know all there was to know about it, cars are my Achilles’ heel. Here I am racking my brains about cars and I’m no further forward with an answer. I wouldn’t be racking them about bikes—racking—bikes—will it take a bike rack? I wonder.

“Si, will this take my bike rack?”

“If you fold it up, you should be able to get it in the boot, why?”

I groaned, “Very bloody funny, you know perfectly well my meaning—now tell me or face a long walk home in the snow.”

“When you ask me so sweetly, the answer is yes and I’m sure you read my mind—you witch.”

“Yes, it didn’t take very long and the plot is only half formed.”

“Plot?”

“In reading your mind.”

He paused for a moment, then seemed to get the point of my retort. “Oh very good, yes, with a wit like yours you could go far.”

“Jamaica?” I fed him the line.

“No she went of her own accord. Oh the old ones are the best ones,” he smiled and slapped me on the leg. “Are you going to tell me if you like it or not?”

“I’m going to call it, Pepper.”

“Isn’t that a bit predictable?”

“Like me?”

He nearly choked. “There are many words which could be used to describe you, Cathy, predictable is not one which immediately comes to mind.”

“Is it not?”

“I just said it wasn’t.”

“I was just checking.”

“Why?”

“I could suggest that banker, him talk with forked tongue.”

“Cathy, I suspect that anyone with a forked tongue would have great difficulty talking.”

“I think it’s a metaphor.”

“A metaphor?”

“Yes, you know, an aphorism either reflecting the snake in the grass type or the difficulty people have with snakes.”

“Are we talking plains Indians here?”

“Possibly kimo sabe.”

“I surrender, I have no idea what we’re talking about.”

“Drowned in your own tepee?” I sniggered as I said this.

“And you had the nerve to tell me off the other day because I told you the bacon slicer one.”

“You implied I had a fat arse.”

“You do, but I still love you. However, you implied that I was a liar because I work in a bank.”

“Who me? Would I do a thing like that?” I said as innocently as I could whilst negotiating a round-about.

“If we go up here there’s a nice pub, we could have a coffee,” Simon pointed up a side road from the main drag.

“Will we be able to get out again if we stop up here?”

“Course—this thing’d go up Everest.”

“I think Henry might object to the fuel cost for that.”

“True, turn in here.”

I did and reversed up towards the entrance to the lounge bar. The doorway had been excavated from the cold white stuff, and it looked open for business, though I doubted they’d have too much today.

“Wait there, I’ll help you down,” he said and jumped out of the door followed by a thump and a yell. I snorted, he’d obviously slipped on the snow and fallen. He yelled again and there was something in his tone which suggested things were amiss. I got out carefully compared to Sir Walter Raleigh, who was lying on his back with his leg at an awkward angle. “I think I’ve broken it.”

“Okay,” I pulled off my jacket and draped it round him, “I’ll go and get some help.”

“Can’t you just blue light me?”

“No, I need to get you back into the car so I can get you to hospital.”

“Oh—hurry up, it’s beginning to hurt like mad.”

“I’m going as quick as I can.” I ran to the pub and explained to the landlord what had happened. He was a retired army medic and after donning a coat came out to look at Simon.

“Oh dear,” he said and went back into the pub.

“Where’s he gone?” asked Simon.

“To get his gun?” I shrugged, feeling the cold breeze blowing straight through my sweater.

“I thought he said he was a medic not a vet?”

“Yeah, an army one—they have guns don’t they?”

“In combat, we’re not at war here as far as I know.”

“Oh, I assumed he was going to shoot you because he’s better at treating gunshot wounds than broken legs.”

“You are such a comfort, wife.”

“Any time, husband.”

The landlord returned with some bits of wood and a bandage and between us we splinted Simon’s leg to immobilise it. Then we helped him sit up and finally to stand on his good leg and ease him onto the back seats where he could keep his leg straight. I told him I could manage from there and I drove him gently back to Portsmouth and the QA. The queue was practically out the door.

“Shall I tell them we’re private patients?” asked Simon, I hoped jokingly or he’d likely be lynched.

I’d borrowed a wheelchair and he was sitting in it with his leg resting on a plastic chair. I stood alongside him with my hand on his shoulder. I could feel something happening under my hand and he slumped forward. I shouted for help and a nurse came running out, “You shouted—oh shit.”

She took the chair and without concern for his broken leg she charged through the door into the clinical area I was left standing in the waiting room feeling bereft. It was my birthday and here I was at this bloody hospital once more with one of my family in trouble again. Will it never end?

The Daily Dormouse Part 1205

The same nurse who’d confiscated my husband—well that’s what it felt like—came rushing back, “Are you Cathy Cameron?”

“Yes.”

“Come with me.”

“What’s happened?” my anxiety shot through the roof narrowly missing the jet stream and making the weather even worse.

“Nothing, Mr Nicholls asked me to fetch you.”

“Hi, Cathy,” said a familiar voice, “It might help if you come in and hold his hand.”

“What caused his collapse?”

“He possibly just fainted from shock or pain.”

“Is that all, he frightened me to death.”

“I’m sending him down to X-ray in a moment, want to see him?”

I nodded vigorously, “Yes I would thanks, Ken.”

He pointed to a cubicle and I pushed through the curtain and there was Simon lying on a plinth and looking very sorry for himself. “Sorry, I’ve spoilt your birthday.”

“If you’d croaked you would certainly have done, but I’ll forgive you this once.”

“Good, my bloody leg hurts, though, Babes.”

“It will, they’re going to send you down for X-rays in a minute.”

“Oh, that’ll hurt as well while they move me about to get the right angle.”

“You don’t have to do it, you could always just run away,” I replied sarcastically.

“Very funny.”

“What d’you expect? It’s something you’ll have to suffer so they can sort it.” I reached forward and held his hand and felt energy flowing immediately.

“That feels so much better, Babes, if you’re there, I can face anything.” He seemed to drift off into a sleep—at least I hoped it was a sleep—nothing was telling me otherwise.

I placed my hand on his leg, the bruising was spreading quite quickly, I tried to imagine the bones which had broken coming back together and any splinters also joining back into where they should be and the soft tissue calming down and repairing itself, swelling and bleeding reducing itself and the leg returning to its normal healthy state.

“God, it’s burning like it’s on fire,” he said sweating from his forehead.

“It’s okay, just relax and think of something nice.”

“Can I think about bonking you?”

“Can’t you find something more—um—easily shared? In public anyway.”

“Okay, I’m watching you feed the baby, your tits look lovely.”

“Simon, I’m trying to concentrate here.”

“Sorreee.”

“If you like ’em that much why don’t you grow your own?”

“I don’t think it would do anything for you, would it?”

“Probably not, or for your image either.”

“No, I guess not.”

“This the one for X-rays?” asked a chubby masculine face which pushed through the curtain. It presumably belonged to a porter.

“Sure is,” I answered.

“Can you manage in a chair, mate?” he asked Simon.

“I think so,” Simon stood up and sat down in the chair.”

“What you done then?” asked the porter.

“Broke my leg, I think.”

“You sure? You got in the chair okay, least as far as I could see.”

“Yeah, my wife just hypnotised me to ease the pain—that’s probably why.”

“Oh, I’ve ’eard about this hypnotism business, she’ll have you barking like a chicken next.” I hate to think what happened in the conversation a moment later but I should think trying to converse with that fellow was going to take Simon’s mind off anything else. He seemed to be from a parallel universe. However, I appreciated Si having the presence of mind not to reveal my healing on him.

I sat and waited, wondering what the children were doing and if Henry got to his meeting at the bank building. It would probably be covered in snow anyway.

He came back half an hour later and Ken Nicholls was with him. “Just badly bruised,” said Simon sighing. Ken winked at me in a very knowing way.

“While Simon waits a moment to speak with our discharging nurse, would you have a little look at someone down here, Cathy?”

It had to happen—oh well, one good turn deserves another. I followed him into an identical cubicle. On a similar plinth lay a child, she was breathing in a very laboured way.

“Where are the parents?” I asked. He curled his finger and beckoned me to the next cubicle. In there was a woman of thirty or forty who was very badly bruised about the face and head, who didn’t appear to be breathing at all. “Is she?” I asked.

He nodded and looked very grave—“A few minutes ago. Massive internal haemorrhage—nothing even a genius like me could do.”

“I see,” I touched her, she was still warm but growing cooler. “Give me five or ten minutes, let me know if the girl gets worse.”

He nodded, “Good luck, you’re her only chance now. I’ll see you’re not disturbed.”

I took her hand between mine. “Margaret, I know you can hear me, just focus on my voice and look for the light I’ll be sending you—it’s very bright, like a miniature sun, when you see it follow it, it’ll lead you back to Kim, because she needs you—needs you very much, and she loves you and I know you love her.

“In a moment I’m going to ask you to answer a big question.” I paused. “Do you love Kim enough to cope with some pain, because this is going to hurt quite a lot?” I placed both of my hands on her chest and abdomen and felt the energy rushing into her body like it was lasers cauterising the damaged vessels at the same time causing the pooling blood to return to them in preparation for the heart to begin working again.

“Here we go.” I pressed down on her chest half a dozen times very firmly and she breathed in and screamed in pain. I felt myself sweating, but continued to hold my hands on her thorax and abdomen. Ken Nicholls rushed in, I knew it was him—I could feel him standing behind me, in fact in mind’s eye I could see all round me and he stood behind me looking suitably astonished.

Margaret opened her eyes, “Christ that hurts,” she said as I pressed once again.

“Good, that means you’re on the mend and I can leave you to this nice gentleman.” I walked outside and washed my hands. I heard him talking to her and her asking if she’d died.

“Not quite—I mean if you had, no one could do anything but it was a close run thing and my colleague managed to pull you back.”

“Kim made me come back—is she badly hurt?”

“Cathy is in with her now.”

“She’s not a doctor, is she?”

“Um—she’s um.” I could hear Ken struggling to say something which wouldn’t blow her away.

“She’s an angel, isn’t she?”

“Are there such things, I’m just a dumb surgeon?”

“But you brought her in to help me.”

“She came in with someone else. She sometimes does when we really need her, just don’t tell anyone about this.”

“I won’t, partly because I don’t know what I make of it and partly because if she helps Kim, I don’t want the press or anyone else pestering her.”

“Good, we’ll send you both up to the ward later, try and rest you lost quite a bit of blood.”

“Tell your angelic friend, thank you.”

“I will—don’t worry.”

I overheard all of that from the next cubicle. I touched the girl’s hand—it was cold. I intuitively knew she was bleeding from her lungs into the pleural cavity. If she’d been conscious she’d have been in severe pain.

Once more I touched a chest and tried to cauterise the bleeding and ask the blood to return to its vessels and wait. Then I asked the lung tissue to start repairing itself and the ribs which had shattered when the telegraph post came down on the car to return to wholeness and to leave no fragments in her thorax.

Her breathing remained a hard struggle for her. “Kim, you’ve heard me asking your body to heal, now I want you to hold your breath for two seconds. I’ll count one, two—just like that. Okay, here we go—one and two.” I pushed down on her chest and she spewed a mass of blood and other fluid all over the place, but as soon as she stopped, she gasped in a huge breath and began crying.

“Can you get someone to clean her up?” I asked Ken, who I knew was standing behind me again.

“Of course I will. Thank you so much, Cathy. Simon told me it’s your birthday—we should be giving you presents instead you’ve given life back to two very sick people. Thanks.”

“So that’s why Simon fell—you needed me here?”

“Looks like it, the universe sent for you—but you wouldn’t have come without feeling a personal need to do so.”

“In other words, Simon.”

“I think so.”

“I hope they won’t say anything.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Where’s Simon?”

“I sent him up to the restaurant to get himself a cuppa and order one for you. Better go before it goes cold.”

I nodded and left.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1206

When I got to the restaurant in the hospital, Simon rushed up and got me a cuppa and a piece of cake.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

“It’s an improvised birthday cake.”

“Gee thanks—a carrot cake birthday cake—oh well, a first time for everything.”

“It was the best I could do at short notice.”

“I know, I appreciate all you do for me, even if I don’t always show it,” I felt embarrassed but tried to show I was aware that I didn’t always seem grateful for what he did.

“So, what d’you think of the car?”

“It’s lovely, Simon, thank you so much.”

“I’m glad you like it. The sports models are lovely but impractical for all you carry, maybe when the kids are bigger I’ll get you a sports model.”

“I’ll be too old then.”

“Nah, you’ll always seem a bit racy to me—a woman of mystery.”

“Me? I’m an open book, typical Sagittarius, what you see is what you get.”

“And you’ve always been this way?” he looked questioningly at me.

“Yes, why?”

“I’m just thinking about when we first met.”

I blushed, “Well the bits you could see—you got.” He snorted and choked on his cup of tea, coughing and spluttering and getting very red in the face.

We chatted and I ate my piece of cake and drank my tea then I drove us home—the car really was a lovely drive once I got used to driving a truck-sized thing. Then I had to take the kids out in it, which meant two trips but it was a nice way to spend my birthday.

When we got home the second time, Simon told me he’d booked a table for two at a very nice restaurant for eight o’clock. I did jacket potatoes for the others and while I was making a pot of tea, Julie came into the kitchen carrying a birthday cake with a single candle on it.

“Where did that come from?” I asked half hoping she hadn’t made it herself.

“The cake shop in town, Daddy asked them to make one for you. Grampa Henry collected it earlier.”

“Oops, I clean forgot about him, he was supposed to be viewing the damage with Simon.”

“Oh he phoned saying they couldn’t view anything until after the snow cleared and the engineers certified the site as safe.”

“So when will he be able to get his car back?” I hated to think what sort of state it was in.

“Oh yes, his car is at the garage—the windscreen cracked so they’re replacing it, should be ready tomorrow if the delivery comes in.”

“What the windscreen delivery?”

“I presume that’s what he meant.” Julie looked perplexed for a moment, then nodded, “I’m sure that’s what it was.”

“Perhaps you’d like to go and tell him while I take my tea and feed the baby.” My breasts felt quite full and I thought I could hear her squeaking. Her face lit up when I approached her cot and she cooed at me, and I said to her, “Mama, mama.”

She looked at me and cooed and gurgled so I repeated it over and over—well it works with budgerigars. She was more interested in my chest—she definitely takes after her adoptive father—and suckled on me as soon as I opened my bra.

Jenny came in and brought me a birthday card, “Sorry I missed you this morning.”

“That’s okay, thanks for the card.”

Just then, Baby C pulled her mouth off my breast and shrieked at Jenny, then said, “Ma-ma,” then bit me on the nipple—little swine.

“Did you hear that?” I asked Jenny.

“I think I did, and I haven’t heard her say that before.”

“Well thank you, you little maggot, for a lovely birthday present.” As if to acknowledge it, she then shrieked again and nearly burst my eardrums.

“Are you okay to sit tonight? Simon’s taking me out for dinner.”

“Of course, I think you had asked me earlier.”

“Did I? I’m sure I’m losing the plot.”

“Simon was saying something about you saving two lives at the hospital, and he broke his leg which you fixed.”

I told her the story as I understood it.

“So, you think he fell and broke his leg to get you to the hospital so you could save these two people?”

“That’s what Ken Nicholls seemed to think, I prefer to believe it was meaningful coincidence.”

“Very meaningful—you don’t believe in God, do you?”

“Nope—and nothing has made me change my mind.”

“So what caused you to be at the hospital then?”

“Pure coincidence.”

“Couldn’t it have been Divine intervention?”

“No—if there was a God, why did He need me—no if He’s so bloody clever and omnipotent, why does He need the middleman, surely He could do it all Himself?”

“But what else could set it up?”

“Who says it was set up? It could just be coincidence—perhaps we create these things ourselves?”

“How d’you mean?” Jenny seemed interested and until I finished feeding tiny wee, I couldn’t do anything much anyway, so let’s have a religious debate.

“Perhaps we are masters of our own destinies, causing and controlling far more than we realise. For all I know we emit energies which attract certain things to us including events and people.”

“Did you attract Stella that first day you met?”

“Perhaps I did, unconsciously—needing a boost to move on in my life.”

“So today, who attracted who—did the injured people send for you or did you send for them?”

“I have no idea. But if we examine Divine intervention stuff, did they have to suffer just for me save them? It’s a bit spiteful, making a child suffer to achieve, I don’t know what. I mean what did it prove?”

“That you’re a very special lady?”

“We knew that already.”

“But you healed Simon’s leg, and two seriously injured people—was it just part of a training programme?”

I certainly hadn’t thought of that. Okay, I realise that it seems the light is using me as an instrument—which I sometimes feel resentful towards as there was no initial discussion or agreement that I should do it. So if it’s training me, what is the ultimate goal? That is frightening in some respects and if it’s happening to me, it’s presumably happening to others—but why?

Whatever the reason, if there is one and this isn’t just some random event, which it could be and in which we read more organisation than it deserves because we’re programmed to look for patterns—be it a face in the spots on a carpet or in events in the external world: what’s driving it all? For some, God or some other half-baked idea. I was minded of a report of some interview on radio or TV that a bishop and Richard Dawkins were both supposed to be talking on. The slot was five minutes and the bishop went first and used up four of the precious minutes which exasperated Dawkins, who when asked why he was cross replied, ‘Well at least I don’t have to rely on some imaginary friend’—one of his better put downs.

What is controlling this then? If it’s not some Creator or Demiurge, is it the universe? Or Gaia? Bit of a cop out to my thinking. For all I know it could be some little alien on the planet Zog, who does it all with his smart phone, a teleporter remote control and a goldfish bowl.

“She’s gone to sleep,” Jenny observed and nodded at the baby. She had too, my nipple still in her mouth, but she was miles away.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1207

I finished feeding the baby and gave her to Jenny to change whilst I went and showered and changed myself. The snow was still about so I dressed for the elements with a polo neck in red and a black jacket and trousers with relatively flat black boots.

“Have a lovely evening, Mummy,” called Julie as we left, while the others were sulking because we were leaving them behind. I pleaded with them to behave for Jenny and Stella because Tom wasn’t very well—he had a lousy cold if not flu, and he’d gone to bed early. I was a little concerned for him when we left, but this was what I’d asked for as my birthday present, so I had to go. I’d be driving so Si could have a glass of wine or beer, and besides it was my car.

The drive through the ice and snow—it was freezing—was a fiddle but I took it easy and the large tyres plus four-wheel drive kept us safe. Simon directed me to the restaurant and the car park was half-full. I supposed some people had cancelled because of the weather—I couldn’t blame them.

On alighting from the car, he offered me his arm and I held it as we walked into the restaurant. “Lord and Lady Cameron,” he said and the waiter bowed obsequiously and led us to a table in the centre of the room. After sitting us at our table, he returned with menus and wine lists plus a single, red rose bud for me. I thanked him and Simon smiled. “Perhaps he fancies you?” said Si smirking.

“Can’t think why?” I replied not really wanting this sort of conversation.

“He can see you as a sexy woman.”

“Simon, I’m twenty-seven, not seventeen.”

“And probably more beautiful now than ever.”

“Cobblers, I’m wearing so much moisturiser against the cold, that I’m surprised you can see my face.”

“Ah, that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“It.”

“It?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“The fact that your complexion looks rather pallid tonight.”

“Does it?”

“Yes, but then if you’ve rubbed in two kilos of elephant seal blubber, it would.”

Before I could react and attempt to wring his neck, in a very genteel manner as befits an expensive and exclusive restaurant, the waiter returned with the Pinot Noir, which Simon had ordered. I did think about ordering the most expensive starter I could find but I don’t like caviar of any description—it looks like tiny dirty ball bearings and tastes about as good—don’t ask me how I know, I’m still not sure if I ever did pass all of the ones I swallowed.

I went with the soup—broccoli and Stilton, he had quail’s eggs, they were only fractionally bigger than the lumpfish roe—okay, they were bigger but you get my drift. I mean you could hardly stick a toast soldier in one, could you?

I drank mineral water while he quaffed his wine.

For main course, I ordered swordfish with pesto alla siciliana tomato, almonds and basil with olive oil sauce, a green salad and garlic bread. Simon went for a steak tartare—though why anyone would want to eat raw meat and egg baffles me. However, he ate it with gusto and I ate mine with pesto, mine was delish, his looked like cat sick with an egg on top.

Dessert for me was an apple and mint sorbet, Simon ordered baked Alaska—if it was half-baked would they call it Sarah Palin? He also put away cheese and biccies, coffee and a cognac. I pushed the boat out and had a latte coffee.

It was a very nice meal but the place was only half-full, the waiter said the place had been fully booked but people cancelled because of the weather. As we sat drinking our coffees, some bloke behind began to cough, then wheeze. I heard someone thumping him on his back and Simon looked concerned, “Poor bugger is choking.”

I turned round and the man was going from red in his face to blue round the lips. I jumped up and turning him to face the wall, did a reverse abdominal thrust, locking my hands in a fist and yanking them up under his diaphragm. A second go achieved the objective and he shot a piece of veal into the fish tank about ten feet away. I think everyone gasped. He certainly did and sat down heavily on the embroidered chair. His partner, presumably his wife thanked me and I nodded going back to finish my coffee.

“These things follow you about, don’t they?”

“Don’t be absurd, Simon, you could have done that just as easily as I did, and I’m sure there were several others present who could have done it.”

“So why didn’t they?”

“I have no idea, would you like me to stand up and ask them?”

“No, sit quietly and behave yourself.”

“Would you like me to fold my arms and sit up straight like a big girl—we used to do that in school, did you?”

“No,” he gave me a look of disbelief and I knew I’d got my own back for his earlier irritation.

“Any news from Henry about what happened to the bank building?”

“They think a gas explosion.”

“What about the bomb thing?”

“That might have been a hoax.”

“Come off it, what really happened?”

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

“Very funny as well as unlikely.”

“Why d’you say that?”

“Can’t see you coping with all the kids—can you?”

“It’s okay, 005, I’ve changed my mind, you won’t need to do it tonight,” he pretended to talk into his wrist watch, much to the amusement of the woman on the table to the side of us.

“If you drink much more, you won’t be able to do it tonight either.”

“What, kill you?”

“No, what’s the expression, oh yes—give me a good seeing to.”

“Of coursh I will, both of you,” he pretended to slur.

“Very funny.”

“Excuse me your lordship, the gentleman on the table behind would like to buy you both a drink for saving his life,” interrupted the waiter.

“Oh okay—another cognac for me, Cathy?”

“I’m fine thanks.”

“Go on the chap’ll feel guilty all night otherwise.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“Suit yourself,” Simon acknowledged him with a wave and I rose and went to the ladies. Unfortunately, as I came out of the cubicle his wife cornered me.

“Thanks for what you did earlier. I’d often thought I’d like to poison the old bugger, but when I thought he looked like a goner, I felt really awful.”

“That’s okay, it’s something I picked up during a first aid course years ago.”

“Well, we’re both really glad you did. Did the waiter say you’re Lady Cameron?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Glad to meet you, I’ve followed your adventures with great interest.”

“Oh?” What I thought was, ‘oh-oh.’

“Yes, we must have lunch together some time.”

“I tend to be very busy most days—big family and three full time jobs, not including the stunt woman at Ellstree.”

“Very funny, I insist.” She shoved a card in my hand and as I walked back to my table I glanced at it, Delia Duttine—London features correspondent, New York Times.

Just what I need.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1208

“Who was that?” asked Simon as we left the restaurant. I showed him the card. “What did she want?”

“A chat—she said she’d been following my career with interest. So I half expect headlines in New York of English Lord marries sex change scientist, or worse.”

“That would be wrong then wouldn’t it?”

“If you say so,” I shrugged.

“I’m a Scottish nobleman, not English, despite the accent.”

“Ah but lots of Americans think, Britain is part of England, so Scotland and the bit west of Bristol, the woad country, is also part of England.”

“I’m aware there are red-necks up in the Boondocks or whatever they call them, but there are also some very sophisticated and extremely well educated people there, too.”

“I know, I’m just thinking the worst because the sort of reader it appeals to likes to read stories of Princess Di being alive and well and living with Elvis—mind you that applies to people over here too. Your average Daily Express reader likes to read about Princess Di or that little girl who was abducted in Portugal.”

“So, Princess Di abducted little Maddie, would be a real coup? Oh bugger it’s raining.”

“That’s not the worst of it, Si.”

“What isn’t?”

“The rain.”

“It is to me, I’m getting bloody wet.”

“Try—the car isn’t where I parked it.”

“You’re joking,” he practically ran to the car park only to see there was a space where Pepper had been. “You did lock it?”

I nodded.

“D’you know the number?”

I shook my head.

“The plod are going to love us.”

“Problems?” asked Delia Duttine, who with her husband had walked out from the restaurant.

“Looks like our car has been stolen,” stated Simon.

“Can we offer you a lift?” asked the reporter’s husband.

“We wouldn’t like to impose upon you, and I’m sure the restaurant will call a cab for us.” I tried to avoid using their hospitality partly because I didn’t want them to know where we lived.

“Yes, that would be brilliant, if it’s no bother,” said Simon accepting the offer—honestly, a few spots of rain on a Savile Row suit and he panics.

We got into their car, predictably a large BMW, sliding into the back seats. “At least this rain will get rid of the snow,” said, ‘Call me Arthur,’ Duttine. Simon agreed while I felt Delia watching me through the corner of her sneaky eyes.

They dropped us at the end of our drive and we ran up to the house and let ourselves in through the front door. “I didn’t hear you drive up,” said Stella.

“No, we didn’t, some nice person stole the car outside the restaurant.”

Her response was one of embarrassed disbelief and she laughed which stopped once we’d convinced her it was real. Simon found the documents and called the police to report it.

He came back ten minutes later, “They are absolutely infuriating—when was it taken—I mean, how the bloody hell do I know? I told the tit on the other end of the phone what I did know and that we couldn’t report it earlier because we didn’t know the number. He asked me if I’d been drinking—honestly, as if I would.”

“It’s irrelevant anyway, I was going to drive, it is after all my car.”

I fed the baby after changing into my nightdress—it buttons down the front, so the boob slug can get to her repository. The girls are mostly wearing pyjamas, except Julie, who now has a small bust and likes to flaunt it with low cut nightdresses. I don’t like jammies, they feel funny on my legs now, sort of restrictive. I know I wore them for years, complete with tie cord on the trousers, but I’ve worn nighties ever since I left home to go to university, although I had to be careful they weren’t spotted by my mother when I came home in the holidays. In those days I only had one anyway, and I kept it in my rucksack—my father used to call it my handbag, which it was in more ways than he knew. I kept my bra and pants in there with my couple of things of makeup.

It’s funny that many crossdressers use lipstick whatever age they are, even though lots of younger women don’t. But then, it’s also said they tend to dress more like their mothers than contemporaries because that’s who they base their models on. I wonder if that applies to ones with sisters.

I was sick of having to hide stuff at home and at uni, in my room in case someone ever came back with me. On the two occasions I had a girl in my room, they were envious of my teddy, which I’d had since I was months old and which my father did throw out when I was twenty after one of our regular arguments.

Mum bought me another one, because she considered he didn’t have the right to dispose of someone else’s property. I agreed with her on those grounds and also because I thought he was a real prick.

These things went through my mind as I fed the baby. I was glad I’d forgiven Dad for most of the things he did to me, partly because I can see what he was trying to achieve, although his strategy was completely wrong. He was trying to toughen me up—he did, it made me more resistant to his efforts and more determined that I should transition one day. Now if he’d been a bit more subtle and built up a good relationship with me, he could possibly have tried moral blackmail which might have succeeded in keeping it at bay for a bit longer—because I wouldn’t have wanted to let him down. Thanks to his brutality, I didn’t really give a toss either way and for a long time I didn’t have much value for him either. He did fund me through university, I didn’t get much of a grant because he had quite a good job—he was a partner in the firm, and I’m grateful for that, but the law required him to do so and he liked being able to say, he’d funded me. He did use it as attempts to blackmail me but I was too resistant by then.

Like I said, I’ve forgiven him most of his abuses—the beatings, the destruction of my property, the innuendo and verbal abuse—because I really don’t think he knew any better. Added to his evangelical church, it was almost inevitable we’d clash and he’d drive me away or I’d leave. In the end, I left.

What is unanswered is whether he’d have mellowed to accepting me as his daughter if Mum hadn’t died and left him with me as his only close family—he hated his sister, who was like Harry Potter’s aunt in Rowling’s series of books. Would he have mellowed and met my ultimatums to accept me or lose me? Or did that happen only because he had the stroke and for the first time in his life actually needed me? We’ll never know.

Simon was asleep when I got to bed—I wasn’t sorry, my birthday had been a trifle too eventful for my liking and I was content to close my eyes and hope for a better day tomorrow.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1209

The snow had mostly gone when I woke the next morning, it was no longer my birthday and looking back, it was possibly just as well. It was after nine on a Saturday morning and Simon was already up and apparently on the phone to the garage which had supplied Pepper. By the time I’d washed and dressed he’d discovered there was a chip in it which once activated could tell the garage where it was.

He was very hopeful of getting it back, I wasn’t so sure. Whoever had taken it had obviously loaded it on a trailer and carted it away, so it could be anywhere by now and the chip might well have been neutralised.

I was having my breakfast when the phone rang and Trish answered it calling Simon to come and speak to the caller. He came into the kitchen smiling, “Within a few square metres, they know where it is.”

“The car?”

“Yes, what else?”

“It could have been anything from the Loch Ness monster down.”

“They know where that is too.”

“What, Nessie?”

“Yes.”

“I’m probably going to regret this, but go on tell me where it is?”

“In Loch Ness—see and you thought I was just some rich, Scots, country bumpkin.”

“I shall have to revise my opinion of you, I can see that—wealthy, Scots, halfwit—okay, where’s my car?”

“I’m not sure I’m going to tell you now.”

“Simon stop interrupting my breakfast with nonsense or I’ll make you sit on the naughty step, now where is my car?”

“Southampton.”

“Southampton?”

“Stop repeating everything I say.”

“It’s a free country—now then, the sixty four dollar question, how do we get it back?”

“I think you’ll find it’s more like sixty four thousand dollar, than sixty four.”

“The question remains, how do we get it back?”

“The garage are liaising with the ’Ampshire Consta-bulery as we talk.”

“Oh pooh, I ask myself, will I ever see my baby again and it never called me mother?”

“How do I know? This time yesterday you said you didn’t want the bloody thing.”

“That was before I’d driven it,” I beamed back, but he ignored me. “So what do we do now? Can we charge in and demand release of my car?”

“I doubt it, the plod are quite capable of getting it back for you.”

“Where is it, exactly?”

“Down near the docks—they think there’s a ring who steal expensive cars to order and ship them abroad under forged cargo licences.”

“They’d better not ship Pepper off or I shall ship them off this mortal coil.”

“I think we just wait for the police to get there and repossess it for you.”

“Can’t we go and watch?”

“Haven’t you got a baby to change?”

“No, I decided to keep the one we have.”

He shook his head and walked away. I popped in to see Tom. He was in his study looking a little better but still coughing and spluttering. “A’ this efter I hae had a wee flu jab, nivver agin.”

“You’ll be okay in a day or two, anything you need?”

He shook his head no. I asked if I could use his Mondeo and he told me I could use the Freelander if I wanted to. I hugged him and took the keys.

The milk I’d expressd last night was still in the fridge, so I checked if Jenny could look after the baby and told Si I was off to Southampton.” You don’t know where to go.”

“You do, besides, you’ll need to drive this home because I intend to drive Pepper home, away from those rotten baby thieves.”

“You’re crazy and likely to get yourself arrested at this rate.”

“That is my car, I have the keys to prove it.”

“What if they’ve reprogrammed the locks?”

“What? They can’t do that can they?”

“Yes.”

“C’mon then, we have no time to lose.”

“There are roughly thirty million females in this country, why did I have to fall in love with this one?” he muttered to himself as we got in the car. He entered the coordinates into Tom’s GPS and off we went.

Most of the snow was gone, although it held on alongside hedges and on hills, however, the Freelander rattled along smoothly with me at the wheel. An hour later, we were following the directions to a wharf. We parked the car and went to have a closer look-see. They were putting cars into containers. There was no sign of the police.

Just then I saw them picking up Pepper with huge forklift truck. I pressed my key and the winkers winked. The driver of the forklift stopped and went to see what had happened. As he did so, I ran in hidden behind another car. I spotted a large sack lying by a pile of tyres. The driver of the forklift went back to his vehicle and I sneaked up behind him and pulled the sack over his head. In the ensuing struggle, he fell over and banged his head. I quickly tied his bootlaces together and rolled a large tyre and laid it on top of him, he wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.

It took a few minutes to work out how to withdraw the forklift from Pepper but I managed to find reverse, however, the brakes weren’t too good and I shot backwards into the office knocking down a partition wall which fell onto the three men who seemed to be in there.

I ran from the forklift towards my own car and jumped into her and started her up, reversing out of the warehouse at speed, straightening her up and then racing round the corner to park by Tom’s Freelander.

Simon had come running back behind me, “What the hell are you doing?”

“Getting my car back, why?”

“The police are coming. I saw them cross the bridge a moment ago.”

“There are other cars in there, a Ferrari and a Bentley amongst others, so they don’t need this one.”

“What if they charge you with wasting their time or interfering with a crime scene?”

“I’ll deny it, I had gloves on the whole time, so there won’t be any fingerprints.”

“They might find your DNA on the forklift.”

“They might, I’ll have to wait and see—c’mon let’s run for it.” I drove off homewards and he followed me in hot pursuit. Once home, I called the police and told them I’d found my car where the tracker had said it was, parked on a street in Southampton and I’d repossessed it and brought it home. He didn’t sound too impressed, however the evening news suggested that the police had broken up a car smuggling group after what seemed like a gang war had occurred. It seemed likely that half a dozen members of another gang had smashed the place up and rendered the smugglers immobile.

“See, I told you one woman is worth half a dozen men,” I smirked at Simon. The police for some reason didn’t come round to interview me—Simon suggested they’re still collecting evidence and that one day I’d be in big trouble. He might be right, I do tend to fly off the handle a bit when people try to steal from me. He says I’m impulsive, I just shrug and explain I’m an archetypal Sagittarian a little spontaneous when adventure calls a bit like him with food and drink.

Talking of food I did him a nice boeuf bourguignon that evening and he forgave me all my current sins—mind you, I plan to be asleep in bed before him, so he’ll start counting again from then.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1210

The weather became milder a couple of days later, then got cold again and I had to scrape the ice off the windscreen several mornings. The chip thing was switched off unless it got nicked again. I was tempted to have it sprayed bright pink, because that would have stopped anyone going near it let alone stealing it.

Back to the weather—of course the snow struck again, the day before the last day of term, so the school phoned to say not to bother going in. Since I’ve had the 4×4, I must admit that I tend to worry less about snow than I did before although I’m well aware that even these things can get stuck and need tractors to pull them out.

Of course with our first real snow, this was twice as deep as the previous lot, the kids wanted to go sledging. This time Simon took them, they walked while he skied. I could see Danny was envious of Simon’s skill in staying upright on two planks, whilst he plodded through the snow in his wellies, so I wondered if he might like some lessons for his Christmas present—there has to be a dry slope round here somewhere. The girls seemed happy pulling their sledges—actually, plastic ones they sit on and go like crazy. Jenny went with Simon having dug out her walking boots and borrowed my gaiters to keep her legs dry.

Once I’d got rid of the rest of them, I was able to get down to some paperwork. Tom still wasn’t right, he kept falling asleep and had a bit of a cough. I did suggest he saw the doctor but he told me in no uncertain terms that, “Seeing that daft gowk, haed caused it a’ in thae firrst place.”

He was, however, rather pleased when I offered to do some letters for him. The university had got rid of the students a week or two before, but the staff are able to then get down to real work without the distraction of students.

Most of what I was doing related to the survey: it was going slower than I’d hoped but we were making reasonable progress, and I was doing minimal work on it just to keep things ticking over. It’s all the children’s fault of course, but then I invited some of them here or agreed to take them, so I can hardly complain.

I had bought Trish one of those microscopes you can fit to a computer via a USB lead—I thought she’d enjoy it and I think there was an experiment to grow shrimps from eggs—non-edible ones, I hasten to add and it even gives some yeast to feed them.

I did look at the instructions as soon as I got it home and it’s really intended for kids a bit older than her, I’m sure she’ll manage and I arranged to borrow some slides from the uni as well for her to look at—I’ve kept off the rat’s brains or dormouse kidneys and stuck to protozoans and botanical specimens.

Julie has invited Phoebe down for Christmas, but I’ve warned her that I’ll require some help cooking and cleaning. Julie was also looking enviously at Simon’s skis so we’ve arranged to get some for her plus a nice jacket and salopettes.

