Friday, 25 November 2011

A Memoir

A Memoir

Last week, I set aside an afternoon in which to impose some order in the attic. When we moved in last December, it became a dumping ground for various miscellaneous objects that we couldn’t decide what to do with, resulting in a jumbled mess of precariously piled boxes, assorted junk, dolls houses, antediluvian horse blankets and bulging bin liners of old clothes that hadn’t yet been despatched to Oxfam.

I looked around at the chaos and sighed wearily. Friday was Lily’s nursery day, and the only time in the week I had to myself. I had been looking forward to lighting the woodburner and snuggling up on the sofa with a mug of hot chocolate and Midsomer Murders, not grubbing about on my hands and knees in a freezing cold, mouse infested attic.

Only last night I had heard something scrabbling along the floorboards above my head as I sat watching Corrie. Jasper had gone out for a pint. I was alone. I froze, terrified as the scratching stopped momentarily, and then resumed with renewed vigour, followed by two dull thuds. The hairs on the back of my neck were prickling. I am notoriously nervous when alone in the house. A ludicrously over-active imagination coupled with an anxious disposition is not a good combination.

I shivered, trying not to look at the shadowy recesses beyond the jumble. The door to the upper level creaked slightly in the breeze that whistled through a crack in the window pane. The wind moaned in the chimney and the ivy creeper rattled against the brittle glass. What if whatever had made the noise last night was in here, watching me? It could be hiding in the pitch black of the windowless room beyond, waiting to pounce. I rushed forward and slammed the dividing door closed, wedging it shut with an old hockey stick.

I gave myself a mental shake, took a fortifying swig of hot coffee and set to work.

I had rolled my sleeves up, and was just about to open a box labelled Granny’s China, when the Autumn sun appeared through the pewter clouds, bathing the fields outside in a red glow. Autumn is my favourite time of the year, and I watched enchanted for a few moments as the low light turned the apples on the trees to burnished gold, and warmed the tips of the maize crop across the lane. Tearing myself reluctantly away, I was about to tackle Granny’s china, when I suddenly caught sight of my old school trunk in the corner.

A shaft of sunlight was slanting through a hole in the window frame, illuminating the cracked and faded letters painted on the lid.

I picked my way through the assault course of boxes and bent down to open it and started to began rummage. It was crammed full of the forgotten relics of my youth; A tattered Valentine card from an ex boyfriend, a sheaf of Pony Club Dressage Test Score sheets, a Tennis Trophy, a moth eaten 1st VI Hockey Jumper, a pile of School Magazines and a bundle of faded rosettes (the back of each one carefully inscribed for posterity )– “ Pony Club Show - Working Hunter Class – good performance overall but broke canter once on left rein. Judge said the gallop was excellent.”

A faded photo of me clutching a shiny trophy after winning a Tennis tournament .

A bundle of letters from my best friend, who had been taken out of school by her exasperated parents on account of our persistent mischief making. In the 6th from, she was despatched, amidst floods of tears, tantrums and threats of retribution, to Malvern Girls School, a whole three hours away. Grief stricken and enraged, we wrote to each other religiously every day, and the mischief continued unabated. Every missive contained a forfeit of varying degrees of daring. United by a withering contempt of authority and outraged by her banishment, the trajectory of our rebellion was stratospheric. We mutinously exhorted each other to buck the system at every opportunity, by guzzling Vodka before Chapel, smoking marujana at lunchtime, spending study periods in a pub in town, and brazenly lighting cigarettes in the middle of the dance floor at the school disco. The defiant relish with which we broke the rules was equalled only by the bitter disappointment that we weren’t expelled.

Smiling at the memory, I was about to close the trunk, when I caught sight of something red wedged between an English Dictionary and some old French text books. I pulled it out and rubbed the grime off the front with my sleeve.

My Diary – keep out! Warned the felt tip capitals along the spine.

Several names had been etched, and furiously erased, beneath a saccharine pink love heart, liberally stuck with Cupids Arrows.

Kurt Cobain’s drug ravaged face took pride of place in the centre of the front cover, surrounded by magazine cut outs of Alanis Morrisette, whose haunting voice and soul baring lyrics provided the perfect back drop for a generation of angst ridden teenage girls teetering on the brink of adulthood.

Whimsical declarations of love jostled for space amongst general musings of lifes profoundities, which I had deemed worthy of immortalising in biro, including an excorciating assertion about my reviled Maths Teacher, which I won’t repeat.

Intrigued, I opened the Diary on the first page. January 1st 1996. I was seventeen.

I perched on an old table and started to read. Just five minutes and then I’ll get back to the job in hand, I decided.

An hour and a half later and I was still sitting there. My coffee was stone cold and the lunch sausages had burnt to blackened chunks in the AGA.

I had lost track of time as I turned the pages, devouring the shamelessly lachrymose outpourings of my adolescent self. It was as though I had opened a tomb. My teenage ghost filled the space. The pages were crammed with tales of unrequited love, friendships made (and lost), triumph and disaster, heartache and happiness, a dizzying roller coaster ride charting the euphoria and wretchedness of youth.

Pages of tortured introspection were followed by elated accounts of a tennis victory, or a last dance kiss at the school disco. I wallowed shamelessly in a quagmire of hormones and egotism, seduced by passionate dreams of a romantic utopia. My idealism was bolstered by the great poets, particularly Yeats, whose prose were written in every margin:

“I have spread my dreams under your feet, tread softly for you tread on my dreams.”

Followed by:

“If Michael bloody Jackson can dye himself white, then WHY can’t a Doctor bleach my freckles?

I HATE them. They’re RUINING MY LIFE!”

I will never forget that Summer. It was one of the hottest on record. I fell in love for the first time with James, a foppishly handsome Maths Genius in the year above me at school. We spent an idyllic three months swimming in the sea and lying on the beach all day, talking until the sun had dropped and dusk brimmed the shadows. He would trace my freckles with his fingers and kiss the salt from my lips. At night we would play pool, drink cider and lie in the grass reciting poems to each other under the stars.

All good things come to an end. In September, he went to Cambridge, leaving me in school to complete my last year of A Levels. I was pole-axed with misery. Despite his frequent letters and phone calls, my anguish was unrelenting. The minutiae of heart-break was so deeply entrenched that it failed to subside with the passing of time.

I was tormented by visions of him succumbing to the charms of hordes of stunning, clever girls, who would seduce him with their blithe knowledge of mind bogglingly difficult Mathematical equations.

I was a consummate masochist. I would lie in bed at night, and picture the scene in glorious technicolour. My darling James, the love of my life, surrounded by a bevy of glossy haired, long legged Maths prodigies, all flicking their silky manes and discussing the theory of relativity through bee stung lips while plying him with wine and rubbing their bare feet up his thigh under the table.

How could he possibly resist a girl who was passionately knowledgable on his subject of choice?

I had failed G.C.S.E Maths twice, in fine style before “Piggy”, my teacher (thus named for his penchant for scoffing mars bars in the next door store room), had callously informed my Mother and Father that I was “astonishingly stupid”. In retrospect, I can understand his frustration. He was a highly skilled mathematician. I was a chronically disnumerate teenager who couldn’t even grasp long divison. As unions go, it wasn’t ideal. His attempts to keep his temper in check were nothing short of Herculean. One fateful day, after two years of metaphorically banging his head against the brick wall of my incompetence, he regarded me with the faintly crazed, pleading expression that I had come to know so well, and asked me to answer a simple question about what he had just spent the past two hours teaching. All eyes turned to me. Someone in the back row sniggered.

Piggy tapped the ruler on his desk and made a strange keening noise as he stared at me unblinking.

Blushing to my roots, I hung my head, and whispered “I don’t know.”

There was a brief pause. The silence seemed to echo. Then he lost the plot. Grunting with fury, he seized his copy of “Maths for Remedials” and hurled it at me with astonishing force. I ducked just in time. His face had turned from pink to purple in under two seconds.