Billie has a new cycling outfit, and Livvie has a new bike the same as the one I’ve got for Trish, only different colours—they’re both Trek and I had them built by the local bike shop—the one we saved from burglary last year, so we got a good discount. Livvie also has a new mobile—the other one was on its last legs.

Danny will have skiing lessons as mentioned earlier plus a pair of skis at the end of it—he doesn’t know that yet. Finally, Mima will have a computer of her own—a mini netbook—she is so much smaller than the others, even Trish and Livvie who are only a year or so older. Anyway, she’ll be able to use it on the Internet with our wi fi connection.

I stopped to feed and change the wee yin and carried on with my pen pushing while she sat in her bouncer thing and practiced calling me—ma-ma, ma-ma and so on. It was delightful at first, then amusing, then an irritation. Oh well millions of other women go through the same experience, sometimes several times—silly buggers.

At first I thought it might be baby C or even Puddin’ when I heard the noise, but it wasn’t. I stopped typing and tried to hush the baby, but she just got upset and started bawling. Something told me to leave her and find the source of the noise. I did.

I shut the door of the kitchen with a bawling baby on the other side and walked to the lounge and dining room—nothing there. Then I heard it faintly. I listened again, it was the study—it was Tom. I knocked and entered, he was lying on the floor desperately trying to breathe and he was frothing blood at the mouth. I grabbed the phone and dialled triple nine.

While I waited for the paramedics, I propped him up in a semi-recumbent position. His breathing was still awful but at least he looked a little better colour, he was grey when I found him and he was getting a little colour back but he was still bluish about the lips—a sure sign of anoxia.

I called Stella down, she was the nurse after all, she was horrified at what she saw. But she stayed with Tom while I went to calm down a now hysterical baby. She had hiccups from crying and had pooed her pants as well. The paramedic arrived in a Land Rover and I let her in—a youngish blonde, with her hair tied back in a green scrunchie which almost matched her outfit. I showed her to the study and went back to the baby. I heard her go out to get some oxygen and she was calling her colleagues to hurry with the van to get him to hospital. Not again—I spend half my life at that place.

She set up an ECG and concluded his heart was okay, so it was lungs—query, infection—possibly TB, or a cancer, or an injury. Tom was so exhausted he couldn’t answer her.

“He had a flu jab about ten days ago and hasn’t been well since,” I explained, she made a note of it.

I sat holding the baby in one arm and Tom’s hand in the other, he tried to smile at me over the oxygen mask. The paramedic gently said, “If it’s an infection, it might be wise to keep the baby in another room.”

Reluctantly I let go of Tom’s hand and went back to the kitchen. I was close to tears I was so worried. He was seventy if not seventy one and not in the best of health. I healed his heart a year or so ago but the rest of him was overweight and out of condition. I suspected his blood pressure was too high but he wouldn’t do anything in case the doctor told him to stop his single malt every night.

The ambulance arrived and reversed up the drive nearly sliding into Simon’s Jaguar—he’d not long had it back from the garage, with a new windscreen, hood and paint job. Tom was loaded into the back on a sitting stretcher thing—I had to help carry it—he’s no lightweight.

Stella agreed to look after the baby for me, and I texted Si: ‘Tom collapsed—gone 2 QA. C x’

I asked Stella to tell him to stay and look after the kids, I’d be back when I could. Then I cleared the snow off the windows and screens of the Porsche, swept most of it off the roof—apparently it’s an offence to drive a car with snow on the roof—and set off towards the hospital. If I spend much more time there, they’ll be calling it the Lady Catherine, not Queen Alexandra Hospital.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1211

Once I got anywhere near the town centre I met traffic—grid locked traffic—why oh why don’t these imbeciles leave their cars at home when it snows? All they do is clog up the roads for those of us who can drive in these conditions.

If hadn’t been in such a hurry, I could have enjoyed the entertainment of cars spinning wheels and going nowhere; of white van man braking—the thing you never do on ice—and turning round to face where he’d come from and with a face as pale as his van.

I watched a cyclist on a modified mountain bike, his front wheel missing and his forks screwed into a homemade sledge—he was fine until he came across some cleared pavement and he came to a rapid deceleration. I didn’t see if he fell off because at that moment my attention was taken by the traffic moving forward a few yards.

It took me over an hour to do what is normally a twenty-minute journey. I have a very poor estimation of motorists based on years of abuse by them on me as a cyclist, today didn’t improve things—most of them have IQs in single figures and are so self absorbed they probably didn’t even notice it was snowing. They still drive the same—accelerate-brake-accelerate-brake and wonder why they have accidents. I wonder if stupidity is inherent in motorists and politicians?

I parked and paid for my car—the hospital doesn’t clear the car park but still charges you for the privilege of leaving your vehicle at your own risk on a compressed/snow/slush/ice substrate—really nice of them. My anger subsided when I did some unexpected ballet on the ice and just managed to stay upright although it completely messed up my funk.

At A&E the receptionist recognised me and asked why I was there this time? I replied to see my father, Professor Agnew. She told me to take a seat while she made some enquiries.

The waiting area was full of long faced, bored individuals who I’m sure had better things to do than wait for minor injuries to be looked at or wait with those who were injured. Several kids were nursing injured arms and legs and I was half-tempted to ask if they wanted me to sort them to reduce the queue, but then perhaps it’s all part of their karma to spend hours of boredom in this soulless place watching equally inept individuals do the same.

Either way, it wasn’t mine and I was called to reception and told that Tom was up on the EMU ward. I wandered off in search of it. District general hospitals are big places and the QA is no exception. I eventually found Tom’s ward and waited to speak to the nurse in charge who was a very nice young male charge nurse.

“Your father is very poorly.”

“Yes, I know, it was I who called the ambulance and have been trying to get here ever since.”

“Roads are bad are they?”

“Diabolical may be more apposite.”

“Wonderful, I’m back on earlies tomorrow—I’ll just about have time to get home and it’ll be time to come back in again.”

“It might have cleared by then?”

“Yeah, and we might have a Saharan sandstorm to save them gritting.” He gave me a resigned look and shook his head. “Your dad is on antibiotics and has some sort of chest infection—we suggest you wear a facemask to see him and make sure you wash your hands after you leave.” He pointed to some wash basins and skin-cleansing gel—the latter is useless for the most part unless you’ve just washed your hands—it’s there as a PR exercise.

I pulled on the facemask and felt like a cross between someone in the US TV series ER—which I thought was about the Queen—and a bank robber. Tom was sleeping so I went and sat alongside him and took his hand.

Without opening his eyes he said quietly, “Och, I kent ye’d come.”

“The traffic is dreadful, I should have been here ages ago.”

“Aye, weel ye’re here thae noo.”

“Yes, Daddy—just lie back and think of Eng—um—I mean—Scotland.”

“Aye, alricht once I tellt ye aboot ma will.”

“Why, you’re going to be fine in a few days and live so long we’ll all be too old to inherit from you.”

“I’m a realist, Cathy, jest in case ye hadnae realised.”

“I know, Daddy, I’m an optimist and I’m usually right.”

“I’m no gonna argue wi’ye, jest listen tae whit I tell ye.”

I blushed. “Okay, fire away.”

He coughed and spat some bloody phlegm into a little pot and put the lid back on. He was breathless for two or three minutes and I waited patiently for him to speak. “In ma filin’ cabinet, there’s a muckle broon envelope wi’ yer name on it. It’ll tell ye whit tae dae if I should pop ma clogs. I’ve left everythin’ tae ye, make sure thon kids o’ yourn get a share o’ ma money.”

I felt a tear run down my face, followed by another. “I will, Daddy, I promise.”

“Jest a precaution.”

“Of course—but you need to get well again.”

“Fa whit?”

“To run the survey and…”

“Och, ye’ll need tae see tae it. I’ve tellt thae Dean, he kens whit tae dae.”

“What about my PhD?”

“There’ll be others who can supervise ye.”

“But I want you to do it.”

“An’ want ye ta stop a’ this adventure stuff, but will ye?”

“I’ll try if you will?”

“Ye’ve got a deal,” he squeezed my hand, “Noo piss off an’ look efter those bairns o’ yers.” With that adieu, he sent me on my way and told me not to come in tomorrow if the roads were still bad. On the way out, I gave my mobile number to the charge nurse and asked him to let me know if there was any news or change in his condition.

I then went back to the car, sat there and cried for I don’t know how long. How could I tell him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for his belief in me and his personal support. How could I thank him for all he’d done for me and the rest of my family. He’d given me a home and I’d repaid him by causing a full scale invasion and filling his every nook and cranny with children and noise—which he said he loved.

I remember him telling me about his wife and daughter, and how I’d sort of filled part of the void in his life. I remember too how he’d told me his was a family home which should reverberate to the laughter of children and how I’d made that happen, something he’d almost given up on. A tear dripped into my lap and I jumped out of my skin when the window of my car was tapped by a man in a dark coat.

I opened the window a fraction, “Are you alright, Miss? I’ve been watching you for about ten minutes and you seem very upset.”

I nodded, “I’m okay, my father is very ill—sorry, I have to go.” I started up the Cayenne and nearly ran over his foot in my haste to remove myself from his prying and his pity.

The roads were still busy but I got home in forty minutes, hoping my eyes would lose some of their redness before the children saw me. I parked the car next to Tom’s Land Rover and that made me feel sad, then I trudged up to the door and let myself in.

“Mummy, where have you been?” demanded Trish, “Daddy’s been trying to call you on your mobile.”

“Oh, sorry, I switched it off in the hospital.”

“There you are,” Simon came up and hugged me. “How is he?”

All the subterfuges I worked out on the way home to prevent upsetting the kids went out the window, and I gasped, “He thinks he’s going to die,” and sobbed on Simon’s shoulder.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1212

(Does this count as two dozen or 101 dozen for dodecaphiles?)

The funereal music filled the church; Tom had left explicit instructions about every aspect of his ‘going away’ ceremony, his last act in this life. Simon and I walked with the children behind the coffin. The church was absolutely packed to the maximum, although my bleary tear-filled eyes recognised no one.

The music, Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem, had everyone sniffing as we processed behind the flower laden bier and its precious cargo. We filed into the front pews and stood while the coffin made its journey to rest before the altar.

The priest walked to the choir and turned to face the congregation, “I am the resurrection and the life…” he began and I collapsed, Simon easing me on to the pew with Julie’s help.

In the cemetery I dropped the rose and the dirt on the coffin and screamed in anguish—I had lost the kindest, wisest man I had ever known and it ripped me apart. I screamed again and Simon shook me. I was sobbing and shaking.

“Wake up, you silly bitch—wake up, you’re dreaming.” I felt someone shaking me and finally managed to open my eyes. “You’re having a bad dream,” he said calmly.

“But we buried him,” I sobbed.

“Buried who?” he asked.

“Daddy.”

“What, you mean, Tom?”

“Yes,” I sobbed and he hugged me.

“I hope not, he was still alive a couple of hours ago.”

“But he sickened and died.”

“He has a cold, Cathy, that’s all, and I suspect half of that are symptoms which only manifest when he needs a shot of single malt—it always seems to clear them up until the next day.”

“What day is it?” I asked, controlling my sobbing to the odd hiccup and sniff.

“It’s two o’clock in the morning of your birthday, surely you hadn’t forgotten, had you?”

“But I’ve had my birthday.”

“Yes, dear, but that was last year—you get one per annum.”

“No, this year, you gave me a Porsche Cayenne.”

“What? Forty K’s worth of motor? I might be reasonably well off, but that’s a bit more in the generosity stakes than I could manage—besides, we’ve just had your little Mercedes repaired.”

“But it was so real—it even got stolen and we got it back despite the police doing a raid on the warehouse in Southampton.”

“Cathy, you dreamt it all—besides, how can I afford to buy you a new car when I have to get one for Julie—remember it’s her birthday next week and she’s seventeen.”

I sat up—“I can’t believe that I just dreamt away a week or more of my life in such a real way—it felt so real, this feels more a dream that it did.”

“I think I’d better make you a cuppa.” It was rare for Simon to offer that especially when it meant missing his beauty sleep.

I followed him down to the kitchen half-afraid that if I went back to sleep I’d fall back into that horrid but vivid deam.

I paused as I passed Tom’s room and was reassured by his snoring—it was the first time ever that I’d been pleased to hear it, now it made me feel safer, he was still alive and I was safe. I felt a tear of relief escape my eyes and trickle down my face.

Simon was busy pouring the boiling water on to a teabag in each of the mugs so I sat and waited until he passed the mug of hot brown liquid towards me. He offered me the milk and poured in enough to turn the fluid a creamy brown colour while he put just a drop in his.

“I don’t know how you can drink it that milky,” he gently scolded me.

“It’s how I like it. Remember, I like my tea weak and my men strong.”

“As the actress said to the bishop,” he added to my quip.

“Perhaps.” I sipped the hot beverage and felt it warming me. There had been snow a day or so before and it was still quite chilly. The roads were a nightmare—but hey, this is Southern England, we don’t do snow and we certainly don’t do coping with snow. Trains, planes and automobiles will grind to a standstill and councils will wring their hands and say it caught them by surprise while the government will complain but not fund remedial action. The vicious circle of inactivity or inertia and blame will start anew.

“So, what are we doing for your birthday?” he asked me.

“I don’t know—I suppose it depends on the weather—if it’s bad like this, we won’t be going far, will we?”

“I’ve booked us a table at Southsea.”

“In the Green Room?”

“Yes—it’s as good as anywhere and better than most.”

“Okay, if we can get there.”

“I’m sure Tom would loan us his Freelander.”

“If you’d bought me the Porsche we wouldn’t have to.”

“Cathy, I’m a banker not stupid.”

“How about you buy me the Cayenne and we’ll give my little Merc to Julie?”

“What? I could get a run-about for Julie for a few thousand not forty thousand—for that I could almost get her a small aircraft.”

“You wanted me to have a TT once.”

“I was offered a special deal on that—what’s with the Porsche anyway?”

“Since I drove Jimmy’s, I just fancy one—that’s all.”

“You’re not pregnant are you?”

“Very funny.”

“Well, I thought it was usually pregnant women who fancy strange things.”

“So, a Porsche Cayenne is strange is it?”

“Only insofar as me actually buying you one is concerned.”

“Oh well, it was the nicer part of the dream.”

“Yeah, I suppose it was.”

We went back to bed. It took me ages to get off to sleep again—I just kept seeing that funeral bier and that packed church and hearing the clergyman begin the service.

This time round I wasn’t woken by children but by a herring gull which was presumably on the roof and squawking his head off. It was ten to seven and I felt like I’d been awake all night.

For a moment I reflected on the dream—the car was nice but it was never worth losing Tom, he was more valuable than any car could ever be. I reached across for Simon and he wasn’t lying beside me—I supposed he’d gone to work. Sometimes I think he’s more married to his work than to me.

The gull went squawking again, Simon called them shite-hawks, and no one seems that fond of them, even I went off them for a number of years when they stole the bag of chips off my lap at Weston Super-Mare. I was about six at the time and my dad smacked me because I was squealing like a girl. From this morning’s recollections, I still do but it’s allowed now.

I needed to get the girls to school, so I dragged myself out of bed and went to wake them—they weren’t in their beds. I felt a sudden panic—what if this was another dream? I pinched myself quite hard—it brought tears to my eyes, but I could still be dreaming.

Running downstairs I only stopped when I got into the kitchen and there they all were eating their breakfasts. “Hello, Babes,” said Simon, “Happy Birthday—I thought I’d let you have a lie in.”

“Happy Birthday to you…” chorused the kids and I felt both moved and stupid at the same time.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1213

The children rushed off once they’d finished murdering ‘Happy Birthday.’ They returned moments later with cards and presents. I hugged them all and while Jenny made me some tea, I opened my presents. I thanked them all and tried to force down a banana and some toast.

“If you’re taking the girls to school, I suggest you get dressed, Babes.”

I glanced at the clock, it was nearly seven thirty. Taking the mug of tea with me I dashed upstairs and into the shower—after removing my nightdress—honestly. Then a quick towel dry, deodorant and into some clothes. It was cold, so I pulled on a sweater and jeans with a pair of relatively flat boots.

After drying my hair and brushing it back into a ponytail, I slipped on a scrunchie which nearly matched my top. When I got down again with my empty mug, Simon offered me a hug. “Aren’t you curious about what I got you for your birthday?”

“You told me, you’re taking me to dinner.”

“You’d be a cheap date.”

“I can eat my share.”

“Oh, I know that. But don’t you usually get something as well?”

“Yes, but you said you had to get something for Julie, so I’m happy with dinner.”

“Yes, okay—you’d better got off with the girls, it may take longer in the snow.”

I marshalled the troops and the girls were giggling as we went out the door. The cars were all covered in ice and snow. I pointed my key at the Merc and squeezed the remote and nothing happened except something bleeped from behind one of the garages. I clicked again and the same thing happened. By now, the girls were almost hysterical with laughter and I was getting my knickers well and truly twisted if not knotted.

“What is so damned funny?” I demanded from the girls, who fell about laughing all the more. I was getting really angry and screeched at them, “Tell me, dammit.”

With tears of laughter in her eyes and an expression of fear, Trish said, “Look at the key, Mummy.” Then she gave a nervous laugh and they all started giggling again.

I glanced at the key, it was different. “Okay, where are my car keys?” I said loudly and was met with more nervous laughter. “Jesus Christ,” I spat and went to go back in doors when I noticed Simon standing by the door.

“Problems?”

I went to push past him, “Not if I get the right keys.”

“Those are your keys, the ones with the dormouse.”

“They can’t be—they’re not opening my car.”

“Let me try.” He pressed the button and the peep from just round the corner happened again. “Yep, working fine.”

“No it isn’t—nothing has happened down there.” To make my point I waved my hand at my car. “It hasn’t been gone that long for you to forget what it looks like.”

“That isn’t your car,” he said.

“Yes it is,” I insisted.

“Oh no it isn’t.”

“Well whose is it then?”

“Yours is round the side there.”

“But this is a different key, it has no Mercedes logo on it.”

“It’s probably the spare key.”

“I didn’t even know we had one.”

“Cathy, how long have you had this car?”

“A few months, why?”

“What is the number?”

“I don’t know, do I?”

“We’re going to be late, Mummy,” urged Livvie.

“Who moved it?” I began to ask but was almost dragged round the end of the outbuildings where I was confronted by a large silver SUV. “What’s this?”

“Your car, Mummy,” said Trish and they all fell about laughing.

“A new one, Mummy,” shrieked Meems.

I pulled at the door handle and it opened. I got in and Si strolled up to me, “I hope you like it.”

“It’s beautiful, darling”—I hugged him and thanked him.

“Wees gonna be wate, Mummy,” said Meems loudly.

We all jumped in and I felt a familiarity with the car although I’d never actually driven one before—but it was just like my dream. I got the girls to school despite the snowy roads. I did drive carefully because it was quite a bit bigger than my little Merc.

“That was my old car, wasn’t it?” I asked the girls and they laughed again.

“Yes, but Daddy asked us not to tell you, he changed your key last night.”

“This car has been here all night and I didn’t see it?”

“Yes, Daddy did have a cover over it to keep the snow and ice off it and to help hide it.”

“I’m going to call it Pepper,” I announced to the girls.

“Why?” they chorused.

“Because, Cayenne is form of pepper.”

“So it’s a posh Cayenne?”

“Very posh, Trish, but the actual make is Porsche—it’s German and they usually make sports cars.”

“Wike Daddy’s?” asked Meems.

“Yes, but probably faster than his.”

“This will go faster than, Daddy’s racer?” asked an incredulous Trish.

“No, this one won’t but most of their others will—it’s the same make as Jimmy’s car.”

“We’re gonna be late,” said Billie who was shivering, and with that they all ran into school.

“Nice car, Lady Cameron, but I thought you had a sports car.”

“That was a friend’s, this one is more suitable for the school run.”

“Especially this weather, eh?” commented the headmistress.

“Yes, I suppose so.” I blushed it looked so new.

“Have you thought about another date for your talk?”

It was the last thing I’d had in my mind, “I don’t have my diary with me,” I lied.

“Another day, then?”

“Yes of course,” I said and made my getaway in my shiny new vehicle.

I was on tenterhooks the whole time I was in the supermarket in case someone bumped or scratched it. However, I did a full shop and filled both the boot and the back seats with food. It was very nice, but the Mondeo beat the pants off it for carry space.

As I drove home, I tried to think what had happened in the dream and avoid it being repeated in real life. So far I felt safe, Gareth had brought the one in my dream, this one was presumably delivered by the garage. If we went out in Simon’s car this evening, it wouldn’t get stolen so Tom wouldn’t collapse and so on. I felt sure all I had to do was one or two things differently and the outcome would be different too.

Look I know this theory is untested, I’m not a scientist for nothing, but I’m trying my best to hang on to reality here, and not doing too well at present. The last thing I needed was to get stuck with some sort of nightmare ‘Groundhog Day’ scenario like Bill Murray did in the film of that name. Surely that was impossible, wasn’t it—like a Sisyphean task, pushing the boulder up the hill only to watch it roll back down and having to repeat it for all eternity. Feels a bit like trying to educate students or that endless yarn on the Internet about some transsexual dormouse or other.

Unloading the shopping, Simon gave me a hand so I gave him a present—a box of his favourite biscuits—I know I shouldn’t, but he does like plain chocolate Hobnobs.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1214

I dressed differently to the way I had in my dream, but still wore trousers with an embroidered silk top over a camisole, and a warm suede jacket. Simon wore his suit, or one of them. We were about to leave when his mobile went off. That didn’t happen in my dream so I felt secure—so far.

He came back from his call, “There’s a problem at the hotel.”

“Oh well, I’ll cook us something.”

“No way, it’s your birthday, we’re going out.” He can be so masterful—when I let him. Can’t do it too often, he’ll think he’s in charge.

“I don’t mind.” I stroked his arm, “I really don’t.”

“I do, and they’ve got us a reservation at a French Bistro.”

“Oh, which one?”

“I can’t remember, but I’ve got the coordinates here so the satnav will find it.”

I began to feel distinctly uneasy. “I don’t know, Si, why don’t we just stay in?”

“They have the same chef who used to be at the Green Room.”

“So?”

“I’d like to eat there.”

“Wherever, there is.”

“Look, I was too busy writing down the coordinates to remember the name—now are you coming or do I go by myself?”

That question nearly got him a negative response. I walked away from him to see Tom—“How’s the cold, Daddy?”

“Och, I’ll be fine in a day or twa.”

“Take care.”

“Aff ye go an’ enjoy yersels.”

I left him feeling very uneasy. However, Simon practically frogmarched me to the car. “Want me to drive?”

“No, I’m quite happy to drive,” and besides I wanted to keep the keys in my bag not his pocket.

After a very quiet drive, I had to concentrate on dealing with the ice and snow although it did seem to be raining, so possibly the return would an easier journey. “In here,” Simon indicated a turning to our right. I turned into the car park—it looked familiar. My unease grew.

We ran round to the entrance from the car park and I was horrified to see Delia and Arthur Duttine sitting in the dining room. I turned on my heel and ran back to the car. A moment later, Simon came running back after me. “What the hell are you doing?”

“I can’t go in there.”

“Why not?”

“Because, this is my dream, Simon, it’s coming true.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I have to get back and see how Tom is.”

“He’s fine, now just get out of this car and let’s go and have a nice dinner.”

“No, Simon, I won’t.” I started up the car.

“This is preposterous—get out of that car now.”

“No, I love you Simon, but I’m going home—now.”

“Don’t do this, Cathy.”

“I have to, Si—when Arthur chokes, make sure you face him away from the fish tank when you do a reverse abdominal thrust.”

“What are you talking about? Cathy, Cathy—stop.” I ignored him and drove off leaving him running behind for a few yards swearing at me. Then he gave up and walked back to the restaurant.

I drove home like a demon, I felt that time was of the essence. I rushed in and into the study. “Whit ’re ye daein’ hame?”

“How do you feel?” I gasped.

“I’m fine an’ weel. Whit happened tae yer meal?”

“I didn’t feel hungry.”

“Whaur’s Simon?”

“I don’t actually know, but I expect he’s still at the restaurant.”

“Fa’ why?”

I looked at him—“Okay, I’ll tell you, fa’ why.” I related as much of the events in my dream as I could, including his funeral. At first he looked concerned especially when I started blubbing, then when I finished he gave me a tremendous hug and began to laugh.

“I don’t think it’s at all funny,” I said sobbing again.

“I dae. I’m very touched by thae fact ye were prepared tae gi’ up yer dinner fa me, ’specially an yer birrthdy. It’s verra noble o’ ye.”

“You’re very important to me.” I hugged him.

“Aye, sae it’d seem.” He hugged me again.

“You are, Daddy.” I hugged him and he nearly squeezed me to death.

“Sae ’re ye.” He coughed for a moment and I hoped he wasn’t going to start haemorrhaging from his lungs. “But dinna worry, I’m no gang onywhaur until I’ve finished ma malt.”

I glanced at his glass and he laughed.

“Och, no that, that’s jest a wee dram, I mean thae twa cases in thae cellar.”

“You have two cases of malt whisky in the cellar?”

“Aye, I got a special offer.”

“How many bottles is that?”

“Aboot twenty foor gi’r tak twa dozen.”

“You have four cases in the cellar?”

“Aye, I s’pose I must hae aboot that.”

“If that means you’ll live a lot longer, then perhaps I’ll buy another case for you.”

“Weel, it cuid be, efter a’ it means watter o’ life.”

“What, whisky?”

“Aye, in the Gaelic.”

“I think you may have told me that before.”

“Whit aboot yer dinner?”

“Um—yes my tummy’s rumbling—I’ll make a sandwich, d’you want one.”

“No furr me, hen.”

I made myself a sandwich and sat watching the telly until I fell asleep. The front door closing woke me up. Simon called me then walked into the lounge. “That was a good meal, pity you didn’t stay.”

“Did Arthur choke?”

“Oh yes, how did you know that—but the goldfish got his dinner.”

“Did you do the thrust thingy?”

“Me—ha ha—no way, no some other bloke did it.”

“You should have rung, I’d have come and got you.”

“Nah, I got a cab—what I saved on your meal paid for it.”

“So they didn’t give you a lift back?”

“No—they couldn’t, ha ha.”

“Why not?”

“Their Jag got stolen from the car park.”

I rushed to see if Tom was all right and he was snoring, sound asleep in his bed. Had I managed to change things enough? I was unsure but went back down to Simon and made us both a drink of tea.

“How’s Tom?”

“He seems to be all right at the moment.”

“What was really weird, was what happened after we discovered Arthur and Delia’s car had gone. He went to call the cops and his phone rang as he took it out of his pocket. Apparently, her father had just collapsed with blood coming from his lungs.”

I shuddered—it seemed the Angel of Death had passed us by this time round. I didn’t wish Delia’s father any harm but I was exceedingly glad I’d changed things about a bit.

“Anyway, I mentioned you’d dreamt all that an’ she said she’d like to come and talk to you when her mum was better. I gave her our phone number—she really wants to meet you.”

“I know—she’s a reporter for the New York Times.”

“Oh,” Simon looked bemused, “She didn’t mention that bit—did I make a boo-boo?”

“Yes, but I expect I’ll survive, unlike her father.”

“Funny that—maybe I should have got you to blue light him.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

“Can’t remember if I mentioned it or not.”

“What?” I gasped and felt quite ill.

“Ha ha, the look on your face,” he wiped his eyes and said, “C’mon girl, let’s show ’em how it’s done.”

“How what’s done?”

“Lurve—for the makin’ of. C’mon, let’s give you a real birthday prezzie…”

I just groaned and hoped he’d fall asleep quickly if I strung things out in the bathroom.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1215

I woke up feeling the morning was darker than it had been the day before. I remembered that the snow had probably gone; washed away by rain. Simon was still sleeping when I slipped out washed and dressed. I crept downstairs to enjoy a quiet breakfast if I could—Tom was up but he took his coffee and my Guardian into the study with him.

I felt a twinge of irritation because he always gets coffee on it; then I thought about how life might have been had the dream not warned me. I really wasn’t sure what was going on, except it was someone’s turn to die and I just got Tom to duck the ‘incoming’ as I believe they call hostile fire in Afghanistan.

I stopped thinking about war, its futility and causes make me too angry to allow me to start the day that way. I finished my tea and poured myself another cup buttering my toast and nibbling it. Trish was the first one down, followed by Julie who was back at the salon and had miraculously got herself up and it was only half past seven.

Trish and I had a little chat, she was concerned that I hadn’t had my celebratory meal for my birthday. I tried to explain that I hadn’t felt well enough to enjoy it, so had come home as Daddy had met up with some others and was not on his own.

“But I heard him swearing at you, Mummy.”

“No, I think that was at his trousers, he got the zip of his flies caught in his underpants.”

She squealed with laughter, “Silly Daddy, how did he do that?”

“I suspect it was because he was as tight as a tick.”

“What does that mean, Mummy?”

“He’d been drinking and was somewhat inebriated.”

“Oh, and he couldn’t undo his zip?”

“Nor get his trousers off over his shoes.”

“He went to bed in his trousers?” she laughed.

“Not really, he went to bed with his trousers pulled down inside out, still attached to his underpants by his zip and over his feet because he was wearing his shoes.”

“That is so funny, Mummy.”

“You might not think so if it’s your husband.”

“Is he like it now?”

“No, I undressed him in case he woke needing the bathroom, he’d have broken his neck.”

“Oh,” she gasped, “I hadn’t thought of him hurting himself.”

“Hi, Mummy, Trish,” said Julie flopping down at the table. “Could you run me in, today, Mummy, it’s chucking it down.”

“Yes of course I will.”

“Can I come too?” Trish decided she wanted a ride in the new car.

“You’ll need to go up and wash after your breakfast.”

“I’ll have breakfast when we come home,” suggested Trish.

“No deal, kiddo, eat your cereal, have a piece of fruit and some toast plus a drink.” She grumbled but finished her breakfast. Julie and I waited in the car for her.

“What happened last night?”

“What d’you mean?”

“You coming home by yourself from the restaurant.”

“I changed my mind. I’m a woman—remember, cats and women can do so.”

“But it’s not like you to come home early.”

“It’s what happened, ah here she comes.” I jumped out and opened the door for Trish, the handles are quite high. She scooted in and belted herself to the seat.

“This is very nice, Mummy.”

“Yes it is. Hold on here we go.”

“What’re you going to do with the Mercedes?” asked an anxious Julie.

“I think Daddy was going to sell it, why?” I teased her.

“Oh, I was hoping I might have it.”

“You haven’t got a licence yet.”

“No, but I’ve applied for one and I’m saving for driving lessons.”

“You’ll need an old banger to learn on, not a good idea to let a learner near a newish car, they tend to wreck the clutches.”

“Wossa clutch, Mummy?” came a voice from the backseat.

“A group of eggs from the same nest, why?”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Mummy. Cars don’t have eggs.”

“Well, for that matter, Gramps often calls you hen, but you don’t lay eggs, do you?”

“No, silly Mummy.” She gave an embarrassed laugh.

“The clutch is the thing which enables you to change gear in a manual transmission,” offered Julie.

“Oh is that the bit that disengages the gear box from the drive?” Trish asked grinning.

“Look here, clever dick, if you knew all along, why did you ask me?” grumbled Julie.

“I wanted to see if you knew.”

“’Course I do, I know loads about cars,” Julie boasted but was always on thin ice when she did it to Trish who would always create cracks under victim’s feet before letting them walk out further.

“What’s synchromesh, I read it in a book but it didn’t say what it was?”

“Summin’ in the gearbox, why?” floundered Julie.

“What’s double declutching—is that robbing two bird’s nests?” Trish pursued her quarry ruthlessly.

“I dunno, do I?” shrugged an embarrassed Julie, “Ask Mummy, she can already drive.”

“What is it, Mummy?”

“I think you already know, so I’m not telling you. If you don’t know, then you can research it by yourself when we get home.”

She huffed and puffed in the rear of the car but I was adamant knowing she was quite able to find it on Wiki or elsewhere on the Internet or in a whole pile of books we have, including a version of Britannica.

We dropped Julie off at the salon, “Nice wheels, Mummy,” she said as she disappeared through the door of the place of beautification.

I turned the car round and we headed back home, “You, Trish Watts, can stop winding up your sister.”

“She’s a bit of a big head at times, so she asks for it.”

“She can be difficult, but then so can you.”

“But she tries to boast when she knows nothing about things.”

“She has a bit of an inferiority complex, especially with you.”

“Does she—so why does she brag?”

“Because she is trying to hide her inferiority, it might mean you won’t feel confident enough to pop her balloon.”

“But I won’t argue unless I know something about the subject.”

“You know that, I know it but Julie seems a bit of a slow learner in some areas.”

Trish giggled with a sort of glee that immediately got up my nose. “Serves her right,” she giggled.

“Trish, she may not be as clever as you but she has a certain amount of life experience more than you, in fact nearly three times as much. She knows about a lot of things you can’t learn from books. Show her some respect for that.”

“Why should I?”

“Because I shall intervene if you don’t—and you’ll like that even less.”

Her expression, as I could see it in the edge of the rear view mirror changed from being smug to sad. “You always get cross with me, Mummy.”

“No, I’m not cross, that will happen if you don’t do as I ask. I’m actually concerned because you are a gifted child but I want you to be a grounded, gifted child, not a bigheaded, unfeeling, intellectual snob.”

“You’re cleverer than Daddy, aren’t you?”

“No, he’s just as clever as I, he’s got a master’s degree too.”

“He can’t do the crossword in the paper—the big crossword.”

“That isn’t a sign of anything but the way your brain works. I can’t always do it either and he does do the Sudoku, which I can’t.”

“Is that because you don’t like figures?”

“Probably, who told you that?”

“Daddy did, he said if you could conquer your fear of mathematics, you’d be much cleverer.”

“Oh did he now?” The cheek of some men—if he had another brain cell, it would be lonely.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1216

Home is where the heart is, or should that be hearth? Trish and I got back to discover Simon and Danny putting up a Christmas tree and Daddy trying to light a fire. I’ve probably mentioned before that the lounge fireplace is big enough to stand in. In the centre is a metal cage in which one burns logs plus the odd lump of coal. The ash falls through and can be cleared without having to dowse the fire. When it’s just wood ash, Daddy saves it for his vegetable garden, it’s rich in potash and other stuff.

When we walked in, Tom was busy with set of bellows trying to get the thing to burn up but only succeeded in causing lots of smoke to billow into the room. “Daddy, what’re you doing?” I asked, taking the bellows off him.

“They said it was going to be cauld, sae I thocht if I warumed thae lum, it would help keep the hoose warum. I haed some wood delivered an’ Leon helped me stack in thae woodshed, it’s a’ seasoned an’ dry.”

“Here let me do that.” I took the bellows off him and by chance got lucky and the wood crackled and burst into flame.”

“We can all see where you’re going,” called Simon.

I responded by singing, “I’m a lumberjack and I’m all right…” from Monty Python, which immediately set him off with the rest of the song. The kids thought it was wonderful, the song that is—but then lots of Python humour was aimed at the five-year-old in all of us.

Leon brought enough wood to stack it at the side of the hearth, about a yard from the actual fire. It does get warm but not enough to spontaneously combust, but it does dry and is great for starting fires—although we’d not had any since last winter and so was all cold and damp wood that Daddy was using.

I got Leon to bring in the basket of logs and place them by the side of the fireplace, not in direct line with the fire but close enough for them to get nice and dry as well. In half an hour, I had a nice blaze going and I shoved some large potatoes wrapped in foil under the fire cage. They would cook in an hour or so in the ash as it dropped from the logs above and they would taste delicious.

Tom having recovered from his exertions with the fire, sat in an easy chair and read to the children. Danny and Simon still fought with the tree, and fused the lights at one point. Fortunately, because he’s done it so often, Simon knew where to go to fix it and reset the trip switch and as usual, he banged his head and came out from under the stairs rubbing his bonce and swearing. Oh well it keeps the boys happy, the girls were quite happy listening to Daddy reading Roald Dahl’s, The BFG.

I got on making a salad and mixing up some tuna and mayonnaise to go in the baked potatoes. By the time I’d got that all ready and boiled the kettle, Stella was down with Puddin’ and they were sitting listening to Gramps reading. When I asked who wanted tea, I realised Jenny was sitting in the corner with my baby asleep in her arms also listening to the story. Only Jules and I were missing.

Leon had finished stacking the wood—a ton of it—pretty backbreaking work. The lorry comes in tips the wood and goes. In the old days, I’ve done it on my own and with others if only to mean Tom didn’t have to do it. The woodshed is about the size of a small garage—remember this was once a farm—and can hold two or three tons of wood providing it’s stacked properly. Once it gets over six feet high, it gets potentially dangerous, so that’s as far as we go.