“GET OUT!!” he screamed, drumming on the sides of his head with clenched fists.


I didn’t need telling twice. I scrambled to my feet and started shoving things into my school satchel.

“NOOOOO!” he squealed . “GO NOW RIGHT NOW!”

He thumped the black board with a pudgy fist, and visciously kicked the metal bin across the class room. It smashed into the radiator with a deafening crash.

My class mates were gaping in disbelief. The door to the maths room opposite opened and Mr Watson’s head appeared. A dozen faces peered over his shoulder, alight with curiosity.

“Is everything alright Norman?” ventured Mr Watson.

Piggy looked at him and snorted, mean little eyes blazing.

Mr Watson’s head retreated hastily and he shut the door again.

Piggy turned back to me, breathless with rage.

“GET OUT!” he spluttered, spittle flying from his rubbery lips. He was dancing up and down on the spot, an involuntary jig of fury.

I gave a sob of terror followed by a loud, hysterical giggle as I bolted for the door.

“You think it’s FUNNY!? You think it’s FUNNY being a RETARD?” he squealed at my departing back.

I felt the draught of the blackboard rubber hurtled past my ear and crashed into the wall, dislodging the plaster.

“DON’T COME BACK!” were his parting words as I fled down the corridor.

I ran to the pub with indecent haste, sobbing and cackling all the way.

Following my ignominious exclusion, James made a laudable attempt to teach me the basics. He maintained his belief that with gentle, patient teaching, I could pass my Maths G.C.S.E . After a week of tuition, during which he had observed me break out in a horrified sweat at the very mention of Pythagoras Theorem, and dismally fail to perform a series of excercises for ten year olds, he conceded that he may have been hasty in his opinion, and it was agreed between my parents, house master and head teacher, that further lessons were futile. There was no point flogging a dead donkey. “Besides, Mr Trotter has threatened to resign if he has to teach her anymore.” My House Master told my Mother on the phone that evening.

In view of my staggering mathematical ineptitude, perhaps it is understandable that I harboured a paranoia about James embarking on a Maths course with some of the Country’s cleverest girls.

It transpired that my fears were well founded. Maybe it was a self fulfilling prophecy. I convinced myself and him, that he was going to fall in love with a beautiful undergraduate of phenomenal mathematical intelligence, which is exactly what he did.

Gradually, his letters dried up. On the rare occasions he called, he sounded far away. I was powerless. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. I had envisaged the scenario so frequently that living it was like an interminable déjà vu; a dream from which I couldn’t wake.

I took a gap year job on reception at the Oxford & Cambridge Club in Pall Mall a couple of weeks after he went to Cambridge. We’d arranged that I would get the train to see him the following weekend, but he called on Monday to say he was coming to London the following day and asked if he could meet.

“We need to talk.” He said. He sounded weary.

Dry mouthed, I agreed.

I hardly slept that night. I caught the Tube far too early and skulked around in the cloisters of The Ritz for over an hour, before walking down St James. I waited for him outside the Palace. He was exactly 18 minutes late. I thought he wasn’t coming, then caught sight of him crossing the road further up the street.

As soon as I saw his face I knew it was over. He gave me a stilted hug and couldn’t meet my eye.

He didn’t say a word as he led me underneath the little stone archway. I could hear the blood rushing in my ears and my heart pounding in my chest as he turned and said

“I’m so sorry, but I’m not in love with you any more.”

I leant against the stone parapet, willing myself not to cry. Everything disappeared – the towering buildings, the people rushing past, the black cabs snaking up St.James beneath the low Autumn sun- it all fell away until it was just him and I.

He pushed his hair out of his eyes and looked me in the eye for the first time. I had never seen him cry before.

“It’s just, we’re both so young. DO you understand? It’s not that I don’t love you. I do, and I always will. We’ve had an amazing Summer, and I’ll never forget it, but….” He trailed off and lit a cigarette.

I brushed a tear away with the back of my hand.

“Have you met someone else?”

“Jess, don’t…”

“No really, I’d like to know.” I said bravely.

He paused and looked at me speculatively through the smoke, then dropped his eyes.

“There is someone, yes.”

I bit my bottom lip hard, to stop it trembling.

“What’s her name?”


“He Loves me. He Loves me not.” I mumbled sadly.



I looked at him pleadingly through a haze of tears.

“Please, just tell me one thing.”

He nodded grimly, bracing himself for a sexual interrogation.

“Is she good at Maths?” I gulped.

He stared at me, perplexed.

“Maths?” he repeated.

I nodded. “It’s okay. You can tell me.”

He shrugged “She’s reading applied Maths, specialising in Newtonian Dynamics and Special Relativity.”

I sagged against the wall. My humiliation was complete. The tears spilled over as I recalled my pitiful attempt to count out the correct change for my tube ticket that morning.

“Why are you crying about the fact that she’s good at Maths? You hate Maths.”

“Couldn’t you have chosen a philosopher or a rocket scientist?” I sobbed.

“Is this because she’s good at Maths and you’re not?”

I glowered at him and rubbed my eyes.

“You’re being ridiculous! Her talent is Maths. Yours is literature. She can’t quote Joyce, Larkin and Betjeman. She can’t write brilliant, insightful essays about Hamlet’s antic disposition.”

I blew my nose, feeling slightly mollified.

“Are you going to be okay?” he said, glancing at his watch.

“I’ll be fine.” I replied with all the dignity I could muster.

He stepped forward and held me tight, before dropping a kiss on the top of my head and walking off towards Haymarket. He didn’t look back. I watched him until he crossed the road and disappeared from view.

Then the floodgates opened.

I had been weeping for about five minutes, when Griselda, the matriarchal Head Of Housekeeping hove into view on the opposite side of the street.

A devout lesbian, with a booming voice, an enormous heart and a rampantly demonstrative abhorrence of men, she could always be relied upon in times of crisis. Many a time had I walked into the locker room and encountered a home sick gap year chamber maid, sobbing copiously into the comforting softness of Grisel’s enormous bosom as she stroked their hair and crooned endearments to them.

“It vill be okay leetle von. You vill see. There there, Auntie Grisel is here now. Shhhh.”

Now she was stomping down St James like a matronly Sherman Tank , bursting out of her starched white house keeping dress, clutching a besom birch and an enormous sack of lentils.

She took one look at my blubbering, tear-stained face and dropped the bag of lentils before thundering across the road and sweeping me into her arms.

“Darleenk! Vot on earth iz ze matter!” she boomed, clutching my face in her spade like hands and gazing at my puffy reddened eyes.

Between great gulping sobs, I eventually managed to tell her that I had been dumped.

“He’s found someone else!” I blurted, assailed by a vivid image of James and Daisy sprawled rapturously on his narrow bed in Blue Boar Court, in a haze of post orgasmic bliss, caressing each other and murmuring seductively about Square roots and Pie Charts….

Her expression of motherly concern prompted a fresh bout of sobbing. I collapsed into her meaty arms and howled lustily, eliciting fascinated looks from a group of American men.

“Vot are you looking at you VANKERS?!” she bellowed, shaking her fists.

She took a step towards them, growling fiercely.

“Verloren Gehen! Schwachsinnige!”

The men took fright and hurried off up St James clutching their bum bags.

“Vankers wiz zer stupid fanny packs!” she snorted derisively, before picking up my bag, grabbing me by the elbow and propelling me up the street towards Green Park.

“Where are we going?” I sniffled

“’Enry’s Bar. You need a drink and a chat viz Auntie Grisel!” she barked, launching us straight into the path of an oncoming bus.

The driver slammed on his brakes and blared his horn. Griselda stuck two fingers up at him and whacked his windscreen with her besom birch.

“Humph! Zat vos close shave huh!” she panted , dragging me into the warmth of the bar.