Because of the fire risk, Tom had smoke alarms and sprinklers fitted, it meant the insurance came down with a bump. That’s been extended to all the outbuildings now and was organised by Maureen—though she’s been so busy doing stuff for the bank, she’s rather neglected us.

The money she’s earned has meant she can pay off her mortgage and get a new car and also afford some electrolysis, which has meant quite an improvement in her appearance along with a greater sense of worth. She’ll never be a beauty, but now she doesn’t scream navvy in a dress when you look at her. Hopefully she’ll come for Christmas assuming she’s not out with her latest friend—okay, it’s another tranny, but so what? If they’re happy that’s all that counts. I’ve told her to bring her friend along but she went all coy when I mentioned it.

I keep forgetting that because puberty didn’t happen to me until I started oestrogens and my three GID kids will start hormones as soon as it’s appropriate and I mean about eleven or twelve as in a normal female puberty, even if I have to take them abroad to Holland or Germany—though I suspect Stephanie will prescribe them when it’s time. Hopefully, they’ll be even better shaped and looking than I am—not that I have much to complain about compared to many.

I decided that I would speak to Stephanie about Trish becoming a bit excessive in lording it over the others. In this house everyone has a voice, but the adults are those who make decisions—mainly, Daddy and I, although Si and Stella are involved when they need to be although they tend to defer decisions to me. Usually that means I get to choose the colour of carpets and curtains or wallpaper. I think I’m quite good at matching colours but I do show what I’m intending before it’s ordered and they have a chance to say if they have disagreements with me. Usually they don’t because that would mean I’d delegate it to them to do. Stella did it once with her bedroom—which I thought was as it should be, but she hated the process and ended up with the decorator choosing for her—crazy, but apparently that’s what they used to do when they lived at the cottage.

At one o’clock, I served lunch—the boys had just about managed to get the tree lights working—and this was a new set—again—I don’t know what Simon does to them, but they either fuse things or don’t work at all.

After lunch while they decorated the tree, Leon and I put some lights over some small trees out in the driveway—one either side of the front door. They were proper outside lights and were run from one of these cut out switch thingies, so if anyone gets electrocuted, it cuts out so we can move the body without fear of doing the same—great idea.

I ran Leon home after that, Livvie came with me and we had a little chat with his mum before we went to get Julie from the salon. “Where’s bighead?” she asked, getting into the car.

“Please, Julie, I’ve had words with her, now I’m having some with you. You’re old enough to know better, she is only six.”

“Yeah, but she acts as if she knows everything—who does she think she is, bloody Einstein?”

“I don’t know but that’s the last I want to hear about it.”

“Just because she helped me in the beginning, she thinks she’s my teacher.”

“That’s enough—if either of you keep annoying each other I will intervene and neither of you will like the consequences. You can kiss the car goodbye and she won’t get her microscope. She knows it and now, so do you. End of discussion.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1217

Julie’s provisional driving licence came the day before her birthday. The car had been valeted when it was repaired, so that meant I didn’t have to get it done. Christmas was the other thing, as it says in the nursery rhyme—it’s coming. I don’t know if any geese are getting fat, but some of them probably would be well advised to make their last wills and testaments.

Turkeys voting for Christmas, might be apposite to the British electorate at the last election. I don’t think half of them know what’s coming—still as a well meaning Guardian reader, I’ll stamp my foot loudly. I did ask Simon if we were related to a certain Prime Minister, he went a nice shade of pink and told me, “Probably—some of my ancestors liked to put it about.” I did wonder about becoming Cathy Watts again and thought I am in my professional role, so I left it.

Oh well, life goes on. I had agreed Julie could go out with some of her friends to a pub and have a meal. I’d even been there and set it up for them; there would be six of them, all girls. I would pay for the meal, two bottles of wine and some soft drinks. After that it was up to them. I would also pay for a taxi to take her and collect her to and from the pub. She wanted to go clubbing afterwards—but that’s typical teenagers, give ’em an inch and they want something the size of Texas. As she was working the next day, I told her no. She looked at the car keys hanging up and agreed to my terms.

Whenever she does something like clubbing, it ends in trouble. It happened when I first picked her up off a rubbish pile and also when she went out with Phoebe. So I felt happy that she’d acquiesced gracefully. I’d also booked her a set of driving lessons starting from Sunday. I’d be sad to lose my little Mercedes, they are such lovely little cars but I needed something bigger and the 4×4 does provide that.

She went off to work on her scooter thing—yes, we’d even managed to get that repaired for her, so she doesn’t do badly. I know she has had lots of problems with abuse and then that rape, but she does see Stephanie regularly and she also has counselling in between—at least I assume she does, they send me a bill every month. I did used to ask how she was getting on, but she got embarrassed talking about it to me, so I left it up to her to come to me if she wants to talk.

I’d had a long talk with Trish about her attitude to the others and of course she cried all over me. I know she’s only six going on twenty-six, but emotionally she is only six if that. I believe Isaac Newton was a nasty piece of work, so I don’t intend to let her go that way. The problem appears to be with Julie and Danny mainly, she isn’t like it with the others—well occasionally, with Billie—but Livvie and Meems she gets on fine with. I wonder if it’s because they’re natural females? Hmmm—makes ya think.

What will happen when Julie has surgery—I reckon Trish will be totally wound up by it. I suppose at the moment she could feel a bit superior because she chopped her nuts and Julie still has hers.

There is almost a reversed seniority here, Meems was with me first, Trish a while later, Livvie who was her friend , then Billie and Danny came for Christmas and stayed, finally, our solo teenager, Julie. How time flies.

The girls were at school and had got used to going in either my mean machine or the Mondeo. The novelty had worn off for them, but not for me—I didn’t go that far in it because I was worried about fuel economy. Unlike my dream, Henry hadn’t undertaken to pay for my fuel—when I mentioned it to Simon, he laughed, telling me to dream on, and to remember Henry was a Scotsman and there were no pockets in a kilt.

He got uppity when I reminded him that he was a Scot too, and so was I officially, for that matter, having been born there by accident, in the lovely town of Dumfries. I admit, I only tend to think of myself as one occasionally, having been raised in Brissel.

I got on with my chores, with half a dozen kids there was washing and ironing to do every day, not to mention mounds of food to prepare. I did manage to do a bit on the mammal survey—I’d written to the Mammal Society, which is of course in Southampton about circulating their members with a request for more records of sightings. They actually were providing quite a bit of data already, but now’s the time to get people thinking about taking part from the spring onwards. I was a member myself, which reminded me I couldn’t remember when I was due to renew my subs. Like most charities, they’re always after money, so I’m sure they’ll let me know.

Someone had sent me a nice photo of an Arctic hare in its white coat, Lepus timidus is slightly smaller than the brown hare, and is only found up in the north of the country, Scotland, Lake District that sort of area. The photo was beautiful, showing the white fur nicely camouflaged against the snow—except the way the sun was shining it wasn’t quite as well camouflaged as it might have thought. Poor little bunnies aren’t anything like as common as they used to be—mainly through farming practice—haven’t seen a hare for ages. Because of their interesting behaviour and solitariness, witches were often seen as shape-shifters which included transforming into hares at times. I think they’re lovely animals and I don’t mean jugged either. Dancing hares, as per the mad March variety are a delight to see—I’ve been privileged to watch them a few times and it always gives me a lift.

They used to say it was two males ‘boxing’ but it’s more likely to be a male and female—she perhaps rebuffing his advances—nothing new there then.

Teatime was a mad scramble, Julie flew in, screeched at us all that we were making her late, and she shot off in a cloud of perfume and lace accompanied by the clatter of heels to her taxi, without a by your leave. I know she was late getting home, but her behaviour was verging on unacceptable. Even Danny, with whom she gets on really well usually, he worships her, got the rough edge of her tongue tonight.

I put the kids to bed after I’d calmed them down, Meems had been sworn at and had got very upset. Had I known beforehand we’d have had words before she left—I hoped she’d come back in a better mood—it wasn’t us who made her late, but one of her clients arriving late for an appointment.

At about eleven fifteen I thought I heard a car door, but obviously it wasn’t here—perhaps on the main road. There is a lay-by not far away and people do stop, usually to water the bushes on the way back from the pub—the nettles grow really well there.

I heard a car revving up and driving off a bit later and assumed it was whoever had stopped in the lay-by. At midnight, I mentioned to Si that Julie should have been back by then.

“She’s a teenager and it’s her birthday, don’t keep on her case—didn’t you do stupid things when you were young?”

“I always let my parents know where I was.”

“We know where she is, the pub.”

“It closes at eleven.”

“Plus drinking up time.”

“That still leaves half an hour—where is she?”

“Probably chucking up her dinner in the back of the taxi.” He chuckled to himself at that prospect—he hates taxi drivers—calls them a plague on the roads.

I went to the kitchen window and glanced down the drive. “Si, did you move the Merc?”

“No—why?”

“It’s not there.”

“Don’t be silly.” He came and peered through the window, then went out onto the drive. “It’s gone.”

I glanced up at the key board—the keys were gone. We’d given Julie the car for her birthday and I’d told her to put the keys there until she was driving it—she could in theory have done so with an experienced driver on her provisional licence.

“The silly cow, she’s driven it off, or one of her friends has.”

“Oh well, I’ll take the keys back when she gets home,” said Simon, “she’ll get them back in a month’s time.”

“At least by then she’ll have had some lessons. Silly girl.”

“Very,” said Simon, locking the door—“C’mon, let’s go up to bed.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1218

Although we went to bed, neither of us slept. I kept worrying in which hospital or mortuary Julie would end up. I fidgeted and tossed and turned. I fed wee yin—my tossing and turning woke her up, she was starting to go about six hours at night—but not tonight.

Simon did actually fall asleep while I was feeding the baby, so I went downstairs and made myself some tea. Tom came to see what was going on, when I explained he sat with me for an hour.

At four o’clock, the phone rang. I picked it up with hesitant hand, “Hello?”

“Is that, Lady Cameron?”

“Yes, who’s that?”

“Sergeant Milsom at Portsmouth main police station.”

My stomach flipped and I felt quite sick.

“What’s happened?”

“No need to worry, we have your step-daughter, is it?”

“My foster daughter,” I corrected him.

“A Julie Kemp?”

“That’s right.”

“She was found as a passenger in a Mercedes A class, which she says is hers, but it’s registered to you.”

“Yes, it’s her birthday today—or yesterday, it was my car and I gave it to her.”

“Very nice, I wish I’d had a mother like you.”

“Sorry, Sergeant, I can’t cope with any more adopted children.”

He laughed and I chuckled out of relief. “How many have you got then?”

“Six.”

“Right, well I can see how keeping tabs on them all could be a problem.”

“All the others are where they should be, except the one you have with you and she was expected home about midnight.”

“So she didn’t take the car without permission?”

“She only has a provisional licence, so I didn’t expect her to drive the car unless it was part of an organised lesson. So she used it without our agreement but I can’t say she took it without permission. What happened?”

“One of our patrols pulled them over for driving erratically. A Cindy Perkins was actually driving—she was breathalysed and will be required to give a blood sample. She’s likely to be charged with drink driving. Julie was drunk, and threw up over one of the arresting officers.”

Oh shit—“Could I offer to pay for cleaning his uniform?” Damn was that bribery?

“I don’t think that’s necessary, Lady Cameron.”

“What happens now?”

“I suggest we let them sleep it off in the cells and deal with the embarrassment of being locked up and the hangover, they’ll probably have.”

“She’s supposed to be working tomorrow.”

“That is not my problem. It’s our policy to let parents know when we have their children in custody. I would suggest you collect her after ten tomorrow.”

“Will she be charged with anything?”

“Probably given a caution—but if it happens again…”

“I shall do what I can to try and ensure it doesn’t.”

“I know foster kids can be difficult—my sister used to do it for the money, the council used to pay quite well.”

“I can assure you we don’t do it for the money.”

“No, ’course not.”

“Goodnight, Sergeant, and thank you for letting me know where she is—I have been worried all night.”

“You’re welcome.” He rang off and I rinsed out my mug and went back to bed. It took me ages to get off to sleep I was so angry at Julie’s stupid behaviour. I know she didn’t have a lot when she was younger and her parents were unsympathetic to her gender difficulty, but we give her practically everything she wants, including the space to be herself. We’ve got her therapy and hormones and she’s well on the way to surgery in a year’s time—and she does this. Simon will be furious—he might even take the car off her altogether.

I must have gone off because I awoke and found myself alone in bed and it was nine o’clock. Once I’d actually taken on board what time it was, I jumped out of bed and saw the girls’ bedroom was empty and when I rushed downstairs Stella told me that Simon had gone to work, and Jenny had taken the girls to school. The baby had only just woken and she, Stella, was feeding her from the bottle. I thanked her and ran back upstairs, showered and dressed soberly, then when Jenny came back, got her to drop me at the police HQ with the spare keys for the Mercedes. I would drive it back and it would go in a locked garage.

I’d spoken with the salon, and of course they were in uproar as two of their girls were out with Julie, and presumably were also still locked up. I told the owner, I would get her home, showered and dressed and in to work as quickly as I could, but it was likely to be lunchtime.

She was cautioned and let out with a stern warning about underage drinking and who she let drive her car. She wanted to hug me, but I avoided it. “Thanks for coming to get me, Mummy. I’m going home and sleep until Monday.”

“You’re not, you’re going home, showering, dressing for work and after some brunch, you’re going to work.”

“I’m not.”

“You are, or this car goes off to be sold and you can wait until next birthday for another one.”

“But I’m not well.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“I think they doctored my drinks.”

I stopped the car. “Julie you are quite capable of getting pissed all by yourself. That you took the car out without telling us also shows us that you show very poor judgement.”

“I was tiddly,” she protested.

“I don’t care—you knew enough to find your keys before you went out—so I’m almost inclined to believe you fully intended to do this.”

“I didn’t, Mummy, I took the keys just to prove you’d given me the car.”

“Well as Daddy bought it, he can decide if and when you get it—but I can tell you for nothing, he went to work after not very much sleep—so you can do the bloody same.”

“But, Mummy…”

“No buts, my girl—you’ll do as you’re told.”

“What if I don’t?” there was a trace of defiance in her voice.

“Then I shall recommend the car is sold off and we shall have to discuss any further consequences which might occur from your defiance.”

“I feel like leaving home after all this,” she said as if she was threatening me.

“That might be one of the options we discuss,” I said dispassionately. It wasn’t what I wanted and it felt like I was going back on my promise to her—but she was moving beyond my control and if she couldn’t stick the rules…

What’s so sad is that we all love her. When she’s nice—she is really lovely and I’ll never forget her sacrifice to protect Billie—that was real courage, but I can’t cope with her disrupting everything effectively throwing our love back at us.

I got her to work about two hours later, she sulked and sniffed all the way there—the owner gave her another bollocking and it was only because I was standing between her and the door, that she stayed and took it.

Back home I called Stephanie and explained what had happened. “Is that all?”

“Is that all? Isn’t that enough? I lost a night’s sleep and all my trust in her.”

“Was your trust so poor?”

“No, I know she’s essentially a decent girl but she has this capacity for slapping us in the face.”

“Yeah, she’s a teenager—they do such things—she’s testing her boundaries, seeing if you do really love her.”

“We give her everything she needs and more and she seems a bit ungrateful if you ask me.”

“Giving her material things isn’t love, especially when you have plenty of money, Cathy. Yes, she’s young and likes the material things, but that isn’t showing her love—you showed her more love when you made her go to work and stood with her while she was carpeted. That’s being a mother—tough love. Confiscating the car altogether is probably a bit OTT but for a month or two—that might teach her a lesson.”

“She talked about leaving home.”

“Teenagers do that all the time, when I was her age I left home twice a week—one night they locked the front door, I had to sleep in the summer house in the garden. I didn’t do it again.”

“So do I let her go—call her bluff?”

“No, but don’t give any concessions to keep her, she has to stay under agreed house rules.”

“What if she does decide to leave?”

“Ask her not to.”

“And if she does?”

“I don’t think she will, but get her to call me first.”

“I’ll try.”

“I think she will.”

“Thanks Steph—I’ve got to dash, gotta collect the girls.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1219

My head was reeling from tiredness and my conversations with Stephanie. I waited outside the school and received a text from Simon.

‘Lock up the Merc. J is not to have it until we decide. Si x.’

I replied: ‘Alredy did. C x’

And received a response: ‘Clever clogs.’

Four school girls appeared who knocked on the door of the car. “What’s the password?” I asked. From the slightly open window.

“Password—eh?” said Trish.

“Yes, password.”

“There isn’t one,” she replied.

“Wrong—that’s your guess gone.”

“Hey, that’s not fair.”

“You don’t get two goes—who’s next?”

“Mummy, open the door,” offered Billie.

“No, next?”

“Open sesame?” tried Livvie, at least she was thinking.

“Hard luck. Meems?”

“Pweese, Mummy.”

“Correct. In you get.” I unlocked the doors and Meems and the others scrambled in.

“That was most unfair,” sulked Trish.

“Expecting you to say, please—yes perhaps you’re right.”

I heard Mima smirking in the back. “I got it wight,” she was chanting.

Trish was itching to tell her that she was lucky or stupid or something equally derogatory when she thought better of it, engaging her brain before her mouth.

“As children you have certain expectations of parents, things of the nature of love, protection, food, clothing, shelter and so on. However, as parents we expect certain things from you as children, such as love, respect, obedience and some politeness. It costs nothing to be courteous and polite but it might save your life, and certainly some money and time. People are more responsive to those who show some respect to them and are polite and courteous.”

“Wossat mean, Mummy?” asked Meems.

“It means saying please and thank you and meaning it. Having patience for others. Being kind to others.”

“The nuns are on about that all the time—but they don’t show us any patience,” complained Trish.

“Perhaps they are picking up on your impudence, young lady?”

“Wossat mean, pweese, Mummy?”

“Impudence is being cheeky.”

“Is you cheeky, Twish?”

“No—just ’cos they get things wrong an’ I tell ’em, they think I’m being imp—um—cheeky.”

“Oh yeah, Sister Gorgonzola, said Sydney was the capital of Australia and Trish told it wasn’t, it was Canberra.”

“And how did Trish tell her?” I asked.

Livvie blushed, “Um, she said something like, ‘Don’t be daft, everyone knows it’s Canberra not Sydney, ’cept you’.”

“I see, do you think that was the correct way to go about it?”

“Probbly not, she could of said it more politely.”

“Oh yeah, what should I’ve said? Please shut up you fat old bat, until you know what you’re talking about, thank you. Would that be polite, Mummy?” she giggled from the back seat and it spread to the others in moments.

“No, it’s impolite and disrespectful to call someone names in front of others and to challenge an older person, especially one who has authority over you, is not only disrespectful it’s downright dumb. She has a capacity to make life difficult for you, so making her use it, isn’t the brightest thing in the world.”

“So what should I have done?”

“Lots of things, such as: ‘Excuse me Sister Gonzales, but I believe the federal capital of Australia is Canberra’.”

“Mine’s funnier,” laughed Trish.

“Mine is less likely to get you asked to leave the school, Trish—and remember not everywhere would want to take you.”

“That’s not fair, Mummy, jus’ ’cos of a stupid teacher who doesn’t know nothin’.”

“Trish, if she doesn’t know nothing, it must mean she knows something.”

“No it doesn’t,” she argued.

“It does, it’s a negative negative or double negative.”

“Sounds like double Dutch to me,” said Trish smirking and the others sniggered.

“And that sounds like cheek to me, young lady. When we get home you will write me a letter of apology and unless it sounds sufficiently contrite, Father Christmas will be passing your stocking by.”

“That’s not fair,” she shouted back at me.

“Life isn’t, if it was, little girls would be polite and courteous and not try to ridicule their parents or teachers for cheap laughs.”

Once we got back, Trish went up to her room with her laptop and set about writing me a letter. I rejected the first two attempts as being insincere. I made dinner—or finished it up—a cottage pie. We ate when Simon came home and he announced after dinner that he wanted the kids to all stay at the table.

I continued clearing up until he asked me to return as I needed to hear it. “In recent weeks, I don’t know what has got into you lot but I am sick of being treated as a fool. I’m not, neither is your mother, Gramps nor Auntie Stella or Jenny. We’ve all been around a lot longer than you lot with a great deal more experience of many things.

“I’m growing tired of your bad temper, rudeness, cheekiness, dishonesty and disrespect. Your mother spends a great deal of time and effort in looking after you and to hear you muttering silly names under your breath at her, is not on.

“So—until I hear and see you behaving with a great deal more respect and politeness, Christmas is cancelled. In other words, you’ll get nothing it will be just an ordinary day.

“As for, you, young lady,” he addressed Julie, “I’m confiscating the Mercedes. You won’t get it at all now. If however, you behave until Christmas we’ll allow driving lessons and if you pass your tests—both theory and practical, I will get you a car—but it won’t be a Mercedes.”

“May I leave the table, Daddy?” asked Julie.

“Yes, you may.”

She rose, pushed her chair back under the table walked to the door and ran up the stairs sobbing. The others sat mouths open and silent, with some watery eyes forming.

“Off you go,” he said.

“Mummy, do I still have to do the letter?”

“Very much so.”

“Oh.” Trish went upstairs with her tail between her legs.

“What letter is that, Babes?”

“She cheeked me on the way home from school—I told her she had to write me a letter of apology.”

“Good Lord, I’d never have thought of that—not in a million years.”

“When did she cheek, Sister Gonzales?” I asked Livvie.

“This morning, in geography.”

“Tell her she has to write a letter of apology to Sister Gonzales, too.”

“What’s all that about?” asked Simon.

“She corrected a nun about the name of the Australian capital.”

“What did the nun say?”

“Sydney—it’s Canberra.”

“I know, I’ve been to both places. Canberra is full of stuffed shirts, it’s like a museum, whereas Sydney is a very vibrant city.”

“A bit like London and Portsmouth,” I offered.

“Oh definitely,” he said winking, “Let’s face it, the last time anything happened here it was the sinking of the Mary Rose.”

We chatted and an hour later, I was presented with a sheet of paper.

Deer Mummy,

I am sorry I was rude to you. Orbital resonance made me spin out of control.

I love you.

Trish.

I showed it to Simon. He read it twice and laughed. “What does orbital resonance mean?”

“It means she‘s been watching Brian Cox instead of writing this letter.”

“Brian who?”

“Brian Cox, Professor of Physics at UMIST. He did a series of TV programmes on the solar system. He’s a bright chap works at Cern as well.”

“Cerne? Cerne Abbas?”

“No, darling, Cern as in Switzerland, large Hadron collider thingie.”

“Oh that Cern—of course, they only have a large tourist collider at Cerne Abbas.” There was a definite danger that Simon was actually going to say something really funny one day—probably more likely than a Higgs-Boson particle being found.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1220

I went up to see how Julie was half expecting to find her hanging from the light fitting; instead I was delighted to see Danny sitting with her and they were talking quietly together—they didn’t even see me. Julie had mascara all round her eyes which made her look like a rather attractive panda, but otherwise it wasn’t immediately obvious that she’d just had a dressing down and the major object of her affection had been removed by Simon.

I looked in on Trish, she and Livvie were making jokes about an imaginary letter they were sending to Sister Gonzales—they sounded like ordinary six year olds and were amusing Mima, who was at time shrieking with laughter.

“Dear Sister Gorgonzola,

You smell like a dirty old lump of slimy goat’s cheese, I apologise for knowing more about geography than you do, you silly old goat.

Lots of deodorant,

Trish (I’m a genius compared to you) Watts.”

Billie, when I found her was playing draughts with Tom and Simon was watching the telly with Stella. I went and sat in with them.

“No suicides, then?” asked Simon watching that oaf Jeremy Clarkson with the other two stooges in Top Gear.

“Not so far—I don’t know how you can watch that man, he makes my skin creep,” I replied almost breaking out in hives.

“Go on, he’s really funny.”

“In the head yes, he hates cyclists and about five million of us feel the same about him.”

“I didn’t know there were five million cyclists in this country.”

“Well there are about forty million bikes, and I don’t own them all.”

“No, there’s all of Boris’s ones too, plus thirty nine million rotting away in garden sheds and garages and thousands awaiting sale in bike shops and warehouses, so that leaves the half a dozen you’ve got plus the ones the kids have.”

“Very funny, Simon, but he’s still a creep.”

“You’re entitled to your opinion and he is to his.”

“That’s all well and good, Si, but he has a much larger platform to expound his idiotic views than I do—the major difference being that my views and opinions are very reasonable and correct, his are at best half-cocked and at worst, total dick-head. The man thinks with his prostate.”

“Most men do,” chipped Stella.

“You aren’t both being a trifle sexist and biased are you?”

“No,” we both replied and giggled. We did it so closely together it was like a rehearsed act.

“So what d’you want to watch?” conceded Simon.

“How about a DVD of something?” I suggested then heard the baby crying. “’Scuse me someone is playing my tune.” I went off to see what the problem was—more teething probably.

When I got to the cot, Trish and Livvie were already there and making a fuss of her. “We’ll look after her, Mummy—see, she’s stopped cryin’ now.”

“I think I’d better see what the problem is first.” She’d had a bit of a nappy rash probably brought about by the teething. I picked her out of the cot and her little face was all red and wrinkled where she’d been lying against a crease in the cot sheet. She looked at me, recognised me after a moment—she had been fast asleep—and then began to smile. It’s one of those moments with babies when you feel so rewarded on a good day, or so exasperated on a bad one, when they recognise you and begin to coo and chuckle. If you’ve just been woken from a broken sleep the last thing you want is a noisy morsel chuckling away when you feel like shit—but—such are the joys of parenthood.

Thankfully, I was only missing Jeremy Clarkson, the thinking woman’s bête noire, give me Brian Cox any day, so that was no loss. I sent Livvie to see what Julie was doing and asked Trish to help me with the baby, accompanied by Meems.

She’d pooed her nappy so we changed it and cleaned her up, with Trish making all sorts of disgusting faces and comments. The baby’s bum was still sore so I beat up some egg whites and painted the paste on the sore bits and left it to dry. Trish’s face was a picture.

“Ugh—sticking egg on Baby C’s bum—ugh.” Meems of course was roaring with laughter when Trish was making faces and comments. “Eggs are for eating not rubbing on yer bum.”

“I beg to differ, it’s an old-fashioned treatment but it works.”

“If it doesn’t, what d’you do then, shove a kipper in there?”

“No, porridge is next and failing that, we use a haggis.”

They both roared with laughter, “That’s silly, Mummy,” declared Trish and Meems was still wiping the tears away from her face.

“Of course it is, but the egg whites will probably work.”

“Eggs? Work on what, Mummy?” asked Livvie coming back to the kitchen.

“Wee yin’s got a rash, so I’ve painted her bum and groin with beaten egg whites. It’s a very old remedy but it works and is still recommended by paediatricians.”

“She’s got a meringue in her knickers?”

“Nappy,” corrected Trish.

“Whatever,” responded Livvie, “It’s still a meringue.”

“I think not,” I challenged, “meringue is beaten egg whites with sugar—there’s no sugar in that lot—taste it if you don’t believe me.”

“I’m not eating something that’s been on a baby’s bum.”

“That hasn’t, the bit I put on the baby’s bum is in that little dish over there.”

“Can we make some meringues for Christmas, Mummy?” asked Livvie.

“Oh yes, Mummy, can we make some mewangues, fow Chwistmas.”

“We’ll see, depends upon if you behave or not and how busy I am.” I actually loathe meringue, it’s too sweet and tastes like shaving foam. How do I know that, having never shaved my face? I put some on my toothbrush by mistake in the dark—it wasn’t very nice but better than hair removing cream—I’d imagine.

“Julie is okay, she’s gone to bed and Danny’s gone downstairs to watch telly with Daddy.”

“Oh another lover of Top Gear I expect, it’s a programme aimed at adolescent boy racers and presented by three male chauvinists.”

“Wossa maleshownist?” asked Trish.

“Someone who thinks girls are silly and only fit for the amusement and service of men.”

“That’s silly,” offered Livvie the meringue maker.

“It is, but sadly there are still loads of them about.”

“Daddy’s not like that, is he?”

“Not very often—all men can act like little boys, and that usually involves laughing at fart jokes and showing their willies.”

“They don’t, do they?” asked a horrified Livvie. Trish and Meems were rolling about with laughter.

“That’s the sort of thing they try to do, especially in all male environments like rugby clubs—they’ll do stupid things like trying to light each other’s farts with cigarette lighters.”

“Do they?” Livvie was still horrified.

“Isn’t that silly, Mummy?”

“Yes—it can cause serious burns in a very sensitive place, but children don’t see that and effectively they go back to childhood when they’re doing things, sometimes after drinking alcohol.”

“Yuck, boys are so silly—I’m sooo glad I’m a girl, aren’t you Trish?”

“Oh yes, boys are yuck—except Danny of course—he’s all right, isn’t he?”

“Oh yes, Danny’s awwight,” agreed Mima and Livvie nodded. I didn’t have the heart to point out that girls can be just as dumb—as Julie and friends proved the night before.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1221

The next two weeks went by in a blur, as I tried to organise Christmas—sadly he didn’t want to be organised—so I just got on buying gifts and deciding a menu. If we invited all the people we’d like to, we’d have to order an ostrich and cook it over a bonfire in the garden—memories of Julie’s escape from that end made me think how lucky we’d all been. I could have been burnt as well, not to mention Simon following me into the fires. That says a lot about Simon: I know I tend to pick up on his shortcomings and he has a few as do we all, but he can be fearless and loyal to the point of stupidity.

He told me when he was in school, one of the boys was labelled as gay by someone who didn’t like him, and who it turned out was gay themselves so it was about sour grapes. The boy wasn’t a particular friend of Si’s, but he and another boy decided to pretend they were gay and hung about with him.

After one of the rugby games they got caught in the showers by a handful of boys who beat them up. They did get their own back—one at a time—the three of them arranged accidents and two of the attackers needed hospital treatment—one went down a flight of stairs—didn’t see the trip wire. The other one who ended up in Taunton Hospital, was a boy who they slammed a door shut on as he was walking through—I think Simon suggested he breathed through the back of his head afterwards.

Once the topic went on to something or someone else, the three boys were able to show they weren’t gay by dating girls and rumours began circulating that the older boys who got injured were worked over by the three musketeers—so they became anti-heroes and their credibility soared. The other boy who helped Simon was Des— the same one who fathered Puddin’. He was a bit of a ladies’ man afterwards, so perhaps it had some affect upon him. Having said that, I’ve been in his bedroom back at his cottage and there isn’t a whole pile of notches on the bedpost—to start with, it’s brass, so it could be difficult.

I had to go out with Simon to the office Christmas party. They take over the hotel in Southsea—well no guesses there—and I had to go and be introduced to loads of boring people. Okay, I spent much of the evening talking bikes with Matthew, or Matt as he prefers to be called. He runs the IT for the office, which is connected to the London Stock exchange and other ones all over the world—so if it goes down, they can lose millions.

I had a couple of dances with Simon, and a couple with Matt, they both dance better than I do, I might take lessons, in which case so can the children—except after that stupid show on the telly—I suspect dance classes are going to be very popular.

I can just about manage to waltz if I count the steps, and a foxtrot is passable, but quickstep—can’t do it. I can jive, so everyone saw me knickers in the twirl. Apparently, Matt is a serious amateur rider and spent much of the time trying to convince me to ride regularly and with a club. Yeah, with six kids I’m going to be out training three times a week and up the gym the rest of the time, aren’t I? Oh I know, I can cook the dinner while on the turbo—yeah, sure.

He’s just bought a Specialized Roubaix, about five or six thousand pounds—the bikes were first and second in the TdF this year. He doesn’t like Contador—no one does, do they—so he’s got the Saxo Bank one—fantasies of being Andy Schleck, one wonders? Mind you, he name drops like nothing on earth, he’s met Brad and Mark, and gave Nicole a hug and he did the ride in Scotland with Lance. Mind you if he’s as good as he thinks he is, he’s quite a useful rider—me?—I’m average when I’m doing it regularly—when I’m not I’m pretty crap.

Simon invited him round for drinks sometime and to see my workshop—I would have words about that later. The evening was okay, I suppose, it could have been much worse. I did get asked to sign a couple of dormouse books—BBC did a book based on my film and the commentary with stills from the film. I edited it a couple of times—did I not mention it before?—and agreed its final format. They wanted to push it before Christmas to do some signings, but I refused; I simply didn’t have time. I could have a done the odd hour in Portsmouth, Salisbury or Southampton but nowhere else.

I’m obviously more of a celebrity than I thought, because the book is by Catherine Watts, and I went to the do as Lady Cameron—I suppose they know all about me anyway. Sod it, why should I worry, so I signed a couple of Christmas presents, so what? One woman had bought the book and the DVD—I suppose she might like dormice, I told her to get in touch with the Mammal Society, they run courses on them, which I don’t teach on, I hastened to add.

Julie took her punishment in good heart. In fact, after I suggested to Danny, that he advise her to get her act together and show real contrition, Simon agreed she could have driving lessons for Christmas and once she’d passed her test he would get her a car. She doesn’t know it, but he’s getting her one of those Smart cars, the upright type, which only has two seats and a 500cc engine, I think. He’s threatened to get a bright pink one so no one will steal it. A Mercedes it is not, but I think once she’s mobile with it, she’ll like it and he hasn’t cancelled her birthday just postponed it—providing she behaves and of course plays up to him. Despite the fact she’s preop, he loves her flitting round him because she is quite a pretty girl and growing in all the right places.

Trish will get her microscope—the teacher got a similar letter to mine about orbital resonance—and asked Trish to explain it in a science class—the same nun teaches science. Of course, Trish took over the class and went on ad nauseum about the rings of Saturn and its moon Enceladus and the eruptions of ice it throws into the rings. Sister Gonzales is going to get the DVDs of Brian Cox’s series, presumably to keep up with one of her pupils.

Of course, Trish was full of herself but Mima brought her back to earth later the same day, when she was able to remember how I did the nappy on the wee yin and Trish couldn’t mainly because she wasn’t looking when I showed them. It happened when the four girls were helping me bath the baby and I was trying to show them a few things which might be useful if ever they had to change a baby. Trish still sulks about feeding one herself and she’s jealous that I can, but she is only six and understanding orbital resonance isn’t the same as having an adult body—which appears to be something she doesn’t understand. But then she is only six and intellect and emotion are very different things to understand and work with.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1222

The ghost of Christmas past was one where chaos and bedlam resolved itself through one superhuman into a success. Sadly, the caped crusader, wasn’t able to come this year, so we had to make do with my efforts.

Simon and Danny with Tom as supervisor set up the tree, Stella and I put up the decorations with help from Julie and the girls. I discovered to my delight that Julie is absolutely brilliant at wrapping parcels so she wrapped all mine except those for her which I had to do.

This year we had the LED lights, so no more fussing with broken ones and fusing the whole house. The girls put up the cards on ribbons which we put over doors, and we actually put some lights on the bushes by the front door with a holly wreath on the door.

However, the best laid plans of mice and men—and some women—gang aft a gley. The week before Christmas the white stuff returned. Even in the Porsche, conditions on the roads were treacherous and the drive was dreadful until Simon and Leon spread grit—rock salt—everywhere and even that froze.

Temperatures plummeted and we had some vicious frosts at night meaning that what had become compressed froze into very hard, slippery ice. The Wednesday night it fell things managed to keep going—just. I got the girls to school, but we live on a main road. Danny’s school closed, so he had the day off—he spent some of the day shovelling snow and building a snowman with it.

On the Friday evening, just in time for the rush hour we had a heavy flurry of an inch or so and with freezing temperatures, it was a nightmare. Simon took three hours to get home as cars got stuck. Then on the Monday before Christmas we had even more snow and once again it froze. Airports were being closed because they couldn’t clear runways and flights were being cancelled left, right and centre. I felt really sorry for people who’d booked holidays and then couldn’t take them. Drivers were being asked to stay at home—yet there were plenty who ignored the advice and just clogged up the roads for the emergency services.

I still had shopping to do, so we walked and took a sledge or two plus some bungee cords to get our provisions. Tom checked the generator and the diesel supply—if we had electricity cuts, which does happen, we could cope and keep the central heating working—which although gas does need electricity to keep the pump and clock working. It would also keep the fridges and freezer working and enable us to have lights and computers, oh and telly—not that I have time to watch it much, but there is a new Dr Who for Christmas Day.

We got the lighter stuff like bread and treats—mince pies and a chocolate log, that sort of stuff. I’d reserved a turkey with our local butcher and he arrived in his Land Rover on Christmas Eve with our twenty pound turkey, plus some sausage meat and some other bits and pieces including a large gammon.

I ventured out in the Cayenne and bought a sack of spuds and enough carrots, sprouts, parsnips, cabbage and mushrooms to fill the boot. I also got some chestnuts, more bread and milk and decided if we got stuck over Christmas, we had enough food to tide us over to New Year.

Unfortunately we didn’t know who was going to be able to make it—Phoebe cried off, which wasn’t entirely unexpected, Pippa and family were going to until Stella persuaded Gareth to collect them on his way, which he was happy to do—obviously with the proviso he took them home again.

Simon used Tom’s Freelander to collect Leon and his Mum, and Sister Maria from the school, and Jenny was hoping her boyfriend would make it—except at the last moment he was sent abroad—probably Afghanistan. I think I mentioned he’s a Royal Marine and they get sent on all sorts of strange missions.

With two babies and loads of other people, I still had a catering effort to sort out and every spare pair of hands was utilised, including the smaller girls doing veg while Stella, Jenny and I did the cooking.

Okay, it was nothing exciting—roast turkey with all the trimmings, including chestnut, cranberry and sausage meat stuffing. Roast parsnips, carrots and mushrooms plus some baked onions. Greens were sprouts and broccoli. The starter was pea soup and the sweet, fresh fruit salad and ice cream—which Julie organised—it was really good. I know she was collecting brownie points from Simon, so he’d revoke her death sentence, but she actually seemed to enjoy what she was doing for a change, or she completely fooled me.

We had presents for all the visitors which the girls would distribute to the adults and Danny to the kids—really only Pippa’s two boys. Lunch was chaotic and I nearly had a nervous breakdown when the gas pressure dropped and the turkey was going to take a bit longer. However, the frost on Christmas Eve was so bad, the visitors were later arriving than we’d anticipated.

However, by half past one it all came together and so did the visitors. By half past two everyone was loosening their waistbands or belts after an hour’s stuffing. Kiki was clearing up the leftovers on the plates. The silly dog even likes sprouts—so she can sleep in the conservatory tonight. Jenny and I dealt with the dirty crocks and Stella made cups of tea—although three or four bottles of claret had been consumed. I had one glass, so did Gareth who was driving. Simon wasn’t as restrained which meant I’d have to take Leon and his mum home.

The kids played computer games and board games, the adults talked as much about the weather as anything. The oldies watched the Queen’s speech and I sat in the kitchen with my cuppa and relaxed for a few minutes.

Simon came out to see me holding a piece of mistletoe I just groaned he was well on the way. Anyway, it was easier to allow him to kiss me than make a fuss. I joked and said he had to give me a present—he had already given me some new bike stuff and kit—he reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a little box.

“Merry Christmas, wifey,” he said and passed me the box. I opened it and inside was a gold Omega watch.

“Simon, that is absolutely beautiful,” I’ve done the, ‘Oh you shouldn’t have’ before and it only upsets him, so I accepted it graciously. He fumbled but got it on my wrist eventually and it fitted perfectly. Apparently, Stella’s wrist is approximately the same size as mine and she was used as a model—weeks ago. The gold bracelet sparkled and the back face was very clear with its gold markings. “Thank you, darling,” I said and kissed him again.

“Now you have to gimme something,” he joked.

I told him to wait and ran upstairs, in my bedside table I had a small digital camera, one of these micro things. It was already wrapped and had been an emergency present for a family member if something hadn’t materialised or been suitable. It was over a hundred pounds of Canon with ten times optical zoom or something and a very nice piece of kit. I dashed down again and presented him with the gift. He tore open the paper and opened the box.

“Brilliant—just what I needed, that will fit in my briefcase beautifully.”

With the sound system playing carols and everyone replete and happy, he sat on the chair in the kitchen and pulled me onto his lap. “I love you, Mrs Cameron.”

“I love you too, Mr Cameron—Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” he replied and then we kissed.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1223

As befits the alpha male with a tummy full of turkey and claret, Simon dozed on the sofa in the dining room while people chattered at the table. I made up a selection of cooked meats and salad with fresh bread rolls, still warm from the oven for Christmas tea. It was mainly the children who ate it; the adults were still digesting their dinners.

I did get to see Matt Smith dealing with flying sharks and Katherine Jenkins singing in the Dr Who Christmas Carol, which was very good—wasn’t a dry eye in the house—except Si and he was still asleep.

Henry and Monica phoned—they had been due to come but decided the weather was too bad for the drive. He has a Land Rover but decided he didn’t fancy a two-hour drive in it and Monica certainly didn’t.

Maureen also cried off—apparently the snow came into her roof and she had some building work to organise to deal with it. She was still working on her flashings on Christmas Day. I did offer to save her a dinner but she had a friend there who was cooking a meal for them.

At nine o’clock, things started to wind down and I suggested taking Leon and his mother home. I discovered that by squeezing the children together, I could also get Pippa and her boys into the Cayenne and thus save Gareth a trip.

It was freezing hard and I had to defrost the windscreen before we could go anywhere, then of course it misted up inside.

“Dis is a snazzy mota, Lady C,” opined Leon as we sat waiting for the blower to clear the screen—it took no more than a minute.

“It is a lovely car, Leon, and hopefully the four-wheel drive will get us all where we need to go and me back home.”

“I’m sure dat will happen,” said his mum who had the joy of sharing the front of the car with me.

I set off down the drive, in four-wheel drive and she crunched and slipped her way down to the roadway. Here ruts were clear on either side of the road and once in them she sailed along perfectly well. I naturally kept the speed down and we got to Leon’s house in half an hour—about the same time it would take in the rush hour.

Pippa came in the front once we’d helped Leon and his mum into their house and declined the offer of a cuppa. I set off towards Pippa’s house and we doing fine until she suggested a shortcut. I remember ages ago someone telling me the difference between a 4×4 and an ordinary car in snow and ice—the 4×4 gets stuck further up the road.

The car went sideways and stopped at the edge of the kerb. It was unable to move despite my efforts, the wheels spinning and just compacting more snow down into ice.

I jumped out and went to the back of the car—I’d forgotten the folding shovel—damn. There was no way I was going to call Simon or Tom out and Gareth was probably up to his armpits in Stella by now.

“We can walk from here, Cathy. Thanks for a lovely afternoon and evening.”

“You don’t perchance have a shovel I could borrow?”

“Oh, I don’t know—there’s a spade in the shed, I think.”

“Mind if I borrow it?”

“No, of course not.”

We set off on foot after I locked the car and cussed it. It took ten minutes to get to Pippa’s and one of the boys went down the garden to the shed to fetch the spade. He came back a few minutes later and I walked back to the car carrying it and an old cardboard box I was going to open out and drive the car over, once I’d cleared the ice from under the wheels.

Of course when I got back, the car had sunk into the ice about four inches—the wheels had presumably got warm spinning round, although I thought the traction control should have sorted it.

I spent about twenty minutes hacking snow out from around and under the wheels and clearing a path to the centre of the road—by which time my back was aching and I felt as hot as my temper. So much for four-wheeled bloody drive.

I threw the spade into the back of the car and sat in it and rested my aching back for a moment. Then started her up, cleared the misting from the screen—my hot breaths—and put her into second gear as recommended for snow and ice. The wheels spun some more and the first spots of despair began to drip off my sweaty brow.

I dug some more and shoved the cardboard under one of the front wheels. I’d left the engine running—sod the environment—got back in and gently accelerated in second watching bits of cardboard confetti fly all over the road. The car moved not one inch.

Oh well, I told myself, it would probably have been worse in the Mercedes and I couldn’t have pushed it any easier than this one. However, for forty-five grand, you’d think they’d have included the option of vertical take-off and landing, the jets melting the snow as they fired up. Sadly they don’t, Vorsprung durk bollocks or whatever those stupid adverts used to say. I wasn’t yet at screaming or crying pitch, but it was getting closer, along with exhaustion.

I got out and dug some more—any deeper and there was a danger it would look like something out of the trenches from the First World War. If it had been a bike, I could have walked the bloody thing home.

Now there was nothing between me and the tarmac—well between the tyres and the black stuff, but I’m sure you took my meaning. Once more I put the spade inside the car—this time in the foot-well of the front passenger seat. I ignored the flashing light of the seatbelt alarm and gave it some welly. The car lurched forward then sideways and stopped again.

I was ready to scream and did. I felt no better and now my throat hurt. I decided to surrender and call up the cavalry. I put my hand in my bag and—no phone—oh shit—I don’t believe it. I punched the passenger seat and told it it was dumkopf of a car.

I was now blocking the lane as well, the car being forty five degrees to the pavement. Oh well, if it wouldn’t go forwards, perhaps it would go backwards and at least straighten up—then, I’d have to swallow my pride and walk home—about an hour if I was lucky—but with the ice and snow, probably half as long again.

I wondered if the blue light could melt snow, then laughed at my own idiocy. I shoved her in reverse and let out the clutch—Pepper went slowly backwards and I kept going, she eased out into the middle of the lane and I kept going. Fifty yards later I reached the road proper and eased out backwards and then gently forwards—I was finally moving towards home.

The sense of relief was almost physical—sweat was running down my back and I hate to think how much adrenalin I’d used up—probably month’s worths. I kept trundling along and out onto the main road where I think I did twenty miles an hour all the way home. I was absolutely cream-crackered when I got home.

“Ah, you decided to come home, have a nice time with Pippa?” said Simon and it was all I could do not to punch his lights out—instead I burst into tears.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1224

“What’s the matter?” he asked bemused possibly by my reaction and too much claret.

“I’ve been stuck in the snow and ice for over an hour, I had to borrow a spade off Pippa and dig myself out.”

“I got you a four-wheel drive, next time I’ll buy you a tractor.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, women drivers—I should have thought and taken them myself.”

“What is wrong with women drivers?”

“You got stuck in a snow drift in a four-b’-four—I’ll say no more.”

“It wasn’t a snow drift, it was six inches of ice—it was rock hard and slippery as wet glass.”

“C’moff it, Cathy—in Canada and parts of the States, they have races on the ice.”

“With dog sleds,” I snapped back.

“No, with performance cars. Remember that scene in James Bond where he fights a battle with a Jaguar on a frozen lake.”

“With a dog team?” I hadn’t seen the film.

“No, in his Aston.”

“No I don’t bloody remember because I haven’t seen the stupid film nor do I understand where this is leading except to try and make me feel inadequate.”

“It’s about technique—you’ve either got it or you haven’t.”

“I obviously haven’t, Mr Smart-Arse.” I turned on my heel and slammed the kitchen door and locked it. He knocked and called a few times but I ignored him and made myself some tea. My immediate need was to calm myself down.

I sat down and sipped the hot fluid and realised I still had my coat on. I took it off and placed over the back of the chair. It touched the floor, but I knew it was clean, I’d mopped it a couple of days ago.

I sat and mused as I sipped my tea. Simon was wonderful man and a good father to my assorted waifs and strays. He was generous to a fault and totally and completely fucking stupid. How dare he tell me about my driving? It’s not as if he’s Mr Bloody Wonderful Driver of the Year and yet like most men, he assumes because I’m a woman he can drive better than I. So bloody what? I don’t give a toss—I can out cycle him over any distance or terrain—and that is a physical thing—so bollocks.

There were probably lots of things he could do better than I but there were some I could do better than he, so that made me feel better. I don’t claim to be able to drive that well, but generally I do it safely. I accept I appear to have something of a record of destroying cars, but it’s not usually my fault. Maybe I should ask him for a humvee or whatever those ’Merican things the military use—you know do about eight gallons to the mile, or just get a tank—nah we’d have to get the gate widened—actually we wouldn’t—just get the wall rebuilt afterwards.

My cuppa had calmed me down enough to be able to face him without screaming at him or bursting into tears. I went into the lounge where he was watching some inane programme.

“Better now?” he asked.

“Yes thank you.”

“I’m sorry I criticised your driving. I wasn’t there…”

“Apology accepted—but if you think that’s bad, you should see my putting.” I delivered this with a deadpan face and walked out of the lounge and into the dining room.

He followed me, “What did you say?”

“I said I accepted your apology.”

“Yes, I got that bit—but you sad something else?”

“Nah—you must be mixing what I said with the telly.”

“You said something about putting.”

“Don’t be silly, darling, I’ve never played golf in my life—and I intend to keep it that way. Silly game—real men ride bikes.”

“I wouldn’t say that if Monica is about, she loves her golf.”

“So, if spoiling a good walk is her idea of fun—that’s her choice.”

“Miaow,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Oh I thought you’d understand.”

I paused for a second—“Don’t tell me, because I’m being a cat?”

“In one.”

“Better keep away from my claws then.”

“Those I can cope with, it’s the tongue which frightens me the most.”

“You say the loveliest things,” I teased.

“You don’t, sometimes you speak to kill—shoot from the lip and all those things.”

“Meeee?” I feigned innocence, “Why I’m completely harmless up against a big lump of a thing like you.” I rubbed up his hairy arm with my hand.

“Yeah, I’ll bet that’s what praying mantids say to their partners.”

“Can’t say I’ve ever heard one talk.”

“Oh they do, except when they’ve got their mouths full, of course—usually of their partner’s brains.”

“Yes, apparently they need it to fertilise their eggs—oh and it’s the equivalent of Viagra to the males. They can’t get it on until she bites his head off.”

“Sometimes I think I almost understand how they feel.”

“Metaphorically, I presume.”

“Natch, but on your PMS days—like today—it’s easy to empathise with a male praying mantis.”

“Perhaps it’s to do with my stress levels—we have been quite busy today, and as the hostess—I do get saddled with quite a bit of responsibility.”

“Yes, but we could all go to the hotel—let someone else deal with it.”

“That would cost a fortune.”

“I get a sizeable discount if you recall, and I think if I stopped Stella’s pocket money for a week, I could afford it.”

“I thought she had her own money?” I queried.

“Yes she does, but she keeps hers and spends mine—done it ever since she was at Bournemouth University.”

“She was at Bournemouth?”

“Yeah, they do nursing studies there.”

“I’d have thought they did it at Portsmouth too, or Southampton. They have a med school there.”

“We were in London then, she could have done it all over the place there, but no, she fancied the seaside. I used to go down for weekends but I never liked it—too pretentious for its own good. Full of old colonels and admirals or retired civil servants—what an oxymoron that is.”

“Can’t say I know it that well, and we have Southsea here, but that’s a bit like Cheltenham by the sea.”

“Cheltenham by the sea,” he repeated and laughed, “Yes, that probably sums up Bournemouth, too—Tunbridge Wells on Sea—full of disgusted of Tunbridge.”

“I thought Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells were different places?” I didn’t know that area at all well.

“Oh they are but only a few miles apart—okay, we’ll settle for Carping of Kent.”

“As in Hime Kinetees?” I said in a silly voice.

“Have you been watching the Queen’s Speech again? You know I told you not to.”

“But I’m addicted—it’s the funniest thing on telly.”

“That sounds like sedition to me, and as a peer of the realm, I should have you clapped in irons and taken to the tower.”

“We don’t have any irons—except in Tom’s golf bag, and nothing like a tower.”

“Okay, I’ll have you clapped in mince pies and taken to the turkey.”

“Is there something Freudian there? You into bondage or something?”

“Never had time, was always too tied up,” he replied predictably—good ol’ Si.

“Did the kids go to bed without too much fuss?”

“Yeah, after I hanged the first one, the others did as they were told.”

“I see you learned loads from the Stella Cameron school of childcare.”

“Oh definitely, I have her sex manual here, wanna try some?” he winked at me.

“Not really but you could give my back a rub—it’s all stiffening up after that digging.”

“Madam, your personal masseur awaits,” he said opening the door.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1225

I slept wonderfully after Simon gave me a rub down, much to his annoyance; his kneading fulfilled my needs, but left him needing. It’s good for him—I keep telling him that delayed gratification is so much better than its instant variety but he argues that being a bourgeois I’m unable to understand his patrician right to be gratified all the time. I told him he was a spoiled brat, and he replied, that I was beginning to understand at last.

One of these days he’ll talk with his tongue in his cheek and bite it—serve him right. The upshot was, I made him delay his gratification even longer—hee hee. Like I said, it’s character building. I’ve read in stories, usually poorly crafted porn or soft porn, about blue balls, when I was the ungrateful possessor of said spherical objects, the only time I was aware of mine being blue was after my dad beat me up that time and once coming off the saddle of a bike and onto the crossbar. A pedal broke off and I lurched forward. Needless to say, I came off and the bike landed on top of me making the injury a two impact event. Dunno about blue—purple and green and black was the colour scheme for a few days. I was eleven or twelve at the time and I suppose it might explain why my voice never broke, I didn’t get zits or facial fur—nor muscles. At seventeen, when I took my A-levels I was a five foot six bean pole with hips.

By twenty-two or three, I was an inch taller and my hips were two inches wider. I wore girl’s jeans—plain ones—because they fit better but also because I was already convinced of what I really was and puberty happened when I started the oestrogens, just after I’d started my master’s degree. No wonder no one really wanted to be near me—a bloke with PMT.

Of course these days my mood swings are pretty static—I’m probably the most calm and even-tempered person on the planet. Hang on a second, I am going to murder those girls if they hit the wall with that ball one more time. Who the hell gave them a basketball anyway?

Oh I remember now, Si got it for Danny and Maureen will put up a basket for him on the side of one of the garages. Personally, I hate the sight of them, especially when they get all tatty. Perhaps I just don’t like basketball—it’s a game for tall people and I’m not very tall, and every time I see one of those basket things it reminds me of my failure in school to be any good at it or most other sports except longer distance running, where my smaller size gave me advantage over the heavier boys.

How can they be playing basketball—it’s all snow and ice outside? I pulled on a coat and went to investigate—the bump bump of the ball against the wall was driving me nuts.

They were just throwing the ball against the wall and catching it, the louder bumps were caused by Danny and the quieter ones by the girls. “Can we stop that now? Wait until the basket is up and you can shoot some hoops—I think that’s what they call it. In this snow and ice someone is going to have an accident.”

“We haven’t so far, Mummy,” challenged Danny.

“I don’t care young man, this stuff is lethal.”

“You’ve only got your slippers on, Mummy,” Trish advised me.

“Well I’m going back in now, so I suggest you do the same—it’s bitterly cold, despite the sunshine.”

“Can you take us out in the new car, Mummy? That’s got four-wheel drive, so it should be all right.”

“Um—it isn’t, I got stuck last night and had to dig myself out, which reminds me, I must get the folding spade. I crunched my way over to the garage and halfway there my feet shot from under me and I landed flat on my back knocking all the wind out of myself.

I lay there for a moment with hoof beats sounding as various voices wailed, “Mummy.” Danny shouted, “Get Daddy an’ quick.”

“Are you all right, Mummy?” asked Trish kneeling down beside me.

I was still seeing stars, and felt unable to answer her. Then I heard Mima ask, “Why’s da snow aww wed?”

“Mummy, stay still, you’ve cut your head by the look of it.”

“Okay, leave her there—here, Babes, I felt him throwing a coat over me. Oh, shit there’s blood—get Auntie Stella.”

“I’ll be all right,” I said at last, my head really was spinning and beginning to pound.

I heard Stella’s voice and more coats being put over me. It was starting to get very cold and I could feel myself shivering. The ache in my head was now causing flashing lights when I tried to focus my eyes on anything.

“Yeah, head injury quite a bit of bleeding—don’t go to sleep, Cathy—hang on—Cathy, can you hear me? Cathy—oh, shit she’s going out—yeah get here quick—I don’t give a shit, scramble a chopper if necessary—look I’m a registered nurse and she’s in real trouble and I have a mean lawyer. Oh good, yeah they can land in the field opposite, okay. Pulse is racing and weak—please hurry.”

I don’t know if she said anything after that because I stopped listening. I was floating in an ocean of something. It wasn’t water because I seemed able to breathe and there was this amazing music—I couldn’t identify it but it seemed strangely familiar. The pain in my head had stopped, in fact I couldn’t feel my body at all—it was like I was floating—bathed in this beautiful music and the colours that surrounded me were kaleidoscopic. It was as I’d imagine a good trip would be on one of those hallucinogenic drugs or magic mushrooms.

I was almost aware of things around me back home—if I really listened, I could almost hear things—like a big noise of a tractor—maybe Simon had got me a tractor. I wanted to laugh, but that would have been rude—he does his best the poor chap and I do love him.

I felt as if I was floating so high now that I could be a hazard to aircraft—I was surprised that didn’t feel cold—I didn’t feel anything, just the wonderful colours, like floating in rainbow—I wondered if that was what I was doing and the music—ethereal, that’s the word.

I felt so safe floating that I closed my eyes and thought I’d have a little sleep—floating was harder work than I thought and I suddenly felt so tired, so very, very tired. I hope Si can watch the children for a bit—just for a bit—so, so tired.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1226

I found myself in this strange but familiar place—a huge white building, with light flowing through huge windows. I could only compare it to a cathedral, and I’ve been in loads of them, but none like this one. It felt like a cathedral to worship light itself.

The whole atmosphere was very light, and I felt lightheaded, like you do if you go up in the mountains—I’ve been up in the Alps on a school trip looking at Alpine ecology and if you made any exertion at altitude it knackered you in a short time until you get used to it by your body acclimatising—ie producing extra red blood cells, which is why athletes train at altitude. It’s sort of legitimate cheating.

I wondered why I was in this place or at it, whatever the correct term should be, but here I was, wearing a thin white dress and barefoot. Everything felt floaty yet real, it was very strange but not unpleasant or frightening.

There seemed to be no one else here which puzzled me and I wondered if I’d died or something. In which case was this just the death throes of my brain, endorphins giving me a comfortable journey to oblivion—perhaps I was about to find out—um—correction, if there is only nothingness after croaking—then I wouldn’t know would I? Similarly, if my infallible logic holds, then either I’m not dead or I’m wrong? Oops, could prove interesting—haven’t seen any Pearly Gates yet nor St Peter, nor even an ethereal dormouse. It’s just me.

Is this what Hell actually is? A waiting room where no one comes and there is no bell to ring for attention? For someone as impatient as I am, it could be quite a torment. I’ll keep wandering round and see if I can find someone.

Wow, this place is vast, even Bath Abbey, which isn’t small would fit into it dozens of times. Still no one here, so why am I here? Seems a bit pointless if you ask me, which you can’t, because I’m sure this is a dream or as I said endorphins giving me one last trip. Thing is I can’t remember how I got here, actually I can’t remember anything, except who I am.

Oh-oh, am I going to get fed to the crocodile—I think it’s a crocodile in the ancient myths after they weigh my heart and find it’s full of low density lipoprotein—bad cholesterol to anyone who picks up on my thoughts—it’ll probably break the scales and they’ll chuck it to the crocodile who eats it and moments later collapses because of all the chemicals in it.

Am I only joking because I’m scared or because I’m lightheaded? Whatever has happened to my physical body, I assume there is one somewhere, must be causing these strange sensations in my head. Perhaps my kidneys have packed up or something? Just can’t remember anything.

Um—that isn’t quite true—I can remember my body isn’t quite as it started off, I mutilated it—or got a very clever surgeon to do so for me—ah that’s why no one is coming to see me—I’m obviously chief pariah or public enemy number one. Well this could take some time—’cos I ain’t gonna apologise.

Looking at myself, as best I can—there are no mirrors, just enormous high windows and this blinding white light—I have a female shape, either that or the gown thing has lumps in the chest. Um—that feels a bit irreverent for my surroundings.

Why am I here and where am I? Who brought me here? I call out but my voice instead of forming words makes strange sounds—weird or what? Yet I can think—I assume I am, or is this just the deranged ramblings of a dying brain? What happened to the tunnel of light and the silver thread connecting me to my body—didn’t see any of that? Trust me to be different.

I walk some more and this place seems to stretch on and on no matter which direction I take. I’m not tired, but becoming frustrated—I’ve explored everywhere—well, I’ve walked up and down for some time—somehow, I suspect time is something that doesn’t count up here. Um—I said up here, because of the sense of altitude, it could be down here for all I know.

Now if I had wings, I could get about much more quic—ooh-er—I’ve got wings. Hey, I can fly—this is good, beats walking any day. Can’t be an angel—can I? Nah—do they have ti…I mean breasts? No such thing as angels, nor the rest of it, this is all a weird dream—gotta be.

I’m getting the hang of this flying lark, though I can’t seem to get up to the windows to see out of them. This place is absolutely vast, and I still don’t seem to be anywhere except where I started. Let’s try a landing—I walked away from it, so that’s supposed to be a good one.

Sod it, if there is someone here who wants me, they can come to me. I sat down cross-legged and adjusted my dress. After a while I felt uncomfortable and knelt down sitting on my feet.

I sensed something coming towards me—I kept my gaze downwards. Then words formed in my head but as if something else was putting them there, however, I couldn’t respond to them.

‘Catherine, for that is your name, we are pleased you have assumed the position of a penitent. Your sins are forgiven, although some of them were serious including the taking of life, you have also restored it in others and given freely of your love to others who were in need.

Your time is not yet and we have further work for you to do, so return and continue the work we have ascribed to you. Be gone back to the physical world.’

I wanted to ask questions about what was what and who and where and when, plus a few more but suddenly I felt a wind like a tornado approaching me and I was whisked up by it and tossed about like a feather in a gale.

Instead of the light everything was black, as dark as a starless night and instead of being unaware of my body I was suddenly consumed by pain. My head felt like it would burst and I felt like a flash of pain shoot right through me, then again and I landed with crash, the whirlwind was gone, in its place were voices—“Yes, she’s restarted—oh good we have some systole—had me worried for a moment—these arrests with head injuries are a bugger. Right get some X-rays and as soon as she stabilises, I want a scan…Cathy, I don’t know if you can hear me. It’s Ken, Ken Nicholls, you’re going to be all right—just hang in there. You’ve had one hell of a whack on the bonce, on the back of your head. We have to run some more tests so be patient with us. We don’t have your clever skills—so if you can do it on yourself, feel free—if not, you’ll have to be patient as we bumble along doing our best, and believe me kiddo, we are going to do everything we possibly can to sort you out as quickly as we can. Just rest for now, it’ll help with the healing.”

I don’t know if he was still talking or what, but I felt this wave of extreme exhaustion overwhelm me and I felt myself drifting off in this wave of tiredness into sleep.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1227

I think I slept for days—or that was how it felt. I was aware of Simon being there from time to time—he really is my rock. I don’t know who else. They prodded and poked and talked to me—they being a whole procession of doctors and nurses and so on.

Was I in a coma? I didn’t think so—I just couldn’t open my eyes, talk or do anything for myself except breathe. They even poked about with my boobs one day—now why would they do that?

I heard some children’s voices one day, one even seemed to think she knew me—I didn’t know her or remember her. She called me, Mummy—have I got children then? I didn’t really want to listen to her, but something compelled me to. She seemed to think I had six children—if I did, you’d think I’d remember them, wouldn’t you? Doesn’t say much about me as a mother.

Most of the time, I’d be either asleep—I suppose—I wasn’t aware of anything during these periods—or listening to the ethereal noises and basked in sunshine—wherever that was, it was beautiful and part of me didn’t want to leave there. Then to come back to people telling me to wake up and look after them—well, which would you choose?

One day I was awoken by the gurgling of a baby—awoken, assuming I’d been asleep—and I felt it touching my body, then clamped on to my breast and amazing sensations went through me until she bit me and I yelled.

I opened my eyes and there was Simon with Jenny and the wee yin. “Where am I?” I asked.

“You don’t remember?”

“Remember what?” I asked, and reached for my baby, she clamped to me again—not that I was sure I’d still be producing much milk.

“You slipped in the drive and banged your head,” Simon narrated my injury and the fact that I’d been here for several days.

“When did it happen then?”

“Boxing Day, that was a week ago.”

“I’ve been here a week? That’s ridiculous.”

“It’s true, babes, and even Trish an’ Julie couldn’t blue light you out of it.”

“Poor, Trish, she tries so hard,” I observed.

“She’s been really upset without you, she isn’t sleeping and wet the bed a few times.”

“Help me get out of here, have you brought any clothes?”

“Only a fresh nightdress.”

“I suppose if you had a thick dressing gown or coat that would do until I got home.”

“I think you have to wait until the consultant says you can go home,” cautioned Jenny.

“He hasn’t got dozens of children to look after, here take the baby.” I passed baby C over to Jenny and threw back the bedclothes, stepped off the bed and collapsed into Simon’s arms. Thankfully he caught me without falling over as well. “I have this habit of falling for you, Darling, don’t I?”

“If you haven’t walked for a few days, it’ll take a little while to get your sea-legs back.”

“Help me, don’t just stand there.” I was a little upset and felt the tears of frustration running down my cheek.

He helped me up again and walked me up and down the room. My legs felt like they’d never walked before and I nearly went on the floor a couple of times, and would have done if it weren’t for Simon’s arm supporting me. I felt so angry with myself. I’ve walked before, so why not now?

As I made him walk me up and down the room again, so a doctor poked his head in. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What’s it look like?” I screeched back at him.

“Get back in that bed, I’ll tell you when you can walk again.”

“You’ll do what?”

“I said, I’ll tell you when you can walk again.”

“Do you know who I am?” I screeched at him.

I felt Simon tense, perhaps hoping I wasn’t going to disclose anything embarrassing.

“I don’t care who you are, get back in that bed until I tell you otherwise.”

“Go take a running jump.” My abilities with rhetoric are legend.

“I’ll take no responsibility for you unless you follow my advice.”

“Advice? You’re just a good old-fashioned playground bully.”

“I won’t ask you again.”

“Good, I don’t think you’re much of a conversationalist anyway.”

He strode away as if I’d just asked him to loan me a few quid.

“Now you’ve done it.” Simon sounded a little worried.

“No, I haven’t but I’m going to. Jenny, lend me your coat, will you.” She took it off and holding on to the bed, I managed to put my arms in it and then stand up unaided. “Baby, please.” I held out my arm to Simon to pass me our baby.

“Is this a good idea?”

“Yes, Jenny can you gather up my stuff, Darling can you walk me to the car?”

“What about that doctor?”

“What about him—I’m going home. I trust you haven’t brought your Jaguar?”

“Babes, you can’t just walk out—you’ll never make it to the car park.”

“Watch me.”

“Let me get a wheelchair,” offered Jenny and she trotted out of the room.

“I think this could be a mistake, what if you collapse on the way home.”

“I won’t, but I will be glad to get rid of this.” I pointed at the urine bag which was attached to me by the catheter.

“Sit down, I’ll ask a nurse to remove it for you.” He left me holding the baby. I was actually feeling very tired but sheer stubbornness meant I wasn’t going to give in. I cuddled the baby and she gurgled at me, “Ma-ma,” she said and laughed at her cleverness, so did I and kissed her.

I handed Catherine to Simon while I was disconnected from mains drainage by the nurse. “You’re not planning on going home—are you?”

“I am not planning, I’m going.”

“But you’re not ready yet.”

“That’s okay, I’ll get my hair done at home.”

“I didn’t mean your hair, you were unconscious a few hours ago.”

“Yeah, so?”

“So you’ll need intensive physio and assessment.”

“I’ll arrange it at home.”

“If you discharge yourself, we won’t be liable for anything that happens.”

“What, you mean if it rains on my birthday or the Royal Wedding?”

“Is she always like this?” the nurse asked Simon.

“Only when she’s conscious.”

“I see, look, Cathy, please get back in the bed until you’ve been assessed by your consultant.”

“No thanks—the food is awful.”

“You haven’t had any yet,” she accused me.

“See what I mean—I’m going home.” At this moment Jenny appeared with the wheelchair. I plonked myself in it and asking for my baby, told Simon to take me home.

“You have to sign a self discharge form.”

“Send it to me—keep going, Si, let’s get out of Colditz before they realise we’ve gone.”

Ten minutes later, I scrambled into the back of the Mondeo and Simon took us home. I think I was asleep before we got there and it took me a moment to rouse myself before he turned the car round and took me back.

Somehow I staggered into the house and the girls spotted me and danced around us, nearly tripping me up. I sat down in the kitchen and Stella made me a cuppa—it was like nectar—I hadn’t had a cuppa for over a week. Simon then carried me up to bed and I slept on and off all night.

I was aware of people coming in to see me and even touch me at times, but I soon drifted back to sleep. Trish even came and lay beside me telling me how much she’d missed me and how she never wanted me to leave her again.

I felt my eyes moisten before I relaxed into the blue nothingness which seemed to surround me, and her body clamped to mine as she hugged me and sent me her love.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1228

I’ve no idea how long Trish stayed with me, I suspect it was all night because she was there when I woke up at seven o’clock. Simon wasn’t, he’d slept in her bed—I was to find out later. I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve such devotion, but it is lovely.

“Hello, Mummy, do you feel better?”

I stretched and nodded.

“Oh good, I’m so glad you’re home—I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, sweetheart. Where’s Daddy?”

“Dunno, but he let me sleep with you because I asked him.”

“That was very kind of him.”

“He’s a nice daddy, he missed you very much too.”

“I know, and I missed him as well—in fact, I missed all of you so much. It’s so nice to be home.”

“It’s nice to have you home, Mummy. I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetheart. Right let’s see if my legs work a bit better today.”

“I’ll help you, Mummy,” she came running round to my side of the bed. “Watch out, if I fall over, don’t get in the way, you’ll get hurt.”

“You won’t fall, Mummy, I’ll stop you.”

“Trish, if I do fall, don’t try and stop me, just clear out of the way and get Daddy—okay?”

“Um—okay—I guess.”

“That’s how it’s got to be or you have to keep out of my way, full stop.” I kept a serious face on and she reluctantly agreed. I made it to the bathroom and had a shower—she insisted on coming in with me. I happened to notice what was left of her genitalia and it was so small that I feared for her when she went for surgery, there’d be so little skin to use.

One of the reasons, they don’t do it to children, creating a vagina, is because it scars and scar tissue doesn’t grow, so they’d need to keep operating as the child grew. So I agree with that—but I don’t know why they’re so constipated about prescribing female hormones for young males—they take some time to have much effect—unlike androgens on biological females, that is different, and they stunt the growth of the individual, which seems very sad—hence so many new men are vertically challenged.

The shower seemed to energise me and I felt a bit of strength returning to my emaciated body. I dried Trish and then myself; she giggled when I rubbed her with the big, fluffy towel.

I dried her hair and plaited it, it was getting quite long and probably needed Stella to tidy it up, get rid of the split ends and so on. I did it in one long plait down the middle of her back and tied it off with an elastic hair band and then a ribbon. She ran off to dress herself and I went to sort myself out and dry my hair. I did my own hair like Trish’s a single plait down the centre, then I dressed in jeans and top, pulling on some socks and shoes as well.

When I got downstairs, Tom was making his coffee and gave me a hug, “Ye haed us a’ worriet sick, ye ken. Guid tae hae ye back.”

“It’s good to be back, Daddy.” I kissed him on his cheek.”

“Aye, ’n’ whit are ye efter?” he grinned and went off with his coffee to his study with my Guardian—nothing changes—he hides from the kids at breakfast. Okay, it is a bit of a zoo, but not that bad.

I made tea and Trish came down followed closely by Mima, who hugged me round my waist. “I seed Daddy cwy, I did.”

“When was this, Meems?”

“When you was’d in hopsitaw.”

“Why was that, d’you think?”

“He fought you was gonna die, I guess.”

“I see, did you think I would? I was quite ill by all accounts.”

“Nah, Twish would save you, she said she would.”

“No I didn’t, I said I’d try and save you.”

“Well somebody saved me, whether it was Trish or the doctors or the love from all of you, it doesn’t really matter so long as something did.”

“That’s what I said,” Trish affirmed and folding her arms she brought them down on her tummy to emphasise the point.

“Yous siwwy, Twish.”

“I’m silly, ha—at least I can speak properly—you sound like a dog with a mousetrap on his tongue.”

“Mummy, she’s teasing me.”

“C’mon both of you behave or I’ll go back to hospital.”

“Don’t do that, Mummy,” yelled Trish, and Mima said much the same only more quietly.

“Well shake hands like good girls and promise me you won’t fight.” They did but it was done with some reluctance—think George Custer and Crazy Horse shaking hands and I think you get the impression.

Julie was down next—the shock of that nearly caused me to collapse—“I was worried about you, Mummy, so when I thought I heard you up and about, I came to see.”

“That’s very kind of you, Julie.” I hugged her and she kissed me on the cheek. Danny came down as we were hugging and waited for his turn to do the same.

“Good to have you home, Mum—mee. Yeah, it’s kewl.”

“Glad it wasn’t mingin’,” I replied.

“What?—Oh yeah, right.” He laughed and hugged me again.

Livvie and Billie came down with wet hair. “Did you shower by yourselves?”

“We did it together, Mummy,” said Livvie, “Billie did the water—it was okay.”

“Be careful, that’s all I ask.”