“Sit!” she ordered, pushing me into a chair and striding off to the bar.

A couple of minutes later she was back. She shoved a large Brandy into my trembling hands and poked a smouldering Woodbine into my mouth.

“Drink and smoke!”

I did as I was told, downing the amber liquid in one. It scorched the back of my throat and made my eyes water. I took a deep drag on the cigarette. A violent coughing fit ensued, but Griselda was unperturbed.

“Good girl.” She said approvingly as I writhed and gasped.

“Now darleenk, I vill tell you something.” She told me cosily, wedging her ample buttocks into her chair. She smoothed her moustache and puffed regally on a cigarette.

“Vud you like me to tell you ze secret of men?”

I nodded eagerly. The brandy had put fire in my belly.

Idly, she exhaled plumes of smoke through hairy nostrils before she leant forward and hissed

“Zey are all Vankers! Every single von of zem!”

I stared at her in dismay.

“ALL of them? Surely there must be some nice ones?”

She slammed her glass on the table, making me jump.

“NO! No nice vons darleenk! Zey are all vankers of von sort or anuzzer! Zat ist vy I am wiz my Helga.” She said smugly, smoothing her splendid moustache with a nicotine stained forefinger.

She retrieved an enormous locket from around her trunk like neck, opened the clasp and gazed lovingly at it.

“Look.” She said, leaning forward so I could see.

I almost recoiled. An stolid face scowled back at me, porcine eyes narrowed beneath a bushy monobrow. Hair sprouted rampantly from a mole on her chin, like the bristle on crackling. Her wet lips glistened like oily inner tubes, her complexion resembled boiled bacon.

“Vell, vot do you zink of my Helga?” she asked slyly, dropping the locket back into her furry cleavage.

“She’s lovely.”

“You liar!” she boomed grinning broadly.

“She’s probably better in the flesh.”

“Not really.” She said, shrugging her enormous shoulders.

“Zat is a flattering photo. No surprises. She is my Helga and I loff her!” she said simply, holding up her empty glass to the waitress.

I smiled weakly.

“Cheer up! I alvays tell you. You are very pretty girl, You vil haf no problem finding anuzzer wanker. London is full ov zem.” She said blithely.

I gazed out gloomily at the rain lashing the pavements. A group of girls were hurrying past, heads bent beneath umbrellas, rushing home to their boy friends. I swallowed a lump in my throat.

A ravishing waitress appeared with a bottle of Martell and put it on the table.

Grisel eyed her lasciviously as she leaned over to pick up the glasses. As she turned to leave, she reached out and patted her on the bottom. The waitress smiled politely. Grisel giggled naughtily.

“Vot! Vy you look so shocked?!” she asked , refilling our glasses.

“Vy don’t you try a leetle bit of lady lof?” she said earnestly, reaching over and putting a meaty hand on my knee.

I froze, utterly aghast.

Suddenly, she started roaring with laughter.

“HA HA HA HA HA HA! Zat ist very good joke! Look at your face! HA HA! I vish I had camera!”

I started giggling and found I couldn’t stop.

A group of smartly dressed young men were standing at the bar. In my peripheral vision, I noticed that one of them, a sublime looking, clean shaven blonde boy wearing a beautifully tailored pin stripe, kept looking over at us, presumably fascinated by Grisel’s bushy armpits, which were displayed in all their hairy glory as she reclined in her chair with her hands clasped behind her head.

A waiter appeared and put two exotic looking cocktails down on the table in front of us.

“There must be a mistake. We didn’t order these.” I said.

“Compliments of the gentleman at the bar.” He replied.

I looked up. Mr PinStripe raised his glass and smiled. I felt myself turning scarlet as I gurned back at him.

Grisel refused to acknowledge him. Nostrils flared, she picked the prettily presented pineapple and cherries out of the glass and tossed them into the billowing ashtray with a sneer, before throwing her head back and draining the glass in one.

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and emitted a long, low, rumbling belch. The young men turned around to stare. I slumped down in my seat, buttocks clenched in mortification.

Mr Pinstripe’s were talking to him in lowered voices. They appeared to be exhorting him to do something. He glanced over to our table, before downing a shot in one and squaring his shoulders. A second later, he was making his way towards us. His friends watched with rapt, expectant expressions. His chiselled jaw was rigid with nerves as he approached. His navy blue eyes were clouded with trepidation as he wound his way through the tables. He was at last 6”4. Broad shoulders tapered to a trim torso and hard, muscular thighs. I had always scoffed at pinstripes, but watching him approach I was mesmerized by his effortless elegance. The suit seemed to dance on him.

He stopped and smiled apprehensively. I grinned back like the Cheshire cat and my tummy flipped over.

He was about to speak, when Grisel rammed a pudgy hand underneath my skirt.

“Keep Valking Vanker. She is vit me.”

Pinstripe gaped in dismay, revealing beautiful white teeth, before he turned on his heel and fled back to the bar.

“Griselda! That was bloody rude. Poor man!”

Helga shrugged. Mr Pinstripe’s friends were doubled up with helpless laughter . Mr Pinstripe was leaning on the bar with his head in his hands.

“He looked nice. Why did you have to make him think I’m a dyke? “ I said crossly.

“He vas a vanker. I was doing you a favour.” she replied in a soothing tone.

“How do you know he was a wanker? You didn’t even give him the chance to speak.”

“He is a City Boy. City Boys are all Vankers. They have no soul.”

“That’s a ridiculous generalisation.” I said sulkily.

“It is ze truth. Ze Finance industry is the vorst of all for Vankers. I know someone who dated a bush fund manager vonce, and he was an unbelievable Vanker.”

“Hedge fund.”

“Votever, You know vot I mean. Come on now my child. Zer is no point in throwing ze dollys out of ze pram. You have so much passion inside you. You need to find a real man, a man who can light your fire and turn your insides to jelly. Auntie Grisel can find you such a man.” She smirked.

I looked at her dubiously.

“Trust me, zat boy in ze suit, he vould not excite you enoff! You vill not find ze man of your dreams in a place like zis.” She said scornfully.

“Where exactly do you find him them?” I asked, huffily.

Grisel kicked off her shoe and began to massage a crusty bunion on her big toe.

“Ze Intrepid Fox, on Dean Street. Run along home and get changed. I meet you zere at 7pm.”

Friday, 11 November 2011


I’ve been tagged on this by @SAHDandproud. It's the first time i have answered one of these things, and i've got the giggles. Here goes....

Here’s my answers to 10 questions.

1: Describe yourself in seven words:

Impulsive, loyal, passionate, funny, infuriating, creative, hedonistic.

2: What keeps you awake at night?

The horrifying thought that i might never think of a plot for my novel, Scary films, Lily (occasionally), owls in the garden which my husband has convinced me are actually escaped mental patients making hooting noises.

3: If you could be anyone for a day who would you be and why?

I would be an astronaut because i'd love to walk on the moon

4: What are you wearing now?

Jeans, old shirt, wellies, straw...

5: What scares you?

The thought of losing Lily or my Husband, writers block, abandoned mental hospitals, The Exorcist, Sir Alan Sugar, Amish people, Inbreds, The Forest Of Dean and its residents.

6: What is the best and the worst thing about blogging?

Best thing? Lovely people giving positive feedback.

Worst thing? Finishing a blog, and the irrational fear that i'll never be able to write another one

7: What was the last website you looked at?

Boutique Boltholes

8: If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?

I'd stop being insecure

9: Slankets Yes or No!?

What is a slanket?

10: Tell us something about the person who tagged you?

@SAHDandproud Sharp guy who always gives my posts the thumbs ups and has a great sense of humour. Decent chap!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Home Alone

Home Alone

Last Thursday, Jasper went to the pub to play Skittles. Lily was staying with her cousins overnight, and I was relishing the blissful prospect of uninterrupted solitude and trashy TV.