“I was, Mummy. What’s for breakfast?”

“How about, hugs all round.” I held out my arms and was nearly knocked over by the mob of children round me.

“Is this a special hug or can anyone join in?” boomed Simon’s voice and a moment later Stella and Jenny joined us with the two babies.

“I suppose I’d better feed her in a moment—if I can just finish my tea first.”

“Yeah, I’ve just changed her so she isn’t quite awake yet,” Jenny grinned. As if to prove her wrong, baby Catherine held out her arms to me and said, “Ma-ma.”

“Looks like they’re playing my tune.” I swallowed down my tea and picked up the baby and took her into the dining room. Too much noise—she gets distracted and it takes forever to feed her. Today, she must have been hungry because she sucked me dry in no time—given the possibility that I’m not making as much milk through my hospitalisation.

I carried her back to the kitchen just in time to hear Meems say in a loud voice, “It’s aw-wight, Daddy, I won’t teww anyone I seed you cwyin’.”

Before anyone could react to it, I offered a distraction, “Hey, how about we all go somewhere nice today and celebrate being together again?”

“Can we go to the sales?” asked Julie.

“No—let’s go up the Spinnaker Tower,” called Danny.

“Can we go and see the Victory?” Trish yelled.

“I wanna go for a poo,” said Mima and she left the stage.

“You’ve started something now, you know?” said Simon quietly to me.

“How about the cinema—not too much walking?” I asked and he nodded.

“Okay, children, we’re going to the cinema—have a light lunch and go and I’ll take us to a Pizza House afterwards?” The second part was addressed to me.

“I’d prefer something other than pizza.”

“Okay, a burger?”

“It’ll do I suppose.”

“Right kids, keep yourselves clean, we’ll have an early lunch then go to the cinema and a McDonald’s afterwards, okay. Help your mother clearing things off the table. Julie, take the baby, Trish you and Livvie clear the table, Mima you and Billie get the vacuum cleaner out…

Management in action? I don’t see him doing anything except giving orders—yeah—management inaction.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1229

Our day out, or rather our afternoon out proved a real success and we all enjoyed ourselves watching a silly film and eating burgers afterwards. I was pooped when I got back, although I did manage to feed the baby before I collapsed into bed. This time I managed to persuade Trish she ought to sleep in her own bed so Simon could share with me. She agreed with some reluctance suggesting she could do more healing on me. I advised her that all I needed now was some rest and I’d be fine.

“How will you rest if Daddy is doing naughty things to you?”

“Believe it or not girl, I sometimes enjoy him doing naughty things to me and it certainly helps me sleep afterwards.”

“Oh, so if I can’t sleep, will he do naughty things to me?”

“No, definitely not—nor will anyone else young lady. You’re not allowed to do naughty things until you’re at least sixteen or seventeen and with someone of at least a similar age.”

“So Julie can do naughty things?”

“I’d prefer it if she didn’t, but she can do some naughty things, I suppose.”

“That’s not fair, I’ve been a girl longer than her and she can do sex, I can’t. It’s not bloody fair.”

“Trish, swearing doesn’t improve the context of what you said: life at times seems unfair, however, by the time you’re Julie’s age, you’ll have lived as a girl for ten or more years, plus the hormones will really have done wonders for your body, which hopefully will look naturally female. With a bit of luck then, and surgery you’ll be able to do all the naughty things you wish to do. However, I hope you exercise a little self-discipline or what can be a very special thing between two people can be cheapened and devalued by over familiarity.”

“Does that mean I can do sex then?”

“Trish, a six year old shouldn’t be obsessed with sex, where has this come from?”

“I saw an article in a woman’s magazine on the Internet about a girl who got chocolates or new clothes from her boyfriend every time they had sex. What is sex, Mummy, ’cos I don’t really know.”

Why don’t you ask me a difficult question? “So you think if you had a boyfriend you’d get presents every time you had sex with him?”

“Yeah,” she beamed naïvely.

Oh pooh, oh well here goes. “In sex between a man and a woman, he inserts his penis into her vagina.”

“Oh, you mean his willie into her front bum?”

“If you like, yes.”

“That’s disgusting.”

“That’s what happens in full sex.”

“You don’t let Daddy do that do you?”

“Sometimes.”

“Is that how you got your new car?”

“No it is not, Daddy gave me that for my birthday.”

“Do you get chocolates or new clothes, then?”

“Trish, I can afford to buy my own chocolates or clothes. I make love to Daddy because I love him, and he does it to me because he loves me.”

“He puts his willie in your front bum because he loves you? What does he get out of it? He doesn’t wee in there does he?”

“Trish, our sex organs are designed to make us feel good when we use them properly, they give us a short but wonderful sensation called an orgasm. You’re too young to have one yet, they only happen after puberty and adolescence, so when you’re fifteen or sixteen if not older. Parts of our bodies become excited when we’re with someone we like or fancy, and when they touch those parts—the feelings can be very pleasant.”

“Like eating chocolate?”

“Sort of but different. Look you can’t understand until you’re old enough to experience some of these feelings. Don’t try to hurry them, because you’ll regret it and it could spoil your later enjoyment.”

“So did Julie enjoy it when those men had sex with her—oh, she hasn’t got a front bum yet has she?”

“No, she didn’t enjoy it and I’d be obliged if you didn’t mention any of this to Julie.”

“How did she have sex if she hasn’t got a front bum?”

“I don’t know,” I lied, this was getting more absurd by the minute.

“So she didn’t have sex then?”

“Trish—I’m not discussing this with you anymore.”

“But Mumm—mmeee, how am I supposed to learn if I don’t ask questions?”

“You seem to be doing quite well so far.”

“Can I ask you another question?”

“As long as it isn’t about sex.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Okay then.” I crossed my fingers and hoped.

“What’s rape?”

“It’s a farm crop, you know all those yellow fields we see in the summer, that’s rape, also called oilseed rape, why?”

She looked puzzled—“Did Julie have sex in a yellow field? Is that why she called it rape?”

“No.” I was ready to tear my hair out. “Rape in the context of sex, is non-consensual sex, that means one person forces another to have sex with them. It’s a very serious crime and can lead to long prison sentences.”

“Does that mean she didn’t get any chocolate?”

I leant against the bedroom wall and banged my head three times—it didn’t help though it did win me some time—to think. “Look, I can’t explain these things in ways that you’d understand.”

“How can she be raped if she hasn’t got a front bum?”

“She can be, a man can rape another man. It’s a horrid thing to do to anyone and can make them feel bad about themselves for years. It isn’t about chocolates or getting presents. Rape is a very serious crime, it’s like stabbing someone—it’s that serious. The victim often gets beaten up or threatened as well. It’s a really dreadful thing for one person to do to another and I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Okay, may I ask Daddy?”

“No you may not. Why this fixation with sex and rape?”

“I read it in the women’s magazine.”

“Okay, please don’t read about those things until you are at least ten years older.”

“Because I won’t understand?”

“Yes, you won’t understand.”

“So I can’t be raped?”

“No—yes, in theory, you could be raped. Okay, you asked me—I didn’t want to tell you about it—but you have to keep pushing don’t you?”

She looked down at the ground and I think I detected a tear. I was very tired and just wanted to go to bed.

“Right, if a man or boy puts his willie into your bum for the purpose of sex and against your wishes, that’s rape. Satisfied?”

She nodded and tears began to run down her face. I felt really guilty and opened my arms and she threw herself into my hug.

“Can you see why I didn’t want to talk about it with you—it’s not a nice subject?”

I felt her nodding as she clung on to me and she sobbed uncontrollably. “I’m sorry, Mummy.”

“It’s okay, sweetheart, I’m sorry I snapped at you but I’m very tired and it’s a subject which makes most women upset.”

“I’m sorry, I upset you, Mummy.”

“That’s okay, sweetheart, how about going to bed now?”

“I was raped.”

“C’mon get your jammies on…you what?” I stopped as if I’d just walked into a doorpost.

“I was raped,” she repeated.

I sat on the bed and pulled her on to my knee. “What d’you mean you were raped?”

“I was, a boy put his willie up my bum.”

I felt a coldness flood through me. “When was this, sweetheart?” I felt torn in a mixture of emotions, was she telling the truth, was it attention seeking, was it fantasy?

“When I was in the home.”

“The children’s home?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know the name of the boy who did it?”

“Yes, it was Ben Bowditch.”

“Are you sure, sweetheart, it’s a very serious accusation to make about someone?”

“Oh yes, it was him, he used to do it all the time, sometimes some wet stuff came out of my bum, sometimes it hurt quite a lot, once I had blood in my knickers.”

“Is that the boy who pushed you down the stairs?”

“Yes, he did it when I told him I’d tell Mrs Cunningham.”

“Oh, darling, I had no idea such horrid things happened to you there.” I hugged her again. “Have you told Stephanie about this?”

“No, she didn’t ask me and I didn’t know what it was called.”

“And you ask me and I get cross with you.”

“You’re tired, Mummy.”

“Not any more, sweetheart. If I call Daddy up would you be able to tell him what you just told me?”

She nodded and called for him.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1230

“Problems?” asked Si as he came into the bedroom.

“Shut the door, please.”

He looked bemused but complied with my request. “What’s going on?” he could see that I was looking serious and Trish had been crying.

“Trish was asking me some questions about sex.”

“Yeah—that’s what mothers are for isn’t it, answering questions that fathers can’t.” He smiled but in meeting my look his smile faded very quickly. “Okay, what’s happened?”

“Trish has just informed me that she was sexually assaulted at the children’s home by a boy called Ben Bowditch, he used to penetrate her anally against her wishes. From her description, I have no doubt this happened and more than once.”

“How old was he?” asked Simon.

“I think he was about nine or ten.”

“So Danny’s age?” Simon surmised.

“Danny and Billie will know him,” said Trish.

“So what do we do?” he asked looking at me.

“I don’t know.” I cuddled Trish to me, I’d have preferred she hadn’t been there while we were discussing this but I couldn’t abandon her after being told this. “I need to make a couple of phone calls—can she stay with you while I do so?”

“C’mon, Trish, let’s find a nice book to read while Mummy makes some calls.”

She looked anxiously at me, “You are coming back, Mummy? You’re not cross with me? You’re not going to send me back there are you?” she began to cry again.

“Send you back? Good lord, no. You’re our little girl so we’re all stuck with each other.” Perhaps not the best phrasing I could use but that’s how it came out.

“Mummy’s cross with me, she thinks I’m a dirty girl,” she held on to me and cried even harder.

“Hey, shush-shush-shush, I love you, Trish, so does Daddy. I don’t think any differently about you than I did before you told me about this. I’m concerned because I love you and I want some advice about what I need to do next.”

“You’re not going to send me away—to prison?” She became very agitated.

“Prison? Why?”

“Because I did naughty sex.”

“You told me that he did it against your wishes, is that right?”

“Yes,” she sobbed and clung on to me like a limpet.

“He did it against your wishes?”

She nodded and tears dripped on to the floor.

“And you at no time encouraged him to do it?”

“No,” she whimpered.

“Right, go and sit with Daddy a minute, as soon as I’ve made the calls I’ll be back to hug you some more.”

“You’re not going to send me away?”

“Trish, this is your home, I’m your mother, Simon is your daddy. We love you, no one is ever going to harm you again if ever we can prevent it. We won’t discuss this with the others for the moment, not because it’s dirty or anything, but because we need to deal with this quietly in the family so as not to cause any embarrassment or further hurt.”

Simon picked her up and went off to her room to get a book; I ran down to the study and begged Tom to let me use the phone from there. He gave me a funny look but quit the room and I shut the door behind him.

I looked up my address book and called the new number for St Nicholas Children’s Home. Someone answered. “Hello, I’m trying to get in touch with Nora Cunningham, it’s quite an urgent matter and it’s very private.”

“She won’t be in ’till the mornin’.”

“Do you have a private number?”

“Yeah, but I can’t give that out to anyone.”

“I’m not asking you to do that, will you take my number and call her and ask her to phone me urgently.” I gave my name and number.

“Lady Cameron?”

“Yes.”

“Didn’t know we ’ad such posh contacts—you gonna open our fête?”

“Possibly, just ask her to ring me urgently, it’s very important.”

“Okey-dokey.”

I began to wonder if she’d get the message, if she didn’t call me back I’d try again tomorrow. I wondered how long it would take to get to Wantage—it’s up near Oxford, I think. Si will know, he’s probably played rugger there.

I called Stephanie, who was out and I left a message on her ansafone. I half expected a message like, If you’re neurotic press one, depressed – which ever key will make you feel better, schizophrenic press two or three, bi-polar press one or zero, paranoid – press any you don’t think will get you and psychotic, press the belly button on the first little green man you see…

What was I thinking about—anything but dealing with Trish again. She’s carried this for at least a couple or more years apparently without symptoms—was it worrying her? I suppose it must have done, but she showed no symptoms of it—that’s the puzzling part. I believe her because she sounded so matter of fact about the detail and because I’m her mother. She isn’t given to telling lies—no, it happened, now how do I prevent that little bastard who did it to her, harming anyone else?

The look in Simon’s eye suggested if he met up with him, he’d never do it again, but getting violent isn’t the answer, we need all the facts and we need to do this by the book, if only to cover ourselves.

As I was cogitating the phone rang and I nearly jumped out of my skin. “Hello, Cathy Cameron speaking.”

“Congratulations, you just won first prize in a lottery, here in Canada…” I disconnected the spam. How can anyone fall for such obvious crap? If he called himself your fairy godmother, it couldn’t be any less obvious, could it?

I surrendered Tom’s sanctuary back to him and he asked me what had happened, or the Lallans equivalent. I declined to tell him just yet. I went to make myself a cuppa and had just finished it when the phone rang again. If it was the same lunatic spammer, I was going to complain to telecom. It wasn’t it was Nora.

“Hello, Lady Cameron, are you going to open our fête then?”

“When is it?”

“May.”

“Contact me nearer the time and I’ll see if I can fit it in.”

“Okay, I’ll do that. Is that all you wanted?”

“No, hold on a second.” I shut the kitchen door and locked it. “Is Ben Bowditch still with you?”

“I can’t tell you that, Cathy, you should know that, but why are you interested, you surely don’t want to foster him, do you?”

“No, he’d be the last child I’d want to help at this moment.”

“Oh no, nothing has happened to Patricia, has it? Recurrence of her injury or anything?”

“No, but she’s just told me a very interesting thing about Ben Bowditch.”

“What’s he supposed to have done now? He really was her bogeyman.”

“He raped her several times.”

“He was nine or ten, Cathy?”

“I don’t care—did you know he pushed her down the stairs because she was going to tell you about it?”

“No I didn’t.”

“Now, is he still there?”

“Are you sure she wasn’t just fantasising? Little girls do strange things, you know?”

“No, her manner left me in no doubt this was real and she didn’t tell me before because she didn’t have the words to describe it.”

“I’d better come and see her as soon as I can, I’ll need to speak with her with you or Simon present.”

“Do I need to inform the police or social services?”

“Don’t do anything except comfort her until we’ve met, I’ll come down tomorrow first thing—should be there about ten.”

“Fine, I’ll see you then.”

I went back up to find Trish and she was fast asleep in Simon’s arms. “Want me to take her, darling?” I whispered to him.

“No, I’m all right, when my arms get tired I’ll bring her in to you—I’d try and get some sleep if I were you.” I left him cuddling her on the bed—our bed, pooh, I’ll have to sleep in her bed. I undressed and pulled on a nightdress cleaned my teeth and after removing the zoo of soft toys, including the mutant dormouse, I climbed into her bed and tried to sleep—it was going to be a long night.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1231

I didn’t sleep much at all, so was surprised to see Simon and Trish still zonked on the bed together when I went in to collect some clothes. I dressed and slipped downstairs. It was only six o’clock but my brain had gone back into worry mode and I wouldn’t sleep any more anyway.

I was making tea for myself when Tom came in with Kiki; he’d been for a walk and it was peeing down, the dog was wet and I shouted at her when she jumped up on me. Tom told me off and I burst into tears. He led me to the table put my tea in front of me, told me to stay put and took the dog away to be dried off.

He returned some ten minutes later made himself some coffee and sat opposite me. “Are ye goin’ tae tell me whit’s goin’ on?”

“Not just yet, Daddy, but I will as soon as I can.”

“Ye look as if ye’ve bin awake hauf thae nicht?”

“I probably have.”

“It’s no a problem wi’ Simon?”

“No—nothing like that.”

“Guid, now stop greetin’ an’ hae some breakfast.”

He rose from the table and went to his study, I sat there and drank my tea—I’m sure there is some as yet undiscovered drug in tea that transforms the drinker into a much happier being with a more optimistic viewpoint. I had another but sadly it didn’t make me feel twice as good.

At seven, I was almost drifting off to sleep but my mobile ringing woke me up. “Hello?” I said almost sleepily.

“I haven’t woken you up, have I?”

“No, Steph, I was just yawning.”

“So what’s the big drama which required me calling you asap?”

“Hang on,” I got up and shut the kitchen door: “Trish casually dropped that she had been raped while at the home by the same boy who pushed her down the stairs.”

“She what? Why hasn’t she mentioned this before?”

“She said she didn’t have the words for it and that it had happened several times.”

“How did she say it?”

“Very matter of fact. I called the manager of the home and she’s coming to see me about ten.”

“Don’t let her near Trish until I’ve seen her, Trish that is. Bugger; my diary is full—put the kettle on, I’m on my way over. If I get bags under my eyes I’m gonna sue you.”

Stephanie arrived about forty-five minutes later, “What’s for breakfast?”

I made her scrambled eggs on toast and lashings of coffee—she doesn’t drink it as strong as Tom does, but stronger than Simon has it. Talking of whom, he appeared just as I was pouring a mug of coffee for Steph.

“Where’s Trish?” I asked.

“Having a wash and putting some clothes on.” He glanced up the drive, “What car have you got now, Steph?”

“That’s an MX5.”

“A girly sports car?”

“Ooh, get her,” she laughed, “yours is hardly a Ferrari, is it?”

“I’m thinking of an Aston, but since I got the Cayenne for Cathy, can’t afford it.”

“Oh poor little banker boy,” she sighed and patted his knee.

“Absolutely, my bonus is going to be down this year to under ten million.”

“Ten million?” she gasped and Simon roared with laughter.

“Some shrink you are—told you a deliberate lie and you swallowed it because of all the prejudice you have against bankers.”

“Rubbish, I’m not prejudiced, one of my best friend’s husband is a banker and I don’t hold it against her.”

“You have friends?” asked Simon sarcastically.

“Of course, I’m a shrink not a psychopath or a banker.”

“Hello Trish,” I said loudly enough for them to realise we had company.

She replied with something which may have been ‘Hello, Mummy,’ but she yawned as she started it.

“Darling, Dr Stephanie has come specially to see you.”

“Oh,” replied Trish, “Hello, Dr Stephanie.”

“Good morning, Trish, how are you this morning?”

“Okay,” yawned Trish, “Daddy snores.”

“You slept with your daddy, last night?”

“He slept, I didn’t much,” she yawned again.

Stephanie smiled, “One of the downsides of being female, Trish, we end up with men who snore and fart.”

“Do you mind, you female chauvinists, but one of the gentler sex is here,” complained Simon and Stephanie choked on her coffee.

Trish had some cereal and fruit juice and then cleaned her teeth before she and Stephanie went into the dining room.

“I have no idea what the bill will be for this,” I said to Simon.

“That’s okay, what does she usually charge us?”

“That’s the problem, she hasn’t so far.”

“She’s never sent us an account for any of the sessions she’s done for the girls?”

“Not yet, anyway.”

“How many has she done?”

“Loads, she sees Julie most weeks, Trish once a month—until now, and Billie once a fortnight.”

“Jeez-uz, perhaps I’d better speak to her—though that might remind her to bill us, hmmm, why is life so full of complications?”

“Si, stop thinking like a banker and start thinking like a worried father.”

“I was.”

“Sorry, for a moment I thought you were in danger of becoming human.”

“Thanks, Cathy, I sit with the troubled soul all night so you could get some sleep and this is my reward.”

“I’m sorry, I am grateful for what you do, including last night. Did she say anything else about last night?”

“Nope and I wasn’t encouraging any new cans of worms to be opened.”

“I wonder how she’s getting on with Stephanie.”

“All will be revealed shortly.” Simon poured himself some more coffee and I cleared the table of dirty dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Billie, Livvie and Meems came down followed by Julie and Danny.

For the next half an hour I was busy with sorting out the immediate needs of my other children. “Whose is the Mazda?” asked Danny.

“Stephanie’s, why?” I answered.

“Who’s she seeing this time?” He looked round the table, “Where’s Trish? Oh—okay.”

The others were finishing breakfast when Trish emerged and went to the table. She’d been crying but seemed well enough at the moment. “Okay, Trish?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m okay—can I make some tea for Dr Stephanie, oh and she wants to see you.”

“Si, could you make the tea?”

“Coming up,” he said switching on the kettle.

“Can you do me one, too?”

“I’m nothing but taken for granted in this bloody place.” He grumbled but got another mug off the rack.

“Can you do me one, Daddy?” called Julie.

“Why aren’t you in work?” he replied.

“I’m going as soon as I’ve had some tea—hint, hint.”

I walked into the dining room, “Tea’s on its way.”

“Yeah, thanks. We’ll wait until it comes and then chat.”

“Fine,” I agreed.

The tea arrived and I shut the door. Stephanie told me that she thought Trish was telling the truth and that she seemed quite undisturbed by it. I asked if that was usual, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sometimes, but if it hasn’t upset her too much, then I don’t want anyone poking about and changing that. She seemed to think it was her lot in life to be molested and bullied because she was different.”

“Poor lamb, but I know how she feels—I was the same.”

“Yes, but after she came to live with this wonder woman, she calls Mummy, she’s learned different and she wouldn’t allow it to happen again.”

“That’s good isn’t it?”

“Yes and no. She knows she’s bright so I do worry if she might one day detach herself from the rest of us and become very cynical and controlling. If she grows up to be very pretty as well, she could be a veritable man-eater, destroying them for sport. So she needs to bond with Tom and Simon and even her other granddad…”

“Henry,” I offered.

“Yeah, him as well, to learn that men aren’t all bastards like that little shit in the home and that some are really nice, so she doesn’t need to become an avenger. She needs to find someone she loves and settle down with them.”

“Do you need to see Nora?”

“Yeah, I want to find out how much they know about this little shit and where he is now—if he’s still there, I want to know what they’re doing about it, or is he still abusing?”

“She’ll be here soon.”

“Good.”

“Oh Simon’s worried about not receiving any accounts from you—thinks it’s going to break the bank.”

“I’ll stick it on the slate—don’t worry for the moment, unless I start to fancy a Ferrari.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1232

We had time for a quick discussion before Nora arrived. She looked quite crisp considering the fact that she’d have had to leave fairly early to get down from Wantage for ten, given the rush hour traffic.

I offered her a coffee which she accepted. “How is Trish?” she asked.

“She’s okay, I asked her psychiatrist to check her out and Stephanie seems to think she’s okay at the moment.”

“Good—for now at least, these things can come back to bite you though.”

“Yes, I appreciate that—but then with real life, it also has a habit of nipping you on the bum when you’re not looking.”

“Come on in and meet Dr Cauldwell, Trish’s shrink.”

“Oh—she’s still here?”

“Yes, she hasn’t long finished with Trish.”

Carrying the tray of coffees, I led Nora into the dining room where Stephanie was seated at the table writing in a file. “Won’t be a sec,” she said and finished the line she was writing. “A client who I’ll be seeing later, just thought of something she said.”

“Nora, this is Dr Stephanie Cauldwell, Stephanie, this is Nora Cunningham.” They said their hellos and after dishing out the coffee and laying out a plate of biscuits, we got down to business.

“I take it this conversation is in confidence?” said Nora.

“Unless there’s something said which I feel needs to be taken to the appropriate authority, which I’m duty bound to do,” replied Stephanie.

“I’m just here representing Trish,” I added and they both smiled as if I was a useless but necessary decoration.

At one point I almost got bored as they chatted in sociological jargon but I managed to keep awake and listened. It transpired that the home knew nothing of Ben Bowditch’s attacks on weaker children until after Trish had left, when he found another victim—this time, a biological girl who’d been abused by her father.

How anyone could do that to a child both astonished and disgusted me and when the details began to be discussed I felt quite angry and then nauseous. Apparently, this girl was so distressed at Bowditch’s assaults that she tried to kill herself but was discovered just in time and after recovering spilled the beans.

There was an inquiry and Bowditch was to be moved to a secure home for rehab; meanwhile he was kept locked in his room which was on the second floor of the home. He apparently managed to open a window and tried to shin down a drainpipe to escape, however, gravity intervened and he fell about twenty-five feet. He was taken to hospital but he died a week later never having regained consciousness.

When I heard this, part of me wanted to jump up and down and shout hurrah but on a moment’s reflection I realised that no one gained anything from it except his victims would know he couldn’t touch them again.

Sadly we all know that abusers have often been abused themselves, though why some should go on and do it and others don’t is curious and I don’t think anyone knows why that should be, other than exercising some form of moral control.

We’ve all heard stories of adults who take themselves off for help when they start having inappropriate feelings or thoughts about children, yet there are also a significant number who obviously enjoy those thoughts and act inappropriately on them and children get damaged.

Even the twisted minds of paedophiles must realise that it’s against the law with severe penalties if they’re caught, and they usually are eventually, yet they continue their unsavoury habits. It seems to be something humans have done for a very long time and I don’t understand it.

Apart from being revolted by the very thought of it, when some of these stories arise in the press, it just makes me wonder, ‘What must these people be thinking?’ Why would a grown man do something disgusting with a baby? The argument that the children enjoy it can’t be used because clearly, depending upon the act, the consequences for the victim might be catastrophic. Usually when I see these sorts of stories, I skip them because I can’t cope with reading them—I get too upset or angry and then start baying for vengeance—which isn’t appropriate.

I presume these perpetrators, who are frequently men but not exclusively, must get off on the power, like rapists of older victims and are quite possibly impotent without knowing the victim is hurting.

I listened to the two professionals throwing information back and fore before I excused myself and went to the loo, then went to look for Trish. She was doing something on the computer. The others weren’t about, so I sat beside her and said, “Bowditch can never harm you again,” and put my hand on her shoulder.

“I know,” she replied blithely.

“How can you know that?” I asked, feeling my concern was not being recognised.

“Found it on the Internet, he fell out of a window.”

“Yes, so we’ll never know why he did it?”

“Because he could, I’m glad he’s dead.”

“Yes, but that means you can never get any retribution or justice.”

“I don’t care—I don’t need to ever think about him again.”

“Okay, I’ll leave you to it.” I rose to leave her and only got as far as the door when she began sobbing.

“What’s the matter, darling?” I asked putting my arm round her.

“I hate him, I hate him—I hope he goes to hell—he will won’t he, Mummy?”

I calmed her down, reassured her and then went to see the experts. They were still talking and comparing notes.

“She knows.” I said and they both looked at me.

“Who knows?”

“Trish knows this Bowditch kid is dead—she found it on the Internet.”

“How old is she?” asked Nora.

“Six—going on sixteen in some areas,” suggested Stephanie.

“How did she find that?”

“I presume she shoved his name in a search engine and up came the local rag or the Daily Wail.”

“Even so, I don’t think I was reading newspapers at six, except the comic strips in them,” Nora reflected.

“Trish is a little precocious,” I suggested.

“Yeah, just a little,” joked Stephanie.

“But I wouldn’t understand words like, inquiry or inquest at that age, so how much does she?” Nora wasn’t convinced of Trish’s abilities. “I know she’s clever, but surely not that clever?”

“How about telling you that she hacked into the police computer after laying a trail all over the world so they couldn’t trace her?”

“Now you’re pulling my leg,” laughed Nora.

“I’m not, I saw her do it.”

“But most teenagers couldn’t do that?”

“I couldn’t and I’m in my twenties,” I admitted.

“I wish I was your age again,” Nora said wistfully while glancing at me.

“I don’t,” said Stephanie firmly, “I was doing a registrar’s job in Hackney, it was horrible and so was my consultant. I’d never want to revisit those times unless I could do something about it. I’m sure he had a problem with women in general and women doctors in particular. I wonder how he’d get on with women priests.”

“He wasn’t gay, was he?” asked Nora.

“Gay isn’t a word I’d use to describe him, crabby old git, might be.”

“Perhaps he was a repressed transsexual who secretly wanted to be you?” I threw in just to show I was still awake.

“Nah, crabby old git, is my diagnosis. Right, ladies, I have patients to see so I shall take my leave.” Stephanie rose from the table, packed up her files and pulled on her coat.

“So what happens now?” I asked naïvely.

“Nothing—unless Trish needs extra help, perhaps I’ll see her weekly for a few weeks just to make sure it hasn’t stirred anything up. I’ll get my secretary to phone you, Cathy.”

“Okay.” I saw her out and had literally returned to the room when Nora said she must go, too. I saw her off and then sat down in the dining room. I wasn’t sure what we’d achieved other than knowing Trish’s bogeyman was gone forever. I suppose that was a result, but one which left me feeling it was anything but satisfactory.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1233

Nora didn’t see Trish during her visit and by the time I’d seen her off and found Trish, who had recovered from her discovery of Bowditch’s demise, I felt very tired. I sat down on the sofa in the lounge and Trish came and sat with me. I don’t know where the others were but I suspect they were out with Simon, except Julie who’d gone to work—eventually.

I yawned and closed my eyes. “Are you tired, Mummy?”

“A bit yes, I didn’t sleep very well last night.”

“Was my bed too lumpy?”

“No,” I tousled her hair, “you silly thing.”

“Shall I tell you a story?”

“That would be nice—does it have a happy ending?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Off you go then,” I encouraged.

“Once upon a time, there was a boy who knew he was really a princess.”

“Oh dear, poor boy.”

“Hush, I’m telling the story, not you.”

“Sorry,” I whispered and she glared at me, then smirked.

“Back to my princess boy: no one would believe he was really a princess or even a girl and his mummy got fed up with him and sent him to live in a home. They didn’t believe he was a princess there either, but he kept telling them.

“Because he was really a girl, some of the other boys bullied him. She kept on telling them she was a girl and one day the boss of the home said he could wear dresses if she wanted to and call herself by a girl’s name.

“She did this, but everyone laughed at her and the bullying went on an’ on—but she was happier because at least she was wearing the proper clothes. One of the boys there used to do nasty things to her and it used to make her cry. When she told him she was going to tell on him to the boss lady, he got cross with her and pushed her down the stairs. She banged her head and had to go to hospital.

“She met a nice girl in hospital who had the same trouble—she couldn’t walk either and they became friends. One day the other girl was sent home and then the princess was sent back to the home as well. She was very unhappy and she had to go and see the doctor at the hospital. She liked him because he was a very nice man who treated her like a princess.”

By now my eyes were very moist and I had a lump in my throat. Fortunately, she didn’t notice but continued her narrative.

“One day when the princess had to go to hospital to see the nice doctor, she saw her old friend again who was walking. The other girl, had been staying with a fairy queen who had cured her with her magic shoes, and she could walk as good as new. The doctor asked the princess if she would like to go and see the fairy queen to see if she could be cured, but the princess didn’t know what to do.

“The princess was in a special chair which had wheels on it because she couldn’t walk, but it meant the bullies weren’t allowed to hurt her anymore, so she didn’t know what to do. At the hospital, she met the fairy queen who was a lovely lady and who was married to a fairy king, and he was nice too.

“The fairy queen allowed her to come and stay at her fairy castle with the other girl who was living there too. It was a very nice castle and they lived with the fairy king and queen, the king’s sister and the queen’s daddy, who was really a wise man—like the ones in the story of Jesus.

“In no time, the queen had cured the princess using her magic shoes and then invited the princess to stay and live with them. The princess, who was now being called a princess, agreed to stay with them. It was a lovely time and she played nicely with her friend who she now called her sister.

“A little later another girl without a mummy and daddy came to live with them too, and then two boys, one of them was also really a girl, but she took a long time to say so. Then a big girl came to live with them, she had been hurt and the fairy queen had made her better.

“They all lived happily together until one day, the princess saw something on her computer about people doing nasty things to each other—it reminded her of the nasty things she had done to her by the bully. She told the queen who promised to protect her and help her get over her hurt.

“Then the princess saw that the bully had died trying to climb up a beanstalk—perhaps a giant had knocked him down—but he was dead and couldn’t hurt anyone else ever again. The princess was very glad and they all lived happily ever after.”

“You were supposed to go to sleep,” she said when she saw me sitting there with tears rolling down my face, “not cry. Was it a bad story, Mummy, is that why you’re crying?”

“No darling, it was a beautiful story and you told it so beautifully, it made me cry with happiness.”

“Doh, Mummy, you’re supposed to cry when you’re sad not happy.”

“Ladies and some men also cry when they’re very happy as well as when they’re sad.”

“Well I’m not going to do that when I’m a lady, it’s silly.”

“I’ve always cried when I’m very happy, and your story made me feel very happy. I got an impression that it was a bit autobiographical, is that so?”

“What’s autographical, Mummy?”

“Autobiographical, means it’s about a real person’s life and is told by them.”

“You weren’t supposed to know that, Mummy—I disguised everyone.”

“It was just a lucky guess, I expect—it was a fine tale told very well.”

“I mean, I made you a fairy queen, so you wouldn’t know it was you I meant.”

“Oh my goodness, the fairy queen was meant to be me? I’d never have guessed, not in a million years. So who was the magus?”

“Wossa maguss, Mummy?”

“A wise man, like the three who went to see baby Jesus, they were the Magi, which is the plural of magus.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Mummy?”

“Okay, I’ll rephrase it, who was the wise man?”

“Gramps—silly.”

“Oh gosh, I’d never have guessed.” What’s a white lie between friends?

“Silly Mummy.”

“Yes, kiddo, silly Mummy for thinking she could cure the princess just by giving her a perfect environment to grow and flourish.”

“But you did cure her.”

“Only of her walking problem, not of any of the others. Maybe I should resign as queen of the fairies?”

“You weren’t supposed to know it was you as the fairy queen,” she pouted.

“I didn’t until you told me.”

She gave me a very old-fashioned look.

“Do you feel safer now Bowditch is dead?”

“Yes I do, Mummy, especially with you to protect me.”

“Oh, I thought you were looking after me?”

“No—that’s your job as a mummy.”

“That’s where I’ve been going wrong.”

“Silly Mummy,” she said and we hugged.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1234

For T. Hope you feel better soon, darling.

Wow part 1234 dunno if we’ll ever get to 2345?

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

I hoped that Trish’s storytelling had helped her redefine her past somewhat, or reframe it as the psychologists call it. I also wonder how often the bully had assaulted her and how badly. Was it my imagination, or had she glossed over it almost as if she hadn’t been traumatised by it? Had she even enjoyed some of it—the attention while being a girl? I had to stop thinking, it was going to drive me loopy if I wasn’t already there. I resolved I’d wait and see what symptoms appeared and deal with them then. Obviously Stephanie would continue seeing her and hopefully that would deal with the worst bits, and I could just offer my love and support.

“A penny for them,” said Si as we lay together in bed that night. I’d told him the story as I’d remembered Trish telling me and he smiled. “I always miss out on the best bits, don’t I?”

“I suppose that’s the father’s lot, the mother having more contact with the child, so it’s almost inevitable.”

“I wonder if it’s possible to put some sort of pause button on them, then you could press it and release it when I got home, then I’d see the magic moment.”

“Um, darling, I don’t think it works like that, usually these events happen by themselves and by the time I realise we’re into a Kodak moment, it’s gone.”

“Hmm, that’s not fair—how about you go and screw the financial system and I’ll stay home and be with my kids?”

“I’ve spotted a few weaknesses in your master plan.”

“You have? I thought it was foolproof.”

“Um, not quite. To start with, I’m not licensed to play with other people’s money—except yours. Secondly, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do, and thirdly, I actually enjoy being with the children myself and wouldn’t want to swap with anyone.”

“Except when there’s a full moon and you want to kill them all—slowly.”

“That’s only once a month.”

“Or period-ical,” he sniggered.

“I can’t have periods and you know it.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t seem to stop you having PMT or whatever else they call it.”

“I don’t—you’re putting two and two together and making six.”

“I’ll have you know I’m a mathematician as well as an economist, so I think I’d know if my addition was suspect. Besides, you do have monthly mood-swings, always have done. I just assumed it was physiologically derived—which it is—but all your own work, so to speak.”

“The fact that you’re a mathematician doesn’t count when I’m making metaphors.”

“I don’t care what you do with your sewing kit, but leave the mathematics to me.”

“You’re a cruel, cruel man, Simon Cameron.”

“Aye, glad ye noticed, goes wi’ ma sporrrran.” He gave an even worse example of Lallans than I do when I’m teasing Tom, rolling his Rs more than a tart in a tight skirt.

“Och, I love it when ye’re sae masterfu’, hen. Talkin’ Scotch always turns me on,” I said perhaps proving my previous statement incorrect.

“Ye whit?” he said sitting up and laughing, “ye daft gowk.”

“Oh yessssss,” I sizzled or pretended to, thrusting my hips wantonly which was when he laughed so much that he fell out of bed. It took me twenty minutes to stop his nosebleed and as long to change the bed and soak the bedding in salt water. The only wanton I did after that was wantin’ the stains to come out of my favourite duvet cover. He got quite miffed because he reckoned I was more interested in my bedding than his well-being. I mean, how could he—doesn’t he know how much Irish lawn costs, especially broderie anglaise.

Needless to say, his sore proboscis meant he lost his appetite for pleasing me and I joked about his ‘headache.’ He threatened to get his own back and complained that I was taking advantage of his blood loss and ensuing weakness.

“So that’s why you went off sex, you don’t have enough to make it—you know?”

“It could be, Cathy, that could well be it, as well as the pain in my face.”

“I’ve always wanted to call someone, ‘face-ache’.”

“Oh you cut me to the quick.”

“No I don’t, you did it yourself.”

“I felt faint at your attempted rendition of my native tongue.”

“What’s that, a Hampstead plum?”

“And still you seek to wound me.”

“Eh?”

“Hush, I’m building to a climax.”

“If you do, you can clean it up and wash the bloody sheets.”

“You Philistine.”

“Dat’s me—now are we going to sleep or talking all night.” Just then the baby woke and began to whimper.

“Did you see that article about feeding babies on boob-juice after six months?”

“Yes, and she gets plenty of other things too, including raw meat and the odd bone.” Well if he was going to be facetious I could be too.

“Is that before or after the hard-tack?”

“What’s that, a saddle which hasn’t been treated with saddle soap?”

“No, ship’s biscuits.”

“Oh, what did they need those for?”

“Carbohydrate—remember there were no fridges in Nelson’s time. I suspect they’d just have soon fired them from the cannons, but you can’t stack ’em on a brass monkey.”

“Especially in cold weather.”

“You know where that comes from, don’t you—freezin’ the balls off a brass monkey?”

“I know about the different temperature coefficients and rate of contraction of different metals—does that answer your question?”

“Smart arse—my nose is still bloody hurting.”

“Awwww, shall I blue light it?”

“Will it work d’you think?”

“How do I know, I’m only the messenger.”

I laid my hands on either side of his face and in seconds he said, “Cor that’s amazing, lovely shade of blue, Babes.” Ten minutes later he was asleep and I had to settle the baby down. Fortunately she hadn’t really come to and went off again—for four hours.

I fed her at four o’clock and managed to get another three hours sleep afterwards. I still felt shattered but I’m beginning to think that’s a permanent state of affairs. Someone came round from Maureen to fix up Danny’s basketball hoop. I didn’t see them until I went out to offer them a cuppa, and I nearly fell over.

Standing on a stepladder and drilling into the brickwork of the outbuilding was a gorilla in a dress. I have never seen anyone with such dark hairy legs, and wearing a dress is hardly the most suitable clothing for climbing up ladders. The hairy legs were showing through a pair of tan tights. Danny and Billie were standing and sniggering watching the large figure on the ladder, until I sent them off to do something else.

“Um—sorry, I don’t know your name, but would you like a cup of tea or coffee?”

“Paulette, yeah that would be lovely, darlin’, you must be Cathy, Maureen said, you’re the pretty fair-haired one.”

“Isn’t it a bit chilly standing up a ladder in a dress?”

“Nah—you get used to it.”

“Tea or coffee?”

“Either, darlin’, but no biccies, I’m tryin’ ta lose weight.”

I sent Danny out with her tea, which I made stronger than I usually drink it, and with strict instructions not to look up her skirt.

“I’ll tell you what, Mummy.”

“What?”

“She hasn’t had the operation yet.” He left the kitchen sniggering before I could say anything.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1235

The next day, I dealt with mounds of ironing while the children played basketball. The thump thump of the ball wasn’t near as loud where the basket had been fitted, and I was glad that I’d insisted it be put some distance from the house.

Danny was back in school tomorrow but the girls didn’t return until the following week. When he complained I did offer to enrol him at the convent as well, but he said he didn’t like the uniform—wasn’t sexy enough. He ran off before I could box his ears—although I suppose he’d look pretty silly with two boxes on his head—I went back to my ironing.

I’d managed to get all the blood out of the bed linen, which saved his lord and master quite a bit of money. Silly bugger, how can anyone fall out of bed as often as he does?

I stopped for a coffee and Jenny came home with baby C, whom she’d taken for a ride in the pram. Meems had gone with her but the other girls were playing basketball with Danny. Simon was in work and Stella was out with Gareth having taken Pud with them. Gareth is quite a regular visitor and he’s even bought a car seat—so I suspect his intentions are long term—but that is between those two and nothing to do with me.

Tom had been in work, and had checked the dormice, they were all okay, busy hibernating in a rat-free environment. I had been so careful in my calculations about drainage and keeping rats out. They’ll happily hunt and kill anything smaller than themselves and dormice come into that category. Mind you even blessed woodmice will kill and eat dormice if they find them in a torpid state—they eat their brains—well brains are full of fat, so quite nourishing. Alas that doesn’t help the poor dormouse, probably the most inoffensive creature on the planet.

I was mulling over some emails that I’d received yesterday about sightings of dormice in places we didn’t expect to find them. I suspect they could be erroneous records and needed to discuss them with Tom. However, when I tried he dismissed me. “Ye’re supposed tae be thae expert, make yer decision, I’ve things tae dae.” He disappeared upstairs and half an hour later he appeared in his best suit smelling of aftershave—he has a beard—so what’s going on?

“Are you home for lunch?” I shouted as he left the house.

“No, I’ll no’ be hame fa dinner either.” Then he was gone and the Land Rover started up a moment later and off he went.

Jenny came into the kitchen and started sniffing, “Not sure about the perfume, Cathy, a bit…”

“French tart?” I offered.

“I wouldn’t have said that exactly.”

“You can if you like.”

“Oh all right then.”

“See, I haven’t dissolved into tears.”

She walked right up to me and sniffed again. “It’s not coming from you at all.”

“No, it’s Tom’s aftershave, Julie bought it for him even though I suggested it wasn’t a good idea.”

“But he’s got a beard?”

“I had noticed.”

“But that would be like a man buying a bra.”

“Dunno about that, I’ve known one or two who wore bras but never grew boobs, they just used them for holding their padding in place.”

“Ugh—fancy finding dirty socks in someone’s bra.” Jenny cringed as she said it.

“Most of them kept their girly stuff in very good condition, it was the boy clothes they treated like rubbish.”

“How do you know about all that?”

“I thought you knew about my past?”

“Yeah, I knew you were called by a boy’s name before but I just never think it was anything but the wrong name—I mean, no one would ever think you’d been a boy would they?”

“I don’t know, it has happened.”

“They must have been able to see something I can’t, because to me you look exactly like a natural woman and a pretty one. Oh did I tell you my bloke fancies you?”

“No—I’m all ears.” I stopped my ironing.

“He watched my copy of the dormouse film while I was making some dinner one night—he asked, who the babe was who presented it. I told him it was my current boss. He then said you were very attractive.”

“I can’t believe he said that, being a jolly jack tar, I suppose he said, I wouldn’t kick her out of bed, or something similar.”

“Actually that’s exactly what he said,” she blushed a lovely shade of crimson.

“You were just translating.”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“He was probably trying to make you feel guilty so he could have his wicked way with you.”

“It worked, I did and so did he.”

“You did and so did he? Explain if you would, I think the baby has finally sucked my brains out through my nipples.”

“I did feel guilty and he did get his wicked way.”

“Ah, now it makes sense. When is he next at home?”

“For a few days in February.”

“Remind me nearer the time and you’ll have to bring him for dinner, providing he can cope with six pairs of X-ray eyes.”

“Thank you, that would be nice, then he can see why I enjoy working for you.”

“You enjoy it—are you mad? Or are we paying you too much?”

She blushed again, “No, everyone here is so nice and the pay is quite good too. But the kids are pleasant and mostly polite and they always do what I ask them to do.”

I walked to the front door and looked at the number on the door, then came back in. “What’re you doing?” she asked smiling uncertainly.

“Just checking I was in the right house.”

“Oh, Cathy, they are good kids—none are perfect but they’re closer to it than most I’ve met.”

“So it’s just the adults who are a pain then?”

“No, you’re all sweet too. Tom is a darling, he’ll help anyone…”

“Anyone in a short skirt, the same could be said of Simon.”

“Yes he’s helpful, too and so well mannered.”

“Of course he is, he spent about twelve years in private schools having them beaten into him, plus Henry is very suave and sophisticated, so he had a good teacher. Henry could charm the paper off the walls.”

“I prefer Professor Agnew, he’s just so nice.”

“Daddy, is one of the last natural gentlemen.”

“So is he your father? I thought your maiden name was Watts?”

“He’s my adoptive father—he sort of adopted me when I had troubles with my birth father.”

“Gosh, so what does your birth father think of that?”

“He’s dead so it isn’t an issue.”

“I’m sorry—say if I’m prying too much.”

“It’s okay, we were reconciled before he died, but we did have our problems. He liked Tom, thought he was a gentleman and didn’t appear to be jealous at all. In fact the couple of times they met he was suitably impressed and they liked each other. He also liked Simon, once he’d come to terms with the child he thought was his son was engaged to another man.”

“To a man, not another man. I said earlier, there is no way you were ever a boy or a man, just a girl in boy’s clothes.”

“When we went for custody of the children, the barrister we had suggested—that contrary to the aspersions being cast by the social services who were trying to stop me—I wasn’t so much transgendered as a woman with a plumbing problem. I can’t remember quite what he said, but it was very clever and made me feel good as well as impressing the judge, who actually agreed with him. But, it was Trish who stole the day, she followed him into his chambers and asked him to sanction her staying with us as well as Meems.”

“So you had Mima first?”

“Yes, in fact each of the children we’ve acquired have been progressively older.”

“Oh—am I too old to qualify?” she laughed.

“Yes, you’ve finished full time education.”

“Oh pooh, if I was to start a course, how about then?”

“Sorry, the previous rule would apply, plus the fact that Simon would probably kill me if I tried to foster anyone else.”

“But he’s so nice, I’m sure he wouldn’t.”

“Even nice people have their thresholds—just try to avoid crossing them.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1236

After lunch, I took Danny to get some more school trousers. It was bit last minute but better than him saying tomorrow that he had none to wear. Honestly, boys—they can be so irritating. While we were looking at his wardrobe, I checked his blazer, and that had seen better days. Trish and Livvie came along as well, while Billie and Meems stayed behind with Jenny and the baby.

I parked the Cayenne outside the outfitters and we all trooped into the shop. The place was heaving with mainly boys and their parents buying various bits of the school uniform. Eventually, we were served and despite his protests, I had Danny measured for new trousers and a blazer. While we were at it, I got a new school badge for his blazer and a new tie. That little lot came to over two hundred pounds—how poor families manage, I really don’t know.

Once we’d dumped the stuff in the car we were off again to the shopping mall for shoes for the three I had with me, I’d have to check Billie and Meems when we got home. By the time we had new shoes for this three, I’d spent another hundred and fifty pounds but at least I knew their feet would be warm and dry for a few more months.

We did some food shopping and when we were coming out of the supermarket, we saw Tom drive past with a woman in the car with him. I felt a mixture of emotions, I was glad for him—he deserves someone of his own age to share his life—at the same time I felt jealous—hey, that’s my daddy you’re with.

By the time we managed to pull out in the traffic he’d long gone, but instead of going home, I dropped by the university. As there were no dormice to see, I left the kids watching a DVD, yes the car has those on the back of the front seats.

Pippa made quite a fuss of me as we hadn’t met since Christmas when I nearly froze to death in the snow and had to dig the car out. Had I thought about it, I could have dropped her spade back to her.

“What are you doing here?” she asked me.

“Prying.”

“Oh,” she said and gave me a conspiratorial smirk.

“Who’s Daddy going out with?”

“Hasn’t he told you?”

“Obviously not, or I wouldn’t be asking you, would I?”

“This is true,” she chuckled. “I know something you don’t know.”

“Come on, spill the beans or I’ll bring Trish in and she’ll knock up some truth drug from the chemicals in the cleaning cupboard.”

“I’ll bet she could, too—takes after her mother, too clever for her own good at times.”

I nearly said something about not knowing her mother when I realised Pippa was talking about me, not Trish’s birth mother. “If I was that clever, I’d know already.”

“It’s no big secret.”

“Not to those in the know.”

“Honestly, you’d think it was a government secret.”

“It’s far more important than those, those only cause wars or tax rises, this is my daddy we’re talking about.”

“Relax, he’s not going to kick you out and install his girlfriend.”

“I wasn’t even thinking about that, I’m just concerned that he’s as happy as he can be.”

“Hence the snooping and attempted coercion?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you. The mystery lady is Diana Dawes.”

“I thought she was dead,” I thought of the old British starlet, Diana Dors or Diana Fluck as I recall she was originally named.

“No, this one is alive and well and currently married to the Vice Chancellor.”

“So he’s knocking off the Vice Chancellor’s wife—he’s got more neck or should that be balls, than I thought he had. Sadly he’s also got less sense. It’ll end in tears.”

“Cathy, he’s not knocking off anyone’s wife. Sir Godrick Dawes is out in India trying to drum up customers to fund the university, so Tom is entertaining her while he’s away—Dawes suggested it himself. He and Tom are old friends, they were at Edinburgh together: he’s a biochemist, if you remember?”

“I know he owns Dawes Bio-Industries and is worth a fortune.”

“As if you’re not.”

“I’m not, Simon might be, but it’s all tied up in the bank.”

“Which he’ll inherit.”

“Don’t forget he’s got a sister.”

“And a wife and so many children he doesn’t know what to do,” she laughed.

“The ones I know about are under control…” I said quietly and she took a moment to work out what I’d said before she roared with laughter.

“He’ll shoot you,” she chuckled, “casting nasturtiums.”

“I suspect he’s a lousy shot, he used to go up to their estate every Christmas and hasn’t shot a peasant yet.”

“Is that because it’s a grouse moor? Oh peasant—yes, very funny.”

“I’d better get out and sort out the kids before they wreck my car.”

“Is that the same one you got stuck in on Christmas night?”

“Yes, I’m having a snow plough and tank tracks fitted for next year.”

“I’d have thought you’d have changed it for something else by now.”

“Pippa, it cost Si an arm and a leg, if I so much as get dirt on it he grumbles at me.”

“I’m getting a little car,” she beamed at me.

“Oh well once you do, you’ll have to come over more often.”

“If that’s an invite, I will.”

“Bring the boys with you.”

“I’ll have a choice?” she asked and we both laughed.

“What sort of car?”

“One that goes, I hope.”

“I hope so too, what make is it?”

“I don’t know, it’s blue—oh, is it a Skoda or something like that?”

“They make very good cars these days.”

“It’s two years old.”

“Oh good for you, I wish you years of safe and carefree motoring.”

“Thanks.”

“I’d better go, got half the brood in the car—they haven’t been fed recently, they’ll be eating the leather seats.” I gave her a hug and went back to the car, the cartoons had just ended.

“Anything to eat, Mummy, I’m starvin’?” Danny asked as I opened the driver’s door.

“We’re going straight home before the ice cream melts.”

“Can we have some ice cream when we get home, Mummy?” called two little girls from behind me.

“What’s the magic word?”

“Please. Please may we have some ice cream?” said Trish’s voice.

“Let’s get home first, shall we and I expect some help unloading the car.”

The traffic was clogging up for the rush hour and I was relieved when we turned into the drive. I parked the car and we were just unloading it, when Billie and Meems came out to help us. Many hands make work light, or is that lamps?—I can never remember. Anyhow, I was just closing the boot down and about to bleep it, when a motorbike went past the house like a low flying jet. We all stood and stared in disbelief, as much as anything because none of us could believe anything could go that fast and still be earthbound.

Moments later a police car followed by another came whizzing past and then I heard the police helicopter, or Copper Chopper as the kids call it, but I’ve also heard it called The Flying Pig.

“That motorbike was going too fast, wasn’t he?” offered Livvie.

“I should say, probably twice as fast as the speed limit.”

“Gosh, that’s dangerous, isn’t it, Mummy?”

“Yes, very dangerous. C’mon, let’s get the shopping in before the ice cream melts.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1237

Mention of ice cream mobilised the troops and we trotted into the house where they all had a small dish of ice cream. Despite his grumbles, Danny was actually pleased with his new school clothes and although he lived in a house full of women, he was actually quite content with his lot and certainly wouldn’t have wanted to go back to the children’s home.

I got on with organising tea when it suddenly got very dark and within moments was sheeting down with rain, followed a little while later with celestial fireworks as the sky crashed and flashed with a full-blown thunderstorm—which wasn’t forecast.

Livvie and Meems felt unsure about it and went off to hide in the cupboard under the stairs while Danny, Billie and Trish went to the window to watch it more closely. I wondered if this was the manifestation of some deep sex-linked fear, though Jenny wasn’t at all worried and watched with the kids.

I wasn’t frightened but I was concerned in case the house was hit. However, I left my kitchen duties and went to see where the two girls were and sat with them. “What’re you doing in here in the dark?” I asked them in as jovial away as possible, “Playing hide and seek?”

“We don’t wike fa fundah an’ wightnin’, Mummy.”

“What don’t you like about it?”

“Fa bangs ’n’ fwashes, it’s fwightenin’.”

“I see, but that’s no more frightening than a firework display, is it?”

“I doan wanna get stwiked by it.”

“How likely do you think it is that that will happen?” I asked trying to bring a modicum of logic to the proceedings.

“What d’ya mean, Mummy?” asked Meems.

“Do you honestly believe you will be hit by lightning?”

“I dunno, not takin’ any chances.”

“What about you, Livvie, do you think you could be hurt by it?”

“Maybe—but not in here.”

“How d’you know that—did the spiders tell you?”

“What spiders?” she asked.

“The ones in here.”

“Ugh, doan’ like spiders,” she squealed and ran out of the cupboard followed by Mima who wasn’t sure what she was squealing at or running from.

When I went to find them, they were hiding under a coat in my wardrobe. I didn’t bother to explain they were probably at greater risk being higher up in the house than they were before.

The thunderstorm didn’t last that long although the torrential rain and poor light did for quite a bit longer. I was minded of my first encounter with Stella during such a storm. Perhaps that was why I had something of an affection for thunderstorms—one changed my life, somewhat dramatically. I decided I might relate parts of the story to the two girls in the hope they might feel differently about such storms.

I sat on the floor of my bedroom with the wardrobe door open. “Do you know it might be because of a thunderstorm that we’re all in this house today?”

“Don’t be silly, Mummy,” said Livvie.

“I’m not it’s true, would you like me to tell you how?”

“Yes please, Mummy.”

“Come out and sit with me, the storm has gone over now anyway.” Reluctantly they came out and carefully sat cross-legged on the carpet with me. Once they were settled, I began my narration.

“Three or four years ago, I was out on my bike for a training ride. I hadn’t checked the weather forecast but as it was a warm and sunny afternoon, I went off for my ride. I’d done about twenty miles, so I’d been out an hour or so when I became aware that it was feeling very humid and the sky was darkening. I was ten miles from home and tried to get there as quickly as I could, plus I had a headache starting, which I sometimes get in thunderstorms.

“I was belting down this country lane when the rain started, and it was huge blobs of water which hurt when they hit you and went straight through my clothes—I was only wearing a cycling shirt and shorts.

“In moments I was wringing wet, in fact my feet and shorts were squelching with each pedal stroke I made.” The two girl chuckled at this. “The road also disappeared and became like a shallow torrent of water.”

“There was nowhere to shelter and standing under a tree can be very dangerous, and I was concerned that a driver might not see me in such rain—it was coming down in stair rods.”

“Woss staiwwods, Mummy?”

“Stair rods are the metal rods across the stairs which hold the carpet in place. When it’s raining stair rods, it means it’s coming down so heavily, you can almost imagine the drops of rain look like stair rods. It’s what we call a metaphor because it doesn’t really happen, but it feels like it could.

“Anyway, I was worried that drivers might not see me because of the rain, the spray and the sudden darkness, and I didn’t have any lights on the bike because I didn’t think I’d need them in daytime.

“My worries became reality, when I suddenly found myself sailing through the air minus my bike, landing in a hedgerow and having the bike bounce along beside me and into a ditch.”

“What happened, Mummy, did you hit the kerb?”

“I could have done couldn’t I?” Livvie nodded. “But no, I was struck from behind by Auntie Stella’s car. She didn’t see me and knocked me flying.”

“Was you hurted?” asked Meems.

“I was severely scratched and my clothes were shredded and my back wheel was badly damaged.”

“Did she stop?” asked Livvie.

“She did, and asked me what I was doing riding without lights. I was so shaken I can’t remember what I said back, but she helped me get my bike into her car and then I got in and she took me home.”

“What, here?” asked Livvie now captivated by my story.

“No, to their cottage. I had a bath to warm me up—the shock and the wet meant I got very cold. Of course I couldn’t put my cycling clothes on again, so I had to borrow some of Auntie Stella’s. Then she trimmed my hair for me and loaned me some makeup and when Daddy came home a little later, she introduced us and he asked me out.”

“Did you fall in love?” asked Livvie, who’d obviously been reading the wrong sort of books.

“Not quite, I actually fell on top of him.”

“You fell on top of him?” she laughed and so did Mima.

“Yes, I was wearing some high heeled boots, which I wasn’t used to—they were loaned to me by Auntie Stella, and I caught the heel in my skirt or the carpet and fell over knocking him over too. I landed on top of him.”

“What did he say, Mummy?”

“He laughed and told me I was the first girl who’d fallen for him.”

“That is so funny, Mummy.”

“It’s true. I was living in a pokey bedsit with a load of spotty yoofs sharing the building, and they didn’t like me so they used to bang on my door at night and things like that.”

“Howwibew boys,” suggested Mima.

“Then one day Gramps suggested I might like to stay here, a while later Daddy came as well and so did Auntie Stella. So you see, if the thunderstorm hadn’t happened, none of us might be here today, nor might we be a family either.”

“So it was a nice thunderstorm?” clarified Livvie.

“Absolutely.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1238

“I’m not fwightened of funda an’ wightnin’ any mo,” asserted Mima.

“That’s good,” observed Jenny, “what made you think differently about them?”

“We’s aww onwy here ’cos of a funda an’ wightnin’ an’ Mummy gettin’ knocked off h’ bike.”

“Is that so?” asked Jenny.

I picked this up as I passed, “Is what so?”

“We’re only here because of a thunderstorm and you being hit off your bike?”

“I thought the theory involved one or more comet impacts, or the intervention of a Canaanite fertility god—take your choice, but there’s even less evidence for the latter.”

“I think Mima meant, here, now, in this house.”

“Oh that—yeah, looking at things simplistically, she’s probably right.”

“So, care to share it with me, some time?”

“One day, unless you get Meems to tell you.”

“I’ww teww you, Jenny.” Mima took Jenny’s hand and took her off towards the lounge. Danny and the other two girls were playing on their computers.

“Where’s Mima?” asked Livvie walking into the dining room.

“In the lounge with Jenny, if you go in there too, Jenny might understand what Mima’s saying a little more easily.”

“Okay,” she shrugged her shoulders and went off to find her sister. I went back to the kitchen and the evening meal. I peeled a load of potatoes, and popped a couple of packets of sausages on a baking tray in the oven. I decided we’d have bangers and mash, which we’ve not had for ages. I decided as well, I’d use some baked beans, so later on there may well be some bangers about—especially from Simon.

Once it was all on the go, I sat down and looked at my own laptop and a few emails about the survey. Someone was trying to suggest they saw dormice in woodland in the north of Scotland. Whatever it was, dormouse it wasn’t. There are no known sites that far north.

The next one was also from Scotland, a poor quality photo of what could be a pine marten. Now that is something I’d like to see, if ever I get the harvest mouse film done, I might try and persuade the BBC that they need one on the pine marten. The latest suggestions are that they may be more widely distributed than at first thought, because they are very shy, crepuscular animals who hunt things like squirrels and given that squirrels are pretty nippy about the trees—especially, red squirrels, pine martens are even faster—they almost fly through the trees.

Effectively, they are like arboreal stoats, although stoats and weasels will sometimes climb trees and have been found in dormouse nest boxes. The difference is, trees are the preferred hunting territory of pine martens, the only one of the badger clan to be so adapted, in this country. For a small blob in the North Sea, we don’t do badly for Mustelids, there’s the badger, otter, stoat, weasel, pole cat, pine marten, ferret and escaped mink. In most areas, they are the top of the food chain as we officially have no large predators, except escaped dogs, possibly wild boar which will kill and eat anything they can catch and the most effective predator of them all—even able to kill deer—the motor car.

There are ideas of re-introducing wolves and even bears into the country, or even more exotics, like lynx. The only member of the cat family that is a true wild animal here, is Felis sylvestris or Wildcat, sometimes called the Scottish Wildcat although it is known in a few places in the North of England. I haven’t had a sighting of those for ages, although I’m not officially supervising those, just rodents. Oh, a coypu—gotta be Norfolk—yep, it is.

Simon came home at five thirty and I served up a load of bangers and mash with baked beans. I had creamed the spud—i.e. mashed it, then beaten in milk and butter.

“Oh goody, school dinners,” he said when he saw what I was serving.

At dinner, Jenny embarrassed me and made Simon smile by asking about me falling for him on our first date. He didn’t seem to care too much about embarrassing me further by telling it his way, which was that I was drunk and in charge of a pair of high heels, fell on top of him and tipped my glass of red wine all over his best shirt at the same time.

“What’s this about, Tom having a lady friend?” asked Jenny.

“What?” gasped Simon, “The old devil—good for him.”

“Nah false alarm, it’s the Vice Chancellor’s wife, he’s over in India or something drumming up new business and Daddy’s entertaining her—they’re old friends.” I hope I removed the rumours in one go.

“Wasn’t there something about him on the radio earlier?” Simon tried to recall. “Yeah, he’s been kidnapped or assassinated by bandits, or something.”

“You’re joking?” I said almost choking on a forkful of mashed potato.

“No I’m not, Sir Godfrey Dawes or something like that, thought of the bike manufacturer.”

“Sir Godrick Dawes and she’s Lady Diana Dawes,” I corrected him.

“That’s the one, I tell you what, Babes, this is better than school dinners ever were. We used to joke about the sausages there as being the, um—bits from dead men.” He blushed when he remembered we had children present.

“Chipolatas were they?” I added quickly, at which Jenny laughed so hard she nearly fell off her chair. Simon blushed furiously and shrugged his shoulders.

“These are made from dead men, are they?” asked Julie.

“No, these are all genuine pork,” I informed her.

“Piggy willies,” said Trish and began giggling which spread to the other kids. In less than a minute the table was in uproar. I glared at Simon whose schoolboy humour had sparked it all off.

He banged the table to call order but it only made them worse. It was at least ten minutes before they calmed down. I admit I was getting more than a little cross at this behaviour at the table but giggle fits tend to have their own timescale and end when they can no longer laugh without it hurting.

Simon continued eating, but the girls didn’t eat any more meat, and I eventually sent them all away from the table and told them to get changed for bed as they’d be going there early. They sauntered off still bloody giggling.

I was clearing up when the phone rang. “Hello, Cathy, I need to ask a wee favour.”

“Daddy, are you okay?”

“I’m fine but I need fa us tae put up a friend o’mine fa a few days.”

“Lady Dawes?”

“Aye. Hoo did ye ken that?”

“I have my sources.” I almost laughed over the phone, but I soon lost my humour.

“They’ve kidnapped Godrick oot ’n India an’ some bastard has bin oot tae her hoose an’ turned it o’er. Sae can ye change ma beddin’ and I’ll kip ’n thae sofa.”

“There is no way you’re sleeping on a sofa, Daddy, not in your own house.”

“Och, it’ll be alricht.”

“No it won’t. I’ll set up a bed in the attic room and she can have Julie’s room.”

“Who can have my room?” asked Julie walking past me, but I waved her away.

“Isnae that tae much trouble, lassie?”

“No trouble at all, though it might cost you for some driving lessons as compensation to her ladyship.”

“Aye, that’s fine.”

“When will you be here?”

“In aboot an ’oor.”

“Okay, we’ll get right on it.”

“Why is it always my room?” asked Julie, as she helped me move her stuff up to the attic room.

“Because it’s the nicest room and Jenny has the guest room at the moment.”

“Well put her in the attic, she’s only a bloody servant.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that and don’t want to hear anything like it ever again. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mummy, I’m sorry—but it’s bit of a pain.”

“I know, which is why Gramps will eventually fork out for a couple of driving lessons.”

“Big deal.”

“Julie, look at it logically, the quicker you pass your test the quicker you get a car.”

“Yeah, I s’pose.”

“It doesn’t mean he’ll pay for two of the lessons we’ve already booked but two extra ones, so you may be driving sooner.”

“Oh yeah, I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“I may be a lot of things, Julie, but stupid I’m not.”

“So I see—you’re sneaky, Mummy.”

“No—not sneaky, just able to see opportunities—it’s something women call feminine wiles, but it’s mainly about seeing opportunities and steering men towards them.”

“It is sneaky.”

“Yeah—maybe, but it works.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1239

Tom arrived with his friend’s wife, Lady Diana Dawes—an elegant woman who was presumably younger than his friend. She looked to be in her late-fifties but it turned out nature had been kind to her and she was actually mid-sixties.

He brought her into the house, each of them carrying a moderate-sized suitcase. “This is my daughter, Di, Lady Catherine Cameron, but we all call her Cathy, Cathy, this Lady Diana Dawes, otherwise known as Di.”

I held out my hand, “Delighted to meet you,” I said and added, “Is it okay with you if we drop the prefixes—I’m plain Cathy.”

“I’m delighted to meet you, thank you for putting me up at such short notice, I’m Di and you are anything but plain, m’dear, you’re positively beautiful and charming with it.”

I blushed and nodded, “Would you like anything to eat or drink?” I asked.

“A good old fashioned cup of tea, would be most welcome, but d’you mind if I change first, I’d like to get out of these shoes, they’re killing me.” She was wearing a suit with a polo-necked jumper underneath, and fairly high heeled court shoes, which matched the shade of the suit almost perfectly.

“Of course, I’ll show you up to it.” I took her bag and Simon arrived to take the other off Tom after I’d introduced them.

She was quite taken with Julie’s bedroom, which is a bit hyper-girly, white lace-patterned wallpaper, frilly floral curtains, a brass bedstead with frilly, lacy bedding to match the curtains, a pink deep pile carpet, and opposite the mirror a picture of the pop group, Take That.

Di recognised the picture and said she liked the band and their music and was glad Robbie Williams was back with them although the rivalry with Gary Barlow was obviously a problem. I was dumbstruck, I’d heard of the band, some of my students had been fans and I knew Julie was for obvious reasons, but who the hell is Gary Barlow? I didn’t know him from Adam—Ant or otherwise.

She bent my ear for the next few minutes while I helped her hang up her clothes, some of which was really nice gear. She was apparently a partner in a dress shop, and although she didn’t have much direct input nowadays, she was still interested. I asked where her shop was and she replied, “Bond Street.” Only about the most expensive shopping area in London unless you include Jermyn Street. Lots of the area is owned by the Duke of Westminster, who is one of the richest commoners in the country.

It always struck me as self-contradictory that you could have a title, be an aristocrat and still remain a commoner. Apparently, one needs royal haemoglobin to be any other, so good old me, is still common despite me title, like.

“Wait until Julie learns you’re a Take That fan.”

“Why, what’ll she do, scream I’m too old?”

“On the contrary, she’ll think you’re brill.”

“Brill no, an old trout yes—” she laughed and I admit I smiled broadly at her. She had a good sense of humour. “Of course I like Take That, my alma mater is Manchester, where’s yours, somewhere posh like Oxbridge, I expect.”

“Sussex, neither clever nor wealthy enough for Oxbridge. Can’t say it bothers me.”

“Tom was singing your praises.”

“I hope not literally, once he starts on ‘Donald where’s your troosers?’ I know it’s time to get him to bed.”

“No he wasn’t actually singing, but he was telling me how you and your children have changed his life.”

“Yes, he doesn’t have a moment’s peace and quiet now.”

“He loves that part of it. You didn’t know his daughter, did you?”

“No, sadly, but I hear she was very gifted.”

“Indeed, despite the early problems over her gender identity, eventually Tom and Celia dealt with it and Cameron became Catherine and she didn’t look back. You remind me of her a little, but you’re more beautiful and more natural looking. She was also a bit uncomfortable in company—she was an academic first and last, and a social animal very much second. Still that’s all water under the bridge now, and I have yet to meet your teenage daughter or your other children. How many do you have?”

“Not including the baby, six.”

“Goodness, teenage to baby—quite a range—boys and girls, I take it.”

“One boy, five girls.”

“Goodness, a netball team.”

“I’m more into cycling than netball.”

“Ah yes, Tom said ages ago that you’d help beat Southampton in a bike race.”

“Yes, that was about the only time I’ve ridden competitively here.”

“Did you at Sussex?”

“Only some time trials—I wasn’t very good.”

“I’m sure you were, you don’t look like the type to do anything in half measures.”

“Um—I’m not sure I’d agree with you, anyway, if you’d like to change, I’ll get some tea organised.”

“You are so sweet, Cathy, I hope all your children take after their mother.”

“I’ll see you downstairs, the bathroom is through there if you need it, the white towels are yours.”

I left her to change and went down to a throng of faces, “Where is Wady Dawes?” asked Mima.

“Changing, she’ll be down soon enough, now I don’t want you pestering her—remember her husband is being held by bandits in India, so she must be very worried, and some horrible person has ransacked her home, which is why she’s staying here.”

“We’ll look after her, an’ protect her,” asserted Trish.

“She might prefer it if you kept out of her way.”

Trish pouted and folded her arms muttering, “Snot fair.” But then it never is with Trish. She sloped off to play with her computer.

Julie came down from her attic room, “She’s gonna take me to see, Take That, she knows them all.”

“Oh, so you don’t feel so badly about loaning your bedroom out?”

“Nah, I was only grumbling ’cos you expect it of me.”

“I’ll remember that the next time you do it.”

“She knows Robbie Williams—absolutely brill, or what?”

“Personally, I don’t have an opinion on Take That or Robbie Williams, certainly not one I’d share with you.”

“You’re such an old fuddy, Mummy.”

“I am not, I enjoy music too, you know?”

“Yeah, by dead composers.”

“Not all of it.”

“Okay, who d’you like who’s alive today—Cliff bloody Richard, I expect.”

“Um, Maddie Peyroux.”

“Who’s she, I mean someone big in this country.”

“Um, okay, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Michael Jackson…”

“They’re all dead or has beens, Mummy, try someone who’s a bit more with it.”

“I’m sorry, Julie, but those groups are amongst the greats of rock music and they can still outperform your constipated group of nonentities.”

“I s’pose you still like Elvis?”

“He actually had a very nice voice and could sing a bit although I can’t say I was a fan exactly.”

“Oh I was, he had the most beautiful eyes,” said a new voice.

“Oh children, this is Lady Diana, Lady Diana, this is Julie, whom I gather you’ve already met, this is Danny, Billie, Livvie and Mima. Trish is here somewhere and the baby is sleeping.”

“You really liked Elvis?” asked Julie looking greatly disappointed.

“Oh yes, when I was young, he was the hottest thing around.”

“What, better than Take That, an’ Robbie?”

“I suspect he could teach them a thing or two about singing, they didn’t call him The King for nothing.”

“What about The Beatles?” challenged Julie as if they were comparable.

“I had a real soft spot for them, especially after I met Paul McCartney.”

“You met Paul McCartney?” gasped Julie.

“Oh yes, they did a gig at Manchester University, I met them all, but he was the one I slept with…”

I thought Julie was going to have a stroke for a moment, mind you I had to say my heart quickened. This Diana Dawes was quite a gal.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1240

Trish eventually got introduced to Diana but she was still miffed at me for telling her off at dinner. I got the children to bed, and Jenny did the story, reading from a Gaby book. She went off to her room afterwards to watch a DVD of some chick flick.

I tried to persuade Julie to go as well, which Jenny was happy about, but she stuck to Diana like glue. Eventually, I had to ask her to go to bed to give Diana some space.