I was curled up on the sofa watching X factor with a glass of red wine and a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, when the phone rang. Sighing, I turned down the volume and answered it. No one spoke, but I could hear heavy breathing on the line.

“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

Except for a shallow, rasping groan, there was silence. Then the line went dead.

I dialled 1471. “The caller witheld their number.”

I gulped, as an icy trickle of fear ran down my spine. In my peripheral vision, Simon Cowell was reducing a chubby wannabe starlet to a snivelling wreck . The phone rang again.

My heart was pounding as I answered it.

“Hello? Who is this?” My voice was shrill with fear.

There was no reply from the caller, just a chilling death rattle, like Voldemort in Harry Potter.

I crawled on all fours over to the window and peered out into the blackened garden.

The breathing was getting heavier.

I scrambled to my feet and bolted around the ground floor of the house, closing windows and locking doors.

There was obviously a serial killer outside the house and he was coming to get me.

I recalled the opening scene in the first Scream film, where Drew Barrymore is alone in the house one night making popcorn, when the phone rings. She answers it gaily, thinking it is her boyfriend. It is not her boyfriend. It is a psychopath who tells her that he is coming to get her. The ensuing scene, in which she is chased around the house by a maniac wearing a mask of terror, before being brutally stabbed and hanged from a tree, is indelibly printed on my mind. I slept with the light on for 6 months after watching it.

I was convinced that I was about to suffer the same fate. As I cowered behind the sofa, listening to to the blood pounding in my ears, I wondered whether my killer would don the same gruesome mask, the unforgettable, black and white evocation of Edvard Munch’s “Scream”. He might, I grimly reflected, put his own stamp on his disguise, perhaps in keeping with the rural location of his latest murder. I was assailed with nightmarish visions of being pursued around the house by a knife wielding, life size Postman Pat. In glorious technicolor, I watched him decapitate and disembowel me, before fleeing through the maize field behind the house, cackling demonically and clutching my liver as a trophy.

Jasper would return from Skittles to find my blood spattered corpse suspended from the pear tree and my severed head spinning crazily on the weather vane. Or maybe placed facing out of the pop hole of the hen house. Or even in one of the nesting boxes….

Summoning every last vestige of bravery, I took a deep breath and squeaked:

“I’m not scared of you. If you try to break in here, you are very foolish because my two dogs are vicious. They are highly dangerous and very protective! Do you hear me? Don’t say I didn’t warn you. They’ll go for your throat, and I won’t try to stop them.!”

I looked at the dogs, both comatose by the wood burner. I nudged Trevor with my toe and pleaded with him to bark. He opened his only eye, clouded with cataracts, and staggered arthritically to his feet before flopping back down with a groan.

Bandit was no more useful.

“Kill Bandit!” I hissed desperately.

He grinned at me, tongue lolling. I watched in despair as he opened his back legs and began to lick his testicles.

I couldn’t stay behind the sofa, I decided. It was the first place he would look.

I frantically wracked my brains for a good hiding place. I decided that the cupboard under the stairs was my best bet. It was pitch black, and I could hide behind the log pile.

I roused the dogs and dragged them, protesting, towards the door. They both grumbled and huffed, reluctant to leave the soporific warmth of the open fire.

I was trembling violently as I opened the kitchen door. What if he was already in the house?

The hairs on the back of my neck were prickling as I turned off the kitchen light and crept across the floor towards the dining room on my hands and knees, followed sulkily by Trevor and Bandit. I paused by the sink and groped around in search of the knife block. Holding a filleting knife between my teeth, a bread knife in one hand and a rolling pin in the other, I resumed my journey, until I reached my hiding place, praying to God that it afford me some protection from the manaic.

The door creaked open. I shoved the dogs in to the pitch black, musty smelling hole and crawled in after them. Bandit, refusing to acknowledge the perilousness of our predicament, yawned loudly.

Not to be outdone, Trevor farted wetly. I pressed a shaking hand over my nose as the putrid odour filled the cramped space.

I strained my ears. It was eerily quiet. Then I heard the unmistakeable sound of someone turning the handle of the front door.

I felt Bandits hackles bristle beneath my hand. He growled softly.

I almost fainted with terror as I heard the kitchen door open and close. He was inside the house!

I clamped my hand around bandits muzzle and pleaded tearfully with him, not to make a sound.

He shivered and made a low keening noise.

I backed into the corner, until I was pressed against the damp wall. My heart was hammering against my ribs as I waited…

His footsteps were slow and measured on the wooden floor boards. He was savouring his evil game, relishing every moment of my terror. My skin tingled with fear as I listened to him walking round the house, pausing in the door way of each room, before continuing his search. The footsteps receded for what seemed like an eternity. He must have gone up the back stairs. I jumped as I heard the groan of floorboards from somewhere above. The blood was pounding in my ears as he descended the stairs directly above my head into the drawing room.

He stopped briefly halfway down. I imagined him running a gloved flinger slowly down the gleaming, razor sharp blade of the murder instrument. Machete or Hunting Knife I wondered. I stuffed my sleeve in my mouth and prayed for the end to be swift and painless. I wondered, bizarrely, whether my blood would stain the newly laid floor boards. The hand clutching the croquet mallet was slippery with sweat as the foot steps approached my hiding place.

There was a long pause, and then the click of the latch.

As the door creaked open, a burly black outline was silhouetted against the gloom of the drawing room beyond. My atavistic survival instinct kicked in as light flooded the space. I leapt up with a vulpine scream, smashing my head on the slanted ceiling, tripping over Trevor, and dislodging a camping set. Jasper’s bellow of terror was drowned out by the resounding crash of a dozen tent poles as they came clattering down around me, dislodging a teetering pile of Christmas decorations. In the ensuing melee, a row of hurricane lamps were knocked off the shelf and smashed to pieces on the stone floor.

The dogs scrambled out barking in confusion, as I clutched the walls for support and blinked into the sudden blinding light of a 60 watt bulb.

Jasper’s ashen face stared back at me.

“Are you trying to scare me to death?” he whispered shakily, clutching his head.

“It’s you!” I whimpered. I slumped against the wall as my knees gave way.

“Of course it’s me. Who did you think it was?”

I staggered upright into his arms and burst into tears.

“ Why are you sitting under the stairs in the dark? What’s wrong with the living room?”

Abject terror had given way to dizzying, overwhelming relief. I couldn’t speak for a few minutes.

I stumbled out into the drawing room and collapsed onto a sofa.

“I had some silent phone calls.” I sobbed. “It was man. He was heavy breathing and he withheld his number. I thought you were him. I thought he’d broken in dressed as Post Man Pat and he was going to slit my throat and dangle me from the pear tree!” I blurted out.

“Why would anyone want to slit your throat and dangle you from an apple tree?” he asked.

“There are some weird people in the world. Look at Jack The Ripper! He was an evil monster!” I said defiantly.

“Not as evil as Post Man Pat.” He countered.

“Don’t you dare take the piss out of me! Do you have any clue what I have been through? Look at the state of me! I thought I was going to die!” I wailed, through a fresh bout of tears.

“Poor Bunny.” Jasper said soothingly, patting me on the shoulder.

“And what is Postman Pat’s murder weapon of choice?”

“What do you think?” I asked snivelled.

He scratched his head.

“Ooh, well, he’s spoilt for choice really. Um, his Satchel? Mrs Goggin’s rolling pin?”

I gave him a withering look before replying in a mongol voice

“DUH! A knife??”

“Ah! So Postman Pat carries a knife? Very conventional.”

I feigned a lofty indifference to his jibes.

“You might think this is funny, but the fact remains that there is a maniac on the loose out there, who phoned me twice this evening on a withheld number, and refused to speak. I think we should call the Police.”

Jasper looked at me with an expression of dawning realisation.

“What?” I demanded.

“Old Bob phoned you.”

I stared at him. Old Bob is ninety, has chronic emphysema and spends a good deal of his time attached to a ventilator. He never misses a skittles match, watching the action with rheumy eyes from his mobility scooter and banging his walking stick on the ground to demonstrate his approval. Old Bob hasn’t spoken since 2002.

I gawped at him.

“Why would Old Bob phone me?”

“His daughter gave him an I Phone.”

“What in the name of arse for? He can’t even talk.”

Jasper shrugged.

“But why would he phone me?” I repeated.

“I don’t think he meant to. His daughter asked us all to put our numbers in it, in case of an emergency. I saw him fiddling around with it while we were playing. He must have pressed call by accident.”

He turned away, but not before I saw him smirking.

“Very amusing.” I said acidly.

He pulled me to my feet and gave me a hug. He was shaking with laughter as he led me through to the living room and handed me my wine.

“There are some good films on Tonight. What do you want to watch?” He asked , still sniggering as he picked up the remote control.

I took an enormous gulp and sat down wearily.

“Anything except Scream….”

Monday, 19 September 2011

Monkey Jungle

Monkey Jungle

The next morning, I was up at first light, giddy with anticipation about our trip to Longleat Safari Park and Monkey Jungle.

I looked in to Lily’s nursery on my way downstairs. She was sleeping soundly, her long eyelashes fanning her rosy cheeks, oblivious to the excitement in store for her.

I pottered around the kitchen enjoying the early morning solitude. All was quiet. The sun had not yet risen over Bulbarrow Hill, the lawn was wreathed in mist, and the dogs slumbered in their beds by the AGA.

Betty the Bantam sidled in to say good morning, and watched beadily as I buttered bread, grated cheese and packed sandwiches into Tupperware boxes.

Lily appeared in the door way, trailing her blanket and yawning sleepily.

Mindful of Jasper’s pathological aversion to Monkeys, and aware of the possibility that he might attempt to extricate himself from what he clearly deemed as The Day From Hell, I diligently ensured that Lily was sufficiently wound up to a degree that precluded him from refusing to come.

Lily’s powers of persuasion are legendary, and having presented her with a plethora of Chimp videos on You Tube, and repeatedly informed her that “Daddy’s taking you to see the Monkeys! TODAY!” I was confident that she wouldn’t let me down.

By the time Jasper came in for breakfast, she was so excited that she was almost hyper-ventilating.

“MONKEYS!” she screamed, jabbing frenziedly at a video depicting a gang of loutish Chimpanzees plundering a Rover. The elderly driver and his Wife could only look on helplessly as their assailants wrenched off the hub caps, snapped the aerial, and in an unmistakeably measured and deliberate act of vulgarity, defecated on the windscreen before turning around to smirk at his victims.

As a boorish Alpha Male urinated on the bonnet before swaggering off with a section of roof rack, I registered Jasper’s stricken expression, and felt a small twinge of guilt.

“MONKEY WEE!” hooted Lily, shrieking with laughter.

“I’ve got a really bad head ache. I don’t think I’m well enough to go.” Jasper said, slumping in a chair.

“Don’t tell Porkie Pies!” I chided, putting a bacon sandwich in front of him.

“You’ll enjoy it once you get there. Hurry up, eat your breakfast and then we can be on our way.”

He looked utterly aghast as he chomped dolefully on his bacon sandwich. His pessimism had a deflating effect on my high spirits; as I put the cool bag into the boot of the car, I grumpily reflected that he might just pretend not to feel suicidal at the prospect, for mine and Lily’s sake. After all, I don’t mope about when I’m forced to endure three hours of mind numbingly boring Formula 1. Nor do I protest when he gleefully informs me that I can’t watch the film I’ve really been looking forward to because the sodding football’s on.

It was only Monkey Jungle for heavens sake! Anyone would think that I was forcing him to partake in a late night cycle through the dodgy part of Guatemala on a 3 seat tandem.

We’re going to have a lovely day, I thought stoically as I slammed the boot shut and strapped a delighted, babbling Lily into her car seat.

I was making a flask of tea and humming with determined optimism when Jasper walked in a couple of minutes later. He was literally shuffling, dragging his feet as though he were wearing shackles. I bristled crossly. He walked with the tragic faced, slump shouldered resignation of a death row inmate about to face the electric chair.

I finally snapped.

“Oh for Gods sake! What in the name of arse is the matter with you? You’re being totally ridiculous! They’re monkeys, not bloody Chechnyan Rebels. They’re not going to shoot us, or chop our heads off. Can’t you at least pretend to be looking forward to a nice family day out?”

“I can hardly wait.” He said in a dead pan voice.

“Don’t be facetious, it doesn’t suit you.”

With overwhelming reluctance, he walked to the car and flopped into the seat with a defeated sigh.

“Off we go!” I trilled as I started the engine.

My jolly smile was met with a withering stare.

A few minutes later we were driving through Sturminster when Lily suddenly started screaming in anguish.

“BARBIE! BARBIE! WANT BARBIE!” she bellowed lustily, kicking furiously at the back of Jasper’s seat.

I suddenly remembered seeing Barbie on the kitchen Island just before we left. Lily would be inconsolable until they were re-united, such was the strength of her devotion to the pint sized plastic slapper.

“It’s no good, we’ll have to go back.” I sighed.

Jasper huffed and puffed and crossed his arms grumpily as I turned the car around.

“Can’t we just get this over and done with?” he tutted.

I could hardly hear him over Lily’s grief-stricken sobs.

“Do you want to drive around Longleat with her screaming in your ear?” I snapped.

He looked incredulous.

“I don’t want to drive around Longleat at all. Can’t you drop me off at the Happy Eater?”

I took a deep breath and feigned a lofty indifference. The rest of the journey home was silent, apart from Lily’s pitiful snivelling. Having been finally re-united with the wretched doll, she fell instantly asleep.

“And off we go again.” Sighed Jasper.

I ignored him and turned the radio up to drown out the frosty silence.

The journey was uneventful, although Jasper’s impermeable gloom lifted briefly after an impromptu trip to the Macdonalds drive-thru. He made a few witty asides about other road users, and even remarked that he was looking forward to seeing the giraffes.

I smiled inwardly, and silently thanked the Lord for the consoling properties of an egg McMuffin.

“Why are we stopping here?” he asked, as I pulled up outside a village shop.

“I’m going to buy some bananas.” I said breezily.

“What do you want bananas for?” he demanded.

“Duh! For the Monkeys.” I said, reaching over and scrabbling in the glove compartment for my wallet.

“You can’t! Feeding the Monkeys is strictly forbidden.” He shouted, making a wild grab at the £10 note.

Five minutes later I emerged from the shop brandishing three bunches of bananas. I put them on the floor of the passenger seat. Jasper was so cross he refused to look at them.

“You’ll get thrown out. There are rangers everywhere, watching people through binoculars.”

“I’ll be discreet .” I said soothingly.

He shook his head and muttered something under his breath.

Lily woke up. “Monkeys!” she trilled happily.

Jasper closed his eyes and sighed wearily.

I turned up the volume and sang gaily along to Dusty Springfield on Radio 4 in an attempt to lighten the atmosphere.

The song ended. The mellifluous tones of John Humphries announced the next song.

“And Barbara Thwaite from Norfolk correctly guessed the name of our next band. Well done Barbara – Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you The Monkees!”

“MONKEYS!!” screeched Lily, clapping her hands in delight.

This synchronicitous turn of events was too much for me. As the first twanging strains of “I’m a believer!” thundered from the speakers, I was consumed with the giggles.

Jasper’s disapproving expression only compounded my hysteria.

I convulsed over the steering wheel in a delirium of helpless mirth. Three hours of pent up tension came pouring forth like a burst dam. I snorted, whooped and shouted. I laughed until my sides ached and I couldn’t breathe properly. I tried to regain control, wiping my eyes and taking a deep breath.

“It’s not even that funny. “The Monkees.” Big deal.” He tutted.