She had a glass of wine to end the day and we sat in the lounge while she declared that she really enjoyed meeting my children and it had helped take her mind off her current worries. I told her if there was anything I could do to help, she only had to ask. She thanked me but went off to bed after drinking her wine.

“Thae polis are doin’ extra patrols along thae main drag, sae we shuld be alricht.”

“I’m sure things will be okay, that room is virtually inaccessible from outside and I’ve switched the alarms on, except the movement-activated ones inside the house.”

“I’d like tae get ma hands on thae scunner wha broke into her hoose,” Daddy made an action with his hands which I suspect might have been used for terminating a chicken’s life. He was more agitated than I’d seen him for a long time.

“Daddy, please take care of yourself, I don’t want you ill again.”

“I’m alricht, I’m awa’ tae ma pit.” So saying, he began to climb up the stairs towards his bedroom.

“He’s taking this very personally, isn’t he?” Simon observed as we lay in bed that night.

“Sir Godrick is a good friend of his, and I suspect Daddy also fancies Di.”

“He’s not thinking unprofessorial thoughts about her of a carnal variety, is he?”

“How do I know?” I turned over on my side ready for sleep: I was absolutely whacked.

“Mind if I read for a bit?”

I didn’t and indicated it, I think I was almost asleep as I heard pages rustling. I sleep quite lightly since I’ve had the children living with me. At about two in the morning, I felt a small hand tapping my shoulder. I woke with a bit of a start. It was Trish—who else?

Simon was busy snoring behind me, “What are you doing out of bed?” I hissed at her.

“I think there’s someone funny in the garden.”

“What d’you mean?”

“I went to look out of the window to see if I could see the moon and I think I saw someone hide in the bushes.”

I scrambled out of bed. “Show me,” I hissed and holding my hand, she led me into her bedroom and to the window.

“In there, the big bush.” She indicated a rhododendron, which was certainly big enough to enable someone to hide in it.

I told her to watch it without being seen herself, while I slipped downstairs to find my image intensifier, hoping the battery still had some life in it. I nipped back upstairs and switched it on—it was on half charge. Standing in such a position that I could see out without being seen myself, I scanned as much of the garden as my viewer allowed. There was definitely something odd about that bush.

I crept around the room to view it from another window and saw the small flame as someone lit themselves a cigarette. There was no doubt we had an intruder. What do we do about it?

I called the police, asking to be put through to a senior ranking officer. “Who’s calling?” asked a man’s voice.

“Lady Catherine Cameron.”

“What’s the problem, Lady Cameron?” he asked in a tone which suggested he thought I was calling because one of the light bulbs had gone out and the butler was off duty.

“We have Lady Diana Dawes staying here, her house was ransacked this evening and you should be aware her husband has been kidnapped while on a business trip to India. He’s Sir Godrick Dawes and is Vice Chancellor of the university. We have an intruder in the garden.”

“How do you know it’s an intruder?”

“He just lit up a fag.”

“Okay—I’ll speak to the officer in charge, we’ll call you back.”

“If you call back here, apart from waking my children, you’ll warn him off. Call me back on this number and I’ll turn off the ring.” I gave him my mobile number.

“This is exciting, Mummy,” said Trish putting her arm around my waist.

“We need to wake Daddy up—you keep watch, look through here and press that button.” I handed her the image intensifier.

“Ooh, I can see him, Mummy.”

I snatched back the instrument and looked, she was right, he was scanning the house with some sort of handset from the safety of the bush. Possibly, something similar to what I was using.

I handed it back to Trish and went to wake Simon. It took him a moment to come to and a few more to understand what I was saying. “I’ve called the police, they’re ringing back on my mobile—hang on, that could be them.”

“Who else is likely to be ringing your personal phone at this time of the night?” he asked pointedly.

“Ah, wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Lady Cameron, this is Chief Inspector Cowan, can you still see the intruder?”

I went back to Trish’s room and she nodded, she could still see him.”

“Okay, there’s an armed response unit on its way on silent running, so you won’t hear any sirens or see any lights. The helicopter is on standby, but if we fly that overhead he’ll clear off because he’ll know we’re on to him or that you are.”

“Okay, what d’you want us to do?”

“Stay indoors, keep the lights switched off and all doors and windows locked.”

“That’s been done, d’you want me to switch off the alarms and lights?”

“No that’s okay, we’ll send in a couple of dogs first, they shouldn’t set them off anyway.”

“He’s moving about, he’s left the bush he was hiding in, he was scanning us with something?”

“You’ve got good eyesight?”

“I’ve got an image intensifier.”

“Okay, the car is nearly there, where is he now?”

“He’s moving towards the back of the house.”

“Okay, I’ve passed it on. They are actually outside your house, so keep indoors and don’t venture outside until one of our team says it’s safe.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t need to be caught in a crossfire.”

“Hopefully, one of our team will talk to you as soon as possible.”

I thanked him and rang off.

“What’s happening?” asked Simon now clad in jeans and sweatshirt.

“The cavalry have just arrived, they’re out at the front, he’s making off to the back.”

“What if he’s got a gun?”

“We stay in and leave it to the boys with flak jackets. They’ve sent an armed response unit and some dogs.”

“Are the dogs armed?” asked Simon.

“To the teeth,” I replied and he sniggered.

“The battery has run out, Mummy.” Trish handed me back the viewer.

“I’ll put it on charge, Si, can you warn everyone to stay indoors and away from the
windows.”

“Will do,” he went and knocked on Tom’s door, then Julie’s room which was occupied by Diana.

I was downstairs checking the doors and windows when I heard the first shots, some barking and more shots. Then shouts and more shots, finally in the space of a few minutes, the shots gave way to a motorbike being started and roaring off.

Now what? I wondered—

The Daily Dormouse Part 1241

There was a loud knock at the back door and when I asked who it was, they answered, ‘Police.’ I took a chance and opened it. “Looks like the intruder has gone, the helicopter is on its way so we might pick him up, someone will be along shortly to talk with you and Lady Dawes.”

“Is everyone all right?” I asked in case I could help.

“One of the dogs has been hit pretty bad.”

“Can I see him?”

“I wouldn’t advise it, ma’am, it’s not a pretty sight.”

“Let me see if I can help.”

“I don’t know…” I didn’t hear if he said anything else because I knew any help I could render would be eroded by time.

I found two of the police bent over the injured dog, and it was quite obvious the animal had lost quite a lot of blood, in fact he was barely alive. “Can you bring him into the house?”

“I think it’s too late for anything now except euthanasia,” opined one of the cops.

“Please humour me,” I said firmly enough for them to do as I asked. The dog squealed when they picked him up but they followed me into the kitchen and I laid an old sheet on the table and had them put the dying dog upon it. “Thanks, I’ll call if I need you.” They left after washing the blood off their hands.

“Okay, old fellow, let’s see if this works with dogs, I don’t see why not.” The dog eyed me suspiciously but the spark was rapidly diminishing in its eyes. “Trust me, boy.” I stroked his head and he shut his eyes. The blood was seeping from a large wound in its back, to which I applied pressure with a tea cloth, and I felt the energy flowing through me. The dog whined a little, it was probably hurting, but at least he was still alive.

My other hand felt for the entry wound, which I located in its chest—it was amazing the thing was still alive in view of the size of the wound. I covered the two wounds with my hands and felt a rush of power through them like I’d never had before.

Simon came in, saw the blood all over the floor and rushed off to the cloakroom where I could hear him retching. He has no stomach for gory things. My hands were now zinging with energy, my left one cold and my right one so hot it felt as if I’d have burns at any moment. The dog whined and wriggled on the table, but I held firm and told him to rest. Obviously, he was frightened and needed me to talk to him.

I chatted away to him, praising him and telling him to lie down. He tried to roll over but I held on to him and he lay still. He was panting very shallowly but now his breathing seemed to ease, and although he was still struggling for air, his breathing sounded easier and he wasn’t dripping blood from his mouth and nose. I’d stopped the haemorrhage in his lungs.

The rush of energy was slowing down and I checked the exit wound, it was much smaller and no longer bleeding. I switched hands and he whined again, the energy raised and flowed through the wounds the other way.

Ten minutes later, one of the police came in to say the vet was there to destroy the dog. I told him to wait. I was now working against the clock as much as anything. I called upon the energy to complete the job—the dog squealed and I nearly collapsed as this burst of energy flowed through me from head to toe and then out via my hands. I staggered away, and the dog rolled off the table and fell to the floor.

Thinking I’d failed I stepped away and opened the door for the vet to enter, when the dog rolled over and struggled to his feet, he walked out to the vet and wagged his tail, then sat and offered his paw to the animal medic.

“Is the one?” he asked the handler.

“Yeah, that’s Bismark.”

“What’s supposed to be the problem?”

“He was shot.”

“Where?”

“In the chest.”

“Where? I can’t see an entry wound.”

“There was huge one on his back, it was pouring blood.”

“Where? I can’t see one.”

“I saw it, I washed the stuff off my hands.”

“Well I can’t see any wound now, so I suggest you rest him up for a couple of days and bring him to me then. Get your eyes checked, too.” The irritated vet made his way out and I heard his car drive off.

“I don’t believe this, d’you mind if I check him myself.” I let him bring the dog back into my kitchen. “I know I saw him go down and part of his back flew off and the blood was everywhere.”

“Our eyes can deceive us in the dark.”

“I know it happened.” He stood up and looked at the sheet, there was no blood to be seen. “You changed the sheet.”

“I haven’t.”

“Where’s all the blood?”

“There isn’t any.”

“There must be, Collins and I were covered in it.” He glanced down at his uniform, there was no stain to be seen.

“I’m going gaga.”

“No, simply mistaken.”

“I could have sworn.”

“He’s a good dog, look after him, oh and I think you’ll find his bowel trouble will improve if you stop giving him eggs, he’s got a slight sensitivity to them.”

“That’s what my wife says.”

“Maybe you should listen. He’ll need a few days rest but should be okay afterwards.”

“What did you do to him?”

“I didn’t do anything, I simply asked him to get better because you loved him and he loves you. He did as I asked.”

“You can’t do tennis elbow, can you? It’s bin givin’ me ’ell for weeks.”

“Dunno.” I took his arm bent it up and straightened it rapidly and he squeaked and the dog growled momentarily, then wagged his tail at me. “Try that.”

He gingerly moved his arm, “Bloody ’ell, it’s better, how did you do that?”

“Misdiagnosis, it was just a bit of clogging on the tendon, I freed it.”

“What do I do about the dog? They all saw him hit.”

“Convince them they were mistaken, it didn’t happen, they just thought it did, an optical illusion, the dog was winded and hence fell down.”

“What if they won’t swallow it?”

“Convince them or the elbow will get very sore again.”

“Is that a threat?”

“No a prediction.”

“What are you, some sort of witch?”

“No, just an ordinary housewife who likes animals. But please keep this under your hat.”

“I’ll try.”

“Unless you want a sore elbow again, I’d do better than try.”

“That is a threat, isn’t it?”

“No, I told you: a prediction.”

“You realise I could arrest you under the witchcraft act?”

“They repealed it along with fraudulent mediums.”

“So you know your stuff, do you?”

“No, nor am I as stupid as you thought. Take care of your dog, he put himself on the line for you tonight, that bullet was meant for you.”

“Now I know you’re bullshitting me.”

“I wasn’t, there were two of them.”

“What?”

“The other one was in a fake police uniform but in the dark it fooled you, but not your dog. He’s smarter than you, so look after him, you may need his brains again some time. Oh and check how many cops were supposed to be there and if any went off after the shooter?”

“Holy hell, how did he pull that one off?”

“Simple, he stopped looking like a bad guy and began to look like a good one, and as soon as he did that you stopped looking for him.”

The bemused copper took his dog with him and I saw him load it and his other dog into the back of his van. He still looked stunned which wasn’t really surprising, I had just explained something which passed them all by and which I had seen as I worked on the dog, almost seeing it as if through the dog’s eyes.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1242

There was uproar in the house and I put the kettle on and finished cleaning up the kitchen while everyone eventually collected there; the children were sent back to bed after a glass of milk on the understanding they would brush their teeth again.

Finally, it was just the adults and Julie who were gathered round the table. I did suggest to Julie she would be tired tomorrow, but she simply ignored me. We drank our tea in silence, the odd word being uttered but no conversation, then it would go quiet again. Finally I broke the silence and asked Diana, “Just what on earth is going on with you, what are these guys after?”

“I don’t know what you mean, poor Goddie is a hostage in India and now you’re turning on me as well.” She began to sniff and put a hankie up to her eyes.

Tom glared at me and said, “Satisfied noo? I brocht her here for safety an’ ye’re mair dangerous than them?”

I wasn’t having any of it, she m vight fool Tom, who is occasionally an old goat when it comes to women, but I could see straight though her crocodile tears. “I’m sorry Diana, I’m well aware that your husband is a hostage in India—however, I don’t believe a word you’ve said since you told us you slept with Paul McCartney. You have something these guys want and it must be very important to you if it’s worth more than your husband’s life.”

She looked horrified at me and burst into tears, and Tom really erupted. “Wheesht, don’t ye dare upset ma friend like that, ye—ye wee hussy.”

“Can’t you see what’s happening, Daddy. This woman is endangering my family as well as her husband’s life. For what?”

“If ye’re bairns are so at risk, maybe ye’d better tak’ them an’ leave.”

“I don’t believe you just said that.” My stomach flipped when I realised what was happening.

“Weel, I did, sae whit ’re ye gonna dae aboot it?”

“Si, call the hotel, I’ll start packing. Sorry, Stella, but I suspect you might be included in this madness.” She stared back at me in total disbelief.

“What are you doing?” asked Simon as he followed me back to the bedroom.

“Packing, I suggest you do the same.” I began flinging clothes into cases.

“But this is madness.”

“Yes, but not on my part.”

“You were rather aggressive to that poor woman.”

“That poor woman is going to get us all killed.”

“You can’t be sure of that.”

“I’m as sure as I need to be to take some action. It isn’t just a coincidence that we are attacked the same night as her place is gone over and she comes here. Either what they want wasn’t at her house, or they missed it. But she knows exactly what I’m on about. If one of us is even scratched by whoever is after her, so help me, I tear her arms off and beat her to death with them.”

“You’re beautiful when you’re roused, d’you know that? Let’s make love—now, while your blood is up.”

“Simon, are you completely stupid—we have to pack, now either help me or get oota ma bloody road.”

“I’ll call the hotel.” He picked up the phone and began dialling; I packed a case for everyone.

“We’ll have to borrow the Mondeo, you’ll have to drive it, I’ll get as much as I can in Pepper, but it’ll be full of kids.”

“Will Tom be happy with that?”

“I don’t care if he is or not, it’s what’s happening.”

“I can’t believe you flew off the handle like that.”

“She’s full of shit, Si, can’t you see it?”

“I see an old woman whose hubby is a hostage a long way from home and who’s been violated by some burglar, and now caught up in violence here. How can you be so sure it’s her they’re after?”

“It is, I can feel it in my water, talking of which I need a wee—keep packing.”

I came back from the loo and he was sitting on the bed, “I’ve spoken with Tom, he says if you apologise, he’ll forgive you?”

“You did what? What sort of imbecile are you?”

“Steady on, old girl, there’s no call for that sort of language.”

“I’m going, tell Tom that as long as that old crone is here, I won’t be back.”

“Where d’you think you’re going?”

“I’m taking the children and I won’t be back.”

“Catherine, I forbid this.”

“Simon, go play wi’ yer sporran!” I manhandled three cases down the stairs and a small bag for each of the children. I stacked them outside the back door. I then woke each of the children and got them to pull a coat on over their jammies, and get ready to leave. I packed everything in the Mondeo. Stella packed loads in her Fiesta and Jenny offered to drive my Cayenne. Between us we loaded eight children into three cars, and as much luggage as we could stuff in around them.

“Where’re we going?” asked Stella, “Southsea?”

“No, follow me, it’s going to be a tad intimate but I want them all to stew until they see sense.” At five o’clock that morning we set sail for my bolt hole: Bristol.

Fortunately, we missed the rush hour traffic and the children slept most of the time, waking when we pulled up at my parents’ house—I should say, my house, but it’ll always be my parents’ house to me. I got them all unpacking the cars having let them in, while I went off to buy milk, bread, bacon and eggs—we were not going to starve and an hour later, with everything stacked in the middle of the lounge, I served bacon and eggs for everyone with mugs of hot tea to wash it down.

“What’ll I do about school?” asked Danny.

I looked at my watch—“Even if you ran all the way, you’d be late, so relax, you’ve got an extra day’s holiday.”

“Oh goodie,” he smirked.

I left Jenny and two of the girls to clean up after our breakfast while I organised the sleeping arrangements. There were two beds in the guest room, one in my old room, a double in my parents’ room and none in the room Dad used as an office. In the shed were some bed mats from our camping days, so if the four younger girls slept in the beds in the guest room, they were small enough to go two to a bed. Jenny could have my old room, Danny could use the old office with a sleeping bag and a bed mat, and Stella and I with babies could share my parent’s room. It was a squeeze but it could work; I explained it to Stella.

“Fine with me, I‘ve got a bed, but what about Julie?”

“Oh pooh.”

We went down and I tried to explain the sleeping arrangements, including a rota for sleeping on the lounge sofa. “Julie can share with me if she doesn’t mind sleeping on a camping mat,” offered Danny.

“I don’t know,” I wasn’t at all sure it was a good idea although they were both technically boys in the trouser department.

“We’ll share,” said Jenny, “Though I get the bed, you can use the bed roll.”

Julie nodded a little too quickly for my liking. I set them making beds and taking bags to designated rooms.

“I hate to sound mercenary, but am I being paid for this?” asked Jenny.

“Oh yes, don’t worry—I’ll pay you if Simon doesn’t and then claim it back from the divorce settlement.”

“Divorce? Goodness, Cathy, it won’t come to that will it?”

“If it does, I shall shaft him royally. His first loyalty should rest with his wife and children, not with some old slag who happens to know my professor.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1243

My mobile rang the next morning and it took me a moment to work out where I was and who was in bed with me. “Well answer the bloody thing then,” sighed a sleepy voice, which I recognised as Stella.

I picked up my Blackberry and glanced at the number calling me: no guesses required for whom I knew it to be. “What d’you want?” I said with irritation. I heard Stella say, “Charming,” very quietly behind me.

“Cathy, where are you all? When you didn’t go to the hotel I was beside myself with worry.”

“I didn’t think you cared, taking the side of that old crone against your wife.”

“Of course I care.”

“In which case you can buy us a house as quickly as you like, because I’m not going back to Agnew’s.”

“Agnew’s? He’s your father for God’s sake, treat him with some respect, please.”

“Why? When the chips were down, both of you abandoned me and the children.”

“No we didn’t, you just went off half-cocked again.”

“Has she told you what they’re after?”

“No, how d’you know that?—it’s pure speculation on your part.”

“Is it now? You’ll see I’m right.”

“You might well be, but your actions are still questionable, upsetting people like that.”

I was so angry I nearly disconnected him—on a permanent basis. “How dare you speak to me like that, you stupid man? When my children are at risk because some lying old has-been won’t tell us the truth, I expect you to do your duty and stand by us—we know where we stand now. I’ll start divorce proceedings tomorrow.”

“On what grounds? You’re the one who did the abandoning.”

“On the grounds that the degree of trust necessary had broken down by my husband’s irrational behaviour.”

“Listen to yourself, woman, now tell me who’s irrational.”

“Simon, there were men firing real bullets outside our house the other night because she won’t give them what they seek. When they kill her husband, I’ll quite likely suggest to the boys in blue that she’s an accessory after the fact.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, how can she be that if they kill him in a different country? She has no control over what they do, has she?”

“She has something they want and they’re prepared to get rough to find it. I’m not prepared to play along this time.”

“Well they didn’t come last night, so maybe your hunch is wrong this time.”

“Is that old crone still there?”

“Yes, she and Tom are breakfasting as we speak.”

“So why aren’t you?”

“I’m missing my wife and children.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“Yours, you’re the one who ran off in the middle of the night. Come on back, I’ll protect you.”

“The last time you did that, it was against two thugs who shared my student accommodation—ever since then, the shoe’s been on the other foot.” I thought back to those days, when the most difficult thing I had to cope with was him finding out my secret before I was ready to tell him—now look at us. Felt my eyes moisten, but I wasn’t going back there until she coughed up and he and Tom apologised big time.

“Okay, so I’ve been a disappointment, it’s not my fault my wife is more hot-tempered and violent than I am.”

“I care with passion, too bad you don’t. I’m going to start breakfast, goodbye.” I switched off my phone and almost threw it down, then realising that would be pointless, instead I picked up my whimpering and wet bottomed baby and hugged her. I changed her and clasped her to my breast and she hungrily sucked me dry. She was now having cereal and other solids as well as breast milk and she wasted no time in telling me she wanted part two of her breakfast. Down in the kitchen I listened to the heart-breaking appeal by the parents of the young woman who was murdered in Bristol at Christmas—a very odd case, like something out of Agatha Christie, it has to be someone she knew quite well and where was the booze and missing pizza she’d bought on the night of her disappearance?

Then my blood froze: ‘Police in Portsmouth are investigating the body of a man found in the garden of a property on the outskirts of the city owned by an academic. Details are very scarce but it’s been suggested that the man is of ethnic origin and he died of suspected gunshot wounds. No further information is forthcoming at this time. Now back to the furore about the News of the World and the phone tapping scandal.

Surely if that was Tom’s house, Simon would have told me, wouldn’t he? Coincidence? There are plenty of other academics in Pompey, however it worried me enough to call Simon.

“I’m on my way to work, what d’ya want?”

“It wasn’t Tom’s place where they found the body then?”

“What body—I know nothing about any body?”

“Apparently one’s been found in someone’s garden—the someone being an academic, gunshot wounds were mentioned too.”

“Didn’t listen to the news, the way this lot are screwing up everything, I can wait until I get to work before acquainting myself with what they’ve cut today. Oh, the crew of Ark Royal are marching through the city centre sometime next week.”

“They ought to sail that ship right up bloody Downing Street and bomb number bloody ten and Whitehall afterwards.”

“I think both are pretty well bombproof, and you got upset when I mentioned you were more aggressive than I am?”

“Oh back to that are we—I called because I was worried about you both.”

“Worried or curious? I have to go, work approacheth, bye.” He rang off before I could say anymore.

We had breakfast and I suggested we could take a trip to Weston-Super-Mare if the weather held. However, things were put on hold when a police car pulled up outside. It transpired it was Chief Inspector Cowan.

“You’re a difficult lady to speak with,” was his opening remark.

“I’d always prided myself on my approachability.”

“I’m sure you’re right, however, I expected you to be at the house in Portsmouth not absent without leave.”

“I wasn’t aware I needed yours or anyone else’s permission to visit my own house,” I said snottily.

“I’m sorry, I knew my facetiousness would get me into trouble one day—looks like it’s arrived. I thought we had agreed that I would interview you after the events of the other night. Whatever you did to that police dog has caused the handler to go on sick leave ever since. He’s claiming he had hallucinations and so did others, they thought the dog had been shot and was dying and a little later you answer the door to the vet and the dog trots out with you—didn’t something similar happen in a fire-fight at a farmhouse near Portsmouth a little while back?”

“How would I know?” I shrugged my shoulders.

“You were there and stole a tractor afterwards by all accounts.”

“Would I do things like that?” I protested my innocence.

“Apparently. Anyway, I’d like your take on what happened and how the shooter got away.”

So I told him that there were two, one impersonating a police officer enabled the other to get away.

“So that’s how they did it?”

“Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s what I saw.”

“With your little device?”

“Before the battery failed, yes.”

“Okay, will you be staying here for any length of time?”

“Until it’s safe to go home, yes.”

“Can’t say I blame you, but what if you were the target?”

“Why should I be?—It wasn’t my house that was ransacked the same day as the attack.”

“True.”

“I think a certain old lady holds the answers to all that, so I’d speak to her if I were you.”

“I would if we could find her.”

“What d’you mean—she’s staying at Professor Agnew’s home—isn’t she?”

“She left after breakfast, went home to collect some more clothes and was due to see someone at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about her husband’s predicament—no one’s seen her since and a body was discovered in her garden.”

“Yes, I heard something on the news about that, so it was her house?”

“Yes—I’ve probably told you more than I should, but I think I can trust you.”

“I’m flattered.”

“Yeah, well don’t let it go to your head, I can still arrest people if they piss me off.”

“I wouldn’t dream of doing so, Chief Inspector.”

“That isn’t what your reputation tends to suggest, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Oh? I’m sure it’s greatly exaggerated, like the deficit this bunch of clowns is pretending to cut.”

“Sorry, Lady Cameron, I don’t do politics—but shouldn’t you be supporting him, same clan and all that?”

“Apparently not—he comes from a different sept which reassures me somewhat.”

He laughed at my discomfort, which I’d asked for and he left after drinking a second cup of coffee, so where was the old bat and was Tom with her? I picked up the phone to find out.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1244

The phone rang and rang but no one answered it. I rang Pippa who told me that Tom had taken the day off. She also told me that the latest gossip had it, that Diana was trying to raise half a million pounds to ransom Godrick. If he was being ransomed then I would have thought the price would be higher than that. I hoped Tom wasn’t one of the donors, but knowing him, he probably was. It worried me that he was nowhere to be found and that Diana had also seemingly disappeared.

I expressed some milk while I was making my mind up in what to do. I’d promised the kids a day out, so Jenny and I took the children except Julie who went into Bristol with Stella. We went off to Weston and had a mooch about. The tide there disappears about half a mile from the actual beach—it’s on the Bristol Channel which has some of the highest daily rises and falls of tide in the world.

We got home again via a supermarket about five o’clock and it was getting dark although the nights were beginning to draw out a little, especially on a fine day like this had been. I made a stew and left it cooking whilst I tried to call Tom again. He still wasn’t answering. I rang Simon, he was grumpy, but then he admitted he wasn’t sleeping well without me. I waivered for a moment but decided to stay here at least another day. He also thought Tom was at home today unless he’d taken Diana to her place to get the clothes.

I asked him if he’d heard anything about the body found in her garden and said the police had been to see him but only because they were seeking Diana.

“No Susan, then?” I quipped.

“Susan? Who’s Susan?”

“The girl they were desperately seeking in the film.”

“What film?”

Desperately Seeking Susan.

“You talk a load of rubbish sometimes.”

“Is that why you love me?”

“Probably, why?”

“Just wondered, can’t think why I love you, but I do.”

“Come home then.”

“I can’t, I’ve got a stew cooking.”

“Not mutton?”

“Well they call it lamb these days but I suspect it probably died of old age.”

“Ooh, I haven’t had mutton stew since I was in school.”

“Yes you have, I’ve made it a few times.”

“Not when I was home.”

“Oh, maybe not then. Look, I’m worried about Tom.”

“I thought you’d disowned him?”

“No, he told me to leave, remember?”

“You did rather insult his guest and Hielanders take a dim view of bad manners.”

“He’s from Edinburgh, any further south and he’d have been a Sassenach.”

“So, he’s a Hielander in spirit.”

“Bollocks, he can’t stand midges, and his spirit is single malt.”

“Okay, okay.”

“You’re more of a Highlander than he is.”

I am? Of course I am, been to John of Groats twice.”

“There we are then, now where is Daddy?”

“This morning it was Agnew—what’s changed?”

“I’m worried about the old fossil, that’s what.”

“Have you tried his mobile?”

“He broke it, remember?”

“He dropped it as I recall, it was you driving that bloody behemoth running over it that broke it.”

“It was dark, how was I supposed to know he’d let it fall out of his bag as he carried stuff in? Anyway, that was a week ago, why hasn’t he replaced it?”

“Why are you asking me, he’s your father?”

“I know and I’m scared witless about him.”

“Did you say witless?” he chuckled.

“Yes, I did—which you heard perfectly.”

“You don’t usually succumb to propriety when talking to me.”

“Yes I do, you’re just trying to wind me up. I’ve got to go and sort this stew before the sheep gets out of it.”

“I love mutton stew—and the people who make it, byee.”

“Goodbye, darling.”

Fighting with Simon was almost worth it for the making up afterwards.

“Darling? You were gonna divorce him at breakfast—you’re so inconsistent, Cathy.”

“Stella dear, you shouldn’t eavesdrop.”

“I wasn’t, I happened to be coming up here anyway.”

“I can’t contact Tom.”

“Tried his mob—oh, you ran over that didn’t you?”

“Don’t you start.”

“Oh was big bruv having a go?”

“If making pointless statements about my driving ability and a mobile phone is having a go, then yes he was.”

“I’m not sure if you’re more sensitive about his comments on your driving or about the phone.”

“I’m not worried about either except it stops me ascertaining if Daddy is okay or not, or if he’s still with that old tart.”

“He likes her, so why keep calling her names?”

“Because she makes me sick—‘Oh Paul McCartney was the only one of the Beatles I slept with.’ Name-dropping old slag.”

“You’re jealous.”

“Jealous—of her? You must be joking, I can just see her now name-dropping—‘I caught clap from Clapton and syph from Simon and Garfunkle and leptospirosis from the Boomtown Rats.’ Nah, he’s worth more than that, besides she’s already married to his friend.”

Stella was still lying on the bed laughing—“You are completely potty, d’ya know that?”

“Wrong—if I was completely potty, I’d sleep under the bed.”

“Okay, I asked for that one. So where d’you think Tom is?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m going to call Jim.”

“Jim?”

“Yeah Jim Beck, he might be able to find him and also what’s going on with that woman.”

“He doesn’t exactly come cheap—a bit like your eldest daughter.”

“Why, what’s happened now?”

“Nothing, I just got caught for a coat and boots.”

“Whose fault is that?”

“I know, but she did look nice in them even if she won’t be able to walk far.”

“You didn’t buy her something with stupid heels, did you?”

“You wear them occasionally.”

“Very occasionally but my bones have ossified, hers haven’t yet. She’ll be crippled by the time she’s twenty-one.”

“Have you any vinegar?”

“Somewhere in the pantry, why?”

“If she soaks her feet in it she’ll have pickled bunions.”

“Very funny, Stella—God that is so old I didn’t see it being resurrected.”

“Beck.”

“Eh?”

“You said you were going to call Jim Beck.”

“Oh yeah,” I picked up my mobile and dialled. Stella changed and left the room as I waited for his phone to transfer to whichever number he was at—very sophisticated. Nice to know he’s spending my money so well.

“Beck, how can I help you, Lady C?”

I was taken aback for a moment then realised he had my mobile number on his phonebook. “Hi, Jim, I need some help…” I explained my concern and the event which caused it.

“So you think this Diana woman is concealing something which these guys want back and Tom is caught up because he fancied her a hundred years ago?”

“Make it two hundred and you’re about right.”

“So where does the body in the garden figure in your theory?”

“It might be coincidental,” I argued weakly.

“Oh yeah, I find dead bodies in mine all the time.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me one bit.”

“Cathy, I’m not some sort of psycho with a blood lust.”

“I’m only joking, James.”

“So you want me to see if I can put some feelers out and find your dad?”

“More or less, yes.”

“It’ll cost you.”

“I know.”

“Consider it done. How long are you staying in Bristol?”

“I don’t know, d’you think I should go back?”

“I don’t know either, perhaps you could come back but couldn’t Stella and Jenny cope with the kids without you for a few hours?”

“I’m still feeding the little one.”

“Give her a bacon sarnie and she won’t even know you’re missing.”

“Long experience in baby care have you?”

“Yeah, but they all seemed to choke t’ death for some reason, never worked out why.”

“I’m sure.”

“I’ll let you know when I hear anything.”

“Thanks, Jim.”

“See ya.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1245

A little after I spoke with Jim Beck, I had a call from Chief Inspector Cowan, “Sorry to disturb you, Lady Cameron, but I’ve been unable to contact Professor Agnew, I wondered if you might know where I might be able to speak with him.”

“Sorry I don’t. His mobile was broken and he isn’t answering his home phone.” I blushed as I remembered running over his phone.

“Okay, thanks for your time.”

“Oh, Inspector, sorry, Chief Inspector, any news on the body found in Diana Dawes’ garden.”

“I can’t tell you anything about that, Lady Cameron, but the rumours may just have a hint of truth in them.”

“About ethnic minorities and gunshot wounds?”

“I couldn’t have put it more succinctly.”

“One last thing, if you do find Tom, please ask him to give me a ring to know he’s okay.”

“That, I will do. Goodnight, Lady Cameron.” He rang off.

“So where d’you think Tom is?”

“I have no idea.” We were talking in bed, having just sorted out the two wains and were hoping they’d sleep all night.

“With this Diana woman?”

“Could be, or lying dead in a ditch.”

“Don’t say things like that, Cathy, it could be tempting providence.”

“Sometimes you are so superstitious, Stel, it’s frightening.”

“You’re not I suppose.”

“Course not, touch wood.” She laughed at my joke and I switched the light off.

“Have you tried sending him blue light and then following it?”

“No I haven’t.”

“Worth a try?”

“I’ll try it in the morning when I feel a bit less tired.”

“Oh, okay. Are we doing anything with the kids tomorrow?”

“Yeah, you can look after them and Jenny and I will go shopping.”

“Don’t forget to leave me the keys to their cages then and sufficient straightjackets.”

“Okay,” I replied sleepily, “What?”

“I thought I’d take them to the zoo, which department will be most likely to adopt them?”

“The lions and tigers, should get one good meal out of them.” I felt myself drifting off.

I was walking then running, as if I was trying to get somewhere in a hurry but where and why, I had no idea. I was following these road signs, blue arrows which seemed to have some relevance to my destination so I went where they directed.

I felt so tired, all this walking and running was really sapping my energy, I wished I had my car or even a bicycle. Where was I going and why? Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the answer to both of these, but I couldn’t seem to bring it forward.

I met a man as I was walking past a very nice garden: he looked Indian or Pakistani but I could have been wrong. “Vere are you going?” he asked me with a definite Indian accent.

“What’s it to you?”

“I vant to find her.”

“Who’s that?” I asked.

“Her, the same one you’re looking for, she killed me.”

“Who killed you?”

“She did.”

“I’m not searching for her, I’m looking for my father.”

“He’s with her, he doesn’t know she killed me, he doesn’t know he’s in danger.”

“But if she killed you, and he’s with her, how come he doesn’t know?”

“She’s wery clewer.”

“Why did she kill you?”

“Because I demanded it back.”

“It—what is it?”

“Look towards the dawn,” he said and when I turned round he was gone.

“Who’s Dawn?” asked Stella, nudging me.

“Who?” I yawned.

“You were talking in your sleep, something about Dawn—who is she?”

“I’ve no idea.”

“You said, ‘look for Dawn’.”

“I don’t know anyone called Dawn.”

“Oh, sorry,” she turned over without any further explanation and went back to sleep, whereas I tossed and turned for an hour trying to work out who Dawn was. I woke up just before seven—I know, I sound like Snow White—suddenly realising what it meant. I sat up and Stella groaned, “It’s all right for you, I haven’t slept a wink all night.”

“Who was that snoring and twitching, then?”

“I don’t snore or twitch.”

“Next time you sleep with Gareth, ask him the next morning—no, better not, he’ll be off like a rocket.”

“Such calumny, you’re a wicked woman, Catherine Cameron.”

“I thought you’d never notice.”

“Me? I miss nothing.”

“Except the point.”

“Meaning what, exactly?”

“It’s self-explanatory.”

“Self inflammatory?”

“If you like. C’mon, I’m starving.”

After breakfast, I set up my laptop and went on to the Ordnance Survey website and called up a map of Portsmouth. I then scrolled due east from where we live—in the direction of the dawn. “Chichester or Bognor Regis?” I said out loud, and Trish who was standing nearby asked what I was doing.

“Oh, I had a funny dream and was trying to make some sense of it.”

“Have you Googled it, Mummy?” and before I could reply, she reeled off this list of Chichesters, from the place to individuals, including the yachtsman, Sir Francis.

“Thank you, darling, that’s given me an idea. I got my bag and looked through my address book. I was right, I did know someone called Chichester, now, how to phrase my question to them and try to make it sound normal.

‘Hi, Terry, remember me, I used to be called Charlie—’ nah, I don’t think so, besides I don’t think he ever met Charlie. However, something in me allowed my fingers to operate by themselves and before I knew it, I was dialling a number—his number—oh pooh.

“Hello?” said a voice, a very masculine voice.

“Is that Terry Chichester?” I asked, knowing full well it was.

“Yes, who’s that?”

“Cathy Cameron.”

“Who?”

“I was called Cathy Watts.”

“Oh, the dormouse woman.”

“You remembered, I’m impressed.”

“Only because I saw your prof yesterday.”

“Oh, where was that?”

“On the M3 services, he was with some old lady, at least I think she was with him.”

“Probably, he mentioned something about giving someone a lift—what time was it?”