I was still sniggering when we joined the long queue of cars snaking towards the entrance.

I excitedly handed over £25 to the lady in the ticket booth and slotted the CD into the stereo.

“Welcome to Longleat Safari Park. You are now entering the giraffe enclosure.”

At that precise moment, the heavens opened and it started to pour with rain. Visibility was reduced to zero, as the windscreen wipers struggled to clear the deluge.

Jasper snorted and shook his head.

“Just a passing shower.” I declared stoutly, as I parked next to the fence.

“Would you like to see the giraffes Lily?” I said excitedly.

Lily looked at me doubtfully before turning to gaze at the rain bouncing off the window.

“You’re not getting out in this?” Jasper asked incredulously.

“Bit of rain never hurt anyone.” I replied with a cheery smile.

Jasper looked as though he’d swallowed a pigeon.

I had already realised that I had failed to bring any coats or water proof clothing on our expedition.

Determined not to lose face, I grabbed a bin liner and leapt out into the down pour. I gasped in shock. The rain lashed down like icy needles, turning my white linen top transparent. Freezing mud oozed between my toes as I squelched round the car in my flip-flops.

I opened the door to get Lily out. She returned my grim smile with an expression of baffled disbelief.

“Come on, I’m taking you to see the Giraffes!” I trilled, lifting her out of the seat and into the monsoon. Her initial shock rendered her momentarily speechless, as I attempted to fashion a make shift umbrella out of the plastic sack, before making my way over to the giraffes barn. I slipped twice on the way there and almost dropped her. Her squawks of protest were drowned out by the sound of the rain bouncing off the barns corrugated roof.

I squinted through the deluge, into the barn. The giraffes were hidden from view. I gave a yelp of excitement as I made out a protruding section of hind leg.

“Oooh! Look Lily! See the Giraffe!” I squeaked, shivering as cold water dripped down my back.

Lily took a deep breath and started to howl.

“WET!” she screamed, arching her back and kicking wildly.

A gust of wind blew the bin liner away and she grunted in shock as the rain soaked her hair.

“DADDY!” she shrieked. “WANT DADDY!”

As I plunged back across the grass which was by now, muddier than the Glutton’s Circle in Dante’s Inferno, I noticed a gang of youths under a shelter, openly laughing at me. I scowled at them and carried on.

I got pack into the car, panting and shivering.

“I can see your bra.” Said Jasper helpfully.

I looked down. My black bra was indeed plainly visible through the almost sheer, soaking wet material. My painfully erect nipples protruded boldly through the fabric.

“Never mind.” I said through gritted teeth, reversing the car back onto the road.

“You are now entering the zebra paddock. These fascinating creatures are herd animals. ” Intoned the presenter.

There was not a zebra in sight.

“Look at the Zebra’s Lily, aren’t they nice?” said Jasper.

Lily peered out into the damp gloominess of the deserted paddock, and slumped back into her chair with a bored sigh.

“This is fun isn’t it Lily?” asked Jasper in a nauseatingly enthusiastic tone of voice, which was, I presumed, intended to be an impersonation of me.

“Shut Up.” I sighed.

We continued winding our way through empty stretches of grass land, until we reached Monkey Jungle. I felt dizzy with excitement as we pulled up in front of the huge double gates.

“Thank God it’s raining. Hopefully the little fuckers will all be up a tree.” Said Jasper

“Fuckers. FUCKERS!” said Lily.

“Well done Jasper.” I said tartly.

Jasper turned in his seat and looked at Lily. “No darling, you mu –“

“Fuckers.” Said Lily happily.

We edged towards the gates, which were festooned with the detritus of the Monkey’s previous acts of vandalism. A plethora of hub caps, windscreen wipers, roof racks, pieces of car bonnet, number plates; they were all up there. The Simian Equivalent of heads on sticks at the gateway to a kingdom, and a sobering testimony to their rampant appetite for destruction.

Much to Jasper’s dismay, the little fuckers were not sheltering up a tree. Clearly unperturbed by the torrential down pour, they were mooching about quite happily. A gang of juveniles watched our progress with bored expressions.

I had lifted Lily out of her car seat and put her on Jasper’s lap so she could observe them closely.

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open with astonishment, as a mother with a baby hanging upside down from her stomach, strolled out and sat in front of the car.

“Quick, get the bananas!” I hissed excitedly.

“Wassat?” Lily asked in an awed voice.

“It’s a monkey darling!” I told her,

“Monkey!” she whispered.

The Mother strolled towards the car and momentarily disappeared from View.

Lily’s crestfallen expression turned to horror as she suddenly reappeared on the bonnet and peered through the windscreen at us, her wizened little face alight with curiousity.

Lily gave a shout of fright. “Go away!” she screamed, head butting Jasper in her desperate attempt to turn round and scrabble between the seats into the back.

The monkey looked on impassively and scratched absently at its stomach.

Having managed to calm Lily down, and reassure her that the monkeys weren’t dangerous, she grudgingly consented to sit on my knee, although I noticed that she clutched her Barbie doll so tightly that her knuckles shone white through the skin.

After a few minutes, she relaxed, and having ascertained that there weren’t any rangers in the immediate vicinity, I wound down my window and opened the first bag of bananas. The Monkey’s eyes lit up as it spotted it’s favourite grub. It gave a small chirrup of recognition as it edged round to the window, snatched the proffered treat and stuffed it in its mouth whole.

Lily whooped with delight and clapped her hands.

The other monkeys noticed and came scampering over, chattering excitedly. Soon, the car was swarming with monkeys, all pressing their little faces to the window, as they waited impatiently for their bit of banana. It was all going swimmingly until the arrival of an Alpha male. Instantly the rest of the monkeys scattered to make way for him, as he hopped up and glared menacingly in at us.

He snatched his banana and ate it on the bonnet of the car, watching us appraisingly. Something pink and shiny appeared in his fur. A few seconds passed before I realised that it was his penis.

“Willy!” Lily shouted. “Willy! Willy! Willy!”

Still chomping, and never taking his eyes off me for a second, the Monkey grabbed hold of his erect member and with an expertise borne of long practise began to pleasure himself with long, measured strokes.

“Well this is nice.” Said Jasper.

“Wassit doing?” Lily asked.

“Spunky Jungle.” I sniggered.

Jasper tittered despite himself. The Monkey carried on, faster now.

“Get it off the car, Lily shouldn’t be watching that.” He said in a serious voice.

I turned the wind screen wipers on. The monkey leant forward, grabbed them, and wrenched them off before resuming his wank.

“Fucking hell! Little bastard!” Jasper exploded. He banged on the windscreen and waved his arms.

“Get off the car you dirty little fucker!” he yelled.

“Please darling, mind your language.”

“Fuck my language. Get that fucker off the car!” he bellowed, puce with rage.

Other cars had stopped to have a look. People were pointing and laughing. People were recording the spectacle on phones and cam corders. I slumped down in my seat, utterly mortified, as the depraved ape pushed himself towards the brink.

Lily peered closer, fascinated.

“Drive off fast and then brake!” barked Jasper.

“How? We’re trapped!” I hissed.

There was no way out. We were effectively surrounded on all sides by spectators.

“It’s going to spunk on the windscreen! Put the washers on!” he spluttered.

I did as he asked. Nothing happened

The monkey was reaching his climax. His long tongue had slipped out and his eyes had glazed over with erotic pleasure.

“He’s wanking over you.” Said Jasper.

“Erm, yes, I can see that.”

He shot me an accusing look.

“It’s not my bloody fault!” I shouted.

“Your nipples are on show.”

“Oh FOR God’s sake!”

Suddenly the monkey made a strange chattering sound and went rigid. I grabbed Lily and covered her eyes, just before it ejaculated liberally all over the windscreen. The people in the other cars were going ballistic. My face was on fire as the wretched animal jumped down and sauntered off.

“Get that stuff off the windscreen.” Jasper ordered.


“Put the wipers on.”

“I can’t. It broke them.”

Jasper made an undecipherable noise and covered his face with his hands.

The show was over. Gradually the cars dispersed, and we were made our ignominious way to the exit. We passed two rangers in a jeep, who smirked as we drove past with our semen splattered wind screen.

The whole experience left us feeling slightly dazed, and we decided to drive to Longleat house for a restoring cup of tea in the basement café. I queued up with Lily and Jasper went to sit down. His rage had given way to shock. He looked pale and shaken. I felt strangely violated.

An enormous American woman was trying to squeeze her elephantine proportions into one of the narrow seats. Her husband, a vertically challenged ineffectual man who was sporting a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to grow a beard, was looking on dispassionately at his wife’s cumbersome attempts.

“They make seats so small over here!” she whined, grunting and straining. Finally, she was wedged firmly in. With a sigh of relief, she shook the rain off her sou wester, covering Lily with water.

“Awww, I’m so sorry honey! Aw you are such a cutie pie!”

Lily stared mutinously up at her.

“Silly cow.” She said crossly.

The woman recoiled in shock and put her hand to her chest in dismay.

“I’m terribly sorry. She doesn’t know what she’s saying.” I grovelled.

“Fat!” Lily said accusingly, pointing at the womans straining gut.”

“Oh God, I’m really very sorry.” I whimpered.

“Lily. Say sorry. SAY SORRY NOW!”

“FAT!” said Lily stoutly.

I abandoned the pot of tea I had ordered, grabbed Lily’s hand and shuffled towards the exit, the second time that I had left somewhere burning with mortification.

Jasper had already made a furtive escape, and was outside in the cloisters, puffing furiously on a cigarette.

Lily smiled up at us angelically and took hold of our hands.

“Well that was a fun day.” I said with a rueful smile.

“Definitely a day to remember.” He replied, giving me a hug.

“Next time, we’ll go to Peppa Pig World.”

I nodded in agreement and giggled.

He took my hand. “Shall we go home?”

“Yes, let’s go home……”

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Monkey Jungle here we come.

Ever since Lily turned One, I have been longing to take her to Longleat Safari Park to show her all the animals.

Much to my frustration, a devastating outbreak of Monkey Genital Herpes forced the closure of Monkey Jungle to the visiting Public for over two years, preventing our greatly anticipated trip. After all, what is the point of visiting a Safari Park if you can’t get in amongst the Monkeys?

For months, I have been sporadically checking Longleats website for news of the re-opening. I grew increasingly dis-heartened to be repeatedly informed that the hapless residents of Monkey Jungle were still strictly off limits due to their prolonged venereal disease.

I had all but given up, when one day, I was flicking absent mindedly through the Daily Mail, when I came across a picture of an old car swarming with monkeys, beneath the head line “LONGLEAT MONKEY ENCLOSURE OPEN AGAIN AFTER 2 YEARS!”

To say I was excited is an epic understatement. I almost choked on my tea at the sight of them scuttling all over the car, gleefully perpetrating acts of childish vandalism .

Having been bored witless for 24 months, deprived of the entertainment provided by the almost permanent stream of visitors through their enclosure, the head keeper deemed it wise to present them with a dummy car, on which to release their pent up excitement and adrenaline, thus ensuring that the novelty of flagrant vandalism had diminished sufficiently, by the time the first member of the public entered their Kingdom. They were clearly beside themselves with glee. Their funny little faces remained incongruously solemn as they snapped off ariels, ran off with hub caps and wrenched off bumpers and played tug o war with windscreen wipers.

What characters! I couldn’t wait for Lily to see them at close quarters. I excitedly pushed the newspaper in front of her and waited for her reaction.

“Oh dear!” she said in a shocked voice, pointing at a juvenile monkey , who was scampering away from the car wreck clutching a wing mirror in one hand, and bowling a hub cap along in front of him with the other.

She looked up at me uncertainly.

“Funny Monkeys!” I giggled.

She tittered, and peered in fascination at the bunch of gimlet eyed hooligans.

“Monkey Jungle’s open!” I told Jasper excitedly as he came in for breakfast.

“Oh Christ. “ Was his gloomy reply.

I stoically ignored his expression of poe face resignation as he came and peered at the scene of carnage.

“I thought they all had Gonorrhea.”

“They had herpes, but they’re fully recovered now and are open for visitors. We could go tomorrow. You’ve got the afternoon off. ”

He failed to suppress a look of fleeting panic.

“I can’t, I’m straw hauling.” He blurted.

“No you’re not. The Contractor’s coming in. He called this morning.” I said triumphantly.

“Okay, but we’re not driving into Monkey Jungle. Look what the little bastards have done to that Volvo.” He said grimly.

“Bastards.” Said Lily, looking pleased with herself. She clapped her hands delightedly.

“Monkey Bastards!” she hooted.

I pulled a morose face. “No darling. Daddy says Lily can’t see the monkeys.” I told her in a profoundly sad tone.

Instantly, Lily turned around and stared at Jasper with a heart rending expression of bewildered devastation.

“Monkeys!” she whispered pleadingly, her big blue eyes brimming with tears as she gazed up at him beseechingly.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see him scowling furiously at me.

Lily’s little hands reached out to him in supplication.

“Please Daddy! Monkeys!” she gulped.

“I wuv you!” she added shamelessly, and burst into tears.

Instantly, Jasper scooped her into his arms, and I marvelled for the millionth time at her astounding ability to play him like a fiddle.

“There there my little angel, of course you can see the monkeys.” He said soothingly, as she clasped her hands round his neck and snivelled pathetically into his jumper.

I stifled a snort of derision.

Two seconds later, she looked over his shoulder and shot me a conspiratorial smirk.

I gave her the thumbs up.

Monkey Jungle, here we come.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Eviction

I have just waved goodbye to two of the most delightful Bed and Breakfast guests I have ever accommodated. They were charming , appreciative and told me , as they left, that our home was the nicest place they had ever stayed at, and that the evening meals were “superb”.

Given that I have recently had the misfortune to host a deeply unpleasant pair of sour faced cretins, I found their kind words tremendously cheering; a tonic to my flagging spirits.

Jasper has no truck with unpleasant house guests, and has recently adopted a zero tolerance approach to rudeness. At the first whiff of animosity, the first inkling of a prickly or fussy personality, he politely tells them that if they don’t like it here, they are free to leave.

It is a sensible rule, and one that he enforced with surprising alacrity, shortly after the arrival of Mr and Mrs Blackiston, who booked in for a weekend break a fortnight ago to celebrate Mr Blackistons Birthday.

They seemed pleasant enough when they arrived. I had put a huge bunch of Roses in the bedroom window, made the big brass bed up with the best White Company Linen, and a tin of home made shortbread on each bedside table.

When they arrived, I showed them into their private drawing room, where they made themselves comfortable in front of the roaring fire while I made them a Pot of tea and bought in a Victoria Sponge which I had made that morning. I spent 10 minutes chatting to them about the usual subjects; the history of the house, the weather, the farm, the cows etc, before I excused myself and started to make their evening meal.

When the Blackistons booked, they expressed a fondness for fish, so I bought two juicy Salmon fillets from Waitrose which I cooked in a parcel of white wine, butter and parsley. I made a velvety hollandaise sauce and served it with jersey royal new potatoes, chantenay carrots and steamed asparagus. Marcus, a friend, was there when I served it up. “That looks fantastic. Lucky sods. ” he commented as I carried the plates through to the dining room.

Mr Blackiston was perusing the bookshelves when I entered. I noticed that he was peering over the rim of his spectacles reading the back cover of Martin Amis’s iconic novel Dead Babies.

I attributed his disapproving expression to the description of the characters being blitzed on drugs during an orgiastic weekend romp, in which they “reel in a hallucinatory haze of sex, acid and porn.”