“About six, I think. So, to what do I ascribe this call?”

“It’s about the mammal survey,” I lied.

“What about it?”

“Have I had your returns?”

“Hardly, I’m an ornithologist, remember?”

“Yes I know, with a particular interest in owls.”

“Yeah, so why are you contacting me?”

“Don’t you do regular analysis of pellets?”

“Yeah, so?”

“If I send you some forms could you record which mammals your birds are eating?”

“I could I suppose.”

“You’re a good man, Terry. I’ll get some sent to you.”

“Is that it?”

“Yeah, just trying to work out how to plug any gaps in my records system.”

“Yeah, send me some and we’ll start recording kills, although the sites will be vague.”

“That’s fine—thanks a lot, regards to Gillian.”

“We divorced a year ago, Cathy.”

“Oops, sorry about that—I’ll send some forms, byee.”

“Who was that, Mummy?”

“Someone I knew from the British Trust for Ornithology, he saw Gramps heading towards London.”

“How did you know to speak with them—quite a long shot?” said Stella when I told her what I’d gleaned, “I mean, out of sixty million individuals in this country you pick on the only one you knew who also knew Tom and who’d seen him yesterday. Some coincidence if you ask me.”

“I’m not asking you, but it looks as if they were headed towards London.”

“Well that’s where the M3 goes, so yeah, it’s a reasonable assumption if you ask me? Wasn’t she going to the Foreign Office?”

“She had an appointment there but I don’t know if she ever got there.”

“D’ya think someone got to her first?”

“I wasn’t actually, I was wondering if she killed the man found in her garden and if so, how safe is Tom in her company?”

“If she’s on the run, she’s not going to meet civil servants, is she?”

“I thought that was implicit in what I just said.”

“Yeah, so? I was making it explicit.”

Sometimes I wonder about Stella.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1246

I sent Jim a text telling him that Diana and Tom were seen heading towards London. Had one back reminding me that they’d have encountered the M25 first and that could mean anything.

For those not in the know, the M25 is the London orbital motorway or world’s first circular car park. It has exits in all directions, so they could have been heading for Kent or Oxford, or even the M1 and be going to Newcastle. So, in short, we had no idea where they were.

Whilst I was anxious for Tom, Diana seemed to have a soft spot for him and he certainly did for her, so I hoped she wouldn’t harm him. I’d also not had any negative sort of feeling when thinking about him, though I hadn’t been able to tune into him and follow the blue light towards him. That puzzled me. I’d healed on him a couple of times, in fact kept him alive when he would normally have died, so why couldn’t I find him? The answer that kept coming to my mind was simply that he was blocking me, he didn’t want me to find him or he didn’t want to think of me—perhaps some form of denial.

Jim hadn’t made any sort of progress as far as I could tell, and Simon had collected the dog and gone to stay at the hotel in Southsea. He assured me it was so he’d get his laundry done and some easy meals, not because he was nervous about being in the house by himself.

While the others played with a ball they found in the garden, Trish and I did some Internet searches. The first thing we found was that Sir Godrick went out to India every year about this time of year promoting the university and hoping for some customers from the Indian elite who wanted their children to have a degree from a British university.

Then we started to look through the archives of Indian newspapers for potentially suitable crimes. I wanted to sleep after an hour of mind numbing stories and my eyes kept closing. We had three possibles—a sculpture which had been taken from a temple, a load of money had been taken from a bank heist, which wasn’t a serious inclusion but it did help to me to stay awake, and Trish liked the story of a flock of goats being stolen. I doubted that Lady Dana was keeping those in her bedroom, but Trish did mean well.

“Oh I’m sick of this, Trish, let’s face it we don’t know for certain that anything was taken, do we?”

“No, Mummy, but what were those men after?”

“I don’t know, kiddo, but I doubt very much it was to collect unpaid parking fines.”

“Oh look, Mummy, here’s a story about a Di stone.”

“Oh? Let me see,” I crossed to her computer and read the following.

Police are baffled by the theft of a famous emerald locally known as the Princess Di stone, or the Green Princess after it was rumoured that a lover of the late English princess had offered an undisclosed amount for the stone to the temple which owns it. The stone was currently mounted in a statuette of the god Ganesh, in a temple near the bustling city of Mumbai.

The theft was not noticed for several days because of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai the same day, as it was suspectedly taken when police manpower was fully occupied with dealing with the attack.

Rewards have been offered for information resulting in the recovery of the priceless jewel and conviction of the perpetrators.

The story was dated the thirtieth of November 2008. It was a possible link, but it was two years ago. Perhaps no one had been prepared to buy it and then along comes a millionaire businessman and hears it called the Di stone and buys it for his spoilt spouse. Could be, but is very unlikely.

I left the computer while Trish continued looking, and went to organise some lunch. Why had the men come to the house? I wasn’t sure but I didn’t think it was collecting for charity. However, after lunch, I discovered there was a big Ganesh festival in Mumbai every year. That didn’t mean anything in itself but it seemed to make me feel less sceptical than my first thoughts did. It was a long shot, but I called Henry and asked him to recommend someone who would know if the stone had ever been recovered. I also asked him if he could find out if Diana had ever made her Foreign Office meeting.

I had to agree to have dinner with him the next time he was down in Portsmouth. He drives such a hard bargain, I mean, it doesn’t taste the same unless I cooked it and washed up afterwards, does it? No, it tastes ten times better when someone else does it.

I rang some central London number and found out it was some high-powered civil servant in the Foreign Office, Mr Adam Romsey-Smith. He was charming and courteous and listened to my ramblings and theory.

“I expect you think I’m nuts, but I’m desperately trying to find my father, Professor Agnew, who was last seen with this woman, and her husband has been kidnapped in India.”

“As we have little information about any of this, your theory sounds as good as any. Lord Stanebury did mention the jewel business and as far as we know it’s never been recovered. It’s supposed to be huge for an emerald and worth thousands even millions on the black market, but it’s such an unusual stone, you could never show it to anyone, so what’s the point in having it?”

“But that doesn’t stop art thieves does it?” I argued, “They can’t possibly show anyone they pinched this or that painting or bought it illegally, yet they still get stolen.”

“Yeah, but they often sell them back to the insurer to save them money, it’s better to pay half a million dollars for a Rembrandt and recover it than twenty million because it hasn’t been found.”

“So is this stone insured?”

“I doubt it, but recovery might result in a reward from the Indian government. Would you like me to put out some feelers?”

“No, because I don’t know if that’s what it’s all about, it could be something completely different, I have been wrong before.”

“You’re the first woman I’ve ever heard say that,” he teased.

“You’re the first civil servant I’ve spoken to who didn’t sound like a stuffed shirt.”

“I think that may be a compliment, so I’ll accept it as one.”

“It was meant as one, if it perhaps didn’t sound quite as flattering as it might have done.”

“If you think I can help or want to enquire about a reward, let me know.”

I thanked him and rang off. I’d just put the phone down when it rang and I picked it up hesitantly. “Hello?”

“Why didn’t you let me know you were Bristol, I’ve got a contract I need you to read and an offer for you to front a documentary for German TV.”

“German TV, I don’t speak English that well, let alone German.”

“They show some English stuff but they also make stuff for selling abroad and I think they’ve got a deal with the Aussies.”

“What do the Aussies want with me, I don’t know anything about wombats and kangaroos.”

“Read the contract, I’ll drop it in later.”

“I’m not sure what we’ll be doing later, Erin.”

“If I see your little Mercedes or Simon’s Jag, I’ll know you’re home.”

“Simon’s not here and I’m not driving the Mercedes at the moment.”

“Oh, you haven’t left him already?”

“No, it’s a long story and I’m not prepared to discuss it on the phone.”

“Quite right too, luvvie, you never know if the News of the World are listening on a phone tap.”

“With my luck it’s more likely to be GCHQ or the CIA.”

“I’ll see you later,” she said and rang off before I could refuse. Oh well, if we’re out that’s her hard luck.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1247

Erin came round and as we weren’t actually doing anything, I could hardly turn her away. I glanced at the contract she’d brought: I had to do a series of documentaries on different types of habitat, including the Great Barrier Reef, some tropical forest near Darwin and one on the wildlife of the Australian Outback.

“Why do they want me? I’d have thought there had to be some Aussie woman who could do it as well if not better than I?”

“I told ’em you were the best and they were impressed by your dormouse film.”

“How can I do anything on the Barrier Reef, I’ve never scuba dived, nor intend to.”

“Don’t limit yourself like that, Cathy. You might really enjoy it.”

“Don’t I get a say in what I want to do with my life?”

“Of course you do.”

“So if I say I don’t want to be eaten by a great white while drowning off the coast of Australia, can you see some pattern emerging?”

“Yeah, you’re worried you might end up polluting the seas near the reef with your blood.”

“Actually if I knew there were great whites nearby, I might be secreting other body fluids.”

“Great whites aren’t that dangerous, I’m sure much of it is mythology.”

“They’re pretty dumb creatures who can’t tell a scuba diving human from an elephant seal, which is thought to be why they attack.”

“Maybe they should have gone to Specsavers?” offered Stella, which cracked the kids up.

“Why do they attack surfers?” asked Erin.

“Presumably because they look like or sound like injured fish or mammals and the sharks come by for an easy feed.”

“See, you could do a programme on the reef.”

“Only if you could guarantee a pod of killer whales as bodyguards, and not the one from Miami who drowns people for fun.”

“Killer whales, they sound vicious, Mummy,” said Trish sitting near me.

“No, apart from the couple of deaths which have occurred in captivity, I don’t think there’s any evidence to say that Orcas are dangerous to man—or woman for that matter, and they are known to hunt and kill sharks.”

“See, you do know something about the sea,” claimed Erin.

“Yeah, it’s wet and cold.”

“What about the Saggiosso Sea, Mummy?—It’s full of seaweed and elvis.” Trish had this wonderful habit of reading so quickly she missed words or misread them.

“I think you might mean the Sargasso Sea, which is part of the mid-Atlantic, near a place called the Doldrums because of the lack of wind, and is also possibly part of the Bermuda Triangle. I suppose it’s possible that that’s where Elvis really is, but I think you might mean elvers, which are baby eels.”

“Is it true that all eels spawn there and then die?” Julie was awake.

“Not all, some die before they get there. But it’s commonly held that the Sargasso is where many eels spawn.”

“Ooh get you, brainbox,” Danny was gently prodding his sister.

“If ya got it, flaunt it,” said Julie and waggled her bum which had the other kids in hysterics,

“I don’t think you’re taking this job seriously, are you?” Erin said to me.

“No, I don’t want to do it.”

“What about if I get a revised offer.”

“To do dormice in the UK, yeah fine. I have nothing against Australia other than they tend to beat us in cycling races, but I don’t want to go there and leave half a dozen waifs and strays behind.”

“Does that include Simon?”

“Probably, the children are self-sufficient.” My mobile rang and I excused myself to answer it. “I thought I told you never to call me at work,” I said crossly to the caller.

“Work? Sorry, I assumed you were having a few days out,” I could hear the surprise and embarrassment in Jim’s voice.

“I am, I’ve always wanted to say that to someone.”

“Next time tell someone else, I nearly rang off and told you where to go.”

“It wasn’t Coventry, was it?”

“Good Lord, no. I don’t dislike you that much.”

“Oh good, I don’t like the Godiva range of clothing they do up there.”

“Maybe I will send you there…”

“Oh don’t,” I whined.

“Okay, they were seen in London yesterday using a cash machine in Camden Town.”

“Do they have ATMs there?”

“Yes, it’s not bloody Mayfair where people are too posh to use money.”

“What do we do now?”

“Sit and wait, without knowing where they might be we’d be wasting time and resources.”

“Didn’t Godrick buy some dilapidated place in London, near Greenwich?”

“Camden and Greenwich are nowhere near each other, they’re on opposites sides of the river to start with.”

“Oh, but they could be using tubes or buses to get about, couldn’t they?”

“Meaning?”

“Well, they could be staying in Greenwich and caught the bus to Camden Town, couldn’t they?”

“Why? It would take ages to cross that much of London without a cab.”

“Okay, maybe they used a cab.”

“Yeah and maybe they’re staying somewhere else, like Camden Town or Islington or even Regent’s Park.”

“Isn’t that all zoos and institutions?”

“Not all, there are people living there too, and they could have friends there.”

“In the zoo?”

“Tom might have, but I’m beginning to feel all your friends must be little pixies and fairies.”

“Why d’you say that?”

“Because you sound as if you’re having a serious problem with reality here.”

“Don’t you start, it’s bad enough listening to my children, they think I’m crazy.”

“They might just be right.”

“Don’t forget I’m paying your fees.”

“I won’t, don’t worry. I have to go and try a few more searches. I’ll let you know if I find anything.”

“Okay—Jim, have the police put out any sort of notice on Diana, yet?”

“A low key one. They still can’t believe she shot anyone.”

“I’m not so sure about that—surely they don’t think Tom did—do they?”

“Not that I’m aware, but I can’t say they’re telling me much at the moment.”

“But don’t you have this code of honour thing?”

“You’ve been watching too many poor detective films—we use each other, like gay liaisons, then disappear into the night.”

“Oh, I hope you don’t get shafted then.”

“Um—no, I’m definitely a top, not a bottom.”

“He was the weaver, wasn’t he?”

“I wasn’t using a capital letter.”

“Sorry, I don’t understand.”

“You’re a grown woman, think about it—I have to go.”

I switched off my phone and mused over what Jim had said and what I’d said first. I was blushing furiously when Erin came out to say she had to go. She took the contract with her saying something about seeing if Rolf Harris was available before she disappeared in a cloud of expensive perfume.

Stella came out, “I wondered where you were.”

“Jim called, they’ve been seen in Camden Town.”

“Oh, so they are in London, then?”

“They were, they could be anywhere now. Stella, have you heard the expression top and bottom?”

“Yeah, it’s an old saying.”

“No a modern one about sex preferences?”

“Oh that, yeah, it’s about active and passive roles in gay men, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. Jim just mentioned it and I hadn’t heard it before, it confused me for a moment.”

“Oh, I’d have thought it was pretty self explanatory.”

“It is now I think about it, I just hadn’t heard it before let alone thought about it.”

“Oh well you learn something new every day,” she said before breezing off to get something from her car.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1248

(For the dodecaphiles 104 dozen)

Simon rang on his way back to the hotel from work. He was okay and had left a note for Tom to phone one of us if he was home, but there was nothing as far as he could tell. One of the chambermaids walked Kiki everyday and she seemed happy enough.

“I suppose I ought to tell you that I’ve engaged Jim Beck to find Daddy and that woman.”

“You sound like a woman scorned or betrayed—which is it today?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“I’ve got loads of paperwork to do, so perhaps it’s just as well I’m not going to be distracted by loads of children.”

“You sound as if you regret us having them.”

“Not one bit, but I have got a load of work to do. So Beck is going to find them for you, what’ll you do then—have him kill her, for you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Am I? There’s a school of thought which believes she killed that poor Indian chap found in her garden.”

“What’s that got to do with me?”

“What if she does the same to Tom?”

“Then I’ll make sure she rots in prison.”

“Oh, I’d have thought you’d be looking for revenge.”

“I would be but I have several children who I think would have a better chance if they had a mother and a father bringing them up, rather than a lone father. So I have to moderate my initial impulse to do what’s right, and if she’s guilty, she needs to be found so by a court of law.”

“And if they don’t?”

“Let’s not prejudge things.”

“Okay, whoever you are, let me talk to my wife.” I knew he was teasing me and I was determined not to take the bait.

“Simon, I have to go, I have a dinner to prepare and we haven’t killed the chicken yet.”

“You, kill a chicken?—Hah, you couldn’t do that except by accident.”

“I’m going to kill several.”

“Are you now?”

“Yes, I’m doing Spanish omelettes for dinner.”

“Very funny.”

“Well, destroying an egg is effectively killing a chicken.”

“Only if it was fertilised.”

“I’ve had them standing in fertiliser all day.”

“Oh well that’s definitely done the trick, if you sat in it all night maybe it would make you…oh never mind, I’m looking forward to my dinner.”

“What did you mean? If I sat in a tray of fertiliser all night it might make me fertile, is that what you meant?”

“I was simply thinking a concept through without thinking of the consequences.”

“If you said that to someone in the bank, they could discipline you.”

“I’m well aware of that, I helped draft the policy and before you ask, long before I met you.”

“Oh, I’m nearly impressed.”

“What d’you mean, nearly impressed?”

“If you hadn’t made that silly remark, I’d have been impressed but because you did, it shows that some part of you finds me an object of derision. Looks like I’ll be staying here a bit longer.”

“I’m sorry, it was just a half-cocked, um—I didn’t mean that personally—I said it before I thought what I was saying. I’m sorry, I wouldn’t hurt you for the world because you are my world.”

“Fertility is just as big an issue with women as it is with men you know, and before you go on about my having made a decision which included becoming infertile, and which I don’t regret, it still rankles. I’d love to have been the mother of my own children in every sense.”

“I know that, Cathy, and we all wish you could have been, but it isn’t going to be so move on and leave that stuff behind. You’re every bit a mother to our children, so stop living with regrets—you’re luckier than some women who never get to experience motherhood in any shape or form.”

“When was a kid, I used to pass a woman who sold the Evening Post from a pitch near the market, she had awful scarring on her face and it used to frighten me when I was very young. It looked like burns on her face and she was badly disfigured but I envied her because she was female and I wasn’t.”

“But that’s crazy, I’ll bet she’d envy you now, wouldn’t she?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen her for years, she could be dead for all I know. She was there in all winds and weathers and she smoked like a chimney and swore like a trooper.”

“Cathy, you must move on—stop envying others, just accept who you are and what you’ve got—you’ve done better than many women, including many who can reproduce. Look, when I was about eighteen, there was this gorgeous blonde who used to come to school to help her mum who was one of the cleaners. She was absolutely drop-dead gorgeous with a face and figure to fuel many a schoolboy’s bedtime fantasies and probably dirtied many a sheet or pyjama bottoms. I’d have given my right arm to have spent a night with her.”

“There’s a but coming, isn’t there?”

“Yes, a sad one, she got meningitis and died at age seventeen—the whole school was devastated, ask Stella if you don’t believe me, ask her about Debbie Sweetman. Right, I have to go, I’m at the hotel—why don’t you all come here? I do miss you.”

“What about your paperwork?”

“I could finish that in a couple of nights.”

“Ask me when you have, I’ll see how I feel then.”

“Fair enough, I do love you, you know?”

“I know and I love you too, but I need to find Tom as my priority.”

“Let me know what Beck costs, I’ll go halves with you.”

“That’s very sweet of you, darling, but I expect I’ll manage.”

“The offer is on the table, gotta go…” His signal broke up and I switched off my phone.

“You’re popular today,” observed Stella.

“Who’s Debbie Sweetman?” I asked her.

“Who’s who?” she replied.

“Debbie Sweetman, Simon said you’d know her from school.”

“Nah, no one of that name in our house.”

“She worked there according to him.”

“Nah, not that I can recall. There was one young woman who worked there with her mum, she died with meningitis I think, about seventeen—dunno her name.”

“That was her.”

“Was it? Very pretty girl, a total wet dream for the boys and one or two of the girls none of us sat next to.”

“Eh?”

“Creepy Claire was one and Lizzie Lesbo was another.”

“Lizzie Lesbo? Surely that wasn’t her name, was it?”

“No, it was Dike—can you believe it, a dyke called Dike.”

“You’re making it up.”

“I’m not, we also had a boy called Fairey, dunno if he was one or not, Simon might know.”

“I can’t say I’m interested one way or another.”

“Nah, it’s not news is it, but in the hot house environment of a boarding school it was big big news.”

“Any sort of gossip amongst adolescents can make or break individuals, look at all these bullying cases using the Internet and mobile phones—kids kill themselves.”

“It happened at school too, a boy hanged himself because he was found wearing girl’s knickers he’d stolen from their laundry. They called him all sorts of names and then were so upset when he killed himself.”

“Because they felt guilty, or had no one to torment?”

“I don’t know, probably the latter thinking about sixteen-year-old psychopaths.”

“I wish I knew where Tom was and that he was okay.”

“Yeah, me too—you snore.”

The Daily Dormouse Part 1249

My mobile rang again, “Hello?”

“Cathy, it’s Jim, they’ve found Tom’s car.”

“Where is it?”

“At Heathrow.”

“Heathrow?” I gasped.

“Yeah, as in airport, West London, any more clues needed?”

“I know where it is; what’s it doing there?”

“Accumulating parking fines at a guess.”

“Okay, smart arse, why is it there?”

“I could say because someone parked it there, but I won’t. People often dump cars in long-stay car parks.”

“Dumped—where’s Tom?”

“I don’t know, but at least he isn’t lying in the back of it with a bullet somewhere important.”

“Oh my God, you’ve got to find him.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“Oh God, I was worried before, now I’m frantic.”

“Look, I’m liaising with the police, they’ve got forensics looking at the car to see if we can learn any more from it. The good news is there isn’t any obvious sign of violence.”

“Meaning?”

“It wasn’t used to transport bodies—leaking blood or other fluids.”

“You’re a great comfort, I don’t think.”

“Cathy, you’re a scientist, I deal with lowlifes, I’m sorry but these things happen even if they do upset your hygienically clean little world.”

“What are the chances you’ll find them alive?”

“I don’t know, evens maybe. The good thing is they don’t appear to be dead yet, so keep on in there.”

“I’m coming back to Portsmouth.”

“When?”

“As soon as I’ve packed.”

“Wouldn’t you be better waiting until tomorrow?”

“No, I won’t sleep anyway.”

“Yeah, but the others might, if you don’t tell them.”

“Okay, I’ll wait until the morning.”

“That’s better, any more news and I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks, Jim, please do—good or bad.”

“Okay.”

I got the kids off to bed and a little later Jenny took me to one side. “C’mon spill it, you’ve been like a cat on hot bricks since that phone call, what’s happened?”

“Okay, we’re going back to Portsmouth in the morning. They’ve found Daddy’s Freelander.”

“Oh good, where?”

“Heathrow airport.”

“Oh, has he fled the country with her?”

“I doubt it, immigration would almost certainly have picked them up.”

“I thought they weren’t being chased, actively at any rate?”

“I don’t know about that, but I suspect if they’d try to leave the country the police would like to ask them why.”

“She could be going to negotiate with her husband’s kidnappers.”

“I doubt it, besides he’s dead.”

“Oh, when did they say that?”

“They didn’t, I just know it.”

“Oh, could you be wrong?”

“Usually not, but I hope so.”

“Oh, so she could be going out to a trap then?”

“Jim isn’t sure she’s fled the country, people often dump cars at such places because it muddies the water, makes the trail harder to follow.”

“I thought all these places had CCTV?”

“They may well do, but it could take hours to find anything from that.”

“So we go back tomorrow?”

“I am, and I’ll have to take the wain with me, I suspect the others will probably want to come too. If they don’t and you wish to stay here, feel free.”

“Nah, I’ll come back with you tomorrow, you’ll need me to drive one of the cars.”

“True, where’s Stella?”

“Gone to bed, she was chatting with Gareth on her mobile, quite racy at times too.”

“Poor Stella, she deserves some happiness.”

“Absolutely,” agreed Jenny.

I went up to bed half an hour later and Stella was reading. I told her we were going home tomorrow and about the car.

“Oh I’ve read about cars being dumped like that—the flies give it away.”

“Give what away?”

“The dead body in the boot.”

“There is no body in the boot.”

“Not this time.”

“What d’you mean, this time?”

“The bad guys didn’t do it this time.”

“Stella, I’m worried sick already—I don’t need nightmares about Daddy being found in the boot of the car.”

“I was just saying…”

“Yeah, well so am I.” I got into bed and lay back, “I’m going to try and sleep, I’d like to get off as soon as we can tomorrow.”

“You want me to stop reading?”

“Not particularly, but I’d like everyone up earlyish so we can wash the bedding and tidy up before we go back. It’s supposed to be a better day tomorrow.”

“So will I have time to dash into town and get something I saw in Park Street?”

“Is it important?”

“I’d like to get it.”

“Once we get the beds stripped, then I suppose there’s nothing to stop you as long as you don’t take all day.”

“I’ll be quick like a bunny.”

I slapped my head and shook it—sometimes I wondered about her—like, most of the time.

I slept very badly, I kept having dreams about bodies in car boots while Stella snored away beside me. I almost laughed when I heard her—she had the nerve to accuse me of the same thing. Oh well, the Camerons do a good line in hypocrisy, all branches of the family.

At seven, I was awake and up, showered and started waking up the others. Stella of course was the last one up and I almost had to threaten her to get her out of the bed so I could strip and launder the bedding.

While the first lot was washing, I fed tiny wee, Stella grumbled all the time until she went off to Park Street taking Livvie and Julie with her. Trish and I folded the sheets as they came off the line or tumble drier, while Jenny looked after the other children with Danny’s help.

While the laundry had been happening, I also supervised packing and the pile of cases and bags out in the drive grew and grew. One day when I have time I shall write a paper on why your luggage seems bigger on the return trip than it did on the outward one. I know we usually buy the odd thing but really this seemed twice as much. However, it all went in the cars and by lunchtime we were all packed and the laundry was all tidied away in the airing cupboard, which is kept on a minimal heat to prevent freezing. In fact the whole house is kept on a minimal heat throughout the winter. Sometimes I think I ought to sell it or let it to at least make it cover its own expenses, but that opens other cans of worms—and it was my home for nearly twenty years.

We had a burger for lunch on the way home courtesy of Stella who refused to say what she’d bought. Apparently the children were sworn to secrecy as well, so having better things to worry about, I ignored it.

The journey back was reasonably straightforward save for the volume of traffic and ubiquitous road works which slowed us down at times. Then we passed an accident and my blood ran cold as we drove past it. I hate passing accidents, even if they’re on the opposite carriageways and never look at them, although someone in front of us obviously did and bashed the car in front of them. That added another ten minutes to the journey time but we still managed to miss the rush hour and just caught the beginnings of the school run, which annoys me—then I thought about it and I was being hypocritical, after all I take my kids to school—but there is little alternative, no buses and it’s too far to walk.

The Daily Dormouse Part 1250

A special bumper edition to celebrate one and a quarter thousand episodes.

Back at home, we unpacked and it was good to be there, although the noticeable absence of the house’s owner weighed heavily on all of us. Even Mima wondered where ‘Gwamps’ was.

Inevitably, we needed food, so I volunteered to do a quick shop if the others looked after the kids. Danny offered to come with me to help carry bags of shopping. I wondered if there was an ulterior motive but it seemed he was genuine.

We dashed to the nearest supermarket and quickly filled a trolley with all sorts of foodstuffs, including flour and yeast for making our own bread. Then I filled up the Cayenne with diesel and we dashed home again—a lesson in how to blow a hundred quid in less than half an hour, more if one counts the diesel.

I let Simon know we were home and I expected his personal protection at night; he quipped back he could only guarantee it if he was lying over my body at all times. I accused him of lying, full stop. He pleaded guilty but being a banker that meant getting a pay rise. I replied that I thought it only applied to politicians. The upshot of our convoluted conversation was that he would be home once he’d collected his stuff from the hotel.

There was no news from Jim as I began making bread and doing a stew for dinner, it was a relatively quick meal and I made it with diced turkey, which cooks reasonably quickly compared to cheaper cuts of beef. In half an hour I had a pan of simmering turkey and vegetables and a pan of rice also warming up. I do it for a change from potatoes. Normally for Daddy, I’d do some chillies or curry to add to his stew: it made me miss him even more.

I’d tried sending the blue light to search for him but had received no success with it except I was convinced he was still alive whereas I was pretty sure Godrick Dawes was deceased.

I was busy on my own in the kitchen when I was called to the lounge urgently. Expecting to see one of the children minus a head or limb, I was relieved to discover the call was for a news item.

‘The body of a European has been discovered on the outskirts of Mumbai. It is widely thought that it is of the missing university Vice Chancellor and industrialist, Sir Godrick Dawes, who was kidnapped several days ago. No group has claimed responsibility and it is speculated that he was abducted by bandits for the purposes of ransom. It is understood no ransom has been paid. Confirmation of the identity and cause of death will be announced later after a post mortem examination.

The whereabouts of his wife, Lady Diana Dawes, is not known.’

“No, nor of the poor sap she inveigled into her stupid schemes, either.” I spat this at the television and went back to the kitchen. So I was right in my hunch about Godrick; Tom will be sad when he learns about it. I hoped whatever Diana had, if it was the jewel, was worth his life. I somehow doubted it, but then our value systems seemed based upon different criteria.

Simon turned up just after six and I was readying myself to serve dinner. Trish was doing her bit laying the table and the others were lining up to wash hands. The back door opened and a flying spaniel crash-landed amidst the children waiting at the sink.

Spaniels are excitable at the best of times, when they return after an absence they are in hyperdrive and she bounced and danced all over the laughing children, yapping in a silly high-pitched way which annoyed my ears.

I gave my man a hug and a kiss, unnoticed by the children who usually make silly noises, however they were still occupied by the returning canine. Eventually, things calmed down and I served the meal which went down quite well.

I had missed Simon despite my irritations with him earlier and spent much of the meal sneaking little looks at him when he was talking to the others. Julie noticed and gave me a very knowing smile which made me blush.

Of course after dinner, the girls spent ages swarming all over their daddy, while mummy cleared up the mess—nothing new there then. Once the dishwasher was loaded I made some tea and sat quietly drinking it until Stella came in and asked if it was all right to ask Julie to babysit for her, she was going out with Gareth. I told her it was fine.

When Julie came to ask me herself, I told her to make sure she did the babysitting this time or I would take the fee myself. I knew she’d spent her pocket money in Bristol on new shoes when she was out with Stella, so she needed the cash which watching Puddin’ would create. I also told her she had to go back to work the next day, which miffed her but she managed to control her annoyance and agreed she would.

I told the other children it was back to school in the morning, which being a Friday meant they only had one day to do before the weekend.

Jenny helped me with getting the kids ready for bed and they seemed relieved to be back in their own beds. I fed baby Catherine and was surprised to see I was still full of milk, so I expressed a whole bottle of it—twice what I’ve been getting recently, and I still felt there was a little for Simon to have if he behaved himself.

We finally got to bed after eleven and after a quick bathroom stop caused by our mutual amorousness, we jumped into bed together and kissed passionately. I eventually allowed Simon to suckle from me and felt an orgasm wash over me as he did. Sadly, that meant I was done for the night, but my lord and master had other ideas and I prepared for a boarding party, lying back and thinking of England or Scotland?

As he began to work towards penetration my mobile rang. He urged me to ignore it but as it might be about Tom, I reached over and picked it up. It was Jim.

“They’ve found Tom.”

“Is he okay?” I asked feeling very anxious.

“No.”

“But he’s alive?”

“Just, I think is about all I can say.”

“Where is he?”

“Being rushed to St Barts Hospital.”

“I’m on my way.” I leapt out of bed leaving a frustrated Simon who was effectively gnawing the pillow. I ran into the bathroom, weed and washed then began throwing on clothes.

“Wonderful, just bloody wonderful.”

“C’mon, darling, get dressed Tom’s been found.”

“Couldn’t he have waited five minutes?”

“That long, huh? It doesn’t usually take you…” he threw a pillow at me, but went to the bathroom and then dressed.

“Why have I got to come?”

“Because you know your way around London better than I.”

“Where are we going?”

“St Bartholemew’s.”

“Oh well, we’ll take the Porsche.”

“Okay, you can drive.”

“I was going to—are you telling Jenny?”

“I’ll leave her a note.” I scribbled a note and stuck it on the fridge. As we were leaving, Stella and Gareth drove in.

“Ooh, where are you two off to?” she said, winking.

“St Bartholemew’s Hospital—they’ve found Tom.”

“Oh, I hope he’s all right—good hospital, did some of my training there.”

“Can you help Jenny with the kids tomorrow?”

“’Course we will, drive safely.”

We got into the Cayenne and Simon hammered towards the motorway. I nearly said something but bit my tongue, almost literally at one point when he went over a huge pothole.

“I do hope he’s okay,” I said, almost offering my thoughts as a prayer.

“He is an old man, but he’s a tough old bird. Did Jim mention finding his girlfriend?”

“No, so perhaps she isn’t there,” part of me hoped she was far away in a place where they stoke the fires and were watched over by demons with horns and forked tails.

“Funny that.”

“What is?” I asked, still imagining Diana on a spit and I was chief devil administering the basting.

“They went off together, so why aren’t they together now?”

“How would I know?” I replied aggressively.

“Look just because you don’t like her—she is a widow now, so show a bit of compassion.”

“Compassion, if she’s hurt Daddy, I’ll personally send her to join her husband—yeah, suttee—that would be good.”

“Is that with or without Sweep?” replied Simon, “I thought you were going to let the full force of the law deal with her?”

“Sweep? What are you on about?”

“Sooty and Sweep—you know with Harry Corbett.”

“Matthew.”

“Matthew who?”

“Harry’s son, Matthew, he did Sooty and Sweep when I was a kid—but then you’re older than I.”

“Not that much, you cheeky mare. Anyway, what about this reneging on being a little less hot-headed in future?”

“It’s not my fault, it’s because I was born like it, it’s in my genes.”

“Well stop wearin’ ’em then.” He slapped me on the leg.

“You keep your hands on the steerin’ wheel and your eyes on the road.”

“There’s hardly anything about anyway.”

“Except the police car following us—with blue lights on—oh bugger. Don’t you dare tell them you stole it—okay?”

“Me? Would I do a thing like that?” he shrugged his shoulders and got out of the car. I watched in the mirror as he had an animated conversation with the two police officers, who then nodded and got back into their car.

“Is everything okay?”

“’Course, I know one of them, used to play rugby with his brother…”

“Most people use a ball, but carry on.”

“Oh very funny, I told him what we were doing and he’s gonna give us a blue light escort up the M25.”

“What?”

“Hold tight, here we go,” Simon watched the police car scream off the hard shoulder and whizz up the road. “Right you bastards, let’s see what this little beauty will do.” He shoved the accelerator to the floor and I was sucked back in my seat as we flew off after the police BMW.

I thought I’d driven quickly a few times but Simon kept his foot down hard all the way up to the M25, where the police car pulled over and waved us on. Another was waiting on the M25 and we were escorted all the way to London and to the hospital. I was astonished but obviously it also made me feel anxious—was Tom that ill, we needed a police escort to get there?

Jim met us at the hospital in the A&E waiting area, sharing the room with assorted drunks and misfits and the occasional genuine patient who hadn’t got pissed and walked into a doorpost or some other drunk’s fist. “You made good time,” he said, looking at his watch.

“How is he?”

“Very poorly.”

“What happened?” I demanded.

“As far as I can gather, she left him drugged and tied up in a rented flat. He was there for two days without food or drink.”

I felt my eyes beginning to fill with tears.

“She was arrested getting off a plane at Mumbai, and she asked the Indian police to tell the Met where he was.”

“Why couldn’t she have done that on her way to the airport?” I was aware of big blobs of water dripping off my face. Jim shrugged. “She’s a selfish cow.” I wanted to hit her and hard.

“I think they found a large unexplained jewel amongst her luggage, so she could be doing time in an Indian prison for the foreseeable future. I’m led to believe they’re pretty awful and she is an old lady.”

I nodded and wiped my face, Simon had his arm round my shoulders. “When can we see him?” I asked, referring to Tom.

“I’ll go and see the head honcho, hang on a minute.” Jim walked off and spoke to the receptionist who disappeared then returned a few minutes later, spoke with him and he came back to us. “He’s in intensive care, his kidneys are in trouble.”

Hoping I could help with that, I asked if we could go and sit with him.

“She was phoning up to ask,” Jim said, looking back at reception. The receptionist waved him off. “Yeah, we can go.” He led the way and I followed, trying to power myself up to do as best as I could for the man who’d been more of a father to me than my own father.

“Are you, Cathy?” asked an Australian-sounding nurse.

“Yes, that’s me.”

“He was asking for you earlier.”

“Is he going to be all right?” I asked, tears running like rivulets down my face.

“He’s getting on a bit and his kidneys are in some difficulty, he got very dehydrated and we think he has a UTI as well, so he’s on intravenous antibiotics.”

“UTI?” I asked.

“Sorry, water infection.”

“Can I see him?”

“Yes, we’ve done a basic dialysis on him to help his kidneys but we may need to connect him up again a little later.

I walked into the cubicle and Tom looked so old and frail, and his face looked grey against the white of the bed linen. I took his hand and sat down by the side of him. “Hello, Daddy, it’s Cathy, I’m here now—so you’re going to be all right.”

His eyes flickered open and he whispered, “Cathy,” before his eyes closed again and he drifted off to sleep.

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