Mrs Blackiston was looking at a Hunting print on the wall. A charming depiction of our local pack of hounds moving off from nearby Plumber Manor. As she turned to sit down, I noticed that her eyes had assumed a flintiness, and I shook off a feeling of vague unease.

Mr Blackiston put the Amis novel back on the shelf and wiped his hands on his trousers as though he had just picked up a dog turd. I noticed his library book on the coffee table “Steam Engines through the ages”.

He came and sat down at the table, I poured them both a glass of Sancerre and left them to enjoy their meal. I glanced back before I left the room. Mr Blackistons mouth was puckered up like a dogs bottom and he was staring absently at his plate. I told myself that he was probably supressing a fart, and thought nothing else of it.

When I went back in twenty minutes later, Mr Blackiston was nowhere to be seen, and Mrs Blackiston was sitting with her hands in her lap and wearing a prim expression. She didn’t return my smile, or comment as I took her empty plate away.

The atmosphere had altered perceptibly. It felt oppressive and strained. I hesitated uncertainly.

“Did you enjoy your meal?” I asked.

“Not really, no.” she said with a tight smile.

My jaw dropped open.

“No? Oh. Can I ask why not?” I said, staring with bewilderment at the empty plates.

“I don’t like asparagus. I find it most unpleasant.” Said Mrs Blackiston.

“Well you didn’t have to eat it. Did you enjoy the rest of it?”

Mrs Blackiston shook her head and pulled her cardigan protectively around herself.

I was baffled. It was utterly surreal. I was standing in front of a woman who was telling me that she didn’t like my food, yet had devoured every single morsel. I looked around for a doggy bag. Then I heard the loo flush in their en-suite, and wondered if Mr Blackiston had disposed of it that way. I had a sudden image of him trying to poke a salmon fillet and carrots round the s bend with a bog brush. I felt myself growing hot with mortification and confusion.

“Would you like your pudding now?” I asked her.

She nodded, avoiding eye contact, and I walked back into the kitchen.

“Empty plates. Good sign.” Said Marcus.

I shook my head and bit my lip to stop myself crying.

“What’s that matter? Are you okay?” he asked.

“They didn’t like it. They didn’t like any of it.”

Marcus looked like he’d swallowed a pigeon.

“What? What do you mean they didn’t like it? Don’t be silly. Look at their empty plates.”

“She told me they didn’t like it.” I said, taking a fortifying swig of gin and tonic.

“Arseholes!” said Marcus eloquently. “Shall I have a word?”

“No! Please don’t! ” I shouted In alarm. I have seen Marcus have a word before at a Hunt Ball. The man he was having a word with was dropped head first off a balcony into a rose bed.

I grimly dished up the pudding , took a deep breath, and carried the bowls through to the dining room. Mr Blackiston was standing whispering to his Wife. He turned around when I came in, drew himself up to his full height and glared at me. His expression of defensive hostility stopped me in my tracks. I stood there like a rabbit in headlights, clutching two steaming bowls of plum and apple crumble .

Before I had a chance to speak, he pushed his glasses up his nose and said “We’re not happy with what you gave us for supper. You advertise an Award winning evening meal, and that was clearly not. We’re very disappointed.”

I was lost for words. I stood there gaping idiotically at him.

After an awkward silence I managed to speak.

“What was wrong with it?”

“My Son is a Michelin Starred Chef, and I can tell you, the meal you just served is not worthy of an Award.”

“I’m not a Michelin starred chef, and I have never professed to be. The Meal Award was presented by the Tourist board, and with all due respect, you’re the only people who have ever complained.”

I could hear Marcus growling on the other side of the door, and dearly hoped that he wasn’t about to barge in and have one of his words.

At that moment, I heard Jasper come in through the back door. After a brief muffled discussion with Marcus, the door opened and he strode into the dining room.

“Good evening.” He smiled, shaking their hands. “Is there a problem?”

“Mr and Mrs Blackiston didn’t like their meal.” I told him, trying to swallow the lump in my throat.

“Oh, I see. What part of it didn’t you like?” he asked them in a pleasant voice.

Mr Blackiston coughed nervously. Mrs Blackiston was fiddling with her napkin.

Neither of them replied.

“They don’t think it was worthy of the Meal Award.” I whispered, brushing a tear away. I felt giddy with embarrassment and shame.

“Really?” Jasper said, looking at their sullen faces. “You did well to clear your plates then didn’t you?” he asked them with an affable smile.

“Excuse me .” He said, and disappeared up the stairs, leaving me with the poe faced horrors.

“We won’t be wanting dessert.” drawled Mr Blackiston, peering gingerly at the home made crumble with ill concealed disgust. You would have thought I had presented them with two tureens of steaming cat turd.

He tossed his napkin contemptuously on the table and strolled out into the back garden, followed by his prune faced wife.

I trailed feebly after them. “Would you like some coffee?” I croaked.

“I suppose so. We’ll take it out here.” He replied, gesturing to the table and chairs.

“We’ll have to stay here tonight, and look for alternative accommodation in the morning. It’s too late to leave now. I don’t want to drive round these lanes in the dark.”

We all jumped at a voice from above.

“You should have thought of that before you insulted my Wife.” Shouted Jasper.

We all looked up. He was leaning out of the landing window, looking thunderous.

He retreated. There was a brief moment of confusion, before a black microlite suitcase came hurtling out of the window like an exocet missile, shortly followed by a tartan dressing gown, two pairs of sheepskin slippers, a wash bag, a Catherine Cookson paperback, and a tube of Steradent, which Bandit promptly seized and trotted off with. Most of the things landed just inside the freshly cow manured flower bed. Only Mrs Blackistons cream nylon night gown failed to achieve sufficient velocity, and settled on the porch weather vane where it fluttered coyly in the breeze.

Mr Blackiston was chuntering in outrage , but his anger was dwarfed by the force of Jasper’s cold and measured fury.

“You will not stay here tonight. “ he told them. “ You are disgustingly rude and I want you off my property immediately. My Wife is an outstanding cook, and she served you a delicious meal. You are the ones with the problem. When I come downstairs in five minutes, I want you gone. And don’t ever come back.” He growled, slamming the window shut.

I stood, gawping up at the window, awed by the force of his anger. Given his notoriously passive disposition , witnessing such an undreamt of capacity for rage induced cognitive dissonance. It was like watching the Andrex Puppy turn into a Rottweiler.

Marcus appeared in the kitchen doorway, looking slightly stunned. Mr and Mrs Blackiston, looking suitably shamed, were scurrying about in the border, brushing pungent brown clods off their belongings.

Marcus was for once, lost for words as he used a long piece of bamboo cane to retrieve the nightgown from the weather vane.

In less than 2 minutes they had thrown their soiled belongings unceremoniously into the boot of the car, written a cheque for the evening meal and were reversing rapidly down the drive.

Jasper appeared and put his arm around me.

Marcus let out a slow whistle as he uncorked a bottle of wine.

“Fair play mate. You were awesome. The part when the suitcase came flying out….” He smiled into the distance, re-living the moment with evident relish.

We sat outside in the fading light, drinking wine, discussing the awful pair and voicing pity for the next person unfortuneate enough to welcome them into their home.

The phone rang. “Hopefully everywhere will be fully booked and they’ll have to stay at Sherborne Travel Lodge.” I said, as I went to answer it.

It was Jasper’s Mother, calling to ask us to dinner the following night. She sounded anxious. Having agreed and arranged to be there at 7pm, she gave a sigh of relief.

“Oh Thank goodness for that. Some Bed and Breakfast guests have just turned up you see, and they want an evening meal tomorrow night. Very odd couple. We can’t warm to them at all so we’d rather not have to sit round a table on our own with them.”

“What are their names?” I asked faintly.

“Oh, you won’t know them, they just turned up out of the blue. Mr and Mrs Blackiston….”